Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A POST-"DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE" PERSPECTIVE: "A Dime in Time"

Let's get right into the spirit of things and (mentally) travel 20 years back in time, to that fateful moment in 1994 when Joe Torcivia introduced himself to the "small but mighty" audience of the late, great Disney Afternoon-themed APA WTFB with the first installment of his now-legendary THE ISSUE AT HAND.  The comic that Joe reviewed in that first effort was Disney Comics' UNCLE $CROOGE #259 (October 1991).

U$ #259 was the third installment of an ingenious "Duck comics crossover event" dreamed up by Disney Comics Managing Editor Bob Foster.  "The Time Tetrad" linked together four unrelated Duck stories, all of which featured a spheroidal time machine created by Gyro Gearloose.

"Book One": "The Secret of Atlantis" by Byron Erickson (English dialogue) and Vicar, in DONALD DUCK ADVENTURES #17.  Any relationship to a story by Carl Barks, or, for that matter, a certain DuckTales adventure of more recent vintage, is hereby discounted with extreme prejudice. 

"Book Two": "Dirk the Dinosaur," the featured story in WALT DISNEY'S COMICS AND STORIES #564, again by Erickson and Vicar.  Interestingly, this story was the first installment -- officially, it was labeled "Chapter 0" -- in an actual series of much lengthier time-traveling adventures which Inducks flags as the "Time Machine graphic novels." 

"Book Three": "The Only Way to Go/Travel," in the aforementioned U$ #259, yet another Erickson/Vicar joint.  Disney Comics' BETWEEN THE LINES list of the month's releases uses "...Travel," while the story itself uses "...Go."  Both versions of the title appear in Inducks.  And now my head hurts.

"Book Four" is our main concern for the nonce: DUCKTALES #17's "A Dime in Time", written by Bob Langhans and drawn by the usual assortment of "credited-by-name-but-in reality-all-but-anonymous" Argentinians who toiled for the Jaime Diaz Studios.

Unlike the other stories in the "Tetrad" series, "A Dime in Time" takes up the entire issue.  What's more, it ends with a scene the setting of which would have seemed quite familiar to those who had been following the DUCKTALES title.

That's right, we're going into overtime.  It's yet another Bob Langhans cliffhanger, of the exact same sort which so enlivened "The Gold Odyssey" (DT #9-15).  My opinion of the latter story has been on record for quite some time, and I see no reason to alter it in the wake of the short-lived Boom! revival of the DUCKTALES title.  When it comes to DT comic-book stories that appeared in America and captured the authentic spirit of the series... well, this is as good as it gets, folks.

Thankfully, "A Dime in Time, Part Two" turned out to be the actual conclusion of the story, as DT #18 (November 1991) ran smack into the onrushing shock wave that was "The Disney Implosion."  Dan Fitzgerald's coverage of the "Implosion" era (the link shown above) as part of his survey of the history of Disney Comics is as thorough an exposition as we are likely to get of the affair.  If the details are unfamiliar to you -- or even if you think they are familiar -- then I highly recommend that you read the whole thing.

Well, at least another Langhans multi-part story got into print before the heavens fell, right?  And this one is bound to rival "Odyssey," if not in scope, then in terms of overall quality.  Right?

When I reread "A Dime in Time," I found that I could remember no details about it whatsoever.  Evidently, my "memory bone" was unconsciously doing me a favor.  "Time" doesn't measure up to "Odyssey" in any way, shape, or form.  It doesn't come close.  From the evidence provided in the story, I'm not even sure that anyone who directly worked on this story -- writer, artists, editors -- was paying it more than the most cursory attention.

Even the much-admired Bob Foster can't escape some criticism here.  He had to vet the tale on the American end, and I can only excuse his signing off on some of the egregious continuity errors and sloppy storytelling that fatally compromise Part One as the result of a desperate desire to find SOME way to give DUCKTALES its place in the "Tetrad."  Part Two flows more smoothly, but is also somewhat duller, due to all of the action basically taking place in a single venue, and it doesn't end so much as stop, with an abruptness that is violent enough to give one literary whiplash.

We begin Part One with a typical DuckTales Beagle Boy raid on the Money Bin that proceeds in the expected fashion, "expected" being in the single-season sense.  (By contrast, "The Gold Odyssey" started with Scrooge already in the throes of high adventure, stubbornly snow-catting his way through an Alaskan blizzard.  Steee-rike One.)  Magica De Spell has been crystal-eye-balling the Beagle siege and has a better (but aren't they always?) plan to snag her eternal heart's desire, Scrooge's Old #1 Dime.  She's going to use a time machine to literally go "back to the Klondike" and snag the coin from young miner Scrooge.

