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Thursday, 14 April 2016

REVIEW: "Shiver Me Timbers"

Joe Torcivia (go check his awesome blog, by the way) once asked me if I'd review one of his “scripted stories”. This prompted me to finally get my hands on an American IDW Uncle Scrooge issue, Uncle Scrooge #406. Since all three stories in there are pretty good, I'll review them all, but before that, non-American readers are going to ask what I mean by “scripted stories” (don't all stories have script, after all ?). 

Well. Nowadays, American readers will never get their hands on European stories as their readers first discovered them, except through scanlations. Why is that ? Well, all the foreign stories printed in American comics are not only translated, but rescripted by another author (the most illustrious being Geoffrey Blum, David Gerstein, Joe Torvicia, Jonathan Gray and the late Chris Barat). I have had numerous arguments on the Internet on this matter, because I don't really support this method, first because it stops the readers from having a clear opinion of the original author's work (a good rescripter can make a piece of junk into an okay story… which is nice and all, but then we're going to believe the original author was much better than he actually is). And also, there is a continuity problem. I'm very set on continuity, as you may know, and it really bothers me that we have two slightly different, overlapping versions of the same events. It's Donrosatian attention for details, of course, but it is a fact that through no plausible contortion of Time can Donald have both said on day X “Hello, uncle Scrooge” and “Nice G weather today”. I chose an inconsequential example because I wanted to ridicule myself a little, since I'll admit all this is pretty over-the-top. But sometimes it's a little bit more important. Like this, from The Eternal Knot, which GeoX already reviewed

I am told that Scrooge citing examples from his family is the translator's idea, whereas in the original he was just talking “in general”. Well, assuming I'm a Don Rosa clone who wants to make a Duck family tree, except not just from Barks stories… what do I do ? Do Aunt Molly and Cousin Clem exist, or not ? Since this is their only mention ever and they only exist in one of the two possible things Scrooge said (and that the version where Scrooge didn't cite them is, since it's the oldest one, the most likely to be canon) ? Gah ! And it's not just a thought experiment, because I did attempt once or twice to build such a tree. 

On the other hand… after repeated exposure to them, I kinda warmed up to these rescripting because often, they are damn good ! As I said before too, my idea solution would be that all those talented authors that are busy doing the rescripting be instead hired to write script to new Disney stories. 

At any rate…

This is 2003's Shiver Me Timbers, written by Jan Kruse and drawn by Bas Heymans, and here rescripted by Jonathan Gray. The story opens as the Ducks (including Scrooge) travel to Codfish Cove for a fishing weekend. This feels more like a Donald thing to do, obviously, so the opening dialogues are about justifying why Scrooge tags along too, since we'll need him later when this turns into a treasure hunt. The justification (fishing fish is free, buying fish costs).

Bas Heymans's distinctive art is excellent at this atmospheric stuff with the realistic-looking ship an the old sailor. However, though a three-master would be kinda original, describing it as a "ship out o'time" seems odd. For us it would be, but for the fantasy world of Donald Duck & Co., it appears it wouldn't. Moby Duck sails a similar, wooden, sail ship on a daily basis, and both Donald Duck finds Pirate Gold and its sequel South Sea Shenanigans feature the Ducks and Yellow Beak traveling aboard such a ship. I can admit that it would still get a few odd looks, but it wouldn't be enough spookiness to chase an entire crew of sailors out of town !

This reminds me of Barks's Let Sleeping Bones Lie where Scrooge tries to convert a giant dinosaur fossil into a fast-food restaurant. I'm not sure it's intentional, but it is quite similar.

What the…? You can be sure of one thing, this is one piece of dialogue that Jonathan Gray can be held responsible for. Aside from the weird “ain't” and “o'” that I feel would belong more in Pete's mouth than in Donald's, space-kidettes ? What on Earth is that supposed to mean ? 

Similarly, I'm 90 percents sure that Donald calling Super Goof is Gray's idea. And aside from the fact that I'm naturally unsympathetic towards it because continuity blah blah blah… there is a clear logical fallacy here. Because whereas Donald just yelling "HELP" would justify Scrooge's answer, any Super Goof fan knows that his super-hearing allows him to hear cries for help from absurdly long distances.  Which means that Donald was perfectly justified in trying to yell HELP, and Scrooge is wrong to tell him to stop.

That image of the island and the ship, and its colorization, are both flawless. Congratulations. 

Bas Heymans really knows how to make striking perspective. Bravo again, quite loudly.

Turns out the ghost is just a hand/glove. “Well, I can safely say that I am currently terrified beyond all reason.” might be a rescripting line, but I find it delightfully hilarious in its nonsensicality. It's lines like that that make me reconsider my opinions about these things.

Hilarious allusion, too (for those who don't know, Scrooge is quoting the Donald Duck theme song in the left panel), even though I am once more quite sure that it wasn't there in the original. On the right, wha Scrooge says rhymes, so I wonder if he's still singing or not. Perhaps.

