Sunday, October 31, 2021

"The Mummy's Ring"

Hi, I'm back!  Okay, this entry was pretty predictable.  It's actually kind of weird that I never covered this on a previous Halloween--it seems like a natural.  The truth is, I always sort of discounted it.  I shoudn't have!  It's full of interesting firsts!  But rereading it to write this entry was only the second time I'd ever read it period.  The first time I dismissed it as not that good and thought no more about it.  I'm not going to say that it's an all-time classic qua story, but there are still--I hope--interesting things to say about it, and it is historically important if you're talkin' 'bout Barks.

This title panel is at least a little spooky, with that big, illuminated ring.  We might do a study of title panels in early Barks stories like this--later stories would be less interesting in this regard, but some of these early ones show him really creating a mood.

Does this count as "improvin' one's mind?"  Maybe.  What I really like here is how irritated Donald looks for no evident reason, even when he's agreeing to HDL's suggestion.  It is incongruous.

"I buy my jewelry at the five and ten" is a pretty good line, but better, I think, is this principle that Donald apparently has all of a sudden of not buying jewelry for any amount of money.  You've gotta buy the Hope Diamond for a quarter!  And if I say I love you, do you want to buy a diamond for a dime?  Of course, this "luck" business is a recurring Barks thing, though this particular story doesn't push it too hard.

OMG PETE!  More or less.  This of course was before Barks had developed a stable cast.  Do peanut carts always have, like, lances on them?  Is stabbing people a standard part of the job?  It's a dangerous life, for sure.

Is this any way to behave in a museum?  Yeesh.  Well, at least the mummies themselves weren't stolen.  There was that whole weird business of people thinking mummies were somehow aphrodisiacs.  As I just learned from wikipedia, that resulted from a mistranslation of a totally unrelated word.  Interesting stuff.  People are kind of dopey. 

Okay, I think this is THE single most important thing to note in this story.  Well, depending what your priorities are.  Whatever.  But: in later Barks stories, you could see indications of his growing awareness that this treasure-hunting stuff was less and less tenable.  I...don't actually know (do you?) whether he was at all aware of issues like colonialism and cultural appropriation, but either way, things became a little more vexed.  That wouldn't have been an issue in an early story like this, however.  But the Bey's concerns here are totally legit--these sarcophagi and mummies are a part of Egyptian (El Daggan?) cultural history, so why should they moulder in a Duckburg museum?  That last line ("he buys nothing!") seems to be meant to indicate some kind of, like, high-handed barbarism or something, but why should he bloody well be paying for things that Duckburg stole?  Hey, I've visited the British Museum, and while it is cool, it's also kind of unjustifiable.

Also, unrelated but kind of funny: "under threat of war?"  What, El Dagga's going to attack...the United States?  Or just Duckburg?  I feel like the federal government might get involved in that.  Somehow.

I find that this is a nicely-rendered bit of business.  It's not exactly horrifying, but the action just cutting away from Huey like that creates an effect of understated creepiness that I like.

If you agree that there's something suspicious, why are you opining that "that's a laugh?"  Take this seriously!  Also, the police being unwilling to investigate Middle-Eastern-looking foreigners?  Would that we lived in that world!

Also, that wanted poster.  A weird dude in dark glasses, apparently?  What's going on here?

I'm trying and failing to figure out what the deal is with that name--the "Amnesia Castle?"  What?  There's a self-published book by that title, and an album, but what's the relevance here?  Tell me!  I like how this random working-class taxi driver is apparently an expert on diplomatic relations.

Great costumes--really.  I am trying to remember why Donald's looks so familiar.  I'm SURE there was a later story where he (or possible Scrooge?) were wearing something similarly semi-circular.  At first I thought it was "Letter to Santa," but I'm sure there's something else.  Let me know.

Of course, the difference is, whereas usually super-flimsy disguises fool people perfectly, here pretty good ones don't fool anyone.  Go figure.  Also, just imagine how much padding there must be in Donald's get-up there.  My goodness!

