Return of the Gremlins #1
“Return of the Gremlins, Part 1 of 3”
Writer: Mike Richardson
Pencils: Dean Yeagle
Backgrounds: Nelson Rhodes
Colors: Dan Jackson
Letters: Michael David Thomas
Artists: Walt Disney Studio
Color restoration: Dan Jackson
Editor: Dave Land
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Price: $2.99 US
I’d heard tell of this little-known Disney property but didn’t know much beyond the look of the characters and the name. The premise behind it is surprisingly compelling. With the new story that serves as the real meat of this issue, Dark Horse publisher Mike Richardson really captures a strong sense of Disney magic. The plot is predictable, but it’s so charming that one can’t help but be enthralled. The same goes for Dean Yeagle’s art, which takes its cues from the familiar, comforting Disney style. These characters were created by Roald (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach) Dahl, so there’s just a hint of the surreal here to set it apart. I was also delighted to find an original Disney Studio Gremlins strip as a backup feature in this comic, though I was disappointed there wasn’t a text page to provide some history of the property and why it’s one of the few obscure Disney features.
Gremlins are known for sabotaging airplanes, but why did they opt to do so? It turns out that they decided to plague RAF airplanes in England during the Second World War after men destroyed their forest home to create aircraft manufacturing facilities. Thanks to the kind nature and keen eyes of a pilot named Gus, though, humans and Gremlins struck a truce. In return, Gus promised to maintain and protect the Gremlins’ new woodland home. That was in the 1940s. Today, Gus’s American grandson has come to the homestead to sell off the property, but after arriving in his late grandfather’s old home, he soon finds there’s more to the place than he could have ever imagined.
The Gremlin design is a pretty simple one, so it’s no surprise that Yeagle hits the mark. It’s his work with the other, newer characters that really impresses. Young Gus and Mister Bolton look like they stepped right out of a Disney movie. I love how Yeagle manages to convey a family likeness between Old Gus and Young Gus while still differentiating strongly between the two. Old Gus, in his prime, was a lantern-jawed hero. Young Gus is a gangly, comically awkward-looking fellow who’s nevertheless more believable as the hero than his heroic namesake. The colors are crisp, nice and bright, as is fitting for a Disney project. The cover art, with its dominant red background, really stands out as well.
The backup strip exhibits the same Disney style when it comes to the title characters, but the human figures are more in line with Golden Age illustration from super-hero and adventure comics. The human figures are rendered a little inconsistently, but the visual flashback in style serves as a nice diversion for those of us with an interest in the medium’s past.
I’m fascinated by the original decision to link the Gremlins to World War II. That’s rather dark subject matter for a story crafted with children in mind as the audience. Mind you, the creators pull it off incredibly well, maintaining a distance from the death and destruction of war. The villains of the main story are typically extreme, one-dimensional Disney antagonists, focused on greed above all else. The message of the modern story is a not-so-subtle one of environmentalism. Though the Gremlins are clearly intelligent, they’re also cast in the role of the endangered species that finds itself in the path of a juggernaut of development and commercialism. As I noted before, the plot holds few surprises, but in this case, the familiarity of the circumstances and concepts is oddly comforting. This “lost” Disney/Dahl property is not only cute and entertaining, it holds up incredibly well as an idea in the 21st century. 8/10