Dec 7, 2016

Review: Donald Duck: Terror of the Beagle Boys

Due to international shipping restrictions and the shipping speed of my country, Donald Duck: Terror of the Beagle Boys took a while to get to me. While waiting for it, I was wondering if it would be worth the wait.

Well, it was.

The previous volume in Fantagraphics' The Complete Carl Barks Collection, Donald Duck: Trick or Treat, had, chronologically, the last long (longer than 10 pages) Donald Duck story by Carl Barks. Terror of the Beagle Boys comes chronologically before that, though, so this volume actually has three long stories, the most notable of which is "Dangerous Disguise," a 28-page spy thriller where Donald Duck and the Nephews encounter Madame Triple X, from whom they must protect America's secrets.

While reading "Dangerous Disguise," I actively thought to myself, "Wow, I keep forgetting how good Barks is." A perfect balance of drama, suspense, and comedy, with masterful storytelling at the heart of it. A real page-turner, "Dangerous Disguise" has all you could ask for in an action/adventure dramedy, but for those of you interested in the historical aspects of these things, this is also one of the rare times that Barks' humans were actually humans, not anthropomorphized beagles.

The stories and covers in Donald Duck: Terror of the Beagle Boys first appeared in Four-Color #308, 318, 328,348, and 353, and Walt Disney's Comics and Stories #124-134, and were published from January to November 1951. They consist of the following stories:

Long Stories: 
  • Dangerous Disguise. I already spoke about this above, but hey, it's a story with femme fatales and a villain named "Donaldo El Quacko." What's not to love?
Also, maybe, a murder.
  • No Such Varmint. The boys really want Donald to have a job they can be proud of, and takes him to someone who has invented a device that can evaluate skills in order to align it with a career option. He's told he should be a detective, but Donald really, really just wants to be a snake charmer. Scrooge then needs a detective, so he hires Donald, and... hijinks ensue. The climax is a big splash worthy of Jack Kirby — or of Carl Barks.
  • Donald Duck in Old California.  Donald and the boys take a trip to California, taking in the historic sites when they get into an accident. They then have a collective dream where they're stuck in old California, in the days of cowboys and the Gold Rush.
Short Stories:
  • Terror of the Beagle Boys. The titular story of the book is short and introduces the Beagle Boys, but they don't have much in the way of screen time. The story focuses more on Donald and Scrooge's attempts to prevent them from breaking in and stealing Scrooge's money. The first couple of pages are quite novel though: Donald pacing around worrying about, a role normally filled by Scrooge, when it's revealed that Scrooge paid him to do his worrying for him. Every time I think I've seen it all from Barks, he does something small that keeps the whole thing fresh.
  • Billions to Sneeze At. Scrooge develops an allergy to his money so he has to live like a hermit for a while. In the meantime, Donald has to take over his loaning business, but Donald's got all heart for the poor folk, and no brains...
  • Operation St. Bernard. To get a new merit badge for the Junior Woodchucks, the boys have to train a dog to go into the snow and look for lost travelers. Unfortunately, their dog, Bornworthy, is a coward. Donald does his best to be a good uncle and help them out, which gets them into real trouble when a blizzard comes in.
  • A Financial Fable. A cyclone takes millions of Scrooge's money and distributes it to the people in the general vicinity, including Donald and his lucky cousin Gladstone. This causes a change in the economy, and leaves Scrooge broke. However, Scrooge knows economics well enough that he knows he'll get the money back, and it wouldn't even take long. I have no idea if Carl Barks had a background in economics, but he certainly seemed to have a solid grasp on the concept of supply and demand; this not being the first story I've seen him do that has basically been a lesson in "Why don't rich people just give the poor people millions?"
  • The April Foolers. It's April Fool's Day, and the boys really want to play a trick on Donald. This is one of those slapstick stories where everything circumstantially goes wrong for our protagonists.
  • Knightly Rivals. Donald and Gladstone are both trying to be Daisy's leading man in a play, but to be true to character, Daisy asks them to be knightly and chivalrous to each other. They can't take it, of course, and tension escalates.
  • Pool Sharks. Donald builds a swimming pool in his backyard. The entire city of Duckburg finds out about it, and starts using it.
  • The Trouble With Dimes. Donald finds a rare dime and sells it for five dollars. So he goes into Scrooge's money bin, buys a bunch of dimes for a dollar each, and then sells them for five dollars each. He keeps going with this, but he's learned absolutely nothing about how too much supply wrecks price, so he basically ends up owing Scrooge money. So of course the boys have to save him.
  • Gladstone's Luck. Gladstone and Donald are playing golf, when all of a sudden, Gladstone's become terribly unlucky. Is there a catch? Of course there is.
  • Ten-Star Generals. To get merit badges for the Junior Woodchucks, the boys have to make a bow and a canoe using only items found in the woods, and also have to exhibit life preservation skills. Donald thinks, as he does, that he can do better than the boys, and out of genuine avuncular concern, tries to pre-empt the Junior Woodchuck Grand Marshal and pass off his (bad) creations as theirs. An interesting read for little facts, like how to start making a canoe, or what gets used in a bow if there's no string around.
  • Attic Antics. In this story not written (but drawn) by Barks, Grandma Duck and Gus Goose have two mice living with them, Gus-Gus and Jaq from Cinderella. As weird as that already sounds, Daisy's coming over to sleep over, and then Pete comes over to rob the house. Why this motley selection of characters? I have no idea. The story's still fun, but little of it makes sense, including why would Daisy Duck be visiting Donald's grandma without Donald? (My no-prize explanation: Daisy is the boys' paternal aunt.)
  • The Truant Nephews. The boys decide to play hookey, but everywhere they go, they run into a school or truant officers.
    I'm not sure I'll ever get tired of Barks, but it helps that this volume still has long stories. The short stories are fun too. As someone who works with numbers, I'm always more amused than I should when I see Barks playing off of these, to the point where I feel like they could be used in a classroom.

    Well recommended.

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