Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Comics Review: DARKWING DUCK #4 (Boom!, September 2010)

Ian Brill and James Silvani pilot the remarkable "The Duck Knight Returns" safely into port with a slam-bang, surprise-filled final issue that segues perfectly into the start of the continuing series. As a bonus, several more DuckTales regulars make appearances -- one hopes that the burgeoning St. Canard-Duckburg connection, which was barely explored in the TV series apart from Gizmoduck's occasional teamups with DW, will continue to feature in the future -- and we get a "bonding moment" between DW and Gosalyn that's every bit as good as the best such moments in animation. We also get frankly chilling call-backs to a couple of terrible DuckTales eps, but such is the quality of this miniseries that it actually gets some useful mileage out of them. Meet you on the other side of the...



Well, we did get our heroes-and-villains "cooperation sequence," but without Negaduck getting involved. Indeed, we never did find out what happened to Negs after Taurus Bulba's Crimebots arrested him. (Perhaps Negs' apparent alliance with Magica De Spell had its roots in Negs' getting Magica's magical help to escape from the pokey.) Once Megavolt made his "positively shocking" move, however, the "knob contingent" receded into the background (or through the floor) and we were left with Taurus vs. DW, Gosalyn, and Launchpad, which is what we really wanted to see all along. Thanks to Gos' completely unexpected transformation into Gosmoduck, DW got quite a lot of help with the "heavy lifting," but I still cherished seeing him and LP eschew fancy gadgetry and deck The Steerminator with that tooth-loosening "two-fer" punch. DW's apparent decision to sacrifice his life for the sake of the others was even more impressive, with our hero completely foregoing any alliterative amplification of his daring deed and proceeding in an almost deadpan manner. (I was actually disappointed when DW's dramatic freefall was broken in tongue-flapping, slapsticky fashion. I suppose that such exaggeration simply comes with the territory where these characters are concerned.) Despite his final defeat, Taurus fully lived up to his self-proclaimed status as "the greatest enemy [DW] will ever have." Since it's tough to say he was defeated "for good" -- wasn't his physical body left back at the space station? -- he'll surely appear again at some point, presumably with more hi-tech hardware than ever before. Actually, there's an even more compelling reason to believe he'll be back, as we'll see below.

Anyone who's watched "A Case of Mistaken Secret Identity" and "New Gizmo-Kids on the Block" knows that the track record of folks other than Fenton Crackshell (and where was HE while the Gizmosuit was in the lockbox? Attending an accountant's convention?) handling the Gizmosuit can charitably be described as mixed. Needless to say, for Gosalyn to get a shot at the honor (thanks to Gyro -- he really needs to consider random selection of a codeword next time) was completely unexpected. She turned out to be just as adept at using the suit as was Webby in "New Gizmo-Kids," though the "shocking" climax was genuinely frightening, making Gos' brief plummet in "Darkly Dawns the Duck" look like child's play and fully justifying DW's emotional reaction. Given the broad hints dropped at story's end, will we ever see Gos as The Quiverwing Quack again? Since Fenton has to return sometime, I imagine we probably will. Besides, Gos' own original "secret identity" has a charm all its own.

The backstory of and motivation for Taurus' creation of Quackwerks -- so helpfully sketched out by that handily available "Tuskernini Production" (plot contrivance? What plot contrivance?) -- was fascinating but contained one big, fat hole (no, Taurus, this is not a joke about your weight). The end of "Steerminator" found Taurus defeated but very much "alive," surviving a plunge into a waterfall and flying away. So what "uncharacteristic mishap" (1) destroyed Taurus' cybernetic body and (2) suddenly gave him the ability to "travel through and possess electronics"? I smell, if not a fanfic coming, then at least another Taurus story that makes things clearer.

I had painful flashbacks to "Yuppy Ducks" when I saw the besuited HD&L who accompanied Quackwerks "caretaker" Scrooge. At least they didn't do anything egregiously out of character -- or, indeed, anything much at all. Delighted as I was to see Scrooge and the boys interact with the St. Canardites, I thought the wrapup was the weakest part of the issue. Scrooge's dialogue seemed a bit clunky to me, and would he really entrust the safety of Quackwerks to Launchpad? (I don't think that Launchpad could even approximate a CEO "close enough for government work.") It would be great if the upcoming Negaduck-Magica story gave Scrooge something more significant to do. Kim McFarland's WTFB-APA story "Darkwing DuckTales" got to the idea first, but that was a long time ago.

Needless to say, I have every confidence that the regular DARKWING title will continue at a high level. If CHIP AND DALE'S RESCUE RANGERS is as good, then we have every reason to expect that other Disney Afternoon series will receive the four-color treatment as well. Of all the things that I would have predicted when Boom! took control of American Disney comics, this development would surely have ranked "next-after-last" on the list...

