Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Get Your Hot Dog Here!

Our air conditioner was broken on Monday and Tuesday. While we sweated it out, Nicky devised the following way of keeping Bengie (the dog most susceptible to hot weather) cool:


The A/C men finally came this afternoon to perform the repair job. Wouldn't you know, the weather today has been so nice that we didn't NEED to turn the A/C on in any case.

An Update on Boom! Sales

Here's an updated graph detailing Boom! sales to comic-book and specialty shops as of May 2010. (Thanks to Kneon for the updated information.)
Sales for MICKEY MOUSE AND FRIENDS/WIZARDS OF MICKEY aren't included because there was only one additional data point available. WOM #2 sold 3704 copies -- a 27% decline from the first issue -- and the remaining issues covered during this period, WOM #3 and WOM #4, didn't make Diamond's list of the Top 300 sellers. At least WOM fared better than HERO SQUAD, which fell out of the Top 300 after issue #1. The DONALD DUCK AND FRIENDS graph is missing a data point for month 6 (issue #352) for the same reason. What would worry me if I were Boom! is that DD&F #352 was the final issue of the first Double Duck story arc, the one which Red Primerose's identity was revealed. By contrast, the final chapter of Casty's Mickey Mouse and the World to Come (WDC&S #706) produced a modest, but welcome, uptick in sales. With the declines of UNCLE $CROOGE and DD&F having flattened out at the same time, perhaps we have reached the proverbial "bottom of the ski slope."

The most recent PREVIEWS solicited orders for books slated to be released in September... and HERO SQUAD and WIZARDS OF MICKEY are conspicuous by their absence. Instead, MICKEY MOUSE AND FRIENDS will return for a gala issue #300. There's lots of WIZARDS OF MICKEY material still out there; ULTRAHEROES, not so much. What will Boom! do when/if it decides to revisit these concepts? I wouldn't mind HERO SQUAD being a "filler" in some other book at some point, but there doesn't appear to be enough remaining material to justify restarting the title. Also, wouldn't a return to "classic" practice in MM&F be stepping on the over-sized Mouse shoes of the Casty material currently running in WDC&S?

With the apparent shelving of the "New Direction" titles for the nonce and the concurrent commitment to DuckTales material in UNCLE $CROOGE and an ongoing DARKWING DUCK title, Boom! might be said to have redefined its target audience. With HERO SQUAD and WIZARDS OF MICKEY, Boom! aimed for the "kid" audience brought up on a diet of superhero movies and HARRY POTTER novels. The current Disney Afternoon gambit seems to be attempting to reach those young adults (and, of course, a couple of us young-at-heart older ones) whose first sustained, consistent exposure to "Disney product" came through watching the "Golden Age" TV series. Judging by the early reports on the brisk sales of DARKWING DUCK #1, this may not have been a bad strategy. Aside from the "goosing effect" that nostalgia has had on sales, the older readers of the TV-based comics might encourage their own children to become interested in the old series. Were the various divisions of Disney not so rigidly segregated, I might even dare to hope that this might lead Disney DVD to rethink its decision to abort its releases of the "Golden Age" DVD collections.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Movie Review: TOY STORY 3 (Disney/Pixar, 2010)

As things turned out, waiting 10 years to make the third Toy Story movie was exactly the right decision. (And, BTW, Pixar, not Disney, should get the credit for holding out that long.) The kids, tweens, and teens who loved the first two TS films are now young adults who maybe, just maybe, have kids of their own... and the adults who also enjoyed the toys' adventures are now a decade-plus older and possibly feeling their age just a bit. Both audiences will find something to touch them in this heartwarming, intelligent tale of feared obsolescence, wistful loss, the virtue of loyalty, the pain of real or imagined betrayal, and the ultimate acceptance of "the world moving on."

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Andy, our toy friends' owner, is now of college age and ready to put aside childish things... well, almost. He does intend to take Cowboy Woody (Tom Hanks) with him to college. Through the first of what will prove to be several key plot misunderstandings, the other toys think that they're destined for the garbage truck and the landfill (read: death). Instead, they wind up at a bright, shiny daycare center where the promise of a "new life" awaits. The gang (sans Woody, who is determined to stick by Andy, at least until a little girl shanghai's him) should have kept in mind the old human saying that starts "be careful what you wish for..." The daycare turns out to be the harshest of hierarchies, presided over by the deceptively benevolent Lots-o-Huggin Bear (Ned Beatty). Anyone who remembers the first movie -- and especially the second -- can sense the familiar "rescue" scenario coming together, and, indeed, much of the second half of the film is devoted to the "Playmobil mother" of all Great Escape homages, fully a match for that of Chicken Run. (The Lord of the Rings films and The Bridge on the River Kwai get similar shout-outs.) A subsequent gripping scene at the landfill elicited "oohs", "aahs", and "awws" from our fully engaged audience, and the final scene -- which had BETTER stand as the last scene in the Toy Story saga, or Disney will be forever cursed -- is every bit as affecting. Suffice it to say that the toys have a bittersweet "happy ending," both embracing the next phase of their -- er, lives -- and permitting the "Andy phase" to reach appropriate closure.

