Thursday, June 26, 2008

Super Mom

In honour of the 70th anniversary of the appearance of the Superman character in comic books, Mystery Hoard presents the first in a series of reflections on the Superman influence in comics.

"Richie Rich, the Poor Little Rich Boy in Super Mom"
Richie Rich Millions #45
January 1971




I bought this comic as part of a small Mystery Hoard at a local antique mall. Antique malls are an interesting source of Hoards --it is rare to find a large selection of comics in such places. Rather, small collections are usually offered by individual dealers, as found, more or less in the beat up, random state they were discovered at an estate sale or auction. I suspect this is the situation under which I found a small selection of Harvey Comics titles recently, as I browsed through the mall, with one eye peeled for old Little Dot comics. The Dot comics were intended as a joke birthday gift for a relative who had fond memories of the character from childhood. Imagine my pleasure, then, when I discovered this collection, which contained among other things an issue of Little Dot's Uncles and Aunts. As well, the collection contained this issue of Richie Rich Millions, featuring the titular character and a hodgepodge of his fellow Harvey "stars" like Little Lotta, Dot, and Wendy, the Good Little Witch.

Every Richie Rich story is the story of hyper-capitalism gone wrong. Richie, "the poor little rich boy," is the freakish, hypercephalic hero of a fantasy world that combines the kid adventure scenarios of Little Lulu and Casper with a nightmarish, Dick Sprang-like parody of Scrooge McDuck-style wealth. In Richie's world, people fly around in solid gold helicopters and eat off of disposable dishes made of giant diamonds. Parodied successfully in Dan Clowes' wonderful "Playful Obsession" strip of some years back, these stories represent a childish or pre-capitalist conception of wealth and power: the child reader for whom 25 cents represents a small fortune sees in the "money to burn" universe of Richie Rich a reflection of their own dream of mobility, power and adulthood.



"Super Mom" is a typical Richie Rich outing in that it involves the core members of the Rich clan, including Richie's father and mother (missing is the family butler Cadbury) in a short adventure that takes place in the Rich mansion. The story combines the standard Richie Rich plot device of staggering displays of cartoon wealth with a minor mystery and a punchline "payoff", also involving a joke on wealth or money. Where this story deviates from the norm is in its Oedipal theme and in the presence of the superhero plot device.

Richie's opening salutation to his mother, who is clad in a supergirl costume for a costume party, reads like dialog out of an adult film and we can't help but notice along with Richie, perhaps for the first time, that the voluptuous curves of Mrs. Rich do seem to lend themselves to the wearing of superhero tights (and that Richie's thick-ankled go-go boots look much more fetching on a woman). Nor can we help but notice the impish glee Richie evinces at the sight of his mother's rapidly retreating, yet still magnificent, blue bikini-clad buttocks.



While the creepiness of Richie Rich is legendary, the sexual aspect of the character is the least often acknowledged, although the obvious phallic nature of his monumental obsessions and his overcompensating, moronic displays of wealth and gestures of charity all combine to form a picture of Freudian perversion.



The essential plot of "Super Mom" is similar to typical mystery stories involving iterations of the classic Superman and Superboy characters. Very often, members of the Superman family would develop superpowers or engage in what appear to be superheroic feats, only to have the hero figure out that there is a completely logical explanation. Thus, Ma Kent might be compelled to act as a costumed bankrobber until Superboy figures out she is being controlled by gangsters, etc. In a sense, this Scooby-Doo style plot is the basic premise of most children's mystery comics.



Although Richie was to appear as a superhero in later adventures, this seems to be the only instance of his mother exhibiting super-powers. Her abilities are never mentioned again, even after, in the story's denouement, it is revealed that she has developed super-strength through the constant, life-long wearing of heavy jewelry (were children ever amused by this?).