Friday, October 3, 2014

The Apocryphal Scrooge McDuck, Part 3

In this installment, I recall Donald and His Friends, which sounds like a serviceable title for a Disney coloring book marked $1.49 at a 99 cent store, but is actually the title of an oversize, fully-illustrated storybook from 1988. I suspect this book is a reprint and the original title was "Happy Birthday, Donald Duck!" or "Donald's Amazing Birthday Party" to coincide with the character's 50th birthday a few years prior. I still own a copy of "Happy Birthday, Bugs!", an oversize storybook published to coincide with Bugs Bunny's 50th birthday, but I don't know if that was ever reprinted as "Bugs and His Friends", which would be darkly ironic, since the "surprise party" depicted in that book devolved into a revenge plot after all the guests (all made up of Bugs' antagonists) recalled the many times the Wabbit had made fools of them.

Anyway...you didn't click on this article to read about Bugs Bunny - you want to know what makes Donald and His Friends count as an "apocryphal" Scrooge McDuck duck-tale. Okay. This book was special because it featured an all-star cast of Disney characters from the films and comic books, including an unnamed character who resembles Ellsworth the crow, who is virtually unknown to audiences in the USA, but audiences overseas might've recognized him, which led me to believe this book was indeed a reprint,  yet I wasn't able to prove that when I did an online search.

The plot could've been adapted as an episode of Disney's House of Mouse. It begins with Donald alone in his house,  dozing off on the couch after completing household chores,  when a knock on the door wakes him up. The guests begin to arrive. First Daisy shows up. Huey, Dewey and Louie show up. Goofy shows up (dressed as Donald's present - less messy than jumping out of a cake, I presume), then Pluto, Mickey and Minnie Mouse arrive. Mickey's "gift" is a magic show featuring a magic top hat that functions like a backwards nesting doll - characters from the Disney films appear from inside and begin to pop out: Alice, Peter Pan, then Merlin the wizard, who magically makes an enormous gift box appear, which has a massive birthday cake inside, from which two of the Disney Princesses appear - Snow White and Cinderella. Cinderelly's gift is a pumpkin that turns into a roadster that resembles Donald's Belchfire Runabout car that Carl Barks created for the comics, but with the color scheme resembling the "flying" version used by Donald in the Paperinik/Duck Avenger stories. I particularly liked the interesting, surreal, Dr. Seuss-ian escalation in the presentation of the characters and gifts - this wouldn't have been impressive as a teensy Little Golden Book, but works better with this format, which resembles the size presented for Seuss's longer stories, like Happy Birthday To You! and And To Think I Saw It On Mulberry Street, but it's inspiration most likely came from the Disney film The Three Caballeros, which also featured a birthday celebration for Donald Duck with a similar display of flamboyant character entrances.

The tone shifts when Scrooge arrives, unfashionably late, claiming to have been mugged, his "gift" for Donald stolen. Once it appears everyone present at the party would rather believe McDuck came to wolf down some free birthday cake...the most unforgettable moment in the book happens: Scrooge throws a fit.

Actually, the book describes him flying into "a rage", but I'm inclined to believe this was Scrooge's aria: he starts to trash Donald's house! Throwing gifts and anything not nailed down! The unfortunate thing about this book is that the destructive rampage is illustrated sparingly within the space of a few pages, offering ONE tantalizing image of the destruction capturing my imagination and staying in my head from the moment I first read it...A group of party crashers wind up bearing the brunt of McDuck's quack attack...and this group is made up of a sampling of the finest representatives of evil in the Disney films: Maleficent, Mad Madam Mim, Cruella de Vil, Medusa and the queen from Snow White, who was unnamed,  but because of the Disney-owned TV series Once Upon A Time is now known as Regina Mills or Queen Regina. It is truly a beautiful illustration, which brings up the sad point that the artist and writer of this book were uncredited and are unknown.

After the crones flee, the seven dwarves entertain rhe partygoers with music. Donald dances with Snow White.  Goofy and Clarabelle Cow dance the tango. Huey, Dewey and Louie follow up on the entertainment by showing a short cartoon  about Pluto chasing Ellsworth, who leads him to a surprise party held for the dog.

