Tag Archives: comics

Dec. 13 – Donald Duck in Christmas on Bear Mountain

bear mountain original

Four Color Comics #178 (1947)

For these features, I like to do something a little different at the midway point. This year I’m going to take a look at the classic Donald Dock comic “Christmas on Bear Mountain.” Donald Duck wasn’t just a movie star back in the day, but he also starred in his own line of comics published by Walt Disney. The author and illustrator was the renowned Carl Barks, who also would pen the Uncle Scrooge comics as well. Barks didn’t get to enjoy being celebrated for many years as anything published by Walt Disney was attributed to just one man – Walt Disney. He got to take credit for everything. I don’t necessarily think the intent was malicious or ego-driven, but a marketing one. If people thought these were coming from Disney himself then they would be more likely to buy them. This was a problem in those days across the comics world as the people with money got to take most of the credit, and royalties, away from the actual creators. It’s a problem that has thankfully largely been solved, but there’s still plenty of old wounds out there.

scrooge debut

The first page, with Scrooge’s debut at the bottom.

In terms of Donald Duck comics, “Christmas on Bear Mountain” is one of the most famous. It was first published in December 1947 by Dell Comics as part of their Four Color Comics. It’s most notable for being the first appearance of Scrooge McDuck, Donald’s wealthy uncle who would go on to star in his own line of comics as well as the DuckTales cartoons. For his debut, Scrooge is a bit more like his eventual adversary Flintheart Glomgold. He’s a bearded Scottsman with a rather lousy disposition. He claims he hates everybody and everybody hates him. He lives alone in a mansion in Duckberg with just his attendants. He appears to be a cross between Xanadu from Citizen Kane and Ebenezer Scrooge from A Christmas Carol. There’s no hint at his adventuring past as much of what will define Scrooge is yet to come, making this version of the character feel more like a prototype Scrooge than the actual Scrooge McDuck we’ll come to know and love.

The comic opens with Donald Duck bemoaning his lack of money in front of his nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie. He doesn’t have enough money for food, let alone presents for Christmas. He openly wishes his rich uncle Scrooge were more generous, but dismisses that possibility pretty quickly. It’s a convenient thought though as we’re whisked away to Scrooge’s mansion on the other side of town where the old man is bemoaning the oncoming holiday as well. He’s a miserable sort, but also a bit mischievous, and he decides that for Christmas he would like to test the mettle of his cowardly nephew. Scrooge admires bravery and repeatedly references his stingy ways. He never gives anything away for free, but he’s willing to bestow food and presents upon his nephew if he can have a bit of fun at his expense and test his courage. And if he passes his test, he’ll reward him further. He instructs his butler to send Donald a telegram offering the use of his cabin on Bear Mountain where Scrooge intends to spring a surprise on his nephew.

barks scrooge

Many years later, Barks would do paintings of his prized creations and sell them for a tidy sum.

Donald and his nephews are surprised and delighted to receive the telegram from Scrooge offering the use of his cabin for the holidays. The boys set off immediately, though Donald is a little unnerved by the warning in the telegram to watch out for bears. In a bit of role reversal from a popular short like Duck Pimples, it’s Donald who is cowardly while the nephews are dismissive of the warning. They tell their uncle there are no bears around, and the thought is almost put out of Donald’s mind when they arrive at the cabin to find presents and food, lots and lots of food.

Meanwhile, Scrooge is eagerly anticipating pulling his little prank on his nephew. He plans on heading to the cabin himself, but first he must test his prank on his butler, Edgerton. When he summons the unassuming butler to his room he bursts forth in a bear costume prompting Edgerton to dive out of a window declaring he’ll take his holiday now. Scrooge is delighted with the result and immediately calls for his driver to take him to Bear Mountain.

