Review by Frank Plowright
This second European album sized volume serialising Don Rosa’s Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck is the most compressed of the four books, with the three chapters here covering just three years. Scrooge, however, as he would later in life, gets around a lot. He starts in the USA learning a lesson about riches, and finishes in South Africa, with a trip back to Scotland in between.
The cover alone indicates Rosa’s mastery of his craft. It’s Scrooge in South Africa, surrounded by the local wildlife in angry mood. There’s no skimping on the animals surrounding the younger Scrooge, and there’s no duplication of species. Each is beautifully characterised, but what makes the illustration typically Rosa is the small elements supplying those extra gags: the frowning mole, snarling snail and pugnacious ant. His panels are packed with such bonus incidental details.
Of course, this would be mere distraction or window dressing were his plots not not so compelling. Rosa constructed a timeline for these stories by mining every Carl Barks story for references, and one line in an old story mentioned Scrooge bought his pince-nez spectacles in Glasgow in 1885. From Barks’ throwaway line Rosa produced a story about Scrooge returning to the family he left in the first volume, having earned enough from his hard work to pay the back taxes due on the long since abandoned family castle. He meets his ancestors in a finely delivered sequence, sees off the villains from the story’s opening chapter and performs a very different act of bravery. In a particularly fine gag tying into his later reputation, Scrooge is initially a disappointment to his ancestors.
The spectacles aren’t the only introduction here. While in South Aftrica Scrooge comes across an unscrupulous and conniving young man who never gives his name. It would be over sixty years later that Boer billionaire Flintheart Glomgold again met Scrooge after leaving him stranded in the African veldt.
While the quality is exceptional throughout, it’s the opening tale that’s the best here. It appears the simplest of the three stories, but the skill lies in how it feeds into the bigger picture of Scrooge learning as he works his way through life, dedication and knowledge being key to events. Barks established that Scrooge’s initial riches were earned mining his own claim. That story’s in the next volume, but here we’re shown his first mining experience, spending an entire winter attempting to locate a copper vein as the price of copper skyrockets due to the spread of electrical lighting.
There’s a ten year gap before the next album picks up in 1896, covering the period until 1902. The entire saga is also available as a more traditional sized graphic novel both in paperback and hardback.