Monday, February 25, 2013

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 27, "Treasure of the Golden Suns, Part Four: Cold Duck"

Hmm, ever get that creepy "deja viewed" feeling...?  (Actually, the Mansions look somewhat different in these two title cards.  Perhaps I should offer one of those contests in which readers can win prizes for figuring out what all the differences are.)

My heart is warring with my head as I start this review.  Emotionally, this has always been my favorite part of the "Golden Suns" serial, even though it's certainly stuffed full of what GeoX termed "forced flights of fancy."  (Or should that be "forced waddles of whimsy"?  After all, penguins can't fly.)  The sillier aspects of the ep didn't bother me much when I first watched it as part of the two-hour "Golden Suns" special.  At the time, it simply seemed like a really cool (pun intended), action-filled run-up to the big, golden-hued payoff in the Valley of the Golden Suns.  Several decades' worth of perspective and some cogent comments by others, however, have made it harder to sponge away the "suspiciously convenient" events, irrationalities, and general weirdness of the Antarctic adventure.  If you're looking for glib answers to the questions of why a tuning fork suddenly turned into the Ultimate Weapon, why walruses are attracted to bright colors like bulls, and where the Ducks' clothes disappeared to (or came back from), then I'm afraid you're going to be sorely disappointed.  I DO, however, still love this episode for numerous reasons, including one that has only become clear to me during my most recent re-viewings.

So why does "Cold Duck" still bubble like a vintage champagne for me?  Here are a quintet of whys 'n wherefores.

(1)  The gang's all here.  Well, that's not entirely accurate -- Duckworth is still in Duckburg -- but this counts as the first "official" adventure in which Scrooge, Launchpad, HD&L, Webby, and (bonus!) Mrs. Beakley all get to participate.  More to the point, the "established" characters, Scrooge and HD&L, actually contribute the least to the proceedings; the boys' primary accomplishment is having a change of heart about Mrs. Beakley, and Scrooge spends most of the episode in "cold storage" and later gets more or less swept up in the busy melee that dominates the ep's last third.  As a result, we really get to see the newcomers strut their stuff en masse for the first time -- though several contribute more "massively" than others, as we'll see below.

(2)  The episode's Barksian use of what Ed Norton might term "the smalll details" has always been a very big point in its favor.  There's an amusing contrast between the leaps of logic that the ep occasionally obliges us to take and the neat, clean manner in which it turns the boys' tuning fork, Mrs. Beakley's scarf, and Webby's crayons -- all of which are introduced in the first few minutes of screen time -- into vital links in the "chain" that our heroes must piece together in order to leave Penguin City safe and sound and with the map to the Valley of the Golden Suns in their mitts.  Mark Zaslove did the teleplay, which might explain the tidy-mindedness, but the jury's still out on whoever inserted all the zaniness.  Perhaps we can invoke the spirit of Mad Men and speculate that Zaslove, Jymn Magon, and Bruce Talkington hashed out one portion of the script in sober, logical fashion and the other portion after one or two of those notorious "three-martini Hollywood lunches."

Hey, Webby's already a leg up on whoever drew those pages in DUCKTALES #3!

(3)  Mrs. Beakley really does "earn her over wings" (thanks, Greg) with her performance here.  She'll have a major role to play in "Too Much of a Gold Thing," of course, but I actually prefer the manner in which she is used here, precisely because she gets to DO things, as opposed to simply warning Scrooge about the onset of "gold fever."  Granted, one of her finer feats -- namely, the infamous "recovery of the clothes" -- is never actually shown on-screen, but we do get full coverage (and, with Mrs. B., it truly is full) of her matador act before the giant prehistoric walrus, and she seems to have very little trouble in keeping up with the rest of the fleeing Ducks during the climactic dash out of the ice caves to freedom, which suggests that she may not be as much of a physical creampuff as we've been led to believe.  The resourceful Beakley who tutored Prince Greydrake and (presumably) had many other exotic adventures shines through here for a couple of memorable moments; would that she had been given more opportunities like these.

