Book Review: Talespin: Flight of the Sky-Raker and Other Stories: The Disney Afternoon Adventures Vol. 2

Disney Afternoon was a staple of after-school procrastination for nearly a decade, from 1990-1997. Several of those years included my own pre-high school life, and I was a regular watcher. A devoted watcher once Darkwing Duck joined the line-up. But several classic shows found their home there: Ducktales, Talespin, Goof Troop, the amazing Gargoyles. It was a haven for generally high quality cartoons that, while definitely for kids, were well above average in storytelling or humor.

It was a success, and as Disney can never refrain from capitalizing on success, a spin-off magazine was to follow. Disney Adventures was a digest-sized magazine, a little bigger than a paperback book. They would sell them at grocery counters, so kids dragged shopping with their moms could get them at the last minute.

There were lifestyle articles, “interviews” that were basically advertisements for Disney shows and movies, and comics. Extra adventures for ravenous Disney Afternoon fans.

Resurrected from the small print and reborn in full graphic-novel size and hardcover, Talespin: Flight of the Sky-Raker and Other Stories is the second volume in a series of high quality reprints of comics from the magazine. It includes Talespin comics, as well as issues of Ducktales, Chip & Dale’s Rescue Rangers, Darkwing Duck, Adventures of the Gummi Bears, Goof Troop, and Timon and Pumbaa.

Talespin, for the uninitiated, has about the oddest high concept for a cartoon series one can imagine. Baloo, from The Jungle Book, runs an airplane freight company in what might be the Caribbean (or Southeast Asia, or any island tropical clime). Wherever it is, the entire culture revolves around air travel. He picks up a stowaway, Kid Cloudkicker, on the run from air pirates. It’s a pulp action adventure story, styled after ’30s cinema. It’s also a Moonlighting style sitcom. Baloo’s debts means his business is taken over by young businesswoman and widow Rebecca Cunningham. This was for kids in the early ’90s.

Talespin focused heavily on action adventure. It’s represented here by three stories: the double-sized “Flight of the Sky-Raker”, “It’s a Plunderful Life”, and “The Long Flight Home.”

All of the Talespin comics are full-length, 24 pages (50 for the title story.) The Rescue Rangers and one of the Ducktales stories is a full-length as well. The other stories vary from about 15 pages down to 2-page gags.

What surprised me in reading these comics is how solid the stories and art are. The drawings are on model for the cartoons, and feature mostly good, professional storytelling. But the writing is often really good. It matches the spirit of the television show, action packed while also having solid characterization and sometimes surprising pathos.

In “The Flight of the Sky-Raker” after being chased by sky pirates, Baloo and Kit end up on a fog-bound island. There they find a young woman has been stranded for years. She’s the daughter of an inventor, whose plane crashed on the island. He goes off on a raft to find help and is never seen again. The woman, Lillian, is desperate to get off the island, but also too wary to trust anyone to help her. She has to learn to trust and have faith in friends. It’s not an unusual story arc for a cartoon character. Here, though, it’s played out more subtly and skillfully than one might expect from a spin-off comic in a kid’s magazine.

Bobbi JG Weiss is the writer. She, along with her husband David Cody Weiss, is responsible for nearly half the stories in the collection, more if you go by page count. If there’s a regret I have for this collection, it’s that there aren’t any creator commentaries from the writers or artists about their work.

Otherwise, Fantagraphics has done a rather typically fine job with this collection. Most of the reprints look impeccable. The one exception is the Talespin comic, “It’s a Plunderful Life” which looks like it had an inferior source to the other comics. The credits on that story include a “restoration by” credit, so it was probably the best materials available.

This collection is for kids, in the most positive sense of the phrase. The stories are straightforward and lively. But they’re also not condescending. The stories contain messages, but no moralizing. It’s a fun, beautifully produced book.

Talespin: Flight of the Sky-Raker and Other Stories will be released on February 28, 2023.

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Kent Conrad

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