Comics and The Olympics

Rio 2016 is coming along quite nicely, and it’s had quite a few surprises, including Kosovo’s first medal amongst others. As with any long-standing institution with a good reputation, comic books have tried to cash in on the hype train.

Okay, “cash in” is putting it a bit strongly, but there is usually an increase of sports-related stories in comics whenever The Olympics is running. As you’d expect, listing all of them would be an exhaustive (and exhausting) task, so I’ll just list the ones I like best.

Asterix at the Olympics Games

12fr

Written just before the 1968 Grenoble Winter Olympics, this particular album shows Ancient Gaul’s most cunning native doing his best to win glory for his village. In the process, he (of course) also has to deal with Caesar’s scheming and the might of the Roman army.

Assuming you’ve never read an Asterix book before, there’s no point in telling you that this is a downright hilarious pin-pricking of the Olympics’ inflated pomposity, and some good-natured (but no less incisive) digs at Greek culture. If you haven’t… well, now you know.

Topolino

TopoOlym2012

One of the joys of learning about eurocomics is finding something you never thought you’d ever see. Case in point: Topolino, a 200+ page comic magazine about Disney characters, always has a story arc once every four years about Mickey and/or Donald et al. saving the Olympics.

I am unable to find out more concerning most of the story arcs (I.N.D.U.C.K.S. is a wonderful site, but it can’t do everything) but I have been fortunate enough to read scanlations of the stories written for the 2008 and 2012 Olympics posted online.

The 2012 Olympics was quite unique for Topolino (the English translation is literally “Mickey Mouse”) in that it had two story arcs – the usual kind of story I mentioned above, and one set in the DoubleDuck universe, where Donald Duck is a superspy for a top-secret organisation.

The former, whose title translates as London 2012: Gold Hunt!, had Mickey, Donald, Goofy and Scrooge McDuck travelling through time to various Olympics to save history, meeting Olympians such as Abebe Bikila, Dorando Pietri, and saving Jesse Owens from the Nazis. Every single part of that sentence was true.

The latter (and comparatively saner) arc is called The Olympus Codex by its scanlator, and concerns Donald and his partner, codenamed Kay K, going undercover to work with MI-XX to stop Belgravia from cheating in the Olympics. Changing art styles aside (Disney Italia have an interesting approach to who draws what stories), it’s a teensy bit better than Gold Hunt! as a story in my opinion.

If you thought the last two synopses were a little odd, you’re not alone. But wait – the goofiest is yet to come!

The Underworld Olympics ’76!

this is stupid and I love it

Written by the late David V Reed to coincide with the 1976 Montreal Olympics, this 4-issue story arc comes just before Denny O’Neil arrived to bring Batman back to his roots in a way that nobody has done before. As such, it’s a silly tale, but enjoyably so.

The plot is utter bunkum, and simple bunkum at that: four gangs of criminals from five continents (ther’s an Afro-Asian bloc) have gathered in Gotham to compete in The Underworld Olympics. Choosing random assignments, they murder and steal in order to score points, being deducted whenever the police or Batman interfere.

Batman is camp with a straight face throughout the whole thing; while he’s puzzling over the actions of his foes, he’s still somehow able to identify a chain as “Nigerian” as he broods. “Batman, you’re obsessed!” Commissioner Gordon warns an issue later. “No, sir–I’m convinced!” the Caped Crusader promptly retorts.

You can tell Reed had fun with this story – he knew it was dumb, and he didn’t care. The fact that he managed to turn it into a four-issue arc when most writers would’ve wrapped the whole thing up in one at most just shows how delightfully self-indulgent the Bronze Age of Comic Books could get.

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