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Friday, 12 February 2016

The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck: "The Wreck-hunter of the Carribeans"

Does this title sound familiar to you ? If it does… forget about it, you're mistaken, for this is a story that doesn't exist, even though it should and was supposed to. 

More exactly, it was apparently planned to be the 11B chapter of Don Rosa's The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck. I don't know if there were serious plans, but Don Rosa clearly had something in mind. The plot would center around Scrooge looking for treasure maps and sunken treasures in the Caribbean. The idea comes from Barks's Only a poor old man…, where Scrooge briefly remembers this period and we get a panel of flashback of it.

Don Rosa, when collecting Barksian facts, based some of his chapters on those one-panel flashbacks in Only a poor old man: his King of the Klondike is as much based on the single panel of Only a poor old man than on the flashback Back to the Klondike, which would only become a more prominent influence on the later Hearts of the Yukon and Prisoner of White Agony Creek, the whole Copper Hill chapter is based on another panel, and a dialogue about Mongolia gave him the impulse to do the 2-3 pages sequence in chapter 11 where Scrooge discovers for the first time his ability to swim in money. The "searching for wrecks" business got mentioned, sure… but in a single panel of the 11th chapter:

And not even an original one at that; he's basically just copying Barks's own flashback panel, so we hardly learn anything about his adventures back then, aside from the fact that this period lasted one whole year (which we learn from the narration box that I cut here because since this is scanned from a French reprint it was in French and you'd have gotten confused for no reason when it's totally besides the point). But then, it's just one of the many events he had to include in the 11th chapter; it's only one of the many potentially chapter-length flashbacks that only managed to get a quick mention. So why am I especially concerned about that one ?

Well, flash forward to the 12th chapter's beautiful conclusion page:

Again ! All the other think bubbles are callbacks to the most glorious moments of each chapter, and Don Rosa just stuck than one around. Sure, you could say it's meant to represent Chapter 11, but it's not especially notable or representative of its plot. The "searching for wrecks" seems to have been its own independent thing the whole time, and Rosa just didn't get the opportunity to write that particular story even though he was wanting to. Why ? Probably a lack of inspiration, because…

…he'd already written a shipwreck-hunting story, and when combined with The Horseradish Story, it probably made Rosa think that there was nothing new to be written about Scrooge hunting sunken treasure without seeming redundant.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

REVIEW: "Wonders of the Deep"

So, I told you that I would also be reviewing non-comics Disney here, which pretty much amounts to:  cartoons. Thus, here is one.

Here is 2015's Wonder of the Deep. For those who don't know, this short is part of a new wave of CG Mickey Mouse cartoons that premiered last year. More or less following the Epic Mickey craze, these shorts have redesigned all the characters in a "pseudo-retro" way that echoes the design of the 20's but is still unmistakably modern. The episodes, if you ask me, are of varying quality; there are some good gags and visual ideas, often very good voice acting, and sometimes nice background, but there are some other gags that are really gross and I'm not really keen with the redesign of most of the characters. You can watch Wonders of the Deep here where Disney posted it for you to (allegedly) enjoy.

"Hello there ! Welcome aboard the Ducktilus ! Join me as we dive twenty thousand
leagues under the sea !"

The short pleasantly starts in Ludwig von Drake's new submarine. It is a really good surprise to meet Ludwig here, and despite the limited animation he's still one of the most pleasant characters to look at, and moves in his characteristic manner. He can't, of course, be voiced by the late Paul Frees, but Corey Burton, who took over since Frees's passing, has if you ask me improved since House of Mouse (at the time, he gave Ludwig a slightly too high-pitched voice compared to Frees). Ducktilus is an easy pun, but not an insufferable one.

P.S.: I think this is a good place to mention that I am a big Ludwig von Drake fan.

He hires, of course, Mickey, Donald and Goofy as his crew. The utter emptiness of the ocean (though it is a nicely-shaded one, I'd like to point out) does not strike them as being particularly thrilling, which leads them to make the depressed mimicries seen on the second picture here. It's my main problem with this series's art style: the character models are not especially ugly, but they keep stretching them in disgraces ways. Yuk.

"Professor ! I thought we were going to explore 'the Woooonders of the Deep' !"

So, Mickey "sarcastically" reminds the professor that he's not here to stare at the water, and… see what I meant earlier about the eerie mimicries ? And it's far from being the most egregious example. Happily, we get this funny part from Ludwig von Drake, brought down only by another Mickey Weird Face:

(ominous music playing in the background)
"Oooh… so you really want to see wonders ?"
"You bet I do !"
"…what are we waiting for ? PREPARE TO DIVE !"

