Monday, February 27, 2012

Book Review: HOWARD COSELL: THE MAN, THE MYTH, AND THE TRANSFORMATION OF AMERICAN SPORTS by Mark Ribowsky (W.W. Norton, 2011)

It's rather surprising that we haven't gotten a definitive biography of Cosell until now. Sports books trumpeting "The Best X Ever," "The Last Real Y," and "The Game that Changed Z Forever" seem to be a dime a dozen, and the titles of the vast majority of them punch far above their actual weight (to use a boxing metaphor that I think is fitting in this case). But Cosell really was a transformational figure. As author Ribowsky notes in this even-handed, frequently compelling book, the world of sports journalism could probably use someone with Cosell's outspokenness (as opposed to "mere" loudmouthedness) right about now. That someone, however, would best be advised to ditch the comically oversized ego as an optional accessory.

Cosell clearly had many positive attributes, such as a willingness to fight for the underdog and a strong loyalty to his family, but he is a classic example of someone who ultimately became a parody of himself. I remember watching the last fight broadcast he did, the 1982 heavyweight mismatch between Larry Holmes and Randall "Tex" Cobb, which would be mercifully forgotten today were it not for Cosell's steady hectoring of the referee and "the boxing world" in general for letting the fight drag on to the finish. In this instance, Cosell ceased to be a truth-teller and became simply an irritating scold. The "comical" bickering in the booth of Monday Night Football (which, as is now well known, papered over some extremely hard feelings and jealousies among the principals) followed a similar downward trajectory. Cosell's "using" of people for name-dropping purposes (Ribowsky describes this as "people collecting," a la Professor Horace Slughorn, but with a nastier edge), hypersensitive anti-anti-Semitism, drinking problems, and general obnoxiousness served to ensure that, when he gave his enemies swords with which to run him through (e.g. the infamous "little monkey" comment on MNF), the wounds they inflicted upon him would last far beyond their "heal-by" dates. Even so, there is something truly sad about his disintegration and withdrawal from the wider world following the death of his beloved wife. What price fame -- or infamy?

Ribowsky does a good job of covering the well-known high points of Cosell's career -- MNF, his long relationship with Muhammad Ali -- and manages to make Cosell a sympathetic figure even while playing up his many flaws. The short and decidedly unhappy story of Cosell's 1975 prime-time variety show (!) Saturday Night Live (!!!!) is unquestionably the funniest part of a read that, due to the serious issues with which Cosell was involved and his marked genius for ticking people off, is somewhat more dour than those seeking a gay romp through the funky late-60s and 70s might expect. Highly recommended for those who seek enlightenment as to why the guy with the bad toupee and big vocabulary was such a big deal back in the day, as well as those who witnessed the blow-by-blow themselves.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

THE BEST (AND REST) OF KIMBA: Episode 51, "The Day the Sun Went Out"

"Oh, Kimba, Kimba... you stubborn, splendid, adorable fool!"

"The Day the Sun Went Out" is on the short list of the very best Kimba episodes...this, despite being full of flaws, some of which are exceptionally irritating. But then, Cecil B. DeMille's last great movie masterpiece is also packed with similar cringe-inducing moments. That doesn't make The Ten Commandments any less iconic.

"Sun" features the most "mature," and most harrowing, of all of Kimba's many conflicts. Kimba and his sister Leona (introduced in "The Mystery of the Deserted Village") do no less than clash over the white lions' legacy and what it should mean in the future. Leona's reverence for the past and desire to preserve memories of the siblings' ancestors, in the tangible form of the white lion hides that she has guarded so proudly and so zealously for so long, runs headlong into Kimba's ambition to bring a more humane version of Caesar's dream to fruition. The resulting train wreck nearly ruins their relationship, and it also imperils their lives during a vicious conflict with The Black Four (cf. the "Jungle Fun" and "Pretenders" two-part story). We can legitimately respect the honorable intentions of both Kimba and Leona, which makes the break seem all the more painful. Had the TV series followed the lead of Tezuka's JUNGLE EMPEROR, in which Leona was Kimba's aunt rather than his sister, I don't think that the ep would have had nearly the emotional impact that it does. The wallop could have been even more devastating had several inexplicable lapses in tone -- some of which were the fault of the Titan crew, some of which Mushi Studios built into the story from the get-go -- been removed or altered. (Interestingly, the manga adaptation of this episode doesn't follow the filmed plot precisely -- and thereby suggests some alternate approaches that might well have improved the TV version. We'll address those a bit later.)

