What’s Going On In Prince Valiant? Why are you angry at Prince Valiant of all things? October 2022 – January 2023


The last couple months of Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant have been about freeing people from a witch-hunter. The catch is that in the Prince Valiant world there are witches. And people have good reason to be afraid of them. A couple months ago we saw Morgan Le Fay bring a flood to London, killing dozens, for her (and Valiant and others with them) to escape. This story we saw witches call down asteroids from the skies to kill their would-be tormentor.

So this is what has me angry. It’s the same thing I can’t swallow about the movie Hocus Pocus or certain episodes of Sabrina the Teenaged Witch. I grant the dramatic irony of witch hunters in a world where witches really exist, especially if (as far as we can tell) they go after the completely innocent. But the moral outrage of witch-hunting is people letting their own fears and imagination and prejudices into actual persecution. Make witches real and present and actively working against the witch-hunter, and you have a hard time not trivializing this injustice. I know, it’s just a story. But we have enough trouble with would-be witch-hunters without so many stories building on the idea that sometimes they’re in the right.

All this should catch you up to late January 2023 in Prince Valiant, though. If you’re reading this after about April 2023 I likely have a more up-to-date plot recap here. And there’s still a nice solid story rolling through here, interesting despite my objections.

Prince Valiant.

23 October 2022 – 22 January 2023.

Dialyodd the witch-hunter was about to set fire to Afton, one of a couple women very good at their farm work, just because Aleta, Queen of the Witches, declared her to be under her protection. Yeubar, alongside Prince Valiant’s son Nathan, swarmed the scene with bees. It’s a great opportunity to free Afton in the chaos of the moment that doesn’t work. Dialyodd spots a great chance to burn three devils now. He assures a cautious mob member that Camelot will have nothing to say about burning Nathan.

Audrey, Afton’s partner, does escape the chaos and get back to Camelot. She’s able to summon one cavalry: Valiant and Galahad gallop off to the scene. She also gets another, though. Aleta, Queen of the Witches, tells Maeve and Audrey they have work to do too. While Dialyodd gathers a nice big party together at a megalithic temple (I suppose Stonehenge, though for all I know it could be another ancient stone circle), Aleta gathers ingredients and allies. With Sebel, who I totally know who that is, and Morgan Le Fay they cast a spell calling for the sky to come to Earth, and let like find like.

Val and Dialyodd cross swords, as Galahad holds the witch hunter's minions at bay: 'Back, you dogs who worship a corrupted travesty of God!' he bellows. A shower of meteors streaks overhead, and the gawkers who had gathered for one firey spectacle flee before the chaos of another! Nathan cuts Yewubar free, as the already unbound Afton at last joins battle against her tormentors ... while, miles away, Morgan leads Aleta, Maeve, Sebel, and Audrey in an ancient ritual. ' ... Bring Sky to Earth ... ' Dialyodd may be a physically powerful bully, but as a swordsman he is no match for Prince Valiant of the Round Table. It is not long before the witch hunter is unseated ... but what he angrily spews upon rising shocks Val. 'You! You are a knight of Camelot, and this is treachery! I had a pact with Camelot, and you have broken it!'
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 25th of December, 2022. I quite liked this twist, by the way, as something which seems to come from nowhere but which also makes sense. And something which should make Valiant’s life more complicated from here; there’s something exciting about a plan that should settle one problem going completely awry. What I don’t know is if Galahad knew about this before getting on-scene, or how much he did know.

Valiant and Galahand charge into the demon-burning. Valiant’s taken aback when Dialyodd complains of Camelot breaking its pact with him. Dialyodd claims Camelot agreed to not interfere with his crusade in exchange for protecting the western shores from Saxon invasion. Galahad says if that’s true they should keep the children but leave. Valiant is too angry to care, and attacks Dialyodd. He doesn’t kill the witch-hunter, though. The Orionid meteor shower does it first, sending a meteor through Dialyodd’s heart. It’s a heck of an accomplishment, given that the Orionid meteor shower wasn’t discovered until 1839. (It’s one of a couple meteor showers created by Halley’s Comet, by the way.) If the text is right that these are the Orionids, the story is happening in October, by the way.

It’s convenient to our heroes to have the witch-hunter out of the way. But having the stars fall from the sky to shoot him through the heart seems unlikely to convince people that Dialyodd was wrong. And Morgan Le Fay sneaks out to Stonehenge, finds the stone that killed Dialyodd, and brings it back to her castle. So that might be leading somewhere.

But where that does lead is to this week’s comics. You know now what’s been doing on the last several months, in slightly less time than it would take to read yourself. When I get back to the strip around April we’ll be able to say whether this thread continues, or whether we’re on a new adventure.

Next Week!

Speaking of new adventures, how did that story of the small-time mobster trying to be an actor in a comic-strip-based-musical turn out? And how did it turn into a counterfeit Leonardo da Vinci painting? And did we really get there by way of a furry convention? We’ll get to Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy next week, all going well. See you then.

What’s Going On In Broom Hilda?


Well, she built a tornado shelter and stocked it well with everything that she would need, except for a handle on the inside door, so she got stuck inside. She reflected how well, she’d surely be looked for by her many friends and … oh, yeah, that’s a bit of a problem. So … oh, who am I kidding, this is never going to work as a What’s Going On In series. Maybe I can do that Mara Llave: Keeper of Time series instead if I figure out what’s going on in it.

Broom Hilda, showing a door in the hill to Gaylord: 'I built me a tornado shelter and stocked it with all the necessities!' She walks down the stairs into it. 'Food, water, bedding, paper products, books. I didn't forget a thing!' Looking up the sealed, smooth door: 'Except an inside door release!'
Russell Myers’s Broom Hilda for the 17th of January, 2023. It is unusual there was a story running for most of a week, though, isn’t it? This seems unusual. Glad seeing it, though. It’s fun when a strip stretches a little.

So anyway you’re now caught up on Russell Myers’s Broom Hilda, enjoy!

What’s Going On In The Phantom (weekdays)? Where did the Bandar cavalry come from? October 2022 – January 2023


From Bandar. Do try to keep up.

For those who came in late: The Phantom, in his escape from Gravelines Prison, saw “the Bandar nation” ride out of the mists to save him and Savarna Devi. The question is how they knew where to be. This hasn’t been explicitly answered but we can surmise. Mozz the Prophet finished telling The Phantom of the wrack-and-ruin he foresaw. When finished, The Phantom took Mozz’s Chronicle and set it in the catacomb reserved for his body. Mozz had deceived The Phantom: what he seemed to read from was not his text of his prophecy, but one of The Phantom’s own Chronicles. Somehow the prophet was able to anticipate that The Phantom wouldn’t check which volume he was setting on the shelves and which he was hiding. We last saw Diana Walker reading Mozz’s Chronicle. I have a suspicion what dots we’re meant to connect.

And for the Word of God, or at least the author, about the strip, you couldn’t do better than Tony DePaul’s recent essay discussing the writing and his plans. Also explaining a controversial choice in the writing. And that there was a controversy.

So this essay should catch you up to mid-January 2023 in Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom (Weekdays). If you’re reading this after about April 2023, or you’re interested in the separate Sunday continuity, there is likely a more useful plot recap for you here.

The Phantom (Weekdays).

17 October 2022 – 14 January 2023.

Having heard Mozz’s prophecy of how rescuing Savarna Devi from Gravelines Prison will destroy his family, The Ghost Who Walks sets out anyway. He’s making some changes from the prophecy, though. He’s setting out a couple days later, for one thing. He’s accompanied by Devil, his wolf. He’s setting out with the knowledge of the prophecy. He’s setting out with all the self-ruining confidence of a guy who’s crammed every strategy guide before playing the game for the first time. It’s a fun energy to read, as he keeps trying to remember what comes next and doubting that he could know. Also in the delight he takes in, he thinks, outwitting Fate. One great side of The Phantom is he’s basically happy. His glee at being clever is infectious.

One thing he does know: in the prophecy he reveals to Devi the critical information — the location of Jampa, who killed her family and enslaved her as a child — in a post-surgical daze. So he figures all he has to do is not get shot. That was already part of the plan. Further planning: if he does get shot, he has to not have a post-surgical daze. So he drops in on Dr Fajah Kimathi, a veterinarian who in Mozz’s vision performs the operation that saves his life. And here we get controversy.

A large man wakes up from his bed as The Phantom orders him: 'Don't move ... ' The Phantom is holding two guns on him and his wife, and Devil the wolf is staring at them.
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 27th of October, 2022. I know this may look unfair but the veterinarian’s husband here has been known to collect stamps.

The Phantom’s intention is to warn the doctor that she must not save his life, if she’s pressed by Savarna Devi to do emergency surgery on him. He does this by waking the doctor and her husband in the middle of the night. And holding his guns on them. That is, on people who not only haven’t done anything objectionable yet, but who would in the prophecy do heroic service to him. Tony DePaul explains his understanding of The Phantom’s thoughts in the essay above. I agree with DePaul. The Phantom figures conspicuously holstering his guns he shows he chooses not to be the threat a masked man breaking into their house is. I also think The Phantom’s wrong. Waking someone while holding guns on them does not put them in a more agreeable mood however much you put the guns away. But that is part of the fun of The Phantom. He has blind spots. Here, that people he knows through hearing of Mozz’s vision don’t know who he is or what he’s on about. (Although they’ve got to suspect this is The Phantom of regional lore.)

With that done successfully-ish, The Phantom figures how to get into Gravelines. Hijacking a truck in worked well enough in the vision, so he does that again. And he fights his way up to Savarna’s cell. Before breaking her out he stops to ask her something. In Mozz’s vision this was whether she was done with vengeance. She said she was, a claim The Phantom (now, in the present) decides was a lie.

The Phantom, holding off unlocking Savarna Devi's prison cell: 'We're not going anywhere until you say it.' Devi: If you fall, I'll leave you!' The Phantom opens the cage and hands an assault rifle to her. She thinks: 'I won't ... but he doesn't know that.'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 15th of December, 2022. From here Devi goes on trying to push The Phantom towards the “original” course of events, the one that gets him shot on the road to that veterinarian’s. But that’s also what looks all the time like the sensible path for them. The Phantom does some wrangling with whether this is Fate trying to force things back into line, and it’s a fair thing for him to wonder.

I’m not sure that’s fair. I think it plausible she sincerely believed she was done with vengeance. Learning where Constable Jampa was presented an irresistible temptation. Now The Phantom asks a question to make super-sure he doesn’t let slip Jampa’s location: if he’s shot does she promise to leave him behind? She says she will, which we know from her thought balloon is a lie. I love this irony.

We get a haunting moment in this of other prisoners, possibly also on death row, begging for The Phantom to release them instead. It’s hard to give a fair reason The Phantom should not rescue them. He knows Devi can help fight their way back out, but that doesn’t mean the others don’t deserve rescue.

To the breakout. Devi sees no reason not to grab an armored vehicle and shoot their way out. The Phantom knows. It’s gunning their way out through the well-defended roads that gets him shot. But then how to get out instead?

We see dozens of Bandar people running through the mists, climbing down vines, readying weapons in The Phantom's support. One of the scouts says, 'The Bandar nation is with us, Phantom.'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 11th of January, 2023. Won’t fib; this is one of those Crowning Moments of Awesome they talk about on TV Tropes. I had wondered why the Jungle Patrol couldn’t be used to break Devi, and others, out of Gravelines, although I suppose they have an institutional structure ironically more vulnerable than the Bandar people do. While the Jungle Patrol may operate across national borders, Bangalla can be pressured to cut off headquarters’s water and electricity.

Devil, who wasn’t there in Mozz’s vision, has an answer. He guides The Phantom off to the mists where, as said in the introduction here, the Bandar nation has come. The Gravelines guards may be ready to handle one or two people with machine guns. Dozens of people with poison-tipped arrows, though? That’s something they can’t even imagine is coming. And the best part is there’s no way an evil state like Rhodia will retaliate against the Bandar people for crossing the border and attacking a maximum-security prison. (I snark. I’m sure DePaul has put some thought into how Rhodia might answer this.) And this is where we stand as of the second week of January, 2023.

Next Week!

I get a break! It’s one of the Sunday-only strips. And oh, I get to be angry about this for a change! Next week find out why I’m mad at Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant. If all goes well.

What’s Going On In Alley Oop? Why do Alley Oop and Ooola have a daughter? October 2022 – January 2023


Myc, their daughter, is some weird organism ageing dozens of years in a day. It’s attached to Alley Oop and Ooola because they’re the lead characters. Past that we’re still learning her deal so I don’t have more to say about them.

On another note, Jack Bender, longtime artist on Alley Oop, has died, reports D D Degg at The Daily Cartoonist. I came in to reading Alley Oop and appreciating his work only at its tail end but did always enjoy it. The Daily Cartoonist shares more of his life’s work, including the sports comics he made his name on.

This essay should catch you up on Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for early January, 2023. All of my Alley Oop essays should be at this link, so if you’re reading this after about April 2023 there’s probably a more current plot recap there. Now to the past fourteen weeks of shenanigans and whatnot.

Alley Oop.

10 October 2022 – 7 January 2023.

Someone was tampering with Doc Wonmug’s past, going back to divert his young self from an interest in science. It’s Doctor Atoby, of course, Doc Wonmug’s counterpart in Universe-4, the all-villains universe. His goal: to rid the multiverse of 156 of his counterparts, establishing himself as not just the greatest but the hardest-working evil genius in the multiverse.

Alley Oop, Ooola, and Wonmug appearing in the past: 'Since Dr Atoby came a day early, we'll just go back in time one *more* day.' ZANG. Younger Wonmug: 'Nope. He was here *yesterday*.' Doc Wonmug: 'Dr Atoby is anticipating our every move! To keep him from affecting my future, we have to go back even further. We'll go to the day I was born!' The day he was born: they appear in front of the office of Dr J G Atoby, Ob/Gyn. Doc Wonmug: 'Oh, no! There's nothing I can do!' Alley Oop: 'Oh, no! Dr Atoby's a GOBLIN!'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 22d of October, 2022. This all reminds me of a plot thread in David Gerrold’s early-70s time travel novel The Man Who Folded Himself. Also, I do like Alley Oop’s nonsense in the last panel; it’s a good dumb joke to pair with a serious (yet ridiculous) menace from the narrative.

The plan seems unshakeable. Alley Oop and Ooola keep trying to go back to the day before Atoby first visites the young Wonmug, only to find he’s gone back to a day before that. It’s the logical yet funny end and points out one problem of a “Time War” story. It’s hard to see how it could ever be won. Alley Oop and Ooola ask, if Doc Wonmug’s history has been rewritten so he never got into science how does he still have a lab and all? Wonmug explains something about changes in time taking time to change the present. It doesn’t make sense but if we don’t have some buffer like this we can’t have a story, okay?

The Clawed Oracle, cat-shaped being unbound by time and space, has advice for Alley Oop and Ooola. (Doc Wonmug is getting too much into free jazz and other “silly” arts stuff, as the time changes seep into ‘now’.) That advice is: take the battle to Doc Atoby. So they venture into Universe-4, the villain world. It’s a difficult place to be. Everything kind of operates on the inverse-logic of Bizarro World so it’s confusing working out normal conversations. Like, when the person who works the Misinformation Booth offers to help, should Alley Oop clobber them or what?

On the barren far-future Earth. Oola: 'If there's one thing I know about villains, it's that you love a dramatic monologue about a convoluted plan.' Doc Atoby: 'Guilty as charged.' As Alley Oop moves around in the background Ooola says, 'Once you abandon us here in the future, we'll start mining for minerals. Then we'll process those minerals into useful materials. Using those materials, we'll build a time machine, then find you and bring you to justice.' Doc Atoby: 'Preposterous! Do you truly think you're capable of such ingenuity?' Ooola, shoving Atoby backwards, where he falls over the kneeling Alley Oop: 'Nope!'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 2nd of December, 2022. Another strip I really like, as a good blend of comedy and dramatic movement. Also that it’s really clever of Ooola to monologue in this plausible-enough say while Alley Oop silently sets up for the actual plan. I understand the people upset the strip has shifted to comedy first, adventure second, but even they couldn’t be upset if they were all like this.

Our Heroes barely start figuring out a plan when Doc Atoby captures them. His Time Heptahedron is far more powerful than their Time Cubes. he brings them seven billion years in the future, when Earth is a lifeless void, a half-billion years from being consumed by the sun. He plans to leave them there. But Ooola outwits him, and Alley Oop catches him, and they’re left with what to do with the villain. Abandoning him in the dead future Earth is so villainous he approves. Lecturing doesn’t work. What about going back into his childhood to make him less villainous? That’s only arguably murder.

So, they go to Doc Atoby’s childhood and give him a puppy, to make him less villainous, or at least a villain with a cybernetic evil dog. Hard to be sure. But when they get back to the present, Doc Atoby’s a much less evil, less ambitious mad scientist; he’s into free jazz and all that stuff. So this somehow undoes all the time-tampering done with our (Universe-2) Doc Wonmug. I assume also the other versions of Doc Wonmug since there’s a couple that are surely jokes they’ll want to come back to. And with that, the 16th of December, we come to a happy conclusion.


Myc: 'Mom, are you guys really okay that I'm a fungus?' Ooola: 'Myc, your father and I are time travelers. We've had some pretty wild experiences. It takes a lot to shock us. One time, in another universe, we saw George Washington officiate a wedding between a duck and a banana peel.' Myc: 'I don't know what any of that means, but it sounds beautiful.' Ooola: 'OH, it was, honey, it was. Hold on a sec and I'll fetch the souvenir wedding album.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 4th of January, 2023. This story’s done a nice job of having Myc be quite intelligent without having her automatically know things she couldn’t, like who George Washington is or what a banana peel might be.

The 17th of December started the current story, with Alley Oop and Ooola getting back to Moo. Inside Alley Oop’s cave is a crying infant. Nobody in Moo knows who she is. Or why she’s growing so fast, going through years of (human) growth in hours. She tells Our Heroes that her name is Myc. And … she’s pretty sure she’s a fungus. Is that weird? No, of course not. They’ve lived. They know people from Mastodon who are feral dreams hoping to invade shampoo by way of Louisa May Alcott novels. Being a rapid-ageing fungus from space is mundane in all but the literal sense. But what her deal is, past that? We don’t yet know.

Next Week!

Mozz’s Prophecy comes to pass! Or it doesn’t, because we saw it, so it can’t unfold like we were told! If we were told it correctly! If you’re confused, hold on about a week as I get to Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity. Or read Tony DePaul’s blog because he explained everything using better-chosen words about two weeks ago. Your call.

What’s Going On In Eye Lie Popeye? Also, what is Eye Lie Popeye? October – December 2022


Eye Lie Popeye is another web comic about everyone’s favorite crusty sailor who isn’t Shipwreck from the 80s G.I.Joe cartoons. At least I’ve been treating it as a web comic, as Marcus Williams’s manga-style comic book’s been presented to us. It’s properly a comic book of at least twenty pages, available for preorder. One page has been shared roughly each week for the last couple months. We’ve had ten pages published online and I don’t know whether there’s going to be a continuation. They do want to sell the comics, after all.

One may ask: is this adventure canonical? One may answer: does that matter? If the story’s good does it matter whether it gets referenced anywhere else? But it probably is. Randy Milholland, who draws the new Popeye strips, and half of the Olive and Popeye side project, seems to have an inclusive view of what’s Popeye Canon. He’s tossed references to the radio series of the 1930s, to the Popeye’s Island Adventure short cartoons, to Bobby London’s run on the strip, and to characters created for the King Features cartoons of the 1960s into his tenure. If I had to put a bet I’d suppose some of this gets into the “official” strips. Heck, I’d be only a little surprised if Milholland worked in a reference to the bonkers pinball game backstory Python Anghelo wrote up.

So I can’t say whether there will ever be another of these What’s Going On In installments. But if there is, well, this should catch you up to the start of 2023. I’ll have all my Eye Lie Popeye essays arranged at this link. Thank you.

Eye Lie Popeye.

October – December 2022.

A shadowy, intimidating figure stands over a field of ruins, including an unconscious Bluto. Popeye struggles to find spinach which the figure warns is not to be found. Popeye’s stubbornness will kill him — and then we hear the Jeep, drawing the figure’s attention away from Popeye. I bet you’re wondering how Popeye got into this fix.

