Saturday, January 24, 2015

Back at Hopkins

Last night, I was admitted to the Johns Hopkins Transplant Ward (the same place where I stayed after my transplant surgery).  I've been bothered by fluish symptoms off and on ever since the beginning of the year.  When my white blood cell and platelet counts suddenly became abnormally low, my post transplant nephrologist asked me to check in.  That way, they can keep better tabs on me as they shuffle through several possible viruses that might have piggybacked onto the original flu.

Obviously, this 11th hour complication, with the Spring Term starting on Monday, has me profoundly depressed.  I haven't been able to comment on the first concrete news about the IDW Disney comics, either (though I have reacted on other people's sites).  Thankfully, I am feeling much better today and am confident that the doctors will be able to find out the truth before too much longer.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

DUCKTALES Fanfic Review: "The Sincere Fraud" by "Commander"

Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in. -- Robert Frost

Of course, what happens AFTER they take you in is often the most interesting part...

I'm back with another DuckTales fanfic focus... and the angst is STRONG with this one!  Thankfully, DuckTales doesn't appear to have inspired nearly as many of these soul-sucking fics as, let's say, Chip and Dale's Rescue Rangers (does anyone remember the concept of "Gadget-gouging"?  If not, then be thankful) or Darkwing Duck (the Gosalyn-Drake relationship was always rife with potential for emotional exploitation, and numerous writers have taken advantage).  The TV series simply didn't provide sufficient raw material for the introduction of soap-opera elements.  With THE LIFE AND TIMES OF $CROOGE McDUCK still well in the future, the show's explorations of Scrooge's past were comparatively straightforward, and they focused almost entirely on his individual exploits.  The Nephews and Webby were too young to enter "the dating zone" and similar locales where adolescent Weltschmerz might have a chance to get its hooks into them.  As for Launchpad, he was primarily concerned with where his next crash was coming from.

Of the main cast of DuckTales, Fenton Crackshell came the closest to experiencing some legitimate angst, thanks to his occasionally rocky relationship with Gandra Dee, the demands of his "M'Ma," and his struggles to reconcile his "normal" and superheroic identities.  However, these experiences  were generally played for laughs.  The mere fact that such stories were attempted with Fenton indicates just how promising a character he was... and what a shame it was that he was left abandoned on a metaphorical siding following the TV series' shutdown, with no further opportunities to build upon the ideas that had already been introduced.

The prolific fanfic writer "Commander" appears to have reasoned, logically enough, that, in order to introduce any heavy-duty emotional dynamics into the world of DuckTales as a whole, the characters would have to be pushed forward in time.  OK, I know what many of you must already be thinking...

... and, yes, HD&L are thrust into middle school in the epic under discussion here, but there's little indication that "Commander" was influenced in any meaningful way by Quack Pack.  During the traumatizing events of "The Sincere Fraud, " the boys are anything but ironically detached snark-dealers. 

"Commander" apparently planned to write a whole series of fics set in his personal version of the DT "universe" -- which turns out to be a mixture of the world of the TV series and his own take on Don Rosa's LATO$M timeline -- but "The Sincere Fraud" turned out to be the only major product that survived the vagaries of time and the demands of "real life."  He did, however, manage to set the table for the story in the reminiscence tale "Sepia Tone," which basically consists of the seven-year-old Louie finding an old family album and asking Scrooge to tell him about some of his and his brothers' "foreducks."  It's a pretty quick read, and I encourage you to give it a look if you get the chance, but here's a summary of the significant takeaways.  Some of them will be quite familiar, some not so much.

(1)  The McDuck siblings, in order of age: Scrooge, Matilda, Hortense (as per Rosa).

(2) Matilda married Ludwig Von Drake (as per the Rosa Family Tree) and died young.  Scratch "A Letter from Home" (preferably, while shedding a silent tear or two).

(3) Hortense married Quackmore, and they had Donald and Della two years apart.  That is, Donald and Della were not twins.  This fact actually turns out to be rather significant.

(4)  Quackmore joined the Navy during World War II and died in action when Donald was nine years old.  Since Donald was a "Mama's boy" and never really that close to his Dad, that was what really motivated him to join the Navy... AND, more than that, to make the service an actual career.

