Comic Review: The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck (Vol. 1)

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Connellsville

There's a world outside Odyssey. Occasionally I'll review other all-ages entertainment to see how it stacks up to Adventures in Odyssey.

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I generally dislike talking animals stories. I fail to understand why most critics get so excited over Pixar releases. I’m decidedly not a Pixar fanboy. I think they have a couple truly great features (The Incredibles and Ratatouille), a few merely good ones (Toy Story and WALL-E), and the rest are just so-so (save Cars, which is simply awful). The talking dogs is one reason I group Up in the “just so-so” category instead of the “merely good” category. That in mind, I would probably be the last person you’d think would enjoy a comic about an anthropomorphic duck.

Like Adventures in Odyssey, Uncle Scrooge is a long-running series. It has been an ongoing comic series since 1952. Over that time, it has changed publishers several times (the series is currently published by Boom! Studios, which also publishes a number of other Disney comics). The series has published over 400 issues. Scrooge has never been extremely popular here in the United States where superheroes practically have a monopoly at the local comic book store, but he enjoys considerable popularity in Europe. The series has even been translated into several different languages.

I’ve never read any of the other issues of Uncle Scrooge, so The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck is my introduction to the Duck universe (what fans call the fictional world centering on stories about Donald Duck and Scrooge McDuck). The Life and Times was originally published as issues #285-296 of Uncle Scrooge in 1994-95. I don’t purchase individual issues of comic books. I prefer reading what the industry calls trade paperbacks or trades. They are bound like a normal book and collect several issues in one binding. The issues of The Life and Times had been collected before, but that collection has long been out of print. Boom! Studios, the current publisher of Uncle Scrooge, recently reissued the collection in two hardcover volumes. Volume 1 contains the first six issues.

Of course, I’m familiar with Scrooge from cartoons such as DuckTales (which, though I didn’t know this when I watched the series as a kid, is actually based on the Uncle Scrooge comic series, and many of the episodes are direct adaptations of issues of the comic book series). But I’ve never read any of the Duck universe comics, so I really wasn’t sure what to expect when I started The Life and Times. I decided to purchase it because it has won several awards. I’m happy to report you’ll easily be able to pick up the story even if you’re not familiar with the Duck universe.

I think a good trade not only collects issues from a comic book series but also includes essays about the series, behind-the-scenes info, and commentary on the collected issues. Although I’m buying them for the comic stories, I always feel a little cheated when a trade is nothing more than a reproduction of the already-published issues and maybe a short introduction (in this regard, I think IDW has done a much better job on the Angel trades than Dark Horse has with the Buffy trades). At the very least, it should include a gallery with alternative covers and sketches at the end. The Boom! collection features commentary by writer-artist Don Rosa after each issue.

Several times Rosa points out (sometimes significant) changes his editor suggested. Unlike what you might expect, he never complains about how much greater the story would have been if the publisher hadn’t tampered with it. Each time he explains how the story was actually improved by his editor. Artists are often fragile around criticism of their work. We’ve all heard the tale a million times: A director insists her movie would have been better if the studio hadn’t re-edited it, the author is convinced her novel would have been more well-received if the publisher hadn’t made certain edits, etc. While I’m sure in some of those situation the artist is right, most of the time she’s not. Look at Woody Allen:

His films used to be critically-acclaimed, but most of his more recent filmography has been harshly criticized. His directorial debut (if you exclude What’s Up, Tiger Lily?, which was really just a redub of a Japanese spy thriller), Take the Money and Run, simply wasn’t coming together, so the producers brought in editor Ralph Rosenblum to assist Allen. According to Turner Classic Movies, “Rosenblum found Allen to be reserved, despondent about the problems with his film, but not at all arrogant or demanding. He admitted to not knowing what he was doing and followed Rosenblum’s suggestions.” Rosenblum rearranged the sequences, had Allen write new narration to bridge the sequences, and even rescored the movie. Forty-two years and nearly as many films later, I’m sure Allen doesn’t have to go to other people for help with directing his films. I’m sure at this point he could direct a film in his sleep. And maybe that’s the problem. When an artist stops seeking assistance and criticism from others, her work will suffer for it.

A lot of artists also chafe against any kind of restriction, but it is restrictions that usually produce the art. They force the artist to hone her skills. Today it’s common for big blockbusters to run over two hours, but the greatest movies almost always clock in under 120 minutes. A good 150-minute movie can become a great movie if culled down 120 minutes. All the average segments have to be lost, and all that remain are the great segments. Each The Life and Times issue is only fifteen pages long. This forced Rosa to trim each issue down to its most essential parts. This resulted in quick-paced, tightly-plotted stories that are quick and fun to read. And these stories are not slight. Rosa packs an amazing amount of plot into fifteen pages.

The first chapter, “The Last of the Clan McDuck,” is the weakest. It feels like it’s mostly there to set the stage. Most of what we learn about Castle McDuck could have been revealed in the fifth chapter. Chapter two, “The Master of the Mississippi,” where Scrooge moves to America and becomes a riverboat captain, is where the story really picks up. Rosa even requested and was granted permission to make this chapter twenty-eight pages long. In the third chapter, “The Buckaroo of the Badlands,” Scrooge heads west and becomes a cowboy. In the commentary, Rosa states his editor rejected virtually the entire first draft of this chapter. He continues, “[My editor] was right, as usual, and though I wouldn’t say the rewrite was one of the better chapters of the series, it’s still a far cry better than the first version.” I must disagree with Rosa. It’s my favorite chapter from this volume. It has bandits, dinosaur bones, and a grizzly bear! Chapter four, “Raider of the Copper Hill,” sees Scrooge change occupations from cowboy to prospector. Things seem to slow down in chapter five, “The New Laird of Castle McDuck,” with Scrooge returning to Scotland. Plus there is an odd four page sequence that takes place in heaven (or the afterlife) that seems out of place. It ends on a strong note though with Scrooge taking his prospecting to South Africa in chapter six, “The Terror of the Transvaal.”

22 Comments

I've read this series a bit. I like it a lot! This review reminded me about it. It's quite an accurate review.

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