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Zine Review: THE HARVEYVILLE FUN TIMES! #74 (Summer 2010)

Conflict of interest? Yup, and who cares? I've been a contributor to Mark Arnold's "Harvey-themed" zine since 1993. This is the next-to-last issue before Mark hands over the reins to another individual... and it features the next-to-last RICHVILLE RUMINATIONS column that I plan to produce, though I'll certainly continue to post Harvey-related matter on this blog. The luscious "Queen of the In-Crowd," Bunny Ball, is this issue's featured cover girl. Jerry Boyd interviews BUNNY artist Hy Eisman and also provides an article on the BUNNY title, illustrated with enough eye-crossing late-60s psychedelic imagery to satiate even the "Deadest" of "Heads." Boyd throws in a nice reminiscence of the old Palisades Park theme park in New Jersey, where "Casper's Ghostland" was once one of the attractions. Throw in Mark Arnold's interview with SABRINA THE TEENAGE WITCH creator George Gladir, Joe Torcivia's penultimate "dead-tree" version of "The Issue at Hand", Milton Knight's memories of a brief sojourn at Harvey in the late 70s, and more reprints of Harvey-related ephemera than you can shake a Good Little Witch's wand at, and this is a bargain at $10.95 for 60 jam-packed pages. Even the formatting of the issue will surprise you (though not those who remember the earliest issues of SIMPSONS COMICS). Buy it, already!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Comics Review: MICKEY MOUSE AND FRIENDS #300 (September 2010, Boom! Kids)

OK, let's get the obligatory gag out of the way up front...

(Well, it officially has been since 1990, at least.)

But seriously... I'd like to toss the geniuses responsible for the $6.99 "Deluxe Edition" of this milestone issue into the nearest available "pit of doom." For your three extra bucks, you get (1) a Daan Jippes cover that I have a sneaking feeling I saw sometime back during the "Gladstone I" era and (2) a "foil-embossed" MICKEY MOUSE logo. Nothing so declasse, in other words, as, well, actually printing the lead story (Stefan Petrucha and Cesar Ferioli's "300 Mickeys") complete in an extra-sized issue. Just when it seemed as though Boom! were weaning itself off this multiple-cover routine, they squander a unique opportunity to do a "mega-issue" in favor of this cheesy gambit! The two "historical background" pages (including contributions from Casty, Jippes, and David Gerstein) don't really begin to make up for this, though they do add to the nostalgic feel associated with reading a "shoulda-coulda" Gemstone-issue-in-all-but-name.

"300 Mickeys" bears all the earmarks of a story that was originally slated to appear in Gemstone's MICKEY MOUSE ADVENTURES digest. Mickey uses Eega Beeva's "Pduplication Ray" to clone himself and keep simultaneous dates with Minnie (for dinner) and Goofy (at the arcade). Unfortunately, clones of "Mickey Nothing" unexpectedly continue to pop into existence even as Eega (who's suddenly got the "p"s back in his speech patterns -- this, plus the neat, MMA-style lettering, is a dead giveaway that this story was prepared a while back) returns to retrieve the gizmo. Adding to the inevitable chaos is the inconvenient fact that the clones, much like VHS tapes, "lose integrity" (in this case, become less intelligent) with every duplication. In the grand tradition of Pinky and the Brain's "Paper World," the increasingly mindless clones are soon fixing to set up shop for themselves on a newly-created island in the Tulebug River. Petrucha and Ferioli do their usual high-quality work, and the whiff of the Gemstone era is frankly quite refreshing after all those Italian WIZARDS OF MICKEY stories. Why Boom! didn't see fit to fit the entire story into issue #300 -- especially when the "300" conceit is part of the story's title -- is a complete mystery to me.

As he should, Floyd Gottfredson gets a nod at the back of the book with eight pages' worth of the quasi-continuity "Tanglefoot Pulls His Weight," essentially a string of gags in which Mickey tries to convert his knobbly-kneed horse into a "working animal," with decidedly mixed results. Now that MM&F has been re-established, I'd really like to see a "Gemstone-lite" issue like this now and again in between all the Italian imports. But, please, can we keep in mind that the drive to serialize may not always be appropriate?


There's an amazing amount of information jammed into this 350-page history of Earl Derr Biggers' Honolulu-based Chinese detective. Heck, we don't even get to talking about Charlie Chan per se until Huang, a professor of English at UC Santa Barbara, has doled out potted histories of Hawaii, Chinese immigration to the U.S., and early stereotypes of the Chinese in American culture (e.g. Bret Harte's once-famous poem, "The Ballad of the Heathen Chinee"). In tracing the links between the whip-cracking, incorruptible Honolulu police detective Chang Apana and the sleepy-eyed sleuth made famous by half a dozen Biggers novels and over 40 Hollywood movies, Huang lets the air out of some of the more fanciful claims about Chan, such as Biggers' declaration that he got the idea for the character by reading about Apana in a Hawaiian newspaper at the New York Public Library. (In fact, the NYPL didn't subscribe to any Hawaiian papers until after Chan had made his first appearance in the 1925 novel THE HOUSE WITHOUT A KEY.) Huang's goal is somewhat broader than a mere blow-by-blow description of how Chan came to be, though. As a post-Tiananmen Square immigrant to America, Huang has the considerable luxury of being able to write seriously about Chan and his appeal without being dismissed out of hand as a stereotype-mongering apologist for "Orientalism." He seems able to appreciate many of the sources of modern-day antipathy towards Chan (which led to the cancellation of a "Charlie Chan Film Festival" on Fox Movie Channel a few years ago, among other things) without being ideologically fettered to any sort of "politically correct" response to a character who, for all his aphorism-spouting and supposed "model-minority subservience," was almost certainly the single most proactively positive portrayal of a Chinese-American seen in American culture up to that time -- the good "yin," if you will, to the evil Dr. Fu Manchu's "yang."