If it was not for Mickey's weird face, this sequence would be flawless. Burton's acting as Ludwig makes it all the better. Anyway, dive they do, and they begin to come across interesting fishes, such as a "dogfish". (Are there such things, or is it just a play on catfish ?)

GOOFY: "Momma ?"

Like in Camping Out, there is a distinct play on Furry Confusion here, and I do appreciate it, but good lord, those designs. That dogfish is the stuff of nightmare.

The above is, you guessed it, a "tiger shark". Once more, it's a little easy a wordplay, but it's still worth a chuckle.

So, they get as deep as they can and meet those comparatively realistic abyss-dwellers. But Mickey still wants more, he wants to get to see mermaids, or a kraken. Ludwig answers that the odds of seeing a kraken are of around 0.00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000…

LUDWIG: "…zero, zero, zero, zero, zero, zero, zero, zero, zero, zero,
zero, zero, zero, zero…"
MICKEY: "Awww, gee."

Uh, oh… What do you think that switch commands ? 

LUDWIG (muffled): "…zero, zero, zero, zero, zero…"
LUDWIF (bubbling): "…zblero, zblero, zblero, zblero…"
MICKEY, DONALD, GOOFY: "The professor !"

Well, C.C.C. (Contrived Cartoon CoincidenceTM) causes Ludwig to be standing at that point on the exact spot from which he can be blasted out of the Ducktilus. A tidbit predictable, if I might say. However, the running gag that he keeps computing without even noticing is pretty hilarious. Also, note that the three yell "THE PROFESSOR !". Shouldn't Donald be yelling "UNCLE !" ?

Ludwig then proceeds to get swallowed by this swimming clam that just happened to… wait a minute, swimming clam ? This is ridiculous ! A clam doesn't swim, a clam remains nicely at the bottom of the ocean. For that matter, a clam doesn't swallow anthropomorphic ducks, either, but that's besides the point. The point is, contrary to the cartoonish "tiger shark" and others, I'm not sure this particular mistake was intentional from the writers. Anyway, the clam proceeds to jump in a dark pit, and later to get eaten by a kraken.

So, Donald and Mickey go inside said pit to get the clam (and the professor) back, and I'll grant you that those custom-made diving suits for Donald and Mickey, adapted to their beak and ears, are pretty funny. In the pit, they find these charming mermaids:

It's love at first sight, and off they go to dance with their new fiancées, with a random and obnoxious pop song playing in the background. But what's this ? Goofy exposes to the audience that "air deprivation can cause hallucinations", and we see that the tube that gives the two heroes air was blocked. Turns out, obviously, that those mermaids never existed in the first place. But do I need to tell you why this is a ridiculous concept ? Well, you know, before you lack so much air that you get hallucinations, you notice that you are beginning to have a hard time breathing. Which Mickey and Donald did not. Meh. Anyway, what do you think is there instead of the mermaids, then ?

A kraken, of course. And a blue one. (I mean, in real life, those things are pink, right ?) He is pretty ugly too, though it's a little more forgivable because he is supposed to be a horrible monster.

Long story short, he swallows them, Pinocchio-style, and we get this rather disgusting shot of the inside of the Kraken's belly. Whenever this series shows viscera from the inside (which, for some reason, it does surprisingly often), it's always as these blueish, purplish, palpitating… things. Yuk yuk yuk.  

Of course, they escape, having on their way discovered that the professor's clam (from the inside of which he is still heard "zerozerozero-ing") had been swallowed by the beastie. They also find the time to stick in a Pinocchio cameo:

PINOCCHIO: "Why does this keep happening to us ?

Then, back at the submarine, Ludwig von Drake is freed at last (By the way, how was he breathing the whole time ? Did he get hallucinations, too ?):

LUDWIG: "…zero, zero, zero, zero, zero, zero, zero, three, two, one."
LUDWIG: "Hey ! There's still a chance ! Who wants to find a kreaa-ken ?"

And then, there you have it. If you want my overall opinion (of course you do, that's what you're reading this review for) about this episode, whenever Ludwig von Drake shows up they make a good, worthy use of the character, but their treatments of Mickey, Goofy are a bit shaky and they are really bad at designing pleasant-to-look-at cartoon characters. 

