Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, Chapter Seven: "Dreamtime Duck of the Never-Never"

Barks did three Australian stories, in three different decades. "Adventure Down Under" (1947) is okay, but it's pretty badly tainted by its portrayal of savage, murderous aborigines; "Riches, Riches Everywhere!" (1955) is one of his weakest adventures, a not-very-atmospheric thing that furthermore wholeheartedly endorses the notion that Scrooge's fortune is luck-based; "Queen of the Wild Dog Pack" (1966) is clearly the best, goofy-as-hell but in a fun way. Point is, though, none of these exactly provide much in the way of a jumping-off point for Rosa--hence, this whole thing is inspired by a throwaway comment in "The Loony Lunar Gold Rush"--same as "Transvaal," actually; it's a sure bet that Barks never imagined he was providing such inspiration while he was working on that story.

At any rate, this is one of my favorite installments. I like that it's notably low-key by the series' standards. It feels kinda restful. Apart from the guys in the above panel, and Fergus and Jake in the framing sequence, the only people in the story are Scrooge, the Aboriginal wiseman, and the somewhat ill-defined bandit who serves as an ad hoc villain.

As you can see, it also features a character riding in a kangaroo's pouch (as mandated by law for comics and cartoons set in Australia).

"Wait wait wait," you're probably saying, assuming your thought patterns are exactly the same as mine, and why wouldn't they be? "'Aboriginal wiseman?' Are we in magical negro territory here, or what?" It's certainly a fraught question, but one that can't be ignored. However--keeping in mind that I am just some goofy white guy with no real expertise on the subject--I think that Rosa more or less dodges that bullet. More or less.

It's not enough to just say "oh look--a black guy providing wisdom to a white guy. Case closed!" There's got to be more to it than that, and here in particular you would have do demonstrate that there's something particular about ol' Jabiru Kapirigi here that makes him qualitatively different than the other figures--Fergus, Pothole, Quackly, Theodore Roosevelt, Howard Rockerduck--that have served as semi-mentors to Scrooge. So let's ask ourselves the following questions:

1. Is he "childlike"/mentally challenged in some way?

No--the most you can say is that he's somewhat naïve when the bad guy screws them over,

but I wouldn't call that dispositive.

2. Does he go out of his way/sacrifice himself/engage in self-abnegating behavior in order to help Scrooge?

Not at all--he basically just lets Scrooge tag along with him as he's doing his thing. You could argue that he does accept Scrooge awfully damn quickly, but really now, Rosa was only working with fifteen pages here, thankstocertaineditorswecouldname. The learning that Scrooge does he more or less does on his own--ie, that he shouldn't be a jerk and steal stuff for his own enrichment.

3. Does his entire culture appear to exist primarily for the edification of some random white dude?

Hmm. Hmm, I say. This is the only area where, it seems to me, thinks get slightly dubious.

Really, now…not that this isn't kind of cute/clever in itself, but I can't help finding it a not-terribly-felicitous idea. Obviously, no malice was intended, but it's not a choice I personally would have made, is all I'm saying.

In the end, though, this is an instance--extremely uncommon in Disney comics--where an actual effort is made to respect indigenous cultures, and the representative thereof is presented, more or less, as a fully autonomous individual. So…it doesn't feel appropriate to spend too much time complaining.

So! What else? Well, Scrooge escapes and nabs the bad guy, obviously. You get the impression that he decides not to steal the opal more by said bad guy's negative example than anything else.

The animals all panic and go crazy because of a coming flash flood. This is the last we see of this guy, chopping off that aspect of the story very abruptly (once again, I blame limited page count). You've gotta figure he dies, though--I mean, even if the camel gets away, I fail to see how he's not going to fall off, and in that case, surviving the flood all tied up like that seems unlikely.

And, there is a wombat. FUCK YES. I love those guys. For the record, I would have been able to tell what it was even if Scrooge didn't identify it by name.

This, part also--extremely well-done. It's the sort of thing I was envisioning him going through in my alternative, way-better Transvaal story.

So this is how he figures out he has to go north. I'm…not totally sure I understand this, and it seems a little contrived, but what the hey. An' that's that.

And yes, for fuck's sake, I find this ending cute, in spite of my reservations. There it is.

Pop quiz, hotshots: what is shit about to get? If you answered "real," then congraturation! A winner is you! Tomorrow, it's "King of the Klondike!"

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Anonymous Elaine said...

I, too, like this chapter a *great deal*. Second favorite, after The New Laird of Castle McDuck. As for your reservations about the aboriginal cave paintings existing only to foretell Scrooge...I would point out that the ancient Lydian murals in The Treasury of Croesus *also* foretell Scrooge's life. And that's classical first-world territory! So it's not just the cultures of dark-skinned folks which existed to prefigure Our Hero.

December 17, 2011 at 8:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It really is a restful chapter, I love that description. Absolutely love it.

There is a really, really odd theme of destiny and inevitability in Rosa's works, like Treasury of Croseus, Quest for Kalevala, or The Coin (I consider this a Life and Times vignette myself, and adore the story to death). Chapter 7 is perhaps the only time it seems peaceful rather than dreadful, probably because of the attitude Jabiru takes. I love this character and his voice, and that there is a fundamental goodness to the character. His belief in destiny guides him through the story with the belief that things are meant to work out for the best, because PEOPLE are meant to work out for the best... and there's a feeling that you have room to decide your own destiny even if fulfilling it is inevitable, though it's most clearly conveyed through that really funny exchange at the end.

Fun fact: This is the last story we see Rosa draw with the old dog ears on his Dognoses, except for legacy characters! I have no idea how he got away with that, it seems like an editor would catch on to a global mutation throughout the entire planet, but aesthetically at least, it seems fitting considering what comes next in the saga...

December 17, 2011 at 11:07 PM  
Blogger Christopher said...

The scene where Scrooge decides not to steal the opal is quite possibly my favorite scene in the entire Life and TImes. It's a great moral moment without being preachy.

December 18, 2011 at 3:11 AM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

Two things.

1° "Dreaktime". You wrote "Dreaktime" instead of "Dreamtime". Funny how probably at least a dozen persons have read through this and I'm the first to notice it; that must be because, we already KNOW what the title's supposed to be, so our brain just does a quick check ("do those letter approximately look like what the memory says it should be written ? Yes ? Okay. No need to read further."). You ought to edit it, anyway.

2° I'd like to point the way the "not taking the opal" monologue is translated in French, because it's actually more like rewritten, at least in the printing I own. What he says in the two panels is approximately:

"Hee, hee ! This opal is worth millions ! There won't be any other occasions like this one ! SOOOOOOOOOO… I leave it here."

February 17, 2016 at 9:54 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Whoa, that's unbelievable! I was considering leaving it that way as a testament to man's hubris, but ultimately, I fixed it. These comments can serve that function.

Thanks for the info about the French translation; I must say, I don't think it's an improvement.

February 17, 2016 at 12:25 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Just for the record, if anybody's just coming to this, the title said "Dreamtike Duck of the Never-Never" for over four years, until I just now fixed it.

February 17, 2016 at 4:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yep. This is the point when Life of Scrooge went from an interesting tale of a young Scrooge for fans to deserving its eventual Eisner win. Chapters 7-12 are some of the best work Rosa has done.

P.S. Loony Lunar Gold Rush is one of Barks's most underrated stories.

September 16, 2017 at 7:45 AM  

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