What’s Going On In Mark Trail? Is the Mark Trail writing changing again? June – August 2022


I’m aware Jules Rivera’s tenure on Mark Trail hasn’t been to everyone’s tastes. The more cartoony art style, and the soft reboot of the characters, hasn’t worked for many. That characters and, especially, the narrator lean in to delivering jokes more has also bothered some. They liked the strip more when it was square.

So I’m taking my preface to point out something that’s grown more prominent the last few months. And that is that the writing — as in, the words on the page — is becoming more square again. The stories haven’t changed, particularly in running separate Mark and Cherry stories. But we’re seeing Mark Trail say things like “Holy guacamole! Rex handled those Canada geese well! He’s sure got a way with animals.” Or “Oh, for Pete’s sake! Cricket Bro is locked in the EUV! We have to get him out!” We’re also seeing more exaggerated reaction poses for individual characters. And minor character names that are more on the nose, like “Jimmy Songbird” the keytar player.

It’s a return to a more stodgy, slightly off mode of your classic Jack Elrod narrative. It’s not a complete reversion. For one, I feel Rivera is doing this as deliberate effect; Elrod, my sense is, just wrote like that. Mark Trail continues his new habit of internalized thoughts. Sometimes he even says things without exclamation points.

I imagine someone who can’t stand Rivera’s style will not be moved by this observation. But, for those who aren’t sure? You might enjoy the comic strip more if you’re cued to look for it.

This should catch you up to late August 2022 in the Mark Trail story. If you’re reading this after about November 2022, or news about the comic strip comes out, there should be a more useful essay here. Also, on my other blog, I looked at a couple comic strips for their mathematical themes. Hope you enjoy.

Mark Trail.

12 June – 28 August 2022.

Professor Bee Sharp had rushed the DJ’s booth, at the Bettancourt’s NFT scam launch party. He talked the DJ into playing his tracks. These turned his investigations into “Cricket Bro” Rob and “Crypto Bro” Sterling Bettancourt into EDM. The revelation? The NFTs are a scam and the crypto is worthless garbage. Really, uh, caught me off-guard with that fast-breaking Zontar story there, Floyd.

[ The Cricket Bro Cryptocurrency event is lit. Literally! ] DJ: 'Holy smokes! For real! The forest is on fire. Everyone, evacuate!' [ Meanwhile, Mark struggles with another emergency. ] A smashed-up electric utility vehicle has hit against a tree; Mark Trail and Bee Sharp watch, horrified. Mark Trail: 'Oh, for Pete's sake! Cricket Bro is locked in the EUC! We have to get him out!'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 20th of June, 2022. In before the weird T-6000 fanboys explain it’s perfectly normal for cars to lock up and catch on fire after a low-speed crash into a tree.
Rob is angered by the EDM lyrics, and also the revelation that EDM has lyrics. He charges at Mark Trail and Bee Sharp using the only weapon at hand, his Electric Utility Vehicle. He crashes immediately into a tree, and the car locks up and catches fire. The two smash open the car’s windshield and drag an angry Rob out. The crash starts a wildfire, though. The partygoers evacuate, and leave the area. But not before a piece of the half-pipe built for the event falls on Rusty Trail. Rusty calls for help, and sees what he believes to be the Seaside Specter. We don’t see what happens, or what he “really” saw. We see him reunited with his parents, safe and sound, though.

The wildfire doesn’t grow much, and the local fire authorities credit our friend the beaver. Beaver dams around the location kept the local area moist, limiting the fire’s spread. Oregon Fish and Wildlife wants to talk with the Bettancourts, but they’ve fled to California. And, with Happy Trail considering whether he can sell flame-roasted cricket protein bars, the story comes to a natural end, the 2nd of July.


The current stories began the 4th of July. There are two pieces, as has become traditional, one following Cherry Trail and one following Mark Trail. I’ll recap Cherry Trail’s first.

Her father, Doc Davis, asks for help at the veterinary clinic. There’s all kinds of animals suffering allergic reactions or chemical burns. It looks like pesticide poisoning, but that’s not usually this serious. And it becomes personal for the Trails, as Sassy, their other dog that I forgot about too gets the same rash. Mark Trail figures it’s some kind of weed killer, but who’s using such strong weed killer out here in the Lost Forest?

[ Cherry receives shocking news ... ] Cherry: 'You're hiring Honest Ernest to do your gardening instead of me?' Violet Cheshire: 'Cherry, there's plenty left for you to do. Ernest is only doing the lawn treatment.' Cherry: 'Treatment ? Like with pesticides and weedkillers?' Honest Ernest: 'The very best! I'm using a new compound of my own creation!' [ He holds out a bottle, foreshortened ] 'Honest Ernest's lawn libation!'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 5th of August, 2022. I’m not sure about this home-brewed toxin stuff, but I do respect anyone in the year 2022 who’s out making “libations”.
I mean, it’s the Sunny Soleil Society. We all knew that going in, but how they’re responsible takes time to reveal itself. Early August, reader time, we get that. Violet Cheshire wants that big mass of native plants ripped out to make a proper lawn, for the teatime garden. And she’s hired Honest Ernest, bug exterminator, to do it. He’s got a great new compound “of my own creation” to control weeds and insects. That “thud” you heard was the jaws of everybody at the EPA and FDA hitting the floor. Ernest is happy to give Cherry a sample, though, and she takes it back to Doc to test how corrosive it is. It quickly dissolves away the dirt on a penny, then the penny, then the pan the penny’s in, the table, the floor, the basement, and five feet of Piedmont anorthosite underneath. And that’s how far that story’s gotten.


The 14th of July saw Mark Trail’s story split off from Cherry’s. Bill Ellis offers a choice of stories. One is tracking a rampaging elephant reported in four states. The other is for Teen Girl Sparkle, and it’s about a New Age healing center with an animal-therapy focus. Mark Trail picks the boring safe one, and we get Amy Lee back in the strip. She explains how it’s not so much a healing center as a roadside zoo. But he’ll be working with celebrity stunt driver-turned-Bikbok animal wrangler Rex Scorpius. Also, the New Age resort may be some kind of tiger cult, you know how these things go.

Amy Lee, explaining scenes we see illustrated: 'Mark, this job pairs you with Rex Scorpius, famous for going from stunt driver to naturalist. You'll sign up for a spa package at the tiger touch center in Texas. This place claims to provide animal therapy. The center was created by Tess Tigress, an animal expert who wrote the pestseller 'Just Pet The Cat'.' Mark Trail: 'Petting an animal has been shown to reduce stress, but not when that animal is a 500-pound tiger!'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 28th of July, 2022. I don’t know, the tiger seems quite comfortable with it.

On scene in Houston Mark Trail meets up with … Diana Daggers again! She’s working with Rex Scorpius as he’s not doing NFT/crypto scam money. Also, hey, she was in Raccoon Rangers with Amy Lee. She’s where Lee got the idea of pitching this job to Mark Trail. She wanted Mark Trail because she believes Rex Scorpius is in real danger. Not so much physical danger, as emotional. He’s been going through some major stuff and guys like him get sucked into cults like this.

It’s happened before. She mentions how a couple years ago one of her stars had a mental break. He’d left town to film a movie in a lost forest and vanished. This sure seems to refer to James Allen’s final, abandoned, story for Mark Trail. In that story bad-boy action hero Jeremy Cartwright comes to Lost Forest to be kind of a jerk. If this is Jeremy Cartwright, he’s gone off to a Naturalist cult in Mendocino County so I guess we don’t need to worry about him anymore.

[ Mark Trail watches the live filming of an animal-themed tv show ] Mark Trail ;'How exciting!' Rex, addressing his camera: 'I'm Rex Scorpius and this is 'Animal Rexpertise'. Today we'll confront these fierce Canada geese ... who made their home in the yard of famous musician Jimmy Songbird.' As the geese honk, Jimmy Songbird says, 'help! I cannot play my keytar in such hostility!' [ Looks like the geese have their own musical notes. ]
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 17th of August, 2022. Oh, yeah, for soem reason Mark Trail decided to go to this Texas cult dressed in what he thinks of as cowboy garb.
Mark Trail’s first meeting with Rex Scorpius goes well enough. He’s filming an episode about removing Canada geese from the yard of famed keytar musician Jimmy Songbird. Removing Canada geese is the stuff for professionals and … I guess Rex Scorpius is one, or brought in experts for his show, as that goes well enough. Mark Trail tries to catch up with Rex and ask about his secret, but Rex has to get to bed and to the gym. Anything to spend time not with other people. I get that.

And that’s about as far as that story’s gotten. We’re not yet to the tiger cult. I trust this will all play out in the next eleven weeks, by the time I get back to recapping Mark Trail plots.

Sunday Animals Watch!

  • Spiders, 12 June 2022. With advice about how to get more spiders!
  • Native-Plant Lawns, 19 June 2022. This is where that smug friend showing a picture of a yard that’s covered in what turn out to be invasive Siberian wheats got their idea.
  • Goats, 26 June 2022. They can mow lawns and chew on lab coats!
  • Bald Eagles, 3 July 2022. Remember when we almost killed them all? Glad we’re not trying to that anymore … right?
  • Turtles, 10 July 2022. Don’t mess up their work. They’re busy defeating Shredder and the whole Foot Clan for us.
  • Wildfires, 17 July 2022. Let’s stop setting them, OK? Think we can do that a little?
  • Sea Turtles, 24 July 2022. Could we stop making their lives harder than they need to be too?
  • De-Pavement, 31 July 2022. Turns out having soil and plants and trees and stuff is good even for cities.
  • Rabbits and Hares, 7 August 2022. Which ones are the clever ones, and which are the ones that are full of tricks?
  • Sharks, 14 August 2022. Are we making their lives harder than they need to be too? Why do we keep doing this?
  • Canada Geese, 21 August 2022. Just … like … don’t start with them. Oof.
  • Scorpions, 28 August 2022. Don’t start anything with them, they won’t start anything with you. Check your boots.

Next Week!

Is another member of the Weston clan making a complete mess of their lives? Why yes they are! Are we getting dubious-to-bad relationship advice passed off as somehow acceptable? Hoo yeah. It’s all sorts of cautionary tales in Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth, next week, if all goes well.

Granting This Is Not a Wrong I Have to Right


But do you suppose whatever advertising person first came up with the “Oops! All Berries” promotion got adequate thanks for inventing such a great meme format? Like, “Oops, All [ thing ]” just communicates whatever the heck the thing is and someone’s to credit for that. I’m not too worried, as you can see from how this hasn’t got me running late or anything. Just thinking about it, is all.

What I Learned From Watching All the 60s Popeye Cartoons


Or almost all. I’m at peace with there being a couple of the two-hundred-plus King Features Syndicate cartoons that I haven’t recently reviewed. But I always like at the end of a big project like this I like to think about what it means.

I can’t say this has prompted me to have a major critical revision of the 1960s cartoons. Or to push for one. The 1960s cartoons are mostly regarded as a cheap, hurried cash-in, of a quality ranging from mediocre to garbage. I’m warmer to them than that, but the conventional wisdom is near enough right. There are some cartoons that I’ll advance as “pretty good” or even “good”. More that are “interesting”. But like everyone knew going in, the theatrical shorts are better. The black-and-white shorts better still. I haven’t looked at the 1980-era Hanna-Barbera series to compare those. Might try them. I know late-70s Hanna-Barbera hasn’t got a high reputation. But it could make Saturday morning cartoons at least uniformly okay. None of that Testimonial Dinner bizarreness or that one where Popeye turns into a giraffe there. (All right, there’s the Superfriends where Zan and Jana are unable to outwit a defunct roller coaster. That was a bit slipshod.)

Swee'Pea, Professor Wotasnozzle, Olive Oyl, and Popeye standa around looking at the Whiffle Hen and the Whiffle Chick. The Whiffle Hen's a roughly ordinary chicken-size bird. The Chick is quite large, about as tall as Popeye, and has a vaguely cubical body and head, and with the beak at a weird angle looks with half-lidded eyes towards the camera.
Who can forget how the Whiffle Chick opened up the Popeye universe?

And yet those are two cartoons that leapt immediately to mind. The lure of the novel, or the exceptional, is hard to resist when you watch a lot of something. That’s no different here. Give me a bonkers premise or a plot that’s too incoherent to be dream-logic and I am fascinated. This is not an effect any studio ever tries for; probably you couldn’t manage it if you did. (Compare that one episode of Dexter’s Laboratory written by a seven-year-old. It was one of the most compelling episodes of a generally good show.) What chance does a merely well-made episode, like Myskery Melody, have against that? Yet that’s also a cartoon that leapt right to mind and that I will keep promoting while I can.

The King Features cartoons introduced some good trends. One is that they largely shed the plot of Popeye-and-Bluto/Brutus-compete-for-Olive-Oyl. There were some cartoons that used that frame, sometimes to good effect. But it was a story done four billion times already, especially in the 1950s shorts. Clearing it out opens up the universe to do a series of golfing jokes or driver-safety jokes instead. Another is expanding the cast of characters. Elzie Segar’s Thimble Theatre overflowed with neat characters. The King Features shorts finally animated the Sea Hag, and brought Poopdeck Pappy and Eugene the Jeep back to being major characters. It also gave some outings to lesser characters like Roughhouse, the Whiffle Hen/Bird, King Blozo, Castor Oyl, Toar, and the many vaguely defined relatives of Olive Oyl. Even footnotes like Ham Gravy got some scenes.