The episode manages to overpower its logical lapses and false moments due to the sheer grandeur of its theme and the sheer beauty of its visuals. As with the iconic vision of the despairing Kimba on the tree limb in "Jungle Thief," a particular image from this episode buried itself deep in my mind long ago, and I managed to preserve it during the long interregnum between my initial exposure to Kimba and my later rediscovery of the series. But it's just one of a number of wonderful images herein. The dramatic use of a solar eclipse to symbolize the shadow that has been cast over Kimba and Leona's relationship is probably the series' most effective use of visual metaphor... and it's not even the image that I remembered!

The Kimba of "Sun" is clearly drawn and depicted as an older adolescent, probably just on the verge of growing the "beautiful white mane" that a much younger, and more insecure, Kimba dreamed about during his memorable reverie in "The Insect Invasion." Why the Tezuka company sees fit to insist that such episodes as "Soldier of Fortune," "The Return of Fancy Prancy," and "A Friend in Deed" -- to say nothing of Episode 52, "Silvertail the Renegade," in which Kimba tries to avoid getting punished and spanked by Dan'l for an act of perceived disobedience -- are close to temporally concurrent with "Sun" is frankly baffling. I'm perfectly cool with the idea of letting "Sun" and "Destroyers from the Desert" be the "emotionally official" "last two episodes" of the series.


We don't waste any time establishing this ep's schizoid nature. A moody teaser, reestablishing Leona and the lonesome nature of her vigil in the deserted village, is immediately followed by a strangely out-of-place, older-than-dirt gag that can be traced at least back to here. Just think, the kids missed a golden opportunity to anticipate Donald's Nephews, not to mention Baloo, and try to convince Dan'l that it was Saturday one day early. (And, say, isn't Bucky the kids' teacher? Shouldn't he be heading to school as well?)

Though it's not mentioned, I would assume that Leona and Kimba had established some means of communication before this, especially since Leona was bound and determined to stay with the hides and Kimba was well aware of that fact. At the very least, Leona was aware that Kimba was alive and well and therefore able to help her.

The guy who wrote BAD TV and ridiculed Kimba's talking to Caesar's hide in "The Insect Invasion" must have missed this episode. Try laying "He looks just the same as he did alive!" on a family member at a funeral parlor, Leona, and see how it dances. Here is where we begin to get the impression that Leona's devotion to preserving the hides has gone beyond mere fidelity to white lion tradition and mutated into something resembling an obsession. We Catholics, to be sure, understand the historical and spiritual importance of sacred relics, but Leona seems to have laid aside the fact that her ancestors' legacy continues to live on -- in fact, to grow and mature -- in the form of her brother the pelt-keeper.

"... and I'm SO glad you used Parsonizing to keep Father's hide looking so clean and new."

Back we go to the village for the process of hide removal, and in the middle of another windstorm, to boot, because that's just what this episode needs -- more windbags! (Sorry, Greg, but I had to use it once.) Kimba really shouldn't be all that surprised at the number of hides on display, since he's visited the village before, but perhaps this comment was meant for viewers who'd missed "Mystery of the Deserted Village."

The "shrine on the Upper Nile" is probably located on the White Nile, since that tributary of the river flows closest to what we would normally believe to be the central-African location of Kimba's kingdom. I wonder when Leona found the time to leave the village and research the location? Did her friends the okapis help her then, too?

The Black Four's sudden appearance and attempt to sabotage our friends' climb up the rapids seem to come out of nowhere. I'd like to think that they're acting out of pure malice -- and, just perhaps, a desire for belated revenge on Kimba after the events of "The Pretenders" -- but we'll learn later that they have a very practical reason for wanting to stop Leona's efforts. The log-attack and rescue scenes are very artfully done on screen, but the manga adaptation provides even more exciting visuals (no neat rows of hides floating downstream there!) and also amps up the danger quotient, as Kimba must actively rescue Leona from drowning without the assistance of a convenient bridge to counteract the powerful current.




The post-crisis feelings of relief and affection (symbolized by Kimba patiently licking his sister back to consciousness) quickly give way to mutual recrimination, as Kimba and Leona fall out over "a few missing hides." The TV episode and the manga adaptation have rather different takes on who was "primarily responsible" for this breakup. In "Sun," the onus appears to be on Leona; Kimba doesn't even lose his own temper until Leona has blown off her "softie" sibling and gone off to locate the missing hides. Kimba's true anger at Leona, as things turn out, will fester for a while before the full extent of its malignity can be fairly measured. Ironically, though Kimba seems to be less at fault on screen, the decision to make him look like the aggrieved party here will make him look much worse later on in the episode.

