Thursday, April 30, 2009

"The Duck Who Never Was"

Perhaps I haven't written much about Rosa's stories specifically because they're so self-consciously homages to Barks. Often brilliant homages, yes, but still--they're self-limiting in that sense, and they don't tend to really grapple with the zeitgeist of their age the way Barks--who was forging ahead into uncharted territory--was doing.

But today, I was reading a copy of the Donald Duck sixtieth anniversary comic that I got surprisingly cheaply. It includes a really cool Italian story from the thirties, purported to be the first full-fledged Donald comic book ever (and BOY do the editors ever spend a lot of time hemming and hawing and engaging in historical and semantic hair-splitting over whether it should technically be considered the "first"). There's also an early Donald/Mickey story which would be pretty bad even if I liked Mickey, and there's Barks' "Victory Garden," which would be fine if I didn't already own it in two other places--and there's a frame story by William Van Horn--he's seriously over-rated as a Disney artist, but here he does good. And, most to the point, there's Don Rosa's sixtieth anniversary story "The Duck Who Never Was."

Rereading this story, I was kind of stunned by how good it is. The plot is borrowed wholesale from It's a Wonderful Life--but better, since it involves our favorite ducks. Donald's feeling downtrodden; he gets a job as a guard at the museum (obvious "Golden Helmet" reference duly inserted); he gets conked by a vase, accidentally summons a genie, semi-inadverantly wishes he'd never been born, and we're off.

Perhaps it was something of a foolproof premise in a lot of ways--just gotta give Donald a little tour of Alterna-Duckburg, show him how much it would suck if he hadn't been there, and take him back. But it's hard to imagine anyone imbuing it with pathos quite so effectively as Rosa--partially since he's so damn good, and partially because it's specifically the Barks/Rosa ducks that are near and dear to us. Me, anyway.

I am so invested in these characters that seeing them messed with like this--it's more than pathos-laden; it's as if I'm actually having a nightmare. For instance, he meets Gyro, who, due to his absence, was reduced to a guy with normal intelligence by the events in Barks' "Think Box" story (I don't think that story actually implied that something like this could happen, but never mind). So okay, you think. That's kinda bad. But Rosa doesn't just leave it at that; he gives the knife that extra half-turn:

OH GOD NO NOT THE LITTLE HELPER THIS CAN'T BE HAPPENING. Seriously, that might mean nothing to a non-fan, but to those of us who know and love Gyro, it's absolutely devastating.

Likewise, as you would probably have predicted, Scrooge is no longer rich: due to Donald's absence, he took on Gus Goose as his assistant. Gus, as we know, is none too bright, and he gave the number one dime away to Magica at the first opportunity, demoralizing Scrooge so much that he let Flintheart cheat him out of his fortune. So that's what it is, but this is just TOO MUCH:

Augh. Jeez. No. Just NO. Yeah, Scrooge can be a dick sometimes, there's no denying, but how can you feel anything but sympathetic horror towards him after this?

Daisy stories generally used the "Daisy Duck's Diary" format, and there was a short-lived spin-off comic book by that title in the fifties ('Cause you know what them gurls are like--always with the diaries) Just a cool little touch. But Daisy herself--well:

Daisy has never been a well-developed character, but this makes you look back fondly on her regular appearance. Is there something just a tad sexist about assuming that Donald's absence would turn her into a misanthropic recluse? Well, sure, I guess, but it's no different than the source material in that regard.

Ugh. Yeah. The kids are obese, and they live with Gladstone, who--to add insult to injury--is the only one who hasn't suffered from Donald's absence. Finally, in an apparent shout-out to A Clockwork Orange, the Beagle Boys are now cops.

This nightmarish atmosphere is so pervasive that we're practically sobbing with relief when things are returned to normal. His life is affirmed, everyone throws a surprise party for him, and goddamn is one's heart warmed.

You know what? I even welcome the presence of the irksome April, May, and June in this scene. What the hell! I'm not quite sure what the deal is with the nephew's conspiratorial wink and thumbs-up, but what the hey. Frank Capra eat your heart out!



Anonymous Michiel P said...

"What's the deal with the conspirational wink?"

The story was written for Donald's 60th birthday (e.g. 1994), but in the context of the comic, Donald is nowhere near that age. So Rosa figured out a way in which the characters could refer to Donald's birthday as his 60th, by joking about a mistake made by his employer.

The nephew acknowledges the understanding, shared by artist and reader, though not by the characters, that in reality, Donald is indeed 60 years old. (Or even 75, nowadays!)

October 5, 2009 at 6:10 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...


October 5, 2009 at 7:03 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Incidentally, it's good--and surprising!--to see an actual duck fan here. I promise there WILL be more posts in the future. I've been sort of busy of late.

October 5, 2009 at 7:12 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

OK, let's take it as read that BOOM should not have published the two Rosa DD collections without at least a courtesy call to Rosa. Even so, I can't help being pleased that vol. 2 provides a printing of this story where the two errors are corrected at last. (These errors apparently came from the main Egmont office when they created the text version of the script from Rosa's storyboard-script, see Rosa DCML July 2004, since they appeared in most European publications as well as the American.) To wit: On p. 2, on the form Donald fills out, the words "month" and "day" were reversed, making DD's birthdate Sept 6th rather than June 9th. And when Gus is sketching the family tree to show his relationship to Scrooge, the words "Scrooge" and "me" were reversed. Naturally, Rosa made that family tree accurate (with the exception of the absence of Donald in it!).

August 1, 2011 at 9:32 PM  
Anonymous Huwey said...

So this is actually an old color version, isn't it?

May 2, 2016 at 6:22 AM  

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