A bit of happy news for fans of David Gilbert’s Buckles, which ended back in March. The comic strip about a dog and his family has moved over to GoComics, which is rerunning the strip from its beginning. I don’t know whether there’ll be archives of the whole quarter-century run of the comic, but at least something’s available.
GoComics’s blog has a short interview with Gilbert which doesn’t answer my big question: why Gilbert ended the strip, on short notice, days before the 25th anniversary of the comic’s beginning. There’s a reference to his post-retirement happiness at not having a deadline to meet. But that’s not much to go on.
Gilbert does say he has a few things in mind for what to do next, including “a new idea for a comic strip”. That would seem to conflict with a love of not facing deadlines. But in this web comic era it is easier to schedule one’s work so the deadlines don’t overload you.
That woman is Ashlee Jones. She did not take well Drew Cory’s having to cancel their photoshoot when he got called in to his actual work.
There’s a bunch of content warnings I need to give for this plot recap of Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth. The first is that the main story, the one that began at the end of December and wrapped up in mid-April, concerns a survivor of spousal abuse. It also takes a detour into pet endangerment. The pet is physically unharmed and quickly recovers from his ordeal in this case. But the pet is also shown to have been physically harmed in the past. If that isn’t enough, the current storyline features a character that looks ready to become a stalker. Certainly emotionally dangerous, anyway. If any of that is stuff you don’t want to deal with in your recreational reading, you are right, and we’ll catch up next time. My next Mary Worth plot recap should be linked here, sometime after mid-August 2021. So should any news I have about the strip. Thanks for reading.
Over a dinner at home Wynter asks if Lourd has talked to a professional. Yes, she has started talking to a therapist. This would seem to resolve the story, but doesn’t. It continues another two months. One small slice of this is discussion of Wynter’s own problems. His parents pressured him to marry someone he didn’t love, and he grew bitter and cranky over that for decades. But then he got a great dog and he feels he’s all better.
If you feel that “great dog” is a redundancy, good news: Karen Moy and June Brigman agree. Much of the two months covered here is Wynter and Lourd agreeing how dogs are great, and then getting worried when one goes missing.
The one who goes missing is Max, Eve Lourd’s Labrador retriever. They have a very tight bond. When her husband once tried to shoot her(!), Max got in the way, taking the bullet instead(!!). It’s a heck of a moment to take.
A couple nights later a heavy storm rolls in. Max, scared, races out into the storm. Lourd goes to Wynter for help. He doesn’t need cajoling to start a search. He has the idea that Greta, his dachshund, might even be able to track Max down. I’m skeptical that a dog who wasn’t trained for that would be able to. But Wynter also might be telling Lourd this as reassurance, even if the actual work will be their looking around. Wynter does have a thought balloon where he wonders if Greta isn’t following the scent, though.
They find Max, though, at what I think is a bench along their usual walking path. They celebrate with lunch and with treats and praise for their dogs. And talk about how great dogs are. They even speculate whether their dogs could make good therapy dogs. I again wonder if they’re underestimating how hard it is to be a therapy dog. But few people doubt that their own pets are extraordinary members of that animal kind. I say this as caretaker for the most adorably snuggly and flop-prone rabbit in existence.
After this we get the ritual week of thanking Mary Worth for … uh … something. I guess she advised Wynter to let Lourd open up as she felt comfortable. we also get some time with Lourd talking with her therapist about moving on from a toxic or abusive relationship. It seems to be working, though. On a return visit to the mall Lourd isn’t thrown by the men’s clothing store.
And finally, the 11th of April, with Wynter and Lourd sharing frozen yogurt, that story ends. The new, current story began the 12th of April.
It centers on Dr Drew Cory, son of Mary Worth’s eternal paramour Dr Jeff Cory. Drew Cory’s become an Instagram nature-photo person in his spare time. Ashlee Jones, waitress at a diner, recognizes him over lunch. She loves his wildlife and forest scene photos. She’s a photographer too, specializing in selfies as she hopes to be a model. And she has a great idea: why doesn’t he take pictures of her?
He’s skeptical but willing. Unfortunately, he has to break their photo-session date when he’s called in to the hospital, and leaves a voice mail with the bad news. She shows up at the hospital anyway, crying and cursing him out for standing her up. He talks her into calmness, for now … and that’s where the story stands.
Dubiously Sourced Mary Worth Sunday Panel Quotes!
The auto care place up the street continues to simply thank the local economic development council for help staying open through the disaster. So let’s get on to the things that famous people mostly didn’t say.
“To love at all is to be vulnerable.” — C S Lewis, 7 February 2021.
“Instead of forcing yourself to feel positive, allow yourself to be present in the now.” — Daniel Mangena, 14 February 2021.
“Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.” — Roger Caras, 21 February 2021.
“We live in a rainbow of chaos.” — Paul Cezanne, 28 February 2021.
“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” — Henry David Thoreau, 7 March 2021.
“Everything I know I learned from dogs.” — Nora Roberts, 14 March 2021.
“This life is worth living … since it is what we make it.” — William James, 21 March 2021.
“Food is our common ground, a universal experience.” — James Beard, 28 March 2021.
“Forgiveness is just another name for freedom.” — Byron Kate, 4 April 2021.
“Be present — it is the only moment that matters.” — Dan Millman, 11 April 2021.
“I have found that if you love life, life will love you back.” — Arthur Rubenstein, 18 April 2021.
“The secret to life is meaningless unless you discover it yourself.” — W Somerset Maugham, 25 April 2021.
“Attraction is beyond our will or ideas sometimes.” — Juliette Binoche, 2 May 2021.
“Human behavior flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge.” — Plato, 9 May 2021.
In context, Mark Trail was pressed to say something interesting about a cricket, on no notice. It would be natural to pick up something weird that caught his mind once. So I guess that’s what happened. He remembered an odd bit about trying to sell cricket-eating and the line was popular.
Mark Trail had returned home. It wasn’t happy. His father, Mark “Happy” Trail, has made a successful trail-mix company. He’s done that, in part, by despoiling the former farm of his and Mark’s old friend Jolly Roger. Mark’s already stolen his father’s speedboat and led the maritime police on a chase that sure seems like it should have got him arrested. There’s only one way to finish his agribusiness story for Teen Girl Sparkle: interview his father.
Mark approaches Happy Trail with backup. The harm speedboats do to manatees. Jolly Roger and his daughter Niecy. Cherry Trail and their son Rusty, whom Happy Trail seems not to have known about. It changes things.
Niecy makes the case for economic and environmental justice. Jolly Rogers’ land was appraised about one-third what it would have been for a not-Black landowner. It’s now poisoned by algae blooms. Niecy proposes selling it back, at cost, and letting Jolly fix it. Meanwhile Mark Trail looks at the crazy number of hunting trophies Happy has. His mother never allowed that. And Happy doesn’t have any, like, friends’ photos on the walls. Is he alone? And where is Mom Trail?
Faced with how he’s done a lot of harm and driven away many people who cared about him, Happy Trail makes an extraordinary decision. He tries to do better. He sells Rogers’s farm back to him, and works to help him clear the algae blooms. He’s delighted to know that Rusty, like he, is adopted. He makes up with Mark.
With friendships and family healing many things get better. Happy Trail’s even able to arrange for the long-term care that Cherry Trail’s mother needs. Turns out having health care makes Cherry’s relationship with her sisters rather better. And Happy himself is able to work with Jolly Rogers in fixing that farmland.
Mark also asks Amy Lee, his editor at Teen Girl Sparkle, if she knew she was sending him to investigate his father. She allows that yes, she had an idea that Mark Trail, a nature guy from Florida, might have some relationship to Mark Trail, a nature guy from Florida. That settles the question of how she could have not known that. But it raises the question why she sent him to do investigative journalism against his father.
Still, that, the 6th of March that closes the story of Mark Trail facing his family shame.
The current story started the 8th of March, though pieces of it were set up earlier. Those pieces would be Rusty Trail making little BikBok videos. Rusty shows Mark how it’s done, challenging his father to say something about this cricket he found. Mark offers, “Crickets are land shrimp,” a declaration so odd it goes viral.
And it catches the attention of eco-rapper Reptiliannaire. The hip-hop artist sampled Rusty’s Bikbok video and that’s been popular. Reptiliannaire is re-shooting the video and wants Mark Trail for a cameo. Teen Girl Sparkle sees that as a great brand-building opportunity and all right, Dad, I see what you mean about not connecting with this strip any more.
Reptiliannaire is glad to meet Mark Trail and takes him into his weird but fun-looking home. The video’s getting a budget, too, from “Cricket Bro”. He’s a guy who turned his dumb tech fortune into a cricket protein powder startup. Turns out Mark knows him: it’s Rob Bettancourt. Rob knew Mark all the way back to grade school, when everyone called him “Marky Trail”.
Mark also knows that Rob’s inspirational self-start origin story is nonsense; Rob’s parents are rich and that’s why he is. But Rob is also throwing a party and invites Reptiliannaire and Mark Trail and all.
All includes Professor Bee Sharp, a science video guy that Reptiliannaire geeks out over. Rusty, too, when he hears about this. Rob ostentatiously offers Mark help in building his career. Mark, harboring old pains, is not having it.
Meanwhile, Cherry Trail gets irritating news about her landscaping. The Sunny Soleil Committee, a homeowners association, wants her to take down the palm trees she and Mark Trail planted. Mark, scared by Cherry’s fury, downplays how the trip to Los Angeles is for something ridiculous and fun. He volunteers to send the committee an e-mail on her behalf.
Cherry meets with Violet Cheshire, who oversees the society. Cheshire explains that palm trees are prohibited, as exotic plants don’t belong. Cherry explains how there was one exotic palm, but the sabal palmettos otherwise planted are native. Cheshire says the society won’t have the villagers’ gardens looking like “unkempt jungles”.
So that’s rather a standstill. And that’s where things stand as of the start of May.
Sunday Animals Watch!
Cicadas, 31 January 2021. Got any?
Barred Owls, 7 February 2021. Plus tips on how to get barred owls, in case you need some barred owls.
Lovebugs, 14 February 2021. Some more animals who’ve come to Florida, although apparently on their own initiative.
