Friday, July 1, 2022

"Trapped in the Shadow Dimension"

Look, I have no excuses to make as to why I don't post for long intervals and then sort of abandon plans I had--or so it seemed--been setting up for series of posts.  Had a lot on my mind lately.  Well...that's only a partial excuse.  But it's true!  Did you know I have a teaching fellowship in Estonia for the 2022-23 academic year?  'Cause I do.  That tends to distract from things.  BE THAT AS IT MAY, let's get into it.

You know, I just realized that currently we're actually doing pretty darned okay in the US, as far as Disney comics are concerned (and as far as very little else, but that is another story).  Four or five of these Disney Masters collections come out a year, and that combined with the odd Disney by Glenat book and the Barks books for the traditionalists--we really are getting more material than we ever did when it was mostly plain ol' comic books, and the hardcover format provides the opportunity to print more long-form material that the US comic book format isn't very good for--nice.  And even if we can quibble over calling some of the artists featured here "masters," there's still a certain baseline of quality.  Sure, it's a bit embarrassing that they keep accidentally publishing--due to some computer glitch, I assume--these damn Paul Murry books, but those are easily ignored.  Apart from that, keep 'em coming!

(Also, can we have a Vicar book or two?  I'm mainly asking because I really want to read more Princess Oona stories, but even beyond that, he probably deserves some recognition.)

Anyway!  Casty!  We all like him!  Probably!  Surprisingly, I've never written about him before, but I realized as I was reading this that there were thing I wanted to say about it, so let us turn our attention to the title story of the latest DM volume, which is does a very good job of mimicking Scarpa mimicking Gottfredson.  I am impressed.  Granted, there are perhaps a few slightly questionable elements (I'm in an indulgent mood, so I'm not going to say "bad"), but even those contribute a certain je ne sais quoi.  Put simply, I very much do not fail to not disrecommend it.  I hope I'm making myself clear.

Well, we open with this, which is just to help us refamiliarize ourselves with Atomo.  This makes sense for US readers, but it's interesting that--as far as I can tell--this is included in every printing of the story.  I guess that's some indication of the character's relative popularity.  It might have been better to not include it (and not include Atomo in the title page), just to create a fun surprise.  I do like the images from actual Scarpa stories, though.

As I think about it, I realize that those six original Scarpa stories are the only ones I've read featuring Atomo, and this makes it very explicit that in this story's chronology, those are the ONLY Atomo stories.  But there were a fair few others written since then, by Scarpa and others.  What's their ontological status?  Are we assuming they're non-canon?  Isn't it just staring into the mouth of madness to imagine that there's a Scarpa "canon?"  Wak!

Look at this opening.  I've gotta say it: Casty is a better artist than Scarpa ever was.  That's not necessarily to say he's a better <i>story-teller</i> (though let's just admit it: he probably is), but in terms of sheer visual artistry--dangit.  Also, doesn't the angling of the text combined with the color scheme make it sorta look like the cover of a black box NES game if you squint?  Well, it does to me.

Natural disasters!  Economic crashes!  Counterfeiting?  That third one seems slightly off.  This blog would like to go on the record as being extremely in favor of counterfeiting designers good.  Watches, jewelry, shoes, handbag, go for it.  Just as good as the "real" thing and a lot cheaper.  Who gives a shit if the Gucci logo is slightly off-set, or however experts identify forgeries?  That don't matter none.  You shouldn't mess with counterfeit electronics, though, as that can be dangerous and even if not you're much more likely to get something that just doesn't work right (so avoid the fake "Smartyphone"), but as far as that other stuff...go for it.

Although, come to think of it--why am I wasting so much time on this?--a knock-off smartphone probably isn't going to be trying to actually convince people that it's a real iphone or whatever; it's just gonna be a Chinese thing attempting to have an iphone feel.  That's definitely not illegal; I suppose it might be mildly unethical to be, in theory, misleading people, but not a big deal and now I am DONE talking about fake goods.

Anyway, the point is, there's a Mysterious Philanthropist.  Ooo!  Who is this guy?!

Granted, you might need two guesses for this one, but no more than that.  Fairly sinister.  Is that mask meant to evoke the Watchmen smiley face, or is it just me?

