Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, Chapter Six: "The Terror of the Transvaal"

Man…this story had never been my favorite part of the saga, but upon rereading it for this project, I realized that I really kind of hate it. I know I was critical of a few previous entries, but really, neither "Buckaroo" nor "Cowboy Captain" is anything worse than average, and both have elements that elevate them to some extent. Whereas this one is just terrible, for reasons that will become apparent very shortly. And yes, I feel bad about having to say this, especially given that Rosa himself is almost certainly reading this. Sorry, Don--I guess all I can say is that, on balance, this is the only installment in the series that I actively dislike. As the song sez: seventeen out of eighteen ain't bad. And at least, at a mere twelve pages, it's also the shortest ("the food is terrible, and the portions are so small!").

Let's get the following--and this isn't my reason for hating it, just to be clear--out of the way first: for a story set in Africa, it sure does feature no black people whatsoever. There are a few background characters whose ethnicity isn't totally clear, but as far as foreground characters, or anyone who says anything…nothin'. Yes, you could make the same claim about Barks' "Second-Richest Duck," but that story doesn't feature anyone in Africa apart from the ducks.

Of course, this absence is perfectly logical, because given the context of the comic, there would be no way--without committing really blatant, grotesque revisionist history--to depict actual Africans as being anything other than brutally exploited by the European colonists. That's probably not gonna fly in a Disney comic, and even if somehow it did, it would result in a significantly darker story than Rosa wants to tell.

Still, I can't help noticing it. I am well aware that all of these stories take place in front of cultural backdrops in which gross exploitations of all kinds were taking place, but in most of them, Rosa can ignore this without it seeming pointed--indeed, any efforts to depict such things would seem really bizarrely out-of-place. Whereas in the story currently under review, the exploitation is front and center, and it directly implicates the kind of work Scrooge is doing and the people involved in it with whom he interacts. Hence, the answer--which, really, was probably the only one possible--was to just leave out the colonized people altogether. It's not a perfect solution, of course--their very absence can't help but draw attention to itself for anyone even vaguely aware of colonial history--but there it is.

I actually think this works out fairly well, though; whatever the intention was, the result is a story that serves as a kind of metaphor for the complete irrelevance, under European rule, of the people who had actually lived there for thousands of years. What does capital care about them, except as a resource to be used? I'm not saying it's a perfect solution--you could easily argue that their absence just downplays the atrocities committed against them*--but I really do not think you could possibly expect anything more from a Disney comic.

*Different part of Africa, obviously, but I note that this story takes place in 1887, just as King Leopold's nightmarish rule over the Belgian Congo was ramping up. That's an extreme case, but it's only different in degree from African colonialism as a whole.

Anyway, as I said, none of this is really related to my reasons for disliking the story; I just thought it needed addressing. Moving on…



…an' it's not because it misspells "Kalahari" either, although it totally does...



No, as you damn well know, my problems stem from the treatment of Glomgold. As the above indicates, Rosa never does anything to make the character anything but wholly contemptible. "The original Glomgold story has always been one of my very favorite Scrooge adventures," he writes in his commentary. "If you love the Scrooge character, what could be more exciting than the story in which he meets his evil twin?" ARGH. To quote the great philosopher Freddy Mercury, NO NO NO NO NO NO NO. Not that he doesn't have plenty of company, but really, now: how can a smart guy like Rosa get this so wrong?



Glomgold is NOT A VILLAIN in "The Second-Richest Duck," or if he is Scrooge is too, as Barks goes out of his way to make them more or less exact equivalents of each other. Granted, he has an evil-sounding name, but when ya think about it, so does Scrooge: Dickens meant for "Scrooge" to connote cold-hearted graspingness, and the duck version is almost certainly Scottish specifically because of the stereotype of Scots as misers.

He IS a villain in "The Money Champ," but an ambiguous one. There's certainly no indication that he was known for the kind of weaseliness that he displays here. And "So Far and No Safari" hardly counts.



Blah blah, so the idea is that he falls in with Scrooge and then betrays him. But forget about that for a moment. Allow me to throw out this entire script and present a much better alternative:

