Ape's RICHIE RICH #1 actually showed up at the store before the FCBD release, but I was determined to read the giveaway comic first, much as the young reader targeted by Ape's Kizoic line (which also includes KUNG FU PANDA, THE PENGUINS OF MADAGASCAR, and several additional offerings) might be expected to be "introduced" to a "reimagined" character who hasn't been seen in comics in some 15 years. I hadn't realized that the comic was in the "flip-book" format, with a KUNG FU PANDA story on the flip side; I'll let that material pass by without comment.
The 12-page "Eruption Disruption" (given an extra 'The" on the inside front cover -- I hope that this isn't a hint of sketchy "Jacobsonite" editing to come) surprised me in some respects, disappointed me in others... it was a genuinely mixed bag. Let's do this academically and give each aspect of the production a letter grade. This is kind of a lazy way of reviewing, I know, but this work literally defines the term "split decision" when it comes to quality, so it seems fitting here.
Artwork: Generally speaking, I agree with Mark Arnold's assessment -- I think that the character redesigns work well, with one major exception. Gloria's proportions simply do not look quite right to me (and, no, I am not referring to the small bit of cleavage we see her sporting in one panel). The "slenderizing" of her torso and legs seems to emphasize her over-sized head in a manner that is far less noticeable in Richie and Cousin Reggie Von (sic?) Dough. Perhaps it's more noticeable to me because they've taken away her long curls and given her a shorter (though still quite becoming) hairstyle. The revised versions of Cadbury and Irona (what happened to the lowercase i?) look just fine; one can easily believe that Cadbury can fight robots if need be and that Irona is an all-purpose whang-dang of an up-to-date, computerized do-it-all. Dollar looks OK too. As for the villain of the piece, Dr. NRG certainly deserved better, in a storytelling sense, than to be introduced and dispatched in a mere four pages, but his redesign definitely works; the "light-bulb head" conceit wasn't going to fly anymore, and the "human-inside-the-suit" look still preserves the idea of a powerful, yet somewhat vulnerable, energy-seeking character. I may not need quite as many reminders that Richie and friends have gums, but this is a good start. Grade: B+.
Characterizations: The "Rescue Rangers" approach certainly fits with Ape's plan to reinterpret Richie as a helper of the less fortunate, but it'd be a shame if we only saw Richie and his friends in this guise. The mechanics involved in saving people from volcanoes and such runs the risk of turning RICHIE RICH into an updated Emergency! and may not give the writers time to characterize the gang in effective and amusing manners (unless they decide to climax future stories with Richie and Reggie fighting while chattering incoherently). I already find the presence of Reggie in "Team Rich Rescue" to be troublesome. Even granted that Ape appears to intend to turn Reggie from a prank-playing pain-in-the-butt into a work-shirking Dr. Smith type -- which at least makes Reg's constant presence in the cast somewhat tolerable -- we still have to accept the notion that, out of all the individuals that Richie could have picked to join "Rich Rescue," he would pick Reggie. Freckles, Pee-Wee, and Tiny must be royally cheesed off, and I'm sure that Little Lotta would loudly interject that she would be a big help in the muscle department (not that Cadbury appears to need much help). Also, how do Mr. and Mrs. Rich fit into all this? Are new readers going to get the notion that Richie is an orphan?
I was worried that the writers would try to give the kids annoyingly "hip and cool" dialogue, but Jason Burns, the writer of "Eruption Disruption," manages to avoid that trap. Cadbury, of all people, comes off worst; his first line of dialogue is painfully clunky, though his speech does improve from there. Irona, meanwhile, will apparently be doing first-season Lost in Space Robot chatter. OK by me; dialogue was never her strong suit anyway. Grade: B.
Writing: Oh, dear... does this need an upgrade, and fast. Before I say anything else, I have to call Jason Burns on the following line from Dr. NRG as the latter attempts to drain the volcano of its energy: "I shall drink your juice... oh, sweet cavern of conductivity." That doesn't even qualify as a single entendre. This was supposed to be a kids' comic, correct?
Apart from the poor taste, a lot of the dialogue here is either strictly functional (of the "We're going to go over there and do THAT next!" variety) or badly cliched. Richie should be able to do much better upon his first encounter with NRG (for so it is presented here) than a bargain-basement, sub-Darkwing Duck line like "Hold it right there, you volcanic villain!". Richie later reads NRG the riot act with the ringing command, "You have to stop this. What you're doing is dangerous!" NRG does the standard evil-villain rant shtick, without a trace of the amusing amour-propre that distinguished the original 70s incarnation of the character, and we're even subjected to the infamous "Big No" after NRG's electrical powers are neutralized. (The way in which Richie and Irona do the neutralizing makes NRG's cry seem all the more ridiculous.) There are a few flashes of humor, as when Gloria gently twits Reggie about wanting to bury him in beach sand, but they are strictly vestigial. All well and good that adventure should be the focus here -- the "adventurous era" of RICHIE RICH has always been the one that I enjoy the most -- but we don't want things to be too po-faced, fellas. Nor do we want to rely too heavily on jokes about Reggie avoiding work. The next thing we know, Reggie will be negotiating with villains to sell Irona's parts for food.
Finally, regarding political correctness, which I originally thought might drag this "reboot" down. There wasn't much of it in evidence here, but one of Richie's lines did make me scratch my head. When the gang investigates the NRG-addled volcano, Richie declares, "We've got to get up there and stop him before his greed takes this entire island down." Uh, Richie, not all villains are motivated by "greed." Some are just plain bad apples, and, despite his desire for all of the world's energy, I think NRG would qualify. Does this suggest that tunnel-visioned corporate baddies are in our future? I'd stick with a "classic RICHIE approach" to villainy, if I were Burns and friends. The villain in the "official" RICHIE RICH #1 is reportedly The Googol, so that's promising. Grade: D+ (I'd give it a C- except for the bad-taste line).
There is legitimate promise here, though some of the rougher edges definitely need smoothing out. I certainly don't question Ape's enthusiasm for the project and wish them well.