What’s Going On In Judge Parker? Why was Neddy angry at Godiva? December 2020 – March 2021


Godiva Danube is dead, killed by April Spencer just days after Neddy had a huge public fight with her ex-friend. The fight was over accusations that Danube had been manipulating Neddy their entire relationship. One problem with the Neddy-versus-Godiva fight is that it key elements were retconned in.

The relationship-wrecking catastrophe was the start of Francesco Marciuliano’s run on Judge Parker. This was the collapse of a clothing factory Danube and Neddy Spencer were opening. It fell into a sinkhole right in front of the press, particularly local reporter Toni Bowen. The factory idea was the last story of former writer Woody Wilson. Wilson had a lot of stories where people lavished riches and wealth and good fortune on the main characters. Here, for example, Danube had pressured her ex-boyfriend and head of Europa Aerospace to just give her the factory site. I have no doubt that Wilson meant the giving to be sincere. (On the characters’ part. When I re-read strips from that era I suspect Wilson was having fun seeing what it would take to make an editor say that was a bit much.)

Godiva Ghost: 'If this is how you really felt, then why didn't you tell me? I was always straightforward with you.' Neddy Spencer: 'Why is it always the biggest liars who say they're straightforward? You lied in plain sight --- to family and friends --- as if nothing mattered but what you wanted. We all suspected you were getting money from some drug lord you were cheating on Rocky with to fund the factory. We all stayed quiet. That's our fault. Because it's hard to realize the person you love can only love themselves.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 25th of February, 2021. This should bring Neddy some peace except she has the same argument in her head, in bed, for at least 25 minutes before falling asleep every night.

Marciuliano has put into the backstory that “everyone suspected” Danube was running drugs. Or otherwise cheating on people to fund the project. Danube did flee after the sinkhole, on Marciuliano’s watch. Her relationship with Neddy collapsed then. We saw all that. But wanting to flee a disaster like that is human enough. And it’s hard to see how the sinkhole could be blamed on Danube or Neddy. If it’s anyone’s fault, it’s whoever failed to survey the grounds properly. Or whoever covered up the grounds results. Which would be a decent retcon explanation for why an aerospace company gave up a brand-new factory to a minor movie star and a young woman with money.

Establishing that Danube was a narcissist, though, is no great stretch. She had a job that selects for narcissism. And a problem dealing with narcissists is it’s hard to distinguish between their thinking of you and their wanting you to think of them. (It’s hard to know this for anyone. But when you see the narcissism you realize how much you don’t know the person.) When you suspect a relationship with a narcissist has gone sour, or become abusive, it forces a lot of difficult memory-parsing. Were they helpful at this delicate moment to be kind to you, or to teach you that kindness comes from them? Your answer depends on your feelings about them, and that affects your future answers about how their motivations. It’s always hard to tease out motivations, and when the narcissist is impossible to cross-examine, there’s not much to do but yell in your head.

So this essay should get you up to date on the plot Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for mid-March 2021. If you’re reading this after about June 2021, or any news breaks about the strip, I should have a post here of more use to you.

Judge Parker.

20 December 2020 – 13 March 2021.

When I last looked in, around Christmas, Neddy Parker was planning to go back to Los Angeles and work on script stuff. Sophie was planning to go to New York City and work on school stuff. And young Charlotte was asking whether mommy — April Parker — would be around. Last we saw April Parker she and her Mom were busy with super-ultra-hyperspy assassin murder agent work. Also April and Randy Parker divorced over the whole CIA scandal thing. I’m not sure when or, in the circumstances, how.

Sophie, in masked line at a coffee shop: 'But really, Soph, if you want to make friends, you have to be more open to conversation. You have to meet people. You have to say --- ' (She notices at the front of the line and says aloud) 'Toni?' Toni Bowen, ordering: 'I'll have a venti ... '
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 3rd of February, 2021. Hey, I’ve been in that coffee shop, but it was in Grand Rapids. They sometimes have vegan muffins that kind of work.

Sophie won’t be completely alone in New York City. Toni Bowen will be there too. Her failed bid to unseat Mayor Sanderson drew enough attention for University of New York to hire her to teach a course on local politics. Unfortunately that’s about as not-alone as Sophie gets. It’s hard meeting people at all, and in pandemic times it’s even worse.

