Sunday, June 17, 2012

"The Dragon's Amulet"

AMAZING TRUE FACT: in all of Western's existence, the company only ever published one (1) Scrooge story of over fourteen pages not written by Carl Barks.

Of course, the thing about this "amazing fact" is, if you're familiar with the details, it's actually rather banal: with the exception of a short or two towards the end, Barks filled up every issue of Uncle Scrooge until his retirement (and how amazing is THAT?).  There was only a very brief period in 1968-69 when Western was trying its hand at publishing new non-Barks Scrooge material in the book (after that, it was all Barks reprints all the time); this was also about the time they instituted their dumbass policy of restricting all new stories to no more than fourteen pages--so "The Dragon's Amulet" was very lucky to slip in under the radar (whether readers were lucky is a different question).

So yeah, not amazing at all, actually.  But I'm kind of amazed anyway!  I knew all this history, but the fact that Joe had to point it out in comments last time indicates that I had not fully absorbed it.  Wild stuff, man.  So at any rate, I thought it would be worth checking out this historical oddity here--a Strobl/Lockman joint, predictably enough.

Note fierce dragon.  Note also that HDL are wearing yellow, blue, and pink hats.  Great job, colorist! (Note, also that this cover is from a reprint--yes, they saw fit to reprint this thing, in 1979.  It's the same image, however).

I dunno--is it a bad sign when the narrative box uses the same opening gambit as innumerable hapless composition students?

He buys this amulet, because…he collects knickknacks?  Guh?  I mean, I suppose you could classify the various historical artifacts he tries to hunt down as such, but those are only of interest to him because they're valuable.  It may not be about the money  per se, but it's certainly about the potentiality of money.  Is this a big deal?  Maybe not, but the story certainly gets off on the wrong footing with this weird character misstep.  Also, note Scrooge's odd expression in the first panel there.  This story may not be Strobl's finest moment.

Here's where we get into the story, such as it is.  Perhaps you see the problem: we're just suddenly seeing dialogue between these random dudes, although who they are and why we should care remain mysterious.  Also-- and this is something we'll see a lot of--note that Lockman was unable to hit on a consistent voice for them--sometimes their lines are perfectly standard, and sometimes they sound like the narrator from popular racist Jello commercials.  The general lack of effort here is quite apparent.

Let us note, also, that, in spite of its length, this is not a twenty-one page story.  There's a whole helluva lot of pointless business that could easily have been cut out--like this elaborate song-and-dance in which Scrooge has started a scholarship for students from (sigh) "Chew-Land," and this guy takes advantage of that (lucky break for him, no?) to come to the US and steal back the item he'd sold Scrooge.

So after he's stolen the thing, the ducks follow him back to what I'm going to refer to as "China" to save us all some embarrassment.  Donald's line at the bottom there sums up a good part of the problem here: Yoo Foo? But that's Hum Chum!  Now granted, you can go back and check the names and figure this all out.  It's not literally incomprehensible.  But when you introduce these non-memorable characters with non-memorable names and then expect the reader to keep track of which one is which even as they're stealing one another's identities, and you haven't done anything to make anyone care…you may be asking too much.  I'm not saying you can't include some obfuscatory elements in your story if you're doing it intentionally and it's for a good cause, but that clearly isn't the case here: Lockman just constructed this story in this pointlessly convoluted manner because…well, because it was easy, I suppose.  Because he lacked the time/inclination/ability to revise.  And when you take the time to put everything together, what do you get?  Not much!

However, after a whole bunch of not-particularly-memorably hijinx to recover the statuette, here's this.  Right.  Okay.  "Dragon's Amulet."  Let's get rolling here.

…dammit, Western, you shameless teases.  First "The Flying Horse," now this.  I'll admit this business is sort of funny, though mainly because of the egregious dumbness of HDL, thinking they could just ride in the mouth of this papier mâché sculpture.  Unintentional humor based on characters behaving in ridiculous ways is something I could do without, but I suppose when it's all a story has going for it, I shouldn't complain.  And this whole business is a complete dead-end.  You could chop the whole "dragon sculpture" thing out of the story and no one would notice.


