2020 In Review


It was Tuesday night. You had just run the dishwasher. You saw it was 35 minutes past the hour and decided to go to bed. You got up and went into the other room. It was now 10 minutes past the next hour. You got up the next morning. It was Tuesday. You needed to run the dishwasher.

THIS WAS EVERY DAY.

What’s Going On In The Amazing Spider-Man? Why are you covering The Amazing Spider-Man reruns? October – December 2020.


I want to, and that’s that. The current story first ran from the 17th of July through to the 20th of November, 2016. So, if I’m reading this all right, the current storyline should last another 13 weeks. That’ll be around the 28th of March, 2021. The story after that features Rocket Raccoon. I started my plot recapping around the back half of the Rocket Raccoon story. So my plan for now is to keep recapping until I’ve looped myself and then retire this reading. Or I’ll reprint old recaps and take an easy week every three months. Or I might start covering Rip Haywire after all; there’s not much good reason I’m not. We’ll see.

So, this gets you caught up on Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s The Amazing Spider-Man repeats for the end of December 2020. I’ll post later plot recaps, and any relevant news, in an essay at this link.

And, finally, it’s Worthy Awards time over on Mary Worth And Me. If you’ve got opinions on who should win Outstanding Floating Head, Favorite Inconsequential Character, or other aspects of Mary Worthiness, go over and cast your vote. If you don’t remember anything from the past year of Mary Worth, I’ve got your plot recaps right here. Thanks for reading.

The Amazing Spider-Man.

4 October – 27 December 2020.

Mary Jane Parker had offered to marry evil sorcerer Xandu. This to get him to stop fighting Dr Strange, whom Xandu thinks is her boyfriend, and Spider-Man, who is her husband. Xandu uses the Wand of Watoomb to bring more and more of the Nightmare World into lower Manhattan. And there’s not much anyone can do about it. Spider-Man has to hide behind Dr Strange’s magic shield to not be mind-controlled … oh, OK, so Spider-Man runs out from behind the magic shield and he can’t be mind-controlled. He fights off a bunch of New Yorkers whom Xandu mind-controls into fighting him. But how could Spider-Man be immune to mind control? Don’t go making the quick and easy joke, now.

Xandu: 'How could you resist the spells of the Wand of Watoomb?' Spider-Man: 'I didn't ... not really. Dr Strange put me under HIS control --- so you were really fighting HIM the whole time!' Dr Strange: 'It was all Spider-Man's idea.' Narration: Watch it, guys! Xandu isn't finished YET!
Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s Amazing Spider-Man repeat for the 16th of October, 2020. I give Spidey credit for reasoning that he can’t be mind-controlled if he’s already mind-controlled. He’s just lucky Dr Strange plays so many first-person shooters using the weird remote cameras so he was any good at fighting remotely, is all. (Well, and that Xandu couldn’t break Dr Strange’s mind-control, but you have to take some chances when you’re superheroing.)

So since conquering New York City isn’t working out, Xandu goes back to the Nightmare World, and drags Mary Jane off with him. Spider-Man and Dr Strange follow because of the reasons. But Dr Strange is also frozen by the thingy with the magic doohickey. So what choice does Spider-Man have but to run away from Xandu’s magic blasts of magic blasterness? Ah, but there’s strategy to Peter Parker’s running away.

Xandu, shooting energy beams at Spider-Man and the statue he's bounced off: 'You're getting WINDED evading my bursts, wall-crawler. This is the SECOND time you've landed on the immobilized Nightmare!' Spider-Man: 'Hey, I don't know if you've noticed --- I can't fly --- and around here, I can't exactly come down to earth!' Xandu: 'Too true! So it is high time I disposed of you --- FOREVER!'
Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s Amazing Spider-Man repeat for the 28th of October, 2020. Here again, have to give credit to Spidey for out-thinking the bad guy. One might sulk about how things get explained to the reader, but it’s hard to tip off readers to this kind of thing, especially when everything in this kind of superhero comic is energy beams blowing up abstract shapes.

Way earlier in the story Xandu froze Nightmare, master of the world, in a layer of magic freeze stuff. Xandu misses Spider-Man, but hits Nightmare, freeing him. And he’s right fed up with all this nonsense. A revived Dr Strange offers the deal: if Nightmare lets the four humans go, they’ll leave. This sounds great to Nightmare, who drops them all off in Washington Square Park. Dr Strange takes the opportunity to wipe Xandu’s memories, he says just long enough to remove Xandu’s magic powers. I’m sure this is the sort of resolution that leaves Xandu a happy, beneficial member of society again forever and ever. And on that unsettling note — the 22nd of November — the story ends.


And the next story begins. The Daily Bugle has a new owner. J Jonah Jameson’s cousin Ruth, longtime silent owner, has died. Her widower thinks it would be fun to run a newspaper. He’s Elihas Starr. Or as Peter Parker knows him, the supervillain Not That Egghead. This Egghead is a fellow who uses long words and fights Ant-Man. Since Starr figures to publish the paper himself, he doesn’t need J Jonah Jameson any more.

J Jonah Jameson: 'You're the super-brainy hoodlum they call Egghead? I thought he was a 'Batman' bad guy!' Egghead: 'THAT Egghead was just an insignificant figment of television. I am the GENUINE ARTICLE, and of considerably greater stature.' Peter Parker: 'Or so you thought ... till Ant-Man cut you down to size!'
Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s Amazing Spider-Man repeat for the 3rd of December, 2020. Yes, Peter seems to be butting into the conversation with a needless insult. But we do learn later that Egghead once stuck Ant-Man to a sheet of flypaper, so we understand that Egghead knows how to have a giggle.

He does need Peter Parker, though. Starr figures Peter should put his talent at taking pictures of Spider-Man to a good use: taking pictures of Ant-Man. Peter does not know what Egghead is up to. Ant-Man might know, but Peter also doesn’t know where to contact Ant-Man. He’s met Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man, but who’s the current Ant-Man? With the help of Mary Jane he has the idea that Hank Pym might know. I understand they have to lay out the thought process for readers who you can’t assume see every strip. But this is the kind of thing that gave Newspaper Spidey that reputation.

Anyway, the past week of comics Peter’s been trying to get to Hank Pym’s Long Island laboratory. Me, I’d try calling or sending an e-mail first. Too much genre-awareness can be a bother. But Peter Parker should know it would be exactly his luck to get all the way out there and find out Pym is visiting with Doc Wonmug for a week of shenanigans.

Next Week!

Oh, Doc Wonmug and his shenanigans are back in a week. I start the new and I hope better year with Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop, if things go according to plan.

60s Popeye: Bell Hop Popeye and what is with that tiger’s legs by the way


Today’s is another Jack Kinney-produced cartoon. The story is from Cal Howard, though, so it won’t be about skin diving. The animation director is listed as Harvey Toombs.

A quick content warning before getting into this. Olive Oyl’s portrayed in this cartoon as “the Maharani”. Mae Questel affects an accent I must describe as “generically ethnic”. So I’m not comfortable with the layer of Oh That Exotic India that’s built into the cartoon. It never hit the point where my jaw dropped enough to skip this nonsense. I’m not sure I made the right call here. If you don’t want to deal with a 1960 presentation of Olive Oyl as a generically Asian Indian woman, you are really right and we’ll pick things up later.

If you do feel this might be worth your time, then here’s Bell Hop Popeye for you.

I am uncharacteristically annoyed with Christopher Miller’s American Cornball: A Laffopedic Guide to the Formerly Funny. I don’t see how this great guide to common and usually-vanished comic motifs from the first 70 years of the 20th century doesn’t seem to have anything on point. Miller’s work is impressive and, of course, he has to leave out some stuff. But I’m amazed there’s not an entry I can find about hotels, or about being service people to the cartoonishly wealthy. Or about the nobility-in-the-hotel premise. I’m not saying that’s a huge genre, but this isn’t even the only early-60s cartoon I can think of about oh, that exotic Asian nobility descending on a hotel. Why it should be funny to follow the bellhop dealing with Royalty is obvious, and I won’t argue that.

The cartoon has a curious open. Not that Brutus is the manager and Popeye the mere bellhop. It is weird that Popeye’s sleeping on the job, so soundly that Brutus is rightfully annoyed. Starting Popeye off as bad-at-his-job and not getting good until his spinach power-up has a good heritage. But he’s usually trying.

Olive Oyl, dressed in a 1960 white guy's idea of what an Indian Or Something woman's outfit might be, lounges on a daybed. In front of her a pet tiger wearing a jeweled collar stands, all four legs pointing in different directions, mouth open.
I know you’re wondering how Olive Oyl got that tiger into the hotel without the manager knowing. But since Brutus only learned the Maharani was coming when he read it in the newspaper, minutes ahead of her arrival, we have to suppose he is not a detail-oriented manager.

It takes about two minutes for Olive Oyl as the Maharani to appear. The cartoon takes a stab at being Brutus-and-Popeye being rivals for Olive Oyl’s affection. She orders 65 pounds of raw meat sent up to her sweet. Or maybe her suite. I wondered if Sweet is the name of her tiger, but when she looks for him she calls for “Tootsie”? (This might be an attempt at pronouncing an Indian language’s word that I don’t recognize.) In any event we get a bunch of Brutus running from the tiger. In a weird move, Brutus tosses the steak into a safe, and then runs into the safe himself. I grant I am not at my best when chased by a tiger, but it does seem like he could solve his major problem just by dropping the steak.

Popeye never has a show of strength this cartoon. Hauling Olive Oyl’s trunk up the stairs, I suppose, but that would happen whoever the bellhop was. There’s no spinach either. With that, and the opening showing Popeye asleep on the job, I wonder if the cartoon was a generic story pulled into the Popeye production circle. It would play the same with any trio of characters. Only the tiger’s irreplaceable.

60s Popeye: Skinned Divers, not a repeat, but does feature a mermaid and a Michigan tourist trap


This is a Jack Kinney cartoon — produced by him and story by him. The animation director is our friend Rudy Larriva again, but otherwise, it’s Jack Kinney’s vision here. Let’s look back at 1960’s Skinned Divers.

There are things I’d like to know about the 60s King Features run of cartoons. One of them is where story ideas came from. Like, did someone at King Features toss out a couple hundred possible story points? There were a couple cartoons based on stories from the comic strip. Maybe some came from the comic book. One was a remake of a Woody Woodpecker cartoon. And here? It’s another skin-diving cartoon.

I looked forward to comparing how Jack Kinney’s skin diving cartoon to Buddy Brutus. That short got reviewed in these pages just a couple weeks ago. Turns outBuddy Brutus was also a Jack Kinney cartoon. So I guess in about 1959 Jack Kinney got into skin-diving and wanted everybody to know. The early joke about how all you need to skin dive is this long list of equipment feels like a new-hobbyist’s joke. We again use the convention that there’s no reason Popeye or Brutus need to come up for air.

As before, Popeye and Brutus come to the same spot to dive. They’re both looking at the complementary treasure-map X. This time they don’t team up. Popeye goes and gets his foot caught in a clam’s mouth. This is exactly the peril promised by Cheboygan, Michigan’s famous 500-Pound Man-Killing Clam. Sea Shell City, with its theoretically killer clam, opened in 1957 and I’m curious whether someone at Jack Kinney Studios knew of the thing. I haven’t had the pleasure, but my love has, and we have a fridge magnet for the site.

In an underwater scene Popeye pulls his foot, trying to free his swim fin from the closed jaw of a large clam. He does not notice an octopus's tentacle reaching from behind him.
The 500-pound clam closing on your feet and keeping you pinned until your air runs out is the hypothetical mechanism by which it would kill you so, good job on this cartoon for depicting the danger. To the best of my knowledge there are no warnings about octopuses in Cheboygan, Michigan. But maybe when it’s safe to go to tourist traps again I’ll be able to report back.

Popeye’s saved from the man-killing clam by an octopus whom he figures likes him. They team up, which will be important. Popeye gets around to eating sea spinach, sure. But it’s the octopus that does more of the fighting. Popeye discovers a treasure, is knocked out by Brutus’s anchor, and is woken — with the splash from a bucket of water — by the mermaid version of Olive Oyl. Getting wet underwater is another joke Kinney relied on in Buddy Brutus. I agree that it’s a good gag. We get to the climactic Popeye-versus-Brutus fight, although the octopus takes on a lot more of the fighting duties. It’s rare to see Popeye with useful allies.

I like this cartoon, even though Popeye ends up the spectator at the end. It’s the octopus who throws Brutus out of the cartoon. It hasn’t got Buddy Brutus’s weirdness, the attitude that decided Atlantis should be an Old West town populated by octopuses. In comparison everything here is motivated beside Olive Oyl having a mermaid twin. And, hey, 500-pound man-killing clam, how can that be anything but exciting?