How thorough is Huang's discussion of Chan's role in popular culture -- not to mention his love for the character? He describes the long-forgotten early-70s Hanna-Barbera cartoon The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan as a "phenomenal success."  Given that Clan lasted only 16 episodes, you might as well also term the show's exact contemporary The Roman Holidays a "phenomenal success." One interesting feature of Clan was the presence of Robert Ito (then "Bob") in the voice cast as one of Chan's ten kids. After his live-action stint on Quincy, Ito would become animation voice-acting's main "go-to" guy for "Oriental" characters for a number of years. (Keye Luke, who played Chan's #1 son in many of the movies and voiced Chan on Chan Clan, was outspoken in his admiration for Chan as a role model, as Huang notes.)

While he does mention the Alfred Andriola-drawn CHARLIE CHAN newspaper strip, Huang's discussion of print-based Chinese pop-culture figures akin to Chan is lacking in some ways. He really ought to have mentioned Ching Chow, a spin-off character from THE GUMPS who dispensed philosophical one-liners in a panel that ran for many years (it was in the NEW YORK DAILY NEWS at least until the early 1990s). When it came to images of the Chinese, Ching Chow was neither fish nor fowl (General Tso's chicken?) in that he was dressed like and looked like a stereotypical "Manchu Dynasty Chinaman" throughout much of his career, yet steered "velly" clear of the pidgin English that numerous other Chinese comics characters of the day employed (and which, strangely, Huang claims Chan himself used, though he clearly did not). Chow certainly didn't contribute as much to a more positive image of Chinese people as Chan did, but he must have contributed something. It's too bad Huang didn't discuss him.

Fans of pop culture will enjoy this book, which really does have something for everyone -- even if Huang's narrative sometimes becomes fractured as a result of his multiple (and admittedly entertaining!) digressions.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Slatterys Back in Baltimore

Peter and Matthew Slattery are now back in Baltimore. Matthew is currently at Johns Hopkins Pediatric ICU and will be moving to the Kennedy Krieger Institute shortly. Peter, meanwhile, took his first shower in a month (I can relate, sort of -- Nicky just finished her first shower since her surgery on Tuesday) and is starting to put the pieces of his school year and so forth back together.

A scholarship fund has been established by Stevenson in memory of Dr. Slattery. If you are interested in contributing, please click here.

Comics Review: DONALD DUCK AND FRIENDS #358 (September 2010, Boom! Kids)

"The exciting conclusion to the fan-favorite [DOUBLE DUCK] saga," my pinfeathered white... Seriously, Boom!istas, do you really believe that you're going to fool anyone into thinking that "Total Reset Button" is "the final DOUBLE DUCK arc"?!? Yes, the story (or, rather, the nine-page fag-end of same -- see my review of #357) "ends" with Donald zapping ex-Agency head Felino Felinys back into happy obliviousness and using some trickery to keep Jana Smirnov and her goons from spiriting Felinys' repressed memories away in the "TRB" device. It's a nice reminder that Double Duck Donald has, more often than not, displayed a refreshing competence in the pursuit of his duties. But in the last several panels, we learn that the assassins who are after Double D (remember them?) are still very much at large AND are in a position to track Donald with relative ease. You can't simply slap a "THE END" logo on that "stinger" and walk away with a smug smile. I'd even have settled for a "Stay Tuned for Future Adventures" announcement. It would have been frustratingly vague, but at least it would have admitted that, no, the DOUBLE DUCK saga really isn't over, we're just putting it on hold for a while. The way that the sidelining of DOUBLE DUCK was handled is, quite frankly, an insult to the reader's intelligence. A real shame, too, for these stories weren't half bad.

"Bugged Duck" took away at least a portion of my pain with a funny, rousing climax that wouldn't have been out of place in an (unaccountably decent) Quack Pack episode. The tale of double- and triple-dealing skulduggery is rather more cynical that you'd even expect a Donald-vs.-Nephews free-for-all to be, with its two "Men in Black" on the make and a surprise ending that's meant to be -- and is -- more than a bit unsettling. Writers Laura and Mark Shaw even throw in an obscure DuckTales reference for good measure. The real star of the show, however, is artist Flemming Andersen, who does wonders with panel design (check out the "flow-of-action" special on the next-to-last page!) and facial expressions. I stand by my previous contention that DD&F should have wrapped up the DOUBLE DUCK material in #357 (without trying to pull a fast one, of course) and run this story complete in #358 as a "transition tale." The page counts might not have complied with Boom!'s S.O.P., but I would have preferred paying a little extra for a few more pages to the highly unsatisfactory solution that we got here.