At the cabin, night has fallen and Donald is on the look-out for bears. As the snow starts to come down the nephews declare there are no bears, but Donald is not satisfied. He peers outside through a telescope and is terrified at the sight of a creature, which turns out to be a squirrel. It’s enough to get him to jump into the chandelier and cower in fear, a frequent gag in the coming pages. Scrooge is on his way, but the snow is falling too fast. The roads are impassible, and the driver tells Scrooge they need to turn back. He’s not bothered as he’ll just pull his prank the next day, though he’s not crazy about his nephews getting to eat and sleep on his dime another night revealing he’s never provided a man a free meal in his life.

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The story goes out of its way to reveal just how much of a penny-pincher Scrooge is.

The next morning the boys have fun playing in the snow while Donald enjoys rummaging through the fridge for breakfast. When the boys request oatmeal, he tells them they’ll eat their lobster newburg and like it! Later on, Donald tries to relax by the fire but the nephews inform him they need a Christmas tree. It’s the one thing missing from Scrooge’s cabin, and given that it’s Christmas Eve, the place really needs one. Donald has no intention of going off into bear-infested woods looking for a tree, but the kids cry and complain and eventually he gives in. When they first set out, Donald thinks he sees bear tracks and runs back inside to hide under the bed while the boys point out they’re just rabbit tracks. Donald angrily grabs an axe and mutters his way through the snow. Finding only a single hollowed-out tree, the boys are forced to settle and they haul it back to the cabin.

The boys make the most of their sad tree by hanging colored soda bottles from it. Donald is more interested in finding some dessert and the kids are onboard as well. When they leave the living room it’s revealed their tree has a stow-away. A little bear cub emerges from his slumber and climbs out of the tree. He takes note of a teddy bear nearby and gives it a whack with his paw, startling the ducks in the other room. When the nephews come in they don’t notice the cub by the teddy bear, and Donald cowardly asks them to check the other rooms.

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Chandeliers make for great hiding places.

The little cub runs off undetected to the kitchen where he finds the strawberry shortcake the ducks were planning on eating, and consumes it himself. After finding no sign of bears, the others return to the kitchen and are shocked to see their cake has vanished. Donald immediately returns to the chandelier for cover, while the boys nervously tiptoe around the house. The cub though has returned to the tree for cover, and when he sees the boys leave he re-emerges. He drops out of the tree only to land on a roller skate just as Donald hops out of his hiding place. The bear goes rolling along and plows into Donald, who still doesn’t get a look at him but does notice the bear fur left behind. He then returns to his chandelier in terror.

Hearing the commotion, the boys return to the living room but again find no bears. Donald tells them his assailant fled through the door and the boys hear the sound of their roller skate on the floor. They angrily give charge only to slip on the discarded skate and crash into the wall. The bear has a look at the dazed ducklings, before he cheerfully resumes his skating. Donald asks what happened, and the boys don’t know, but they hear the skates and give charge once more. The cub hears them, and grabbing a box of chocolates, jumps back into his tree. When the boys enter the room they see no sign of the bear, but then one of them gets knocked on the head by the discarded chocolate box. They now know the bear is hiding in the tree and one of the nephews angrily yanks the cub out of his hiding place.

Just then, the mother of the cub awakens in the stump the ducks left behind and she is not happy to find her cub missing. She tracks them back to the cabin and smashes the door down. The cub though has managed to escape the ducklings, and after they failed to find him, they plead with their uncle to come out of his hiding place. Assuring him it’s just a tiny bear, Donald finally emerges to aid his nephews in their search. He confidently strides into another room expecting to find a cub, but naturally he finds the cub and his mother. He runs off and dives out the window as the bear gives chase and his nephews follow.

Night falls and the boys are forced to watch from outside as the bear and her cub enjoy the food and warmth of the cabin. After a satisfying meal, the bear lays down to sleep by the fire while the cub plays with the roller skate once more. The nephews then urge their uncle to go inside and tie the bear up while she sleeps while they’ll take care of the cub. Donald does not want to do this, but since the alternative is freezing to death, he has little choice. They slip in, and the boys start chasing the cub around. Donald, shaking uncontrollably, sneaks up to the mother bear. Before he can begin tying her up, the bear lets out a great sigh causing Donald to faint in fright right beside the bear who wraps an arm around him.

