Sunday, October 21, 2012

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 15, "Sir Gyro de Gearloose"

If "Hero for Hire" has a rival as the best stand-alone DuckTales episode, then it's surely "Sir Gyro de Gearloose," which swept to the top of the popularity charts immediately upon its initial broadcast and has maintained that lofty status ever since.  Which of these eps is your fave probably depends upon which you think is the greater feat:  crystallizing a new, made-for-TV character's personality, or building upon the existing characterization of a well-loved Carl Barks character.  It's a tough call, but I'd vote for the former, if only because there are so many variations of the basic scenarios (both "Ducky-dependent" and otherwise) on display in "Sir Gyro" that have turned up in various contexts over the years.  What makes Mark Zaslove's mixing-up and dishing-out of these ingredients so delectable is the great sense of balance and timing in his writing.  I'm fully in agreement with Greg that "this is [an] episode I would show as a teaching tool for all new writers to see."

As Barks fans know, there are a number of classic "discontented Gyro" stories in existence, in which the normally amiable inventor sours on his lot and seeks to make a different sort of life for himself.  In "Man vs. Machine" (UNCLE $CROOGE #47, February 1964), for example, Gyro roars in rebellion against the unreliability of machines:

Ironically, the legion of customers that besiege Gyro's lab at the start of "Sir Gyro" -- and thereby cause the inventor to damn his societal status as a lowly "gadget man" -- also appear to be motivated (at least in part) by anger and frustration at the fallibility of Gyro's own gizmos.  Indeed, Vacation van Honk's ire at his fouled-up "automatic dressing machine" motivates the globetrotting goose to *gasp!* actually manifest a bit of personality.  One must wonder: if Gyro were a better inventor, then would that gaggle of gripers have felt it necessary to beat a path to his door?

One could fairly kvetch here that Zaslove seems to be operating under a misconception of what Gyro's main job in Duckburg is.  Gyro has repaired things in the past, but never before have we seen him so overwhelmed with what he would normally regard as mundane busywork.  Given the fact that most of the rest of the episode will see Gyro slip back into his standard role of inventor, the setup for the ep seems just a touch artificial, like the sudden "press of business" on the normally isolated Scrooge that causes the latter to snap at the start of "Tralla La."  This is not necessarily a criticism, more of an observation. 

I'm torn regarding Gyro's Time Tub: it's such a neat device that I'm glad it was eventually reused (in "Time Teasers"), but I'm glad it wasn't OVERused.  I can see some of the show's less talented writers falling back on the thing as a convenient vehicle for time-traveling plots.  Not that there's anything wrong with such plots on occasion, but I think most Duck fans would prefer for their heroes to encounter manifestations of myth, legend, and adventure in the present day.  The business about the Tub creating "past[s] that might have been" was included, I think, to avoid having to deal with the same kinds of weird backstory scenarios that Darkwing Duck would later create in the episode "Quack of Ages" (in which we were forced to accept the existence of a medieval St. Canard with "King Herb" in charge) and that Barks would occasionally create in his later years (e.g. the "castle of the ancient Mad Duke of Duckburg" in "House of Haunts").  By lifting Gyro and HD&L's adventures in Quackalot completely onto another plane of existence (or dimension, as posited by GeoX), Zaslove ensured that ancient Duckburg would remain pristine (at least, until time-traveling Ducks and on-the-scene pirates appeared in 1687 Duckburg during "Time Teasers") and made plausible the ep-ending dodge in which Gyro manages to get HD&L back home with only one hour having elapsed in real time.  After all, when you're dimension-hopping, what's a little time-tinkering while you're at it? 

The transition of Gyro and the boys from Duckburg to Quackalot is handled pretty clumsily, especially given the quality of the episode as a whole.  The "conveniently falling junk" that knocks everyone into the Time Tub and starts the device on its temporal trek is followed by a sloppily staged sequence in which the Black Knight repeatedly charges down a path towards King Artie and his wizard Moorloon.  The business is animated well enough; the problem is that Artie and Moorloon just stand there like dummies while the Black Knight canters to the top of the alley and bears down on them.  FOUR times, no less.  Here's a hint, guys:  IT'S OKAY TO STEP OUT OF THE WAY, EVEN IF YOU HAVE TO STEP ON THE GRASS TO DO SO.  What would you have done had Gyro and HD&L not used their improvised lance to knock the Knight over? 

