Sunday, February 27, 2011

THE BEST (AND REST) OF KIMBA: Episode 4, "Great Caesar's Ghost"

In large part due to the very positive feedback I've gotten thus far, I've decided to go "the full Kimba" and review all 52 episodes, as opposed to merely focusing in on the ones I like. It's been surprisingly easy to find legitimately meaningful things to say about these episodes, even those bits and pieces that I don't particularly care for. Take this ep, for instance; it's at once (1) marred by a bad continuity gaffe and some atypically substandard voice acting and (2) lifted to a higher plane of importance by the first real internal challenge to Kimba's authority and Kimba's literal and symbolic recovery of the legendary father that he never knew.

The opening battle with the python doesn't have much to do with the balance of the episode... or does it? Kimba uses brains more than sheer animal brawn to dispose of the sinister snake -- an approach that will ultimately be directly questioned by Samson, the Texas-accented (I suppose that Ray Owens was making an LBJ reference here of some sort) water buffalo who wants Kimba to show his mettle by "getting rid of" the mules that the big buff has brought as a gift. The irony is that Samson originally overflows with praise for Kimba's feat before turning around and dunning Kimba for being a "sissy."

"Do away with," "get rid of"... gotta love those euphemisms. I almost regret that Kimba didn't jump on Samson's indirect speech and use it as an excuse to allow the mules to leave: "You said get rid of them! You didn't say how."

It's not entirely surprising that the young lion prince, challenged on the grounds of not only his own authority but also his father's vision, folds like an accordion. Not that he hasn't previously faced adversity, but he isn't yet equipped to handle this confrontation, especially not without strong backing from his subjects... several of whom decide on an unorthodox, but ultimately successful, way of making up for their earlier reticence and reconnecting Kimba with the legacy of Caesar.

Hotshot Hopper (Owens), of course, did not kill -- er, "get rid of" Caesar -- Viper Snakely did -- and I can't see how the Titan crew could possibly have overlooked the obvious physical difference between the two hunters. Perhaps they were misled by Hopper's sweeping of his gun towards Caesar's hide. In any event, Hopper appears to be such an incurable braggart that he may actually believe that he did the deed, in his bubbly little world at least.

Animals dressing up in Caesar's hide and attempting to influence Kimba was also a key scene in Tezuka's manga, but the psychological dynamics were totally different. In the first place, Kimba himself spirited the hide away from a native chieftain's hut, so he was, in a sense, in control of the situation from the off. Secondly, the animals used the hide to convince the pampered, unwilling Kimba to stay in the jungle and take over for his father (and since Kimba reacted to the original suggestion by tweaking Bucky's nose, he kinda was asking for it), which strikes me as akin to blackmail (or, in this case, whitemail). Kimba may initially have thought that Pauley, Bucky, and Dan'l "played a dumb trick," but the trio's hearts were unquestionably in the right place, and Kimba, to his credit, quickly realizes that fact. But the way in which Kimba does so... well, it sounds like a line reading from a badly dubbed Japanese monster movie. "YOU... really ARE... MY FRIENDS!" Not one of Billie Lou Watt's finest moments. Had that reading been even close to natural, this sequence would have been practically perfect. There's even a clever bit of humor injected when Gilbert Mack, speaking as Caesar, rattles off the Boy Scouts' laundry list of virtues.

A couple of spots during this part strike me as a bit... well, squirm-inducing for modern sensibilities. When Hopper fires the guns to rouse the locals to go after the "thieving animals," we see a bunch of heads popping out of huts. The faces are white, but this almost seems like an impromptu corvee. Later, Caesar's claim that "the white lion is born to lead!" sounds like something out of Kipling: "Take up the white lion's burden!" Actually, as we'll see in the important later episode "Journey into Time," "chemical additives" had as much to do with creating white lions' "leadership qualities" as any supposed genetic superiority.

Dan'l's momentary lapse into "Law of the Jungle" mode -- "let the hunters kill -- er, 'get rid of' -- Samson" reflects just how far Kimba's subjects still have to go to fully appreciate his ideas. Of course, Hopper's hunting party doesn't exactly stand for humanity at its finest, and Kimba et al.'s beating them off with a "baobab bath" both confirms the wisdom of the indirect approach and provides a thoroughly satisfactory "cleansing" of the infiltrating despoilers. Apparently, baobabs do serve as natural water storage facilities, including large deposits of water's being stored in their roots, so this scheme served a didactic purpose in addition to providing a good visual climax. Nice musical accompaniment, too.

I'd like to report that Samson became a staunch ally of Kimba after this "meaningful confrontation," but, in fact, he would have just as nasty an attitude (not to mention a completely different voice) in his putative next appearance (Episode 6, "Jungle Thief") and would pretty much fade away after that. That seems a shame, even for a character who supposedly lived at a distance and could only appear on occasion as a result.

Up next: Episode 5, "Fair Game".

Comics Review: WALT DISNEY'S COMICS AND STORIES #716 (February 2011, Boom! Kids)

Mickey and Scrooge may appear on Don Rosa's homage-cover, but WDC&S #716 is wall-to-wall Donald, featuring two Duck stories written by Carl Barks. We lead off with "A Day in a Duck's Life," Barks' last original script for the Gold Key DONALD DUCK, as redrawn by Daan Jippes in 1999. Since the original story from 1971 was illo'd by Kay Wright, I think it is fair to say that this is one "reboot" that no one is going to argue with. As you might expect, Jippes is more faithful to Barks' original penciled version of the tale than Wright could ever hope to be. Unfortunately, Jippes can't do anything about the plot, which Barks himself once dismissed as "about the worst story I ever did." It's hard to argue with The Duck Man on that one; this episodic, "one-mishap-clumsily-follows-another" tale is clearly the work of a tired creator. The action, or what there is of it, centers around Don's attempts to gain funds to refurbish his noisy "muscle car." Don has rarely looked as morally dubious as he does here -- muscling in on HD&L's successful delivery business, stealing coins from the boys' piggy bank (in a sequence that goes on much too long), engaging in dangerous drag races in the streets of Duckburg. Don's ultimate involvement in a would-be hijacking (in which Barks' script originally had the 'jacker exclaiming "Carramba!", a reference to the "take-this-plane-to-Cuba!" era of aerial theft; I kinda wish they'd kept that bit) is tooth-grindingly contrived. Even HD&L are badly off the beam here, with their repeated laments that Donald will "never get ahead!" transcending the cute-and-clever and toppling beak-first into the slough of outright annoyingness. Jippes makes the story fun to look at, at least (and at long last!).

