Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Another Slattery Update

Both Matthew and Peter are still in the hospital in Ohio. Peter had a relapse of sorts a day or so ago -- high fever and some other issues -- but hopefully will be able to be released fairly soon. Matthew is out of immediate danger, but it's unlikely that he will fully recover from his head injuries.

By chance, a truck driver who'd pulled over on the Ohio Turnpike to take a nap found Peter's wallet on the side of the road. If only the driver who'd caused the accident had taken such a precaution.

Expanding Your Horizons remains up in the air until we know exactly what documentation Susan left behind. We should make a final decision by week's end.

Book Review: ALFRED HITCHCOCK, A LIFE IN DARKNESS AND LIGHT by Patrick McGilligan (Harper Perennial, 2004)

Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light

I've only seen a handful of Alfred Hitchcock's movies but always wanted to know more about the man, and this extremely comprehensive bio came highly recommended. Be warned: it'll take a fair number of "goooood evenings" worth of reading to plow through this tome, and -- more to the point for a person with limited exposure to Hitchcock's work -- author McGilligan often seems to assume that you've seen the films in question, which makes some of his points hard to follow. By contrast, Scott Eyman's bio of John Ford -- only a shade less complete and considerably easier to negotiate -- provides just enough info about Ford's films to keep the reader from bogging down in a morass of detail. For the Hitchcock devotee, though, McGilligan's book will probably be the standard Hitchcock bio for quite some time.

The thing that most strikes me about Hitchcock's style of work, as described by McGilligan, is the immense labor that went into crafting his films' scripts. Hitchcock was notorious for pillaging source material and leaving only the husk of another's original ideas behind, and he ran through writers and co-writers like Orson Welles plowing through a super-sized hoagie (though you'd appreciate the directorial analogy). But, for all his camera tricks and special-effects magic, he grasped a simple point that seems to elude SO many directors today: You must create memorable situations, memorable characters, and an interesting, meaningful subtext to make a complete entertainment package. Rope, for example, was fascinating as an experimental exercise but also had the murder angle and the gay/"liberal elitist" themes to lend it extra frisson. Comparative fluff such as To Catch a Thief featured a subplot detailing master thief John Robie's relationship with his former mates in the French Resistance. Psycho, of course, is so much more than a deliberately cheap-looking horror film. And so forth. Well-educated in Catholic schools, Hitchcock never forgot that his works were part and parcel of the Western intellectual tradition, in their own fanciful, froth-flecked way.

Hitchcock was a rather quirky character but comes off better here than in some other previous bios that overemphasized his creepiness. He does not seem to have been an egotistical monster; the worst that could be said was that he got a bit lazy after being canonized as a master artist by such fans as Francois Truffaut in the 50s and 60s. Now that I've read McGilligan's book, I'm definitely going to screen more of Hitch's films. Then, maybe, some of McGilligan's more obscure nuggets of trivia may finally make sense.

Comics Review: LITTLE LULU, VOLUME 24: THE SPACE DOLLY AND OTHER STORIES by John Stanley and Irving Tripp (Dark Horse, 2010)

For me, the best in this latest collection of LULU tales (from issues #118-123, April-September 1958) was (literally) the last. The imaginatively titled story "New Girl" features, big surprise, a new girl in Lulu's neighborhood: a "Franglish"-speaking cutie named Fifi. Actually, that really should have been the name of her poodle dog, but said dog turned out to be a male named Gaston, with a bark that goes... "pif pif"? Isn't that a brand of peanut butter? Well, anyone who knows the i.d. of my favorite female Toon -- POGO's Miss Ma'amselle Hepzibah -- will not be surprised that this kid was a big hit with me. I wonder whether she appeared in any future LULU stories, either before or after Stanley left the title. Another fave in this issue: "The Super Puzzle," in which Tubby creates the headlined headscratcher by mixing a bunch of different puzzles together. It sounds contrived until you remember how many different flavors of Sudoku have been invented by now. Stanley only has one more year of LULU work in him, so there won't be many more of these ever-pleasing collections... more's the pity.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Baltimore Comic-Con Report

After 19 years of contact, I finally got to meet Mark Lungo when he came to stay at our house this past weekend for the Baltimore Comic-Con. Another old friend, Chuck Munson, arrived on Saturday and also spent the night at our place. We were sorry other "regulars" weren't able to make it, but "real life" has that annoying habit of sometimes intervening.

The Con was, as ever, a refreshing reminder of the ways comic-cons used to be. No hoo-hah about upcoming blockbuster films or cult TV shows -- just a plain ol' dealer's room and a slate of panels devoted, first and foremost, to comics and comics creators. Publishers were well represented, with the shocking exceptions of DC and Marvel (which, to be fair, did spoon out some "dish" at panels dedicated to the companies' upcoming projects). Boom!'s personnel were friendly and helpful and smiled "stay tuned" in response to our questions about future DISNEY CLASSICS hardback editions and additional titles based on Disney Afternoon series. As things turned out, there was some late-breaking news on the latter front that will surely have made a certain segment of DAFTies "nuts" by now. More below...