Statistics Saturday: Things You Forgot Happened This Year


  1. The guy who directed Batman And Robin died.
  2. We were sharing pictures of people cutting open stuff to reveal it’s cake inside.
  3. “At this point I ran out of magnets.”
  4. Series finale of Steven Universe.
  5. The impeachment trial.
  6. “A large boulder the size of a small boulder.”
  7. The failure Fyre Festival amused and delighted the world.
  8. The death of David Bowie shocked the world.
  9. “Badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger mushroom mushroom SNAKE.”
  10. Woodstock ’99.
  11. The Canter and Siegel Green Card spam on Usenet introduced the Internet to mass unsolicited commercial advertising.
  12. The Dow Jones Industrial Average topped 2,000 points for the first time.
  13. The world’s longest Monopoly game reached into four days, with Parker Brothers sending emergency supplies of cash to keep the game going (despite the game rules specifying that the bank shall issue scrip when the official cash runs out).
  14. A scandal in salad-oil inventory storage endangered the American Express corporation.
  15. A giant panda was brought into the United States for the first time.
  16. W.C.Fields made his screen debut in the silent comedy shorts Pool Sharks and His Lordship’s Dilemma.

Reference: The Forgotten Network: DuMont and the Birth of American Television, David Weinstein.

60s Popeye: Love Birds, a cartoon


It’s a Paramount Cartoon Studios-produced short today. The story’s by Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer, with the director as usual Seymour Kneitel. Here’s the 1961 short Love Birds.

So, here we delight in the 584th straight “Popeye has to chase a thing” cartoon produced by Paramount this line. I exaggerate. But it is another one of the formula where Popeye gets in trouble chasing an innocent who’s not, particularly in danger from the perils around them. It’s done with the competence I’d expect. There’s a few nice little throwaway pieces, such as Popeye’s eyes picking up a western when he falls on a TV antenna.

The most curious joke is in the pet store. The proprietor’s a monkey wearing a blue suit. Popeye is as confused as I am. It seems like this should set up the revelation that the real owner is right behind the monkey and we just didn’t notice. But, no, a talking monkey is selling love birds and that’s just something in the Popeye universe. It feels like a transgression. But it’s not as though there haven’t been talking animals in the Popeye cartoons before. Even ones that speak more than a throwaway line as a joke. I don’t know why this bothers me in a way that the Whiffle Hen or the Hungry Goat don’t.

In a pet store, Popeye looks surprised and unsure how to handle the shopkeeper being a monkey in a blue suit.
Writing prompt: the monkey is voiced by Frank Nelson (the “yyyyyyyes?” guy from The Jack Benny Show and who they’re imitating with that on The Simpsons). Go!

The whole pet store business is part of getting Olive Oyl’s lonely love bird, Juliet, a partner. It takes two and a half minutes for them to meet, and start fighting right away; Popeye’s chase doesn’t even start until nearly three minutes into the five-and-a-half-minute cartoon. The pacing is all very steady, very reliable. A bit dull.

And, then, bleah. There’s the love birds squabbling, Juliet hectoring Romeo until he runs away, the first time. The second time, he takes a tiny bit of spinach and fights back. This works because cornball humor is all about how wives are awful but you can yell them into place. There are things I miss about this era of cartoons. This attitude, though, is not among them.

MiSTed: The Tale of Fatty Coon, Chapter VIII


Here’s the eighth chapter of Arthur Scott Bailey’s 1915 children’s novel The Tale of Fatty Coon done over as a Mystery Science Theater 3000 fanfiction. What’s happened so far?

Well, Fatty is a raccoon who eats a lot. Or tires to eat a lot. He has tried to eat goshawk eggs, to get attacked by a goshawk. He’s tried to eat turtle eggs, and got away with it. He’s tried to eat squirrels, and been scared off by a “tramp raccoon”. He’s tried to eat a fishing lure, which got Farmer Green laughing at him. And he’s eaten green corn, and would kind of like to never do anything else again. And then, in a change of pace, he got chased by Farmer Green’s son, who thought he wanted a pet raccoon. Fatty escaped, though.

For people who don’t need fat jokes in their recreational reading: yeah, you’re right. There are a couple in this and you should skip on to another thing that you’ll enjoy instead.


>
>
> VIII

MIKE: Chapter VI, part II.

>
> A TERRIBLE FRIGHT

CROW: o/` Let’s give thanks to the Lord above … o/`

>
> It was the very next night after old dog Spot had treed Fatty
> Coon in the big oak near the cornfield. They had finished their
> evening meal at Farmer Green’s house. The cows were milked, the horses
> had been fed, the chickens had all gone to roost.

CROW: Wh … wait, chickens actually do that? Like, for real?

MIKE: [ Shrugs ]

> And Farmer Green
> looked up at the moon, rising from behind Blue Mountain.
>
> "We’ll go coon-hunting again to-night," he said to Johnnie

MIKE: Uhm.

> and
> the hired man. "The corn has brought the coons up from the swamp.

TOM: Yeah, thanks, this story was feeling real comfortable up to now.

> We’ll start as soon as it grows a little darker."
>
> Well—after a while they set out for the cornfield. And sure
> enough! old Spot soon began to bark.

CROW: [ As Fatty ] Snitch.

>
> "He’s treed!" said Farmer Green, pretty soon. And they all
> hurried over to the edge of the woods,

TOM: [ As Farmer Green ] ‘Where’s that forest?’

> where Spot had chased a coon up
> into a tall chestnut tree. In the moonlight they could see the coon
> quite plainly. "Another little feller!" cried Farmer Green.

CROW: Little?

MIKE: Most improbable thing Fatty’s ever been called.

> "I
> declare, all the coons that come to the cornfield seem to be young
> ones. This one’s no bigger than the one we saw last night."

TOM: [ As Fatty ] I’m still big. It’s the *trees* that got small.

>
> Now, although Farmer Green never guessed it, it was Fatty Coon
> who was up there in the tall chestnut.

CROW: It could’ve been *any* raccoon heavy enough the tree bends over.

TOM: And sinks three feet into the ground.

> He had run almost to the woods
> this time, before he had to take to a tree.

MIKE: He’d have got to the woods if he hadn’t got to the tree?

TOM: I … I was joking before.

> In fact, if Spot hadn’t
> been quite so close to him Fatty could have reached the woods, and
> then he would have just jumped from one tree to another.

MIKE: Jumped, rolled by Oompa-Loompas, whatever.

> But there
> were no trees near enough the big chestnut for that. Fatty had to stay
> right there and wait for those men to pass on. He wasn’t afraid.

CROW: [ Fatty ] ‘I’M NOT?!’

> He
> felt perfectly safe in his big tree. And he only smiled when Johnnie
> Green said to his father—
>
> "I wish I had that young coon. He’d make a fine pet."

MIKE: On what grounds do you make that claim?

>
> "A pet!" exclaimed Farmer Green. "You remember that pet fox
> you had, that stole my chickens?"

CROW: Yeah, just letting you know if we’re reading The Tale of Tommy Fox I’m outta here.

>
> "Oh, I’d be careful," Johnnie promised. "Besides, don’t you
> think we ought to catch him, so he won’t eat any more corn?"

TOM: Pets, famously, eat no food.

>
> Farmer Green smiled. He had been a boy himself, once upon a
> time,

CROW: In the Tale of Ferdinand Farmer.

> and he had not forgotten the pet coon that he had owned when he
> was just about Johnnie’s age.

MIKE: The raccoon says he owned a pet boy when he was about Fatty’s age.

>
> "All right!" he said at last. "I’ll give you one more chance,
> Johnnie.

CROW: Now recant everything bad you ever said about springs!

> But you’ll have to see that this young coon doesn’t kill any
> of my poultry."

TOM: Maybe train Fatty to do some light filing and typing …

>
> Johnnie promised that nothing of the sort should happen. And
> then his father and the hired man picked up their axes;

MIKE: His mom sets up her drum kit …

> and standing
> on opposite sides of the tall chestnut tree, they began to chop.

CROW: [ Farmer ] Ow!

TOM: [ Hired Hand, immediately after CROW finishes ] Ow!

CROW: [ Farmer, immediately after TOM finishes ] Ow!

TOM: [ Hired Hand, immediately after CROW finishes ] Ow!

>
> How the chips did fly! At the very first blow Fatty knew that

CROW: [ Farmer, immediately after TOM finishes ] Ow!

TOM: [ Hired Hand, immediately after CROW finishes ] Ow!

> this was an entirely different sort of chopping from that which

CROW: [ Farmer, immediately after TOM finishes ] Ow!

TOM: [ Hired Hand, immediately after CROW finishes ] Ow!

> Johnnie had attempted the night before. The great tree shook as if it

CROW: [ Farmer, immediately after TOM finishes ] Ow!

TOM: [ Hired Hand, immediately after CROW finishes ] Ow!

> knew that it would soon come crashing down upon the ground.

CROW: [ Farmer, immediately after TOM finishes ] Ow?

>
> And as for Fatty Coon, he could not see but that he must fall
> when the tree did.

TOM: It’s only fair.

> He, too, shivered and shook. And he wrapped himself
> all the way around a limb and hung on as tight as ever he could.

MIKE: Oh no!

TOM: Oh goodness!

CROW: Whatever’s going to happen?

>

MIKE: Tune in tomorrow for the next exciting installment of …

[ And it’ll pick up next week. Promise. ]

60s Popeye: Popeye’s Picnic, which is more about flat tires and butterflies


This time, we get back to the Jack Kinney studios, so it’s 1960 again. The story and the animation direction’s credited to Osmond Evans. Production and direction is given to Jack Kinney. Here’s Popeye’s Picnic.

There’s a kind of Popeye cartoon that I guess is maybe a Jack Kinney specialty. It’s one where there’s not so much a story as there is riffing around a particular scene. It’s a story mode that, at its best, feels like an improv exercise at work. By this I mean every character’s given one really strong beat that they’re going to focus on. Nobody else is going to try arguing them into paying attention to something else. These focuses can interact with each other. Or they might just stay what they are, with the scene bouncing between them. This is a kind of scene that you’ll either really like for its absurdity or hate for its plotlessness. Or possibly for characters being jerks in how they won’t listen to one another.

So here’s the focuses. Olive Oyl is obsessed with butterflies today and that’s fine; she’s fickle. Popeye is now very interested in the food they’ll have this picnic. Olive Oyl even says, “You say the sweetest things … but it’s always about food”. So he does, this short particularly. He’s also made a line of Dagwood sandwiches, none of which look like they’re stable enough to eat. I guess if Popeye needs an obsession for the short, food is a decent one, but it does feel like more of a Wimpy thing.

Not that the food matters much. On the way to the picnic they get a flat. While changing the tire Popeye gets himself caught in the wheel rim, something that always deeply unsettled me as a kid. I’m still not comfortable with it. He spends most of the short doubled over, trapped and trying to free himself, while Olive Oyl worries about her butterflies. She can’t see why Popeye is taking forever with this and suspects he doesn’t even care about butterflies.

Popeye's stuck, doubled over, inside a tire wheel, sitting up on his rump and holding a stick that can't help him get free. A skeptical-looking bull is running in and bumping against him.
I’m really bothered by Popeye being caught like that in the wheel thingy and also that I’m not sure what to call that wheel thingy.

That’s thin stuff even for a five minute cartoon, so we get a bull in, as a third party. That and the presence of a butterfly gives us enough characters for stuff to happen. The bull — who looks skeptical about his part in all this — chases Olive Oyl. She and Popeye get spun around some. She tries to run away. She does this great funny run up the side of a tree, too. Eventually the bull hits Popeye in the rear, knocking him free and into a spinach patch. I’m not sure if Popeye posed for that on purpose. It’s great thinking on Popeye’s part if he did. This gets Popeye and the bull racing toward each other in what’s sure to be a titanic collision, only for them to stop lest they crush the butterfly between them. Olive Oyl thanks the bull for stopping, and she’s holding his tail, although I’m not sure if her pulling his tail mattered. Everything’s happy, they all settle down to a picnic and that’s that.

What’s Going On In Judge Parker? Did everything just reset again? September – December 2020


So, no, things did not just reset in Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker the last couple months. There were storylines in which characters’ ambitions failed, and they have to start over. But that’s different from a reset where it doesn’t matter what happened.

This should catch you up on the strip to mid-December 2020. I should have a new plot recap around March 2021, which should post at this link. I’ll also put any news I have about the strip there.

And on my other blog, I’ve finished one mathematics-topic essay for every letter of the alphabet. I hope you enjoy.

Judge Parker.

27 September – 19 December 2020.

Ronnie Huerta was moving back to Los Angeles, last time. The first week in this plot recap’s timeframe was her going to the airport and Neddy Spencer choosing to stay in Cavelton. Staying home again doesn’t make Neddy any happier, but it does give her time to realize nothing much does seem to help. Ronnie’s new roommate is the actor playing the character of Neddy Spencer in the TV show. And, what do you know, but the producers want the real Neddy Spencer back in Los Angeles, to work with the character of Godiva Danube. She doesn’t know that she wants to deal with that, but she does need to do something.

