Jan 30, 2012

Reviews: DONALD DUCK: LOST IN THE ANDES

I was fortunate to have recently purchased DONALD DUCK: LOST IN THE ANDES, the first volume of Fantagraphics' collection of Carl Barks' works for Disney's comics. I named Barks third on the list of the most influential comics writers ever, and to be frank, second and third place on that list were interchangeable.



I've mostly been exposed to Barks' UNCLE SCROOGE stuff, however,  so I didn't quite know what to expect. Donald Duck is, after all, the quintessential "unlikable" character in the Disney universe. This is, after all, what we've been taught through many a Disney cartoon. He's the cranky sidekick, the guinea pig, the butt of the joke. Right?

Wrong. Cantankerous as he may be, Donald Duck has depth in these 240 pages (and that's a sentence I was sure I would never type). And the stories are full of charm and magic that — and here's the amazing thing — still hold up today. When you read a comic from the Golden Age, a lot of the time, you have to take into account the context of the time. Production qualities were low, artists were working for hire with inadequate compensation, and, of course, the language of comics was still in its infancy. I've read a significant number of Golden Age comics, and while some really don't stand the test of time (too many to count), some do once you take the era in  the proper context, THE SPIRIT and CAPTAIN MARVEL being the most obvious examples. And then there's Carl Barks, who is the exception, because you don't need to take context into account. His stuff is as good now as it's ever been. And it is mind-blowing.

The first few pages of the main story itself are already full of the aforementioned charm. Donald, working at the Museum of Natural Science, cracks a square stone artifact. When cleaning up the mess, he realizes it's a square egg. This leads the authorities into a frenzy — egg dealers love the idea because they'd be easier to stack. Archaeologists love it because it means there's something to discover. So Donald and his nephews  (Huey, Dewey, and Louie) get sent to find a lost Andes civilization where, theoretically, square chickens lay square eggs. The imagination that Barks exhibited is evident in the characters (including a hoodwinker and a guy called "the craziest guy in the Andes") that the Ducks run into even before they reach the lost city they're looking for. And when they do reach that city, that's when Barks' work as an artist blows your mind, because you think that he's just into drawing cartoony stuff? No, sir, not at all.

The Masking Effect may be in play here.

The citizens of this lost town (the name of which I won't tell you, because it's part of the fun) as well as their culture, dialect, and law (intentionally singular) showcase the creativity that Barks was just filled with in this time period (1948–1949). I'm happy to say that I found myself achieving the perfect balance in savoring the art and the story as well as turning the page quickly enough because I couldn't wait to see what happens next. The problems that the Ducks get into are unusual and imaginative; the solutions are even moreso. Barks' linework is clean and fluid, with the expressions and body language conveying the charm and creativity of the story as perfectly as they convey what each character is feeling, thinking, or saying. And the final punchline wraps everything up in a nice, tight manner.

The 32-page "Lost in the Andes" story may be worth half the price tag of $24.99 alone. But then we have three more stories that are at least 20 pages long, nine 10-pagers, and seven 1-page gags. I'm just gonna do a quick rundown of each story.

