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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.



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