Friday, June 10, 2011

Comics Review: DONALD DUCK #367 (June 2011, kaboom!)

Reflecting Boom!'s odd treatment of the title, Boom!'s last issue of DONALD DUCK is only tangentially about Donald. Don only figures in a substantial way in the back-up reprint story, William Van Horn's "Tree's a Crowd" (DONALD DUCK #271, June 1989). This eight-pager presents a fairly standard short-story scenario -- a frenzied Donald tries to rid his yard of a tree that is home to various annoying pests and lives to regret the effort -- but punches it over thanks to a generous dash of that good old-fashioned Van Horn wit and energy. The captions are droll ("Donald recovers his aplomb and events resume!"), the gags are lively and physical, and Donald seems almost "cursed," with lightning literally "striking twice" at one point. Bill's artwork is not as polished as it would become, of course -- this story first appeared only a year or so after Van Horn made his somewhat underwhelming debut in a series of one-page gags -- but it's easy to see this lighthearted story as a harbinger of the goofy glories to come. I've been pretty hard on Van Horn's more recent stories, but this was a good choice of tale to go out on, if indeed we are going out into "that not-so-good night."

Pride of place in the issue is tendered to Daan Jippes' redrawing of Carl Barks' JUNIOR WOODCHUCKS tale "Whale of a Good Deed" (HD&L JUNIOR WOODCHUCKS #7, October 1970, original art by John Carey). Donald's contribution to the story is limited to an appearance in the splash panel -- a literal "splash" panel, in fact, with Donald and Scrooge commenting on the effects of a tidal wave that has struck Duckburg. Had the original script of this story been produced today, global warming would probably have been fingered as the ultimate culprit for the disaster. In the more eco-innocent days of 1970, however, it was enough for HD&L and their fellow Woodchucks and Littlest Chickadees to try to save a beached whale. The real intrigue here lies in their adversary: a vicious, mercenary Scrooge, who wants to render the beast into whale oil. This was the second JW story (the first being "Peril of the Black Forest") in which Barks used Scrooge as an eco-villain. I'm of two minds about this approach: it did provide Barks with a strong "hook" for his JW scripts and thereby served to prolong his comics career for a couple of years, but I also think that it is a rare case of Barks reacting to what he thought that his audience might find "relevant." Exchanges with fans reprinted in Michael Barrier's Barks book suggest that Barks decided to amp up Scrooge's nastiness primarily because of fan comments. Unfortunately, the approach quickly became rather mechanical. As an early example of the conceit, this story works rather well, with Jippes' new artwork, as always, adding to the attractiveness quotient (though Carey's art was actually pretty good itself). But the changes to the script are irritating. We didn't need to be told that HD&L were "saving the whales long before it became a cause" in the splash-panel caption; the story itself indicates as much. Similarly senseless is the change of the whale's name from "Muddy Dick" to "Muddy Mick." Unless someone really wanted to shoehorn a Mickey Mouse reference in there, this is an example of censorship of supposedly "offensive" material that isn't really offensive -- that is, if one is up on one's literary history.

The Boom! DONALD, like the Boom! $CROOGE, turned out to be a real mish-mash, though I must confess that I found the "Double Duck" stories to be much more palatable than I thought I would. The unlikely, yet enjoyable, sight of a semi-competent Donald who actually was capable of coming out on top thanks to his own actions was the key ingredient that made the concoction easier to digest. I honestly would like to see more of "Double Duck" (though God only knows what the venue would be). I was less enamored of the "Feathers of Fury" "fase," though the "Tae-Kwon-Duk" stories were good, thanks in large part to Joe Torcivia's scripting. The highlights of the all-too-brief "classics are back" era were Geoff Blum's imaginative "The Saga of Captain Duckburg," the "Pirate Gold" sequel (thanks again, Joe!), and the intriguing "Donald Duck, Special Correspondent," which fit the announced goal of printing rarities to a "rari-T." DONALD was not well served during the "Gladstone II" era, so this has to count as the best version of the title since the reprint-heavy "Gladstone I" days.

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