Dark, foggy, swamp-bound scene of the Sea Hag on a raft, the full moon in back of her. She plays her flute with her vulture sitting up ready to launch.
She looks like a friend!

Not enough of them. The Sea Hag and Eugene the Jeep make the leap into major characters, as they should, because they’re endlessly fascinating. King Blozo almost makes it, but not quite. So do Alice the Goon and Professor Wotasnozzle. I’m glad they got the time they did, and wanting more is a good state to be in with them. Professor Wotasnozzle might be the biggest disappointment. He’s in a good spot to give Popeye some goofball super-science gimmick to deal with. Instead what we mostly see is him in a framing device. He sends Popeye to another era to do the same schtick without even a clear idea whether Popeye knows what’s going on.

The shorts give this sense of new ground breaking, of new possibility. There were far more characters, most of whom worked, and fresh stories available to tell. Even more settings. Many cartoons were set in Popeye’s Boring Suburban Home. But they weren’t required to be, the way so many of the 1950s Famous Studios seemed. Sometimes that setting was even part of the story, as in Coffee House, the Beatnik cartoon. Or, for a mixed benefit, the attempt to set the cartoons in India or China or such. This usually turned out so racist I refused to review the cartoon. One can see the charitable reading, that the cartoons are trying to be more ethnically diverse. This sort of nonwhite-people-written-by-very-white-people can be a well-intended stumble. It was endemic to 1960s and 1970s programming. Still not going to listen to Chinese Wimpy.

On stage, Olive Oyl is transformed into a seal from the neck down. She looks startled. Popeye leans in from behind the curtain looking aghast.
This is one of those scenes you’d never get from the studio that brought us that cartoon where Popeye can be elected President only if he does farm chores for Olive Oyl.

There’s also a sense of there being no grown-ups in the room. The shorts feel like they’re the story person’s idea, untouched by worry that they fit the Intellectual Property Use Guidelines. Often this freedom from supervision also seems to be freedom from a second draft. Especially if Jack Kinney’s or Larry Harmon’s studios produced it. But a lot of exciting, creative novelty comes from people who have skill in their craft and only casual supervision from the people paying for it. The shorts didn’t enjoy this as much as they might. The sense remains, in most of these shorts, that anything might happen. Popeye’s in caveman times. Olive Oyl has a pet tiger. Wimpy crosses the Whiffle Hen and becomes a werewolf. A living missile wants to kiss Popeye. Brutus builds a robot Eugene. Aliens come to Earth, disguised as mailboxes. Brutus magics away Popeye’s arms. Wimpy is a millionaire, twice. Alice the Goon is hypnotically compelled to make out with Popeye. Cheese wheels from the Moon hold Wimpy hostage. Swee’Pea is the focus of a revolution. I made up at least one of those; can you tell which ones?

Scene of the audience in the Colosseum. The front two rows are filled with mostly minor characters from Popeye/Thimble Theatre.
Look at that screen packed full of trivia answers!

All this new freedom and new ground and lack of restraint, though, is most often let down by the result. The animation can’t ever be as good as the theatricals, certainly. And given the circumstances it couldn’t be as good as the 1980 Hanna-Barbera era either. Every studio managed at least some interesting touches, sometimes in a simple clever edit or a move that surprised one. More often the letdown is in the story, or at least the editing. There were so many odd pauses or absent bits of narrative logic it was no longer worth mentioning, at some point. I don’t know how often I accused, especially, a Jack Kinney short of having a dream logic. Or planned to but cut it for being redundant. We had that, though. Someone with experience in how stories work can fill in gaps. But the intended audience of young children? How do they know enough about how stories work to understand that? (On the other hand, maybe they mind since they don’t know that Brutus’s promise to eat his weather prediction was not set up.)

To summarize my feelings for all this, then? Besides the powerful nostalgia I feel for cartoons I watched, and loved, uncritically when I was young and impressionable? It is that I saw so many times that this could be a really good cartoon, hidden underneath what is an okay cartoon. So a new project for when I win a billion-dollar Powerball is to to take like three dozen of these shorts, have someone do another two drafts of the story, and have them animated by people who have the time to draw all the characters in all the scenes they’re in. We’ll get at least a couple great cartoons from that.

Brutus, Olive Oyl, Popeye, and Eugene sit together inside a gigantic top hat, all smiling and happy at the conclusion of their adventures.
Good night everyone! Eat your spinach and have a magic four-dimensional dog sit on your head!

Statistics Saturday: Hosts of The Tonight Show over Time


Pie chart showing the different eras of hosts of The Tonight Show (eg, 1954 - 1957, 1957 - 1962, 1962 - 2002), each labelled as '1'.
Not shown: that time Jack Paar just shrugged and walked off and left Hugh Downs to guess what the heck to do next.

Reference: The Artist and the Mathematician: The Story of Nicolas Bourbaki, the Genius Mathematician Who Never Existed, Amir D Aczel.

My Mind Is Weighted Down With Thoughts Like These


I apologize for running late, but my mind’s been weighed down all day with the idea that a couple years ago someone announced they were doing a new Golden Girls, even though everyone knew it would have to be awful and an enormous and sad failure. And then I don’t remember ever hearing anything about it again. I don’t think this really happened, but it feels so much like something that could have happened that I don’t feel safe shrugging it off either. But also I’m not bothered enough to go checking. Still, if anyone happens to be at Television Master Command, if you want to poke your head in and say, “Now don’t go doing a new Golden Girls and don’t use this as a prompt to start one!”

MiSTed: The Jovian Jest (part 4 of 4)


And now it’s the final installment of my Mystery Science Theater 3000 fanfiction of Lilith Lorraine’s “The Jovian Jest”. This short story first appeared in May 1930 issue of Astounding Stories of Super-Science. The whole of the MiSTing should be at this link. Let me know if it’s not.

The story so far: a flying saucer has landed. The amoebic creature from it pokes tentacles into cattleman Bill Jones and pompous professor Ralston, slurping up their cognitive facilities. Now able to talk to humans Amoeboy begins to share where they’re from and what their deal is.

Not much needing explanation here. The Excelsior – Tuebor riff is jumping from Amoeboy’s ‘Forge on’ to the state mottos of New York and then Michigan. Oh, you may think the line about ‘Rock Gulch’ is a reference to the Fallout video games but no, I don’t know anything about Fallout. I forget exactly how I came up with that name but I’m pretty sure it’s an SCTV reference. Maybe to the Six Gun Justice serial they did that weird final season? If somebody knows what I was thinking please let me know. Oh, the Clown Sightings of 2016 … see, back when we thought 2016 was just the worst a year could get there was this weird rash of Mysterious Clown Sightings in summer and early fall. Some weird little mass hysteria that somehow ended abruptly the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November.

Note that despite the title, the alien Amoeboy does not come from Jupiter. It’s from somewhere a million light-years away. ‘Jovian’ refers to the size of the joke played at the end of this tale. Enjoy!


>
>
>
> We can dissolve our bodies at will, retaining only the permanent
> atom of our being, the seed of life dropped on the soil of our
> planet by Infinite Intelligence.

JOEL: Decluttering tip! Shed every part of your existence that doesn’t bring you joy!

> We can propel this indestructible
> seed on light rays through the depths of space.

CROW: However I confess we are not yet able to tell a cabbage from a lettuce.

> We can visit the
> farthest universe with the velocity of light, since light is our
> conveyance.

TOM: *Now* how much would you pay? But wait, there’s more!

> In reaching your little world, I have consumed a
> million years, for my world is a million light-years distant: yet to
> my race a million years is as one of your days.

JOEL: For us three of our popcorn balls are like two of your candy corns!

TOM: To my race seven of your Star Wars movies are like three of our Thanksgiving Day parades!

CROW: Four things that you perceive as green are equivalent to one of our yellowy-blues!

>
> "On arrival at any given destination, we can build our bodies from
> the elements of the foreign planet.

CROW: We can make them stronger, faster, well, you get the drill.

> We attain our knowledge of
> conditions on any given planet by absorbing the thought-content of
> the brains of a few representative members of its dominant race.

TOM: Isn’t that going to be, like, some microbe?

JOEL: So, the amoebas?

TOM: Oooooooooh.

> Every well-balanced mind contains the experience of the race, the
> essence of the wisdom that the race-soul has gained during its
> residence in matter.

JOEL: The longer that sentence ran the more I dreaded it.

> We make this knowledge a part of our own
> thought-content, and thus the Universe lies like an open book before
> us.

TOM: Even when we’re in the bathroom?

>
> "At the end of a given experiment in thought absorption, we return
> the borrowed mind-stuff to the brain of its possessor.

CROW: Who’s … uh … us, now! Neat how that works, isn’t it? Thanks.

> We reward
> our subject for his momentary discomfiture by pouring into his body
> our splendid vitality.

TOM: Also a $20 gift card to Jersey Mike’s.

> This lengthens his life expectancy
> immeasurably,

CROW: We hush it up because it would ruin the insurance companies.

> by literally burning from his system the germs of
> actual or incipient ills that contaminate the blood-stream.

JOEL: We leave behind the broken arm, we don’t have an administrative code for that.

>
>
>
> This, I believe, will conclude my explanation, an explanation to
> which you, as a race in whom intelligence is beginning to dawn, are
> entitled.

TOM: So, any questions? Yes, you there.

CROW: The *heck* was that all about?

> But you have a long road to travel yet. Your
> thought-channels are pitifully blocked and criss-crossed with
> nonsensical and inhibitory complexes that stand in the way of true
> progress.

JOEL: Oh dear lord it’s a Dianetics ad.

> But you will work this out, for the Divine Spark that
> pulses through us of the Larger Universe, pulses also through you.

TOM: This might explain why you feel like you’re ticking and also part of the Galactic Federation of Light.

> That spark, once lighted, can never be extinguished, can never be
> swallowed up again in the primeval slime.

CROW: As long as you remember one thing: always — I mean, never — I mean, you have to make sure [ Cough, wheezes ] THUD!

>
> "There is nothing more that I can learn from you — nothing that I
> can teach you at this stage of your evolution.

JOEL: Nothing at all? Not, like, antibiotics —

TOM: Nope! Nothing to teach you.

CROW: Maybe how to make electronics —

TOM: Negatory! You’ve got all you can handle.

JOEL: Could you give a hint about grand unification theory?

TOM: Nah! What wouldn’t be redundant?

> I have but one
> message to give you, one thought to leave with you — forge on!

CROW: Counterfeit *everything*!

> You are on the path, the stars are over you, their light is flashing
> into your souls the slogan of the Federated Suns beyond the
> frontiers of your little warring worlds. Forge on!"

TOM: Excelsior!

CROW: Tuebor!

JOEL: Here’s mud in your eye!

>
> The Voice died out like the chiming of a great bell receding into
> immeasurable distance.

TOM: The time is now 11:00.

> The supercilious tones of the professor had
> yielded to the sweetness and the light of the Greater Mind whose
> instrument he had momentarily become.

CROW: And now he’s going back to a career of explaining to waitresses that if the choice is cole slaw *or* home fries he’s entitled to get both.

> It was charged at the last
> with a golden resonance that seemed to echo down vast spaceless
> corridors beyond the furthermost outposts of time.
>
>
>
> As the Voice faded out into a sacramental silence, the strangely
> assorted throng, moved by a common impulse, lowered their heads as
> though in prayer.

CROW: [ As Amoeboy ] “Sorry, ah, this thing usually takes off right away. Think the battery’s a bit low is all.”

> The great globe pulsed and shimmered throughout
> its sentient depths like a sea of liquid jewels.

TOM: [ As the Terminator ] Liquid Jewels.

JOEL: For the Twee-1000.

> Then the tentacle
> that grasped the professor drew him back toward the scintillating
> nucleus.

TOM: [ Amoeboy ] ‘C’mon and gimme a hug!’

> Simultaneously another arm reached out and grasped Bill
> Jones, who,

CROW: Was still in the story we guess?

> during the strange lecture, had ceased his wooden
> soldier marching and had stood stiffly at attention.

TOM: [ Amoeboy ] ‘You give me a hug too! It’s a hug party and everyone’s invited! Not you, Ray.’

>
> The bodies of both men within the nucleus were encircled once more
> by the single current. From it again put forth the tentacles,
> cupping their heads, but the smokelike essence flowed back to them
> this time,

JOEL: [ Amoeboy ] And what the heck, you’ll cluck like a chicken every time someone says ‘cabinet’.

> and with it flowed a tiny threadlike stream of violet
> light. Then came the heaving motion when the shimmering currents
> caught the two men

[ CROW, TOM scream in agony ]

> and tossed them forth unharmed but visibly
> dowered with the radiance of more abundant life.

