Sunday, December 28, 2014

Seems Like Old "Life and Times"... Except It's Not.

IDW's first Disney comics release was solicited in last week's PREVIEWS: an oversized "Artist's Edition" of the first six chapters of Don Rosa's LIFE AND TIMES OF $CROOGE McDUCK.  The price is listed as "$ Please Inquire."  I know that something is probably out of my price range when it is priced in the same manner as freshly-caught fish at a fine restaurant.

Still no word on when "regular" IDW Disney offerings might be arriving.

Saturday, December 27, 2014


The Internet really is like the Wild West.  If you wander into the wrong place at the wrong time, you can figuratively be "blasted full o' holes" for looking at someone funny... BUT, you can also run across the most unlikely treasures in the most unexpected places.  Take the case of the long-rumored "Making of DuckTales" documentary.  The Chip & Dale's Rescue Rangers documentary is readily available, and you'll occasionally run across images from the Tale Spin equivalent of same...

... but a behind-the-scenes look at DuckTales, the series that started WDTVA's syndicated ball rolling and led to The Disney Afternoon?  Not a trace... THAT IS, until I accidentally ran across this the other day:

As best I can tell, this promo ran as part of something called "Disney Day Off," a Disney cartoon marathon that ran on a local station.  (Note the occasional display of the air time of the syndicated series.)  It makes sense that Disney would use the opportunity provided by buying time on a local channel to spread the word about its new series, especially since airing it exclusively on The Disney Channel would have reached only a small portion of the potential audience. 

It's amusing to note how blithely Disney uses the names of such Carl Barks supporting players as Gyro Gearloose, Magica De Spell, and the Beagle Boys as "hooks" to snare viewers' interest.  How many kids in 1987 could have been expected to know who those characters were?  Evidently, the company was figuring that the "lure" of the supposedly better-known Scrooge and HD&L would be enough to entice eyeballs.  Even that seems something of a stretch, despite the then-recent revival of American Disney comics.

The obvious followup question here is, are there any more of these featurettes floating around?  Perhaps one focusing on Scrooge, or one focusing on the Nephews?  It wouldn't surprise me.

Book Review: FUNNYBOOKS by Michael Barrier (University of California Press, 2014)

What Michael Barrier did for the history of classic Hollywood studio animation in HOLLYWOOD CARTOONS, he does here for the golden years of Dell Comics and its most accomplished and historically significant creators -- Walt Kelly, John Stanley, and, above all, Carl Barks.  While devoting most of his critical attention to this trio of greats and the ways in which they helped shape the development of the American comic book into an art form with its own distinct verbal and visual language, Barrier also unearths facts and highlights overlooked personalities in a manner that is sure to surprise and delight even the most knowledgeable Dell/Western Publishing fan.

As was the case with HOLLYWOOD CARTOONS, FUNNYBOOKS had an extremely long gestation period, with Barrier using interview material from as far back as the 1960s to help craft his narrative.  Barrier also draws upon material used in his 1981 book-length study of Carl Barks, but he expands greatly upon that earlier work.  Perhaps his most important critical achievement here is his in-depth illumination of exactly how Barks, who famously worked in isolation and with minimal (at first) editorial interference, became one of the very first comics creators to "crack the code" and essentially discover how to tell effective stories in comic-book form.  Barks fans have always known of the Old Duck Man's mastery of narrative, but they will come away from this discussion with a newfound appreciation of the wider importance of his work.

Barrier pretty clearly considers Barks to be primus inter pares even among the "really good ones," but Kelly and Stanley get their due and then some.  Kelly's creation and development of the POGO characters is covered in detail, as is Stanley's work on LITTLE LULU, but Barrier brings their other notable comic-book works (e.g., Kelly's stories for OUR GANG and his fairy-tale and Christmas comics, Stanley's honing of his craft in NEW FUNNIES) under similar critical scrutiny.  As was made quite clear in HOLLYWOOD CARTOONS, Barrier is a very astringent analyst, and it takes quite a lot for a story to wring praise out of him.  Everyone who knows these creators will probably disagree with Barrier's assessments at some point -- for example, I think that he is much too harsh on Barks' more loosely-wound, but still immensely entertaining, UNCLE $CROOGE stories from the 1960s -- but he always has a well-considered reason for his opinions.

The "extra material" here is what really lifts FUNNYBOOKS to "instant classic" status.  Anyone who has ever wondered about the precise relationships between the various corporate subsidiaries and allies grouped under the spreadeagled "Western Publishing" umbrella -- Whitman, K.K. Publications, Dell, Gold Key -- will have any and all questions answered to their satisfaction here.  Interested in the early history of LOONEY TUNES AND MERRIE MELODIES, the Warner Bros. "answer" to WALT DISNEY'S COMICS AND STORIES, or in how Dell handled such significant "non-funny-animal" licensed properties as TARZAN and various movie cowboy heroes?  You'll learn about some of these comics' most accomplished writers and artists here.  Perhaps the biggest surprise is a brief discussion of "the Jim Davis shop," an association of artists who produced "funny-animal" challenges, of a sort, to Dell's humorous hegemony for the notorious comics entrepreneur Benjamin Sangor.  It's nice to see the exquisitely obscure characters that came out of this outfit get some recognition, even if Barrier's primary purpose for bringing them up is to demonstrate how their comics failed while the best of Dell's succeeded.

If I have a small nitpick here, it is with Barrier's comparatively brusque brushing-aside of the Gold Key era.  Yes, that era did see ill-considered format and price changes and increasing editorial restrictions, but there was a whole lot of high-quality material being produced at that time, as well.  (See Joe Torcivia's 50th Anniversary tribute for numerous examples.)  I fully realize that Barrier's intention was always to focus on the years before the Dell/Western split, but a few extra pages discussing some of the GK highlights couldn't have hurt.  Anyone want to pick up the bracketed torch (as opposed to fallen; it's not as if Barrier failed, after all) and try writing a sequel?

So, what are you waiting for?  If you care at all about the Dell Comics that truly WERE "Good Comics," or simply about the history of quality comics in general, FUNNYBOOKS virtually defines the term "MUST-GET."

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas!

