Monday, May 30, 2011

Comics Review: DUCKTALES #1 (May 2011, kaboom!)

"I'm an easy "sell" for any product that takes the links between [DuckTales] and the world of [Carl] Barks seriously..." -- My review of UNCLE $CROOGE #397

... but not so easy a sell that I can accept a product that steps all over its own webbed feet in trying to link various aspects of the Disney Duck "universes" and winds up satisfying fans of none of them -- not to mention especially pissing off fans of all of them.

kaboom! DT #1 was a huge disappointment. From the moment the title was announced, I was eagerly looking forward to seeing how writer Warren Spector's announced intention to combine Duck comics, DuckTales, and Darkwing Duck continuity would work itself out, and how the much-praised Miquel Pujol would illustrate the mash-up. The first hint of trouble came when the lavishly advertised Pujol was... replaced by the combination of Leonel Castellani, Jose Massaroli, and Magic Eye Studios. Not that Castellani is a slacker, but we were promised something that did not come to pass. With kaboom!'s Disney line shriveling up faster than a piece of frying bacon, the cynical, yet inescapable, thought occurred to me that kaboom! had already abandoned plans for a continuing DT book in favor of a cost-cutting, "one (arc) and done" approach. Reading Spector's chaotic script did nothing to lessen my suspicions. To be frank, this book already reads like a D.O.A. title.

"Rightful Owners" finds Scrooge challenged by rival tycoon John D. Rockerduck to engage in a contest to return treasures that the two have amassed over the years to their... you guessed it. As an excuse to insert Rockerduck into a DuckTales story, this premise isn't bad, actually. It wouldn't be as believable for Flintheart Glomgold to challenge Scrooge in this manner, since Flinty is just as acquisitive as Scrooge; Rockerduck's main motivation, by contrast, is to get the best of Scrooge in any way he can, even if it means spending some of his own money in the process. The problem is that Rockerduck got the idea by sending a spy to McDuck Mansion at the very moment that Webby, HD&L, and Launchpad were engaged in a debate over the morality of Scrooge's keeping such baubles in his possession. Webby, in particular, is galvanized by her recent tour of the museum's "Scrooge McDuck Collection" to turn into a scold on behalf of deflowered indigenous peoples. In all honesty, HD&L, with their long-established strong sense of right and wrong, would have been far more likely to have raised this point a long time ago... as they did in, for example, the TV version of Barks' "The Golden Fleecing." Making Webby the Ducks' literal voice of responsibility (and a rather arrogant one to boot; she gloats when HD&L "discover she's right" after paging through the Junior Woodchuck Guidebook... and since when has the Guidebook served as any sort of moral compass?) seems like SUCH a transparent way of "giving Webby a more meaningful role to play in the story." I have no objection to that, but there are far more subtle and in-character ways to do it (for example, see "The Arcadian Urn" in U$ #399). To call Spector's approach here ham-handed would be an insult to the Smithfield people.

Even before Webby has switched to "self-righteous jerk" mode, Spector commits some serious continuity-related sins during the opening sequence in which Scrooge conducts a tour of his museum "Collection." Spector apparently intended this to be his own version of the opening pages of Rosa's "The Son of the Sun", with artifacts from numerous previous adventures serving to link the present-day goings-on to the glorious past. However, in focusing Scrooge's flashbacks on the events of "The Status Seeker" and "The Golden Fleecing" -- both Barks stories that were adapted into episodes by the TV series -- Spector introduces elements from Barks' stories into a DuckTales context without acknowledging the changes that the TV episodes made to those stories. The McGuffin of "The Status Seeker" that is shown here is Barks' original Candy-Striped Ruby, rather than the TV version's hideous Mask of Kuthu-Lulu. Likewise, in TV's "Fleecing," Scrooge never actually got the golden coat, met characters called Larkies (which the TV ep rebranded as Harpies, following Barks' original wishes), or had to eat parsnip pudding. So what is the "reality" of those DT adventures NOW? Spector had any number of Barks treasure stories available to reference here; why did he have to choose these? Could it be that... gulp... Spector wasn't aware of the DT versions of these stories?

Spector likewise gets his continuities crossed when the "Collection" tour passes the grown-up edition of the baby dinosaur that Scrooge brought back to Duckburg as part of the events of Rosa's "Escape from Forbidden Valley" (U$ #347, November 2005). Had Scrooge and HD&L been the only characters on site during this scene, things would have been fine, but Webby is with them here -- and her questions indicate that she has no idea that live dinosaurs still exist, which flies in the face of the TV episode "Dinosaur Ducks", to say nothing of Bubba Duck's triceratops sidekick Tootsie, who was a housemate of Webby and HD&L's during the TV series' entire second season. [Thanks to Joe Torcivia for reminding neglectful [and embarrassed!] me of this latter fact -- CEB] Again, it's possible that Spector has never seen these eps, but if you're dead set on mixing and matching Duck "universes," shouldn't you be a little more aware of the specific parameters of those "universes"?

The plot per se doesn't really begin until the last half-dozen pages or so, when Scrooge takes Webby and Launchpad with him to the island of Rippon Taro to return the Candy-Striped Ruby (thanks for rubbing the continuity gaffe in our faces, Warren). Even this seemingly simple scenario is handled poorly. HD&L are left behind because "they're in school and [Webby] isn't right now," a state of affairs which (1) seems illogical in light of the fact that HD&L and Webby attend the same school in DuckTales and (2) is promptly negated when HD&L are freely available to fly with Launchpad to Rippon Taro at ish's end. (How did LP get from Scrooge's ship back to Duckburg to do the flying? And why did Scrooge ask LP to bring him the Ruby from Duckburg -- which LP, if he were on board, shouldn't have been able to do anyway -- rather than taking the Ruby himself?) The peppermint-candy-loving jellyfish from "The Status Seeker(s)" pops up just in time to save Webby from falling overboard and drowning during a storm... and Scrooge just happens to have candy on board to feed the beast. The peppering of extremely lame puns regarding King Fulla Cola, his son Fulla Pep, and their retainer Can Dew turns out to be only a minor irritant, which should tell you a whole lot about the overall quality of this story.

For me, nothing sums up the slipshod, "throw it at the wall and see what sticks" approach of this issue better than the panel below, in which a mysterious someone -- perhaps Rockerduck, perhaps not -- informs an impromptu convention of Barks, Rosa, Darkwing Duck, and DuckTales villains of Scrooge's intention to return artifacts. (Actually, since The Beagle Boys, who appear in an earlier panel, are depicted in their "clone" Barks form, you can only include DuckTales in the mix if you count the foxface in the blue jacket as being Fritter O'Way of "Down and Out in Duckburg," rather than Chisel McSue of Barks' horseradish story... and who's to say he isn't? Continuity certainly seems to be of the postmodern, "create your own truth" variety here.)

It's tough to resist a "Way Cool!", "fanboy-ish" reaction to this scene, but... but... How did they all get involved? Does Rockerduck really have so much "pull" that he can control a pack of villains (as opposed to hapless underlings like Lusky of "Around the World in 80 Bucks") in so matter-of-fact a manner? How would villains focused on St. Canard come to be so interested in Scrooge McDuck's doings? Why were minor Darkwing villains (Professor Moliarity, Camille Chameleon) employed, rather than some of the big names? Why should "single-focus" characters like Arpin Lusene, or Azure Blue and Lawyer Sharky, EVEN CARE about what is going on here? I'm sorry, but if you're going to throw all of these characters together, there has to be some reason for doing so, even if it's a meeting of the Disney Afternoon Villains' Union (shout-out to Kim McFarland and Mark Lungo!). I'd like to think that Spector will reveal all in whatever issues are left to him, but I'm not particularly optimistic.

