I must admit to being far more impressed with Federico Pedrocchi's 1938 adventure "Donald Duck: Special Correspondent," the second half of which appears in this issue, than I would have guessed I would be, even given the promise of "The Secret of Mars." The artwork is a little on the pedestrian side, but the storytelling remains first-rate to the end. Donald even gets to use his brains in a scheme to trick Sargassian General Sour into thinking that the sailor-suited fowl is the reclusive General Sweet. At a time when the movie Donald was still locked into predictable displays of "hilarious" temper and the Donald of the Al Taliaferro comic strip spent most of his time being frustrated by foes both animate and in-, treating Donald as being fully capable of carrying a serious adventure was a legitimate departure. Were it not for the somewhat stiff artwork and a comparative lack of humor (though David Gerstein does a great job of papering over the latter fault), "Correspondent" would rank with some of the better Gottfredson adventures.
In his review of "Correspondent," GeoX discusses the sociopolitical ramifications of the story (hard to ignore, given that Pedrocchi was publishing in Mussolini's Italy during the omen-filled late 1930s) in some detail. One interesting point Geo makes is that the choice of "good guys" and "bad guys" in this story is completely arbitrary; Donald and Peter Pig wind up helping Sylvania, but primarily because that happens to be the country that houses the reclusive General, and even the Sylvanians (more specifically, their justice system) give the boys a hard time at first. While Gerstein does a beautiful job with the dialogue at virtually all points, I think that his choices of the names "General Sweet" and "General Sour" for the opposing commanders somewhat obscure this point. Those names lead us to support the former (despite his unwillingness to reveal himself) and suspect the latter, when, in fact, there's no real difference between them and the "non-causes" their armies espouse. Something more neutral like "General Frick" and "General Frack" would have been better; unfortunately, that particular pairing has already been taken, but I'm sure that a similar pairing could have been doped out.
The rear of the book features a true curio: a retelling/rehashing/carbon copy of "Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold" in the decidedly disposable form of a 1947 one-tier giveaway comic that was placed in Cheerios boxes. Jack Hannah, Carl Barks' artistic partner on the original "Pirate Gold," returns to do the honors for the imaginatively titled "Donald Duck and the Pirates" and performs reasonably well, to the extent that the artist/animator remembers which leg the grizzled old parrot Yellow Beak carries his peg on more consistently than he did in the original story. The script, attributed to Chase Craig, holds absolutely no surprises, being a radical simplification of the treasure-hunt scenario of "Pirate Gold." Even the villainous Black Pete's more slovenly grammar reflects a simpler mind at work. It's being overly complimentary of "DD and the Pirates" to describe it as a sequel to "Pirate Gold," as David Gerstein notes in an afterword; the real thing, a 1962 Italian story, will be appearing in DD #366 next month. Consider "DD and the Pirates" an appetite-whetter -- say, for a non-discriminating kid eating cereal.