The Nineteenth Talkartoon: The Bum Bandit, my second look

I’ve already covered the next Talkartoon, The Bum Bandit, a while ago, when I was doing a review of milestones in Betty Boop cartoons. But it’s been a while, and I’m a slightly different person from whom I was then. And there’s a difference between looking at a cartoon as part of the Talkartoons series and looking at it as part of Betty Boop’s character development. We’ll see what comes out different this time. I’m not looking at my earlier comments before writing this.

The Bum Bandit was originally released the 3rd of April, 1931. Its main animators were Willard Bowsky and Al Eugster. We’ve seen both animators before, although not teamed like this. Also animating, without credit, was Grim Natwick, says Wikipedia. I don’t know that they have evidence for this other than that Betty Boop appears. We’ll see.

Slight content warning: there’s a racist joke at about 3:57 in, with a blackfaced character and five, presumably stolen, chickens up his sleeve and going “yassir”.

There’s an easy way to think of the Talkartoons. They were this bunch of things the Fleischers did, with sound and extended music bits, while they were busy discovering Betty Boop. Then once they did, they had the Betty Boop series in all but name and, by the end of 1932, in name too. It’s kind of a Whiggish history. Going through each cartoon, even the ones forgotten because they don’t have Betty Boop in them, shows what it was more probably like: poking around to find some good ideas, finding a fairly decent one in Bimbo, and gradually realizing they had a much better character in Betty Boop.

And this cartoon is almost a miniature of that progression. It starts with Bimbo, certainly. And he’s puttering around doing nothing in particular. This allows a couple of pretty good shooting gags, as none of his shots hit anything near where they ought, and what they do hit makes no contextual sense. One hates to over-praise randomness as a comic virtue, but to unintentionally shoot a cow out of the sky has this gleeful, childish chaos to it. And then, as he tries to rob a train, Betty Boop takes over. Bimbo stays in the cartoon, but he’s not driving the action anymore.

At least, it’s mostly Betty Boop. She’s finally gotten the rail-thin body that marks Canonical Betty. She hasn’t got the right voice, though. She’s voiced (not badly) by Harriet Lee, rather than by Mae Questel (or some others) doing a Helen Kane impression. And she’s introduced as Dangerous Nan McGrew. I’m open to the argument that this isn’t Betty Boop yet. She doesn’t act like Betty.

Curiously, perhaps, Dangerous Nan McGrew was also the titular character of a 1930 Mack Sennett comedy starring Helen Kane. I haven’t seen that movie, so won’t venture any guesses about how that movie might have influenced the character or this cartoon. I mean, Wikipedia puts the movie in the “See also” section for this short, and vice-versa, but that falls short of saying whether there was deliberately a link or what it was.

The cartoon has a slightly weird story setup: we spend some time with Bimbo, establishing that as a bandit he’s kind of a menace. At least he’s willing to shoot, if ineptly. Then Betty Boop/Dangerous Nan comes on, harangues him, and takes him off back home. And that’s it. I’m used to a Fleischer cartoon rambling its way around the plot; it’s surprising to have one that’s basically two scenes and no development of anything.

I can’t say there’s a blink-and-you-miss-it joke. There’s a lot of jokes, some quite ridiculous, but they’re all given enough time to be noticed and appreciated. And none that run on too long, which is a nice feat. Maybe Bimbo’s sheepish “No” after Dangerous Nan asks whether he’s found that cow yet. I’m tickled by Bimbo’s robbing the squirrel, but your tastes are your own. There’s several mice, passengers on the train, although there’s enough mixed species that none of them stand out as obviously Mickey Mouse riffs.

Also the scene of the train screeching to a halt, with this long zooming in until Bimbo stands front and center, is really well-done. The Fleischer cartoons get some respect for technological innovation, albeit mostly in stuff like the multi-plane camera with real-world sets in the background. They get less credit for stuff like this. It makes a simple scene more exciting than it needs to be, and good for them for that.

The center of the short is this song “The Holdup Rag”. I can’t find evidence that the song existed before this cartoon. If it is original for this short, then that’s the more impressive since it is a really catchy tune that I could see being modestly popular in its own right. I don’t remember it being used for similar hold-up or robbery scenes in other cartoons. This seems odd and probably I’m just not thinking of reuses of the song.

And now on looking at my earlier comments: I’m relieved I don’t say anything that seems particularly ridiculous to me now, especially since apparently I just reviewed this back in June? It doesn’t seem like that recently, but 2017 was a lot of a year.


Thinking About Mort Walker

When I was growing up there was one author and one comic strip on the pages that was just the comic strip, the thing so great it was kind of the reason newspapers were made, so it could carry this. That was Charles Schulz and Peanuts, naturally. But it’s not like that was the only strip I read. I read all of them, at least except for the story strips, which always looked like these dark, muddy things about realistically-drawn adults saying they’d have to talk about stuff. But the rest of the comics page was exciting stuff.

I knew there were better and worse strips, yes. But I also recognized there were some strips that just seemed central. Comics that all the other comics were kind-of-like. Some that drew closer to the Platonic Ideal of the 1970s/80s comic strip. So if you read the subject line or the comics news the past week you know what strips I’m talking about.

And yet I was kind of a dumb kid; it took a newspaper article about an upcoming visit Beetle Bailey was going to pay to Hi and Lois for me to realize they were made by the same guy, or were set in the same universe. Still, that was mindblowing, in the way that Muppet Show where they have to do the show from a train station because the theater was being fumigated was. It revealed to me something comic strips could do.

Beetle Bailey and Hi and Lois were the Mort Walker strips I always saw, of course. But somewhere along the line I realized that Hagar the Horrible had some connection to all this (Dik Browne, co-creator of Hi and Lois, created it). And now and then, in out-of-town newspapers, I’d see other weird alien comic strips clearly from the same hand, like Boner’s Ark or, rarely, Sam and Silo. And I do remember at least excerpts of Walker’s Lexicon of Comicana, about graphic design elements, appearing in newspapers and being read. (I have a particularly strong memory of reading one at the house of my aunt in Connecticut, on a family visit that I think coincided with when they took the toll booths out of the Connecticut Turnpike and the roads were torn up for that. I may be collapsing memories together.) I think that his last original comic strip, Gamin and Patches, might have run in a newspaper I read, but I’m just not at all sure.

Boner walks past the sign: Poultry Research Station! Caution! Chicken Crossing! Boner looks carefully, starts to talk. A giant chicken claw descends from the sky.
Mort Walker’s Boner’s Ark for the 10th of March, 1972 and rerun the 29th of January, 2018. Walker signed the strip “Addison” (his actual first name, somehow) so it didn’t look like he drew everything King Features offered. Also, if this wasn’t also a Gary Larson The Far Side or a Sydney Harris panel then both Larson and Harris have missed an easy one.

Oddly, for all that I recognized Mort Walker had this style that everybody was roughly imitating, and for all that I liked reading any of these strips, I don’t remember doing stuff like redrawing characters from it. Garfield, Popeye, Snoopy, sure, but somehow not these. Seems like a shame; I suspect that, like, Sarge or Beetle are pretty fun to draw. There’s something in their line.

Yes, I’m aware Mort Walker drew some “adult” installments of his strips, for the naughty fun of it. Not interested in them. I’m also aware there was an animated cartoon based on Beetle Bailey in the 60s, and a half-hour pilot made in Like 1989. I’ve never seen those but a a little curious. Apparently there was a musical, too, created in the late 80s because every comic strip made a musical in the 80s for some reason.

General Halftrack: 'Say! Maybe there ISN'T a Pentagon after all! That's it! The Pentagon doesn't even EXIST! I've been worrying for NOTHING!' Aide: 'I can't agree with you, sir. If there's no Pentagon, then who hangs up when we phone them?'
Mort Walker’s Beetle Bailey for the 19th of April, 1961, and rerun the 10th of November, 2017. That generation’s answer to the Ontological Argument. Another intersting thread that sometime got dropped, in these early-60s comics, was of Camp Swampy trying to launch satellites. It gives a setting for Space Race jokes that oddly tickle me even today, and it’s a shame that the comic strip did narrow its horizons to the point it couldn’t sustain a gag like that anymore.

Comics Kingdom has among its vintage comics Beetle Bailey and Hi and Lois from the early 60s. They also have Boner’s Ark, from the early 70s, running. There’s some interesting stuff in them, not least the running thread that the Pentagon told General Halftrack not to call them anymore and hasn’t sent any orders in years. One of the snark community’s recurring jokes is that Camp Swampy is this nonsense pretend camp the actual Army would be embarrassed to be affiliated with. I’m amused that Walker had that joke a half-century sooner. And the vintage strips are, mostly, better than their contemporary versions. There’s more detail to the art and the characters and scenarios are 55 years less worn down. It can be easy to forget that comic strips that seem old and fusty — things that have been running in every newspaper since the glaciers receded — mostly got there by being novel and exciting, and staying so for a good long while.

Art moves on, and styles pass from fashion. Mort Walker-touched comics aren’t as dominant in setting the style of newspaper comics anymore. So it happens. There’s a lot of art, and a lot of what people thought art could be, that he guided. It’s amazing work.

Also I’m reminded of a Mort Walker quote in some Peanuts retrospective about how, yeah, his comic strip took off in the newspapers way earlier than Schulz’s, starting nearly the same time, did. But when Schulz’s came out in book collections those books just started selling and never stopped. This point can’t fit in the essay at all logically, but I don’t want it to go to waste either, so here it is, in a paragraph after the end of the essay.

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? November 2017 – January 2018

It’s been only a few short months since I last checked in on Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy and yet plenty of stuff has happened. I’m glad to try catching you up on that. More stuff might have happened by the time you read this. If it’s late January or early February 2018 for you, this is probably enough to catch you up. If it’s a lot later than that, maybe the story’s developed far past that. If I’ve written a later summary I shall try to have it at or near the top of this link. Also I mentioned this on my other blog, but broke something so that My Comics Page won’t load, and broke their “Contact Us” page so it won’t submit error reports. I’ve got workarounds, but I’m not happy with them.

Also, on my mathematics blog, I review comics with mathematical themes. My latest report on those should be at or near the top of this link. Thanks for checking that out, if you do.

Dick Tracy.

5 November 2017 – 27 January 2018.

Last time you’ll recall, Dick Tracy and team were closing in on audio-recording forgers Silver and Sprocket Nitrate. The pair were hiding out in the Lyric (movie) Theater, Sprocket on a date with novelist and Les Moore’s less-punchworthy twin Adam Austin, Silver in the Phantoms Of Theaters room. Silver watches his sister have a date so serious she even wears sandals for it. So he gives her half their take and alibis her. He goes to jail. She goes to California with Adam Austin, who I’m assuming is writing the novelization for the Starbuck Jones sequel. Silver Nitrate and his boss/jailbreaker Public Domain go to jail and that ends that story reasonably logically.