Since those TS3-specific memorabilia ain't gonna sell themselves, we get to know a few new "toy regulars" -- a surprisingly intellectual Barbie (Jodi Benson), a dedicatedly metrosexual Ken (Michael Keaton), a triceratops with an interest in computers (Kirsten Schaal), and a porcupine with delusions of stage grandeur (Timothy Dalton) among them -- during the course of the movie. Lots-o-Huggin Bear, however, turns out to be the best of the lot, the closest thing that the TS trilogy has had to a tragic figure. Feelings of betrayal have always been a dark undercurrent of these movies -- Woody's fear in TS1 that Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) will replace him as Andy's "alpha dog" toy, Jessie's (Joan Cusack) paranoid fear of "being put back in the box" in TS2 -- but "Lotso" shows what can happen when one can't handle betrayal. I find it quite suggestive that the TS3 crew chose an obvious Care Bear clone to be the one character who "snaps" when it appears (mistakenly, once more) that his owner has abandoned him. Those of us who remember the cartoons of the 90s know how often writers doled out the snark about the Care Bears, creating evil/sickly sweet/twisted/etc. parodies by the carload. How much more powerfully and effectively does Pixar's take on the old trend get across the point that you can't manufacture kindness and caring, that there is something phony and insincere about the whole thing. It's especially potent since "there but for the grace of God" would have gone one or more of our other toy friends.

Needless to say, while there are deep themes here aplenty, there are plenty of laughs as well. Nicky was reduced to a fit of giggling over one priceless sequence involving the imaginative use of a tortilla, while everyone roared at the sight (and sound) of Buzz -- who'd been shifted back to "default" Space Ranger mode by Lotso and his partners in paranoia -- being accidentally reset to the wrong mode by the good guys. The resulting version of Buzz is... well, best described as "The Most Interesting Toy in the World." As for the much ballyhooed 3-D option, I honestly don't think that it would have added much to the film.

The opening Pixar short, Day and Night, was an interesting experiment, if a bit heavy-handed (the piece of dialogue wasn't necessary -- we got the point!). It wasn't as good as Boundin' or One-Man Band, among others. It does, however, suggest that Pixar may be considering a major mixing of animation media, so to speak, at some point down the road.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Comics Review: DISNEY'S HERO SQUAD #6 (Boom! Kids, June 2010)

The mindless, Ultramachine-powered, giganticized edition of Eega Beeva is now busily laying waste to Duckburg, and the Ultraheroes and Sinister 7 have been forced to join forces in an effort to stop... him or it, it's hard to tell, especially when it comes to Eega. That pretty much tells the whole tale of HS #6, though there are a couple of bright moments, particularly (and most refreshingly, given this title's usual approach) in the area of good characterization. Mickey, whose comparative insignificance vis-a-vis the caped and cloaked ones has now entered "in-joke" mode -- witness the trouble he encounters just trying to track the heroes and villains through Duckburg -- employs a classic bit of superhero-comic reasoning when he argues that The Sinister 7 ought to aid the Ultraheroes because "if [Eega] destroys everything, there won't be anything left for you bad guys to take over." Better still, in the midst of a sequence of efforts to halt Eega's progress, "Red Bat" Fethry takes the odd, yet somehow fitting, approach of "[following] my mom's advice and just [ignoring Eega] in hopes that he'd go away." Um, Fethry, I think that she was referring to you with that comment. The chapter ends with the gang taking a tattered page from Floyd Gottfredson's playbook and attempting to control "Eegzilla" with mothballs, Eega's favorite food. All of these bits point in the right direction, but the serial is still lagging in certain key areas. We still don't know why Cloverleaf/Gladstone behaved the way he did, while Scrooge -- who's back on Killmotor Hill with his Money Bin trying to pick up the pieces -- seems stuck on either "rant" or "penny-pinch" mode, with no in-between. Since the noshing Eega is heading straight for the Bin, Scrooge's attitude isn't likely to get better any time soon. This continues to be a frustrating read.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Book Review: THE COMPLETE DICK TRACY, VOLUME 10: 1945-47 by Chester Gould (IDW Publishing, 2010)

I'm tolerably familiar with this portion of Chester Gould's oeuvre, since it furnished the raw material for three of the five issues of Gladstone Comics' DICK TRACY ADVENTURES in the early 1990s. This period produced no readily memorable bad guys -- the vicious, forever-scratching gang leader Itchy Oliver is probably the best known, and that's only because he was one of the recurring villains in UPA's The Dick Tracy Show -- but Gould was still pretty close to his peak in terms of quality of work and public visibility. His imagination was so fertile during this period, in fact, that he saw nothing wrong with introducing characters who would have lasted for years in other strips and then consigning them to the discard pile without a second thought. (Fans of Tale Spin will know exactly what I mean.) B.O. Plenty, Gravel Gertie, and ulcer-riddled industrial magnate Diet Smith -- atypical supporting players with long-term staying power -- managed to hang in there because (1) judging by the large number of single-panel shout-outs dished out by Gould in the midst of his various crime narratives, Gould's fans simply wouldn't let the cartoonist forsake B.O. and Gertie; (2) even the extravagantly profligate Gould recognized the potential story lines that could be spun off of Smith's access to unlimited funds (such as those that produced the legendary 2-Way Wrist Radio, introduced herein). "Ham actor" Vitamin Flintheart wouldn't be that lucky, though Gould would give him a few more featured roles (including this volume's creepy tale of "The Evil Influence") before dropping him for good in 1950.

