Story A: “Go, Go, Golden Years”
- Writer: Joey Cavalieri
- Artist: Emilio Urbano, Andrea Greppi, Michela Frare, Cristina Stella
- Colorist: Lucio De Guiseppe & Guiseppe Fontana
- Letterer: Tom B. Long
Story B: “A Series of Unfortunate Substitutions”
- Writer: Joe Caramagna
- Artist: Antonello Dalena, Manuela Razzi, Gianfranco Florio, Roberto Zanotta
- Colorist: Guiseppe Fontana
- Letterer Tom B. Long
- Editor: Joe Hughes
It’s a matter of some debate in my house who, exactly, DuckTales is being bought for. I think I’m buying it for my kids, and my kids think I’m buying it for me. This isn’t normally how things go.
I love DuckTales, both old and new. My kids and I regularly watch the new show (when Disney XD remembers to put on new episodes) and find it hilarious. The first episode, “Woo-oo!” has been played at least ten times—four of which were before episode two aired to begin with.
But we’ve found the comics to be less impressive. That’s a real shame because I’m convinced these could be something great.
Each comic contains two stories, each similar in structure to a ten page Carl Barks (creator of Uncle Scrooge) stories, giving a flexibility between comedy and adventure that often lets them hit both. Think “Super Snooper” or “A Financial Fable,” if you know those stories. That’s no small feat. Issue #5 includes “Go, Go, Golden Years” and “A Series of Unfortunate Substitutions.” While both stories are readable and the kids and I found ourselves giggling throughout, neither story works as well as it could have. There are a number of reasons why, but they can be boiled down to a few simple things: a lack of coherent storytelling, confusing (though very nice looking) art, and very, very small lettering.
“Go, Go, Golden Years”
This story is flat out confusing. It opens with something that could very well be a standalone teaser in the TV show; Uncle Scrooge is being chased across a plank and rope bridge in a jungle country with some “primitive” people chasing him. Scrooge has acquired something called the Golden Calf of Latte, and someone named Dr. Quackmire Quantum is trying to get it back for his “caffeine bomb.”
It’s here you can see the issues in its staging. The opening panels are hard to track spatially, with a fight on a rope bridge that breaks over a river, but leading to Scrooge falling on a pirate ship in the middle of the ocean. He manages to foil the pirates’ attempts to shoot him down, scuttling their ship in the process. The scene ends with Scrooge’s relief that Donald is coming to pick him up, though it took me a few reads before I understood that the ship way back in the corner of the half-page splash was supposed to be Donald’s.
My issues with this chain of events are particularly frustrating because all of the ingredients are there. Not only are the jokes and ideas totally in keeping with the series, the art is absolutely on-point in terms of character design. It feels like something right out of the TV show (helped by the show’s attempt to look like something right out of a comic), with Scrooge’s expressions and posing clear, demonstrative, and funny.
With the teaser over, we head to the main plot. Donald and the nephews are showing Uncle Scrooge a video advertisement about a scientist who has created an anti-aging potion and is looking for a sponsor—made all the more confusing by the fact that he’s on TV. In the next page, Donald refers to him as “Van Wrinkle,” but because the scientist never said his name, it took me a few pages to figure out if he was making fun of the old man or not. This is particularly problematic because he starts with a jab at Scrooge, then mentions Van Wrinkle. Clarity in speech is storytelling 101 stuff.
Scrooge decides to meet the man to see if he should fund his product. They test it on Scrooge without warning, and it does keep him from aging—by making him move so slowly that he is essentially frozen. This might seem like a sinister plot, but it’s really just sort of confusing—the scientist is capable of remarkable feats of strength and agility despite being older than Scrooge, and shows no adverse side effects.
Donald and the nephews get Scrooge back to the treasure room on a dolly, but accidentally break the Golden Calf (I actually only figured out that this ties back to the beginning of the story right now, as I was writing this) of Latte. Fortunately, they use its super powerful coffee beans to get their uncle back to normal, though far more energized and alive than he was after his adventure in the teaser. The scene in the coffee shop where they’re chugging down cappuccinos to keep up with him is a great gag.
This story was difficult to track, causing me to turn back the page a few times to figure out what I had missed. This seemed like an idea right out of the show, but the execution felt slipshod due to its lack of visual clarity.
I do think the art (though not necessarily its composition) is appealing and in the style of the show; that continuity has definitely kept the books more approachable for my kids. The visual flow, however, is difficult to track. It’s worst in those first few pages, but it doesn’t specifically improve throughout, instead relying on overly wordy dialogue to explain what’s going on. This was clunky in ways it didn’t need to be, especially considering the quality of the jokes and artists involved.
And here’s where we come to the problem with this being a kid’s comic. On top of this being very wordy, the lettering uses a thin, small, almost spindly font, which seems to be an attempt to keep everything compact. This is difficult but possible to read as an adult, but my 7-year-old can’t read the tiny text on her own. This is compounded by word balloon placement that isn’t always intuitive, which leads to some frustration and “Mommy, can you read us DuckTales now?” The story gaps left my kids confused. They didn’t mind as much as I did, but it did decrease their interest in going back for more.
