Vintage Phantom: I can see Aunt Elsie’s point


I like to think I’m a good audience member. Like, I’ll try to accept the premise, best I can. My best is maybe not as good as the author hopes, but if I can see where the conclusion follows from the premise, I’ll agree the problem is me getting stuck, not them. Also, I’m aware that the conventions of storytelling, even in comic strips, have changed over the decades. That the author has a point of view and trusts that most readers will default to that point of view, at least while reading.

So, in ComicsKingdom’s current vintage daily Phantom story, written by Lee Falk and illustrated by Wilson McCoy, Diana Palmer’s aunt Elsie is visiting. And she’s learning about this strange masked man from a jungle cave whom her niece is delighted by. She tries to Mary Worth her niece into dating someone more acceptable, a rich athlete name of Jack.

Diana's aunt/caretaker Lily, explaining The Phantom: 'He wears a mask and a strange suit .. and lives in a cave in the jungle ... ' Aunt Elise: 'This is Diana's boy friend? You keep the big guest room --- my room --- for him? What it has no furniture --- except two straw mats? And why is the window open on a cold day like this?' Lily: 'Diana always leaves it open. That's the way he comes in. We never know when he'll come. He doesn't use beds. He sleeps on the mat. The other one's for his wolf.'
Lee Falk and Wilson McCoy’s The Phantom for the 26th of June, 1953, and reprinted the 6th of August, 2020. I know it’s 1953 in the strip here, and a long-distance phone call to say “I’m going to be in town Thursday” could take upwards of six days and the involvement of three battalions of the Signal Corps and maybe the ionosphere allowing for long-distance radio bouncing. But still: Why does The Phantom need a suburban house’s bedroom window to be left open? Are we supposed to believe The Nomad kept him at bay for ten years by latching the little plastic handle on the sash?

And, yeah, I know The Phantom’s a good guy, and Diana knows he’s a good guy, and all the readers know he’s a good guy. And that Jack’s being presented as … maybe not conceited, but at least a bore. But, still … yeah, when Diana’s aunt Lily lays out the facts of the matter like this? There are some flags.

What’s Going On In Prince Valiant? Wait, Aleta is Queen of the Witches? May – August 2020


Yeah, she said on Sunday that she’s Queen of the Witches. That she’s a witch hasn’t come up much lately. But when Valiant first saw her he was enchanted, and they teased a while about whether that was literal or figurative. And she’s done magic stuff lately. I don’t know if this Queen of the Witches thing is established or whether that’s a bluff, though. So that catches you up on Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant as of early August 2020. If you’re reading this after about November 2020 there’s likely a more up-to-date plot recap at this link.

Also on my other blog I’m explaining words from the mathematics glossary. No promise of comics there, but you might find something interesting. Thanks, and now back to the time of King Arthur.

Prince Valiant.

10 May – 2 August 2020.

Prince Valiant and team were just outside Camelot, dealing with local issues. Imbert, local landlord, died. His son Gareth died shortly after. The suspect: Afton and Audrey, with whom Imbert was quarreling about some land. Sir Gawain had arrived in the story to sort that out, but he hasn’t been much use to anyone. The locals figure Afton and Audrey are witches, what with how they have good crops and aren’t dead of the plague. Valiant’s son Nathan believes the women are good students of nature and learned how to farm.

Audrey lead Valiants and Nathan to the cave, key to the land dispute. Some say it contains eternal youth. What it mostly has is bats, loads of guano that are indeed good fertilizer. Valiant also notices it has a curious yellow ore, and he keeps a sample.

Audrey had brought Nathan and Val to the bats' cave, with the task of gathering fertilizer for her and Afton's gardens. As she and Nathan put their backs into shoveling the bat droppings, Val peels off to look farther along. He finds strata of tin ore running along the walls --- not uncommon in this part of Arthur's kingdom. And there is another stratum. This of a dull yellowish color, which angles down into the spring waters. The prince digs out a chunk of the yellowish ore and inspects it closely --- suddenly he believes he has found the answer to the mystery surrounding this place. He returns to assist the shoveling and the loading of the guano. When the wagon is full, the three begin their return ... while in the dark thickets outside Afton's cottage, menacing figures skulk forward. Next: The nightjar.
March Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 24th of May, 2020. This made me wonder whether guano is something you really have to gather at night. But then I guess at night most of the bats will be out, so you don’t have to worry about disturbing them? So I guess that’s an advantage? So anyway, if you somehow didn’t know what kind of person I am, now you know, it’s “person who wonders about the best guano-gathering practices because of reading a comic strip”.

Meanwhile the villagers have had enough of this, and attack Afton and Audrey’s cottage. Gawain tries to defend it, but he’s just one person, and not main cast(?) I guess(?). Afton escapes being feathered. But the mob burns her cottage. Valiant sees this and races to the scene. He bellows that the women are innocent and he can explain the deaths. As soon as they get back to Imbert’s estate, anyway.

The proof is in Imbert’s kitchen. The cook recognizes Valiant’s ore. It’s arsenic. This gives Schultz and Yeates the problem of having characters who think this is a good thing not advise newspaper readers to take poison. Valiant settles on saying how “it is rumored to aid good bodily health”. So Imbert was stealing ore from the cave, and taking it for his health. But Valiant knows arsenic is a poison, used “by assassins in the court of a distant land”. So Imbert arsenic-poisoned himself. Gareth, trying to have the same meals as Imbert, had the same poison.

With Val having solved the mystery of Imbert's death, Gawain announces his verdict to the gathered villagers: 'Matter the first: the royal archives prove Afton's claim on the land in question. Lord Imbert had no right to take possession of anything on Afton's land. Matter the second: Afton and Audrey are blameless in the deaths of Imbert and Gareth. Imbert's theft from Afton's land was responsible for his and Gareth's inadvertent deaths by poison. As the representative of the court of Camelot, I forbid any further persecution of these two women!' Then, unexpectedly, Aleta's voice rises above the crowd's murmuring 'You have accused Afton and Audrey of using witchcraft for evil purpose but I assure you, they are no more witches than are any of you! I know this because I am a witch! A witch queen from the far south! And these are my familiars, who will watch and assure that no harm comes to those I protect!' The crowd gasps as two huge creatures suddenly appear at her call! Next: the greater fear
March Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 26th of July, 2020. Aleta’s not a stupid woman. So we must ask, then. What are the experiences she has had which make her believe this is an effective way to protect women reputed to be witches?

Gawain reports that the royal records confirm Afton’s claims on the disputed land. Also, that Imbert and Gareth’s death was their own fault, and there’ll be no further persecution of Afton and Audrey. Aleta steps in to support Afton and Audrey against the claims of witchcraft. She declares their innocence and she would know, as she’s Queen of the Witches. She summons her raven familiars to put Afton and Audrey under her protection. Aleta thinks she’s helping. Our heroes leave. They trust Afton and Audrey will have a good time next week, when I look at Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy.

Next Week!

You know, I did get the Prince Valiant plot summary finished way ahead of deadline. I should be getting to work on the Dick Tracy plot recap like, four days ago. Well, shall try to have that for next week. Thanks for reading.

There’s nothing particular going on with the comic strip _Buckles_


Like I say, there’s nothing particular going on with David Gilbert’s comic strip Buckles. Not that I’ve heard about, anyway. This isn’t at all important but there’s been so much comic strip news around here lately I felt like it’s a shame not to keep it going.

Dog sitting up, panting, then starting to growl and finally 'ARRRGH!' as his fur gets all ruffled up and he lurches around, monster-like. Jill: 'There's a full moon tonight, Paul.' Paul, pointing towards the dog, 'Yeah ... I saw the werewolf in the hall.'
David Gilbert’s Buckles for the 3rd of August, 2020. So, you know, have fun.

Why does Pluggers look different? Did Gary Brookins stop drawing Pluggers?


And one last bit of comic strip news for the week. The question in my subject line has a slightly complicated answer. Per the Daily Cartoonist, Gary Brookins is retiring from Pluggers, this after 40-plus years in the comics business. Rick McKee, an editorial cartoonist from Augusta, Georgia, is to be the new artist. But they’re doing a phased transition, with Brookins and McKee taking turns with the strip. Brookins’s final Pluggers is scheduled to run Sunday, the 23rd of August. Of course, Pluggers still have Pluggers panels drawn by Jeff MacNelly on their fridges.

The comic strip Nest Heads is ending, like, 10 minutes from now it looks like?


I guess it’s just a week of comic strip news around here. Daily Cartoonist reports that John Allen’s Three-Generations-And-A-Dog comic strip Nest Heads is ending syndication the 31st of July. It’s short notice, yeah. Creators Syndicate, which has been distributing it, just sent the word out on Tuesday. The daily strip has been in reruns since the 22nd of June, and the Sunday strip went into reruns after the 12th of July, with a comic that incidentally mentioned The Phantom.

Title panel: Dad, dressed in The Phantom's uniform, in the jungle, sweating. First panel, Dad: 'I wonder why the Phantom never made it bigger as an action hero?' Mom: 'Believability. ... You don't wear purple spandex in the jungle without a big sweat stain problem.'
John Allen’s Nest Heads for the 12th of July, 2020. Last original Sunday strip, apparently. And sure, it’s a joke many of us make about the ol’ Ghost Who Walks. A couple months ago Nest Heads also did a bit about Pogo, which was nice to see remembered. Now that The Far Side is reprinting dailies, Pogo is the biggest comic strip in need of an online presence.

It is weird to have a strip end syndication this abruptly, and (apparently) mid-week too. It’s imaginable that the strip is changing syndicates and the announcement got all weird. If I get news, I’ll share news.

I didn’t have much cause to talk about Nest Heads here. On my other blog I did discuss times it raised some mathematical topic. I don’t know whether the links to the Nest Heads page on GoComics will still work once August starts.

2020 has been a rough year for comic strips. Also ended so far have been Ask Shagg, Moose and Molly, The Pajama Diaries, Retail, and Stone Soup. And I have doubts about Mark Trail getting back up to speed anytime soon. Granted many of these are obscure or not well-loved comics, but every comic strip is somebody’s favorite. I mean, not Zack Hill. But every other comic strip besides Zack Hill is somebody’s favorite.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Weekdays)? Why is The Phantom destined for an unmarked grave? May – July 2020


Well, The Phantom apparently went and changed destiny on himself, so who can say what’s going to happen next? Happy to catch you up on the goings on in Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity. If you’re reading this after about October 2020, or if you’re interested in the separate Sunday storyline, there is probably a more up-to-date plot recap at this link.

Also, on my other blog, I’m going through the alphabet to explain mathematical terms. I hope you enjoy that all.

The Phantom (Weekdays).

4 May – 25 July 2020.

The Phantom had caught himself some wildlife poachers, last I looked. But the poachers had wounded a lion, who’s gone into what the Llongo people call the Forbidden Forest. The Ghost Who Walks figures he has to kill the wounded lion, lest it go attacking people, and he doesn’t see any reason to ask why the forest is forbidden.

The Phantom doesn’t have much luck tracking the lion. The lion has better luck tracking The Phantom, catching him right before sunset. He shoots the lion, which seems to end the problem. And he eats the heart of the lion, respecting a Llongo tradition as promised. The Phantom lies down to unsettled dreams.

The Phantom, watching a lion: 'That's not the same lion! It's not wounded! Not leaving a blood trail! ... What am I saying? I cut out the lion's heart! Of course it's not the same lion!'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 20th of May, 2020. The Man Who Cannot Die is being pretty confident about the possibility of a Lion Who Cannot Die, have to say.

He wakes to find the lion carcass gone. Also, that the lion’s alive. And heading off on its own business. The Phantom tries to clear his thoughts. Then he sees The Python, the big-bad terrorist from before Eric Sahara. The Python vanishes into thin air, though. The Phantom tries to work out a rational explanation for this all. The woods are said to drive men mad. Maybe he had a concussion. The important thing is to get out and get somewhere safe. Like, Skull Cave, which pops in to the middle of the Forbidden Forest, far from where it ought to be.

And inside the cave is … The Phantom? The figure, who keeps calling our Ghost Who Walks “Son”, scolds him. I wasn’t sure whether this was meant to be literally the 20th Phantom. But he eventually describes Kit Walker Junior as his grandson, so that’s a good answer. Phantom Dad scolds about the events of “The Curse of Old Man Mozz”, a story from back in 2017. In it, Old Man Mozz foresaw the killing of The Phantom by a petty henchman getting in a lucky shot. That didn’t happen, because King Features and Tony DePaul worked out a new contract. And Diana Walker tipped off Babudan, who was there with a well-timed arrow.

Finding a replica of Skull Cave deep within the Llongo Forbidden Forest, in a deep wash of blue-greens. The Phantom says, 'Skull Cave isn't on Llongo land ... it's in Bandar territory! The Deep Woods of my ancestors!!'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 2nd of June, 2020. Did want to say a good word here for Mike Manley in doing a really deeply atmospheric eerie Skull Cave. Also for the colorists. The colorists for the daily comics take a lot of razzing for incompetent flood filling of strips. It’s important to point out when they’ve done a great job like this.

The Phantom protests, fairly, that he didn’t send anyone out to mess up his destiny. The 20th says they were forced to do what they did, when Kit Walker sent his son off to that Himalayan monastery. And did nothing to protect Heloise Walker. 21’st daughter was the one who captured Eric “The Nomad” Sahara, most recent terrorist nemesis of The Phantom. 20 warns that his son, having altered the course of The Phantom’s legend, “will not lie here among your ancestors”. He’ll instead be left in a faraway grave. He’s lost “the right to lie in the crypt of the Phantoms”. And threatens him with oblivion, right then and there, lost to all time.

As the 20th Phantom dissolves into an angry, flaming skeleton taunting his son with ruin, The 21st Phantom suspects something is wrong. It’s the woods, he tells himself, and chooses to leave. As he does, 20 warns that all his feeble mortal plans will be overturned. 21 starts to taunt back, hey, everybody’s plans are overturned, it’s the year — and then stops short before he can say “two thousand and … 20”.

20th Phantom: 'Hear me now ... having altered the course of the legend, YOU WILL NOT LIE HERE among your ancestors!' In front of the 21st Phantom's eyes, 20 turns into a flaming skeleton. 20: 'You have consigned yourself to a faraway grave, my son ... '
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 18th of June, 2020. So, first, my brother had that second panel on a T-shirt in high school. Second, OK, so if 21 had been shot in the back by that coward, back a couple years ago, how would his body have gotten back to Skull Cave? Would Kit Junior have been along for some reason? Or someone else from the Ghost’s support team?

The Phantom runs out of the woods, going past the illusions of Babudan and his faithful supporter Guran and Guran’s elephant. And keeps going until it turns out those are the real Babudan and Guran and Elephant. They’ve got one question for The Ghost Who Walks: what were you thinking tromping into the Forbidden Forest like that? Don’t you know that’s a good way to go mad? Why, Guran’s even seen his son Timo in those woods, and Timo hasn’t been on-screen in the comic strip since 1943. Anyway, the cause of these strange visions is rational enough. There’s fleas in the Llongo woods with a toxin that causes hallucinations. Guran’s got an antidote, though. Why not tell the Llongo about this? Well, Guran tipped off James Allen about these fleas and they’d be in a Mark Trail Sunday panel except, you know, all that drama.

The Phantom’s left to wonder the significance of his vision, though. It’s easy to shrug it off as hallucinations, yes. But The Phantom does happen in a superhero universe. More, a magical superhero universe, since Mandrake the Magician shares the continuity. (Mary Worth, too, by the way.) And, after all, Old Man Mozz did have a useful prophetic dream. So, like many of us, he’s left to sulk about the consequences of his actions.


That, the 18th of July, ends “The Llongo Forest”, 254th of the weekday continuity stories. The 20th started “The Reunion”, 255th of the weekday stories. It opens with Kit Walker getting a letter to Box 7, Mawitaan, his secret post office drop for people in trouble. It’s from Ashrama Raia, General Delivery, Nairobi. The Phantom keeps up his Jumble practice. Those are the letters of Imara Sahara, mother to Kadia Walker, nee Sahara and Heloise Walker’s schoolmate. The Phantom had broken Imara Sahara out of The Nomad’s compound before militias and American terror-bombing could destroy it. But she fled rather than stick around with The Phantom. The Phantom had advised her that someone would answer a letter set to Box 7, Mawitaan, though. Did kind of expect that thread to resume someday.

Next Week!

Will I write up the development of
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant before deadline on Tuesday?
We’ll see!

It looks like we’ve run out of James Allen _Mark Trail_ dailies


So today’s Mark Trail is a reprint from Jack Elrod’s long tenure on the comic strip. I don’t know when its original publication was. The initial strip doesn’t bring back any memories for me, and I haven’t seen any comments from anyone who can pin it down.

[ A car rounds a hill overlooking Lost Forest. ] Driver: 'There's a ranch ... we'll put her out close to the entrance! I'm sure someone will find her and give her a good home ... stop crying, we just don't have time for a pet!' Passenger: 'I feel so guilty ... it doesn't seem right.'
Jack Elrod’s Mark Trail rerun for the 27th of July, 2020. While I did, sincerely, appreciate James Allen’s work in making the stories less relentlessly linear, and in sprucing up the depth of character motivation? I did miss the frequency of giant foreground animals. Also the word balloon tails that seem to mix up which silhouetted background character is saying what. I mean, the driver’s dialogue isn’t exactly inconsistent, if they’re first saying where they’ll put ‘her’ out and then admitting to feeling guilty. But it does read a little weird.

