Apr 16, 2017

Reviews: Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck: The Universal Solvent

The Universal Solvent is the titular storyline in the latest in The Don Rosa Library from Fantagraphics, and it's again a crazy wild ride featuring Uncle Scrooge, Donald Duck, and Huey, Dewey and Louie.  Scrooge hires Gyro Gearloose to create a liquid capable of dissolving anything, which Scrooge then pours into the earth to facilitate mining. When it's pointed out to him that this means it will drill down to the center of the Earth and cause an apocalypse, he and the boys have to go and save existence as we know it.

The sheer level of creativity evident in Rosa's works is astounding. He continually comes up (came up? Whatever.) with situations and ideas that should be ridiculous and somehow just work, giving a real feeling of danger to the whole story. There's also, amazingly, a level of edutainment in the entire execution that's not hamfisted at all. I've learned more about science and gravity (did you know that things get lighter the closer they get to Earth's core? I didn't.) reading this than I have with any other 20 pages of science reading ever, and as I read these things with my niece, it's always a pleasure.

The stories in Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck: The Universal Solvent first appeared in issues of Denmark's Anders And & Co from June 1994 to June 1995, and Walt Disney Giant 1 on September 1995.

The chapters are:
  • The Duck Who Never Was. Rosa's Tribute to It's a Wonderful Life takes place on Donald Duck's 60th birthday. Of course, in the story, it's just a joke that he's 60, but basically Donald is brought into a world where he was never born. The way he affects things is so dramatic that it's jarring to see, because a part of me still expects these stories to be pure comedy. But when you see Gyro Gearloose's little helper "dead", it really strikes you how wide-ranging Rosa's skill set is in a universe that's known primarily for laughs.
  • The Treasury of Croesus.  A classic Scrooge McDuck treasure hunt has the gang looking for the treasury of Croesus, the man who invented money. Along the way, he has to fight entire armies and Magica De Spell, and contend with an increasingly frustrated Donald Duck.
  • The Universal Solvent. I've already described this one, so I'm going to just put this panel here, when Donald believes they're going to die.

  • An Eye for Detail. Scrooge realizes Donald can tell Huey, Dewey, and Louie apart effortlessly, and decides to use that superhuman eye for detail to benefit his business. However, Donald's eye is only good if he's not thinking about it, so it doesn't quite work out.
  • The Lost Charts of Columbus. A dated storyline now that we know what Columbus did or didn't do, but this functions as a sequel to Barks' "Golden Helmet," in which the owner of a particular artifact can claim possession and sovereignty over all of America. Columbus' charts provide the locations of older artifacts, so the entire story is about finding those treasures. Ends with a thought-provoker.
  • The Incredible Shrinking Tightwad. Donald and Scrooge get hit by a shrinking ray, and the Beagle Boys show up to steal money. I don't think I need to explain more than that.
  • Hearts of the Yukon. Scrooge McDuck and Glittering Goldie O'Gilt is one of the greatest "Will they, won't they" couples of fiction, and this story shows a time when two of them went out of their way to meet the other, only for life to get in the way. A tragicomedy told in flashback.
    Quite honestly, I think it's pointless to compare Rosa and Barks. Barks was a storyteller who did his work as best he could and never imagined these stories would have a lasting legacy, while Rosa as a storyteller is a fan and approaches it from that point of view. Barks never tried with the very dramatic or tragic moments the way Rosa does, which isn't a slight against either creator. I'm glad we have both, and this collection is still highly recommended. I'm going to go ahead and say that I'd probably recommend the entire Rosa Library over the entire Barks Library, partly in terms of volume (Rosa's not going to reach 10, I think, while Barks will go over 30), but also, partly, because Rosa's tones are a bit more diverse, and you get a feeling of celebration from him, specifically because he is a fan. And to top it all off, here's Rosa drawing Donald Duck for his 60th anniversary, both the classic modern version and the original Al Taliaferro version that first appeared in "The Wise Little Hen" in 1934.

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