Monday, April 12, 2010

"Lost Beneath the Sea"

So okay--we just did a "deep" story; now let's take on a shallow one. I know I've done this before, but I think I can profitably do it again, especially since this may well have the most strongly-pronounced postmodern elements of any Barks work I know (which is most of them)--and not really in a good way. Not that there aren't a handful of things to like here, but "Lost Beneath the Sea" is far from an all-time classic. Let's jump right in.


JEEZ! This is the FIRST PANEL, and already we're about as postmodern as it's possible to GET. Seriously--this is sort of stunning. Was Jean Baudrillard a Barks fan? If not, he shoulda been. Just to spell this concept out if you haven't been paying attention: postmodernity entails empty signifiers. So you have Mount Everest or the Taj Mahal or Hong Kong (I kinda think the inhabitants would object to being carted off to Duckburg, but what the hey), but you rip them out of their context to make them into tourist attractions, and you've rendered them completely flat: they aren't referring back to anything except in an incomplete, fragmentary way. So, there's that.



Man...now we come to this. As I'm sure we all know, Scrooge's Number One Dime was not meant to be a magical good-luck charm. Magica may think it is, but that's just because of her low wisdom score (and to psychologize for a moment, I kind of think that deep down, even she has some inkling of an idea that she's wrong--which, obviously, she can't let herself acknowledge). Barks was smart enough to know that that was just a bad idea. But, as he would ruefully acknowledge later, he slipped up occasionally, never more so than here.

We'd better acknowledge that this is hardly the first time that Scrooge's fortune was attributed to luck: in the early story "The Magic Hourglass," it is said to be dependent on the title artifact (for which reason the story is generally considered non-canonical). In "Riches, Riches Everywhere," he's just so goddamn lucky at mining that he can dig ANYWHERE, and he will automatically find treasure. And I've already written about The Golden Nugget Boat.

HOWEVER, as Barks realized, this was a bad idea, and he generally eschewed it. Not in today's story, however. The idea that Scrooge's success inheres in a magic charm completely alters the character, and not in a good way. At his stage of life in the comics, his empire is sufficiently developed that most of the money that comes rolling in is pretty much automatic--but the reason it's reached this stage is because he's chosen well what companies to buy/found. And the reason he's been able to do that is because of sound investments. And the reason he's had the capital to invest in the first place is that he worked like a demon for it. So there's a whole chain here. You can logically trace his wealth. Whereas if you say "oh, he's rich because he's LUCKY," then the chain is broken; the depth is lost. You might as well just say that he's rich because of magic (as Magica does).

Meanwhile, Donald is having problems:



The problem isn't that Donald is making shit up; the problem is that he's not being creative enough. This is kind of jokey, but it goes to show that "truth" is no longer a meaningful metric.

So anyway, having been fired, Donald and the kids get roped in to help Scrooge on his business venture, to protect the dime. Donald is hoping to find a good story so as to get his job back.



It's as much modern as it is postmodern, really, but the fact remains, the narration box is wrong (you've betrayed me for the last time, narration box!). Blood appears to no longer be thicker.

But to continue--we seem to be lacking much forward momentum here--the ducks miss their boat, and the dime leaves without them.



Yup: it's all thanks to the fact that apparently dimelessness turns Scrooge into the anti-Gladstone. Not much more to say about the wrongness of this conception.



Granted, that IS a pretty nice rendering of a storm. Never underestimate what good art can do for a story.

So naturally, they go off in a submarine in search of the dime. There's some action that I'm going to skim over as not really relevant, but ultimately, their ship gets taken by…these alien guys. The ship with the dime had been taken here too.



Their little undersea grotto is kind of cool, but who ARE these guys? This is what it comes down to: we never get any real sense of who they are or what they have to do with anything.



Okay, they need iron, apparently. Why? IT IS A MYSTERY. Seriously, there needs to be some context here; otherwise it's just not that interesting. But, like many a lesser duck-writer, Barks, in this case, does not provide any such thing.



...he DOES provide the kids beating the shit out of giant metal aliens, though, which has to be worth SOMETHING.



Man, do you HAVE to state it so blatantly? It's sort of funny that the chief wears a Napoleon hat for no obvious reason, I suppose. Anyway, they return the dime so Scrooge can use his luck (gah) to find iron for them.



This is actually kind of interesting, since Barks appears to be trying to have it both ways: it doesn't seem to be luck that allows Scrooge to find the metal, but rather his experience and know-how. But I don't think you can let Barks off the hook that easily: after all, it was quite explicitly shown that the loss of the dime resulted in a tidal wave of BAD FORTUNE; too late to change course now. Besides, I think the idea is that the very fact that there's iron to find comes down to luck. You could, I suppose, argue that there's meant to be sort of a happy medium between luck and skill, but I'm not buying it.

