Saturday, March 12, 2011

Comics Review: DONALD DUCK #364 (March 2011, Boom! Kids)

Talk about reviving memories of Disney comics past -- with a capital "P"! This issue resembles, not a Gemstone book, but a "Gladstone II" offering, with the more recent of the two featured stories dating all the way back to 1951. That would be "The Big Bin on Killmotor Hill" (WDC&S #135, December 1951), at once the second appearance of The Beagle Boys and the first appearance of Scrooge's hilltop Money Bin. Before you begin to complain about "yet another" reprinting of an "over-reprinted Carl Barks story," you should know that this historically significant tale has been reprinted only once before in regular comic-book form, back when "Gladstone I" was just getting started and clearing the treasures off the "high shelf." The Beagle Boys had first menaced Scrooge's money (then in a street-side location that Scrooge described as both a "safe" and a "money bin") in #134, and their rapid return shows how quickly Barks had realized that he had potential "keeper characters" on his hands. Lots of famous firsts in this one -- the Ducks' first traipse through Scrooge's sign-studded mine field; the first view of the interior of the Bin (which seems pretty barren at this point, apart from the variegated traps that Scrooge has strewn about the place); and, last but certainly not least, the first "utter destruction" of Scrooge's fiduciary fortress. The original Bin looks nothing like the later, sleeker version, being basically a gigantic safe, complete with immense combination dial (which is supposed to be twirled by whom, exactly? It's not like Scrooge to create a dingus like that just for show). Barks reruns the "Beagle gather up loot while Scrooge chases Donald" ending of the story in #134, which was somewhat unlike him, but it's hard to miss the obvious glee he must have felt in falling upon two devices that would carry him through many, many $CROOGE stories to come.

The first installment of Federico Pedrocchi's 1938 adventure "Donald Duck, Special Correspondent" -- actually, the first fourteen installments, since the pioneering Italian story originally appeared in one-page dollops in the prewar Italian Disney magazine PAPERINO -- belatedly fulfills wishes that Duck fans have harbored since 1994, when Pedrocchi's "Donald Duck and the Secret of Mars" was reprinted in DONALD DUCK #286. My original thought concerning this caper, in which Donald and Peter Pig (Donald's co-star in The Wise Little Hen [1934]) take jobs as investigative reporters and "invade" a war-torn, vaguely "Mittel-European" country to snap a picture of a reclusive general, was that Pedrocchi must have been influenced in some way by either Floyd Gottfredson's MONARCH OF MEDIOKA or Herge's KING OTTOKAR'S SCEPTRE. Evidently, however, I may have been giving Pedrocchi too little credit for creativity:

1. The TINTIN theory won't fly, given that OTTOKAR didn't begin serialization in Belgium until August 1938, whereas "Special Correspondent" started running in May.

2. If Pedrocchi was influenced by Gottfredson, then it must have been accomplished by reading the daily strip, since MEDIOKA didn't begin running in TOPOLINO until July.

Wherever Pedrocchi got the germ of this idea, it definitely reads like a MICKEY adventure story, only with Donald in the role of the protagonist. Pedrocchi's art is far more static and "talking head-ish" than Gottfredson's, but the supporting dog, cat, and monkey characters look just like Gottfredson extras, and David Gerstein does a good job of preserving the sound of a late-1930s Mouse epic while avoiding anachronisms. This last is particularly important, as the story, though entertaining, is definitely a relic of its era, perhaps even more so than the more outwardly fantastical "Secret of Mars." I don't mind the serialization so much in this case because the story was originally meant to be cliffhanger-filled -- and we end with a good one. This is another Boom! issue sure to please "old sourdoughs."

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