JOEL: And they fall down the ravine to Rock Gulch.

> Their faces were
> positively glowing and their eyes were illuminated by a light that
> was surely not of earth.

CROW: They look at each other and say, wulp, nothing to do now but make out, right?

>
> Then, before the very eyes of the marveling people, the great globe
> began to dwindle.

[ TOM makes a low hissing noise, as a balloon deflates. ]

> The jeweled lights intensified, concentrated,
> merged, until at last remained only a single spot no larger than a
> pin-head,

JOEL: Are we having alien yet?

> but whose radiance was, notwithstanding, searing,
> excruciating.

CROW: Strangely lemon-scented.

> Then the spot leaped up — up into the heavens,
> whirling, dipping and circling as in a gesture of farewell, and
> finally soaring into invisibility with the blinding speed of light.

TOM: Travels for a million years, you’d think it could stay for dinner.

CROW: Got a look at this bunch and headed right out.

>
> The whole wildly improbable occurrence might have been dismissed as
> a queer case of mass delusion,

JOEL: Like the Clown Sightings of 2016 or the so-called state of ‘Tennessee’.

> for such cases are not unknown to
> history, had it not been followed by a convincing aftermath.

TOM: The alien coming back to ask if anyone had seen its flagellum.

>
> The culmination of a series of startling coincidences, both
> ridiculous and tragic, at last brought men face to face with an
> incontestable fact:

CROW: If Woody had gone right to the police this would never have happened!

> namely, that Bill Jones had emerged from his
> fiery baptism endowed with the thought-expressing facilities of
> Professor Ralston, while the professor was forced to struggle along
> with the meager educational appliances of Bill Jones!

JOEL: Whoo-hoo-hoo-oops!

TOM: Ha ha!

>
> In this ironic manner the Space-Wanderer had left unquestionable
> proof of his visit by rendering a tribute to "innate intelligence"
> and playing a Jovian Jest upon an educated fool — a neat
> transposition.

CROW: It’s funny ’cause it’s … I don’t know, playing on elitist pretentions? Something?

>
> A Columbus from a vaster, kindlier universe had paused for a moment
> to learn the story of our pigmy system.

TOM: Wonder what would’ve happened if it had eaten, like, a raccoon’s brain?

> He had brought us a message
> from the outermost citadels of life and had flashed out again on his
> aeonic voyage from everlasting unto everlasting.
>

JOEL: A strange visitor from beyond the stars comes to Earth with a chilling message: yeah, do whatever you’re doing.

>

TOM: Let’s blow this popsicle stand.

JOEL: Works for me.

CROW: [ Slowly, seriously ] Dum DA-dum!

[ ALL file out. ]

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

	

Mystery Science Theater 3000 and its characters and situations are the property of Satellite of Love, LLC, if the footer on mst3kinfo.com doesn’t lead me wrong. I’m still geting used to thinking of Best Brains as a part of the past. I don’t know. _The Jovian Jest_ was written by Lilith Loraine and appeared in the May 1930 issue of _Astounding Stories of Super-Science_ which I believe to be out of copyright. It can be found through Project Gutenberg at http://www.gutenberg.org/files/29809/29809-h/29809-h.htm#The_Jovian_Jest at your leisure. I’m Joseph Nebus and this is 2017 for me.

> The homogeneous force of
> our omni-substance subjects the plural world to the processing of a
> powerful unity.


[ The end ??? ]

Another Instance of Nature Caught Healing


Our hipster bar brought back the Quiz and Dragons arcade game that was removed for a pinball machine. And didn’t replace any pinball machine for it either, just replaced a table that was next to a couple of pinball machines that was nice for setting your drink on. So I guess we have to hold our drinks through games, which is going to make multiball more challenging for everyone except the lucky players with three arms.

I’m off point. The important thing is now we can once again save the land of Capconia if we know something about the starting lineup for the 1991 Denver Nuggets. Although I’ve been horrified to learn it’s not just anything you have to know. You need to know the specific things the game asks you about to get anything accomplished there. That’s the usual trick for trivia games, though.

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? Shouldn’t Boog be like 18 by now? June – August 2022


The story in Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley starred Boog Skinner, one of the fifth generation of the comic’s central family. He was born in September 2004, implying that he should be eighteen. But anyone can see he’s not. I’m not sure how old to peg his age, since I’m at the age where every kid looks either three, ten, or sixteen. I’d put him at ten. He’s old enough to be interested in the idea of girls, at least. And to be able to build a plastic scale model without comic mishaps. I couldn’t claim he wasn’t fourteen or so, but he’s not leaving-high-school old.

What’s going on is that while the identifying gimmick of Gasoline Alley is the characters aging, they don’t age in real time. It’s not as static as it was in the 1970s and 80s, when the aging froze. But it is slower than real time. Given that a story can take a month or more of reader time to do a couple days of character time that seems a fair way to show enough of characters’ lives. Reasonable people may disagree.

So this should catch you up to late August 2022 in the comic strip’s story. There’s likely a more useful plot recap if you’re reading this after about November 2022. And if any news about the comic breaks I’ll share it at that link too.

And over on my mathematics blog I look at comic strips, now and then, and here’s one of those essays. I figure to have another Reading the Comics post tomorrow, all going well. You might be interested.

Gasoline Alley.

5 June – 20 August 2022.

Rufus and Joel got to Hollywood to take up their movie jobs. Only it was the wrong Hollywood. They were in Florida, by a mistake we might have seen coming. They give their last 50 cents to a beggar and immediately find a loose $20 in the street. They notice it’s 11:11 and wonder if the vanished beggar might have been an angel, reflecting a superstition I never heard before. I’d checked the GoComics comments to see if anyone knew more about it. One of them this was the same kind of thinking that brought that Comet Hale-Bopp cult to kill themselves. This is what happens when you take seriously the Skeptical Inquirer articles about Society. Stick to the articles about how, like, these chupacabra sightings were more likely a raccoon with mange.

Joel: 'Rufus! Good thing you don't work fo' NASA!' Rufus: 'How's that?' Joel: 'If you navimagatd a rocket ship t'Mars --- it'd end up so'where like yo'head!' Rufus: 'How's that?' Joel: 'It'd be in a empty black hole in space! See?' (He points to the back background of the scene.) Rufus: 'I don't see nothin'!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 7th of June, 2022. Hey, wait a minute … navigating a rocket ship to Mars? That’s foreshadowing! We never get foreshadowing!

Anyway they phone home to learn they were fired and there’s nothing to do but return to Gasoline Alley. They do, along the way spotting a meteor that serves as transition to the current story, which started the 1st of July.


Boog Skinner and his girlfriend Charlotte are stargazing and making a wish on the falling star. Charlotte’s little brother Jimmy comes in to remind us he’s not dead yet. Jimmy we met a couple years ago. He suffers from Tiny Tim Syndrome, suffering an unspecified fatal illness that some new treatment helps. He’s still getting better. Boog has the idea to build a rocket ship for Jimmy, who’s not only a train enthusiast but also a spaceships guy.

His grandfather Slim Skinner offers his help, and his metal junk pile. The building of a Flash Gordon-esque rocket goes swiftly. In days they have something ready to launch. Ah, but Rufus and Joel, getting home just in time, ask with what fuel? Slim offers his El Diablo Fuego-hot jalapeño chili pepper chews. That’s not enough to fuel a rocket. But add a bit of Joel’s cousin Zeb’s high-potency medicinal home-brew “koff medicine”? Well now you’ve got something ready to take off before you can even say “lunch not launch”.

Looking over the homemade, Flash Gordon-style rocket; Polly is flying near the cockpit and awks at it. Jimmy: 'Will it fly, Boog?' Boog: 'We don't know! It's not been tested!' Then everyone turns as smoke pours in from off screen. Boog: 'What's that noise?' Charlotte: 'Uh-oh!' Jimmy: 'It's shakin' an'quakin!' Rufus: 'It's blastin' off!' Slim: 'But we didn't do the countdown yet!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 30th of July, 2022. Joel later says that ashes from his pipe started the ignition so don’t worry, the rocket liftoff is explained and Jim Scancarelli is way ahead of us snarkers.

So it does! The homemade contraption lifts off and soon passes the Moon. And, according to the news, soars to Mars, NASA calculating it’ll arrive in minutes. Boog’s rocket lands on Mars in sight of Percy, the Perseverance rover that landed on Mars back in 2021. (Here I learned something; I thought ‘Percy’ was the comic strip’s jokey nickname for the rover. Not so.) And, more amazing, Perseverance detects life inside the rocket. Through its porthole we see Polly, Charlotte’s parrot, begging to be let out.

It’s a dream, of course, as Polly tells Boog over the TV feed. Boog wakes up, regretting only that he has to do it all over again. But if it was all a dream, why does he have Slim’s bag of jalapeño chews?

Joel: 'How did that parrot get inside the rocket?' Boog: 'How did she survive the trip to Mars?' Jimmy: 'It's like a dream!' Polly, from Mars, heard over the TV footage on Jimmy's tablet: 'AWK! Awk! It IS A DREAM! Wake up, Boog! Get me outta here!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 11th of August, 2022. I like this as a way of declaring the dream over and it even matches real experiences where noticing you’re in a dream can end the dream. Also, uh, I guess Polly’s female? I didn’t know that.

Anyway he rebuilds his rocket, as a kitbashed model this time, and brings it to Jimmy. And that’s where things stand now.

Next Week!

Who’s responsible for soaking the Lost Forest in so much toxic lawn chemicals that it’s making the local pets sick, and why is it the Sunny Soleil Society? Are we not going to chase a rogue elephant? And why is a nature-show streamer in danger of being slurped up into a roadside zoo cult? All this and Canada geese in Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail, next week’s story strip, if things go to plan. See you then.

60s Popeye: Weather Watchers, and an arguable end to my 60s Popeye Watching


I have for today the last of the 1960s Popeye cartoons that King Features has put up on their YouTube channel. Or so I thought. Every source I can find says there were 220 of these short cartoons made, over a course of days and at a cost of hundreds of dollars per cartoon. King Features uploaded them four at a time into 22-minute “episodes”, and has 55 of them. And yet when I mentioned the Gerald Ray-produced The Last Resort last week, I couldn’t find where I had reviewed it in any of these essays. (I had an earlier review, from 2014, that I let stand.) I have no explanation for this.

I figure, if I can find the spoons, to go through the episodes King Features still has up and see if I overlooked that one, and any other shorts, somehow. A possible complication is that King Features has withdrawn seven of its episodes, and thus 28 cartoons. I don’t know why. My guess in the absence of actual knowledge is someone noticed there was something objectionable in one or more cartoons of the set. I would be happy to hear from someone who knew, but doubt I will.s

So for cartoons that are not missing? Here’s the last of the Jack Kinney-produced shorts. The story’s credited to Raymond Jacobs, and the animation direction to Volus Jones and Ed Friedman. From 1960 for the last(?) time, it is the Weather Watchers. Let’s weather.

Oh did I ever want my reviewing project here to end on a strong cartoon. Something I could spill over with good things to talk about. That’s more fun than even snarking is. But what we have is another of those Jack Kinney productions that makes more sense the less closely you’re watching. Like, tune out and come back to the next scene and you can rationalize how Brutus and Popeye got here and why. But go from what’s on-screen and you have a bunch of leaps of logic.

This is another in the Popeye-and-Bluto/Brutus-Compete-For-A-Job shorts. This time Popeye starts out with the job nice and secure and Brutus schemes to steal it, a variation not done much. I can’t think of another short with that setup. This time around Popeye works for the weather bureau, relying on the corns on his feet or a spin of his wheel-of-fortune for his forecasts. And his forecasts are terrible, or at least he gets two wrong in a row. The first time he’s wrong is enough to get a complaint from Brutus, who’s also asking about openings at the weather bureau. The rain, against a forecast of “fair and sunny” weather, is enough for Olive Oyl to give Popeye something like notice. He forecasts “fair and sunny” again, and Brutus sabotages this by seeding clouds.

A very wet Olive Oyl, wearing a ruined hat and looking miserable, enters the door of the Weather Bureau.
Actual footage of me reviewing my notes for this short.

With her new hat spoiled, Olive Oyl fires Popeye and hires Brutus. Popeye discovers the moth balls used to seed the clouds that something’s up, and figures it must be Brutus since who else is in the story? Well, Wimpy is, as the slightly goofy TV weatherman. The pop culture of that era tells me weather reporters of that era were goofy performers. The shift to professional meteorologists came later. But Wimpy never interacts with anybody that we see, so, Brutus is the safe and correct bet. Popeye sabotages Brutus’s forecast of sunshine, and Olive Oyl gives Brutus twenty years less chance to prove himself than she gave Popeye. Brutus turns on Olive Oyl, grabbing her by the neck, and Popeye rushes in, saving the day. As a punch line, Popeye, restored to his forecasting job, says tomorrow will be “Sunny as [Olive’s] smile, fair as [her] complexion, and warm as [her] ever-loving’ heart.” As it starts to rain, Popeye declares, “Women, phooey!” and starts singing about how ’cause he ate his spinach he’s Popeye the weatherman.

