"The Last Lord of El Dorado"
I'm writing about this story because reader Pan Miliuś repeatedly asked me to. Does this mean that I'll write about any damn thing YOU ask me to? Not inconceivable, but I wouldn't bet a huge sum of money on it, either. It really all depends on my personal whims.
I may have muttered dark imprecations regarding this story in the past, but revisiting it for the first time in a while, I found I actually kind of liked it. Clearly, I'm becoming soft in my dotage. Yes, there's the one Unforgivable Part, which remains as unforgivable as it ever was, but I found it didn't ruin the entire story for me, as it kinda did a bit in the past.
So okay then; let's not bury the lede, shall we? I'm going to start with said Unforgivable Part, from which I am going to segue into a little discussion about Rosa's portrayal of Scrooge generally; then, I'm going to return to the story from the beginning for miscellaneous observations about this and that detail. K? K.
So HERE IT IS:
Seriously, it just leaves me speechless every time, and I think it kinda speaks for itself. As they say on Monday Night Football, C'MON, MAN. If there is any possible interpretation of this scene that isn't a disastrous miscalculation on Rosa's part, I'd sure like to hear it. 'Cause I'm coming up empty. Scrooge can be a big ol' asshole, he can be money-grubbing as all get-out, he can chase his nephew off with a cane at the end of a story, that's all fine but what's not fine is for him to exhibit exaggerated unconcern about Donald falling to his death, especially when the whole thing is framed as a joke. That's just…no. Not acceptable. I suppose if you wanted to be really super-charitable, you could say something like "well, he was just so utterly confident in the ability of Woodchuck Know-How to save the day here that he just feels no need to get all worked up," but that's not gonna fly in my world: that's not how people react to situations like this, and in any case, he's obviously just making things worse for Donald by putting pressure on the rope like that. Bottom line: this is a scene that should never have been scripted.
It does make me think, though: Barks' genius--or one facet of his genius--is an ability to make Scrooge simultaneously a grumpy, miserly old bastard and (by virtue of his humanizing family connections and his endearingly childlike exuberance about his money) a sympathetic character. That's a great tension that, naturally, other writers screw up all the time. But the thing about Barks is, there's rarely ambiguity in his portrayal of Scrooge: you can always tell whether or not you're supposed to be sympathizing with Scrooge at any given moment.
Whereas with Rosa…the situation becomes much dicier. I'm sure I noted, when I was writing about the L&T, that one problem with the story was that aspects of Scrooge's behaviors in the later chapters which were clearly meant to be indicative of his moral downfall weren't actually notably different than the supposedly-redeemed modern-day Scrooge in any number of other Rosa stories.
My default assumption has always been that in general, we're not supposed to be bothered by Scrooge's exaggerated dickishness in Rosa stories. But as I think about this, I'm not sure whether or not it's entirely true. It's certainly the case that, while Rosa is more sentimental about the characters than Barks ever was, he also has a hard edge to him that Barks lacked (not that Barks couldn't on occasion be quite nasty in other ways). We can certainly see this in his sometime treatment of Donald: as I've no doubt noted before, when he takes his lumps in Barks stories, it's generally a case of his hubris getting comically slapped down--whereas in Rosa, he often takes serious beatings through no real fault of his own, which can come across as pointlessly sadistic.
NONETHELESS: I am certainly willing to entertain the possibility that the situation with Scrooge isn't quite as simple as I tend to think it is. I really go back and forth on this, and I certainly don't think Rosa's portrayal of Scrooge is wholly unproblematic in any case; still, in this particular story, I may be willing to entertain the proposition that Scrooge's failure to end up with the treasure at the end is because, when you do a karmic tallying-up, he's really not a whole lot "better" here than Glomgold is. Of course, none of this has to be intentional on Rosa's part; the story takes on a life of its own. And regardless of any of this babbling, the story's problems are such that I wouldn't put it in the upper echelon of Rosa's work. Still, there may be more than initially meets the eye. Or not! I may well be seriously over-thinking things here. I actually sorta kinda doubt it's the case that Rosa had some sort of super-secret hermeneutic by which to understand his ducks' actions stashed away somewhere. Which is a positive thing in its own way; it makes the stories more dynamic, no doubt. But his stories lend themselves very, very well to this kind of obsessing; their general high quality means that when they do happen to strike a false note, it sounds much more discordant than it might otherwise.
One thing this story has going for it: a rare instance of Scrooge himself taking a bit of (self-inflicted) abuse, in this opening bit. Nice to see at least a little bit of karmic balance here. Also interesting to note: the sole US printing of the story is untitled. Is that just a mistake? Presumably; all the cover pages from non-US printings on inducks have titles.
This story starts in media res here, which points to something that I'm not so sure about: treasure-hunting is a sure-fire premise, no doubt about it, but I feel like Rosa is sometimes overly, let's say, matter-of-fact about these things: like, you can see the self-conscious awareness that, yes yes, this is an Uncle Scrooge story, and so there will be ancient hidden treasures; let's just cut to the chase, shall we? Which is kind of amusing, maybe, but which perhaps drains them a bit of that sense of exploration. I would say that there has never been a pay-off in a Rosa story quite as awesome as the one in "The Mines of King Solomon," and this attitude probably has a lot to do with it.
