Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, Chapter Zero: "Of Ducks, Dimes, and Destinies"

(I was considering spelling Scrooge with a dollar sign, but I'm not gonna lie to you: I would like for this series to be as high as possible in google search results for "The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck," and the non-standard spelling would not have been helpful in that regard.)
We will hit the ground running with what was rectonned into being "Chapter 0" of the series--in the explanatory text, Rosa tells us that this was conceived and written first, but then, on the basis that it would be somewhat redundant with the rest of the series, was shelved until later. This is apparent from the title also, which doesn't adhere to the "person of place" formula that the rest of the chapters do. It's also an odd fit because almost none of the action is from Scrooge's perspective--he's a fairly peripheral character in his own story.

You know what's really, really good about the L&T? I'll tell you: it's that Scrooge is younger--as such, he doesn't adhere to the semi-self-parodic character traits that Rosa too-often sticks him with in present-day stories, and when he does, it's seen as a bad thing, symbolic of a moral fall (though this can also create a certain dissonance at times, as we'll see). Don't get me wrong: I love Rosa's work to death, and we were very lucky to have him. But one thing he never really got right was negotiating the junction in Scrooge's character between "lovable" and "dickish." The reason he's such a great character is because he contains both of these qualities, and the one doesn't cancel out the other--but Rosa often veered waaaaaay too far into the "dickish" side, making the character look like a complete sociopath ("Last Lord of Eldorado" being the classic example--remind me to castigate that story one of these days). This here isn't quite on that level, but Donald really shouldn't be letting him get away with bullshit like this. The behavior that causes Scrooge's sisters to abandon him in the penultimate chapter of the series is not appreciably worse than this is.

Point being, I'm extremely grateful that this is really the only time in the series that this has the chance to come up.

Well, obviously, the idea is to do a dime origin-story. Scrooge will pontificate, as he so often does in Rosa stories. I do like the way Donald's boredom undercuts his self-importance a little. It's only a little, though--after all, he is going to tell the story he's going to tell, and no two ways about it.

Yeah, and Magica's listening, and she concocts a scheme to go back in time and nab the dime before things get out of hand. One thing I do like about this story is that it brings Magica into the series--I feel like it's only appropriate that such a significant character should play some role, even if it would've been difficult to place her in a "normal" chapter.

Note, also: Rosa's rendition of Magica has visible cleavage. What you think about that is up to you. I certainly don't believe it's because of some crazy fetish on Rosa's part; I think it's just part and parcel with his instinct to make the ducks' world more "realistic" (for some value of that word). Whether or not that's a good thing has been fiercely debated in the past and will be in the future. We'll get plenty of opportunities to think about it over the course of this series.

Say what you will about this story--and I don't think it's any sort of classic or anything like that--but Magica does look rather fetching as a Victorian lady.

Also, there's this guy trying to put the moves on her, who is meant to be John D. Rockerduck's father, Howard, though there's no way to know that from this story itself. Why Howard? Because of the character in Treasure of the Sierra Madre, per Rosa in his commentary about his later appearance. It seems Rosa, realizing partway through writing this that he'd be doing a whole series, planted him here, unidentified, to set up his appearance in chapter four, which shows some good foresight. He's basically here for some slapsticky hijinx, which is fair enough. It still feels a bit arbitrary, though, and it's one of those things that many readers will see and think "I know this has to be some sort of reference--but what? And why?" We'll see a lot more of that as the series progresses.

But there is some good physical comedy. That's something Rosa does well (when it doesn't just degenerate into Donald-abuse). This story also features the somewhat innovative thing of using the progressively-more-melted time-candle as a panel-border.

No real point in going through all the rigamarole as Magica tries and fails to get the dime--though from the portrayal of Scrooge's family, it's obvious that he had all this stuff in mind well before he began work on the series proper. I like this bit because it's funny. What more can I say?

