Tuesday, December 04, 2018

“I Was a Boy Here!” | Marvel Classic Comics #36 (1978)



Never a publisher to pass up a chance for exciting action, Marvel's adaptation has the Ghost of Christmas Past whisk Scrooge out the window for a super-powered flight over the city and into the countryside (with Scrooge showing entirely too much thigh for me in one panel, but maybe that's your thing).

My read on Marvel's Scrooge is that he's legitimately mentally ill, but that the ghosts are real and are trying to help him heal. His severe mood changes from his office reassert themselves in this scene so that he does experience the full joy of seeing his childhood companions again, but also the full despair (complete with visual sobbing) of re-experiencing his childhood loneliness. He's also hearing voices that aren't there. The Ghost's line about the "solitary child neglected by his friends" is given to a caption box, so no one is saying it aloud, but Scrooge responds anyway with, "Yes... I know," before breaking down into tears.

Scrooge is running the gamut of emotions in this scene and it appears to unhinge him even more. It adds a scary, but fascinating element to Scrooge's vision of the literary characters and his insistence (right out of Dickens) that "one Christmastime when I was left here all alone, Ali Baba did come -- just like that!" Is this the moment when Scrooge snapped?

Marvel takes out some of the lesser known literary friends from Dickens and replaces them with Aladdin and his genie (while explicitly showing that Scrooge is reading 1001 Arabian Nights). As the visions conclude, Scrooge explains that he had been "left all alone to manufacture his own Christmas joy." This isn't from Dickens, so I give it extra meaning in describing the mental state of Marvel's Scrooge. This is no random Christmas plucked from Scrooge's childhood. This is the one that broke him.

Something I like is that writer Doug Moench doesn't try to blame this on Scrooge's schoolmates. The description of them is right out of Dickens, which means that we can take the word "friends" seriously and understand their neglect of Scrooge to be without malice. We don't see any interaction between Scrooge and the other kids, so it's possible to read it either way, but I prefer the idea that Scrooge's profound loneliness is the product of thoughtlessness rather than deliberate ill-will. Not that this makes it any better. If anything, it's a challenge for us to always be on the lookout for people who feel excluded so that we can welcome and draw them in.

Marvel doesn't spell out the condition of the school, but does mention after the time jump that it's "a little darker and more dirty" than it was before, implying that the school's administrators aren't keeping it up very well. This could be another form of neglect as easily as it could be evidence that Scrooge comes from a poor family. It might not be that this is the best Scrooge's father can afford. Maybe it's all he cares to give the poor kid.

Fan does mention their father. Her dialogue is pretty faithful to Dickens, so she says that Father is kinder now and that he considers Scrooge old enough to leave the school. Like Dickens, she also implies that the trip home isn't permanent: "You're to be a man! But first, we'll be together all Christmas long and have the merriest time in all the world!" That's all we know. There's no suggestion about why Scrooge's dad has been unkind in the past.

Fan is younger than Scrooge, but not by much. Like the Classics Illustrated version, she looks to be in her early teens. Possibly a bit older. And unlike Dickens, she's driven the coach herself to the school. There's no postboy (or schoolmaster) in the scene. Scrooge just gets in the carriage with her and leaves.

There's also no mention of how Fan dies, just that she does. Which may be what Scrooge is thinking about when a final caption tells us, "Although they had just emerged from the school, Scrooge felt an uneasiness of the mind." That's a paraphrased line from Dickens where it refers to Scrooge's thoughts about Fred. In Dickens, Scrooge's memories of Fan is causing him to regret how he's treated her son. This is less clear in Marvel though, and "uneasiness of the mind" only further solidifies my reading of Scrooge as needing mental healing, having re-witnessed the events that disturbed him in the first place.

2 comments:

Caffeinated Joe said...

If that is the year Scrooge snapped and headed down the path that led him to be who he becomes, it must have made that first Christmas home with Fan and their father interesting. Scrooge must have been back and forth in his mood swings.

Michael May said...

Ha! I want to read that fan fiction!

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