Magica later describes the pictured gizmo as, and I quote, "a time-warper from the 23rd century."  And Magica acquired it how, exactly?  Sure, she's a sorceress, but she's not capable of something like THIS, is she?  Or perhaps she is.  As Langhans writes her throughout the story, Magica's powers appear to be "whatever is necessary to perform a particular task," including those tasks the achievability of which would seem to be above her pay grade.  Apparently, Langhans never stopped to consider that, if Magica had the inherent magical ability to nip ahead in time and steal a time-travel device, then she wouldn't have NEEDED a time-travel device in the first place.

I also have a problem with the whole notion of Magica snookering Scrooge in his virile, full-of-beans Klondike phase.  I had certain issues with Don Rosa's "Of Ducks, Dimes, and Destinies" (UNCLE $CROOGE #297, April 1996) when it first appeared, mostly related to the whole idea of mucking around with the charmingly simple (and, lest we forget, non-Barksian) idea of Scrooge obtaining Old #1 after shining a Glaswegian ditchdigger's boots, but Magica going back to 19th-century Scotland to take advantage of a 10-year-old Scrooge makes much more logical sense. 

Magica decides to put the device to a test (she should really have done that in the 23rd century, I'm thinking) by making the Beagle Boys younger.  In the process, she leaves the rest of Duckburg in the present.  I have NO earthly idea how that works. Nor can I savvy how the Ducks (well, Scrooge and Louie, at least) are literally able to sense that "something weird is going on here" in the space of a single panel:

Scrooge had last been seen chasing the Beagles with murder in mind two pages back, but mentioning that fact seems a bit like piling on at this point.  Seriously, HOW did Scrooge and Louie figure that out?!  I suspect that even "ol' Al Einstein" (how colloquial of you, Magica) would be unable to come up with a good explanation for this.  At this point, the story is falling faster than my old pants did when I tried to put them on after my post-surgery weight loss.

Magica takes off for the past in the Ducks' very faces, conveniently explaining her plan in the process. She even tells Scrooge her exact destination; she's headed for "Uppa Creek" in the Klondike, where she'll presumably find a general store selling "Ahilla brand beans" and "Aloafa brand bread".  Evidently, Magica has done enough research on Scrooge that she knows exactly where he hung out during his mining days, at least in this somewhat dubious version of his past.  Scrooge corrals Launchpad (whose participation, along with a couple of early-Barks-style HD&L rescues, arguably comprise the sum total of high points in this entire effort) for assistance, and the Ducks ask Gyro to get his Time Coupe out of mothballs.  It appears that the events of "A Dime in Time" are taking place a good deal of time after the events of the other three stories in "The Time Tetrad."  Well, Gyro did once say, "Toy with time and you're asking for trouble."  Perhaps he finally admitted to himself that he had been right all along.

See Gyro there, in the lower right hand corner, hiding the Time Coupe in the bushes?  Take a good, long look... because you won't be seeing him again.  That's right; the story still has 40-odd pages to go, and Gyro is nowhere to be found on any of them, even after the Ducks have moved on to another point in time.

Seriously... there are no words.  After this scene, Langhans evidently forgot that Gyro had been a member of the cast, and no one editing or reviewing the story caught the error!

Are there sharks in the Klondike, and is there a location where one can jump them?

Leaving Gyro in limbo for the duration, the Ducks head to town, where Magica successfully gets them in Dutch with the local authorities by framing them as wanted bank robbers.  In so doing, she proves able to materialize and manipulate whatever she requires in order to make the ruse seem at least reasonably convincing to the rubes.  I can kinda-sorta accept the magical puppeteering, but creating material objects out of thin air with her own bare hands?  Has Magica ever displayed that sort of ability before?

If the bottom panel of that page looks a bit more like the Old West than the Klondike... well, that's because the town of Uppa Creek gradually does morph into a Western town as the story goes on, with the snow cover being the only material difference between the two venues.  I guess that either Langhans didn't know about the true nature of the Klondike, or he simply didn't care and went with what he did know.

The captured Ducks are soon in jail, faced with a grim fate, which Langhans describes sans veils of any sort.

"We'll string up them no-good polecat varmints, eh?"

