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Corriere dei Piccoli / Corrierino 1993 #51
by Federica Montanari

Featuring: James, IQ, Tracy, Gordo, Phoebe, Dr Derange, Skullcap.

Synopsis: It's Christmas Eve in St Anton, Austria, where James is out skiing, and being pursued by a shadowy figure. However, it transpires only to be the Warfield gang's ski instructor. She's racing James back to the lodge he's staying in with IQ, Tracy, Gordo and Phoebe, but he manages to get there first. As they enter, Tracy goes to turn on the lights on the Christmas tree they've decorated, but finds that the power has gone. IQ says they can use one of his gadgets, a 'bacteria-freeze' which he's using in a bid to overcome a nasty cold, which has an internal generator. But Gordo then hears on a portable radio that the power's gone out in the whole region.

The ski instructor points out of the window to a nearby mountain, where a huge mass of grey clouds is accumulating, despite the weather being clear in the surrounding area. She says it's very abnormal, as well as ironic, as the mountain is known as the 'top of the sun'. James asks what's up there, and the instructor says nobody knows - but the land was recently bought by a man who has closed off all public access. Sensing something is very wrong, James sets out with IQ and the ski instructor to investigate. As they cross into the prohibited area around the mountain, the bad weather becomes more intense.

Unseen by the group, a camera hidden on the ground homes in on them as they assess the steep climb ahead of them to the mountaintop. James remarks that the mysterious owner must really value privacy; and he's soon proven correct, when Skullcap appears on a snowmobile, showering them with gunfire! James tells the others to jump down to a ledge below, where they put on their skis in a bid to escape from Skullcap faster. The ski instructor shouts a warning to James that there's a ravine up ahead. But it's too late, and he plummets off the edge of the mountain - while Skullcap has the instructor and IQ cornered. Skullcap takes his two prisoners to a building on the very peak of the mountain, where Dr Derange celebrates having rid the world of James for good - then declares he plans to conquer the world.

Meanwhile, we see that James has been fortunate in having got his backpack caught on a branch as he fell, and he begins to scale the mountainside with his bare hands. At the summit, James sneaks inside Derange's lair, where he is explaining his plan to IQ and the ski instructor. He has been draining the energy grid in the region of its power, and accumulating it in a terrifying-looking machine. At the stroke of midnight, harnessing that stolen energy, he will turn on the machine just as Elliot's Comet, whose core is full of precious metals, flies across the sky. The machine will create a magnetic field that will drag the comet to earth, where Derange can extract the metals. IQ worries that the comet will cause disaster if it hits an inhabited area.

James then sneezes, having caught IQ's cold, alerting Dr Derange to his presence. IQ's pleased to see James has survived his fall, and tells him his own cold resolved with the use of the bacteria-freeze device. This gives James an idea, and he grabs the device from IQ's jacket, then fires it at Derange and Skullcap, saying that on maximum power, it should be enough to neutralise Derange's machine as well as the crooks themselves, who appear to have been frozen by the nitrogen discharge. Back at the lodge, as midnight strikes, James, IQ and the ski instructor look out of the window. Tracy, who is gathered around the tree with Gordo and Phoebe, hopes they won't spend all night stargazing - but they're actually gazing at Elliot's Comet as it shoots harmlessly overhead.

Review: A suitably snowcapped Christmas story, this bears a few plot similarities to the TV episode Killer Asteroid, in which Goldfinger also wanted to bring a celestial body down to Earth in order to mine its precious metals. They're quite different in execution though, with much of the focus here being the journey to Derange's base, up a suitably sinister mountain shrouded in clouds - presumably somehow a side-effect of his massive energy-harvesting operation. The ending to this story isn't one of the strongest, with IQ's latest bizarre gizmo being used rather indiscriminately as a one-stop-shop solution to a myriad of problems (even IQ's headcold!), and it isn't even 100% clear what's happened at the end to Derange, Skullcap or the machine. But arguably the relatively quickfire ending is worth it to enable a bit more build-up, characterisation and action-packed ski sequences in the earlier stages of the strip.

Highs: Even by James's standards, scaling that sheer mountain-face with nothing but bare hands is pretty gutsy, we have to concede.

Lows: It's surprising and unfortunate that we don't actually find out the ski instructor's name, given she features prominently throughout the strip.

Lines to Remember:
IQ, on being shot at by Skullcap: Why didn't we dedicate ourselves to something less adventurous, like Christmas dinner?

James, hanging from a branch over the edge of a mountain: An Englishman always knows how to get out of embarrassing situations.

Gadgets & Gizmos:
IQ's 'bacteria-freeze' device sprays out nitrogen isotope discharges which are able to freeze bacteria, rendering them harmless and clearing up the common cold. At maximum setting it also appears to be able to freeze SCUM agents - while it additionally features an integrated power generator, which is presumably what scuppers Derange's doomsday machine.

SCUM on the Surface:
The criminal organisation is not specifically mentioned here.

Loco Parenthesis:
As he scales the mountain without any climbing gear, harness, rope or parachute, James recalls how his uncle used to take him free-climbing when he was little. One wonders where his parents were...

While otherwise very similar in presentation and length to the other Corrierino stories, this is the only one (to our knowledge) to be published in a fold-out 'poster story' format, enabling it to be displayed as a wall frieze. Aside from Marvel UK's Slay Bells in the Snow, it's also the only comic (and James Bond Jr story generally) to be Christmas-themed.

Elliot's Comet appears to be an invented body.

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