OK, then, did I like anything here? Well, Castellani's artwork -- what there is of it -- is pretty good (if somewhat rough), given that he was probably handed the assignment at the eleventh hour. (Massaroli and Magic Eye's contributions, by contrast, are much rougher and harder on the eyes, which unfortunately makes the artistic-team seams easy to glimpse.) I appreciated the unexpected appearances of Daisy and Fethry as TV interviewers, even though (1) I would have preferred Daisy to have appeared as she did on Quack Pack and (2) Fethry doesn't appear to be the interviewer type (someone whose crazy schemes would encourage others to interview HIM, now, that's another matter). And, there's no question that Spector's heart is in the right place. With guidance, and a little additional research, I think he could be a decent writer. Unfortunately, given kaboom!'s current condition, he may not get a fair chance to develop his talents.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

THE BEST (AND REST) OF KIMBA: Episode 16, "Diamonds in the Gruff"

"Diamonds in the Gruff" is a real Sloppy Joe of an episode -- rather messy, yet satisfying. It manages to tie together two completely separate plot lines in an improbable, yet enjoyable, manner. It includes several iconic moments that all fans of Kimba seem to remember to one degree or another... and fittingly, given the highly schizophrenic nature of the episode, these moments are simultaneously charming and eye-rubbingly bizarre. Kimba's role in the ep is also "all over the map" in nature. Early on, he is more of an assistant to a plan hatched by another character (Roger Ranger in this case) than a plot-mover in his own right. In that respect, he behaves more like Astro Boy than the proactive young prince we've come to know. Later in the episode, however, he switches to "Noble Superlion" mode to save the day (though not without some assistance from his subjects). He then "reverts to childhood" at the very end and is last seen frolicking with the jungle youngsters!

This is the first episode since "Great Caesar's Ghost" in which Kimba turns a jungle antagonist into an ally (the "jungle" qualifier is included so as to exclude the likes of Professor Madcap and Billy Bully). Here, the "positive turncoat" is the grouchy Gruff (Hal Studer), the leader of the jungle's "unreasonable" horde of alligators. The impact of this conversion is somewhat lessened by the fact that the gator gang would never really have another big chance to display their new loyalty in the dramatic manner that Samson the water buffalo did in "The Trappers." It's still necessary practice for Kimba as he proceeds to later eps and the far more difficult task of breaking down the resistance of such major-league sourpusses as Boss Rhino and Kelly Funt (the implausibly Irish-accented leader of the standoffish elephant herd).


Trust me, the Titan crew will come up with much better future malevolent monikers than Manny Mean (Ray Owens) and Norbert Nasty (Gilbert Mack). If you believe in determinism, then this pair's line of dirty work will come as no surprise at all. They're so disagreeable that they even manage to take advantage of the 1960s' less stringent restrictions on smoking on board airplanes. In light of all the white people on the plane, the northbound flight pattern, and M&N's accents, I gather that the crooks are supposed to be South Africans (or perhaps Australian expats working out of S.A.) attempting to smuggle diamonds out of the rich diamond fields in that country. Makes perfect sense. There's no indication that the gems will eventually be used to power a mass-destructive laser satellite, though... but if you're having any Wint and Kidd flashbacks, just you wait!

How often, I wonder, has baggage been thrown out of commercial aircraft "to lighten the load" in real life? It's easy to find jokes and other movie/TV references about this situation, but this is the only remotely similar real reference that I could find... and it dates from a very different era in air travel. This may rank right up there with "escaped zoo/circus animals" insofar as unrealistic-yet-frequently-employed tropes go.

Gruff's "son" Allie, with "his" prominent bows, sure looks like a girl to me. I don't see the point of a gender change unless it was somehow meant to "justify" Gruff's extreme anger at the other children's "feeding" Allie the gas... and even that requires you to swallow the sexist notion that Gruff's more likely to get upset at something happening to his son than to his daughter. Speaking of swallowing things, alligators don't seem to be omnivores to anything like the extent that they are depicted as being in this ep.

We get flung into plot thread number one in a peremptory, half-assed manner that's always bothered me. How and when were the kids put on the island? Rather than go to all the trouble of putting them there, why didn't the gators simply eat them right away? (It's not like the gators are asking for ransom or anything.) Why is the crowd of watching animals so clueless that they don't even realize that "there must be trouble"? Who told Gruff that the kids made Allie drink the gas? (If it was Allie, then he deserved what he got.) The kamikaze manner in which Kimba and the other animals run at the gators -- and then retreat -- is also poorly handled. Kimba's quick appeal to human assistance in the form of Roger Ranger doesn't speak well for his ability to craft a plan on his own. The fact that Roger's ultimate solution involves technology not normally available to Kimba partially cancels out this difficulty, but it's still somewhat bothersome.

Plot thread number two reemerges with some funny visuals, such as Nasty's cigar staying lit underwater and the Genie from Aladdin (or a relative of his) making a cameo appearance. I still find it difficult to believe that it would be that easy to locate baggage spread over what must be a fairly large area of jungle.

How tough must Gruff's teeth and digestive system be in order to swallow diamonds? Tough enough to provide the episode's pun-ny title, apparently. Now you know why the name of the head gator was changed from the name used in "Scrambled Eggs."

So M&N sleep... right next to each other... in the tent. Perhaps the creation of Wint and Kidd really was inspired by this episode.

I've heard of sea lions, but this is ridiculous.

I fully agree with the YouTube commenter who described "The Scuba Kimba Kaper" as "Waaaay CUTE!" The gag in which Kimba forgets to turn on his air lends a clever bit of verisimilitude to what is, after all, a fairly far-fetched rescue scheme. Kimba may be extremely smart, but he's surely not familiar with scuba technology, so he can be given a pass on this oversight. It's actually far more amazing to me that all the animal youngsters can handle the gear without any trouble. (This scene is all the more meaningful, in a bittersweet sort of way, if you know that Ray Owens died in 1994 while scuba-diving in the Caribbean.)

The gator march on the jungle is supposed to be scary (as indicated in the reaction of Dan'l, Bucky, and others), but I've always found it quite chucklesome. First we have the very funny "morning after" dialogue between Gruff and his second-in-command (Mack), then the goofy marching music that makes the invasion seem almost semi-comical. Should we take Gruff's threats seriously? "That, I don't know."

I can understand Pauley being full of himself at the "cleverness" and "brilliance" of his little scheme to "destroy" the gators, but he really should have paid attention to Kimba's earlier verbal comment that he didn't want to see any animals get hurt by M&N during the latter's search for the diamonds. With Kimba's angry reaction to Pauley's plan -- not to mention his blow-off of Roger for suggesting (a little shockingly, given Roger's love of animals) that "it's too late" to help the gators -- the strong-willed jungle prince that we know and love at long last reemerges.

