Monday, March 3, 2008

Richie Rich: Oppressor of the Working Class

As Chris Sims at the ISB mentioned on this post, we had a long talk last week about how we collectively hate Richie Rich. This conversation and Chris's ensuing post started me thinking about my history with the "poor little rich boy."

I cannot chart my first experience reading comics with any degree of accuracy, but I believe that the first ones I read were Richie Rich comics that my babysitter had when I was around 4 years old. I distinctly remember the large stack of Harvey comics in her den. Babysitting me must have been an easy job because all I remember from the experience was reading comics and eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, though I could say that about my memories of a lot of experiences in my life, now that I think about it.

And, for some reason, those Richie Rich comics were my favorite in the stack of Harveys, which also included Casper, Hot Stuff, Little Audrey, and Sad Sack. The early 70s was a prime time to be a Richie Rich fan, anyway, as Harvey was publishing at least 8,000 separate Richie Rich titles at the time, including such cleverly titled series as Richie Rich Millions, Richie Rich Billions, Richie Rich Zillionz, Richie Rich's Money World, Richie Rich Cash, Richie Rich and his Girlfriends (though the original, rejected title of this series was Richie Rich's Bitches), and the creatively bankrupt Richie Rich's Riches.

If, as Wordsworth says, "the child is father to the man," then I must have had a serious Oedipus complex over my 4-year-old self, as my teenage years saw me reject the capitalist ideology of Richie Rich in favor of a stronger Marxist ideology, which peaked in my college years. I firmly believe that it was an outright rejection of Richie Rich and all he stands for that led me to Marx, moreso than any other direct cause. After all, Richie Rich had both a floor carpeted and a football field turfed with vertical $100 bills. If that doesn't incite a revolutionary spirit, I don't know what does.

So, after my conversation with Chris (which also resulted in the invention of Li'l Bruce Wayne, a concept we will be pitching to Dan DiDio at DC very soon), I decided to look through the few Richie Rich comics I still had in my collection to see if my hatred of the character was still warranted.

And boy, was it ever.

In Richie Rich's Riches 2 (1972), Richie's father, Mr. Rich, has his R&D department at Rich Enterprises develop a special drug called the "no-sleeping pill." The purpose: to double worker productivity.

What is it about this new invention that bothers Richie? Is it a twinge of class guilt over the exploitation of the proletariat?

Mr. Rich makes himself the guinea pig for testing this new drug, and then he requires all of his employees to take it as well, without waiting for the results of a double-blind clinical study.

The result: Mr. Rich is turned into a hardcore gangster:

In the next panel, Mr. Rich says, "I gotta fucking junkie for a wife. Don't eat nothin', sleeps all day wit dem black shades on. Wakes up with a qualude. And who won't fuck me, cuz she's in a coma. I can't even have a kid with her, Manny. Her womb is so polluted, I can't even have a fucking little baby with her."

After Richie objects a little too much to his father's transformation, the "bodyguards" lock Richie and his two proletariat friends, Freckles and Pee Wee, into Richie's room. Luckily, the room contains a functioning arsenal to arm their insurrection.

It is, to say the least, ironic that Richie's tank is decorated with a red star.

The gangsters, however, quickly blow the shit out of the tank containing three little children.

Richie's Sandinista-esque squad then resorts to small arms.

Finally, and I'm not making this up, Richie pops a cap in his own dad.

Viva la revolucion!

However, before the implications of this patricide can be realized, Richie wakes up from a dream to find his father, asleep in his office, having composed a memo rejecting the development of the no-sleeping pill on the grounds that it is too dangerous. Note, however, that he does not reject it because it exploits his workers, and one can imagine that he will still have his pharmaceutical researchers work on developing a safe version of the pill that won't turn its users into gangsters.

So, just to summarize, Richie has a dream of a quasi-proletariat revolt that ends with Richie shooting his own father. The fusion of Marx and Freud in this story is causing my brain to shut down.


Phil Looney said...

Wow. I have no words.

I never really read Richie Rich, but my 11 year old sister-in-law loves the book.

Chance said...

That's just plain nuts.

I never liked RR either because he was such a jerk to his hobo friends. Even if they refused offers he made to help them lead normal middle class lives, which is stupid, he could have easily found ways to manufacture situations in which their standards of living increased with no apparent interference from him.

Damn fat cat oppressor. With chunky legs.

Chris Sims said...

Of course the tank has a red star. It's one of the actual ones from Tiananmen Square, purchased by Richie's dad and dipped into molten gold as a St. Swithin's day present.