Virginia Opossums, 21 February 2021. They’re pretty great, really. Should give them a break.
Feral Hogs, 28 February 2021. They’re invasive, of course, and they’re probably smarter than us.
Southern Toads, 7 March 2021. They seem to be cute enough.
Crickets, 14 March 2021. The strip pushes the line about how crickets might replace cows as a source of protein, which they will not. The cricket-eaters will never accept this.
Foxes, 21 March 2021. It’s got three panels where a fox steals something, which is fun.
Eastern Black Rat Snakes, 28 March 2021. Which is the species of Ralph, one of the snakes Mark Trail talks with regularly now.
Beavers, 4 April 2021. OK, but have you ever seen a video of a beaver in a zoo carrying a bunch of carrots around? Look it up sometime. You’re welcome.
Ed Dodd, 11 April 2021. A special biographic panel to celebrate the strip reaching 75 years.
Five-Lined Skinks, 18 April 2021. They’re the ones with blue tails, as juvenies, that are able to drop off as decoys when predators come predating.
Striped skunks, 25 April 2021. Mark Trail feels they compare favorably with honey badgers.
Sabal palms, 2 May 2021. I did not realize they weren’t native to Southern California, and were imported to make the place look better. All right.
Retail, about the people working at Grumbel’s Department Store, was one of the comic strips to end syndication in 2020. It’s the one I most miss. It’s not a story strip, except to the extent every comic with recurring characters is expected to have them change over time. Feuti did a great job with his core characters and, particularly, the subtle paradox of maturity. The retail life is absurd, but as the characters started treating it more seriously, they made their days better but found it harder to get away from it. It’s great work that unfortunately defies presentation in a handful of sample strips.
That did change. We got a story revisiting a few moments in Skeezik’s life. This from the perspective of Walt Wallet, a fair choice. The retrospective was shorter than I expected. This both in its duration, which was only a week for the readers, and its scope, which only covered up to World War II. But it is an observation, albeit late, of Skeezik’s centennial.
And now, what has been going on in Gasoline Alley since February?
14 February – 26 April 2021.
A lot of stuff at the supermarket. Gertie, Walt’s live-in caretaker, stops to help Mim, a woman who’d lost her glasses. Gertie can’t find them, but throws her back out searching the floor. She pulls on a shelf to straighten up, knocking over bottles of floor wax. And then we get a bunch of slapstick as characters fall over, drawing in more bystanders to slip and fall over, drawing in — Well. We are fortunate the slipping wave stops before it encompasses all humanity in the dreaded Global Pratfall Event. And in comes Tim, who’d found Mim’s glasses when he got home. He surmises that they fell into his basket and he hadn’t noticed. Since they’ve met cute and have matching names, they need to go off and date and reappear in stories to come.
So, come the 10th of March, Gertie heads home and into the next story. She calls Walt to let him know she’s running late, but gets no answer. She fears the worse, speeding home. A cop stops her for speeding, but concedes these are good reasons to rush home and check on an unresponsive 115-year-old. They call in the fire department and the ambulance and find … that he was just watching the TV and couldn’t hear the phone.
From the 24th, Walt talks about the lost stamina of his youth. He goes to bed, and wakes up the next morning … looking and feeling 20 years old. He’s dreaming, of course, but chooses to enjoy that.
He talks with Baby Skeezix. Relives going on the first drives with a 15-year-old Skeezix in a mid-30s jalopy. Waves Skeezix off to the Army, and back from World War II. And, while he’s feeling young, goes for a run. It’s a moment that touched me. I don’t yet have the experience of being old. But I did used to be quite fat. When I was losing that weight there was one day I realized I could go from walking quickly to running, and that the transition felt good, and the running felt good, and I imagine Walt’s dream felt like that. I hope everyone gets to experience that good feeling.
But it is a dream, and only a dream. He wakes the next morning with the usual sorts of aches and indignities of age.
Walt wakes back up the 13th, has breakfast, and they discover they’re out of eggs. While Walt naps, Gert goes back to the store. She’s been trying to find a box of eggs without any cracked, without success. The egg delivery guy is handling the packages roughly. Also she sees Mim again, who’s there with Tim and contact lenses.
Right now, GoComics.com has a pretty solid archive of Tarzan strips. It features the strips that have been rerun going back to 1996. I have no information what will happen to that after June. GoComics has been getting ruthless in culling comics — including purging archives — so if there’s any Tarzan stories you remember liking, and you have a GoComics subscription, I recommend going in and saving the image files now.
The blue balloon was something with a secret message that The Pouch was trying to send to an unknown party. We haven’t learned what the message was. Nor who was to receive it. Nor why they shot Pouch over a couple-day delay of it? For this story, at least, it’s a MacGuffin. I expect that it’ll come back later. Staton and Curtis have enjoyed planting things for use months or years later. (But, they have yet to follow up on whatever was haunting the Plenty household years ago, too.)
Aquarius and his drug-dealers in the 1312 Bedwell commune had captured Tiger Lilly. Lilly was there to retrieve a stolen blue balloon for information broker The Pouch. Aquarius, meanwhile, wanted to harass The Pouch for chasing away his dealers such as “Dollar” Bill Dolan. (Pouch’s cover is selling balloons at the zoo, and wants disreputable crime like drug dealing kept away from his scene.) The Pouch had, in fact, told Tiger Lilly to take care of Dollar Bill. Lilly did this by killing Dollar Bill and disposing of his body in the woods. I’m not sure if Aquarius knew or suspected that, though. But that’s where we were in January.
Organic farmer Tim Wildman, evicted from the Bedwell Commune a year ago, gives backstory. The Commune’s organizer, and mansion owner, is Peggy Bellum, paraplegic since a car accident three years ago. Her nephew Aquarius was doted on until the accident, which “changed” him, though he still tends his aunt. But the changes brought drug use, and dealing, into the Commune. Meanwhile, Peggy Bellum’s brother Stephan — handling her money — wants to sell the mansion for “development”, which she can’t refuse hard enough. Stephan tells that Aquarius is drug-dealing, a revelation that convinces Peggy her brother is lying to scare her into selling out. So that’s the people with money or property think about all this.
Where did we get from there? Well, a bunch of parties pursued their own Brilliant Schemes at once. This all makes sense, but it did make the day-to-day action harder to follow.
First party: Tiger Lilly. The Bedford Commune drug dealers caught him and tossed him into the root cellar out back. Not the basement and I’ll explain why that matters. He’s able to break the ropes tying him down. And to break through a ceiling vent (the door is too solid), in front of the cops. I’ll explain why cops are there, too. He doesn’t know that Dick Tracy Jr’s trail cameras spotted his dumping of Dollar Bill’s body. Still, you see why he’d figure he should run. But has the bad luck to try carjacking the truck that B O and Gertie Plenty are canoodling in. So he’s arrested for involuntary manslaughter.
Second party: Pouch. He wants that blue balloon back. He breaks into the basement — not the root cellar — planting a device to release mercaptan. The residents figure it’s a gas leak, and all evacuate. Cheesecake, Aquarius’s girlfriend or possibly wife, takes Peggy Bellum to a hotel to wait the trouble out. Pouch breaks in, finds the balloon, and has to hide while Dick Tracy’s gang searches the place. I’ll explain why they’re there later. But he succeeds, and turns the blue balloon over to his contact. His contact shoots him. This seems like an overreaction even to being days late on the delivery. But we don’t know what the message — seen in black light to be a string of binary digits — was about.
Lucky for Pouch, his titanium wallet deflected the bullet, and park cops noticed and rushed him to the hospital. He won’t say anything about who shot him or why. Less lucky for him, he passes Tiger Lilly on the way out of the hospital. Lilly, reasonably but wrongly thinking Pouch left him for dead, slugs him. (Remember, Pouch couldn’t have seen Lilly, and had assumed Lilly had ditched him.)
Third party: Dick Tracy. He’s got the corpse of Bill Dolan. He and Sam Catchem suspect a link with 1312 Bedwell, since look at those numbers. But the only tie they can find is Tim Wildman. He’s an organic farmer who gave Catchem the tip that the Bedwell Commune was even in this story. He’s glad to give them backstory about the Commune and his eviction from it. Tracy figures there’s at least enough to do a wellness check, in case there’s any abuse of a disabled person going on. And a stray witness is able to tell Tracy and Catchem that Pouch is in this story too, so they hope to interrogate him.
Tracy arrives at 1312 Bedwell with the representative from Child and Family Services. In case you wonder why marginalized people will refuse the civil benefits to which they’re entitled for their protection. They all get there as Tiger Lilly escapes the root cellar. Also, by coincidence, shortly after Pouch sets off his mercaptan bomb.
So. Pouch is able to hide from the cops, and gets to his appointment to be shot. Tiger Lilly escapes his confinement, only to get clobbered by B O and Gertie Plenty and arrested. Ty, the drug dealer who took up Dollar Bill’s beat, comes back to the house in time to get arrested. And while they’ll get to interrogate Pouch in the hospital, he won’t say anything about anything.
Anyway, with Peggy declaring she’ll revoke the power of attorney given Stephan, Grubbard acts. This in drugging Peggy Bellum (and incidentally Cheesecake). His brilliant plan: smother Peggy Bellum, let Stephan inherit all the money, and then abscond with the money to Bogota. It feels like an improvised execution. Aquarius’s unexpected visit to his aunt foils it, starting a fight that Tracy and company are luckily on hand to interrupt.
So this gets things resolved as well as they could. Tiger Lilly’s arrested for manslaughter. The cops would like to ask Pouch about his “I am innocent of the crimes you are investigating” T-shirt but he refers them to his T-shirt. Oscar Grubbard’s arrested for assault and attempted murder. Most of the 1312 Bedwell residents get charged with drug possession or trafficking. Aquarius also gets a false imprisonment charge. The strip doesn’t specify if this means imprisoning Tiger Lilly or imprisoning Peggy Bellum. Peggy Bellum donates the house “to charity”, and moves in with Tim Wildman.
I’m sympathetic to people who didn’t follow the story as it unfolded. There are a lot of threads, and they were woven together. And the plans of some parties interrupted plans of others. If you have a GoComics membership I recommend going back and rereading it all at once, though. The pieces do fit together well. It’s easy to imagine this as a competing-capers-gone-wrong movie.