[ Chaos erupts at the Lyric Theater ] Lizz Grove: 'That's an emergency exit alarm!' Dick Tracy: 'Everyone cover the exits!' (Voices) 'Over there!' 'It's Silver Nitrate!' 'Stop! You're under arrest!' Silver Nitrate: 'Okay, okay! I give up!' Sam Catchem: 'Anybody come out this door?' Officer: 'Nobody's come this way, sir.' Catchem: 'Everyone's checked in, Tracy. No sign of Sprocket Nitrate.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 12th of November, 2017. I don’t mean to make light of what operational skill it requires to surround and secure a public theater with hundreds of people inside to secure one criminal safely. But Sprocket Nitrate is inside the secured building, and her costume is pretty much that she’s wearing sandals. Just seems like they could have checked.

And then, the 18th of November, came an odd interlude before the next story: a “Minit Mystery”. It was one of those adorable puzzle mysteries, you know, figuring out who killed the guy based on whether an umbrella is damp or figuring which jacket is underneath another on the coat-stand. It’s a week illustrated by Charles Ettinger, and it’s introduced as the start of a new series. There was just the one mystery presented this time around. Perhaps they’re waiting for the current storyline to resolve, or reach a logical pause, before showing the next. I’m not sure this is any more logically rigorous than an Inspector Danger’s Crime Quiz, but it’s a fun pastime. The story started the 19th of November and ran each day through to the 26th, when the solution was revealed.

Back to plotting, the 27th of November. Mister Bribery reappears, along with his niece Ugly Crystal and hired gun Sawtooth. Bribery’s hired Sawtooth to execute Dick Tracy. Tracy’s team has infiltrated Bribery’s organization, though, as their bodyguard, with Lee Ebony pretending to be “T-Bolt”. Bribery orders Sawtooth to carry out the execution plan, even though it’s not compatible with putting the shrunken head of Dick Tracy into a jar on his shelf. Okay then.

One of the dangling side plots comes back to the fore. The fellow you get by fusing Buster Crabbe and Alley Oop finds crime boss Posie Ermine. Ermine’s been disheartened since his daughter was abducted, surgically altered to be Mysta the new Moon Maid, and somehow brainwashed into a whole new identity who wants nothing to do with her biological father. Buster Oop has personal reasons for this. He’s the Governor of the Moon, and father of the original Moon Maid. (The original Moon Maid was killed in the 70s, when most of the really loopy science fiction stuff was written out of the strip, although her daughter — Honey Moon Tracy, Dick’s granddaughter — is still around and a critical character these days.)

Got all these relations? Because that just catches things up to early December 2017 and from there everything gets explosive.

Honey Moon Tracy and Ugly Crystal … Bribery, I guess is her last name? … meet cute-ish at the mall’s CD store. They get along surprisingly well, what with both having superpowers and Ugly Crystal envying Honey Moon’s antennas. I understand. I imprinted early on Uncle Martin’s extendable antennas from My Favorite Martian. And I’m not an ugly person.

Mister Bribery, out for a jog, shoves another jogger into the path of a minibus. It’s a startling moment. It establishes Mister Bribery’s villainy and menace in a way that his hiring someone to murder Dick Tracy hadn’t, somehow. I suppose it’s because you expect the villain to try killing the scientific superdetective. It’s normal and routine and built into the worldview and the name of the comic strip that the plan won’t work. But he can kill — or try to kill, as the victim survives with “minor injuries” — some nobody. And that it’s utterly unmotivated makes Mister Bribery’s danger more real. The murderous impulse doesn’t do Mister Bribery any good, either, as the city looks for whoever’s in the blurry video footage of the crime.

Mister Bribery, jogging: 'Ah, it's a beautiful, brisk morning for a jog!' [ He comes up on a woman jogging ] Bribery: 'That minibus is awfully close! Let's have a little room.' [ He shoves the woman into the minibus's path. ] 'SO much better!' [ Screech ] 'EEEE!' Bribery: 'What a hubbub! I'd better cut my jog short.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 17th of December, 2017. And … jeez, can’t you just see this happening? A lot of the Dick Tracy criminal plans are a bit outrageous — robbing banks to the tunes of Chumbawumba, hijacking Space Coupes, forging 19th-century audio recordings — but just simply shoving a person into traffic to kill them? I can see local news covering that. And I’m in mid-Michigan; this story might bump Larry Nasser off the top of the news feed, but only maybe.

Which might be too late: Sawtooth snags Dick Tracy — from right outside his son’s house on Christmas Eve-or-Day, by the way — and drags him out into the woods. Sawtooth drags him into the deep woods, in the blizzard, and ties him to a tree to die. Sawtooth does well enough tying up Tracy, who’s unable to get his hands free, never mind untie any of his ropes, nor answer his Wrist Wizard to call for help. What Sawtooth fails to account for: Rifle Ruby, who found and saved Dick Tracy deep in the woods where Mister Crime tried to drown him in a story in 1952. (I had not the faintest idea of this, but GoComics commenter RGGlick recognized this and provided people with the link.) She and her niece Rhett run across the shivering, starved Tracy and nurse him back to non-death.

Honey Moon Tracy and Ugly Crystal meet up again, under Lee Ebony’s supervision. Honey Moon gets a bit of brain freeze from the Moon Governor’s transmissions. The Moon Governor and Posie Ermine have been searching for Honey Moon. Meanwhile Mister Bribery’s artificial-intelligence assistant/digitally-uploaded former henchman Matty Squared has detected the Moon Governor’s Space Coupe. Mister Bribery orders Sawtooth to kidnap Honey Moon. The Moon Governor and Posie Ermine close in on Smith Industries, there to find Mysta the (second) Moon Maid. Yes, I’m getting tired just writing all this.

OK. There’s a shootout. Ermine’s killed. Sawtooth grabs the Moon Governor and Mysta and takes them to Mister Bribery. Mister Bribery wants the Moon Governor’s help getting to the Lunarian valley settlement, there to mine lunar gold and whatnot. The Moon Governor tries to squash these plans. He drops the bad news that there’s no oxygen left in the Moon Valley colony. (This we the readers have known since in 2012, in one of the last uses of Diet Smith’s Moon Coupe. And that also shows how long this team is willing to let a mystery simmer.) Also, it’s dumb to go to the Moon to mine gold. These days the fashion is to go to the Moon to mine Helium-3, which is even dumber. Plus there’s the whole Rocket Hat problem. He tells Mister Bribery to move on, “as we did”.

[ Bribery's office. ] Mister Bribery: 'Whee! I must be dreaming! It's the Moon Governor! What a prize! Naturally, you came to Earth in your SPACE COUPE. I can utilize that in my master plan! This is so perfect!' [ Elsewhere ] Sam Catchem, on Lee Ebony's wrist wizard: 'Come in while you can, Lee This blizzard's getting bad.' Glitch: 'T-Bolt? Is that a POLICE wrist wizard?'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 21st of January, 2018. All right, yes, he’s a sociopathic crime boss who just weeks ago tried to murder a woman for absolutely no possible benefit, but to say “utilize” when “use” would be the correct word? That’s put him beyond the pale.

Mister Bribery takes this with all the calm and grace of Donald Duck finding Chip and Dale back on his folding lawn chair. Meanwhile henchman Glitch spots Lee Ebony talking on her official police-grade wrist wizard, astoundingly sloppy undercover work. It’s okay, though, since Glitch has figured out this is the big meltdown and he’s just telling people to run while they can. Ebony arrests Ugly Crystal (I’m not sure for what, but I suppose that can be sorted out). Sam Catchem says they’ve got the rest of Mister Bribery’s gang. And Tracy is going in after Mister Bribery himself, who’s got the Moon Governor and Second Moon maid with him.

And that’s where we stand. It’s a lot of stuff happening, and with (so far as I noticed) no weird cameos or digressions, after the Minit Mystery interlude. I’ve only noticed one odd, unresolved mention of a thing either: on the 4th of December mentioning how Diet Smith’s “time machine was a bust”. I didn’t know there was ever a time machine in Dick Tracy, but I’m also not surprised, given how crazy Chester Gould went in the 60s.

The only outstanding thread that I haven’t seen advanced, or mentioned, was the suspected haunting of the B O Plenty lair, which started action back in June 2017.

Next Week!

Jim Scancarelli has been out of action since the last time I recapped the plot in Gasoline Alley! Why? Where? What’s happening? Will the story of Rufus’s courting of The Widow Emma Sue and Scruffy’s Mom ever resolve? I don’t know. But I’ll do my best to share what I know, or can find out. And to recap nearly three months’ worth of reruns next week, somewhere on this link. Here’s hoping there’s good news ahead.

Statistics Saturday: Picture Captions On Wikipedia’s Page About Tupperware

Source: Journey Through Genius: The Great Theorems of Mathematics, William Dunham.

MiSTed: The Jovian Jest (Part 4 of 4)

And concluding:

  1. MiSTed: The Jovian Jest (Part 1 of 4)
  2. MiSTed: The Jovian Jest (Part 2 of 4)
  3. MiSTed: The Jovian Jest (Part 3 of 4)

> We can dissolve our bodies at will, retaining only the permanent
> atom of our being, the seed of life dropped on the soil of our
> planet by Infinite Intelligence.

JOEL: Decluttering tip! Shed every part of your existence that doesn’t bring you joy!

> We can propel this indestructible
> seed on light rays through the depths of space.

CROW: However I confess we are not yet able to tell a cabbage from a lettuce.

> We can visit the
> farthest universe with the velocity of light, since light is our
> conveyance.

TOM: *Now* how much would you pay? But wait, there’s more!

> In reaching your little world, I have consumed a

> million years, for my world is a million light-years distant: yet to
> my race a million years is as one of your days.

JOEL: For us three of our popcorn balls are like two of your candy corns!

TOM: To my race seven of your Star Wars movies are like three of our Thanksgiving Day parades!

CROW: Four things that you perceive as green are equivalent to one of our yellowy-blues!

> "On arrival at any given destination, we can build our bodies from
> the elements of the foreign planet.

CROW: We can make them stronger, faster, well, you get the drill.

> We attain our knowledge of
> conditions on any given planet by absorbing the thought-content of
> the brains of a few representative members of its dominant race.

TOM: Isn’t that going to be, like, some microbe?

JOEL: So, the amoebas?

TOM: Oooooooooh.

> Every well-balanced mind contains the experience of the race, the
> essence of the wisdom that the race-soul has gained during its
> residence in matter.

