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Della Duck Comes Home

della flashbackIn the 1938 short Donald’s Nephews, Donald Duck received a postcard from sister Dumbella asking him to look after her three boys:  Huey, Dewey, and Louie. Who knew that afternoon would turn into nearly a century? Along the way, sister Dumbella would undergo a name change and the boys would even change guardians, but after many long years, Donald’s sister has finally made her way back to her children.

Airing last week was the episode of DuckTales titled “Nothing Stops Della Duck!” detailing the character’s journey from the moon to Duckberg and into the lives of her children for the first time. Interestingly, prior to the revamped DuckTales, Della had done little of note. She never appeared in a Donald Duck cartoon, nor did she have a meaningful appearance in the comics by Carl Barks or Don Rosa. She was Della in the Sunday strip, but Barks would rename her as Thelma with Rosa reestablishing the name Della years later. She appeared as a child in The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, albeit briefly. Aside from that, her most notable appearance is in the often circulated Donald Duck family tree in which she’s just a headshot.

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The infamous postcard, back when Della was Dumbella.

Most of the canon surrounding Della has been recent and has trended towards her being a pilot or astronaut and she’s either missing or presumed dead. This was established in the 2014 Dutch comic 80 is prachtig which was part of a celebration of Donald Duck’s 80th birthday. The story is by Evert Geradts and is drawn by Maximino Tortajada and appeared in a Donald Duck magazine. It’s unknown these days what Disney considers canon, but her backstory there is similar to what has been introduced in DuckTales. The boys have, on occasion, identified themselves as orphans suggesting they believe she’s dead, but for the most part the subject of their parentage has been avoided. It’s likely the characters of Donald’s nephews, first introduced in a 1937 comic strip illustrated by Al Taliaferro from which the cartoon short was based on, were just created to give Donald some juveniles to bounce off of without saddling him with kids of his own. It was the 1930s, so Donald being a single father with three kids out of wedlock was probably too taboo, and having him marry would make him too domesticated. As nephews, the trio could simply come and go, which is largely what they did on film though it became clear in the printed world of Donald Duck these boys were here to stay.

don rosa duck family tree

One of the few canonical images of Della has been confined to a family tree.

Scrooge McDuck would eventually come along and he and his nephews would form a grand, adventuring, team which eventually found its way to television in the form of DuckTales. There Scrooge was in charge of the boys while Donald went off and joined the Navy and the subject of Della Duck was never broached. When the show re-launched in 2017, things were different. The ending of the premiere included the boys stumbling across a painting of Scrooge, Donald, and their mother Della in the midst of some heroics on a pirate ship. Throughout the first season, the boys would search for clues about what happened to their mother, the truth of which nearly driving them away from their Uncle Scrooge. The final shot of the first season revealed that Della was still alive, but trapped on the moon.

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Della’s fate was revealed in the first season finale of DuckTales.

Season Two has partly followed Della and her trials on the moon. There she fended off monsters (and lost a leg) and befriended a peaceful race of moon people that aided her in rebuilding her rocket to get back home. Prior to this show’s creation, Della Duck was a character I paid no mind to. I’m sure many others did the same considering how little impact she’s had over the years. DuckTales though has made me interested in her, and “Nothing Can Stop Della Duck!” only amplified that.

della knock

Della is too nervous to knock.

The episode wastes little time in cutting to the chase. The previous episode ended (agonizingly on a Friday) with Della (Paget Brewster) blasting off so she’s outside of Scrooge’s estate when the episode begins. Donald Duck (Tony Anselmo) is waiting for a bus which is to take him away on vacation for a month and he sees the rocket crash and races over to find his sister, but she’s already gone. She quickly makes her way to Scrooge’s front door eager to see her uncle again and finally meet the children she left behind as eggs.

scrooge sees della

Scrooge seeing Della will break you.

It’s in the moments outside of Scrooge’s door where the episode shines brightest. Della is eager, but also terrified of what her first impression will be like. She can’t bring herself to knock or ring the bell and instead starts trying out first impressions. It’s partly played for laughs to lessen the obvious tension. On the other side of the door, Scrooge (David Tennant) is armed with some priceless artifact in the shape of a quill that can magically lead him to any treasure if he uses it to sketch a map. He, the boys, and Webby (Kate Micucci) are ready to leave, but when Scrooge opens the door he’s stopped dead in his tracks as the quill falls to the floor shattering into a million pieces.

dellas boys and webby

The boys appear guarded and unsure initially.

