Friday, July 22, 2016

"The Phantom Blot Meets the Beagle Boys"


...or perhaps you'd prefer to call it "Culprits, Inc?"


How about "Uncle Scrooge Meets the Phantom Blot?" Actually, the fact that it was retitled that for its Gladstone rerelease (it was originally published in 1965) is wholly unsurprising; it's exactly the sort of thing you'd expect to happen, and it's kind of hard to argue with. It's difficult to believe that the Phantom Blot (or at least, the anodyne, Scooby-Doo-villain Blot) had his own (short-running) book series, but he did. He certainly didn't by Gladstone II days, though, and since the story's being reprinted in a book called Uncle Scrooge Adventures, well...

Still, there are...other things to talk about here. Just on a whim, I decided to reread this story after mentioning it in last post's comments. Then, I noticed that inducks blandly declared that the Gladstone reprint was "censored," so I had to look back at the original printing to see what said censorship entailed. AND BOY OH BOY WAS I NOT DISAPPOINTED. Under ordinary circumstances, this story would be far too boring to talk about, but given the nature of the changes from one printing to another, I'm convening an emergency session to do just that. This is not actually "censorship;" there's nothing here that's been changed because the original would've been deemed offensive (okay, arguably one single, tiny thing, but nothing meaningful). But...it's certainly something, as you'll see.

I'm certainly not going to go through this story in a beat-by-beat kind of way, so let me just quickly summarize the plot: the Blot puts an ad in the paper to recruit criminals to help him with his latest plot; the Beagles respond; they're trying to rob Scrooge, but while they initially go after the Bin, as always, they quickly realize that the REAL money is in these money tree seeds that he has. To escape them, Scrooge uses a time machine to go to Ye Olden Times, where there's a Black Knight robbing people. The Blot pretends to be the knight, but they don't get the seeds, and the Blot ends up in jail. The story also features Donald and Mickey, but not in any very significant way.

Right, that's that. NOW.


This story is notable for--and in the ordinary course of events, it would be the only thing it was notable for--this absolutely psychotic fever dream in which four Beagle Boys show up disguised as the Blot's mother. As I sometimes am, I am reminded of the Jorge Luis Borges story "Blue Tigers" (which I've probably mentioned on this blog somewhere before; it's informed my worldview in a lot of ways): the long and short of it is, there may be no such thing as a blue tiger, but you can easily envision such a thing. Whereas you cannot envision a blue tiger that is simultaneously three blue tigers. The human mind doesn't bend like that. Likewise you can imagine a Beagle Boy dressed as the Blot's mother, but...and THAT is why this story is beyond the ken of humans to conceptualize. Well, at least this brief segment. If the whole thing was like this, it would be a genuinely incredible thing. Maybe in more of an "Eye of Argon" way than anything else, but I'd certainly take it! Alas, it's not; the rest is just your typically insipid kind of thing.

SO ANYWAY, how was this scene treated in the reprinting?


...fine. Let's just remove the one thing that makes the story memorable. That seems sensible. We wouldn't want anything to detract from the intense lack of interest on display here. I mean, it's clear why they made the change, but what were they thinking? Did they actually think that with a bit of tweaking here and there, this story would ever be good in an objective way? Real misplaced priorities here.


Here's another example of a misguided "fix." No, this isn't notably hilarious, but it's recognizably a joke. 'Cause horseshoes don't have laces, you see. But in the reprint...


...it's replaced with throwing a shoe, something a horse can actually do, and the joke is gone. Did they assume that the original version was accidental; that Murry (or whoever--could this be a Vic Lockman effort? Well, in either case, the point stands) actually didn't know what a horseshoe was? Boy, I'm no Murry fan, but not even I would insult his intelligence like that. Sheesh. Or, alternately, did someone have the idea that the Blot is a VERY SERIOUS VILLAIN, and he should be making a VERY SERIOUS effort to unseat the knight, with NO JOKING AROUND ALLOWED? That's obviously never going to happen, so what the hell are you even making the effort for?


