Tuesday, September 25, 2012

"The Pirate Submarine"

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

Then cut down her uncle, he was painted red and green
Just as she was kidnapped in the pirate submarine

…is what I always think when I hear that title.  But that is neither here nor there.  What IS here and/or there is that we have an exciting story here, albeit one in which I question a few of the plot points.  Okay, so what else is new?

Now, this wouldn't have been a problem for people reading the story in newspapers in real time, but if there were actually some level of desire to keep the identity of the MYSTERIOUS "S" secret, probably maybe entitling it "The Pirate Submarine" wasn't the all-time greatest decision.

This IS a cool mystery, no doubt about it.  But when you get further along in the story, you start to question it.  As in: let's overlook the rather obvious logistical impossibility of Dr. Vulter's world-taking-over plan.  Instead let's look at aspects of it that are entirely within his control, and ask ourselves: why would he possibly just let the ships themselves go, as opposed to salvaging them for raw materials?  Slave labor is great and all, but if he's really going to muster a world-beating army, he's going to need a hell of a lot of additional infrastructure, and since he's completely isolated his island base, the only way to get that is going to be through salvage.  So…?

Hey, Gloomy from "The Mail Pilot" is back!  Huzzah!  Note Jughead hat, which seems to make sense, if it's true that mechanics were the first people to wear such things.  Oh the thinks you can think!

If I recall aright--correct me if I'm wrong--Dave Gerstein told me that in Denmark, Gloomy was presented as Goofy's cousin.  Which actually makes a good bit of sense, when you think about it: there's certainly some resemblance, and the whole "named after personality traits that start with 'G,' end in 'Y,' and include double 'O's" business would seem to suggest a connection.  I like the guy, and I like the fact that at one time you could team Mickey up with any number of people--Horace, Minnie, Dippy, Gloomy.  Now, it's almost always just Goofy, which seems to me a shame.

Vulter is definitely imposing-looking in a fascist kind of way.  Is he explicitly based on Mussolini, does anyone know?  Historically, it would've made sense, and his simian countenance is definitely reminiscent of Il Duce (as the intro notes, he also seems to anticipate yer Bond villains).  He doesn't get a huge amount of face time, but he certainly makes an impression when he's about.  Probably a good thing that he never really became a prominent villain in the Mousiverse; his potency could wear down quite speedily like that--as, frankly, the Phantom Blot's has.

This is just cool.  The big thing I wish this story had that it doesn't is some exploration of just how this little society functions.  There must clearly be a pretty substantial non-slave population to keep the slaves in check, but how is the place regimented?  How much freedom does anyone have?  Surely there must be some sort of economic system, so what's it like?  These questions and more, never to be answered.

Still, the whole scenario, in which it is necessary to escape a seemingly impossible situation, is really, really well-done.  As Walt Disney hisself noted, "the suspense is swell."  I don't know about this "not a piece o' sendin' apparatus," though--I can imagine all sorts of practical problems with that.

The plotting is just so clever--all this fun spy stuff.

…and then there's this, which, alas, turns out to be a narrative cul de sac: sure, Mickey serves as a waiter, but we never actually see him having to be a taster.  I'm trying to envision how all these people who hate the shit out of Vulter would get this poison into his food in the first place, and not having a lot of luck.  Just another of the island's mysteries!

So much skulking around!  Here, I just want to point out that Gloomy bayonetted a guy to death and took his stuff.  Really.  That's why they couldn't show the scene: it was too gruesome.  This one guy I know has a cousin who told me that.  You know--the one who works down at the docks?

And then all this elaborate escape stuff, complete with underwater blowtorching--superior quality!  Goshdarn.

Well whaddaya know--it appears that this little series is now concluded.  Better late than never!  Next time: a thing that is different than the things of the previous time.  Whuh?



Blogger ramapith said...

Mickey not getting to actually be a taster always struck me as the story's great oversight. I can think of half a dozen ways that could have gone. (Maybe he secretly spits out his test mouthful; then throws a fit pretending to be poisoned, gets taken to an infirmary, then escapes to do some more spying while everyone thinks he's out of action. Then he learns, unexpectedly, that it's a good thing he spit out that mouthful—because it really was poisoned.)

September 26, 2012 at 12:26 AM  
Blogger Christopher said...

I've read the Best Comics anthology version of this story, and apparently it's been edited. There is no mention of food tasting and death by poison in the version I read, nor is there the "Gloomy bayonets a guy" scene.

September 26, 2012 at 2:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...




September 27, 2012 at 6:28 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...


September 27, 2012 at 6:46 PM  
Blogger ramapith said...

Thanks, Thad (!!!!!). I'm just guessing it's you.

September 28, 2012 at 1:41 AM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

I said this way back in a Gladstone letter column after they ran “The Pirate Submarine”, and I’ll repeat it here.

Perhaps my favorite vehicle in all of fiction is the Flying Sub from VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA.

This small two-to-four man craft would drop out of the nose of the vast Submarine Seaview, traveling beneath the waves or soaring above the clouds, propelling the protagonists of the show into fantastic adventure! It was a visual effect unparalleled in the television productions of its day.

Later discovering the “submarplane”, in Gottfredson’s “The Pirate Submarine”, its fun to consider that Mickey Mouse did it first! …Albeit closer in conception to what such a craft “might have looked like” in the ‘30s (more plane-based) than the sleek saucer-like craft of the ‘60s.

September 29, 2012 at 8:07 AM  

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