Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Comics Review: DONALD DUCK AND FRIENDS #352 (Boom! Kids, March 2010)

(I'm playing it safe and inserting some up-front...



... for those who haven't yet read the conclusion of the first "Double Duck" story arc and don't want to be unpleasantly surprised by my comments.)

Ah, me... I was always just a little afraid that the mysterious "Red Primerose" would turn out to be our charming Kay K. But I wanted so much to believe that Kay was nothing more than (1) Donald's Agency partner and (2) a potential rival for Daisy that I shoved the notion to the back of my mind until I had incontrovertible proof of her guilt. Said proof was not long in coming in this issue (and, IMHO, I think that Donald was deserving of a much more shocked reaction than merely sticking out his tongue in a pathetic manner akin to Wile E. Coyote just before the falling boulder strikes him). I am, however, legitimately disappointed that all Kay was after was The Agency's money and that the list-of-agents "McGuffin" was merely a ruse. If this "master spy" was willing to go to the trouble of pitting Agency agents and Marlo Burke against one another and impersonating the imprisoned Jay J with the aid of a mechanical robo-suit (does The Brain know about this egregious copyright infringement?), surely she could have had a slightly more sinister plan in mind than simply filching funds? ("Ah, but it's all part of her MASTER plan," replied David Xanatos, with a knowing chuckle.) There does appear to be one ray of hope for poor Kay K. Judging from the full list of existing Double Duck stories and the appearance of the December '09 TOPOLINO cover shown below, we can probably expect to see Kay (1) do battle with Donald and The Agency in future stories and (2) return to the side of the angels, up to and including teaming up with Double Duck once again. I hope this comes to pass; she's a good character and gave Daisy a serious romantic challenge that Donald's frequently exasperating inamorata desperately needs, to keep her humble if nothing else.

While the revelation that Kay was standing in for Jay J was not contradicted by any earlier gaffes of the "fourth Nephew Phooey" variety -- and yes, I did go back and check -- we did get a "left hand unaware of right hand" moment of sorts in that the opening scene of the arc, in issue #347, did not quite match up with what Kay revealed in this final chapter. If B-Berry had learned of Kay's treachery early on, then why, after stealing the laptop, did he warn Jay J that "lots of people are going to get hurt... starting with you!" and that he intended to "bring down the entire Agency!"? The story began and ended with different translators, and I suspect that wires got crossed somewhere during the transition. A pity; this was a surprisingly good read, given my low expectations at the outset.

The arc ends with The Agency's "Big Boss" being revealed to a stunned Donald. Place your bets, folks... mine's on Scrooge. Hey, the precedent was set (in Italy, at least) a number of years ago... and I just read the story in which the idea originated, no less. Watch this space for my review when I tackle the recently released DONALD DUCK CLASSICS: QUACK UP.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Book Review: JACK KENT'S KING AROO, VOLUME 1 (IDW Publishing, 2010)

IDW Publishing's LIBRARY OF AMERICAN COMICS line has already made a considerable mark in the flourishing biz of classic comic-strip reprints, as readers of this blog are surely aware. Now their activities have risen to the nobler -- and, hopefully, just as remunerative -- level of performing a genuine public service. Jack Kent's whimsical fantasy strip KING AROO, which ran from 1950 to 1965 and enjoyed a small but very devoted following, has always sounded as if it were right up my (Hogan's) alley -- a cleverly written "intellectual" lark along the lines of KRAZY KAT, POGO, and BARNABY -- but, until IDW proffered this volume of the first two years of daily and Sunday strips, my total exposure to Kent's much-praised work consisted of a handful of daily strips reprinted in THE SMITHSONIAN COLLECTION OF NEWSPAPER COMICS and Ron Goulart's ENCYCLOPEDIA OF AMERICAN COMICS. A reprint volume appeared in 1953, but it apparently didn't sell well enough to warrant additional collections. Now IDW, armed with syndicate proofs and with the cooperation of Kent's heirs, is taking the not-inconsiderable gamble that the diminutive monarch of Myopia can be sold to 21st-century audiences. If there's any justice, its gamble will pay off.