Comics Review: UNCLE $CROOGE #395 (September 2010, Boom! Kids)

Call it "The Audacity of Rope" -- an attempt to tie up an intriguing, but easily overlooked, "loose end" from the Carl Barks era and to firmly fasten the oft-patronized "world of DuckTales" to a tent pole in the dead center of the Barksian galaxy. Dialoguist David Gerstein's decision to turn "The Curse of Flabberge" into the story of the end of the dictatorship of Brutopia -- which the original French story clearly was not -- is one of the cleverest ideas I've ever seen in a Duck comic. Sometimes the seams of the "retrofitting" show, but, as a DuckTales partisan literally from day one, I can't help but be grateful to David for counting DT worthy of mounting this historically significant Duck-happening. I'd still have to count Bob Langhans' "The Gold Odyssey" as the best made-for-comics DuckTales Duck tale, but "Flabberge" is definitely on the (all too) short list of standouts. (It is also the best story that the extremely disappointing Boom! UNCLE $CROOGE has presented to date, but that hurdle admittedly wasn't particularly difficult to clear.)

The "Flabberge Egg McGuffin" turns out to be a mere casing for the story's real prize: the Brutland "Peace Pippin," the ownership of which legitimizes one's right to rule what is now the dystopian -- at least in theory -- land of Brutopia. I say "in theory" because the fearsome Brutopia of Barksian lore -- the country that gifted us with the ruthless Nikita Khrushchev look-alike of "A Cold Bargain" and the "Quintagon"-infiltrating agents of "Have Gun, Will Dance" -- seems to be something of a hollow shell itself. Dictator "Papa Bruto" is plenty nasty, but henchmen are decidedly lacking -- a couple of clone bulldogs who speak pidgin Slavic, a grumpy customs agent, and a handful of police who look like French gendarmes. Moreover, Western media reps are present and free to roam about the main square of Brutengrad at the climax of the story. Thembria was Oceania compared to this. Of course, the problem here is that the original story was about a more or less generic dictatorship, and it's hard to completely conceal the difference. But by turning the deposed good guys (to be precise, Tsarevna Felina, the heiress to the throne of Alexpanther III) into the Brutopian equivalent of the Romanov family -- even unto the use of Faberge-egg simulacra -- Gerstein manages to give the tale's backstory an historical heft that at least partially overcomes the slight letdown of the Brutopian "reality."

Save for a couple of truly atrocious puns from Launchpad during the opening chase sequence in the sewers of Paris, Gerstein's dialogue maintains the high standards of Part One. Oddly enough, Scrooge doesn't really have a lot to do; the Nephews' frequent references to the Junior Woodchucks' Guidebook, plus a tremendous slice of luck (to wit: the Ducks getting tossed into a dungeon that contains a major clue), actually contribute more to the ultimate solution of the mystery of the Flabberge Egg's whereabouts. But in this case, it's the setting and theme that really take center stage. With UNCLE $CROOGE due to stick to DuckTales stories for at least a few more issues, it'll be difficult to live up to the standards of this effort, but I look forward to the attempt.

UPDATE (6/24/13): I'd highly recommend reading GeoX's review of "The Curse of Flabberge" for a different take on the story.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Medical News There is A-Plenty!

I've been really busy this week because (1) we're creeping up close to what I have come to term the "first battery" of semester tests (three next week, one the following Monday) and (2) Nicky had arthroscopic surgery on her right knee on Tuesday morning. The docs at Johns Hopkins Bayview set Nicky's surgery time at 7:30am, which necessitated us getting up between 4 and 4:30 on Tuesday. I'd never been to Bayview before, but there I was trying to find an unfamiliar location in the dark and still loopy from the lack of sleep. The surgery went well and I picked Nicky up later that afternoon. The procedure apparently was a little more involved than expected; the surgeon has told Nicky not to put any weight on her right foot for 4-6 weeks. Hopefully we will be back to normal (or what passes for same around these parts) by November.

The day before Nicky's surgery, I also found myself facing the prospect of going under the knife, albeit a much smaller one. I developed a small umbilical hernia on my abdomen some time ago and, while it's not that painful, I did strain it once while Nicky and I were putting together our new treadmill in the basement. I went to a general surgeon for a consultation and we discussed the possibility of repairing the hernia. There's always a danger of the thing getting tangled up with "functioning parts" in the vicinity, so I do plan to have it fixed. Surgery will have to wait until December, after final exams, because I'll need a couple of days to recoup.

I'll be picking up Bengie's ashes from Mountainside Vet Hospital tomorrow. We plan to keep them along with the ashes of Nicky's dogs Paula and Squirt.

