Friday, August 16, 2013

"Donald Duck and the Count of Monte Cristo"

There was a little talk about this story here, so I thought I'd give it a look.  I had read it before and objected pretty strongly to it; on rereading, I still object pretty strongly to it, while also recognizing to a greater degree its merits.

Now, this Disney Literature Classics English script clearly represents the nadir of translations, and possibly of the Western literary tradition in general, but I'm not going to spend a lot of time harping on this.  The story would be a LOT better with improved writing, but that's about all I have to say about it at this time.  However, I can't resist pointing out that second panel up there, because it really cracks me up.  Way to lay out Donald's motivations for us, Ms. or Mr. Translator Person!

But let's get down to tass bracks: the major stumbling block to enjoying this story is the way that Scrooge and Gladstone are portrayed.  As you can see, Gladstone is a pure, wholly unscrupulous criminal--a reductive interpretation of his character if ever there was one.

…and Scrooge is no better.  The idea here is that he wants to build this railroad, Gladstone having coerced his way into a partnership in the enterprise; the only problem is that the thing goes through Donald's house.  What to do?  Well, Scrooge trying to trick Donald into selling his property has Barksian precedent, but here we're going a few dozen steps further: they decide to plant this stolen money in Donald's house, framing him as part of a criminal gang and getting him thrown in jail (apparently when you go to jail, random people are totally free to just take all your stuff.  DON'T QUESTION IT).  Neither Scrooge nor Gladstone ever display a single qualm about this.

Now seriously, what the fuck?  Let's be clear: in spite of taking occasional jabs at him, I don't really hate Guido Martina, our writer here.  I've read quite a few Martina stories I've enjoyed.  Three of the four stories I've localized are Martina joints (as are my currently-stalled fifth effort and the purely notional sixth one--some day, people!).  I'm not his implacable foe.  He sometimes did extremely interesting and enjoyable stuff.  Nonetheless, when he portrays Scrooge in particular (Gladstone's portrayal is silly, but I don't feel that strongly about it) as this vicious sociopath, which he does with some frequency, things get bad.  In this particular instance, one could say in his partial defense that the only reason Scrooge and Gladstone are like this is because he needed a way to parallel the Dumas novel, but that's not much of an excuse, to me: part of the challenge of doing these literary adaptations is finding a way to make the familiar characters fit naturally into the new contexts.  If you're just going to deform said characters willy nilly, I don't know why you'd even bother.

Now, there are those who don't have the same problems I do with Martina's Scrooge.  Allow me to quote Kurt Appel in the afore-linked thread:

Guido Martina […] is a kind of second father of the Ducks who also had his own ideas about their characters. Martina's Scrooge is, at least in the 50s - as the first Bark´s Scrooge - very cruel, a person who wouldn't even hesitate to murder; Gladstone is - as the first Bark´s Gladstone - a crook. I think that for some fans it´s hard to imagine that the Disney cosmos is much larger than the Barks' cosmos but only reading Barks (and Rosa) would mean to renounce of some of the most poetic and fascinating Disney stories ever written.

Obviously, it's true that there are great stories not by Barks (or Rosa!).  That should go without saying.  But as for the rest of this--I could not disagree more.  It seems to be implying that Martina's portraying the characters in wildly non-Barksian ways is evidence of an artistic vision consciously different from Barks'.  But I don't believe this for a minute; I think that Martina was trying to mimic Barks and failing.  Plenty of writers have fallen victim to this: emphasizing Scrooge's less admirable qualities while losing track of the nuance that made him a great character in the first place.  Martina just does this more…spectacularly...than most.  Even if I'm wrong, though--even if Martina was intentionally striking out in a new direction--I don't care.  It was a bad direction.  I think this is to a large extent why his work is largely unknown in the US.  He was more prolific than Romano Scarpa (though, to be fair, he wasn't an artist), but Scarpa's stories, for all their faults, are on the whole much more humanistic, and thus more appealing.  


If you can get past that, there's certainly some enjoyable stuff in this story.  I'll skip past the part leading up to Donald finding the treasure: he escapes from prison, gets captured by Pete & Co, winds up marooned on this island, and bam, treasure.  As in the novel, there is a fellow prisoner who tells him about it, but in this version that's pointless, as he just finds it via random luck.

The best part of the story comes when he returns to the mainland seeking revenge.  First, I really like the way he deals with the guy using HDL as virtually-slave labor.  Way to exercise that paternal instinct!

…and I know I wasn't going to say much about this script, but seriously, does that announcement there not read like something from an indifferently-translated SNES game?  YES.  IT DOES.

