Tuesday, August 20, 2019

"King of the Golden River"

Hmmm...does that title remind anyone of anything? I will note that given that this was first published in 1961, some three years after Barks' (and several years after the Barks story was first published in Italy), and given that the English title here is a literal translation of the Italian, it's at least possible that there was some influence (and I do wonder whether this was chosen for localization due to the perceived Barks assocation--this was originally going to be called "The Other Golden Helmet"--good call not sticking with that, guys). Yes, I'm perfectly aware that Barks got the idea from a story by John Ruskin, but which one seems like a more likely influence? As we'll see, this might have certain thematic similarities with its predecessor. How well are these executed? Well...note that we're talking about Guido Martina here, and place your bets accordingly.

Actually, forget it; there's no way I can get through this, or even partway through, keeping my opinion somehow hidden. This story is not very well-plotted or pleasant. I do have some affection for ol' Guido; he wrote some stories that I enjoy a great deal. But he also wrote some pretty dire stuff, and this falls more on that end of the spectrum. It's one of those things that you'd barely call "plotted" at all: it's the very epitome of "made up as he went along:" this happened and then this happened and then this happened and let's not think too hard about the causal links between these things. This stuff about space stations that opens the story, for instance. Don't expect it to be relevant later on except in the most dubious, tangential way.

I should take a moment to note that Joe Torcivia's script is professional as ever; that is in no way the problem, and indeed, it probably lends this whatever level of readability it has. It certainly serves as a counterpoint to the trash IDW is trying to sell us these days. But I kind of think the story was beyond salvation.

Seriously, especially in the first part, the bewildering contortions this takes are extremely hard to summarize without sounding like a madman. Let me try: HDL gets this letter from Gladstone and he shrieks in joy so they think he's mad at them and so try to hide away in their tree fort, only he's sabotaged it so they can't climb up, so they decide to invent a way to nullify gravity so they won't fall (as you do), and as they're doing this Donald comes back home, having confirmed he has the winning ticket, only then it's destroyed in an explosion, so HDL run away again and this time make it into their tree fort, and Donald tries to climb after them only the ladder malfunctions so he decides HE should come up with an anti-gravity potion and goes to see Gyro for the purpose and while he's there HDL decide to futz around some more with their chemistry set and accidentally summon this ancient King of the Golden River and...okay. That's about enough of that.

Given all this nonsense, is it too trivial to point out that GLADSTONE'S LUCK DOES NOT WORK THAT WAY? If he gives Donald the ticket, it's not going to somehow maintain the luck on its own; it will NOT WIN. So there.

Two entries in a row with the evergreen "Duck in the Iron Pants" line. It will never die. If you were a fan coming to this stuff but you didn't know the older story, you might well think, why the HELL does this weirdly specific phrase keep cropping up? Not that I don't approve.

Anyway, back to where we left off, with our titular King. I suppose it's small beans compared to some of the story's larger problems, but I cannot help but be irritated by the completely random-ass way he was released. I mean, obviously this is just another aspect of the make-it-up-as-you-go aspect of the story, but I can't help feeling that with just a modicum of thought and care, it could have been made significantly more plausible-sounding. As it is, the whole thing just seems completely arbitrary. And I am annoyed. ANNOYED!

Anyway, Scrooge gets involved, again in a very dubious way. On the one hand I appreciate all the Barks Books there (and one non-Barks Book, which, fine); on the other, it seems unfair to position this story on the same level as those.

And now, some backstory. If you thought the actual meat of this was going to be anything like that other story...prepare for disappointment. It's not even a real river. Just one of those dreaded Metaphor Rivers.

A more significant problem is that we get zero idea of ol' Dondorado's character progression: he was bad in the past, apparently, but now he's good. Why? Entirely unknown. Considering that he sort of awkwardly floats over this whole story, it would probably be nice to have some idea of who he is and how he got there. But alas--such is not the Guido Martina Way.

Still, whatever you think of the story, you can't complain about Giovan Battista's artwork. I know it's a point that I and others have made before, but compare this to any non-Barks scribbler at Western and...well, you can't. Because there's no comparison.