The story includes jokes—“It’s going viral!” “So will yogurt if you leave it out of the fridge too long!” and (the Golden Calf of Latte falls and breaks in two pieces) “Well, now it’s a half-calf”—that made me laugh, but I kept needing to explain the jokes to the kids. They did, however, enjoy the difference between Uncle Scrooge before his magic coffee (too slow to be visibly moving) and after (too fast and energetic for anyone to keep up with). They seemed to find that relatable to their mother somehow.
“A Series of Unfortunate Substitutions”
Is A Series of Unfortunate Events still a big deal? When I was a bookseller in the early 2000s, I sold that series on a daily basis, but my kids don’t seem have bumped into it at all; my oldest is 10. The title felt a little dated to me because of that, but with other titles like “Big Trouble in Little Lake,” I can see that they’re making an effort to make this more of an all-ages comic.
While “Go, Go, Golden Years” spans a significant physical area, “A Series of Unfortunate Substitutions” is a more confined narrative. Launchpad McQuack is trying out for a role in a local flight show team (I had to read the first two pages twice to figure that out), and crashes his plane (because of course he does). One of the other pilots is mad at him for some reason that is incredibly unclear. Launchpad can’t fly for two weeks (that much is clearly stated, though the why of it isn’t), and Dewey asks Launchpad to teach him to fly while he’s groundbound. Donald, worrywart that he is, vetoes this idea.
Several pages of Dewey trying to get to Launchpad without Donald finding out follow, and they’re cute. Dewey eventually figures it out, of course, and gets his flying lessons from a bedridden Launchpad. Donald has to travel for an interview in Calisota, however, so Launchpad decides to get out of bed and fly the plane against doctor’s orders.
A note: duck comics traditionally take place in Calisota. It’s a fictional state dating back to the earliest Duck comics, with Duckburg as one of the cities in the state (Mickey Mouse lives in Mouseton, if you’re curious, while Goofy lives in Spoonerville, Darkwing Duck in St. Canard, and the TaleSpin crew in Cape Suzette: three of those being cities mentioned in the first episode. I’m not obsessed, you’re obsessed.) Donald saying he needs to travel there is like being in Los Angeles and saying you need to fly to California for an interview. I understand continuity changes for a new show, but this was just confusing. Where is Duckburg?
Uncle Scrooge has hired the guy from the beginning of the story, the one who was mad at Launchpad, to fly the plane, leaving Launchpad behind. It wasn’t clear to me that this was the same guy, as his name wasn’t mentioned until his second appearance here.
Here’s a writer’s tip: a big part of why characters are given funny names in comics like this, and why they’re said early on, is so that readers can track what’s going on and have a laugh in the process. Van Wrinkle is a great example of this kind of name, even if it wasn’t clear who Donald was referring to right away. That economy of storytelling is especially important in a short piece like this.
While Launchpad is forced to stay behind, Dewey gets to come along. The pilot gets knocked out due to a really bad gag (figuratively and literally) that kids wouldn’t get—Donald’s cologne seems to cause an allergic reaction or something?—and Dewey has to take over and fly the plane. Which, since he was taught by Launchpad, means that he crashes. Into a fruit stand.
The one really funny moment in the story for me (outside of a gag where Donald’s cologne is called Desperation, and Scrooge ribs him for it) is when the fruit stand owner tries to be angry that his stand has been destroyed and Uncle Scrooge turns it around into “Well, aren’t you sorry for putting your fruit stand right into the middle of my emergency landing?”
I have the same frustrations with “A Series of Unfortunate Substitutions” that I did with “Go, Go, Golden Years” artwise. The art itself follows the style of the TV show, which is good, but the comic remains too wordy, and the lettering has to be miniscule to avoid having text overwhelm the art.
I do like the way DuckTales is presented in single issues: variant covers are right at the front, so it’s easy for kids to find the extra art, and all the ads are tucked away in the back, which keeps the story uninterrupted and makes it easier for Mom to get the comic away from the kids before they decide they need every single book there. I do appreciate, however, that most of the ad space is taken up by other comics instead of just toys. I know my parents would have appreciated that when I was a kid reading Mad magazine.
A small note: the use of Donald in the comics is greatly appreciated and often very, very funny, as his character hasn’t been shown nearly as much in the TV show. The character has endured for a reason.
Every month, my kids and I consider whether or not we’ll get the next issue of DuckTales, and every month we do, so there has to be something here. But it’s not a comic I revisit, and it’s not a comic I think of later. These two stories are fun enough, but they don’t read like an expansion of the TV show, they read like a second string version of it.
The lack of clarity in the storytelling is also frustrating, but despite how much I might nitpick, it’s something that can be overcome. When the complaints go towards nitpicking rather than broader story concerns, it’s usually a matter of editorial not doing its job in focusing the writers and artists in a cohesive way. I don’t spend time picking apart things I think are bad, and I don’t want you to get that impression here. Because it’s not that these comics are bad, it’s that these comics could be great. The talent is there (though I have no love for the letterer), but the lack of direction kills the heights it could hit. Instead, DuckTales #5, like the preceding issues, falls into the category of decent but ultimately forgettable.
Shoot for greatness, guys. We’ll be here next month.
Disclaimer: GeekMom received this comic for review purposes.