"The Last Balaboo"
So I turn to this story, which I really did not like the first time around. And on rereading it, I still really don't like it. In fact, I kind of hate it a lot! To quote America's favorite emotional twelve-year-old…well, take it away, Bill:
Yup. Earlier, I was sort of wondering if maybe in the past I'd been too hard on Scarpa in general: and, indeed, he certainly has his moments. But then a story like this comes along and confirms all my negative associations, not to mention my irritated bafflement that other people (if inducks rankings are to be believed) are incapable of distinguishing between good Scarpa and bad Scarpa, and yes I realize that that's incredibly solipsistic on my part, but golly. Let's see what people have to say about the hundred-seventy-sixth-best Disney comic EVER:
Would believe without any doubt that its [sic] a Barks story. 10 out of 10.
Counterpoint: no you bloody well wouldn't. Because Barks stories, as a general rule, don't suck, and certainly not in the way that "The Last Balaboo" sucks.
I think this is the only story that Carl Barks said he envies the creator for its excellence!
Can this possibly be true, does anybody know? Because that's really enough to make my brain explode. Somebody shoulda shown Uncle Carl some GOOD European stories.
Brigitta's first appearance. That's only one thing that makes this story great!
Actually, that one's accurate, if you cut out the last five words.
I don't know, people. I just don't know. Please explain to me why this story doesn't suck. But first, I should probably explain why it does, shouldn't I?
I can't help but think that this opening is sort of the platonic ideal of a Scarpa plot: a nonsense word vaguely remembered from a dream somehow metastasizes into a long, convoluted narrative. For better or worse. Worse, in this case.
If nothing else, this comic is notable for the first appearance of Scarpa's most enduring original character, Brigitta MacBridge, whom Scarpa just throws in like she's an established character. I know I've talked about Brigitta on the Disney Comics Forum, but maybe not here. Now, as you know, the idea is that she's obsessed with the idea of marrying Scrooge. We're meant, I believe, to take this as genuine infatuation rather than having any ulterior, gold-digging-type motives, although the fact that here she wants him to buy her expensive stuff seems to provide at least a little counter-evidence for that (if we wanted to defend her against this charge, we could say that for her, being bought stuff provides evidence that Scrooge likes her back).
The thing is, here, in this story, Brigitta's more or less just a flat cartoon character--more a Warner-Bros type than anything else, and it's certainly no coincidence that WB's comics haven't had the lasting appeal of Disney's (their cartoons have, obviously, and that's because cartoons don't call for deep characters). It's a lazy character sketch, and sorta-kinda sexist, but more or less innocuous.
But here's the thing: for the character to be lasting, to say nothing of sympathetic, it's necessary to provide her with some degree of psychological depth--and that's where you run into real problems, because then she just becomes a figure of pity, pathetically grateful for any scrap of positive attention she can get from Scrooge--and the fact that stories are never able to acknowledge this means that they feel like they're enabling and endorsing really toxic behavior. And when you factor in the fact that her obsession is still played for laughs, you end up with a really unpleasant stew. At best, it's possible to make Brigitta into an okay character by substantially revising this initial conception, and having her be a business rival of Scrooge's with whom he has an occasionally-flirtatious love-hate relationship. But as Scarpa conceived her, she's basically barely-tolerable at best. Not a felicitous concept.
Of course, for this story, that's really neither here nor there, as Brigitta's role is, thankfully, minimal. This isn't an aspect of the thing that particularly makes me grind my teeth.
But we're coming right up on such a thing, believe me. The idea, of course, is that Scrooge has made a promise that isn't really a promise in any meaningful sense because it was just random gibberish. A dick move, you say? Well, more of a toddler move, when you get right down to it. But be that as it may…
And before anything else, let's note the facts on the ground: this species is effectively extinct. We are given to believe that, twelve years ago, there was one specimen, somewhere in Borneo.