To quote Don Karnage: "Is this not the season of giving?"  Then, let's celebrate the holiday by giving some love to the much-put-upon Bonkers AND the sadly underused Fawn Deer.  I still wish that the Bonkers production crew had stuck it out with Miranda Wright as Bonkers' partner.  The cast of Bonkers' friends and foes in the Wright eps -- some of whom can be seen in silhouette on the wall in Shelley Pleger's illo -- held at least as much potential as the Toons that were introduced when Lucky Piquel entered the show.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Comics Review: MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDS FOREVER #12 (December 2014, IDW)

Brenda Hickey's cover homage to the "Nowhere Man" sequence from Yellow Submarine (1968) isn't just for funsies.  This issue is a no-holds-barred "psychedelic experience" complete with what THE OVERSTREET PRICE GUIDE (or at least the editions I've seen) would have no hesitation labeling as a "drug use motif."  One could argue that it stands to reason that color-coordinated ponies with strange powers would inevitably have to endure a scenario like this at some point.  And who better to experience the full brunt of the "trip" than Pinkie Pie

My opinion of the issue as a whole could charitably be described as "mixed."  I appreciate the immense effort that Hickey, who has sure as shootin' taken a long, strange trip since her MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC comic-book debut, puts into making this thing truly bizarre, and I did enjoy the cleverness of Barbara Kesel's dialogue.  The problem is that, given the whisper-thin plot premise, I don't think that this tale merited a full issue.  The vast majority of the story seems to take place in the "Pinkie Zone," and that's an area that is fun to visit in the short run but tends to drive the visitor away in the long run, simply because Pinkie is so over the top... and she's roughly 100 stories OVER "over the top" here.  In the end, I think that Kesel and Hickey simply try TOO hard to punch the weirdness across.  I can see this working better as one of the backup features that have appeared in most issues of the MLP:FIM flagship title.

I'm not going to bother with SPOILERS here, since the plot could be scribbled on both sides of the paper in a Chinese fortune cookie, with room left over for the standard "lucky numbers" and one-sentence sliver of wisdom. Pinkie is obsessed with treats called "Phenomnomenons" and comes to ask for Twilight Sparkle's assistance in resisting their sugary Siren call, but she ultimately learns that the best way to "kick a habit" is by using one's own willpower.  Welcome back to the 80's... "Just Say No" has returned with a vengeance!  Kesel and Hickey would probably deny that such was their intention, but that's the way the message comes across.  The only added feature here is Twilight's personal intervention, which is itself presented in considerably-further-than-off-the-wall fashion.  For example, Twilight uses the hyped-up Pinkie's innate kinetic energy to trap the pink pony in a Mousetrap-style game-cum-prison.

Unfortunately, Kesel and Hickey muddy their supposed moral a bit in the last panel with Spike.  He didn't really need to be in this issue at all, actually, which makes the coda all the more obnoxious. 

These are definitely NOT the weirdest pages in the story... just the ones I could readily find online.

Aside from its sheer "bizzaritude," this tale will wind up rating a footnote of sorts in MLP:FIM trivia lore, because it marks the first time that any sort of canonical or quasi-canonical pony story has spent any time inside Twilight's "Friendship Castle," the gaudy structure that first appeared at the end of the show's two-part season four finale, "Twilight's Kingdom."  Most of Twilight's anti-temptation experiments take place inside the castle; things don't begin to fall apart for our favorite scholarly alicorn princess until the field of battle shifts outdoors to the open-air food market.

Not a flop, but not really what I prefer to see in an MLP:FIM comic-book story, either.  At least, a full-length one.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Book Review: WALT DISNEY'S MICKEY MOUSE, VOLUME 6: LOST IN LANDS OF LONG AGO by Floyd Gottfredson (Fantagraphics, 2014)

We've finally hit the mother lode of the early-modern (read: "post-pie-eyed" and "pre-all-gags-all-the-time") MICKEY MOUSE strip.  If I had to choose a single era of Floyd Gottfredson's prime creative years in which I felt the strip was at its very best, it would be 1940-42, the years covered in this volume.  No single story jumps up and presents itself as a "smack-you-across-the-face" classic on the order of "Mickey Mouse Outwits the Phantom Blot," but all of them are, at the very least, good.  Merrill de Maris' imaginative verbal interpretations of Gottfredson's plotting is at its best, while Bill Wright's inking is slick and confident.  The locations of the stories spreadeagle the map; to take the most head-spinning example, Mickey jumps from a bloody, near-deadly encounter with the primitive inhabitants of the "Lost World" of Cave-Man Island ("Land of Long Ago") right into the catty "drawing-room comedy of manners" (so saith yours truly, in an introductory essay) that is "Mickey Mouse in Love Trouble."

A fan's appetite for revisiting (or, in such rarely-reprinted cases as "Mystery at Hidden River" and "Mickey Mouse, Super Salesman," making initial acquaintance with) these tales is made all the keener by the knowledge that major changes in the strip were just over the horizon.  De Maris departed the scene in 1942, Dick Moores assumed the inking chores soon after, and we would have to negotiate several long stretches of gag strips before Bill Walsh took firm control of the plottery... and promptly steered the stories into very different, though still highly entertaining, channels.  Thad Komorowski has a good point when he fingers "Hidden River" as the last adventure that could be said to fit the "prewar Gottfredson adventure model." (This is quite literally true: Pearl Harbor was attacked just as Mickey was riding down a log flume, heading for the end of the North Woods encounter with a newly pegless Peg-Leg Pete.)  The happiest thought that one can take away from these tales is that the "prewar model" rolled out of the shops in first-class condition, rather than gasping to the finish line.


The best story herein?  Well, I'm kinda prejudiced in favor of "Love Trouble," but even I would admit that an actual adventure needs to take pride of place, and I'm perfectly fine with Byron Erickson's praise of "The Bar-None Ranch" as an ideal story to show a "Gottfredson newbie" so as to pique his or her interest in seeking out more of the strip.  The story has very few plotting problems and a good mix of humor, action, and "forward thinking" (Peg-Leg Pete's use of a scientist's "dinguses" to create the illusion that he is an unstoppable master crook).  In addition to being a bit more sedate -- not to mention a bit dated in its portrayal of feminine "wiles" and overall bitchery -- "Love Trouble" also contains an annoying flaw, one that I did not mention in my essay but have always found irritating, nonetheless.  In order to get back at Minnie's stepping out with the caddish, superficially debonair Montmorency "Rodawn," Mickey calls on his cousin Madeline to play the role of visiting debutante Millicent Van Gilt-Mouse, who becomes smitten with him.  At one point, though, when we see Madeline call Mickey on a house phone, Mickey answers and refers to her as "Millicent."  What, does he think Minnie has the phone tapped?  They're conversing in private, so why just call Madeline by her real name?  And it would have been so easy to have fixed the problem, too, by having the two meet at a cafe or something.  OK, it's not as obvious a flaw as the sudden change of the mysterious ghosts in "Bellhop Detective" from three-dimensional spooks to 2-D projections on a wall... it's just that this story came SO close to stone perfection.  I can't help but be just a LITTLE resentful.

Insert "beach/bitch" gag here.

We begin to get inklings (and even a few overt mentions) of the war era in "Hidden River" and "The Gleam."  One possible essay feature that I would like to see in the next volume -- which will take us deep into the war years -- is how depictions of the conflict in the MICKEY strip changed over time.  I've only had extensive exposure to the Walsh-scripted continuities from 1944 and 1945, and some of those stories could certainly be considered more or less escapist.  I seem to recall that there was far more actual war-related material (including war-themed gags) in the strip during the first few full years of the conflict.  At least we won't have long to wait to test my theory.

