I have an odd relationship with my trade paperback collection. It often grows faster than I can read, I have no illusions about that. There are numerous great deals out there if you know where to look, and after years of collecting I know where to look. It spans from 1924 to 2017, though the New Year means that I technically have nothing current. Yet. But for a long time, I have been bothered by my inability to feel comfortable as a collector and reader in relation to other fans. To use a term I hate, I felt as though I was not connected with the zeitgeist, that the works I loved were not in step with the material so many adore.
But I have fifteen trades in the mail this month, covering a wide range of times and styles. Spanning from Mickey Mouse’s newspaper strips from the 50s, the creator-owned Sirens from George Perez, 90s comics with Superboy and Robin, X-Men Classic, the first run of Michelinie and Layton’s Iron Man, New Teen Titans, the 1989 printing of Tales of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Knights of the Dinner Table, all the way to DuckTales… and it occurred to me as I wrote this that I can’t be the only person reading these. Maybe the people who are reading them aren’t talking about it as much, maybe they’re in circles I don’t travel in, I don’t know. But if I’m to review things I love, I have to be comfortable with what I love – and what I do not. There is a presumption of inexperience in not appreciating a nebulous canon, a strange form of elitism perpetuated to allow for ‘true fans’ – gatekeepers even amongst ourselves, when what I care about is opening the medium up to as many people as possible.
News of Brian Michael Bendis signing an exclusive contract with DC had me thinking about Ultimate Spider-Man, arguably the best thing he’s ever written. The voice of the series is singular and unique, and the consistency of Peter Parker’s characterization and writing makes him a lot more like Jack Knight than the original Spider-Man. As part of a separate continuity (which I would explain to a layman as ‘Like how the movies aren’t the same as the comics’) known as the Ultimate Universe, it’s also incredibly accessible to new readers. So when I was at a used book store talking to a guy who wanted to start reading comics, I recommended a copy of Volume 1 – Power and Responsibility without hesitation.
And my appreciation is precisely why it is so frustrating to deal with the way that Marvel has collected this series. Not just for me, but for the potential millions of readers for whom picking up the title is a horrific amount of work. That might seem dramatic, but one sentence alone can illustrate where prospective (and experienced) fans can and will get stuck:
Writer – Kelly Thompson, Sophie Campbell as co-plotter
Covers & Interior Art – Sophie Campbell
Colors – M. Victoria Robado
Lettering – Shawn Lee, Tom Long, Robbie Robbins
Editor – John Barber
Variant Covers – Stephanie Hans, Amy Mebberson, Sara Richard, Agnes Garbowska, Amanda Conner (colors by Paul Mounts), David Lafuente (colors by John Rauch), Marguerite Sauvage, Tommy Lee Edwards, Jenevieve Broomall
Jem and the Holograms is the best impulse purchase I’ve ever made. The day it arrived I read the book cover to cover, then immediately read it again. I would be happy having that as the entire review, but I think I’ll go a little more in depth as to why this comic is worth your time.
Aaron Sparrow is nothing if not passionate. Twice over he’s worked to bring Darkwing Duck to comic books, and his work as a writer and professional has always seemed geared towards something I consider tremendously important – creating an accessible environment for new readers and kids. That’s no easy task in a world of crossovers, events and writing for the trade (now if only my local store could keep the book in stock!). With the release of the new Darkwing Duck trade paperback, he was able to give some of his time to talk with me about the way comics are created, his current Darkwing Duck series, and the impact both the character and comics medium had on him.
This column has been in the works for awhile. It was originally intended to be a lighthearted thing, a regular Showing off the Shelves. But much like writing as a whole, like life as a whole, it has been difficult in recent months due to the sudden passing of my dad. I’m dealing with that now, as much and as well as a person ever really can – but I wanted to share a piece of what and why I collect, because it is perhaps the most enduring part of what he left me. Perhaps letting this out raw and unrefined is for the better.