Reviews should recommence this weekend when I have time in between making up tests and ministering to Nicky.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Waiding into the Future

On his blog, Kneon brought up an interesting kerfuffle that went down during the recent Baltimore Comic-Con. Boom!'s Mark Waid got considerable flak for making some comments about how comics creators need to accommodate themselves to the file-sharing of comics material over the Internet. For my own part, I am surprised that comics companies haven't made more of a move towards creating a digital file service that will allow readers to access old materials for a nominal fee. Those entities holding the rights to comics that are no longer published, such as Harvey Comics, also ought to consider digitizing their holdings for the benefit of potential readers who can't afford high back-issue prices. Small-press independents will almost surely switch from print to electronic distribution in the very near future to avoid distribution hassles and make it easier to target their audiences. "Piracy" would no doubt still exist, but publishers could sweeten their offerings by providing "extras" that the cyber-equivalents of "guys going into movie theaters with cameras" simply could not. Proaction, rather than complaining, seems the best remedy in this case.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Comics Review: LITTLE LULU'S PAL TUBBY: THE CASTAWAY AND OTHER STORIES by John Stanley (Dark Horse Publishing, 2010)

In my comments on Dark Horse's LITTLE LULU reprint volumes, I've frequently speculated about moments at which John Stanley seemed restless with the characters and ready to move on to something else. The formulaic formatting of the stories and the suburban "same-itude" of the settings must have palled on even as imaginative a creator as Stanley at some point. In 1952, thanks to Dell's decision to introduce comics headlining Lulu's rotund buddy Tubby as part of the FOUR COLOR series, Stanley was tossed something of a creative lifeline to stave off any encroaching boredom. After four successful FOUR COLOR appearances, Tubby got his own eponymous stand-alone title, which lasted a total of 49 issues. Stanley took full advantage of the new "sandbox" to try his hand at some book-length stories. Even better, after Irving Tripp helped him out on the first issue ("Captain Yo-Yo," FOUR COLOR #381, March 1952), Stanley got to write and draw each of the next eight issues, in one of his few artistic gigs during the 1950s. The result is a delightful reading experience that displays Stanley's storytelling powers at "full extension" and gives the doings a little extra frisson by virtue of their being depicted in Stanley's loose, sketchy, magazine-cartoon-like style.

In these first half-dozen TUBBY issues, Stanley plays with the notion of unbridled fantasy in a way that he never did outside of the tightly constrained limits of the "Alvin Story Telling Time Tales" in LITTLE LULU. He does give himself "outs" of sorts -- Tubby's adventures as a pirate with a lethal yo-yo and as an "Indian fighter" (and yes, in case you were wondering, Dark Horse prefixes the latter with the annoyingly smug, we-know-better-than-this-today disclaimer) turn out to be dreams -- but what about "Tubby's Secret Weapon," in which Tub's horrific violin-playing causes a group of tiny Martians to shanghai the boy with the hopes of getting him to fork over a potential cosmos-conquering cudgel? Stanley leaves us no escape hatch to explain away the little greenies as the result of slumber or a plate of tainted food; Tubby and Gloria (who functions as Tubby's love/hate interest) must be rescued from the top of the "Umpire State Building" at story's end. Several other tales straddle the gap between "real" fantasy and "imaginary" fantasy, with Tubby stumbling into trouble despite himself (e.g., in "The Bank Robber," he gets mixed up with a bunch of midget crooks by innocently helping their "prank" robbery because he thinks they're kids in cowboy costume). In all instances, Stanley appears to be thoroughly enjoying himself. Stanley continued to write TUBBY for other artists until late in the title's life, but I have to wonder how his later work on LULU would have been different had he continued to have an artistic, as well as literary, outlet for these wilder flights of fancy. Or perhaps the workload would have been simply too much for him. In any event, these are stories worth owning.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Harry O plus 30

This Saturday, Notre Dame hosts Michigan, 30 years less nine days after the most memorable ND game I ever attended during my four (mostly) glory-starved years in South Bend. I was unlucky enough to get Gerry Faust as coach for my sophomore, junior, and senior years, but the 1980 ND team was pretty darn good, despite being lightly regarded. It finished 9-1-1 in the regular season, losing only to USC, and lost to Georgia in the Sugar Bowl in a game that it just as easily could have won. The spark that lit the fuse for Dan Devine's final season as coach was the second game of the season, against the Wolverines. ND was coming off a big win over a good Purdue team, but Michigan, with a super wide receiver named Anthony Carter, was a much sterner test. The game was only broadcast locally, which was a real shame. We go into the last drive of the game with less than a minute to play and Michigan leading 27-26...

I was sitting up in the student section above the end zone that the Irish were driving away from. I saw at least one fan prepare for the historic boot by pulling out and quickly running through her rosary beads. The story goes that, just as Oliver kicked the ball, the wind that had been blowing from that end zone towards "our" end suddenly died. I can't vouch for that, but that ball seemed to hang in the air for about five minutes. We only knew that it had sneaked over the crossbar when we saw the people begin rushing the field. It took a good long while, but I eventually meandered on down on the turf myself. Keep in mind that this was only the second game I'd ever attended. I figured that similar heroics were BOUND to happen over the next four years. Nope, this one was pretty much it, at least in terms of home games. But, if I had to have only one great moment of ND football, this was a pretty good choice, one routinely listed as one of the Top 20 ND games of all time. The "God Bless Harry Oliver" signs lingered in the South Bend area for a long while. (Sadly, Oliver died just a few years ago.)