What the villains of this era lack in terms of "instant recognition factor," they make up for in sheer viciousness. Itchy is relatively unmemorable apart from his scabrous habit but thinks nothing of shooting down his gangland pals in cold blood or starving the captured Tracy almost to death, just for kicks. The skin-crawling mesmerist Influence's bizarre appearance is only a surface reflection of the fact that he's quite patently insane; he strangles several people and tries to burn Pat Patton alive, among other gruesome things. Political "fixer" Shoulders abandons his "moll" without a second thought and guns down a little girl. The supposedly quasi-comical Gargles, after running the most ludicrous shakedown operation in living memory ("mouthwash bootlegging"? Couldn't it at least have been something that was still subject to postwar rationing?), whacks a store owner and a sick, elderly woman just to get back some incriminating photos. Even the origin story of the 2-Way Radio, which could have been a nice, simple case of industrial espionage, features a near-fatal shooting of Diet Smith and the disgruntled Smith employee Irma's cynical manipulation of her blind genius son, Brilliant. Flattop and The Brow may have been flashier (and uglier), but these were NOT nice people.

Brilliant and comely radio DJ Christmas Early are just two of the characters introduced in this volume who would have shorter-than-deserved shelf lives. The third and most intriguing of the significant short-termers here -- a character who really should have enjoyed a much longer career, IMHO -- is the spirited street urchin, Themesong. Think Darkwing Duck's Gosalyn Mallard, only with Kit Cloudkicker's back story and a much better singing voice. Even when she's technically a villain, Themesong is a thoroughly appealing character, and we definitely feel for her after she is shot by Shoulders and Gargles subsequently offs her mom. (There's a definite "spiritual connection" to Gosalyn's Grandpa Waddlemeyer and his fate at the hooves of Taurus Bulba there.) How I would have loved to have seen Junior Tracy, who himself experienced more than his share of time on the wrong side of the tracks, take Themesong under his wing, as it were, and become her friend, conscience, and ally. The formation of Junior's Crime Stoppers' Club was just under the horizon; why couldn't Themesong have joined Junior's generic guy pals as one of its members? I guess there is such a thing as being too inventive at times, and Gould simply wanted to move on (either that, or the thought of a co-ed kids' club never occurred to him). At least Theme (1) ultimately found a happy home with Christmas Early and (2) made at least one appearance as an adult during the Max Collins-Dick Locher era of TRACY.

The volume "makes its weight" with columns by Max Collins, Jeff Kersten, and Michael Price (who discusses the RKO Dick Tracy films). As always, these comments are far more than mere "filler" and maintain the Library of American Comics' high standards for supplemental material. I can't express how grateful I am to IDW for giving these "sequential-art classics" the treatment they deserve.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Line 'em Up, Beak-rista!

For those who still doubt the fact, Duckburg, Mouseton, and St. Canard MUST be in the same "cartoon universe." The appearance of "Starducks" in DARKWING DUCK #1 was not, as it turns out, the first time the ubiquitous coffee joint of that name has been mentioned in a Disney comic. Pride of (first) place goes to the SUPER GOOF story "Now Museum, Now You Don't" (Gemstone MICKEY MOUSE AND BLOTMAN #2, December 2006). Joe Torcivia gives the following line to Phineas Fawningfan, the would-be curator of the Super Goof Museum:

"What will we do? [Grumpy landlord] Picklepurse will throw us out and bring in another Starducks!"

The coffee in Mouseton is evidently every bit as potent as the brew in St. Canard. Super Goof calls Starducks coffee "thuh coffee so strong it puts feathers on a hairy chest," while Drake Mallard terms caffeine-fueled St. Canard "The City That Never Sleeps Soundly."

Book Review: ABRAHAM LINCOLN, A LIFE, VOLUME 1 by Michael Burlingame (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009)


Burlingame's 2,000-page behemoth of a bio of the 16th President -- the first volume of which I plowed through during much of my "free time" at Daytona Beach -- is likely to be the "standard" Lincoln life survey for the rest of the 21st century, at least. It could have been as dry as the dust on the top of Lincoln's top hat, but Burlingame's writing style goes down relatively smoothly and easily. Burlingame is especially good at detailing Lincoln's gradual development as a political figure. A "slasher-gaff ideologue" in his younger days, Lincoln had matured into a wiser, deeper statesman by the time he challenged Stephen Douglas in the famous debates. Burlingame attributes this to a "midlife crisis" that forced Lincoln, on the heels of his brief and relatively obscure career as a Congressman, to reexamine his values and approaches. Curiously, however, most of the "midlife crisis" chapter is devoted to the nuts and bolts of Lincoln's law practice. Was there some "central event" that keyed Lincoln's maturation? Burlingame doesn't really identify one, which leads me to believe that the "midlife crisis" argument was just a handy way of describing something that can't be described in a simple fashion. Perhaps Lincoln's self-education -- one of the more dramatic stories of self-improvement in American, if not world, history -- simply took time to reach its fully mature state.
The one real drawback of this magisterial work is its cheap binding. I had to handle Volume 1 very carefully in spite of the fact that I was among the first to check out Stevenson University's copy. Volume 2 looks to be in even shakier shape, and I haven't even cracked the covers yet. Thankfully, the entire book is available in Kindle format for those who don't want to take a chance on binding-busting.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Comics Review: DARKWING DUCK #1 (Boom! Kids, June 2010)