(5)  Della was the proverbial "bad seed," getting into repeated, and increasingly serious, trouble as a youngster and developing a knack for conning people into making them do what she wanted them to do.  In the process, she also developed a bad feud with her older brother Donald.  Don's original intention, to keep her from running completely off the "road of life," was actually a good one, but he ultimately got so angry at her that he came to believe that he had always hated her.  For her part, Della resented Donald trying to butt into her life, and he similarly assumed the role of a monster in her own troubled mind. Della ultimately got knocked up by someone or other -- I'm guessing that the picture of Della's anonymous mate on the Rosa Family Tree is meant to be a generic composite; if so, then it's probably an overly flattering one -- and had her triplets, Huey, Dewey, and Louie.
 Idealized portrayal of Duck relationship #1

(6) Incapable of supporting herself, yet desperate to provide for her kids, Della tried to rob a bank and was arrested and sentenced to 15 years in prison.  The Nephews, who by that time were three years old, were subsequently transferred over to Donald's care.  The famous 1938 DONALD DUCK Sunday strip that introduced HD&L is therefore in error in at least one respect: The document that was sent to Donald to inform him of the transfer was probably a lot more formal than a simple handwritten note.

(7)  At the age of five -- yes, you read that right -- Donald joined the Navy, and HD&L came to live with their next closest relative, Scrooge.  Commence the events of DuckTales.  IF you can buy the idea of the Nephews being that young at the start of "Don't Give Up the Ship," then this actually explains a lot about why the characters act the way they do during the "dock scene."  As I noted in my review of that episode, it is quite clear that the Ducks of "Ship" do not know one another all that well, and it is therefore next to impossible to imagine them sharing any joint adventures between the time Donald assumed charge of the Nephews and the time he left to go to sea.  Heck, even if they had wanted to have an adventure, there was hardly enough time for them to do so!

Take a moment to consider the consequences of this setup.  "Commander"'s interpretation takes the events of "Don't Give Up the Ship," and subsequently of DuckTales, as being the TRUE Duck "canon," at least in an adventurous sense.  Any previous tales told by Barks (basically, the only Duck-bard who was relevant at the time of DT's debut) are hereby rendered null and void... EVEN THE ONES in which Donald and HD&L went on adventures all by themselves!  We're dealing with the cleanest of whiteboards here!

(8)  Webby was three years old when she and her "grammy" came to live with Scrooge and HD&L.  Despite Webby's occasionally "childish" behavior, that age also seems a little low.  Perhaps young Ducks mature at a quicker rate than humans of a similar age.  (If nothing else, then their memories improve quickly; HD&L do not have any clear memories of their mother, but, in the span of two years, their memories are suddenly working on roughly the same level as a typical adult's.)

Flash forward a decade or so.  Scrooge is older and creakier, and he now allows himself the luxury of a day off every week (gasp!), but he remains feisty and driven.  HD&L are now 14, are in eighth grade, and have developed very distinct personalities.  Webby is 12, is in sixth grade, is about to start dating, and may also harbor a secret crush on Dewey.  Mrs. Beakley, sad to say, is in a nursing home with Alzheimer's disease, and Scrooge has become Webby's legal guardian.  Donald is still in the Navy, albeit on leave, and Daisy is pushing him to finally "pop the question" (about time, don'tcha think?). 


THE STORY:  Having secured an early release from prison for good behavior -- or what would pass as such for a character with a temperament that's just as explosive as Donald's -- Della comes to McDuck Mansion in search of a fresh start... and, perhaps, some assistance from Scrooge to help her get her life back on track.  The Nephews have very different reactions to her.  "Troubled kid" Huey is suspicious of her motives, partially because he sees himself in her but doesn't want to end up like her. "Intellectual" Dewey tries to weigh the available evidence and maintain some objectivity.  "Optimistic, sensitive, and creative" Louie, meanwhile, embraces the idea that his Mom has returned and accepts her wholeheartedly.  When Donald proposes to Daisy and is turned down (for a presumed "lack of sincerity" -- sheesh, even Barks' Daisy never came close to being THAT fickle!), Donald has a mental breakdown that requires him to be cared for by Scrooge.  With Donald and Della now forced to be in close proximity, their long-standing feud flares up, in the manner of a particularly wince-inducing hemorrhoid.  When Ludwig von Drake calls from Europe to check in with Scrooge, the increasingly stressed tycoon jumps at the chance to invite Ludwig to his mansion, where the prof will be able to provide some much-needed therapy for Donald and Della.  Alas, Huey chooses this moment to explode in frustration at his role as the "put-upon," least favored Duck triplet, and he chooses his "cousin by adoption," the "perfect porcelain doll" Webby, as his primary target.  Events finally come to a head when Donald and Della get into an ugly fight at a restaurant at the same time that Scrooge, beset by familial dysfunction, finds himself at the mental -- and, more importantly, the physical -- breaking point.  Can this family be saved?...

