Sunday, April 25, 2010

Messing with the "Zoe"


Last weekend, during Nicky's and my sojourn to our my old stomping grounds of Virginia State University for a math conference, we got together with Nicky's brother Dave, his wife Shelley, and our little niece Zoe. I hadn't seen "Zoe-bean" for a good long time, but we got along great:

Zoe even insisted on sitting in my lap, which apparently is not S.O.P. with (relative) strangers, according to Dave and Shelley.

Readin' Old "Paint"

Occasional blog commenter "GeoX" has posted a review of "The Great Paint Robbery" (UNCLE $CROOGE #353), the lengthy German/Spanish/Catalan story for which I translated the dialogue back during my graduate school days. He likes it... not so much. I should note that whatever flaws the story may have in the English version were present in the original; my transcription was pretty literal, though I threw in a few contemporary references like the Nephews saying "Quackaroonies!" and Scrooge referring to Gladstone Comics. And yes, the plot is pretty loopy. So why did I think so highly of the tale that I decided to translate it myself?

1. The artwork is beautiful. I'd literally seen nothing like it before. Don Rosa was still polishing his style, while Bill Van Horn had barely begun to appear. Carl Barks and the other materials published by Gladstone were my entire frame of reference. Judging by what I know of the other UNCLE $CROOGE'S TREASURE CHEST stories, "Paint Robbery" represented a big, BIG step up in artistic quality -- one that was maintained in the next story, which was set in America (including Disneyland!).

2. I'd likewise never been exposed to a Duck story of such length before. What some might call "padding", though, I'd prefer to call "soaking up some local color"... and boy, did this story ever take advantage of the Barcelona/Catalonia setting. I never thought that the story dragged (unless I was having a hard time translating dialogue).

3. I was flush with enthusiasm over the coming of DuckTales, and tackling a story like this seemed a natural thing to do. That is, when I wasn't working on my dissertation.

Comics Review: DONALD DUCK AND FRIENDS #353 (Boom! Kids, April 2010)


Evidently, the identity of The Agency's "Big Boss" is, like the Sherlock Holmes story of the Giant Rat of Sumatra, "a tale for which the world is not yet prepared." "Before the Premiere," the new "Double Duck" story arc, instead throws us straight into a new adventure introducing The Organization, which apparently will serve as FOWL to The Agency's SHUSH. Here, Donald is being asked to keep tabs on a former Agency bigwig, orchestra conductor Felino Felinys (who is, against all probability, a bird rather than a cat), whom The Org is apparently interested in nabbing and "reactivating" from his mind-zapped forgetitude. The song-slinging ex-"spook" is presently engaged in preparing the premiere of a forbidding new opera at Milan's La Scala Opera House. Strange doings are afoot, however: there's Bondian tech aplenty in the basement of the grand structure, while Felinys seems oddly insistent (even for a conductor) that "triangle-player" Donald not be "one nanosecond late" to play his one note of the piece, which occurs at the climax of the concluding crescendo. This, combined with occasional slips of the tongue, suggests strongly to me that Felinys has already been "turned" to the side of bad and that we're in for a "sound assault" on someone or something. Could it have something to do with the seemingly irrelevant "Clippedonia election results" reported in the newscast on page one? Perhaps The Org plans to monkey with the results by means of musical malfeasance? It won't take us long to find out, as this story is much shorter than the recently-concluded origin epic. The tale won't be short enough, though, to dispense with the "mundane irritant" subplot. Taking the place of the unpaid parking ticket this time around is Donald's rash promise to give the ever-demanding Daisy a surprise birthday party. Oddly, Donald's frequent lies here trigger mishaps for others, a tic that didn't turn up in the origin story.

Giorgio Cavazzano, the prime influence on modern Italian Duck artists, draws this first segment of the story (and, if Inducks is right, will at least pencil the rest). His loose artwork is an acquired taste for us Statesiders, though WORLD OF THE DRAGONLORDS softened me up to a considerable extent. However, the cohort of Cavazzano-wannabes who drew the earlier chapters of "Double Duck," as well as WIZARDS OF MICKEY, would probably have been hard-pressed to pen the striking reproduction of La Scala seen here (as well as on the cover of TOPOLINO #2767, which I've reproduced above).

As someone who's long had to hear from others about mathematics' inherent power to bore, I couldn't help but chuckle at the implication in the first few pages of this story that classical music bores ALL "normal" males (the poor schlub sitting behind Don and Daisy at the Canasta Club concert is just as anxious to get away as Don is). Part of the chuckle was due to the fact that the opening newscast presents the Milan opera premiere as a news story. If classical music is so irrelevant, then why is such attention being paid to it? Is that news network run exclusively by females?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Book Review: THE COMPLETE PEANUTS 1975-76 by Charles M. Schulz (Fantagraphics, 2010)