A wee echo, there, of some of the grimmer moments of "The Gold Odyssey," such as the magus being buried alive or Flintheart Glomgold being marooned on the planet Sarros.  Granted, HD&L are ultimately let off with life in prison -- perhaps their jail cell will be renamed the "uninvited guest room"? -- but this is pretty stern stuff for a DuckTales romp.  Or limp, "as the bee may case."

Meanwhile, Scrooge confronts young(er) Scrooge and demands Old #1, though she goes about doing so in a fairly slipshod manner:

Er, Magica, "that shiny dime" may not BE Old #1.  How can you be certain from that distance?  And how do you know that Scrooge's entire fortune is lying on his bed?  (Actually, we are led to believe that it is, but Magica couldn't have been expected to have known that.) 

The believably feisty young Scrooge doesn't take kindly to Magica labeling him a "jerkymonger" (isn't that someone who works for the Slim Jim company?) and knocks her down a hill, turning her into a giant snowball in the process.  She must get knocked unconscious, or something, because we quickly move back to Scrooge and Launchpad's meet-up with impending doom.

HD&L subsequently escape and, taking advantage of the fact that all of the spectators at the hanging are conveniently standing on one side of the gallows, pile up sacks below the trap door to break S&L's fall.  Before the supposedly-fatal-but-now-not-so-much drop, Scrooge commits what he really ought to know is a big boo-boo, especially in this venue.

Earlier, when faced with denying his ID as the notorious outlaw, Scrooge had tried to pass himself off as "Jim Smith," with makes logical sense.  This... does not.  The potential effects of the goof are subsequently exacerbated when the newly-free Scrooge and Launchpad join with HD&L in helping Klondike Scrooge try to keep the dime away from Magica.  To be fair, Scrooge doesn't fall into the same trap again, saying more or less cryptic things like "we have a lot in common" and "[we are] kindred spirit[s]."  But I'm afraid that the empty bag is already lying on the ground, and the cat is nowhere to be found.

Now... when you consider that I had a major problem with the ghosts of departed members of the McDuck Clan helping to shape Scrooge's destiny in Rosa's "The New Laird of Castle McDuck" (UNCLE $CROOGE #289, December 1994), how easily do you think I bought THIS little scenario?  Putting aside the issue of the "lucky" dime for the moment, given the immense symbolic relationship that Scrooge will come to have with Old #1, it is tough to imagine him completely forgetting this series of incidents, which were most likely the first such to distinguish Old #1 from the rest of Scrooge's stash.  The possible impact of "remembering a meeting with his future self" on Scrooge's subsequent progress is, well, monumental.  For example, modern-day Scrooge makes the offhand comment that young Scrooge should "hold tight to that dime" because "it's going to carry you far in life."  Can you imagine a memory of that comment helping to buck up young Scrooge's spirits at difficult points in his future life... and consequently helping to dictate some of his actions?  I certainly can.  The fact that young Scrooge sees the Ducks and Magica taking off in their time machines, and that Old #1 suddenly returns to him, as if by magic, at the end of Part Two, would most definitely set him to thinking about the true nature of the mysterious visitors whom he'd previously called "daft."  He'd need something on which to cogitate during those long winter nights on Uppa... er, White Agony Creek.

When it comes to Scrooge's origins, I prefer keeping things as straightforward as possible.  No time-traveling interventions, ghostly buttinskys, or dumb-lucky oil strikes, please.  Rosa's LIFE AND TIMES OF SCROOGE McDUCK was a monumental and, generally speaking, worthwhile endeavor, but I tend to lean a bit towards the sentiment of longtime fan-friend Dana Gabbard, who opined (re Rosa's epic in WTFB) that Scrooge's background, as presented by Barks, was part fact and part fiction, thus rendering Scrooge a classic example of a mythical or legendary figure, like Paul Bunyan. Pinning such a character down with too many specifics tends to reduce him to "just another adventure hero with a well-detailed past."  When you start throwing fantastic elements into the mix... well, just as Gyro said happens when you "toy with time," you're asking for bad vibes to rear up and bite you.

Part One ends on that cliffhanger panel of Magica (who had just stolen Old #1 back from the Ducks) and our gang flying through... the intertemporal medium, I guess.  Launchpad's attempt to hitch a ride on the surface of Magica's time device proves unsuccessful but has the side effect of knocking her progress askew, sending her to the Old West (not to be confused with the Klondike, unless you're reading this story).  Not that the Ducks themselves know quite "when" they're going, of course... though, when the dime slips into a time vortex, Launchpad seems mighty confident in his ability to track it, no matter "when" it goes.  Nice of Gyro to have given the Ducks all the information they needed to artfully manipulate the Time Coupe before he... he... heeeeeeee...