It's weird how in the comics, the other characters pick up on the weirdness of Donald Duck's voice much less often than in cartoons. I guess it's because, since you don't really hear his voice in the comics, we have it less on our minds, and thus allusions are considered harder to get. The point being, this one allusion to his quacking tendencies is welcome !

I like the Moby Duck allusion, though why does he say “our pal” ? Moby Duck is his uncle, not his friend. As for the “Gravity Falls” allusion… other than the fact that it's a very weird pun since it's a pun on a pun… It can be taken three way. Either:
  • There just happens to be a location in the Duck universe known as Gravity Falls (it's possible, I guess);
  • Donald is referring to the TV series, in which case sorry, no, not possible, because the TV series premiered in 2012, which means that in 2003 Donald couldn't have heard about it;
  • This is a hint that the TV series takes place in the same universe as the usual Disney comics… which is possible too, but it's weird because if there's any Disney property whose style wouldn't mash up well with Disney comics, it's Gravity Falls
And the thing is, if it's either #1 or #3, we are faced the continuity problem, since this is all a rescripting thing. Is there a location named Gravity Falls in the Duck Universe, or not ?!?

Well, anyway. The Ducks discover that an evil wizard is behind the whole thing, and that to lift the curse they have to find him. Anyways, things spiral into madness from there. It's often hilarious and always engaging, but I can't help but wonder what went through Kruse's mind. Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman and the Knights of the Round Table and an evil sorcerer and blah blah blah ? What's all that doing in a pirate ghost story ?!? There's not much more to review here aside from that, except that the Headless Horseman is very dissimilar to his standard Disney portrayal.

I do wonder one last thing: how does the chef know the name of the pirates-turned-seagulls ? I don't think those are supposed to be anthropomorphic seagulls, so they can't have told him…

Well, anyway, good art and a delightfully wacky plot make this story a very enjoyable read. As for Gray's localization, it has its ups (very up) and its downs (mindscrews).

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

REVIEW: "Voodoo Hoodoo"

Haunted Mansion comics may be nice, but it was time I got back to more traditional Disney comics. Now, I had read Voodoo Hoodoo a couple of times in the past, but in French translations (since, as you may have grasped in the comments of the ‘Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ post, I’m French). For the purpose of doing this review, I got around reading it in its original American printing, and a bunch of things suddenly struck me about it.

So there’s this rumor of a zombie hanging around in Duckburg. Donald hears said rumors and goes ask an… expert on ghost stuff who… I dunno… see for yourself.

Original version.
“Censored” version.

These two panels are, to me, the most puzzling thing in the whole comic. For various reasons.

  • First: who IS this guy ? Barks throws him in like he’s some regular friend of Donald’s, which we of course know he isn’t. And where does Donald know him from ?  What kind of a name is Bop Bop anyway ? Why is he riding that ridiculous little  motorcar, with an oversized trumpet under his armpit ? WHY ? Also, if he’s that scared of a mere zombie, how comes he’s an « expert on ghost stuff » ? We need more information !

  • Second: the words “done fer“ seem to have been written by someone other than Barks. Did the editor censor the word “dead” ? Seems likely to me, as I know more recent reprints have “dead” written instead, in Barks’s usual lettering font. 

  • Third: is Bop Bop supposed to be black ? I mean, the coloring of the first printing seems to be designed to make us think so, but his facial structure is more similar to non-black Gottfredson characters like Joe Piper than to Barks’s depiction of black people later on — first of all, his black people are, well, black (their skin is inked on, Barks didn’t just draw the outlines and wait for the colorist to do the rest). Of course, on the other hand, there’s his accent, which, yeah, it could be an afro-american accent, but it could just be a low-class accent with no ethnic connection. THEN AGAIN, if he’s a low-class, why does he wear this fancy billionaire suit ? The “censored” version has a less ambiguous coloring. And his grammar is slightly better, but not much. It's so weird.

What was bound to happen happens: Donald meets the Zombie, whom apparently the editors in charge of the reprinting also thought was racistly depicted, and they had Barks re-draw his face without the big nose. (Same goes for Foola Zoola later). I’m not sure about this: on one hand, I don’t think it’s particularly offensive in Bombie’s case. A big nose is a cartoon/comic standard (just look at Asterix, for instance). If you look up any Donald story featuring “real” humans (aside from Dangerous Disguise and Ancient Persia, which are really special cases), there’s a good chance they’ll have noses at least as big as Bombie’s. On the other hand, I actually think Bombie and Foola Zoola look better with a smaller, more realistic nose; it makes them look like more “serious” characters. Bombie's misadventures you take more seriously than those of, say, Witch Hazel. And Foola Zoola, with his small, triangular nose, is much more threatening. He also looks more his age with those wrinkled lips. And those pointy teeth look so unspeakably silly. Here is a comparison:

This is silly.

This is eerily chilling.