The plot summary, I imagine, sounds fine to you too. The sequence of events is what makes sense for a story about Popeye as a weather forecaster. It’s in the connective tissue of plotting that it falls down. We can take as implicit that Brutus did promise he’d eat his forecast if it were wrong. But Olive Oyl talks about how “Yes, I fell for your mothball gag”, a gag she hasn’t been seen to learn about. Heck, a gag that even Popeye has only assumed happened. Popeye sabotaging Brutus’s weather is correct, but not justified. He doesn’t know Brutus did anything. (This short suggests Brutus is a stranger to Olive Oyl, at least, and surely Popeye.) Also his sabotage is weird: dump a gigantic can of spinach into a water tank and blow up the water tank so we get spinach rain? And this when Popeye doesn’t even eat spinach himself, unless that too is off-screen, despite what we get in his not-finished closing couplet.

Popeye, on top of a water tank, pours in the contents of a gigantic can of 'King Size Spinach'.
Either that can is labelled upside-down or Popeye opened it from the bottom side, which is weird.

Get the premise and take any scene and you can imagine the scene before it which sets it up. But the scene that sets it up is never in the short. Once again we have something that makes more sense the less you pay attention. It gives that odd dream-narrative tone so common to the Kinney-produced shorts. I enjoy some of that. Dream logic makes the story feel fresher and more surprising. But it keeps me from calling this a good cartoon. It’s a first draft of a good cartoon, that’s all.


And with that, that’s all for my King Features Syndicate Popeye cartoon reviews! Until I find ones that I overlooked, at least. I would love to tell you what my plan is for the next thing to take my review-day slot. I haven’t decided, though. I’m open to suggestions, particularly if they’re ones that have reasonably stable web locations. Or I can just review that Beetle Bailey half-hour special they made for CBS in like 1989 and forgot to air. We’ll see.

Statistics Saturday: the Most Frequently Snarked-Upon Comic Strips in Another Timeline


  • Russell Myers’s Broom Hilda
  • Gary Larson’s Broom Hilda
  • Charles Schulz’s Broom Hilda
  • Chester Gould’s Broom Hilda
  • Tom Batiuk’s Broom Hilda
  • Jim Davis’s Broom Hilda
  • Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Broom Hilda
  • Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Broom Hilda
  • Norm Feuti’s Broom Hilda
  • That Guy Who Did The Outbursts of Everett True‘s Broom Hilda
  • Bill Watterson’s Broom Hilda
  • Walt Kelly’s Broom Hilda

Reference: Magnificent Failure: Free Fall From The Edge Of Space, Craig Ryan.

And Then I Noticed Something About Funky Winkerbean


I’m not any less angry at Tom Batiuk’s Funky Winkerbean than I was at the start of this week, mind you. This even though instead of a story about Crazy Harry’s wife making him drop his VHS tape hobby it’s flashbacks totally rewriting what we thought was the history of how Lisa Moore recorded the Dead Lisa Tapes for some reason.

No, the thing that I noticed this week — and remember, I’ve been reading Funky Winkerbean for so long that I remember when it was surprising that something bad happened to a character — is that the strip has two major characters named Harry. There’s Crazy Harry, formerly the guy who lived in his locker and listened to pizzas on his turntable and now a guy who returns videotapes to people; and then there’s Harry Harry L Dinkle The World’s Greatest Guy Taped Onto High School Band Director Office Doors. They’ve both been major characters in the strip since Richard Nixon was president and I just noticed this now.

I mean, I can’t fault the realism of having two characters with the same name around. At my former workplace, which had like two dozen people in it, there were somehow four people named “Joseph”, and when one of them retired somehow there was another Joseph I hadn’t ever seen or heard of before except now he was the person who actually responded to my weekly status reports. It just seems the Harry situation is a little cramped for a comic strip that has … well, dozens of old white guys who are way into comic books and superhero movies and moping. Mr Tom Batiuk please change the name of at least one Harry to something not already in use by another prominent character, thank you.

MiSTed: The Jovian Jest (part 3 of 4)


Returning now to my Mystery Science Theater 3000 fanfiction of Lilith Lorraine’s “The Jovian Jest”, a short story from the May 1930 issue of Astounding Stories of Super-Science. The whole of the MiSTing should be at this link. Let me know if you don’t see it.

That flying-saucer-at-Farmer-Burns’s-place situation heated up last time, as the blobby mass from the spaceship took over the body of cattleman Bill Jones and insufferably pompous Professor Ralston. Using the body of Professor Ralston the creature, calling itself an amoeba of the alien universe, began to explain its deal. Also, sorry about the Bill Jones thing but he didn’t have a sophisticated enough vocabulary to be able to explain what the aliens were up to.

I don’t see any riffs in this segment that need explanation. Even better, I don’t spot any that need apology. So let’s get back to the action, then.


> He possesses more of what you would call ‘innate
> intelligence,’ but he has not perfected the mechanical brain through
> whose operation this innate intelligence can be transmitted to
> others and, applied for practical advantage.

TOM: Oh, c’mon, how many people do you know perfect mechanical brains?

CROW: Joel did!

TOM: Sycophant.

>
>
>
> Now this creature that I am using is, as you might say, full of
> sound without meaning.

JOEL: How we might say? How would you say?

> His brain is a lumber-room in which he has
> hoarded a conglomeration of clever and appropriate word-forms with
> which to disguise the paucity of his ideas, with which to express
> nothing!

CROW: Um …

> Yet the very abundance of the material in his storeroom
> furnishes a discriminating mind with excellent tools for the
> transportation of its ideas into other minds.

TOM: [ Professor Ralston ] Are you calling me stupid?

JOEL: [ As Amoeba ] I’m saying you have an abundance of deficiencies!

TOM: [ Professor Ralston ] Well … okay then.

>
> "Know, then, that I am not here by accident.

CROW: I had long and fully planned to land my flying saucer at a 50 degree angle in the middle of this corn silo!

> I am a Space Wanderer,
> an explorer from a super-universe whose evolution has proceeded
> without variation along the line of your amoeba.

TOM: Look, I don’t want to nitpick.

JOEL: Of course you don’t, honey.

TOM: Just, ‘evolution’ or ‘variation’, which of those words aren’t they using right?

> Your evolution, as
> I perceive from an analysis of the brain-content of your professor,
> began its unfoldment in somewhat the same manner as our own.

CROW: With cartoons of fish stepping up on land.

> But in
> your smaller system, less perfectly adjusted than our own to the
> cosmic mechanism, a series of cataclysms occurred.

JOEL: Does this involve blowing up the moon and jolting Earth into a new orbit?

> In fact, your
> planetary system was itself the result of a catastrophe, or of what
> might have been a catastrophe, had the two great suns collided whose
> near approach caused the wrenching off of your planets.

CROW: And if their diplomats weren’t able to find a face-saving solution to the crisis.

> From this
> colossal accident, rare, indeed, in the annals of the stars, an
> endless chain of accidents was born, a chain of which this specimen,
> this professor, and the species that he represents, is one of the
> weakest links.

TOM: Is Lilith Lorraine getting back at one of her professors?

CROW: Show *you* to give me a B *minus*.

>
> "Your infinite variety of species is directly due to the variety of
> adaptations necessitated by this train of accidents.

JOEL: If only no planets had formed then we’d all be amoebas!

TOM: Huh?

> In the
> super-universe from which I come, such derangements of the celestial
> machinery simply do not happen.

CROW: Amoeba-boy’s getting a little snobby there.

> For this reason, our evolution has
> unfolded harmoniously along one line of development, whereas yours
> has branched out into diversified and grotesque expressions of the
> Life-Principle.

TOM: Why, thank you for noticing!

> Your so-called highest manifestation of this
> principle, namely, your own species, is characterized by a great
> number of specialized organs.

CROW: Is … is Amoeba-boy talking about breasts?

JOEL: Oy, aliens, always like this …

> Through this very specialization of
> functions, however, you have forfeited your individual immortality,
> and it has come about that only your life-stream is immortal. The
> primal cell is inherently immortal, but death follows in the wake of
> specialization.

TOM: Also in the wake of being eaten by a bear. Just saying.

>
>
>
> We, the beings of this amoeba universe, are individually immortal.

CROW: So there’s no escape from Great-Aunt Carol and her inappropriate questions.

> We have no highly specialized organs to break down under the stress
> of environment. When we want an organ, we create it.

TOM: From … ?

JOEL: Never you mind!

> When it has
> served its purpose, we withdraw it into ourselves.

CROW: We draw the shades and hide from neighbors.

> We reach out our
> tentacles and draw to ourselves whatsoever we desire. Should a
> tentacle be destroyed, we can put forth another.

JOEL: Our contests of rock-paper-scissors can take years to decide!

>
> "Our universe is beautiful beyond the dreams of your most inspired
> poets.

TOM: So neener neener neener on you.

> Whereas your landscapes, though lovely, are stationary,
> unchangeable except through herculean efforts, ours are Protean,
> eternally changing.

CROW: [ As an onlooker ] Get me the one they call Heraclitus.

> With our own substance, we build our minarets
> of light, piercing the aura of infinity.

TOM: Your buildings are made out of people?

> At the bidding of our
> wills we create, preserve, destroy — only to build again more
> gloriously.

JOEL: It’s all great fun except when you’re signed up to be the sewer this week.

>
> "We draw our sustenance from the primates, as do your plants,

CROW: Are they telling us that ferns eat apes?

TOM: That’s how I make it out, yeah.

> and we
> constantly replace the electronic base of these primates with our
> own emanations,

JOEL: Your ferns charge up apes?

CROW: Even for aliens these are kinda weird mamma-jamas.

> in much the same manner as your nitrogenous plants
> revitalize your soil.

TOM: [ Onlooker ] “Um … are you completely sure you landed on the right planet here?”

>
> "While we create and withdraw organs at will, we have nothing to
> correspond to your five senses.

CROW: Though we have a perfect match for your Five Mrs Buchanans!

> We derive knowledge through one
> sense only, or, shall I say, a super-sense?

JOEL: We know everything through our hyperdimensional sense of taste!

TOM: Thus we travel the cosmos finding things to lick!

> We see and hear and
> touch and taste and smell and feel and know, not through any one
> organ, but through our whole structure.

CROW: You’re making this creepy, Amoe-boy.

> The homogeneous force of
> our omni-substance subjects the plural world to the processing of a
> powerful unity.

TOM: Dilute, dilute, okay?


[ To continue … ]

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? Why can’t Dick Tracy neutralize the Moon People’s superpowers? May – August 2022


The current story in Joe Staton Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy is about a block of Lunarians planning to conquer Earth. And they have a good bid for it too, given that the former Moon Valley people have antennas and energy powers and stuff. The Lunarian’s leader wants to head off this invasion and warns Dick Tracy of Earth’s potential conquest here. But … didn’t we see that the Lunarians’ powers can be suppressed? How big a threat could this be?

So we did. When Mr Bribery had Posie Ermine captured and genetically engineered into the clone Moon Maid, he had a remote control ring made to control her powers. Brock Archival got hold of the ring, and used it in a 2021 story to keep the Moon Maid helpless. So Earth has the technology to disable the Lunarians’ superpowers.

Thorin: 'You recall, Tracy, how concerned world governments were when my daughter, Moon Maid, demonstrated her Lunarian powers?' [ Illustrations of the Moon Maid setting clothing on fire and melting an anvil with her mind. ] Tracy: 'Yes, we're still aware of them.' Thorn: 'Then you know your people would be *defenseless* against us. Tracy, detectives are unknown here. Help me save your world!'
Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 15th of July, 2022. Tracy reassures the Moon Governor that the Lunarians could melt all our anvis and we’d be all right. Historical villages would have to find something else to take the place of their horseshoe-making demonstrations is all. They could shift to, I don’t know, barrel-making? That sounds like something they could do.

What is not established, though, is first that the Lunarians know anything about this. Dick Tracy knows (or should), but he has good reason to keep that confidential. It’s also not established that anyone but Mr Bribery’s dead henchmen know how the ring works or how to duplicate it. And, it turns out, even if they could duplicate it, the Lunarian Invasion of Earth is set for quite soon now. There may not be time to make and deploy rings to strategic defense points. And, of course, even a failed coup would be quite bad for us all. Thus the urgency to warn, to act, and to stop this menace.

This essay should catch you up to about mid-August 2022. If you’re reading this after about October 2022, or news about Dick Tracy breaks, there’s likely a more useful essay at this link. Thanks for being here.

Dick Tracy.

29 May – 13 August 2022.

Mr Memory, last seen in the unsuccessful pilot for a 1960s Dick Tracy series, had robbed a guy at the ATM, last I checked. Then used some kind of implant to clean out the whole cash machine. And not just the cash machine. He loots half the bank’s assets, and similarly hits four other local banks. They try to keep quiet about this, to avoid a panic. But retiring vigilante superhero Cinnamon Knight — by day a mild-mannered bank worker — tips off Dick Tracy. Tracy’s only leads are that the five banks have a common security service provider. And the security camera shows a large man whose presence causes the camera to go blurry. Tracy checks the Dick Tracy Wikia and figures Mister Memory is the first suspect.