Kent, who became a prolific author of children's books after shutting his AROO-gala down, was a self-taught artist with a profound respect for his fellow comics creators. He corresponded with such luminaries as Milton Caniff and George Herriman, receiving original artwork from each, and apparently had some dealings with Walt Kelly, turning down an opportunity to become Kelly's assistant on POGO (cf. Bruce Canwell's introductory essay in this volume). Kent's willingness to learn from the "masters" probably accounts for the fact that his strip arrives on the scene more or less "fully formed." Herriman took a while to develop KRAZY KAT from a sub-feature to another one of his strips into an independent feature; Kelly's POGO started in a comic book and likewise took some time to round into shape; but Kent, from day one, panel one, seems to know exactly what he is trying to accomplish insofar as humor style, approach to continuity (to wit: rambling with occasional lengthy diversions), and level of sophistication are concerned. His art style takes a little longer to mature; it looks a little stiff at the start, quickly mutates into something akin to Walt Kelly's style circa 1951 (albeit with supporting characters who look a bit more Herriman-esque, with their dot-eyes and invisible mouths), and finally settles into the pleasantly loose, semi-sketchy style that would serve Kent well for the rest of AROO's life. Modern comic-strip creators should be so fortunate as to be able to "ramp up" their new features so quickly. Usually, they're still trying to learn how to draw.

Unlike POGO (comic-strip version) and KRAZY KAT, KING AROO features a "mixed cast" of humans and animals. (Actually, King Aroo looks more like a cross between a human and a gerbil, but the other characters refer to him as human, so I'm not going to argue.) Aroo plays the Pogo role of the apparent innocent who is nonetheless (usually) aware of what is going on around him. His human factotum Yupyop -- who, strangely enough, gets co-billing with Aroo in the Sunday strips -- is more worldly-wise, though he does have his "drift-off" moments, such as when he decides to go into business saving damsels in distress. Aroo, for his part, is enamored with "The Beautiful Princess from the Kingdom Next Door," who, like all female humans appearing in this volume, is tall (comparatively speaking) with dot eyes and no appreciable nose. The expected crew of "fairy-tale" characters supporting the lead duo -- witches, dragons, goblins, ghosts, and whatnot -- all have endearing flaws. Wanda Witch's spells backfire more often than not, while Drexel Dragon (I wonder whether Kent got the idea of that name from here) has only limited control of his fire-breathing apparatus. Professor Yorgle, a creature of indeterminate origin who believes he knows everything but actually doesn't, is a cross between Ludwig von Drake and POGO's Howland Owl. There might even be a "shout-out" to the contemporary radio comedy Fibber McGee and Molly in the person (so to speak) of Mr. Pennipost, the kangaroo mailman with an apparently bottomless pouch (think Fibber's closet, not to mention the magic bag owned by the future version of Felix the Cat). As noted above, it doesn't take long at all for Kent to establish these characters' personalities and set them in full motion.

Kent's writing style is much more straightforward than that of Herriman or Kelly; he plays with words a lot, explores the "hidden meanings" of fairy-tale and nursery-rhyme cliches, and the like, but he generally steers clear of the "fenciful" word-wrangling of KRAZY KAT or the dialect-heavy speech that dominates POGO. He does use a couple of "walk-on" characters with accents, but I can't say that I'm overly impressed with what he does with them; the ingenuity of the "fractured French" patois used by his French poodle Genevieve, for example, does not measure up to that employed by Herriman's French poodle schoolteacher Mimi or Kelly's Miss Ma'amselle Hepzibah. Kelly's relatively straightforward approach makes it all the more mystifying to me why his strip wasn't more popular with a general audience. POGO, after all, appeared in several hundred papers at its peak and was much more of an "acquired taste" than I found AROO to be. The ultimate reason for AROO's obscurity may lie in the fact that Kent sold it to the McClure Newspaper Syndicate. McClure was the first syndicated feature service in American newspaper history, dating back to 1884, but, by 1950, it was on its last legs. McClure sold out to the Bell Syndicate in 1952, and Kent apparently had much more trouble dealing with Bell than with McClure. AROO would have gone under even earlier than it did had the SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE not pieced together a small-scale syndicate primarily devoted to keeping AROO afloat. Perhaps Kent should have considered several offers before casting his lot with McClure.