Della then basically cracks a joke of an introduction as we see the tears well up in Scrooge’s eyes. It’s beautifully illustrated and the two share a warm embrace. When the camera pans to the children, they’ve become withdrawn and are looking on cautiously. Webby is casually positioned in front of them just taking everything in and it’s she who first posits that the woman at the door is their mother. Della enters and drops to her knees with tear-filled eyes as Scrooge introduces her. The scene is paced so intelligently as the boys are both excited but also very guarded. Dewey (Ben Schwartz) is the most exuberant and the firs to embrace his mother, while Huey (Danny Pudi) needs to only hear her quote the Junior Woodchuck handbook to know he’s found his mom. Louie (Bobby Moynihan), the most casual and laid back of the three, is also the most hesitant. He justifiably wonders if this is some weird trick and Della is going to turn into a ghoul or monster. He eventually gives in, and the three share a heartwarming group hug.

della knees

Della falling to her knees feels like her succumbing to the weight of the moment. 

The scene dealing with both the joy of an unexpected, but welcomed, reunion coupled with some degree of trepidation and fear of the unknown is handled about as well here as it is in any medium. I was so impressed with the moment, but not surprised, because the bread crumbs this show had laid down gave me the confidence in knowing it could handle this kind of material and do it well. I was so convinced of that going into it that I made it a point to view this one by myself without my children. I love them dearly, but my son especially is at that stage where he asks 20 questions a minute when watching a TV show or movie so it can be trying to actually absorb and enjoy something when he’s around.

della embrace

The well-earned payoff.

The rest of the episode remained poignant and clever as Della tries to get readjusted to life within a family she hardly knows. She has to find her place and also figure out how to be a mother overnight. There’s confusion on all sides, and there’s a sense that Della is trying to force affection and a motherly persona onto her boys and all of them will adapt at different speeds. The show is establishing rather quickly that Della and Dewey will be kindred spirits and that bonding with him will come easier than it will with Huey and Louie. Della will have to spend time getting to know her boys and they will have to do the same. They love each other right now out of obligation and duty, but a more natural affection will take time. I think it will be an interesting experience to take in and you know the writers of the show will handle it deftly, mixing in plenty of humor and adventure.

Perhaps well aware that something they setup in the first episode was now being paid off, the writers saved one reunion for later. For when Donald stumbled into his sister’s spaceship he accidentally reactivated it sending himself to the moon. Della left behind a ruler who was scheming a way to motivate his people out of their docile, comfort, zone and into a more aggressive position by portraying Della as a villain to his people upon her departure. As a result, the environment Della found welcoming will not be so for poor Donald. Worse for him is that they all think he’s gone on vacation so they won’t even be looking for him. Eventually, they’ll have to go searching for him or Della will realize her ship is missing, but for now viewers will have to wait for the reunion of brother and sister. It was teased slightly in the episode with a cautiously optimistic and slightly excited Donald looking through the wreckage for Della. Meanwhile, Della has a moment by herself where she looks at a picture of Donald and the boys and thanks her brother for raising them so well (even if he didn’t give them the names she wanted). That moment to come may not be as satisfying as a reunion of mother and child, but I have a sneaking suspicion this show will handle it just fine.


Dec. 13 – Donald Duck in Christmas on Bear Mountain

bear mountain original

Four Color Comics #178 (1947)

For these features, I like to do something a little different at the midway point. This year I’m going to take a look at the classic Donald Dock comic “Christmas on Bear Mountain.” Donald Duck wasn’t just a movie star back in the day, but he also starred in his own line of comics published by Walt Disney. The author and illustrator was the renowned Carl Barks, who also would pen the Uncle Scrooge comics as well. Barks didn’t get to enjoy being celebrated for many years as anything published by Walt Disney was attributed to just one man – Walt Disney. He got to take credit for everything. I don’t necessarily think the intent was malicious or ego-driven, but a marketing one. If people thought these were coming from Disney himself then they would be more likely to buy them. This was a problem in those days across the comics world as the people with money got to take most of the credit, and royalties, away from the actual creators. It’s a problem that has thankfully largely been solved, but there’s still plenty of old wounds out there.

scrooge debut

The first page, with Scrooge’s debut at the bottom.

In terms of Donald Duck comics, “Christmas on Bear Mountain” is one of the most famous. It was first published in December 1947 by Dell Comics as part of their Four Color Comics. It’s most notable for being the first appearance of Scrooge McDuck, Donald’s wealthy uncle who would go on to star in his own line of comics as well as the DuckTales cartoons. For his debut, Scrooge is a bit more like his eventual adversary Flintheart Glomgold. He’s a bearded Scottsman with a rather lousy disposition. He claims he hates everybody and everybody hates him. He lives alone in a mansion in Duckberg with just his attendants. He appears to be a cross between Xanadu from Citizen Kane and Ebenezer Scrooge from A Christmas Carol. There’s no hint at his adventuring past as much of what will define Scrooge is yet to come, making this version of the character feel more like a prototype Scrooge than the actual Scrooge McDuck we’ll come to know and love.