In the adaptation, while Leona definitely kicks off the dispute, both Kimba and Leona get in plenty of licks (and not of the affectionate kind) before they part company, and Kimba is the one who turns tail and runs, leaving Leona clearly agitated over what has come between them. Kimba likewise displays a belated regret that is absent in the TV version, in which he'll next be seen learning about Leona's capture by The Black Four. The manga version is superior, I think; the severity of the quarrel is heightened, while the post-argument displays of emotion by both characters help to engender sympathy for each. I wish this version had been filmed; it would have been pretty deep and mature stuff for 1966, even by Kimba's standards.


The lengthy sequence that begins with the chief okapi (Gilbert Mack) running to tell Kimba of Leona's fate ends with a heartbreakingly dramatic image: Kimba in the shadows, an apparent prisoner of his pride, abandoned by his taken-aback subjects. Had this story been adapted in American comic-book form, this would have made for one killer cover. Unfortunately, the "emergency report" scene that goes before leaves an awful lot to be desired, particularly when it comes to dramatic structure. Gil Mack is given the thankless task of delivering a big, thick wad of expository dialogue (and you thought I was kidding about "more windbags," eh, Greg?), and, while he does his best, his use of exaggerated voices to represent characters' speech gives the scene a semi-comic tone that really doesn't fit. The okapi's ribbon-tongued crying jag, by contrast, is on Mushi, rather than Mack; it makes the infamous crying scene in "Destroyers from the Desert" look artful by contrast. The visuals remain powerful, with Kimba's simple turning (read: bowing) of his back in response to Leona's plight reminding us, as no mere words could, that Kimba is the son of the imperious Caesar. But it's not hard to imagine how this scene could have been dramatically improved.

... And now, that unforgettable image of an isolated Kimba is nearly piddled away completely by what Mushi presents -- and the Titan crew is therefore forced to present -- as the jungle prince's incredible obtuseness. "What did I do wrong?" has rarely sounded as hollow as it does here. It was obvious at the end of the previous scene that Kimba was already conflicted and harbored some guilt feelings over his decision, so Kimba's obliviousness doesn't ring true at all, and the exaggerated "snubbing" sequences are mere overkill. Dinky even seems to have gotten the wrong cue from the director when he smirks in response to Kimba's attempted greeting.

Again, I think that the manga adaptation handles this better. There, Kimba does get a direct snub from one of his erstwhile friends, but his subsequent overhearing of treetop gossip reflects the changed attitude of his subjects towards him far better than any "mere" back-turning ever could.

The imagery of the eclipse scene, culminating in Kimba's tearful repentance, speaks for itself. Boss Rhino's little rhyme about the superstition (which Kimba, of course, initially blows off) actually makes little sense in context, since Kimba's betrayal of his sister took place well before the eclipse began. It also seems highly unlikely that Kimba would know how to tell time (!) but not have any idea what an eclipse was. (At least he didn't copy Dan'l Baboon in "The Gigantic Grasshopper" and attribute the eclipse to the Devil.) But the visuals simply overwhelm you here...












The moment that haunted me for years finally arrives when Kimba reaches the shrine and tackles The Black Four on their own turf -- and terms. My vision of "a huge room with white walls" came from this shot of the leopards menacing Kimba:

This is a copy of the pygmy's shrine from JUNGLE EMPEROR, the place where Leona and Kitty served as acolytes. The main difference is that the stone lion is rendered much more realistically. Speaking of realism, Kimba bleeds on screen during the initial fight with The Black Four for the first and only time. He certainly came close to doing so at the start of "Destroyers From the Desert," and he was much more badly hacked up there than he is here, but there's something about the sight of that one trickle of blood that freezes one's attention -- not to mention bringing to mind the Crown of Thorns.

For some odd reason, characters who disappear underground in this episode, as Leona did earlier and Kimba does here, are apparently expected to shrivel up and blow away. It doesn't seem to have occurred to The Black Four -- whose hideout, after all, this is -- that there may be a way to escape the cistern and get back inside the shrine. Kimba, like Leona, finds the escape hatch quickly enough, but not before we get another beautiful visual, this one of Kimba shaking himself dry:

Nothing "cubsy-cutesy" about this maneuver; that's a man-shake! So Kimba and Leona have their tearful reunion and... oh, dear, Leona's reaction to Kimba's appearance is simply not the "done thing" in circumstances like these. "I knew you'd forgive me and come back to help" sounds horribly smug, don't you think? So Leona knows how to get out of the caves but has simply been stumbling around in the dark, waiting for little brother to get with the program and save the "helpless" female? It never occurred to Leona to escape, rush back to Kimba's jungle, make up with her brother, and enlist his aid in person? No WAY can I buy this. The manga adaptation handles Leona's fate in a much more straightforward manner by having Leona be rescued from captivity at story's end, after Kimba, with assistance from his late-arriving subjects, has subdued The Black Four. This might strike you as a little more sexist than the filmed version, but at least Leona had a REASON for passivity in this case. (It also adds a certain frisson to the proceedings; what did The Black Four have planned for Leona once Kimba was disposed of?)

