Friday, December 23, 2011

The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, Chapter Ten B: "The Sharpie of the Culebra Cut"

Man, until I reread this story for this project, I'd forgotten how doggone good it is. There's just a lot to like here: Scrooge's sisters are shown off to to their best effect in the series, so is Teddy Roosevelt, there are some really funny sequences, and also some good action. What more do you want, dammit? I have my quibbles as always, but in general, this one's a classic.

It opens, as these bonus chapters generally do, with a framing sequence where he is inspired to recount the story. On the one hand, I like that hearing these things is such sheer torture for Donald; on the other hand, it has to be admitted that his relationship with his uncle is pretty one-note in Rosa. There are occasional grace notes, sure, but for the most part, it really is this mixture of gloomy, resigned acceptance and out-and-out hostility. I think it could be much better balanced, is all I'm saying.

Anyway, this is a story--like "Cowboy Captain of the Cutty Sark"--that doesn't take any real inspiration from Barks. But it's much better than that previous story. I really, really like the sisters' blasé, sarcastic attitude towards Scrooge's casual…well, maybe "racism" isn't quite the right word; let's say "entitled, colonialist mindset." I also like the fact that Rosa tries to add to the L&T with these bonus stories by illustrating his hero's changing mindset--right on the cusp of alienating everyone, as he does in the next chapter. Although--yeah yeah, I'm repeating myself; it just seems inevitable sometimes--he really doesn't seem especially removed here from his present-day self.

Man, bits like this are just frustrating. Because obviously, what we all want is more Hortense. We want to know what happened to her, and we want to see her interact with her brother and son and grandchildren in the present-day. But we cannot, by pernicious editorial fiat. So we just get bits like this, which sort of circle around the issue, emphasizing that this is, in fact, Donald's mother, and he must have some idea of what she's up to these days…but beyond that, we have a big ol' blank.

(Gemstone's reprinting of "Return to Xanadu" includes the sketched version of a cut page that was very subtly trying to set something up that would deal with the issue--alas, what might have been--and I know it always sounds slightly facetious when I say that, but man oh man oh MAN would I--and you too, I'll wager--kill to have seen that.)

We also have the women continuing their cowboy fixation. I like the differences between their expressions here: Matilda all romantic; Hortense more looking for Mr. Right-Now (Quackmore again forgotten about).

So yeah, here's the plot and stuff. His sisters are right; he really is being a prick here. Though the real attraction of these panels is the business in the background. A classic Rosa touch.

It would be cool if TR had been instrumental in implementing women's suffrage, so we could credit Hortense for that. 'Twas not to be, sadly. Let me mention here that one question Rosa never addresses is that of the ducks' citizenship status. Scrooge definitely becomes an American citizen at some point, since in at least one Barks story we see him running for public office. I suppose the sisters probably do too, since they live in the states for thirty-odd years, and Hortense marries an American…wait a second: why did I think it was important to address this question, again? I dunno; I'm just always interested in the ins and outs of Rosa's ducks' lives, I guess.

So here's how everything starts: rather baroquely. I like the way Rosa quite flagrantly shows character consuming alcohol, which is surely in violation of some rule. "IT'S NOT WINE IT'S JUST GRAPE JUICE." Well never mind then.

Hey, don't tell me they don't know what men are for. Although it should also be noted that this bears a remarkable resemblance to a trick pulled by HDL in "The Cattle King," the last story that Barks wrote and drew.*

*allegedly--"The Doom Diamond" was published later, but written earlier per inducks, if you wanna trust those shady characters.

I feel like I'm sorta letting down the team when I present a panel for no reason other than to say "see? It tries to be funny, and it succeeds." What a cogent observation, right? But things like this are part of why I like the story, so there you have it. You also get to see the sisters showing some personality, which is always good.

I seem to recall a certain Barks classic involving steam-shovel-related mayhem. This isn't quite on that level, but it's still excessive goodness.

And…there's this bit involving the leader of the indigenous people. I must admit: I do not know enough about Panamanian history (read: anything about Panamanian history) to really have an informed opinion about this, or the business with the general planning a coup or really anything. I have the feeling if I did I might have problems of one sort of another, but I don't so I don't, really. I do find it a little dubious that TR--who for the most part is portrayed as being a contrast to Scrooge in this story--is nonetheless fine with this sort of subterfuge.

