Wednesday, August 2, 2017

"The Atombrella and the Rhyming Man"

And now...the story you've all been waiting for! Perhaps. I've been reading the most recent Gottfredson collections on and off since I've been back in the States, and this story just screamed for me to cover it. It's not actually the first time I'd read it--previously I'd done so on the late lamented Beru's Disney Comics; yes, I KNOW it was legally dubious at best, but it was a great resource and HELLA convenient for yer Disney comics bloggers. Alas, today it's long gone. Beru I hardly knew ye.

AT ANY RATE, having read it in the Fantagraphics book, I definitely got more out of it. So here it is.

Hey, remember in the days before the FG Library when, having printed Casty's Rhyming Man sequel "The World to Come," Boom was going to publish a one-shot of the original Gottfredson story? Only then it was cancelled because you'd have to be some kind of SUPERGENIUS to figure out how to successfully market largely-unknown classic Gottfredson? Yeah...I'm thinking maybe Boom wasn't the perfect fit for the license. It IS disappointing, though. Woulda been interesting to see how they colored the story, though this preliminary cover is kinda barren.

This, I believe, is actually the first Gottfredson/Walsh story I've ever covered. As we all know, probably, in 1944 Walsh took up duties writing the MM comic strip; up to then, Gottfredson had consistently been credited as a co-writer, but my understanding is that after that, it was all Walsh. This definitely had effect on the strip.

The worst thing--I think it would be really, really difficult to argue with this--is that Mickey simply became a less interesting/fully realized character. You can argue if you want that it's just taking him in a different direction, but I would respond by saying, yes--a much less interesting direction. It's a lot harder to identify with the character in these Walsh strips; furthermore, Walsh had this "anything for a laugh" attitude that led to things like this. In Walsh strips, situations that would previously have demanded some kind of follow-up are presented in one strip and then ignored in the next because they were never meant to be anything but throwaway jokes. Like, f'rinstance, this, from "An Education for Eega Beeva:"

The idea of showing Minnie with another man and then just not following up on it because it's not something you're supposed to care about? You wouldn't have seen something like that from either of the Teds or Merril De Maris (and if you can think of counterexamples, c'mon; you still have to admit that on the whole I'm right). Walsh just isn't INTERESTED in the characters in the way that previous writers were.

IN WALSH'S FAVOR, however, he was willing and able to get a lot darker than Gottfredson's previous co-writers had, sometimes thrillingly so. Also, his imagination--as we will see several times over in today's entry--was just super-wild and cool. The closer we get to the end of the serials in the FG Library, the more disappointed I get that they were cut off the way they were. WE COULD'VE HAD ANOTHER TWENTY YEARS OF THIS, GUYS. ARGH.

Anyway, one feature of a lot of Walsh's works--including this one--is a kind of meandering, no-hurry attitude that twists all over and dips into this and that with no apparent sense of urgency to actually get anywhere in particular. So, let's write a blog post reflecting that, yeah?

Aah, Eega Beeva. I don't know that I necessarily have anything super-profound to say about him, but I will say this: I've kinda warmed to him over the process of reading all these stories. My previous opinion was Neutral; now it's positive. He's Walsh's most enduring contribution to the world of Disney comics, and he's a good'un. I mean, I guess I first encountered him in stories like "The Blot's Double Mystery," in which he's not very interesting--just a fairly indistinct deus ex machina. But in these Walsh stories, he adds a welcome element of Bugs-Bunny-esque anarchy--I mean, he's more grounded than Bugs, certainly, but he's appealing and weird. I'm never going to be a fan of his pway of ptalking, but at this point I'm sufficiently accustomed to it that I can just mentally ignore it.

In any event, this story opens with him aimlessly creating silly novelty inventions 'til Mickey suggests that he do something more productive with his time. Could we connect this with a certain feeling of post-war aimlessness--we've beaten the nazis, great, but NOW what? Well, that might be pushing it, but what the hell, let's do it. I like the intensity of EB's thought processes here. He is NOT messing around.

So he comes up with a good idea and starts working on it, but, for reasons not wholly clear, he doesn't want to let Mickey in on it. So what does he do? He gets a minder for Mickey, and now it's time to meet your new favorite character, Ivy League Gorilla. Yup. Of all the possible characters or plot devices Walsh could've used, he went with Ivy League Gorilla. That's really exactly what we like about him. As I think about it, I realize that this must have been a huge influence on Romano Scarpa's tendency to bring in weird, arbitrary elements that make no sense but DO make you feel like you're going insane. He got it from a master!

You cannot distract Ivy League Gorilla by trying to lull him into a concupiscent haze by showing him sexxxy lady chimpanzees. And I daresay you couldn't even do it if they were GORILLAS, though getting the wrong species IS a pretty big mistake. Are YOU sexually attracted to chimpanzees? No? Then why would you expect a gorilla to be? Come on.

