Mickey and Scrooge may appear on Don Rosa's homage-cover, but WDC&S #716 is wall-to-wall Donald, featuring two Duck stories written by Carl Barks. We lead off with "A Day in a Duck's Life," Barks' last original script for the Gold Key DONALD DUCK, as redrawn by Daan Jippes in 1999. Since the original story from 1971 was illo'd by Kay Wright, I think it is fair to say that this is one "reboot" that no one is going to argue with. As you might expect, Jippes is more faithful to Barks' original penciled version of the tale than Wright could ever hope to be. Unfortunately, Jippes can't do anything about the plot, which Barks himself once dismissed as "about the worst story I ever did." It's hard to argue with The Duck Man on that one; this episodic, "one-mishap-clumsily-follows-another" tale is clearly the work of a tired creator. The action, or what there is of it, centers around Don's attempts to gain funds to refurbish his noisy "muscle car." Don has rarely looked as morally dubious as he does here -- muscling in on HD&L's successful delivery business, stealing coins from the boys' piggy bank (in a sequence that goes on much too long), engaging in dangerous drag races in the streets of Duckburg. Don's ultimate involvement in a would-be hijacking (in which Barks' script originally had the 'jacker exclaiming "Carramba!", a reference to the "take-this-plane-to-Cuba!" era of aerial theft; I kinda wish they'd kept that bit) is tooth-grindingly contrived. Even HD&L are badly off the beam here, with their repeated laments that Donald will "never get ahead!" transcending the cute-and-clever and toppling beak-first into the slough of outright annoyingness. Jippes makes the story fun to look at, at least (and at long last!).
In sharp contrast, "Rival Beachcombers" (WDC&S #103, April 1949) is a vintage Barks ten-pager, and one given some extra cachet due to its foreshadowing of what Barks had planned for the future of Gladstone Gander. Just two months after this story was produced, Barks would fully unveil Gladstone's lucky streak in "Race to the South Seas." Here, Donald's cousin is still merely an annoying "chiseler" and "connoisseur of the fast buck," attempting to horn in on Donald and HD&L's beach-combing activities. Once it is revealed that a visiting Maharajah lost a valuable gem on the beach, the stakes go up a notch, and Gladstone begins to assume the attitude that we will come to know and loathe. He refuses to dig for the treasure, gloating, "All things come to him who sits and waits!". As Donald and the boys labor unsuccessfully to find the booty, they begin to wonder whether fate means to hand the prize to Gladstone. It's as if the Ducks are anticipating what is just over the horizon. The ending -- with Don getting in trouble with the law for despoiling the beach (thanks in part to Gladstone's bent-beaked lies) and HD&L being forced to find the ruby or see their uncle land in jail -- clearly looks forward to such last-minute, karma-laced anti-Gander payoffs as those seen in "Race to the South Seas," "The Gilded Man," and "Secret of Hondorica". Of course, the schadenfreude doesn't taste quite as sweet here, because Gladstone has yet to become a noxious force of nature, as opposed to a dishonest jerk who gets what is coming to him. But Barks evidently liked what he had stumbled upon here -- an analogy to unexpectedly digging up a ruby, perhaps? -- and kept it very much in mind.
Despite the presence of the Barks material, I have to say that #716 rates as a rather poor follow-up to the previous issue, especially in light of the much-ballyhooed 70th-anniversary business. Using a pair of DONALD stories is not exactly taking complete advantage of the full panoply of features that have graced WDC&S over the past seven decades. #716 is so unlike the "everybody gets involved" approach taken in #715 that I have to wonder whether the material was originally slated for DONALD DUCK, only to get shifted to WDC&S for some reason.