PLOT:  The unraveling and subsequent reraveling of the Duck family.  That's pretty much all that happens.  (*** out of *****)

One of the problems with "angstfics" is that there is usually quite a lot going on -- of the emotional variety, anyway -- but nothing is actually happening.  To his credit, "Commander" doesn't completely succumb to this trap.  We only hear about Donald's post-turndown breakdown at second hand, from the policemen who come to tell Scrooge about the incident, but the restaurant ruckus is "on screen" and is appropriately nasty, complete with cursing and knives wielded with deadly intent.  Adding to the noxious atmosphere is the fact that Donald had been on a blind date and had been confronted and dressed down by an angry Daisy before Della even got there, making Don's reaction to Della's subsequent arrival all the more malicious.  (You may wonder why Daisy should even care that Donald has plunged back into the dating whirl, given that she had turned down Don's proposal.  Sorry, I got nothin'.)  Apart from this one ugly scene, "Commander" basically sticks to dialogue scenes (frequently involving arguments) and uses very little action. 

I know that there are those who love this sort of thing.  I typically don't count myself among their ranks.  At least "Commander"'s dialogue scenes are usually well-written and, given the characterizations that he has chosen to use here, generally believable.  They're just somewhat painful to read through at times.

CHARACTERIZATION"All over the map" doesn't begin to cover it.  (***1/2 out of *****)

There's no denying it... some of "Commander"'s decisions on characterization here are a little tough to stomach.  Take Huey, now... he's basically a complete asshole.  He "acts out" in school, breaks curfew, bullies the more passive Louie into spying on Scrooge and "his mysterious visitor" (Della), and pelts Webby with crudely sexist insults even before he verbally attacks her (and is apparently also ready to SLUG her!!) for being the cute little "favored child."  He's like the egocentric Huey of Quack Pack with the amp set at "11."  It's hard for me to believe, as "Commander" suggests (through the medium of Huey's thoughts), that Huey got to be this way because of some school pranks that just got out of hand.  There's a definite suggestion of something uglier having been there under the surface all along.  That thought kind of disturbs me.

Donald and Della, whose feud is sufficiently nasty to render them both as contemptible as Huey from the start, nonetheless wind up faring a bit better in the long run.  We all know about Donald's legendary (and supposedly "hilarious") temper, and Don did have a few minor blowups during his infrequent appearances on DT, but his outbursts here seem uncomfortably... realistic.  We are led to believe that the authorities may have had a point in examining Don at the psychiatric hospital before releasing him into the care of Scrooge.   To his credit, though, Donald rallies after Scrooge's cardiac event, pulls himself together, and even manages to make up with and become engaged to Daisy before the end.  (Daisy... fickle.  Just saying.  Actually, the reconciliation is handled very well, with both characters admitting that they will inevitably have arguments as husband and wife, yet deciding to get married anyway.  That's what makes a marriage work... the partners recognizing and accepting one another's flaws while, at the same time, cherishing the more meaningful feelings that drew them together in the first place.)

"Commander," of course, has more direct control over the characterization of Della, and he basically opts for the "female version of Donald" notion... the difference being that Della's temper has tended to have much more serious consequences in her life than Donald's has had in his.  This is why Della suffers through such despair after her fight with Donald at the restaurant gets them both tossed in jail.  She had been making some progress with Ludwig's help and now appears to have tossed it all away.  This was the first moment at which I legitimately felt bad for Della and hoped that she would, indeed, get control of herself and reform.  She subsequently earns additional points by deciding to leave Scrooge's mansion, move into a homeless shelter, and pick up the pieces of her life without being a burden on others.  (In response, Scrooge allows her to keep her job as a janitor at the Money Bin, despite all the problems she's caused.)  The change of heart comes very late in the game, and after Della had amassed a pretty sizable likability deficit, but at least she winds up making some progress, and I do appreciate that.

Idealized portrayal of Duck relationship #2

The rest of the gang is characterized fairly well.  Scrooge is Scrooge, albeit with a few thousand miles extra on him, and Webby is a reasonable advancement of the DT character to the lip of adolescence.  (Webby's "desperate" desire to be accepted at her new school does strike me as a little extreme, though.  Why haven't all of those adventures with Scrooge and the boys given her more self-confidence?)  Ludwig von Drake's bubbly enthusiasm provides a nice counterweight to all of the troubles swirling around him.  He can't completely escape the imperatives of an angstfic -- he is still clearly affected by Matilda's early death -- but he serves as a welcome voice of reason, and his psychiatric dissection of Donald and Della is far more adept than, say, his semi-comical analysis of Launchpad in the DT version of "The Golden Fleecing."  In a sidebar, "Commander" says that Ludwig is one of his favorite Duck characters, and his affection for the loquacious polymath is on clear display.