In sharp contrast, "Rival Beachcombers" (WDC&S #103, April 1949) is a vintage Barks ten-pager, and one given some extra cachet due to its foreshadowing of what Barks had planned for the future of Gladstone Gander. Just two months after this story was produced, Barks would fully unveil Gladstone's lucky streak in "Race to the South Seas." Here, Donald's cousin is still merely an annoying "chiseler" and "connoisseur of the fast buck," attempting to horn in on Donald and HD&L's beach-combing activities. Once it is revealed that a visiting Maharajah lost a valuable gem on the beach, the stakes go up a notch, and Gladstone begins to assume the attitude that we will come to know and loathe. He refuses to dig for the treasure, gloating, "All things come to him who sits and waits!" As Donald and the boys labor unsuccessfully to find the booty, they begin to wonder whether fate means to hand the prize to Gladstone. It's as if the Ducks are anticipating what is just over the horizon. The ending -- with Don getting in trouble with the law for despoiling the beach (thanks in part to Gladstone's bent-beaked lies) and HD&L being forced to find the ruby or see their uncle land in jail -- clearly looks forward to such last-minute, karma-laced anti-Gander payoffs as those seen in "Race to the South Seas," "The Gilded Man," and "Secret of Hondorica". Of course, the schadenfreude doesn't taste quite as sweet here, because Gladstone has yet to become a noxious force of nature, as opposed to a dishonest jerk who gets what is coming to him. But Barks evidently liked what he had stumbled upon here -- an analogy to unexpectedly digging up a ruby, perhaps? -- and kept it very much in mind.

Despite the presence of the Barks material, I have to say that #716 rates as a rather poor follow-up to the previous issue, especially in light of the much-ballyhooed 70th-anniversary business. Using a pair of DONALD stories is not exactly taking complete advantage of the full panoply of features that have graced WDC&S over the past seven decades. #716 is so unlike the "everybody gets involved" approach taken in #715 that I have to wonder whether the material was originally slated for DONALD DUCK, only to get shifted to WDC&S for some reason.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Comics Review: DONALD DUCK #363 (February 2011, Boom! Kids)

(Hey Joe, you'll notice that I spelled "February" right the first time this time around. I read "Secret of Hondorica," too -- not to mention your recent post on the subject.)

I think it can now safely be said that the "Daan Jippes redraws Carl Barks stories" enterprise has "jumped the shark." Oh, it's not that Jippes' 2010 "reimagining" of "Somewhere Beyond Nowhere" -- a tale spun by John Lustig out of a Barks story outline and drawn by Pat Block under the heading "Somewhere IN Nowhere" (Gemstone DONALD DUCK AND UNCLE $CROOGE One-Shot, November 2005) -- is actually poor. Indeed, as those who have read Barks' typewritten precis will attest, it is a more literal translation of Barks' original suggestion than was the earlier version. The problem is that "SIN" was a markedly better, and even markedly more Barksian, effort than is the putatively more faithful "SBN." Let us count the why's:

(1) "SIN" had a much stronger "philosophical underpinning," so to speak. Donald's desire to prove that he can, too, be a success despite his faults, and the corresponding wager with Scrooge that leads to him taking a job in far-off Bearflanks, Alaska, makes perfect sense in light of what we know about Barks' Donald's character. In "SBN," by contrast, Don tires of his sidewalk-inspecting job and searches for more excitement in... Bearflanks, Alaska? It is easy to think of a hundred far more accessible places in which Don could have tested his courage to the fullest.

(2) Bearflanks postmistress (and would-be freezer tycoon) Sourdough Sally of "SIN" is a far more interesting character than any of the ephemeral supporting players in "SBN." Sally is fully worthy to stand with the likes of Katie Mallard and "Ducky Bird" of Barks' "Mystery of the Ghost Town Railroad" as a female one-shotter who really ought to have been given another chance.

(3) Donald's chaotic first day as mailman in "SIN" is not only more believable than his slick-as-a-goose opening-day performance in "SBN," it quietly stirs up pleasant memories of a Barks story from the late 50s. Likewise, Donald's odyssey in "The Frozen Nowhere" brings to mind the Ducks' Arctic ordeal in Barks' "Luck of the North." These homages seem quite appropriate in what, after all, was meant to be a sort of coda to Barks' career. In a similar vein, Block's cleaner, more traditional art style compliments the story's strongly nostalgic tone in a manner that Jippes' action-packed, "busy" art does not.

(4) HD&L appear in "SBN" but basically encumber the ground, whereas "SIN" is entirely Donald's show -- which is as it should be. The core of this story is about Donald trying to prove his mettle against all obstacles, both self-imposed and otherwise.

(5) "SIN" features a healthy slug of what one might call the "Barks weirdness factor." Not that Barks went out of his way to be off-the-wall, but a number of his stories -- especially the $CROOGE adventures of the 60s -- feature odd plot contrivances that cause the head to shake on occasion. (Think about those 17-foot-tall Venusian teenagers.) Suffice it to say that "blubbersicle tycoon" Hamalot McSwine's scheme to stop Sourdough Sally from selling freezers to Eskimos in "SIN" is considerably closer to the "classically weird" tradition than is "banker" Hamfist McSwine's desire to foreclose on Widow Brokepenny in "SBN." Hamalot's over-the-top, almost ridiculous ruthlessness also rings truer, in a Barksian sense, than Hamfist's point-to-point greediness.

(6) Donald's return to his sidewalk job is more satisfying in "SIN" than it is in "SBN," because it is his own decision to go back to the tried and true. This nicely completes the circle which began with Donald tiring of his constant failures and pressing the issue with Scrooge. "SBN," by contrast, ends with the familiar "Don-gets-run-out-of-town" business, which is especially hard to take here in light of the fact that Donald's troubles are not really of his own making.

Over time, I've grown to enjoy Jippes' redrawings of Barks' scripts for HD&L JUNIOR WOODCHUCKS, and I'm sure I'll like Jippes' revamping of Barks' last DONALD DUCK script, "A Day in a Duck's Life," which has just appeared in this week's WALT DISNEY'S COMICS AND STORIES. "Somewhere Beyond Nowhere," by contrast, feels... well, pointless. I don't know the whole story behind this do-over, but I honestly doubt that I'd change my mind even if I did know all the details. And it strikes me that redrawing a long Block story is more than a little insulting to Block.