JOEL: The longer that sentence ran the more I dreaded it.

> We make this knowledge a part of our own
> thought-content, and thus the Universe lies like an open book before
> us.

TOM: Even when we’re in the bathroom?

> "At the end of a given experiment in thought absorption, we return
> the borrowed mind-stuff to the brain of its possessor.

CROW: Who’s … uh … us, now! Neat how that works, isn’t it? Thanks.

> We reward
> our subject for his momentary discomfiture by pouring into his body
> our splendid vitality.

TOM: Also a $20 gift card to Jersey Mike’s.

> This lengthens his life expectancy
> immeasurably,

CROW: We hush it up because it would ruin the insurance companies.

> by literally burning from his system the germs of
> actual or incipient ills that contaminate the blood-stream.

JOEL: We leave behind the broken arm, we don’t have an administrative code for that.

> This, I believe, will conclude my explanation, an explanation to
> which you, as a race in whom intelligence is beginning to dawn, are
> entitled.

TOM: So, any questions? Yes, you there.

CROW: The *heck* was that all about?

> But you have a long road to travel yet. Your
> thought-channels are pitifully blocked and criss-crossed with
> nonsensical and inhibitory complexes that stand in the way of true
> progress.

JOEL: Oh dear lord it’s a Dianetics ad.

> But you will work this out, for the Divine Spark that
> pulses through us of the Larger Universe, pulses also through you.

TOM: This might explain why you feel like you’re ticking and also part of the Galactic Federation of Light.

> That spark, once lighted, can never be extinguished, can never be
> swallowed up again in the primeval slime.

CROW: As long as you remember one thing: always — I mean, never — I mean, you have to make sure [ Cough, wheezes ] THUD!

> "There is nothing more that I can learn from you — nothing that I
> can teach you at this stage of your evolution.

JOEL: Nothing at all? Not, like, antibiotics —

TOM: Nope! Nothing to teach you.

CROW: Maybe how to make electronics —

TOM: Negatory! You’ve got all you can handle.

JOEL: Could you give a hint about grand unification theory?

TOM: Nah! What wouldn’t be redundant?

> I have but one
> message to give you, one thought to leave with you — forge on!

CROW: Counterfeit *everything*!

> You are on the path, the stars are over you, their light is flashing
> into your souls the slogan of the Federated Suns beyond the
> frontiers of your little warring worlds. Forge on!"

TOM: Excelsior!

CROW: Tuebor!

JOEL: Here’s mud in your eye!

> The Voice died out like the chiming of a great bell receding into
> immeasurable distance.

TOM: The time is now 11:00.

> The supercilious tones of the professor had
> yielded to the sweetness and the light of the Greater Mind whose
> instrument he had momentarily become.

CROW: And now he’s going back to a career of explaining to waitresses that if the choice is cole slaw *or* home fries he’s entitled to get both.

> It was charged at the last
> with a golden resonance that seemed to echo down vast spaceless
> corridors beyond the furthermost outposts of time.
> As the Voice faded out into a sacramental silence, the strangely
> assorted throng, moved by a common impulse, lowered their heads as
> though in prayer.

CROW: [ As Amoeboy ] “Sorry, ah, this thing usually takes off right away. Think the battery’s a bit low is all.”

> The great globe pulsed and shimmered throughout
> its sentient depths like a sea of liquid jewels.

TOM: [ As the Terminator ] Liquid Jewels.

JOEL: For the Twee-1000.

> Then the tentacle
> that grasped the professor drew him back toward the scintillating
> nucleus.

TOM: [ Amoeboy ] ‘C’mon and gimme a hug!’

> Simultaneously another arm reached out and grasped Bill
> Jones, who,

CROW: Was still in the story we guess?

> during the strange lecture, had ceased his wooden
> soldier marching and had stood stiffly at attention.

TOM: [ Amoeboy ] ‘You give me a hug too! It’s a hug party and everyone’s invited! Not you, Ray.’

> The bodies of both men within the nucleus were encircled once more
> by the single current. From it again put forth the tentacles,
> cupping their heads, but the smokelike essence flowed back to them
> this time,

JOEL: [ Amoeboy ] And what the heck, you’ll cluck like a chicken every time someone says ‘cabinet’.

> and with it flowed a tiny threadlike stream of violet
> light. Then came the heaving motion when the shimmering currents
> caught the two men

[ CROW, TOM scream in agony ]

> and tossed them forth unharmed but visibly
> dowered with the radiance of more abundant life.

JOEL: And they fall down the ravine to Rock Gulch.

> Their faces were
> positively glowing and their eyes were illuminated by a light that
> was surely not of earth.

CROW: They look at each other and say, wulp, nothing to do now but make out, right?

> Then, before the very eyes of the marveling people, the great globe
> began to dwindle.

[ TOM makes a low hissing noise, as a balloon deflates. ]

> The jeweled lights intensified, concentrated,
> merged, until at last remained only a single spot no larger than a
> pin-head,

JOEL: Are we having alien yet?

> but whose radiance was, notwithstanding, searing,
> excruciating.

CROW: Strangely lemon-scented.

> Then the spot leaped up — up into the heavens,
> whirling, dipping and circling as in a gesture of farewell, and
> finally soaring into invisibility with the blinding speed of light.

TOM: Travels for a million years, you’d think it could stay for dinner.

CROW: Got a look at this bunch and headed right out.

> The whole wildly improbable occurrence might have been dismissed as
> a queer case of mass delusion,

JOEL: Like the Clown Sightings of 2016 or the so-called state of ‘Tennessee’.

> for such cases are not unknown to
> history, had it not been followed by a convincing aftermath.

TOM: The alien coming back to ask if anyone had seen its flagellum.

> The culmination of a series of startling coincidences, both
> ridiculous and tragic, at last brought men face to face with an

> incontestable fact:

CROW: If Woody had gone right to the police this would never have happened!

> namely, that Bill Jones had emerged from his
> fiery baptism endowed with the thought-expressing facilities of
> Professor Ralston, while the professor was forced to struggle along
> with the meager educational appliances of Bill Jones!

JOEL: Whoo-hoo-hoo-oops!

TOM: Ha ha!

> In this ironic manner the Space-Wanderer had left unquestionable
> proof of his visit by rendering a tribute to "innate intelligence"
> and playing a Jovian Jest upon an educated fool — a neat
> transposition.

CROW: It’s funny ’cause it’s … I don’t know, playing on elitist pretentions? Something?

> A Columbus from a vaster, kindlier universe had paused for a moment
> to learn the story of our pigmy system.

TOM: Wonder what would’ve happened if it had eaten, like, a raccoon’s brain?

> He had brought us a message
> from the outermost citadels of life and had flashed out again on his
> aeonic voyage from everlasting unto everlasting.

JOEL: A strange visitor from beyond the stars comes to Earth with a chilling message: yeah, do whatever you’re doing.


TOM: Let’s blow this popsicle stand.

JOEL: Works for me.

CROW: [ Slowly, seriously ] Dum DA-dum!

[ ALL file out. ]

                             \  |  /
                              \ | /
                              / | \
                             /  |  \


Mystery Science Theater 3000 and its characters and situations are the property of Satellite of Love, LLC, if the footer on doesn’t lead me wrong. I’m still geting used to thinking of Best Brains as a part of the past. I don’t know. _The Jovian Jest_ was written by Lilith Loraine and appeared in the May 1930 issue of _Astounding Stories of Super-Science_ which I believe to be out of copyright. It can be found through Project Gutenberg at at your leisure. I’m Joseph Nebus and this is 2017 for me.

> The homogeneous force of
> our omni-substance subjects the plural world to the processing of a
> powerful unity.

Every Home Repair Show I Ever Happen To See

The show starts with some upbeat music, cheery stuff that keeps threatening to have a tune. The credits dissolve to Jeff, who’s wearing a blue shirt along with his tool belt. “Hi there,” he says, “And thanks for joining us for another episode of Fixed In A Jeffy. We’ve been working for the last several weeks on a lovely ten-story single-family dwelling in Naugatuck, Rhode Island, and we’re going to continue not listening to those spoilsports at the historical society who say it’s Connecticut. Let’s check in with Jeff and see what he’s found.”

They cut to another Jeff, who’s got a red shirt but lacks a tool belt. He says, “This lovely building, with a footprint of nearly 120 square feet, was originally built in late 1886 as a cotton distillery who saw potential in the Pawcatuck River and didn’t know where they were. It was rebuilt as a different cotton distillery in early 1887 and again in 1893 by people who had a knack for assembling these things. During the Second World War employees in this facility put strands of the finest, strongest treated wool across the Norden bomb sight until the War Department caught them. We’re hoping to convert it to fit a small family like ours.”

The first Jeff says, “And there’s some real time pressure here. We’ve only got about a week until the owner gets back and probably picks some kind of fight with us. So let’s take a peek at a home in Eddie Foy, South Carolina, which much like Jeff’s here has got walls.”

There’s a musical interlude and the show comes to another Jeff, who’s got a green shirt and doesn’t care who sees him. This Jeff steps into the two-story hall with cats running up and down the stairs. “Homeowner Jeff has been gutting this absolutely gorgeous room, and it turns out to be because of a common mistake made the last time the house was renovated. Can you tell us what that was, and how many people are making it even without looking?”

Homeowner Jeff, wearing a white collared shirt that’s got two nonconsecutive buttons undone says, “We were experimenting with a nontraditional wall covering. We hoped to cover from floor to ceiling with a sparkling red lycra and that didn’t work at all. In the first place, cats would leap at the walls and get stuck, and then they’d be angry at whoever un-catched their claws. Un-caught their claws. Unclawed their catches.” Other Jeff slaps his shoulder, breaking him out of this loop. “We could have lived with that, but we also got joggers. Non-competitive, of course.”

The first Jeff (third of that name) nods. “Of course; this isn’t the badlands. Still, you don’t want flocks of joggers coming through and breaking up your private community space. Still, it begs the question — ”

The first Jeff (the first one) cuts in, smiling, but not meaning it. “Now, Jeff, we’ve talked about this. You mean to say this raises or asks the question. Back to our recorded segment from South Carolina.”

The third Jeff (the third one) nods, on tape. “You’re right of course. This raises the question, why lycra in the first place?”

The fourth (second) Jeff says, “We got there by a very interesting path and let me share the story with you. But first, I want to show you something.” He opens the door and they walk through a dissolve cut to the bottom of the driveway. “I designed my own mailbox so that it would look like an obscure dolphin called the melon-headed whale. You just slip a piece of paper in here — ” and he does, “And a little flag pops right up through its blowhole!” Which it certainly does.

