Monday, September 19, 2011

A History of DuckTales Comic Books, Part Two: Disney Comics

It's been over a month since Part One, and since I've posted to this blog at all.  I assure you, I'd intended otherwise!  In the interim, I've been inconvenienced by not one but two spells, each lasting over a week, of not having Internet at home, due to technical problems.  On top of that, between work and school (including teaching a class so as to fulfill a degree requirement, when I have no prior teaching experience whatsover!), the past month has been especially hectic and chaotic.  Things seem to finally be in order again, though.

All right -- let's get down to business. 

1n 1990, "the Walt Disney Company itself decided that what Gladstone could do, Disney could do better", and thus "revoked Gladstone's license".  (See this article that, all the way back in 1996, David Gerstein wrote for the Disney Comics Mailing List's home page.)   And thus, an operation christened Disney Comics came into being -- a new arm (...or, more aplty, a new arm hair...) of the mammoth, sprawling corporation that bears the name of an innovative, audience-pleasing early-to-mid-20th century filmmaker.  In June (well, that's going by cover, that would've made it, in reality, what, April?), Disney Comics launched eight monthly titles, the majority of them featuring original, exclusive new material.
At this point, DuckTales, the TV series, remained a hit -- as now did a second syndiated Disney animated series, Chip 'n' Dale Rescue Rangers.  Disney saw fit to give each an ongoing comic book series -- the first issue of each amongst the June 1990 debuts.  (In the case of DuckTales, Disney disregarded Gladstone's numbering.  Same for Donald Duck Adventures.) 

The cover of Disney Comics' DuckTales #1:

(Eh, too yellow for my taste.)  :)

(After TaleSpin -- and not to mention, The Disney Afternoon -- premiered on TV that fall, Disney Comics ran a "trial" TaleSpin four-issue mini-series.  Likewise, the advent of the Darkwing Duck TV series prompted a four-issue mini-series, but an ongoing, regular comic never came to fruition.  More on that below...)

Unlike the Barks reprints, the Lustig/Van Horn originals (which were arguably more Barksian than they were DuckTales-esque...but were more Lustig/Van Horn than anything else!), and even the limp Jaime Diaz Studio (which at least, on one level, looked like the TV series) stories that had accounted for Gladstone's version of a <i>DuckTales</i> comic, the Disney Comics version felt like a true tie-in with the show, exuding the flashiness, bombast, and kid-geared "coolness" characteristic of a popular contemporary animated TV series' merchandise. 

The comic lasted until #18, which bore a cover date of November 1991.  Then, Disney Comics' line was cut down to only Uncle Scrooge, Donald Duck Adventures, and Walt Disney's Comics and Stories (in BOOM!-speak, classics were back), and by and large, they ceased producing original stories.  (When this "Disney Implosion" occurred, the Darkwing Duck "trial" mini-series was underway.  They waited out the scheduled four issues, and simply never again said anything about an ongoing series. you know!)

Their DuckTales run can be broken down as follows:

#1-7: "Scrooge's Quest" seven-part serial.  Written by Marv Wolfman.  Drawn by Cosme Quartieri and Robert Bat, et al.

#8: two Jaime Diaz Studio stories.

#9-15: "The Gold Odyssey" seven-part serial. Written by Bob Langhans.  Drawn by Cosme Quartieri and Robert Bat, et al.

#16: two Jaime Diaz Studio stories.

#17-18: "A Dime in Time" two-part serial.  Written by Bob Langhans.  Drawn by Cosme Quartieri and Robert.  (#17 was part of "The Time Tetrad", that month, Uncle Scrooge, Donald Duck Adventures, and Walt Disney's Comics and Stories all featured stories involving the use of the same time machine.  In "A Dime in Time", thanks to Quartieri and Bat in their art replicating the appearance of said time machine in said European stories, the ducks once again used it to hop centuries...this brings up continuity questions that, for the time being, I'll spare you...)

Like the Jaime Diaz Studio material Gladstone had used, the stories in #8 and #16 had the trappings of a Duck comic, and sported "professional" art with very "on-model" characters.  However, they hit their cues only on a superficial level; both their narratives and panel stagings were uninspired and bland. 