When last we saw Darkwing Duck in a regulation-sized comic book, some 15 years ago, he and the other stars of The Disney Afternoon were undergoing a monthly dose of painful humiliation, under the awful aegis of Marvel-Disney's slovenly DAFT (and boy, did that acronym ever fit) title. DW's erratic, though occasionally entertaining, career in DISNEY ADVENTURES DIGEST petered out at about the same time, so it's been quite a while since "The Terror Who Flaps in the Night" has graced print with his presence. Boom!'s decision to bring DW back for a mini-series "spin" was welcome news, especially so in light of the fact that the company's honchos were "children of the Disney Afternoon era" and therefore ought to appreciate what made these made-for-TV characters so everlastingly popular. Appreciation doesn't always go hand in hand with execution, however, so I still had my doubts... until DARKWING #1 reached me. With apologies to Sally Field, I'm glad to report: They "get it"! They really, really "get it"!

I knew that writer Ian Brill and artist James Silvani were on the right track from the very first page of "The Duck Knight Returns," where we see the unfolding of a Megavolt-"enlightened" plot to black-out and hold for ransom all the Starducks coffee shops in St. Canard. This affects virtually all of St. Canard, since there's literally a Starducks on every corner! Evidently, Brill clearly recognized that things can and do happen in DW's city that would never happen in such comparatively sedate locations as Duckburg and Mouseton. The St. Canard of "Duck Knight" isn't quite the supervillain-saturated sinkhole of DW's salad days, however. For reasons not yet known, a corporation called Quackwerks now runs the St. C police department -- using automated "crimebots" that are, shall we say, a tad overzealous in their duties -- and appears to employ almost everyone in town (those who aren't hanging around Starducks, that is). A bored, frustrated Drake Mallard is now working as a "data accounts networking officer" (a positions the duties of which even he can't explain) for the mega-corp -- and Elmo Sputterspark, aka Megavolt, is the grouchy guy in the next cubicle. Gosalyn has been packed off to a tony private school for the "spirited child" and, no surprise, is causing havoc there (as well as in Drake's tuition-tapped wallet). Launchpad, meanwhile, is busily polishing the Thunderquack. Well, at least there are some fixed points in this world. But with Honker Muddlefoot getting carted off by the "crimebots" for illegally downloading music and Elmo getting kidnapped by three old colleagues from "The Fearsome Five," the ground will no doubt be shifting soon...

There are very few false notes in this first effort, either in a scripting or an artistic sense. Everyone looks, acts, and sounds as they should, and the attention to series detail is striking; a memory of a past time-travel case, for example, finds DW and Launchpad at the wheel of the same polka-powered, awning-draped "golf-cart time machine" first seen in "Paraducks." One bit of business still needs to be explained: why would Drake willingly cease his career as DW, even if Quackwerks did "officially" take over the police and supposedly "wipe out" all supervillains? Even if Drake didn't feel the need to go the "Mr. Incredible" route and fight whatever crime he could find on the sly, doesn't SHUSH still need DW's help in its battles with FOWL? I hope this mystery gets cleared up quickly. It's just not like the egotistical DW to so meekly submit to the corporate life in this craven manner. At least now we know the source of Drake's income, which was a famous "in-joke" in the episode "Twitching Channels."

The buzz for this title has been considerable, and Boom! evidently intends to "anser" the call for additional DARKWING adventures with alacrity. In his Editor's Note at issue's end, Aaron Sparrow announces that DARKWING is slated to become a continuing title once "Duck Knight" is finished, with the creative team of Brill and Silvani still at the helm. He also mentions that UNCLE $CROOGE's "DuckTales phase" will last through issue #399, at least. Good news, provided that Boom! improves on the somewhat disappointing first effort.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Comics Review: DONALD DUCK AND FRIENDS #355 (Boom! Kids, June 2010)

Part two (actually, given the length of the first installment in DD&F #354, it'd be more appropriate to call it part "one-plus-some-fraction") of "Souvenir de Paris" hits readers upside the beak with the revelation that good-girl-turned-bad-babe Kay K, who was last seen robbing a high-tech outfit, may have been fooling us all along as to her true affiliation and intentions. The beauteous Kay turns up in Paris to help Double Duck Donald recover the very computer-hacking key that Kay supposedly stole under orders from the evil Organization. Well might Don say "Eeeeh?!", as he does in response to this U-turn of events. The key CD is too reminiscent for my liking of the computerized missing list of agents that served as the "McGuffin" for the first DOUBLE DUCK story arc, but that's only a small quibble, given that a different writer scripted this story. I'm much more concerned with where Kay K's character is headed at this point. Sure, there's been enough intrigue and double-crossing in the DOUBLE DUCK "universe" that it's possible to imagine that Kay was playing a double game all along, but I find her claim that "only The Big Boss [of The Agency]" knows about her current mission to be rather suspicious. How convenient that Jay J can't corroborate her story. Then, after the key has been secured, Kay disappears, only to reappear later at Don's hotel with news that assassins have targeted him. Better get those deflector shields up, Don, and join me in "once bitten, twice shy" mode.

