Remembering things used to be a great pastime. It’s obsolete these days. We only need to remember things anymore while we’re recording special “live” episodes of our podcasts. And that just if we feel rude checking our phones in front of the audience except to check our notes. For the rest of us it’s an affectation, like learning how long division works or how to spell “carburetor”. But it can be a fun one. Please remember I think there’s a swell video game to be made out of drawing time zone boundaries. I’m not trustworthy in judgements of “fun”. I could be coaxed into stopping at a roadside attraction promising the state’s third-most-average ball of twine. That even before finding out whether they have miniature golf.
There is only one sure way to remember a thing. That’s for it to be the lyrics you’re pretty sure you heard wrong from a song you can’t get out of your head. And you’re not sure you have the melody right either. It’s great and reliable but there’s almost no way to pick what you remember. It’ll never help you remember, like, what model your car’s engine is long enough to get something from the auto parts store. It’ll just leave you asking your musically inclined friends, “what’s that song I heard in the 80s or early 90s that’s like, `dahdah dah dah dah, chipmunks and kangaroos dahdah’?” while they back away, through the wall if need be. You can try hooking some phrase you want to remember up to a song you like, but that just ruins the song for you. You’ll be in the middle of humming this book title about the French and Indian War you wanted from the library and realize that you’re Ray Davies and you’ve gone way off script performing “Waterloo Sunset” on live TV. It’s humiliating.
Which comes to the next great way to remember a thing: feel humiliated by it. You can have many things to ponder in life, but the last will be that weird, involuntary, somehow squeaking-bark laugh that your second-grade teacher emitted when you said “molecule” like that. Again, great reliability, lousy selection. Who needs to remember wrong ways to say words, anyway? Again, only podcasters doing the part of the show where they respond defensively to their e-mails. Many of us got to be this many years old without ever having to say “unguent” out loud and that’s not evidence of a mis-spent life, all right?
Next to humiliation is stories, though. The average person can remember over twelve stories, which gives us plenty to talk about again while on a long car ride. We can make up stories about stuff we want to remember and then we’ll never get it out of our heads again, so make sure you get this right. Here, it helps if the stories are dumb. This way every time it works you feel humiliated something that stupid helped you, strengthening the memory.
For example, the highway near me is flanked by a one-way northbound service road and a one-way southbound service road. One of these is Homer. One of these is Hosmer. This is a mistake. Hosmer is a road several blocks away from all this. The other of the service roads is Howard. Which one goes north and which one goes south? It would be great if Hosmer went south, since it’s got that ‘s’ in there, but Hosmer has no part in this. Stop remembering Hosmer already.
But then I had a great idea: that prominent ‘m’ in Homer is the clue. If I can just remember “it’s called Homer because it runs morth” I would never get that stupid idea out of my head. And now good luck you getting it out either. There’s only two problems. One is, isn’t Morth the name of Jonathan Winters’s character on the last season of Mork and Mindy? Second, why am I trying to remember which one is Homer and which is Hosmer anyway? What problem in my life will that ever solve?
So if anyone has an idea how I can remember that I’m not responsible for Homer or Hosmer streets and don’t need to know which one runs which way, please write in care of this address. Thank you.
So has making the type- face in my text editor larger helped me any in my quest to maybe write not quite so excess- ively long? It’s early to say, but I think it’s not any notice- ably shorter. It’s just got my words hyphenated weirdly and in ways that won’t make the slight- est sense when copied over to a WordPress post. Too bad!
I need to invest less energy in coming up with subject lines for these little cartoon reviews. The urge is to come up with subject lines that invite the reader in. But for most of a post’s life I need it to be easy to figure out which cartoon a particular essay is about. Cartoon title and maybe a distinctive element is all that’s needed.
This week’s is the 23rd of the series, Gone Fishing. It starts that way at least.
I’ve always loved Popeye. That’s involved a lot of defending the cartoons against the complaint that they’re all the same formula. They’re quite diverse in structure, even if they nearly all share the Popeye-eats-spinach climax. Still, there is a formula. And it’s always thrilling when a cartoon breaks from that. The commonest break, it seems to me: someone else eats the can of spinach to save the day. Like, say, in this one.
The cartoon starts with Popeye and Bluto fishing. More, with actually catching fish. This felt anachronistic. It seems, to my uninformed eyes, that cartoons are likely enough to show characters fishing. But actually catching anything? As in, ripping animals out of their homes and suffocating them? That’s gotten perceived as too openly cruel to show. Our characters will still eat fish, of course. They’ll just leave the killing off-screen. Well, they’re all ones and zeroes imitating ink and paint anyway. They can’t feel it.
This builds into a natural little rivalry, Bluto and Popeye trying to out-catch the other, and I figured this would be the plot for the cartoon. It’s got some nice sound and, at about 0:32, even a rare screen split. I’m an easy touch for that sort of action-across-several-screens shot. They end up tied together in the water and from there stop being active parts of the plot, to my surprise.
So over to Olive Oyl, who’s made one of those Newton’s Cradles things of snail shells. One still has a snail, who reasonably takes her leave. The snail grabs a couple spinach leaves and scurries to the water, while Olive follows along. I’m not sure why Olive would. I get her accidentally bothering a live snail, but why chase after it? To apologize?
Our hero spots the stranded Bluto and Popeye, just in time for them to be menaced by a giant snail kraken. To let you in on how unperceptive I am: I wasn’t sure at first this was the spinach-transformed snail from seconds before. The snail seems to be overreacting to the offense. Still, Olive paddles into action, with a pretty cute “I’m watching you” finger-point. She surfs skillfully enough to tie up the snail-kraken’s tentacles, but there’s still the snail’s claws and screaming.
So Popeye opens his spinach and shoots the can at her. She gets your nice classic muscle bulge, flexy-long arms, and tosses the snail-kraken out of the cartoon. Then spins Popeye and Bluto free and tosses them into Popeye’s hammock, sending them each to their respective boats. Happy ending for everybody but, I’m going to guess, the episode of Shimmer and Shine that’s now about a snail-kraken somehow.
I like that Olive Oyl got something to do this cartoon. She’s always gotten the occasional chance to play the Popeye role, and I think this is her first turn in the Island Adventures cartoons. I think the music’s a bit better this week, too. I’ve never been really happy with the music on this cartoon series. It’s seemed a little too generic, like they had a stock library of tunes that are never really wrong for a short, but also never really right or distinctive. Or tied particularly to the action. This time, the music as we first saw Olive Oyl felt like a good change. I like having a different audio feeling for being on a different plot thread. Olive Oyl on the surfboard also gets more distinctive, with some brass instruments adding new energy.
It’s a bit surprising to notice how passive Popeye and Bluto are. But that is a danger of being the person-to-be-rescued. I get Popeye being reactive; even in the Fleischer cartoons he was mostly inclined to go about his business until bothered. Bluto going inert seems surprising. But cartoon fishing wire can be pretty tough stuff.
So. Reader. Look. I regard us as friends. Maybe not great friends, not, help-you-move-to-a-new-apartment level friends. But friends. Out meaning well for each other, even if we sometimes screw it up. Giving a heads up when we see a comic strip we’re sure the other is going to love. Warning when you see we’re marching unprepared into at least a Category Two Drama Storm. That kind of friend. OK? So that’s why I have to ask about this thing from the sidebar of a YouTube video I just watched.
Exactly which one of you is telling Google, “You know what Joseph needs? The suggestion he line up three rolls of toilet paper only to trowel cement over them. Plus 34 other things to do with cement, each explained in an average of 26 seconds. But he’ll be so fascinated by that he won’t even notice this Five-Minute Crafts video is fifteen minutes long”? What is it you think you know about me? What are you drawing these conclusions from?
Alley Oop and Ooola were in the 1980s, searching for Dr Wonmug’s mixtape. It was stolen. The ransom note demanded three items for ransom. They’d gotten the first, a President Reagan jellybean. Now they were in San Francisco for the second: the master disks for shareware game Caves of Zfgrhkxp. They’re off to the home of 1986-shareware-video-game-famous programmer Steve Hobbes.
Before I go farther, a question for you. Do you find this gather-the-zany-tokens plot pointless? Are you annoyed by whimsical names like Caves of Zfgrhkxp and Steve Hobbes? Then probably the Jonathan Lemon/Joey Alison Sayers era of Alley Oop isn’t for you. It’s still a serial-adventure comic about a time-travelling caveman. But the story has been much more goofy, with a punch line in every strip. That has a good, respectable heritage in the comics. But it’s different from the way Alley Oop was. If you liked the old way and can’t get into the new, hey, you’re right. I’m sorry this isn’t working for you. Maybe Lemon and Sayers will evolve into a creative team you like better. Maybe they’ll only work the strip for a short while. Maybe you’ll come to like the different style, as a different take on a really good premise.
But for those who do like this, or are willing to see where it leads, here’s the story. Oop, Ooola, and Wonmug enter the ominous headquarters of Hobbesware Inc. The door locks behind them. The are no exits visible. On the table are: rope, box, envelope. Wonmug recognizes the genre of puzzle he’s in. He chooses to pick up envelope, getting ready to open envelope and examine contents for a puzzle lasting about six hours. I’m glad he’s having fun. Me, I could never get out of the first room of any of these text-adventure puzzles.