Somewhat similar thing here.  To be fair, it very possibly genuinely WOULDN'T have occurred to Murry that the idea of opening a bank account was anachronistic, but it's still silly in a way that fits in with the story.  Why take that away from it?


Here is this. To briefly comment on the story, probably the worst thing about it is the portrayal of Scrooge himself. When I wrote about "Sourdough Sam," I noted that Murry's tendency to draw Donald as really depressed and hapless was unappealing, but that is nothing compared to the way he does it to Scrooge here. The character just spends the whole story looking feeble and useless and self-pitying. Dude, the whole point of Scrooge is that he's scrappy and tough. It's how we can actually root for the rich to get richer. Why would anyone give a shit whether this vision of the character succeeds or not?


Anyway, the newer version. Mickey no longer calls Scrooge "uncle," which I suppose is fair enough. The removal of the label on the trapdoor may just be a coloring error, for all I know.

But let's take a moment to note what they didn't change. Incredibly, Murry seems not to have known what the Money Bin was called, and just refers to it as Scrooge's "vault." The sort of thing you'd expect from an indifferently-translated British publication of an Italian story. And yet, for all the changes they made, the Gladstone people didn't fix this. I...truly don't know what to say here. I am at a loss.


Randomly shoehorning in a cultural reference? Sure, whatever, at this point, just do what you want. 


No, Scrooge's line isn't brilliant, but let's face it, none of this is brilliant. And he looks significantly more insane when he's apparently just capering in silence.


Is the mere mention of Scrooge owning property in Africa racist and/or colonialist? I suppose on some level it probably is, if you spend any time at all thinking about the implications. BUT STILL. I'm only too happy to accept the label of Political Correctness--or perhaps, in this day'n'age, Social Justice Warrior--but even I have to ask, really? This was something that you found genuinely bothersome?


Stashing is much better than mere hiding. Please make a note of it.

Right, so while there are a few more little things like this, ultimately they're little more than curiosities. But now it can be revealed: all this time, I've been dancing around the real strangeness here. I don't even know how to approach this, so here it is:


Right, a money tree. A kind of typical sort of thing. I'll admit that I sorta-kinda like the tree/noble metal wordplay.


AND HERE'S THE NEW VERSION. And if you have any reaction more cogent than "what the hell?" please let me know, 'cause I don't.


The really odd thing, though, is that I get the very strong impression that this change was made for some sort of ideological reason--that someone was trying to make some sort of point--but if so, it is really fucking inscrutable. Scrooge is maybe possibly meant to seem...like, selfless here? Because he's somehow helping humanity? Maybe? But why? Why here? Why now? And why would you go with petroleum, of all things--an obviously-mixed blessing to humanity at best--if you wanted to show this?


I mean, what IS this? I know I'm just repeating myself here, but it's all SO FUCKING STRANGE.


...and can I note that even if the idea (WHY?!?!) was to make Scrooge seem all great and selfless, the fact that Murry portrays him in so unappealing a fashion pretty much instantly obviates any chance that would have had of succeeding.

Welp, that's about that. Every time I think I've seen it all, something like this surfaces to shake my foundations.   It's worth noting that if you read the republication without seeing the original, you truly would think nothing of it.  It would just seem like another insipid bit of Gold Key trivia.  And...that's pretty damning, when you think about it.  Gladstone made all these bizarre changes to the story, clearly with some aim in mind, and yet there's still no way that anyone would ever get anything out of it other than what it originally was.  A truly ineffectual exercise.  If you ask me, if they were going to do this at all, they should've gone all-in.  As in, completely rewrite all of the dialogue from an unapologetically contemporary, self-aware perspective.  Get Geoffrey Blum to do one of his trademark localizations like it was a Scarpa effort.  Would this have made for a decent story?  Unlikely, but at least it would've had a chance of making some impact.  As it is, all it's good for is gawking at, which isn't nothing, but it sure ain't much.

Labels:

36 Comments:

Blogger Huwey said...

Holy fucking shit! What is this? Why has this been censored? Yes on the one hand there is the thing with africa. Okay. But on the other hand's a really unnecessary and ruthless censoring, that I cannot understand!

