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Corriere dei Piccoli / Corrierino 1993 #53
('Un Capodanno Movimentato')
by Alberto Savini

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

Synopsis: It's 10pm on New Year's Eve, in a remote mountain cabin in the US state of Colorado, belonging to Martin - a friend of James, IQ and Gordo. The trio have come to stay with Martin, at James's suggestion; we learn that Martin is now 'famous', having stumbled across a mysterious chest in a nearby cave, prompting a flurry of speculation about its contents in the press. But Martin insists he's not interested in knowing what's in the chest; he's just keen for scientists from a research centre to come and take it away as agreed, as he can't stand the notoriety anymore.

IQ says he hoped to use the universal lock opener he's brought to try getting into the chest, but James says it's not a good idea - there could be something dangerous inside. Martin points out that the scientists have said the same thing. They also think the chest could date back to the time of Atlantis, around 40,000 years ago. At half past ten, in a snowcat vehicle nearby, Ms Fortune and Snuffer receive instructions from Scumlord via video screen. He tells them to enter the cabin, stun Martin, steal the chest and bring it to him. Ms Fortune asks what she should do if Martin isn't alone; Scumlord says this is impossible, as he's a hermit who's tired of the world. Ms Fortune thinks their task will be child's play.

At 11pm, Martin and the boys are reminiscing, it's implied, about a time when he also attended Warfield, and was threatened with suspension by a teacher for not getting his hair cut. Suddenly, the gang hear engine noises coming from outside the cabin, and the snowcat bursts through the wall, sending smashed timber flying everywhere. Ms Fortune is furious to see James and his friends, but Snuffer uses his 'light bomb' to create a bright flash, temporarily blinding everyone so that the snowcat can use its grabber arm attachments to steal teh chest. The snowcart departs, Ms Fortune wishing the gang a Happy New Year from SCUM as it drives away.

It's now 11.15, and James fills in Martin on who the crooks were. Martin says they need to chase them, but unlike the crooks, they don't have a snowmobile. James asks Martin if he has any skis, and he does; so fifteen minutes later, they take to the slopes with IQ and Gordo in pursuit of the snowcat. By a quarter to midnight, they're coming up behind the vehicle, and James asks IQ for his universal lock opener so he can gain access to the snowcat. Without further ado, James launches himself off a slope and lands with a thud on top of the snowcat. 

The crooks initially think the noise is a block of snow falling from a tree, but James quickly corrects them, and uses IQ's device to open the snowcat door. He then presses a button on the control panel, which releases the mystery chest from the grip of the grabber attachment. He also uses the opportunity to sabotage the vehicle's brakes, then leaps from the vehicle, leaving the crooks to their fate as they speed downwards into the valley. Midnight finally strikes, and fireworks light up the sky across the valley, as James and his friends celebrate, looking forward to a fantastic 1994.

Review: Putting our cards on the table - this is a weird story, primarily because of the character of Martin and his 'mystery chest'. Perhaps it's partly because the Warfielders so seldom meet any other male characters aside from teachers and villains, but the character stands out like a sore thumb from the outset, creating an early sense of unease as regards what his purpose might be; could he be a villain or somehow under SCUM's thumb, we initially wonder? It's strongly implied midway through the story that he used to attend Warfield, so at least he's explained to that extent. But this never-before-seen 'friend' of James, IQ and Gordo, supposedly famous for having found the 'mystery chest' in a cave, in whose contents he claims to have zero interest, is otherwise a complete enigma. He's invited the boys to his remote mountain cabin for New Year - well, no, actuallly, it seems it was James's idea for them to invite themselves, oddly - and he seems judging by appearances to be a little older than them, which also raises questions about exactly when he was at Warfield. Scumlord cryptically describes Martin as 'some kind of hermit who's tired of the world'. Why did he leave the academy? Why is he 'tired of the world', and living in the middle of nowhere? Stranger still, the contents of the mystery chest - which any standard narrative would demand were revealed before the final frame - remain under stubborn lock and key, all secrets undisclosed, despite the tantalising presence of IQ's universal lock opener which could have easily revealed all. Scumlord knows the chest is important, clearly; Martin says it could date back 40,000 years to the time of Atlantis, according to the scientists who are coming to collect it. This all screams 'world-building', and feels for all intents and purposes like the opening instalment of a multi-issue serial to kick off 1994, and yet... it isn't. So, certainly an action-packed and intriguing episode, but... are we missing something?

Highs: One of the really likeable features of the Corrierino run is that, since they're designed to run in a single publication, many if not all of the stories seem to be occurring in real time, according to the dates the issues were published. But this New Year's strip takes it a step further, by including regular digital clock displays of the exact time a given frame is taking place in the countdown to midnight (for example, 23:45), in a way that's both tension-boosting and celebratory.

Lows: Not that we feel a huge amount of sympathy for Ms Fortune and Snuffer, but wouldn't disabling the snowcat to make it grind to halt have been a more humane idea than cutting its brakes?

Gadgets & Gizmos: IQ's universal lock opener need merely be pointed at a lock and the button pushed, and it will take the shape of the required key in a tenth of a second. Meanwhile, Snuffer's 'bomba luminosa' (light bomb) makes a second appearance, and makes more sense here than it does in its previous outing in Labyrinth. In that strip, Ms Fortune said it could be used to stun the guards, but when it's actually used, it just blows a hole in the labyrinth wall. Here, its function appears more in line with its name and originally stated intention, as it causes a bright flash which renders everyone temporarily unable to see (which doesn't happen when it's used in Labyrinth).

SCUM on the Surface: Yes; Scumlord personally has his beady eye on the 'mystery chest', and Ms Fortune wishes the gang a Happy New Year from SCUM as she steals it.

Notes: This is the only James Bond Jr story specified to take place over the New Year period.

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