With King Artie's blessing of "Sir Gyro de Gearloose"'s unorthodox knightery, we enter familiar territory, creative ground that has been trodden for 125 years, at least: that of the introduction of modern technology and attitudes into the medieval past.  Mark Twain gave us the Ur-version of this story in A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT (1889), Ford Madox Ford followed with LADIES WHOSE BRIGHT EYES (1911), and the subgenre was well and truly launched.  Disney itself churned out two live-action versions of the story, The Unidentified Flying Oddball (1979) and A Kid in King Arthur's Court (1995).  In lesser hands, "Sir Gyro" might have wound up as superficial and forgettable as were those latter gobs of Gothic gauze.  But Zaslove refuses to let it happen, for several reasons.  The most important of these is his broad-minded attitude towards both the representative of modern technology (Gyro) and the denizens of the medieval realm (King Artie and company).  Most of the serious attempts at this subgenre were created with clear satirical intent.  For example, in A CONNECTICUT YANKEE, Mark Twain wanted to ridicule outdated notions of chivalry, which he claimed had helped bring on the Civil War by influencing the development of the hierarchical, battle-loving Southern culture.  LADIES WHOSE BRIGHT EYES took the opposite approach, with the modern interloper growing to appreciate the charms of medieval culture to the extent that he "went native" and tried, much like Gyro, to become a knight.  Zaslove builds his story around Gyro's desire to find his true destiny in the past, but he also provides the all-important counterweight in the form of Moorloon, who is just as unappreciated in Quackalot as Gyro is in Duckburg, and is every bit as sympathetic a character as is Gyro, despite his attempt to enlist the would-be usurper Lesdred in a kidnapping scheme.  In helping the betrayed and imprisoned Moorloon to realize that he IS, essentially, Gyro in a different time and garb, HD&L perform their one absolutely vital duty of the episode. Tempting as it may be to think that this episode might have worked as a Gyro solo, I don't think that it would have; Gyro was simply too focused on his desire to become a knight, and Moorloon was too obsessed with jealousy over Gyro, to come to the realizations of their parallel roles without assistance.  As Gyro's sympathetic friends and as "outside observers" of Moorloon's plight, HD&L were perfectly positioned to be "moral guidance facilitators."  (Also, unlike Gyro's Helper, they have the power of speech!)

Giving a particular urgency to HD&L's efforts to help Gyro and Moorloon is the easily overlooked, yet undeniably creepy, fact that Gyro actually appears to be winning the battle against his "true nature" as the episode moves along.  When King Artie and Moorloon are attacked by the Black Knight, Gyro's first instinct is to whip up an invention "in a jif" (as Gadget would say) and save the day.  When the dragon arrives to attack Quackalot, however, Gyro's helping instinct seems on the bum, as he only reluctantly agrees to build the cider pump to douse the dragon's flames.  Artie's ill-received suggestion that Gyro build him a gadget to make "crown-shaped party hats" serves as a tipping point of sorts.  After that, Gyro is completely focused on becoming a worthy knight, even if he has to momentarily surrender to his atavistic instinct for mechanical creation and build a training wheel to help him guide his lance.  He even begins to dream of knightly deeds, indicating that his subconscious is also undergoing a basic transformation.  Given how close Gyro appears to being completely captured by his dream of knighthood, HD&L's decision to spy on Moorloon, and their discovery of Moorloon's plotting with Lesdred, couldn't have come at a better time.

The "magnetic" climax, of course, provides one of the series' most memorable scenes, and it remains so despite Dewey's horrible pun about "magnetic personalities."  (I remember when a DARKWING DUCK story in the unfortunate Disney-Marvel DISNEY AFTERNOON title used that same gag; oh, the catcalls it got.  Perhaps it was because Drake Mallard's "magnetic personality" was presented as the literal reason why he got magnetically stuck to a garbage can.)  I would also love to know how Gyro BUILT the Duck-gone thing.  Even granted that there would be a lot of chain mail lying around Quackalot, how would one "unchain" it to create that giant metallic sphere...  and without tools, yet?  This makes the use of golden planks, ropes, nails, and sails in "Wrongway in Ronguay" seem positively...  believable, don't you think?  Well, however Gyro got the thing put together, the depiction of its influence on Lesdred's legions is exceptionally memorable... and, of course, extra credit goes to Zaslove for foreshadowing this climax by introducing and employing the (much smaller) magnet earlier in the episode.  That there's good writing, folks.

"Hey, Usurper!  I got yer Purple Reign right here!"