So that's about all. Oh, and Donald doesn't get his job back, because even a REAL story about martians is deemed unacceptable, naturally. Note also that the whole thing about buying national landmarks for a theme park was also abandoned. As I hope I've shown, I don't think this is a completely worthless story, but it's really not very good, and it just goes to show that working in a postmodern atmosphere can be very problematic, even for a writer as talented as Barks.

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10 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love reading your articles. I always thought that I was the only one analyzing Barks and the others. Please keep the reviews coming.

P.S. I think you meant dime instead of time in this line "So naturally, they go off in a submarine in search of the time"

April 13, 2010 at 5:45 PM  
Blogger GeoX said...

Thanks for your kind words, and thanks for the correction, which has been made. If, as you imply, you have a similar endeavor going, I'd certainly be interested in checking it out.

April 13, 2010 at 5:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, you are far more eloquent than I could ever be. I just read the comics and review them to myself. Sort of boring but hey it works.

April 14, 2010 at 7:29 AM  
Blogger Chuck Munson said...

I've been enjoying catching up on your posts. Always nice to see someone else who can at once enjoy the stories, take them seriously, and analyse them as well.

You have hit upon something here that, as much as I love Unca Carl's stories, I have noticed regarding the later ones, especially this one, which either take some serious steps away from Barks' own canon (I suppose partly in an attempt to devise new plotlines) and/or, as you pointed out in your post, have some unnerving holes in the plot. I grimace every time, for the sake of enjoying Disney comics, I have found myself thinking, "ah, well, yes, I suppose I can come up with some reasonable explanation for that.....at some point." But I guess as my friends Joe and Chris, whose blogs you've already discovered, will tell you, I tend to be the most "forgiving" of the three of us in this sort of thing. To whit: at ages of eight to ten, I usually spent summer mornings on my grandparents' wonderful back porch reinventing, with the help of Legos and some terrific plastic Disney figures that my parents had gotten me when we were in Germany, the Duck stories I had just read. I wish I could remember some of the "glue" that I came up with for those tales!

April 27, 2010 at 9:48 PM  
Blogger GeoX said...

Thanks! I got into this partly to commemorate an artform that's criminally neglected in the US, and partly for the chance to meet fellow duckfans via the internet--naturally, people like us are pretty thin on the ground hereabouts. Alas!

I know that Barks disavowed the idea that there should be any real continuity between his stories (so in "Island in the Sky," f'rinstance, Duckburg suddenly becomes Spaceville), but yeah, the thematic veering around can be...odd. Interesting, though!

That thing with the Legos sounds fantastic. It's been many years since I was into Legos, but If they started releasing Barks-themed sets, I would SO be there.

New entry coming soon!

April 28, 2010 at 2:33 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Unca Carl knew it all along!

It’s not that “Mars Needs Women!”

It’s that “Mars Needs Iron!” :-)

The luck angle notwithstanding, this has always been a favorite of mine, since reading it at the end of the sixties in a Walt Disney Comics Digest (This is one I never had an original of until the ‘90s)

Why did I like it so much? Because Donald played a far more active role than in any of the other contemporary Scrooge stories. Maybe “The Great Wig Mystery” too, but he really stood out in this one.

April 28, 2010 at 9:12 PM  
Blogger GeoX said...

Interestingly enough, this was the LAST long Barks story that I read (actually, to be precise, "The Christmas Cha-Cha" came after, but that was written by Bob Gregory). I see what you mean about Donald--though he does kick some fish tail in "Hall of the Mermaid Queen." Also, I always liked how he neutralizes the bad guy at the end of "Swamp of No Return."

April 28, 2010 at 9:56 PM  
Blogger GeoX said...

...oops--that's Scrooge doing the shooting at the end of "Swamp," isn't it? Never mind then!

April 29, 2010 at 1:36 AM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Also, this was not the Donald of the Scrooge adventures (pilot, all-purpose assistant, and low-wage slave), but the Donald of the ten-pagers who tried really hard at satisfying his boss (a precursor of Kolchak The Night Stalker’s “Tony Vincenzo”, perhaps?) and ending in his usual failure!

Joe.

April 29, 2010 at 7:28 AM  
Blogger GeoX said...

Wow--that's a really interesting point that hadn't occurred to me. I think you're right, though.

April 29, 2010 at 11:47 AM  

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