They try to prove they’re from the future, like, by dancing the macarena. I have not checked that this is when I got a flurry of comments from people who hate the new Alley Oop, but I get it if they did. Wonmug makes a more convincing case that they’re from the future by showing off his phone. Ooola’s worried this might screw up the timeline, if timelines are a thing that can be screwed up by Alley Oop time-travel rules. Wonmug’s confident. He left the phone locked, for one, and besides the older Hobbes invents some important smartphone and … uh … Wonmug concludes this must have been inevitable, because “time is a trick science”. Ooola thinks Hobbes has unlocked the phone and that maybe the timeline is changing?
That peril, like most, is played for a joke. One of the first gags of the new continuity was that this was an alternate dimension, just like the original except that tacos are never invented. Showing Hobbes the smartphone of his future design makes some kitchen staff hypothesize about inventing a taco. Anyway, Hobbes gives them the disk and they’re off to the third piece of mixtape ransom.
They don’t know what to get. The ransom note just says “Gator Gertie’s Miasmic Swamp”. It’s in Florida. Oop and Ooola don’t want to deal with that nonsense, and point out how this entire project seems like a colossal waste of time. Wonmug bribes them with a roller coaster ride. And, y’know, as a roller coaster fan I have to say: in 1986? There were like three roller coasters in Florida back then. The place is lousy with amusement parks now, but if Sayers and Lemon aren’t thinking of visiting the now-defunct Circus World park then they Didn’t Do The Research. Sorry to be all snide about this.
They find Gator Gertie’s. Gertie’s a pleasant, weird-in-that-roadside-attraction-way kind of person. She rents alligators and bakes treats. She can’t think what someone might send them there for. Oh, she has a secret human/alligator dinosaur lab. She doesn’t have a geneticist, but she has taught some gators to wear pants. Oh, and she has this haunted gator-tooth scone, baked ten years ago and containing an alligator tooth and a malevolent spirit. She’s happy to give it over since it’s only caused her trouble and made pants disappear. I’m sorry that Gertie was in such a rush to get out of this storyline; I liked her attitude. And who doesn’t love a daft roadside attraction? Maybe she’ll pop back around.
They get back to Wonmug’s 80s apartment and wait for instructions. Not long. Someone behind the door orders them to give the items over. Oop looks inside. It’s raccoons. They’re wearing lab coats. One has eyeglasses on. They’re building something.
Yeah, so it turns out Dr Wonmug did some experiments where he created superintelligent raccoons to do chores. And their intelligence went beyond what he anticipated. Now they’re building their own time machine. The floppy disk has code that solves some of the equations of time-travel. The haunted scone opens a dimensional portal. The jellybean satisfies Gunther’s sweet tooth. And with these final components their time machine is complete and … they’re off! To where? And when?
No idea. The story seems to end on that beat, with the Time Raccoons leaving. Wonmug drops off Ooola and Oop back in prehistoric Moo, and home. They putter around a bit and it all looks like the start of a new story. There hasn’t been talk about the Time Raccoons. It seems like rather a cliffhanger. I don’t know if Alley Oop has done that before, though. It didn’t happen when Jack Bender and Carole Bender, the prior creative team, were working the last couple of years.
Is leaving something like the Time Raccoons unresolved new? I talk a confident game. But the truth is I am not well-versed in Alley Oop lore. I’ve been reading the daily strip for a couple of years now. I’ve read a couple collections with storylines from V T Hamlin’s day, and enjoyed them. Still, I don’t know whether the Alley Oop universe has ever had a party with a time machine independent of Dr Wonmug’s before. This can be narratively perilous, especially if you’ve bought the idea of a changeable history. There have been stories with rival time-travellers to Dr Wonmug before (one story had a character kidnapped to another era, for example), and the comic strip stayed intact.
Will the Time Raccoons come back? Certainly if I were writing the strip. (I’d thought there was a good chance they’d show up in Moo by the end of this past week.) Rivals are good ways to generate stories. It’s obviously good to have parties who can drop in and add chaos to storylines. Uplifted animals with only casual interest in the plans of humans only heighten the fun. But I’m in no privileged position here. I’m just reading comics and talking about what I see. Indeed, my other blog gets into mathematically-themed comic strips, as here. If I encounter any news about Alley Oop, I’ll pass it on here.
I need a low-key, low-effort week so I’m hoping next on the roster is something easy to recap. Maybe one of the Sunday-only strips. The Sunday Alley Oop comics, the Little Oop adventures, have all been spot jokes. There hasn’t been an ongoing story. There’ve been some things mentioned in the Sunday strips that went on to mention in the weekdays. Like Alley Oop joining the Dino Guides, a Scouts-type group, used after that mention. So the Sunday strips aren’t part of the continuity, but they haven’t needed recapping. So let me just check what’s next on the schedule.
I did give in and start searching for Two Broke Girls on DuckDuckGo because, all right, in that way I am superior, so far as I know. Anyway I started out typing all right and then it turned into Two Stupid Dogs, and that left me fondly vaguely remembering that early-90s cartoon. And I see absolutely no reason to go checking back on this fondly-vaguely-remembered early-90s cartoon because I’m absolutely sure there’s nothing about it that’s, in fact, embarrassingly sexist, or homophobic, or racist, or showing off the start of some trend that would become really bad in animation in the following twenty years, or highlighting the straight-from-the-id work of someone we now publicly acknowledge to be creepy and evil. Nope! That could not possibly ever have happened!
Astronomy is the practice of looking at the sky to see if anything interesting is going on. Then keep careful notes in case it isn’t. The sky can be located by the simple process of going out of doors. This should be about the same number of doors as you’ve entered, but in the reverse order. There are complications. I can’t deal with them all here. To see me deal with them please review my essay, Everything There Is To Say About Going Out Of Doors, which I’ll write one of these days.
The sky may be found by looking up, if you are in the northern hemisphere, or looking down, if you are in the southern hemisphere. If you are in the eastern hemisphere you’ll have to use your best judgement. If you are in the western hemisphere you’ll have to use as best judgement as you can find, given the circumstances.
The important thing is to look at the sky, wherever it is. To be an amateur astronomer, all you need to bring is your eyes. I use “your” to mean you have authority over whatever eyes you’re using. But you are allowed to use anything that collects light, which helps you see darker things. This is because a great whopping heap of darkness is easier to see? It seems like I got that wrong somehow, but I keep going back and checking and that’s how it comes out. There must be a trick somewhere.
You know if you ask an amateur astronomer they’ll tell you the moon is about as bright as a lump of charcoal. And yes, you asked what they were listening to that was so funny. Many amateur astronomers are socially anxious and will blurt out things so as to get through the conversation quicker. Please review my essay, Everything There Is To Say About Getting Through A Conversation, which I’ll write one of these days.
The night sky has over sixteen visible objects in it. You sound less foolish if you know what they are. The night sky like a mostly black thing spotted with bright dots. These are the exceptions:
The Big Dipper Or Maybe That’s The Little Dipper
The Little Dipper Or Maybe That’s The Big Dipper
The One That Looks Like A W
Square Wearing A Triangle Hat
These are examples of constellations, of which there are a number.
What number? There is no way to know. I have it memorized that there are 88 constellations. This is the fault of someone who told me that it was easy to remember there were 88 constellations because there are also 88 counties in Ohio. I have never lived in Ohio, and I have never had an explicit interaction with any aspect of its county governance. I have no knowledge of whether there are 88 counties in Ohio, either. I could not attest under oath that the number of constellations and the number of counties in Ohio are both numbers. I admit I would take a guess, though.
But I’ve got a mnemonic about this now. So I know my last thought before dying will be “there are 88 constellations and there are 88 counties in Ohio”. This even though I would prefer my last thoughts to be, “I’m so grateful that so much of my life could be spent with my darling in it” and “At last I have shown them all”. Mnemonics are like that. I could try shaking it up, make it “there are 88 constellations in Ohio”, but I’ll never let myself think that. I have a hard enough time writing it as a hypothetical. Anyway I explain this all in my essay, Everything There Is To Say About Mnemonics. I forget if I’ve written that one already.
But once you’ve learned all the things that are supposed to be in the night sky there’s some fun ahead. Because amateur astronomers can still discover stuff. Professional astronomers come out and say, “yup, they discovered that thing” and “they were right” and “they showed us all”. To discover a thing, simply catalogue all the things in the night sky and find a thing that’s not supposed to be there. This will be a tern, flying high enough it’s still in sunlight while you’re in darkness. That puts you under the jurisdiction of the animal-watchers. For further instructions please consult my essay, Four Things There Are To Say About Animal-Watching, which I have no idea how to write.
So then why didn’t they ever make a goofy pure-comedy prequel series where the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are, like, in kindergarden or something? It can’t just have been because they couldn’t think of a title for the series, right? Or did they make it and I just didn’t hear because I don’t hear about things anymore?
