Wednesday, December 23, 2015

"The Blight Before Christmas"

Now I've read all of the slew of IDW Christmas stories—an enjoyable pastime for sure, though there's a lot of variation quality-wise. Still and all, though, I am at least glad that there's ONE story that can easily go into the “read every year” rotation. “Glad” might be an understatement, actually; I'm rather dizzy with excitement. It's only the second Italian story to join this company, and after years of no new Christmas stories of any kind, it's pretty great. And I say all this in spite of being fully cognizant that “The Blight Before Christmas” doesn't really hold together as a story all that well. That doesn't matter to me; it has more than enough charm to get itself over regardless.

(Okay, so I must admit I'm not too sure about that title—is it really necessary for absolutely everyone to always, always strain for the pun every single time, whether it's in any way meaningful or not? Gets a bit tedious, I feel.)

I tell ya, that old-school opening splash page that you see in so many vintage Italian stories warms the cockles of my heart. I'm also always happy to see more classic non-Scarpa material—still waiting, Godot-like, for Bottaro, but Carpi's fine too (and let's not forget about our writers, Abramo and Giampaolo Barosso). Of course, like Scarpa's, his characters can sometimes look a little weird (check out Mortie and Ferdie there), but he's a fine artist nonetheless, given to fun little touches like that bird in hat and scarf.

You must forgive me for the poor quality of these images; the Christmas Parade format doesn't really lend itself to effective scanning. One thing I like is the way the story sets up a really nice Christmas atmosphere. Does any of this have much relevance to the overall plot, when it emerges? Well...not exactly. But that's okay! It's still a lot of fun.

Question: do you think maybe, on some level, Scrooge actually enjoys worrying like this? It would be super-easy to just relax a little and realize, I'm super-rich, I'll always be super-rich, it's all good. But that would involve giving up the “striving” aspect of his character that's always been so important. I don't know; something to think about.

Anyway, the story kicks into action when he comes up with this great idea to get his country villa cleaned up for free. It must be admitted, though, that this is the most obvious weakness of the story: once the antagonists show up, the Barossos just completely forget about it.

Considering the source, that note is so comically obvious in its insincerity that you really have to wonder at everyone just uncritically buying it. This story really shovels the characters in; it feels a little gimmicky, I suppose, but it pretty much works. I cannot tell whether that “this isn't Gus Goose, by the way” (which is what that would say if I'd been able to scan the whole thing) was actually in the original, or if it's just for the benefit of particularly clueless newbies. Considering that it's clearly not a goose, it seems superfluous if it's meant to be serious. But a pretty good joke if not! Horace looks quite avuncular in those glasses—a good look for him, I think.

As for Gilbert, a search reveals that this is the first time in this dang ol' blog's history that I have ever had cause to mention him. And for good reason: he's probably the most irritating character in the combined duck/mouse continuum. I'll grant, in theory, that he provides a good opportunity to explore Goofy's character, and his insecurities regarding his intellect, but there really doesn't seem to be that much to be done in that regard. In any event, he's pretty much a nonentity in this story, and doesn't detract from it.

An extra helping of heroes, and villains, too, as we get Pete & Pals AND the Beagles. One thing that must be said about Carpi: he had a lot of trouble with the Beagles, seemingly never quite able to decide how heavy they should be; thus, they fluctuate wildly between “emaciated” and “obese.”

Wait...does Gus talk like that? He doesn't...does he? Since when? Am I losing my mind? What's going on here?!?

Anyway, Scrooge's plan works! Repairs are made! And Gilbert really is useless. All he does is shove these non-sequitur “intellectual” things into every conversation. It shows just how limited as a character he really is.

Turns out Pete & Pals had rented the villa's cottage to lay low after a robbery, and the story abruptly shifts to be about that.

("Ancient Sumerian texts"...oh, screw you.)

One fun thing about the story is that you get unusual pairings of characters, like Gladstone and Ludwig there.

But OH NO! They are captured! Did I say that Morty and Ferdie looked weird at the beginning? Well, get a load of them here.


And the Beagles show up to see what's what, but they quickly get a faceful of REDEMPTIVE HOLIDAY VIOLENCE. I suppose I must concede that on some level it is a bit sexist that the women are the ones always using domestic implements here, but...well, it's still a hell of a lot of fun. What can I say?

AND MORE! You've gotta love this climax. The way Mickey and Donald glance conspiratorially at one another before hurling the pies is great, as is all the action in the bottom part. I particularly like the way Scrooge isn't necessarily contributing to the proceedings beyond just hopping up and down in rage.

Given that THAT IS NOT THE LAW, I have to wonder: what percentage of Gladstone's “luck” is just him making shit up knowing that his relatives are going to buy it uncritically?  In any case, this is a very perfunctory "something lucky has to happen to him!" moment.

Good ending, with the baddies compelled to sing in the police choir. The stunned looks on their faces are great. I can't help but note that they are “singing” A Visit from St. Nicholas, which is not actually a song. I mean, obviously I get that that was chosen as an appropriate “ending” line, but as a big ol' Christmas music nerd, I can't help but cavil. CAVIL, I say!

