Saturday, August 21, 2010

"Have Gun, Will Dance"

I realize that my habit of pointing at late Barks stories and saying "dood! Lookit how postmodern it is!" may be of limited general interest, but I hope you will indulge me this one time. If not…well, you're gonna get it anyway. Here's "Have Gun, Will Dance," from 1963.

Hey, let's start by looking at some of the story's foreign-language titles, as seen on the inducks page! In Spanish: "El Rayo Fatal." I'm going to use my nonexistent Spanish ability to guess that this means "The Fatal Ray." A pretty brutally uncreative title, and one that doesn't really get at the spirit of the story. In Dutch: "Dansgeweer." This, I'm guessing, means "The Dancing Ray." Coming at the story from a different direction; still not terribly interesting. In German: "Die Geheimwaffe." No clue, but you have to admit, it sounds pretty hardcore, as do most things in German. Italian: "Danzatore a Lungometraggio." I'm a huge fan of the word "Lungometraggio," but I'm sort of stumped beyond that. Something with dancing, one presumes! French: "Le Rayon Danseur"-- "The Dancing Ray" again. Meh. Polish: something in Polish. And finally, Argentine Spanish: "El General Baila El Twist." I'm going to translate that as "The General Does the Twist," which is a GREAT title, and in fact the only good one out of the lot. It may only relate to one small plot detail, but it captures what the story's about, what with connecting a serious military figure to a teenage dance craze. I daresay it may even be better than Barks' original title, though Barks' pop culture reference IS fitting. Here's the general in action:

The story opens with HDL having sent away for and received a toy gun by sending in cereal box tops. Immediately, we cut to military headquarters, where we see that something has gone wrong.

You can probably see the vague contours of what's going to happen here. But check out how the "Quintagon" is working these days:

See how completely dysfunctional it is? In spite of all the signs enjoining secrecy, the office is completely ineffective in this regard. The random bureaucrat in the lower left only slightly reluctantly confesses to having committed what has to be an act of treason or something like, and although this annoys the higher-ups, it apparently doesn't do any more than that. Meanwhile, the most obvious spy in the world gloats in a sinister fashion about stealing plans to sell to Cold-War enemies (you may remember Brutopia from "A Cold Bargain"), and in spite of the apparent obsession with secrecy, nobody appears to even suspect him.

Point being, even the most rigid of institutions appears to be breaking down into postmodern chaos. Note also the connection between sooper-top-secret weapon and a mere toy.

As you see above--and probably coulda figgered out from the title--the ray (the "toy" version, that is) makes people Dance! Dance! Dance! Connection between dancing and killing duly noted. Most of the story consists of HDL walking 'round town with it, obliviously hitting people. There's a certain amount of inconsistency about how exactly the ray works--how much control do you have when hit? Can you talk? Do you ENJOY the dancing?--but that's rather beside the point. This isn't meant to be science.

...also, there are goofy Irish stereotypes. Though how can you not be amused by that image?

"Depopulator." I love that one. I may be no fan of "Politics and the English Language," but the central point is forcefully made here: we have a weapon that is meant to slaughter huge masses of people, but we give it a bland, clinical name like "depopulator" to try to hide its true purpose and make it sound less horrific.

HDL need the ray to stop the Brutopians, but Donald--who's been chasing them this whole time--confiscates it and accidentally shoots himself, resulting in one of the funniest bits in Barks:

Donald's serene smile is definitely one of the best things in life.

So they end up getting the agents with the dancing ray:

See, this is mixing up two different conceptions of "Russia," isn't it? On the one hand, you have the sinister Cold-War secret agents; on the other, you have folk-dancing peasants. Here, these two conceptions collide. I'm sure everyone's bored of hearing me banging on about these things, so I will content myself by saying "postmodernity, historynolongersignifies, blahdy blah blah."

Anyway, when going on like this, I've generally addressed myself to Barks' adventure stories of the sixties, but as we can see here, the duckman could be just as flaky in his ten-pagers of the time. And huzzah for that.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Polish story title is "Pletwy roztanczone", which is a reference to an old 70s song. Literally, it means "Duck feet lost in dance".
"Die Geheimwaffe" means literally "Mysterious (secret) weapon".
"Something in Polish", hmmph. I feel offended.

August 22, 2010 at 2:10 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Heh. Sorry for that--but there was no way I was even going to begin to guess what the Polish might mean. If it makes it any better, I'll note that I DO know the Polish word "lalka," what with the Boleslaw Prus novel by that title being one of my favorites.

Thanks for the translations--the German turns out to be disappointingly (if predictably) dull, but that Polish one is actually very good.

August 22, 2010 at 4:07 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...


I’ll never understand the general disdain for Barks’ sixties work. It was brilliant in a DIFFERENT WAY than that of prior decades.

The stuff that goes on in the “Quintagon” is satire worthy of the best Jay Ward cartoons! And, yes… that’s a compliment!

This was the Carl Barks I first saw… LIVE and as it was happening! (…And when it disappeared, was it ever MISSED!)

Is it better and more classic than 1948-1955? No, but it evolved into something wonderful in itself!


August 23, 2010 at 6:25 PM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

I agree with Joe Torcivia about 60's Barks. As for that whole Polish and Italian titles problem… uh… didn't it occur to GeoX to use Google Translate at the time?

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Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

It might have occurred to GeoX that it was a lot funnier to make comically ignorant speculations about meanings than it would be to look things up. Sheesh!

September 27, 2016 at 10:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If the outraged Nemesis still wants to rate the italian one: google translate doesn't tell it's a word used only by people who work(ed) in a cinema changing the reels (metraggio: specific length of a material you can cut) to distinguish the movie from the preceding news.

And raggio means: ray. Tada.

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Blogger Cláudia said...

Don't mind me leaving a comment on this really old entry, I've been a fan of this blog for a few years and lately I've been going through every post in the archives.

Anyway, I just wanted to say this story's Portuguese title translates to "When 'Dancitis' struck Duckburg" and I appreciate that.

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Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Thank you! Your comments are always welcome.

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“He should hire a hall!”??

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