May 29, 2014

Reviews: Donald Duck: Trail of the Unicorn

Every time I get a new Carl Barks volume, I think the same thing: "Nah, this has got to be it. There's no way it's still gonna be something I wanna read when I'm done with this. This has to be my limit. And this way I save money, 'cause I won't feel the need to get the subsequent volumes." And pretty much every time, around five or six pages in, I find myself chuckling.

There goes my money, six months from now.

The more I read Barks' long stories, you know what I'm constantly reminded of? The Simpsons. Every episode of The Simpsons has the same structure as a long Barks story: a gag kicks it off, and then a few pages or minutes later, the story has taken such a turn that it's nowhere you expected it to be given how it started. One story that starts out with a couple of pages about the insufferable luck of Gladstone Gander, just full of gags, somehow ends up in the Arctic Ocean, for example.

The whole collection is still pretty fun, and of course if you're into the whole thing from a historical perspective, it's interesting to see because Scrooge still isn't quite Scrooge yet and Gladstone isn't quite Gladstone yet either. In that sense, I can see the wisdom of releasing these volumes out of order, because at this point, we can see how those characters are supposed to be, so each volume preceding those points in time when they're fully realized gives us an indication of where they are in that evolution.

The stories in Donald Duck: Trail of the Unicorn first appeared in Walt Disney's Comics and Stories #107–112 and 114, Donald and Mickey Merry Christmas #1949, Four Color #238 and 263, and Walt Disney's Christmas Parade #1, from August 1949 to March 1950, and are listed below.

Long Stories

  • Trail of the Unicorn. Uncle has every animal he needs in his zoo, except for one: a unicorn. He sends Donald and the boys after the only one ever sighted, but Donald's obnoxiously lucky cousin Gladstone Gander has his sights set on the unicorn as well. How can Donald and Huey, Dewey, and Louie possibly get the unicorn — and what would be their very handsome fee — when they're competing with the luckiest guy in the world?
  • Letter to Santa. Huey, Dewey, and Louie ask Santa Claus for a steam shovel for Christmas, but Donald forgets to mail the letter! So he asks Uncle Scrooge for help, but Scrooge doesn't want to give a steam shovel unless he gets all the credit. So Scrooge and Donald get into a row about who gets to give them the steam shovel, which ends up breaking both steam shovels that they bought. So now they each have to pretend to be Santa Claus to tell the boys that they can't get a steam shovel this year, and of course chaos ensues, even when the real St. Nick shows up.
  • New Toys. Huey, Dewey, and Louie want new versions of their toys (a coaster wagon, tricycle, and scooter) for Christmas, but Donald tells them they can't have any new ones because their current toys are still in good shape, so they go and get part-time jobs doing deliveries so they can raise the money for the new toys themselves, but in the process, their toys get wrecked. Hey, wait a minute...
  • Luck of the North. Donald has finally had enoughof Gladstone's vaunted luck, so he decides to play a prank on him: he creates a fake treasure map that even Gladstone can't resist exploring. However, when Donald finally looks up the location he arbitrarily selected, he finds out it's in the middle of the Arctic Ocean. After an incredibly skilled page where Donald's conscience catches up to him (he tries to laugh it off until he can't take it any longer), he goes after Gladstone to rescue him. But does the luckiest man in the world really need rescuing? (The answer is no. The whole subtext of the story is about Donald wanting a clear conscience more than it is about saving Gladstone. Another example of Barks' deft storytelling.)
  • Land of the Totem Poles. The weakest story in the book, all generally revolving around making fun of Native Americans. Essentially Donald gets a job as a calliope (look it up, I guess) salesman while the boys have to peddle make-up kits. Donald gets annoyed at how much harder his job is, and switches products with the boys, but then the Native Americans all use the makeup kit wrong (harhar) and now Donald must die. A truly dated and altogether unfortunate story.

Short Stories (10-pagers)
  • Super Snooper. Donald gets on the boys' case for always reading superhero comics, but then he gets superpowers himself! What's a Donald with superpowers like? Is he going to fight for truth and justice? Nah, he's just gonna have fun! Accompanied by a pretty obnoxious essay deriding the superhero genre for being inherently not as complex and layered as Barks' stuff. Because, you know, it's apparently the genre's fault.
  • The Great Duckburg Frog-Jumping Contest. Donald wants to be fancy and have frog legs, but he can't afford it, so he sets out to catch a frog of his own. But the frog they get is an incredible jumper, just in time for the Great Duckburg Frog-Jumping Contest! Unfortunately, other contestants are determined to win...
  • Dowsing Ducks. The boys get a divining rod, and Donald decides not to crack down on them to teach them a lesson, but to play tricks on them instead... except, of course, the boys are almost always more clever than he is.
  • The Goldilocks Gambit. Donald has to pick the boys up from summer camp, but the boys don't want to go just yet, so they set their cottage up to look just like the one from Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Donald, knowing it's all a trick (I love that bit, that he somehow knows this is a 10-page story and 10-page stories mean that he and the boys are going to play tricks on each other), pulls out a blonde wig that Daisy gives him and plays along. Until real bears show up.
  • Donald's Love Letters. Donald and Daisy break up for what seems to be the eleventeenth time, and Daisy gives him back his old love letters. Completely embarrassed by them, Donald takes to hiding them, except the boys inadvertently pick up the box Donald's kept everything in and handed it over to Gladstone! Now Donald's got to get them back, or he'll never hear the end of it.
  • Rip Van Donald. Donald's sick of shoveling snow, so he decides to go south for the winter. (Get it?) Huey, Dewey, and Louie hate the idea, since they love skiing and skating and everything else to do with snow, so they play a trick on Donald when they get to their sunny vacation spot: they put a beard on him and convince him that he'd fallen asleep for 40 years, just like Rip Van Winkle! How long can the boys pull off this deceit?
  • Serum to Codfish Cove. Bragging to the boys that he was the greatest skier ever, Donald gets in trouble when he finds out that the snow-barraged town of Codfish Cove needs medical supplies right away. Donald gets into even more trouble when he's used as a carrier pigeon by a bunch of no-good anti-American spies who say "Down with America!" a lot. Good fun.
The 1-pagers. I'm not going to summarize them because, well, they're a page long, but just for the sake of cataloging them, here they are:
  • Fractious Fun
  • King-Size Cone
  • Toasty Toys
  • No Noise Is Good Noise
  • No Place to Hide
  • Tied-Down Tools
  • Noise Nullifier
  • Matinee Madness
  • A Fetching Price
I've pretty much given up on trying to rank these volumes, since at this point, I'm pretty sure that the only way to properly rank them is once they're all done. But this was a fun one. Still highly recommended.

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