Trail of the Unicorn" (FOUR COLOR #263, February 1950) is a bad story; during the years 1949-50, the period from which the long and short matter in this volume are taken, Barks arguably didn't do ANY bad stories. In terms of sweep and/or storytelling prowess, however, I would have to award either "Letter to Santa" (CHRISTMAS PARADE #1, December 1949) or "Luck of the North" (FOUR COLOR #256, December 1949) the palm as the book's most distinguished effort. Since this collection wasn't published at holiday time, "Luck of the North" probably deserved the cover all to itself... and, wouldn't you know it, there's a scene from that story on the cover's upper half. I'd like to have heard the debate over how this cover came to be arranged.
Disclaimer time: I have a particularly intense love for "Luck of the North." It's always been my favorite Donald-and-the-boys adventure and carries a particular nostalgic punch for me that not even some of Barks' better-known and higher-praised stories can match. My first exposure to Barks' work came sometime in the mid-70s, when I came into possession of a copy of WALT DISNEY'S COMICS DIGEST #44 (December 1973). At the time, I didn't know who Barks was, and I wouldn't until 1977, when I read the info in a copy of the OVERSTREET PRICE GUIDE. But, consumed though I was at the time with collecting RICHIE RICH, I couldn't help but be extremely impressed with the material in this small, muddily-reproduced digest. It would take a decade or so before I decided to take the plunge and invest in the CARL BARKS LIBRARY, but it was the warm memories of the enjoyment I had had with these stories that finally motivated me to do so.
Lost in the Andes," the Gladstone/Donald rivalry plot is among the better ones of its kind (including "Trail of the Unicorn," in which Gladstone actually cheats at one point to get the upper hand on his cousin), and the psychological complexity of the adventure, with Donald creating a phony treasure map to get the obnoxious Gladstone out of his hair, only to succumb to guilt and take off to the "great white North" to make amends, should be much more iconic than it arguably is. The (spoken) dialogue-less page in which Donald "cracks" and realizes the gravity of what he's done is one of Barks' most famous sequences.
The Gilded Man," with Donald and the kids coming out on top (or somewhere near there) after 32 agonizing pages of twists and turns. In truth, this ending is even more emotionally satisfying than that of "The Gilded Man." I always thought that the discovery of the ancient Norse map was Donald's reward for his earlier decision to atone for his wrongdoing and go after Gladstone to try to keep him out of danger.
North of the Yukon," who would rant and rave over the idea of being featured in a magazine, might look a bit askance at a version of himself that declares, "What's the use of having eleven octillion dollars if I don't make a big noise about it?" The Scrooge of "Letter to Santa" is also a bit more Donald-like in his displays of temper and his ability to give as good as he gets in a slapstick fight scene. It is clear at this point that the sclerotic, somewhat querulous Scrooge of such earlier stories as "Christmas on Bear Mountain" and "The Old Castle's Secret" will never be coming back.
Super Snooper" (WDC&S #107, August 1949), Barks' swipe at the superhero genre, and "Rip Van Donald" (WDC&S #112, January 1950), with its peculiar conceit of an ether-addled Donald visualizing a "future Duckburg" of wobbly buildings and piecemeal people. And, yes, to give them their due, "Trail of the Unicorn" and its FC #256 companion story, "Land of the Totem Poles," are also first-rate, though a little lighter in heft than "Luck of the North." You can't really go wrong with any story from a prime period like this. Impeccable production values and a story that comes with the highest of blue-ribbon recommendations from yours truly... what could be a better selling point?