Thursday, October 1, 2015

New comics review: Uncle Scrooge #408-409 (IDW, July and August 2015)

As far as I'm aware, with its two-part serialization in Uncle Scrooge #408 and 409, "The Grand Canyon Conquest" (titled as such for the U.S.) is the fourth (of six) stories to have been printed in English from the Abenteuer aus Onkel Dagoberts Schatztruhe (Adventures [from out of?] Uncle Scrooge's Treasure Chest) series.

Sweetening the deal in a mighty fitting and serendipitous way, "Grand Canyon"'s auteur, Miquel Pujol (per Inducks, he wrote the first five of the Treasure Chest stories, this being the fifth and the only one that he also drew) created and provided IDW with original covers for both issues:

(In fact, per Inducks, Pujol drew the first five in the Treasure Chest series, but this is the only one that he also wrote.)

The premise of “Grand Canyon Conquest” surely owes a debt to Barks’ renowned “Horseradish Story” – note the similarities: a surly stranger claiming to be an old acquaintance (in this case, of Scrooge; in “Horseradish”, of a McDuck ancestor) shows up out of nowhere claiming to have legal rights to everything that Scrooge owns (or, in this case, half of that), spurring a race to find the MacGuffin that will vindicate Scrooge. Whereas “Horseradish” opens with McSue paying a call on Scrooge and presenting his case, “Grand Canyon” picks up after the equivalent exchange between Scrooge and Blair Dunwitty has already taken place, as a panicked, frantic Scrooge shows up on Donald and the nephews’ doorstep in the middle of the night (a dark and stormy night, even, for dramatic effect – say, didn’t I write almost the same sentence in a recent review?), seeking their assistance (as is requisite of an Uncle Scrooge adventure) in solving the Blair Dunwitty dilemma.

Coming out of the gates running, the emergency already in effect and Scrooge taking action (even if he isn’t yet sure what to do with all his energy) and igniting a fire under his nephews' tail feathers to get them to join in, is a good way to quickly hook the reader, and the comic relief embedded in this opening scene (Donald’s cynicism toward and resistance of Scrooge and his offer; and then, when we relocate to the bin, the flustered Miss Quackfaster, who the in-crisis-mode Scrooge has kept working all night) is not only funny, but by reinforcing some of what makes the respective characters tick, makes the proceedings more intimate for the reader. However, on the subject of character depth, between Blair’s spoiled frat boy vibe and his twerpy sidekick whom we meet as part of Scrooge’s hotel staff, actually a double agent planted by Blair, they may be just smart enough to have pulled together a plan that genuinely threatens Scrooge, but they come off as a bit in over their head…as opposed to Chisel McSue, who though he was underhanded and low, was sly and cunning enough to come off as a relatively sinister menace.

Pujol's art -- which might be likened to a quirkier Vicar (at least in terms of his ducks), as it certainly isn't as quirky as, say, Cavazzano's -- is quite rich, inspired, and lively. Deft at both comedic (see the backpackers getting a surprise from the runaway boat) and dramatic action (see the anguished Scrooge in the opening scene, the furtive slinking about of the villains, and the determination of the ducks when they give chase to said villains), the flair to the momentum from Pujol's pen strokes carries the story with a smooth, fast but steady flow. That's especially to his credit seeing that this story appears to have been created for European audiences as a vehicle for a “tour of the American southwest” showcase. Despite what one would expect to be distractions (the appearance of “Golden Age” Hollywood stars in the L.A. club that Donald and the nephews find too expensive for their taste and the gratuitous Disneyland ride chase scene – to say nothing of the continuity questions raised by the costume versions of Mickey and Goofy seen in the park!), the ducks are always trying to solve the mystery surrounding Blair's claim and or/chasing him, and so to the story’s credit, it never loses the plot or the momentum initiated in the above-discussed opening.    