Long Stories
  • The Golden Christmas Tree. Donald has to save Huey, Dewey, and Louie from a witch that wants to destroy all Christmas trees. The ending is a little hammy (Barks didn't write it), but the story highlights Donald's bravery in a way that even superhero comics of the time rarely did — Barks showcases a vulnerability, weakness, and fear in his protagonist that he has to overcome in order to save his nephews. Only Will Eisner was doing things like that back then.
  • Race to the South Seas. In a race to save Uncle Scrooge (an as-yet unrefined, ultra-cranky version), Donald squares off against his cousin, Gladstone Gander, the luckiest person in the world. Despite all of Donald's efforts, everything goes right for Gladstone without his even trying. How can Donald and his nephews win this? (Hint: they can't.)
  • Voodoo Hoodoo. Bombie the Zombie comes to town to enact vengeance on behalf of his master on Scrooge McDuck, but he mistakes Donald for Scrooge. Donald and the kids have to go to Africa to lift the curse. This story is particularly interesting for me because of the racial depictions in the story, which seem to offend absolutely no one, oddly enough, in a time where TINTIN IN THE CONGO and Ebony White from THE SPIRIT can't stop getting criticized. Regardless of that aspect, the story is yet another imaginative and fun romp through yet another exotic location. Note that Barks has been setting each story in different backgrounds: "Lost in the Andes" is in the Andes, "The Golden Christmas Tree" is on top of a mountain, "Race to the South Seas" is in the middle of the ocean, and "Voodoo Hoodoo" is in Africa. No one short of Herge willingly set his heroes in different locations each time. It's as if — GASP — Barks actually liked drawing backgrounds!
10-pagers
  • Toyland. Santa Claus takes the Ducks to the North Pole to test out the toys he's making and see if they're still suited to kids of the next generation. Donald's supposed to take notes. The story takes a turn that's just really feel-good. And if you remember playing with toys instead of video games, you may find this particular story a little bittersweet.
  • The Crazy Quiz Show. Donald studies every fact he can (some true, some false but feasible) to get on a quiz show. The hosts purposefully ask him unanswerable questions while asking his nephews easy questions (that they still get wrong). The kids constantly pick bikes instead of cash, leading into what is probably the funniest punchline in the whole book.
  • Truant Officer Donald. The kids decide to skip school, but they get caught by the new truant officer, who just so happens to be Donald. Mischief ensues, and the ending of this story is probably most indicative of how comic book Donald differs from cartoon Donald. See, cartoon Donald pretty much always loses. Comic book Donald somehow wins, even when he loses.
  • Donald Duck's Worst Nightmare. Donald needs to get over his recurring nightmare, and the solution is to find something scarier in real life. Just a fun, funny, and charming story. (I've probably overused the word "charming" way too many times.)
  • Pizen Spring Dude Ranch. A bunch of horsethieves are running a scam to get more money from Donald, and it's up to the kids to catch them. Again, just a fun story.
  • Rival Beachcombers. Gladstone Gander competes with Donald and the kids to find a very valuable ruby on a beach. Gladstone is probably my favorite recurring character here; he's just so ridiculously unlikable and it's fascinating to see how Donald and the kids win against someone whom they really, really can't beat. The two times Gladstone shows up, it really highlights Barks' cleverness.
  • The Sunken Yacht. Uncle Scrooge wants Donald and the kids to lift up a sunken boat. But he doesn't want to pay them for it. Donald exhibits a characteristic pride and an uncharacteristic dignity in this story, and is really played as the underdog. If any story makes you sympathetic towards Donald Duck, it's going to be this one.
  • Managing the Eco System. Probably the most "typical" Donald story, this has him involved in a feud with his nephews regarding echoes off a mountainside (they're pretending to make the echoes for money, and he wants to expose them). 
  • Plenty of Pets. The kids bring a bunch of pets home from camp and Donald wants no part of it. What could possibly change his mind, and how would the kids like that change of mind?
The 1-pagers. I'm not going to summarize them because, well, they're a page long, but just for the sake of cataloging them, here they are:
  • Jumping to Conclusions
  • The True Test
  • Ornaments on the Way
  • Too Fit to Fit
  • Sleepy Sitters
  • Slippery Shrine
  • Tunnel Vision
The hardcover is completed nicely by an introduction by Donald Ault, an English professor from the University of Florida, as well as some notes and essays by other professors, teachers, and what-have-you on the stories presented herein. I'll admit to thinking that some of these essays are a bit overthought, but you do get to learn things, like finding out which Hollywood directors/producers were directly influenced by Donald Duck, the origins of the term "zombie," and factoids about Carl Barks' life.

Whether or not this will help usher kids back into comics is debatable (at a $25 price point, I tend to think that it's aimed more towards people like me), but Fantagraphics is doing us a great service here by finally putting Barks' work back into print. It's been too long, and it's about time, and I'm eagerly going to collect every single volume (the first UNCLE SCROOGE volume, ONLY A POOR OLD MAN, is out in June!).

Buy this, folks. You will not regret it.

Jan 27, 2012

Write Your Own Toonopedia Article

Well, a while back, I wrote about Don Markstein, webmaster of one of my favorite sites on the 'net, Toonopedia. He's been in bad health for a while, and I got this comment from his daughter, and it doesn't look good. But here's how you can help keep Toonopedia alive.




