Monday, February 29, 2016

#Top5ComicBooks of 2015 - #2 : #DisneyComics from IDW Publishing

When I attend comic book shows/conventions, I wear a button that says "I read Disney Comics", depicting Mickey Mouse riding a rocket through Outer Space, a la Calvin as 'Spaceman Spiff' from Calvin & Hobbes. And now that IDW Publishing has been offering comics with the stock Disney staples in their stable, it's not just a matter of recommending people to search Ebay and grimey back-issue bins; you can read new comics, available at retail, alongside new issues of your favorite incarnation of Doctor Who or Spider-Man or Spider-Woman or Green Lantern or Superman or Deadpool or Batman or whichever superhero has multiple incarnations existing concurrently on shelves.

The Disney Comics by Carl Barks and Don Rosa are available in handsome hardcover editions published by Fantagraphics; Joe Books has the license to comics featuring characters from Disney Feature Films and Television shows (a new Darkwing Duck ongoing series will debut in April); Disney's common-law wife, Marvel Comics, has The Muppets, Star Wars and comics based on Disney Park rides; IDW has Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy (aka Goofus D. Dawg, aka, George Geef, aka, Dippy Dawg), Pluto (when will HE get his own book?), Huey, Dewey, Louie, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Ludwig Von Drake, Daisy Duck, Peg-Leg-Pete, The Beagle Boys, Super Goof, Gladstone Gander, Gus Goose, the Duck Avenger and...big fanfare...Scrooge McDuck. IDW won.

The bulk of the material featured in IDW's lineup consists of reprinted material originally published outside the of the advantages of this is a larger page count than most of the comics carrying a $3.99 price tag, plus the stories are densely plotted. The scripts are translated into English with a strong flavor to make them more palatable to readers old & new; kudos to the roundtable of scripters (Joe Torcivia, David Gerstein, Thad Komorowski, Gary Leach and Jonathan Gray, to name a few) for keeping the characterization of these characters consistent while skillfully indulging in many inside jokes and pop culture nods, never once ringing any false notes. I'm positive Gray made a very subtle reference to the Transformers character Ultra Magnus in one Mickey story, and an obvious reference to Jem and The Holograms in a duck tale (not coincidently, both properties appear in comic books published by IDW).

As for the stories featured..these are not the "safe" pastiches of Barks and Floyd Gottfredson that were favored by past licensees like Bruce Hamilton (Gladstone Comics) and Steve Geppi (Gemstone Comics). We're being re-introduced to storytellers like Romano Scarpa, Giorgio Cavazzano, Andrea Castellan, Massimo DeVita and Giovani Batista Carpi. These guys love big concepts that venture into plots with a 1960s-1980s Saturday Morning cartoon air to them, often at risk of defying established character logic, challenging the reader to buy into what's happening: Duck Avenger's initial conception as a trickster allows for a fanwank scenario in which the original author can imagine Donald setting his cousin up as a thief AND trapping him in a decrepit mansion rigged to explode; secret agent Daisy Duck opts to disguise herself as a hapless ratchet tourist, wearing an outfit resembling Carol Burnett's "Charwoman" character; Scrooge tries to pass the buck after losing a wager that results in having to marry a character that exists entirely off-panel (!)...That's where the scripters come in. I'm waiting for that one script that acknowledges Donald concurrently works as a secret agent for three different agencies: the M.I.A. (McDuck Intelligence Agency, run by Donald's uncle), the T.N.T. (partnered with his cousin, Fethry Duck to solve paranormal mysteries) and the Cloak and Dagger (from the DoubleDuck series). Also keep in mind that he also runs around in superhero guise as the Duck Avenger And appears in new tales as the traditional Barksian "Everyman", and this is a very busy drake.

I also noticed a series of stories currently in Topolino featuring the Beagle Boys recalling their days as teenagers in High School; I would love to see Joe Torcivia's take on that, given that his Americanized scripts for solo-stories featuring the Beagles have a lot of fun bringing out the comedic sides to the longtime villains, particularly in "Love Is Never Having To Say You're Sentenced " (Uncle Scrooge #10).

By comparison, Mickey and Scrooge keep a simple status quo in their respective titles: "Detective-Adventure" tales for the mouse, "Comedy-Adventure" tales with Scrooge. Relatively obscure, fanciful, Smurf-like characters like Eega Beva and Atomo Blip-Blip oftentimes serve as Mickey's sidekick in some stories; Scarpa's "The Chirikawa Necklace" is a somewhat routine battle of wits with Peg-Leg-Pete made notable for two milestones: the introduction of Pete's girlfriend Trudy Van Tub, and an awesome scene depicting a traumatic experience in which Mickey recalls himself being kidnapped as an infant. Who needs Geronimo Stilton when you've got Mickey Mouse?