I mainly just wanted to point this out because Donald obliviously making his nephews sick in so contrived a way is funny, and would you look at their faces in the upper right there, but also, dig the shading from the light on Donald in the upper left.  That is solid work!

OOooOOooOO!  Pretty spooky stuff.  But is that how mummies work?  I haven't seen any of those old Universal horror films, so I don't know: do they really just sneak up behind you and whack you?  I was more picturing them inflicting sinister curses on people.  

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn't present one of the greatest out-of-context panels in all of Barks.  What a hoot.  I also think it's worth emphasizing: you might think it's just the line of dialogue, but I think you can't understate the extent to which the art makes it--other artists would not have been able to depict "freaking out" that effectively. 

Right, okay.  I guess "El Dagga" is just supposed to be a province in Egypt, not a near-analogue to the country as a whole.  One interesting thing about them is that, as it turns out, they still follow ancient Egyptian religion.  That's not something you might expect.

Also, my goodness, I will never warm to those lumpy jowls on the nephews in early Barks.  Did he change that by editorial fiat, was it a conscious realization that this wasn't really working, or was it just a gradual evolution?  Is there a specific breaking point we can identify?  We should look into that. 

The stakes are raised!  This is all a bit convoluted, but hey--it does the trick!

Nice art here, man.  This story is of course most notable as Barks' first real globetrotting story, and also represents the debut of his habit of ransacking articles from National Geographic for references--in this case, the April 1940 and October 1941 issues.  In Donald Duck Adventures 14, where this is reprinted, he is quoted thusly: "Over half of what's in my stories is visual information, and if I didn't have something like the Geographic for establishing what things looked like in other places and times, I wouldn't have any means of making things realistic."  I...don't think that's a problem that Barks' epigones at Western--even the better ones--would've felt the need to grapple with!  Barks FTW, as per always.

Quite violent!  What is the motivation to try to gun the ducks down?  Yes, they're trying to "escape," is this a proportionate response?  MY GOODNESS.

Really, I mainly just included the image with bullets so that we could then transition into THIS.  If it's not one thing it's another!  Jeez!  And it really looks like Donald's taken a direct hit there.

Seriously, that decision to use references for the art payed off in a big way; even if the story itself may not be that thrilling, uh, story-wise, it looks good.  Seems like such a simple thing, but, well...dig those Anubis heads.  And is that meant to be a real lion?  It looks like it, but that could be down to the coloring.

Is "Yarvard" Harvard but for pirates?  We can only hope.  I know--or at least assume--it's just meant as a joke, but the idea that the bey buys into this stuff but the idea that mummies can eat is a bridge too far is kind of interesting.

The depiction of the bey is not very consistent, as he vacillates between seeming reasonable and sympathetic and willing to inter people alive.  I guess that's just what you have to expect from those dern foreigners!

Why did I include this?  I don't know; I guess it's just sort of funny seeing the mummy jumping out a window.  The way it's drawn it does look VERY reminiscent of later images of the entrance to Scrooge's Bin.  Is that interesting?  Only YOU...can decide.

So are they going to get their real mummies back, or what?  This is my main concern!  Where'd he hide them?  Just in some supply closet?  And where did he get the bandages to wrap up himself and Huey?  Did he remove them from the mummies?  That's a gruesome thought.  Given the general tenor of these Egyptians, I fear his punishment will be unpleasant--but maybe not; "for a low-down ring-snatcher he got himself into a mighty bad jam" seems to reflect a fairly light-hearted attitude about the whole thing.

Treasure, baby!  Later stories would tend to be a little bit less laissez-faire about letting Donald and the kids strike it rich.  I do feel that something was lost in later years when treasure hunting was pretty much totally preempted by Scrooge.  Donald is such a wide-ranging character, he should be able to go on treasure hunts without his damn uncle taking everything.  Hmph!  Point being: I like this.  And Donald bathing in treasure like that VERY clearly points towards the Barksian future.

Kind of a weird ending panel (though dig that badass art).  I guess "the gang's all here" because Huey's been rescued?  Still, though.  I feel like Barks wasn't quite sure what to do, and so: random song lyrics!  Well, he certainly wrote worse conclusions.

