Book Review: Walt Disney’s Uncle Scrooge “Only a Poor Old Man” by Carl Barks

Walt Disney’s Uncle Scrooge “Only a Poor Old Man” is Volume 12 in Fantagraphics’ The Complete Carl Barks Disney Library. The book collects comic book covers and stories from Four Color #386 (March 1952), #456 (March 1953) and #495 (September 1953), and Uncle Scrooge#4-6 (Dec. 1953-Aug. 1954). As stated in the bibliography notes, “stories within a volume may or may not follow the publication sequence of the original comics.”

Buy Walt Disney’s Uncle Scrooge “Only a Poor Old Man” by Carl Barks

“Only a Poor Old Man” opens the book with Uncle Scrooge in a killing frenzy. He shoots a musket at moths and traps rats, concerned they will eat his paper money. He also sprays spiders with poison, worried their webs might short circuit the burglar alarm. Hard to believe such a wealthy duck could have so many pests on the premises.

But the real pests of the story are the Beagle Boys, who buy the lot next door in order to break into Scrooge’s vault through a building they will construct. Scrooge learns the Boys are dumping dirt in a local reservoir, so he buys it. He then installs a secret trap door into the side of his building so he can sneak money into their idling dump truck, which is then covered with dirt, all of which will be deposited into the reservoir. It’s very hard to believe none of the Boys working on the lot notice the wall opening and falling, including coins, fall into the truck , but they don’t.

Scrooge then becomes his own pest when his obsession for swimming within his money gets the better of him. He scrapes enough coins together to form a little island, but while diving “around it like a dolphin” he is overseen by a Beagle Boy. The Boys then buy up all the land down creek (which makes one wonder if they have that much money for such a huge real estate purchase, why are they stealing?). The story then gets even more ridiculous as dynamite-filled fish, birds carrying napalm bombs, and super termites are used to battle over Scrooge’s fortune.

Scrooge battles the Beagle Boys in two other stories. In “The Round Money Bin,” Scrooge tries to better hide his money from them by converting all his coins, save his Number One Dime, making its first appearance, into $10,000 bills so they’ll be easier to hide. In “The Menehune Mystery,” Scrooge converts his fortune into $1,000,000 bills and hides them in spinach cans to store on a Pacific island he bought. Both times, the Beagle Boys pose as workers and are able to get the upper hand, bringing into question who is doing the hiring for Scrooge and the quality of the ducks’ vision as the Boys are usually wearing their trademark masks.

In “Back to the Klondike,” Scrooge suffers from a mild form of amnesia, which requires him to take memory boosters in the form of pills. The first pill is so strong it awakens a memory from 50 years ago of Scrooge burying “a hoard of [gold] nuggets,” leading him, Donald, and the nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie to head to Alaska. Scrooge reminisces about a girl names Goldie and gets a faraway look in his eye. They think Scrooge is remembering an old sweetheart, but he’s thinking about the compound interest on the money she owes him would now “amount to one billion dollars.” In response, Donald says, “for just a minute, I thought Uncle Scrooge was human!” Although how a duck could be human is a philosophical discussion not dealt with here.

Scrooge’s cheapness is a real detriment. They spend a week walking through a mountain pass because Scrooge doesn’t want to pay to fly. But once on the other side, they learn Scrooge owns an airline and could have flown for free. The reason Scrooge forgot is he hadn’t taken a memory booster since the doctor’s office because they cost ten cents.

Frequently, Scrooge’s hubris and obsession with wealth makes it tough to root for him, but in this story his softer side is shown and makes for a touching ending. Barks hints at what’s to come with Scrooge’s facial details, and eventually, Donald reveals it to his nephews (and readers) even though Scrooge keeps up the ruse.

In “The Horse-Radish Treasure,” Scrooge has to pay for the sins of an ancestor, Seafoam McDuck, and hand over all his possessions other than an old suit to Chisel McSue because a shipment of horse-radish failed to make its way to Jamaica 200 years ago. However, the terms of the contract give Scrooge 30 days to complete the transport, although finding the horse-radish on the ocean won’t be easy.

Barks sends Scrooge and company (and readers) to fictional lands. They learn “The Secret of Atlantis” in an underwater adventure begun when Scrooge creates a rare quarter by buying up all the others and drops them in the ocean. They get imprisoned by the king who is worried if they return to surface, greedy people would come to kill them and rob their treasures. Seems odd that Donald, a talking duck, is surprised that frogmen talk. In “Tralla La,” likely inspired by Shangri-La, Scrooge seeks solace there because it is a place without money and he hopes the inhabitants won’t bother him. He initially finds peace with the simple life there, but when the ducks, who have not seen metal before, discover a shiny bottle cap, the populace are consumed by greed.

Interspersed between the stories are one-page gags that create laughs out of Scrooge’s miserly ways, from taking advantage of a diner’s free second cup of coffee offer to help out a guy down on his luck to getting into a cab just as light turns green to save on a fare. The last story, “Outfoxed Fox” is not a grand adventure like the other stories, but more an extended gag as Scrooge tries to trick Donald and his neighbor Jughead Jones (no, not Archie’s pal) into selling him their properties with stories of treasure buried in the ground and within the walls of their homes.

Better than his stories, Barks’s art work is masterful. The characters retain a consistent look throughout stories and their facial expressions and body language reveal their emotions. The colors pop off the page. One of my favorite sequences is when Scrooge and Donald battle Blackjack the bear at night as it alternates between character silhouettes against the dark blue sky and then the addition of more detail of the characters when moonlit. Barks draws the reader into stories and locations with single, detailed panels the size of four. This is seen when the reservoir breaks, approaching Atlantis and Tralla La, and during fights at a bar and a pie company, the latter being one of the book’s funniest sequences.

Walt Disney’s Uncle Scrooge “Only a Poor Old Man” is a delight and a great entry point into the world of Scrooge and the work of Barks. The book concludes with “Story Notes,” annotations by a team of writers, and “Carl Barks: Life Among the Ducks,” a biography by Donald Ault.

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Gordon S. Miller

Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of this site. "I'm making this up as I go" - Indiana Jones

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