The comic opens with Donald Duck bemoaning his lack of money in front of his nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie. He doesn’t have enough money for food, let alone presents for Christmas. He openly wishes his rich uncle Scrooge were more generous, but dismisses that possibility pretty quickly. It’s a convenient thought though as we’re whisked away to Scrooge’s mansion on the other side of town where the old man is bemoaning the oncoming holiday as well. He’s a miserable sort, but also a bit mischievous, and he decides that for Christmas he would like to test the mettle of his cowardly nephew. Scrooge admires bravery and repeatedly references his stingy ways. He never gives anything away for free, but he’s willing to bestow food and presents upon his nephew if he can have a bit of fun at his expense and test his courage. And if he passes his test, he’ll reward him further. He instructs his butler to send Donald a telegram offering the use of his cabin on Bear Mountain where Scrooge intends to spring a surprise on his nephew.

barks scrooge

Many years later, Barks would do paintings of his prized creations and sell them for a tidy sum.

Donald and his nephews are surprised and delighted to receive the telegram from Scrooge offering the use of his cabin for the holidays. The boys set off immediately, though Donald is a little unnerved by the warning in the telegram to watch out for bears. In a bit of role reversal from a popular short like Duck Pimples, it’s Donald who is cowardly while the nephews are dismissive of the warning. They tell their uncle there are no bears around, and the thought is almost put out of Donald’s mind when they arrive at the cabin to find presents and food, lots and lots of food.

Meanwhile, Scrooge is eagerly anticipating pulling his little prank on his nephew. He plans on heading to the cabin himself, but first he must test his prank on his butler, Edgerton. When he summons the unassuming butler to his room he bursts forth in a bear costume prompting Edgerton to dive out of a window declaring he’ll take his holiday now. Scrooge is delighted with the result and immediately calls for his driver to take him to Bear Mountain.

At the cabin, night has fallen and Donald is on the look-out for bears. As the snow starts to come down the nephews declare there are no bears, but Donald is not satisfied. He peers outside through a telescope and is terrified at the sight of a creature, which turns out to be a squirrel. It’s enough to get him to jump into the chandelier and cower in fear, a frequent gag in the coming pages. Scrooge is on his way, but the snow is falling too fast. The roads are impassible, and the driver tells Scrooge they need to turn back. He’s not bothered as he’ll just pull his prank the next day, though he’s not crazy about his nephews getting to eat and sleep on his dime another night revealing he’s never provided a man a free meal in his life.

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The story goes out of its way to reveal just how much of a penny-pincher Scrooge is.

The next morning the boys have fun playing in the snow while Donald enjoys rummaging through the fridge for breakfast. When the boys request oatmeal, he tells them they’ll eat their lobster newburg and like it! Later on, Donald tries to relax by the fire but the nephews inform him they need a Christmas tree. It’s the one thing missing from Scrooge’s cabin, and given that it’s Christmas Eve, the place really needs one. Donald has no intention of going off into bear-infested woods looking for a tree, but the kids cry and complain and eventually he gives in. When they first set out, Donald thinks he sees bear tracks and runs back inside to hide under the bed while the boys point out they’re just rabbit tracks. Donald angrily grabs an axe and mutters his way through the snow. Finding only a single hollowed-out tree, the boys are forced to settle and they haul it back to the cabin.

The boys make the most of their sad tree by hanging colored soda bottles from it. Donald is more interested in finding some dessert and the kids are onboard as well. When they leave the living room it’s revealed their tree has a stow-away. A little bear cub emerges from his slumber and climbs out of the tree. He takes note of a teddy bear nearby and gives it a whack with his paw, startling the ducks in the other room. When the nephews come in they don’t notice the cub by the teddy bear, and Donald cowardly asks them to check the other rooms.

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Chandeliers make for great hiding places.

The little cub runs off undetected to the kitchen where he finds the strawberry shortcake the ducks were planning on eating, and consumes it himself. After finding no sign of bears, the others return to the kitchen and are shocked to see their cake has vanished. Donald immediately returns to the chandelier for cover, while the boys nervously tiptoe around the house. The cub though has returned to the tree for cover, and when he sees the boys leave he re-emerges. He drops out of the tree only to land on a roller skate just as Donald hops out of his hiding place. The bear goes rolling along and plows into Donald, who still doesn’t get a look at him but does notice the bear fur left behind. He then returns to his chandelier in terror.

Hearing the commotion, the boys return to the living room but again find no bears. Donald tells them his assailant fled through the door and the boys hear the sound of their roller skate on the floor. They angrily give charge only to slip on the discarded skate and crash into the wall. The bear has a look at the dazed ducklings, before he cheerfully resumes his skating. Donald asks what happened, and the boys don’t know, but they hear the skates and give charge once more. The cub hears them, and grabbing a box of chocolates, jumps back into his tree. When the boys enter the room they see no sign of the bear, but then one of them gets knocked on the head by the discarded chocolate box. They now know the bear is hiding in the tree and one of the nephews angrily yanks the cub out of his hiding place.

