Sunday, April 3, 2011

"Micro-Ducks from Outer Space"

Erik of the always-interesting Disney Weirdness requested "Micro-Ducks from Outer Space" for his donation. It's a bit on the weird side, though certainly not Barks' weirdest story. It's one of his last half-dozen or so adventures, from 1966. I recently saw the Ducktales episode based on the story; the writers there apparently decided that the idea of, uh, Micro-Ducks from Outer Space was just too unutterably boring to devote much attention to, leaving the question of why they felt the need to do an adaptation in the first place. The original is certainly substantially better. I like it a lot, even if the ending is somewhat (intentionally) maddening.

Ha! As in "Island in the Sky," Barks LAUGHS at the idea of continuity, as Scrooge's money is all bagged all of a sudden. Alas, Scrooge is a billion dollars short to cover up the window.

The usual penny-wise and pound-foolish business--ya don't think you might have better luck finding "something lucrative" if you weren't spending all your time attacking moths?

But look! You can make a billion dollars by finding a UFO! They're certainly a well-funded skeptics club if they can afford pull a stunt like this. Sure, they don't expect to pay, but they must at least have a contingency plan...

Yeah, they do know that. And here's where I have to rant a little, because this story hits a pet peeve of mine pretty hard: I am pretty darned skeptical about supernatural/unexplained phenomena myself, but these ultra-smug skeptics like James Randi just drive me nuts. They're so intellectually dishonest. "Randi's long-standing challenge to psychics now stands as a $1,000,000 prize administered by the Foundation. It remains unclaimed." Wow! That really Tells You Something! Suck it, psychics! Similarly, the trillion-dollar prize that I'm offering to anyone who can provide proof that I'm not the most awesome person ever also remains unclaimed! Apparently, the ideas that A) When you make the rules, obviously nobody's going to be able to beat you at your own game; and B) that "psychic abilities" might not be the kind of thing you can turn on and off like a faucet; never occurred to Randi. Or maybe he's just more interested in scoring cheap points than any real debate! Gah! I feel annoyance! Maybe I shouldn't be so irked, given that hucksters are way more dishonest and genuinely harmful than anti-huckers, but I can't help it! The fact that you're not really hurting anyone doesn't give you a pass to act like a jerk. And I feel a similar level of annoyance at ridiculous "psychic" frauds like Sylvia Browne, so it's not a one-sided thing. Also, I was in a facebook group called "legalize gay marriage in Ohio" or something, but I had to leave it because the proprietors were incredible flakes who were doing more harm than good by very seriously posting about their alleged psychic powers, which, as far as I can tell, had jack-all to do with the topic at hand. What unbelievable narcissism. Bottom line: I'm annoyed a lot! Argh! Sorry! Off-topic! But there was never any way I was going to be able to write about this story without venting on the subject.

I'll say this: "snarling and zapping" is a great turn of phrase, and really exactly what you'd expect to happen if you tried to drag off an unwilling flying saucer.

Anyway, people act goofy in their efforts to find a UFO, in a manner reminiscent of "The Loony Lunar Gold Rush."

This is a funny juxtaposition:

"Calm and normal" indeed. I think Barks' later, looser art style is especially well-suited to depict this sort of flailing around.

…and so, a mini-UFO shows up. HOW CONVENIENT! Yeah, you probably wouldn't have seen such an expedience in Barks' earlier, more carefully-considered work, but I don't mind. And I really like the way Scrooge thinks of it as "the cutest toy you ever saw." Just try to think of other examples of him expressing aesthetic appreciation for something that doesn't involve money in some way. Not easy, is it? I don't think it's intentional or anything, but it's little moments like this that subtly deepen his character.

Man, you can't turn on a radio without hearing some dude babbling about wheat and corn. Maybe some sort of FCC regulation is in order. Hard to say what the scientists are basing this certainty on, but hey: Science. Do not question its power.

Another thing I find very charming about this story is the enthusiasm and seriousness with which Scrooge enters into this ridiculously penny-ante trading agreement with the Micro-Ducks. Another lame thing the Ducktales episode did was have the Micro-Ducks actually buy all his grain, shrinking it down first. This is a much more interesting way to handle things (though given that they can shrink and expand stuff, as we'll see, it admittedly seems like it would probably be more efficient for them to do it that way...).