Yes! The Amazon IS very vast! Good call, Scrooge! But there's only one country in South America that starts with 'A!' Of course, that's neither here nor there, as the river only runs through Venezuela, Peru, and Brazil! I dunno. I realize that the go-to explanation for geography in Disney comics that doesn't make sense is "oh, it's not *actually* supposed to be the real world; it's just meant to be kind of spiritually reminiscent of the real world." But that explanation doesn't satisfy me in this instance. Since a lot of the plot revolves around the location being unknown, the fact that the geography in question was just lazily thrown together like this feels...well, lazy. And not satisfying! This is a point I'm I've made before about these sorts of stories (possibly even in this very entry), but if the writing tried just a LITTLE harder, it could be SO MUCH BETTER. The effort-to-reward ratio is SO low. And yet...

I mean COME ON, we're supposed to think that the country might not even be in South America? That's just lame, lame, lame.

Anyway, they have to go together because Donald knows, more or less, where the place is, and Scrooge has the cash, and I hope you like the above image, because you will be seeing it again. Here's the thing: I could roll with the slapdash plotting here if the characterization were strong. I don't need much of an excuse to want to hang out with my favorite ducks. But the characterization is...this, and oh boy do I ever hate it. Scrooge and Donald both are portrayed as these repellent, utterly self-interested characters with no redeeming traits in sight. This sort of thing is okay in limited doses in some sorts of stories, but in a long adventure narrative like this, it's just death. Really, really bad. Oh, but HDL provide a counterbalance to that, don't you see? Well...yes, but on the other hand, no. They aren't painted with any more nuance than their uncles, and I can't say I find their goody-two-shoes act compelling either. The whole thing is just this incredibly ham-handed morality tale that does nobody any good. Compare this to the Barks "Golden River" and the deficiencies here come into sharp focus.

Would you believe this thing is a three-part story? Those are pretty uncommon; why was in decided that this, of all things, deserved the honor? The main result of that is a lot of tedious shit where nothing meaningful happens, like all this damn business with the donkeys.  Even though this entry is going to be too damn long, note that there is a lot I'm leaving out for lack of interest.  Blah blah blah and blah.

Hey look, it's the exact same joke we've seen in "Saturnin Farandoul!" Just ONE of the many reasons Guido Martina is so beloved far and wide!

The art is basically the thing you can enjoy in this story, so let's take a moment to appreciate it. Battista Carpi certainly doesn't let down his side of the story. Dig those long shadows.

...and now, I drag you back to earth. It's funny because in the first panel they look like they don't hold each other in contempt, but then it turns out they do! Megalolz, for sure. Don't break the fourth wall, dude! You think I want to be implicated in this?

The question that you have to ask: how exactly do they plan to manage it so only they get the treasure and the other doesn't? You're in the middle of nowhere. It's a big, bulky treasure, with no way to hide it. Even if you're willing to go along with their dickheadedness, this huge practical concern gets in the way of taking this seriously. The only answer you might come up with is, oh, they're so blinded by their greed that they're not thinking clearly. But don't pretend you think that's authorial intent; you and I both know that you're just rationalizing--and not in a satisfying way either; sure, you could imagine that they momentarily thought or failed to think along those lines, but in an extended narrative like this? Even as cartoon logic, that falls flat. Splat.

Well, there's this. This is the part that you might want to compare to the infinitely superior Barks story: do a good deed; get rewarded. Okay. I mean, the story could still be redeemed at this point if Donald and Scrooge actually learned a lesson from all this. Think that's very likely? Do you think this "gesture of kindness" business will be handled in a subtle and intelligent way? There is literally NO WAY to answer these questions.

Yup, Scrooge isn't just avaricious; he also HATES FLOWERS. Why not? Including any sort of shading or subtlety in his characterization is just asking TOO MUCH. Might as well have him kick a puppy, just to show how EEEVIL he really is. I jest, of course. Even this story would never descend to that level of self-parody. Thank goodness for small favors.

Meanwhile, of course, veering violently to the other side of the spectrum, HDL are so saintly that they're willing to sacrifice their lives that a flower might live slightly longer. I'm sorry; I wish I had something clever to say (okay: I do like seeing Scrooge falling and braining himself), but I simply CAN'T EVEN with this story. I literally can't even, even.