This is the first part that REALLY fills me with rage. Yes, because the random gibberish that you spouted arbitrarily happened to correspond with an esoteric real word, you are now compelled to go on an absurd wild goose chase. Donald's and Louie's enraged expressions there are just the worst. Do we need an introductory lecture in semiotics here? Because this is how a four-year-old thinks language works. Let me explain, with the full realization that what I'm "explaining" is bleeding obvious: the concatenations of syllables that make up words do not intrinsically mean anything in some absolute sense regardless of what the speaker intends. If I get a non-English-speaker to phonetically mouth the words "I promise to give you my house," he doesn't owe me shit unless, possibly, I'm able to get some rat bastard lawyer to convince a judge he does. And in that case, it's obviously not a matter of the guy being honor-bound, as Scrooge allegedly is here. This whole thing is just SO reprehensibly, irredeemably stupid. And it's what the entire story is based on.
I suppose if one wanted to defend this, one could argue that there's some sorta poetic justice here--Scrooge tried to pull a fast one, but HA! Pwned! There's a real balaboo! But the story doesn't remotely play it that way. I mean, yes, certainly, the story could be less idiotic with revision, but, as is all too often the case, revision doesn't seem to be something that Scarpa is interested in.
And let's always keep in mind how idiotically impossible this quest is in any case! Dude's right on the money; if anything, I would say he's actually grossly overestimating their chances of finding this creature. Borneo, deforestation notwithstanding (less when this story was written), still consists of hundreds of thousands of acres of jungle; when you add to that the fact that, if the last balaboo was seen twelve years ago, it is almost certainly dead by now, and you've got yourself a task that I would not hesitate to call literally impossible. In addition to everything else, this takes any potential fun out of the search for the reader, because if they actually find the creature--which, of course, you know they will--you'll know damn well it wasn't because of any actual effort they put in; it was because of authorial magic, which I personally find less than riveting. It's one thing to include a certain amount of lucky happenstance in a story, but this takes things to a whole new level. If we're going this route, we might as well just only write stories starring Gladstone.
Brief break from negativity to acknowledge that this is an okay gag.
Oh but anyway, they find the damn thing, after some non-thrilling exploits involving crocodiles. Whee.
But things don't get any less dumb in the back half of the story. Let me make one thing clear: I care about conservationism more than anything else in the world, because it is the world. I am utterly opposed to any killing of endangered species, people who go to Africa on hunting tours make me want to throw up, and, in spite of my generally non-violent principles, I'm all in favor of raining fiery death upon anyone trying to poach rhinos.
THAT BEING SAID: Scrooge kinda totally has a point in that top right panel. He goes through all this bullshit based on a completely nonsensical premise that you enforced in the most obnoxious way possible, and now you have cold feet? Golly. What happened to that "your word is your bond" business? And ya don't think maybe Junior Woodchucks mighta had a problem with slaughtering the last specimen of an endangered species even before seeing how cuddly it is? "Fickle" is right.
In spite of what some would claim, this story doesn't have any kind of ecological message. I mean, okay, so there was a different level of awareness of these issues back in the day; fair enough. But Scarpa doesn't even evince any interest in even making a token effort to think through the issues that are really obviously raised by his own story. "Sorry, li'l guy--no lovin' for you! All your potential partners are dead dead dead!" This is the closest the story comes to acknowledging its own obvious melancholy undertones: it doesn't matter what happens to this guy; his species is over regardless. And it ain't even slightly close, either; it's just in the service of a dumb joke. I see no evidence that this aspect of the story even occurred to Scarpa, which seems to me to be just unforgivably sloppy.
And this just compounds my doubts: "Here, Brigitta: a live balaboo to go along with the mangled corpse of his forebear that you're wearing on your head! Happy birthday!" The fact that Scarpa evidently found this wholly unproblematic…man.
So…who wants to break it to him that "encyclopedia" doesn't just mean "giant super-dictionary?" I realize full well that comparatively speaking, this is a minor thing to carp on, but still…it's like Scarpa couldn't get anything right here.
In conclusion, there's just about nothing I don't hate about this story. Scarpa was certainly capable of good work, but the fact that so many people are apparently unable or unwilling to acknowledge those times when he's not doesn't do him any favors. I mean, I guess the art is adequate, but that's about all I can say for this monstrosity. Okay okay, obviously my sensibilities are not universal absolutes, but if you like this story, please please please tell me fergawdsake why? 'Cause I'm just baffled.
Labels: Romano Scarpa