Just then, the mother of the cub awakens in the stump the ducks left behind and she is not happy to find her cub missing. She tracks them back to the cabin and smashes the door down. The cub though has managed to escape the ducklings, and after they failed to find him, they plead with their uncle to come out of his hiding place. Assuring him it’s just a tiny bear, Donald finally emerges to aid his nephews in their search. He confidently strides into another room expecting to find a cub, but naturally he finds the cub and his mother. He runs off and dives out the window as the bear gives chase and his nephews follow.

Night falls and the boys are forced to watch from outside as the bear and her cub enjoy the food and warmth of the cabin. After a satisfying meal, the bear lays down to sleep by the fire while the cub plays with the roller skate once more. The nephews then urge their uncle to go inside and tie the bear up while she sleeps while they’ll take care of the cub. Donald does not want to do this, but since the alternative is freezing to death, he has little choice. They slip in, and the boys start chasing the cub around. Donald, shaking uncontrollably, sneaks up to the mother bear. Before he can begin tying her up, the bear lets out a great sigh causing Donald to faint in fright right beside the bear who wraps an arm around him.

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Aww, they look so sweet together.

Just then, Scrooge shows up in his bear costume. He sneaks into the cabin and is immediately met by the cub who is being chased by his youngest nephews. He’s amazed at their bravery, even if it is just a cub, but not as amazed as he is when he looks into the next room. There he sees the slumbering mama bear, with Donald sleeping right beside her. He’s proud to see his nephew in so brave a state and even remarks the boy is like him and doesn’t know the meaning of the word fear. The bear then lets out another sigh, terrifying Scrooge who bolts out of the cabin. He’s not too scared to be proud of his nephew though, as he shares what happened with his driver, James. He intends to host the boys for Christmas dinner the next morning and instructs James to give them the good news.

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I love how Donald’s feathers explode when he’s frightened.

At Scrooge’s the next day, the boys enjoy a hearty meal. The youngest ducks get to consume liters of pop while Donald and Scrooge down lemonade. Scrooge is cheerful and supremely generous, all because he thinks his nephew is the bravest duck in town. To reward his bravery, Scrooge tells Donald he has a special gift for him:  a bear skin rug. When Donald sees the head of the rug he shrieks and faints. Scrooge is confused, but the nephews insist he just fainted from too much turkey. Scrooge actually seems to buy the explanation, but remarks in the final panel he thought Donald might actually be scared.

Like basically every Donald Duck story I’ve ever read, “Christmas on Bear Mountain” is a charming little tale. The humor is not explosive, but will probably produce a smile for most readers. Seeing Donald in such a cowardly role is a little different, not that Donald is ever a model for bravery, but often he’s too stubborn to be truly scared. There’s no real build-up for Scrooge, but it’s fine that he’s ushered in so conveniently and quickly since the story unfolds rather briskly. It’s interesting to see this early Scrooge, which is basically a magnified version of the character that focuses on his less admirable traits while also introducing a playful side. That playful side is seldom explored, so it’s an interesting way to see the character introduced.

fanta bear mountain

Fantagraphics has re-released a vast assortment of duck comics and they’re the easiest way to acquire them today.

Also like most Donald Duck stories, the artwork of Carl Barks is expressive and detailed. I love the shape of his ducks which are more rounded than the film counterparts. The pages are consistently laid out in a 2×4 format which helps to move the story along quickly in the 20 pages present though I do wish there was a splash page or two. In particular one that revealed more of Scrooge’s mansion or that captured the presents and Christmas setting of the cabin. It’s a minor quibble though. The backgrounds are actually quite populated without appearing busy and the action shots utilize minimal effects. Just the occasional dash line or sweat drops. It gives the comic a very clean, professional, look.

If you’re interested in reading this story yourself then it’s actually rather easy these days. Fantagraphics has republished several Scrooge and Donald Duck comics in large, hardbound, full-colored trades. A lot of bonus content is included and even some panels that were rejected by Barks’ editor at the time which were preserved and restored. The trades total about 200 pages and retail with an MSRP of $28.99 but usually are sold for less. Some are even sold in two-packs with a nice, hard, box holding the books in place. I highly recommend them if you’re a fan of these classic characters. Alternatively, you could also seek out older prints or even an original comic, but that might set you back a bit more depending on the condition and rarity of the edition.

And I also must take a minute to point out that this is post number 500 for this blog. Whether you’re reading your first or if yo’ve read the other 499: Thank you. As an unabashed fan of Donald Duck, I am happy the 500th post ended up relating to him.


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