Be afraid... be very afraid... the legion of Snoopy relatives is now officially on the march! Well, actually, that was the least of Schulz' problems during the mid-1970s. While the cartoonist's craftsmanship remains at a high level, the phenomenon that I earlier described as "the PEANUTS of the absurd" now commands the lion's share of attention. Charlie Brown's baseball mound "floating out to sea" during a rainstorm and "thinking/talking" at a rate that quickly catches up to that of the school building, Peppermint Patty and Marcie flying Snoopy's doghouse to Michigan in the Powder Puff Rally (I though that Patty learned that Snoopy was a dog not that long ago?), and, worst of all, a clueless Peppermint Patty attending the "Ace Obedience School" under the mistaken assumption that it's a private school... next to all of this, the debut of Snoopy's droopy-mustachioed brother Spike in August 1975 seems like a fairly mundane occurrence. Spike, after all, hadn't begun conversing with cacti yet. Snoopy's sister Belle would follow in mid-1976, and the black-and-white-furred die was cast after that, but Spike's two appearances in this volume -- which include a Thanksgiving visit to Charlie Brown's and some royal hospitality dished out by a surprisingly munificent Lucy -- are very enjoyable.

The most ambitious standard narrative (and that's still a stretch) here involves Snoopy breaking his leg ("or paw, or shank, or whatever it's called" -- thanks, Lucy) in February 1976 after tripping over his supper dish. Schulz milks this simple idea for over a month, even working it into the beginning of yet another futile baseball season for Charlie Brown (Peppermint Patty insists on trading Marcie for Snoopy without knowing Snoopy's current condition). Earlier, Patty and Charlie have to share a desk at Patty's school after the traditional PEANUTS gang's "depressed" school building collapses (now there's a fantasy element kick-starting a relatively reasonable plot with a vengeance). This tag-team goes about as well as one might expect. Schulz tries (I think) to introduce a new character, the googly-eyed Truffles, who becomes the object of an unlikely romantic rivalry between Snoopy and Linus and then just as quickly vanishes from sight. (That might actually have been a good thing; I applaud Schulz' attempt to give Truffles an unusual character design, but Truffles comes off looking like Wednesday Addams, or the kind of girl who may harbor a suppressed tendency to spit pea soup and revolve her head like a spinning top.) The "Ace Obedience School" sequence, I'm sorry to say, rivals "Break a Leg, Snoopy" as the longest narrative in the volume. Yes, it's funny in a silly sort of way, but you start feeling sorry for poor, deluded Peppermint Patty long before it's over. A year before being "schooled", in October '75, Patty also falls for Linus' Great Pumpkin propaganda hook, line, and sinker, bewitched by the prospect of ordering up a new baseball glove. Can this credulous kid really be the self-assured tomboy who freely dispensed advice about "l'amour" in several PEANUTS TV specials?

Robert Smigel provides the foreword for this volume -- and, given that he freely jokes about his relative obscurity compared to the introductionistas who have come before, I don't feel so bad that I'd never heard of him before now. His intro is actually one of the better ones in the series, touching as it does upon highlights of the specific era covered by this collection.

Book Review: PAUL AMONG THE PEOPLE: THE APOSTLE REINTERPRETED AND REIMAGINED IN HIS OWN TIME by Sarah Ruden (Pantheon Books, 2010)

This is a work of true intellectual honesty -- and, I'm sorry to say, probably could not be written in the setting of the modern academy. Ruden, a classical scholar who has translated Vergil and Aristophanes among others, here takes on St. Paul, the Apostle most responsible for turning Jesus' message into what we know as "Christianity." Paul has long been in bad odor among numerous progressive types for a raft of supposed sins, including homophobia, misogyny, and a willingness to kowtow to authority. As Ruden demonstrates here, however, these critics have been looking through the wrong end of the telescope all along. In the context of the society in which he lived, Paul's exhortations were radical, not reactionary, in their aim of creating a more inclusive, supportive society. Ruden shows this by the simple device of contrasting Paul's writings with those of contemporary Roman authors and their Greek predecessors, in order to repaint, to as full an extent as possible, the background against which Paul was operating as he wrote his letters to nascent Christian communities. This idea is so obvious in hindsight that it's surprising that it had never been tried before. In Chapter 1, Ruden explains why: classical scholarship and early Church scholarship run on parallel academic tracks. As an unaffiliated scholar (see the interview here), Ruden was able to "think outside the box" and combine the two fields in a unique and eminently accessible way.

Unfortunately, there's a more serious reason as to why Ruden's short, pithy book would have been a "non-starter" behind the ivied walls. She has an annoying habit of following the evidence wherever it leads, regardless of the expected destination marked out by the PC police. Her chapters on homosexuality and slavery are good examples of this tendency. As Ruden relates in skin-crawling detail, the "gay idyll" of Greco-Roman society was in reality a nightmare of routine -- indeed, sanctioned and celebrated -- sexual abuse, a world in which parents felt obliged to assign slaves to watch over their sons on their way to school lest the boys be abducted. It's no wonder that Paul had harsh words for homosexual practices of this type. Likewise, in his letter to Philemon, Paul did not command Philemon to free the runaway slave Onesimus (as some modern commentators have claimed), nor did he "defend" the institution of slavery (as some antebellum American divines claimed). Rather, the letter points distinctly toward the future in its insistence that Onesimus, regardless of his current status, should be treated as a "brother." Once such a concession is made, slavery is doomed.