(4)  Gripe and grouse The Nostalgia Critic might about how this episode "went all girl show on us" with the introduction of Skittles and the development of her friendship with Webby, but I think that the penguin-ette is adorable.  In truth, I am probably giving the episode itself too much credit for its true level of "success" in making Skittles a good character.  Patty Parris' attempt to give the character something of an Australian accent (which would make more geographical sense than GeoX's description of the denizens of Penguin City as "British penguins") remains little more than... well, an attempt, and no one seems to have considered it worthwhile to explain WHY, exactly, this amiable little creature has had so much trouble making friends in the past.  Is the problem something that repeated uses of Dentyne might have cured?  I honestly think that the whole theme of Skittles "finally making some friends" could have been dropped without any real damage to the episode whatsoever.  Skittles could still have gotten the crayons, scarf, and parachute at the end because the Ducks were grateful for her help, rather than because the Ducks wanted to help her appeal to the locals' obsession, er, I mean, make it easier for her to become popular by giving her various sources of "color."  I fail to see how the injection of pathos makes the episode any more enjoyable.  If anything, it represented a bit of backsliding, a nervous shout-out to the "collectivist" mentality of so many animated series of the post-Smurfs early-to-mid-80s.  You might say that, just when DTVA thought it had escaped the "Get-Along Gang," the "Gang" pulled it back in... at least for a moment.   

(5)  And here's the one that snuck up on me over time on little webbed feet...  This was Webby's breakout episode, ONLY NO ONE ACKNOWLEDGED IT.  

Consider this:  Had it not been for Webby's quick thinking in sketching a crayon copy of Scrooge's map, there would never have BEEN a "Too Much of a Gold Thing."  (Thank goodness -- not to mention the vagaries of plot contrivance -- that Webby had brought her crayons with her from home, had kept them on her person during the trip to Antarctica and the trudge through the ice caves, and had thought to stash them in Skittles' "winter coat" while she was disguised as a penguin.)  You would think that a MUCH bigger deal would have been made of this action during the (otherwise superb) final scene in the transport plane.  For some reason, however, Webby doesn't rate the same praise that Mrs. Beakley gets from the no-longer-so-noisily-misogynistic HD&L.  In fact, she doesn't get any personal praise AT ALL.  Scrooge's exclamation "It's a copy of the map!" should, by all rights, have been followed by the boys duplicating their encomium of Mrs. Beakley and hailing Webby for her smarts, not to mention her daring in donning a disguise and sneaking into the "color museum" with Skittles.  Instead... nothing.  

The more I think about it, the more I realize what a lost opportunity this was.  Here was a chance to establish Webby's adventurous credentials for good and all.  Even with the "relentless sweetness," the squeaky voice, the pink dress, and all the rest, this might have ultimately made a real difference in how the DT audience came to view the character.  Webby's masquerade act and the defiance of Mrs. Beakley's request that the girls stay put in Skittles' room were a particularly pointed indication that Webby, had she been handled in a similar fashion in other episodes, really could have been a fully equal distaff partner for the Nephews.  There's really not so much difference between this...

and this...

... except that we've come to accept occasional mischievousness and rule-bending as part of HD&L's character in both comics and animation, whereas Webby has only shown such initiative on occasion, e.g., in "The Arcadian Urn" in print and "The Good Muddahs" (the "mini-gun-moll" act) in DuckTales' second season.  Even in "Cold Duck," we are only told about Webby's previous attempts to "tag along" with the Nephews; we don't get to see them.  (We can't count "Dinosaur Ducks," of course, because that episode technically occurs after the events of "Golden Suns.")

One might argue at this point that Webby's character had already been "established" in the episodes of the series that were earliest in production order.  There was no real reason to stick faithfully to that template, however.  The DT crew was feeling its way in more ways than one in those early efforts, and I certainly wouldn't have objected to the series' taking inspiration from the more interesting role that Webby played in this adventure and giving her more of substance to do in the future.  Alas, as late as "Attack of the Fifty-Foot Webby," DT writers were still mucking around with the theme of Webby as easily-overlooked fourth wheel.  Warren Spector's characterization of the Webby of "Rightful Owners" as "the smug smartass with all the answers" could be considered the other side of the coin, an almost violent reaction against the character's wasted potential in numerous media... which, of course, erred just as badly in the opposite direction.

I suppose that one of the main reasons why I have always liked this episode is that, on some level, I was "picking up on" the effort that was being made to make Webby seem and act like a character who could contribute something new and different to the classic Scrooge-HD&L partnership.  The two-hour version of "Golden Suns" gave me hope that Webby might be something more than a stickily cute character who had simply been "cut and pasted" into the cast to appease female viewers.  Then came the half-hours, and... well, the promise of that "technically initial" appearance didn't exactly disappear, but it was frequently obscured.  It's a pity, honestly.