I also admit to being quite taken with the characterizations of Dewey and Louie.  Dewey is an intellectual with a heart; he wants to be supportive of others but prefers to get as many facts as he can about the case before committing himself.  Thus, he learns that Webby's "big first date" was a disappointment and immediately moves to comfort and counsel her, but he reserves passing final judgment on Della until he becomes more familiar with her.  Louie, meanwhile, is akin to the sensitive-souled kid of Quack Pack who wanted to protect "pugduddies" and such.  The difference is that he is even more trusting and optimistic.

HOMEWORK:   Only relevant when it comes to Duck Family Tree material. (N/A out of *****)

These are basically "Commander"'s own future versions of the characters, so it's not all that surprising that he does not refer to any of the TV episodes.

WRITING AND HUMORThe story is very well-written.  The humor is... well, quirky, for lack of a better word.  (***1/2 out of *****)

"Commander" has an odd way of slipping humor into unlikely places in the narrative.  When two policemen come to inform Scrooge of Donald's breakdown, one of them inexplicably starts acting like a character in a goofy cop comedy:

"Can I tell the story, officer?" asked the other policeman, younger and more hyper than his supervisor.

The older one sighed.  "Go ahead, Korwitz..."

Korwitz spread his arms out dramatically, as if about to begin an epic tale.  "Dateline, Duckburg, eight o'clock last night!  Location, the Dragon's Head restaurant, 825 L Street!  Incident, a broken-hearted Duck goes crazy, overturning tables and eating napkins!  Cloth napkins, not the paper kind!"

Considering that Scrooge, because of the return of Della, is already on edge as this scene begins, this strikes me as not exactly the most opportune time to shoehorn in some (rather forced) comedy relief.  Later, when HD&L and Webby visit Scrooge at the hospital, we get an awkward exchange that I think was supposed to pass for some manner of humor, in which Scrooge teases the youngsters' assuming responsibility for his hospital bill... or, barring that, his insurance premiums. Unnecessary cheapness gags during a family-wide crisis?  Not a smart editorial move.

QUESTIONABLE MATERIALOccasional curse words, though none of the REALLY bad ones, and argument scenes that are sometimes difficult to endure.  Plus, one fairly nasty fight scene.


This one is definitely a matter of taste.  If you don't like watching the Ducks -- even slightly altered versions of same -- bickering like a hypercaffeinated version of The Fantastic Four, then I would suggest that you avoid.  If you're curious, or if you're indifferent to the notion of mutual Duck-breaking, then you're extremely unlikely to find a better version of the DuckTales angstfic anywhere in Googleworld captivity, so have a look.

NEXT FANFIC UP: Time for the Big Kahuna, the Top Boss, the Meat Grinder.  "DuckTales: 20 Years Later."  You'll definitely have to be patient with me on this one.  It's 125,000 words long, it features multiple crossovers, and a WHOLE honkin' load of stuff -- some of it quite untidy -- comes down in the process.  I may even have to break the review into several parts: one setting the stage by describing the world in which the story takes place, the other examining the story itself.  So as not to tease my reading public unnecessarily, I will not announce the review's impending arrival(s?) until I am just about finished with the project.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Comics Review: MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDS FOREVER #13 (January 2015, IDW Publishing)

To date, IDW's MY LITTLE PONY comics have done reasonably well by a number of characters who have either been undeveloped or underdeveloped in the TV series... which is why I was particularly interested in seeing what Jeremy Whitley and Agnes Garbowska would do with the second four-color coming of Babs Seed.  Babs' first comics appearance, in MLP #21-22, pushed her characterization a considerable distance down the track, but it also may have taken a few too many liberties in its sudden expansion of Babs' problem-solving abilities.  For Babs to progress from the somewhat insecure filly that lay underneath the "bully" surface in "One Bad Apple" to the hard-boiled junior detective who cracked the "Manehattan Mystery" and cleared Trixie's "good mane" (such as it is) required a certain suspension of disbelief.  Happily, the Babs of FF #13 is back to being a little more of a passive, slightly bewildered character -- though not incapable of taking a stand when she has to -- and thus works quite well with the self-confident Rarity.  Though the plot owes more than a small debt to the classic episode "Sisterhooves Social," with Rarity learning yet another lesson about the importance of "give and take" in dealing with a young'un, the conflict simmers at a much lower temperature, and Rarity doesn't have to go to such extreme lengths in order to put what she has learned into practice.


