Feb 5, 2015

Review: Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck: Return to Plain Awful

The Book Depository got me the latest book from The Don Rosa Library, Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck: Return to Plain Awful, a little late due to heavy shipping volumes during the Christmas season, but it was absolutely worth the wait.

Rosa makes it clear in the intro that this was a pretty eventful time both in his personal life and in his Duck-creating career. Among other things, it has the only story he never finished ("The Starstruck Duck"), the only story he did for Ducktales ("Back in Time for a Dime"), and the only collaboration he ever actually had with Carl Barks ("The Pied Piper of Duckburg"). As such, it's a fascinating set of stories. Most of these were still published in the USA, so Rosa was still under a lot of deadlines and editorial edicts, and therefore was also still drawing stories he didn't write himself.  As a result, he didn't consider them part of his or Barks' "canon," as he has some very strict views about what constitutes the Barks Duck Universe. (For example, he drew Clara Cluck in one, but in his mind, she doesn't exist in that universe.)

Rosa's first volume, The Son of the Sun, was still quite crude artistically, but the storytelling was already there. There's still some crudeness in this volume, but the improvement is already apparent. Rosa's lines are already more fluid and he looks more comfortable with his poses. But the real joy here is his storytelling. He clearly studied how Barks did adventure stories, as he pulls many of the same tricks Barks does, including saving the bigger panels for real money shots, and quick changes of facial expressions to maximize the emotional impact of scenes. "His Majesty, McDuck," especially has great examples of the Unreliable Narrator, where Scrooge tries to convince himself that feeding the birds by his windowsill is only so he can work more efficiently, but the smile on his face betrays his actual feelings.

This collection also has Magica De Spell, Mickey Mouse, Gyro Gearloose, and Flintheart Glomgold, a very enjoyable collection of characters that make for a very enjoyable and breezy read.

The stories in Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck: Return to Plain Awful first appeared in Donald Duck Adventures [series I] #8 and 12; Donald Duck Adventures [series II] #1; Uncle Scrooge Adventures #9, 14, 20-21; Uncle Scrooge  #235 and 242; Walt Disney's Hall of Fame #5; Mickey and Donald #17; Walt Disney's Comics and Stories #547; and Ducktales Magazine #8, dated October 1988 to June 1990, and are listed below.

Long Stories

  • The Crocodile Collector. Scrooge sends Donald, Huey, Dewey, and Louie to Egypt to find a special kind of crocodile for his zoo (a sequel, of sorts, to Barks' "Trail of the Unicorn"). Donald and the boys find themselves getting to the Lost Temple of Sebekhetep, where people worshipped crocodiles, even mummifying them, and where our heroes soon get surrounded by a whole bunch of them.
  • Return to Plain Awful. A direct sequel to Barks' "Lost in the Andes," and in fact Rosa's first direct sequel to a Barks work, "Return to Plain Awful" has Donald and the kids petitioning Uncle Scrooge to let them return the Plain Awful roosters to their homeland. Scrooge agrees, but only under the condition that he can go with them so he can transact some business. But there are three things they didn't count on: (1) Flintheart Glomgold, the world's second-richest duck, follows them, (2) the Plain Awfultonians have all revised their society to resemble, of all people, Donald Duck, and (3) Scrooge has completely forgotten that anything round is a crime in Plain Awful, which is a problem when he pulls out his Number One Dime...
  • His Majesty, McDuck. Delving into the history of Duckburg, Scrooge finds out that the United States has never had any claim on the hill on which his money bin rests, so he proclaims it his own kingdom so he can get 50 years worth of tax refunds! The government fights back by cutting off his access to any American utilities and services and checking everyone's passports as they cross the border, which leaves McDuckland open to an invasion headed by Akers MacCovet (the first new villain Rosa created) and the Beagle Boys! A great, fun story. Watch Scrooge's words in relation to his actions and facial expressions carefully, especially in the last four pages of the story there — it's a great example of words and pictures combining to create something where both are important. (Scrooge is a liar, in other words.)

