Sunday, May 10, 2015

New comic review: Uncle Scrooge #1 (#405) (IDW, April 2015)

Despite the four-year interim and the change in licensee, Uncle Scrooge #405 is pretty consistent with #404: the spotlight is on a Romano Scarpa-drawn story from 1996, represented with a new cover by Giorgio Cavazzano. David Gerstein was working on the book then, as he is again, but he's reclaimed his archival editor title from the Gemstone days. He's accompanied by Jonathan Gray and Joe Torcivia, two of his teammates from the "classics"-branded aspects of the 2009-11 licensee (though not US #404 in particular), further closing the gap, and bringing a certain level of reassurance to fellow fans who know them.

Rodolfo Cimino and Scarpa's "Gigabeagle: King of the Giant Robot Robbers" (its new American title, paying homage to Barks' own Beagle Boys-giant robot story from only a year earlier, and I suspect that the "Giga" prefix is a reference to some of sort pop culture giant robot that that I don't know about) definitely has a gargantuan Beagle Boy robot stomping across Duckburg and making off with the money bin, but there's not much of a plot facilitating those events. The setup is arbitrary on multiple fronts: we open on Scrooge freaking out arbitrarily over the general existence of the Beagle Boys ... not because of a specific recent  threat from them, and not from news of a prison break or intel on their latest scheme, but from the lack of any news about them. The nephews arbitrarily decide that they will set Scrooge at ease by bringing him to Donald and their house, where for some reason he wolfs down all of the food they can pile on his plate (Scrooge has a binge eating disorder? Or does he just normally starve because he's so cheap?), and then arbitrarily decide that the ultimate solution to his anxiety is to take him camping. The actual plot reason for this camping trip is for the ducks to discover the robot ... because that only could happen if they went camping, right?

But this fast-and-loose, half-assed plotting has nothing on the story's resolution: "Gigabeagle" has gotten away free and clear with the bin, and so it would appear time for the final act of the story, in which the ducks will figure out a way to take down (or take control of, as Scrooge did in this story's Barks precedent) the marauding skyscraper-sized motorized machine with the visage of a Beagle Boy and regain possession of the money bin. Suddenly, in one fell swoop, "Gigsie" is destroyed and the money bin is back on Killmotor Hill. Gigsie's explosive end delivers on some clever foreshadowing. I'm not sure if the "he was programmed to think like the Beagles, and so it was their greed that in the end brought about their defeat" angle was in the raw translation, but kudos to Jonathan Gray if he layered it in. However, I have a nagging suspicion that Gray saved the restoration of the money bin from being a jaw-droppingly absurd, improbable coincidence. Going by the art alone, it would appear that the explosion hurls the money bin over Duckburg and right back into its original position. This is only justified by the "big underground magnets [that] hold [the] bin to its foundation" mentioned by one of the nephews on pg. 3. Since these magnets, as far as I know, have never existed in any other story, and because they're only mentioned in passing in this new English dialogue but never shown, yet, at least as we Americans are reading it, are so crucial to the story's resolution, it seems to me that Gray salvaged an atrocious ending. However, if the mentions of the magnets are in fact mirroring the original Italian dialogue, I'll stand corrected.

(There's also the matter of the nephews for some reason signaling the police with the tiny flame of a common wax candle, but I'm gonna chalk that up as just some Italian thing.)

Nonetheless, Scarpa's art, which has a lot of busy, frantic, exaggerated, comedic hijinks, is a lot of fun. His big, bold, sweeping style certainly works well for giant robot action. Between that and all of the electrified panels of the ducks scrambling to stave off Gigsie's attack on the bin, things move with a rollicking momentum, ensuring that IDW has made a big splash in bringing back to the States not just Uncle Scrooge but the whole classic Disney comics line.

The best of Scarpa's art, with all its zest and zing, is brought out by the zing and zest of Gray's dialogue, which demonstrates that he knows duck comics inside and out, and not just because of the many references to the medium's past ("Wak!" is never exclaimed in this particular story, but the radio station that Scrooge tunes into uses the call letters "K-WAK"; when Scrooge bashes his own head against the wall to get ideas, he acknowledges that a similar technique is used by a certain inventor; the Beagle Boy love of prunes comes up, as is only right; and even a reference to the title of Barks' first Uncle Scrooge adventure), but due to the Barksian dialogue -- and by that, I don't just mean particular phrases like "Good work, infants!", but the cadence and rhythms, and the way tone and timbre signifies characterization, which is perfectly consistent with the characters that we know. And though there are some modern quirks (a reference to a Red Bull advertising slogan and terminology like "A.I."), there's a lot more absolutely delightful eccentricities that would seem to belong to Barks' or even Gottfredson's era but as far as I can tell, are original: "GREAT HOWLIN' CRASHWAGONS!", "Hot crawdads, Unca Donald was right!", "We need that salty codger alert!"  Gray also does a fine job continuing the tradition of comic book tradition onomatopoeia, both in the expressions used and the way they're puncuated.

