Why a Duck?

Walt Disney’s Uncle Scrooge: Only a Poor Old Man: The Complete Carl Barks Disney Library Volume 12: written and illustrated by Carl Barks (1952; collected 2012): While it’s chronologically the 12th volume in the Fantagraphics Books Carl Barks Library, Only a Poor Old Man is the second of these volumes to be published. That’s because the general consensus among critics is that the Golden Age of writer-artist Carl Barks started about ten years into his comic-book career, as he fleshed out the character and motivations of Donald Duck’s Uncle Scrooge, a character created by Barks for the Disney comic books in the 1940’s.

This collection prints about a dozen one-page ‘gags,’ but the meat of the book comes with the longer adventures. And they truly are adventures on land, on sea, and in the air. These are some action-packed ducks.

Barks remains a wonder. The cartooning and the writing are both still fresh and funny. There are moral lessons here, but they’re not rammed down the readers’ throats. And the story of the hidden city of Tralala is about as pessimistic a tale about human nature as I can imagine in a comic book aimed squarely at children. Capitalism turns out to be toxic, but there’s no conceivable escape from it. Whee, fun! That story remains funny nonetheless even as it verges on being a Jonathan Swift satire, with ducks.

Once upon a time in the 1950’s, these were the best-selling comic books in North America. It’s a tribute to the pop-cult sensibilities of Carl Barks that they’re also rewarding, breezy entertainments that make the typical superhero comic book of the time look ham-fisted by comparison. Mmm. Ham. Highly recommended.

 

Solomon Kane Volume 3: Red Shadows: adapted from the work of Robert E. Howard; written by Bruce Jones; illustrated by Rahsan Ekedal and Dan Jackson (2013): Solid work from Bruce Johns and Rahsan Ekedal in adapting two stories from Conan creator Robert E. Howard about the heroic 16th-century Puritan adventurer Solomon Kane and his crusades against evil in England, Europe, and Africa. Jones eschews the wordiness of some adapters of Howard in favour of letting the artist draw what Howard has described, and it works for the most part, though some captions explaining Kane’s thoughts would make the adaptation more true to Howard. Recommended.

Jonah Hex: No Way Back: written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray; illustrated by Tony DeZuniga with John Stanisci (2010): Ill-served by an egregiously awful Hollywood movie, Jonah Hex nonetheless remains a terrific comic book character who’s had extraordinary luck in terms of writers and artists. Set in the post-Civil War American West, the original graphic novel Jonah Hex: No Way Back brings legendary (and, sadly, soon-to-be deceased) Hex artist Tony DeZuniga back for a look at Hex’s dark past.

Hex may be a homicidal, bounty-hunting anti-hero, but he still possesses a rudimentary moral code. His origins suggest that code was a reaction to the complete amorality of his father and adandonment by his mother. It’s certainly a place to start, anyway. Palmiotti and Gray have been writing Hex’s regular comic-book adventures for a decade now, and they’re worthy successors to such previous Hex scribes as John Albano, Michael Fleischer, and Joe Lansdale.

Their West is a nightmarish place, part-spaghetti-Western, part-horror-show, just as it as been since Albano first wrote the character in the early 1970’s. And while DeZuniga’s art is somewhat inconsistent at first, by the time the book gets into ultraviolent second half, DeZuniga is operating with his familiar gritty, weathered artistry intact. Recommended.

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