July 22, 2016 at 3:29 PM  
Anonymous Review Or Die said...

This reminds me of a well meaning and terrible fansub. People die if they are killed! All according to keikaku (keikaku is Japanese for plan)! It's dumb, but you can never really appreciate quite how dumb until you pore over the original and realize that the person translating this lacked basic storytelling skills. Ugh, if I never have to see another TV-N sub again...

July 22, 2016 at 7:08 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

A very, very bizarre rewrite, motivation entirely obscure. I mean, if you have a problem with Scrooge counterfeiting money by horticultural means, then, well, YOU DON'T REPRINT A STORY WHERE THAT IS THE MACGUFFIN! Kind of a cute MacGuffin, too. I do like its genetic origin story.

July 22, 2016 at 7:20 PM  
Anonymous PL9 said...

I think Gladstone probably removed the reference to Africa because they didn’t want to imply that Scrooge might be associated with the infamous “blood diamond” trade – diamonds mined in Africa, often by slave labor, to benefit thuggish warlords like the rebels in Sierra Leone or corrupt leaders like Charles Taylor of Liberia.
Yeah, I know, the idea that Scrooge would have anything to do with that is ludicrous. I mean, where’s the profit in it for Scrooge if those goons are taking the biggest cut? And he’d never resort to slave labor. He pays his employees the princely sum of thirty cents an hour!

July 22, 2016 at 9:09 PM  
Blogger GeoX's Nemesis, the Mysterious XoeG said...

Possibly because I'm an idiot, it never even occurred to me that the sticking point might've been that a money tree would be illogical/illegal. I guess you just get kind of inured to this sort of nonsense with these old Western stories! Also, the way they replaced it with something that seemed to suggest some kind of agenda apparently obscured that in my mind.

July 23, 2016 at 1:12 AM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

The money tree makes me think of Pinochio (the oryginal book not the Disney movie) and "The Sims 2" (where you lern Scienists discover that money in fact grows on trees) Good idea but I still think that they could re-work the dialog to still keep the concept of the money tree but add some ethical justification to it. (Propable same goes for Scrooges blood-diamond operations)


As for Blot's mother/aunts. Yhe, a very funny/interesting moment destroyed ("My WHAT?" line is only funny when he's talking about his mother). My guess is they watned to avoid implication that Blot has more then one mother.


HOWEVER I never 100% got that blue tiger can be three tiger at once. At least I have no problem to imagine it...

July 23, 2016 at 2:47 AM  
Anonymous Jannes said...

Great point about the counterfeiting. Cause that's what it is, although the story doesn't recognize it at all. And even if the growing-on-plants-part would be some legal loophole and the counterfeiting itself not the problem, the money would still be useless- getting it in circulation would certainly not be making it square... and although Scrooge doesn´t intend to do that with any of his money, the no-legal-value-aspect would ruin it for Scrooge, of at least my idea of him. But then again, he doesn't show up here, just this generic whimpy rich guy that kinda looks like Scrooge in a state of deep depression. When I read this story, this felt so odd to me- and it fits right into the feeling that it´s a really lackluster effort, probably fueled by the assumption that the kids reading this story were way too stupid to catch any of the huge logic holes that it is built around. Pondering about this stuff is kinda silly, but so much fun... And it's not like we aren't used to it in even a lot of the better duck stories. In this case, it just feels lazy.
I still like the panel with the moms coming into the cell.
And the weird rewrite makes this whole mess the perfect oddity for this blog...
I think that the removal of the trap-door-joke (I guess labeling it counts as a joke, since it works against the "secret"-part) is in the same vein as the horseshoe thing. Too many hilarious jokes in this story, we have to remove at least two of them! How else could anyone take it seriously?

July 23, 2016 at 8:04 AM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

— Murry's weird Scrooge actually looks kinda like the one in "They call me MISTER Donald!".

— I second the "counterfeiting" claim, though I do not think it should have been changed. Let this story nonsense around as it wants.

