Saturday, October 8, 2011

"The Curse of Flabbergé"

Hey, as you know if you read the companion blog to this one, I recently finished watching the entirety of Ducktales. For that reason, I thought it would be appropriate to highlight a Ducktales story here. And an interesting story it is, too, in several ways (note my carefully neutral tone there).
I won't deny it: I've never been very excited by Ducktales comics. They sort of feel to me like the equivalent of playing Street Fighter: The Movie: The Game, and really, what can I get from them that I would want and that I can't get from regular duck comics? Well, in theory, Fenton, except that he has only ever appeared in four stories, according to inducks (Boom reprinted two of them, and they ain't much); possibly Launchpad, but, although I theoretically like the character, the fact remains, he's all-too-often characterized as A. Dumb; B. Crash-prone; C. That's all; which isn't that exciting. So in short. Shrug. It makes sense for other Disney Afternoon properties, but for Ducktales, it seems on the pointless side.

But anyway, here we have this, which, if nothing else, is certainly more ambitious than most Ducktales stories I've read. All due credit to David for the translation, also; it's very crisp, and it's easy to imagine the dialogue coming from the characters in the show, which surely is the ultimate goal here.

Right at the beginning, there's a thing that baffles the hell out of me. Maybe this is because I am dumb, but if someone could explain it to me, that would be great. Here are the final panels on the first page:



And here are the first panels on the second page:



Somebody seriously explain to me: what? What's supposed to have happened here? Why is Launchpad holding a fish? Wuh? The first time I saw this, I thought the pagination had somehow gotten screwed up, but all the evidence suggests that this is in fact the way it's supposed to be. Huh.



Anyway, this is a long story, so I'm going to skip over a lot of stuff in the course of this. I really like Launchpad overriding Scrooge's tantrum and just carrying him bodily out, though.



...and I like this splash panel. This would've been super-cool animated, also. Okay.



...oh, there are fun references to the show here, too. The writing here feels--because it clearly is--more aware of the show's history than contemporaneously-published stories were. It's a good fit.

As far as the vine goes, surely you would want it to have been shorter? If it's longer, you're just going to smack into the water quicker.



Scrooge's tantrum is also funny. Is that bit about coal meant to be an elliptical reference to the Dumbest Ducktales Moment Ever, where Scrooge scatters peanuts to summon elephants to stomp on his coal to change it to diamonds? If not, it should be.



"Woodchuck Information Dump" is just great. I can think of a few Rosa stories to which it would be especially relevant.



Point is, he gets it in his head that there's this fabergé egg equivalent that he can get his hands on, to make up for the diamond thing not working out. This is the first dubious plot point here: since when does Scrooge just go around buying priceless treasures, unless there's some way he knows he can do so at a deep discount? That would seem to defeat the point, which is to be richer.



Here's the other dubious plot point: the notion that this mystery buyer somehow did something wrong/is not "entitled" to the egg, in spite of having paid for it fair and square. Since when is it illegal--or even immoral--to buy something anonymously? What gives you the right to go chasing after them?



...and seriously, what the hell is the deal with that sense of entitlement? It's "your treasure" in...what sense? Granted, he sometimes gets this way in Barks, to an extent, but never that I recall in so obviously a "dude--it's not yours" situation as this.



Um...okay. From this, more prescient readers--even if you haven't read the thing--may already guess what my biggest problem is going to be with this story. And it's not that catwoman there looks pretty creepy in that bodysuit without the mask, though this is undeniably the case.



...and there's this tie-in with Brutopia; that's obviously David's embellishment (if nothing else, the fact that the story does not feature Barks' standard Brutopian agent would tip you off); I admire the chutzpah, though it doesn't ultimately make the story any more or less problematic.



…and here we have Fethry's ancestor! That makes me grin; I won't deny it. Is this a Ducktales first?



I'm a big fan of the signs featuring the Stalin-esque dictator.




Okay, three things: 1) That's not Old English; 2) no one spoke Old English in the sixteenth century anyway; and 3) or in Russia. Sorry, David, but you know I couldn't let that one go :}



…and by "we," I mean "you," and by "free," I mean "subjects of a tsardom." No...seriously? Seriously??? Royalist propaganda in a Disney comic? Dorfman and Mattelart would have a field day with this. I mean, yeah, by all means, get rid of the Stalin-esque dictator, but...I mean, no, robber-baron capitalism didn't exactly do Russia any favors either, but at least it had the potential to lead somewhere else. Whereas here we have...stasis.

You may recognize this as very similar to Barks' "Treasure of Marco Polo," which was problematic in its own right, but that story was non-specific enough to be a bit less so. Whereas this is specifically about Russia, which we can actually look at and say, huh. Things were kinda bad under the Tsars--again, not that they improved after the Revolution, but the idea that the answer is to regress...

