If you want to know what this blog is all about, this page is my presentation of it. To directly access all my reviews in chronological order, go here.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

REVIEW: "20.000 Weeds Under The Sea"

I trust most of you are familiar with the Italian Grandi Parodie series, where classic works of literature are recreated-slash-parodied with the various characters replaced with classic Disney characters. What is less well-known is that the American Gold Key books had their own series with this exact conept, called The Walt Disney Theater. The main differences were that there were much fewer installments, and the other one was that, well, there were a lot less good. 

And today, we're going to be looking at one of them: 20.000 Weeds Under The Sea., by the dubious team of Vic Lockman, Tony Strobl and Steve Steere. And… talk about an opening in medias res. Mind you, the opening narration box does a good job of explaining the context, but when I first happened upon this, I first wondered this was the second part of a serial tale and I went back to check the previous issue to find what I missed. Huh.  Also note that from the Jules Verne book's three main protagonists (outside of Nemo), this story cuts back to just two, dropping Professor Aronax's butler Conseil. Why not have, I don't know, Ludwig von Drake, or… somebody… to play the role? It's not like this story is limiting itself to Mickey Mouse characters, since we'll see Captain Hook later on. Then again, bickering about how unfaithful this is to the original novel might be a losing battle.

And a very nice panel is followed by a… not very nice panel. This is symptomatic of the usual problems with Strobl. Sometimes he's good… but then he immediately follows it with weird poses or drawings of allegedly moving characters who are completely devoid of motion.

Captain Hook is playing Captain Nemo! …Way to completely throw out Nemo's trademark moral ambiguity there, Lockman. Also, Mickey Aronax apparently knows Captain Hook as "a notorious pirate". This is another problem with the Walt Disney Theater stories: they're never clear on whether they take place in the same universe as normal stories. Some characters have different names and contexts in traditional Grandi Parodie fashion, and the story usually takes place in the past, but then some characters just pop up entirely identical to their usual selves. Like Captain Hook here. Are we to believe that this story happened to Captain Hook at some point before Peter Pan? Possibly before he even came to Neverland? That's an interesting angle for sure, but here it's just… odd, since they don't elaborate on it.

Credit where credit is due: the whole 'pirate submarine' concept is handled rather well in this story. It has nothing on Nemo's motivation for sinking ships in the original, but it's pretty in-character for Captain Hook. It's a little dark (we are left to assume the crews of the sunken ship are left to drown by the fiend), but I'm not complaining, far from there; Hook is supposed to be murderous.

As for the Scuttilus itself, Strobl does what he can, but it doesn't look particularly memorable, and (this is my main issue) it's just too small. The Nautilus was amazing not only because it was a submarine, but because it was an absurdly large, self-sustaining one. It also had a large crew, of which we see no evidence in this story. Where does Hook put all that treasure, anyway? At least a third of this thing must be taken up by the engine and air supplies, and then you have the sleeping quarters of Hook, Smee, and "guests" like Mickey and Goofy. 

Wait. Just when is this story taking place, exactly? The novel took place in the 1860's, but surely Captain Hook wouldn't call it "the new world" if it was so late? Unless it's just the fact that he's from the 18th century showing, but he can't possibly have lived that long without already having been in Neverland for some time, which shoots down my theory from earlier, which… gah!

Well, uh, Queen Victoria, folks! She's in that story! For some reason. And, ah, what is Her Royal Dognose Highness doing in the middle of the Atlantic again? …You're going to adress that, are you, Lockman? I should have known.

No it doesn't. This isn't a squid, it's an octopus. This matter aside, though, I do like this image. Especially how the Giant Not-Squid is apparently trying to bite the ship in anger (with teeth it's not supposed to have, being an octopus, but whatever).

And let it be known to future generation that Lockman, Victor, was responsible for a comic panel where a dognosed, "tee-hee"ing  Queen Victoria greets Mickey Mouse while Goofy's talking head is seemingly mounted on her wall. Really. Of all the weird conclusions.

So that was 20.000 Weeds Under The Sea. It's a pefect example of a failed experiment, which mostly failed because they assigned Vic Lockman to the project instead of, say, Carl Barks. It's not devoid of interest: for all that the story is odd and simplistic, it's nicely told; the art is pretty solid most of the time; and as far as they may be from the original Nautilus crew, it's nice to see relatively unsual characters Hook and Smee in a story. But it's simply not good. Lockman, Strobl, go read Donald Fracas and take notes: this is how you write a Parodie-type story that, in spite of using weird casting choices, having weird universe mixing, and being only tenuously related to the novel, is actually, genuinely fun to read. 

