What’s Going On In Alley Oop? What happened to the time-travelling raccoons? March – May 2019


This is my May 2019 recap of Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop. It concludes their first storyline, the 80s mixtape one. All my recaps of Alley Oop strips, both by Jack and Carole Bender and by Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers, should be at this link. Around August 2019 I plan to have another plot recap, so if you’re trying to catch up and it’s September 2019 you’ll probably want to go there.

Alley Oop.

4 March – 24 May 2019.

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.

Wonmug, looking at things on the table: 'Aha! I get it now! We are in a dungeon, just like in 'Caves of Zgfrhkxp'. Our job is to escape. We have these three items, and doors to our north and west. Now, 'Zgfrhkxp' is a text-based game so ... [ to the ceiling ] Pick up rope! PICK UP ROPE!' Alley Oop, looking concerned, to Ooola: 'Is he talking to us?'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 13th of March, 2019. So my love and I were at a live text-adventure-game event. In this like a dozen people each took turns giving one action at a time to our “computer”, the host who looked over the story flowchart and told us what the results of our action were. In the previous couple rounds the group, needing our game protagonist to climb to the top of a tower, had successfully gotten a rope and forged a grappling hook. And it was my turn and I said, “toss the hook up the tower” and before my love started to cry out “Nooooooo” I realized what our host did: we had not yet tied the rope to the grappling hook. What could I do? I sat there with my face frozen in the moment of my recognition of what I had screwed up.

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.

Steve Hobbes: 'Hey! You scared the heck of out me! You didn't cheat, did you?' Wonmug: 'No. Of course not. We defeated the, uh, kobolds on level three and then used the ring of ... Gungle ... Thorn to cast a, um, door blast spell?' Hobbes: 'Well, that checks out. Congratulations on solving my dungeon! I'm Steve Hobbes.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 16th of March, 2019. So you know, not to excuse my grappling-hook blunder but in other adventures I plainly saved the day with sharp-thinking actions like looking in the back of the car before going in and using one of our three save slots for right after the group had loaded our protagonist up with the five plot tokens. And yet I still can’t play an actual text adventure game to save my life.

Alley Oop gets through the puzzle, and the wall, by going through the wall. Steve Hobbes is impressed with their speed and acumen. He’s not stupid enough to give them the master disks for his game. (And they aim some nostalgic thrill energy at me by Hobbes pointing out how each disk holds nearly 360 kilobytes of information. “Do you know how much that is?” “Not very much?” “True.” It’s a dumb joke but well-aimed at people who grew up typing in their software.) Wonmug tries honesty. Hobbes is unimpressed by their story of being from the future and needing to ransom a mixtape.

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?

Ooola: 'Doc, aren't you a little worried about exposing someone from 1986 to technology that won't exist for 20 years?' Wonmug: 'Eh, I didn't even unlock it. All he can see is the lock screen. Besides, when he's a little older, he actually invents some integral smartphone ... *uh oh*.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 27th of March, 2019. “Gee, I don’t know, Ooola. I’m sure that it’s very different to how I feel about the eighty years I’ve spent introducing prehistoric cavepeople to smartphones, cars, airplanes, electricity, air conditioning, pizza, defibrillators, spaceships (with warp drive!), Alexander Hamilton, and for that matter the 22nd century.”

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 travel, by three-seater bicycle, by hot air balloon, and by zebra-drawn covered wagon, to Florida. So, again, if that strip annoys you without amusing you in the slightest, I’m sorry, this isn’t the comic for you.

Gator Gertie: 'I've been thinking, and I bet the thing you're looking for is this ... the haunted gator-tooth scone. It's a scone I baked ten years ago. While I was mixing the dough, an alligator fell in. Also, it seems to be inhabited by a malevolent spirit. It's one of a kind.' Alley Oop: 'I'll take six!'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 26th of April, 2019. Also around this sequence was some fun business with Alley Oop being menaced by alligators, some of whom wanted to eat him. Again, if you don’t like the jokey tone of the strip these days I don’t fault you. But Alley Oop mistakenly thinking this alligator was related to one he had a beef with, and the alligator mistakenly thinking Oop’s delicious? And their being pals once they’ve sorted out this misunderstanding? That’s some good stuff.

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.

Wonmug, looking over raccoons in lab coats making a device: 'Wh --- WHAT is going on here?' Head Time Raccoon: 'Oh, Dr Wonmug, don't be naive. *You* created us.' Alley Oop, Ooola: 'GASP!' Wonmug: 'Oh, um ... gasp?'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 13th of May, 2019. I don’t know how carefully Sayers and Lemon are plotting these stories out, or want to. But the story did early on mention Wonmug warning not to make eye contact with the raccoons near his 1986 apartment. Foreshadowing? Don’t know. It’s good form for serial writers to toss out many loose ends so that when they need a resolution they can pick one up and it doesn’t look like it comes from nowhere. But you don’t need the reveal of the Time Raccoons to make the original mention of raccoons make sense, either. Gator Gertie hoping to make alligator-human hybrids could also be foreshadowing, even as it is a sufficient joke itself.

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.

Head Time Raccoon: 'So, without further ado, it's time for us to take this baby out for a spin! See you in another epoch, foolish humans!' Wonmug: 'Wait! Can I at least study the device's schematics?' Time Raccoon, climbing into the machine: 'Nope!' (The device disappears with a big ZONG!; Wonmug's mixtape flies out of the flash of light.) Wonmug: 'The mixtape!' (He grabs it.) 'Hey, they didn't rewind it!'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 18th of May, 2019. By the way, I can be friends with people who disagree with me on many issues. But if you’re going to disagree on “eyeglasses and lab coats are a great look for raccoons” then we can’t be friends. So think carefully before you try to contradict me on this one.

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.

Next Week!

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.

It’s Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity.

Well, low-key weeks aren’t everything.

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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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