I’ve often described myself as a second-generation nerd. My mom collected Star Trek fanzines and novels, and was annoyed by the 2009 reboot of the series for failing to take the EU in to account (my delight in watching her act like I do when I’m annoyed by something nerdy was also what had me start watching TOS in earnest). My dad, however, was the first person to tell me that a season of television was bad – the third season of Trek, to be precise, and the budgetary issues that caused it. It was the first time I was aware that television had seasons, and would set the stage for my interest in the behind-the-scenes aspect of television. Not for the sake of knowing, but to better understand the art form that would spur me to become a writer. I am, at heart, someone who will always enjoy serial media more than a standalone piece, and it is comics and television that made it so.
I intended to review the new Darkwing Duck issue by issue (because show of hands, who wants a review as long as my last Darkwing Duck one?), but my Friendly Local Gaming Store’s incompetence made that an impossibility. Now that I have access to the first three issues, I can discuss the opening arc Orange is the New Purple as a block – a cell block.
For those of you unfamiliar with the show or comic, Darkwing Duck is Disney’s comedic take on superheroes and pulp shows starring the eponymous masked mallard of mystery, his wayward ward Gosalyn Mallard, and aerial ace (and crash connoisseur) Launchpad McQuack transplanted from Ducktales. The fondly remembered cartoon ran for three seasons from 1991-1992 and its return for a miniseries (changed to an ongoing based on massive pre-orders) was the subject of tremendous buzz. The series ran for eighteen regular issues and one annual, with its first sixteen issues divided in to four four-issue arcs, beginning with what I called “The best Batman story never written”, The Duck Knight Returns. For me, it passed the test of a truly great licensed comic – my friend and a great fan of the show enjoyed it, my little cousin who had never heard of the show enjoyed it, and so did I (a casual viewer who knows the theme song better than the cartoon).
The new comic is a continuation of the continuity from The Definitively Dangerous Edition, which collected (and somewhat rewrote) the first seventeen issues of the BOOM! series (excluding the DuckTales crossover Dangerous Currency, for reasons of legality and quality). If you read the original series or The Definitively Dangerous Edition, you can ease yourself without trouble in to the new comic. The same is true of viewers of the original show, which is given loving attention by way of callbacks by the creative team of writer Aaron Sparrow and artist James Silvani, who also serves as co-plotter/co-writer.
As to whether the comic is quite so accessible to new readers, that’s a little more difficult to say. Sparrow notes in an editorial that Darkwing creator Tad Stones suggested “action, action, action” for the new story, and that they used this to structure the return of the crimefighter by asking, “What would we, as readers, like to see in the first several issues?” With the appearance of obscure villains from the show, BOOM! comic, and 90s Disney Adventures comic, the team seems to have decided on a more challenging approach – showing everything they loved about the original series and throwing new readers in to the deep end, trusting the fun to carry them along rather than retread The Duck Knight Returns. And in my opinion, they succeeded.
In the first issue alone, they showcase the life of Darkwing Duck, his civilian identity of Drake Mallard, and adopted daughter Gosalyn Mallard in equal measure, bringing the reader up to speed in terms of tone and humor rather than narrative – and let me be clear, managing fourteen pages of setup while keeping it entertaining is no small feat. The only misstep in this opening section is from a one-page scene on a space station run by SHUSH, Darkwing’s former and now current employer. This doesn’t quite jive with the flow of the story or give the reader enough information to know what’s going on or why it matters.
