Saturday, January 22, 2011

Comics Review: MICKEY MOUSE #304 (January 2011, Boom! Studios)

MICKEY MOUSE... it's not just for "Boom! Kids!" anymore! With this issue, heralding as it does the start of the new "Classics" era, MM is officially promoted to the "adults' table" to join DARKWING DUCK and CHIP AND DALE'S RESCUE RANGERS. Mickey also "loses his 'Friends'," though Minnie, Pluto, Goofy, Clarabelle, and Pete do all make appearances here. It's the first time that Mickey's book has borne the proud old original title since the end of the "Gladstone I" era, at the beginning of 1990. The funny thing is that, to celebrate the return of vintage Mouse material for purportedly "older" audiences, Boom! presents a Bill Walsh and Floyd Gottfredson tale packed with features that can best be described as credulous and childish -- and, much more disturbingly, attempts to slip some censorship past our radar. Hopefully, the latter was only a one-time occurrence, but I'm certainly in no mood to accept such meddling as the "price" we are expected to pay in order to be allowed to enjoy works like these once again.

Walsh and Gottfredson's 1944 strip continuity "The Pirate Ghostship" has had two prior comics reprintings. The first, in WALT DISNEY'S COMICS AND STORIES in 1947, boldly titled the uber-fanciful pirates-and-natives epic "The Isle of Death" (and this two years after the end of World War II, no less). In 1989, Gladstone republished the story in one of its oversized Comic Albums, pairing it up with another 1944 tale, "The World of Tomorrow." The '89 effort, unsurprisingly, "whitewashed" the brown-skinned "sea cannibals" who capture Mickey and the 17th-century (sic) Pete placeholder, Captain Greatbeard. Boom!'s version, by contrast, tints the natives and their Minnie-like "White Goddess" Princess green. (Was the underwater passage to the natives' lair some sort of wormhole to Vulcan?) Given that Walsh's story is tethered only loosely to reality to begin with, playing "How Green Were My Natives" makes the giddy concoction seem all the zanier. Over the past two decades, there has apparently also been a change of opinion on the burning issue of the propriety of showing drunken canines. The '89 reprinting preserved intact the scene in which Pluto becomes sozzled after sampling "The Captain's Grog," but Boom! changes the "Grog" to "Sarsparilla" and, even worse, appears to have Photoshopped in a pic of a just-about-to-vomit Pluto from some other source. The panel with Pluto paying for his sins in the stocks has been altered, as well. I suppose it could have been worse... Pluto could have been using "uncivil discourse" and gotten cut out entirely. (Don't laugh; one of the Princess' tricks is getting Pluto to speak English, albeit only briefly.)

"The Pirate Ghostship" is a far wobblier vehicle than its '89 bookmate "The World of Tomorrow," but "World" was reprinted by "Gladstone II" fairly recently (WDC&S #588-590, 1993-94), as was another Walsh tale of similar vintage, "The 'Lectro Box." Walsh's casual attitude towards plot setup and resolution are always a little troubling to those more used to Gottfredson's well-calibrated storytelling, but they are especially so here. Even so, "Ghostship" has several good, solid, creepy moments: the fate of Greatbeard, the appearance of the fatal "Walking Death," Minnie's picture "coming to life" to scowl at the comely Princess, and Mickey's and Pluto's lives "flashing before their eyes" when they think that they're about to drown. Nice work by David Gerstein on the restoration (now, if we could only have had one of his commentaries to accompany the tale) and Casty's first-rate cover add to the package's appeal.

Following "Laundry Blues," a Gottfredson Sunday-page gag from 1932, the backup GOOFY story "Don't Worry About It" is a bit of a surprise. One might wonder why a simple "Goofy goofs up in a new job" (as a tree surgeon, this time) story would require no less than three scripters: Ed Nofziger, Byron Erickson, and Romano Scarpa. According to INDUCKS, this state of affairs came about because the tale was originally created for the Disney Studios overseas comics program but was never actually published. Scarpa dusted it off and reworked it (presumably with Erickson's help) not long before his death. This may account for the story's unusual level of self-awareness. It's a standard plot, but everything is pitched one octave higher: Clarabelle's reactions to Goofy's depredations upon her property are way over the top; Mickey and Minnie are actually betting on whether or not Goofy will succeed; and Pete is thrown in at the end more or less for the heck of it. I think that the story's self-conscious humor would have been even better appreciated had it run during the Gold Key era, when such GOOFY stories were routinely run as secondary features in DONALD DUCK. Alas, it's ten pages long, rather than four, and thus wouldn't have fit the GK template. The extra effort is appreciated, though.

4 comments:

Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

More Bowdlerization? That's unfortunate. With this and the business you noted earlier in "Luck of the North," I'm feeling distinctly glad that Boom! aren't the ones handling the Barks and Gottfredson collections.

Joe Torcivia said...

Geo:

I’d hardly single out Boom!, when it comes to this sort of thing. Honestly, it’s been going on since the days of Gold Key reprints, and – if you consider the 1950s Paul Murry re-drawings of certain Gottfredsonian Phantom Blot death traps – a lot longer than that!

Every publisher along the way has done this to one extent or another, with material from Barks, Rosa, Gottfredson, and even Murry. It’s just the sort of thing we will have to live with – and it’s far better than not getting the material at all!

Joe.

PS: I’m very glad to finally see the return of a comic book with the title of “MICKEY MOUSE”!

Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

Yeah, fair enough. Also, god knows what influence Disney themselves may have on this. Blaming the publishers themselves may not always be totally fair.

Still irks me, though!

Chris Barat said...

Joe,

What really got me here was the "weirdness factor" of the censorship. It's ok to show dead pirates in a zombie walk and a character perishing in a lava flow, but not to show a drunken dog?!?!
That's right up there with not showing fleas on the Beagle Boys.

Chris