There's possibly a bit too much comedy thrown into the scene in which the other animals come to help Kimba and Leona beat The Black Four, and "out of sight, out of mind" is invoked once again when Bucky's jugging of the vanquished quartet is implicitly equated to their permanent defeat. (Perhaps our friends intend to suffocate the B4?) But the emotions displayed at the end of this infuriating, unforgettable adventure are real and truly "Heart"-felt. Sure, it could have been much better on screen... but it's plenty good, and powerful, as it is.

Up next: Episode 52, "Silvertail the Renegade."

Monday, February 20, 2012

Comics Review: RICHIE RICH GEMS #44 (February 2011, Ape Entertainment)

RR GEMS' first "non-SPECIAL!" issue keeps the indicial and "creditorial" errors to a minimum -- with one whopping exception -- but the trumpeted "return" of Super Richie (or Superichie, depending upon what issue of the original 1970s comic you read) isn't the absolute best way to start the regular "classics" series, I don't think. There was a reason why SUPER RICHIE/SUPERICHIE was one of the VERY few RICHIE titles to be cancelled during the hothouse period of 1974-1982, when the Harvey line essentially became all Richie, all the time. Once the basic premise is established of Richie and Cadbury "play-acting" as supposed superheroes Rippy and Crashman -- only to get caught up in real crimefighting -- the range of permissible stories is dramatically curtailed, and things become tedious pretty quickly. The two main SR reprints in this issue, Ernie Colon's "The Robot Goes Wild" and "The Revolting Butler" (SUPERICHIE #14, April 1978), appeared just six months or so before the SR title went away for good. While they look OK in isolation, you should know that (1) "The Robot Goes Wild" was just the latest in a string of "Rippy and Crashman battle giant robots" stories, and (2) "The Revolting Butler" was a similar "repeat riff" on the well-worn theme of crooks posing as Rip and/or Crash in order to "ruin their reputation." These stories actually represent the concept's decadent stage, rather than its full flowering.

If Ape had to do a Super Richie tribute, I'd much rather it reprinted some of the stories featuring Badman, the burly crook with the poofy Bruce Jenner 'do and the Negaduck-style "bad is good" attitude. At least those stories showed energy... which is more than I can say for Colon and Sid Jacobson's new five-page tale "The Kidnapping of Mr. Rich!". Not only does this story feature some disturbingly wonky art (HOW is Richie's head shaped in that first splash panel? Like a trapezoid?!) and an out-of-left-field revival of Rippy and Crashman's original "too-close-to-Superman-for-comfort" costumes, it doesn't even fully dignify the original conceit: Richie's heroic adventures turn out to be a dream! I honestly don't think that Ernie and Sid's hearts were in this one.

At the book's back end, we abruptly return to the bad old days of slipshod Harvey editing when a promised "Introduction to Rich Rescue" written by Sid Jacobson (!?!?) is nowhere to be found. Instead, we get an early-60s one-page gag drawn by Colon. Then follows a reprint of the "Welcome to Rich Rescue" story from issue #1 of the mini-series. As I noted when commenting on the SPECIAL!s, I'd prefer GEMS to focus on "classic" material... but, to be fair, the tiny type under the GEMS cover logo does mention that "new" material (which could, of course, mean reprinted RICH RESCUE fodder) will be included in the title. Indeed, using modern material sparingly in GEMS might be a good way of reminding older Harvey fans of the "reboot" title's existence... or it would be, had Ape actually included a reminder that the latter title existed here. I consider this to be a missed opportunity. With the launch of the regular RICH RESCUE title having been delayed for so long, I think that a little memory-nudge, in the form of a "Coming Soon" box or under-panel crawl, would not have been out of place.

What will arrive next? GEMS #45, or the revived RICH RESCUE? Your guess is as good as mine.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

THE BEST (AND REST) OF KIMBA: Episode 50, "Soldier of Fortune"

Several of the later episodes of Kimba have, somewhat curiously, depicted the jungle prince as "younger" than we would expect him to be. In "Soldier of Fortune," however, the Titan crew may actually have taken things a bit too far. It is surely jarring, two episodes before series' end, to hear Kimba actually asking "Uncle" Dan'l Baboon for PERMISSION to join world traveler Floppo the Seal (Hal Studer) on a trip across eastern Africa to the Indian Ocean. Is this really the same lion who sailed away to combat the "chimera" in "Monster of the Mountain" with nary an audible peep being raised by his "peeps," save Cheetah, who just happened to be on the scene when Kimba shoved off? And could that truly be our Kimba essentially pitching a temper tantrum (a fairly mannered one, all things considered, but still...) in order to convince an atypically splenetic Dan'l to let him go? As we'll see, there's internal evidence that this episode was not one of the very last to be dubbed, but neither was it an early effort. It still seems a rather curious decision to suddenly amplify latent bratty tendencies in Kimba, no matter when the deed was actually done.