Ruden enlivens her work with funny and unexpected references to such pop-culture touchstones as James Bond and suburban sitcoms without losing sight of the essentially serious nature of her work. For those interested in ancient history and/or the story of Christianity, I can't imagine a more accessible, enjoyable work.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Comics Review: UNCLE $CROOGE #390 (Boom! Kids, April 2010)

The contrast between Scott Gross' wonderful "Cover A" for this issue and the pedestrian artwork within is almost heartbreaking. The quality of the latest chapter of "Around the World in 80 Bucks" doesn't come close to bridging the gap, though whoever was responsible for the English dialogue -- either translator Stefania Bronzoni or whoever neatened up the translation -- made a patently absurd plot a little more enjoyable with some nice banter. Particularly funny are Donald's constant references to his traditionally bad luck. "There's two kinds of lucky," Don moans, "and I'm used to the kind you don't want this far from home!"

The Gross cover suggests that Scrooge is playing a director's role here, but he isn't, quite. Having fed off the leavings of Gladstone's luck and secured free plane tickets to India, globe-trotting Scrooge and Donald are mistaken upon arrival for a "special effects wizard" and his assistant (the latter of whom originally lost said tickets) and hustled off to Bollywood to help with the new "Montana Joe" epic. Even more unbelievable than the contrived "mistaken i.d." setup is the fact that Scrooge and Donald's ultimate technical savior, Gyro, just happens to be vacationing in India at the time. S&D get out of the scrape without spending a penny and are off to Sri Lanka, where they run into Daisy and Brigitta MacBridge, who... um... are just passing through? Or something? I swear, I would actually have preferred the original Jules Verne setup and had Daisy and Brigitta kidnapped by Duckburgian Brahmins for sacrifice. S&D wouldn't even have had to spend any money to rescue them. Scrooge ends the chapter by rather cold-heartedly conning the ladies out of an expensive dinner at a romantic dining spot. "What could Scrooge possibly gain from this?" the caption reads before we suspend operations to prepare for (whew!) "the final chapter." This story isn't gaining on anything; it's dying right before our eyes. The switchover to DuckTales-themed material can't come soon enough.

Book Review: THE LAST CAMPAIGN: HOW HARRY TRUMAN WON THE 1948 ELECTION by Zachary Karabell (Knopf, 2000)

No, I haven't gone crazy; the above comic-book cover [from Disney Comics MICKEY MOUSE ADVENTURES #3, August 1990] really does have a connection to the subject of this book. Remember the famous photo below? (And both times, the headline got it wrong.)

Karabell's argument in this survey of the 1948 Presidential election is that the famous Truman-Dewey conflict (with supporting parts being played by left- and right-wing breakaway factions led by Henry Wallace and Strom Thurmond, respectively) was the last election in which all points of the ideological compass were given fair representation. This is a classic case of a reasonable hypothesis making sense at the time but being somewhat superseded by ensuing historical events. Before 9/11, at the supposed "end of history", it was only natural to posit that the differences between the political parties were relatively trivial and most of the major questions about the relationship between the individual and the state had been, if not solved, then at least been reduced to being discussed in quiet voices. (Anyone recall what the "major issue" of the Bush-Gore 2000 campaign was? Neither can I -- a state of affairs which seems ludicrous now.) Now, with the two major parties as far apart ideologically as they have ever been, it seems less necessary to have a Progressive and a Dixiecrat alternative. Karabell tells his story well, treating each candidate reasonably fairly (yes, even Thurmond) and arguing (in my view, correctly) that Truman's nasty "give 'em hell" campaign, while paying off in the short run with a dramatic comeback victory, was a long-term disaster, setting up the Republicans' revenge in the form of Communist-hunting. This is a good, solid survey of an election that, while not considered momentous at the time, was certainly dramatic, and Karabell can be forgiven for not glimpsing what was just under the horizon at the time he penned it.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Book Review: THE JOHN STANLEY LIBRARY: MELVIN MONSTER VOLUME 2 by John Stanley (Drawn & Quarterly, 2010)

My review of D&Q's first MELVIN MONSTER collection could just as easily stand as my review of this SECOND collection (issues #4-#6, 1966-67). Stanley continues to mine the "good little monster" vein with fair success but never really comes to grips with how, exactly, the world of "Monsterville" interacts with the world of "human beans." He can't even get straight how one travels from one sphere to the other. Case in point: In "Broom Ride," Melvin falls off his "ghoul-friend" Little Horror's broom and plummets into what appears to be a "human bean" city park. He then gets back home by another application of broom power. This suggests that you need some sort of magic to "cross the border." Later, however, in "Pickapicnic," Melvin and Little Horror (wouldn't it have been great if Stanley had gone for a direct Harvey Comics parody and named her "Little Loatha"?) go on the monster version of a picnic (to wit: getting food by stealing it from others) and run smack into a family of noshing humans. No broom power or magical transport is on display anywhere in this story. This is a good illustration of my friend Brent Swanson's observation in his Amazon review of Volume 1 that Melvin's milieu never really "coalesces." A few more long stories might have fleshed things out a bit, but Stanley sticks like glue (perhaps, the very same glue that caused a number of pages in my copy of Volume 2 to be stuck together) to the six- to eight-page format that served him well during the LITTLE LULU days. D&Q includes no accompanying text, which is a pity.

