DuckTales has been rebooted as a new ongoing comic book from Kaboom!, and guess who’s read the first four issues? Guess? It’s me. I read them.
What’d you do today? Did you go to work? Read an article about Ryan Gosling? Have sex with another human in real life? Not me — I read the DuckTales comic book. If it has anthropomorphic ducks running around in people clothes, I’m probably going to invest an inordinate amount of time examining it, and DuckTales has that shit on every page. You see, this is how I’ve chosen to devote a small portion of my finite time on this planet — looking at images of ducks in airplanes, ducks yelling at yetis, and ducks eating top hats. Like dressing Kate Moss in clothes from the Gap or feeding Anthony Bourdain a plateful of McNuggets, so I treat my intellectually malnourished brain to an illustrated narrative concerning duck people.
Scrooge McDuck, to me, is arguably the most morally ambiguous character in the Disney cartoon oeuvre. On the one hand, he takes care of his nephew’s children, he abhors cheating, and his success is one built on self-reliance and hard work. On the other hand, he often resorts to exploitation, cruelty, and selfishness. While nearly every other Disney character is always portrayed with huge vacant grins, Scrooge McDuck’s face is perpetually frozen in a bitter hateful scowl. The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck by Carl Rosa is a goddamn masterpiece and the quintessential exploration of Scrooge’s development from ambitious young duck in a poor Scottish village to someone who swims in a money bin. It’s a well researched lushly plotted 12-issue series, and it won an Eisner award for best serialized story. Pixar should adapt it. Children should read it in school. It’s a fucking classic, you philistines.
When Warren Spector set out to write a DuckTales series, he faced a difficult dilemma. How do you make a rich old miser the hero of a comic book following a stock market crash, a bank bailout, and a recession? Greedy CEOs and their (white people) problems don’t exactly appeal to the young demographic Kaboom! seeks to attract, even if they are talking ducks. So for his first storyline, Spector pulled a brilliant move by centering the plot on a bet between Scrooge and his rival John D. Rockerduck over who can return the most plundered treasures to their original native owners. This comes about after Webby calls out Scrooge for either A) tricking natives out of their cultural treasures or B) exploiting their desperation. At first, true to form, Scrooge dismisses her cries for social justice as a fat load of hippie bullshit (in not so many words). Then Rockerduck appears on TV, declaring that he will return all of the plundered artifacts he’s collected to their original owners, galling Scrooge’s ego and the stage is set for the globetrotting plot.
Although the expedition itself is an altruistic one, truculent old Scrooge’s motivations come down to his inflated ego and his need to be the best — even if it’s at charity. Throughout the series, he orders his nephews around (“Lead on, double time! Neh, there are three of ye, so let’s make it triple time!” He treats a character named Farquardt like human — or whatever species he is — garbage. He demands that Launchpad pay for the airplanes he’s crashed and asks for a 30% cut of the tourism revenue for one of the items he returns. Yet despite these ethical failings, he has a brief realization toward the end: “Doing the right thing, even when it’s hard, is one of life’s most rewarding experiences,” he tells Webbie. Hmm, it feels disingenuous I think.
Interesting to note is Webbie’s expanded role in this series. Past depictions have portrayed her as a sort of caricature of a girl rather than a fully realized character. Here, however, she’s the only female sibling of boy triplets who have largely ostracized her. She’s presumed to be an asinine little girl, and thus, patronized and disregarded. Because of this, she’s forced to work extra hard to prove herself. One of her brothers says at one point, “This is man’s work,” to which she replies, “What does a girl have to do to up her status with you boys?” and proceeds to list all the ways she’s demonstrated her superior intelligence and audacity. Huey, Dewey, and Louie look at her like their balls are in a vice. Later, she gives her iconic pink bow to a yeti in what I would assert is a feminist gesture symbolic of the stripping away of cultural conventions concerning gender, but is more likely an excuse to see her bow on the evil dog guy cause it’s funny and stuff.
This series does not approach Don Rosa’s standard of quality in terms of writing although the art approximates the look of the cartoon fairly well. At times, the pacing feels rushed, but then there are long stretches of agonizingly dull dialogue about museum revenue and such. I think the problem was that the stakes weren’t high enough, and John D. Rockerduck just isn’t a threatening villain. If it were up to me, this wouldn’t be a light and breezy comic, but a haunting character study exploring the depths of Scrooge’s cruelty as he busts unions and lays off workers, but it’s for kids or whatever so fuck me, right? I did however enjoy all the references to past episodes of DuckTales as well as to the Don Rosa series. There’s even a cameo from a certain Darkwing Duck villain in there.
In my opinion, fans of the Uncle Scrooge comics will be disappointed by this series while those who feel nostalgia for the cartoon might glean some mild amusement from it. Me, I’ll keep reading regardless because I’m possessed by a rapacious appetite for images of ducks doing people things. It started in daycare when the teachers would turn on DuckTales after they’d run out of activities, and the images metastasized through my brain like an insidious weed. Sometimes late at night, I lie awake, humming the theme song. It’s probably the best theme song in the history of television.
And let me conclude with this little nugget: Scrooge McDuck died in 1967.