The Micro-Ducks, leave and then

AAAHHH! Pretty much the most terrifying image of Scrooge we've ever seen. Shouldn't've opened the Ark of the Covenant there, dude!

Long story short: Scrooge gets shrunken down. While the Micro-Ducks aren't really individuated, their depiction is still quite charming. Never doubt the usefulness of good art in elevating even a silly story into something cooler than the script alone might indicate it would be.

Yeah, and there's also this, uh, love interest. There are a fair few sixties stories in which Donald openly lusts after women who are not Daisy: "Mythtic Mystery," "The Heedless Horseman," "Queen of the Wild Dog Pack," probably some I'm forgetting (though not, somewhat surprisingly, "Mystery of the Ghost Town Railroad"). The "romance" here doesn't amount to much; it takes up less than a page of total space. Still, it adds a certain je ne sais quoi to the story. Really, though: don't you think she's a little young for you, Donald? He must be, what, in his mid-thirties or thereabouts (pace "The Duck Who Never Was")? Then again, what's in a name? You may be called "Teentsy Teen" (and if this applies to you, you have my sincere condolences) but that doesn't mean you're gonna be a teenager your whole life.

Anyway, John the Con here wants to nab the ship and get the money for himself! The cad!

Doesn't work, naturally. Interesting to note that, as far as Barks' pig-villains go, this guy is less menacing than most--he's sleazy, sure, but he isn't actually trying to steal Scrooge's entire fortune or murder our heroes. And yet, he gets super fucked-over--far more than any other character since those heady, early days of "Ancient Persia" and "Dangerous Disguise," when you might actually see a character die. Dude's permanently shrunk. Sucks to be him! I think this is another result of the sort of looser sixties aesthetic that comes into play: Barks didn't really think too hard about this.

Then, there's a few minor perils the ducks have to escape, and then, there's the goddamn fucking Skeptics Club.

Argh! I hate this shit SO MUCH! What is this POSSIBLY supposed to prove?!? I know I'm conflating different kinds of skepticism here, but presumably if they don't believe in UFOs, they don't believe in magic either, which is why I want Magica to appear and foof-bomb the shit out of them.

Alas, Scrooge & Co can't show them up, because one of the skeptical fuckasses blows smoke all over the UFO and the Micro-Ducks have to leave lest more bad things happen. Sigh. The Skeptics clearly know on some level that they've been beat, but they still keep up this insufferable façade, because their sense of self depends on there being no UFOs. Bah. I know that Barks was an irreligious fellow, but this could nonetheless easily be read as a pro-religion statement. Pro-agnosticism at the very least. I believe he did self-identify as agnostic, so that would make sense.

And so it ends. It IS a nice image, for sure. So I should probably just take a deep breath and let my annoyance go. And in eight years, Scrooge is gonna profit big-time from selling a whoppin' twenty kernels of corn. Maybe when that happens, he can show those guys what for.



Blogger ramapith said...

"If they don't believe in UFOs, they don't believe in magic either, which is why I want..."

Psst—"Skeptics and Sorcery." MICKEY MOUSE 283 (2005).

April 3, 2011 at 1:55 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Coincidentally enough, I have a copy of that issue, but I hadn't read the story yet. Wow! Talk about "ask and ye shall receive!" That's really kind of eerie. Love it! Thanks for the tip-off!

April 3, 2011 at 2:16 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

(For those who haven't read it, Magica doesn't foof-bomb the Club per se, but she does magic the shit out of them, which is really just as good. Also, is this the only story I've ever read in which she actually "wins?" Could be.)

April 3, 2011 at 2:19 AM  
Blogger Erik said...

Thanks for the review, Geo! Now I'm going to track down that Mickey story.

April 3, 2011 at 10:35 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

You're welcome. It's actually a Donald story; there was always one in every issue.

April 3, 2011 at 12:37 PM  
Blogger Christopher said...

This one has some of my favorite Donald expressions ever, including the reaction to the Princess and the eye-roll when Scrooge explains that he'd rather be a billion dollars richer than a dollar poorer.

And when I first read this, I thought that the whole Skeptics Club should've gotten sprayed with shrinking gas.

