[26 May 2011]
PopMatters Comics Editor
If Batman is good now, and it is… it’s better than it’s ever been at any point in the character’s seven-decade-plus publication history… If Batman is good now, it’s because it’s only now beginning to approach the vision of DuckTales.
Set aside the paraphernalia for a moment. Batman will always be about costumes and bad guys, supervillains and detective work. That’s the stuff of the genre. Just like DuckTales will always be able to trace its roots back to the adventure genre. DuckTales will always be about airplanes, about high seas escapades, last-second swash-buckling rescues, about Launchpad, Webby, Gyro, about the Boys and above all about Unca Scrooge.
But DuckTales (and Batman too) is tapping something deeper, richer, and far more rewarding. It’s become a way of talking about something else, something more profound. The cultural mainstream is just now beginning to wrestle with this idea. That something trivial, something ordinary can become a vehicle to ruminate on something older, richer, more universally meaningful. It took viewers about 15 seconds of show time to realize that HBO’s magnificent Game of Thrones is less Lord of the Rings and more The Sopranos.
For comics however, every six year-old kid knew intuitively, perhaps without even being able to articulate it, that Iron Man was never about the armor. The real drama was whether or not Tony Stark could stare down his inadequacies. How could someone so skilled at fighting with alien space dragons be so easily compromised when it came to a pretty girl’s smile? Comicbooks were never throwaway magazines. They were training for Hamlet, for Hemingway, for Plato and Socrates.
A mysterious, self-made, supremely capable hero finds himself awash in familial relationships he didn’t really ask for. The story could be told equally as Batman or DuckTales. But for DuckTales, that genre was just the boot-up process and the system check. DuckTales quickly came to be about something else entirely. The first move was having the nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie, join in Unca Scrooge’s adventures. So the first move was to replicate in the Boys that kind of resilience and self-reliance that allowed Unca Scrooge himself to profit from his adventures.
The big question for BOOM!‘s launch of the new ongoing DuckTales then, is Warren Spector as writer the right fit for leading this project. With a property like DuckTales, a decision like this almost always boils down to trust. We’ve seen Spector rise to every occasion. In the 90s he reinvigorated video-gaming by almost singlehandedly inventing the sneak-em-up with his release of Thief: The Dark Project. And just recently he tapped the nearly forgotten roots of Mickey, that irascible, impish trickster in his release of Epic Mickey for the Nintendo Wii.
There’s no question at all about Spector’s genius. But is it the right kind of genius for DuckTales? It’s almost always a question of trust. Trust on your part that you’ll get a greater value than the four bucks you’re paying as cover price. Trust on the part of BOOM! CEO Ross Richie and his team that Spector will evolve DuckTales as a brand as he evolves himself as a creator. And trust in DuckTales itself that it will lend itself to the vision of the creator being trusted with it for this piece of history.
What ever the hesitations might be around Warren Spector, the outcome has got to fall conclusively on his side. Spector is amazing, sublime. I’ve not, and neither have you, seen a writer describe an entire genre in a single panel. Not since Frank Miller’s Daredevil, not since Will Eisner’s The Spirit. And that is estimable company.
In a single panel, Spector is able to describe the full scope of what DuckTales has been this far. In the above panel, Webby speaks to that wide-eyed innocence, of simply commenting on the world as she sees it. Huey’s comment is a telltale giveaway that the Boys have already slid into a sharper worldview. One where they’re beginning to understand that their adventures are training for a time when these skills will be needed for them to make a global impact. And larger than life, Uncle Scrooge’s comment is focused on extracting the maximum value from the experience.
DuckTales has always taught us that money isn’t wealth, resilience is. And that capital isn’t currency, adventure is. In Warren Spector’s hands, this model is not only safe, it is expanded upon. In ‘Rightful Owners’, the series’ opening storyarc, throws up the timeless problem; how do we extend what Unca Scrooge has done for Webby and the Boys to everyone else?
This has been a pernicious and recursive problem in Uncle Scrooge, the slide into an oligarchical, messianic view of Western paternalistic attitudes to native cultures. It’s what prompted the outcry against Hergé‘s Tintin, against the filming of Peter Jackson’s the Hobbit. It’s a trap even the great Don Rosa has never managed to escape while penning his Uncle Scrooge anthologies.
But Warren Spector is tackling the issue head on. And if anything, that is the hallmark of a writer you can trust deeply.