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Aww, they look so sweet together.

Just then, Scrooge shows up in his bear costume. He sneaks into the cabin and is immediately met by the cub who is being chased by his youngest nephews. He’s amazed at their bravery, even if it is just a cub, but not as amazed as he is when he looks into the next room. There he sees the slumbering mama bear, with Donald sleeping right beside her. He’s proud to see his nephew in so brave a state and even remarks the boy is like him and doesn’t know the meaning of the word fear. The bear then lets out another sigh, terrifying Scrooge who bolts out of the cabin. He’s not too scared to be proud of his nephew though, as he shares what happened with his driver, James. He intends to host the boys for Christmas dinner the next morning and instructs James to give them the good news.

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I love how Donald’s feathers explode when he’s frightened.

At Scrooge’s the next day, the boys enjoy a hearty meal. The youngest ducks get to consume liters of pop while Donald and Scrooge down lemonade. Scrooge is cheerful and supremely generous, all because he thinks his nephew is the bravest duck in town. To reward his bravery, Scrooge tells Donald he has a special gift for him:  a bear skin rug. When Donald sees the head of the rug he shrieks and faints. Scrooge is confused, but the nephews insist he just fainted from too much turkey. Scrooge actually seems to buy the explanation, but remarks in the final panel he thought Donald might actually be scared.

Like basically every Donald Duck story I’ve ever read, “Christmas on Bear Mountain” is a charming little tale. The humor is not explosive, but will probably produce a smile for most readers. Seeing Donald in such a cowardly role is a little different, not that Donald is ever a model for bravery, but often he’s too stubborn to be truly scared. There’s no real build-up for Scrooge, but it’s fine that he’s ushered in so conveniently and quickly since the story unfolds rather briskly. It’s interesting to see this early Scrooge, which is basically a magnified version of the character that focuses on his less admirable traits while also introducing a playful side. That playful side is seldom explored, so it’s an interesting way to see the character introduced.

fanta bear mountain

Fantagraphics has re-released a vast assortment of duck comics and they’re the easiest way to acquire them today.

Also like most Donald Duck stories, the artwork of Carl Barks is expressive and detailed. I love the shape of his ducks which are more rounded than the film counterparts. The pages are consistently laid out in a 2×4 format which helps to move the story along quickly in the 20 pages present though I do wish there was a splash page or two. In particular one that revealed more of Scrooge’s mansion or that captured the presents and Christmas setting of the cabin. It’s a minor quibble though. The backgrounds are actually quite populated without appearing busy and the action shots utilize minimal effects. Just the occasional dash line or sweat drops. It gives the comic a very clean, professional, look.

If you’re interested in reading this story yourself then it’s actually rather easy these days. Fantagraphics has republished several Scrooge and Donald Duck comics in large, hardbound, full-colored trades. A lot of bonus content is included and even some panels that were rejected by Barks’ editor at the time which were preserved and restored. The trades total about 200 pages and retail with an MSRP of $28.99 but usually are sold for less. Some are even sold in two-packs with a nice, hard, box holding the books in place. I highly recommend them if you’re a fan of these classic characters. Alternatively, you could also seek out older prints or even an original comic, but that might set you back a bit more depending on the condition and rarity of the edition.

And I also must take a minute to point out that this is post number 500 for this blog. Whether you’re reading your first or if yo’ve read the other 499: Thank you. As an unabashed fan of Donald Duck, I am happy the 500th post ended up relating to him.

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X-Men ’92

X-Men '92 (2015)

X-Men ’92 (2015)

Nineties nostalgia is running wild over pop culture like never before. Apparently enough time has passed for the 90’s to truly be considered retro. There’s a new Power Rangers movie in development, Jaleel White is appearing in Scion commercials, Nickelodeon has resurrected its 90’s programming via The Splat, and now Marvel Comics has turned to the X-Men for a new series of comics based on the early 90’s team featured in the popular cartoon. X-Men ’92 is a tie-in to Marvel’s ongoing Secret Wars, it too a resurrected plot from the past (only this time, the 80’s) that appears set to bring about more 90’s relics. Written by Chris Sims and Chad Bowers, X-Men ’92 is not exactly a continuation of that team from the cartoon series, but seeks to emulate it’s tone and characters in telling a new story in a new setting.

