Thrift Store Finds: Roger Rabbit #1 (Disney Comics)

This week we’re looking at Roger Rabbit #1, published in June of 1990 by Disney Comics.

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Cover price was $1.50, I got it out of a longbox for two bits. No shave and a haircut, sadly.

Quite a lot of the detritus from my childhood looks all the poorer when I look at it as an adult, but Who Framed Roger Rabbit remains a very good film even on revisiting. It has a solid script with a great mystery element, top of the line special effects, and the gags remain, for the most part, funny.

I know I was in love with the flick as soon as I saw it in 1988 and I wanted to carry that love out of the theater. Luckily, Disney was ready to oblige, with a bunch of merchandise and junk in stories branded with Roger Rabbit, Baby Herman and all the other ‘Toons.

Disney would have obviously wanted a Roger Rabbit comic… but producing one seems to have meant dealing with a couple of logistical hurdles.

First and foremost, Disney Comics was unable to recreate the “every ‘toon and the kitchen sink” approach the movie took to its’ characters. One of the wonderful things about Who Framed Roger Rabbit was seeing characters like Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse, normally kept apart by their respective corporate owners, sharing screen time. This kind of inter-company mingling was verboten in the Roger Rabbit comic book, even with the Disney characters. As such, most of these stories feature either or knock-off versions of characters previously used in the Roger Rabbit movie, like these weasels

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…or brand new ‘Toons with almost no personality.

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Secondly, the character of Eddie Valiant needed to be addressed.  Make no mistake, despite the title of the movie, the downtrodden detective was the protagonist of Who Framed Roger Rabbit. I’m guessing Disney didn’t want to pay Bob Hoskins any likeness fees to have Eddie Valiant appear in these comics… or they wanted to save the character for potential Roger Rabbit sequels. Whatever the reason, the first issue of Roger Rabbit dispatches Eddie rather quickly and in a fashion that seems to go completely against the tone of the film on which this comic is based.

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The idea that Eddie Valiant is still so wracked with grief by the death of his brother that he cannot stomach the idea of a partner sort of cheapens the end of Who Framed Roger Rabbit and makes the character a whole lot weaker. Disney wasn’t completely against using Eddie Valiant in the comics (they’d produce a direct comic sequel to Who Framed a few years later in The Resurrection of Doom) but at least for monthly comics, the character was tossed out the door in favor of the VERY generic detective Rick Flint.

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Notice how we can tell Rick Flint’s a good private investigator because he flat-out TELLS us what a good PI he is. Yikes.

Flint gamely serves as the “new” Eddie Valiant in these Roger Rabbit stories; he does all of the detective stuff but sadly, he’s bland as boiled celery. This smells of some kind of editorial mandate to me and it stinks to leave the creative team so hampered right out of the gate.

Most of the Roger Rabbit comics were written by Kate Worley, a scribe best known for her racy scripts for the 1980’s comic book Omaha the Cat Dancer. I’ve never read Omaha, but Worley clearly knows her way around a story and quickly establishes the status quo for the series from here on out. Rick Flint, heretofore described as being “down on his luck” will become the private investigator on retainer for The Ink and Paint Club, the bar where Jessica Rabbit performs. This will put him in a good position to do ‘Toon-related detective work. Roger Rabbit will be Rick’s partner during the down time between his movies. It’s a fairly elegant solution to the problems of dipping into this world monthly although as I said, it’s also awkward for anyone with even a passing familiarity with the flick on which the comics are based.

Every issue of Roger Rabbit is divided into two stories. The first featured detective plots with Rick Flint; the art on those stories was penned by Rick Hoberg, something of a journeyman comic book artist whose worked on books ranging from superhero strips like Batman and Spider-Man to funny animal comics like Captain Carrot. The second stories take place in Toontown and retains a more cartoony style befitting the setting.

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The art from Bill Langley is actually a great counterbalance to Hoberg. While the first story in the book is told with a very traditional page layout, Langley goes crazy with breaking panels, weird angles, and generous sound effects to convey the energy of Toontown throughout the backup. Both stories feel distinct from one another which is a plus… and probably the reason why Disney Comics eventually spun the Toontown section off into its’ own comic fairly soon after Roger Rabbit #1 was released.

Reading this comic reminded me of just what a big deal Roger Rabbit was in the 1980’s. Disney threw a whole lot of promotion behind the character but, sadly, Roger’s been rendered something of a footnote in Disney’s history. It was nice to revisit the character through this comic and although quite a few of the narrative choices in the main story reek of editorial and corporate interference.

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