Mister Memory, meanwhile, is getting to know his neighbors, the Plenty family. They think kindly of him ever since he gave B.O. a lift into town. Gertie brings over gifts of sorghum and hot biscuits and for a while it looks like we’re going to see a villain redeemed by kindness. I’m up for that, especially when the villain is only using his experimental computer chip implants to digitally rob banks.

Mr Memory, to Gertie and B O Plenty: 'Gertie, this meal is excellent. Thank you both for sharing it with me.' Outside the door, Sam Catchem: 'I can't believe I missed the turn to Paradise Lane.' Tracy: 'I can. There's something messing with the GPS signal out here.' B O Plenty: 'Somebody's at th'door. I'll git it, Mr Mem'ry!' Plenty opens the door: 'Dick Spacy! What are you doin' here?' Tracy: 'B.O. Plenty? I'm looking for --- ' Memory's pet owl screeches in, to attack.
Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 19th of June, 2022. It’s all right, the owl was just attacking Dick Tracy’s hat. The owl’s a Dick Tracy super-fan and wants to be featured in the Wall of Hats.

So when Tracy and Sam Catchem finally get to Memory’s place — the GPS goes awry as they get closer — they find the Plentys, rallying to Memory’s defense. Mister Memory agrees to go downtown and answer questions, though, if he can use the restroom first. Tracy agrees to fall for this and lets Memory sneak out to his motorcycle. It’s raining a little, and Memory regrets not practicing more on the motorcycle: he skids out in a car’s backspray and crashes. And, fortunately for Dick Tracy, B.O.Plenty talked about how Memory asked him to enter some codes in the computer while he was off establishing an alibi. This means there’s something to hold Mister Memory on. That, and a mention that the Crimson Knight is applying to the police academy, brings us to the end of the story.

It’s all structured okay, but once again Dick Tracy gets the bad guy by luck. Like, he’s following the correct trail and has good evidence to lead him there. And Memory has a fair reason to flee, and be bad at fleeing. But I liked the guy and felt like we were just getting to know him, so I’d have been up for another month of twists and turns in his story.

Oh, and there was a teaser for another story: the 13th and 14th of June we saw a whiskery old guy discover a bunch of old legal documents in the garage. We’re promised that “one day this man will be important to Dick Tracy”. But we’ve seen the comic is comfortable letting that sort of thing sit for years. We still haven’t resolved those haunts at the Plenty house, for example.


The current and science fiction-based story began the 28th of June. It’s about the former Lunarians, who years ago abandoned their valley on the Moon to set up an Antarctic colony. The Moon Governor — now the Ambassador — arrives at Dick Tracy’s door, inviting Dick Tracy, Honeymoon, and Mysta Chimera to visit New Moon Valley for a week. Tracy is suspicious of the Lunarians’ motives. But Dick Tracy Junior feels his daughter should know something about her heritage and this is what he can offer. It’s a half-hour flight by Space Coupe to New Moon Valley.

Ro-Zan: 'As you see, Mysta, we keep abreast of world news and trends via television. This is in preparation for the day we emerge and join the outside world.' Mysta: 'You make it sound so distant.' Ro-Zan: 'I know, but ... perhaps we could emerge together.'
Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 27th of July, 2022. A thread I didn’t know how to fit in the main essay: Ro-Zan is smitten with Mysta Chimera and we see that he’s stunned how much she looks like the original Moon Maid. There are a few scenes like this, suggesting him crushing hard on her, but it hasn’t developed to the point of his kidnapping her or anything big and stupid displays of misplaced love like that.

The Moon Ambassador — Thorin, we learn is his name — has a warning for Dick Tracy. There’s sentiment among the Lunarians that they should open up and join Earth society. Fine enough. There’s also a movement that figures they should join as Earth’s conquerers. They can use the Lunarian superpowers of having antennas that shoot energy bolts and telepathy and stuff. I know you agree that humans aren’t doing so great on their own. But the Lunarian society draws a little too much from pulpy science fiction of the 30s and 40s. So it’s got this technocratic fascism built in, even when it’s just getting together in groups to watch Japanese cartoons. Also the Lunarians keep the place way too cold and I’m not sure they blink.

Thorin doesn’t know who might be leading the faction and detectives are unknown in their land. Like, what if it were his second-in-command, Ro-Zan, leading the would-be Lunarian conquest of Earth? On the other hand what are the odds of that? Dick Tracy pokes around as unobtrusively as he can, sometimes chaperoned by Marina, a Lunarian widow smitten with the outsider. But all Tracy’s shown to work out is that a lot of the Lunarian population is missing. Thorin explains that when they abandoned the Moon many Lunarians went into deeper space and haven’t been heard from since.

A rally. Ro-Zan: 'My friends, tomorrow the fight to freedom begins and we shall claim our rights to this world! The ambassador's spy, Dick Tracy will be the first human to die.' Marina: 'No! You can't do that to Tracy! Our people will learn the truth!' Ro-Zan: 'Not from you. ARMSMEN!' The guards surround Marina, with glowy effects around their hands and heads. We see a smouldering from off-screen as an angry-looking Lunarian woman beside Ro-Zan declares, 'Ew. I hate that smell.'
Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 14th of August, 2022. You can see how Marina here hasn’t learned enough from the Earth’s supply of television or she’d know not to interrupt the fascist rally with a declaration of how they’ll fail. She should silently resolve to go warn Dick Tracy and then be murdered in a remote alley before she can tell anyone what she knows instead.

Marina, humiliated after she kisses an uninterested Dick Tracy, accompanies her friend Shay-Gin to her meeting. The meeting is Ro-Zan’s rallying his troops the night before they make history. The history they plan to make is seizing power and launching a war against the humans. Marina is horrified, and says so. Ro-Zan orders her death, and his armsmen use their antenna energy beam thingies to cook her. So, uh, this is looking serious now.

And that’s where we are as of mid-August. In case we’ve been conquered by the Lunarians by October 2022, uh, well. There’s those lost Lunarian colonies that I bet might come to our aid? Maybe? We’ll see.

Next Week!

Hey, what’s the other story strip in production that might get us an invasion from, or of, outer space? That isn’t Brewster Rockit, I mean, since that’s a comedy? And that isn’t Safe Havens since that one already transformed Mars into a new green world and revealed to the world that mermaids are real, they’re shapeshifters, and they’re from Venus? Oh, possibly Rip Haywire although I think that’s a little outside its style? Well, I was thinking of Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley, to recap next week, if all goes to plan. See you then.

Why I Am Angry at Funky Winkerbean, Yes, Again


I wrote a version of this as a comment on the Son of Stuck Funky blog, the web’s premiere source for remembering things about Funky Winkerbean, but you know? I’m still bothered so I’m going to write more.

Tom Batiuk’s Funky Winkerbean opened this week with Crazy Harry bringing over a bunch of tapes of Lisa Moore. Lisa Moore died, reader time, in 2008. It was a big story, where she responded to the news her breast cancer had returned by recording videotape messages for her daughter and then dying. The dying may seem like an extreme reaction. It seemed the best way to escape her husband, Les Moore, the most insufferable person on the comics page. It hasn’t worked, as Les Moore wrote a book about her dying and turned it into a graphic novel and an annual fun-run and a failed made-for-TV movie and a completed made-for-theaters movie and the whole of his personality except for being snide to acquaintances.

A couple years back Les Moore loaned the suspiciously many videotapes to Crazy Harry for digitization. And today, years after finishing the project and I thought returning the tapes, he came over with a bunch of the Lisa Moore tapes. What’s got me angry is a line that I might have ignored if I had more patience with the comic strip.

Summer: 'Hey, Harry!' Harry, carrying a box of VHS tapes: 'Hi there, Summer!' Summer: 'What brings?' Harry: 'Donna said I had to get rid of my boxes of VHS tapes or open a museum ... and I found some of your mom's old tapes that I forgot to get back to you.' Flashback: Harry, coming up to the same porch: 'Hi, Lisa ... I just thought I'd stop by and say 'hi'.' Lisa: 'And you just did ... twice!'
Tom Batiuk’s Funky Winkerbean for the 15th of August, 2022. Summer there is Summer Moore, the little-seen daughter of Les and Lisa Moore. She’s important in that she sits on the patio swing that Lisa Moore sat on.

Why does Crazy Harry explain that “Donna said I had to get rid of my VHS tapes”? Yes, yes, I know, because she was tired of them cluttering up the basement or whatever. But Tom Batiuk decided that Harry’s wife was tired of the clutter. Why? What does that explanation do that, oh, “I was organizing my VHS tapes and noticed I still had some” would not? Or “your father asked about a couple of these tapes, which are more precious to him than are his daughter, his current wife Not-Lisa, or the Academy Award won by the woman who played Lisa in the movie about Lisa’s Death”?

Because it fits a pattern and it’s a subtly annoying one. It’s the same role that most all the male characters have been through, where their mother made them get rid of their comic books. Or their wife made them get rid of their superhero stuff. The current era of Funky Winkerbean sees a lot of characters passively accepting the indignities of life, yes, as see Lisa Moore’s whole acceptance of death. Why is it the only time a women in this strip take an active role, it’s the off-screen decision that the man in her life has to give up a hobby?

The one time I can think of when the woman didn’t make the off-screen decision to make one of the player-characters give up a hobby was a story a couple weeks ago. Funky Winkerbean’s wife decided they were going to go to a estate-planning seminar. That’s a reasonable and grown-up thing to do, yes. It’s also something she forced him to do, and he was a total Les Moore about the experience. (The Son of Stuck Funky folks, who have an uncanny ability to find old plots, also found where Funky and Mrs Funk went to an estate planner five years ago. I’m tolerant of comic strips repeating themselves — it’s baked into the genre — but I do want the new iteration to at least be pleasant.)

Why can’t Crazy Harry decide he’s got too many hobbies and VHS tape collecting isn’t bringing him joy anymore? Why can’t Crazy Harry notice he’s got stuff he doesn’t need and doesn’t want? Why does Donna have to be the heavy? Also, why did Lisa Moore have more hours of screen time than Regis Philbin did? These are all questions I feel I cannot answer.

60s Popeye: Baby Phase, a cute enough little baby phase


We’re now up to the last of the Gerald Ray-produced King Features Popeye cartoons. We don’t get a story credit for this short. We do get a director, at least, Tom McDonald. He was also director for The Last Resort, The Big Sneeze, Jeopardy Sheriff, and Egypt Us. Here from 1960 is Baby Phase. Yes, the title has nothing to do with the cartoon besides that it’s got Swee’Pea in it.

Ah, the dream story. Everyone’s favorite way of having a bunch of wild stuff happen that would break the reality of the setting, right? For example there’s no way that in the “real” Popeye universe you could have Swee’Pea so dominated by … juggling.

As that’s the starting point here. Swee’Pea’s got a book about How to Juggle and it turns out to be excellent guidance. In no time he’s juggling random household objects from the top of a chimney, and only dropping some of them on Popeye. Popeye puts Swee’Pea safely inside the house and scolds him for this dangerous stuff. That’s shown with a nice bit of foreshortening, matched by Popeye picking up the book in the camera’s direction. It always stands out when a studio moves the plane of action.

And then, reading, Popeye falls asleep, our cue that none of the stuff to follow counts. Does that matter? I’m not sure. Whenever Popeye has a cartoon where he’s protecting the oblivious innocent — usually a runaway Swee’Pea, sometimes a sleepwalking or hypnotized Olive Oyl — the innocent is always safe. If we know how cartoons work we know that already. All that spotting this for a dream gives us is a built-in explanation for gaps in the story. How the circus is nothing but Swee’Pea, for example, or that Swee’pea’s signed a 99-year contract. The way Swee’Pea keeps finding himself in what should be more preposterously dangerous scenarios. These now become a natural nightmare progression where everything is as bad as it could be and somehow gets worse. But I’m not sure this is meant to be dream-logic as opposed to these cartoons not having the time to write a natural escalation into the story.

Inside a circus tent, Popeye holds Swee'Pea in one hand. Swee'Pea sits up, juggling three balls, unperturbed by this. The ringmaster stands nearby, hunched over and ready to grab Swee'Pea.
I think I liked this better when the ringmaster was J Worthington Foulfellow and Swee’Pea was a wooden puppet.

Popeye bobbles his spinach, which seems like the cue to viewers who missed it that this isn’t real. It’s a moment played for extra tension or a laugh in a couple of cartoons, mostly Fleischer-era theatricals. It could have been a setup for Swee’Pea to eat the spinach and save the day for the falling Popeye. But it didn’t go that way, instead waking Popeye up and having him feed spinach to Swee’Pea as the way to help him be the world’s greatest juggler. Changes of heart are nice, and Popeye supporting his kid’s ambitions is great.

It’s all okay enough, and there are a couple nice bits, like the ringmaster reassuring Popeye that they can get another juggler. I’d have liked to either commit to the reality of Swee’Pea in the circus or have the dream-peril be greater. As it is, the ending seems like just avoiding “Popeye eats his spinach and saves the day”, and where’s the fun in that?

