Sunday, March 4, 2018

The Dark Side

"Allora, sono abastanza cattivo?"
"MM Mickey Mouse Mystery Magazine"

"Am I badass enough for you now?"
"MM Mickey Mouse Mystery Magazine"

I never knew Mickey Mouse lived in Mouseton until a few weeks ago. In certain European countries, like the Netherlands, Mickey lives in an neighborhood within Duckburg (the town where Donald Duck and Scrooge McDuck live). Their comic adventures seldom cross, but still, the fact the Mouse lives in the city of the Ducks shows how big Donald Duck and his family are in European Disney comics compared to Mickey.

As I wrote in an article last week, Mickey Mouse often acts as a private detective in European Disney comics, where he usually gets the support of Goofy, Chief O'Hara, Detective Casey and other familiar faces from the Mickey Mouse universe. But what would happen if you put the Mouse in a completely new environment without his friends, and where the friendly demeanor of his modern depiction might literally mean the death of him? Mickey is one day informed of two shocking facts: not only does he learn that he owns half of the detective agency of his college friend Sonny Mitchell, said Sonny has also disappeared from the face of the earth. In order to find out what happened to his old friend, Mickey decides to travel to the city of Anderville, a big metropolis that also serves as the crime capital, with gangs and corrupt businesses and politicians ruling the city. Mickey might be a big shot detective who has the trust of the police back in Mouseton, but here nobody even notices a small wannabe mouse detective, and he soon learns that his old ways of detecting won't work here, as you need to be mean to survive in Anderville. Mickey realizes that Sonny got himself mixed up with something big, and now the underworld also has its eyes set on Sonny's partner Mickey, but he sure isn't going down without a fight in the Italian comic series MM Mickey Mouse Mystery Magazine (1999-2001).

While I was reading up for my Mickey Mouse article of last week, I not only learned that most of the Mickey Mouse-as-a-detective stories I knew came from Italy, I also came across the existence of MM Mickey Mouse Mystery Magazine, a short-lived Italian comic that put the Mickey-as-detective character in a completely new setting (Anderville), aimed at a somewhat older audience than the usual comics. I also discovered that this series was also published in Dutch relatively recently (in the Disney Premium Pocket line), so I picked the corresponding volumes up immediately (the series is available in various languages across Europe, but not in English it seems).


Simply said, MM Mickey Mouse Mystery Magazine is Mickey Mouse in Gotham City. Let that sink in for a while. Mickey as a crime fighter is not an unfamiliar sight for those familiar with the 30s/40s Mickey Mouse comics by Floyd Gottfredson, or the European Disney comic tradition that built on that, but even so, MM Mickey Mouse Mystery Magazine really feels different due to the setting Anderville. It's a place where Mickey has no friends, where his usual tricks don't work, where the average gang member is infinitely more dangerous than any of the criminal masterminds he meets in Mouseton. The chaotic metropolis is ruled by crime and corruption. It's a depressing place, especially as Mickey can't leave the town to see his friends as he's seen as a suspect in a certain case by the Anderville Police and the only salvation left for Mickey are the rare allies he finds in Anderville. The tone of the comic is also a bit dark, but not really dark: it's still a Mickey Mouse comic, and there are also lighthearted segments with Mickey bickering with his secretary or the regulars and the cook at his usual hang-out Little Caesar.

MM Mickey Mouse Mystery Magazine is a hardboiled mystery comic, and the cases Mickey works on often involve organized crime or corruption in the business or political world of Anderville. While Mickey still has to figure some underlying criminal plot out at times, you shouldn't expect a fair-play puzzle plot mystery of MM Mickey Mouse Mystery Magazine, as it really isn't. That said though, this series really works well as a hardboiled mystery series with Mickey. He solves cases by outsmarting small fry criminals and using his wits and his fists to win from assassins and the individual cases are interesting enough as hardboiled mystery stories, thrilling from start to finish and with some kind of mystery for either the Mouse or the reader to solve (even if it's not always presented in a fair way). Some of the more interesting stories are Run Run Run, where Mickey is forced to compete in the Anderville Marathon by a "fan" who has planted bombs along the route and Mousetrap, where Mickey is blackmailed to participate in a bank robbery to set himself up as a scapegoat. There are also some character-oriented stories that focus on Anderville and its inhabitants.


There are some missed chances for fair-play mystery plots, even if that wasn't the goal of this series. Black Mask has Mickey and a few others trapped inside the supertrain Black Mask, with one of the other passengers actually an assassin sent to kill Mickey. It's a very tense story with the assassin making several attempts at Mickey's life , but even though this could've been an excellent fair-play whodunnit, the identity of the assassin was hardly hinted at in the story. In another story, Firestorm, there's actually a fairly-clewed segment where Mickey Mouse and reluctant ally and police cop Patty manage to fool a group of hitmen who want to take out Mickey (with the puzzle presented to the reader as to how they managed to fool the hitmen in the first place), so it's not like a fair-play mystery is impossible within the hardboiled mystery structure of MM Mickey Mouse Mystery Magazine.

The series is relatively short, as low sales and the radical different depiction of Mickey (a Mickey closer to his 30s/40s Floyd Gottfredson comic depiction, rather than his modern do-gooder depiction) led to a premature conclusion in Italy, ending the series at only twelve issues, with a very forced ending with hardly any closure to it. It's almost as if the writers were told one or two issues earlier they had to end it, as basically none of the ongoing storylines in the series were resolved satisfactorily, and it basically ends with Mickey leaving Anderville right in the middle of events. It's a shame the creators weren't given a few more issues to give this series at least slightly more closure, as now it's almost like only the last eight or so pages of this series were available to wrap the whole thing up.

Overall though I really enjoyed MM Mickey Mouse Mystery Magazine as a hardboiled mystery series that happens to star Mickey Mouse. Could it have worked without Mickey Mouse? I don't know: I didn't think this Mickey Mouse was that much removed from the Mickey I knew from the other European Mickey-as-detective stories. The setting of Anderville is used to do stories that you couldn't usually do in Mouseton, but Mickey still feels like himself, only better adapted to his new environment. For readers who are interested in seeing a different kind of Mickey, I really recommend this series with the caveat that it has a very abrupt ending.

2 comments :

  1. 'Mickey Mouse in Gotham City' - I confess hard-boiled and Mickey Mouse sounds... incongruous? Thanks for the review. :)

    PS I recently completed Yonezawa Honobu's 'Gusha no End Roll'. It as clever, but I don't know what I make of the ending...

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    1. Hard-boiled & Mickey does sound counter-intuitive at first, though I think the jump is easier made for those who are already with the Mickey-as-detective comic stories. I can't even imagine how big the jump must be if for example you only know Mickey from the cartoons or Disney Land.

      Gusha no End Roll's final, final ending is a bit surprising given the previous solutions perhaps, but I thinks it works well in the context of the series (a normal school setting with teenagers). It's a direction I can't see "serious" mystery series pull off as well (i.e. it wouldn't work with Roger Sheringham, despite the multiple solution structure).

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