Feature material in this volume includes a cartoon tribute by Stephen DeStefano (of Disney Comics peak-years fame), reprintings of several panels' worth of examples of the Gottfredson "redraws" that appeared in WALT DISNEY'S COMICS AND STORIES in the late 40s and 50s, and an "Heirs of Gottfredson" piece on Carl Barks that includes a color reprinting of Carl's one MICKEY adventure, 1945's "The Riddle of the Red Hat" (FOUR COLOR #79).  For something that Barks claimed to not be his "cup of tea," this story is surprisingly good.  Barks certainly didn't mail it in; he does a particularly good job of writing Goofy. 

One comment of Gottfredson's concerning this era that probably should have been mentioned somewhere in here was his claim that the revenue from the MICKEY strip and the other ongoing Disney strips was literally keeping the straitened Walt Disney Studios above water in the early 40s.  (Recall that Pinocchio [1940] had been a box-office disappointment, the first release of Fantasia [1940] was an out-and-out bomb, and the war had cost Disney the overseas market.)  How about a statistical report at some point on how successful the MICKEY strip actually was?  Do those data even exist any more?  It's worth a dig through the appropriate archives, if you ask me.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

DUCKTALES Fanfic Review: "The Lost Tomb of Pharaoh Sedqaduck" by "Stretch Snodgrass"

And so, we trudge back into the DuckTales fanfic salt mines... or, should I say, the sand dunes!

Needless to say, adventure in desert settings are nothing new to our feathered Disney friends, either in print or on screens both small and large.  Carl Barks' first full-length solo adventure story took Donald and HD&L to a reasonably authentic Egypt, and, when Disney Movietoons decided to mount a DuckTales feature film, writer Alan Burnett spun the plot out of Scrooge's quest to find the lost treasure of Collie Baba.  There are, of course, numerous other examples of the "Ducks in Egypt" trope in both media.

I bring this up because our "writer of interest," one "Stretch Snodgrass," picked a surprisingly well-worn trail on which to follow his muse.  He's not trying to do anything Earth-shattering in "The Lost Tomb of Pharaoh Sedqaduck" -- just tell an entertaining comedy-adventure story in the classic DT tradition, complete with copious references to DT episodes past.  He succeeds rather well, particularly in the clever manner in which he stirs an unexpected guest-star character -- one who (1) had only one featured role in the TV series and (2) has rarely featured in adventures of any stripe -- into the mix.






THE STORY:  With "long-lost map" in hand, Scrooge travels to Egypt to seek out the titular cenotaph, the last resting place of Sedqaduck, the "unlucky" 13th Pharaoh of the 13th Dynasty, and his "greatest treasures."  His companions on the journey are HD&L, Launchpad, and... "Uncle" Gladstone??  (Yep, that's what the boys call him.  Personally, I take the idea of Gladstone being the Nephews' uncle as seriously as I do that of Daisy being the boys' aunt.)  Unsurprisingly, Gladstone isn't initially keen on the idea...after all, it sounds too much like work.  Scrooge ultimately convinces Gladstone to come along by challenging his ganderhood, or something close to it, and away they go.  Flintheart Glomgold and Bankjob and Big Time Beagle get wind of Scrooge's destination in "Master of the Djinni" fashion -- via a newspaper photograph that reveals the details of Scrooge's map ("When will Scroogie learn not to leave his map in plain sight?" cackles Flinty) -- but, after a half-hearted attempt at attacking Scrooge's party at an oasis literally blows up in their faces, the baddies (somewhat surprisingly) drop clean out of the story.  Instead, we simply follow Scrooge's party as they reach and explore the long-hidden, seriously eerie Valley of Pharaoh Sedqaduck.  But why has Gladstone's luck suddenly turned sour?  And why is Scrooge so heck-bent on convincing Gladstone that his luck isn't bad, all the while scotching any overt mention of "thirteen," "luck," and similar words freighted with intimations of good or bad fortune?...

PLOTPretty doggone solid, with some effective suspense and scares, though some of the plotting could have been improved. (**** out of *****)

If you choose to read this story, don't be initially put off by "Stretch"'s staccato style, or the manner in which he tells the reader some fairly basic information about the characters (e.g., that Huey, Dewey, and Louie wear red, blue, and green).  Stick with it, and you'll be rewarded, especially once the gang starts the actual pyramid hunt.  This is more of a straightforward "there and back again" storyline than the plots seen in "Master of the Djinni" or even DuckTales: The Movie.  It has some longueurs, but "Stretch" keeps up some good, in-character banter between the Ducks, though his funniest material is unintentionally so (see WRITING AND HUMOR below).

As is the case in so many Barks adventures, Scrooge doesn't actually wind up carting home the complete treasure.  In place of it, he gets what are for all intents and purposes "parting gifts," courtesy of the ghost of the departed Pharaoh.  Considering that these items are designed more to educate the world about the cloudy history of Sedqaduck's unfortunate reign than they are to enrich someone, Scrooge accepts them with considerable grace... which is more than one can say about, for example, his petulant reaction to "love, the greatest treasure of them all" in "A DuckTales Valentine."  True to his nature, though, he does find a way to profit in the end.

For a story rated the equivalent of "E for Everyone," there is some seriously creepy material here.  The discovery of a group of skeletons from an unsuccessful expedition by medieval Arabs to plunder the valley comes as a considerable jolt.  The shock would have been more severe had the corpses been found by the Pharaoh's tomb, as they by all rights should have been, given that Scrooge interprets the map as saying that "the curse of death falls only upon those who violate the Pharaoh's final resting place."  Since the skeletons were found a good distance away from the pyramid, I sense a disturbance in the plot structure here, though it's not quite bad enough to raise the dead.

In addition to harboring dead would-be looters, the Valley of Sedqaduck is also noiseless.  Various fauna are present, but they don't make a sound.  Scrooge hand-waves away the Ducks' ability to make themselves heard by suggesting that outsiders who enter the Valley aren't affected, while Dewey appeals to "an ancient Egyptian magic spell."  Dewey's dodge works for me, especially in a world that contains Magica De Spell.

The creepiest detail of all, however, is the simple fact that Pharaoh Sedqaduck and his entire royal retinue are still present in spirit form, tending to the evergreen gardens and keeping the buildings in perfect condition.  The "curse" on anyone entering Sedqaduck's tomb is supposed to last for 13,000 years, or until the world ends (nice escape clause, that).  Presumably, therefore, the ghosts will continue to perform their janitorial services until that time.  But what happens then?  Will Sedqaduck and his people consider that to be "game over" and vanish, leaving the Valley to succumb to the elements?  That seems like an unhappy ending (for them) to me.  Or will the fact that Scrooge has peacefully brought the truth about "unlucky" Sedqaduck's reign to the outside world give the spirits a reason to rise to the heavens, in the manner of "The Garbled One" and Khufu in "Sphinx for the Memories"?