A battered Popeye holds a can of spinach up to his mouth, with only flakes coming out. A shadowy figure standing over him gloats: 'Even if you had *spinach* left over, you'd be no match for me. Hmph. How typical. Stubborn and self-centered. ... Have it your way, little *sailor-man*. This is your END!' And from off-screen, Eugene the Jeep calls.
Panel from Marcus Williams’s Eye Lie Popeye, page one. The full page has many panels, in a fairly complicated pattern (that’s still easy to read), but this will give you a feel for the kind of technique to expect.

So we flash back to the start. Judy P’Tooty, reporter from the Puddleburg Splash, wants to write the story of how Popeye lost his eye. (The name Puddleburg Splash references a 1934 Popeye story. That story’s the source of a panel you might have seen where Popeye explains cartoonists are just like normal people except they’re crazy.) Olive Oyl intercepts her and promises to tell the story. We get a nice view of what looks like a classic (cartoon) adventure. A titanic mer-man sucker-punches Popeye and harasses Olive Oyl. Popeye eats his spinach, rockets in, and smashes the mer-man into cans of tuna. Only, this time, in the sucker-punching the monster knocked out his eye. I think the mer-man may be a representation of King Neptune, who appeared, among other places, in the 1939 story “Homeward Bound”. It’s the one going on in the Vintage Thimble Theatre run on Comics Kingdom right now.

Bluto has a different take. In Bluto’s telling, sure, Popeye was fighting a giant horned octopus. This series has not been short on fun monster designs. I’m not sure if this is meant to be any particular giant cephalopod from the rest of the Popeye universe; there’s a couple it might be. But it’s Bluto who stepped up to save the day, using Popeye as the impenetrable rock to beat the monster back. And in smashing Popeye against the monster the eye popped out. Popeye and Olive Oyl declare this story baloney, but P’Tooty is barely listening. She’s telling someone that she’s located and eliminated each stash — which she tells the gang is just her taking notes.

Wimpy narrates a fight between Popeye and Bill the De-Ming, Popeye punching the De-Ming over and over, until the De-Ming fires a finger laser at the sailor: 'In an instant, Popeye came bursting through the window while pummeling the face of a villain! Shattered glass rained throughout the tiny cafe, sparkling as light danced over their fragmented surfaces. I of course covered my burgers to save them from the ensuing calamity. BiLL was the Ruffian's name. While I couldn't hear all of the intimate details of what was being said between the furry-winged scoundrel and Popeye, I could clearly see the murderous grin plastered across its face. It did mention that the fight was all but lost due to the fact Popeye had already injested a can of spinach. That did not, however, stop this twisted criminal from targeting the innocent bystanders onlooking the fray! Flashing forth, a bright laser beam shot from the tip of the creature's middle finger! I was so entranced with the glorious flavors of my burger, I didn't realize that I was the unfortunate target of the impending doom ray! By the time I took notice, I couldn't move! In the milliseconds it takes to blink, Popeye had jumped in front of the beam just in time to absorb the damage intended for me. Unfortunately, his eye was sacrificed so that I imght live to eat another hamburger! I was so grateful that I even offered my savior one of my burgers as a reward. He declined. Thankfully.'
Marcus Williams’s Eye Lie Popeye page 8. This is my favorite of the pages we’ve had so far. The action’s great, Bill the De-Ming is nicely rendered in a way that’s cute and menacing at once, Wimpy looks great, and the narration feels like it’s got Wimpy’s voice; it’s rococo but for a purpose.

Wimpy has yet another take, in which he’s interrupted during a six-hamburger lunch. Popeye smashes through the window, battling another, this time winged, monster. This one’s called Bill and I believe it to be one of the underground demons, or De-Mings, from the final story Elzie Segar worked on before his death. This makes me suppose the other monsters are from other Thimble Theatre adventures. Bill targets Wimpy with a finger laser, as one will, and Popeye intercepts it, saving Wimpy’s life but losing his eye. Bluto calls this nonsense but Popeye acknowledges that this at least happened.

Meanwhile, P’Tooty has lost her patience. She declares this a waste of time and demands Popeye tell her where is the eye. And that she’s done with her cover story. She is, in truth, P’Tooty the Jade Witch. She’s sent by the Sea Hag. She’s eliminated all the spinach in the area, including the can Popeye keeps in his shirt collar. She wants to know where is the Bejeweled Eye of Haggery, and where is the Jeep. She dissolves into this huge inky goop, bubbling up from the sea, and it’s not hard to connect this to page one.

Olive: 'Uh ... Miss P'Tooty, did you mean to say 'how' he lost his eye?' P'Tooty: 'You heard me right, folks. I've listened to enough of your silly stories to know that I won't get to the truth by way of flashbacks. And you can drop the 'miss' Olive. You may call me P'TOOTY THE JADE WITCH!' (As she transforms first into a jade-colored creature.) 'As you've hopefully realized by now, I've been sent by the elder witch, the SEA HAG! Surpriiiise! And YES, Popeye, I've taken the liberty of locating and destroying each and every can of spinach you've hid around thei dump using my magic. Even that emergency can you keep in your lil' shirt collar. I got that one when we shook hands.' Popeye, alarmed: 'Blow me down! Not'sk all me spinach!!' P'Tooty: 'That's right. And seeing as you won't tell me where you've hidden the bejeweled eye, it would seem you've chosen a much harsher path to ruin. Time's up, Sailor-Man. Farewell.' (And now, as a blobby monster) 'I won't ask you this but once, Popeye. Where have you hidden the BEJEWELED EYE OF HAGGERY, and where is the JEEP?' Popeye: is that blob talk'n to me?' Bluto: 'THIS. This is why I beat people up.'
Marcus Williams’s Eye Lie Popeye page 10. Bluto might have the best line in the book so far, with this panel, but I’ve enjoyed the characterizations of everyone so far.

And that’s where we stand.

Oh, for the record. None of the flashback encounters we’ve seen can be perfectly true. Popeye was introduced, with his missing eye, before he ever met Olive Oyl, King Neptune, Bluto, Wimpy, or Bill the De-Ming. At least in the Thimble Theatre continuity. But you knew that. And there’s no limit to the number of continuities of Popeye except the willingness of people to hear the stories.

Next Week!

OK, now I’ve run out of Popeye web comics. I intend to get back to Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop next week. Promise.

Why is everyone mad at _Funky Winkerbean_ this week? (December 31, 2022)


What can you say about a 50-year-old comic strip that died? That it loved the Barry Allen Flash and the mythical Marvel Bullpen? That it was full of names that were not exactly jokes but were odd without hitting that Paul Rhymer-esque mellifluous absurdity? That it spent the last ten years with no idea how to pace its plot developments? Yes, it was all that, but more, it got a lot of people mad at it.

This is not to say that Funky Winkerbean was a bad strip. Outright bad strips aren’t any fun to snark on. You have to get something that’s good enough to read on its own, but that’s also trying very hard to be something it’s faceplanting at. So let me start by saying there’s a lot that was good about Tom Batiuk’s work. The strip started as a goofball slice-of-life schooltime wackiness strip. It would’ve fit in with the web comics of the late 90s or early 2000s. It transitioned into a story-driven, loose continuity strip with remarkable ease. And it tried to be significant. That it fell short of ambitions made it fun to gather with other people and snark about, and to get mad about. Still, credit to Tom Batiuk for having ambition and acting on it. It allowed us to have a lot of fun for decades.

Enough apologia; now, what’s going on and why is everyone angry about it? Last week’s get-together of the whole Funky Winkerbean and Crankshaft gang at St Spires was the last we’ve seen of our cast. Monday started in some vaguely Jetsonian future drawn by comic book celebrity John Byrne. (Byrne has drawn for Funky Winkerbean in the past, most notably for several months while Tom Batiuk recovered from foot surgery. I think Byrne also helped redesign the characters to their modern level of photorealism. I may have that credit wrong.)

Spaceship car flying up to the Village Booksmith shop. Future Lisa: 'I've never been this far into the Outskirts before! Is this what I think it is?' Future Mom: 'Yes ... it's an antiquarian bookstore ... one of the last to survive the burnings! I located an old tree copy of your grandmother's book 'Westview' for your birthday!' They climb up the stairs.
Tom Batiuk and John Byrne’s Funky Winkerbean for the 27th of December, 2022. I’m not sure whether Future Lisa and Future Mom are supposed to be hovering, in the second panel there, or whether it’s just the shadows distracting me. Also, while it is terrible to have a time you might describe as ‘Burnings’, if all it does is reduce the number of the antiquarian bookstores … I mean, I hate to admit it but that’s getting off pretty well.

This epilogue week stars Future Lisa, granddaughter of Summer Moore and great-granddaughter of Les and Lisa Moore. For a birthday treat Future Lisa’s mother takes her by Future Car to “the outskirts”, that is to say, Crankshaft. Future Car has the design of that spaceship toy made from the gun that murdered My Father John Darling. They’re there to go to an antiquarian bookstore, “one of the last to survive the burnings”. The term suggests a dystopia before a utopia, which is a common enough pattern in science fiction stories.

The bookstore is the little hobby business of Lillian Probably-Has-A-Last-Name, from Crankshaft. The old-in-our-time Lillian isn’t there, but a pretty nice-looking robot with a lot of wheels is. Since the bookstore is only (apparently) accessible by stairs I’m not sure how the robot gets in there. I guess if it only has to be delivered here once it can be badly designed for stairs. I had assumed the bookstore was desolate, since the sign for it was hanging on only a single hook. I forgot one of the basic rules for Tom Batiuk universes, though, which is that signs are never hung straight. This sounds like snark but I’m serious. Signs are always hung or, better, taped up a little off-level.

Future Mom’s brought her daughter there to get a “tree copy” of Summer Moore’s Westview, the book that made the future swell. We saw her starting to do interviews for it when time Agent Harley, whom the Son of Stuck Funky folks aptly named TimeMop, shared a dream-or-was-it.

Future Lisa, pointing to book shelves: 'There's another book here that has *my* name on it!' The bookshelf has Strike Four, Fallen Star, Lisa's Story,a nd Elementals Force on it. Future Mom: 'Well, I'll be ... it's a copy of your great-grandfather's book about your great-grandmother ... Lisa!' Future Lisa: 'Ask the robbie if it's for sale!!'
Tom Batiuk and John Byrne’s Funky Winkerbean for the 29th of December, 2022. I would have thought Future Lisa’s meant to be old enough for it to be odd she’d be surprised to see something with her name on it, at least when the name is a common enough one like ‘Lisa’. A friend pointed out if Future Lisa had chosen her name, for example as a result of a transition, then this would be an authentic reaction. Tom Batiuk already did a transgender character a couple months ago, but, what the heck, why not take that interpretation? If Tom Batiuk had an opinion he could have said otherwise.

Future Lisa sees beside Summer’s sociological text other books on the same shelf. Fallen Star, Les Moore’s first book, a true-crime book of how he solved the murder of My Father John Darling. Strike Four, which I mistook for Jim Bouton’s baseball memoir. Strike Four is in fact a collection of Crankshaft strips about the title character’s baseball career. Elemental Force, the anti-climate-change superhero book published by Westview-area publisher Atomik Comix. And Lisa’s Story, Les Moore’s memoir about how his wife chose to die rather than take the medical care that might extend her life with Les. Future Lisa can’t help but ask: what are a sociological study, a true-crime book, a baseball comic, a superhero comic, and a dead-wife memoir doing sharing a shelf? Does this bookstore have any organizational scheme whatsoever? (And yes, of course: these are all books by local authors. Except for Strike Four, which shouldn’t exist as we know it in-universe.)

So they get both Westview and Lisa’s Story. The last Funky Winkerbean is Future Mom telling Future Lisa it’s bedtime. Stop reading Lisa’s Story because it’s bedtime, and “the books will still be there tomorrow”. As many have snarked, this does read as Tom Batiuk making the last week of his strip yet another advertisement for the story about how Lisa Moore died. This differs from most of the post-2007 era of the comic strip by happening later than it. For those with kinder intentions, you can read this more as a statement of how, even though the strip is done, everything about it remains. It can be reread and we hope enjoyed as long as you want. And that it’s appropriate for Lisa’s Story to stand in for this as it is the central event defining so much of the comic’s run.

Future Mom: 'Bedtime, Sweetie!' Future Lisa: 'Aw, mom!' Future Mom: 'Time to retire, young lady. The books will still be there tomorrow ... ' They go off to bed, leaving _Lisa's Story_ floating front and center on the pillows of a Future Couch.
Tom Batiuk and John Byrne’s Funky Winkerbean for the 31st of December, 2022. I am sincerely happy to see a future with that ‘knobbly, curvey architecture and furniture’ style. It’s a very 1970s Future style that I enjoy. It also evokes the era of comic books from when Funky Winkerbean debuted, so it has this nice extra bit of period-appropriateness.

And with this, you are as caught-up on Funky Winkerbean as it is possible or at least wise to be. I can’t say what comic strip you will go on to be mad about. It feels like nothing will ever be that wonderfully maddening again. No, it will not be 9 Chickweed Lane; that’s too infuriating to be any fun getting mad reading. But there’ll be something. We thought comic strip snarking would never recover from the collapse of For Better Or For Worse, and maybe it hasn’t been that grand again, but Funky Winkerbean was a lot of fun for a good long while.

What’s Going On In Olive and Popeye? Also, what is Olive and Popeye? September – December 2022


Happy end of the year! So, late this past summer, Comics Kingdom started to run a twice-a-week strip, Olive and Popeye. The strip, which has a daily-strip form, is done alternately by Shadia Amin and Randy Milholland. Milholland is the person who draws the Sunday-only Popeye strip. I don’t know how they’re coordinating the writing. I remember seeing Milholland tweet that both their strips were “canon”. I don’t know whether anyone said whether this is supposed to be in continuity with the Sunday Popeye. I doubt there’s going to be anything irreconcilable.

A couple weeks back I realized that while the Olive and Popeye strips stood alone, there was a continuity going. And things look like they’re putting a story together. I don’t know that this is going to be a new story strip in the way that the standard syndicated newspaper strips are. But, you know, I want to encourage Popeye re-entering the popular culture. And it’s easy to imagine without knowing and without hearing anyone suggest this is the case that doing a two-day-a-week strip is testing whether a full-time daily strip would be viable. So let me take one of my Tuesday slots and say stuff about a comic strip you might have had no idea existed.

Olive and Popeye.

30 August – 22 December 2022.

Olive Oyl leaves a canoodling session with Popeye to meet her brother Castor. He’s meeting up with his wife Cylinda, a character who hasn’t been in Thimble Theatre since before Popeye was introduced. She was written out in 1928, either running off to Hollywood or divorcing her unfaithful husband. It depends whether you read the daily or the Sunday strips. In any case it has to be a record for characters re-emerging from off stage. But she’s back and “a bat now”, according to Castor’s daughter Deezil. Deezil’s a character from the 1960s cartoons.

At a restaurant. Castor Oyl: 'Thank you for joining us, Olive! Cylinda should be here soon.' Olive Oyl: 'Oh, so you guys are definitely not s-e-p-a-r--' Castor: 'Separating? Nah, we talked things out. And after some therapy, she needed to rediscover herself. Away from her dad she is a new person, and we have fallen for each other all over again!' Cylinda: 'Sorry I'm late! It's good seeing you, Olive!' Cylinda's dressed in a long black skirt with purple belt, and has pointed metal earrings. Castor: 'There is my creature of the night!' Deezi: 'Mommy is a bat now!'
Shadia Amin and Randy Milholland’s Olive and Popeye for the 6th of September, 2022. This might be Deezil’s first appearance since the King Features cartoons. It does establish just who her parents are, and how she’s a niece of Olive Oyl, which seems almost to violate the rules about how cartoon nieces and nephews work. From what I read of Cylinda Oil’s backstory I don’t see where she could have had a child, plausibly, unless somehow something happened to her while off-screen. But what are the odds of that?

Meanwhile, Popeye’s mother Irene(!) and his aunt Jones fly in to spend time with the family. His mother, it turns out and is footnoted, got introduced in an early-50s story. This makes sense of her appearance in that one Famous Studios cartoon. His aunt Jones is, by the way, married to Davy Jones, of Locker fame. She’d been introduced in the early 40s and neglected since then.

Then we get some slice-of-life stuff. Popeye’s mother and aunt bonding with him and Swee’Pea. Olive Oyl working out with a friend named Mae. Mae seems to be her rival from the 1936 short Never Kick A Woman. The woman was unnamed there, but “Mae” suggests both Mae West (a clear influence on the short) and Olive Oyl’s longtime voice actor Mae Questel. Poopdeck Pappy stopping in, wondering if Irene is still upset about all those times he ran off and such.

Popeye: 'Getsk settled in, Ma. I knows it was a long trip.' Popeye's mother, unpacking: 'Don't ye worry 'boutsk me, Popeye. I brung ye a gift ... I was stuck on Yapple Island a long time 'fore ye found me.' [ Editor's box: Thimble Theatre, March 10, 1951. ] 'But I wrote ye a letter almost e'ry day. This is all of it I still gotsks. I know it ain'tsk much, but ... ' She hands him a bundle of aged letters. Popeye: 'It's very lovely. Thank ye, ma.' Later: Wimpy at the door, with several bags full of spinach. Wimpy: 'As you asked, I got every can of spinach the all-night grocery had. What feat of strength do you need this for?' Popeye, crying: 'Holdink back me tears!'
Shadia Amin and Randy Milholland’s Olive and Popeye for the 22nd of September, 2022. So it turns out Popeye’s Mother was introduced in 1951 which I have never known or seen talked about. This may explain why she suddenly got an appearance in Popeye’s Pappy, that color yet racist Famous Studios cartoon remaking Goonland worse.

There’s some antics in the background too. A character that makes me think of Susie the Sea Nymph, a menace from the late 30s, emerges from the water a couple times but Olive Oyl easily foists her off. (Susie the Sea Nymph was in the story run a couple months ago in Comics Kingdom’s Vintage Thimble Theatre.) Popeye going off to foil the Sea Hag and dump some of his stress at his family situation on her. Also, Bluto and Brutus keep popping in to slight effect. Ham Gravy pokes around to see if Olive Oyl might be up for getting back together. Her sisters protect her from him. But Olive and her big-city cousin Sweet still get along mostly by fighting.

Popeye hires Wimpy to keep an eye on Pappy, and keep Pappy away from his mother. Wimpy offers that someone down by the docks is asking for him. It turns out to be Whaler Joe, Popeye’s guardian when Pappy and his mother were both missing. I had assumed Whaler Joe to be one of Randy Milholland’s creations for Popeye’s Cartoon Club. Turns out, no; he was Elzie Segar’s creation, for a 1931 newspaper promotional piece titled The Private Life of Popeye, his biography as imagined before there were any animated cartoons or much comic strip lore.

Whaler Joe, hugging Popeye: 'There's my boy!' Popeye: 'Joe! It's so good t'see ya! What're ya doink in Sweethaven?' Joe: 'Visiting Petunia. She started school here!' Popeye: 'Petunia's in college?! She was an infink last time I seen her!' Joe: 'Yeah, when you were eighteen.' Popeye: 'I don'tsk thinks I likes this whole 'infinks growin' up when I ain'tsk lookink' stuff.' Joe: 'I've got some really bad news about parenthood, then.'
Shadia Amin and Randy Milholland’s Olive and Popeye for the 8th of December, 2022. In Popeye’s defense, he’s been parenting Swee’Pea for nearly 75 years now and he hasn’t aged a day. The key element has to be ‘not looking at them’.

Well, Whaler Joe is in Sweehaven to see his daughter Petunia, who I belive is a new character here. At leas, the Popeye Wikia I use doesn’t mention her before. She was an infant when Popeye last saw her, when he was eighteen. We first see Petunia when she happens to ask Olive Oyl for help scaring off some men following her. Petunia’s hoping to be a marine biologist, much like all of us who were kids in the 80s did. But she’s got the help that her father and her big brother are sailors and I guess her great-uncle is Davy Jones. She’s thrilled to meet Popeye, and wants to know everything he’s experienced with sea monsters. Like, now.

And that’s where “Now” is in the comic strip! As I warned above, I’m not sure this is a story strip in the way that, like, Mary Worth is a story strip. But I’m willing to take at least one try at summarizing a strip that’s been a lot of reintroducing obscure characters. We’ll see if that ever needs doing again.

