Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Gold Odyssey

So here's my opinion: The Gold Odyssey, perpetrated by one Bob Langhans, is pretty excruciatingly bad. My duck-comic-related tastes have become significantly more catholic in recent months, so it seemed worthwhile to check this volume out, but I really have to put my foot down here: open-mindedness WITHERS AND DIES in the face of a story as poorly-plotted and -written as this one is. It's certainly not the same as indiscriminateness.
That said, I'll admit that the first chapter (of seven) of this saga isn't half bad. It takes place at an Arctic outpost where the ducks are investigating...well, something mysterious. It's not mind-bogglingly brilliant, but it manages to be fairly atmospheric, and it sets the scene for an interesting tale. It's all downhill from there, however.

So the thing is, each section begins with the "Gold Odyssey" title and a chapter number--it's clear that this thing was conceived of as a unified whole from the start. But for something that was planned in advance--to ANY degree--it sure has the feel of being made up as it goes along.

There IS an overarching plot--a very THIN overarching plot--involving Scrooge's quest for gold. We're not talking about regular gold here, though--oh good heavens no indeed--this is SPACE GOLD! Which is MUCH better, let me assure you. Beyond this, however, the story is incredibly disjointed. That promising Arctic setting? Quickly abandoned. Now we're in the Amazon (or the store-brand version thereof) dealing with Restless Natives. Now we're in Scotland dealing with an ancient, demonic druid(!). Now we're in SPACE. And now we're back in Duckburg, dealing with the Beagle Boys. None of these segments have ANY plot-related or thematic connection to one another. They all feel completely arbitrary--almost insultingly so. I think I would have appreciated the first chapter a lot less if I'd known in advance that its setting had been chosen more or less at random.

Now, this would be at least tolerable if the segments were individually interesting. Isn't it interesting how you that last sentence allowed you to predict just about precisely what the next one would say? There's probably an academic paper or four in there. But anyway: no. Not on your life. If I may be allowed to philosophize for a moment, a good part of the reason that Carl Barks' duck stories were so successful--and this is something that a LOT of his successors have missed, but it's especially, painfully apparent here--is that they had DEPTH to them. Whether the ducks were searching for King Solomon's lost treasure or racing to claim a moon made of solid gold, their exploits felt real: they were situated, they had context, and they tapped into real human hopes, dreams, anxieties, and aspirations. There is NONE of this in The Gold Odyssey. Nothing even close. Just who ARE these natives? And what's the deal with this druid? Whatever; it doesn't matter. It allows for the ducks to be in some sort of notional danger, and for some very light slapstick. Anything more than that isn't worth bothering with. Without any sense that they live in an actual world--are actual PEOPLE--it's impossible to care what happens to them. And if any even vaguely interesting side-point comes up incidentally (lead is transmuted to gold in the Stonehenge section, there's vague talk of rebels and spies in the space part), you can be certain it will be abandoned as soon as it's convenient to the main plot. Fine--but if you put so little INTO the story (one character's name is spelt two different ways in two different chapters--awesome), you can't expect readers (THIS reader, anyway) to get much OUT of it. The reason that people consider some of Barks' later stories to be weaker efforts is they too lack resonance, but Barks was a master draftsman, and even when he was bad (genius though he was, he could be pretty bad at times), he was never not worth reading. The Gold Odyssey, on the other hand--well, I think I've made my feelings known.

On a micro level, the writing is boringly pedestrian at best. It probably goes without saying that Ducktales is aimed at a somewhat younger audience than duck comics in general, but that's no excuse for blandness. The characters are lazy caricatures more than they are actual characters (which partially goes back to the blandness of their world, but a better world wouldn't be enough in itself to make them more interesting)--this may well match the cartoon, with which I'm only marginally familiar, but I'm not convinced that aped mediocrity is actually better than original mediocrity. And neither the allegedly-dramatic or allegedly-comic action is much to speak of. If you want decent Ducktales stories, you should check out the Lustig/Van Horn efforts--they're not transcendent or anything, but they do light, goofy, juvenile adventure reasonably well. They may lack the epic ambition of the serial currently under consideration, but however epic the ambition may be, it's not good for much when it fails so dismally.

...and then at the end they don't get any SPACE GOLD! but Scrooge finds some deus ex machina gold anyway in order to force what is evidently meant to be a happy ending. I'm sorry--that's just shoddy plotting. You don't have to be anything close to a Barksian genius to recognize that.



Anonymous Richie said...

Wait wait wait wait. Did something get erased between your sixth paragraph and the last one? I feel like this entry ends too abruptly (and no pictures to look at, boo!)...Or was that intentional to showcase the lack of structure in the story itself?

November 1, 2010 at 4:47 AM  
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