Friday, July 13, 2012

"The Bat Bandit of Inferno Gulch"

(This being part three of a nine-part series covering the stories in Volume Three of Fantagraphics' Floyd Gottfredson Library.)


Well, for one thing, this story has the coolest title of any of the ones here, and isn't this initial strip here just plain adorable?  Sure it is.


But of course, there's this here Bat Bandit screwing things up; in his usual (let's face it, a tiny bit ridiculous) way, Mickey welcomes the challenge.  Western stories were clearly a big hit, but there's one issue here that I want to address,


and it's not this, actually, but JEEZ, MAN, WHAT WERE YOU THINKING???  Usually in these things, the racism is directed against black people, so I'm sorta used to that, but then you blindside me with something like this.  What makes "Mr. Chinky" (GOOD GOD) especially egregious to me is that he doesn't even play a meaningful part in the story.  He's just comic (er…) relief around the edges.  It's as though Gottfredson turned in the completed story and was told "okay, great work, Floyd, but just one thing: it needs some more racism; the Comedy Mexican just isn't quite gonna do it," so then "Mr. Chinky" (SWEET JESUS) was hastily hacked in at the last moment.  Urgh.

Does "Mr. Chinky" (ODSBODKINS) exist in his original form in the Gladstone reprint, you ask?  HE SURE DOES!  Disney censorship policies will never become any less mysterious and arbitrary.

UPDATE: Dave points out to me that Gladstone did, in fact, change his name to the less-egregious "Mr. Chin."  His delightful dialogue remains uncut, however.


But no; the thing I really want to address is this: the Bat Bandit's identity is supposed to be all mysterious…and yet, from his very first appearance, above, it's completely obvious that it's this guy.  This seems to me to be a bit of a problem. 

Now…maybe I'm wrong; maybe it's NOT supposed to be a mystery.  But it sure feels to me as though it is--


--unless, of course, the goal is just to make fun of the menfolk for their chauvinistic obliviousness, which is kind of amusing, but I'm just not convinced that's the whole of it, and in any case, let's face it, the story becomes a whole lot less interesting if we're not left wondering.  The best we can do is hope, without much hope, the story's going to pull a fast one on us, and Jollio's going to turn out just to be a regular unctuous guy with no additional villainousness.  Or were people just substantially slower on the uptake in 1934?  I just keep thinking of the mileage that "Mickey Mouse Outwits the Phantom Blot" gets out of keeping its villain's identity and motivations totally mysterious until the very end; this definitely suffers in comparison to that.


Having another guy appear in the bat costume might have helped to confuse the issue, but then having Jollio behave in a villainous manner the very next day kinda cancels that out.


Are deadly, poisonous ponds actually a thing?  If so, pretty alarming stuff, but I don't think I've ever seen the concept outside of Gottfredson serials (it comes up again as a plot point in "Race for Riches").


And here's something that doesn't quite make sense: how, if Jollio's actually the Bat Bandit, did he rise to his current lofty position of cattle baron?  Seems like this would require years and years and years of work, and if you're willing to put in that kind of effort, banditry starts to seem superfluous.  Could it be that he's actually to the manner born, and eventually just drifted into the bandit stuff out of boredom?  Could be in a different story, but that's clearly not the case here, so we have to consider the other, more sinister possibility; ie, that he murdered the "real" Don Jollio and somehow stole his identity.  Pretty hardcore, but I can't think of any other remotely plausible possibility.


Anyway, there's this countdown business, which actually isn't bad in terms of building suspense--but, again, I can't help feeling it would work better in that regard if the Bat remained more mysterious.


Ya just gotta laugh at the sheer number of times that the forces of law and order turn against Mickey on any ol' flimsy pretext.  Not just in Gottfredson-era stuff, either; you see it happen quite frequently in contemporary stories, too.  You might think that Mickey would have proven his mettle by now to the extent that he would at least be given some degree of benefit of the doubt!  But nope!  No such luck!  The hell of it is, though, that ridiculous as it is, it's also really effective, no matter how often it comes up.  I think this is because it taps into primal fears that we developed way back in the day.  Surely being evicted from the tribe would've been about the worst thing that could happen to you as a caveperson.