But "Scrooge's Quest", "The Gold Odyssey", and "A Dime in Time", on the other hand...these serials were highly-energized, and amibitious, exhibiting the aspiration to be operating on an epic scale.  Kind of the rock 'n' roll version of Duck comics.  Notably, these stories -- as was Disney's wont -- eschewed the four-tiers-per-page model that Western had established as the standard and tradition for Duck and Mouse comics, opting for a three-tiers-per-page format, aping DC and Marvel.  Now, if you're going to use the same amount of space for fewer panels, then you're going to have bigger individual panels...and this may have had a lot, if not everything, to do with how bombastic the book seemed.

The art generally "got" the aesthetic of the TV series (even Scrooge's mansion looks as it did on the show!), and, for the most part, is lively, active, distinct, and dynamic, if perhaps more sloppier and rushed at some points than at others. 

Both seven-parters used the modus operandi of stringing together what were in truth a few self-contained adventures/episodes together with an overall arc that was-- so I'll admit, even though I'm inclined to "push" these comics -- thin, loose, and inconsistent.  Yes, over the course of the proceedings, Wolfman and Langhans, each in their own right, stooped to mindless action-adventure clichés, and, without question, the proceedings lacked the class and finesse of Carl Barks.  Nonetheless, these 100+ page Duck quasi-opuses were, again, ambitious -- it was exciting to see Scrooge and Co. traipsing through such "big" exploits, the suspense sustained -- in real-world time -- for months on end.  And in being competent, accurate reflections of the TV series, they did the trick, if that was your bag.

Chris Barat champions "Odyssey" as being superior to "Quest".  And, sure, I'd submit that my preference is also for Langhans' issues.  The individual chapters of "Scrooge's Quest" are probably more coherently realized.  And the tightness of his writing serves "A Dime in Time" well, its two issues having the same high-gear momentum of its longer predecessors.  And he probably wins out for having taken things as far as he could, and making them as "dark" (for a "family" comic that would've been subjected to Disney corporate scrutiny, anyway) as he could've -- take the occult-alluding third chapter, "The Once and Future Warlock":

But, in all respects, I don't think of there as being a huge disparity between the two seven-parters; I see them as being very much of the same nature, sharing not only the same shortcomings, but the same points of commendation.  (In short: as a whole, the arcs were anemic, made up of several disconnected scenarios that hinged on action-adventure clichés.  But for the most part [...I know I'm inviting condemnations of "Scrooge's Quest" Part Seven here!], both writers had a pretty good understanding of, and respect for, the show and its characters.  And...well, I mean, these are 100+-page Duck multi-adventures, the conflict and danger never relenting!  ...that's just cool!  Yup -- twenty years later, there's still novelty and guilty pleasure factors at play!)

I have always wondered: given the unexpectedness of the "Disney Implosion", at least the next couple issues of the soon-to-be-abruptly-cancelled titles should've been well along in the editorial process.  So, had another Langhans-Quartieri-Bat serial been slated to begin in #19?  And if so, how much work on it, if any, was done, and does any of it survive?

It's worth noting that in 2008, Gemstone published trade paperbacks of both "Scrooge's Quest" and "The Gold Odyssey", both serials complete in one volume.  If you're interested, they're still pretty easy to come by.


  1. Ryan,

    I agree with you that "Scrooge's Quest" and "The Gold Odyssey" had more in common with one another than they did with a typical Barks adventure. Langhans, in my view, just simply "got" DT in a manner that Wolfman, for all his experience, did not. The regular cliffhangers in "Odyssey" (REAL ones, not the ersatz ones we saw in the early issues of Boom! Disney comics) were not a feature of the TV show -- even "Golden Suns" was more of a discrete series of tales joined by a common throughline -- but the important thing was that they FELT like they could have been.


  2. Chris,

    Fair points! Yeah, I suppose most of the TV series' multi-part serials' cliffhangers were under-played, weren't they. (I mean, nothing on the order of "City of Stone" Part Three ending with Demona about to destroy Elissa-turned-into-stone!)

    And the first three chapters of "Scrooge's Quest" being driven by Webby being kidnapped was an underwhelming hook.