So the 11th of April finished off that story. The current story began last week, the 12th of April. Abner Kadaver, back from the dead, breaks his accomplice Vera Alldid out of jail. That’s as much as I can tell you now.
Thursday marks the 75th anniversary of the debut of Mark Trail this week. So, uh, Dad, I hope you do something special and maybe wave to the alligators. (Dad lives in South Carolina.)
I don’t remember the comic making a particular impression on me, as a kid. It was buried in the impenetrable dark column of story strips, on the left side of the first page of the Star-Ledger’s pages. I bet I looked at it because animal pictures were always interesting, but I didn’t know how to read a story strip to understand the goings-on. I didn’t really start paying attention until joining rec.arts.comics.strips. Having a group to read the comics with does a lot to encourage reading more comics. And Mark Trail offered a lot of chances to read. One could enjoy reading an action-adventure story and snarking on an action-adventure story. Sometimes for odd writing choices, especially in how to emphasize words. (Story strips, like older comic books, keep a convention of using bold for key words rather than to suggest line readings.)
The strip’s become a more important part of my life. Partly because I’ve shifted my snark from being the goal to being the side effect. Partly because I’m writing these plot recaps and have finally learned how to read story comics. (Reading three months’ worth in one day makes the plot much clearer.) Partly because people want to know why I’m not mad at the comic strip for changing. I have been mad at comic strips before, not all of them by Tom Batiuk. Even once at the Jack Elrod-era Mark Trail. I just don’t have it in me to be at a comic strip for not being the comic strip I used to read. And I’m glad to have the comic still in production. It would have been easy to lose the comic altogether.
Lockbramble’s a small fiefdom in the north of King Arthur’s England. Its Lord is an amiable figurehead, happy to let the lands run as a self-governing community. This because he doesn’t want to do stuff, which, relatable. Also because Rory Red Hood, the spearhead of this movement, is really good at management. Camelot is willing to overlook all this irregularity, because Sir Gawain rather fancies Rory. Also she’s making a lot of money. But other lords, who are not getting money from all this, disagree.
Prince Valiant and Sir Gawain were off in Lockbramble. Lord Hallam, of neighboring Wedmarsh, had sent bandits after Rory Red Hood. They’re not very effective. Durward, one of the bandits, was doing so under duress and he’s happy to move to Lockbramble if his family is safe. Valiant and Gawain are game for an evacuation/escort mission.
Wedmarsh’s Captain of the Guard catches them immediately. But they have a good lie to protect them. They assert that Durwood attacked their royal party, and though they slew him, the laws of Camelot give them rights to claim his family. Wedmarsh figures this sounds plausible so, what the heck. Durward and family are ultimately delighted. And Rory, speaking for Lockbramble, is too. Lockbramble’s prospering, but prosperity comes from people. So why not invite everyone who’s unhappy with their lot in life?
And the answer is that serfs ditching bad rulers for good rather annoys their bad rulers. The surrounding fiefs figure they can use law too, and demand a knight’s contest of champions. After all, they can pay a great outlaw knight to fight for them, while Lockbramble only has … at least two of Camelot’s knights. How can Lockbramble hope to win?
So it’s Sir Peredur the Rover against Sir Gawain. Peredur comes with a reputation. The reputation’s of betraying Castle Beringar to the Saxons, a mark of his deviousness and treachery.
Peredur wins the first round, thanks to some luck and a hidden iron core to his lance. Gawain’s a bit better-prepared for the second round, which ends up a tie. Meanwhile, Valiant follows some of Lord Hallam’s henchmen.
And that’s where we rest at the middle of April, 2021.
It won’t only be luck. The Phantom watches over Trusted Man, of course. Trusted Man uses some of the tricks he’s already learned from Ellerbee, although I regret “smash a rhino through the door” is not among them. Once confident that The Trusted Man has a handle on things, The Phantom sneaks into the computer room. His goal: getting a roster of the people “disappeared” into Gravelines Prison, which he’ll turn over to the Jungle Patrol.
The Trusted Man punches all the way to Salinas’s cell, and breaks him out. He tells the story of Towns Ellerbee’s work, and what he presumes to know about Ellerbee, as they exit. They’re alarmed by a speeding car, the first sign they’ve been detected. But it’s Towns Ellerbee driving it. So they’re able to make a grand escape.
The Ghost Who Taxi Drives takes them to somewhere in Bangalla. And vanishes into the fog, leaving behind the money The Trusted Man had paid him for his service. The two try to understand all his actions. The Trusted Man mentions Towns Ellerbee’s dark glasses and Colonel Worubu works it out. He’s incorrect, but not wrong. “Towns Ellerbee” must be John X, working on special detail for the Unknown Commander. The unresolved mystery to them: why should the Unknown Commander care about a kidnapped police chief from Ciudad Jardin?
And this is where the story’s reached. It feels like it must be near the end. All the Jungle Patrol’s attempts to understand their Unknown Commander fail, after all. The copied database of Gravelines prisoners seems likely to be more interesting to Jungle Patrol, too. Also possibly to generate future stories.
I am happy to offer good news in my continuing series picking on one of the world’s most successful comic strips for having difficulty rendering animals in its particular style. This Sunday saw Zero feeding a squirrel that I accept as a successful depiction of a squirrel, within the bounds of the evolved Mid-Century Cartoon Moderne style that the comic uses.
I’m also glad to bring the news that a butterfly, rabbit, a blue and a red bird were depicted successfully. I think the opossum was depicted successfully too, but I accept that people might in good faith have a different opinion.
I’m sad to say that the groundhog situation isn’t looking good. This is a bit peculiar as groundhogs are a kind of squirrel. But the poses and volume of tail are different and that affects styling.
Yes, a white rabbit the size of a blue-grey squirrel is improbable, but this isn’t Mark Trail. Photorealism is not the standard. “Is styled compatibly to the regular characters” and “is recognizably the animal it’s supposed to be” is.
Hasn’t been revealed yet why someone wanted to kill Lady Worthington at this dinner of inventors she’d summoned. Or why she summoned them. The obvious supposition is money, but the truth may be something sillier.
This should get you up to date on Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the end of March, 2021. If you’re reading this after about June 2021, there’s likely a more up-to-date plot recap here. The link also will have any news about the comic strip which I notice.
3 January – 27 March 2021.
Alley Oop, Ooola, and Doc Wonmug had contracted a case of shrinking last we saw. This after getting zapped by shrink rays several times over. They first settled in at paramecium-sized. Then spontaneously re-shrank to bacterium-sized. Then to DNA-sized. Then into the subatomic, coming to be the size of quantum strings. Also, in the Alley Oop universe, it turns out string theory is right. Once shrunken so, though, they meet someone.
Plank seems to be a pleasant, all-knowing, mysterious entity. They’re able to show Our Heroes the wonders of alternate dimensions and the Theory of Everything and all that. And then it’s time to shrink some more. And what happens when you shrink smaller than anything can be? That’s right: you end up bigger than galaxies. Like in that ancient science fiction short story. Plank guides them to shrinking all the way back to Earth, and their proper size again. Wonmug hopes to chat physics with Plank some. Alley Oop and Ooola dash back for home.
They get home the 2nd of February and get exciting news: Garg is getting married! He doesn’t know to who. He’ll find out at the ceremony. Also everybody else is getting married too. Why is everyone marrying at the same time? The Mighty Feather, their new spiritual leader, decreed it. So that’s looking creepy and evil, however much everyone denies their evilness, in unison. Also, the Mighty Feather talks about how everyone needs to jump in the volcano tomorrow, so this needs action.
Alley Oop puts on his thinking feathers and realizes, why not pretend to be The Mighty Feather, cult leader, and guide Moo back to normal? And it turns out that’s all anybody needed. The story wraps up the 17th of February.
From the 18th the new, and current, story starts. They get an invitation to a “gathering of geniuses” at the palatial estate of Lady Worthington. The butler greets them, with a warning against “the butler did it” jokes. She’s gathered the finest minds in the world as she’s lost the key to her safe full of riches and needs help. Alley Oop finds it underneath a fake rock in the bureau, so on to a nice after-mystery dinner.
At the dinner it turns out all the guests but Ooola and Alley Oop are inventors. As Our Heroes ponder this strangeness, Lady Worthington admits she gathered everyone for a second purpose. Then the light flicks out a moment. When it comes back, Lady Worthington is dead, stabbed in the back.
It’s easy to solve a murder when you have a time machine like Doc Wonmug. The time machine won’t work. Another inventor has a post-mortem communicator. It doesn’t work. Another inventor has a reincarnator. it doesn’t work. Nor does the robo-cloner. Alley Oop’s club even acts weird. Wonmug deduces the presence of a Faraweek cage, interfering with the workings of technology.
Our Heroes explore the manor and find the Faraweek cage in the basement. Ooola snips the correct wire and all the technologies become available. The reincarnator, for example, is able to bring Lady Worthington back to life, only to die again of her stab wound. The post-mortem communicator gets Lady Worthington’s spirit demanding that nobody get her money and hangs up. The robo-duplicator produces a dead robot Lady Worthington. Finally we get to the time machine.
So, yes, the butler did it. And since they went back in time and interrupted the murder, Lady Worthington now isn’t dead and we get another bit of timeline-changing.
In the Sunday strips, there was one Little Oop comic where Penelope took herself and Alley Oop back to Moo. This teased a resolution of the scenario where Little Alley Oop’s in the present day. But it wasn’t followed up on the next week. So there’s not a real story resuming there.
I figure to stop covering Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s The Amazing Spider-Man the end of August. The current, Ant-Man, story, has ended. Peter Parker and Scott Lang (Ant-Man) take the subway home from Egghead’s mansion because they forgot they rented a car to drive there. Then we learn Mary Jane’s Broadway play is closed for a few more weeks. The theater’s getting more repairs. But there’s publicity for her film Marvella 2: The Quest For Peace to do. They go driving off to Los Angeles and along the way meet Rocket Raccoon and Ronan T Avenger. In its original run this story ran from the 20th of November, 2016, through the 30th of April, 2017. I make that out as 24 weeks, which is one week out of phase with my 12-week comic-strip cycle.
