- Posted by Johanna on May 20, 2013 at 3:41 pm
- Category: Graphic Novel Reviews, KC
- CREDITS: by Carl Barks
- PUBLISHER: Fantagraphics; $28.99 US
Review by KC Carlson
Fantagraphics’ latest Carl Barks Disney Library volume stars Donald Duck and collects most of Barks’ Donald stories from 1948. For those keeping track, this is Volume 6 of the Library, which Fantagraphics is issuing in random order — so far, alternating with volumes starring Uncle Scrooge.
Like the other Donald Duck volumes in the series, this collects three full-length Donald stories (usually from Dell’s Four Color series), 11 ten-page stories originally from the classic Walt Disney’s Comics & Stories comic book, and a bunch of one-page gags that rounded out the Four Color issues.
The first story in this volume is the title story. “The Old Castle’s Secret” is a classic featuring the second appearance ever of Barks’ creation Uncle Scrooge McDuck. The McDuck fortune is in bad shape, and thus Scrooge enlists the help of Donald and his three nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie to travel to Scotland to recover lost fortunes hidden in the old Castle of Dismal Downs. And of course, the castle is haunted.
I’ve read this story before, so I’m not surprised that I recall some things about it. But I’m remembering everything exactly as I read it before — not just dialog word-for-word, but details in the artwork (like the empty extra-large suit of armor that belonged to Sir Roast McDuck, who holds not a sword or a spear but a knife and fork). But here’s the thing — I’ve only read this story twice before. The last time was 30 years ago (when it was collected by Another Rainbow), and the time before that probably another 15 years back, when I read it as a child. Yet I remember clearly every detail about it.
Such is the power of Carl Barks’ work. His storytelling is designed to appeal to youngsters as well as folk who are as old as Scrooge. And it has that way of burrowing into your brain, and staying there forever, once you read it. Which is great for people like me, who can barely remember the comics I read last week!
Magic in Ten Pages
I’m enjoying the Donald Duck volumes just slightly more than the Scrooges, since Donald’s books always contain a generous helping of mostly ten-page, set-in-Duckburg stories staring the hair-trigger duck and his nephews. The kids in these earlier Barks stories are feistier, maybe even a bit bratty occasionally, which is a welcome reminder that they weren’t always the know-it-all Junior Woodchucks that they evolved into as Barks matured. Even so, they’re still much smarter than Donald most of the time!
These shorter stores (almost all first appearing in Walt Disney’s Comics & Stories) offer up all kinds of surprises, mostly because the less epic nature of these stories is not so permanently embedded into my active consciousness. Plus, Barks wrote most of these to be joke-fests — featuring some of his most memorable “throwaway” characters, with always fantastic names. Favorite this time around: Prof. Pulpheart Clabberhead!
I think my favorite of the 10-pagers is the one now called “Donald of the Coast Patrol”. (These were originally untitled stories that Barks scholars have later ascribed titles to for ease of discussion.) Donald is assigned to watch a deserted stretch of coastline that smugglers are apparently using to smuggle in “jewels from the Orient.” Of course, Donald sees no problems in a random hot dog stand that pops up out of nowhere and mysteriously changes hands several times in just 10 pages. (Or does it?) Plus, Donald doesn’t think twice about the walrus that waddles ashore.
Meanwhile, Huey, Dewey, and Louie are rebuffed by Unca’ Donald after wanting to assist, so they climb up into the nearby hills, where they have the perfect vantage point to see that the various hot dog vendors are all the same person (in not-so-clever disguises) and that the walrus is actually a femme fatale in a walrus suit. (In a Barks story?) Another girl, this one with tattoos and wearing a formfitting bathing suit, is rescued by Donald, who is instantly smitten. “I fell off a passing yacht, kind sir!” says the seductress. “Phooey on Unca’ Donald!” say the nephews. Needless to say, the kids save the day — and Unca’ Donald’s job — at least for now, since we never see him in this job again!
Another duck family member makes his first appearance in these short stories. Gladstone Gander debuts in “Wintertime Wager” and appears again in “Links Hijinks”. He’s more annoying than supernaturally lucky in these early stories. Scrooge also appears again in “Foxy Relations”, setting up Donald to be outfoxed by a fox. Daisy Duck also appears briefly in a pair of stories.