Happy Halloween!  Expect more sooner rather than later!  Unless not!  Uncertainty is spooky, too!  OoOoOOooOO!



Blogger Pan Miluś said...

The only costume this reminds me of is Scrooges gostume in "Wispy Willie" (but it wasn't as fat) which was also a Halloween entry on your blog... And if this coincidence isn't spooky, I don't know what is!


October 31, 2021 at 4:06 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Yeah, I think that's what I was thinking of. And a Happy New Year to you too!

October 31, 2021 at 4:23 PM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

I love Easter!

October 31, 2021 at 7:33 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

Another bell-shaped costume is the one Donald wears as the pumpkin inspector in Rosa's Fit to Be Pied.

I like this story a great deal. It's one of the stories I re-read most years around Halloween. Love the art, apart from the nephews' jowls. There's significant exciting incident or plot development on every page. There's just enough spookiness and realistic threat to make it enjoyably scary. There's a sprinkling of comic relief. You have Donald claiming to be fearless, but actually being more easily spooked than the boys. Yet he is as willing as Dewey and Louie to risk his life for there's strong family feeling, too. Since the main issue is the kidnapping of Huey and the threat to his life, it seems to me perfectly appropriate that the ducks celebrate in the last panel by singing "the gang's all here!"

True, it doesn't make much sense for the ship's men to shoot at the ducks...but it does provide Donald the opportunity for a nice bit of deadpan comedy. "You all right?" "Yeah, almost out of range of the bullets!"

The Bey is quite ruthless until the end, even though he is fair in releasing the ducks. He has to be ruthless to present the threat that gives the last part of the story such high stakes. The ducks will be thrown to the crocodiles! Huey will be buried alive!

It's hard to say whether Barks thought there might be some justice in the Bey's insistence on the return of the mummies to Egypt. He probably didn't have much sympathy for this claim. It is striking from our point of view, though, that the ducks' first foray into a far land with ancient treasures does at least articulate the question of whether the Western collectors have looted other cultures and should return the spoils.

The trope of the natives whose traditional beliefs are irrational superstition is at play. But I find it easier to excuse in Barks in 1943 than I do in, say, Wejp-Olsen's "Mystery of Easter Island" in 1983. That trope shows up here in the fact that the Bey only knows that mummies don't eat because he attended Yarvard (which I assume to be a combination of Yale and Harvard)--rationality must come from the West! Still, the line in the context of the story is well-timed comedy.

In addition to the nephews' jowls, this story still has the boys completing each others' sentences, a practice Barks also discarded not long after.

Someone else will have to weigh in on the mechanics of mid-century roasted peanut carts! Is that a steam safety valve?

October 31, 2021 at 10:00 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

Oh, one more comment: the policeman's reaction to Donald's accusation does show how young Barks then assumed Donald to be and appear. His theory is dismissed as "the suspicions of a mere boy"--the "mere boy" here must be Donald. And the policeman's "run along home" also shows that he is treating Donald, not just Dewey and Louie, as a youngster. This is one of the places where it does seem that Barks is imagining Donald to be in his late teens, just barely old enough to be the children's guardian.

October 31, 2021 at 10:13 PM  
Blogger Debbie Anne said...

The peanut cart doesn’t have a lance, but it would have something through which the steam from the hot roasted peanuts could escape, which Huey, Dewey and Louie have weaponized to rescue their Uncle Donald from Black Pete’s grasp.

November 1, 2021 at 1:14 AM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

A very fine review!

Concerning what mummies do: special effects permitting, cinematic mummies (such as the one from those 1990s Brendan Fraser movies) is a modern development. Universal and Hammer's cinematic mummies largely just lumbered silently and strangled people; they were not bringers of curses, but themselves the *embodiment* of a curse.