Saturday's itinerary included a side trip to Geppi's Entertainment Museum, which
was offering half-price admission to all Con-goers who brought their ticket stubs
with them. It didn't take long for me to notice that some of the artwork that had been on hand when GEM opened had disappeared. Half of the display cases in the 19th-century exhibit were empty for reasons of "renovation" (which, in Baltimore parlance, usually means that you've got a long wait ahead of you before things get fixed). But it was nice to see "all that cool stuff" again, and the gift shop is extremely well appointed, with a nice selection of books, plushies, and chatchkas.

From Geppi's, we met Nicky and proceeded to M&T Bank Stadium to watch the preseason game between the Ravens and the Giants. Nicky was able to get cheap tix via StubHub, and, trio of Con-going fanboys though we were, we weren't going to pass up the chance to see an NFL game, albeit a meaningless one. Unfortunately, we got stuck right in front of an obnoxious, drunken loudmouth fan who divided his time between yelling inane comments about how "great" preseason was and flirting with a girl in the row in front of us. (The girl's boyfriend was present, and we learned after we left that there had been a fight in our premises after halftime... Coincidence??) We were planning to leave early in any event, but the noisy nuisance and his neighboring enablers made it easier to depart. By the time we got home, we were pretty much pooped...

...On second thought, scratch the "pretty much."

Sunday morning saw Chuck take off to visit his mom in New Jersey and Mark and I essay another run at the Con. We saw a good panel, a "Spotlight on Sergio Aragones" in which the MAD cartoonist and creator of Groo dispensed with the usual interlocutors and worked the room while wielding a handheld microphone. He's funny, but not quite as wacky as I would have imagined him being. The ingenuous, "Spanglish"-speaking naif who occasionally pops up as "Sergio" in Aragones' works is evidently a fanciful creation. Aragones dropped the interesting news that he is working on another GROO miniseries that will feature Groo vs. ... Conan! So what do you do when two such towering titans meet? Doesn't one of them have to lose? All I'll say here is that Sergio appears to have come up with a good solution to that particular dilemma. Earlier in the Con, we also saw the tail end of a panel spotlighting Denis Kitchen (who's apparently preparing a biography of Al Capp -- no surprise there, given Kitchen Sink Press' series of LI'L ABNER reprints) and a panel starring Mike Allred, creator of MADMAN. Attendance could have been better at all three events, but no one was trying to "spin" anything, create "synergy," or establish "buzz"... just impart some interesting "inside infor" about comics.

Purchases? Yes, we made some purchases. I got about a dozen RICHIE RICH comics from the 1960s, continuing my tortuous crawl towards the glittering goal of a complete RICHIE collection... a goal I'm certainly never going to achieve. Chuck got Don Rosa (who originally wasn't on the list of attendees... but c'mon, those piles of Golden Age and Silver Age cover parodies aren't going to sell themselves!) to sign a print of Scrooge, Magica, and Glomgold for Chuck's daughter Kathryn. Mark got a 60s BUGS BUNNY comic "introducing" a female bunny character that I'm sure even the hardiest of die-hard Warner Bros. fans have forgotten about. The best news from the Con, however, was (as the ads have it) ABSOLUTELY FREE...

... Boom! will publish a CHIP AND DALE'S RESCUE RANGERS title starting in December. No doubt we have the surprising success of the DARKWING DUCK title to thank for this; I seriously doubt that the DuckTales material running in UNCLE $CROOGE had much to do with it. Boom!'s confidence is reflected by the fact that it's giving the Rangers a continuing title right off the bat, with no intervening mini-series to test the waters. Ian Brill, the writer of the DARKWING title, will also handle the writing chores for the Rangers, with Leonel Castellani doing the artwork. Nothing against Brill's involvement, but I'm kind of nervous about these original DAFT creations being assigned to a single writer; I'd feel a bit better if Boom! tried to find a C&DRR "specialist" at some point. The stakes are somewhat higher for a RANGERS book, as well; the well-organized and vocal C&DRR fandom, with its fond memories of Disney Comics' impressive RANGERS effort, will no doubt be a tougher crowd to please than the fans of Darkwing who'd never seen DW in a continuing title with original material (the four issues published by Disney in 1991-92 were simply an adaptation of "Darkly Dawns the Duck"). Give Boom! credit, though, for seeing an opening and attempting to "run to daylight."

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

DVD Review: SERGEANT YORK (Warner Bros., 1941)

Here's a comparison for you: Sergeant York and Patton. Not so much the movies themselves -- they have very different feels, even taking the differences between World War I and World War II into account -- as the fact that how you're "programmed" will probably determine how you react to the story being told. During the Vietnam era, a divided nation watched Patton and saw the general as either a no-guff, victory-minded patriot or a noxious jerk, depending upon individual political preferences. Sergeant York, which was universally praised during its initial run, earned Gary Cooper an Academy Award, and played no small part in drumming up support for the military during the run-up to Pearl Harbor, now seems to split opinions in a similar manner. The critical comments on IMDb bifurcate neatly into either uncomplicated admiration or snarky dismissal. Alvin York's choice between either obeying the dictates of his pacifist interpretation of Christianity and coming to his country's aid in time of war is either applauded as a "deep theme" to be considered at length or waved aside with a smirk as just another example of hypocrisy in an American "hero." The cosmetic aspects of the movie -- particularly the patently artificial feel of the "hillbilly" section describing Alvin's wild youth and his "getting religion" -- have dated badly, making one's personal commitment to the tale seem all the more significant. Quite frankly, how you view Sergeant York's dilemma probably says more about you than it does about the Sergeant.

