There's no longer any serious doubt in my mind that HERO SQUAD has fallen WELL behind fellow "Disney departure" titles WIZARDS OF MICKEY and DONALD DUCK AND FRIENDS on the old "like-o-meter." This week's issue of HS falls dangerously close to "worthy-of-MSTing" territory, while WIZARDS, despite serious inconsistencies in artistic quality and the creakiness inherent in its "from-one-venue-to-another" structure, has stabilized into a reliably satisfactory reading experience.
For a "significant" issue that finally allows us to see the effects of the assembled Ultramachine and reveals the identity of the "genius" responsible for inventing such a dangerous device in the first place, HERO SQUAD #5 is distressingly poor, especially in the realm of simple logic. Exactly HOW, may I ask, did Mickey, who was very clearly left behind when the Ultraheroes returned to Duckburg from The Sinister 7's island, manage to join them by the time they arrived to face off against The 7 at Villa Rose? (At least Scrooge, The Money Bin, and The Beagle Boys get a proper "blastoff notice" from the isle as a sidebar to the main action.) Gladstone/Cloverleaf's traitorous actions in HS #4 still haven't been explained, but neither has his apparent decision to break off from BOTH groups and "wait for the right moment to show everybody I'm the best of them all!". Given that Iron Gus accidentally captures all of The 7 save the renegade Emil Eagle by sheer, dumb good fortune (and isn't good luck Cloverleaf's shtick, anyway?), Clove is already halfway there without even trying. The powers of Eega Beeva's "Green Ultra-Suit" consist of the rapid quasi-magical deployment of... prehistoric animals, including a "Pleistocene flea" (sic) that can "disable all technological devices" (not even sic-worthy). Of course Eega is capable of time travel, so one can see him dipping liberally into the distant past, but why use only beasts from that period, rather than mixing in some uber-tech so as to keep foes (especially futuristic ones) honest? Eega's approach might be dismissed as an odd quirk of a character liberally festooned with same, but then we learn that Eega himself was responsible for building the Ultramachine... and that, when activated (by a desperate Emil, in this case), the device zaps Eega into "giant zombie" mode. That's the kind of super-weapon I want to create -- a machine the activation of which renders me completely incapable of controlling myself. No other issue of this title has pointed up so clearly the disadvantages of the "forced-serial" format. No doubt future chapters will provide us with some sort of explanation for Cloverleaf's behavior and Eega's frankly senseless tech, but cutting the story off before we get there leaves the reader completely baffled. The novelty of seeing Disney characters as superheroes has worn off; now it's time to get semi-serious and start putting the pieces of this increasingly schizophrenic narrative together.
In contrast to HS #5, WIZARDS OF MICKEY #5 features a refreshing number of "shout-outs" to earlier stages of the ongoing episodic continuity. Pluto, unseen since MICKEY MOUSE AND FRIENDS #296, finally joins (or, in the case of master Mickey, rejoins) "Our Gandalfian Gang," newly "pawed" with the power of lycanthropy. I'm not entirely comfortable with the explanation as to how Pluto gained this "talent" (nor was I aware that werewolves magically grew spiked helmets upon transformation), but at least Mickey appears to have the ability to control it (even during a full moon!), so it will probably come in handy as we proceed. Pluto helps Wizards of Mickey uncover the "monster scam" being run by Pete and The Beagle Brothers before we head off to a nice breather -- a party amongst the contestants in the sorcery tournament. We see some familiar folks here, including "Team Diamond Moon," "Team Jinx", and even the trio of soup-brewing sorcerers who originally told Mickey about the tournament back in #296. Though the ever-changing artwork makes it harder than it should to recognize some of these old faces, it's nice to see writer Stefano Ambrosio maintaining a throughline of characters, as well as theme. Sadly for WOM, Pete and The Beagles, newly sprung from gaol, also return, under the direct orders of this issue's most noteworthy returnee: The Phantom Blot. I'd still like to know how The Blot avoided Nereus' fate, but at least he's back, above-board, and undisguised, so another showdown with WOM will no doubt soon be upon us. Add the priceless revelation that Goofy -- after having previously considered a number of different occupations in lieu of sorcerer-dom -- now thinks that his true calling may be as a statistician, and how could I not enjoy this issue? (Technically, Goofy's actually a probabilist, since he talks about the chances of Pete and The Beagles escaping from prison. Let him perform a few hypothesis tests and/or sample surveys, and then I'll be completely convinced.)