Jeff (one of them) nods, saying, “Thank you. That is a creative and distinct way to comply with no currently known postal regulations.” A cat races out of the open door, leaps up the left Jeff, and lands on the flatbed of a truck that’s puttering down the street, which carries it out of sight. “I think some of this might be useful to you up in Vermont. Jeff?”

They return to the second Jeff. “Now, we’ve talked about this. Vermont and Rhode Island are radically different places, what with being represented in completely separate divisions of Lechmere’s Department Stores back in the day.” The camera pulls back to reveal he’s standing in front of the air conditioner unit behind the house. “So. We’ve found something alarming back here that isn’t just a repeat of the hornet incident. Join us for next week’s Fixed in a Jeffy when we look into that, won’t you please?”

Yes, I suppose that I shall.

MiSTed: The Jovian Jest (Part 3 of 4)

And continuing:

  1. MiSTed: The Jovian Jest (Part 1 of 4)
  2. MiSTed: The Jovian Jest (Part 2 of 4)

> He possesses more of what you would call ‘innate
> intelligence,’ but he has not perfected the mechanical brain through
> whose operation this innate intelligence can be transmitted to
> others and, applied for practical advantage.

TOM: Oh, c’mon, how many people do you know perfect mechanical brains?

CROW: Joel did!

TOM: Sycophant.

> Now this creature that I am using is, as you might say, full of
> sound without meaning.

JOEL: How we might say? How would you say?

> His brain is a lumber-room in which he has
> hoarded a conglomeration of clever and appropriate word-forms with
> which to disguise the paucity of his ideas, with which to express
> nothing!

CROW: Um …

> Yet the very abundance of the material in his storeroom
> furnishes a discriminating mind with excellent tools for the
> transportation of its ideas into other minds.

TOM: [ Professor Ralston ] Are you calling me stupid?

JOEL: [ As Amoeba ] I’m saying you have an abundance of deficiencies!

TOM: [ Professor Ralston ] Well … okay then.

> "Know, then, that I am not here by accident.

CROW: I had long and fully planned to land my flying saucer at a 50 degree angle in the middle of this corn silo!

> I am a Space Wanderer,
> an explorer from a super-universe whose evolution has proceeded
> without variation along the line of your amoeba.

TOM: Look, I don’t want to nitpick.

JOEL: Of course you don’t, honey.

TOM: Just, ‘evolution’ or ‘variation’, which of those words aren’t they using right?

> Your evolution, as
> I perceive from an analysis of the brain-content of your professor,
> began its unfoldment in somewhat the same manner as our own.

CROW: With cartoons of fish stepping up on land.

> But in
> your smaller system, less perfectly adjusted than our own to the
> cosmic mechanism, a series of cataclysms occurred.

JOEL: Does this involve blowing up the moon and jolting Earth into a new orbit?

> In fact, your
> planetary system was itself the result of a catastrophe, or of what
> might have been a catastrophe, had the two great suns collided whose
> near approach caused the wrenching off of your planets.

CROW: And if their diplomats weren’t able to find a face-saving solution to the crisis.

> From this
> colossal accident, rare, indeed, in the annals of the stars, an
> endless chain of accidents was born, a chain of which this specimen,
> this professor, and the species that he represents, is one of the
> weakest links.

TOM: Is Lilith Lorraine getting back at one of her professors?

CROW: Show *you* to give me a B *minus*.

> "Your infinite variety of species is directly due to the variety of
> adaptations necessitated by this train of accidents.

JOEL: If only no planets had formed then we’d all be amoebas!

TOM: Huh?

> In the
> super-universe from which I come, such derangements of the celestial
> machinery simply do not happen.

CROW: Amoeba-boy’s getting a little snobby there.

> For this reason, our evolution has
> unfolded harmoniously along one line of development, whereas yours
> has branched out into diversified and grotesque expressions of the
> Life-Principle.

TOM: Why, thank you for noticing!

> Your so-called highest manifestation of this
> principle, namely, your own species, is characterized by a great
> number of specialized organs.

CROW: Is … is Amoeba-boy talking about breasts?

JOEL: Oy, aliens, always like this …

> Through this very specialization of
> functions, however, you have forfeited your individual immortality,
> and it has come about that only your life-stream is immortal. The
> primal cell is inherently immortal, but death follows in the wake of
> specialization.

TOM: Also in the wake of being eaten by a bear. Just saying.

> We, the beings of this amoeba universe, are individually immortal.

CROW: So there’s no escape from Great-Aunt Carol and her inappropriate questions.

> We have no highly specialized organs to break down under the stress
> of environment. When we want an organ, we create it.

TOM: From … ?

JOEL: Never you mind!

> When it has
> served its purpose, we withdraw it into ourselves.

CROW: We draw the shades and hide from neighbors.

> We reach out our
> tentacles and draw to ourselves whatsoever we desire. Should a
> tentacle be destroyed, we can put forth another.

JOEL: Our contests of rock-paper-scissors can take years to decide!

> "Our universe is beautiful beyond the dreams of your most inspired
> poets.

TOM: So neener neener neener on you.

> Whereas your landscapes, though lovely, are stationary,
> unchangeable except through herculean efforts, ours are Protean,
> eternally changing.

CROW: [ As an onlooker ] Get me the one they call Heraclitus.

> With our own substance, we build our minarets
> of light, piercing the aura of infinity.

TOM: Your buildings are made out of people?

> At the bidding of our
> wills we create, preserve, destroy — only to build again more
> gloriously.

JOEL: It’s all great fun except when you’re signed up to be the sewer this week.

> "We draw our sustenance from the primates, as do your plants,

CROW: Are they telling us that ferns eat apes?

TOM: That’s how I make it out, yeah.

> and we
> constantly replace the electronic base of these primates with our
> own emanations,

JOEL: Your ferns charge up apes?

CROW: Even for aliens these are kinda weird mamma-jamas.

> in much the same manner as your nitrogenous plants
> revitalize your soil.

TOM: [ Onlooker ] “Um … are you completely sure you landed on the right planet here?”

> "While we create and withdraw organs at will, we have nothing to
> correspond to your five senses.

CROW: Though we have a perfect match for your Five Mrs Buchanans!

> We derive knowledge through one
> sense only, or, shall I say, a super-sense?

JOEL: We know everything through our hyperdimensional sense of taste!

TOM: Thus we travel the cosmos finding things to lick!

> We see and hear and
> touch and taste and smell and feel and know, not through any one
> organ, but through our whole structure.

CROW: You’re making this creepy, Amoe-boy.

> The homogeneous force of
> our omni-substance subjects the plural world to the processing of a
> powerful unity.

TOM: Dilute, dilute, okay?

The Eighteenth Talkartoon: The Cow’s Husband

This week’s Talkartoon is from the 13th of March, 1931. One of the credited animators was Shamus Culhane again. The other, Rudolf Eggeman, didn’t get listed in the credits for anything we’ve seen so far. And I don’t know much about him. The Early NY Animators blog has a tiny bit more, including attributions for some scenes in “Dizzy Dishes” and “Barnacle Bill”, plus cartoons I hope to get to. Early NY Animators found recollections of him working as far back as 1916, for the Pat Sullivan studio, but with the note that he had a reputation for crude and messy work. If Eggeman animated anything after 1932 they don’t know about it, and nor does the Internet Movie Database. (The IMDB doesn’t have anything from before 1930, when Eggeman joined Fleischer Studios, though.)

Do bullfighting cartoons always come down on the bull’s side? At least in the American tradition. I confess my deep ignorance of other countries’ animation patterns. I can’t offhand think of one, though, where the audience is clearly expected to be on the toreador’s side. Even when the bull is a big, menacing, unfriendly presence. I suppose the knowledge the bull would really be doomed however the fight goes makes him unavoidably sympathetic.

So this gives the cartoon some plotting trouble. You can have a sympathetic character be the toreador; Popeye, Bugs Bunny, and the Pink Panther did some great work in their bullfighting cartoons. But Bimbo’s a weaker character than any of them, even here where he’s doing the sorts of reality-warping gags that you’d get from screwball Daffy Duck. Take the bull, who’s naturally sympathetic to start with, and start his cartoon with a minute of teary farewells to his children and even his fly, and there’s no hope for Bimbo to actually star in his own short.

The teary farewell does give the first line of Talkartoons dialogue I remember making me laugh aloud though: the second child’s reassuring “Don’t worry, daddy, we’ll collect your insurance” is great. It makes more shocking the next child’s “never mind, Pop, momma’s gonna buy us a new daddy”. It feels like a joke from a more modern, cynical-edging-on-nihilistic cartoon. I didn’t like that; it felt like a shock-for-the-sake-of-shock joke, and I’m less fond of those these days. But that cynicism is of a piece with the end, and the bulls marching off unknowingly into the butcher’s.

So Eggeman had a reputation for sloppy work, albeit work that the Early NY Animators blog credits with good, funny expressions and movement. This makes for an interesting counterpoint because this cartoon features rotoscoping. Max Fleischer invented the rotoscope (the patent was issued 100 years ago this past 9th of October). It made the studio. Thanks to tracing the movement of a real figure they were able to make Koko the Clown move in more natural, believable ways in-between being melted into a blob of ink or stretched into a hammock or something. It’s still one of the indispensable tools for the animator. Every studio would use it when they had some movement they needed to get right. It’s at least intellectually part of the heritage of motion-capture animation.

The bull’s dance is rotoscoped. I’m curious who the original dancer was, but that’s probably lost to time. The animation suddenly bursting into this smooth, gracious ballet figure, though, still stands out. I haven’t got any idea who did the actual tracing and adaptation of the original movement to a bull’s body shape. Maybe it was Culhane, who did have a strong drafting hand.

The cartoon several times uses the gag of someone’s accessory going about its business while they do something else. That’s a Fleischer Studios staple. It’s also got a nice proper fight-cloud, that I don’t remember encountering in the Talkartoons before. I only spot mice once, a trio of them on the giraffe’s neck at about 6:38 in.

I like the logic of the parade reversing course after the cop warns they’re going the wrong way down the one-way street. But my favorite blink-and-you’ll-miss-it gag is Bimbo and the bull staring one another down, nose to nose, until Bimbo’s nose comes off him and attaches to the bull. I was worried they’d repeat the joke, spoiling its whimsy, their next face-to-face showdown.

MiSTed: The Jovian Jest (Part 2 of 4)

And continuing:

  1. MiSTed: The Jovian Jest (Part 1 of 4)

> The absorption of the stone had taught them what to expect, and for
> a moment it seemed that their worst anticipations were to be
> realised.

CROW: Pebbles across the county might be no more!