Next Week!

Well, we know there can’t be another Popeye web comic with a strong storyline that people might want to know about and that I could provide a brief recap for. So let’s get back on schedule with Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop in a week. Would I lie to you about that?

Why is everyone mad at _Funky Winkerbean_ this week? (December 25, 2022)


I’m not sure everyone is mad at Funky Winkerbean in its penultimate week. Annoyed, perhaps. Irritated. But mad takes a special level of broken trust between audience and creator. Annoyance or impatience is more appropriate when we-the-audience see where this is going and the story won’t get there.

Last week everyone was mad because we’d learned a time-travelling janitor manipulated minds for decades so Summer Moore could start to write a world-healing book. But it was all a dream. Then she wandered around an empty town looking at places she didn’t have any emotional connection to. Then, last Sunday, we switched to Harry Dinkle worried that the incoming blizzard might spoil the church choir concert at St Spires, his side gig. They’re doing “Claude Barlow’s Jazz Messiah”.

This week showed, in both Funky Winkerbean and its spinoff strip Crankshaft, all the big characters braving a massive storm to get to the concert. Like, everybody. Summer Moore hitchhikes her way onto the bus from the Bedside Manor Senior Living Home. (The implication is she’s spent the whole day moping and looking at, like, the instant-photo-print-shop her dad’s high school chem lab partner worked at while home from college and thinking how in the end we are all unfocused Polaroids, and now she wants to go see Harry Dinkle’s church choir sing.) The whole staff of Montoni’s. Les Moore and his wife, Not-Lisa, and Not-Lisa’s daughter from her first marriage Not-Summer. Everyone.

TV Weatherman: 'If you're headed to that concert at St Spires ... you might want to give yourself some extra time!' Guy at Montoni's, pointing out the door and hurrying Funky Winkerbean, his wife and grandkid, Tony Montoni, and a couple other people I don't know out the door: 'You heard the man ... let's get going!' Outside, he leads them to two Montoni's Pizza cars: 'We'll take our delivery cars! They've got brand-new snow tires!'
Tom Batiuk and Chuck Ayers’s Funky Winkerbean for the 21st of December, 2022. So, uh, apparently they raised enough cash at Montoni’s going-out-of-business sale to get new snow tires? Or was Montoni’s Closing all part of Summer’s dream? But she thought her “dream” might have been overwork from doing interview for her book, that she only announced she was going to try doing when she heard Montoni’s was closing?

So everyone, I trust, gets the reason Tom Batiuk wants this. He’s getting the whole cast of both his strips together so they can bask in one another’s presence one last time. What has gone unexplained, to everyone’s mild annoyance, is the lack of any idea why it’s so important everyone get there. Especially since the church is set in Centerview, the town Crankshaft takes palce in. The Funky Winkerbean folks live in Westview, nearby but still, a bit of a drive.

Especially in the face of a storm that we were told could drop a record amount of snow. It’s the church choir doing a concert that you’d think would have been postponed or cancelled for the weather anyway. It’s not, like, John and George coming back from the dead to play with Paul and Ringo one last time.

It makes sense for Harry Dinkle to carry on despite the weather; that’s almost his defining joke. And to rope his choir into that, yeah, that’s necessary for his joke. Roping the Bedside Manor senior band, that’s his other side gig, in to providing music? Yeah, sure. But once you’re past Sgt Pepper’s Sad and Lonely Hearts Club Band? Nobody else has a reason to be there. The Time Janitor stuff somehow easier to buy, an application of that Father Brown line about Gladstone and the ghost of Parnell. The only person who wants them there is Tom Batiuk, looking to have the whole cast under one roof for the last time, and he gets his way

Single, wide view of the entire cast of Funky Winkerbean and of Crankshaft sitting in the St Spires pews, with the church's choir and the Bedside Manor senior band on the balcony, performing.
Tom Batiuk and Chuck Ayers’s Funky Winkerbean for the 25th of December, 2022. Once again the Son of Stuck Funky folks do a heroic job: they’ve figured the most likely identities of all 69 characters in this panel. And tagged which ones are Crankshaft characters so it’s okay if you don’t recognize them from hate-reading Funky Winkerbean.

It would be touching if it didn’t look like the populations of two towns decided to get stuck in a single church’s parking lot.

Incidentally on the 24th, Ed Crankshaft saw the Funky cast and said “seems like there’s a lot of new folks here tonight! Hope they’re not all planning to move into the neighborhood!”. It’s a cute way to acknowledge the Funky gang will likely still make appearances in Crankshaft. It would also be a good tip to Funky readers who haven’t heard that they might want to pick up Crankshaft.

It reminds me of when Darrin Bell put the comic strip Rudy Park into reruns. Bell had a natural disaster strike that strip and evacuate all the residents to nearby Candorville, his other — and still going — comic strip. Catch here is I don’t believe Crankshaft’s name has been spoken in Funky for, like, thirty years. It started as a cute and even realistic affectation. Characters remembered there had been a cranky old bus driver who said a bunch of funny malapropisms, but not his name. It’s a bit of a disadvantage trying to point readers to your other project, though. Even Ronald-Ann spent a week shoving the name Outland into Opus’s ears before Bloom County ended the first time. Maybe that’s this coming, final, week in Funky Winkerbean. We’ll see, and we’ll see how mad that gets us all.

What’s Going On In Judge Parker? Are you mad at Judge Parker too? October – December 2022


No, I’m not mad at Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker. Not yet, anyway. The story has been a big conspiracy-tinged murder mystery. I have no doubts about Marciuliano’s ability to create a big, confusing, messy scenario. He’s done it many times, often in interesting ways. But I agree he has a habit of jumping the action ahead a couple months, so we don’t see the exact resolution of the chaos. It’s an effective way to change what the default condition of things is, but it can leave mysteries under-written or under-motivated.

I can be okay with a mystery that isn’t perfectly explained. Heck, I love your classic old-time-radio mystery. Those are all attitude and action and fun dialogue. The story logic is a charming hypothesis. I understand readers who have a different view and understand if they have no faith in where this is going. We readers still don’t know Deputy Mayor Stewart’s reason for framing Abbey Spencer for her bed-and-breakfast’s fire. Whether you can accept that Marciuliano had one for Stewart, I imagine, tells whether you think this mystery has an answer.

So this should catch you up to mid-December 2022 in Judge Parker. If you’re reading this after about March 2023, there should be a more up-to-date plot recap here. That might help you more.

Before getting to the recap, a content warning. The story started with murder, and several murders or attempted murders are centers to the action. If you do not need that in your goofy fun recreational reading, go and enjoy yourself instead. We can meet back soon for the Alley Oop plot recap or whatever I get up to next week. I’ll put the recap behind a cut so people can more easily bail on it.

Judge Parker.

2 October – 17 December 2022.

Continue reading “What’s Going On In Judge Parker? Are you mad at Judge Parker too? October – December 2022”

Why is everyone mad at _Funky Winkerbean_ this week? (December 18, 2022)


Because it was all a dream.

Or was it?

So yeah, that whole bonkers storyline where the janitor was a Time Agent making sure Summer Moore writes a history of Funkytown? It transpired on Monday this was all a dream, or was it. Which, yes, does address everything I was mad about in the storyline last time. Right down to how we were informed Summer had worked out the specialness of Harley The Janitor. And that her first and only book would be the most important book, like, ever.

Awakened, Summer decides to go for a walk to clear her head. This takes her on a silent walk through Westview, ending at a closed city pool’s old diving board. From atop the ladder she thinks of how “it doesn’t always have to be rise and decline … we have the agency to flip the script and write a different ending”. It’s a sequence that TFHackett, at Son of Stuck Funky, noticed echoed a story a couple years ago. Funky Winkerbean himself wandered around the place and moped about how your hopes and plans and dreams all get washed away. I understand where Funky, or Summer, might want to do something like this. Everybody needs to spend some time walking around feeling sad. Thing that annoyed me is the Funky Winkerbean characters don’t have emotions besides sadness, so the potency of a good mope is lost.

Summer, waking up in bed: 'WHOA!! ... Yipes ... that one one cray dream ... or was it?' She stands and stretches. 'I think all of the interviews I've been doing are clogging my brain!'
Tom Batiuk and Chuck Ayers’s Funky Winkerbean for the 12th of December, 2022. Well, I didn’t see it coming. Not sure if it’s better making the Time Janitor the dream or the reality.

The idea of closing out the comic strip with farewell visits to all the key places? Good, solid one. Here’s why I’m mad anyway. Summer Moore has not been a character, in the strip, in a decade. She’s appeared a couple times, but she hasn’t got a perspective. I think this past month is the first time we even learned for sure that she was still in college. So her looking at a place doesn’t carry any weight; it’s on us the reader to have a reaction.

This can be fine, if the locations have meaning to the audience. Two of the locations she visited might: the house of band director Harry Dinkle and past Westview High School. Summer wasn’t in band; she played sports so while she knew the band was there she also didn’t care. And while she went to Westview I can’t think of any time she ever reflected on her high school experience. That’s all right; the readers know those spots well enough.

And then we get to the bonkers places to showcase. She visits the house where Summer’s half-brother’s adoptive parents lived when they first got married. Or to speak more efficiently, it’s a house she could not care about. The spot was, as Son of Stuck Funky discovered, shown to readers ten years ago. But who could remember that? And then at her half-brother’s adoptive parents’ second apartment. Comic Book Harriet found these places are versions of Tom Batiuk and his wife’s old apartments. So they make sense as places to fit into the backgrounds somewhere, but good grief. Another spot was a troubled-youth home where Crazy Harry lived for a couple years as a teen. Or, to connect it to Summer, a place where her father’s high school friend who works in a comic book shop now lived as a teen. Again, this can work, if the readers have some reason to connect with it. Summer can’t provide that, and I will wrestle any reader who has feelings about where Crazy Harry lived as a teen.

Thing is the comic strip has got places that would connect to the readers. The high school. Montoni’s Pizzeria, closed last month in a sequence so abrupt it hardly seemed real. The comic book shop. The town park and the gazebo where everything in the world has to visit. Les and his current wife Not-Lisa’s porch swing. Why waste one of the three remaining weeks on things that can’t communicate?

The diving board where Summer makes her observation is getting to where it should be. A diving board has obvious meaning, as a place to ponder frightening transition. And it has a purpose in the comic strip. One running gag in the first decades of the strip was teenage Les Moore failing to find the courage to jump off it. That this is picked well makes the badness of the earlier locations stand out.

Atop the diving board over the abandoned city pool: 'Dad said that from up here you could look out and see how everything in the city fit together. It doesn't always have to be rise and decline ... we have the agency to flip the script and write a different ending!'
Tom Batiuk and Chuck Ayers’s Funky Winkerbean for the 17th of December, 2022. Eh, not to be all hipster but I liked John Cheever’s original story better.

And then this Sunday’s strip seems to promise nonsense. It’s Harry Dinkle organizing a church concert and worrying about the weather. This seems so detached from the narrative that … well, there’s gossip about whether Tom Batiuk chose to end the strip or was forced to. There’s always gossip like that whenever a strip ends or changes hands. I’m inclined to think it was Batiuk’s free choice. Ending the comic at the end of its current contract, after it had reached fifty years? That seems fair. And a lot of storylines the last couple years have had an elegiac tone. I mean even more than usual for a comic strip so concerned with how everything is getting worse.

The announcement the strip was ending feels like it came late, about six weeks before the end of publication. But, like, Gary Larson announced he was ending The Far Side only about ten weeks before it closed. Charles Schulz gave only about two weeks’ notice, and he was forced to stop Peanuts for failing health. The syndicate would have given him a dump truck full of money to continue or hire a replacement, but he already had more dump trucks full of money than they did. Bill Watterson’s year-long notice that Calvin and Hobbes was ending was an outlier. Norm Feuti announced the ending of Retail about a month before the strip shut down, again after a bunch of stories suggesting an end to things. I forget how freely Feuti chose to leave Retail behind in favor of writing children’s books. Anyway, my point is the public notice doesn’t seem out of line with other strips that chose to end.

But jumping from Summer Moore atop the diving board to a Harry Dinkle story? That seems like a strip running as the normal routine Christmastime action. And therefore a piece for the “oooh, the syndicate and Tom Batiuk are fighting and that’s why the strip is ending” hypothesis. On the other hand, let me be charitable, and set up to reveal myself a fool. This could be a setup that would logically gather the whole cast together and give them a chance to say farewell things. The pacing of this seems awful — why waste weeks on a Dream Or Was It — but it’s been a while wince Funky Winkerbean drew praise for its story pacing. I give up trying to guess where the story is going, or what behind-the-scenes drama might have happened. I’m just going to share what people are mad about.

What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? Are there even stories anymore in Gil Thorp? September – December 2022


Henry Barajas has brought a different style of writing to his and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp. Compared to the Neal Rubin era the stories are much less linear, with many characters having stuff going on at once. And Barajas has an apparent desire to set everyone up with a host of issues. The combination has made the strip — already having a reputation for jumping around, because it often changed scene during a day’s strip — seem more unfocused.

So things are still going on, and the story threads are more obvious when read a week or more at a time. This may be inconvenient for people who can only read Gil Thorp in the newspaper, but, c’mon. People doing that aren’t reading my blog, anyway. Still, Barajas may need more experience with providing background or reminders in the text. It’s a hard thing to do. Science fiction fans call it “incluing” and the daily story strips are a master challenge in doing that well.

So this should catch you up to about mid-December 2022 in Gil Thorp. There is probably a more up-to-date plot recap at this link, if you’re reading this after about March 2023. Or if news about the strip happens, I’ll post it here. Now back to the sports pages.

Gil Thorp.

26 September – 10 December 2022.

It’s Coach Kaz’s last season with Milford, we learned as I did my last recap. They hope for a good one, especially as Valley Tech’s Coach Luke Martinez has some bizarre, passionate rivalry with a guy who barely knows who he is. But whose kids get along great with his kids.

Meanwhile, Milford’s been having a good season for the boys football team. After losing the first game the team would go on to a string of of wins, including two wins in a row against Madison, somehow. I assume this was an editing mistake but never saw it explained. Centerpiece for the season — and what I imagine Neal Rubin would have made the focus of the season — is Tobias Gordon. His soccer talent leads Thorp and Kaz to naming him a kicker, and over the season he transitions to being a linebacker. GoComics commenters say this is an improbable turn of events, but I don’t know any better.

Montage of sports moments with Marty Moon narrating: 'Coach Gil has Elias Bermudez starting. The junior has shown promise with a 57.4% completion percentage.' Milford 28, Jefferson Jeffs 20. 'WR Rodney Barnes, #89, continues to lead the charts with 184 passing yards.' Milford 35, Madison Capitols 14. 'Coach Kaz has told the Milford Star that Tobias Gordon, #7, is now the team's running back, and Burt Hooper is back as the starting kicker.' Milford 12, Madison Capitols 9.
Henry Barajas and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 7th of November, 2022. I understand all two/three opponents playing in the same colors is most likely an accident. The people colorizing daily strips generally get very little direction and not much time to think through their work. But there is a dramatic unity provided in giving all these dramatically-unimportant visitors the same outfit, as a visual cue of how the audience should read them.

Gordon’s progression draws media attention, as he is the first (open) transgender male athlete in Milford football. Early on some of the athletes complain about how Coach Thorp “went and got woke”, talk a win streak squelches. I appreciate the choice to portray treating transgendered people as people as the winning course. But it does carry an undercurrent of “respecting human rights will be profitable” rather than “is what decent people do”. Still, Milford enjoys a good season and is — this week — facing Valley Tech and Coach Martinez in the finals.

Speaking of Martinez. After one of Valley Tech’s wins Martinez describes what his issue is with Gil Thorp. It goes back to the Valley Tech/Milford game of 1987, when he was playing. It was a hard-fought game, and Valley Tech won. But the local press reported on how “Coach Thorp Ends Season Strong”. And now Martinez is out to right that historical wrong.

Thorp goes to the videotape, literally, finding Matty Moon’s broadcast of the playdown game. We see Emmett Tays, whose story of Thorp’s coaching a different game lead Barajas’s tenure, trying to shake off Martinez. Marty Moon seems to toss to commercial mid-play. Even I know that doesn’t happen. What was going on was a light break of the fourth wall, providing space for Gil Thorp’s celebration of Charles Schulz’s 100th birthday. Still was weird reading it the day before.

Marty Moon, on the 1987 videotape: 'What was going through your mind on that last play?' Martinez, on tape: 'Execute. Milford gave it their all. But I hope Coach Thorp knows one thing. [ winking at the camera ] ... I'm coming for your spot, Thorp.'
Henry Barajas and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 30th of November, 2022. It occurs to me we’re maybe not to take this as literally happening; that Gil Thorp is reading in whatever Martinez actually said the coach’s present-day intentions. But it’s always hard to pull off unreliable narration, and like ten times harder to do that in a comic strip.

Anyway, the game was a rough one. Tays sure seems to have done something foul-worthy against Martinez. But Tays fumbles the last play, letting Martinez save the game for Valley Tech. In the 1987 postgame interview Martinez says he hopes “Coach Thorp knows one thing … I’m coming for your spot, Thorp”. Which … doesn’t quite satisfy me? It doesn’t seem to me like Thorp did anything particular besides be the coach he beat in the playdowns. Fixations can be weird, though, and small incidents can curdle in one’s mind.

Other stuff going on. Keri Thorp is having a rough time of it. The school has a mass-shooter drill, with the simulated shooter holding Keri’s class. This is less traumatic than an actual aggrieved white supremacist with a gun collection coming into the classroom, but that’s all. On top of that trauma is a fellow student’s death, identified as “the third overdose this semester”. Three seems very high to me, especially given it was only November, but I understand high school has changed since I was in it.

In front of the memorial to Allyson, a couple girls laugh. Keri: 'What's so funny, Dorothy?' Dorothy, rolling her eyes to her friends, 'Look, girls! It's the cry baby! Do you want your daddy?' Keri: 'Get up. I'm going to kick your @$#.' Keri slugs Dorothy, with her many rings serving as brass knuckles.
Henry Barajas and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 16th of November, 2022. To be fair to Dorothy we don’t see that she’s laughing at Keri (or a friend) so this isn’t quite the neat story of punching out the bully one might like. I’m all right with things being a bit messy, even though it makes the stories harder to snark on.

Dorothy, who’s been bullying Keri (cropping her out of team photos, for example), mocks her for tearing up over this. Kari punches Dorothy, getting her sentenced to counseling through December. I know high school hasn’t changed to much that the worst offense of all is punching a bully. (Many commenters pointed out two years ago we saw a kid expelled for bringing a bread knife in to spread peanut butter on a bagel. Actual violence getting a “talk with someone ineffective” punishment seems like inconsistent standards.)

And in the most important non-student relationship bit of business: Gil Thorp asks Mimi if she wants a divorce. She says she does not, and that she’ll always love him. It doesn’t make their relationship any easier. And I don’t believe Mimi has yet owned up to how her mother is months away from death (and encouraging Mimi to leave Gil). That’s surely a heavy strain that Gil Thorp can’t anticipate or deal with.

Mimi, at an awkward dinner: '... I don't want a divorce, Gil. You know how I get when I'm always around my mother.' She holds Gil's hand. Gil Thorp: 'Sorry, it's just that you've been distant.' She takes her hands away. Mimi: 'You know I'll always love you.' Gil: 'I know.'
Henry Barajas and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 4th of November, 2022. Lot of action going on with those hands there, which is not me being snarky; it’s the correct thing for the camera to focus on. I do like that the trouble in the Thorp’s marriage isn’t some simple thing that could be worked out with one good conversation but rather something they’re not able to articulate. I feel optimistic given that they both want to work it out (Mimi’s defended Gil to her mother too much for me to think she doesn’t), but it’s not a thing with a sure fix.

Past that there have been a lot of small bits of business. Mimi’s mother noticing how much attention Tobias is paying to Keri, and Mimi encouraging her child if they want to date him. Kaz talking about how happy he is with his partner, maybe wife, Rachel. Keri bruising their ankle in a volleyball practice. Discovering Marty Moon has a two-year-sober Alcoholics Anonymous medallion. (Combined with how amiably he chatted with Gil Thorp back in September, this suggests Moon’s clashes with Thorp reflected alcoholism. I don’t know that Barajas meant that, but it’s a thread for possible exploration.) Thorp saying he’s old enough to have had Cold War civil-defense drills in school. Student Monica Yellowhair preceding her singing the National Anthem with the observation that the school was on stolen land, which narrows Milford’s location down to “the United States”. All told, many miscellaneous things that I’m noting in case they get built on. Or because I took notes and you’re going to see notes. As you like it.