Iffy character quirks aside, this is about as straightforward an episode of Kimba as exists in captivity. The setup promises a scenic African jaunt, and that's exactly what we get, though the geography gets pretty wonky pretty quickly (as was the case in "Monster of the Mountain") and it's even harder to guess how the Floppo-less gang will get back to the jungle than it was to dope out how Kimba, Dot, Dash, and Dinky would make it home after the events of "The Balloon that Blows Up." Boss Rhino gets his most memorable post-"Volcano Island" role as what basically amounts to the Gruffi Gummi part in our little expedition. Floppo is an ingratiating one-shotter, and I'm glad that Hal Studer didn't simply try to reproduce the familiar Roger Ranger voice for the character; he really tries to do something different with his standard voice, though exactly what he had in mind is difficult to tell. Not a classic, to be sure, but there's a mellow, genial vibe to this ep that makes the occasional moments of tension and peril that much more effective by contrast.


Intriguingly, Ray Owens' brief opening narration sets the story up to be some sort of fairy tale. (We'll get a similar "And that's the story of..." bookend at ep's end.) What's funny about this is that there's no paranormal, otherworldly, or "magical" aspect to the story whatsoever. Not that Kimba would have stood for it, mind you.

We get several quick hints that Kimba is kinda-sorta meant to be a juvenile here: he literally runs Bucky over in his eagerness to see the mysterious "creature" and then requires the prickly assistance of Harry/Harvey Hedgehog (making his last bow here) to get through the crowd of curious animals. Um, he's the prince of the jungle... he should simply be able to request to be let through.

In introducing himself, Floppo goes all Gertrude Stein-ish on us by declaring "A seal is a seal," but, according to whoever wrote the Kimba entry on Wikipedia, he's a South African fur seal. If so, then I wonder where he started his trip around the world. He later declares that he entered the heart of Africa by following the Congo River "as far inland as it would take me," which makes some sense, as the river makes a huge bend to the South in mid-continent. But that would indicate that he entered Africa from the west. If he's from South Africa, then why would he do that? Hang on, I may have an answer for you later...

If a couch could talk, it'd probably sound like Floppo. He's got a cozy-sounding, laid-back voice that sounds like an imitation of someone, but I can't tell who. There may be some W.C. Fields in there, but, given Floppo's overall air of geniality, that seems like a questionable assumption. Wherever Studer got the notion for this voice, it quickly charms the audience, not to mention the eager, wide-eyed Kimba. Of course, Kimba has already seen a good portion of Africa thanks to the balloon trip in "The Balloon That Blows Up," but part of Kimba's anticipation may lie in the fact that this trip will be planned, rather than involuntary. This strongly suggests that "Soldier of Fortune" was intended to proceed, say, the events of "Monster of the Mountain." Extra-jungular adventure is still seen by Kimba as a bit of a lark, rather than a leader's mission.

So why does Dan'l have such a burr up his ass over the notion of Kimba going on this jaunt? He does everything but snarl "Get off my savanna!" to Floppo but never actually provides a reason for his opposition to the idea. It might have worked better had Dan'l made some reference to Kimba's need to stick to his duties as leader of his kingdom. Dan'l still would have come across as heavy-pawed, but he wouldn't have seemed so confounded crabby in the process. Kimba "matches" Dan'l's maturity level by doing the taunt-'n-tease bit with the rock. It's cute, but, once again, not really what we would expect from Kimba in what is billed as a "late-series" episode.

Pauley's past experience in the human world (cf. the flashback in "Two Hearts and Two Minds") would presumably explain his interest in going on the trip. The lottery that selects Dodie, however, is a bit curious. I wonder whether this was a clever ploy to hide the fact that the animators didn't want to take as many characters on the expedition. The trip will, as it turns out, venture into some decidedly deer-unfriendly territory.

Boss Rhino's epochally stubborn "adherence to instructions," to the point of ramming (and destroying) the only tree within miles rather than alter his course, is positively brilliant. To resurrect the Gruffi analogy, this is like Gruffi insisting on repairing floorboards in Gummi Glen even as the Gummis are preparing to "leave for good" during the episode "Up, Up, and Away." It doesn't make the character any more or less likable; it simply encapsulates his personality perfectly.

