Friday, June 29, 2012

Here's Looking at You, Min

A neat collectible, created by Italian Disney comics legend Giorgio Cavazzano:

See -- in my links list at right -- for more information (if you can read Italian, that is).

Pete as "The Fat Man"... Goofy as the police chief, perhaps played as the bumbling Inspector Goofeau from Disney Comics' MICKEY MOUSE ADVENTURES story "The Case of the Foxy Felon"... Might do!

Shasta Update

Shasty has been doing reasonably well since her return home from the vet.  Not that things are back to "normal" by a long stretch; in fact, Nicky and I are acclimatizing ourselves to a "new normal" insofar as Shasty-care is concerned.  We now have to give Shasty subcutaneous fluid injections every 36 to 48 hours.  She is taking some new medications as well.  Most troublesome of all, she has become an ultra-picky eater.  Apparently, one side effect of a dog's kidney issues is that they develop nausea and are less interested in eating in general.  We're giving Shasty antacids and otherwise trying to find some combination of foods that she consistently likes.  We've done fairly well with Life cereal, chicken fat, egg whites, and turkey (not mixed together, mind you), but even those are not a sure thing, depending on her mood.

We're also trying to take Shasty out for regular walks.  She tires pretty quickly (even when the weather is relatively cool), and so we've dug the Houndabout out of storage and are using it to help her get around the block.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Book Review: WALT DISNEY'S MICKEY MOUSE, VOLUME 3: HIGH NOON AT INFERNO GULCH by Floyd Gottfredson (Fantagraphics Press, 2012)

With Volume 3, the GOTTFREDSON LIBRARY well and truly swings into the "Golden Age" of the MICKEY MOUSE strip (button-eyed version).  These strips from 1934-1936 show "creator-in-chief" Floyd Gottfredson taking full control of his stories and testing his range with tightly plotted domestic dramas and semi-dramas ("Bobo the Elephant," "Pluto the Racer," "Editor-in-Grief"), swashbuckling ocean-going adventures ("The Captive Castaways," "The Pirate Submarine"), Western sagas ("The Bat Bandit of Inferno Gulch," "Race for Riches"), and even a tentative stab at an extensive sojourn into another cultural milieu (the trip to Umbrellastan in "The Sacred Jewel").  There's literally something here for everyone, and one's favorite story will simply be a matter of taste and personal experience.  For me, "Race for Riches" takes the palm, being the first Gottfredson story that I ever read, thanks to the late Bill Blackbeard's invaluable SMITHSONIAN COLLECTION OF NEWSPAPER COMICS.  That early-1980s exposure predated my "deep dive" into Disney comics collecting by a couple of years, and I recall being both surprised and amazed at how much this mysterious man Gottfredson had been able to wring out of a character then universally regarded (by the vast majority of Americans, at least) as a bland corporate symbol.  In retrospect, the fairly straightforward "Race," which sees Mickey and Horace Horsecollar (sharing their last "classic" adventure together) trying to beat the inevitable Pegleg Pete and the grasping Eli Squinch to a cache of hidden gold and prevent foreclosure on Clarabelle Cow's home in the process, was an ideal introduction to the world of the "death-defying, tough, steel-gutted Mouse" celebrated in Blackbeard's pioneering essay "Mickey Mouse and the Phantom Artist" (which is reprinted herein).  It shows Mickey as a character capable of adventure, yet, in a sense, locked into what was even then considered a pretty conventional, melodramatic plot line.  The "cognitive dissonance" between what I thought The Mouse was in the early 80s and what Gottfredson had conceived him to be half-a-century before would have been far more severe had I commenced my Gottfredson studies with the crusading Mickey who battled racketeers and corrupt politicos in "Editor-in-Grief" or the Mickey who took down the would-be world conqueror Dr. Vulter in "The Pirate Submarine."

