Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Single Issue Review: Fox & Crow #35

DC fiddled around with funny animals for most of the Golden and Silver Ages. Unlike Dell, however, they never signed up with a major cartoon shop, so while Dell was publishing (with huge success) Donald Duck, Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig and several other licensed characters, DC created their own knockoff characters or licensed a few quite a bit less-known cartoon features. Among the former were Flippety and Flop (Sylvester and Tweety knockoff), Nutsy Squirrel and Dodo & the Frog.

Fox & Crow was a licensed series, although I doubt very much that many of the kids reading their comics in the 1950s and 1960s were aware of it:

The cartoon was well received, and another with the same characters was produced, for release six months after the first. In fact, they became the studio's biggest stars ever, easily eclipsing Scrappy. But by then, Tashlin had departed for greener pastures — he was working at Warner Bros., and making a name for himself with such characters as Daffy Duck and Porky Pig. This one was directed by Bob Wickersham, who used the characters in a completely different way. His Fox just wanted to be left alone, but The Crow wouldn't let him; and the gags were done in a more traditional style than the earlier blackouts. Innocent Fox paired with aggressive Crow became the formula for the series, most of which was directed by Wickersham.

DC licensed the characters in the mid-1940s when the cartoon series was still running, and used them as the cover feature for Real Screen Comics and Comic Cavalcade. Ironically, though, by the time Fox & Crow graduated to their own magazine, they were through in Hollywood as their animation studio was sold and the characters quickly ignored by the new company.

They settled in for a very long run by comics standards, with their first issue hitting the stands in early 1952 and their last in early 1968 (at which point they had been DC's only funny animal title for about 7 years). They did suffer the humiliation of seeing their comic taken over by a backup feature (Stanley and His Monster)

As Markstein notes, perhaps the most amazing thing about the Fox and Crow series is that most stories did not feature any other characters. The Fox and Crow were perfect enemies; indeed it is hard to imaging Luthor and Superman battling each other as relentlessly as those two did. Crawford Crow is a lazy, sponging con artist while Fauntleroy Fox is his eternal mark. However, the writers and artist Jim Davis (no, not that Jim Davis) managed to make the Crow entertaining enough and the Fox insufferable enough that there was always a balance. And you could never guarantee whether the Fox would win out in the end or the Crow.

In the first story, we find the Crow miserable as he realizes that he's completely run out of ways to "chisel" the Fox. But he gets inspired when he learns that the Fox is about to inherit $5,000, tomorrow (August 15, 1956 as a calendar reveals). The Crow reaches through the window and rips out the 15th from that calendar, then starts singing a bluesy tune about how there's not going to be a tomorrow.

Asked for evidence, the Crow points to the calendar, where tomorrow's date is indeed missing. This causes him no end of consternation until the Crow reveals that he in fact has tomorrow, so the Fox begs him to give it back. So the Fox cooks him a turkey dinner, and gives him his convertible and $3,000 cash to get tomorrow back. Of course, in the end he realizes he spent $10,000 in cash and other goods to get $5,000; Bernie Madoff could have done better than that.

Running Tally: Fox 0, Crow 1.

Comments: Good start, mediocre ending.

Next up is an ad for the Superman Space Satellite Launcher:

I don't remember the Superman connection, but certainly remember these cool little toys. They really did fly somewhere close to 25 feet high in the air. Kellogg's had a long association with Superman, dating back to their sponsorship of the radio program in the 1940s.

The filler is a strip called Hound and Hare, which also had a long run. The young hound has discovered that manufacturers have created a mechanical hare, which his father promptly purchases. The Hare overhears this and decides to ensure that the hounds continue to chase him. He stuffs himself in their mailbox with a shipping tag and they assume it is their mechanical pal. But when he starts operating, they learn that he's a little trickier than their normal quarry:

After that the Hare sends them into the briar patch and on top of Old Smokey, at which point they are exhausted. They return to find the real mechanical hare in their mailbox, but they assume the mailman just found it and brought it back to them and they mail it back.

Comments: Cute if predictable.

As you can see from the cover, this issue featured the DC 5000 contest. DC was offering lots of prizes including 18 Columbia bicycles with 80 pairs of roller or ice skates for second place. Third prize would probably bring a firestorm of protest today as there were 200 3rd prizes for boys (a football with a kicking tee) and only 120 3rd prizes for girls (a doll named Sweet Sue that according to the accompanying copy can "kneel down to say her prayers").

The contest was to come up with a slogan for DC Comics. Among the suggestions were:

The slogans were to be chosen by a panel of judges, not a random drawing as was typical; I'll have to find out what the winners were and whether they became significant slogans for DC.

The second Fox & Crow story is something of an oddball because they are not antagonists. While experimenting with a chemistry set, the Crow accidentally creates a storm in his tree. He tries to sell an April shower to the Fox, who scoffs, but:

The Fox gets the brilliant idea of growing corn in partnership with the Crow. But predictably, the Crow gets impatient with watering the corn slowly and creates a deluge that washes their profits and homes away in a flood.

Running Talley: Fox 0, Crow 1 (Neither wins this battle).

Comments: Definitely a mediocre effort without the conflict that makes the series so entertaining.

In the third story, the Crow is reading some nursery rhymes when he comes across a famous one:

This inspires a new mooching idea. The Crow offers himself to the Fox as one of the ingredients for the pie (along with lots of other ingredients of course. The Fox agrees and soon has him wrapped up in dough and peas and turnips and carrots and spuds).

So the Fox plunks him in the oven and they have a running conversation about how things are going. Eventually the Crow asks for a spoon so he can stir things up a bit. Of course we all know that he's probably using it to eat up all the pie. Eventually the pie is finished and out pops the blackbird to sing a little ditty. The Fox kicks him out and returns to the pie, only to find that there's nothing there but the empty pie shell.

Running Talley: Fox 0, Crow 2.

Comments: Good beginning but in the middle you can't help wondering how the Crow isn't being killed by the heat of the oven, which does indeed cook the pie crust. But of course this was quite common in cartoons. You could easily see the story going the other way--with the Crow bravely talking about how hot it's getting and how he hopes that the Fox is going to enjoy this dinner as the Fox gets more and more upset.

Overall comments: I really like this series, but unfortunately I picked a below-average issue to review here. A lot of Fox & Crow gags depend on the willingness to suspend disbelief; this is easier when the Crow is dressed up in a silly disguise and we're supposed to accept that Fauntleroy can't figure it out.