Remember how in the Barks story, it was kind of intentionally unclear whether the gold was actually caused by magic or whether it was some sort of scientific thing? Well, here, you just do a good deed, or the Martina's idea thereof, and poof, magic shit happens in a strange, impossible-to-visualize way.

Well...here's this again. See? I was not exaggerating even a tiny bit when I said you'd see this again. I'm actually kind of impressed in a perverse way by the bull-in-a-china-shop obviousness of everything here.


I like that "coincidence?" as though this is something that could just happen by random happenstance. You really do have to wonder: just who is this for, anyway? I can only imagine the dimmest, most malevolent of toddlers enjoying this, and I feel like he's probably too busy tweeting to find the time.

I think Scrooge has come off a little bit worse here, what with kicking flowers and dogs, but don't count Donald out, either! He's entirely willing to let strangers suffer! I really like how he mocks the guy by taking a drink right there in front of him. And by "like" I of course mean "despise." I don't want to sound humorless or anything, but seriously, fuck this story.

Dondorado is extremely correct in that last panel, and HDL would do well to cut their losses and get outta there with the treasure.

I mean...you can't just do this. You can't portray your characters as having zero redeeming qualities and then expect us to buy this kind of sentimentalism. "Not usually," indeed. If you imagine that you can have stuff that happens in other stories do your work for you here...well, you can't. Forget it.

This bit really shows up the nonsensicalness of the idea that either of them can somehow take it all for themselves. Maybe they should both just fall in and die. That would be appropriate.

OH HO! Were you wondering when that awkward anti-gravity thing would be shoehorned back in? No? Well TOO BAD. Because now you know.

I'd like to know what Martina thinks "weightless" means if they're still falling like this. "Very light" is not synonymous. This is obviously a small thing, relatively speaking, but let's remind ourselves that this was originally meant to help rockets escape Earth's gravity, which this would...not do. Really, now.

See, you THINK you can make Donald and Scrooge seem less hateful by including these panels, but you can't. Or maybe you don't think that. But actually, you could, sort of, if the follow-through were there. But it's just so transparently insincere--"we're sad that we were jerks now that we didn't get any treasure"--and what follows show that even on THAT level it doesn't mean anything so...what are we doing here, ladies and gents? Is there a fire escape we could hurl ourselves down?

Anyway, now, this game show thing, and yes, this all feels extremely disjointed, but we must be used to that by now. So let's pay careful attention to the host's words there: "a viewer at home could still win, by showing up here at our studio with the correct answer...in five minutes!" Let it be noted.

Oh yeah, I didn't mention that the place they were going had the extremely bad name of "Land of the Most." Lame and unevocative and bad. I dock you one half of one letter grade.

So yeah, Donald and Scrooge use the anti-gravity pills to get there in time. Okay, you might think. Fine. But--because there just had to be one more damn thing, didn't there?--it turns out we're supposed to think this is somehow "cheating" even though--let's return to the above quote we highlighted--the host put absolutely no stipulation on how one could get to the studio and didn't give so much as the vaguest hint that there were these unwritten rules. Yeah, out of everything bad they've done in the story, we're getting all het up over this? Would taking a car be cheating? Walking in an unusually vigorous manner? Regardless, it's idiotic, and I am not amused.

Yeah, you can just see what's coming here, can't you? I'm not even going to touch the general dopiness of this "paid in body weight" thing. It's just here to make the story do what Martina wanted to do; there's nothing else to say.

Let me again note that they don't actually weigh nothing, or else they'd be floating off into space right now (okay, I suppose they could weight little enough for the scale not to register). But that, again again, is the least of our problems.

Anyway, turns out the host was Dondorado. Did he murder the real host and hide his body in a supply closet? Yeah, probably. You suck at making morality plays, Dondorado! The children of the world hate you!

Well, the bright spot is that Donald and Scrooge will be stuck in space for eighty years. Note that, even though they're supposed to be super-saintly and everything, HDL can't even pretend to be bothered that their sociopathic relatives are gone forever. As indeed who could?

