Sunday, December 28, 2008

Comics Review: UNCLE $CROOGE #383 (November 2008, Gemstone)

Don Rosa's "Guardians of the Lost Library" (1994) was created at a time when Keno Don was well into production of the initial chapters of THE LIFE AND TIMES OF SCROOGE McDUCK. "Authenticity" was very much on Rosa's mind, as you can imagine, and the nit-picking desire for accuracy is certainly on display in this one-shot adventure. (In his companion text piece for this reprinting, Rosa even admits that he may have gotten a bit carried away.) Why, then, is "Guardians," which embodies so many of Rosa's creative weaknesses, such a beloved story? I think that the secret lies in the fact that Rosa was commissioned by Egmont to create it, as a tie-in for Norway's national "Year of the Book." Unlike LIFE OF SCROOGE, in which Rosa's tendency towards excess was limited only by his own imagination in stringing together incidents from Carl Barks stories, "Guardians" is a strictly "point-to-point" story with a certain inherent structure (telling the history of bookmaking and book collecting) that obliges the creator to focus on a single narrative that will justify that structure. And Rosa couldn't have picked a better one: an explanation of the tortured origins of the Junior Woodchuck Guidebook. The story does, as Rosa admits, contain a lot of exposition, but it also contains plenty of action and physical humor (visited upon Scrooge, this time; the TV-addicted Donald stays home to "guard" Scrooge's Money Bin and thus avoids his standard Rosa-ration of abuse), and the partnership of Scrooge and HD&L is pleasantly reminiscent of DuckTales. The "reading is fun-damental" moral is obvious, but Rosa treats it with enough humor to make the pill go down easily. I can identify only one major area in which "Guardians" can be said to "flip over and burst into flames." The story makes clear the reason why the Guidebook contains such a plethora of obscure information, but, to be a proper guidebook for the Woodchucks, shouldn't it contain a lot of mundane matter, as well? A Woodchuck may need to translate ancient Etruscan one day, but he may also need to build a fire or make a knot the next; in fact, since most Woodchucks presumably don't have super-rich uncles who take them on globe-trotting adventures, I'd venture to say that the latter situation is much more likely. Perhaps this material is what a Nephew was referring to when he mentions that the founders of the Woodchucks "added lots of modern knowledge" to the Guidebook. One side-comment: Given the relentlessly secular nature of the Ducks' world, it was nice to see Rosa include a Greek Orthodox priest and a Catholic monk among those who assist Scrooge and the boys. Given the important role the Church played in preserving knowledge, using such characters would seem only natural, but Rosa deserves commendation for treating them in a non-snarky manner (though not without humor; e.g. the monks of the abbey of "San Slanti" would be right at home living in the Tower of Pisa).

The Dutch story "Gloom of the Unknown Author," by Ruud Stratman, Mau Heymans, and David Gerstein, is a very apropos follow-up to "Guardians" that takes as its cue a very simple question: How does the Junior Woodchuck Guidebook get updated each year? Like the question "What if one of the Nephews got tired of looking like his brothers?" in the DuckTales ep "Duck in the Iron Mask," this is one of those questions about the Ducks' world that, once asked, makes you wonder why it was never addressed before. It turns out that even HD&L and their "Grand Mogul" (what, no abbreviation?) don't know who's responsible. The lack of knowledge threatens the entire Woodchuck organization with a serious ontological crisis, while Donald figures that he can finally one-up the know-it-all 'Chucks by giving the news to the papers and Scrooge (of course) thinks that he might be able to profit somehow. The subsequent chase to track down the mysterious editor leads to another (and equally valid) question: even if the Woodchucks can find the "culprit," should they expose him? This straightforward tale raises a number of interesting questions about the ideals that uphold the Woodchucks and furnishes an interesting contrast to Rosa's highly entertaining, but nonetheless somewhat mechanical, expose of how the Guidebook originally came to be.

Compared to the stories that precede it, Kari Korhonen and Ferran Rodriguez' "The Senior Woodchuck" is 100% fluff, but it's still an enjoyable tale, though some of its details about the Woodchucks can be called into question. As you might surmise from the title, the plot revolves around Scrooge's attempt to crash the 'Chucks (as an honorary member). Of course, the ultimate reason for his effort is business-related. The mucky-mucks at JW HQ see this as an opportunity to get even with Scrooge for denying the 'Chucks land for camping and nature preservation, so they proceed to try to bilk him out of as many goodies as they can. Um, shouldn't Woodchuck officials be a little more upstanding than this? Likewise, Scrooge's being forced to work with a trio of inept Woodchucks as part of the "tests" he must perform makes me wonder how said 'Chucks were even allowed to stay in the corps. I mean, even Doofus proved his worth in DuckTales' "Superdoo!," and these fellows make Doofus look like a 10-star general. At least Scrooge winds up "getting what he deserves" in both a positive and a negative sense -- as do the conniving troop leaders. The fact that Rodriguez assisted Korhonen with the artwork may account for its "squashy" look. Personally, I'd prefer that Korhonen handle the art by himself.

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