I'm certainly on board with this collection for the duration, and all praise to IDW for taking a chance on it in the first place. But I'm still waiting for that "official" LIBRARY OF AMERICAN COMICS Web site, guys. When is it going to launch?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Comics Review: UNCLE $CROOGE #389 (Boom! Kids, March 2010)

It seems a bit of a letdown that all but four pages of the action of "Around the World in 80 Bucks, part 2" take place in the confined space of a cruise ship. Were Scrooge and Donald truly akin to Phileas Fogg and Passepartout, they'd surely have preferred to fight natives or rescue princesses from being burned alive than face the relatively minor "crisis" of Donald carelessly spending money on a couple of ship-board babes while being egged on by John D. Rockerduck's badly-disguised lackey. (Well, perhaps Scrooge would equate Donald spending the Ducks' precious cache of funds with human sacrifice.) The crisis is short-circuited by the all-too-convenient intervention of a band of pirates with designs on robbing the passengers. Scrooge and Donald naturally take advantage of the "sitch" to foil the felony and pocket a nice reward. Gladstone comes along on the cruise (it's Gladdy's babes whom Donald pilfers) and is apparently going to be involved in the solution of the globe-trotting Ducks' next dilemma: how to get to India.

"80 Bucks" continues to bob along with its head just above the waterline of mediocrity, but better days lie ahead for $CROOGE, as this Newsarama piece indicates. I can't very well criticize Boom! for the decision to both include DuckTales material in $CROOGE and couple its debut in June with the start of a Darkwing Duck mini-series in that same month. Boom!'s track record may have been erratic to date, but the company appears to be launching these products out of genuine enthusiasm for the "Golden Age of Disney TV Animation" and the memorable characters and concepts introduced then. Of course, enthusiasm doesn't always translate into polished results, but I hardly expect to see Boom! display the slovenly indifference towards these properties that riddled the DISNEY AFTERNOON title of the Marvel-Disney era.

Sweet-and-Sour 16

"A pretty safe pick in my mind"... well, I did predict that Kansas' toughest test would be against Northern Iowa. I just never expected the Jayhawks to flunk said test.

Nine of my 16 "Sweet" picks, and three of my Final Four choices, are still alive, though. This year, that's probably par for the course.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

NCAA Tournament Tip-off Time Approacheth...

... and with apologies to Mike and Mike, here is my version of the SHEET... OF INTEGRITY!

(1) Kentucky over (16) East Tennessee State
(9) Wake Forest over (8) Texas
(5) Temple over (12) Cornell
(4) Wisconsin over (13) Wofford
(6) Marquette over (11) Washington
(3) New Mexico over (14) Montana
(10) Missouri over (7) Clemson
(2) West Virginia over (15) Morgan State
Kentucky over Wake Forest
Temple over Wisconsin
New Mexico over Marquette
West Virginia over Missouri
Kentucky over Temple
West Virginia over New Mexico
West Virginia over Kentucky

I think Kentucky relies too heavily on freshmen... and John Calipari is a sleazebag. WVU's Bob Huggins isn't much better, but at least his clothes are rumpled.

(1) Duke over (16) Arkansas-Pine Bluff
(9) Louisville over (8) California
(12) Utah State over (5) Texas A&M
(13) Siena over (4) Purdue
(11) Old Dominion over (6) Notre Dame
(3) Baylor over (14) Sam Houston State
(7) Richmond over (10) St. Mary's
(2) Villanova over (15) Robert Morris
Duke over Louisville
Utah State over Siena
Baylor over Old Dominion
Villanova over Richmond
Duke over Utah State
Baylor over Villanova
Baylor over Duke

How could I possibly pick ND to lose in the first round? Old Dominion plays exactly the same slow-tempoed game and has been winning with that style for far longer than ND. I have a bad feeling that ND emptied its tank during the drive to get to the tournament and may fall victim to "happy to be here" syndrome.