> The sluggish currents circled through the Thing,

TOM, CROW: Dum DA-dum!

> swirling
> the victim’s body to the center. The giant tentacle drew back into
> the globe and became itself a current.

JOEL: Don’t fight the current! Swim out and then make it to shore!

> The concentric circles
> merged — tightened — became one gleaming cord that encircled the
> helpless prey.

TOM: Is … he turning into Sailor Moon?

> From the inner circumference of this cord shot
> forth, not the swords of light that had powdered the stone to atoms,
> but myriads of radiant tentacles that gripped and cupped the body in
> a thousand places.

CROW: [ Bill Jones, giggling ] No wait stop I’m ticklish aaaaaaugh
[ and breaks down laughing ]

> Suddenly the tentacles withdrew themselves, all save the ones that
> grasped the head.

JOEL: That’s his *hair*.

> These seemed to tighten their pressure — to
> swell and pulse with a grayish substance that was flowing from the
> cups into the cord and from the cord into the body of the mass.

TOM: And from the body of the mass into the grayish substance and
that’s what we call an ‘economy’.

> Yes, it was a grayish something, a smokelike Essence that was being
> drawn from the cranial cavity.

CROW: Mmm, fresh skull juice.

> Bill Jones was no longer screaming
> and gibbering, but was stiff with the rigidity of stone.

JOEL: [ Bill Jones ] ‘Mondays, am I right?’

> Notwithstanding, there was no visible mark upon his body; his flesh
> seemed unharmed.

TOM: [ The Blob ] Oh yeah! Let me work on that.

JOEL: [ Bill Jones ] Whoa hey yeowwwowow!

> Swiftly came the awful climax. The waving tentacles withdrew
> themselves, the body of Bill Jones lost its rigidity, a heaving
> motion from the center of the Thing

CROW, JOEL: Dum DA-dum!

> propelled its cargo to the
> surface — and Bill Jones stepped out!

TOM: And he holds up the eight of diamonds — your card?

> Yes, he stepped out and stood for a moment staring straight ahead,
> staring at nothing, glassily. Every person in the shivering,
> paralysed group knew instinctively that something unthinkable had
> happened to him.

CROW: You suppose Farmer Burns will give him a refund?

> Something had transpired, something hitherto
> possible only in the abysmal spaces of the Other Side of Things.

JOEL: Do … do you think he liked it?

> Finally he turned and faced the nameless object, raising his arm
> stiffly, automatically, as in a military salute.

CROW: Oh, do *not* go there, I don’t have the energy.

> Then he turned and
> walked jerkily, mindlessly, round and round the globe like a wooden
> soldier marching. Meanwhile the Thing

ALL: Dum DA-dum!

> lay quiescent — gorged!
> Professor Ralston was the first to find his voice. In fact,
> Professor Ralston was always finding his voice in the most
> unexpected places.

JOEL: One time he spent a week searching for it before it turned up
in Schenectady.

> But this time it had caught a chill. It was
> trembling.
> "Gentlemen," he began, looking down academically upon the motley
> crowd

TOM: Too Fast For Love.

> as though doubting the aptitude of his salutation.

CROW: ‘It appears the aliens are here to … play.’

> "Fellow-citizens," he corrected,

JOEL: Buh?

TOM: The ever-popular ‘unneeded correction that somehow makes
you sound like a jerk’.

> "the phenomenon we have just
> witnessed is, to the lay mind, inexplicable. To me — and to my
> honorable colleagues (added as an afterthought) it is quite clear.

CROW: Oh, *boo*.

> Quite clear, indeed. We have before us a specimen, a perfect
> specimen, I might say, of a — of a — "

JOEL: You know he’s a professor of accounting, right?

> He stammered in the presence of the unnamable.

TOM: Read the employee badge! Then you can name it.

> His hesitancy caused
> the rapt attention of the throng that was waiting breathlessly for
> an explanation, to flicker back to the inexplicable.

CROW: [ As Ralston ] ‘Hey, stop paying attention to the not-man here!’

> In the
> fraction of a second that their gaze had been diverted from the
> Thing

ALL: Dum DA-dum!

> to the professor, the object had shot forth another tentacle,
> gripping him round the neck and choking off his sentence with a
> horrid rasp that sounded like a death rattle.

[ ALL clap. ]

JOEL: ‘Wait! I needed him to sign my financial aid paperwork!’

> Needless to say,

JOEL: End paragraph.

> the revolting process that had turned Bill Jones
> from a human being into a mindless automaton was repeated with
> Professor Ralston.

TOM: Blob is going to get *such* a letter from the Faculty Senate.

> It happened as before, too rapidly for
> intervention, too suddenly for the minds of the onlookers to shake
> off the paralysis of an unprecedented nightmare.

JOEL: With too much joy from everyone who’s had to listen to
the Professor mansplaining the world.

> But when the
> victim was thrown to the surface, when he stepped out, drained of
> the grayish smokelike essence, a tentacle still gripped his neck and
> another rested directly on top of his head.

CROW: He’s ready for Stromboli’s puppet show!

> This latter tentacle,
> instead of absorbing from him, visibly poured into him what
> resembled a threadlike stream of violet light.

TOM: Heck of a way to pick a new Doctor Who.

> Facing the cowering audience with eyes staring glassily, still in
> the grip of the unknowable, Professor Ralston did an unbelievable
> thing.

CROW: Let’s … POLKA!

> He resumed his lecture at the exact point of interruption!
> But he spoke with the tonelessness of a machine, a machine that
> pulsed to the will of a dictator, inhuman and inexorable!

JOEL: I had this guy for pre-algebra!

> "What you see before you," the Voice continued — the Voice that no
> longer echoed the thoughts of the professor — "is what you would
> call an amoeba, a giant amoeba.

CROW: Would you believe … a giant amoeba with cupholders?

TOM: It’s, it’s, maybe more of a paramecium? Would you buy that?

> It is I — this amoeba, who am
> addressing you — children of an alien universe.

JOEL: [ As the Amoeba ] Are … are any of you buying this?

> It is I, who
> through this captured instrument of expression, whose queer language
> you can understand, am explaining my presence on your planet.

CROW: [ As the Amoeba ] I … you know, this got a better reaction when I tried it at open-mic night.

> I
> pour my thoughts into this specialised brain-box which I have
> previously drained of its meager thought-content." (Here the
> "honorable colleagues" nudged each other gleefully.)

TOM: Mind-wiping is fun when it’s someone else on the faculty senate getting it!

> "I have so
> drained it for the purpose of analysis and that the flow of my own
> ideas may pass from my mind to yours unimpeded by any distortion
> that might otherwise be caused by their conflict with the thoughts
> of this individual.

JOEL: Oh, uh, PS, we’re not the bad guys?

> "First I absorbed the brain-content of this being whom you call Bill
> Jones, but I found his mental instrument unavailable.

TOM: Oh, sheesh.

> It was
> technically untrained in the use of your words that would best
> convey my meaning.

CROW: [ Bill Jones ] Are you calling me stupid?

JOEL: [ As Amoeba ] I’m saying you have an abundance of deficiencies!

CROW: [ Bill Jones ] Well … okay then.

What’s Going On In Prince Valiant? October 2017 – January 2018

I thank all you kind readers interested in what’s happening in Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant. This is my recap for mid-to-late January 2018. If it’s gotten far past that, this essay might not help you very much. But! If it’s past about April 2018, I should have other essays getting closer to your present. If I have done that, they should be at or near the top of this link. Good luck.

I also review comic strips for their mathematical themes, over on a blog trying less to be about comedy. You might find that interesting too.

Prince Valiant.

28 October 2017 – 21 January 2018.

When I last checked in on Prince Valiant things had reached a happy conclusion. Valiant had helped a refugee village smash a band of marauders. The marauders who weren’t so much into the marauding thing were settling down to join the villagers. And he was leaving behind some of the supporting cast where they were sure they’d be happy. With that, they were to sail down the river, hoping ultimately to get home.

They raft along the Yinchu. This river’s now known as the Syr Darya, one of the rivers in Kazhakstan that leads to the Aral Sea, which was a vast body of water that existed in Prince Valiant’s time. Along the way the party runs into (checks encounter table) a nasty swarm of insects. They escape the insects, but not before Valiant’s stung or bitten or otherwise harassed by one enough to fail his constitution check. He falls into a delirious sleep, and that night, pursuing the vision of his mother, he falls into the river.

Bukota, Karen, and Vanni are jerked from their sleep by the sound of a great splash. The Ab'saban warrior immediately realizes that the feverish Val is gone from his bedding and is nowhere to be seen. Karen is close to panic with concern for her stricken father, but frantic eyes can find little in the moonless dark. Flint is hastily struck to iron and a torch is set ablaze. Bukota wades to shore and sees evidence that Val has passed into the tall grasses, but the trail is soon lost. 'We must wait for dawn, and hope his fever does not lead him to destruction.' Meanwhile, a delirious Val stumbles forward, chasing the elusive phantom of his long-dead mother, a vision that suddenly transforms into the terrible figure of Horrit, the witch-prophet of his youth! 'Why do you hurry so, O Prince?' [ Next: Past and Future ]
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 19th of November, 2017. I admit I’m a bit impressed Valiant could get this lost this fast, given that he would have to get to the edge of the river. On the other hand, consider how easy it is to have something you’re holding in your hand drop eighteen inches onto a table, make some rattling noise, and then never be seen again. So yes, I am suggesting that Prince Valiant is kind of like that great dragon earring that was just here.

Valiant hacks his way through taunting visions of the witch-prophet Horrit and stumbles into a village. Jahan, the ruler, hooks him up with some salix tree extract, which naturally works great. Jahan explains their deal. His people are healers. They keep their neutrality in the wars between the Persian and Turkic people around them, ministering to both sides. And he’s atoning for a time when he kind of accidentally got the village cursed by not treating an ill stranger. (Jahan wasn’t sure if healing the stranger might alienate either of the warring sides around him.) Now, though, with “a good man — a man with an important destiny” treated despite being a stranger, he’d balanced the wrong.

Valiant’s companions find him. He’s sprawled out in the ruins of some ancient village, one massacred a long while ago. But then … how did Valiant find salix tree bark to chew on and to save his life? And with this (I found) charming bit of light Twilight Zone/folklore play Prince Valiant can get back to pondering the nature of reality and all that. For a couple days, anyway, while Karen and Vanni talk about healing herbs and chatter a bit with the local ravens. There’s a joke that the raven is passing word of their safe travels back home, but it turns out that is exactly what it’s doing.