At least Messrs. Binney and Smith appreciated Webby's efforts in this episode!

That pretty much exhausts my quota of "deep thoughts" regarding what is, at its heart, an action-packed episode that, following a relatively sedate start, attacks you "bam-bam-bam" like a machine gun.  The gelid surroundings are suitably impressive throughout, even giving direct rise to a quick, but vividly realized, action sequence in which Launchpad and HD&L ride the "polar coaster" through the caves.  The sequence isn't as flashy as the same characters' dramatic toboggan ride in "Snowy"'s cave during "Lost Crown of Genghis Khan," but it's exciting enough. 

The final act is a veritable whirlwind of activity, lacking only James Bond driving through the ice caves in a car to make it complete.  (Say, wait a minute... isn't that 007's car parked on the street?)  The sequence starting with the tuning fork's disintegration of the Ducks' ice prison (and the giant walrus' as well... so why weren't any other buildings damaged by those vibrations?) and ending with Launchpad's mountainside "smash-and-grab" counts as the best action continuity of the serial outside the climax in the Valley.  Yep, it even beats the condor-copter battle in "Three Ducks of the Condor," simply because of the sheer variety of things that are happening.  The penguins' use of snowball-throwing tanks might be considered overkill -- are we to believe that the penguins need such devices because they have enemies with advanced technology?  If so, then who are those enemies? -- but the illogic is all but swept away in all the excitement. 

Remarkably, Scrooge performs his only meaningful action of the episode when he "says bye-bye to Mr. Blubber" by breaking the glass and causing the walrus to fall out of the transport plane.  It's not his fault, of course; there's only so much you can do while stripped to your skivvies and freezing to death.  (Since Scrooge, Launchpad, and the boys all were condemned to long periods of time in such a condition, it is only fair for us to wonder about the internal sources of heat that kept them from succumbing to hypothermia.  I mean, Scrooge hadn't even begun to suffer from "gold fever" yet.)

There follows the heartwarming (and, for the reasons I described above, frustrating) scene in which the Ducks bid goodbye to Skittles and head for untold riches.  So, "Cold Duck," in and of itself, is not quite the masterwork that I once thought it was... it's still loads of fun and does more than its part to make the whole of "Golden Suns" the timeless classic that it is.





(GeoX)  In the beginning, we have HDL behaving quite dickishly, and using the aforementioned tuning fork to fuck up Beakley's and Webby's room (one of the things they break is the glass over a picture of Scrooge and two other mysterious dudes--does this signify anything, or not?). 

It must not have, otherwise Don Rosa would probably have tried to fit these fellows into his Duck Family Tree at some point.  I think we're on much solider ground in speculating that some executive insisted upon the otherwise puzzling use of a Cinderella's Castle poster on HD&L's wall during the scene in which Launchpad lands the transport plane.  The camera is a bit shaky in the image below due to the combined effects of the plane and the tuning fork, but you can clearly see the castle to the right of the window.  Given how girl-phobic the boys are throughout most of this episode, I doubt that they'd put up that poster voluntarily.

(GeoX)  Then the action proper starts, and things get REALLY batty: it turns out Scrooge is stranded in Antarctica, where he went for the second half of the map to the treasure--how he knew that was where he had to go is unclear to me (did it have something to do with the other half? But that wouldn't really make sense, would it?). Why he went alone, on a raft, with no communications equipment is just as unclear. 

Actually, Scrooge did have a homing device, so he wasn't flying completely blind.  Why he decided to hitch a ride with a walrus once he got to Antarctica is beyond me, though.

(Greg)  Louie grabs the fork (glad to see the hoods are gone now; and so I can tell them apart) as Louie bangs the tuning fork against the ice wall. Umm; check your internal logic guys; they should be nailing the right side wall since Scrooge was there...AND there was a window to boot. Logic break #2 for the episode and the first one I don't accept. 

Looks like you nailed it: see below.  The height of the wall separating Scrooge from Launchpad and HD&L also seems to have changed.  It could be that we are looking at the wall from a slightly different vantage point in the second scene, but the details still don't match.

Next: Episode 28, "Treasure of the Golden Suns, Part Five: Too Much of a Gold Thing."

Friday, February 22, 2013

W(h)ither Then Shall We Go?

Blogger "Review or Die" recently laid out his vision of what a putative "Disney comics line of the future" should look like.  He argues his points well and seems to respect the Disney comics tradition while acknowledging that new paths would have to be taken in order to give such a line a fighting chance to succeed.  Here are my (brief) takes on his plans.  Read them, read R.O.D., and let me know what you think.