Milford Sports Watch!

Among my notes I tried to keep track of the other schools mentioned in the strip. Here’s my record of them:

Next Week!

Who’s trying to kill Sam Driver, and why aren’t they better at it? I look at Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker unless something shoots up my car and I have to drive it into town.

What’s Going On In Rex Morgan, M.D.? What was Mud Murphy sick with? September – December 2022


‘Mud Mountain’ Murphy was a delight to see enter Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D.. Most of the characters, as Beatty writes them, are pleasant enough if a bit vague. Not Murphy, who entered as a Brian Blessed-esque force of nature, all bold text and boundless energy. Story strips do great with outsized emotions and Murphy carried himself so even saying hello was outsized.

During the current story he had to run offstage rather than perform. It looked like some digestive issue, since he had just eaten four steaks, three dozen pancakes, thirty eggs (scrambled), eight gallons of mashed potatoes, a quadruple order of bacon-fried hash browns, two bystanders, six quarts of ice cream topped with twelve bananas, a Honda Civic hatchback, and five packzi. He claimed later that it was all a stunt to make himself the headliner rather than the opener. But —

Well, I noticed some points Terry Beatty dropped. We’re told that Murphy hasn’t performed in a decade. A club owner and another musician say it’s because he was unreliable about actually showing up. When Murphy does appear at the venue he talks about not having any merchandise to sell. Murphy tells a fan who mentions having a complete set of his albums that he doesn’t even have a full set of his own albums. I’d call that good crowd work if it weren’t for other mentions suggesting Murphy’s in dire straits.

When Murphy arrives at the venue Truck Tyler mentions how “I don’t think he’s showered in a while”. Murphy’s diner order is enormous like you expect from a bombastic person. But also like you expect from a starving person eating on someone else’s account. I was a grad student, I know this pattern.

Right now we’re at a point where Murphy’s story is at a sensible conclusion. He’s been a manipulative jerk and got called out on it and the regular cast are done with him. But. There is plenty of material in-text to suggest that Murphy’s dealing with some issues, plausibly a social anxiety, that sabotage his career and relationships. I don’t know whether we’re going to see him rehabilitated in the coming weeks. The room is there, is all I want to flag.

If you’re reading this after about March 2023, though, you know whether this story continued. If you don’t know how it’s turned out there’s likely a plot recap at this link which explains it. For now, for the early-December 2022 report? Read on, please, and let’s explore it.

Rex Morgan, M.D.

18 September – 3 December 2022.

We were near enough the beginning of a story last time I visited Rex Morgan, M.D. Hank Harwood Junior paid a visit to Yvonne Grey, daughter of one of his father’s old flames. They met when Hank Senior reconnected with Yvonne’s mother shortly before her death. Well, they’ve been cyber’ing, as the local news wants us to believe people call it, and the relationship got serious enough to be worth an in-person visit.

Through the visit Hank and Yvonne talk about their past relationships, and how much comfort they’ve found in each other. How close Yvonne is to retiring and turning the family diner over to her kids. Hank Junior’s challenges caring for his father. And then they turn up in the strip the next day, married.

Hank Senior: 'You two really got *married*?' Hank Junior: 'Yup. Did the justice-of-the-peace thing --- like in the old movies.' Yvonne: 'Well, we didn't wake him up in the middle of the night like they do in all those!' Hank Senior: 'This is *fantastic*! Welcome to the family, Yvonne!'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 10th of October, 2022. The story carried on a while, mostly Hank and Yvonne figuring out whether they’ll take a honeymoon and that sort of thing. It’s all pleasant enough, getting back to Beatty’s main mission of having pleasant people to whom nothing very bad happens.

I found the development interesting. To us readers it’s entirely a retcon; we never saw a word about their relationship before this story. But it didn’t feel arbitrary. I bought that they had a happy long-distance relationship and that it made sense to them to marry on a day’s notice. It seems fast to me, but not arbitrary or foolish. So here’s hoping that all turns out well. And I note that Rex Morgan is up at least three weddings on Mary Worth in the time I’ve been doing recaps, here.


From about the 16th of October the story moved from Hank Jr and Yvonne’s relationship over to roots country singer Truck Tyler, his agent Buck Wise, and returned-from-exile singer ‘Mud Mountain’ Murphy. Murphy’s first gig in a decade is opening for Tyler at Lew’s Nite Spot. Murphy defies his reputation by showing up in enough time that he, Tyler, and Wise can go get a bite to eat. Or, for Murphy, can get all the bites to eat. It’s a pretty fun scene in Nick’s Diner as he charms Wanda, their server, who’s a fan of Murphy. And eats pages three through eight off the menu.

Murphy, woozy on stage: 'Sorry, folks --- I'm gonna need a minute!' Lou, club owner, whispering to Rex Morgan; 'Is *this* the part where somebody asks if there's a *doctor* in the house?' Murphy: 'There wouldn't by chance be a doctor in the house tonight, would there!?!'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 12th of November, 2022. “I have an honorary degree from Anderson College!” Yes, all the ironic readers were excited to see how Rex Morgan, M.D., would get out of doing doctoring stuff this time. Murphy saved Rex Morgan from having to M.D. anything by locking himself in the bathroom for an hour.

After his Brobdingnagian dinner, though, he gets on stage and looks unsteady. He apologizes and runs off stage, promising to be back in a little bit. Rex Morgan gets ready to do a medicine, but Murphy won’t come out of the bathroom. With the audience growing restless Tyler steps out on stage and reassures everyone that Murphy will be fine once his tummy settles. And he puts on a good show, doing his set list an hour earlier than he figured.

And as Tyler finishes, Murphy emerges, insisting all he needed was a little time for his stomach to settle. He steps out and thanks Tyler for warming up the crowd for him, a joke that Tyler doesn’t laugh at. It gets worse as Murphy repeats the joke. And after the show, talking to Wanda from the diner, he boasts how this was all a fake. He couldn’t face being only an opening act; he had to be the headliner.

Wanda: 'You weren't really sick?' Murphy: 'NAH! It's just when I got up there, I couldn't face bein' an opening act. Mud Mountain Murphy is ALWAYS the headliner!' Buck Wise, quite cross, holding his fists on his hips: 'Wait a minute --- you *faked* that whole thing?' Murphy: 'Aw --- forgive me, Bucky --- it made for a good show, didn't it? What else matters?'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 29th of November, 2022. As you maybe gathered, I’m torn whether to take it at face value that Murphy does figure this kind of stunt is how he wants to live or whether it’s the best scheme he has to cope with whatever his real problems are.

Buck Wise is furious, but Murphy says — not wrongly — that it made a good show so what else matters? Well, it’s still jerk behavior. Wise fires Murphy as a client. And Wanda, whose name Murphy insists on pronouncing ‘Rhonda’, says after that stunt she’s nto so much a fan. An angry Murphy storms out, even calling an innocent autograph-seeking fan a ‘loser’. This seems like an end to the story, but, who knows? Besides someone reading this like four weeks from now?

Next Week!

Uh-oh.

I’ll have to start writing my recap early, because it’s the manyfold story threads of Henry Barajas and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp next week, and I know I don’t have good enough notes about them yet. Stop by next week and see if I’m completely defeated!

Why Is Everyone Mad at _Funky Winkerbean_?


This may be hard to believe but as recently as the 21st of November, nobody was mad at Funky Winkerbean. At least nobody was mad enough at the soon-to-expire strip to click the ‘angry’ react at the bottom of Comics Kingdom’s page. That changed the 22nd, and since the 25th of November there’s been only one day that the strip got fewer than a hundred angry reactions, as of when I write this. So I want to explore that since people mad at comic strips is good for my readership.

But first, anyone really interested in this should visit the Son of Stuck Funky blog. It has always provided daily snark and commentary and research on Funky Winkerbean. The community there knows the strip with a depth and insight I can’t match and, yeah, they’re feeling extremely ambiguous about what to do next year.

So. The current, and it appears final, Funky Winkerbean story began the 24th of October. Summer Moore, the much-forgotten daughter of Les Moore and Dead Lisa Who Died of Death, returned from college. Her absence as a significant character for like a decade was explained as she kept changing her major. Now she’s thinking to take a gap year in her grad studies. Her goal: writing a book about Westview, the small Ohio town where Funky Winkerbean takes place. She figures to write about how the community’s changing over the last couple decades. Her plan is to use oral histories of her father, her father’s friends, and her dead mother’s diaries. Dead Lisa left a lot of diaries. And also a lot of videotapes. She recorded them after she decided it would be easier to leave a lot of video tapes with advice for her daughter rather than not die of breast cancer. (I sound snide, but what did happen was after a relapse she decided not to restart treatment.)

Les: 'So you're not going to be doing any interviews for your book today?' Summer: 'Actually, I'm reading Mom's diary ... so I'm interviewing Mom.'
Tom Batiuk and Chuck Ayers’s Funky Winkerbean for the 21st of November, 2022. The last Funky Winkerbean (as of this writing) that nobody was angry at. It’s possible that there was some anger that got unrecorded because of Comics Kingdom changing out their commenting system and destroying years of earlier comments.

She started just in time! She’s barely decided to write a book when Funky Winkerbean, the character, announces he’s closing his restaurant, Montoni’s. The pizza shop was the social center of the comic strip since 1992. This event went so fast — in under a week of strips they were auctioning off the fixtures — and with so little focus that it felt like a dream sequence.

By the way if this storyline turns out to be a dream sequence, it would both make more sense and deserve even more to be punched.

So after some interviews Summer goes to the Westview High School janitor, a guy named Harley. Who turns out to be a longtime background character; ComicBookHarriet found he entered the strip no later than 1979. Summer says she kept finding a pattern, not shared with us readers, where Harley’s name popped up too much. And she read something in her mother’s diary about feeling watched. Harley curses himself for being a novice and starts to unreel the story that’s got everyone mad.

Because it turns out that Harley is not merely a janitor who’s been there since before they invented high-fiving. No. He is, in fact, a Custodian, one of a group of people from some other time, with a mission to tend “important nexus events in the timeline” so they’re not disrupted. You know, like in Voyagers!, which you remember from my childhood as somehow the only TV show even more awesomer than Battlestar Galactica. Or like the early-2000s Cartoon Network series Time Squad, which answered the question “what if Voyagers! had three main characters but they were all jerks?”

So he’s been around for forty years watching over Westview High School as a janitor. Apparently it wasn’t intended, exactly. It’s that his Time Helmet got stolen, years ago, by … Donna, who back in the 80s wore this goofy space-guy-ish helmet to play video games as “The Eliminator”. Part of modern Funky Winkerbean lore was that she had worn the helmet to disguise her identity. This way, fragile boys wouldn’t freak out at a guh-guh-guh-girl being good at video games. (Which, eh, fair enough.) (Also she got her Mom to call her ‘Donald’ to help her cover.)

We’ll get back to this in a second. But a lot of what has people mad about this is that the strip revisited The Eliminator’s helmet a few months ago. This in a story where Donna’s husband, Crazy Harry, found the helmet in the attic, put it on, and found himself somehow back in April of 1980. He met up with his high-school self. He told Young Lisa that Les Moore liked her in a not-at-all extremely creepy way. He almost told her to get regular mammograms. He bought a copy of Spider-Man’s debut (a comic book twenty years old at the time) at a convenience store. And lost it, for John The Comic Book Guy to find. And he blipped back to the present. Everyone agreed that was wild. It must have been a hallucination from the helmet outgassing, the way 40-year-old plastic will. Anyway after that weird yet harmless experience they throw the helmet out. But a stray cat wandered into it and blipped into hyperspace. This in just the way The Eliminator would back in the day.

Harley: 'I couldn't just take back the helmet from Donna without drawing attention and possibly disrupting the timeline ... so I gently nudged her mind to make her think that she created it ... ' We see in flashback young Donna picking up an issue of 'Eerie Comics' with something like the Time Helmet on it. Harley: 'And I touched the mind of the comic artist Ken Kelly to put it on a comic book cover to give her the inspiration for it.' Flashback to Donna playing Defender: 'I'm the Eliminator, the most feared video game player in the galaxy!' The Eliminator vanishes, Harley: 'So I knew where the helmet was should I need it! Although, I did get a fright the first time Donna disappeared from the present for a couple of seconds!'
Tom Batiuk and Chuck Ayers’s Funky Winkerbean for the 27th of November, 2022. Again, not clear how this was easier than just breaking into Donna’s attic and swiping it in the decades that the helmet sat forgotten in a box there. The bit of Eliminator blipping out there reflects a common old Funky Winkerbean motif where wacky stuff would happen, like a character blipping into hyperspace. And apparently that needs explanation now because we can’t just have whimsy. Yes, that’s another thing to be mad about.

Back as it were to the present. So, Harley took a job as a janitor to be where he could watch over stuff. OK. He lost his Time Helmet when the young Donna swiped the cool-looking helmet form his supply closet. He couldn’t snag it back because that would disrupt the timeline. But he could touch her mind enough to make her think she’d made it herself, like she’d always told people. And touched the mind of comic book artist Ken Kelly to make a design that Donna would use as the basis for her helmet. Because that’s easier than touching Donna’s mind to bring the helmet back. And all this mind-touching isn’t creepy or weird so you will stop thinking it is, starting now [ snaps fingers ]. Anyway he figured he could always snag the Time Helmet if he really needed it … except that then it went missing a couple months ago and he has no idea where it went. It’s that cat wearing it.

There’s the first big thing everyone’s mad about: how the heck does it make sense to leave the Time Helmet lost in someone else’s attic for 40 years? And was his mission supposed to be “hang around Westview High School for forty years in case something happens?” And if that was the plan, then what Time Admiral’s great-grandmother did he punch out as a baby to draw that assignment?

Next big thing: what big nexus is it he’s there to protect? And can we shut down everything if his mission was being sure Les Moore wrote How Dead Lisa Died In The Most Tragically Tragic Thing That Ever Happened To Anyone Ever? In a twist, considering Dead Lisa has been the center of most every Funky Winkerbean story the past fifteen years, it is not. No, the thing that needs protection is the book that Summer Moore is about to start writing.

Yes. As you might think if you watched Bill And Ted Face The Music but missed the movie’s thesis that utopia can only be created as an active collaboration of all people, Summer Moore’s going to create a utopia. Specifically, her book connecting the grand sweeps of history to Westview inspires “a science of behavioral-patterend algorithms that will one day allow us to recognize humanity as our nation!” If I have this right, Harley means she lets them invent psychohistory, like in Isaac Asimov’s science fiction novels. In The End of Eternity and Foundation’s Edge, Asimov’s capstones to exploring the implications of a mathematically predictable future history, he concluded psychohistory would be a bad thing. I have to paraphrase because I don’t have the energy to dig up either book. But viewpoint characters come to see the future psychohistory creates as “condemned to neverending stasis by calculation”. I agree we could make a much better world if we treated all people as worthy of our brotherhood. But if the powerful can choose to shape future history they will not choose one for the good of the powerless.

Summer: 'You're here to make sure I write my book!? But what's so special about it?' Harley: 'Your ability to detect patterns will allow you to write a book that connects matters of ordinary small-town households to matters of immense consequence. What you write about sparks others to build on it to create a science of behavioral-patterned algorithms that will one day allow us to recognize humanity as our nation!'
Tom Batiuk and Chuck Ayers’s Funky Winkerbean for the 2nd of December, 2022. Recommended reading: Katherine MacLean’s short story “The Snowball Effect”. Anyway, the pattern I would like explored is why this strip has major characters named Crazy Harry, Harry Dinkle, Holly Winkerbean, and now Harley Janitorman. What’s with all the two-syllable H-y names, huh?

So that’s what else has people mad. First, the declaration that yet another character in this strip is going to become an important author. Authors already in the strip have written a blockbuster biggest-movie-of-the-year superhero franchise, a bestselling memoir that got turned into an Oscar-winning movie, and an Eisner-winning graphic novel. Second, not even an important author but someone who makes a better future. Third, an author whose work is so important it’s worth having a league of Timecops send one of their members to while away his life watching over her. But not someone good enough to do things like “not lose his Time Helmet for forty years”. Also not good enough to “maybe get a job somewhere near where Summer spends ten years in college”. Or even a job “where Summer spent anything but four years of her life”. Fourth, that it’s toying with some respectable comic book or science fiction ideas, badly. As said, it’s fiddling with what you see in the Bill and Ted movies, or with The End of Eternity, but missing their points. And, what the heck, because all this is being presented in big blocks of exposition rather than, you know, a mystery. Summer’s presented in-text as though she had cracked an elaborate mystery. But we-the-readers never saw any clues or even more than maybe two people mentioning the janitor had been here forever.

Oh also, that we’ve never seen evidence that Summer writes, or is any good at writing. Sometimes a newcomer has an amazing talent, yes. To get back to Isaac Asimov, he write “Nightfall” — acclaimed for decades as the best science fiction short story ever — when he was about twenty. It was only his seventeenth published story. Writing about the experience, Asimov noted that, had someone told him the night before he began writing, “Isaac, you are about to write the greatest science fiction short story ever”, he would never have been able to start. He’d have been destroyed by the menace of that potential. I think we don’t have enough time for a clash between forces helping and hindering Summer’s writing. I can imagine the story, though; Jack Williamson wrote something like it, in the Legion of Time. I’m told, anyway. I haven’t read it.

Anyway, everybody likes that the strip is trying to go out bonkers. But it’s fumbling the ideas, so the plot points don’t hold up to casual scrutiny. And they’re being delivered in time zeppelins of word balloons. I’ll try to post updates, when they’re deserved. But again, Son of Stuck Funky is the place to really know what’s going on here.

Fred Basset Acknowledges Queen’s Death; Andy Capp Still Silent


This event happened just before the Great GoComics Failure Outage Of 2022 so I couldn’t talk about it then. But Alex Graham’s Fred Basset has won the race of the English Comics In American Newspapers to acknowledge the death of Queen Elizabeth II. Or, well, at least the accession of King Charles III, which I suppose entails the former. It’s about as gentle as you would expect. I admit I’m surprised it wasn’t something closer to like what the strip did for the Jubilee earlier this year, but maybe Fred was afraid of going too far overboard.

Fred Basset, to the reader: 'A-ha! King Charles!' The panel widens to reveal a King Charles Spaniel being walked. Fred: '*A* King Charles --- not *the* King Charles!' The spaniel's walker says, 'Hello, Fred!'
Alex Graham’s Fred Basset for the 16th of November, 2022. Fred’s eye in that second panel absolutely conveys how he figured he had put one past us. I’m not being snarky here; that is exactly the expression the artist should want to present and he gets it exactly.

Andy Capp, meanwhile, hasn’t made any acknowledgement, at least in strips run on GoComics. I can’t say whether this reflects the lead time of the strip or what. The comic strip did join in the celebration of Charles Schulz’s centennial this past Saturday, but that’s something anyone could have known was scheduled for almost a hundred years. They’re probably not working a hundred years ahead of deadline, though.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Sundays)? Why are you publishing on Monday? September – November 2022


After a lot of running late I wanted to prove I could meet my own deadline, okay? Also I’m probably going to want to explain why everyone’s angry at Funky Winkerbean soon and I’ll need to clear some publication slots for that, too.

So this should catch you up to the end of November in Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom, Sunday continuity. If you want to know about the weekday continuity, or are reading this after about February 2023, a more up-to-date plot recap should be here. Now back to the strange subterranean labyrinth of an Ancient Egyptian cult and their animal-human hybrid super-creatures.

The Phantom (Sundays).

11 September – 28 November 2022.

The Phantom, his wife, and of course Devil were exploring the Temple of the Gods. This ancient lair held an Egyptian cult, long ago. And also inhuman mummies. And the relics of ancient battles, including a particularly bloody one that the Third Phantom barely survived back in 1624. He tried to keep his descendants from visiting again, down to using hieroglyphic riddles in his Chronicles to conceal the place.

