Monday, December 25, 2017

"You Can't Guess"

And now, the climax of our Christmas series! I've never quite held this in the same regard as "Shacktown" and "Letter to Santa," but I've still always felt a great deal of affection for it. As I read it over with a critical eye for the purposes of this entry, I was actually surprised by how many issues and oddities it has, but none of them really impact my overall feelings towards it. Welp, let's go.

I just love full-page splash openings like that, and I love in particular the way it's garnished with holly. Appropriate Christmas discussion, too. That 'T' in the window REALLY looks like a 'J,' and joy is fine, too.

The duck family seems to be pretty damned well-off in this story, given that they have trouble even thinking of anything they want. This raises an issue, though: it looks as though the story's going to be about the kids' good deed in declining Christmas presents...and then it's, well, not. I mean, it's certainly unsurprising that kids would go back on this noble resolution, but it still seems sorta contrary to the spirit, and then it's just never commented on again. Huh.

Another thing (not "problem," really) about this story is that it's impossible to tell what the status of Santa is supposed to be. Is he a real person, and HDL actually blew their chances by sending him this letter, or were the gifts all going to come from Donald anyway? No way to tell. Is it just that Barks (or his editors) wanted to keep things ambiguous so as not to disillusion any little kids? Maybe!

This is also fairly intensely odd: "you should have to worry?" Um...why? It's not like there's anything previous in the story that would make sense of Donald's odd idea of how they should have to suffer to get presents. It's just...what it is.

It IS funny that they just stick "an atom bomb" in there like it's nothing. The first time I read this story I assumed that it was a trick question: that what Donald really wanted was some sort of metaphysical thing or whatnot that HDL would completely overlook. Surely others had the same reaction?

...but, of course, it's not, and this points to the really big, obvious flaw in this story: how the hell is it possible that they wouldn't guess "a car" pretty much immediately, and that even if they didn't, that it wouldn't be on this huge-ass list they've prepared? I mean, they got "motorbike," "airplane," and "motorboat," which all seem to be car-adjacent. But somehow they never even consider this possibility, and neither do any of the other relatives they consult? Seems questionable.

I like that Donald dreams of nothing but fighting. I amuse myself trying to think of what possible context there could be for him fighting someone who calls him a "fuddy-duddy." Nice snoring sound effects, too.

Blah, okay. Nobody would call the "trips to mentalists" part of the story exactly a highlight, and this in particular ain't gonna be winning any prizes. OH WELL!

Daisy in the upper-right there is being seen from kind of an unusual perspective, isn't she?

I do like everyone's resolution to buy a car. Seems the whole extended duck family has plenty of extra cash just kicking around. On the whole, I like this as kind of a "hang-out story." You can't accuse the plotting of being any great shakes, and the interactions with the relatives are a bit formulaic/repetitive, but it's just fun to watch the characters interact, all dusted with a healthy dose of festive cheer. Hurray!

Scrooge the great businessman: note that he's freaked the hell out by the possibility of having to buy a building set, but--through no pressure but that of his own mind--he ends up buying three of them, plus a car for Donald. Score! Well, I like to think that it's at least partially the result of buried generosity. It's Christmas, so I want to think the best of everyone. That is all.

...okay okay, I may have criticized these segments, but "I can only make people think they're chickens" is pretty funny. Although, as whenever this happens in early Barks stories, I could do without the nephews on the ground sobbing like that. I do, however, like that there's a mouse poking its head out for no particular reason.

And, I like the Gladstone bits. Even if he's just being generous to get one over on Donald, it's still nice to see him helping out. Similar to his role in "Shacktown."

I mean, again, going back to one's ability or not to guess, see how even when he goes "OH HOW I WANT A NEW CAR!" it still takes them some time to come up with the notion that maybe possibly that's Donald's elusive mystery gift? Yeesh, guys. So much for that Junior Woodchuck resourcefulness.