More damn cowboys…but really, I'm just presenting this because goddamn is that middle image ever adorable. No getting around it.

Meet my friend, Wye N. Deed.

You know what, Scrooge? I am calling you out here. Sure, you're willing to work hard, put some elbow grease into it, but only when it looks picturesque/romantic. So sure, you're willing to spend your time chasing after gold, but when it comes to unglamorous stuff, like hauling barrels up hills or polishing coins, you're perfectly willing to delegate to relatives for embarrassingly low wages. 'Cause that wouldn't accrue you any glory. Yeah...I've got you figured out, boyo.

As I said, I like the continuation of character concerns that arose in previous chapters, although this is a non-sequitur--Scrooge hasn't said or done anything here that would indicate an aversion to outdoor life.

No you can't, because Mayan script didn't even start to be deciphered until the thirties. Bam. Small detail, sure, but given the way Rosa always makes such a point of his madly thorough research...

So yeah, they find all this treasure. I do not believe that the real TR was quite such a multiculturalist, but I do like the way he stands in contrast to Scrooge's jerkishness--though again, I must note that it's hard to see this as indicative of any moral downfall, given that he behaves more or less the same way in Barks and modern-day Rosa, even if it's sometimes subverted and his rate of success is not all that high in any case.

Cool, innovative panel layout, also. How do you not dig that? I DEMAND more such creativity in my Disney comics, dammit!

…anyway, the punchline is that he's allowed to request anything from TR, but he passes out from the strong native liquor, so the sisters choose instead. That's reasonably funny…

…but man, it fucking irks me to see him win out like this. I mean, he was such an asshole throughout the story, and now we're supposed to be glad that he succeeds in retrospect by sheer dumb, perilously-close-to-Gladstone-territory luck? Or are we not supposed to? In either case, bleh. One salient fact worth noting is that this points out (which rarely happens in this series) the fact that "money," per se, isn't actually paramount for him--otherwise, he wouldn't keep all these legendary treasures he digs up. This denouement appears to change nothing whatsoever except that now he keeps the bear on a pedestal. It's a purely psychological thing (though maybe that went without saying).

Also, note that you can--albeit not in this scan--read the date on the paper: August 21, 1953. Does that have some specific significance? And is this the only time we can date Rosa's present-day that exactly?

Well, in any case, you definitely won't want to miss tomorrow's entry, 'cause it's the epic--epic, I say!--penultimate installment in the series, "The Empire-Builder from Calisota."

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Blogger Chris Barat said...


Well, according to Basil Stewart's THE GREAT PYRAMID, 8/21/53 was supposed to mark the beginning of the end of the world and the commencement of "world reconstruction." Whatever that may mean.


December 23, 2011 at 1:23 PM  
Blogger Christopher said...

I hope that some readers didn't have to tilt their computer screens to read that one set of panels.

I think that ultimately, Scrooge doesn't appreciate the bear more because it's worth ten million dollars, but because he now has a story to tell with a wholly happy ending.

December 24, 2011 at 12:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A note about that Mayan language bit: I once translated into my own language a scan of a French version that was translated back to English, and there I've had Scrooge say that he's learnt to read Mayan from the last surviving old sages of indigenous Indio cultures.

Also note: The last panel has a RIP to Unca Carl complete with his birth and death year hidden in the small print of the newspaper.

December 24, 2011 at 3:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

PS: Here's a zoom-in on that RIP for Unca Carl:

December 24, 2011 at 3:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is it wrong that I have to disagree with you on the most fundamental part of this story? :)

Honestly, I had a big, big problem with this story that prevents me from enjoying what I am sure are some other wonderful stories: Scrooge is a jerk. Not crotchety, or cantankerous, he's a straight up jerk in pretty much every situation. I don't like this version of Scrooge, and you're not supposed to in the main story, because this era of Scrooge is that of a jerk. A big jerk. A jerk who does very bad things for very bad reasons. I can't read this and care about what happens to Scrooge because I only want karma to kick him in the tailfeathers.

