What’s Going On In Mark Trail? Who Is Chasing Rusty Trail And Why? July – October 2018


I know you want to find out about all the comic strips which mentioned mathematics topics last week. They’re discussed on that link, the one that just passed. And you probably also want to know about a fascinating selection of words from mathematics. That’s here. It’s also possible that you want to know about James Allen’s Mark Trail, but it’s so much later than the mid-October date when I publish this that my plot summary doesn’t help. If I’ve got a more recent recap, it should be here. Glad to help. If you’re reading this around lat October, though, this should get you caught up soon enough.

Mark Trail

31 July – 21 October 2018.

[ And tracks down 'Mark Trail' ] Griffy: 'No, she doesn't have an ear tag or a tufted forelock.' Mark Trail: 'Sorry, Chief --- if she's not tagged or tufted, I can't help you!'
Bill Griffith’s Zippy the Pinhead panel for the 20th of August, 2002. Part of a storyline in which a “realistically drawn woman” interrupts the comic and Griffy (left) goes on a search through the story comics to try to find where she belongs.

Last time I checked in, Mark Trail and company were in the pop-culture district of Mexico. Mark’s archeology buddy Professor Howard Carter was finding weird stuff in a 2500-year-old temple. His assistant Becky had this weird habit of cataloguing and making 3-D scans of everything before taking it to a secure facility. And hey, she’s off-stage now for unknown reasons. Rusty found a “Zuni Fetish Doll” that arrived in an anonymous box. And this wasn’t the first time one of these has turned up. That and some references to Indiana Jones and Three Amigos filled out the setting. I don’t know if the doll is a reference to something.

Mark Trail realizes the story is stalling out. It’s been going since April and what we know is this ancient temple is weird and Becky’s off-stage. He suggests Rusty and his girlfriend-based partner organism Mara go to the other temple. See if they can’t get kidnapped or something while he takes a nap and disappears from the story. Joe the van driver mentions how the dolls started showing up and the site has a curse or something. Also that he’d heard Becky was at the dig site in the morning but guesses he was wrong. Anyway, he drops them off in care of the tour guide at Non-Creepy Mayan Temple.

Mara: 'Who is that man she's [ Becky's ] talking with --- he wasn't part of the group!' (Becky hands a mask to Backpack Guy.) Rusty: 'Hey! That's the mask from Professor Carter's trailer!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 17th of August, 2018. You can’t see it from this angle, but just out of frame, Rip Haywire is punching an explosion. It’s pretty cool.

Rusty and Mara notice that Becky’s in with the tour group. They call to her, but she doesn’t react. Mara thinks it’s odd that Becky didn’t hear them. But Rusty has people “not hearing” him and fleeing his approach all the time. Still, they press on. They find Becky! She’s talking with someone else, someone wearing a backpack who was not from the tour group. And holding what looks like one of the masks dug up earlier. Mara thinks Becky is trying to sell it. They work up the hypothesis that Becky is making 3-D prints of the artifacts, selling the real ones, and putting the fakes into museums. Rusty thinks it’s a shame someone as nice-seeming as Becky would do something so underhanded. Mara calls him out on this: “you meet a girl one time, and just because she’s pretty, you think she’s nice”. A good point. Rusty doesn’t seem to consider he hasn’t met Mara all that much, and she seems nice, and she’s feeding the idea Becky is arranging an artifact sale. Just saying.

Raul, over the phone: 'I didn't see much --- the kids were in the way --- but I know the rop went as planned!' Joe, in his truck: 'That complicates things ... we may have to use the kids for a while before we get them out of the way! This makes me very unhappy --- you know Mark Trail's reputation!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 30th of August, 2018. The next day’s strip makes it clear they’ve read Mark Trail’s writings before, so they just happen to be low-level Mark Trail fans out here. It’s not like he showed up in their scheme and they quickly looked up what this means for their life-stories.