Thanks to a thimbleful of contrivance -- namely, Sweetie Belle getting sick and being unable to accompany her sister on a business trip to Manehattan, where Sweetie was looking forward to reconnecting with Babs -- Rarity finds herself shepherding Babs around the town.  (Rarity momentarily, and self-consciously, puts aside some impending work in order to do so, in order that Babs will not leave disappointed because of Sweetie's absence.  Considering that Rarity barely knows Babs, this is a subtle but welcome reminder of her generous nature.)  Regarding Babs as a sort of equina rasa on which to work her fashionista magic, Rarity is soon consumed with the notion of giving Babs a makeover.  Babs becomes less and less enamored with the idea and finally takes her leave, albeit with no histrionics.  It's pretty clear that Babs likes Rarity well enough; she just doesn't think that their lives have very much in common. Thanks to a talk with her client, the "Pony of Pop" Sapphire Shores, Rarity quickly realizes that she's been too concerned with "her own fashion and sense of style" to pay sufficient attention to Babs' more rough-hewn, "citified" idea of a good time.  She uses her behind-the-scenes pull to treat Babs to a roller derby (hence the cover), and the two finally bond. 

Simple, but effective, this is.  I suppose that I should be annoyed that Rarity didn't completely internalize her epiphany in "Sisterhooves Social," but dealing with a sibling and dealing with a relative stranger involve very different emotional dynamics.  Rarity is more puzzled than emotionally distraught as a result of Babs' unenthusiastic reaction to the makeover, but, true to her nature, she is determined to do right by Babs, and she ultimately does so.

Agnes Garbowska manipulates her static little dolls to pretty good effect here, though there are a couple of places in which a little artistic dynamism would definitely have helped.  I can only imagine what one of the more daring MLP artists would have done with the roller-derby action sequences, or with the obsessed manedresser pony who is bound and determined to cut off Babs' long bang (the one that Babs is seen repeatedly blowing out of her eyes).  There are also a few flareups of the seemingly inevitable "Repetitive Panel Syndrome."  I did, however, like the running gag of Babs being "pulled off panel" by an overly excited Rarity.  Needless to say, Babs gets to turn the tables before all is said and done.

The same creative crew will be handling FF #14, which will feature a teamup of Spike and Princess Luna.  There's a pleasing consistency in this, in that Garbowska also drew the Spike-Celestia joint in FF #3.  I'm hoping for livelier things from the Spike-Luna pairing, and at least one of the issue's covers -- which appears to be, of all things, a "hardboiled detective" parody of the "then, the tall, dark knockout of an alicorn sauntered into my office" variety -- suggests that I may get my wish.

Off-the-Rack Genies

I got the new DuckTales: The Movie DVD in the mail this afternoon, and the very first thing that struck me was how appallingly small-timey it looked.  The artwork for the sleeve of the VHS release, while nowhere close to the quality of the original DT:TM theatrical poster, was appealingly dynamic, with an appropriately menacing background hint as to the villainous nature of the main antagonist:

The "Disney Club exclusive" DVD release gave us the poster itself, or, at least, a generous hunk of same:

The new DVD case, by contrast, places us in the middle of a field of "posies" (Webby actually looks like she's praying, there) and shunts the Merlock shadow off to the side, where its impact is far less and it is also slightly more difficult to see.  Of course, the Genie didn't appear until long after the Ducks had returned to Duckburg... and since when did he lack feet?  I'm getting some unsettling flashbacks of the live-action Casper movie right now.

In an era in which Disney DVD trumpets releases (or, in some cases, re-releases) of its theatrical features with various metallic superlatives (Silver Edition, Golden Edition, Platinum Edition, etc.), what does it say about its attitude towards this release that it is simply designated as "DVD"?  From a modern video-marketing perspective, this is the equivalent of Pathmark's "No Frills" packaging of the 1970 and 1980s.  Actually, Disney DVD's labeling is the more redundant.  Pathmark had to let you know what was inside those starkly designed cans and bottles, whereas any fool who saw the DT:TM DVD sitting on a shelf along with a bunch of other DVDs could certainly be expected to deduce that it WAS, in fact, a DVD.

To be completely fair, there IS an "extra" included on the disc: a "Find Scrooge McDuck's Treasure" game.  Even this, however, seems to have simply been imported from the Disney Movie Club release.

At least I've got a DVD of this thing at long last, without having to join a "club."  That modest accomplishment will have to be sufficient, however.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Book Review: WALT DISNEY'S UNCLE $CROOGE AND DONALD DUCK: THE DON ROSA LIBRARY, VOLUME 2 by Don Rosa (Fantagraphics Press, 2014)

The "challenging" years of 1988-1990 found Don Rosa slowly and laboriously polishing his craft while coping with various physical, financial, and corporate roadblocks that, at times, threatened to choke off his fledgling Duck comics career.  The fact that Rosa persevered through it all and managed to "come out the other side" in more or less one piece is certainly to his credit... and, intriguingly enough, just as some of Carl Barks' greatest stories were produced at a time when his life seemed to be coming apart, so too were several of Rosa's best-loved (yep, even to this day) tales crafted during his own "time of troubles."