After making Don's life miserable during previous DOUBLE DUCK installments, Daisy actually gets to go with Donald to Paris this time, and Don is forced to choose between his loyalty to The Agency and his often mystifying love for his mercurial girlfriend when it appears that Daisy has been kidnapped by Organization thugs. The alarm turns out to be a false one, which seems par for the course with this title. I will say that Daisy, who jumps with alarming speed from threatening Don with a rolling pin (when was the last time you saw that cliche in a comic-book setting?) to covering him with kisses after learning that he's taking her to Paree, has rarely looked so good in a physical sense. Artist Vitale Mangiatordi does a fine job with Kay K, too.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Daytona 130,000+

The blog has been "dark" for the past week due to my participating in the AP Statistics Reading at Daytona Beach. I and 569 kindred spirits graded over 130,000 free-response exams over a period of seven days. It's always a fun experience, and I'm happy to report that the students' scores are -- ever so slightly -- improving! Put that down to the increased presence of stats in many high-school curricula.

I'll see you soon with new reviews.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Comics Review: UNCLE $CROOGE #392 (Boom! Kids, June 2010)

OK, here's my informal, and admittedly subjective, list of criteria for a good DuckTales (as opposed to UNCLE $CROOGE) comic-book story:

1. The story should be well-drawn and well-written. (Simple, no?)
2. The made-for-TV characters should be given something meaningful and "in-character" to do.
3. The story should generally respect the established "universe" of the TV series.

Neither this issue's featured story, "Like a Hurricane, Part 1: The Everlasting Coal", nor its backup, the reprinted and (for some inexplicable reason) re-dialogued "The Littlest Gizmoduck" make the grade on all three counts. Much as I hate to admit it, given my high hopes for UNCLE $CROOGE's DT "phase," "The Littlest Gizmoduck" is the closer of the two to the "ideal." DISNEY ADVENTURES DT stories were wildly inconsistent at the best of times, but this unpretentious little filler is pretty good for what it is. "Everlasting Coal," on the other hand, while reasonably well-drawn by Xavier Vives Mateu and full of funny one-liners, gets some basic DT "factoids" wrong -- some petty, some troubling. Since Paul Halas and Tom Anderson's original dialogue for "Coal" appears to have been rewritten as well, any failings of the lead story may have to be attributed to whoever provided the new words. The writers are certainly enthusiastic about the Disney Afternoon series and don't hold their audience in contempt as the writers for the Marvel DISNEY AFTERNOON title frequently did, but they may need to do a bit more homework.

"The Everlasting Coal" takes Scrooge, HD&L, Launchpad, and Donald (who comes along on this adventure, but might just as well be Dimwitty or Hard Haid Moe in terms of anything "Donald-distinctive" he contributes to the proceedings) to a remote Tibetan (or something similar) outpost in search of the accentuated anthracite, a "renewable resource" with the potential to revolutionize the world of energy. The "Scottish" DT version of Flintheart Glomgold sabotages the Ducks' plane and seeks the "treasure" for himself. The main action of the plot isn't too shabby, helped along by some witty dialogue (though I wonder why the "robber barons" who rule the country where the coal is hidden suddenly go all Communist on us in mid-stream, repeatedly sneering at "capitalist" Scrooge -- perhaps the "Brinjalbhaji Mountains" are in China instead?). In the other pan-balance, however, are the following quirks, roughly in order of their canon-cracking importance:

1. Launchpad calls Mrs. Beakly "Ma'am."
2. Launchpad indirectly suggests that HD&L are Junior Woodchucks, but he himself is not. (This is the guy who held the record for most JW Merit Badges earned; see "Superdoo!".)
3. Donald complains, after yet another Launchpad crash, that "Launchpad's flying is why I joined the Navy!" (Don actually signed up before he even met LP; see "Treasure of the Golden Suns.")
4. Launchpad makes reference to always carrying a flashlight "in case [Darkwing Duck] loses the keys to The Ratcatcher." Unless LP has taken to moonlighting or has a very short commute, this is a big goof; LP signed up with DW after leaving Duckburg "for good." The reference can't have originated with Halas and Anderson, since the original story has a "D 89xxx" date code, meaning that it predated Darkwing Duck's debut. Does this mean that we can expect to see Scrooge and HD&L appear in the upcoming Boom! DARKWING mini-series?

Out of nowhere, Launchpad also comes up with a bizarre non sequitur: "Whoa, we're all wearing hats!" ?????? Yours too tight or something, LP?