Saturday’s strip, apparently the last of James Allen’s weekday-continuity work, wasn’t apparently rewritten to cover the change of staff. The mention of ‘personal stories’ could have been used to cover reruns as ‘flashbacks’. This would mirror the way the final Amazing Spider-Man posits that everything since is Peter Parker dreaming while on the long flight to Australia.

Movie Actor's Companion: 'I love these personal stories about your family, Rusty!' Rusty: 'Growing up in a wooded area has been a lot of fun!' Actor: 'Are we heading back to the hotel soon?'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 25th of July, 2020. So Jeremy Cartwright, the actor, is there to meet Mark Trail and understand him a bit better for A Movie. He’s been labelled as a bad boy, and Mark Trail thinks he hasn’t been “a very gracious guest”, as he complained about lunch and as you can see wants drinks. Cherry’s been more able to roll with things. I don’t know whether Cartwright’s wife(?) girlfriend(?) agent(?) companion has been given a name. (She’s called Cartwright ‘honey’, but that could just be an affectation.) Also, “not far from Lost Forest”, there were poachers, so we have some hint where things might have gone.

We got the news of James Allen leaving the strip at the end of June, so now we know what kind of lead time he was maintaining. I would guess without knowing that there are probably another month’s worth of Sunday strips in the works.

James Allen has said he does not know when someone else will be hired to write or draw the strip. Nor whether the story — about an actor who’ll be playing Mark Trail in a movie based on his adventures watching Lisa Moore die of plot complications — will be continued.

If I do get any information about Mark Trail I intend to put it on a post at this link.

What’s Going On In Alley Oop (Sundays)? Is there a plot in Alley Oop (Sundays)? April – July 2020


So maybe yesterday you noticed I didn’t tag the recap for Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop as the weekday continuity. It’s not that I forgot that there was an ongoing story in the Sunday, Little Oop, strips. It’s more that I am not sure whether there is a story going on in the Sunday strips.

Since Lemon and Sayers took over, the Sunday Alley Oop strips have been a separate continuity. (Under Jack and Carole Bender they had been a recap-and-preview of a week’s worth of strips.), The Sunday strips are set when Alley Oop is a little kid. In February a story seemed to start: Penelope, a young science-type genius girl of the year 2020, popped into Little Alley Oop’s world. She brought him back to the present. Then then the time machine broke.

Penelope: 'Mom, this is Alley. He's going to stay with us a little while, OK?' Mom: 'No way! I'm not letting some stranger live in our house.' Penelope, holding up the Convince-O-Ray: 'Oops. Forgot to turn this on.' With a purple light shining on Mom: 'Mom, this is Alley. He's going to stay with us a little while, OK?' Mom: 'Of course! The more the merrier. I'll fix up the guest room for you, Alley. ... Wait a minute. Are you using your Convince-O-Ray on me again?' Penelope: 'Um ... no, Mom. This is my new anti-aging machine.' Mom: 'Oh, well, in that case ... ' Little Oop: 'I don't know, Penelope. Something about this invention doesn't feel quite right.' Penelope: 'It's no big deal. Now go stand in that purple light for just a second.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 21st of June, 2020. Got to say, Penelope being a little kid makes her brainwashing device more fun. And I know what you’re wondering: so could the weekday-continuity Alley Oop grab the Convince-O-Ray next time he’s in 2020? They’re all in the same continuity and everything, right? I don’t know, I didn’t think to wonder that until I started writing a caption for this strip myself.

Penelope has not been anxious about getting her time machine fixed, although there’ve been a couple attempts at it. Instead, we’ve seen Little Oop get set up in Penelope’s family’s guest room. To start going to school. To meet some of Penelope’s friends and her brother and all that. It’s read more like we’re getting a revised setting to the Sunday strips more than anything meant to go anywhere.

Teacher: 'And that's how we know that humans and dinosaurs never coexisted ... yes, Alley?' Little Oop: 'I think my pet dinosaur, Max, would disagree. In fact, I know tons of dinosaurs back home. My gym teacher is one. I mean, sure, they're not *all* great. My cousin almost got eaten by a Utahraptor, but he's a bit of a daydreamer. What I'm trying to say is that you don't have the slightest idea what you're talking about.' (Teacher points Little Oop out the classroom.) Little Oop, to another student outside the principal's office: 'I guess my teacher wants me to tell the principal all about my dinosaur friends too.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 12th of July, 2020. Incidentally, V T Hamlin handled the question of “but dinosaurs went extinct way before humans ever appeared” way back in April 1939, when the new premise of the caveman strip was just being introduced. Also, if you want to see Little Oop’s gym teacher, here he is organizing a rockball game. He doesn’t look much like Gil Thorp even for being a dinosaur.

So at this point I can’t give a plot recap because there isn’t really a plot. There’s just Little Oop getting into cute shenanigans in the present day. If this turns into a story I’ll add it to my regular plot recaps. But for now, it seems to be just stand-alone incidents. At least once you know what a caveboy is doing in 2020.

If this changes, or if I get any news about Alley Oop, I’ll post an essay at this link. Thanks for reading.

What’s Going On In Alley Oop? Is Alley Oop off the hook for Time Crime? April – July 2020


Yes, it looks like the thing where Universe-3 is prosecuting our, Universe-2, Alley Oop and company is resolved. The charges are dropped until some later nonsense happens. The original, V T Hamlin-created Alley Oop is in Universe-1, not a part of these shenanigans. Glad to catch you up on Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop, as of mid-July 2020. If you’re reading this after about October 2020 there’ll likely be a new plot recap at this link.

My other blog has given a break to reading comic strips for a while, but I am building a little glossary of mathematical terms, one a week, at this link. You might like that, too.

Alley Oop.

27 April – 18 July 2020.

In the most surprisingestly surprising surprise in the history of surprises, billionaire Drew Copious was up to something evil. Last time, Copious hired Dr Wonmug and his gang for some little time-travel adventures. This got him a pencil from the useless aliens who watched the Egyptians build the Pyramids. The pencil was a communicator to some alien named Farfell.

Ooola: 'Where were you guys? I was in 2485 for almost a year!' Oop: 'We traveled all over time looking for you, from the Big Bang to the heat death of the universe.' Wonmug: 'Finally, we went back to the moment that Copious sent you to the future and looked at the date on the time cube.' Oop: 'And we brought you back to just a short while after you left.' Ooola: 'So after a year, you finally did the easiest thing possible?' Oop: 'We really didn't want to cheat!'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 15th of May, 2020. So this is one of those little ways that time travel would change computing as we know it, by the way. (Also, in rescuing Wonmug from the past, Oop “originally” returned to ten days after he set out, earning Copious’s mild praise, then went back to just ten minutes after he set out, doing an “amazing job”.)

Copious separates Alley Oop from Dr Wonmug and Ooola. He has a test. Copious abducts Wonmug and Ooola, losing them somewhere in time, and Alley Oop has to rescue them. Wonmug’s stranded at a Beatles concert. It takes Alley Oop some time to find him, until he remembers he has a time machine. It takes longer to find Ooola, who’s hidden in the post-apocalyptic year of August 2020 2485. At least until they realize they can use the time machine to check where Copious sent her.

Oop: 'Ooola, what was the year 2485 like?' Ooona: 'It wasn't too bad. I was president of the zombies for a few months. I built affordable housing on the Moon. Oh, and I started a business selling food pills.' Oop: 'Wow! The future has food pills?' Ooona: 'No. I went out of business right away. I lost millions.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 16th of May, 2020. All right, but if she sold those little cubes of bright-colored food you saw on the original Star Trek? And if they were blocks of cheese? That would be different. My point is if someone opened a nothing-but-cheese buffet near me I would never eat anywhere else for any reason, not until I was too large to fit through doors.

Why all the testing? Because Copious wants to know if they’re up to helping him conquer the multiverse. He’s teamed up with the Nudellians, the useless aliens from the Pyramids. Copious explains they’re intelligent but gullible, and thus, useful. They sold Copious a device to travel between universes, which stopped working. We readers know why that is. To escape Time Court, Wonmug got a Universe Transit Device that locked out cross-universe travel. Copious is looking for a way to overcome that.

There’s one party Alley Oop and gang know who could help. That’s Ollie Arp and Eeena, their Universe-3 counterparts. And the ones who brought them up for trial in Time Court. And the only way to contact them is Copious’s pencil. Alley Oop sneaks up on Copious and distracts him by whacking him unconscious. Arp and Eeena debate it a little and decide saving the multiverse is worth dropping the charges.

Ollie Arp: 'I can't help but notice you guys ran out on your trial.' Wonmug: 'Oh yes ... ha ha ... well, I left my ... mechanical bull running and ... ' Alley Oop: 'I have a question. Was that even a real trial? What authority did you have to arrest us?' Ooola: 'When did you learn so much about the legal system?' Oop: 'Well, I did get into some trouble as a teenager back in Moo.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 9th of June, 2020. One advantage to making your story a comedic serial adventure is you never have plot holes. You have “hey, wait a minute” jokes set up for later use.

Arp and Eeena guide Wonmug in the use of Copious’s universe-travel device. It sends him to Universe 92, one where money was never invented. Arp and Eeena send Copious’s accomplices to Universe 212 and a hot bath. They were just “a few bad noodles”, paying off the pun set up by saying they were from the planet Nu-Dell. So the multiverse is saved, Universe-3 dropped the Time Crime charges against Our Heroes, and all’s well. That wraps things up … let’s call it the 24th of June.


The 25th of June everyone goes back to Moo. Wonmug included, since he hasn’t got anywhere else to be. Also there’s some weird giant ominous cloud looming over the Time Lab.

In Moo, Oop asks, 'So, Doc, why didn't you go back to your place? Everything okay?' Wonmug: 'I just have a weird feeling about going home.' Oop: 'Why? Are you afraid you left the oven on or something?' Wonmug: 'Haha. Something like that.' Back at the Time Lab, a gigantic storm cloud in the shape of a sinister face gathers, shooting lightning bolts.
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 27th of June, 2020. ObFuturamaReference: “Hmm, must be a friend of theirs!” (Hi, Love!)

Bad news in Moo, though. Dinny the dinosaur’s run away. But he’s not hard to find: he went to Inspiration Peak, where to canoodle with Francine, a dinosaur he met at the dino park. They’ve just started dating, no idea where this is going. They’ll see what happens. So that’s sweet.

Meanwhile, Ooola, who went off to the hot springs, is in some kind of fight. With her cry of “Die, fiend!” we reach the 18th of July and the nominal end of this recap period. (She’s rehearsing a play, we learn on Monday and Tuesday.)

Next Week!

More ghosts than usual have been walking! What did it all mean? I’ll try to say something organized about Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom (Weekdays) next week. If something doesn’t disrupt the lineage of 21 plot-recap comics snark bloggers before me. Thanks for reading.

What’s Going On In The Amazing Spider-Man? Were they lying when they said Spider-Man would come back? April – July 2020


Well, lying has to carry with it intent. I wasn’t lying when I said I planned to do my comic strip plot recaps for Tuesdays, for example. Stuff just got in the way. And it’s not as if anyone’s 2020 has gone to plan, or else I’d have written this during slack moments of Pinburgh. But as we finish another quarter-year with no new creative team for The Amazing Spider-Man, it’s getting harder to believe that there ever will be. If I get any news about Spider-Man returning to the comics I’ll report it in an essay at this link. And, what the heck, I’ll keep it in the story-update cycle at least a bit longer. This story, from Roy Thomas and Larry Lieber, ran in 2015-16.

On my other blog, I am temporarily not reading comic strips except for my own pleasure. But I am looking at one mathematical term or concept a week, one for each letter of the alphabet. These are all essays I hope bring some fresh thoughts about some familiar old notion like what “normal” is. You might like, and you can suggest topics of your own interest that I might get to. Please consider that.

The Amazing Spider-Man.

19 April – 11 July 2020.

Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner, was threatening the surface world with destruction. He does that every now and then. Something about how the surface world despoils the oceans. As ever, he’s not wrong. He brought Pharus, an Atlantean boy who contracted Tiny Tim Disorder from human pollution. White Spider-Man and Namor fought, Mary Jane brought Pharus to Metro General Hospital.

J Jonah Jameson takes the injured Peter Parker to the same hospital. (Parker was woozy after his fight with Namor.) Partly to be a decent person, but also because Parker let slip that Pharus went there. Jameson meets Dr Liz Bellman, who’s got the toxins out of Pharus, and that’s all he can get before the soldiers arrive. They figure to take Pharus into custody. Parker slips out and, as Spider-Man, uses his spider-powers to open a door. Spidey kidnaps, or liberates, Pharus, who dives into the New York Harbor. And disappears. There’s one day until Namor declares even more war on the surface world.

Peter Parker, ducking into a hospital closet, thinking: 'Namor has a grudge against the human race ... but I can't let the *boy* he brought with him become a hostage!' Coming out, as Spider-Man, thinking: 'Dr Bellman must've come out of one of THESE rooms ... ' (Opening a door) 'Bingo!' Pharus: 'Are --- are you going to HURT me?'
Roy Thomas and Larry Lieber’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 29th of April, 2020. Yes, I know, dramatic economy and it’s not like the story needs to be slower, especially given how heavy an exposition workload newspaper story strips have to carry. But, man, can you imagine how tough it would have been if Spider-Man had to choose among three doors?

Pharus swims to Namor’s ship, though, and tells of his treatment, and the kindness received. Namor doesn’t see this as any reason to call off the war, and sails back to the New York City pier he just left. He steps out to fight Spider-Man, because it would be rude not to. Spider-Man’s no match for Namor, but Pharus pleads for his life. And the life of the surface world, arguing that Spider-Man can be the brave leader who alters the surface world. Namor’s unmoved.

Mary Jane Parker arrives, offering to become his bride if he’ll spare Spider-Man. Namor refuses this, on the reasonable grounds a leader cannot put his desires ahead of his country’s.

Jameson, watching Spider-Man and Namor fight on TV: 'I don't get it Robbie! Wy isn't the army moving in on the Sub-Mariner? Heaven knows I'm no fan of Spider-Man, but that doesn't mean I want that waterlogged warmonger to kill him!' Robertson: 'Don't you see Mary Jane Parker there, Jonah? And that boy? If the army acts, they'll be caught in the crossfire!' Jameson: 'Isn't there anybody who can intervene?' Robertson: 'The President reached out to some folks who're on a mission out of the country ... but it doesn't look like the Avengers will arrive in time to save their fellow masked man!' Jameson: 'Then, whether I like it or not ... and I don't ... the web-crawler is history!'
Roy Thomas and Larry Lieber’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 31st of May, 2020. So a recurring bit that always amuses me is when someone in the strip proposes getting Spidey some backup. This always leads to the discovery that all eight thousand other superheroes in midtown Manhattan alone are out on other business. Usually that’s enough spackle to put over the plot hole. But here, Namor has announced he’s going to war, Atlantean ships have been stopping surface ships, and Namor has come to New York City, a city he’s specifically threatened with destruction before, in a situation that’s been developing for … days, at least. Weeks, more likely. Plausibly a month or more. What other thing is going on that Captain America has to deal with this afternoon?

Finally Dr Bellman arrives, asking for mercy on her behalf. She’s the spitting image of her grandmother, Betty Dean, who talked Namor out of attacking the surface world back in 1940 or so. And who Namor’s been crushing on ever since. Bellman says Dean’s last words were begging to remind Namor of how the surface world and Atlantis can share the world peacefully.

And this changes his mind. Namor can now see how his way of going to war will only lead to war. He’ll give the surface world another try, and never bother with killing Spider-Man or whatnot. Namor sails his flying Atlantis boat out of the story on the 15th of June, although it takes a little while to quite wrap everything up. Dr Bellman heading out. Reporters showing up. Spider-Man telling the United Nations how there will be peace when the people of the world want it so badly that their governments will have no choice but to give it to them. That sort of thing. Spider-Man webs out, too, so that Peter Parker can learn how Jameson isn’t buying Spider-Man Versus Namor pictures.


We get the transition to the current story the 28th of June. Peter Parker and Mary Jane walk through the crowds. A trenchcoated figure starts following. He’s Xandu. He figures Mary Jane might just help him get the Wand of Watoomb, and that will make him happy. By a wild coincidence, though, the Parkers walk past the lair of Doctor Strange. Newspaper Spider-Man, sometime in the past, teamed up with Dr Strange to stop Xandu the sorcerer. Hey, what are the odds?

At Dr Strange's door. Peter: 'He mus not be home, Honey. Let's ... ' Mary Jane: 'Wait! The door's starting to ... ' [ The door opens with a slow kreeeeeek ] Dr Strange: 'Hello, I'm Stephen Strange. What can I do for you?'
Roy Thomas and Larry Lieber’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 10th of July, 2020. Dr Strange is really at ease considering it was, like, maybe this morning that Namor was still planning to sink every surface ship that left port. I mean, the time transition is ambiguous so it’s maybe been a couple days but … like, were people just this chill two days after the end of the Cuban Missile Crisis?

