Monday, August 1, 2011

"The Bathtub At the End of the Universe" by Michael T. Gilbert and Flemming Andersen

During Gladstone II, a cause of much frustration was being all too aware of, for all intents and purposes, an infinite reserve of European material that’d never seen print in the U.S. that we were being offered very little of.

With the arising of Gemstone, the tides turned.  In a major way.

I feel that Gemstone’s digests satisfied on two counts:

1. Keeping alive  Gladstone’s "[character name as a noun, NOT pluralized] Adventures" series title tradition/brand.  (And, at long last, once again, there was an ongoing Mickey Mouse Adventures! Alas, Gemstone’s incarnation only made it to #12, leaving Disney Comics' version holding the record, having ended at #18 … but by Gemstone's fourth or fifth issue [only!], they'd TRUMPED Disney Comics' MMA page count!)

2. The experience of regularly-published digests, each issue comprised of more than 100 pages, which were devoted to MULTIPLE bulky 40-to-50-page stories of the contemporary (or semi-contemporary, as to U.S. readers, these were imports -- we didn't have first dibs), lively, colorful, pure-candy-narratively-and-visually variety -- à la Topolino.

The story I’ll use as an example of the contents of Gemstone's digests is “The Bathtub At the Edge of the Universe” (curious discrepancy: in the table of contents, it’s denoted as “The Bathtub on the Edge of Forever”), which was written by Michael T. Gilbert and drawn by Flemming Andersen. (Printed by Gemstone in Donald Duck Adventures #17, May 2006; originally printed in Denmark’s Jumbobog #182, 1996 ... thanks, Inducks!)

Here’s Inducks’ scan of the first page (American version):


I’m quite fond of Andersen’s work on this story. Here, the ducks are squashed and distorted in a fashion that, in my evaluation, harkens back to `60’s Romano Scarpa. See how bottom-heavy Scrooge is, and how his ENTIRE HEAD seems that it’s being absorbed and truncated INTO his furrowing brow? See how long Donald’s beak is and the polarity in how big the front of it is and how narrow the middle is, and how those drooping eyelids -- the likes of which I’ve never seen drawn on him before -- convey his boredom and disinterest? (DDA #17's lead story, “The Search for Bigfoot”, also bears Andersen art, but dates from a few years later than “Bathtub”. Interestingly, we find that his ducks by then had become trimmer and sleeker.) I’m not always into heavily stylized, modern ducks -- I’m something of a Barksian traditionalist (never even really got into William Van Horn while I was growing up!). But Flemming somehow manages to enliven extreme exaggeration, jaggedness, and “grit” (…eh, not really fond of that last word…) with enough “fleshiness” to give the panels a considerable degree depth and substance, if not exactly a Barksian “warmth”.

I have to admit that I have egg on my face. In my earlier post about the array of Danish and Finnish Duck stories that Gladstone I featured, I asserted that there was a distinctly Italian approach to Duck comics. Well, I would’ve pegged “Bathtub” as being of Italian origin … but it was produced by Egmont, and Inducks identifies Andersen as being a Dane! D’OH! Still, I wasn’t wrong that the Egmont and Oberon stories that Gladstone I printed showed little indication of the Scarpa-derived lineage that I feel runs through Cavazzano, Andersen, and others ... whatever country they're from or whose Disney comics publishers they work for.

Before we go any further, here's the cover for Gemstone's Donald Duck Adventures #17 (I know, doesn't really make sense sequentially here, but I wanted the scan of the story's first page to be given precedence!):

All right, the plot…sure, the ducks have time-traveled before (and in a bathtub, to boot -- DuckTales ’ “Sir Gyro de Gearloose” should be given its due!). And dinosaurs have certainly been the object -- or at last a component -- of more than one of their previous adventures. But for this story, Michael T. Gilbert brought to realization a decidedly unique, original dynamic and narrative thrust. As Donald and the nephews, traversing the centuries and reality's fringes, scramble to track down Gyro’s time-displaced “100 mega-watts zigga-bomb” and prevent its explosion from wiping out history, they're relying on Scrooge and Gyro to keep up their end at “Mission Control” in Gyro’s lab back in the “present” ... where things DON’T go so smoothly. As they get precariously nearer the last wire, the sense of crisis and urgency is louder than in the average Duck comics -- usually, even when the stakes are high, they’re not regarded with so much fraught anxiety.

What’s really singular is the pairing of Scrooge and Gyro, and how their clashing neuroses create a certain dissonance -- that Donald and the nephews are depending on these two nervous wrecks greatly augments, exacerbates, and drives the story’s tension. To have Scrooge separated from his four nephews and partnered with Gyro is, of course, a variation from the norm. But to have Donald maintain a fair degree of confidence and heroism as he and the nephews brave the figurative storm (actually, gets pretty literal!), while  Scrooge acts as scatterbrained and guility of as bungling as Gyro, is a bold twist. However, Scrooge’s characterization is completely justified: what's going down was spurred by his lust for the profits he was sure were to come from backing Gyro’s breakthrough inventions -- a lust that blinded him to the dangers of said technology. He isn’t shaken out of his myopic perspective of the matter until he virtually has his finger hovering above the figurative doomsday button (or should I use "literal" here, too?  ...nah, "figurative"; there's no actual button!  Well, there's buttons, but not THE buttoon...) …hence his jitteriness and subsequent clumsiness! Mr. Gilbert, I'm SOLD!

Finally, I must quote Gyro, at the story’s apocalypse-flirting climax, explaining what’s going on: “It’s the `Gilbert Proximity Syndrome’! A time paradox posited by Professor M.T. Gilbert! [A self-reference on the author’s part? Or was this an editorial embellishment? I'm assuming the original script would've been in English and was used -- supporting that, no translator or dialogue writer is credited -- so I'm uncertain.] If conflicting events in parallel time lines get too close, history will correct itself before the events occur!” Shades of the infamous eternally-debated Biff-of-2015-returns-from-having-changed-history-and-finds-that-he’s-starting-to-fade-from-existence deleted scene!

In all seriousness, in terms of time travel in genre fiction, I’m eternally grateful that we live in a post-Back to the Future world. We’ve come a long, long way from the Legion of Super-Heroes (in the 28th-or-whatever century) for some bizarre reason historically recognizing Clark Kent of the 20th century as having been SuperBOY and not SuperMAN, and the improbable coincidence that Superboy and the Legion’s successive time travel-enabled encounters with one another were linear in terms of BOTH of their lives…  (I'm pretty sure that if they ever agreed, "Okay, so we never get confused, let's make sure that on every occassion where we get together, the same amount of time since the last occassion has passed FOR BOTH OF US!  Let's not ever surprise each other by later on time-traveling before and between occassions where, in each of our respective linear lives, we've already hung out!", it was off-panel!)

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