Thursday, May 26, 2011

Warren Spector Does DuckTales

WARNING: Comic book geekery ahead.

While game designer Warren Spector (Deus Ex, System Shock) was still working on Epic Mickey, he was already expressing a desire to do a DuckTales game: "A day does not go by where I don't tell somebody at Disney: 'Uncle Scrooge, come on! Donald! Huey, Dewey, and Louie! Come on, let me do a duck game!' So yeah, I would love to do a duck game."

Spector didn't get his Uncle Scrooge game, but he got the next best thing: the chance to write BOOM! Comics' new DuckTales comic book. The series relaunched this week with the first issue of Spector's new storyline, and the results are ... unfortunate.

Let's back up a little. Uncle Scrooge McDuck is one of the great comic book characters of all time. His greatest adventures--best chronicled by Don Rosa and Carl Barks--are epic quests for treasure. First Barks, and later Rosa, evolved an elaborate mythology and cast of characters, with Rosa in particular taking pains to turn the Barks "Duck" mythos (it's like the Cthulhu mythos, only more feathery and less tentacally) into a coherent storyline. Rosa's Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck is one of the finest achievements in comic history.

Scrooge isn't a villain. He's hardworking, brave, austere, adventurous, clever, and, yes, very stingy: a perfect Scottish stereotype. His money and treasure were earned through sweat, courage, and negotiation. This is the core of the entire 60 year history of the character.

And that's what makes Spector's first issue of DuckTales such a misbegotten mess. He gets off to a promising start with some fan service as Scrooge tours through a museum filled with treasure from past adventures. And then Webbigail (the annoying mini-Daisy Duck from the DuckTales TV series) takes center stage and turns herself into the Voice of Moral Authority. And she does it while running a game of D&D (Ducks and Danger) for Huey, Dewey, and Louie, no less! She begins by complaining that D&D is just about "taking things that don't belong to you," and then proceeds to lecture everyone about how wicked Scrooge is for collecting (not stealing, mind you: earning) all his treasure and how he needs to give it all back.

I so wish I was making that up, but the whole premise of Spector's storyline is a rebuke of the entire series. I was going to title this post "Warren Spector Wrecks DuckTales," but I'm still hoping this is all a setup for some clever turnaround. Perhaps by issue 2 Webbigail will wind up as a tiny serving of Peking Duck in a Chinese restaurant and the whole notion of returning treasure will turn out to be a bad idea. The issue ends on a promising note as Huey, Dewey, and Louie--hectored and sidelined for most of the issue--make a surprise appearance, so perhaps they finally found that page in the Junior Woodchuck Guidebook that says "Ignore self-righteous little girl ducks."

The comic reviewer at PopMatters is applauding the new storyline for reversing "a pernicious and recursive problem in Uncle Scrooge, the slide into an oligarchical, messianic view of Western paternalistic attitudes to native cultures." That's the kind of anti-Western, jargon-laden, leftist nonsense you can only write after earning a "doctorate in literary and cultural theory." McDuck was a pennyless immigrant who earned his money by his wits and hard labor. He's an example of The American Dream, and some of us still believe in that.

I get the appeal of reversing the standard treasure-quest storyline, but the premise is the worst kind of politically correct revisionism. Spector has a fine storytelling sensibility, and he certainly has a lot of good geek-love for all things Disney and Duck. That's why I'm hoping the rest of the series turns out a lot better than issue number 1.


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