"Dirty Work at the Crossroads"
As you can see, I've given the story my own title. The inducks entry simply dubs it "Harry's Revenge," but that's a mistake; pretty clearly, it's just the title of the movie they were watching. In fact, looking down the page, I see that in some countries it's been given its own separate title; in French it's called "Donald, King of Actors."
The question of how it is that the kids were apparently watching some sort of twenties-era silent melodrama remains. It's part of this story's slightly disorienting feel, which to me adds to the appeal. Note also the marquee names: I'm not saying they're deathless works of genius or anything, but they're not half bad either. As we'll see, the writing in this story is a notch or two above the norm for the era. I'd love to know the writer's identity.
Also, note that Moores appears to be significantly better at drawing semi-realistic people than he is duck characters. Granted, that's a bit of a problem in a duck comic…
Just look at those bizarre proportions on Donald in those bottom panels--that's the stuffa nightmares. Someone didn't quite understand how perspective works. The idea, lest you missed it, is that the kids, inspired by this movie, want to put on their own show, and Donald is behaving in a goofy fashion.
this whole "who gets to be the 'hero?'" business is padding, and kind of pointless--though I do kinda like HDL getting in a fist-fight like that. Has anything like that ever happened in Barks? I feel like it must have, but nothing immediately comes to mind. They're pretty consistently in accord there. They're definitely pitched a bit more juvenile here than they are in the work of the master.
Yeah, yeah, more nonsense--I would tell Donald to fuck off, were I them. We'll figure this shit out on our own! We don't need your interference! This "contest" stuff goes on for a few pages, and it's pretty weak sauce--more obvious gear-grinding.
And there's this weirdness also. Why would Donald just pull "Li'l Nell" out of a hat like that? It makes no sense! Okay, so maybe they described the plot of their play to him sometime off-camera, but it just feels bizarre. Dewey playing "villain" there is kinda priceless, though. This is so obvious an observation that it's almost not worth making, but you can see here that nephew name/color standardization had not taken place when this was published.
Now let me tell you: this is the part that I really liked about this story when I was small. The idea that the kids alone could do all this work and put on a real, credible show really spoke to me. My favorite was Dewey on a bicycle, there.
Ooh, I also like this. Now, when I was in elementary school, we would put on plays every year (including both A Midsummer Night's Dream and Macbeth*), and I could--and still can, to an extent--very strongly identify with backstage nervousness of this sort.
When Donald sees that there's a crowd, he naturally decides to take over. "Grandpappy?" What the hell? Now you're just inventing parts on the spot? Also, just making up lines? The edifice here seems very unstable. And why is the "hero" dressed like a used-car salesman, anyway? The mystery thickens.
The best part of the story is clearly the play itself, though. I love Donald's nonsensically beatific smile in the first panel. Likewise the "villain"'s too-long coat. Also, the mental image of Nell getting thrown out but making do thanks to a pair of skis--it seems so perfect in its simultaneous ridiculousness and perfect childish logic.
Can I make a confession? I have this sort of problem, I guess, where I don't get things--etymologies, wordplay, what have you--for an embarrassingly long time. Example: one of my favorite albums ever is Sparks' Kimono My House. But I didn't even think about the title for a very, very long time, just sort of implicitly assuming it was completely nonsensical, before I finally realized it was a play on Rosemary Clooney's crazy proto-psychedelic hit "Come on-a My House." That's just the way it goes for me. Which is to say, long story short: I totally failed to get the punning here until I reread the story to write this entry. It seems extraordinary, but there you go. Oh, I recognized that it was playing on the distinction between "handle bars" as a noun and a verb phrase, but that's as far as it went. The b'ars/bars business completely went over my head. Sheesh.
It's great though, isn't it? That level of sophistication is certainly not common in this sort of thing. Pretty fantastic if you ask me. And please don't tell me that this specific joke was in fact stolen from a more well-known source. That would make me sad.
FINIS. It kinda seems like there ought to be another page for some sort of coda, but no, this is all we get. Which, I suppose, is okay; even Barks often had trouble ending stories in particularly memorable fashion.
So here it is: a non-Barks ten-pager. A bit wobbly in places, but still, for my money, a lot of fun. I think this would've been a great choice for Gemstone to reprint as the opening story in some issue of WDC or other, as a break from the Van Horn and Jippes/Milton. Alas! It's bound to be just another one on the scrap heap, completely forgotten by everyone but weird obsessives like me.
*Substantially abridged, obviously, but still with quite credibly Shakespearean dialogue. And to answer your question: Oberon and "First Murderer," respectively--it is left as an exercise to the reader to decide which of these roles is more of a stretch for me.
**Does this actually have anything to do with Dickens' Old Curiosity Shop? Unlikely. It could just as easily some sort of admixture of different aspects of Eva and Eliza from Uncle Tom's Cabin--actually, that's probably exactly what the writer was thinking of, given the "villain" on the marquee's resemblance to Simon Legree.
Labels: Dick Moores