In their commentaries and essays on the stories, Tom Andrae, David Gerstein, Leonardo Gori, and Francesco Stajano make the point that the Mickey seen here is a rather more mature character than the happy-go-lucky "kid" of the earlier strip adventures.  This maturation process allowed for a somewhat more sober tone to creep into the stories.  Reading the adventures in chronological order, I was also struck by the tone of cynicism (or, if you're being kind, realism) that Gottfredson brought to these tales.  Isn't Carl Barks supposed to be the "master satirist" of Disney comics, the one who looked with a jaundiced eye on the faults and foibles of a fallen world?  Here, though, Gottfredson presents us with a lengthy parade of crooked landlords, phony "community pillars," racketeers, petty race-fixers, insensitive kibitzers, pompous officials, wannabe dictators, apathetic (until roused) Mousetonians, bumbling sheriffs, knuckle-headed Middle Easterners...  It's just a short walk from here to the approach taken by Gottfredson in his most misanthropic masterpiece, "The Miracle Master."  I suppose that I can understand why Gottfredson did this -- to permit the occasionally-fallible-but-usually-competent Mickey to shine by contrast, and, needless to say, to make it easier to get laughs from the newspaper readership, with its expectation of a proliferation of gags to spice up the adventure narrative.  But, geez, Gottfredson certainly doesn't need to apologize (or would that be the right word?) to Barks or anyone else when it comes to painting a begrimed background upon which to display his hero.  The good cheer and simple competence of Mickey's Air Mail/Air Force ally Captain Doberman stand as a shining beacon by contrast.  Perhaps in gratitude, Gottfredson slicks Doberman up considerably during this period, shaving a goodly number of pounds from the captain's frame, giving him a thorough shave, and even bobbing his ears between the time of "The Captive Castaways" and that of "The Pirate Submarine."

The presentation of "The Sacred Jewel" -- one of the few "classic" Gottfredson stories that Gladstone Comics did not reprint during the period 1986-1990 -- brings to mind another interesting point about Gottfredson's tactics during the "classic" era, one that, in this case, places him in direct opposition to Barks.  "Jewel" marked one of the few times that Gottfredson took his characters to another civilized country, as opposed to a desert island, the high seas, the jungle, a prehistoric land ("The Land of Long Ago"), and other climes where civilization cannot be said to have wholly taken root.  Therefore, this story has something of the air of a tentative, "feeling-one's-way" exercise, and its inconsistent nature reflects this.  In the later, and much superior, "Monarch of Medioka," Gottfredson notably does not feel the need to inject Pete, Sylvester Shyster, Squinch, or any other familiar figures into the proceedings as visiting villains; the scenario and the setting of that story are strong enough to support themselves.  He doesn't seem to have had nearly the same level of confidence in the denizens of Umbrellastan in "Jewel."  As Gerstein notes, the characterization of the Umbrellastanians is all over the map, borrowing various French, Elizabethan English, and (of course) Middle Eastern tropes right and left.  This tale provided an opportunity for Gottfredson to create a completely original adversary that reflected the local environment, but "the evil Prince Kashdown" gets virtually no screen time, with Pete and Shyster (who speak phony "Umbrellastanese" even when no one else can possibly hear them!) taking up the camel's share of the water, er, beer, er, oxygen.  Barks, by contrast, dove right into exotic settings in "The Mummy's Ring" and never looked back; his depiction of such settings became more sophisticated over time, but the larger point is that Barks seemed drawn to creating and exploring unusual civilizations in a way that Gottfredson truthfully was not. 

In the back of the book, following the "usual" features on characters, overseas reprints, and the like, Gerstein and Alberto Becattini present "The Heirs of Gottfredson: The 1930s School," focusing on Britain's Wilfred Haughton and Italy's Federico Pedrocchi.  Pedrocchi gets especially cushy treatment with the reprinting in its entirety of "Donald Duck and the Secret of Mars," the creator's first serial for the fledgling Italian Disney publication PAPERINO.  Donald may have been the star of this story, but it bears the mark of Gottfredson throughout -- an accurate reflection of just how immense of an impact Floyd had on the world market for Disney comics.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Nostalgia Critic Pounds the Pound Puppies

Ponder for a moment the essential unfairness of a world in which Chip and Dale's Rescue Rangers, TaleSpin, Darkwing Duck, and any number of other high-quality animated series of the 80s and 90s failed to rate a theatrical movie release, but Pound Puppies -- POUND friggin' PUPPIES! -- made it to the big screen in 1988's Pound Puppies and the Legend of Big Paw.  With a new version of the series now running on The Hub, what better time to see what the Nostalgia Critic thought of this feature-film release.  Short answer:  Not much.

