A "Festivus" issue (see my post on WDC&S #697) suffused with the worthy, yet occasionally treaclesome, sentiment of characters learning "the true meaning of the holiday season" leads off with something brisk, bracing, and decidedly UNsentimental -- Carl Barks' "The Money Champ." This 1959 story marks the second appearance of Flintheart Glomgold, and, within its panels, the South African squajillionaire who'd acted simply as Scrooge's doppelganger during the first go-round begins the long slide into sinfulness. Challenging Scrooge to another "contest for the money championship of the universe!" -- this time, it's a straightforward pileup of the two ducks' riches (converted into silver dollar form) at a Duckburg airport -- Flinty cheats in order to prosper. The avaricious Afrikaner uses transparent aliases to hamstring some of Scrooge's business enterprises, puffs up his own money pile with the help of an air pump, and buys a witch doctor's "shrinking juice" in order to shrivel Scrooge's tycoonhood. Glomgold does appear to realize, on some level, the damage he's doing to his soul, worrying "I've betrayed my dear old mother's fondest hopes [and] turned myself into a scoundrel!", but, once he buys the Jivaro Juice, there's literally no turning back. (In a symbolic assertion of his "good-guy" status forever after vis-a-vis Flinty, Scrooge proudly refuses to buy any of the witch doctor's wares when he gets the chance to do so.) By the time of his third appearance, Flinty had turned into a murderous thug, and his subsequent persona on DuckTales wasn't much nicer. For all intents and purposes, this is a Scrooge solo -- Donald and HD&L play a decidedly secondary role -- and it's one of Barks' better long stories from the late 50s, though there are a few glitches here and there. (Why, for example, does Glomgold fret over "going to jail" after Scrooge literally kicks his butt on the final page? Did he actually do anything illegal that the authorities knew about?) The cynical characterization of the Duckburg populace as a fickle mob that alternately glories in Scrooge's status as "money champ" ("The only claim to glamor Duckburg has!" frets one native) and sucks up to Flinty when it appears that he's going to win is perhaps the most memorable aspect of the tale.
For the balance of the issue, it's ho-ho-hold back no attempt to tug at the heartstrings as Scrooge and Donald get lessons in Christmas-ology 101 in a trio of decent, though predictably mechanical, stories. Jens Hansegard and Jose Massaroli first serve up "Scrooge's Workshop," in which Scrooge, obsessed with the "menace" of a gift-giving, uncompensated Santa, takes advantage of a legal loophole and literally takes possession of Santa's toy factory. The new Claus is most definitely not the same as the old Claus, hatching a scheme to deliver gifts throughout the month of December and (horrors!) ask for payment in return. This works about as well as might be expected, but Scrooge is thankfully jolted back to sanity by the sight of an elf-made toy train, which reminds him of a gift he got as a wee lad. Next, in the Daniel Branca-drawn "The Great Lot Plot," Donald is shamed into aggressive solicitation for a phony charity, goes ballistic when he learns the truth, yet exits the tale with a new-found compassion for "Duckburg's dreariest." David Gerstein tries to pump some extra life into the modest storyline with some turbo-charged dialogue but unfortunately overwrites some of it, to the extent that it's very hard to imagine the characters actually speaking their lines. Hansegard then returns (with Vicar and John Clark) in "The Madness of King Scrooge," which finds Scrooge being forced to give out largess to Donald and his Money Bin staff in order to maintain his status as "King of Christmas" at the Billionaires' Club Christmas fete. Determined to stop Donald, at least, from "squandering" his $500 bonus, an increasingly frantic Scrooge tries repeated subterfuges to con his nephew out of the money. He relents, however, after he learns that Don used the funds to finance a family Christmas party -- and included Scrooge as one of the gift recipients. Scrooge really gets off lightly here, considering the extreme lengths to which he goes to get his money back; why, he even manages to turn a profit in the end! But only at Christmastime, it would seem, can a one-panel penance reap such rich rewards. Overall, this isn't a bad issue, but last week's CHRISTMAS PARADE (which I'll review soon) certainly qualifies as a more memorable Yuletide reading experience.