Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A POST-"DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE" PERSPECTIVE: "A Dime in Time"

Let's get right into the spirit of things and (mentally) travel 20 years back in time, to that fateful moment in 1994 when Joe Torcivia introduced himself to the "small but mighty" audience of the late, great Disney Afternoon-themed APA WTFB with the first installment of his now-legendary THE ISSUE AT HAND.  The comic that Joe reviewed in that first effort was Disney Comics' UNCLE $CROOGE #259 (October 1991).

U$ #259 was the third installment of an ingenious "Duck comics crossover event" dreamed up by Disney Comics Managing Editor Bob Foster.  "The Time Tetrad" linked together four unrelated Duck stories, all of which featured a spheroidal time machine created by Gyro Gearloose.

"Book One": "The Secret of Atlantis" by Byron Erickson (English dialogue) and Vicar, in DONALD DUCK ADVENTURES #17.  Any relationship to a story by Carl Barks, or, for that matter, a certain DuckTales adventure of more recent vintage, is hereby discounted with extreme prejudice. 

"Book Two": "Dirk the Dinosaur," the featured story in WALT DISNEY'S COMICS AND STORIES #564, again by Erickson and Vicar.  Interestingly, this story was the first installment -- officially, it was labeled "Chapter 0" -- in an actual series of much lengthier time-traveling adventures which Inducks flags as the "Time Machine graphic novels." 

"Book Three": "The Only Way to Go/Travel," in the aforementioned U$ #259, yet another Erickson/Vicar joint.  Disney Comics' BETWEEN THE LINES list of the month's releases uses "...Travel," while the story itself uses "...Go."  Both versions of the title appear in Inducks.  And now my head hurts.

"Book Four" is our main concern for the nonce: DUCKTALES #17's "A Dime in Time", written by Bob Langhans and drawn by the usual assortment of "credited-by-name-but-in reality-all-but-anonymous" Argentinians who toiled for the Jaime Diaz Studios.

Unlike the other stories in the "Tetrad" series, "A Dime in Time" takes up the entire issue.  What's more, it ends with a scene the setting of which would have seemed quite familiar to those who had been following the DUCKTALES title.

That's right, we're going into overtime.  It's yet another Bob Langhans cliffhanger, of the exact same sort which so enlivened "The Gold Odyssey" (DT #9-15).  My opinion of the latter story has been on record for quite some time, and I see no reason to alter it in the wake of the short-lived Boom! revival of the DUCKTALES title.  When it comes to DT comic-book stories that appeared in America and captured the authentic spirit of the series... well, this is as good as it gets, folks.

Thankfully, "A Dime in Time, Part Two" turned out to be the actual conclusion of the story, as DT #18 (November 1991) ran smack into the onrushing shock wave that was "The Disney Implosion."  Dan Cunningham's coverage of the "Implosion" era (the link shown above) as part of his survey of the history of Disney Comics is as thorough an exposition as we are likely to get of the affair.  If the details are unfamiliar to you -- or even if you think they are familiar -- then I highly recommend that you read the whole thing.

Well, at least another Langhans multi-part story got into print before the heavens fell, right?  And this one is bound to rival "Odyssey," if not in scope, then in terms of overall quality.  Right?

When I reread "A Dime in Time," I found that I could remember no details about it whatsoever.  Evidently, my "memory bone" was unconsciously doing me a favor.  "Time" doesn't measure up to "Odyssey" in any way, shape, or form.  It doesn't come close.  From the evidence provided in the story, I'm not even sure that anyone who directly worked on this story -- writer, artists, editors -- was paying it more than the most cursory attention.

Even the much-admired Bob Foster can't escape some criticism here.  He had to vet the tale on the American end, and I can only excuse his signing off on some of the egregious continuity errors and sloppy storytelling that fatally compromise Part One as the result of a desperate desire to find SOME way to give DUCKTALES its place in the "Tetrad."  Part Two flows more smoothly, but is also somewhat duller, due to all of the action basically taking place in a single venue, and it doesn't end so much as stop, with an abruptness that is violent enough to give one literary whiplash.