In all honesty, I found the first half of the film rather tedious, save for Walter Brennan's great turn as the folksy, pulpit-pounding Pastor Pile. The obvious soundstage settings and the frequently labored attempts to do LI'L ABNER shtick are definite turnoffs; Cooper's careful pronunciation of such backwoodsisms as "hyar" and "air" is actually comical at times. York's "conversion by lightning bolt" flies in the face of the actual facts about the man and seems more suited for a Cecil B. DeMille costume epic. The second half makes up for all this, however. Director Howard Hawks is on familiar territory when he places the diffident, self-conscious York in a diverse company of doughboys, and the "guys training and bonding" material comes off well. York's soul-searching is presented in melodramatic fashion, complete with a wind-riffled Bible opening to just the right page to break York's mental deadlock, but the legitimate clash of basic moral values still rings true. The battle scene in which York earns his honors, while also confined to an artificial set and relatively bloodless, packs a surprising wallop for all that, especially when York makes up for the killing of a buddy by quickly dispatching the German prisoner who had done the surreptitious deed.

We only got one disc from Netflix, with only a handful of extras -- but interesting extras they are. There's a running critical commentary on the movie, as you might expect, but a couple of Warners shorts, including Porky's Preview, attempt to give the viewer the "feel" of a night at the local Warners theater in 1941. It would have been even more authentic had you been obliged to watch the shorts prior to the main feature, but I'm not complaining.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

An Update on the Slatterys

I'm happy to report that Peter Slattery, Susan's 16-year-old son, is now sitting up and communicating. He has several broken bones but should recover physically. 12-year-old Matthew, however, is still in a coma in Akron Children's Hospital ICU.

The school year begins tomorrow, and I've already started to try to pull together some loose ends in the wake of Susan's death. Susan was the major organizer of Stevenson's two previous successful mountings of "Expanding Your Horizons", and number three is scheduled for October 2. I got together all the notes I could find regarding past EYH planning and will distribute them to the other math faculty. Some of the things that Susan did, however, were done only by her, and we'll have to hunt down the information. Hopefully the Math Department, in cooperation with the rest of the School of the Sciences, will still be able to pull the event off. The fall initiation ceremony for the SU chapter of Kappa Mu Epsilon Honorary Math Society is slated for September 21. At both EYH and the KME fete, we will make it a special point to honor Susan's memory.

Comics Review: DARKWING DUCK #3 (Boom!, August 2010)

As if to make up for Boom!'s recent switch to a "one-cover-per-issue" policy, DARKWING DUCK #3 was issued in no less than three variants, including the nifty "mock-Victorian" Amy Mebberson cover shown above. I don't mind the showboating in this case, because this installment of "The Duck Knight Returns" is by far the best to date. We get explanations for Launchpad and DW's "de-partnering" and Quackerjack's consistent "mad-on," a couple of cameos of sorts by other Disney Afternoon stalwarts (one of which is so unexpected as to rattle one's back teeth), and a memorable appearance by Negaduck (though not exactly the one I expected). Best of all, writer Ian Brill, whom I mildly took to task for some temporal inconsistencies in #2, is back in top form, finishing off the issue with a revelation of the mastermind behind Quackwerks that is simultaneously (1) completely logical, given the character's past practice, and (2) still a complete surprise. There are so many goodies packed herein that I'd hate to ruin your appetite if you haven't "indulged" yet, so I'll spill the beans only after inserting some...

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Evidently, the Fearsome Five managed to stay afloat during the early days of Quackwerks, which is a tribute of sorts to Negs' "leadership skills." But once Negs reasoned out DW's secret identity and insisted that only HE was worthy of destroying Drake Mallard's life -- and then got himself caught by the Crimebots while in the act of trashing the Mallard household (why am I reminded of the fate of Gummi Glen in "King Igthorn"? At least Drake got a chance to rebuild Mallard Manor) -- the remaining "Fallible Four" must have reverted to default "knob" status and no longer posed a threat, at least not until the events of "Duck Knight." It certainly couldn't have helped that the offended Quackerjack went truly loco as a result, not least because Negs was responsible for destroying Mr. Banana Brain. (It's not a coincidence that James Silvani draws QJ with Megavolt-style mismatched eyes in several panels.) Drake, for his part, overreacted gruesomely as only he can, but this time in a wholly self-destructive manner, blaming (and thus alienating) Launchpad and taking himself out of the crimefighting game. It's frankly amazing that Gosalyn, who's not the type to verbally tiptoe around her Dad, waited a full year and a half to give Drake a verbal boot in the rear.


As for the Quackwerks kingpin (or Brahma Bull, to be more specific)... sure, I knew that Taurus Bulba/Steerminator was a manipulative crime boss, but I would never have given him credit for possessing the necessary techno-smarts to create this sort of a regime. Perhaps he analyzed the cyborg technology implanted in him by FOWL (or had it analyzed for him) and thereby battened on others' technological labor, just as he originally planned to do with the Waddlemeyer Ram Rod. The open questions now are:

(1) Where is Negaduck? Assuming he's still "in custody," that appears to set us up for -- horrors!... a Fearsome Five-DW "coopero-fest" to thwart TB?! Negs and DW, working together to stop a common threat?! We should be seeing airborne swine any moment now, I reckon.

