Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck

Who would have thought that the great roman-fleuve of our time would involve anthropomorphic waterfowl?

(this review encompasses both The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck and the Life and Times Companion--I highly recommend reading the two in conjunction)

I know I'm not the only duck fan who refuses to read any non-Carl Barks stories--unless they're by Don Rosa. Rosa seems to be the only one who really understands and respects Barks' work; unlike the great mass of European duck writers, he builds upon it while not dragging it off in overly cartoonish, Disney-esque directions. His best stories rival those of the master--and the work under consideration can definitely be put in that category. That he was able to synthesize so many off-hand Barks references into a coherent narrative--let alone one that astounds and delights the way this does--is really pretty incredible.

The Life and Times has its flaws, as perhaps do ALL great literary works (yes! I said it). The fact that Rosa had to work within a fairly tight framework with a specific goal in mind means that some of the stories, especially the earlier ones, can feel a little forced. The final installment, although necessary, feels a little bit pat. And--although this may be just a matter of personal preference--I feel like Scrooge's initial encounter with Flintheart Glomgold in the African section gives ol' Flinty short shrift. In Barks' stories--the first two, at least--he's a more complex character than he's given credit for here.

That said, however, this does a LOT more right than it does wrong. Rosa has worked before to expand Scrooge's character (see the absolutely essential "Last Sled to Dawson," readily available in several collections), but here he really takes it to another level. The first half of this narrative is more or less straight adventure stories (rousing adventure stories!), but things become considerably more interesting in the latter half, for several reasons. Firstly, there are the Yukon stories with Scrooge's lost love Glittering Goldie. These are particularly popular with fans, and for good reason: I don't really imagine that Barks had any notion when he introduced the character that the two of them would have had so much history, but Rosa handles it beautifully. He's SUCH a hopeless romantic when it comes to the two of them. I love it. Furthermore! "Prisoner of White Agony Creek" features an implied sex scene! Much to everyone's delight! Barks couldn't have gotten away with something like that. And if you never imagined that a duck comic could break your heart, you haven't read "Hearts of the Yukon."

Secondly, Rosa doesn't shy away from showing the less appealing aspects of Scrooge's character. In the latter part of the series, we see him gradually losing his ability to take in natural beauty for anything other than its potential for exploitation for monetary gain; we also see him being increasingly vicious and inequitable in his business dealings. "The Sharpie of the Culebra Cut"* even touches on something you wouldn't necessarily have expected; namely, the vague unease that some fans (like me) at the fact that Barks' archeological expeditions always involve Scrooge profiting from ancient treasures while ignoring their historical and cultural value.

The climax of the second half of the narrative comes in part eleven, though. Scrooge's highly self-satisfied account of his exploitation of African natives in Barks' "Voodoo Hoodoo" is an uncomfortable moment for duck fans; Rosa, to his credit, does not disregard this incident but confronts it head-on and makes it emblematic of Scrooge's moral downfall (of course, the fact that in Barks' story--after his alleged repentance--he's still gleeful about it doesn't make much sense, but I don't suppose there was much that could be done about that). Scrooge's return to Duckburg and subsequent abandonment by his sisters at the end of the story is quite powerfully dark. I almost wish the story had ended there--but, of course, that wouldn't have been appropriate, given the universe in which Rosa is operating.

Rosa also provides commentary on each story, which is fascinating to read. His love of and respect for this material is always apparent. It's inconceivable to me that, tasked with chronicling Scrooge's life, any other writer could have done as well. The book wouldn't exist without Barks' classic comics as a foundation, of course, but I'm going to go out on a blasphemous limb (the worst kind of limb!) and say that The Life and Times surpasses any of Barks' work. I can't read regular Scrooge comics in quite the same way since finishing it.

*Since Rosa is such a stickler for getting historical details correct, I have to be obnoxious and point out that he made a pretty big mistake here: Scrooge claims to be able to read Mayan glyphs, which is pretty impressive, since they hadn't even been deciphered at the time of the story.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home