Don Markstein's daughter, Rachel Brown, here. Your thoughts and well wishes mean a lot to our family. He greatly enjoys the occasional card, well wishes, or even fan letter. You may continue to send them to him at the address listed in the original post.

Unfortunately, the hope for him recovering is slim at best. He had a history of strokes, then suffered an incident that caused him to be in and out of hospitals for several weeks last February. Stubborn old man that he is, he actually walked out of one the second the ambulance got him there once. Unfortunately, in March of last year, days after his 64th birthday, he suffered a massive stroke while in the hospital. This caused him to be paralyzed on his left side.

His toonopedia was his favorite pastime. He spent years collecting comic trivia and exploring his love for comics. I think I was born as an excuse to continue his love for comics, both in stillform and in animation.

Toonopedia has become everything he ever wanted it to be. Well, it doesn't pay the bills. But it has given him the opportunity to share his passion with others on his terms and given to others a vast repository of toonological knowledge.

In the spirit of keeping his passion alive, my mother, his wife, GiGi Dane, posted yesterday on her Facebook the following:

The time has come to see YOUR byline in the Toonopedia!

If you are a fan of toons then you are probably a fan of Don Markstein's award-winning website -- the Toonopedia (www.toonopedia.com. For over a decade Mr. Markstein has been the creator and sole contributor of the site. He has become too ill to continue but is still interested in seeing the site grow and remain a top source of knowledge for toon lovers in the years to come.

We are now in a position to continue his work but need fresh material to add to our content. Don has asked us to solicit new articles. We are interested in articles on almost any toon that is basically American-bred (although he has made exceptions) that needs a presence in the Toonopedia. Familiarize yourself with the style of the Toonopedia articles. Note the use of artwork with each article and submit a representative piece that reflects the characters personality.

If you have any questions you can contact us at toonopedia@yahoo.com

With many exceptions, my dad has maintained focus on American toons that are at least 10yrs old. His favorite exceptions are things that are returning to the limelight. Submissions will be reviewed by his family members (a couple sons in law, a nephew or two, his wife, etc.) and published upon approval with the name of the writer.


Toonopedia has been one of my favorite sites since I got Internet access. Don Markstein's passion shone through and he was one of the main influences behind the Cube, right beside that Dial B for Blog guy. If you can, please help keep this extensive resource alive.

Jan 26, 2012

Reviews: Spider-Island

It's a device often used for Superman: surround him with characters who have the same powers and capabilities (or, alternatively, strip him of said powers and make him human) and show, in the process, that he's special not because of those abilities, but because of who he is as a character. It's obviously easy to do with someone like Superman (more Kryptonians! More!!), but with the exception of the random spider-powered foe (e.g., Venom), it hadn't really been done for Spider-Man.

Until Big Time. Until Dan Slott. Until SPIDER-ISLAND.



In SPIDER-ISLAND, Dan Slott and Humberto Ramos bring back the Jackal (a villain long thought dead and done for since the infamous CLONE SAGA) and use his knowledge of genetics and obsession with Peter Parker to infect the entire population of Manhattan Island with spider-powers. All of a sudden, everyone was a spider-man (or woman), and so our hero, Peter Parker, was basically reduced to being a "normal." The result is some damn fine storytelling, an excellent piece of characterization for our hero, and a rollicking, fun yarn that encapsulates the best aspects of the superhero genre.

Jan 23, 2012

Dynamite Releases THE SHADOW in April, to Be Written by Garth Ennis

So the news is out that Dynamite Entertainment is releasing a new THE SHADOW ongoing in April, to be written by Garth Ennis (PREACHER, HITMAN, THE BOYS) and drawn by Aaron Campbell (THE TRIAL OF SHERLOCK HOLMES), with covers by Alex Ross (KINGDOM COME, MARVELS). And I was going to write about it — I really was — but my best friend since the third grade, who is the biggest Shadow fan I know, wanted the chance to do it.

So, without further ado, heeeeeeeere's Pig! (That's his pen name. And what're you looking at? My name is Duy.)

The Shadow Returns
by Pig

The Shadow returns courtesy of Dynamite Comics. To be written by Garth Ennis.

There was one thought in my head when Duy broke the news to me.

OHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGOD OHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGOD.

WHOOOOO KNOOOOWS WHAT EEEEVIL
LURKS IN THE HEAAAARTS OF MEEEEN?