(1) Kansas over (16) Lehigh
(9) Northern Iowa over (8) UNLV
(5) Michigan State over (12) New Mexico State
(4) Maryland over (13) Houston
(11) San Diego State over (6) Tennessee
(3) Georgetown over (14) Ohio University
(10) Georgia Tech over (7) Oklahoma State
(2) Ohio State over (15) California-Santa Barbara
Kansas over Northern Iowa
Maryland over Michigan State
Georgetown over San Diego State
Ohio State over Georgia Tech
Kansas over Maryland
Ohio State over Georgetown
Kansas over Ohio State

The biggest shock of the tournament would be if Kansas lost anytime before the Elite 8. In fact, I think that their toughest game may come in the second round against Northern Iowa.

(1) Syracuse over (16) Vermont
(8) Gonzaga over (9) Florida State
(5) Butler over (12) Texas-El Paso
(13) Murray State over (4) Vanderbilt
(6) Xavier over (11) Minnesota
(3) Pittsburgh over (14) Oakland (Mich.)
(10) Florida over (7) Brigham Young
(2) Kansas State over (15) North Texas
Gonzaga over Syracuse
Butler over Murray State
Xavier over Pittsburgh
Kansas State over Florida
Butler over Gonzaga
Kansas State over Xavier
Kansas State over Butler

Nicky insists that Syracuse (with its center out with injury) will lose to Vermont. I can't bring myself to predict that but I'd be surprised if they survived the first weekend. I also think that Butler is a lot better than most people think and this is their year to make a run at the Final 4.

West Virginia over Baylor
Kansas over Kansas State
Kansas over West Virginia

Kansas has the best team by far. The Jayhawks are a pretty safe pick in my mind.

Monday, March 15, 2010

DVD Review: PEANUTS 1970's COLLECTION, VOLUME 1 (Warner Home Video)

The first half of the 1970s found the Lee Mendelson-Bill Melendez PEANUTS TV specials growing ever more polished in presentation, yet losing a bit of their "special-ness" due to the increasing volume of product. Between 1971 and 1974, the years covered by this set, half-a-dozen specials were released, and the second PEANUTS feature film, Snoopy Come Home, was produced. To say that the quality of the TV product suffered as a result of the effort devoted to the movie isn't too much of an exaggeration. Play it Again, Charlie Brown (1971) and There's No Time for Love, Charlie Brown (1973), with their whisker-thin plots and over-reliance on transcripted strip gags, are easily worse than any of the specials of the 60s. Even the modestly successful You're Not Elected, Charlie Brown (1972) was a bit of a "cheater" in that it lifted the scenario of Linus running for student body president straight from a 1964 strip sequence (albeit with a couple of neat additions, such as a comically inept attempt at an "Ask the Candidate" phone-in radio show, tacked on to make half-hour "weight"). All of these shows contain funny bits, but there's far too much aimless drifting, especially in Play it Again and No Time for Love.