I will say that I thought the "50's music" conceit worked reasonably well here, though the "Big Paw" riff on "Duke of Earl" got the decade wrong ("Duke" was a hit in 1961).  You can hear Nancy Cartwright (pre-Bart, pre-Fawn Deer, and, needless to say, pre-honorary-degree from alma mater Ohio University) and the inevitable Frank Welker (using his Big Time Beagle and Bubba Duck voices, no less) in the voice cast, too.  But, all in all, this movie is pretty dire going, it would seem.   If you had the confidence in the TV series to create a theatrical release based on it, then why would you feel it necessary to change backstory, character designs, et al. so blamed completely?

Comics Review: RICHIE RICH: RICH RESCUE #6 (Ape Entertainment, 2012)

By Jove, I think they're getting it!  Either that, or there's some mystical significance in the fact that the two best issues of RR:RR to date -- this one and #3 -- are both multiples of three.  I'd certainly like to think that we won't have to wait until issue #9 to top this, the first true "book-length" RR:RR adventure (save for one Warren Kremer gag and a pin-up page) and a tale fully worthy of the extended treatment.  Put plainly, what "Hero for a Day!" in #5 did wrong in terms of "reimaginings" of "classic" RICH cast members, the 22-page "The Loch is the Key" does right.  Richie's snooty would-be girlfriend Mayda Munny and publicity-seeking Aunt Noovo make their series debuts here, and, while both are fairly unrecognizable in a physical sense (Noovo much more so than Mayda), the new uses to which they are put generally make good sense in light of how the original characters operated. Writer Buddy Scalera, who mucked up the intros of Freckles and Pee-Wee and turned Dr. Derange of "Convac" fame into a villain in #5, completely reverses field with this effort, for which I'm quite grateful.  We also see the introduction of Jade Green, Mayda's hyper-talented "personal valet" (is this the mature Kim Possible's future, I wonder?), and learn that Cadbury's past includes an intriguing personal relationship not involving the seemingly inevitable Sir Ruddy Blighter.  The plot does go somewhat wobbly at the very end, and Marcelo Ferreira's anime-flavored art, though probably more suited to the somewhat more serious doings herein than James Silvani's art would have been, again plays some Skeezix-ish havoc with certain characters' extremities (poor Gloria looks particularly anorexic in some shots).  Still in all, there's a whole lot to like here, and I'm starting to have some real hope for the future of this title, provided that this level of attention to detail can be maintained.

"Loch" is both the very first Mayda Munny adventure story of any stripe that I've ever seen and, arguably, the best Mayda story ever, period.  Not exactly a daunting hurdle to vault, I will admit; the Mayda stories of the "classic" era, mostly of the five-page "filler" variety, focused with a relentless fixation on the spoiled "pocket Cher wannabe"'s efforts to get Richie to dump Gloria and become her boy toy, so high drama and physical stakes were not often in play.  (There was at least one "classic" story in which Richie tried to get Mayda to do various physical activities with him, but Mayda proved incapable of even walking through the woods without whining about being inconvenienced.)  Here, Mayda somehow gets wind of the news that Richie's Aunt Noovo (newly recast as a sensation-seeking media "monster hunter") has gone missing at Loch Ness and brings her own rescue team to the Loch to rival the efforts of "Rich Rescue."  It's not made clear whether Mayda, Jade, Mayda's cat Glitter, and Mayda's "highly advanced butler-bot" Serv-O (a reference to a "mechanical butler" of the same name who appeared in an early-70s Ernie Colon-drawn story; unlike that fake factotum, this one is the real thing) have participated in any other rescue missions prior to this one.  Mayda certainly seems to be somewhat inexperienced at this rescue biz; she lacks some of "Rich Rescue"'s equipment (subsequently bellowing, in true imperious fashion, to be given same), finds hiking a chore, falls into a hole in a cave while trying to recover Glitter, and gets her foot caught on a rock, necessitating a Richie and Gloria mini-rescue.  Therefore, it's certainly possible (though not explicitly stated) that she has decided to assume this challenge with the specific purpose of impressing Richie.  For, yes, she is still very much enamored of our hero, though the three-cushion clash between Richie, Gloria, and Mayda is a lot more subtle than that seen in any "classic" story.