Fittingly, taking pride of place on the cover is Rosa's first "formal" sequel to a Barks story, "Return to Plain Awful" (Gladstone DONALD DUCK ADVENTURES #12, May 1989).  In retrospect, Rosa did two very clever things in this story that lifted it above the status of a straightforward "Lost in the Andes" followup.  He hooked the tale, to as large an extent as possible, to events he himself had previously detailed in "Son of the Sun," and he explored the logical consequences of the Ducks' visit to the isolated Peruvian valley, reasoning that Donald and HD&L would have had as big an impact on the Plain Awfultonians' lives and habits as did the famed "Professah Rhutt Betlah."

As enjoyable as "Return" is, and continues to be, "His Majesty McDuck" (Gladstone UNCLE $CROOGE ADVENTURES #14, August 1989) is the more substantial and successful epic, one that still shows up on most everyone's "short lists" of the best Rosa adventures.  Certainly, its portrayal of Scrooge is far more nuanced than the one seen in "Return," in which, let us not forget, Scrooge is left to fume about the Plain Awfultonians' annoyingly "pure and untainted spirit" together with Flintheart Glomgold, the putative villain of the piece.  If anything, Scrooge starts "Majesty" in an even deeper moral hole, kvetching over giving his freezing employees a stick of wood or two for the Money Bin office's outdated wood stove.  He proceeds to burrow even deeper when he discovers an ingenious legal-historical loophole that allows him to set up his Money Bin and surrounding property as an independent country -- and demand billions in back taxes from the U.S. and Duckburgian governments as a result.  But, it is what Scrooge decides to do after he discovers the drawbacks of being a postage-stamp king that truly packs the punch here.  It's nothing less than the modern-day equivalent of the memorable last page of "Back to the Klondike"... and any time you can fairly compare a $CROOGE story to "Klondike" without making a stretch, you know that you're dealing with one heck of an effort.  The humor in "Majesty" is also top-notch at all levels, from the expected slapstick gags when the Beagle Boys try to invade "Unca King Scrooge"'s domain to the subtle dig at the pretensions of historical societies (i.e., the funny contrast between the hushed reverence at the Friends of Cornelius Coot Library and the semi-literate nature of the Coot documents that are housed in such forbidding splendor there).

Disney's 1988 directive to forbid the freelancing Rosa from getting back his original artwork was a powerful motivational force for a good deal of the work reprinted here.  Thankfully, Rosa's description of the decision isn't nearly as splenetic as I had feared; the passage of time has evidently cooled his temper considerably.  Instead, he spends more time simply describing the numerous ways in which he tried to supplement his suddenly lessened income.  This included illustrating other writers' scripts for the Dutch Disney publisher Oberon, writing a DuckTales story (which he dismisses with bothersome, but admittedly justified, condescension) for the DUCKTALES MAGAZINE, creating a "storyboard" for a special Duck story (which ultimately never appeared) for a Disney-MGM Studios theme park tie-in, and writing several scripts (with copious borrowings from Barks mixed in) for WDTVA's TaleSpin.  Personally, I'm sorry that Rosa never evinced interest in writing for DuckTales the TV series -- at least, not until after the show was out of production -- but, given his jaundiced view of the whole enterprise, it was probably better that his TV writing gig turned out to be for an entirely different WDTVA production.

The collection concludes with Rosa's early contribution to the brand-new Disney Comics line, "The Money Pit" (Disney DONALD DUCK ADVENTURES #1, June 1990).  It's pleasing to learn that Rosa produced this story, the script of which had originally been rejected by Gladstone, as a "good-faith work" in support of editor Bob Foster, to indicate that Rosa would still be willing to work directly for Disney Comics if the artwork-return policy were changed.  There's quite a bit of "soapbox scaling" in this story, with Rosa putting his own complaints about the silliness of comic-book collectors into Scrooge's beak, and a "Donald repentance" scene that's somewhat more "squishy" than the norm (HD&L even add an extra *snif* for good measure!).  But this tale has never looked better -- those ugly blue pupils of the Disney Comics printing are gone -- and it's probably the best of the short stories that appear here.  Surely, Donald is entirely to blame for the near-disaster that results from his greed-fueled course of action... unlike, say,  "The Curse of Nostrildamus" (UNCLE $CROOGE #235, July 1989), in which he is a pure victim of the titular torment.  Unfortunately, there would be many, many more victimizations of the "Nostrildamus" variety to come for Donald in Rosa's future stories.