Ronnie: 'Neddy, you still argue with Godiva and she's been dead for two years. You even freaked out meeting the person playing her on set. You NEED closure. Working on the Godiva character may be your best way to do that. You can get everything out you've been struggling with. Face those demons. Help write the character and your way past this.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 20th of October, 2020. Now for me, I find closure overrated. I’ll take a simple apology for all the bull someone put me through, delivered straight, thank you. Maybe a chaser of regret for screwing up what should’ve been a good friendship.

Then there’s the mayoral election, Toni Bowen versus Phil Sanderson. Bowen’s behind, but gaining. It’s revived Sophie Spencer’s spirits. Not just the campaign but learning that she needs to know a lot more of everything. So she jumps from one online course with Local College to six classes to getting ready for University In New York.

It’s hard keeping up interest in the local mayoral election when there’s, you know, everything else going on. But Sophie works hard at it, to the point that even Toni Bowen gets a little sick of the mayoral race. Bowen gives Sophie a guitar, an “epiphone casino”. I must trust Francesco Marciuliano that this means something to guitar people. And promises her that it will all be good, whatever happens on election day.

[ As the race for mayor gets closer ... (Poll showing Sanderson at 51%, Bowen at 49%) tensions increase ... ] Sanderson: 'The only reason Toni's numbers are rising is because I'm constantly reminding people about her when I say she's unfit for office! She owes me her popularity!' Steweart, assistant: 'Uh, what? ... I mean, um, sure ... I mean, have you had your morning coffee yet, sir?'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 22nd of October, 2020. Really the surprising thing here is there’s not undecided voters or some third-party candidate running on the Let’s Have Opossums Eat Town ticket or something.

What happens is Toni Bowen loses. She takes it in good grace, and good stride: she made it a nail-biter election, coming from nowhere, and this won’t be the last mayoral election. Abbey Spencer’s particularly horrified. Sanderson’s got a pet, revenge, project. It’s a boutique hotel downtown that he’s directing corporate visitors to. She sees this as draining what visitors Abbey might draw to her bed-and-breakfast. (The revenge is for Abbey not taking his offer — back in August — to support his campaign. Sanderson had not actually wanted her support, but that’s no reason not to be vindictive.) I’m not sure a downtown boutique hotel and a horse-farm bed-and-breakfast are quite in the same market. But there’s probably not a shortage of Cavelton-area hotel rooms. Especially during the pandemic and with the TV show’s location shooting done.

Neddy: 'Abbey, it's not like Sophie and I are leaving today. We'll still be here for the holidays ... we can even help you with the B-and-B!' Abbey: 'I take it you haven't heard the news.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 27th of November, 2020. So what Sanderson had offered was that if Abbey supported him publicly he’d recommend her B-and-B to companies sending people to town. She chewed him out and declared she’d do anything to help Toni Bowen, then hung up. He chuckled that this was what he wanted. What we saw of the campaign had Sanderson painting Bowen as propped up by elitist and out-of-town money. The Spencer-Driver fortune certainly counts for elite money, but couldn’t register as out-of-town. Was Sanderson being clever? Hard to say. If he judged right that this would make Bowen look like a prop of unpopular rich people, then, it was a great call, considering how close the vote was. (We don’t know how close exactly, just that it wasn’t called until about 6 am, which is close enough.) Anyway it’s not decent of Sanderson to take revenge against Abbey for doing exactly what he wanted her to do, but he is a Republican.

So Abbey feels particularly down in the post-Thanksgiving wash. Her bed-and-breakfast is a mess. Sophie is moving to New York City when that’s safe, which the comic is supposing will be the spring semester. And Neddy decides to move back to Los Angeles, to work on the show and with the Godiva Danube character concept again. She’s feeling desolate.

Sophie and Neddy are sensitive to this, and do something to help Abbey feel appreciated. So while Sam Driver takes her for a long walk and she talks about everything she’s anxious about, Sophie and Neddy decorate the house for Christmas. A nice bit of family.

A less-happy bit of family: Randy Parker and his daughter Charlotte decorating. Charlotte wants to know whether mommy — April Parker — will be there for Christmas. It’s hard to answer since last any of us saw, April Parker was teamed up with her Mom in deep super-secret hyper-spy undercover nonsense. Randy Parker still would like to know what’s happened to her. Alan Parker warns him, that’s going to make all sorts of trouble. Somehow this is still a hard question for Randy, though.

What trouble will this make, and will Randy learn better? We’ll see in a couple months, I hope.

Next Week!

It’s a flashback to 2016 as I do another recap of Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s The Amazing Spider-Man, in reruns but what the heck, they’re easy and fun to write. See you then.

60s Popeye: Butler Up which … is a pun on ‘Batter Up’? Is that the joke?


We’re back in Paramount Cartoon Studios territory. Once more Seymour Kneitel is the director of record. The story’s credited to I Klein. From 1961 here’s Butler Up.

I’ve said what I expect when it’s a Paramount cartoon here. It’ll be competent, everything will make sense, everything will happen in first gear. That impression holds up again. The premise is that Olive Oyl needs a butler so she can impress an old classmate. That classmate? Brutus, who comes in the huge fur coat and straw hat that they assigned you for Old College Chum Days back then. Brutus, in this version of the Popeye-Brutus-Olive Oyl cycle, doesn’t know Popeye, but takes an instant and mutual dislike to him. And then the cartoon’s a bunch of Brutus fighting off Popeye, Popeye fighting back without breaking character, and oh yeah, Brutus moving toward the bit where he grabs Olive Oyl.

In considering his Jeeves role Popeye reads The Art of Butlering. It’s got a couple of basic rules. The setup makes me expect this is going to be a big part of the cartoon. Like, Popeye’s going to keep pulling back before he breaks a rule. It never does, though, at least not explicitly. When Popeye’s had all he can stands and can’t stands no more, there’s a callback Popeye recites the four directives and punches Brutus into the butler outfit. It still feels like Klein figured this would be the structure for the short and then didn’t take it out when other stuff happened.

Popeye as butler serving a plate with no fewer than fourteen sandwiches on it to Olive Oyl and Brutus. Olive Oyl's delighted to see him. Brutus is annoyed with the introduction
To me, fourteen seems like too many peanut butter sandwiches for one lunch with an old college chum. How many do you make when you have Brutus over?

There’s some fun business here, mostly in the asides. I’m curious where Olive Oyl got her enormously long dinner table, “not built for togetherness”, from and how she fit it into her house. Also why she set that when she’s not actually incredibly wealthy and, at least that far in, doesn’t have reason to stay away from Brutus. There’s also a bit where Popeye’s washing dishes in the middle of Brutus’s visit. That couldn’t wait? Or was that just the most plausible way to look like a legitimate butler?

It’s all a very Paramount-made cartoon, though. Viable premise, sensible story, really all made as okay as you could hope.

That long black dress with bracelets is a good look for Olive Oyl, though.

60s Popeye: A Mite of Trouble; do you get it? Because, mm.


This is another Paramount Cartoon Studios cartoon. So it’s a fresh 1961 issue too. The director’s Seymour Kneitel and the story’s credited to Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer. Here’s A Mite of Trouble.

We’ve got the Sea Hag and her vulture back. That’s usually a good start. It feels like Paramount is the only studio to have done things with the Sea Hag, except I know that’s not literally true. Gene Deitch has a nice one featuring the Sea Hag with Toar that I know about, for example. Anyway in this one she’s after the treasure map Popeye has somewhere in his house. The complication: Popeye’s babysitting Swee’Pea so he might not leave the house for, like, hours. The solution:

Oh, good grief. Right, so, off to the Tingaling Brothers Circus, to hire Major Mite the Midget to pretend to be Swee’Pea. She even brings that nice stock footage of her in three-quarter profile swinging her arm out to seal the deal. And we’re off to one of those cartoons where the adult doesn’t suspect their kid is actually a small crook. This although the Sea Hag switches Swee’Pea for Major Mite while he’s riding a swing Popeye pushes. I wonder if they were making a joke about how if something’s not on-screen in a cartoon it doesn’t exist. That feels subtle, but they could have written the swap to happen any time. Why decide to do it in the middle of a swing?

It’s executed well enough, for the premise. There’s a running joke about Major Mite smoking his cigar. It even justifies Popeye giving the Major a bath, to get that cigar smell off him, Mite’s best chance to get some time to himself to search the house.

Popeye trying to stand up. His rear end is glued to his seat, so he's pulling that up with him. And his hand is glued to the dining room table so *that's* lifted too. He's looking only slightly annoyed by all this.
Why is Popeye standing as though he’s wearing invisible high heels?
(It’s actually an instructive pose. If you look closely at his anatomy Popeye here makes even more no sense than usual. But the scene and the motion in it work fine enough. So you can learn something of the difference between drawing something ‘properly’ and drawing it so it communicates.)

It seems like Sea Hag and Major Mite could have worked their plans out a little better. Like, Mite could have kept Popeye busy while Sea Hag ransacked the house. Or just suggested they go out for a walk, as Popeye decides to do anyway, which should have been Sea Hag’s chance to search the house. Mite finds the map in a lampshade and runs off with it. The Sea Hag returns Swee’Pea, saving herself some trouble. Popeye’s remarkably unconcerned with all this because the punch line is: the lampshade was a fake treasure map. The real treasure map is on Swee’Pea’s diaper. As one would expect.

The punch line’s acceptable. It’s a regular beat in the comic strip that Popeye has all sorts of pirate treasure at his command and he just has to dig some up when needed. Having fake treasure maps makes sense. I swear I remember a story where Swee’Pea’s got a treasure map, possibly on his back, but I cna’t find it offhand. If I never found this whole cartoon that funny, I think it’s more the pacing than the concept. I suspect Jack Kinney or, especially, Gene Deitch could have done this story with better timing and made it land.

What’s got my plans diverted now


Yeah so I woke up with the phrase “Vampire-Elect Dracula” running back and forth through my head. So I guess I’m stuck writing a supernatural romance/political thriller now? I’ll let you know how it turns out. It’s going to depend whether I can think of something witty to do with “electoral coffin”.

MiSTed: The Tale of Fatty Coon, Chapter VII


I hope you’re ready for a bit more of my big Mystery Science Theater 3000 fanfiction. Here’s the seventh chapter of Arthur Scott Bailey’s 1915 children’s novel The Tale of Fatty Coon with jokes added in. And who is Fatty Coon?

Well, Fatty is a raccoon who eats a lot. Or tires to eat a lot. He has tried to eat goshawk eggs, to get attacked by a goshawk. He’s tried to eat turtle eggs, and got away with it. He’s tried to eat squirrels, and been scared off by a “tramp raccoon”. He’s tried to eat a fishing lure, which got Farmer Green laughing at him. And he’s eaten green corn, and would kind of like to never do anything else again. What’s this week’s eating extravaganza?

… Before that, a bit of a content warning. There’s a bunch of jokes here about Fatty’s weight and his over-eating. He hasn’t got a lot of properties otherwise. But, again, if you’re not up for fat jokes in your recreational reading, then, yeah, skip this. We’ll catch up on some better material.


>
>
> VII

TOM: Sequel to the classic miniseries V.

>
> JOHNNIE GREEN IS DISAPPOINTED
>
> It made Fatty Coon feel sad, just to think that there was that
> field full of corn, and that he could never eat all of it.

CROW: Yeah, well, no matter how long you grow your hair you can never have all the hair, ever think of that?

> But Fatty
> made up his mind that he would do the best he could. He would visit
> the cornfield every night and feast on those sweet, tender kernels.

MIKE: You know, this is hard enough without the text making the jokes we want to make about Fatty here.

>
> The very next night Fatty set out toward Farmer Green’s. It
> was hardly dark. But Fatty could not wait any longer.

CROW: So he stood up and eclipsed the sun.

> He could not
> even wait for his mother and his sisters and his brother. He hurried
> away alone. And when he came in sight of the cornfield he felt better.

TOM: He finally reached the downhill part.

> He had been the least bit afraid that the corn might be gone. He
> thought that maybe Farmer Green had picked it, or that some of the
> forest people had eaten it all.

MIKE: ‘The forest people’? The heck?

> But there it was—a forest of corn,

TOM: A jungle of maize.

CROW: A glacial moraine of quinoa.

> waving and rustling in the moonlight as the breeze touched it. Fatty
> felt very happy as he slipped through the rail-fence.

MIKE: [ Snickering ] How?

>
> I wouldn’t dare say how many ears of corn Fatty ate that
> night.

TOM: Numbers don’t run that high.