With the kids gone Abbey wonders whether she and Sam should downsize. Or even leave Cavelton altogether. She’s lonely, yes. And regrets the bed-and-breakfast, “a money pit” and business the mayor’s determined to make fail. She talks of wanting a change, although to what and where is open.

Sam, sharing coffee while sitting on the cold patio: 'Just because the mayor's company opened a boutique hotel in town doesn't mean he'll get all the business. Some people really prefer a B-and-B.' Abbey: 'What people, Sam? How many customers have we had? We spent all last year fighting the mayor and we lost. I'm exhausted.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 23rd of January, 2021. Does anyone remember not being exhausted? I don’t remember not being exhausted.

Meanwhile in Los Angeles, Neddy faces several challenges. One is that Ronnie Huerta has a new roommate, Kat. (I’d give her last name but can’t find it.) She’s playing the Neddy role in the April Parker TV series. Kat is very eager to help Neddy move out, shoving hard in that way people who think they’ve figured out how to solve your problem do. But Kat does have some fair observations. The poor little rich girl whose problem is doing her dream job can maybe find an apartment in the second-biggest city in the country. Also that Neddy not doing this writing is screwing up her, Kat’s, job. (One leitmotif in Marciuliano’s writing is characters explaining how one of the main cast looks to people who have to live with them. And how the main cast needs to get over themselves.) While talking this out with Ronnie, Kat lets slip that she wants to spend the rest of her life with Ronnie. That was something they didn’t realize they were ready for.

And Neddy does get down to work work, as opposed to househunting work. The TV producers want Godiva Danube to be a bigger part of the show, so they need Neddy to write more of her. And Neddy is still angry with the dead Godiva. How do deal with that? Hallucination is a good, tested method. That and my favored technique, a good argument with someone who can’t outwit you.

Ghost Godiva Danube refuses to play fair, though, insisting that while she fled, Neddy didn’t chase either. That she had to recover from the disaster herself. That she was “always there for” Neddy. Which Neddy admits, but argues was because Danube wanted to be the star of Neddy’s suffering. The one that guided where it went. Neddy comes out of this convinced that what she needed wasn’t to tell Ghostdiva off, but to face her own anger. And as Ghostdiva storms off, Neddy feels triumphant that she has.

Charlotte: 'Did you hear what I said? I didn't see Mommy today.' Randy: 'Well, yes, Sweetie. Mommy isn't here.' Charlotte: 'But I see her every other day! Why not today?' Randy: 'I'm sorry, what?'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 2nd of March, 2021. I admire Marciuliano’s courage in having a complicated development explained by interrogating a child too young to know how to tell a story. It’s several levels of difficulty, with the kid needing to lack focus but also share information. And that a child that age isn’t necessarily reliable. Unreliable narrators are always hard to do, but especially so in a comic strip. There aren’t many narrative conventions to fall back on, to hint to the readers about what’s wrong and in what ways it’s wrong.

And then the 1st of March started the current and exciting thread. Charlotte Parker, Randy’s and April’s couple-years-old daughter, says she didn’t see Mommy “today”. You know, like she sees her every day. Which was a development catching Randy by surprise. April’s been busy with that super-hyper-ultra-etc assassin agent nonsense. I did see this excite a bunch of comics snarkers pointing out the idea that April Parker had been secretly visiting Charlotte made no sense at all.

The next week of the strip — the last full week, as I write this — showed Marciuliano explaining how this might make sense. That this was going on for only the last two weeks. That April, if it is April, had signalled to Charlotte to keep it secret. That Charlotte could recognize April because they keep pictures of her in the house. And yes, it may be dumb but it’s a recognizable human dumbness. And that they can’t find anything on the security cameras. Randy got rid of the network of security cameras when he realized April had tapped them all. (I’m not sure we saw that it was April and not the super-hyper-ultra-etc spy network that was holding Norton in mega-secret spy hyper-jail.) This implicit threat to take Charlotte does quite good, fast work in driving Randy crazy. But Randy is right that it’s within April’s demonstrated power set to do something like this, even if it is only to mess with Randy’s head. And, as Alan Parker noted this Sunday, they don’t yet know it is April.

Next Week!

I go back to the top of my cycle, for … I think the next-to-last time. It’s Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s The Amazing Spider-Man repeats, as we about wrap up Ant-Man and get on to Rocket Raccoon.

Author: Joseph Nebus

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

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