(1) The Disney Studio stories, some of which directly adapted episodes of the series, such as "Armstrong" (DT #1) and "Jungle Duck" (DT #2).
The Crown Jewels Affair" [DT #4]) and an UTTER, as opposed to a partial, lack of inspiration. Just about the only things that these issues had going for them were the lively and detailed covers by Daan Jippes. It certainly wasn't Daan's fault that these eye-catching covers promised adventure and excitement that the stories inside so miserably failed at delivering.
(2) In the back of DT #6, backing up yet another blah Studio lead, was an intriguing bauble that pointed directly to DUCKTALES Mark 2.0: "Coin of the Realm," a ten-page tale written and drawn by Bill Van Horn. Recall that, up to this point, Van Horn was known to Gladstone readers primarily as "the guy who does the fillers and gag pages." The former included a couple of humorous GYRO AND LAUNCHPAD four-page stories in DT #4 and 5. "Realm" was of an entirely different scope and immediately seemed more entertaining than any of the mush and dribble that had been regularly doled out to us.
The Oil Pirates," the dropoff in quality was almost jarringly noticeable. Van Horn was back on the job in DT #10, producing "The Whistling Ghost," a 16-page feature story that brought back Baron Itzy Bitzy, the whistling flea character that Bill had introduced in one of his non-DUCKTALES efforts.
The Billion-Bean Stampede," may well be the most memorable of all of these highly quirky efforts. For sure, it had the zaniest cover.
Pete Fernbaugh was correct when he said that they came across as VAN HORN stories more than they did DUCKTALES stories. Van Horn seemed uninterested in using any original DuckTales creations other than Launchpad. While Bill handled LP quite well, his approach seemed uncomfortably close to the lazy Studio practice of creating a DT story simply by plugging LP into the Donald slot in an otherwise conventional "Scrooge and the Ducks" narrative. (The GYRO AND LAUNCHPAD stories, by contrast, didn't seem quite so atypical, primarily because Van Horn knew how to take advantage of Launchpad's nature and abilities in such a specialized setting.) Needless to say, there was never anything conventional about Bill's approach, but, the more he tried to "wacky" things up by dropping in zany rock concert promoters, lively legumes, and so forth, the more his tales got pulled away from anything resembling what DuckTales had given us during its wide-ranging first season.
The bottom line is that neither of the aforementioned groups contain what one might characterize as a legitimately authentic, high-quality comic-book adaptation of the TV series. Pretty unfortunate for a title that was supposed to be providing readers with the equivalent of the DuckTales animated experience, only on the printed page. But then, we get to issue #12, which... stands apart. Boy, does it ever.
Romano Scarpa, who was a complete revelation to us notoriously insular Americans at the time.) In DT #12, Gladstone finally took full advantage of the extra space to showcase "The City Under the Ice," a 39-page French story. I wonder how many folks saw the Van Horn cover, immediately began thinking of the crazy scenarios and gags that "Silly Billy" might be able to stage in that gelid setting, and then really froze up when the first page of "City" displayed "something completely different."
According to Inducks, "City" is the second longest standalone DUCKTALES comic-book story ever produced, trailing only "The Curse of Flabberge," which David Gerstein so memorably "reimagined" for Boom!'s UNCLE $CROOGE during its DuckTales phase. The creation of the story was very much an international affair. It was written by Frenchman Patrick "Zack" Galliano, whose previous authorial credits included PIF LE CHIEN, a creation of the French Communist paper L'HUMANITE; penciled by the Spanish artist Maximino, who did quite a bit of work for Mondadori, the Italian Disney comics publisher at the time; and inked by the staff of the Barcelona-based Comicup Studio. Oddly enough, a similar combination of French, Spanish, and Catalan talents worked on "The Curse of Flabberge." The artwork for "City" is a little rougher and livelier, all things considered.
Dwight Decker. During the Gemstone and Boom! Comics years, we got used to imaginative, reference-packed transformations of the utilitarian English dialogue that was normally provided to scripters. Even the more sedate efforts along these lines had a touch of class. (At least, I like to think that I provided one.) Decker's translation, while sturdy enough, is more of the vanilla variety, though he does throw in a contemporary reference to some briefly famous pop star whom I don't have the time to research right now. I wonder whatever happened to the guy.
The Gold Odyssey," or even the more modest "Scrooge's Quest," neither is "City" a sprawling, shambolic wreck on the order of "Rightful Owners." The best praise that I can offer to it -- praise that will seem more meaningful when you consider when this tale was produced -- is that it gets the DuckTales aspects right. It has a few quirks of its own, but the plot is easily recognizable as one that might have sprung up in an episode of the TV show, the characters involved are bang-on in character, there is a splendid reference to an infamous event that occurred on screen, and there's a pleasing mix of action and humor. For that reason, I consider "City" to be the first TRULY successful DUCKTALES comic-book story to appear in America, at least when "successful" is interpreted in a strictly DuckTales-oriented context.
** SPOILERS **
We start with that classic McGuffin: a long-lost, well-hidden treasure map. During the skateboard mishap pictured above, the ambulating Eskimo drops a bone that proves to be hollow. The map inside points the way to a stark Arctic peak on Chilblain Island where (according to... no, not the Junior Woodchuck Guidebook, but a convenient Arctic exhibit at the Duckburg Museum) a legendary "sun of gold" once fell and is now buried beneath the ice, along with the artifacts of a "mysterious civilization." (Hey, if Golden Sun worship can occur on one peak, then it certainly can on another.) Unfortunately, the Beagle Boys get wind of the find, as well, thanks to their capture of the unfortunate Eskimo.