> And he would have eaten more, too, if it hadn’t been for just
> one thing. A dog barked. And that spoiled Fatty’s fun.

MIKE: Now he had to post something snarky about the dog on Twitter.

> For the dog was
> altogether too near for Fatty to feel safe. He even dropped the ear of
> corn he was gnawing and hurried toward the woods.

CROW:*Dropped* the ear of corn’? Not buying it.

>
> It was lucky for Fatty that he started when he did.

TOM: ‘Hey, look, a raccoon!’

> For that dog was close behind him in no time. There was only one thing to do:
> Fatty knew that he must climb a tree at once. So he made for the
> nearest tree in sight—a big, spreading oak, which stood all alone just
> beyond the fence.

MIKE: [ As the tree ] ‘I’m sure my friends will be back for me any day now.’

> And as Fatty crouched on a limb he felt safe enough,
> though the dog barked and whined, and leaped against the tree, and
> made a great fuss.

TOM: [ The dog, as Margaret Dumont ] ‘Oh, Mister Firefly!’

>
> Fatty looked down at the dog and scolded a little. He was not
> afraid.

CROW: [ Fatty, to narrator ] ‘I’m not?!’

> But it made him cross to be driven out of the cornfield. And
> he wished the dog would go away.

CROW: [ Fatty, as Groucho ] ‘Why can’t I dance with the cows until you come home?’

> But the dog—it was Farmer Green’s
> Spot—the dog had no idea of leaving.

MIKE: [ As Groucho ] ‘Rush to Freedonia! One raccoon is trapped in a tree! Send help at once!’

TOM: ‘If you can’t send help send two more trees.’

> He stayed right there and barked
> so loudly that it was not long before Farmer Green and his hired man
> came in sight. And with them was Johnnie Green and a little, young dog
> that had just been given to him.

MIKE: Ooh, puppers!

CROW: Who’s a good boy? Is it you?

>
> When Farmer Green saw Fatty he seemed disappointed.

TOM: ‘Aw, man, Fatty Coon? Why couldn’t we be in The Tale of Frisky Squirrel instead?’

> "He’s too
> young to bother with," he said. "His skin’s not worth much.

CROW: Well, yeah, but you multiply that by the size and …

> We’ll go
> ‘long and see what we can find."
>
> But Johnnie Green stayed behind. He wanted that young coon.

TOM: [ As Fatty ] ‘You only want me because you don’t know me!’

> And he intended to have him, too. Leaving the young dog to watch Fatty
> Coon,

CROW: [ Dog, as Margaret Dumont ] ‘Mister Firefly! Are you still here?’

MIKE: [ Fatty, as Groucho ] ‘No, no, I just went up this tree to leaf.’

> Johnnie went back to the farmhouse. After a while he appeared
> again with an axe over his shoulder. And when he began to chop away at
> the big oak, Fatty Coon felt very uneasy.

TOM: You can’t cut this down for your Christmas tree! It’s not tagged.

> Whenever Johnnie drove his
> axe into the tree, both the tree and Fatty shivered together.

CROW: Fatty’s going to be wobbling for *days* after this.

> And
> Fatty began to wish he had stayed away from the cornfield. But not for
> long, because Johnnie Green soon gave up the idea of chopping down the
> big oak.

MIKE: But his plan is foolproof, unless raccoons can jump out of trees!

> The wood was so hard to cut, and the tree was so big, that
> Johnnie had not chopped long before he saw that it would take him all
> night to cut through it. He looked up longingly at Fatty Coon.

TOM: o/` Sometimes, when we touch … the honesty’s too much … o/`

> And
> Johnnie started to climb the tree himself. But the higher he climbed,
> the higher Fatty climbed. And Johnnie knew that he could never catch
> that plump young coon in that way.

MIKE: [ As Johnnie ] ‘I don’t get it, I saw the Kratt Brothers try this.’

TOM: Did they catch the raccoon?

MIKE: ‘No, but they did *this*.’

>
> At last Johnnie Green started off, calling his dog after him.
> And then Fatty Coon came down. But he did not go back to the
> cornfield. He decided that he had had adventures enough for one night.

CROW: ‘On to Farmer Green’s workshed!’

> But Fatty had learned something—at least he thought he had. For he
> made up his mind that once he climbed a tree, no man could reach him.
> TREES COULD NOT BE CHOPPED DOWN!

TOM: Fatty’s become a sawing denier?

CROW: ‘But Fatty, what about — ‘

MIKE: ‘STUMPS ARE A NATURAL FLUCTUATION!’

> That was what Fatty believed. Perhaps
> you will know, later, whether Fatty ever found out that he was
> mistaken.

CROW: ‘But about this pile of logs?’

MIKE: ‘IT’S A CONSPIRACY BY BIG TIMBER!’

TOM: That’s … true.

[ Does he ever find out? We’ll see in future weeks or you can just read the book on your own if you have a free hour. ]

60s Popeye: Popeye the White Collar Man and that seems weird to me too


Jack Kinney’s studios were, besides doing a bunch of 60s Popeye cartoons, also drawing Mister Magoo cartoons for UPA. You’ll see why I mention this.

Rudy Larriva’s directing again. The story is by Joe Grant and Walter Schmidt. Popeye the White Collar Man takes us back to 1960 for a cartoon that keeps making me think harder about it.

Some cartoons feel like they were written for another series, or a generic series, and got Popeye characters hastily written in to them. This almost feels like one. But something about it also feels like a Bud Sagendorf-era Popeye comic strip property. The opening with Olive Oyl prodding Popeye to do something respectable. The initial failures and then the whole story focusing on one premise that’s sort-of related to where things started. And then the ending where everything stops and Olive Oyl is fine with Popeye as he was. So I don’t know whether to guess this as a generic story or a real Popeye story.

Here Popeye gets the white-collar job of door-to-door insurance salesman. This starts off with the expected series of doors slammed in his face. And a good bit of animation too, of nothing but doorbells and slammed doors. It’s nice when the artistically effective thing is also cheap to animate.

Finally, about two minutes in, things settle on Flim-Flam Film Studios and stuntman Brutus. For some reason Popeye is determined to sign Brutus up. And Brutus, for a wonder, isn’t hostile. He doesn’t even seem reluctant to sign the insurance policy; he just wants to read it first, and keeps getting called off to stunts. We do see Popeye tagging along for no good reason, and getting himself almost killed, mostly by accident. It’s a curious turn for Brutus; I’m not sure he’s ever been this non-antagonistic. It’s part of why the story feels like it was dropped on the Thimble Theatre cast.

The lion, inside the circus cage, is revealed to be a man in a costume. Brutus is in the back of the costume, looking dazed and confused and patting his face. The man taking off the costume resembles Mr Magoo.
Wait, the circus lion who swallowed Brutus whole in a scene I didn’t make time to mention was … Mister Magoo?!

Popeye spends a lot of time trying to sell insurance to a movie stunt man. That’s a good joke. At least it’s the setup for a joke, that Popeye is committed to the one sale most likely to get his boss angry with him. There’s never a punch line, though. It’s never even pointed out that Popeye’s surely working against his interests. If this cartoon were made today I’d think that was on purpose. That they were leaving some comedy understated and trusting the audience had enough people who’d get it. But for a 1960 kids cartoon?

I don’t mean to say they had to write kids cartoons stupid back then. But this was aimed at kids who are still learning the grammar of how stories work, and how jokes work. If they’re expected to find something funny, usually, they drop some clues that these are the funny bits. There’s throwaway jokes, sure, funny signs or a Jack Mercer muttering that doesn’t get attention. But this is something half the screen time of the cartoon is built on.

Lacking any way to tell whether they forgot a punch line or trusted they didn’t need one, though, I’ll give them credit, and say they wrote a joke confident that someone would notice and appreciate it.

What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? Why did Coach Thorp care where his players sat? September – December 2020


The football players were attending volleyball games. But they were sitting in mutually hostile cliques. That’s what Gil Thorp cared about and wanted to break up. And this should catch you up on Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for mid-December 2020. Plot recaps for 2021 or later, or news about the strip, I should have at a post here.

And on my mathematics blog, this should be the final week for my A-to-Z essays. These have looked at something mathematical through the whole alphabet and that’s fun but also fun to have finished. You may find something interesting there.

Gil Thorp.

21 September – 12 December 2020.

Corina Karenna had just joined Milford, and the girls volleyball team, in September. She was baffled by the team bonfire rally. Will Thayer, quarterback, is interested in Karenna; she shuts him down, asking how many volleyball games he’s been to, which is none.

Coach Thorp: 'That reverse you called? We were saving it for a conference game. Now it's on film.' Terry Rapson: 'Oh.' Thorp: 'And that pass --- ' Rapson: 'Went for a touchdown!' Thorp: 'Because the defender slipped. It would have been incomplete, or worse, when a few first downs would have run out the clock.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 10th of October, 2020. I get Rapson’s mistake here, though. It’s hard to internalize that point where you win by beating the clock instead of the other team.

In the game against Ballard, backup quarterback Terry Rapson gets put in, with directions to run the clock out. Rapson decides to run more aggressively, getting a touchdown and securing the game win. But also giving away a play that Thorp was keeping in reserve for a more important game. Now any opponent can prepare for it. This has to count as a failure of Thorp’s coaching. Granted teenagers are going to make dumb mistakes. But you can’t expect people to follow what seem like bad directions — here, to refrain from taking scoring chances — without reason. They have to know the point of this all.

Anyway, Rapson and Thayer compete to be the lead quarterback. Also to get the interest of Karenna, who can’t think of a reason to care. Rapson and Thayer are pretty well-matched in both contests. And get increasingly angry with each other. Rapson particularly when Thayer loses the game against Madison (for which Rapson was benched).

Football player: 'I'm saying Rapp should play more. You want to try to shut me up?' Marty Moon, reporting: '40 seconds left and it looks like there's a scuffle on the Milford sideline. That's a first!' Assistant coach, separating the fighting players: 'What the heck is wrong with you two?' Both players: 'Ask him!'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 20th of November, 2020. The story switches to Karenna dealing with Rapson and Thayer’s nonsense. So we don’t get to see what Marty Moon makes of what is, yeah, a ridiculous loss of control on Coach Thorp’s part. This is a shame since we don’t get to see Marty Moon falling on his face with this story too, somehow.

Rapson finally takes Karenna’s hints, and goes to a girls volleyball game. He also gets a bunch of friends to go with him. They don’t understand the game, but are putting in the effort, and Karenna consents to go to a football game. The teams start going to one another’s games and that would be great. Except that the football team divides between Rapson and Thayer for first-string quarterback. (And a couple kids who don’t see why they need to have an opinion on this.) They won’t even sit together in the stands.

Gil Thorp learns about this, and tells Rapson and Thayer to knock it off. Rapson and Thayer figure the other went to the coach so he would make their rival knock it off, so the team remains divided. It gets bad enough that teammates fight on the sidelines at a win.

[ Corina Karenna orchestrates a quarterback summit ] Rapson or Thayer (from inside the depicted house): 'Of course we want to win football games!' Karenna: 'Great. now explain how undercutting each other helps. ... No answers? Excellent. Maybe you're brighter than I thought.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 30th of November, 2020. Oh, jeez. Karenna, I hate to dash your optimism, but, speaking as a recovered teenage boy, oh gads no. We are not nearly as bright as you think, and I’m sorry, but we aren’t going to be before about age 28 or so. You and all society would be better off if you stopped giving us attention, or driver’s licenses, or sharp or blunt objects, until this changes.

So Karenna steps in. She invites Rapson and Thayer to her place to fight it out. She explains the problem with the authority of a teenager who’s had to be the functional adult for years. (Her parents divorced. Her mother’s been too depressed to parent.) They’re being selfish, they’re screwing up the team, and they’re not making themselves attractive to her. So what are you going to do? They agree they’ve, at least, had a weird night at Karenna’s place.

Karenna tells the Thorps she’s solved the quarterback problem. Coach Thorp figures he has, too: playing emergency quarterback Leonard Fleming. It works for the first game. At Valley Tech, it’s a bit tougher, and Fleming gets injured. Thorp tells Thayer to step in. But Thayer bows: he’s aware Rapson is reading the defense, should play instead. So, Rapson plays, and the season ends on a win. The girls volleyball players try to congratulate him. He credits Karenna as the most valuable player. She does a shrugging rah.

And that’s where things stand for the middle of December, 2020.

Milford Schools Watch

It’s a bunch of familiar teams that Milford’s played, in football and girls volleyball, the last three months. The dates are from the starts or first mentions of a rival school in the storyline; several of the games went on for a week-plus.

Next Week!

Did Toni Bowen win the mayoral race? Is Sophie Spencer going to go to Local College? Is Ronnie Huerta still in the comic strip? And what storylines have gone totally bonkers? You already know if you’ve reading Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker. Or you can wait a week and catch my Judge Parker recap here. Thanks for reading.