(2) At what point will TB's antipathy towards DW rear its ugly horned head -- and will the kingpin's desire to "obliterate" his longtime foe somehow gum up the works of Quackwerks enough to lead to the regime's downfall?

(3) How did Launchpad and Gadget (!!!) get into the same "universe" for that priceless one-panel throwaway gag? Did Thaddeus Rockwell repair his helmet, or did Matt Plotecher write a sequel to "There and Back... Again?" and I wasn't made aware of it? I'm taking bets. (Gizmoduck's appearance in the paper was funny, too -- not least because Launchpad misconstrued the reason for his breakup with DW as a result -- but the Gadget appearance went to several higher levels of awesome.)

(4) What is in the lockbox that TB was trying to get Honker to open? And why did TB need Honker to do it? It's not as if Honker has the entire corpus of the English language memorized. (Well, I hear he's pretty close to polishing off the "Y"s and "Z"s.)

This entry's title line corrects something about the Boom! DARKWING DUCK: it's actually a part of the Boom! Studios line itself, rather than Boom! Kids, as I had incorrectly indicated in the first two DARKWING entries. At least Brill and Silvani have demonstrated that Boom! is perfectly capable of producing highly commendable original Disney comics, just as it has done with the Pixar characters and The Muppets. Now, if we could only have a little of this creativity bleed into the "classic" Disney line...

Friday, August 20, 2010

Comics Review: DONALD DUCK AND FRIENDS #357 (August 2010, Boom! Kids)

Remarkably enough, "Total Reset Button," the last DOUBLE DUCK story in this title for the foreseeable future, is slated for the slightly undignified role of second fiddle to its backup feature in both this issue and the upcoming #358. After only nine pages' worth of the supposed "lead story" -- providing barely enough time for me to "reset" my VCR, let alone neutralize a former Agency head's reviving memories -- we get 15 pages of "Bugged Duck," a 2005 Egmont pocket-book pseudo-spy story drawn by Flemming "TNT" Andersen and written by Mark and Laura Shaw. This is peculiar enough -- but what's really strange is that "Bugged Duck" is 30 pages total, meaning that the caboose will outweigh the train next time, as well. Why couldn't "Reset Button" simply have been finished in this issue, with a brief gag story thrown in to make weight? Even a couple of oversize reprinted covers from TOPOLINO's DOUBLE DUCK issues would have been acceptable -- not to mention more respectful to a concept that has, by and large, provided reasonable entertainment value, which is far more than I would have expected when the Boom! DD&F began.

There's relatively little to say about the tiny smidgen of "Reset Button" we get here, except that my assumption that Kay K was "turning coat" once again appears to have been incorrect -- I think. (It's always good when reading these stories to hedge one's bets.) The lady who targeted Donald last time turned out to be an embittered ex-agent with a score to settle with ex-Agency honcho Felino Felinys. OK, so what about that whole business of assassins gunning for Double Duck? The goons helping Jana Smirnov here treat Donald as an annoyance, rather than a mortal threat, so the killers must be elsewhere. Is Kay lurking in a dark alley somewhere, wearing a slinky outfit and carrying a lethal weapon?

"Bugged Duck" is a blast from the thematic past, a "beaks-to-the-wall" rivalry story between Donald and the boys. Here, HD&L "cast the first zone" by eavesdropping on Daisy's house and embarrassing their uncle, who then tries to teach them a lesson by bugging them, subsequently letting them bug his person, and then scaring them silly by pretending that he's a spy on a deadly mission. (Andersen really excels in depicting Don's grimacing and bad acting when he's playing the spy con game.) The boys get wise and plan some revenge of their own, but two real agents have overheard the whole deal in the meantime and plan to bust up the "spy ring" (once they finish bickering over who's going to get the credit). Funny stuff, but, in order to make it work, you have to flush any memories of Donald being Double Duck that may have lingered beyond the opening nine pages. Schizophrenic issue...

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

RIP Dr. Susan P. Slattery

My professional world has been turned upside down. Yesterday, Dr. Slattery, the chair of the Stevenson Mathematics Department since 2005, was killed in an eight-car accident in Ohio. Her two sons (16 and 12) were in the car with her when it was rear-ended by an out-of-control semi and smashed into the back of another semi. One sustained a pelvic injury and is in fair condition, but the other sustained brain injuries and may not survive.

We had a brief ceremony this morning at the opening faculty-staff conference, and I don't think I've ever heard so large a crowd remain silent for so long a time. With one other math faculty member on sabbatical, there are only three full-time math faculty members available at the moment, and I don't even want to begin to think about how we're going to pick up the pieces. With the school year starting on Monday, though, we will have to move forward. For the moment, please keep Dr. Slattery, her sons, and her family in your thoughts and prayers. I will update with any new information about the boys' condition.