The end of that story is when I first started covering story strips regularly here. So that’s when I’ll bow out. That unless they rerun stories I haven’t covered, or they put the strip into new production. I don’t expect either case to happen, but this is a strange world we’re in. Still, any news about the Spider-Man strip should be posted here. And I have six months to figure out what to do with my content hole here. I’ll take suggestions.
The Amazing Spider-Man.
27 December 2020 – 21 March 2021.
The Daily Bugle has a new publisher since the death of J Jonah Jameson’s cousin Ruth. It’s Ruth’s widower, Elihas Starr, who’s known to Ant-Man as the villain Egghead. Starr demands Peter Parker get photos of Ant-Man. Why? Peter Parker doesn’t know. He guesses Ant-Man might know what Egghead’s up to. He doesn’t know the current Ant-Man, though. He only knows Dr Henry Pym, the original Ant-Man. So he takes the subway way out to the end of the world to the scientist’s lab.
The lab is deserted, and trashed. Spider-Man breaks in, and gets punched over and over by an invisible and intangible opponent. It turns out to be Scott Lang, the current Ant-Man. He’s staying small and unshrinking long enough to sucker-punch Peter Parker. Not even out of suspicion for anything. Newspaper Spider-Man has such big punchable-sucker energy nobody can resist.
The punching satisfies the Ritual of Super-Heroes Fighting When They Meet. Ant-Man doesn’t know what Egghead’s deal is either. Given the state of the lab, they guess someone kidnapped Dr Pym. Egghead’s the obvious suspect. So they go to J Jonah Jameson’s penthouse, guessing that he’d know where his cousin Ruth lived, and that’d be the place to hide Pym. Not sure I agree with the logic there — have they considered the Abandoned Warehouse District? — but they have to use what leads they have. Spider-Man stays outside, figuring Ant-Man is the one who could avoid raising Jameson’s ire. It goes well.
Still, they get an address, and plant the idea that Jameson might come into the story later and save our heroes from an impossible fix. You know, in case that comes about. They rent a car, drive out to the estate, break in, and set off an alarm that sprays them with shrink gas. It’s not one that Ant-Man can reverse, either. The modified shrink gas also shrinks Ant-Man’s strength from that of a Man to that of an Ant. Egghead vacuums them up, which is the kind of thing that keeps miniaturizing superheroes from achieving dignity. The shrunken heroes pass out in the vacuum because it’s a modified vacuum cleaner, okay? And wake to find themselves encased in plastic blocks. And Dr Pym tied up and bound to a chair right next to them.
So now it’s time for Egghead to explain his deal. he figured to steal and sell Pym’s shrinking formula. He wanted the newspaper as a way of laundering the sale money from this. He’d have been fine just romancing Ruth Jameson if he could have controlled the paper through her. But she wasn’t having any of that, so he married and killed her instead. And since Egghead was going to be busy with this, he assigned Peter Parker to photograph Ant-Man and so keep Ant-Man preoccupied.
Spidey breaks loose, and Egghead tries to shoot the shrunken heroes. This doesn’t work. Egghead instead sprays Pym with the new shrink gas, reducing him even beyond the Ant-Man norm; Our Heroes leap into the gas cloud to join them. They have to fend off a spider, which they do by using a Spider-Man and also a convenient wasp.
They also have to fend off Egghead’s modified bug-bomb. Thing is Pym never goes anywhere without enlarging gas. Even when he’s kidnapped by supervillains and tied up and sedated. Lucky, huh? And then J Jonah Jameson arrives and whacks Egghead in the egg with a lamp. Egghead recovers enough to repeat his boast that he killed Ruth Jameson. So now there’s four witnesses to Egghead boasting that he killed his wife. And there’s the camera Spider-Man planted in the corner when none of the readers were there. Its photos may well show Egghead trying to shoot, spray, and set on the shrunken Pym, Ant-Man, and Spider-Man. That should be good for prison, right?
The camera, by the way, we saw Spider-man planting outside the estate. Ant-Man commented on this as how Peter Parker got such great action shots of Spider-Man. On the 21st of March Spidey explained to Ant-Man that he brought the camera inside while Egghead was unconscious. This in the hopes of getting incriminating pictures. Also, Jameson would like to know why Spider-Man’s taking pictures of Spider-Man. There’ll be some quick rationalizations and that trip back home.
The relationship-wrecking catastrophe was the start of Francesco Marciuliano’s run on Judge Parker. This was the collapse of a clothing factory Danube and Neddy Spencer were opening. It fell into a sinkhole right in front of the press, particularly local reporter Toni Bowen. The factory idea was the last story of former writer Woody Wilson. Wilson had a lot of stories where people lavished riches and wealth and good fortune on the main characters. Here, for example, Danube had pressured her ex-boyfriend and head of Europa Aerospace to just give her the factory site. I have no doubt that Wilson meant the giving to be sincere. (On the characters’ part. When I re-read strips from that era I suspect Wilson was having fun seeing what it would take to make an editor say that was a bit much.)
Marciuliano has put into the backstory that “everyone suspected” Danube was running drugs. Or otherwise cheating on people to fund the project. Danube did flee after the sinkhole, on Marciuliano’s watch. Her relationship with Neddy collapsed then. We saw all that. But wanting to flee a disaster like that is human enough. And it’s hard to see how the sinkhole could be blamed on Danube or Neddy. If it’s anyone’s fault, it’s whoever failed to survey the grounds properly. Or whoever covered up the grounds results. Which would be a decent retcon explanation for why an aerospace company gave up a brand-new factory to a minor movie star and a young woman with money.
Establishing that Danube was a narcissist, though, is no great stretch. She had a job that selects for narcissism. And a problem dealing with narcissists is it’s hard to distinguish between their thinking of you and their wanting you to think of them. (It’s hard to know this for anyone. But when you see the narcissism you realize how much you don’t know the person.) When you suspect a relationship with a narcissist has gone sour, or become abusive, it forces a lot of difficult memory-parsing. Were they helpful at this delicate moment to be kind to you, or to teach you that kindness comes from them? Your answer depends on your feelings about them, and that affects your future answers about how their motivations. It’s always hard to tease out motivations, and when the narcissist is impossible to cross-examine, there’s not much to do but yell in your head.
Sophie won’t be completely alone in New York City. Toni Bowen will be there too. Her failed bid to unseat Mayor Sanderson drew enough attention for University of New York to hire her to teach a course on local politics. Unfortunately that’s about as not-alone as Sophie gets. It’s hard meeting people at all, and in pandemic times it’s even worse.
With the kids gone Abbey wonders whether she and Sam should downsize. Or even leave Cavelton altogether. She’s lonely, yes. And regrets the bed-and-breakfast, “a money pit” and business the mayor’s determined to make fail. She talks of wanting a change, although to what and where is open.
Meanwhile in Los Angeles, Neddy faces several challenges. One is that Ronnie Huerta has a new roommate, Kat. (I’d give her last name but can’t find it.) She’s playing the Neddy role in the April Parker TV series. Kat is very eager to help Neddy move out, shoving hard in that way people who think they’ve figured out how to solve your problem do. But Kat does have some fair observations. The poor little rich girl whose problem is doing her dream job can maybe find an apartment in the second-biggest city in the country. Also that Neddy not doing this writing is screwing up her, Kat’s, job. (One leitmotif in Marciuliano’s writing is characters explaining how one of the main cast looks to people who have to live with them. And how the main cast needs to get over themselves.) While talking this out with Ronnie, Kat lets slip that she wants to spend the rest of her life with Ronnie. That was something they didn’t realize they were ready for.
And Neddy does get down to work work, as opposed to househunting work. The TV producers want Godiva Danube to be a bigger part of the show, so they need Neddy to write more of her. And Neddy is still angry with the dead Godiva. How do deal with that? Hallucination is a good, tested method. That and my favored technique, a good argument with someone who can’t outwit you.
Ghost Godiva Danube refuses to play fair, though, insisting that while she fled, Neddy didn’t chase either. That she had to recover from the disaster herself. That she was “always there for” Neddy. Which Neddy admits, but argues was because Danube wanted to be the star of Neddy’s suffering. The one that guided where it went. Neddy comes out of this convinced that what she needed wasn’t to tell Ghostdiva off, but to face her own anger. And as Ghostdiva storms off, Neddy feels triumphant that she has.
And then the 1st of March started the current and exciting thread. Charlotte Parker, Randy’s and April’s couple-years-old daughter, says she didn’t see Mommy “today”. You know, like she sees her every day. Which was a development catching Randy by surprise. April’s been busy with that super-hyper-ultra-etc assassin agent nonsense. I did see this excite a bunch of comics snarkers pointing out the idea that April Parker had been secretly visiting Charlotte made no sense at all.
The next week of the strip — the last full week, as I write this — showed Marciuliano explaining how this might make sense. That this was going on for only the last two weeks. That April, if it is April, had signalled to Charlotte to keep it secret. That Charlotte could recognize April because they keep pictures of her in the house. And yes, it may be dumb but it’s a recognizable human dumbness. And that they can’t find anything on the security cameras. Randy got rid of the network of security cameras when he realized April had tapped them all. (I’m not sure we saw that it was April and not the super-hyper-ultra-etc spy network that was holding Norton in mega-secret spy hyper-jail.) This implicit threat to take Charlotte does quite good, fast work in driving Randy crazy. But Randy is right that it’s within April’s demonstrated power set to do something like this, even if it is only to mess with Randy’s head. And, as Alan Parker noted this Sunday, they don’t yet know it is April.
I’m sorry for this, not just for my regret at seeing any comic strip end. It was a pleasant comic of that style where the animal talks but is still an animal. And I liked the style of art. I’m not sure where I first encountered the comic. It might have been in the Strips weekly newspaper, which in the 90s would distribute … not all, but a broad slate of the weekday comic strips out there. The paper was a great way to discover new or obscure strips; I know it introduced me to Big Nate, On The Fastrack, Safe Havens, and others that have become regular habits. Buckles would have fit right in.
I haven’t heard anything about why the strip is ending. Nor why it’s ending with so little notice. If I learn anything it’ll be by reading The Daily Cartoonist, and I’ll pass it on, because that’s less work than writing 800 words about a 60s Popeye cartoon.
