This may be hard to believe but as recently as the 21st of November, nobody was mad at Funky Winkerbean. At least nobody was mad enough at the soon-to-expire strip to click the ‘angry’ react at the bottom of Comics Kingdom’s page. That changed the 22nd, and since the 25th of November there’s been only one day that the strip got fewer than a hundred angry reactions, as of when I write this. So I want to explore that since people mad at comic strips is good for my readership.
But first, anyone really interested in this should visit the Son of Stuck Funky blog. It has always provided daily snark and commentary and research on Funky Winkerbean. The community there knows the strip with a depth and insight I can’t match and, yeah, they’re feeling extremely ambiguous about what to do next year.
So. The current, and it appears final, Funky Winkerbean story began the 24th of October. Summer Moore, the much-forgotten daughter of Les Moore and Dead Lisa Who Died of Death, returned from college. Her absence as a significant character for like a decade was explained as she kept changing her major. Now she’s thinking to take a gap year in her grad studies. Her goal: writing a book about Westview, the small Ohio town where Funky Winkerbean takes place. She figures to write about how the community’s changing over the last couple decades. Her plan is to use oral histories of her father, her father’s friends, and her dead mother’s diaries. Dead Lisa left a lot of diaries. And also a lot of videotapes. She recorded them after she decided it would be easier to leave a lot of video tapes with advice for her daughter rather than not die of breast cancer. (I sound snide, but what did happen was after a relapse she decided not to restart treatment.)
She started just in time! She’s barely decided to write a book when Funky Winkerbean, the character, announces he’s closing his restaurant, Montoni’s. The pizza shop was the social center of the comic strip since 1992. This event went so fast — in under a week of strips they were auctioning off the fixtures — and with so little focus that it felt like a dream sequence.
By the way if this storyline turns out to be a dream sequence, it would both make more sense and deserve even more to be punched.
So after some interviews Summer goes to the Westview High School janitor, a guy named Harley. Who turns out to be a longtime background character; ComicBookHarriet found he entered the strip no later than 1979. Summer says she kept finding a pattern, not shared with us readers, where Harley’s name popped up too much. And she read something in her mother’s diary about feeling watched. Harley curses himself for being a novice and starts to unreel the story that’s got everyone mad.
Because it turns out that Harley is not merely a janitor who’s been there since before they invented high-fiving. No. He is, in fact, a Custodian, one of a group of people from some other time, with a mission to tend “important nexus events in the timeline” so they’re not disrupted. You know, like in Voyagers!, which you remember from my childhood as somehow the only TV show even more awesomer than Battlestar Galactica. Or like the early-2000s Cartoon Network series Time Squad, which answered the question “what if Voyagers! had three main characters but they were all jerks?”
So he’s been around for forty years watching over Westview High School as a janitor. Apparently it wasn’t intended, exactly. It’s that his Time Helmet got stolen, years ago, by … Donna, who back in the 80s wore this goofy space-guy-ish helmet to play video games as “The Eliminator”. Part of modern Funky Winkerbean lore was that she had worn the helmet to disguise her identity. This way, fragile boys wouldn’t freak out at a guh-guh-guh-girl being good at video games. (Which, eh, fair enough.) (Also she got her Mom to call her ‘Donald’ to help her cover.)
We’ll get back to this in a second. But a lot of what has people mad about this is that the strip revisited The Eliminator’s helmet a few months ago. This in a story where Donna’s husband, Crazy Harry, found the helmet in the attic, put it on, and found himself somehow back in April of 1980. He met up with his high-school self. He told Young Lisa that Les Moore liked her in a not-at-all extremely creepy way. He almost told her to get regular mammograms. He bought a copy of Spider-Man’s debut (a comic book twenty years old at the time) at a convenience store. And lost it, for John The Comic Book Guy to find. And he blipped back to the present. Everyone agreed that was wild. It must have been a hallucination from the helmet outgassing, the way 40-year-old plastic will. Anyway after that weird yet harmless experience they throw the helmet out. But a stray cat wandered into it and blipped into hyperspace. This in just the way The Eliminator would back in the day.