Carl Barks was also very much on the mind of Geoffrey Blum when he wrote the 2009 Egmont story "The Saga of Captain Duckburg." This story, illustrated in accomplished style by Carlos Mota, could be considered the more cynical (shading into bitter, in fact) flip-side to the sunny, idyllic "Uncle $crooge and the Man Who Drew Ducks." Here, the Barks-physiognomened "Temecula Sam," the hermit-like, legendary "Captain Duckburg" artist whom Donald is tasked with interviewing for Scrooge's gossip magazine (!), wants less than nothing to do with reporters, fans, and other pains in the rear. He's even tricked up his house in "San Jacaranda" with all manner of anti-snooper devices, many of which bear suspicious resemblances to gizmos from comics and cartoons on which Barks worked. It wouldn't surprise me if Barks himself had a couple of "I-feel-like-Sam" moments during the more-troubled-than-they-had-to-be last few years of his life, the era of The Carl Barks Studio and the lengthy pilgrimages to Europe. It's hard not to interpret Donald's convincing Sam into returning to comic-bookery -- a plan that backfires on Don in a BIG way -- as a comment on the whole Barks Studio experience. Fer gosh sakes, Blum even makes reference to Barks' unhappy second marriage and posits that "Temecula Sam" quit the business because he couldn't think of a way to end Captain Duckburg's version of the "square eggs" story. I recall that Blum's "World Wide Witch" (UNCLE $CROOGE #320, August 2003), with its audacious blend of Wicca and the Internet, received a great deal of comment -- some of it quite sharp -- from "old sourdoughs" of the "Would Barks ever have done THAT?" persuasion. If there's any justice -- not to mention enough room in the Boom! letter columns -- "The Saga of Captain Duckburg" will receive as much feedback, and rightly so. It's a most intriguing commentary on the whole "Barks industry" and at least some of its discontents.

Speaking of That "Old Duck Man" Himself, Barks gets the back of the book with the reprinting of "The Mystery of the Loch" (WDC&S #237, June 1960), a quiet little palate-cleanser of a story in which Donald commandeers HD&L's newly-won underwater camera and drags the boys along with him to Scotland to attempt to snap a pic of the legendary, never-before-photographed "Loch Less" Monster. The casualness of Barks' approach here is summed up by the fact that the totality of "local Scottish color" on display consists of one grocer wearing a tam who sells haggis. No heavy perusal of back issues of NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC on this job, I deem. It's still a pretty good story, with an unusual ending in which dogged Don wins at least a partial victory -- make that "sustains a less painful loss than usual" -- when HD&L describe his ultimate defeat to the reader in words, as opposed to Donald's being smacked across the face with the loss. Don Rosa provides a good cover illo, as well. But I do think that HD&L whined about wishing that they'd gotten the "electric head-massager" at least one too many times...

Nigel Holmes and F.W. de Klerk

Several big names visited Stevenson's campus this week, and I was able to attend presentations by both of them. Wednesday night, "explanation graphics" expert Nigel Holmes spoke by invitation of the SU School of Design. If you're a regular reader of such magazines as TIME and NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, you've no doubt seen a number of Nigel's imaginative designs, many of which get across quantitative information in memorable and humorous ways. His talk covered many of his basic principles of composition (including: keep it simple, don't go overboard with color, and try to make people smile) and included a brief history of the development of informative graphic design. (Ever wonder who came up with the idea of those generic human icons that you find adorning bathroom doors, street signs, and other public places? Find out more here.) Nigel also showed us some of his sketches and paintings, plus pages from a children's book that makes full use of a number of his techniques.

I had an ulterior motive for going to Nigel's talk. I do a lot of my lecturing in my Elementary Statistics classes with PowerPoint and wanted to find out how I could make the presentations more, well, sexy. (I suppose that "exciting" is an impossible dream when it comes to PowerPoint, but I can try, right?) I did get some good ideas (not to mention references) from the experience and hope to put them into practice.

Last night, former South African President and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate F.W. de Klerk became the latest notable to speak at the Stevenson-sponsored Baltimore Speaker Series. Nicky and I have gone to a number of these affairs -- including a pre-speech dinner with author David McCullough -- and this was one of the better talks that I can remember. De Klerk was impressive and compelling as he spoke of how South Africa ended apartheid and the lessons that the experience may hold for other nations undergoing dangerous but necessary transformational change (we're looking at you, Libya, Egypt, Bahrain, et al.). De Klerk also spoke on campus earlier in the day (while I was teaching, I regret to say), and I hope he got a good turnout. Last night, Baltimore's Meyerhoff Symphony Hall was jammed. Nicky and I remember the very first Speaker Series event we attended, when Jim Lovell was the guest and there were large clusters of empty chairs on the floor of the hall. The BSS has become a popular institution, and next month, the speakers for next year will be announced. Apparently, there have been some complaints that the speakers have been "too political" (though the roster has been ideologically balanced for the most part), so we're expecting a somewhat lighter tone in 2011-2012.





This news just in from SU: Men's Basketball Coach Brett Adams is stepping down to devote his full energies to his duties as athletic director. The men have just concluded a 6-19 campaign (the girls were 4-21). Not exactly the best way to "protect the new house" at Owings Mills, but I expect that the "rising tide" created by the excitement of the new football program will have a "boat-lifting" effect on many of SU's athletics programs, including hoops. The lax team, which presently needs little leverage, won its first game and is currently ranked #3 in Division III.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Comics Review: DARKWING DUCK #9 (February 2011, Boom! Studios)

OK, how's this for a puzzler: "F.O.W.L. Disposition," the new story arc that commences in this issue, features the return of Steelbeak... yet, the suavely snickering F.O.W.L. agent rates only the B cover? The A cover, meanwhile, plays off of an opening sequence about DW's hiring of an ad agency to improve his image (anyone else think "Let's Get Respectable!" here? Even DW's winged helmet looks the same). It's not yet clear that this opening bit will have anything to do with the main plot, in which DW and Steelbeak are working together (*gasp!*) to foil a F.O.W.L. scheme that even Steelbeak found to be too "out there" for his exquisitely refined taste. Perhaps Steelbeak got a "B" simply because DW was nowhere to be seen on his cover. That -- given DW's ego -- I can believe.



Well, you have to give F.O.W.L. High Command credit for persistence. The great "Steerminator" experiment blew up in their faces, so they turn right around and plumb the nefarious arts to bring Duckthulhu to life. I don't blame Steelbeak for (heh) "roostering out." The invasion of F.O.W.L. HQ went about as well as could be expected, but Steelbeak's injury may complicate matters considerably, unless DW channels Launchpad operating The Thunderquack right quick. Despite the cliffhanger, this was a relatively low-key opening chapter. Indeed, this has much more of the feel of an actual TV episode than anything else this title has cooked up, at least thus far.