They notice someone’s watching them. And they follow the guy who took the mask. Backpack Guy is taking the tour bus back to Santa Poco. The guy who watched them gets on the radio with Joe the driver, though. Joe and Watching Guy share an ominous radio conversation about having to use the kids before getting them out of the way. And that they know this is dangerous, given Mark Trail’s reputation for how every story ends in major explosions lately. Rusty and Mara get back to Joe, and ask him to take them into Santa Poco and hey, why not stop wherever the tour bus does? He can’t figure an excuse not to comply. Mara wonders if Joe might have been the watcher, and she thinks that’s a shame, as “he seems like such a nice guy”. Credit to James Allen for underplaying the character moments there. Anyway, they drive past a week’s worth of panels of Central American wildlife eating other pieces of Central American wildlife.

Mara’s talked Rusty into putting some kind of tracking app on his phone and I’m sorry, Rusty Trail has a smart phone. I have to go lie down a while. Also he has a smart phone that works in Mexico. Y’know, my love and I spent a week in Mexico City earlier this year. Working out whether we could get a phone to work on the Mexican network was something we stressed about without ever solving the problem. (We made it through the week without a phone. Not looking for a medal here, just some acknowledgement of our courage.) Anyway, Mara’s plan is to turn on the tracking app, drop the phone in Backpack Guy’s backpack and then even if they lose sight of him, it’s all right. They can follow. Mara mentions getting the idea from Nancy Drew, a reference Rusty doesn’t get, and wait Nancy Drew has smart phones now? I have to go lie down again.

Mara: 'We're going to walk over to Backpack Guy. You kind of push me into him, I'll trip and fall. When he tries to help me up, you slip the phone into his backpack!' Rusty: 'Awesome! Then we can use your phone and the Snap-N-Rap App to track my phone's location and find out where he is in case we lose sight of him!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 21st of September, 2018. So, seriously, the only comic strips that show kids with cell phones in anything approaching realism are Nancy, Phoebe and Her Unicorn, and Mark Trail? The heck, world? You know?

Back to Joe, who mercifully gives us some names for characters. Watching Guy turns out to be Pablo. They and Raul — who’s talking to Joe while posing with his cool motorcycle — know the kids are on to something. And that Pablo saw the “courier”, while Raul saw Becky. They note that they didn’t see the courier and Becky together. This point is so inconsequential that taking panel time to establish it must mean it’s consequential. Joe think that Rusty and Mara were following the “second courier”. But since they’re not following Backpack Guy now he doesn’t know what to think. This may be how this scenario would happen. But it made for a week of baffling reading as people say they don’t know what’s going on. Raul promises to “take care” of Rusty and Mara. He also says he’s “let Pablo take care of” Becky. Yes, I’m aware the phrasing looks ominous without actually committing to anything. I mean, there’s enough space here for Joe and Pablo and Raul to be part of the smuggling operation. There’s also enough for them to be undercover agents busting the crime syndicate.

Raul: 'What do you mean?' Joe: 'I thought the kids had just led me to the second courier --- they just tripped over a guy wearing a backpack who was getting off the bus, but now they seem to have lost all interest in him!' Raul: 'I'm sorry, but I'm not following you!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 28th of September, 2018. A sentiment that I did see expressed while the story was going on. The lack of explicitly given names didn’t help following the story as it suddenly got all this intrigue.

All right. So. Rusty and Mara try to act casual as Backpack Guy encounters them. He recognizes his “clumsy friends” who knocked him over at the bus stop. That scene wasn’t actually shown on-panel by the way. But it was how they dropped Rusty’s phone into his backpack. He proposes that they walk with him, since this is not a great part of town for unattended kids. And introduces himself as Juanito, so now I have all the player-characters’ names. Juanito says he’s a courier, and he’s got a package to deliver nearby, so why not walk with him? Rusty and Mara go along with this. Juanito stops at the next street because he’s seen the motorcyclist, whom we know to be Raul. Juanito’s not sure that Raul is following them, but does think he “looks like trouble”. Juanito proposes they run into a crowd. I’m assuming a fruit stand is going to get knocked over. Could even get exploded.