This title has already softened Reggie with a fair bit of success, but the challenge of making Mayda palatable in the RR:RR environment was, if anything, even more daunting.  Self-absorbed, mean-spirited, disrespectful, lazy, and bitchy, the "classic" Mayda had only her looks going for her and was almost completely defined by her desire to wreck Richie and Gloria's relationship.  At least the "classic" Reggie played his pranks on lots of other people besides Richie (his rivalry with Richie also led to a non-trivial number of adventure stories).  Scalera sands off some of Mayda's spiky edges by giving her a few moments of introspection (e.g., she admits dejectedly to Jade that Richie's boyfriendship is the one thing her money can't buy) and, remarkably enough, letting her admit to herself that Richie and Gloria DO in fact "make a great team."  The latter, in particular, goes miles beyond anything seen in a "classic" story.  Sure, Mayda's still very self-centered and can't quite bring herself to thank Gloria to the latter's face, but this reconstituted "baby" has already come a long, long way.  She also gets the humanizing trait of being somewhat boy-crazy in general, falling for one of Aunt Noovo's cameramen after Noovo and her crew have been rescued.  She may not get Richie in the end, but at least she has the potential to have other relationships in this brave new "universe"!  (Reggie certainly hopes so; he appears to be quite smitten with Mayda.)  Ferreira's redesign of Mayda's physical appearance makes her look a bit more "exotic" (with a darker skin tone) while preserving the black hair and ever-so-slightly collagen-ized lips.  The end result is pretty attractive, though, on occasion, a shouting Mayda looks more like Lilo, only all grown up now and with big bucks and gadgets.

Jade Green is also quite attractive, in a "female samurai" sort of way, but we honestly don't get to see her do all that much in the way of physical combat, or anything else proactive for that matter.  (Though I do like the somewhat bemused way in which she reacts to Mayda's comments, demands, etc.)  What we do see is Cadbury and Jade reuniting "after all these years." Evidently, they were something of an item back in the day, said "day" including a time when C&J apparently served as some sort of "agents," presumably of the "secret" variety, and participated in adventures as a team.  Well, I wouldn't even have put it past the "classic" Cadbury to have provided such service, so this isn't really a stretch, though the "personal relationship" angle opens up a whole new can of Spotted Dick, so to speak.  Cadbury also makes a fleeting reference to having attended "the Academy"; to what could he be referring?  SandhurstStarfleet?  I certainly hope that this Cadbury-Jade business doesn't wind up being a one-issue "throwaway."  There are definite possibilities here.

As for Aunt Noovo, there seems to be little relationship at first glance between the heavy-set, bespectacled, good-hearted-yet-intently-image-conscious Noovo of the "classic" era and the skinny, jeans-wearing, top-knotted, acerbic "monster hunter" introduced here... but, hold on a minute.  It must be admitted that the new Noovo is at least somewhat akin to the old in that she seems to be "all about the image."  For the RR:RR Noovo, self-proclaimed "beloved TV personality," getting the story is the thing, and looking good doing it is just as important.  She even sends Gloria DVDs of her series as birthday gifts, for crying out loud.  I'd be willing to bet that Scalera at least considered the original Noovo's personality when crafting this new version of the character.

The character dynamics here take up so much of the oxygen that it's easy to forget that there's a plot going on, too... and here, we find a few soft spots.  The inevitable appearance of the Loch Ness Monster and the explanation of its connection to the Rich family and Greymoor Castle (another reference to a "classic" tale; Buddy is nothing if not diligent in these subtle references) is handled OK, albeit in a rather predictably PC-ish sense, but Richie, why the heck didn't you tell your team about what they were going to encounter once they got to the Loch?  You may not have known what happened to Noovo, but you surely could have alerted "Rich Rescue" to the rest of that setup and avoided numerous surprises, perils, and headaches.  You're fortunate that Gloria didn't punch you out after you told the backstory on the final page.  I also really feel that some explicit explanation should have been given as to why Mayda was involved in "rescue ops" to begin with.  Simply having her show up, and then appear with her crew in the "Munny Matters" pin-up at the back of the book, doesn't quite cut it, I'm afraid.  Finally, what's with the green ghosts on Ferreira's cover, which are conspicuous (or as conspicuous as incorporeal entities can ever be) by their complete absence in the story proper? 