With the award-winning A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (1973), the team rediscovered the winning formula. Along with A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) and It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966), the Thanksgiving show has proven to have the hardiest "shelf life" of any PEANUTS special. True, the scene in which Linus recites William Brewster's prayer seems like too conscious an attempt to rekindle the spirit of Linus' Nativity Story recital from the Christmas special, but the "junk-food feast" that Charlie, Snoopy, et al. whip up for Peppermint Patty and guests is a simply priceless idea with the not-inconsiderable added virtue of being completely original. Phil Roman assumes the directorial duties from Melendez with this special, but the transition is smooth and seamless. It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown (1974) isn't quite as memorable as Thanksgiving -- Charles Schulz was undoubtedly treading very softly to avoid the more intensely religious aspects of the holiday in this case, leaving us with strict egg-and-bunny secularism -- but it sticks to the same path of originality (aside from the basic notion of the Easter Beagle, which Charles Schulz had used as an one-off gag). How many among us, while coloring Easter eggs, have ever been tempted to "prepare" them as the unwitting Marcie does here in so many delightful ways. Between these successful shows, we get the "sleeper" of this collection, It's a Mystery, Charlie Brown (1974). This special quietly vanished from view after one or two repeats, which seems a shame. No one seems to have made note of the fact that Schulz created a "persona" for Snoopy here (that of a Sherlock Holmes detective, who's on the trail of Woodstock's supposedly purloined nest) that Snoopy had never used in any comic strip. That alone should net the show some extra points. The "mock trial" and "bandit Peppermint Patty" business are very funny. The only real problems here are the voices: Sally's is irritatingly whiny -- though, given that Sally spends her time either complaining about school assignments or bitching that her science project has been stolen, one could legitimately say that this was what was intended all along -- while the girl (?) voicing Peppermint Patty appears to have had her tonsils swabbed with steel wool before speaking her lines.

The Warners DVD release is fairly bare-bones, aside from a short documentary on the creation of Woodstock. Despite the relative lack of ancillary matter and the weakness of several of the shows, this is the last release featuring a full slate of material produced during what some die-hards would regard as the era of "canonical" PEANUTS specials -- an epoch usually defined as ending with the death of Vince Guaraldi and/or the controversial decision to show the Little Red-Haired Girl in It's Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown (1977) -- and, as such, would have to be regarded as an essential purchase for PEANUTS fans. Even those who avow that "the only good PEANUTS specials were released in the 60s before they went all slick and 'commercial'" will want to own these in order to enjoy the ever-imaginative musical musings of Guaraldi, who's moved beyond the drums-keyboard-and-bass basics of the 60s while still remaining faithful to the series' established style.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Comics Review: WALT DISNEY'S COMICS AND STORIES #704 (Boom! Kids, February 2010)

Andrea Castellan picks up the pace in part two of "Mickey Mouse and the World to Come," tossing Aztec world-cyclical legends, mysterious satellites, and an evil would-be usurper of a European monarchy into a narrative that already seems a bit overstuffed (how is Doc Static's past going to fit into all this? And what about Scarecrow's brain? Sorry, got my "universal wires" crossed for a second there). Eega Beeva also returns as a "visiting consultant" (I guess) for a secret American agency devoted to exploring mysteries of the X-Files variety. It is Eega who reveals to Mickey (the eye-shaded "captors" of whom turn out to have been employees of said agency) that the flying robot that carried away Minnie is one of a flotilla of giant metal men destined to "[destroy] our world and [create] the world to come!". The would-be beneficiary of the chaos does, indeed, turn out to be The Rhyming Man from the Gottfredson-Walsh "Atombrella" continuity. Castellan draws "Rhymes" (well, what else would he be nicknamed?) in the late-1940s Gottfredson mold, with an added touch of slickness. Given that "Rhymes" originally planned to use poison gas to take over the world, the sort of drastic, globe-curdling crisis-mongering that he's engaged in here seems very much in character. So, too, does his apparent intent to betray his temporary ally, the scheming Crown Prince Nikolai of the "small, peaceful" country of Illusitania. Add a few shots of Minnie in (relatively demure) bondage, and we've got what is shaping up to be a modern classic that takes inspiration from Gottfredson without being slavishly imitative. To make things wholly modern, however, I hope that Minnie gets to actively join Mickey and Eega (and Doc Static??) in foiling the plot.

Um, "Peg-Leg Pete and the Alien Band" continues in this issue, as well. It's kind of difficult to tell because there's no title header (just a "story [or what passes for same] so far" text box) and the sub-feature consumes a total of three pages. That's not a back-up feature, that's back-up garnish. And when I jokingly compared the aliens who've kidnapped Pete to The Way-Outs, I didn't expect that the writer would take me so literally...

