What’s Going On In Rex Morgan, M.D.? Why is the mob after Rene Belluso? July – October 2019


Thanks for being here, readers of Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D.. This recap should get you in touch with the story as it exists in mid-October 2019. If you’re reading this after about January 2020 I probably have a more up-to-date recap at this link. That might be what you need instead.

On my other blog I read the comic strips for their mathematical content. You might find that fun too.

Rex Morgan, M.D..

22 July – 13 October 2019.

Rex Morgan, M.D., was going to face down Serena Galexia, center figure of the Celestial Healing movement. This on behalf of Lana Lewton. Lana’s husband Merle has gone all in for Galexia’s spiritual healing of chemtrail toxins. The process costs only all the cash he can get. Galexia is holding an in-person seminar, in town, right soon. Merle wants Lana to attend. Lana wants Rex to come so he can write up a thoughtful rebuttal for Skeptical Inquirer.

Angie: 'The meeting room is looking good, Rene. Er. Brother Almonzo.' Rene: 'Thanks - MISS GALEXIA. I want it to be just right. We're going to make a lot of dough here.' Angie: 'I hope so. I want to pay off my student loans. Who'd think art school would cost so much?'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 2nd of August, 2019. Who’d think art school would cost so much? Well, anybody who’s bought any art supply, ever. I mean, just buying an eraser the size of your thumb will set you back like 25 bucks. A Strathmore 400-series 100-sheet sketchpad? That’ll run you up to $280. Want to do digital? The free drawing programs cost $2200 each. In short, if you ever commission someone to do a picture for you, tip them like 5000% of their ask price, okay?

Everyone’s excited for the show over at Galexia Sanctuary Master Command. It’s a smaller operation than you might imagine. Serena Galexia herself is someone name of Angie. She’s the public face. The mastermind of the operation is Brother Almonzo. Or, as he’s known to the strip, Rene Belluso.


We last saw Belluso about two years ago. He was forging 50s comics art “Horrible” Hank Harwood pages as part of a scheme to break up Buck Harwood and his girlfriend Mindy. Before that, Belluso had last been a regular player in the strip from 2014 to 2016. Belluso was introduced by the former writer, Woody Wilson.

The last few years of Wilson’s writing saw a lot of people finding reasons to throw incredible good fortune at Rex Morgan and family. In particular, young Sarah Morgan turned out to be an artistic prodigy. A local mob widow took an interest in her, and sponsored art lessons. Her tutor: Rene Belluso. When Terry Beatty took over writing much of the over-the-top stuff got dialed down. Sarah Morgan’s artistic super-geniusnessocity, for example, got wiped out by a car accident that gave her Soap Opera Amnesia. She forgot a year of her life and how to draw.

[ Rene has exited the studio via the fire escape ] Mobster 1: 'Mr Belluso isn't here?' Kelly: 'No --- we don't know where he went.' Sophie: 'What'cha lookin' for him for?' Mobster 1: 'Oh, Mr Belluso was supposed to collect some artifacts for me on a recent trip to Moscow, but it seems he never made the trip.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 25th of July, 2016. I bet this guy is upset he didn’t hire Boss, Jefe, and Juanito over from off of Mark Trail.

On the way to this, one of Sarah’s painting lessons got interrupted. Two rather grim-looking men pulled up in a car, and that freaked Belluso way the heck out. He apologized, said Sarah might not ever see him again, pulled off his wig, and bugged out of the strip for a while. The men told Sarah and her babysitter Kelly that Belluso had pocketed the money given him to buy some stuff in Russia. This was one of the final straws before June and Rex Morgan pulled Sarah out of the mob widow’s sphere.

And once again I owe Mark Carlson-Ghost’s web site, listing appearances of characters in Rex Morgan, M.D., gratitude.. I’d earlier used another page on the site to work out the deal with Norton in Judge Parker. Thanks to Carlson-Ghost’s work I was able to track down just what was Rene Belluso’s deal.


Back to this year. Rene Belluso’s new scam is this health-scam marketing business. They’ve got the meeting room, they’ve got the merch, they’ve got a good twenty people signed up for the seminar. What could go wrong? Well, Rex Morgan could recognize Belluso right away and reveal who he is to the whole crowd. But, on entering, Rex thinks there’s something familiar about Brother Almonzo, but can’t place it. So, no problems then, right?

Galexia: 'Dear fellow travelers in this earthly realm, I have come to bring you the celestial truth. My spirit guides will speak to you this very day. Chiron and Ninazu --- whose portraits you see here, painted by my faithful servant Brother Almonzo --- will speak from beyond the veil!' Rex, thinking: 'PAINTED by Brother Almonzo? I thought that voice sounded familiar!'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 9th of August, 2019. “And afterwards, we’re going off to the southwest to help Savior Z keep those alien invaders off on the other side of the Moon, where it’s safe!

But then Angie Serena Galexia mentions how Brother Almonzo painted portraits of her spirit guides, Chiro and Ninazu. That’s the clue he needed. Morgan steps over to the side and demands — he’s not sure what exactly. But Belluso is happy to refund Merle’s money, that’s doable. Rex declares no, he’s going to shut this down. Belluso makes an offer. He could give kickbacks if Morgan referred hypochondriacs their way. Morgan has a counter-offer. He won’t tell Belluso’s mobster pals where Belluso is if he leaves town and never returns. Now. Belluso takes the deal.

Merle: 'What's going on here? Why are you calling each other Angie and Rene?' Rene/Almonzo: 'Nothing to be concerned with, sir. Please make your way to the exit.' Merle: 'This isn't right. Something's up here. Are you two even the real Galexia and Almonzo?' Lana: 'Honey, don't you get it? There IS no real Galexia and Almonzo. These two are complete phonies.' Merle: 'But there HAS to be. On the podcast and the phone ... they ... I ... I don't get it.' Rene: 'I assure you all is well, dear friends, we simply must call an end to today's meeting.' Angie/Galexia: 'But if we don't sell all that merch, where am I gonna get the money to pay my student loan?' Merle buries his head in his hands. Lana says, 'Would now be a good time for Dr Morgan to tell you my blood test showed no sign of 'chemtrail poisoning'?'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 18th of August, 2019. So, little tip for anyone running their own confidence scam: ahead of time, work up a vague yet plausible-sounding reason to shut down a meeting early. Maybe say a carbon monoxide alarm went off in the building and they want to be safe for everyone. Maybe that Galexia’s vague relative has had an emergency. Maybe something on-theme, like there’s been a sudden flutter in the vril levels and Galexia has to commune with Chiron and Ninazu right now. Belluso might be well-advised to take an improv class before trying performance scams like this next time.

Brother Almonzo shuts down the seminar. And her calls Galexia “Angie”. Galexia calls him “Rene” back. Merle starts suspecting something is wrong. So do other followers. You know, the way people will when something weird embarrasses someone they’ve given lots of time and thousands of dollars to. Merle pulls of Belluso’s fake beard and wig. He and Angie flee into the night.

Merle admits that yeah, he fell for an incredibly obvious scam, he’s sorry. Lana admits that yeah, Merle felle for an incredibly obvious scam. Also she’s going to grab some bath salts and candles from the merch table because, what the heck. They’re owed it.

Rex goes home and recaps the story for June. So if you wanted to you could just read the week from the 1st of September and skip this whole essay. Sorry to take up so much of your time.


With a phone call on the 6th of September the new story begins. Yes, it’s the rare midweek segue. It’s Buck Wise, reporting, “It’s time.” He and Mindy are going to the hospital.

So yeah, that was a surprise. Who knew the characters in a story comic could have sex? And in a subplot? I mean, when June was pregnant she was carrying for like 27 months and I don’t think that’s even my exaggeration.

Mindy: 'Well, it turns out my health issues won't keep me from having kids after all.' Buck: 'Really? They found some treatment or something?' Mindy: 'Not so much that. More like sometimes something that only has a slim chance of happening --- happens.' Buck: 'Wait a minute. Are you telling me what I think you're telling me?'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 18th of September, 2019. It’s so funny to see Buck thinking that someone might have found a treatment that cures a medical condition. Hasn’t he caught on how that’s not revenue-effective anymore? Anyway, I do like how he’s confused and picks this all up slowly, in part because Mindy has been so indirect in giving the news.

But from that point we’ve been in flashbacks. First, Mindy having a lingering heartburn. She turns to the Morgan Clinic for medical help. June diagnoses pregnancy. Mindy didn’t think that possible, because of her polycystic ovarian syndrome. But June explains that only makes pregnancy extremely unlikely, which isn’t the same thing as impossible.

Moving forward a bit. While going out to dinner, Mindy trips and falls down the front steps. Well, if you’re going to love Buck, you’re going to fall down steps. I don’t make the rules. The emergency room says Mindy is fine, and the baby is fine, but they should get several weeks of bed rest anyway. Mindy’s reasonable question: why?

[ Mindy's time on bed rest is almost over. ] Mindy: 'I hope the doctor will give baby and me a clean bill of health.' Buck: 'Likewise. I know it's been difficult.' Mindy: 'You'd think lying in bed all day woud be a treat, until you have to do it.' Buck: 'You made a big dent in your 'to be read someday' books, though.' Mindy: 'True, and I caught up on all those TV series everyone but me seems to have seen already. And Corey taught me how to win at that Retro Cartoon Video Game you like, so next time we play, look out.' Buck: 'No time like the present. Shall we see who's the better player?' Mindy: 'Oh, you're ON, pal.' Buck: 'Let the cartoon begin!'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 13th of October, 2019. So, as ever, I like depictions of married couples who just like hanging out with each other. It’s hard to figure why you’d want to marry someone you didn’t like just being around. Distracting me, though, is the vagueness of Mindy’s interests. To talk about a pile of ‘to be read someday’ books is fine; that’s how normal people will talk about games. And ‘tv series everyone else but me seems to have seen already’? Also fine. Earlier in the storyline she referred to her DVR backlog shows as ‘Zombies, Women in Prison, or Kids Battling Interdimensional Monsters’. That’s genericized, but in a wryly self-snarking way that feels natural to me, like when I describe podcast genres as “three white guys laughing at each other” or “one guy trying to remember the things he wrote down in the notes he doesn’t have”. But. “that Retro Cartoon Video Game”? No, that’s too far. Pick an actual game, or make it “those retro cartoon video games”, or make up something that sounds like it might’ve been a game. Don’t do that Herb and Jamaal stuff.

The ultrasound showed a very small tear in the placenta, which should heal on its own, but they’re cautious. Fair enough. The strip since then has been Mindy trying to actually get bed rest. It’s a tough prescription to get, because nobody believes how fatiguing that is.

And that’s where the story is right now: in the flashbacks of Mindy getting bedrest, while she’s actually getting to the hospital. Everything seems all right despite the mishaps. But I have no information on whether that’s a fake-out ahead of a suspenseful delivery scene or what. You’ll have to check whatever the successor essay to this one is to know. Or just read the comic, that also works.

Next Week!

Will Hadley V Baxendale’s father accept her choice in fiancée, even though he’s an up-and-coming NBA player who’s not even playing for the Bulls? Will true love be able to handle both partners in a relationship being successful professionals? Will Mary Worth come in and throw muffins at Neal Rubin and Rod Whigam for poaching her business? We’ll see in a week, with the Gil Thorp plot recap, barring surprises. And at this link I’ll have recaps or news about all of the story comics that I cover. Thanks for reading.

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What’s Going On In The Phantom (Sundays)? How did The Phantom not die from getting stabbed in the heart? July – October 2019


Hi, folks who want to know how The Phantom is rescuing Kadia’s mother. That’s the weekday continuity. This essay is about Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s Sunday continuity for The Phantom. The weekday continuity recap I should have in about mid-November, at this link. Also at this link, after about January 2020, should be a later Sunday continuity recap. Thanks for reading.

The Phantom (Sundays).

14 July – 6 October 2019.

The Avari people live in the Misty Mountains. Theirs is another totalitarian state next to Bangalla. Rough neighborhood. The Khagan and a squadron of her warriors entered Bangalla, abducting an Avari dissident. The Phantom goes to do something about this. He’s encountered the Khagan before. Been captured and escaped and all that. The Phantom strides into the camp tent where the Khagan and her guards hold the dissident. He gives the Khagan a talking-to about the rule of law and democracy and all. She gives him a dagger into the heart.

[ Time to leave the Khagan's tent ] Phantom; 'This misadventure in kidnapping can serve you and your entire realm, Khagan, if you take the right lesson. Establish relations with Bangalla, a democracy! As you have with Baronkhan, a constitutional monarchy. See what you can learn from both. Don't be frightened. We're leaving.' (The Khagan lifts something from its scabbard.) Khagan: 'I wish to learn this, Phantom. Walker. Man who cannot die.' (She throws a dagger into his heart.) '*Can* you?'
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s Mary Worth for the 21st of July, 2019. So I guess there were still some rough patches in Tony DePaul’s new contract with King Features after all.

So that’s a bit of a surprise.

The Khagan takes her retinue, and her prisoner, and tromps back to the Avari lands. Meanwhile the Phantom lies there trying to work out what exactly it is he’s doing not being dead. This is a good question. He notes himself that if he were impaled by a knife big enough for that holster he’d be dead long ago. Instead, this? It’s not a knife; it’s a barbed thingy for injecting a paralyzing drug. The Khagan has a history of poisoning people, such as her brother, and drugging them. All right. He concludes that the Khagan wanted to be overheard giving her gloating speech. One about how The Phantom, if he’d been wise, would have become her consort and ruled the Avari in front of her.

So that’s some motivation, all right. Well, the Phantom puts on the backup purple stripey-pants suit he keeps for just such an emergency. He leaves the torn and bloodied one for the vultures.

Next night, the Phantom sneaks into the camp. He tries “quietly” this time. He unties the kidnapped dissident and we finally getting us a name for her. It’s Clotilde. He sends Clotilde to wait by the horses for their dramatic escape. He’s going for a non-dramatic escape, this time. He goes off to slice up the Avari’s riding tack. Clotilde … goes. Yes. But she notices some of the Avari warriors whom The Phantom tied to a tree. And she, having fought for a free Avari for so long … She takes a sword and she readies to kill them.

[ As The Phantom sabotages the Avaris' riding tack ... ] Clothilde sees two Avari warriors bound and gagged. She thinks: 'The guards he silenced! The ones who've so tormented me!!' [ With her abusers at her feet ] She flashes back to terror and torture at the Secret Police's hands. [ A warlike spirit overtakes the freedom fighter Clothilde as well! ] She takes out a sword and holds it over her head, while thinking: 'Sworn enemies of freedom!! T-think of them as *that*! Vermin!! N-not even human!!'
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s Mary Worth for the 29th of September, 2019. The Avari were introduced in a 2009-2010 Sunday continuity story. The Phantom Wiki says the land is from descendents of the Pannonian Avars, who’d lived around what is now the Balkans from about the 6th through 9th centuries. I don’t know if that was established in the canon or whether that’s drawing from statements by either Tony DePaul or Team Fantomen, who produce the Swedish comic book continuity and seem to have used this land at least once.

The Phantom stops Clotilde. His argument is don’t let the enemy turn you into them. Good advice. They sneak out.

This is where we’ve gotten. The only real downside of these Sunday-only continuities is when I do list the events like this, they come out about 100 words long. That’s all right. I can write short, sometimes, I tell myself.

Next Week!

On the one side, a man and woman make vague promises of good health while not providing any actual medical care! On the other side, an art forger and his intern are deploying Celestial Healing against “toxins”. It’s Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D., in one week, unless something comes up.

What’s Going On In Mary Worth? Is Hugo Lambert faking being French? July – September 2019


No, but it’s fun to joke about.

If you need to catch up with Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth, I’m happy to help. If you’re reading this after about December 2019, there’s probably a more up-to-date plot recap here. Also there’ll be news, if Mary Worth produces news.

For example: Comics Kingdom has opened up a comics merchandise store. And yes, they have a Mary Worth collection. It leans to the ironic reader’s tastes, which is probably what a Mary Worth merch table has to do. This is why it has stuff about Mary Worth’s muffins. Also stuff about Aldo Kelrast, a plot from like fifteen years ago about a man who decided to stalk her. The storyline, and its resolution, is a cornerstone of the modern Mary Worth snark-reading community. At least those who don’t mind making quite so much light of one of the scariest things a person can suffer through.

Anyway, the store has stuff for other comics, including my best fist forever Popeye. It’s also got comics-adjacent characters like Betty Boop and Cuphead. (Yes, I know there was a Betty Boop comic strip in the 30s. Comics Kingdom Vintage even runs it today. It’s quite bad and correctly forgotten.) The biggest mystery: they’re not slapping a Krazy Kat logo on some bricks and shipping those out? C’mon, this is right there. Use the Priority Mail flat-rate boxes, guys. Anyway, on to Mary Worth’s doings.

Mary Worth.

7 July – 28 September 2019.

The decks were nice and clear last time I checked in. Estelle had her fling with an Internet scammer and now was settling in with Wilbur Weston. Meanwhile the story drifted to Wilbur’s daughter Dawn.

Dawn, leaving a store in Santa Royale’s prestigious Three Doors Mall, bumps into Hugo Lambert. They took Classic Literature from Professor Cameron last year. He’s their French Foreign Exchange Student. He’s extremely French. He has to use the mother tongue for sentences like“My name is Hugo” or “I speak English”. You know, things no one who’s learned a foreign language ever has trouble remembering.

Hugo: 'Je m'appelle Hugo Lambert! You were in my classic literature class last year!' Dawn: 'Oh, right! You're the foreign exchange student in Professor Cameron's class! Pleased to meet you! I'm Dawn Weston!' Hugo: 'C'est mon plaisir de vous recontrer!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 10th of July, 2019. Surprisingly unmentioned this plot: that summer Dawn spent tromping around Italy with her art teacher. Yes, I’m aware that in many ways France and Italy are different countries, but it does seem like a great thing to bond over. This was, reader time, in early 2018, although I only recapped the event in passing. Dawn’s adventures in Europe were only seen briefly and never amounted to a story that we saw.

