Monday, February 24, 2014

Pulled from storage: Uncle Scrooge #315-316 (Nov.-Dec., 1998)

As anyone interested in reading anything regarding Disney duck comics most likely already knows, Gladstone II ended its run having reduced the line to just two titles, Uncle Scrooge and Walt Disney's Comics and Stories, but compensating by having converted both titles to the "prestige format". (WDC&S in Dec. `95, when the rest of the line still existed; US in Jan. `98, the month that began the era of the two-title line.) Gemstone would continue using this format for both titles for the duration of its run, so with all of Gladstone II's faults, this means of presentation was a legitimate innovation on their part.

When I think of Gladstone II, I, for one, think of constant reprints in WDC&S of the very same versions of Gottfredson stories that had appeared in Gladstone I's albums and in Mickey Mouse in Color and Donald and Mickey being loaded with those Goofy history stories form the Disney Studios. In truth, the "prestige era" saw marked improvement. That upswing is more apparent to me now, as I revisit them. At the time, a pall was cast over Gladstone II's final leg by the aforementioned disappointments, and by the scaling back to two titles and limiting distribution only to the direct market. There was a prevailing air of sadness to this era, at least in how I then sensed it. Gladstone was dying.

Romano Scarpa's "The Flying Scot" (1957) was separated into two installments between Uncle Scrooge #315 and 316, after which there were only to be two more Gladstone issues. When Scarpa stories had appeared a couple of years earlier in Uncle Scrooge Adventures, the 32-page format necessitated serialization. You'd think that the upgrade to 68 pages would be taken advantage of and we'd be able to read the 49-page story in its entirety between the covers of one book. They couldn't really expect the old "if they want to read the ending, they'll have to buy the next issue" trick would be necessary for the few loyal core readership that was left at that point ... could they? Still, I'm not going to complain about a long-form European story having made it to the U.S., especially with quality dialogue and coloring work. Even with Gemstone's digests, for my appetite, not enough of that has ever happened.

Like Scarpa's later "The Pelican Thief" (the only Scarpa story published by BOOM!, in Uncle Scrooge #308, with spiffy dialogue by Joe Torcivia and David Gerstein), aquatic birds -- in "The Flying Scot"'s case, just one -- are integral to the plot. Perhaps this apparent inclination can be attributed to the fact that Scarpa grew up in Venice. According to Wikipedia -- in both cases, citing very reputable-sounding books -- the only continent on which you won't find any pelicans nor sandpipers would be Antarctica. Thus, considering that he lived in a coastal city, it's not impossible that in a coastal city like Venice, sighting such birds was commonplace. Such a background may also account for the maritime settings and nautical trappings of this story ... Scarpa certainly isn't the only duck artist -- he most certainly shares Barks' company in this respect -- to work on such a stage, but familiarity with a locale similar to some of the settings in "Scotman" couldn't have hurt.

"Scotman" comes off as two separate ideas that Scarpa figured out how to fit together as one story. The first is the unexplained mass, worldwide (apparent) disappearance of sardines, which makes Scrooge's attempts to feed his adamantly picky  new pet "mop-topped sandpiper" VERY complicated, setting him and his nephews on a quest to solve the mystery and get some gort-dranged sardines, already. Why does Scrooge go to such lengths for this winged prima donna? Scarpa never makes that clear. The story begins with Scrooge recognizing that he's "been doggoned lonely these days", and in the same breath deciding that the solution is a pet. That's the entirety of what's disclosed here as to Scrooge's character motivation ... "take it or leave it!" Judging by the artwork, translator and dialogue scribe David Gerstein didn't omit anything in translation here. Why has Scrooge never felt this loneliness before? Why the sudden interest in a pets? Is he going soft? When he becomes aware of the massive obstacle to fulfilling the bird's dietary requirements, Scrooge is hell-bent on overcoming it, and never questions himself in doggedly going to whatever length it takes. This, I can accept -- once Scrooge commits to something, he comes through. WHY he committed to taking this spoiled member of the Scolopacidae family under his charge in the first place is what I'm vague on.