We begin Part One with a typical DuckTales Beagle Boy raid on the Money Bin that proceeds in the expected fashion, "expected" being in the second-season sense.  (By contrast, "The Gold Odyssey" started with Scrooge already in the throes of high adventure, stubbornly snow-catting his way through an Alaskan blizzard.  Steee-rike One.)  Magica De Spell has been crystal-eye-balling the Beagle siege and has a better (but aren't they always?) plan to snag her eternal heart's desire, Scrooge's Old #1 Dime.  She's going to use a time machine to literally go "back to the Klondike" and snag the coin from young miner Scrooge.

Magica later describes the pictured gizmo as, and I quote, "a time-warper from the 23rd century."  And Magica acquired it how, exactly?  Sure, she's a sorceress, but she's not capable of something like THIS, is she?  Or perhaps she is.  As Langhans writes her throughout the story, Magica's powers appear to be "whatever is necessary to perform a particular task," including those tasks the achievability of which would seem to be above her pay grade.  Apparently, Langhans never stopped to consider that, if Magica had the inherent magical ability to nip ahead in time and steal a time-travel device, then she wouldn't have NEEDED a time-travel device in the first place.

I also have a problem with the whole notion of Magica snookering Scrooge in his virile, full-of-beans Klondike phase.  I had certain issues with Don Rosa's "Of Ducks, Dimes, and Destinies" (UNCLE $CROOGE #297, April 1996) when it first appeared, mostly related to the whole idea of mucking around with the charmingly simple (and, lest we forget, non-Barksian) idea of Scrooge obtaining Old #1 after shining a Glaswegian ditchdigger's boots, but Magica going back to 19th-century Scotland to take advantage of a 10-year-old Scrooge makes much more logical sense. 

Magica decides to put the device to a test (she should really have done that in the 23rd century, I'm thinking) by making the Beagle Boys younger.  In the process, she leaves the rest of Duckburg in the present.  I have NO earthly idea how that works. Nor can I savvy how the Ducks (well, Scrooge and Louie, at least) are literally able to sense that "something weird is going on here" in the space of a single panel:

Scrooge had last been seen chasing the Beagles with murder in mind two pages back, but mentioning that fact seems a bit like piling on at this point.  Seriously, HOW did Scrooge and Louie figure that out?!  I suspect that even "ol' Al Einstein" (how colloquial of you, Magica) would be unable to come up with a good explanation for this.  At this point, the story is falling faster than my old pants did when I tried to put them on after my post-surgery weight loss.

Magica takes off for the past in the Ducks' very faces, conveniently explaining her plan in the process. She even tells Scrooge her exact destination; she's headed for "Uppa Creek" in the Klondike, where she'll presumably find a general store selling "Ahilla brand beans" and "Aloafa brand bread".  Evidently, Magica has done enough research on Scrooge that she knows exactly where he hung out during his mining days, at least in this somewhat dubious version of his past.  Scrooge corrals Launchpad (whose participation, along with a couple of early-Barks-style HD&L rescues, arguably comprise the sum total of high points in this entire effort) for assistance, and the Ducks ask Gyro to get his Time Coupe out of mothballs.  It appears that the events of "A Dime in Time" are taking place a good deal of time after the events of the other three stories in "The Time Tetrad."  Well, Gyro did once say, "Toy with time and you're asking for trouble."  Perhaps he finally admitted to himself that he had been right all along.

See Gyro there, in the lower right hand corner, hiding the Time Coupe in the bushes?  Take a good, long look... because you won't be seeing him again.  That's right; the story still has 40-odd pages to go, and Gyro is nowhere to be found on any of them, even after the Ducks have moved on to another point in time.

Seriously... there are no words.  After this scene, Langhans evidently forgot that Gyro had been a member of the cast, and no one editing or reviewing the story caught the error!

Are there sharks in the Klondike, and is there a location where one can jump them?

Leaving Gyro in limbo for the duration, the Ducks head to town, where Magica successfully gets them in Dutch with the local authorities by framing them as wanted bank robbers.  In so doing, she proves able to materialize and manipulate whatever she requires in order to make the ruse seem at least reasonably convincing to the rubes.  I can kinda-sorta accept the magical puppeteering, but creating material objects out of thin air with her own bare hands?  Has Magica ever displayed that sort of ability before?

If the bottom panel of that page looks a bit more like the Old West than the Klondike... well, that's because the town of Uppa Creek gradually does morph into a Western town as the story goes on, with the snow cover being the only material difference between the two venues.  I guess that either Langhans didn't know about the true nature of the Klondike, or he simply didn't care and went with what he did know.

