By Peter S. Svensson
Donald Duck comics are serious business.
Not so much in the United States, where Disney comics have struggled to remain in publication for the past few decades, but most of Europe has comic adventures of Donald, Uncle Scrooge and the nephews held in high esteem. Indeed, while Disney comics stopped being regularly created in the US, new comics were (and to continue to be) made specifically for Italian and Scandinavian markets.
So, when IDW announced that they would be publishing new DuckTales comics to tie-in with the rebooted DuckTales cartoon on DisneyXD, (which is amazing), I was worried. While IDW has a great track record with tie-in comics, I care about Scrooge and company far more than I do the Transformers. I worried. Would this be a case where the comic would be just adaptations of the cartoon, hamstrung by corporate edicts to not innovate?
Never have I been so happy to have been proven wrong.
The #0 and #1 issues of DuckTales, written by Joe Caramagna with art by Italian Disney comic veterans Andrea Greppi, Gianfranco Florio and Luca Usai astounded me with how much they resembled the classic Duck comics of Scrooge creator Carl Barks, with the modern spin of the new cartoon added to the mix.
Each issue contains two stories, with the same basic premise. Donald, that lovable loser who gets stuck with all the bad luck, finds a new job, dragging the nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie along. Trouble ensues. These are technically prequels to the show, being set chronologically before the first episode of the new DuckTales series where the nephews meet Scrooge for the first time. It uses the show’s conceit that each nephew has a distinct personality.
In just 10 pages per story, Caramagna is able to get those little touches that show that these triplets aren’t interchangeable. Huey is earnest and uses his skills as a Junior Woodchuck to solve problems. (He is also the one most like how they are traditionally portrayed.) Dewey is anxious to find adventure, while Dewey is laidback and a bit self-centered.
Future issues will be set during the show itself, adding Scrooge, Webby, Mrs. Beakley, Launchpad and other characters to the mix. It is likely that we’ll get some long form adventure comics in the future as well. From what Caramagna has said in interviews, it seems as if the comic will be foreshadowing events that you will see paid off in the show, which is a nice change of pace from most tie-in comics, which only get to react to the series they are based on.
But the issue isn’t whether this comic is a worthy adaptation and tie-in to the cartoon. Which it most definitely is. The question is does it work on its own? Can fans of Donald and Scrooge read this comic and feel that it stands up against the greats? Is this a good comic in and of itself?
The answer is, “Yes”.
These two issues made me feel like I was reading a classic Duck comic. I feel this run has the potential to match Don Rosa’s seminal work with these characters. As someone who treasures his copies (yes, plural) of The Life And Times of Scrooge McDuck, that is saying something. Being able to tell a fulfilling story in 22 pages is one thing, (and as modern superhero comic fans know, is rare to see happen) but doing the same thing in 10?
That takes more skill than most fans would imagine. Now, Caramagna has been writing all-ages comics and books for Marvel for years at this point, primarily adapting the various Marvel cartoons into comic format. He’s an underrated talent, known primarily as a letter. It is my hope that this run on DuckTales changes that.
It’s not just getting the little bits of characterization in here and there, or the witty jokes that are modern without being drenched in slang that will get dated in a few years. It’s the premises that live up to the gloriously bizarre world these characters inhabit, with lighthouses in the middle of the desert and haunted hotels, while keeping the stakes believable. It’s the ability to make a short comic that leaves you feeling fulfilled when it finishes.
Sure, Scrooge creator Carl Barks is best remembered for his long form globe-trotting adventures, but the real mastery comes from seeing how he made those short stories set at home with the nephews getting into trouble amazing. This IDW DuckTales series amazes.
Oh, it’s not perfect. There’s still some awkward bits here and there, such as in “The Great Experiment of the Washing Machine!” where it’s left unclear just why Donald and the nephews are at a science lab, but these are growing pains. With the animated series it’s tying into confirmed for a second season, I believe we’ll see this series run long enough for Caramagna to find his pace and make some fantastic duck comics that will one day be in a nice hardcover format on your shelves.
Peter S. Svensson is a teacher, a former comic-shop retailer, a trivia master, a live action role-playing aficionado, an editor and occasionally a journalist. He’s also a big ol’ kid at heart.