Unfortunately, "Stretch" seems to have forgotten to edit an early detail about the lost tomb's location.  Scrooge originally gleans from the map that the tomb is "inside a mountain," whereas the actual pyramid is in a valley surrounded by cliffs and "mountainous" sand dunes.  We could attribute this goof to Scrooge's misreading of the map, but, when your fact-checkers have the Junior Woodchuck Guidebook at hand, I doubt that any such slip would have slipped by.

The final scene has something of a Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea "coffee scene" ((c) Joe Torcivia) vibe, in that we find the Ducks back in Duckburg and discussing their adventure over a meal at Quack Maison. (Remember?  That was the place where Gladstone and Scrooge went to eat breakfast in "Dime Enough for Luck" and that unfortunate "clerical error" concerning the restaurant's "millionth customer" took place).  It's decent, but also something of a letdown, given that the Ducks had already had dinner at the place earlier in the story, at the time when Scrooge finally convinced Gladstone to join the adventure.  I appreciate "Stretch"'s willingness to exploit Gladstone's one DT appearance to the hilt, but bringing the Ducks back to QM might have been going a dish too far.

Perhaps the most puzzling aspect of the plot is the quick dismissal of the villains.  In truth, they don't actually get to do much of interest. However, there is a most intriguing moment when Bankjob, remembering how Scrooge saved him, Babyface, and Bugle/Bebop from the pirates in "Time Teasers," suggests that the baddies ask Scrooge for assistance in getting back to civilization.  Glomgold is having none of that, preferring a long, hot, and problematic desert trek to lowering himself to ask Scrooge for aid.  Had the bad guys actually joined Scrooge's party, the conflict between Flinty's pride and greed might have made for an interesting subplot. (Admittedly, it might also have interfered with the subplot that was already present, which I'll discuss under CHARACTERIZATION).  Instead, "Stretch" dismisses the villains with a couple of paragraphs of narrative.  I suppose that "Stretch" felt that the adventure simply "had" to include an appearance by familiar villains in order to seem "authentic."  There are plenty of examples to the contrary, though, and, all in all, I think that "Stretch" should have let the Ducks handle this one by themselves, with no opponents save the elements... and the internal conflicts.

CHARACTERIZATIONPretty solid, as well, with the only possible question being how we are expected to regard Scrooge's behavior towards Gladstone.  (**** out of *****)

"Stretch" does a pretty decent job with most of the basics here. The Nephews may consult the Junior Woodchuck Guidebook a few too many times -- I'm sure that their native intelligence could have helped them to figure out that pyramids were never used as homes, and that water, however brackish or distasteful, is essential for life to flourish in the desert -- but they make up for it late in the game by doping out Scrooge's scheme re Gladstone (about which more in a moment) all by their lonesomes.  Launchpad is Launchpad, 'nuff said, while Gladstone, appropriately enough, is given his slightly softer, more laid-back DuckTales persona, as opposed to the more obnoxious characterization introduced by Barks.  On the unlikability scale, whining a bit about tramping through the desert and making a couple of self-satisfied remarks about his luck seeing him through don't really amount to much.  "Stretch" even provides Gladstone with a new (and atypical) vulnerable spot, in that the gander takes umbrage at Scrooge's questioning of his bravery on more than one occasion.  Scrooge hasn't been concerned (at least openly) about others' cojones since "Christmas on Bear Mountain."  But Gladstone's determination to prove Scrooge wrong reflects another side of his overweening pride... one that is less smug and more proactive.

The big character-related question arising from this epic is how, exactly, we are expected to react to Scrooge's subterranean decision to bring Gladstone along as a kind of "anti-bad-fortune fail-safe" to sense the "curse" that is supposed to lie on Sedqaduck's tomb -- and, more significantly, his determination to keep his reasoning under wraps until after the fact.  Scrooge figures that, if there really is such a "curse," then Gladstone's luck will sense it and try to keep him and the other Ducks safe by any means necessary... including bouts of bad luck.  Gladstone's increasing gaffe-proneness as the Ducks close in on their goal, and the result of the final advance towards the tomb, tend to bear out Scrooge's theory.  But can this honestly be said to be "square dealing" by Scrooge, even though his intention was an honorable one?

Complicating our interpretation of Scrooge's behavior is a scene that occurs as the Ducks prepare to go into the Valley.  A panicky Gladstone is (understandably) worried that another "Dime Enough for Luck" scenario may be playing itself out, but Scrooge bluntly dismisses his concerns and gives Gladstone his personal promise that the gander's luck hasn't really turned bad.  The narrative presents this as an example of Scrooge's commitment to straight dealing with others, which, given the underlying subterfuge that the old miser is practicing, doesn't quite ring true.  Gladstone makes the point that Scrooge, who "[denies luck] even exists" (I guess the Old #1 Dime is just a cherished memento in this version of DT continuity?), couldn't be expected to understand how luck works.  Scrooge is obliged to rely upon sheer force of will to convince Gladstone to believe that Scrooge is telling the truth.  Our... uh, hero, ladies and gentlemen?  The jury may have a hard time reaching a verdict on that one.

Personally, I think that it would have made far more sense for "Stretch" to have had Scrooge tell Gladstone the truth up front, using logic to convince the gander that he will be in no danger precisely because Gladstone's luck will protect him by going bad at the appointed time.  That would have made for an interesting psychological conflict for Gladstone, who is so used to being benefited by his luck that he might find it hard to wrap his mind around the concept of bad luck doing him some good.  Using that subplot in place of the "Scrooge rather clumsily conceals the truth for everyduck's own good" would have been much trickier for "Stretch" to do, but it would have avoided the somewhat awkward characterization of Scrooge that the "subterfuge" angle forced the author to use.

A coda regarding Pharaoh Sedqaduck himself: The dead ruler's appearance in ghost-guise is brief but memorable.  During the adventure, we learn that the "unlucky" ruler was not a bungler so much as a ruler who had the misfortune of facing a large number of enemies without the resources to keep them at bay. Sedqaduck shows that his troubles have not robbed him of a certain sense of humor when he disses Launchpad for having complained earlier that Sedqaduck's museum of artifacts was "dull."  The greatest ruler of ancient times he wasn't, but he certainly doesn't come off as a dope on the order of Barks' spendthrift King Nutmost the Rash ("A Cobbler Should Stick to His Last," UNCLE $CROOGE #25, March 1959).

HOMEWORKDone to a turn.  (***** out of *****)

From the opening gong, references fly thick and fast -- and they're far from being the standard references to previous desert adventures that you might expect.  The aforementioned references to Scrooge's map-mistake in "Master of the Djinni" and Bankjob's remembrance of Scrooge's generosity in "Time Teasers" certainly got MY attention, and some other clever ones are worthy of special mention.