Or he wants us to remember he’s French. Hugo will sometimes go as much as a whole word balloon without lapsing into his native tongue. Or mentioning the glories of France. This is no complaint from me. Story comics are better when at least one character is preposterous. Not that pride in one’s homeland is by itself preposterous. Being barely able to talk about anything else? That makes delight into the baseline for all his appearances. The story has not reached the glories of CRUISE SHIPS, and its heap of characters reacting all out of proportion to the situation. But it’s been fun reading. The worst story comics are when all the characters are a vague mass of undifferentiated beige. Give a character an obsession, and ratchet that obsession up, and you’ve got life.

They have lunch. Hugo negs on the typical American diet of fried high-fructose corn syrup smothered in bacon, which, fair enough. Not Dawn’s eating, though. She eats almost as good as they do in France. Hugo loved the part in Literature class where they talked about Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame. He agrees with Dawn that the fire at Notre Dame was terrible. He negs Americans’ cultural appreciation, which is typically livetweeting their rewatches of Knight Rider. Again, fair enough. But Dawn points out America has good stuff too, like how we let French people in and … value … Americanism and stuff. Hugo likes Dawn, despite how she’s an American living in America in American ways.

After Dawn and Foreign Exchange Student Hugo Lambert exchange numbers ... Hugo: 'I like you Dawn, even though you are American, with your American ways!' Dawn: 'Gee, Hugo, thanks a lot! I like you too ... even though you are European, with your French ways! But seriously, I look forward to seeing you again.' Hugo: 'Me also!' Dawn: 'We can learn from each other, and I think we're alike in more ways than we differ.' Hugo: 'I don't know if we are or not. We'll just have to find out, won't we?'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 21st of July, 2019. So this happened when my love and I vacationed in the Netherlands. One morning the hotel clerk stopped in the middle of taking change out of the cash register for us. She apologized: she realized that she was counting out the money, in her head, in Dutch rather than English. That a Dutch person, in the Netherlands, should be thinking to herself in Dutch, while doing a task that did not at that moment involve her speaking to or looking at us, formed the most wonderfully needless apology I have ever received. There’s like no end of layers of unnecessary-ness to her regret. We still think back on that apology in wonder and delight.

Dawn thinks they’re hitting it off!

Meanwhile the snarkier readers start looking for evidence that, like, Hugo is really a guy from Yonkers who made up his French identity as a lark when he went to college and now he can’t get out of it, so he’s trying to make it so broad and ridiculous that people catch on without his having to tell them he was lying. I am sure Karen Moy did not mean us to go looking for evidence that Hugo was running a weird head-fake here. But it added an extra something wonderful and silly to read each strip for.

Anyway, they have a decent summer romance. Hugo’s spending his last month before going home painting his host family’s house. Dawn spends the time emitting French words hoping to get a response. “Guy de Maupassant! Eiffel tower! Pizza!” She panicked. Anyway, they spend time doing fun summer activities like leaping in fountains and sitting on the beach and all.

Dawn: 'I guess it's inevitable that foreign exchange students eventually have to leave.' Mary: 'That's usually the case.' Dawn: 'What should I do, Mary? I've really fallen for Hugo!' Mary: 'Maybe you should ask him what he wants to do.'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 8th of August, 2019. Normal snark brain: observes Dawn’s loose-beige sandwich. Galaxy snark brain: observes Mary Worth drinking something so heavy that it doesn’t seek its level when Mary Worth tilts her glass, and also ice cubes sink in it.

But the sad part is they know when Hugo will go home. Dawn worries their relationship — oh, hi, Mary Worth! How did you know? Well, Mary Worth offers the obvious but useful advice that Dawn should talk with Hugo about what happens after he goes home. And that he might not want a long-distance relationship. And that it’s all right to have a relationship that’s delightful for a month and then ends.

Dawn brings up the topic gently, on a trip to the Santa Royale Aquarium. Dawn suggests they might visit the far superior Cineaqua in Paris, when she visits him. He says, why speak of the future? In the aquarium he points to the fish who have their tanks and their place and accept it, and why don’t we accept the here and now? And, boy, if you want to subvert the text and read this as Hugo trying to not confess his secret? The text is almost on your side here.

She decides not to take the hint. Driving him to the airport she finally asks if they can Skype together or something. He says no, it couldn’t work. His Internet won’t send to anytime later than 2012 when France Télécom shut down Minitel. Dawn points out, this is Mary Worth, they’re all living in like 1972 at the latest. This shakes him, but he leaves for his plane.

Man with something unpleasant-looking covering his left face: 'Do you need a tissue?' Dawn: 'Thank you! I appreciate your concern.' Man: 'Just remember, God won't give you more than you can handle.'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 14th of September, 2019. I’m glad for the reassurance about God’s givings here. As a reserved, indeed half-stoic person, I am sure that I would not be able to handle tearing up in an airport to such an extent that a stranger came by to comfort me, and if someone were to, I would probably climb into my own cargo pants’ pocket never to be seen again. But, I know, other people have the emotional expressions that work for them, and that’s good for them, who are not me.

Dawn, weeping, gets a visit from a guy with parentheses all over his face. Since he has a deformity he’s there to deliver inspirational words about God not giving people more than they can handle, and leave. (This did surprise me. I thought Inspirational Guy might be Dawn’s quick-setting rebound relationship.) She goes home to cry.

It’s not Mary Worth knocking on her door. It’s Hugo.

His flight’s delayed to tomorrow. So he went to her. And, he’s willing to try a long distance relationship now. Dawn is overjoyed. And Mary Worth approves of this. She notes there are challenges to a long-distance relationship, but, come on. This is officially 2019. Over 96 percent of all relationships start out as long distance.

And that’s our story! It does seem pretty well wrapped up and the ritual of thanking Mary Worth is barely under way. We’ll see what’s changed the next time I check in, likely around December.

Dubiously Sourced Quotes of Mary Worth Sunday Panels!

Where would Mary Worth Sunday pages be without an inspirational quote ripped out of all possible context and maybe assigned to a famous person at random? Shorter, for one. Here’s some things recently said to have been said:

  • “Just living is not enough … one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.” — Hans Christian Andersen, 7 July 2019
  • “We cannot wish for what we know not.” — Voltaire, 14 July 2019
  • “People are pretty much alike. It’s only that our differences are more susceptible to definition than our similarities.” — Linda Ellerbee, 21 July 2019
  • “Normality is a paved road: it’s comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow through.” — Vincent van Gogh, 28 July 2019
  • “La vie est un sommeil, l’amour en est le rêve.” — Alfred de Musset, 4 August 2019
  • “I live in the moment. The moment is the most important thing.” — Rita Moreno, 11 August 2019
  • “You may be deceived if you trust too much, but you will live in torment if you don’t trust enough.” — Frank Crane, 18 August 2019
  • “True happiness … is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future.” — Lucius Annaeus Seneca, 25 August 2019
  • “In every living thing there is the desire for love.” — D H Lawrence, 1 September 2019
  • “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” — Alfred Lord Tennyson, 8 September 2019
  • “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” — William “Hamlet” Shakespeare, 15 September 2019
  • “Life’s supposed to be an adventure, a surprise!.” — Anton du Beke, 22 September 2019
  • “Distance means so little, when someone means so much.” — Tom McNeal, 29 September 2019

I know what you’re wondering. No, the auto care place has not changed its inspirational yet despairing message yet. Yes, I’m worried too.

Next Week!

The Ghost Who Walks went and got himself stabbed in the chest. What happened and how is he still walking around? We’ll see, I expect, in seven days with Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom, Sunday continuity.

If you don’t want to wait, and do want to read more comic strip stuff, please try my mathematics blog, which uses comic strips to talk about mathematical topics. Thank you.

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? Is Mark Trail gonna punch a Yeti? July – September 2019


Hello, nature lovers. It’s too soon to answer the Yeti question, sorry. But it’s on the table. The most current plot recaps and news I have about James Allen’s Mark Trail should be at this link. If you’re reading this later than about December 2019 you might be better off going there. And as ever, my mathematics blog reviews comic strips too. It’s also looking at concepts from each letter of the alphabet, with new essays on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Now back to nature.

Mark Trail.

1 July – 21 September 2019.

Nature finally got around to trying to kill Mark Trail last time I checked in. He, Doc, Leola, and J J Looper were following a map to a gold mine seen decades ago by Doc and his friend. (His friend, Leola’s husband, had recently died, the incident putting the map into the story.) Looper, owner of a supply store, was their guide. At least until Nature sent a flash flood in that swept everyone away and left Looper nowhere to be found. This is an inconvenience, what with Looper maybe being dead and having the only copy of the map.

Leola: 'Ther's a pile of rocks over there in that clearing!' Mark Trail, wide-eyed: 'Doc!? Can that be it!?' Doc: 'There's only one way to find out!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 3rd of July, 2019. Mark Trail proving he’s not going to let Dick Tracy just waltz in and take the Wide-Eyed Look Of The Year trophy.

But. Doc finds the terrain familiar. He recalls a pile of rocks covering the mine entrance and that’s exactly what Leola sees. It’s a great discovery. And oh, here’s J J Looper! And he’s sharing a gun with them! He has reasons. Envy of Mark Trail’s easy lifestyle of globetrotting while animals are nearby, sure. But also thoughts of his hard life. He can barely make a living teaching tourists to pan for gold. Actual gold, now, that would solve some of his problems.

Mark, Leola, and Doc uncover the mine entrance. It’s definitely where the mysterious stranger led his friends, decades ago, and took great piles of gold out. And now, having finally rediscovered the mine, there’s … nothing. No gold. No mining equipment. Just … a great big shiny thing! It’s Mark’s chance to punch Looper out, and get the gun away from him. Now they can see what the shiny thing in back is.

Mark Trail, looking at the framed item 'It's a local newspaper. Decades old. I think I understand what happened now! Three men were photographed robbing a dealer at a gem show ... they all escaped!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 25th of July, 2019. So let me first say, Mark Trail’s prop there does absolutely everything that it needs to. It looks like a newspaper with a headline about a gold dealer being robbed. Its artistic purpose is completely satisfied. Having said that, I’m going to go a bit Newspaper Layout Nerd here. What format, exactly, is the Herald? That’s a painfully narrow broadsheet, especially for the era, or else an incredibly wordy tabloid. And jeez, I know about the Densonized look for the Herald-Tribune but I can not make myself believe in there not being some horizontal rule between the newspaper’s name and the headline. I’m sorry. Anyway, I admire the prankish nature of the gold robber that he decided at some point to get the newspaper reporting on this crime framed, bring it to the mine (when? When he went there with Doc and Doc’s friends? Before? Later?) and leave it behind in the treasure chest just in case anyone ever followed up on this. It shows a serious commitment to a posthumous laugh.

It’s a treasure chest. Its contents: a framed newspaper. Its headline, surprisingly large for the era, is of a gold dealer robbed at a gem show. Two of the robbers were later killed; the third, and the gold nuggets, were never found. The third was the bearded stranger who, five years later, brought him to the mine.

The rationalization: the three buried the gold, figuring to come back when the heat was off. With his partners killed the bearded stranger needed help getting the gold back. So he set up this mystery of a lost gold mine and all. Why couldn’t Doc and his friends couldn’t find the place again? Well, it’s hard to find stuff in the mountains. Especially under different light or from different angles or all. Especially because they were thinking of a mine instead of this, a cave just deep enough for someone to vanish in.

So Doc feels foolish for having believed a cave with gold inside was some kind of gold mine. Looper meanwhile feels like an astounding idiot, what with threatening to shoot people and all that. Looper begs forgiveness. Mark Trail points out, he was pointing a loaded gun at them. But in the awkward days of getting back to town, Mark Trail’s heart softens. After all, they were on a gold-digging expedition in the southwest. If someone desperately afraid of poverty doesn’t pull a gun on the rest of the party, has everyone really had the Gold Prospecting Experience? Of course not. And so Looper gets community service and probation.


We get, from the 12th through 17th of August, a little bit of nature in tooth and claw. It’s a mother cougar fighting a bear until she realizes it’s easier if she moves her cub out of the way instead.

Mark Trail, monologuing: 'Some online comments seem downright mean ... as though the person is questioning my intelligence or something like that!' Cherry: 'Uhh ... Mark ... ?' Mark Trail: 'I mean, why read something you rarely agree with?'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 29th of August, 2019. So anyway I’d like to talk a bit more about the overall structure of this gold-mine plot and what about the internal logic doesn’t convince me, but they just delivered this package from an “Al Jamesen” and I can’t wait to find out what’s inside because it sounds like a very excited swarm of hornets and I bet whatever it really is will be a delight!

After this interlude we see Mark Trail and Doc having an epilogue back at home. Telling what happens to Looper, and how Cherry Trail would rather Mark didn’t go get himself almost killed. The mention that Rusty Trail is reading the Jungle Jim comic on Comics Kingdom. And that people are mean in comments sections. It’s hard to not think James Allen is working out his frustration with comics snarkers here. Well, whatever gets the bad energies out.


And with the 2nd of September, the current story starts. Woods and Wildlife editor Bill Ellis has an assignment for Mark Trail. University Professor Harvey Camel, anthropologist and explorer, is searching for proof of the Yeti. Ellis is funding the trip, in exchange for first publication rights. Mark Trail is skeptical of any cryptozoology adventures. But this past April, the Indian army tweeted the discovery of a possible Yeti footprint. Mark is finally won over by the journalistic value of such an expedition, and how if legends are right, the Yeti has a lot of facial hair.

Looking over the city streets. Mark Trail: 'Kathmandu is much busier than I expected!' Genie: 'More than 985,000 people live here, Mark! It's not the primitive, out-of-date city the world thinks it is!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 18th of September, 2019. ObMST3K: Mark Trail thinks, “Boy, I’m glad I didn’t comment on the apparent widths of their bodies of water!” (3 point reference.)

Cherry worries for his safety. She mentions how when Mark went to Africa, he had that encounter with “Dirty” Dyer, who’s still lurking around subplots ready to kill Mark with fire. Mark promises that he’s going to be fine, a promise that he can not in fact make. But she accepts his confidence, anyway.

So this past week, Mark Trail has flown to Kathmandu, and met Doctor Camel’s assistant Genie. They’re going from there to Tumlingtar and then to Mount Makalu, where the footprints were found. There’ll be more to say, surely, when we get to the next plot recap, which I expect to be in mid-to-late December.

(By the way, to let you know what a deep strain of Copy Editor Nerd there is in me: I would appreciate thoughts about whether to prefer writing “yeti” or “Yeti”. I know enough that the creature has some presence in legends around the Himalayan mountains. I’d rather refer to it in not-obnoxious ways when I do the next plot recap.)

Sunday Animals Watch

Each Sunday Mark Trail features some wonder of animals, plants, or nature itself, that we’re doing our best to eliminate by 2030. Here’s what’s leaving soon, and when it got featured.

  • Formosan Clouded Leopard, 30 June 2019. After six years being thought extinct some were found again.
  • Epomis ground beetles, 7 July 2019. They prey on frogs, which the frogs report is “totally bogus”.
  • Isopods, 14 July 2019. Deep-sea scavengers. They’re weirder than we realized.
  • Razorbacks/Peccaries, 21 July 2019. And this was before that “30-50 feral hogs” meme, so don’t go accusing James Allen of hopping on bandwagons here.
  • Giant Water Bugs, 28 July 2019. Oh, I think I know those guys. Yeah, they’re creepy but leave them alone and they’ll go about whatever their business is exactly.
  • Sumatran Rhinoceroses, 4 August 2019. It’s the only Asian rhino species to have two horns. But their outlook is grim.
  • Ravens, 11 August 2019. Particularly, white ravens. Do not cross them.
  • Golden tortoise beetles, 18 August 2019. So if you were wondering what was feeding on your morning glory, bindweed, or sweet potatoes see if these guys are the problem.
  • Raccoon dogs, 25 August 2019. The only canine species known to hibernate, by the way, so you’re welcome when this comes up during your Jeopardy! audition.
  • Amazon Parrots, 1 September 2019. Yeah, they’re great, but they have longer lifespans than do Fortune 500 Companies, so what to do with them after you die is a discussion you have to have a lot.
  • Grasshopper Mice, 8 September 2019. Not to be all animal hipster with you, but I knew about these guys in the 90s and I’m glad the Internet is discovering these weirdoes. Like, they’ll howl like tiny wolves, and stalk prey species, and they’re even immune to some animals’ venom. I know, right?
  • Sea slugs, 15 September 2019. OK, they’ve got an awful name but these critters do some amazing things with body design and color.
  • Hornet-Mimic Hoverflies, 22 September 2019. They look like hornets, but don’t sting, so if you have one hanging around you, relax!

Next Week!

Oh, how is Dawn Weston’s summer romance going? Is her beau, the For-Real French Foreign Exchange Student Jean-Luke Baguette really so heartless as to leave her, even for his home village of Mal-de-Mere, in the Bibliothèque province of France? Is there hope for true love winning out over all? In Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth? Will there be muffins? I’m delighted to have the answers to these and more silly questions, next Sunday.

Is Gary Larson’s The Far Side coming back?


Well, something’s happening. On Friday, TheFarSide.com posted the message “Uncommon, unreal, and (soon-to-be) unfrozen” along with a picture of someone with a flamethrower thawing a cow, a dog, a caveman, that nerdy kid, and that older woman out of an iceberg.

Since then? Nothing, although there’s speculation. Gary Larson retired his comic in early 1995. And then stayed off the Internet. He’d be famous for having disappeared had Bill Watterson not upstaged him at the end of 1995. He didn’t want The Far Side put on the web, and remarkably, the web mostly respected that. Or his attorneys were quite good with their copyright-takedown notices. I don’t remember hearing stories of clumsy cease-and-desist notices messing up online communities.

So what does this mean? The easiest thing — and one I’d be delighted with — would be just a good official online archive for Larson’s comic strip. I have worried some that The Far Side was just going to be forgotten, since it hasn’t been in newspapers in a quarter-century and its online presence is almost nil. It’s great to imagine having something that’s my Gen-X cohort’s secret, other than that the Gen-X cohort exists. But that seemed unfair to the comic strip.

