Friday, January 5, 2018

REVIEW: Uncle Scrooge #33 (2017)

UNCLE SCROOGE #33 (legacy #437)
On-sale Dec. 27, 2017 from IDW
Regular cover by Jonathan H. Gray
IDW Publishing, $3.99, 40pgs.
On-sale December 27, 2017

1. “Scare of the Sky Satellite”
27 pages, Read Time – 13:15
2. “Sometimes a Nickle Spent is a Dollar Saved”
One page, Read Time – 0:45
3. “News From the Shoes”
Three pages, Read Time – 1:55

by 1. Carlo Chendi, 2. Daan Jippes, 3. Evert Geradts (story), 1. Giorgio Cavazzano, 2. Dan Jippes, 3. Bas Heymans (art), Digikore Studios (colors), Nicole and Travis Seitler (letters), and 1. Jonathan H. Gray, 3. Maura McManus (translation and dialogue) Edited by Joe Hughes.

 BOTTOM LINE: As always a fun read, and a better value than most mainstream comics. But I still wish it was packaged more as a consumer item than a collectible.

Although I would never have looked twice at a Disney comic when I was a kid — not even the few issues of SUPER GOOF given by well-meaning aunts at Christmas — I have been a fan of the line since the Gladstone years. Well, to put it more correctly, I became a fan of the Don Rosa ducks, and only after seeing those books praised endlessly in the much-missed COMICS BUYERS’ GUIDE. So, I admit, I am not enough of a connoisseur that I’d be able to spot a story by “good duck artist” Carl Barks without a credit box to guide my way.

Still, although Rosa is retired and the newer holders of the Disney license have not really ventured too deeply, if at all, into his back catalog, I have supported those comics. In fact, I was so happy when IDW took on the properties, I even bought MICKEY Goddamn MOUSE for the fist dozen issues, or so. Now, I did drop WALT DISNEY’S COMICS AND STORIES when IDW bumped the price a buck to $4.99. I just could not find value in the title at that price point. And then DONALD DUCK kind of abandoned me, as IDW put it on hiatus in apparent hopes that by running story arcs as a series of limited series with frequent first issues, it could boost sales. Me, I tend to be more attracted to the legacy aspect, and the fact these titles date back to the Golden Age. In fact, I appreciate that IDW includes a legacy number on its Disney books, even if in small print.

Anyway, UNCLE SCROOGE is the one IDW Disney book still chugging along — MICKEY and WDC&S also went on hiatus — although it lurks near the bottom of the Top 300 in sales, and I fear for how much longer it will last. But for now I’m content. As something of an objectivist, I like Scrooge best anyway. In fact, I think it’s a fair bet that ol’ Scroogie is a student of Ayn Rand, himself! Or at least of Milton Friedman.

This issue includes the first U.S. publications of a 1981 tale from Italy, as well as a 2013 one-pager from the Czech Republic and a 2008 short rom the Netherlands, both also making their U.S. debut.

The art in all three stories is totally on-model, making them, as Kevin Smith might say, “charming as fu*k.” I mean, honestly, the art is just fun to look at, even without bothering to read the stories, so, I can see how these comics would appeal to young readers overseas, where they’re still a stable of the childhood experience.

The longer tale features O.K. Quack. If I’m being honest, I was not all that familiar with this character and googled him for more info after reading the story. The only websites I found listed just a handful of appearances, all by the creators of this tale. Therefore, it does not seem that he made a great impact, in the grand scheme of all things duck.

Anyway, it seems O.K. is exactly what the introductory blurb to this story says — a duck-billed alien who rides around in a coin-shaped space ship he can shrink down to fit in his pocket. However, with said coin currently in its miniature shape and circulating throughout the local economy in hands unknown (that part I learned from Google), O.K. is stuck in Duckburg. He also has various mental powers, with the exact ability seeming to fluctuate based on the needs of a particular tale.

In this one, he has telekinesis. Strong telekinesis. He can actually lift Scrooge’s money bin. I’d like to see Jean Grey do that!

The first part of the story deals with the discovery that a satellite is failing in its orbit and will crash into the money bin. Such an event was timely enough at the time. Skylab had just crashed to earth in July 1979, a couple of years before this story first appeared in Italy, and that had been pretty big DOOM news across the globe. I remember spending a fair bit of time in the back yard in hopes I could spot it coming down. Still, it sort of requires a willing suspension of disbelief to accept this satellite’s exact trajectory, and the fact that local police shooing Scrooge away from his bin is the only official action taken to deal with the crash. But the art is charming enough it’s easy to go along for the ride, even when Scrooge offers $I million to anyone who can figure out a way to clear out the bin before impact. Oddly, if Scrooge had just given $20 to every person in line to grab one bag o’ coin and go, the job could’ve been done in under an hour.

Just as he gives up hope, because all of the evacuation ideas are such that even the youngest reader can spot instantly the inanity of the concepts — Donald, who just wants to spend the money and is charitably willing to help do so, comes up with the most workable concept — Scrooge learns of O.K.’s mind powers.  

So, O.K. moves the bin with seconds to spare — he’s too Morkish to have thought to volunteer for the job earlier — but loses his concentration as the satellite hits, and the bin floats away. You’d think the bin would’ve just crashed at that point, but then the story would’ve been over and there were still eight pages left, so it drifts to parts unknown.

It’s worth noting that using his powers gives O.K. a stutter, one that’s particularly noticeable given the weight of the money bin. And even after losing the bin, O.K. maintains the stutter though most of the story. I presume this is a bit that is translated from the original story. Maybe Italians think stuttering is funny? I dunno. I’m not a social justice warrior and not particularly outraged that the story seems to make fun of those with a stuttering affliction — it’s just that, as done, it’s not particularly funny and, worse, doesn’t really add anything to either the plot or characterizations.