(1) Gladstone refers to the Ducks' near-death experience in "Too Much of a Gold Thing" as an example of how dangerous adventuring can be.  Makes you wonder: how widely did news of the Ducks' travails in the Valley of the Golden Suns actually spread?  One can understand Scrooge wanting to keep the Valley's fate a secret from the general public, just in case some crazies decided to imitiate El Capitan and dig endlessly (and futilely) for riches in the ruins.  Any acquaintances whom Scrooge trusted with the info were undoubtedly sworn to some form of secrecy... and it's therefore surprising that Scrooge didn't shush Gladstone (or even whack him with his cane) when Gladstone mentioned the adventure at the Ducks' table at Quack Maison.

(2) Glomgold reacts to Bankjob and Big Time's bomb-bungling by grumbling, "Now I know why you two never work together!" -- which, in fact, they never actually had before, unless you count that mob-scene in "Full Metal Duck" (which was itself a skull session, as opposed to an actual gig) and set aside the comic-book story "The Great Chase" (preferably, at a VERY great distance).  Given that Bankjob and Big Time are actually among the more competent of the DT Beagles, their treatment here seems a bit uncharitable of "Stretch."

(3) To while away the time during a long flight, Launchpad tells Gladstone tall tales of his exploits, among which is his "harrowing hiatus with the Harpies" ("The Golden Fleecing").  Evidently, to Launchpad, any adventure you can walk away from is a tale-worthy one, even if one's role in it is somewhat, well, embarrassing.  Speaking of which, Launchpad invokes the "Any crash you can..." mantra a couple of times here.

You do have to respect a writer who treats canonical series material in such ingenious and imaginative ways.

WRITING AND HUMORAcceptable at best, and most of the humor is of the accidental variety.  (*** out of *****)

From the spellings of certain words such as "tonnes" for "tons," to the use of the phrase "the lot of them," to Scrooge's reminiscence about picnicking in a country "kirkyard," I gather that "Stretch" is probably a native of the British Isles.  "Stretch"'s writing gets the job done, but it does fall victim to the occasional dropped comma and misspelling.

One must give kudos to "Stretch" for having the daring to try to reproduce the Ducks' "synchronized snoring" in prose.  It results in an unintentionally humorous bit:

"Huh," snored Scrooge.

"Shhhh[,]" continued Huey.

"Quack, quack," slept Dewey and Louie respectively.

That last sentence reads as if "Stretch" is using "to sleep" as a verb capable of taking a direct object.  What would such objects be, I wonder?

I also found the following throwaway paragraph amusing.  Read this, and see if you don't get a distinct impression of Launchpad being pwned:

Scrooge divided the adults into three watches: Gladstone first, as he liked to stay up late; Scrooge last, as he usually woke up early, as "the early bird catches the worm"; Launchpad received the difficult midnight and early morning hours, because it was the only one that was left. 

QUESTIONABLE MATERIALNone, aside from the aforementioned scares and ghosts (which aren't actually all THAT scary).

OVERALL***** out of *****.   N&V RECOMMENDED.

While not spectacular by any means, "The Lost Tomb of Pharaoh Sedqaduck" is a fun read and displays commendable effort.  If you like classic "lost-ruby jungle plunges" with a couple of intriguing (though somewhat problematic) twists, then you should enjoy this story.

NEXT FANFIC UP:  "The Sincere Fraud" by "Commander."  In the not-to-distant DT future, the Nephews' mother Della returns... after a long stay in jail.  I got a BAD feeling about this, Mr. McDee...

Friday, December 5, 2014

"Not pony tales, but"... actually, YES, pony tales.

I have been pretty busy this past week and haven't gotten many opportunities to blog.  I still have a couple of tomes on the old pile-a-roo to read and review.  I'm also deciding on the next DUCKTALES comic-book story and fanfic to dissect.  We're heading into finals week, however, so those features won't appear until the second half of December, at the earliest.

In the meantime, I have some delectable crossover matter for you to nosh on.  I stumbled across these items while I was... OK, I'll admit it, I was searching for a DuckTales/My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic crossover fanfic.  I did find one, but... let's just say that I would prefer to pass over it in silence.  I'm sure that the writer did his or her best, but there's just not that much substance to the thing.

Graphical blandishers have been busier:

The image is from IDW's MLP MICRO-SERIES COMIC #8, the one featuring Celestia.  Unfortunately, these kids were making fun of the aging and increasingly oblivious teacher Inkwell.  I'd almost have preferred that they were playing hooky or something.  Also... "A-WOOOOOO"?  Is that the DuckTales theme song or a Warren Zevon hit from the 70s?

If you're not satisfied with ponified versions of HD&L, how about the real McCoys... and an entirely new distaff challenge.  And the lads thought they had issues with Webby and Gosalyn...

Perhaps this faceoff took place during an adventure in which Scrooge found himself in Equestria and immediately did what comes naturally to him -- namely, search for treasure.  Since the MLP:FIM TV episode "A Dog and Pony Show" clearly indicated that certain areas of Equestria are chock-full of gems, this would be a natural thing to do.  Due to the completely alien territory, it would also be natural that Scrooge would seek assistance from a local expert, whose many talents include an ability to find gems with her magic:

I can't wait to see "the division of the spoils" after this adventure.  Rarity's charm (and magic) vs. Scrooge's will (and proven ability to do effective battle with a magical adversary)!  Which would prevail?

Apparently, someone was planning to write a fanfic with this title, but this picture is as far as they got.  Maybe they'll get back to it someday.  If they do, then I hope they'll consider changing the title.  "Friendship is Money" doesn't sound quite as... well, warm as the show's actual title.

As for Launchpad, provided that he could fit his trusty 'copter through the gate, or portal, or continuity rift, or whatever would allow communion between the Ducks and the ponies, I'm sure that he'd get into the spirit of Equestria and make friends quite easily.




Promos have begun to appear on Discovery Kids (nee The Hub) promising the return of new MLP:FIM episodes in Spring 2015.  I had to chuckle a bit at the teaser below, because it partakes so transparently of "movie trailer-style overkill."  Where is the late Dan LaFontaine when you need him?  "IN A WORLD where Twilight Sparkle discovers the magic of friendship..."

Friday, November 28, 2014

Book Review: WALT DISNEY'S UNCLE $CROOGE: THE SEVEN CITIES OF GOLD by Carl Barks (Fantagraphics Books, 2014)

If this be "skimming," then at least it's mostly cream.  In his seminal CARL BARKS AND THE ART OF THE COMIC BOOK, Michael Barrier* praised the earliest UNCLE $CROOGE stories -- in particular, "Only a Poor Old Man" -- to the highest heavens but then argued that, with Scrooge's essential nature having been revealed whole during these tales, there was nothing more that Barks could do with the old miser that wouldn't be "skimming the surface" in comparison.  When he used that phrase, Barrier had in mind tales exactly like the ones in this collection, the stories from U$ #7-12 (1954-55).  Here, we can see Barks really settling in with the notion of using Scrooge as an adventure hero in search of lost treasures -- the genre that William Van Horn once tongue-in-cheekedly described as "plunging into the jungle in search of the lost ruby."  In the sense that these stories don't delve as deeply into what drives Scrooge as did "Poor Old Man" or "Back to the Klondike," then Barrier has a point; after all, Scrooge can be "fully realized for the first time" only once.  But even Barrier had to admit that many of these "second-stage" offerings are "beautifully crafted."  Given that Barks was still getting used to the whole idea of Scrooge playing an heroic role on a regular basis, that's certainly an admirable enough achievement.