(Thanks for sticking with me to see last week’s promise fulfilled. That promise did not include successfully picking a fight with Go-Bots fans so it’s all right that I failed. Please check back next week when I test whether I’ll write shorter posts if I make the typeface in my text editor larger so I fool myself into thinking I’ve written long enough already.)
The new Popeye’s Island Adventure for this week is Popeye’s Picnic. As is the custom there’s a couple of other cartoons suffixed to this. In this way, they get those valuable YouTube ads which interrupt the cartoon at, for me, the one-minute mark, in the middle of an otherwise good bit of Bluto plummeting through space. I realize I’m getting to sound like all I do is complain about how web sites have set up their business. In fairness, web sites have set up their business that way and should do better instead.
I am glad for this cartoon. I’d felt like the last couple shorts all left me grumbly and sour. This one’s got a story structure that works better for me. The setup suggests a couple of nice simple jokes and an obvious climax. That seems to reliably work for me.
The setup: Olive Oyl, Popeye, and Swee’Pea are having a picnic. Bluto’s having a picnic too, right nearby, only he uses a mechanical picnic basket. I get why Bluto’s stuff all has to be weird, slightly sinister-looking mechanisms. It plays to an old storytelling tradition of good people as being closer to nature, maybe building Rube Goldberg contraptions if they must have a machine do something. Bad people need a remote-controlled umbrella.
The structural problem with two groups having a picnic on the beach is they don’t need to interact at all. Not unless the beach is crowded, which the Popeye’s Island Adventures setting can’t be until they add a sixth character. Popeye’s ready to fight right away, based on nothing more than ninety years of experience with Bluto, but all he can do is grumble. Finally 43 seconds in, Bluto notices that Popeye has spinach and launches the actual story: attempts to swipe some spinach.
I’m curious why the short took so much of its run time in establishing that Popeye and Bluto were near each other. It’d be fine for an eight-minute cartoon, with time to play with the setting more. Was this the beset use of their two minutes, ten seconds? But then the cartoons are aimed at kids, probably quite young kids. Are they writing around the idea that kids need the premise explained more thoroughly? To me that feels like they’re underestimating kids’ ability to roll with the story. But I have a lot of experience watching stories, and it’s difficult to imagine what a novice cartoon-watcher sees.
The string of attempts by Bluto to steal spinach are fun, though. The first is just sneaking up while hidden inside his mechanical basket. Popeye notices just in time. From this I realize that a character acting all sheepish when their sneaking-about gets discovered is a comic beat that always works for me. This is when the commercial interrupted things for me.
Bluto tries tunneling up to the can of spinach; Popeye fakes him out with a can containing a crab. I’m not sure the crab quite fits the Popeye character model, but then almost no animals besides Jeeps and Whiffle Birds quite look like they belong in Popeye. I still think there’s something weird in the animation of the crab shuffling off.
Finally Bluto has an idea that works, using a team of mechanical ants to swipe a can spinach. Popeye has some spinach-bearing sandwiches to start a chase. And then we get a weird choice. Popeye isn’t satisfied just to run over there; he wants to do something with style. Fair enough; it’s a cartoon, the characters should do stuff that looks fun. He takes inspiration from the boomerang that Olive Oyl and Swee’Pea have been playing with. This also gives a reason for the two characters to even be in the cartoon. He eats a sandwich and turns into a Popeye-headed boomerang that … falls to the ground. He needs Olive Oyl’s help to go after Bluto.
Popeye’s spinach-eating transforming his body is this standard bit of cartoon business. This makes me realize I’ve taken his transformations to be, at least mostly, metaphorical. Like, sure, he grows tank tire treads or something, but that’s just to depict how he’s charging unstoppably through the terrain. A limbless boomerang-Popeye needing an assist to actually move makes this change … like, literal. As in someone who happened to stroll onto the beach would see this living young man’s head growing out of a blue-and-white boomerang. I know this isn’t the first time that the spinach-induced transformation is shown to direct what Popeye can literally do. It still seems weird to me. I think because it builds a joke on what a boomerang can’t do. When Popeye turns into, like, a rocket the focus is on how a rocket can fly through space.
Well, Olive Oyl uses a beach umbrella to propel Popeye at Bluto and grab the spinach back. Really seems like it would’ve been more efficient for Popeye to just run, but it’s true that wouldn’t be as interesting to look at. Popeye settles down to have a sandwich, and gets nose-pinched by the crab from earlier. Correct ending, that.
I realized I had no idea whether the sitcom Two Broke Girls was still on the air, or whatever happened to the characters, since I remembered the episodes ended with a summary of how much money they had. I was tempted to look it up, and then realized then this would be a person who made an effort to know something about Two Broke Girls. Anyway, I’m a little curious yet but I also acknowledge that I have no responsibility for the show — if they’ve gone and made me the show-runner and they’ve been sitting for years waiting for direction, well, that’s on them for not letting me know — and if the universe really needs me to know, then the knowledge will come to me in time. Please don’t take this as a request to tell me what’s happened to the show. If it fits the unfolding of the universe for me to know, then it will be impossible for me to not know. We need not do anything to make me know.
I don’t have information about when The Amazing Spider-Man comic strip might emerge from reruns. If and when I do, I’ll post it here. I do have some thoughts and will include them at the end of this recap of the end of Roy Thomas and Alex Saviuk’s run, and the first two months of the first repeat.
The Amazing Spider-Man
24 February – 18 May 2019.
It was an action-packed moment when I last updated the Spider-Man plot. Mary Jane had covered Killgrave with the plastic sheet that neutralizes his power to command people. Look, if you’re going to stare at me that way there’s no point describing the plot of a superhero comic. But he was falling off the edge of a building. Spider-Man webbed him, but Killgrave’s momentum pulled the superhero along. Luke Cage, also in the plot, grabbed Spider-Man by the ankle.
Neither Spider-Man nor Cage is doing that well. They’re shaking off Killgrave’s command that they fight each other. Mary Jane gives Spider-Man the important clue that he has two web-shooters. Reminded of his power set, Spidey’s able to use a second line to anchor himself and keep anyone from dying.
With Killgrave neutralized, Spider-Man turns to the important stuff. That’s getting selfies with Luke Cage. He needs some good photos of Spider-Man fighting Cage, since J Jonah Jameson wants them off of Peter Parker and all that. You know. The usual.
Peter Parker drops off the pictures at the Daily Bugle and heads out. The plan’s to resume his and Mary Jane’s planned yet last-minute Australia trip. They head to the airport. There is a ritual of the Spider-Man comic strip in airports. Peter doesn’t know how to get his Spider-Man costume through security. Sometimes he forgets he’s wearing it under his normal clothes. Sometimes he worries it will get noticed in his luggage.
And, the 23rd of March, the run of The Amazing Spider-Man came to an end. At least, they’re still calling it a hiatus. I haven’t seen any news about the supposed search for a new creative team, or any planned time for new comics to come out. The 24th, the strip went into its current rerun phase, with an edited strip from 2014. The editing teases that this is Peter Parker dreaming of old times while on the plane. New York City to Australia is a long flight, and the newspaper Spider-Man spends a lot of time asleep anyway.
Had the newspaper comic continued, Roy Thomas’s plans included an encounter with The Kangaroo. And I suspect Mary Jane wearing the Spider-Man costume would foreshadow something. Instead, we’re getting a rerun of an encounter with Mysterio. I have a certain odd affection for Mysterio. I learned of him while a teenager, reading the 1980s Sensational She-Hulk comic, which specialized in featuring the villains who were kind of … uhm … how can I put this politely? It’s where I first saw Stilt-Man, a villain who goes around on extendable robot legs. Mysterio was one of that comic book’s first villains. And his gimmick’s a fun one. He doesn’t quite have superpowers. He’s a master of special effects and hypnosis and stagecraft and performance. I guess in principle everything he does is something a professional special-effects team could put together. But, like, in that She-Hulk comic he faked an alien invasion. That seems like it would need a larger special effects house than “one guy with a great swooping cape and a ball covering his head”. I bet the hypnosis helps.
So to the rerun plot, which is still under way. Mary Jane’s show on Broadway is closing. Not for unpopularity; the theater needs repair. This was, in 2014, because of damage done the theater by Spider-Man’s fight with Doctor Octopus. In 2019, it would still be justified, after the damage with Spider-Man’s fight with the Kingpin and Golden Claw. She’ll be out of work three months, or an eternity. But there’s good news: Abe Smiley is in town. A few years before he produced the direct-to-DVD superhero film Marvella. Mary Jane starred. Now it’s time for a sequel. Which is filming in New York, and needs like three months to do. Perfect.
She loves meeting back up with the old gang and the costume still looks good on her. What could go wrong? Besides Peter being mopey about the project. And the strip cutting away to Mysterio cackling about how he loves show business while the narrator asks what he could have to do with all this. The question still hasn’t been answered.
But what could go wrong has. Sharon Smiley, the producer’s daughter, had been slated to play Marvella. Now she’s bumped down to the villainess role, Sister Steel. She’s not happy about this. Mary Jane offers to resign and avoid the unpleasantness. Abe Smiley holds her to her contract. She’ll have to deal.
