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Corriere dei Piccoli / Corrierino 1993 #50
('Il Furto del Pinguino Maltese')
by Alberto Savini

Featuring: James, IQ, Gordo, Ms Fortune, Snuffer.

Synopsis: James, IQ and Gordo are in Hollywood, on their way to a film art museum, though IQ is a little jumpy after enduring Gordo's driving. IQ is looking forward to seeing Scarlett O'Hara's dress from the film Gone with the Wind, but as the car pulls into the museum car park, they see Ms Fortune hotfooting it out of the museum holding an artefact of some kind. The museum's curator follows, shouting, 'Stop, thief!' But Ms Fortune is already speeding away in a car, so James offers the curator a lift in his car so they can follow her.

Snuffer is driving the getaway vehicle, and informs Ms Fortune that they're being chased. Clutching her loot - a golden statuette of a bird covered in jewels - Ms Fortune tells Snuffer that the traps they've set will see off their pursuers. James tells the curator he looks familiar to him, and asks if they've met somewhere before. The curator changes the subject, asking why James decided to help him. James explains that Ms Fortune works for SCUM, and that it's not their first encounter.

The curator introduces himself as Hogart Bumphrey, and explains that 'that doll' Ms Fortune has stolen the famous Maltese Penguin, a precious statuette used in a movie many years ago. Meanwhile, seeing that they are still being followed, Ms Fortune tells Snuffer to activate the first trap when they clear the bend. A thick, retractable metal pole suddenly extends from a hidden door in the roadside. It almost forces the car off the road, causing a huge scrape along the whole side, but Gordo just manages to keep control.

James asks IQ if he has any gadgets to help stop Ms Fortune, and he goes to check. Meanwhile, Ms Fortune tells Snuffer to activate the second trap. IQ retrieves his 'portable atomic flow electromagnet', which is very fortuitous as the second trap is a giant magnet, positioned to drag passing cars over the edge of a ravine. The two magnetic streams repel each other, cancelling out the effect and once again keeping the car on the road. Ms Fortune pulls up the car near the Hollywood sign, and she and Snuffer climb on board a waiting helicopter.

From her new vantage point, Ms Fortune is satisfied to see that James was her pursuer, thinking she's beaten him - and Snuffer declares a double victory. However, IQ has one last trick up his sleeve. Turning the dial on his electromagnet to 'gold', he points it at the helicopter and activates it. Much to Ms Fortune's dismay, the Maltese Penguin flies from her hands and falls from the chopper, then sticks to the end of IQ's electromagnet. Ms Fortune sobs, complaining that James and his friends always win - while on the ground, James, IQ, Gordo and Hogart Bumphrey all celebrate.

Review: Titled around an amusing enough nod-and-wink to a Hollywood classic (see 'Notes'), this is a fairly light-hearted instalment that's also light on storytelling, primarily revolving around a good old-fashioned car chase, and with Gordo usefully on hand to provide some of his trademark humour and less celebrated driving skills. It feels like a mixed bag of disparate elements; we haven't yet seen the film from which the story appears to draw its inspiration (we may revisit this review when we do), but judging by synopses it feels like the resemblances are fairly superficial rather than offering a full-blooded homage; certainly Hogart Bumphrey doesn't play anything other than a token role here, which would imply the former. The storytelling elements that are present, meanwhile, don't hang together amazingly; quite why Ms Fortune is so sure of being pursued, and in this precise direction, that she has invested in a number of 'traps' built into the local road infrastructure, isn't particularly clear - and these elements are among the silliest we've seen in these strips - but it arguably adds to the sense of spontaneity. Once again, IQ's device of the day ('Gadgets & Gizmos', below) feels like a huge deus ex machina as he pulls it from his bag just at the pertinent moment, without any prior reference. But nonetheless there's enough action and humour peppered throughout to stay engaged with this story.

Highs: In behaviour quite unbecoming of an aristocrat, Ms Fortune blows a raspberry at James and co as she lifts off in her helicopter.

Lows: Quite a few of Ms Fortune's outings in this run are fairly straightforward theft attempts, and this is another such occasion - with not a huge amount by way of high stakes beyond the fate of the titular penguin.

Lines to Remember: IQ on Gordo's driving: Not to criticise, but you're much better as a chess player than a chauffeur! Gordo: But I don't know how to play chess! IQ: Precisely!

Gordo, on learning the particulars of the theft: A penguin? Is SCUM going to open a zoo?

Gadgets & Gizmos: IQ created his portable atomic flow electromagnet to help him find lost metal objects. It comes in decidedly handy for cancelling out the power of Ms Fortune's own, non-portable electromagnet - and for retrieving the Maltese Penguin, of course. It works by setting the dial to the kind of metal you want to attract. As well as gold for the penguin, the other options on the dial are iron, copper, silver, lead, tin, bronze and steel.

SCUM on the Surface: By way of explanation to Mr Bumphrey, James says that Ms Fortune works for SCUM, although whether this particular trinket is destined for Scumlord's mantelpiece or her own is not clarified.

Notes: The name of the story is a reference to the film The Maltese Falcon, a 1941 film starring Humphrey Bogart, on whom this strip's character Hogart Bumphrey is (obviously) loosely based. As in this story, the plot centres around a jewel-encrusted avian statuette.

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