By the way, aside from its traitorous betrayal of the original, have you, by any chance, noticed anything wrong with it? No, not the fact that it's god-darn insane. (Well, that too, but you know what I mean.) Still don't see it? It has nothing to do with weeds whatsoever. I don't get it. It's an incomprehensible… non-pun. "Weeds" doesn't even sound much like "leagues". Why choose this out of all the doubtful homophones that Lockman could have… Wait. Doesn't weed have another meaning in modern slang…? Oh. Oh. Now I get it.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

REVIEW: "The Inner-Earth Adventure"

    Having read a lot of post-Barks pre-Rosa old Uncle Scrooge issues, I have discovered that the amount of Barks reprints was absolutely, ludicrously overwhelming for a period, at least for the main story. Then somewhere near the #190 mark, I suddenly had a chunk of fresh air in the form of main stories written by honored Disney comic author "?" and drawn by the creative if somewhat glitchy Pete Alvarado. Alvarado was no Rosa or Bottaro, but his work was still quite enjoyable. One of the more notable stories I found was this:

     In Uncle Scrooge #194 lies undiscovered The Inner-Earth Adventure, first published in February of 1982. As I said, the art is by Pete Alvarado, and it is kinda weak in places; however, you can't blame him too much — he was 62 at the time, and looking at older efforts of his, he had used to have a higher amount of details. Anyway.

     We open with this lovely little opening narration. I like the idea, really; and it unintentionally foreshadows Don Rosa's Attack of the Hideous Space Varmints, which also has a similar opening. If there is a downside, though, it is, as I said, with the art. The "outer space" background, no offense meant, looks like it was drawn by a toddler. And sure, you can't expect everyone to be Don Rosa, but I can't help but make the comparison with Hideous Space Varmint's own opening star-lit splash panel, since the two openings are so alike, and that comparison is jarring:

        But let's not forget ourselves and begin nitpicking already. We've got a whole zany plot to go. So Scrooge has, we're told, always postponed his space voyage because the cost was too off-putting. However, he suddenly realizes that Gyro could help him (come on, you've known the guy since 1952, and just now you think of it?). Never mind that Gyro has already built several spaceships for Scrooge in past stories; it is a thing I find a little hard to swallow, but I won't press that point too much, since Barks himself couldn't remain self-consistent on that point either.

    Gyro Gearloose, it turns out, already has a spaceship ready (albeit an untested one), which works with a super-hot fuel. The unforeseen problem is that as soon as the thing is switched on, the superheat melts the ground, leading the machine to sink into the Earth. Also, the third and fourth panels look very much like Don Rosa's Universal Solvent story. There might be influence there.

    Though the plot itself has little in common, I must admit that the titular Inner-Earth was most likely inspired by Barks's Land Beneath the Ground. Underground world, they're aware of the upper earth but only barely, and there are two similar but competing peoples. The Togs are the hard-working root farmers (I like that this story makes the effort to explain how the underground beings sustain themselves, unlike Barks's Terries and Fermies), and the Krogs are the evil robbers who just steal the product of their work. The Krogs are not especially fearsome (they're just Togs with masks on), but they have a better knowledge of the underground geography: they know passages to Upper-Earth, and also ways to get Freez gems, which are found much deeper into the Earth's crust, the light of which can freeze anyone who looks at it (except them, the light being filtered by their masks).

     They figure out that sunglasses will protect them from the Freez's ray (Huh… they took sunglasses on a space expedition? That's lucky indeed.) There are also “gushes” in Inner-Earth, spontaneous geysers of molten gold that spring from the ground at random times; which interests Scrooge, obviously.

      Ladies and gentlemen, this is a terrible burning stream of glowing molten gold that is going to engulf Scrooge and Gyro (just so you know). It's unfortunate that Alvarado can't seem to render the direness of the situation, because in theory, it makes for a pretty good climax, but the stream appears so small and escape so easy that you hardly get any feeling of danger. Have Marco Rota redraw that story someday, and it'll become a classic.

     Would the stone floor be cool if there's molten gold streaming underneath all the time? Ah well. What is weirder is the Tog's “One good thing: Freez gem gone in golden gush!”. No Togs were speaking in caveman language earlier.

    The ending twist is funny, but why does Scrooge “wak” repeatedly? Were it Donald doing this, I wouldn't look twice, but though Scrooge has been known to utter this kind of exclamative "Wak!"s at the beginning, never has he said: "wak! wak! wak!" in annoyance.

