"The Flying Scot"
Happy Halloween! Is today's story a Halloween story? Well, it involves a GHOST PIRATE, doesn't it?
...okay okay, it's pushing it to call it a "Halloween story" per se. But the thing is, your seasonal options are: some forgettable Egmont thing, or a vintage Scarpa story. WHICH DO YOU CHOOSE?!? Yeah, that's what I thought (also, I'm pretty sure this one has been requested a few times). Am I keen to read IDW's "Halloween Hex" thing? Sure--but NEED I REMIND YOU that I am living thousands of miles away from the nearest IDW comics right now? It's a true fact. So we must endure. And in enduring, grow strong.
Well, you know my conflicted feelings about Scarpa (ambivalence: the SPOOOOOKIEST feeling of all!). He could be really, really good, and his best mouse stories capture the spirit of Gottfredson better than anyone else. And yet...especially in duck stories, he could just be unfathomably bad, and I'm always confused by the fact (I know I'm repeating what I've said, probably several times, before) that Italian people laud ALL of his work to the skies, apparently lacking the critical faculties to differentiate between the good and the bad. So does "The Flying Scot" fall in the good or bad range? Honestly, if you know anything about my sensibilities, that's probably not a hard question to answer. BUT WE WILL TRY TO MAINTAIN SUSPENSE! BECAUSE HALLOWEEN SPOOKY WHOOO!
GHOST SHIP! That's a pretty good start. Kinda spooky and fun. You might think this story is some sort of tribute/reference to Barks' "Flying Dutchman," but, well, you'd be wrong, as is the Gladstone issue of U$ that (surprisingly sloppily) makes the same claim: this is one of Scarpa's earlier efforts, from 1957 (the ninth story he wrote, per inducks), whereas Barks' story is from '59. Was Barks, rather, paying homage to a story that was, at the time, unknown outside Italy? IT SEEMS RELATIVELY UNLIKELY.
In the sense that it's the sort of silly thing you oft have to believe in Scarpa stories, yes, I am willing to believe it. I hope I'm not required to be in love with it, though. Also, how come in the picture allegedly illustrating this rain of fish it's actually just raining normal ol' rain?
Anyway, things kick off with this business with Scrooge wanting a pet, which I actually like. It's a thing we've seen before, it has Barksian precedent, and it's one of those humanizing things that we need to see in order to accept Scrooge as a character.
After a somewhat labored can-I-afford-it? gag, he buys this bird, which confusingly shares a name with the mama cat in that one Barks one-pager. This is definitely just a translation thing, though; even if you think Scarpa would make a reference like that--which isn't really his style--the one-pager, too, came after this story. Well, WHATEVER!
I mean, this is pretty nice too. I enjoy it. It looks good, the bird's cute, fun all around.
The plot kicks into gear when it's time to feed the bird. You see, it must be fed half of a sardine, and you must cut the sardine in the right direction. Er...yes. Right. I must say, Scarpa's gotta lotta nerve criticizing abstract art when he has no problem including these aggressively nonsensical, almost dada-ist touches in his stories. This concern with the shape of the fish drags us drags us into this weird, abstract metafictional world that barely relates to the action of the story itself.
Still, as ridiculous as this is, it wouldn't particularly bother me if not for the fact that it leads to fifteen-odd pages of tedious find-a-fish gaggery ('cause the sardines have all mysteriously disappeared, you see). As I've probably noted before, careful plotting was...not Scarpa's strong suit.
And this howling mob is frantic for one dollar, for reasons that no doubt made sense in Scarpa's head. Well, I mean, I get the idea in theory; it's that Scrooge is so stingy but look now he's offering a reward OMG, but as executed, it's just gibberish. And all the wimminfolk are terrified of a mouse because, well, the 1950s, but still, FERCRISSAKE, SCARPA.
And then, some random thug stomps the shit out of Scrooge and Donald. Um...yay? Fun?
I've come to take you away with me I'm Barnacle Bill the sailor and where would we be without Popeye references? Well, we'd be in trouble, because then we'd have to concentrate on what's actually happening in the story. Look, should I summarize this part of the story? Okay, first there's the bit with the cat stealing the fish; then Scrooge has his agents comb the world for sardines, featuring a brief montage; then they find a seagull with a sardine but it disappears among the other seagulls; then he calls Donald and HDL for advice and they suggest canned sardines; when that doesn't work, they try to pretend one of them is alive; when that doesn't work Scrooge buys a sardine factory; then there's a bunch of song-and-dance stuff as he goes to the factory to pick up the one fresh sardine allegedly there; then a random worker eats it; then there's a fleet of fishing vessels that may have a sardine but then turns out not to, and then...JESUS, I am boring myself just writing this. And if you think my description is tedious, you should see the story itself.
But anyway, Donald and HDL have a word with the fishing ship's captain, and at last we get a glimpse of the alleged focus of this story. So it's off after this ship, is it? And not a moment too soon. The first part of the story may be mostly a write-off, but perhaps now things will pick up.
So, they go out after this ship, and FINALLY, what we've all been waiting for:
BOOM. Happy Halloween. Was that so hard? I say no, you say yes, but you will change your mind. Seriously, if nothing else, there are some pretty solid visuals in this story.
Mine too. Unfortunately, there's still some story to go. And that was just a tease--the ship now fucks off again, and we're left with, uh, the plot.