Jahan the Healer continues to tell his story to the recovering Val. 'Our village maintained a delicate balance, providing remedies to the two powers surrounding us, until one day a man, dressed like none we had ever seen, rode into our village and collapsed. As headman, it was my decision as to how to treat the very sick stranger. But I was afraid --- he was neither Persian nor Turkic, and I feared that healing him might alienate one of those two clients. And so I chose not to treat him. The desperate man saw my intent to abandon him and, with the last of his strength, spewed forth a terrible curse. Then he died, and it was thereafter that disaster struck this village. But now I have saved a good man --- a man with a important destiny. I have balanced my wrong. I am finally free to go.' And as Val watches Jahan disappear into shadow, three worried figures track the prince's passage through the tall grass. [ Next: The Salix Tree ]
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 17th of December, 2017. There’s a lot that I like in the art of this panel, including Jahan introducing the audience to a scene presented behind him, the stranger’s desperation and anger as he curses the village, and all the fabric patterns. The vases aren’t bad either.

Something I didn’t pay attention to while it was happening, possibly because the one was taking place weekdays and the other Sundays: both the current weekday Phantom continuity and Prince Valiant include major, confusing, delusional dream-encounters for their strips’ titular characters. It also features what’s surely just a coincidence of words: Jahan speaks of Prince Valiant as “a man with an important destiny”; Savior Z speaks of The Phantom as “an important man of your kind”. All coincidence, surely. But I’m tickled to notice this.

Next Week!

So how did that bunco squad raid on the movie theater turn out? Is the strange Moon Governor Or Something closing in on Dick Tracy’s granddaughter from his abandoned farm base? How is Mister Bribery’s plan to bring someone from outside the strip in to murder Dick Tracy turning out? Did the strip acknowledge Gasoline Alley sending Joel over to visit? If all goes well, next week, I’ll read three months’ worth of Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy and let you know what the heck’s going on.

Statistics Saturday: Most Popular American Roller Coaster Names By Decade

Decade Most Popular American Roller Coaster Name
1890s Scenic Russian Mountain Panoramic Train Ride
1900s Drop The Dips Fairyland Lunar Cyclorama
1910s Figure Eight Speed-O-Plane Greyhound Flyer
1920s Racing Jackrabbit Zipper
1930s Swing Coaster
1940s Atomic Jet
1950s Comet Jet
1960s Meteor Jet
1970s Loop The Looping Loop Looper: The Bicentennial Looptacular
1980s Bobsled Ultragroove
1990s Laser Gunpuncher 2000max
2000s Death Kraken
2010s Steel Death Kraken

Source: The Kind Of Motion We Call Heat: A History of the Kinetic Theory of Gases in the 19th Century, Volume 2: Statistical Physics and Irreversible Processes, Stephen G Brush.

MiSTed: The Jovian Jest (Part 1 of 4)

I’d wanted to do another MiSTing of something and didn’t have time to get at some more chapters of The Tale of Fatty Coon somehow, despite having a whole year to try it. Instead I found a trifling little short story from a 1930 issue of Astounding and went to that. As best I can tell, it’s public domain, so no fair making me feel bad bringing out something completely inoffensive and fantastically avoidable for the sake of making some easy jokes, okay? Thanks. Also by the way I wrote and scheduled this to post before we got a meteor coming in to southeastern Michigan, so let’s just hold off on those allegations of who plagiarized who, all right?

MiSTed: The Jovian Jest [ 1 / 1 ]


TOM: So, an astounding tale from outer space, huh?

CROW: That’s the rumor.

> The Jovian Jest
> By Lilith Lorraine

CROW: Sponsored by the Alliteration Council.

JOEL: You’d think that would be an association.

> There came to our pigmy planet a radiant wanderer with a message —

TOM: ‘Please remove us from your mailing list’.

> and a jest

JOEL: And a jape?

TOM: No, a *jest*. Pay attention.

> — from the vasty universe.

CROW: Vasty?

> Consternation reigned in Elsnore village

[ ALL make grumbly crowd noises. ]

TOM: Rar, argh.

JOEL: Consternation and uproar!

> when the Nameless Thing was
> discovered in Farmer Burns’ corn-patch.

CROW: Fatty Coon! Get out of here!

> When the rumor began to
> gain credence that it was some sort of meteor from inter-stellar
> space,

TOM: [ Nerdy ] I *believe* you mean it is a meteor*ite*, thank you.

> reporters, scientists and college professors flocked to the
> scene, desirous of prying off particles for analysis.

CROW: Scientists and college professors! That’s what we’re doing wrong. We never should’ve given all those samples to the pro wrestlers and the guy selling Dead Sea bath salts at the mall.

> But they soon
> discovered that the Thing was no ordinary meteor, for it glowed at
> night with a peculiar luminescence.

JOEL: We need a novelty song! Get Phil Harris, stat!

> They also observed that it was
> practically weightless, since it had embedded itself in the soft
> sand scarcely more than a few inches.

CROW: Also Farmer Burns was growing his corn in the sand.

TOM: It’s a little game he plays.

> By the time the first group of newspapermen and scientists had
> reached the farm, another phenomenon was plainly observable. The
> Thing

TOM: Dum DA-dum!

> was growing!

JOEL: Well, that’ll happen.

> Farmer Burns, with an eye to profit, had already built a picket
> fence around his starry visitor and was charging admission.

TOM: ‘All right, here’s my nickel. Now give me an admission.’

CROW: ‘I’m the guy that clicks on Twitter Moments on purpose.’

> He also
> flatly refused to permit the chipping off of specimens or even the
> touching of the object.

JOEL: ‘Can I lick it?’

TOM: ‘No.’

JOEL: ‘Can I lick it just a little?’

TOM: ‘No.’

JOEL: ‘C’mon, I just want to lick it.’

TOM: ‘Well … okay.’

> His attitude was severely criticized, but
> he stubbornly clung to the theory that possession is nine points in
> law.

CROW: So science is going to need at least a touchdown and a field goal to catch up.

> It was Professor Ralston of Princewell who, on the third day after
> the fall of the meteor, remarked upon its growth. His colleagues

TOM: Were frankly amazed he took that long to get to it.

CROW: ‘No, please, Ralston, talk about growing orbs some more.’

> crowded around him as he pointed out this peculiarity, and soon they
> discovered another factor — pulsation!

JOEL: My god … it’s disco aliens!

> Larger than a small balloon,

CROW: Yet smaller than a large balloon …

> and gradually, almost imperceptibly
> expanding, with its viscid transparency shot through with opalescent
> lights, the Thing

CROW: Dum DA-dum!

> lay there in the deepening twilight and palpably
> shivered.

JOEL: Aw, it’s space-chilly.

> As darkness descended, a sort of hellish radiance began
> to ooze from it. I say hellish, because there is no other word to
> describe that spectral, sulphurous emanation.

CROW: Well *you’re* pretty judgemental there, narrator.

> As the hangers-on around the pickets shudderingly shrank away from
> the weird light that was streaming out to them and tinting their
> faces with a ghastly, greenish pallor,

TOM: Sheesh, they act like they’ve never even tried a death-ray before.

> Farmer Burns’ small boy,
> moved by some imp of perversity, did a characteristically childish
> thing.

CROW: He ran around yelling for a while until he fell down and cried.

> He picked up a good-sized stone and flung it straight at the
> nameless mass!

JOEL: The mass answers back about sticks and stones may break its bones.

> Instead of veering off and falling to the ground as from an impact
> with metal, the stone sank right through the surface of the Thing

JOEL: Dum DA-dum!

> as
> into a pool of protoplastic slime. When it reached the central core
> of the object, a more abundant life suddenly leaped and pulsed from
> center to circumference.

TOM: Welp.

CROW: It’s like pouring sugar in the gas tank, that.

> Visible waves of sentient color circled
> round the solid stone.

JOEL: What’s an invisible wave of color?

> Stabbing swords of light leaped forth from
> them, piercing the stone, crumbling it, absorbing it. When it was
> gone, only a red spot, like a bloodshot eye, throbbed eerily where
> it had been.

TOM: [ As the kid ] ‘Uhm … can I have my rock back?’

> Before the now thoroughly mystified crowd had time to remark upon
> this inexplicable disintegration, a more horrible manifestation
> occurred. The Thing,

JOEL, TOM: Dum DA-dum!

> as though thoroughly awakened and vitalized by
> its unusual fare, was putting forth a tentacle.

CROW: That figures.

TOM: It’s always tentacles. Why is it never, like, sea lion flippers?

> Right from the top
> of the shivering globe it pushed, sluggishly weaving and prescient
> of doom.

ALL: [ As onlookers ] HE DID IT!

> Wavering, it hung for a moment, turning, twisting,
> groping. Finally it shot straight outward swift as a rattler’s
> strike!
> Before the closely packed crowd could give room for escape, it had
> circled the neck of the nearest bystander, Bill Jones, a cattleman,

CROW: Moo.

> and jerked him, writhing and screaming, into the reddish core.

TOM: [ Bill Jones ] ‘Tell my cattle … I love … aaaargh!’

> Stupefied with soul-chilling terror, with their mass-consciousness
> practically annihilated before a deed with which their minds could
> make no association, the crowd could only gasp in sobbing unison and
> await the outcome.

JOEL: You know the *Australian* alien space blob is like twenty times deadlier than this.

How To Not Be Overly Organized

Is it possible to be too organized? Physics offers us an answer: it explains that the polhode rolls without slipping over the herpolhode. This sounds dirty. It really has something to do with the rotation of rigid bodies as they begin their nutation. This makes it sound unbelievably filthy. Physics reports now that it misheard the question and apologizes fiercely.

Now that we ask physics again, where it knows its mother is listening, we have a better answer. It would be too organized if all the mass and energy of the universe were piled into a single spot of extraordinarily high, by which we mean low, entropy, causing the expansion of space to restart with a new Big Bang and the formation of a different universe with physics that might be substantially different from those we know. Even the person who’s so orderly as to have a ten-point checklist for connecting the garden hose would agree this is too organized, given how long it would take for a new universe to expand and cool enough to support stars, life, limited-edition holiday-flavor candy corn, and the part of town where they’re always having ukulele festivals.

Most of us stop before that point anyway, because we are stymied by questions such as: does it count as a pair of socks if they are noticeably not alike, but they are each the only one of their kind, and you have two of them? This is the problem I posed to my advanced physics lab partner in college, when he said he was starting to organize his dorm room by dividing it into “pair of socks” and “not a pair of socks”. His answer was to look at me with sad despair. His dorm-room organization project ended in failure, and we were unable to show that the Inverse Zeeman Effect ever happened.