NOR can you distract him with your racist assumptions about what kind of food gorillas like! GEEZ, Mickey! Get it together and admit when you're beaten!

Farewell, Ivy League Gorilla! You'll be missed! Your like will never be seen again! Actually...technically, that's not true; Walsh would pretty much exactly recycle the character a few years later for "Tzig Tzag Fever," this time giving him a name (Jeffrey) (though there's no indication that they're actually supposed to be the same gorilla). I feel like he has less personality in that later story, however.

Finally, the invention itself: A DEFENSE AGAINST THE ATOM BOMB?!!!!!!

So obviously, here we're into the Cold War paranoia, bigly. I could say something trite about that, but, well, it is what it is. I must say, though, I don't understand Mickey's emotional reaction here. Sure, it's a big deal, but, like, if you suddenly learned that someone had just developed a perfect, foolproof cure for all kinds of cancer, do you think your response would be "A CURE FOR CANCER?!!!!!! Ggg-g-g-gosh! A c-c-cure for c-c-cancer?" It seems improbable. Is Mickey thinking "OMG, what if the Ruskies steal it and then they can murder us all with atomic bombs and we won't be able to murder them back?" That kind of geopolitical calculation right in the moment ALSO seems unlikely.


Once again: Bill Walsh, man. He'll do shit like this.

Anyway, Goofy doesn't die, so it's time to see the eminent Dr. Everett Koppenhooper, whose name I keep thinking ought to be a parody of C. Everett Koop but which obviously isn't. He's a kid, right. That's it. I actually kinda like him; he's not annoying and smug in the way that most prodigy children are. Alas, he immediately disappears and is never seen more as soon as his usefulness comes to an end. Well...not quite. You get one guess as to which country saw fit to bring him back a few times.

I always get distinct Jonathan Osterman vibes from this sequence. Imagine if he'd had an atombrella at the time. He'd never have become Dr. Manhattan, and that whole story would've gone veeeeery differently.

Okay okay, but there's absolutely no call to be a smug douchebag, especially given that the invention has nothing to do with you personally. Now, if you had acted all elaboratedly bored BEFORE the rays had been turned on, that woulda been pretty badass. But doing it AFTER you realize you're in no danger? That's just pathetic.


Dramatic music plays here. I find it's actually a bit difficult to say anything useful about the Rhyming Man, or situate him in a coherent context. Obviously, you have that whole Cold War thing (you know...that thing) and he's generally associated with the Eastern Bloc, but beyond that it's tricky. The whole rhyming thing is so bizarre that it short circuits efforts to make sense of the character. He may well be the first postmodern Disney villain: not only is he outside the stable, premodern order, but he's so far outside it that it isn't even visible in the rear view mirror.

The way he talks to his reflections really drives home how unhinged he is. I just wish his reflections spoke in their own poetic forms. How about a nice villanelle?

And then there are these alphabet soup acronyms, as if to mock us for even thinking about trying to make sense of it all.

The Rhyming Man's cohorts are pretty good too, even though they don't really get much to do.  The Best is Machine Gun Myrtle there.

Just making some random observations I said, if the story feels like meandering, so too do I. And my observation HERE is that JEEZ, if the bird is intelligent enough to mourn the loss of its mate, then breaking the two of them up was obviously a horrifically immoral act and it's just presented here like it's NOTHING. Think harder about these things, Bill!

...back to the Rhyming Man, whose mass murder plans are legitimately alarming, especially with those pictures. This would've freaked me out to no end when I was small.

And, yeah, I suppose I should note that all of this surely resonated quite well with Cold War anxiety.

This "locking EB's nose shut" thing is a super-lame joke. In subsequent strips, the locks disappear--being visually distracting, one presumes--but his abilities remain neutralized. As we know from the Book of Barks, the correct way to neutralize a sense of smell is alum. Clearly, this is just another Walshism.

Look, there's no point in denying it: there are several distinct weak points in this story, and this is one of them. Mickey doesn't escape from the plant thanks to anything HE does, and the only reason Pluto finds him is because he randomly happens to be chasing a cat in the area. And not only THAT, but the only reason Pluto actually breaks into the building is because the cat smacks him in the ass. Nobody comes out of this looking particularly heroic, that's for sure.

Hoo boy. Yeah. So, yes. Now, Walsh, with his darker vision of the Mickeyverse, was, among other things, more amenable to actually killing characters than any of his predecessors had been. Notably, he does it three stories in a row in "The Pirate Ghostship," "The World of Tomorrow," and "The House of Mystery." But Mickey wasn't responsible for any of those deaths; this is the first time--and the last, I hope--where one of his heroes just casually murders a guy (and given how taken aback one is by this, one might almost forget to ask, what, so the atombrella has a special "murder the guy wearing it" setting? Why is this never alluded to anywhere else?).