But the ten-pagers aren’t all jokes and fun. Barks occasionally offers up some stories with real dire consequences, such as “Rocket Race To The Moon”, where Donald and the boys are stranded in space without enough fuel to get back home. And in “Pearls of Wisdom”, Donald faces actual death when a rare unsafe scheme dreamed up by the nephews actually turns dangerous.
The ten-pagers are amazing, but my absolute favorite story in this volume is one of the one-pagers, about Donald being persnickety about the size of the field the boys are playing baseball in — because he’s scared of broken windows. The joke is all in the last panel, with a portentous newspaper headline and Donald’s perfectly-drawn reaction to it. I laughed so hard that I had to put the book down for a couple of minutes. Sharp-eyed readers should also pay attention to other jokes hidden in what Donald is reading in other stories throughout the book.
Stories Restored to Their Original Form? Check!
Also in this volume are two other feature-length stories: “Sheriff of Bullet Valley” is another classic, while “Darkest Africa” is not as familiar, as it was infrequently reprinted. When it was, it was edited for “politically correct” and other reasons. (The Ducks are none too kind to other animals in this story.) “Darkest Africa” also wasn’t originally one of the Dell Four Color stories — it was first printed in the “giveaway” Dell series March of Comics #20. The original 1948 version of this story has never been reprinted in English — until it was fully restored for this volume. This is explained more fully in the substantial “Story Notes” section in this (and all) volumes, written by Barks scholars from around the world.
My only regret about this series, is that I have to read the volumes pretty fast in order to get the word out quickly to you about how great this series is. When you read them, you should slowly parse them out — perhaps one a night — and maybe share them with somebody else in your house. Carl Barks’ stories were meant to be shared. They are some of the most memorable stories of all literature — not just comics. (The publisher provided a review copy.)
- Posted by Johanna on May 20, 2013 at 3:04 pm
- Category: Animation
This is an obvious prediction to anyone who’s been paying attention, since the Marvel Knights Animation motion comic releases from Shout! Factory tend to follow the path of the Marvel movies, and The Wolverine is due in theaters July 26.
The next motion comic DVD will be available on July 9, adapting the Wolverine: Origin comic “written by Eisner Award winner Paul Jenkins from a story by Joe Quesada, Paul Jenkins, and Bill Jemas with captivating artwork by Andy Kubert and Richard Isanove.” Remember those Jemas days at Marvel? Here’s the plot synopsis:
Wolverine is the best there is at what he does — although of course, what he does isn’t very nice. But long before he was a member of the X-Men, a tormented experiment of the Weapon-X project, or even a savage bar brawler known as Logan — he was simply a young boy.
What incredible forces created this man, the world’s greatest killing machine? For years, Wolverine has searched desperately for answers from his past, from the wilds of the Canadian Wilderness to the teeming cities of Japan and beyond. And despite his perseverance and longing for the truth, he remains an enigma to himself and those around him. But, in this landmark event, Marvel reveals all: the birth and childhood of young James Howlett… the intriguing secrets of his family history… and the tragedy that changed everything.
Bonus content includes interviews with the creators and illustrators, described as “an exclusive retrospective with the Eisner Award-winning creative team behind Origin.” (Bear in mind, since they’re throwing “Eisner” around a lot in this press release, that Jenkins worked on Inhumans, which won “Best New Series” in 1999. Wolverine: Origin did not win any Eisners.)
It’s kind of weird to me that the cover art, by Joe Quesada and Richard Isanove, looks more suited to a horror movie than a superhero comic origin. But they’re just reusing the image from the book cover, anyway.
- Posted by Johanna on May 20, 2013 at 3:04 pm
- Category: Digital and Webcomics
In advance of the coming movie, Disney Publishing has released a Monsters University Storybook app for iPhone and iPad. It’s fun to play with! You start by taking your picture for a student ID, which you can decorate with cartoon mouths, horns, eyeballs, and more to “monsterify” yourself.
The “Read” option tells you the story of the movie (I assume), about how Mike Wazowski went to Monsters University to become a Scarer, with lightly animated screens and movie clips. (You can have it read to you or read it yourself.) If you spot the hidden IDs, you unlock other players for the “Play” option, which has five different variants on the same tilt-the-screen game mechanism. Which I failed at miserably.