Boom! Sales: The First Six Months (more or less)

Since a statistical graph is always worth three thousand words... plus or minus a margin of error of 500 or so... I've created a line graph to illustrate Kneon Transitt's data log on the number of Boom! "Duck and Mouse" titles that Diamond has sold to comic-book shops. Here, "Boom! Issue Number" refers to the first, second, etc. issues of each title released under Boom!'s auspices. The abbreviations in the legend should be obvious. (Sorry I didn't include HERO SQUAD, but Kneon had only one data point for that title. For the record, HERO SQUAD #1 sold 4557 copies.)

The one spike in the MICKEY MOUSE AND FRIENDS graph indicates the switchover from MM&F to WIZARDS OF MICKEY. WOM #2 sold about 1300 copies less than WOM #1, which might be due to the "collector's item" reflex but is still bothersome given that MM&F and WOM have been telling a continuing story.

Kneon includes links to some information on Gemstone sales as well. Boom! appears to be holding its own reasonably well relative to Gemstone's later sales figures, but the downward trend is nonetheless worrisome. I'm especially disappointed in the figures that Kneon reported for the hardback and softcover collections. The first volume of LIFE AND TIMES OF SCROOGE McDUCK barely cleared the 1000-copy mark, and it's the only collection to have done so to date. WALT DISNEY'S VALENTINE CLASSICS scored a paltry 383 copies, a real shame given the high quality of that collection. MICKEY MOUSE CLASSICS did better (785), but only slightly better than CHRISTMAS CLASSICS. Hopefully, bookstore sales will help pump up these figures a bit, especially on the collections that merely reprint material that has already appeared in the monthly titles.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

But(ler) for an Inch or Three...

I didn't get a chance to comment on last Monday's remarkable national title game, which stayed vacuum-tight down to the wire and nearly turned on a Butler shot from beyond halfcourt that just missed going in. Duke was a deserving champion, but this Tournament will forever be remembered as "Butler's Tournament." I did go so far as to mention in my pre-Tournament predictions that Butler had it in them to make a serious bid for the Final Four, but I didn't have the stones to actually pick the Bulldogs.

It was a superb Tournament, which the NCAA, in its finite wisdom, appears ready to follow up with an ill-considered expansion of the field to 96 teams. This would be, by far, the biggest change ever made in the size of the field from one year to the next, and I don't see much good coming from it. Among many other side effects, it would almost surely kill the NIT. If the NCAA wants to give more teams "meaningful" postseason experiences, I'd much rather that it (1) expand the NIT from 32 to 64 teams AND (2) reward the four teams that make the NIT Final Four with automatic bids to the following year's NCAA Tournament.

Comics Review: WALT DISNEY'S COMICS AND STORIES #705 (Boom! Kids, March 2010)

Oh, my gawrsh, Boom! Kids has suddenly "gone slick" on us! This latest issue of WDC&S features honest-to-goodness glossy paper. No hint of an upcoming rise in price, though, which is all to the good; the whole point of these $2.99 titles is to make Disney comics an easier purchase for kids and families.

Speaking of sheen, Andrea Castellan's "Mickey Mouse and the World to Come" really burnished its credentials in this bailiwick by revealing that mathematics lies at the heart of the plan to create "The World to Come." In chapter 3, Mickey and Eega Beeva journey to Illusitania and finally get the straight dope from King Kontinento himself. It seems that many years ago, a "ponder" of scientists (including our own Doc Static) discovered that, in words familiar to fans of a certain CBS-TV series, "everything is numbers." Learn how to manipulate parameters with "denumerization cannons" and the ability to remake the world is at your fingertips. Alas, the "world equation" proved far too difficult for 1960s-era computers to work out, so the giant robots and their built-in "cannons" have lain dormant for years, waiting for all the numbers to be crunched. The scheming Crown Prince Nikolai, unbeknownst to his dad, has upgraded the technology and is about to "get (finished) with the program." Niky's eager to exploit the world-kneading wundertech to "cover ze globe in roads und factories!", but his treacherous erstwhile ally, The Rhyming Man, who's located all of the "denumerization" robots, has a simpler agenda: to "watch the world burn" and rule it at the same time. I smell a forthcoming "forced alliance" between Mickey, Eega, Minnie (who's still in Rhymes' clutches), King Kontinento, Konty's young female offspring Silvy, and a chagrined Niky... but will it coalesce too late for it to make any difference?