Mary Jane wants to meet Dr Strange, but Peter can’t think of a pretext that isn’t weird or secret-identity-spoiling. Xandu can, though: he ‘accidentally’ bumps her hand and it sets off a weird tingling. She, claiming a strange compulsion to meet Strange, knocks on his door. Dr Strange is happy to take some time away from his job of wearing a giant pinball surrounded by flower petals to meet an actress like Mary Jane. So there we are.

This story originally started the 21st of February, 2016. It ran through the 17th of July, so, 21 weeks total. We should finish the 22nd of November this year if I haven’t counted wrong.

Mary Jane also name-drops Mandrake the Magician, another King Features syndicated comic strip. Mandrake’s a fun strip, sent into reruns in July 2013 when writer and artist Fred Fredericks had to step down mid-story, for health reasons. They’re probably going to get a new creative team for that one soon too.

Next Week!

So that rich guy who wanted ancient alien technology. I bet he was up to something good, right? We’ll find out with a check on Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop. Thanks for reading.

What’s Going On In Judge Parker? Did you see the new Sparks video? April – July 2020


Yes, I did see the official video for Sparks’s new song, The Existential Threat. If you’d like to see it, it’s here. Content warning: the animation has the style of 70s-underground-comix grand-guignol body horror. Consider whether you’re up for that before watching. I’d recommend listening anyway.

With that wholly unrelated topic taken care of let me get to business. This plot recap gets you through early July 2020 for Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker. If you’re reading this after about October 2020 there’s likely a more up-to-date plot summary at this link. I’ll also put any news I have about the comic strip at that link.

I’ve put on hold the reading-comics part of my other blog. I am still writing stuff, though, with the focus being an A-to-Z glossary, one term for each letter, publishing over the course of the year.

Judge Parker.

13 April – 5 July 2020.

Yes, it’s hard to remember as long ago as mid-April. Let me try anyway. Neddy Spencer and Ronnie Huerta’s series, based somehow on April Parker, had started filming in Cavelton. Sophie Spencer crashed filming, protesting Mayor Sanderson’s politics. And then Covid-19 hit the comic strip, the first of the story strips to address the pandemic at all. This was an amazing feat of work by Marciuliano and Manley. It has to have involved throwing out completed work to rush stuff out at deadline.

At the dinner table. Abbey: 'These are difficult times. We all know this. But more importantly, we're all here. Together. As family.' Ronnie: 'Plus one.' Abbey: 'Now that you're here you're family too, Ronnie.' Sam: 'So prepare to have your life take some bizarre narrative turns.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 20th of April, 2020. “Sooooo, ever had a secret evil half-sister? Been chased through a Mexican jungle by armed insurgents who want your dad’s autograph often?”

Neddy and Sophie barely start arguing the dragging of politics into decisions about how to spend public money when the show shuts down. Part of the lockdown, in the attempt to contain the pandemic. Ronnie stews about how she can’t even see her new girlfriend Kat, who’s to play Neddy on the show. And then Neddy’s ex-boyfriend Hank calls. She fumbles over the conversation, talking more and more enthusiastically than she would have thought. Why did Hank call? Why was she eager to talk to him?

Well, because of the pandemic. Everybody we know got locked in the Total Perspective Vortex. Enough of that and you start to ask, “was I really so upset with this person that it’s worth never having anything to do with them again?” You’re going through it too. Remember that you had reasons, and think about whether those are reasons still things of value.

Meanwhile in changing values: Honey Ballinger drops out of Toni Bowen’s mayoral campaign. She had joined Sophie’s plans for Bowen to do something meaningful, working therapy for her post-kidnapping stress. But now, with even the candidate not that enthusiastic, and the world shut down? She wants something else. The collapse of Sophie’s campaign-manager ambitions sends her talking again to Abbey. They had fought over whether Sophie going to college even meant anything after the kidnapping.

Abbey: 'Sophie, you'll never be alone! We're always here for you!' Sophie: 'I know. But you can be surrounded by loved ones and still feel utterly separate ... I ... I just want this feeling to stop. It's been over three years since everything happened. And I know that's not a long time. And that there's no timeline for getting past something like that. But I want this pain to stop ... '
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 14th of May, 2020. Jeez, you ever think how hard it’s got to be overcoming traumatic memories when you’re in a soap comic that doesn’t consistently advance in real-time? Like, it’s hard enough to spend four years as a high school sophomore but then not being able to count on whether The Incident was last fall or four years ago has to be a real head trip.

Meanwhile, Alan Parker’s mayoral campaign hits a problem: he and Katherine have Covid-19. While both look to recover, Alan Parker acknowledges he doesn’t want to be mayor enough to take him away from his family, whom the virus keeps him away from. He calls off his campaign, endorsing Toni Bowen on the way out, to her surprise. And to Sophie’s rejuvenation. She can’t wait to get the campaign going again.

And things are a bit tough for the Drivers. Sam Driver hasn’t got any lawyer work, and Alan Parker hasn’t got a campaign to manage anymore. Abbey’s bed-and-breakfast, finally completed, was ready to open as the lockdown hit. It’s cut into their finances. Abbey mentions how they were hit hard when they had to sell on the stock market, which is interesting. I mean, I know I’m bad at finance. I have two Individual Retirement Accounts, one a Traditional and one a Roth, because I could not figure out which was better for me. This way I’m sure to be at least half-wrong. But even I knew to put my spare thousand bucks into buying at crash prices. This is why I’m today the tenth-largest shareholder in Six Flags Amusement Parks. So how leveraged were the Parker-Drivers that they had to sell stocks into the crash?

Sophie: 'You want to what?' Sam: 'I want to help with Toni's campaign.' Sophie: 'So Mayor Sanderson's policies have now impacted you, huh?' Sam: 'Okay, my impetus was personal. But my drive is social.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 23rd of July, 2020. Looking forward to campaign worker Sam Driver going out and definitely not knocking on doors, not in this crisis. Just standing out on the sidewalk of some registered voter’s house, calling out, “[ something something something ] Toni Bowen [ something something ]” and answering residents’ questions with a confident, “What? WHAT? Can you speak up, please?”

Sam can’t get a rebate or early cancellation on the lease for his useless downtown office. Mayor Sanderson, who partly owns that office building, is reopening the town, the better to get everybody infected and dead sooner. So Sam turns to Sophie, offering his help in the Toni Bowen campaign.

And these are the standings, as of early July. I hope to check back in after a couple months to see what develops.

Next Week!

Oh, an exciting chance to check in on those “great new stories and art” for … oh. Yeah, King Features and Marvel haven’t got around to hiring anyone to write or draw The Amazing Spider-Man yet. So Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s reruns get another turn next week, and probably again three months after that.

Why does Mark Trail look different? Did James Allen leave Mark Trail?


So some breaking comic strip news, that I learn through Daily Cartoonist again: James Allen is leaving the story strip Mark Trail. In a Facebook post for his Edge of Adventure comic strip Allan says the strip will continue, “with a bit of a new direction”. And, in comments, that the choice was “a bit of both” his choice and King Features’s. Allen says “I’m tired and they wanted a new direction”.

I have heard nothing about who the new writer or artist (or both) will be. Nor about just when the transition will happen. In comments on that Facebook post Allen says he will not finish the story that’s just begun, and doesn’t know if the new person will.

If I get any news on Mark Trail I’ll post it at this link. If I get any news about any story strip, I’ll post it at this link.

What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? Is Gil Thorp really not doing a pandemic story? April – June 2020


Yeah, so, as of the end of June, 2020, Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp has not mentioned Covid-19 at all. The story strips, as I’ve mentioned, have trouble addressing fast-moving real-world events like this. Even a strip that only runs dailies, like Gil Thorp, has a lead time of at least two to three weeks. And a whole storyline should be sketched out months ahead of time. Granted I suspect that the word “should” there carries a large load. I’m sympathetic to wanting not to throw out large amounts of work, and putting off addressing the pandemic until later. Possibly the summer storyline.

If you’re reading this after about October 2020, I should have another Gil Thorp plot recap at this link. It shall also have any news about the comic strip that I don’t want you to miss.

Gil Thorp.

6 April – 27 June 2020.

The spring storyline had just begun the week before the last recap. We hadn’t even met its star, Mike “The Mayor” Knappe. Like most Gil Thorpe teens he has a dumb but harmless eccentricity. His is eating weird. Like, eating a normal thing (scrambled eggs) in a weird way (out of a baggie, using a spoon). Or weird stuff (orange juice with banana slices) had normally (drunk from a thermos). But he’s popular and outgoing. And keeps celebrating his teammates, and the girls softball team too. So he’s easy to get along with.

Knappe, holding up bagels: 'Today's breakfast a la bus: sesame bagels!' Girl: 'That sounds surprisingly normal.' Knappe, holding up peanut butter and a smooth knife: 'With peanut butter!' Girl, hiding her face: 'I stand corrected.' English Teacher: 'Can we start class now, please?'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 29th of April, 2020. I understand that many people come from food microecosystems for one reason or other, but … I mean, if she’s cover-her-face embarrassed by bagels with peanut butter? She’s going to literally melt when exposed to Cincinatti chili. Anyway I stand by my assertion that cottage-cheese-with-sour-cream is NOT a freak combination of fridge dairy.

This goes on for like a month, inspiring the question: is there even going to be a story? We finally reach “yes” the 29th of April, when Knappe shows off, in English class, today’s weird meal. Sesame bagels with peanut butter. I know people who find peanut butter bagels to be the worst. But as weird goes? If you can get it prepackaged at Wawa it’s not weird yet.

What is weird is that Knappe’s English teacher goes to … I’m not sure. I guess the guidance counsellor, although it might be the school physician or an assistant principal. Dr Pearl, anyway. Pearl joins Gil Thorp at softball practice, and they have Knappe in for A Talk. Knappe realizes his mistake right away, and worries that someone had an allergic reaction to the peanut butter. No, the problem is he brought a knife to school. At this point, if you ever read the comments on Gil Thorp, you should stop. No thread you read will ever lead you to joy.

Because the thing is that a knife is a weapon. Yes, even a butter knife is a knife. And bringing a weapon to school is a bad thing. Even if it is a butter knife. There’s a zero-tolerance rule: mandatory expulsion.

Knappe, at the Conference: 'I'm being suspended for bringing a knife to spread my peanut butter? How long?' Gil Thorp: 'District policy doesn't call for suspension, Mike.' Dr Pearl: 'It's mandator, young man. You're expelled.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 11th of May, 2020. I’m … not clear why Gil Thorp is here, as opposed to (say) Knappe’s homeroom teacher or whoever’s on record as his guidance counsellor if that’s not Dr Pearl there already. I get Thorp would be in the loop on the results but he’s not the teacher who ratted on Knappe or anything that gives him a need-to-know.

Knappe is devastated, reasonably. His classmates are, too, and there’s some short-lived talk about a student walkout. This comes to nothing, which is a pity. It’s good for high school students to do walkout protests, so they can learn what a walkout protest gets. It gets one paragraph in the local newspaper, which quotes no students and carries the principal’s lie that the walkout disrupted no classes and ended within five minutes.

The Knappes consult a lawyer, but there’s not much hope. The point of a zero-tolerance policy is to allow officials to harass minorities while using the formalism of equality. It’s regrettable when a popular white male kid suffers a consequence. But making an example of Knappe means the institution will get to torment dozens of Black boys and girls for a decade or more and claim it’s impartial treatment. The Knappes can’t do anything effective.

Knappe figures his life is over. He’s been expelled, his admission to Generic State University is threatened. And it’s for lousy reasons. Coach Gil Thorp settles in to doing something. He talks with Knappe, explaining how moping can’t make anything better. Going to the alternative school, Valley Modified, can. And being with other people will. Knappe bows finally to the inevitable.

Ardis Carhee, student at the Alternate School: 'Never ask why someone is here.' Knappe: 'Um ... OK. Sorry.' Carhee: 'No worries. You always find out. But the tradition is that you don't ask. I was what they call 'chronically truant'.' Knappe: 'You should probably make up a better story.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 23rd of May, 2020. Carhee: “That … that was my better story.”

Within minutes he’s making friends, though. And finding that his old friends still like him even though his new shellac of Drama. Within hours, Knappe has a plan. Valley Modified doesn’t have any sports teams, but they’ve got individual athletes. Why not a Milford versus Valley Modified softball match?

OK, it’s weird, but weird is Knappe’s thing. Thorp turns down the request to use Milford’s field and equipment; that’s against the rules. But he does point out places they could play and ways to scrounge equipment, so there’s that. Milford’s varsity team wonders … why waste a day beating juvenile delinquents, and the best argument is, Knappe’s a cool guy and it’s better playing than not playing. About the same argument works for Knappe’s new gang.

[ The ballpark ] As friends, families, sun-seekers and the idle curious gather at town park ... Knappe, holding up a T-shirt to his fellow players: 'Check it out, everyone - team T-shirts!' Milford pitcher, to his catcher: 'What do you think ... should I go hard at these guys?' Catcher: 'Until they prove they can't hit ... yes.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 24th of June, 2020. So, this might seem patronizing or even just mean-spirited, but it is the high school varsity team against a team that’s played together for like two weeks total and isn’t even sure why it’s there. And it’s not like choosing to take it easy on them would be any less patronizing. It’s hard competing against someone you have good reason to think you outclass. Anyway that time I needed 90 minutes to beat that vague relative who was seven years old and really wanted a chess set and didn’t know that castling was not some weird thing I made up was for good reasons: I’m not very good at chess.

A surprising number of people turn out for the game. And you know how it goes, if you’ve seen any movie about the scrappy upstarts versus the elite snobs. Valley Modified gives up like 2,038 runs in the first inning, with the upstate returns not in yet, and then starts to falter. It’s embarrassing enough that Gonzalo “Gonzo” Aceves defects from Milford, joining Valley Modified to give them a bit of pitching help. Also equipment advice. It’s an act of kindness and mercy of the sort we all wish we had done for others in school. But he’s repaying Knappe for giving him an upgraded nickname.

Will the game turn out non-humiliating? Will Knappe get accepted into some college? And will Covid-19 hit Milford? We’ll see.

Milford Schools Watch

Who else is in the Milford school district? Or at least rates a mention in the sports comic pages? These schools, the past couple months:

Next Week!

OK, this is an easy one. I know Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker is addressing the pandemic and how it affects the race for mayor of Cavelton. See you in a week to discuss that, barring something urgent happening.

What’s Going On In Rex Morgan, M.D.? Is Rex Morgan really not doing a pandemic story? March – June 2020


Yes: Rex Morgan, M.D., is not doing a Covid-19 plot. Its writer and artist, Terry Beatty, chose this. A story strip like this, with Sundays tied in to weekly publication, needs about two months’ lead time. Beatty did not think he could write a medical story that could plausibly track whatever happened by publication.

I also imagine that when they reopen Comic Strip Master Command he will be stabbing the Judge Parker team in the kidneys. But, there, Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley took on an incredible emergency workload, throwing out a story to replace it with a pandemic one. And they don’t have to write a medical story; their focus is people whose lives stopped.

While I understand Beatty’s reasoning, I’m not sure it’s the decision I would make. It’s not as though anyone expects Rex Morgan and June Morgan to find a vaccine. Stories of them pressed into the longest work they’ve done would seem enough. Even if they were “merely” taking over the caseloads of doctors and nurses put on Covid-19 duty, I’d think the strip would better fit the role cast for it. Still, I trust that Beatty knows his workload and how to manage it.

I’m writing this recap in middle June 2020. If you’re reading this after about September 2020, if there is a September 2020, I’ll likely have a more up-to-date plot recap at this link. It’ll also have any news about the strip that seems worth my mentioning. Now to the story.

Rex Morgan, M.D..

29 March – 21 June 2020

Buck Wise was off to see Truck Tyler’s concert, last we looked in. Tyler’s a roots country player and he’s touring without a band, just himself and his guitar. Also his scratchy throat. He has to switch to instrumentals, and even cut the show a bit short. Wise checks in on Tyler, who knows him, and finds him coughing up a lung. Tyler says it’s a cold and asks Wise to handle the merch table while he recovers. Sure thing. Wise passes him his card, in case he wants a doctor in town.

Nick's Diner, offering 'Zippy Service!' Waitress: 'Hot tea with lemon, as requested. Here's some honey for your tea if you like, might help soothe that sore throat and cough you're fighting.' Truck Tyler: 'Thanks. I sure appreciate it.' Waitress: 'Your eggs and hash browns will be up in just a minute.' Tyler: 'Sounds good. [ Coughs ]' Waitress: 'You don't, though. You really ought to see somebody about that cough.' Tyle: 'You're probably right.' [ He coughs a few more times, and thinks, and looks at 'Buck's card. He said I should call. ] Tyler, on the phone: 'Hey, ol' Buckaroo, yeah --- it's Truck Tyler. Listen, about that Doctor you mentioned?'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 19th of April, 2020. The sign promises Zippy Service and Yowaza! Are we having raisin French toast yet?

So you maybe see where this is going. Tyler isn’t touring with a band because he can’t afford it. He can’t even afford a hotel room; he sleeps in his car in the bar’s parking lot. And he’s sick. So he’s living the American dream: choose medically-induced bankruptcy or unemployment-induced bankruptcy. Overnight his cough gets so bad that he seeks medical care, or at least Rex Morgan.