Spider-Man has a weird event while stopping a routine carjacking right outside his and Mary Jane’s apartment. It’s a bright flash of light and his spidey-sense tingling even after he’s stopped the crime. The cause: Mysterio. He hired a “petty hoodlum” to snatch the car. This to test his hypothesis that Spider-Man is keeping close watch on Mary Jane. This’ll help Mysterio’s project of destroying them both, so that’s something. Spider-Man isn’t sure what’s going on, so he digs an old raincoat out of a trash can to get back into his apartment undetected. That’s not an important story beat, but it’s a wondrous line and I wanted to give it some attention.
On to filming. There’s a fight scene on top of the Empire State Building. Sharon Smiley, as Sister Steel, hits Mary Jane a little too hard. The railing is a little too soft: Mary Jane falls through as if it weren’t there. It’s not: Mysterio removed it, somehow, right where they’d fight and hid the removal. Spider-Man sees Mary Jane falling from the top of the Empire State Building and leaps into action. He grabs her, but something messes up his web-slingers. He tries to get to another building, but smoke clouds his vision. Something else clouds his spider-sense. But he’s able to slow their fall enough and guide them to landing in a dumpster, as safe as can be after a fall from the top of a skyscraper.
There are many questions. How could Mary Jane fall through the Empire State Building observation deck’s railing? Why does Spider-Man immediately suspect Mysterio? Couldn’t, like, one-third the characters in the Marvel universe do the same stunt? Is someone on the film crew working with Mysterio to kill Mary Jane and Spider-Man? Will Mary Jane — at the film crew’s insistence — calling Peter Parker to tell him not to worry reveal Spider-Man’s secret identity? What adjacent building is putting their dumpster on the side of the lot that faces the Empire State Building? (It’s the CUNY Graduate Center, isn’t it? Making some obscurantist point about something?) And, to the other characters, why is Spider-Man always hanging around Mary Jane? Are they an item or something? But she’s married!
So we are, in the repeats, up to the 11th of January, 2015. If you want to skim ahead and see how all this turns out, the Mysterio storyline went on until about the 14th of March, 2015. That fed into a team-up with the Black Widow to fight the Hobgoblin. So that’s nine weeks into our future. That would be the first chance that Marvel and Comics Kingdom would have to transition out of reruns and into a new story.
But if they do mean to get out of repeats in mid-July, as this would imply, then they’d need to have a new creative team working now. If there’s not an announcement in the next week or two I’d suppose they’re going to carry on through another repeat story. Whether the Black Widow/Hobgoblin story or another would be beyond my powers to deduce.
A long-running story comic about a superpowered do-gooder that came to an end, went into reruns for a storyline, and came back with new creators! Come with me to the 80s and Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop, now featuring raccoons!
I’m very sorry, but I was typing out ‘to ever’ and that got autocorrected to ‘soever’. Like, the thing that usually comes at the ends of words like “whatsoever” and “whomsoever”. Since this happened I’ve been stuck thinking, what, has everybody in the world known about this and I’m only now catching on to it? Also I’m stuck thinking well now autocorrect is just going out and making up words the way I would do except I’d be making a dumb joke. So I don’t see any way out of this mood.
If we know only one thing about the English language we’re probably counting wrong. Most of us know four things about English. Professors of English know even more. There are some who know well enough to explain to the lay audience six things. Still, one is the minimum number of things people know about the English language, if they know anything at all. And I’d like to see you get out of that one.
But one thing we know about the English language is that words change meaning. They often do this without warning, despite the custom that they do not do this without warning. That is, that they do it with warning. I’d like to see me get out of this one myself.
There are neat ways that words do change meaning. The most exciting way they change is through a graphitic fission. One thrilling example of this was in 1378. A team lead by Geoffrey Chaucer subjected the word “deer” to high-participle bombardment in a gerund-lined chamber. It split the word “deer” from its earlier meaning of “anything that isn’t a bird or fish but that people are still willing to eat, as long as it isn’t a plant or shoe”. All that remained was “Bambi-like life-form”. We’re left without a word for the earlier meaning of deer. We make do with the circumlocution “eh, I don’t feel like that” while standing in front of the fridge.
Still, the experiment was worth it. There were flurries of syntax over southern England for years, accelerating the evolution of the language. That’s not to say this is always without its perils. A 1752 attempt to fragment the word “meat” — applied back then to animal flesh, the innards of peaches, or large enough trees — resulted in war with Spain. In fairness, that sort of thing happened a lot in those days. Spain didn’t even know about the war for two more years. They just thought the English were being all snippy, again.
Another kind of word evolution is reverse mitosis. In this a word shoots out a cytoplasm-dissolving compound to envelop and absorb some other word’s definitions. The shorter words are better at this, wowing to surface tension. It might seem unfair to you that “run” has now taken over 80,954 distinct words and yet it doesn’t show any signs of breaking up. In fact, it is deeply unfair. There’s nothing we can do. But we aren’t expected to do anything either. That itself is a kind of relief.
And while this process can obliterate an old word, there’s no reason new words can’t join up. Any new conglomeration of letters can join the English language. The franchise fee is perhaps objectionably low. It hasn’t changed form its 1663 level of “five groat, a tuppence, and three cloves of onnyons”, which is obvious gibberish. A lost word can just re-form and try again. English is on like its fourth “gossip”, for example, and it’s not going to stop however hard we try.
Another bit of word evolution that’s a really hilarious freaking joke, guys, is protective camouflage. In this, we notice that a word means something. But if we actually meant that thing, whoever we called that would get angry and maybe slug us. So we use the word but get all arch and wry about it. This keeps other people from knowing whether they want to slug us or kiss us. The worst they’ll do is think we’re being witty. This frees up our time and saves us social anxiety. But it does mean that any word is at most three generations away from meaning the opposite of what it now means.
An awareness of this gives writers exciting new chances, though. Sentences are made up of words, I think you’ll agree. If you won’t then go ahead and make your argument. It won’t work, because every word in your argument will mutate to every possible meaning. I just have to look back at the right time and your literal words will mean what I want them to, so I win.
But the opportunity for writers. It’s hard finding the right words and stringing them along the right way. But it’s also unnecessary. Write absolutely anything and, someday, it’ll be what you wanted it to be. This should make all writers’ lives easier. It does not.
So if Leader-One was all that great why didn’t they ever make a Leader-Two? So far as I know. I haven’t really followed Go-Bots at all. Mostly I remember this episode where some scientist worked out a gimmick that could scoop up and store a billion people into a crystal ball the size of a beachball, and what do you know but the Evil Go-Bots grabbed this and stole the whole world’s population for two days. But I’ve read lists of Go-Bots episodes and it seems I completely made this episode up somehow? But what piece of any of that makes sense? You know? Anyway so I don’t know they didn’t have a Leader-Two in, like, the comics or the CGI reboot or something.
(Thank you for being here as I fulfill the promise made last week. Please visit next week when I ask why they never did a goofy pure-comedy prequel series where the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are in kindergarden, unless it’s that they can’t think of a show title. I mean so far as I know. It would make sense if they had made one, right? Maybe they did make that already. Anyway somebody check on that and if they didn’t, then I’ll ask about it.)
Does Bluto need a sidekick? He hasn’t usually had one. The handful of times he has needed a second Wimpy’s done service. But Wimpy is this lightly supernatural figure, no more invested in the plot than any fae folk would be. But this is a short where Popeye-and-Olive-Oyl are on their own, and Bluto is on his own. The storylines are parallel. I liked Bluto’s machinations. It seemed like he would do well with someone to react against.
The short opens with Popeye dancing a version of the Sailor’s Hornpipe. I realized we haven’t seen Popeye do that in ages. It’s fun to see. He gets a package. It’s some kind of spinach-generating mechanical cornucopia? The purpose is obscure, but the instructions are baffling, and he calls on Olive Oyl to help.
The first iteration of this takes spinach through a funnel, whirs around an engine, and spits out garbage. The next iteration adds wheels and a chomping mouth. This releases a rampaging mechanical monster that chases Popeye and Olive Oyl to the top of the shipping crate. The music improves during this chase. It’s a bit more focused, more energetic.
That’s a good time to eat spinach, though. Popeye does. His spinach-induced body-transformative horror this time is turning his left arm into a giant net. This scoops up the contraption and hurls it out into the bay, and the problem is efficiently handled. Olive Oyl discovers there was a mistake: this was something meant for Bluto.
Then we go over to Bluto. He’s been attaching stuff to his submarine. It was supposed to add a cool turbine engine and chompers to his submarine. He’s got the parts for Popeye’s spinach-emitting thing instead. Once turned on, the thing starts shooting empty cans of spinach at Bluto. This knocks him into the water. And there he gets chased by the chomping machine that Popeye and Olive Oyl had assembled.
