Friday, December 09, 2011
Old Sinner: Teen Titans (1968)
Though my original intention was to stick to more-or-less faithful adaptations of A Christmas Carol instead of spoofs or homages, this one's so ridiculously goofy that I'm adding it for kicks. It opens with the Teen Titans (still just Robin, Wonder Girl, Aqualad, and Kid Flash at this point) sitting around their clubhouse and reading. Most of them have comics about their adult partners, but Robin's enjoying A Christmas Carol, something that he gets grief for from his pals, Wonder Girl in particular. "That story's definitely ungroovy these days!" she says. "Who could believe in such uncool characters as Scrooge - or Bob Cratchit - all that old jazz?" Man, that Bob Haney could write some dialogue, eh, Daddy-o?
Robin caves to peer pressure and puts Dickens away in favor of the latest issue of Batman. Meanwhile, across town at a private junkyard (awesomely named Junk-O-Rama), proprietor Ebenezer Scrounge is arguing with his employee Bob Ratchet over the setting on the thermostat.
I tell you, if Haney's version of hep-talk was enough to make me rethink reading these stories (au contraire, it's so not), Nick Cardy's art would be enough to keep me around. Junk-O-Rama is a snow-covered playground of lost treasures that looks like it was designed by Tim Burton. The office, for instance, is in an old school bus with a functional smokestack sticking out of the side.
After Scrounge and Ratchet argue about the heat, they start in on whether or not Ratchet gets Christmas off the next day. Since this is happening at the same time as the Titans' earlier conversation, it means that Wonder Girl, Aqualad, and Kid Flash were making fun of Robin for reading A Christmas Carol ... ON CHRISTMAS EVE! Who's your Scrooge now, you little punks?
Back to Scrounge and Ratchet though, if we're going to analyze them in the same way we have the other versions, Scrounge looks positively wicked. He's younger than Scrooge is usually depicted and has huge, pointed eyebrows and a hairstyle that suggests devil horns. Surprisingly, he's gentler on his employee than Scrooge usually is, going so far to address Ratchet as "my good fellow."
Not that their relationship is equitable or even pleasant. When Ratchet complains, he whines like a child pleading with his parent. "Couldn't we turn up the heat a little?" "But everyone celebrates Christmas!" And like a child, he's stronger in his objections when he's thinking to himself than when he addresses his boss.
Scrounge finally relents on the whole day-off thing as long as Ratchet gets all his work done before he leaves for the night. In fact, he's eager to get Ratchet out of the office and lets him leave early. As we quickly find out, Scrounge is up to something illegal and doesn't want Ratchet to know about it. This is a major departure from Dickens, but since it's a Teen Titans comic first and a Christmas Carol adaptation second, we're going to need some criminal activity to get the heroes involved.
What's going on is that Scrounge is leasing out part of the junkyard to smugglers. It's a crazy operation in which the smugglers import duty-free junk from overseas and then use a fancy ray gun to make it brand-new so they can sell it for a hefty profit. Of course, they could save themselves some shipping costs by just turning the junk already in Scrounge's yard into new items (or better yet, patent the technology and live comfortably off the profits), but that's not brought up. Ladies and Gentlemen: Bob Haney.
Unfortunately for the crooks, Ratchet's wheelchair-bound son Tiny Tom has come to the junkyard to visit his dad (not realizing that he's gone home early) and learns about the scheme. Tom tells Ratchet, who confronts Scrounge, who - no surprise - doesn't really care as long as the smugglers keep paying him. In fact, he threatens to fire Ratchet if he goes to the police about it and decides that Ratchet does have to work Christmas Day so that Scrounge can keep an eye on him.
We learn that Ratchet's a widower with no other kids to clutter up the story. He needs his job in order to buy an electric wheelchair for Tom, so he agrees to abide by Scrounge's decision. Tom, on the other hand, knows who he can go to without involving the police: The Teen Titans!
Tom comes back with the Titans a little later and they find the smugglers still there. Before they can catch the bad guys transforming the junk though, the villains are startled by another person in the junkyard. They fight the shadowy figure, but he beats them up and sends them running for their truck. With no evidence of any wrong-doing, the Titans and Tom decide to follow the stranger instead. He leads them to Scrounge's house.
Which is where we'll stop for this post. There are no nephews or charitable solicitors in this version, so it'll be a couple of years before we come back to it. Suffice to say that the shadowy stranger is a stand-in for a Dickens character, so we'll pick up this version again once the other versions have had a chance to catch up.