This all happened, for us readers, in late April. Given that his big symptom was coughing nonstop, boy did it seem like a Covid-19 story. No. Truck Tyler had walking pneumonia. He needed antibiotics and complete rest. Which at least avoids medical bankruptcy but still threatens him with unemployment bankruptcy.

Tyler asks Wise for help. And owns up to his poverty. Wise can’t put him up in his own home; they have a baby. But he has a friend, Doug, who manages a motel when he’s not Griffy from Zippy the Pinhead. The motel always has some extra rooms, and Doug’s a fan, so, what the heck, he can have the room for a couple autographs and stuff.

[ On the phone ] Buck Wise: 'How tight is your budget?' Tyler: 'I could cover one or two hotel nights maybe, but then wouldn't have much left over for gas, food, and phone.' Wise: 'Ordinarily I'd be happy to put you up here, but with the baby now I can't risk getting her sick.' Tyler: 'I'm crossing my fingers nobody's caught this off me already. Last thing I want is to share this! [ Coughing ]' Wise: 'Let me check something and get back to you.' Tyler: 'Sure'. Wise, texting, and thinking: 'Ok, Doug, are you around?' Doug, managing a motel, reads. Wise is asking for a favor for Tyler: 'He's sick and needs to crash for at least a couple weeks. Can you comp hi a room at the hotel?' Doug texts back: 'Anything for Truck. We're never full up these days anyhow ... the only payment I want is to sign a bunch of stuff for my collection.' Wise, thinking: 'Autographs. Always with the autographs.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 10th of May, 2020. I would have let the “Zippy Service” joke pass without mention except then we got the motel guy, who could be either Griffy or that guy in the diner that Zippy’s sometimes talking to and whom the Cast of Characters page tells me is Claude Funston. The fact that seeing some resemblance there delights me so will tell you plenty about my sense of humor or maturity.

Meanwhile Wise has an idea about how Tyler’s music income is all derived from his music career. What if they sold Truck Tyler merch online? Tyler doesn’t see how that could work, but Wise listens to podcasts. He knows you can set up web sites. Tyler’s even got a new album almost ready to publish. Wise proposes crowdfunding and Tyler has no idea what this is all about. That’s all right; Wise can set it up for a cut of revenues. Tyler is cool with a friendly person taking a cut of a big new project whose exact details he doesn’t understand. This may give us insight to why, after decades in the music industry, Tyler doesn’t have the cash to stay in a motel for a week. It’s because he joined the part of the industry that makes music. It’s the other side that makes money.

Anyway Wise is enthusiastic and, we readers know, a Good guy. So that’s all great and Tyler can get back to writing some new songs as he finishes recovering. And that, the 30th of May, finishes the Truck Tyler storyline. And the last storyline Beatty wrote before the pandemic smashed up everything.


The 31st of May had the transition page, and Beatty’s explanation about why the comic will not tell a Covid-19 story for now.

Instead they’re doing a flashback: little Sarah Morgan asking how Mom and Dad first met. Rex explains it was when he was first in Glenwood and working at the hospital. One of the older doctors, Dr Dallis (get it?), too him under his wing. What you’re supposed to get is that Rex Morgan, M.D. was created in 1948 by Dr Nicholas P Dallis. The real Dallis was a psychiatrist. He also created Judge Parker and Apartment 3-G.

Rex, telling Sarah his story: 'All this will tie in with how I met your mom, just trust me.' Sarah: 'Of course I trust you, I just think you're taking too long to get to the point.' Rex: 'Patience you must have, my young Padawan.' Sarah: 'You're not Yoda, Dad.' Rex: 'Dr Dallis, one of the older physicians at the hospital, became something of a mentor to me.' Sarah: 'Wait, isn't a mentor the half-man half-bull thing in the Hercules stories?' Rex: 'That's a minotaur, and it was Theseus, not Hercules ... and now you're just messing with me.' Sarah: 'Caught me, Dad. I'm listening, though. Keep going.' Rex: 'Anyhow, Dr Dallis --- ' Sarah: 'Whoa! Hold on. Isn't Michael's middle name Dallis?' Rex: 'Yes, named for this doctor I'm *trying* to tell you about.' Sarah: 'OK. Just wanted to be clear on that detail.' Rex: 'Are you sure you want to hear this, or should we just play with the dog for a while?'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 14th of June, 2020. Mostly I’m including this panel because I like Terry Beatty’s drawing of a minotaur there. I like Rex and his daughter’s hanging-out banter here, but I understand people who think this is a lot of time spent on nothing.

According to Rex, Dallis was planning to retire, and wanted someone to take over his practice. He offered it to Rex Morgan. (This seems abrupt to me, but Rex could be condensing events for Sarah’s sake.) While thinking this over the next day, during his regular run, he bumped right into June. He apologizes, but she calls him a jerk. June disputes having said that out loud.

And that’s the flashback story so far. Do Rex and June get together? If so, how? We’ll see over the next several weeks. But how about for …

Next Week!

Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp? Surely the story strip about high school athletics has adapted to events that shuttered high schools and athletics, right? We’ll see next week, if things go well. Thanks for reading.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Sundays)? What was The Phantom doing at Trafalgar? March – June 2020


Well, he had some friends who were going to be there. So, I’m happy to help you catch up with Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom, Sunday continuity. If you’re reading this after about September 2020? If you’re interested in the separate weekday continuity? I may have a more up-to-date plot recap at this link. Though I admit, right now, I don’t know what’s going on with the current dailies storyline. I know the Phantom getting berated by his father for sending Kit Junior off to a monastery in China. We have to read what comes next.

The Phantom (Sundays).

29 March – 14 June 2020

The 21st Phantom was telling Heloise a story of the 13th Phantom. It’s about George Bass. In history, Bass and his brig Venus disappeared after February 1803, on a voyage from Australia to Tahiti. The Phantom explains how Bass teamed up with the 13th Phantom. Bass then turned the Venus to a spy ship dubbed El Sol, sailing the Mediterranean under false flags. This to support the United Kingdom’s War of the Third Coalition against Napoleon.

Phantom, reading: 'George Bass and the 13th Phantom rowed into the heart of the English fleet.' Heloise: 'Dad, I think I know! George Bass had discovered where the French and Spanish fleets were anchored!' Phantom: 'For two years he'd been presumed lost at sea in the South Pacific. Or perhaps he and his crew had been enslaved in the Spanish silver mines of South America.' Heloise: 'He made himself disappear ... so he could go spying in the South Atlantic and the Mediterranean!' Phantom: 'His years of clandestine work came to fruition in October 1805 ... ' Panel showing Bass and The Phantom rowing a longboat up to an enormous ship. Bass: 'There she is, Walker ... HMS Victory!'
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 5th of April, 2020. Lost at sea, possibly enslaved, are what history records as the likely fate for Bass and his crew. Anyway, uh … so, the 13th Phantom was active in 1805, and the current, 21st, Phantom is the one we’ve been following since the strip started in 1936 so the 19th Century was really bad for Ghosts Who Walk. Like, “13th Century Pope” bad. Yet the 20th Century was surprisingly gentle. (I am happy to suppose the current Phantom isn’t actually old enough to be in Gasoline Alley and his whole career has been “the last couple decades” as of publication.)

Bass has, in his voyages, found useful intelligence for Admiral Nelson and the British fleet. And he communicates that. I’m not sure what the intelligence is. Heloise surmises that it was the locations of the French and Spanish fleets. I’m not sure this was particularly what Nelson had needed. But I’m also not sure what Bass could plausibly offer. 1805 naval warfare espionage involves a lot of technical points challenging to communicate in a Sunday strip, after all. And it would have to be points that could have been recorded by the 13th Phantom. So, likely best to leave it as Heloise’s guess and move on with the story.

Long story short, France loses Trafalgar. Bass and his crew celebrate, confident that whatever happens now, Britain is safe from invasion. Bass can plan to go back to Australia and think up a cover story for where he’d been for two years. That night, though, we see Carter, fuming about royalist spies. We had last seen him lurking around after Bass and Phantom, ashore for no good reason. It turns out the person they thought was acting all suspiciously? He was up to no good. He and some minions knocked out the watch officer, raised the French flag on the Venus, and got into a swordfight with the Phantom of 1805.

The Phantom, recounting the attack on Bass's ship: 'The men of the El Sol were slaughtered by English cannon fire ... her masts toppled ... her hull shattered ... timbers were blasted into deadly storms of splintered wood. Dead and dying men went into the sea, entangled in the rigging, their fates certain. Where the El Sol had been moments earlier, a debris field rose and fell on the night sea.'
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 31st of May, 2020. This by the way is why they didn’t want brigs at the Battle. (There were two brigs attached to the French fleet, but they weren’t part of the action, and both escaped.)

The Phantom can stab Carter easily. Not so easy to deal with: the Royal Navy ships shooting at what they take to be a straggler French ship. Bass’s crew can’t strike the flag fast enough. The ship’s quickly destroyed. Bass and the 13th Phantom survive, clinging to debris. They make it to some shore, Bass blinded and apparently not recognizing anything. The Phantom promises they have a long journey, to the Deep Woods. Given the location Bass and 13th Phantom have to be either in southern Spain or Morocco. It’s not clear where the Deep Woods are, but that’s quite the hike for two shipwrecked men with nothing but the contents of their pockets. We’ll see how that all develops.

Next Week!

How is Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D., the most medically-themed comic strip in (United States newspaper syndication) history, addressing the biggest public health disaster in 102 years? The answer may surprise you! See you then.

To help you judge my intelligence


I am 47 years old. I have two post-graduate degrees in mathematics. I have ridden over 250 different roller coasters. And it was only this past Friday that I tumbled on to how Nightmare, the Ghost Horse and friend to Casper the Friendly Ghost, is female. And not by deductive methods such as, like, reading her name. I had to have it explained to me by the Casper the Friendly Ghost wiki. So, you know, I’m a deep thinker. And somehow, even though Harvey Comics were pretty good about having a important female characters, supporting and lead, I thought, “well, this horse doesn’t have a bow in her hair and long eyelashes and a skirt, must be a boy!” and stopped there for four decades.

What’s Going On In Mary Worth? Why does Saul Wynter have a teenage daughter? March – June 2020


She is not Saul Wynter’s daughter. She’s just watching her for a guy he kind of knows. You might need more to catch up on Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth. This essay should get you to mid-June 2020. If you’re reading this after about September 2020 there’s probably a more up-to-date plot recap at this link, along with any news I have about the comic. And in the meanwhile, I look at mathematically-themed comic strips on my other blog. And now, let’s catch up.

Mary Worth.

16 March – 7 June 2020

Dawn Weston had been long-distance dating Hugo Lambert du Vichyssoise sur l’écureuil, quelque cherchez de la plume verte, Bureau des Passeports. He’s a preposterous, proud Frenchman. You may know him from turning every conversation, including those about neodymium, around to the greatness of France. Thing is, France is pretty far away. And right on hand is Jared Mylo. She knew him from a summer job. He’s a tolerable enough nerd. They go to movies and diners together.

[ When Jared impulsively kisses Dawn ] Dawn pulls back. Jared: 'Dawn, I'm sorry! I'm in love with you!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 23rd of March, 2020. Crow T Robot: “That’s all right, I’m sorry you’re in love with me too!”

Dawn and Jared hang out, more and more. And it starts to get Serious. At least, Jared does, moving in for a kiss and confessing his love. And Dawn admits she’s fallen for him. So that all sounds nice and great for them. What about Hugo?

Things brings Mary Worth back into the strip for a session of “What’s wrong with you, Dawn?” She tells Dawn she has to be honest with Hugo and Jared, which, I agree with. What I’m vague on here is why she has to make a particular decision. Not that I am suggesting a polycule in the hallowed pages of Mary Worth. I’ve seen many once-absurd things become acceptable in my time; heck, in the last two weeks. But I know there are limits. No, I mean, as far as I can tell, Dawn’s dating two guys, and she hasn’t made any promises of exclusivity to either. If Hugo or Jared don’t insist on an exclusive dating relationship, then, why decide now? Let it roll. See who you like after having a fourth date.

Luckily, Dawn has the chance for a date with Hugo. His company wants him in New York for a week, and she’s free, what with her … just … I think she’s in college? Oh, I guess she manages it during Spring Break. Also, yeah, Mary Worth is using the “let’s pretend the pandemic isn’t happening” approach to handling the biggest and most society-changing event of the millennium so far. So far all the story comics except Judge Parker are carrying on as though things were normal. Yes, this includes Rex Morgan, M.D., and yes, that’s daft.

[ As Dawn and Hugo sightsee in New York City ] They walk along a boulevard, past a Star Wars shop that Dawn's interested in and Hugo is not. At a restaurant Hugo declares, 'Good bouillabaisse, but NOT as good as in Marseille!' At Hamilton, Dawn thinks, 'I'm in an amazing city with a handsome, sophisticated man ... why aren't I happy?'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 19th of April, 2020. It’s a good question. Who wouldn’t be happy going to a performance of Hamilton and being seated right next to the late Ed Wynn? I’d worry that Dawn doesn’t know how to be happy.

Dawn agrees to meet Hugo in New York City, though. She tells Jared that she needs to talk with Hugo face-to-face. Jared, with reason, worries that she’ll never leave Hugo after seeing him in person again. Hugo and Dawn have a fine time in New York City, going around looking at stuff. “Oh, your Empire State Building is fine, but we have a much nicer Empire State Building in Lyons.” “Coney Island is thrilling for those who can’t visit Festyland in Normandy.” As he explains how Paris has a much nicer Statue of Liberty Dawn realizes she’d have more fun with Jared.

So she owns up, admitting her feelings for Jared. And Hugo takes it great. He’s got feeling for someone else, Chloe whom we the readers saw implied months ago. Of course they can still be friends. And he’d still like her to visit him in Paris this summer. Bring Jared along. Dawn is so happy to be let off the hook she doesn’t wonder when Hugo was going to mention he was dating someone else. Of course not; Hugo made up Chloe on the spot to give Dawn a graceful way out of their relationship. He’s just that French, you know? (This means nothing and I’m making up that Chloe was made-up.)

Dawn flies home. She doesn’t think to tell Jared that she broke up with Hugo. To be fair, to tell him would need her to have some means of rapidly communicating with people a great distance away. So Jared spends a week in suspense while we readers wonder, like, Dawn couldn’t text “can’t wait to see you in seven hours”? I never turn my phone on and I haven’t answered an e-mail since 2014 and I’m better than that.

[ As Jared wonders ] Jared, wondering 'You said you have feelings for me. Now that you've seen Hugo again, does that still hold true?' [ Dawn boards her plane to return to Santa Royale ] Dawn does as described.
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 5th of May, 2020. Jared, thinking: “Without Dawn even my hobby of piling up small flat-screen TVs brings me no joy!”

So that’s all sorted by the 15th of May. The 16th of May starts the traditional stretch of thanking Mary Worth for her Tuxedo Mask-esque contribution to the story. Dr Jeff takes the lead. But then Dawn comes around to say how she was right to pick Jared over Hugo. I disagree, myself. Jared’s pleasant enough but Hugo has a nice home-grown cartoonishness that makes him fun to play off. Dawn talks about how she felt about having feelings for a long while. And she talks about Jared’s good qualities long enough to make us ask who she’s trying to convince. But she finally gets that out of her system by the 31st of May.


The start of June starts the new story. It’s about Saul Wynter, delightfully cranky old man with a young dog Mary Worth made him get. His cousin, who I bet has a name, has died. Her bereaved husband Lyle needs help. The Company is sending him to Venezuela, to take part in a hilariously incompetent coup attempt against Nicolás Maduro. But who’s to look after his kid, Madi, who’s going through the phase of young-teenage life where she looks kind of like she might be in the new Heart of the City?

[ As Saul Wynter talks to his distant relative ... ] Saul: 'My late cousin was like a sister to me before she moved to the midwest.' Lyle, on the phone: 'Her passing has been hard. Especially because my late mother-in-law took care of Madi.' Panel showing Madi, staring at her phone and cursing. Saul: 'How is Madi? I haven't seen her since she was a toddler.'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 3rd of June, 2020. Yes, structural demands — mostly that people who missed a day or two can pick up the plot — require emphasizing that Saul’s cousin has died. But in-universe Saul Wynters has only just learned that she did die. So if you read the dialogue literally it comes out all weird, even though it shouldn’t. That Lyle immediately mentions his “late” mother-in-law, again, needed for in-cluing readers. And any other phrasing comes off as callous (“my dead mother-in-law”) or worsens the wall of text (“mother-in-law took care of Madi until she died”). I’m not sure there is a graceful way out of this other than not reading the strip with hyper-attentive focus and just accepting the conventions of the medium.

So after protestations, Saul Wynter agrees to take in a 13-year-old for summer. Or until Lyle can be exchanged for a Venezuelan spy. Or Venezuela agreeing not to switch oil contract denominations from dollars to euros. I’m looking forward to this story. We’ll see where it goes.

Dubiously Sourced Mary Worth Sunday Panel Quotes!

