Sunday, July 28, 2013

Dark Until August

I've been advised to abstain from any more large-scale typing until I have my follow up appointment with the vascular surgeon on August 7, so I won't have any updates until at least then.  This is a shame, since subject matter is piling up -- a Beach Boys concert right before my surgery, a trip to the century-old Baltimore German Festival, and this coming weekend's BronyCon at the Baltimore Convention Center, just to name a few (in addition to the DUCKTALES postings, that is).  In the interim, I will do what I do best -- take notes on everything.

In case you're worried, I typed this brief note with my right hand only.  :-)

Friday, July 26, 2013

Hand Under Fistula

The aftermath of Tuesday's fistula surgery on my left arm:

Thankfully, I had only one episode of really serious pain on Tuesday night, and I was able to ward it off with the help of ice packs and Tylenol.  The arm still bothers me some when I type, so I'm going to have to gradually "ramp up" to a normal level of activity.

Over time, the fistula will mature and, if all goes well, will be able to be used for dialysis access if it is necessary.

Thanks to all of you who sent well-wishes.

Monday, July 22, 2013

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 46, "The Golden Fleecing"

I'm undergoing (kidney-related) surgery on my arm tomorrow, and I'm not sure how long it will take to regain the full use of my arm, so I don't know when I'll be sending out the next of these.  In the meantime, enjoy.

I'm in rough agreement with GeoX that DuckTales' adaptation of Carl Barks' "The Golden Fleecing" (UNCLE $CROOGE #12, 12/55-2/56) is "not a bad episode on balance."  The changes made to the original story are fairly substantial, but, while there's certainly plenty of silliness on display (for my money, there's more at the back end of the ep than in the beginning), enough of the source material is present to make this a pretty entertaining watch, both for comics devotees and for folks unfamiliar with Barks' story.  The main problem is one we've seen before: in order to squeeze a "it's not nice to steal!" moral into the story, adapters Ken Koonce and David Weimers are forced to twist a main character out of character.  Here, Scrooge's simple interest in making and owning a gold coat is turned into a lifelong obsession with finding the Golden Fleece. The way in which K&W handle this touchy matter is the main reason why, despite my general enjoyment of the episode, I don't count it as among the series' better Barks adaptations.

GeoX describes the mindset displayed by Scrooge here as evidence of his "corruption," which I think understates matters.  For one thing, the word "corruption" often suggests the pernicious influence of some sinister "external stimulus" (as psychologist Ludwig Von Drake might put it).  Think of the "outside force" that suddenly seemed to possess Doofus when he got the "diamond doughnut" in "Superdoo!".  Even the "Gold Fever" that nearly doomed our heroes in the Valley of the Golden Suns displayed some of the earmarks of a "communicable disease" of sorts; why else would the normally level-headed HD&L suddenly join Scrooge in searching out treasure at all costs?  Scrooge's Fleece fixation, by contrast, is far more troubling precisely because it seems to be so ruthlessly "localized."  The sheer number of times that Scrooge reiterates his need to have the Fleece suggests that the poison of irrational desire had taken root in his soul long before the events of this story.  (I get the impression that Scrooge's father -- or, in the unfortunate terminology of the later "Once Upon a Dime," his "McPapa" -- kindled the flame by reading Greek myths and legends to his son, much as Scrooge reads from the book to HD&L here.) The consequence of this constant harping (sorry...) is that Scrooge's sudden change of heart at episode's end, like Doofus' abrupt turn to the dark side in "Superdoo!", simply doesn't ring true.  I sincerely doubt that Scrooge would have been able to suppress such a powerful lifelong ambition so quickly, much less advertise the fact with a grandiloquently melodramatic speech.  About all that was missing was Scrooge apologizing to the Harpies "on behalf of all rich Ducks everywhere."

Thankfully, the general tone of "Fleecing" is kept light enough that the leadenness of Scrooge's reformation doesn't seem quite so onerous.  We start off with a bang (and a chuckle) as Von Drake commences his only appearance of the series, and a memorable one it certainly is.  It's a funny thing about Ludwig: most of his WDTVA appearances were... how shall I put this... undertaken under less than promising conditions (Bonkers, Quack Pack, Raw Toonage), yet they always seemed to work out rather well.  Doesn't that suggest that making him a quasi-regular member of the far superior DuckTales cast would have been a good thing?  A REALLY good thing, even?  Of course, some care would have to have been taken to clearly distinguish him from Gyro Gearloose, casting him instead as the DT equivalent of Mr. Whoopee, "the Duck with all the answers."  But if the series had incorporated "real" Von Drake and a late-80s, legwarmer-less version of Quack Pack's "reporter Daisy Duck" into its cast, then imagine what might have resulted.

