Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Comics Review: RICHIE RICH: RICH RESCUE #5 (Ape Entertainment, 2012)

Well, I got half of what I was hoping for in the long-awaited resumption of Ape's "re-imagined" RICHIE RICH title.  As if in answer to my fondest wishes, James Silvani did indeed perform the artistic duties for #5's original featured tale, "Hero for a Day."  Admittedly, Silvani's more cartoony approach to the cast clashes somewhat with the anime-flavored character models depicted on Marcelo Ferreira's cover -- apparently, that "Silvani Variant Cover" didn't make it to my store in Owings Mills -- but who can reasonably complain about such lively art?  The approach that Silvani takes here makes me wonder how he might have handled a KIM POSSIBLE comics title, had such a not-entirely-dissimilar entity been granted life back when that popular animated series was going great guns.  For sure, Silvani couldn't have done much worse with KP than did the likes of Tom Bancroft and Howard Shum in DISNEY ADVENTURES, with their notorious depiction of anthropomorphized and cartoonified Washington DC monuments literally duking it out

For all of Silvani's good work, there are still the persnickety matters of plot and characterization to be factored in here, and these are the reasons why "Hero for a Day" ends up being only a partial success.  Writer Buddy Scalera, who rather badly bollixed up "The Pursuit of Pesos" in RR:RR #2, does a little better this time out in terms of plotline, if only because the basic scenario -- Richie and friends using Professor Keenbean's new "ultra-realistic game system" to become virtual superheroes, only to run into trouble in "Terabyte Terrace" thanks to a sinister, invading virus -- can pretty much be carried by Silvani's piled-up panels of punch-outs, necessitating little else.  To be completely fair, Scalera does wedge in a little something extra, something that gives the story a little more substance: he gives Reggie a chance to openly show remorse and actively seek to make amends for accidentally inserting the virus into the system in the first place.  (I do have to deduct a couple of points for clarity here, since we only ever see Reggie inserting the spurious "video-game stick" into his own home computer... when did he actually plug it into Keenbean's system?)  Reggie occasionally had similar moments in "classic" stories, but he generally wound up abased far more often than he did abashed.  Scalera makes a fairly big deal of the turnaround, with Reggie, who is originally p.o.'ed at being given the non-super-powered identity of "Bold Avenger" (aka "Brat-Man"(tm)), ceasing his sulking and kvetching to put himself in peril and help his beleaguered teammates, showing sincere contrition in the process (especially after the "Dyna-Dog" Dollar is injured by the virus' attacking "bugs" -- and no, we never see how this "electrified" version of the character got skinned up, either).  The main change in the core cast to date has been the perceptible softening of Reggie's attitude, but, in future issues, there will probably always be a certain temptation for writers to take the easy road and fall back on "selfish and greedy" past practice with this character.  I think that Scalera made pretty good use of the changed character dynamic in this instance.

Unfortunately, Scalera's introduction of additional "new-old" characters -- two antagonists and one (at least in THIS context) villain -- leaves him wide open to some serious questioning.  Richie's old buddies Freckles and Pee-Wee finally make their first "Rich Rescue-era" appearances... but in such a manner that you wind up wishing they hadn't.  Richie's two lifetime pals (and I'm not kidding when I say "lifetime" -- they first appeared [along with Reggie] in the second RICHIE story ever told, "Problem Child" in LITTLE DOT #2 (1953)) are introduced as Keenbean's lab assistants.  In this capacity, they (gulp) meet Richie and the other members of Rich Rescue for the first time.  Now, I have no problem with the brothers Friendly not being members (even auxiliary ones) of Rich Rescue, but there was no reason why they couldn't simply have accompanied the Rich Rescue team to Keenbean's lab and taken advantage of the opportunity to share in the virtual role-playing.  Casting them as lab rats actually limits their potential for future contributions to RICH RESCUE stories, since they presumably wouldn't have any logical reason to appear unless Keenbean were directly involved in the story and were working at his lab in the process.  Next to this misstep, the fact that the traditionally mute (since LD #2, anyway) Pee-Wee talks up a storm in the guise of "Wee Devil" (a Hot Stuff shout-out, perchance?) shrinks to the size of a minor faux pas.

Then, there's the matter of our villain -- one Dr. Derange, "evil rival of Professor Keenbean."  Um, since when?  Shouldn't Dr. Blemish, the jerk-of-all-trades evil scientist who made way too many appearances in late-70s and early-80s RICHIE stories, be the prime candidate for that role?  The only reason why Dr. Derange makes his out-of-left-field appearance is the fact that his virus is named "Convac," as in "Convac: The Ultimate Computer" in the Ernie Colon-drawn story of the same name in RICHIE RICH SUCCESS STORIES #30 (March 1969).  Dr. Derange was the Rich Industries scientist who built Convac in that story.  All credit to Scalera for making those obscure references, not to mention figuring that at least some of us reading them would get the in-joke, but... the original Dr. Derange was a normal-looking good guy who just happened to accidentally build a would-be world-dominating computer.  Here, we never get a truly clear look at Derange's face or form, but he appears to be an unholy cross between Norton Nimnul and Aldrin Klordane, the villain in the CHIP AND DALE'S RESCUE RANGERS pilot caper, "To The Rescue!".  This marks the first time that a RR:RR story has featured a change in the motivation and orientation of a character, as opposed to merely characterizing the character slightly differently or drawing him or her in a slightly different style.  As such, I can't really sign off on it.  Using the original Dr. Derange and Convac would have been an homage; their use in this manner amounts to a bit of cynical cherry-picking.  (We don't even have the small satisfaction of learning how Derange's evil actions tie in with the first "sort-of-story-arc" in RR:RR #1-4; instead, #5 reads and feels like a completely stand-alone story.)

The superhero aspect of "Hero," to be perfectly honest, isn't all that original or inspired; the Hulked-up Cadbury, for example, gets the ingenious heroic nickname of... The Incredible Cadbury.  (Bar-None Cadbury, by contrast, would have been clever.)  Silvani, however, at least partially rescues the conceit when the good guys emerge from the VR world near story's end.  In one panel, our gang briefly mutates into parodies of DC Comics stars... and Ape comes thisclose to earning a lawsuit, the parodies are so drastically similar to the "real" DC characters.  Even Dollar winds up looking exactly like a smaller version of TV's Krypto the Superdog.   James, you wicked, wicked boy!

Shameless Plug-slash-Indirect Apology:  I get a "Thank You" credit in the list of story credits for helping Ape identify artists in the "classic" RICHIE gags that are reprinted following "Hero."  I would feel much better about it if Ape hadn't fouled up and misidentified the artist of six of the eight gags.  And, folks, I went back and checked; I gave them the correct information on the first half dozen, at least (I don't recall receiving the last two).  So, who edits the editor around here?

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