The Michigan radio announcer's call of the same climactic play is worth hearing, as well, if only because the "shock to the system" appears to have been so great that he temporarily forgot how to count!

Peter Slattery is Out of the Hospital!

Peter Slattery is now at a relative's home in Ohio, while his brother Matthew continues to improve despite remaining unconscious. Susan's funeral Mass in Ohio is scheduled for this Friday, and there's going to be one in Baltimore as well, date and time TBA.

Our Dean finally decided to cancel Expanding Your Horizons; it seems that a lot of the information we needed was stored on Susan's laptop and Blackberry, both of which were destroyed in the car crash. It will take a full year to put all the pieces back together, but we are hoping to hold another EYH in October 2011. In the meantime, the Kappa Mu Epsilon Initiation Ceremony on September 21 will feature a special slideshow tribute to Susan. The School of the Sciences has put up a "wall of remembrance" as well.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

DVD Review: A BRIDGE TOO FAR (United Artists, 1977)

Remember my post a while back about the great enjoyment my Dad took in watching war movies? Here's one that I distinctly remember Dad and Mom going to the theater to see, back during the "Star Wars Summer" of 1977. A Bridge Too Far marked the end of an era -- the last truly humongous, star-studded WWII epic on the vast scale of The Longest Day and similar blockbusters of the 50s, 60s, and early 70s. The lavish, Richard Attenborough-helmed, painstakingly-recreated story of the Allies' disastrous "Operation Market Garden" in September 1944 would probably have been a much bigger hit had it come out a decade earlier. Instead, it had the bad fortune of being released (1) in competition with one of the cinema's biggest b.o. triumphs of all time and (2) just a couple of years after the end of the Vietnam War. Some potential viewers were not that interested in seeing a movie where America was on the losing side, others resented the fact that the flick wasn't sufficiently anti-war, and everyone seemed far more interested in Imperial Stormtroopers and amusing robots in any case. My parents, however, both loved the movie, and it's easy to see why. Despite a bewildering number of subplots and a relative paucity of good characterizations -- even those based on real people, many of whom contributed technical information to the making of the film -- the movie holds one's attention for nearly three hours and provides an object lesson in how blunders large and small sunk a promising operation that, when it was dreamed up, was thought to hold the key to winning the war in Europe by the end of 1944.

"Market Garden" -- the brainchild of glory-hungry Field Marshal Montgomery -- was intended to hasten German collapse on the Western front by landing paratroopers in Holland, who would then seize key bridges over the Rhine and, aided by fast-moving columns of infantry, open the path to Germany's industrial heartland. A combination of bad luck (including fog that delayed the dropping of additional supplies to the advance units) and, more to the point, slipshod planning and logistics (intelligence failures, radios that didn't work properly, and unrealistic timetables for moving along narrow roads) left small bands of Allied soldiers at the mercy of an enemy that proved to be better prepared and equipped than anticipated. Bridge focuses in particular on the British paratroopers in Arnhem, under the command of Lt. Col. Frost (Anthony Hopkins), who do their stiff-upper-lip derndest to take the bridge and hold off the advancing Germans but are eventually forced to capitulate. Their commander General Urquhart (a super-stalwart Sean Connery) barely manages to get back to safety, but without 8,000 of the 10,000 troops that began the assault. The Americans, who played a supporting role, come off better on screen, especially the cigar-chomping Col. Stout (Elliott Gould), whose men rebuild a blown bridge in double-quick time, and a sergeant (James Caan) who gets a wounded officer back to the medics against all the odds. This last incident seems to have dropped in from a different movie, bearing more of a resemblance to the closely focused personal stories in Saving Private Ryan than the "big-picture" heroics and follies that constitute most of the on-screen action. Gene Hackman provides an unexpected (and unintentional) note of levity as a Polish colonel with an hilariously bad accent. (To be fair to Gene, however, he probably was told to "sound Polish!" and little else.) In contrast to a movie like, say, The Guns of Navarone, the German soldiers who are charged with fighting off the attack are characterized as decent men who respect the rules of warfare. SS Panzer Corps C.O. Bittrich (Maximilian Schell) is portrayed particularly positively, allowing the British in and around Arnhem to evacuate their wounded.

Unfortunately, Netflix only sent us the DVD containing the movie itself; there is apparently a two-disc set out there with lots of extras, but ours was strictly a "plain vanilla" viewing. Bridge has grown in stature since it was released, with many now calling it the last great war movie until Private Ryan came along. It's certainly worth seeing if you're interested in the history of WWII, and even if you just want to see what an "all-star" cast really meant back in the day.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Comics Review: WALT DISNEY'S COMICS AND STORIES #710 (August 2010, Boom! Kids)