Volume 3 will pick up with Rosa's triumphant return to American Disney comics... sadly, in the wake of the "Disney Implosion."

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Comics Review: MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #25-26 (IDW Publishing, November and December 2014)

What is it about "Wild West" themes and the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic franchise that causes the best of creative intentions to result in something... um, less than optimal?  The TV show's two stabs at Western stories -- season one's "Over a Barrel" and season two's "The Last Roundup" -- are generally not that highly thought of, though, for my own part, I found their biggest sins to be ones of dullness.  Katie Cook and Andy Price sent Rarity and Applejack on the Equestrian equivalent of a "West Coast road swing" during FRIENDS FOREVER #8, during which the "odd couple" took a stagecoach ride and dispatched a bunch of would-be cattle rustlers in the process, but it's hard to separate that incident from the issue's somewhat questionable (in my mind, at least) characterizations of the two "mane" principals.  During that story, one of the defeated rustlers did the "fourth wall" thing with the reading audience, informing them that the gang would be back in a future issue.  Well, here they are, terrorizing and extorting from a small town, like the "bullies" that they literally are. Everything seems to be in place for a good, new-fashioned Western parody.  Instead, we get, by far, THE single worst story that has been dished up in ANY of the IDW MLP comics... and, yes, that includes even the weakest of the defunct MICRO-SERIES offerings.  From Cook and Price, the bellcows of the entire MLP comics franchise?!  Unfortunately, yes.

This failure is basically on Katie Cook, almost 100%.  There's nothing at all wrong with Price's artwork.  Cook, however, seems to have forgotten rule number one about dealing with well-established characters: Never let the desire to tell a particular story tempt you into pulling one of the characters completely OUT of character in order to achieve the goal.  The damage that Cook inflicts in her handling of Twilight Sparkle here, combined with the problems we saw with Rarity and Applejack in FF #8, have combined to make me a little apprehensive about future stories by this creative duo.  Why is Cook suddenly having so much difficulty getting the "Mane 6"'s characterizations right?  And make no mistake, this was a BAD misstep... so much so, in fact, that some people immediately declared that they'd NEVER buy the comics again if the comics could get things THIS wrong.


Given her magical powers AND her status as an alicorn princess, you would think that Twilight would be well-equipped to help Applejack and her other friends handle an invasion of the tiny town of Canter Creek by the massive steer, Longhorn, and his beefy buddies.  Even if Twilight were too nice to get really rough with them, surely she could magically imprison them, or put a protective force field around the town and Applejack's Great Granduncle Chili Pepper's ranch, where the rustlers have squatted in Chili Pepper's absence.  Evidently, however, things are more... um, nuanced than that:

As I said before... there are many different ways in which Twilight could use her magic to neutralize the bad guys, none of which involve the use of lethal magical force.  For example, she could have tried flooding them out, using the same simple magic that she did when she and Rarity (!) knocked down a water tower in order to put out a barn fire that had been set by Longhorn and his meaty minions:

But, no... apparently, the rules for alicorns involve a liberal application of the old "Mutually Assured Destruction" doctrine from the Cold War years.  When it comes to using magic against either "sentient non-magical beings" or "Equestrian citizens" -- Cook doesn't seem to be certain as to which -- Twilight appears to think that there's no alternative between doing nothing and using overwhelming force.

The "logic" behind this... uh... operational paradigm is simply mind-boggling.  If you're a magically endowed villain, like Tirek in the season four finale "Twilight's Kingdom," then it's perfectly OK for Twilight to use any and all magical means to deter you, including... well, if there's a magical equivalent of advanced weaponry, then she certainly used it at some point during her battle with Tirek.

However, if you're a garden-variety, non-magical, "schemer/plotter" type villain, such as, say, The Phantom Blot... OK, I know that his "garden" is far more varied than most, but you get my point... then getting the best of Twilight and the other unicorns and alicorns of Equestria is cake.  Simply find some way to get yourself declared an Equestrian citizen, and then, violate laws with impunity.  St. Paul appealed to his Roman citizenship for a good cause, to demand a trial in Rome, so it would make perfect sense for a villain to use the same tactic for evil.  Actually, the Blot would probably go it one better and get himself attached to an embassy in Canterlot.  It's not as if he hasn't tried that before.