Contrary to my previously expressed concerns, Ian Brill wrote Steelbeak reasonably well. The "dems, deses, and doses" are conspicuous by their absence, but "Dahkwing" gets a few extra points from me. Where Brill really needs to brush up is on his alliterative phraseology. "Foiling F.O.W.L.'s flagrant forces"? "Destroyed our dastardly designs to dust"? Alliteration in the Darkwing "universe" doesn't have to be catching, and not even DW uses the gimmick at every drop of a broad-brimmed hat. These things must be handled delicately. Artist James Silvani, perhaps taking a bit of a breather from drawing those infinite Darkwings, doesn't go all "cluttery" on us until the last several pages, when Steelbeak and DW are pursued by several sacs' worth of Eggmen.

Even if we hadn't seen the Gizmosuit blown to flinders during the "Infinite Darkwings" arc, the planned cover to DARKWING #11 has already given away that this storyline will feature Gosalyn as the "one, true" Quiverwing Quack. Seeing as how Morgana is now pissed at DW's blowing off their date, DW may need the additional help regardless of whether or not Steelbeak pulls off what I suspect may be some sort of upcoming "triple-cross."

Sunday, February 20, 2011

THE BEST OF KIMBA: Episode 3, "A Human Friend"

There are several plots sloshing about in this important episode, including the notorious "first meeting" (which really wasn't) of Kimba and Roger Ranger. A close viewing, however, relieves the Titan dubbing crew of at least some of the blame for making the continuity mistake. Just as the crew had a hard time making sense of the dialogue between Kimba and James Brawn in "The Wind in the Desert," here they were handed several scenarios that literally wouldn't make sense UNLESS Kimba and Roger were strangers to one another...

A most evocative, plaintive opening scene, with the tone set nicely by Roger's eerie flute-tune. At this early stage, as can be seen by the "morph" scene involving Kimba and Caesar -- a "morph" that would be repeated later in the episode -- Kimba is still regarded primarily as "Caesar's son," as opposed to Caesar being remembered as "Kimba's father." Kimba may already have the respect of (most of) his subjects, but his dialectical skills still need some sharpening. Why doesn't he counter reactionary Boss Rhino's (Ray Owens) anti-human statements with a few choice anecdotes pulled from his own experiences in the human world? "I don't think that's a fair thing to say about 'em" sounds like the sort of argument an adolescent would use. Later in the series, Kimba would get better at this kind of give-and-take... not least because he could point to the benevolent Roger as an illustration of humans at their best. And speaking of which...

The first scene involving Kimba, Roger (Hal Studer), and Mary (Sonia Owens) must really have given the Titaneers pause. The "true story" about Roger and Mary's presence in the jungle was supposedly that Roger was trying to find his former pet. That would explain his persistence (judging by their ragged clothes, they've been searching for a while) and Mary's jitteriness and bad temper (and, as we'll see, she wasn't that crazy about Kimba in the "old days," either). So why, then, don't Roger and Kimba recognize one another from the off when Mary has her close encounter with the snake? Apart from Kimba's animal ability to "scent out" his old master, wouldn't Roger get at least half a clue from the mere presence of a young white lion? Roger knows (cf. Episode 5, "Fair Game") that white lions are rare, so wouldn't it at least cross his mind that this MIGHT be Kimba? I'm not privy to the specific advance information that the Titan crew had about this ep, but I don't feel quite as badly about the continuity lapse as I used to.

It's quite believable that the animals would think that "The Law of the Jungle" still applies at this early stage, but they're fatalistic almost to a fault. If Tom and Tab attacked Geraldine (Sonia Owens), would everyone just sit there, grieving?

Kimba's first potential "big fight" with a challenger to his authority (Boss Rhino) being broken up by a hedgehog with a goofy voice (Watt) and a clown nose who arrives to the sound of a wind-up toy is just too funny for words. This is very much in the tradition of Tezuka, who frequently resorted to zany humor even when it seemed to clash with the surroundings.

The Rainbow Bridge sequence is suitably dramatic even if you live in happy ignorance that Roger's "Liiiight Bulb!" moment was his recognition of Kimba, rather than his excitement that an animal can talk. Sonia Owens' "crying" sounds more like hysterical laughter here -- as a number of YouTube commenters have pointed out, some in less than charitable fashion -- but this strange bit actually fulfills a purpose by hinting that the shocked Mary has just gone quite creepily insane. (The malady would linger on, as we'll see when next we meet her in "real time.") The "OMG, a talking animal!" business was, of course, seriously undercut by Kimba's lengthy conversations with James Brawn in "The Wind in the Desert," not to mention Kimba's earlier cries of "Mr. Human!" when he's trying to get help for Geraldine. I wonder whether "The Young Lion King's Speech" in the original was Kimba saying Roger's name, as opposed to merely warning him about the bridge. That would do the double duty of opening Roger's eyes as to Kimba's presence and stunning him with Kimba's newly acquired power of speech.

I confess to a "friendly disagreement" with Billie Lou Watt during our brief exchange of correspondence regarding the Titan gang's ability to sing "in character." In a couple of instances, the gang actually performed reasonably well. This "Sing a Human Song" scene was not one of those instances. The fact that the singing was supposed to be loud enough to drown out Japanese lyrics that were "embedded" in the background music didn't help the cause.

The flip side of the animals' rigid belief in the continuing "Law of the Jungle" is their charmingly naive idea about combining "seven sleeping times" to help Geraldine heal faster. Bucky's use of the owls is fully worthy of Bullwinkle at his most infuriatingly clueless.

Taking up from the brains-over-brawn victory over Boss Claw in "The Wind in the Desert," Kimba doesn't overpower the menacing Boss Rhino in the climactic fight so much as wear him down, in the manner of a bronco buster taming a wild mustang. The time was not yet (though it would come) when Kimba could battle the hard-headed rhino nose-to-horn and hold his own.

In the end, I think it was wise that Mushi refrained from using Roger as a supporting character in every single episode. "Running to Roger" when every spot of trouble developed would have made Kimba seem more like a ward of humans than an admirer of human ways who adapts said ways to the animals' needs only when necessary.

Up next: Episode 4, "Great Caesar's Ghost".

Saturday, February 19, 2011


To indirectly quote Scrooge McDuck: "Boom!'s losing the Disney-Pixar license to Marvel is just loose change compared to THIS!"

Obviously, I'm tickled by the news that a DUCKTALES comic struck from the same basic mold as DARKWING DUCK (literally, as well as figuratively; the two comics are described as being "set in the same universe") will be coming our way starting in May. I also now capiche the lengthy presence of video-game author Warren Spector in the "Musings from the Money Bin" section of UNCLE $CROOGE #400. That wasn't just a "fanboy" talking, that was a future Boom! scriptwriter, and with an Epic (as in Mickey) background, no less. If Spector's flair for electronic epics translates well to the printed page, then we could be treated to delights akin to Bob Langhans' "The Gold Odyssey," only with much flashier art, courtesy of Miquel Pujol, the Catalan artist whose beautiful "The Great Paint Robbery" I was fortunate enough to dialogue for Gemstone. The artist of "Paint Robbery" handling a DUCKTALES adventure? Back in the late 80s, I never would have believed it. But then, I never thought Disney Comics circa 1990-91 would rise from the ashes, either, and that seems to be what Boom! is slowly becoming.

