"It's a Wonderful Christmas Story"
This Christmas, we will look at some Italian seasonal stories. The idea was that we were going to cover all Italian Christmas stories that have been published in the US, but given that that number has abruptly, like, quadrupled, it is no longer feasible. Which is a good thing! More cheer for all! Anyway, hopefully I'll get to at least one or two of the newly-published tales, but we will start with some ol' Gemstone material.
I'm going in order of least-favorite-to-favorite, so we start with this, a Romano Scarpa effort from 1998. Man, the what-if-you-didn't-exist part takes up only a small portion of It's a Wonderful Life, but when you know something is an It's a Wonderful Life take-off, you know that's the only part that's being talked about. Of course, the Italian title doesn't actually reference the movie; it is called “Mickey and the Sweetness of Christmas,” which seems very generic and generally a lot worse! Still, it is what it is. And I'll have more to say about that anon.
We open with a surprising slab of gritty realism. Mouseton's economy is in freefall, apparently. Was there some Italian depression in 1998 that I should know about? Certainly, this is a tone you don't see struck very often in Disney comics, though it's obviously here to set up the story.
Pete's plot: surprisingly diabolical! One of his best-ever, I'd say—and it works perfectly, too! Mickey would be totally fucked if not for his final change of heart!
Seriously, good job there, Pete! That was a really clever manipulation. I must say, it doesn't say anything good about Mickey that he just always automatically assume that Pete's actions can never, ever be anything other than diabolical. I mean, not that he's not mostly right, but what happened to the idealistic believer in human nature in early Gottfredson?
Really, how horrific must Mouseton's jail be if, after spending one night there, he's become so filthy and disheveled that everyone just assumes he's a transient and Pluto doesn't even recognize him?
But that was only the first part of the plan: to get Mickey out of the house so's Scuttle can sabotage his Christmas ornaments so's they blow up. Whee!
Again, a plan that worked beyond Pete's wildest dreams, though I must say, it requires Mickey's pals to be extremely lacking in the quality of mercy, such that this atypical behavior means WE'RE THROUGH, NO EXPLANATION PERMITTED. And at Christmastime, yet.
Well, on to the Wonderful Life stuff—here presented by the appropriately secular Santa Claus. It's obvious why this “what if you'd never existed?” stuff is so popular—it's an easy yet irresistible concept, and while it can be done well, it it's also well-suited for an extremely lazy, hackish writer (not that I'm accusing Scarpa of these things). It it has to be admitted, though: when you think about it for even a moment, it starts to look comically narcissistic: yeah, a world where I didn't exist couldn't would be a horrible, useless pile of dung, right? How could it not?!? “Your life DOES have meaning!” is a perfectly inoffensive message, and perhaps useful to keep in mind when you're feeling depressed, but it easily shades over into self-aggrandizement. And, let's face it, it's almost certainly not true that you, personally, were the only person who could do what you did. None of us are really that significant on our own, as much as we'd like to think otherwise.
Also—and I realize I'm just deconstructing the hell out of this for no good reason—you have to consider that you not having existed is going to change so many unforeseeable variables in the lives of those close to you that they're just going to be totally incomprehensible to you if you look at them. It's not going to be life-affirming, just baffling. But all that is neither here nor there. Let's just accept the basic premise, to the extent that we're able.
Well, this is it. In most stories, this would take up a lot of real estate, but here Scarpa squeezes it all onto one page, almost as if he just wants to be over and done with it. Let's go over each panel individually, shall we?
First Panel: So Casey's the chief of police. And this, I can only assume, is supposed to be bad because he's only semi-competent at best? But things like this are a good illustration why these scenarios seem so dubious: you can't just say “all things being equal, it would be bad if he was chief,” because all things are NOT equal. I would go so far as to say that zero things are equal. How do you know how he'd respond to this new position? Maybe he'd rise to the challenge! Hell, maybe he did; this panel doesn't actually suggest otherwise, we're just meant to assume it. But people aren't static like that, as much as a comic might want to make us assume otherwise.
