Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Comics Review: UNCLE $CROOGE #400 (February 2011, Boom! Kids)

On the happy occasion of U$' milestone 400th issue, I'm feeling so generous that I'm giving pride of visual place to Don Rosa's "Busy, Busy World of Scrooge McDuck" cover, even though I actually purchased the old-school Deluxe Edition with Carl Barks' painted version of the cover to FOUR COLOR #386. (The "logos-in-the-back" business was a bit creepy, but still... why would you want to muck up a classic image like that?) The good vibes are warranted: this is easily the best ish of U$ that Boom! has given us, a welcome return to the glory days of Gemstone, when we were regularly treated to new stories in the old tradition. The two featured items here are (with apologies to Keno Don) "a little something special" in terms of thematic approach, but not so much so as to seem out of place.

No less a personage than Carl Barks himself (Dog-Nosed Version, Patent Pending) is the center of attention in the 1992 Italian story "Uncle $crooge and the Man who Drew Ducks." When I first heard about this tale, I thought that it might have been a tribute created after Carl's death in 2000. The fact that it was produced a number of years before Barks' passing gives the idyllic portrait of a reporter's genial visit to Carl and Gare's home in Grants Pass, OR something of a bittersweet tinge. The "Carl Barks Studio" fiasco which made Carl's last years less pleasant than they ought to have been was still over the horizon. Writer Rudy Salvagnini (with David Gerstein doing what, for him, seems to be some fairly unadorned translation duty) appears to have taken inspiration from the German DONALDist claim that Barks' stories were "reports" of actual happenings in Duckburg -- that is, that Barks was serving as "journalist of record" for the Ducks. Barks' first original ten-pager in WDC&S (#32, May 1943) is presented as a "reenactment," while Carl describes himself as "living through" Scrooge's various travels to exotic destinations. Turning Barks' comics adventures into something like shorthand transcriptions should leach some of the magic away from the stories, but it honestly doesn't, largely because Barks did, in a real sense, create a unique, believable (albeit often fantastical) "universe" and "inhabit" it as he was spinning his stories, to a greater extent than most any other comics creator. This is a charming tribute, and a worthy lead-off to such a significant issue.

Byron Erickson and Daan Jippes' "Obsession" can't hope to match the unique nature of "The Man Who Drew Ducks," but it comes amazingly close, given that it's based on the familiar conflict between Scrooge and Magica De Spell. As he notes in his comments in "Musings from the Money Bin," a three-page text feature at the back of the book, Erickson went back to basics -- in this case, Magica's debut story, "The Midas Touch" (UNCLE $CROOGE #36, December 1961) -- and exhumed the easily-overlooked fact that Magica originally didn't care whether or not she got Scrooge's Old #1 Dime. She simply wanted any coin that Scrooge had touched and only became fixated on Old #1 after she realized that its "potential energy" would make her planned "Golden Touch amulet" all the more powerful. What would happen if someone -- in this case, Magica's feathered pal Ratface -- realized that Magica could create her amulet and gain riches without relying on Old #1? Answer: Magica would realize a "triumph" that would turn out to be hollow at its core. This splendid story is as much a comment on our own expectations about Scrooge-Magica stories as it is an exploration of the relationship between Scrooge and Magica. Recall that DuckTales, when it used Magica for the first time in "Send in the Clones," cut straight to the chase and introduced her as being obsessed with Old #1 from the start. It's funny how quickly we forget how it all started. (In a similar fashion, the many modern stories about an "evil" Flintheart Glomgold have tended to make us forget that Glomgold was originally conceived by Barks as basically just a South African clone of Scrooge, right down to the money bin full of Rands.) Jippes complements Erickson's clever writing with some supremely crafted depictions of Magica in all her guises, from sultry temptress (when she's posing as a filthy-rich "mystery heiress") to raving madwoman (when she turns on the baffled Ratface, casts "foof bombs" left and right, and destroys her non-Old-#1-powered amulet as "the only way to beat McDuck!"). I do wish, though, that Jippes had kept straight the physical details of how Magica's amulet works. Magica claims that she only needs to have the amulet on to turn things to gold, but, early in the story, she is always holding or touching the amulet during "gilding operations." We also see her holding or touching various inanimate objects (trays, pages in a book) while wearing the amulet but not turning said objects to gold. In a showdown with Scrooge, however, she turns Old #1 and the walls of the Money Bin to gold while wearing but not touching the amulet. I know magic is tricky, but Arrrgggghhh! Can we have a little consistency here, please?

Three Barks gags -- including the Genuine Old Original "Free Cup of Coffee Gag" -- and the aforementioned "Musings from the Money Bin," which include comments by William Van Horn, Giorgio Cavazzano (artist for "The Man Who Drew Ducks"), and other notables in addition to Erickson, fill out a superb package that keeps Boom!'s "2.0 winning streak" alive.  Between the newly "classicized" titles and the enjoyable Disney Afternoon material, this is as close as we've gotten in years to the days of Disney Comics circa 1990-91. Let us devoutly hope that "history repeats itself" only up to a point.


Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

Naturally, I enjoyed this issue a lot. I found the opening metastory very moving, and Jippes' art in "Obsession" is maybe the best I've ever seen from him; he is, as you note, especially adept at drawing Magica. A pleasure to read, though I was a bit taken back by just how vicious Magica is here--I mean, sure she's always hissing like a cat and hurling foof bombs hither and yon when she gets thwarted, but the concentrated sadism she evinces here--"I'll make your miserable life even more miserable," and like that--struck me as a bit much. Maybe I'm misremembering how Barks characterizes Magica (I don't tend to revisit his Magica stories too often), but I don't think so.

ramapith said...

But... but.. but...

"...with David Gerstein doing what, for him, seems to be some fairly unadorned translation duty..."

Er—but Chris, you didn't really expect me to have a semi-realistic Carl Barks, GarĂ©, and a "normal" newspaper reporter talking in my usual mix of 1920s slang, current slang, Gilbert and Sullivan, and overcooked wordplay...

I'll tell you what I did do—traversed dozens of Barks interviews, making sure that as much of Carl's and GarĂ©'s dialogue was as true to them as possible.

I was glad to leave "with frog-like tread, upon my prey I hop" for another day!

Chris Barat said...


Well, recalling Magica's attack on the Bin in "For Old Dime's Sake"... anyone who would be willing to use interstellar objects to menace a foe is certainly CAPABLE of evincing "concentrated sadism" when the need arises.


Chris Barat said...


Of course I realized that. "Unadorned" was not meant to be a criticism, but rather, a recognition that you were trying to present Carl and Gare as accurately as you could.


ramapith said...

Hey, thanks. I guess I thought you were disappointed I hadn't done a more characteristic job!