This is a cute memento with some good replay value, but I recommend getting it for your child (or yourself) after June 21, when the movie comes out. Wouldn’t want to spoil anything, would you?!
- Posted by Johanna on May 20, 2013 at 11:20 am
- Category: LinkBlogging
Geek & Sundry, Felicia Day’s YouTube programming channel, is expanding with user-created programming. Geek & Sundry Vlogs will eventually feature 20 vloggers mentored by Day and receiving promotion and event access through her connections.
Right now, there are seven available, covering topics like cosplay and creative writing and makeup. And comics. Amy Dallen, who works at House of Secrets, debuts with “Talkin’ Comics”:
I like that she starts with a message about how everyone is welcome. Then she reads comics to us, but since it’s R. Sikoryak’s Masterpiece Comics, I don’t mind.
The company is also searching for ten more video bloggers through open submissions. Videos will be reviewed and given community feedback on the Geek & Sundry site. The community will also vote on “their favorite personalities and topics” to determine these future programming options. Here’s Felicia explaining the project:
I’m tempted to submit a manga-focused vlog, but I suspect I’m too old and crotchety for the audience.
- Posted by Johanna on May 19, 2013 at 11:51 am
- Category: Animation
Out on Tuesday is Lego Batman: The Movie – DC Super Heroes Unite, a long title for a short (71 minutes) computer-animated original movie. It’s awfully cute, though.
This film caused lots of giggling at our house, part just from the weirdness of seeing these characters as Lego, but more from how fun it all was. (I worry that some six-year-old is going to be disappointed that his Lego figures don’t walk and talk and clap by smacking their U-shaped hands together.) I kept being amazed by what I was seeing, and what they all said, and their expressions, and the goofiness. Once of the Joker’s henchman actually holds someone upside down and shakes him until coins fall out of his pockets.
It’s a high-tech throwback to Saturday morning fun with a unique visual design sense. Each surprise brought new laughs from sheer enjoyment. There are lots of neat details, rewarding close attention, whether it’s Batman’s alternate suits or the Lego skeleton floating in the chemical pool.
It looks rather like any DC animated film, sleek and plastic, until you get close up. The characters, Superman and Batman, have those blocky legs. Capes are weird in Lego superhero world, since they’re grained to look like rough fabric. Bald Lex Luthor is particularly strange, since without hair, all we see is the nub on top of his head block.
The movie retells the plotline from the LEGO Batman 2 videogame. The action starts when Lex and Bruce Wayne are up for a Man of the Year award at a ceremony crashed by the Joker. Luthor is running for President, and he enlists the Joker’s help to win. We also get Catwoman, Two-Face, the Riddler, the Penguin, Harley Quinn, Robin … a whole gallery of heroes, plus Lego bats and sharks.
Superman’s an overwhelming do-gooder while Batman is jealous and hurt that his pal didn’t come to see him get an award. After Lex and the Joker team up, releasing a bunch of villains from Arkham Asylum along the way, Batman reluctantly gets help from the Big Blue Boy Scout. Seeing the three heroes interact is funny, as Robin looks up to Superman while Batman is grumpypants, muttering to himself about Superman’s powers destroying the evidence.
There’s lot of welcome humor (even in the end credits). Particularly, I find, when they use the Lego abilities. For instance, one vehicle during a chase splits in half, while another time, Robin turns his cycle into a boat in mid-air by reconfiguring the bricks. Also, I loved the way they played the classic theme every time Superman appears. That fanfare is inspirational.
Although Batman (voiced by Troy Baker, videogame regular) is the star, the best-known member of the voice cast is Clancy Brown, “the definitive voice of Lex Luthor”, who also played the character in Superman: The Animated Series. Here, Superman is played by Travis Willingham; Christopher Corey Smith is a dynamite Joker; and Charlie Schlatter is the voice of Robin. (You know, I liked 18 Again!) The Joker, in particular, is hilarious in his dementia. Said Brown about the part,
“I think Lex getting some laughs is a little overdue. And it’s fun for me to go a little bit out of character. Lex is usually so sincere and scary, and now he finally gets to say something clever to get some laughs.”
