Tuesday, June 29, 2010

"Zero Hero"

This blog's history seems to indicate that I lose motivation during the Summer months. Let us therefore present a story in which Barks seems to have lost a bit of motivation as well. It's "Zero Hero," from 1963--another of those rarely-reprinted stories.
Donald feels ennui, as probably Barks did too.

You don't want to sweep streets all your life--you don't exactly know how to improve your lot, but it's gnawing at you, and you have to do SOMETHING. Same ol' same ol' for Donald, though more beaten-down than he would have been under earlier circumstances.

This may remind you of "No Such Varmint." Alas, gone are the days of yesteryear, when our hero was perfectly content as a snake-charmer. Donald ain't gonna be happy to clean streets all his life, he will tell you that much. So, we get a rather abrupt jump to, well:

Where did this come from? This is never adequately explained--it is undeniable that this story's plotting is somewhat flimsy. I like the way Donald anachronistically describes his career aspiration as "merchant prince," though.

Disaster strikes, however. Who would've thought?

Yes! Mr. Internet confirms that teredo worms are a real thing! Only they're not actually worms. In fact, they're clams. Hard to see how you'd make that mistake, but it's pretty unsurprising in the context of one of Donald's hubristic schemes, I reckon. Note that we never see any other hide nor hair of this alleged "sailor." Maybe it's the same sailor who sold Joe from Singapore to HDL! Sure, why not? Let's just take that as a given.

Of more interest: is this the only time Barks ever actually shows us a page from the JW Guidebook? Asking how it's possible for a compact book to contain all the information in the entire world ever is basically equivalent to asking how Santa Claus can deliver all those presents in a single night, but I've gotta say, even willingly-suspended disbelief can't help but cock a skeptical eyebrow at the proposition that a good chunk of the volume's taken up with full-page illustrations of molluscs.

In any case, all is not lost, because Donald has other shit to sell to eskimos--although this whole enterprise is seeming increasingly dubious. And it seemed very dubious indeed to start with.

...and I think we're all grateful that the eskimos don't talk in the awful pidgin of which Barks (and, to be fair, pretty much everyone else) was so enamored. Of course, the only reason for this seems to be for a comic reversal where the natives turn out to be more sophisticated than the alleged civilized foax, but, you know what? I'll TAKE it!

Turns out everything Donald wants to sell is inoperative, but HDL think perhaps they can get at least SOMETHING for what little they DO have.

I like the way they size up the glass. It's not at all like the usual way that indigenous peoples were screwed out of their stuff. They're savvy customers. Again, I approve.

So anyway, there's some business with the butter melting (I think we all saw THAT coming), so Donald totes an iceberg back to Duckburg to keep it cool. It turns out that he borrowed the money for this venture from Scrooge (another off-camera plot point that appears highly dubious), but he's able to sell the iceberg to break even, at any rate. Then, it ends:

Yeah, pretty dispiriting. It seems like he's succeeded, and then, BAM, failure. Turns out the machine was right. A disturbingly deterministic view of the world, but then, these early-sixties stories were probably Barks' nadir (though you can certainly find exceptions), so it's not too surprising. Anyway, as always, there's enough interesting stuff here to make the story worthwhile in spite of everything. The title still only has an extremely vague correlation with the story itself, though. I think this was probably a case of "hey--this word rhymes with this other word! My work here is done!"



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review, I got kinda worried after a few weeks passed and I saw no updates. No problem, though, enjoy the summer and relax. Just make sure you don't forget about us! :)

July 1, 2010 at 2:19 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

You are welcome, as always!

No, I'm definitely devoted to this blog--though I'm getting towards dissertation-writing time, and since when the school year starts I'll be trying to do that while simultaneously teaching unruly freshmen--well, it's an open question how much activity we'll see here. Still, I'm perhaps excessively adept at doing blogging-related activities when I should be doing life-related activities, so we probably won't go totally black.

July 1, 2010 at 3:55 AM  
Blogger Chris Barat said...


There was definitely a "tipping point" at which Barks definitely swung from using stereotyped dialogue for "native peoples" to this sort of quasi-jaded, quasi-cynical patter. I'm wondering where it actually was?


July 5, 2010 at 1:23 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

I'd never really thought about this, but now that you mention it, I *think* that the last story with the native-y dialects is "A Spicy Tale." I'm not sure how many counterexamples there are from after that, though--this, "Trail of Marco Polo," any others?

July 5, 2010 at 1:40 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

...whoops--that's "*Treasure* of Marco Polo," obviously.

July 5, 2010 at 4:33 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Update--upon reflection, I realize that there are more examples than I thought, actually. Other relevant stories after "A Spicy Tale:"

-The natives in "The Status Seeker" DO speak in Pidgin, but their general attitude is more sophisticated/contemporary than that of natives in previous stories.
-The Indians (from India) in "Billion-Dollar Safari" seem perfectly modern in both accent and attitude.
-In The one-pager "Million-Dollar Shower," the Native Americans are of the old-style Little Hiawatha-type.
-The African tribesmen in "So Far and No Safari" speak in somewhat broken English and have somewhat primitive attitudes, though not so much so as in older stories.
-The aborigines in "Queen of the Wild Dog Pack" don't get enough screentime to judge very well, but they seem about the same.
-The sort of generic central-Asian-types in "The Doom Diamond" are entirely modern.

So overall, I would say that Barks was generally trending away from the Orientalist sort of depictions, though not in a perfectly linear way. Certainly, there's a fair bit of variety.

July 5, 2010 at 11:23 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

I totally posted a comment about some of Barks' other depictions of indigenous people at the time, and it's totally not showing up for me. When I post this, it will momentarily show up, and then if I leave and come back, it will be gone again. This one will be too. This is irksome to me.

July 6, 2010 at 2:05 AM  

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