The captured Ducks are soon in jail, faced with a grim fate, which Langhans describes sans veils of any sort.

"We'll string up them no-good polecat varmints, eh?"

A wee echo, there, of some of the grimmer moments of "The Gold Odyssey," such as the magus being buried alive or Flintheart Glomgold being marooned on the planet Sarros.  Granted, HD&L are ultimately let off with life in prison -- perhaps their jail cell will be renamed the "uninvited guest room"? -- but this is pretty stern stuff for a DuckTales romp.  Or limp, "as the bee may case."

Meanwhile, Scrooge confronts young(er) Scrooge and demands Old #1, though she goes about doing so in a fairly slipshod manner:

Er, Magica, "that shiny dime" may not BE Old #1.  How can you be certain from that distance?  And how do you know that Scrooge's entire fortune is lying on his bed?  (Actually, we are led to believe that it is, but Magica couldn't have been expected to have known that.) 

The believably feisty young Scrooge doesn't take kindly to Magica labeling him a "jerkymonger" (isn't that someone who works for the Slim Jim company?) and knocks her down a hill, turning her into a giant snowball in the process.  She must get knocked unconscious, or something, because we quickly move back to Scrooge and Launchpad's meet-up with impending doom.

HD&L subsequently escape and, taking advantage of the fact that all of the spectators at the hanging are conveniently standing on one side of the gallows, pile up sacks below the trap door to break S&L's fall.  Before the supposedly-fatal-but-now-not-so-much drop, Scrooge commits what he really ought to know is a big boo-boo, especially in this venue.

Earlier, when faced with denying his ID as the notorious outlaw, Scrooge had tried to pass himself off as the fictitious "Jim Smith," which makes logical sense.  This... does not.  The potential effects of the goof are subsequently exacerbated when the newly-free Scrooge and Launchpad join with HD&L in helping Klondike Scrooge try to keep the dime away from Magica.  To be fair, Scrooge doesn't fall into the same trap again, saying more or less cryptic things like "we have a lot in common" and "[we are] kindred spirit[s]."  But I'm afraid that the empty bag is already lying on the ground, and the cat is nowhere to be found.

Now... when you consider that I had a major problem with the ghosts of departed members of the McDuck Clan helping to shape Scrooge's destiny in Rosa's "The New Laird of Castle McDuck" (UNCLE $CROOGE #289, December 1994), how easily do you think I bought THIS little scenario?  Putting aside the issue of the "lucky" dime for the moment, given the immense symbolic relationship that Scrooge will come to have with Old #1, it is tough to imagine him completely forgetting this series of incidents, which were most likely the first such to distinguish Old #1 from the rest of Scrooge's stash.  The possible impact of "remembering a meeting with his future self" on Scrooge's subsequent progress is, well, monumental.  For example, modern-day Scrooge makes the offhand comment that young Scrooge should "hold tight to that dime" because "it's going to carry you far in life."  Can you imagine a memory of that comment helping to buck up young Scrooge's spirits at difficult points in his future life... and consequently helping to dictate some of his actions?  I certainly can.  The fact that young Scrooge sees the Ducks and Magica taking off in their time machines, and that Old #1 suddenly returns to him, as if by magic, at the end of Part Two, would most definitely set him to thinking about the true nature of the mysterious visitors whom he'd previously called "daft."  He'd need something on which to cogitate during those long winter nights on Uppa... er, White Agony Creek.

When it comes to Scrooge's origins, I prefer keeping things as straightforward as possible.  No time-traveling interventions, ghostly buttinskys, or dumb-lucky oil strikes, please.  Rosa's LIFE AND TIMES OF SCROOGE McDUCK was a monumental and, generally speaking, worthwhile endeavor, but I tend to lean a bit towards the sentiment of longtime fan-friend Dana Gabbard, who opined (re Rosa's epic in WTFB) that Scrooge's background, as presented by Barks, was part fact and part fiction, thus rendering Scrooge a classic example of a mythical or legendary figure, like Paul Bunyan. Pinning such a character down with too many specifics tends to reduce him to "just another adventure hero with a well-detailed past."  When you start throwing fantastic elements into the mix... well, just as Gyro said happens when you "toy with time," you're asking for bad vibes to rear up and bite you.