     So, that's The Inner-Earth Adventure, a pretty good little story, in spite of inconsistent artwork. It's neither Barks nor Rosa or Bottaro or Carpi, but for a late pre-Gladstone western story, it's much better than you'd expect. It won't take up much time to read it, so I say give it a go.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

REVIEW: "The Dime from Uncle"

    Back in the 60's, Disney was trying to launch comic books about less prominent characters who, they thought, could still have their own stories instead of remaining in the background. Thus, The Phantom Blot, Moby Duck, Ludwig von DrakeThe Beagle Boys (and, a little later, The Aristokittens) were born. 

    When it comes to The Beagle Boys, they weren't exactly sure what to do with them. The obvious first choice was: have them rob Scrooge. Yeah, sure, but that would be awfully redundant with Uncle Scrooge; and more importantly, if the Beagle Boys were the antagonists, we'd rather find ourselves rooting for Scrooge than for the “bad guys”, even if the book was named after them. Now, what to do with the masked dogs?

     “Obvious enough, the authors said. Have them team-up with human witches”.

     …wait, what???

     Not that there's anything wrong with this concept. Amazingly enough, it works out pretty well. It's just… through what improbable way of thinking did the writers get this weird idea?

      And yet, so it was done. Issue One of the Beagle Boys' solo efforts was called The Beagle Boys and the Marvelous Mad Madam Mim (I like how they quadrupled the already-triple alliteration), and contained a myriad of stories which had little in common plot-wise, except that all started with the premise of Madam Mim living, more or less temporarily, as a guest in the Beagle-Boys' hideout, and interfering with the thugs' plans, for good or ill. It managed to get sold in large enough quantities that Gold Key (the publisher) ordered a second issue from the same team. They had already exploited Madam Mim to the bone, so they looked for another witch. Magica De Spell was too mean and not wacky enough, so they switched to Witch Hazel, and ta-da:

This is 1965's The Dime from Uncle, written by Vic Lockman, penciled by Tony Strobl and inked by Steve Steere. 

The first interesting thing to say here is that this is the introduction of Witch Hazel's “new” name, Wanda Witch. When she debuted in Trick or Treat (both the animated short and the comic story), she was named Hazel, as you know. However, there were a couple of other Witch Hazels around: Little Lulu comics had one, a Tom & Jerry short had had one as a memorable one-shot, and most importantly, the Looney Tunes had a much-beloved one. Theirs was actually a special case, since it was actually a rip-off of the Disney Trick or Treat Witch Hazel who progressively grew into her very own thing. At any rate, past Donald Duck and Witch Hazel, the Disney publishers could not afford to use the name again, for fear of either copyright problems or readers being confused. Meanwhile, Hazel had been repeatedly used in Italian comics, as Nocciolla (“Nutty”), a close enough translation, and there had been no problem. When she got back to the states, it was at first as The Witch. Then, Lockman thought up “Wanda Witch”, and it stuck for as long as the character kept being used (when she vanished along with the rest of the 60's introductions, she became only remembered by Barks's Trick or Treat, which is why she's once again Witch Hazel today).

So the idea is that Hazel (sorry -- Wanda) has opened a night school of witchcraft (although she seems to have ulterior motives), and the Beagle Boys decide to apply there because if they can become invisible or fly a broomstick, it will naturally improve their criminal careers. Art-wise, Tony Strobl is absolutely excellent here, especially on Witch Hazel. He could be shaky at times, but this is one of his peaks. I can't help but think that Strobl was more fit to draw these kinds of angular human characters, rather than rotund designs like the Ducks or Mickey.

Witch Hazel is at her best when she does this kind of Ludwig-von-Drake-style verbal wackiness out of nowhere. Ala Ka Zam, Bala Ka Zam, Calico Sam -- why not? It's hilarious because it's unexpected. Also unexpected is the Beagle Boys' dramatic reaction (does Calico Sam sound all that fearful a name, really?), and Tony Strobl, once more, sells it perfectly. 

Back to the plot, the Beagle Boys graduate and decide to go rob Scrooge. But what could Hazel's ulterior motive be? Try to guess. Just try.

Looking for Calico Sam. Selling the Lucky Dime to look for Calico Sam. This is just so over-the-top. Vic Lockman was bad at doing serious plots, but when he lets of the steam and goes Alice in Wonderland, he's irresistible. I mean, you'd have thought the Calico Sam digression was just an irrelevant bit of kookiness, but no, it's actually one of the battiest Chekhov's Guns in history.