  • “Your friend is your needs answered.” — Khalil Gibran, 15 March 2020.
  • “Although I may try to describe love, when I experience it, I am speechless.” — Rumi, 22 March 2020.
  • “Rare as is a true love, true friendship is rarer.” — Jean de la Fontaine, 28 March 2020. (Bonus Saturday quote!)
  • “Came but for friendship, and took away love.” — Thomas Moore, 29 March 2020.
  • “Follow your heart and make it your decision.” — Mia Hamm, 5 April 2020.
  • “One thing I want you to understand is if I make a decision, it’s my decision.” — Mike Singletary, 12 April 2020.
  • “Love and doubt have never been on speaking terms.” — Kahlil Gibran, 19 April 2020.
  • “Honesty is the best policy.” — Benjamin Franklin, 26 April 2020.
  • “We must let go of the life we planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.” — Joseph Campbell, 3 May 2020.
  • “Choose your love. Love your choice.” — Thomas S Monson, 10 May 2020.
  • “Familiar acts are beautiful through love.” — Percy Bysshe Shelley, 17 May 2020.
  • “Love is a friendship set to music.” — Joseph Campbell, 24 May 2020.
  • “Love is the only constant, the only reality, and when you accept and understand that you will know it.” — , 31 May 2020.
  • “When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favor.” — Elon Musk, 7 June 2020. (He didn’t actually say this, but he paid a bunch of money to the person who did in order to take over credit for saying it.)

Next Week!

I’m supposed to have an easy time! See if I have an essay on
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom (Sundays) done more than 45 minutes before deadline!
It’s going to be close.

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? Does Mark Trail still look all weird? March – May 2020


Yes, it still looks weird, although it’s looking less weird. I still have no explanation.

I apologize if this isn’t as merry a plot recap for James Allen’s Mark Trail as usual. I’m tired of how much misery my country will go to rather than punish killer cops for killing an innocent man we saw them kill. I don’t have a lot left over after that.

Anyway I’m hoping this catches things up to the end of May 2020, though. If you’re reading this after about September 2020 there’s probably a more up-to-date plot recap here. And, if you like other kinds of comic strips, I’ve been reviewing mathematically-themed comic strips on my other blog. You might like that.

Mark Trail.

8 March – 31 May 2020

The story had started the 29th of February, with Mark Trail joining Geoff Aldridge, head of the Forest Explorers. The Explorers do nature outings for “troubled children”. So we got a lot of parents and kids introduced all at once.

Also the art style was weird. The unsourced rumor I keep hearing is that James Allen had to move in with a relative to provide support and care. And, away from his studio, he’d had to adapt to new drawing techniques, which probably means digital art. That takes time to learn. When this story had started, Comics Kingdom commenter George K Atkins hypothesized that the strip was presenting a comic strip drawn by Rusty Trail, rather than “real” events. It’s a great hypothesis, but, it’s not so. It’s a shame; that would have given Allen plenty of time to learn how to draw in strained circumstances.

At the campsite some of the kids start mocking Kevin, a homeless kid. Rusty invites Kevin along, though. Kevin’s inexperienced in things like fishing. Geoff Aldridge is kind and supportive, but other kids see weakness. Eric Crowley particularly takes the chance to attack. Meanwhile Geoff Aldridge mentions to Mark Trail that the Crowleys are thinking of adopting someone. It’s a nice though, although it added a slight reality-show “Who Wants To Be Adopted” cast to the proceedings.

Eric: 'Don't think I don't know what you're doing ... ' Kevin: 'Huh?!' Eric: 'You don't have a family of your own, and you're trying to steal mine!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 26th of March, 2020. Later, the Young Funky Winkerbean will wonder if he said anything to drive Kevin off. They’ll bond, though, over the junior novelization of Starbuck Jones III: Starbucker Jonesiest.

At night Eric reveals motivation: jealousy. He suspects Kevin is trying to steal his family. But he promises Kevin, nobody likes him. Kevin resolves to run away. Rusty overhears him leaving the campsite and offers to join him. And, in a moment of cleverness, sets his alarm clock to wake Mark Trail and bring adults after them. In a moment of less cleverness, he sets it to go off in an hour, rather than like, ten minutes. Still, for a kid, it’s good quick thinking.

The alarm clock gambit works, though, waking Mark Trail, who rouses the other adults. And Rusty’s left clues to their trail. Also he’s left a thunderstorm brewing. That’s great news: a good storm will do something about the drought. Specifically, the lightning will set the brush on fire. So that’s our big Attack of Nature for the story, which kept to the one. But Rusty and Kevin are walking toward the wildfire.

In a forest fire, a woman and child run as a flaming tree trunk falls toward them. Kevin calls out: 'Look out behind you!' They leap(?) and avoid the flaming tree trunk's fall.
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 27th of April, 2020. It’s an exciting scene, and shows that Allen is getting more comfortable with drawing figures. Compare it to the tent scene from the above comic, or from ones from earlier in March. I admit I’m not sure what they did in response to Kevin’s warning, though.

Mark Trail, unaware of the fire, organizes a search. Eric admits what he did and why. While the adults plus Eric set out in search parties, Rusty and Kevin encounter the fire. They turn around for the campsite, and along the way find Eric and Mrs Crowley. A burning tree threatens to fall on Eric and Mrs Crowley, but Kevin saves them by shouting a warning. Eric and Mrs Crowley are happy, of course. And Mark Trail hears the shouting too, so everybody’s able to gather together in the forest fire.

They move together, getting first to the campsite and then to their vehicles. This is in time to meet the fire fighters. Everyone gets out safe. And the forest fire can be put out before it does too much damage.

Eric apologizes to Kevin, and says he hopes they can be friends. Kevin shakes his hand. And, Mr Crowley announces his intention to adopt Kevin. It’s a happy resolution, although it also feels a little like a bonus prize round rather than a moment of true affection.


The story wrapped up the 23rd of May, with Aldridge inviting Mark Trail to future camping trips. Mark Trail thanks him, but says he wants to go home to spend time with his family “and my big dog Andy”. It seems like a curious declaration, until you know that the current story is an Andy special. It has Andy, playing loose in the yard, wandering over to a home under construction. He jumps into a truck trailer ahead of some rain, because you know how dogs hate getting wet and muddy. The truck driver, not noticing Andy in the trailer, closes it up and drives off. Andy’s missing, then, and that’s the start of the story.

Sunday Animals Watch!

What nature does Mark Trail want us to watch out for? The last couple months it’s been this:

  • Police dogs, 8 March 2020. Dogs are great. Don’t force them to become cops.
  • Pikas, 15 March 2020. The other lapine, besides rabbits and hares. They’re great. Human-caused climate change is killing them.
  • Banyan Trees, 22 March 2020. Wait, they’re fig trees? Really? Wow.
  • Animal tracks, 29 March 2020. They’re all amazing. People creeped out by raccoon paws? You all are wrong.
  • Jellyfish, 5 April 2020. They’re not like in that Popeye cartoon but they’re still weird and wondrous.
  • Müllerian Mimicry, 12 April 2020. That’s the thing where one dangerous creature camouflages itself as a different dangerous creature, so that anything preying on it turns to camera and goes, “Seriously? … Not. Fair.”
  • Poison Ivy and Poison Oak, 19 April 2020. Yeah, it’s actually not trying to poison you, by the way.
  • Birds, 26 April 2020. Bee hummingbirds are smaller than you would think!
  • Tornadoes, 3 May 2020. Not the kind you get on the hot-roller grills at the gas station. They don’t issue alerts about those. (The alert would be “they’re out of the cheesey pepper-jack tornadoes”.)
  • Hippopotamuses, 10 May 2020. Most of their attacks on humans are caused by people playing that song too much at Christmastime.
  • Frogs, 17 May 2020. The Wallace’s Flying Frog can actually glide from tree to tree, reminding us what a shame it is that the comic strip Spot The Frog didn’t last.
  • Pigs, 24 May 2020. Mark Trail is a fan of much of Pink Floyd.
  • Thorn Bugs, 31 May 2020. They avoid being eaten by making themselves look like thorns. This keeps them alive, if you call that a life.

Next Week!

Uh-oh! Dawn was trying to have an emotional life! Could Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth fix that? We’ll see next week.

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? Why is Gasoline Alley in reruns? March – May 2020


I don’t know why Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley went into reruns this last week. GoComics commenter 436rge asserted that Jim Scancarelli is preparing something for the 100th birthday of Skeezix. This seems plausible. Skeezik’s arrival in the strip made this comic. And others; it’s a landmark in comics history. It was key in giving us comic strips that are about people with life stories. And strips in which characters grew older and changed. It would be odd if Scancarelli did not make a big production of this.

Skeezix entered the strip the 14th of February, 1921. I have no information about whether Gasoline Alley will be in repeat through February of next year. It’s possible, but it’s not a sure thing.

If you’re reading this essay after about August 2020, we’ve probably left farms far in the distance. There should be a more up-to-date plot recap in a post at this link. Thanks for reading.

Gasoline Alley.

2 March – 23 May 2020.

So shy are farms like scrapbooking, but for food? A couple years ago the schoolteacher in Gasoline Alley promoted scrapbooking to the kids, as a good creative thing they should do. And Jim Scancarelli’s comic strip talked about it a lot. Or so it felt like; probably it was just a month or two of the characters being really into scrapbooking. That memory’s lodged itself in the Gasoline Alley snark-reading community, anyway. It’s a fun reference whenever a comic strip seems to start obsessing over something, whether it’s Mary Worth and CRUISE SHIPS or Gasoline Alley again and … farms. So that’s what I was on about last week.

Baleen Beluga, the new and personality-rich waitress at Corky’s diner, was getting closer to T-Bone, the cook. He’d like to get closer to her too, but rejected her Sadie Hawkins Day proposal trick. I don’t know the details of the Sadie Hawkins tradition but I’m pretty sure getting someone to agree that “I do [ know what leap year is ]” doesn’t make a breach-of-promise suit. Her feelings were hurt by T-Bone’s reluctance. Then her body was hurt, by slipping on the floor somehow. And you know what that means: visiting mirror-touch synesthetic physician’s assistant Peter Glabella at the clinic.

Beluga, crying: 'Boo-hoo! You care more for the soup than you do me!' T-Bone: 'Please don't cry, Baleen! Listen! We've got to work here at the diner! Let's talk about all this later!' Beluga: 'Leave me alone!' (Black panel filled with crashing noises: BANG! CRASH! E-YOWCH! Tinkle!) T-Bone: 'Baleen! Are you OK?'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 7th of March, 2020. I swear I’m not one of those needlessly literal readers who needs every single step explained. But I’d like to know what Baleen was doing, sitting down, that she could fall badly enough to hurt herself. Also I’m not sure that if I were doing the strip I’d have put ‘TINKLE’ there, just because, you know, bad laughs.

After a couple weeks of waiting-room gags Beluga meets Aubee Skinner. She’s the three-year-old latest generation of the comic strip’s star family. And we follow her and her mother home, to Rover Skinner. (Grandson of Walt Wallet, original centerpiece of the strip.) The handoff is done … oh, I’ll call it the 24th of March. You could date it as early as the 12th, when they arrived at the clinic, if you like. Or the 19th, when Aubee climbs into Beluga’s lap.


Rover is getting ready for the Farm Collective’s meeting. And he talks his teenage son Boog into coming along. (Wikipedia tells me Boog was born in September 2004, and Aubee in September 2016. So, yeah, these ages still check out for being real-time.)

The point of the meeting: to promote “saving our farmlands”. Attending the meeting are a bunch of the local farm families. Skinner’s thesis: without family farms, they’ll pave over the land, there’ll be no food, and people will starve. Checks out; that’s what must happen. But Skinner expands on the problem: land is expensive. And that’s all he mentions before explaining his special guest speaker isn’t there yet.

The Molehill Highlanders band plays, particularly, the World War I ditty “How’re You Gonna Keep ‘Em Down On The Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree?)”. Boog sees in this century-old paean to the dullness of farm life a way to get people excited about farm life. His father agrees, and soon everyone is buzzing about their campaign’s theme song. Also they have a campaign, I guess. Charlotte, Boog’s girlfriend, also has a great idea. Wouldn’t it help cut down farm expenses if local teens did the farm work, but for free? It sure would!

Boog: 'Hey, Pops! Charlotte came up with a cool suggestion! How 'bout us teens helping out some farmers with chores, planting, etc etc? They wouldn't have to pay us and ... ' Boog's father: 'How about you doing chores, etc, around your own home for free?' Boog and Charlotte: 'Gulp!' Comedy Parrot: 'Oh, brother ... er ... father!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 27th of April, 2020. Wait wait wait, have an agricultural labor force made up of unpaid and under-paid persons from a socially disadvantaged group? Is that possible?

She’s thinking internships or something. Anyway after all this, special guest speaker Eric Helmet arrives. He’s got a broken tractor and a bunch of farm-life jokes. And talks about how farming is expensive and hard. But, he figures, what if they had some kind of outreach program so that people understood agriculture? Also, Don Henley wrote “A Month Of Sundays”. That’s a fanciful ballad imagining a time in 1957 that bankers were friends to farmers.

Eric Helmet, speaking to the crowd: 'My memory must be in erase mode! I forgot to tell you something! There's a song by Don Henley called, 'A Month of Sundays!' It's about a farmer's feeling and the changing times! You can Google the lyrics! They sure are poignant!' Comedy Parrot: 'Does that mean *loud*?'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 11th of May, 2020. Now, if you google the melody instead of the lyrics, you find out Don Henley forgot to write one, but hey, some folks like that.

I don’t mean to make this sound disjointed. But what we see on-camera is disjointed. And shallow, considering it went on for about two months. I’m willing to trust that in “reality” Helmet talked in some detail about being a struggling farmer, or as it’s known technically, “being a farmer”. And I understand Scancarelli wanting to tell corny but amiable jokes. It’s more readable than the screwed up parts of agricultural policy, or as they’re known technically, “all of agricultural policy”. But it did read like a slightly weird obsession.


There’s no handoff to the current storyline. It just started the 18th of May. It’s also a repeat, something I would not have noticed (at this point) without reading the comments. It originally ran from the 19th of April through the 5th of June, 2010. So that’s six more weeks of this storyline. As it is, Walt Wallet is home from the hospital, after a stretch of being a hundred and twentyten years old. Gertie looks over his pills and worries about the side effects. We’ll see what happens after the 6th of July.

Next Week!

Why does James Allen’s Mark Trail look weird? I’ll share what I have learned. (I have learned nothing.) But we’ll see what the story has been.

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? How was Shaky’s extortion of Tess Tracy supposed to work? February – May 2020


There is no possible way that Shaky’s extortion of Tess Tracy could have worked.

I’m happy to catch you up on Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy. If you’re reading this after about August 2020 I probably have a more up-to-date plot recap here.

Also, if you’re interested in comic strips with a mathematical theme? I am, too, and I write about them regularly at my other blog. Plus there’s some other interesting stuff happening there. I hope you enjoy.

Dick Tracy.

23 February – 17 May 2020.

Shaky, nephew of a Dick Tracy antagonist killed in the 40s, was attempting revenge. His plan: give an alibi to James McQueen, who he doesn’t care anything about. McQueen had been convicted of first-degree backstory. The evidence against him was gathered by Tess Tracy’s detective agency. Shaky figured to extort Tess Tracy. His deal: she pays him to suppress his (fake) evidence, or he goes to the press saying she suppressed evidence.

Shaky is confident in his plan, even though his plan is quite bad. The only way it could fail is if Tess reports the scheme to her husband, star detective of the Major Crimes Unit. Somehow, she does. Shaky shows up for his first payoff, and Dick Tracy provides it by shooting him. Shaky shoots Tess, though.

[ The Tracy Agency ] Shaky: 'Time's up, Mrs Tracy! Your payment is due today and I'm here to collect.' Dick Tracy: 'And I'm here to arrest you for extortion, Shaky!' Shaky: 'Aw, heck no! BACK OFF, TRACY!' He reaches for a gun; Tracy shoots him. Shaky shoots wildly(?), hitting Tess Tracy.
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 8th of March, 2020. Tess Tracy would spend a while in the hospital. I’m not sure we’ve seen her discharged yet. We did see several days of doctors agreeing this was very serious and Dick Tracy seen from behind, standing somberly.

Shaky and his wife(?) Edison flee to a safe house. “Ugly” Crystal, daughter of undercover cop Lafayette Austin and (the late) Ugly Christine, is there. I think we’re supposed to take that Shaky got a key to the house from Mister Bribery, Ugly Crystal’s uncle. Crystal takes this intrusion with calm. She nags him about smoking until he flees, and then calls the cops.

Shaky and Edison show up at the door of his cousin Quiver Trembly. Who tells him to get lost: she’s dealt with Dick Tracy twice and has had enough. But he has ideas to help Trembly’s charity-donation scam. So she agrees to deal with his crazy. Within minutes, the cops converge on him. Trembly says she’s not even gonna fight this. I’m not clear that she has any reason to think Dick Tracy knows she exists, but I understand her wanting to skip to the end. Edison gets out of the car and tries to get lost in the crowd. Shaky, though, he’s got a plan.

Shaky, on a steel girder, shooting down: 'Stay back, you lousy cops!' Dick Tracy, through a megaphone: 'Shaky, throw down the gun or we'll shake you off that girder!' Shaky: 'The devil you will!' Tracy, to crane operator: 'Start moving the girder!' Shaky: 'NO! STOP IT! I GIVE UP!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 5th of April, 2020. I’m supposing the interrogation of Shaky mostly centers on “what about your plans made you think they were anything but quite bad?” and “have you considered that you’re not good at crime?”. Maybe, “so have you ever had a plan that turned out like you planned?”. Certainly at least “do you have other interests that might get you not-arrested sometimes?”.

