What’s Going On In Alley Oop? Who’s Writing Alley Oop Now? September – December 2018


I know everyone’s interested to see Alison Sayers and Jonathan Lemon’s take on Alley Oop. It’s not coming until January. Here I’m recapping the last couple months of Jack Bender and Carol Bender-produced reruns. I figure, at least for now, to keep Alley Oop in the regular story strip rotation. So my first recap of the New Era should come around early March 2019. And it should be at this link. If there’s news updates warranting more articles, they’ll be there too.

Meanwhile each week I look at comic strips for mathematics topics and post the essays here. You might like reading that. I like writing it.

Eight-Ball and Weenus in a cave. Fred Flintstone says, 'Sorry. Batman won't be here for another 2.6 million years.' The cave is filled with caveman figures, including Alley Oop and Ooona, B.C.'s Peter and Fat Broad, the Croods, the kind from The Good Dinosaur, a Far Side caveman, someone from Early Man chasing a rabbit, and a couple other characters. The comments thread on GoComics identifies them all.
Jonathan Lemon’s Rabbits Against Magic for the 2nd of December, 2018. So we at least know Lemon’s figured out how to draw the main characters. Fun fact: my love and I were eating in a Mexican restaurant in Denver once, and noticed on the TV an animated movie, without sound, that seemed annoyingly familiar without being at all understandable. It was the Croods, which we’d seen and liked in the theaters. (They’re the characters in the lower-left corner here.) While a fact, this is not in fact a fun fact. I own multiple books about the history of containerized cargo. I have no functional mental model of what “fun” is. I probably can’t even imagine a person who would know what “fun” is.

Alley Oop.

2 September – 9 December 2018

My last update about Alley Oop covered the end of Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s run as writer and artist. That included the end of a storyline. So I have a clean slate of story here. This has been from a storyline which first ran in 2013. That’s from before I was doing regular plot recaps. So I can’t just reuse an old essay. Gr. But also on this story there’s another credit, for John Wooley. I don’t know what role Wooley played.

Dr Wonmug has a job! A client is paying him to gather samples in 1816 Switzerland. I honestly didn’t know the Doc took jobs like that. The client’s never named, but that doesn’t seem to be a plot element. It’s just an excuse for why he has to “hurry” to travel in time. Anyway, Doc pops in to Ancient Moo, interrupting Alley Oop’s and Ooola’s picnic. And annoying Ooola, who teases that “maybe I’ll have a little adventure of my own”. This hasn’t paid off yet and I haven’t checked whether it ever does.

Ooola: 'Alley, after all this time, do you really have to ask why Doc is here? Why is he EVER here?' Oop: 'Whadya mean by that?' Doc Wonmug: 'She's right, Oop! Ooola, I'm sorry to interrupt your picnic, but I need to borrow Oop for ... ' Ooola: 'Blah, blah, blah! You don't need to explain to me, Doc!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 5th of September, 2018. I usually like it when characters admit they should recognize a situation from all the times they’ve done it before. Alley Oop had asked what Wonmug was doing there, which does have the obvious answer Ooola’s annoyed he doesn’t know. He’s supposed to go tromping around in space and time for something. But it seems like Oop’s got the question, what are they tromping around for this time, and that’s at least as reasonable a question.

Oop thinks this “scientific research” is a new game, but what the heck. He’s up for it. 1816 is a good year for for science research; you might faintly remember it as “the year without a summer”. After the explosion of Mount Tambora the previous year the northern hemisphere suffered widespread cold, leading to food shortages and even more poverty. And a pretty boring summer retreat at the Villa Diodati, in Cologny, Switzerland. There Mary Shelley is fed up with Percy Shelley and Lord Byron going on about electricity to each other. She decides to take her chances walking outside in the cold rain. Oh, should say, nobody’s last name gets mentioned. This is probably to set up the punch line ending. It’s a good punch line for someone who doesn’t know about how Frankenstein was originally written.

Mary sees a flash atop a mountain. It’s the arrival of Doc Wonmug and an underdressed Alley Oop. She’s wondering how they survived what she took to be lightning. Also wondering what’s with this gigantic, incredibly muscular figure surrounded by glowing light. Alley Oop and Doc Wonmug realize they’re being followed. But they figure they can evade this past-dweller long enough. They’re hilariously wrong. But they just need a soil sample, a plant sample, and some insect. It’s an oddly plausible enough scientific mission. I can already imagine the science team very cross that there wasn’t enough soil and they didn’t provide enough photographs to understand the context of the plant sample. Mary Shelley watches them digging up soil and wonders if they’re burying something. Or digging something up.