Statistics Saturday: The Movies, Part II


  • The Great Mouse Detective 2: The Greater Mouse Detective
  • 2010 II: 2012
  • The Maltese Falcon II: The Maltese Falconer
  • Gildersleeve’s Ghost 2: Gildersleever’s Ghost
  • The Sting II: The Stinger
  • The Godfather II: The Godfatherer
  • To Sir, With Love 2: To Sirerer With Loverer
  • Apollo 11 II: For Serifed Fonts Only
  • The Hustler II: The Hustlerer
  • 2012 II: 2014
  • Broadway Melody of 1933 II: Broadway Melodier of 1933er
  • The Man Who Came To Dinner II: The Guy Who Stuck Around For Lunch

Reference: Tulipomania: The Story Of The World’s Most Coveted Flower And The Extraordinary Passions It Aroused, Mike Dash.

In Which I Am At Peace With The Neighbors


I saw the neighbors’ woodchuck shuffling around in our backyard in an amble that also caused every sparrow in the world to fly away from our bird feeder. Also, if you’re missing a sparrow, it’s probably flying back to you after visiting our bird feeder this afternoon.

MiSTed: The Jovian Jest (part 2 of 4)


Welcome now to the second part of Lilith Lorraine’s “The Jovian Jest”, a short story from the May 1930 issue of Astounding Stories of Super-Science. Yes, it’s another of my Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan fictions. The whole of the MiSTing should appear at this link.

Previously, a flying saucer landed at Farmer Burns’s yard, and a strange blobby Thing emerged. The blob threw a tentacle out to the awestruck crowd, grabbed cattleman Bill Jones, and pulled him in to the strange reddish core.

Not much to explain around here. Maybe that the “Too Fast For Love” thing isn’t a non sequitur, it’s a reference to Mötley Crüe. The line about “an abundance of deficiencies” is one of my favorites. I have the nagging feeling I lifted it from somewhere, but I can’t think where. Maybe I don’t believe I can write something I like.


>
>
>
> The absorption of the stone had taught them what to expect, and for
> a moment it seemed that their worst anticipations were to be
> realised.

CROW: Pebbles across the county might be no more!

> The sluggish currents circled through the Thing,

TOM, CROW: Dum DA-dum!

> swirling
> the victim’s body to the center. The giant tentacle drew back into
> the globe and became itself a current.

JOEL: Don’t fight the current! Swim out and then make it to shore!

> The concentric circles
> merged — tightened — became one gleaming cord that encircled the
> helpless prey.

TOM: Is … he turning into Sailor Moon?

> From the inner circumference of this cord shot
> forth, not the swords of light that had powdered the stone to atoms,
> but myriads of radiant tentacles that gripped and cupped the body in
> a thousand places.

CROW: [ Bill Jones, giggling ] No wait stop I’m ticklish aaaaaaugh
[ and breaks down laughing ]

>
> Suddenly the tentacles withdrew themselves, all save the ones that
> grasped the head.

JOEL: That’s his *hair*.

> These seemed to tighten their pressure — to
> swell and pulse with a grayish substance that was flowing from the
> cups into the cord and from the cord into the body of the mass.

TOM: And from the body of the mass into the grayish substance and
that’s what we call an ‘economy’.

> Yes, it was a grayish something, a smokelike Essence that was being
> drawn from the cranial cavity.

CROW: Mmm, fresh skull juice.

> Bill Jones was no longer screaming
> and gibbering, but was stiff with the rigidity of stone.

JOEL: [ Bill Jones ] ‘Mondays, am I right?’

> Notwithstanding, there was no visible mark upon his body; his flesh
> seemed unharmed.

TOM: [ The Blob ] Oh yeah! Let me work on that.

JOEL: [ Bill Jones ] Whoa hey yeowwwowow!

>
> Swiftly came the awful climax. The waving tentacles withdrew
> themselves, the body of Bill Jones lost its rigidity, a heaving
> motion from the center of the Thing

CROW, JOEL: Dum DA-dum!

> propelled its cargo to the
> surface — and Bill Jones stepped out!

TOM: And he holds up the eight of diamonds — your card?

>
> Yes, he stepped out and stood for a moment staring straight ahead,
> staring at nothing, glassily. Every person in the shivering,
> paralysed group knew instinctively that something unthinkable had
> happened to him.

CROW: You suppose Farmer Burns will give him a refund?

> Something had transpired, something hitherto
> possible only in the abysmal spaces of the Other Side of Things.

JOEL: Do … do you think he liked it?

> Finally he turned and faced the nameless object, raising his arm
> stiffly, automatically, as in a military salute.

CROW: Oh, do *not* go there, I don’t have the energy.

> Then he turned and
> walked jerkily, mindlessly, round and round the globe like a wooden
> soldier marching. Meanwhile the Thing

ALL: Dum DA-dum!

> lay quiescent — gorged!
>
>
>
> Professor Ralston was the first to find his voice. In fact,
> Professor Ralston was always finding his voice in the most
> unexpected places.

JOEL: One time he spent a week searching for it before it turned up
in Schenectady.

> But this time it had caught a chill. It was
> trembling.
>
> "Gentlemen," he began, looking down academically upon the motley
> crowd

TOM: Too Fast For Love.

> as though doubting the aptitude of his salutation.

CROW: ‘It appears the aliens are here to … play.’

> "Fellow-citizens," he corrected,

JOEL: Buh?

TOM: The ever-popular ‘unneeded correction that somehow makes
you sound like a jerk’.

> "the phenomenon we have just
> witnessed is, to the lay mind, inexplicable. To me — and to my
> honorable colleagues (added as an afterthought) it is quite clear.

CROW: Oh, *boo*.

> Quite clear, indeed. We have before us a specimen, a perfect
> specimen, I might say, of a — of a — "

JOEL: You know he’s a professor of accounting, right?

>
> He stammered in the presence of the unnamable.

TOM: Read the employee badge! Then you can name it.

> His hesitancy caused
> the rapt attention of the throng that was waiting breathlessly for
> an explanation, to flicker back to the inexplicable.

CROW: [ As Ralston ] ‘Hey, stop paying attention to the not-man here!’

> In the
> fraction of a second that their gaze had been diverted from the
> Thing

ALL: Dum DA-dum!

> to the professor, the object had shot forth another tentacle,
> gripping him round the neck and choking off his sentence with a
> horrid rasp that sounded like a death rattle.

[ ALL clap. ]

JOEL: ‘Wait! I needed him to sign my financial aid paperwork!’

>
> Needless to say,

JOEL: End paragraph.

> the revolting process that had turned Bill Jones
> from a human being into a mindless automaton was repeated with
> Professor Ralston.

TOM: Blob is going to get *such* a letter from the Faculty Senate.

> It happened as before, too rapidly for
> intervention, too suddenly for the minds of the onlookers to shake
> off the paralysis of an unprecedented nightmare.

JOEL: With too much joy from everyone who’s had to listen to
the Professor mansplaining the world.

> But when the
> victim was thrown to the surface, when he stepped out, drained of
> the grayish smokelike essence, a tentacle still gripped his neck and
> another rested directly on top of his head.

CROW: He’s ready for Stromboli’s puppet show!

> This latter tentacle,
> instead of absorbing from him, visibly poured into him what
> resembled a threadlike stream of violet light.

TOM: Heck of a way to pick a new Doctor Who.

>
>
>
> Facing the cowering audience with eyes staring glassily, still in
> the grip of the unknowable, Professor Ralston did an unbelievable
> thing.

CROW: Let’s … POLKA!

> He resumed his lecture at the exact point of interruption!
> But he spoke with the tonelessness of a machine, a machine that
> pulsed to the will of a dictator, inhuman and inexorable!

JOEL: I had this guy for pre-algebra!

>
> "What you see before you," the Voice continued — the Voice that no
> longer echoed the thoughts of the professor — "is what you would
> call an amoeba, a giant amoeba.

CROW: Would you believe … a giant amoeba with cupholders?

TOM: It’s, it’s, maybe more of a paramecium? Would you buy that?

> It is I — this amoeba, who am
> addressing you — children of an alien universe.

JOEL: [ As the Amoeba ] Are … are any of you buying this?

> It is I, who
> through this captured instrument of expression, whose queer language
> you can understand, am explaining my presence on your planet.

CROW: [ As the Amoeba ] I … you know, this got a better reaction when I tried it at open-mic night.

> I
> pour my thoughts into this specialised brain-box which I have
> previously drained of its meager thought-content." (Here the
> "honorable colleagues" nudged each other gleefully.)

TOM: Mind-wiping is fun when it’s someone else on the faculty senate getting it!

> "I have so
> drained it for the purpose of analysis and that the flow of my own
> ideas may pass from my mind to yours unimpeded by any distortion
> that might otherwise be caused by their conflict with the thoughts
> of this individual.

JOEL: Oh, uh, PS, we’re not the bad guys?

>
> "First I absorbed the brain-content of this being whom you call Bill
> Jones, but I found his mental instrument unavailable.

TOM: Oh, sheesh.

> It was
> technically untrained in the use of your words that would best
> convey my meaning.

CROW: [ Bill Jones ] Are you calling me stupid?

JOEL: [ As Amoeba ] I’m saying you have an abundance of deficiencies!

CROW: [ Bill Jones ] Well … okay then.

[ To continue … ]

There’s a Kickstarter to Preserve Mutt and Jeff Cartoons


The earliest impression that Mutt and Jeff made on me was its ending. In June 1983 it startled the young me by being a comic strip that had been around since four years before the invention of mud by stopping, a thing I somehow hadn’t realized could happen. Past that I knew it had been around since before my grandfather’s day, and that it was a genially pleasant joke-a-day comic.

Today I understand more of its significance. Bud Fisher was, particularly, a pioneer in the comic strip, as opposed to a single panel that does the joke. And Mutt and Jeff particularly was a pioneer in the daily comic strip, as opposed to the Sunday pages that could sprawl over a whole broadsheet’s page.

It was a pioneer in other ways, too, in phenomenally successful merchandising. And then in animation: Bud Fisher licensed the strip to the Barré studio in 1916 and they made something like three hundred shorts for Fox Film Corporation. Many of them are lost, as you’d expect or fear from century-old film footage. But dozens are not, and that gets to this point.

Mauricio Alvarado is running a Kickstarter, with a goal of funding a high-quality scan of several doen available shorts. This as part of restoring the shorts, and preparing a limited-edition Blu-Ray disc for the shorts. Restoring, and making available, early animation history like this is a great project. I regret I’m not in a position to support it financially right now, but I can at least support with my small voice. If you love silent cartoons, or think you might someday, please consider this.

What’s Going On In Prince Valiant? Where is King Arthur that Arn and Maeve are regents? May – August 2022


I haven’t caught it, sorry. Arn — Valiant’s son — and Maeve are the regents of Camelot, I learned in June. Valiant reports to them when he gets back from the sojourn that saw him escort Morgan Le Fay to safety. But how they got set up there goes back to before I was reading the strip with an eye toward remembering plots. If someone knows, please leave a comment. I appreciate the help.

So this should get you up to speed in Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the start of August 2022. If you’re reading this after about October 2022, there’s likely a more current essay at this link. Now back to the days of King Arthur, wherever he is.

Prince Valiant.

22 May – 7 August 2022.

Morgan Le Fay, at the head of soldiers she had saved from Londinium, left our story last I checked in. She figured to learn whether she was back in good with the occult forces who had turned on her. And that seemed to end her role in the strip for a while.

Valiant returned, the 5th of June, to Camelot. Valiant and Arn fight over the recent debacle. Arn’s furious that Valiant let Morgan Le Fay go. Valiant’s furious that Camelot forgot a garrison of troops in Londinium. It doesn’t promise to be resolvable. But Aleta tells Valiant of a strange dream. One in which he summoned her, and she battled Morgan Le Fay. We saw this battle in a hallucinatory landscape back on 2021.

Some more old characters appear. Ambelu, sent by Queen Makeda of the Ab’saban people to be ambassador to Camelot, has a retinue now. They’ve brought some comforts of home, like a hot, bitter, stimulating beverage named quawah. And Ambelu’s youngest daughter, Yewubar, bonds with Valiant’s youngest, Nathan. They’re fascinated by old scrolls and nature and all. Yewubar shows a trick of getting a flock of bees to jacket her. It’s harmless but unsettling, and so naturally their parents get all upset.

Nathan and Yewubar have stolen out at night and, under the cold light of a full moon, witness an unexpected spectacle ... Nathan's mother, Aleta, and Maeve, the future Queen of Camelot, are out as well! They walk silently into a circle of ancient, pitted stones. Nathan could swear that, although he has visited these glades countless times, he has never noticed the stones looking so imposing - or so complete. The two youngsters watch silently from their hidden vantage as a third figure suddenly emerges from under the shadow of a massive lintel and speaks: 'Welcome, Queen Aleta, and Maeve, daughter of my half-brother.' Aleta's reply is cold: 'As you wished, Morgan Le Fay.'
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 7th of August, 2022. I’m sure everything is exactly what this looks like and we’re not going to find there’s some really good reason that good characters are coming at Morgan Le Fay’s direction.