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Comics Reviews: DISNEY'S HERO SQUAD #2 and WIZARDS OF MICKEY #2 (Boom! Kids, February 2010)

I'm probably encouraging slovenly "sack thinking" by bundling together reviews of each of these comics for the second issue in a row, but the issues' high points and flaws are pretty much identical to those seen in last month's "collector's editions." We do seem to get a "turning point" of sorts in WIZARDS OF MICKEY, but the "moment of truth" is snatched back almost as quickly as we progress into the next phase of the story line.

For much of its Ultraheroes-themed length, HERO SQUAD #2 seems like a rehash of the battles of issue #1: Fethry "The Red Bat" and The Phantom Blot continue their tiff over Ultrapod-5, while John D. "Roller Dollar" Rockerduck strains to get some sort of reaction out of a slumbering Iron Gus (even resorting to cybertronic solicitors and collection agents!) as he hunts for Pod-6. Writer Giorgio Salati's characterization of the shape-shifting Blot -- that of a supercilious wordsmith and lint-picker -- is the highlight of the affair and one of the funnier takes on The Blot that I've seen to date. Example: as The Blot attempts to escape with Pod-5, he hectors Fethry for still calling himself "The Red Bat" even though he's wearing the Ultraheroes' standard-issue blue costume. The 12-page installment ends with the Ultraheroes holding the short end of the lollipop, though a battle in the sewers between Duck Avenger and The Blot looms. DA and The Blot are styled "the two team champions" -- though a couple of the Ultra's (especially Super Daisy, despite her recent warming-up to Donald's heroic i.d.) might debate the former point -- so I'm figuring that the end of the Ultramachine story arc may finally be upon us. The fact that the first HERO SQUAD reprint book, SAVE THE WORLD, is being solicited for next week also suggests that we're getting close to some sort of "end." But where is Mickey, and will the Beagle Boys ever let Scrooge escape from prison? So many subplots, so little time... The conclusion of "The Thief of Zanzipar" from SUPER GOOF #1 rounds out the issue, and my guess is that we'll be getting the origin of Duck Avenger next, unless Boom! decides to devote the entire length of #3 to wrapping up the Ultramachine saga.

WIZARDS OF MICKEY #2 has a fair amount going for it. The artwork, by Marco Mazzarello and Vitale Mangiatordi, is some of the series' best -- and, in the wrap-up to part #5, both "The Lord of Deception" and Mickey's erstwhile master, Nereus, appear to meet a "final fate" of sorts. Unfortunately, one of these characters is apparently slated for another one of those "we were only kiddin', folks!" comebacks that DC and Marvel fans know so well. Sigh. At least "Team Diamond Moon" (Minnie, Daisy, and Clarabelle) make their comeback at the beginning of part #6, "Witches at the Palace" (sounds like a sequel to Wicked to me), as they join "Wizards of Mickey" in the "Great Flower City" of Arborea for the next stage of the sorcery tournament. A new threat soon emerges in the person(s) of "Team Jinx," a trio of evil female magicks that features Magica De Spell (about time the writers went there, don't you think?). The next battle, the biggest one yet, will feature "team captains" only. Mickey (who's now received the official blessing of his "dearly departed" master to go for the tournament title) and Princess Minnie (who's still trying to bring her stone subjects back to life) are locks for the honor, but the squabbling "Team Jinx" may have a spot of trouble picking a champion...

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Saying Goodbye

Yesterday, Nicky and I made the trek up to Delaware for Chris Sturmfels' memorial service. The site was St. Andrew's School, the boarding school in Middletown where The Dead Poets Society was filmed. Chris' widow's parents worked at St. Andrew's and, with the students away on break, the school offered to host the event. 200 people were expected; 500 showed up. Nicky and I got there in time but couldn't get into the school auditorium, where the service was held. Luckily for the school, the fire marshal never showed up. We quickly retreated to the main building and the dining hall so as to be sure to meet the family members when the ceremony broke up. We couldn't stay to eat, but I'm glad we made the trip nonetheless. Thanks to everyone who's posted good wishes to my family.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Comics Review: WALT DISNEY'S VALENTINE'S CLASSICS (Boom! Kids, 2010)

