What’s Going On In Judge Parker? How was that a detective story? December 2022 – March 2023

The story, recently concluded, in Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker had Sam Driver investigating the murder of Judge Duncan’s family. But he didn’t do a lot of clue-gathering. It was more he drove around and saw who shot at him, which turned out to be, most everybody, until finally a witness explained what the heck was going on.

Do I accept this as a story? Oh, you know me; I’m easy and I’ll take most anything that doesn’t trip over some some vague lines. But I’m also accepting of stories where the detective figures who did it by seeing who shot at him the most. Done well, you get swept up in the noir-ish style and energy. Done poorly, you get those old-time-radio shows based on the adventures of Sam Spade where it’s all right if you don’t pay attention. There’ll be a fistfight or snappy patter soon enough.

This is another case, by the way, where the comic strip pretty well explains itself in the week or two before I come around. This is how a paranoid mindset develops, you know.

But this should explain stuff through to mid-March 2023. If you want to catch up on Judge Parker after about June 2023, there’s probably a more useful link here. I mean if you’re here after about June 2023. If we’re not that far in the future there’s nothing I can do.

And finally a content warning. This story is built around murders, including some grisly ones, and explained as being fueled by the drug trade. There are people shot, off-screen, and people battered on-screen. To respect your choice about whether you want to deal with that in your recreational reading, I’m putting the rest of the article behind a cut.

Judge Parker.

18 December 2022 – 18 March 2023.

Someone’s all but killed Sam Driver’s old partner Steve Shannon, and they’re making a bid for him. Maybe his family too. Sam goes to Abbey Spencer who’s still furious about everything. He explains the “C18” drug gang, or a cadre of corrupt cops, or both, are after them. Maybe both. This is not the reassurance Abbey, or anyone else there, wants. Maybe reassuring: Gloria Shannon has brought Detective Yelich to watch them. And to put together what they’ve learned, mostly off-screen, to figure out what the heck’s going on.

[ At Spencer Ranch, the story starts to come together ... ] Sam Driver: 'Judge Duncan creates an oxycodone distribution network, competing with the local gang ... ' Gloria Shannon: 'Making powerful enemies ... ' Driver: 'Including some dirty cops who already had a painkiller ring.' Shannon: 'But how does that prove the judge shot his own family? Or how one of the killers at the lake house knew we were there and called out our names?' Driver: 'I think we may have an answer for that last question ... isn't that right, Detective Yelich?' Yelich freezes.
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’ss Judge Parker for the 1st of January, 2023. I was expecting the revelation to be that Yelich was in with the dirty cops, by the way. His being honest but weak is respectable enough and within the genre’s bounds too, though. Probably a better twist as it’s a less common one, too.

Sam’s piece: Judge Duncan had been using oxycodone himself, making the C18 gang able to blackmail him. Probably to decide in their favor at trial. Gloria offers that her husband had evidence Duncan set up his own drug distribution network. This dumb greed outraged both the C18 gang and the corrupt cops. Speculation: Duncan invited Sam Driver and Gloria to his house, as well as the C18 gang and the cops. This would give the chance for everyone to kill each other. But how did any of them know about Sam and Gloria? And that’s where Yelich’s contribution comes in.

Sam Driver’s surmise is that after he got Yelich’s advice about the case, the detective went to a cop bar and had too much to drink and maybe said something. Gloria storms out looking to protect her husband. Yelich crumbles, swearing he knows how to fix this. Sam tells him to go to bed.

And then gets a brutal but accurate assessment from Abbey. (People may fault Francesco Marciuliano’s plotting, but his characters are always dead on in assessing how one another look.) She notes many times he’s been foolhardy or reckless since Marciuliano took over writing. Her diagnosis is that he’s unhappy with his life, and needs changes. He’s barely able to protest how that’s wrong when Sophie comes in to say Yelich has disappeared.