Check out this page.  It may not contribute a lot to the story per se, but really good for the atmosphere--making things seem vaguely sinister even if they're not...really?  OR ARE THEY?!?  FOOLED YOU!!!   

You know, I'm not really into ACAB, as a slogan.  I'm not going to deny that I've said it on occasion, but catharsis aside, I think it's overly reductive and probably counterproductive: sure, a lot of 'em are, but the problem is less individuals and more a system that shapes people and forces them to play bastardly roles.  Is it weird that I just all of a sudden opened a paragraph in an article about a dang Disney comic like that?  Definitely.  But this is the world we live in.

STILL, regardless of fine theoretical points, I have to say, these days I am not super into stories where the police are portrayed as a benevolent force, which is most of them where they're portrayed at all.  For reasons that are probably obvious.  It's not anyone's fault, and this story in particular isn't overly egregious (it's just bad luck that it was released so close on the heels of the Uvalde murders, but it's always something in this country), but just the same...and while the "Bill Badcop/"Gunther Goodcop" thing is sort of funny, this is my general attitude to the whole thing (written eighteen years ago!).  And please do not come back with "sure, real-world cops ain't great, but this is Mouseton.  It's a fantasy world.  Things are different."  As if our fiction could ever somehow be unrelated to our reality.  

Anyway, it's not like I can't transcend my prejudices enough to appreciate the stories.  But it does cause a li'l internal "ugh" every time.  What can I say?

As we later learn, the note really is from Einmug, and it's really not meant to be threatening.  So why is written like that?  Well, if you wanted to, you could say, oh, well, he's not a native Anglophone so he just didn't realize how that sounded.  His English is not wholly idiomatic.  But come on, man, fan theories like that just aren't satisfying when there's zero textual evidence to back them up.  Clearly, this is a VERY Scarpa thing: a piece of foreshadowing put in to make the story seem like it's building to something only to have it turn totally anticlimactic and/or nonsensical in light of what happens next.  Ahem.

Mesons: is there anything they can't do?  This ability/contrivance of Atomo's made plenty of appearances in Scarpa, but Casty here takes it to surreal, almost psychedelic extremes with this idea that--I guess--he can just use them to recreate any ol' scene from the last with any ol' range for any ol' length of time.  I believe I've asserted before that Atomo is the most powerful character in the whole Disneyverse, and I stand by that.

...I'm not sure what this picture is for, except that I cut it and I want to put it here.  Lookit that house.  That's some atmospheric stuff.

Right.  So what sort of accent do we think of Pete as having?  Something implying low class/lack of education/criminality, but what specifically?  I'm not enough of an expert on these things to say.  If there IS even an answer.  BUT, I've just realized here--maybe I should've earlier--that it is extremely fun imagining Trudy with a thick New Jersey accent.  I don't suppose this is reflective of the Italian (although the accent itself is influenced by Italian, so an interesting loop there), but I still like it a lot, and I'm kinda warming to her as a character in general.  Lotta fun.

And seriously, how about this picture of Pete?  That's just great...

...and even greater when the camera pans out and shows us the casually surreal setting.  Why are all the fake Blots flat like that?  Who can say?

But we definitely never get an explanation of why one is in Mickey's closet.  Do we?  This is the sort of story where there's so much there that you want to second-guess yourself and think, wait a minute.  Maybe there is and I missed it.  Hard to see what, though.  This incident doesn't influence Mickey's behavior in any way, nor does it look like it's meant to.

This part is great.  Really, it is.  There's just something about this interview that's so...I mean, it's "off," obviously that's intended, but the sort of bland, corporate PR filtered through a Pete-centric lens--it's something!

Of course, I am also required to point out the obvious here: the idea is that if you read it BACKWARDS, he's actually saying that Pete sucks!  OMG!  And yet, the only way he could make that work is if he knew in advance what Pete was going to ask next.  Or if the whole thing was trickily edited, but there's no indication of that.  Hmm.


Credit where it's due: this is one hell of a cliffhanger.  Not sure Scarpa ever did one this good.

But can we go back to these Phantom Blot automatons for a moment?  And can we very politely ask: What?  Why?  Huh?  Seriously, what is the purpose of these dudes looking like the Blot other than the fact that this is a Mickey Mouse story?  It's not like the Blot had super-strength or anything, and even if he did, why would you need to model these guys after him?  You can make them as strong as you want anyway!  I feel like the most logical in-story explanation would be that Pete's trying to fuck with the Blot--that this is some sort of dis--but how would the real Blot even know that all this is going on?  I suppose it's probably just his whimsical fancy, but...I don't know how satisfying that is.