60s Popeye: Lighthouse Keeping, a title I like more than I like the cartoon


It’s 1960 again and Jack Kinney’s producing. The story and the animation direction are credited to our friend Eddie Rehberg this time. Here’s Lighthouse Keeping for our consideration.

My love’s a Popeye aficionado. And also a lighthouse enthusiast. Logic tells us then that the only way this cartoon could be more perfectly targeted is if the top of the lighthouse had an antique carousel on it. There is no carousel, and the rest of the cartoon is, eh.

This isn’t calling it bad. Lighthouse Keeping has the nastiest problem for a reviewer. It’s competent without having any really great bits. Or any inexplicably bad or weird bits. There’s little for me to talk about that isn’t recapping the plot. And that’s mostly a string of gags set on a lighthouse. Brutus getting vertigo at the top of a 226-foot-tall tower. Olive Oyl trying to take a photograph and directing Popeye to step back until he falls off, spoiling her shot.

Brutus at least starts off reasonable this cartoon. It’s another in the string of cartoons where you wonder if the cartoonists are on his side. I mean, maybe he’s flirting with an uninterested Olive Oyl, but if “Nice day for fishing, if you’re not a fish” then I’ve grossly misunderstood human contact. Olive Oyl sinks her boat, somehow, and Brutus brings her to Popeye’s lighthouse. Popeye being a lighthouse keeper is a new thing; I’m surprised the gimmick hasn’t been done before. I can imagine a Fleischer cartoon where he goes off doing a string of preposterous feats of strength saving ships against various little fiascos. Or explaining to a reluctant kid how he can do all that because of his spinach-eating.

Scene of a lighthouse and the dock outside it. There are multiple Popeye figures visible, different steps in the run along that path. The last one, at the dock, is completely opaque. The Popeyes leading up to that are more and more transparent, until the most distant one, at the lighthouse, is barely visible. It almost looks like an example of how to animate the key frames in a movement.
Popeye’s speedrunning his own cartoon! Can he do that?

But that all gives us reason to have Popeye, Brutus, and Olive Oyl (urging peace) together, and we go through a couple of bits. These all go fine; there’s nothing too weird or bizarre in it. Eventually Brutus takes the hint and goes motoring off in his boat, with a rope that’s somehow tangled around Olive Oyl’s foot. Brutus is happy to feed her to the shark, so the animators aren’t skipping his heel turn. There’s the oddest animation bit this short here, with the ocean waves represented by Olive Oyl and the shark oscillating side to side, instead of up and down. Popeye punches the shark into Brutus’s boat, and then gets a boat from somewhere to bring Olive Oyl back to shore.

Oh, there is one bit of neat animation that I like. Popeye rushing down the lighthouse to the dock, to meet Olive Oyl, is done by making a succession of still pictures of him more opaque and transparent. It’s a neat trick, one worthy of a 1980s video game. But that’s as much ambition as the cartoon shows. It’s a cartoon that won’t convince anyone the King Features run was unappreciated genius, nor that it was a disaster.

60s Popeye: Popeye and Buddy Brutus, plus octopuses of the Oooooooold West


We’re back on Jack Kinney’s turf, in the year 1960. Popeye and Buddy Brutus has the interesting trait that it’s produced by and story by Jack Kinney, although the director is Rudy Larriva. I admit an instinctive dread of Larriva’s directing. He had the thankless task of making those 1960s Coyote and Road Runner cartoons, when Warner Brothers wouldn’t pay for animation or a fourth bar of music. But the Popeye cartoons were … made under similar circumstances, really. Still, different studio, different circumstances. This could be Larriva’s chance to shine.

What this cartoon evokes is that thing Paul McCartney occasionally does, where he has a couple of songs he’s worked out only parts to and so he puts them together into a medley. Here, there’s a couple of partly-developed diving-based cartoon premises, somehow none of which are enough to last five and a half minutes, all leaning against each other. This all doesn’t work as well as Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey, but I can’t say I don’t like it either. My reaction is more that I’m not sure what to make of it all.

We start with Popeye and Brutus setting out to dive in the same part of the ocean. After some squabbling Brutus proposes they be skin-diving buddies. It’s an interesting move for Brutus, who at least starts out the cartoon being the more peaceful one. It also reminds me of Dizzy Divers, the 1935 Fleischer short, in its setup. He even goes looking for Popeye after his rival disappears. It’s only when they run across some treasure that Brutus does his heel turn. Popeye and Brutus spend nearly the whole short underwater without breathing equipment or coming up for air. I know Popeye’s done this before. And the classic Bugs Bunny short Hare Ribbin’ did it too. I don’t know why, though. I mean, yes, I know they’re skin diving, but you could change that with one line of dialogue. Did they figure that if Popeye and Brutus’s faces were covered with masks, their bodies would have to move more to compensate, and they couldn’t afford that?

In their diving, Popeye and Brutus run across Atlantis. Neat idea. A unique one, too. If the Popeye Wikia doesn’t fail me, this is the only time Popeye’s been at an Atlantis. And it’s a weird Atlantis, as it’s an Old West city except populated by octopuses. We see a bar fight and ink-squirt “gunfight” and … that’s about it. There can’t be many octopus-based Old West Atlantises out in the pop culture and it’s disappointing that somehow that wasn’t worth four minutes of screen time.

Octopus desperado riding the back of a sea horse and shooting ink from their tentacles back at the bar they were just thrown out of. In the backdrop are great sandy mountains. The whole picture is blurry in that wavy underwater effect cartoons use.
Hey, waaaait a minute! Cambot, pull up 13:23 — yes, we see the Atlantis village blacksmith’s and see the rear of a regular land-type horse there! What’s with the continuity error, people?

Popeye and Brutus end up having a showdown in Old West Atlantis, one that involves none of the inhabitants of the town and barely any of the setting. It’s a very silly fight, although the kind of silly that tickles me. Brutus shoots with a harpoon gun that’s always got not quite enough slack to reach Popeye. Popeye shoots back with a water pistol, using one glass for his ammunition. Maybe this is what justifies making this a skin-diving cartoon. Brutus washing water off his face that’s already deep in the water is funny in a weird conceptual way. It’s sure to tickle the seven-year-old. It tickles me today, but I have that kind of brain.

Brutus ends up getting the bends, in that literal way cartoons used to convince the seven-year-old me was just a thing that happened to divers sometimes. Popeye hooks Wimpy’s fishing line to his buddy — them calling each other “buddy” is a motif that comes and goes this short — and he’s hauled to safety.

I can’t call this bad, although I understand people who’ll feel it’s disjointed and storyless. I may just be responding to the weirdness of the construction. And the weirdness of ideas like “Atlantis, but it’s an Old West town populated by octopuses”. But it also doesn’t work in a way that makes this jumble of ideas clearly good.

Statistics Saturday: Is This A Joke?


“You know, in British English, the world `left` is spelled `lieut`.”

Modest-size wedges: 'Yes' and 'Yes, but I resent it.' Large wedge: 'No'. Even larger wedge: 'No, but it is joke-shaped'.
Not pictured: “It’s shaped like a deconstructed joke hoping for reconstitution into humor”.

Reference: The Perfect Machine: Building the Palomar Telescope, Ronald Florence.

60s Popeye: County Fair, and that’s about all there is to say about it


Are we back to 1961? Yes, we’re back to 1961, and Paramount Cartoon Studios. County Fair is directed by Seymour Kneitel, like every Famous Studios or Paramount Studios Popeye short. The story’s credited to Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer.

The Popeye Wikia for this short summaries it: “Popeye and Brutus are farmers who enter a county fair contest to see who is the best. As per usual, Brutus resorts to cheating.” It’s a struggle to think of more to say about it. This group of people had been making Popeye cartoons for 28 years when this was made. They could probably have done it in their sleep.

What I expect from a Paramount-made cartoon, here, is that it’ll be crafted correctly. The animation will be sluggish, but it won’t have errors. The writing will be plain, but will make sense. We’ll never have a baffling fiasco of a cartoon. The worst that will happen is the cartoon will be dull.

And that’s what we have. It’s your standard Popeye-versus-Brutus contest, going several rounds with Brutus cheating. Remarkably his cheats work half the time. In this sort of setup I expect either all the cheats to work or none of them to work. The score being tied at the last event is novel. Also the last event is spinach-eating. That’s an odd choice; all the other events sound like County Fair contests. But, it’s a Popeye cartoon, the spinach has to be somewhere.

Farmer Brutus and the pig he holds looking shocked and amazed that Farmer Popeye has his arms full of dozens of wrapped hams.
Oh, here’s the other moment of personality this cartoon. Popeye winning the hog-calling contest demands he do something spectacular with calling a hog. So it has to be either he gets an enormous number of pigs, or at least one tremendous pig, or, this, here to horrify that adorable pig Brutus has.

Fleas a Crowd I liked as a solidly competent cartoon with flashes of wit or imagination or silliness. Here’s another cartoon solidly competent. It lacks those flashes, though; even the cartoon’s title is a generic content description. Its only distinctive part is Popeye and Brutus trying to distract each other at the tastiest beef-burger contest, about 7:00 in the video. (Why not say ‘hamburger’? Surely there weren’t enough turkey burgers or other variants in 1961 that you’d need to specify a beef-based hamburger.) They do a couple rounds that are almost literally, “Hey, look at the distraction!” I can imagine being annoyed by this and calling it laziness if I were in a foul mood. As it is, I’m basically happy, so I see it as a gleeful embrace of the artifice or something.

Still, I’ve watched this cartoon three times in the last 72 hours, and will remember nothing of it 72 hours from now.

MiSTed: The Tale of Fatty Coon, Chapter VI


And now more of Arthur Scott Bailey’s 1915 children’s novel The Tale of Fatty Coon. This is the sixth chapter. I’d written this, and through to chapter nine, to post as Mystery Science Theater 3000 fanfiction last year. I didn’t have the time or energy then to surround it with host sketches introducing and resolving the piece. My excuse was that if I ever completed the book I’d put all the chapters together in a big project and have several sketches throughout, the way a real episode might. I’d posted this to Usenet several years after the first five-chapter block which is why there’s some refreshers about the story in text.

Some content to warn about. One is that there’s a riff this chapter that’s rather more risque than you’d think I could make. I had to go by what the text offered. And, as the premise behind Fatty Coon is that he’s really fat and eats a lot, there’s fat jokes. If you don’t need that in your reading for fun, you’re right. We’ll catch up later instead.


Previously, we met Fatty Coon, who combines being fat with being a raccoon. He has tried to eat goshawk eggs, and failed. He’s tried to eat turtle eggs, and succeeded. He’s tried to eat a family of squirrels and failed, instead getting scared by a “tramp raccoon”. And he’s tried to eat a fishing lure, which defies characterization as “success” or “failure”. What will he try to eat this time? Just wait and see.


[ ALL file in to the theatre. ]

> SLEEPY-TIME TALES

TOM: Oh yeah, these guys.

> THE TALE OF FATTY COON

CROW: So what exactly happened the first five chapters of this thing?

> BY ARTHUR SCOTT BAILEY

MIKE: I remember it. Fatty Coon is a raccoon who eats a lot, and his author hates him. … There, you’re caught up.

>
> VI

TOM: MURIEL!

CROW: THELMA!

>
> FATTY AND THE GREEN CORN

MIKE: That’s my favorite psychedelic pop album.

Continue reading “MiSTed: The Tale of Fatty Coon, Chapter VI”

60s Popeye: Fleas a Crowd, a cartoon with a chaser


This is an unusual one! Fleas a Crowd is one of ten Popeye shorts produced by Gerald Ray. He produced more of the Beetle Bailey shorts, and far more of King Leonardo cartoons. If I haven’t missed, I’ve only done two other Gerald Ray shorts before, Popeye’s Junior Headache and the fascinating and mysterious Take It Easel. Bob Bemiller is listed as director again. There’s no story credit and the IMDB doesn’t try to guess at one. Here’s the cartoon from 1960, in any case.

This is a weird one. I like it, although I don’t know how much of that liking is that I like any weird cartoon. It’s the rare Popeye cartoon in which Popeye and Olive Oyl, though both present, never directly interact. She just watches him on stage; he never shows awareness she exists. Olive Oyl is on a date with Brutus, and stays on a date with him, too. Brutus and Popeye barely interact either. They aren’t even on screen at the same time until 5:19, and that for a moment. Popeye’s fleas beat up Brutus. There can’t be another cartoon where the main triad all appear but have less to do with each other.

So we have Popeye as ringmaster to a flea circus at the Thimble Theater, a joke admirably not dwelt on. It’s just there for everyone who spotted Ham Gravy hanging around a couple weeks back. Jealous of how Olive Oyl looks at Popeye’s flea mastery, Brutus sets a wind-up dog to steal the fleas. Then it’s mostly a Popeye-in-pursuit cartoon. Like those cartoons where he’s following the Jeep or the sleepwalking Olive Oyl or something.