Believe it or not, there's an entire other component of this story (the second of the two disparate ideas I spoke of before) concerning a flying ship, the captain of which has been fated with a 300-year mission that, as he relates to Scrooge and co., is up in a few years. (Shades of El Capitan, except Danblane McDuck is not driven to remain alive for centuries not by greed, but repentance.) Huh? Where does this come in? It turns out that the tasks performed in deference to his mission -- with which, it's inferred, he was ordained by the will of an unidentified higher power -- are the cause of the displaced sardines. The explanation given is more logical and less contrived than you would think, given the blunt interjection of a fantastical, supernatural element into a mystery narrative that others -- Barks, for one -- would've resolved with perhaps an outlandish but firmly scientific explanation. Investigating rumors of a magically airborne and very elusive Renaissance-era pirate ship, discovering the ship, and learning of the captain's plight is a perfectly tailored premise that merits its own story.

In fact ... sounds familiar, doesn't it? "Flying Scot" predates Barks' "The Flying Dutchman" by two years, so no accusations of "ripoff" are justified here (in either direction ... I don't believe Barks was aware of the Italian comics at this point). Danblane McDuck certainly resembles seafaring McDuck ancestors seen in flashbacks that were part of two earlier Barks stories: Captain Seafoam McDuck in "The Horseradish Story" (1953), and Matey McDuck and Bo'sn Pintail (the latter being Donald's counterpart) in "Back to Long Ago" (1956). Though in terms of initial publication, "Long Ago" predated "Scotman" by nearly a full year, "Long Ago" didn't appear in Topolino until 1959, so unless Scarpa had an overseas subscription to Dell's Uncle Scrooge, he probably hadn't read "Long Ago" when he wrote and drew "Scotman". Now, if you and someone else, unbeknownst to each other, take Donald (or Scrooge without his whiskers and spectacles, which gives you the same thing as Donald) in pirate in the garb of a 1700's sea captain, odds are, the results will bear a resemblance to each other. Still, Danblane being modeled after Seafoam can't be ruled out completely.

At two different junctures of the story, a giant-sized panel (each occupying two-thirds of its respective page) heralding an entrance and reveal of the Flying Scot: 1. When first appears before the ducks; the second. 2. When the air balloon-borne ducks, now in pursuit of the Scot, discover it as they surmount the cloud that'd been hiding it follows. Despite Scarpa's dynamic, eye-pleasing renderings, these occasions come off as more silly than climactic. Maybe it's just me, but the preoccupation with sardines up until this point failed to build up much of a sense of intrigue. That state of affairs speaks directly to how using Danblane and his ship is a waste of their potential. For such a fantastical, otherworldly vessel and persona, it seems undignified to be steeped in something as ... dinky ... as sardines.

Not only that, but after a quick sequence in which Danblane captures the ducks and orders Scrooge to walk the plank -- which actually DOES play out a little nerve-wrackingly -- the story resolves in a completely anti-climactic way. Realizing they're related, the ducks and Danblane make nice, and he sails them back to Duckburg. The only saving grace is that Scrooge is actually even more excited -- having figured out where the sardines are -- about the sardine factory he'd bought at the beginning of the story, only to discover that it was doomed by the shortage (should've seen that coming, shouldn't he have?) now being set to turn a massive profit than he is about now being able to satisfy the sandpiper's palate. Donald and the nephews reacting with chagrin sweetens the deal -- it's the very same dysfunctional family that we know and love.


Each of these issues contains a prime mid-50's Barks 10-pager -- "The Sagmore Springs Hotel" and "The Runaway Train -- each of white is plotted, paced, characterized, and drawn perfectly. His art is possibly at its most fluid and electrified here. The two half-page panels in "Runaway Train" are especially explosive. I also note that Sue Daigle's coloring for both is some of the richest, most subtle work of hers that I've seen. 


It's getting late, so I'm just going to copy and paste the notes I made for the several European stories that fill out the rest of these two issues, possibly to be revised later:


“The Bungee Jumpers” (1993, Denmark) – Pat McGreal and Vicar. Not something you’d expect to see Scrooge doing, and an odd subject for a Duck story – certainly not in a Barks story, as bungee jumping originated in 1979. Vicar’s art is very much based on Barks’ and appears to be the very same world with little no updating, so bungee jumping really is an anachronism. Donald particularly deceitful and cruel (endangering Scrooge by making him think he has bad vision – that could really screw up the bungee jumping), but we have seen Donald stoop to such a low when greed or jealousy get in his way, in Barks’ stories. To see Scrooge embrace and excel at the bungee jumping is nice to see – true to form of the adventurous, industrious McDuck.

