Review by Frank Plowright
When Gladstone Comics began publishing Disney material for the US market in 1985, they were approached by Don Rosa whose elaborate adventure stories produced for his local Kentucky newspaper were hugely influenced by his love of Carl Barks’ work. His first submission was entirely on spec. If turned down, it would be 26 pages of work for no reward beyond their creation. Thankfully for posterity, ‘Son of the Sun’ was magnificent.
It combines all the best elements of a Barks duck story without being entirely in thrall to the master, as Rosa takes the themes, but constructs his own story around them. Barks loved a treasure hunt in an exotic location, so Rosa sends Uncle Scrooge, Donald Duck and nephews to Peru in search of hidden Inca treasure. Scrooge’s more onerous personality traits always come across better if there’s someone worse. Cue South African billionaire miser Flintheart Glomgold. Barks often guided toward set pieces to make Indiana Jones envious, and Rosa follows suit. He ensures Huey, Dewey and Louie are the voices of reason, often via the wisdom of the Junior Woodchucks Guidebook, and, of course, a challenge sets the entire story in motion. It’s an incredibly assured professional début, being unpredictable with well conceived gags. If assurance is required that we’re in safe hands from the very beginning, Rosa opens the story in a museum exhibition of Scrooge’s treasures gathered from adventures around the world with a prominent sign noting “Donated by Scrooge McDuck”. Donald’s surprised that Scrooge would give so much away, only to be told by a canny Scrooge that the only donated item is the sign.
Rosa fills those opening pages with further nods to the Barks stories, illustrating artefacts retrieved during them, and there’s a silhouette panel on the sample page, another Barks speciality. This, however is homage unnecessary to the tight plot in which elements slot beautifully into place. A few minor artistic glitches here and there don’t detract from an adventure that’s clever, funny and as timeless as the stories Rosa so admired.
He’s not, however, a one trick pony, and ‘Cash Flow’, his second long piece, institutes a theme Rosa would make his own, the use of a scientific gimmick. The Beagle Boys are seen easily repelled from his money bin by Scrooge, who’s now used to their tricks, but their acquisition of a clever device results in a formidable threat. Rosa works a lot of good gags around the device, although the novice is more readily on view with pacing not exactly problematical, but an aspect the more mature Rosa would have learned to adjust for maximum impact. It’s good and enjoyable, just not Rosa at his peak.
Both stories benefit from Rosa allowing himself larger illustrations, meaning he can really sell a joke with a big image. He’d become more refined with their use as his career progressed, but they still have the intended effect here. The opening story is relatively straightforward artistically, but by the second Rosa’s already beginning to add his characteristic visual asides, little background jokes offering added value.
With Rosa rightly enamoured with Barks, consider this: these two stories are better than the first pair of duck stories Barks created, and another Rosa classic awaits in Part Two. This edition is long out of print, but both stories feature in the first volume of Fantagraphics’ hardcover collection of Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck by Don Rosa: Son of the Sun.