Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Comics Review: UNCLE $CROOGE #401 (March 2011, Boom! Kids)

Boom! follows up the splendid U$ #400 with a less splashy, but no less gratifying, reprinting of Don Rosa's 1995 adventure "The Universal Solvent," which had previously appeared only in three-part serialized form in the U.S.  Boom!'s official bumpf for this issue claims, in fact, that this is the first-ever "one-and-done" reprint of this story, but that's incorrect; the deed has been done in Brazil and Italy, among other places. Perhaps Boom! was referring to American reprints only and didn't say so ("Those ignorant, insulated Americans!" I can hear Rosa scowling). The "Rosimaniacs" can probably tell me all about the subtle differences between the serialized version and the one-part version, but I, for one, miss the cliffhanger between parts two and three, when it appears that the Ducks are about to be ground to pulp between a shower of falling rocks and a spume of upward-surging magma. The splash panel at the start of part three is still there, with a few uninteresting bits of dialogue from Donald and Scrooge thrown in, but it's simply not the same.

I really ought to like Rosa's stories more than I do. He loves to craft epics, and I love the "big-stage" Duck stories, up to and including the multi-part DuckTales adventures. I have certain obsessive-compulsive tendencies, and Keno D. is perhaps the ultimate example of OCS in four-color form. Rosa first came along when my "Duck fandom" was just rounding into shape, and, given that I had no problem accepting DuckTales as a viable take on the Ducks' world, I should have been able to swallow Rosa as "my" generation's version of Carl Barks. Somehow, it didn't happen, though there are plenty of excellent Rosa stories out there. Perhaps it's the sense I've always gotten that Rosa doesn't write stories so much as engineer them. "The Universal Solvent" is fully emblematic of that approach: well thought out, carefully constructed, generally exciting, and as cold as the inside of a refrigerator.

"Solvent" is a classic example of a "Ducks Are Done To" story. Scrooge, of course, gets the ball rolling -- or *glorp*ing, as the case may be -- by foolishly (and believably) pouring Gyro Gearloose's all-dissolving Omnisolve(tm) onto the ground in a moment of spite, but the story then leaves characterization aside. During their trip to the Earth's core to recover the goo, the Ducks are quite literally "along for the ride," with most of the attention being focused on the technical aspects of the trip. There are a few attempts at humor of the most elementary kind (Donald's hungry, we get it!), but, in truth, it could have been Blackie the Lamb and HIS Nephews riding on that platform, and very little would have needed to be changed (except that there would be a Wolf after them). Recall my review of Kimba's "Go, White Lion!" and the distinction I drew between Kimba and Astro Boy. Like Astro Boy, the Ducks were "on a mission" here, and the "mission" took precedence. A Barks adventure, by contrast, often is animated or motivated by a healthy dose of characterization -- and, even when the plot comes first, the story's humor seems organically derived, rather than tacked on almost as an obligation.

"Solvent" also contains one of the worst examples of Rosa's determination to tie his body of work to Barks' oeuvre. Why involve the Terries and Fermies at all, especially for a two-panel bit in which the TFs and the Ducks don't even interact meaningfully? The TFs serve as a handy plot device and nothing more. If nothing else, the TFs could have helped push (or roll) the Ducks on their way, which would have been most helpful, given that the Ducks literally have to run up hill for miles to escape the magma.

In the long run, this tale's primary legacy is that it led to the creation of two better -- because character-driven -- stories in which the gentleman thief Arpin Lusene, aka The Black Knight, uses Omnisolve(tm)-coated armor to stage raids on Scrooge's Money Bin. No impersonal physical threat there, just a good, old-fashioned direct assault on the core of Scrooge's existence. "Solvent" does feature a nice twist ending and some effective pokes at The Disney Company, but this isn't one of Rosa's better efforts. Seeing it in the one-issue format, though, is most welcome.

3 comments:

Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

I think I'm a bigger Rosa fan than you are (if nothing else, I'm a total sucker for the gratuitous "look! Here's a Barks thing!"), but I remember in some old review or other you characterized the L&T as a "pyramid," which struck me as apt--damned impressive, for sure, but very...heavy, let's say, and somewhat claustrophobic. I'm still a big fan, but I definitely see why some wouldn't be; I think "engineer" is a good word to use.

Fact remains, though, Rosa's written the only two stories--"Hearts of the Yukon" and "The Old Castle's Other Secret"--which actually caused me to mist up a little, which is surely a significant achievement.

Chris Barat said...

Geo,

Both of the stories you mention are examples of Rosa at his best, I think.

Chris

Ryan Wynns said...

Chris,

Interesting -- never knew your full take on Rosa! In spite of our age difference, my entry into this particular realm has some parallels to yours (both of us anchored by the advent of DuckTales). But unlike you, I've actually always been crazy about Rosa, often avowing that he was my favorite Duck comic creator -- pretty much for the reasons you say that you "ought to" like his work("epics", "'big-stage' Duck stories").

The fact that at the age of five, Uncle Scrooge Adventures #5, featuring "Last Sled to Dawson", was the first comic I ever owned may be a factor in how partial I am to Rosa. (It was probably the first comic I ever read, too, once I learned how, a few months later. In the meantime, my mother tried to use it as one of my nightly bedtime stories. But, she didn't understand the format, and to have me just hear the dialogue didn't work so well!)

But, Chris...I thought you of all people would appreciate how, you know, calculated Rosa's stories can be! ;)

GeoX, you're not the only one who's reacted sensitively to a Rosa story! "A Little Something Special" gives me chills, yet at the same time, I find it positively rejoiceful and exulting. And speaking of "Last Sled to Dawson" -- just re-read it last week, and the ending still makes me feel all warm and tingly.

Ryan