It’s hard to explain the importance of The Far Side. It was weird and surreal and happy to be obscure if Gary Larson thought the joke was good enough. Or if he didn’t realize it was obscure. The influence was amazing. Everybody who drew a comic strip for their college paper in the 90s was imitating either The Far Side or Bloom County. I’m not sure there’s a panel comic launched the past quarter-century that hasn’t followed Gary Larson’s style. One of the first web comics, Doctor Fun, was a Larson imitator. Many web cartoonists give a try to its bizarre-concept panel style, even if they develop a different comic.

So just being able to read the comic strips again, easily, and to share them would be fantastic.

Could there be new comics? Well, sure. I don’t know any reason Gary Larson couldn’t still draw, or write. I assume he did the image that’s on https://www.thefarside.com right now, too. Would I want him to?

I’m curious to see, sure. Larson was a great talent and why wouldn’t we want to see more of that? Well, we can imagine things, which amount to discovering that Gary Larson isn’t the person we imagine him to be, which is this transcendent genius able to combine elements of our culture and our natural world in ways into a harmonious and silly image. If we got, like, the Cow sneering at some non-binary people and “cancelling” their acceptance of human-caused climate change, well, I know I’d feel betrayed. It could go innocently wrong too. Mocking the preposterous entity in the White House is as difficult as he is terrible; a misfired joke and fumbled apology could leave anyone looking bad.

More likely, and more subtly wrong, would be something like the return of Berkeley Breathed to drawing Bloom County. There, the revived comic strip isn’t doing anything wrong, at least not anything that the original didn’t do wrong. It’s just that the revival went out into a culture filled with imitators and extenders of the original comic. And it’s presented to people who are not who we were in 1986. Greatness is part talent, yes, but also part luck, and some of that luck is catching the right audience at the right time.

This is all gloom, but it is 2019, so what is not gloom?

So let’s hope. If Gary Larson has decided that he has some funny drawings of cows, perhaps he knows his business. I’ll share news when I have it.

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? Also, what’s wrong with Funky Winkerbean? June – September 2019


Before I get to Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley I want to give a heads-up about Tom Batiuk’s Funky Winkerbean. According to newspaper articles, Funky Winkerbean is in the next couple months doing a story with the suicide of a character. People who do not need that sort of thing in their reading-for-fun may want to drop the strip for a while. I’ll try to give an all-clear when the immediate aftermath has passed.

It is a startling development. Since the 2008 time-jump, skipping a decade in which Les Moore spectacularly failed to deal with the death of his wife Lisa, Funky Winkerbean has moved mostly past its misery porn incarnation. This is the most serious topic for a storyline in quite a while.

I hope for the story to be a good, thoughtful exploration of why a person would suicide, and how the people around them react and are changed. I’m always hoping for this. I will snark so far as to admit that after the storyline about gay students going to the prom (the principal says of course gay students can go to prom since there’s no rule that says they can’t, and we never even see the gay students on-screen), and the storyline about a fictional version of the Virginia Rappe killing and what that did to Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle (in this version, a talking chimp killed her), I … well. Just.

All right, I expect the story to be handled with all the deftness of Inspector Clouseau, unaware that he’s swallowed the horse tranquilizer, stomping about Charles-Philipe-Louis Desuetude’s Irreplaceable Antiques Boutiquery, while he’s wearing roller skates and somehow has his hands trapped inside cans of potted meat. But, I promise, I hope it’s a good story. I just want people who do not need even a well-handled story about suicide in their recreational reading to know, and to plan accordingly.


Station for an amusement park's antique car ride, labeled 'Gasoline Alley'.
They are really big fans of Gasoline Alley over at Knoebels Amusement Park in Elysburg, Pennsylvania. To the right is the lift hill for the Phoenix roller coaster, and if you like roller coasters at all you should get over and ride that.

Now back to my real business.

Gasoline Alley.

24 June – 14 September 2019

Oh, right, Jim Scancarelli was making a fool of me last time. Rufus had taken in Willow, a woman fleeing from wolves. She moved in, ate all his food, and (passively) kicked him out of the house. As Rufus tells his woes to Mayor Melba Rose, he thinks he sees Willow. On the ride home with Joel, Rufus worries how to make her leave. He even puts a coin in the wishing well to hope the problem goes away.

Rufus, putting a coin into the wishing well's slot and thinking: 'I wish, when I gets home, Willow will be gone!' Joel: 'Y'all done? I see yo' exorcised all yo' change! What'd yo' wish fo'?' Rufus: 'Can't tell! If'n I did, it won't come true!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 8th of July, 2019. The wishing well is as good a way out of an unpleasant scene as any you might try. I like the touch that the well was set up with a coin slot. It’s a fun touch.

And … it works. Willow and her dog Toro are gone. She’s cleaned the house, and done Rufus’s laundry. In the note she also mentions seeing Rufus’s lovely Lady Friend, Melba. It’s the ending everyone wishes for from awkward social interactions. The unpleasant person is gone, leaving behind nothing but a note of thanks and the scent of fresh-cut flowers.


So, the 19th of July, we get into the new story. It looks like it’s more of Rufus courting Melba. He stops in the jewelry store for another encounter with Frank Nelson. In-between insults Rufus is able to buy a $15 cubic zirconia brooch. But, leaving the store, he trips and wrenches his ankle. Plus a crow swipes the brooch.

Rufus, to jewelry store clerk: 'I want to buy something' real nice an' elegant, but not too gaudy or expensive!' Frank Nelson: 'What price range were you wanting to dabble in?' Rufus: 'Hmm! What'll $5 get me?' Frank Nelson: 'Thrown out of here probably!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 22nd of July, 2019. Jack Benny: “Now cut that out!”

A cop takes the note that Rufus slipped on a broken sidewalk. This seems like the setup for something not yet paid off. And he brings Rufus to the Gasoline Alley Care Clinic, even turning the siren on for Rufus’s delight. And, hey, the crow flies back, dropping the brooch on Rufus’s head. So everything’s turning up Rufus.


The 13th of August Rufus finally gets to the clinic and we see more of the current story. Chipper Wallet, physician assistant and established character, is on vacation. But they have a substitute, Peter Glabella. He’s uncannily empathetic, and is able to treat Rufus quickly.

Hoagy: 'My daughter Aubee got very listless and confused! Her skin got real pale ... uh ... sort of like yours is now!' Glabella: 'Did she get into a medicine bottle?' Hoagy: 'Oh, no! She was outside playing! Do you feel OK, Doctor?' Glabella: 'I feel she's dehydrated!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 23rd of August, 2019. And here we get introduced to Glabella’s superpowers, and start to form questions about, like, what triggers his empathic relation? Like, is he feeling a mix of both Hoagy and Aubee’s physical conditions right now? What’s the range? Is he sensing what the person the next room over feels, too, but faintly? These are all questions it does not make any difference to answer.

Glabella is good at more than diagnosing Rufus’s problems. Hoagy Skinner brings in her daughter Aubree. (Hoagy Skinner’s the wife of Rover Skinner, Skeezix’s grandson.) She’s listless, confused, pale … rather like Glabella is now. He feels she’s dehydrated. She has only the one head and no signs of cauterized sword wounds. He joins her in some sugar-free soda. And in almost no time she’s in good spirits. Physician and patient burp together.

Finally Walt Wallet comes in. Glabella nearly forgets to act like a normal hew-mon. He asks how long Wallet’s left knee has been bothering him before Wallet can say anything. But he goes through the diagnostics of a man so old that when he was born, Jack Benny was telling people he was 32. It’s hard taking on temporarily the ailments of a man that elderly, but he does it.

Glabella, to Walt Wallet: 'Let's take some blood, and see what's causing your difficulty! OK?' Walt: 'Is it painful?' Glabella: 'It'll hurt *me* more than you!' (And thinks, 'ouch'.) Walt: 'I'm ready when you are!' Glabella: 'Too late! It's over!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 5th of September, 2019. So you can see why Glabella would not go in for being a surgeon. Also in this Glabella did the bit of tapping Walt Wallet’s knee with a hammer, only to have his own leg jerk back in response, so that’s some fun business.

Chipper Wallet finally comes back from vacation and meets Glabella. This makes me question the clinic’s hiring practices but, all right. Glabella explains that he has “mirror-touch synesthesia”. It’s a “gift of sorts” that he’s always had. I think it’s also something they wrote into Lieutenant Ilia’s backstory, when they thought Star Trek: The Motion Picture was going to be a TV series. It’s why she does that thing where she heals Chekov’s burns instead of letting Doctor Chapel do it by medicine.

Where this is going, I can’t say. That’s as far as we’ve gotten. It may seem to defy reality that a magic doctor is in the comic. But one of Scancarelli’s modes for the comic has long been this light, sitcom magic touch. The sort of magic where, you know, how could that department-store Santa have known what I wanted as a kid unless … . So this fits that tradition squarely. A bigger break is that Gasoline Alley names are often some kind of wordplay, often gentle puns. If “Peter Glabella” means something I don’t get it.

Sometime around December 2019 I plan to check in again, with an essay about Gasoline Alley at this link. Also if there’s any news about the comic strip I’ll have it at this link.

And, as ever, I look at the mathematical content of comic strips on my other blog. The mathematics blog is also going through all the letters of the alphabet to explain something of each of them, this week and through November, all going well.

Next Week!

Gold mines! Smugglers! Animals! And now … cryptozoology? It’s James Allen’s Mark Trail, coming up, barring surprise developments. Thanks for reading.

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? Seriously, do we not find out whether Daddy Warbucks killed his wife? June – September 2019


No, kind readers. Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy gave us a juicy mystery. Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks’s wife disappeared in circumstances where he’s the only plausible suspect. They do not reveal what happened. But Dick Tracy has adopted the Little Orphan Annie cast. They may reappear and reopen the mystery. If that happens, I’ll share news at this link. That link will also have a more up-to-date plot recap if you’re reading this later than about December 2019, yourselves.

Dick Tracy.

16 June – 8 September 2019

The search was on for Gypsy Gay, the last thread of evidence prosecutors have in trying B-B Eyes for murder. The real evidence, Trixie Tinkle’s sworn statement, has gone missing. So has Tinkle. But it’s thought Tinkle might have described her statement to Gay. Without that, all the State has against B-B Eyes is that his name is B-B Eyes and that the corruption of his body shows the corruption of his morals. B-B Eyes’s lawyer Tim Jackel is racing Dick Tracy to find Gay first.

Oh, did I mention Trixie Tinkle was Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks’s second wife? And that she disappeared while the two were on a world cruise? And Warbucks won’t answer questions about what happened, but will admit how Tinkle was a golddigger with whom he couldn’t make things work? Also, that Annie and Oliver Warbucks are in on this story?

Sam: 'The security camera shows Gypsy and Annie leaving.' Tracy: 'Let's check for possible witnesses outside.' Doorman: 'He said he was their driver and they got in the sedan. License number something-1938. Same year as Action Comics #1.' Lizz: 'Action comics?' Tracy: 'I'm accessing the license database now.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 20th of June, 2019. Now, it’s hard to believe, but I have heard that there are people in the world who do not remember when Action Comics #1 was posted. Some of them don’t even know why this would be a something they would care to know.

In it to the point of solving things: Annie, Honeymoon Tracy, and Ugly Crystal happen across Gypsy Gay. She works in the hotel where Annie and Oliver Warbucks are staying. Gay’s location and workplace are a slender lead to go on, but Tracy is able to follow it. Not fast enough to keep Gay and Annie from being kidnapped, but, c’mon. It’s Little Orphan Annie. If she weren’t being kidnapped she’d go off and kidnap herself, just to stay in shape.

B-B Eyes's hideout. B-B: 'Yeah, Gypsy Gay, I remember you.' Gay: 'I know you too. I was partying with my friend Trixie when that policeman O'Malley was brought in!' B-B: 'You got a good memory, Gypsy. So what happened to O'Malley?' Gay: 'YOU know!' B-B: 'AND SO DO YOU, GYPSY. Now, who's this kid?' Annie: 'ANNIE's the name. And I'm so tough, tattoos are scared of me!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 23rd of June, 2019. I grant this is not the most important strip of the plot. But I love Annie’s explanation of herself in that final panel. That’s giving you a character in one panel. It’s so good you almost don’t wonder why she brought up tattoos. Like, did B-B Eyes or one of the henchmen have a tattoo we haven’t been paying attention to? Or has she been workshopping this line so long she took the chance to deploy it regardless of whether it perfectly fit?

Turns out Gay actually did witness B-B Eyes killing Officer O’Malley. O’Malley had been sent undercover to … uh … investigate B-B Eyes’s tire-bootlegging gang back in 1942. So, you know, do not cross the Office of Price Administration if you ever want to know peace. Look, if we aren’t going to accept a weird flow of time then we’re in trouble. I’m still hung up on how Trixie Tinkle disappeared twenty years ago, as we get told, yet was someone whom Annie knew. Also that Annie only met Oliver Warbucks because of Warbucks’s first wife. Anyway, B-B Eyes figures his best bet is to kill Gay, and what the heck, Annie too.

Annie and Gypsy are trapped in B-B Eyes's hideout. Gay: 'Annie! What's that in the hallway?' (It's a space vortex; from inside emerges Punjab.) Punjab: 'Come with me! I cannot hold this pathway open forever! No matter what you see next, do not let go!' Annie grabs Punjab's hand, and Gay grabs Annie's. They journey through a ghost-lined tunnel of spirits that are ... kind of 70s-breakfast-cereal-esque in spookiness. They emerge in reality. Gay: 'W-what was that?' Annie: 'Leapin' Lizards, Punjab!' Punjab: 'I know. It was not the magical journey you expected, little princess. My apologies to you both!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 30th of June, 2019. I remember this journey being a lot less sinister when the Pink Panther took it.

Have to agree with his plan. But the cops have followed them, and they’re already holding a shootout. Annie leads Gay to making a break for it. In the hallway they find a magical vortex filled with demons, as will happen. Don’t worry. It’s Punjab, using the mystic powers of the inscrutable Orient to save his master’s ward and also that other person. With the hostages safe, Tracy’s able to move in with a heavier action sequence. And he captures B-B Eyes safe and sound and ready for trial.

There’s some time for calm reflection. Talk of how Warbucks has moved to a quieter town. How he’s finally adopted Annie for real and good. And, no, he’s not going to go answering any nosey police questions about the disappearance of his inconvenient wife. That, the 13th of July, concludes the story.


The next day Tracy gets gunned down in the rain. And yes, it was exciting to read this and think Warbucks had put out a hit on Tracy after all. It’s rough on Tracy, but he survives, thanks to his bulletproof vest and his latest would-be murderer’s unwillingness to shoot him in the head. His attempted murderer this time: Archie Comics’s Dilton Doiley cosplaying as the lead singer for the Buggles. Call him “Doc”. His participation got teased the 26th and 27th of June, in the midst of the previous gunfight. He’s the nephew of old-time Tracy villain Flyface. This is why there’s flies hanging around him. Flies respect primogeniture.

Grandmom, on the phone: 'How are your classes going, Little Doc? That college is lucky to have you as a student.' Doc: 'I'm not attending classes right now, Grandma. My job has to take precedence.' Grandmom: 'Yes, Doc. But that law library your uncle Felixweather left you is going to serve you well someday. Never forget that!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 19th of July, 2019. Uncle Felixweather, Flyface, had a big collection of law books and was maybe an attorney. In one past storyline Flyface’s law books were coated with a material that produced a noxious gas when burned, which Flyface used to escape jail. This storyline revealed that the books themselves could be used to murder people by poison or as incendiaries or other stuff. And if that all sounds ridiculous please remember this is the comic strip where flappy-skinned balloon seller The Pouch used a popcorn maker to shoot someone dead.

Like many Gen Z’ers, he can’t just go to college. He needs a side hustle. His is trying to get revenge on Tracy for (I assume) killing his uncle Flyface. That’s failed, which disappoints him. Now he’ll probably only get three stars on Smuglr, the crime-sharing app that’s disrupting the traditional black markets. Anyway, he can get back to his main job, being floor manager at the Patterson Playhouse.

The Patterson Playhouse is doing a production of Our Town, with Vitamin Flintheart as the Narrator. During rehearsals Mitchell, a Gluyas Williams portrait of Robert Benchley suffering a cold, drops off a thermos of “snow”. Mitchell made two mistakes dropping off this drug shipment. First, what he thought was an equipment bag was the camera bag of Kandikane Lane, Vitamin’s wife. Second, he used a thermos with the licensed brand image of The Scarlet Sting. This is an in-universe comic strip and comic book superhero.

Vitamin Flintheart's Home. Kandikane, holding a Scarlet Sting thermos: 'I thought this thermos was yours, Vitamin. I wonder where it came from.' Vitamin: 'One of the stagehands, perhaps?' Kandikane: 'It's not empty. Uh-oh! This is a bag of white powder!' Vitamin; 'Close it quickly, my dear! I'll contact the authorities!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 5th of August, 2019. “I mean, this is a heap of Kraft Parmesan with a street value of easily … like … $2.49.”

So the appearance of a licensed bit of fan merch drew so much attention. Characters wandered over from Funky Winkerbean to admire that hey, here’s something nerds like! And yet it’s for sale just as if superheroes were part of pop culture or something. They look inside, find it’s a great pile of white powder, and call in Dick Tracy.

Dick Tracy does some swift super-detecting work. He’s learned that earlier that day was Mitchell asking to see Doc Limpp. Tracy checks the Dick Tracy Wikia and finds that Flyface — Felixweather Limpp — had a nephew named Little Doc. Somehow this isn’t enough to go on, though, so they set a trap. They return the thermos to the Flinthearts to carry on as if the cocaine wasn’t discovered and replaced with a decoy. (The Flinthearts had unknowingly taken the thermos home before noticing it. This is why Doc didn’t know the police were aware of the thermos.)

Meanwhile Doc and his partner Sally try to figure how to get the cocaine back. Sally goes in disguise as “Kassie Richmond”, reporter for the Daily News, to interview Kandikane. Kandikane takes a quick picture of Sally alongside Jack Magnus. Magnus played J Straightedge Trustworthy, spoof of Dick Tracy, in the musical comedy A Chin To Die For, in-universe spoof of Dick Tracy, earlier. The “interview” happens over the course of a full dress rehearsal, so far as that’s possible, of Our Town.