…and there's a rather predictable denouement. Obviously, Magica's never gonna succeed in stealing the dime, but the action here feels even more preordained than it usually does. The real purpose of the story, clearly, is to have some fun with Scrooge's family. That would no doubt be manna from heaven for fans, if not for the fact that by the time this actually saw print, said family had already seen plenty of exposure--leaving it feeling pretty superfluous. Oh well--ever onward and upward! Tomorrow, it's the proper beginning of the series, "The Last of the Clan McDuck."

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Blogger Jasper Y. said...

Yeah, this story falls a little outside of the L&T proper. Like "Dream of a Lifetime", it's about characters interacting with Scrooge's past, rather than the actual narrative of Scrooge's life.
I wonder what happened to Howard's accent. It's funny to think that John Rockerduck, a character neither Barks nor Rosa had much use for, is more deeply connected to Scrooge's history than Flintheart, his more consistent rival.

December 8, 2011 at 2:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Geo, I don't know if you knew about this link, but I thought you might be interested even if they never come up, because... well, they're interesting. :)

Chapter 1 and 11 are really the ones here that interest me because they're more like director's cuts (11 specifically), and I think I would have preferred seeing that version fully realized.

Chapter 0 is a fun chapter though. Just good old comedy and nice background gags. Can't wait for the rest!

December 8, 2011 at 3:21 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

No, I didn't know about them--I'd only seen such sketch pages as were reprinted at a hard-to-read size in Gemstone's L&T. These are great; I'll look at them and, if relevant, bring them up in the entries in question. Thanks a lot.

December 8, 2011 at 3:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glad to help! :) There's also this companion page, which is a more in-depth version of Rosa's texts in the collected L&T editions. All sorts of crazy, obsessive little details. I'm not squirreling away any other links that are relevant here, promise!

December 8, 2011 at 3:44 PM  
Anonymous Swamp Adder said...

Re: cleavage on ducks -- you may have already seen it, but I found this article amusing:

December 8, 2011 at 6:45 PM  
Blogger Chris Barat said...


Good observation re: Rosa's characterization of Scrooge. He would often give out these little cutting asides that make one wonder just why Don and the boys continue to put up with him, the opportunity for "high adventure" be damned!


December 9, 2011 at 7:03 PM  
Anonymous Duckfan said...

Ah, Chapter Zero! I've always been interested in the story possibilities of time travel, but you know, it's always very confusing.
It's not so much a Scrooge story this time, Magica's stealing the spotlights (and the #1 Dime!). Anyway, we get the behind-the-scenes story of "The Last of the Clan McDuck", something only Don Rosa would think of. It's fun to see, and note Howard Rockerduck buying a ticket to America!!! Rosa knew it would be complete series all along. Then Fergus McDuck gets his moment of shine, Magica realises the consequences of taking the dime before Scrooge earned it, and the story's done.
It's not one of the worst entries in the series, but not the best either. That is all I have to say.

December 13, 2011 at 12:17 PM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

I came to remind you to review "Last Lord of El Dorado" as you mentioned you would like to do it here ;)

October 10, 2012 at 10:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I actually think this is in contention for the best use of Magica in a comic. However, I didn't acquire it until years after reading Chapter One, as Duck comics were hard to find when I was a youth in 1860.

September 14, 2017 at 11:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also, El Dorado is my favorite Rosa story, by far, and even I agree that the bit with Donald and the rope bridge is ridiculous. When Rosa handles Donald as a starring character he actually does right by him---see Super Snooper Strikes Again! or the Junior Woodchucks origin story. Whenever he pairs him with Scrooge he just seems to miss the mark. The worst instance of that is the otherwise fantastic Guardians of the Lost Library, in which he reduced to another of Rosa's shots aimed at pop culture.


September 14, 2017 at 11:42 AM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

I just got Fantagraphis Don Rosa integral's 3 & 4. In his commentary Rosa said that he wanted this to be Rockerduck's father from the start but as a little detal he did to amused himself.

To be fair Howard showing here some playboy side dose fit Rockeduck.

September 18, 2017 at 9:00 AM  

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