Greg Weagle (whose LiveJournal page was the source of this news) speculates here on what Disney animated project could get the next Boom! treatment. I'm not sure what to think about the muddled TaleSpin situation, but I figure that, the more trouble Boom! has in securing a license to a property, the less likely it would be that the company would follow through. Gargoyles would seem to be a good choice in light of some of Boom!'s non-Disney action/hero projects, but I'm still holding out some hope for Gummi Bears. If Boom! thought that a Muppet Show revival was a good idea, then why not "go Gummi"?

Comics Review: MICKEY MOUSE #305 (February 2010, Boom! Studios)

What's a natural follow-up to a Floyd Gottfredson MICKEY MOUSE adventure? In terms of comics cachet, it can only be a MICKEY serial from the glory days of WALT DISNEY'S COMICS AND STORIES, produced by the estimable team of writer Carl Fallberg and artist Paul Murry. And we get an unexpectedly special one here: "The Lens Hunters" (1953-54) has NEVER before been reprinted in the U.S. Given that Fallberg-Murry reruns were a positive staple of Gold Key and Whitman WDC&S during the "decline phase" of the 1970s and 1980s, it's interesting to speculate as to why this African "sort-of-safari" adventure got the "one-and-done" treatment. There's nothing racially offensive hereabouts -- the handful of "natives of Bathrobi" that we see are the equivalents of white guys. Goofy's trait of attracting animals, both wild and tame, to his side (the better to help Mickey shoot great wildlife movies, the excellence of which has convinced movie mogul A.J. Sprocket to finance Mickey and Goofy's journey to Africa) doesn't clash with any other aspect of Goofy's character; if anything, it adds an extra dash of charm to the more naive portion of his personality. Whatever the reason for the oversight, I'm glad that the first reprint was presented to us on Boom!'s glossy paper. Murry's enthusiasm for his work was then at a high level, as evinced by the clever detail work seen in patterns of animal tracks and the like, and the high-quality presentation shows this early version of Murry's art to good advantage.

"The Lens Hunters" was one of the first Murry-Fallberg serials, and some rawness shows in the storytelling. Stubble-bearded guide Klutch is too obviously a villain from the start, and surely he needn't have waited "all these years" to go back in search of Goofy's diamond-finding Uncle Grubley just because he wanted a free trip? With all those diamonds at stake, I think I could scrounge up enough dough to work my way across on a coal boat, or something. Also, Mickey and Goofy never get to grapple with Klutch in the final chapter; instead, the bearded, slightly misanthropic old Grubley puts out Klutch's lights all by himself. Mickey and Goofy, the putative heroes, never even get to do anything particularly heroic, apart from escaping from a plateau on which Klutch has marooned them. Mickey fooling Grubley into thinking that the latter has lost his diamond-finding ability (so that Grubley will agree to star in a Sprocket spectacular about his life) doesn't quite count. Still, the juxtaposition of the "unusual attractive talent" gene in the two Goofs is quite clever, and the art is, as mentioned before, excellent. This was one of the stories that convinced Western Publishing to make the MICKEY serials a featured attraction in WDC&S, and it's easy to see why.

The cover is attributed to Murry, but what's its origin? Since the story was never reprinted in America, it can't be from a Gold Key or Whitman reprint. Did Murry, like Gottfredson, Carl Barks, Don Rosa et al., produce a series of drawings for fans illustrating panels from his stories? From what little I know of Murry, I find that somewhat hard to believe, but I could be wrong.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Comics Review: DARKWING DUCK CLASSICS, VOLUME 1 (2010, Boom! Studios)

Actually, that title really should read "Darkwing Duck CLASSIC... and a Side Order of DISNEY AFTERNOON Ephemera." Fully two-thirds of this collection is taken up by John Blair Moore's four-part adaptation of the TV series' pilot adventure, "Darkly Dawns the Duck," for Disney Comics. Was this ever a bittersweet reading experience for me back in late 1991 and early 1992 -- enjoying Moore's lovably lumpy artwork (not to mention his diligent employment of much of the source's dialogue) while knowing full well that DW wouldn't be getting that supposedly inevitable continuing title, thanks to the "Disney Implosion." I can relish it with a much less troubled mind now that Boom!'s DARKWING title is now a going (and very popular -- hence this collection!) concern. For those who haven't had the pleasure of seeing the TV version of "Darkly," you pretty much get it here, along with the occasional "fourth wall"-breaking accretion (e.g., as DW plummets from on high to end part one, he shrieks, "This is an ideal place to end this episode!!!"). I imagine that, should sales of DW CLASSICS VOLUME 1 merit a follow-up, we'll be seeing Moore's adaptation of the two-part epic "Just Us Justice Ducks" in Volume 2.

A quartet of early-90s DISNEY AFTERNOON baubles fill out the package, the most notable of which is "Liquid Diet," a Liquidator-focused tale written by frequent Darkwing TV scribes Kevin Campbell and Brian Swenlin. Check out these markers: (1) Campbell and Swenlin basically created The Liquidator in the episode "Dry Hard," and this is the only other story of which I'm aware in which ad-schticky Licky soloes; (2) the inker is Steve Steere, who was Tony Strobl's inker at Western Publishing for a number of years and also worked on the SCAMP and MICKEY MOUSE newspaper strips. Campbell and Swenlin obviously know how Licky operates better than anyone, and they make good use of him here. Indeed, given that the story features Darkwing being turned into a water-creature -- a metamorphosis very much of a piece with DW's numerous "bizarre transformations" in TV episodes -- I wouldn't be shocked to learn that this tale originated as an episode script that, for one reason or another, was never produced. The best DISNEY ADVENTURES Darkwing writer, Doug Gray, is also represented in the Steelbeak/F.O.W.L. story "Turnabout is F.O.W.L. Play." I've only glanced at this week's DARKWING #9, but it appears to me as if Gray "got" Steelbeak's "dem, dese and dose" speech patterns more comprehensively than does Ian Brill. I'll be sure to retract if I review DW #9 in detail and find the truth to be otherwise.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

THE BEST OF KIMBA: Episode 2, "The Wind in the Desert"

The story of how Kimba (finally) returned to the jungle to take up his father's legacy is all of a piece with the numerous Kimba episodes that concern, in some fashion, Kimba's "backstory" -- the tale of how Kimba came to be familiar with the human world and how it informed his future actions as jungle leader. It's full of inconsistencies and logical lapses that will make even the most forgiving of "fanboys" tear out his hair in frustration. Even so, it ultimately redeems itself by drawing from the series' long suit -- "Heart" -- and creating a scenario in which we badly want the characters to succeed even when what they're doing or saying doesn't make the best of sense.

