What's that strange feeling washing over me like soy sauce being drizzled slowly over steak teriyaki? Can it really be nostalgia for the not-so-long-ago days of Double Duck?! You'd have had a hard time convincing me that I'd be experiencing such emotions back when I first learned about the Donald super-spy arc, but the pallid first chapter of "Son of the Rising Sun" -- aka "Donald Duck, Master of Kung Fu" -- has dredged them up. Even scripter David Gerstein seems unable to inject any legitimate life into writer Ennio Missaglia and artist Valerio Held's wan saga.
What is most disappointing about this effort is that the main adventure is not about Donald at all. I was expecting to see another example of Donald having to respond to the challenge of mastering another skill set normally considered above his "pay grade," as he did under the aegis of The Agency. The prospect of Donald learning martial arts actually held even more promise for real character development. After all, Double Duck had already been a successful agent prior to his memory being erased, whereas Don is simply his usual fumbling, boastful self at the start of "Rising Sun," mocking HD&L's karate training and claiming that he could do just as well. Taking this familiar, hapless version of Don and turning him into a confident martial-arts master could lead to some good gaggery and a bit of legitimate character growth. Instead of this potentially spicy scenario, however, we get a mouthful of plain tofu. After wrecking his leg with an ill-advised karate kick, Donald simply dreams of becoming "Master Karateka," a lowly tax collector-slash-"warrior" in feudal Japan who becomes a "lone wolf" in order to help lovely Dai-chan's village resist the depredations of greedy Shogun Scrooge-San. (He's also after Dai-chan herself, as the multiple panels featuring puckered beaks and goo-goo eyes rather heavy-handedly attest.) Marco Rota's tales of Donald's ancestor Andold Wild Duck come quickly to mind, especially since Scrooge-San makes reference to a fortune-teller telling him that Scrooge McDuck would be one of his lineal descendants. (I didn't know that Don Rosa's Duck Family Tree had roots that grew all the way through the center of the Earth, clear to the Orient.) "Rising Sun," however, doesn't measure up to Rota's cycle of tales. Andold and his supporting cast were strong enough to carry stories all by themselves, whereas Missaglia's unimaginative approach is simply to plug contemporary Duck characters into the Japanese setting and hope for the best. Also, needless to say, Rota's artwork is vastly superior to Held's.
There is still a possibility that the remaining 14 pages of the 36-page "Rising Sun" will yank us back to the present day and give the real Donald a chance to shine. Given Missaglia's predictability in this first installment, however, I somehow doubt that the samurai will come riding in to rescue us in the nick of time.