You can imagine how the whole notion of a "world equation" intrigued me. The sketchier recesses of mathematical history teem with cranks who have claimed to have discovered a formula, or set thereof, that will "explain everything." Maxwell's electromagnetic equations and the search for a unified field theory take the idea more seriously. It would have made sense for Doc Static and friends to have tackled their own approach to the problem in the 1960s, when the "military-industrial complex" that arose after World War II was still thought of as being relatively benign, and "Big Government" and "Big Science" could work together in relative harmony without much mutual recrimination. What I wonder is why, when it became obvious that a (literal) "global" tack wasn't working, Doc Static et al. didn't follow the advice of George Polya and try breaking the "world equation" into smaller parts, working on each one in turn. Instead, it seems, they simply gave up and walked away. No wonder Doc S. wanted to leave this part of his past behind; it must have been embarrassing for him to look back on it. But even unsuccessful "tampering in God's domain" leaves the door open for those who, like The Rhyming Man, have considerably less benevolent intentions. Take heed, you stem-cell seekers and cloning gurus!

In "Peg Leg Pete and the Alien Band," we learn that, uh... Pete used to play the drums when he was a kid. Very loudly. I realize that any backup story for "World to Come" would have seemed shallow by comparison, but really, now...

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Book Review: WALT DISNEY'S DONALD DUCK CLASSICS: QUACK UP (Boom! Kids, 2010)


The Boom! "Classics Division"'s first whack (or should that be "Wak"?) at Donald isn't quite as uniformly impressive as the earlier MOUSE TAILS, but it's eminently worthy of an honored place on the same shelf. The Boom!sters "had me at" the very first page with a beautifully colored new reprinting of one of my favorite Carl Barks adventure tales, "Luck of the North" (1949). This story was one of the "Big Four" in WALT DISNEY'S COMICS DIGEST #44 (December 1973), the venue in which I was first exposed to Barks' work back in the 70s (though I knew neither his name nor his significance until later), and I think it's a severely underappreciated piece of work. Like the earlier "Race to the South Seas" and the later "The Gilded Man," it's structured as a one-sided battle between Donald and his cousin Gladstone that "turns" only at the very last (as in: right down to the last bloody panel) moment. The "big idea" here is that it's Donald's fault that he gets into the mess. Driven beyond the point of endurance by lucky Gladstone's bragging and gloating -- and, given that Gladstone also manhandles Donald physically while showing off his luck in various Duckburgian venues, we can certainly second Don's emotion -- Don tricks his cousin into going off to the Arctic Circle in search of a phony uranium mine, only to suffer an attack of conscience later. With HD&L (literally) in harness, Don dashes North to "save" Gladstone, but the Ducks wind up stranded on an iceberg. An iceberg that holds more than a few unexpected treasures having nothing at all to do with uranium...

First and foremost, "Luck" is a spectacularly drawn story. Mike Barrier correctly notes in his Barks book that Donald's gradual dissolution from flippant indifference to Gladstone's fate into literally being burdened with guilt is a real tour de force of dialogue-free characterization. There's a later panel in the story that, to my mind, is just as impressive. After Don, trying to get the fake map, accidentally grabs Gladstone's horoscope chart, he shows the piece of paper off to the boys. HD&L have the usual (for the era) sentence-sharing verbal reaction... and have three completely different expressions on their faces, all of which are believable under the circs. There are excellent Duck artists who would never have thought of that and would have simply given HD&L three identical "takes." It's a small thing, perhaps, but Barks excelled at the small details during this period of his career. The story's dialogue and gags are sharp and first-rate, as well... especially the opening, which gets us on Donald's side even as he plays a mean trick on his relative.

Alas, this marvelous story, which has never looked so good reproduction-wise, is marred just a hair by some silly political correctness injected by Boom!. On three occasions in Barks' story, characters shout, "We've been gypped!" With Boom! evidently worried about perpetuating stereotypes about gypsies, the line is changed to read, "We've been hosed!" Never mind that the expression is totally anachronistic to those familiar with the original... and do very much mind that the fractured dialogue of the Eskimos who have dealings with Gladstone, Donald, and HD&L over kayaks is preserved intact! Inconsistent much, guys? Then, there's the whole touchy idea of Donald using his Nephews as sled dogs. Thank goodness Don didn't use a whip, or this story would have been buried deeper than Floyd Collins long ago...

From a Dell classic, we move to a happy reminder of the best days of Gladstone Comics with the reprinting of "The Master's Touch," a late-70s story plotted by Egmont writers, drawn by "Dutch masters" Daan Jippes and Ben Verhagen, and, most significantly, dialogued by Geoffrey Blum. It would not be too much of an exaggeration to say that Blum reinvented the whole notion of a Duck story as a highly literate, even educational experience when he worked for Gladstone in the late 1980s. Here, he takes a pretty straightforward "mastery" tale (to wit: accomplished photographer Donald, who specializes in prettifying ugly reality, comes unglued when he comes up against a subject that represents the ultimate challenge) and gives it a patina of extra class. "I found the great truth in the camera obscura of life!" Don gloats to HD&L before his big fall. For those like me who first read newsstand Disneys in the "Gladstone I" era, Blum's work established a level of quality that we've since come to expect from American writers. That's not to say that I take his work for granted -- far from it, in fact. All I have to do is dip into a new Whitman Duck comic from the late 70s or early 80s to realize what a quantum leap Blum's work represented.