Tracy: 'You've got something in your coat.' Susan: 'It's a lens adaptor Kandi needs.' Tracy: 'I need to see it.' Susan, unbuckling her belt: 'Okay, but I have to warn you ... my nickname in college was Commando!' (She flashes her coat wide.) Tracy, eyes popping out: 'Ye gods!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 20th of August, 2019. I know what you’re thinking: with that last panel we can declare a winner in the Funniest Story Comic Panel Of 2019 contest. I agree this is a strong contender. But let’s please not forget that the current Mary Worth story is about Dawn Weston trying to get a guy who’s incredibly not interested in a lasting relationship to commit to her, and that’s probably not even going to be the last Mary Worth story of the year. You’ll see that here in a couple weeks’ time.

Sally goes snooping around and finds Tracy’s there, which she warns Doc about. She also finds The Bag, and grabs the thermos. Tracy moves in. Sally has an excellent uncover story: “I wear swimsuits!” Tracy arrests her, as Doc enters the building. He sneaks into the rafters or whatever they have up high above stage from a theater and shoots. Then he chuckles at having killed Dick Tracy, because Doc somehow doesn’t know what comic strip he’s in.

Tracy wasn’t shot. Jack Magnus was. He was borrowing Tracy’s hat and coat to give some fans pictures of him as J Straightedge Trustworthy. Tracy’s going after Doc au naturel, wearing nothing but his three-piece suit. Also, I have to read it like this, setting up Magnus to be the unwitting target of Doc’s attempted murder. Magnus pulls through. “It’s just a nick”, the kind that would just screw you up for years in real life but that genre convention is you just kind of walk off. It is good for Magnus, but still … I mean, maybe Tracy didn’t know Doc was going to shoot him right then and there? But he’s got to have seen this as plausible, too.

Tracy arrests Doc. And we learn Doc’s also a cocaine user and Tracy felt kind of bad breaking this to Doc’s grandmother. So the story’s resolved, and it closes with a week of scenes from Our Town.

Oh, also they arrest Mitchell, who surrenders to the cops after eight minutes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 fans quoting at him.


And on the 1st of September started a new Minit Mystery. This one is, if I’m reading it right, written by Staton and Curtis. The guest artist is Andrew Pepoy. It starts with a murder at a photo studio. As I write this, on Saturday the 7th, it’s been introducing suspects and motives, so if you want to jump in to solving matters, this is a good chance. It’s a nice story break point for me.

Next Week!

I have seven days to remember exactly what’s going on in
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley.
It’s involved Rufus and Joel a good bit, that I’m pretty sure about.

Meanwhile I continue looking at mathematics in comic strips on my other blog. I also have the Fall 2019 A-to-Z Sequence, explaining one concept for each letter of the alphabet, running. You might enjoy that. Thanks for considering it.

What’s Going On In Prince Valiant? Did Valiant save Bukota’s Queen yet? June – September 2019


This is my late-August summary of the plot in Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant. If you’re reading this after about late November 2019 there’s probably a more up-to-date essay here.

Meanwhile my other blog has exciting stuff to read. I look at mathematically-themed comic strips every week. And starting this week, for a 13-week run, I’ll look at some mathematical concept for each letter of the alphabet. This will be fun or terrifying and I won’t know which until the end of November.

Prince Valiant.

9 June – 1 September 2019.

Bukota, assisted by Prince Valiant, was pursuing Fewesi the Healer. Fewesi had kidnapped Madeka, the Queen of Ab’sabam and lover of Bukota. They land in Paraetonium, in North Africa. Everybody gets camels and Fewesi heads into the desert.

Fewesi drives his camel hard, reaching an oasis. This made me realize my cartoon-influenced idea of an oasis always has it be, like, the size of a swimming pool. No. This is a land, one to which his (nomadic) people have returned, luckily. Fewesi declares this their great chance. They have only to give him asylum, and they can use Madeka to gain power in Africa.

By luck or distant witchcraft, Val has found the vast oasis far south of Paraetonium. He and his mount quench their thirsts in a marshy pool unaware that sharp yellow eyes regard them hungrily. While, in the Idar Uhag encampment, an angry Fwesi faces rejection from his mother's tribe. In desperation, he seeks to use the hidden way to control the Chieftain's decision but the old man merely smiles contemptuously. 'Do not try to turn an adept with your misused powers, puppy! Now take your hostage and go, so that we may tell all that follow you that we have turned you away! We want none of the suffering that your schemes would bring!' So Fewesi's plans for revenge and conquest within his mother's tribe are lost. He leads the spellbound Makeda from the encampment, and for the first time is afraid, with good reason. Several miles down the pathway, a dark figure rises before him, sword unsheathed. Next: Mind Over Matter.
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 21st of July, 2019. So while it was doomed to fail, points to Fewesi for at least trying to mind-control the Chieftain. Also, good on Bukota for being ready to hit Fewesi, but if he is “several miles down the pathway” he’s drawn the sword too early. He’s going to wear himself out holding that thing for like 95 minutes before he needs it.

The leaders of the Idar Uhag shut that down hard. Kidnapping Madeka isn’t going to solve any of their problems. Also it was a mistake to teach Fewesi any mind-control and distant-vision powers, which by the way the Idar Uhag have. Fewesi then remembers, hey, he has mind-control powers. He can just … oh. Yeah, the rest of the tribe has more and better mind-control powers, so they’re not changing their minds. They kick him and his hostage out, in time for Bukota to catch them.

Meanwhile, Prince Valiant — whom “sympathetic, if amused nomads chanced upon” and taught how to ride a camel — has made it to the oasis. While he swims, a lioness preys upon his camel. Valiant gets out fast, of course, and protects his ride, but it’s a tough job. The lioness leads him into the grasses, where her pride joins the fight. That’s taking Valiant some time to sort out.

Val thrusts the Singing Sword aggressively at the huge lioness that has ambushed his camel. The angry cat shows little fear of man and his weapons, but a stinging slash is enough to send her retreating reluctantly, cautiously ... and with purpose. Too late he recognizes her cunning --- she has led him into the tall grasses, where her pride suddenly glides forward and encircles him! While, on the oasis path not far away, Makeda wills herself free of Fewesi's enchantment. She rushes to Bukota's aid, throwing her kemis over the murderous healer. He struggles to free himself, knocking her back ... but Makeda's distraction has broken Fewesi's control over Bukota. The warrior staggers to his feet, cold vengeance gleaming in his eyes. It is all too much for the healer. He cannot control both of these powerful wills. He has played his last card, and has no further option but to flee. Next: The High Ground.
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 18th of August, 2019. Not that Mandrake the Magician would stoop to simple mind-control. I say this days before I bet it turns up in both the 90s “current” comics and the two separate 1940s vintage stories on Comics Kingdom. But I’m sure Mandrake would have a chuckle at Fewesi’s mind-control powers being thrown by getting covered with cloth. “Just gesture hypnotically some,” I’m sure he’d chuckle, “and make them think you’re eighty feet tall! That’s the way to do it. I have no idea how I really got into that building.”

Meanwhile Fewesi, Bukota, and Madeka are having a very parallel fight. Fewesi is able to mind-control Bukota, but it weakens his control of Makeda. Fewesi tries to slit Bukota’s throat — as the lioness hits the camel’s throat — only to lose control of Makeda. She covers him with her dress, giving Bukota the chance to shake off Fewesi’s control. Fewesi flees. Bukota and Makeda team up to pursue.

Next Week!

So did Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks kill his second wife? This and other plot developments in Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy should get their answers in a week.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Weekdays)? Did The Phantom Save Kadia’s Mother? June – August 2019


Yeah, he did. Glad to clear that up.

Phantom, thinking to himself: 'Rough night ... that all started ... how? Ah! 'Say whatever you have to say, Heloise'.' Flash back to Heloise, on a rooftop, pleading to Kadia not to jump: 'Your mother's NOT going to die! My dad's going so save her!'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 24th of August, 2019. The flashback is to Heloise pleading with the despairing Kadia, as seen the 20th of February 2019. Heloise did not reveal her father was The Phantom. But Kadia did understand that the “friend” Kit Walker said he was sending was not someone else. Anyway, that’s a nice Red Roof Inn that The Phantom picked to be their recovery spot. You suppose he got a single room or two separate rooms?

Catch you all again back around here in late early October, for the Sunday Phantom continuity, or in mid-November for the weekday strips. Or if there’s breaking news. And, please, consider my mathematics blog. I use it to examine mathematically-themed comics every week. And starting from next week I hope to explore 26 mathematical terms, as many of them as possible ones readers ask to read about.

The Phantom (weekdays).

3 June – 24 August 2019

OK, I can say the same thing with more words. I last checked Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity, in early June. The Ghost Who Walks was in North Africa. He was raiding a compound of The Nomad, recently-captured-and-exposed International Terrorist. He’s there to extract Imara Sahara, wife of The Nomad and mother of Kadia, Heloise Walker’s roommate and now sister. Complications: a militia, figuring to hostage Imara to make the Nomad keep their Terrorism secrets, holds Imara. They’ll kill her if anyone comes too near to freeing her. Also making things worse: American intelligence agencies, who figure, well, it’s not a hospital but maybe we could bomb it anyway?

So the past three months have focused on how The Phantom’s going to get this done with these constraints. It starts with the traditional elements: The Phantom punching people unconscious. Stealing clothes. Going undercover to punch more people. Punching codes into locked doors. All that stuff.

Phantom, smacking a henchman with the a gun: 'Your lucky day ... I already HAVE the access code!' Meanwhile in an Intelligence Agency lair. Underling: 'What are you doing? [Dave] Palmer's *talking* to us! He wants to come in!' Chief Intelligence Guy: 'Too late ... you are cleared hot ... fire at will.'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 15th of June, 2019. “Look, we didn’t get where we are in the intelligence community by letting important new information affect our decisions!”

Meanwhile Dave Palmer gets a call from Diana Walker. Dave Palmer, retired Intelligence Guy, had (last time) refused Intelligence Agency pleas to advise them on this bombing. When Diana says something about “the villa” he changes his mind and says to his (tapped) phone that he’s coming in, don’t blow anything up until he gets there. They’re not going to refuse the chance to blow something up.

The bombing has its good side for the Phantom. For one, everybody who isn’t dead or wounded has a bigger project than Phantom-stopping. For another, the darkness is good for sneaking around. When the emergency lights come on it’s a bit of bother.

The Phantom, hiding in emergency light from many gunshots and ricochets, thinking: 'I've no choice but to take this and not fire back! If they think they've killed me by bouncing bullets off the walls, they've got no reason to turn their guns on Imara Sahara!'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 28th of June, 2019. Besides being part of a good action sequence this strip neatly summarizes The Phantom’s idea about squaring this circle. He’s going to try to act as dead as possible and then respond. It’s a tough spot to be in but what would the alternative be? See if Mandrake the Magician is free that weekend?

So there’s a nasty gunfight: Sahara’s guards shooting where they conclude the intruder has to be. The Phantom trying to stay out of the line of fire, and ricochets, until he can sneak up on them. And we finally see Imara Sahara, who’s keeping her wits quite well considering. She tries to warn the unknown-to-her intruder that she can’t be saved. She has a point. The Phantom has a plan. It can only work if the writer’s on his side.

He shoots out the lights. They slam the panic room door shut. They expect him to break through the door, but that he’ll then be an easy target. The Phantom figures to break through the door, yes, but only after he disables the emergency generator. In the dark they’ll be helpless, unless they picked up their flashlights. When the lights in the panic room go out Imara takes cover. The Phantom breaks through the door and there’s an intense gunfight. All the militia members die. The Phantom is merely shot three times. This on top of the wounds he’d barely recovered from when he fell for The Nomad’s ambush. That story was over a year ago, reader time. It’s only a couple days in the past for The Phantom, though.

Imara, watching the Phantom disassemble a bookshelf in the panic room: 'What on earth are you *doing*?' Phantom, thinking: 'It seems the Nomad never gave his wife the complete tour.' He thinks of Kadia as a girl popping up out from the other end of the tunnel to a smiling Eric 'The Nomad' Sahara.
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 25th of July, 2019. Part of Eric “The Nomad” Sahara has been this display of honest love for his daughter. His capture started out with him trying to have one last day with Kadia before leaving her life forever and for her safety. So anyway him having what seems like a normal-ish moment playing with his daughter around the escape tunnel feels right to me. The Phantom has no excuse for not answering Imara’s question.

At last The Phantom kind of introduces himself and why he’s there. And leads her to an escape tunnel, the only way out now that the main hallways have collapsed under American bombardment. Imara asks how he can know about this tunnel. It’s a reasonable question. Well, Kadia knew, and briefed him. Why did Kadia know and her mother not? … Not sure. We see in flashback the young Kadia playing in the tunnel with her father. Still, it seems odd to set up a panic room for someone and not share how to leave it in a crisis. I can’t say this is unrealistic. It’s petty jerk behavior from international terrorist Eric Sahara. But I understand commenters who couldn’t suspend their disbelief on this point.

Above ground, a new militia’s come around to see what’s happened and what they can make worse. So they start shooting at the only things still alive, The Phantom and Imara Sahara. This leads to a chase through the remains of the compound, The Phantom leading Imara towards his escape truck. The Phantom sends her ahead, while he distracts the militia by using bullets. She finds the truck and waits the three minutes he asked for, and some more, and finally leaves after she hears the gunfire stop.

Imara, running through the night: 'Walker, Box 7, Mawitaan, Walker, Box 7, Mawaitaan ... !! Walker? My Kadia's *roommate* was a Walker! Heloise Walker! ... A coincidence! What might that sweet girl have to do with this strange man who helped me?'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 13th of August, 2019. The Phantom had told Sahara to remember “Walker, Box 7, Mawaitaan” as an address to mail if she got out and he didn’t. This strip is part of a recurring little motif of the strip, of people who notice the name Walker and, sometimes, the Phantom’s nickname of The Ghost Who Walks. They invariably dismiss this as coincidence, which is probably what I’d do. Determined comic readers sometimes get tetchy, insisting that they’d never be fooled by so weak a disguise as … two people encountered in two different former-British-Empire countries on two different continents having the same, common, Anglo-Saxon last name.

The Phantom slams against the rear window, and climbs in. He drives them to his recovery space. And is absolutely gleeful that he’s managed to get her out “without a scratch”. And all he has is something like four bullet wounds. The Phantom’s delighted, and smiles. It’s fun having this kind of vigilante superhero actually show delight that he pulled off a stunt like this.

And it was a heck of a performance. The Phantom’s rescued Imara Sahara from captivity. I trust she’s ready to go to Skull Cave. There, her daughter’s already taken the name of her roommate who crashed a private jet into Springfield Gardens. No longer need she live in secret underground North African lairs owned by men with dangerous lives and their own private armed forces. The Phantom’s Skull Cave lair is probably in equatorial Africa.

Next Week!

I finally get an easy week for recapping! It’s
Mark Schulz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant. If all goes to plan, then, I’ll have that comic strip featured next week in this space.

What’s Going On In Alley Oop? What’s With The Alternate-Universe Alley Oop? May – August 2019.


This is my plot recap for my other controversial story comic. That’s Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop. I’m just here to get people caught up on the story as of mid-August 2019. If you’re reading this later than about November 2019 I probably have a more up-to-date recap at this link.

Alley Oop.

27 May – 17 August 2019.

We were near the start of a fresh story when I last checked in. The Time Raccoons had left, with their leader just promising she’d see Wonmug and all in “another era”. Wonmug dropped Ooola and Oop back off at home and returned to his Time Laboratory. We haven’t seen the Time Raccoons again, but we do get a regular raccoon in a lab coat making coffee. And Alley Oop got back to some good old moping around at home.

Oop, holding Meggs: 'Don't worry, little dino, you're safe.' Ooola: 'What are you going to do to her?' Oop: 'I guess take care of her until I find her mama.' Ooola: 'And let me snuggle her and play with her and tell her how cute she is?' Oop, pulling Meggs away: 'ONLY WHEN I'M NOT DOING THAT!'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 30th of May, 2019. Meggs has not yet been an important part of the storyline, but she is an adorable little dino, isn’t she?

Dinny the Dinosaur prods Oop into action. The action is rescuing a baby stegosaurus from a cliff face. Alley Oop adopts the abandoned(?) Meggs. It’s cute and parallels a thread in the Sunday Little Oop continuity where young Alley Oop gets a pet dinosaur. Little Oop hasn’t had enough storyline to need recaps here but I’m not ignoring it.

Meanwhile in the present were a couple of jokes between Doc Wonmug and reliable assistant Ava. Most of these are about Wonmug being a clueless insensitive jerk. Not my favorite kind of joke. It’s a valid characterization, yes. I just find that sort of laugh-from-casual-meanness to be 90s web-comic-y. Which you could say about the current writing: often the punch lines are light dadaism with pop culture references. Anyway, this Ava-and-Wonmug interlude was are tossing spot jokes around. There’s one strip where Ava’s shown swapping objects with other universes. This reads as setup for something particular. It might be just playing with the fourth wall.

Ava: 'Dr Wonmug, I've been working on a project of my own while you were gone. It pulls an object from another dimension and deposits it in this box.' (ZZZZAAAP) Wonmug: 'It looks like an orange.' Orange: 'Yes, but this one TALKS.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 4th of June, 2019. So the reason I say this is possibly a fourth-wall-breaking strip is, notice artist Jonathan Lemon’s signature. In this strip it’s in the second panel. The lemon is often shown imitating one of the characters. But, yeah, the strip might just be setting up the idea of travel between universes so that the real story can depend on that. But I’m not sure that idea needs to be planted before it could be used in the story.

But the something particular: that storyline began the 17th of June. “In Another Universe” Ollie Arp and Eeena notice strange things outside their high-rise apartment. The Statue of Liberty not dancing. Their books being rearranged. The food printer gone missing with a microwave in its place. Dr Piedra identifies the problem: Universe 2’s Doctor Wonmug is screwing up the timeline. And it’s not only messing up his universe. It’s screwing up other universes too.