Popeye sitting up in the dogcatcher's wagon. He's surrounded by loosely drawn dogs, all yellow or brown, and all looking at him. He's speaking and pointing to his head.
“I mean, this is what happens when you work the Gus Sun vaudeville circuit, yaknow?”

The story’s solid if routine. But creative bits keep poking out, regularly enough I stay interested. Popeye’s fleas, for example, are named Damon and Pythias. When Popeye realizes “I’ve been flea-napped”, Olive Oyl passes out, as though in a Victorian melodrama spoof. The fleas leave a “Dear John” letter for Popeye. “We regret to inform you that due to circumstances beyond our control we are forced to continue leading a dog’s life. PS: heeeeeeeeelp.”

All of this could have been done with plainer but still functional dialogue. They chose to be interesting in the small stuff.  For example: the fleas perform the Damon and Pythias Waltz.  There is nothing waltz about the dance, and nothing waltz about the tune (Swanee River).  Another and great example of this is when Popeye lets the dogs out of the dogcatcher’s wagon. Not the elephant jumping out, although that’s a great absurd moment. Notice that the dogs are not all the same model. I don’t think there’s any two that look quite the same. The joke would have been just as good if it were ten duplicates of the same dog and then the elephant. That Gerald Ray’s animators did more than they had gives the cartoon a higher-quality look.

In 1978 Peter Pan Records released a 7-inch disc adapting the story to audio. The adaptation ends up a good bit longer than the original cartoon and I don’t recognize any of the voice actors. Apparently, they were all the same guy, Harry F Welch, who possibly played Popeye in a couple of theatrical cartoons. Nobody’s sure. It has some delightfully clumsy moments of characters saying what they’re seeing. But as an old-time-radio enthusiast, I have to say: not the clumsiest. The comparison also gives some insight into how much value the pictures, even of these cheaply-made cartoons, adds to the story. Also how much the amount of time available for the same beats affects the story.

What’s Going On In Rex Morgan, M.D.? Is anything going on in Rex Morgan, M.D.? September – December 2020


Well, yes. Things are happening. Terry Beatty had started “Lockdown Stories” in the middle of August. Each was a small bit of story, checking in with the major characters of recent years to see what they do during the Covid-19 crisis. This has continued. There hasn’t been any overall plot, and few of the characters have been able to interact much.

Also, mostly, everybody’s staying out of trouble. Maybe a bit bored. This is a difficult condition to write. I know from reading the popular comic-strip-snark-blogs that there are readers who find this all boring. I won’t tell you how to feel about this. But it has made Rex Morgan, as a comic strip, much closer in spirit to the semi-serialized comics like Luann or Funky Winkerbean. These are ones where the strip picks one of several sets of characters to advance for a week. (I don’t generally recap those strips, since the strips usually provide a refresher when they start the week.)

I’ll review that all, though. This essay should catch you up on Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. as it stands at the start of December 2020. If you’re reading this after about March 2021, or if any news breaks about the strip, you might find a more relevant essay here.

On my other blog I’m nearing the end of the A-to-Z. This week I plan essay about some mathematics topic starting with the letter Y. I too am wondering what I’ll write it about.

And before I get to the stories, I have a word for Porsupah Ree, a longtime friend. Several years back she took a photograph of wild rabbits having a bit of a time. A good one. Like, good enough there’s a fair chance you’ve seen it in your social media with a caption like “everybody was bun fu fighting”. She’s put it up on Redbubble, so you can get the moment as a postcard or sticker or print or face mask, or many other things. And you can support her hobbies of rabbit photography and eating and such. Please consider it, or at least admire a great rabbit photograph.

Rex Morgan, M.D..

13 September – 6 December 2020.

The 14th of September checked in with Kelly and her mother, Summer. Summer works in Rex Morgan’s clinic, which had closed while he worked in the hospital. That’s all.

The 19th of September looked at Buck and Mindy Wise. Her antiques store is closed, but Buck can do whatever the heck his work is online. And help her in selling stuff online, too. They listen to an online concert from Truck Tyler, starting the 25th of September.

Buck and Mindy watch Truck Tyler's weekly 'Living Room Concert'. Tyler finishes singing 'And I finally checked out of the Glenwood Motel.' Buck: 'He's in really good voice today. Way better than when he had the walking pneumonia!' Mindy: Hmm ... Tyler: 'Hey folks, I'm glad you liked that 'Glenwood Motel' tune. Seems like a lot of people do. Wrote that when I was laid up sick for a few weeks. And I sure feel grateful for my health now, especially with all that's goin' on. I hope all of you are keepin' wel land stayin' safe, and findin' things to keep you occupied. Glad you're here to listen to my music. Looks like we have some requests there in the chat section or comment bar or whatever it's called. So here we go with an old Ernest Tubb number!' Buck: 'Oh --- GOOD one!'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 27th of September, 2020. Anyone else bothered that an old guy who hadn’t used the Internet before March is better at being online than we are?

Truck Tyler had the good fortune to get pneumonia and be confined to a motel room for a couple weeks back in February. His “Glenwood Motel” song about the experience was well-timed to be the sound of summer 2020.

And what about Doug, the manager and maybe owner of the Glenwood Motel? We check in on him starting the 4th of October, and the most dramatic conflict of these stories. A young woman comes in, without a mask, hoping to rent a room. He dimly recognizes her. Readers might, too, although I didn’t until I read the comments: it’s Nancy, one of the mean girls from high school. I don’t know her last name. It wasn’t said on-screen and there’s been too many characters for me to track down everybody’s full names. Nancy and her clique have been trying to get a Covid-19 party together. Her parents sent warnings and her photo to … I guess all the local hotels. So he refuses to rent, and she goes off in a huff. He calls her parents to at least give them this data point.

Some Comics Kingdom commenters were upset Nancy’s parents had not talked to her about this kind of offensive and dangerous stunt. This makes an interesting comment about how people see the stuff left out of stories. My assumption is to suppose that they had. I’d based this on imagining myself as a parent. And I know the generally pleasant, low-melodrama nature of Terry Beatty’s writing. But that they also knew Nancy was likely to try sneaking out, and took what safeguards they could. I’m willing to suppose that even excellent parents know that sometimes their kids will be stupider than they can be protective. Other readers took this as evidence of Nancy’s parents being awful at communicating with their daughter. Or being awful at managing their daughter’s behavior. There’s nothing in text indicating one way or another, though.

Nancy's plan to host a 'Covid-19 party' has failed. Girlfriend in the car: 'What happened? Did you get the room?' Nancy: 'No, the jerk refused to rent me one!' Girlfriend: 'Really? What's the deal with THAT?' Nancy: 'My parents contacted him, and probably all the other hotels and motels in town too. Can you believe it? They wouldn't let me host the party at our house. Did they have to ruin THIS for me, too?' Girlfriend: 'What a rotten deal. Some parents just don't want their kids having any fun.' Nancy: 'Tell me about it!' [ In the hotel office ] Doug, on the phone: 'Yeah, she just left. Thanks for alerting me --- and congratulations on you being responsible parents. I hope she'll come to appreciate that someday.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 11th of October, 2020. Me, I’m stuck thinking how exhausting it would be to call all the hotels and motels in a metro area. I can suppose Glenwood is smaller than my metro area but still, Hotels.com has 73 listings here and jeez, how long did they spend calling places? Or, like, is there something where you can report a runaway kid and they pass information on to hotel owners? I could imagine that, but also imagine ways to abuse that terribly. So these kinds of thoughts remind me why I’m never going to make it to the second tier of comic strip snark bloggers.

Nancy is the older brother of Edward, owner of that unseeable ugly dog. He gets some attention from the 12th of October. He’s in school with Sarah Morgan, and they like each other now that he’s outgrown being a bully. They hang out some.

This gets us back around to the Morgans. Rex Morgan was working in the hospital, in the Covid-19 center, and so was quarantined from the rest of his family. Reading the kids stories over video chat and all that. It’s exhausting work. Sarah Morgan’s working remotely, working a triage phone line. And she’s trying to cope with the kids being kids and doing stuff like accidentally cutting their hair. This is a lot to ask and there’s no real managing it all. She and Rex consider options in a world where they can’t get a babysitter or relatives to help.

Rex proposes that he leave the hospital’s Covid-19 unit, and reopen the Morgan clinic as telemedicine. It would let them both watch their kids. And we don’t need to worry about Rex ducking out of doing doctor stuff in the greatest public health crisis in 102 years. Glenwood’s infection rate was falling and the hospital planning to cut his hours anyway. But he still has to quarantine for two weeks, so there’s a pause before that state can change any.

Scenes of hospital workers while the narration box addresses the audience: 'As Covid-19 has moved through the real world, so has it affected the lives of our characters in the fictional comic strip town of Glenwood. Rex and Michelle have been treating patients at Glenwood Hospital. Rex is preparing for his last day working in the hospital's Covid-19 unit. He plans to begin remote appointments with his clinic patients soon. Nurse Michelle Carter will stay on until the Morgan Clinic opens its doors in a manner other than virtual. This comic strip hasn't followed Rex or Michelle into their work with coronavirus patients. Frankly, that's just too real a subject matter for the comics page. But we will say we admire the bravery and dedication of the real-life healthcare workers who have taken on this task --- often at great risk to their own well-being. Lives are saved. Lives are lost. Tears of relief, and of sorrow, are shed. Life moves on for our comic strip cast of characters, actors made of ink, playing out their days on a paper stage.
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 8th of November, 2020. I understand that as a comic strip matures it picks up characters who are outside the main focus. Also that a writer might doubt his ability to tell credible stories in a professional setting. Especially in circumstances in which real-world professionals are not sure about their ability to manage the situation. It still seems a little odd that Rex Morgan, M.D. has only three characters who’d have a place in the medical emergency, though.

Terry Beatty pauses to tell the reader that it would be too much to follow Rex Morgan or nurse Michelle Carter in the Covid-19 wards. And then we go to Michele’s fiancee Jordan. His restaurant opened in time for the worst time in the world. But he’s doing take-out and delivery orders. Including dinner for Michelle every night. Sweet guy. She and he talk, with Michelle unloading her daily stresses.

The 30th of November got us back to Buck and Mindy. It’s the one that seems most to be going somewhere, although it’s hard to say where. What we’ve seen are that he’s tired, finding computer screens blurry. And looks like he’s lost weight. And he’s thirsty all the time. Since we know how narrative works, we know he’s being set up for something. But what? Too soon to say, as of the 6th of December anyway.

Next Week!

Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp has carried on as though the pandemic were not a thing. Defensible choice. So what does the football season look like? I’ll look at Milford and its sports activities next week, if things go as planned.

On Watching _Rudolph’s Shiny New Year_ In 2020


You know, I’m not feeling my usual sympathy for Eon the Vulture’s plan to save his own life by keeping the current year from expiring.

I was trying to think what 2020’s representative in the Archipelago of Last Years would look like, and then I remembered Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

So in the Rankin/Bass special, the crisis was caused by Baby New Year having comically enormous ears. What the heck did Baby 2020 look like? I have to figure 2020 started at “Rudy Giuliani” and aged badly.

60s Popeye: Bullfighter Bully, a 60s Popeye cartoon with bullfighting


For today’s cartoon it’s one of the handful of Larry Harmon-produced cartoons. The story’s credited to Charles Shows and the direction to Paul Fennell. Here’s 1960’s Bullfighter Bully.

I opined once that (American-made) bullfighting cartoons are always on the side of the bull. This rule, like all, isn’t quite right. The staging of a plot can overwhelm how much the bull is set up to be the aggrieved party. The main bull for this cartoon, though, is a calf, a rather cute and innocent-looking animal. Popeye’s been cast as anti-bullfighting before. That earlier one and this cartoon gave me the impression Popeye was always strongly anti-bullfighting. This because I forgot things like 1953’s Toreadorable. Well, here’s a list of Popeye cartoons with a bull in them. You figure out his personality.

Popeye smiling and holding out his hand, pointing to the calf and Olive Oyl in the stands. Both of them are smiling, the calf with a particularly exaggerated grin that makes it look like it's concealing a deep secret or possibly a crush.
On the other hand, a calf with a grin like that is certainly not innocent. He may not deserve to be stabbed to death, but he probably has earned a censure, maybe disbarment proceedings.

The villain here is El Diablo, who looks uncannily like Brutus and has the same voice Brutus used when pretending to be Don Juan back when he turned young. I’m not going to fault Jackson Beck for not having two distinct “Brutus with a Spanish accent” voices. The bull this time is a cute calf, and Popeye and Olive Oyl come to defend them. This seems like it should be enough of a story, especially for a cartoon that’s under five minutes of screen time. But then Charles Shows went and had a grown-up and dangerous bull run into the story. I understand the impulse to add some peril, since Brutus El Diablo wasn’t cutting it. But it isn’t very frightening and Popeye goes and off-frame kills the bull. Yes, he punches a bull into a pile of meat in most every bullfighting cartoon he’s in. That usually doesn’t work for me then, either.

