Return of the Gremlins #1 (Dark Horse)

gremlins-header.jpgThe long-lost product of the unlikely team of Roald Dahl and Walt Disney gets a modern spin.

 

 

32 pgs. FC; $2.99

(W: Mike Richardson; A: Dean Yeagle, Nelson Rhodes, and Dan Jackson)

 

When comic book companies send comics to PLAYBACK:stl HQ for review, usually the flowery praise of the accompanying press release is the closest it gets to a "hard sell." For Return of the Gremlins, however, Dark Horse pulled out all the stops, tossing in not just a copy of the comic in question, but also a set of adorable PVC models of the title characters and, best of all, a cookie with a bite impishly taken out of it. Welcome to the top of the review stack, Dark Horse. You had me at "fresh baked goods."

The media onslaught begins, with books, comics, and PVC figurines.Not that I wasn’t already excited at the prospect of this series. The Gremlins springs from the highly unlikely pairing of famed animator Walt Disney and a then-unknown Royal Air Force pilot by the name of Roald Dahl. Dahl first crafted the Gremlins in 1941—long before he would achieve fame with children’s classics like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach—in a children’s book based on the lore of RAF pilots who joked that small, mischievous sprites were the cause of the bullet holes and engine malfunctions they suffered while dogfighting with Luftwaffe planes during World War II. The Disney animation studios brought the Gremlins to life in all their big-eyed, red-nosed glory in pencil sketches and gorgeous, fully painted illustrations that accompanied Dahl’s story, and plans were hatched for a Gremlins feature film. But as the war dragged on and interest in war-related films waned, the film was ultimately shelved, and only the novel and a handful of comic appearances (many drawn by Pogo‘s Walt Kelly) were all that remained. The long out-of-print novel was revived in a new hardcover edition by Dark Horse in 2006, the success of which spawned this new modern spin on the franchise.

In Dahl’s original novel (summarized in a quick 6-page comic originally published in the 1940s that’s included here as a bonus feature), the Gremlins were not malicious. Rather the diminutive creatures bedeviled the RAF’s planes because their forest home had been knocked down to construct the factory that built those planes. When a pilot named Gus figures out the problem, he comes up with a solution, convincing the Gremlins to help the British fight the Nazis in exchange for a pristine new forest to call home. Return of the Gremlins flashes forward 60 years to the day when Gus’ grandson, also named Gus, has been sent to his grandfather’s rural home to prepare it for sale. The plot the home occupies is, naturally, the Gremlins’ new woodland home, and when the little beasties get wind that a seedy developer has eyes on their land, the Gremlins don’t take the news too kindly, and hijinks ensue.

The cover to Gremlins #1 by Dean Yeagle. Click for a larger image.Regardless of era or medium, a well done Disney tale has a very particular feel to its storytelling, a feel writer Mike Richardson (best known as the publisher of Dark Horse and one of the company’s founders) more or less nails in this first issue. The Return of the Gremlins is more Chip n’ Dale’s Rescue Rangers than it is Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, but given that this is an update of an older property and not a simple retelling, it makes sense to blend in modern sensibilities. Dean Yeagle’s art style is packed with Disney-isms as well, with iconically Disney-esque characters (particularly red-nosed, mustachioed old man Mister Bolton) captured in expressive, animated gestures. The new "Young Gus" seems like your typical strong-hearted Disney everyhero, and the Gremlins, though little seen in this first issue, maintain their devilish charm.

Any complaints about the series are fairly minor ones. The best Disney stories work on multiple levels that capture the hearts of fans of all ages, but Return of the Gremlins lacks the plot and character depth to elevate above strictly kids fare. The plot is also fairly slight for this issue, basically setting the stage for the hijinks to ensue in the following two issues of the three-issue series. It’s perfectly paced storytelling, but feels a bit lacking when a 20-page main feature runs you $3, and the story would probably be better served between one set of covers instead of split into three parts. Art-wise, both character artist Yeagle and background artist Nelson Rhodes’ art was colored by Dan Jackson straight off the pencils. The effect helps maintain a loose, cartoon-y energy but gives the book a rough texture where a slick, fine ink line would have made the art pop a bit more.

Kids are the main audience for this book, though, and they should be more than happy with the overall results. Though the story just barely gets cooking in this first issue, the Return of the Gremlins revives a long dormant property with that trademark Disney sense of whimsy still very much intact | Jason Green

 

Click here for a 3-page preview, courtesy of Dark Horse!

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