— It was so rewritten anyway that continuity-wise, I'm just going to assume that "The Phantom Blot meets the Beagle Boys - Culprint Inc." and "Uncle Scrooge meets the Phantom Blot" are actually two different stories that happened at two different times, much like I treat DuckTales adaptations.

July 23, 2016 at 4:11 PM  
Blogger Huwey said...

Murry's Art:
Yes it's really strange and not very beautiful, but if ya look at Tony Strobl's art, this one is a good deed!

July 23, 2016 at 5:39 PM  
Blogger GeoX's Nemesis, the Mysterious XoeG said...

Disagree vehemently. Strobl's art is FAR better than this.

July 24, 2016 at 12:07 AM  
Blogger Debbie Anne said...

Paul Murry's art isn't bad, but like you said, he really doesn't capture Scrooge's personality well. His cutesy art style doesn't suit McDuck at all.

July 24, 2016 at 12:15 AM  
Blogger GeoX's Nemesis, the Mysterious XoeG said...

That's fair. It's true, Murry's art isn't bad in itself; the problem is, I think it actually *fit* very few of the stories he drew.

July 24, 2016 at 9:06 AM  
Anonymous Huwey said...

Yes, tastes are different. I prefere Murry.

July 26, 2016 at 12:54 PM  
Anonymous Baar Baar Jinx said...

Didn't Gladstone publish an article alongside this story, explaining some of the changes they made? I don't have the issue on hand to confirm, but I recall them saying that the Blot's mother appearing "in triplicate" and the very concept of a "money tree" were too ludicrous to leave unedited. And like you, I thought to myself, given that you're reprinting a story as silly as this, you might as well be in for a penny, in for a pound.

The panels where Scrooge is obviously begging, but in the edited version is agonizing over the Blot's intentions as opposed to his own, are particularly jarring.

July 30, 2016 at 5:43 PM  
Anonymous PL9 said...

In defense of Paul Murry, I’m still not sure that he was responsible for writing any of the stories he drew. Moreover, I have to say your theory that this story may be written by Vic Lockman is quite plausible. Especially since it starts off with the Blot saying, “Heh! Heh! Heh!” Also, Lockman wrote another story supposedly involving money trees, called “The Monster and the Money Tree” (US #83). That one gets my vote for the worst Scrooge adventure ever written, and in fact it was the last long non-Barks Scrooge story for decades – afterwards Western simply reprinted Barks’ stories. I reread it before I wrote this, and to anyone who hasn’t read it, please don’t. You’ll waste five minutes reading it, and several hours fuming over what a piece of shit it is.
At any rate, while I have mixed feelings about Lockman’s work (for example, I liked “Why All the Crabby Ducks”), I’m tempted to assign the blame for most of the crappy uncredited Disney stories, like this Phantom Blot thing, to Lockman. Why not? He’s still alive, so he’s welcome to set me straight if I’m wrong.

July 30, 2016 at 9:37 PM  
Blogger GeoX's Nemesis, the Mysterious XoeG said...

@Baar Baar Jinx DID Gladstone say anything about this? I'd love to think so, but all I'm seeing is the non-specific claim that the story had "been edited and revised for inclusion here." Hmm!

July 30, 2016 at 10:10 PM  
Blogger Debbie Anne said...

I recall reading about those changes somewhere...I can't recall whether it was in a Crosstalk article, in response to a letter writer or in the Gladstone Gazette that they sent to subscribers with the non-slick cover issues, and I don't have access to any Gladstone's to check my guesses.

July 30, 2016 at 10:52 PM  
Blogger GeoX's Nemesis, the Mysterious XoeG said...

This is all very interesting to me, and slightly mysterious. I looked in subsequent issues to see if this information was included in letters, but I was unable to find anything. If anyone knows what Baar Baar Jinx and Debbie are referring to, I'd very much appreciate being pointed in that direction.

July 31, 2016 at 10:30 AM  
Anonymous Baar Baar Jinx said...