Hopefully, someone will reseal the "Universal Plug" in time.

For the vast majority of the story's 19 remaining pages, we'll be spending our time in ancient Rome, shuffling through our dog-eared index cards listing all the "ancient Roman" cliches that have accreted over the millenia.  Greedy, self-centered, bloodthirsty emperor... check.  Arrogant Roman soldiers and gladiators... check.  Ducks (well, Scrooge and Launchpad) being thrown to the lions... check.  Vaguely appropriate "period insults" like "rabble," "cur," "carbuncle," "toad," "harpy," "plebian [sic] dog," and "wretch"... check.  (Scrooge is also called an "infidel," which belongs to another period entirely.)  Sticking "-us" at the ends of words... check.

What saves the sequence, at least for me, is Launchpad's performance.  By doing nothing more than just being himself -- with all the good and bad that that implies -- he inadvertently creates crisis after crisis for the other Ducks, who ultimately become so spooked by his presence that they literally run away from him when it seems like he's about to step in it once again.

In classic LP style, Launchpad uses his own improvisational skills to best the most persistent of his tormentors, an overbearing, Bluto-like "greatest gladiator" named Detractus Finalus.  Say what you will about Langhans' performance here, but he definitely knows how to write Launchpad.

HD&L once again do their part as well, neutralizing the lions slated to gobble up Scrooge and Launchpad in a manner strikingly similar to (that's a politically correct way of saying "exactly the same as") a gambit they used in a well-aged Barks adventure.

At least Scrooge and Launchpad weren't summarily thrown out of Rome for being such "disgraces to the Empire" that even tigers wouldn't touch them.

Somewhere in the midst of all this, Magica has arrived, using her crystal ball as a sort of temporal GPS (there's that "rubber-sheet flexibility" of her powers turning up again...) and subsequently disguising herself as the Emperor's bitchy wife in a failed attempt to trick Scrooge out of Old #1.  Thereafter, she resorts to good, old-fashioned zappery.  The gang nonetheless manage to take off in the Time Coupe, leaving Magica behind, and fly back to Duckburg, where, in Scrooge's absence, the ever-persistent Beagles have broken into the Money Bin with the aid of what Bouncer calls "this super acid we swiped from the lab."  You know, you know... THAT lab.  The Time Coupe arrives just in time to decisively squash their hopes...

Bozhe Moy!  Baggy is Russian?!

... and, if you can believe it, that's a story.  No return of Magica, no explanation as to what became of Gyro.  That's it.

So, was Bob Langhans just the Duck comics writers' equivalent of a one-hit wonder?  Hard to say.  He wrote a number of other DUCKTALES stories, some of which were published in the UK, but most of the images I've been able to find of them on Inducks are from Dutch publications.  Most of the other stories appear to be of the fairly modest variety, ranging from 6 to 16 pages.  For sure, "A Dime in Time" and "The Gold Odyssey" were, by a considerable margin, the most ambitious DT tales he ever wrote.  If one of these epics had to be second-rate, I'm glad it wasn't "The BIG One."

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Next, I'm going to turn my attention to DuckTales fanfic that can be found on the Internet.  As I mentioned before, while there isn't all that much of it to be found, I have found a couple of works worth commenting upon.  Any illustrations will have to be of the generic variety, of course, but that's what comes of working with text stories.

My first review along these lines will be of a rather modest, lighter-veined story, but more ambitious efforts are on the docket.  Here's one preview that may intrigue you:

Imagine that someone took Don Rosa's famous image of Scrooge's 1967 gravesite seriously... very seriously... and used it as a jumping-off point for the Nephews' future lives.  In the world of DuckTales.  And Darkwing Duck.  And TaleSpin (circa 1970 or so).  And even Goof Troop.  Now imagine that the story rated somewhere between PG-13 and a "hard" R.

Yes, really.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Disney Comics: NEXT PUBLISHER UP!

While he was attending the New York Comic Con, Joe Torcivia passed word along to me that "classic" American Disney comics are finally on their way back.  So, did Disney finally grow a brain and realize that, hey, it now owns one of the world's biggest comics outfits (Marvel), so Disney should oblige it to get cracking?  Well, um, no.  The publisher is actually going to be IDW.  Surprise, surprise!