"If you t'ink Daisy and I vould have been vorse dan zat Bubba Duck, you're CUCKOO!"

I originally thought that Launchpad's LVD-influenced use of "Om" was rather silly and might tend to date the episode in future years.  I've come to accept it, though, and even to regard it as a backhanded reference of sorts to Barks' original, in which the Larkies (whose censored title of "Harpies" was happily restored for TV; thank goodness for the ephemeral nature of slang) didn't shed their disguises and reveal their true, "non-figmental" nature until the story was well underway.  I can well understand why K&W chose to jettison Barks' elaborate opening sequence, retaining only the scene in which the flying vulture-women carry a victim (in this case, Launchpad) away to their lair.  Barks' Larkies' feat (literally) looks better on paper, but the LP-napping business also works OK in context, partially because the fear-wracked LP sells it so well.

LP's bug-eyed take here is just one example of the way in which director Terence Harrison influenced the look of this episode in a positive manner.  Harrison, who started his career as an animator with Hanna-Barbera in the 60s, hasn't done any work in TV animation since the turn of the century, which seems a real shame.  He directed 20 DT eps, 18 of them in the first season, and reached his apotheosis in "Double-O-Duck" and "All Ducks on Deck," in which his trademark rubbery, lively style is seen to greatest advantage.  The "pop from pose to pose" style of "Double-O-Duck" is arguably his most distinctive aesthetic contribution to the series.  Harrison isn't quite so adventurous in "Fleecing," but he does presage the future, in a sense, with some memorable character takes, mostly involving Launchpad.  With the design of the Harpies being slightly less ugly and menacing than that of Barks' Larkies, Harrison evidently felt that the characters really had to make their fright convincing in order to grab the audience's attention.  It's probably no coincidence that the animation style of the series' last 35 episodes reflected Harrison's influence more than that of any other director.

I realize how irritating it must be for a Barks fan to accept that, Huey's claim to the contrary, the DT Junior Woodchuck Guidebook can be wrong on occasion.  Unfortunately, that toothpaste cannot be shoved back into the tube at this point; the principle of a fallible Guidebook was established in the very first half-hour episode when the "bear trap" didn't work.  The manner in which the Guidebook is handled in "Fleecing" is legitimately troublesome, though, because of its extreme inconsistency.  There's nothing wrong with the boys' creation of a "JW totem pole" (though they probably could have gotten the same basic idea without reading the book), and HD&L's building of the "flying bike" from the scrap of the Ducks' helicopter is borderline impossible, a task which only the Guidebook could possibly help them accomplish.  (Were you, like me, wondering where the little wheels and pedals came from, or how HD&L managed to fasten the thing together without any visible tools?)  The "dragons are a myth" gaffe, however, seems to have been thrown in merely to exploit the "Skepticism Failure" trope... and the execution isn't even all that funny.  K&W would have been better off having the Guidebook suggest a "dealing with dragons" plan that wasn't possible under the circs, such as having a broadsword or two handy, and then having Scrooge make a sarcastic comment about the scheme's impracticality.

Once the Ducks reach the Harpies' stronghold, the episode begins to track the plot of Barks' story with a bit more fidelity.  Even the role played by the lovestruck Anastasia (whose passion for Launchpad is never explained) has a Barksian parallel in the focus on the one Larkie who promises to help Scrooge and Donald find the Fleece in exchange for helping her win the cooking contest.  The "big deipno" (aka: fattening up Launchpad) business is substituted for the contest, but, to be honest, that change isn't much of an issue, even if you object, as Geo does, to the whole notion of fattening someone up by stuffing him or her with food.  (Do the names Hansel and Gretel ring a bell?  And I'm not talking about the witch-hunter versions, either.)  The logistics do turn a bit wonky along the way, however.  It doesn't really make sense for Agnes to shout "Din-din, come and get it!" at the Hall of Echoes' mouth when the Sleepless Dragon is supposed to be chained up to begin with, and inside a very small cavern to boot.  Likewise, the booby trap that nearly does Scrooge in after he's grabbed the Fleece seems like a bit of overkill, especially in light of the fact that a menacing, ever-vigilant guardian is lurking nearby.  Barks' Fleece wasn't protected by anything in particular, and that story certainly wasn't lacking in "excitement." 