That won’t stop the two from sneaking out together and one night under the full moon they’re out in the woods. They see Aleta and Maeve walking into a circle of ancient stones. Welcoming them there is Morgan Le Fay.

And that’s the neat cliffhanger we’re on, as my plot recap window closes. We’ll have to see where this is going.

Next Week!

We finally get to learn something about the secret Lunarian colony somewhere in Antarctica! Or pretending to be in Antarctica to fool super-detective Dick Tracy! It’s Joe Staton, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy taking a trip into science fiction, in a week, if all goes well.

60s Popeye: Popeye’s Pep-Up Emporium, almost your last chance to get Wimpy in shape


Jack Kinney provides the story for one of these cartoons, for the last time in this progress through the King Features Syndicate shorts of the 60s. There’s one more Jack Kinney-produced cartoon, though. And the animation direction — as the other Kinney short will be — is credited to Volus Jones and Ed Friedman, names I’ll be sorry to see the end of. Here from 1960 is Popeye’s Pep-Up Emporium.

Years ago the Flophouse podcasters talked about common mistakes of bad movies. One was explaining the wrong things, over-explaining the simple setup and not giving enough screen time to the counterintuitive implications. This short starts with a pretty long advertisement for Popeye’s Pep-Up Emporium, the gym where he promises to help with any body type. There’ve been theatrical shorts where Popeye runs a gym (Vim, Vigor, and Vitaliky and Gym Jam particularly), and they got the idea established much faster.

Spending so much time setting it up isn’t necessarily wrong. The advertisement sets the tone, sure. And it lets the short toss in a couple of jokes, admittedly at things like Brutus’s very fat body. We might try to be a little less body-shaming today, but the jokes are set up well enough. Having the commercial at the start also sets up that there’ll be another commercial made during the short, giving the cartoon what little plot structure it has.

Again I don’t fault the short for mostly being a bunch of spot jokes. Gymnasiums are good for a string of disconnected jokes. The cartoon comes close to that, with stunts like Olive Oyl getting tied up in knots after a little bending. Or Wimpy pulling a table toward himself and pushing it away again. Here we do have what’s got to be a Kinney Classic animation error. When the table’s nearby he chews in the air in front of a pile of hamburgers. Someone has to have been meant to draw a hamburger falling off the pile into his mouth, but too late for that now. Maybe for the remastered Special Editions.

Olive Oyl stands, confident and proud, atop Popeye, who's on the floor, on his belly, looking back with admiration up at her. She's got Popeye's legs twisted together, as though she had beaten him wrestling.
This is a good end for a cartoon and I’d like if the cartoon had set this up better.

So we get to the commercial, done live in a gymnasium, a transmitting challenge especially for 1960 that I’m glad I don’t have to master. Think of the audio quality. A butterfly lands on Popeye’s dead weights, and he drops the extra load through the floor, bringing an irate Brutus up and into the short. Thing is, Brutus is right to be angry. The — let’s call them 2000-pound dead weights — just crashed through his ceiling. And this after a commercial body-shaming him.

But the parts the cast is in requires Brutus to be the villain. So he lecherously tries to get Olive Oyl out of that … wall thingy she’s trapped in. He’s stomping on Popeye’s head while he does this, so Popeye pulls out the spinach and there we go. If you look at the Popeye-Brutus interactions this is pulling on the spinach way too early. It’s only justified by Popeye knowing the cartoon is almost over. I know, we don’t need much justification. Popeye and Brutus have a history we’re supposed to take ambiguously seriously. And the guy is stomping on Popeye’s head. And anyone watching a lot of Popeye cartoons comes to wonder why Popeye doesn’t pull out his spinach at the start of the trouble. (A problem endemic to most every show with a super-power-up gimmick.) Maybe if Brutus has been part of the class, and ever more trouble, then things would have balanced better.

Though I started my essay talking about mistakes of bad movies, I don’t think this is a bad short. It’s got the usual weaknesses of the King Features Popeye cartoons, including the drifting narrative of so many Jack Kinney-produced shorts. It’s got a good setup, though, and good jokes along the way. The worst it does is take such extreme narrative economy, to get Popeye to eat his spinach, that the writers seem not to have noticed Popeye doesn’t need to have eaten spinach here. Olive Oyl getting fed up waiting for rescue and eating spinach herself is a good solid ending. They could have got there with a better use of Brutus.

Statistics Saturday: Articles of Clothing, Ranked by How Good They Are for Containing Portals Usable for Escaping Unpleasant Conversations


  1. Hats
  2. Clutch Purses
  3. Shoes (giant, unworn)
  4. Trenchcoats
  5. Dress shirt with pocket
  6. Hoodies with pocket
  7. Skunk costume tails
  8. Socks
  9. Infinity scarves
  10. Cargo shorts
  11. Shoes (regular size, worn)
  12. Hair scrunchies

Reference: Creatures Of Accident: The Rise Of The Animal Kingdom, Wallace Arthur.

Statistics July: Some Round Numbers


I do like looking at my readership figures, once a month, as it’s a convenient way for me to think that I should be more popular. It also lets me lay out what my plans are for the coming month. This plan is always that I’m going to keep recapping the plots in the story strips, since that’s always the most popular thing I post. Let me start with that, come to think of it. My schedule for the coming weeks is to describe the goings-on in:

Going to be a fun month. The Dick Tracy-to-Mary Worth swing is a bunch of strips people are often asking Google about. And, you know, people have been hopping mad about Mary Worth lately, and we’re getting more Wilbur Weston in, my readership prospects are good.

Bar chart of two and a half years' worth of monthly readership figures. After a peak in April 2021 the months hovering around 4500 views per month, without strong direction one way or another, until a new peak emerged in April 2022. July's figures are about the same as June's.
Once again I didn’t get a snapshot exactly at the end of June because I was doing things. But they were different things that I was doing than I was doing at the end of June. I bet the end of this month I get the screenshot exactly on the dot, though. Who ever heard of doing a thing on a Wednesday?

To the specifics, though. There were, WordPress says, 4,727 page views here in July. That’s just five fewer than there were in June. This is below the twelve-month running mean of 5,082.3 views per month, although that figure’s skewed a bit by the spike of readers in April. It is above the running median of 4,585 views per month, suggesting a bit of general growth overall.

There were 2,700 recorded unique visitors, again down a bit from June, but in line with the averages. The running mean for the twelve months leading up to July saw 2,714.6 unique visitors each month. The running median was 2,616.5.

There were 100 likes given around here in July, a second suspiciously round number. This is the first one that looks a bit sad, as it’s below the mean of 154.1 and median of 154.5 likes given in a month on average. And the number of comments — 26 — was similarly way below the running mean of 56.5 and median of 51.5. The implication is that people may see my writings more as something to read than as something to engage with. And that’s not bad, really, as I’ve struggled to engage with things myself lately. Hi, every WordPress blog I’m subscribed to but have left comments in as recently as never.

Despite the lower numbers of likes and comments, stuff got read a good bit around here. These are the posts from July with the greatest number of views, in descending order:

I do expect a Gil Thorp surge for a couple months now, while new author Henry Barajas establishes things like that Gil Thorp flies now and has an unsettled home life.

Mercator-style map of the world, with the United States in dark red and most of the New World, western Europe, South and Pacific Rim Asia, Australia, and New Zealand in a more uniform pink.
I look at a map like this and I think is it possible to have at least one country in red for each line of longitude, the whole world round? It’s got to require Greenland to do, right? Anyway so if this is your first encounter with my writing, this photo caption is a good representative one.

81 countries or things as good as countries sent me readers in July, down-ish from June’s 82. 20 of them got a single page view, though, up from 16. Here’s the roster:

Country Readers
United States 3,546
India 169
Canada 152
United Kingdom 136
Australia 98
Italy 67
Germany 53
Brazil 38
France 32
South Africa 25
Singapore 22
Serbia 21
Austria 18
Philippines 18
Denmark 17
Finland 16
Pakistan 16
Poland 16
Spain 14
Sweden 14
Norway 13
Belgium 11
Jamaica 11
Iraq 10
Ireland 10
Japan 10
Mexico 10
Switzerland 10
Netherlands 8
New Zealand 8
Nigeria 8
Croatia 7
Peru 7
El Salvador 6
Argentina 5
Malaysia 5
Portugal 5
Romania 5
Bangladesh 4
Barbados 4
Colombia 4
Greece 4
Israel 4
Russia 4
Saudi Arabia 4
South Korea 4
Thailand 4
Tunisia 4
Bosnia & Herzegovina 3
Czech Republic 3
Hungary 3
Vietnam 3
Chile 2
Georgia 2
Hong Kong SAR China 2
Indonesia 2
Macedonia 2
Trinidad & Tobago 2
Turkey 2
Ukraine 2
United Arab Emirates 2
Algeria 1
Cambodia 1
Cameroon 1
Congo – Kinshasa 1
Ecuador 1
Egypt 1
Fiji 1
Honduras 1
Jordan 1
Kuwait 1 (**)
Lebanon 1
Lithuania 1
Mongolia 1
Morocco 1
Namibia 1
Nepal 1
Oman 1
Qatar 1
Taiwan 1
Venezuela 1

Kuwait has given me a single view for three months in a row now. No other country has been a single-view country more than one month in a row. Greenland has resumed not being a country that looks at me at all.

WordPress calculates that I posted 17,264 words in July, an average 556.9 per posting. This is down a little and brings my year-to-date average to 563 words per posting. I’m at 119,411 words posted for the year, as of the start of August.

Between the development of the lunar rovers and the start of August I’ve had 307,659 page views here, from a recorded 174,357 unique visitors. Who’ll be number 175,000? I don’t know. Probably someone from Greenland.

If you’d like your chance at being that reader from Greenland, though, good luck! The best route to reading my essays is to add the RSS feed for my essays to your reader. If you don’t have a reader, but you do have a WordPress account, you can click the “Follow Another Blog, Meanwhile” button on the upper right corner of this page. If you don’t have a WordPress account, you can use the box beneath that to get uncorrected and typeo-ridden posts e-mailed to you the moment they’re published. Or you can just click on a page that looks good and read that. Whatever’s brought you here to read this you could do again tomorrow. And maybe the rest of this month as I finally run out of 1960s Popeye cartoons to watch. I know, I’m baffled that could happen too.

MiSTed: The Jovian Jest (part 1 of 4)


I am kicking around yet for what to do next around here. I’m thinking of doing another Arthur Scott Bailey novel, although it is hard picking one that compares to the delights of The Tale of Fatty Raccoon. I might pick another story from the public domain, such as this one, which appeared in the May 1930 issue of Astounding Stories of Super-Science. If I have somehow misunderstood things and it’s not in the public domain, just wait. In the event, I have run this Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan fiction before, but that was years ago, Some of you didn’t even know I was writing back then.

My whole MiSTing has a repeated joke of characters going “dum DA-dum” after a mention of The Thing. This riffs on Phil Harris’s 1950 novelty song, “The Thing”, which has a repeated drumbeat refrain in place of describing just what he found. It’s a fun song and itself inspired a science fiction story by Edward G Robles that I dimly remember and a pinball game I think I have played.

Is Twitter Moments still a thing? There is no way to know. The reference to “disco aliens” should have somehow alluded to the web comic Skin Horse, but does not.


[ SATELLITE OF LOVE. THEATER. ALL file in. ]

TOM: So, an astounding tale from outer space, huh?

CROW: That’s the rumor.

>
>
>
> The Jovian Jest
>
> By Lilith Lorraine

CROW: Sponsored by the Alliteration Council.

JOEL: You’d think that would be an association.

>
> There came to our pigmy planet a radiant wanderer with a message —

TOM: ‘Please remove us from your mailing list’.

> and a jest

JOEL: And a jape?

TOM: No, a *jest*. Pay attention.

> — from the vasty universe.

CROW: Vasty?

>
>
> Consternation reigned in Elsnore village

[ ALL make grumbly crowd noises. ]

TOM: Rar, argh.

JOEL: Consternation and uproar!

> when the Nameless Thing was
> discovered in Farmer Burns’ corn-patch.

CROW: Fatty Raccoon! Get out of here!

> When the rumor began to
> gain credence that it was some sort of meteor from inter-stellar
> space,

TOM: [ Nerdy ] I *believe* you mean it is a meteor*ite*, thank you.

> reporters, scientists and college professors flocked to the
> scene, desirous of prying off particles for analysis.

CROW: Scientists and college professors! That’s what we’re doing wrong. We never should’ve given all those samples to the pro wrestlers and the guy selling Dead Sea bath salts at the mall.

> But they soon
> discovered that the Thing was no ordinary meteor, for it glowed at
> night with a peculiar luminescence.

JOEL: We need a novelty song! Get Phil Harris, stat!

> They also observed that it was
> practically weightless, since it had embedded itself in the soft
> sand scarcely more than a few inches.