Okay, now we need to get to the Villain Speech where Pete explains his diabolical plans.  Got a few things to say about it, but let's start with this:

Gotta say, man. Whenever people say "lifting massive numbers of people out of poverty is a bad idea because, um, reasons," it's time to start counting the spoons. That is my feeling. Even if it's "true" in some sense, it's still kinda dickish. It makes you sound like you delight in handwaving away the very idea of helping people. And, not to belabor the point, but:

Hurrah!  The poor people won't actually get any money!  The world is saved!  Um...framing this as triumphant thing seems like a pretty fuct move, I have to tell you.  I'm afraid Casty may have inherited a little of Scarpa's "never think about the implications of what I'm writing" rhetorical style.

Another thing:

This is very romantic and all, but there's no getting around it: this was the PERFECT place for a cryptocurrency joke, and yet I SEE NONE.  What the heck?!?


So...right, here's the whole thing, just for reference:



That's it; that's the plan.  And there is nothing more Scarpan in this story than this, in that it's unnecessarily complicated, and you look at it and think, well...okay.  I guess maybe that could work?  Kind of?  But I can't help but feel that there's something missing here that I'm not quite grasping.  This may be slightly less slippery than "The Lentils of Babylon," but it's the same general thing.

Okay, first question: what is the purpose of all the entire first part of this plan?  I mean, "crash the world economy and force people to use your private currency" is something, but what about that means you have to make everyone love you first?  Maybe they incidentally will if you keep giving them money, but it seems wholly irrelevant to your main thrust, and even if they do, they're immediately going to stop when you start blackmailing them, so...what?  The idea of Pete conquering the world by becoming well-loved could be interesting, but that's not what we get here, even though I sort of get the impression that the story thinks that that's what it is doing.  But it ain't.  What is doing is...a lot less interesting, unfortunately.  Not bad, but a bit pedestrian.

Well okay, the other aspect of this is this dude whom Pete enlisted.  He's a former PR professional, so he's helping Pete design this seemingly pointless plan--but wait, he's actually a good guy.  The idea is that he doesn't understand that Pete's plan is evil.  Even though he himself designed it.  And also, even though Pete is right the hell here explaining exactly what it is right to his face.  I don't even know what to say about this, man.  I don't think the story is holding him up as the single stupidest character to ever appear in the Disneyverse, but the evidence speaks for itself.  You were doing so well, Casty.  Couldn't you have pulled up just a bit?

Yes, he told you'd be benevolent...and then he explained how evil he was going to be right the fuck to your face!  Jeez, man.  Don't rub it in.

Well, I suppose in the end you've gotta accept this nonsense if you want to get along.  And to be clear, the resemblance to Scarpa is charming, even if sometimes exasperating.  And in any case it does mean we get a classic Scarpa-style fight!

Yeah!  It's pretty fun, even if doesn't ever quite reach the level of its clear inspirations.

Oh yeah, this part.  You know...I don't actually think we're so lacking for enormous problems that there would've been any need to fabricate new ones.  Just saying.  And actually, I think this story really missed a trick here.  Because "Pete solved the same problems that he created" lets us all off the hook.  None of this has anything to do with us; it's just mean ol' Pete being mean ol' Pete.  It's kind of weird: this panel certainly didn't HAVE to be in the story; it's only purpose seems to be to assure us that we're not to blame for anything, which is a message that indeed might resonate in America today, but still seems a bit...off.

Imagine if he HADN'T engineered these things: yes, his solutions are illusory, but he wouldn't have been able to demagogue the way he did if we hadn't inflicted these environmental and economic disasters on ourselves, and as long as we're doing dick-all to really solve them, Pete-like figures are inevitably going to continue to take advantage.  My version is better; I order you to admit it.

...seriously, that last panel has to be an intentional Watchmen reference.  But while I do like this visual to end the story, the perfect banality of the dialogue feels a bit deflating--though as we've seen many times, Barks wasn't great at endings either, so whateryagonnado?

