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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.