The animation’s done by the team that would create Filmation. So, it’s got the lushness and subtlety of expression you’d expect from that. A lot of interactions handled by an off-screen sound effect. Well, at least Popeye gets kissed by a calf at the end. That’s something.

Statistics Saturday: Your Wham!ageddon Timeline


  • December 5. You realize you’ve made it this late in the month without hearing about Wham!ageddon this year. Starts a good argument online about whether you can join in late since you think you heard “Last Christmas” a couple days ago but don’t remember if it was in November or not.
  • December 7. Debate about whether it has to be Wham!’s version or if a cover of “Last Christmas” counts. Two friends stop speaking to one another.
  • December 8. Running through the grocery store run to minimize exposure to Your Local Christmas Hits Station and also Covid-19.
  • December 10. You were gone for 35 minutes, how is everybody you know angry about whether the “Sleigh Ride” carol “really” has words?
  • December 12. Remember that you forgot you were doing Wham!ageddon this year.
  • December 13. Your bad-movie podcast is about Last Christmas. Debate about whether you can be exempted for the time necessary to listen to the episode. This generates three new factions among your friends, who engage in a Talmudic debate about whether you heard the song if the podcast hosts do a brief, a capella, rendition unburdened by any musical key.
  • December 14. Get 1600 words into a deep-dive essay about what it means that people do these avoid-the-ubiquitous-thing contests for the fifth time before realizing the author hasn’t gotten to a thesis statement yet and give up on the whole thing.
  • December 18. Remember that you forgot you were doing Wham!ageddon this year.
  • December 19. You were gone for 25 minutes, how is everybody you know angry about the “Monster Mash”?
  • December 20. Debate about whether it counts if you catch yourself starting to hum it to yourself in the shower but are legitimately not sure whether you were just singing in your head.
  • December 21. Debate about whether this is, as Wikipedia’s article about Wham!ageddon implies, a “strategy” game.
  • December 24. You were gone for 15 minutes, how is everybody you know angry about haikus somehow? Haikus? What are people even arguing about over haikus? Even for 2020? Haikus?!
  • December 26. Debate about whether there even is such a thing as the “We Didn’t Start The Firefest” contest ahead of New Year’s.
  • January 2. Finally have the somehow two hours, 35 minutes needed to listen to that movie podcast.

Reference: The Impossible Dream: The Building of the Panama Canal, Ian Cameron.

Statistics November: How Many People Wanted Me To Fix Mark Trail Last Month


November 2020 was an exceptional one for me, as it was for many people. The big one is I went into a low-power mode. This has been a very stressful year. I had great fears for the United States elections. I needed to shift to things I could do when more emotionally fragile. And that’s reprinting a Mystery Science Theater 3000 fanfiction and reviewing a lot of Popeye cartoons. What did readers think of this?

They didn’t notice, because they wanted to know about Mark Trail. But that’s all right since, by good fortune, I had the plot recap for Mark Trail posted in the middle of the month. I’m sure I can’t stay in low-power mode forever. But for now? This is an easier way to manage my blog, and I’ll keep at that until I’m ready to go back to normal. Probably after the new year.

According to WordPress, there were 6,284 pages viewed in November. This is fewer than in October, but October was the greatest number of page views I’d had in a month. November was the second-greatest. I can’t be too fretful about that. The twelve-month running average leading up to November was 4,282.9 page views per month. So a lot of people are upset about Mark Trail and they’re coming to me to ask about it.

Bar chart of monthly readership, which mostly rose for about a year's worth of figures; November saw a drop from October but is still quite high.
I absolutely dare Google Ad Technologies Inc to come up with a way to make money on me talking about the Popeye cartoons of the 60s.

There were 3,868 unique visitors logged around here in November. Again that’s down from October, but October was my record high. 3,868 is still my second-highest unique visitor count on record. The twelve-month running average is a mere 2,517.7 unique visitors.

The things where people interact with the page in some way were up, also. WordPress recorded 136 likes given to posts in November, above the running average of 94.8. It’s the greatest number of likes I’ve gotten in a month since July of 2019. And there were 48 comments given, way above the 29.9 running average and my greatest number since … well, April, which also saw 48. But no month’s had more than 48 comments since January 2019, when 70 comments came in here. Again, people really want to argue about Mark Trail, or Alley Oop. I’m spoiling the fun by not being too obviously angry about or fannish of either strip.

What was popular around here in November? Everything with “Mark Trail” in the subject line. But to be more exact, the most popular things posted in October or November have been:

I’m delighted that my needless mocking of an unimportant cartoon captured people’s imagination. Also that my Statistics Saturday piece for my Dad was received so well. Dad, if you have other statistics ideas, please, let me know; apparently, they play well. The most popular long-form piece was the first chapter in the MiSTing of The Tale of Fatty Coon. Chapters of that should keep going through the month, at least.


I of course intend to keep publishing my What’s Going On In series. Coming up are some of the comics that were pretty big draws back in their day, before everybody got mad at Mark Trail and Alley Oop. If pressing news, or pressing life, doesn’t force a change I expect to publish:

I’m aware that The Amazing Spider-Man is still in repeats and is almost certainly not coming out again. My plan, right now, is to cover the strip until it starts repeating things I’ve already recapped. I’ll change that if I get bored making retread Spider-Gags.


87 countries sent me readers in November, up rom a couple months of 77 countries each. The roster this month was:

Country Readers
United States 4,941
India 207
Canada 187
United Kingdom 142
Philippines 107
Australia 72
Germany 41
Sweden 40
France 35
South Africa 33
Spain 31
Brazil 30
Finland 26
Mexico 26
Bosnia & Herzegovina 25
Italy 24
Malaysia 18
Japan 15
Ireland 14
Morocco 13
Peru 13
China 12
Jamaica 12
Netherlands 12
El Salvador 10
Russia 10
Belgium 9
Norway 9
Trinidad & Tobago 9
Indonesia 8
New Zealand 8
Saudi Arabia 8
Thailand 8
Switzerland 6
Denmark 5
Estonia 5
European Union 5
Kenya 5
Poland 5
Romania 5
United Arab Emirates 5
Chile 4
Croatia 4
Lebanon 4
Montenegro 4
Nigeria 4
Oman 4
Taiwan 4
Ukraine 4
Egypt 3
Portugal 3
Singapore 3
Argentina 2
Czech Republic 2
Greece 2
Hungary 2
Kuwait 2
Pakistan 2
Panama 2
Serbia 2
Slovakia 2
Slovenia 2
South Korea 2
Sri Lanka 2
Bahrain 1 (*)
Bangladesh 1 (*)
Bulgaria 1
Cayman Islands 1
Colombia 1
Costa Rica 1
Cyprus 1
Ecuador 1
Ethiopia 1
Guadeloupe 1
Hong Kong SAR China 1
Israel 1 (*)
Latvia 1
Macedonia 1
Mauritius 1
Myanmar (Burma) 1
Nepal 1
Qatar 1
Senegal 1
Turkey 1
Uzbekistan 1
Venezuela 1
Vietnam 1 (*)

Bahrain, Bangladesh, Israel, and Vietnam were single-view countries in October also. No countries have been single-view for more than two months in a row, just now.

Map of the world with the United States in deepest red, and most of the world except Africa and central Asia in a light pink. Greenland and Iceland are blank, though, like always.
Victoria II map challenge here.

Between the introduction of the second-generation iPod and the start of December I posted 2,860 pieces here. They gathered 201,752 views from 114,113 logged visitors. Oh, man, think if I’d gotten one more visitor. That would have been so nice.

For all that November was an easy month, it was not a terse one. WordPress records me as writing 25,140 words in November, for an average of 838.0 words per posting. Well, these routine, bulk-quantity Popeye cartoons give me a lot to talk about, all right? It means that for 2020 I’m averaging 551 words per post, a jump of nearly thirty words per post since October. I need to say less stuff about these cartoons, I guess.

Will I? You can find out by adding my essays to your RSS reader. Don’t have an RSS reader? Sign up for a free account with Dreamwidth or Livejournal. You can add any RSS feed to your reading page there, using this link for Dreamwidth or this link for Livejournal. If you’re on WordPress, too, you can click “Follow Another Blog, Meanwhile” on this or any post’s page.

Thanks for the reading.

MiSTed: The Tale of Fatty Coon, Chapter V


This is chapter V of my Mystery Science Theater 3000 fanfiction, based on Arthur Scott Bailey’s 1915 children’s novel The Tale of Fatty Coon. And this was the first block of the book that I’d ever written up as a MiSTing. So it has a closing sketch and “credits” and a post-credits stinger.

I don’t intend this to end my MiSTing post. I have several more chapters MiSTed, and never before published on WordPress. So next week I’ll continue with those. I hope to get at least to Chapter 10, of the 20 in the book, before going back to normal writing. We’ll see how far I do get.


Previously, we met Fatty Coon, who’s just what you’d think. He’s been beaten up by a goshawk, but bounced back to eat a turtle’s clutch of eggs, and then attempt to eat a family of squirrels only to be shamed by a “tramp raccoon”. I don’t know what makes a “tramp raccoon” either.


>
>
> V

TOM: It was [ Fatty Coon’s well-punishment ].

CROW: Maybe the real punishment was having to be Fatty Coon all along.

>
> FATTY COON GOES FISHING

MIKE: A very special episode.

>
> One day Fatty Coon was strolling along the brook which flowed
> not far from his home.

CROW: Swift Creek?

TOM: Foster Brook.

MIKE: That’s … actually too new a reference for this.

> He stopped now and then, to crouch close to the
> water’s edge, in the hope of catching a fish.

CROW: ‘What if a fish was a goshawk egg pie?’

> And one time, when he
> lay quite still among the rocks, at the side of a deep pool, with his
> eyes searching the clear water, Fatty Coon suddenly saw something
> bright, all yellow and red, that lighted on the water right before
> him. It was a bug, or a huge fly.

MIKE: Or a tiny flying saucer.

TOM: Fatty eats the aliens’ peaceful expedition before they get started.

> And Fatty was very fond of bugs—to
> eat, you know.

ALL: We *know*.

CROW: As opposed to the ones he trains for pets.

> So he lost no time. The bright thing had scarcely
> settled on the water when Fatty reached out and seized it.

CROW: But he already seezed it! It was right in front of his eyes!

> He put it
> into his mouth, when the strangest thing happened. Fatty felt himself
> pulled right over into the water.

MIKE: Finally he crosses the Chandrasekhar limit and collapses into a black hole.

>
> He was surprised, for he never knew a bug or a fly to be so
> strong as that. Something pricked his cheek and Fatty thought that the
> bright thing had stung him.

CROW: Then this family of nutrias comes up and slaps Fatty silly.

> He tried to take it out of his mouth, and
> he was surprised again. Whatever the thing was, it seemed to be stuck
> fast in his mouth.

TOM: He’s delighted by something wanting him to eat it for a change.

> And all the time Fatty was being dragged along
> through the water. He began to be frightened.

MIKE: Hungry and frightened: the Fatty Coon story.

> And for the first time
> he noticed that there was a slender line which stretched from his
> mouth straight across the pool. As he looked along the line Fatty saw
> a man at the other end of it—a man, standing on the other side of the
> brook!

CROW: ‘I don’t know how but I caught a human!’

TOM: ‘That’ll be eating for *hours*!’

> And he was pulling Fatty toward him as fast as he could.
>
> Do you wonder that Fatty Coon was frightened?

TOM: He didn’t have a license to catch men.

> He jumped
> back—as well as he could, in the water—and tried to swim away.

CROW: ‘Dive! Dive! Dive!’

> His
> mouth hurt; but he plunged and pulled just the same, and jerked his
> head and squirmed and wriggled and twisted.

MIKE: *Extremely* Chubby Checker!

> And just as Fatty had
> almost given up hope of getting free, the gay-colored bug, or fly, or
> whatever it was, flew out of his mouth and took the line with it.

CROW: I wonder if Fatty Coon will go on to learn nothing from this?


> At
> least, that was what Fatty Coon thought. And he swam quickly to the
> bank and scampered into the bushes.

MIKE: And ate his cover.

TOM: ‘Needs peanut butter!’

>
> Now, this was what really happened.

MIKE: Our story begins with the Algeciras Crisis of 1905.

> Farmer Green had come up
> the brook to catch trout. On the end of his fish-line he had tied a
> make-believe fly,

CROW: For the discerning fisher who doesn’t exist.

