"His Majesty, McDuck"
Sometimes I feel like I don't give Don Rosa his due. Would someone jumping into this blog blind conclude that I even like him? Undetermined. I've definitely spent plenty of time criticizing him. Still, if there weren't a lot to criticize, there probably wouldn't be a lot to like, either, and let's be clear: even if I'm not a big fan of some of his stories, I fucking love Don Rosa, and the time has come to demonstrate that. So to close out the year on a positive note, it's time to spotlight "His Majesty, McDuck," one of the very best of his stories and also the only one with a comma in the title. True fact!
So why is this story so dern good? Well, a number of reasons, natch, but one has to be the depiction of Scrooge himself. As you know if you've read this blog any significant amount of time, I have complained at interminable length about Rosa's tendency to make the character into kind of a sociopath--maybe it's not objectively as bad as Martina at his worst, but it feels worse because of the more realistic mimesis in a Rosa story, and the odd desultory attempt at leavening his meanness tends to feel, well, desultory.
That said, I think he strikes a very good balance here. It's still recognizably a Rosan story--the character is more hard-edged than in your average Barks effort--but the sentimental aspects of the story aren't overplayed and work quite well. It's not really Barksian, but it works in its own right, and it's pretty much exactly what I want from a Rosa story. The way he insists on justifying himself to himself by maintaining that feeing the pigeons is Just Good Business Sense is endearing.
If this reminds me of any Barks story, it's "The Golden River," which features similarly extreme variation between Scroogishness and sentimentality. Good tall tale, too. I feel like this willingness to have Scrooge self-mythologize in ways like this, that obviously aren't "true," is in contrast to a lot of the Life & Times stuff we'd see later on.
OH HO! Another commonality with "The Golden River" is that no one seems to take Scrooge's ranting terribly seriously, as well they shouldn't. Donald also comes off well in this story, as we'll see. That's something I REALLY want in a Rosa story.
We also see the first example of what would become a characteristic Rosa thing, namely, HISTORY! I'm not gonna lie: I do feel that this tends to lend a somewhat lumbering quality to a story, and I think maybe perhaps in general, he coulda edited these things down a little. Still, this works as well as these things ever do--better, probably. The gen-u-wine history is cleverly and well-used.
Francis Drake! Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe this is the only time Rosa ever portrayed a historical figure as a duck. I...don't know whether that's a compliment or an insult to Sir Francis, but in fairness, his name does make him a natural for the role.
A reminder that this is early in Rosa's career comes from the fact that the art is slightly shaky in places, as evidenced by the way the curator looks like Mutant Miss Quackfaster.
Okay okay, let's get going, is what these pages tend to make me think, but at least we get to see Cornelius Coot in action! That's fun! I'm not sure how I feel about this characterization of him: of course, he was never more than a statue in Barks, so anyone is free to take him in whatever direction they choose, and certainly this corn-pone talk that hides outside-the-box cleverness is quintessentially American, but there's a part of me that wants him to be more, I dunno, traditionally heroic. Like a founder. Never mind, though; I can go either way. It's all good. Anyway, let's face it, most of the founders kinda sucked. There's no need to pretend anymore.
I do have to admit, I find it a li'l difficult to wrap my head around the ins and outs of this--I mean, obviously, I get the idea, but it can't help feeling perhaps needlessly complicated. NEVER MIND, though! It sets up the story, and that's the important thing!
Well hey, what did you expect? I think it's not fair to cavil about any of this; it was early days, and there hadn't been time for everyone to get sick of the Goldie stuff yet. And by "everyone," of course, I mean "me." I can speak for everyone in the world, right?
...not to be confused with King Scrooge the First. Wait, I guess you SHOULD confuse them, maybe, inasmuch as they have the same name. Let's hope he doesn't get into a situation where he's an immortal longing for nothing but the sweet embrace of death. Bad scene, that would be.
What I really like about this is that, like the characters themselves, Rosa doesn't take any of this too seriously. He is keenly aware that Scrooge is being ridiculous, and it comes across. I think a lot of the time he takes Scrooge too damn seriously, which can be a problem.
So there's nothing wrong with this; it's fine for the story. The thing that bugs me, though, is that it reinforces this right-wing idea about taxes, that they're some sort of punitive thing that the government does to people for no justifiable reason. A few questions for you, Scrooge: did you use public infrastructure to do business? Were your employees educated in public schools, without which educations they wouldn't have been competent for the work? Did you use the US postal service to conduct your business? Beagle and Magica attacks notwithstanding, did the government guarantee a more or less civil society in which your assets and money couldn't be seized by random warlords? Yes yes yes and yes, you say? Then you get NO MONEY BACK, you freeloader. Now fuck right off.