Anyway, Scrooge soon learns Donald and others in town are making big bucks selling branches from their trees. One subtle joke is Donald being so happy to have been offered $100 out of the blue. Then we see that his neighbor got $200. There’s no punchline, but anyone who’s read even a few Donald comics can well imagine the frenzy of saliva-spewing agitation that will ensure the second Donald learns he’s allowed himself to get low-balled.

As it turns out, it’s the Beagle Boys who’ve been buying branches and we soon learn they are using them to cover a giant square object in their yard, this being, coincidentally, where the bin landed. Scrooge then concocts a means of getting a look under the branches to see what the Boys are hiding. Of course it’s the bin. Any four-year-old could see that. But, of course, that’s part of the joke, and the charm.

In the end, O.K. just levitates the bin back in place and the Boys are bound back for jail. But along the way there is an endless stream of tree puns that gets funnier and funnier, in part because you’re like, really? Another one? And another? Oh, my god, how many can they come up with?

What interested me most, however, was wondering how these panels came off in the original Italian. For example, Scrooge calls the Boys “poplar poltroons.” Was there an equally alliterative pejorative in the original Italian? And the boys, trying to convince Scrooge of their genuine interest in buying tree branches for not-illicit reasons, say, “We love green stuff! Greenbacks, green thumbs . . . same thing as forest we’re concerned. So, we’re leaf-ing crime for honest horticulture.”

“Am I a sap? Because I’m certainly stumped,” Scrooge says.

Those puns all work in English, but I really had to wonder, my grasp of Italian extending only about as far as Chico Marx, how they worked in the original story. They couldn’t have been the exact same types of  homonyms and homophones. So, does Italian have tree words that can likewise be stretched into the same sorts of double meanings? Or, did these panels say something else entirely in the original story, with this bit entirely the creation of translator Jonathan H. Gray? I note that he is credited for “translation and dialogue,” which intimates to me that some, if not all of the dialogue might, in fact, be his original work, with the translation part really only being the original plot.

Frankly, in nearly 30 years of reading U.S. reprints of foreign Disney comics, it never occurred to me to consider that these works may not be verbatim translations.

The two back-up tales are cute enough, with Scrooge getting the comeuppance for his greed in the first, but making others (i.e. Donald) suffer for it in the latter. The art in both, while newer, seems a bit more sophisticated than the main story, although the final tale almost looks to my eye to be taken from a drawer of stock poses.

I do enjoy my Scrooge comics, and I hope IDW continues to publish the line. However, I feel like it is missing a market niche. These comics are ideal for young readers (although adults like me can certainly enjoy them, too), but who in that demographic can drop $4 on a comic book? There comes a point where there is a certain price resistance and I can see even adults not wanting to spend that much on an item that is probably going to get mutilated when put in the hands of the intended audience. And they will get damaged. Glossy paper of the type used here — and the interior pages actually seem to be of a heavier stock that the cover — are not as supple as newsprint. Thus, they damage easily. I’ve refused to buy comics at $4 because of the damage they got just from my retailer taking them out of the Diamond Distribution box and putting them on the shelf. And that’s when they don’t arrive from Diamond all stove up already.

In my ever so humble opinion, IDW should reduce the paper quality of these comics to a point where it can offer a commensurate lowering of price. Now, working in the newspaper industry, I know full well that newsprint has gotten more expensive, proportionally, than higher grade papers, just because of the decrease in demand. Paper mills can’t move enough of the stuff to offer the volume discounts they used to. I’ve actually heard people claim it’s cheaper to print comics on glossy paper these days than on newsprint. But I don’t think I;m ready to swallow that big a pill, quite yet.

But there is really nothing so detailed about the line work or coloring of these Disney comics that they absolutely demand the higher-grade paper. What IDW needs to do, I think, is make and market these comics as the same kinds of items they were intended to be back in the day when Dell Publishing ruled the stands. In other words, they should be seen as disposable consumer items. And, to that end, they should be cheap enough that every guy like me who frequents a comic shop will not mind at all adding an extra Disney book or two to the pull list, to give to a child, niece or nephew, or other young person, while saying, “Here ya go kid, knock yourself out.”

And if that means going to newsprint — which can stand up to more abuse but ultimately is not seen as a waste of money when it does get damaged — than so be it.

But ultimately, if IDW’s Disney comics continue to be manufactured as is — making them essentially collector’s items to be bagged and tagged, and most definitely not given to children — then I don’t really know how much longer it will be before the company is backed into such a sharp financial corner that it will be forced to drop the line.

I mean, don’t get me wrong. I enjoy the comics and I find value in them, especially in that a typical $4 IDW Disney comic is in my hands for at least twice as long as the average DC or Marvel comic offered at the same price point. But IDW can’t long survive on serving me alone.

Oh, and one final thing. While Rosa's duck tales always appeared overseas first, so far as I know, it was kinda cool knowing he was one o' the tribe here in the colonies, as it were. Based on Jonathan H. Gray's covers, he clearly has a handle on how draw these characters. And if the dialogue of this issue is, in fact, his original work and not merely a direct translation, he certainly has my vote for writing as well. What I would really like to see is at least a few Scrooge and/or Donald stories featuring all-new original work by Gray.

Until then, this issue is . . . 


COVER: 7.00 | PLOTS: 7.75 | SCRIPTS: 8.25 | LAYOUTS: 9.25 | ART: 9.00 | EDITS: 7.00

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