Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Flintheart Glomgold

Hey, you! Why not pick up this handy Flintheart omnibus, which includes all three of Barks' stories plus Rosa's debut? And which, more to the point, includes a good Geoffrey Blum essay which makes me vaguely resentful because he says a lot of the things I would like to say. Not all of them, however.

Flintheart Glomgold, of course, is the second-richest duck in the world and Scrooge's rival. He hails from South Africa, except in that stupid cartoon, in which--fun fact--his origins were changed to avoid associations with apartheid. You can look it up.

The standard portrayal of Flintheart bothers me, I have to say. Because, while perhaps acceptable as a comic book trope, the idea of him as being "just like Scrooge--BUT EVIL!" is less complex, less subversive, and just plain less interesting than the way he was initially portrayed, to wit: "just like Scrooge."

From the none-too-subtle Dickensian-ness of his name, you would think that Flintheart was meant to be a villain right from the start. And maybe that's the way that Barks originally conceptualized him. But if you actually go back and read "The Second-Richest Duck," you'll see that that just ain't how it plays out: the two ducks are equally devious, matching each other dirty trick for dirty trick. As I may have noted before, I sometimes really can't tell to what extent Barks is doing things like this on purpose and to what extent it's an instinctual, savant thing, but it doesn't really matter. Whatever the case, this is pretty darned subversive stuff. Scrooge and Glomgold, essentially, are the same person, and if we want to think of the latter as the "villain," we have to ask ourselves what makes the former a "hero," and if we're being honest, we have to admit that it proves to be an arbitrary distinction. There's no easy out of the "oh, well, Scrooge is good and Flinty is bad variety.

It's not surprising that Flintheart would slide into villainy over time, but I think Blum's gloss on the second story, "The Money Champ," is really smart: "Scrooge's lapse of memory [that is, initially not remembering Flintheart from "The Second-Richest Duck"] hints at something deeper, as if McDuck has repressed a side of himself he would rather not confront." I would go further than that and say that it's not just "a side of himself" that he doesn't want to confront; it's "himself," period. Obviously, Glomgold is the clear villain in "The Money Champ," but we see Flintheart agonizing, and we see Scrooge fighting the temptation to resort to trickery. One wins and the other loses, but this doesn't necessarily mean that the moral order has been nailed down once and for all. It's apparent that both of them have the capacity for good or evil.

Unfortunately, that's pretty much the end of that, as far as moral complexity goes. The third story, "So Far and No Safari," barely deserves to be called a Flintheart story; Scrooge's double only appears as an incidental villain: Barks needed someone to be the antagonist, the story was geographically appropriate for Flinty, and so he got tossed in. It's not actually a bad story judged by itself, but for Flintheart fans it's very disappointing.

(Don't worry. In spite of what the image suggests, they're not actually dead). The story was published in 1965, near the end of Barks' career, and one is tempted to suggest that he was just tired. A lot of his later stories, although still worth reading, seem a little lazy compared to his prime.

Doubly unfortunately, Rosa does very little to undo the damage. While his Flintheart is rarely as homicidal as the late-Barks version, neither is there any of the moral ambiguity of early-Barks. This is actually really surprising to me, as Rosa generally is all about investing Barks' characters with a complexity and psychological depth that Barks himself usually only hinted at. Granted, it wouldn't be easy to have a recurring character whose moral status is in doubt. Maintaining that tension would be hard, and it would hint that there was something teleological about the conflict--which, given the nature of these things, wouldn't have worked any better than my fantasy scenario. These are just comics, after all, aren't they? You know--for kids? Meh.

I'll tell you one thing that Rosa does get right, though. It doesn't reference Flintheart directly, but it points at the only real difference between him and Scrooge, in a way that the Barks comics would seem to corroborate. At the penultimate chapter of The Life & Times, "The Empire-Builder from Calisota," Scrooge has alienated his sisters and more or less sold his soul (recall what I wrote about "Voodoo Hoodoo" last time). And that's where it stands as the final chapter, "The Richest Duck in the World," opens. This is where he meets Donald and HDL for the first time, and it's from them that his redemption comes. Family values, in a non-bullshit-religious-right sense of the phrase. Flintheart has no such rejuvenating kinship ties. Thus, we see the difference between them, and also we see that this difference is nothing intrinsic to the characters themselves. Truly, but for the grace of God, Scrooge would be Flintheart.


Blogger Christopher said...

I just discovered your blog and I'm really enjoying it. I study literary and cultural antimodernism, and I've paid particular focus to Carl Barks and his take on modernity. I have always wondered about Glomgold's formative years- the reference to his mother is pretty much all I've ever found. The brilliant "Life of Times of Scrooge McDuck" gives us the details of all the family members who molded Scrooge in his youth– I wonder if Glomgold had relatives who taught him the morality of expediency.

July 25, 2010 at 4:46 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Thanks--I appreciate that. As I've noted, it IS kind of maddening to me that nobody seems to really make any effort to get at who Flintheart really IS (there's that fleeting reference to his mother in "The Money Champ," and that appears to be about it). Seems to me like an area ripe for exploration.

July 25, 2010 at 5:06 PM  
Blogger Christopher said...

Don Rosa once said that he originally planned to have a subplot in "Life and Times" about Glomgold consciously attempting to emulate and overtake Scrooge. Apparently, Glomgold consciously built up his fortune in order to show up Scrooge for humiliating him during their first meeting. Kind of a big/little brother sibling rivalry there! The idea was apparently mooted due to Glomgold response to "meeting" Scrooge in "The Second-Richest Duck."

Long ago, when I first started reading Duck comics, I once thought that a good idea for a storyline would be for Scrooge to suddenly find some letters or something amongst his parents' papers, leading him to the discovery that he had a twin brother who was kidnapped as a baby and never found. After some frantic searching, Scrooge discovers that Glomgold is the lost baby! Scrooge immediately accepts Glomgold as his brother, and the two start working together. Turns out, however, it's all a trick. Glomgold forged the letters and the evidence in order to weasel his way into Scrooge's life and take over his businesses. Scrooge and the nephews would figure it all out before it's too late, and all would return to normal. I'm not sure of all the details, but I always thought that would be a great way to explore both characters in more depth.

July 27, 2010 at 3:19 PM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

As far as I remember, Vicar is one of the few authors to be still with the "JUST LIKE SCROOGE" stuff; I particularly remember his story about golf and in which we discover that Glomgold and Scrooge are actually relatives through a common cousin named Bogey McDivot.

(so "Christopher", your storyline is a good idea, but we have to state that it chronologically happens before this Vicar story. Otherway, Scrooge would know Glomgold is not his brother because he already knows he's his cousin).

May 20, 2015 at 1:01 PM  

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