Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, Chapter Two: "The Master of the Mississippi"

According to Rosa's essay, it was mandated that most of the installments in the series not be longer than fifteen pages. To his credit, none of them feel notably compacted in spite of this limitation; he managed to work well within these limitations. The question must be asked, however: why? I mean, I suppose you could, if you were so inclined, make an a priori argument that letting them go on for too long would lead to a lot of self-indulgent noodling around (as though the series isn't self-indulgent by design).

However, when you look at the entries that did exceed that length, the shocking truth is revealed: "you" were very foolish to think that, and you should probably be beaten about the head and shoulders. By and large, the longer entries are among the best in the series, and this one in particular--which, at twenty-eight pages, is the longest of all save "Prisoner of White Agony Creek"--can make a pretty plausible claim to be the best. It doesn't have the emotional impact of some, but purely as an adventure story, it's hard to beat. It's easy to see how Rosa could have cut it down had this been necessary, but I am thankful that it was not, and it makes me think somewhat wistfully about what might have been had he been given greater leeway throughout the entire series. The fact that this and the almost-as-long eleventh chapter are probably my favorites may say something in this regard.

(Or maybe some of the shorter stories wouldn't have benefited from being longer--there's definitely some superfluous material scattered throughout the series. But I must question the ability of some random editor to infallibly determine which would work and which would not.)

Why is the story great? Well, because it has lots of great action and exploration and a real sense of place, as the above indicates--Louisville is effectively presented as a bustling city. Also, Ratchet Gearloose, a character created by Barks hisself. And he gets off a funny line in that second panel there. How can you lose?

Just LOOK at all that background detail. It's ridiculous! In a good way. Yes, Rosa's obsessive detailing can be visually exhausting at times, but at its best, there is nothing in Disney comics that is more fun to look at. Pothole is a great character, too, and his future influence on Scrooge is very well-done, from windiness (his constant tall-tale-y evocations of the extreme muddiness of the Mississippi) to stinginess (paying employees thirty cents a day--obviously, market forces wouldn't quite allow Scrooge himself to be that stingy in the future). He's just fun to read; Rosa, happily, seems to have felt the same way, resulting in his reappearance in one of the extra chapters.

Also, the introduction of THE TERRIBLE BEAGLE BOYS! Ol' Blackheart looks quite striking in the shadow there in the first panel, though really now, the coyness about refusing to show them without their masks seems kind of meaningless to me. How do they look maskless??? I'm gonna say exactly how they do masked, only with slightly more skin exposed (I suppose it works on the same principle as the black-bar-over-the-eyes-to-protect-anonymity thing). The Mardi Gras masks are an effort to explain something that really didn't need explaining; it strikes me as a little distracting, though not too terrible. yeah, river hijinx ensue as Pothole, Scrooge, and Ratchet search for this lost ship. This set of panels always cracks me up. Something about the slow, methodical authoritativeness of the way the ship falls.

As I said earlier: a real sense of place and time in this story. Is "Old Man Erickson" a reference to Byron Erickson, who was--I think--Rosa's editor at the time? Of course, "Erickson" isn't exactly a rare name...and he's not exactly "old" now and was even less so when this story was published...oh, forget it. It was a dumb idea to start with.

Some of Rosa's treasure-hunting can feel forced, but this one (a real thing, natch) is well-done, in part because so unexpected and so unusual for a duck-comics treasure hunt. Just plain nice!

This isn't terribly deft, however. As I've alluded to before, Rosa's treatment of Scrooge is contradictory: on the one hand, he's far more of a jerk than he ever was in Barks; on the other, Rosa idealizes the whole integrilicious, value-of-hard-work stuff more than Barks ever did. And that leads to this--even though the idea that the character would feel ambivalent about finding this treasure is just absurd. By all means: point me to a place in Barks where he passes up treasure because it came too easy! You can't do it, my friends! He may occasionally grouse about other people having profited too easily, but that's not at all the same thing.

As you can see, we're dealing with the earlier, meaner Beagle Boys here. An appropriate mirror of Barks' own development of the characters, though I tend to doubt it was intentional.

Gotta love Pothole's attitude. In terms of attitude towards money, he seems more akin to Donald than to Scrooge (cf the opening of "The Second-Richest Duck").

The story skips forward a few years (to after the events of Barks' "Fantastic River Race"); if any part of it could be seen as superfluous, it would definitely be this one--but there's some fun action, and it does establish the Beagles as perennial foes, so I'll take it.

Also: boom. Never forget.