You can argue that Scrooge is a jerk in modern Barks/Rosa, but I disagree (less so with Rosa, but still). Yes, Scrooge is cheap, Scrooge is a grump, but you get the sense that there's a lot of genuine love for life in how he approaches things. There is an inherent goodness that shines through, like in that wonderful Microducks story, or The Golden River, where he admits to being a rotten child and wants to do better, with a more positive attitude (though I choose to interpret that as horrendous guilt screwing up the way he remembers things). He'll be cheap, torture the coffee guy, but it's in good fun. Here, he's... a jerk. Petty, mean, and just straight up spiteful.

But hey, there are good things here. The story itself is very well told, with an ending scene that never fails to crack me up in the framing device (I enjoy Donald's torture, I admit, though I see where you're coming from with a problem in this scene), and some very, very funny gags all around. "Those clever Frenchies!" is hilarious, I will admit that quite freely. And this chapter is also more character driven, which I really appreciate. I would love to have seen more stories with Matilda, Hortense and Scrooge.

*sigh* Hortense was also supposed to be in A Letter From Home, but he was forced to switch it to Matilda instead. Rosa tried, damnit! He tried.

I did want to point out one other thing, because your comment on the better approach to Glomgold got me thinking about this period in his life, and how I would do it myself... Because Rosa interprets Scrooge as having 'inspired' Glomgold, why not have him meet up with Glomgold again at this point in his life and further inspire him?

In a completely fictitious Chapter 10C that I just made up, we've already seen Scrooge proudly harass and humiliate Glomgold (Chapter 6), which is a lesson I'm sure Glomgold took to heart, but the skinflinted meanness of the present Glomgold (as Rosa interprets him, of course) could so easily have been touched on simply by having a chapter where Scrooge, after some off-camera Glomgold business, takes a blinkus-of-the-thinkus pill and pulls out his old scrapbook, realizing that he recognized Glomgold from somewhere, and Donald (for once) pries the story out of him: How Scrooge created his own biggest rival through example, unaware that he was ever being watched and emulated.

Scrooge could end the story with verbalization of this realization, and Donald, with his tailfeathers still literally singed from their latest adventure, could give a sarcastic comment while walking off about how "At least you're setting the best example you can for the people who look up to you most, huh Uncle Scrooge?", and we see a gesture of Scrooge's remorse by having him do something nice for HDL.

I am of course just thinking out loud. We're coming in to two of my most favorite chapters in the main one! Hooray! Can't wait for more.

December 24, 2011 at 7:17 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Wow, good eye there, anonymous. That's some obscure stuff.

Yeah, reviewordie, I can't argue with that--he's a big ol' jerk. It doesn't ruin the story for me (obviously), but it is why that ending annoys me so much. He doesn't deserve to come out ahead here, dammit.

Yeah, and I'm pretty sure Ludwig was supposed to be in "A Letter from Home" too, dammit. Granted, that might've detracted from the family stuff, but at least a cameo appearance would've been great. Or even just a mention.

And that's a good idea for a Glomgold story. You reading this, Don? Time to get back in the saddle and kick some ass!

December 24, 2011 at 1:56 PM  
Blogger Vree said...

I find it funny how you start out saying "doggone good" and "classic" but still end it with the exact same complaint I have about this chapter: that it is essentially a long setup for an undeserved win.

There are some recurring problems in Rosa stories, and Roosevelt is at least one character he does not treat like a total clown usually like he does with every historical figure Scrooge encounters, but damn he comes close in this one. I was kind of feeling disappointed because it was as if he realized that he had this one character get away without being completely topped by Scrooge, so he wrote another story for that...Meh. I don't really know why you picked this as a classic as it did not really have anything interesting in it for me (the actual motivating conflict is entirely forgettable) apart from some extra exposition for the sisters, but to each their own.

December 21, 2014 at 11:06 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Well, I feel like you have to take the good with the bad in Rosa stories to such an extent that I'm sort of conditioned to do it automatically at this point. So yeah, the ending, blah, but I still think there's a lot to like here.

December 22, 2014 at 2:22 AM  

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