When "Sir Gyro" appeared, I immediately dubbed it the best Gyro story ever done... but, in the intervening years, one worthy challenger has appeared: Pat McGreal and Santiago Scalabroni's "Little Gyro in Quarkland" (UNCLE $CROOGE #314, October 1998).  This is yet another entry in the "rebellious Gyro" sweepstakes, and it's a particularly dark-complected one.  The inDucks English summary of the plot claims that it is motivated by Gyro's despair at all the pollution in Duckburg, but the inventor's despondency appears to go much deeper than that:

No rushing off into "Utopia Elsewhere" is possible here: Gyro realizes that every other country on Earth has "its own share of problems."  He decides to shrink himself down to microscopic size and escape "in into space," but he discovers that the universe is essentially one great big circle; after shrinking through "Quarkland," he emerges into the Milky Way Galaxy and lands right back on Earth.

This is a profoundly conservative message, I think, in that small-scale change serves to combat large-scale despair.  I think that "Sir Gyro" carries a similar message.  Thanks to his journey to Quackalot, Gyro learns that his talents are needed in Duckburg every bit as much as Moorloon's are needed in his own time.  The whole idea is to take advantage of your time, location, and unique talents to make your "little corner" of the world a better place.  "Little Gyro in Quarkland" now stands as my favorite Gyro story in the medium of comics... and I don't think it's an insult to claim that it's every bit as good an effort in its medium as "Sir Gyro" is in its medium.  Yes, it's true, you recalcitrant "old sourdoughs":  DuckTales produced an episode that was SO good that it could be used as a measuring stick against which to judge a high-quality Duck comic-book story of a similar type.





(GeoX)  Anyway, in The Past, the waterfowl fall in with "King Artie" and Gyro impresses him with the power of Science. The local wizard, Moorloon, gets jealous, however, especially when Gyro's able to stop a dragon and he isn't (though looking back, it's hard to say why not, given that Moorloon is indeed shown to have totally sweet magical abilities later on).

I think that Moorloon claimed that he "[didn't] do dragons," not because he couldn't handle the situation, but because he wouldn't.  Already, we can see here that Moorloon is more concerned with making "that upstart Gearloose" look bad than in performing his supposedly sacred duty of protecting King Artie.  And he hasn't hit bottom yet, of course.  

(GeoX) It's sometimes a little hard to tell who's talking, but it's pretty clear that, when HDL are climbing down a drainpipe and getting captured one by one, the names get mixed up.

Yeah, I think you're right.  It sounds as if Louie says "Louie?" right before he gets grabbed by the Black Knight.

(GeoX)  The exaggeratedly-breathy crane-woman who in the beginning snaps at Gyro when he can't immediately fix her toaster and then at the end hits on him is kind of amusing. Make her a recurring character! Gyro needs a love interest!  

Admittedly, it would be nice for him to have one, but this girl is rather... flighty, don't you think?  (And I'm not saying that just because she's a bird.)  Her overreaction to the failure of Gyro's toaster fix bespeaks a rather high-maintenance personality.  She does come back in the end, which is a credit to her, but how will she react when she and Gyro go on that all-important first date and Gyro suddenly gets an inventor's brainstorm?  Will she be able to go with the flow, or will we see the hauteur and the stamping feet once again?  Too bad we'll never get to find out.

Come up and singe me sometime!

(Greg)  The black knight blocks with all his might and his armor and shield melts...and then we cut to King Artie's castle before he burns to ashes. Which indicates that the black knight inside is dead. Cinema 101 people! When will we learn that?! 

Cinema 101?  How about Physiology 101?  There was a very abrupt cut following the "red-hot armor" scene, so something may have been trimmed here.  Still, unless Lesdred has two or more of those ostrich fellows hanging around, the end product of this scene should have been "Scratch One Black Knight."

(Greg)  I betcha the red dragon comes in through the open window and burns Dewey wieners (both ways) to ashes. I check the DVD....Damn; I'm good. And HOLY CRAP; that flame actually made contact with their heads and they come out with minor injuries which looks like small cuts that are trying to bleed; but cannot. Okay that's it! I'm officially declaring the nephews NUTS! I thought Kit Cloudkicker's one inch bullet away from the head in Plunder andLighting Part Two was nasty?! If this doesn't get cut by Toon Disney; then Disney ought to be ashamed of themselves.

To my knowledge, this scene has never been cut from any print of "Sir Gyro."  A little of the edge is taken off of the scene by the fact that, while HD&L have soot on their faces, their caps are not burnt.