The current Phantom has visited at least twice, exploring some of the place in the comic strip in 2005. (There were sequel stories by Team Fantomen in 2006 and 2007; I don’t know whether they returned to the Temple.) He’s there now pursuing a German team that got its host mauled on-camera and, apparently, knows something, somehow, about all this.

The 21st Phantom, showing a skull drawn on the wall; 'This is the place, Diana. The 3rd Phantom left our mark here in blood. His own, I suppose. We'll never fully know what the 3rd Phantom went through in this place ... ' We see flashbacks to 1624, and The 3rd Phantom fighting with sword and knife a pack of animal-headed people. 3rd Phantom thinks: 'My son is prepared to be the 4th Phantom, but I must survive this day! Defy all doom in the name of The Legend itself! For however long I can REMAIN ALIVE in this place --- I AM the legend! ' He shouts, as he stabs a bird-headed figure, 'A Ghost who walks!' As he chokes a snake-headed man, '... MAN WHO CANNOT DIE!'
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 9th of October, 2022. I picked this one to share not so much for its plot-bearing status as for having the most interesting action. Most of the story has been given to mood and speculation, all nicely evocative especially when you read several months’ worth of the Sunday strips together. But this one gives you some cool animal-people fighting which we’ve had a shortage of since Flash Gordon went into all-reruns.

The past months have been The Phantom and Diana Walker exploring the caverns. They had a first remote encounter, aware that something was watching them. They were easy to scared off, though. Further exploring found the skeletons of ancient battles, and the mark the Third Phantom left at his ne plus ultra. They press on, farther than the 21st Phantom had gotten. They find remains of a much more recent fight, one with animal-headed people whose bodies haven’t even decomposed. And hear … something.

The Phantom sends Diana ahead, with the torch, while he hangs back in the shadows. He sees their follower, a woman, and says they’re friendly, they don’t need to be stalked. Diana hears a load roaring. She and Devil race back to The Phantom but that’s all we have seen yet.

Next Week!

What terrible medical condition in roots-country singer Mud Murphy did we see Rex Morgan, M.D., very nearly treat? Food poisoning? Irritable bowel syndrome? Crippling social anxiety? Or is he a big lying liar who tells big lies? I explore Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. next week, and just guess which day I do it!

Statistics Saturday: Most Recent Mentions of Things in Peanuts


(An incomplete list.)

Thing Most Recent Appearance
Arthroscopic Surgery November 30, 1987
Astronaut Scott Carpenter June 28, 1962
Beethoven April 15, 1999
Billie Jean King January 30, 2000
Boyne Falls, Michigan July 7, 1975
Christo November 20, 1978
Connecticut October 29, 1961
Daffy Duck January 30, 2000
Davy Crockett March 8, 1956
Disco Fever October 19 1978
E-mail April 27, 1996
Flying Ace November 28, 1999
Fussbudgets September 30, 1987
Joe Biden May 24, 1993
Joe Garagiola May 21, 1991 (with a mention in the repeat of December 10, 1997)
Joe Schlabotnik January 3, 1997
Mascot Costumes March 29, 1983
Mickey Mouse September 5, 1999
Raccoons March 3, 1979
Rod McKuen October 3, 1969
Singapore October 15, 1961
Spuds Mackenzie October 12, 1987
Stage Fright April 2, 1989
Tear Gas July 7, 1970
Tilt-a-Whirl June 3, 1971

Reference: Skyscraper: The Search for an American Style, 1891-1941, Roger Shepherd.

Charles Schulz’s Centennial


This Saturday, the 26th, is the centennial of the birth of Charles Schulz. It’s possible to imagine what comic strips would look like today if he had gone into some more likely profession, with great effort. Rather than repeat things that everyone is saying about him, though, let me point you to a pleasant newspaper feature about it. The Santa Rosa Press Democrat, hometown newspaper for Schulz’s adult life, published a special section about him on Thursday. All the articles also have a slideshow, some of them with rare pictures, such as showing the Snoopy illustrations that Schulz drew in a rehabilitation exercise room from a 1981 hospitalization.

The Daily Cartoonist says the whole section was free for the viewing on Thursday. That’s unfortunately expired now. But if you somehow know a way around or through a paywall you can use your favorite method of clearing cookies and reloading to view it. I learned things, such as the time his high school’s Hall of Fame plaque had his name spelled wrong for many years. Perfection.

What’s Going On In Mary Worth? Why are GoComics and Comics Kingdom broken? September – November 2022


While we were all distracted with GoComics being broken, Comics Kingdom went and broke themselves. Well, changed, although the specifics of the change damaged something. Comics Kingdom replaced the commenting software used, moving away from Disqus and to OpenWeb instead. Along the way, this lost all the comments people had made, for years, on all of their strips. It’s yet another reminder that corporations are not only bad stewards of public platforms, they are hostile and destructive to it. I grant there’s limited value in reading how angry people can be when a comic strip makes a reference aimed at the young folks. But it’s good to see what people’s impressions of these strips were at publication. And many commenters are good enough to explain referenced older storylines or now-obscure characters. All of that connective tissue is gone now.

Comics Kingdom says there are benefits to the new system, and I accept that. I’m unclear how “personalized notifications” and “easier comment sorting” will avoid comment-section “toxic cesspools”, but we’ll see.

Meanwhile, GoComics is back up! From the comments on Daily Cartoonist, it looks like it was coming up as my post yesterday about their still being down published. So it goes. All they’ve said to the public was a tweet that they were having “temporary challenges resulting from a network disruption”. No confirmation of the rumors about this being a “cybersecurity incident”. It still seems like a good chance to change out passwords for new passwords plus, still starring Alan Ludden. The site may be a bit shaky for a while as people catch up on a half week’s worth of strips, so, be gentle to them and laugh no more than mildly uproariously, please.

And now on to my plot recap. This should get you caught up to mid-November 2022 on Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth. If you’re reading after about February 2023 I likely have a more up-to-date plot recap here. And if any news about the comic strip breaks I’ll share it at that link too. Thank you. Now on to tales of love and thanking Mary Worth for making us thank Mary Worth … again.

Mary Worth.

4 September – 20 November 2022.

When I last visited Charterstone, Dawn Weston had accepted that Jared Mylo broke up with her for good reasons. And Mylo had a new girlfriend who sure presented no questions about the appropriateness of the relationship. (She had been a patient in his care.) All seemed wrapped up, apart from Dawn visiting Mary Worth to thank her for her help. Mary Worth’s help was badgering her into being friends with Mylo still, for obscure reasons.

[ As Dawn reflects on recent events ... ] Dawn thinks: 'I'll find love again. And if I don't ... I'll be okay. I have people in my life who love me!' She thinks of her father, of Mary Worth, and of ... I want to say her friend Cathy. Meanwhile her father talks to his fish: 'Stellan, Willa ... Stell and I may be on a break again, but I'm okay with that! I have everything going for me!' Stella is at the piano, singing with her cat and dog, 'Learning to love yourself ... is the greatest love of alll!' And Jared Mylo and Jess are watching Jeopardy.
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 18th of September, 2022. Wilbur says he and Stella ‘may’ be on a break because Stella says ‘hoo boy yes, are we ever broken up’ but he’s not sure what she means by that.

Anyway Dawn thanks Mary Worth for helping her see that letting Mylo go after he broke up with her was good for their friendship. But we have to have some thanking of Mary Worth or it’s not a plot. And on the 18th of September we go around the horn and see everyone content. Mylo and Jess are enjoying each other’s company. Dawn is happy she’s alone again. Wilbur Weston is content to spend more time with his sandwiches. Stella is singing with her cat and dog. And then Dr Jeff comes over so he and Mary Worth can agree how they’re a great couple with a way better relationship than anyone else has. Also they are definitely not getting married. And that takes two weeks.


[ When Zak spontaneously proposes to Iris ... ] Zak: 'My love, tell me you'll be my wife ... marry me! We'll be the happiest married couple there is!' Iris: 'Zak, dear, I love you and I always will, nothin will change that ... but I've been married before and I don't need to do that again. Please understand ... I'm happier with you *now* than I ever was while married to my ex. The two of us don't *need* a license to be happy. I like things the way they are. You understand, don't you?'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 9th of October, 2022. Oh, hey, Zak looking up, clinging desperately to Iris’s arms, his life depending on her. It’s foreshadowing! (I know, it probably wasn’t intended that literally as foreshadowing, but this scene works nicely as such and I want to point out when the comics do things nicely.)

The 3rd of October starts the current story. It’s about Iris and her much-younger computer-game-guy boyfriend Zak. I bet one or both of them have last names, but if they don’t, pick any that you like. I’m going to say one of them is “Beedie”. They’ve had a great relationship despite the unconventionality of her being older than him and knowing of obscure, hard-to-find movies like Casablanca. So well, in fact, that Zak proposes, catching Iris completely off guard.

Iris, having been married before, doesn’t want to do that again. Zak is crushed but accepts that she would rather keep the relationship as it is. She does agree to a long-delayed hike at Piccadee Falls and, sweet Zak, that’s as good as marriage to him. How can you dislike a guy who’s that able to bounce back from depressing news?

[ When Iris and Zak reach the top of Piccadee Falls, he urges her to join him for a selfie ... ] Iris: 'Zak honey, I don't want to stand *there*. Take the photo from here. You're too close to the edge ...' Zak, 'Nah, I'm good! Look at me ... it's safe!' He swings a leg up and leans back toward the edge. 'See! .. Oops ... uff!' He falls. Iris cries, 'ZAK!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 23rd of October, 2022. Meanwhile I’ve reached the point in my life where I once wore my reading glasses by mistake walking upstairs and froze in panic, unsure how to get safely down from the landing. In hindsight I should have taken them off my face quicker than I did. Please remember, I earned a PhD in Mathematics.

Oh, right, because he’s got the judgement of a jack-chi puppy in a chocolate store. He demands a selfie from the edge of the waterfall, declaring, “Not even the Gods themselves could make me fall off!” Well, what do you know but Parakutes, the Ancient Greek God of Plummeting, is in a grove nearby and, well, there we go. Zak clings to a branch, something he can do for the rest of his life. But Iris is able to overcome her fears — and her fear of her own frailty — and pull him back up.

Back on safe ground they hold each other tight. And Iris realizes her fears of marriage are nothing compared to how she feels about Zak. Is it just anyone who would rather he did not die? No. She accepts his proposal, the 6th of November, which might be the first time in my tenure covering these strips that we’ve achieved the summum bonum of Mary Worth.

[ As Iris risks her life and reaches for Zak ... he reaches up so she can grab his arm ... ] We see her, in front of the fals, lying down on the edge and reaching an arm out. In the second panel Zak lets one hand free of the tree root to grab her arm.
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 29th of Ocober, 2022. Wait, how did she pull up Sergeant Snorkel from Beetle Bailey?

Or almost achieved, anyway. Even a small, modest ceremony takes time to arrange. Iris hurries to Mary Worth to tell her the good news that she isn’t dead, and neither is Zak, and so they’re getting married. Mary Worth seems so surprised by this that she’s left saying stuff like “Are you referring to your previous married state versus his inexperience with matrimony?” that even Tom Batiuk says is not how people talk. Commander Data pops in to offer to punch that line up a little. Anyway, Mary Worth is so happy they’ll be able to celebrate the unconventional love of a woman who’s older than the man. And that is our happy (US) Thanksgiving-week resting point for Mary Worth.

Dubiously Sourced Mary Worth Sunday Panel Quotes!

  • “I’ve learned that love, not time, heals all wounds.” — Andy Rooney, 4 September 2022.
  • “Some of us think holding on makes us strong but sometimes it is letting go.” — Hermann Hesse, 11 September 2022.
  • “And if by chance that special place that you’ve been dreaming of … leads you to a lonely place, find your strength in love.” — Linda Creed and Michael Masser, 18 September 2022.
  • “Familiar acts are beautiful through love.” — Percy Bysshe Shelley, 25 September 2022.
  • “Growth is the only evidence of life.” — John Henry Newman, 2 October 2022.
  • “Marriage is a gamble. Let’s be honest.” — Yoko Ono, 9 October 2022.
  • “If you don’t lose, you cannot enjoy the victories. So I have to accept both things.” — Rafael Nadal, 16 October 2022.
  • “It’s a good thing to learn caution from the misfortune of others.” — Publilius Syrus, 23 October 2022.
  • “Love is what you’ve been through with somebody.” — James Thurber, 30 October 2022.
  • “Ultimately, love is everything.” — M Scott Peck, 6 November 2022.
  • “Life is a collage of events, really.” — Mohanlal, 13 November 2022.
  • “The real meaning of enlightenment is to gaze with undimmed eyes on all darkness.” — Nikon Kazantzakis, 20 November 2022.

Next Week!

The Phantom and his wife continue exploring an ancient labyrinth that once held animal-human hybrids the Egyptians may have worshipped as gods! What have they found and is it going to eat them, too? I try to recap Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom (Sunday continuity) next week. Good luck with your own animal-human hybrids once worshipped as gods.

GoComics Is Still So Down That Funky Winkerbean Looks “Up” to It


GoComics is still suffering from being incredibly knocked out. This doesn’t require me to postpone my Mary Worth plot recap. Mary Worth runs on Comics Kingdom, which had an ordinary-for-it glitch Monday where the non-vintage strips didn’t update. That cleared up, though, and it didn’t affect the archives anyway. No, I’m delaying Mary Worth partly to share what I know about GoComics and partly because I figured back on Thursday to write a rough draft and make things easier for myself, and then I sat down and watched a cartoon for a while, and then it was Tuesday afternoon.

Anyway. GoComics has been weirdly reluctant to share information about what’s going on. Once again D D Degg, at The Daily Cartoonist, has some information. According to the Arizona Daily Star, GoComics company Andrews McMeel is having “apparent cybersecurity issues” and they’re working on fixing it, but don’t have word on when that will be. When I just looked at GoComics it offered this not-quite-reassuring notice.

Screenshot of a web page error message reading: 'We are updating the site for you and will be back shortly. In the meantime, how about playing a game on our sister site.' Underneath is a broken-image blank icon.
So something I should explain, since you and I aren’t paid professional user-interface designers. You might think that the question “how about playing a game on our sister site” should be punctuated with a question mark. No. Proper user interface design has learned that if you put a question mark on something, then you’re asking the user a yes-or-no question. And that means the options you need to provide are, for something that involves only the user’s computer, “OK” or “Cancel”. If it’s for something that transmits information about the user back to a server on the Internet, the professional options to provide are “Let’s start already!” and “I’ll answer later”.

Anyway if it is a cybersecurity issue, that could mean anything. But it likely is a good time to change the passwords on any accounts that share the one you use for this silly low-priority web site you use to say nice stuff to the person who draws Amanda The Great on. (Also Amanda The Great is a sweet strip and you should say nice stuff to her.)

And I’m not saying that Tom Batiuk is the problem, but have we ruled out that Tom Batiuk is the problem? Because Degg also reports that Tom Batiuk and Dan Davis’s Crankshaft is to move to GoComics with the start of 2023, as the strip changes syndicates again. I assume this means Comics Kingdom will take down its Crankshaft archive. I don’t have any information what it means for the Funky Winkerbean archive on Comics Kingdom. If you’ve got a favorite strip you’ve been meaning to download or have printed on a mug, maybe do that sooner rather than later.

Yeah, GoComics Is Still Broken, But Here’s Some Replacement Links


GoComics continues to not be working, not just for you but for everyone. D D Degg, at The Daily Cartoonist, has a guide to where you can find the GoComics strips that have other online presences and aren’t in repeats. This won’t help us who’ve gotten quite into Bozo or who keep rereading Spot The Frog, but it’ll cover your basic Wallace the Brave or Breaking Cat News reader. Also from its inclusion in the list I learn that Fort Knox is still in production, which, who knew? Sorry to the guy who draws Fort Knox for thinking the strip had ended. Maybe I was mixing you up with Dude and Dude somehow. Also I think Dude and Dude ended. Again, sorry if I’m wrong.

Statistics Saturday: Which Comic Strip’s Fault Is It GoComics Has Been Down All Day?


Pie chart of which comic strip's fault it is; comics listed are Broom Hilda, Mount Pleasant, My Dad Is Dracula, Texts From Mittens, Bear With Me, Brewster Rockit, Over the Hedge, and The Comic Strip That Has a Finale Every Day. Most have about the same-size wedge. Over The Hedge has a noticeably larger wedge, and the biggest piece goes to The Comic Strip That Has a Finale Every Day.
Not pictured: Sam and Silo, which is over on Comics Kingdom, and Mr Skygack, from Mars, because that hasn’t run since 1911, and GoComics hasn’t been down THAT long yet.

Reference: King of Argent, John T Phillifent.

Long, Depressing Nightmare to End? (Not Twitter, I Mean Funky Winkerbean)


So there’s some news I was not expecting, even though there was foreshadowing in the text. According to D D Degg at The Daily Cartoonist, Tom Batiuk is bringing Funky Winkerbean to an end with the end of December 2022. It’s about fifty years and nine months after the comic debuted. This comes shortly after a somewhat confusing storyline where the characters got together for the 50th anniversary of their graduation, which happened in 1992 to readers or in 1988 (in-universe), but, you know. It sort of makes thematic sense for an anniversary of the comic strip’s existence, and it makes even more sense as a harbinger of the artist retiring.

Folks in the Funky Winkerbean Snark Community started speculating that the strip might be at an end soon. I didn’t think it likely since Tom Batiuk seems to be of the older generation of artists who keep on the strip until ten years after his death, but I suppose we all change our minds about these things sometimes. The suggestion got more prominent with an odd storyline a couple weeks ago where Montoni’s Pizza — the centerpiece of the comic since it moved out of high school — announced its closing and we saw bits of an auction of its effects. The announcement was so sudden, and given so little weight — it started mid-week, and the strip moved away from the theme midweek — that it hardly seemed real.

Funky Winkerbean: 'Well, you're getting your Montoni's Pizza inspiration in just under the wire.' Summer Moore: 'Why? What's going on?' Funky: 'We're getting ready to auction off some Montoni's memorabilia before we close our doors.' Summer: 'Close your doors?' Les Moore: 'As if we somehow needed more proof that nothing good ever lasts!'
Tom Batiuk’s Funky Winkerbean for the 28th of October, 2022. The next day Funky would explain that the pandemic and its aftermath “wiped out thin-crust profit margin”, which makes sense, as if there’s one thing people didn’t do back when we tried to contain the pandemic it’s order easily-delivered food. (And Funky mentioned how the place had been so busy he had to take up delivering himself.) Anyway, yes, it’s sad to lose Funky Winkerbean from the comics pages but on the other hand this means we’re soon going to run out of Les Moore storylines.

That retirement moved from subtext to text this week, when Ruby Lith — one of a number of old-time comics artists moved to the in-universe Atomik Comix — announced her retirement. And then we got the announcement, as posted on Tom Batiuk’s web site. Batiuk says he figures to occasionally post new Funky Winkerbean stories at his web site, and that he’ll keep doing Crankshaft, possibly with the Funky characters making more appearances there. We’ll see.

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? What’s with Comics Kingdom’s ads? August – November 2022


So those ads I was complaining about yesterday? Comics Kingdom wrote back. They explained they had changed to a new company providing “programming” and they’re working on the problem which should be solved soon. I am filled with no confidence because it’s been nine months since the Sunday comics problem started and they’ve done nothing about it. Also, they’re calling advertisements “programming”. They are “programming” only in the propaganda sense of the word.

Also for what it’s worth I started clicking on the little ‘Stop seeing this ad’ box. Google Ads told me OK, they won’t show this particular ad again. And three links after that, guess what was back? It’s wild that there’s such a sexual harassment problem at Google, isn’t it?

Anyway that’s all to the side. What we’re here for is Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail and to see a tiger fight an elephant. No luck on that count yet. But maybe by January 2023, when a subsequent plot recap should be at this link, we’ll have seen it. For now, let’s catch you up to mid-November 2022.

Mark Trail.

28 August – 13 November 2022.

One of the stories going on regarded Andy and Sassy, and many other pets, getting chemical burns. It’s the Sunny Soleil Society, of course, and Honest Ernest’s Lawn Libation. Some weedkiller potion that Ernest brewed up. Cherry and Rusty Trail walk Sassy around to figure where he got exposed. They find a perfect green weedless lawn with a koi pond; Sassy loves barking at fish, as who would not, so that explains that. And the lawn is Violet Cheshire’s, turns out.