Being a tie-in with Secret Wars, X-Men ’92 has its origins rooted in the story that preceded it. Not being a regular comic book reader myself, I found it to be somewhat confusing but also not really important how we reached this point. Magneto has apparently been defeated and the X-Men are celebrities of sorts residing in Westchester, New York. Baron Robert Kelly, complete with cape and warwolves, rules over Westchester as an ally to the X-Men and Dr. Doom is some kind of god entity. The story begins much like the animated series did with the X-Men getting into a tussle with some sentinels at a mall. The camp is strong in this scene, particularly with Storm, and the first chapter of the story (which consists of four books split into two chapters apiece) reads more like a parody than an homage to the X-Men cartoon.

The plot moves fast and consists of the X-Men traveling to Clear Mountain, a sort of Betty Ford clinic for evil mutants. The director of the facility is Cassandra Nova, who longtime X-Men fans know as the clone of Charles Xavier from the New X-Men comics. The mission is one of peace and the X-Men are Nova’s invited guests. Of course, it’s a trap and Nova, allied with the Shadow King, imprisons the X-Men and back at the mansion psionically attacks Charles Xavier, rendering him unconscious. Nova’s plan is then to psychically infiltrate each member of the X-Men to determine which ones she can take advantage of through their personality flaws and ultimately brainwash. The ones she cannot are tossed into a cell. Her ultimate goal is to create her own X-Men and assassinate Kelly with a monstrous sentinel referred to as Ten-Sentinel (because it’s ten sentinels in one, naturally) while making his death appear to be the fault of the X-Men.

Cassandra Nova is the chosen villain here, which is odd considering she's a villain from the 2000's.

Cassandra Nova is the chosen villain here, which is odd considering she’s a villain from the 2000’s.

As the situation grows dire for our heroes, some familiar allies resurface in the form of X-Force. Consisting of Cable, Domino, Bishop, Archangel, Psylocke, and Deadpool, X-Force attempts a rescue mission at the mansion and Clear Mountain. As they too seem to have been left behind in the 90’s, it makes sense to resurrect the alternate X-Men for this story (though Cable is severely lacking in the pouch department) and they seem mostly true to their old personas (save for Deadpool, who’s more in-line with his current one). X-Force is able to free the X-Men, who are then left to do battle with the Ten-Sentinel, Nova, and their brainwashed former teammates. Everything ends with multiple epilogues and cliff-hangers, so apparently X-Men ’92 won’t be limited to these four issues.

X-Men ’92 exists seemingly purely for its nostalgic value. As I mentioned earlier, the personalities of the various X-Men are very much inline with their personas from the first season of the show. Wolverine is stubbornly independent, Beast is bookish, Gambit flirtatious, and Storm takes herself way too seriously. If anything, certain characters are magnified in their portrayals with the Gambit/Rogue dynamic being a point of emphasis. It’s sometimes hard to tell if the writers are poking fun at the old nineties team or just having fun with it. In the backgrounds lurk many cameos from the era and the final issue even features a few surprise cameos that I was not expecting. Easily the greatest joy in flipping through X-Men ’92 is scouring the pages for all of these callbacks, some of which are also worked into the dialogue.

Issue #3 is my pick for best cover. Note Deadpool's 90's era "selfie stick."

Issue #3 is my pick for best cover. Note Deadpool’s 90’s era “selfie stick.”