While Scrooge and HD&L are on their way to pick up the Fleece, Koonce and Weimers burden them with an additional menace in the form of a labyrinth.  This suggests that the writers might have consulted "The Fabulous Philosopher's Stone" in addition to Barks' "Fleecing."  In contrast to the "blink-and-you-missed-it" maze seen briefly in "Sphinx for the Memories," we actually witness the Ducks getting out of this trap.  It seems to me, however, that they could just as easily have done so by climbing up the maze's none-too-steep walls and walking across the top to safety.

After the "deipno party" is broken up, we get a few more obvious borrowings from Barks; a character (in this case, Anastasia) is swallowed by the Dragon, and, of course, the Dragon is finally neutralized by the pulling of the wool over its eyes.  I'll give the ep props for actually showing Anastasia getting gulped on-screen; Barks merely showed us the aftereffects.  Unfortunately, due to the requirement that Scrooge repent of his Fleece-fancying ways, the "Dragon-down" sequence can't help but pale in comparison to the original, in which the Nephews dope out the plan with the Guidebook's assistance and then consciously carry it out.  In the DT version, Scrooge just... well... seems to let the Fleece fall where it may.  For all we can tell, his hand slipped.  Either that, or he was so overcome by guilt that he temporarily lost control of some of his bodily functions.  (Given Chris Matthews' infamous "tingle down the leg comment," the analogy between Scrooge and Matthews here may actually be closer than we realize.)

The Harpies do indeed "turn friendly" at the end, but it's not as if they had very far to travel during their pivot.  For example, they didn't originally throw Scrooge and HD&L in jail when the latter appeared to rescue Launchpad.  Even when they're preparing to feed LP to the Dragon, the Harpies don't display any malice, with Agnes explaining that it's "nothing personal."  The more benevolent characterization of the Harpies makes it possible for the characters to achieve some sense of closure.  The last we saw of the Larkies in Barks' story, they were being scared out of their wits by airborne mice and scattering to goodness knows where.

As nice as it is to see Von Drake one final time, the last scene is rather contrived, not to mention being uncomfortably reminiscent of the windup of "Lost Crown of Genghis Khan."  Even Launchpad -- who is again subjected to a stream of belittling remarks from Scrooge rivaling the barrage he braved in "Scrooge's Pet", and sometimes with good reason -- would surely realize by this time that the Harpies are not "figments of the imagination."  The Dragon, the feast, and so forth were, after all, quite real, and LP dropped the "Om" business as soon as he was brought to the Harpies' lair, suggesting that he had finally gotten wise to the truth.

"The Golden Fleecing" is a somewhat frustrating ep, but not one without its rewards.  Thanks to the lively animation and the retention of numerous chunks of the original story -- albeit chunks that have been reconstituted into an occasionally unrecognizable "stew" -- the gist of Barks' original conception is still present.  Only the gist, however, which is why I rather wish that Anthony Adams had done this adaptation.  The man who gave us "Home Sweet Homer" and "Maid of the Myth" would probably have had more confidence in his ability to meld the legend-heavy Barks story (which, let us remember, required several "Woodchuck Information Dumps" to get all the details in) and the somewhat lighter touch required for a DT script into a satisfactory whole... without feeling the need to warp and spindle Scrooge's personality a bit in order to do so.  Unfortunately, the "sins of adaptation" committed by K&W here will be compounded in the very next episode -- and this time, there will be no appeals to myth or legend available to save them.





(GeoX) If the catalyst for the action in [Barks'] original is somewhat contrived, this one takes contrivedness to a whole new level. Get this: Launchpad claims that his plane was messed up by flying bird-women (depicted after the manner of that one Twilight Zone episode, sort of); then, Scrooge is reading a book about the golden fleece to HDL and sees a picture of a harpie (no longer "larkies"), and thinks HOLY CRAP! Those things Launchpad saw must be harpies! Which must mean the golden fleece is real! That's some Glenn-Beck-level logic right there.

I think that you're overstating things a bit at the end there.  Scrooge says, not once but twice, that if the Harpies are real, then "the Golden Fleece might be real too."  MIGHT.   So he doesn't completely commit himself.

