Wednesday, May 20, 2009

"Interplanetary Postman"

So about this alleged dip in quality that Barks' work suffered in the early sixties: I dunno. There's probably some truth there. Magica de Spell DOES feel very Cousin Oliver-ish, and there are several stories from this period--"Mythtic Mystery" and "That's no Fable" come readily to mind--that, we are sadly forced to admit, flat-out suck.

But it's not as though EVERY forties-fifties story was award-winning either. There will be some variation in quality wherever you go. I haven't read every story from the sixties, but I HAVE read every long adventure story, and while there may not be as many homeruns as before, I don't think there are perceptibly more strikeouts, either. The looser, goofier tone may be a turnoff to some, but I think it's a good thing, on the whole.

Case in point: "Interplanetary Postman." Okay! So Scrooge is pissed off because the post office keeps screwing up his mail. Perhaps he should try the WASTE system? NO! He goes down to complain, and, in a fit of pique, the potspostmaster puts HIM in charge of the system, to see if HE can do any better.

All is well...UNTIL he receives a letter addressed to Venus. You would think that the post office would deal with this in roughly the same way they deal with letters to Santa, but we are dealing with a magical mode here.



Why do we assume that there are people on Venus to receive the letter? Why do we assume it's not just a joke? Why, really, do we take it seriously at all? These are questions that we do not ask. We accept the story on its own, goofy terms.

So: off to Venus!



This is important, because what the dude in the plane is saying is WRONG. Unlike stories of previous years, this cannot be thought of at all as a heroic effort by hardy pioneers. The setup makes that clear enough, and it will become clearer as things progress. The veneer of "realism" that characterized previous Scrooge adventures is no more. There's no connection to the past. Dare I call it "postmodern?" I do! And you can't stop me!

So they get to Venus.



No, there is no illicit lust, murder, and/or karmic retribution (well, a little lust, as we'll see--but I don't know that I'd call it "illicit") in this story. But wouldn't it be a thing if there were?

Anyway, Venus turns out to be like this:





The Little Nemo in Slumberland influence is obvious. Naturally, Barks eschewed this aesthetic when he was restricting himself to a more realistic setting, but when asked in interviews about his formative influences, Windsor McCay was always high up on the list. Isn't it nice to see him letting it all hang out like this?

This was going to be the part where I shouted, HEY! IF THIS IS VENUS, WHERE IS MUCHKALE'S RACE?!? CONTINUITY ERROR BLARGH! But...



Huh. Yeah, these guys could more or less plausibly be Muchkale's relatives. Good, and quite surprising, job, Carl!

...or at least, that's what I WOULD say, except that it turns out this isn't really Venus. They somehow got turned in the wrong direction, and they landed on Mars. So...no Muchkales needed. Seems like a pretty big error to make, but what the hey. So ultimately, this sequence serves no purpose except to let Barks engage in a whimsical flight of fancy. You could criticize it on that point, but I think that would be rather churlish.

So Scrooge & Relatives head to the ACTUAL Venus--which DOES NOT features Muchkales. So allow me to to take this opportunity to shout: HEY! IF THIS IS VENUS, WHERE IS MUCHKALE'S RACE?!? CONTINUITY ERROR BLARGH! Ah...

But if nothing else, this DOES give show us a little bit WHY this is not, and cannot be, a heroic quest of old:



Yes, it's another swipe at Kids Today. There's no more room for serious matters because we no longer live in a serious era (note: Barks' opinions do not necessarily reflect those of this blog. Though he has at least part of a valid point here, just blaming the kidz seems myopic).



Yeah, so Venus has giant teenage girls. Of course. Perhaps it's the mythological origins of "Venus" that made the poor, glandularly-disabled lad think that this would be the perfect place to look for a girlfriend. Or maybe it was just random caprice! That would be appropriate for a postmodern milieu.

Scrooge doesn't want to be hauling letters back and forth--that would be time-consuming and expensive. So:



I dunno--you'd think his parents/legal guardians might raise some sort of objection to their son being shot off into space in an effort to get laid. But maybe they're just glad to get the freakish kid off their hands.

And that is that. As with most of Barks' late works, this is shorter than the stories he wrote in what we call his prime. That probably does indicate a little fatigue on his part--shorter stories means less intricate plotting--but who cares? On their own terms, I think they're still pretty dern great.

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