It would have been a simple matter for Cook to have written Twilight completely out of the story, letting her travel with Spike to the Pony Trek convention (now, there's one real-world Equestrian parallel that didn't need to exist...) and leaving Applejack to take the lead in fighting back against villains who have, after all, taken over HER relative's ranch.  In fact, that's what Applejack eventually does, picking up the defeated Sheriff Tumbleweed's discarded star at the end of MLP #25 and becoming the sheriff herself.  For AJ, this represents quite a nice bounceback from the "all ya gotta do to sell apples is sell apples" dumbitude that hamstrung her in FF #8.

The ponies' resulting plan to foil Longhorn, while it pleasantly brings to mind ideas from one of the most-beloved Western spoofs, isn't without its own share of nits.  It only works because Longhorn, having basically already won the battle, decides to figuratively "sweep around the telephone poles" and legally take control of Chili Pepper's ranch.  Uh, why?   Why do the "Mane 6" figure that it's all right to temporarily kidnap a clerk and impersonate a legal official in order to flummox Longhorn, right after Twilight had freaked out over the others trying to destroy Longhorn's (notarized) paperwork?  (Twilight definitely was schizophrenic in this story, wasn't she?)

At least Twilight puts her legalese where her magic normally is, when she zips off to Canterlot and returns with... no, not reinforcements, but a surefire legal way to allow her to finally use her magic against Longhorn.  (Of course, it requires Longhorn's unknowing cooperation, but that doesn't prove to be much of an obstacle.)  Alas, even the traditional "stroll into the sunset" doesn't work when the "Mane 6" exit without evincing any interest whatsoever in whatever happened to Chili Pepper.  

Aside from Applejack and, yes, Rarity -- who flirts with multiple stallions, contributes more than her mite to the anti-Longhorn scheming, and gets to use her generally finesse-oriented magic to move houses, knock down water towers, and perform other intriguingly unladylike operations -- the rest of the gang walk through the story as if they're in a daze.  Twilight's deficiences here are manifest, but Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy contribute virtually nothing -- you would think that both of them, especially the former, would be hacked off at the sight of their friend Applejack getting knocked through a barn wall by Longhorn, but no joy -- and even Pinkie Pie is somewhat lacking here.  (A joke about a character eating a red-hot chili pepper, making faces, and then saying that they like it?  That has SO been done... and, therefore, it probably isn't worth wasting Pinkie on.)

So... yeah, a really bad one.  I'm not going to bail, of course -- Cook and Price are doing the very next arc in MLP #27-28, and I'll be interested in seeing how well they can bounce back.  There is some work to be done here, though... if nothing else, to reassure those who, like me, have been on board from the very start.

Friday, January 2, 2015

RIP Christine Cavanaugh and Edward Herrmann

I wish I could have waited at least a LITTLE while to do the first 2015 obituary post...

Retired (since 2001) actress Christine Cavanaugh died on December 22 of leukemia at the age of 51.  To the general public, she'll be best remembered as the voice of Babe the pig in the surprise film hit of 1995 -- she got paid a "whopping" $27,000 for that role, remarkably enough -- and her best-known voice-acting role is, and probably always will be, Chucky from Rugrats.  In this precinct, of course, Darkwing Duck's Gosalyn Mallard will forever be the first thing that comes to mind (or ear) when she is mentioned.  I don't know that another voice actress could have pulled off Gos' unique combination of sweetness and snarkiness quite so well. 

Actor Edward Herrmann died on New Year's Eve of brain cancer at the age of 71.  He was one of those peripatetic, all-purpose "hey, it's THAT guy again" performers... appearing in both movie and TV productions of brows both low and high, doing voiceover commercial narration (most famously for Dodge). His casting as Richard Rich, Sr., in the live-action Richie Rich movie (1994) was a bit odd -- he didn't look anything like the Mr. Rich of the comics, and he may have injected a little too much lightheartedness into his interpretation of the character -- but he wound up doing a very solid job, as did many of the other adult performers who strained mightily to make up for the black-tuxedo'ed, Macaulay Culkin-sized hole at the center of the film.  (If Macaulay's performance here didn't murder what was then left of his acting career, then it surely would qualify as an unindicted co-conspirator in the crime.)  I'll say this: Herrmann's turn as the elder Rich was certainly more memorable than that of Martin Mull, who did the honors in the movie's direct-to-video sequel, Richie Rich's Christmas Wish (1998).

Thanks to both of these talented performers for all their fine work, and let's hope that we DO NOT have to do this again for a good, long while.

Indisposed for New Year's

Happy New Year, everyone.  As Nicky and I both turned the page to 2015, some sort of flu-like malady was afflicting us.  I got it first, and Nicky followed soon thereafter.  I had a slight fever the last two days, but my temperature was finally back to normal today.  I think that we'll need the remainder of the weekend to completely recover.