Then Gladstone Gander shows up. I think this is the first of only two appearances Gladstone has made in any of the Disney storybooks - the other appearance was in Donald Duck: Some Ducks Have All The Luck, a Little Golden Book. After presenting Donald with a gift that resembles an enormous perfume bottle (with an assist from an unnamed valet bearing a canny resemblance to Timothy Mouse from "Dumbo"), Gladstone recalls the bizarre gift he received from Scrooge on his birthday: a tiny, malfunctioning hourglass.  Gladstone gets revenge by claiming the hourglass was a lucky talisman, which makes Scrooge insist on buying it back, only to learn the hard way that he'd been had by his nephew. Then Chip & Dale show up at Donald's house with a surprise: they found Scrooge's gift for Donald - the hourglass he had bought back from Gladstone!  It's not implied in the text that Scrooge might have thought twice about his re-gifting strategy while on his way to Donald's house, decided it was a bad idea and ditched the hourglass while offering the story about being mugged as a cover for showing up empty-handed, but the artist's rendition of his face immediately after the denouement could imply that was what happened.

After that punchline, Donald offers his surprise for the guests: a fireworks show in his backyard, which becomes calamitous after Goify's pants catch fire from some stray sparks and is left standing in his boxers, but otherwise the party ends with everyone enjoying the festivities and Donald looking forward to next year's birthday party.

This book stood out because it was the only original story among a series of books that featured storybook adaptations of classic Disney animated films. The endpapers of the book show Scrooge in character as Ebeneezer Scrooge in Mickey's Christmas Carol amongst a large display of Disney characters, so a book adaptation of that film was also offered at some point. I remember they were displayed on a large table at Barnes & Noble - not unlike the way books featuring Disney characters are often displayed at bookstores,  though I've never seen this book offered again, which is sad, because it was very good. The uncredited illustrator didn't take advantage of the format to do anything ambitious (perhaps there was a plan to keep this book in print on various size formats at one point), which hints this was something cranked out, albeit well done, since the uncredited writer was clearly having fun dreaming up a surreal experience. Both contributors rose to the occasion with that cameo by the Disney villains.  It's definitely worth looking out for.

Here's a clue about the next installment of The Apocryphal Scrooge McDuck:

When is a "cameo guest star" not guest-starring at all? :)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Magrs Method of Book Reporting: "Comic Wars: How Two Tycoons Battled Over The Marvel Comics Empire - And Both Lost" by Dan Raviv

Encapsulate the plot of this book in one sentence?
The financial woes in the 1990s of Marvel Entertainment Group - the corporate entity behind Marvel Comics - is explained.
When was this book published?
2002. This was a 1st edition hardcover in great shape that I bought at a comic shop for 5 bucks.
What's your verdict?
I remember reading a library copy of this book around the time of it's release;  obviously, it's past its sell-by-date, because Marvel's fortunes have improved: it's part of the Walt Disney Company, it's film adaptations of their comics are box office smashes ( some more than others, to be honest )...who cares that it was faring poorly in the 90s? The past is dead!
...
I found it interesting that none of the financial wizards fighting for control of the company were into comics* - and that's why I found this book hard to enjoy: the author tried to make the events surrounding Marvel's leadership woes into a Wall Street/Wolf of Wall Street - esque caper, but there was no real hustle or careers at stake; sure, people got laid off, but the principals in this escapade - Ronald Perelman, Carl Icahn, Ike Perlmutter and Avi Arad - were never at risk of losing their fortunes and being put out on the street; this was all part of the game - Marvel Comics was just a pawn on a large chessboard.
The book reveals that Perelman was only interested in acquiring Marvel because of it's potential as a character licensing company, putting the characters on films, TV series and merchandise;  when he learned, after buying the company, that the merchandising, film and television rights were already tied up, he began using the company as a platform for selling junk bonds and acquiring other companies that could correspond with Marvel's product licensing. There was nothing wrong with that - hoarding companies is a common practice.  Is it a good idea? Well, you end up forming a conglomerate when you do that, and any failure within the conglomerate can create a domino effect that can bring it down to its knees. Perelman acquired the trading card companies Fleer and Skybox,  the sticker company Panini, the distribution company Heroes World, and small-time rival Malibu Comics Entertainment ( only, the book reveals,  because that company had developed a computer coloring system that could be run twenty-four hours a day for faster production ), and a controlling interest in a toy company, Toy Biz, which meant Marvel now had a stake in the toy-making industry.
And the comics were not selling well.
HOWEVER...
The book strongly implies that the company would've been headed for bankruptcy even if their comics sold well. The cause of Marvel's bankruptcy had nothing to do with overprintings of X-Men#1 and bad Spider-Man comics ( and depending on who you're asking, they're still making awful comics with those characters ).
Perelman's initial goal to push Marvel into licensing was actually a good idea - they've been doing it for the past decade, even beginning aggressive campaigns to get back the film rights to characters/franchises that were sold to other studios. This book is really an artefact representing a finger-pointing attitude people held during the late-1990s, when they were looking for someone to blame for why the medium almost died.
Do you plan to keep this book?
I'm not sure - it is like one of those old gimmick comic books from the 80s and 90s that promoted an event that was eventually revised and negated a decade later - it's claiming everything Perelman did was wrong, yet the current owners are doing the same thing, so it's okay, right? ...
Or perhaps there's gonna be a Crisis...
Can you give us a good quote?
Sure. Check out the gallery below.
*actually, Avi Arad comes off as the only figure in the debacle who COULD have feelings about the source material behind the toys, t-shirts, video games and screenplays being cranked out, which explains why he is a major player in Marvel's current corporate hierarchy - after all, SOMEBODY in that boardroom has got to know what a "Spider-Man" is!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

