Sunday, May 11, 2014

(Some of) my assorted thoughts on: Uncle Scrooge #231 (Gladstone, cover date Nov. 1988)

Our Don Rosa cover is very much in the same vein as Barks' covers for this very same title:

“Too Safe Safe” – Barks ten-pager. Walt Disneys Comics and Stories #171. 1954.

Scrooge task Donald with removing a sole mouse from the money bin … but not because it’s grunt work; Scrooge actually considers the mouse a threat to his cash of the most serious order, but Donald works the cheapest. The Donald-Scrooge interplay is archetypal, especially in the context of Donald working for Scrooge in the bin. Going as far as back as “ , this story certainly belongs to its era; to regular readers; there is a familiarity with the setting and the relationship between its inhabitants. Scrooge, of course, looks down on Donald, while Donald, though his uncle is prone to angering and insulting him, is determined to succeed in his assignment, though he’s just as on edge about failing. In the vein of the classic opening to “Back to the Klondike”, in which Donald nonchalantly stands by as Scrooge loses his nerves, pacing, talking to himself, and forgetting what happened a moment before, Donald comes off well in contrast with his obsessive-compulsive uncle; in fact, Donald looks outright SANE. (This is more apparent to the readers, however; Donald’s self-awareness is too limited to allow him that affirmation, sadly.) The bit where Donald, for some inscrutable reason, nails a pillow to the ceiling above Scrooge’s desk chair, then – once Scrooge has questioned him as to what the hell he’s doing – informs Scrooge of the discovered mouse, resulting in a shocked, alarmed, and outraged Scrooge literally hitting the (now-cushioned) ceiling in the fashion that only a cartoon character can, is hilarious.

Another priceless moment is – Scrooge having JUST sent Donald away, without pay due to Scrooge’s entire fortune now being inaccessible, worried about how he’s going to be able to eat – Scrooge’s realization that, “Wait! What am I going to eat?!” The one-panel lapse between Donald’s departure and Scrooge’s epiphany is timed PERFECTLY. And Scrooge’s facial expression – he looks like a truckload of hardened cement just hit him – is Barks at his comic(al) best.

Gyro, in one of his earliest appearances, functions as a plot device, providing the impenetrable wax that Scrooge’s entire bin is sealed in. (You would THINK that Scrooge would have enough foresight to realize the problem this would create, but not only are Barks’ characters all too human in their flaws – in this case, Scrooge is SO focused on protecting the contents of his vault from Federal Reserve note-nibbling rodents, he is unable to see any factors of the project external to tis primary objective. Additionally, Barks’ world is just cartoony and whimsical enough where such logic breaks [thanks, Gregory] are permissible.) Gyro isn’t yet the meek, somewhat downtrodden but generally cheery, relatable tinkerer we would come to know in the Barks’ Gyro-solo stories. Here, he’s more of tertiary joke in and of himself: he’s just some crank who claims that he can only get invention ideas when he knocks himself on the head. his role here is only to be the object of this recurring gag and to facilitate the impenetrable wax’s entry into the story. Don’t get me wrong, it is a funny portrayal, and he’s not unlikable, but we’re not given an opportunity to identify with him here. The evolution from Gyro’s more angular, raggedy appearance here to the more composed and upright character design Barks would settle on seems to parallel the evolution of his characterization, which may have been subconscious on Barks part; before the reader could identify with the character, its creator had to, first.

Of course, Barks had mastered the nephews by this point (I might even take a hardline, Don Rosa-ish position and state that not only are Barks’ nephews definitive, but he actually created them, and the rowdy little brats in the shorts never existed). Although they don’t show up until the final page, their appearance is quintessential Barks’ nephews: they’re shown as having taken – virtually parental – responsibility for feeding their bungling two uncles, admonishing them for their irresponsibility.


“Fear of Buyin” (original title translates to “Loss Day Found”) – 8 pages. Plot: Joel Katz. Script: Tom Anderson. Pencils: José Cardona Blasi. Created in 1985, first published in 1987. Denmark.