The Inverse Zeeman Effect is a physics thing you look for in advanced physics labs and it has nothing to do with polhodes as far as I know. It’s named for the Dutch physicist Pieter Zeeman, who was such the life of the party he was known in every physics lab as Pieter “The Man” Zeeman, only in Dutch. Eventually he got a sinecure working for the water-reclamation agency. This allowed him to be Pieter “Zie Man” Zeeman of the Zeiderzeewerken. For putting up with this all his life they gave him a Nobel Prize and asked him to say “sinecure” with a Dutch accent.

Even we who are not Nobel Prize-winning Dutch physicists find natural limits to organization. Most things enjoy a natural resting spot which doesn’t have to make sense. It just has to be consistent. Which is why, in a boring anecdote I am not making up, I kept my toothpaste in the refrigerator for about four years when I was living in Singapore. It was probably an accident at first. But then it kept happening, and before you knew it, if somehow there were toothpaste in a more traditionally sensible place in my apartment, such as the bathroom, I’d never know it. Clearly the natural habitat of Singaporean toothpaste was in the refrigerator. I should have left a note for whoever got my apartment after I moved out. But if I had left one, would they have believed me? What might they have said about it? “This person writes too small to be legible”, most likely. I’ve left notes for people before.

The trouble is that organizing tries to put things where it makes sense for them to be, which is rarely were they want to be. The displaced things respond by going missing altogether. Who among us hasn’t tidied the office supplies on their desk and discovered the stapler can’t be found? Or organized the stuff in their medicine cabinet to find that not only is their toothpaste gone but there’s no evidence that they’ve ever had toothpaste? To tidy up the house so well that the guest room goes completely missing and there’s just a vacant spot on the wall is an unusual event. But it’s not unprecedented.

If there is one important thing to consider, it’s this: the Dutch have a municipality named “Urk”. It’s a former island, as the Zuiderzee’s been reclaimed all around it. Now it’s geographically part of the Noordoostpolder, which sounds like they’re doing physics over there. Somebody look into that. After knocking.

In Which I Am Haunted By Music Of Days Past

I think it’s only fair to ask why I’m spending time, in 2018, going about my business while thinking of the background music from the Hanna-Barbera Pac-Man cartoon that was a thing that existed. And don’t tell me that it’s my own stupid fault for watching the Hanna-Barbera Pac-Man cartoon that was a thing that existed. What choice did I have at that age, not watching a cartoon? Exactly. In any case there’s no reason for me to be puttering around the house humming it to myself in my melody-less, Morse Code-esque fashion. Not at this date.

And it’s not like I let just any song I was exposed to back then occupy my thoughts for hours on end. Why, it’s been weeks since I had that AT&T commercial for their hardware that repurposed the old “Second-Hand Rose” song as “Second-Class Phones/ they’re making/ second-class phones/ they’re breaking” occupy my every waking thought for three days straight.

The Seventeenth Talkartoon: Teacher’s Pest

So there’s no lost-or-good-as-lost cartoons or, as best I can tell, misnumbered entries or any other weirdness. Last week I talked about the Bimbo cartoon “Tree Saps”. This week, “Teacher’s Pest”. The one odd thing about this: it was released the 7th of February, 1931. That’s four days after “Teacher’s Pest”. I’d like to say that obviously Bimbo-mania was sweeping the country. But the next Talkartoon after this wouldn’t come out for a full month. They must’ve just had a slot that needed filling. This is a cartoon animated by Grim Natwick and Seymore Kneitel and who knows if anyone uncredited was in there too.

The action gets a bit out of synch with the animation. I’d think that’s an error of how the short was digitized and uploaded. But these were still very early days for sound-synchronized cartoons, and I can’t rule out that the animators just misjudged the timing. It’s striking to me that in the bit of singing about “who’s the greatest man in history” the students’ responses are perfectly timed but one answer off.

This short features a Young Bimbo. At least, one who’s a kid young enough to go to school and have an off-screen mother and all that. I think this is the first time he’s been shown in a variation from the generic young adult who could work in a lumber mill or get hauled into court for harassing women. There’s also a girl who looks, to me, plausibly like a Young Betty Boop. This isn’t normally listed as a Betty Boop cartoon, and I’m not at all sure they meant the girl Bimbo meets in the hallway to be anyone particular. I’m not sure the knew yet that Betty Boop was going to be anybody either; she wouldn’t be named until “Silly Scandals”, released in late May 1931.

One thing I like in old cartoons, and that the Fleischer studios were prone to doing, is basic stuff made complicated. So I’m tickled that Bimbo gets out of bed by climbing through the footer. Or that he travels the last couple feet into school by going up the see-saw and using that to propel himself, and then his books, into the building. This is an era that didn’t tend to have strong narratives or much of any dialogue. Doing things in roundabout ways is not yet worn out. I also appreciate that a lot of Bimbo’s motion is in perspective, approaching or receding the camera. It makes walking across the screen something more.

The song that the teacher leads everyone in, after “Good Morning To You”, is a folk tune named “Bulldog on the Bank” or “Pharaoh’s Daughter” that I never heard of either. Here’s a transcription of at least one version of the lyrics, and a recording of date unknown to me. It’s a shame the cartoon’s recording is bad because I couldn’t understand the joke in the verse just by listening to it.

A pair of mice pop in, quickly, at about 2:16 in. A monstrously large one shows up at 6:56 in the dance. I’m tickled by the early joke of Bimbo setting his alarm clock back an hour, and by the quick moment of the clock’s retaliation. I have to call that the best blink-and-you-miss-it joke; there’s not a lot of competition in this short. Arguably competition: Bimbo stopping in to feed the pet frogs in the lowest stair-step. (Also, did anyone ever keep frogs in a stair-step? It seems ridiculous but not impossible.) Their first pair of names, Max and Dave, are funny if you are the kind of person who remembers the names of the Fleischer Brothers. Their second pair of names, Amos and Andy, are of course a reference to radio’s long-running contemporary examination of the effects the Great Migration on the American experience.

I have no idea why the short ends in a string of musical instruments morphing into one another as Bimbo plays them. Nor have I got an idea why it should end in a string of letters and arithmetic problems and stuff dancing around the background. Possibly they didn’t have a better way to conclude the short. I sympathize with the problem.

In Which I Ask For A Favor

I’m not sure who I’m asking this favor from. But I know out there at least one of you is in an Internet community that’s talking about movie sequel subtitles. And that’s looking around for what’s the right all-purpose movie sequel subtitle to use now that we’re moving past Electric Boogaloo and even The Squeakquel is starting to wear out. I’m not saying that anyone is wrong in supporting The Secret Of The Ooze or The Legend of Curly’s Gold as all-purpose subtitles either. And I don’t dispute you putting those in as your votes for all-purpose sequel subtitle.

It’s just that I think we’re forgetting about the second Cats and Dogs movie, which is a shame, as its subtitle The Revenge of Kitty Galore is clearly ready to be put underneath all sorts of movie franchise titles. So whoever’s in that discussion for all-purpose movie sequel subtitles? If you could enter The Revenge of Kitty Galore for me, I’d be grateful. Thanks and take care, please.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Weekdays)? October 2017 – January 2018

Are you hoping to get up to date on The Phantom‘s 248th weekday-continuity story, The Return of the Locust? Then you’re in luck, if you want to know how the story stands as of mid-January 2018. If you’re looking for later parts of the story, possibly including its conclusion, you’ll need a later essay. If I’ve written one about Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s comic strip, it should be at or near the top of this page. It has to share that page with the Sunday Phantom continuity, a separate story being revealed to us in parallel. But it’s there. This is about the strips running Monday-to-Saturday.

If you’re interested more in comic strips that are about mathematical topics, and the mathematics those imply, please consider my other blog. I try to round up the past week’s comics and explore the ones that give me something good to talk about.

The Phantom (Weekdays).

23 October 2017 – 13 January 2018.

The Ghost Who Walks had been encouraged to take up flying last time. He got a curious summons from The Locust, a Mandrake-class magician working out of the American Southwest. The Phantom flies his private plane to Walker’s Table, a remote and impossibly inaccessible pillar of rock somewhere in New Mexico that’s been in the Phantom’s family since the father of the first Phantom explored the desert in 1499. And it turns out there’s anti-aircraft gunners on the Table.

So he withdraws, and checks in with the local diner to ask what the heck’s going on. He talks with the guy who runs the diner. He’s called the General and speaks the way characters with backstory do, although I don’t know what it is. The Phantom Wiki doesn’t have anything logged about it either. May just be written like he’s an old hat. Anyway, the General explains how there’s squatters on top of the Table. They hook up with the helicopter pilot who’s been delivering supplies to people he just trusted were supposed to live atop a massive cylinder of rock.

Helicopter pilot: 'That's YOUR place? And you don't even know these people?' Phantom: 'Afraid not.' Helicopter pilot: 'Man, they said it was THEIR place! I'm way too trusting!'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 7th of November, 2017. “I can be so gullible! Well, nothing to do now but throw my lot in with the stranger nobody in town has seen or heard from in years who claims that two dozen generations of his family have owned the most remarkable geographic feature in this part of New Mexico!”

The Phantom arranges for the helicopter pilot to fly him, at night, to somewhere out of gunnery range above the Table. And to drop him, in one of those cool wing-suits used by those people who talk with Conan O’Brien about how they jump off of skyscrapers. With this he’s able to land on the Table without drawing attention until he’s ready to shout at or punch people.

Savior Z: 'You're here! You're now! Y-you're really here!' The Phantom: 'I own this place. Of course I'm here.' Savior Z: 'So many said I --- I made it up! I-in my mind! But it's true! Y'you're here! An important man of your kind! ... Important like I am!' The Phantom thinks, 'This is more than I knew a moment ago: he's out of his mind!'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 1st of December, 2017. Not even slightly Tony DePaul’s fault but Savior Z’s open of “You’re here! You’re now!” puts me in mind of some late-60s audio clip about something being a happening thing and I can’t track down what I’m thinking of. No, it is not The Peanut Butter Conspiracy’s “It’s A Happening Thing”.

On the ground he finds Spock’s half-brother Sybok, sporting a long green coat and talking about this proves everything he ever said. He’s got a bunch of followers, a bunch of mostly young, racially mixed young adults living in tents. They call Sybok the “Savior Z” and cling to his every word, such as “Stop him!” and “He’s getting away!” and “Don’t let him throw all our guns off the edge of the cliff!” and “don’t let him bludgeon us with that meteorite!

After shoving the cult’s artillery over the edge and bluffing Savior Z into giving up his pistol, the Phantom asks what the heck their whole deal is. Savior Z tells his followers that this is exactly the way he foresaw all this playing out, and his followers are fools to question him. His followers look around and shrug and agree, this is definitely all in Savior Z’s vision and they’re not fools to question this. Savior Z has some story about an amassing alien invasion fleet gathered behind the far side of the Moon, and insists The Phantom is the vanguard of the invasion.