[ Cherry's talk about Honest Ernest's lawn chemicals with Violet takes a startling turn. ] Violet: 'Ernest and i are not having an affair!' Cherry Trail: ' ? What?? I only came to talk about Honest Ernest's Lawn Libation!' Honest Ernest, carrying a bouquet of flowers, running up: 'Violet! I can't take it anymore! The longing stares, the late-night texts, our bonding over a bee sting! I love you and I don't care who knows it!' [ Ernest probably should care that Cherry is standing right there. ]
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 14th of October, 2022. The bee stings were part of an earlier adventure that introduced Honest Ernest and his wife Caroline.

Cherry Trail returns, fruit basket in hand. She means to apologize to Violet Cheshire for accidentally trespassing and ask if they could tone down the toxins. Cheshire’s instantly suspicious, and nearly panics when Cherry says she wants to talk about Ernest. Cherry can barely talk about the Lawn Libation chemicals before Cheshire denies having an affair with Honest Ernest. Also, Ernest comes up with a bouquet of flowers declaring he doesn’t care who knows about his love. Although he’s a little embarrassed to say it right in front of Cherry Trail. Cherry talks with Mark about this; on the one hand, it’s rotten to Cheshire and Ernest’s partners. On the other, it’s not specifically their business. It’s something that ran into them like a rampaging elephant or something.


Speaking of rampaging elephants. The story Mark Trail passed up? You know, to cover Tess Tigress’s Tiger Touch Center? And work alongside stunt-driver-turned-naturalist Rex Scorpius? That other story was an escaped elephant reported in four states. Keep that in mind.

Mark Trail snoops on the reclusive Rex Scorpius, and finds he’s Facetiming his dog back home. Mark Trail shares his own Facetiming with his dog, and they bond over having dogs who helped them through traumas. So they’re new friends as the arrive for the first day of shooting with Tess Tigress. Diana Daggers starts things off polite but vicious, complimenting her “roadside zoo”. Tigress declares they won’t have her bad vibes and kicks her out. This leaves an unprepared Mark Trail with directing duties since, hey, photography is pretty much like directing, right? Well, it worked for Stanley Kubrick and I bet some other director too.

[ Tess Tigress leads Mark and Rex through the Tiger Touch Center to film. ] Tigress, holding a cub: 'These tiger cubs help us tune into Nature and out of our everyday traumas.' Mark Trail, filming and thinking: 'How old are these tiger cubs? They shouldn't be separated from their mother before two years.' [ Mark decides to use this chance to keep an eye on the tigers as well as the talent. ]
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 21st of September, 2022. Mark Trail may be an unqualified director but he’s quick to pick up on a couple good tricks. At one point he feigns the camera being low on battery, to avoid filming Rex Scorpius cuddling the tiger cubs. Much like the difficulty in making an anti-war movie, it’s hard to overcome the compelling fascinating prospect of interacting with an animal in the wrong ways.

Tigress leads them on a tour that threatens to be so exciting and adorable as to overwhelm one’s senses. It’s exciting and thrilling and magical to hold a tiger cub. Should a cub be separated from their mother so young? There must be a lot of people paying cash for seeing so many tiger cubs; does the volunteer staff get paid? Or deeper questions, asked when Tess Tigress isn’t around to glare at volunteers. Where are they getting enough meat for the animals? Do they have a vet on-site? Have they harmed other animals? That rogue elephant, is she moving in this direction because she remembers a traumatic experience with the Tiger Touch Center?

Jiffy, one of the Tiger Teammates, says they don’t have a vet, and half their animals are sick. And there’s a “weird trailer” they’re not allowed in because that’s where Gemma the Rogue Elephant’s cub is kept. The staff sleeps in tents, and there’s not resources to care for the animals. Mark Trail’s ready to investigate the weird trailer, when he’s interrupted by Tess Tigress and Rex Scorpius.

[ Mark discovers a mysterious trailer at the Tiger Touch Center. ] Mark Trail: 'You're taking a big risk showing me this, Jiffy.' Jiffy: 'Hey, I love these animals, but I never signed up for this. We're not healing anyone here. We sleep in tents and don't have the resources to care for these animals. Meanwhile Tess rakes in cash from fancy clients and book sales. Tess sold us on a lie!'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 28th of October, 2022. I get the dramatic purpose of Mark Trail mentioning the risk Jiffy is taking; it’s for readers. But in-universe, it seems best if Mark Trail pumps Jiffy for information making it sound like he’s not asking about anything special, just doing some small talk. People don’t want to snitch but they love to gossip.

Tigress and Scorpius have been committing acts of canoodlery almost since first meeting. I’m not sure is this is strategic on Tigress’s part. It’s wise if it is; Scorpius’s infatuation makes him dismiss Mark Trail’s concerns. It may be sincere, though. Scorpius was a celebrity stunt driver and became a Bikbok star animal-wrangler. He seems attractive enough in his own right. Scorpius’s angles are clearer. He’s been going through a rough time. He abandoned stunt driving after a severe crash and found that being a video star is hard, unfulfilling work. And Tigress fits neatly with a fantasy he’s had since his childhood favorite superhero movie had “the ultimate catgirl”. (I don’t know if that’s an elliptical way of saying Catwoman, of if the character is literally named Ultimate Catgirl.) But between that transferred crush and her warm, inviting, accepting pose he’s fallen hard for her.

[ Mark can only look in horror as the tiger walks into the pen with Rex for the Tiger Truth Test. ] Mark Trail: 'Rex, please! If something happens to you, who will take care of Buzz? YOUR DOG?' Rex Scorpius: 'Buzz! My dog! Oh no. What am I doing?' Tess Tigress ;'Rex, don't! Nothing can stand between you and your love for me!' Gemma the rogue elephant trumpets into the scene, barging into the arena. [ Nothing except that elephant. ]
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 11th of November, 2022. So, like, did Mark Trail almost get Rex Scorpius killed here? Because if he weren’t there, I assume Diana Daggers would have still got herself kicked out of the Tiger Touch Center, but with nobody else to hold the camera wouldn’t Rex Scorpius have gone home instead? Gemma might still have run back to the Tiger Touch Center for whatever old horrors were inflicted on her, but Scorpius at least wouldn’t have been there? Maybe not; I can imagine Tigress putting the moves on Scorpius anyway, since the center does depend on celebrity clients, and without the responsibility of a shooting schedule he might have fallen even faster for her.

And foolishly, too. This past week we saw him shirtless and chained down in an arena for the “Tiger Truth Ceremony”. He can be part of Tigress’s family if he proves himself true, by the tiger not mauling him. Her other five boyfriends didn’t pass but he’s feeling good about this. Until Mark Trail reminds him: if something goes wrong who feeds his dog? Scorpius has a moment of life-clarifying doubt, but the tiger is already loose.

So is Gemma, the rogue elephant who it turns out was heading right for here, and smashes into the arena.

That closed out last week; this week has been back on Cherry Trail’s storyline.

Sunday Animals Watch!

  • Scorpions, 28 August 2022. Note: not former stunt-driver turned Bikbok star Rex Scorpius! Know the difference!
  • Armadillos, 4 September 2022. Apparently armadillo litters are identical pups, which seems like something that should’ve been used in more kids shows.
  • Lawn Chemicals, 11 September 2022. Just use native grasses and if you absolutely must have a uniformly green lawn, try food dye.
  • Monarch Butterflies, 18 September 2022. If you’ve got some milkweed you could do the butterflies a solid.
  • Horned Lizards, 25 September 2022. Also known as the ‘horny toad’ because of its after-dark account.
  • Raccoons, 2 October 2022. In one panel Mark Trail recommends setting a radio near the den of a raccoon you need to relocate and there’s this adorable picture of a raccoon looking cross at your choice in music.
  • Floods, 9 October 2022. Remember that thing where Pakistan got destroyed earlier this year? We should be trying to stop that from happening.
  • Grasshopper mice, 16 October 2022. They’re mice that think they’re little wolves! Seriously.
  • Sandhill Cranes, 23 October 2022. They migrate through Texas so, as you can imagine, they need a lot of help.
  • Texas Red Wolves, 30 October 2022. Which are interbreeding with coyotes on Galveston Island, a reminder of how messy and ambiguous the concept of ‘species’ is in the real world.
  • Yellowbelly Racers, 6 November 2022. The snake is fast and harmless to humans, even beneficial for most of our purposes since they prey on insects and rodents, but, you know, people.
  • Roadside Zoos, 13 November 2022. I mean, sure, any individual roadside zoo may look bad.

Next Week!

It’s been a cliffhanger of a time in Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth! Find out all there is to know about the cliff when I recap the plot, I hope in six days. See you then.

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? What’s with this Terrence Smiles guy? August – November 2022


A good deal of September and October in Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley starred mall-based piano player Sir Terrence Smiles. He was illustrated with that odd specificity that inspires the question, was this based on some real person? And yes, it was. I admit I know this only because of a comment the 15th of September by charliefarmrhere over at GoComics, but I can pass that on. Sir Terrence Smiles is a riff on Terry Miles, a YouTube guy who plays boogie woogie at shopping malls. Here’s a five-minute video with one example of this. Seems like fun. Miles has a whole YouTube channel of this stuff and that’s all I know about him and his groove. I trust he’s flattered to inspire a comic strip character.

This should catch you up to early November 2022 in Gasoline Alley. If you’re reading this after about — wow — January 2023, or any news about the strip comes out, you might find a more up-to-date recap here.

Gasoline Alley.

22 August – 5 November 2022.

Boog’s fantasy of building a spaceship for Jimmy had faded, last I checked in, replaced with building a model. He impresses his would-be girlfriend Charlotte with the toy, and everyone gets excited to launch it. Polly the parrot even calls Gasoline Alley Television to get some media coverage for the model rocket launch. This doesn’t pan out to anything. They show up after the accidental launch. But it does foreshadow the Gasoline Alley media coming around for the current story.

Jimmy: 'I'm texting all the neighbor kids to meet us at the field up the road at three! We can't have a great rocket ship ascension without an audience!' Polly: 'Should we alert the news media too? Awk!' Jimmy: 'That's a good idea, Polly!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 27th of August, 2022. To say more direct nice things about Scancarelli’s artwork: Polly being drawn so large in the last panel is a great choice. Polly’s tail sticking over the boundary to the panel before makes for a neat transition between camera angles, and showing the bird so large supports how Polly’s dominating the story beat. It flows great. Also Scancarelli draws a nice parrot.

Polly sits on the remote control by accident, launching the rocket inside the house. It flies around, smashing up everything, just before Jimmy and Charlotte’s parents get home. They’re okay with this. Charlotte’s Mom says they were going to get new lamps and vases anyway, and jabs her husband in the gut until he agrees they totally were. You know how the women-folk be with the shopping.


So, the 14th of September, the story transitions from all the model-rocket stuff to the mall. Jimmy discovers Sir Terrence Smiles at the piano, playing boogie-woogie. Smiles is a relentlessly cheerful, enthusiastic person, and he encourages Jimmy to sit up and play with him.

This takes us onto a conflict-free patch of story. It’s all about Smiles and Jimmy playing together. Jimmy’s a novice; Smiles is a most enthusiastic … teacher isn’t the right word. But the person introducing him to piano-playing. This includes some fanciful scenes, the sorts of nonrepresentational mood imagery that Scancarelli does well but not enough. It’s a nice depiction of struggling to learn a little of playing music. And then we get into some silliness, Smiles’s getting his sock stuck in the piano keys somehow and going on from that for a while.

Jimmy and Terence Smiles playing on the piano; we see chains of the notes theyre playing, finishing with a picture of them on a music staff, Miles atop of chord helping Jimmy climb up the notes. Smiles says, 'You're climbing up the music ladder, lad!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 24th of September, 2022. And again, saying nice things about art: this is a great depiction of having fun while you struggle and learn a skill. Two great body language panels giving way to a non-literal representation. Good going.

Jimmy’s parents come over; he never answered their texts about it being time to go for ice cream. Smiles talks about how Jimmy’s got an impressive ability, and he goes with Jimmy and Charlotte and parents to the ice cream place.


And so, with the 10th of October, we start the current story. It’s a Walt Wallet story. He’s working on his bucket list, in the touching belief that he might someday die. He has a couple of the wide-eyed ambitions any of us might, like walking on the moon or skydiving. He’s also got one that seems so mundane it ought to be possible: riding on the back of a garbage truck. It’s one of those fanciful ideas that caught him in childhood, to the disapproval of his teachers. They didn’t like the idea of his being a cowboy, either.

Rufus and Joel, junk dealers, are glad to give Walt a ride on their mule-pulled wagon. But that’s not the fantasy, which is to ride a garbage truck like Denzel Washington rides in the movie Fences, which I never saw. Rufus and Joel ask their friend DC, who’s in the city Refuse Department. DC would be glad to, if that were possible. The city’s garbage trucks don’t have running boards or grab bars anymore. The yard waste trucks do, but they’re not used, and anyone letting someone ride on them would get fired fast. Even if that person weren’t eight years older than the number zero.

Joel: 'Well, how 'bout it? Can yo' fix it up t'give Mr Walt a ride on th'back of yo' truck?' Yard Waste Guy: 'We'd admire to do so, but if our supervisor found out we'd be terminated so fast between the words 'you're' and 'fired'!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 2nd of November, 2022. I did not catch the yard waste guy’s name, although since his friend with the refuse department was DC I’m going to guess this guy is AC? Anyway, the comments in this whole segment of the story have been people discovering their local garbage trucks don’t have running boards anymore. Ours have those robot arms that I’m amazed can grab garbage bins and, even, the paper bags used for bagged leaves. I’ve watched this happen over and over and still can’t believe it works.

All may not be lost, though. Hulla Ballew — failing for once to identify herself as Bob and Ray reporter Wally Ballew’s sister — hears something’s up and wants to know what it is. She also forgets one time that she works for the Gasette, introducing herself as working for the Gazette instead. How will this lead to a happy conclusion? Is there a happy conclusion possible? We’ll see over the next couple months.

Next Week!

Is a shirtless Rex Scorpius going to get himself eaten by a tiger or trampled by a rogue elephant? Lots of endearingly odd developments to recap in Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail, next week, I hope!

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? What kind of idiot steals a cop car? August – October 2022


The current story in Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy has Robert Parrish, who’s been paying for his acting career by stealing cars, stole a cop car. One may ask why any criminal with a lick of sense would do that. And the answer is that it wasn’t, you know, a cop car. The thing with the seal of the city and some motto about serving and protecting on it. It was the blue sedan owned by a a person who happens to be a cop, in this case, Sam Catchem. It happened to have some of Catchem’s work gear inside too. But the robbers have no idea they’re getting a cop’s car; it’s just, a car.

So this should catch you up to the end of October 2022 in Dick Tracy. If you’re reading this after about December 2022 a more useful plot recap should be here. I’ll also post any news I get about the comic strip. Now on to the last couple months and how the Earth got saved from conquest plus right before a musical went into production.

Dick Tracy.

14 August – 29 October 2022.

Dick Tracy accepted Moon Governor Thorin’s invitation for him, Honeymoon Tracy, and Mysta Chimera to visit the Lunarian hideout. This so Honeymoon and Chimera could learn something of their heritage. The heritage is of pulpy 1930s sci-fi adventure, with big angular architecture and psychic powers and snail-based economies and all. Also so Tracy could learn there’s a rogue faction respecting their pulpy 1930s sci-fi heritage by conquering the Earth. And what do you know but Ro-Zan is preparing to launch his conquest of the Earth, like, tomorrow! To show he’s serious he orders the electro-killing of Marina, who pointed out this was madness, madness I tell you, at the pre-conquest rally.

Marina’s friend Shay-Gin flees the rally to tell Tracy and Thorin what’s happening. They choose to go to the space coupe hangar, to see Ro-Zan’s weaponized space coupes and get ambushed. That plan succeeds, and Ro-Zan orders his men to electro-kill Tracy and Thorin. Tracy faces the electro-firing squad with a strange calm and also Mr Bribery’s ring to neutralize Lunarian powers.

Thorin: 'Thank you, Tracy, for sharing my death.' Tracy: 'We're not dead yet.' Ro-Zan: 'Armsmen ... fire!' The Lunarian armsmen shoot beams from out their fingers. Mysta Chimera holds on to Honeymoon Tracy, who faints.
Mike Curtis and Shelley Pleger’s Dick Tracy for the 27th of August, 2022. Dick Tracy is showing a lot of faith that Mr Bribery’s ring, made to control Mysta Chimera’s powers — which were created by human body engineering — will work on a bunch of Lunarians. (Could be Chimera and Honeymoon are doing something to help out, too.)

The ring does more than neutralize the powers; it shoots the electro-kill ray back at the firing squad. It’s dispersed or something enough to only stun them all. Tracy and Ro-Zan get into a Star Trek fistfight, the only way to overcome this genre of villain for good.

With the conquest of Earth halted, Tracy asks what the Moon Government will do with the coup plotters. Thorin promises the New Moon Valley has a zero-tolerance policy about crime. It’s a reminder that this sort of pulpy 1930s sci-fi has a technocratic fascism built into it. It’s things to think about, especially as Tracy refuses to turn over Mr Bribery’s ring. Thorin considers how they have to rethink their zero-tolerance policy, especially as he can’t execute Ro-Zan, his own brother.

Ro-Zan, swinging his fist at Tracy: 'Ha! Humans are pitiful!' He swings again; Tracy ducks and says, 'Look, you ... ' Tracy swings up and knocks Ro-Zan in the stomach, 'NOBODY ... ' And he jabs his fist down on Ro-Zan's back, knocking him out: 'Threatens my family!'
Mike Curtis and Shelley Pleger’s Dick Tracy for the 30th of August, 2022. Dick Tracy is lucky that Lunarians also have that ‘human off switch’ where you can punch them in the back and if you’re in a 1950s or 60s action TV show they pass out.

Which, first, yeah, zero-tolerance policies are generally bad as they squeeze out judgement. Especially when it’s about something like execution, which you can’t repair if you get a judgement wrong. But Ro-Zan was trying to overthrow the government and conquer the world, which needs a serious response. On the other hand, Thorin thinks of how they need to find a ‘permanent solution’ to handling crime and again with the technocratic fascism.

Back to the text. Liska — who’d been sweet on Dick Tracy — gives him a gift of some Lunarian ground-escargot coffee, a reminder of nice times in the valley. And the Lunarians conclude this isn’t the right time for them to engage with the whole world. Not until they can get their taking-over-the-world problem dealt with. Tracy et al return home, and we return to mundane plots.


I’ll handle some small ones that seem to be threads for another day. The first, explored for a few days in mid-September, was about the Cinnamon Knight. He’s retiring from his costumed-vigilante superhero thingy, and going to the Police Academy. The second, getting a couple in late October, had a man with no clear pupils sorting through papers. He finds an old note from ‘Harold and Winifred’. The name, and art style, suggests Harold Gray, creator of Little Orphan Annie (his wife was Winifred). We saw this paper-sorting fellow a couple months ago, with a narrative box promising that he’d be important to Tracy someday. How has yet to transpire.

Also the strip took a two-week pause for a ‘Minit Mystery’, written by Walt Reimer and drawn by Joe Staton, who only retired from the strip a year ago. That one broke from the Minit-Mystery format, offering an ‘adventure’ instead. It had significant-looking funny names were there, people like Wren Christopher and Dr Anita Bath. But it was about a museum theft of precious artifacts like the Froyne of Layven. It didn’t have any element of ‘why were the boots wet but the umbrella dry’ sort of reasoning.


The big story, though, started the 16th of September and it’s still going on now. It’s instigated by Vitamin Flintheart, whose newest play is the musical Funny Papers. It’s a history of the comics, told through the history of the comic strip Derby Dugan. In our reality this is a series of novels by Tom De Haven, with illustrations by Art Spiegelman. In the Dick Tracy universe it was an actual comic strip that Tracy’s sidekick Sam Catchem is a huge fan of. And that’s got a musical, now. Derby Dugan, the strip, evokes a lot of Little Orphan Annie; I don’t know if this will tie in to that fellow with the letter from Harold and Winifred.