Eventually, the Justice League shows up to help out, and Gotham is saved. Here’s the movie trailer (which overplays the JL involvement, in my opinion):
Creation credits are given for Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Cyborg, Harley Quinn, Martian Manhunter, and Bane. I guess that means the Joker, Green Lantern, and the Flash just sprung into being on their own. Then KC explained to me that second-generation legacy characters are complicated, because the question of whether to include the Golden Age creators is difficult. (Should Martin Nodell get credit for Hal Jordan?) DC also doesn’t give creator credits to editors, so situations where they had significant input may be problematic.
There are several extra features that are included on both the Blu-ray and the DVD.
“Building Batman” (15 minutes) is about stop-motion animating with Lego, hosted by Garrett Barati as he shows some children how it’s done. “Lego Batman Jumps Into Action” (38 seconds) is a teaser by Barati, as Batman tries to get ready for action.
There are five additional short films, the winners of a LEGO/DC Universe Super Heroes video contest, each about three minutes. Like the main feature, they’re cute and funny. Three cartoon episodes are also included: Two from Batman: The Brave and the Bold (“Triumvirate of Terror”, in which Superman and Wonder Woman appear, and “Scorn of the Star Sapphire”, guest-starring Green Lantern) and one episode from Teen Titans (“Overdrive”, which features Cyborg dealing with an upgrade). For some reason, this dubstep remix of Scooby-Doo is also included:
The initial releases on Blu-ray combo pack or DVD edition feature an on-pack freebie of a Lego Clark Kent. In case you want to recreate this (or make your own adventures), there are a ton of Lego Batman sets available. I kind of want this Superman set because it comes with a Wonder Woman mini-fig! (The studio provided a review copy.)
- Posted by Johanna on May 19, 2013 at 7:50 am
- Category: Graphic Novel Reviews
- CREDITS: written by Steven T. Seagle; art by Teddy Kristiansen
- PUBLISHER: First Second; $17.99 US
Steven T. Seagle and Teddy Kristiansen, the creative team behind the moodily engrossing House of Secrets and the “meditation on creativity using Superman” book It’s a Bird…, have reunited for a look at Genius.
First Second puts out so many great books for kids and teens that I think of them as an all-ages publisher, but Genius is clearly for adults. Not for any naughty content, but because the themes and fears expressed here aren’t going to resonate with younger readers. Genius is the story of Ted Marx, a former child prodigy who’s now just a cog, fearing that the discoveries of younger co-workers mean he’s at risk of losing his job as a think-tank physicist.
Although being a smart child, especially one who’s promoted into classes with older kids, is hard, it’s harder dealing with what happens once the brilliance fades. When you’re a kid, learning can be fun … and a refuge. Once you have kids of your own and a wife who may be facing a medical crisis and a father-in-law you have to care for although he hates you, well, smart doesn’t matter so much. There are too many other distractions.
Seagle gets this so right that getting to know Ted as the pages unfold can be painful. Knowing that you’re no longer the hot young thing is a speed bump that happens to many people, whether it’s about smarts or creativity or any other field. This is an involving portrait of the concerns of age, complicated by learning to worry more about the others closest to you than yourself.
Seagle’s ability to get inside minds and express their deepest concerns and motivations in just a few well-chosen words is used to its fullest here, accompanied by Kristiansen’s beautifully sketchy images. He’s not so much illustrating the events as capturing the emotions. At times, the light lines almost fade into the solid color washes, indicating how tenuous Ted’s memories or sense of being is.
The murky tones of beige and grey underscore the lack of clear answers in Ted’s life. The images are lovely yet foreboding, done in monochrome with a few highlights picked out. The use of light and shadow to suggest more than what we see is impressive, and the occasional impressionist page to indicate realization of an idea is astounding.
The conflict, where an intelligent person has to learn the value of other kinds of knowing, is a classic one. As Ted tells us, early on:
It turned out there were two kinds of knowledge: brain knowledge and heart knowledge. I was grossly over-developed in one. Painfully under-developed in the other. I worry that I still am in a lot of ways…
Albert Einstein serves as kind of a ghost mentor here, the closest thing Ted has to a deity. He reminds Ted that as Einstein got older, “It became more difficult to think in grand ways. Too many expectations… distractions…” Such as Ted’s 14-year-old son, Aron, who is more socially developed than he ever was, so Ted has to have The Talk with him about his girlfriend. Hope, Ted’s wife, isn’t feeling well, and Cece, his daughter, has his brains but would rather fit in.
