Friday, December 23, 2016

"Return to Bear Mountain"

So I had this great idea: a Bear-Mountain-themed Christmas! What fun! But then the time came to reread "Return to Bear Mountain," and I realized: huh. This story's kinda bad, and not in a way that makes me feel hopefully-entertainingly-ranty. Just kind of blah-bad. WHAT HAVE I DONE? Still, I DO like the idea of this blog being a repository for all Bear Mountain stories, and if nothing else it's interesting to see a rare non-Rosa sequel to a Barks story, so HERE WE GO. I guess.

The question we have to ask is: what's the point of a sequel, exactly? A Barks sequel, that is; forget about movies for the time being. Spinning it positively, you could say they're labors of love: everyone loves Barks, so riffing on his work is an opportunity to give us a new perspective on fondly remembered stories and characters. Though I like some more than others, I think this is true of all of Rosa's sequels. However, there's also another possibility: you look at this, you look at "Return of the Micro-Ducks," and you get the very strong impression that they were less products of love than sheer laziness. As in, hey, everyone loves this this Barks story, so we can just piggyback on the premise and everyone'll overlook our crappy storytelling out of residual affection for the original! Yay us! I mean, making a good sequel certainly isn't easy. You have to try to take the original premise in new and interesting directions while still maintaining what made it good in the first place. A tall order, and even Rosa didn't always get it right. But one gets the very real impression that some writers weren't even trying.

According to inducks, the official title of this story is "Crazy Christmas on Bear Mountain," but it appears that no publication has ever actually called it anything like that. For the best, really; there's nothing notably crazy about it. Also, it makes it sound as if the story's trying to one-up the original. It's written by Lars Bergström and Tom Anderson, and drawn by Daniel Branca--all people whom I associate very strongly with Gladstone-era comicking (yes, this particular story was published by Disney, but YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN). I could be wrong--inducks doesn't, as far as I know, let you filter stories by publisher within a country--but I'd bet that that's where the great bulk of their stories--those that have appeared in the US at all--have been printed. I wonder why that is, assuming it's true? I suppose in large part because they generally produced relatively conservative stuff, and if you're trying to serve a niche market, you get a bit skittish about alienating people by showing them how wild these things could get. As much as I respect them, though, and appreciate what they did, I think this instinct didn't serve them too well artistically, as I find a lot of this stuff pretty leaden and dull, present entry very much included. Not much of a Branca fan, me, though of course I'm sorry he died so young.

Well, I'll take what Christmas cheer I can get, and this opening is cheery enough, I suppose. The "Bear Mountain" sequels are certainly more Christmasy than the original, I'll grant you that much. BUT WHAT SURPRISE IS OMINOUSLY LURKING IN THE BACKGROUND?!?

"Scrooge invites family to holiday home for Christmas with ulterior motives?" Awfully similar premise to "The Blight Before Christmas" (not that I'm accusing anyone of plagiarism), though I'm sure you could find lots of stories with similar premises. Point is, though: man, I wish this were as good as "The Blight Before Christmas."

...given that this little mystery is completely abandoned and never touched on again, we can only assume that the answer to Gus's question is "encroaching senility." I surmise that at some point in the preparation of this story, there must have been the idea that Grandma--yes, I'm going to SPOIL the ending, sort of, early on; please try not to be too upset--had some sort of closer relationship with the dang gnatlings, and that they would be the ones who mysteriously cleaned her sleigh, but NOPE! As it stands, these four panels are just completely worthless, contributing absolutely nothing to the story except filling up space! Well done, gents!

Yay. Note that in this instance, "the whole family" does not--as per normal procedure--include Gladstone. Makes sense, really; the thing's hectic enough without having to artificially shove the whole "luck" business in there somehow.

Also: ha ha, Donald almost said "hell." Though I'm pretty sure he's actually said it in some British publication somewhere, so not that amazing.

MORE TIME-WASTING. Not quite as egregious as the thing with the sleigh, inasmuch as this DOES come back, sort of, briefly, but this really is not great storytelling.

Surprisingly specific Barks reference there. Artificial as all get-out, but, I must admit, still sorta fun. Shove your Barks references into your sequels hard and deep, people! It will give your story a probably-undeserved appeal! Sadly, this is about all we get here. Just for the record, the reference is this:

Let's note, that this sheds some light on the long-unanswered question: which nephew was asking for oatmeal in "Christmas on Bear Mountain?!?" I must know! According to this sequel, the answer is: Dewey. Well...maybe. But there's also the uncomfortable possibility that the oatmeal-requester was speaking behalf of all the nephews, in which case, this doesn't answer anything! Dammit!