(1) DARKWING DUCK -- Yes, just with an absolute minimum of editorial interference.

(2)  DUCKTALES -- Yes, but not unless EVERY effort is made to do the job right.  I'd even be willing to give Warren Spector a chance to redeem himself for "Rightful Owners" -- he certainly possesses the required enthusiasm -- provided that he worked with an accomplished editor who fully understood the TV series.  If Warren isn't interested, then perhaps someone like Jonathan Gray could be called upon to serve as the title's regular writer, seeing as how Gray's scripting job for "The Arcadian Urn" (UNCLE $CROOGE #399) has received such high praise.  Anyone who writes for DT, however, should be required to pass the equivalent of a Wonderlic test to prove that they are thoroughly familiar with the series and what makes it different from the UNCLE $CROOGE title.

(3)  KIM POSSIBLE, replacing FILLMORE -- I do have a suggestion re: Fillmore (and others) which I'll mention below.  But of the contemporary (by which I mean, post-2000) Disney productions, none deserves a comic-book title more than KP.  The show has a legitimate following, a strong female lead, good supporting players, and obvious potential for long story arcs.  A KIM POSSIBLE title done right could be for this line what DARKWING was (at least for a while) for Boom! -- an instigator of some badly-needed buzz.

(4)  UNCLE $CROOGE AND DONALD DUCK -- This is a very intelligent way of avoiding the eternal dilemma of what stories "belong" in $CROOGE and what stories "belong" in DONALD.  It would definitely have to be a 64-page book, however.

(5)  DISNEY KIDZ -- Yes, that spelling is intentional.  Here is where we can play to the 2013 version of the "Peanut Gallery" (can we really say that there is one?) and feature a rotating cast of child stars based on DTVA's numerous kid-centric offerings of the past decade-plus: FILLMORE, PHINEAS AND FERB, PEPPER ANN, TEAMO SUPREMO, etc.  Heck, I'll even accept comic-book adventures for Hannah Montana and other live-action Disney Channel faves, provided that we can get someone like Stefan Petrucha to write them.  He's got Disney comics "street cred" from his work for Egmont and has also written "comics-like" material for NANCY DREW.

(6)  THE DISNEY AFTERNOON -- Another rotating title, more like the Disney-Marvel title of the same name, only executed with, well, competence.  Various shows from the "Golden Age" of 1987-92 -- and even a little bit beyond those boundaries -- could be featured here.

(7) WALT DISNEY'S COMICS AND STORIES -- I wish that R.O.D. were a bit less vague about what he would like to go into this title.  Even an "Anything Goes" approach needs a few ground rules.  Classic supporting players from the "Golden" and "Silver" Ages of WDC&S, such as SCAMP and LI'L BAD WOLF, would of course need to be included, but stories featuring Disney movie characters would also be welcome.  These could be tied in with recent cinematic releases.  If the new line could score the rights to the Pixar characters, so much the better.

(8)  MICKEY MOUSE ADVENTURES -- Here's my biggest beef with R.O.D.: the MICKEY material in the Gemstone books was, without question, some of the very best post-Gottfredson Mouse work that we've seen.  What, Mickey's adventures in Shambor weren't good enough for you?  Or some of Noel Van Horn's more off-the-wall offerings?  Amp up the danger quotient if you like, but by all means, keep the artistic polish and the general attitude.  Mix in (judiciously) some more material from Casty and look to the early issues of Disney Comics' MMA for more inspiration.  If the "new" MMA can simply match the best of Gemstone's MICKEY stuff, then I'll be more than satisfied.  That's not nostalgia, that's just the facts, Mouse.

(9)  THE MUPPETS -- I'll take your word re: the high quality of Langridge's work for Boom!.  Only one title, please, so as not to wear the man out.