And so it ends. The idea of Pothole settling down to write dime novels is a good one. A bit I always like from Rosa's text on this story: "Barks' story has Scrooge say he was the "cannon on the Wabash Cannonball"…but I can't figure out what that's supposed to mean. But it sounds good!" Of course, what it actually means is that Barks was writing one of his last Scrooge adventures, and being characteristically goofy. But that's all right--this is a completely non-obtrusive way to stick in a Barks thing, 'cause why not? Why not indeed?

Great stuff! Tune in tomorrow for "Buckaroo of the Badlands!"

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Blogger Jasper Y. said...

It's one of my favorites as well. Again, an excellent evocation of a time and place. The combination of art and coloring give the subterranean steamboat scene in particular a suitably legendary air. If there was an TV show of this, no doubt that'd be shown as much as possible in the opening credits.

December 10, 2011 at 4:02 PM  
Blogger Christopher said...

As a Mark Twain fan, I loved all the references to "Life on the Mississippi." Also, a nice reference to how Samuel Clemens found his pseudonym.

December 10, 2011 at 4:15 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

I would say it is almost a certainty that “Old Man Erickson” refers to Byron Erickson.

Peppering stories with such references is a temptation almost impossible to resist. In my own stuff, you’ll find my wife’s name, dates or years indicating when I received my first Disney comic book and other personally noteworthy events, subtle (and not so subtle) nods to things I like such as The Simpsons, Lost in Space, Popeye, Alfred Hitchcock, Boris Karloff, Super Goof, Freakazoid – and other Disney comic book stories… like “The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck”!

I won’t presume to get into Don Rosa’s head… but, how could he NOT do this! It’s just SO MUCH FUN to do!

December 10, 2011 at 10:11 PM  
Blogger whc03grady said...

The young lady duck trying to swipe Pothole's chips or coins or whatever is just too Goldiean to not be Goldie. Rosa himself denied it--rather brusquely, I feel compelled to add; also, his reasons for why it couldn't possibly be Goldie were incredibly thin--when I asked about it on his facebook page, but give me a break: that's gotta be her, right down to the ambitions and earrings.

June 14, 2013 at 1:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I always liked that part about Scrooge and his comment about how you should earn richness with hard work.
This is a young inexperienced and idealistic Scrooge after all, who idealizes hard work while being still young and inexperienced.

He thinks he has it all figured out and that he is a hard worker, and now this all feels anti-climactic.

It's a very silly notion, especially considering he is supposed to be working to support his family. So what if you get this easily? Now your family is financially secure at least?

It made himacross as juvenile and childish, which given his age and lack of experience works nicely IMHO.

October 13, 2015 at 10:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I want to say Scrooge thinking getting the treasure was too easy could just be him being Genre Savvy (he's commented in some Barks stories IIRC about something being too easy and therefore suspecting that they're in for trouble or danger and being proven right), but unfortunately, that just doesn't come across here. You're right -- it's very eyebrow-raising. I only don't mind the line because Pothole's response is funny.

This is one of my fave chapters, too -- it has one of the best adventures/hunts, great location and use of the environment, and I just love the role reversal, seeing Scrooge as the nephew being roped into a perilous treasure hunt. The McDucks have the best family traditions!

I know it's silly to comment on comments made 2 and a half years ago, but... Given that Scrooge is 13, there's no way that grown woman could be Goldie. She is, however, a dead ringer for Howard Rockerduck's wife in Ch. 4.

February 19, 2016 at 3:30 PM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

Bah, is her age that obvious ? Also, nobody said Goldie had to be same age as Scrooge.

She could also be Goldie's mother.

February 24, 2016 at 8:24 AM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

Another thing I kind of dislike about this story (although on the whole I love it) is Ratchet Gearloose's water-clearing pills, and, generally, Ratchet's portrayal in Rosa stories. In Barks's story, it was clear that Ratchet was a somewhat realistic 19th century inventor/mechanic, who could have very smart ideas about how to work a steam boiler, but is not a professional all-purposes inventor like his grandson. Ratchet's ideas to improve the Dilly Dollar are perhaps far-fetched, but plausible given the time period, whereas the water-clearing pills are no more primitive than what Gyro could think up in the modern day.

November 30, 2016 at 4:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nowhere else in this series, or indeed in the rest of his work, did Rosa capture a time and a place as brilliantly as he did here. It really shows that he's a river rat at heart and loves his hometown, as well as all the history that goes with it. If someone were to ask me for a comic that embodies the spirit of America, I might give them this one.

September 14, 2017 at 11:49 AM  
Blogger F. Radcliffe said...

Never noticed this until you pointed it out, but Pothole's views on money are definitely shades of future Donald. He's even drinking a soda while he expounds them. Nice touch, Rosa.

April 9, 2018 at 7:18 PM  

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