The Automatic Detective, by A. Lee Martinez – It seems like every comedy author eventually takes on the noir private detective genre. Martinez, author of fantastic humor novels, sets his tale in Empire City, a retro-futuristic urban center full of robots, mutants, and flying vehicles. The protagonist, Mack Megaton, is a robot designed for battle by a mad scientist, but has reformed and works as a cab driver. When a family he’s familiar with is kidnapped, he turns to detective work to seek them out, assisted by technological genius and potential love interest (despite the fact that she’s human) Lucia Napier and his intelligent gorilla friend. He ends up uncovering a conspiracy involving aliens who introduced much of the technology to Empire, and an attempt to mutate everyone in town. I’ve always been interested in retro science fiction stuff, and this story mixes it with a funny plot and a believable robot narrator who’s just coming to terms with his more human feelings.
Donald Duck: Trick or Treat, by Carl Barks – A collection of comics from 1952 and 1953, which even the annotators admit isn’t really among Barks’s best work, although it’s still entertaining. It was around this time that he started focusing on his own creation Scrooge McDuck rather than the more famous character. The lead story is an adaptation of the cartoon Trick or Treat that I saw many times as a kid.
It serves to highlight some of the main differences between the Donald of the comics and the cartoons, with the latter remaining more of a jerk while Barks gave him a more well-rounded personality. The comic version mostly sticks to the original plot, but adds in a little more dialogue and a few additional scenes, including a bit with Hazel summoning up a bizarre ogre to torment Donald.
As for the other stories, one takes place mostly in flashback mode, with Donald explaining how his plan to get rich raising chickens suffered a series of misfortunes resulting in the destruction of an entire town. Another has Gyro Gearloose inventing worms that do all the work in fishing, and one with Donald’s nephews raising bees has some interesting art as our hapless hero avoids the bees and carries the hive back and forth across town.
Barks apparently decided one comic should be a dream sequence after determining that the idea of Scrooge climbing a mountain with stairs made of money was a little too ridiculous even for this universe. It ends with a good punchline, however: Donald wakes up not because of the stairs, but because Scrooge actually offers to SPEND his remaining fifteen cents.