Book Review: THE CANING by Stephen Puleo (Westholme Publishing, 2012)

I can't bring myself to completely agree with the argument at the heart of this readable and detail-filled history, but that's certainly not for Puleo's lack of trying.  South Carolina Representative Preston Brooks' 1856 assault on Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner on the Senate floor is probably mentioned only briefly, if at all, during the typical history class on the pre-Civil War era.  The contemporary strife in "Bleeding Kansas," which led, among other things, to the founding of the Republican Party, featured a cast of frequently unsavory thousands, plus a theatrical madman or two (think John Brown), and thus seems to carry more import.  In Puleo's view, however, Brooks' cudgeling of Sumner with a gutta-percha cane following the latter's inflammatory, insult-filled oration "The Crime Against Kansas," served as the flash point for a number of events that drove America into war at last.  In certain instances, such as John Brown's murderous raid on Pottawatomie, Kansas and massacre of pro-slavery settlers there, there is ample evidence that the caning did serve as a goad to direct action.  The North's horrified reaction to the beating also helps to explain why the Republican Party, after only two years of existence, did much better in the Presidential election of 1856 than anyone had expected.  As we move towards Lincoln's election and the caning recedes further into the past, however, Puleo's arguments regarding the significance of the event begin to weaken.  Where I think Puleo is on soundest ground is in his vivid description of the reaction to the caning as revealing the vast gulf in moral values that had opened up between North and South during the antebellum era.  Broad historical movements are hard to personalize; it sometimes takes a one-on-one conflict like this one to crystallize people's true feelings (or disagreements) about the Zeitgeist.

Puleo tries as hard as he can to be fair to both Brooks and Sumner, which is admittedly difficult given that the former nearly killed the latter (and did, in fact, condemn Sumner to a long period of frequently agonizing rehabilitation).  In so doing, he places a great deal of emphasis on Sumner's self-righteousness and lack of empathy for others and on Brooks' strong sense of "Southern chivalry" and devotion to his native state and relations (one of whom, Senator Andrew Butler of South Carolina, was mercilessly attacked by Sumner during his speech, triggering the normally placid Butler's violent reaction).  As a result of the caning, both men inevitably became transcendent symbols of either heroism or villainy, with the distinction depending upon which side of the Mason-Dixon line you were sitting.  Some contemporary observers commented on the sections' utterly different reactions to the caning, but few seemed to have fully appreciated their sinister import for the future.

Puleo's attempts to link the caning to the Dred Scott decision and other pre-Civil War milestones are less successful.  In discussing Dred Scott, for example, he takes a detour to discuss how personal grief may have led Chief Justice Roger Taney to throw all caution to the winds and show the full extent of his pro-Southern (actually, it was more anti-abolitionist) prejudices when writing the majority opinion for that unfortunate decision.  The caning may also have played a role in hardening Taney's feelings, but explicit evidence to that effect is somewhat lacking.  John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry, meanwhile, was more ambitious in scope, and thus less dependent on the caning as a trigger, than was the rage-fueled Pottawatomie raid, which took place immediately after the caning.

Despite the iffiness of the central argument, this book is well worth reading if you have particular interest in the antebellum era -- and even if you don't.  In 2013 America, after all, gulfs in moral values frequently seem as wide as they did in 1856...

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Fanfic Review: KIM POSSIBLE in "BALLOONS, BOLTS, AND A BATTLE" by Richard Smyers

Richard Smyers' follow-up to "A Fair to Remember" finds Kim Possible, Ron Stoppable, Rufus, and Doctor Who pursuing the stolen TARDIS to 1862 Virginia.  1862 Virginia?!  Why can't it ever be Wa Keeney, Kansas, on a pleasant Spring morning in 1953?  Well, the "Empath" who swiped the time-traveling device apparently feeds off the "emotional tension" that accompanies stress-filled moments, and you can't get much more stressful than the period immediately before a major battle of the early Civil War.  After Doctor Who is temporarily incapacitated, it's up to the teens and the naked mole rat to pinpoint the missing TARDIS, even as the rain pours down, the rivers overflood their banks, and the preparations for battle have begun...

As always, Richard has done his historical homework here, and he thankfully resists the temptation to run Team Possible up against a parade of famous figures of history, even granted that the one major player who crosses paths with them here, George Armstrong Custer, hadn't "made his bones" quite yet.  Instead, we get a glimpse of a minor, yet fascinating, aspect of the war -- namely, the use of observation balloons for reconnaissance -- with Kim and Ron assisting "Professor" Thaddeus Lowe of the U.S. Army Aeronautic Corps in his efforts to gain intelligence on Confederate movements.  Since Kim is as good at brainwork as she is at spin-kicks and cheerleader flips, this is a nice tribute to the character's full range of abilities, and something that we would probably not get to see in lesser KP fanfics that dote rather too much on either physical brawls or angsty teenage romance.