Robert Parrish, dressed as Derby Dugan: 'Whatta ya mean, ME DOG CAN'T ALK? She can talk if she wants to! This is America, ain't it? AIN'T THIS AMERICA?' Director, giving thumbs up: 'Perfect! If you can sing, you've got the role!'
Mike Curtis and Shelley Pleger’s Dick Tracy for the 8th of October, 2022. I’m assuming the director is willing to hire Parrish for an important role in a musical before hearing him sing because Steelface got to him. But we do see a good bit of rehearsals and don’t see anyone wondering how this guy got the part. I admit I’d enjoy the dramatic irony if it turns out Parrish would have got the part without owing Steelface a favor.

Fellow name of Robert Parrish really wants to perform as Pinfold, the street urchin who inspires the Derby Dugan character. He goes to his uncle Steelface, who runs a car-theft ring. Steelface feels like a long-established character to me. His gimmick is he was an arc welder who got enough metal embedded in his body that he wears magnetized plates on his head. But I can’t find him in the Dick Tracy Wikia. Could be Curtis and Pleger created someone new who feels like an established villain. (Steelface’s real name is given as Arceneaux, last name unclear. I guess Parrish but can’t say for sure.)

Parrish easily snags the Pinfold part. And Sam Catchem is so eager to see the rehearsals he asks Tracy about 400 billion times if Vitamin Flintheart would do the favor of letting him. Since Tracy’s saved Flintheart’s life about 400 billion times this is easy to arrange.

Catchem and Parrish get to nerd-pair-bond over their Derby Dugan fandom. When Parrish gets a phone call from Steelface, though, Catchem’s alert. He fills Tracy in on how back in the day he and the Boston police tried to bust up Steelface’s car-theft ring. Meanwhile Steelface’s call is for Parrish’s help: they don’t have enough cars and Parrish is really good at lifting them, and owes a big favor. The time-pressed Parrish swipes something right next to the playhouse. It turns out to be Sam Catchem’s car.

Tracy: 'Steelface?' Catchem: 'It's a nickname. We had several real names on file. He usually looked like this. As a youth, he was a welder, and had metal fragments embedded into his face. The metal plates he wears are magnetized.' Tracy: 'So why is he back on your radar after all this time, Sam?' Catchem: 'I heard his name today at the Patterson playhouse.'
Mike Curtis and Shelley Pleger’s Dick Tracy for the 17th of October, 2022. I appreciate the progress of “welder” to “metal fragments in face” to “wears steel plates on his face while he oversees a car theft ring” here.

Parrish is horrified to have accidentally grabbed a cop’s car. Steelface isn’t. For one, it’s freaking hilarious. For another, there was cop gear in it, including one of the wrist radios that Tracy’s unit uses. Steelface’s group can use it to monitor the cops and, like, clear out their chop shop ahead of the raid.

And this is where we’re standing as of early November.

Next Week!

So if Polly hasn’t gone to Mars, then why is Walt Wallet trying to hitch a ride on a garbage truck? I follow the twisting paths of Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley next week, if things go like they should.

What’s Going On In Prince Valiant? What’s with the witchcraft lately? August – October 2022


This year’s seen Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant leaning into the witchcraft. At least the supernatural-women side of things. This, in large part, is from focusing more on Morgan Le Fay, a choice I understand. As a character she opens a lot of strange, weird story possibilities. And it shores up Prince Valiant’s taking place in the time of King Arthur, like the title panel used to tell us.

I’m less sure I like the current story, which has a woman captured by a witch-hunter. I don’t dispute this kind of thing happened. (And I’m aware the story is much distorted in the popular culture, of which Prince Valiant is part. In particular, witch-hunting mostly happened in what we call the Renaissance or early Enlightenment.) But I start out uncomfortable with stories about witch-hunting in a setting that posits witches actually exist. The historical lesson of witch-hunting is about how authoritarian group-think targets the helpless. This often with heavy doses of misogyny and racism. Adding in a layer of “also they kept missing the real ones” needs to be done with thought. So far I feel Schultz and Yeates are aware of this. The text is explicit this witch-hunting craze is Camelot’s population going wrong and the characters are coming to realize it.

Since my pre-roll started with a downer let me try fixing the mood. First, a puzzle on the old game show Whew! rebroadcast the other day mentioned how Prince Valiant is a Viking. That’s … I mean, a little like calling Cotton Mather an American writer but let’s allow it for the sake of only experts knowing what to call pre-Viking cultures. This does mean that if I had a nickel for every time the story of a wholesome Viking family became the subject of a long-running syndicated American newspaper comic strip, I’d have two nickels. Which, like the kids say, isn’t a lot, but it’s weird that it happened twice.

And Prince Valiant got a bit of screen time and amazing trivia in this Sunday’s Thatababy comic. Thought you’d want to see that too.

Thatababy addressing the audience that after a recent strip mentioning Beetle Bailey, people wrote in with the trivia about how Beetle Bailey's sister is Lois from Hi and Lois. So Thatababy reveals things their research crue has discovered, including: Prince Valiant, Hagar, and Rodney (B.C.) attended the same high school, with a picture of them all on the football team. Also: Alley Oop, B.C., and Barney Rubble were college roommates! And Judge Parker, Rex Morgan, Gil Thorp, and Mary Worth 'were entwined in a sordid love quadrangle'.
Paul Trap’s Thatababy for the 23rd of October, 2022. Yes, I’m keeping panels in reserve for my Alley Oop, Judge Parker, Rex Morgan, Mary Worth, and Gil Thorp plot recaps.

So now let’s catch you up to late October 2022 in Prince Valiant. If you’re reading this after about December 2022 I should have a more current essay here.

Prince Valiant.

7 August – 23 October 2022.

Prince Valiant’s son Nathan and the Ab’saban teen Yewubar, out late at night, saw something unsettling. Morgan Le Fay, in a glade, alongside Queen Aleta, and her daughter Maeve, queen-to-be of Camelot. Le Fay has a dire warning for the other witches: times are getting worse. There’s a fear of witchcraft coming, and all women are becoming suspect. She admits she was wrong trying to steal Prince Valiant’s mind, which is not quite an apology, but is at least something. And warns that Valiant is becoming aware of this corruption at the kingdom’s core. Then something inaudible, and the women vanish. Nathan and Yewubar run away, only for Le Fay to block them.

But all she does is warn them. Nathan is Aleta and Valiant’s son and so has her protection. Yewubar is a visitor from Africa (her father’s an emissary) and apparently strong in the craft too. So she bids them to “choose to help those in need”. This seems more reasonable on Le Fay’s part than I had gathered from that time in 2003 my eyes passed over most of the words in The Once And Future King. I don’t think she’s in it. That’s Madame Mim I’m thinking of.

Having witnessed a clandestine meet between Aleta, Maeve, and the sorceress MOrgan Le Fay, Nathan and Yewubar flee in a panic, only to find their path blocked by Morgan herself! The sorceress smiles wickedly. 'So, little spies, have you learned surprising things tonight? You are clever - but not as clever as you think ... You, boy - I know you are the son of Queen Aleta and Prince Valiant. And as such, you shall always have my protection - but you must be schooled. And you, girl - you are of the visitors from far Africa. I have studied among your bonsams, and I see that you may be strong in the craft too. Listen! Remember what you have heard here tonight ... and choose to help those in need! Now, go!' Nathan and Yewubar run as if the devil were on their heels. As Morgan looks fondly after them and muses: 'It has been a productive night. Seeds have been sown.'
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 21st of August, 2022. Yeah, I did not know that Morgan considered herself a protector of Prince Valiant’s children. I don’t have any backstory on that, I’m afraid. It’s a twist I’d love to know more about and if there’s some Price Valiant expert who could fill us in, please say something. If she’s just messing with the kids please let me know that too.

By light of day, Yewubar and Nathan debate: the heck was all that? Did they see what they thought they saw? They decide to investigate Le Fay’s castle, but get distracted on the way by a parade carrying a bound woman. The captured woman is Afton. We saw her, as Aleta, Queen of the Witches, declared her under protection, in summer 2020 our time. Afton’s partner Aubrey, following the captors, meets up with Yeubar and Nathan and shares an incredible story. She insists that the villagers were cool with her and Afton and their strange ways and knowledge far beyond the customary. But then Dialyodd, who styles himself God’s avenger, came searching for witches. That is to say, women who seemed all uppity what with not dying of famine like his sort are. While the villagers protected them, that didn’t mean Dialyodd and his followers couldn’t just kidnap them.

Dialyodd’s plan: burning at the stake in the town square. Yewubar has a plan for rescue, though. She sneaks through the crowd and spreads the bee-attracting scent used in that bee-swarming stunt we saw set up a couple months ago. So a sudden unforeseeable swarm of insects interrupts this witch-burning. Yewubar thinks she’s helping.

In a desperate plot to disrupt Afton's firey execution, Yewubar quickly moves through the crowd, opening her amulet and spreading the Queen Bee pheromones within. Very soon, swarms of excited bees appear, and panic erupts! As the crowd, including Dialyodd's henchmen, falls into chaos, Nathan grabs Audrey. 'Find Yewubar and stay together! I'll meet you back at the horses!' Then he draws his knife and runs toward Afton kicking away the just-lit woodpile beneath her before leaping onto the platform upon which she is bound! He begins slashing her ties, as the accused witch recognizes her old friend. 'No, Nathan,! Run, before ... 'but it is too late! Dialyodd's cold, quick eyes have already cut through the chaos, and seen his victim's wood-be rescuer!'
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 16th of October, 2022. I wonder what Old English word the translator decided was best rendered as ‘pheromones’.

This is all quite distracting, giving Nathan time to free Afton. But also time for Dialyodd to see Nathan, and snag him as the devil who conjured the winged demons. And that’s where we’ve gotten, which, must admit, seems like it could have gone better. But is well-timed for an October cliffhanger too.

Next Week!

When I last checked in on Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy, Earth was about to be conquered by Lunarian extremists. As we look over the comics today, a small-time gangster tries to get into a musical comedy based on an early 20th-century comic strip. How did we get here? I’ll try and explain Dick Tracy in a week, all going well.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Weekdays)? Why are we seeing the death of The Phantom? August – October 2022


OK so, once again I am asking people to get this straight: the Phantom is the man who cannot die. If we see what looks like him dying, it’s because that is not what we’re seeing.

Which is, indirectly, a key point in a lovely essay Tony DePaul published recently. In The Death of the 21st Phantom DePaul explains why this was a story he needed to write, and get into print, now rather than later. One core insight is that the whole run of the comic strip — 86 years now — we have been seeing the same Kit Walker, Phantom. 21st of his line, in the comic strip continuity. And that he has not died tells us of a choice the writers of the comic strip have collectively made: he is not going to die on-screen in the comic strip.

But we can’t know when the comic strip will die. Not that there’s any specific reason that this strip should end. But the newspaper industry is near failure under the relentless assault of vulture capitalists. It’s hard to imagine most comic strips surviving its last collapse. And from these insights DePaul discusses why he wanted to spend so much time on an imaginary story … if it is imaginary. Also with some thoughts about what went into it, including confirmation about the role an earlier story served for this. It’s also a really good summary of where this quite long story has gotten, to the point that I’m not sure I have anything to add but typos. We’ll see.

My goal, though, is to get you up to speed on Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity, as of mid-October 2022. If you’re reading this after December 2022, or you’re interested in the Sunday strips, or news about the comic strip breaks, you may find a more useful essay here. Or, you know, that X-Band Phantom podcast, they talk about the comic strip a lot, and several times a month.

The Phantom (Weekdays).

1 August – 15 October 2022.

Last time I checked in we were still watching Mozz recount his prophecy of The Phantom’s ruin to The Phantom. This despite Mozz letting The Phantom — and us — know that he would deceive if that’s what was needed to save him from ruin. To that end Mozz had coaxed The Phantom into letting him write his own Chronicle. Mozz’s Chronicle would look like The Phantom’s own Chronicles of his and his ancestors’ adventures, and be kept in the Skull Cave like them.

Chronicle book in hand, Mozz tells of a dire future. The Phantom, seeking his son — who’s become a guerilla leader in northern India — is mistaken for an assassin. Manju, Kit Junior’s trusted partner, now an expert sniper, finds the already-wounded Kit Senior and shoots him through the chest. And shoots his eyeglasses off. A mysterious figure demands he stand, and The Phantom looks up and — we the readers see his face, unconcealed by sunglasses or a mask or even deep shade. It’s stunning.

The fatally wounded Phantom sees a pair of tall boots in front of him. The boot-wearing figure demands, 'You heard me ... on your feet.' He starts to look up, and we see The Phantom's eyes for the first time ever(!). The yet-unseen boot-wearer orders, 'I said stand up ... '
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 15th of August, 2022. I’m not sure it’s wise for me to share this since now that you’ve seen The Phantom’s face you’re going to die. I mean, I guess you were probably going to anyway so that maybe doesn’t spoil your plans but it’s a rude thing for me to do to you.

Tony DePaul confirms that this has never happened in the strip before. Not only does nobody in The Phantom universe see The Phantom’s eyes, but none of us readers outside have seen it either. Even for an imaginary story — and after he’s taken a fatal wound — it feels illicit.

The demand to stand came from the 20th Phantom, appearing — with all the Phantoms before him — before the dying man’s eyes. The spectral voices promise he was the 21st Phantom. He staggers back to his feet, to Manju’s shock and amazement. She will conclude that he’s the one assassin who could have killed Kit Junior. Manju’s not so awed as to not shoot him again. But he’s all right with embracing this end.

The final thoughts of the dying Phantom, which are of his holding his wife close, as they fade to black.
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 27th of August, 2022. Tony DePaul points out that in the final panel you can see a skull in Diana’s hair, a touch that’s entirely Mike Manley’s brilliance.

Manju and the soldiers with her bury him. She toasts him, even, when she gets back to camp, and shows Kit Junior souvenirs taken from the dead man. They’re the Phantom’s rings, the “Good Mark” ring with the four swords and the “Skull Mark” ring with you-know-what. Kit Junior recognizes this, and has Manju take him to his father’s grave, without saying who it was she killed. He says a regretful farewell and … what else is there to do? Die, similarly, in a year’s time, tells Mozz, his body left unburied in some valley of the Nyamjang Chu river (in Tibet and India).

And this concludes his prophecy. The Phantom, eager to get on to saving Savarna Devi from Gravelines Prison — the mission that started this wrack-and-ruin — promises it’ll be different. For one, he’ll bring Devil, his wolf, with him, something not done in the prophecy. And he knows what will happen if Savarna learns that her former enslaver Jampa is the constable who butts heads with Kit Junior’s mentor Kyabje Dorje.

The Phantom takes the Chronicle that Mozz held, as he read, to keep his promise to set it in Skull Cave for all tim. He intends a trick, to keep his wife or Guran or anyone else reading it, and so inters it in the burial vault reserved for him. And, confident he’s outwitted fate, he rides off to Gravelines.

Mozz, thinking, while Diana reads his prophecy-Chronicle: 'Have I forestalled the death of the 21st Phantom? Or merely incited fate to bring him to that same grave by a path I've not been permitted to see?' To himself, he says, 'This is why I wanted you here in the Deep Woods while I recorded my prophecy, Phantom ... and why, on our final reading, I stepped forward to select a Chronicle you would naturally see as MINE!'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 29th of September, 2022. This isn’t a thought that could fit naturally in my essay, so I’ll stuff it here. I was surprised to realize that the Phantom we’re currently reading is the same one since 1936. I would have bet money that there would have been at least one on-screen transition from the Original to a New Phantom, plausibly either in the 70s or 80s as comics took a different representation of emotional truths, or in the 90s when a lot of characters tried to reboot and refresh into edgier forms. (Remember ‘Electric Superman’?) I’m fortunate nobody had ever come up to me and said, “Hey, Joseph, do you feel like betting five bucks against my ten that the Phantom introduced in 1936 had at some point in the comic strip continuity died and passed his mantle on to the Phantom we’re currently reading in today of, oh, let’s say 2004? Does 2004 sound like a good year for this bet?”

Diana is aware that Mozz has been writing a Chronicle. But Mozz is sworn to not say a word of his prophecy. His silence when Diana asks about it fires her curiosity. And, wordlessly, enters Skull Cave and takes his Chronicle off the shelves. He had handed The Phantom a different Chronicle, confident this would trick The Phantom. One may think he was lucky that The Phantom didn’t leaf through the book to make sure what we was hiding in the vault. But if there’s any character we can say will know what someone else will or won’t do in a situation, it is Mozz.

Anyway, Diana starts to read Mozz’s Chronicle. Her learning of Mozz’s prophecy of The Phantom’s death was enough to avert it in The Curse of Old Man Mozz. Could history repeat itself? Mozz claims he doesn’t know. And with that, the 1st of October, the story Phantom’s End, 261st daily continuity story, concludes.


The Phantom wakes from his campsite to see his wolf Devil growling at a large flaming skeleton.
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 7th of October, 2022. “Settle down, Devil, it’s just the Now That’s What I Call 80s Heavy Metal album I had delivered.”

The current story, conclusion to this project, The Breakout, began the 3rd of October. The Phantom’s resolved to rescue Savarna, despite Mozz’s warnings. And to avert everything he’s foreseen. At his campsite, he’s revisited by the flaming skeletal ghost of his ancestors, last seen in the Llongo forest in a hallucinatory vision. The Phantom isn’t intimidated by this now-familiar portent of doom, though. So that’s something.

Next Week!

We relax a bit from all this heavy talk about prophecy and supernatural visions with some witch-burning. Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant gets my attention in a week, if all goes as has been foreseen. We’ll see.

What’s Going On In Alley Oop? Why is Doc Wonmug visiting his past self? July – October 2022


The current story in Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop sees Doc Wonmug finding his young self living a ‘wrong’ life. It appears to be from someone meddling with his own past. But he didn’t have any hint this was going on, when he started this. He had started out with moping about his childhood.

The seed of this moping may have come from the previous story. It revealed that, to hold the devices he was solving Moo’s problem with, he went back to swipe some of his own childhood toys. Ooola observes that’s a weird choice to make. Wonmug says yeah, he had an unconventional childhood; “some guy kept stealing all my stuff!” Though it’s not explicit, we could suppose this is what got his childhood on Doc Wonmug’s mind.

All this should catch you up to mid-October 2022 in Alley Oop’s story. If you’re reading this after about December 2022, or if any Alley Oop news breaks, there should be an essay here of more use to you. In the meanwhile, let’s go messing with the time stream again some.

Alley Oop.

25 July – 8 October 2022.

A new, futuristic city appeared in Moo, with skyscrapers popping up daily. Newly-elected President Krash sees this and runs fast. Alley Oop and Ooola are left to investigate.

The settlers are from New Cleveland, from the overpopulated world of 2155. A weird portal popped up there a couple days ago. They’re taking the chance to go somewhere there isn’t a waiting list to see the sky or get on the sidewalk. A quick trip to 2155 to see overstuffed cities in a world with 100 billion people convinces Ooola and Alley Oop there’s maybe some justice in their fleeing? It’s not like Moo doesn’t have empty space?

First Moovian: 'I know we haven't met those settlers yet, but why not? Seems shifty to me. They should stay away.' Second Moovian: 'Aren't we all settlers, in a way? I, for example, sleep at Alley's house when he's out of town.' Alley Oop, off-screen: 'Wait, what?' Third Moovian, clutching a small boulder: 'Are they going to outlaw our rocks? I'm not giving up my rock.' Fourth Speaker 'The settlers are destroying Moo's way of life, which is fine, because I don't even live here.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 11th of August, 2022. By the way, 100 billion people isn’t really that enormous a population, if people are living in high-density places like we see in New Cleveland. Some of these are going to have to be in climactically challenging places like northern Canada or Texas, but build a dome city and you can have a pretty nice place and still have lots of raw wilderness. Earth is a really big planet, when you get down to it.

They take the issue to the Moovians. Moo is, unfortunately, a very new democracy, and it’s filled with people. The community meeting to discuss what to do winds around some very Springfield/Pawnee doddering. That’s when Doc Wonmug pops back in from the 21st Century, promising to fix whatever problem they’ve got now. He snags some toys of his childhood and using some Time Cube-like technology sends the settlement to the seventh-and-a-half dimension. Somewhere beyond normal perception, at least.

