Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Comics Review: WALT DISNEY'S COMICS AND STORIES #717 (March 2011, Boom! Kids)
Some of my fondest memories of modern American Disney comics involve those issues in which William Van Horn presented us with an "old-fashioned ten (or thereabouts)-pager" in the lead-off position. As the unquestioned modern master of the short, humorous Duck tale, dating back to his breakout stint in Disney Comics' DONALD DUCK ADVENTURES, Van Horn eminently deserved such positioning, and he continued to merit such historically significant treatment for much of his post-Disney Comics career. That makes it tough for me to say this: "Scrooge for a Day," Van Horn's first lead-off effort for Boom!, may be the worst story he's ever done in this particular format. This isn't simply a creator repeating past ideas, as Bill has occasionally done; this is a complete and total misfire.
One thing I've always liked about Bill's work is that he "does it his way," to steal a line from Frankie Blue-Eyes. He hasn't attempted to play to the gallery of uberfans, as Don Rosa has often done, but has instead mined his own quirky vein of humor, critics be damned. Here, however, his solitary approach appears to betray him. I don't know whether Bill knew of Brigitta MacBridge before he created the hideous, Scrooge-chasing Voracia Duckworst, or he simply didn't care that the position of "annoying female pursuer of Scrooge" was already taken, but Voracia is a dreadful character, an oblivious buffoon who makes Brigitta (who has some cachet as a successful businesswoman, not to mention a decent amount of charm) look like a prize catch on The Dating Game. Why Voracia became interested in Scrooge in the first place, we're never told, and that makes her obsession with old McDuck all the creepier; to be frank, she comes off like a stalker. The speed with which Voracia switches affections from Scrooge to Rumpus McFowl (who'd agreed to help his "bro" ditch the pest by disguising himself as Scrooge (!) and trying to alienate her) casts further unpleasant aspersions on her mental state. As for Rumpus, well, he's a slightly disreputable character anyway, but what did he do to merit this treatment? For his pains, he gets to be chased to Tierra del Fuego while Scrooge chortles gleefully in the shadows. Even the small details are lacking here; to carry off a labored series of pratfalls that are supposed to tick Voracia off, Van Horn must needs create a table of unwrapped pies sitting outside a bakery window (on a city street?) and a gutter containing enough water to completely drench Voracia (who, of course, loves the experience). Truly, the Darkwing Duck episode "Double Darkwings," with its strained conceit of the much bigger Launchpad McQuack serving as "Darkwing Decoy," was more entertaining than this. Luckily, more hitherto-unseen Van Horn stories are on the way, and they can't arrive soon enough for me.
The story that should have been the lead here is -- no fooling -- Freddy Milton and Daan Jippes' DAISY DUCK'S DIARY entry, 1981's "Coat of Harms." This gem, expertly dialogued by David Gerstein, takes the standard "Daisy the stuffy clubwoman" conceit and ruthlessly smashes it to pieces -- along with poor Daisy, who does achieve redemption in the end but spends most of the tale learning first-hand what agony she has put Donald through in the past for various club-related activities. (She even realizes it during her traipse through the gauntlet, not that it does her much good.) The recovery and splicing of the torn remnants of Daisy's Needlepoint Club's banner becomes an overblown project on a par with the cleansing of the Augean Stables, and Daisy adds to the over-exaggeration with some suitably apocalyptic lines. The sentimental ending, in which "the tatting girls" realize that they've completely lost sight of the whole reason for their club, is a little soupy, thanks to the presence of a doe-eyed young "trailer-park rat." To be fair, though, Barks was not above resorting to such "a child shall lead them... to change" moments in his stories, so it's all good. There is a fair amount of depth to this story: keeping faith with tradition is all well and good, but one shouldn't come to obsess about the process at the expense of the product. The tales of the Pharisees and Jesus come to mind. The 3o-year-old story is so good that I'm surprised that "Gladstone I" didn't print it way back when; it would seem to have been right up the company's alley, especially early on when it was reprinting Jippes stories in bunches. Better late than never!
The balance of the issue is taken up by a Floyd Gottfredson MICKEY MOUSE Sunday-page gag from 1934 -- with Mickey in "rapscallion mode," tweaking Clarabelle and Horace's relationship just for kicks -- and "Donald Duck's Surprise Party," a four-pager from a 1948 premium comic (for Icy Frost Twins Ice Cream Bars). This last, drawn by Pogo's papa hisself, Walt Kelly, is a cute curio but doesn't contain much nutritive value, mimicking the ice cream that the Nephews are obsessed with stealing and Donald is equally determined to protect. The really weird thing about the tale is that there's no mention of a "surprise party" ANYWHERE... not even a simple line about Don wanting to save the ice cream for his birthday, or something. Nor does any story in the REST of the 16-page giveaway appear to have anything to do with a "surprise party." Was simply getting ice cream itself that much of a special event in 1948? Perhaps so.