Armed with a list of the "Empath"'s historical targets, Team Possible and Doctor Who appear to be headed to The Alamo at story's end, albeit with an "unexpected tagalong" in tow (no, it's not Webby).  This is fine as far as it goes... however, I hope that Richard hasn't laid aside the idea of bringing Doctor Who back to Middleton at some point for an extended stay.  I'd be interested to see how the good Doctor might interact with Kim's parents, the "Tweebs," Mr. Barkin, and even some of the standard KP villains.  The teens will only be able to stay in the 18th and 19th centuries for so long before Kim's out-of-their-time martial-arts moves and Ron's careless use of terms like "Dude" and "nacos" will start to seem repetitive.

Small but noteworthy milestone:  This is the first fanfic that I transferred to my Kindle and read on the device in .PDF format.  The transfer seemed to work quite well, and more such digitizations are certain to follow.  Thus do we progress...

Saturday, February 16, 2013

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 26, "Treasure of the Golden Suns, Part Three: Three Ducks of the Condor"

In addition to serving as the "tipping point" for the remainder of "Treasure of the Golden Suns," "Three Ducks of the Condor" features the "formal series debuts" of one classic Carl Barks character, Gyro Gearloose, and no less than three of DuckTales' significant original characters -- Mrs. Beakley (the second "e" remains a matter of some debate, at least in some circles), Webby, and, above all (but soon to fall and crash, no doubt), Launchpad McQuack.  In retrospect, however, I think that its most notable legacy is the fact that it gives Donald Duck the closest thing that he would ever get in the series to a featured role in an adventure story.  There are other eps for which one could argue: "A Whale of a Bad Time" (part two of the "firefly fruit" serial "Catch as Cash Can"), for example, in which Don and Scrooge team up to take on Dr. Horatio Bluebottle.  But more often than not, Donald is something of a put-upon character in his DuckTales roles.  In "Sphinx for the Memories," "Spies in Their Eyes," and "All Ducks on Deck," Donald is certainly at center stage, but primarily because other characters are doing things to him -- using him to reanimate the spirit of a departed king, manipulating him into stealing Navy secrets, trying to help him win medals.  By contrast, in accompanying Scrooge and Launchpad on their journey to what Don Rosa would probably call "an alternate section of" the Andes, Donald makes his closest DT approach to something resembling a Barks-style adventure.

Insert joke about Donald's "work rate" here.

Umm... no, I don't think so.

I have a draft of the script for this episode, and it reveals a surprising fact: a "character-based subtheme" that was intended to be showcased here was dropped along the way.  This involved Scrooge's imperiousness.  Specifically, Scrooge was supposed to throw his weight around on several occasions during the episode, pissing off Launchpad and Donald (among others) in the process, only to see the error of his ways and ultimately apologize to LP and Don for getting "just a wee bit bossy."  Basically, it was the same approach that was taken later in "Aqua Ducks", only with somewhat less irritatingly crude execution (nowhere does Scrooge call LP and Don "morons" during "Condor," for example).  Scrooge's apology was ultimately deleted, but signs of the abandoned theme pop up throughout the episode.  Think of Donald snapping "You're as bossy as [Joaquin Slolee] is!" when Scrooge orders him to go help Launchpad find and fix the Golden Condor, or Scrooge telling the stubborn Slolee that "we're both used to gettin' our own way."  In at least one instance, a line of Scrooge's was softened to reflect the shift.  When he leaves the unhappy Nephews behind with Mrs. Beakley, instead of telling them "I have to do what's best," Scrooge originally was supposed to say, "I'm in charge, and you have to obey me."  And you thought HD&L were acting like brats BEFORE... I can only imagine how the boys would have taken this.  Even the milder line earned a trio (sextet?) of cold shoulders.

The Nephews... how shall I put this... do not exactly put their best webbed feet forward during their brief time on screen.  After all that admirable bonding and co-adventuring with Scrooge during the first two parts of the adventure, they're suddenly back to their hell-raising days.  The misogyny that the boys show here, and also during "Cold Duck," has certainly been a part of their personalities in the past, but I'm hard pressed to think of a Barks story where they acted like female-hating jerks to such an extent as this.  Even their famous griping at the start of Barks' "The Chickadee Challenge" (WALT DISNEY'S COMICS AND STORIES #181, October 1955) had a comedic aspect to it, with the boys assuming the mantle of outraged dignity at the temerity of "mere girls" to challenge their mastery of Woodchuck-craft.  Here, there's no real comedy, there's just... dickishness.
Mrs. Beakley and Webby get low-key introductions here -- Webby's, in truth, is little more than a glorified cameo -- but make good impressions.  Mrs. B. quickly shows her considerable mettle by refusing to fall for the "He's not Huey, I am" ruse -- between this and the offer to "work for nothing," Scrooge's "favorite price," I get the idea that she was determined not to let this job get away and boned up on the details of the McDuck household very thoroughly -- and even Webby gets to show a side of her personality that we seldom see thereafter, giving the Nephews a surreptitious "Nyaahhhh" and then going back to default "angelic" mode.

