Thursday, November 25, 2010

Comics Review: DONALD DUCK AND FRIENDS #360 (November 2010, Boom! Kids)

A superb cover by the all-too-infrequently-glimpsed Pat and Shelly Block deserves better than serving as a "front" to the conclusion of the drab, desultory Oriental "dreamscapade" "Son of the Rising Sun." It's pretty much "more of the same" -- more bland art, more "smoochy-smoochy" between Donald's heroic warrior stand-in Tekka-Don and the amorous Dai-Chan (the real Donald should only wish that Daisy were this sexually aggressive!), more "red-hot bo action" (between Tekka-Don and the preternaturally lucky visiting Gander-Bei), more grumbling and grimacing from putative villain Shogun Scrooge-San (who seems to yield to Tekka-Don with embarrassing ease in the end), all culminating, of course, in the inevitable "wake-up call" for the snoozing Donald. No one's heart seems to have been in this exercise, a state of affairs which can best be observed in the clumsy way in which such an apparently simple matter as the nature of Gander-Bei's luck is handled. Tekka-Don's ultimate triumph over Gander-Bei is fueled by the fact that, as T-D gloatingly notes, "[Gander-Bei] used [his good fortune] to help a rat [Scrooge-San]!" and thereby "short-circuited" his luck's effectiveness. There seems to be a connection here to the notion, first seen in the DuckTales episode "Dime Enough for Luck," that Gladstone's luck turns sour when he "uses it for an evil purpose." Indeed, the circumstances in "Rising Sun" jibe more closely with that theory, since Gladstone didn't mean to help Magica De Spell steal the Old #1 Dime in "Dime Enough" (he was instead hypnotized into doing so), whereas Gander-Bei serves Scrooge-San as a willing hireling. But to make the theory work, shouldn't Gander-Bei's luck have turned bad during the first of his two fights with Tekka-Don? G-B wins Encounter #1 when Donald is foiled by a collapsing bridge, a natural thing to happen when a foe is "within the penumbra" of the gander's good fortune. Bout #2, however, finds Gander-Bei less willing to fight Tekka-Don, which, if anything, should have strengthened his protection against luck-leakage. Instead, everything goes wrong for G-B and T-D wins in a rout. The logic involved here is as tough to follow as the steps needed to solve one of those Chinese puzzles. Slack editing is also present in a visual sense; the editors forgot to remove the wooden "FINE" from the Italian original's final panel, perhaps because they didn't recognize what it was. The "Double Duck" stories had their share of soft spots, but "Rising Sun" under-performs even the least of them.

Happily, the ish's back-up story, "The Titan of Tae-Kwon-Duk", is much more like it. After the first page of the new story provides a clever segue from the events (such as they were) of "Rising Sun," we go off in a decidedly Barksian direction, with Donald, determined to show the scoffing HD&L that he can, too, be a martial-arts maven, bungling his way into unmerited status as a Tae-Kwon-Duck expert... and into a match with Goosetown's black-bearded black belt, Blutosaki. After benefiting from another slice of ludicrous luck that even Gladstone wouldn't sign for, Don finds that his dream of impressing the boys remains tantalizingly unfulfilled. With Donald having acquitted himself with honor in the role of Double Duck, it ought to be at least a bit dispiriting to see Donald cast back into the familiar role of a buffoonish blowhard, but, hey, it's certainly canonical -- and funny. Joe Torcivia festoons Gorm Transgaard's plot with references to Lost in Space, Star Trek, POPEYE (the aforementioned Blutosaki), and Osamu Tezuka, among many others, and Jose Maria Manrique's straightforward art is enlivened by the numerous background gags at Duckburg's "Tae-Kwon-Duk Dojo and Take-Out" studio. "Titan" is the best evidence yet that Boom! made the right decision when it chose to restore back-up stories to many of its titles. Before, if the main story happened to be a dog, then there was no escape from it until the next issue (if then, given Boom!'s early fetish for continuity). Thanks to "Titan," however, this issue manages to "socky-choppy" its way to a draw... or the Tae-Kwon-Duk equivalent of same.

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