Sunday, April 15, 2012

Comics Reviews: RICHIE RICH GEMS #45 and RICHIE RICH GEMS #46 (Ape Entertainment, 2012)

Left hand, meet right hand. Right hand, meet left hand. Now, why don't you guys start cooperating and help the good folks at Ape tighten things up a bit?

There's a vague hint at continuing attempts to construct "themed issues" in these latest issues of RR GEMS, which hit stores only a week apart. "Spooky houses and are-they-or-aren't-they ghosts" take the fore in #45. Ernie Colon and Sid Jacobson, whose new efforts in these two issues are pretty decent under the circs, dish up the imaginatively monikered "Haunted Rich Castle", followed by a reprint of the not-so-bad Dom Sileo-drawn story "His Great-Grandfather Ghost" (RR SUCCESS STORIES #30, January 1970). In a nice contrast which, I'm quite sure, was entirely unintentional, "phony ghosts" play a role in one tale but not in the other. I'll leave you to read the ish to find out which is which.

#46 "sarves" up "pirates" as the leitmotif. Ernie and Sid first pit Richie, Gloria, Reggie, Freckles, and Pee-Wee against the Geometric Triangle's "Perilous Pirates of Bony Island." The bombastic buccaneers are characterized with a fair bit of cleverness; the hapless salt guarding the kidnapped kids, for example, folds like the proverbial mainsail and lets them go after Reggie scratches out a check for... ONE THOU-SAND DOL-LARS!! The abruptness of the four-page tale's ending, unfortunately, forces Sid to wrap things up in a noticeably precipitate manner, using a gambit that is uncomfortably similar to the one seen at the end of "Haunted Rich Castle." In the spirit of Samuel Johnson's commentary on PARADISE LOST, I've never wished these new Ernie-and-Sid efforts to be any longer than they are, but "Bony Island" sorely needed an extra page or two to give us a better payoff than the one we received. "Bony Island" does have the advantage of looking good by contrast to the subsequent reprint of the late-70s Ben Brown ten-pager "Pirates." This isn't the worst Brown story from that fallow era in "classic" Harvey history -- it helps that it's told in flashback to Colonial times, featuring Revolutionary-era equivalents of Richie and Reggie -- but I could have suggested a far more entertaining "classic" pirate story. Say, something like Sid Couchey's "Of Parties and Pirates," or even the SUPER RICHIE story in which Rippy and Crashman had to battle fake pirates. (Hey, based on GEMS #44, the latter would have been the fairest of game.)

The back matter in these issues is actually more intriguing than the featured material -- both for good and for ill. The seemingly obligatory obeisance to the "all-new" RICH RESCUE (read: "recently published for the first time, but technically part of a 're-imagining' of the 'classic' RICHIE characters, so we can still call it 'new' and look ourselves in the face in the morning") brings back two of the better backup stories: "Uncommon Cents" (RR RICH RESCUE #3) in #45, "Give a Dog a Bone" (RR RICH RESCUE #4) in #46. Admittedly, "Bone" is memorable primarily because it slaps us violently upside the chops with the appearance of Dollar's hitherto-unseen canine buddy Buck, whom we are apparently expected to recognize, but it's always nice to see James Silvani's artwork again. As for "Cents," I'd like to think that it was reprinted as a tribute to Earl Kress, who died shortly after it was published, but... well, I think I'll count this as another case of "unintentional intentionality." Ernie Colon's well-aged "Careful with Money" in #45 and his "Talk of the Season" in #46 -- the latter, one of the very rare stories headlined as featuring Mrs. Rich -- are also welcome sights.

On the debit side, Ape continues to have all sorts of trouble identifying the artwork of Sileo and Brown, especially the former; "His Great-Grandfather Ghost" is identified as Warren Kremer's, while a one-page Sileo gag in #46 is attributed to Colon! These were drawn in roughly the same era, so wouldn't they have appeared similar to the editor, or the compiler, or whoever dealt the mess? And, as the saying goes, the similarities don't end there. The early-60s Colon gag "The Sound of Money" in #45 is exactly the same gag as the one listed as "Gumdrop Serenade" in RR GEMS VALENTINE'S SPECIAL. Well, I can CERTAINLY see how THAT could have happened; the gag was colored by two different people (Paul Little and Dustin Evans), and they, rather than the editors, were apparently responsible for catching the oversight. People, you are publishing one RICHIE RICH reprint title! It shouldn't be that hard to keep track of what has recently been released.

The big surprise in these books -- indeed, the biggest (good) shock I've had as a result of reading any Ape RICHIE offering -- comes in the middle of #45 with the reprinting of Colon's "Richie Rich Meets Penny Van Dough" (RR SUCCESS STORIES #27, August 1969). My RICHIE collection is pretty extensive, but the birth of Richie's cousin and Reggie's sister Penny is one that seems to have passed me by.

Harvey's "classic-era" promise (which Ape rather mystifyingly retains -- though I have an idea or two as to how they could fulfill it; see below) actually wasn't "cashed in" (heh) until several years later. I am unaware of any other appearance by Penny until Colon's "Bad Penny!" (RR FORTUNES #6, September 1972), at which time she was redesigned to look more like Cindy Lou Who. Future renderings of young Miss Van Dough worked off the same basic template, though the face was turned into something a bit less "cartoony" and the trademark Van Dough freckles tended to come and go, depending, I suppose, upon how lazy and/or forgetful the inker was on that particular day.

The more-than-obvious question here is: What plans could Ape possibly have for Penny Van Dough -- to be specific, in new stories? Well, no one asked me, but here's a suggestion: Age her a couple of years and let her be a feisty, tomboyish, "Gosalyn-esque" little girl who wants to tag along on Rich Rescue missions, to the great consternation of all concerned parties. This would help to make Reggie a more sympathetic character, even as the far more harshly characterized Reggie was in the "classic" stories featuring Penny; it would provide a character who is appealing to kids on the lower-age end of the "young reader" distribution that is the focus of Ape's efforts; and it would be a great in-joke tribute to longtime Harvey readers who remember Penny as a baby. Of course, this all assumes that Ape put some kind of thought into why it reprinted the first Penny story, complete with its text-box pledge. The thought of... say it with me, now... "unintentional intentionality" should never be far from the surface of one's mind where Ape's handling of RR GEMS is concerned.

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