> with a hook hidden under its red and yellow wings.
> He had stolen along the brook very quietly, so that he wouldn’t
> frighten the fish.

TOM: He brought some presents in case he did, to reassure any scaredy-catfish.

> And he had made so little noise that Fatty Coon
> never heard him at all.

CROW: [ Fatty ] Hey, it’s hard to hear someone over the sound of my deep-fat fryer!

> Farmer Green had not seen Fatty, crouched as
> he was among the stones. And when Fatty reached out and grabbed the
> make-believe fly Farmer Green was even more surprised at what happened
> than Fatty himself.

TOM: Sammy Squirrel falls out of a tree, laughing.

MIKE: Fatty eats him.

> If the fish-hook hadn’t worked loose from Fatty’s
> mouth Farmer Green would have caught the queerest fish anybody ever
> caught, almost.

CROW: Well, there was that mermaid-cerberus this guy down in Belmar caught but that was something else.

>
> Something seemed to amuse Farmer Green, as he watched Fatty
> dive into the bushes; and he laughed loud and long.

TOM: See? Fatty Coon brings joy to the world, at last.

> But Fatty Coon
> didn’t laugh at all. His mouth was too sore;

MIKE: And full.

> and he was too
> frightened.

CROW: And awful.

> But he was very, very glad that the strange bug had flown
> away.

MIKE: And he learns the most important lesson of all, which is …

CROW: I dunno. Preferably food things.

TOM: Let’s blow this popsicle stand.

MIKE: Yeah, before Fatty eats it.

[ ALL exit the theater. ]

[ 1… 2… 3… 4… 5… 6… ]

[ SATELLITE OF LOVE. TOM SERVO, MIKE, and CROW at the desk. ]

MIKE: Well.

TOM: So.

CROW: Well *and* so.

MIKE: So in his defense —

[ TOM, CROW groan. ]

MIKE: OK, but name something Fatty did that a real raccoon —

CROW: Don’t care.

TOM: Look, we already know Nature sucks. That’s why we have indoors. And animal stories where we like the animals.

CROW: And that is *all* the reminder of the cruel nature of the world that we ever need. Thank you.

MIKE: I .. well, over to you, Pearl.

[ CASTLE FORRESTER. PEARL, OBSERVER, and BOBO cackling. ]

PEARL: They don’t even suspect!

OBSERVER: Why would they?

BOBO: Suspect what?

[ PEARL, OBSERVER glare at BOBO. ]

BOBO: What?

OBSERVER: Chapters Six …

PEARL: Through Twenty.

BOBO: [ Not getting it. ] Oh. [ Getting it. ] Oh!

\  |  /	
 \ | /	
  \|/		
---O---	
  /|\		
 / | \	
/  |  \

BOBO: [ Off screen ] Of this?

Mystery Science Theater 3000 and its characters and settings and concept are the property of … you know, I’m not sure. It used to be Best Brains but now I think that’s different? Well, it belongs to the people it really and truly belongs to and this is just me playing with their toys. _The Tale of Fatty Coon_ was written by Arthur Scott Bailey and published in 1915 and accessed via archive.org, which is why I am reasonably confident they’re in the public domain and can be used this way.

Keep Usenet circulating.

> Fatty Coon’s eyes turned green. It was a way they had,
> whenever he was about to eat anything

60s Popeye: The Whiffle Bird’s Revenge and Rough House’s Screen Debut


Journey with me now back to 1961 and a Paramount-produced Popeye cartoon. The story’s by I Klein and direction, of course, by Seymour Kneitel. The Whiffle Bird’s Revenge is aware there’ve been a bunch of werewolf movies recently. Let’s see what it has to say in response to that developing genre.

And here, finally, it is. 91 cartoons in, and something like 81 of these reviews in, and we finally see Rough House. He and his diner have got some mentions before. This is the first time we’ve seen him in animated form. I don’t know whether this was the first cartoon produced with him in it.

I know, you’ve got questions, the most prominent of which is: so what? Yeah, fair enough. He’s been in the comic strip since 1932, or a year longer than Swee’Pea, if that helps. He runs a cafe and sees through Wimpy but kind of tolerates him. Yeah, he’s basically Geezil without the bad ethnic coding. For whatever reason the Fleischers never used him. Nor did Famous/Paramount Studios when they were making theatrical cartoons. The King Features cartoons, though, they tend to run a little dull. Bringing up the extended roster of Thimble Theatre characters is one of the thrills.

And we get a double dose of the extended roster, as the Whiffle Bird returns. And she’s called ‘she’. She’s not given a name; in the comic strip, she’s Bernice. Also in the comic strip, she does not have the power to speak or bestow lycanthropy on people. But you always change stuff in adapting to new mediums.

In Rough House's Diner, Were-Wimpy holds up a stunned Popeye in one hand while he swallows a tray full of dozens of hamburgers held in the other hand. Rough House looks on, startled.
[ Record scratch ] “Yup, tha’s me! I bets youze is won’nering how I gotsk meself into this sit’chee’ation.”

The plot is a simple one. A hungry Wimpy catches the Whiffle Bird. Since she’d rather not be eaten, she punishes Wimpy by making him turn into a werewolf whenever he says ‘hamburger’. As a werewolf he semi-effectively harasses Rough House’s diner, and Popeye, until Popeye can beg her mercy. There’s good stories to make of that. It’s not a deep plot but it’s got a clear enough fairy-tale logic. Also I like stories with a weird werewolfism trigger. I blame my watching too much Fangface at an impressionable age.

It’s not quite a good cartoon. The plot outline is working hard to make this all come together, and it keeps almost doing so. The animation is also doing its job. It’s your typical Paramount Cartoon Studios work. Everybody’s drawn precisely, and they move rigidly but in well-defined steps. Look at Popeye strolling in at the start of the cartoon; his pace about matches what his walk cycle is actually doing. It’s a small but clear bit of craft.

There’s story logic problems, none of which bothered me as a kid. Like, what caused Were-Wimpy to turn human? The first time he just changes, after walking away, exhausted. The second time it’s after eating a plate of hamburgers. I don’t need the rule explained but I would like to feel confident there is a rule. The tougher problem to me is that Wimpy’s change is set off by his saying “hamburger”. If you knew you’d turn into a werewolf on saying “hamburger”, and you didn’t want to be a werewolf, why would you say “hamburger”? The first time, sure, he’s testing. I understand that. Why ever after that? The Whiffle Bird’s curse doesn’t make sense. This is why usually the transformation is something the werewolf can’t control, like the moon or splashes of water or something. If Wimpy can’t even hear the word “hamburger” then his friends become a threat.

Which is probably something you’d need a longer cartoon to do. More story time, anyway. Five and a half minutes minus the credits doesn’t give room for a complex story. So maybe this is the most intricate werewolf Wimpy story that the series could support.

Whiffle Bird standing, with a wing raised, atop the unconscious Were-Wimpy.
“Funny thing is now I can’t remember how I thought turning Wimpy into a werewolf was going to solve any of my problems. Well, live and learn.”
[ Boop. ]

The bigger story problem: what does Were-Wimpy know? He’s hungry, sure, but so is Wimpy. He’s more aggressive than Wimpy, although we don’t see him actually being stronger. He just has less body fat. This seems strange for a werewolf. But if he is stronger as Were-Wimpy then the Whiffle Bird’s punishment is weird. “To punish you, you’ll sometimes become much bigger and stronger than you otherwise are.” Wimpy seems to be aware he’s Were-Wimpy, and seems embarrassed by the fact. Is it that he dislikes taking food when he should be cadging it?

The cartoon’s a showcase for Jack Mercer’s voice acting. He’d always done Popeye and Wimpy. To my ear, he’s also doing the Whiffle Bird. It also shows, unfortunately, that Mercer couldn’t think of a way to monster up Wimpy’s voice without doing Popeye. Jackson Beck at least gets a few lines in, as Rough House and I believe the news anchor. (Beck was always getting cast in narrator/news anchor voices.)

I’m probably asking too much for a five-minute cartoon. As it is, the story’s sensible, or close enough to sensible for most folks. If you ever wanted a magic bird to turn Wimpy into a wolf, your choices are this or my DeviantArt gallery. But I can feel the premise trying to be a better cartoon than this.

Any amount of Fangface is probably too much Fangface.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Sundays)? Who’s this Emperor Joonkar? September – November 2020


The Emperor Joonkar ruled the territory that’s now Bangalla, back in the latter part of the 17th century. The current Sunday story continuity features two of Joonkar’s descendants, although only one’s been seen in the last three months of strips.

This should catch you up on Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom, Sunday continuity, through the end of November 2020. If you’re looking for the separate weekday storyline, or are reading after about March 2021, or want to see news about The Phantom comic strip there may be a more useful essay here.

On my mathematics blog, I have my A-to-Z project at work still. It’s nearing the end, with the letter ‘X’ due tomorrow, but there’s some nice stuff said about ‘W’ also.

The Phantom (Sundays).

6 September – 29 November 2020.

Last time, Sunday edition, The Phantom had answered an elderly woman’s letter. Her grandson, The Detective, needed rescue. The local criminal gang put him in a cave just below the high tide line to drown. The Phantom provided rescue.

The Detective mentions how the crime syndicate here is shipping weapons to terror networks across Africa and Asia. So that makes it a stronger Phantom job. The Ghost Who Walks figures two people is overkill for destroying a terror network supplier. But hey, sometimes you want an easy win. The warehouse is unguarded, allegedly because the gunrunners’ reputation is that fearsome. I don’t fault you if you don’t buy this point, but the comic strip is premised on the power of reputations.

Phantom: 'After your time in the water pit, I imagine you're ready for something other than seafood.' Detective: 'Friend, you got that right.' Phantom, opening the fridge and grilling steaks: 'Fire up the grill ... Any idea when the gang plans to return?' Detective: 'Maybe in ten days, maybe ten minutes. Hard to say.' Phantom: 'Well, let's eat before they get here. Devil, yours is rare ... bloody, I believe?' [ Devil takes a good chunk from the steak. ] Phantom: 'Whenever the gang gets here, we're going to need a plan. Your thoughts, detective?' Detective: 'Mister, that depends on who you really are! The Phantom...!? Or some kind of lone hero keeping the legend alive!'
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 27th of September, 2020. The Ghost Who Walks may be reluctant to kill, but he sees nothing wrong in pantry raiding a gang. I mean, yes, we should be more willing to swipe food than kill people but it’s still a quirk you don’t see in other superheroes. Is there just not a good farmer’s market near Skull Cave?

Besides, it’s only like two dozen guys. The Phantom talks up how The Detective resembles, in character and body, his ancestor the Emperor Joonkar. This also feeds into The Detective — who’s heard stories of The Phantom without really believing them — and his suspicion that the unidentified purple-clad man he’s working with might just be …

Phantom: 'That tiger story was told everywhere. The fact is, it was a man-eating lion moving in for the kill on Emperor Joonkar!' Detective: 'Well, it was a tiger when my Bibi told the story. And in some versions she'd heard, the Phantom didn't kill the beast, he scared it off!' Phantom, thinking of the 7th Phantom writing in the Chronicles: 'Stories change as they're handed down over the centuries. I find it best to rely on someone who was there, don't you? Take it from me ... it was a lion.' Detective, thinking: 'No! H-he can't be that same man!! ... Can he?' Phantom, pointing to headlights in the jungle: 'Here they come ... '
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 15th of November, 2020. The talk about whether this was a tiger or a lion serves a sly and pretty fun story point. When the strip started Bangalla — and Emperor Joonkar, in its past — was a vaguely South Indian nation. That’s been retconned to Africa. I do not know which story of Emperor Joonkar is being referenced here. So explaining continuity glitches as errors in the oral-history tradition is funny and sensible. Note that Joonkar’s name hasn’t been consistent through the comic strip’s history. And different stories in the comic strip continuity had him interact with the 7th or the 6th Phantom.

And that’s been a lot of the past month. Preparing for the gang to arrive, and The Phantom talking up The Detective and his own self. The Phantom’s relying on the Phantom Chronicles and what the 7th Phantom wrote about Joonkar. The criminal gang finally started to arrive last Sunday. The Phantom explained how he avoids getting trapped in prison caves: clobber one or two of them at a time. Can’t deny the logic, but The Phantom is lucky they’re coming in groups of two, also.

That’s the plot, as of late November 2020. It has been light on plot. It’s more showing off how The Phantom builds his legend. It uses a mix of inscrutability, “accidental” historical name-dropping, and competence porn. And, yes, I’m amused that the strip is doing the Special Christmas Episode where the punch line is, “but how did that jolly bearded man in the red jacket know what I always wanted for Christmas” while jingle bells sound in the distance. Only here it’s someone learning to believe in the Phantom.

Next Week!

The pandemic finally settles on its second story strip. Read up on the Covid-19 Tales in Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. next week, if all goes well.