Dr Piedra: 'Someone is altering history in their universe, and it's changing ours! The science is complicated and involves dimensional causality and quantum transuniversal nodes. And I obviously don't need to explain it to you, as everyone in our universe is a SUPER GENIUS.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 21st of June, 2019. Look, I needed it explained to me that Doc Wonmug’s name was a joke on Albert Einstein and that’s why I went to Google Translate to verify exactly what Dr Piedra’s name means.

So this is a heck of a bundle of things to put on the reader. One of them seems like an olive branch to readers who Do Not Like The New Alley Oop One Bit, Thank You. The strip reiterates that the stuff we’ve been seeing since Lemon and Sayers started is a separate continuity from the original. If you preferred the old, don’t worry. It’s not getting broken. It’s sitting there, idle, ready for a future project. If you liked the old Alley Oop continuity with more realistic stories of student-repaired Saturn V rockets and warp drive sending Alley Oop to the Counter-Earth on the other side of the Sun, that’s still there. This reminds me of the 2009 Star Trek movie emphasized that the Original Timeline is still there and still counts so please Trek fans don’t hate us just because we made a movie where everybody isn’t tired.

So this move to make peace with readers of course got me riled up. I’ve grown to dislike stories with malleable timelines. It’s more that a setting with a changeable timeline puts on its characters ethical duties that I’m not sure any story can address. Not without being a career’s worth of inquiry. Alley Oop has used time travel as a way to get to interesting settings, and what they do is how history was “supposed” to turn out. Changing that model is a choice, and Lemon and Sayers have the right to make that. But I don’t know that the change was made thoughtfully.

Greek Man: 'I don't know this Plato guy, but I'd say maybe try the Labyrinth.' Wonmug, heading out: 'OK, thanks.' Greek Woman: 'Hey, do you know where to find some good dolmas around here?' Greek Man: 'I don't know what dolmas are, but I'd say maybe try the Labyrinth.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 3rd of July, 2019. I know Wonmug is a STEM type, and has only been more so since Lemon and Sayers took over. But, jeez, I’m a STEM type and I know this. It’s fundamental literacy for the culture you live in. You look for Plato around the Republic, guys. Sheesh.

The story as far as Alley Oop, Ooola, and Wonmug know it started the 24th of June with a trip to Ancient Greece. They’re to interview Plato for an offscreen friend of Wonmug’s who’s writing a book. They go to Ancient Greece. “Present-day Greece” say the Greeks. “Distant-future Greece” says Alley Oop. I like this bit. They get a bad tip on where to find Plato and end up in the Labyrinth.

Oop: Dr Wonmug, tell me again, what does the minotaur look like?' Wonmug: 'He's half-man, half-bull. Very big and very angry.' Oop: 'Got it!' Oop, to an elephant-headed parrot wearing glasses: 'Get this: I thought *you* were the *minotaur*!' Elephant parrot: 'Haha! Not even *close*! I'm *Steve*!'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 6th of July, 2019. So the elephant-headed parrot thing is pretty cute. Also I like this thing where many of the animals wear glasses.

This threatens danger, that all turns out to silliness. Encountering Steve in the labyrinth. Encountering the Minotaur, who’s friendly when he learns he’s got so much in common with Oop. This reminds me of Alley Oop’s peaceful encounter with an alligator last storyline. I’m enjoying this running joke of “menacing creatures turn out to be friends of Alley Oop”. I’m not saying you’re wrong if you say this wrecks suspenseful moments.

Plato: 'You know, Mr Oop, this little dialogue has inspired me. Maybe instead of puppetry I could spend my time exploring knowledge, existence, and beauty.' Oop: 'You mean 'philosophy'?' Plato: 'Yes! That's what it's called: PHILOSOPHY! ... I was going to call it 'Professor Plato's Plentiful Ponderings and Profundities', but 'Philosophy' is MUCH better.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 20th of July, 2019. To get back to what’s controversial about this strip. If this is a treatment of the characters that you just can not get behind, yes, you’re right. At least for now, this isn’t the Alley Oop that you liked. Maybe it’ll grow into something more like you do. Maybe whoever creates the strip after Lemon and Sayers move on will be more to your tastes. Maybe someone has a time-travel adventure comic you do like. I don’t know of one offhand. As web comics go I pretty much read XKCD and Projection Edge and that’s it. But if you know anything that might scratch an old-school Alley Oop fan’s itches, please, say something.

They get the tip to look for Plato, of course, in the cave at the edge of town. They find him as this old guy playing with puppets. So even if you love the new Alley Oop you can see Dr Piedra’s point about interdimensional buffoonery. Plato agrees to go to the 21st century and talk with the historian, but there’s an emergency call from Ava. Wonmug rushes back to the present, while Oop and Ooola go with Plato back to his home in the over cave.

The crisis: something’s jamming the flow of time particles. Soon Wonmug’s time machine will stop working, among other things leaving Oop and Ooola in Ancient Greece. And things are happening fast: already the Time Phones aren’t working, leaving Wonmug out of touch with Ooola and Oop.

Eeena: 'So, Universe 2 is officially cut off from any time-related science.' Ollie Arp: 'Thank goodness. Their antics were really starting to annoy me.' Eeena: 'Surely we should give them the technology to solve their imminent environmental collapse?' Arp: 'Nah, some lessons you have to learn the hard way.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 3rd of August, 2019. Also possibly a fourth-wall riff: Ollie Arp admitting he’s annoyed by the antics of Universe 2’s Alley Oop and Ooona and Wonmug. Not addressed: how can something in a separate universe be “starting” to do something in another? Like, can there possibly be a logically coherent meaning for “now” when you’re looking at the events in another universe? What can “imminent” mean for time-travellers?

Ollie Arp and Eeena, yes, created the jam. They’ve shut off Universe 2 from time particles. And venture to Universe 2 to give Alley Oop and Ooona a talking-to. They convince Our Heroes of who they are and where they come from. And the two super-genius time travellers from the responsible universe issue Alley Oop and Ooona a citation. “Please be so kind as to refrain from time-travel for the next 14 days as punishment for your infraction”.

And that’s where the story has landed. If this is the end of the Universe 3 storyline then it’s a good-size shaggy dog of a story. But it’s a great setup. Super-science alternate-universe Alley Oop and Ooola meddling with Our Heroes? And (I trust) unaware that Ava’s developed the ability to move things between universes herself? That’s some great story dynamics ready to explore. Please visit again in three months when we’ll see whether they get explored right away.

Next Week!

I’m fortunate to, I think, have a light week of work ahead since it’s Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity, up for review. Even better I might be able to give a definite answer to whether The Phantom has rescued Kadia’s mother by then. Barring breaking news on any of the story strips that’ll be next week. Thanks for reading.

What’s Going On In The Amazing Spider-Man? Is Spider-Man ever coming out of reruns? May – August 2019


Back around my undergraduate days the university wanted to move the student group offices out of the main student union. The space could make money rented out for events instead of given to student groups. The student groups didn’t want to leave. The university planned a major renovation and expansion of the campus center. It would add a bunch of decent food places, for example. And get the building away from its original late-60s “you know the architect was an award-winning prison designer” layout. But it would need most of the student groups to leave for a while. They set up nice enough temporary quarters in the Ledge, the former and still usable student union building. And, after about three years of renovations, there had been nearly a full turnover in undergraduates. Nobody but a few die-hards with old issues of the student newspapers remembered the promise that student groups would ever move back.

So the first of the “classic” repeats of Roy Thomas and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider Man stories, facing Mysterio, came to an end in mid-July as expected. And then they went right to the story which followed the Mysterio story in 2015. It’s a team-up with the Black Widow to fight the Hobgoblin. That’s a storyline which ran from mid-March 2015 through mid-August. If they repeat the whole thing, that’ll take us through October 2019. The following story, if they don’t change things up, would be an encounter with the Sub-Mariner.

I haven’t heard any announcements of a new team to create the comic strip. Or rumors of an announcement being near. If I hear anything about The Amazing Spider-Man rejoining the world of living comic strips I’ll post something at this link. And I’ll keep plot recaps going, at least until they get into rerunning stories I’ve already reviewed.

The Amazing Spider-Man.

19 May – 10 August 2019.

In a story ripped from 2014-15, Mary Jane had just fallen off the Empire State Building. Filming accident during the making of Marvella 2: The Secret of Curly’s Gold. Spider-Man suspects Mysterio, the super … special-effects and hypnosis guy. Correctly, but how? Also the film crew is starting to suspect Mary Jane and Spider-Man have a thing, and this might hurt Peter Parker if he ever finds out.

Smiley: 'The robot! It's falling onto MJ!' Peter, running ahead of the robot: 'I'll get you out of the --- ' (He shoves Mary Jane out of the way but the robot, falling over, crashes on Spider-Man's side.) 'ARRRH!'
Roy Thomas, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 29th of May, 2019. I had thought the World’s Fair robot just stood there talking with people and smoking cigarettes but I’m not asserting that I know about all the World’s Fair robots out there, especially in a variant of the Marvel Universe.

Mysterio, meanwhile, is sure: Spider-Man has got to be Mary Jane’s husband. He’s going to use a publicity photo shoot, using an old World’s Fair robot, to mess things up. The robot chases down Mary Jane. Peter Parker, in disguise as Peter Parker, shoves her out of the way, taking the fall at the cost of a cracked rib. Mysterio cackles at how he almost killed both Mary Jane and Spider-Man.

Producer Abe Smiley’s ready to cancel Marvella 2: The Secret Of The Ooze. But Mary Jane talks him out of it. And Peter’s discharged already: it was a tiny fracture. He even has a copy of the X-ray. Director “Dash” Dashell, curious about the X-rays, stumbles into Peter. Peter screams and spills his plot point right over everybody.

Dash Dashell: 'So that's an X-ray of your cracked rib? Here, let me see ... OOPS!' (He stumbles, knocking Peter Parker's chest, making Peter scream.) Mary Jane: 'I'd better get you home, Peter.' Sharon Smiley, whispering, to a tech person: 'If you're right and MJ's having an affair with Spider-Man ... her husband won't be getting in the way for a while.'
Roy Thomas, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 7th of June, 2019. I like people coming to the conclusion Mary Jane has something going with Spider-Man. It’s logical for onlookers to suppose. And it might help Peter Parker keep his identity secret, a thing he needs a lot of help with.

Marvella 2: Golden Receiver resumes. Spider-Man makes himself very visible watching over the next day of filming, at Washington Square Park. Mysterio does too. Then throws some misting gas grenades to be less visible. He’s figuring a mid-air, smoky fight with a wounded Spider-Man his best shot at killing Spidey. It’s not a bad thought. With a solid hit to the chest Spider-Man goes falling. Mysterio flies after him — well, not flies. Mysterio doesn’t have superpowers. He has a transparent hoverboard. Which Spider-Man snatches.

Mysterio: 'Your webbing --- latching onto my nigh-invisible Sky-Ski! But --- you were too DAZED to hurl that line!' Spider-Man: 'Or maybe, since they were filming a *movie*, I was just doing a bit of Oscar-level acting!' Mysterio: 'OOPH! You've pulled it --- out from under me!'
Roy Thomas, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 20th of June, 2019. I’d like to say it’s a coloring error that the nigh-invisible Sky-Ski is a bright orange, although that there’s not lines for Mysterio’s right boot suggests otherwise. In the previous couple days’ strips the Sky-Ski was invisible, or at least sky blue, which would probably be invisible enough for filming an ordinary special effects sequence. (I suppose a modern effects sequence would want the Sky-Ski to be a bright, easy-to-detect color not otherwise used, so it could be digitally erased. You can’t say that’s going on here. That’s not Mysterio’s thing and anyway his gloves are the same color.)

This offends Mysterio, a reaction I love. But Spidey points out, he can pretend to get hurt. With the hoverboard — er, Sky-Ski — Spidey can stay in the air long enough to continue fighting. Mysterio has an emergency reserve jet pack because, you know, supervillains. Anyway, they throw stuff at each other, they plummet, Spidey grabs on to Mysterio’s flying boomerang discus. He knocks Mysterio down. They fall into the fountain.

Spider-Man: 'I've removed your gimmicky gloves. Now let's see if you'r really who I THINK you are! (Removing the goldfish bowl.) Yep! Dash Dashell, boy movie director --- (Removing a face mask) -- Alias Quentin Beck, the one and only Mysterio!' Mary Jane: 'He was wearing a mask UNDER his mask!?'
Roy Thomas, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 5th of July, 2019. I understand the superhero convention of the mask-under-the-mask thing. But I look at this and wonder if Mysterio was getting any oxygen at all through those masks. His goldfish bowl wasn’t opaque because of special effects stuff. It was opaque because it fogged up.

Spidey reveals that Mysterio is in fact … “Dash” Dashell, director of Marvella 2: Invasion of the Tinysauruses. Or in fact … not. He’s really Quentin Beck, Mysterio. Mysterio kidnapped the real Dashell and took his place. The plan: draw out Spider-Man by staging accidents with Mary Jane Parker. This would let him kill Spider-Man, vanquishing his longstanding foe. Also let him kill Mary Jane, because, eh, what the heck.

Mysterio tries to at least reveal that Peter Parker is Spider-Man, and gets laughed out of town. It helps that Peter Skypes her with a “hey, just heard there’s a villain unraveling going on” call in the middle of this. Mysterio’s not fooled by a pre-recorded message. He slugs Spider-Man in the chest, who doesn’t even flinch, because Spidey doesn’t have a cracked rib. Mysterio leaves, abashed.

Mary Jane: 'That was Peter on the screen, so he *can't* be Spider-Man!' Mysterio, breaking away from the cop holding him: 'That call could've been pre-recorded! THIS'LL prove the wall-crawler is your husband! (And slugs Spider-Man in the chest.) WHAT? You didn't even FLINCH!' Spider-Man: 'Beck, you've got a punch like a soggy beanbag.'
Roy Thomas, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 11th of July, 2019. Question for the class: when did Peter Parker decide on his plan to fake having a cracked rib? He must have figured he had to fake being injured after the robot fell on him, since it would be weird if he didn’t need a hospital visit. But did he realize Mysterio was trying to injure Peter Parker, and needed to fake an injury? When? And on what basis?

How did Spider-Man pull this off? The X-rays Peter brought back from the hospital were old ones, from when this story originally ran four years ago. It’s some clever thinking by Peter, whose comic strip persona had needed the chance to show he can think. I’m not convinced that he had enough information in-world to form and execute this plan, though. But I’m also not sure how he leapt to the conclusion it was Mysterio behind all this either. Sometimes I guess you get lucky.


The Black Widow/Hobgoblin story got started, this time around, the 20th of July. Mary Jane admitted wearing the Marvella costume has kinda aroused something in her and she’d like to try web-slinging with him. And they’re having fun swooping over the town when the Hobgoblin blows through and tries to knock them down. Spider-Man leaves Mary Jane somewhere safe so they can go fighting.

Mary Jane, plummeting, screaming. Hobgoblin: 'Scream your head off on your way down! I've no intention of rescuing you!' Black Widow, swooping in to grab her: 'You don't need to --- while the Black Widow's around!'
Roy Thomas, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 2nd of August, 2019. I admire Hobgoblin’s willingness to say “I’ve no intention of rescuing you”. That’s a real power move of a line of dialogue. You know he could totally have said “I’ven’t any intention” except he’s holding that in reserve in case he has to escalate his dismissiveness.

It doesn’t go well. Hobgoblin knocks Spidey unconscious and returns to grab Mary Jane. She recognizes Hobgoblin as her old boyfriend, and Peter Parker’s friend Harry Osborn. Hobgoblin blames Spider-Man for the death of his father Harry “Green Goblin” Osborn. And he hates Mary Jane now for … I don’t know. Something. Good chance they explain it in whatever this month’s Spider-Man movie is. Fortunately, the Black Widow is around and able to save Mary Jane.

Between the Black Widow and the recovered Spider-Man they’re able to chase Hobgoblin off. This gives Spidey and Black Widow a chance to exposition to each other. Black Widow was seeking a former Soviet Spy who’d killed “friends” of hers years ago, and ran across this by accident. Mary Jane, meanwhile, contracts instant jealousy of Spider-Man talking to Black Widow like this. And that’s the standings as of this weekend.

Next Week!

Doc Wonmug takes Alley Oop and Oola to meet Plato and then something goes wrong with the time machine. And it’s not the Time Raccoons, not yet. Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop is up in six days, unless I get busy.

How Far Ahead Of Publication Does The Guy Who Draws _Marvin_ Work?


I apologize for not having a report on The Amazing Spider-Man comics today. The time I’d wanted to use for that had to go to other things this week. My throat is still sore from hollering about all those things. Don’t worry. The things will be fine. My throat will too, most likely. It’s been through worse. I hope to have Spidey for you tomorrow, at this link.

Meanwhile, in reading Tom Armstrong’s Marvin yesterday, I discovered something. I am not a great gardener. I think the last thing I can say I definitely grew successfully was in elementary school. We had that project where you put lima beans in a styrofoam cup. Inside a few weeks we had stringy, floppy, tangled masses of lima bean vine. This proved the important lesson that if you had a vegetable you wouldn’t eat, all it took was a few weeks and you’d get a plant that other people could make produce more of that vegetable. I keep realizing there’s stuff about elementary school I don’t understand.

Mr Marvin's Dad, to his wife, who's got several trays of flowers: 'I can't believe you're going to try it again this year. Face it, Jenny ... you're not a gardener, you're a serial flower-killer.'
I’ll check but will a gardening store even sell you Purple Spirograph Doodles this time of year?

Anyway this teaches me at least two things. One is that I am a better gardener than Mrs Marvin’s Mom is, since I wouldn’t try planting flowers in the middle of August. The other is that the guy who draws Marvin must have been in a gardening store and had this great idea about “a serial flower-killer” pop in his head. And he wasn’t going to sit on that joke for a year. So Marvin is being written about four months ahead of publication.

What’s Going On In Judge Parker? Who’s Judge Parker’s jailhouse friend? May – August 2019


I’m happy to have another recap of one of the two most controversial comics in my retinue. It’s Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker. If you’re reading this after about October 2019 there’s probably a more up-to-date recap at this link. It may help you more.

Judge Parker.

