Tuesday, October 31, 2017

"The Strange Shipwrecks"

Happy Halloween! I've been kinda busy with grad school and social life stuff and whatnot, but I am goddamned if I will let this holiday pass by without commemoration. Well do I remember last Halloween: I posted entries on two OTHER ghost-pirate-themed stories. Little did I know that the true horror was coming a scant week later. Urgh.

Well, enough of that. Let us envelop ourselves in the comforting envelope of duck comics and forget for the nonce about the waking nightmare that our politics has become. That is decidedly not the good kind of frightening. Today's story is a Barks classic from 1958. I feel like this one's gone sort of under the radar, but it's well worth revisiting, especially on this Day of Terror.

Let us set the mood with this nice Don Rosa cover. It's understated, without a lot of the obsessive texturing that characterized his work. Shame this is a bit ruined by those logos, but I assume there's a logo-free version in one or another volume of the new Rosa Library. Good stuff! Even if it's not an image that actually appears in the story.

I really like the story just for this duck-family dynamics stuff, Donald appealing for work with this kind of earnest desperation and Scrooge just barely allowing HDL to appeal to the better angels of his nature. I mean, it's nothing special, I guess, but it's just solid and good and I can only wish that more writers had such an effortless grasp of these characters and their interactions. Can you even begin to imagine something like this from Rosa? Argh, sorry, I don't mean to engage in Rosa-bashing; you could insert one of any number of names there.

Let me also note that I don't remember registering the name "Doomgurgle Straits" in previous readings of this story, but that is one quality name.

Great gag. The way Barks takes his time in setting it up is highly effective. I definitely learned the idiom "hit the ceiling" from this story.

Anyway, now we will introduce the horror elements of the story, such as they are. What could possibly have unmanned these salty seadogs so? "Horriferocious." That's a solid word.

It's an unusual adventure in that it breaks our heroes into two separate groups. It's especially rare to see one given nephew acting alone like this. I suppose that's also characteristic of New Ducktales, but NOW IS NOT THE TIME. Honestly, reading Barks really isn't good for one's appreciation of that show.

Lookit that! Ain't she a beaut! Characteristic of the sort of stuff you'd later see from Marco Rota, but this is all Barks. Obviously. I don't know why I said that.

Ooh, here's another interesting thing about this story: it veers from the usual "terrible disguises that nonetheless somehow fool everyone" to "actually pretty darned great disguises that quite naturally fool everyone." Nice! I always like to see the Beagles being effective. Oh no, I hope I didn't spoil it! Seriously, if you've never read this story but for some reason you're reading this blog entry, please leave a comment explaining what the heck is up with you.

Also: Saltwind McSpray, hooray!

Even if you DON'T know these are Beagles (you dear sweet naive soul), you probably kinda suspect something is up. But I really like how the story sorta maintains this tension where they haven't exactly DONE anything, but you can't help waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Louie's internal monologue is also quality. For a while I was wondering what the deal with the razors was, but then I realized I was overthinking the situation: they don't have anything to do with their fake beards; they're just there because Beagles have to regularly shave to maintain their Disreputable Stubble. Natch!

Points also for the way Louie just zips up the stairs like that. I feel like a lesser writer might have provided some explication between CRUNK and ZOW, but Barks is not that writer!

And this shit is just SCARY. Probably the scariest thing here, really. The ghost pirates are all right, but this is the kind of thing you don't generally see in duck stories.

SUDDEN PIE FIGHT! Haven't we seen something like this before?

I'm surprised I was oblivious to the similarities before. It doesn't look as though Barks is actually copying his previous work, but I would guess he was taking it as inspiration at least. And why not, eh? Sudden pie fights are fun for all ages, though I suppose here it doesn't really match up with the atmosphere Barks had previously been creating.

I love 176-716's embarrassment about their plan not having profited them. Yet! They're only human! But boy...two years? I know that chronology isn't really important in Barks, but that really sticks out. I mean what are we, to believe that the past two years have otherwise been Beagle-free as they worked on this complicated ghost-pirate thing? Hah!

The fact that we know the whole thing's fake before the pirates even show up does dull the impact a little, but that is still some mighty fine flavor text from the disguised Beagle. Yay!

This is VERY WEIRD, because I'd absolutely previous read this story as an adult, but somehow, this was the first time it registered that 176-167 is joking about his brother being strapped into an execution device and blasted with electricity 'til dead. That is DARK, man. I do enjoy their bragging, though, and Scrooge's exasperation at having to listen to it.

Even though we know it's a fake...that's still pretty cool!