Do I think that the writer (Régis Maine, take a bow) intended this reading of the story? No. I mean, I hope not. That would be super-bizarre (though it's also hard to see how he couldn't have noticed it). I imagine that this particular concept was just a sort of extension of the popular Anastasia myth. And it's not as though Europe's democracies are teetering on the brink of dictatorship, so it's not exactly malignant, really. But it is one of the most hilariously weird things I've ever read.

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17 Comments:

Blogger Christopher said...

Have you ever read Agatha Christie's "The Secret of Chimneys?" There's a similar ending there, and I'd be interested to know what other people think of the parallels.

October 8, 2011 at 1:26 AM  
Blogger Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

I have not. Care to elaborate?

October 8, 2011 at 1:35 AM  
Blogger Christopher said...

"The Secret of Chimeys" is a thriller with a major subplot set in the fictional country of Herzoslovakia. After a major coup, many forces want the return of the monarchy, and part of the mystery lies in the identity of the missing prince. There's a controversial passage in the final chapter where a character muses on the need for a strong ruler because the world isn't ready for pure democracy, so a country like Herzoslovakia needs an absolute monarch. If you want to have the book spoiled (and I do NOT recommend that you do it, you can find chapter 30 (the relevant passage is on the first two pages of that chapter) on Googlebooks.

October 8, 2011 at 2:13 AM  
Blogger Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

Wow, that's quite interesting. It sure SOUNDS like that coulda been an influence on this story. How popular is Christie in France, I wonder?

October 8, 2011 at 2:35 AM  
Blogger Christopher said...

Well, Agatha Christie is incredibly popular all over the world, but her work, and classic detective stories in general, are very well-known in France.

October 8, 2011 at 4:03 AM  
Blogger ramapith said...

"The Secret of Flabberge" was partly rewritten by a number of hands at Boom—not just (editor) Chris Burns and myself. In the process, a few logic points got a bit diluted.
At the end of Page 1/start of Page 2, dialogue originally went like this:

(Page 1)

Pic 4
Scrooge: [...] Legends say it was once a *temple!*
Launchpad: >Hmm!<

Pic 5
Launchpad: D-does that make *this* li’l f-fella a *priest?*

Pic 6
Scrooge: >Gasp!< Get back, lad! It’s an *asp!* Or a *lethal* black widow...

(Page 2)

Pic 1
Launchpad: Or a canned sardine! >Heh!<

Pic 2
Scrooge: >Hrmph!< A *prank!* Must be a local joker around!
Launchpad: Too bad you made the *boys* stay home! They’re good at dealin’ with locals! [...]

Later we established that the Beagle Boys had planted the sardine, which is why it could still be fresh and intact.
Lost in all of this was the real reason that a fish should be there as a gag to begin with. It's a European custom that couldn't be easily rewritten or explained in the space we had:

http://katrien-vander-straeten.suite101.com/the-april-fish-a13685

As for the coat of arms, you're right: the text should really have referenced Middle English, not Old English—though I'm not sure how it would be English to begin with. Problem: it couldn't be Russian either, unless we're explicitly saying Brutopia is Russia, which I didn't want to do. So I (reluctantly) went with English, just as the original story had gone with French.

In other news, I loved how an ancestor of Fethry appeared, though I'm not sure what he was doing in a DuckTales story. Same goes for an ancestor of Butch (though I don't think the creators meant to invoke the Gottfredson character, the resemblance was too strong for me to ignore in the text).

Finally, Tsarevna Felina informs me personally that her modern Tsardom is to be much like the figurehead monarchy in Denmark, Britain, and so forth. An elected parliament makes the laws—not her. (And definitely not Fethry.)

October 8, 2011 at 3:54 PM  
Blogger ramapith said...

Urgh! Re: the story's title, I mean "The *Curse* of Flabberge"—not the "secret." It never had any other English title.

I should have known something was wrong with my brain when the Tsarevna started talking to me.

October 8, 2011 at 3:56 PM  
Blogger Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

Thanks for the clarifications. I suppose the language could be "Old Brutlandic" or something to that effect.

October 8, 2011 at 4:25 PM  
Blogger Chris Barat said...

Geo,

David is right. Who's to say that a restored Brutlandian tsardom (or tsarinadom) wouldn't go the "constitutional monarchy" route? Felina certainly seems capable of establishing that sort of regime. Plus, she'd probably PREFER to continue to lead the "adventurous performing life" to a certain extent, and thus would hold slack reins.

Chris

October 8, 2011 at 6:18 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Um, why didn’t they just color the “Blue Sardine” red, and go for the “Red Herring” joke?

October 8, 2011 at 6:55 PM  
Blogger ramapith said...

I should have guessed a Scooby-Doo expert would notice the obvious gag I'd missed!

