Monday, 5 January 2015

Crossover Review: Richie Rich and Casper

From 1974 until 1982, when the company went out of business for the first time, Harvey Comics published Ri¢hie Ri¢h & Casper. It's difficult to think about Casper the Friendly Ghost and Richie Rich the Poor Little Ri¢h Boy without considering the famous theory espoused by Bart and Lisa Simpson that the former is the ghost of the latter, a theory that appeals both to logic (the minor fact that they have the same face) and emotion (perhaps someone so materialistic he spells his name with two ¢ signs deserves some sort of posthumous wandering). The idea that Richie, who really is kind of a jerk after all, was transformed into the humble naïf Casper works on two Aristotelian levels. However, my own sense of ethics forces me to inform you that the true relationship between rich boy and friendly ghost is, actually, roughly one million times weirder than "he's the ghost of him."



You see, canonically, Richie and Casper are friends. They hang out sometimes, and because Ri¢hie Ri¢h & Casper was a more "adventure" oriented Harvey publication, they solve a lot of mysteries and foil a lot of villains together. It's not really any different than, I don't know, Batman and Superman calling themselves the World's Finest and wearing each other's clothes to puzzle Lois. Well, it is different, but the principle behind the comic is the same. However, the way Harvey Comics chose to portray this relationship is incredibly weird. I should note that I keep saying "Harvey Comics" because, oddly, it's very hard to figure out who worked on any given issue of these comics, maybe since despite Harvey Comics' relative cultural prominence, they have been more or less out of business since the early eighties. And in those last years, some unknown scribe or scribes toiled away to bring us what is possible the least healthy friendship in kids comics.

I know, I know, I'm burying the lede. What's the weird thing about Richie and Casper's friendship? What could possibly be weirder than the Simpsons theory? Well, I don't know quite how to put this, but... despite being friends, Richie doesn't believe that Casper exists.


Let that sink in for a moment. How does Richie explain the fact that he knows a ghost? He's under the impression that he's dreaming, every time he meets Casper. He's also very upfront about it. In fact, more or less every time Richie sees Casper he says, out loud, something like "Casper? But that means I must be asleep!" Their adventures are punctuated with comments like that, which I imagine Casper found real tiring real fast. "Want to go get some candy?" "Sure, but what a kooky dream I'm having!"

To be fair to Richie, he routinely hangs out with a ghost who is not only his own age but has much the same face. There isn't really a more satisfying explanation than that he's unconscious and hallucinating vividly. My sympathy's with Casper, though. It seems pretty awful that not only is Casper, you know, a deceased child, but also no matter how many times they hang out, one of his friends openly doubts that he's real.

As you know, Casper resides in the Enchanted Forest, a potpourri bowl of any fairy tale you can think of, sprinkled with Halloween business. More or less everything is alive and can talk. Richie, by contrast, lives in our real world, full as it is of grime, grit, and robot maids. It's never really clear what the relationship is between the Enchanted Forest and the real world, but Casper seems to have an easier time lifting the veil than Richie, who has to get magicked there against his will every time.


It gets stranger: Casper doesn't actually understand how money works. They do have money in the Enchanted Forest, but it works in a very fairy-tale way. For example, Ri¢hie Ri¢h & Casper #37 starts when a troll comes to the Forest to collect taxes. Wendy (the Good Little Witch, notably assayed by Hilary Duff for the silver screen) and her family have to pay, so Wendy's aunt Velma zaps Richie from the real world. Richie comes along with a huge pile of money because honestly, pick a time of day at random and Richie Rich is probably in or near a huge pile of money. Not only does Casper not understand money at all, it turns out that the troll doesn't either: he only wants coins.

To be fair to the Troll Tax Collector, United States currency is probably worthless in the Enchanted Forest.

To be fair to Casper, the ghost doesn't actually want to take Richie's money, even though it would be quite easy since Richie, again, thinks he's dreaming. After pestering the elder witches with questions about what exactly they get for their taxes—"What kind of government do you have?" he asks the witches—Aunt Velma zaps Casper and Richie. If the root of magic is knowing the true names of entities, Aunt Velma works some serious witchcraft on these two, dubbing them Richie the Friendly Ragamuffin and (wait for it) CASHper the Rich Little Ghost. Yes, Cashper, the joke so good they put it on the cover.

Anyway, the two split up, with Cashper discovering that Biggie was right, and when you have more money you have more problems. Richie, on the other hand, stumbles into some fairy tale situations and saves a princess, thus incidentally answering his earlier question about what kind of government these people have. At the end of the story, Richie asks when this crazy dream will end, and a peeved Wendy zaps him back to reality. "You know," she says to Casper, "sometimes he makes me so mad thinking you're a dream!" "Sometimes I think he's right!" says Casper, reflecting on his improbable adventures. Richie wakes up, and obviously there's evidence that the Enchanted Forest was real.

In conclusion, what. The yardstick I like to use to measure crossovers is typically whether they accurately represent the individual texts being referenced, because I think that's the unique challenge crossovers face. Does Ri¢hie Ri¢h & Casper accurately represent Richie Rich and Casper? Well yes. By those standards, it's an excellent crossover. This is one of those crossovers that takes a totally bizarre stance on the original stories. The obvious thing to do would be just have Casper be a ghost who Richie encounters. I have to hand it to Harvey Comics for coming up with something considerably more interesting.


However. This gets even stranger than that. The nature of Casper and Richie's relationship is even harder to figure out when one considers the metaphysics of Ri¢hie Ri¢h & Casper. There's a recurring device in the series where events (and people) in the Enchanted Forest mirror things in the real world (or, I suppose, the other way around). For example, in issue 40, Richie and Casper fight a mad scientist in the real world, and then a wizard in the Enchanted Forest, who are fairly clearly versions of the same man. They are distinct, but echoes of each other—perhaps the same character in two different genres, since mad scientists play much the same role for Richie as wizards do for Casper.

This implies that Richie and Casper are versions of the same person. Not that Casper is Richie's ghost, but that they are facets of the same entity. Right? I know. I, too, had to sit down and breathe deeply for a few minutes. This realization makes the whole series feel like some kind of spiritual allegory, where Casper represents the immaterial Richie and Richie finds that his gold is useless in higher realms. Perhaps, then, Bart and Lisa were right in a way, and Casper is the spiritual essence of Richie Rich, while Richie is the material body of Casper's pure soul. I can only assume, since the series was cut short by Harvey's bankruptcy in 1982, that the writers had a long term plan for this that would put Grant Morrison and Alan Moore to shame.

Final Verdict: Ri¢hie Ri¢h & Casper is a jaw-droppingly weird execution of a very obvious idea. Is Casper the ghost of Richie Rich? No. Are Casper and Richie Rich aspects of the same being, who imagine each other into existence? Probably.

Images courtesy of the Grand Comics Database.

3 comments:

  1. I enjoyed your take on the familiar Richie Rich-Casper meme. Just the other day I picked up some digests reprinting some of these weird crossover-stories, and realized that I'd never known that there was a regular team-up book for them. Did they start teaming up for the first time in issue #1, or did the two encounter one another earlier?

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  2. Thanks! I'm glad you liked it. I'm finding that information about Harvey Comics is hard to come by (seriously, it's impossible to figure out who wrote anything), but on the face of it, it seems unlikely that there was never a Casper / Richie meeting before this series. You have to love those digests!

    Apparently also there was a later (1990s?) issue that printed a map suggesting that the Enchanted Forest is actually IN the real world, which throws my theory for a loop, but is more confusing in some ways! I'll be looking for that one next...

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