Unfortunately, the plot for X-Men ’92 is severely lacking. While the characters feel like parodies of the old cartoon, the story feels more like a rejected plot from the cartoon. It’s messy and Nova is such a typical children’s cartoon villain that it renders her as dull as a butter knife. The confrontation with the massive Ten-Sentinel is actually pretty boring, and the art is too busy to really appreciate what it’s trying to depict. The art, in general, is basically good enough, though the style of artist Scott Koblish doesn’t really fit the whole 90’s theme. Cyclops in particular is rather lean and appears a little short compared to how he would have been drawn 1992. Given how Sims and Bowers seem to enjoy poking fun at the era, it’s surprising they didn’t take a few shots at how over-muscled and glamorous the characters often appeared in that era.

If you are like me and expected X-Men ’92 to be a tie-in with the old cartoon then you’ll probably be disappointed by it. It has some nostalgic value, but the plot and pacing is so poor you would be better off just grabbing one issue out of the four (and it doesn’t really matter which, but I suppose the first issue was the overall best) if you really want a dose of X-Men nostalgia. The ending of the final chapter is slightly interesting in terms of what it foreshadows, but I suspect the featured villain will not be handled well by this writing team. The series must be selling well for Marvel to be continuing it beyond issue #4, but I bet those who have latched on would not mind it at all if Marvel hit the abort button and started over with X-Men ’92 where the animated series left off. That’s a comic I’d consider buying.


Spider-Man and the X-Men in Arcade’s Revenge

Spider-Man and the X-Men in Arcade's Revenge (1992)

Spider-Man and the X-Men in Arcade’s Revenge (1992)

Expectations influence just about everything we come in contact with.  Expectations can help lead to a more fulfilling experience when those expectations are met.  Other times, they can help make the bad seem worse when something fails to meet though expectations.  When I was a kid and I heard there was going to be a video game featuring a team-up between Spider-Man, possibly the most popular character ever created by Marvel Comics, and the X-Men, easily the hottest comic at the time, I was giddy with anticipation.  This seemed like a no lose situation and Spider-Man and the X-Men in Arcade’s Revenge vaulted to the top of my list of must own Super Nintendo games along with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV:  Turtles in Time.  One of those games would turn out well and provide me with hours of entertainment, that game was not Spider-Man and the X-Men.

What went wrong?  Well, let’s backtrack a bit first and see how this all came together and if my expectations were even justified.  At the time of the game’s release, Spider-Man had already been enjoying a run on the Sega Genesis and Game Boy as a platform star.  Perhaps star is a bit strong as his games weren’t really great, but they also weren’t particularly awful.  The best was definitely The Amazing Spider-Man vs The Kingpin for the Genesis.  The game was pretty difficult, at times frustratingly so, but it did a great job of making use of the Spider-Man license.  It was also quite popular and one of the best-selling titles at the time.  The X-Men, on the other hand, really only had the one NES game titled The Uncanny X-Men.  It was horrible and it tricked many uninformed gamers into renting or buying it with it’s X-Men branding.  Arguably, the best games for both franchises were the arcade beat-em-ups Spider-Man:  The Video Game and X-Men.  The Spider-Man game came first in 1991 and for some reason it isn’t as well loved and remembered as the X-Men game that followed in ’92.  It was a typical brawler allowing up to four players to join in and included playable characters Spider-Man, Black Cat, Hawkeye, and Sub-Mariner.  It’s selling feature was a more platform inspired design where the camera would zoom out allowing the players to take on gigantic enemies including a super-sized Venom at the end of the first stage.  The X-Men game was similar, but it’s defining characteristic (aside from the comical mistranslations) was the double-monitor cabinet allowing up to six players at once.  Both games were hard as they were designed to suck quarters out of its audience but they were a lot of fun, especially with a group of friends.

I hate these stupid clowns and their stupid stage.

I hate these stupid clowns and their stupid stage.