I don't doubt that the opening Black Sea sequence was influenced, at least in part, by that plane trip taken by the unfortunate Mr. Shatner... the difference being that animation allows for Launchpad's reactions to be much more exaggerated than even Shatner's.

You offhandedly mention one thing that has always bothered me about the way K&W set up the trip to "Greece" (or a reasonable facsimile).  The whole plot is set in mention by HD&L's need to research the Fleece for a book report.  That has always struck me as somewhat... humdrum.  In the Barks story, the boys have to piece things together as they go, expounding on the legend of the Fleece as they do so, and they wind up being the true heroes of the tale.  In the TV version, apart from building the flying bike, they're basically just along for the ride, with LP's phobias and Scrooge's determination to obtain the Fleece getting most of the attention.  When Scrooge grabs LP and dashes off to find the Fleece, the boys literally shrug their shoulders and follow their elders.  The contrast is striking.

(GeoX) [Launchpad says] "Those are some of my best crash [scores] yet," whereupon HDL hold up numbers like Olympic judges--pretty amusing bit of absurdism.

It would have been even funnier had the numbers on the cards been "color-coded" to match the ID's of the Nephews holding them.

(GeoX) A nonsensical, abortive joke with the Hall of Echoes: "amazing! It only echoes the word echo!" But then it proceeds to go ahead and echo the word "fleece" anyway. I have no idea what the writers had in mind there.

I think that they were simply trying to put in a version of the "Seikral/Larkies" gag from Barks' story.  Personally, I thought that this bit was rather clever, and no more "nonsensical" than the echoes in Barks' story coming out backwards.

(Greg) So Launchpad is asking about Scrooge's accuracy in [LP] looking for an excuse to crash a plane. Somehow; I'm 50/50 on this. On the one hand; Scrooge does have a point. For a guy who crashes as often as LP does; it does make a strong case for doing it on purpose. On the other hand; I love it when he screws Scrooge in crashing the plane so screw Mr. McD.

This sudden concern about being a "crashaholic" is a bit strange in view of the fatalistic view taken by Launchpad in "Top Duck."  I thought that destiny drove LP to crash?  Perhaps, like Sen-Sen in "The Duck Who Would Be King," he has suddenly come to the subconscious that "it never hurts to help [destiny] along"?

(Greg) Scrooge has to lean forward harshly to get the old red ribbon book and that rips the arms of his coat which he swears in DUBBED SCOTTISH STYLE (Curse me kilts!) and blows off disposable coat makers.

And, of course, the coat never shows any damage again.  Given that Scrooge would have gone after the Fleece regardless of whether or not he actually NEEDED a new coat, this incident seems entirely pointless.

(Greg) We find out [Launchpad] has been involved in 3,876 crashes.

Based on this figure and the one cited in "Duck to the Future," either Launchpad got better at avoiding crashes as he aged, or he simply started flying less: 4,892 - 3,876 = 1,016 means that LP crashed barely more than a thousand times between "The Golden Fleecing" and "Future," in which he's reached old age.  Of course, the "future" in "Future" was a possible "future," so that larger figure may not be accurate.

(Greg) Scrooge and the boys manage to get out of the cave (huh?! How in the world did that occur?) and they get on the Bicycle Chopper (it was just sitting there in plain sight all this time? I hate magical objects) to flee. The nephews of course don't leave. Why? Because they have to save Launchpad and lose the Golden Fleece silly. Scrooge of course blows him off because it's every Fleece for himself and that gets the boys mad and asking questions about Scrooge's sanity. I think Scrooge has Gold Fever again and it's a mild form that is undetectable. The harpies then fly out of the cave along with Anna holding Launchpad. WHAT THE HELL?! How did she get into the cave?! Logic break #4 for the episode and the first one I don't accept. Man; why does TMS still have Wuzzles syndrome? 

K&W may have been so eager to get to the climactic chase scene(s) that they failed to think the logistics of these scenes through.

Next: Episode 47, "Down and Out in Duckburg."