It isn't a violation of the "truth in advertising" laws -- quite -- but that charming Cesar Ferioli cover of Minnie bear-hugging Mickey with intent to cherish may be a little misleading. Only one of the stories in this compendium has any direct connection to Valentine's Day. (Sorry, Daan Jippes, but your "Raven Mad" gag story of Mickey getting more than he bargained for after capturing a raven to give to Minnie as a gift could have been set at any old time of the year.) Two of the four "featured items" center around characters cheesing one another off for romantic reasons, while a third, though it has its share of happy aspects, comes with a barbed tail of satire attached and winds up having been a dream all along. No "greeting-card garbage" (thank you, Scrooge) on display here, for the most part. That being said, the collection is an outstanding follow-up to MOUSE TAILS, not least because of the inclusion of one of my favorite Floyd Gottfredson MICKEY MOUSE strip continuities, "Mickey Mouse in Love Trouble" (1941).

"Love Trouble" was reprinted fairly recently by Gemstone (and reviewed in installments by yours truly, here and here), but I'm delighted to see it preserved between hard covers; the 1979 Abbeville Press reprinting was marred by re-lettered dialogue (back-translated from Italian) and omitted the notorious strip in which an angry Mickey walks through a picture window. The story has its flaws -- the dated and unflattering characterizations of the females above all -- but, as the "ultimate test" of Mickey and Minnie's relationship, it stands as the quintessential domestic comedy of manners in an era in which the MICKEY strip was primarily recognized for adventure. (The story actually served as a "tipping point" of sorts in the strip's history; Gottfredson would plot only one more non-domestic tale, "The Mystery at Hidden River," before turning the strip over, first to a gag-a-day format, then to the writing talents of Bill Walsh.) It also features a "perfect storm" of strip talent -- Merrill de Maris was Gottfredson's best dialogue man in the pre-Walsh era, while Bill Wright's inking of Floyd's pencils is droolingly beautiful -- and has recently grown unexpected "legs" in the form of Minnie's new beau, the wiseacre Montmorency Rodent, being used as the model for the modern version of Mortimer Mouse. I can, however, blame it for one truly horrific precedent in Disney comics history. While Mickey's supposed "rival babe" Millicent Van Gilt-Mouse is plenty cute, her collagen-enhanced lips are a real turn-off. Alas, Minnie got "the treatment" later in her career and spent a long period of time with an unflattering pucker that, when coupled with her rather dowdy clothing of the era, made her look like a candidate for some "face time" in an Old Maid deck. Carl Barks and the Ducks fell into a similar trap, resulting in a string of femmes with full-figured flanges that ranged from the unnamed girl duck of "Lifeguard Daze" (1943) to DuckTales' Millionaira Vanderbucks. Even Clarabelle Cow, plain though she may be under the best of circs, took a step backward when she was stuck with "the big red ones" on House of Mouse. Let's get one thing straight: big lips DO NOT make anthropomorphic female Disney characters more attractive. Capiche?

Barks' "My Lucky Valentine" (1953) is the only true Valentine story herein, and it's a good one, despite a rather awkward ending in which a fuming (of course) Donald is pursued by a blathering HD&L for eight whole panels. The thing that I like about this story, actually, has little to do with the Valentine theme. Here, Donald actually succeeds in getting a responsible job (as a mail carrier) and does not fail in his work. He's so dedicated, in fact, that, after pitching away Gladstone's Valentine to Daisy in a fit of rage, he repents and tracks the letter down in the teeth of a snowstorm. Daisy doesn't acknowledge his efforts -- was Daisy channeling the "Thing That Wouldn't Leave" Daisy of the early Mickey Mouseworks era here? -- which explains why Don is so upset at story's end. Apart from that setback, however, Don still has his job and has proven that he is good at it. Too bad Barks had to "reset the clock" before the next ten-page story.