If Barrier doesn't have a full appreciation of Barks' craft during this period, then DuckTales sure as shootin' did.  The TV series borrowed liberally from Barks' output during this time, producing direct adaptations of "The Lemming with the Locket" and "The Golden Fleecing" and swiping the conflict from "The Great Steamboat Race" to serve as a centerpiece of its ill-fated Scrooge biography, "Once Upon a Dime."  And that may not be the end of the story.  As I argued when discussing "Too Much of a Gold Thing," the final chapter of "Treasure of the Golden Suns," one could make a good argument that "The Seven Cities of Cibola" had a direct influence on that climactic classic, just as it did on a certain Mr. Lucas and Mr. Spielberg.

As great as the finest of these tales are, I do have to admit that this volume contains the first U$ feature story that I didn't much care for: "The Mysterious Stone Ray," aka "The Mysterious Unfinished Invention," aka "Leave Stranded and Petrified Beagle Boys Lie."  I previously reviewed it here.  The story is currently ranked 16th among all Disney comics stories at Inducks, which I quite frankly cannot fathom.  Our own GeoX bombed quite savagely on "The Menehune Mystery" as Barks' first really sh**ty $CROOGE story (Geo, of course, used the uncensored version of the word), but "Stone Ray" is poorly organized and is illogical in so many ways that it's hard for me, at least, to regard it as being distinctly better than "Menehune."  Chacun a son gout, and all that.  The use of the two unrelated "adventurettes" in U$ #11, "The Great Steamboat Race" and "Riches, Riches Everywhere," is just a bit irritating -- I'm sure that at least a few of Barks' loyal readers back in 1955 regarded the unprecedented double-dip in the same way that DuckTales fans regarded that series' only venture into the two-story format (in Episode 11, no less! How about that?!), but at least the Barks tales are actually good.

Artistically speaking, Barks is still close to the top of his game here, though the effects of the notorious mid-50s "drawing paper switch" that stiffened up his art for a while can first be seen here (in U$ #11).  The worst of these effects won't show up until the "tall Ducks" period of the late 50s, however, and, all things considered, Barks' initial adaptation to the switcheroo is quite adept.  On the gag side, we see the initial one-page salvos in the "free cup of coffee wars" between Scrooge and the unfortunate diner owner who will have to wait more than half a century before his psychological torment can be comprehensively examined in a real, live, full-length story.

* In case you were unaware of the fact, FUNNYBOOKS, Barrier's new book-length history of the "Dell Comics are Good Comics" era, presently stands on the cusp of release.  Barrier can be an astringent analyst, but his views are always worth considering, so anyone with an interest in the Dell days should pick this book up, either for oneself or as a gift for a like-minded friend.  Given IDW's aggressive action in acquiring the Disney comics license and its sturdy stable of licensed properties and original creations, might we be on the verge of seeing the rise of "the new Dell"?  Time will dell... er, tell.

ECAC Southeast Bowl: Stevenson 27, Bethany (WV) 9 (11/22)

Given an unexpected opportunity to extend their season -- and on friendly turf, no less -- the Mustangs took full advantage against the Bethany (WV) Bison in a concoction called the ECAC Southeast Bowl.  The game took place at the end of a very cold week, so, despite a fairly benevolent Saturday forecast, Nicky and I came bundled up, with an extra blanket in tow, just in case.  Even so, the wind and cold were severe enough that we decided to vamoose at halftime.  It was a good decision, because Stevenson already had a 23-0 lead, playing an exceptionally crisp first half.  (They did miss an extra point, but we've sort of come to expect that by now.)  The second half was apparently much less pleasing, but the Mustangs already had the game in hand anyway. 

The crowd was a little subdued, partially because of people's attire (it's hard to clap loudly when you're wearing gloves) and partially because there just weren't that many people on hand.  The players made up for it, though; the Mustangs' bench was easily the loudest I have ever heard it.  Evidently, finishing 8-3 and sending the 20-odd seniors out on a winning note was something that the players really wanted to accomplish.

Chalk this season up as a huge success, and let's try for Middle Atlantic title contention in 2015!

Monday, November 24, 2014

DUCKTALES Fanfic Review: "The Reunion at Duckburg" by "Sosa Lola"

At long (and seemingly interminable) last, it's time to begin examining some of the very best Duckfic fantales!... Er, DuckTales fanfics!

Before I begin, I'd like to acknowledge my good friend Mark Lungo for his useful advice concerning these reviews should be organized.  In the Disney Afternoon apa WTFB, Mark developed something of a specialization in the assessment of fan-created prose works.  The "star" rating system for various features of the story is entirely my own.

You can find "Sosa Lola"'s "The Reunion at Duckburg" here on




THE STORY:  It's Spring Break time, and Goofy and a reluctant Max travel to McDuck Mansion for one of Goofy's periodic reunions with his old pals Donald and Mickey.  There are several reasons for Max' reticence: he's reluctant to get reacquainted with Donald's Nephews, who tormented him with pranks at the last reunion at Donald's house some four years ago; Uncle Scrooge, whom Max has never met, sounds like a grouchy old miser; Goofy's enthusiasm for the get-together just doesn't seem... cool.  (In case you're wondering: HD&L appear to be their DuckTales selves here, as opposed to the teenaged Quack Pack versions, while Max likewise seems to be in his Goof Troop form, rather than his older A Goofy Movie manifestation.)  Not wanting to be victimized yet again, and somewhat alienated by Huey and Dewey's slightly snarky attitudes towards him, Max tries to get "cold-served" revenge on the triplets with a prank of his own.  The gag winds up putting Dewey in bed with an injured ankle.  An angry Goofy grounds Max for the first time ever, meaning that he's left behind while the others go out to dinner.  Scrooge, who's been busy and absent up until this time, returns home to find the unfamiliar Goof kid.  The duo hit it off reasonably well -- so much so, in fact, that Scrooge brings Max with him to the Money Bin.  Scrooge has been fretting over a threatened attack on the Bin by the Beagle Boys, who are working for Magica de Spell.  Scrooge temporarily leaves his Old #1 Dime in Max' possession while he's investigating a suspicious noise inside the Bin, and Max is promptly knocked out.  He awakes to find himself in Magica's lair on Mount Vesuvius, where Magica is preparing to finish what she started in "Send in the Clones" and create an amulet out of the cherished coin.  One hitch, however: she needs some frogs' legs to complete the recipe.  (Um, since when?)  With a heavy load of guilt sitting on his shoulders due to his failure to protect Old #1 at the Bin -- not to mention his previous misbehavior -- Max must help the Duck, Mouse, and Goof rescue party set things right, a task that becomes all the more difficult when his beloved Dad gets turned into a frog by Magica...

