Monday, January 17, 2011

Comics Review: DONALD DUCK AND FRIENDS #362 (January 2011, Boom! Kids)... plus BONUS COVERAGE!

*** SPOILERS BELOW: PROCEED WITH CAUTION! ***

It may sound like a backhanded compliment, given my general opinion of some of the previous issues in the "Kung Fu Donald" sequence, but this issue -- the last of the rice wine, as it were -- turns out to be a pretty good conclusion to the short-lived cycle. In "Return of the Titan of Tae-Kwon-Duk," scripter Joe Torcivia picks up where he left off in "Titan of Tae-Kwon-Duk!", the enjoyable backup story in #360, by, strangely enough, going in temporal reverse. Torcivia cabooses the unrelated 1990 Paul Halas-Tom Anderson-Vicar story "Malicious Mallard" onto the backside of the original "Titan," which Egmont actually released over a decade later, and creates a Barks-flavored mini-epic in which Donald's difficulties, rather than those of some "does-he-or-doesn't-he-really-exist?" relative in feudal Japan, drive the plot. Actually, Donald is more of a victim in "Return" than anything else, since Halas and Anderson stick Don with a case of amnesia at just the moment when a lookalike lowlife, the bad-assed, karate-kicking Mangler Mallard, escapes from jail. Torcivia enlivens what could have been (and probably was in the original incarnation) a truly dreary cliche-fest with some inspired name-dropping (e.g., the amnesiac Donald's boss, who thinks the zoned-out mallard is the real Mangler and uses him to commit robberies, is named Handlebars McTwirlsneer) and some snappy repartee between Mangler and the recovered Don as they have a sort-of-set-to in a junkyard. (The use of "Ajax" as the junk company's name is a clever shout-out to the "Acme" simulacrum used in Mickey Mouse Works and Disney's House of Mouse.) Donald earns an unexpected triumph -- though not one without a barb in the very end of its tail -- so we get an ending that can be ranked as satisfying, for all of Don's travails. Torcivia's success in hooking up the two unrelated stories is pleasantly reminiscent of Disney Comics' creation of "The Time Tetrad" from a quartet of Duck tales that ran across four different titles dated October 1991. Disney Comics "imploded" soon after "Tetrad" appeared; let's hope that isn't an omen...

Janet Gilbert, ably assisted by artist Francisco Rodriquez Peinado, gives us an equally amusing back-up, "A Star is Hatched." As those of us who enjoyed her GOOFY stories during the Gemstone era can attest, Janet has come a very long way from the bad old days of having a bored Scrooge join the circus. Here, it is entirely believable that a glory-hungry, martial-arts-obsessed Donald would try to horn in on director Quackie Chan's action film. Don has to settle for the role of a lowly "production assistant" (read: all-purpose goofy "gofer") but winds up filling a hole in the cast after he inadvertently puts one of the stars out of action. The kicker: the star is actually a starlet. The extra kicker: Don's reaction once he learns that he's become a comedy smash is frankly surprising. Very funny and very well-drawn, with a positively grotesque depiction of the starlet's demise thrown in. "Goof-Jitsu," a two-page MICKEY MOUSE strip gag from 1948, is the "cherry blossom" on top of an enjoyable package that finally does a little bit of belated justice to the whole "Kung Fu Donald" concept.


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The trade paperback versions of "DARKWING DUCK: The Duck Knight Returns" and "DUCKTALES: Like a Hurricane" have recently been released, and some oddities -- both minor and major -- are immediately apparent. For starters: Why is the DUCKTALES volume slightly smaller than the "Duck Knight" volume? Not in terms of page count, but in terms of actual, physical size? Is this meant to indicate some sort of "aesthetic difference" between Boom! Studios releases and those carrying the imprimatur of Boom! Kids? If so, then the policy is apparently not being applied uniformly, since the advance notice for the collected "CHIP AND DALE'S RESCUE RANGERS: Worldwide Rescue," slated for release in July, lists dimensions that are slightly different from those of "Duck Knight."

After its early struggles, I had thought that Boom! had weaned itself off of major editorial gaffes, but the "Like a Hurricane" collection is the messiest, least logically constructed thing that I've ever seen the company release. Recall that "Like a Hurricane" was the "umbrella title" used to envelop the DUCKTALES material in UNCLE $CROOGE #392, #393, #394, and #395 in a clumsily awkward embrace. Aside from recognizing the use of the phrase for trade-paper packaging purposes, I gave it no mind, but now it appears that I should have done so -- or, at least, tried to. As bizarre as it seems, "The Curse of Flabberge," "The Everlasting Coal," and "The Pyramid of Prak-ti-Kal Dioker" -- in that order -- are presented without separate story titles here, as if they were some sort of continuous narrative. Unlike Joe Torcivia's efforts with "Tae-Kwon-Duk," however, there isn't even the slightest attempt to believably create linkage. Indeed, on page 2 of "Flabberge," there's a reworked editorial sidebar reference to "Prak-ti-Kal Dioker," which originally was released before "Flabberge" in "real" UNCLE $CROOGE time but appears after it in this volume. I didn't know that sidebar references could be used to predict the future. If this isn't enough to make one's head hurt, consider that "The Littlest Gizmoduck" and "A Switch in Time" are used as "filler" material with their titles still intact. Honestly, did the proverbial "pack of monkeys typing randomly on typewriters" have a hand in putting this together? I suppose that I ought to be pleased that the positioning of "Flabberge" at the front of the book might represent a recognition of sorts that David Gerstein's ambitious use of an existing story to "achieve closure" on the tale of Carl Barks' Brutopia was, in fact, the high point of the DUCKTALES era of UNCLE $CROOGE. From all appearances, however, putting "Flabberge" first might literally have been because someone "rolled a six."

"Duck Knight" is a much more pleasing package, in large part because it has a couple of surprises lurking within. For one, there are no ads for other Disney-related Boom! products. This makes some sense, given that (1) DARKWING is being released under the Boom! Studios banner and (2) Boom! is clearly trying to "hook" mainstream superhero fans here as well as Disney comics fans, but a one-page preview of the "Worldwide Rescue" collection, as well as that of the ongoing "Crisis on Infinite Darkwings," might not have seemed out of place. Following the cover gallery, we find two bonus items that more than make up for the PR omission: two pages of character sketches by DARKWING artist James Silvani and a three-page article on "The Origin(s) of Darkwing Duck" by none other than DW's creator, Tad Stones. For the Stones piece alone, with its priceless bits of "inside infor" on how "Double-O Duck, Starring Launchpad McQuack" mutated into the "terror that flaps" that we know and love, this volume is worth getting, even if you already own DARKWING DUCK #1-#4. Did you know that Gizmoduck was originally going to be paired with "Double-O" Launchpad? I didn't.

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As we gear up for the official launching of "Boom! Kids 2.0" and the promised "return of the classics," word has come of some unfortunate cancellations elsewhere in the Boom! "universe." Read the entire thread for some interesting observations and revelations. I didn't read the Pixar and Muppet books but heard many good things about them. Could Disney be planning to shift these titles to Marvel?

1 comment:

Joe Torcivia said...

Chris:

Thanks for the many kind words about DDaF # 362!

What with my “repurposing” of the old Halas/Anderson/Vicar story and Janet Gilbert’s riotously funny original, this issue makes for a perfect transition to the new classic direction Boom! is undergoing. It looks and feels like the Donald we know and love!

Joe.

PS: “Handlebars McTwirlsneer” (such an audacious name for a villain) and the mauve stuff was all mine – as was an “additional one-panel dialogue repurposing” of a well-known Donald story arc title associated with Boom! Look for it, reference seekers!