In the past Comics Kingdom has dropped all links to discontinued strips. So if there’s any Buckles strips you quite like, you should download a copy now. If there’s any you wanted to buy a print or other merchandise of, too, do that before Sunday the 21st. I don’t know whether links will completely disappear but it is better to be safe.
The kid, Vic Doucette, was going on about the 90s Pistons because he researched them. He researched them because Coach Gil Thorp referenced them and he wanted to do his job as game announcer well. Not that anything about the Pistons is likely to come up in a Milford basketball game. But a marker of excellence in a field is enthusiasm for its trivia. Doucette’s decided he wants to be an announcer and he is throwing himself wholeheartedly into the role.
It happens that last time I checked in was the week the story wrapped up. I often feel like these recaps happen suspiciously close to a new story’s start. That’s an illusion created by “close” feeling like “within two weeks, give or take” and that covers, like, a third of my cycle. Still, the new and current story started the 14th of December, neat as I would hope.
We start basketball season. First major player: Vic Doucette. He’s not an athlete, owing to cerebral palsy. He asks Coach Gil Thorp to be the announcer for boys’ basketball games. Thorp is impressed with Doucette’s knowledge of basketball trivia and also his existence as a living body willing to do this job.
Next major player: Shooting guard Doug Guthrie. He has a 1966 Pontiac GTO, which I am informed is an impressive car to have. He’d found and rebuilt it with his dad. And he keeps ducking out for thinks like go-kart races in Florida. Like, real kart racing at 70 mph and so on.
Third major player: Tessi Milton, forward for the girls’ basketball team. And teammate to Corina Karenna, who’s transferred over from volleyball. The girls’ team feels disrespected, relative to the boys’ team. She comes into significance later in the proceedings.
Doucette got the job of announcer because he was willing. It turns out he’s eager, though. Enthusiastic even. He works out catchy nicknames for everyone, he rallies the crowd, he shows open and unbridled delight in a high school thing. He goes to away games — where he’s not an announcer — to take notes about the team. He follows Gil Thorp’s mention of the 90s Pistons to study how Ken Calvert announced players, and pick up moves from that work. In short, he shows unbridled interest in a thing. In high school. Vic Doucette is braver than the troops.
At a postgame dinner at The Bucket, Guthrie talks about Doucette’s car. It’s a modified 2004 GMC Safari. The modifications are to help Doucette when he’s having a harder day. They bond over the car talk, though, Guthrie asking about the MV-1, identified as “the first van designed for wheelchairs from the start”. So you know how deep the car thing interests Guthrie.
The girls’ basketball team, meanwhile, wants for attention. Tessi Milton figures to get Vic Doucette to announce their games, too. It’s not a bad plan. In boys’ basketball he’s advanced to running in-game givewaways and stuff that plays well with the crowd. (He’s giving away the hot dog and soda that are his “pay” for announcing. I mention because the strip made a point of mentioning it. I appreciate the craft of that. You can fault Gil Thorp for many things, but it does justify most everything that appears on screen. It may be the story strip that most improves on rereading twelve weeks’ worth at a go.) Fun enough that Guthrie even skips a car-racing thing to play. Doucette even has some decent sports-psychology, talking Guthrie out of the funk of a lousy game.
So Milton asks Doucette to announce their games. He’s not sure. He needs time to study, after all, and see his friends and do stuff that isn’t basketball announcing. Also, I notice, he uses a crutch reliably from mid-January on; he hadn’t needed one earlier. This may be a signal that he’s getting worse.
He decides to announce girls basketball games, though, saying, “studying is overrated, right?” And he brings the same level of research and hard work to this that he did the boys games. It goes well, and Milton’s grateful, to the point everyone tells Doucette that she’s flirting with him. So he asks her out and she “can’t this weekend”.
Guthrie, with Tom Muench, are late to a practice. They’re pulled over by a traffic cop, who recognizes that they’re popular white athletes and lets them off with a little car talk. But, running laps at practice, Muench sprains his knee and is out for a couple games. And this throws Guthrie way off his game.
Doucette notices all this, and tries to sort out Guthrie’s problem. He observes how Guthrie’s interested in someday driving racecars at 200 mph; it’s hard to do that when you’re worried about running laps. And this bit seems to help.
After a girls basketball game, Tessi Milton dodges Doucette, whom she points out to her teammates has asked her out twice now. Her teammates point out she was flirting with him. Which she owns up to, yes, but they needed an announcer. And while he’s “a nice guy,” well, “would you go out in that grandpa van?” Which does support Karenna’s earlier assessment that Milton is a deeply shallow person. To be empathetic, though, Milton is in a lousy place herself. Suppose you’ve agreed the team needs Doucette to announce their games; what tools do you have to get him to do it? There’s no pay available, and no glory either. What option does she have but flattery? And — I write before seeing Monday or Tuesday’s strips so may be setting myself up to be a fool — faulting Doucette’s car is less bad than sneering at the idea of dating someone with cerebral palsy.
And that’s the standings as of mid-March. It does feel like Milton’s being set up for some comeuppance. But the story might resolve to something as simple as hurting a guy who’s been quite giving. It does feel to me significant that Doucette’s repeated his worry he’s ignoring friends and school for all this announcing work, though. Also that he’s seen using the crutches more than he was early in the story. Maybe not significant is Guthrie mentioning how his dad teaches driving to the area cops, part of why he and Muench were let off with small talk. I’m not making detailed predictions, though.
Milford Schools Watch
Who’s Milford playing? The past couple months, these teams. If you want the win-loss record, oh, I don’t feel up to tracking that. You have your fun.
The story credit is a bit of a fib. Not to discount Seymour Kneitel’s work in putting the story together. But it was based on the 1936 comic strip storyline Mystery Melody. As often happens with the conversion of a print story to screen, the print version is better. But the print version had five months at six strips a day to tell its version. The cartoon has five minutes. Kneitel had to do serious work to shrink and adapt it. He’s helped by reducing the character set to the bare minimum, and cutting out side stories. And by Elzie Segar’s tendency to get caught by a funny idea and do that for three weeks straight while he thought of the next plot point.
The story as we get it animated: Poopdeck Pappy’s haunted by a weird melody that Olive Oyl and Popeye can’t hear. We see it’s the Sea Hag playing her flute in a wonderful dark, spooky swamp. She sends her vulture to grab Pappy’s hat, and he tells the backstory. When a young sailor he courted the beautiful Rose of the Sea — “afore I was married”, a reassurance that Popeye is not literally a bastard. But when he finally kissed her, she transformed into the Sea Hag. He freaked out and ran, and the Sea Hag has held it against him for 80 years. Pappy looks a bit shallow, but he was young and saw his girlfriend transform to a witch. It’d be strange if he weren’t freaked out. And it’s got the feel of a folk take. I’m too ignorant to pin down one that quite works like this, but discovering your beloved is secretly an evil spirit has got to be done before.
Pappy says the Sea Hag’s been looking for him for 80 years, which indicates he has a high opinion of himself as a suitor. Well, he is a guy. It doesn’t seem like she must have been looking for him long. He was sitting in jail on Goon Island for forty of those years. But this may be a continuity separate from the Goonland short. I mean, I know it is. The continuity of Popeye is about personality and attitude, not about what happened when. In the comic strip Mystery Melody was only the first major story after Pappy was found.
The Sea Hag uses her flute to bewitch Pappy. She gives him a chance to love her as Rose of the Sea and when he refuses, she puts him in the dungeon. Popeye reasons that what he could use is Eugene the Jeep, who what do you know but is right there. Eugene charges for the castle and chases off the Sea Hag, shooting electricity from his tail, a thing we didn’t know he could do before. Didn’t know it in the comic strip version, either. The Sea Hag’s vulture tries to take Popeye away, but he eats his spinach and punches his way free. And pushes the castle out of the way, freeing his father. We have a happy ending, with the last joke being Pappy spooked by a mysterious whistling that’s the tea kettle. It’s one of the few jokes in the short.
I like this short. It’s one that gives the Popeye characters history, the illusion that there’s a world going on even when Popeye isn’t on-screen. And it has some nice haunting moments; that shot of the Sea Hag playing her flute in the swamp is a good spooky one. And the Rose-of-the-Sea backstory for Pappy feels like the sort of folklore that belongs in a story about a rough-and-tumble sailor from a rough-and-tumble family. The time spent on setup does mean there’s no time for development; we have to go almost directly to the resolution. It’s a good trade, though, as the setup is good.
It’s unusual for the cartoons in being dramatic rather than comic. And it’s unusual for the King Features era in being plot-heavy. (Though Paramount cartoons seem to be the most plot-driven of the King Features run.) Nobody’s acting dumb, or even petty. It’s even got structure, with Pappy telling his history while the vulture flies back to the Sea Hag. Popeye cartoons don’t usually have things developing in parallel.
That I know the comic strip version of this story spoils things a little. Comics Kingdom reprinted it in the Vintage Thimble Theatre run. So I know the pieces of the comic strip story dropped, most of them for time. Much of this is Wimpy coming along and getting his greedy hands on the Sea Hag’s flute. I’ve mentioned the relationship between Wimpy and the Sea Hag before. Mystery Melody isn’t the comic strip series that established that relationship, but it did build on it. The comic strip also had two disturbing sequences. In one, Popeye beat up the Sea Hag’s vulture, literally tearing him apart. She used her flute to stitch him back together and restore his life. Great stuff, inappropriate for this cartoon. This audience anyway. But if they wanted to make an animated Popeye Movie? That would be a powerful scene.
The other bit from the comic strip dropped here is the battle between the Sea Hag and Eugene the Jeep. In the cartoon, the Sea Hag’s terrified and runs off. In the comic strip Eugene hunts down the terrified Sea Hag, electrifying her until he finally leaves her “mummified”. That, too, is a downright disturbing moment, especially as it comes after a lot of funny bits where Eugene surprises the Sea Hag. It gives Popeye a fantastic moment, though, mourning the possibly-dead Sea Hag and scolding his father for not pitying her in that state. Again, so inappropriate for a cartoon with this scope and audience, but also, a great bit for the full-length movie.