The encounter with the gorillas basically burns time and little more, but the Titan crew does make some clever use of the embedded Japanese song, and Hal Studer slips in the nugget of news that Floppo once belonged to a circus. That might explain Floppo's port of entry into Africa; he may have escaped somewhere on the West Coast of Africa and decided to turn his departure into a circumnavigation of the entire globe. For sure, I'd want to celebrate my newfound freedom in a big way.

I'm not sure what's more improbable -- the existence of mammal-munching pitcher plants in Africa or the sudden appearance of forbidding mountains in our friends' path. Here is where the geography spins out of control. Assuming that Floppo, Kimba, et al. followed the most logical path from the environs of the bend of the Congo, they must be traversing part of Uganda and the South of Kenya on their way to the Indian Ocean. Unfortunately, there don't appear to be any massive mountain ranges in that general vicinity (Mount Kenya is closer to the center of Kenya). The cliffs are just there... no, not to suck, Greg, but to provide a fitting backdrop for the obligatory "Never give up... never surrender!" scene between Floppo and Kimba (which I don't take entirely seriously, BTW; it's not very likely that Kimba would abandon the pinniped in such a treacherous area) and the memorable "Saving Boss Rhino" sequence, in which the Titanistas sell the animals' physical duress exceptionally well. Even Kimba of the seemingly indestructible tail seems to be tested to the utmost here.



No sooner do we get over the mountains and into the lake than we get a CONTEMPORARY POP CULTURE REFERENCE COMPLETELY OUT OF NOWHERE! Kimba's delighted cry, "I love this dirty water!" during this scene:

makes absolutely zero sense in context, so Billie Lou Watt must certainly have been referencing this garage-band standard:



This song peaked on the charts (at #11) in early July of 1966, so that allows us to pinpoint the recording date of this ep with reasonable accuracy. Was it something that Billie Lou thought of on the spur of the moment? Had she heard it on the car radio that morning during the drive into Manhattan? Who knows?

The encounter with the (somewhat implausibly situated, not to mention implausibly artistically rendered) "sea monster" is notable primarily because it gives Kimba a belated chance to pay Pauley back for all the support the parrot gave him during the darkest moments of "Destroyers from the Desert." Pauley has shown a number of moments of conspicuous courage on behalf of Kimba's ideals during the series, dating all the way back to the classic "Jungle Thief," so one might consider this Kimba's way of showing just how much he has appreciated all of those gestures. It's too bad that Kimba didn't smack the beastie in the face with his tail as he was doing the slow-motion backflip into the water... just for old time's sake.

"Pardon me... could you kindly direct me to the set of GODZILLA
VERSUS THE SMOG MONSTER?"

Perhaps that mountain lake is the source of the Fountain of Youth; during the escape, Kimba suddenly changes appearance to the cub of "Go, White Lion!" Whatever the nature of the effect (besides cheapness, that is), it's quickly remedied as the perilous passage under the rocks rather improbably opens up into a waterfall by the oceanside. Well, whatever works to get you there. Just don't expect to get back home by the exact same route. You should also hope that Floppo was just kidding about actually swimming the Indian Ocean. Even a mammal who possesses the amazing ability to talk under water without drowning -- a trait he imparts to Kimba, no less! -- will have his breath control tested by that challenge. In any event, have a safe journey home, guys.

Up next: Episode 51, "The Day the Sun Went Out."

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Comics Reviews: RICHIE RICH GEMS WINTER SPECIAL! and RICHIE RICH GEMS VALENTINE'S SPECIAL! (Ape Entertainment, February 2011)


The last two weeks have been SPECIAL! (sorry, force of overemphasized habit)... real, live dead-tree comics have actually shown up at the local store. And they're RICHIE RICH comics, to boot. While we wait for the "reboot" series to wend its way storewards, these two packages of reprint material will do very nicely, thank you... even if the seemingly inevitable Harvey-related screwups are all too noticeable.

I'm not certain of this, but I believe that VALENTINE'S SPECIAL! was prepared first -- and hurriedly. The huge number of artist-credit errors in this book can't possibly be a coincidence, and some of the goofs are positively egregious. How can you possibly mistake the art of Sid "Crouchey" (sic) for that of Ernie Colon (in the one-page gag "Garden Party")? It's the funnybook equivalent of confusing Norman Rockwell with Grandma Moses (and, since I once referred to Sid Couchey as the G.M. of comics, that's not meant to be an insult). In the gags "Box of Chocolate" and "Just Married," Ernie is mid-ID'd as Warren Kremer, which is at least a little more fathomable. Ben Brown fares the worst; his gag "Big Drink" is attributed to "Crouchey," and, in WINTER SPECIAL!, his longer story "Seems Like Real Fun" is given to Colon. I suppose you could call that a Couchey/Colon "confusance" of the second degree, or something. In any event, I sincerely hope that such avoidable errors can be minimized in future reprint books.