October 8, 2011 at 10:35 PM  
Blogger Ryan Wynns said...

[joining the same section of orchestra to which David and Chris belong] ... yeah, right, at the end of the story, now that the Brutopians have been overthrown and the Peace Pippin reclaimed, Felina didn't say what she was going to do next, and how she'd be organizing things, did she?

In the overall scheme of the story, her function is that of the "rugged, fierce, gung-ho individual destined to be a key figure because of a very significant connection to the story's conflict's backstory who's now living in exile/as a fugitive and, out of a noble, pure sense of justice, working undercover, using his or her knowledge of a centuries-old secret passed down to him or her to solve some sort of riddle and/or carry out some extremely difficult task, in order to overthrow the despots and set things rights again" stock character. (And yes, it is an established stock character, or at least a variation of an oft-used formula, in spite of my long-winded description!)

Of course, you're objecting to the notion that she sees herself as being entitled to the throne and infallible in judging and decreeing what's best for the entire populace of Brutland. But I don't think advocacy of a Julius Evola-esque sentiment that monarchs are divinely-consecrated and inherently, by the perfect order of the cosmos, superior to their subjects was intended on the original writer's part.

The denouement operates on story logic: we see Felina victoriously, proudly announcing to the populace, "You're free!", at which they're rejoicing, and we understand ('cause we're used to the rhythm of this kind of thing) that this is a happy ending -- the shape of the story arc itself insists that the way everything's worked out is positive.

And if we think outside the confines of story logic and ask, "Well, if we're to take the story arc's word that this is a happy ending, and that the Brutlandians weren't inherently, existentially wronged by being subjected to the reinstitution of a monarchy in the 20th century [going by original publication date!], how exactly would this work?", the scenarios David and Chris have suggested should more than suffice. Maybe Felina would even step down once a democratic system was up and running?

Ryan

P.S. For a look at the original outlets in which this and select other stories first saw print, feel free to peruse the recent "European Disney Afternoon Comics" post at my blog!

October 9, 2011 at 7:28 AM  
Blogger Chris Barat said...

Ryan,

Well said, tres well said!

Chris

October 9, 2011 at 1:43 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

David writes:
“I should have guessed a Scooby-Doo expert would notice the obvious gag I'd missed!”

And, you would have HAD that gag, if you assigned the story to ME – and not to those meddling kids! :-)

I should point out that among the three of us, Carl Barks, David, and I (in separate stories) may have chronicled the history of Brutopia. (…And, yes, I KNOW I should never include myself in the same sentence as Carl Barks! Just go with the bit, okay? )

Barks, of course, in his epics like “A Cold Bargain” and “The Swamp of No Return” (The Then-Present – ‘50s and ‘60s). David is his excellent job in this tale (The Past). And my throwaway reference in “Uncle Scrooge Meets the Syntheziod From the Deepest Void” (The Future/Our Present) in UNCLE SCROOGE # 370! Let’s all celebrate “Brutopian Independence Day”! Yay, modified capitalism!

All Brutopian history buffs and completists are advised to collect ‘em all!

October 9, 2011 at 2:14 PM  
Blogger ramapith said...

Another piece of "Brutopian history," of a sort, turns up in "Danger Island," an otherwise unassuming story in UNCLE SCROOGE ADVENTURES 29 (1993). In it, an evil Brutopian ex-nobleman named Von Turpentine is living on an island, where he hunts stranded castaways like wild animals a la "The Most Dangerous Game." He refers to "fanatical humanitarians" having ousted the regime of which he was a part.
Scrooge refers to him as "the butcher of Brutengrad" and notes that Brutopia had been searching for him to put him on trial, clearly implying the fall of the Barks-era Brutopian government.
I always wondered how it fell—and "The Curse of Flabberge," with a Russia- and Stalin-inspired scenario that couldn't translate to English language Duck continuity any other way, finally provided me with a satisfying explanation.

October 9, 2011 at 5:00 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Oh, YES… David! I’d forgotten about that story – but you didn’t! And, I’m not at all surprised!

That’s what makes you the perfect editor of any future incarnation of these comics!

...Let's all keep hoping!

October 9, 2011 at 5:24 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

Usually it’s Geo’s own comments which make me laugh out loud when reading this blog, but this time it was Ryan’s description of the stock character (and I agree with him that this is a well-used formula). I do sympathize with Geo’s uneasiness, though, which I felt myself on reading the story (Oh, great! Another czar! Just what Brutopia needs!)—and which I addressed by telling myself what Felina told David. I admit that I was more willing to give Felina the benefit of the doubt in this regard because I was happy to see said stock character in female form in a duck comic (where there’s been a dearth of strong female characters, of course).

October 12, 2011 at 4:18 PM  

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