When is a happy ending not a happy ending? When, in order to fully accept the conclusion of Casty's marvelous "Mickey Mouse on Quandomai Island," you are forced to choke down one of the bleakest visions of the future that has ever been presented in a Disney product. Rune Meikle and Massimo Fecchi's Matrix-influenced "Time of Reckoning" (Gemstone DONALD DUCK ADVENTURES #1, July 2003) was easily digestible by comparison. In that case, at least, one could comfort oneself with the notion that the dystopian future Duckburg was (1) the result of specific actions that could be ameliorated by a more cautious Scrooge and (2) was so obviously a "media parody" that it could be taken with a grain of salt. Casty appears to give us no such loophole. The parched, litter-filled Disney Earth of "the Year 125QXX" -- into which Mickey and a soon-to-reveal-his-true-color-yellow-and-chicken-out Lord Hight of Konseet travel with a brace of captured bug-creatures -- is the result of "gross menz... poison[ing] and pillag[ing]" the planet and then going off-world to find another home. "You blame uzz, but we only collect your inheritance!" sneers one insectoid to Mickey, who has nothing to say in response. Pixar's Wall-E got its share of grief for its vision of the future, but at least the end of that movie held out the possibility of redemption for the remaining humanoids. What hope does Casty (aided by co-conspirators David Gerstein, Jonathan Gray, and Francesco Sperafino) provide us with here? Not bloody much -- and, for all the excitement of the rescue sequence in which Mickey, Prof. Baquater, and Pete (!) save their amber-encased pals and compatriots from the bug-men's palace and get back to Quandomai just in the nick of time before the panicked Duke Hight shuts down the Eon Vortex, I'll have to admit that the end of this otherwise first-rate story left something of a bitter aftertaste. Between the vision of "The Year 125QXX" and King Kontinento's "greenish" decision to completely scrap the "World to Come" project in Casty's first story, I'm beginning to wonder whether Casty can complete a tale without clambering onto some sort of environmentalist soapbox, however well-constructed. We'll soon find out, as WDC&S will apparently continue to be "Casty's Comics Corral" for a while yet. Pretty amazing, isn't it, that a creator we Americans hadn't even heard of a year ago has come to dominate the "flagship" U.S. Disney comics title as no creator ever has (apart from that one time in the 60s that Tony Strobl literally drew the whole book -- but that was probably more of a coincidence than anything else).

We do get some decent catharsis here. Duke Hight's "man" Maximus suddenly acquires the power of speech and chases his no-doubt-soon-to-be-ex-boss over the horizon at story's end. Minnie gives the all-bluster, no-balls Duke a verbal hiding and apologizes to Mickey for being taken in by the con artist. Pete actually shows some real compassion when he insists on helping Mickey save the day so that his paramour Trudy will be safe -- and Mickey shows no hard feelings by letting Pete share in the glory. Even Goofy gets in a priceless line while flattening a bug-creature: "Take a 'Goofy Look' at THIS, pal!" By contrast, the pallid ending of "Minnie Runs out of Time" -- all she has to do is go home and smash the coffee maker to restart time? That's IT?! -- only leaves one to wonder why Minnie wasted so much time goofing around. "Minnie Runs of Time" ended up being only marginally better than "Peg-Leg Pete and the Alien Band," and I'd suggest that Boom! seriously consider replacing these not-meant-to-be-serialized backups with "done-in-one" gag stories featuring Donald, Scrooge, and other non-Mouseton-based characters. It may have "all started with a Mouse," but WDC&S really should show some measure of diversity in its contents.

RIP Bengie "McBeasty" Sprinkle Barat

Today, we had to put down Bengie. He'd been having issues with his back for a couple of weeks, but that is what one might expect with a 16-year-old dog who used to live with a much bigger dog who had a nasty habit of repeatedly jumping on top of him. Then, Beng started screaming in pain in the middle of the night and it was clear that something was seriously amiss. He began to have trouble standing up, leaning down to drink or eat, and squatting to poop. We left Beng at the vet for a couple of days at the start of this past week. They discovered that he had two ruptured discs in his back and another in his neck; it was the latter one that was causing him the major pain. Shots seemed to help for a while, but things turned bad again once we got Beng home, try as we might to keep him safe (e.g. confining him to the kitchen while we were away so that Harry wouldn't run into him by accident). He could barely stand up and couldn't really do anything for himself any more. We really had no choice. Before we took Beng to the vet for the last time, we loaded him into the Houndabout and took one final walk around the block together with Harry and Shasta.

We are happy that we were able to give Beng 2 1/2 extra years of life after we inherited him from our late next-door neighbor, Hazel Sprinkle. Having lived his entire life with a chain-smoker, Beng came to us suffering from heart failure and smelling like he'd just come from an all-night party at Philip Morris'. We shaved him down to the nub at a local groomer's and kept him short-haired most of the time. In a smoke-free home, Beng got his "man bark" back in short order, but he had to take regular doses of medication for his heart issues. Luckily, Harry and Shasta had had lots of exposure to him, and the three of them got along well, apart from the occasional "I'm not touching you..." flare-up. Harry and Beng often did a funny routine in which they faced each other nose-to-nose and then started dancing around each other like a couple of boxers feeling each other out in the ring.

We'll miss you, Beng. At least you are finally back with Hazel again.

Friday, September 3, 2010

"Rangers" Readying...