Let me note one more thing here: "I don't think you'll be deprived of your oatmeal this time." So there are a lot of obnoxious prescriptivist grammarians who insist you SHOULD NOT USE THE PASSIVE VOICE, on the grounds that it conceals agency, it's overly wordy, and it's clumsy. They're WRONG, of course: sure, the passive can do these things, but active clauses can be just as wordy and clumsy, and they can evade agency just fine. Often, they, the grammarians, provide examples that demonstrate that they don't actually even know what the passive voice is. So, this whole thing is dumb as hell. Use the passive when appropriate! Use the active when appropriate! And stop feeling superior just because you've capable of regurgitating bits of arbitrary grammatical pedantry!

Still! Look what we have HERE: an actual, grammatical passive, being used to evade agency! Just who did this "depriving," Donald? WHO WAS IT?!? That's right--YOU! YOU deprived your innocent nephews! Don't try to hide it! Especially not in this weird, clumsy way! Though actually, it's not at all clear to me in the original whether HDL actually wanted oatmeal, or whether it was just part of the joke! Why am I shouting?!? What do you mean, "you don't think you'll be deprived?" You don't think YOU will deprive them again, because of the awesome magnanimity you've developed since "Bear Mountain?" Or you don't think they'll be deprived because Scrooge isn't likely to just throw around lobster? Why am I thinking about this? ARGH somebody make me stop!

Anyway, now that I've talked about this dopey throwaway reference more than I will about anything else in the story, let's move on, shall we?

Well, this is a[n obvious] reference too, though it feels like this one was somehow inevitable.

...stop trying to make me feel suspense. I do not feel suspense. Not even a little bit.

And, again, stop wasting our time! Donald can't cut a tree down, but then he can. This is meant to be contributing to the mystery and all, but I say unto you, once again: it is not useful. It contributes to nothing. I want it gone.

Yes, fine, so here's why we're all mucking about up here. Please enjoy.

Given the sequelly nature of this whole thing, you'd think it would be more bear-oriented. But in fact, we just get this one brief chase sequence that goes nowhere and is apparently only in here at all because the creators wanted to justify the title. BLAH.

Um. Yes. So. This. Uh.

JEEZES, I have nothing helpful to say about this. It's SO cutesy and twee and annoying and wildly tonally off from anything you'd want or expect from any Disney story, including this one. Dammit. Stupid little...

Alas, Mothbeard failed to become a beloved recurring character. How this is possible, we may never know. Or care.

You are not making things better. I don't want an explanation. I just want you to go away and never come back.

Well, to conclude on a bright note, I believe I've noted before that I'm a total sucker for a festive tableau! And there are no goddamn gnatlings pictured, so triple word score!


Yes. Well. Whatever. Here they are and here we are and HAPPY HOLIDAYS. Here's this story. It is. It exists in the physical universe. It fills up space on a page, and now I've written this thing about it that fills up space on the internet, and you have read it, and thus the circle of life is complete.  That's about all you need to know.

More Bear Mountain for ya on Christmas day, but don't hold your breath expecting a gnatling reprise.

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Blogger Achille Talon said...

Don't know on which side the change was done, but in our printing of this story (which left me pretty much as thoroughly uninterested as it did you, though I enjoyed the cutesly gnatling stuff a little more), the little people are just referred to as "lutins" (technically more related to 'leprechaun', but this is also how we call "Christmas elves"), making their presence here a little wee bit more justified.

December 23, 2016 at 7:59 AM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

Maybe all the pointles scenes/filler where to replace a cut-out subplot about Gladstone, Fethry, April, May and June and Ludwig Von Drake who are pissed off that they aren't good enough to be conisder part of the "WHOLE family", and after geting drunk and sending Scrooge and Grandma an angry, sarcastic letter about how glad they are they aren't invited, they decide to thrown THE BEST CHRISTMAS PARTY EVE on their own (Hijinks Ensues!)?

December 23, 2016 at 9:15 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Yup, I have to admit, your plot sounds way radder.

December 23, 2016 at 9:55 AM  
Anonymous Daniel J. Neyer said...

I remember liking this story's setup (getting together all the recurring characters s for a tumultuous Christmas gathering in the mountains) but being very disappointed by the execution. Bringing in a bunch of little gnomes out of nowhere? Really?

I still really like Branca's art, though--he's easily my favorite of the artists that I still think of as the "Gutenberghus Group" (a term which will instantly give a Disney-comics fanatic a means of deducing my age).

I also have one little niggle to make--the sleigh-runners business actually does have some point to it. Check the story again--Grandma makes it clear that she's using it as an excuse to get Gus out of the house while she wraps his present. I don't have the comic handy, but I still recall that bit.