Seriously, is this reveal meant to be shocking?  'Cause if so…I'm afraid it's not working so well.

And now, THE CASE OF THE VANISHING HAT.  For best effect, imagine these next few panels as drawn by Edward Gorey.


Mickey hides in an urn, with his hat on top.  Two villains come in, also wearing hats...


…they take off their hats to have a helpfully expository conversation...



…they leave--but one is hatless…


…So he takes Mickey's hat.  WHERE DID THE THIRD HAT GO?!?!?  Here's a REAL case for Detective Mickey to solve.  Or maybe Encyclopedia Brown.


Jollio is unmasked in front of all--but it's not at all clear to me how.  Is his mask really just shooting off of his head from cartoon surprise?  That seems like an odd denouement, given the (sorta kinda) realism that the strip generally maintains.


The series ends with a really great duel between the two of them.  It's not so easy to convey a real sense of kineticism in comic form, but this does.  To me, it ranks up there with the climax of Barks' "Sheriff of Bullet Valley" in that regard.


I'm not gonna lie to you, Mickey: you sometimes take this goody-two-shoes persona too far.  By which I mean to say: Fercrissake, man, take the damn money.  I'm sure the Cattlemen's Association will do just fine, especially given that they presumably foreclosed on all of Jollio's assets.

In spite of my incessant carping, I really do like this story, mostly.  However, the best stories in the book are still to come.  Tune in next time for adorableness.

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6 Comments:

Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Geo:

That the Bandit’s identity was revealed – and the mystery dissipated – so early on, has always seriously diminished this story in my eyes.

Maybe it “read-better” – or differently – in daily bites… but I’m guessing not.

Joe.

July 14, 2012 at 1:45 PM  
Anonymous Duckfan said...

I think "MM Sails For Treasure Island" had the same problem, sort of. It was just so obvious that *supersecretspoiler* Jill and Slug were actually Pete and Shyster, who had broken out of jail after 5 days. Maybe that's the thing in "Bat Bandit", the reader excpects it to be Pete and/or Shyster, because who else could it be?

July 15, 2012 at 2:29 PM  
Blogger ramapith said...

Interesting observation: the earlier "Lair of Wolf Barker" (1933), a Sunday page serial that also took place at Uncle Mortimer's ranch, included a visually similar Mexican character—Don Poocho—as Mortimer's ranch foreman and respected second-in-command.
The difference (SPOILER) being that Poocho, while a little unctuous, is absolutely the good guy he claims to be.
I suspect that with "The Bat Bandit," Gottfredson imagined that regular readers seeing Jollio would dimly remember the earlier Poocho; get thrown by the similarity; and thus be less certain that Jollio was a bad guy.
But—what about readers who were coming to "Bat Bandit" without seeing the earlier story (like most readers of our new books)? Floyd didn't allow for them...
Nor for Italian editors, who were so confused that they amalgamated "Wolf Barker" and "Bat Bandit" into one messy, superlong story, with Poocho becoming Jollio.

July 15, 2012 at 2:37 PM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

I wonder could some of the modern Mickey-artist use Mr. Chinky today. Such great and lovable character deserve a return with a mordern twist

September 1, 2012 at 11:10 AM  
Blogger Thomas said...

That would be pointless. If you remove all offensive elements of Mr. Chinky (name, appearance, speech pattern), who you're left with is no longer recognizable as Mr. Chinky.

January 26, 2013 at 5:17 PM  
Blogger Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

I sorta kinda think Pan was probably joking there, though admittedly his sense of humor can be a little on the inscrutable side.

January 26, 2013 at 6:01 PM  

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