Reprint Reviews: 'Uncle Scrooge,' 'Chamber of Chills v1,' 'The Phantom Dailies v4'

Walt Disney's Uncle Scrooge: Only a Poor Old Man

Fantagraphics Books, $28.99

By Carl Barks (w/a)

If you're not buying the Carl Barks library, you should be.

I know everyone reading this has heard all their lives how good Carl Barks was, and so have I. But I never really saw much of his work until I was an adult -- and relatively recently, at that. And I'm here to say that every accolade heaped on Barks was well-deserved. If anything, he hasn't been praised enough.

This volume demonstrates what an incredible storyteller Barks was. At no point does anything ring false; at all times the reader feels comfortably wrapped in the comforting folds of an old blanket. You're in the hands of a master, and the ride couldn't be smoother -- or funnier. The book itself is a sold hardcover, with the soft, muted colors of the original, only this time on crisp, high-quality, white paper.

The volume contains four long-form stories and some shorts and one-pagers from the 1950s, and at leat three of the long-form stories could hold a volume of their own. "Only a Poor Old Man" was Scrooge's first big starring story, a classic battle of wits with the Beagle Boys. "Tralla La" shows the accidental effects of a manufactured item (a bottle cap) on a pastoral society, anticipating The Gods Must Be Crazy (which used an actual bottle) by decades. And "Back to the Yukon" added a huge chunk to the outsized myth (and backstory) of Scrooge McDuck. "Back to Atlantis" is a fine story, but not as memorable as the others. The shorts show Barks was good at any length, with snappy jokes delivered with impeccable timing.

This volume is Vol. 12 in the chronological reprinting Fantagraphics plans, as they want to make as big a splash as they can at the outset with Barks' best work. (The previous volume, Donald Duck: Lost in the Andes, was Vol. 7). That's weird, but I'm all for anything that improves the chances for the proposed 30-volume set to see print. 

Yes, I said "30 volumes." And I will buy every one.

Comics Trivia Dept.: On page 206, Donald Duck's irascible neighbor is given the name Jughead Jones! Was this a nod to Bob Montana? A coincidence? I guess we'll never know.

Harvey Horrors Collected Works: Chamber of Chills Volume One

Reprinting Chamber of Chills #21-24, 5-7 (Jun 51-Apr 52)

PS Artbooks, $48

By diverse hands

I didn't really know what to expect when I ordered this book, since I know very little about the pre-Code horror books NOT published by major publishers like Marvel, DC and EC. What I discovered is that this book, at least, was a hoot.

There doesn't seem to be any editorial mandate, or house style, or in many cases any story structure. The writers (most of whom are unknown) seemed to write whatever they felt like, tossing in a vampire here, a werewolf there, whatever awful, terrible, scary thing they could think of, as if their neurons were firing randomly. (Or, to be honest, as if it was a horror story told by a 12 year old.)

Now, you'd think that would be sort of a mess, and it is. But it's an entertaining mess. It seems like the writers are simply having a good time, which was infectious. Meanwhile, the artwork, while not stellar, was competent, handled largely by familiar names like Al Avison (Captain America), Joe Certa (Martian Manhunter), Lee Elias, Bob Powell and the big workhorse for these issues, Vic Donahue.

It's amazing to me that stuff like this was deemed so horrifying that it had to be outlawed, although I understand intellectually the atmosphere of the times. There's nothing in this monster mash to scare anyone above the age of 6.

Anyway, Chamber of Chills is being reprinted by an English outfit called PS Artbooks, who plan an entire line of reprints of 1940s and 1950s American comics, including not just the Harvey horror books like Black Cat Mystery, Tomb of Terror and Witches' Tales, but also Adventures into the Unknown, Out of the Night, Skeleton Hand and Forbidden Worlds by ACG, and Planet Comics by Fiction House. At $48 a pop they're probably too pricey for all but the most dedicated of fans, especially since even Amazon isn't offering any kind of discount. I did manage to find one place offering a discount (Westfield Comics), so I've already put in my order for the books mentioned above.

The Phantom: The Complete Dailies Volume Four 1940-1943

Hermes Press, $60

By Lee Falk (w/a)

I've been enjoying these old newspaper adventure strips immensely, and this book is no exception. I don't know what it is -- the gleeful approach to adventuring, the idea that there are still huge areas of earth that are unexplored, the 1930-'40s insouciance that makes this era so endlessly fascinating to me (and which gave us most of our best-known adventure characters, from The Shadow to Dick Tracy to Flash Gordon to Superman). But for some reason, I just love this stuff.

There's not much to say about the particulars that isn't true of the other volumes. The Phantom is ridiculously cool, never breaking a sweat or at a loss -- except when his girlfriend is threatened (which she often is), and then he's almost scary. Speaking of the girlfriend, she follows the Jane Porter model over in Tarzan, where she is no hapless hostage, but still gets kidnapped or otherwise misses The Phantom one way or another as they search for each other around the globe. One note: After a while, neither Diana nor Phantom takes seriously a report that the other is dead, a welcome nod to the fact that THEY HEAR IT ALL THE TIME and it never proves to be true.