Let's look at IDW's official announcement of what it terms "a monumental collaboration" and see what we can glean from it:

This monumental collaboration kicks off with multiple monthly series featuring some of the most iconic characters of all time: Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Pluto, Minnie Mouse, Goofy, and many more! Re-presenting acclaimed comics from the past and today, these series will highlight the best and brightest of Disney’s impressive comic catalogue.

Looks as if the old standby titles -- MICKEY MOUSE, DONALD DUCK, UNCLE $CROOGE, and WALT DISNEY'S COMICS AND STORIES -- have some life left in them yet.  Hopefully, IDW will know who to consult regarding identification of the "best and brightest," starting with those people who made the final few months of Boom!'s Disney comics line so enjoyable.  Given IDW's interest in publishing adaptations of animated series (MY LITTLE PONY, ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE, and various CARTOON NETWORK series, just to name a few), could some Disney Afternoon-related titles also be in our future? 

The award-winning Artist’s Edition line, pioneered by IDW, that showcases original artwork, will feature collections from the immense talents who have contributed to many beloved Disney comics over the years. Artist’s Editions featuring the legendary Carl Barks and Don Rosa will receive the spotlight in these gorgeous over-sized collections of original art reproduced at full size.

Sounds good, too.  Given the collector-focused nature of the Artist's Edition line, it is likely that the regular comics will be pitched at both collectors and new readers.  American Disney comics MUST do something to increase the pool of potential patrons, or we all are simply going to die out! 

Launched in 2014, Micro Comic Fun Packs have enjoyed immense success with highly recognizable franchises, and will expand its line with multiple Disney properties. Packed with a mini-comic, stickers, posters, and more, the Micro-Comic Fun Pack has been captivating new comic audiences on a mass-market scale.

OK, as long as IDW doesn't try to stuff comics material into boxes of ice-cream treats.  (A few of you will know what I am referring to there.) 

Celebrating the rich history of the many facets of comics, the Library of American Comics offers detailed and insightful looks at specific comics and creators. Beginning in 2015, the LOAC will begin collecting the various newspaper strips that have featured iconic Disney characters.

Given that Fantagraphics is releasing the Barks and Gottfredson collections even as we read, what could IDW have planned here?  Collections of the SILLY SYMPHONIES strips, perhaps?  I can't see them simply taking over from Fantagraphics.

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Back to personal musings... If IDW's handling of the MY LITTLE PONY franchise is any indication of how the Disney characters will fare in the company's hands, then there is every reason to believe that IDW will be good stewards.  Management of American Disney comics has been so erratic, whimsical, and downright perverse over the decades that I, for one, could stand for a spell of honest, reliable craftsmanship.  One open question at the moment is how "hands-on" Disney will be with IDW.  Actually, I'm inclined to believe at this point that Disney couldn't care less.  If Disney found it easy enough to ignore its alliance with Marvel, then Disney clearly saying that it's perfectly willing to let IDW take the comics off its hands (or somewhere near there), just as long as they don't have to deal with the issue any longer.  "Ignorance is bliss," Disney style?  It might actually be a blessing.

Lycoming 31, Stevenson 10 (10/4)

Stevenson's football team had this past weekend off to recover from its first loss of the season, at Lycoming.  The Lycoming coach had some nice things to say about the Mustangs' effort, but the nationally ranked Warriors showed that SU still has some way to go to compete with the very best teams in its conference.  In particular, the shaky offense produced only three points against the strong Lycoming defense, with Stevenson's only touchdown coming on a kickoff return.


Another member of the Middle Atlantic's power elite, Delaware Valley, will be visiting Owings Mills this coming Saturday, the first of two consecutive home football weekends.  Homecoming is the following weekend.  Things are still looking very good for the Mustangs to record their first winning season.  The question is just how good the season will be.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

A POST "DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE" PERSPECTIVE: "The City Under the Ice" (Gladstone DUCKTALES #12, March 1990)

There's a good deal of irony packed into that William Van Horn cover image.  Those of us who remember the original DUCKTALES comics line -- the one that Disney more or less forced upon a reluctant Gladstone Comics in 1988 as a way of promoting the red-hot TV series -- mentally divide the 13 issues that followed into two groups:

(1)  The Disney Studio stories, some of which directly adapted episodes of the series, such as "Armstrong" (DT #1) and "Jungle Duck" (DT #2).