IN FAIRNESS, the story does present an implicit counter to this idea, as McDuckland quickly falls apart thanks to its anarchic nature. Still, I can't help wishing the officials would shove back against this idea that Scrooge is actually entitled to all this, when he clearly isn't. Okay, I guess actually I DON'T wish that, because some of the story's best moments rely on just accepting the premise. So...who knows what I'm saying, really? Just pointing things out, I guess. Comme d'habitude.
Taking this ridiculous idea to ridiculous extremes is what makes the story so darn fun. I do wonder about this, though: you DO need a passport to travel internationally, it's true. But what would be the logistics of traveling to a country that has no diplomatic relations, good or bad, with the US and no laws regarding visas? How does that work?
Donald has a passport, so he can go back and forth, but again, how does that work? You are lucky if you have a passport from a first-world (so-called) country, because you can legally travel almost anywhere. But what about McDuckland? Can Donald just come in and get a visa on arrival? Who knows?!? And is Donald even still a US citizen? If he's part of this new country, shouldn't he need a new passport? And why am I nitpicking an obvious joke that was never meant to be thought about in these terms?!? The questions answers itself if you're familiar with this blog.
The officer's questions crack me, although accuracy requires me to note that these would be asked at two different stations, immigration and customs respectively JESUS CHRIST I'M DOING IT AGAIN SOMEBODY STOP ME.
This is the only part of the story that fucking irritates me, as Scrooge just casually steals money from Donald, who does not avail himself of the obvious response, id est: "Oh no, I don't have the money, it looks like you'll have to seize the merchandise. Actually, don't worry about it; I'll do the responsible thing and just hurl it in the moat myself." Bah!
Apparently, this guy was originally meant to be Azure Blue from "The Golden Helmet," but editorial intervention put the kibosh on this for surely-unjustifiable reasons. Not that I object to this guy particularly, but it surely would've been a thrill to see the Barks character back in action.
Yay! I always enjoy seeing Scrooge be the victim of slapstick violence in a Rosa story, for a change.
Theft notwithstanding, though, Donald really does well for himself here. He doesn't take this remotely seriously, making him a real voice of reason, and his sarcastic goofing around is hysterical.
AT THE VERY LEAST YOU CLEARLY HAVE IMMIGRATION LAWS OF SOME SORT! Okay, I'll stop. Ol' Akers' comment really is funny and accurate.
Yay! This is funny and awesome in itself, but the REAL draw is that it leads to the part you've all been waiting for. Here it comes...wait for it...NOW:
FUCK TO THE YES. In his little intro blurb to the Gemstone issue of US where this was reprinted, John Clark singles out this bit for praise, and WHO WOULDN'T? It's great. I have a theory, that I have, which is to say it is mine, which is that the problems Rosa sometimes has depicting Scrooge come from romanticizing the character so strongly that he loses perspective and doesn't realize how he can come across to other people--and one could further posit, maybe perhaps, that writing the L&T--getting so deeply into the character in such a profound, intimate way for so long--may have exacerbated this. Maybe not! But it's my theory, which it's mine.
ANYWAY, Donald hollering at him is what he needs and what WE need. To be clear, it's not that I think it's so much a problem that Scrooge pulls so much bullshit in Rosa stories; the problem is that he's so rarely called on said bullshit. Here, he is, and it's magnificent.
Yay! Rad art. Someone tell me what the movie reference is, because I DON'T KNOW (obviously, the bit where he carves a dollar sign on Akers' back is a Zorro thing, but I don't know if it follows that the fight is from the same source). Also, tell me why Scrooge has a picture of Jake McDuck in an pirate hat.
And so it comes to this. As I noted in my entry on "A Little Something Special," this idea that Scrooge has some kind of special relationship with Duckburg strikes me as dubious at best. Nonetheless...
...this is BRILLIANT. Just SO well-done. I LOVE the way it's ONLY telegraphed by Scrooge glancing sidelong at the candle. I both like and subscribe. The fact that Scrooge's sentimental side in this story is depicted without any dialogue is GREAT GREAT GREAT. Rosa just knocked this one out of the park.
Seriously, not to put to fine a point on it, but this is DOPE AS HELL. Just look how the ending mirrors the beginning. It's impossible not to just feel hella satisfied reading this story. You've gotta let out a long, contented sigh.
Mind you...I'm kind of keenly aware that my notion that today I was going to write something POSITIVE about Rosa may be somewhat undermined by my constant "look how he does X here, and how great it is! Usually, he does Y, and it sucks!" I mean no harm. Sometimes Rosa's worse impulses DO get the better of him, but all I want to note is that when that doesn't happen (and it ain't just here), he can be super-awesome and cool and great, 'cause of talent. END OF STORY.
Anyway, even though, given the current political climate, this sounds disturbingly like Famous Last Words, I will nonetheless say Happy New Year. I don't think I can bring myself to add an exclamation point to that, though.
Labels: Don Rosa