But after that, it’s all forward momentum with a prison lockdown and Darkwing forced to combat every old enemy that Sparrow and Silvani can think of. Smart is the name of the game with this new Darkwing Duck – from the jokes to the solutions for the predicaments the villains put our heroes in. The dialogue is excellently characterized, with unique speech patterns showing through even without the benefit of the original series’ amazing cast reading the lines. Lesser comedies will fall in to a trap of losing the individual voices of each characters, which can make the jokes and dialogue seem same-y. This isn’t the case here, where each page feels fresh and the action exciting. Which brings me to my next point…
I’ve gone almost the entire length of this review without going absolutely crazy over the art of James Silvani, and that’s unacceptable. I adored his work in the first run, but he leaves that in the dust with the Joe Books issues. Silvani never shies away from a crowd scene, and his interpretations of the characters are never played safe. It’s easy to go too big on a wild take, leaving a characters’ reaction looking stupid instead of funny. Even worse, they can seem disconnected from panel to panel. That’s simply not the case here. He handles that fine line beautifully, making each page a pleasure to read and always, always selling the action or joke.
Andrew Dalhouse’s colors make some of the best linework I’ve seen in quite some time look even more stunning, whether it’s a two-page spread or a short scene in the Mallards’ kitchen. DC can only wish their non-Harley Quinn/Bombshells art looked this good.
The only area where I feel they falter is cover design – the designs don’t quite pop for me the way the BOOM! covers did. At least there aren’t five different variants for each issue.
With all that said, Darkwing Duck surpasses the quality of the first comic series in virtually every way. And more importantly, it’s a good comic in its own right. The jokes sing, the characters are entertaining, the art is fantastic, and it’s just a great read. While it doesn’t go for the more heavy narrative focus of the original series that I enjoyed so much, Silvani and Sparrow appear to be playing the long game. Rather than forcing every story to stay contained in four issues, questions are unanswered and Chekhov’s gas guns unfired even as the main action ends – with a promise that it won’t stay that way. Who knows what’s going to come later in the story?
As an additional note, every issue has special behind the scenes material. That includes an editorial from Sparrow about each issue and Darkwing Duck in general, dossiers on characters, and the promise of a full on letters page. I don’t think you could ask for more in a comic like this, but I’m sure that more is coming nonetheless.
So… there were some delays since my last Don Rosa in Review came out! I’m sorry about that. You can thank Dr. GeoX for inspiring me to put out this little birthday present to myself. I had waited for two Don Rosa books to come out to allow me to better discuss the material in relationship to his development as an artist, one being the Fantagraphics release, the other being the third volume of the Don Rosa Classics. I’m not holding my breath on that last one coming out any time soon, more’s the pity, but I do have the Fantagraphics releases. With them, I finally, finally have an opportunity to go through Don Rosa’s Duck stories the way I had intended!
Well. Except for one. Return to Duckburg Place was written in 1970 with Ray Foushee, who also collaborated on ‘a handful of [Pertwillaby Papers] episodes’, and is technically the first Disney Duck comic Rosa ever worked on. I say technically because it was produced as an underground comic, starts with Huey Dewey and Louie smoking pot, and actually gets more messed up from there. While this comic was published in European territories as part of various Don Rosa collections, the more uptight Disney of America wouldn’t allow publication of this story in the Don Rosa Library. I was fortunate enough to find a copy from an acquaintance to work with for this column. Funny what happens when Disney tells him not to publish things he worked on that fans want to read: somehow, it gets out there anyway.
This is one of only three Duck comics he did in black and white, all of which were unofficial productions. This is why you see Zip-A-Tone on most of the characters, later used to remarkable effect on The Pertwillaby Papers and Captain Kentucky. It is also easily the darkest thing he’s ever done, outdoing even his “Casper the Dead Baby” jokes made during conventions and interviews.
I really, really hope he’s joking. It makes sense the more you think about it, just look at that head… but anyway. I couldn’t think of a better way to return to Don Rosa in Review than this, with Return to Duckburg Place.
Summary: Don Rosa holds nothing back in a dark, satirical, amateur production that slams the Disney Duck world and its characters, and I laugh hysterically at the thought of this same guy being most well known for his heart wrenching, brilliant stories that thrive on extreme pathos. Everyone has a dark side, and this is definitely his.