HAPPY HALLOWEEN! WOOOOOH!  Donald tangled in the rigging would've made a better subject for the cover art, really.

Ah...this is the sort of thing we can ALL enjoy, I think it's safe to say, even if we know it's not real.

Once again, Scrooge's annoyance is the REAL winner here. He puts himself on the same level as the Beagles, to everyone's amusement.

I like that "hey," but I've always felt that this felt like rather an abrupt end to the story. Well, endings never WERE Barks' strong suit, as I'm sure I've mentioned before. It's fine. And the story's fine, too. Okay, so it's nothing that fancy or special; it's a fairly workmanlike effort. But it has its charms and I'm glad to have it! Once again: HAPPY HALLOWEEN. Battered and bruised, we nonetheless do our best to slog forward.



Blogger Achille Talon said...

While I have now come to appreciate it better in the art department, I never really liked that story. Not spooky enough, I say! Wave after wave of Scooby Doo cartoons as a child dulled most of my interest in the classic Fake Monster Hoax plot, and I was just mad that Barks hadn't stuck a real ghost in there.

On the "we've been toiling at it for two years" thing, I suppose these could be a different contingent of Beagle Boys than the ones we're used to.

Also, how odd is it that rubber masks keep fooling people in comics? I feel like shaving their Questinable Stubble and putting on the fake beards (plus maybe some colored contact lenses) would have constituted a better disguise for the Beagles IRL than just sticking an entire fake rubber face onto their real one. With the prevalence of this type of con in Disney comicdom, I'm forced to assume Gyro Gearloose invented some sort of super-realistic mask material that broke out into public use, as a rare example of a wacky invention gaining lasting impact.

October 31, 2017 at 1:54 PM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

HUUUUUUM... Carl Barks Ghost Pirate story for Halloween on Geox blog two years in row? HUUUUUUM... And why this one this year? HUUUUMMMM.... Something not right here... Almost as if somebody is trying to tip me of... Wait a minute! Of course!

ATTENTION FELLOW DUCK COMICS REVUE COMMENTATORS! The man you think is your beloved GeoX isn't who he seems! It's actualy a Beagle Boy in disguise wanting to swindel you! Behold his true face...

(pulls with all his might)

What the...???

(realizes he is just pulling Geox face)
(slowly lowers his hand, puts head down in shame, turns back and silently walks to stand in the corner for the rest of the day)

...happy Halloween...

October 31, 2017 at 3:45 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

It's actually kinda weird that they turn out to be wearing masks, given that those could easily be regular Beagle faces, shaven and cleaned off a bit. Of course, in that case they'd also have to remove their masks, which we all know is very much against regulations.

October 31, 2017 at 7:58 PM  
Blogger Richie said...

How unusual to see a nephew referring to Donald by his first name without the "Unca". Jumped at me right away.

October 31, 2017 at 11:20 PM  
Blogger Loke said...

I notice that it's never really explained why the sailors in the previous shipwrecks couldn't have contacted Scrooge and explained what happened, after they got away. Obviously the logic of the story demands that the crewmen should have been killed in the shipwrecks, but since this is a Disney story you can't do that. So instead they've just disappeared without explanation.

October 31, 2017 at 11:25 PM  
Blogger Huwey said...

I think that Barks always depicted Scrooge as bad and cruel before he set his characteristics in "Only a Poor Old Man".

November 1, 2017 at 5:17 AM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

Good point, Loke! Perhaps we are expected to assume that the sailors, having deserted their posts, are afraid of repercussions if they surface with their story. Especially since they'd expect they wouldn't be believed.

I love lighthouses, pirate ghosts, and ghost ships, and I don't love this story. It's not just that the ghost turns out to be fake; that's also the case in The Old Castle's Secret, and I re-read that one every Halloween. Part of the problem is the fact that you point out: we know the ghost is fake before we see it. Not the case in Old Castle's Secret.

I actually do like the ending, though. I find it funny and satisfying, especially with climax of the repeated "every man for himself" bit.

Re: Donald in the rigging would have been a better choice for the cover art....true, but wouldn't Rosa have been required to feature Scrooge on a cover for "Uncle Scrooge"?

November 3, 2017 at 8:28 PM  
Blogger Christopher said...

To meander a little bit, when watching the opening credits to the original "Ducktales," I always wondered about the little clips that weren't taken from actual episodes, like the tiger hugging the triplets, or the alien snatching a bill from Scrooge in Space. Now I'm thinking that the pie fight between Scrooge, a nephew, and the Beagle Boys was actually taken from this story or the other scene referenced.

November 14, 2017 at 3:48 AM  

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