Shaky is confident in his plan, even though his plan is quite bad. Shaky holds a construction crew foreman at gunpoint, demanding to be raised by a crane on a steel girder, the better to shoot Dick Tracy. So, you know something? Using a handgun? From 50 feet off the ground? When you’re on a steel girder? Held only by ropes? That you cling to? When you’re a guy named “Shaky”? Turns out that’s a bad way to be a sniper. The cops arrest Shaky, and Trembly for good measure. And figure they’ll get the accomplice (Edison; they don’t know who she is) later on.


The 7th of April saw the new, current story start. Its center is B.O. Plenty, Junior Tracy’s father-in-law. And like many Staton/Curtis stories, it’s steeped Dick Tracy lore of the 40s. Breathless Mahoney was, before Madonna played her in the movie, step-daughter of the original Shaky. I learn from the Dick Tracy wikia, which tries to explain the Plenty-Mahoney connection. If I have it right, Mahoney, on the run, stumbled into the Plenty farm. While hiding there she drugged Dick Tracy and, with fled to the city with Plenty for some reason. They got separated, but reunited when Plenty stole the car she was hiding in. Plenty strangled Breathless “nearly to death” while robbing her. She got arrested and recovered from the battery, but died in prison anyway of plot disease. B.O. would reform and become a respectable citizen and part of the Tracy clan.

B.O. Plenty, reading the paper: 'Some outfit is shooting a movie in this city! About Breathless Mahoney! Gertie don't know anything about me and Breathless, and I want to keep it that way. My lettle Sparkle don't know her pappy was almost a murderer!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 8th of April, 2020. I guess B.O. Plenty’s explained things just fine here. I don’t know that I need to detail it further.

So, someone’s making a bio-pic about Breathless Mahoney. B.O. Plenty tries and fails to keep the news secret from his family. The lead actor, Fortuna Dyer, wants to know everything about Mahoney. So she’s talking with everyone who knew her. And she’s telling people to call her Breathless during the film shoot. And while she talks with Dick Tracy. And while she looks over Mahoney’s career and works out exactly when and how she blew it. She mentions how she’s a method actor. So she’s looking forward to a long life as a respectable and respected member of society.


Those are all the major plot threads that have been going on the last few months. There are a couple of minor ones. The most ambiguous is a two-week Minit Mystery, written and drawn by Charlie Wise. It’s about Mysta Chimera, who used to be Mindy Ermine, a crime boss’s daughter. She got mind-wiped and genetically engineered to be the new Moon Maiden. So now she’s a Lunarian with sci-fi powers that Chester Gould would hilariously insist was based on real science. In the “Mystery”, Chimera gets kidnapped. It’s by Scarmony Corybant, former cellmate of Mindy Ermine. Corybant’s looking for plans for the Space Coupe, Diet Smith’s famous magnetically-driven spaceship. Which, again, Chester Gould would hilariously insist was based on real science.

[ Minit Mysteries ] Corybant: 'You can't imagine what it was like after you stopped writin'! I waited, always hopin!' Mysta Chimera: 'I was kidnapped! They took away my memory!' Behind them is a jail cell, with the figure of Corybant curled up and shown only in silhouette, to reflect it being a memory. Corybant: 'You really won't remember? We were gonna buy a pony farm together.' Chimera: 'IS THAT WHAT THIS IS ALL ABOUT?!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 20th of April, 2020. Guest artist and writer Charlie Wise. I won’t quarrel with you if you don’t like the way Charlie Wise drew the characters. But having Corybant’s memory be shown behind them, with herself in a featureless outline (done several times in the sequence) is a quite good choice.

While fighting Corybant, Chimera says how now she remembers hating her jokes. Corybant complains how Ermine broke her promise to write her cellmate. Or to, when they got out, buy a pony farm, which Chimera finds as weird as I do. They fight long enough for Dick Tracy to arrive, and catch Corybant. Chimera, though, thanks Scarmony “for showing me who I was,” and does buy a pony farm. And sends Corybant, in jail, pictures from it.

So, first, this wasn’t any kind of mystery. Not in any aspect. Second, it seems to establish that Chimera is regaining some memories of her life as Mindy Ermine. Is that part of the continuity now? I would be surprised if Staton and Curtis would let Charlie Wise change something about a major character in a way they didn’t approve. But it does mean they have an excuse to revert this change if they decide they don’t like it. So I’m not quite sure what we did watch, then.


Another little bit: Annie Warbucks has been accepted into the Young Journalists Academy. One of her teachers is another cancelled-adventure-strip star, Brenda Starr. I wasn’t figuring on some vague wordplay when I started that sentence, but you’ll notice I let it stand.


Mysta Chimera, who’s been having a heck of a year, got a visit from Dennis Deyoung, of Styx. This in a follow-up to her being kidnapped by a Mister Roboto-themed Styx fan.


And Dick Tracy put off talking with Fortuna “Breathless II” Dyer a bit to recommend against paroling William “Broadway” Bates. Bates is a con artist, going back in the strip to 1932. He’s also The Penguin’s brother, but in ways that could be denied in front of a trademark hearing. So that’s a refresher that the character exists and might do a thing.

Next Week!

Farms: they’re like scrapbooking, but for food! What does this weird string of words mean? My recap of Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley should have an answer. Someone remind me to answer that.

What’s Going On In Prince Valiant? What are those women doing with bats? February – May 2020


They’re collecting guano as fertilizer. So thanks for catching up on Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant here. If you’re reading this after about August 2020 I should have a more up-to-date plot recap at this link, where you’ll also find past plot recaps. And if you want to be up to speed for the time of King Arthur, as seen in May 2020, please keep on reading.

Prince Valiant.

16 February – 10 May 2020.

Prince Valiant was heading home! Or at least to Camelot. It turns out his ‘home’ thing is complicated. Our Heroes are about a day out from Camelot when they run into a village trying to execute some witches. The evidence is pretty strong: they’re women. They’re doing a lot with bats. And shortly after criticizing the women, the old Baron Imbert died. Sir Gawain rides in, adjudicating a land dispute between Imbert and Afton, one of the locals. The land has a cave on it that legend says restores youth. And there’s the rumor that Afton, or one of the women, summoned a demon to clear Imbert away.

Aleta figures the women aren’t witches. Valiant agrees, but they are out there being weird, and that’s all your average peasant needs to tag women as witches. Valiant and party go to the tavern for dinner. They’re confronted by a drunk and belligerent Gareth. Gareth was Imbert’s son, but was not recognized as his heir, so I got that wrong last time around. I’m sorry. Goaded by his mother to “claim what is rightfully ours” he stumbles out in the night. Gareth’s mother, Hadwise, reiterates that he totally has a claim on the dead lord’s estate. Valiant and Aleta groan that they’ve got plot to deal with now.

Having their interest in the death of the local lord met with treachery, Val and Aleta choose to retreat to their room at the village inn. Val braces the lone chair against the door and places the Singing Sword at the ready. 'So much for a romantic evening to ourselves', says Val ruefully. 'We have stepped into a rat's nest, and will need to watch our toes.' Aleta reflects on the eventful day: 'There seems to be no obvious explanation for Lord Imbert's death. Afton and Audrey are passionately jealous of their land, and as such are easy to blame, but there are others here with equal reason ... ' 'Gareth, certainly,' muses val. 'He has an entitled demeanor and so a motive. Hadwise, as well. She is a scorned woman with much to gain from the Baron's demise, and the men who waylaid me acted out of fear of our inquiries ... ' He stops. There is a shuffling outside their room. A light flickers under the door, and shadows move across that light ...
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 22nd of March, 2020. So, fun recreational puzzle for you. Prince Valiant, like most of the story strips, is designed so that you can lay it out for a broadsheet newspaper, two broad rows of panels, or a tabloid, with three narrow rows of panels. How can you rearrange these panels to fit the tabloid format without redrawing them all? If you’re stumped, The Daily Cartoonist’s D D Degg solved the problem, albeit for a different Sunday page.

A band of 1d4+2 ruffians who overheard all this confront Valiant outside the tavern. They warn him off asking questions. And mention that what was done was ‘at the baron’s behest’. Valiant wins the fight, although since all the ruffians except the one he knocked out fled, he can’t get more information.

In the morning Hadwise is outside, calling out the mob. Gareth’s dead and she blames the women as witches. Aleta tries to break this up. She points out if they are witches who’ve magically killed Imbert and Gareth maybe don’t rile them up? This buys a little time for investigations.

Gareth’s corpse is in Imbert’s manor house, looking pretty well twisted and tortured. The cook was the last to see Gareth alive. The drunk Gareth came in, declaring he was the new Lord, and demanded the same supper Imbert would have. The cook decided making it was less hassle than arguing, fed him, and left. Aleta can’t find any poisons. And the staff is cleaning up the room where Gareth’s body was found, so there won’t be any fingerprints or usable DNA. Oh, also the mob has gone off to burn down the accused witches. Which, great. They race off for the cottage.

Turns out that’s a misunderstanding: the women are doing a controlled burn of their fields. All right. And Valiant and Aleta’s son Nathan has a discovery too: the women are not witches. They’re just very observant, have looked around, and found that the dark ages sucks. They want to zip right to the era of Jethro Tull. The agriculturalist, not the band. For bands they’re more into Pink Floyd, or as they exhaust everyone by saying, The Pink Floyd Sound. Valiant sighs but accepts it’s his duty to work out their land dispute.

Val and Aleta finish their wild ride back fro Imbert's manor to find Nathan enthusiastically working on a field burn: 'I've had the most wonderful time with Afton and Audrey! They are not witches - they study the natural world and its phenomena! When they saw that I understand the studies they conduct with the bats, they invited me to join them. And they are observant farmers - they have learned that burning old growth off their fields promotes new growth, which is made even more bountiful when fertilized with the droppings of the bats.' The burn completed, Afton and Audrey join the group. 'The boy is a fast study,' says Afton. 'Tonight Audrey goes to the bats' cave to collect more of our fertilizer, the best in all the land. Much better than that of the pigs the stupid locals use.' Gawain, who is a slow study, cannot resist ;'Then, to afford protection against what dangers may lurk in the underworld, I insist that I should accompany the fair Au --- ' 'You most certainly should not insist', Audrey snaps, 'Unless you wish your right eye to match your left!'
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 3rd of May, 2020. Sir Gawain has not had a lot to do this story, but what he has done is “be Johnny Bravo”. So that’s why he’s got one black eye and is cruising for another.

The women are proud and defensive of their discoveries. And would like to point out the villagers are idiots who’ll mess with the bats in the cave. Valiant wants to see this cave that everybody’s so excited about.

And that’s where we’ve gotten. I understand the women’s interest in the cave. And Imbert’s, although where he had gotten the idea the caves would grant youth from is a mystery yet. And we’re still lacking an answer for how Gareth died. It could be something in his being an angry entitled drunk demanding lots of food. We’ll see what develops over the next several months.

Next Week!

It’s the traditionally busiest of these plot recaps. I look at
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy, if nothing disrupts my schedule.
But it’s 2020. It’s the year of un-disrupted schedules. For decades to come we will be saying, “2020 was the most rupt year of our lives”. Can’t wait to start work on it. Thanks for reading.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Weekdays)? Why is the Phantom punching terrorists? February – May 2020


I mean, if he’s not punching terrorists, he’s underachieving as a superhero. Anyway, this is a recap for three months’ worth of the weekday continuity for Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom. If you want to know about the separate Sunday continuity, my most recent recap of its plots are here. And all my plot recaps, Sunday and weekday, are at this link. If you’re reading this after about August 2020 there’s probably a more up-to-date plot recap here, too.

The Phantom (Weekdays).

10 February – 2 May 2020.

The Phantom had busted up a Rhodian column that was messing around in Wambesi territory. Their goal: Chatu, The Python, who a decade ago was the big terrorist nemesis of The Phantom. From a Bangallan prison he orchestrated the apparent death and actual imprisonment of Diana Palmer Walker, the Phantom’s wife. Since then he’s been held by his Wambesi countryment in a secret jail. And now The Phantom was settling in for a serious talk with Chatu about the deal and what is with it.

The Python, laughing at his bleeding nose, looking through the bars at The Phantom: 'Oh, what fun! I see you DO KNOW that Diana Palmer Walker ... will be my revenge ... mourn her now, o Ghost ... start mourning her ... now ... '
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 18th of February, 2020. Before leaving, The Phantom taunted the Python one last time by complimenting him on that cool milk snake tattoo.

The Phantom explains how he turned back the Rhodian column. Chatu says he doesn’t see why The Phantom is trying to mess with his head like that. As if the Ghost Who Walks would play head games. But it tells The Phantom that Chatu did not organize this breakout attempt. There’s no way to know how the Rhodians got word of Chatu’s secret prison, unless any Wambesi person said anything to any Rhodian person about it. Chatu taunts that he’ll kill Diana Walker yet, and The Phantom slugs him. Then heads home, along the way asking Babudan what was with his poking in around the corners of that last story. Babudan gives a noncommittal answer. And this wraps up the story.


The 253rd daily-continuity story, Unfinished Business, began the 24th of February. The Phantom, riled up by punching The Python, heads to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he punches successor top terrorist The Nomad. … I figured this summary would run a bit longer, but that is the important stuff.

The Phantom snuck in to Guantanamo Bay and disguised himself as Commander Burford. Eric “The Nomad” Sahara acts familiar with The Commander. I’m not clear whether it’s The Nomad being all smug or whether we’re expected to believe that American intelligence agencies will partner with the worst people in the world as long as they’re right-wing enough. The Phantom talks about the woman who captured him, Heloise Walker. The Nomad had thought Heloise Walker a Bangallan intelligence agent, and takes this as a sign the Americans have captured her.

The Phantom, gloating over the unconscious body of The Nomad: 'My Heloise fought back! She settled the score nicely on her own. But as a father, and just on general principle, Nomad ... ' The Phantom steps on a cigarette beside The Nomad's head, extinguishing it.
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 7th of March, 2020. So this got me wondering if prisoners in CIA torture camps are ever given cigarettes, which is the sort of dumb thing that I wonder about instead of why we keep letting the CIA run torture camps.

Then The Phantom reveals that he’s not Commander Burford. He’d been using shadows and night as cover. Saying he wants The Nomad to know he’ll never be safe from him, he slugs the prisoner enough to break his jaw. He gloats that his daughter fought back against him. With The Nomad unconscious, The Phantom escapes to the fishing trawler he’d used as cover to get to Cuba. The action may seem pointless, but it turned out also to be dumb. Now it’s got The Nomad wondering why Heloise Walker matters to The Phantom.

Also, if you’re wondering how The Phantom could impersonate a lead interrogator at Guantanamo Bay at all? Burford had at least one interview up on YouTube. And then interrogated Burford at gunpoint, to get finer details. I cannot force you to believe this, but the text offers an explanation, and I find it within the bounds of superhero stories.

The story ended the 28th of March, with now both the major international terrorist figures of the past decade vowing revenge from prison on the women around Kit Walker. This seems good.


Warrior, speaking of plans for the poacher's guides: 'A quick death, for we Llongo are merciful! But death it is! by our Queen's command!' Phantom: 'Your queen wants these guides to stop bringing destructive men onto Llongo land. We can accomplish that without bloodshed! Friends, are you with me?' Wrrior: 'Our queen would want us to be with you, Phantom!'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 9th of April, 2020. [ * In the Malay tongue. I know, right? I was expecting Llongo too. ]

On the 30th of March the current story, The Llongo Forest, started. It’s the 254th daily-continuity story. The Phantom gets into a pickup hunt with some Llongo people. They’re looking for a poacher, someone who’s gone around shooting any animal he can find. Poachers are really Mark Trail’s thing. But Mark Trail is being drawn all weird and dealing with a possibly fictional forest fire. The Phantom has to step into the gap.

The poacher’s easy to find; just follow the trail of slaughtered animals. His guides are nervous, afraid of what the Llongo people will do. The Phantom’s friends know: their queen’s ordered them dead. The Phantom talks them into seeing if they can’t stop the poachers without so much bloodshed. They’re up for it. They sneak up on the poacher’s camp and clobber the guides. The poacher himself needs more coaxing, by having Devil, the Wolf Who Walks, poised to rip out his throat.

Warrior, looking over the wounded lion's trail: 'Blood trail leads there! We cannot [ accompany ], O Ghost who Walks! Forbidden forest!' Phantom, thinking: 'These are brave men. If they won't venture into those woods, the tribal tradition they honor must be a strong one.'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 28th of April, 2020. Also I’m wondering if this is just the one Forbidden Forest for the Llongo, or if there’s a bunch of Forbidden Forests, and if different tribes respect others’ forest-forbiddings. Like, they probably come to some agreements about the territories, right?

The Phantom checks out the poacher’s home movies. Turns out he had wounded a lion without killing it. That’s a problem, as a badly wounded lion might turn to hunting humans. The trail leads into a forbidden forest, which the Llongo warriors won’t venture into. All right. The Phantom puts the poacher and his guides in the Llongo’s care and recommends they be handed over to the Jungle Patrol. And resolves to go into the forbidden forest by himself to track down the wounded lion.