Alley Oop: 'So, is the settlement gone for good?' Wonmug: 'Yes and no. It's still right here, but in a half dimension. So it occupies the same space but sort of ... diagonally.' Alley Oop, waving his arms, 'So can hey feel this?' Wonmug: 'No.' In the half dimension one settler asks, 'Do you feel that?' Second settler: 'For some reason, I feel like I'm at a nightclub where nobody knows how to dance.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 27th of August, 2022. Oh, I remember this short story about trillion-person Earth sending the surplus population off to other dimensions. It … reached two punch lines at once.

Wonmug then pops into the year 2155 to figure out why the world is so crazy overpopulated. Especially considering that by 2160 it’s not nearly so crowded. By the mid-22nd century humanity managed to overcome every known disease and cause of premature death, so, what could ruin that? And we see some kind of bug hop off Wonmug’s arm and into the soon-not-to-be-overpopulated world of tomorrow. So that’s a bit of a grim joke to end the story on.


With the past, at least, saved, it’s time for a new story. This one started the 5th of September. Doc Wonmug gets to moping about his childhood and decides to go to his childhood home. He ditches Alley Oop and Ooola, somewhere in his past, to find his nine-year-old self. His nine-year-old self, though, has sworn off inventing in favor of visual art. It’s not something Doc Wonmug remembers from his own past. He takes young Elbert forward seven years, to find their 16-year-old self.

Wonmug: 'Elbert, it's time to come clean.' Young Elbert: 'Sounds good, person who randomly showed up on my doorstep while my parents were out.' Wonmug: 'I'm you from the future. More accurately, you'll be me someday.' Elbert: 'Wow! I live to be 100 years old?' Wonmug: 'I'm not THAT old! I just have precocious wrinkles. But the question is HOW can I be you? Because the you you are isn't the me I was.' Elbert: 'This is so interesting. Stay right here while I definitely don't get the Creep Eviscerator 5000.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 15th of September, 2022. Well, now, mm. Doc Wonmug first appeared in the comic strip in 1939, and was an adult then, so he has to have been born at least a quarter century before then, so in a sense he has already lived to be a hundred years old? At least in the same way Fritzi Ritz is a hundred years old.

This self, Burt, is a snide, sullen teenager. He’s not winning science competition; he’s reading comics. Doc Wonmug can’t figure what’s gone wrong, but Burt and Elbert offer something. Several months ago — to both of them — an old guy came, convincing them that science was a waste of time. Also paying a couple hundred dollars to convince them. But neither can offer a useful description of the guy who bribed them. So — leaving Elbert with his alternate-teen-self — Wonmug goes ahead to find his 25-year-old self.

Burt: 'Hey, Gramps. I remembered something you might want to know. A few months ago, some old guy came and convinced me that studying all that science junk was a waste of time.' Elbert: 'Yeah, the same thing happened to me!' Wonmug: 'And you both believed some random nobody? That makes *no* sense!' Burt: 'You're right. It made *dollars*. Two hundred of them, to be exact.' Elbert: 'Hey, the old guy only gave me a hundred!'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 27th of September, 2022. I’m a little curious what the history-alteration mechanism is that Old Guy felt the need to talk both 7-year-old and 16-year-old Wonmug out of science while 100-year-old Wonmug doesn’t know anything about it. But I’m also curious why I’m getting a better Young Funky Winkerbean vibe from seven-year-old Elbert in the second panel there than I get from the actual Funky Winkerbean strip doing flashbacks.

His 25-year-old self has a lab, as he ‘should’. But it’s not a science lab. Instead, this The Lab a free jazz club. Wonmug could not be more horrified, or helpless. But Benny, sax player for The Lab, recognizes Doc Wonmug as looking familiar. He sketches the familiar-looking person, who has a weekly gig at The Lab. He looks like Doc Wonmug with ‘an evil mustache’. This might be Doc Wonmug from an evil or villain timeline; who of us could say? I imagine we’ll learn in the weeks to come.

Next Week!

The Ghost Who Walks now knows how his rescue of Savarna Devi will bring wrack and ruin to his family — or does he? And he marches on regardless, to save a kindred spirit from an unjust judicial murder — or does he? I’ll summarize the goings-on in Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom (Weekdays) in six days — or will I? I’ll make the attempt at least, yes.

What’s Going On In Judge Parker? Is there even a Judge Parker anymore? July – October 2022


There is not! We all supposed it already. But Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker confirmed that Randy Parker is no longer a judge. It’s hard to see how he could have kept his post, what with disappearing for a year or so to be in hiding with his superspy ex(?)-wife April. But this was, I think, the first time it was said on-screen that he’d been replaced.

Randy’s father, Alan Parker, retired from the judiciary a long while ago to write law thrillers. So there is, for now, no Judge Parker in the strip Judge Parker. It’s looking likely that Randy Parker’s successor, Matt Duncan, may not be in the post much longer. But it’s hard to see how Randy would get the job back given that whole “ran off to be with his fugitive wife for a year” thing in his recent history.

Also, I’m still not sure whether Randy and April are married. Another character referred to April as Randy’s ex-wife, but that may just be the reasonable supposition. I admit I don’t know whether you can get divorced from a fugitive, as April Parker had been for years. I would think it has to be possible; it’s abandonment if nothing else, right? But then I remember my parents teaching young me how to guess who was going to win a case on The People’s Court. Think of which party seems obviously in the right, and take the other side, as there’s usually something in the law that makes the ‘wrong’ thing right. It sets one on a path to a useful cynicism.

So this sets you on a path to understanding Judge Parker for the start of October 2022. If you’re reading this after about December 2022, there should be a more useful plot recap here. Thanks for reading.

Judge Parker.

17 July – 1 October 2022.

My last check-in with Cavelton’s favorite family came as Sam Driver told Abbey Spencer about the forged video. And that he had accepted as plausible that then-Mayor-Sanderson had a drone video of Abbey burning down her money-pit bed-and-breakfast. And had sat on it in trade for then-Deputy-Mayor-Stewart’s support in kicking the corrupt and bonkers Sanderson out of office.

Toni Bowen, on the phone: 'So let me get this straight, Soph ... the previous mayor illegally spied with drones and the new mayor doctored that footage to convince Sam that Abbey burned down her own B-and-B for the insurance money?' Sophie: 'Pretty much it. And I want both mayors to pay.' Bowen: 'I still have connections back with my old news show. And yes, they'd jump at this story. But you have to think this through ... '
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 12th of August, 2022. Incidentally we still don’t know who did burn down the bed-and-breakfast, nor who forged the video. If Sanderson had done it he’d surely have used the video when he was mayor to drive Abbey Spencer out of town. Stewart knew the video was fake but that’s not the same thing as faking it. And the scheme of “burn down my boss’s rival’s business and fake a video of her doing it so her husband will support me when I become mayor” seems to me too risky for too slight a reward. He didn’t need to buy their help working against Sanderson. Someone else, though? We’re short on suspects.

Abbey is heartbroken. That her family knew about this and didn’t tell her for months, for one. That her husband thought she might have burned her place down, the more devastating thing. She decides she has to divorce Sam, who accepts the decision.

Amidst all this misery Sophie thinks of revenge. She wants Mayor Stewart to pay for blackmailing Sam. And Ex-Mayor Sanderson to pay for spying on Abbey. She turns to Toni Bowen, former Cavelton reporter and failed mayoral candidate, for advice. Bowen advises to talk to Abbey and Sam first. Revealing the forged video could humiliate Stewart and Sanderson. But it’s going to humiliate the Spencer-Drivers first, and more.

Sam, on the phone :'I told no one, Abbey! Things are a mess as it is ... ' (He notices the TV.) 'Though I have an idea who did ... ' On the TV is former mayor Sanderson, saying: 'Though I did check on certain individuals with drones --- for our town's own well-being! I never would have doctored footage like Mayor Stewart ... '
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 9th of September, 2022. Have to say, Cavelton is having a heck of a time when “former mayor admits spying on the population with drones” is not the scandal. Anyway, enjoy the surveillance state, folks.

Meanwhile Abbey has decided to sell the Spencer Farms. Yes, they’ve been in her family for generations. But she’s fed up with town and with the complicated set of memories. Especially in the dramatic years since Francesco Marciuliano took over the writing. Sophie calls as Abbey is talking this over with the real estate agent. And then the news breaks. Someone’s told the news media about the doctored video. Abbey suspects Sam, but he’s innocent. It’s Sanderson who broke the news. (This suggests, but doesn’t prove, that he only recently learned of the video.)

This re-energizes Abbey. She cancels the sale and Marciuliano jumps the story ahead a couple months, keeping Abbey and Sam from having to be humiliated by this. Abbey has joined the special race for mayor, becoming the third major character to run for mayor of Cavelton in as many years. (Alan Parker and Toni Bowen made their tries in 2020.) Say what you will about Francesco Marciuliano as a writer: he loves his mayoral elections.

Abbey Spencer, addressing the media: 'our town has fallen prey to corporate and political self-interests. As mayor I will make Cavelton a place for all, not just a select minority.' Reporter: 'But weren't you just planning to leave the very town you now wish to run?' Abbey: 'Like a lot of people, I had lost hope in my home. But I have chosen to stay and fight.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 14th of September, 2022. That seems like a lot of podium for a press conference attended by four people.

And then, from the 16th of September, we settle in to a new story. And a new kind of story. The divorced(?) Sam Driver has a case, the sort of action-adventure detective stuff he was originally introduced to the strip to do. I don’t know what to expect in this shift. There has been crime drama in the strip before. The two big examples were the kidnapping of Sophie Spencer and her bandmates, and in Marie’s husband faking his death. But none of that was stuff that characters were expected to investigate. They were supposed to live through drama. This is about solving a mystery that the main cast could let pass by.

This story, by the way, involves gun violence and murder, so please consider whether you need that in what has been, for years now, a family-drama soap strip. If you do want to carry on with reading about this in your recreational reading, you’ll find the rest under this cut.

Continue reading “What’s Going On In Judge Parker? Is there even a Judge Parker anymore? July – October 2022”

What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? What’s this about Coach Thorp telling a kid to get an abortion? July – September 2022


Neal Rubin stepped down as writer for Gil Thorp, with his last strip running as my last recap ran. This is convenient for me; I don’t need to explain deep background lore and … oh. Uhm.

So. Henry Barajas knows much more of the lore of Gil Thorp than I do. As part of his first three months of writing the strip he’s brought back Melissa Gordon, who was a student athlete seen in a story from 2002-03. Back then the strip was written by Jerry Jenkins. Yes, the Left Behind novelist. (And illustrated by Frank McLaughlin.) This Week In Milford dug out the original strips and summarized the story, with examples of the strip. I’ll make the story even shorter. Melissa, pregnant with fellow student Kyle Gordon, took refuge with the Thorps when her parents kicked her out. She and Kyle had decided on an abortion and Coach Thorp talked her out of it.

Melissa recounting her past story: 'We went through some rough times.' In flashback Thorp asks her, 'Can you be swayed?' and Mel answers, 'You can't tell me what to do with my body!' In the present, Thorp says, 'Mel, I shouldn't have told you to get that abortion --- ' Mel, tearing: 'Wow. Really, Gil?'
Henry Barajas and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 15th of September, 2022. In the subsequent strip Melissa says she’s not ready to accept Thorp’s apology and asks him to imagine if that were to happen today: ‘I’d have to fly back to Los Angeles or worse’. I’m not precisely sure what she means, but commenters on GoComics say that in the full 2002-03 story, Gil Thorp pushed his way into Melissa and Kyle’s decision. So while she may well love her child, it also complicated, and changed, her life and can hold Thorp accountable for talking her into it.

Then it got confusing. On the 15th of September (this year) Thorp apologized, saying, “I shouldn’t have told you to get that abortion.” In the comments on GoComics that day it’s explained that this was a lettering error. Barajas had written that Thorp apologized for telling her not to get that abortion. It’s always the critical word that gets dropped, isn’t it?

One can’t fault Thorp for having regrets about advice he gave long ago. One can fault him for saying this to Mel, when he’s having a meal with her and her child. So this makes Mel’s reaction — to someone who had, when she was a vulnerable teen, shown kindness — more understandable. Well, Thorp has been going through a rough time himself. let me try and catch up on all that. Here’s my first attempt at recapping the plot in Henry Barajas and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp.

If you’re reading this essay after around December 2022 the most current plot recap should be at this link. Thanks for reading this one, though.

Gil Thorp.

11 July – 24 September 2022.

Barajas opened his writing tenure with Gil Thorp receiving the Jack Berrill Coach of the Year award. (Jack Berrill was, in reader time, the creator of Gil Thorp.) Again. Presenter Emmett Tays introduces Thorp with a quick football story. It’s about how Coach Thorp bonded with him over having abusive parents(!) to help him find the drive to win the big game. It’s a story that makes you ask: wait, isn’t Coach Thorp a mandatory reporter? Even if he wasn’t at the time of the story, is it admirable he saw a kid’s traumatized home life as a chance to complete forward passes? Not that a character has to be admirable to be worth our focus, but Tays is trying to tell a story of Gil Thorp doing something great.

Tays, in flashback: 'Why? I don't need to give [ my mother ] a reason to give me a matching [ black eye ]'. Thorp, in flashback: 'I ain't no snitch.' Tays snickers. Thorp continues: 'My pa was a drinker. He did't know how to communicate any way but with his fists and the belt. But those fellas out thre? You need them as much as they need you. So, let's not send them to the ER?' Tays: 'Heh. Fo sho, Coach.'
Henry Barajas and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 16th of July, 2022. By the way, we haven’t heard any mention about whether they’re still ‘playdowns’, although I imagine Barajas wouldn’t lose something that distinctive to the strip.
I hesitate to play the “unreliable narrator” card. But it seems important how in the story Thorp speaks with Tays’s voice. I’m willing to suppose the story was compressed to the point it created confusion. What I don’t know is whether this was an adaptation of an actual story from deep in the Thorp archives. What I can say is what this establishes for Barajas’s writing here. It starts with a quick sports story, a promise that he’s not losing sight of that as we get into some serious family drama.

The drama: Coach Thorp’s family is not there. Mimi’s mother is dying, and Mimi’s taking a leave of absence to deal with her. Also, Mimi has not revealed how bad her mother’s health is to Gil. The subject got buried under how their own marriage is failing. She’s taken to leaving notes about how she thinks she’s worthy of his love, but not answering his phone calls. It’s a frustrating level of conflict-avoidance, one that her own child Keri calls her out on. I’m frustrated because I can’t tell you exactly what they’re struggling with. The reader’s desire to know who’s in the Right is understandable. But I’ve seen where people can fail to recognize one another’s signals of acceptance, so the relationship fails without anyone doing wrong.

Beth, a bartender at wherever it is the ceremony was, hits on Gil Thorp before finding out he’s married. Natural mistake. But they’re seen by Luke Martinez, the new coach of Valley Tech, a bombastic and outgoing and somewhat aggressive man. He declares he’s tired of Thorp winning this trophy every year and offers the deal. If Martinez wins next year, Thorp quits, and if he doesn’t, Martinez gives up coaching. Thorp doesn’t see why this man has decided to be Thorp’s problem.

Marty Moon: 'I've known Gil and his wife Mimi for a long time. He would never cheat on her!' Luke Hernandez: 'Are you callin' me a liar, Moon?' Moon; 'I just find it hard to believe --- ' Hernandez: 'You'll see! Gil is not as brilliant as me. I'm in Mensa. My mind is quick.' Moon: 'Anyway, what plans to you have for Valley Tech?' Hernandez: 'Take a wild guess ... '
Henry Barajas and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 11th of August, 2022. Does … does it involve setting up a web site with Squarespace?

Martinez goes on Marty Moon’s “Behind the Playbook” podcast to boast to everyone about how good he is, which shows how new Martinez is in town. (Also for some reason he’s introduced as Luke Martinnez. Maybe a middle name.) But he drops a mention of seeing Thorp flirting with the bartender. Moon is skeptical. But Martinez says how he’s in Mensa, so anyone should know never to take a thing he ever says seriously. Moon calls Thorp for his side before publishing. Thorp says what happened. He also opens up to Marty Moon of all people about how Mimi’s avoided him and took the kids to her mother’s while he was away for the awards.

When she learns of this Mimi says of course she doesn’t believe anything went on. She’s not jealous of some random person hitting on Gil Thorp. Also that the trip was not set off by anything; it was the only weekend free before his Pinewood summer camp coaching. But she still wants him to be at home, emotionally, more. This desire seems to contradict scheduling a trip away the last weekend he’s free. But it’s muddled but in a way people are.

On the golf course — I think at Pinewood — Gil and Mimi run into Luke and Francesca Martinez and their son Pedro. They play together, and Luke turns on what he believes is charm. His jolly references to Mimi as the ‘ball and chain’ or ‘your old lady’ sink him somehow even farther in Gil’s eyes. Francesca’s happy to meet the Thorps, though, and mentions how she’s a heart surgeon starting at Milford Medical. This is where we the readers learned Mimi was a “stay at home” mother now, though not yet that it’s to care for her own mother.

Mimi: 'You two look neat! Jami, don't stain your new pants!' Gil Thorp, taking pictures: 'Say cheese!' Jami Thorp: 'Huh? Cheese?!' Caption beside him: 'Jami Thorp. Likes: Anime he's not old enough to watch, cheese sticks, Mom's homemade pot pies. Dislikes: THe dark. Radishes. Keri's zines. Dream job: Being dad's assistant coach.' Gil: 'Nice smile, sweetie!' Keri: 'Thanks, Daddy!' Caption beside them: 'Keri Thorp, Pronouns: they/them. Likes: Kurt Vonnegut, the Linda Lindas. Drawing zines. Dislikes: the patriarchy.'
Henry Barajas and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 31st of August, 2022. No argument with Keri about the Patriarchy here, which is only hurting everyone, including the patriarchs.

This gets us to the new school year, though. And the formal reintroduction of the Thorp Children, who’d gone without much (any?) mention in years. It’s also where we learn that Keri Thorp goes by they/them pronouns, the second nonbinary human character I know of in the syndicated strips. (The first would be Kelly Welly, in Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail.)

We also meet Melissa Gordon, and her child, born Tabatha but now her son Tobias. I don’t know that this is the first transgender human character in syndicated newspaper comics, but Tobias is at least the first in a long while. (I’m adding the ‘human’ qualifier as I’m not sure how to characterize Rosebud from the 1980s Bloom County. I imagine “aged in awkward ways”. And of course Krazy Kat is a bunch of essays.) Also that, apparently, she and Kyle married, but separated. Melissa asks for Thorp’s hep watching after Tobias, who, yeah, can’t be having a good time in high school. I’m sure it’s better now than it would be in, oh, 1992, but that’s still not great.

And we finally see Mimi Thorp going to Milford Adult Care, spending time with her mother, who says she has six months to live. Also we meet Mimi’s replacement as girls coach, Cami Ochoa, a name that seems familiar but that I haven’t mentioned here at least. (Also the part of my brain that used to do Jumble notes her name is an anagram for ‘I Am Coach O’. This I suppose is coincidence.) The girls volleyball team wins their first game, but Coach Ochoateammate Dorothy crops her out of the team photo for some reason.

Keri, seeing Pedro Hernandez: 'Uh, I'm Keri ... ' Fernanda Hernandez: 'The Thorp kids are here? Ay! Nice to meet you, Mija!' Luke: 'Stay for dinner! Fran cooked some arroz con pollo y papas!' Keri: 'If you say so!' Whispering to Jami: 'Why didn't you tell me your friend's brother is super hot?!' Jami, whispering back: 'You're the worst.'
Henry Barajas and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 26th of September, 2022. Quite like the sibling dynamic here, by the way.

Meanwhile, Jami Thorp doesn’t have to worry so much about making friends at school. He’s getting along great with this Luke Martinez Junior character, prompting Coach Thorp to eat his glass. Jami and Keri like the Martinez kids, though, as if they have an instinct to drive their father crazy.

And it falls outside the official date range for this recap. But we learned this week that Assistant Coach Kaz is moving to another school after this year. We’ll see whether it’s Valley Tech or someone else.

Milford Sports Watch!

Here’s my attempt at tracking all the schools besides Milford that get a mention or appearance. Summers usually see a lull in team references, but this has been a quite short season. All that time on new drama, I suppose.

Next Week!

This was a lot of work on changed character relationships and settings and newly complicated backstory. I’m looking forward to settling down to a nice easy recap week. I look at Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker next Tuesday, if all goes to plan.

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