Uncle Scrooge by Carl Barks: Cave of Ali Baba

Writer / Artist
Uncle Scrooge by Carl Barks: Cave of Ali Baba
Uncle Scrooge Cave of Ali Baba review
  • North American Publisher / ISBN: Fantagraphics Books - 978-1-68396-763-7
  • Release date: 2023
  • UPC: 9781683967637
  • Contains adult content?: no
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test?: no
  • Positive minority portrayal?: no
  • CATEGORIES: Adventure, All-Ages, Humour

As Fantagraphics continue their nicely designed chronological hardcover reprints of Carl Barks’ work, it becomes increasingly difficult to review them without seeming curmudgeonly. Although disjointed due to the chronology, Cave of Ali Baba would be considered a noteworthy selection if produced by anyone other than Barks. These are entertaining adventures and comedies, just not created with the same attention to detail characterising the earlier Uncle Scrooge stories Barks produced. Only four longer stories appear among a welter of shorts, and three are compromised.

‘A Spicy Tale’ is the best on offer, but in hindsight the depiction of Amazonian tribal people, while never ill-intentioned, now transmits as patronising at best, and offensive at worst, even if disguised as ducks. Overlook that and the ludicrous idea of Donald employed to improve lives in the Amazon while Scrooge searches for nutmegs is a fun-filled romp in which Barks enjoys drawing giant animals. The title story and ‘The Oddity Odyssey’ share an acceptance of the mystical, but both take plotting shortcuts Barks would have dismissed ten years earlier. The latter is also hamstrung by an awkward new style of page uniformity imposed by the publisher, which achieves the otherwise impossible by reducing the grace and charm of Barks’ peerless cartooning. He complained, and this was his only work using the format. This presentation removes the panel borders added when the story was reprinted in Uncle Scrooge Adventures 39, restoring the look as originally printed.

If not quite on top form, ‘The Unsafe Safe’ is Barks at least not taking shortcuts in an entertaining romp of both the Beagle Boys and Magica De Spell being unable to penetrate the new coating of Scrooge’s money bin. That is until Scrooge himself locates a possible weakness, when panic ensues. Another good money bin story is provided by the eight pages of ‘Tricky Experiment’. The other shorts are more variable, all exquisitely drawn and based on good ideas, but some don’t maximise the potential. A sea trip to retrieve pearls poses a good set of problems, though.

Because he’s so good with both the short story format and long-form entertainment, Barks’ mastery of the half page and single page gag is often overlooked, and these collections provide plenty of examples. Just look at the sheer joy provided on the sample art. It’s a delightful strip, and the chances are it’s not registered if you’ve seen it before.

The Gyro Gearloose strips are gathered at the back, plotted and drawn by Barks, but several scripted by Vic Lockman. Previously the emphasis in Gyro’s appearances has been almost exclusively on nutty inventions, but here as many strips focus on Gyro’s intelligence in solving problems. Both are combined when he completely modernises Duckburg in ‘Monsterville’, only to discover residents are bored by having nothing to do. The final story is ‘The Pied Piper of Duckburg’, begun by Barks, but never finished. Don Rosa’s completion was supplied in Island in the Sky, Rosa noting problems with the plot as sketched out, but largely remaining true to it. Daan Jippes instead changes the plot to avoid the complication, and his style is more energetic than that of Barks. The result is an improved story.

Some hits, and some misses about sums up the collection, but with the caveat that it’s the work of one of comics’ greatest ever storytellers. These stories were previously available in the 1990s album sized reprints Uncle Scrooge Adventures by Carl Barks in Color 36, 37, 38 and 39.