That IS a pretty cool ending splash panel, though, I'll grant you that much. Again, Battista Carpi is all this has going for it.

I dunno, foax. I have read stories where Martina has a significantly better handle on his characterizations than this, but when he was bad, oh my was he ever bad. I want to like this story because, well, obviously I want to like whatever I read, but more specifically because of the pleasantly Barks-reminiscent title. Alas, I cannot recommend this one to boys and girls of all ages, or any ages.

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Blogger Pan Miluś said...

Yaaaaay! GeoX back in the game baby!

August 21, 2019 at 5:04 AM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

Good to have you back! Although—

If he gives Donald the ticket, it's not going to somehow maintain the luck on its own; it will NOT WIN. So there.

I dunno, there's serious Depending On The Writer involved here. Whether he can use his luck for altruistic purpose is a long-standing debate with stories falling on either side. It's not that he imbues the ticket with winning ability, you understand, but rather that if he wishes, beforehand, that the ticket still be the winning one so that he can give it to Donald like he wants to do, his Luck could still obey that wish.

August 21, 2019 at 5:52 AM  
Blogger Jeffyo said...

In the midst of all the mindlessness, I was struck by the panel where HDL rhapsodize over the prospect of having enough candy and toys to last them till old age. Like the 80-plus year old "ducklings" they are today. This is the only time I can remember where any of the ducks are aware of their own timelessness.

August 21, 2019 at 8:44 AM  
Blogger Debbie Anne said...

I think that one of the more interesting qualities that this (and many other Italian stories has) is the whole “anything can happen, even if it doesn’t make any sense” angle. This certainly isn’t up there with the best of Barks and Rosa, but it’s crazy enough that I keep turning pages just to see how bizarre this thing is going to get just as much as wanting to see how the Ducks get out of this one. This story makes Bill Walsh’s writing look like Carl Fallberg’s by comparison. Maybe because this is a cartoon, it doesn’t bother me as much.

August 21, 2019 at 1:52 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

Yes, great to have you back!

Well, it is Carpi who gets the "Disney Master" status here, not Martina. So the story got the fancy reprint for the art's sake. If I ran the world, the Disney Masters would be writers or writer/artists, not artists, but.... Though I do appreciate Carpi's art, for sure. Too bad they didn't reprint "That Missing Candelabra" instead!

The only Martina story I have liked enough to re-read is il vascello fantasma...Scrooge is pretty dickish, but the boys get the better of him more than once, and Donald does not rival him in dickishness, as he does in Golden River. INDUCKS rating of il vascello fantasma is 444--but the Golden River's rating is 182, yikes! Do those raters not even care about narrative coherence? or well-rounded characterization? or logic?

August 22, 2019 at 10:06 PM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

Scarpa dosen't look so bad now, ey GeoX?

August 23, 2019 at 2:08 AM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

-this was originally going to be called "The Other Golden Helmet"--good call not sticking with that, guys

…huh? Whoever told you that? Joe Torcivia told me he originally thought of calling it Brigitta's Double Jeopardy before it got changed to Captured in Bananaland, but I knew nothing about that.

August 24, 2019 at 5:12 PM  
Blogger Debbie Anne said...

“Zio Paperone e il casco d'oro” translates to “Uncle Scrooge and the Golden Helmet” (at least according to Google Translate).

August 24, 2019 at 7:22 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

You can still see it referred to as such in the product description on the amazon page. I know it's a closer translation of the original, but let's face it, if you call it that in English, people are going to expect it to have some relation to the Barks, which seems a li'l fraudulent. It was a dumb idea for Scarpa to use that name in the first place imo.

August 24, 2019 at 10:24 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

It was decided against using any title containing the words “Golden Helmet”, for pretty much the reason GeoX puts forth!

I view that as a “Good Call”!

But, as Achille says, MY title, intended toward eschewing the words “Golden Helmet” AND in the interests of greater accuracy and relevance to the story, was “Brigitta’s Double Jeopardy”!

By now, I’ll assume most of you have read the story, and I’ll leave it to you as to whether or not that would have been a good title.

But, the story ended up with the “more Vic Lockman-esque” “Captured in Bananaland”!