And perhaps the best part is that the entire second half of the book has The Phantom actively fightng the Japanese in World War II. While Superman, et al, sat out the war, The Phantom was in there swinging, organizing native tribes to resist the invader, kidnapping Japanese generals, sabotaging supply lines, and the like. (If you're wondering what the Japanese are doing in Africa, remember that at this point Bengala was on the Indian subcontinent, evidently near the border with Burma. And Japan was knocking on India's door for much of the war, so this is perfectly accurate.) It's really quite thrilling to see a 1940s "mystery man" actively fighting the Axis, but without flames or the ability to breathe underwater -- just his fists, his wits and his reputation. This particular adventure is continued into the next volume (the first storyline to be long enough to require continuation from one volume to the next), and I'll be there to keep 'em flying.

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The original Phantom artist, Ray Moore, served in the military during the war, and the art was taken over by his assistant Wilson McCoy, whose art is stodgier and blockier than Moore's but not without its own charm. Moore only briefly returned to the strip after the war, according to internet sources due to an injury. McCoy remained on the strip until he died in 1961.

There's a website dedicated to McCoy here which has some interesting materials.

Luke Blanchard said:

There's a website dedicated to McCoy here which has some interesting materials.

Thanks, Luke. You add tremendously to every conversation.

Lee Falk also served in the war. He built up a backlog before he went, then sent scripts back from the front (so to speak) then it is believed that legendary sci-fi writer Alfred Bester wrote a storyline or two.

I only read 'The Phantom Goes to War', as it is known, a week or so ago, while afflicted with insomnia of sorts. Boy was that good superheroics/mystery man-ing! Like All-Star Squadron, currently discussed elsewhere, it mixed realworld events with first-rate derring do. Falk was a sophisticated, educated sort of chap, and The Phantom Goes To War felt very true to what I understand about how the war in the Pacific was fought. To add to its credit, Falk wrote half of it before the US even joined the war! He was right with the times, if not ahead of it in showing how that war was/would be fought. The Jungle warfare, the involvement of the natives, holding the line, working as part of an allied battleplan, it all felt very 'real'. Modern comics hardly try to work in so much contemporary 'reality' and they suffer for it.

BTW, the Phantom is a tough guy - none tougher - but he is also quite fallible, sometimes getting caught out, or captured or very badly injured. He's quite human too.

Glad you're enjoying the Phantom, Cap. I'll add more later.

BARKS: I flirted briefly with Carl Barks back in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s but it didn’t take. Then again, I also dabbled in Al Capp and that didn’t take, either, but now that I’m reading Li’l Abner for the second time, something has finally clicked, so perhaps it will with Uncle Scrooge, too. I have read Don Rosa’s Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck (as with you and Barks, fairly recently) and liked it. Perhaps I’ve resisted reading more Barks because I’m afraid I’ll like Rosa more. (That’s a stupid reason, I admit.) “Lost in the Andes” is sitti9ng at home (unread) on a shelf, and “Only a Poor Man” is awaiting purchase in my pull & hold. I didn’t realize about the out0of0order volumes, but it shows someone is thinking ahead. I’ve often wondered why more publishers don’t adopt such a strategy rather than anally adhering to strict chronological order…? Anyway, perhaps those two volumes will make a good reading project for this weekend.

HARVEY: My LCS has been dealing directly with the UK publisher for some time now, so I already have all of the ones that have been solicited in Previews and more. In addition to Harvey, PS Artbooks has other complementary lines as well, such as ACG. PS Artbooks and Dark Horse are both publishing Unknown Worlds, for example, and I have compared them side-by-side. I prefer the un-retouched art of PS Artbooks myself (plus, the trade dress matches the various other series in the line), but Dark Horse has the better editorial material. Speaking of trade dress, each of the PS Artbook volumes also comes in a deluxe slipcased edition (too rich for my blood, but nice). I’ve been nudging Cap toward these books behind the scenes for some time now. Glad to see you’re on board!

PHANTOM: Like “Lost in the Andes,” Phantom Dailies volume four is sitting on my shelf unread… mainly because I haven’t read volume three yet! Last week I bought the first volume of Phantom Sundays, and that’s what I was planning to read this coming weekend! There really aren’t enough hours in the day. Decisions, decisions…

 I flirted briefly with Carl Barks back in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s but it didn’t take.


Does Tracy know about this?

That was before I met her.

I looked at the PS Art Books as well, but the price tag scared me away for now. Plus. I think they should have paced the books out over a longer period of time. In one Previews they had like 5 or so coming out in one month. I can always wait.

That's because they're back-pedaling to catch up. For the past year or so (as the books were initially published), PS Artbooks had not been distributed via Diamond. All of the volumes solicited so far have been available in the UK for some time already.

Thanks, Cap.

Couldn't agree more on the Carl Barks collections - Fantagraphics has done a terrific job. Although chronological collections  are nice because you can follow a creators progression, the idea of starting with the best stuff first to draw in your audience is a good marketing approach.

I have a coffee table sized book that collects twelve of Barks' Uncle Scrooge greatest hits. The collection features commentary from Barks himself and the over sized format is easy on the eyes, however the publisher had the original art re-colored by Rudy Nebres (I think) with an airbrush. Fantagraphics decision to go with a more traditional comic book coloring is much, much better.

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