"Diamond fever" must well and truly have driven M&N mad in light of their frankly nutsoid scheme to uncover the gator who'd swallowed their prize. Consider how low the helicopter would have to swoop in order to do an effective slice-up job... and with amateur buffoons doing the flying, how successful do you think this gambit is going to be? I'd imagine, too, that the "whirling knives" striking the gators would make it well-nigh impossible to control the subsequent flight of the copter. The wholly unnecessary sequence in which M&N chop down trees is a clear indication that they haven't a clue as to what they're doing. And how did they know that they would need "coal tar bombs" and "whirling knife attachments" in the first place, anyway? I've heard of being prepared, but M&N make Boy Scouts look like pikers.

Fueled no doubt by the nobility of his cause, Kimba now proceeds to do a couple of daring deeds that would seem to be a stretch even for him. Since M&N have to fly low to begin with in order to cut up the gators, it is at least plausible that Kimba might be able to do this...

... but in order to accomplish this, he would probably have to have received that operation from Professor Madcap beforehand:

No sooner must we accept these amazing feats than we get the exceptionally confusing sequence of scenes in which M&N's copter is trashed and then crashes. I suspect that the original Japanese version of the attack was a little more coherent and that the seeming randomness of the American version (uh, wait, wasn't that Samson? And how did Bucky and Pauley suddenly appear to help?) is simply the result of some poor editing. A fuller explanation as to how Kimba was injured may also have been left on Titan's cutting-room floor.

Strangely, given that an entire future episode ("The Red Menace") will be devoted to the animals' concerns over fire, our friends don't appear to be all that fazed by the holocaust that envelops the river in the wake of the copter crash. Roger even channels The Life of Brian with his loopily sunny remark that at least the fire will "soften the tar." I would imagine that the ecological consequences of such a disaster, especially as they relate to the animals' water supply and that of the farm, would tend to be a bit more important in the long run.

I'd love to know how the bruised and battered M&N (1) managed to survive their crash in the first place and (2) then managed to catch another plane so quickly without any means of transportation to the airport. Perhaps the incident of the detective (Ray Owens) arresting our hapless antagonists on the plane postdated the wrap-up scenes in the jungle. These scenes are brief but to the point, though the ep sort of peters out with a pointless shot of sparkling water (I guess that pollution cleared itself up right quick, eh?). As bizarre as it is in places, I always enjoy watching this episode, and I have all the more reason to enjoy it on the heels of having to endure "Scrambled Eggs." The series is back on track, though not without a fair number of logical bumps and bruises...

Up next: Episode 17, "The Magic Serpent."

Friday, May 27, 2011

Comics Review: UNCLE $CROOGE -- DUCKTALES: MESSES BECOME SUCCESSES (May 2011, kaboom!)

This second collection of stories from the DUCKTALES phase of Boom!'s UNCLE $CROOGE (issues #396-#399) is a variegated popcorn bag of crunchy kernels, duds, and the occasional unexpected jujube (to wit: backup reprint stories from Carl Barks, William Van Horn, and even the old DUCKTALES ACTIVITY MAGAZINE). I will say that the best true DT tales on display -- "The Arcadian Urn" (U$ #399), "Double Indemnity" (U$ #396) and "The Last Auction Hero" (U$ #397) -- are much more successful than the well-meaning, but seriously bungled, effort that Warren Spector gave us this past week in the first (and, more than likely, one of the very few) issue of kaboom!'s DUCKTALES. But that's a story for another post... which you'll see later this weekend once I finish my duties from May Term.

Comics Review: WALT DISNEY TREASURY: DONALD DUCK VOLUME 1 by Don Rosa (March 2011, Boom! Studios)

Whatever the ultimate fate of Disney kaboom! may be, I sincerely hope that Boom! exerts every effort to publish its promised sets of "Treasuries" and "Archives" of classic Disney comics material. The company is off to a good (albeit delayed-by-two-months) start with this collection of Don Rosa DONALD DUCK stories from 1987-1990. The DONALD qualifier turns out to be rather consequential insofar as the book's contents are concerned. "Return to Plain Awful" (1989) makes the cut, while "Son of the Sun" (1987), technically an UNCLE $CROOGE tale, does not, even though Scrooge has just as substantial a role to play in the former story. (Indeed, it was Carl Barks' fanciful inclusion of Scrooge in an oil painting that prompted Gladstone to urge Rosa to draw a "Lost in the Andes" sequel in the first place.) Since there is no current indication that any creator other than Rosa will be featured in DD TREASURY -- all those non-Rosa panels used as cover background aside -- why not simply call the series DON ROSA TREASURY and reprint all of Rosa's non-LIFE AND TIMES OF $CROOGE Duck work from panel one? That would seem to make more logical sense.

These early Rosa Duck tales first saw print at a propitious time for American Duck fans. The first iteration of Gladstone Comics was in its heyday and DuckTales was knocking 'em over with a (duck) feather in syndication. The same sunny spirit is reflected in many of Rosa's earliest stories. Artistically, Rosa's early works now admittedly look a bit crude compared to what the artist would do during the LIFE AND TIMES era and beyond, but there's a certain lightness and playfulness about them that Rosa was only rarely able to recapture following his dispute with Disney and consequent move to Oberon/Egmont at the end of the 1980s. It's refreshing to revisit Rosa's attempt to duplicate the verve and spirit of the Barks ten-pager, a creative template he would all too quickly abandon in favor of far grander (and more grandiloquent) conceptions. While most of these gag stories stick pretty closely to established Barks tropes, "Mythological Menagerie" (1987) kicks the standard "Donald vs. HD&L contest" and "escalation plot" notions up a notch with the help of some well-aimed authorial research, while "Metaphorically Spanking" (1988) gives the hooky-playing Nephews a brutal going-over that even Barks might have shied away from. The Oberon stories at the end of this book, plotted by Dutch writers and dialogued by Byron Erickson, are certainly more smoothly executed by Keno D. but are also less lively and distinctive.

The two longer works included here, "Return to Plain Awful" and "The Crocodile Collector" (1988), seemed "big" at the time but have since been dwarfed in scope by Rosa's LIFE OF $CROOGE. It's therefore easy to overlook just how well-told these stories are. "Return to Plain Awful" extrapolates in a most delightful way from Barks' one-off conceit of the isolated Plain Awfultonians' rush to imitate any new fashion or patois ("Just like Americans!", gripes Scrooge, in an unfortunate foreshadowing of Rosa's later petty sniping at the unenlightened "red-state" rubes who did not rush to hosanna him as Europeans did). "Crocodile Collector" (in which Rosa spun an entirely new story out of a Barks cover that originally illustrated a completely different tale) is packed with exposition regarding sacred crocs, Egyptian mythology, and such but is no less enjoyable for all that... and it gets "double-extra" points from me for actually allowing Donald to emerge from the fray having clearly bested Scrooge. Granted, Donald is the victim of several comical pratfalls during the story, but neither is he reduced to lying in a puddle of drool. It shouldn't be forgotten that these enjoyable works were among the stories that convinced Disney TV Animation to give Rosa a chance to write a couple of episodes of TaleSpin.

The collection's one curio is a "scribble-version" of a never-finished story entitled "The Starstruck Duck" (1989), created as a tie-in for the opening of the Disney-MGM Studios theme park. In a world where Donald is an average Joe but Mickey Mouse is a celebrity, Don literally knocks himself silly trying to procure Mickey's autograph. I'm sure that the mere thought of this "corporate commercial" project would cause Rosa acute gastrointestinal pains today. Come to think of it, it probably would cause similar pains for Disney bigwigs. At the time this story was conceived, Disney seemed poised to utterly dominate the 1990s, thanks to alliances with The Muppets, Dick Tracy, and Michael Jackson, plus a bevy of spin-offs from Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)... And we all know how those plans turned out. It seems shallow to call the late 1980s "a simpler and happier time," but, in some ways, they were.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

kaboom! Disney Comics: Now Down to a Precious Two...