Part One ends on that cliffhanger panel of Magica (who had just stolen Old #1 back from the Ducks) and our gang flying through... the intertemporal medium, I guess.  Launchpad's attempt to hitch a ride on the surface of Magica's time device proves unsuccessful but has the side effect of knocking her progress askew, sending her to the Old West (not to be confused with the Klondike, unless you're reading this story).  Not that the Ducks themselves know quite "when" they're going, of course... though, when the dime slips into a time vortex, Launchpad seems mighty confident in his ability to track it, no matter "when" it goes.  Nice of Gyro to have given the Ducks all the information they needed to artfully manipulate the Time Coupe before he... he... heeeeeeee...

Hopefully, someone will reseal the "Universal Plug" in time.

For the vast majority of the story's 19 remaining pages, we'll be spending our time in ancient Rome, shuffling through our dog-eared index cards listing all the "ancient Roman" cliches that have accreted over the millenia.  Greedy, self-centered, bloodthirsty emperor... check.  Arrogant Roman soldiers and gladiators... check.  Ducks (well, Scrooge and Launchpad) being thrown to the lions... check.  Vaguely appropriate "period insults" like "rabble," "cur," "carbuncle," "toad," "harpy," "plebian [sic] dog," and "wretch"... check.  (Scrooge is also called an "infidel," which belongs to another period entirely.)  Sticking "-us" at the ends of words... check.

What saves the sequence, at least for me, is Launchpad's performance.  By doing nothing more than just being himself -- with all the good and bad that that implies -- he inadvertently creates crisis after crisis for the other Ducks, who ultimately become so spooked by his presence that they literally run away from him when it seems like he's about to step in it once again.

In classic LP style, Launchpad uses his own improvisational skills to best the most persistent of his tormentors, an overbearing, Bluto-like "greatest gladiator" named Detractus Finalus.  Say what you will about Langhans' performance here, but he definitely knows how to write Launchpad.

HD&L once again do their part as well, neutralizing the lions slated to gobble up Scrooge and Launchpad in a manner strikingly similar to (that's a politically correct way of saying "exactly the same as") a gambit they used in a well-aged Barks adventure.

At least Scrooge and Launchpad weren't summarily thrown out of Rome for being such "disgraces to the Empire" that even tigers wouldn't touch them.

Somewhere in the midst of all this, Magica has arrived, using her crystal ball as a sort of temporal GPS (there's that "rubber-sheet flexibility" of her powers turning up again...) and subsequently disguising herself as the Emperor's bitchy wife in a failed attempt to trick Scrooge out of Old #1.  Thereafter, she resorts to good, old-fashioned zappery.  The gang nonetheless manage to take off in the Time Coupe, leaving Magica behind, and fly back to Duckburg, where, in Scrooge's absence, the ever-persistent Beagles have broken into the Money Bin with the aid of what Bouncer calls "this super acid we swiped from the lab."  You know, you know... THAT lab.  The Time Coupe arrives just in time to decisively squash their hopes...

Bozhe Moy!  Baggy is Russian?!

... and, if you can believe it, that's a story.  No return of Magica, no explanation as to what became of Gyro.  That's it.

So, was Bob Langhans just the Duck comics writers' equivalent of a one-hit wonder?  Hard to say.  He wrote a number of other DUCKTALES stories, some of which were published in the UK, but most of the images I've been able to find of them on Inducks are from Dutch publications.  Most of the other stories appear to be of the fairly modest variety, ranging from 6 to 16 pages.  For sure, "A Dime in Time" and "The Gold Odyssey" were, by a considerable margin, the most ambitious DT tales he ever wrote.  If one of these epics had to be second-rate, I'm glad it wasn't "The BIG One."

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Next, I'm going to turn my attention to DuckTales fanfic that can be found on the Internet.  As I mentioned before, while there isn't all that much of it to be found, I have found a couple of works worth commenting upon.  Any illustrations will have to be of the generic variety, of course, but that's what comes of working with text stories.

My first review along these lines will be of a rather modest, lighter-veined story, but more ambitious efforts are on the docket.  Here's one preview that may intrigue you:

Imagine that someone took Don Rosa's famous image of Scrooge's 1967 gravesite seriously... very seriously... and used it as a jumping-off point for the Nephews' future lives.  In the world of DuckTales.  And Darkwing Duck.  And TaleSpin (circa 1970 or so).  And even Goof Troop.  Now imagine that the story rated somewhere between PG-13 and a "hard" R.