In fact, between the Disneyland rides and, at the climax, the ducks’ decidedly wilder, death-defying, unpredictable ride that traverses – precariously -- several fronts set in the wonder of nature named in the title, the story has a certain amusement park-type of fun to it; I was originally thinking “popcorn movie”. And speaking of movies, at 44 pages and in the four-tiers-per-page format, for a duck comic, this is almost a feature film (or, say, a novel). I enjoyed following Donald and the nephews once Scrooge had sent them to check into the hotel to do their reconnaissance work – maybe it’s because the scene had more room to stretch its legs, or the story beats were more fleshed out, than would be the case in a standard-length story, but Donald and the boys almost felt like real people in the real world. (The intended realism of the story’s settings may have been factor in this, too.) And the apropos comic relief – much of it stemming from the budget allotted them by Scrooge not being sufficient for the expenses they run into – added a great deal of charm, and like the afore-discussed comic relief in the opening sequence, added another dimension to the palette, making it far from flat.  
Getting back to that showstopper of a “wild ride” – it actually bore a striking resemblance to the epic, tumultuous gondola flight/sled ride (which escalated into a tumultuous iceberg ride) of Don Rosa’s “Last Sled to Dawson”, which this story predates by two years! The coincidence gets odder: “Canyon”’s flashbacks to Scrooge and Owen Dunwitty's days as young prospectors evoked the Klondike set Scrooge-Cornelius Coot flashback of “Last Sled” on a level off the charts! I’m not suggesting any borrowing on Rosa’s part – this story hasn’t been printed in the U.S. until now, and he’s recounted how when he first ran into some of the earliest Gladstone comics in a store, it was his first encounter with new Disney comics since the ‘70’s (indicating that in the ‘80’s, he wasn’t reading European Disney comics). As I called it above, it’s just a coincidence, and a very compelling one, at that.

In the backup stories department, both issues deliver some choice rarities. Re: #408, in Al Hubbard's "Belle Corners the Coin Collection", created in 1967 for the Disney Studio program, we meet an old flame from Scrooge's youth who has grown into a quite brassy southern belle (and physically, grown to proportions of which there's quite a bit more than Scrooge remembered). Anticipating their reunion, Scrooge raves to the nephews that he'd found Belle to be his kind of girl simply because she had money -- but as a heiress, you'd think he'd want to teach her about earning money, just like he did with Goldie! Love is nearsighted, I believe the saying goes....

In #409's "The Inventors' Picnic", a Gyro Gearloose story by Freddy Milton (whom we don't see enough of), all of the pompous, jerk members of the inventors society are put in their place when Gyro rigs up on the fly a fantastical way of saving their lives from a flood. It's especially nice to see Gyro get his due when he's so humble, as reinforced by his being oblivious to the ingenuity of the inventions he provides Daisy, Donald, and Scrooge in the scenes preceding the picnic. (It was nice of those three characters to show up at the picnic to vouch for Gyro, even though in their function here, each comes off as notably more selfless than usual.) And as anxious as Gyro had been about receiving his peers' approval, he isn't driven to improvise the literal lifeline that he provides out of spite, but because he just doesn't want to see anyone die. He's a good egg, that Gearloose kid.

"Picnic" is followed by "Enter the Dragon" (written by Frank Jonker and Paul Hoogma, drawn by Bas Heymans), which depicts a McDuck ancestor that in one respect had none of Scrooge's values, but certainly had his drive and zeal. I got a kick out of the Viking equivalents of Donald and the nephews, who, though more barbaric than their likenesses, echo their descendants in opting to spend their money on fun, much to their uptight, frugal uncle's disapproval. 

Both issues close with a one-page gag from the writer artist team of Alberto Savini and Freccero, both of which are funny, clever, original bits in the “Scrooge takes his penny-pinching to silly extremes” tradition begun by Barks. However, in using perspectives so as to conceal the gag until the last panel, “Winning Washout” was a bit confusing as to where Scrooge actually was and what he was doing at certain points. My one question about “Going Places”: Scrooge actually said that he would dispose of the used materials if he was renovating? :D

-- Ryan

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