Anyway!  I feel like I've probably been overly critical on this story, but so it ever is.  I really liked it a lot, and only partially in that indulgent "this is goofy, but it reminds me of Scarpa which is kinda fun" way.  I certainly hope for more Disney Masters Casty books.

Labels:

18 Comments:

Blogger Debbie Anne said...

While I agree that I’d hardly consider Paul Murry a “Disney Master”, you could do worse than reading a book of them. Murry’s Phantom Blot collection is worth picking up in a “crazy Silver Age comics” sort of way. But getting back on topic, Casty has Scarpa’s style down so well in many of his stories to the point that I forget that they AREN’T Scarpa stories. By their very nature, the Mickey Mouse stories are dated, especially in terms of their depiction of law enforcement. They’re stuck in the 1950s, for better or worse. This story, along with Scarpa and his inspiration, the Bill Walsh Mickey Mouse serials are the sorts of stories that tend to fall apart if you analyze them too much. If you really want something that falls apart under scrutiny, it’s this same book’s Uncle Scrooge story. But these cartoon stories really aren’t meant to be taken seriously. I enjoyed this book, but I have to admit that it’s just as silly as Silver Age DC comics, but without all of the narration boxes. If these stories make you laugh or smile, then they’ve done their job. Despite their being collected in hardcovers, they’re really not written “for the ages” as much as they’re there to provide content to the never-ending Italian comic book market. Few writers overthink their plots like Don Rosa did, giving their material a breezy, fun feel to it that doesn’t always hold up to literary analysis, but is often more fun to read than an over-researched story that reads like a history textbook.

July 2, 2022 at 12:58 AM  
Blogger Debbie Anne said...

I think I got carried away here…

July 2, 2022 at 1:02 AM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

As we later learn, the note really is from Einmug, and it's really not meant to be threatening. So why is written like that? Well, if you wanted to, you could say, oh, well, he's not a native Anglophone so he just didn't realize how that sounded. His English is not wholly idiomatic. But come on, man, fan theories like that just aren't satisfying when there's zero textual evidence to back them up.

I suspect the thing is that the double meaning flows better in Italian than it does in English, in a sort of untranslatable way.

July 2, 2022 at 6:14 AM  
Blogger GeoX, who is here to stay, like it or not. said...

Getting carried away is encouraged here, for the record!

July 2, 2022 at 8:28 AM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

The last panel feels to be reflection of the fameus image from "Spider-man no more" where Peter walks away leaving Spider-man costume in the trash (it was so popular it was spoofed/refrence many times in Superhero related stuff - like Batman's episode "Riddler reform" and of course used in "Spier-man 2") Usualy however is ment to be ominus/sad/tragic showing the character leaving his past life behind. Here is more trimphant as in "Hoho, that story is behind us" sort of way.


July 3, 2022 at 4:18 AM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

Risking that my personal ideology/phisolophy will grash with GeoX...

I honestly think showing cops as force for good in comics is a good idea. It can inspired people that this is what police SHOULD BE so we get more pure people - the type that are not corrupted, not power-abusing and not racist, who just want to help people - to be policemen and policewomen. Lower the amount of bad apples by adding some good ones! Let's bring back idealisim among people who want to be servants of the law rather then discurage them.

That way when an evil policemen will want to do something not cool, the friendly policewoman can say
- Well, I won't take part of this, because I was inspired by that dog in "Paw Patrol" and that rabbit in "Zootopia"! I'm reporting you to THE CHIEF!
And then the evil cop will pull out the gun, but the friendly one will be faster (cose good always wins over evil AHA!) and can shoot him in the face and as she watch him fall to his doom be like
- Pfff... Pussy! - and then go to hand over some candy to the needy childreen.

Ok, Ok! I got carry away here but I'm serious about the first half I wrote. I know there are good people who became police just so they can change the world for the better and they are doing a good job and in light of powerabusing assholes the last thing we want to do is discurage the good ones. If a Mickey Mouse story can help incurage goodness in humans, go for it!

July 3, 2022 at 4:34 AM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

The reason why Phantom Blot is falt here is so he can be all creepy and spooky, so when I tell a child "If you don't wash your teeth Phantom Blot will come for you!!!" he or she will wet his bed forw next few nights.

Oh, I'm not talking about my own child (I'm not changing that bed sheed) Just some random kid I pass by on the playground.