And it's not only that; it's also the way they're so damn HAPPY about having done this. I really think this crosses a line. I mean yes, the guidelines of what Disney comics can and can't do are often dumb and excessively strict, but I think "thou shalt not kill" is a good one. This is a fundamental baseline of decency that all Disney heroes should, and generally do, follow, and it's important that they do. Characters dying in other ways may occasionally be appropriate in extraordinary circumstances, but this shit? Never. Ya shouldnoughta've done that, Walsh.

I do like me some Myrtle, though! And she would NEVER reappear, not even in Brazil. Alas!

Here's another big mistake in the story: making Mickey look like the world's shittiest detective. If you were looking for a missing person, and your ONLY clue was a card that said "The Enchanted Octopus," ANYBODY, no matter how dimwitted, would immediately think "hmm, is that some sort of business? Let's check," and bam, the problem would be solved. Anybody but Mickey, that is, who is incapable of making this incredibly obvious connection. OH NO WHAT COULD IT POSSIBLY BE IS IT THE OCTOPUS AT THE AQUARIUM NO WELL THEN I'M STUMPED HOW COULD ANYONE EVER FIGURE OUT THIS FIENDISH ENIGMA?!? And he NEVER figures it out; he just happens to find the place by sheer random chance. Come on, Walsh, what is this? Mickey should sue you for slander. Somehow, I'm reminded of this.

"Your stupid Yankee trait"--for all of Walsh's differences with his predecessors, this is familiar territory: the differences between American and European sensibilities. I believe there was an essay by Geoffrey Blum about this as manifested in "Monarch of Medioka." It's bot exactly subtle here, but...well, here it is.

It's also a disappointingly lame way for the final conflict to play out, even if it is Symbolic. Another creaky moment in a generally good story.

Are we surprised that he ends up drowning, given the source? Yes, he's been brought back, most notably in the (excellent) aforementioned "World to Come," but given the writer here, it seems pretty obvious that this is meant to be the end of him. Whaddaya think: would the Phantom Blot have survived his initial story if Walsh had been in charge? Difficult to say.

And's all wrapped up in an incredibly brusque way. And so is this blog entry.

'Cept for one more thing, just because it appears in the space after the story in the FG Library: according to the caption, this "was drawn in August 1948 for the U.S. Pacific Fleet's Medium Seaplane Squadron 7." Shouldn't it be in color? I don't know how seaplanes work. This confirms that it was a real thing, though, and also styles his name "Eega-Beeva." Still, the point is: if you were a pilot, HOW FRIGGIN COOL WOULD IT BE TO HAVE AN EEGA BEEVA DECORATION?!? And how amazing is it that Disney's market penetration was such that this obscure character was able to scale such heights?  

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Blogger Pan Miluś said...

In Mickey defense, If I would hear somebody say "Yo dude, I have a defense agiant The Atom Bomb in my house" my first asumption would be it's some sort of missiles defense system (and if that's the case I would prefer to be standing as far away from it as possible in case something might go wrong) or something that involves some sort of power/energy of it's own that might be at least radio-active or explode.

The mysterious way Atombrella is located under glass isnt helping.

August 2, 2017 at 3:22 AM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

On the topic of Ivy League Gorillas, also see Umbrage in another Gottfredson story (ack, I forget which one).

Also, not only was the Rhyming Man brought back, but so was the Atombrella, in the 1972 story Eta Beta e il Deterrente Atomico (I TL 893-B), which I am in the process of scanlating as "Eega Beeva and the Macguffin from Outer Space". It shows an improved Atombrella used as a planet-wide defense on Eega's home planet, used against Wasper 1, the dictator of a nearby planet.

August 2, 2017 at 4:11 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

That'll be this, presumably. Haven't read it yet; I imagine it'll appear in Volume 12. It's certainly bizarre that Walsh was apparently so fixated on this concept.

I look forward to seeing your scanlation!

August 2, 2017 at 4:26 PM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

That one isn't posted yet, but I have posted a couple of scanlations (including some you haven't seen) on ; be sure comment!

August 2, 2017 at 6:06 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

Well, poor Tricks' demise does occasion the great line "oh, wretched fiend in human jeans!", so there's that.

August 2, 2017 at 7:19 PM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

After doing some thinking on the matter, I think Mickey's reaction to the "D-DEFENSE AGAINS THE A-A-ATOMIC BOMB?!?!?" probably has to do with how valuable such a thing would be, especially in a Cold War climate. If word gets out, you can bet every spy under the sun would be paying a visit to Mouseton, and probably not with the best intentions towards Mickey.

August 15, 2017 at 3:03 PM  

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