While the adaptations may not have been top-notch, they were pure genius compared to the original Studio stories that followed -- stories that were notorious for gaffes in characterization (e.g., Webby calling her grammy "Mrs. Beakley" in "The Crown Jewels Affair" [DT #4]) and an UTTER, as opposed to a partial, lack of inspiration.  Just about the only things that these issues had going for them were the lively and detailed covers by Daan Jippes.  It certainly wasn't Daan's fault that these eye-catching covers promised adventure and excitement that the stories inside so miserably failed at delivering.

(2) In the back of DT #6, backing up yet another blah Studio lead, was an intriguing bauble that pointed directly to DUCKTALES Mark 2.0: "Coin of the Realm," a ten-page tale written and drawn by Bill Van Horn.  Recall that, up to this point, Van Horn was known to Gladstone readers primarily as "the guy who does the fillers and gag pages."  The former included a couple of humorous GYRO AND LAUNCHPAD four-page stories in DT #4 and 5.  "Realm" was of an entirely different scope and immediately seemed more entertaining than any of the mush and dribble that had been regularly doled out to us.

And so, beginning with DT #7, Van Horn -- with occasional assistance from John Lustig -- began to produce lead stories for the title.  These quickly became so popular that, when Gladstone temporarily reverted to Studio fodder with DT #9's "The Oil Pirates," the dropoff in quality was almost jarringly noticeable.  Van Horn was back on the job in DT #10, producing "The Whistling Ghost," a 16-page feature story that brought back Baron Itzy Bitzy, the whistling flea character that Bill had introduced in one of his non-DUCKTALES efforts.

Van Horn would likewise provide the lead stories for issues #11 and #13, the last of which, "The Billion-Bean Stampede," may well be the most memorable of all of these highly quirky efforts.  For sure, it had the zaniest cover.

These romps are warmly remembered, not least because they cemented the bond of fondness between American Disney comics fans and Van Horn, who, unlike Don Rosa, didn't make a splashy debut, but patiently worked his way up the ladder and amassed good will a bit at a time.  (Somehow, I think that Scrooge would approve.)  And yet... and yet... as enjoyable as these stories were, I think that fan-friend Pete Fernbaugh was correct when he said that they came across as VAN HORN stories more than they did DUCKTALES stories.  Van Horn seemed uninterested in using any original DuckTales creations other than Launchpad.  While Bill handled LP quite well, his approach seemed uncomfortably close to the lazy Studio practice of creating a DT story simply by plugging LP into the Donald slot in an otherwise conventional "Scrooge and the Ducks" narrative.  (The GYRO AND LAUNCHPAD stories, by contrast, didn't seem quite so atypical, primarily because Van Horn knew how to take advantage of Launchpad's nature and abilities in such a specialized setting.) Needless to say, there was never anything conventional about Bill's approach, but, the more he tried to "wacky" things up by dropping in zany rock concert promoters, lively legumes, and so forth, the more his tales got pulled away from anything resembling what DuckTales had given us during its wide-ranging first season.

The bottom line is that neither of the aforementioned groups contain what one might characterize as a legitimately authentic, high-quality comic-book adaptation of the TV series.  Pretty unfortunate for a title that was supposed to be providing readers with the equivalent of the DuckTales animated experience, only on the printed page.  But then, we get to issue #12, which... stands apart.  Boy, does it ever.

During the last several months in which it held the Disney comics license, Gladstone had converted its titles into a double-sized format, the better to pump out as much "classic" material and heretofore unseen overseas delights as possible before the "window of opportunity" closed and the Disney Company took over.  (These included lengthy stories by the Italian great Romano Scarpa, who was a complete revelation to us notoriously insular Americans at the time.)  In DT #12, Gladstone finally took full advantage of the extra space to showcase "The City Under the Ice," a 39-page French story.  I wonder how many folks saw the Van Horn cover, immediately began thinking of the crazy scenarios and gags that "Silly Billy" might be able to stage in that gelid setting, and then really froze up when the first page of "City" displayed "something completely different."

According to Inducks, "City" is the second longest standalone DUCKTALES comic-book story ever produced, trailing only "The Curse of Flabberge," which David Gerstein so memorably "reimagined" for Boom!'s UNCLE $CROOGE during its DuckTales phase.  The creation of the story was very much an international affair. It was written by Frenchman Patrick "Zack" Galliano, whose previous authorial credits included PIF LE CHIEN, a creation of the French Communist paper L'HUMANITE; penciled by the Spanish artist Maximino, who did quite a bit of work for Mondadori, the Italian Disney comics publisher at the time; and inked by the staff of the Barcelona-based Comicup Studio.  Oddly enough, a similar combination of French, Spanish, and Catalan talents worked on "The Curse of Flabberge."  The artwork for "City" is a little rougher and livelier, all things considered.