Well, I certainly wasn't going to pick a dog (heh) of a story with which to start my review series.  This is a fine effort, a fanfic that both reflects the familiar and expected in a (mostly) accurate fashion and goes in several new, intriguing, and entirely believable directions.

Here are my evaluations of the individual components of the tale:

PLOT:  Just fine in Chapter 1 (which ends with Scrooge taking Max to the Bin), but gets a tad "overly convenient" in a couple of spots in Chapter 2, and goes completely haywire in one particular instance.  (***1/2 out of *****) 

"Sosa Lola" him/herself seems to have been uncomfortable about the notion of the Beagle Boys bringing the unconscious Max back to Magica's lair with them when there was no need for them to do so.  How can I tell?  Because Max HIMSELF wonders why they did it. Since Magica needs frogs' legs to complete the amulet spell (again, you tell me why) and later proves to have no compunction over turning both adults and kids into frogs and threatening to rip off their legs, you would think that this would be the main reason for going to the trouble of bringing Max along, but it turns out that Magica expected the Beagles to get real frogs instead.  What makes this all the stranger is that the Beagles don't even bother to capture Scrooge; Max is the only one that enjoys the privilege of being carted away.

The good-guy cavalry arrives at Mount Vesuvius very soon after Max does -- the others actually arrive in stages, with Minnie and Daisy (who, thankfully, are not on hand just to serve as eye candy; the same goes for Webby, BTW) flying in helicopters as backup.  I don't have a problem with this, given that Scrooge was left behind to raise the alarm.  But Louie insisting on parachuting out of Launchpad's plane beforehand, under the premise that a little kid like him would be able to infiltrate Magica's place more easily?  It rings true in a character-based sense -- at least in the context of this story, as we'll soon see -- but no way can I imagine Scrooge letting Louie do that on his own recognizance.

Which would be more likely to parachute solo into a dangerous situation?

Where I really must part company with "SL" is with his decision to set Max up to be the "fall Goof" by having Scrooge give Max Old #1 for temporary safekeeping.  Mind you, Scrooge had already taken a special precaution to protect the dime by removing it from its normal storage case and sticking it inside a "pencil box" filled with loose change.  It would make all the sense in the world to simply leave it in that atypical location, as opposed to putting it in the hands of a young kid whom Scrooge has just met.  Yes, Scrooge does treat Max with respect from the start.  Even given that fact, there's no bleeding way I can see him taking such a chance.

I can't even imagine Little Scroogie doing it.

CHARACTERIZATIONS:  The best part of the story, in both a good sense and a bad sense... if you can believe it.   (***** out of *****)

Apparently, "Sosa Lola" has written several other Goof Troop fanfics in addition to this one, so I would hope that he would have a handle on what makes Max Goof tick.  He turns out to possess rather more than that.  The Max that we see here is poised somewhere between the Max of Goof Troop and the Max of A Goofy Movie.  He's still the "polite kid" who desires to be "cool," is a mean foot (feet?) with a skateboard, and easily gets embarrassed at his Dad's pratfalls, but there are more than a few hints that Max' attitude towards his own "Goofitude" and his tendency to screw things up is beginning to sour into something rather more unpleasant.  "SL" ramps up Max' feelings of inadequacy as the story progresses -- making him feel bad over his prank going wrong, making him feel ashamed of embarrassing his Dad, giving him the guilt trip over "losing" Scrooge's dime, etc.  It gets to the point where Max is so filled with "guilt and self-loathing" that he even offers to sacrifice his life so that other characters won't be harmed for Magica's benefit.  Louie is so horrified at what Max had planned to do that he literally slaps Max in the face.  Even Goofy is tempted to do the same, except that he "doesn't believe in hitting children."  Now you see why I described Max as standing between two "poles."  If one wants to take this story as belonging to "Spoonerville canon," then this might be the very moment at which "Glad Max" morphed into "Sad Max."  It makes the "happy ending" seem just a bit hollow.

Louie's reaction to Max' intended self-sacrifice resonates all the more because Louie had previously treated the visiting Goof kid with far more thoughtfulness and kindness than either of his brothers.  When you realize that the Nephews are still their DuckTales selves, this is quite something.  Numerous other fanfics that I've examined, especially those set in the indeterminate future, have taken pains to give the boys distinct characterizations.  It's as if these writers wanted to go the Quack Pack route but didn't necessarily want to use the Quack Pack versions of HD&L.  This is the first fic I've seen in which such a distinction was applied to the DuckTales versions of the boys.  Louie's slapping of Max is all the more significant because Louie appears to be disappointed with Max for even contemplating such a thing.  Evidently, Louie had been determined to befriend Max from the start.

If you're wondering why Huey and Dewey had so much more of a negative reaction than Louie did to Max' presence... well, "SL" helpfully provides us with an explanation, straight from the Ducks' (in this case, Huey's) beak.  Apparently, HD&L had always been jealous of the fact that Max lived with and was cared for by his Dad, in part because of a guilt trip carried over from their own hell-raising days.  Add to this the fact that the boys were upset that Donald (who's still in the Navy) had been unable to get away for the reunion... The unanswered question here is, what caused Louie, in particular, to have a different attitude from his brothers'?  Was "SL" consciously or unconsciously drawing on the "big-hearted" Louie of Quack Pack, the kid who protected endangered "pugduddies" and so forth? 

You have NO idea, Donald...

HOMEWORK:  To be a really good fanfic, "attention must be paid" at some point(s) to what has gone before, even if only tangentially.  "Sosa Losa" is right "on point" in this area.  (***** out of *****)

There are many, many references here to "Send in the Clones."  In fact, the first part of the showdown at Magica's lair is close to a clone (heh) of what we saw in that first syndicated ep, right down to Huey giving Magica the most trouble.  Huey and Magica each make clear references to their previous encounter.  Some lines from "Don't Give Up the Ship" are shoehorned in, as well, and Dewey (who has to sit out the battle back in Duckburg because of his injury) is referred to by Louie as "always com[ing] up with great plans."

"SL" also makes references to several Goof Troop episodes, such as "Slightly Dinghy."  Goofy's "lucky horseshoe," which enters into the denouement, first appeared in An Extremely Goofy Movie, but it's easy to imagine Goofy having that object during the Goof Troop era, so I'll let the apparent anachronism slide.

Thankfully, "Sosa" didn't add "disco references" to his story. 

WRITING AND HUMOR:  The writing's serviceable, and, given that half of the tale is an adventure and some genuinely sober subthemes are present, there are some really funny lines.  It helps that "Sosa Lola" understands how these characters should sound.  (**** out of *****)

There's one really annoying misspelling -- "stake" for "steak" -- that should really have been corrected, especially since it appeared multiple times during the course of a couple of pages.  It's also difficult at times to identify who exactly is speaking; this is a particular issue during the character-choked finale.  Other than those nits, there are few problems here.