I like Clarabelle playing the piano, but where's Horace? The last we see of him is when he's “swat!”ing Scuttle in the image above. I certainly don't object to Gilbert's absence, though the appearance of a thoroughly deranged-looking Pluto just serves to remind us that the dog was notably absent until now.

So there you have it: “The Blight Before Christmas.” Yes, the plotting isn't very organized, and no, it doesn't use all the characters it introduces very well—but I find it to be a resounding success in spite of these problems. It leaves me feeling FESTIVE AS FUCK, and isn't that what it's all about?

Another story on Christmas Day! If you know a li'l something about US publication history, you should easily be able to guess what it is.

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Blogger Achille Talon said...

For once, that's one story I already knew, thanks to it having been printed in France too. Good review as usual.

By the way… "all the roads from here to Spoonerville": Goof Troop reference ?! I'm in front of a dilemma. On one hand, it's 100 % certain that this was not in the original version, so I'm supposed to be against it and to a certaine extent I am. On the other hand, it's the kind of reference I like, thanks to the extensive headcanon I already told you about. Also, it seem like Pete is the perfect character for throwing in reference to Disney Afternoon location (as this: tends to suggests). Pretty likely that the same translato… er, scripter is at work on both panels. Any clue of who that might be ?

December 23, 2015 at 4:27 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Ha! I totally missed the reference in question. Good times. I believe our writer here would be Jonathan Gray.

December 23, 2015 at 4:40 PM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

It's been years sine I read a story involving Gilbert. All I remember about him is that hes very intellectual and frankly, a very boring character. What I didn't remember is him being this much of a [pardon my ancient Sumerian] dick :( especially to other kids :( I think the reason why he isn't in the last panel is because he got on Santa naughty list for being such smart know it all and as a result got taken away in Santa's naughty sack FOREVER and helpfully we shall never see him again.

And yes GeoX - that fight scene is epic! ^_^ I wish we would get more of these on daily bases...

December 23, 2015 at 4:44 PM  
Blogger ramapith said...

"This isn't Gus, by the way": intended gag from—yes, Jon Gray.

Jon's dialect for Gus mimics the way he spoke in the early 1950s Western Publishing Grandma Duck stories: kinda Goofyish, but a little less mature-Goof and a little more Dippy (or a little more basic hayseed).

Odd-looking mouse nephews are actually an excellent mimic of how Manuel Gonzales drew them in Sunday strips at exactly this time. (Quite a few Italian artists spent years imitating what were then very common US newspaper strip models.)

December 23, 2015 at 7:27 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

I did like the fact that the women kayo the Beagles, stereotypical means notwithstanding. At least they fight effectively and don't just stand by.

Is it at all possible that something like the finder's fee Gladstone mentions *was* the law in Italy?

@Pan--unfortunately, Santa does not stuff the bad children into his sack and take them away forever. At worst, he leaves them a lump of coal. I know Sinterklaas (or his "helper") does stuff the bad kids in the sack etc.--maybe Santa also does this in other countries, but not in the US of A. So we're stuck with Gilbert, no matter how obnoxious he may be.

December 23, 2015 at 9:10 PM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

No offense but sounds like American Santa got soft. I'll bet he doesn't even hang around with the Krampus...

Huh! I just did research and we do in fact have a finder's fee law in Poland (10%) Until this day I amuse it's just a good custom, but nope it actually states in the law codex... so maybe It's normal in all of the Europe as well?

December 23, 2015 at 9:59 PM  
Blogger ramapith said...

Elaine: it's interesting how stereotypical imagery changes from country to country. 1940s women's hats are still worn in European Duckburg and perceived as a Duckburg style, not a real-life one. A rolling pin, meanwhile, can be popularly remembered less as a feminine weapon than as a Disney weapon: witness this story, in which the artist was asked to show Grandma in one battle and Donald in another: the script only asked for Grandma to wield a rolling pin, but as drawn, Donald got two (!) of his own.

December 24, 2015 at 1:09 AM  
Anonymous D. J. Neyer said...

Coming to this late, but I'd like to point out that former Pooch Park racing judge Timothy Shoebuckle seems to now be working for Scrooge; note both the name and appearance of the clerk who Scrooge intimidates in the fourth picture excerpt. I guess that, although Mickey and Pluto saved his house for him, he didn't get his job back at the Park, and had to go to work for McDuck ("What a life," as Mickey would say).

I wonder if the Shoebuckle name in the original script, or if the translator notice the clerk's resemblance to Shoebuckle and add the name?

January 11, 2016 at 11:24 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Hey, cool. A translation thing, I'd say. You don't tend to get references like that in Italian stories.

January 12, 2016 at 2:14 AM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

I can't say for sure for this story, but even though continuity references are few and far between in Italian comics, characters popping up in story, even if they weren't that notable in their debut appearance, is a common occurence; the writers just stick them in if they like them.

For instance, for no apparent reason, Lah Deeh Daah from Barks's "Tralla La" story was used in one of the "historical lookalikes of the Ducks" stories as the Ambassador from Cathay. For some reason.

January 23, 2016 at 10:42 AM  

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