And MY GOLLY, isn't that a sweet sentiment of Donald's in the second panel there? Are we feeling festive yet?

In addition to whatever else, Gladstone's putting-on-airs expression is pretty damned hilarious, for my money. What do you suppose "the really expensive items" are?

Yes! Love that image of Duckburg, and the Christmas-morning feel this whole thing evokes.

Even though you know what's coming, it's still fun and funny.

So let's talk about Donald's gift cars for a moment. As you can see, they're all themed in accordance with the person who bought them...except possibly Scrooge's, which seems to be some sort of dune buggy. Possibly because he wants to be able to make Donald chauffeur him around to potentially profitably archaeological sites and whatnot. But in particular, let's have a look at Daisy's gift car. Now, I personally do not believe in compelling people to perform narrowly-defined gender roles. If a man wants to drive around in a pink car with frills on the side, that's fine by me. you really think that 1950 Daisy feels that way? And please note that her stated reason for buying him a new car was that he'd have one that "she [wouldn't] be ashamed to ride in." She really wants to be driven around by her boyfriend in a (let's face it) kind of goofy-looking "girly" car? Seems questionable. Very questionable.

Yay! The Merriest Christmas Ever! "We have plans." Sounds ominous.

How do you think that thing runs? Do the building kits really include, like, engine parts/power supplies? Well, never mind. It's a crisp and clear Christmas day, filled with potential and giant robots. What more could you ask for?   



Blogger Pan Miluś said...

I personaly love de design of the mentalist lady...


December 25, 2017 at 11:12 AM  
Blogger Jeffyo said...

My hands-down favorite Christmas duck book; been reading this to my kids and now grandkids every Christmas for nearly 30 years. Love that all the peripheral characters are more or less humanish. No dogfaces. The only thing that's always bugged me about is why wouldn't the kids have used their building sets to make a car instead of that giant whatever-it-is? Thanks. Your review was worth the wait. (Btw, Scrooge bought Donald a war-surplus Jeep. Cheapest vehicle out there in 1951.)

December 25, 2017 at 12:22 PM  
Anonymous Gregory said...

Considering how the story starts, it seems like it should end with the kids giving their extra sets to the needy. But, nope, giant robot.

December 25, 2017 at 12:42 PM  
Blogger Debbie Anne said...

I think that it would have been clearer that Scrooge bought Donald a war surplus Jeep if the colorist had colored it a military green. This and Letter to Santa are two of my favorite Christmas duck stories. While it isn't a Barks story, Santa's Surprise Visit (drawn by Tony Strobl) is another.

December 25, 2017 at 1:29 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Whoa, I'm learning interesting cultural facts here! Thanks for that. I'm sure a jeep would be a good treasure-hunting vehicle, too. Also, somehow the lack of dogfaces here didn't register on me. But now it has! Hurrah!

Got an inducks link for that Strobl story, Debbie Anne? I can't find it for whatever reason.

December 25, 2017 at 3:44 PM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

On the topic of HDL never guessing about the car — couldn't it be that they thought it too obvious? Like, "Unca Donald's been whining about how he'll get a new car sometime soon for ages, even he wouldn't be so moronic as to think we wouldn't guess that in a heartbeat, so that can't be right"?

December 25, 2017 at 5:32 PM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

Also, Don Rosa must have forgotten about this story at some point, because Donald's desperate wish to get rid of the trusty old 313 and get a fancy-shmanzy new car goes against everything Rosa painstakingly establishes in Recalled Wreck, doesn't it?

December 25, 2017 at 5:33 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

Some Erector Sets did (and do) indeed have motors in them. Whether you could get a dozen of them to work in concert, that's another question.

Possibly Debbie is referring to "Santa's Unexpected Visit" from CP 7. Reprinted in Gladstone's CP 1 and in the Disney Interregnum's HP 1.