The "Americanization" of the story was done by Gladstone and Disney Comics stalwart Dwight Decker.  During the Gemstone and Boom! Comics years, we got used to imaginative, reference-packed transformations of the utilitarian English dialogue that was normally provided to scripters.  Even the more sedate efforts along these lines had a touch of class.  (At least, I like to think that I provided one.)  Decker's translation, while sturdy enough, is more of the vanilla variety, though he does throw in a contemporary reference to some briefly famous pop star whom I don't have the time to research right now.  I wonder whatever happened to the guy.

While it certainly doesn't have the sheer scope of "The Gold Odyssey," or even the more modest "Scrooge's Quest," neither is "City" a sprawling, shambolic wreck on the order of "Rightful Owners."  The best praise that I can offer to it -- praise that will seem more meaningful when you consider when this tale was produced -- is that it gets the DuckTales aspects right.  It has a few quirks of its own, but the plot is easily recognizable as one that might have sprung up in an episode of the TV show, the characters involved are bang-on in character, there is a splendid reference to an infamous event that occurred on screen, and there's a pleasing mix of action and humor.  For that reason, I consider "City" to be the first TRULY successful DUCKTALES comic-book story to appear in America, at least when "successful" is interpreted in a strictly DuckTales-oriented context.

** SPOILERS **

We start with that classic McGuffin: a long-lost, well-hidden treasure map.  During the skateboard mishap pictured above, the ambulating Eskimo drops a bone that proves to be hollow.  The map inside points the way to a stark Arctic peak on Chilblain Island where (according to... no, not the Junior Woodchuck Guidebook, but a convenient Arctic exhibit at the Duckburg Museum) a legendary "sun of gold" once fell and is now buried beneath the ice, along with the artifacts of a "mysterious civilization."  (Hey, if Golden Sun worship can occur on one peak, then it certainly can on another.)  Unfortunately, the Beagle Boys get wind of the find, as well, thanks to their capture of the unfortunate Eskimo.

Yup, them's the DuckTales Beagles, all right. And they're all in character, too, suggesting that Decker must have been paying attention when he viewed whatever episodes he viewed in order to prepare for this gig.  This should NOT be passed over lightly.  Not after a later story like "The Great Chase" (Disney Comics DT #16, September 1991, written by Frank Ridgeway of "Bermuda Triangle Tangle" fame) gave us the memorable sight of a kick-ass, take-charge Burger and a whimpering Big Time and Bankjob deferring to him. As things turn out, the Beagles of "City" will have far more to offer to the discriminating fan than simply looking and acting as they ought to.

Up in Canada's Northwest Territories, a somewhat headstrong Launchpad gets involved in a fracas at a honkytonk -- it isn't explicity referenced as such, but I think we all know better -- and is bailed out by Walking Mountain, a giant, stone-faced, and inscrutable Native American.  The grateful Ducks invite WM to accompany them to the treasure site... which, when you come to think of it, is rather peculiar.  He turns out to be helpful at various times and utters some (yep) appropriately inscrutable remarks, but welcoming the assistance of a complete stranger was, shall we say, not S.O.P. in the TV adventures... or in Carl Barks' adventures, for that matter.

The heart of the story features the Ducks' journey to the legendary Bear's Tooth peak and the Beagles' various efforts to stop them.  We start with a pretty bog-standard version of the "paper-thin disguise" routine...

 Well, their number plates aren't visible, at least.

... which leads to sabotage, a crash, and an unpleasantly close encounter with a polar bear.  The Ducks get out of the fix when Scrooge resorts to the somewhat extreme tactic of lighting the crashed plane on fire "to scare the bear away."  The Ducks' on-board flares subsequently go off, alerting a passing ship to their presence.  As solutions to dilemmas go, this is closely allied to suicide.  But then, the "Type A" Scrooge of this story would probably be tunnel-visioned enough to try it.  We soon see more evidence of Scrooge's mental state when Scrooge poor-mouths in dramatic style in order to rent a snowmobile at a lower-than-rock-bottom price.  A bit over the top, perhaps, for the Alan Young DuckTales Scrooge, but, hey... it's in character.