Alley Oop, struggling to put winter jacket on: 'This weather's miserable, Doc!' Wonmug: 'That's why we came here!' Meanwhile: Mary Shelley looks up the hill at the two. 'It looks like they're moving on!' Meanwhile: Wonmug: 'See anything, Oop?' Oop: 'I think I see that woman again! She must be following us!' Meanwhile: Shelley: 'I must find out how those people survived that lightning flash!' (There's another flash of lightning, silhouetting Alley Oop, who's got his arms and axe raised.) Shelley: 'GASP! What kind of monster is this that I'm seeking?!'
Jack Bender, Carole Bender, and John Wooley’s Alley Oop for the 30th of September, 2018. In 2011 astronomer Donald Olson deduced (on what evidence I don’t know) that the walk during which Mary Shelley had the inspiration for Frankenstein happened after midnight the 16th of June, 1816. If we take his work as correct then this means we can pin down when this particular strip happens to within a couple hours. I’m curious whether news about Olson’s deduction influenced the decision to write this story.

Wonmug explains about the harshness of the year. Oop asks, reasonably, whether they’re doing something to help the starving population of the world. Wonmug says they can’t. I don’t know whether Alley Oop has an unchangeable past built into it or not. If Wonmug and company are wise they’ve never tested it. But I know barely a tiny bit of the strip’s long history and what stories they might have explored.

Plants and insects are harder to find. They spot a small scraggly plant growing on the edge of a cliff. Oop’s able to climb cliff faces like that, even in the freezing rain. While he does, Wonmug sets up a little science kit to measure the atmosphere. And Mary Shelley watches all this strangeness. She gasps as Oop slips (but does not fall). Wonmug follows her, using his iPod’s flashlight feature to spot her in the gloom. She’s afraid of him, for reasons Wonmug can’t understand. As a scientist Dr Wonmug hasn’t got the common sense that God gave scraggly plants growing on the edge of a cliff in the Year Without A Summer.

Mary Shelley: 'Don't hurt me!' Doc Wonmug, shining light from his iPod-class computer: 'Calm down! Why would you think I'd hurt you?' Shelley, pointing ot the iPod: 'Because whatever that thing is, it can't be used for good!' Wonmug: 'Oh ... I forgot ... Forgive me!'
Jack Bender, Carole Bender, and John Wooley’s Alley Oop for the 26th of October, 2018. “I mean, I mostly use it to listen to podcasts, so I’m not sure if that’s really good or bad or what. Have you ever tried I Don’t Even Own A Television? I mean, you don’t, y’know?”

You know what else climbs cliff faces like that, even in the freezing rain? Mountain goats. An ibex watches Oop grabbing at the plant that’s maybe the only food around, and takes action. Oop’s able to grab onto one leaf, at least, before he’s knocked down the hillside. He takes a nasty fall, landing right outside the cave where Wonmug is trying to figure out why Mary Shelley looks somehow familiar.

Oop, dodging an ibex: 'Whew! That was close!' (The ibex eats the plant.) 'I guess he was just protecting his food. Th'thing is, I need a plant sample to take home with me. I just need one leaf! You can eat the rest!' (He reaches for one leaf.) 'Whaddya say?! Let me have one leaf?' (The ibex headbutts Oop in the stomach. He falls off the cliff face and thuds in front of Wonmug and Mary Shelley.) Wonmug: 'Oop!' Shelley: 'Oh my!! Is that your friend?!'
Jack Bender, Carole Bender, and John Wooley’s Alley Oop for the 11th of November, 2018. One of the narration panels in one daily strip told me this was an ibex. This made me want to call the narration box a liar. But it turns out there’s an Alpine ibex, which lives right where the name would make you think. So, neat.

Wonmug can’t feel a pulse. Shelley fears he’s dead, but still wants to take him to a doctor. I guess this is on the grounds that 19th century medicine couldn’t make the situation worse. Me, in the 21st century, is pretty sure they could. But her naming Dr Polidori gives Wonmug the clue to who she is, and the punch line that this Mary Shelley. Anyway, Wonmug’s got a portable defibrillator. He warns about the dangers of the electricity, gives Oop a couple good shocks. He brings this gigantic, impossibly strong human to life. He, grunting, confused, and disoriented, lunges toward the woman he had seen following them. She flees. So you see the joke here. I think the joke’s better when you consider that Alley Oop’s a fundamentally kind, good person being shunned for looking like a monster. Shelley flees back to the villa, where she learns the men around her are going to hold a writing competition.