DVD Review: THE GUNS OF NAVARONE (Columbia, 1961)

My dad loved World War II movies. On those rare occasions when Mom and Dad went to the flicks without us kids, they always seemed to attend a war picture: A Bridge Too Far, Tora Tora Tora, Midway, The Big Red One. Older war films were prime TV fodder at our house, along with such small-screen offerings as The Rat Patrol (tanks in North Africa, aka a bunch of military men driving endlessly around what seemed like the world's largest sandbox). Looking back on it now, it seems a bit strange that Dad -- a young teenager in Hungary during the thick of the fighting who even sustained a thumb injury from a malfunctioning live grenade -- would want to constantly relive those terrible times, especially in the somewhat "scrubbed-up" versions in which Hollywood specialized during the 50s, 60s, and 70s. I wonder what he would have thought of such gritty, bloody modern war epics as Saving Private Ryan. The Guns of Navarone, now... that would have been right up his alley. If he didn't see it multiple times -- and I'd be shocked if such were the case -- then it was probably just an oversight.


Guns is a quintessential "guys on a dangerous mission" story that looks ahead to the future by putting a heavy emphasis on the infighting amongst our band of heroes. The target du jour is a German gun emplacement commanding a sea channel on the (fictitious) Greek island of Navarone. Failure to knock the guns out of action will cause a large group of British soldiers on a neighboring island to be lost. A crack mountaineer (Gregory Peck, imperious as ever) is forced to take charge of the mission after the commanding officer (Anthony Quayle) is injured in a fall. The motley crew of local resistance fighters, a slightly sinister Greek officer (Anthony "Mighty" Quinn), a persnickety explosives expert (David Niven), and a haunted guy named "Butcher" brave temporary capture by the Nazis, a near-fatal shipwreck, and a climb up a vertiginous cliff -- and then they learn that there's a traitor somewhere in their midst...

The "final solution" to the treason question, with its memorable standoff between Niven and Peck, is the film's most gripping moment -- as it was intended to be, concluding "bangs" and "booms" to the contrary. Producer-writer Carl Foreman, one of the blacklisted Hollywood 10, apparently wanted the movie to be considered an anti-war statement, and the raw material is definitely there: Niven gets several set speeches about war's futility, while "Butcher" has killed so many men that he's about ready to crack. However, I think that Foreman's politics get in the way of the intended message. His Nazis are so nasty that the viewer winds up wanting the film to hurry past the speechifying and get about the business of taking out the thoroughly hateable enemy. The moviegoers who made Guns the top-grossing movie of 1961 evidently saw the movie as a straight-ahead war flick and ignored the subtext.

Director J. Lee Thompson provides audio commentary for the movie, and he, Peck, Quinn, and James Darren -- who plays a Greek private with half a dozen lines of dialogue, with a few snatches of Greek song thrown in -- do the vast majority of the sitting-and-talking in the "Making Of" documentary. (Actually, stacked up against other contemporary pop stars who plied their craft in "serious" movies -- Ricky Nelson in Rio Bravo, Frankie Avalon in The Alamo, Fabian in The Longest Day, and Elvis in... well, I did say "serious" -- Darren does quite well in his limited role. His being picked to co-star in The Time Tunnel seems to make more sense now.) A few b&w Columbia promo shorts and the "high-action" trailer round out a thoroughly respectable set of extras.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Comics Review: UNCLE $CROOGE #394 (Boom! Kids, August 2010)


After all my grousing about Boom!'s seemingly overwhelming desire to serialize everything -- including short gag stories that were always meant to be downed in one "5-Hour Energy"-style gulp -- I'm happy to say that the two-part "The Curse of Flabberge" is the best thing that could have possibly happened to UNCLE $CROOGE's flagging DuckTales experiment at this particular moment. The cliffhanger at the end of this issue's Part One doesn't truly compare with most of the crag-clingers Bob Langhans served up during "The Gold Odyssey," but it almost doesn't matter; the story's satisfying succession of locales (the Chickaboom country, Duckburg, Paris) and element of mystery (the whereabouts of the missing Flabberge Egg of Brutland) provide the epic "feel" that was lacking in #392 and #393's adequate, but generally uninspired, lead stories. Thankfully, the broader scope of the tale isn't accompanied by a backsliding in the area of characterization; everyone acts just as they should. Writer David Gerstein takes French author Regis Maine's original script and packs it full of clever references to DT episodes, Alfred Hitchcock films, more-or-less-obscure French roundelays, and even Boom!'s ongoing DARKWING DUCK title. We even get a fillip of sex appeal in the form of a comely "cat burglar" in a skin-tight black outfit. Add some nice artwork by Jose Cardona Blasi and you get a very appealing package that easily beats anything that Boom! has served up in U$ to date.

Scrooge's wild tirade following the failure of the Chickaboom Diamond expedition is a perfect example of a bit that would have rung false in a Barks-, Rosa-, or Van Horn-based Duck story but makes perfect sense in a DT context. (Launchpad provides the necessary frame of reference by referring back to the legendary "A sea monster ATE MY ICE CREAM!!!" scene from the episode "A Whale of a Bad Time.") Likewise, when Scrooge, LP, and the Nephews infiltrate the Palais Garnier opera house to obtain more info on the mysterious "Miss Mitzi," they dress in outlandish, quasi-Elizabethan costumes, even getting to do a quick "shuffle off to St. Lo" in them. The "cheesy disguise" routine may cause groans from the Duck-comics purists, but it certainly won't bother fans of DT, where such "stage business" was par for the course. It's nice to see a clear recognition that DT isn't simply "Barks lite sans Donald," but, rather, frequently follows its own (charming) approach to telling stories.

