Thursday, July 30, 2015

New comic review: Donald Duck #2 (#369) (IDW, June 2015)

As it turns out, my prediction that “Shellfish Motives” Part Two would open with Donald and the nephews “being captured and thus having to work together” was completely wrong. And I couldn’t be happier, as Scarpa’s well-constructed, relatively complex, quasi-satirical* mystery story, while retaining the cloak-and-dagger flavor of the first installment, is much better than the action-adventure (with emphasis on the action) fare that I had envisioned.

* (I say "quasi-satirical" because, as with the social aspects of "The Duckburg 100", "Shellfish" is rife with political and diplomatic trappings which are played in a comical, spoofy way, but I wouldn't say that anything in particular is being targeted. I suppose, though, that a treatise could be written on what the Gourmandian professor's "going off the grid" maneuver says about the use of new science as leverage in high-level warring corpora-government combine power plays.)

If I would object to anything (and this is a tentative, not full-fledged objection), it would be the characterization of Donald as COMPLETELY clueless and wrongheaded, and the nephews so ENTIRELY superior to him in every respect. I like that Scarpa plays up the nephews’ resourcefulness and sharp wits, and while in essence it’s not out of character (to say the least) for Donald to be overconfident in his abilities and proceed with a task wrongheadedly, as in “Duckburg 100”, Scarpa presents a dumbed-down, practically infantile Donald. That said, Donald's attempted interviews with the different scientists (whose reactions vary from put off and annoyed to obvlious to Donald's presence) -- a string of encounters that's juxtaposed against the nephews staying on the right track in THEIR investigation -- are endearingly fun and funny, sort of with an (especially silly) Looney Tunes blackout gag flavor. Still, with Donald taking up Gideon on his job offer at the story's beginning, I felt that Donald was stepping across the threshold on a Hero's Journey... and yet after all is said and done, it seems that we're supposed to take the idea of him ever being a successful investigative reporter as a joke. It's safe to say that this is decidedly NOT a "mastery story".

From the parachute left in the taxicab down through the parsing out of the address where they find the professor, Scarpa’s plotting of the mystery-unraveling is admirable in its logic and its gradual, suspense-sustaining pacing. From the clues dropped throughout the story, I imagine that very few readers would ever discern “the full story” before all is told at the end – certain points (like the fact that the professor probably isn’t really also a chef) were suspected as highly likely, but would anyone have ever guessed that the professor already had his own candy in his pockets of the same type he was buying in the store? While the facts of the case when explained in full at the end are straightforward enough, the complexity is in how Scarpa, at first keeping this scenario near-completely concealed from the reader, lays down the narrative scheme in which the nephews, piece by piece, solve the case.

I had hoped that if the mysterious figure in Part One was indeed Scrooge -- as there there were telltale signs that it was -- then it would turn out that once we knew the whole deal, we would understand how and why we had been misled to believe that he was up to some villainy... and to my satisfaction, such exoneration panned out 100%. Naturally, the “full disclosure”, as relayed by the nephews, includes exposing Scrooge’s role, bringing him “on-screen”. What ensues nicely ties in a theme established at the beginning of the story: the rift between Scrooge and Gideon due to their opposing values and ambitions. I expressed in my review of Part One that I thought the character of Gideon and his relationship to Scrooge were good ideas, and seeing the fireworks that erupt when they actually interact really brings it home. (A familial divide so good, it’s almost like having another Donald-Gladstone rivalry.) Jonathan Gray’s dialogue in this sequence, which plays up that they’re both McDucks and have some fundamental similarities, fine-tunes and sharpens the McDuckian purity of this visceral exchange.


Closing out Donald #369 is a vintage treat, "Counter Spy", which at first glance, I figured was one of Al Taliaferro's gag-based "loose" continuities... but, nope, it was created exclusively for a 1947 Cheerios giveaway. Reformatted here for a standard-sized comic at three tiers per page, it comes out to (drumroll to build suspense) exactly 10 pages, a wildly appropriate number considering that the story consists of Donald waging suburban warfare against his next-door neighbor... in fact, against TWO next-door neighbors, the first of whom in fact is actually named (ahem) JONES, but unlike Barks' Jones, has a line in the sand for what he'll put up with and cares not to play into Donald's one-upmanship; the second of whom is eerily reminiscent of Barks' Herman the Hermit, and is just about as antisocial and curtly impolite, despite his actually bothering to take up residence in civilization.

Though the general proceedings and in particular the twist at the end that brings about Donald's comeuppance have Barksian shades, the crude characterization of Donald and the nephews (who seem to act pretty much as one here, which in itself is un-Barksian) -- first getting their jollies from harassing Taliaferro's "Jones", then invading his successor's life with their gossip-inclined nosiness and physical appearance-based suspiciousness -- aren't countered by any Barksian gravitas.

But let's take a step back. If how a non-Barksian Dell-era duck story measures up to Barks were the measure by which something's of interest or worthwhile, then virtually nothing would make the cut. On its own merits, this is a decently written and certainly well-drawn escapist, slapsticky funny animal comic quick read. So far, IDW's Disney comics have been dominated by European material. But turning a different leaf, this story's inclusion in Donald #369 follows in the tradition begun by Gladstone of select vintage/classic Golden Age/Dell-era American Disney comic reprints. Of course, Gladstone II gave us reprints of their own reprints of just a couple years earlier, as with "Back to the Klondike" and "Monarch of Medioka", amongst numerous examples, demonstrating what NOT to do. By contrast, this is the very first time "Counter Spy" has (at least per Inducks) has been reprinted in the U.S. since its original 1947 publication, exemplifying exactly what TO do.

-- Ryan

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