What would happen would be that after the archeologists dug up the mummy, an Egyptian Fanatic(TM) would bring down a curse on them which would result in the mummy activating and bringing them to their doom. (This pattern is not present in the original Karloff picture, where Karloff spends very little time wrapped in bandages and acts more like some sort of evil reincarnated sorcerer than any later version of a "mummy", but it's all over the Lon Chaney and Christopher Lee series.)

I've always found that gimmick a bit funny, actually. It's like if Scrooge had a button he could press which caused his money to start whacking the Beagle Boys around itself after they steal the money. Not a bad premise for a Scrooge/Gyro ten-pager, that, actually…

November 1, 2021 at 8:49 AM  
Blogger ramapith said...

Another Barks example of Ducks (or in this case, McDucks) costumed in a fat, bell-shaped costume is "Sagmore Springs Hotel," and the gags relating to the costume's size and shape certainly suggest it's what you're thinking of.

November 2, 2021 at 2:41 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

Re; the ship's name "Amnesia Castle"--there were a bunch of steamships named X Castle, most (not all) of them being built for and operated by the British Union-Castle Line: the Arundel Castle, the Braemar Castle, the Llandovery Castle. Nothing I can find where the first part of the name sounds like "amnesia." In addition, the Morro Castle was an American ocean liner built to carry passengers on the NY-to-Cuba route, named after the stone fortress/lighthouse in Havana. The two of these ships which were the most famous (both through disaster) were the Llandovery Castle and the Morro Castle. The Llandovery Castle was in service in WW1 as a Canadian hospital ship, and it was infamously torpedoed in June 1918 by a German U-boat; the captain, once he realized he'd committed a war crime, ordered that the survivors in lifeboats be gunned down (one lifeboat got away, which is how we know what happened). 234 died; "Llandovery Castle" was used as the rallying cry for Canadian soldiers at Amiens (which made me think, Amiens/Amnesia? Nah, that's probably too forced). There was a war crimes trial post-war; the captain fled the country and escaped justice. And then later served in the Nazis' navy in WW2, where I'm sure he fit right in.

The Morro Castle on one of its normal passenger runs burned at sea in 1934, 137 dead. There were references or visual allusions to this in several movies, in 1935, 1936, 1938. And in 1940's Doomed to Die, starring Boris Karloff as the detective Mr. Wong, there is footage of the burning Morro Castle but for the film's plot the ship is identified as the Wentworth Castle. Could Barks have been commenting on the filmmakers' using footage of the real tragedy while "forgetting" the name of the actual ship?

Or maybe he was just playing with the "X Castle" ships' names and thought "Amnesia Castle" sounded funny.

November 2, 2021 at 8:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

... or it's a pun on the name of someone then-famous, a name which sounds vaguely like Amnesia Castle, and playing on the fact that there are famous ships named X Castle.

November 2, 2021 at 11:06 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

oops, that last comment was mine, too!

November 2, 2021 at 11:06 PM  
Blogger Lugija said...

One more bell-shaped disguise was in the debt collector ten-pager where the boys collected a debt from Donald. One of the kids deflated the suit by blowing a dart at it.

November 3, 2021 at 2:23 AM  
Blogger Miguel Madeira said...

"I'm SURE there was a later story where he (or possible Scrooge?) were wearing something similarly semi-circular."

These remember me of HDL in "The Great Mushroom Mystery".

November 4, 2021 at 9:58 PM  
Blogger Adamant said...

The original coloration in Four Color 28 has the entire lion mono-colored brown, so I assume the intent was for it to be a sstatue.

November 5, 2021 at 4:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Like Elaine said. Plus...maybe a pun on the SS Anastasia? That's a possible source for the pun. It..sorta sounds like Amnesia Castle.

And with the Universal Mummy, I believe your more apt to get strangled than whopped.

November 10, 2021 at 7:21 PM  
Blogger whc03grady said...

Amnesia fits in with the story’s theme of forgetting/re-remembering the past.

November 14, 2021 at 2:54 AM  
Blogger whc03grady said...

"the bey is sore at modern life and wants to restore everything in his province back to the way it was in ancient times"
But he's cool with having his men use rivet guns to seal the cases.


November 16, 2021 at 6:13 PM  

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