I can't say that Kimba's first "jungle scene" was handled all that artfully by Mushi. He appears (as Greg Weagle might say) OUT OF NOWHERE and immediately plunges into a confrontation with several of his most persistent (if not his most competent) adversaries, the evil lion Claw's hyena-henchmen, Tom (Ray Owens) and Tab (Gilbert Mack). T&T's West Side Story-esque finger-snapping patter routine appeared a few too many times on the show to please me, but they're OK in small doses. Alas, this "official first meeting" would be whizzed away just five episodes later in "Battle at Dead River," when Kimba "meets T&T again for the first time." I wish I knew the order in which those two eps were recorded.

Kimba's pacifist approach here reflects the manga. As Tezuka told the story, the pampered pet lion was brought to the jungle and initially traumatized by such appetizing sights as vultures picking over a carcass. Kimba actually comes off better than that here, in that he isn't visibly scared by T&T; he simply wants to avoid a fight with them. In describing his planned philosophy of jungle governance -- an outlook as yet still pristine and not yet scarred and battered by bitter experience -- Kimba also slips in the first references to his previous life among humans. (Was that Daytona Beach he washed up on? Or maybe it was Cape Town. It's hard to tell.)

Kimba's first encounters with his staunchest allies -- Bucky (Owens), wise old Dan'l Baboon (Owens channeling Walter Brennan), and champion pop-off Pauley Cracker (Mack) -- are a continuity buff's nightmare. Kimba meets Bucky for the first time as he's rescuing him... fine. But Dan'l and Kimba knowing each other by name? Kimba knowing Pauley, but the reverse not being true? I suppose you could make sense of this if Dan'l and Kimba had "exchanged notes" in advance of Kimba's arrival. Since Dan'l is the ranking senior member of the jungle community, such an "early warning system" would be a politic thing for Kimba to use. Then, too, Dan'l's comment "You came here just in time" would have no meaning unless the baboon had had some inkling that Kimba was "due." You have to assume a LOT to make all this hang together, though.

Hard as it may be to believe, the black panther Cassius (Owens) played the exact same role in the manga that Tom and Tab play in the TV series; he was the doofus sidekick to the loud, overbearing, unquestionably Scar-resembling Claw (Mack). The decision to turn Cassius into a much more menacing character, aside from providing Claw with a "brain heavy" that did not exist in the manga, makes Claw a more formidable adversary almost despite himself. Left to his own mental devices, Claw is hopelessly outmatched against Kimba, especially the more mature (not to mention physically stronger) version of later episodes. With Cassius whispering evil ideas into his ear, Claw at least has a "puncher's chance" of defeating Kimba by guile. You might almost think of Claw and Cassius as together forming a foe to rival Scar.

The "Bushdaddy" character only appears here but later mutated, so to speak, into Methuselah, an ancient creature who lived in a tree and dispensed sage wisdom to Kimba from time to time. It's probably for the best that this transition took place; "Bushdaddy" would probably have run out of cliched phrases within an episode or two.

If you think that the appearance of "secret agent James Brawn" seems jarring, it might have been worse had Kimba gone into production in Japan a year later than it actually did. In 1966, Japan was convulsed by the presence of the James Bond movie crew, which was filming You Only Live Twice (1967). I have a feeling that we would have seen a number of additional "spy-type guys" -- in the flashback sequences, if nothing else -- had the YOLT foofaraw occurred before production on Kimba commenced. As things stand, James Brawn (Hal Studer -- Billie Lou Watt's husband), with his mission to stop the use of illegal weapons, comes off as more like a slightly glamorized Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms official. And can you imagine Sean Connery admitting that he'd chuck it all to live like Ranger Smith? (The Titan crew may have been hedging its bets a bit here -- at the time, they were unsure as to whether Brawn was actually supposed to be Kimba's former master and future ally Roger Ranger. As we'll see, they took a big hint at episode's end that he wasn't, which prevented a gaffe.) The Ned Sparks-inflected Graspin Grabb (Owens), with his Captain Planet-style primary-colors villainy and his frequent quips, is one human villain I wouldn't have minded seeing again.

I can't even pretend to understand why Brawn and Kimba can communicate verbally, let alone why Brawn knew Kimba's name. The very next episode, "A Human Friend," posits that the animals can't talk to humans and want to learn. Unfortunately, the Titan crew had little control over this, as Mushi clearly presented the two characters as having actual conversations here. I think the crew handled it about as well as they could have. As illogical as the byplay is, the two characters make a pretty good team when fighting the bad guys. And that leads to...

... Kimba now realizing that fighting for a good cause is not wrong. One can only imagine what inspiration he would have drawn from Brawn's actual death (as opposed to the "just resting" business we're given here) as it pertained to the need to be willing to sacrifice for others. The scene in the desert, with its haunting theme music, is remarkably effective despite the unfortunate compromise and the horribly muddled ending in which Kimba proposes to go and say goodbye to his "resting" friend, only to abruptly change his mind and return to the jungle with Dodie (Watt).

In his first fight with Claw, Kimba shows some of the "super powers" that NBC had persuaded Tezuka to give to the lion in order to lighten the show's atmosphere and make it more "believable" that Kimba could hold his own physically against far larger opponents. Even so, Claw is clearly physically superior at this moment, as Kimba has to resort to guile to trap Claw in the well. In slinking off at the end, Claw blows his best real chance to simply overpower Kimba. Apart from his size disadvantage, Kimba is not yet firmly established as a leader; he had been on the scene for only a short while before being captured by Grabb, so his bag of bona fides is empty, leaving him to rely heavily on the other animals' sentimental memories of Caesar. By the time of Claw's next appearance in "Battle at Dead River," Kimba has established alliances and is in a much stronger position.

But now I must address the question that my good friend Joe Torcivia asked the first time I showed him this episode: WHAT ABOUT THE BOMB?

"Should we go ahead and proceed with bomb disposal, Kimba?"
"Sorry, I don't have hands, Dodie."
"Neither do I, Kimba."
"C'mon Dodie, let's go home."

Hopefully, "super miniature bombs" have expiration dates. 

Up next: Episode 3, "A Human Friend."