Second Panel: Kind of interesting, this. As much as people like to go to the ol' “Goofy's not really dumb, he just things differently” bromide, that is not at all a consistent thing in practice. Here, his situation looks kinda pretty exactly like that of a person with mild mental disabilities who is able to live basically independently but nonetheless needs some light supervision, which he's not getting. There's a kind of poignancy here, and I think this is clearly the best of these little vignettes.
Third Panel: Mmm...seems like a bit of stretch. I mean, can you actually point to a story (in Gottfredson, preferably) where Mickey helped him “control his ego?” I guess I'll allow it, though it's pretty borderline. Anyway, it's not all bad: apparently Clarabelle's stuck by him.
Fourth Panel: A bit oddly-phrased: not “he was demoted to...” but “he switched to...” Was this a voluntary demotion? Without meaning to, Scarpa seems to be insulting O'Hara pretty badly. Without Mickey around, he's useless at solving crimes, so he's no longer chief. Sounds...fair? I mean, it may be a tad unfair to say that he solves all his crimes thanks to Mickey—since we don't see the ones where Mickey doesn't get involved—but probably not that unfair. Still, maybe Casey is a better chief than he was! You don't know!
Fifth Panel: Yeah...when it comes to the girlfriends of the suffering [male] heroes in Wonderful Life stories, it seems almost inevitable that their outcomes are going to be sexist as shit. Imagine how horrible her life must be without the one man who gives her meaning! Bah. I don't totally understand the narration box there: “when she's not seeing Mortimer...” When she's not seeing him, she's single? When she's not seeing him, she's teaching needlepoint classes? What's your point? And why are these things bad?
Sixth Panel: This one is just weird. Is it really taking an ultra-conservative “preschool is ipso facto bad!” position? I dunno, if that's the case—or even if it's just saying “preschool is worse than spending all their time with Mickey”—Scarpa undermines himself by making them look so happy. Also, don't you think they're going to make friends and experience social development that they wouldn't have otherwise? I feel like this really worked out pretty well for them.
Seventh Panel: Yes, okay, given that this character was introduced specifically to play this role in this story, I cannot argue with the results. But, again, he looks pretty happy with the whole situation.
Eighth Panel: Another super-weird one. OMG! My beloved house! And people I don't even know live there! This might make more sense if there had ever been any indication that we were meant to have a sentimental attachment to Mickey's house, but as it is...you know, Mickey, whether you exist or not, they're presumably living and arguing somewhere! Your existence or lack thereof isn't materially affecting this in any way! I guess you have a point with the Pluto business, though. I could cavil, but it would not be in the spirit of the season.
So anyway, a real mixed bag. On the whole, certainly not all that memorable, though.
But don't worry, foax! The day is saved thanks to Pete's change of heart! If you kept in mind all the things Pete has done over the years—I recently read Gottfredson's “Mystery at Hidden River,” in which, among other things, he attempts to feed Clarabelle into a sawmill—something like this would not seem tenable. Is Pete a lovable antagonist, or just a psychotic one? Opinions vary! But what the hell, I like redemptive stuff like this, especially in a Christmas story.
BOY, sucks to be all those people with money problems who didn't randomly happen to save a banker's son, dunnit?
Sorry, the cynicism just wells up in me uncontrollably when faced with something like this. Hmph. Maybe instead, Scarpa could've taken another cue from It's a Wonderful Life, and had Mickey's already-existing pals help him out? Seems like a better idea to me.
I'm a sucker for concluding dinner-table tableaux like this, though. Interesting to note that these wordless cameos were the first time that both Trudy and Atomo appeared in the US. I like the fact that Pete, Trudy, and Scuttle are stealing the silverware, though I'm less enamored of the way the narration box feels compelled to call attention to this. It would be a lot more amusing without that. Note that Pluto there just looks completely stoned out of his mind. Also: why are Trudy and Casey slapping hands like that?
Well, never mind! I JUST got home, and I'm kind of too jetlagged to come up with a good conclusion to this entry! Not a transcendent story or anything, but YOU COULD DO WORSE! Probably. Expect more tomorrow, hopefully.
Labels: Romano Scarpa