Friday, October 17, 2008
Mocha Ado About Nothing (Comics Review: UNCLE $CROOGE #380 [August 2008, Gemstone Publishing])
Carl Barks' one-page "filler" gags, like those produced by his contemporaries at Western Publishing, generally rated a few chuckles and then were quickly forgotten by readers impatient to get on to meatier fare. Honorable exceptions were the quartet of gags Barks produced between 1952 and 1956 on the theme of Scrooge tricking a diner counterman out of a free cup of coffee. Aside from being clever gags in and of themselves, the gags made a cogent point about Scrooge's personality: rather than being annoyed by his unwillingness to pay for the java, we marvel at his sheer ingenuity (and, by so doing, gain additional appreciation for his "sharper than the sharpies" philosophy). Given the popularity of these gags, it's somewhat surprising that an entire story on the theme wasn't produced until 2006, when Kari Korhonen brewed up "A Case of One-Cupmanship." Joe Torcivia's inspired dialogue -- which Joe admits flowed quite naturally from Kari's natural humor sense and pacing -- only serves to accentuate a plot that takes the simple scenario of the diner gags and runs with it as if it had received an extra shot of espresso. Scrooge has "unbent" to the extent that he's willing to pay 75 cents for a cup at Joe's Diner, but he more than negates the largesse by commandeering Joe's prize booth and digesting the daily papers at his extreme leisure. With the percolator-predating pinchfist oblivious to the situation, a desperate Joe hatches scheme after scheme to turn the tables (those not bolted to the kitchen counter, that is). The harried hash-slinger only succeeds in alienating the rest of his clientele without budging Scrooge. By the end, you're definitely rooting for Joe to have just one small victory, but his final effort backfires when his niece Carrie unwittingly duplicates his strategy. You'll have to buy the comic (and DON'T try to scam the dealer out of it, either! He has to make a living!) to find out how everything shakes out. Barks' original diner gags, reprinted in order of original appearance, are sprinkled throughout the issue, with Kari and Joe's gem at the end.
The front of the ish isn't bad, either. Don Rosa's 1993 story "Island at the Edge of Time" was one of the last stories Keno Don produced before committing himself to "The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck," and its refreshing lack of pretension is just one of its virtues. Scrooge and Flintheart Glomgold race to the Pacific to claim the rights to a newly formed volcanic island that's literally oozing solid gold. The kicker: the infant islet is perched on the International Date Line, so who really did "get there first"? The sadly bungled "Ali Bubba's Cave," the final chapter of DuckTales' "Time is Money" saga, should only have handled the denouement so well (though the ultimate fate of the island is clearly telegraphed for those paying attention). Rosa cleverly injects himself directly into the story through the medium of an extraordinarily verbose third-person narrator, whose constant references to "Time!" finally prompt a frustrated Scrooge to bust the "fourth wall."
Per Hedman, Travis Seitler, and the artistic team of Francisco Rodriquez and Enriqueta Perea next serve up a somewhat truncated but nonetheless entertaining epic, "The Legendary Crown of Queen Kazabra," in which Daisy is possessed by the war-mongering spirit of the headlined monarch during Scrooge's hunt for Kazabra's buried riches. Unfortunately, all of the armored Daisy's "yeeks" and "screeches" can't drown out the little voice in my head that keeps asking: How could a "barbarian warrior queen" have existed anywhere near Duckburg? (And I thought the "Mad Duke of Duckburg" in Barks' "House of Haunts" was a stretch.) I put this questionable conceit down to the fact that the story has a European origin.
After the Beagle Boys are forced to break back into jail to tie up their latest caper in Pat and Carol McGreal and Nunez' "Back to the Big House," we get a hidden gem, the Dutch story "The Treasure of Alexander the Great." It's easy to be put off by Jose Ramon Bernado's strange-looking art and plot-spinner Piet Zeeman's unseemly haste to get the main event underway (to wit: thanks to Gyro's convenient appearance with a "time shifter" device, Scrooge, Donald and HD&L are whisked off to Alexander's time before the first page is turned), but stick with the story and you'll be rewarded. Scrooge/HD&L and Donald, having returned to ancient Macedonia to discover Alexander's supposed cache of loot, soon find themselves fighting on opposite sides of the war between Alexander's army and King Darius' Persians. What's more, thanks to Scrooge and Donald's advice, the armies are soon resorting to such anachronistic innovations as gunpowder and steerable battle wagons! "The Battle at Hadrian's Wall," Vic Lockman and Tony Strobl's fine late-60s venture into ancient Britain, had much the same ambience as this story, but "Alexander" is much subtler and cleverer in its humor (as rendered by the dialogue of John Clark). The ending twist is quite ingenious, as well. With a "cup of coffee to go," it makes for a fine conclusion to a strong issue.