There’s some other things dropped from the comic strip version. Toar, for one, but also Alice the Goon and the Sea Hag’s new lackey of Bolo. I can’t fault them cutting these characters, who didn’t have much to do in the comic strip version anyway.
You see how enthusiastic I am about this cartoon and the original comic strip story. The 1960s run of cartoons had much working against them. But this shows how much they could work well, too.
Tinsley, according to The Washington Times, claims people at King Features Syndicate explained “they weren’t sure exactly why” Gannett dropped the comic, “except that they were sure it was about those two cartoons”. This references two recent strips in which Mallard Fillmore came out against human rights; you can see them at the Daily Cartoonist link above.
This is possible, although such an explanation demands one believe in a corporation that cares for human rights. And supposes that this thirdhand story about someone’s guess is correct. Another possible explanation is that this follows Gannett’s recent merger with GateHouse Media, after which they dropped all staff editorial cartoonists. They may not be very interested in editorial cartoons as a genre. And, too, Mallard Fillmore has long had as a selling point that it provides “balance” to Doonesbury. Doonesbury has not run a new daily strip since Joe Biden was vice-president. It’s not unreasonable that newspapers might figure they don’t need to “balance” that anymore.
Anyway, I’m sure the market will swiftly correct the problem. Otherwise there might be some bad side-effects from having every newspaper published by one of three companies. If Mallard Fillmore is that well-liked, surely another newspaper in each city will scoop it up and reap the rewards of happy subscribers. And it still runs online, through Comics Kingdom or many newspaper web sites.
The current story was just a week old when I last checked in. Buck Wise, who has a job doing … something … with collectibles? … was feeling tired and thirsty. Like, a lot, even considering it was 2020. Still, Rex Morgan was opening his clinic for virtual visits. So even though he can’t point to any particular complaint, and has been losing weight, he gets a checkup.
Rex Morgan suspects a medical condition, but has Buck come in to his clinic anyway. The results of the blood draw: he’s got a crazy high blood glucose count, and needs a second screening. And to not finish the fries and triple-thick butterscotch malt he just got from the fast food place.
The second draw confirms Rex’s suspicion. Buck’s got type-two diabetes. They’ll start with oral medication, regular blood glucose checks, and diet changes. Buck comes into the clinic for a third time, to learn how to test his blood glucose levels. And on the way home gets one last bacon cheeseburger, fries, and triple-thick malt. Which, yeah, hard not to empathize.
He feels lousy after the cheat on his diet. But he uses the stationary bike until his glucose numbers look not-awful again. He does confess to Mindy, his wife, who’s kind about not making him feel worse for the occasional backslide. (Yes, the “backslide” happened before anything else could, but I’m aware I wouldn’t do much better.) And she’s happy to find diabetic-friendly meals in a good variety.
So, yeah, that’s been the story. Buck’s learned he has diabetes and his family is positive and supportive. It’s not been much of a conflict and it did feel like a lot of the story was Buck going back in to the Morgan Clinic. But, you know, what else should happen?
I mean to be sympathetic and kind toward comic strip artists, and especially the ones who do puzzle comics for kids. It’s hard to put in a puzzle worth pondering, in so little space, and when you can’t be sure what your readers can do. So it’s just impossible to hit them all, all the time. But the big puzzle this Sunday in Slylock Fox? The dry-cleaning problem? With the alligator taking a couple of capes in? I have issues. And, just to show that I’m trying to be fair to the cartoonist I’ll put my complaints behind a cut.
His work — three hundred stories, which appears to give him more stories than anyone but Lee Falk himself — has been almost all for Team Fantomen, the Scandinavian-produced comic book. It’s a side of The Phantom that I know almost nothing about. I’m aware that ideas flow between the continuities. Writers too: Reimerthi did some work for the comic strip (apparently stories adapted from the Team Fantomen line) after Lee Falk’s death. And I learn that Tony DePaul wrote for Team Fantomen before taking up the newspaper strip. I don’t know what concepts Reimerthi might have done that’s been adopted into the newspaper continuity. But I do see that Comics Kingdom’s archive reaches back far enough that it includes about half of The Halloween Kidnappers, the first of his stories for the newspaper comic. So it’s available for subscribers or, if I ever feel a strong need to do even more plot recaps, for me.
The Phantom is using this story as a chance to reinforce the legend of his immortality. He’s using what he learned from The Phantom Chronicles to talk as though he were friends with an historical ruler of Bangalla.
The gang is, lucky for The Phantom and The Detective, coming in groups small enough for two guys and a wolf to knock out. And yeah, The Detective. It’s another story where people get addressed by title. When they get to the boss level, they’re able to just drive a truck into the warehouse and hold the bosses at gunpoint.
And, as a bonus, to give The Detective the chance to hit the bosses a lot. This is extrajudicial and all, yes. But they are the people who had The Detective locked in a cell below the water line, which so nearly drowned him. It can be called karmic justice, at least.
So, with the whole criminal syndicate recovering from being punched, The Detective calls in the Mawitaan police. And explains to them how he’s not dead! And how he punched unconscious a whole crime syndicate! And did not need the help of an immortal spirit-protector summoned to his aid by his worried grandmother! Because The Phantom finally learned the name of The Detective — Yusuf Ali Malango, badge 941 — and vanished.
This past Sunday strip did not promise a new adventure next week. I imagine there may be a coda with The Detective’s Grandmother. We last saw her in August, waiting by the giant Phantom head that Emperor Joonkar had people carve into a mountain. After that, though, I expect the 191st Sunday story to begin. We’ll see, though.
So … uh … nothing. The 14th of February, 1921, was the day that Gasoline Alley turned into a comic strip anyone but a specialist would have heard of. It’s when Walt Wallet found an abandoned infant on the doorstep. The child was soon named Allison (Get it? Alley-Son), but everyone’s called him Skeezix. It was a milestone for the comic, and for comics. It pioneered the comic strip where characters grow up in something like real time.
Despite their help with thanksgiving, Clovia’s quite stressed having them around. Slim’s not too thrilled by them either. So in the tradition of old-time-radio and old-fashioned TV sitcoms, they hatch a Scheme. They’ll use the haunted house props to make Lil and Chubby think the place is haunted. To work! Lil’s makeup kit is out of place. The clocks are set wrong. A weird figure appears before them. This convinces Lil and Chubby, who flee. Clovia’s proud of her husband’s haunting. Slim’s baffled because he hadn’t even started haunting yet. But how could that happen?
So that wraps up the story, on the 8th of December. The 9th of December started the next, again centered on Slim and Clovia, so there’s little transition needed. Bleck’s Department Store asking Slim if he can play Santa again this year. Trouble is in washing it. The dryer doesn’t work.
The dryer repair person says the dryer is fine. Dire news from the electrician: he’s the Frank Nelson character. He figures the dryer needs a new power cord. Fixing that doesn’t help. His next diagnosis is the circuit breaker. Now the dryer works … once. They yield to the inevitable and go shopping for a new dryer. The dryer salesman is Frank Nelson again.
This leads to a couple weeks of delivery attempts by Sidney and Lew. They feel like a reference to me. I can’t figure out who, though. There’ve been a lot of delivery-team scenes in the past. In the first delivery attempt, Slim’s fallen asleep and can’t hear them. On the second attempt, Slim and Clovia are awake. But they notice a dent on the back of the dryer, and touch-up paint on the front. I’m not clear where the damage came from. Frank Nelson offers them a $150 discount to take the dryer, but Clovia suspects it’s not a new dryer. She’s convinced by the promise of a discount, though, and Sidney and Lew are happy to leave. And the new dryer doesn’t work.
So if you like this mode of American Cornball plotting? (I do, by the way.) You likely enjoyed Scancarelli’s skill respecting the styles and conventions of the genre. If you don’t like this, the story was like chewing tin foil. You know, these are the sorts of stories he wants to tell.
Sidney and Lew return, to take out the broken one and return a new one. And that seems to work, and to end the story, with the 6th of February.
Last Monday the current story began. It features Gertie, Walt Wallet’s live-in caretaker. At the supermarket she encounters someone in distress. She’s lost her glasses, and crying. Gertie volunteers to help. I don’t know where this might lead.
I need to give a content warning about for this Mary Worth plot recap. The currently ongoing story is about a person who’s suffered abuse from a spouse. If you don’t need that in your recreational reading, you’re right, and you may want to skip that bit. But Eve Lourd, who’s the center of that story, had an anxiety attack when she noticed the suit on a mannequin.
So Tommy throws himself into being a better person. Sharing his experience with schoolkids. I hope after getting their teacher’s approval. Doing more at work, to the point the manager notices. As a way of coping with a breakup, that’s pretty good. There’s no reason to think it’ll win back your lost love, but it puts you in a better spot for the next love. And, you know, you get to enjoy being better off too. Less good is that Tommy also mentions to Brandy every 105 minutes that he’s not an addict and loves her.
Still, Brandy does notice how hard he’s working at bettering himself. And she’s been talking to a therapist, and decided she does believe him. So they’re back on. She’s still not ready to marry, by the way, but she’s open to becoming ready, in case you worried about that plot thread. Tommy visits Mary Worth for the ritual thanking Mary Worth for her advice, and to accept blueberry cobbler foodstuff. And, Tommy even gets a new job for Christmas: part-time school monitor.
The 27th of December we have a moment of Mary Worth and Doctor Jeff acknowledging how hard a year it’s been. Dr Jeff had knee surgery, for example, and Drew had some problem with his ex, and a good friend had business losses. I don’t know who Drew is and I don’t know about this good friend business. The last good friend of Dr Jeff’s I noticed was muffin enthusiast Ted Miller, a plot from early 2018 that I’m still angry about. I guess it’s nice that the characters have problems going on that don’t make it on-screen. Still, I’d have taken that year.
The current story started the 28th of December. It’s about Saul Wynter and Eve Lourd, a new Charterstone resident and dog-owner. And she’s dealing with the aftermath of a physically abusive relationship. So I’m putting the recap of that behind a cut.
I have no idea. In the current story Mark Trail’s stolen a speedboat and damaged a lot of rich people’s stuff. And knocked a man unconscious into the water. Some of this I can imagine getting cleared up. I don’t know how he’s not awaiting arraignment, though. Sorry.