The idea is that for some reason there's no one there to ride their railway, and when they go to investigate why, it turns out the destination is no longer available, because…

…Donald has purchased it and founded an independent country for disadvantaged children.  This shit is completely bonkers, but I can't help finding it totally charming.

FUCK YES!  That's the kind of class warfare I can get behind wholeheartedly.

So Scrooge and Gladstone have to  completely disassemble the railroad by hand and rebuild Donald's house.  And I kind of have a dilemma here, because on the one hand, I really, really like their comeuppance; on the other, I really, really think that they shouldn't have gotten into a situation in the first place where such payback was warranted.  I feel like there has to have been a way to tell a story very much like this, only with a slightly less amoral Scrooge.  No way Martina was ever gonna bother looking for any such thing, though!

Check out how Gladstone's able to just bend the hell out of those iron rails like it weren't no thang.  Now that's scary (unless they're made of plastic, or possibly rubber, as some sort of cost-saving measure--you don't encounter iron that's bright blue too often).


It actually is a very solid ending, and it's a case where it could really kick ass with better writing.  Ah, well.  Enough Martina-bashing for me.  If you're a publisher and you wanna know some good stories of his you could bring to the States, drop me a line.

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Anonymous Elaine said...

What I like most about this story is the ending, with the poor children's republic. And AzureBlue mentioned on the "Foreign Language" thread he started on DCF that he "still can't help but laugh at the part where Faria pops up in his cell after tunneling across the Atlantic for over a century"--me, too.

Re: the treatment of Scrooge's character... On the one hand, I agree with you that Martina's Scrooge (also outside of literary parodies) is often too unrelentingly nasty. On the other hand, I think in literary parodies it's better to use characters for whom we feel some sympathy as villains than to cast one-dimensional Villains (like Pete or Captain Hook) as the villains.

I realize that you argue that Gladstone and Scrooge are here turned into one-dimensional villains. I still feel they carry with them the penumbra of all the other stories we've seen them in, and thus are not just Bad Guys, as Captain Hook would be. I also realize that you're not arguing for Captain Hook instead, but for a more nuanced and complex villainy on Scrooge's part, if Scrooge is to be used.

On the third hand, I very rarely like the literary parodies as a Disney comics genre--and am mystified by how highly many are rated on Inducks--so I probably don't have sufficient investment in the genre to weigh in on the question of how far it's acceptable to warp one of Our Characters to fit the storyline.

August 17, 2013 at 1:37 AM  
Blogger Chris Barat said...


Leaving aside the mischaracterizations of Scrooge and Gladstone, there's a LOT wrong with this story. Who would build a railway just for BILLIONAIRES in the first place? It doesn't even make sense in context because jet travel began to take off (no pun intended) in the 50s. No wonder the project became the ultimate "railway to nowhere." That being said, I find it ironic that this story was released the same year as another off-the-wall "railroad story" -- ATLAS SHRUGGED. :-)

Re Kurt Appel's comments: Describing the very early Gladstone as a "crook" is highly questionable. Being a "conoisseur of the fast buck" doesn't automatically mean breaking the law. Breaking faith with others, perhaps, but not doing something actionable. In that respect, Martina may have misunderstood what Barks was doing in those early tales.

"Check out how Gladstone's able to just bend the hell out of those iron rails like it weren't no thang."

Maybe it was Rearden Metal. :-)


August 17, 2013 at 1:30 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Maybe it was Rearden Metal. :-)

Yes! That is awesome!

August 17, 2013 at 2:16 PM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

I recall a story I once read long, long time ago (Come to think of it, I think Luciano Bottaro was the artist but I woudn't bet my money on it) where Donald and Gladstone where racing to find some sort of a pirte treasure and Gladstone... Hired The Beagle Boys as his goons(!!!!!) to help him stop Donald and his crew o_O

(BTW -> It would be a funny story if Scrooge would gone evil for some reason and would try to hire The Beagle Boys to do his dirty work and they would be all confuse about the whole situation)

Also - So Gladstone basicaly ued his luck for evil in this story? By DuckTales logic this explains why he got kicked in the ass at the end...

Overall It's odd that the writer simply didn't use Rockerduck, Glomgold, McSue or some sort of financial theme villian rather then Scrooge and Gladstone. Odd, very odd...

August 17, 2013 at 3:57 PM  
Anonymous Debbie said...

Scrooge and Gladstone were well-known characters by 1957, as Glomgold hadn't appeared much and Rockerduck wouldn't be created until 1961. Perhaps the writer also felt it would be more of an emotional betrayal for Donald's own family to turn on him than for someone like Glomgold, Peg-Leg Pete or Chisel McSue to do so.