Bob Gregory, author of this book's third reprint, "The Paper Route Panic" (1959), was also a fine writer in his heyday, but his reputation has suffered from the unfortunate fact that he drew, as well as wrote, a number of his stories, most notably those in DAISY AND DONALD. The D&D opi can only be termed "clunky," and that's a shame, as Gregory's work for the DONALD DUCK title in the late 50s was, if not up to the level of Barks' contemporary work on UNCLE $CROOGE, at least within shouting distance of same. "Panic," drawn by the fecund Tony Strobl, follows the Gregory template of tying seemingly disparate strands of plot together in a neat bow by the end. Here, Don messes up the absent HD&L's paper route while working on an invention that ultimately leads to a new hit record for the boys' favorite singing star, Paisley Mantee. Scrooge gets involved as a potential investor for Don's brainstorm, but his presence really isn't necessary; Donald could have sold his invention to anyone. Most lead stories in DD during this period included Scrooge, probably because his title was a better seller, and "Panic" doesn't do as good a job of incorporating Scrooge into the action as did other Gregory efforts of the era. Even so, it's a good, solid read.

Presumably, Boom! didn't see the irony of reprinting Barks' censored ten-page story, "Donald the Milkman" (1957), in the same volume in which it turned a gypsy insult into (I guess) a Canadian one. This is the third reprinting of a story (the first was in 1990, during the early Disney Comics era) that was originally rejected by Western Publishing because Donald was "too mean to the villain." Actually, the same dynamic that led us to root for Donald in "Luck of the North" despite his dishonesty is in play here, and amplified roughly 100-fold. In his efforts to become a "perfect" milkman, Donald shows no hubris whatsoever, remaining "humble and lovable" throughout, and so we're fully behind him when he finally "goes lactic" and takes revenge on the vicious pig character who's been trying to trip Donald up so that he'll get fired and the pig can claim his job. Truth be told, the "meanness" that gave Western the willies is downright silly, rather than offensive. Censorship is such an inexact science...

The Italian story "Moldfinger: or, The Spy who Ducked-Out on Me" (1966) goes on for 30 mostly tiny panels, and it's rather a slog, even given the fact that I'd been fully "prepped" for the casting of Donald as a "secret agent" thanks to DONALD DUCK AND FRIENDS' "Double Duck" saga. It's not really the fault of dialogue men Joe Torcivia and David Gerstein, who do the best they can with the raw material. No, this spy spoof has two big debits that can't be expunged: the artwork of Giovan Battista Carpi and writer Carlo Chendi's shameless swiping from Goldfinger (1964). Carpi was a contemporary of Romano Scarpa, and, while the Italian "Maestro" had his awkward moments artistically, they're minor when compared to Carpi's inartful inconsistency. The Beagle Boys appear first as roly-polies, then lose fully a quarter of their body weight within a few pages. Eric Moldfinger, the would-be looter of Scrooge's Money Bin, smokes a cigar roughly the size of a Hickory Farms Beef Stick and indulges in all manner of wild gesticulations. A human lackey suddenly appears at Moldfinger's hideout for no apparent reason. All I can say is, thank goodness the panels were so small. As to the plot, Donald the MIA (McDuck Intelligence Agency -- "The Cheaper Secret Service!") agent acquits himself reasonably well, but Moldfinger's scheme to "gas" the Money Bin guards hardly needed to be locked away for safekeeping, since it was lifted straight from the Bond movie. Joe and Dave made this one enjoyable in the end, but it was a close shave.

Happily, QUACK UP ends on a bright note with Lars Jensen, David Gerstein, and Cesar Ferioli's "Nothing New" (2007). Like a Mobius strip, the Ducks' "universe" bends back on itself here as Donald's second cousin Hackney McWebfoot, the burned-out author of the PUP COP! (read: SCOOBY-DOO) comic book, gets some fresh ideas simply by observing the Duck clan in action during an eventful trip to a county fair. Alas, "Unca Hack"'s plan to create a "universe" out of his relatives' world is nixed by an exec who claims "Nobody wants to read comics about Ducks!" (In the context of Duckburg's "ethnic" makeup, wouldn't this sentiment be considered, well, rather racist? Or perhaps "speciesist" is the proper term.) The funny conceit makes the tale work despite the odd fact that most of the specific activity in the story has nothing to do with the ultimate payoff. Oh, and Ferioli rules. I'd love to see previously-unseen Ferioli-drawn stories become a recurring back-of-the-book feature in these "Classics" titles. Despite the faults of "Moldfinger," this particular "Classic" lives up to the line's high standards.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Book Review: GEORGE HERRIMAN'S KRAZY AND IGNATZ IN "TIGER TEA" (IDW Publishing and Yoe Books, 2010)