Gyro's brief bow-in is just as successful.  I recall that Hal Smith's vocal interpretation of the character (which, it should be recalled, took a little time to be firmed up during the first few episodes that were actually produced) seemed absolutely spot-on to me during the two-hour "Golden Suns," and it still does.  The somewhat phlegmatic Gyro of the Barks stories certainly worked in context; more often than not, those brief tales were extended vignettes on the trials and tribulations of creation, with Barks perhaps working out some of his own feelings on the subject as he composed them.  The animated Gyro (at least, once production had gotten well underway and Smith's earlier vocal querulousness had been ditched) is, well, animated: chipper, optimistic, "glad to be of service" (when he's not undergoing the occasional soul-searching, that is).  Coming on the heels of the earlier characterizations of the Beagle Boys and Glomgold, which departed somewhat from what I had expected, this appearance by Gyro really was like watching the comic book come to life.

And Launchpad, of course, makes the BEST... ENTRANCE... EVER.  With the possible exception of Kit Cloudkicker in "Plunder and Lightning, Part One," this is the Disney Afternoon introduction sequence that has stuck to people's memories like glue.  I realize that LP's role in Darkwing Duck was rather different than it is in DuckTales, but the contrast between this bang-up debut scene and LP's first encounter with DW in "Darkly Dawns the Duck" is, quite frankly, jarring.

Interestingly, despite the fact that Scrooge and Launchpad shared at least one adventure long before this, Gyro appears to be more familiar with LP than Scrooge is here.  Gyro, for example, immediately knows that LP is the pilot who's crashing the plane, while Scrooge merely says that "This guy's in big trouble."  Seeing as how Gyro and "test pilot" Launchpad co-starred in a couple of gag stories by William Van Horn in the late 80s, perhaps the duo's partnership was more extensive than the series hinted...

So, it's off to the Andes we go -- and I'm not sure that some of the material we got in the episode didn't represent something of an indirect call-out to Barks' "Lost in the Andes" (FOUR COLOR #223, April 1949).  The aerial shot of Joaquin Slolee's temple doesn't look all that different from the splash panel in which the Ducks first glimpse the layout of Plain Awful, especially when you consider the viewing angle:

Then, too, the natives whom generations of Slolees (who reproduced... uh, how, exactly?  Does Joaquin seem like the type who'd willingly take a native concubine?) have controlled with the Golden Sun coin labor under the same kind of "mind control" that "Professor Rhutt Betlah of Bummin'ham" inadvertently fastened onto the Plain Awfultonians... the difference being that the Awfultonians have been bamboozling themselves for years (and, of course, have loads more personality than Slolee's unfortunate peons).  As Don Rosa would demonstrate in "Return to Plain Awful," the Awfultonians are quite good at slavishly "following trends."  Slolee's natives have simply followed the same trend for an inordinate period of time... though, in the end, they do prove capable of escaping the vicious cycle.

Scrooge and the arrogant Slolee make worthy antagonists, and they probably would have made even better ones had Scrooge's bossiness been given completely free rein.  (This may be another reason why Scrooge's attitude was modulated; did someone along the line think that Scrooge and Slolee were coming across as more alike than the series' creators were willing to admit?)  The "war of wills" provides useful cover for the prosaic reality that one of Slolee's main functions is to serve as an "info dump," getting us up to speed on how Scrooge might find the Valley of the Golden Suns with the help of Marcheen Slolee's bifurcated map (and also, indirectly, revealing the chilling true identity of El Capitan).  I must admit, though, that some aspects of the backstory now give me a bit of pause.  For example, Marcheen and "his partner Juan Tanamera" get out of the Valley with a "boatload" of treasure without succumbing to the "dreaded gold fever" that will play such a huge role in "Too Much of a Gold Thing."  How convenient... and how strange that, after El Capitan stole the treasure and sailed away, the partners went to all the trouble of making the map and tearing it in two, as opposed to simply going back to the Valley for more treasure.  "Gold fever" didn't stop them the first time, so why should it keep them from returning?  