There’s a lot that’s likable in this short. I don’t know why I don’t like it more. I think once again the two-minute run time is spoiling things for me. Part of the fun of a mysterious contraption story is the rhythm of trying something, having it fail, and trying again. I mean, a Road Runner cartoon is made up of small jokes. It gets to be funny because Wile E Coyote has the machine explode on him, and crush him, and drop him off a cliff nine times in five minutes. This short is going that way, but there’s only two iterations of the thing Popeye and Olive Oyl build.
I wonder if it wouldn’t work better if they cut out Bluto, and used another twenty seconds to make another iteration of the gadget. But that might be impossible. There probably needs to be some explanation of what the device was supposed to be, and what happened to the thing Popeye expected to get. All told, I don’t know what I would do different, or if it would be better that way.
The good news is this clears Marie of the suspicion of murdering her husband. She and Sam Driver fly back home to Cavelton. While she’s legally unencumbered, this has wrecked her life. She felt herself defined by her relationship to the Parkers for years, then to her boyfriend-fiancee-husband, and now … what? Mostly she wants everyone to stop trying to comfort her. Except maybe Sophie, who went through her and her band being kidnapped by her mother’s previously-unsuspected evil half-sister. They’re starting to bond over having such identity-shattering experiences. Then her husband calls.
Roy begs her to see him. She can’t think of any reason she would. She gets a lot of pressure to hear him out, though. From characters in the strip. Also from comics commentators. I saw a fair number of readers who thought Marie was being terrible, not to mention hypocritical. When Roy went missing got was suspected of murder, vaguely by authorities, certainly in public opinion. And she was wholly innocent. Now she won’t extend to Roy the same benefit of the doubt?
Me, I don’t think ill of Marie for not wanting to hear Roy’s line. She’s correct to feel betrayed by Roy. He literally disappeared on their honeymoon. He faked his death in ways that made her the obvious suspect. The scandal made headlines on two continents. He’d kept secret for years his company failing. And she’s had at most a couple days to deal with learning all this. It would be admirable if she were open, already, to hearing his sad story.
And she does stop to hear his story. Well, she goes to look at him in person and confirm that she’s done and moving on. But he pleads his case fast, and she listens. The company was failing. They needed ready cash. He borrowed money from the mob. His partner — the one who’s turned State’s Evidence — was stealing from the company. He figured he had to leave. He thought he could leave with Marie. He saw one of the mobsters while on their honeymoon. An expensive honeymoon, it’s pointed out, considering money was his problem. He thought he had to flee, even if he didn’t have any idea what to do after running.
It’s stupid, yes. But it’s stupid in a way I believe of people. I don’t think I’m misanthropic, not mostly. But I do figure most of us form our idea of how to plan out the world when we’re about eight, and think that other people will obviously go along with us. At worst we’ll have to trick them like we’re Bugs Bunny and they’re Daffy Duck. And that this never works doesn’t really stop us. We just accept that plans never work out but we don’t know how to have better ones.
Anyway, what Roy wants to say: the mob still wants their money, or at least their revenge, and, well, she’s an available target. So, I’m not sure what a good plan in this situation would be. I know he didn’t have one.
Does Marie have one? She was already thinking she needed to leave the Spencer-Driver world before she talked to Roy. Now she also knows she’s probably in danger for her life. Sam Driver claims he knows people who could help and set her up in a safe hiding spot. Marie thinks about it, and then decides against it. Going into hiding would be a surrender of her life. Going into hiding under Sam Driver’s protection would be surrendering her independence. She has to set out wholly on her own.
Here again I can understand her thinking. I think it’s foolish to refuse the eagerly offered protection of a family that’s not just rich, it’s soap opera wealthy rich. I mean, that’s a class of people who can just turn out to have a home in Newport, Rhode Island, that they didn’t think worth mentioning anytime the past 35 years. Granted money can’t fix broken personalities, but it can do a lot in supporting the flesh the personality depends on.
Well, I’ve had lesser problems than Marie has. The week of the 8th of April she moves into her new apartment. We then get views of the other characters. Roy getting into fights with the inmates at Cavelton Prison. Neddy and Ronnie trying to make a go of Los Angeles again.
And, oh lord, but April Parker is back in the story. We see her, with her Mom. April left with her mother, whose name I haven’t caught. I’m going with Candice Bergen in the meanwhile. Candice Bergen has been training April in the ways of being a somehow even more super-hyper-ultra-duper secret agent for hire. April’s determined to rescue Norton, her father, from his Super Mega Hyper Duper Extra Special Secret Agent Jail. Candice Bergen insists Norton is dead. April doesn’t believe it. She knows anything about soap operas.
(And this is not at all relevant to Judge Parker. But. I caught an advertisement for The Young and the Restless this past week. It started with how, on [ date ] three years ago, [ character ] died, and showed the footage of the building fire. And then, coming this week … and they showed someone declaring “[ character ] is alive”. It was such a wonderful pure moment of what soap operas are for. I kind of regret knowing nothing about The Young and the Restless so I can’t truly appreciate [ character ] not having died in [ incident ]. And how cleverly he [ whatever he did to be not dead ].)
And that leads to the current events. The 27th of April established that Toni Bowen’s memoir was ready for publication. Among the things this Cavelton-to-national-to-Cavelton reporter reveals many things. The biggest is that Judge Alan Parker helped arms-dealer and generally-exhaustingly-bad-guy Norton fake his own death. And worse, it’s all true. Katherine Parker quits her job with the memoir publisher, and realizes that’s what her boss really wanted. I’m not clear why he did want her to quit, but it does explain why he’s involved her in the publication of a book with scandalous news about her husband.
Still, she has the PDF proofs for the memoir. And Judge (retired) Alan Parker has to confirm that yeah, it’s correct, and it’s awful. All he can think to do is go public with the news first. The goal is to convince the public that he was trying to protect his son and daughter-in-law. That daughter-in-law is April Parker. She’s a rogue, disgraced CIA agent who broke out of Mega Ultra Duper Secret Spy Jail and is roaming the world looking for people to kill for money. He calls Sam Driver for advice.
Sam’s direct about this. Alan just confessed a crime to him. There’s little to mitigate this. Norton had not threatened Alan or his family when he asked for help faking his death. Alan felt threatened, he says now, and that maybe helps. And yeah, Norton did end up holding Alan hostage and drugging him and bringing crazy and violent people into his life. I know, it’s so weird that inviting CIA people into a life results in physical harm, mental torment, and widespread misery. But there you have it. But all that came later, after the faked death certificate. Sam can’t see a way out of this which doesn’t involve Judge Alan Parker — the original center of this longrunning story comic — going to prison.
So will he? I don’t know. I could imagine circumstances where he doesn’t. He’d — I infer — helped Norton fake his death right after Romanian mobsters launched armed raid on his son’s wedding reception. He could (honestly!) claim he was trying to save a family member from future armed raids. And, well, he is rich and white and was on the bench for decades. I can easily imagine the district attorney going light on him.
But I can also imagine Marciuliano deciding not to. He’s been happy to put characters through the ringer before. He’s had Sophie Driver kidnapped and tortured for months. He’s made Abbey Driver’s father a bigamist with a secret second family. He made Godiva Danube a celebrity drug smuggler before killing her. And he is, really, simply following up the implications that were already in the strip when he took over writing. I think he’s bold enough to do it. I don’t know whether he would. It’s exciting that it’s plausible, though.
I feel the need to break my format a little. There’s a major question in the backstory of the current Judge Parker plot. That current storyline doesn’t actually depend on parts of the plot not previously revealed. But Francesco Marciuliano writes the story as though we should remember the circumstances of Norton’s faked death. At least he writes the characters as though they know it. So let me reveal what we do know about this.
What Exactly Is The Deal With Judge Alan Parker Faking Norton’s Death?
To be honest, this has been annoying me a long while too. And I didn’t think I could untangle it, especially not now that Comics Kingdom redesigned their archives so it’s harder to read old strips. I was saved by this essay by Mark Carlson-Ghost. It lays out the characters of Judge Parker in some depth. I’m impressed by his diligence. The essay includes people not seen since the 1960s, according to itself. Without it I’d have no hope of tracking down enough story to explain any of this.
The story goes back several years and to the previous writer, Woody Wilson. The artist, Mike Manley, was the same, so at least the art will be familiar. In the backstory to this backstory, Alan Parker had retired as judge and occasional comic strip character. He’d written some of his experiences into a novel, The Chambers Affair, which everybody in the world loves. People fall over themselves to talk about how much they love it. And Randy Parker has found love in the form of April Bowers. She’s a CIA “asset” who claims to be a simple linguist, but who keeps having stuff pull her away from linguistics. They were readying to marry.
So first, his name was not Norton, which may be why I have always had trouble figuring out what his last name is. He’s presently “Norton Dumont” by the way. On his introduction he was known as “Abbott Bower”. At least, until the wedding of Randy Parker and April Bower, a sequence which ran from February through June 2014.
The wedding was also the occasion for Abbott Bower to meet the Parkers and their gang. They had come to the jungles of Mexico because, Abbott was unable to travel away from his clinic. He was dying from radiation exposure, the result of some CIA mission he’d been on. This was by the way presented as of course true by the strip’s then-writer Woody Wilson. Current writer Francesco Marciuliano is eager to indulge in every soap-operatic plot twist. So I accept that Wilson intended that this was an old CIA agent turned gun runner who was dying of exposure to patriotism. (Seriously, the strips from this era lay on really thick the “thank God we have super-spies ready to Save America” bunk.)