Giorgio Cavazzano's cover deserves more than the usual amount of interest apart from its inherent quality -- it's this issue's only cover. That's right, no cover variants this time! Boom! is apparently edging away from the "Cover A"/"Cover B" gimmick, and, IMHO, not a moment too soon. If the intent was to "goose" sales by encouraging readers to purchase multiple copies of each issue, then the strategy obviously hasn't worked.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Book Review: THE JOHN STANLEY LIBRARY: NANCY, VOLUME 2 (Drawn & Quarterly, Volume 2)


Something weird is going on with D&Q's NANCY reprints, and, no, it doesn't have anything to do with anything in Oona Goosepimple's house -- or does it?? In my review of Volume 1 last fall, I made note of the confusion surrounding the exact issue of Dell NANCY in which Stanley introduced the freaky-yet-friendly little girl. This collection purports to reprint issues #167-169 (1959) of Dell NANCY, as well as FOUR COLOR #1034 (1959), the first NANCY SUMMER CAMP issue. In the second and third issues reproduced herein, Nancy visits (or, rather, is compelled into visiting) Oona's place and has dream-time encounters with mute little green characters called the Yoyos. Fair enough -- sounds like Stanley's adaptation of his "Story Telling Time" tales from LITTLE LULU to the NANCY "universe." BUT: The story "Nancy Meets the Yoyos" is in the third issue in the book, while the second Yoyos epic is in the second issue. I haven't been this confused since Darkwing Duck introduced a whole slew of characters in the two-parter "Just Us Justice Ducks", the "origin episodes" of which had not yet been broadcast. I'll take this as a simple printing mistake until a Stanley expert tells me different. The editor of the NANCY books, however, evidently needs a "time out," if not a knuckle sandwich from Spike and a side order of whoop-ass from The West Side Gang.

Flip-flopped freakfests aside, the highlight here is the SUMMER CAMP issue, the idea for which Stanley carried over from similar LITTLE LULU one-shots. It is nice to see Stanley attempting something resembling a continuous narrative (albeit one of the "thread-through-the-popcorn", "short-story-chunk" variety) with "funny" characters. But would Sluggo really vault from being a last-minute addition to the camp lineup to the lofty position of a junior camp counselor? (He must've threatened to beat a whole lot of people up.) The Oona Goosepimple stories got me to thinking about how Oona fits in with other "creepy family" characters in cartoons and on TV. Her relationship with her friends is decidedly peculiar. She isn't oblivious to her strangeness, like The Munsters, or convinced that she's normal and everyone else is warped, like the members of The Addams Family. Otherwise, she wouldn't act offended when Nancy makes up some lame excuse not to come and visit her, literally going to the extreme of forcing Nancy's unwilling legs to "work in reverse" and deliver Nancy to her doorstep. (I seriously doubt that this gambit, with its suggestion of abduction, would fly in kids' comics today.) At the same time, Oona takes steps to "protect" her guests from potential perils while they're in her home. Perhaps Oona is more "normal" than she would like to admit, while, at the same time, taking her "strangeness" in stride. But perhaps I shouldn't be surprised that Stanley found a unique take on a concept that has been exploited more than once in our popular culture.

It's a tribute to Stanley that he can make characters whom I frankly have never found appealing in the least both funny and interesting. Now, if only the editor would get with the program...

DVD Review: I WAS A MALE WAR BRIDE (20th Century Fox, 1949)

I can just imagine what modern-day "film studies academics" have made out of this slight, yet winning, Howard Hawks comedy starring Cary Grant as a hapless French (!) officer who must pose as a "war bride" in order to circumvent the U.S. Army red tape of post-WWII Occupied Germany and, perhaps more to the point, consummate his marriage to a feisty American WAC (Ann Sheridan). Actually, I don't have to imagine -- in this case, the often-obscured "subtext" is right there on the surface for all to gawk at.

The film divides neatly -- perhaps too much so -- into two main sequences. In the first, Grant and Sheridan (say... shouldn't this be taking place during the Civil War, rather than WWII?) gradually overcome their long-standing dislike of each other while completing a faux pas-filled mission. Grant's "humiliation" begins here as he is subjected to all manner of embarrassments, some of which wouldn't be out of place in a Keystone Kops reel. Once G&S have fallen in love -- an event which, to be frank, happens a little too quickly to be completely believable, even in an era when hasty, war-fueled marriages were commonplace -- the roadblocks in front of the nuptial bed begin to pile up. These culminate in the now-notorious scene in which Grant must do a drag act in order to get aboard the Navy ship that's carrying Sheridan to America. The censors' acceptance of the somewhat risque movie in its final state probably owed a lot to the "hangover" of the somewhat more relaxed artistic standards of the war years (think of those wild "Tex" Avery wolf cartoons).