Hope’s father Francis lives with them although he thinks Ted is a huge disappointment. Then Ted finds out that Francis, during his military service, was a bodyguard for Einstein. More, Albert entrusted Francis with a secret that might assure Ted’s career. Ultimately, many of us are looking for the one big break, the idea that will change everything. That quest might be futile, as this book shows us that it’s the small things that make up a rewarding life.
The publisher has made preview pages available. Genius can be ordered now from comic shops with the Diamond code MAY13 1161. It’s due out in early July. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)
- Posted by Johanna on May 19, 2013 at 7:14 am
- Category: Movies/TV
After reading the manga, I was curious about the movie adaptation, mainly because Emma Thompson, Viola Davis, and Jeremy Irons were in it. (I’ve still never read the book, and I don’t plan to. Two versions of this story are enough.)
I could tell from the opening this was going to be a tough sell. I liked the idea of Ethan (Alden Ehrenreich), a young man too smart for his small Southern town, but his exaggerated accent voiceover at the beginning rang false and rough on my ear. The scenery is attractive, including the young people, but the rest of the film — including plot, pacing, and character interactions — is clunky and slow.
Alice Englert plays Lena, the literal girl of Ethan’s dreams. She’s new to town, the popular girls hate her, and she lives in the much-rumored creepy Ravenwood mansion. As IMDb puts it, “they uncover dark secrets about their respective families, their history, and their town”, a description I admire for its economy. It’s a “teen paranormal romance”, as you probably know, a gender-swapped Twilight where the guy is the normal human and the girl supernatural.
The Ravenwoods turn out to be magic users, and Lena and Ethan have to fight her curse, due to arrive on her 16th birthday, to be together. The film’s two hours are a chore to get through, since so much feels overly familiar, as though I’ve seen the pieces before, done better. And there are a lot of pieces — the romance, two sets of family struggles, the gossip over an outsider, historical ghost flashbacks, wanting to grow out of a small town, feeling cursed by a legacy… with so much going on, you’d think the film would be more involving, but I kept checking the clock.
Jeremy Irons, Lena’s uncle, has similar accent problems to Ethan (and shows up wearing a weirdly Oriental-influenced pajama set), which kept tossing me out of the mood of the film. It should be creepy and mysterious, not laughable and tiring. At times, I couldn’t even tell what the characters were supposed to be saying. At least with a DVD you can turn on the subtitles, although that seems excessive. This is also one of those films you need to watch with a finger on the volume control, since the level needed to hear some of the dialogue makes the sounds too loud on music or effect sequences.
Emma Thompson shows up about 45 minutes in, and that snapped my attention back, as she plays a God-fearing bigot who wants Lena out of school as an evil influence. Then she gets possessed, and she gets even better. It’s also entertaining to watch the spinning dining room scene, the core of which was done as a practical effect on large turntables. Viola Davis sparks the scenes she’s in, as Ethan’s housekeeper/a mystic librarian. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough of these bits, too much of the maudlin romance, which is already a foregone conclusion. The trailer shows much of it to you.
The Blu-ray combo pack comes with an UltraViolet copy and DVD. The behind-the-scenes special features on Blu-ray are:
- Book to Screen (4 minutes), where the cast and authors praise screenwriter and director Richard LaGravenese
- The Casters (3 1/2 minutes), explaining the magical characters
- Between Two Worlds (4 1/2 minutes), highlighting religion and magic in the characters
- Forbidden Romance (3 minutes), about the star-crossed lovers
- Alternate Worlds (5 minutes), discussing the special effects
- Beautiful Creatures: Designing the Costumes (4 minutes)
- 4 Deleted Scenes, a total of about 8 minutes
- Theatrical Trailers (for the film itself and a book)
Most are heavy on film clips and cast members summarizing the movie for us, standard electronic press kit filler. None of the first four provide any new information, except for the idea that these people thought the movie would be a success. The DVD has only the book trailer and deleted scenes. (The studio provided a review copy.)