“Rain Dance Reversal” (Denmark, August 1998 – published very soon after by Gladstone in September `98) -- David and Larry Gerstein, Alfarez. Poor Donald? Poor Gyro! Gyro’s oversights and ultimate failure in “blowing away” the rain aren’t really out-of-character – Barks’ characterized as brilliant, but aloof and absent-minded, too. And though Gyro succeeds TOO MUCH at making the rain go away, things still work out for him in the end … unlike for Donald. Is neighbor in Barks’ stories? I know Barks had neighbor character, but same name? Very much in the Danish style art-wise – reminds me of Vicar. 

Figured out one of Gerstein's references: this song. (Makes sense, knowing he likes music from that era. And a wholly pleasant song it is!) The Internet makes this too easy.


“Celluloid Saps” (Denmark, 1994) – written by John Kane and Charlie Martin, American dialogue by David and Susan Daigle-Leach. Art by José Colomer Fonts– can’t believe that Scrooge is this gullible, and this taken by flashiness and spectacle. But good art, and story gets into full swing, once Scrooge is onto things and in pursuit of the bad guys, with the help of the “Viking” movie cast. Good use of the theme, with them “charging” the bank and such. Fine art – again, the Denmark house style. Kind of a hybrid of Vicar and Branca – flexible and slightly exaggerated like Branca, but renderings a bit closer to Vicar.

“The Curious Cure” (Denmark, 1995 – apparently, original title translates to “Home by the Sea”, which doesn’t translate well. It’s a rest home, but it just makes one think of a regular everyday house) – script by Russell and Brian Claxton, art by by Tino Santanach, American dialogue by Susan Daigle-Leach. Glomgold’s inclusion doesn’t go anywhere – I thought he was going to end up working with Scrooge and Donald in the escape. Donald is sharp-witted, focused, and ambitious – unusual, but nice to see. A good idea, and well-executed. Like the action sequences, especially the swinging from a higher tower window to a lower one.


Were those coherent? As I said, revisions might be called for! ;) 'night!

-- Ryan


  1. Ryan:
    Before you start getting too soft and sentimental over Gladstone II, please remember those dreadful paper-cover / coverless books – and the unforgivable act of converting UNCLE SCROOGE over to that ill-fated format DURING the course of “The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck”.

    Thus, for all its various American printings over the years, we NEVER had Don Rosa’s epic signature work in the STANDARD 32 PAGE, WITH WRAP AROUND COVER format that Carl Barks created Scrooge in! …And that was the format I wanted most to have it in. The format I’ll love until the day I die!

    Also, there were not-so-great machine letterings, and many stories with the dry, ordinary Egmont English dialogue! Never mind no title for Mickey Mouse – and eventually even Donald Duck.

    BTW, none of my criticisms are to be taken as any reflection on John Clark. With Gemstone, John showed us just how great an editor he could be, when freed of the other factors that charted Gladstone’s course into decline.

    I’m really glad to see you doing comic reviews like this one. Do more – and I’ll try to do the same, time permitting! (Time… Imagine that!)


  2. I'll second Joe's feelings about Gemstone II—and about John, a longtime friend and a great boss during the Gemstone days.

    In "Rain-Dance Reversal," my dad Larry created and named Gyro's mistrustful hippo neighbor Hydro Felbius from scratch. Hydro's personality is similar to that of a few Barks-era Gyro neighbors, but he wasn't meant as a copy of any of them.
    (My dad's involvement itself was unusual; the story arose out of a friendly debate between us, where he claimed that Gyro stories were an inherently lazy construct; one didn't need to consider any character's personality, just how an invention could run amuck.
    Then—he sat down and came up with a wonderfully personality-driven plot! Realizing what he'd done, he and I teamed up to finish it...)