Wednesday, April 1, 2009

"Donald Duck's Atom Bomb"

This is a short (eight pages, when arranged into normal comic book form) story from 1947. Originally given away with Cheerios, so rare at one point, but now readily available in a collection along with several other random Barks stories and vaguely-related Rosa follow-ups. Good deal! It's a rather slight story in a lot of ways, but it's well worth checking out anyway for its depiction of early Cold War paranoia.

Just look at that cover! Donald is a pretty malevolent spectacle there. Those test tubes with their goopy green stuff portend SOMETHING, and even if you're not sure what exactly it is, it's not something good. Of course, this was written post-Hiroshima, so one presumes it was no secret what nuclear weaponry could do (although, not being an expert, I don't know how common this knowledge really was) , but that doesn't mean there wasn't plenty of doubt and anxiety floating around. This free-floating angst turns out to be the main theme of this comic. We could all die at any moment through scientific and geopolitical forces that we don't even begin to understand. Scary stuff.

So anyway, as the story opens, Donald is completing the bomb in question. Yes, he is apparently some sort of scientific genius now. JUST ACCEPT IT. So now the only thing to do is test it, in spite of not knowing quite what's going to happen. That's sensible, right? HDL are skeptical, which skepticism expresses itself in hysterical laughter, especially when the bomb doesn't seem to do much of anything:

Do I detect a certain nervous quality to this hilarity? In any case, to get to the bottom of all this, Donald calls up Professor Mollicule, who agrees to come on over with his colleague, "the great foreign expert" Professor Sleezy. And if you can't trust THAT guy, I'm afraid my tenuous faith in human nature can kiss its ass goodbye. The professors arrive, but, while it sure seems to them to be an atom bomb, they just can't figure it out:

Note the lack of any kind of scientific clarity here. Cat hairs? How about liver of blaspheming Jew? It might as well be satanic witchcraft as far as they--and we--know. But then, Mollicule has a revelation!

An alarming thought, isn't it? It reminds me of Dr. Seuss's Butter Battle Book, which scared the hell out of me as a small child. It does SOMETHING horrible; we just don't know what. Mollicule's attitude towards this isn't reassuring either; he may be on our side, but look at that arm-waggling grin--he is clearly nonetheless a crazy person.

Shockingly enough, Sleezy turns out to be a Foreign Agent and steals the bomb. Note the non-specificity about where exactly he's supposed to be a foreign agent FROM. Unfortunately, the idiot accidentally lights the fuse with his cigar, and has to dispose of it by tossing it in the river. And then:

TRY to tell me that's not terrifying. It makes me think back to the days just after 911, when everyone (including myself, I must admit) was terrified that the terrorists would release anthrax in or around New York City and it would float away on the wind and it wouldn't seem like anything was happening until BAM you were DEAD. I think that harkened back a bit to this kind of terror.

OH BUT DON'T WORRY! This is after all a Disney comic. It turns out the bomb just has a depilatory effect--irritating, but not fatal, and one can certainly see potential commercial applications.

But just because this one does hair, that doesn't mean another one couldn't do something worse. Here's a really, REALLY telling juxtaposition. Donald after Sleezy's stolen the bomb:

And Mollicule after the formula has been recovered:

As I said--Mollicule is a crazy person, but his brand of craziness is reflective of the country's general tenor. There's no actual moral difference between Us and Them; the only distinction is who has The Bomb. Fortunately, Donald at least has his head on straight here:

I'm not sure who "all mankind" is supposed to be, but this idea of eagerly embracing potentially lethal designs seems to be emblematic of the direction the country and the world must have seemed headed at the time: passionately in love with death. This may be comical good fun in Duckburg, but one is left with the awareness that in our world, it may not be all fun and games.



Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

The fact that in writing this entry I failed to make the connection between hair loss and radiation sickness probably means that I should be banned from writing about duck comics FOR ALL TIME. Welcome to Duhville; population: me.

August 16, 2010 at 4:58 AM  
Blogger Alias said...

Also: "surely you're joking, mr. Duck" has to be a Feynman reference. And a pretty clever one, actually, considering how almost the polar opposite of Feynmans public persona Donald is

October 23, 2017 at 8:57 AM  

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