Having read a lot of post-Barks pre-Rosa old Uncle Scrooge issues, I have discovered that the amount of Barks reprints was absolutely, ludicrously overwhelming for a period, at least for the main story. Then somewhere near the #190 mark, I suddenly had a chunk of fresh air in the form of main stories written by honored Disney comic author "?" and drawn by the creative if somewhat glitchy Pete Alvarado. Alvarado was no Rosa or Bottaro, but his work was still quite enjoyable. One of the more notable stories I found was this:
In Uncle Scrooge #194 lies undiscovered The Inner-Earth Adventure, first published in February of 1982. As I said, the art is by Pete Alvarado, and it is kinda weak in places; however, you can't blame him too much — he was 62 at the time, and looking at older efforts of his, he had used to have a higher amount of details. Anyway.
We open with this lovely little opening narration. I like the idea, really; and it unintentionally foreshadows Don Rosa's Attack of the Hideous Space Varmints, which also has a similar opening. If there is a downside, though, it is, as I said, with the art. The "outer space" background, no offense meant, looks like it was drawn by a toddler. And sure, you can't expect everyone to be Don Rosa, but I can't help but make the comparison with Hideous Space Varmint's own opening star-lit splash panel, since the two openings are so alike, and that comparison is jarring:
But let's not forget ourselves and begin nitpicking already. We've got a whole zany plot to go. So Scrooge has, we're told, always postponed his space voyage because the cost was too off-putting. However, he suddenly realizes that Gyro could help him (come on, you've known the guy since 1952, and just now you think of it?). Never mind that Gyro has already built several spaceships for Scrooge in past stories; it is a thing I find a little hard to swallow, but I won't press that point too much, since Barks himself couldn't remain self-consistent on that point either.
Gyro Gearloose, it turns out, already has a spaceship ready (albeit an untested one), which works with a super-hot fuel. The unforeseen problem is that as soon as the thing is switched on, the superheat melts the ground, leading the machine to sink into the Earth. Also, the third and fourth panels look very much like Don Rosa's Universal Solvent story. There might be influence there.
Though the plot itself has little in common, I must admit that the titular Inner-Earth was most likely inspired by Barks's Land Beneath the Ground. Underground world, they're aware of the upper earth but only barely, and there are two similar but competing peoples. The Togs are the hard-working root farmers (I like that this story makes the effort to explain how the underground beings sustain themselves, unlike Barks's Terries and Fermies), and the Krogs are the evil robbers who just steal the product of their work. The Krogs are not especially fearsome (they're just Togs with masks on), but they have a better knowledge of the underground geography: they know passages to Upper-Earth, and also ways to get Freez gems, which are found much deeper into the Earth's crust, the light of which can freeze anyone who looks at it (except them, the light being filtered by their masks).
They figure out that sunglasses will protect them from the Freez's ray (Huh… they took sunglasses on a space expedition? That's lucky indeed.) There are also “gushes” in Inner-Earth, spontaneous geysers of molten gold that spring from the ground at random times; which interests Scrooge, obviously.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is a terrible burning stream of glowing molten gold that is going to engulf Scrooge and Gyro (just so you know). It's unfortunate that Alvarado can't seem to render the direness of the situation, because in theory, it makes for a pretty good climax, but the stream appears so small and escape so easy that you hardly get any feeling of danger. Have Marco Rota redraw that story someday, and it'll become a classic.
Would the stone floor be cool if there's molten gold streaming underneath all the time? Ah well. What is weirder is the Tog's “One good thing: Freez gem gone in golden gush!”. No Togs were speaking in caveman language earlier.
The ending twist is funny, but why does Scrooge “wak” repeatedly? Were it Donald doing this, I wouldn't look twice, but though Scrooge has been known to utter this kind of exclamative "Wak!"s at the beginning, never has he said: "wak! wak! wak!" in annoyance.
So, that's The Inner-Earth Adventure, a pretty good little story, in spite of inconsistent artwork. It's neither Barks nor Rosa or Bottaro or Carpi, but for a late pre-Gladstone western story, it's much better than you'd expect. It won't take up much time to read it, so I say give it a go.