Saturday, September 22, 2012

"Race for Riches"

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

Ah, "Race for Riches"--a story that, at least for American readers, shall always be known for this panel:

Since I must concede that not everyone reading this is American (I have no idea how those numbers break down, actually), that is in reference to this:

I have this idea that if we all fill out this form, ordering a subscription to every comic, and mail them in, we can maybe force Gladstone back into existence by sheer force of will.  Whaddaya think?

This story, of course, starts interestingly, with Squinch courting Clarabelle, thus attempting--and succeeding--to play on our sympathy for the supporting cast members.  As I've probably noted more than once in the past, I think it's a goddamn shame that the Clarabelle/Horace relationship got downplayed to the point of nonexistence; as far as I know, this is the last time in Gottfredson it plays a really significant role.

We actually see here, maybe perhaps, a bit of a foreshadowing of 1941's "Love Trouble," though it obviously doesn't really go much of anywhere.  For all that this story is one of my favorites, I do think it could have been improved if it did a little more with this dynamic, and Horace's jealousy.  

…also, Clarabelle's simpering can be a bit hard to take.  

And how suspenseful can the question of whether Squinch has "reformed" really be?  Seriously, has there ever been a Disney-comics villain who, in a later story, seemed to be reformed and then, in a surprise twist, actually was reformed?  I guess these days the nature of the form kind of precludes that, since in a post-Gottfredson age, the characters are more or less encased in amber; no one could make a unilateral decision like that and have it stick.  But it's not like Gottfredson himself was given to such things either.  Point being: the has-he-or-hasn't-he stuff is really never very interesting.

What is an interesting question is: how old is Squinch actually supposed to be?  I would've put him in his seventies, but if his grandfather and Clarabelle's were contemporaries, it's unlikely that he would be much more than twenty years older than her, putting him--I would assume?--in his fifties.  THIS IS A VITAL QUESTION.

Actually, my experience is that dogs gen'rally set up a mighty racket at any random person, dog, squirrel, or invisible gremlin that they imagine looked at them cock-eyed.  Granted, Pluto's not just any dog, but Mickey's trying to present his reaction as typical here, so.

Ah, the mortgage.  Mort-fuckin'-gage.  Just like in "Pluto the Racer."  I would speculate that this was probably a particular Great-Depression preoccupation for a lot of people, thus explaining its prevalence as a plot point.  The question is, why, at this point, would Squinch think that marrying Clarabelle would even be an option?  With all the cards on the table like this, let's just get down to brass tacks, eh?

Gawd, don't you just want to punch Dippy in his stupid face in comics like this?  Mickey seems to more often succeed in spite of these fuck-ups than he does thanks to any help Dippy provides.

Anyway, that's the first part of the story.  I actually had a dream--this shows how exciting my life is--in which this story was actually two stories, the one being the initial, soapy stuff, and the other being the extended chase sequence.  The latter was still called "Race for Riches;" I think the former had a name, too, but alas, it has vanished like the morning dew.

Regardless, the chase part is pretty feckin' great.  If you wanted to criticize, you could note that it's not exactly tightly-plotted; it's basically one incident after another, and none of them have any impact per se on the ultimate denouement of the story.  But I think it's pretty great the way it does pack in so much incident: 

01. Car fight
02. Airplane fight
03. Stolen car/motorcycle chase
04. Imprisonment
05. Venal Indian (HMM.)
06. Poison spring
07. Narrow canyon
08. Duel
09. Treasure hunt
10. Race back to proto-Mouseton 

There's just so much there there.  I don't necessarily have a lot to say about most of these individually, but you get a helluva bang for your buck.  A few scattered observations:

We recall the dreaded poison spring previously making an appearance in "Bat Bandit."  That's some pretty frightening stuff; I think I would feel pretty darned reluctant to drink from any of them if I knew that at least the two were poisoned.  One can imagine any number of ways that water from them might have contaminated the "good" pool, and who put these signs up, anyway?  Is this person to be trusted?  Also, note that for all that Squinch has more or less been established as a more small-time criminal than most others in the Mousiverse, he's still awfully damn keen to poison Mickey and Horace.  Actually, by the time he teams up with Pete, you could pretty well substitute Shyster for him and the effect would not be very different, aside from losing out on his dialect (which, admittedly, would be a bit of a shame).