12 May – 3 August 2019.

Last time: Judge Alan Parker was readying to go to jail. He was going to confess his role in helping tiresomely kill-happy superhyperspy Abbott Bowers/Norton Dumont fake his own death. And incidentally upstaging the juiciest scandal in Toni Bowen’s memoirs. The memoirs’ imminent publication drove Alan Parker to speak publicly about this. Also to make Katherine Parker quit her publishing job.

Alan Parker, at his press conference: 'Though it was years after I retired from the bench, I used my connections and authority to help an in-law fake his own death and escape the country. An in-law known for his illegal activities ... I did this as a favor to my former daughter-in-law, who I did not know at the time was experiencing her own issues with the law.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 24th of May, 2019. The story of what Alan Parker did, so far as it was revealed at the time, I’ve explained in this special report. I note that what we saw on-screen had Norton in Mexico, which is not “the country” Parker would be speaking of here. It’s quite plausible there are plot details that Marciuliano has in mind which have not been revealed yet. Also I guess Randy Parker did get a divorce from April, which must have been an interesting thing to arrange, legally, what with her being in hiding after escape from the CIA and all that.

Alan Parker’s press conference shakes everyone in the cast. Including Norton, being held in SuperHyperUltraDuper secret CIA jail. The bureau chief there scolds him for not cooperating, now that Norton’s wrecked everybody’s life and hasn’t got any friends left. Norton insists he knows what he’ll do about all this.

April Bowers Parker, off with her superspy mom Candice Bergen, now knows that Norton is alive. She says she’s got a mole in the CIA, passing information to her. And even delivering a gift to Alan Parker, closing the “how did Norton leave Alan Parker some rings” plot hole from a couple months back. It’s not fair to call it a plot hole. It was a mystery then and it’s answered now. This may be so Marciuliano can prove he doesn’t write by spinning a Wheel of Daft Plot Twists. Candace Bergen calls it a setup, and proof that the CIA has located them.

April, to her mother: 'Dad's inside person contact me, Mom. She said his time is running out.' Candice Bergen: 'Of course they'd say that! The CIA is setting you up!' April: 'Mom --- ' Candice Bergen: 'This is a trap, April! Your father is DEAD! He has no mole in the CIA. It's just proof the CIA has located you and we have to move! NOW!'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 31st of May, 2019. Incidentally I would accept a canonical name for April’s Mom, whom I’ve just been calling Candice Bergen because one early panel with her struck me as looking a bit Murphy Brown-ish. I’m not good with names. I like comic strips because normally people are always calling each other by name and I have a chance of learning who they are.

In their argument about whether Norton could be alive, and whether April’s plan to retrieve him is at all sane, Candice Bergen gets shown with her mouth open. This spoils my theory that she was drawn mouth closed for the subtle weirdness. Too bad.

In Los Angeles, Neddy and Ronnie talk over making the April Parker story into a movie. Neddy thinks it’s a great idea. Ronnie thinks they maybe shouldn’t stir up the crazy DoubleSecretSuperUltraHyper assassin who knows where they live and can’t be stopped by any force except Francesco Marciuliano. If him. This thread hasn’t developed yet. I include it in case this turns into an important plot for a future What’s Going On In installment.

Ronnie: 'OK, if we do write a female assassin movie it can't be about her missing some guy. It can't feature yet another special school where they train kids to be killers. And the main character has to beat up someone named 'Steven McLuren'.' Neddy: 'Who's 'Steven McLuren'?' Ronnie: 'My first acting teacher, who said I didn't have what it takes.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 7th of June, 2019. I have no information about whether ‘Steven McLuren’ is a person in Marciuliano’s life. Authors can just make up names for throwaway lines of dialogue. They don’t have to be shout-outs to friends who’ll find it a hoot. (I once shared a Usenet group with the grand-daughter of someone whose pumpkin patch once hosted the Great Pumpkin.)

Back Alan Parker. The court denies bail. The judge conceded Alan Parker’s long and venerable career of not actually doing much law stuff on-screen in the comic strip named after him. But he’s there because he used his connections to make an arms dealer and serial killer disappear. It would be crazy not to consider him a flight risk. Alan Parker takes this calmly. Katherine is more upset. Sam Driver is sure they can appeal this somewhere.

Montage of moments of Judge Alan Parker entering jail: 'Receiving lobby check-in. Prison clothes. Fingerprints. Photograph. Prison ID card.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 25th of June, 2019. Not really on point, but I’ve seen people complaining about Alan Parker being in prison when he should be in jail, the distinction being that a jail is where you go to wait for trial and prison where you go after. So my question: does anybody remember this distinction being made longer than about five months ago? Because I don’t remember this at all, and it’s the sort of tiresomely fine point that you’d think would enthrall my young mind. I’d have been unbearable about this if I were nine years old and aware of the difference. Or is this something that some corner of the Internet has decided Should Be a distinction and now they’re going to drag the rest of us into it?

And there we go. The 24th of June, 2019, Alan Parker, original nominal star of the comic, is in prison. He has as jolly a time as you would imagine an officer of the court would have. Fortunately, he lands a protector. It’s Roy Rodgers, longtime fiancée and briefly husband to Abbey Driver’s housekeeper Marie. Roy thinks they each have things the other can use. Alan Parker just wants to keep his head down, and Roy tells him that’s impossible.

Roy was in debt to the mob, which was the reason behind his ill-planned disappearance during his honeymoon. He’d bought his life back by giving up the security codes for his business partner’s safe and information about where to find his valuables are. This is morally justified because it was Roy’s partner who was embezzling, and had left them in too deep to the mob for Roy to pay off. The mob staged a burglary that “accidentally” turned into murder. Roy actually believes he’s safe now. So let’s let him enjoy his fantasies.

Roy believes that he has a group now. So he’ll extend protection to Alan Parker … in exchange for information about Marie. Marie has been doing surprisingly, maybe alarmingly, well since the collapse of her marriage and her decision to leave the Parker-Driver-Spencer nexus. She’s even got a new boyfriend that somehow she’s not suspicious of. But Alan Parker knows nothing of this.

Abbey, on the phone: 'You met someone? Uh, Marie ... did you hear what happened to Roy's business partner?' Marie: 'It was awful. But I'm alert, Abbey. And I'm safe.' Abbey: 'And you're with someone who just popped into your life right after that? My, isn't that ... isn't that ... ' Marie: 'Suspicious? I don't think there are many mob killers taking social welfare policy classes, Abbey.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 19th of June, 2019. See? This is the sort of characters addressing each other by name that I like in comics. This helps me understand who’s speaking to whom and even what their relationships are.

In a meeting with Sam Driver, Alan Parker confesses. He had not realized the deep sickness of the carceral state, and how toxic it is to everyone who touches it, or whom it chooses to grab. Also he begs Sam Driver to never under any circumstance tell him anything about Marie. … Also, Roy wants Sam Driver as attorney and Alan would recommend against that.

Meanwhile, Randy Parker, ex(?)-husband to April, turns up at Sam and Abbey’s doorstep. He’s falling apart, as you might well imagine. He’ll nest at the Spencer Farms a while.

More meanwhile — there’s a lot of stuff happening here — there’s more stuff happening with Norton. Of course. April Parker, with Wurst, heads in to get Norton. He’s already disappeared from SuperSecretHyperUltraDuperMax CIA Jail, though. Also we learn he wasn’t in Official SuperExtraSecretUltraDuperMegaMaxHyper CIA Jail either. The bureau chief was keeping him in a private cell, known only to himself, his assistant Kerring, and Agent Strand. Strand is the person who’d been sending information to April Parker. And keeping the CIA’s efforts to find April from succeeding. Strand and Norton are taking a road trip.

[ As the bureau chief copes with a missing Norton from a secret CIA holding cell ... ] Chief: 'JUST DO SOMETHING, KERRING! AND DO IT NOW! NOW!!' [ Agent Strand copes with her own problems. ] Strand, passenger in a car: 'So you really think you should be driving? Without a disguise?' Norton: 'Gotta be free to be me. By the way, you can shut off Google Maps. I know where I'm going.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 27th of July, 2019. Won’t lie: I’ve been overloaded this week, and I wrote most of this summary last weekend, and I’ve been living in dread that the comic was going to have a great big crazification moment while I didn’t have time to update things. But now? This caption? I’m writing late Saturday night and all I have to do is not see, like, a Norton/April/Candice Bergen/Marie’s Boyfriend/Roy encounter at Neddy’s apartment on Sunday morning that ends with an atom bomb being flown into the area by rogue Leutonian fighters and I’ll have gotten away with it. You’ll notice I declared this a summary only of the events through the 3rd of August, though, instead of running it out to Sunday the 4th.

So, that’s a lot happening. The pieces seem this week to be flying together. And we at least have solid evidence that Marciuliano is not improvising these plots madly. There’s too many pieces that were planted fairly and followed up on months later for that. I admit I’m tired of the impossibly hypercompetent, impossibly hyperviolet spies. But that’s my taste, and which of us is the person with an occasionally tended WordPress blog anyway?

Next Week!

Oh, it’s the What’s Going On In that I could have written literally anytime the last three months. We’re back to the reruns of Roy Thomas and Alex Saviuk’s The Amazing Spider-Man. Why did I not move this strip up to this week’s review, when I’d have time for it?

Also, this and every week my other blog looks at mathematically-themed comic strips. You might enjoy some of the discussion. I usually do.

What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? What’s this guy’s problem with NBA stars? May – July 2019


Thanks for being here, high school sports fans. If it’s later than about October 2019 I probably have a more up-to-date recap of Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp at this link. And any old week I should have mathematics-themed comics discussed at this link. That guy, Ed Baxendale, hasn’t yet revealed what his problem is with NBA star Jaquan Case. Thanks.

Gil Thorp.

6 May – 27 July 2019.

So here’s the standings from last time I checked in on Milford Sports. The girls’ softball team was uniting under the “Too Cool For School” motto. This after everyone realized they did stuff that wasn’t softball that they liked. Linda Carr, student, has a volleyball scholarship to college but doesn’t think she likes volleyball that much anymore. You might ask how we can get a story out of this.

That’s answered early on: a friend of the softball girls asks if his being the school’s second-best bowler makes him Too Cool For School. And, they gotta say. Asking if you’re too cool? Also, second-best? Also, he plays clarinet rather than sax? Nah. But since people want to be branded Too Cool For School? They get some badges made. And now we’ve deployed a full, proper high school hellscape.

Nancy: 'I'm with you: Linda and David didn't do anything that cool. But now my double-play partner is mad at me.' Molly: 'Nah. She's mad at me.' Elsewhere, Linda, to David: 'I just need some attention for my softball. I guess Nancy and Molly are too cool to help me out!'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 17th of May, 2019. So part of the Gil Thorp artistic style is to often have the first two panels be one plot thread and the third an unrelated one. If you like it, it’s a way to keep the stories in motion. If you don’t like it, it’s a cheap way to put tension hooks on boring stuff like “teens get a slushie”. Your choice. What frustrates me is when it isn’t clear that the last panel is a separate scene. Looking over it, oh, yes, the first two panels and the third are certainly not taking place in the same building and maybe not at the same time. But is that obvious on a casual read? It’d be fair to look at this and suppose that Linda, David, Nancy, and Molly are about to have a confrontation. When that doesn’t happen, it can make the story seem choppy.

I mean, some of it is okay. They follow leads that, like, a kid in World History raised like $5,000 for the food bank, and recognize that. A couple who both got National Merit Scholarships. Ruled out: a couple, including someone else on the girls softball team, who just had good games the same day. Or a kid who says he wrote a screenplay and hopes to get a Too Cool For School badge. This causes hard feelings, including between the girls who started the Too Cool For School thing.

Coach Mimi Thorp has enough of this. She gives Nancy and Molly, the head of the Too Cool ratification committee, George Orwell’s Animal Farm to read. Nancy reads it. Molly read it in 9th grade so just does some reading about it, which, yeah, sounds right. But both take Coach Thorp’s point: let’s put less judgemental energy into places that are already toxic pits of cliques, please? Once again I feel like the story comics are nudging me. To this I say, I’m trying to be a good reader of these stories. If I sour on a comic I hope it to be for reasons I could articulate, and form part of an earnest discussion of the comic strip’s artistic value.

Molly: 'The committee got to thinking, Tyler. A lot of people talk about writing screenplays, but almost no one does it. That *is* too cool for school!' (She gives the grinning Tyler a Too Cool pin.) Later: Nancy: 'Was Tyler geeked?' Molly: 'Almost as geeked as Harold with his stamp collection. I ordered more badges!'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 7th of June, 2019. Also I don’t think Nancy and Molly are supposed to be twins but they do look distractingly similar to me. Granted, I am not good with names and faces and personal identity and all that. I’m better in your comic strip like Pogo, where there’s at most three people of any species (Mama, Papa, and Child) and you have to work to mistake a beaver for a tiger.

Back to the comic. Nancy and Molly go trying to make amends, giving in Too Cool For School badges to all the people they’d turned down. The new standard is showing that even though you’re in high school you still have a personality. This even if your thing is stamp collecting in 2019 somehow. Did I mention last month I finally updated my ham radio license from when I moved to Michigan seven years ago?

Last thread needing cleanup. Linda Carr still feels burned out on volleyball. Mimi Thorp talks with her, starting by talking about how the Local College Team is going to get crushed next year. Linda rallies to the defense of her future team, and that’s the opening to argue that she still cares about volleyball. What’s bothering her is that she’s not playing for fun anymore; she’ll spend the summer doing that, instead. It’s not bad advice for anyone who’s burned out. Girls softball wins the Valley championship, but loses to Wellington in the playoffs (sic). That’s all right; they’re all still proud of their team-ness.


That finishes the girls softball story for spring. The summer story began the 24th of June. It started with the return of Jaquan Case, and is fiancée Hadley V Baxendale. Their stories were from before I started doing What’s Going On In recaps. But Case had been on the basketball team, and felt conflicted between his skills as a student athlete and that he liked, you know, learning. Baxendale had helped him through this struggle, pointing out that you could go to college and then the NBA. Also Baxendale had her own life, pushing for the girls teams to get full-size lockers and cheerleaders and all that just like the boys teams did. (I do not remember any of this and am cribbing from the Comics Curmudgeon, which has deeper archives, instead.)

Family dinner. The subject: Jaquan and Hadley's romance. Hadley: 'Two seasons ago a client gave me tickets to a Bulls game. And in the second quarter, Jaquan muffed a pass.' Jaquan: 'It was six feet wide!' Flashback: courtside, Hadley holding the ball, Jaquan asking, 'Do I know you?'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 3rd of July, 2019. So this time about a year after I got my bachelor’s I was back in town and stopped in a comic book shop. One of the clerks recognized me and talked with me familiarly and absolutely knew who I was. He seemed familiar but from where? No idea. After several minutes of trying to string the conversation along I gave in and asked where I know you from. He had been my roommate Junior year. Anyway so people who recognize faces from someone they haven’t seen in more than ten days are masters of some kind of freaky magic.

They went their separate ways after high school, the way actual people do. Case eventually did get into pro basketball. Baxendale went to law school and made partner early. One game in Chicago, Case failed to connect with the ball, while Baxendale did, and they connected over that. Nice.

Case and Baxendale have some problems, sure. They have separate hometowns, particularly, and neither of them has a job that relocates well. Hadley’s father worries about this, since, like, how can you have a long-distance relationship? (As one who had a long-distance relationship for years, I have to say: tolerably well. It takes different work than an in-person relationship does. And there’s true pain when your partner needs to be held and you’re a thousand miles away. But a good partner is worth it.) Her father’s really worked up on the impracticalities of a two-city household. And that, like, in a decade Case will be retired and Baxendale won’t. Won’t that be weird? So the question is what’s his real problem here.

Hadley's Father: 'If you played for the Chicago Bulls, Hadley wouldn't need to leave her job.' Jaquan: 'It's not that easy, Mr ... uh .. Ed. The Bulls would have to want me, and vice-versa.' Hadley: 'Besides, I'm *not* leaving my job.' Father: 'But then you'll need two homes.' Hadley: 'Gracious, my NBA all-star darling ... how will we afford it?'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 10th of July, 2019. Ed Baxendale had asked Case why he couldn’t just play for Chicago. This is so delightful. My love and I are academics, or would be if we were both in our ideal careers. Academics get career advice that is pretty much, “Why don’t you knock on the door of Michigan State University and ask if they’re hiring?” (They are not. If you want to cold-call a school, all you can do is the week before class see if they list any classes with instructor TBA. Then you might swing an adjunct spot out of them.) Anyway, if you have career advice for an academic friend or family member? Don’t offer it, unless the same advice given to a pro athlete would not be obviously dumb.

This is thin stuff even for a summer story. Thickening it up: the return of Tiki Jansen. He was avoiding harassment at New Thayer by a dubious but accepted maneuver. His family rented an apartment in Milford to use as his official address and he just drove from New Thayer to Milford every day. The school board has thought about this again and said, yeah, no, you don’t really live in Milford. Sorry.

Gil Thorp mentions this problem to Baxendale. She’s interested in the legal challenge here. And the chance to annoy her old school board, which, yeah, I buy as motivation. She’s got some plan in mind. We haven’t yet heard what that is, either.

And that’s a summer in Milford. There’s probably about a month to go in these storylines and then the fall season should take back over.

Milford Schools Watch

Here’s the towns or other schools that Milford was named as playing the last several months.


Bonus College Mentions

Mentioned as teams that Local College Team would play:

  • Western (11 May)
  • Southern (possibly; the reference might also be to a series of games played in the southern region of the conference, 11 May)

Next Week!

Well, I’ve got a packed week ahead of me. It looks to be great, mind you, and one I’ll be glad to go through. But I just do not have the time to summarize any complicated or intensely packed comics. So I’m looking forward to some nice easy reading, and summarizing, whatever’s next on my big wheel of story strips. Let me just take a nice long sip of hot tea and look up what’s next weekend’s adventure.

It’s Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker.

Well, I knew the job was dangerous when I stumbled unawares into it.

What’s Going On In Rex Morgan, M.D.? What’s this Celestial Healing nonsense? April – July 2019


So here’s my long-awaited recap of Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D.. If you’re reading this after about October 2019 I may have a more up-to-date recap, which should be posted at this link. And, if you’re thinking about mathematical comics, I am too, on my other blog. But just a little.