CHIP AND DALE'S RESCUE RANGERS is going away "for the time being" following issue #8, according to the Boom! comments forum. That leaves only DARKWING DUCK and the newly-born DUCKTALES, issue #1 of which appeared this week... and if the quality of issue #1 is any indication, DT may have been chopped off at the knees before it even got out of the gate. I'll have a full review this weekend, but for now, I'll say: If you don't have any prior knowledge about DuckTales, issue #1 is mediocre. If you do, it's dreadful.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Book Review: THE PRESIDENT IS A SICK MAN by Matthew Algeo (Chicago Review Press, 2011)

Grover Cleveland was a big man who laid down a number of equally hefty milestones during his two terms as President. First (and only) President to serve two nonconsecutive terms; only Democrat elected President between 1860 and 1912; first President to be married while in the White House... and the first President to undergo major surgery under anesthesia, as described in this "bitty" but eminently readable book.

Remarkably, Cleveland's July 1893 operation to remove a cancerous tumor from the roof of his mouth was done entirely in secret aboard a yacht... and the secret held for almost 25 years, until one of the surgeons received permission from Cleveland's widow to print the full story in THE SATURDAY EVENING POST. One respected reporter, E.J. Edwards of the PHILADELPHIA PRESS, managed to get the contemporary scoop but was denounced by a competing paper for reasons both personal and ideological. The "other half" of what would otherwise be a fairly straightforward narrative is Algeo's description of the resulting damage to Edwards' reputation -- and the reporter's ultimate vindication.

Algeo frequently veers "off message," discussing "the money question" (the great ideological struggle of the 1890s), describing the terrible effects of the Panic of 1893, tracing the development of sterile surgical techniques, summarizing Cleveland's pre- and post-Presidential careers, and outlining the coming of "yellow journalism," among other digressions. Sometimes, however, these detours shed light on otherwise mysterious decisions. Cleveland's tumor became a problem at precisely the moment when the bottom had fallen out of the economy, and Cleveland's Vice President, Adlai Stevenson, was at odds with the President over the issue of whether the government should continue to purchase silver. The operation was kept secret in part because any news that the gold-standard-supporting Cleveland was seriously ill would turn the Panic into a complete rout. Then, too, Cleveland despised the press and wanted to keep them out of what he considered to be his intimate affairs.

The padding is clearly visible to all, but this is a worthwhile read that gives an interesting, context-driven account of an obscure, but certainly non-trivial, event in American history.

Fanfic Review: KIM POSSIBLE in "PRIVATEER POSSIBLE" by Richard Smyers

Richard Smyers' latest Kim Possible fanfic... well, actually isn't a Kim Possible fanfic, technically speaking. Kim's contributions to the fun are limited to the Prologue and the Epilogue. The tale spun (no Disney TV Animation pun intended) out of an offhand remark that Dr. James Possible made during Richard's earlier story, "The Claws of the Kitten," about one of the Possibles' ancestors being a privateer. Said ancestor, Captain Rodger Possible, left behind a written account of his service during the War of 1812, and it is this tome that Kim finds herself perusing on an atypically boring night when her family and friends are away and no "sitches" have turned up...

One thing I've always liked about Richard's stories, dating back to the good old days of the APA WTFB, is the essential seriousness with which he approaches his scenario-crafting. He's never been about creating "Mary Sues" or working out some bizarre personal fantasy involving cartoon characters; he simply wants to tell a good story. This lends an extra layer of believability to whatever tale he chooses to relate, even if he is tinkering with such fantastical notions as gremlins, time travel, or futuristic space stations. Here, with no exotic flimflammery to deal with, Richard's careful spadework shows to extremely good advantage. The tale of Rodger Possible, his privateer Kimberly Ann, and his "sure-to-be-genetically-significant" encounter with a resolute British female captain who bears an amazing resemblance to a future cheerleader/globetrotting heroine is enhanced by all manner of technical terms concerning early 19th-century seafaring. It's not on the Patrick O'Brian level, certainly, but it makes the story seem real... provided that you can wrap your head around the very notion of a female commanding an 18th-century Royal Navy vessel. Anna Shchetinina would not be amused if she heard of this. In all honesty, given what we know about the hidebound nature of His Majesty's naval service during that period, the inclusion of a female knight in the 1990s Prince Valiant animated series is easier to buy than the existence of Captain O'Neill. Perhaps Richard has some additional info about distaff heroines of the British fleet that he chose not to mention in his story?

Amusingly, Kim thinks that she's getting to the "good part" of Rodger's story when Rodger brings Captain O'Neill home to Boston and appears to be feeling the first stirrings of romantic feelings for the latter. I would think that a tale of high adventure would hook Kim just as easily, but she is a teenage girl, after all. If Richard chooses to continue writing stories about Kim's ancestors -- and I wouldn't mind that at all -- perhaps he can turn the Possibles into a version of John Jakes' Kent Family and run them headlong into various famous events in American history. After all, they have quite a descendant to live up to -- so to speak.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Comics Review: DARKWING DUCK #12 (May 2011, kaboom!)

We have to endure a waddle on the decidedly weird side before "F.O.W.L. Disposition" comes to a close... but the craziness turns out to be a mere set-up for a shocking conclusion. I imagine that Ian Brill figured that a light, spoofy approach would help to take the edge off the gut-punch that he ultimately delivers in the story's second-from-last page. It's still a pretty powerful blow, and the fact that the future of this title is uncertain (granted, it's not been marked for discontinuance yet -- but once those first "classic Disney" dominoes have fallen, I think all bets are off) makes the end of the arc seem all the more troubling. This surely merits some

S
P
O
I
L
E
R

S
P
A
C
E

What a drastic way for DW to discover the error of his arrogant ways... losing Morgana (or at least watching her become "displaced") during the final showdown with Duckthulhu. Given that the Ducks were operating in an "alternative reality" at the time, it's possible that Morgue has "merely" been thrown into one of the Darkwing "parallel universes" (to possibly be reincarnated as a bowling ball?). In the absence of any apparent means of returning to the Regularverse St. Canard, pastry-based or otherwise, this is almost as bad as Morgue being corporeally cremated. How will DW react to this stunning loss? 

I must confess that when Morgue transferred the "rapidly deteriorating Duckthulhu scenario" to happy-face suburbia, I was (1) totally baffled and (2) not a little irritated. Not until the end of "The Evil God-Beast Who Came to Dinner" did it become clear that Morgue was simply channeling and amplifying the natural good feelings that our gang have for one another and using them as a weapon against Duckthulhu. That at least partially assuaged my disdain at yet another mockery of the suburban lifestyle, as if the Muddlefoots weren't satirical enough on that score. (Yes, I grew up in suburbia; how did you know?) As nutsoid as this entire scenario was, it provided further proof, as if any were needed, that Brill "gets" the unique style and humor sense of Darkwing Duck. Also appreciated was the brief summary of the previous story arcs that was provided by Duckthulhu... refreshingly, without editorial boxes to hammer home the point. I think Brill was pretty safe in assuming that most of the folks reading DW #12 have been on board since the beginning of the title.