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 45, "Luck O' The Ducks"

I can actually recall the specific circumstances under which I first watched "Luck O' The Ducks."  It was Thanksgiving Day of 1987, and I was sitting in the basement of the old (well, it certainly is now...) Barat family manse in Wilmington, having just ingested a huge (though modest compared to the feasts served up at Bud's Silver Run) holiday meal.  I must have overdid it, for I wrote the parenthetical comment "Burpin' turkey all through it!" while taking my handwritten episode notes.  I was less than impressed with the episode, and the state of my digestive tract didn't exactly ameliorate my state of mind.  Both GeoX and Greg were able to reach their decidedly negative conclusions about the quality of this "Emerald Isle" romp without any such physical stimuli, though GeoX did mention something about vomiting.  I don't think "Luck" is quite that bad, but there's more than enough lameness here to cause even the stoutest of stomachs to quiver a bit.

I regard this episode as one of DuckTales' great lost opportunities.  Carl Barks never sent the Ducks to Ireland for an adventure, and not many European creators seem to have tried to do so, either (here is one exception, which might have turned up in a Gemstone pocket book at some point had the titles lasted longer).  There is obvious potential in an Irish Duck story that incorporates Irish legends, myths, and, of course, treasure, in fun and believable ways.  Think of what Don Rosa was able to mine out of the Finnish Kalevala.  Given a completely open playing field to work with, writer Michael O'Mahony lets the ball (either rugby or "football," take your pick) bounce out of bounds, packing the episode with "Oirish" stereotypes galore.  In truth, the shifty leprechaun Fardoragh (Frank Welker) and pint-sized King Brian (Billy Barty) are the least problematic of these elements.  You might argue that "real" leprechauns are more like the sadistic, violent pixie seen in this movie and its sequels than they are the cuddly-cute Fardoragh, but at least O'Mahony was paying some attention here, in the sense that "Fardoragh" is a real Gaelic word meaning "black."  Likewise, King Brian might be considered a tribute to the legendary Irish king Brian Boru.  Welker and Barty both give very energetic performances and make these characters enjoyable in spite of their childish aspects.  The "headless horseman" and Banshee aren't all that bad, either, though, as Greg pointed out, one could hardly expect a chest of drawers to keep a ghost out of a room, even in the DuckTales world.

Alas, O'Mahony can't control himself when it comes to jackhammering home the "Hey, gang, WE'RE IN IRELAND!!!" message, subjecting Launchpad to one of his most humiliating roles in the series in the process.  The green plane and lepra-costume are silly enough...

... but the clumsily staged Irish jig sequence is acutely embarrassing...

... and I think I'll let this last image pass without comment, for LP's sake.

I suppose that this business would have been more palatable had LP previously displayed a habit of dressing up to fit the setting he was in (much as the original plans for Dale in Rescue Rangers cast him as a "master of disguise" who liked to wear crazy "themed" hats).  Instead, it simply comes OUT OF NOWHERE and adds to the distinct feeling that this is an episode that is purposely "written down" to juvenile mentalities.  The contrast to what a "Quest for Kalevala"-like approach to the subject matter might have given us is heartbreaking.

Launchpad is fortunate in one respect in this ep: he gets some things to do, even though they are pretty idiotic.  The Nephews don't even get that much.  Honestly, for all HD&L contribute to the episode, they might as well have been left behind while Scrooge, LP, Webby, and Fardoragh flew to the "Emerald Isle."  They whiz away their one moment of "responsibility" by falling asleep while on guard duty; otherwise, they're just hanging around... or lying around with a somewhat unexpected bedfellow:

I believe that this is the only time in the series when Scrooge and the boys are in the same bed.  Please alert me to any other cases.

The portrayal of Scrooge here, of course, is straight out of the "Occupy Duckburg" playbook.  Of course, greed is part of Scrooge's character and always has been.  Rarely, however, has it been presented with such a comprehensive lack of subtlety.  We get the infamous dollar-sign eye-flash not once, not twice, but THREE times, just to make sure we completely understand that Scrooge is, ya know, greedy.  I wonder whether there is some sort of correlation between the number of D.S.E.F.'s in a $CROOGE story and the story's rating on inDucks.  If there were one, then I imagine that the correlation would be negative. 

The portrayal of Scrooge has the additional negative effect of displacing what should have been the climax of the story, the moment at which Scrooge realizes the error of his grasping ways.  As Scrooge exults over reaching "his" Golden Caverns, Fardoragh laments the impending loss of the leprechauns' "heritage" -- a point of view that the "real" Scrooge certainly should be able to appreciate, given the importance that he attaches to the story of how he amassed his fortune.  Had Scrooge's greed grown "naturally" over the course of the story, as opposed to being telegraphed right at the start, then this scene could have made for a really powerful turning point.  Instead, O'Mahony is obliged to wind up the "Webby's friendship with Fardoragh" subplot, depicting Webby as unreasonably gullible in the process, and therefore makes Scrooge's reformation a lot more contrived than it needed to be.  The viewer winds up feeling rather like Scrooge after he has been "saved from having a terrible day."

