Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Old Castle's Secret

Scrooge McDuck first appeared in a 1947 story titled "Christmas on Bear Mountain," written and drawn by the great Carl Barks. And I've just realized--now that I think about it--that I'm not sure if Barks had plans to bring Uncle Scrooge back for more appearances at that time, or if it just turned out that way.

Because whether Barks had realized it or not, he had created someone who would evolve into the greatest comic book character of all time. It would take awhile for Scrooge to fully develop his unique personality, but he'd get there eventually.

If nothing else, Scrooge proved to be an effective plot device to thrust Donald and the nephews into adventures. Scrooge's second appearance was in Four Color #189 (June 1948) in "The Old Castle's Secret," in which the rich water fowl does indeed get the boys into trouble.

To be fair, he does go along with them and share in the trouble. It seems Scrooge is on the verge of bankruptcy. (Barks hadn't come up with the concept of the Money Bin yet.) But there's hope. There's a treasure hidden in his ancestral castle in Scotland. Scrooge plans on bringing the boys to help him out as he scans the walls with an X-ray machine to find the treasure.

Of course, they'll all have to take care to avoid or fend off the ghost that haunts the castle.

This leads to the sort of delightful adventure that is representative of Carl Barks' storytelling genius. While Donald and Scrooge take turns panicking over apparently supernatural shenanigans, the three nephews keep their heads. When the Ducks are trapped on a balcony, it's the nephews who come up with a clever escape plan. When the boys are trapped outside the castle, they deduce the location of a secret tunnel that gets them back in. When they encounter the ghost--who is alternately either completely invisible or shows the shadow a skeleton against the wall, they... well, mostly they run. But eventually they gain the upper hand, catch the "ghost" and find the treasure.

Barks does here what he did in other Donald and/or Uncle Scrooge tales: He combines visual gags and slapstick humor with a strong "realistic" plot. This time around, he combines elements of a detective story with those of a horror story. This is combined with his clean and appealing visual artistry to turn "The Old Castle's Secret" into something very unique.

Scrooge McDuck hasn't yet developed the personality traits that would soon turn him into a comic book character whose pure awesomeness makes Batman cry and Wolverine beg for mercy. This time around, he allows the nephews to carry the bulk of the action. But it won't be long before he becomes awesome in his own right and--in the meantime--we'll still have enormous fun hanging out with him.


  1. Wow--"the greatest comic book character of all time"! That is a strong statement and no small claim...and no "arguably" in there to hedge your bet. Yet I cannot help but feel that you may be entirely correct in your assessment of Scrooge McDuck. He is fabulously wealthy yet painstakingly penurious at the same time, which allows for much character exposition and development. He has a colorful, diversified past, any element of which can turn up as fair game for story plot material. He is wise in many ways, yet deliberately uninformed in others (reading only newspapers that he finds in the part can limit one's awareness of current events). He has the scope for a wide variety of stories, covering many different landscapes and themes. He also boasts a stellar supporting cast. He is a well-rounded protagonist, with depth of character and many facets to his personality.

    I have recently re-read this story in the new Fantagraphics book, and found it as absorbing today as when I first read it years ago.

    Thanks for posting this.

  2. Thanks for your comment. Your summery of why Scrooge is awesome is right on and I appreciate you sharing.

  3. The skeleton silhouette reminds me of a shot in the DuckTales episode "Hotel Strangeduck".

    1. DuckTales used a lot of Barks' stuff, both stories and imagery. So it's very possible that this was intentional.


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