Rex Morgan, M.D.

28 April – 21 July 2019.

A new story was just starting when I last recapped the comic strip. That’s convenient for me. Sarah Morgan met someone new, a girl named Marti. Marti’s mother is surprised to learn that Sarah’s father is Rex Morgan. He’s Marti’s doctor, and she’s gotten medical things like shots from him. Well, people have many aspects.

Sarah: 'Hey, Dad! Meet my new friend Marti!' Rex: 'I think I already know your new friend Marti.' Sarah: 'Yeah, I forgot. She said you're her doctor.' Marti: 'Hi, Doctor Rex. I'm not sick at all today --- so I don't need any shots or pills or anything!'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 4th of May, 2019. I know that Kid Characters will not be to everyone’s tastes. But I do feel Terry Beatty’s been doing well writing kids who sound roughly like kids. I fully believe Marti’s reaction as the sort of thing a kid says on encountering her doctor in some not-doctor environment.

Marti has Down Syndrome. Sarah doesn’t understand this, but does understand that other kids are being terrible toward her about this. Rex explains this, in very general terms, and Sarah’s cool with it. Good of her. They start having regular enough play dates. And with these characters met up, the storyline’s concluded.


The next storyline began the 15th of May. Morgan babysitter Kelly meets her friends Justin and Niki at the Caffeine Bean coffee shop. Where, incidentally, Marti’s teenage older brother Russell works. You’ll remember Justin as the kid who had that disease where he couldn’t swallow. It’s an ordinary day, so it’s time for things to go weird. While Justin is in the bathroom two suspicious-looking teens pull out guns.

[The teens' favorite coffee shop is being robbed by a not-so-bright duo.] Teen in cap: '$40 and the tip jar money? That won't even pay for the guns and disguises!' Teen in hoodie: 'So we take customer wallets.' Cap: 'Yeah, that'd work.' Russel: 'Hey, guys, can I ask a question? How come there's little bits of orange on the ends of your guns?' Hoodie: 'WHAT? Oh, man ... the paint's flaking off!' Justin: 'Seriously, fellas. If you're gonna try to pass off air pellet guns as real, at least use a good spray primer to cover the orange tips before you paint 'em black.' Hoodie: 'I TOLD you that paint wouldn't stick without a good primer coat! Aw, man ... '
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 26th of May, 2019. Now, I know this maybe makes Justin (the guy in purple talking about the primer in the last panel) look smug, but please consider his look and dialogue from the 28th of May, when he reaches the point that Les Moore wants to slug him.

The holdup goes screwy. There’s not a lot of cash in the register. Russell notices there’s bits of orange coming off the ends of their guns. And Justin calls the cops on them. Justin also gets to explaining how they should have used a primer at least. And … jeez. This is why white guys shouldn’t talk. I can’t even say it’s not authentic. It’s exactly the sort of stupid thing I’d say in a situation like that. I have anecdotes. Please don’t ask.

With the self-destruction of the holdup this storyline comes to a happy enough ending. Their parents are all much more freaked out than any of the kids are, and fair enough.


Sarah, Marti, and Edward take a moment to have ice cream and discuss what the deal is with Edward’s dog. Russell (who also has Down Syndrome) gets a checkup and it’s from Rex Morgan. Everyone take a moment to talk about how good they all are at being people. And then we move into the current story.


It concerns Merle Lewton. He’s a retired white guy. He’s finally picked his way to be retired-white-guy crazy. He’s taking the paranoid-health-conspiracy track. He’s certain that They are out there, spraying aluminum, strontium, barium, and who knows what else in the sky. His wife Lana insisted on this health checkup, if nothing else to get him out of the house for two blessed hours.

Rex, examining Merle: 'So how do you know these spirit guides are successfully removing the toxins?' Merle: 'I can feel it. Chiron and Ninazu draw the toxins away and leave me healthy.' Rex: 'And how often are you being treated?' Merle: 'Weekly! My house is in the flight path of the chemtrail planes!'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 2nd of July, 2019. And sure, you roll your eyes at Merle Lewton here, but consider that his second choice for retired-white-guy crazy was “World War II hardware” so this is definitely at least 0.15 percent more bearable.

Lewton explains he’s getting special treatment for the chemtrail poisoning, from Glenwood’s own spiritual cleanser, Serena Galexia. So when Rex Morgan’s tests show no poisoning? That proves how good her over-the-phone Celestial Healing detoxification treatment is. That and the enormous bills this treatment runs up.

Rex checks up on this Serena Galexia. Her web site and blog and podcast and all are exactly what you’d imagine. Rex and June worry that all this nonsense might keep Mr Lewton from getting actual medical care in case he does get sick. Can they do anything about Galexia’s transparently obvious scam? A quick look at any American supermarket’s ‘dietary supplements’ section tells us no.

Lana: 'If I get a complete medical workup it should show I'm full of these poisons, right?' Merle: 'Of course! If that's what it takes for you to believe I'm all for it. When we have proof, will you get treated by miss Galexia?' Lana: 'What if the tests show I'm not poisoned? Will you STOP this nonsense then?'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 16th of July, 2019. Well, we’re just fortunate to live in a country with a long history of strong environmental laws taken seriously so there’s not a chance that Lana, like, actually has something that would confuse all of this.

Lana wants some peace at least. She proposes that Rex Morgan test her for chemtrail toxins. After all, she hasn’t had any Galexia Celestial Healing treatments. So if she comes back as healthy, obviously, Merle will have no choice but to agree to the experimental results. Rex is happy to run tests, but points out that this is not how people work. Galexia is doing some in-person sessions soon, though. And Merle wants Lana to attend. Rex hasn’t yet expressed an opinion on all this. That’s just where the plot has reached.

Next Week!

We’re back to Milford and the thrill of high school sports! It’s Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp, if the weather cooperates.

Wait, did Funky Winkerbean just have a talking monkey kill someone?


I apologize to everyone wanting a plot recap for Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D.. It’s just been ferociously hot lately. Incredibly hot, to the point that it’s impossible to do things besides exaggerate the heat. It’s been so hot our goldfish are sweating. It’s been so hot when I look at comic strips on my computer the characters burst into flames. It’s been so hot that our ice cubes melted while still inside the freezer. We think the compressor blew. We have a new fridge scheduled for delivery Tuesday.

The point is I’ve been busy drinking every chilled citrus-y beverage on the eastside of Lansing and taking a cold shower every twenty minutes. I haven’t had time to re-read, or think how to condense, three months’ worth of soap-opera comic plot. I don’t want to leave you with nothing, though, so I’ll just answer the question posed in my subject line. Tom Batiuk’s Funky Winkerbean is one of those comics that I doubt needs to be in the What’s Going On In series. It, like Greg Evans and Karen Evans’s Luann, has ongoing storylines. But their storytelling pattern makes a What’s Going On In unnecessary. They have a bunch of ongoing storylines. They focus on each for a time, usually a couple of weeks. Thing is they resume each thread with enough of a reminder of what’s going on that readers aren’t lost. But there will sometimes be a strip so bizarre and wild that it draws attention from non-regular readers. They’ll be baffled. Funky Winkerbean, by the way, gets a fun daily roasting over at the Son of Stuck Funky blog. That’s a community with people who have, maybe enjoy, a staggering knowledge of the Winkerbean universe. I couldn’t have found many of the strips I reference here without their daily essays and tagging. I don’t know a snark blog that reads every Luann in similar detail, although, of course, the Comics Curmudgeon discusses both regularly.

News lady Cindy Summers was interviewing old-time serial-movie actor Cliff Anger for a documentary. The documentary is about his old friend Butter Brinkel, and Brinkel’s scandal. The comic introduced Brinkel as a silent movie comedy star. (Also as Butter Brickle, which I’m told is the name of an ice cream flavor. I don’t remember hearing of it before this.) His career and scandal got bumped to the 1940s. This seems to be because Tom Batiuk realized that if this happened in the 1920s then Cliff Anger would have to be eighteen years older than dirt. With the retcon, he’s now plausibly younger than two of the cast of Gasoline Alley.

The scandal was a fictionalized take on the rape and killing of Virginia Rappe. Young actress Virginia Pond was shot and killed by someone at a masquerade ball at Butter Brinkel’s fabulous Hollywood estate. Brinkel’s house had its own carousel, a chimpanzee Zanzibar that Brinkel had taught to smoke and drink alcohol, a bloated gun collection, and a guy nudging you and asking if you saw that because NO SPOILERS BUT it’s going to be important.

Anger remembers something his friend Dashiell Hammett had said. Hammett, while he was with the Pinkertons, was on the team looking for evidence to acquit Brinkel. This makes no sense if the story is set in the 1940s. But it would fit if Brinkel was a silent-movie star, an era when Hammett did work for the Pinkertons. Anyway, the team couldn’t find any exculpatory evidence. This is interesting. The strip established there were at least two people besides Brinkel wearing the same costume at the masquerade. One hesitates to suspect the Pinkertons of wrongdoing but they were missing an obvious lead. It could be they didn’t understand a job that was not about beating in the heads of coal miners who wanted pay. Hammett thought Brinkel was protecting somebody, though, but couldn’t imagine who.

While Brinkel was waiting for trial, Anger took Zanzibar to his home. And we got this strip, which revealed that the actual killer was, in a surprise, the other character in the story:

Cliff Anger, narrating as black-and-white illustrations show his recollection: 'Zanzibar had found one of my prop Starbuck Jones rayguns. I thought he was just playing with it when he suddenly pointed it at me and ... ' Panel of Zanzibar, pointing the ray gun at the reader, saying, 'Where's Father?'
Tom Batiuk and Chuck Ayers’s Funky Winkerbean for the 19th of July, 2019. Cindy concluded that Zanzibar was jealous of Valerie Pond’s relationship with Butter Brinkel and so that’s why he shot her. Also that I guess Pond had a relationship with Brinkel that Zanzibar would feel jealous of. And this solved an eighty- or hundred-year-old mystery. Starbuck Jones was this in-universe fictional comic book. It turned into a movie serial and a blockbuster modern sci-fi action movie. For a while it threatened for a while to take over the entirety of Funky Winkerbean. The Starbuck Jones saga had many repetitive and often confusing incidents. Tom Batiuk several times apparently changed his mind about the comic book’s place in pop culture and used his new ideas as if the old ones weren’t already published. But the saga did have the advantage that for most of it the comic strip didn’t have any reason to show Les Moore. So Funky Winkerbean snark fans were content with it.

The answer, then is that no, someone was not killed by a talking monkey. Zanzibar was a talking chimpanzee. Cliff Anger established that Zanzibar was a chimpanzee on the 28th of June. Well, all right, on the 16th of July Cliff Anger said he was a monkey. He’s a talking something, anyway, who killed someone in either the 1920s or 1940s. (Or 1950s, when Cliff Anger was making the Starbuck Jones serial.) Anyway, how many of us can say that about ourselves?

Anyway so here’s a little craft project for the one person out there with any free time: how did Cliff Anger answer Zanzibar?

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Sundays)? Who are these Avari people? April – July 2019


This recap of Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s Sunday continuity of The Phantom is up-to-date for mid-July 2019. If you’re reading this after about October 2019, or you’re interested in the separate weekday-continuity storyline there may be an essay at this link more relevant for you. Also if you have Phantom questions in general I know The PhantomWiki helps me all the time. It might do the same for you.

And as usual I discuss some comic strips with mathematical themes over on my other blog. You might enjoy, or at least like the pictures.

The Phantom (Sundays)

21 April – 15 July 2019.

The Phantom was nearing the end of his tale of The Little Detective when I last checked in. This inadvertent stowaway had kept logs of the animal smuggling going on under guise of B-29 air shows. The Phantom had gone to rescue her. The smugglers talked up the need to respect the Greatest Generation, so The Phantom started punching, as is right.

[Slow learners want another go at the Phantom.] Smuggler: 'Get him, men!' (They charge The Phantom.) [Phantom pulls his punches.] (He punches and knocks over each airman.) [He needs fliers in shape to fly ... fly to the LAST PLACE they want to go.] Airman, trembling on the ground, holding up a hand begging for mercy: 'Bangalla! B-Bangalla it is, mister ... '
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 5th of May, 2019. “I know this is bad, guys, but you gotta admit this is still better than the time Mark Trail punched us all and then our plane blew up.” “Shut up, Les.”

Once they’re punched enough, they agree to fly The Phantom, his wolf, and the Little Detective home to Bangalla, and to stand trial. (Some of the animals they smuggled were from Bangalla, which is why they have any standing in the matter.) And with that, The Phantom finishes telling his story. It ran 26 weeks.


The new, current, story, began the 19th of May. It’s The Free Avar Front, the 188th Sunday continuity story. That according to the Phantom Wiki, which also agrees that The Little Detective was the 187th Sunday continuity story. So that’s at least staying consistent.

It starts in the Bangallan capital of Mawitaan, where an activist tries rousing the public. She tells of the iron rule of the Khagan, tyrant of the land of Avaria, in the adjacent Misty Mountains. People are skeptical. Start deciding that tyrants are unacceptable in governments and pretty soon you don’t have any governments left. Plus, nobody knows what’s in the Misty Mountains. Who can even say if there’s people living under dictatorial rule there?

What’s there is the Lost Kingdom of Avaria, populated by refugees from the Romans and the Franks. The 10th Phantom encountered them in 1748. The current, 21st, Phantom encountered them in a Sunday-continuity story in 2009 and 2010. (Here I’m cribbing from the Phantom Wiki about the events.) Their leader, the Khagan, poisoned The Phantom on their first encounter. Kit junior, along for the ride, freed The Phantom by using his wits and a cannon. The Phantom kidnapped introduced the Khagan to the neighboring Misty Mountains kingdom of Baronkhan. He’d hoped introducing the leader of this fearsome, isolated, warlike people this would improve things.

Things are still rough. The Khagan’s secret police kidnap the pamphleteer from Mawitaan. The secret police are women dressed in Roman-esque armor. This is part of the Avarian warrior style. They take the woman to a secret camp the Khagan has set up in the wilderness. She wants names of other “traitors”.

[Encampment of The Khagan, absolute ruler of the Avarian realm, in the Misty Mountains. No mercy.] Khagan: 'Before you die you'll give me the names of your fellow conspirators!' Resister: 'I will not! And we are NOT conspirators, Khagan! That's your word!' Khagan: 'You'll GIVE me the names. In so doing your death will serve the greater good of the realm. Avaria is mine alone to command! Only I can do it!' Resister: 'No, Khagan! Freedom is coming! Kill me --- kill us all! It can't be stopped! Sadly, you will be the VERY LAST to see what's happening in the hearts and minds of the people!' (Outside the tent The Phantom listens.)
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 23rd of June, 2019. So, yeah, the updating of Prince Valiant for the King Features Cinematic Universe takes kind of a dark turn, but that’s so it can achieve a greater light later on. Trust the narrative.

This kind of thing won’t go unnoticed. The Phantom’s network of gossips and eavesdroppers hears the woman’s neighbor talk about the kidnapping. The Phantom picks this, of all the things going on in Bangalla, to follow up on. Granted a squadron of warrior women in Romanesque costumes stands out from, like, the reports of animal smugglers. So he follows the trail and encounters the Khagan. She remembers him. He insists Bangallan law protects the prisoner. The Khagan asks how a leader, “rendered weak by your laws”, can hope to lead in times of danger. The Ghost Who Walks argues that leaders serve their people, by serving the rule of law, which is what keeps a land free. This is where the story’s reached today. I assume next week the Khagan mentions how The Phantom, in his spare time from being a vigilante, secretly commands a multi-national paramilitary force answerable to no authority but himself. And I make no guesses about what comes after that.

Next Week!

Whatever happened with Edward’s dog? And what’s with the patient coming in to Rex Morgan talking about chemtrails and healing crystals? What does Rex Morgan know about people who don’t actually practice medicine? Barring surprises, Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. is my next plot recap subject. See you soon.

So it turns out the guy who draws Graffiti is still alive and drawing Graffiti


Written on a wooden fence: 'Worst example of snap judgement --- Selfies'
Gene Mora’s Graffiti for the 2nd of July, 2019. So between this and the Broom Hilda kangaroo last week saw just all KINDS of revelations in the comic strips that have been running since before English resumed using the letter ‘k’.

Or at least was alive and drawing Graffiti sometime this decade. Also, in a development that I’m sure no one ever imagined, it turns out this comic strip that’s been running since twelve years before they invented rocks is all cranky about something the Millennials are probably up to with their smartyphones and stuff. The comments on it at GoComics are also really quite Internet Old Person, if you need more of that in your life, which you do not. Still, while there is much we do not know about Gene Mora, the guy who draws Graffiti, we can at least say he’s drawn a new Graffiti this century.

Has the guy who draws Broom Hilda ever seen a kangaroo?


The guy is Russel Myers. He’s been drawing the strip since it started in 1970 and, so far as I know, he’s doing all right. At one point he was like a year ahead of deadline, which is amazing. There are times I’ve been as much as four hours ahead of deadline, myself.

As for whether he’s seen a kangaroo … uh .. .

Hm.

Broom Hilda rides in the pouch of a kangaroo who's wearing checkerboard shorts and a big Taxi cap. In the second panel she's out of the pouch and shhaking badly; she hands a $ bill to the kangaroo. In the last panel the kangaroo's hopping away, while Broom Hilda says, 'I'll never do THAT again on a full stomach!'
Russell Myers’s Broom Hilda for the 2nd of July, 2019. Still, since I’m one of those persons who needs about thirty more seconds to compose a response than the conventions of small talk allow, I’m grateful that this isn’t a chatty kangaroo taxi driver.

You know, I hate to say anything bad about a person with the courage to dress a character in checkerboard pants but … just … that’s a dog’s tail and maybe a mole’s body. I’m waiting for the judges regarding what the legs are exactly but just … no. Sorry.

What’s Going On In Mary Worth? Do all Mary Worth characters fall for romance scams? April – July 2019


For the second update in a row I am not upset with Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth. If you are upset with it, you’re probably reading this essay sometime after early July 2019. Around late September or early October 2019 I should have a more up-to-date plot recap at this link, so you may know just what to be angry about.