It came as no surprise whatsoever that Femme Appeal turned out to be a SHUSH agent. Given her stick-out-like-a-sore-thumb, non-goofy appearance and overall air of butt-kicking "niceness," I'm amazed that FOWL seemed clueless as to her real nature; only Ammonia Pine, of all people, seemed to be "semi-on-to" her. Did Femme's brief confab with J. Gander Hooter indicate that she will be making a return appearance soon? If they don't need her on the set of Tale Spin in the meantime, that is.

Steelbeak's ultimate "fate" was interesting. One thing about the suave FOWL agent: he never seems to take anything too seriously, even when he's executing a diabolical scheme on behalf of his masters. Now, he actually appears to harbor a legitimate grudge against the shadowy leaders of FOWL (who actually got away pretty lightly considering that they were tinkering with incomprehensible supernatural powers; falling into a hole counts as only mild chastisement, I'd say) for screwing up the organization and its attendant creature comforts. A seriously mad, vengeful Steelbeak is a rooster of an entirely different comb-over. Who knows... perhaps he's so angry that he might, you know, decide to join forces with Darkwing for real.

If I was disappointed by "F.O.W.L. Disposition" in any way, it was in the relatively small roles played by Quiverwing Quack and Arrow Kid. On several occasions, the kids seemed poised to make a really big contribution to the fun, but it never quite came to pass. QQ and AK deserve a full-scale adventure all their own at some point. Hopefully, the title will last long enough for them to get one.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

THE BEST (AND REST) OF KIMBA: Episode 15, "Scrambled Eggs"

From the sublime to the sublame! "Scrambled Eggs" gets my "thumbs-down, other-hand-holding-my nose" vote as (1) the worst and (2) the least interesting episode of Kimba, bar none. In Chris Moon's fine essay on the different printed and animated manifestations of JUNGLE EMPEROR, Chris criticizes Mushi Productions' tendency to occasionally "[juxtapose] the big Tezuka questions with Saturday morning filler" in the fetid form of "go-nowhere episodes for 5-year-olds." Now, some of the episodes that are clearly aimed at younger viewers -- such as the eps in which "Kimba the Kid" pals around with Dot, Dash, Dinky, and other "schoolmates" -- do have a certain charm, thanks to helpful assists by the Titan dubbing and writing crew. Most of the time, there is some sort of adventurous element to these tales, as well. "Scrambled Eggs," by contrast, has virtually nothing to recommend it to even the most undemanding kiddie audience; it is more heavily padded than a cell in Arkham Asylum, it contains a really annoying continuity error, and the "conflicts" in the story are more risible than anything else. And worst of all... the characters sing too much.

Billie Lou Watt wrote the script of "Scrambled Eggs," including the new lyrics for the existing songs. This may have been helpful when she was writing the lyrics to the songs in her musical drama PHILLIS (the subject of an upkoming "Kimba Konnections" kommentary), but whatever merit the new lyrics may have had was thoroughly smothered by the execution. I mentioned previously that Billie Lou and I had a disagreement during our brief correspondence regarding the Titan crew's singing abilities. If that dispute had ever made it to Judge Joe Brown's court, the atonal assault that we are subjected to here would have been my Exhibit 1-A. Interestingly, the one really nice moment of the ep occurs when Billie Lou opts not to try to cover over Japanese lyrics, but instead to let Kimba speak his lines, background singing be damned.

Kimba apparently shares my view of this episode.

Link to episode at Hulu 

There are better renditions of "The School Song" in our future... I swear. Kimba's role in the animal school is decidedly flexible; sometimes (as here) he's the teacher/authority figure, sometimes a pupil. Here, he sort of straddles, directing the kids in their jungle cleanup but still acting something like a child in the presence of putative "adults" like the scatterbrained Jenny Hen (Billie Lou Watt).

If you remember "Fair Game," you'll no doubt note that the Speedy Cheetah (Sonia Owens) who appears in this ep is not the resentful young fellow who defended the honor of Grandfather Quasimodo. This is actually Dash (though Sonia appears to be at least trying to give him the marbled-mouthed voice of the earlier Speedy, at least at first). Later, Dash will be given a different voice, a falsetto-ish thing provided by Ray Owens.

Once the eggs start piling up, it's pretty easy to guess the main thrust of the plot from the title alone. It seems to me, though, that the eggs were already pretty well mixed up before SpeedyDash shoved them into the river. Just when we seem ready to have a real conflict (between Kimba, SpeedyDash, and the angry birds), the execrable "LALALALA... BAAAAY-BEE!" song arrives to spoil the mood. It could have been worse, I suppose; the 1993 re-dub inserted a ghastly doo-wop ("Shalala... BAY-bee") riff here. At least the Titan crew made something of an effort to match their singing to the on-screen animation.

Regarding Part Two, here's all you need to know: (1) The kids recover the eggs from the river; (2) Kimba has a brief conflict with a boss alligator (Gilbert Mack) who will have a much more significant role to play (not to mention a different voice) in the very next episode, "Diamonds in the Gruff"; (3) The birds recover their eggs (or so they believe), but there is one egg "left behind." That leads us to...

... the rather charming vignette of Kimba singing (or rather, talking) to the orphaned ovoid. The "unobstructed" version of the song, illustrated below by a series of scenes from the episode, makes it clear how difficult (no, make that impossible) it would have been for the Titaneers to raise their voices and drown out what was, after all, supposed to be a lullaby. Far better to present Billie Lou's dialogue as "the lullaby" itself, or a dream sequence equal to same. Note that we once again get an idealized portrait of a carefree life with Kimba and Snowene that never actually existed...



I don't know whether the baby alligator that ultimately emerges from the egg is supposed to be "little Allie" from "Diamonds in the Gruff." For continuity's sake, I'd like to think so, but it was probably just a coincidence. The "dramatics" surrounding the hatching of the ostrich egg and the lengthy song sequences that follow provide final proof, as if any were needed, that this was the Kimba version of a "cheater"... or a sop to the young groundlings. Thankfully, it wouldn't take too long for the series to regain its stride.

Up next: Episode 16, "Diamonds in the Gruff."

Comics Review: MICKEY MOUSE #308 (May 2011, kaboom!)

MM #308 serves as a very nice tribute to modern MICKEY master Noel Van Horn... and, given the present circs, how many more of those can we expect to see? The uncertainty as to how much more of Noel's work Americans will be allowed to enjoy is especially poignant in light of the nature of this issue's lead story, 2010's "Metamorphosis." Here, we seem to be joining a storyline in progress -- since when has Doc Static harbored a "quirky ambition to mimic life with machines", anyway? -- and, more importantly, a storyline that will more than likely give rise to future adventures that we may or may not get to see. In what is otherwise a fascinating artistic and thematic narrative, this is a real bummer for American readers, a sort of panelological version of the notorious "Bridge to Nowhere." Doc S's attempt to "tamper in the God of the Machine's domain" goes about as well as could be expected, but the real intrigue lies in how Mickey gets roped into the ensuing crisis -- not to mention how Noel chooses to "end" it, with the sentient "bad tech" actually winning, or, at the very least, not losing. I'll forego any additional discussion of the plot, but, in order to count the number of times you've seen such an ambivalent wrap-up in a Disney comics story, you'd only need the fingers on Mordecai Brown's right hand.

