Sunday, December 04, 2016

“More of Gravy than of Grave” | Marvel Classic Comics #36 (1978)



Index of other entries in The Christmas Carol Project

Marvel's version does what I expected with the knocker-to-face transition. It's a knocker in one panel, Marley's face in the next, then a knocker again in the third. Nicely done.

Scrooge is visibly shaken, as in Dickens. But this version of Scrooge is already mentally unstable, and the effect of the ghostly knocker feels especially dangerous. The text mentions the width of the staircase and says that its size "is perhaps why Scrooge thought he saw a phantom hearse going up before him into the gloom." That's right out of Dickens, but then writer Doug Moench adds sinisterly, "And perhaps not."

Grammatically, "perhaps not" doesn't refer to Scrooge's seeing the hearse; it refers to why he saw it. And he clearly does see it, if we're to believe the art in that panel, which shows the sickly yellow hearse ascending the stairs. In Dickens, it's pretty clear that fear is playing tricks on Scrooge's mind, but the comic removes all doubt about what Scrooge is seeing and then directly questions Scrooge's mental state. Dickens claims that "Scrooge had not bestowed one thought on Marley since his last mention of his seven-year's dead partner that afternoon," but if we accept the theory that Marvel's Scrooge is already somewhat unhinged, then it's not hard to imagine that being reminded of Marley by the solicitors may have done something to Scrooge. It's possible, then, that Marley's ghost is exactly what Scrooge is going to claim it is: an hallucination.

On the other hand, Scrooge's seeing ghostly carriages doesn't mean that he's not also being visited by a real ghost. It's also possible that Marley really did appear at the knocker, but his appearance snapped something in Scrooge and made him imagine the hearse. Moench allows that possibility in the next panel, when he adds that the darkness was "hardly the sort of lighting in which you'd trust your eyes." As much as I like the possibility that Scrooge's redemption is all the result of his own, damaged mind, that's clearly not what Moench and Company are actually going for. So I'm going to stick with my theory that Scrooge is ill, but accept that supernatural forces are working to heal him.

Upstairs, Moench's text mentions Scrooge's "meager" fire, but - as usual for this comic - the art contradicts the text and shows a roaring blaze (long before Marley's ghost has a supernatural effect on it). The fireplace does have tiles in which Scrooge imagines Marley's face, but they're introduced very abruptly and confusingly, with no mention of what they are or that they depict Biblical scenes.

When Marley does show up, he's definitely transparent and colored a similar yellow to the phantom hearse from earlier. The artist of this scene must not have ever seen another Christmas Carol adaptation though, because he wrongly draws Marley's bandage around the ghost's neck like a scarf. Which makes no sense when Marley does eventually pull it off and his jaw drops open to an unnatural degree. I guess the bandage was supposed to be holding the jaw up from the bottom instead of tying it to the top of Marley's head?

Moench pulls a lot of text right from Dickens, so he also makes it clear that Scrooge's humor in this scene is all about "merely trying to keep down his terror." That fits with what we've seen of this Scrooge so far. Unlike some other versions, there's been no levity in Marvel's Scrooge. And terror is certainly what Scrooge seems to be experiencing all through Marley's visit. He's angry for a bit when he's trying to convince himself that Marley is an hallucination, but mostly he's just terribly, terribly scared. As in Dickens, Marley's purpose is simply to frighten Scrooge into acknowledging that he might need to change. But Scrooge is neither convinced that he can nor determined to try.

Faithful to Dickens, this Marley puts the coming ghosts on a three-night schedule. Then he steps out of Scrooge's window to join a mist-obscured host of fellow phantoms. There's a panel where they're all trying to help a young mother, but weirdly, her need isn't food and warmth, but assistance with with her baby carriage that's overturned and tossed its contents out on its little, blonde head.

Alone again, Scrooge is still visibly shaken. In Dickens, he only gets the first syllable of "humbug" out. In Marvel, he's able to complete the word, but he's clearly not feeling confident about it.

1 comment:

Caffeinated Joe said...

Seems like this comic has some contradictions between the text and the illustrations. Wonder if the artist went by Dickens' work alone and then the writers take on the text was just added in where it belongs.

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