Back as it were to the present. So, Harley took a job as a janitor to be where he could watch over stuff. OK. He lost his Time Helmet when the young Donna swiped the cool-looking helmet form his supply closet. He couldn’t snag it back because that would disrupt the timeline. But he could touch her mind enough to make her think she’d made it herself, like she’d always told people. And touched the mind of comic book artist Ken Kelly to make a design that Donna would use as the basis for her helmet. Because that’s easier than touching Donna’s mind to bring the helmet back. And all this mind-touching isn’t creepy or weird so you will stop thinking it is, starting now [ snaps fingers ]. Anyway he figured he could always snag the Time Helmet if he really needed it … except that then it went missing a couple months ago and he has no idea where it went. It’s that cat wearing it.
There’s the first big thing everyone’s mad about: how the heck does it make sense to leave the Time Helmet lost in someone else’s attic for 40 years? And was his mission supposed to be “hang around Westview High School for forty years in case something happens?” And if that was the plan, then what Time Admiral’s great-grandmother did he punch out as a baby to draw that assignment?
Next big thing: what big nexus is it he’s there to protect? And can we shut down everything if his mission was being sure Les Moore wrote How Dead Lisa Died In The Most Tragically Tragic Thing That Ever Happened To Anyone Ever? In a twist, considering Dead Lisa has been the center of most every Funky Winkerbean story the past fifteen years, it is not. No, the thing that needs protection is the book that Summer Moore is about to start writing.
Yes. As you might think if you watched Bill And Ted Face The Music but missed the movie’s thesis that utopia can only be created as an active collaboration of all people, Summer Moore’s going to create a utopia. Specifically, her book connecting the grand sweeps of history to Westview inspires “a science of behavioral-patterend algorithms that will one day allow us to recognize humanity as our nation!” If I have this right, Harley means she lets them invent psychohistory, like in Isaac Asimov’s science fiction novels. In The End of Eternity and Foundation’s Edge, Asimov’s capstones to exploring the implications of a mathematically predictable future history, he concluded psychohistory would be a bad thing. I have to paraphrase because I don’t have the energy to dig up either book. But viewpoint characters come to see the future psychohistory creates as “condemned to neverending stasis by calculation”. I agree we could make a much better world if we treated all people as worthy of our brotherhood. But if the powerful can choose to shape future history they will not choose one for the good of the powerless.
So that’s what else has people mad. First, the declaration that yet another character in this strip is going to become an important author. Authors already in the strip have written a blockbuster biggest-movie-of-the-year superhero franchise, a bestselling memoir that got turned into an Oscar-winning movie, and an Eisner-winning graphic novel. Second, not even an important author but someone who makes a better future. Third, an author whose work is so important it’s worth having a league of Timecops send one of their members to while away his life watching over her. But not someone good enough to do things like “not lose his Time Helmet for forty years”. Also not good enough to “maybe get a job somewhere near where Summer spends ten years in college”. Or even a job “where Summer spent anything but four years of her life”. Fourth, that it’s toying with some respectable comic book or science fiction ideas, badly. As said, it’s fiddling with what you see in the Bill and Ted movies, or with The End of Eternity, but missing their points. And, what the heck, because all this is being presented in big blocks of exposition rather than, you know, a mystery. Summer’s presented in-text as though she had cracked an elaborate mystery. But we-the-readers never saw any clues or even more than maybe two people mentioning the janitor had been here forever.
Oh also, that we’ve never seen evidence that Summer writes, or is any good at writing. Sometimes a newcomer has an amazing talent, yes. To get back to Isaac Asimov, he write “Nightfall” — acclaimed for decades as the best science fiction short story ever — when he was about twenty. It was only his seventeenth published story. Writing about the experience, Asimov noted that, had someone told him the night before he began writing, “Isaac, you are about to write the greatest science fiction short story ever”, he would never have been able to start. He’d have been destroyed by the menace of that potential. I think we don’t have enough time for a clash between forces helping and hindering Summer’s writing. I can imagine the story, though; Jack Williamson wrote something like it, in the Legion of Time. I’m told, anyway. I haven’t read it.
Anyway, everybody likes that the strip is trying to go out bonkers. But it’s fumbling the ideas, so the plot points don’t hold up to casual scrutiny. And they’re being delivered in time zeppelins of word balloons. I’ll try to post updates, when they’re deserved. But again, Son of Stuck Funky is the place to really know what’s going on here.