BTW, Ape, good show in tributing the recently deceased Sid Couchey on the credits page here.  You may have messed up his name and confused some of his credits in past issues of RR GEMS, but this goes a long way towards redressing those (from a fanboy's perspective) grievances.

UPDATE (8/22/14):  This is the LAST issue of RICHIE RICH: RICH RESCUE to be released to date.  It's fairly safe to say that we have seen the last of this title, I think. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Book Review: HAROLD GRAY'S LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE, VOLUME 8: 1938-40 (IDW Publishing/Library of American Comics, 2012)

It's well nigh impossible to argue the point that Harold Gray and his comic strip reached a creative and imaginative peak of sorts in the late 1930s.  The "Saga of Abigail Alden, Shanghai Peg...  and The Rest," which wraps up in this volume, is considered by many to be Gray's best single narrative, but that's only part of the story.  In the triumphant wake of the Alden affair, Gray, who evidently felt himself to be on a roll, comes up with not one, but two memorable antagonistic characters to drive the next sequence of related stories, which will take us up through the middle of 1940 (and the early portion of the upcoming Volume 9).  This is particularly noteworthy in that Gray, as skilled as he was at creating both permanent allies ("Daddy" Warbucks, Punjab, The Asp) and well-rounded one-time friends and acquaintances for Annie, had never before proven capable of emulating his longtime friend Chester Gould and putting Annie up against a really strong bad guy, one capable of maintaining the threat level for an extended period of time.  Crooked businessmen and politicians, bullies, minor mobsters, shyster lawyers, and so forth were fine insofar as putting Annie in temporary danger was concerned, but the sinister, vaguely European Axel, who begins to pursue Annie immediately upon the conclusion of the Alden saga, would become more or less of a fixture in the strip for the better part of two years.  And he isn't even the more intriguing or multifaceted of this issue's duo of memorable baddies.

Axel, with his more "global" conception of skullduggery, was clearly Gray's response to the deteriorating situation in Europe at the time, but the bearded villain's nationality and ideology would prove to be remarkably flexible.  After Axel's initial attempt to kidnap Annie and use her to squeeze money out of "Daddy" Warbucks is foiled by "Daddy" et al.'s dramatic return and rescue, he falls out of sight for a short time, only to return with a far more comprehensively evil agenda.  By early 1940, he's scheming with a bunch of cohorts with "Slavic" names to spring a coup on an unsuspecting America.  The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact evidently gave Gray the excuse he needed (not that he really needed that much of an excuse) to turn Axel into a boring (as in termite, not Ben Stein) Marxist.  America still had a strong isolationist movement at the time of the second Axel story, and Gray was working for a syndicate headed up by the uber-isolationist CHICAGO TRIBUNE, but the artist clearly intended this plot point to be a wake-up call of sorts, warning Americans to be prepared for whatever the warring world might bring to its doorstep. 