A Summer of Sherlock: "Sherlock Holmes: The Titanic Tragedy" by William Seil

Encapsulate the plot in one sentence?

Aiming to carry out a secret mission in America, Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson unwittingly board the Titanic on it's sole voyage in 1912.

When was this published?

1996. The edition I'm reviewing is the 2012 reprint by Titan Books, as part of The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes series of original "pastiche" novels.

What's your verdict?

The novel is set before the World War One adventure His Last Bow. It features a Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson who are in their 60s, aware of their celebrity status and entering the twentieth century.  In other words, this book is a lot like the Sherlock Holmes films starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce ( although the Watson in this book was definitely Edward Hardwicke from the 80s series with Jeremy Brett ). In fact, I could imagine a film of this made in the early 60s,  with Rathbone as Sherlock,  John Williams ( replacing Nigel Bruce,  who passed away the decade before ) as Watson, David Niven as Colonel James Moriarty, Paula Prentiss as Christine Norton, Pamela Tiffin as Holly Storm-Fleming...and Peter Sellers as Jacques Futrelle. Directed by Clive Donner.  Of those names, Tiffin as Fleming popped into my head whenever I read her dialogue;  she's the most-interesting of the characters Seil created for this story. And while looked more like the DNA hybrid clone of Peter Lorre & Paul Sorvino than Peter Sellers, I could just imagine the sight of Sellers wearing pince-nez glasses and mangling an American accent portraying the one-hit-wonder mystery writer who went down with the ship.

The plot? Stolen submarine plans...daughter of Irene Adler teams up with Holmes and Watson...dizzy groupie ( Holly Storm-Fleming ) is carrying a secret...Professor Moriarty's brother is onboard...actually,  this "Holmes on a boat" stuff reminded me of Pursuit To Algiers, one of the Sherlock Holmes films starring Rathbone and Bruce, only this time, the ship is the TITANIC, which is featured here like an exotic location that enhances things. There's little real Sherlockian detection on display, though he does spend most of the book disguised as a veteran seaman, so Holmes penchant for disguises is fully displayed. 

And then there's that boat...this book was published just one year before James Cameron's film about the ship took over the pop culture consciousness, so, yes, it is tempting to imagine this book and that film as Rosencrantz and Guildestern Are Dead -esque scenarios, with Holmes wrestling Moriarty on one area of the sinking ship while Jack & Rose are running from Billy Zane on the other, combined with Jacques Futrelle enjoying a conversation with John Jacob Astor while his wife May looks on from the departing lifeboat ( that does not occur in the book, but it is May Futrelle's real-life account of the last moments she saw her husband before he went down with the ship)..the final quarter is the real highlight/draw of the book- an account of the sinking and evacuation of the ship from Watson's point of view - and it's well done. It's actually more convincing than the Cameron film because Seil manages to avoid turning it into an action/disaster film, which is what the movie tried and failed to avoid becoming, because those sequences contrast too sharply with the rest of the picture.

Which scenes in the book will stay with you?

Oddly, there a scene were Seil has Futrelle recap The Problem of Cell 13, the story he is best-known for...it's actually very silly, but it was considered a rival to Doyle's detective stories at the time. Then there's every scene with Holly. She was a terrific character that got the book moving whenever she turned up. Definitely Pamela Tiffin.

Will you be keeping this book?

Yes. While I do wish the more fanciful characters (Moriarty and Christine) had been more interesting...and the detective work was not as marginal as it was...it was still interesting and had a good ending.

Give us a good quote.

Of course.  Check out the gallery below.

***

That completes the "Summer of Sherlock". I hoped you enjoyed the books I chose - or at least enjoyed my reviews of them! I might do this again next Summer - if not with Sherlock Holmes books, then perhaps a different character, one with a series that I can pick and choose entries from. James Bond novels? Jack Ryan novels? Star Wars novels? So-called "Young Adult Dystopian" fiction? Eh...that last selection would be an act of courage...I would want to get paid for that.