The Shadow. Garth Ennis. Alex Ross.

Sweet baby Jesus, this is pure gold.

I was introduced to The Shadow in 1994, when the movie starring Alec Baldwin came out (I know Rotten Tomatoes said it sucked, but who the hell cares). I never heard of The Shadow till then, but then later found out that the guy predated the Batman, who actually ripped The Shadow (ripped may sound too harsh, let’s say “templated” or “copied, but with variations).

See link: http://dialbforblog.com/archives/391/

(Duy's interjection: also see link: http://www.comicscube.com/2010/07/reclaiming-history-bill-finger-real.html)

But what makes The Shadow so damn cool?

Is it the mysterious origin? The evil laugh? The scarf, cape, and slouch hat? That piercing eye and hawk-like nose, and mouth covered in scarlet? Those shiny .22s (later turned to be .45s, then Uzis) that he brandishes around? The fact that The Shadow will first toy with the guilty, mess with their mind, and then rain bullets on them? The moral ambiguity of a hero that almost verges on the point of villainy?

Fuck. And Yes.

This is a character that has the mystery of Batman, the powers of Professor X, and just about the moral code of The Punisher. PLUS he has agents. Yes, ladies and gents, AGENTS.  And we’re not talking marketing agents. We’re talking about loyal agents who would sooner eat a live snake than disappoint him (direct quote from Chaykin’s The Shadow remake).



You have Harry Vincent, the Hand of the Shadow, whom he saved from committing suicide. Moe Shrevnitz, the Legs of The Shadow, who is the cab driver and chauffer (yes, The Shadow is cool like that to actually be one of the few heroes to have a chauffeur). Margo Lane, socialite (and somewhat “love interest” or sex puppy, don’t exactly know which in The Shadow’s opinion is), who serves as the Shadow’s Eyes. And Burbank, radio operator and communications expert, who acts as the Shadow’s Ears.

Those are only a few of his many agents (read The Shadow 1941 for more info). And this opens a lot of opportunity for plotlines.

And then you have Lamont Cranston. The face of The Shadow.

Note that I said “the Face,” instead of “the alter-ego” of the Shadow. Because unlike Batman, who is in fact, Bruce Wayne, The Shadow stole the persona of millionaire playboy Lamont Cranston.

WHAT?

The real identity of The Shadow is Kent Allard (or so he says), an aviator hired for a sinister mission of smuggling, who crashes in the mysterious East of Shambala and learns to manipulate and cloud the minds of men, and then goes out to steal the very identity of the evil man who hired him for the mission – Lamont Cranston.

His alter-ego is also an alter ego? That’s fucked up.

Hence, we really don’t know who The Shadow really is. Is he really Kent Allard, because he’s not Lamont Cranston either? Or is this one of that “The Shadow is messing with your mind” bit? Most likely.

And really, the history of The Shadow is nothing short of spectacular. The great late Orson Welles voiced him during his radio show in 1937, which launched hundreds of pulp novels in the 40s and 50s. Writers changed, and so did the quality of the novels — intriguing mystery at its mildest, and downright raunchy, hard-boiled and violent at its most edgy. And in fact, it’s the raunchy, hard-boiled, and violent that’s often most remembered of The Shadow. When Gibson wrote The Shadow and stylized him as the dark, mysterious, sinister anti-hero that he is, the fans dug it like gold.

Apart from the pulps and radio show, The Shadow had several motion pictures, and his iconic presence spurred many comic book remakes and GNs. And now, we can all anticipate Garth Ennis’ version of The Shadow. I honestly cannot think of a more appropriate writer to write The Shadow.



The only downside is, as I have learned from Duy, that Dynamite is mighty slow coming out with their issues. But that’s okay for me, as long as they come out with quality material. 

So that’s that for me, anticipating with excitement and ranting about The Shadow. I certainly hope it’s going to be a good one, and by the way things look, it almost certainly feels that it will be. But if not, who knows?



THE SHADOW KNOWS. THAT’S WHO, BITCHES.

Jan 19, 2012

Reclaiming History: Roger Stern

Welcome to a new installment of Reclaiming History, an ongoing series where the Comics Cube! tries to balance out what the history books say and what actually happened! Click here for the archive!