Over the wedding, Abbott gives to April a bag full of diamonds. His “retirement fund”, he quips, now a wedding gift. The evening of the reception, Flaco and Franco Gardia launch a bungled raid on the wedding party. The Gardias have the idea the diamonds are theirs. And that April killed Flaco’s wife. I don’t deign to declare whether the Gardias or Abbott have the greater title to the diamonds. But Flaco’s wife is in a Mexican prison, thanks to Abbott’s work.
I don’t mind that the raid is a fiasco. My reading of this sort of thing is that pretty much every attempt at armed force is largely a fiasco. Afterwards the winners organize a narrative that makes it, sure, a close call at points but ultimately inevitable. But part of the last few years of Wilson’s writing was that anything bad that might happen to a Parker or Spencer or Driver would fall apart of its own accord. In the raid it turns out April is one of those movie-style super-spies who can grab someone’s surveillance drone out of the sky. Katherine gets captured, but stays pretty in control of the situation. She even talks to one of the Gardia brothers about surrendering to her, and he at least hears her out.
After a tense standoff with mutual groups of hostages they compromise. The Gardias will take half the diamonds. Oh, also Alan Parker’s autograph on their copies of his best-selling novel The Chambers Affair. And then they’ll leave the strip forever. And they do. This sort of convenient working-out of things happened all the time in the Woody Wilson era. Especially with people so loving Alan Parker’s book. It’s a great running joke if you don’t suspect that Woody Wilson meant it sincerely. At the time, I thought he meant it sincerely. In retrospect, and on reading a lot of these strips in short order, I’m less sure. It reads, now, to me more like a repeated punch line.
After the wedding various other plots go on. In October 2015 it’s revealed that Abbott has left the Mexican clinic. He’s returned to the United States. He’s helping Alan Parker write the screenplay for The Chambers Affair. And that his name is now Norton Dumont.
And finally, months later, the money shot. Or as near a one as we get. It’s in December 2017. Alan Parker declares how “Abbott Bower died of cancer in Mexico. There’s even a death certificate!”
As best I can tell this is as much as the strip laid out the circumstances of Norton’s previous faked death. It is quite possible that I have missed some strip between June 2014 and December 2015 that made it more explicit. But what I infer is that Abbott Bower got himself declared dead, the better to escape people like the Gardias who might hold his life against him. The extent to which Alan Parker helped in this was, as best I can find, unstated at the time. It transpires only now, as Francesco Marciuliano writes what “really” went on.
So for all my What’s Going On In sequences there’s story comics I don’t do regular recaps of. This is because they’re in eternal reruns with no prospect of ever coming out again. I just read them for fun. One of these is Mandrake the Magician. Comics Kingdom has got three story tracks going on here. One is repeats of Fred Fredricks’s strips from the 90s. One of them is the daily stories from the 1940s. And one of them is the Sunday stories from the 40s where Mandrake keeps visiting strange lands of giants in the South Pacific. I wanted to bring up something wonderful from the daily 40s reruns.
So the current story. Some crook is doing that thing where they send taunting notes to the cops about what they’re going to steal and when, and what do you know but their predictions come true. So there you see the promise: “On Thurs., at 3:06 pm, another strike. The Royal Scarab. Try to stop me.’ And when Thurs. at 3:06 pm comes and the Royal Scarab is stolen, Mandrake has to start thinking hard for clues. And where did he get?
Welp. Yes, I suppose the Clay Camel might well be using the word “strike” because his love of bowling is impossible to put aside, even for the business of announcing his sudden surprising attacks on protected facilities. Anyway, Mandrake’s setting up, I swear, an “exhibition of mass hypnotism, as well as bowling” to catch a jewel thief whom I must assume is Crankshaft. I’ll keep you posted if something really glorious happens.
Anyway I’ve been thinking for twenty years now about the time Andy Richter said he and his wife “meant to go bowling ironically, but we ended up having actual fun”.
The earliest personal computers begged you to program them. Or they would, except the earliest personal computers weren’t sophisticated enough to do that. They’d print out a line like ‘OK’ and hope you picked up the hint. It wasn’t much to go on. It was like the computer wanted to say “WhatEVER”, except the computers didn’t have enough memory to be snide. Please remember back then it was spiffy that the computer had sixteen colors, three of which were grey. Anyway there was fun with programming.
You could write your own programs. These programs would print out the word ‘POOP’ and then repeat forever, filling the whole screen. This took under a second and then continued until you got bored. If you became a more advanced programmer, you’d add spaces to the end of ‘POOP’. This way as the screen scrolled you saw lines fluttering around instead of a long, static, column. This was less boring. Some of us got the chance to be forced to use Logo in school. This was a graphics programming language that let you draw a square. If you were an advanced Logo programmer, you could draw a square and then another square at an angle. Sometimes computer magazines would run an article about the language PILOT, which was a hoax.
If you didn’t want to write your own language there were magazines with programs you could type in. I mean computer magazines. Well, maybe there were computer programs you could type in from, like, Tiger Beat or Family Knitting ’83. I never checked. Maybe I am prejudging the situation. Anyone with specific information otherwise I ask to write in to Mister Food care of your local TV station.
But the type-in programs were great. You could flip open the magazine, set it in front of your computer, and then have the magazine close right back up again. Oh, there’s an ad on the back cover for some game that’s like Wheel of Fortune except all the contestants are aliens. I’m sure the graphics looked as great as the advertisement’s airbrushed art, only with more grey. Well, you flip open the magazine again, weight the edges down with some other magazines, and get to typing! It would be hundreds, maybe thousands, of lines, but that’s all right. If you typed anything wrong it would only make the entire thing not work at all.
Some of the magazines tried to help you out. They came up with these automatic proofreader programs. This make a little checksum appear each time you enter a line. The magazine listed what the right checksums were. So when they didn’t match you could complain the automatic proofreader was broken. I know what you’re thinking: since you had to type in the automatic proofreader how did you know you got that right? We didn’t. We had to hope. In hindsight we probably should have spent more of the decade crying.
You didn’t have to type programs in. You could load them in from a storage medium. Trouble is the storage medium we had was cassette tapes. For short programs it was faster to type them in again. For long programs it was faster to hold your computer up to the night sky and let cosmic rays randomly trip memory cells into the right patterns.
The typing could get to be fun. In like 1987 I typed in SpeedScript 3.2. It was a word processor that included advanced features. If you ended a paragraph by hitting shift-return, it put in a return, a blank line, and a tab to get the next paragraph off to a rousing start. I’ve spent the last 32 years looking for another word processor that would do this for me. It had other features, I assume.
A couple months later I found the magazine with SpeedScript 1.0, a worse version. And spent an afternoon typing that in because, hey, what else am I going to do? Not crush my median nerve against the carpal tunnel? But it was all worth it: after typing in SpeedScript 1.0 I could see for myself that it was kind of like SpeedScript 3.2, but not as good. I think it still had the shift-return thing, though. And I know what you’re all wondering: Wait, where was SpeedScript 2.0? I’ve spent 32 years fuming about that.
But don’t think all this typing didn’t have lasting effects, even if I haven’t yet completely destroyed my wrists. To this day, when I open a program and then close it right away I think about if this were 1988. I’d have had to spend like eighty minutes typing in that program and I just threw it away, only the modern version of it was good at its job except for the shift-return thing. Then I feel guilty.
So to summarize, I understand why everybody treated me like that in middle school.
You do all agree that the most wrestler is the wrestlest, don’t you?
(This fulfills the promise made last week in a post pondering fatuation. Since I have not succeeded in lowering my average word count at all, I’ll just have to try again next week, with a post in which I pick a fight with the Go-Bots fans by asking if Leader-One was so great why didn’t they ever make a Leader-Two, so far as I know. I don’t know what’s going on in Go-Bots.)
I did figure to spend a week or two reviewing non-Popeye’s-Island-Adventure cartoons. This to build some buffer in my writing schedule. Once again it was easier to not. But this time for sure I’ll get my writing onto a more sustainable, less exhausting schedule.
Olive’s Vacation is listed as the 20th of these Popeye’s Island Adventure shorts. As has become the standard it’s followed by four more shorts, padding the production up to eleven and a half minutes, the better to support Google advertising. I had it pop up that panel asking me questions about other advertisements or companies I’ve heard about recently. If you encounter this, remember, you should lie to them.
The short starts with a decent idea. Olive Oyl’s going on vacation, so Popeye and Swee’Pea house-sit. It’s a stock premise, but I don’t mind stock premises. They can build reliable stories, ones that don’t screw things up. This premise, it’s all in how the chaos builds, and how hard Popeye has to work to prevent Olive Oyl from discovering the disaster.
