Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, April 28, 2017


Mary Worth by Allen Saunders and Ken Ernst (1963)
Astro Boy, Book 2 by Osamu Tezuka (2002)

A New York real estate/bankrupcy tysoon started his political career by questioning comic strip character Mary Worth's background and demanding to see her birth certificate.  No.  Wait.  I'm thinking of someone else...Better start over.

Ah, Mary Worth...dispenser of common sense and defender of old-fashioned values.  And, yes, there is some disagreement about her origin.  She began, some said, as the title character in Martha Orr's 1932 comic strip Apple Mary, in which a kindly old lady sold apples and gave advice.  As early as 1935, Orr's strip revealed that her character's full name was Mary Worth.  Allen Saunders took over the writing of the strip in 1939 and the title soon changed to Apple Mary:  Mary Worth's Family.  Fairly quickly, Apple Mary title was dropped in favor of the subtitle Mary Worth's Family.  gone was the apple cart and the character shed pounds and age lines to become Mary Worth, the kindly widow of Wall Street tycoon Jack Worth.  King Features, which syndicated the strip, however, apparently wanted to distance itself from the apple cart image, insisting that Mary Worth began in 1938 and was created by Saunders; the character was loosely -- very loosely -- based on the apple seller.  Mary Worth was a "replacement feature," with the only thing in common with Apple Mary was the character's name.  That's their story and they are sticking to it.  Allen Saunders (who should know) has written that the two characters are one and the same.

Whatever her origins, Mary Worth has been going strong ever since.  While selling apples, the strip focused on her.  Under Saunders, the strip became a soap opera with individual story arcs where Mary bided her time in the background, dispensing advice as needed.

I was never a Mary Worth fan and my only first-hand knowledge of the strip comes from this book -- the first to feature her (although have been several other compilations published since).  This Dell paperback contains three story arcs from the late 1950s.  The stories are products of their times.  Young women long for marriage and appear to be in satisfying relationships.  Another woman, usually blonde and attractive, sets her sights on the man in question.  The man takes the bait, devastating the woman who truly loves him.  Mary's advice falls like a gentle rain on the parched landscape of disruptive relationships.  All ends well and Mary moves on to poke her nose into other people's business.

In the first story, glamorous television star Misty Meadows returns to her home town of Jennings, Ohio, as a publicity stunt.  There, she reconnects with her high school flame, Bronk Clay, football star -- although now he is known as Bronson Clay, the dedicated principal of Jennings High School.  Clay is in love with the school's Latin teacher, Elaine Finch, and hopes to marry her.  Misty decides to rekindle the flame.  Clay falls into her trap.  (In the Mary Worth universe, it seems that all men are weak-willed and gullible.)   Mary Worth happens to be visiting the next door neighbor of Misty's aunt   (The aunt is well-known locally for her gooseberry pies and her home made cookies are better than Mary's.  Not that that has anything to do with the story.)  Mary and Misty's aunt try to convince her that life in a small town with Clay would be dull and unfulfilling.  Clay doesn't want to go with misty back to Hollywood because in 26 more years as a high school principal, he will be getting a nifty pension.  Elaine decides that she is willing to marry Clay even though she knows she will always be in Misty's shadow.  (Elaine wants babies, you see, so she can quit being a Latin teacher.)  In the end, everyone comes to their 1950s senses.

(Totally off point here, but I went to high school with a girl named Sue Forbes.  Sue's famikly moved to a house on a street named, you guessed it, Misty Meadows, and for the good part of a year her guidance teacher though her name was Misty Meadows.  "Well, Misty, have you given any thought to college, yet?")

The remaining two arcs for the same pattern of love seemingly lost, then found.  In one, Mary runs into her niece (whom she hasn't seen for twelve years) and finds that the niece's husband had died several years before, leaving her with a young son, now 11.  The niece is now considering remarrying but is afraid that her intended won't get along with the quirky boy.  And there's a smart, good-looking, woman also gunning for the man.  In the other, an interior designer is resigned to never getting married because whenever she appears to be interested in a man, her mother takes violently ill (with the vapors, I assume), so here she is, an old maid at 29, destined to lead a manless life.  Then a rich oil tycoon falls for her and both she and her mother try to dissuade him.

Mary Worth has been parodied many times over the years.  After reading this book, I willing to discount the parodies and consider her more of a murderless Miss Marple, cagy and always interested in the lives of others.

Evidently, Mary Worth has moved with the times, with more issue-oriented stories.  I just don't think I'll be following them.

Astro Boy is a different kettle of fish.  It's a manga comic series (originally called Mighty Atom,  and renamed for a 1963 television series) created by Osamu Tezuka in 1952 and ran until 1968.  Astro Boy is a robot bult in a future Japan by a scientist who was attempting to recreate his own son, who had died suddenly.  After being abandoned by his creator and sold to a circus, Astro Boy is eventually taken in by Ministry of Science head Professor Ochanomizu, who treats the robot as his own family and becomes Astro Boy's legal guardian.  Despite being a robot, Astro Boy has human emotions.  He's also very strong and can fly.

In Astro Boy's Japan, humans and robots appears to make up equal halves of the population and robots are no longer considered the servants of humans.  Instead, they try to coexist peacefully to the benefit of each.  Well, that's the theory.

The Astro Boy manga has reportedly sold 100 million copies.  It has been filmed in both an animated and live action televisions series and has spawned two movies (one a compilation from the live-action television show) and a number of computer games.

I look at Astro Boy and cannot get Bob's Big Boy out of my head,  Go figure.

Dark Horse Comics began publishing Astro Boy's adventures in English in 2002.  Volume 2 of the Dark Horse series reprints two story arcs from the early 1960s as well as a single issue episode from 1963.  In the first story arc, Astro Boy comes to the rescue of Rag, the first robot president of the Country of Gravia, from a gang of evil humans (led by the even more evil Deadcross) attempting to depose him.  In the second, an evil magician tries to blame his crimes on a robot magician.  Again, Astro Boy is on the scene to make things right.  The single episode included in this volume is the one that disturbs me.  A human race car driver, used to winning, has his amazing robot car destroyed ny enemies.  He asks Astro Boy is he could transfer his brain into the car so that he could win the race.  Astro boy agrees but, unknown to the human, his robot sister installs her brain in the car instead.   The human had earlier slapped the sister in anger, which is something you should not do to a female, whether human or robot, IMHO.  (And that's where I lost all sympathy for the character.)  The robot sister no longer exists because she is now a car.

Astro Boy's adventures are told with decent pacing and some wit.  I understand that the editors of the U.S. editions did not attempt to remove content that cold be seen as racially insensitive, felling that such editing would "do little" to end racial and ethnic stereotypes.  Anything that appeared racially insensitive was more a reflection of the times the stories were written than of Tezuka's personal biases.  (I tend to agree in that bowdlerizing, or removing offensive language or scenes in, any piece of literature short-changes the readers' intelligence.)

Astro Boy's universe is utopian in theory, a place where all types are allowed to coexist peacefully and in harmony -- something that is emphasized by the character's sweet and accepting manner.  The fact that some humans cannot get along with robots appears to be a glitch in the system that does not speak for the majority.  That Tezuka's vision began in an age when Japan was not now for scientific achievement is remarkable.  Unlike Mary Worth, there may be more Astro Boy in my future.

1 comment:

  1. Ha! I followed Mary's adventures for years in the comics, along with Rex Morgan, M.D., and, in fact, most of them on the comics page.