It was my intention to write a single article on Don Rosa’s Duck comics. I would talk about why his work is so popular and acclaimed, what failings I think he is prone to in his stories, the themes, what I thought of him compared to Carl Barks… after all, he is one of the most popular living cartoonists in the world. Over the course of twenty years he wrote some of the most enduring Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge stories since The Old Master himself, and is all but a rock star in Europe.
But then I actually sat down and read all of his stories straight through, and that plan went right out the window. It’s not really possible to explain exactly what he did without talking more in depth than is readable in a single essay.
So instead of the single article format, I will look at each of Rosa’s Duck stories, one by one, in a series called Don Rosa in Review. I will discuss the faults and strengths of the story, Rosa’s progression as an artist, give production history whenever it is available and of interest… and most importantly, I’m going to discuss the continuity in Rosa’s stories. Not just the continuity of Rosa’s connections to Barks, but of the continuity Rosa created within his own work, which is by far a more complex entity.
Each review will have a synopsis, a review which will be the bulk of the text, and a note regarding continuity to keep in mind for later stories.
I will include the INDUCKS story code so you can find what publications the stories have been printed/reprinted in. By the nature of the review, spoilers will be shamelessly bandied about.
[AR-102] The Son of the Sun (26 Pages, Adventure)
The Story: The story begins with a cavalcade of Barksian references as we walk through a exhibit showing Scrooge’s vast collection of treasures, on loan to the local Duckburg museum. But the reader’s trip through memory lane is halted when Flintheart Glomgold challenges Scrooge’s claim that he is the richest duck in the world and the champion treasure hunter. A contest ensues to find the gold pulled from the Incan Gold Mines (located in the Temple of Manco Copac) back in the 1500s, with Glomgold spying, cheating, sabotaging, threatening, and outright resorting to an attempted murder to get there first. It’s a death-defying flight through the mountains…
But thanks to Flintheart’s deception Scrooge manages to get there first. Having radioed his claim on all the gold in the temple, Scrooge feels he has won… but in a scene right out of Raiders of the Lost Arc, Flintheart manages to find a treasure even greater. Attempting to remove it from the temple, however, causes it to plug a hole that leaked ionized gas (naturally occurring and used used by the Incans as camouflage mechanism), building up an incredible pressure until…
The temple flies through the air, crashing in to the lake below. The displaced water helps end a drought the locals have been suffering through for years, and thanks to a sharp deal with the locals Scrooge helps end their drought with a water pump and claims ownership of the lake and all its contents… the treasure included.
The Review: To long-time Rosa fans, the story behind “The Son of the Sun” is well known. Shortly after Gladstone Publishing began its run with the licensed Disney titles, Don Rosa stumbled across one of them in a local bookstore. Seeing the Daan Jippes cover (and thinking it was a lost piece of Carl Barks artwork), he purchased it, and upon reading realized that the editorial team understood what made Disney comics so great. It wasn’t long before he wrote a letter which, in hindsight, isn’t nearly so presumptuous as it sounds (quoted/paraphrased in part): “I am the only American born to write and draw $crooge McDuck comics. I have always known it was my manifest destiny.”
The editor in chief, Byron Erickson (a wonderful writer in his own right) gave him a shot. Recognizing Rosa from his work on The Pertwillaby Papers and other work for the Rocket’s Blast Comicollector, he asked for a script and a series of test drawings. Rosa delivered both, the script being a revised version of his first Pertwillaby Papers adventure story, “Lost in (an alternative section of) the Andes” (1973). Why rework a fifteen year old comic for his very first Duck outing? That’s simple enough to answer.
So I started doing the “Son of the Sun” story; in other words, turning that old Pertwillaby Papers adventure back into the story it originally was in my head, starring $crooge, Donald, the nephews, and Flintheart Glomgold. – Don Rosa
Rosa refers to himself as not a professional, but a fan who happened to have a job in comics, and it shows here. I simply don’t have enough Barksian knowledge to list every single reference Rosa makes to past stories, and even if I had access to every Barks comic I think it would still take quite a bit of digging to find them all. Short of The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, this is the most reference-heavy story he ever worked on, and the first three pages are only a taste.
And boy is it glorious. To someone who grew up reading Carl Barks, I can only imagine the delight that must have crossed their faces when they saw the enormous amount of references to some of the classic tales from the 40s, 50s and 60s. I was a latecomer to Duck comics, so I lack a nostalgic attachment to both Rosa and Barks (though I am a big fan now having now been exposed to their work). But the story itself is very well constructed, with the shock of Flintheart pulling a gun on the Ducks being a particularly effective sequence. This is what allows the story to cross from the realm of Scrooge fanfiction to a fantastic story in its own right, setting up hints of the the continuity that Rosa’s work would be so famous for. He hasn’t yet grasped the anatomy of the Ducks, but he has a keen eye for detailed, impressive visuals that would only strengthen with time.
Something of particular interest is that this story is light on the characterization relative to Rosa’s later stuff, with the exception of Flintheart Glomgold. GeoX, in his own excellent commentary on The Life and Times, notes that Flintheart’s characterization in the original Barks tales is not presented in a way which gels well with Rosa’s interpretation.
In his first appearance (“The Second-Richest Duck”), he is all but a mirror image of Scrooge, with the only real exception being the lack of a family and slightly more sinister character design. They are so similar, in fact, that they can only compete by measuring the amount of string they have collected!
In his second appearance, “The Money Champ”, he is unquestionably the bad guy. But he is a remorseful one, even mentioning his regret that his mother would be ashamed of his actions. That doesn’t excuse his blatant cheating for no other reason than his own vanity, but it is a far cry from his final Barks story.
In his third and final appearance under Barks, “So Far and No Safari”, Scrooge and Flintheart once more race for a treasure, this time bidding for a gold mine. Their interactions are limited, but it is notable for Flintheart actively trying to murder them with machine guns mounted to his plane. The story is not terribly good, and Barks didn’t seem to know what to do with the character, so he was retired.
It is largely from the second and third appearances that Rosa appears to draw his characterization of Flintheart, but the third in particular this time around. Rosa’s Flintheart is Scrooge without morals or honor. Does this give him more interesting story opportunities? Perhaps. Is he a funnier character? No. Did that matter to Rosa? Absolutely not. In my eyes, Rosa has defined Flintheart more than Barks ever did, using him in six stories (and a seventh as a cameo) and developed him as Scrooge’s most lethal foe.
On a note of what might have been, there was a scene scripted where Flintheart discusses with Donald and the nephews that when he was younger, Scrooge inspired him to become the man he is today. This scene (along with about a third of the original script) was cut from this story by Erickson. Rosa stated on a few occasions that he had intended to redo “The Son of the Sun” with better artwork, the expanded script, and someone else doing the lettering, but that never came to pass.
One couldn’t ask for a better first effort, and the story was justly nominated for a Harvey Award for “Best Story of the Year”. While Rosa had originally intended to do this one story and no more, it was only the beginning.
Continuity Notes: I wouldn’t dare list every Barks reference, but for the purposes of this series we must note the portion of the treasure of Croseus, for reasons which will be discussed in depth at a later time. For now, it is simply an unassuming hint of things to come.