The new Mark Trail had just got his first assignment in months. It’s investigating Happy Trail Farms for Teen Girl Sparkle magazine. He was freaking out about this assignment, down to not telling anyone what upset him. And by chance Kelly Welly stopped in town to mention how popular they are on the Internet, unlike Mark Trail.
Instagram Envy sends Mark Trail on a frenzy of doing little web features for Teen Girl Sparkle. Editor Amy Lee likes it. And his natural enthusiastic squareness works for readers too, a thing I can see. But that’s a side line to getting to Florida and meeting Jolly Roger.
Or re-meeting Jolly Roger, who’s been a python hunter ever since losing his farm. Mark gets bitten by a python, while trying to find a Burmese python, and asks immediately whether the snake’s all right. It’s part of what convinces Roger’s partner that this Mark Trail they can trust.
Meanwhile Cherry Trail, with Rusty, are also driving to Florida. He has a homework project of making a family tree. It’s not at all suspicious how convenient this is. Cherry was driving to see her family. And she reveals that the woman she’s told Rusty was her aunt is in fact her mother. They drive to an RV park. We meet Cherry’s younger stepsisters, Olive and Peach Pitt. Cherry says she’s not there to dredge up the past, but to talk. Olive wants to know things like was she ever going to mention she had a son? The reunion turns into a brawl immediately.
Back on Mark Trail. We get Jolly Roger’s story. Mark’s father, Happy Trail, had a deal for his neighbor and friend Roger. Sign over his farm to the Happy Trail Farms trail-mix company for a share of the revenue. All right. In practice, Happy Trails used Roger’s farm for fertilizer runoff. Algae filled the nearby ponds. Roger brought his case to the media. It stirred up controversy. Roger is a Black man going up against a wealthier white man with a corporation. So that hasn’t been happy for him.
All Mark Trail can do is apologize. For not doing anything to stop his father. Also for running away, which confirms the meaning of a flashback we’d seen in October. Mark says how he was “old enough to fight for my country, but I didn’t fight for my friend”. It’s an interesting mention. When the comic strip started in 1946, Mark Trail was, as you’d expect for his age and physical condition, a veteran. Whatever else might be getting retconned or revised, that was kept.
Back on Cherry Trail. Her mother breaks up Cherry’s fight with Olive, using a bucket of water. Peach Pitt reveals she’d asked Cherry to come for “business advice”. Peach had been following Cherry on social media. I don’t know if that was reciprocated. Peach confirms their mother’s bipolar disorder isn’t getting better. And Cherry explains to Rusty that this is why she and her father left, years ago, and have kept so much distance. The business advice is that their mother needs more professional care. Peach has found what she calls a great inpatient treatment center. It’s $20,000.
Back to Mark Trail. He’s got his Roger interview. Now he needs to interview his father. I’ll be calling him Happy Trail; it can be confusing when father and son have identical names. Happy’s glad to see him at the Miami Speedboat Mania here. He’s also huggy. But he’ll talk about the farm if that’s what he can’t avoid doing. Happy’s argument is he bought the farm fair and square. It’s not his or Roger’s fault that the land’s more valuable now. He didn’t create the toxic algae. He did buy a speedboat, though, he’ll own up to that.
And this really sets off Mark. We flash back to a childhood memory, Mark Trail’s father explaining how speedboats hurt hundreds of manatees every year. How they have to fight to keep speedboats off Florida waterways. So this is a potent mix of betrayed ideals and hypocrisy. All Mark Trail can do is something dramatic and stupid.
He steals his father’s speedboat and races off. It’s a messy, confusing chase with a lot of incidental damage. His father mentions, Mark Trail has a bad track record with boats, a motif of the James Allen run. One of his father’s employees manages to stop the boat for a moment. This gives Mark his first chance to punch someone this story. A whole fight, too, one going on a week reader time. But the cops pull up ordering him to shut off his engines.
But Mark’s inspired by the advice that an ibis and a shark offer. Or that he thinks he’s offered. The strip has not quite committed to the idea this isn’t all in Mark Trail’s head. He takes their recommendation and guns the boat. The cops pull out the sound cannon and blast like he was advocating for police accountability. Mark Trail steers his father’s speedboat into a fireworks yacht, setting off a pretty awesome scene that does a lot of damage.
Caught in the sad emotional lee of having caused Drama, Mark calls for help. The only help is Kelly Welly, who was going to Florida on a different assignment after all. (Their setup seemed ambiguous to me.) They refuse to take over the assignment, asserting it’s Mark’s first un-safe story, and one he has to tell. And that’s where things stand.
So, do I hate the strip? Do I think you should?
No; I don’t hate any of the story strips, or any of the strips I read regularly. Although Funky Winkerbean tests me. Should you hate it? No. I understand not liking it. But even if can’t stand Jules Rivera’s art or story style, then, you’re better off than if the strip had been cancelled. If the strip stays alive, then whatever artist succeeds Rivera might do work more to your liking. A few cancelled strips have been revived, but name two that lasted five years. I’ll give you Annie as the first.
Do I love the strip? I’m feeling warmer toward it. The mysteries set up in Rivera’s first month got some reasonable development. We’ve got some action. We’ve been getting more animals. And some attention on agribusiness, which is all about nature and how we use it.
I admit an unease with the revelations about Mark Trail’s family. And, to a lesser extent, Cherry Trail’s. So far as I know their families had gone unmentioned in the strip. At least they’ve gone unmentioned in long enough a time any reasonable reader would have forgotten. So here Rivera fills in families they would with reason avoid talking about.
Depicting Mark Trail’s father as the Classic Mark Trail carries symbolic heft. Depicting him, more, as someone who’s let money override his love of the environment? That feels like a betrayal. It should. It addresses the hardest lesson about idealism. Our ideals are not goals; they are ongoing works. We have to keep a reasonable level of self-inquiry and self-skepticism and stay mindful of how much we settle for convenient over right. Even our heroes will sometimes fail. And using the Classic Mark Trail as the person who’s failed gives the story a greater substance.
And again, if this doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t work for you, and there’s no arguing that. But if you don’t like it but keep finding something you need to read about it? This might be some of what it’s addressing and why it’s sticking.
Sunday Animals Watch!
I’m still tracking the animals and other nature-related items in the Sunday pages. I’d hope even people who can’t get into Rivera’s style enjoy the playfulness she’s brought to title panels. These have rendered the strip’s title in more fanciful ways. Like, having the letters spelled out by the legs of ibises, or in tree leaves, or cried out by a peacock. That’s fun and I bet satisfying for Rivera to do.
Blacktip Sharks, 24 January 2021. Like was giving Mark Trail advice.
Cicadas, 31 January 2021. They’re loud, although not so loud as peacocks.
I’m still holding off on recapping Gasoline Alley for some mysterious reason that hasn’t anything to do with the story about buying a new clothes dryer still going on. While I wait, though, I’ll look in on Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth. I’d like to say that’s always fun but the current storyline does involve a character recovering from an abusive relationship. If you don’t need that in your fun recreational reading, you are right, and may want to approach the strip and the recap with caution.
Pouch is this balloon-seller at the city zoo, by day. He’s also an informant, passing messages along to the criminal and, sometimes, cop worlds. The current storyline had him forced to sell a blue balloon. Why is Pouch so freaked out about selling the blue balloon? Because that balloon held information for a job, for one of Pouch’s clients. They need it back within an hour. Why was Aquarius, the buyer, so determined to get the balloon? He doesn’t know why it’s important, but it’ll be leverage. How did Aquarius know there was any reason to care about any of these balloons? … I don’t know. Maybe he reasoned Pouch would have something if he was still hanging around the zoo at sunset.
So this should catch you up on Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for late January 2021. If you’re reading this after about April 2021, I hope to have a more up-to-date plot recap here. That link also will hold any news about the comic strip which I get.
1 November 2020 – 23 January 2021.
My last plot recap coincided with the end of a story and start of a new one. Lucky for me. Also lucky for Mark Bernard, guest writer for this story. Not so lucky for Rabbit, delivery man for Elegance Fragrances. Rabbit mistakenly included some of the boss’s poison with a legitimate perfume delivery. The boss — Yeti — kills him. And sends Daisy Dugan to recover the poison. Daisy recovers it, but comes close to Dick Tracy, who’s investigating a string of poisonings. Daisy shoots at Tracy, causing the scientific detective to wonder why someone’s shooting him. Other than, like, half the town is relatives and remakes of crooks he’s killed.
The poison business isn’t what it used to be. Yeti has a plan to tide himself through the slump: stealing a million-dollar meteorite from the city museum. The plan is to drive one of the well-marked Elegant Fragrances trucks to three blocks away from the museum, sneak in through the sewers, and grab the rock. It’s our first clear hint that Yeti may not be Dick Tracy’s most ingenious opponent ever. The delivery van’s noticed by the cops’ drone camera network. Also, the cops have a drone camera network. It’s an element that fills a much-needed gap in Dick Tracy’s surveillance-state dystopia.
Grabbing the meteorite goes well, though, since Yeti and Daisy can just step over the security lasers. Climbing back down into the sewer goes less well, as Daisy slips and breaks something. Yeti leaves him to die. Yeti puts the meteorite in the back of the truck, takes off, hits the curb, and loses the meteorite right out the back of the truck. He doesn’t notice until he gets home.
So, ah, good job, Yeti. He gets his gun ready to shoot Dick Tracy; Sam Catchem shoots it out of his hand. Yeti flees to the back room, telling himself that he’s survived far worse. I would like him to name two examples. He won’t, though. In his haste to gather his papers and flee, he lets loose a giant poison spider who kills him.
And that, the 5th of December, closes the story. I’m sorry to see Yeti go, since he had a weird name and a snooty attitude about poisoning being elegant while guns and knives suck. And there’s his whole vendetta to destroy Dr Harvey Camel’s life. That’s enough for a character. It’s disappointing that he so completely foiled himself. Dick Tracy hardly had to show up.