The idea is that Scrooge--savvy customer that he is--wants to keep all these excess fish on board, in spite of the obvious fact that they're all going to rot (and the fact that the ducks are all standing on mounds of dead fish throughout this sequence is never even remarked upon, but it's pretty damned macabre when you think about it). So anyway, this goes on for some time, Donald and the kids lock him up, and it all amounts to nothing in particular.
They go to Honduras and see first-hand how fucking thrilled everyone is at this fish rain. I suppose there's no real point in even thinking about the probable environmental consequences to this, uh, blessing come from Heaven? Well, never mind. It's Scarpa.
So they fly up to see what's what. Are we finally getting somewhere? Well, that depends on your definition of "somewhere."
We do get to see Scrooge forced to walk the plank, almost. That's kinda fun, I suppose. But then Scrooge realizes the pirate's true identity, and...
"HO HO HO! Don't you think you went a little overboard? I mean, obviously, if we were anyone else, you would've been entirely justified in murdering us in cold blood, but blood is thicker, ya know! Though maybe not thicker than the author!"
ARGH FUCK. I swore I wouldn't let myself get angry writing about this story, but Scarpa's utter refusal to think through the ramifications of his action in even the most cursory way is just maddening--more so because we know damn well that he was capable of better than this. He's just being fucking lazy. To reiterate: ARGH FUCK.
Anyway, we have/get to hear this guy's story. You might think, oh boy, tales of blood-soaked piratical exploits, but don't get your hopes up. He was just a fish-themed pirate. Unfortunately I can't bring to hand a scan of the actual thing, but I will now quote a timeless poem from an ad in some old Dell comic or other:
There once was a pirate named Dave,
Who was really a black-hearted knave.
To his prisoners he told,
"Keep all of your gold,
"It's that Kraft Peanut Brittle I crave."
But, alas, Kraft Peanut Brittle was discontinued, and now Dave's tormented spirit wanders the seven seas in an endless quest for his one true love.
Anyway, that's all I have to say about that.
So yadda yadda, he learns a Valuable Lesson, and he pledges to inundate the city with fish every year. Um...thanks?
Yeah, why didn't you cause these shortages before? Think of all of the tedious comics you could have given to the world!
Oh...right. I decided to drive the sardine to extinction as a bonus. Seems logical. "But why?" does seem like the most logical question under the circumstances...
WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT YOU LUNATIC? You're a Coleridgian ANCIENT MARINER, doomed to never die until you fulfill your vow! Did you ever wonder WHY you're over three hundred years old and yet not dead? That's it! That's the reason! Natural aging has nothing to do with it! Were you truly stupid enough to imagine otherwise? ARGH.
Right. Deep breath.
Sure. Fine. Whatever. Lemme alone. Doan wanna know anymore.
(Okay, I'll just point out that if this fish rain has been going on for nigh-on three hundred years, and the Hondurans have come to rely on it, they're gonna be FUCKED when it suddenly stops. But since this clearly didn't occur to Scarpa, why should it occur to any of his readers?)
Right, so pirateman was been rendered immortal or something like it by vague supernatural forces, and yet Scarpa nonetheless feels the need to shoehorn in a nonsense pseudo-science-y explanation for the ship. Truly, logic is our paramount concern here.
People give Scarpa credit for things like this, but he sure doesn't deserve it--just shoving a pile o' gibberish like this in Scrooge's mouth at the end may send certain overly excitable Italians into raptures, but it's just NONSENSE. "Bitter?" "Joy?" "Ashes?" What in God's name are you TALKING about? We didn't get even REMOTELY CLOSE to having sufficient information about this guy's journey that any of that would mean ANYTHING--let alone any sense that Scrooge was somehow deeply affected by it. BAH. Your comic is bad and you should FEEL bad!
This entry turned more sour than I meant it to. It's just that our pal Romano REALLY pushes my buttons with stuff like this. If we step back and try to have some perspective, "The Flying Scot" really isn't that terrible. It's certainly not as rage-inducing as "The Last Balaboo," and it's not as dull and nigh-on incomprehensible as "The Lentils from Babylon." It's really just kinda garden-variety bad--bad plotting, bad characterizations, holes that could easily have been filled given just a tiny bit of care. In other words, the twenty-third-best Disney comic ever written.
The uncritical love that Italians have for even Scarpa's most garbagey efforts is an unending source of bafflement to me. I know this is the umpteenth time I've mentioned this, but no one's ever offered an explanation. It's pretty clear that there is something about this stuff, culturally, that resonates very deeply for them, but I just don't get it. Still, who am I to tell them they're wrong?
I'm a loud-mouthed guy with a blog, that's who! And they're wrong! I mean, lookit me! I'm an American (as hard as it sometimes is to resign myself to that fact), and yet on those uncommon occasions that Barks botches a story, I'll call him on it! And I am certainly not uncritical of Gottfredson or Rosa or Van Horn! So I'm not just gonna BUY any arguments to the effect that I just can't understand the greatness of Scarpa because I'm not Italian! NOT. GONNA. BUY. THEM.
(I feel like when I write an entry like this, it may cause people to doubt that I am in fact a fan of the man, so let me point out this and this and this and this. I'll praise Scarpa when he's good! But he keeps provoking me by being bad. Moooom! He keeps putting his finger on my side! Make him stay on his side!)
Anyway, GUESS WHAT? A shocking twist: the Halloween terror ISN'T OVER! Tune in again tomorrow!
Labels: Romano Scarpa