Monday, August 1, 2011

Comics Review: RICHIE RICH: RICH RESCUE #3 (2011, Ape Entertainment)

This is easily the best, and the most satisfying, issue of RICHIE that Ape has published to date. Evidently, someone else besides me was impressed with James Silvani's work on the "Keenbean's Corner" gags, for the well-liked DARKWING DUCK artist gets to draw writer Quinn Johnson's lead story, "Just Desserts (strikethrough) Deserts." Sorry, but I don't have the application to make that headline look right. Not that it matters, as the correct spelling of the saying IS, in fact, "Just Deserts," and nothing in the story has anything to do with mealtime. Would that this were Johnson's only faux pas, but he also packs his tale of the gang's discovery and exploration of a mysterious upside-down pyramid (it's not quite what you think, Tale Spin fans) full to the brim with such well-established cliches as a rolling-rock trap, rampaging undead mummies, bad Egyptology puns ("Let's kick some Tut!"), ancient alien astronauts, and "The Big No." Much of this repetitiveness can be forgiven, however, as the tale brings back another classic RICHIE villain -- albeit in a barely recognizable form -- and hints at the imminent revival of yet another. I still don't see how the completely independent plots in RR #1, #2, and #3 are going to tie together in #4, but, if any villain in the RICHIE "universe" can do it, then the latter villain can.

Appearing here for the first time since the 1996 TV short "Dognapped" is The Onion -- here, renamed The Stench -- who has apparently (1) gone down on his luck over time and (2) been mutated in some incomprehensible fashion. He now resembles a malodorous peasant from a nightmarish version of THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, and the power of "super bad breath" that he previously got from chomping on onions has now changed (or devolved) into generic "ultra-super bad breath" that he can call upon at any time to neutralize foes. The original Onion, while villainous, was also something of a comedic figure, even agreeing at one point to work with Richie's Dad on harnessing his powerful breath to "help solve the energy crisis" (1970s version). The Stench, by contrast, comes off like some sort of super-villainous alien. I can't honestly say that I completely approve of the change; it seems far more, well, drastic than the change that was made to Dr. NRG in the Free Comic Book Day issue. The Stench's particular purpose here shifts during flight; he announces at the start that his sole intention is to "destroy Rich Rescue," but, later, he begins getting orders to secure the ancient pyramid's off-world technology. Said orders come from a shadowy figure on a screen (think the F.O.W.L. High Command of Darkwing Duck) who is almost certainly The Condor, the RICHIE "universe"'s version of a big-league James Bond villain. Apart from the bird-symbol prominently displayed on the mystery-man's viewscreen, necklaces in the shape of a a member of "the family Cathartidae" are scattered about the pyramid. And if you think that the mutation of The Onion into The Stench was shocking, the unseen Condor hints that his ancestors, like him, intended to "conquer the world"! This may mean that The Condor is a descendant of the "evil clan of humans" who forced the pyramid aliens to hide their craft. The pieces don't all fit together just yet, but there's a lot to chew on in this story, and I look forward to the wrap-up next issue.

As for Silvani's artwork, it's easily the finest I've seen in any of this title's lead stories. While preserving the character redesigns, he downplays the anime-ish traits and instead draws the gang in more of an animated-cartoon style. The result is quite attractive. If Ape decides to create an ongoing RICHIE title, Silvani gets my vote as the man who should handle the lead tales, especially now that DARKWING DUCK will soon be going away.

The two backup tales are also excellent -- clever, modernized riffs on stories that might have appeared in issues of RICHIE RICH AND DOLLAR THE DOG or RICHIE RICH AND GLORIA had those titles continued to the present day. In Rob Worley and Armando Zanker's "Laughter is Not Always the Best Medicine," Dollar foils poachers' attempts to break into a Rich game preserve in a most unusual way (by which I mean, both the poachers' gambit and Dollar's counteraction are unusual). What gives this tale an RR&D flavor is that Richie winds up oblivious of Dollar's role in stopping the poachers, much to the Dollarmatian's chagrin. Thankfully, however, Dollar is NOT over-anthropomorphized here, as he so notoriously was in many RR&D tales (not to mention the Hanna-Barbera TV series). This is a caper that would seem to fit a character like Bolt every bit as well as Dollar. After reading so many "Dollar tries to fool Chef Pierre into giving him food with the help of cheesy disguises" stories back in the day, you can't realize how much I appreciated that.

Earl Kress (hey, speaking of Hanna-Barbera connections!) and Zanker handle "Uncommon Cents," a Gloria solo story. Gloria runs her Dad's candy store in his absence (Mr. Glad actually appeared "on camera" before Richie's parents did?! Who'd have thought...) and soon must contend with a pint-sized counterfeiter. Gloria got all too few chances to shine on her own during the Harvey era -- even in RR&G -- and the modernized version pulls the role off very well, displaying some of the traits of a young Nancy Drew (though the high-tech crime unit installed in the store does seem to be a bit of overkill). The ending gag appears to be a little off-color, provided that you assume that the object Gloria is holding is a bathroom plunger. Zanker's artwork for this, as well as the Dollar, story is a step up from his work in the previous issue, albeit still a bit on the angular side in places.

We end with another pretty decent Silvani-drawn "Keenbean's Corner" gag, which once again references the main story. I don't believe that Richie ever actually made use of the Keenbean-designed backpack, though. Then again, that is probably the whole gag (and, if so, it's certainly a better one than the lame pun in the final panel). All told, a really fine issue -- and if you'd said to me several months ago that I'd get much more entertainment value out of RICHIE RICH #3 than out of the concurrent DUCKTALES #3, I'd have said you were nuts. But 'tis true -- as you'll learn in my next review.

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