Uh oh! This story includes a non-Barks flashback to Dawson that is invalidated by the very existence of Life and Times … and worse yet, it posits a life-defining moment that Scrooge has rued ever since! If it were just a few panels showing some generic depictions of Scrooge prospecting and walking past the saloons and dance halls of Dawson, I guess that’d be relativity innocuous … but this inferior story actually has the gall to invent an important and event – and even date!!! – in Scrooge’s life. I should repent for even having set eyes on it! And … quick!!! Any and every existing copies, scans, and the original art (if it even still exists) should be destroyed, per an international mandate!

No, I’m only kidding … and not at all in an anti-Don Rosa sense, mind you; see my comment above about Barks’ conception of the nephews. I’m a self-admitted continuity nut, and if anything, I’m poking fun at myself, if not “our kind” in general. Even Barks’ own “Cold Bargain” doesn’t seem to jive with “Back to the Klondike” (Rosa even had to retcon its placing of Scrooge’s far-north prospecting days in Alaska.) But whereas I was actually annoyed an Jippes gag piece that BOOM! published because it showed young Klondike Scrooge wrassling with a bear that looked exactly like Goldie’s Blackjack, there’s nothing about “Fear of Buyin’” that bugs me. I can understand objecting to the notion that a greenhorn Scrooge even had ONE millisecond of weakness and gave in to gambling’s lure, enough emphasis is placed on it being just that – a weak moment – and that it was a result of Scrooge hitting a low point and fearing failure (remember, he had barely his first dime, let alone a fortune, at this point – he surely had to have spats of self-doubt) is well-considered and demonstrates enough understand of the character that I commend it.

And, besides, it’s only the story’s set-up! Scrooge’s staff rejoicing at actually being dismissed early, the figurative dark cloud that hangs over Scrooge each year on this date (see? This IS the Scrooge we know – if he DID actually make such a youthful indiscretion, he WOULD regard it in this manner), his anxiety over having to adhere to his vow to abstain from all business for the day’s duration, his inability to avoid anything that reminds him of money, and his frantic roping in of Donald to be his “guardian”, and Donald’s flubbing things at the auction are all prime Duck story transpirations, and are by-and-large Barks-worthy. (The work-base bickering between Scrooge and Donald compliments the preceding story nicely, too.)

Okay, the “can’t avoid anything that reminds him of money” sequence is a bit hackneyed, but nearly inevitable. Sue Daigle – credited with scripting the U.S. version, the only instance of her doing so that I’m aware of – may even improve the gags with the pun book titles that Scrooge jumps away from. Presumably, they were completely different titles in the original version, but still jokes or puns – just different ones. Otherwise, the gags just wouldn’t work.

Standard, perfectly fine Gutenberghus/Egmont art. Of course, Gladstone only accounted for Cardona Blasi with "Produced by the Gutenberghus Group". I have a feeling that Blasi could have been on Vicar's staff of "ghost" artists.


The Beagle Boys – “Soured on Sweets” (original title translates to “A Sweet Tooth”). Plot: Neville Jason. Script: Bob Bartholomew. Pencils: Daniel Branca. Created in 1984, first published in 1987. Denmark.

The chocolate factory slapstick, the cliché of having to go through a million (actual number not stated – but odd how EVERYTHING that came off the production line went to ONE tiny local shop) assembly line products to find a misplaced, greatly desired object, and the silly coincidence of the Beagles running into not one but two other womanat the zoo each holding yet ANOTHER box of chocolates? Meh. Daniel Branca’s art? YEAH!!! I think I’ve said this before, but he pulls off the feat of drawing Barksian Beagles who are more expressive and “flexible than Barks’ (who usually were pretty stiff, but it was part of Barks’ comical conception of them, not a fault), but doesn’t fall into the heavily stylized, angular, absurdly cartoony European digest style.


“Shaping Up” – one-page gag by William Van Horn. Original.

Van Horn still getting his feet wet. Donald comments that Scrooge, upon exiting a gym, looks healthier … not because of a workout, because he turned down all of the very expensive fitness courses that the gym had to offer. (Expensive being the operative word.) A relatively simple but tightly-paced and in-character gag.


The entire letter column is taken up by one GREAT letter chiming in on a debate that had been going on at that time in Gladstone’s letters columns – written by a lawyer in Michigan, making a serious, monetarily complex argument but with (most notably at the end) a fantastically dry wit.