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Woodberry Kitchen

Back in the 70s, any time my parents wanted to go out by themselves for a special-occasion dinner, their choice always seemed to be Constantinou's House of Beef, in Wilmington's Trolley Square. Constantinou's was a kid's image of what an adult restaurant should be like -- dress code, heavy rugs and tablecloths, doting service, big steaks, sizable check -- and it still exists, after a fashion, but it's only a shadow of its former self. Times -- and expectations as to one's "fine dining" experience -- change, and the restaurant that Nicky and I have now more or less officially adopted as our designated "special" place is situated in what used to be an old, brick-walled foundry and includes stacked cords of firewood and racks of rusting industrial implements as part of the decor. For both food and service, however, it maintains a Constantinou's level of excellence without the stuffier trappings.

The people who founded Woodberry Kitchen several years ago were greatly inspired by the sustainable-agriculture and "slow food" movements. They advertise their commitment to local growers, and, partially as a result, the restaurant's menu is relatively short, subject primarily to seasonal changes. It might sound as if you're in for a drearily didactic time when you eat there, but the waitstaff do everything they can to make you feel comfortable and welcome. They are particularly attentive to repeat customers, as Nicky and I found when we went to Woodberry this past Thursday for a Valentine's Day dinner. Since we are in the restaurant's database, they know what we've had in the past and are ready with suggestions. This time around, I stuck with my tried and true Springfield Chicken 'N Biscuit with kale -- it's the best chicken dish I've ever had, and I've had a lot of them -- but Nicky decided to experiment and ordered Alsatian Sauerkraut, which turned out to be 25% kraut and 75% all manner of meat products. She admitted, however, that when she smelled the chicken coming, she wished that she could take her order back! We also had some excellent carrot and turnip soup. The restaurant maintains a selection of flatbreads and cheaper entrees (such as a Kitchen Burger with fries) for those who wish to spend a bit less, but you definitely get your money's worth of food, regardless of your choice.

For dessert, Nicky and I shared a pot of decaffeinated French press coffee (which one of the waitstaff, a former student of mine, very generously said that she'd pay for) and also got two of the house's sweet specialties. Nicky got the Peanut Butter Cup, which might be described as a Reese's on steroids, while I had the C.M.P. (above). This is a melange of chocolate, marshmallow fluff, peanuts, and malt ice cream, with the marshmallow topping "scalded" to form a crust. All of our indulgences wound up setting us back a little over $100 (it's a good thing we aren't wine or cocktail drinkers), but it's not as if we go to Woodberry with the regularity with which we visit, say, NY Pizza Company near Stevenson's Owings Mills campus. But that's another dining story for another time.

Aside from being the place to which the two of us now repair on birthdays and other notable dates, Woodberry Kitchen has become the designated "impress-the-visitor" dining establishment when we have house guests. My Mom ate there with us and claimed it was the best restaurant meal she'd ever had. Yes, including Constantinou's. I'd like to think that Mom and Dad would have enjoyed it as a couple as well. They wouldn't even have needed to dress up.

Book Review: THE COMPLETE DICK TRACY, VOLUME 11: 1947-48 by Chester Gould (IDW Publishing, 2011)

When a villain with a coffeepot-shaped head -- a fella who probably wouldn't even have made the cut of Duck Twacy's list of leading adversaries -- gets second billing in a COMPLETE DICK TRACY volume, you know that you're heading into one of Chester Gould's relatively fallow creative periods, and so the period March 1947-September 1948 proves to be. Oh, some notable events do occur -- B.O. Plenty and Gravel Gertie's daughter Sparkle Plenty is born, and Junior Tracy and some of his pals found the Crime Stoppers under Tracy's approving eye. But truly memorable villains are few and far between, with one huge exception: Mumbles, that heavy-lidded proto-Boomhauer himself, who would wind up rating not one but two comebacks, one in the mid-50s and the other (as a clone) in the late 70s. One reason for Mumbles' refusal to pass quietly was the simple fact that his first-class initial appearance, the saga of the rich-rifling Mumbles Quartette, whizzed past readers in a mere matter of six weeks. Almost before Gould (who was as ever working without planning ahead) realized what he had created, the story was over and Mumbles was (supposedly) dead. The contrast between this lightning-quick narrative and the slow-paced, overly derivative storyline that closes this volume, featuring midget con artist Heels Beals (does Richard know about him?) and his enormous inamorata Acres O'Riley, is a testament to the unevenness of Gould's work during this period.

Max Allan Collins provides his usual informative opening commentary, but Jeff Kersten, in his closing essay "Of Pink Shirts and Power Struggles," displays a flexibility worthy of Stretch Armstrong in his attempts to dope out hidden political commentary in Gould's late-1940s work. The distinctive Eleanor Roosevelt-esque appearance of electronic-parts thief Mrs. Volts lends at least some credence to Kersten's claim that Gould meant the character to be a reference to the New Deal's attempt to establish control over the utility industry during the Depression. But Heels Beals as a metaphor for Harry Truman, "a seeming puppet of forces larger than himself"? From the way Beals throws his modest weight around and attempts to control those around him -- even unto attempting to off Tracy with a good, old-fashioned death trap -- it's hard to believe that Kersten actually read this continuity. And Mumbles and his Quartette, who use their performing group as a "front" to rob folks at parties, as symbolic of Soviet intelligence's co-opting of American progressivism... well, one could read such a message into the actions of any number of Tracy's adversaries, many of whom used "beards" of one sort or another to hide their illegal activities. Personally, I'm unaware of any continuity in which Gould took on Communism directly, save perhaps for the story featuring the vaguely radical Boris Arson back in the 1930s. Gould would make up for this, though, when the permissive 60s came along and he turned into a strident defender of the police. Nice try, Jeff, but sometimes a crook is simply a crook.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Comics Review: CHIP AND DALE'S RESCUE RANGERS #3 (February 2011, Boom! Studios)

Oh dear... the Ranger Plane's bleach bottle has sprung a leak; the Ranger Wing's batteries have run down in mid-air; some fanfic writer really IS out to get Gadget. RESCUE RANGERS #3 is almost shockingly substandard, bearing all the earmarks of having been a rush job. Read some of the gory details after the...



About all that is accomplished here is to postpone the inevitable climax of "Worldwide Rescue"-- the Rangers' showdown with Animal Rescue Signal manipulator Fat Cat -- for a few dozen pages. We don't even get the satisfaction of seeing Chip use his famed deductive abilities to dope out the culprit; we instead jump straight from Chip's observation that the A.R.S. has never been turned on the Rangers themselves to Chip's conclusion that "Mr. Fat" is behind it all. Most of the book is taken up by a dialogue-free sequence in which A.R.S.-addled polar bears attack an American research station at the North Pole, only to be thwarted by Gadget's quick thinking and what can only be described as "the power of nice" projected through the medium of Zipper. Honestly, I thought for a brief moment that a Care Bears episode had broken out. It's always nice to see the frequently overlooked Zipper enjoy a moment of heroism, but this business struck me as a classic example of forcing sentiment into a story, rather than letting it flow naturally from the characters themselves. Even Gadget's pep talk to Zipper -- "I know you'll be wonderful" -- seemed more than a bit like a second-hand imitation of Quiverwing Duck's heartfelt farewell to Gosalyn at the end of "Crisis on Infinite Darkwings." Writer Ian Brill can't be "Koonce-and-Weimering" us and swiping from himself, can he?