CROW: Also Farmer Burns was growing his corn in the sand.

TOM: It’s a little game he plays.

>
> By the time the first group of newspapermen and scientists had
> reached the farm, another phenomenon was plainly observable. The
> Thing

TOM: Dum DA-dum!

> was growing!

JOEL: Well, that’ll happen.

>
> Farmer Burns, with an eye to profit, had already built a picket
> fence around his starry visitor and was charging admission.

TOM: ‘All right, here’s my nickel. Now give me an admission.’

CROW: ‘I’m the guy that clicks on Twitter Moments on purpose.’

> He also
> flatly refused to permit the chipping off of specimens or even the
> touching of the object.

JOEL: ‘Can I lick it?’

TOM: ‘No.’

JOEL: ‘Can I lick it just a little?’

TOM: ‘No.’

JOEL: ‘C’mon, I just want to lick it.’

TOM: ‘Well … okay.’

> His attitude was severely criticized, but
> he stubbornly clung to the theory that possession is nine points in
> law.

CROW: So science is going to need at least a touchdown and a field goal to catch up.

>
>
>
> It was Professor Ralston of Princewell who, on the third day after
> the fall of the meteor, remarked upon its growth. His colleagues

TOM: Were frankly amazed he took that long to get to it.

CROW: ‘No, please, Ralston, talk about growing orbs some more.’

> crowded around him as he pointed out this peculiarity, and soon they
> discovered another factor — pulsation!

JOEL: My god … it’s disco aliens!

>
> Larger than a small balloon,

CROW: Yet smaller than a large balloon …

> and gradually, almost imperceptibly
> expanding, with its viscid transparency shot through with opalescent
> lights, the Thing

CROW: Dum DA-dum!

> lay there in the deepening twilight and palpably
> shivered.

JOEL: Aw, it’s space-chilly.

> As darkness descended, a sort of hellish radiance began
> to ooze from it. I say hellish, because there is no other word to
> describe that spectral, sulphurous emanation.

CROW: Well *you’re* pretty judgemental there, narrator.

>
> As the hangers-on around the pickets shudderingly shrank away from
> the weird light that was streaming out to them and tinting their
> faces with a ghastly, greenish pallor,

TOM: Sheesh, they act like they’ve never even tried a death-ray before.

> Farmer Burns’ small boy,
> moved by some imp of perversity, did a characteristically childish
> thing.

CROW: He ran around yelling for a while until he fell down and cried.

> He picked up a good-sized stone and flung it straight at the
> nameless mass!

JOEL: The mass answers back about sticks and stones may break its bones.

>
>
>
> Instead of veering off and falling to the ground as from an impact
> with metal, the stone sank right through the surface of the Thing

JOEL: Dum DA-dum!

> as
> into a pool of protoplastic slime. When it reached the central core
> of the object, a more abundant life suddenly leaped and pulsed from
> center to circumference.

TOM: Welp.

CROW: It’s like pouring sugar in the gas tank, that.

> Visible waves of sentient color circled
> round the solid stone.

JOEL: What’s an invisible wave of color?

> Stabbing swords of light leaped forth from
> them, piercing the stone, crumbling it, absorbing it. When it was
> gone, only a red spot, like a bloodshot eye, throbbed eerily where
> it had been.

TOM: [ As the kid ] ‘Uhm … can I have my rock back?’

>
> Before the now thoroughly mystified crowd had time to remark upon
> this inexplicable disintegration, a more horrible manifestation
> occurred. The Thing,

JOEL, TOM: Dum DA-dum!

> as though thoroughly awakened and vitalized by
> its unusual fare, was putting forth a tentacle.

CROW: That figures.

TOM: It’s always tentacles. Why is it never, like, sea lion flippers?

> Right from the top
> of the shivering globe it pushed, sluggishly weaving and prescient
> of doom.

ALL: [ As onlookers ] HE DID IT!

> Wavering, it hung for a moment, turning, twisting,
> groping. Finally it shot straight outward swift as a rattler’s
> strike!
>
> Before the closely packed crowd could give room for escape, it had
> circled the neck of the nearest bystander, Bill Jones, a cattleman,

CROW: Moo.

> and jerked him, writhing and screaming, into the reddish core.

TOM: [ Bill Jones ] ‘Tell my cattle … I love … aaaargh!’

> Stupefied with soul-chilling terror, with their mass-consciousness
> practically annihilated before a deed with which their minds could
> make no association, the crowd could only gasp in sobbing unison and
> await the outcome.

JOEL: You know the *Australian* alien space blob is like twenty times deadlier than this.


[ To continue … ]

Some happy news from the neighborhood


Saw they’ve got the kid-size car righted and standing on the edge of the patio, so it looks like they had no trouble getting things sorted out with the Kiddie Car Insurance people and finding a reliable Kiddie Mechanic. I wonder if they went to the place on the corner with the quietly despairing signs. Well, it’s still good to see they have that fixed. I hope they’re having fun.

Their woodchuck was unavailable for comment.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Weekdays)? Did Captain Savarna have kids with The Phantom? May – July 2022


That is the surface implication of the 24th of June’s strip. We see The Phantom, about to go to North India to search for his estranged son again, kissing goodbye to a quite pregnant Savarna Devi. This is normal dramatic shorthand for someone bidding farewell to their spouse. Mozz tells us that this is the last time The Phantom will see the Deep Woods. However, Mozz has warned The Phantom that he would lie about his prophecy to keep The Phantom from bringing wrack and ruin to his line. And he’s thought, to himself where only we can see it, that he has to, now. Of course he may have thought that to deceive us but I don’t expect the comic strip to operate on quite that level of narrative experimentation.

Yet a theme of the Imaginary Story going on in Tony DePaul and Mike Manley and Bret Blevins and Scott Cohn’s The Phantom weekday continuity has been paying attention to what is said versus what is implied. So let’s all slowly come to understand Mozz, and DePaul, in not going beyond what the evidence is.

This should get you up to speed on The Phantom weekday continuity for early August, 2022. If you’re interested in the separate Sunday continuity, or you’re reading this after about October 2022, a more useful essay may be at this link. I hope this is a useful essay anyway.

Also, let me sort out the art credits. Mike Manley was, and is again, the regular artist for the strip. During Manley’s recent health problems Bret Blevins and Scott Cohn took over art duties. Scott Cohn has been good enough to share his art on his DeviantArt gallery, for those who’d like to see the striking uncolorized originals. (Daily comic strips are, for obscure reasons, colorized by people generally not working with the original artists.)

The Phantom (Weekdays).

16 May – 30 July 2022.

The current story, the midpoint of DePaul’s massive project, has Mozz telling the story of Phantom’s End. This is his grim prophecy of what happens should Kit Walker, as he plans, go to Gravelines prison to save Captain Savarna Devi from death row. Complicating any recap of this is that we cannot trust Mozz.

Previously in the prophecy, The Phantom rescues Savarna from Gravelines, he’s wounded. While delirious he reveals that Kit Junior is in the Mountain City, somewhere in Arunachal Pradesh, India. And that the local constable is the man who’d enslaved the young Savarna and killed her family. She journeys to the Mountain City and kills him. Understandable but a terrible mistake. The unnamed Northern Invaders see the murder of the constable, their man in town, as provocation. When they can’t assassinate monastery leader Kaybje Dorje or his understudy Kit Junior they bomb the city into ruin. In the disaster Kit Junior takes the phone from a person he couldn’t save and calls his parents.

The Phantom, over the phone: 'Son, your only obligation now is here --- to your family! The legend! We'll talk when I get there.' Kit Junior, talking from the destroyed Mountain City: 'Dad, I didn't know this until tonight, but ... when Captain Savarna pulled the trigger on Jampa, my whole mision in life changed. You're the Phantom, Dad ... Bangalla needs you. I'm needed here! I'm not asking your permission ... I'm telling you how it is.'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 27th of May, 2022. Kit Junior makes a fair case, that between this and the experiences of the 11th and the 16th Phantoms — who had also trained at the same monastery, and whose reincarnation Kit Jr presented himself as being — he was aimed at this. It also seems it would be remarkable if he were the first in over twenty generations of Walkers to want to go away from the direct main line of the family business. But there’s a lot of room for side stories we haven’t seen yet.

He explains he can’t be the 22nd Phantom. His life, he knows now, has lead him to be here and to protect these people. And hangs up, going to his new life alongside Manju, daughter of the tea shop keeper. The Phantom goes to India to seek him out, but that whole legend of how you don’t find The Phantom, he finds you works against him. All he can find is the tea shop keeper, who won’t help someone she fairly suspects of being sent by Jampa’s friends. She begs out of this drama, but asks that if he finds Kit Junior that he send Manju home. It’s like that all over, and The Phantom’s first search for his son fails.

With this failure, Kit Senior’s home life falls apart. Diana leaves the Deep Woods; Heloise leaves for the United States, too, eventually never to tell her children of The Phantom. Sometime later, Savarna finds a broken, brooding Phantom. That there is this clear legend that no one finds The Phantom, he finds you, suggests this is where Mozz starts falsifying his prophecy. If “falsifying a prophecy” is a meaningful concept. But Savarna is an exceptional person, and acknowledges in text that she might be the only one who’s ever looked long enough.

Mozz, foretelling: 'Your *oath*, Phantom! Your *legend* of a ghost who walks ... man who cannot die ... it passes to the *heroes* of an age to come! *Champions* yet to be! The *Devi* line of Phantoms ... has begun!' And we see Savarna reading, apparently recounting the legend of The Phantom, to two kids outside the Skull Cave. It's a scene very reminiscent of many images of Kit and Diana Walker raising Kit Junior and Heloise.
Tony DePaul, Bret Blevins, and Scott Cohn’s The Phantom for the 28th of June, 2022. I mean, she is literally the lone survivor of a pirate attack that killed her family and shipmates who devoted her life to saving others from similar fates. The only piece her life is missing from the story of Christopher Walker, the First Phantom, is swearing the Oath of the Skull. In Mozz’s prophecy, Savarna swears off vengeance and — perhaps — she lives up to it after killing Jampa. The 1st Phantom’s oath swore vengeance against the pirates who’d killed his shipmates, and that vengeance was dropped after he did kill those pirates.

Years later, The Phantom leaves for another trip to India, hoping to reunite Kit Junior with his mother and sister. He bids farewell to Savarna, never see the Deep Woods again, says Mozz. But we learn he’s not the last Phantom; merely the last of the Walkers to be The Phantom. Savarna’s descendants take up that role. It’s a twist I hadn’t thought of, but that’s obvious in hindsight, to split the Walker line from the Phantom line. It’s another of many steps the strip has taken to diffuse the colonialist white-savior stuff baked into the premise, too. It’s also got an interesting metatext. In the comic, Bangalla had started out as a vaguely located South/Southeast Asian land before becoming a vaguely located East African land. This adds to how Savarna’s life echoes without imitating The Phantom Origin Story. I imagine that’s the sort of happy coincidence you can arrange when you have ninety years of backstory that fans have got pretty well indexed for you. It’s still a neat bit of business to line up.

The Phantom’s second trip to India gets much closer to Kit Junior, and (as promised by Mozz), “in a manner of speaking … he finds you”. If we can trust Mozz on this point. But now Kit Junior is a respected, loved, skilled guerilla leader. His fighters suspect, with reason, that The Phantom is another would-be assassin. The Phantom enters the landscape where he encountered the flaming skeleton of his dead father in 2020’s story The Llongo Forest. Before he can nope out of there he comes under fire, from gunmen in at least three positions. This isn’t too much for The Phantom, but it’s a close-run thing. He hopes to stall until nightfall when he can escape.

A soldier returns from meeting with Kit Jr, with a message. The soldiers trying to shoot The Phantom ask: 'What took you so long?' 'What did our commander say?' Messanger: 'He said he'd like us to stop getting shot. He sent Manju back with me!'
Tony DePaul and Scott Cohn’s The Phantom for the 21st of July, 2022. THe second panel was the funniest comic the day of publication. Possibly that whole week. Also a reminder of what a wonderful vein of gallows humor American pop culture lost when the Service Comedy stopped really being a thing.

Kit Junior’s soldiers ask him for help with this extraordinary man, who can’t be shot but who can hit everything he tries to. He doesn’t recognize his father’s signature. He hasn’t got the time to divert from planning an operation for the next day. But he can spare Manju, now a very effective sniper. Her fire can pin him down. With a half-hour until sunset, someone hits Kit Walker Senior, fracturing his leg. Things look rather dire for The Ghost Who Walks, must say.

Next Week!

I’m sad to say we have no more Morgan Le Fay, and Comics Kingdom still has not fixed their web site so Sunday pages are visible without going to extra effort. But I’ll recap almost three months of Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant, if things go as I hope. See you then.

I’m Sure Once They Hear the Concept They’ll Agree It Has to Be Made


You may question my use of the time machine to go back and make an episode were SCTV’s Movie of the Week is the Ken Russell remake of 2001: A Space Odyssey, but what alternative would do so much to make the world a more wonderful place?

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