Adding to the sense of frustration I got upon reading this story is Noel's evident ambition to up his artistic ante. Noel's original style was at least somewhat reminiscent of his Dad's (as can be seen in this ish's backup tale, in fact), but "Metamorphosis" is chock-full of Jack Kirby-esque starry skies, snakily protruding electrical probes, hordes of sentient little robots, and a memorable shot of a goggle-eyed Mickey falling victim to mind control. Perhaps Noel had been leading up to this kitchen-sink approach in other stories, but "Metamorphosis" looks very unlike any other story of his that I've seen. For us not to get a chance to see where Noel takes this artistic approach in the future seems unfair, but such may be our fate. I certainly hope not.

"Rocky Road to Ruin" (2006), written by Donald Markstein, looks and reads almost like a William Van Horn MICKEY story, if you can wrap your mind around such a notion. The designs of the supporting players are decidedly cartoony in the best "Silly Billy" tradition, and such incidental details as the noxious nature of the ice-cream flavors that a racketeer forces ice-cream-store-minding Mickey to accept are also very much in the BVH (a la) mode. The tale's set-up is certainly intriguing, with a "humble citizen" of Mouseton essentially taking advantage of Mickey's reputation for crook-busting. Horace Horsecollar provides background kvetching regarding Mickey's lack of "business sense" which gets pretty irritating after a while but is definitely in character for Mouseton's resident McGee. Kudos to Markstein, as well, for giving us the first example of a racketeer motivated by low self-esteem.

Functionally Adorable

An outfit called Nausicaa Distribution is now selling plushies in the shapes of... various statistical density functions! Cost: 10 for $140. Five are supposed to be female and five male, but I have no idea as to how the genders were chosen. You could argue that the femme-funcs have nicer, smoother curves, but the chi-square (yellow) entry has a rather unsightly hump in the middle, while the continuous uniform (lilac) one in the back has no curves at all! Still, four of the five male-models do have rather lengthy, er, protuberances of one sort or another, so maybe there is some method to the matching madness.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Comics Review: RICHIE RICH* #1 (2011, Ape Entertainment/Classic Media)

* Or, if the inside front cover indicia is to be believed, RICHIE RICH: RICH RESCUE #1. Given that this first "regular" issue of Ape RR has already been quite successful -- the first printing sold out in a matter of days -- perhaps this "quasi-official" title is pointing the way to spinoff titles to come, which would certainly be in the classic RICHIE tradition. RICHIE RICH RECLAMATIONS, RICHIE RICH REDEMPTIONS, RICHIE RICH RECOVERIES, RICHIE RICH LUCRE-FUELED LIBERATIONS... the possibilities are not quite endless, but they're close!

I liked Ape RR #1 a great deal more than I did the FREE COMIC BOOK giveaway. Though the main story, "Boon Under the Bay," is somewhat weighed down by an excess of expository dialogue, how can you really criticize writer Bill Williams when the man boldly decides to revive The Googol, perhaps the ultimate one-shot RICHIE villain? The fact that the story is set in the South Pacific (where Rich Rescue have gone to assist locals crippled by the eruption of Mount Blamma-Toa) and features "local native" characters not of the stereotypical grass-skirt-clad variety certainly suggests that Williams consulted the original Googol tale. So does the fact that a treasure (a long-lost pirate's hoard, in this case) serves as the story's "McGuffin." I suspect that a number of the Rich Rescue tales in our future will take this same approach of Richie and friends getting sucked into an adventure as a sideshow during a "less exciting" rescue mission. This partially addresses my concern that the stories would be mechanical rescue exercises, but surely the two plot strands could be combined at some point? The whole point of Richie being a "helper of the less fortunate" will be lost if the rescue angle is merely used as an excuse to jump-start an adventure in a distant clime.

As a lead-in to the main event -- following a one-page text intro by The Harvey World's resident Struldbrug, Sid Jacobson -- Brent Erwin and Jack Lawrence's four-page "Welcome to Rich Rescue!" gives us a peek at what appears to be the "official opening" of Richville's new Rich Rescue HQ. This is nothing like an origin story, as Richie clearly refers at one point to previous missions. Certain readers, especially those firmly wedded to the "old-school" Richie, will surely have a problem with this; exactly when and why did Richie suddenly decide to go all "Rescue Rangers" on us (not to mention his friends and employees)? I think we deserve to be told at some point. Perhaps the info will be imparted during a flashback in a future story.

Jacobson and Ernie Colon's five-page backup story "Of Demise and Men" is a nice tribute to two of the most important figures in Richie's life -- and a story so retrograde it's positively Uranian. Fer gosh sakes, we even get the ultra-familiar RICHIE trope of a pair of slovenly-dressed crooks -- one "street-smart" and one "dirt-dumb," of course -- one of whom has a cigarette clamped between his lips! The story of a kidnap of Cousin Reggie for a million-dollar ransom (calling Dr. Evil!) is fairly trivial but does make for a funny final-panel gag where the joke, for once, is on Richie. The setting of an amusement park reminds me of such 70s stories as "Richieland" and "Meadow Lark Park."

A one-page "Keenbean's Corner" gag (I'm glad to see that Ape is preserving some of the traditional Harvey formats here) features some lively artwork by James Silvani and some fairly amusing byplay between Keenbean and Reggie. No effort has been made to redesign Keenbean in any serious way, which is fine with me, but I was disappointed to see Bascomb, who appears in the first couple of panels of "Welcome to Rich Rescue," reduced to the role of a generic chauffeur. Gone are the Terry-Thomas mustache, the gap in the front teeth and, much more to the point, any indication that Bascomb retains his remarkable ability to "drive anything." One would think that Bascomb could be every bit as useful to Rich Rescue in "tight travel situations" as the "younger, bulked-up" Cadbury promises to be. If this is to be Bascomb's fate, I really have to wonder what will become of Richie's parents.

If you're not interested in reading a revelation about The Googol, stop here, do not pass GO, etc. Otherwise, I'll spill the beans after some

S
P
O
I
L
E
R

S
P
A
C
E

What I found fascinating about Alanna Salhi turning out to be The Googol is that she is (1) a "native islander" and (2) a "serial criminal." In the original story, Col. Blakely more or less stumbled into the role because he was tasked with flying the Pacifica Jewels to safety from the Japanese. This distaff Googol, by contrast, is "one of the Seven Scavengers," who control world piracy. Also, the native treasurer of Pacifica played a major role in the original story, but as a one-shot good guy. In a story with several offhanded PC references to environmental despoliation and endangered species, it was actually a surprise to see a "person of color" in a villainous role. (Of course, gender may have trumped race here, since Col. Blakely was your stereotypical middle-aged white guy.)

The last panel of "Boon" suggests that more pirates are lying in wait for Rich Rescue. I wonder whether we will see other traditional villains "retrofitted" to this wide-ranging profession. I do know that one promised future villain, The Stench, sounds a heck of a lot like The Onion to me.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Comics Review: DONALD DUCK #366 (May 2011, kaboom!)

It could legitimately be argued that "Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold!" (FOUR COLOR #9, 1942) is so obviously self-contained an adventure that it doesn't need a sequel. "Donald Duck and the Pirates," which kaboom! rescued from obscurity (or the bottom of a 65-year-old box of Cheerios, I'm not sure which) and reprinted last month, was more of a simplified rehash than a sequel. In 1962, however, Italian creators Abramo & Giampaolo Barosso (plot and script) and Giovan Battista Carpi (art) took the plunge and resurrected Yellow Beak the parrot for a tale originally entitled (this is a loose, Google-y translation) "Back to the Sea with Yellow Beak." Retitled "Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold... AGAIN!" for this first American appearance, the mini-epic (at 22 pages, it's a mere zephyr compared to the 64-page blast knocked out by Carl Barks and Jack Hannah almost 70 years ago) turns out to be a straightforward but very entertaining effort... even if Uncle Scrooge gradually does becomes the main protagonist during the course of the story, pushing Donald and HD&L a bit to the side in the process.