A week ago, I spoke about the Bronze Age of Comics and how it may be my favorite superhero age ever, as it seemed to achieve the perfect balance between fantasy and realism, a sense of wonder and a sense of groundedness. Now I'm here to talk to you about the man I feel was the best writer of that time period and, in my eyes, the best superhero writer of all time, Roger Stern.



"Now wait," you say. "How could you call him the best superhero writer of all time when people like Alan Moore exist?"

Jan 16, 2012

She Is Screaming in the Shower: CABLE&DEADPOOL Review

She Is Screaming in the Shower is a column written by Robert Leichsenring for The Comics Cube! Click here for the archives!

CABLE & DEADPOOL — Marvel's Finest Moment?
by Robert Leichsenring

Bonjour folks. It is this time of the year again when I talk to you about strange things and yell at my closet for not washing the dishes. It is time for CABLE & DEADPOOL.


A few years ago I stumbled over a trade called IF LOOKS COULD KILL. Fabian Nicieza was writing this little gem, and we had a nice little roulette of artists doing duty on this title, but Patrick Zircher is the only one who did over 20 issues. But whatever. I´m here to talk about the book. Creators can come later.

Let me give you a little summary.

Jan 11, 2012

A Sense of Wonder: The Bronze Age of Comics

Welcome to the a new installment of A Sense of Wonder, a feature of indefinite length in which I detail the wonderful (and I mean that in the purest sense of the word) and imagination-inspiring aspects of the characters in the comic book medium, which would emphasize the superheroes, but would not be limited to them. Click here for the archive.

Recently, I've been reading a lot of comics from what we call the Bronze Age of Comics, and I have been absolutely loving them. It may be, hands down, my favorite age of the superhero. With runs like Roger Stern's AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, Bill Mantlo's SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN, Doug Moench and Paul Gulacy's MASTER OF KUNG-FU, Walt Simonson's THOR, Frank Miller's DAREDEVIL, Alan Moore's SWAMP THING, and Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers' DETECTIVE COMICS, I'm convinced that I can throw a dart at a stackful of Bronze Age comics, and whatever the dart hits would be a comic book worth reading.

But what makes that era of comics so good? In short, it's what I (fine, Ben came up with it) call "grounded fantasy." See, the Bronze Age was sandwiched between the fancifulness of the Silver Age, with what some might call its unsophisticated storytelling (which is probably true by and large), and the Dark Age, for which the superhero was constantly deconstructed and revealed to be less super than he was. The Bronze Age gets the balance of both, managing to treat the superhero with realism without going so far as to resort to cheap storytelling tactics such as (narratively) meaningless rape and decapitation.

Now, I'm not saying that every comic book at the time was perfect, but man, in terms of output, I can't find fault with most of these.

Jan 8, 2012

Comics' Biggest Boners: A SANDMAN Misprint!

Welcome to another edition of Comics' Biggest Boners, in which we showcase some of the biggest goofs and gaffes in comics! Click here for the archive!

And now, your host, 1950s Joker!



In SANDMAN #17, "Calliope," by Neil Gaiman and Kelley Jones, a writer named Richard Madoc is visited by Dream of the Endless and given a most terrible scare. Here are the last six panels of the story.



In Germany, however, someone looking at the translated version decided it would be funny to doodle something in that empty penultimate panel. The publisher, however, thought it was for real, and so the German-translated version ends with this.



Now THAT, dear Cubers, is a boner.

And to mark it, my friend Paul Cornish of The Last of the Famous International Fanboys and The Amalgam Age of Comics made this animated GIF! Click on it to view the animation.




This can be found in:

Jan 4, 2012

Comics in the Classroom: The Index

Comics in the Classroom is a feature on the Cube that spotlights comics that could conceivably used as teaching aides. The idea is that a lot of students find textbooks dense and hard to grasp, so why not present the material in a more inviting, entertaining, and digestible way? Why can't we use comics for history classes, for science classes, for math classes?  The goal is to eventually have a comprehensive list that can be used in the classroom.


The spotlighted comics thus far are:

1. Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth — a comic about Bertrand Russell, mathematician, philosopher, and logician

2. The Cartoon Introduction to Economics: Valume Two: Macroeconomics — a visual, humorous guide to macroeconomic concepts.


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