The moment Popeye’s back is turned, Eugene and Swee’Pea split open a watermelon, using a hammer. I like Eugene as this agent of chaos. The Jeep brushes up against the fairy-world. Such creatures should operate without regard for grown-up human interests. Popeye runs after the mess, accidentally opening Olive Oyl’s Murphy-like bed and spilling all that stuff over the house. This was a bit I didn’t understand until I rewatched the short. I didn’t know what to make of the contents hidden behind the cabinet. The sort running time of these shorts — here, two minutes, 11 seconds — sometimes damages its clarity.
Popeye thinks to use his spinach to clean the place up. He then tries rubbing his can of spinach on a puddle of watermelon juice. It’s dumb. I laughed. Bluto appears, offering his help in exchange for a can of spinach. A distraught Popeye pays the price. Bluto shows how to hide stuff under the carpet and runs off, cackling gleefully. Gleeful Bluto might be my favorite part of this series of cartoons. It’s so endearing.
Olive Oyl stops back in for her forgotten hat. She gets there just after Popeye’s hidden everything away, and just before everything explodes out of the Murphy-ish bed. In the explosion, Olive’s flower-planter boot flies way off to Bluto’s swamp, knocking his hard-earned spinach into the marsh. That’s by the way the flower-planter boot she made way back in episode 13, Commotion in the Ocean. I don’t expect continuity beats in two-minute Popeye flash cartoons.
Anyway now Popeye thinks, what if he ate his spinach? He squirts a blob of that out of his backup spinach can, at the same time he squirts a blob of detergent into a pail of water. This had me so nervous I’m not even being funny. This week’s spinach-induced transformative body horror is a mop-hand, but that cleans up everything within five seconds. Olive Oyl sets out again. In the punch line, Eugene has another watermelon.
Like I said, it’s a good idea for a short. I don’t like how it came out, though. There’s a couple promising ideas here. Popeye trying to contain a mess and only making it worse would be good. Bluto scamming Popeye with fake cleaning advice would be good. Popeye trying to distract Olive Oyl away from a mess would be good. Even just Popeye trying to house-sit and that going all wrong would be good. The pieces are all introduced, but there’s no time for any of them to build, or to bounce off one another. There’s spot jokes that work well enough. There’s not any build in tension, though, or pacing. It’s an amiable short, but it just sort of putters along.
Also, Olive Oyl’s vacation dream was her lounging on the beach. She lives on the beach. Is that a joke? Is it the observation that nobody’s ever happy where they are? I’ll credit it as a joke. Part of me thinks they used “going to the beach” to signify a vacation and didn’t think about whether that would actually be a change of activity for Olive. That isn’t important, no, except in how I think it reflects the short not developing its storyline enough.
I wasn’t listening very closely to the teaser for the Mister Food segment on the noon news Friday. I thought the guy said he was going to show off a “dessert that would be worthy of the Renaissance”. So that kept me hanging on for the whole commercial break. What would this be? My best guess: a slab of honeycomb on top of marzipan, covered in nut-megg and tobacco leaves, bludgeoned the one tymme with a sugar-cayne.
Anyway it turns out they were doing a Kentucky Derby tie in. They had said a “dessert that would be worthy of the Winner’s Circle”. You can see how “Winner’s Circle” and “Renaissance” sound similar, what with both things being made up of words composed of syllables and all. Anyway I’m annoyed because I wanted Mister Food to tell me I was right.
Hey, are they going to have a Kentucky Derby this year? I should look that up. They hold those in prime-numbered years, and also some of the others.
Gil Thorp was in the fight of his life when I last checked in. The fight for his professional life, anyway. Former student-assistant-coach Robby Howry was blogging mean stuff about his coaching. And teaming up with radio sports reporter Marty Moon to say mean stuff about his coaching, but on the radio. And Gil wasn’t fighting. He was waiting for all this to get done. It’s as if Gil Thorp, deep down, didn’t really care.
Coming back into the strip was Maxwell Bacon. He was part of the storyline that set off Robby Howry’s quest for revenge. As senior, Bacon had wanted adderall, the better to manage whatever. Howry gave him baby aspirin, filed off, and told him it was adderall. Thorp found out about this, suspended Bacon, and threw Howry off the team-management thing. Bacon’s back from State University to see his mom. But he’s glad to break the silence about Howry’s motivations. Thorp refuses his help. He argues Howry isn’t worth Bacon making a dumb scandal public right as he’s looking for, you know, a job. Bacon leaves, without affecting the plot further.
It’s a neat development, I thought. It seems obvious that Bacon could deflate the Howry bubble. That Thorp won’t do that says something about his character. First, that he won’t screw up even a former student’s life, not on purpose. Second, that he’s confident he’s not going to lose his job to Robby Howry.
Because Howry isn’t after Thorp’s job. Mimi Thorp lays it out for Marty Moon, and everybody else. Howry wants that sweet local-sports-reporter job. And he’s going about it by saying interesting things in a forceful way about local sports.
The Gil Thorp snark-reading community has a consensus opinion about Marty Moon. He’s a hilarious, bumbling fool. He has the ill grace to be kinda right that Thorp’s teams never do great in their divisions. He’s somehow always finding new little ways to be a jerk. (I mean, dropping in Gil Thorp’s wife when she’s hanging with friends? And to say “nothing personal about my daily guest wanting your husband fired”?) But still. He’s kind of a dope.
Ah, but, swiping his job? Doing something about that is within Marty Moon’s set of powers. He and Howry settle in for their next broadcast. Marty casually turns eighty-four microphones over Howry’s way and asks, “So, how much do, Robby Howry of RobbyReport, declare that Milford sucks? As a town, that is. But also as a collection of super-sucktacular individuals? Please freely express your honest opinion while you’re here under no compulsion or duress of any kind.” And Howry must admit, he’s run some metrics and has rarely seen a town better living up to its potential suckitude than Milford. Then learns he was on the air.
Now, I’m from New Jersey. I went to grad school in Troy, New York. I currently live in Lansing, Michigan. What I mean by all this is I have never lived in a place that had self-esteem. The closest I ever have is when I lived in Singapore, a city-state that takes considerable pride in itself. But it’s also aware that, jeez, it’s only as important as it is so long as it does containerized cargo and hosting a US Navy base well. So I don’t feel the Milford community’s outrage at being called a “Podunk town” he figures to use as a “launching pad”. I’m more inclined to expect people to say hey, but we’re a great “dump”. And were only better before the gentrifiers tore down the abandoned dance studio that used to be a gas station.
Marty Moon expects thanks from Gil Thorp for bursting the Howry bubble. Thorp won’t give it. Robby Howry himself thinks, he guesses he’ll finish school. But he knows, he’s got talents and this town will never forget him. As he says this, the strip shows his billboards papered over. It’s a funny end.
Will Milford forget him? I don’t know. It’ll be a while before I do. He’s got a great story-comic personality, that of being far too involved over a petty issue. And students do return for new storylines, sometimes. It wouldn’t be absurd for Howry to make some new attack on the Milford high-school sports ecological balance. But, yeah, nobody in town would remember him three months after this.
The new, and current, storyline started the 11th of March. And it’s focused on the girls’ sports. It’s softball season. The centerpoint student seems to be Linda Carr, who’s playing softball and volleyball. And is very busy. She has to beg off a Saturday scrimmage, for softball, on the grounds she already has a volleyball tournament. This causes one of Linda’s teammates to snap at her for some reason. In all four girls say they can’t make Saturday. Three of them beg off for “family stuff”. It’s a lie.
Molly Hatcher, for example, was performing in a synchronized ice skating team. She didn’t want to talk about it because whenever she talks about it people make fun of her. Nancy Kaffer’s “family stuff” was that she was going to a comic convention. She says it’s because she writes a blog about female superheroes. I’m not sure if she was running a panel or if it’s just that she’s interested in comic books. She gets about 30,000 visitors a month so excuse me. I need to step over into the breakfast nook and fume about being one-tenth as popular as a fictional high school girl. All right. I’m back.
Anyway, Linda feels the softball team is lacking a needed unity. It’s a good diagnosis. Everybody has other things they like doing, which is fine. Everybody’s getting snippy at other people for their things, though, which isn’t.
At the season opener, Jocelynn Brown takes a moment to rally the team’s spirits. She gets the team through a tough spot and into a win. And her teammates admire her neat hat, which she knitted herself. She had missed the scrimmage because she and her mother had a booth at a craft show. In admiring the hat Molly Hatcher says everyone on the team is “too cool for school”, and for a moment her entire life hangs in the balance.
But the other teens decide this is such an uncool thing to say that it falls over the edge and comes back around to being cool. It becomes their rallying cry for the next month. Jocelynn and her mom knit matching hats for everyone, which Molly declares they’ll wear on game days.
After a close loss to Tilden, Jamila brings out a Rally Hippo, a plush doll from her collection. She declares that to be her contribution to being too-cool-for-school. And, you know? These things can work. Weird thing about sports psychology is that having anything you can do for luck works, even if you don’t believe in luck. Having a thing in your control helps you get bigger control. The Rally Hippo’s only had one outing, but the girls did come back from being down 3-1 to win.
Less sure, and what seems to be the actual problem this story: Linda has gotten bored with volleyball. But it’s the sport that she has a scholarship for. So, what to do about that?