For all of its factual faults, VALENTINE'S SPECIAL! does best WINTER SPECIAL! in the area of variety. You get 13 separate stories and "storylettes" for your V-Day money; WINTER gives you only seven, not counting the four KEENBEAN'S CORNER reprints (from the RICH RESCUE mini-series) at the back of the book. (BTW, I'm not exactly crazy to see these reprints, as enjoyable as they originally were, in a title that's supposed to be devoted to classic RICHIE material. The source of the KEENBEAN gags is at least acknowledged on the back cover, but cutting them loose from their source material and presenting them out of context like this really cuts into their effectiveness.) Each book leads off with a Sid Jacobson/Ernie Colon original, and both efforts are decent enough, though Ernie seems to be having all sorts of trouble drawing Richie's eyes correctly for some reason.

Not only are there a lot of stories in VALENTINE'S SPECIAL!; a lot of eras from the classic Harvey are also represented. We get an Ernie Colon indicia-page gag from a mid-60s issue of RICHIE RICH SUCCESS STORIES (how can I tell? They helpfully left the SUCCESS logo in the first panel!), some Colon stuff from the prime period of the late 60s and early 70s, and two Mayda Munny appearances featuring two very different models of the character -- the early Warren Kremer edition of 1973 or thereabouts, and Ernie Colon's redesigned Cher lookalike of the post-1975 era. And that's just part of the mix. I do have to applaud Ape for selecting Colon's "The Great Mansion Mystery" as one of the featured (read: five-page) offerings. That brief but enjoyable tale doesn't have any specific tie to Valentine's Day, but its story of young love thwarted and then redeemed seems more in the spirit of the holiday than yet another story about Gloria's resentment of Richie's elaborate gifts. WINTER SPECIAL! has a tougher set of material to sell -- a bunch of stories set around winter sports and activities doesn't get the blood flowing, except perhaps when one is actively engaged in said activities -- but it does include the only ten-pager in these two books, Warren Kremer's "The Abominable Snow Plan." And, yes, they kept the "Continued in This Issue" reminder... even though part two of the story commenced on the very next page. Some traditions simply shouldn't be shattered.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

THE BEST (AND REST) OF KIMBA: Episode 49, "The Sun Tree"

Circle of Life? Kimba the White Lion don't need no stinkin' Circle of Life -- or, should I say, he need to try to disrupt said Circle out of sheer, cussed stubbornness.

OK, enough of trying to give you the wrong impression about this fine episode. Kimba's heroic effort to save the legendary Sun Tree, the jungle's oldest living denizen, is a well-told story with an ample supply of "Heart" and an ending that's sure to provide a satisfying feeling of closure. Kimba's dream-interchange with the noble spirit of the ancient tree in mid-episode licks most other animated arboreal encounters hollow (apologies to Grandmother Willow) and tees up the rest of the episode perfectly... this, despite the fact that Kimba chooses to ignore the tree's plea to be allowed to die with dignity. One would expect no other reaction, though, from a character fueled by idealism. The ep does have one major flaw; Dan'l's distant relative Muffy Baboon (Hal Studer), the most irritatingly schizophrenic one-shot character of the series, provides some conflict that quite frankly wasn't necessary in what would otherwise have been a perfectly acceptable "Lion vs. Nature" story. Muffy's mood-swings and consequent disputes with Kimba largely serve only to pad the running time of an ep the plot of which was already a bit on the slender side. Otherwise, this is rock-solid (oak-solid?) entertainment in the best tradition of the series.


If Pauley knew that he would be going on an extended "trans-jungular" journey with Kimba in Episode 50, "Soldier of Fortune," he probably wouldn't have been such a whiner here. In all honesty, haven't Bucky and Pauley already been taken on at least a couple of adventures outside Kimba's kingdom? "Two Hearts and Two Minds" comes to mind (and heart). Heck, Bucky actually led school excursions in "Volcano Island" and "The Troublemaker" that turned out to be chock-full of adventure. Still, B&P deserved a better rejoinder than a verbal slapdown from Dan'l and a pointless aphorism from Kimba.