Neither Boom! nor Inducks give a writer credit for "The Littlest Gizmoduck" (Boom! uses the generic "Disney Adventures Staff"), so I'll close that gap here and give appropriate credit to Karen Willson and Chris Weber, who also wrote the TV episode "Much Ado About Scrooge." This was the first comic-book appearance of Fenton Crackshell and Gizmoduck, and I think it's a reasonably good one. The rewriting is essentially pointless, basically copying the original in several places and otherwise bringing nothing new to the table. (If you want to see a bit of what the original story looked like, never fear; several panels from it are reproduced on the inside front cover!) In the one instance where a minor rewrite would have made sense, the writer(s) fall down on the job; Fenton (who isn't ID'd by name here, unlike the original story) still refers to Scrooge as "Mr. Scrooge," rather than "Mr. McDuck." HD&L also make a reference to The Quiverwing Quack, but that shout-out's OK by me; the boys could very well have read about Gosalyn's heroic exploits in the Duckburg newspaper. They know enough about Quiv to know that she's a girl, at least.

All in all, Boom!'s first Disney Afternoon-related effort is a bag so mixed that it would serve well as a template for a demonstration of random sampling. There are promising signs here, but also plenty of room for improvement.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Book Review: THE NARCISSISM OF MINOR DIFFERENCES: HOW AMERICA AND EUROPE ARE ALIKE, AN ESSAY IN NUMBERS by Peter Baldwin (Oxford, 2009)

Americans = Mars, Europeans = Venus, right? Not according to the author of this book. Through a series of tart mini-essays and comments, Baldwin makes what is essentially a collection of bar graphs comparing various aspects of America and Western European countries interesting, fun, and thought-provoking to read. The upshot of his argument is that, in many ways, America falls within the European mainstream on a host of social, economic, and cultural issues; indeed, the differences between European nations (such as those between northern and southern Europe) are often more pronounced than the differences between America and Europe-in-general. He is intellectually honest enough to recognize that his thesis is likely to be as troubling to liberals who look to Scandinavia-style social welfare states as a secular "Mecca" as it is to conservatives who dismiss Western Europe as decadent and biologically exhausted. Of necessity, more subjective measurements of difference are not included, and I suspect that here is where more significant differences would be observed. (The upcoming World Cup puts me in mind of one: the frequent racist heckling of black and foreign soccer players in many European countries, which has thankfully been expunged from most American sporting events. How could the willingness to express such sentiments be "measured" without introducing bias?)

I would like to see a revised version of the book which includes the former Warsaw Pact nations. Many of these countries have taken a more "American" approach to economic development, tax policy, and so forth than the EU nations; will their influence "seep into" the Western European countries, or will the pressure to "conform" be too great?

Hound About Town

Nicky and I like taking our three dogs for walks in good weather, but the process was getting rather difficult due to Bengie's health problems. Bengie has occasional cases of the "gimps" and, due to his "previous life" in a chain-smoker's house and the resulting breathing issues, "poops out" very quickly on walks. We tried several ways to get around this problem, including packing a baby stroller, but finally solved it by purchasing a HoundAbout pet trailer. The HoundAbout is heavy-duty enough to manage the cracked and broken sidewalks of our neighborhood, and the cabin is large enough to accommodate two dogs if necessary. You can attach the dog inside the cabin to a leash so that he or she can't jump out. You can also attach dog leads to its sides or handlebars, allowing other dogs to walk in front of or beside the trailer and freeing one's hands for other duties (such as the inevitable poop-scoopage). In the picture below, that's Harry on the other end of the lead going off to the right.



The HoundAbout is a little pricey -- around $150 to $200 depending upon size -- but it's definitely worth it if you have an older dog that still likes to get "out and about."

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Comics Review: WALT DISNEY'S COMICS AND STORIES #707 (Boom! Kids, May 2010)

For the longest time, Boom! plugged this issue's contents as "TOP SECRET", but the editorial decision to follow up the immensely enjoyable "Mickey Mouse and the World to Come" with Andrea Castellan's second major MICKEY MOUSE epic was the easiest "call" since the hapless Orioles' latest defenestration of their manager. Given the parlous state of Boom!'s UNCLE $CROOGE to date, the desire to propitiate the longtime Disney comics fans was simply too strong to resist. (Not that the "sourdoughs" had a perfectly satisfactory week... Read on to find out why.)

Part one of "Mickey Mouse on Quandomai Island" cuts right to the chase, with a cruise ship carrying Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto, and Pete and his paramour Trudy van Tubb (who appear to have come on board to... steal people's wallets?! Wouldn't it have been easier, and far more cost-effective, to have stayed in Mouseton and done that?) cracking apart under the duress of a typhoon. The gang wash up on a tropic isle that appears to have been inhabited by scientists not that long ago. Given that "half the lifeboats exploded" (sic) during the storm, I have to wonder how many folks weren't so lucky. Hopefully, the "Rule of the Disney 'Universe' Titanic" (a corollary of the "TaleSpin Parachute Postulate") was in effect, and there were just enough lifeboats to save everyone. One bloke who definitely survived is the debonair Duke Hight of Konseet, accompanied by a mute body-servant, Maximus. The Duke already seems like a highly suspicious character, given that (1) he was putting the moves on Minnie before the wreck, much to Mickey's discomfort; (2) he is a gushing fount of long-winded stories of past "good deeds"; (3) despite the big talk, Maximus appears to perform all of the Duke's chores. Were this a Harold Gray story, the Duke's fate would be sealed right now. To be fair, though, he's only been an annoyance thus far. The flip side of Casty's cover (not pictured above) suggests that we're in for a gay old "prehistoric creatures on a deserted island" time, not unlike Floyd Gottfredson's classic "Land of Long Ago," but Casty has already proven adept at funnelling new wine into old Gottfredson-vintage bottles, so I think we have a few big surprises in store. One very modest gripe: what kind of cruise ship charges passengers for everything? Don't most cruise lines provide meals and "basic essentials" as part of the package, only charging for such "extras" as massages, alcohol, etc.? Nicky and I should know, having been on a couple of cruises.

