Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Comics Review: WALT DISNEY'S UNCLE $CROOGE: THE MYSTERIOUS STONE RAY by Carl Barks and CASH FLOW by Don Rosa (May 2011, kaboom!)

This double-barreled, handsomely-packaged release pairs one of Carl Barks' early UNCLE $CROOGE tales (U$ #8, December 1954) with one of Don Rosa's early $CROOGE adventures (U$ #224, September 1987) -- and, perhaps surprisingly, the Rosa story is much the superior one.

The sole link between these tales is the spindly-shanked, big-beaked figure of a Duckburgian professor with a creepy hankering for cabbage, a bent for misanthropy ("There are too many masters in the world already, and not enough friends!"), and a certain tendency to neglect "the big picture." In Barks' "Stone Ray," the prof is hunkered down on a remote island with his stone-strewing scintillator, petrifying The Beagle Boys when they come to pillage the island (in one of the earliest indications that they are not 100% devoted to attacking Scrooge's fortune all the time). One Beagle escapes and manages to send out a message in a bottle, which the Ducks improbably find at exactly the moment when Scrooge is ordered to "travel to a windy place" to flush the gold dust out of his feathers. This is but the first of a number of contrived points that make the story one of Barks' wobbliest early $CROOGE efforts. Deleted panels from the story, reprinted here with accompanying commentary by Geoffrey Blum, indicate just how difficult it must have been for Barks to piece his storyline together in anything like an adequate fashion. Unfortunately, he was unable to fix one really bad gaffe; the professor turns off his machine while talking to Scrooge, Donald, and HD&L, apparently forgetting that this will allow The Beagle Boys to recover and take over the ray. I'm sure that Barks didn't mean to send the message that single-minded paranoia is always preferable to friendliness insofar as keeping up one's guard is concerned. Of course, it could be that the professor knew all along that he had the ray's ignition key in his pocket, but couldn't The Beagles then have overpowered their foes by sheer physical force and gotten hold of it? I don't see any ingenious Money Bin-style traps in the vicinity to even the odds. The artwork is beautiful, but the content is lacking, and it's rare that one can say that about a mid-50s Barks story.

Rosa brings back the cabbage-loving prof at the start of "Cash Flow," but only as a means of helping The Beagle Boys get their paws on a new invention, the "Neutra-Friction Ray." The Beagles bribe the prof with promises of cabbage and run off with their new toy to slip-slide their way past Scrooge's Bin defenses. The prof's oversight in "Stone Ray" makes it a little easier to accept the fact that he's forgotten about The Beagles, but it's still a bit tough to buy; a character as hypersuspicious as he would surely have stored them in a somewhat more easily accessible sector of his memory bank. Once the contrived set-up is out of the way, however, the tale takes off as a classic Scrooge vs. Beagles battle, with Rosa taking full advantage of his engineering background to craft funny/plausible physical scenarios. In stark contrast to his approach in "The Universal Solvent," he also gives the Ducks themselves plenty to do as they desperately try to stop the greasy goons from hitting liquefied paydirt. There's a hint at the start that Scrooge has this particular challenge coming to him; he brags about his youthful exploits to HD&L (as a coin-shoveling Donald snorts in the shadows) with even more self-satisfaction than usual, and, after brushing aside a "more typical" assault by the frustrated Beagles, he describes the crooks' threat to him as "ancient history." In the friction-free fight that follows, Scrooge, of course, is reduced to begging for assistance from Donald -- who extracts a promise of a rich reward that, not surprisingly, is foiled in the end. This is Rosa at his early best -- crafting a traditionally-themed story with a decidedly novel approach and relying on characterization, rather than spectacle, to buttress his work.


ramapith said...

The "Stone Ray" story has some other problems too.
The Prof's big ray machine needs to be turned on continuously so that the Beagles will remain petrified. (When it's off for just a little while, the Beagles recover.) So—what is the source of the ray machine's power? Presumably batteries, but how many could the old guy really have with him–and how fast would that huge machine use them up?
Sillier point—given that the machine is clearly quite noisy, how can the Prof sleep with it on all the time?
Sillier still—we first see the ray machine inside a hut, protruding from the roof. The hut appears to have been built around the machine, insofar as the machine is visibly much too large to be wheeled out the hut's door.
Later, though, the Prof has to hustle the machine across the island. How did he get it out of the hut?
The title is right: that's one mysterious stone ray. Still, I'm glad to have the story in this new edition.

Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

The thing that always bugged ME about the story was the way Scrooge is immune to the ray because he has gold dust in his skin. He DOESN'T roll in gold dust! He rolls in MONEY, which, in spite of the doctor's question to him, is NOT GOLD! I guess the money could at some point have been *around* gold, or he could have some never-shown auxiliary gold bin that he uses occasionally, but the doctor clearly doesn't think that would be necessary, and we clearly aren't meant to be coming up with rationalizations like that. What the hey? I always thought that him being immune for this reason was a clever idea that, alas, didn't really make any sense.