- Posted by Johanna on May 18, 2013 at 7:56 pm
- Category: Shopping Guide
I’ve been meaning to go through the May Diamond Previews catalog for two weeks now, but I kept putting it off. I’m still barely timely, since today’s the last day — consumer orders are due to shops today. I wonder why I’ve been dawdling about it, and then I stumble across something that reminds me of how much I sometimes despise the whole process. Exhibit A: a full-page ad for the digital version of Previews that calls it an “evolution”, one that they want to charge you $3.99 for. I can possibly see an argument for Diamond being reimbursed for printing and shipping costs for the paper catalog version — although it is typically short-sighted to charge people to buy things from you — but a digital version? That costs you nothing, since you have to produce the catalog for retailers anyway? Why should they charge for that, let alone almost full cover price?
Although I don’t read a lot of their titles, I admire Dark Horse’s tenacity and the way they’ve kept going all these years. However, I can’t get excited about their big plan, announced here, of putting out more superhero books. The world has more than enough of those, thanks. I understand, I think, why they’d want to do that — that’s about all that the direct market is set up to cope with, still, and they’re going to have to do something when the Star Wars comics go away. (You know it’s coming. Probably not immediately, but Disney now owns them, and you saw what happened to The Muppet Show comics that used to come from Boom!.) Given how targeted much of their releases are to the traditional direct market, relying heavily on horror, science fiction, Conan, and video game and other licenses, it shouldn’t be surprising that they’re keeping with that young male approach.
Moving to DC’s section, I stumbled across Batman and Catwoman #22 (MAY13 0162, $2.99). “Oh, neat!” I thought, “I wonder how long that teamup has been running?” Then I realized it was a relabeled Batman and Robin. Now that Robin is dead, Batman is apparently rotating through a bunch of other characters who likely hate him, creating a tracking and filing nightmare for the obsessives as the book goes from Batman and Batgirl to Batman and Nightwing. Also, I suspect the cover artist (Patrick Gleason) doesn’t realize just how hot those spotlights are.
The Batman 66 title (MAY13 0204, $3.99) I’ve been looking forward to is now available for order. So there’s one DC comic I can look forward to. Oh, wait, I forgot Batman: Li’l Gotham #4 (MAY13 0239). Cuteness works for me, too.
I haven’t heard a thing about Right State (Vertigo, MAY13 0262, $16.99, due August), but I liked Mat Johnson’s Incognegro, and after the departure of Saucer Country, I’d like to see more comics take on politics in an entertaining (as opposed to hectoring) way. Andrea Mutti draws the original graphic novel thriller about an attempt to assassinate the second African-American President.
I am stunned to finally see the solicitation of The Complete Omaha the Cat Dancer: Volume 8 (NBM/Eurotica, MAY13 1198, $15.99, due July), the new conclusion to the adults-only furry sex series. The previous book came out five years ago, and the reprint series started in 2005! (I first heard of the comic in 1989 or so, when a friend of mine got the picture disc featuring music by Reed Waller’s band.) I guess patience really is a virtue. I can’t wait to see how it all wraps up.
Be sure to check out the first issue of Watson and Holmes (New Paradigm Studios, MAY13 1211, $2.99, due July). There were previously two issues released digitally, but the series by Karl Bollers and Rick Leonardi was so well-received that it’s moving to print. It’s a good read, an African-American take on the Sherlock Holmes setup. Jon Watson is an overworked intern at an emergency clinic in Harlem. Holmes had dreds, a fedora, and the annoying certainty you expect from the character. The art’s astounding, gritty and dramatic. You’d think with Sherlock and Elementary and all that people would be tired of another take on the character, but this one is fresh and interesting. Some of the conventions of the genre — the motherly housekeeper Mrs. Hudson, the use of street kids as Irregulars to gather information — actually make more sense in this setting. There’s a lengthy preview online.
Stumptown Volume 2 (Oni, MAY13 1214, $29.99, due September) collects the mystery by Greg Rucka and Matthew Southworth. It’s gripping, with a strong sense of place and culture, updating the traditional PI-style story for Portland and the music scene.
I’ll miss Bakuman, the crazy manga series about two young creators. It was nice having new volumes to look forward to, since I enjoyed reading a soap opera about making comics. Volume 20 (Viz, MAY13 1321, $9.99, due August) completes the series.