Feb 24, 2016

Review: Donald Duck: Trick or Treat

It's hard for me to review Donald Duck: Trick or Treat with any objectivity, simply because "Trick or Treat," the lead story, is the first Donald Duck story I ever read, and therefore the first Carl Barks story I ever read.

"Trick or Treat" introduces Witch Hazel, who helps Huey, Dewey, and Louie get candy from Donald, who is determined to pull tricks instead of give treats.  It's tied into the animated short that came out in 1952 and incorporates everything that's in the short, including the musical numbers. But since the short is only 9 minutes long and Barks had 32 8-panel pages, some material was added.

I read this comic a lot as a kid, but, being primarily a superhero fan, I never really thought of it as "comics" in the same way. With superheroes I was already recognizing and distinguishing the different creators and even being critical of how certain artists would render certain characters. I didn't look at "Trick or Treat" as something anyone created; it was just a story. But I did read it a lot, over and over again, so it must have worked.

The material from the animated short was directly adapted by Barks, but the fill-in material is just pure Barks goodness, including the creation of Witch Hazel's ogre, Smorgasbord, otherwise known as Smorgie the Bad. Smorgie fails in his attempt to get candy from Donald, but he wears a derby hat, leading to my niece's (and my) favorite line in the entire book.

Here's the animated feature.

Unfortunately, this would be Barks' final full-length Donald Duck story, as he chose to focus his adventure stories after 1952 on Uncle Scrooge instead. It was the right call, since Scrooge's adventures lent themselves more to action, and since he was Barks' baby. But if I were going to drop the Barks' collections eventually (I don't plan to), now would be a good time to do so, since as fun as the ten-pagers are, it's really the feature-length ones that keep me coming back. (Of course, Fantagraphics isn't publishing the Carl Barks Library in chronological order, so there's still feature-length stuff that has to be collected; they just come before this volume in the chronology.)

The stories and covers in Donald Duck: Trick or Treat first appeared in Four-Color #394 and 450, Walt Disney's Comics and Stories #145-158, and Donald Duck #26-30, and were published from May 1952 to November 1953. They consist of "Trick or Treat," two one-pagers "A Prank Above" and "Frightful Face," and the following 10-pagers.

  • Hobblin' Goblins. Gyro Gearloose invents a machine that gives advice on how to ward off goblins, and he gives it to the boys to test. The boys, eager to get away from Daisy's dance party, are only too happy to use it, but every time it tells them to do something, worse things happen.
  • The Hypno-Gun. The boys have a toy hypno-gun, and Donald thinks it's real. Thinking it's too dangerous to use, he looks to get rid of it, but not before he uses it on Uncle Scrooge, who plays along. When Scrooge uses it on Donald, it works because Donald is insanely prone to the power of suggestion. Instead of stopping things then and there, Scrooge sends Donald to collect an unpaid bill.
  • Omelet.  A relatively different kind of story, this has Donald and the boys driving Daisy through a town called Omelet, where they have to wear disguises to get through. The entire story is told in flashbacks, showing how Donald and the boys earned their hated reputation in the town of Omelet, formerly called Pleasant Valley. (Hint: it involves eggs.)
  • A Charitable Chore. Donald signs up to feed a charity case for Daisy's Good Neighbor Club, but the person he's assigned to is his cousin Gladstone Gander, the Most Annoying Man in the World. Donald tries his best to get away from the deal and stick it to his cousin, which is always a challenge because of Gladstone's never-ending luck.
  • Turkey With All the Schemings. Donald doesn't have a turkey dinner for Christmas, so he disguises himself as Senor Petrolio de Vaselino, the big oil tycoon from South America, and tricks Scrooge into dinner at a fancy restaurant. Of course, when it's time to pay, Scrooge tries to get Donald to pay, because he's a cheapskate. The resolution to this one is particularly funny and kind of encapsulates Scrooge's whole perspective on spending money.
  • Flip Decision. Donald converts to "flippism," a way of life in which everything is decided with a coin flip. And, really, that should explain the entire story. Featuring a rare appearance by Daisy's nieces, April, May, and June.
  • My Lucky Valentine. Determined to be the best and most dedicated mailman he could be, Donald has to go through a blizzard to deliver Gladstone's valentine to Daisy.
  • The Easter Election. Donald and Gladstone each campaign for Grand Marshal of the Duckburg Easter Parade. It's actually amazing how much variation Barks can run with given Gladstone's one gimmick of always being lucky, but somehow just changing the situation to which it applies just makes it seem fresh each time.
  • The Talking Dog. Donald needs to do something no one has ever attempted in order to get on a game show where winning a million dollars is pretty much a given. The boys want money for a talking dog. Gyro Gearloose is involved. The dog looks like Droopy Dog, who's kind of the same as Happy Hound, who Barks drew some stories for. I just thought I'd mention that.
  • Worm Weary. Wanting to win a fishing contest, Donald gets some special worms from Gyro that link to each other and pull the fish out of the water with superwormly strength. Naturally, things get out of control.
  • Much Ado About Quackly Hall. Donald has a new job as a realtor and he has to sell the old abandoned Quackly place. The boys have made it their clubhouse, so they do their best to sabotage it, but the buyer just ends up getting excited with every wrong possible turn.
  • Some Heir Over the Rainbow. Scrooge places three pots of gold at the ends of a rainbow (how it has three ends, I don't know) and has the boys, Donald, and Gladstone each find a thousand dollars, telling them that whoever invests the money the best will be his sole heir. What will win, the boys' determination and belief that they can win out, Gladstone's luck, or Donald's-- okay, fine, no Donald doesn't win.
  • The Master Rainmaker. My favorite story in this entire volume has Donald flying a plane and shaping clouds so he can control the location, shape, and volume of rain, offering his services as a master rainmaker. It all comes to a head when he decides to use this skill to get back at Gladstone for making time with Daisy. I love this ten-pager, and is the only story in this volume I can say I love, due to the creativity of the premise and the entertainment value of the execution. It's just so fun.

  • The Money Stairs. Donald is determined to prove that his youth can accomplish things Scrooge's money can't, and vice versa, so they engage in contests, culminating in climbing a mountain.
  • Bee Bumbles. The boys have to take care of bees, and Donald has to encourage them to prove he's a good parent. Of course, the bees cause trouble around the neighborhood, like crosspollinating watermelons onto kumquat trees.
    Trick or Treat  is still fun and visually entertaining, but the solo feature hurts it for me, and as fun as the other stories were, I think we've reached the end of the best parts of Barks' run on Donald Duck. I hope I'm wrong, but I can't rightly say I'd recommend this over the previous volumes.

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