Saturday, January 8, 2011

Comics Review: UNCLE $CROOGE #399 (January 2011, Boom! Kids)

UNCLE $CROOGE's DuckTales detour (or, if that word sounds unfairly pejorative, then why not try "diversion"?) concludes here with a better-than-decent final issue that serves as a neat precis of the strengths and weaknesses of the past eight releases. In the lead story, "The Arcadian Urn," we once again see clever rescripting giving some extra life to what appears to have been relatively humdrum original material. Paul Halas and Tom Anderson's Egmont tale of the DuckTales gang "plus one" (read: Scrooge, HD&L, Launchpad, Webby, and Donald, who's conveniently "on shore leave from the Navy") exploring the "hidden land" of Arcadia in Ionian Greece would have been a more or less conventional treasure trek -- Scrooge is after an artifact that will trump the ancient urn that Flintheart Glomgold had earlier auctioned off for a pretty penny -- had the ever-reliable David Gerstein and Jonathan Gray not upped the ante by engineering what has to stand as Webby's finest moment in the comics medium. Consider that the much-mocked moppet:

(1)  Wields a "Littlest Chickadees Field Guide" every bit as dexterously as the Nephews handle their Junior Woodchuck Guidebook. (This could be considered "retconning," at least by those who've seen the TV episode "Merit-Time Adventure", but I'm glad to see Gerstein and Gray returning to Barks' original intention of unisex scouting organizations. Besides, who's to say that the legendary Hypatia couldn't have scrounged up her own set of material from the lost Library of Alexandria and preserved it for posterity?)

(2)  Is the first Duck to follow Launchpad into the magical underground pool that leads to Arcadia. (Yup, she's even quicker off the mark than HD&L.)

(3)  Is trusted to get the other Ducks out of prison by slipping out of their cell by herself and knocking out the guard with "Morpheus' sleeping powder."

(4)  Saves Scrooge's bacon (after the destruction of the pool and the treasure that Scrooge was bringing back) by bringing along figs in a jar made of Arcadian "blue glass."

Add all of this up, and it's hard to think of a story in which Webby more deserves the honorable title of "fourth Nephew." This, despite the Nephews offhandedly referring to her as a "danger-prone duckling" and Scrooge conveniently forgetting Webby's presence in the "ultimate" treasure hunt by claiming that she and Launchpad will "get used to the drill" of treasure-seeking with Scrooge, Donald, and the boys. (BTW, does the presence of Donald really make that much of a difference? He basically does nothing here, apart from playing Sancho Panza and making sarcastic remarks as the bumbling Launchpad confronts the dragon who's been menacing the Arcadians, going gaga over a frankly unattractive Arcadian lady, and dropping verbal references to Gyro Gearloose, Daisy, Admiral Grimitz, and Mickey Mouse. Since Launchpad's references to Darkwing Duck bring us right back to the same continuity issues that dogged "The Everlasting Coal" in #392, all of those otherwise-appreciated cross-references are pretty much canceled out, anyway.)

Despite Webby's superb performance, it's tough to rank "The Arcadian Urn" as anywhere close to the level of the TV series' two masterful encapsulations of Greek myth and legend, "Home Sweet Homer" and "Raiders of the Lost Harp." The magical pool provides too easy and convenient a route to Arcadia, the Arcadians are generic guys in togas rather than distinctly drawn characters, and Prince Baklava's treachery seems strange given that his father, King Metallia, is the one offering the treasure-prize to whoever can best the dragon, and thus the treasure already belongs to Baklava, in a manner of speaking. Jose Maria Millet Lopez' artwork, which has enlivened a couple of Boom!'s DT offerings, and a really fine coloring job by Diego Jourdan provide at least partial compensation for these drawbacks.

The use of "Scrooge's Nose Knows Gold," a four-page story from the DUCKTALES activity magazine, as the issue's backup tale -- written though it is by the accomplished John Lustig -- reveals the scarred and chipped "other side of the coin" of Boom!'s DuckTales phase. During the first year of Boom! Disney comics, the lack of backup features was often a negative. In the DT $CROOGE issues, by contrast, the choices of supplementary material cruelly revealed that, apart from the William Van Horn gag sequences featuring Launchpad and Gyro, really good short DT stories are very few and even further between. "Nose Knows" is better than the average mag quickie -- I should know, I have most of them in my collection -- but even Lustig has problems with the format, creating plot conveniences right and left. Would the more ruthless DT Glomgold really carry around "instant hay fever" as an ultimate deal-breaker? Isn't a more, um, decisive weapon more his speed? And how come Scrooge mistakes a mountain of yellow flowers for gold early in the story, a goof which seems to contradict the story's very title?

I'd have to give the DuckTales era of Boom! $CROOGE an overall B- grade. The lead tales were generally fairly good but could have been better at times, even with the frequently inspired scripting. If Boom! uses DT material in future issues of $CROOGE, then it would be well-advised to mix DT lead stories with more conventional backup material, much as the Carl Barks story "Christmas Cheers" was used as the backup in #398. In light of the great success of DARKWING DUCK and CHIP AND DALE'S RESCUE RANGERS, I think that we can pretty much count on more DT offerings in $CROOGE, and I'll certainly welcome them.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

And let's not forget the lovely all-original cover ;) hehehe!