April 4, 2011 at 12:02 AM  
Anonymous Richie said...

What a great way to start my morning, when the fully-loaded page revealed one of my favorite late Barks' stories got center stage this time around.

Donald's small romance is very well-handed here, I think. -Age difference never crossed my mind, what with the enigmatic nature of Don's own age-. Brief yet satisfying, and it's very endearing (not to mention rare) to see Don being such a fervent and attentive gentleman with a pretty duck lady. Paraphrasing here: "If you see any more smoke here, princess, it'll be me melting!" Heartwarming stuff, I mean, he [I]rushes[/I] to provide her with the air of life!

(On my mind, there's an extra joke where Don's absorbed by Teentsy's face slowly recovering from the loss of air, and the other Micro-Ducks, crawling for oxygen, weakly pull him from the shirt, as if saying "Don't forget there are more of us around, lover boy!" Don goes "...Oh, right", gently leaves the princess back on a chair, and proceeds, slighty embarrased, to help the rest of the crew)

Donald's not the only one whose charming characterization enhances the story. The MD arrive on Earth hoping to interact with someone whom they can hold an honest business, who'll give them a fair trade for their gold so many greedily pursue...Cue Scrooge McDuck, the one who made his money SQUARE, playing said role magnificently.

His greed, so pointed out in other stories, is actually downplayed here in favor of showcasing his money-making ethics. Sure, his thirst for one billion buckaroos is what leads to his chase of the flying saucer (and to his reaction when the MD are gone, which fills Geox with terror and me with laughter) but once they shrink him and they meet up outside of a business environment, his human side takes up for the rest of the tale. Paraphrasis Time! "Why where you chasing us, Mr. McDuck? -I'm going to feel even smaller when I tell you, fellows!". He treats them with proper dignity and respect, and by doing so, he makes the story shine.

Btw, stay as far as you can from "The Return Of The Micro-Ducks From Outer Space", the only time these characters were used again, unless you're looking to have a bad taste on your mouth =P.

April 4, 2011 at 2:34 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Hey! You exposed my secret plan for a future blog post! "bad taste" is right, though.

Good analysis of the story as a whole.

April 4, 2011 at 2:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Technically Magica does not use magic (at least not in Barks' works). Barks' been fairly skeptical in most of his comics, though obviously (he invented Gyro) his science was pure "weird science". I don't remember any classic story with explicitly supernatural elements.

April 8, 2011 at 5:08 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

I don't necessarily remember the circumstances of ALL of Barks' Magica stories, but she definitely uses bona fide magic in "Oddball Odyssey" at least, albeit magic that was ripped off from Circe.

April 8, 2011 at 6:40 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

Re: wheat and corn on the radio--Didn't they use to report "futures" for wheat and corn and other agricultural products on the radio all the time, especially in the Midwest?

And I agree with Richie, that this is one of the best stories for showing that Scrooge "made [and continues to make] it square." He may be absurdly thrifty and unwilling to let go of a penny, but when it comes to business deals he is scrupulously fair. And it is definitely charming that he takes such a little deal so seriously. Something Hortonesque about this.

July 31, 2011 at 10:48 PM  
Blogger Written Dreams said...

If I could change the ending to this comic, the skeptics would still feel nervous enough about the flying saucer that they offer a compensatory prize for "coming close" (really just a bribe to save face and pretend like they were never proven wrong). But Scrooge cannily makes them agree to fork out a regular, ongoing bribe to keep quiet about the whole affair; it's a lot smaller than the promised prize, but in regular installments, it will eventually grow.

To me, this would let the story preserve the status quo while giving our protagonists a sense of victory regardless. The skeptics may have technically won, but they still have to pay out some money, and are secretly embarrassed and anxious about the "hoax" being enough to scare them. And a small but repeated bribe would be a nice parallel to the deal that Scrooge made with the micro ducks, receiving only a tiny bit of money at a time but having the patience to see it grow little by little.

As for a reason that the micro ducks can't simply shrink all the grains in the comic, I think there's a simple explanation: the shrinking effect might not be permanent, or there's always the risk that the shrinking machine could malfunction unexpectedly - which would have disastrous effects if they suddenly grow big again while the UFO is traveling through space.

June 15, 2023 at 1:38 AM  

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