"Silly comic book" oh ho ho. It's nice to see Rosa acknowledge his somewhat didactic tendencies, at any rate. Let it be noted that this opening is a follow-up of sorts to Rosa's earlier story "Treasure Under Glass," in which the ducks retrieved that there map. Continuity like this is natural and fun.
In fairness, Unforgivable Bit notwithstanding, Donald generally holds his own fairly well in this story--he seems pretty competent at what he's doing, and he doesn't undergo too much gratuitous abuse…
Yep…Glomgold. And you know what? I find I've actually kinda mellowed a bit towards the standard post-Barksian Glomgold. Yes, it's a huge case of wasted potential, but eh…whateryagonnado? If we have to have the standard-issue bad-guy version of the character, I suppose Rosa does him as well as anyone. I'll never be a fan, but I can tolerate him.
I suppose this is a tiny slip-up in the art, but I find it highly amusing, in that second panel there, the way he looks like, rather than running, he has been propelled out the door by some sort of spring-loaded mechanism.
HISTORY! I don't mind this stuff, although the specifics here really don't leave a huge impression. Nice portraits, at any rate. This DOES relate to my big regret about this story, though: when I came back to it, I realized, hey, a story set in the sixteenth century, with European explorers searching for El Dorado in South America? C'mon--we all know what a big movie buff Rosa is; there's gotta be some sort of oblique reference to Werner Herzog's seminal film Aguirre: The Wrath of God, right? Right? But alas--we miss our one opportunity to see Rosa's rendition of Klaus Kinski. I frankly don't know if I can keep going after so great a disappointment.
Here's something that relates back, kind of maybe, to what I was talking about earlier. Let's face it: on the one hand, the fact that the waitress is actually Glomgold doesn't mean that this isn't a li'l sexual harrassment-y on Donald's part. But on the other hand, he immediately gets walloped in the face, so, hey, instant karma. But on the third hand, do we really want to be going down this path at all in a Disney comic? Really? I dunno--and of course, if we want to relate this back to Scrooge' behavior, we have to note that he very rarely gets any real comeuppance for his untoward behavior (which, again, it's often not at all clear is actually meant to be untoward).
Is it cool for Donald to recognize that something is up? It is. Is the kids' dialogue pretty funny here? It is. Do we nonetheless have to admit that it has to fudge things a bit to work? We do. Of course, "everyone is fooled by really obvious disguises" is a tried and true Disney trope, but the idea that HDL are going to be fooled by a disguise that Donald sees through? Not so sure about that one.
For some reason, the dialogue here really cracks me up. I think what I like is the surreally beside-the-point nature of both Donald's and Scrooge's dialogue, as well as the disconnect between the two lines.
I also always enjoy over-the-top stuff like this. Scrooge's expression and body posture in the second panel there don't hurt either.
And yes! I will readily admit! That last panel there is VERY clever and funny and it's hard to imagine anyone else doing anything quite like it. I like how blasé the first two judges seem about the whole thing.
What I DON'T like though--I'm sure I've hit on this before--is when Rosa has Scrooge do the kind of "yeah, I'm just so goddamn awesome that I'm going to act exaggeratedly casual to seem even more awesome" thing. I can live without it!
Certainly some implicit criticism of Scrooge here. We also see something like this in "Sharpie of the Culebra Cut." Trying to work out the perspective in Rosa stories really can be a puzzle. But, I suppose, that is part of the fun.
Okay, okay, I have to admit it: as much as I bitch ceaselessly about non-Barks portrayals of Glomgold, this is good and funny and even harkens back to the original stories, a bit. Still, if nothing else, it would be nice if there were more depth to their relationship, as semi-implied by things like this.
Don't you sort of get the impression that the entire impetus for the creation of this story was so there could be a panel of Scrooge declaring himself the LAST LORD OF EL DORADO? I'll admit it's a cool thing to say, though the actual treasure hunt itself is really only semi-interesting to me.
This reminds me of the nonsensical bit about late fees at the end of "Guardians of the Lost Library." Okay, so maybe this is on slightly less shaky ground, but I still have, let's say, my doubts about it. And while the "Library" thing could and should be taken as no more than a goofy rationalization, everyone's taking this one seriously, which makes it seem more dubious, somehow. Also, not calculated to put Scrooge in a very good light. I mean, sure, Glomgold was murderous and stuff in this story, but Scrooge still looks like a dick.
Glomgold with his teeth exposed there looks really strange. I like this ending pretty well, and I especially like the way Rosa refers back to his own stories like this.
So there you have it. As I've noted, there is a sort of overly calculated feel to a lot of these Rosa treasure hunts that makes them work, for me, not quite so well as they might…but that doesn't mean they aren't worthwhile. Unforgivable Bit is still unforgivable (Rosa's writing it is forgivable, that is--Scrooge's actual behavior, not so much), but…okay okay; in light of Rosa's corpus of work, and in light of the fact that I'm a big ol' softie, I can maybe sorta kinda forgive--but NEVER FORGET! I've got my eye on you, Rosa!
Labels: Don Rosa