Yes, really.

8 comments:

Joe Torcivia said...

Chris:

Unlike the Scrooge (subject of my first ever comic book review – and thinks for the link to it) and Donald installments of “The Time Tetrad”, I don’t think I’ve read the DuckTales (or the WDC&S) installments since original release… but I don’t recall “A Dime in Time” being quite this overall-bad!

…Not that is ISN’T, mind you! I just have that same lack of vivid recollection that you described.

Then again, we were still in that period where “Disney could do no wrong”… something that was about to seriously change, in somewhat less than 30 days!

Bring on IDW!

Pan MiluĊ› said...

You know, there is this one fanfiction where Doofus takes his revange on Bully Beage, that has plenty of pictures and... Never mind, never mind :P

Daniel J. Neyer said...

I wasn't bugged by Scrooge's meeting with his past self in this story, but I do vividly remember being perplexed by Magica's ability to create Erl Spill wanted posters and incriminating evidence from scratch; if she can do things like that, why does she even need a wealth spell? She could just conjure money out of nowhere. I also noticed (who couldn't? Well, apparently Langhans couldn't) Gyro's sudden disappearance; my then seven-year-old brain was greatly perturbed over the possibility that he was carelessly abandoned in Uppa Creek.

Launchpad really doesn't have some good moments in the second part, doesn't he...thanks for reminding me of some of them. Langhans, as you say, definitely understood the character; he's a clumsy adventurer who sees himself as a swashbuckling hero and who can occasionally live up to this image of himself, albeit in unorthodox ways--not just the unambitious "comic sidekick" he sadly became on Darkwing Duck, and that he is in too many comic-book appearances.

Chris Barat said...

Joe,

You would think that, if "A Dime in Time" were as wretched as it appears to be on this run through, then our memories of it would be as negative as those of, say, "The Great Chase." I guess we were giving Langhans the benefit of the doubt at the time.

Chris

Chris Barat said...

Dan,

Yeah... If Magica could materialize money as easily as she did here, then WHY WOULD she need Old #1 at all? Perhaps Old #1 would provide the extra "oomph" to allow Magica to go increased wealth one better and... wait for it... take over the world? That would make sense in a DUCKTALES context, at least, since she expressed that ambition as far back as "Send in the Clones."

Chris

Anonymous said...

In fairness, the Klondike has often been mischaracterized as a lawless Western frontier time. Even Don Rosa in Life and Times uses the same trope, although he acknowledges that in real life Skagway, Alaska would have been more appropriate. Try Pierre Berton's Klondike for an entertaining account of the Gold Rush. In reality, the North West Mounted Police under Sir Sam Steele was a virtual (benevolent) dictatorship in the Yukon.

Am I the only one who finds it hilarious that:
(a) Launchpad needs to shave
(b) Shaves with a straight razor
(c) Shaves with a straight razor looking into a rear view mirror while driving Scrooge's limo.

As for the fan fic you referred to, I think the characterization of one of the story's Beagle Boys is enough to push it to a "hard" R. I can't say I particularly liked the story, although the plot was enough to keep my interest from start to finish.

Daniel J. Neyer said...

In re: Dime In Time's Magica; I think someone with the powers of mind control she displays here could even Rule the World without the help of Old No. 1. Note how easily she gets away with her impersonation of the Emperor's wife, retaining the unquestioning allegiance of the Roman soldiers--even after she's TRANSFORMED BACK INTO HER OWN PERSON before their eyes, another portion of the story that had me scratching my head when I first read it.

Chris Barat said...

Anon,

"Am I the only one who finds it hilarious that:
(a) Launchpad needs to shave
(b) Shaves with a straight razor
(c) Shaves with a straight razor looking into a rear view mirror while driving Scrooge's limo."

Well, given that various Duck characters (e.g. Scrooge's auld Uncle Jake) have beards and whiskers of various sorts, I think that we can accept Duck shaving as canon. But only LP would have thought (or not) to do (c).

"As for the fan fic you referred to, I think the characterization of one of the story's Beagle Boys is enough to push it to a "hard" R. I can't say I particularly liked the story, although the plot was enough to keep my interest from start to finish."

That's why I said that it varied from PG-13 to "hard" R. That Beagle's appearances encompass part of the R material.

Chris