Action sequences dominate the latter half of the episode, and they're executed quite niftily, though the logic behind them is a little raggedy.  Since the natives could presumably have thought up any number of more convenient ways to punish Launchpad for "angering children of Sun" than having him fly a giant condor, the only reason that I can think of that LP's "birdman" act was included was to give him a chance to show off the more "off-the-wall" aspects of his aerial skills.  LP does wind up crashing the giant bird (and "convincing" the semi-hysterical Slolee to give up his section of the map just so Scrooge and company can leave), but one can't help but be impressed by his improvisational skills here.

Then, too, the grand condor-airplane conflict that leads to Slolee losing his coins is triggered by Scrooge and Launchpad absent-mindedly leaving Donald behind.  I can understand Launchpad and Donald (who work quite well as a team after that early unpleasantness centering around Don's voice) neglecting that little detail in their plan, but Scrooge really should have been quicker on the uptake here.  As a result of the negligence, Donald gets to play "bump machine" as the revamped Golden Condor takes on Slolee's Condor Legion.  Well, I won't complain about this too much, since Donald also filled somewhat more dignified roles in this episode.  

Donald's final line of dialogue in the episode seems like the conclusion of an extremely long shaggy-dog story.  Thankfully, it's bracketed by some arresting, dramatic visuals: Scrooge and Donald's dignified parting, Scrooge's wind-buffeted drop into the sea, and the last shot of Scrooge and his little raft drifting away to a new destination.  The final visual actually had more impact in the full-length version of "Golden Suns" than in the two-hour version, since it served the former as a literal cliffhanger but was merely a bridge to "another commercial" in the latter.

"Condor" isn't my favorite chapter of the "Golden Suns" story, but that may simply be because I missed the participation of the Nephews.   I still appreciate it as a rousing good adventure, a great debut for Launchpad, and a rare chance for the DuckTales Donald to shine.




(GeoX)  It's pretty clear that the nature of [Donald] the animated character is pretty unavoidably determined by his voice--the show may center on Barks' characters, but this is most definitely not Barks' Donald, for better or worse (or, really, neutral, since as I said, I don't think anything could really have been done about it).

It's also difficult to describe this Donald as the animated-shorts DonaldHe has several spasms of temper, one of which can hardly be faulted (how would YOU react if YOU were roughly picked up by a giant condor?), but I'd say he behaves himself reasonably well.  The clumsiness is somewhat irritating, and the sudden camera fetish seems like one of those one-note contrivances that is slapped onto a character for the purposes of gags and plot contrivances.  I'm inclined to agree with you that it's hard to imagine a scenario in which the Barks (or even the Rosa) version of Donald could be successfully brought to the screen.  Pairing Launchpad with Donald more often, however, would have served both characters and the series well, allowing the writers to play on the very real differences between them.

(Greg)  Mrs. Beakly in a sad way is a political hot potato in that she had the character to work well; but her stereotypical mannerisms got in the way of success in getting over.... The reason most critics didn't automatically condemned Grammi Gummi, Princess Calla and Sunni Gummi is because they were in a time period where you would expect extreme sexism. However; Ducktales basically takes place in the 1980's time period (as least the elements were in place for it) where sexism wasn't really going to fly anymore and Miss Beakly was considered too behind the times. However; the problem with Beakly was not her stereotypical mannerisms or role (since she chose that role and wore it on her sleeve as we will see; and also Duckworth is basically doing the same thing so Scrooge is a equal employer on that level at least.); it was because she was ultra fussy. 

"Stereotypical mannerisms" and even "fussiness" don't necessarily doom a female character to archaic status; it's what the creators do with the character within those limitations that makes the difference.  Just look at Mary Poppins.  The episode "Jungle Duck" hinted at one possible way of giving Mrs. B. more meaningful roles: gradually reveal various aspects of her "mysterious past" and give her chances to display hitherto-unseen skills (in light of the story we're discussing here, you might call the latter the "getting back the clothes" skills).

(Greg)  As for Joaquin; he was actually fine until they got to the climax and he turned heel which would have been fine in itself if he didn't look like such a weak ass in the end with his sobbing like a baby.  

Well, he had just lost his "total power" over the natives and screwed up 400 years' worth of family tradition.  How else should he be expected to behave?

Next:  Episode 27, "Treasure of the Golden Suns, Part Four: Cold Duck."