The 6th of December, 2020, started the still-running story. And this is by Staton and Curtis on their own. It’s the one with, yes, a hippie commune. It starts at the city zoo, where balloon dealer and information-seller Pouch growls at a cocaine dealer name of Dollar Bill. Pouch — one of the few Dick Tracy characters to have got away with murder — doesn’t want drug dealers messing up his businesses.
Pouch calls on Tiger Lilly to rough Dollar Bill up a bit. Lilly roughs too much up, and snaps Dollar Bill’s neck. Pouch leaves Lilly to clean up his own problems. Lilly leaves the body to be discovered, figuring it’ll send the signal to keep the drug deals out of Pouch’s park. Dick Tracy gets the signal too, and suspects the start of a drug war. “It looks serious,” says Dick Tracy, “Prilosec and Meclizine have lost patience waiting for the Rolaids Empire to crumble. They might maneuver Cimetidine into giving a push.”
Aquarius, who runs the dealing network Dollar Bill was part of, replaces him with a guy named Ty. And warns Ty to be careful of the cops. Ty is immediately spotted by Sam Catchem. Ty runs into a farmer’s market, though, disappearing in the crowd. One of the farmers tips Catchem off to the commune, though. Catchem and Tracy go to the commune at 1312(!) Bedwell. They ask Aquarius for information and get nothing, not even his name.
This does send Aquarius to Pouch, to figure out his deal. He does this by asking Pouch where to find Dollar Bill and Pouch is having none of that. Aquarius offers to buy one of Pouch’s balloons, though, the blue one, which he refuses to sell at any price. It turns into an argument that park cops come in to break up. Aquarius offers to make peace by buying all the balloons, including the blue one. Given the scene, Pouch can’t refuse.
Tiger Lilly follows Aquarius. So Aquarius is incredibly aware of Tiger Lilly’s pursuit. Aquarius returns to the commune, and Lilly breaks in after everyone goes setting up an ambush. Lilly’s overwhelmed, and captured, and Aquarius demands to know who sent him and what he’s after.
And that’s where we stand. It’s on a lot of characters noticing the people following them. Also thinking people were following them who weren’t. It’s a curious little motif for the comic. We’ll see where it leads in about twelve weeks.
My schedule calls for Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley. But I realize I may want to postpone that for … let’s say two weeks. So I will have a Gasoline Alley plot recap at this link, but around the 16th of February. So I’ll go to the next strip on my routine instead, then, and that’ll be … ooh! Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail. Should be fun. See you then.
Lockbramble is this fiefdom near enough Camelot. Lord Grunyard rules it, in name. He’d rather not have anything to do with anything. It’s actually ruled by the people living there, and he’s fine with that. They use Grunyard as a shield against meddlers like King Arthur “fixing” their nice setup. This was established in the 2012 story that introduced Rory Red Hood to the Prince Valiant cast.
Valiant, back home at last, had found a little awkward money problem. Sir Gawain has been managing the estate very well, thanks to his beau, Rory Red Hood. She’s technically speaking a fugitive, for her stance that the people should govern themselves. But she also is really good at running things and is making a lot of money. With Queen Aleta prodding Valiant, and Princess Maeve kicking Prince Arn out of bed, the menfolk agree to a compromise. Rory Red Hood can go on managing things and making a lot of money for them. Just stop with the undermining the social order.
Around the 15th of November we move into a fresh story. Rory means to return to Lockbramble. Sir Gawain goes with her. So does someone named Little Ox, who I didn’t even know was in the story. Valiant goes along too because it’s been all peaceful for whole weeks now. In a snowy gorge — a “defile”, the strip teaches me — a band of 1d4+4 bandits ambush them. After Valiant and Gawain charge into the action, Ox charges from farther behind. Rory gets to a ledge and shoots arrows at the bandits, who flee.
Little Ox is badly wounded, though. They’re near enough Little Ox’s house to bring him home. And we learn Little Ox is Rory’s brother. Rory, her mother, and Ox’s wife get to work on the medicine-ing and arguing about Rory’s life choices. Valiant and Gawain return to the scene of the ambush to harass one of the not-yet-dead bandits. They figure to make him tell what the deal is.
He’s quite eager to tell. Durward, he explains, is bound to Lord Hallam of the neighboring Wedmarsh. Rory foiled Hallam’s schemes to take over Lockbramble when she dragged Lord Grunyard back from Camelot. Hallam’s looking for revenge, yes, but also to kill Lockbramble’s real leader. Durward despairs for his family. Hallam’s sure to think his capture was actually Durward turning traitor, and so will punish Durward’s family. Valiant suggests he could save Durward’s family. This sounds great to Durward. I’m not sure what Valiant is getting out of this besides some thrills. But he and Gawain are off, and that’s where things stood as of Sunday. What could go wrong in this furtive mission to rescue hostages-of-fate for a person enthusiastic to turn on his evil boss? We may know by April.
So, Barney Google and Snuffy Smith. John Rose, the current cartoonist, has made a habit of having Google reappear in his comic once or twice a year. This week looked like the start of one of those visits. Surprisingly soon after Barney Google’s last visit, but that happens sometimes.
After the first panel, though, Barney dropped away. Instead we saw and focused on what, I believe, is a new character, who’s been the star of this whole week’s strips:
Spark Plug the racehorse was one of the first great fads of Billy DeBeck’s Barney Google comic strip. Sparky caught the public’s imagination. The young Charles Schulz picked up the nickname Sparky in honor of the character, and friends of the Peanuts creator used it his whole life.
Spark Plug fueled a bunch of horserace-themed stories that DeBeck expertly used for publicity. (I’m drawing this from Brian Walker’s fascinating Barney Google and Snuffy Smith: 75 Years of an American Legend, which gave me a better appreciation for the strip’s craft.) Sometimes in surprisingly easy ways: he’d ask readers to write in names for horses and used the best-sounding ones for the rest of the horseracing field. (I am legitimately impressed with how simple but good a scheme that is.) Eventually DeBeck realized, or maybe intuited, that there were great possibilites for the strip by incorporating hillbilly humor in it. He introduced Snuffy Smith and clan, who took over the comic and squeezed Barney Google and Spark Plug out. Except for the occasional guest week.
This week we’ve seen a bunch of strips about Li’l Sparky, Spark Plug’s grandson. So far as I know, this is a new character. He makes a lot of horse-themed puns. This seems thin for a recurring character but, eh, I can’t blame John Rose for trying. The Wizard of Id’s pet dragon Henry and Peter’s pet Wolf in B.C. opened those strips up too.
What’s also caught my eye is that John Rose’s signature is accompanied by a Sarah Rose. I guess a relative, but don’t know. I also don’t know whether Sarah Rose is a new partner on the comic or is just contributing stuff for Li’l Sparky. If I get any news I’ll pass it along. Anyway you’re not the only person to notice the credit.
“Towns Ellerbee” is a fake name The Phantom, Kit Walker, uses in the current story. He gave it to someone we know as the Trusted Man. I can’t say why he gave the Towns Ellerbee name rather than Kit Walker. It might be so as to keep other people in the story (Ernesto Salinas and Victor Batalla) from linking this person to The Phantom.
Monday the 24th started Then Came Towns Ellerbee, the 256th weekday-continuity story. It picks up on a trio of stories from 2011 and 2012: A Detente with Crime, and The Den with Crime, and Mexico’s Phantom. These introduced Ernesto Salinas, a police chief in Ciudad Jardin, Mexico. Salinas used his prowess as a lucha libre wrestler to battle organized crime for territory. We’d last seen Salinas beating his old childhood friend Victor Batalla for control over some part of Ciudad Jardin. Now? They’re both in Rhodia, the fascist state bordering Bangalla. Salinas is under “house arrest”, and Batalla taunts him with actual arrest and entombment in Gravelines Prison. There’s some mutterings about a broken promise of safe conduct from the Rhodian government. When Batalla falls asleep Salinas calls his assistant back in Mexico. His assistant — the Trusted Man — flies to Bangalla. The Trusted Wife sends a note to Walker, Box 7, Mawitaan.
The Phantom moves to intercept the Trusted Man, before he gets himself in serious trouble with the Rhodian police. As the bus crosses from Bangalla to Rhodia he gets into serious trouble: his forged passport is awful. He readies for a fight with the border guards. What do you know, though, but Kit Walker’s on the bus too, and picks a fight before the Trusted Man can have it. The Phantom and the Trusted Man are able to punch out all four border guards pretty efficiently. This would seem to cause trouble for the bus driver and the other passengers. The Phantom tells them to drive to the next town, report what happened and describe the two vigilante superheroes in great detail. I’m not sure this would actually clear the innocents. I guess The Phantom must do this sort of thing often enough Rhodian security is used to it.
The Trusted Man is happy to team up with “Towns Ellerbee”, as The Phantom calls himself, to rescue Ernesto Salinas. They make their way to Victor Batalla’s compound. There, The Phantom’s advanced skills in clobbering people impresses the Trusted Man. But there’s no sign of Salinas. They need to take Batalla by surprise. The Trusted Man goes in through the front door. The Phantom breaks in through the back window with the help of a trusted rhinoceros.
I’m sorry, I didn’t quite make a big enough deal of that. I’m not sure how to frame it well. But The Phantom got, somewhere, a rhino to charge through the back of this house. And then the rhino has nothing else to do with the story. I don’t know where it’s from. I don’t know how it got involved here. I have to suppose it was a statue or a taxidermy model or something like that which the Phantom slid through the window. It’s a wild, striking image and I don’t quite understand it. But it makes an impression.
Batalla taunts the Trusted Man, asserting there is no Salinas anymore. After the Trusted Man throws him into the wall enough Batalla explains he turned Salinas over to the Rhodian authorities, perhaps for making long-distance calls on the house phone. They sent him to Gravelines Prison. It’s a grim place. In a noteworthy 18-month-long storyline The Python arranged for Diana Walker to be imprisoned and almost killed in it. The Phantom knows well where it is. To raid Gravelines now requires doing something about Batalla and his henchmen.
Fortunately for them, the Phantom is also the Unknown Commander of the Jungle Patrol. He’s able to order this private army to kinda technically speaking invade Rhodia and abduct people for trial in a country they never set foot in. The Trusted Man is impressed with The Phantom’s resources. The two set off for Gravelines.