…Being the biggest Vic Lockman fan in the room (…any room? …anywhere?), I won’t grumble, and just enjoy it for the great Scarpa/Barks hybrid that it is – and feel honored that the translation fell to me.

Besides, having two “Kings of the Golden River” can be confusing enough without throwing any more “Golden Helmets” into the mix!

August 24, 2019 at 11:59 PM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

Yes, I'm perfectly aware that Barks got the idea from a story by John Ruskin, but which one seems like a more likely influence? As we'll see, this might have certain thematic similarities with its predecessor.

As I research the whole business to create the relevant Wiki pages, I have made a very interesting discovery which would seem to clear Martina of accusations of having stolen the premise from Barks: Martina's King of the Golden River is freed from a magical curse which kept him trapped inside a mug, which is also what happens in Ruskin's story towards the beginning and kicks off the plot. Whereas Barks skipped over the whole cup business in his relaying of the tale, merely stating that the King was amazed by Gluck's selflessness in general.

August 27, 2019 at 9:41 AM  
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September 6, 2019 at 5:28 PM  
Blogger Debbie Anne said...

Nice try, Magica DeSpell. You can’t fool us. You just want the number one dime. Well, you’ve got the wrong blog for that.

September 6, 2019 at 11:14 PM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

Yhe, go to the blog reviewing Prunes. It's run and visited by the Beagle Boys, they maybe more willing to help.

September 7, 2019 at 12:23 AM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...


I wonder if, among all the wonderful things “Dr..nosakhare” [sic] (or would that be [sick]?) can do with his black magic, he could get “us good translators” back on the IDW Disney comics!

I’d much rather have that than (Shudder!) “get my ex back”! …And, for those who didn’t like our translations… If you knew my ex, YOU’D rather have us back, too!

Seriously, and as if I need to tell you, you’ve been Blog-spammed. And that’s why I always employ “Comment Moderation”! …NO ONE CLICK ON THAT LINK/NAME, PLEASE! You may very well get a virus, along with getting your (presumably unwanted) ex back!

But I must give a shout-out to Deb for turning this unfortunate intrusion into pure comedy gold!

September 8, 2019 at 1:17 AM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...


This trash has also attached itself to the end of the Comment Thread for “Night of the Living Text”!

Please delete it, because I love that story too much to have it befouled this way!

Thank you!

September 8, 2019 at 1:21 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

I've deleted that one, but I'm leaving this here since it provides context for a number of amusing comments. :p

September 8, 2019 at 11:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"It was a dumb idea for Scarpa to use that name in the first place imo." The fact is that the italian titles of these two stories are somewhat different. Scarpa knew Barks' "Golden helmet" as "Paperino e il cimiero vichingo" ("Donald Duck and the Viking crest"). In any case the proper literal translation of the title of Barks' story is "L'elmo d'oro" (absolutely not "Il casco d'oro"). "Viking helmet" translates as "elmo vichingo" (absolutely not "casco vichingo"), while the proper translation of "banana helmet" is "casco di banane". "Helmet" can be translated in either way ("casco" or "elmo") depending on the context.

September 10, 2019 at 4:34 AM  
Blogger Giuseppe said...

Ok, actually you need a little help: "Casco" is the italian word for "bunch" of bananas. No secret, no complications.
That's all, folks.

September 22, 2019 at 10:02 AM  
Blogger Specialist Spectrus said...

I though the art was worse than this - goes to show how much modern colouring can help.

Still, there are lots of Carpi-drawn stories I would've chosen over this. Unfortunately this kind of emotional logic was rather prevalent in the Italian production of those days, but it has gradually vanished in the 60s and 70s, so that by the 80s there was so little left of it that their comics are almost all enjoyable :)

As for the translation, I'm pretty sure that in the German version, they simply become lighter, not entirely weightless.

@Giuseppe Right, that's what I suspected too. Which makes me wonder why anyone would suggest something with a helmet in the title, when there is no helmet in the story??

(On the subject of that Scarpa story, a German fan has done a very thorough analysis of the story's sexual overtones. Quite interesting when you look at it from that angle.)

October 24, 2019 at 4:26 AM  

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