So yes, this story uses McDuck Manor, and no, it wasn't a purely DuckTales thing. You actually really can't blame Lockman there for the apparent inconsistency: Barks himself did it first in Bear Mountain and Voodoo Hoodoo, after all. And the notion that Scrooge actually lived in the Bin wasn't firmly established until Don Rosa; the odd Italian story had him sleeping in his vault, on a money bag, but it was not prominent. Until Beagle Boys Vs Money Bin, you could easily argue that Scrooge just worked and spent most of his leisure time in the Bin, but lived in his own house, be it McDuck Manor or something else. Actually, if we're speaking continuity, take a look at 1950's Trail Blazer by Bob Moore.

The stairs are apparently longer, but the two columns supporting the pediment are there in both. We'll never know if it was intentional, but at least we can rejoice, as this isn't the kind of continuity you often see between two minor stories, especially if these two stories are by different authors, and none of those two authors is Carl Barks. Back to the story…

…Scrooge is very well-rendered here, too. At one point of his career, Tony Strobl drew him with a much-too-short, much-too-angular beak, but here he is entirely on-model. His eye rings are a nice touch (he was woken in the middle of the night, after all). The Lucky Dime's protective glass is shorter than usual, but it's okay (although putting a glass globe under one's head is still not a very careful thing to do).

Shenanigans ensue as Huey, Dewey and Louie, Scrooge, Hazel and the Beagle-Boys lead a battle of quiproquos, magics and wits throughout the Manor. The “magic” part is a little underwhelming, but it's very okay. And then, there's this. Calico Sam rides again! Ta-da!!! This crazy running gag really gets me every time. 

And there is the Beagle-centric punchline. I'd still like to point out some heavy furry confusion here. “I could have turned you into a police dog”… er, isn't this guy already an anthropomorphic dog? Additionally, isn't the Beagle Boy himself a dog, too? And that's emphasized by Scrooge's referring to them as “Beagles” instead of just “Beagle Boys”, something he does pretty rarely.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

CARTOON: "Be Prepared"

A little bonus to the Hatbox Ghost cartoons. Kelly once said that she imagined the Hatbox Ghost sounding like Scar in the The Lion King Broadway musical, an information that I used to create my own Hatbox Ghost voice when doing the cartoons I already posted. The same information gave the idea to another fan of the comics to write a Hatbox Ghost version of Scar's song, Be Prepared (see here), and though the lyrics were adapted somewhat clumsily, I definitely saw opportunity for greatness in this idea. Following which, I remade the same thing, and sung it as the Hatbox Ghost (and the Ghost Host). 


Thursday, 14 April 2016

REVIEW: "Shiver Me Timbers"

Joe Torcivia (go check his awesome blog, by the way) once asked me if I'd review one of his “scripted stories”. This prompted me to finally get my hands on an American IDW Uncle Scrooge issue, Uncle Scrooge #406. Since all three stories in there are pretty good, I'll review them all, but before that, non-American readers are going to ask what I mean by “scripted stories” (don't all stories have script, after all ?). 

Well. Nowadays, American readers will never get their hands on European stories as their readers first discovered them, except through scanlations. Why is that ? Well, all the foreign stories printed in American comics are not only translated, but rescripted by another author (the most illustrious being Geoffrey Blum, David Gerstein, Joe Torvicia, Jonathan Gray and the late Chris Barat). I have had numerous arguments on the Internet on this matter, because I don't really support this method, first because it stops the readers from having a clear opinion of the original author's work (a good rescripter can make a piece of junk into an okay story… which is nice and all, but then we're going to believe the original author was much better than he actually is). And also, there is a continuity problem. I'm very set on continuity, as you may know, and it really bothers me that we have two slightly different, overlapping versions of the same events. It's Donrosatian attention for details, of course, but it is a fact that through no plausible contortion of Time can Donald have both said on day X “Hello, uncle Scrooge” and “Nice G weather today”. I chose an inconsequential example because I wanted to ridicule myself a little, since I'll admit all this is pretty over-the-top. But sometimes it's a little bit more important. Like this, from The Eternal Knot, which GeoX already reviewed

I am told that Scrooge citing examples from his family is the translator's idea, whereas in the original he was just talking “in general”. Well, assuming I'm a Don Rosa clone who wants to make a Duck family tree, except not just from Barks stories… what do I do ? Do Aunt Molly and Cousin Clem exist, or not ? Since this is their only mention ever and they only exist in one of the two possible things Scrooge said (and that the version where Scrooge didn't cite them is, since it's the oldest one, the most likely to be canon) ? Gah ! And it's not just a thought experiment, because I did attempt once or twice to build such a tree. 

On the other hand… after repeated exposure to them, I kinda warmed up to these rescripting because often, they are damn good ! As I said before too, my idea solution would be that all those talented authors that are busy doing the rescripting be instead hired to write script to new Disney stories. 

