Thursday, August 27, 2009

Ducks, gunfighters and ships in strange places

What do Bat Masterson and Scrooge McDuck have in common?

Well, both of them stumbled across the wrecks of old Spanish ships in the desert of the American southwest, well away from any water.

For Scrooge, it happened in the story “The Seven Cities of Cibola,” published in Uncle Scrooge #7 (1954). Scrooge, Donald and the nephews are looking for the titular lost cities, which were reputed to be filled with gold.

Along the way, they run across the ship, which had been sailing along the Colorado River in 1539 before being displaced into the desert by an earthquake. Artist/writer Carl Barks does his usual perfect job of making the sequence visually striking.

Bat Masterson, on the other hand, ran across a wrecked Spanish ship in the desert in THIS EPISODE (broadcast July 15, 1959)

of the classic television series starring Gene Barry. Gee whiz, there’s an awful lot of wrecked Spanish ships littering the American desert.

One can’t help but wonder if someone on the Bat Masterson writing or production staff was a fan of Disney comics and perhaps lifted the “ship in the desert” idea for the TV show. Or perhaps both stories were simply drawing on the same Old West tall tales.

Whether that’s the case or not, it’s tempting to assume that they might be the same ship, thus allowing us to place Uncle Scrooge and Gene Barry’s fictionalized version of Masterson in the same universe.

But, sadly, the two ships don’t quite match up. The ship Masterson finds contains treasure—a chest of jewels and gold nuggets. Whereas the ship Scrooge and the nephews find doesn’t contain any treasure—though it does provide them with an important clue to find the lost cities.

I guess fiction writers owe quite a debt to the Spanish conquistadors. Greed; war; betrayal; courage and cowardice; quests for lost cities of gold (which never existed in real life, but often turn out to be quite “real” in various fictional universes)—all this has provided storytellers with an unending supply of fodder for entertaining adventure yarns.

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