Fair question. Won’t know until the next few weeks of Gil Thorp transpire. We’ll have to see.
There was no secret volleyball. It was synchronized ice skating being kept secret. Also disenchantment with volleyball kept secret. Volleyball itself was always known to all interested parties.
Milford Schools Watch
So here’s the towns or other schools named as competitors to Milford the last several months. Tilden and Oakwood have turned up twice, and in that order, for basketball and for softball.
Burke (the Bulldogs)
Benson (the Mighty Bunnies)
And again, of course, Milford isn’t anywhere real. But if “Nebraska City” isn’t the name of someplace in Pennsylvania, it should be.
Also, reasons to believe that Topher’s Castle is making up some breakfast cereal mascots in order to prove copyright infringement by disreputable web sites like mine:
For Apple Zaps: “Duckbert is a red-haired duck who loves soccer. He’s wears a red soccer uniform complete with soccer cleats. He’s shown kicking a soccer ball.”
But to be sincere, the site has a heartening number of characters tracked down and described, with pictures for a lot of them. It really makes you appreciate how many breakfast cereals have tried to make a kangaroo mascot and how somehow it just never takes. I am so happy this person put this work into this project.
The most-read month I ever had around here was November 2015. This was at the height of the Apocalypse 3-G, when I was doing weekly updates on how nothing was happening in the comic, and even the Onion AV Club noticed, although not enough to mention my name. I got 4,528 page views from 2,308 people, many of whom just trusted the AV Club that I had something to read. I figured, well, that’s great. That’ll never happen again, though.
I’ve still not drawn the attention of AV Club, or any other significant blog reviewer. But I’m starting to believe I might someday reach that popularity peak on my own right. Or, at least, my own right with the assist of Roy Kassinger, who I think single-handedly added a thousand page views a month around here.
So that all brings me to the readership report for April 2019. Things had been on an uptick: February saw a weirdly low, for these days, 2,428 page views from 1,429 unique visitors. March saw a more normal-for-now 3,565 page views from 2,165 unique visitors. April?
That was 4,033 unique views — the first time I’ve been above four thousand page views — in a month since the AV Club mention. And from 2,418 unique visitors, beating the Apocalypse 3-G high. That’s astounding. That’s … the doing of Apartment 3-G, once again. A message board I never heard of before got to reminiscing about the comic strip, and how bad it got, and so I got mentioned. I’m never so successful as when comic strips are failing.
So that was popular. An average of 134 pages viewed per day, the greatest number since November 2015’s average of 151, only this with a smaller variance.
There were 233 things liked around here in April, up from March’s 176 and February’s 156. I think I was also helped by someone mentioning the Popeye pinball game fiasco, over in one of the big pinball web forums. But the number of comments fell: there were only ten around here all April. There had been 24 in March, and 34 in February. 10 is the fewest comments in a month here since May of 2017. And that’s weird. It’s hard for me to imagine, but the statistics pages are there: in December 2014 I got 138 comments in the month. I know sometimes WordPress has counted pingbacks, links from one blog entry to another, as comments. But still. I don’t link to myself that much, and nobody links to or reblogs me. (And not because I don’t like it. I love the attention! I think I just have the sort of writing that people don’t care to reblog.)
And for popular articles? Well, my conversion into a full-time chat-about-comic-strips blog may as well be complete. If I ever need some time off — and I’ve been thinking about it — I may just set everything but the weekly story comic update on repeat. But the things people wanted to read most:
66 countries sent me readers in April, down from March’s 69, and up from February’s 65. 16 of them were single-reader countries, compared to 14 in March and 15 in February. Here’s the full roster:
Hong Kong SAR China
United Arab Emirates
Trinidad & Tobago
Isle of Man
I’m happy to have readers from anywhere. I do feel like, for how much all my writing reeks of generic American white guy, it’s weird that I had so many readers from India and from Sweden this month. Finland, Norway, and Denmark too. Not intending any offense but is it possible the Scandinavian countries have mistaken me for someone else?
Saudi Arabia was a single-reader country in March. Serbia has been a single-reader country four months in a row now. Nowhere else has a streak like that going, though.
My plan for story strip recaps for the coming month — subject as ever to change for breaking news — is this:
From the start of the year through the start of May I’ve posted 120 things around here. That’s made for a total of 73,242 words. This implies I published 19,339 words in April, a bit more than the 18,577 of March. Hm. That’s slightly over 644 words per post, so that to date my average post is 610 words. That’s up from the start of April’s average of 599. So I need to work harder on those dumb little bits of wordplay for Wednesdays. Maybe I need to post more pictures alone.
I’ve gotten 166 total comments on the year, for an average 1.4 comments per posting. At the start of April it had been an average 1.6 comments per posting. 689 total likes, as of the start of May, for an average of 5.7 likes per posting. At the start of April it had been an average 5.5 likes per posting. Hm.
I start the month with a total of 2,280 posts, and 121,901 views from a supposed 67,592 unique visitors. 565 posts got at least one viewer at all in April. This seems like a large number, but I’ve only got the March 2019 data to compare it to. That month had 420 pages viewed by somebody.
And with all that said, I’d be glad to have you as a regular reader. You can do that by reading things off the RSS feed. Or if you want me to get data that I fail to analyze about what you read, use the “Follow Another Blog, Meanwhile” button in the upper right corner of the page. And I’m also on Twitter as @Nebusj. If you’re not sure about that, I try to start each month with a pair of pictures of rabbits, eg:
Every now and then it’s good practice to upgrade your operating system. This teaches you to stop trying to do daft things like that for a year or two. I here mean your computer’s operating system. You’re welcome to try upgrading the operating system on something else, such as your thermostat, your hips, or your frying pans. That’ll teach you an even harder lesson.
The earliest computers had no operating systems at all. Users, like you but more old-fashioned, would just take whatever you had and bring it to them. Primitive weather models, Pi written out to eight digits, those oscilloscopes they show you pictures of in saying this was somehow a video game, large blocks of nutmeg, military-surplus tennis rackets, whatever. Then the computer would put whatever you had in wherever something fit. They trusted this wouldn’t avalanche too often, not during working hours. It would anyway, and they’d blame it on a “tube”. These were heady, exciting times. It seemed like computers could do anything. A high point of this was during the Presidential Election of 1952, when UNIVAC stunned television reporters by tipping over and spilling 25,000 golf balls over the CBS Newsroom. They tried to make this more plausible by reporting it as only 22,500 golf balls.
But we couldn’t keep up that happy state of affairs for some reason. Probably respectability. Everything good gets foiled by people who want to be respectable. By this they don’t mean, like, being considerate of people. They mean boring. So we got the modern operating system. This takes everything that might go into a computer and tries to organize it. This starts out well, the way it starts out well when you put things in a new house. All the surfaces are neat and as clean as they ever get. And the computer, like you, stacks things in neat little containers. They’re marked things like “Music” or “Kitchen” or “Miscellaneous” or “Misc” or “Misc 2” or “Living Room/Paid Bills/Books/Saved Games/Movies/etc 4-A” before the organization breaks down altogether, later that day. If you’re wondering why you have the folders Games/Music/Saved/ToSort, Music/Saved/ToSort/Games, and ToSort/Saved/Music/Games, consider this: not one of them has anything containing music nor created by any game in it. They’re all the digital equivalent of that strange piece of metal that’s in your junk drawer. The one that looks like it might be this weird multi-tool? But also might be what’s left over after something fell off an airplane? And you don’t dare throw it out because how would you ever get another one?
And this organization breaks down too. Bits fall loose, perhaps because you’re using “lossy” data formats like JPEG and forgetting stuff. Frames drop out of those Let’s Play videos. You know, where you find some game you could never do anything with, and someone’s explaining it all? But you can only ever find, like part 28 of a 154-part series, and when you search for the start you get parts 26, 78, 55, and 184, and that’s it? The bookmarks you have rot, so when something reminds you of a web site you used to visit all the time, like, four years ago you look now and there’s just compost and a warning that you need to update RealPlayer. Support files for old software rolls loose, getting caught under the file cabinet, and then one day sitting in the middle of your desktop is a 45-second audio loop from when you played Zoo Tycoon 3: Ungulation Nation!. This e-mail from 2014 you’re totally going to answer someday has now declared it needs to be opened by the rxRawrSnag-CodeMaster tool, which does not and never has existed.
Thus the value of the complete upgrade. It wipes everything clean. Every program has to re-establish its right to be where it is, and to do what it does. Right after the upgrade there’s the promise of a new start. You get to fiddle with the desktop pictures and maybe how fast the mouse should respond to things. Your software goes through a land rush, each bit of code fearing that it’s now going to be declared obsolete or at least not really useful. Everybody ends up stressed about different things than usual, which counts as improvement.
Some operating-sytem makers are trying to get rid of the big upgrade. They would. How are we supposed to ever fix a thing?
So if a person has been infatuated in the past, then if the state continues to the point of becoming normal are they fatuated? If it fades, have they become defatuated? If they feel the new-relationship-energy all back again are they refatuated?