Saturday, September 24, 2011

Comics Review: DUCKTALES #4 (August 2011, kaboom!)

We're finally back in harness! And the new computer (an HP TouchSmart 610) is performing like a champ thus far!

Now, as to "the issue" that has been "at hand" for quite a while now... The artistic grotesqueries that defaced DT #3 are thankfully not an issue here. Jose Massaroli and helpmate Ruben Torreiro of Jaime Diaz Studios fame do a professional job throughout, and Leonel Castellani's "B" cover (why it wasn't the "A," I couldn't tell you) is a lovely, clever tribute to the Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade movie poster -- not to mention a special "in-joke" for all those fans who know of the influence that Carl Barks had on Steven Spielberg and George Lucas (not to mention the influence that the Indy posters had on the final version of the DuckTales logo).

The real issue with #4 is Warren Spector's writing... and, while Spector sets forth several intriguing ideas and reaps the fruits of several plot points that had been subtly sown in earlier chapters of "Rightful Owners," there are still too many continuity bloopers and outright "Huh?" moments for the epic as a whole to be considered a success. Had Spector simply had an editor worthy of the title, I have a feeling that this story would have been far more satisfying.



After previously whiling away so much time in the vicinity of Rippon Taro, Spector spins us through three "artifact-return scenarios" here, all of which are based on Barks tales that were adapted by DuckTales. This is "grasping" the continuity-question "nettle" with extreme prejudice, and I must admit that Spector scores an undeniable point in his melding of the two versions of "The Lost Crown of Genghis Khan." The use of the TV villain Sir Guy Standforth is inspired, answering an obvious question arising from the end of that episode: what would Sir Guy do when (not if) the lovesick Abominable Snowman/woman (given the Barksian name of "Gu" here) caught him? If he were a worthy villain, of course he'd try to turn the unpleasant situation to his advantage, and that's just what he has done here. I could have done without some of the ootsey-poo business, and Spector has to give "Gu" (who resembles a sort of Taz in drag here) a garbled voice that even King Fulla Cola wouldn't have signed for in order to punch some of the gags across, but I think that Spector deserves some real credit here...

... Which he promptly gives right back while describing Scrooge's return of The Golden Fleece and the baby dinosaur. These were tougher assignments; because Barks' "The Golden Fleecing" and "Forbidden Valley" differed in so many essentials from the DuckTales adaptations of same -- indeed, there's a very good argument that "Dinosaur Ducks" truthfully has little to do with "Forbidden Valley" in the first place -- Spector had to be very careful not to bollix up the mixing beyond recall. Mark down two in the "bollix" column:

(1) The "Harpies" of the DT "Golden Fleecing" are back to being "Larkies" and looking the same, as in Barks, but one of the clones behaves just like Anastasia, the fat Harpy who fell in love with Launchpad, aka the "Big Deep No" (sic). (Actually, I think that Darth Vader now has a copyright on that phrase.) Scrooge also has the golden coat in hand, which, of course, he never even had made in the DT version of the story.

(2) Forbidden Valley doesn't appear to be so "forbidden" any more, as both the pursuing Beagle Boys and the mint-loving giant jellyfish (THAT thing again?! Is it a jellyfish or a lamprey?!) manage to track the Ducks to the dino-infested domain. (I didn't know that Forbidden Valley was anywhere near a source of salt water.) Gladstone, pretty much along for the ride up to this point, "luckily" lures the monster into attacking the B-Boys with some native chicle, declaring after the fact, "Glad I thought to use that stuff!" (huh?).

In the midst of all this "returning" comes a would-be "touching moment" that rings as true as a lead nickel. Commending Webby for agreeing to give up her trademark bow to the bling-obsessed "Gu," Scrooge claims that " most treasured memories are the ones involving giving up something important to me." If we take this literally, then Scrooge should be positively ecstatic anytime Magica De Spell shows up to claim the Old #1 Dime! There are even exceptions to Scrooge's stated caveat that he only changes this policy when the possible loss of money is involved. I realize that Scrooge was supposed to learn something about ceding possessions with grace in this story, but this almost goes TOO far.

A similar mixture of inspired ideas and inexplicable muddle occurs when the gang get back to Duckburg and the final confrontation with Rockerduck takes place. HD&L's offhand uncovering of a supposedly returned artifact and Billups' sudden recognition that his curator job might be in jeopardy if all items are returned, both tossed off almost casually in DT #3, turn out to be key moments in the story. This speaks well, I think, for Spector's eye for plot detail... though Billups has to be some sort of idiot to keep Rockerduck's "unreturned deposits" in a location where any Huey, Dewey, or Louie can find them. The sudden return of King Fulla Cola and the Himalayan contingent on Donald's carrier, however, is simply too ridiculous to take seriously. Aside from the matter of travel time, where could a carrier dock in the Himalayas? And why does Donald (who appears to be doubling as a seaman and a naval policeman here; I didn't think that Admiral Grimitz thought that highly of him) have to take the "speeder" Camille Chameleon to Duckburg Jail, in particular? Daisy goes these lowlights one better, or worse, when she suddenly spouts forth some conveniently timed exposition...

Rockerduck: ... But, wait a minute -- where's Gladstone? He was working for...
Daisy: I remember now! Gladstone was hypnotized by notorious St. Canard (sic) villainess Cinnamon Teal! I was hypnotized, too, so I'd forget everything!

So, Daisy... remembers... that she was hypnotized... to forget... to remember. Got it.

Regarding the ultimate dispensation of the minion Farquardt, Ryan Wynns does a thorough job of analysis here. For my part, suffice it to say that I always half-expected Farquardt to turn out to be an ally of the bad guys, perhaps even one of those shadowy figures who lurked around the borders of the story but were never definitively identified (remember the fellow who addressed the conclave of Barks, Rosa, and Darkwing villains in #1?). We were certainly led to believe that on several instances in the first couple of chapters. The problem with a "red herring," however, is that you need to be presented with a clear alternative before you can fully buy into the deception... and, once Billups was revealed as a baddie in #3 and Farquardt presented himself in opposition, all the "false clues" suddenly seemed pointless. It would have been better, I think, had Farquardt simply been a bumbling would-be adventurer who bungled in his efforts to help Scrooge, yet won out in the end by being a faithful companion. I don't honestly see what was gained by all the suspicion-sowing.

We end with a "group hug" (with that damn jellyfish in the background... *sigh*) and a foreshadowing of the upcoming Darkwing/DT crossover. The sneak peek, sadly, pales in comparison with the ending of DARKWING DUCK #16. Spector doesn't help by including a boxed note asking "What is Magica De Spell's interest in the events that have just unfolded?" when Magica openly tells us that her present goal is to team up with Camille and Cinnamon Teal. Whatever Spector's role may be in kaboom!'s Disney curtain-lowerer, I do appreciate the effort he put forth in "Rightful Owners" and only wish that it had turned out better. I hope he gets another chance, with more and better editorial assistance, when (if???) Marvel-or-whoever sees fit to fire up a DUCKTALES title one more time.

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