Scrooge and Flintheart meet up. They're both looking for gold. And they don't become near-instantaneous enemies. Quite the opposite--they recognize each other as kindred spirits. Flinty might be slightly more hard-edged, but it's not a conclusive, damning thing. The only real difference is that Scrooge has a family, and Flintheart doesn't--the latter mentions his mother when he's feeling guilty in "The Money Champ;" the idea here would be that she had already died, and he had no one else (this to emphasize the notion that the only real difference between them is that Scrooge has a family, which has a somewhat humanizing effect). I know I said that including actual Africans is a questionable idea, but I don't know how else we could do this, given that none of the Europeans have any legitimate claim to the land. So let's go all out and bring in Foola Zoola's tribe here--I believe FZ is supposed to be about Scrooge's age. Given that we're talking about uncolonized territory here, I think we'll be all right. So they get permission to prospect on the tribe's land--being assured that there's nothing to find there. And, indeed, there isn't, gold-wise--but they stumble onto the treasure of an ancient kingdom that existed on the land (this is a good chance to show that they're both preternaturally talented as far as finding treasure is concerned). Awesome, they think. But…goddamnit, temptation notwithstanding, Scrooge is unable to get over the fact that they have no right to this treasure. Come on, says Flintheart; the tribespeople never, ever would have found it; what difference does it make if we profit from it? Maybe not, says Scrooge, but there's reputed to be a great treasure hidden in my ancestral castle ("Old Castle's Secret" reference!), and how would I like it if some goddamn Whiskervilles got to it first (again, emphasizing the importance of family)? So he insists on showing the tribe where the treasure is, much to Flintheart's chagrin, and the two of them part with a bit of animosity, but also a grudging respect for each other. In addition to everything else, this would accentuate Scrooge's moral downfall when, in "The Empire-Builder from Calisota," he screws FZ and company over. It would also be resonant in that it would more clearly show how, when he drives his family off, he's basically exactly the same as Flintheart.

The only possible difficulty here is the notion that Scrooge shouldn't know Glomgold's name until Barks' "Second-Richest Duck." I think there's nothing wrong with fudging that a little, though: you can't absolutely prove from "The Second-Richest Duck" that Scrooge didn't know Glomgold in a previous time--he doesn't act like he's ever heard of him before, true, but really, given his extreme money-consciousness (in "The Empire-Builder from Calisota," we see him measuring his progress against other billionaires), how plausible is it that he would never have heard of Glomgold until finding a paper in the park? And if we posit that he had, it's not that much of a leap to assume he might've met him before. Or whatever--if you're not buying that, you could surely find a reason to have him be operating under an assumed name. Point is, this is something that can be managed. And it's not as though Scrooge's not learning his name doesn't feel a little forced as it is.

And it would be worth managing, because WOULDN'T THAT STORY BE COMPLETELY FUCKING AWESOME?!? YOU'RE GODDAMN RIGHT IT WOULD BE!!! Granted, it would need more than the twelve pages that the current version is allotted, but my lord--I'm depressing myself just by thinking about how great this thing could be, but emphatically isn't. Argh.



Anyway, so Scrooge is ANGRY, and I can't help but find these "HULK SMASH" moments a bit risible, whatever causes them.



I do sorta like the way he deals with the local wildlife (see? One positive comment, no matter what)--though in retrospect, given "Cowboy Captain of the Cutty Sark," he wouldn't actually be wholly unfamiliar with exotic megafauna.




And...he basically completely humiliates Flintheart. And here we see the story failing even on its own terms. In his commentary, Rosa writes that he "see[s] Flintheart as a match for Scrooge in every way: they both started from nothing and made their fortunes by being "sharper than the sharpies and smarter than the smarties." But that is nowhere in evidence in this story. Flintheart is a completely pathetic, ineffectual character. Stealing Scrooge's stuff in the night doesn't exactly demonstrate great sharpness, smartness, and/or toughness. Okay, so maybe you think my character-based stuff is all so much fanboy wankery, and you just want him to be a foil for Scrooge--but doesn't Scrooge deserve a more competent opponent than this? Come on, now. Though to be fair, this may be another casualty of the limited page count: with more space to work with, perhaps Rosa could've made him more formidable.



Sigh…and that's about that. In my ongoing effort to be positive (what, you didn't notice?) I'll say that I like the baboon curiously regarding Scrooge's futile efforts--though, if you wanna be a stickler, it must be noted that this is NOT how it went down in Barks:



Well, I suppose we can just hand-wave this away as a Tall Tale. In fact, Rosa does exactly that much later, in "Invader of Fort Duckburg." It goes to show, though: given that you really can't craft Barks' stories into a coherent narrative without fudging a fair few details, calling this whole thing "faithful to Barks" is pushing it a little. Or a lot. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing, but there it is. We'll certainly see more of this later.

And that's all. I don't want to think about this story anymore. Gah. Onward to "The Vigilante of Pizen Bluff."

Labels: ,

6 Comments:

OpenID reviewordie said...

Hi Geo, just wanted to offer my two cents, specifically as relates to Rosa's Glomgold. I do agree that the tale is easily the weakest in the entire saga, and that YOUR version of the tale would have read better. Why this, of all the chapters, was twelve pages, I'll never know! It sets up such an important character piece in the story, the first real stated change in his character, but... badly. We're told how Scrooge changes, but we don't see it, and it's not very clear why (with no contrast to how he was before, this chapter reads weaker still).

I agree that Rosa misses the point of Barks' Glomgold, but (and don't crucify me here!), I also believe that Glomgold is more Rosa's than Barks'. Glomgold had three stories, and Barks admitted that he was, in effect, too villainous to be entertaining to watch. And with Barks' storytelling style, he's right... So Far and No Safari kind of sucks.