Short Stories (12 Pages or Less)
  • His Fortune on the Rocks. Scrooge buys Snee-kah Peak, and he takes the boys with him to see how he could turn the mountain into something profitable. But it turns out Snee-kah Peak is steeper and more dangerous than they expected. A goat is involved.
  • The Curse of Nostrildamus. Scrooge embarks to get the medallion of Nostrildamus, which gives its wearers precognitive powers. However, anyone who touches it is also plagued by bad luck. As you can imagine, it doesn't go well.
  • The Starstruck Duck. Done in 1988 at Disney's request to promote the then-new Disney-MGM Studios theme part, "The Starstruck Duck" was never finished and exists only in the draft/layout format. It involves Donald and the boys visiting the theme park, with Donald singlemindedly looking for the biggest movie star in that universe: Mickey Mouse! In Rosa's view, Mickey does not exist in this universe as a buddy to Donald, but he does as a  movie star. Goofy shows up too, which makes me wonder who's starring with them in this universe's version of The Three Musketeers.
  • Give Unto Others. Daisy gives Donald and the boys 10 bucks each to buy something for each other. The boys have no problem getting something for Donald, but Donald is too tempted to spend the money on himself. And then he runs into Gladstone.
  • Forget Me Not. The first of four short stories not written by Rosa has Daisy Duck freaking out because she made dates with both Donald and Gladstone on the same day. Trying to escape, she finds everyone else missing. Featuring Gyro Gearloose, Grandma Duck, and Clara Cluck, the last of whom Rosa did not consider part of the Barks Duck Universe.
  • On A Silver Platter. An incredibly whimsical story demonstrative of Rosa's imagination, Donald and Scrooge receive a silver platter, on which Scrooge decides he's going to keep his Number One Dime. But the platter turns out to be a portal that's connected to another platter that belongs to Magica De Spell! What happens next is a full-on fight that involves sending things through the platters, with neither the Ducks nor Magica ever leaving their rooms.
  • Making the Grade. Not written by Rosa, this has the boys skipping school and Donald getting angry at them and chasing them around Duckburg. They try to blackmail him by threatening to send his old report cards to Daisy, whom he's supposed to go on a sailing trip with over the weekend.
  • Back In Time for a Dime. The first and only story Rosa wrote for Ducktales Magazine, this was drawn by Cosme Quartieri and involves Magica De Spell sending the Ducktales crew back to prehistoric times with the intent to keep them there until Scrooge relinquishes his Number One Dime. In the back matter, Rosa notes his dislike of Bubba Duck, the caveduck, while at the same time mentioning that he wouldn't have minded Launchpad McQuack if he were a Barks character. Also, the original printing of this story had Scrooge in his blue suit from the cartoon, but it was recolored to red here. This was at around the same time that Rosa had a more direct relationship with Disney, even writing two episodes of Talespin.
  • The Pied Piper of Duckburg. Back in 1959, Gyro Gearloose had a series of one-shots, and Barks started work on this story, which involved Gyro creating a device to rid Duckburg of its rats. But Barks shelved the story because he thought it was getting too involved, inspiring Rosa to pick up the pieces and finish it in 1989. Gyro gets the rats all in one place, but of course, it's not like Gyro is known for thinking things through. The back matter has Barks' original pencils, which Rosa inked over. It was also during this story that I realized I could now to some extent tell the difference between Barks' and Rosa's styles, which is not something I ever thought I'd be able to do.
  • Leaky Luck. A rare Rosa one-pager (not written by Rosa) that has Scrooge taking a walk in the park with Gladstone, picking up things off the ground.
  • The Money Pit. Donald is sick of his measly 30-cents-an-hour wage, so he strikes up a deal with Scrooge: he gets to choose, from Scrooge's money bin, which coins he gets paid with. The idea is that he'll dig out the rarer coins and sell them to coin collectors, but Donald of course gets greedy, and Scrooge's most valuable coins are near the bottom  of the bin! It's an insightful look at collectors in general, as Scrooge stresses the importance of each coin to him. More than its monetary value, it's his memories of how he earned them that makes them truly valuable.

Return to Plain Awful is a very promising continuation for The Don Rosa Library. The best thing i that Rosa's not even at his peak here yet. Highly recommended.

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