Savior Z, to his followers: 'So don't be deceived! We came here to fight! To defend the good!' The Phantom, grabbing him: 'Enough! You've had your say. Now here's mine. Get some rest. In the morning, we're walking out of here.'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 21st of December, 2017. Now I’m picturing what it’d be like if The Phantom was a weary assistant professor dealing with yet another round of plagiarized essays turned in for his intro class. Also that every college instructor would like the power to punch hard enough that it leaves a skull-head imprint forever.

By the way, Savior Z isn’t automatically delusional for saying this. The Phantom takes place in a continuity with a lot of wild stuff happening. Within the past decade the Ghost Who Walks himself helped transplant a small population of lizard-men to a more remote, defensible spot here on Earth. And sister strip Mandrake the Magician has, in the past two decades, chased off aliens (these aren’t the only ones in the past four years of reruns) and time travellers abducting people to the far-distant future in order to teach them how to be spanked. In the vintage strips from the 1940s that Comics Kingdom also runs, they’ve dealt with giants, a floating city in the clouds, and I’m pretty sure at least one iteration of Atlantis. When that’s the standard for normal, why couldn’t Savior Z know that the Emperor of the Moon is up to his old tricks?

(And my thanks to the Mandrake The Magician blogspot, without which recaps I couldn’t have found those two instances before my patience ran out.)

Well. The disarmed Savior Z explains they can’t just leave because the elevator’s unsafe. He shows the skeptical Phantom what the problem is: it’s the concussion grenade he booby-trapped the elevator with. The unconscious Phantom dreams he’s visiting his son, off at his Tibetan finishing school. Although his dream starts to fall apart when he realizes it doesn’t make sense, a phenomenon that sometimes happens to dreaming people. (My love has this happen all the time and I’m always amazed by it.)

Savior Z, over the (concussed) Phantom: 'These exoplanet warriors! Just look at him! Hardened in intergalactic battles your small minds cannot imagine! All in my vision! All foretold!' Followers: 'He foretold it all ...' 'I love Savior Z ... follow him anywhere ... '
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 12th of January, 2018. I am expecting in another day or two that the Ghost Who Walks will try some kicking and stuff. But I am also curious that something like four months into The Return of the Locust we haven’t seen that much of the Locust. Can’t blame The Locust if he figured all he had to do was place an ectoplasmic call in to deal with this oddball cult, but it seems like very little of a return. But, then, Tony DePaul isn’t afraid of long storylines. Six-month storylines aren’t rare, and a couple years back he ran one about the kidnapping of Diana Palmer designed to run over a year and a half.

Some of Savior Z’s followers are a bit put off to learn the elevator was booby-trapped. But some of the others figure out why this isn’t a creepy, manipulative, controlling thing for their cult leader to do: he was protecting him from their own weakness. Lest his cult figure out they don’t even need him to dominate their thoughts anymore, Savior Z tells them that their doubts are exactly part of his plan, and for their part in fulfilling his vision they should enjoy this punch. Also, they should roll The Phantom over the edge of the cliff.

And that’s where the story ended Saturday.

Next Week!

We return to the fantastic and bizarre Far East, as Prince Valiant and his companions try to head back west. Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant, having conquered his enemies, now has to overcome the elements and find his way home without dying.

Statistics Saturday: Which Side Of The Road Various Countries Of The World Drive On

Country Of The World Which Side Of The Road Is Driven On
Canada Top
India Top
United Kingdom Top
Australia Top
Mexico Top
Germany Top
Ukraine Top
Norway Top
Russia Top
Romania Top
Finland Top
Turkey Top
Hungary Top
South Korea Top
Brazil Top
United States Top
New Zealand Top
Greece Top
Serbia Top
Argentina Top
Vietnam Top
Bangladesh Top
Taiwan Top
Lebanon Top
Italy Top
Spain Top
Portugal Top
Israel Top
Philippines Top
France Top
Denmark Top

Source: The Kind Of Motion We Call Heat: A History of the Kinetic Theory of Gases in the 19th Century, Volume 1: Physics and the Atomists, Stephen G Brush.

Some Dubious Things To Do With Robots

The area library got He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe: Minicomic Collection. This is a heck of a book, compiling all of the minicomics that were originally included with toy figures back in the day. It’s a lot of book, something like 24,864 pages and more reading than I had to do to earn my Master’s in Mathematics. The books start out weird, but soon settle in to a comfortable routine. Most of them, at least once the cartoon had got started and they had a specific continuity to pay attention to, are about He-Man talking with his New Friend, Whatever This Current Toy Is. New Friend worries that he’s not as good as the rest of the Masters of the Universe, and then Skeletor does some nonsense or other and New Friend’s unique abilities turn out to save the day, even if his power is that he’s made of rock. Or it’s a new villain who uses his powers to be the greatest possible menace ever to He-Man who still foils the villain, even if it turns out his power is that he’s got more than one eye. But sometimes there’s a variation. Like in this one.

Man-At-Arms: 'Hello, Adam, this is Roboto!' Robot: 'I-Am-Roboto.' Adam: 'I'm impressed! What can he do?' Man-At-Arms: 'In addition to his mechanical claw, he can use this laser ax or laser gun! And Iv'e given him the power to be invincible!' Roboto: 'I-Am-Invincible'. Adam: 'Excuse me, Man-At-Arms, but do you think it's wise to give so much power to a robot?' Man-At-Arms: 'You're right to ask. But I've taken a precaution! I'm giving Roboto this 'heart', which will give him the human emotions and compassion he needs to be a true warrior of Eternia!'
I know what you’re thinking and don’t worry. Man-At-Arms also gave Roboto the power to make more interesting conversation. I apologize for the deep fold in the center but the book is thicker than my Scion tC and there’s just no way to hold it flat on the scanner or the color copier to get a page clean and un-distorted.

So here Man-At-Arms is able to make a robot which, sure, that’s fair enough. He’s a guy with a helmet and green leggings, of course he can make robots. What I’m dubious about: he can make a robot be invincible? Should that really be in Man-At-Arms’s power set? At the least shouldn’t he get someone higher-ranked to sign off on this? Another dubious thing: he can give robots hearts? I’m not saying it’s a bad idea, just, again, should he be doing this without Institutional Review Board approval?

In Which I Discover A Way To Make A Modest But Respectable Sum Of Money

Something I always get in December is the Peanuts page-a-day calendar. It’s an important piece of organizing my life. How can I confirm to myself all afternoon that I’ve completed the tasks I must do every day or else die or break a streak except by tearing off that day’s colorized reprint of a joke from 1966 that I memorized by the time I was seven? But somehow, through the machinations of fate and whatnot, I forgot to get one this December. And nobody was able to find one for me for Christmas. And the bookstore in town didn’t have any, either. So I had to resort to the thing that still feels weird and alien and exotic and maybe a little too much fuss for me, and buy the thing online.

So here’s what I faced looking at the Peanuts 2018 page-a-day calendar on Amazon. And by the way I trimmed out of this the estimated delivery date, which was that it usually strips “in one to two months”. That is transparent nonsense. What could take two months to get a calendar? I know the production rates of the vast calendar mines of Ecuador and I know how much containerized cargo is shipped from Guayaquil to Los Angeles daily. Even with the traffic difficulties caused by Panama Canal expansion. (The shipping goes through Rotterdam for efficiency’s sake.) The numbers don’t lie. Two months is just a fib. Anyway, don’t worry, the nonsense runs deeper.

Peanuts 2018 Day-to-Day Calendar, by Peanuts Worldwide LLC. 14 new from $7.49. 2 used from $39.59.
They include a full-color comic strip, but of the Monday-to-Saturday strips, which originally ran in black and white. The Sunday strips, which were originally run in color, aren’t included in any way at all.

Somehow — and I put this order in, like, the 3rd of January — someone is selling a used calendar for 2018 for $39.59. In fairness, they don’t say what it’s used for. If it’s used, for example, to scribble down the clues leading to the lost Schulz Treasure, then $39.59 seems pretty reasonable. (The Treasure is what’s left of this stock of ink pens that Schulz really liked, and that he bought the company’s entire stock of when they were discontinuing the model. This may not sound like a lot of treasure, but understand, if you have an art supply you can go up to any artist who draws — including writers or musicians who just doodle while avoiding writing or musicking — demand as much money as they have, and they’ll give it to you. They’ll sulk while they do it, yes, but don’t we all?) But what if it’s not? What if it was used for something more mundane, like, the thing wasn’t even taken out of its box and it was just used to keep a taller calendar from sliding down before someone could thumbtack it onto the wall?

Because if it turns out you can turn a ten-dollar calendar into a forty-dollar calendar just by using it then my entire financial situation has changed. And I’m going to have to have stern words with the version of myself that was asking serious questions about what I needed versus what I would merely like back in 2002 when I was getting out of grad school and preparing to move to Singapore. Because there’s, like, a dozen years of used official Star Trek Starships Of The Line calendars that I just tossed into the bin because they finally seemed to have no value. And don’t doubt that they were used. Every one of them had a little channel individually cut by thumbtack through the paper above the punched-out hole for hanging the things. Many of them also have little strips of manually-added scotch tape attempting to keep December from completely falling off the wall and onto the bare mattress sitting on the bedroom floor. You don’t get much more used than that.

I can’t promise to make every calendar so well used, of course. But I’m sure I could buy some calendars and give them some use. Maybe try to fold out the plastic leg on the back of them that’s supposed to make the calendar stand on its own and doesn’t. Maybe take a date and scribble an illegible note about an appointment nobody can quite make out. What is important to do at 4:45 on Tuesday with Nurl? I don’t know. But every appointment I ever write down is at 4:45 on Tuesday with Nurl. Do you want to miss it? Maybe write out for one of the activity puzzles at least four words you can make from the letters of “resolution”.

Lucy: 'I knew I was right! I knew it! There was a day just like today back in 1935! This isn't a new year at all ... this is a USED year! I'm going to write a strong letter of protest.' Linus: 'Who's in charge of years?'
Or maybe they’re just seeing who remembers the Peanuts from the 11th of January, 1966. Tough to say. It is the sort of needlessly obscure prank I’d play though.

I’m not saying this is going to make my fortune. There’s the up-front cost of ten or fifteen bucks per calendar. But at a per-calendar profit of $25 per this is at least as good an hourly rate as anything else I’m doing. Back in the day, my father made a modest but reliable profit buying, fixing, and selling houses. I’m not competent to do that, but why couldn’t I flip a couple days? It’s only fair.