It would seem to me that a track record was in place that at least suggested a console game featuring these two franchises could be great.  If I had been a little wiser as a kid and more aware I would have taken note of the LJN logo on the box and realized right away the game was going to be a giant turd, but sadly I just wasn’t.  Before I get into what the game did wrong I suppose I should point out what it did right.  First of, Spider-Man is represented fairly well given that he is able to stick to walls, shoot webs, and even make use of his spider-sense in the game.  The roster for the X-Men side is pretty solid as well as it features the obvious choice of Wolverine along with Cyclops, Storm, and Gambit.  Wolverine has an interesting dynamic to him as he retains his mutant healing power but it only works when his claws are retracted.  The game is packed with villains too like Apocalypse, Shocker, Juggernaut, and Carnage.  Arcade is kind of a weird choice for the main villain, but at least his Murderworld offers a lot of possibilities for level-design.

That’s basically it as far as what Spider-Man and the X-Men gets right, and unfortunately it’s a pretty small list.  So what makes this game suck so hard?  Well, lets first start with the presentation.  I’m usually not one to have much of an opinion on the audio within a game.  I expect it to do its job and often times I have to make it a point to touch upon it when doing these reviews because I tend to overlook it.  Here it’s easy to not overlook because the sound is so bad.  The score is okay at times, though certain levels (Wolverine’s) feature an annoying soundtrack.  It’s the FX that really bug me though as they just sound like, for lack of a better word, shit.  A lot of the characters, good and bad, let out a scream when they die that sounds fuzzy and distorted.  The machine sounds are just as bad and Spidey’s web blasts sound like they could be grenades.  The graphics are also piss-poor.  The characters are really small, except Storm but I’ll get to her later, and lacking in any sort of detail.  Wolverine even looks like he only has two claws on each hand while Gambit doesn’t have a face.  Some of the villains are almost unrecognizable, especially Apocalypse who looks like a blue bug or something.

Hey Gambit, where's your face?

Hey Gambit, where’s your face?

Perhaps what bugged me more than anything as a kid was just how un-super these super heroes felt.  Spider-Man and the X-Men is a pretty hard game made so mostly because these characters can’t seem to take a punch.  They die so easily and it’s a frustrating experience.  I get that it’s hard to make a super hero game because on one hand the super heroes need to be super powerful, but the game also needs some challenge.  That’s why we have super villains though, and Wolverine shouldn’t be getting annihilated by a jack-in-the-box with a tommy gun.  The X-Men games that would follow on the Genesis were hard, but at least those X-Men felt like powerful super heroes (well, for the most part), these ones are push-overs.  The level designs are also fairly lacking.  Spider-Man’s are just weird looking and kind of confusing as they’re intended to be maze-like.  The player is supposed to use his spider-sense to navigate but it just gets tiresome.  Cyclops’ stages feature an annoying mine cart premise where touching the tracks means death.  Gambit has to outrun a giant deathball and might be the best levels, which isn’t saying much.  Wolverine is in a circus and there’s nothing noteworthy about the first stage while the second stage he has to outrun the Juggernaut.  It’s basically the same concept as the Gambit stages, though at least LJN incorporated something from the comics to make it feel relevant.  Storm’s stages are quite different and probably everyone’s most hated as she has to navigate a flooded laboratory.  They’re swimming levels, but unfortunately Storm’s mutant powers over the weather don’t let her breath underwater.  Just about everyone hates the underwater Sonic the Hedgehog levels for the same reason, this is worse times ten.

The red guy is Carnage. That gray blob?  He's Rhino.  I think.

The red guy is Carnage. That gray blob? He’s Rhino. I think.

If the player manages to actually beat all of the levels then they get to take on Arcade as Spider-Man.  You kind of have to be a glutton for punishment to even make it that far as the game is both really hard and really bad.  That’s the worst combination.  As a kid, I never had much success and never made it past any character’s second stage so making it all the way to Arcade wasn’t in the cards.  Playing this game was a depressing endeavor as a game featuring a team-up between these two should have been awesome.  I remember a few years after I got it Toys R Us started their first trade-in program where people could trade in games they no longer wanted for store credit.  I grabbed my copy of Spider-Man and the X-Men and, thinking I’d get maybe 15 or 20 bucks, was offered only four.  I elected not to trade it in but in hindsight I should have taken the four Jeffry Dollars.  I could have used it for some Fruit Stripe gum or something.