It's inapt to call Carl Barks the most poorly anthologized master cartoonist in comics history, because his Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge stories have been reprinted perpetually around the world since their original publication in the '40s, '50s, and '60s. But in America, his duck adventures have been scattered across comic-book pamphlets, useful only to fans who can hoard and obsessively chart his run of whimsical stories. One of those fans, Don Rosa, became a duck artist himself, and is one of the few American creators who's gained a reputation to match Barks or his European protégées. In the early '90s, Rosa's Scandinavian publisher assigned him to do a multi-part comics biography of Barks' signature creation, Scrooge McDuck, the crankiest, stingiest, most intractable character in the duck stable. Rosa used the opportunity to prove the integrity and consistency of Barks' work. He picked through all the Barks stories, seeking out every obscure fact about Scrooge's life—even those dropped in a single line of boastful dialogue—and built a timeline for the character that stretched from the Scottish moors of 1877 through gold rushes around the globe.
The 12-chapter graphic novel The Life And Times Of $crooge McDuck was printed in Europe between 1991 and 1993, and in the U.S. between 1994 and 1996 (where it won an Eisner for "Best Serialized Story"). Now it's been collected in a deluxe edition, with chapter-by-chapter commentary by Rosa, who points out what he took from Barks and what he came up with on his own. Rosa's truest homage to Barks is the way he makes each chapter of Life And Times a standalone adventure, in which the feathered hero makes his way to far-flung lands of opportunity. Scrooge loses early, learns how to win, and becomes so obsessed with winning that it seems impossible that Rosa could end the book on an up note.
But Rosa finds an out, first by showing a softer pre-wealth Scrooge, and later by suggesting—in a profound finale—that the duck's adventures are worth whatever cruelty and cold-heartedness inspired them. The Life And Times Of $crooge McDuck proves surprisingly pragmatic for a Disney product, and more than 10 years after its initial release, it's hard to believe that it's just a cult item, and not one of the canonized classics of American comics. This well-put-together package should help, with its comprehensive notes and its superior color separation, which makes every one of Rosa's gag-crammed panels pop with detail. Here's some free advice to the Disney corporation: If you're looking to revive your cel-animation department, pick up a copy of this book. And think "trilogy."