December 23, 2016 at 11:04 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Ha! Well do I remember the Gutenberghus Group! Notwithstanding the presumed tribute to Johannes Gutenberg, I find that name pretty darned ugly. Maybe something was lost in translation.

As for the sleigh issue: looking back at the story, you're probably right that that was what was intended but saying that Grandma "makes it clear" might be pushing it. The only evidence is the two panels after the ones I printed here. "Gus'll be a little while in the barn," she says. "That will give me enough time to wrap his present." And that's ALL. So it requires a fair bit of inferring to come to the conclusion that that's her motive, and the question remains: if she knew the sleigh didn't actually need greasing, exactly how long did she think he'd have to spend in the barn?

December 23, 2016 at 11:24 AM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

So, as I commented on the Bear Mountain post, this story didn't do much for me. But my then-quite-young godson liked it when it came out here and re-read it on subsequent Christmases. So maybe the little people work better for, well, little people.

The other positive vote I heard for this story came in a context where I wouldn't have expected it. When I posted my list on DCF of the stories where female characters shine, one commenter mentioned this story as a story where he thought Grandma Duck came off well. He thought it was cool that she had this understanding of and relationship with the local forest gnomes! It's true that this knowledge does give her some authority in the story.

And in re: Achille's comment on the gnomes as elves (same name and species as Santa's elves)...I think he's got a point. Both linguistically and visually these little folks aren't reminiscent for us of Santa's elves, but I think they are for some Europeans. It's interesting that outside of Santa's North Pole setup, we use the word "elf" to mean quite different creatures. They may be dainty tiny creatures, but mostly they are human-sized gorgeous immortal creatures (thank you, Tolkien!). We use other words like "gnome" or "leprechaun" for the little people who look like these guys. (I'm not even going to discuss the word "gnatling," ick. Who thought the association with gnats was a good idea? Tom Anderson?) And these guys don't look like Santa's elves as usually depicted here, apart from the pointy ears. Our Santa's elves don't usually have such high conical hats--they have floppy pointy hats, like Santa's, and they have curled-up-pointy shoes. However, I observe that also in the story "A Magic Christmas" by S. & U. Printz-Pahlson/Vicar (printed in SPG 239), similar-looking gnomes living in the forest nearby the castle play a key role. IIRC they are also called "lutins" in French, and I assume they are also meant to be associated with the elven helpers of Père Noël.

December 23, 2016 at 8:43 PM  
Blogger Richie said...

Eeeh, I don't know. Without having read the story proper, judging from the scanned panels alone, it seems like an agreeable enough little affair. There's cool personality touches in there and yes, the gnomes' inclusion and all is cutesy, but it's all inoffensive really.

When this blog has reviewed the likes of Bird Bothered Hero, the Easter story with Donald aggressively out of character or that Daisy's "was this actually greenlighted?" Diary entry, I feel the tone of this review to be too critical of a flawed but ultimately harmless story.

I'd trade it in a heartbeat for Pan Milus' version though.

December 24, 2016 at 2:28 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

I don't know. You're right of course that this story isn't as bad as some I've written about, but even if I'm being maximally generous, I couldn't call it anything better than "mediocre," which is its own thing: if a story's actively terrible, you can at least feel strong emotions about it. With this one--or so my impression is--it's hard to feel much of anything, other than gnatling-related annoyance. It's just an enervating experience. It's like the guy who dies and neither heaven nor hell will take him in, so he's doomed to wander the world for all eternity. What a bizarre comparison THAT was.

Of course, your mileage may vary!

December 24, 2016 at 3:13 AM  
Anonymous Drakeborough said...

I remember reading this story last year because of the title, and I was disappointed about it. It's not that it doesn't relate with the original tale (except for the fact that Scrooge's cabin is called Bear Mountain), it's just that I didn't like it as a story.

Also, while I'm not against the supernatural in a duck comic (quite the opposite: it can provide great stories if done well), the elves buisness in this story just seems nonsense to me

"it's interesting to see a rare non-Rosa sequel to a Barks story": I'm trying to make a list.

"According to this sequel, the answer is: Dewey": well, except that there's really no way of telling who is who, even looking at the colours of the hats. Anyway, the lobster reference is absent from the Italian version. I wonder if it was removed by the translator, or if it wasn't there in the original and was added by the English translator.

December 24, 2016 at 5:52 AM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

Drakeborough--It's Donald's response to the boy's comment which singles out Dewey as the one who asked for oatmeal.

December 24, 2016 at 8:21 AM  
Anonymous Drakeborough said...

