"I'm an easy "sell" for any product that takes the links between [DuckTales] and the world of [Carl] Barks seriously..." -- My review of UNCLE $CROOGE #397
... but not so easy a sell that I can accept a product that steps all over its own webbed feet in trying to link various aspects of the Disney Duck "universes" and winds up satisfying fans of none of them -- not to mention especially pissing off fans of all of them.
kaboom! DT #1 was a huge disappointment. From the moment the title was announced, I was eagerly looking forward to seeing how writer Warren Spector's announced intention to combine Duck comics, DuckTales, and Darkwing Duck continuity would work itself out, and how the much-praised Miquel Pujol would illustrate the mash-up. The first hint of trouble came when the lavishly advertised Pujol was... replaced by the combination of Leonel Castellani, Jose Massaroli, and Magic Eye Studios. Not that Castellani is a slacker, but we were promised something that did not come to pass. With kaboom!'s Disney line shriveling up faster than a piece of frying bacon, the cynical, yet inescapable, thought occurred to me that kaboom! had already abandoned plans for a continuing DT book in favor of a cost-cutting, "one (arc) and done" approach. Reading Spector's chaotic script did nothing to lessen my suspicions. To be frank, this book already reads like a D.O.A. title.
"Rightful Owners" finds Scrooge challenged by rival tycoon John D. Rockerduck to engage in a contest to return treasures that the two have amassed over the years to their... you guessed it. As an excuse to insert Rockerduck into a DuckTales story, this premise isn't bad, actually. It wouldn't be as believable for Flintheart Glomgold to challenge Scrooge in this manner, since Flinty is just as acquisitive as Scrooge; Rockerduck's main motivation, by contrast, is to get the best of Scrooge in any way he can, even if it means spending some of his own money in the process. The problem is that Rockerduck got the idea by sending a spy to McDuck Mansion at the very moment that Webby, HD&L, and Launchpad were engaged in a debate over the morality of Scrooge's keeping such baubles in his possession. Webby, in particular, is galvanized by her recent tour of the museum's "Scrooge McDuck Collection" to turn into a scold on behalf of deflowered indigenous peoples. In all honesty, HD&L, with their long-established strong sense of right and wrong, would have been far more likely to have raised this point a long time ago... as they did in, for example, the TV version of Barks' "The Golden Fleecing." Making Webby the Ducks' literal voice of responsibility (and a rather arrogant one to boot; she gloats when HD&L "discover she's right" after paging through the Junior Woodchuck Guidebook... and since when has the Guidebook served as any sort of moral compass?) seems like SUCH a transparent way of "giving Webby a more meaningful role to play in the story." I have no objection to that, but there are far more subtle and in-character ways to do it (for example, see "The Arcadian Urn" in U$ #399). To call Spector's approach here ham-handed would be an insult to the Smithfield people.
Even before Webby has switched to "self-righteous jerk" mode, Spector commits some serious continuity-related sins during the opening sequence in which Scrooge conducts a tour of his museum "Collection." Spector apparently intended this to be his own version of the opening pages of Rosa's "The Son of the Sun", with artifacts from numerous previous adventures serving to link the present-day goings-on to the glorious past. However, in focusing Scrooge's flashbacks on the events of "The Status Seeker" and "The Golden Fleecing" -- both Barks stories that were adapted into episodes by the TV series -- Spector introduces elements from Barks' stories into a DuckTales context without acknowledging the changes that the TV episodes made to those stories. The McGuffin of "The Status Seeker" that is shown here is Barks' original Candy-Striped Ruby, rather than the TV show's hideous Mask of Kuthu-Lulu. Likewise, in TV's "Fleecing," Scrooge never actually got the golden coat, met characters called Larkies (which the TV ep rebranded as Harpies, following Barks' original wishes), or had to eat parsnip pudding. So what is the "reality" of those DT adventures NOW? Spector had any number of Barks treasure stories available to reference here; why did he have to choose these? Could it be that... gulp... Spector wasn't aware of the DT versions of these stories?