Come to think of it, it had to have been in a letter column in a subsequent issue ... I recall now that the reader pointed out that the leaves on the repurposed "money tree" still looked like dollar bills, and in response Gladstone expounded on the changes they made ... I know you mentioned that you checked subsequent letter columns, but while usually a particular issue was discussed in letter columns appearing 2-3 issues later, could it have been in a much later issue in this case? I don't think the Gladstone Gazette had started publication at this time, since the issue of Uncle Scrooge Adventures under discussion still had slick covers. My Gladstones, like Debbie's, are unfortunately in storage elsewhere and not available for reference.

July 31, 2016 at 12:17 PM  
Blogger Debbie Anne said...

My Gladstones are long gone, as they were left in Massachusetts when I moved, and I don't know what my brother did with them afterwards.

July 31, 2016 at 2:45 PM  
Blogger Debbie Anne said...

My Gladstones are long gone, as they were left in Massachusetts when I moved, and I don't know what my brother did with them afterwards.

July 31, 2016 at 2:45 PM  
Blogger GeoX's Nemesis, the Mysterious XoeG said...

Ah hah, I found it. I'd missed it because it's not in the same issue that most of the letters about the story were printed. It's in USA 25, and the main source of info is a letter from none other than our Joe Torcivia. He's more forgiving of the changes than I am, but he also makes the same point I did, that toning down the weirdness detracts from the appeal. Gladstone doesn't say anything substantive in response.

July 31, 2016 at 10:50 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Geo:

Just because my Blog’s been dark for a while – and I expect it to stay dark for a while longer – doesn’t mean I’m still not out there enjoying this stuff in whatever little time my horrifically busy personal situation will allow.

Great work, in identifying that old letter-of-comment of mine. I remembered commenting on that, and was going to look it up myself, but you beat me to it. If anyone cares to read it, here’s the text of that original letter… from way back at the end of 1993!

Dear Editor:

Normally, I take a dim view altering past stories, but I’ll consider Gladstone’s handling of “Uncle Scrooge Meets the Phantom Blot” an unexpected exception.

The original story had Scrooge in possession of a sack of “Money Tree Seeds”, as well as an actual “Money Tree”. While some insight into Scrooge’s character reveals this to be less ridiculous than it initially appears, the substitution of “Oil Bush Seeds” is a clever and acceptable one, given the greater sophistication of today’s comics readers. Besides, it’s a comfort to know that, when the Earth’s resources dry up, Scrooge McDuck is ready to step in!

I’m not sure why some of the original tale’s incongruous humor has been diluted. (A) The Beagles enter prison posing as the Blot’s MOTHER… in quadruplicate! (B) During the free-for-all, the Blot momentarily distracts the Black Knight by telling him his “…horse’s shoes are untied!” A skilled horseman like the Knight would not have fallen for the Blot’s false claim that his horse had “thrown a shoe”, but may well have become disoriented by the strange exclamation of the original.

This is easily forgotten, though, when the Blot remarks that he beat Scrooge to the site of the Hollow Tree because he “…took the high road and got here before you!”, as if to mock Scrooge’s Scottish heritage. With this, the Blot’s villainy acquires a much-needed sarcastic edge. Indeed, the Blot himself buries any lingering memories of the 1965 version by flatly stating that “There’s no such thing [as Money Tree Seeds].


Flash forward nearly a quarter century and folks occasionally blast me for “altering past stories”, but at least I don’t go back and alter a story in its original native language. Oh, and there was an issue of DONALD AND MICKEY that reprinted an edited version of PHANTOM BLOT # 5. I’m sure I wrote about that one too! And, if you ask me, Vic Lockman only wrote issue # 7. This may have been by Bob Ogle, but that’s just my guess.

August 2, 2016 at 7:38 PM  
Blogger DAC said...

Quick query- how does one subscribe to this blog (which is terrific, by the way)? I'm far more used to the WordPress format, and the subscribe button I saw near the bottom of the page is being all dicky, as in not working.

August 21, 2016 at 1:31 PM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

By the way, have you noticed that Uncle Scrooge #18 features a Money Tree extremely similar to this story's?

August 21, 2016 at 3:12 PM  
Blogger Debbie Anne said...