Ops... thanks for pointing that out. These images are too small to easily read the text, and I should have zoomed it or open it in another page before posting my previous message. Maybe I was conditioned by my memory of the Italian translation, as Donald don't call any of his nephews by name in that panel (plus, Daisy has a line here. I wonder which version is closer to the original).

December 24, 2016 at 10:40 AM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

So Dewey prefers oatmeal over lobsters. About time one of the nephews got some sort of a unique charactersitic.

December 24, 2016 at 12:44 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

Addendum to my earlier comment on elves/gnomes/lutins: the European Christmas elves probably aren't thought of as helpers of Father Christmas, unless that comes via American media. They are more like the Scandinavian tomte/nisse/tonttu, the household or farm guardians who were dragooned into service as Christmas gift-bringers. So they have an association with Christmas which is independent of the Father Christmas figure. And they look more or less like the gnomes in this story (and in "A Magic Christmas"): pudgy, males with long beards, tall conical hats (usually red).

December 24, 2016 at 5:49 PM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

So… I presumed you'll be reviewing "Another Christmas on Bear Mountain" next… will you do this ( on Boxing Day then?

December 25, 2016 at 8:29 AM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

Granted, the thing's only one page long.

December 25, 2016 at 9:13 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Ooh, good catch, though it appears to be more a riddle in comic form than an actual story. Still, IF I COULD SOMEHOW OBTAIN A COPY, I could probably google-translate my way through it. Seems unlikely, however!

December 25, 2016 at 9:15 AM  
Anonymous Jannes said...

Arrgh, so many of these damn Duck comics are kind of maddening to me, since they seem to have a lot of potential, but more often than not turn out mediocre, or plain stupid due to the strangest decisions. That goes only for the story, I actually really, really like the Branca art, although admittedly it took me years to notice it... As a kid he didn´t speak to me as much as Barks, who I kind of just accepted as the gold standard, or the best Italian guys, who had really bold, graphic styles with sharp and confident lines... Cavazzano actually left a deep impression on me, his style is kind of in my dna. But when I took a second look at Branca's stuff in the last years, I started to like it a lot- he was a very intuitive artist, his stuff is not constructed at all- he often said that he started drawing the panels right away, without a lot of pre-planning and -scribbling, which makes a lot of sense. His figures and settings are really dynamic, everything flows- although that could differ a bit from story to story, sometimes he seemed to feel obliged to put a little extra work into the backgrounds, which actually made the result less intersting and more static. I guess the opinion on Duck artists is often based on the look of their Ducks and if it seems to be too "off-model" for the specific taste, but since I grew up with many wildly differing Duck versions coexisting peacefully that never bopthered me as much. This certainly doesn´t mean that I wouldn´t have an opinion on the style, it just wasn´t based on how much it resembled what I would consider the "right" way to draw Ducks, since there were many. Anyway, Branca- great artist (also on the covers, he did some of my favourites), often left with mediocre stories to draw. That is really not unusual for Disney comics- or mainstream comics in general. There are more great artists or cartoonists than writers in this field. That doesn´t say anything about the medium itself (which is awesome) and everything about the standing and reputation of it. Great writers don´t usually go into comics first- also, not every great writer would be a great comics writer and...
Oh man, I just started rambling again! Branca, dammit! Did i mention that I like this guy? Anyway, another Barks sequel drawn by him came to my mind- one of the holy cows, holier than even Scrooges first steps an the page- they went back to "Back to the Klondike", it doesn´t get much holier than that! When I read it, I was actually stunned, since I didn´t know there were any Goldie-stories not by Barks or Rosa- and here´s one that takes place at the Klondike, shows Goldie singing at the Saloon and to Scrooge and Blackjack... and it´s still pretty dull. I´ll take it anyway since it had it´s moments (Scrooge and Blackjack sitting on a couch, listening to Goldie sing is kind of sweet), but they didn´t do a lot with it. But at least there weren´t any magical creatures appearing out of nowhere, so it had that going for it.

January 1, 2017 at 9:04 AM  
Anonymous Jannes said...

I wanted to link the story, but couldn´t find it, so I looked it up in my comics bin- turns out it wasn´t drawn by Branca, but for who else but Vicar! Here it is: So no Branca-Connection, certainly no christmas- or Bear Mountain-connection, but at least a Barks sequel and of some sort of interest. Vicar's art isn´t as dynamic as Branca's, but really solid, as usual, and certainly reminiscent of Barks, so it´s a nice fit.

January 1, 2017 at 2:18 PM  
Blogger Specialist Spectrus said...

Hey GeoX,

I came across this story which also seems to be a wannabe Bear Mountain sequel... except that it's completely confused. Vicar's art is about the only thing I can stomach about it!

Oh by the way, Merry Christmas!

December 24, 2019 at 6:08 PM  

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