Friday, November 28, 2014

Book Review: WALT DISNEY'S UNCLE $CROOGE: THE SEVEN CITIES OF GOLD by Carl Barks (Fantagraphics Books, 2014)

If this be "skimming," then at least it's mostly cream.  In his seminal CARL BARKS AND THE ART OF THE COMIC BOOK, Michael Barrier* praised the earliest UNCLE $CROOGE stories -- in particular, "Only a Poor Old Man" -- to the highest heavens but then argued that, with Scrooge's essential nature having been revealed whole during these tales, there was nothing more that Barks could do with the old miser that wouldn't be "skimming the surface" in comparison.  When he used that phrase, Barrier had in mind tales exactly like the ones in this collection, the stories from U$ #7-12 (1954-55).  Here, we can see Barks really settling in with the notion of using Scrooge as an adventure hero in search of lost treasures -- the genre that William Van Horn once tongue-in-cheekedly described as "plunging into the jungle in search of the lost ruby."  In the sense that these stories don't delve as deeply into what drives Scrooge as did "Poor Old Man" or "Back to the Klondike," then Barrier has a point; after all, Scrooge can be "fully realized for the first time" only once.  But even Barrier had to admit that many of these "second-stage" offerings are "beautifully crafted."  Given that Barks was still getting used to the whole idea of Scrooge playing an heroic role on a regular basis, that's certainly an admirable enough achievement.

If Barrier doesn't have a full appreciation of Barks' craft during this period, then DuckTales sure as shootin' did.  The TV series borrowed liberally from Barks' output during this time, producing direct adaptations of "The Lemming with the Locket" and "The Golden Fleecing" and swiping the conflict from "The Great Steamboat Race" to serve as a centerpiece of its ill-fated Scrooge biography, "Once Upon a Dime."  And that may not be the end of the story.  As I argued when discussing "Too Much of a Gold Thing," the final chapter of "Treasure of the Golden Suns," one could make a good argument that "The Seven Cities of Cibola" had a direct influence on that climactic classic, just as it did on a certain Mr. Lucas and Mr. Spielberg.

As great as the finest of these tales are, I do have to admit that this volume contains the first U$ feature story that I didn't much care for: "The Mysterious Stone Ray," aka "The Mysterious Unfinished Invention," aka "Leave Stranded and Petrified Beagle Boys Lie."  I previously reviewed it here.  The story is currently ranked 16th among all Disney comics stories at Inducks, which I quite frankly cannot fathom.  Our own GeoX bombed quite savagely on "The Menehune Mystery" as Barks' first really sh**ty $CROOGE story (Geo, of course, used the uncensored version of the word), but "Stone Ray" is poorly organized and is illogical in so many ways that it's hard for me, at least, to regard it as being distinctly better than "Menehune."  Chacun a son gout, and all that.  The use of the two unrelated "adventurettes" in U$ #11, "The Great Steamboat Race" and "Riches, Riches Everywhere," is just a bit irritating -- I'm sure that at least a few of Barks' loyal readers back in 1955 regarded the unprecedented double-dip in the same way that DuckTales fans regarded that series' only venture into the two-story format (in Episode 11, no less! How about that?!), but at least the Barks tales are actually good.

Artistically speaking, Barks is still close to the top of his game here, though the effects of the notorious mid-50s "drawing paper switch" that stiffened up his art for a while can first be seen here (in U$ #11).  The worst of these effects won't show up until the "tall Ducks" period of the late 50s, however, and, all things considered, Barks' initial adaptation to the switcheroo is quite adept.  On the gag side, we see the initial one-page salvos in the "free cup of coffee wars" between Scrooge and the unfortunate diner owner who will have to wait more than half a century before his psychological torment can be comprehensively examined in a real, live, full-length story.

* In case you were unaware of the fact, FUNNYBOOKS, Barrier's new book-length history of the "Dell Comics are Good Comics" era, presently stands on the cusp of release.  Barrier can be an astringent analyst, but his views are always worth considering, so anyone with an interest in the Dell days should pick this book up, either for oneself or as a gift for a like-minded friend.  Given IDW's aggressive action in acquiring the Disney comics license and its sturdy stable of licensed properties and original creations, might we be on the verge of seeing the rise of "the new Dell"?  Time will dell... er, tell.


Joe Torcivia said...

Chris writes:

“Given IDW's aggressive action in acquiring the Disney comics license and its sturdy stable of licensed properties and original creations, might we be on the verge of seeing the rise of "the new Dell"? Time will dell... er, tell.”

I certainly hope so, Chris! I certainly hope so! If anyone has the potential to pull that off, it’s IDW! Consider Disney, Popeye, Rocky and Bullwinkle, Dick Tracy, Superman and Batman to the degree of comic strip collections, Judge Dredd… and (ULP!) MLP, and more, and it may very well be the closest thing. All those stellar names under one “roof”! Who could have imagined!

Thanks for the shout-out to “A Game of One-Cupmanship”! It remains one of my most favorite stories to have worked on!


Chris Barat said...


And IDW appears to have smart people on staff who "get" what people like about these different genres of comics. That may be the most important factor of all.


Yossi Horowitz said...

I'm pretty sure that IDW is only doing reprints with the Standard Characters; let's not get our hopes up. :)

Joe Torcivia said...


Is it a reprint, if it hasn’t been seen in the United States before?

Strictly, yes it is. But, in the greater sense, it is not a case of spending our money on - and devoting our shelf space to - something we already own - maybe even several times over. And, that’s all that really matters to me.

Like the publishers before it, I can safely say (…though I can’t actually say much more) that IDW will be publishing Standard Character stories previously unseen in the United States!

…And, THAT’S reason enough to get behind our next classic Disney comic book publisher. Hope you’ll join us!

Besides, haven’t they done so much else well that they’ve earned our trust?

Yossi Horowitz said...

Well, I'll certainly give their first few books a try and see how I feel about them.

Chris Barat said...

Joe and Yossi,

IDW describes its plan as "re-presenting stories from the past and today." Unless "today" is stretched back to encompass the past couple of decades, this certainly seems to indicate that IDW may be printing hitherto unseen stories from overseas.