Friday, December 16, 2011

Old Sinner: Marvel Classics Comics (1978)

What made me think of Classics Illustrated yesterday was getting ready to talk about Marvel Classics Comics #36 from 1978. Marvel Classics was basically their version of Classics Illustrated with each issue adapting a different piece of literature from a wide variety of genres. They covered Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to Black Beauty and The Iliad. The Christmas Carol issue happens to be the last in the series, but we won't let that give us a complex. If you want to read along, Diversions of the Groovy Kind has great scans of the entire issue.

The '70s were an exciting time for Marvel's readers with the publisher's exploring a bunch of new genres outside of superhero stories. But whether the genre was horror, kung fu, or blaxploitation, Marvel always managed to put a superhero twist to it. The result was heroes like Ghost Rider, Shang Chi, and Luke Cage. And while we shouldn't expect to see Scrooge crossing paths with Captain America or Man-Thing in this adaptation, I'm curious to see how much of Marvel's familiar style affects their interpretation of the story.

Scripted by Doug Moench and illustrated by various artists, it begins with a splash page showing Scrooge in bed; surrounded by the three Spirits. The text presents the "old sinner" description followed by the tease, "Then he met the Spirit." I'm reminded of The Stingiest Man in Town, which used a similar device to excite its presumably younger audience.

The story proper starts on the following page. In the first panel, Marley's coffin is lowered into the ground (shown from inside the grave, because it's visually more exciting) as the text informs us of Marley's death and his business relationship with Scrooge. It also borrows straight from Dickens the bit about Scrooge's being Marley's sole everything.

The next panel then has Scrooge leaving his counting house where "Scrooge & Marley" is clearly seen. Moench points this out in the text, adding the detail that at Marley's funeral Scrooge vowed to leave Marley's name on the sign, a scene we'll actually get to see in Patrick Stewart's version. When Stewart does it, it brings a sentimental element to Scrooge, but here it just makes him look foolish. Moench writes that Scrooge "solemnized" Marley's funeral by pledging to leave the sign alone, but since we don't get too see it, there's no reason to believe that he's serious. In the rest of the text, Moench follows Dickens' lead in mocking Scrooge, so while leaving the sign unchanged is a conscious decision of Scrooge's (in most versions, he seems to just not think about it), the only emotion attached to it is greed.

Scrooge is drawn younger than usual in this version. Maybe it's a coloring error, but there's a hint of blonde in Scrooge's hair. He's certainly grumpy and serious, but instead of looking elderly, he could be in his late middle-years. I'm not sure how this could affect the characterization, but we'll keep an eye on it.

The first page ends with Scrooge's walking through the streets of London as the text informs us that he's just as miserable as Marley was. A man on the street glares judgmentally at Scrooge as he passes.

Page two opens with another street scene, but without Scrooge. As a result, the people look a lot happier. Unfortunately, the relationship between art and text gets very sloppy here. Though there are no visible decorations or any sign of snow we're told that it's Christmas Eve and that the weather is cold, bleak, and biting. We're also informed that there is fog when there isn't any. The art in the next panel matches the text better, but goes too far the other direction. Moench lets us know that "Scrooge sat busy in his counting house" and sure enough, he is. I have to remember that I'm not reviewing this for the proficiency of its storytelling, but so far, it's pretty dismal.

Inside the counting house, we find Scrooge and his clerk working. There's also a quick panel of the clerk's trying to add some more coal to his fire. When I covered Dickens' text for this scene, I cut it off just before the coal argument, because I was trying to get just the introduction to Scrooge's character. In next year's section, Dickens goes inside the counting-house and the story actually begins, so I planned to include that with the opening scene of the nephew's arrival. Of course, movies and comics don't have the luxury of an introductory section, so they use the coal argument to show what Dickens spends several paragraphs telling us. The coal argument is often the only intro to Scrooge's personality that we get. Because of that, I should have included it in this year's discussion of the text. Next year I'll have to come back and cover some of these coal arguments again once we've had a chance to look closely at what Dickens wrote about them.

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