I'd peg Webby's performance here at a notch or two below the one seen in "Back Out in the Outback" insofar as the "cuteness factor" goes.  It's a shame that she didn't carry some of her reticence about befriending Australian animals in the latter ep into her initial encounter with Fardoragh.  Instead, she's literally defending him before she even knows anything about him (apart from the fact that he's threatened to "do an Irish jig" on the Ducks' faces if they come any closer).  Once he starts calling her "Princess," the (non-Irish) jig is up, and she snaps into the "Fardoragh is my friend!" mindset that she'll maintain for the remainder of the episode.  At times, you almost have to agree with the kvetching Scrooge that Webby is a bit foolish to be accepting Fardoragh at face value in such an unquestioning way.

The relationship between Webby and Fardoragh does provide us with one moment that I can honestly describe as heartwarming, during the scene in the bedroom that I will forever remember as "the curlers sequence."  Webby's solicitous behavior towards Fardoragh, and Fardoragh's grateful responses, are very well played by Welker and Russi Taylor.  In an episode noteworthy for its ham-handedness, I appreciated the lighter touch on display here.  For sure, I got more emotional sustenance out of these moments than I did from the over-the-top scene in which Webby gives her "wonderful" friend a four-leaf clover and Fardoragh promptly breaks down and bawls. 

So what else did O'Mahony get right here?  Well, his dialogue, in all honesty, isn't half bad.  Sure, you have to dock him some points for Launchpad's "Crasharoonie!", but a good deal of the byplay is enjoyable, considering that it is being used in the service of a simplistic plot.  The pace of the ep, especially in the early stages, is sprightly; we jump from the Money Bin to the streets of Duckburg to the construction site, and the dialogue complements the slapstick-flavored doings reasonably well.  The scenes in the Golden Caverns are nicely atmospheric... and I, for one, thought that the use of the giant potato as a booby trap was a hoot.  The rest of the ep is so cut-and-dried that an absurd gag such as this was all the more welcome.

Despite its handful of good points, "Luck O' The Ducks" is among the less inspired of DuckTales episodes, exuding a palpable "assembly line" scent.  Rescue Rangers' "The Last Leprechaun" and Gummi Bears' "Gummis Just Want to Have Fun" weren't much better, so there's at least a possibility that a "leprechaun curse" may be involved.





(Greg) Scrooge and the nephews dive in and in a scene that contradicts the logic they were shooting for; the nephews dive in as if the gold was water like Scrooge's. I thought we proved in GoldenSuns episode #5 that the nephews cannot do that spot? 

Perhaps Scrooge finally gave in and initiated the youngsters into the arcane mystery that is money-diving.  Against this, of course, you have to weigh his refusal to teach Launchpad the same trick in "Duck in the Iron Mask."  Perhaps Scrooge reasoned, "I dinna know whether you can crash a bin full of money, but I'm not aboot to take the chance!"

(Greg) Ducktales was [Billy Barty]'s only DTVA credit and in fact the only other Disney credit was The Rescuers Down Under movie. 

Barty also appeared in the Gummi Bears episode "A Recipe for Trouble."  That one wasn't any great shakes, either.

(Greg)  We then get another sky shot of the snake [pit] and then we go to floor shot as we see the babyfaces sitting on the edge. Okay; WHAT THE HELL IS THIS SUPPOSED TO ACCOMPLISH HERE?! Now if the idea was to have the snakes use their tongue to tickle their feet; then this spot would work except that the snake are about 12-15 feet below the babyfaces. And LP shoes are still on. How in the world is this supposed to be torture for their crimes? Just sitting there and watching the snakes hiss? I'm supposed to take this seriously? 

Yeah, teasing torture without delivering, even in a humorous sense, is pretty questionable -- but not as bad as...

(Greg) Brian goes to the window as [Fardoragh] tries to escape; but Brian grabs his ankle and throws him down onto the floor and demands answers from the infamous liar. That makes Brian the most over character in the episode; bad plot thread be damned. [Fardoragh] bounces off Brian's belly and admits that he had to because they were going to tar and feather him with their own feathers...  Brian decides then not to feed them to the snakes (WHAT?! That is lame to the extreme!) and instead they will have a party thrown in their honor. Oh god; this episode just made less sense now. 