-- Ryan

(P.S. Yes, the Aladdin reviews will continue -- just trying to make sure that I don't lose my [very few] regular readers!)

Sunday, May 4, 2014

(Some of) my assorted thoughts on: Uncle Scrooge #320 (Gemstone, cover date August 2003)

During the earliest months of the Gemstone era, to which this issue belongs, I was in college, and, though a few years earlier I had lost interest in comics as Gladstone II was easing into its prestige format-exclusive final leg, I was still excited about the return of the comics that I had grown up reading and loving. But, the whole reason that I had gravitated away from comics in the first place is because during high school, I got this notion in my head that the only way to be sophisticated was to like bleak music, art, and literature created by (totally never posturing) tortured souls. So, Gemstone's bright, colorful aesthetic and the light-hearted, good-natured-but-not-naive, sometimes-subtly-cynical-but-never-outright-despondent stories just didn't jive with me. Why did I remember these comics as being substantive, when now, I could only get very little out of them? 

Well, the problem wasn't the comics -- it was me. I had completely failed to realize that part of the process of growing up was getting stupid ideas and making stupid decisions, and then taking a while to figure out that they were stupid. (Some people never figure that out, I'm afraid...) I was preoccupied with image and a superficial notion of what an intellectual and "artistic" person should be. I'm grateful that in the years since, I've matured and become more well-rounded. And being more centered, I can see an issue like this for what it is: a very solid one, brimming high-quality, quietly satiric, witty, well-crafted stories. 

First up is William Van Horn's 16-page "Fools of the Trade", which is very un-Barksian in the sense that it centers around a one-shot character whose an object of completely fantasy and whim: a talking dragon. Of course, it's Van Horn's wont to engage with outlandish content ... but always with a decided sense of irony and parody, and this story is certainly in keeping. The idea is that that "high-tech" defense systems have invariably failed in staving off the Beagle Boys, so Scrooge has decided to go "old-school", and import a dragon "cloned from the claw of" one of its antecedents. (So, Van Horn has gone a semi-scientific route -- it's not like he's just having dragons suddenly romping around in abundance in the modern world. And it's consistent with his absurdist approach that this explanation is tossed at us dismissively and in passing.) To Scrooge's disappointment, the dragon -- "Figgy", "short for Figment", a clever Disney reference -- turns out not at all as expected, not much larger than one of the nephews and to have a dopey, aloof personality. This twist has a Jay Ward flavor to it.

(The deliberately anti-climactic -- turning the convention on its head -- half-page splash of Figgy nonchalantly strutting out from the darkness of the crate in which he was delivered demonstrates perfect comic timing. I think it'd have me in a slight fit of giggling if instead of exclaiming, "Howdy do, folks!", Figgy were to utter simply, "'sup?" [There's a Paul Dini-scribed issue of Detective Comics that uses basically the same gag, but with the Joker.'] However, I'd probably be adverse to the use of such overly contemporary slang.)

Writers of lesser skill might (in probably a considerably shorter story) have the revelation of Figgy's non-threatening presence be the entire punchline, and maybe, if at all worth his or salt, proceed to end on a gag in which Figgy is able to keep the Beagles away from the bin after all, just not in the way Scrooge had originally hoped. (Taking an aspect of Van Horn's superior version, Figgy's diet consisting entirely of beans, it could be Figgy's breath being really repulsive... or... well, fart jokes aren't really a part of duck comics, so...) Fortunately, Van Horn's talent has given us a much busier, more complex tale involving the Beagles' scheme to acquire Scrooge's cash with a matter transmitter going awry due to their own bungling and complications arising from Figgy getting mixed up in it, resulting in a storm of confusion on both the ducks' and the Beagles' ends. This is a first-rate, silly-but-clever, slapsticky-but-witty Van Horn spoof! The Beagles' being sick of eating beans and accidentally transporting Scrooge's bean supply to their hideout strikes me as a Barksian twist, although I can't help but think that Barks would've saved it for a master stroke a the very end. However, Scrooge does tie things in with a bean-alluding closing one-liner -- and that remark being couple with the last panel's depiction of the Beagles' punishment, and their "Should've been careful what you wished for"-begging remarks that they're sick of the very sight of money, has enough of a Barksian tinge to it that it's still makes for a strong conclusion. Actually, one could say that it's Van Horn enough to be a strong ending, or that it's just a strong ending, period.