As with "World to Come," we get a back-up story that will presumably accompany all the chapters of "Quandomai." "Minnie Runs out of Time," however, already promises to be roughly, oh, one quintillion times better than "Peg-Leg Pete and the Alien Band." In the noble tradition of DuckTales' "Time Teasers," the (ahem) remarkably similar Don Rosa tale "On Stolen Time," and the Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea adventures featuring the evil Mr. Pem and his pocket watch, Minnie acquires a device that appears to have the power to stop time. It's not a time piece, however, but a coffee maker (espresso or cappuccino? Such things matter, given that this is an Italian story) with a clock attached. Minnie is in "complete bafflement" mode at the moment, but hopefully she'll be able to use the old bean (groan) to dope out the gizmo's secret.


Speaking of stopping time, the final inside page of the issue appears to have reversed time: we get a honest-to-gawrsh letter column, rather than an in-house discussion/interview feature. In the "return of MICKEY'S MAILBAG," Editor Chris Meyer lets slip the tantalizing news that a return of MICKEY MOUSE AND FRIENDS may be on the cards, just in time to celebrate issue #300. That happy piece of information was quickly neutralized later in the week when I browsed through the "Extended Forecast" section of ComicList. According to the site, a whole slew of Boom! reprint hardcovers have been cancelled, including... gulp... DONALD DUCK CLASSICS VOLUME 2, which was supposed to appear in late July. (MICKEY MOUSE CLASSICS VOLUME 2 is still on the docket, but it has already been delayed for over a month, so it may also have been axed.) I sincerely hope that Boom! sees fit to reverse this decision or, at the very least, considers continuing the CLASSICS series in a less expensive format, akin to the softcover WALT DISNEY TREASURES volumes published by Gemstone. Boom! may have been inconsistent in its handling of "classic" material in the $2.99 books, but its selections of material for CLASSICS can hardly be faulted. If the company is dead set on sticking to hardbacks, then might I suggest putting an end to the relentless reprinting of material that has already appeared in the regular comics? That would "goose" sales of the $2.99's (since the option of "waiting for the collection to appear" would be taken away) and allow Boom! to reserve the hardback format for material that is truly worthy of the higher price. The "Extended Forecast" report also carried the news that STAR COMICS ALL-STAR COLLECTION Volume 4 has been cancelled by Marvel, which would be a shame, but nowhere near as disappointing a one as losing the Boom! CLASSICS line, the best thing the line has had to offer to date (sincere apologies to Casty).

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Book Review: THE COMPLETE LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE, Volume 5: THE ONE-WAY ROAD TO JUSTICE by Harold Gray (IDW Publishing, 2010)

Who's the bigger villain -- a ruthless con artist, jewel robber and gang boss, or a smoothly- operating, utterly amoral exploiter of an orphan and a blind man? The question dominates this collection of ANNIE strips, which takes us from the Summer of 1933 through the first month of 1935. We also catch the first glimpse of Harold Gray's antipathy towards the New Deal, with "Daddy" Warbucks being sent to jail on trumped-up charges in what has long been interpreted as a direct reference to the pursuit and prosecution of corner-cutting electrical magnate Samuel Insull.

This lengthy sequence should put paid to any reader's stereotypical notion of Warbucks as a "ruthless capitalist magnate." What he is is a martyr for capitalism -- an innocent roughneck, if you can wrap your mind around such a thing. In short order, he's taken in by a pair of swindlers who claim to be Annie's parents, gypped by a "loyal lifelong employee" who absconds with money meant for taxes, and railroaded by a blustering, demagogic district attorney. Even after he's cleared of all charges and has helped to bust a few crooked eggs in high places, he's left without a fortune and is soon back on the road with Annie. At different times, he could have cut his losses by saddling others with his failing company, but, needless to say, he refuses. These events were too much for a contemporary writer for the liberal NEW REPUBLIC, who blasted the Warbucks trial story as an example of "Hooverism in the Funnies." It wasn't pro-Hoover so much as anti-New Deal, and, as such, it made Gray a critical target for the rest of his career. Not that the hard-shelled cartoonist minded, of course.

