Thursday, September 4, 2008

A Super "Duper" Issue! (Comics Review: UNCLE $CROOGE #378 [June 2008, Gemstone])

Enough "fast ones" are pulled in the latest issue of UNCLE $CROOGE to satiate even the most jaded thimblerigger or scofflaw. Scrooge himself gets the proceedings off to a sleazy start in the 1962 Italian story "Taking the Plunge," in which he strongarms Donald into taking the place of a missing cliff-diver who entertains guests at Scrooge's Mexican "mega-cafe." To make sure Don doesn't weasel out, Scrooge employs a guardian goat to watch him -- a quintessentially loopy touch from a decidedly weird era of Italian Disney comics. After one dive to near-doom, Don falls into the clutches of the Beagle Boys, who're seeking sunken treasure ships and are nabbing divers to do their "clean" dirty work. Scrooge and the goat climb to the rescue, helped in no small part by the convenient fact that the Beagles' hideout is literally on the other side of the mountain from the original diving site. That's either arrogance on the part of the Beagles or laziness on the part of writers Abramo and Barrasso; I suspect the latter. Scrooge claims the treasure, but, before cashing in, he "gets his" for being so sneaky -- and no prizes for guessing how he pays for his sins. Romano Scarpa and Rodolfo Cimino handle the artistic chores and do a good job of making the goat a legitimately amusing character.

Scrooge, Donald, and the Beagles are again on hand for Marco Rota's "The Legend of the Spanish Fort," with each using the services of Seminole Indian guide Foxy Badger to seek out an abandoned Floridian outpost. The B-Boys use it to cache stolen loot, while Scrooge and Don are intrigued by Badger's tale of a legendary lost Spanish treasure supposedly hidden at the fort. Badger requests no pay for his services and disappears at odd moments, which leads the reader to believe that a con job is afoot long before Badger's ulterior motive is revealed. The story is decent enough but never really takes off, and it's tough to decide whether to blame the measured pace of Rota's original narrative or John Clark's blase dialogue.

In Carl Barks' 1961 tale "Boat Buster," a conniving Scrooge seeks an "edge" that winds up cutting both ways. Determined to show that McDuck Super-Zow Gasoline performs better than the Ramfire Petrol manufactured by combative tycoon John D. Rockerduck (whose only appearance in a Barks story this was), Scrooge enters a boat in the Yellowrado River Water Derby. Alas, Scrooge makes the foolish mistake of trusting to luck to choose his driver, and Donald gets the duty. Don does his legitimate best despite suffering the expected setbacks (with the Nephews amusingly ready to help him in a pinch with backup plans), but Scrooge wants the sure win and gives his gasoline to 98 of the other 100 boats in the race. Improbable disaster ensues, and guess whose craft Donald winds up piloting home? I'm tempted to compare this story to the LAUNCHPAD McQUACK epic "Fool for Fuel" that I dialogued for Gemstone not too long ago, but I'm not going to go there. "Buster" isn't one of Barks' best, but not even a healthy dose of Rockerduck's "Hypersonic Element K" would've helped the original plot of that LAUNCHPAD story very much.

Michael Gilbert and Euclides Miyaura's GYRO GEARLOOSE tale "Leonardo da Gearloose" provides a nice contrast to the sleazy doings seen elsewhere between these covers. Determined to become a multifaceted creator in the tradition of Leonardo da Vinci, Gyro takes up painting, but he can't seem to shake free of a mindset devoted to "science, science and more science!". Gyro's yen to transcend his role as "gadgetman" has been explored before, of course, in stories like the classic DuckTales episode "Sir Gyro de Gearloose" (hmm, methinks Gilbert might have been influenced by that ep's title, at least). In this case, I have to agree with Donald and Daisy: even a modestly imaginative Gearloose invention is inherently more artistic than the "throw-up art" championed by Gyro's demanding art instructor, Mr. Slapdash. I'd rather go to "Gyro's Scientific Art Gallery" than a showing of most modern art any day of the week.

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