The Biggest Ball of String

When I think about Uncle Scrooge, DuckTales (woohoo) is the first thing that pops into mind. I only recently learned about the presence of the richest duck alive in the pages of comics recently. I was skeptical for no good reason at all and put off reading them for ages. But finally, thankfully, I cracked open the oversized collection that is Uncle Scrooge McDuck: His Life & Times written and drawn by Carl Barks. I found humor, smart writing, and bizarre but delightful stories. The kind of stories that creep into the hole of stuff that will make you feel nostalgic one day.

I skipped around the book and struck gold repeatedly. “The Second-Richest Duck” made me laugh or giggle out loud on almost every page. Barks is clearly a talented guy. You don’t need me to tell you that. However, can I just point out how impressive it is that a story originally published in 1956 is still this humorous? Aside from the mentions of a newspaper only costing ten cents, “The Second-Richest Duck” has a timeless quality.

uncle scrooge mcduck his life and times

Cover image via Comic Vine

And it introduces Flintheart Glomgold. It’s settled. That’s what I’m naming my next pet.

“The Second-Richest Duck” wastes no time in reminding us what an unbearable miser Uncle Scrooge can be. He and Donald argue about Donald spending money on a soda for seven panels, and while that sounds boring, the lengthy back and forth works. I’m frustrated by Scrooge choosing hoarding dollars over life experiences, but mostly, I impressed by how persistent Donald Duck is. You’d think he’d give into peer pressure, but look, he has his eye on the prize. No one has ever wanted a soda more than Donald Duck in that moment.

Unfortunately, Scrooge duck-naps him to take him to his vault to show him three cubic acres of money is more satisfying than any chilled beverage. Donald doesn’t care. And suddenly, I respect Donald in a way I never did before.

While Scrooge laments the fact that his nephew has lost his way financially, he learns some tragic news. He’s no longer the richest duck in the world. A newspaper that he picked up in the park (why would he buy one?) reveals that Flintheart Glomgold has taken his place. Scrooge’s entire identity is wound up in his bankroll so you can imagine the effect the news has. He insists on traveling to South Africa to meet Glomgold and have a cent for cent duel to see who is the richest. It’s not just about money or investments either; Scrooge packs a ball of string he’s been saving. This isn’t a mere pocket-sized ball, it has to be rolled around.

Scrooge comes face to face with Glomgold and finds a mirror image of his personality. Glomgold might be a little meaner but only by degrees. They’re both petty, argumentative, and generally awful. They only care about wealth and eventually realize the only difference in their net worth will come down to who has saved the largest ball of string. Their grand plan to settle the matter is to unroll their balls of string across the heart of Africa.

Even Donald, Huey, Dewey, and Louie realize the plan is monumentally dumb and silly. If that isn’t a sign…

second-richest duck

Scrooge and Glomgold obtain jungle outfits that look exactly like their regular clothes and take off. Each one plans to sabotage the other. They endure a flurry of nature-related mishaps that result in their once giant balls of string being whittled down to the size of ping pong balls. Just when it looks like the battle of wealth might not ever be settled, Scrooge wins by inches.

This isn’t a story with a moral lesson. Neither Scrooge or Glomgold come out the other side with a more passionate view of living rather than saving. Still, I found a tiny part of myself admiring Scrooge’s resolve. Very tiny.

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