I've always thought that the boys' failure to guess "new car" is just a funny cumulative joke, where the child reader figures it out way before they do and thus is amused by their obtuseness. And of course, Donald's need for the new car has to be so obvious that the other adults all realize his need, even if they don't figure out that's what he wants. The obviousness of the need and yet the inability of everyone to guess his wish on the basis of that need: that's the whole set-up. It's funny precisely because it's so unlikely. The boys' exhaustive list which doesn't include "car"--that's taking this joke to an absurd height.

December 25, 2017 at 6:59 PM  
Blogger Debbie Anne said...

Here's the Inducks link for Santa's Unexpected Visit:
I think it sticks with me for being a part of that first Gladstone Christmas Parade book, one of my favorite comics from their run.

December 25, 2017 at 11:37 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Thanks. Do you know, I'd never read that story before now? Of course you don't know; how would you know? But at any rate, it definitely goes on the pile for the future Non-Barks Western Christmas Special one of these years. You know it's coming.

December 26, 2017 at 5:50 PM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

GeoX! I'm sorry, but you forgot one still! It's even less Christmassy than most of the rest, but it nonetheless takes place on Christmas. The Hammy Camel.

December 27, 2017 at 6:16 AM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

Hmmm, Western non-Barks Christmas tales.... When I look at my longish list of Disney Christmas comics stories that I re-read this time of year, I find that besides Barks they include Italian, Egmont and Dutch stories, but virtually no non-Barks Western stories. The only exceptions might be a couple of Chip & Dale stories: "Topsy-Turvy Tree" (Lockman/Hubbard), which I do remember from childhood, and the caroling story in Dell CP 6 (drawn by Bradbury).

You're not too late to do "The Hammy Camel"! It's only the third day of Christmas. Nine more to go!

December 27, 2017 at 10:18 AM  
Anonymous Christopher said...

Thanks so much for this– I brought up "You Can't Guess" a couple of Christmases ago, and I'm so glad that you discussed it now.

December 28, 2017 at 4:07 PM  
Blogger Monkey_Feyerabend said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

February 3, 2018 at 11:27 AM  
Anonymous D. Ruoppolo said..., is it appropriate to post an out-of-season comment, or should I wait until Christmas 2018?
Ok, I'll drop it.
I think this is one of my least favorite DD long stories by Barks. Among all of them, not only Christmas ones. Of course it is not bad: it is still Barks from 1951, at the peak of his storytelling abilities. Yet, in my view this story is some kind of false step, relatively to the high quality of his material from that period.
Forget about all the little oddness that you cleverly pointed out in your review. I never care about those things (unless they are so big and stupid to destroy my suspension of disbelief, but that never happens with Barks, that's mathematically impossible). The problem here is that the structure of the plot is kind of too repetitive. And the gags are really not much at all. The mindreader gypsy and the hypnotiser is clearly just "Barks out of ideas and Christmas deadline approaching". How can I be the only one who see this?
So, in the end, unless you like watching a car repetitively explode - which made me laugh only when Scrooge was on it and he made a funny face when the explosion was approaching - what is left? I am ok with the story being very materialistic and not mawkishness at all. Although, if there was ONE Xmas story by Barks who needed to be plumped by some Xmas mawkishness, it was this one.

February 3, 2018 at 11:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

D Ruoppolo said:.... the gags are really not much at all. The mindreader gypsy and the hypnotiser is clearly just "Barks out of ideas and Christmas deadline approaching. How can I be the only one who see this?"
My dear Mr Ruoppolo:- you are not the only one!
And thanks to you, neither am I! This story is just poor. If it were a fair exemplar of classic era Barks, then I'd way prefer his final whacky & wilder work, in the mid 60s.

October 18, 2018 at 7:10 AM  
Blogger whc03grady said...

"What do you suppose "the really expensive items" are?" indeed: the Bureau of Labor Statistics helpfully informs us that 100 dollars in 1951 had the buying power of a thousand bucks (and change) as of April 2019.

May 31, 2019 at 4:08 PM  

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