It’s that time of year again!
This year’s classic Christmas comic comes to us from DC—specifically, Teen Titans #13 (Feb. 1968), featuring a re-telling of Dickens’s Christmas Carol. What makes this one fun is they really make no effort to disguise the fact that they’re doing a re-telling. In place of Ebenezer Scrooge, Bob Cratchit, and Tiny Tim, we get Ebenezer Scrounge, Bob Ratchet, Tiny Tom, respectively.
How self aware is this comic? It starts with the gang indulging in some leisure reading (yeah, this story is really old, in case you couldn’t tell). Aqualad, Kid Flash, and Wonder Chick… er, Wonder Girl… are reading comics, while Robin, the perennial square, is reading Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.
“But that story’s definitely ungroovy these days!” Wonder Girl admonishes. “Who could believe in such uncool characters as Scrooge– or Bob Cratchit– all that old jazz?”
“Oh, I guess you’re right, Wonder Chick!” Robin relents as he picks up a Batman comic. “How about this mag?”
“Now you’re groovin’, good-looking!”
Then our omniscient narrator chimes in: “Yes, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is just a dusty, corny old classic– and like it couldn’t happen today– or could it? In this Christmas of 1967, are things and people– the spirit of the season– really any different than they ever were? Read on, titanic ones, and all shall be most wondrously revealed!”
At this point the scene shifts to the Junk-o-Rama, where we are introduced to Mr. Scrounge, Bob Ratchet, and Ratchet’s son, the wheelchair-bound Tom. Things kick into second gear when Tom happens to overhear Scrounge making a deal with Mr. Big, a smuggler. Big’s got this device that turns brand new, imported goods into junk (seemingly), which he then ships stateside via Scrounge’s junk business. It’s an overly-elaborate, duty-free smuggling scam. When Tom can’t convince his father to notify the police, he turns to the Titans. And after a brief run-in with Scrounge and his former business partner Jacob Farley, the Titans finally pick up on the Dickens similarities.
The teens are thus inspired to pull the three ghosts routine on Scrounge to get him to ‘fess up and turn on Mr. Big. Wonder Girl, posing as Christmas Future, is performing her part of the act on Scrounge in the junkyard when Mr. Big and his men show up. Big then activates the “junk tree”—a “trap for catching trespassers” that sucks them into this pile of junk. Some how it affects the Titans and only the Titans.
Once Tiny Tom falls into the clutches of Big and his goons, however, Scrounge turns on Big and releases the Titans from the trap. The bad guys get corralled fairly quickly after this. Scrounge has repented, obviously, and uses Mr. Big’s junk transformer to turn some old junk into a new electric wheelchair—made out of gold, seemingly—for Tom.
“Hey, Robin-o,” Aqualad asks, “how could anyone have as marv a Christmas as we are?”
“Let’s let Tiny Tom answer that!” Robin responds.
“Check, Titans!” Tom declares. “Best wishes to all– for a swinging and groovy new year… and God Bless us every one!”
Eye of the Beholder
This is a rather slight tale, of course, and it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but there’s one aspect of it that I don’t think anyone will dispute: the Nick Cardy art is beautiful. This raises a somewhat timely issue.
Several months back, there was a bit of a Twitter storm over someone describing the art of Jack Kirby as “bad.” This calls to mind the old legend about how the brain trust at DC reacted to the early success of Marvel back in the sixties. The one thing they could not figure (at least according to the legend) was how kids could possibly like the art of Kirby and Ditko, which they found to be terrible—and certainly nowhere near the quality of work of their own stable of artists.
Now we all know how great Kirby and Ditko were. Their art was bold, overflowing with imagination and creativity, and practically leapt off the page at you. But was it pretty? Probably not by conventional standards, no. Most of us have been immersed in their work for a good portion of our lives at this point, and are quite fluent in the “language” of their styles, but how did it strike you when you first saw it? I think for most us (and certainly for me), it took us a while to truly “get it.”
Now look at the work of Nick Cardy. It’s not going to take any time at all to “get” his artwork. It’s simply gorgeous—by any standards, conventional or otherwise. Even by design standards, just look at the cover of the issue I’m discussing here today, how it flows down from top to bottom in an almost spellbinding fashion. I love Jack Kirby and I love Steve Ditko, but I also love Nick Cardy. His work is just amazing.
For anyone who wants to peruse more of his eye-popping cover work, click here—consider this my holiday gift to you this year. I would like to wish everyone out there a happy and safe holiday season. And above all else, stay groovy.