Friday, May 27, 2011

Comics Review: WALT DISNEY TREASURY: DONALD DUCK VOLUME 1 by Don Rosa (March 2011, Boom! Studios)

Whatever the ultimate fate of Disney kaboom! may be, I sincerely hope that Boom! exerts every effort to publish its promised sets of "Treasuries" and "Archives" of classic Disney comics material. The company is off to a good (albeit delayed-by-two-months) start with this collection of Don Rosa DONALD DUCK stories from 1987-1990. The DONALD qualifier turns out to be rather consequential insofar as the book's contents are concerned. "Return to Plain Awful" (1989) makes the cut, while "Son of the Sun" (1987), technically an UNCLE $CROOGE tale, does not, even though Scrooge has just as substantial a role to play in the former story. (Indeed, it was Carl Barks' fanciful inclusion of Scrooge in an oil painting that prompted Gladstone to urge Rosa to draw a "Lost in the Andes" sequel in the first place.) Since there is no current indication that any creator other than Rosa will be featured in DD TREASURY -- all those non-Rosa panels used as cover background aside -- why not simply call the series DON ROSA TREASURY and reprint all of Rosa's non-LIFE AND TIMES OF $CROOGE Duck work from panel one? That would seem to make more logical sense.

These early Rosa Duck tales first saw print at a propitious time for American Duck fans. The first iteration of Gladstone Comics was in its heyday, and DuckTales was knocking 'em over with a (duck) feather in syndication. The same sunny spirit is reflected in many of Rosa's earliest stories. Artistically, Rosa's early works now admittedly look a bit crude compared to what the artist would do during the LIFE AND TIMES era and beyond, but there's a certain lightness and playfulness about them that Rosa was only rarely able to recapture following his dispute with Disney and consequent move to Oberon/Egmont at the end of the 1980s. It's refreshing to revisit Rosa's attempt to duplicate the verve and spirit of the Barks ten-pager, a creative template he would all too quickly abandon in favor of far grander (and more grandiloquent) conceptions. While most of these gag stories stick pretty closely to established Barks tropes, "Mythological Menagerie" (1987) kicks the standard "Donald vs. HD&L contest" and "escalation plot" notions up a notch with the help of some well-aimed authorial research, while "Metaphorically Spanking" (1988) gives the hooky-playing Nephews a brutal going-over that even Barks might have shied away from. The Oberon stories at the end of this book, plotted by Dutch writers and dialogued by Byron Erickson, are certainly more smoothly executed by Keno D. but are also less lively and distinctive.

The two longer works included here, "Return to Plain Awful" and "The Crocodile Collector" (1988), seemed "big" at the time but have since been dwarfed in scope by Rosa's LIFE OF $CROOGE. It's therefore easy to overlook just how well-told these stories are. "Return to Plain Awful" extrapolates in a most delightful way from Barks' one-off conceit of the isolated Plain Awfultonians' rush to imitate any new fashion or patois ("Just like Americans!", gripes Scrooge, in an unfortunate foreshadowing of Rosa's later petty sniping at the unenlightened "red-state" rubes who did not rush to hosanna him as Europeans did). "Crocodile Collector" (in which Rosa spun an entirely new story out of a Barks cover that originally illustrated a completely different tale) is packed with exposition regarding sacred crocs, Egyptian mythology, and such but is no less enjoyable for all that... and it gets "double-extra" points from me for actually allowing Donald to emerge from the fray having clearly bested Scrooge. Granted, Donald is the victim of several comical pratfalls during the story, but neither is he reduced to lying in a puddle of drool. It shouldn't be forgotten that these enjoyable works were among the stories that convinced Disney TV Animation to give Rosa a chance to write a couple of episodes of TaleSpin.

The collection's one curio is a "scribble-version" of a never-finished story entitled "The Starstruck Duck" (1989), created as a tie-in for the opening of the Disney-MGM Studios theme park. In a world where Donald is an average Joe but Mickey Mouse is a celebrity, Don literally knocks himself silly trying to procure Mickey's autograph. I'm sure that the mere thought of this "corporate commercial" project would cause Rosa acute gastrointestinal pains today. Come to think of it, it probably would cause similar pains for Disney bigwigs. At the time this story was conceived, Disney seemed poised to utterly dominate the 1990s, thanks to alliances with The Muppets, Dick Tracy, and Michael Jackson, plus a bevy of spin-offs from Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)... And we all know how those plans turned out. It seems shallow to call the late 1980s "a simpler and happier time," but, in some ways, they were.

1 comment:

Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

Why not simply call the series DON ROSA TREASURY and reprint all of Rosa's non-LIFE AND TIMES OF $CROOGE Duck work from panel one? That would seem to make more logical sense.

Because--as I somewhat murkily understand it--Boom doesn't actually have the rights to do single-creator collections like that, their L&T being the exception rather than the rule. They're seriously pushing against both the letter AND the spirit of the law with this book, so at least maintaining SOME sort of half-assed illusion that the venture is a non-specific Donald Duck thing rather than a Don Rosa thing in particular was essential (hence, also, those oddly irrelevant non-Rosa panels on the cover).