Review by Frank Plowright
Carl Barks was always good at naming his fabricated substances, and bombastium certainly has an evocative ring. For story purposes it’s the rarest element known to mankind, making it unlikely that the entire known quantity would turn up for auction in Duckburg, encased in ice as it would otherwise evaporate, despite it being mined in equatorial Congo. Barks begins with one of his comments on greed as the auction price reaches ridiculous sums despite no-one having the faintest idea what possible use bombastium might have. Caught up in the frenzy, Scrooge makes the winning bid, earning the enmity of Brutopia, and resulting in the coins in his money bin sinking to seventy feet.
Scrooge is an inveterate tightwad unless it’s matter of someone possibly having more money than him, in which case the floodgates open, yet it’s rare that Barks so immediately contrasts this with familiar behaviour. Having spent so much on the bombastium Scrooge almost loses it by storing it in a fridge, having not paid his electricity bill. There’s a great comedy sequence as the ice coating is further diminished by assorted encounters with heat before Huey, Dewey and Louis reveal the only location guaranteed to stay perpetually frozen is at the South Pole. But the Brutopians haven’t yet given up.
Coincidence plays a major part in ‘A Cold Bargain’, which is an atypical story for Barks, at least in the pages of Uncle Scrooge’s own title. He usually took advantage of the longer page count to create a fantastic adventure, restricting his gag-based strips to the shorter ten page format, yet although we have the exotic locale of Antarctica, this is more a series of gags. They’re exceptionally well constructed and unite seamlessly all the way to a sentimental ending.
Throughout his stories Barks always enjoyed illustrating the natural world, and during the course of what in effect is a satire of science, there’s a great sequence with a whale, and a penguin is pivotal in the later stages.
The cold bargain of the title is only revealed in the final page, and it’s fittingly heartwarming, a description that bizarrely extends to the story as a whole, largely occurring in the coldest place on the planet. This is meticulously constructed from start to finish. An absolute gem. It can also be found with collected with the previous four albums in this series and with 18 in The Lost Crown of Genghis Khan, along with contemporary cover illustrations and informed commentary.