The very idea of the Beagle Boys relocating the contents of the bin to their hideout immediately brings to mind the DuckTales episode "The Money Vanishes". The resemblance is all the more closer because in both cases, t he Beagles are using an apparently abandoned urban building (whether it had originally been used for offices, tenements, warehouse or storage, or what have you, it's not clear in either case; the one on DuckTales -- which appeared in multiple episodes -- is worn down and boarded up, while Van Horn's is merely nondescript; the DT one is three stories high, while its hard to tell if the one in Van Horn's story, and those on either side of it, are one or two stories), and in both cases, the Beagles ultimate undoing is that their building becomes overloaded with cash and it bursts out onto the street.

Oh, and I think I might know a guy whose family owns the bean company that Scrooge orders Figgy's pay/feed from! ;)


"Fools" is very well complemented by the 15-page 1981 Disney Studio production "The Big Break-In", written by Carl Fallberg and drawn by Romano Scarpa -- an international collaboration! Unlike many of Scarpa's duck stories that have made it to the U.S., this one actually makes sense -- I guess its to be expected that a U.S. writer such as Fallberg would be more on the same page as a U.S. audience. The proceedings here are notably sillier than Fallberg's average Mickey Mouse adventure-mystery, although perhaps it's Scarpa's exaggerated, tense poses and expressions that play up the frantic energy the story projects. Taking into account the notion of Scrooge's safe combination tumblers not lining up right because the money in the bin is imbalanced and causing a tilt, and Scrooge counting on the Beagles succeeding in breaking in to solve his problem and sitting back against a tree and taking a nap while he lets them go to work, the high-strung Gyro scrambling to find a solution while the calm Helper accidentally discovers one, and Gyro blindly bringing Helper's solution right into the Beagles' hands, this is a very acutely written, original story -- basically, all of the adjectives that I used for the Van Horn story apply here! The characterization is dead-on, too ... Fallberg should've done more duck stories!


Barks eight-page "The Madball Pitcher" from one of his Gyro Gearloose issues of Four Color (#1095, 1960) is certainly preferable to those Huey, Dewey, and Louie soccer stories that Gemstone would later feature. However, I question that Gyro never feels guilty for helping both teams virtually cheat ... but in a way where the two inventions cancel each other out! This might be explained as Gyro's exasperated, miserable, "I'm in for it either way" attitude eclipsing any moral concerns that he might have. (I also have a feeling that the way Gyro's characterized here is a reflection of his creator, who revealed a certain degree of self-deprecation fuddy-duddiness in interviews.) But notably, the ending finds both teams at each others' throats -- in a way, both get their comeuppance, but at the same time, they don't seem to have realized that they both committed the very same crime. Safe to say, one of Barks' more cynical moments!


Geoffrey Blum's writing and Daniel Branca's art guarantee a fulfilling read, but "World Wide Witch" dares to do something I'm inherently wary of: "bring the ducks into the modern world". In fact, the technological references that this story is saturated with are now dated and quaint! Furthermore, it still feels very much like a duck story; even a Barks story. (And it's certainly more tasteful than all of those recent Italian stories that I've seen in which the ducks and mice are seen using smartphones and Facebook-type social networking platforms.) 

Blum treats us to a very thoughtful, insightful, enjoyable one-page article explaining the origins and goals of his story. Blum's observation that Scrooge and Magica "are two sides of the same coin" turns into a confession that he identifies with both on the terms that they're "self-dramatizing outsiders laboring away at specialized careers and venturing into society mainly when they need something from it". Personally, I identify to a T with Blum's self-description personified as his personal interpretation of two of Barks' creations ... which corroborates with the understanding of the characterized that I've acquired over the course of my life to date, and, by extension, to their creator. Thus, it all kind of adds up here: why Blum has always been so well-suited to writing about Barks, and while I've always been drawn to Barks, and to Gladstone/Another Rainbow's Blum-dominated contextualizing of Barks. (Perhaps it's more true than not that I've actually grown into relating to all of this.) ...hey, how did this review become so much about me?! I feel so naked now!

-- Ryan