The set-up for "Pirate Gold... AGAIN!" is completely believable: Yellow Beak, bored with retirement and with salt water still running in his veins, invites Donald and HD&L to join him on a search for another booty-bonanza in the Caribbean. Scrooge decides to join the fun, which sucks the Beagle Boys into the story, and the Beagles subsequently play pretty much the same role as did Black Pete and his two rat-faced allies in the original "Pirate Gold." We also rubber-stamp the original, more or less, in the areas of villainous disguise (the Beagles essay two, posing as itinerant sailors and, later, as shipwrecked South Seas natives) and the troubles inherent in procuring a ship (needless to say, Scrooge's penury creates most of the Ducks' troubles this time around). Surprisingly, we don't actually get to see the treasure being dug up -- Donald and the boys handle that onerous duty off-camera -- but the double-twist ending involving the true (and hidden) nature of the treasure certainly makes up for the oversight.

Joe Torcivia does another excellent scripting job -- this time, by side-stepping the contemporary political and pop-culture references that filled "The Pelican Thief" in favor of nods to such classic Disney comics tales as "Only a Poor Old Man" and "Mickey Mouse Outwits the Phantom Blot"... plus, of course, the original "Pirate Gold." If such terms as "slumgullion" mystified the readers of 1942, as I'm sure they did, then one can only imagine how arcane they must seem today... unless you're a devotee of Fusion cooking, that is. Nevertheless, I'm glad that Joe included some of them here. Joe also does an excellent job of keeping Yellow Beak's pirate patter enjoyable without beating us over the head with the peg leg that the 1962 version of Yellow Beak seems to have traded in for a "life-like" new model, much as lumberjack Pete ostentatiously ditched his wooden leg for a "lak' modern design!" in Floyd Gottfredson's "Mystery at Hidden River." Take yet another bow, Joe! Though, preferably, not too close to the bow.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

THE BEST (AND REST) OF KIMBA: Episode 14, "Journey into Time"

IMHO, "Journey into Time" is pretty near perfect. This episode knows it has a first-rate story to tell -- namely, the history of the white lions, as originally presented by Tezuka in a flashback sequence in JUNGLE EMPEROR -- and it faithfully reproduces Tezuka's version almost panel/scene for panel/scene. When it makes changes, they are almost always good ones. At the same time, the TV adaptation provides additional texture and gravitas by couching the story within a wholly original tale of spite-fueled discrimination aimed at Caesar and his offspring. Next to the prejudice evinced by Kitty's prideful old uncle King Specklerex (Ray Owens), Speedy Cheetah's apparent resentment of the white lions in "Fair Game" is powder-puff stuff. Astro Boy frequently addressed the issue of prejudice in robot-human relations -- though more so in the manga than in the TV series -- but here, the dagger is aimed straight at Kimba's heart and soul, momentarily leaving the young prince to question his very identity as a lion. The fact that Kimba's whiteness is his "scarlet letter" has an obvious connection to America's racial troubles of the mid- to late 60s. If all this sounds heavy-handed, it honestly doesn't come off as such. We ultimately learn that Specklerex is only using the "fur card" as a cover for a more general antipathy towards Caesar and Kimba's line... and that the elderly lion king has rather more noble features than your bog-standard Bull Connor-esque bully. Then, too, the white-lion backstory that takes up the middle portion of the ep is so fascinating that it winds up soaking up most of the viewer's attention.

It's SUCH A TERRIBLE BURDEN BEING SO D*** CUTE!!!

This episode also features a critical moment in the relationship between Kimba and Kitty. Kitty played a role in Tezuka's version of the story as well, but a very different one; she told the history of the white lions to Kimba. In Tezuka's continuity, Kitty was an acolyte of the natives' "white lion cult" presided over by Kimba's aunt Leona and maintained for thousands of years, so she'd certainly be "in the know" regarding leonine lore. Kitty's decision to become Kimba's mate was complicated by her feeling of responsibility to Leona and the cult. (The TV series blunts the edge of this theme a bit by turning Leona into Kimba's sister and removing the subtheme of Leona's desire to have Kimba succeed her as cult leader -- though, in the later ep "The Day the Sun Went Out," brother and sister do have a blow-up over the white lion hides that Leona is tasked with guarding.) In "Journey," Kitty is more of a supporter of Kimba's as the latter tries to cope with his new-found knowledge about the legacy that he has been asked to uphold... only here, Kitty's support becomes physical as well as emotional. The Titan crew plays Kimba as pretty clueless (albeit in an endearing way) about this particular development, but an important development it surely is.

You can't really appreciate how artfully "Journey" adapts Tezuka's white-lion narrative without seeing some of Tezuka's original work, so I'll be sprinkling a few panels from JUNGLE EMPEROR (which I have in Japanese digest form) into my post as appropriate. That alone will probably make this the longest Kimba-related post I've done to date, but no matter. This ep eminently deserves such treatment.

 
An impressive opening sequence quickly establishes Specklerex as, in a sense, more conventionally "noble" than Caesar, due to his lineage and the level of respect given to him by other lions. We even get a hint that Specklerex might be an "Ur-lion" of sorts, due to the Narrator's claim that ALL lions were once spotted like him. Of course, with great ancestry often comes great hidebounded-ness, and the combination of Dan'l's bean-spilling and Cassius and Claw's gloating hints at the conflict to come -- though it doesn't specify the weapon that Specklerex will wield in said conflict, making that ultimate assault more shocking than it would have been otherwise.

Do YOU want to be the one to throw out the first water balloon at the lion convention? Didn't think so.

Notice that Kimba evinces shock -- but not anger -- when Specklerex first insults him and only really gets his fur in a twist after Specklerex drags Caesar into the argument. This clearly suggests that Kimba, while completely without superior airs, harbors a great deal of subconscious pride in what his father -- and he himself -- represent and have accomplished. It's no wonder that he would be vulnerable to ostracism and an assault on his psyche.

After Kimba gets beaten down, Specklerex shows his first sign of humanity -- or would that be "leonicity"? -- when he accedes to his niece's wishes and spares Kimba's life. In his comments on "Journey" on Craig Andersen's Web site, Bob Thing compares Kitty's actions here to those of Pocahontas on behalf of John Smith. That seems like a good analogy to me, but it definitely helped Kitty's cause that she apparently didn't describe Kimba -- physically, or in any other way -- to her uncle following the two young lions' previous meetings. Had Specklerex suspected that Kitty was "involved" with Caesar's son, then Kimba probably would have been waylaid before he ever reached the convention. (For that matter, why doesn't Specklerex have a problem with the fact that Kitty, like Kimba's mother Snowene, is technically a "white lioness"? Is Specklerex secretly ashamed that one of his ancestors may have "gone astray" once upon a time?)

We've seen the "brooding Kimba" scene before, in "Great Caesar's Ghost," but here, Kimba's spirit is clearly far more deeply wounded. Tom and Tab's subsequent routine (with Ray Owens and Gilbert Mack doing their level best to paper over those awkward Japanese lyrics) therefore has the unpleasant feel of buzzards stooping to roadkill, making these normally dopey villains seem far more sinister than is their usual wont. And why is it always zebras who are the first to abandon Kimba?