Launchpad doesn't have a whole lot to do, but, true to form, he does get the funniest line of the story.  Some of the banter between Max and Scrooge is  quite amusing, and it was easy for me to imagine the characters exchanging the dialogue in their "animated voices."

There is one peculiar moment at the very end of the story that I frankly don't quite understand.  Peg appears on the scene, and she and Scrooge appear to engage in a bit of.... innuendo??  Was this titillation really necessary?  I did get a chuckle about the plans that Scrooge has for Peg, though.  (They're NOT WHAT YOU THINK.  Remember, Goldie could always be lurking around the next corner inside a giant cake.)

OVERALL:  ****1/2 out of *****N&V RECOMMENDED.

This story is definitely worth DuckTales' fans' time.  "Sosa Lola" clearly put a good deal of thought into it, and the problems with the plot don't detract from the simple fact that it's an enjoyable read, albeit one with a slightly darker underside than you might expect.




Please feel free to send feedback on how I handled this first review.  Did I give away too much of the plot?  Do you approve of the categories I used?  Did you actually go and READ the darned story, and, if so, how did your reactions differ from mine?  I'd love to know.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Stevenson 35, Misericordia 14... BUT WAIT, There's More!

As I expected, Stevenson handled Misericordia last Saturday to finish 7-3 and in fourth place in the Middle Atlantic Conference -- not bad at all for a program in its fourth season of existence.  The Mustangs, however, got an unexpected bonus when they were invited to play in something called the ECAC Southeast Bowl.  The game will be this Saturday at Stevenson against Bethany (WV).  It's not exactly the Division III playoffs, but, hey, who's complaining?  Especially when Nicky and I, as season-ticket holders, are getting free admission to the game?

Happily, the weather on Saturday promises to be warmer than the arctic conditions we've endured the past few days.  We're still going to, as Nicky likes to put it, "dress in layers" for the occasion.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Comics Review: MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDS FOREVER #11 (IDW Publishing, November 2014)

FRIENDS FOREVER gets back on the beam with issue #11, doing what I always hope that this title will do... namely, use a limited cast of MLP characters to allow for a focus on certain aspects of a character that have never been examined, or perhaps even clearly defined, before.  The task is trickier here than it might appear at first glance, certainly more so than when Katie Cook and Andy Price cast the hitherto characterization-challenged Princess Cadance and Prince Shining Armor as refugees from a John Hughes movieSpitfire, the Captain of the Wonderbolts and thus something of an "aspirational peer" for the gung-ho Rainbow Dash, has a problem opposite to that of the Princess and her hubby; she has literally gotten a different characterization every time she has appeared on the show, and most of those did not exactly put her in the best of lights.  Somehow, writer Ted Anderson manages to cut through the muck and give us a new take on the character that feels believable and does not entirely abandon what has gone before.  It helps that Rainbow Dash, whose various foibles have been the subject of televised dissection more than once, gets one of her best "supportive adult" moments in any medium here.


Think I'm kidding re: Spitfire?  Glad-hoofing celebrity and partygoer ("The Best Night Ever"), bumbling co-conspirator in a surprisingly incompetent group of supposedly heroic pegasi ("Sonic Rainboom" and "Secret of My Excess"), bland sideline-watching executive ("Hurricane Fluttershy"), hardass drill instructor ("Wonderbolts Academy"), conniving bitch and colleague-betrayer ("Rainbow Falls")... Baskin-Robbins would be hard put to top the variety in that list.  My hopes here were that Anderson would (1) not add to the damage caused by the character derailment in "Rainbow Falls," (2) bring Spitfire back to something resembling the "authority figure" setting of "Wonderbolts Academy," where I think she works the best, and (3) give her some relatable foibles without making her an overt figure of fun.  All three missions accomplished!

Spitfire invites Dash to be an instructor at a "Junior Flyers Summer Camp" because... she simply isn't good at dealing with kids (beg pardon, fillies and foals).  It seems that she doesn't know how to temper down her "mean" behavior as a Wonderbolt D.I. (I'd call it "demanding" rather than outright "mean," but potato, potahto...) and thus lets the littl'uns walk all over her.  Dash suggests being "tougher" with the kids, but Spitfire promptly overdoes it, treating them just like adult recruits.  Spitfire, however, does have a legitimate, inherent ability to motivate others -- though, as we are told in a flashback, it took a while for her to assert herself when she was a new recruit -- and Dash cunningly gives Spitfire a chance to literally show the little(r) ponies how it's done by whipping up a tornado for the Wonderbolt Captain to disperse before their eyes.  (The meteorological danger is perhaps a bit extreme for the purpose, but, then again, this is Rainbow Dash we're talking about.)  The "practical lessons" finally take, and Dash reminds Spitfire that the latter can always get better at working with kids by herself, yet still ask for a helping hoof when needed.

The plot is handled spot-on perfect.  We get a look at what makes Spitfire the entire character, as opposed to Spitfire the icon/buffoon/meanie/bitch, tick.  Anyone who has ever had to wield authority that they have earned, as opposed to authority that they have been awarded, will be able to both understand Spitfire's pride in her capabilities and recognize that any leader must be willing to keep learning, just as Spitfire does here.  And all credit to Dash for being so understanding, thoughtful, and (what else?) friendly while playing a lower-key role than the "cheekily bombastic" one at which she normally excels.

The plot is strong enough by itself, but the artwork, by a newcomer named Jay P. Fosgitt (henceforth to be referred to "Fearless" for blog-obvious reasons), is really something special.  It is at utter variance with any visual depictions of the MLP:FIM characters that we have been given in any of IDW's MLP titles, or on the TV show, for that matter: cartoonier, sweeter, softer-edged.  I would even go so far as to call it "POGO-esque," but that may be setting the bar just a tad high, and, in any event, Fosgitt uses more exaggerated facial expressions and poses than Walt Kelly ever did.  Having seen a preview page or two, I wasn't sure how this style was going to wear in a book-length tale, but it didn't take long for Fosgitt to win me over.  It helped that the story, with its mix of slapstick, reminiscence, and sentiment, seemed to be complemented quite well by Fosgitt's approach.  I don't think that the somewhat stiffer "official" visual versions of the characters would have carried the plot off with such panache.

You can get an idea of the amount of "cartoonification" involved here by looking at the cover at the top of this blog entry and comparing it to the Fosgitt cover.  I hope we see more of Fosgitt in the future; I would be particularly intrigued to see how he would handle a more "action/adventure"-oriented story.

This title continues to mix gems with relative clinkers.  Perhaps I should do some research and try to come up with a numerically-based reason for the inconsistency... you know, like the thing about "original Star Trek movies" only being good if they're even-numbered.