Friday, November 25, 2011

Book Review: THE COMPLETE PEANUTS 1981-82 by Charles M. Schulz (Fantagraphics Press, 2011)

PEANUTS edges into the Reagan years with a few quasi-classic storylines and a distressingly high "chaff" quotient. The best of the former show a creator who is still very much capable of sniffing the wind and sensing the Zeitgeist without becoming a prisoner to its trendy fads and fashions. The justifiably famous sequence in which Peppermint Patty "runs with" Marcie's fanciful claim that a butterfly "turned into an angel and flew away" after landing on Patty's generously-sized nose gives Schulz an opportunity to take on religious hypocrisy and annoying talk shows (was "Sparky" channeling the future here, or what?). Schulz also takes a poke at the emerging regime of political correctness when Charlie Brown's baseball team is forced to temporarily abandon its sandlot home due to some well-meaning adults' imposition of newly-defined "safety standards." But, for every first-class story line like this, there are a string of scattershot gags about the Beagle Scouts, Peppermint Patty and Sally's schoolhouse stupidity, Linus' legal quotes, Lucy's beanbag sulkage, or those consarned Snoopy relatives. The latest addition to the "Snoop Pack" is Marbles, the naive, clueless brother who reacts with disbelief to Snoopy's World War I Flying Ace playacting. Seeing as how both Spike (as an infantry "blighter") and Belle (as a Red Cross nurse) actually get roped into a World War I adventure here, perhaps Marbles should count himself fortunate that he was merely cast as an "observer."

Schulz must have been one of the very few Americans who felt pangs of nostalgia for the late 70s at this time, judging by his decision to resurrect some plot ideas and characters that we thought had been left for dead alongside the twitching corpse of Jimmy Carter's "killer rabbit." Peppermint Patty and Marcie again take jobs as caddies, while Snoopy gets to play a mixed doubles tennis match with a somewhat porkier Molly Volley against the perpetually whining "Crybaby" Boobie. Meanwhile, Peppermint Patty revisits her humiliation at the "Ace Obedience School" by bidding her school goodbye and switching to the "Ace School for Gifted Children," where she thinks she'll get armloads of gifts. Not all of Schulz' digs back to the past are quite this desperate; "Pigpen" and Violet unexpectedly pop up a couple of times.

Lynn Johnston's introduction is a real bright spot, probably the best of the entire COMPLETE PEANUTS series. This isn't surprising in light of Lynn's close friendship with Schulz and the fact that FOR BETTER OR FOR WORSE began to take off as the strips in this volume were first seeing the light of day. Since Johnston made the decision to retire her strip a couple of years ago, I might have liked to have seen a few of her thoughts on why she chose to do so, given that her main creative mentor, Schulz, refused to quit until he had no other choice.

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