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Monday, August 22, 2011

Donald Duck in Japan

When you look at the photo here to the left you might be thinking your old pal Andrew made a mistake with the photo he was posting. It wouldn't be the first time.

But no... those two Walt Disney's Donald Duck Adventures digests are what I wanted to discuss.

Released in 2004 by Gemstone Publishing, each contains a story with Japan as the backdrop. I can tell you being a long-time Donald Duck fan and long-time Japan fan, this has not occurred very often - though there is one other comic book that I can think off that maybe a living of dealing with a Japanese character - I'll discuss that one with you in the not too distant future. I want to make sure I do it justice.

In issue number 6, the story is actually a Mickey Mouse tale entitled: 'The Terrible Tsunami'. In it, Mickey Mouse is helping his friend Doc Static at scientific conference in Japan. A Chinese professor Dhim Sum has created 'molecules with a mind' - a chemical treatment that gives water a small degree of artificial intelligence.

Unfortunately, Dhim Sun's lazy Japanese helper Enji spills toxic water into the water after sneezing to the tank of water, and is then able to control the robotic water turning it into a weapon of mass destruction - a terrible tsunami - against what I assume is Tokyo because of the proximity of Mt. Fuji in the background art.

Enji, hating Mickey Mouse, uses his mind to control the water, forcing it to take on the appearance of Mickey's face (a water demon) as he creates a huge tsunami that will make the people of Japan hopefully hate Mickey Mouse.

The tsunami actually hits Tokyo and floods the hell out of it, burying it under what looks like 20 feet of water.

Mickey, through the help of Doc Static's Rivet the Robot that is controlled by a remote-control helmet (and now with a robotic face looking like Mickey Mouse so the people of Japan won't hate him, too), defeats Enji and the tsunami thereby saving the people of Japan.    

It's a mickey mouse story, in more ways than one, but at least it has some major Japanese references. It was written by Michael T. Gilbert (who had previously created Mr. Monster, one of my all-time favourite comic books), so I did expect something more than just plain hokum. Art for the story was provided by Joaquin Canizares Sanchez, who did a decent enough job.

Still... considering what happened on March 11, 2011 with the massive earthquake-spawned tsunami that devastated the northeast coast of Japan, it would have been nice to have a Mickey Mouse hero to save the day.    

A much better story is the lead adventure in issue # 8. Entitled 'Kappa! Kappa! Kappa!', this story involves Donald Duck and his nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie. Key Japanese characters involved are the so-called mythical creatures known as Kappa (河童 a water sprite or river child), Tengu (天狗 - a type of heavenly dog that was originally thought to take the form of a bird of prey like in the Donald Duck tale), and the Hitodama (人魂 - spirit lights or the souls of the newly dead). There is also a Miko (巫女 - a shrine maiden) and a Ronin (浪人 - a masterless samurai), though in this story, it's more about the ronin's ancient suit of armour.

Sounds a whole lot more interesting than the Mickey Mouse story already, doesn't it? And it is. 

Donald dreaming of being like a knight and the days of chivalry is fishing when he accidentally catches Kiku the Kappa water sprite who is very much lost.

Kiku tells the lads about his story of how 500 years ago Tengu and Kappa lived in harmony on a shared mountain in Japan - the Kappa in the waters and the Tengu in the trees and forest. But when humans come, they cut down the trees, which makes the Tengu angry and attack the humans.

Trying to broker a peace, the Kappa refuse to take sides and want all to live in peace... but that isn't happening.

The people think to hire themselves a ronin  to fight the 'invading' Tengu. While the Tengu arrive en masse to fight the ronin, in typical Japanese battle, the Tengu chief offers to fight the ronin one-on-one. 

When the ronin defeats the Tengu Chief, he asks that the Tengu live in peace with the Kappa and humans... but he is refused. This causes the ronin to get mad and he drives all of the Tengu into a cave on in the mountain and then seals it up, trapping the Tengu

The people build a temple on the site of the cave entrance and charge a Miko (temple priestess) to watch over the gateway to make sure the Tengu never escape.

With the Tengu locked away, the Kappa work with the humans to irrigate their fields.

But 500 years later, an earthquake shook the mountain and opened up another doorway, allowing the Tengu to escape. They go crazy and attack the farmers, burning their crops and homes, causing the humans to flee. The only one who stays is the Miko. The Tengu also take revenge on the Kappa for their role in helping the humans by muddying the river hoping they will fight or flee - either would be fine by the Tengu.

The peaceful Kappa instead decide to look for the legendary ronin to come back and save the day again. Kiku was the Kappa chosen, and you can guess the rest. Donald saves the day with the aid of a hitodama (spirit light) and the ronin's armour.

It's a truly fantastic little tale, that perfectly blends Donald Duck's (in the comic books) classic temper, fear and sense of honour and duty with a well-crafted and thought-out tale of Japanese mythos in epic proportions.

The story was written by Pat & Carol McGreal who have done a lot of excellent Duck work with some very decent adventures. The art is capably done by Flemming Andersen. The only knock against the story - is that it wasn't written or drawn by the late-great Carl Barks. In fact, it's not a knock... it's more of a surprise. The well-crafted story is that good!

I would tell you to look to e-bay and try and pick one up, but a search by my self this evening did not show either of these two books up for auction. Instead, you could always go to your local comic book shop and ask them to try and find a copy for you.

I originally paid $7.95 US (but in 2004, it probably cost me $10 Cdn)... for a similar issue, e-bay had issue #4 for sale for $4.88 US... not including shipping. Regardless... the Donald Duck Adventures (the digest) ran for 21 issues. I unfortunately ended at 12 owing to the damn exchange rate making $10 comic unpalatable... plus it was difficult to find the damn things. There was also a Gemstone digest version of Mickey Mouse Adventures that ran for 12 issues, but I only purchased the first six, as I happen to be more of a Duck fan than the rodent. 

Next week, I'll tell you about another anthropomorphic critter and his life in Japan. Hint... he's a rabbit, but not the one you are thinking of.

Somewhere wanting writing a few Donald Duck comic book stories,
Andrew (I write comic books, too ) Joseph
PS: I just need someone to pay me for writing them! I've been creating my own comic books since 2000, and have done self-published about 25 stories... and I've gotten better with each tale. 
For more on my comic books (usually drawn by fantastic artist Steve Guzelis), check out our website at: STRANGEFUNCOMICS. You'll be glad you did. 

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