[ At Spencer Ranch, Judge Duncan has made an entrance ... ] Duncan, choke-holding Sophie: 'You wanted to see me so badly, Driver. You needed to meet me. So here I am.' Driver: 'Just let Sophie go and we can talk.' Duncan: 'A child for a child, Driver.' Driver: 'You let Yelich take your son so he could lead you here. He's going to be okay. This is all going to be okay.' Duncan: 'You didn't have to get involved in this, Driver. Look what happened to your friend steve. No, Driver ... no one's coming out of this alive.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’ss Judge Parker for the 29th of January, 2023. Although Marciuliano writes his characters to be a bit snarky, nobody goes cracking jokes in what is a very long, very tense night of desparate people charing into the house and holding people captive. I haven’t tried thinking out how the scene would go as a play or filmed scene but it seems like it would play pretty well, quickly and tensely enough you wouldn’t question whether the timing of people’s entrances and exits makes sense. (It takes time to get to the lake house or wherever Duncan’s son was, for example.)

Yelich returns, with Judge Duncan’s son, the only witness and someone, they note, they don’t even know can talk. Sam can barely explain how this is bad when Judge Duncan breaks in, takes Sophie hostage, and warns nobody’s getting out of this alive. In answer to this Duncan’s son, whose name I don’t think we’ve ever gotten, speaks. It’s an extraordinary event: Duncan says his son had never spoken. All he’s ever done is be there while people talk around him and play a mean pinball. The moment stuns Duncan. Also stunning Duncan: Sophie taking her kidnapping-related trauma and using it to smash his head into the wall.

While Duncan sleeps it off his son explains. His father was broke after a lot of bad spending and bad business deals. This got him onto oxycodone. Becoming the C18 gang’s best customer — and a judge with a reputation for being hard on gangs — made him very blackmailable. He’d get every drug crime he could on his docket but arrange light sentences, arousing suspicions from other cops. So he starts claiming the gang was threatening him and his family and hired Steve Shannon to investigate the ‘threats’.

Meanwhile Duncan, having contacts and needing money, started his own oxycodone ring. This gets both C18 and the corrupt cops — who run their own drug ring too — angry. To throw everyone off had to make the threats look real, and so, Duncan comes home and shoots his wife and kids. He’d have shot his eldest, mute son too, if not for an accident that let the son grab the gun and hide.

Gloria Shannon decks Judge Duncan in the mouth, breaking a tooth. Duncan: 'SHe knocked my tooth out! She's insane!' Shannon: 'Let go of me, Sam! Let go of me!' Duncan: 'Get her away from me!' Shannon: 'LET GO! THAT MAN PAID OFF THE COPS GUARDING STEVE TO KILL HIM! HE KILLED MY HUSBAND!' Driver looks on, sad, as Shannon mutters: 'HE ... he ... ' (She slumps.) 'Oh god, Sam. Steve is gone.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’ss Judge Parker for the 5th of Mrach, 2023. There’s been a lot of action in the strip the last couple months. This, though, particularly the first panel feels the most visceral to me, possibly because it’s easier for me to imagine the pain of having a fist in the face and a tooth coming loose than the feeling of bullets knocking me dead.

Gloria arrives. Steve is dead and she accuses Yelich of posting two crooked cops on guard. Yelich claims innocence: Judge Duncan paid the cops to kill him. Gloria punches him too. Duncan starts talking the need to make a deal: after all, Sam and Gloria and all can’t even take him to the cops without one of the dirty ones shooting them. Yelich decides he has to step up. He had handcuffs and can only blame his drinking for forgetting them. He handcuffs Duncan and takes him out, aiming for the police. They step out the door and into gunfire.

And then, last week, we get another Marciuliano hallmark time jump, moving ahead to early spring. Duncan’s son narrates it. The dirty cops shot Duncan dead. Yelich survived. And he’s able to bring in the cops’ drug ring, at least. They and the C18 gang members get tried by a new judge, Randy Parker, resuming his seat and giving us a Judge Parker back in the comic strip again. Gloria Shannon teams up with Sam Driver to do this detective law stuff. And though Duncan’s son doesn’t see it, we see April Parker, once again in Illegal CIA Secret Jail, getting a visitor.

And that takes us to this week. What do you think, sirs?

Next Week!

What happened to Alley Oop and Ooola’s adopted parentless daughter Myc the fungus? And why are they in Atlantis and why isn’t it Atlantis? Are there time shenanigans going on? Next on the schedule is Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop although last time it was on the schedule I went in for some shenanigans of my own. How will it look this time?

Author: Joseph Nebus

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

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