That’s where the story sits as the first full week of May begins.

Next Week!

I get a lightweight week as one of the two-or-maybe-three Sunday continuity strips gets its attention. Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant comes up next time, and we’ll see how my shifting the publication date to Tuesdays helps.

What’s Going On In Alley Oop (Weekdays)? What’s with the aliens at the pyramids? February – April 2020


And now let me catch you up on the main, weekday continuity for Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop. All my posts about the strip, Sunday and weekday, should be at this link. If you’re reading this after about August 2020 I should have a more up-to-date plot recap, too.

Alley Oop.

3 February – 25 April 2020.

I last checked in when Alley Oop was starting a new story. The gang had fled Time Jail and locked the other universes out of their, Universe-2, continuity for a year. So let’s see what they’re doing with that time.

Wonmug, in the house of a colonial Loyalist: 'I think I've made a terrible mistake. I really should go.' Loyalist: 'You're on the wrong side of history, my friend.' Wonmug: 'I've heard that one before.' Loyalist: 'God save the King! Taxation without representation is fine by me!' (As Wonmug flees) 'I'll never stop fighting for our dependence!'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Allison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 12th of February, 2020. Just on the off chance, I did check to see whether the Loyalist here — Phineas Bottleneck — was a real person and, no. This did, though, lead me to discover the “Free State of Bottleneck”, a small chunk of German territory west of the Rhine composed of territory not occupied by the British, French, or Americans. It had a quasi-statehood from 1919 until 1923, when the French occupied the Ruhr and made the other zones of occupation irrelevant. And it left behind stamps and currency, so that’s exciting for people who collect those things. Anyway I’m always delighted to learn of more obscure, short-lived microstates and Free Cities and stuff.

The team has a mission: get some tea from the Boston Tea Party. The billionaire Drew Copious wants some. All right. They zap back to Boston and have some trouble hooking up with the tea party. Falling afoul of Loyalists, not being able to find the right wharf, that sort of thing. But they find the spot, and join in tossing tea overboard, except for one crate that Alley Oop swapped out ahead of time. With success and tea in hand, they head back to the present.

Wonmug, Alley Oop, and Ooona arriving at Copious's manion. Oop: 'Here we are! Wait, where are we?' Wonmug: 'We're at the estate of new newest client, billionaire Drew Copious.' Ooola: 'Can I ask him how he got his money? Find out of it was by exploiting his workers or through the dumb luck of the genetic lottery?' Wonmug: 'Let's not lead with that.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Allison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 2nd of March, 2020. Such a naive question, Ooola! He’s a billionaire. He needed both.

Copious offers another mission. And promises wealth beyond their reasonable dreams if they finish his tests. The first: he wants proof that aliens built the pyramids. Ooola finds something fishy about all this, but Wonmug points out: money! You don’t get billions of dollars without falling for loads of racist pseudoscientific codswallop. So they’re off to Ancient Egypt.

They get to a pyramid construction site. Oop falls in with the brick-movers. Wonmug passes himself off as an architectural inspector, and while snooping around finds an alien! Sellomina is a creature from the planet Nu-Dell, and is … just … nothing. Kind of a clod. They’re only, maybe, six or eight weeks more advanced than humans. And that only in some areas. They bought a Marinarian spaceship to get here. And can’t even get the eight-track to work. (Explanation for younger readers: the eight-track was a thing that cars had in the seventies. It didn’t work.)

Wonmug, walking in the desert with an alien: 'So you didn't come to Egypt to share your infinite knowledge?' Sellomina, the alien: 'Oh my, no! But for you, I will share something you may find verrry interesting. You may not know this, but sometimes a pyramid is POINTY at the top!'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Allison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 6th of April, 2020. So one problem with the snarky tone of the strip is that it’s not obvious from one day’s panel that Sellomina here is dumb and not sarcastic.

Ooola, meanwhile, gets mistaken for the Princess Lula, and is whisked away to the royal apartments. Where the real Princess Lula also is. They’re somehow identical. Lula is not upset. She sees this as a great chance to set up a Parent Trap situation. Not the movie, which she doesn’t know about. No, she wants to put her parents in a trap, so she can get away and marry Pardel, an alien she loves. Ooola is up for this.

Lula's mother: 'All right, Lula, we're here. What is it?' Lula's father: 'We're standing on the X, just like you asked, not that we don't have better things to do.' Lula: 'Now!' and Ooola pulls a rope; a wooden cage drops on Lula's parents. Mother: 'What is the meaning of this?' Father: 'Let us out right this instant!' Lula: 'What are you doing?' Ooola, who was opening the cage: 'Sorry. They're royalty! I thought I had to do what they said.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Allison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 13th of April, 2020. And this is the end of the Lula storyline. She thanks Ooola for her help and gives her a jewel-encrusted scarab as a reward but we’re left to infer the rest of her whole story with Pardel, including whether they do ultimately marry.

So things work out for the player-characters. Ooola helps Lula trap her parents. Alley Oop finishes building a pyramid himself. Wonmug is convinced that the aliens were just in the way of building the pyramids. Sellomina gives Wonmug the highest piece of Nu-Del technology: a pencil. Used for cleaning gunk out of ears. Pretty sure the Nu-Del aliens don’t have ears.

Ooola: 'So aliens didn't help build the pyramids?' Wonmug: 'Oh my, no. I think they'd have trouble building something small and two-dimensional, much less something as monumental as the pyramids. From what I could ascertain, they've been no help whatsoever. Mostly just getting in the way and asking a lot of dumb questions.' Alley Oop: 'Hey, why are you guys looking at me?'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Allison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 18th of April, 2020. It’s an understated dramatic irony that off in his own neglected subplot, Alley Oop did build a pyramid without Wonmug or Ooola noticing.

A pencil isn’t much of an alien artifact, but it’s what they have. They return to the present and give Copious the news. He’s not disappointed to learn that aliens are dumb. He declares if there were intelligent life in the universe, it would have visited him. So, yeah, can’t fault the characterization here. He’s got more missions, and gives them the run of his mansion for a couple days off.

And, in private, does a thingy with the pencil. The image of an alien he calls Farfell appears. Farfell acknowledges Copious acquiring the device and asks if he’s ready to commence their plan. So that’s something.

I feel the last couple months have been strong ones for the weekday continuity. There’s been a solid enough story. While there have been side bits of nonsense, they’ve been kept short. Princess Lula talking about the Parent Trap, which seems like a reality-breaking joke, subverts that expectation. Having aliens be in Ancient Egypt, but just killing time there, is a fair enough joke. Having Copious and Farfell up to something makes the joke also a useful story element. I’d say this is reflected in how I see fewer complaints about what’s happened to Alley Oop. But I suspect the bigger factor is people wanting to know what’s wrong with Mark Trail suddenly. And after that it’ll be [spinning the wheel] what the heck happened to Gil Thorp.

Next Week!

The Ghost Who Walks, weekdays! It’s to be Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom and his mission of … punching out The Python, unless something interrupts. See you then.

What’s Going On In Alley Oop (Sundays)? How does Little Alley Oop time-travelling fit continuity? February – April 2020


Something I didn’t expect happened the 9th of February, 2020, which you may remember was three million years ago. This was a Sunday strip, when Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers have been doing panels about Little Oop, Alley Oop as a kid. They started a story.

This story’s been going on since then. I do not know whether they mean to make the Sunday strips a regular ongoing continuity. So I don’t know how to fit it into my weekly plot recaps. For now, I’m making it a side post to my main weekday-continuity plot recap. I’ll keep the Sunday recaps, and the weekday ones, tagged as Alley Oop so you can read them here.

Yes, I agree it’s a weird coincidence that this Sunday story started so close to the last time I did a plot recap. Back in February, I was more distracted that the weekday strips were starting a new story at the same time.

Little Oop.

3 February – 25 April 2020.

The story started with a girl popping in from nowhere, wondering why it wasn’t 1999, seeing Little Oop’s pet dinosaur Max and fleeing. She’s Penelope. She’s invented a time machine. And she’s freaked out by the dinosaurs and volcanoes and ice ages and all that. When a mammoth charges at them she hits the thingy on her thingy, and zaps herself and Little Oop to the present. Bit of a mistake. The mammoth was just eager to share cookies.

Little Oop: 'Got any ideas how to get me home?' Penelope: 'Sorry, Alley, not yet. It's really complicated and I don't now how long it'll take to figure out. Anyway I've got to take a break. The weekend is almost over.' Alley: 'The WHAT-end?' Penelope: 'I've got school tomorrow and I think you should come with me.' Alley: 'Why?' Penelope: 'I can't let you stay here. You don't know anything about modern life. You'd probably try to make a fire in the kitchen to keep warm!' Alley: 'Fair point. Quick question, though, can I make a fire in the living room?' Penelope gets nervous and sweats. Alley: 'Ha ha! Just kidding!' Penelope: 'Oh, phew.' Alley amends a note: 'Where I can make a fire: lab, Penelope's room, Kitchen, Outside, Stairs, Living Room'. Kitchen and Outside are crossed out (Too Scary), and Alley crosses out Living Room.
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Allison Sayers’s Little Oop for the 29th of March, 2020. So, not looking to short-circuit the plot here, and Penelope is a kid of indeterminate age. But if she had watched the Bill and Ted movies she would understand she just has to decide really hard where she’s going to find the parts she needs. And then some follow-through, of course.

Her time machine contracts plot issues. Little Oop’s stuck in the present for a while. He’s got to hide. Penelope figures it’s better if she keeps him close by. So she smuggles him in to school. Still dressed as a caveman, but, trying to put him in regular clothes didn’t really work. Little Oop meets Penelope’s friend Julius. He’s described as a mathlete, and he resembles Little Oop’s friend Garg.

At school. Penelope: 'Don't be nervous, Alley, you'll fit right in.' Alley: 'You really think so?' Penelope: 'Sure, eventually.' Alley's terrified by kids on skateboards, tossing a ball, playing guitar, looking at phones. Penelope: 'It must be pretty different from your school back home, huh?' Alley: 'You have no idea.' Penelope: 'Let's focus on one thing. Look at this wall, you probably had walls at your school, right?' Alley: 'The walls at my school were stone. What are these? Some sort of high-tech rectangle magic?' Penelope: 'They're called 'bricks'.' Alley: 'ARGH! Everything is so different!'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Allison Sayers’s Little Oop for the 12th of April, 2020. Yes, yes, you know I’m a mathematics person, so the phrase “high-tech rectangle magic” is aimed at amusing me.

Does that resemblance signify anything? Maybe. It did strike me that as part of the Time Jail storyline we met Dr Piedra, Dr Wonmug’s Universe-3 equivalent. She’s a time-travelling scientist and wears a purple … uh … hair thingy. Penelope’s hair is noticeably purple. But if we’re supposed to link them, well, Penelope wears glasses and Dr Piedra doesn’t. There are plenty of explanations for this in real people. But comic strip convention relies on characters keeping some key accessories. (And, yes, their head shapes are different, but to my eye about the same way grown-up Alley Oop and kid Little Oop’s shapes are different.)

Anyway I guess we’ll see in the Sundays whether there are any stories to find in a scientist’s time machine stranding a caveman in the present day.

Next question: How does Little Oop having time-travel adventures in the year 2020 fit with the continuity of Alley Oop? All I can say is to offer the closing lines of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 theme: “it’s just a show, I should really just relax”. If you want it rationalized, treat this as an Alternate Universe Alley Oop. Alternate, maybe, even to the Universe-2 adventures that we’ve been reading since Lemon and Sayers took over the strip.

If you must fit this together? Well, some good news. Alley Oop, when he was first brought into the then-present of 1939, handled his experiences pretty well. He was in the present for only a few hours before … well …

[ Narrator: When Alley Oop got mad and left the house of Dr Wonmug, Ooola assured the eminent scientist that the big cave man would soon return, but ... ] Joe, assistant: 'I'm worried about our cave man, he's been gone for hours.' Wonmug: 'So am I. And it's getting dark. I think we'd better try to round him up.' Ooola: 'You didn't find Alley?' Joe: 'No, Ooola, not a trace!' Wonmug: 'I wouldn't worry. He'll probably turn up in the morning.' [ Next Morning ] Wonmug, getting the paper: 'No sign of Oop yet. Oh, well, he can't have gone far. Nothing much can happen to him.' [ Opening the paper ] 'Good heavens! It's happened!' Banner headline: 'GREAT WHITE APE STEALS & WRECKS FREIGHT TRAIN'
V T Hamlin’s Alley Oop for the 22nd of May, 1939. By the way, Alley Oop left because Wonmug and Joe were laughing at him what with how he didn’t know how to use a spoon or a fork. And, apparently, did not understand why this would be a bad laugh. They didn’t follow Alley Oop right away, on Ooola’s recommendation. But that just means they took the advice of the person most uninformed about the hazards of the surroundings. In short, Wonmug is such a STEM type and should never be allowed in charge of anything, at any time.

So, if you want to head-canon that Alley Oop had some useful childhood experiences that prepared him for adventures with Doc Wonmug and all? You have some room for that. But you do have to work out how it is that Ooola, who was also brought to 1939 Long Island and has not been brought to 2020, handled things better. (Of course, Little Ooola might come to 2020 yet.) Also, you have to rationalize Alley Oop’s problem understanding mirrors.

Alley Oop, pointing to the wreckage of the time machine: 'Y'mean I'm the guy that caused all this mess?' Meanwhile Ooola looks at herself in a small mirror. Joe: 'Yup! You short-circuited the time machine, and two years of hard work went blooie!' Wonmug: 'And now we've no way to send you back where you came from!' Oop: 'Then we ain't in Moo any more?' Joe: 'Not by a million years! You're now in the 20th century!' Oop: 'But where's ol' Guz and his gang?' Wonmug: 'I'm sorry, my friend, but I'm afraid you'll never see them again!' Oop: 'There, now, see? I toldjuh we'd outsmart them thugs!' Oop: 'Yes, yes, Alley, but don't you think my hair looks better this way?'
V T Hamlin’s Alley Oop for the 13th of April, 1939. The machine was wrecked by Alley Oop’s axe. I’m not clear whether this was the result of Alley Oop swatting at the bizarre contraption that had kidnapped him. Or was it was just the material interacted with the time machine in some weird way. In either case, I can’t attach blame to Alley Oop. Oh, uh, Alley Oop and Ooola were fleeing King Guz and all. GoComics doesn’t have the strips but my recollection is Guz thought Oop was trying to overthrow him or something. You know, the usual shenanigans.

I do not know how GoComics decided which Alley Oop stories to add to its Deep Archive. There’s even one from January 1939, before the strip included time travel. But the important one started the 7th of April, 1939, when Doc Wonmug got his movie camera back from the past. If you somehow have a bit of spare time, you might want to read the story. It’s always good to see the work that made something famous. And it’s enlightening to see how the strip has always been willing to go for the dumb joke. Also, that Doc Wonmug has a real problem with being a jerk. Also, turns out, a daughter. Huh.

Next Day!

I’ll recap the plot in the weekday-continuity Alley Oop. Unless something goes wrong.

Why does Heart Of The City look weird now? Who’s drawing Heart Of The City?


OK, it doesn’t look weird, yet. But for once I’m ahead of the search queries to my blog and I’m enjoying that.

As per D D Degg’s article in The Daily Cartoonist, the comic strip Heart of the City has a new cartoonist. Christina Stewart takes over the strip starting the 27th of April. She’s the creator of a fantasy graphic novel, Archival Quality, which I haven’t read but do see good things about. Her art blog, on tumblr, also looks quite good. She doesn’t intend to draw the strip the way its originator, Mark Tatulli, has.

Tatulli, meanwhile, intends to keep on drawing Lio, and to focus on his own graphic novels. But, also, if you wondered why this week Heart has been looking over photo albums, we have an explanation.

What’s Going On In The Amazing Spider-Man? Have they hired new cartoonists yet? January – April 2020


Nope, no cartoonists yet. We’re still rerunning a Roy Thomas and Larry Lieber story from 2015-16. If the story will repeat in full, then it will end in the middle of June. The following story would be a team-up with Doctor Strange to fight Xandu. I have not heard anything about hiring a new creative team. Given the lead time needed for comics that run on Sundays, I expect this means the strip is not leaving reruns anytime soon.

If I get any news, I will post it in an essay at this link, where you can find other plot recaps for The Amazing Spider-Man. At least until I decide that rerun Spidey has had enough of my attention.

The Amazing Spider-Man.

27 January – 18 April 2020.

Namor, the Sub-Mariner, ruler of Atlantis, is condemning the surface world for its crimes against the oceans again. He’s not exactly wrong, again. He has noticed this Mary Jane Parker is a feisty woman-type and wants to marry her. Namor declares he’ll take her as a princess anytime she wants, and heads off to make war on the world’s shipping. Mary Jane kind of swoons, thinking she might talk him out of this round of condemning the surface world and all.

News: 'The cargo vessel was sunk at the Sub-Mariner's command!' Peter: 'And you thought Namor wouldn't sink any ships!' Mary Jane: 'At least he let everyone reach a lifeboat. If only I could talk to him!' Peter, chewing down on a cob of corn: 'Hey, just because he proposed to you doesn't mean you could change his mind!'
Roy Thomas and Larry Lieber’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 2nd of February, 2020. (Ahem.) “Gosh, what corny dialogue!” I’ll see myself out.

