Apart from the three-tiered format, there's little to distinguish this ish's first story, "Uncle $crooge and the Ghostly Carriage," from a mid-rank Gemstone space-filler. Per-Erik Hedman provides the plot and Wanda Gattino the Daniel Branca-esque artwork for a relatively straightforward tale in which Scrooge, Donald, and HD&L, closely tracked by Magica de Spell, head to Germany to investigate rumors that a castle Scrooge has just purchased holds a treasure, secreted there by the pile's late owner, a count. The title bar (Huzza! The title of a story, finally displayed in all its glory!) cleverly features some "Scooby-Doo Font" lettering, but there's nothing phony about the count's ghost, though the Ducks do find that the villagers' claim that he's been haunting the place while driving a spectral schlepper isn't exactly accurate. Magica's presence is due solely to the highly dubious theory that Scrooge feels safer about leaving his Money Bin if he brings along his "magical" dime. Between screeching ineffectively, blowing up a few "poof" (sic) bombs, and losing her "magic bag" (what, is she cribbing from Felix the Cat now?), Magica's more of an annoyance than a true menace here. Unfortunately, thanks to the relatively prosaic dialogue, the Ducks aren't characterized with any more vim than Magica. It's a competent effort, but we've come to expect more from our $CROOGE stories.
"The Ghostly Carriage" does have one inestimable virtue -- it begins and ends in this issue. Such, shockingly, cannot be said of its follow-up story, "Salt and Gold," another Hedman-Gattino team-up which immediately succeeds "Carriage" in Duck-time. This time, the Ducks, joined by Gyro, are off to Krakow, Poland to investigate a story that Copernicus' assistant Krzystof may have possessed the knowledge to turn salt into gold. (Actually, Gyro quotes Copernicus as having said, "If anyone can make gold out of salt, [Krzystof] can!" which merely indicates that Krzystof was the most likely lad to succeed; it doesn't guarantee that he actually achieved success.) Having recovered her runic rucksack, Magica follows apace. Gyro is given access to the Copernicus archives because to his "reputation in scientific circles" (I thought he was a glorified backyard inventor? Won any Nobel Prizes lately, Gyro?) and briefly gets to wield a neat little device that helps him scan and locate documents in a flash, but the Ducks quickly fall under suspicion when a priceless book vanishes (it was actually stolen by Magica). Scrooge and Donald are apprehended as HD&L and Gyro escape... and, folks, that is where it ends, "to be continued next month." After only six pages, mind you. This is easily the clumsiest "continued story scenario" I've ever seen in a Duck comic. Wasn't there some short Egmont story that could have filled this gap? If the two stories were linked to begin with, then why print them in a book with limited space, as opposed to a $CROOGE trade paperback or extra-size issue? Boom!'s displayed several traces of haphazard organization in all of its releases to date, but this one is by far the most troubling.As mentioned in my previous post, Don Rosa provided the cover for the special Baltimore Comic-Con edition of this issue. The two other cover variants were drawn by Daniel Branca (see above, following the first paragraph) and Tino Santanach (see immediately above). Since my local comics shop is closed for renovations right now, I won't be able to get either of these regular releases for a bit, but I greatly prefer the clean, easy-to-scan Branca cover to the cluttered Santanach version. I'm glad to see that Boom! intends to continue the practice of giving Egmont stalwarts pride of place on $CROOGE covers. The book's interior, however, needs a bit of work.