No, the purpose of the statue is THIS.  I don't know what to say.  Except that the idol looks like it's going to be sick in the bottom left there.

Actually, to give credit where due, this idea of a hidden Shangri-La place like this is pretty cool, even if it's not developed to any significant degree.  I think this story could have been substantially improved had Lockman cut out a lot of the superfluous bullshit and brought us here earlier to give us an idea of what the place is like. 

(Don Rosa, of course, bless him, would have come up with an elaborate, historically plausible way to connect the story to both "Tralla La" and "Return to Xanadu.")

…but no, all we really get here is an unexciting showdown with the baddies.  I would draw your attention here to the extent to which the dialogue is inconsistently done.  First, "Yoo Foo looks like big worm in cocoon."  Then, almost ostentatiously grammatically-correct pontificating about justice. And finally, referring to himself and the ducks in the third person for no reason.  Sheesh.

"Lunch and stuff."  Hokay.  Should I note that Kimonos are Japanese, whereas this country is clearly meant to be a version of China?  For that matter, they were also using yen--Japanese currency--at the beginning.  I think in the end, what it boils down to is this--not particularly surprising, but still pretty lame.

I will now gesture emptily at this conclusion.  What can be said?

Not much to recommend this story beyond historical interest.  I mean, I don't think Western at this time really had a lot going on, but even in that context, I wouldn't say this was one of their better efforts.

Anyway, I'm going on vacation as of tomorrow, so no more posts until July.  Not that that represents a particularly lengthy gap, but I thought I'd mention it anyway.  See y'all then.  Play nice while I'm gone.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll nitpick: Uncle Scrooge had another story that was over 14 pages long. It was drawn by Kay Writght and it appeared in Uncle Scrooge 188 (that's 1981, people). I don't expect it to be any better than the other material of the era, I thought I'd just mention it.

June 18, 2012 at 9:27 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

I am undone! Ack!

Well, that, at any rate, is essentially in the fourteen page *category.*

June 18, 2012 at 10:33 AM  
Blogger Carl Lund said...

I remember that story, and I have to say I liked it at least as a kid reading it. In fact, I'd probably still like it. I still don't fully understand the vitriol so many people have for the non-Barks Ducks of Western. Frankly, I still find most of this stuff superior to much of the European stuff that's been imported over the years. I'm sure some of that is colored by nostalgia, of course. I certainly respect divergent opinions, but, for me, most of the Western stuff was fun. A lot was eminently forgettable and a lot had shoddy characterization, but that's what I found with lots (by no means all) of other works as well.

June 23, 2012 at 11:54 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

I don't know--'round these parts, I think the vitriol is reserved for the more, well, crappy non-Barks Western stuff. There's plenty that I do like, and I think that's the case for most of the people who comment here. But when they were bad, to me at least, there was just something uniquely terrible about them.

July 1, 2012 at 1:46 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

To non-fannish, non-duck-scholarly little me, when “Dragon’s Amulet” was originally released, I didn’t see THAT much difference between it and the Scrooge stories I’d read in the previous year or so.

It seemed to fit nicely with what came before. It was even full-length, unlike the stories that followed it. It certainly wasn’t “Bird Bothered Hero” or something abominable like that. Overall, I liked it.

July 1, 2012 at 2:12 PM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

Just read our French localization (and yes, it is a localization, as in, rescripted… sadly) of this story, having found back the issue in my terribly messy collection of Disney comics.

I'd like to point out that in the version we got, it is not "yen" that is used, but "chen", an imaginary currency; and the amulet's price is "1000 chens", which makes it more plausible as something Scrooge would want for his trophy collection.

February 8, 2016 at 5:32 AM  

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