Spector likewise gets his continuities crossed when the "Collection" tour passes the grown-up edition of the baby dinosaur that Scrooge brought back to Duckburg as part of the events of Rosa's "Escape from Forbidden Valley" (U$ #347, November 2005). Had Scrooge and HD&L been the only characters on site during this scene, things would have been fine, but Webby is with them here -- and her questions indicate that she has no idea that live dinosaurs still exist, which flies in the face of the TV episode "Dinosaur Ducks", to say nothing of Bubba Duck's triceratops sidekick Tootsie, who was a housemate of Webby and HD&L's during the TV series' entire second season. (Thanks to Joe Torcivia for reminding neglectful [and embarrassed!] me of this latter fact -- CEB) Again, it's possible that Spector has never seen these eps, but if you're dead set on mixing and matching Duck "universes," shouldn't you be a little more aware of the specific parameters of those "universes"?
The plot per se doesn't really begin until the last half-dozen pages or so, when Scrooge takes Webby and Launchpad with him to the island of Rippon Taro to return the Candy-Striped Ruby (thanks for rubbing the continuity gaffe in our faces, Warren). Even this seemingly simple scenario is handled poorly. HD&L are left behind because "they're in school and [Webby] isn't right now," a state of affairs which (1) seems illogical in light of the fact that HD&L and Webby attend the same school in DuckTales and (2) is promptly negated when HD&L are freely available to fly with Launchpad to Rippon Taro at ish's end. (How did LP get from Scrooge's ship back to Duckburg to do the flying? And why did Scrooge ask LP to bring him the Ruby from Duckburg -- which LP, if he were on board, shouldn't have been able to do anyway -- rather than taking the Ruby himself?) The peppermint-candy-loving jellyfish from "The Status Seeker(s)" pops up just in time to save Webby from falling overboard and drowning during a storm... and Scrooge just happens to have candy on board to feed the beast. The peppering of extremely lame puns regarding King Fulla Cola, his son Fulla Pep, and their retainer Can Dew turns out to be only a minor irritant, which should tell you a whole lot about the overall quality of this story.
For me, nothing sums up the slipshod, "throw it at the wall and see what sticks" approach of this issue better than the panel below, in which a mysterious someone -- perhaps Rockerduck, perhaps not -- informs an impromptu convention of Barks, Rosa, Darkwing Duck, and DuckTales villains of Scrooge's intention to return artifacts. (Actually, since The Beagle Boys, who appear in an earlier panel, are depicted in their "clone" Barks form, you can only include DuckTales in the mix if you count the foxface in the blue jacket as being Fritter O'Way of "Down and Out in Duckburg," rather than Chisel McSue of Barks' horseradish story... and who's to say he isn't? Continuity certainly seems to be of the postmodern, "create your own truth" variety here.)
It's tough to resist a "Way Cool!", "fanboy-ish" reaction to this scene, but... but... How did they all get involved? Does Rockerduck really have so much "pull" that he can control a pack of villains (as opposed to hapless underlings like Lusky of "Around the World in 80 Bucks") in so matter-of-fact a manner? How would villains focused on St. Canard come to be so interested in Scrooge McDuck's doings? Why were minor Darkwing villains (Professor Moliarity, Camille Chameleon) employed, rather than some of the big names? Why should "single-focus" characters like Arpin Lusene, or Azure Blue and Lawyer Sharky, EVEN CARE about what is going on here? I'm sorry, but if you're going to throw all of these characters together, there has to be some reason for doing so, even if it's a meeting of the Disney Afternoon Villains' Union (shout-out to Kim McFarland and Mark Lungo!). I'd like to think that Spector will reveal all in whatever issues are left to him, but I'm not particularly optimistic.
OK, then, did I like anything here? Well, Castellani's artwork -- what there is of it -- is pretty good (if somewhat rough), given that he was probably handed the assignment at the eleventh hour. (Massaroli and Magic Eye's contributions, by contrast, are much rougher and harder on the eyes, which unfortunately makes the artistic-team seams easy to glimpse.) I appreciated the unexpected appearances of Daisy and Fethry as TV interviewers, even though (1) I would have preferred Daisy to have appeared as she did on Quack Pack and (2) Fethry doesn't appear to be the interviewer type (someone whose crazy schemes would encourage others to interview HIM, now, that's another matter). And, there's no question that Spector's heart is in the right place. With guidance, and a little additional research, I think he could be a decent writer. Unfortunately, given kaboom!'s current condition, he may not get a fair chance to develop his talents.