Interesting Moment #1: So we head to Moorloon's room as he is in agreement with Gyro for a change. HAHA! Moorloon tries to bang the magnet on the table; but no dice because it is not metal see. HAHA! However; the real funny part (which for moralists it was heinous) was when Moorloon bangs it on the table he yells: “WORK! WORK! WORK!”. On the DVD version; this is what Moorloon said. In the first run syndication; this is what he said as well; however, the Teutonic/ German accent of Moorloon had him sounding more like “F***! F***! F***!”. And yes; it rhymes with duck. Donald Duck seemed to have the same problem in his shorts in the past. This was the infamous F-Bomb episode of Ducktales (and probably started the Donald Duck F bomb scare later on since no one but Peggy [Charron] watches DTVA allegedly.). And since it was clear as day that the accent was trouble; in the second run syndication it was re-voiced without the accent to make it sound like what Moorloon was going to say in the script. 

Thankfully, the "F-Bomb" version can still be found on YouTube.  I don't know if Barry Dennen did the re-voicing, but the "cleaned-up" Moorloon sounds very little like the original voice of the character.  An unfortunate price to pay, I'd say!

Next: Episode 16, "Merit-Time Adventure."


Comicbookrehab said...

Stress, burnout, inferiority complexes and coping with the pressure from too many demands are recurring themes in a LOT of TDA cartoons. Gruffi, Granni, Zummi, Scrooge, Gyro, Fenton, Launchpad, Dale, Montery Jack, Darkwing, Pete, Lucky Piquel, Eliza Maza, even Aladdin, Jasmine, Iago and Genie seemed to go through similar crisis'. Whether it be demands for more help, demands for more money, performance anxiety, substance abuse or spinning too money plates. There's room for a whole series of blogs devoted to the psychosis of these characters, really.

Gyro seems famous enough in Dukburg as an inventor, so I think Mark just imagined a likely dillema for the Gearloose to endure. It's like when you hear stories about people winning the lottery, show their faces in public and announce they're setting up a charity - and then the avalanche of letters pours in. Or how about that memorable line in "Mickey's Christmas Carol", where Scrooge says, "You work all you life to make money...and people want you to give it away!" Yes, that's not the REAL Scrooge, but the mindset is the same.

Joe Torcivia said...

From this Post-Dell/Gold Key/ Whitman perspective, it’s easy to forget, or otherwise overlook, a key reason “Sir Gyro” was such a standout… It was (the possibility of some then-unknown to us Euro-tale notwithstanding) the first long-form Gyro story ever!

Perhaps the closest Gyro ever came to something like this was “Monsterville”, which was 10 pages. Six more than he usually got.

The longest stories he appeared in were things like “Og’s Iron Bed” and “Trapped in Time”, which were Donald and Mickey stories respectively. Those were not ABOUT Gyro. Instead, he was merely the facilitator (or, as I like to say the “Convenient Source of Miracles”) or the imperiled victim.

Neither Barks (as his creator) nor any of the other Western writers ever had the opportunity to EXAMINE Gyro in a story where length would allow for such examination.

In this case, it took DTVA to do something the comics never did, and it remains one of their finest moments.

Chris Barat said...


"Gyro seems famous enough in Dukburg as an inventor, so I think Mark just imagined a likely dillema for the Gearloose to endure."

I think you're right. I don't know whether the lottery analogy is the correct one, however. We get the impression in this episode that such crowds are an ONGOING problem for Gyro. That is, he's been in business for some time, the business has gotten to be pretty high-volume, and he's starting to crack under the strain.


Pan MiluĊ› said...

"Dear Gyro

Can you envent something?


Comicbookrehab said...

How about this: a number of small business owners become swamped with new clients after they become stars in a reality show, like "Cake Boss", "Jerseylicious" (which actually spawned three separate business run by former employees of the NJ salon that was initially profiled and is enjoying a longer lifespan because of it) "Tori & Dean: Inn Love" and "American Chopper"...although that probably fits more with Joe Torcvia's "Disney-Characters-Star-In-A-Reality-Show" idea from the final BOOM! issues of US and WDC&S.

Anyway, Gyro's smart, he's famous, he can fix things, he appears to work cheap. Perhaps the reason why we DON'T see crowds knocking on his door after this episode is that (in DT cntinuity)he is working exclusively for Scrooge in exchange for living a debt-free existence and total creative freedom.