The most notable things that have been said about "Tiger Tea" -- by far, George Herriman's most notable "experiment" in the KRAZY KAT daily strip -- are either demonstrably false or completely unprovable. It is not "Herriman's great adventure story," as some folks would have it; it's more like a running theme that recurred at intervals for almost a year (May 1936 to March 1937), probably because Herriman was able to mine more gags out of it than he had expected at the beginning. I also rather doubt that it was Herriman's surreptitious lobby for legalizing marijuana or celebrating its use, as some of the great cartoonist's "artsy-fartsier" fans would no doubt like to believe. Herriman was probably aware of the existence of hallucinogenic substances, thanks to his friendship with the Navajos of Monument Valley, but, as Michael Tisserand (the author of an upcoming Herriman biography) admits in Craig Yoe's introduction, there is no evidence that Herriman ever "indulged" in any way, and that he simply took the idea of an elixir that caused individuals to act out of character as a convenient excuse to have some fun with his cast. I'm nonetheless happy to have the entire (?) collection of "Tiger Tea" strips between hard covers at long last. It doesn't measure up to the spectacular work Herriman did in his Sunday pages, but, as a window into Herriman's thoughts on the whole subject of continuity, it is a valuable piece of work.

"Tiger Tea" begins with katnip (yep, that's how it's spelled) magnate Mr. Meeyowl going bust. Feeling sorry for Meeyowl, Krazy follows his/her nose through several days' worth of desert perils (this is the closest the sequence gets to true "adventure," with Herriman generally eschewing dialogue in favor of letting pictures tell the story) and ultimately returns to Coconico County inside a bag of Tiger Tea (don't ask). Tiger Tea is the ultimate katnip, capable of giving a docile worm the attitude of a "King Kobra" or, more to the point, giving Herriman an excuse to allow the perpetually passive Krazy to "act up." "That I should have lived to see this!" groans Offissa Pupp upon seeing Krazy tippling like Foster Brooks on a particularly bad day. I think that Herriman intended this one scene as the real payoff, but that ideas just kept popping into his head, and he ran with them. This was, after all, an artist who mined 30 years' worth of strips out of a conceit (bricks, jail... you probably know the drill) that is surely the slenderest reed upon which a comics masterpiece was ever draped, so you know he would have been sensitive to any promising new riff on his well-worn theme. We get subsequent strips of Krazy attempting to hide his/her stash of Tea, using some magic pollen to help unmask individuals who have stolen from his/her Tea sack, and, finally, Ignatz, Pupp, and other characters swearing off the brew. The whole sequence resembles one of those lazy, meandering POGO storylines more than a tightly controlled narrative of the kind favored by the likes of Harold Gray -- and even Walt Kelly didn't wander off the reservation the way Herriman did before ceasing his "Tea Bagging" for good. Ultimately, Herriman's interests simply didn't lie in the direction of telling a continuing story, even while his competitors were rushing to introduce long narratives into their strips. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why KRAZY KAT's popularity gradually waned in the 1930s. If Herriman had followed the crowd, though, he wouldn't have been Herriman.

Comics Reviews: DISNEY'S HERO SQUAD #3 and WIZARDS OF MICKEY #3 (Boom! Kids, March 2010)

We didn't make as much headway in this month's editions of the "Heroic Titles" as I'd hoped. Indeed, we seem to be swimming in circles... hopefully, that's not the first sign that these titles are preparing to "jump the shark"!

We seem to be no closer to "closing the loop" on the Ultramachine saga in HERO SQUAD. Thanks to some quick thinking by Duck Avenger, The Phantom Blot loses all control of his motor functions (ewww!) and the Ultraheroes are able to finally claim control of Ultrapod-5, helping make up for Super Daisy and Iron Gus' inability to keep Roller Dollar from spiriting away Pod-6. Just when Eega Beeva (who has contributed absolutely squat of note to the Ultraheroes' campaign, I might add) is declaring the contest a draw (and thus, a victory for the turf-defending Ultras) in between puffs on his gum bubble, the other shoe drops as Emil Eagle gleefully announces that The Sinister 7 have captured Mickey. (Remember, Mickey went in search of Scrooge? Remember?) I foresee the Ultras having to give up their Pods in exchange for Mickey and then breaking their necks to prevent The S7 from completing the Ultramachine. Duck Avenger and the "liquified" Blot have a nice battle in the sewers, but that's it insofar as action goes for this ish.