The Great Chase" (Disney Comics DT #16, September 1991, written by Frank Ridgeway of "Bermuda Triangle Tangle" fame) gave us the memorable sight of a kick-ass, take-charge Burger and a whimpering Big Time and Bankjob deferring to him. As things turn out, the Beagles of "City" will have far more to offer to the discriminating fan than simply looking and acting as they ought to.
The heart of the story features the Ducks' journey to the legendary Bear's Tooth peak and the Beagles' various efforts to stop them. We start with a pretty bog-standard version of the "paper-thin disguise" routine...
Well, their number plates aren't visible, at least.
... which leads to sabotage, a crash, and an unpleasantly close encounter with a polar bear. The Ducks get out of the fix when Scrooge resorts to the somewhat extreme tactic of lighting the crashed plane on fire "to scare the bear away." The Ducks' on-board flares subsequently go off, alerting a passing ship to their presence. As solutions to dilemmas go, this is closely allied to suicide. But then, the "Type A" Scrooge of this story would probably be tunnel-visioned enough to try it. We soon see more evidence of Scrooge's mental state when Scrooge poor-mouths in dramatic style in order to rent a snowmobile at a lower-than-rock-bottom price. A bit over the top, perhaps, for the Alan Young DuckTales Scrooge, but, hey... it's in character.
Upping the ante, the Beagles track the Ducks' snowmobile with one of their own... armed with a gun, no less. Chisel McSue would be proud, fellas. Walking Mountain displays some fancy driving in order to get the gang out of harm's way, but the Ducks soon discover that the Beagles had sabotaged their gas cans back at the Eskimo town. Left to starve and/or die of cold on the Arctic ice, Walking Mountain suggests a rather unusual tactic to attract animals that could (per the JW Guidebook, which HD&L belatedly consult here) be used for food:
Another in-character moment. It's easy to imagine Launchpad getting into the spirit of things that way. Alas, the ululations only serve to "attract" the Beagles' ice-breaking submarine. (Did the Beagles have their working boots on in this story, or what? Makes some of their feebler second-season efforts seem all the more annoying, doesn't it?) Thrown into the sub's brig along with the Eskimo, the Ducks have little to do but wait out the ride to the Bear's Tooth.
As the Beagles prep for treasure-hunting, Walking Mountain gets his funniest moment of the adventure:
As the Beagles prep for treasure-hunting, Walking Mountain gets his funniest moment of the adventure:
Thanks to a conveniently placed thin crust of ice, our heroes are sent hurtling down, down... to this:
See any penguins with a color fetish in there? Just wondering...
So, where's the gold? The Ducks find out when they discover a hidden laboratory, a high-tech sarcophagus, and its completely unexpected owner:
Yes, folks, it's an alien, a Thulian (clever reference, that) who was left behind by an exploration party that had to retreat because of the cold weather. Inouk was put into the deep freeze with the understanding that his friends would ultimately come back to get him. The "sun of gold" turns out to have been the golden spaceship that brought Inouk and his people to Earth. You realize what that means, Scroogie: these guys live on a planet where gold is so common that it can be used to build spaceships -- not the "structural metal" of first choice for me, but to each his (or its) own -- and therefore...
And Scrooge didn't even go through the intermediate stage of hiccuping: he went right to a dead faint. Any direct reference to "Too Much of a Gold Thing" can't get enough praise from me. This was the point at which I knew that Dwight Decker had REALLY, REALLY taken his responsibilities seriously. Bless him.
At this point, you're probably wondering whether the story is going to end in the cataclysmic manner of "Gold Thing." Well, the Beagle Boys are tooling around while operating heavy machinery. What do YOU think?
The Ducks' plight isn't as desperate as it was in "Gold Thing," but it comes pretty close. As if to make up for the shortfall, the mode of the Ducks' salvation is a bit more esoteric than Launchpad flying in the transport plane just in the nick of time. Here, Inouk flies the gang out of danger using his "golden egg" sarcophagus (which turns out to be a small spacecraft, as well) as the City of Gold, in the manner of its namesake in a Kimba the White Lion episode, collapses into oblivion. Scrooge takes this development with considerably less grace than he did at the end of "Gold Thing." Perhaps writer Galliano was letting his inner "L'HUMANITE contributor" out for a little holiday here.
The story's final two pages are a bit displeasing, if only because:
(1) The Beagles are allowed to scuttle away, more or less scot-free. After that performance, they deserved the dignity of a stay in a luxury high-security prison, at the very least.
(2) Inouk's "rescue ship" just happens to have been located on the Moon all along -- a fact of which Inouk himself appears to have been completely unaware when he went into hibernation mode. What the heck, was this supposed to be a "monolith test," or something? Why would Inouk even need one, since his civilization is capable of space travel?
Yeah, I'm just as confused as you are, buddy.
The fact that I have to pick such a tiny nit in order to give "The City Under the Ice" anything less than unqualified praise indicates just how strong this story really is. It's easy to understand why it sort of flew beneath the radar at the time of its release: Van Horn's multiple stabs at the DUCKTALES lead story naturally left more of an impression than this one-shot, and Gladstone Comics itself was just about to go into its own form of "prolonged hibernation." But let's give credit where credit is due. Speaking strictly of DUCKTALES comic-book stories that appeared in America, "City" is one of the very few that can be said to have done full justice to the TV series.
"Golden Sun." I like the sound of that...
My apologies for making you wait so long to see this. Hopefully, you'll find the wait to have been worth it. In my next comics review, we'll catch Disney Comics' DUCKTALES title on a similar back end, so to speak, and look at how the book's 18-issue run ended with Bob Langhans' post-"Gold Odyssey" offering, "A Dime in Time." Is there any way that Langhans could have lived up to the standard set by "Odyssey"? We shall see.