"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: Paul Murry