Also, one thing that is odd that I've noticed about the translations of these stories...the characters sure say "Damn" a lot...

August 18, 2013 at 2:04 AM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

“How unfortunate! Daisy will be offended and she won’t talk to me again!”


Please tell me this is bad Japanese dubbing, a la Speed Racer! Just speed up the cadence, emphasize the wrong syllables, and add something like “Ha-Ha!” at the end!

And, good Disney comics dialogue continues to dry-up, rot, and die in my brain every day! So very sad…

August 19, 2013 at 7:32 PM  
Blogger Abraham Lincoln said...

I agree with Matilda mainly. To get on a little Captain Hook rant that no one else will care about, I really wish Disney had managed keeping the original character completely intact in their depiction. He still certainly wasn't the villain with the most profound depth, but the original was still quite interesting.

@Debbie and Joe- The translation does seem a little lacking, does it not?

However, you certainly can't say that they failed to get the general meaning accross.

August 19, 2013 at 9:56 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

I think cavemen were likely able to "get the general meaning across" via pointing and grunting. I'd like to hope we'd aim a little higher these days, though.

August 20, 2013 at 2:27 AM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

Hey, I just found this note on the ground... hum...

"Dear Geox;

Please reveiw "Billions to sneeze at", "A little something special", "Cheating Swimmers"" or that Gyro fan fiction comics Pan Milus/Mr. M did. I would be ever so thankfull

~Uncle Scrooge;

I love money!"

August 24, 2013 at 4:42 AM  
Anonymous Sglaili said...

"It would be a funny story if Scrooge would gone evil for some reason and would try to hire The Beagle Boys to do his dirty work and they would be all confuse about the whole situation"

At last for the «Scrooge hires the Beagle Boys» part we have

Zio Paperone e le memorabili memorie - Topolino #1187

Sorry, but I'm not sure about a corrispondence in Inducks

August 26, 2013 at 5:56 AM  
Blogger Adamant said...

> I feel like there has to have been a way to tell a story very much like this, only with a slightly less amoral Scrooge.

Super late comment, but there totally is: This story is structurally EXTREMELY similar to "Duck Avenger Haunts the Haunted Castle" (, which does indeed feature slightly less amoral versions of Scrooge and Gladstone as the antagonists.

It also has Gladstone shooting Donald in the chest with a fucking gun. Yes. (Don was wearing a bulletproof vest at the time, but Gladstone did NOT know that.)

February 10, 2018 at 9:01 AM  
Blogger Ze Mastor said...

Yes, this story needed a better framing device. It's just absurd to think that, after getting Donald thrown in prison so he (Scrooge) can demolish the house and build the railway... how could anyone expect their relationship to return to the status quo in the next issue? Donald's known for his temper, and he's not the type to just take this. In fact he'd be completely justified in never speaking to Uncle Scrooge again.

Possible framing devices: a) Donald is telling HDL the Monte Cristo bedtime story, and they dream up going back to 1815 and helping Edmond Ducktes escape from prison and get revenge b) Uncle Scrooge tells Donald and HDL some previously-unknown family history about a French ancestor who framed an innocent duck back in 1815 and learned a huge lesson when his victim came back and got revenge c) Gyro Gearloose invents a time machine that goes back to Napoleonic times, Donald and HDL have an adventure, write a book, come back to the current day and find that their book had become a literary classic.

What exists is just terrible. Taking Chris Barat's comment further... what makes Gladstone and Scrooge think that a bunch of millionaires/billionaires are going to take the train in the first place? The departure point is Duckburg. So exactly how many millionaires live there? Or do they have to fly to Duckburg from all over the world to take a train to Brightvalley, the millionaires resort town? If that's the case, why isn't there a private airport at Brightvalley, negating the need for a 1000 km train ride?

"Brightvalley Children's Republic"? Children eventually grow up, so what happens to them? Do they get expelled from Brightvalley? What about the kids' parents? Or all of them are orphans? How can a "court" in Brightvalley enforce a ruling that's outside their jurisdiction (rebuilding Donald's house in Duckburg). This is just scratching the surface to "things that don't make sense".

Speaking as someone who's a Monte Cristo enthusiast, and a casual fan of Carl Barks and Don Rosa's take on Uncle Scrooge, I panned this on reddit as "Not recommended". I like comics, I like ducks, I like Carl Barks and Don Rosa, but I don't like this!

August 13, 2021 at 4:09 PM  

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