It must be said, it looks to me as though ol' Grandpa Durham just liked to make things pointlessly complicated.  Given that there are only, like, three trees in the area, the whole "line the rock up with the mountain" business seems wholly superfluous.

Getting in a gunfight with the baddies.  Again, something you would not see in a contemporary story.

The image of Pete buried here is definitely one of the funniest things in Gottfredson.  Just dig that look on his face.

I also like this conclusion: we're all set up to imagine that, indeed, as Squinch says, her "friends'll come trompin' in at the last minute, like a mellerdrammer:" we've been primed to imagine the story functioning in terms of popular story tropes--so then, when it says, no, actually, our heroes did the sensible thing that one would actually do in real life, we're caught off-guard.  Well done.

'An with that, we segue neatly into "The Pirate Submarine."  For my money, it's an open question as to which of these two stories is the best in the collection.  Gottfredson was certainly at the top of his game for the both of them.



Blogger Chris Barat said...


As enjoyable as this story is, I wonder whether it wouldn't have been even MORE effective had Gottfredson waited a while before springing it on his readership. That way, specific memories of Squinch's actions in the baby elephant story wouldn't have been quite so clear, and Gottfredson might have been able to sell Squinch's supposed "reformation" more easily.

I always wondered about Mickey's expression: "Omigosh, bring me a pill!" in this story. What the heck was that supposed to be referring to? Incipent headache?


September 23, 2012 at 5:57 PM  
Blogger ramapith said...

Chris—yes, incipient headache (I've read it elsewhere).

Geoff: "Seriously, has there ever been a Disney-comics villain who, in a later story, seemed to be reformed and then, in a surprise twist, actually was reformed?"

The Rhyming Man is arguably Gottfredson's most evil bad guy. As a spy/saboteur, his game plan in 1948 was to rub out scores of his enemies via germ warfare, using Eega Beeva's Atombrella to keep himself safe. When his second-in-command objects and tries to commandeer the operation herself, the Rhyming Man chokes her and leaves her for dead.

Yet the Rhyming Man completely reforms in this story and proves himself totally trustworthy: he's with the good guys right through to the finish. I like the idea of a villain reforming, but this just isn't too convincing.

September 23, 2012 at 7:40 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Interesting--I HAVE read that Gottfredson story, and yeah, him suddenly reforming for no apparent reason is pretty clumsy, but hey, A for effort, I guess. Well, maybe something in the B range. Of course, he's come unreformed again in "The World to Come."

I think a good candidate here would be the professors Ecks--after all they were hypnotized to be "good" at the end of the original Gottfredson story, and sure, just hypnosis, it could wear off, but for Mickey, this was clearly meant to be representative of the idea that anyone can change. I see, therefore, a good opportunity for some genuine ambiguity.

September 23, 2012 at 7:49 PM  
Anonymous Duckfan said...

Yes, Race for Riches! I haven't read the story in a while, but this is one of the earliest stories I would call 'mature Gottfredson'. I'm not sure, I haven't actually read Vol 3 yet, and this one and MM Runs His Own Newspaper are the only stories I've read before. (On second thought, Blaggard Castle was really good.) Where do you think 'mature Gottfredson' starts? Anyway, love to Race for Riches!

GeoX, in the unlikely event you have an extraordinate amount of free time on your hands, could you review ALL Gottfredson stories please?

September 24, 2012 at 2:28 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

If any eccentric billionaire out there wants to pay me a living wage to do it, I would be happy to write about Gottfredson stories full-time. :p Barring that, you'll have to accept a representative sampling.

September 24, 2012 at 3:34 PM  

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