In another fine introduction, Jeet Heer marks Gray's penchant for constructing elaborate, "delightfully maddening" plots that pile injustice atop injustice until the reader is ready to pop with indignation. The two main plot lines here certainly qualify. Slick agent Charles Chizzler (I do wish Gray had been a bit subtler with his character names) quickly repulses us as he tricks the singing Annie and her temporary partner, the blind violinist "Uncle" Dan Ballad, into signing a contract that gives Chizzler virtually all of the profits from their musical performances, but it's Chizzler's downfall that marks him as a truly evil character -- he simply refuses to believe that he's to blame for anything, constantly whining, "What did I do to deserve this?". He keeps up the keening even after the prison doors close behind him. By contrast, the conniving Boris Bleek, who mutates from Annie's irritable, phony father into the ruthless, homicidal leader of the thieving "Ghost Gang," seems like a much more commonplace villain, despite the dramatic darkening of his character. Gray's penchant for turning outcasts and scofflaws into likable characters comes to the fore once again in these stories, with Boris' wife Libby (a grown-up "ringer" for Annie) gradually learning to love the kid she originally only wanted to con and a genial confidence man giving Annie and Dan a hand by setting a trap that ensnares Chizzler.

Supplemental material includes a discussion of the much-loved ANNIE radio series (how many people drink Ovaltine anymore, I wonder?) and RKO's 1932 Annie movie, the first attempt to bring the character to the screen. Gray apparently had difficulty getting adequate compensation for the radio show, which may have contributed to his creation of Chizzler. It wouldn't be the last time that a personal gripe of Gray's found voice in the strip. There is no mention of the recent cancellation of the ANNIE strip, though the cancellation was mentioned on the LIBRARY OF AMERICAN COMICS Web site, which is now up and running. Perhaps this can be addressed in the next volume. Absent that omission, this is as good as it gets.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Past Imperfect

I was relieved to learn that Bud Selig has refused to overturn the blown call that cost Detroit pitcher Armando Galarraga a perfect game last night. Just think of the giant kettle of worms that a reversal would have uncovered -- imagine all the people scurrying to the record books to find other instances of "unfairness" and then demanding that they be retroactively corrected. Heck, this wasn't even the first time that a perfect game was ruined by a bad call at the last moment. How about this game from July 4, 1908 between the New York Giants and Philadelphia Phillies (as reported on by the NEW YORK PRESS):

The Fourth of July [doubleheader] showed a new world's record in George Wiltse's retirement of the [Phillies] without a hit or run in ten innings in the morning game... Wiltse came within an ace of letting down his opponents in nine rounds without a man reaching first base. [Umpire] Charles Rigler... suffered from an attack of astigmatism on the fourth serve to George McQuillan, the 27th Phillie who strode to the plate, and called a ball when Wiltse put a third strike over. Then the left-hander hit his rival hurler in the arm, and Philadelphia got its only man on base in the game.

No, I did not know that off the top of my head; it came from G.H. Fleming's wonderful book about the 1908 NL pennant race, THE UNFORGETTABLE SEASON. I thought of this quote immediately upon hearing of Galarraga's unfortunate near-miss. Note that the Phillies' manager let pitcher McQuillan hit even though McQuillan represented the potential final out of the perfect game. We don't need no stinkin' DH!

Book Review: A WORLD UNDONE: THE STORY OF THE GREAT WAR, 1914-1918 by G.J. Meyer (Delacorte Press, 2006)

A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918

Really good general histories of World War I (actually, I almost prefer to call it the Great War, since its historical impact was much more profound than that of World War II) are rather thin on the ground. John Keegan's book is excellent but focuses primarily on military strategy. Meyer, by contrast, presents an "integrated" history, interspersing year-by-year coverage of the major campaigns with "Background" chapters that provide invaluable social, cultural, and political information about the WWI era. In a lesser author's hands, this might have made the narrative choppy, but instead it flows quite smoothly. Meyer is so thorough that his major omissions -- a perfunctory discussion of the war at sea, very little coverage of action beyond the Western and Eastern European fronts, and, most annoyingly, the lack of a sufficient number of maps -- are somewhat difficult to understand. Here is where a sharp-eyed editor might have improved the book. Despite the unfortunate gaps, I heartily recommend this volume as a good starting point for those interested in learning more about this great tragedy in human history.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Movie Review: IRON MAN 2 (Paramount Pictures/Marvel Studios, 2010)

Iron Man (2008) was such an unexpectedly good film (as opposed to a "mere" rock-'em-sock-'em superhero movie) that I was just certain that the inevitable sequel wouldn't measure up... and it doesn't, though it sure as heck tries. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) reverts to narcissistic type at the start of IM2, practically daring the government (personified by a smarmy senator played by Garry Shandling) to commandeer his Iron Man suit. Others, however, are busily at work trying to come up with tech to match Tony's. Evidently they were smart enough to avoid the perils inherent in trying to master Tony's suit themselves. The would-be iron-mongers include a Russian physicist (Mickey Rourke) with a big grudge against Tony's father and an only marginally competent rival arms dealer (Sam Rockwell). There are great punch-up scenes at the Monaco Grand Prix and on the site of the Stark Technological Expo at the old World's Fair site in Flushing, but the "Heart" of the original movie is conspicuous by its absence, and the back end of the plot is too obviously set up as a dangling "hook" for an upcoming Avengers film. The movie wound up falling into the trap that a number of the modern Marvel movies have avoided, namely, assuming that "everyone" will know who the newly-introduced characters are supposed to be.