While Grant is obviously tough to buy as a French officer, I think that the movie gains a lot from the fact that Sheridan, while very attractive, isn't a bombshell, quite. Her Lt. Catherine Gates comes across as a competent, serious-minded, somewhat bossy woman of early middle age, who could certainly make her way in the world if she needed to, yet, under the surface, packs a great deal of potential passion for that "right man." Think Tale Spin's Rebecca Cunningham -- and, since I've long maintained that Tale Spin has a distinctly Hawksian flavor, I did almost immediately. The war of wills between Sheridan and Grant is not unlike the duel between Becky and Baloo, the differences being that (1) Grant ain't a lazy slob (well, except here), (2) there's an explicit promise of sex at the end of the road. (Baloo even went in drag for Becky's benefit in the episode "Feminine Air," without that tempting "carrot" in play, no less.)

The extras here aren't such a much, with the exception of some interesting silent Movietone footage showing Hawks and company shooting on location in Germany, as well as scenes from the movie's world premiere in Heidelberg. Hawks wasn't known for his willingness to attack "current issues," and there's a distinct element of creepiness lurking in those bomb-riddled backdrops -- the more so because the prostrate state of Germany at the time isn't touched on at all. Grant suffered a near-fatal illness during the shoot, and other members of the crew also had medical issues, so the lack of detailed behind-the-scenes info really hurts here.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Bitter "Suite"

My computer was knocked down for an eight-count today by a stinking piece of malware called "Security Suite". It purports to be some sort of antivirus software but is actually a virus itself. Nicky bought some anti-malware software, brought it home, and now things seem to be running well once again... though the Internet Explorer does seem to be a bit slow on the uptake. It may just be my imagination.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

ScuttleButtTales?

Thanks to Greg Weagle for pointing me in the direction of Mike Peraza's blog. The former WDTVA'er has just finished a series of posts entitled "Days at DuckTales" discussing his work on... well, you guess. You can find part one here.

Peraza is the fellow who drew the heart-warming and unforgettable "quasi-picture-book" story "Tis the Season" (UNCLE $CROOGE #251, February 1991, written by Bob Foster). His blog posts contain several more examples of his artwork. Check 'em out!

Book Review: BECOMING SHAKESPEARE by Jack Lynch (Walker/Holtzbrinck, 2007)


This entertaining book's subtitle -- "The Unlikely Afterlife That Turned a Provincial Playwright Into the Bard" -- seems to suggest a snarky "debunk-fest" within, but that's not what author Lynch has in mind. His simple, yet striking, point is that William Shakespeare's elevation to the pinnacle of English literature was not inevitable. Rather, it was a complicated product of historical circumstance, certain talented individuals on the stage and in the academy who made the playwright's works both aesthetically popular and a respectable scholarly target, the misguided but understandable enthusiasm of would-be "improvers" and "domesticators" of Shakespeare's often confusing and frequently racy work, and even the occasional con-artist, whose attempts to forge "new" Shakespeare material raised the creator's profile all the more. But the Bard himself contributed to his own deification (and that's not too strong a word) by reshaping the parameters of how a literary creator was to be judged, bursting through the carapace of the Aristotelian "unities" and introducing a new way of telling a story on stage.

The "Shakespeare industry" didn't really take off until the restoration of the monarchy following the English Civil War and the rule of Oliver Cromwell. With the Puritan ban on theatrical performances lifted, a long-suppressed desire for play-going broke forth, and it was just at this time that a series of great Shakespearean actors, including David Garrick and the Kemble family, began to reinterpret the classic roles for a new generation that had had little to no exposure to Shakespeare on stage. The revived interest in Shakespeare's works led editors on an increasingly dogged hunt to recover the Bard's original words from the limited evidence available in the Folios and Quartos. Meanwhile, eager tinkerers played with the plays -- giving King Lear a frankly bizarre happy ending, cutting out the "naughty bits" (cf. the Bowdlers' FAMILY SHAKESPEARE, which gave a word for censorship to the language) -- and these altered versions, all clucks over censorship aside, proved enduringly popular. William Ireland's notorious attempt to hoodwink late-18th-century London with purportedly "new" Shakespearean documents, including the "lost play" Vortigern, indicated just how intertwined the Bard's works had become with English culture; the forgeries were denounced as equivalent to blasphemy. The first Shakespeare Jubilee of 1769 and succeeding fetes of the Bard's birthday both cemented Shakespeare's place as the kingpin of English literature and centered the "Shakespeare industry" firmly upon Stratford-upon-Avon. Not bad for a popular entertainer (for that was what the plays were originally intended to do, after all) whose death in 1616 went almost unnoticed and who was, according to the admittedly meager contemporary evidence, not regarded as anything more than an above-average theatrical craftsman. Of course, many historical figures' profiles gradually rise over time, as the necessary perspective develops... but Shakespeare's ascent arguably tops them all. That's what happens, I suppose, when literally millions of folks are giving you the necessary "boost."
Anyone with an interest in literature in general and Shakespeare in particular should enjoy this book a great deal.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Comics Review: WALT DISNEY'S COMICS AND STORIES #709 (July 2010, Boom! Kids)