July 3, 2022 at 4:37 AM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

Finaly (and I'm swear this will be the last one for today) you did write about Casty before, when you talk about "Night of the living text".

July 3, 2022 at 4:38 AM  
Blogger Christopher said...

Congratulations on your teaching fellowship!

July 3, 2022 at 4:43 AM  
Blogger Thomas said...

It's only a reference to Watchmen if the smiley face has a splash of blood across the right eye. Any other smiley faces are just that. The final panel references Spider-Man, as has already been noted.

July 5, 2022 at 11:16 AM  
Blogger Specialist Spectrus said...

I think you missed a trick here by not pointing out just how many elements of this story downright copy parts of Scarpa's original Atomo cycle.

The page with Mickey being followed by somebody is directly copied from "Delta Dimension".

Mickey and Atomo going into a room without windows is from "The Chirikawa Necklace", as is their attempt to fool Trudy with a disguise.

And of course the showdown, but you did notice that one.

This is one reason why I think Casty's next Atomo epic ("The Frozen Empire") is superior. The artwork is better ("Trapped in the Shadow Dimension" is a bit... bubblegum-like, for want of a better word), and the story is far less Scarpa-derivative. It's currently in the Inducks Top 40, and for good reason.

"this was the PERFECT place for a cryptocurrency joke, and yet I SEE NONE. What the heck?!?"

I agree, but when Casty was writing the story, crypto wasn't really a thing yet, and inserting it on behalf of the translators would've been out of place.

As for the unexplained bits, I think Pete tried to intimidate Mickey by appearing in the closet. As we learn later, the shadow dimension can connect to any place that doesn't have light in it, and apparently Pete has figured out exactly which entry leads where, which would be a rather scary thought if this wasn't a Disney comic!

July 19, 2022 at 4:24 AM  
Blogger Hanggara Padmanegara said...

anyone know the story where donald become odysseus? it is from old uncle scrooge comic

July 30, 2022 at 6:30 AM  
Blogger Mouse Maestro said...

Hey GeoX,

Been a long time reader.

Is it alright if I add your blog to my blog roll?

Here is my blog URL if you would like to do the same: https://themousemaestro.blogspot.com/

We Disney Comics bloggers have to stick together!

August 8, 2022 at 10:11 PM  
Blogger Mouse Maestro said...

You beat me to reviewing this story. I might do it anyway.

It is a solid story but it is almost too much of a Scarpa homage that doesn't become its own tale.

There are some sparkling moments. The Mickey-Pete fight is dynamic. Atomo is fun even if his powers sometimes render Mickey superfluous.

Pete's role in the story harkens back to "Delta Dimension" and "Editor in Grief" in how he can be the strategic crime boss but still blow it via his temper.

August 8, 2022 at 10:15 PM  
Blogger ramapith said...

"BUT, I've just realized here--maybe I should've earlier--that it is extremely fun imagining Trudy with a thick New Jersey accent."

Or somewhere between Jersey and Queens (the same way Bugs Bunny is Brooklyn and the Bronx)... you got it!

Shortcut: imagine a tougher version of Fran Drescher.

This was sorta my doing. I was editor or co-translator on the earliest Trudy stories that appeared here (including the first one, in this book at Gemstone), and I wanted to make sure she had a "tough voice" to match Pete's, but with a slightly different regional accent.

Every person like me, of... let's say, a certain ethnicity... seems to have cranky older East Coast relatives who pinch your cheeks and call you terms of endearment like "bubbaleh." Imagine a master crook who sounded like this—even years before any Trudy stories were published here, I couldn't even look at her and not hear it.

(Pete's accent, by the way, is another mix: mostly Brooklyn, but with some old-time Pittsburgh thrown in. When "Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold" has a letter from Pete mention his mother in Pittsburgh, that's no accident.)

August 10, 2022 at 11:49 AM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

This blog is asleep now! But one day it will wake and then the sun will shine like it never shined before!

September 11, 2022 at 7:39 AM  
Blogger GeoX, who is here to stay, like it or not. said...

That might be overstating the case, but there definitely will be more in the future.

September 14, 2022 at 4:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting as always to read your opinions on this. When it comes to Casty, do you think you will ever review "The World to Come"? For me it is one of the best Italian comics

September 18, 2022 at 7:08 AM  

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