Sunday, 7 February 2016

REVIEW: "A Hole in One"

Okay, if I ask you, "what is Carl Barks's first Disney comic story ?", I suppose you are either going to answer Donald Duck finds Pirate Gold or, if you consider that he did not take that big a part in Pirate Gold, perhaps The Victory Garden. Some smarties might even remember that 1942 Pluto story to the script of which he contributed. This is all very nice, I suppose, but if you really want to dive in the depths of history, you'll find that neither was really Barks's first. And his first comic was a Donald Duck story !… Kinda. Here, enjoy:

That's right: unbeknownst to you, Carl Barks worked on the Donald Duck Taliaferro strip well before he started to draw on his own. And this, if I.N.D.U.C.K.S. is to be believed, is the first one on which he worked: 1938's A Hole in One

Okay, you say, but is it any good on its own, besides the historical value ? Was Barks inspired on that fateful day ?…

Not really.

First, the concept that Donald would refuse to give the kids any money, but stil accept to put some on their bank, is ridiculous. Why ? Because even without the dirty trick the kids play on him (spoiler alert: they've carved a hole in the bottom of the bank and immediately get the coin that Donald puts in it), exactly what was stopping the ducklings from just taking the money from the bank the second Donald had put it in it ? Some might say: yeah, but that's the whole point of the gag, Donald's just being dumb. Well no, it isn't. If that was the point of the gag, there would be no need for the "carved a hole in the bottom of the bank" part: the gag would just go as I said with Huey, Dewey and Louie taking the coin from the bank. 

EDIT: Matilda in the comments defends the gag by pointing out that children's banks in those days were often impossible to open without breaking them, that being actually the whole point of the thing. That's true, of course, but then again the kids seemed to have been able to open the bank quite easily when they removed the base to play their trick. So maybe it isn't outright a mistake, but those things sure aren't as clear as they should be.

Second: I know, slapstick logic, but the kids carved a hole in the table ? The table ? And Donald didn't notice it ?

Third: another logical mistake. The story starts with Donald refusing to give the kids the money. Thing is, the kids did not have any way of predicting that Donald would refuse, while the "carving the table and the bank in advance" implies some sort of premeditation.

Nice dynamism here, though of course it's the artist, Taliaferro, who's to be complimented here, not Barks, the writer. Still, I think it really shows that at the time, Barks was a cartoon writer; the whole thing just looks to be straight out of the same years Donald's Nephews to which Barks contributed, down to the nephews' Tex Avery-esque way to flee.

So… here we have it, fellows; Barks's very first Donald Duck comic. I think there's a reason that it's not remembered as Barks's debut: it's just not special. You take any Donald Duck strip from the same time period, written by somebody else, and it will have the exact same kind of gag, the same flaws and the same qualities. Even if it was not truly the first, Donald Duck finds Pirate Gold is remembered because it was Donald's very first book-length comic story, and an adventurous, exciting one at that — pirates ! Gold ! Humor ! A map ! Pete ! Why this is… just a common comic strip. 

Still, it grieves me that it's not acknowledged anywhere except on the I.N.D.U.C.K.S; it has been reprinted a few times, but always as part of a "vintage Donald Duck comic strip" retrospective, never as "Barks's debut". For all its flaw, it's an important milestone in Duck history… and it's not that bad in spite of what I've nitpicked about it. It's just common.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

REVIEW: "Camping Out"

I gather that on Duck Comics Revue dwell some Li'l Bad Wolf fans, and GeoX, not finding the character all that interesting, never gave them such a treat as a Li'l Bad Wolf review. A quick stroll around the internet tells me that, actually, nobody ever did one, unless it was deleted. It was about time I filled this blank !

Camping Out. 1950. Drawn by Gil Turner. As for the writer ? Who knows.

The title is probably not familiar to you, and that's normal, because it was actually not titled when it was first published; it's only one of those "reprints" titles. And you have little chance of remembering the story, because it was published in the same book as Barks's iconic Vacation Time, and as good as Camping Out may be, all odds have it that the story the occasional reader of the book will go remembering will be Barks's. AND THAT'S A SHAME ! For Camping Out is far from being your average Li'l Bad Wolf story.

As for the story itself so far, I'd just like to point out how ridiculously and willingly stupid the concept of the Big Bad Wolf going camping in the wild is. He already lives in a cabin in the middle of the forest, doesn't he ? And he spends his time hunting wild critters, right ? What more does he expect ?

Notice again two things: #1 he's not even considering chasing the Little Pigs this time around, and #2 Li'l Bad Wolf doesn't object to his pop going fishing — of course he doesn't: for some reason, pigs are sentient but trouts aren't. Anyway, at the pond, Zeke encounters… this:

For those who didn't recognize him, that's the unique and delightful Louie the Lion, from a number of  early fifties Donald Duck and Goofy cartoons. I love Louie the Lion, but his career was cut short when Disney stopped producing theatrical shorts.  Most of his appeal, however, was in the way he was animated; he's not the type of character that translated well in comics, I said to myself, so it's easy to see why he didn't survive there…

Except this story just proves he almost did, and very well at that, Turner drawing him rather excellently.