The "secret" behind the existence of Quandomai Island is finally revealed in this third installment of Casty's latest gem, and -- not entirely surprisingly -- it turns out to be more "bizarre science" on the order of the elusive "World Equation" that was supposed to create "The World to Come." If anything, we're asked to take an even higher "leap of faith" to hurdle the notion of an "Eon Vortex" creating an isolated "cylinder" of frozen time. How does one "open a tunnel" into what amounts to an incorporeal force field, anyway? (The tunnel through the crater where the Vortex is centered makes sense, but wouldn't one have to penetrate the Vortex itself at some point?) And if the Vortex ceased to operate, wouldn't anyone inside at the time be thrust back into whatever present reality existed on that spot, as opposed to being "trapped inside" the world created by the Vortex in the first place? The phrase "too clever by half" comes to mind. In that off-the-wall spirit, it's entirely fitting that Our Gang's real enemies turn out to be murderous, shape-shifting, bug-like creatures from "the future" (Eega Beeva is starting to look mighty attractive right about now) who have managed to wormhole their way into this geometrically precise bubble of generated past reality. Somewhere, Bill Walsh is smiling broadly. The aliens -- sorry, I can't buy the notion that these guys represent our future; maybe they're "Newcomers" like the creatures in Alien Nation -- appear to have taken inspiration for their plans from MICKEY MOUSE ADVENTURES' Wiley Wildbeest and Prince Penguin. With Pete and Duke Hight's scheme thus turned back against themselves, "forced cooperation" between good guys and bad guys is now the order of the day... and that almost always works out great. If "World to Come" is any indication, however, the "Eon Vortex" will be a casualty of the battle.

If Minnie really is "Running Out of Time" in the backup story, she seems decidedly casual about the fact. After preventing a car crash (that heap big cliffhanger from last time, remember?), she walks about in a self-congratulatory mood. Umm... Attempting to reinstitute the natural laws of physics isn't imperative at some point? Before Minnie does the deed -- whatever that might be -- it appears that she's going to revisit "Time Teasers" territory, preventing a bank robbery. I assume that WDC&S #710 will feature the end of this story to coincide with the conclusion of "Quandomai Island," but the last panel of part three contains a "To Be Continued" box instead. I imagine that's a misprint. Time can't stand still forever, can it?

... Say, what's this? A THIRD story at the back of the book... a two-pager complete in this issue? I haven't been this shocked since the flight attendant gave me a second bag of "savory mix" to enjoy with my thimbleful of soda. "A Goofy Look at UFO's", written by Jos Beekman, dialogued by David Gerstein, and drawn by Michel Nadorp, is a charming call-back to the days of GOOFY ADVENTURES. It's especially likable because, unlike some of the lengthy "costume tales" we got during the second incarnation of Gladstone comics, it makes its obvious point and gets off the stage. Kudos to David for including a reference to Pinky and the Brain that almost made up for the lame concluding gag (which didn't originate with David himself). The formatting of this story is unusual, more like the current DARKWING DUCK comic than any of the Italian material we've been getting in other Boom! books. Was it originally produced that way in Holland, or is this a Boom! original? If the latter, then, by all means, let's have more, please.

All Tripped Out

Now that my trip to Vancouver for the Joint Statistical Meetings is over, I'm willing -- nay, eager -- to play homebody for the foreseeable future. Three sizable Summer journeys will do that to a fellow. Not that I didn't enjoy my stay in Vancouver, of course. The weather was pleasant, and I took advantage by concluding my stay with a trolley tour of different parts of the city, including beautiful Stanley Park. My talk went well (I've already gotten a request for my Power Point slides from an attendee) and maybe, just maybe, it can be turned into a paper.

The dinner visit to William Van Horn and his wife Elaine in "North Van" on the 3rd was great, apart from the $65 I had to shell out for cab fare. (The guy taking me there could at least have known where he was going. As it was, he had to drive with a city map on his lap.) Bill and I talked about everything from Duck comics (bien sur) to roofing during the 4 1/2 hours I was there. In Bill's studio, a partially finished Duck story lay on the drawing board (yes, he's still producing them, though at a much slower pace and with absolutely no idea as to whether they will ever be printed in the U.S.) and the walls were adorned with comic-art originals by George Herriman, Walt Kelly, and Chester Gould, among others. (I was unaware that Bill is a big DICK TRACY fan.) Bill's son Noel is prospering and has now turned his hand to Duck stories. Wouldn't I love to see both VH's represented in a reformatted DONALD DUCK AND FRIENDS?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Book Review: THE ATLANTIC AND ITS ENEMIES: A PERSONAL HISTORY OF THE COLD WAR by Norman Stone (Basic Books, 2010)


In a quirky recounting of the main events of the Cold War, Stone gets the good and bad guys right for the most part, but his work may be charitably described as thematically lopsided. Stone has the irritating habit of making every key point that he wants to make at least twice, and he spends too much time discussing the internal politics of Chile and Turkey, both of which underwent seminal "anti-Leftist" revolutions during the late 1970s, at a time when the West appeared to be in steep decline. There's also a lengthy "Note" in which Stone describes his three-months' imprisonment in Czechoslovakia for attempting to smuggle someone over the border to Austria. The prison adventure and the heavy focus on Turkey -- one of Stone's homes -- add the promised "personal" touch to the narrative, but they also prevent the book from being a "complete" history of the era. Stone is very good on the Communist takeovers in Eastern Europe and the good and bad points of the economic boom of the 1980s. Be aware, however, that you'll need to do some supplementary reading to get a full picture of what happened between 1945 and 1991.