Romano Scarpa's "Lights Fantastic" (1963) is a fitting companion piece to "Love Trouble" in that the scheming Brigitta MacBridge seeks to stoke Scrooge's jealousy by apparently casting her lot with would-be business maven Jubal Pomp, who's out to market a line of "firefly mood lights." Scrooge, of course, never loved Brigitta in the first place, so his reaction is less romantically jealous than it is philosophical; he worries that by "resting on his laurels" and letting new ideas pass him by, his empire may be in peril. Scarpa plays up the "fiduciary midlife crisis" angle (which is somewhat similar to the approach writer Michael Keyes took in his adaptation of Barks' "The Giant Robot Robbers" for DuckTales) by giving Scrooge an imaginary living moneybag to talk to as a sort of combination conscience and goad, but the bit lasts a little past its sell-by (cash-in) date. This entertaining Scarpa romp is enlivened, as always, by superb dialogue from David Gerstein.

Gerstein, with Jonathan Gray, is also on hand to dialogue the 1987 Brazilian story "Wedding of the Century" (aka "A 'What-if' Love Story of Imaginary Proportions!"), in which Donald and Daisy finally (gasp!) get married and have kids, albeit (literally) in Don's dreams. This story was published in Brazil a couple of months before DuckTales debuted, and, if the "old sourdoughs" of the day had issues -- and they did -- about the TV show's fidelity to the Ducks' world, I can only imagine what they would have thought of this had "Gladstone I" seen fit to print it (fat chance). One gives "imaginary stories" some leeway in any event, but, in places, this qualifies as a "hallucinatory story," nowhere more so than in the pages immediately following Donald's long-awaited proposal to Daisy (after waking up from a coma into which he'd fallen upon getting the news that the long-suffering Daisy had finally agreed to get engaged to Gladstone). Four artists divided the duties here, and Luiz Podavin, the second member of the "tag team," gifts us with some of the weirdest Duck character designs I have ever seen. What the heck, let's show off some of Podavin's wares:

That's the sort of thing that can keep a Duck fan up nights. Thankfully, the other artists allow the characters to age more gracefully and do a good job with Don and Daisy's teenage offspring (who bear names like Denzel and Dilbert and are every bit as trouble-prone as you might expect, given their parentage). Gerstein and Gray, too, do a good job explaining some of the "squashing and stretching" of characters that takes place here. The story is a simple one at heart, but the combination of funny dialogue and the... erm... unconventional approach to the artwork help to make it entertaining. Boom! deserves credit for deciding to print it, just as it does for continuing to make its special hardbounds special.

Comics Review: DONALD DUCK AND FRIENDS #351 (Boom! Kids, February 2010)

The conclusion of the first "Double Duck" arc is nearly upon us, but the excitement level isn't quite what I had hoped for, given the generally enjoyable nature of this inaugural enterprise. The plot has gotten way too gnarled, a legitimately good cliffhanger (Donald getting knocked out by a mysterious assailant) was wasted in the familiar, awkward "cut-off point" in the middle of the issue, and, worst of all, Don seems fully prepared to grovel his way back to the kvetching Daisy when all is said and done, even after he's had another promising moment or two of bonding with Kay K. Perhaps Donald should have taken a hint from Mickey's scheme in "Love Trouble" and put some real fear into his unpleasantly jealous, eternally demanding girlfriend.

I frankly have no inkling what the upcoming denouement will hold. Marlo Burke appears to have been neutralized (though I'm a little suspicious of the way he "just gave up" following his kidnapping of Kay and Donald), but B-Black and B-Berry are still at large with the "McGuffin" computer/CD/whatever, and the i.d. of Red Primerose (who was barely mentioned in this chapter) still needs to be cleared up. Just to remind us what "universe" we're really in, Don makes a couple of references to "poof bombs" that sail right over Kay K and Jay J's heads. It's a funny bit, even if Boom! did get the real name of Magica's "foof bombs" wrong from the start in UNCLE $CROOGE.