I wouldn't be surprised if Barks' money tree cover DID inspire the money tree in this story.

August 21, 2016 at 9:54 PM  
Blogger Debbie Anne said...

I wouldn't be surprised if Barks' money tree cover DID inspire the money tree in this story.

August 21, 2016 at 9:54 PM  
Anonymous Drakeborough said...

One thing I dislike about Western's Phantom Blot's stories is that he is always wearing his hood, even when he is at home or in prison, and even under the latex mask he occasionally wears as a disguise. Did artists not not how he looked like, or did editors told the artists they could never show his face?

August 23, 2016 at 6:20 AM  
Anonymous Baar Baar Jinx said...

I think showing the Phantom Blot's face ruins the sense of mystery about the character. European artists' predilection for doing so irks me no end. I firmly believe that if Gottfredson had known he was creating a recurring villain, he would never have shown the Blot's face at the end of his original story. If I could have my way, we'd all pretend the Blot had never been unmasked.

September 3, 2016 at 3:35 PM  
Anonymous Dokken34 said...

Hello, I like this blog a lot, and I hope you don't abandon this work now...

September 10, 2016 at 12:00 AM  
Anonymous Drakeborough said...

@Baar Baar Jinx
(I'm a bit late, but still...)
The mystery about the character's face was already solved by the end of his first story, so what's the point of pretending the ending of his best known story didn't happen, just because we may or may not think that the story could have been drawn differently? Why should he be wearing his mask *even while he is in prison* (like in this story), which doesn't make any sense as the police would remove it before sending him to prison? Why would he wear his hood under a latex mask used for impersonating someone, which just confuses the reader who could think he is sort of an alien humanized blot of ink, rather than a guy wearing a hood?

Well, to each his own.

October 19, 2016 at 10:19 AM  
Blogger GeoX's Nemesis, the Mysterious XoeG said...

I think Baar Baar Jinx made it pretty clear what he thinks the point is of pretending that ending hadn't happened. Personally, I think there's nothing to be done about it; the post-Gottfredson Blot is just a kind of lame villain.

October 19, 2016 at 11:30 AM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

Aw. I think the post-Gottfredson Blot is a delightful ersatz of James Bond villain, with his special villain quirk being that he wears that black suit all the time. I like to think everyone at the Mouseton prison is just too scared of him to ask him not to wear the mask. Indeed, I recall reading a story once where the Blot managed to have the police turn his cell into a royal suite, in exchange of which he wouldn't escape.


But that's not the main thing I want to talk about. What I want to talk about is this:

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-HuG-glouMRY8Iv5masEQ9J9eUvuCMMq6GnQFBDM54u8P6LGvcdt26z0bdzTqMJVkQD1Arddiway=s0

In the second page of "His Majesty McDuck", Don Rosa does show Scrooge McDuck having a money tree in a flowerpot. Now I wonder, was he referencing this story, the Barks cover I uncovered earlier, or both?

October 26, 2016 at 12:34 PM  
Blogger GeoX's Nemesis, the Mysterious XoeG said...

Well, the idea of a money tree is hardly original. I doubt he was specifically referencing anything, and if he was, I'm pretty darn certain it wasn't THIS ridiculous story.

October 26, 2016 at 11:02 PM  
Blogger Lorenzo said...

Another great article! Yes, I know I'm well late for the show, but I just wanted to posit that maybe the reason for changing the Blot's 'mothers' to 'aunties' might have been due to the classic Disney aversion to casting any characters with a direct familial lineage? Also, am I the only one who thinks Mickey's drawn disproportionately large in comparison to the ducks? Weird & kinda creepy!

September 19, 2017 at 12:44 AM  
Blogger Lorenzo said...

Actually, scratch that theory of mine re: direct familial lineage - thinking about it further, if that was the case, it's unlikely the 1960s version would have made it to publication, let alone one 30-odd years later. Maybe, as someone here (you, GEOX?) suggested, there was simply too much humour deemed appropriate for a 'funny animal' comic?

September 19, 2017 at 1:28 AM  

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