After a one-year hiatus, XMAS PARADE returns with an excellent, though at times deuced peculiar, collection of holiday stories. The lead-off reprint of Carl Barks' "The Thrifty Spendthrift" (1963) is actually the most "normal" thing in the ish, and that's saying something considering that Scrooge is under hypnosis most of the time and Donald and HD&L spend several pages dressed up in bird costumes. Having learned nothing from his disastrous experiment with a toy hypno-gun eleven years earlier, Donald attempts to use a "hypno-ray" bamboozle his tightwad uncle into buying him scads of Christmas gifts. Thanks to innocent interference by HD&L, however, Scrooge's intentions wind up being "fixed" on the Duchess of Duckshire's dog. Soon Scrooge is busily gathering up the components to bring the famed presents named in "The Twelve Days of Christmas" to life, while a frantic Donald, assuming that the gifts are for him -- and that he'll get stuck with the room-and-board bill for hosting all those dancing ladies, piping pipers, leaping lords, etc. -- is just as busily trying to sabotage him. Don drafts his Nephews as the "three French hens," and he, himself, suits up as the pear-tree-perching partridge just to cut down on the expenses he expects to have to shoulder. Compared to such Barks Christmas classics as "Letter to Santa" and "A Christmas for Shacktown," "Spendthrift" has the story content of the average fluffernutter, but this ultra-lightweight story still manages to entertain. A rather mournful note is struck in the first panel when Scrooge makes a reference to John F. Kennedy ("My money! It vigahrizes me to dive around in it like a porpoise!"). Barks completed the story in the summer of '63, but it was published the month after Kennedy was assassinated. I believe that several DC Comics stories featuring JFK as a supporting player also came out after the President's death.
The 1954 Italian story "Memoirs of an Invisible Santa" is so bizarre that it makes "Spendthrift" seem like poker-faced drama. Goofy's home-brewed perfume, meant as a gift for Minnie, winds up turning both him and Mickey invisible (apart from their feet, that is -- we have to have some way of tracking them, right?). While the perdu pals search for a way out of their dilemma (and spook a healthy portion of Mouseton in the process), Minnie, Daisy, Donald, HD&L, and Scrooge wait with increasing impatience for Mickey and Goofy to keep their promise of meeting them for a Christmas Eve party. The gang gets so steamed that they start hurling insults at the absent pair, even as the newly-solidified duo return to overhear. Soon, a full-blown pah-rump-a-pum-rumpus erupts, complete with snowball fight. Will tempers cool before the clock strikes Christmas? And why is the fact that said clock (another Goofy project) is running faster than normal a key to making the season bright once again? It's always a treat to see the Duck and Mouse characters interact in a full-length story, but we're about as far from "Mythos Island" territory here as can be imagined -- rather, think Home Alone without the "cuteness" of the Culkin-crooks conflict. The suddenness with which M&G's pals turn on them is rather jarring, even considering that the Italian comics do tend to make their relationships a little rockier than American readers are used to. It's well drawn by Romano Scarpa and expertly dialogued by David Gerstein, but it definitely falls in the "more weird than truly hilarious" category.
The zaniness continues as Pat and Shelly Block and Tino Santanach's "Cookery Countdown" somehow contrives to make Donald's purchase of a new set of crockery a mechanism for getting orbit-bound shuttle astronauts a real Christmas dinner. In Stefan Petrucha and Jose Ramon Bernardo's "Better to Give Than to Deceive," we appear to return to familiar "true meaning of Christmas" territory as Mickey teaches spendthrift Horace Horsecollar a lesson about buying presents for himself as opposed to others, but that's only setting us up for Kari Korhonen's "Mr. Clerkly's Christmas", one of the cleverest subversions of A CHRISTMAS CAROL I've ever read. Amazingly, Korhonen manages to do the deed without making any character look truly "bad." After a local TV crew catches a stressed Scrooge cursing out Christmas as "a lie... empty sentiment wrapped in tinsel!", the negative publicity imperils a business deal the tycoon's got cooking. A seemingly contrite Scrooge invites the newsies to his Money Bin to learn how "generous" he truly is to his employees, but Clerkly inadvertently curdles the eggnog, and Scrooge responds by ripping his faithful clerk a new... er, page out of the account book. Is Clerkly truly Scrooge's Bob Cratchit? A series of unlikely coincidences lead the increasingly guilt-ridden Scrooge to believe as much... but he's got a surprise coming to him. Some may regard Korhonen's ending as cynical; I prefer to think of it as realistic, given what little we know about Clerkly (not to mention Scrooge himself). In light of the current economic crisis, you might even find yourself thinking that Clerkly does, indeed, have a point. This story shows that you can do an effective CAROL parody without relying on mean-spirited or gross humor, and, for that alone, I'm grateful.