At any rate…

This is 2003's Shiver Me Timbers, written by Jan Kruse and drawn by Bas Heymans, and here rescripted by Jonathan Gray. The story opens as the Ducks (including Scrooge) travel to Codfish Cove for a fishing weekend. This feels more like a Donald thing to do, obviously, so the opening dialogues are about justifying why Scrooge tags along too, since we'll need him later when this turns into a treasure hunt. The justification (fishing fish is free, buying fish costs).

Bas Heymans's distinctive art is excellent at this atmospheric stuff with the realistic-looking ship an the old sailor. However, though a three-master would be kinda original, describing it as a "ship out o'time" seems odd. For us it would be, but for the fantasy world of Donald Duck & Co., it appears it wouldn't. Moby Duck sails a similar, wooden, sail ship on a daily basis, and both Donald Duck finds Pirate Gold and its sequel South Sea Shenanigans feature the Ducks and Yellow Beak traveling aboard such a ship. I can admit that it would still get a few odd looks, but it wouldn't be enough spookiness to chase an entire crew of sailors out of town !

This reminds me of Barks's Let Sleeping Bones Lie where Scrooge tries to convert a giant dinosaur fossil into a fast-food restaurant. I'm not sure it's intentional, but it is quite similar.

What the…? You can be sure of one thing, this is one piece of dialogue that Jonathan Gray can be held responsible for. Aside from the weird “ain't” and “o'” that I feel would belong more in Pete's mouth than in Donald's, space-kidettes ? What on Earth is that supposed to mean ? 

Similarly, I'm 90 percents sure that Donald calling Super Goof is Gray's idea. And aside from the fact that I'm naturally unsympathetic towards it because continuity blah blah blah… there is a clear logical fallacy here. Because whereas Donald just yelling "HELP" would justify Scrooge's answer, any Super Goof fan knows that his super-hearing allows him to hear cries for help from absurdly long distances.  Which means that Donald was perfectly justified in trying to yell HELP, and Scrooge is wrong to tell him to stop.

That image of the island and the ship, and its colorization, are both flawless. Congratulations. 

Bas Heymans really knows how to make striking perspective. Bravo again, quite loudly.

Turns out the ghost is just a hand/glove. “Well, I can safely say that I am currently terrified beyond all reason.” might be a rescripting line, but I find it delightfully hilarious in its nonsensicality. It's lines like that that make me reconsider my opinions about these things.

Hilarious allusion, too (for those who don't know, Scrooge is quoting the Donald Duck theme song in the left panel), even though I am once more quite sure that it wasn't there in the original. On the right, wha Scrooge says rhymes, so I wonder if he's still singing or not. Perhaps.

It's weird how in the comics, the other characters pick up on the weirdness of Donald Duck's voice much less often than in cartoons. I guess it's because, since you don't really hear his voice in the comics, we have it less on our minds, and thus allusions are considered harder to get. The point being, this one allusion to his quacking tendencies is welcome !

I like the Moby Duck allusion, though why does he say “our pal” ? Moby Duck is his uncle, not his friend. As for the “Gravity Falls” allusion… other than the fact that it's a very weird pun since it's a pun on a pun… It can be taken three way. Either:
  • There just happens to be a location in the Duck universe known as Gravity Falls (it's possible, I guess);
  • Donald is referring to the TV series, in which case sorry, no, not possible, because the TV series premiered in 2012, which means that in 2003 Donald couldn't have heard about it;
  • This is a hint that the TV series takes place in the same universe as the usual Disney comics… which is possible too, but it's weird because if there's any Disney property whose style wouldn't mash up well with Disney comics, it's Gravity Falls
And the thing is, if it's either #1 or #3, we are faced the continuity problem, since this is all a rescripting thing. Is there a location named Gravity Falls in the Duck Universe, or not ?!?

Well, anyway. The Ducks discover that an evil wizard is behind the whole thing, and that to lift the curse they have to find him. Anyways, things spiral into madness from there. It's often hilarious and always engaging, but I can't help but wonder what went through Kruse's mind. Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman and the Knights of the Round Table and an evil sorcerer and blah blah blah ? What's all that doing in a pirate ghost story ?!? There's not much more to review here aside from that, except that the Headless Horseman is very dissimilar to his standard Disney portrayal.

I do wonder one last thing: how does the chef know the name of the pirates-turned-seagulls ? I don't think those are supposed to be anthropomorphic seagulls, so they can't have told him…

Well, anyway, good art and a delightfully wacky plot make this story a very enjoyable read. As for Gray's localization, it has its ups (very up) and its downs (mindscrews).