Axel resurfaces during a lengthy story that finds Annie in the home of John Tecum, a bright young lawyer ("Daddy" having disappeared almost as quickly as he had reappeared), and introduces the second of this volume's memorable adversaries -- one that clearly illustrates the degree to which Gray's concepts of law, order, and justice differed from those of Chester Gould's.  While attempting to get justice for an elderly couple who'd been victimized by one of Gray's noxious political fixers, Tecum becomes ensnared in the coils of rotund gang boss Nick Gatt.  Gould would surely have run Gatt up against Dick Tracy in short order (not to mention given Gatt some strange physical tic or feature), but the more Gatt appears in Gray's narrative, the more likable he becomes.  Soon Gatt has manipulated things so that the bewildered Tecum has become district attorney on a platform to clean up corruption in the town -- which all "good citizens" assume will include Gatt himself.  The volume concludes just as Axel has returned and taken a shot at Annie -- only to be greeted with return fire from Gatt, whom Annie has gotten to like and trust.  A Gatt vs. Axel battle is clearly on the horizon, and, as Jeet Heer notes in his introduction, Gray clearly believes that homegrown gang bosses are infinitely preferable to totalitarian schemers.  Even before Axel's resurfacing, however, Gatt was already busily engaged in setting up events with no apparent benefit to himself -- rather the opposite, in fact.  So what was Gray's larger point here?  That gangsters can be good guys and yet still exert some sort of control of events?  I would have loved to have been the proverbial "fly on the wall" as Gray tried to "explain" Gatt to his buddy Gould.  My own take is that Gatt was simply another manifestation of Gray's core belief that extra-legal means are sometimes necessary and justified to produce "cosmic justice."  If Punjab can wave a magic cape over a bad guy and make him vanish with no cop or judge being the wiser, then certainly Gatt can provide the "muscle" that a town needs to fight off a sinister, un-American threat.  Gatt is probably the definitive proof that Gray's supposedly "simple-minded," black-and-white sense of right and wrong was far more complex than his critics would care to admit... and that, by 1940, LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE had become, and would remain, a comic strip for adults.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Nostalgia Critic Sinks the TITANIC Ripoffs

If you enjoyed the irreverent humor of Mystery Science Theatre 3000, or got chuckles out of the culture of MisTing that grew out of same, then you ought to check out the satirical videos produced by The Nostalgia Critic, a.k.a. Doug Walker, a.k.a. That Guy with the Glasses.  I first encountered his productions when I was searching for "independent" reviews of DuckTales in preparation for my 25th anniversary tribute to that series (which I hope to finally start on or about the Fourth of July, BTW).  It just so happens that TNC had some very nice things to say about DuckTales; indeed, it's the ONLY "Golden Age" WDTVA series on his list of The Top 11 Nostalgic TV Shows ("nostalgic," in this case, referring to films and TV shows of the 80s and 90s).  This is noteworthy, in that TNC usually engages in strafing, spoofing, and otherwise Stuka-bombing less accomplished entertainment products of that era.

One caveat re TNC's approach: he drops a few more cuss words than even hardened MST3K viewers are probably accustomed to hearing.  He's perfectly capable of avoiding the words in red letters and doing straight, insightful analysis, e.g. when he devoted a whole month a while back to reviewing all of the Disney feature films.   But I have to admit that the more foul-mouthed commentaries feature some hilarious moments.

Here is TNC's take on a couple of misbegotten Italian animated "retellings" of the story of the Titanic, made in the wake (heh) of James Cameron's blockbuster movie.  The results are simply James Came...wrong.  When the time comes, I'll post TNC's review of "Treasure of the Golden Suns," plus any other of his baubles that I consider to be worthy of your perusal.

Shasty in Stir

Shasta is presently hospitalized at Mountainside Vet with a hitherto-unsuspected kidney ailment.  We learned about it when we brought her there to have her teeth cleaned on Thursday.  Lo and behold, the folks at Mountainside informed us that Shasty's creatinine level was very high (sound familiar??) and that she would need some fluids pumped into her before any anesthetic could be applied.  What's more, she may have to go on a special, kidney-friendly diet from now on.  We've visited her a couple of times and she seems to be holding up as well as can be expected.  Hopefully, she will be released from durance vile sometime tomorrow morning or afternoon -- albeit without those "toofs" being cleaned.  We are going to wait on that a bit while we see how she reacts to the new diet.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

OK, "Hero for" WHICH Day?

For a moment there, I thought that the long wait for RICHIE RICH: RICH RESCUE #5 was over.  This past week's ComicList listed RR:RR #5 as an impending release, complete with "James Silvani Variant Cover," no less.  My suspicions should have been aroused by the fact that there was no link to any further information about the comic, as there normally would be for a brand-new release.  Came last Wednesday, and the only thing waiting for me in my box was the latest PREVIEWS.

Aaron Sparrow, who would know, assures me that RR:RR #5 will be released in short order.  However, it's already more than a week past the date on which the book was supposed to come out.  This looks to be a "Doubting Thomas" release, in the sense that I'll only believe that it's coming out when I have it in my hot little hands...

UPDATE (6/10/12):  RR:RR #5 is now on the list of comics to be released on the 13th.  And this time, a link is included!  Maybe... just maybe...