Alley Oop grunts after the defibrillators have shocked him. Wonmug: 'He's alive!' (Mary Shelly gasps.) Wonmug: 'Don't worry about not getting the plant sample, Oop! All that matters is that you're okay!' (Oop holds up the leaf he'd taken from the ibex.) Wonmug: 'YOU GOT IT! Now we just need a bug, and we're done here!' Oop, dizzily, pointing at Mary Shelley: 'It's that woman who was following us!' (He tries to stand, groaning, arms dangling forward.) Wonmug: 'Oop, meet Mary Shelley! She's ... ' (She's out of there.) Shelley: 'I don't know what that man was like before the electricity brought him back to life, but he appears to be a MONSTER now! I hope he isn't following me!'
Jack Bender, Carole Bender, and John Wooley’s Alley Oop for the 25th of November, 2018. The Sunday strips, for the Benders, would recap the action of the six days around them. But done in six panels rather than six days they lose stuff. Among the stuff lost here: there was this butterfly hovering around the plant Oop was trying to recover. So when that appears a couple strips after this it’s not a lucky break out of nowhere. It’s a lucky break that’s been correctly planted earlier.

Oop asks why they don’t check that she’s okay. Wonmug promises that he knows she’s just fine, which seems like he’s pretty confident they can’t accidentally alter history here. Anyway, Oop has the leaf in his hand yet, so that’s the plant sample. And a butterfly’s landed on his head, a good insect sample and a time-travel joke nicely underplayed. They return to the present.

And Wonmug explains stuff for Oop and anyone who didn’t know the story already. He presents a copy of Frankenstein and suggests, hey, where did she get that idea, after all? And this feeds to a couple strips just laying out the story of how Shelley had a vision of the story. Hm. Oop figures he’d like to read this, sure. Wonmug also offers that they could watch the movie. I’d also like to speak up for the Mister Magoo adaptation. This seems to end the story with a month left to go before the reruns end. But just this weekend we got Wonmug refusing to let Oop go back home again. He was “actually dead” for a couple minutes, after all. He needs some time of observation. And that’s where the story stands.

I’m mostly content with the storyline. The particular time-travel venture makes good sense. That it can intersect with a real historical figure at a real historically important moment is a bonus. But I personally dislike “here’s where a writer got their crazy idea from”. Writers get their ideas by thinking about things that give them ideas. Those ideas are fed from sources, yes, including writers’ experiences. But they’re created by the writers working. To show the “real events that inspired the writer” replaces that hard work with stenography. (Which is, yes, another kind of hard work, but hard in a different way.)

This motif is at least as old as Flash Of Two Worlds, the comic book where the 1960s Silver Age Flash met the 1940s Golden Age counterpart. Silver Flash had read Golden Flash comics when he was a kid. He speculated that the writer of those Golden Age comics was somehow cosmically attuned to Golden Age Flash’s world and could transcribe that. But there, Flash Of Two Worlds was written by Gardiner Fox, who wrote (most of) the Golden Age Flash comic books. He could be having a joke on himself.

Jack Bender and Carole Bender and John Wooley don’t quite do the writer-as-transcriber idea, at least. As presented in this story, Mary Shelley sees a story about electricity bringing a hulking brute to life. Fine; allow the premise that she took this inspiration from something she witnessed. She’s still presented as turning that one great idea into a novel, with so much happening that she doesn’t witness here. So that tempers my complaint.

I haven’t gone back to check the storyline’s original run in 2013. I want to be as surprised as you are and also am lazy. I’m supposing that Wonmug’s assertion that Oop needs observation will give us a couple weeks of puttering around in the present. And that should lead up to the 7th of January, 2019, when Alison Sayers and Jonathan Lemon take over.

Next Week!

International terrorist mastermind The Nomad had an unconscious Heloise Walker, daughter of The Phantom, in his private jet, with plans to fly her to the Caribbean and drop her in the ocean. So we’ll see how well that turned out for him. It’s Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity.

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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.

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