* No, this isn't a Seinfeld reference... but how else can I describe a comic with an October cover date but a Christmas theme?!
A first-class holiday (ah, that otherwise annoying euphemism seems to hit the mark in this case) issue leads off with one of my favorite "low-key" Carl Barks seasonal stories, 1954's "Submarine Christmas." This could have been so much sappier than it actually was, but Barks treats Scrooge's decision to abandon his undersea search for a sunken, money-laden McDuck Industries steamship and improvise a Christmas celebration for Donald and the Nephews with a directness that seems quite appropriate for Scrooge's no-guff character. The good fortune that soon follows makes for one of the most delightful endings of any Barks story. The one criticism I would make is that Donald's forgetting to mail HD&L's letter to Santa introduces a "fantasy element" that really didn't have to be there. Barks famously used Santa in the classic long story "Letter to Santa" and in "Toyland", a FIRESTONE GIVEAWAY story originally written by someone else, but otherwise steered clear of directly involving the jolly old elf. HD&L's explosive reaction to Don's brain-lapse suggests that Santa is the only possible source for presents, which he obviously is not. It would have been better had the boys simply evinced depression and then dutifully provided Scrooge with the midnight (I guess) snack that pricked the old miser's conscience. Aside from this one nit, the story is near-perfect -- beautifully written and just as beautifully drawn.
Noel Van Horn next serves up a new holiday classic in the sprightly and imaginative MICKEY MOUSE story "Tradition." (No, Tevye is not involved. How could he be?) Mickey, it seems, has a most unusual holiday habit -- hunting for a Christmas tree "high atop Mt. Ominous!" and then using it as a toboggan to slide back down to Mouseton, where eager citizens await his return. This time around, the Mouse runs afoul of an obsessed dealer in artificial trees who wants to sell Mickey one of his charlatan conifers. The pushy pseudo-pine peddler is exceptionally reminiscent of those "one-shot loony" characters that so thickly populated Papa Bill's older stories, though Noel, true to his somewhat more subdued approach, dispenses with outright insanity for the most part. Very funny stuff, though Noel once again gets a little wordy with his dialogue.
The 1970s Dutch BIG BAD WOLF story "So Bad He's Good" is the only story in the issue sans even the remotest holiday trimmings (unless you reflexively mumble "... so be good, for goodness sake!" after reading the title), but it's so attractively drawn (by Robert van der Kroft) and so expertly dialogued (by the modern "Big Bad Wolf Dialogue Daddy," David Gerstein) that it's a welcome visitor here. Arm-twisted into performing bad deeds to prove his "goodness" on Zeke's inverted scale of values, Li'l Bad finally hits on a satisfying solution: save the Pigs and thereby disobey his Dad (by doing good deeds) to show that he's truly "bad"! Got that? A simple enough idea, but very, very well executed. Van der Kroft's Li'l Bad isn't as cute as Cesar Ferioli's, but he's close.
"All Work and No Christmas," by Janet Gilbert and Vicar, is the only questionable story in the holiday stocking, on a philosophical level at least. Consumed with the development and subsequent marketing of a new computer game, HD&L forget all about Christmas and claim to be too "busy" to engage in the usual festivities. It takes a cooperative effort from Donald, Daisy, Grandma, Gyro, and Scrooge to break the spell, but my main gripe lies in the fact that HD&L went so far off the rails in the first place. "Comical obsession" plots are all well and good when Donald is involved, but the down-to-earth HD&L?? It's also hard to believe that HD&L would become such big moguls so quickly, moving from backyard (in this case, actually, bedroom) inventors to inhabitants of a snazzy office building in the span of just eight pages. I didn't like this sort of thing in the DuckTales episode "Yuppy Ducks," and I'm not buying it here, either.
Of the grab bag of short stories that fill out the balance of the ish, the best item is Sarah Kinney and Miguel Martinez' "Cabin Fever." It's the familiar situation of two characters (Mickey and Goofy) getting stuck in a snowed-in cabin and rubbing one another the wrong way, but with an extra edge to it given the nature of the characters involved. "You haven't even started to be as irritating as I know you can be," Mickey groans as he starts to panic, and M&G are about to engage in all-out snowball warfare when they discover that their dire situation isn't nearly as dire as they'd thought. I wonder how long M&G will take to forget this unpleasant sojourn and reboot to their default settings. In Lars Jensen, David Gerstein, and Marsal's "The Great Swap Flop" (and how are you today, Mr. Lockman?), Donald strings together a chain of commitments to others just so he can avoid shoveling his own snow-filled walk. You just know that it has to snap back on him at some point. Another Dutch "Swamp Folk" tale dialogued by Gerstein has Brer Fox dressing as Santa to trick Brer Rabbit, only to run afoul of Brer Bear. Bucky Bug returns in a story dialogued by Donald Markstein, as he and his snowbound pals are forced to blast their way to freedom using New Year's fireworks. Finally, a one-page gag by the 1930s British Disney artist Wilfred Haughton, "Snow Use," makes an extremely obscure point with the assistance of an extremely out-of-place British householder.