I just love his blasé, almost diva-esque way of chasing Zeke away. Reminds you a little bit of Shere Khan in his memorable chat with Kaa in Disney's Jungle Book, I'd say, though it is most probably coincidental. 

Do note that Louie's anthropomorphism is upgraded here compared to the cartoons, where he seldom talks, and when he does, he "talks lion" (we see him moving his lips, but what we hear is deep, unintelligible grumbling). And he walks on all four, hardly being the kind of character you'd expect to use a fishing cane. Yet it works very well here, and it still feels like the same old Louie the Lion !

I'm going to retire in a small corner and sob over the arbitrary choices of fate, because this is sadly Louie the Lion's only comic appearance ever. And I do mean ever: he did not even appear on a cover or something, or even on a photogram of his cartoons that would have been published in a book, or anything really. NO. Four panels, and that's all ! Booh ! Sob ! Sigh !…

Don't let that bottom left panel fool you, as I told you, the Pigs are not in this story, it's just a continuity nod. Effective silhouette work on the right panel.  I give you a fair guess as to who that might be. (Answer "A random coyote" is not accepted). However, why on Earth did the colorist paint the sky light blue ? It's about midnight, and that big yellow stuff, you know, it's the Moon. And if that wasn't enough, the sky is black in the previous panel, indicating that Unknown Writer's and Gil Turner's intentions were always that the sky would be dark blue or dark purple. Bah. 

Here's a gag I find hilarious in spite of it possibly being unintentional:  Zeke is a wolf, right ? Like, a wolf that howls to the moon ? Like a coyote ? I suppose ?

Yet another couple of fifties cartoon characters. This time, those are Bent-Tail and his son Bent-Tail Junior, frequent rivals of Pluto at the time. This is also their only appearance in comics, but somehow I fell less revolted by that than for Louie, mostly because Bent-Tail and son still had a long career in cartoons, unlike Louie, even managing to get their own TV special, The Coyote's Lament, in 1958.  For that matter, the TV special was the first time they talked… well, outside of this comic, that is; because just like Louie the Lion, they are normally mute.

Still, there's distinct Furry Confusion at work here: Louie is apparently almost as anthropomorphic as Zeke, holding conversations with him, using tools, fishing, but he doesn't wear any clothes; Zeke treats him as a person. Bent-Tail and Bent-Tail Junior, however, walk on all four and Li'l Bad Wolf speaks of them as animals. Weird.

More Furry Confusion: the chicken is much more realistic than most chicken in Disney Comics (even  more than those that are not supposed to be anthropomorphic), but the wolf is a portrait of fully-anthro Zeke Wolf. Bent-Tail Junior is, however, very cute.

And sure enough, when Bent-Tail Junior comes across a chicken, it is a realistic one looking like the picture. But how and why is that chicken in the middle of the woods, for some reason sleeping on a tree log ? Aren't chickens supposed to live in farms ? And assuming this is a wild chicken, it ought to have built a nest instead of sleeping on a tree log ? I suppose ? 

Predictably enough, this happens. One is reminded of the Looney Tunes's Henry Hawk here, in a good way. The art on the Bent-Tail panels here is surprisingly good, compared to sometimes shaky renderings of Zeke Wolf I did not reproduce here.

Funny but forgettable mishaps happen, and there it ends, Camping Out: really decent art, a good plot,  excellent characters we'll never be seeing again (booh) and a few interesting occasions to reflect on the different levels of anthropomorphism in Disney comics; I think it's more than one can tell from a lot of those fifties stories.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

REVIEW: "The Sorcerer's Apprentice"

So, as we know, it all started with a mouse. 

« A rabbit ! RABBIT ! »

Yes, I hear you, Oswald. See you next review. Anyway, they say it all started with a mouse, so despite my preference for Duck characters, let’s start with a mouse story, shall we ?

Here is 1953’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, written by God knows who and drawn by talented mouse artist Paul Murry. As the title implies, it’s an adaptation of sorts to the 1940 Fantasia segment, though it does take some liberties that I’m going to pin point as we see them. The first being, obviously, that the characters talk in this version, since Paul Dukas’s music can’t be there to fill the soundtrack.Another difference that you can see in this (beautiful) opening splash panel is that, in spite of all the talking, Yen Sid is never named: he’s just The Sorcerer. You can’t blame Unknown Writer, however, since Yen Sid’s name just started as a joke between the animators and never really caught on until Kingdom Hearts.

