Friday, November 19, 2010

"The Swamp of No Return"

Dun dun duh!

This 1964 story was one of the first duck stories I ever read; it's pretty effective at creating a sort of murky, disorienting mood, as the opening splash panel above indicates.

So scientist-dude has invented a magic machine to teach people stuff quickly, the problem being that it also causes them to forget who they are. Scrooge is called in as an investor.

I like the expression on the dog's face. Maybe Chris Barat can enlighten us as to whether the dialogue and equations in the second panel actually mean anything, or whether it's just math-sounding gibberish. I'm guessing the latter; that top equation in particular looks kinda dubious--why would all that equal zero?--but one never knows when Carl's at the controls.

It seems surprising that this isn't just plain ol' Gyro, but as I think about it, I'm not sure whether Gyro appears in any headliners of the Uncle Scrooge comic book. This may have something to do with those weird postal regulations you hear about so often which necessitated having two separate characters per book with their own stories.

But alas, this Brutopian agent learns about it. One thing that really makes this story stand out is that a lot more attention is lavished on this villain than usual. One can but assume that Cold-War concerns were on Barks' mind. It's really effective, actually, and creates a sort of parallel, running commentary throughout the story on the nature of totalitarian states.

This is where the story sort of runs into a bit of confusion. Okay, so the box makes you lose your identity even as it teaches you new stuff (an implicit comment on the onrush of postmodernity?). Makes sense. I can dig it. But this? It could also be dangerous because scientist-dude (his name is actually "Brainerd Brainmore")…invented a program that forces people to do things? The way he talks, it sounds like he somehow had no choice but to do this, but it really seems to be a case of making unnecessary problems for yourself. Maybe it wouldn't be "very dangerous if it falls into the wrong hands" if you'd just friggin' destroy all these "command cores!" D'ja ever thing of that? Sheesh.

Anyway, naturally, falling into The Wrong Hands is just what inventions like this do. Just look at the guy. Really a vicious thug. Definitely one of Barks' more effective villains.

Yeah, so he's zapped Scrooge, which makes him lose his memory and think he has to go to the swamp of the title. As we all know from comics--duck comics included--you can fool people with pretty flimsy disguises, but it's a bit much to imagine that Donald would be so easily convinced that who is obviously Scrooge is actually an unknown furriner.

DRAMATIC MUSIC. Again--a very well-drawn baddie.

And there's this sort of nightmare quality to the swamp which is portrayed quite well; this quality of not knowing who you are and stumbling around blindly in this confusing, surreal daze--I'm sorry; I always say I won't say "hey! Look how goshdarn emblematic of postmodernity it all is!" and then I go ahead and do it anyway. I'm so untrustworthy. But srsly, it is.

(Oh, I should clarify that the ray's effects wear off after twenty-four hours. This would seem to somewhat limit its use as a weapon.)

Our agent ("Bruto Castrova" is his name) realizes an essential flaw in his initial plan. When you have a régime that's predicated on unchecked power and nothing else, you may create conflicting loyalties in your subjects. Also can't help noting that for a putative agent of a presumably communist country, our villain is behaving like quite the capitalist. Communism--or any ideology--becomes incoherent when it's wielded in the service of totalitarianism.

He sends the army to the swamp also; I note this mainly to point to yet another indication that Duckburg has its own military.

...and a navy in addition to an army. There are times when it seems as though it's some sorta autonomous sovereign state--otherwise, it's hard to see how zapping a friggin' town council is gonna help you become ruler of the world! Seems about as effective a plan as the one where Tor Johnson and Vampira walk very slowly towards a few dudes.

Scrooge is trying to shoot out the lens, but it's hard not to note that he's actually firing a gun indiscriminately at the guy. There's at least the implication that this is a matter of life-or-death, even if that's technically not really allowed in Disney comics (with a few exceptions that you may be able to think of, of course).

Anyway, conveniently enough, the program that ol' Bruto zaps Scrooge with makes him into an expert marksman, and there we go. Cool as ice. Actually, it's pretty hard to see how the world was in jeopardy here. Making a buncha dudes forget who they are for one day just doesn't seem like it has world-taking-over potential. You would assume that if he had brought it back to Brutopia, that country's scientists would have studied it and developed a larger-scale version, and that would be bad, but as it stands--eh. Still, well done, guys! And well done, Carl!



Anonymous Kevin Johnson said...

Math minor here, so while Chris probably can go into better detail:

That's a basic differential equation formula, one where you plug in actual numbers to solve various problems. Long explanation short, setting them equal to zero helps to solve a lot of problems quickly and allows you to differentiate them further or integrate them, among other things. Blah, blah, blah. *fixes glasses*

As for the comic - yeah, Scrooge in the swamp was creepy, and I love how that full page was dedicated to emphasizing the confusion. The shooting scenes REALLY surprised me, though. Even if the intention was sound it's hard not to notice the very likely DEATH that could occur. Still, it is 1964, and the kind of social standards we have today didn't exist back then, even for Disney.

