Saturday, June 4, 2011

Comics Review: UNCLE $CROOGE #404 (June 2011, kaboom!)

The earliest versions of the cover to U$ #404 all featured the garish green background seen above. The actual cover has a far more muted, "steel and light" tone. Don't know why this should be... in light of the fact that this may be "the last new issue of U$ for a while," the bright green associated with jealousy (of fans of other, more stable comics lines, that is) would seem to be as appropriate as any hue.

If this is in fact fated to be Boom!'s last swipe at UNCLE $CROOGE, then at least we went out with a literal BANG: Scrooge's last explicit physical act has him blowing up a Money Bin. Don't be alarmed, there are plenty more where that came from -- at least, there are in this far-fetched but entertaining Italian story from 1966, "The Fifty Money Bins Caper." Romano Scarpa, assisted by Giorgio Cavazzano, draws the story in his "inflated-lower-torso" style of the period, while David Gerstein translates Michele Gazzari's "with-a-grain-of-salt" script. Donald, trying to get back in Scrooge's good graces following a standard-issue mental screw-up, steals an idea from HD&L and suggests that Scrooge build a bunch of fake Money Bins to keep crooks (read: The Beagle Boys) guessing as to where the miser's money is stored. Aside from the colossal expense that Scrooge would incur just to set the scheme up, the obvious flaw in the outlandish plan is that robbers could search all of the Bins at one time easily enough if they simply had enough manpower. In other words, if "Beagles International" existed in the world of Italian Disney comics, then Don's design would fall apart like a cheap suit. These Italian Beagles being only three in number, and pretty scrawny at that (at least, the way Scarpa draws them), the plan actually works for a while -- until The Beagles kidnap in-the-know Donald and Scrooge accidentally drinks an amnesia potion he'd meant for his "gossipy" Nephew...

This story shouldn't work, but it does. Gerstein's as-ever clever scripting is a major reason why, but the schizophrenic characterization of Scrooge -- a characterization that is also sometimes seen in American comics, but rarely to such an extreme extent as it is in Italian comics -- turns out to be amusingly refreshing, almost turning Scrooge into the "true" villain of the piece. Scrooge completely blows his top not once but several times, reaming out a hapless employee over the phone, thwacking Donald with a cane, and nearly wringing Donald's neck in addition to frantically dynamiting one of his Bins (which turns out to solve his problems for him). Scrooge's constitution is so fragile here that petty thefts by The Beagles make him (1) force Donald to pedal-power electrical devices, (2) succumb to a case of the vapors, and (3) leap at Donald's loony multi-Bin idea like a thirsty desert traveler lunging at a mirage. By contrast, we end up feeling sorry for the perpetually bungling but well-meaning Donald, despite the fact that it was his plan that triggered Scrooge's woes. Even the version of "torture" that The Beagles inflict on Don places us squarely on the incompetent duck's side, involving as it does the (gulp!) IRS. (Actually, the Beagles ought to keep that same scheme in mind the next time they kidnap Scrooge.) Had Don Rosa written this story, suffice it to say that Scrooge's tantrums and meanness would have been muted, Donald would have been inept without engendering as much audience sympathy, and HD&L would have played an even larger part in foiling The Beagles' scheme.

Boom!/kaboom!'s run on $CROOGE ends (only temporarily, let us hope) with a real mixed record. The early serialized material ("The Hunt for Old Number One," "Around the World in 80 Bucks") seemed even weaker than it actually was, due to the fact it was the only Boom! offering being presented in a "traditional Duck comics" format at the time. The DuckTales-themed issues provided both inspired highs ("The Curse of Flabberge/Fall of Brutopia," "The Arcadian Urn," "The Last Auction Hero") and space-filling lows (four-color grout culled from DISNEY ADVENTURES and DUCKTALES ACTIVITY MAGAZINE). The Boom! 2.0 era (remember when that actually meant something?), with its mixture of curio stories ("The Man Who Drew Ducks"), reprints from American and Italian Masters, and new takes on traditional tropes ("Obsession"), was unquestionably "the best of times," but it will probably only be remembered for its brevity. In retrospect, trying to get away with a "cheap" approach to U$ out of the gate at the same time that the other Boom! Duck and Mouse titles were being radically revamped may have had the unfortunate effect of alienating some of the very longtime fans whose support was still badly needed at a time when Boom! was hoping that the new approaches would catch on with younger readers. To their credit, the Boom! editors recognized their error and made a serious attempt to rectify matters later on. Whether they will get a chance to continue to apply their hard-earned lessons is very much an open question.

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