This switch really was clumsy, with no justification being given for Brian's change of heart at all.  I don't see how the story editors could have allowed O'Mahony to get away with this.

(Greg)  Okay; so we cut to the well as Scrooge is wearing various jewelry on himself as he and [Fardoragh] are climbing up the well...  And of course he's tired as hell and somehow he throws everything down into the hole below. D'OH! This guy needs Wii Fit STAT!

The funny thing here is that Scrooge claims that he's "not as strong before [he] became a multi-zulti-zillionaire" while he's climbing up a dark shaft with no equipment or other assistance whatsoever.  Heck, he's even able to save Fardoragh with relatively little trouble when the latter loses his grip and falls.  Methinks Scrooge is selling himself short here.  Perhaps his burgeoning greed has given him enhanced powers not normally granted to multi-zulti-zillionaires.

Next: Episode 46, "The Golden Fleecing."

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Book Review: THE COMPLETE DICK TRACY, VOLUME 15: 1953-54 by Chester Gould (IDW/Library of American Comics, 2013)

It's hard to argue Max Allan Collins' points in the Introduction to this latest TRACY collection that (1) the villains on display are not exactly what you would call "inspired" and (2) Gould appears to be both repeating recent plot tropes and trying to make lightning strike more than once in terms of introducing exploitable new characters.  That's not to say that innovation, of a sort, can't be found here; you just have to be more diligent than usual in searching it out.

Our cover boy, 3-D Magee, doesn't seem to have a lot going for him apart from the "goofy glasses" that represent his only real connection to the contemporary 3-D movie fad.  He and his female partner Pony engage in a lengthy and occasionally tedious scheme to extort money from B.O. Plenty's rich oilman brother Uncle Kincaid (aka "Uncle Canhead").  (What was it about the early 50s that inspired comics creators to dote so heavily on wealthy characters?  First Uncle Scrooge, then Richie Rich, and now "Canhead.")  The fact that the subplot to this story involves "Canhead" (who resembles a cross between a shorn B.O., Popeye, and Harry Truman) building the Plenty family a bathroom tells you all you need to know about the level of inspiration involved.  However, Magee does merit notice in one respect: Despite the Irish surname and the appetite for giant mounds of spaghetti, he is pretty clearly the strip's first major (or semi-major, even) Hispanic villain.  He hails from Peru and is an expert knife-thrower (where did the idea that Hispanics excelled at chucking sharp cutlery originate, I wonder, and where did it disappear to?).  In a sense, the Magee continuity is a precursor to Gould's more elaborate Havana continuity of the late 50s.

Among Magee's nefarious deeds is an attempt to paralyze Sparkle Plenty and her new "sister" Little Wingy by sicking poisonous Peruvian ants on them.  Unfortunately, this is not the girls' only traumatic experience during this period.  Following an "eh" continuity starring jewel crook Open-Mind Monty (so-called because he carries a supposed piece of a knife stuck in his forehead) and featuring an attempt to con an inheritance out of a dying rich man (AGAIN with the rich people!), Sparkle and Wingy are swept away into the wild by a flood.  This is an obvious effort to replay elements of both the Crewy Lou/Bonnie Braids Tracy and Tonsils/Mr. Crime continuities from 1951-52, complete with a mysterious backwoods figure (in this case, the blind sharpshooter Rainbow Reilly) who helps the good guys.  Gould appears to have eventually had second thoughts about the repeated "child endangerment" plots, because they more or less fade away after this one.  Instead, he will pitch into a short period of "villain comeback" stories, starting with the resurrection of the supposedly drowned Mumbles.  Those stories could also be considered "cheaters" of a sort, but at least they're more energetic than the relatively pallid ones on display here.

There seems to be a noticeable amount of cheese-paring in this volume when it comes to the by-now-expected extras.  There is no text feature following the last strip, and the "Previously in DICK TRACY..." writeup leading into the first strip is also absent.  I'm more concerned about the latter omission, since it gives new readers (and there's always a chance that such individuals exist) no clue as to what came before.  At least Collins continues to provide interesting insights in his Introductions, which also feature a wide variety of TRACY ephemera.