Second big difference is, here, we don’t begin with Mickey already working at Yen Sid’s: we witness the process of him suddenly thinking about the Sorcerer and getting the idea of postulating to be his apprentice. It’s executed rather well, though it does raise the question — where does Mickey come from ? Why is he randomly hanging around the Sorcerer’s castle when there’s no village or anything in sight, if it was not purposely to come to the castle ?… Yeah, I’m overthinking this. Globally this little intro is pretty enjoyable, and emphasizes Mickey’s mischievous, childlike nature rather well.

Ladies and gentleman, Yen Si… I mean the Sorcerer. The butterfly he creates is much more of, well, a butterfly than the glowing… thing we see in the movie, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing, since the time’s somewhat loose printing quality wouldn’t have allowed for the colorful nuances the movie’s butterfly was made of. Also, Murry's butterfly is very cute if nothing else.Also, notice that broom in the background. Foreshadowing, fellows. I don’t know if Unknown Writer or Paul Murry is responsible for it, but whoever it is, I congratulate him. You can actually enjoy some more foreshadowing  in the first splash panel, as you can see the well that Mickey’s going to use to fill the tub, later.

So anyway, Mickey’s hired and starts doing chores as he should (including chopping wood, a minor addition to the cartoon) and this happens. You know, you can always assume it happened offstage in the movie version, but I think that this scene was somewhat missing in said version. Yen Sid leaves his hat on the desk with no instruction, Mickey uses it… and Yen Sid blames Mickey for that ? Sure, he did not verbally allow Mickey to take it, nor had Mickey any reason to believe he had such right, but Yen Sid did not warn Mickey, either, or told him not to mess with his stuff. Here, the sorcerer gives Mickey a fair chance, making him more likable. When it comes to the art, still nice shadowing.

Did I mention the shadowing was awesome already ? Yes I did, but since it’s getting more and more awesome as the story progresses, I’m going to be repeating myself. And it’s nice that it is, since the artistic beauty of the thing was much of the original cartoon’s appeal; the exact same script, but drawn by a less talented artist, would have made a dull story that was trying to cash on a movie that it can’t rival, while this story is really trying. Also, Mickey’s thought balloon is totally right: why doesn’t he ? The cartoon doesn’t dive into this question at all and the comic doesn’t really make it the centre theme, but one could argue that the point is not to have the tub filled, but to have the apprentice deserve what he’s going to learn… to avoid having him feel that magic comes easy. This is supported by later changes.

So Yen Sid goes to the village, instead of going to sleep upstairs as in the original. I think this is a mistake of sorts: Yen Sid going to sleep emphasized his humanity in a way you rarely see in cartoons — ‘yes he’s got tremendous powers, but he’s still a physical living being with physical restrictions’ —.  Nice to learn there is a village though, must be where Mickey is from.

That’s still excellent art on the water, but here’s the second change I’m not please with: this narration box is all we get of Mickey’s iconic dream sequence where he commands to the skies and stars. It might not have rendered well in comic form, so I can understand why they cut it, but meh. It’s technically speaking the best-looking part in the short, and that was Walt Disney’s personal opinion, too !

WHACK ! BANG ! OUCH ! Contrary to the original version, Mickey « murdering » the Broom happens onscreen, like it was supposed to be before they cut the scene and redid it with the shadows. And I think they were right in deleting it the first time; it does look a bit disturbing to see Mickey Mouse actively hacking a walking, moving being in half, like that, whack.

Yen Sid is back, awesome art is awesome, « Aba-Ka-Zow-GOOM-Bah » sounds a bit silly a magic word in the mouth of a realistic character such as Yen Sid.

What was I saying earlier ? Yen Sid could have easily kept the tub filled instead of blasting its water away with the rest of the flood, if the point was to get the tub filled. But the point is to get the tub filled by Mickey, you see ?

Culmination of Yen Sid being made into a nice guy here: instead of spanking Mickey with the broom, we get this hope-filled ending that echoes Mickey’s wishes at the beginning.

Thus ends The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, which I might call something of a hidden gem; hidden for two reasons. First, Paul Murry’s regular Mickey comics tended not to be all that exciting, as GeoX pointed out once or twice. Second, the cartoon’s popularity actually contributes to making the story more obscure, since it’s so much more famous than its comic adaptation; the poor thing really has no way to shine by itself. And that’s a shame. Hearing me at IDW ? Probably not, but if you are in spite of all probabilities, here’s a tip: reprint that presto.