I stopped collecting Duck comics almost 20 years ago. It’s a ridiculous thing to say now, and was borne out of a dumb teenage mindset at the time, but I guess I felt the Duck comics had lost their ““edge””. I was always drawn to the stories that were weird, fantastical, gonzo, dark, subversive, the ones that went all in on their premise, and felt the comics were no longer surprising me in that regard. So it takes a certain kind of story to show up on my radar after that, a story that I even saw reach American pop culture sites, and would start the slow turnabout to me actively seeking the things out again.
But what could such a story be? Well, the official English title sort of gives it away, but still, finally, using the power of the Danish Public Libraries, lets talk about
The Call of C’Russo, art by Flemming Andersen, story by Mark & Laura Shaw, originally published in Denmark, 2004
Published in the US? Yes Actually!
The setup for this story is very simple: Donald wants to enter a song contest hosted by the mysterious impresario C’russo, but is barred from auditioning due to being a cartoonishly godawful singer. Meanwhile his nephews Huey Dewey and Louie stand to win the audition with their three-part harmonization, much to Donald’s chagrin. However, suddenly Donald is gifted a mysterious mouthspray by a white-clad man called D’mmingo (identical in appearance to C’russo) who heard Donald’s awful singing. The spray provides Donald with an astoundingly beautiful voice, and C’russo declares that Donald has won the right to participate in a song contest on the island of Spatoo. Donald and the nephews leave for the island on a cruise ship, as D’mmingo covertly follows them. The boat seems curiously empty, as all of Donald’s competitors are allegedly practicing in their cabins.
The nephews eventually discover Donald’s usage of the magic mouthspray, and when confronted about his cheating he cops to it immediately. However Donald asserts that he didn’t intend to keep any winnings, because all he wanted was to be appreciated for his voice. This is an extremely rare acknowledgement of Donald having a horrible voice in the comics, which 99% of the time doesn’t highlight it at all. Which of course makes sense considering there’s no auditory component to comics, but the result is that when I read a Duck comic I don’t “hear” the traditional voices of Donald and Mickey in my head. But this comic even goes so far as to muse that Donald’s horrible temper is a result of him being frustrated with his voice and how it is perceived. This Euro Disney story isn’t as character introspective as some other recent efforts, like the one I covered last, but it’s a cute idea all the same.
Anyway, feeling bad for Donald, the nephews resolve to let him win the contest, but suddenly catch D’mmingo mysteriously trying to swap the magic mouthspray bottle for one filled with water. The nephews manage to tie up D’mmingo and keep the “correct” bottle with Donald, but sense something is terribly wrong when they discover that they truly alone on the ship as all other cabins are empty save for running tape-recorders playing audio clips, and also because suddenly THE GIANT ANCIENT ISLAND TEMPLE OF SPATOO rises from beneath the ocean waves
This is where the comic starts getting wild, as Donald is taken inside the temple by C’Russo to “sing for the contest audience”. D’mmingo pleads with the nephews to stop Donald before he “dooms the world”, while his counterpart C’russo, eventually at gunpoint, forces Donald to sing before a giant dark well from which comes an ominous snoring.
This is where I would like to point out that the Danish Title of this comic is simply “The False Note”, and the cover for the volume is simply Donald singing horribly in his bathroom, cracking his mirror. Which is in marked contrast to its contents, because it turns out that- as the English title would suggest- the story is about Donald awakening an ancient, evil slumbering betentacled monster named “Pf’legmaw” with his singing.
The question one might have now is, how far will the story go from here? Is it gonna be some “C’russo wants to use the monster for conquest” deal, is it just gonna be some superficial Lovecraft references, is the monster going to be silly and nice? Is it just going to be a lumbering beast?
Well, as D’mmingo explains, the entire world is literally a figment of the dreaming Pf’legmaws imagination, and should the beast awaken it will erase all of existence and replace it with one molded in its own horrible image.
D’mmingo and C’russo represents contrasting elements of Pf’legmaws psyche – the desire to maintain the pleasant dream that is the Duckverse reality versus the desire for the beast to finally awaken – and every 100 years the two aspects fight to determine what desire wins out, by looking for someone who can either sing Pf’legmaw to sleep in D’mmingos case, or awaken it for C’russo.
So in terms of “how far will the story go?” I’d say goes pretty far. Especially once Pf’legmaw awakens and the Ducks start sprouting tentacular appendages as the reality override sets in. Any escape is impossible, as the “dream” world around the boat is gradually replaced by an unsettling, empty white void in preparation for the impending reset. The stakes are ludicrously high.
As D’mmingo recedes into Pf’legmaws mind, he feebly suggests that the panicked ducks try singing it a lullaby, but Donald’s smooth voice does nothing but anger the monster. Realizing we’re dealing with an “up is down, bad is good” style situation, the nephews use a hastily made concoction of tabasco, lemons and vinegar to restore Donald’s normal voice, which manages to soothe Pf’legmaw. The monster recedes into the temple, the Dream is restored, and C’Russo and D’mmingo go “Good Game, see you in 100 years” to each other. The nephews watch the sunset and marvel at the wondrous imagination of the monster, joke that Donald at least has one fan of his voice in Pf’legmaw, and Donald understandably freaks out at the implications of whole thing they’ve experienced. The end.
As you may have gathered at this point, some silly names and cartoony expressions aside, this story is played pretty straight. There’s no pre-requisite knowledge of the material required, no winking references, and it doesn’t go too far with the horror, so all in all, I’d say this story serves as a successful “kid friendly” introduction point to some classic horror concepts they may seek out down the line.
This is nothing new to Duck comics, but hey, if it can do pastiches on Dracula or Werewolves or Frankenstein, why not Cthulhu also? “Donald Duck does Lovecraft” sounds insane in concept, but given the longevity of the Euro Disney comics and how homages have always been a part of them, it was kind of inevitable that we’d get here. This comic is apparently kind of controversial in some fan circles supposedly due to the “everything is a dream” lore if I understand correctly, but the continuity between most of these comics is basically nonexistent so it’s not something that bothers me. In fact, most of the time I welcome the “No restrictions! Just throw whatever you want out there!” nature of these comics, makes things more interesting.
Really the only major downside to this comic is the art; normally I’m quite fond of Flemming Andersens style, and there’s still plenty of good stuff here, but it’s more suited to more overtly comedic stories rather than capturing eerie phantasmagorialness. Still, I guess there’s only so far you can push “Lovecraft Donald Duck”, and Andersens art no doubt takes some of the sting out of something that could otherwise be kinda freaky for kids…but one can’t help but wonder what could have been with a different art style.
Finally, curiously, The Call of C’Russo is not the first story to feature Donald being self-conscious about his singing while an unfathomable ancient force of pure evil is enamored with said singing… but that may be a story for another time.