And I would be remiss if I didn't mention Gray's DuckTales references: there's a variation on Scrooge's "Jumpstart my heart!" and a pun on the name of the Beagle Boy who most of often led the gang on the show. It should go without saying that I appreciated these!

The original Italian title of #405's backup story translates to "The Secret of the Coat", a dry title that evokes the mystery-adventure genre, when the story is actually more in the sitcom vein. So Joe Torcivia's new, comedic title, "Stinker, Tailor, Scrooge and Sly" (I just figured out what that's a pun on -- it's something I'd never heard of; I won't give it away, so that if you have, you can relish it; and if you haven't, do your own damn Googling!) is more fitting for this light-hearted romp with the mismatched "odd trio" of Scrooge, Brigitta, and Jubal Pomp built around a cliché: finding a treasure map drawn on one's own piece of property and unraveling its mystery while clashing with a mysterious villian who who has shown up out of nowhere and we learn is connected to the map's past. Now, this is the stuff of countless exciting, full-developed stories in feature film, pulp novel, and duck comic, but this particular narrative offers little more than a couple chase sequences, with the good guys and the bad guy sparring in a game of "hot potato" (or football) with Scrooge's coat, and the villains' anticlimactic surrender to the police ... for which Scrooge and Co. are basically just bystanders!

On top of the banal narrative, this is recent, slicker, more on-model Scarpa, which I find duller than his squashier '50's and '60's work. By far the most vital, entertaining part of the story is the dynamic between Scrooge, Brigitta, and Jubal, with Scrooge having an aversion to both (but for different reasons), Jubal making no secret of his distaste for (and envy of) Scrooge, Brigitta's crush being tempered by her indignance at Scrooge's stinginess and his contempt for her, Brigitta and Jubal agreeing to suck upand  pander to Scrooge in the hopes of cajoling him into investing in their business, and Scrooge tolerating their scheming so as to use them for his own ends -- first for a complementary coat mend, then the use of Jubal's car when chasing the villain, which Jubal and Brigitta join Scrooge in, hoping to get a cut of the treasure. In the last panel, it appears, via the illustrated thought balloons, that all three parties have played each other and made the right compromises so that each is (at least anticipating) getting what they want. If it weren't for these visuals, the Scrooge-Brigitta-Jubal dynamic would have been out of play at the end of the tailor shop scene, for their tagging along for the arrest and subsequent finding of the treasure would be, as Scrooge describes Jubal in my favorite of Torcivia's jokes in story, "superfluous" to the plot.

Torcivia steadily delivers puns and various other types of wordplay, references (including ripping on Minnie Mouse -- more the Minnie Mouse of mass merchandising than anything -- and her taste in clothing design), and irreverent goofs on everything from "mall cops" to the fashion industry, giving American readers a feisty read. As Gray fixed what I was suspect was a massive hole in the lead story, Torcivia not only ties Barks' Brutopia into the villain's back story, but with said back story, assures us that the map has only been a part of Scrooge's coat for 10 years and not since he acquired it, avoiding any flirtation with dicey continuity. Based on the characters' poses and instructions, the characterizations of the "odd trio" were very much part of the original story, but with all of the insults, jabs, and acerbic sarcasm thrown between them, Torcivia maximizes the potential. I'm not sure why this unexceptional story (though Torcivia has added a lot of tasty seasoning for flavor) was selected for this issue. But if the idea was to begin IDW's run by establishing to the readership Brigitta and Jubal as characters, and moreover their entrepreneurial partnership (for we've seen a fair amount of Brigitta here over the years here, and not too much of Jubal), then it's a very suitable choice.

Gerstein closes the issue with an editorial reviving the "Crosstalk" banner, which definitely made this fan feel at home. After giving some background info on the Beagle Boys, Brigitta, and Jubal, Gerstein closes by sharing a sentiment that affirms that these comics are in expert, loving hands.

-- Ryan


  1. "Since these magnets, as far as I know, have never existed in any other story, and because they're only mentioned in passing in this new English dialogue but never shown, [...] it seems to me that Gray salvaged an atrocious ending."

    I wouldn't call it atrocious—but yes, he did! On the other hand...

    "Torcivia not only ties Barks' Brutopia into the villain's back story, but with said back story, assures us that the map has only been a part of Scrooge's coat for 10 years and not since he acquired it..."

    WIth all due respect to our pal Joe, both Brutopia and that ten-year timespan were part of Scarpa's original story! Compared to the original "Gigabeagle," "The Secret of the Coat" (Scarpa's original title for it) was plotted pretty tightly.

  2. David,

    Thank you very much for the clarification. (It's good to know an insider!) I definitely want to praise Scarpa for making the Brutopia reference, now that I know it came from him. (But if he hadn't done it, it still seems like something that Joe would come up with, so it almost feel like there's some default credit to him for it built-in! But in all seriousness, kudos to Scarpa!)

    I guess the "Gigabeagle" ending in its pre-Gray form is fine if you think of it as a funny ending (it certainly has all the eye-pleasing exaggerated lively energy that Scarpa gave every page of the story!), but it struck me as a cheap and abrupt ending. But definitely a fun story, overall!

    -- Ryan