I think my only issue is the final two panels. He shoots the camera, then it JUMPS hard into a post-everything panel. That's a pretty aggressive jump.


BTW, I have a large collection of old school Super Mario Comics I'd love to review, and I want to crib your style, cause it's awesomeness. Is that cool?

November 19, 2010 at 1:43 PM  
Blogger Erik said...

PLEASE start reviewing Super Mario Comics, Kevin! I'd read the hell out of that.

November 19, 2010 at 6:58 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Yeah, go for it; I don't have any particular copyright on this format, and what if I did?

You're right that the ending is abrupt. This is the case semi-frequently with these stories. You will up your allotted space, and then you've gotta stop somehow, and it's not always graceful.

November 19, 2010 at 7:32 PM  
Blogger Mike Matei said...

Am I the only one who thinks Barks was asked to change the ending of this story?

Near the end of the story HDL say "We have to be marksmen to hit that small box at eighty yards" and they have a shotgun.

Then it goes to scrooge blasting away at the box. He's then hit by the ray, and this is where I'm guessing Barks was asked to change the story.

Because it seems to me, this is where HDL would have shot the box, and saved the day. But I bet the publisher had a problem with children firing a rifle, so Barks probably had to have Scrooge (Being the adult) shoot the box.

At this point, Scrooge should be heading to Dodge City, Kansas uncontrollably. But no, he says "I've got a wild craving to shoot something". That's totally out of left field.

I could be wrong on all this. But that's my theory.

November 20, 2010 at 6:31 PM  
Blogger ramapith said...

Pretty plausible one, too. Nice one, Mike.

November 21, 2010 at 2:23 AM  
Anonymous Kevin Johnson said...

Well! Since I have a request, I kinda have to do it now!

Thanks, Erik, I'll let you know when I finish the first entry.

November 22, 2010 at 12:58 PM  
Blogger Chris Barat said...


That is a legit partial differential equation, called the Laplace equation. The theory that it engenders is known as potential theory. That much Barks could probably glean from a calculus textbook (and I know that he kept a math book by his bedside to occupy his mind when he couldn't sleep). "Quadrantic hyperbola," however, is gibberish.

A friend of mine named Stephen Eberhart, who died some years ago, was a mathematician and wrote a very good article for THE BARKS COLLECTOR about Barks' mathematical references. This was one of the stories he discussed.


November 22, 2010 at 8:53 PM  
Blogger Chris Barat said...


Another thing that comes to mind about this story: In the DUCKTALES episode "Sweet Duck of Youth," which is a semi-adaptation of "That's No Fable," there is a scene in which Scrooge wanders through the Okefedokee (sic) Swamp menaced by semi-comical perils akin to the ones seen here. The difference is that he hasn't lost his memory. Still, it's not out of the realm of possibility that the writer of "Sweet Duck" pilfered this element of "Swamp of No Return" and tacked it on to the tale of the search for the Fountain of Youth. There were several other instances in which DT swiped one particular aspect of a Barks story for its own purposes; for example, the storyline that introduced (shudder!) Bubba Duck featured frozen bombastium being used as a time-travel element.


November 22, 2010 at 9:00 PM  
Blogger Mike Matei said...

Fuck Ducktales

November 23, 2010 at 12:14 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Let's try to be at least somewhat civil, shall we?

November 23, 2010 at 1:54 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

...and thanks for that, Chris. There are untold depths here. I haven't actually seen very much of the Ducktales cartoon (no teevee access except at friends' houses when at the time), and I often feel the vague impulse that I should catch up on it. I've enjoyed some of Ducktales comics (the Van Horn/Lustig stories) and not others (the serials that Gemstone collected); I'm not sure what I'd think of the show--there ARE certain aspects of it that just plain annoy my sensibilities (Beagle Boys with distinct personae, Glomgold no longer being South African, the friggin' caveduck you mentioned), but I think there's at least something to be said for it. It must be conceded that it was something of a bold move to adapt Barks specifically for the small screen, however modified.

November 24, 2010 at 3:02 AM  
Blogger Chris Barat said...


DUCKTALES certainly had its foibles but the show has held up amazingly well.


November 25, 2010 at 7:18 PM  
Blogger Fethry Duck said...

Five years after, but I just had to mention- you don't strike me as potentially malevolent enough if you can't think of a good way to conquer the world with one of these, even with the one-day limitation! Assuming you manage to not get killed over time, you can effectively pull increasingly more powerful heists each day, increasing your resources and power.

July 24, 2015 at 6:37 AM  
Blogger Jeffyo said...

Even if it is seven years and two days later, I just wanted to go on record about something Donald says in this comic that seems to me like a classic bit of Barksian subversiveness. Twice while under the box's influence, Donald calls his swamp home "Dismalland." IMO, Uncle Carl was dissing Disneyland right under the still-living Walt's mustached nose!

November 25, 2017 at 3:36 PM  

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