So, you probably know how this goes. The zombie gives Donald a voodoo doll that stings him, and, persuaded that he's under some kind of curse, Donald goes to his Uncle Scrooge's.

So, here are my thoughts about this little part of the story that has turned, in the fans' eyes, into its biggest problem. At the time, Scrooge wasn't established as a “good guy”, and thus apparently, the curse was put on him when he tried to throw a voodoo tribe out of their property to turn it into a rubber plantation. To “justify” it, Don Rosa, in his Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, based a whole story arc on how this was Scrooge's only dishonest deed ever, how he always regretted it and how Bombie the Zombie and his curse are metaphorically an allegory of his remorse. The arc Rosa did is, on its own, wonderful, but… bah. He is missing the point.

You see, this rationalization is all based on the fact that what Scrooge did is evil. And the thing is, Barks's story really doesn't support this interpretation. First, there is the fact that Foola Zoola is this evil witch-doctor who is basically the villain of the story, and for that matter wouldn't look out of place in a line-up of Disney villains also including Jafar, Cruella De Vil, Maleficent and the likes. And then, there's the fact that everyone else in Africa seems to fear and hate this tribe, too; and there are also those rumors that Foola Zoola leads raids and plunders to nearby villages that the Ducks hear at the airport. Had Scrooge succeeded in getting rid of Foola and his men, he would have been seen as a savior by literally everybody else on the planet. 

Why this is uncomfortable is because it implies that the Voodoo Tribe is unredeemably evil, and that Scrooge's “Those savages were made” line and its next-of-kins are right. And they sound so despicably racist to modern ears ! But what one must understand is that though it's racist from our point of view, in this universe of fiction, all those things are true. You just can't blame characters who appear to us as racist, when through some whim of a racist author, the universe they are in really works like that.

Do bear in mind that I'm not saying Barks was racist, or that this story was especially racist, but it just contains clichĂ©s that are racist — namely, the evil voodoo tribe and its evil leader. It's racist from our point of view… but in-story, it's not: the evil voodoo tribe is evil, and making us feel sorry for them is missing the point.

This is one of my favorite bits in the story. At the sight of that second panel, I am filled with an indescribable mix of laughter and empathy. Poor thing. You just want to hug old Bombie.

This whole quiz sequence is as hilarious today as it ever was, since those things certainly didn't improve since 1948. I find this ever-moving presenter pretty hilarious, contrasted with the unmoving Bombie. This is one sequence that would render beautifully in animation.

This is probably unintentional, but I find it worth noting that it is a talking dog making the statement that “clams don't talk” as though it was elementary. 

The panel on the right, with its realistic scenery and shadowing, seems serious; complete with Donald's conqueror pose, if you forgot for a minute that it's a waterfowl you're looking at, this could seem to be from a genuine adventure story/movie.

Isn't this guy strange ? He's got dog ears, but a human nose. He must be a hybrid, I guess. 

Isn't this surreal image pretty funny ? It is to me. Also, notice how Bombie seems to be wearing the quiz presenter's very suit.

Carl Barks was generally a pretty good artist, but there is something weird with the proportions here. Either Donald suddenly grew a foot or two in height, or the native is a pygmy, which is unlikely. 

There is the bit I was talking about earlier -- Foola Zoola and his tribes are definitely villains.

Here's another place where Rosa's version and Barks's just don't add up, not just in terms of symbolism and morality, but in terms of facts. For one, here it is obvious that Zoola and Scrooge were old rivals who knew each other for quite a while. In Rosa's versions, they see each other for, what, thirty minutes maximum. Zoola's “Dear old friend” isn't really logical then. And also, that weird idea of Rosa's that Scrooge looking like Donald was the result of a disguise. Well, it's funny in itself, but the way this dialogue here plays, this is not a possibility that was, actually, left open. In Don Rosa's version, Scrooge only disguises himself after introducing himself to Foola under his regular appearance -- Bombie is tricked by Scrooge's disguise, but not Zoola. Thus, it doesn't make a shred of sense that Zoola would, genuinely, confuse present-day Donald with the Scrooge he knows. No, the way Foola Zoola puts it here, it's very clear that in the days the two knew each other, Scrooge  genuinely did look like Donald.

There's some good tension here, but the stake seems kind of ridiculous in comparison. I mean, you're gonna be shrunk to the size of a mouse. I can see why it would be unpleasant, but there's nothing to be too tragic (for Donald) or sadistic (for Foola) about. It's nothing too deadly or harmful, especially considering that in the Disney Comics world, anthropomorphic mice exist, which means there already are facilities arranged for 10-centimeters-tall people.

This denouement always fell flat for me. I mean, what are  the odds that Bombie somehow only bounces on people ? 

Well, anyway, a good story with not a doubt, with mostly great art, a good story, a good character, and a lot of creativity. There is however some confusing stuff (Bop Bop, I won't forget you!), as well as some vaguely racist stereotypes, but nothing too drastic.