It's a genuine shame that kaboom! fumbled the scripting credits on this issue's featured story, the 1968 Romano Scarpa/Giorgio Cavazzano Disney Studios romp "The Pelican Thief." As he loudly laments (with Donald's howling help) here, Joe Torcivia was responsible for the job... and, since this ranks as one of his best efforts on that score, I'm happy to draw my readers' attention to the "facts in the air." The plot line is pretty elementary -- a villainous master of impersonation (who is so good at what he does that he's forgotten HIS OWN name by this time) and The Beagle Boys commandeer a pack of trained pelicans to fly into Scrooge's Money Bin and remove the coins and bills, er, bill by bill. The birds just happen to be the stars of Scrooge's favorite TV show, Tex Aviary and his Pelican Prodigies (and, yes, Joe slips in a few references to the great cartoon director and his creations along the way). Aviary's original Italian name was Captain Feathers, which sounds like the name of a kiddie-show TV host of the era... could it be that Scrooge's second childhood is at hand? With the help of some Junior Woodchuck know-how and some timely villain-baiting, the bad guys' scheme nets only a few handfuls of cash before it is shut down. Not that it would have made much difference, as I calculate that it would have taken roughly 4,526 years for the pelicans to have removed all of Scrooge's money. Even the incredibly prolific Beagle line might have died out before the end of this caper.
Unlike last week's "To the Moon by Noon," there's nothing firmly tying this story to the era in which it was produced, so Joe quite properly feels free to indulge in a bunch of present-day pop-culture references. Indeed, he feels so liberated that he tosses in some political digs, as well. The "guy of many guises" originally introduces himself as "Alvin Greenspin" of the treasury department, come bearing a governmental gift for Scrooge in the form of TARP (Tangible Asset Repainting Program) funding. The Beagles (natch) turn out to be the "reformed government hirelings" assigned to repainting Scrooge's Money Bin. There's also some nice continuity with DuckTales in that blue-capped Dewey turns out to be the Nephew who comes up with the scheme to have the villains literally knock one another out. See "Duck in the Iron Mask," wherein Dewey is fingered as the Nephew who's "the best at coming up with escape plans." This bit doesn't exactly qualify as an escape, but it'll do in a pinch.
Daan Jippes provides a quick, refreshing "issue-cap" with the four-page story "Scrappy Mettle." This could be considered a "revisitation" of sorts of the central scenario of Carl Barks' "Back to the Klondike," "North of the Yukon," and "The Golden Nugget Boat", with Scrooge traveling back to the old Klondike boom town of Whitehorse to relive old memories (with or without medicinal assistance). Here, however, he literally explodes into action once he gets the idea that life in Whitehorse is getting "soft." Simply to prove that "I still have 'it'!" (and, come to think of it, he probably did meet Clara Bow at one point or another), Scrooge returns to the now-civilized city, determined to hit the wilderness and trap a bear for old clime's sake. The specimen of bearhood that greets him, however, exudes more of the hankering after creature comforts of Yogi than the menace of Glittering Goldie's Blackjack. This story's extreme shortness definitely works against it to a certain extent; Barks took his sweet time developing back stories and motivations for his brace of Yukon yarns, while Jippes has Scrooge transition to the trip in the span of five panels. This lends Scrooge's decision an air of desperate hysteria that makes for a funny sight gag (Scrooge jumping up from his desk and hitting a pillow nailed to the ceiling, a gag which first appeared in Barks' "The Strange Shipwrecks") but seems a little, well, over the top for him. It's not like a sea monster ate his ice cream, or anything like that. The final-panel payoff, however, is priceless, right down to Jippes' reuse of bit characters and Whitehorse settings that had appeared in an earlier panel. U$ #403 winds up as another "Boom! 2.0" issue with that old Gemstone feel... which I'm trying very hard not to mistake for impending Death's clammy grip.