Mara: 'Rusty, Backpack Guy is headed this way!' Rusty: 'Quick! Let's act like we're reading!' (They pick up comic books. Rusty reads 'Fist of Justice' and Mara 'Giant Squirrel!'. Comics in the background include 'Spider Guy' and 'Super Dude' and a 'Gore' that I think might be a reference to this early 50s Peanuts strip where Charlie Brown demolishes a poor newsstand owner's comics display.)
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 6th of October, 2018. Wait, those comics. Fists of Justice? Giant Squirrel? Mark Trail is getting all self-aware and I’m not sure I can take it!

I do appreciate that James Allen has put in play at least three groups here. Each knows a little about the other groups. None knows enough that anyone can be confident in who to trust or how far. It’s a bit foggy reading this day-to-day. Comics Kingdom lets subscribers read a week’s worth of strips at once. That helps the plot threads focus for me. And, I hope, I help that for you.

Sunday Animals Watch

What fascinating animals, plants, or forces of nature were highlighted in the Sunday panels recently? And have we killed them yet? Here’s the recap.

  • Ants, 29 July 2018. So there’s ants that explode and they’re not even from Australia and what the flipping heck?
  • Honeysuckle, 5 August 2018. Not any more endangered than all life on Earth is right now.
  • Dobsonflies, 12 August 2018. Early indicators of when the local environment is dying.
  • Hognose Snakes, 19 August 2018. Not endangered, but they do play dead so they’re a little drama-prone.
  • Giant Hogweed, 26 August 2018. Also called Giant Cow Parsley or Hogsbane, claims Mark Trail. It’s invasive and its sap can send you to the hospital with third-degree burns.
  • Gila Monsters, 2 September 2018. Fun episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
  • Humbolt Martens, 9 September 2018. Endangered, and Mark Trail tries to cast some blame on the marihuana.
  • Rhinoceroses, 16 September 2018. Ugh. You know. But it does mention that thing where earlier this year it looks like lions killed a poacher of rhinoceroses.
  • Mount Lico’s “Lost Continent”, 23 September 2018. Cool, technology-assisted discovery of a previously undisturbed forest with a bunch of unknown species that’ll probably blow up, if that episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 is any guide.
  • Jaguars, 30 September 2018. Endangered. Features one of the three known in recent years to be in the United States and that got killed by a poacher.
  • The Larger Pacific Striped Octopus, 7 October 2018. Probably endangered, but apparently it’s too rarely seen to be sure.
  • Parasitoid Wasps, 14 October 2018. Yeah, it’s got a stinger that’s, like, twelve feet long and Mark Trail looks like he’s about five feet into his impalement here.
  • Parsnips, 21 October 2018. They can cause second-degree chemical burns, which is no Giant Hogweed but is still a valuable reminder to never eat anything natural enough that its name isn’t required legally to be misspelled.

Next Week!

Will I make it seven days without turning into a white-hot ball of incoherent, jibbering rage? There’s only one way to know and that’s to see if I last until next Sunday reading Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth. If I survive, I’ll tell you why you should probably be a white-hot ball of incoherent, jibbering rage too!

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Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there. He/him.

4 thoughts on “What’s Going On In Mark Trail? Who Is Chasing Rusty Trail And Why? July – October 2018”

    1. Thank you so. One of my failed ideas for a Statistics Saturday post was to categorize the nightshade family and divide it into the plants that are pretty, the ones that are deadly, and the ones that taste good. But that got bogged down when I realized there wasn’t any joke there. It’s amusing that humans use pretty much the whole family for one of those three things, but noticing that would only have the form of a joke if I actually listed the whole set, so that it got to be funny by sheer bulk.

      And, well, I hope the recap helped sort the plot out. I got lost too reading it daily, and I only felt confident about it writing this essay. And at that I had to re-read the past month’s story. I hate to prescribe what writers should be doing — I mean, they’re the ones with a paid gig, they must know something — but I think Allen needs to be better about giving characters names, and using them consistently, earlier.

      Like

    1. Thank you. No, I wasn’t joking; I had the strong sense something specific was being referenced, but somehow, for all that I trade in pop culture references, the Trilogy of Terror is one of those things I don’t know.

      Like

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