It isn't a violation of the "truth in advertising" laws -- quite -- but that charming Cesar Ferioli cover of Minnie bear-hugging Mickey with intent to cherish may be a little misleading. Only one of the stories in this compendium has any direct connection to Valentine's Day. (Sorry, Daan Jippes, but your "Raven Mad" gag story of Mickey getting more than he bargained for after capturing a raven to give to Minnie as a gift could have been set at any old time of the year.) Two of the four "featured items" center around characters cheesing one another off for romantic reasons, while a third, though it has its share of happy aspects, comes with a barbed tail of satire attached and winds up having been a dream all along. No "greeting-card garbage" (thank you, Scrooge) on display here, for the most part. That being said, the collection is an outstanding follow-up to MOUSE TAILS, not least because of the inclusion of one of my favorite Floyd Gottfredson MICKEY MOUSE strip continuities, "Mickey Mouse in Love Trouble" (1941).
"Love Trouble" was reprinted fairly recently by Gemstone (and reviewed in installments by yours truly, here and here), but I'm delighted to see it preserved between hard covers; the 1979 Abbeville Press reprinting was marred by re-lettered dialogue (back-translated from Italian) and omitted the notorious strip in which an angry Mickey walks through a picture window. The story has its flaws -- the dated and unflattering characterizations of the females above all -- but, as the "ultimate test" of Mickey and Minnie's relationship, it stands as the quintessential domestic comedy of manners in an era in which the MICKEY strip was primarily recognized for adventure. (The story actually served as a "tipping point" of sorts in the strip's history; Gottfredson would plot only one more non-domestic tale, "The Mystery at Hidden River," before turning the strip over, first to a gag-a-day format, then to the writing talents of Bill Walsh.) It also features a "perfect storm" of strip talent -- Merrill de Maris was Gottfredson's best dialogue man in the pre-Walsh era, while Bill Wright's inking of Floyd's pencils is droolingly beautiful -- and has recently grown unexpected "legs" in the form of Minnie's new beau, the wiseacre Montmorency Rodent, being used as the model for the modern version of Mortimer Mouse. I can, however, blame it for one truly horrific precedent in Disney comics history. While Mickey's supposed "rival babe" Millicent Van Gilt-Mouse is plenty cute, her collagen-enhanced lips are a real turn-off. Alas, Minnie got "the treatment" later in her career and spent a long period of time with an unflattering pucker that, when coupled with her rather dowdy clothing of the era, made her look like a candidate for some "face time" in an Old Maid deck. Carl Barks and the Ducks fell into a similar trap, resulting in a string of femmes with full-figured flanges that ranged from the unnamed girl duck of "Lifeguard Daze" (1943) to DuckTales' Millionaira Vanderbucks. Even Clarabelle Cow, plain though she may be under the best of circs, took a step backward when she was stuck with "the big red ones" on House of Mouse. Let's get one thing straight: big lips DO NOT make anthropomorphic female Disney characters more attractive. Capiche?
Barks' "My Lucky Valentine" (1953) is the only true Valentine story herein, and it's a good one, despite a rather awkward ending in which a fuming (of course) Donald is pursued by a blathering HD&L for eight whole panels. The thing that I like about this story, actually, has little to do with the Valentine theme. Here, Donald actually succeeds in getting a responsible job (as a mail carrier) and does not fail in his work. He's so dedicated, in fact, that, after pitching away Gladstone's Valentine to Daisy in a fit of rage, he repents and tracks the letter down in the teeth of a snowstorm. Daisy doesn't acknowledge his efforts -- was Daisy channeling the "Thing That Wouldn't Leave" Daisy of the early Mickey Mouseworks era here? -- which explains why Don is so upset at story's end. Apart from that setback, however, Don still has his job and has proven that he is good at it. Too bad Barks had to "reset the clock" before the next ten-page story.
Romano Scarpa's "Lights Fantastic" (1963) is a fitting companion piece to "Love Trouble" in that the scheming Brigitta MacBridge seeks to stoke Scrooge's jealousy by apparently casting her lot with would-be business maven Jubal Pomp, who's out to market a line of "firefly mood lights." Scrooge, of course, never loved Brigitta in the first place, so his reaction is less romantically jealous than it is philosophical; he worries that by "resting on his laurels" and letting new ideas pass him by, his empire may be in peril. Scarpa plays up the "fiduciary midlife crisis" angle (which is somewhat similar to the approach writer Michael Keyes took in his adaptation of Barks' "The Giant Robot Robbers" for DuckTales) by giving Scrooge an imaginary living moneybag to talk to as a sort of combination conscience and goad, but the bit lasts a little past its sell-by (cash-in) date. This entertaining Scarpa romp is enlivened, as always, by superb dialogue from David Gerstein.
Gerstein, with Jonathan Gray, is also on hand to dialogue the 1987 Brazilian story "Wedding of the Century" (aka "A 'What-if' Love Story of Imaginary Proportions!"), in which Donald and Daisy finally (gasp!) get married and have kids, albeit (literally) in Don's dreams. This story was published in Brazil a couple of months before DuckTales debuted, and, if the "old sourdoughs" of the day had issues -- and they did -- about the TV show's fidelity to the Ducks' world, I can only imagine what they would have thought of this had "Gladstone I" seen fit to print it (fat chance). One gives "imaginary stories" some leeway in any event, but, in places, this qualifies as a "hallucinatory story," nowhere more so than in the pages immediately following Donald's long-awaited proposal to Daisy (after waking up from a coma into which he'd fallen upon getting the news that the long-suffering Daisy had finally agreed to get engaged to Gladstone). Four artists divided the duties here, and Luiz Podavin, the second member of the "tag team," gifts us with some of the weirdest Duck character designs I have ever seen. What the heck, let's show off some of Podavin's wares:
That's the sort of thing that can keep a Duck fan up nights. Thankfully, the other artists allow the characters to age more gracefully and do a good job with Don and Daisy's teenage offspring (who bear names like Denzel and Dilbert and are every bit as trouble-prone as you might expect, given their parentage). Gerstein and Gray, too, do a good job explaining some of the "squashing and stretching" of characters that takes place here. The story is a simple one at heart, but the combination of funny dialogue and the... erm... unconventional approach to the artwork help to make it entertaining. Boom! deserves credit for deciding to print it, just as it does for continuing to make its special hardbounds special.