Bucky, Pauley, and Dan'l could play dress-up to buck up Kimba's spirits in "Great Caesar's Ghost," but it takes the human Roger Ranger -- and the marvelous convenience of a "jungle library" -- to provide Kimba with the evidence of his true lineage. I have no problem with that, despite its deviation from canon. I do have to wonder how overdue those books of Roger's are, however. It's not as if there were a book depository just behind the next tree.

The establishing shot of the throne room of Pharaoh Tut-Tut (Gilbert Mack) is almost an exact copy of a panel from Tezuka:

The animated Tut-Tut is blusterier (and burlier) than Tezuka's Pharaoh, but both kings "stop the music" and express their dissatisfaction in exactly the same way, by tossing down a goblet. Thrates' (Hal Studer) mortal sin, the one that earns Tut-Tut's adviser the bum's rush out of Egypt, was originally not a direct challenge to Tut-Tut himself, but appears to have been to Tut-Tut's queen. The TV version preserves Thrates' verbal slapdown of the queen (selling the robe to feed the poor) but doesn't make it THE reason why Tut-Tut banishes him. This works better, I think, making Thrates appear more sympathetic and the victim of his own dogged honesty. Incidentally, the animated Thrates' appearance and attitude leads me to believe that he's not an Egyptian at all, but something similar to a Greek Cynic or Stoic, if such individuals could be imagined to exist in the Egypt of B.C. 3000.

Both manga and anime jump from Thrates' banishment to the appearance of "the spirit of the Sphinx," but there is no visual evidence in Tezuka that Egypt "grew poor" as a result of Tut-Tut failing to heed Thrates' warning. For that matter, neither is there any real visual evidence of poverty in "Journey"! The Titan crew must have been responsible for inserting the idea of the "fulfilled curse." Some may find the inclusion of this notion a bit preachy, but it actually makes some sense, given that Egyptian civilization is well known to have experienced both dizzying peaks and grim valleys. It also makes the role of Kimba's ancestor (let me stick with the "ancient civilization" motif that I used when discussing Specklerex and call him Ur-Kimba) as mediator between humans and the gods seem all the more significant. Indeed, judging by the visual symbolism Tezuka used in this panel, Tezuka appears to have conceived Ur-Kimba almost as a Jesus Christ figure, come to rescue the Egyptians from their sins.

Tezuka provides the explanation for Ur-Kimba's advanced abilities before Ur-Kimba actually reveals himself to the Egyptians, as opposed to it being parenthetically inserted during the events of "first contact." "Journey" actually does much more with this revelation than did Tezuka, who limits the byplay between Thrates and his pet lion to a single panel:

(Notice how they even brought the fire in Thrates' cell into the animated version. Great eye for detail.) "Journey" gives us the all-important payoff shot of Ur-Kimba actually drinking Thrates' formula, which is, after all, the key moment in the history of the white lions. It's interesting to speculate on how, exactly, this potion operated -- specifically, what sort of genetic changes it must have made in Ur-Kimba and, by extension, his descendants. If the formula improved only Ur-Kimba's mind and its effects could not be passed down to future generations, then obviously its influence would have been severely limited. We are forced to conclude that the formula permanently upgraded certain genetic qualities in the white lions AND that said qualities could be passed on to offspring when Ur-Kimba, or any other white lion, mated with a normal female lion (as would have to have taken place during the early generations, and probably at many subsequent times as well). Talk about a dominant genetic trait. In essence, Kimba is a mutant... which makes the racial aspects of this episode even more intriguing.

"And this special formula, My Pet, will provide you with
retractable claws that can pop from your... Oh. Never mind."

Ur-Kimba's gag-laden "first contact" with the awed Egyptians (from Ur-K's initial entrance into the throne room through the wrestling match) is basically identical in both the manga and "Journey," though the animated version tends to make the gags slightly less cartoony than did Tezuka. For example, consider the gag in which Ur-Kimba "brushes aside" the feast that the Egyptians prepare for him:



The Tezuka version is funny, in a silly sort of way, but I love the casual disdain with which the animated version of Ur-Kimba pushes aside the table. It's almost a John Updike/Ted Williams moment: "Gods do not answer letters." "Journey" also provides an upgrade by using mock hieroglyphics to depict the influence of Ur-Kimba from youth to adulthood; Tezuka, by contrast, provided only a simple panel of Ur-Kimba as a grown lion to make the same point.

The appearance of the Kickapeel tribe marks the first "official" appearance of black African natives in Kimba. It's noteworthy that the Kickapeel chieftain is only seen from the back and the Kickapeel dancers in silhouette. The animators were definitely playing it safe here, as Tezuka originally conceived the Kickapeels to be pygmies. Even so, notice that Tezuka's chieftain is wearing exactly the same costume, headdress, and accouterments. (BTW, who is that next to him? Bosko?)

"Journey"'s subsequent introduction of Livingstone into the story is, to my mind, a master stroke. Not only does it provide a perfect excuse to introduce the deserted village near Kimba's jungle -- a site which will be featured in several future episodes -- but it firmly ties the fanciful souffle of legend and lore on which we have just supped to the meat-and-potatoes of a well-known African adventure story. Tezuka's tale, by contrast, does show the horde of white lion hides but then tails off with Kimba and Kitty racing across the savanna. You have to be doing something right to beat a key narrative by a master comics storyteller in so many different areas, and this magnificent sequence certainly does that.

Buoyed by learning of his family's role as (in the words of Bob Thing) "priests and princes" to a tribe of humans, and further fortified by Kitty's strong show of support -- not to mention her revelation that Specklerex's racism was a product of her uncle's jealousy of Caesar, rather than the cause of it -- our back-to-normal hero confidently confronts the old lion and then acquits himself nobly during the fight with Specklerex' retainer Fang (Gilbert Mack). Fang has to cheat in order to reduce Kimba to his level, whereas Kimba displays the ability to "hammer-throw" Fang while underwater. You can be sure that Specklerex took the latter feat of Herculean strength into account when "forgiving" and making up with Kimba. That's taking nothing away from Specklerex' basically honorable behavior here; since Fang cheated, the old king technically didn't have to keep his promise to Kimba to "study and get an education" (whatever that may mean... perhaps taking out a card at the "jungle library" is involved?), but he does so anyway. By so doing, he more than earns a second appearance, which he will duly get in "Adventure in the City." (He doesn't completely cover himself with glory there, either, but the point is that he GOT another chance.)

You have to hand it to Kimba... especially since he shouldn't HAVE hands.

The last couple of scenes of this wonderful ep are just the teensiest bit flabby, with Kimba completely missing the point of Kitty's mountaintop comment and making his usual speech about wanting everyone to "live in peace." After Kitty behaved so forwardly in vaulting to Kimba's side -- though I take issue with Bob Thing in believing that her "spring into action" was more the result of a clumsy jump-cut than any sort of invitation to leonine hanky-panky -- you would think that Kimba would be able to take at least a fraction of a hint here. A comment or two about Kimba's (1) pride (in his ancestry) and (2) humility (in wanting to be the best ruler he can be) would also not have been out of place. But these are only quibbles. In its maturity, essential seriousness, and breadth of vision, this definitely has to stand as one of the best episodes of an animated series that I've ever seen.

Up next: Episode 15, "Scrambled Eggs."