What relatively little meaningful inter-Rangers dialogue exists here takes the unappetizing form of an indigestible wad of exposition that Monterey Jack deposits in Gadget's lap -- something about Geegaw having hoped that Gadget would redeem Geegaw's involvement in the building of the A.R.S. somewhere down the road. Monty's description of Geegaw as being addicted to "figures and algorithms" completely flies in the face of even what little we do know about Gadget's flying father -- considering his longtime partnership with Monty, I always visualized Geegaw as a much smaller version of Tale Spin's Baloo. And hoping that Gadget may someday put the A.R.S. to good use is one of the biggest cases of wishful thinking that I can recall. I don't doubt that that's what will happen in some fashion in part four, but Geegaw makes Pollyanna look like a piker here.

The biggest shock of the ish isn't Brill's writing; it's the sudden deterioration in Leonel Castellani's hitherto pristine artwork. The figure drawing gets noticeably cruder as the pages are turned. The only reason I can think of is that Castellani was under time pressure to get the work done. Perhaps I'm wrong, and Castellani's pencils were mangled by an uncredited inker, but I really am wondering what happened here. Hopefully both artist and writer will be back in form in C&DRR #4, but to see such a sudden drop-off in quality so soon in the title's history is worrisome.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Comics Review: UNCLE $CROOGE #400 (February 2011, Boom! Kids)

On the happy occasion of U$' milestone 400th issue, I'm feeling so generous that I'm giving pride of visual place to Don Rosa's "Busy, Busy World of Scrooge McDuck" cover, even though I actually purchased the old-school Deluxe Edition with Carl Barks' painted version of the cover to FOUR COLOR #386. (The "logos-in-the-back" business was a bit creepy, but still... why would you want to muck up a classic image like that?) The good vibes are warranted: this is easily the best ish of U$ that Boom! has given us, a welcome return to the glory days of Gemstone, when we were regularly treated to new stories in the old tradition. The two featured items here are (with apologies to Keno Don) "a little something special" in terms of thematic approach, but not so much so as to seem out of place.

No less a personage than Carl Barks himself (Dog-Nosed Version, Patent Pending) is the center of attention in the 1992 Italian story "Uncle $crooge and the Man who Drew Ducks." When I first heard about this tale, I thought that it might have been a tribute created after Carl's death in 2000. The fact that it was produced a number of years before Barks' passing gives the idyllic portrait of a reporter's genial visit to Carl and Gare's home in Grants Pass, OR something of a bittersweet tinge. The "Carl Barks Studio" fiasco which made Carl's last years less pleasant than they ought to have been was still over the horizon. Writer Rudy Salvagnini (with David Gerstein doing what, for him, seems to be some fairly unadorned translation duty) appears to have taken inspiration from the German DONALDist claim that Barks' stories were "reports" of actual happenings in Duckburg -- that is, that Barks was serving as "journalist of record" for the Ducks. Barks' first original ten-pager in WDC&S (#32, May 1943) is presented as a "reenactment," while Carl describes himself as "living through" Scrooge's various travels to exotic destinations. Turning Barks' comics adventures into something like shorthand transcriptions should leach some of the magic away from the stories, but it honestly doesn't, largely because Barks did, in a real sense, create a unique, believable (albeit often fantastical) "universe" and "inhabit" it as he was spinning his stories, to a greater extent than most any other comics creator. This is a charming tribute, and a worthy lead-off to such a significant issue.

Byron Erickson and Daan Jippes' "Obsession" can't hope to match the unique nature of "The Man Who Drew Ducks," but it comes amazingly close, given that it's based on the familiar conflict between Scrooge and Magica De Spell. As he notes in his comments in "Musings from the Money Bin," a three-page text feature at the back of the book, Erickson went back to basics -- in this case, Magica's debut story, "The Midas Touch" (UNCLE $CROOGE #36, December 1961) -- and exhumed the easily-overlooked fact that Magica originally didn't care whether or not she got Scrooge's Old #1 Dime. She simply wanted any coin that Scrooge had touched and only became fixated on Old #1 after she realized that its "potential energy" would make her planned "Golden Touch amulet" all the more powerful. What would happen if someone -- in this case, Magica's feathered pal Ratface -- realized that Magica could create her amulet and gain riches without relying on Old #1? Answer: Magica would realize a "triumph" that would turn out to be hollow at its core. This splendid story is as much a comment on our own expectations about Scrooge-Magica stories as it is an exploration of the relationship between Scrooge and Magica. Recall that DuckTales, when it used Magica for the first time in "Send in the Clones," cut straight to the chase and introduced her as being obsessed with Old #1 from the start. It's funny how quickly we forget how it all started. (In a similar fashion, the many modern stories about an "evil" Flintheart Glomgold have tended to make us forget that Glomgold was originally conceived by Barks as basically just a South African clone of Scrooge, right down to the money bin full of Rands.) Jippes complements Erickson's clever writing with some supremely crafted depictions of Magica in all her guises, from sultry temptress (when she's posing as a filthy-rich "mystery heiress") to raving madwoman (when she turns on the baffled Ratface, casts "foof bombs" left and right, and destroys her non-Old-#1-powered amulet as "the only way to beat McDuck!"). I do wish, though, that Jippes had kept straight the physical details of how Magica's amulet works. Magica claims that she only needs to have the amulet on to turn things to gold, but, early in the story, she is always holding or touching the amulet during "gilding operations." We also see her holding or touching various inanimate objects (trays, pages in a book) while wearing the amulet but not turning said objects to gold. In a showdown with Scrooge, however, she turns Old #1 and the walls of the Money Bin to gold while wearing but not touching the amulet. I know magic is tricky, but Arrrgggghhh! Can we have a little consistency here, please?

Three Barks gags -- including the Genuine Old Original "Free Cup of Coffee Gag" -- and the aforementioned "Musings from the Money Bin," which include comments by William Van Horn, Giorgio Cavazzano (artist for "The Man Who Drew Ducks"), and other notables in addition to Erickson, fill out a superb package that keeps Boom!'s "2.0 winning streak" alive.  Between the newly "classicized" titles and the enjoyable Disney Afternoon material, this is as close as we've gotten in years to the days of Disney Comics circa 1990-91. Let us devoutly hope that "history repeats itself" only up to a point.