Atlantis starts sinking ships, although gently, to avoid loss of life at first. And then Water Force One, carrying Namor, shows up at the East River docks. Namor’s come to scold the United Nations. And he’s brought along an adorable water moppet. He’s Pharus, a kid who’s contracted Backstory Syndrome, suffering from human pollution and doomed never to recover. Namor says the Atlantean hospitals can’t help him. Spidey asks, well, why not try human hospitals? They’re sure to do great with a non-human child who can’t breathe air without taking an oxygen pill and who’s got all the symptoms of mer-consumption. As they punch each other, Mary Jane kidnaps Pharus. With the help of Dr Liz Bellman she gets him away from the Atlantean guards and over to Metro General Hospital.

Atlantean Guard: 'HALT or we open fire!' Mary Jane, holding a terrified Atlantean boy in her arms: 'Please, I'm trying to save this boy!' Pharus: 'LET ME GO!' Guard: 'Namor ordered us to guard the lad.' Other Guard: 'You leave us no choice ... ' Dr Bellman, swinging a stick that cracks open the guard's helmet, so his water spills out: 'There's always a choice, little boy blue!' Shocked guard: 'WHAT IN NEPTUNE'S NAME?'
Roy Thomas and Larry Lieber’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 16th of March, 2020. The art in the newspaper Spider-Man strip, at least its last decades, was mostly serviceable. But I appreciate that, by luck or design, in that first panel there Pharus’s face perfectly captures that moment when everything is spinning out of control into something new and horrifying and bad. It’s amazing to think that it was drawn well before 2016.

Namor tosses Spider-Man into the water, where they can fight on the Sub-Mariner’s home lack-of-ground. Mary Jane scolds Namor, who says there’s no reason for him to keep fighting now that he’s beaten. Namor accepts Mary Jane’s answer to where Pharus went, and then heads to the United Nations, in session.

He informs the assembled heads of state that he’s taking over the seas. If the surface-dwellers keep control, after all, Earth will soon be dead. It’s a complaint he’s made before and, again, he’s not exactly wrong. He gives the United Nations one day to figure out how it’s going to fix pollution and that’s it. And then he leaves, before anyone can stop him. And almost before Spider-Man wakes up again.

Robbie Robertson: 'How can you think Spider-Man's IN LEAGUE with Namor, when Peter's photos show the Atlantean dragging him in the water?' Jameson: 'Pictures can lie, Robbie. I say the two of them headed underwater to avoid witnesses while they plotted strategy!'
Roy Thomas and Larry Lieber’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 10th of April, 2020. I don’t read the comic books, except that one where the “I don’t want to cure cancer, I want to turn people into dinosaurs” meme came from, and I’m an estimated sixteen Spider-Man movies behind current. Am I correct in supposing, though, that when Robinson feels things are a little slow he just tosses out, like, three names and a place to hear Jameson’s conspiracy theory for Spider-Man connecting them? If not, then I am happy to sell this scene to Marvel Entertainment Products LLC for a reasonable rate, inquire within.

Well, at least Peter Parker can sell some pictures of Spider-Man fighting with Namor. J Jonah Jameson is delighted to have proof that Spider-Man and Namor are in a state of cahootery. While Jameson explains his reasoning, though, the still-woozy Peter Parker faints. Parker says he got hit by debris during the fight. Jameson sees a chance to rush to Metro General Hospital. Which turns out to be a lucky break: Peter Parker mentions that’s where Mary Jane said the Atlantean boy was. So now Jameson figures to prowl around the hospital until he finds Pharus.


Will Jameson, and Spider-Man, find the Atlantean boy? Will there be some act of human kindness that melts Namor’s hardened heart? Will the surface world remain in control of the seas? Will there be an astounding link to the policewoman Betty Dean who headed off the Sub-Mariner’s destruction of the surface world in 1940? Will Scrooge become a second father to the boy, who did not die? There are two ways to find out, one of them coming back here around mid-July and the other looking at late 2015 and early 2016 on Comics Kingdom. Your choice.

Next Week!

Eh, nothing much. What’s Moo with you?

Statistics Saturday: Where More Comic Strips Are Set


Since it turns out people like geography! Who knew?

Comic Strip Setting
The Brilliant Mind of Edison Lee Anytown, USA
One Big Happy Anytown, USA
Buckles Anytown, USA
FoxTrot Anytown, USA
Red and Rover Anytown, USA
Between Friends Anytown, Canada [1]
Heathcliff Anytown, USA
Shoe Anytown, Delmarva Peninsula, Virginia
Graffiti Anytown, USA
Rose is Rose Anytown, USA
Bleeker: The Rechargeable Dog Anytown, USA
Ginger Meggs Anytown, Australia

[1] “Anytown, Canada” means “Suburban Toronto”.

Reference: Yerkes Observatory, 1892-1950: The Birth, Near Death, and Resurrection of a Scientific Research Institution, Donald E Osterbrock.

What’s Going On In Judge Parker? When will the pandemic reach the story strips? January – April 2020


So here’s the thing about comic strips: they have lead time. Cartoonists can work as far ahead of deadline as the like, but deadline for weekday comics is about two weeks ahead of publication. It takes time to distribute and print. Note that comic strips are usually in the sections of the paper that are not so time-sensitive. Especially the Sunday comics. So they get printed when the presses are available. Sunday comics, with color done on purpose, need more time: on average about two months.

Cartoonists can respond to emergencies. A few months ago Patrick McDonnell cancelled a Mutts sequence in which Mooch dreamed of being in Australia, in deference to the wildfires. Story strips have a harder time doing sudden changes like that. This especially since most of them have weekday and Sunday continuity tied together. Terry Beatty, of Rex Morgan, M.D., recently wrote about this lead time. The just-begun Truck Tyler storyline will not even mention Covid-19 until its end, the 31st of May. This even though it’s the story comic for which the pandemic is most on-point.

So, that Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker mentioned social distancing means they are doing some astounding last-minute rewriting. But that’s also happening in my future too. If you’re reading this essay after about July 2020, and there is a time after July 2020, you’ll see how the pandemic plays out in an essay at this link, I hope. For now, let me catch things up for the last three months which began twenty years ago.

Judge Parker.

20 January – 12 April 2020

Last time, Retired Judge and original protagonist Alan Parker figured to run for Mayor of Cavelton. This despite that thing where he’d been incarcerated for helping an arms merchant fake his death to avoid rival terror gangs. And only got out of jail because said merchant of death blackmailed a judge. That sort of baggage. Meanwhile, Sophie Spencer is still recovering from her months-long kidnapping at the hands of her mother’s previously-unsuspected half-sister. She can’t understand even thinking about going to college. She talks to Abbey about not going to college, which turns into an enormous ongoing explosion. Everybody’s mad with everybody else. Also meanwhile, Neddy and Ronnie sold the premise of their series, about April Formerly Parker, to a studio that doesn’t want their script.

Sophie, counting off her fingers: 'OK, as a campaign manager you're going to need political consultants, communication, financial, legal and technology departments, a constant on-the-ground presence with a storefront campaign office, and activists who --- ' Abbey: 'Sophie, instead of finding all these projects to work on, if you'd just focus on your college applications ... ' Sophie: 'OK, one, you didn't mind when that project was your B-n-B. And two, I told you, I'm not going to college.' Sam Driver: 'Okay, Okay ... '
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 31st of January, 2020. I didn’t get much into how spikey the relationship between Sophie and Abbey has gotten, but it’s pretty important. I don’t think there was a single interaction between them the past three months that didn’t end in someone having to break it up, or storm out of the room. So that’s an important level to remember for the future.

Alan talks with his son Randy Parker about his mayoral ambitions. Randy points out the idea is stupid and crazy. But, hey, what’s life for if not doing the stupid and crazy thing? Alan wants Sam Driver as campaign manager. Sam thinks it over. This gives Sophie the idea it might be fun to run a campaign. She works up a Leslie Knope file of campaign plans, and Sam takes that and the job.

In Hollywood, Neddy Spencer and Ronnie Huerta have mixed news. Their April Parker-based show is developing into a pilot. Nothing of their work is getting in, though. Except that the studio likes Cavelton, as a place, and figures to shoot on location. At least for the pilot. And use Neddy especially as scout for good locations and bits of local color and all. They get a story-by credit and a mission of finding places that will look good on screen. Ronnie mourns the loss of her Los Angeles apartment and their move to Cavelton. This seems to me premature; even if they do have to live in Cavelton for months, that is only months. They could at least ask the studio to cover rent.

[ Ronnie and Neddy discuss their meeting with the studio.] Ronnie: 'How can you be happy with how that went?' Neddy: 'What are you talking about? We may get to be on the writing staff of a TV show!' Ronnie: 'In Cavelton.' Neddy: 'Don't knock my hometown! And I thought you found Cavelton charming!' Tonnie: 'To visit! I didn't move from my rustic hometown to L.A. to then move to some other rustic village. And even you said you were happier in L.A.' Neddy: 'OK, one, it's not rustic, it's bucolic. And two, I'm happy to be in L.A. for the opportunities. And this is a killer opportunity, Ronnie!' Ronnie: 'I bet Cavelton is either too hot or too cold most of the year.' Neddy: 'OK, can we talk about anything except how much you don't want to be where I'm from?'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 16th of February, 2020. I get where Neddy is coming from, because I’m from New Jersey, and I like that fact. And when I tell people where I’m from, I don’t get a lot of “Oh, that’s great, I always wanted to visit there someday.” What I get is “Really? But you don’t sound like you’re from New Jersey, you sound like you’re from … uh … ” and then they give up, raise a distraction, and run from the room.

Alan Parker announces his “possible” run. Local News anchor Toni Bowen reports this, while showing footage of him going into custody for helping an arms dealer. And interviews his judge, who Sam Driver got blackmailed off the bench. Alan’s hurt. Driver asks what he thought was going to happen. And that Alan has to make clear what it is he thinks is so important that it takes him to do it.

Sophie tries to recruit Honey Ballinger, another survivor of the kidnapping plot, to campaign. Ballinger points out she should research the other candidates and not just support the one who’s family. Sophie wonders why Alan Parker isn’t volunteering to support someone then, instead of going straight for power.

Bowen: 'What is it with the men in this town?! Your dad thinks he should just be handed yet another opportunity in a world where most people don't get a first crack at anything. You're so solipsistic you're clinically incapable of empathy. And Sam is so arrogant that he thinks asking for a favor should get him a reward. You three are the incomplete Mount Rushmore this town deserves --- a monument to the spiritually destitute who keep demanding that statues be made in their honor.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 6th of March, 2020. Randy Parker runs after her, sputtering, “But ever since Marciuliano took over it’s way less like that! We have buildings fall into sinkholes and stuff like that! It’s different now!”

Randy Parker goes to ask Toni Bowen what her deal is, exactly. Why so mean to his father? I mean, Randy and Bowen used to date, so what’s wrong? She unloads on him: he may be the protagonist but that doesn’t mean everyone he hurts doesn’t count too. After telling him off and leaving, she realizes she’s still ranting at him in her head. She wants to do something useful with this anger at entitled elitists. But she settles for writing an op-ed piece instead.

Identifying the ways society is screwing up for everybody but the elites does bring some response. Her boss at the station is upset that Bowen’s getting unauthorized attention, and puts her on leave. Meanwhile, Sophie notices Bowen’s editorial and thinks: now that’s a mayoral candidate. She goes to Bowen, who wants to know why everyone in the Parker-Spencer-Driver nexus is stalking her. Sophie argues that if Bowen believes in what she wrote, then, she’s got the chance to do something. And, a few weeks (story time; reader time it’s the next day) the Toni Bowen for Mayor campaign office opens. This despite the candidate not being completely sure this is a good idea.

At the small, nearly deserted Bowen campaign office. Honey: 'Soph, what are we doing here? Our own candidate doesn't even seem to want to run.' Sophie: 'Honey, remember why we're taking a year off before college --- to find ourselves! And what better way to do that than to fight for a cause we believe in!' Honey: 'By 'finding ourselves' I meant traveling while having the occasional euphoric epiphany at a charming cafe.' Sophie: 'Well, once we have a bigger staff we'll be able to take some time off.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 26th of March, 2020. There is a really interesting campaign dynamic here, since Bowen is basically running to spite her boss. Sophie is there because she needs a Project that is Anything But College, in part to spite her mother. And Honey is there because … well, she feels like she should be friends with Sophie, but doesn’t much care about who gets elected. It’s got to be fun to write, given all the dramatic potential. I don’t blame readers who decide this is going to be too messy and perilous to enjoy reading, though. Also, Honey is a senior in high school. I grant there are 18-year-olds who will string together a phrase like “occasional euphoric epiphany”; I was one of them. But absolutely all of us, me included, need to knock that off.

Alan Parker’s campaign gets under way too. This with a $1,000-a-plate fundraiser at Abbey Spencer’s newly-opened bed-and-breakfast. The one that was formerly a barn. Channel 6 reporter Not Toni Bowen sets up a nice softball, letting Parker present this as celebrating local small business owner. You know, Abbey Spencer, millionaire and mother of Toni Bowen’s campaign manager.

And the TV crew finally settles into town, ready to start filming. Kat Alyson, playing Neddy Spencer, is thrilled to meet Neddy Spencer. Alyson bubbles over in that excited, outgoing way that makes me terrified of someone. Huerta finds Alyson surprisingly attractive too. I’m sure this will not make for any weirdness in her relationship with Neddy or anyone else, ever.

Filming is a big deal for Mayor Sanderson, who insists it’s a great deal for town. Sure, the TV production isn’t paying taxes. But there’ll be all kinds of money that falls out of the pockets of wealthy people as they waddle around filming. That’s just how tax incentive plans work. Then Sophie crashes the set, holding up a protest sign and chanting, “Mayor Sanderson is the real actor here!” She got help from that guy on Conan O’Brien’s show with the bad chants. She tries to complain about the deal, and gets distracted by it also being so cool to see Neddy on a film set.

And that gets us to the start of this week, which saw the first mention of the pandemic in the story comics. I know what you’re wondering: well, isn’t the film crew staying in Abbey’s bed-and-breakfast? My guess for that is no, because the renovations kept dragging out and the film crew would need reservations they could count on. Would have been great for Abbey if it worked that way. That’s my guess, though. We’ll see how it develops in the next months.

Next Week!

Oh, hey, how are those “great new stories and art” from the returned … oh. No, Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s The Amazing Spider-Man is still in reruns, and the middle of a story. So I can really write up next week’s plot recap today and not miss anything. Well, I’ll keep stirring those ashes a bit yet.

Statistics Saturday: Where Comic Strips Are Set


Note: comic strip locations even when tied to the real world are often fictionalized to some extent, allowing for, for example, wintertime snows even if this would be unlikely to happen every year, or as severely as is shown. Or they are synthesized from pieces of more than one location. Don’t @ me. Fun activity: spot the error!

Comic Strip Setting
Pogo Okefenokee Swamp, Georgia
The Family Circus Scottsdale, Arizona
Get Fuzzy Boston
Frazz Lansing metropolitan area, Michigan
Wallace the Brave Rhode Island
Peanuts Sebastopol/Needles, California
Funky Winkerbean Akron/Strongsville, Ohio
Andy Capp Hartlepool, England, UK
Monty Middlesex County, New Jersey
The Fusco Brothers Newark, New Jersey
Non Sequitur Maine
Sherman’s Lagoon Near the Palau Archipelago, Federated States of Micronesia
Blondie Joplin, Missouri
JumpStart Philadelphia
Breaking Cat News New England
Fred Basset London

Reference: Yerkes Observatory, 1892-1950: The Birth, Near Death, and Resurrection of a Scientific Research Institution, Donald E Osterbrock.

Fear Not, in these trying times, Compu-Toon is still baffling


So I know everybody’s having a hard time of it, except for those of us having an impossibly hard time of it. Thus I would like to reassure you all: Charles Boyce’s Compu-Toon is still baffling. Here’s Thursday’s strip.

Woman looking at her phone, which looks like it has a stubby antenna rather than being a modern smart phone, and thinking: 'I need less space for that adjective to work.' Caption: 'Six feet texting can cause big gaps.'
Charles Boyce’s Compu-Toon for the 9th of April, 2020. Also I think some of her texting problem might be that she’s trying to text using an AT&T Cordless 5500 from about 1993.

This one hits a real sweet spot for being baffling. I think I can work out what neighborhood the joke should be in. My guess is Boyce wants to make some comment about the physical distancing that’s needed for public physical health, and the computer-aided socialization that’s needed for public mental health, and then … from there I lose the thread. But I think I’m looking in the right place. If someone has a better idea, please, let me know.

And, again, I don’t want to slag Charles Boyce too hard here. From what I can make out, he seems to be a kind-hearted and well-intended person. And he’s that rarest of things, the cartoonist who’s older than Gen X but who still likes the Internet. At least as a concept. It’s just, sometimes, the idea in Boyce’s head doesn’t make it onto paper recognizably. I know that pain.


Also, since this is the weekend people would like to know, here’s my little guide to what color eggs the various Paas tablets are. Good luck with your own eggs.