Somewhat surprisingly, the "Origins" back-up feature passes over the origin of Duck Avenger and gives us part one of "Origin of the Red Bat". Actually, I'm impressed that The Red Bat actually rated an origin, albeit one in an obscure Brazilian story from 1972. The uninspired drawing could easily have been plucked from one of the Disney Studios stories of the era, and the premise -- a costumed Fethry and Donald crashing a masked ball to get a scoop for Scrooge's newspaper -- is equally blah (does Scrooge really have the time to play J. Jonah Jameson like this?). Even the ultimate villains will not be a surprise, as the "disguised" Beagle Boys give their i.d.'s away before we reach the inevitably awkward "To Be Continued" cut-off point. Bring on the Italian origins of Duck Avenger and Super Daisy with all deliberate speed, please!

In WIZARDS OF MICKEY, after an attempt by The-Villain-Who-Supposedly-Was-Destroyed-But-The-Joke's-On-You-He-Really-Wasn't to "rig" a multi-handed sorcery match and win a whole bunch of Diamagics has failed, our heroes get a call for aid from the mysterious magic-wielding dragons. It seems that "The Warlock Robot" and its minions have swiped a dragon egg and intend to probe it to provide TVWSWDBTJOYHRW with additional magical resources. Here, we see the influence of Tolkien peeking through, with a villainous adversary willing to employ "technology" as well as magic. Wizards of Mickey proved their bona fides to the dragon lord by (1) caring for the dragon puppy Fafnir and (2) using their smarts to defeat a team of oversized warlocks named The Giant Gonzos (no, this is not a crossover with Boom!'s MUPPET SHOW titles). Mickey, Donald, and Goofy probably could use the help of "Team Diamond Moon" on this mission, but, alas, Minnie, Daisy, and Clarabelle were left behind (along with "Team Jinx," which got surprisingly little to do in the wrapup of the latest completed chapter). Contrary to Boom!'s blurb for WOM #3, the dragons have not yet officially declared war on the "scaleless" over the theft of the egg, but the fires will be stoked if Wizards of Mickey do not succeed in their mission.

A Three-Gone Conclusion

All credit to Butler for somehow, some way, finding its way to victory despite bagging only one basket in the final 12 minutes against Michigan State. I think that the Bulldogs' margin for error is gone and Duke will probably win Monday night's title game by double digits.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Four on the (Lucas Oil Stadium) Floor

Final Four time again, and at least I got one of the four participants right, picking West Virginia to defeat Kentucky. The young, talented, and clueless Wildcats cooperated in full by heaving up enough bricks against the Mountaineers to satisfy even Ignatz Mouse. I also correctly predicted the Butler-Kansas State and Duke-Baylor Elite Eight set-tos but got the winners wrong. Extenuating circumstances may be claimed in the former case, as the NCAA and CBS obliged K-State to play the early game last Saturday after the Wildcats had barely survived an epic double-OT thriller with Xavier two nights before. Nicky can vouch for the fact that I predicted that K-State would poop out long before CBS' Gregg Doyel made the same point in his blog after the fact. Between getting a fried opponent in the Regional final and playing an Arinze Onuaku-less Syracuse in the Sweet 16, Butler's first Final Four appearance benefited from a huge helping of good fortune. Remember that the Bulldogs only beat Murray State (the school in Kentucky, not the dancing academy) by two points in the second round. Butler getting to play the national semi a few miles from its campus in Indy is a great story, and I certainly wouldn't mind if they scratched out two more wins in their unspectacular but effective fashion, but my gut tells me that Michigan State's experience will prevail in Saturday's first Final Four game.

The game between Duke and West Virginia will probably decide the national champion. Here, I think that Duke's team intelligence will rule the day. Mike Krzyzewski is not going to stand idly by like a mannequin, as John Calipari did while Kentucky was melting down and missing shot after shot. I figure that, given the extra time to prepare, Coach K will figure out how to get his shooters good looks. I like Duke over WVU by a handful of points. Then, in Monday's final, last year repeats itself as Michigan State hits the wall, Duke wins relatively easily, and Krzyzewski bags his fourth national title -- and his most unexpected one apart from 1991, when a youngish Blue Devil team shocked unbeaten UNLV in the national semis.

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Speaking of big-time (relatively speaking, that is) sports showdowns this weekend, #1 Stevenson plays #2 Salisbury in men's lacrosse on Saturday afternoon at the Owings Mills athletic complex. The two schools' women's teams will play in the morning. This is as big as it gets for Stevenson athletics -- the games have been hyped on Stevenson's home page for a solid week -- and I hope to get over there with Nicky to see at least part of the action. Neither of us "get" lacrosse, but it is definitely an "in" sport around here and the laxers are the closest thing Stevenson has to big athletic stars on campus.

An extra "Kay" Chromosome?

According to this week's issue of PREVIEWS, Kay K/Red Primerose is returning to the Double Duck saga in DONALD DUCK AND FRIENDS commencing with issue #355. This is not strange. What is peculiar is that she's apparently planning to outdo her "mechanical Jay J suit" and don the "ultimate disguise" -- she's changing her gender. No, really, Boom! says so:

When the notorious criminal, Red Primerose, escapes from his [sic] prison, it's only a matter of time before she plots her revenge on The Agency, starting with a high-risk heist in the City of Lights.

Oh, what misplaced pronouns can do.