I also think Rosa read So Far and No Safari before he read any of the other Glomgold tales, because Glomgold is most LIKE So Far and No Safari in the Rosa tales. An evil, murderous Scrooge. Not a mirror, but simply evil. Best exemplified by Son of the Sun.

The script for Son of the Sun was cut by about, I think, 7-9 pages. One of these scenes was one of Glomgold, talking to Donald and the nephews about how he met Scrooge when he was young, and Scrooge inspired him to be who he was. Rosa stated on multiple occasions his desire to re-draw the entire story from start to finish, maybe inserting those missing parts on the way. In his mind, I imagine that when writing Son of the Sun, this deleted scene was canon to him.

We also see remnants of that in the deleted Life and Times pages, where Scrooge has a short encounter with Glomgold, and it's clear in a twisted way that Glomgold's mirrored himself after what Scrooge became. He started out bad and went worse, taking all the horrible parts of Scrooge and none of the good.

But that's just my theorizing, of course! The story's still weak and doesn't really fulfill any of its intended purposes. If you deleted it from The Life and Times completely, the story as a whole would be improved.

Can't wait for more!

December 15, 2011 at 6:12 PM  
Blogger Christopher said...

As I see it, there are two main ways to interpret Glomgold. One is "just like Scrooge, only evil." As for his fortune, "He made it crooked," lying, cheating, stealing, and bribing his way to the top. In this interpretation, Scrooge is the good guy because he was always- most of the time- honest and legal in his dealings. I know that you have a problem with this, Geox.

The other way is to view Glomgold as essentially Scrooge before the redemptive end of "Christmas on Bear Mountain," a duck who hates everybody and who is loved by nobody, angry, bitter, and contemptuous of sentiment. Here, the "bad guy" designation stems from misanthropy, as well as a flagrant disregard for morality and law.

By the way, if we view Glomgold as inherently dishonest, its no stretch to assume that he might've used a pseudonym or stolen someone's identity at some point, hence Scrooge not knowing his name. That's how I would've handled the plot point.

And Mr. Rosa, if you are reading this, hi, and thanks for everything.

December 15, 2011 at 6:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm don't think Rosa could have gotten away with a plot about race relations in South Africa at the time this comic was written. It would have been great, but I think expecting so is a bit far-fetched (of course, it's Rosa's realism and historical detail that makes us expect such things).

Also, I'm sympathetic with your view of the Glomgold character, but I find your view a bit dogmatic: Glomgold started out as a mirror of Scrooge in the first story, then a slightly tarnished mirror in the second, and by the third he was the outright villain he is in Rosa's stories. The total mirror version may be the most interesting, but also the most limiting in terms of the kinds of stories you can tell (perhaps only one story: his introductory story and, I suppose, variations on it, which The Money Champ kinda is). The second version of Glomgold is a more traditional villain, but is an easier character to write stores for, an easier character to inject into a plot to raise the stakes. I don't think there's anything wrong with that.

December 15, 2011 at 8:54 PM  
Blogger Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

Yeah, you people are clearly right; this IS a bit of a hobbyhorse of mine, and I CAN get a little dogmatic about it. It just frustrates me to see such a fascinating character flattened the way Rosa, let alone Ducktales, has done. It's absolutely the case that a more morally ambiguous character is gonna be harder to write for, but I think it's possible to have a middle ground: he doesn't need to be *exactly* like Scrooge, but something more than "I'm like Scrooge, but with a twist: I'm EVIL!!!!11one" would be great.

December 15, 2011 at 9:14 PM  
Blogger Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

...also, reviewordie, that's really interesting about Rosa's intention to redo "Son of the Sun." I had no idea. Another one for the "what might have been pile," alas.

December 15, 2011 at 9:26 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

As I often say in these discussions, it always comes down to a matter of perspective.

I read “So Far and No Safari” in its brand new ‘60s release – and that was my introduction to Flintheart Glomgold.

So, to me he was a VILLAIN – and seemingly a one-shot villain at that! He might well have been “Scalpnick”, “John the Con”, or “The Brutopian Consul” for all that it mattered.

Some years later, I got to read reprints of “The Second Richest Duck” (in the regular UNCLE SCROOGE comic) and “The Money Champ” (in WALT DISNEY COMICS DIGEST) and learned that Flinty was more than… oh, say “Copperhead McViper”.

My perspective, though certainly broadened by retro-reading those earlier stories, was that he was still the guy who strafed the ducks from a jet fighter. So, seeing him characterized as a villain here was no big deal.

Yet, if you read the Flinty stories I their proper order, as I presume you did, it’s easy to see and accept your argument.

I’d suspect anyone reared on DuckTales would also have no problem with Glomgold as a villain.

December 17, 2011 at 6:50 AM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home