Next to Richie Rich and Bruce Wayne, Scrooge continues to be the most likable tycoon antihero in fiction, this time contending with manic rival John D. Rockerduck ( a character Barks created and used once, but was redesigned and used A LOT by Scarpa, Cavazzano, Carpi and others, even moreso than Flintheart Glomgold, it seems ).

One suggestion: when the current "Zodiac Stone" arc wraps up in Walt Disney's Comics and Stories ( that's a 12-part arc featuring loosely-connected stories with Mickey, Donald & Scrooge built around a quest for twelve pendants corresponding to zodiac symbols building up to a finale and inevitable showdown with Mickey's perennial archfoe, The Phantom Blot; not unlike a storyline from a season of Jackie Chan Adventures ), the book should try to showcase popular characters who don't carry their own books: Pluto, Scamp, Li'l Wolf, Bucky Bug, Super Goof, Oswald, Ludwig, Fethry, Moby Duck ( anyone remember HIM? ) and Ellesworth. A short tale by William Van Horn featuring Donald would be a familiar anchor of sorts, but I suspect Pluto's a safe bet as a big draw; that Pirates of The Caribbean-themed cover to Uncle Scrooge #10 had Pluto prominently. I'm actually surprised Disney Television Animation never thought of a Scooby-Doo-esque series starring Pluto for The Disney Afternoon..or for DisneyXD. Make it in CG, why not?

Honestly, I look forward to these books more than a lot of comic books offered right now. It's good stuff, don't miss ANY of it.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Notebook Covers: Batman vs Nocturna

It's something I like to do..Instead of Photoshop, I take the actual printed matter and cut n' paste 'em together, then slap 'em together on a notebook. You won't find any notebook like this at the Walgreen's! Obviously, I didn't regard the issues in question as anything sacred; the covers were cool, the stories inside...not so much. I discovered I could form a more dynamic image by combining them and making a subtle change. I'll leave it to you readers to spot what came from where. Plus, I love the late-90's title font. They feel more indicative of the character, like one of his gadgets..a Bat-Font.

I became interested in this obscure mid-1980s Batman villain in 1998, when Paul Dini described a rejected idea for a proposed episode of Batman: The Animated Series. It would've been a 2-part episode with a cliffhanger in which Batman appeared to turn into a vampire after his first encounter with Nocturna. I didn't know who she was, or what she looked like (this was before I began using the internet, by about 2 years, but it still would've been a wilderness; pre-Google zeitgeist, pre-Twitter, pre-Facebook/Pinterest, etc..) until I started buying old back issues from that era...

In retrospect, that rejected idea in question is odd, since Nocturna isn't a vampire; exactly what she wants and who she is has a big question mark on top. Her debut offers some background on her early life, but in her dealings with others, Batman/Bruce Wayne in particular, her characterization comes off falling somewhere in between Poison Ivy and Catwoman. I would describe her as an albino goth whose interests include stargazing, riding hot air balloons, stealing jewelry and organized crime. She also has a strange relationship with her brother Anton, who adopts the guise Night-Slayer and wears a drab gray costume. Like a Steampunk-era Vampirella, really ( and that has been done, recently) but does anyone really know who Vampirella is, either?

Back to our goth/cosplay vampire/astrologer. Her best moments allow for spectacular visuals from reliable journeyman artists of the decade: Don Newton, Gene Colan, Tom Mandrake, Rick Hoberg and cover artist extraordinaire Ed Hannigan, whose classic Detective Comics cover image of Batman & Nocturna embracing amidst the red skies and thunderstorm (these stories were published around the time of Crisis On Infinite Earths and the use of blood-red skies was intended as a subtle thematic  continuity link) was so awesome that I tried re-creating it in my sketchbook (the end result was I made her posterior larger and his cape & cowl a brighter blue...I knows what I likes..). So in short, the artwork makes her an iconic Batman foe, but the stories keep her in the D-list with Magpie, Mr. Polka Dot, King Snake, Whisper A'Daire and The Planet Master. Because they're just..boilerplate storylines - Doug Moench was juggling scripts for two books a month, often with the "story" for Detective being a thinly-veiled recap of what was happening in Batman. Only the hardcore completists still hold onto these - once Frank Miller arrived, all this stuff was abandoned in favor of aping Miller's Batman. It's still not clear if Moench ever thought of reviving/revamping the character when he returned to the Bat-books in the 1990s,

I remember finding a sketch - purportedly by Bruce Timm - of what this character was going to look like on the net..and better than that, I found a fan-made image, purportedly from Deviantart, of a 3-D maquette image of Nocturna..the end result resembles Timm's designs for the silkier femme fatales of the series: Red Claw and Talia Al Ghul. Pity he didn't go for the blue hair. Angelina Jolie could play her opposite Ben "Batfleck" Affleck, but again, wouldn't you want Jolie to play Catwoman? Sorry, Nocturna. Maybe they'll incorporate you among the cast of Gotham...