The first glimpses of the cover art for Boom!'s CHIP AND DALE'S RESCUE RANGERS #1 (December release) are certainly not discouraging. Writer Ian Brill also reveals (in the accompanying interview) that RANGERS will open with a four-part, globe-girdling "big epic story." We never did get a "Disney Movietoons" C&DRR movie, but perhaps we'll get something like one two decades-plus later.

Comics Review: WIZARDS OF MICKEY #8 (August 2010, Boom! Kids)

The plot didn't tie up all of the loose ends -- and the grand and glorious opportunity for all the members of Wizards of Mickey to show their mettle in a "climactic battle" against The Phantom Blot pretty much devolved into the "Mickey Mouse Magic Show" before all spells were said and cast -- but the last issue of WOM amounted to a fairly decent payoff. Nereus does, in fact, turn up to lend Mickey et al. a hand; in fact, we find that he had actually magically come back with The Blot from that distant dimension, which makes all those communications with Mickey a little more logical, if only slightly. Goofy gets to use his "Iron Dragon" to dispatch The Blot's fire-breathing ally, but Donald's contribution to the festivities is limited to casting a delayed-reaction spell on Mickey's staff that Mickey cleverly employs against The Blot at just the right time, and "Pluto the Were-dog" has no role at all. Pete and The Beagle Brothers, meanwhile, are apparently still caught up in the twister whipped up by the peeved Turbo at the end of issue #7, the misleading cover displayed above notwithstanding. (To slightly paraphrase Greg Weagle, the last thing this story needed was more windbags!) Mickey winds up the Supreme Sorcerer and possessor of the Great Crown, which, considering that many more WOM stories exist, seems almost too good to be true; when you're on top, isn't the only place you can go straight down -- and wouldn't Mickey have to lose the Crown at some point in order for future stories to have any meaning or tension? The phrase "So ends the first chapter in the saga [of WOM]" strongly suggests that we may find out at some future time. I'll certainly more than welcome additional WOM stories as part of the regular "budget" of tales in the newly revived MICKEY MOUSE AND FRIENDS. A revival of the WOM title itself, however, seems unlikely.

Book Review: THE BIBLE OF UNSPEAKABLE TRUTHS by Greg Gutfeld (Grand Central Publishing, 2010)

This collection of "brain-droppings" comes from the mind (I can't say "the pen" because it's more of a sequence of "views sans news" than a real "book" book) of the guy behind Fox News' wee-hours satirical program Red Eye. I've never seen the show but have read many of Gutfeld's posts at Big Hollywood, and the musings printed here accurately reflect the man's take-no-PC-prisoners, anarcho-libertarian approach to humor. He's especially good on liberals' hypocrisy when it comes to slamming Christians on the one hand and appeasing radical Muslims on the other. This being a blog devoted to comics, I also want to highlight his evisceration of Garry Trudeau, aka "An Untalented Sack of Poop" who's revered because, and only because, he toes the liberal line so faithfully. (This is an exaggeration, but only a mild one. Walt Kelly was ten times the talent Trudeau is and can still be read with enjoyment by anyone today, even those who don't agree with his politics and don't get the contemporary references.) Everyone will find something to offend them here, but liberals and leftists will probably need to put on a Tyvek suit before plunging in.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Comics Review: DISNEY'S HERO SQUAD #8 (August 2010, Boom! Kids)

Time to pack away the "Disney Hero action figures," and none too soon, I'm sorry to say. The denouement of "Fight Before the Exams" demonstrates many of the basic weaknesses of the entire HERO SQUAD concept. The supposed "big fight" between Duck Avenger and Cloverleaf never comes to pass; instead, all of the Ultraheroes (plus "Doc Ock" Pete, who's roped into a "temporary alliance" with the gang for the duration) are rudely dumped into what appears to be a weird alternate world and forced to battle a three-eyed monster. Yeah, whatever, as the teenyboppers are wont to say. The abrupt shift in focus is just as abruptly reversed as the heroes find themselves in the Villa Rose Dynamic Room -- sort of the Ultra-equivalent of the Holodeck -- and realize that the challenge was just an illusion. An illusion that, as it turns out, was dreamed up by "The Masked Top Hat"... and, no, this is not a stray piece of Sailor Moon's "universe" interfering in Disney's domain. This is Scrooge in a never-before-seen superhero disguise that I'm just going to forget I ever saw, if you don't mind. Why couldn't they have brought back The Masked Mallard to maintain at least a tenuous connection to something that had gone before? And, besides, isn't Scrooge's interest in "testing" the Ultraheroes here rather at odds with his crabby, misanthropic previous persona in these stories? Even the hinted excuse that Scrooge wanted his fortune to be secure by making sure the Ultras were well-trained doesn't hold up once you realize that the "construction of ingenious secret traps" in Villa Rose must have cost him plenty of money.

HERO SQUAD is Disney comics' ultimate "Throw Something at the Wall" title, featuring fights between characters we'd never seen before, Disney superhero i.d.'s whipped up from scratch, and characterizations that gave new meaning to the term "stick figure." I found it amusing and generally entertaining at first, but, the more I read, the more I realized just how shallow the whole concept was. With little additional Ultraheroes material available, I wouldn't be surprised if this were the last we ever saw of the creation.