August 12, 2017 will see the premiere of the new Ducktales series starring the fantastic David Tennant as Uncle Scrooge. It will run for twenty-four hours straight on Disney XD. As the internet is a buzz with excitement about the show’s reboot/return, I thought it would be a great time to talk about the Duckberg gang being even more important than most people realize. I mean, with a title like that above I best be ready to defend my position, and trust me, I am.
For anybody who might not know, Carl Barks was a comic book writer/artist that is responsible for creating Duckberg, most the cities main inhabitants, including most notably Uncle Scrooge, as well as the Scrooge’s most well known antagonists, Flintheart Glomgold, Magica De Spell, and the Beagle Boys. In his extensive comics work Barks truly created a world unto itself which other creators have been exploring and expanding ever since across various media.
Many hold the idea that since Mickey Mouse is Disney’s mascot, to the point where several of the companies nicknames reference the character, that he was the greatest Disney creation. Utter hogwash I say. While I would never say that Mickey doesn’t matter (I’m nuts, not crazy), I submit that the most influential and consistently excellent franchise of all classic Disney creations is the Donald Duck/Barks Universe.
And here’s why:
5. The Video Game
Having a good licensed game is hard, having one of the most well-received games of a console generation is even harder, and having that same game be viewed as one of the greats of all time is hardest of all. Enter Ducktales, the 1989 classic side-scrolling 2D action platformer from Capcom.
The game takes full advantage of the epic quest and exploration aspects the Ducks are known for as Uncle Scrooge scours the globe (and in one case, beyond it) for five treasures to expand his already vast wealth. Capcom borrowed a little of its Mega Man know-how as the game features tight controls, complex setting-themed levels, and non-linear gameplay. The music by Hiroshige Tonomura is all iconic toe-tappers, with the “Moon Theme” being one of the most celebrated pieces of 8-bit music ever produced.
In 2013 WayForward “remastered” the game with updated graphics, expanded as well as additional levels, and voice acting. It would mark the final time legendary voice actress June Foray would voice Magica De Spell and the final major outing for Alan Young as Scrooge (his true final appearance being brief cameos in the recent Mickey Mouse shorts) before their respective deaths. The 1993 sequel to the original game was released in too low of numbers too late in the NES’s cycle to have much impact on gaming, but by all accounts it is a solid game. Any way you want to slice it, the Ducktales video game stands the test of time.
4. It Was The Cornerstone Of The Disney Afternoon
The Disney Afternoon was must see television for kids growing up in the 1990s and the Disney Ducks were right at the center of it. Ducktales, which actually began a few years before the block was invented was incorporated right at the start and would become one of the most recognized and loved series to ever be on the Disney Afternoon. But things didn’t stop there, soon there was the popular Ducktales spin-off Darkwing Duck. Some people debate whether DW and pals should count as being part of the Duck Universe, but many fans, the creators of the new Ducktales series as well as myself included, see them as worthy inclusions. Oh, and there was also Quack Pack, but the less said about that snooze-fest the better.
Point here is that works related to or inspired by (depending on how you choose to look at it) the Duck Universe ran throughout the entire run of the Disney Afternoon. The Ducks became a massive part of many kids lives without them ever having picked up the comics they were all based off of. These shows were the backbone of the Disney Afternoon block and without them the whole experiment may very well have went down in flames.
3. It Features The Superior Version Of Donald Duck
The Donald Duck of the Duck Universe is not the same as he is in other media. While the rest of Disney media portrays Donald as Mickey’s lazy friend and occasional rival with anger issues, the DU Donald is a much deeper and rich piece of work.
You see, back when Carl Barks started creating Donald Duck stories for the comics he saw the limits to Donald as he was, especially as a protagonist, and he decided to evolve the character into someone the audience would have an easier time relating to allowing for more subtle and nuanced stories to take shape. He turned Donald into an everyman. He was still a hot-head and a screw-up, but he was also a working class guy put upon the world on all ends who would bust his hump for little to no reward. Donald went from an outlandish caricature to someone that other than the fact he is a cartoon duck you could meet any day out in real life. A free spirit with real world problems looking for his small sliver of the American Dream. Whether he was the protagonist, antagonist, or somewhere in the middle of any story, readers could understand Donald and feel for him. Audiences embraced this new Donald and the new types of stories that could be told with him.
Some people go as far as to say that the Duck Universe version of the Donald is so dismissed from other representations of the character that should not be read or performed using Donald’s iconic voice. While I consider that a bridge too far, I can see where those people are coming from. Silly voice or no, DU Donald is best Donald and without the evolution of this landmark character we never would have gotten Duckberg and all its other crazy inhabitants. If you’ve never truly experienced this version of Donald, I suggest cracking open some Carl Barks and/or Don Rosa comics and strapping in for one hell of a ride.
Oh, and speaking of comics…
What has made these comics last is their timelessness. That is why they have been able to continue to this day and why the Duck Universe has been able to be so easily and successfully translated into other media time and time again. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Donald/Scrooge comics are the best all ages adventure comics ever made. The comics could be anything from sweeping fantastical epics to small domestic matter in the Duck household and remain equally captivating. Few properties have ever been able to successfully handle as many story styles and themes as well as the Ducks.
The works of Carl Barks, Don Rosa, and a myriad of other talented people have shaped these award winning comics throughout the decades. Comic creators to this day still look to Disney Duck comics for ideas and inspiration.Other classic Disney characters have had celebrated comics runs, but nothing comes close to the unbridled force that the Ducks bring to the printed page.
1. The Awards And International Acclaim
I am not usually one to put too much stock in awards and accolades, but when it comes to the Disney Ducks it is hard not to. The Ducks have been a critical and fan hit in every medium they’ve ever been presented. Both Carl Barks and Don Rosa have Eisner Awards for their Duck related work, Barks being one of the initial three inductees along with Will Eisner and Jack Kirby. Rosa’s “The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck” series also won a Eisner. Barks in his later years would also produce oil paintings featuring the Disney Ducks which the originals as well as prints have become much sought after collectable items. The original Ducktales was nominated and won multiple Emmys and spin-off Darkwing Duck garnered nominations as well, but never won.
Not just loved here in America, the Ducks of Duckberg are known and adored across the globe. In several European countries Donald and Co. are even more popular than they are here in the US. There are also many famous Duck fans such as Steven Spielberg and George Lucas.
At the end of the day, works featuring the Ducks are seen as some of the best and most influential works across a multitude of mediums. Proof enough to me that while Mickey Mouse may be the mascot, the Ducks will forever be where it’s at.