Upping the ante, the Beagles track the Ducks' snowmobile with one of their own... armed with a gun, no less.  Chisel McSue would be proud, fellas.  Walking Mountain displays some fancy driving in order to get the gang out of harm's way, but the Ducks soon discover that the Beagles had sabotaged their gas cans back at the Eskimo town.  Left to starve and/or die of cold on the Arctic ice, Walking Mountain suggests a rather unusual tactic to attract animals that could (per the JW Guidebook, which HD&L belatedly consult here) be used for food:

Another in-character moment.  It's easy to imagine Launchpad getting into the spirit of things that way.  Alas, the ululations only serve to "attract" the Beagles' ice-breaking submarine. (Did the Beagles have their working boots on in this story, or what?  Makes some of their feebler second-season efforts seem all the more annoying, doesn't it?)  Thrown into the sub's brig along with the Eskimo, the Ducks have little to do but wait out the ride to the Bear's Tooth.

As the Beagles prep for treasure-hunting, Walking Mountain gets his funniest moment of the adventure:

Thanks to a conveniently placed thin crust of ice, our heroes are sent hurtling down, down... to this:


So, where's the gold?  The Ducks find out when they discover a hidden laboratory, a high-tech sarcophagus, and its completely unexpected owner:

Yes, folks, it's an alien, a Thulian (clever reference, that) who was left behind by an exploration party that had to retreat because of the cold weather.  Inouk was put into the deep freeze with the understanding that his friends would ultimately come back to get him.  The "sun of gold" turns out to have been the golden spaceship that brought Inouk and his people to Earth.  You realize what that means, Scroogie: these guys live on a planet where gold is so common that it can be used to build spaceships -- not the "structural metal" of first choice for me, but to each his (or its) own -- and therefore...

And Scrooge didn't even go through the intermediate stage of hiccuping: he went right to a dead faint.  Any direct reference to "Too Much of a Gold Thing" can't get enough praise from me.  This was the point at which I knew that Dwight Decker had REALLY, REALLY taken his responsibilities seriously. Bless him.

At this point, you're probably wondering whether the story is going to end in the cataclysmic manner of "Gold Thing."  Well, the Beagle Boys are tooling around while operating heavy machinery.  What do YOU think?  

The Ducks' plight isn't as desperate as it was in "Gold Thing," but it comes pretty close.  As if to make up for the shortfall, the mode of the Ducks' salvation is a bit more esoteric than Launchpad flying in the transport plane just in the nick of time.  Here, Inouk flies the gang out of danger using his "golden egg" sarcophagus (which turns out to be a small spacecraft, as well) as the City of Gold, in the manner of its namesake in a Kimba the White Lion episode, collapses into oblivion.  Scrooge takes this development with considerably less grace than he did at the end of "Gold Thing."  Perhaps writer Galliano was letting his inner "L'HUMANITE contributor" out for a little holiday here.


The story's final two pages are a bit displeasing, if only because:

(1) The Beagles are allowed to scuttle away, more or less scot-free.  After that performance, they deserved the dignity of a stay in a luxury high-security prison, at the very least.

(2) Inouk's "rescue ship" just happens to have been located on the Moon all along -- a fact of which Inouk himself appears to have been completely unaware when he went into hibernation mode.  What the heck, was this supposed to be a "monolith test," or something?  Why would Inouk even need one, since his civilization is capable of space travel?

Yeah, I'm just as confused as you are, buddy.

The fact that I have to pick such a tiny nit in order to give "The City Under the Ice" anything less than unqualified praise indicates just how strong this story really is.  It's easy to understand why it sort of flew beneath the radar at the time of its release: Van Horn's multiple stabs at the DUCKTALES lead story naturally left more of an impression than this one-shot, and Gladstone Comics itself was just about to go into its own form of "prolonged hibernation."  But let's give credit where credit is due.  Speaking strictly of DUCKTALES comic-book stories that appeared in America, "City" is one of the very few that can be said to have done full justice to the TV series.

"Golden Sun."  I like the sound of that...

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My apologies for making you wait so long to see this.  Hopefully, you'll find the wait to have been worth it.  In my next comics review, we'll catch Disney Comics' DUCKTALES title on a similar back end, so to speak, and look at how the book's 18-issue run ended with Bob Langhans' post-"Gold Odyssey" offering, "A Dime in Time."  Is there any way that Langhans could have lived up to the standard set by "Odyssey"?  We shall see.