In honor of Halloween, here’s a very spooky Dame indeed!
Publisher: Disney, via assorted international licenses
First Appearance: “The Midas Touch” (December 1961)
Created By: Carl Barks
Magica De Spell has one goal: to steal Scrooge McDuck’s Number One Dime, the first coin he ever earned. From her home on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius she plots ever more intricate ways to steal the dime, which she plans to melt down in the fires of the volcano into an amulet that will grant her the Midas Touch. Though she occasionally goes after other magical artifacts, she always returns to the dime. She’s aided in her efforts by her fantastic powers, particularly her shapeshifting ability and her smoke-filled foof bombs, as well as by her raven familiar Ratface (in DuckTales, he’s her brother Mr. Poe, stuck in raven form thanks to a spell).
Magica can be a team player when she wants: she’s worked with the Beagle Boys, Flintheart Glomgold, The Sword in the Stone’s Madam Mim, the Phantom Blot, and most recently, Negaduck. Like most Disney ducks, she’s got an extended family, all of whom are witches; Granny De Spell and niece Minima De Spell appear the most frequently. She’s also not above teaming up with Scrooge and his nephews to save her own neck, though you get the sense it galls her.
Most recently (in America), Magica partnered up with Negaduck to flood St. Canard with alternate universe Darkwing Ducks as part of a convoluted plot to gain access to Launchpad McQuack and thus, ideally, the dime. She wound up throwing down magically with Darkwing’s girlfriend Morgana McCawber and managed to drain Morgana of her powers, only to lose those boosted powers thanks to one of the alternate Darkwings. Still, she returned soon after with a gang of female villains, intent on conquering Duckburg and St. Canard simultaneously, only to be thwarted by Team Scrooge/Darkwing. Man, being defeated regularly by Launchpad, Donald, and a bunch of eight-year-olds must really bite.
So What’s So Great About Her?
Kids don’t always get subtle jokes, and they really don’t get camp, which is why so many kids watched the Adam West Batman show and wondered why their parents were laughing. So it was with me and Magica. I didn’t get that she was supposed to be an essentially ridiculous character, or that June Foray’s wheezy Natasha Badenov voice was incongruous. I just saw the basic signifiers – clingy black dress and heels, lots of purple eyeshadow, that episode where she disguises herself as Helen of Troy in order to seduce Scrooge – and assumed she was supposed to be what she seemed: a glamorous, dangerous femme fatale.
And though he did it with tongue firmly in cheek, that’s what Carl Barks intended when he created her. At the time, pop culture witches were craggy old crones, and Barks wanted to create a sultry, Sophia Loren-esque witch. Sure enough, she weaves an entirely non-magical spell over Donald the first time he sees her, and in general isn’t above using her wiles to get what she wants. At age six, I thought she was fabulous, and to this day she remains my favorite of Scrooge’s rogues.
Because really, she’s the best one. She’s far scarier and, conversely, likable than the Beagle Boys (SERIOUSLY THEY ARE SO BORING) or Flintheart Glomgold. Who cares about some run-of-the-mill thieves or a greedy businessduck when you have the world’s most powerful sorceress to contend with? Magica can fly, shapeshift, teleport, conjure, transmute matter, travel through time and between dimensions, and whatever else the writers feel like having her do at any given moment. She’s an unholy force of nature. Why she’s so fixated on a dinky piece of tin when she could just make as much money as she wants is kind of baffling.
…And that question lies at the root of what makes her sympathetic and fascinating, because Magica’s obsession with Scrooge’s dime doesn’t make sense, given the scope of her abilities. The only way it works is if it’s really an obsession with Scrooge himself, and certainly there is evidence to prove mutual sublimated attraction [Ed. Note: I’m into it.], or simply with winning. But Magica can never win, not least because half the times she gets her hands on the dime, she’s thwarted by a loophole, i.e. if she goes back in time to steal the dime before Scrooge gets it, it will never get its totemic power as the first dime earned by the world’s richest duck. (I feel I should point out that Scrooge gives the dime power, not the other way around. It’s not a lucky dime, a fact Magica is well aware of. She’s a lot smarter than the average Duckburgian, that’s for sure!)
All told, Magica is an incredibly inventive, resourceful, powerful character whose monomania prevents her from ever being happy. It’s not the first time Barks has used that to make a character sympathetic; Scrooge himself springs to mind. And considering Magica’s popularity with writers of both the comics and the show since Barks, it’s worked pretty darn well.
Plus, she knows Will Smith:
Magica has appeared in over 6,000 stories worldwide; you can view the full list here if for some bizarre reason you would like to do that. Instead, I would recommend tracking down the following stories:
By Carl Barks:
“The Midas Touch”
“The Unsafe Safe”
“For Old Dime’s Sake”
“Isle of Golden Geese in 1963”
“The Many Faces of Magica de Spell”
“Rug Riders in the Sky”
By Don Rosa:
“Of Ducks and Dimes and Destinies” (Luckily, you already bought The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck Companion after reading my Goldie post, so you’ve already got this one, right?)
“The Treasury of Croesus”
“A Matter of Some Gravity”
“A Little Something Special”
“The Quest for Kalevala”
“On a Silver Platter”
“Back in Time for a Dime!”
Magica appeared in the recent arcs/trades from Boom! Studios (which fall into the animated continuity rather than the Barks/Rosa one, but eh, it’s not like Magica has a whole lot of continuity for you to worry about):
Darkwing Duck: Crisis on Infinite Darkwings
Darkwing Duck/DuckTales: Dangerous Currency