Kimba and Dan'l's approach to the Sun Tree allows the episode to slide in a nice, subtle introduction to the notion of the tree as a complete ecosystem unto itself -- a miniature version of Kimba's realm without the civilizational trappings. The semi-comical bickering by the likes of Smelly Civet (Gilbert Mack) and Dan'l's description of the environs of the tree as "a mess" are a good-natured reminder that the natural world isn't nearly as neat and tidy as the most dreamy-eyed of tree-huggers evidently believe it to be.

So why IS Muffy so schizoid, anyway? He switches from threatening to toss Kimba "into the dirt" to docilely bringing Dan'l and Kimba to Dan'l's Uncle Scratch (Mack) with no "transition game" whatsoever. And this is just the first of his peculiar pivots. My own theory on Muffy's weird personality is that he simply couldn't handle... being named Muffy. This brawny young baboon with the tailfin topknot was given a handle more appropriate for someone who spends his time sipping on appletinis and monitoring his trust fund... or, in a world of talking animals, perhaps the more appropriate analogy would be to a high-society vulpine poseur who's actually a jewel smuggler. Yep, I think I'd be resentful too, though perhaps not to the extent of developing a split (or is that shattered?) personality.

"I hate you! ... But give me a couple of minutes, it'll pass."

It's quite believable that Kimba is originally noncommittal regarding the conflict between Muffy and Scratch as to whether to abandon the "ailing" tree. Aside from the fact that he's a stranger in these parts and doesn't know all of the backstory (in particular, what we'll learn later about Scratch's rather... intense identification with the aging tree), Kimba is a forward thinker. His whole mindset is geared towards bringing positive change to a world ruled by "The Law of the Jungle" and, yes, "The Circle of Life." To his credit, though, Kimba seems to keep an open mind as to whom to support... at least, until he has his unforgettable exchange with the spirit of the tree (Ray Owens, who really sounds like a creaky, but proud, old tree here -- I wonder how this voice effect was produced?) and is told the "Just So Story" of the tree's birth and growth. The animators have previously used the outlines of characters for visual effect -- remember Kimba's visualization of the imperiled Speedy/Dash in "The Return of Fancy Prancy"? -- but nowhere else is the effect employed so memorably. The "wave effects" during Kimba's dream are also noteworthy.

Fired with the idealistic impulse to fight on behalf of tradition, Kimba decides, of his own accord, to attempt to save the tree, albeit using what passes for modern technology in the jungle (the vine-binding used to construct the schoolhouse back home). I suppose his decision could be questioned, but it's hard to deny his good intentions. Unfortunately, it's also hard to buy his acceptance of the bet with Muffy. Truthfully, the valiant effort to save the tree would have provided more than enough motivation for Kimba, with Muffy perhaps playing the role of the Cassandra carping from the sidelines. But putting his life in the paws of someone who claims to want to "get back at [him]" for no apparent reason whatsoever (unless Muffy somehow assumed, with no real evidence in hand, that Kimba would "naturally" back him up against the stubborn older generation)? That's way too far-fetched to accept. Muffy continues his wildly schizoid behavior by (1) pitching enthusiastically into the work, (2) cackling gleefully when news of the impending monsoon arrives, and then (3) imploring Kimba to run for safety as if he actually cared about Kimba's well-being. Sheesh! This character literally makes my head spin.

Kimba, tormented by wind and weather, has rarely flashed such admirable stubbornness as he shows while he's trying to save the tree. Scratch's refusal to "bough out" is just as admirable, but he tips his hand as to his motivation when he cries, "If you [the Sun Tree] go, I go too!" Projection much? To his credit, Muffy refuses to let "Grandad" imperil himself any longer than necessary and (we may assume) helps Dan'l get the old baboon to safety.



Kimba's weeping when the tree finally falls (which Billie Lou sells well, all things considered; it really is weeping, rather than bawling) turns out to be for the past alone, as a "new sprout of the old tree" survives the deluge. To be sure, none of the former denizens of the Sun Tree will be alive to see the new tree flourish, but the Circle of Life's renascence prompts Kimba and Muffy to abandon their fairly ridiculous feud and bury the hatchet. It's a disagreement that should probably never have existed, but, hey, at least we got to see a formal end to the conflict.

It's easy to miss the subtle tear that Kimba sheds during the fade-out scene. This is just the right note on which to end -- well-earned nostalgia for the best of the past, coupled with optimism for the future. I'd like to think that Kimba has a deeper respect for jungle tradition after this adventure -- not the red-in-tooth-and-claw anarchy that his civilization was built to combat, but the rich, multi-layered, interconnected ecosystem that his civilization can both complement and enhance. In that regard, "The Sun Tree" could be termed a "growth in office" episode. Pretty fitting for an ep centered on death and REbirth, wouldn't you say?

Up next: Episode 50, "Soldier of Fortune."