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Traded Up: ‘Donald Quest: Hammer of Magic’ (review)

Donald Quest: Hammer of Magic
(Collects Donald Quest #1 – #5)
Written by Stefano Ambrosio,
Davide Aicardi, Chantal Pericoli
Art by Andrea Freccero, Paolo De Lorenzi,
Stefano Zanchi,
Francesco D’Ippolito,
Vitale Mangiatordi

ISBN-13: 978-1631409127
Published by IDW Publishing
Released 8/8/17 / $14.99

 

It took many years for Disney to officially embrace steampunk.

That’s not to say you could not find hints of it in the rockets of Tomorrowland or maybe even 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Arguably, it was The Mechanical Kingdom, a 2010 book by Disney Design Group artist Mike Sulivan, that brought steampunk into company cannon, allowing it to officially squeak its way into park exhibits and collectibles.

While steampunk usually melds steam-powered contraptions with 19th-century – and sometimes more modern – tech, the Donald Quest comics go a bit more medieval in its approach.

Collecting the first five issues, Hammer of Magic features Donald, Mickey, Minnie and the nephews – and a bunch of friendly cameos on a quest to defeat the mysterious Meteormaster and his Meteorbeasts terrorizing the countryside.

Hot Under the Collar

Imagine Mickey Mouse meets DuckTales but with flying ships and magical explosions. Even the blocky money bin is a bit more craggily, though more like an artistic rock formation sitting atop a floating land mass. Likewise, Donald’s jalopy is replaced with a pirate ship on extended tank treads – an awesome concept, for sure – that converts to a flying ship when needed.

The early chapters gives us Magica DeSpell using electrical bats and the Beagle Boys causing general mayhem, while our herosome crew enlists Gyro to craft a giant hammer and anvil to defeat them.

We soon learn that a giant knight, the Meteormaster, is in charge of the baddies, enlisting his on generals to do his dirty work. His most formidable may be the evil Emil Eagle (who also adds perhaps the most steampunk feel to the book, but more on that later).

As we progress through the books, the adventure gets a bit more wacky, eventually including floating, talking rock faces (flashbacks of the Bill and Ted comics, anyone?) with the art becoming a lot more fluid and splashy.

Along the way we also get a couple new characters including Jubal Pomp, a scraggly trader who helps Donald and the nephews with intel so they can try to collect bounties posted by none other than Flintheart Glomgold.

Throughout the stories, they face electrified – read: magical – Meteorbeasts, each of which is introduced trading card style with a type, weakness and sometimes even a strength rating (clearly pandering to Pokémon-loving kids).
The books work in plenty of welcome cameos including Gyro (who seems truly at home in this world), Gus, Grandma, Pegleg Pete, uber lucky Gladstone Gander and the Phantom Blot. And, as you might expect, cleverness often trumps violence, even when the weapon of choice is a hammer.

Although Mickey does get to star in a bit of the story, this really does feature Donald, Huey, Dewey and Louie.

A Little Lost In Time

The early portions feel far more like Disney playing knights than really embracing steampunk.

We’ve seen plenty of classic Disney Comics stories featuring knights out of time and even Donald and the nephews donning suits of armor, but this puts them in medieval garb instead of steampunkian attire. Emil’s entry into the story is also the biggest and best inflection of actual steampunk aesthetic. Unfortunately, it’s a little late.

That doesn’t mean the stories are all bad. They do have a bit of fun and whimsy you’d expect from a collaborative Mickey and Donald adventure. There’s just something not quite right.

It lacks the intimate feel of older Disney stories.

Maybe it needs a little more Scrooge or a lot less fantasy. Maybe it went a bit overboard with big action spreads showing electrified animals. Maybe it needed more of Donald’s frantic fury and Mickey’s wily cleverness.
Also, the stories feel more lost in time than steampunk, lacking the mechanical cleverness I was expecting (the back cover does promise “a wild steampunk epic”). As I pondered the potential causes of the problems, I scanned through the book to see if I could figure out why these stories feel a little thinner than adventures from even a dozen or so years ago.

Simple stated: there’s less story.

I noticed that there are only three to six panels actual per page instead of the more traditional eight to 12 panels. Yes, that means we’re getting essentially half the story, half the dialog and half the space for meaningful progression.

While it does make for great looking, easy-to-read pages, it ultimately results in somewhat shallower stories.

The Disney characters are there and, very often, they do get to shine and it is an enjoyable book. You’ll certainly revisit these pages, looking for more details in the sweeping visual. Just don’t expect the intimate, intricate stories from Disney Comics past.

 

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