On my other blog, I describe comic strips with mathematical themes, none of which should make anyone angry this week.

Mary Worth.

13 April – 7 July 2019.

Artheur Zerro is the new love in Charterstone cat-owner Estelle’s life. He’s charming. He loves cats. He’s retiring soon from his construction-engineering job in Malaysia. He wants to see the world, ideally with Estelle. If there is one flaw in Zerro’s existence it’s that he’s a complete fraud who’s already scammed Estelle for ten thousand bucks and is coming at her for more. Mary Worth, with the help of Toby, puts together the evidence. Artheur Zerro’s profile picture is actually that of a South African model. He’s not in any professional societies as best Toby can find. He spelled his own name wrong, for crying out loud.

Mary: 'Arthur lied to you, Estelle. About his appearance and maybe his job! Aren't those red flags?' Estelle: 'NOT TO ME. I can't BELIEVE that the man I speak to EVERY morning and night is just my imagination!' Mary: 'What about the money you sent him? He could be lying about the reason for that!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 13th of April, 2019. Props by the way to Libby, the one-eyed cat that (so far as I know) first got Estelle into this comic. She’s been doing great about having that offbeat one-eyed-cat charm and I think it comes across even when you just see her in one panel, like this.

Estelle can answer all Mary Worth’s concerns, noting, “shut up” and “is not” and “no”. Mary Worth retreats to Toby for reassurance that she is right about this and everything. Estelle’s confidence is not shaken. Artheur’s going to be arriving for a real live in-person visit for the first time in a couple days and she has to get ready. Then Artheur calls with bad news. His client’s having problems. He doesn’t have the cash to fly home. But, you know, if she could send him five thousand dollars he could make it.

Estelle: 'Arthur needs to pay for his return to the US, and I want him to be here WITH me!' Mary: 'Didn't he initially tell you he's well-off?' Estelle: 'Yes. But he's overseas. He has trouble accessing his funds.' Mary: 'Estelle, you already sent him a large sum ... and now he asks for more. I want to show you something.'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 24th of April, 2019. Estelle: “This is … unsettling. You have a DeviantArt page?” Mary Worth: “No no that was a friend who made a prank page about what it would be like if I were way into Kidd Video and building a side continuity about what if She-Lion met a dinosaur! Never you mind it!”

So now Estelle has big enough doubts. She turns to Mary Worth. Mary Worth asks, if you love the Internet so much, why don’t you marry … this article about online romance scams. Estelle isn’t having that. But she does accept Mary Worth’s observation that there isn’t actually a rush. If Artheur loves her, he’ll love her three weeks from now too. “Love is patient … and rejoices with the truth,” she says, although her quote for that Sunday was from Earl “The Pearl” Monroe and seems to be more about how to play basketball well. But, waiting for Artheur’s client who totally exists? That’s something Estelle’s willing to try. Artheur begs for money again and she says no. Theirs is an enduring love which can wait for — oh, Artheur’s not having it.

Caption: 'Arthur reacts badly when Estelle says she won't send him more money.' Artheur: 'Stop being SELFISH! Send me the money now or we're through!' Estelle: 'You're overreacting!' Artheur: 'I mean it! Send me the money or YOU'LL be the one breaking us up! Do it for US!' Estelle: 'No, Arthur! We can wait a little longer before being together! Your client will pay you ... ' Artheur: 'DO WHAT I TELL YOU, ESTELLE ... AND SEND ME THE &*@#() MONEY NOW!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 5th of May, 2019. I did see fans complaining that Artheur’s turn here was too abrupt. That is, that if he ratcheted up the anger and emotional manipulation on Estelle more slowly she might have been coaxed into sending more money. I agree that a professional scammer could probably have hooked Estelle again, at least for a while and a couple thousand bucks more. But that would be only slight narrative progress over what we’ve seen already. And to take the cheap shot, do we really want a Mary Worth story to take longer to get where it’s going?

Estelle hangs up on him, and cries. Artheur doesn’t call, or respond to calls, or e-mails, or anything. Mary Worth visits, bringing a tuna casserole, and Estelle falls into her arms, sobbing. “Finally!”, our hero thinks.

Estelle confesses how much a fool she feels. And, worse, that she’s still waiting for Artheur to apologize. Which, yeah, may sound dumb to people who’ve never fallen for a scam, or fallen for an emotionally abusive partner. Don’t be smug. All of us have some line of patter we’d fall for, and we’d resent the people who try to save us from it. Anyway, Estelle thinks she sees things better now. And she agrees to talk with Terry Bryson who I’m informed by Mary Worth lives at Charterstone and knows stuff that’s useful to do in these situations.

Terry, giving advice: 'Research the person you're talking to on dating sites. Verify their profile pics and their story.' Estelle: 'I wish I'd done that early on with Arthur. Mary tried to warn me.' Terry: 'Go slow an ask questions. Be careful about giving out personal details too early in the relationship.' Estelle: 'No wonder Arthur suggested exchanging questionnaires! To glean details about my financial status!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 22nd of May, 2019. Terry: “Yes, and … I … wait, what? He gave you a questionnaire and you filled it out? Like … I … I’m sorry, I guess they taught us about scammers pulling that but I never thought … like, you actually did that? Seriously? … Wow. Just … wow.” (Of course, I probably play it over-cagey with my personal information. By this I mean this past week I wouldn’t actually give my exact address to a friend I’ve known for 25 years because I couldn’t think of any legitimate reason he would have to know it.)

Terry finds out when Estelle will be available to talk about this in full view of the newspaper readers. Terry talks about how romance scams aren’t just filler episodes for old-time-radio cop shows anymore. She lays out how pretty much every step of Artheur’s wooing of Estelle was following the scam playbook. And, yeah, while Estelle can call the cops on Artheur, she’s never going to see her ten thousand bucks again. She spends a long night eating chocolate ice cream, feeling lousy, and talking to her cat, which is about the right thing to do.

And she gets right back on that seniors dating site. In barely any time she’s telling Mary of her new beau. He’s local. He doesn’t have pets, but he’s cool with the idea. He likes singing; she likes playing music. They both like travel. Oh, and he has southern California’s sixth-largest collection of boutique mayonnaises.

Caption: 'Mary is surprised when she looks inside a restaurant at the mall ... ' Mary Worth, thinking: 'Is that ... Estelle and Wilbur?!' (Wilbur and Estelle sit at a booth, talking while looking over the menu.)
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 11th of June, 2019. Mary Worth: “And … up against the window … is that Rex Morgan, M.D.’s Edward? And his … dog? What’s the deal with Edward’s dog?

Yes, Wilbur Weston is her new dating partner. It’s a relationship I didn’t see coming, but, eh, they seem to like it. Mary Worth and Toby take the news as a chance to spend a couple weeks telling each other how great love is. And how great it is that Wilbur and Estelle can both bond over having been bilked for money by putative romantic partners. (I am curious whether Wilbur’s shared his experience with Estelle already.) She’s so excited about this she even goes for a boat ride and dinner with Dr Jeff, to talk about how great it is other people have a relationship. And how great it is to try new things. I can’t swear that she isn’t dumping Dr Jeff so smoothly he doesn’t even realize it’s happening.

Jeff: 'I remember when we first ate at the Bum Boat, Mary.' Mary: 'Me too, Jeff. You weren't an adventurous eater, and I got you to try new things! As different as Wilbur and Estelle are, they may be ready for something new now that they're dating.' Jeff: 'People become stagnant unless they're willing to explore.'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 24th of June, 2019. Wait. Exactly what kind of homogenous ecru lumps was Dr Jeff consuming that Mary Worth would find him an un-adventurous eater?

And that settles the saga of Estelle and her online dating thing. With the 1st of July it appears a new story’s started. Dawn Weston, Wilbur’s daughter, is back from gallivanting about Europe. This in time for Wilbur to go off to Mozambique. He’s interviewing cyclone survivors for his column about people who find they’re not dead, and definitely not avoiding Estelle. Mary’s filling in for him as the Ask Wendy advice columnist. And Dawn is … being pretty cagey about what the plot this summer is. No hints so far. Still, I like this scheme where the Mary Worth plot starts in time for a new What’s Going On In post. It’s tidy.

Dubiously Sourced Quotes of Mary Worth Sunday Panels!

I’m still not happy with the Comics Kingdom redesign. But it does seem to have settled on showing the proper half-page format for most of the Sunday strips. This includes the full first row of the story comics, which is of course where we get those quotes that may or may not come from anything. I’m hoping things don’t screw up again. Although even when they were screwed up the Washington Post’s comics page seemed to carry the half-page format. Maybe they’ll keep doing that if the need returns.

  • “Love is blind.” — William Shakespeare, 14 April 2019.
  • “A good decision is based on knowledge, not on numbers.” — Plato, 21 April 2019.
  • “Just be patient. Let the game come to you. Don’t rush. Be quick, but don’t hurry.” — Earl Monroe, 28 April 2019.
  • “Although I know it’s unfair, I reveal myself one mask at a time.” — Stephen Dunn, 5 May 2019.
  • “Why must this be so mortifying? Oh, that’s right. Because it’s my life.” — Tessa Dare, 12 May 2019.
  • “Truth is everybody is going to hurt you. You just gotta find the ones worth suffering for.” — Bob Marley, 19 May 2019
  • “We are never deceived; we deceive ourselves.” — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 26 May 2019
  • “No one is ever a victim, although your conquerers would have you believe in your own victimhood. How else could they conquer you?” — Barbara Marciniak, 2 June 2019.
  • “The emotion that can break your heart is sometimes the very one that heals it.” — Nicholas Sparks, 9 June 2019.
  • “Birds sing after a storm: why shouldn’t people feel as free to delight in whatever sunlight remains to them?” — Rose Kennedy, 16 June 2019.
  • “Love is friendship that has caught fire.” — Ann Landers, 23 June 2019.
  • “I’ve been very fortunate.” — Dolly Parton, 30 June 2019.
  • “Just living is not enough … one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.” — Hans Christian Andersen, 7 July 2019.

I’m sad to report the auto care place on the corner has not updated its inspirational-yet-despairing sign. It’s still on “You Can Make A Difference If you Try”. I will have updates as they occur.

Also, last time I did this, I wrote the bulk of the essay before the Mary Worth Sunday strip posted. So I made a placeholder for that day’s dubious quote, and guessed William Shakespeare as the author and guess what happened? This actually happened and I would provide evidence except that I don’t want to be known as the guy who proved he correctly guessed someone who might be quoted by a Mary Worth Sunday strip.

Next Week!

I check in again on The Ghost Who Walks. It’s Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom, Sunday continuity. Any updates or news about any story strip should be at this link, meanwhile.

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? Did Mark Trail leave JJ Looper for dead or what? April – June 2019


I’m glad to bring you up to date on the plot of James Allen’s Mark Trail. If it’s later than about September 2019, I can get you more up-to-date with an essay at this link. And if you’re interested in my pop mathematics writing, here’s some more writing about comic strips. Thanks for considering that other essay. Now on with the story.

Mark Trail.

8 April – 30 June 2019.

Mark Trail had a mortal enemy last time we checked in. Not, so far as I’m aware, Dirty Dyer, who we’d last seen practicing his flamethrower skills on a Mark Trail mannequin. This one is J J Looper, supply store owner. Looper has agreed to supply and guide Mark Trail’s search for gold in the Sonoran Desert. But he is a man with facial hair. Stubbly facial hair. The lowest of the low, in the Mark Trail moral hierarchy.

They find some stuff out in the nature. Strange pictograms telling the tale of the last of the Oso Si-Papu, the “Bear from the Darkness of the Underworld”. (There’s like a 40% chance this is a reference to something I didn’t get.) A herd of stampeding javelinas, running through their group. The ocelot that’s chasing after the javelinas, inspiring a stampede. Remember that an important thread in the James Allen Mark Trail is that nature is working very hard to kill you, personally, right now.

Leola: 'The javelinas have babies, that's why they're being aggressive. Like they're protecting them from predators!' (Panel of a javelina grooming her baby.) Looper, laughing: 'Those dumb animals think we're predators?' Meanwhile an ocelot looks over his shoulder.
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 13th of April, 2019. In the fourth panel, Mark Trail tugs at his collar and makes a “guh … yeah, about that” utterance.

The ocelot and javelinas chase each other off. Looper gets back to exposition. He’s heard of the Vanishing Mine. Looper says he doesn’t think Doc’s treasure map is anything. There might be some gold nuggets out there, but nothing much. And if there were, it would’ve been cleared out long ago. But he’ll look at the map, if he can photocopy it, scan it into his computer, and put it away for safekeeping.

He can make some sense of the map. It even seems to point to a spot where Cochise supposedly had a gold mine in the 1870s. So they agree to the expedition I had thought they’d already agreed to and get supplies. Mark, Doc, Leola, and Looper head out for the Chiricahua Mountains. Leola by the way is the widow of Doc’s friend who had the treasure map. I had mistaken her for Cherry Trail last update because I’m very bad with names. One of the things I like about comic strips is how often characters say the name of whoever they’re speaking to. If a comic strip goes two days without doing that I’m lost again.

Leola, sampling a substance: 'It smells like ... honey?' Mark Trail, alarmed: 'EVERYBODY RUN!' They flee a great buzzing swarm of, as Leola shouts, 'AFRICANIZED BEES!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 10th of May, 2019. Hey, do you remember which hilarious 1970s revenge-of-nature movie this was from? The correct answer is: all of them.

They spend a night at the campfire, thinking of what if the gold were real. Looper points out how the four of them could carry back a million dollars in gold. And it would let him get out of this place where, to be honest, he’s always been stuck.

The morning starts off with nice weather, slopes that are less steep than Doc remembered, and an attack by Africanized bees. The slopes being too gentle is a bad sign. Either the terrain’s changed a good bit or they’re not where Doc remembers being. The bees are a good sign, it turns out. In dodging the bees, Mark Trail falls down a hill. When looks up, he sees Skull Mountain, exactly as on the map. And this is lucky. From another angle it might not be recognizable. Looper, who took a couple bee stings, can almost taste the gold already.

Mark Trail is skeptical, noting that even if there was gold, there’s been plenty of time for it to have been taken. Leola talks about the nature of gold rushes, and the mad dashes they inspire. The ephemeral nature of the rush but the lasting effects of the lives changed by it.

Looper, explaining the the rest of his party, in the background, while some woodpecker-type bird perches on a cactus in foreground: 'I don't think it's hopeless at all, Mark. I'm actually quite enthused by the maps you folks have. I'm just telling you part of the very real, sad history of 'gold fever'! By the way, Mark, wasn't it you who urged caution before we got too excited about the possibility of finding the Vanishing Mine!?'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 1st of June, 2019. This panel is, incidentally, representative of a lot of this story. There have been many single-panel strips with the characters in the remote background while we watch animals in the foreground. Some of them even have clear stories of their own. Theres an owl that swoops in to attack a ringtailed cat (it’s a raccoon relative), the 2nd of May. The next day we see the ringtail has chased the owl off. A few weeks later we see possibly the same owl looking all disgruntled. (I’ve lost just which date this happened, but it was later in May. Comics Kingdom has lessened the badness of its redesign, but it’s still too much work for me to find right now. Week at a glance, why is that something they don’t want us to have anymore? What problem does taking that away solve?)

The next day they come across an abandoned mine claim. Leola points out people here must have found gold. Looper acknowledges this, but that sooner or later the mine runs dry, if it produces at all. Mark Trail gets to wondering why Looper is so down on this Vanishing Mine. Looper explains he knows about gold fever and hey, weren’t you as skeptical about whether the mine exists yesterday? It’s a fair question. Mark Trail and JJ Looper have been trading off whether they think they mine exists, and whether there might be anything in it.

But now Mark Trail’s had enough. He admits to Doc not trusting Looper at all, and Doc admits something seems off. What, exactly? … Another fair question. Apart from salivating over the idea of gold he later says he doubts exists, Looper hasn’t done anything suspicious besides be scruffy. But, again, Mark Trail. You know?

Mark Trail, seeing distant storms: 'It's raining hard over there! ... The ground ... it's shaking!' (He thinks: Rain ... drainage basin ... ) Mark Trail: 'Everybody - get to higher ground, quick!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 7th of June, 2019. “I’ll try to punch the floodwaters!”

Anyway, it’s a new day, so it’s time for Nature to try killing everyone again. The method this time: flash flooding. Everyone gets swept up in the suddenly appearing rivers, and the strong currents. Mark Trail’s able to rescue himself and Leola from the river. They find Doc walking in the rain. And Looper? … No idea. The last Doc saw he was running from the flood, and carrying the map. Which … they don’t have a photocopy of?

Doc: 'Twenty-three people died on Labor Day in 1970 due to flash floods in the high contry along waterways below the Mongollon Rim!' Mark Trail: 'I've got a feeling we won't see JJ again ... and NOT because he got washed away in the flood!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 21st of June, 2019. I understand that James Allen wants to get to the next plot point. And he did show some of Mark Trail and company searching for JJ Looper. But it doesn’t get much on-panel time or emphasis. A casual reader can reasonably think they didn’t make any effort to find Looper. I don’t know how much time, or emphasis, should be put on a search that for plot reasons has to come up empty. But at this point, Mark Trail is ready for Looper’s heel turn before the groundwork’s been established. Or plausibly established, the way (last story) it looked like Raul was some bad guy chasing Rusty Trail and Mara. Anyway, those animals in the first panel are coatis, which are raccoon relatives. There are mammals in the Arizona deserts that are not raccoon relatives, I am told by people who don’t seem to be putting me on.

They search for Looper, without success. Mark Trail suspects foul play. And yet — even without the map, there’s hope. Doc recognizes weird rock formations, and a winding path that seems familiar. They climb for higher ground to spot the mine. Maybe also Looper in case he’s actually dead or injured or lost from the storm. Never know. That’s where we stand: atop the hills, maybe in view of a legendary gold mine.

Sunday Animals Watch

What soon-to-be extinct animals and plants have the Sunday Mark Trail panels shared with us recently? And how long is it going to take before we finally destroy them all? Let’s review.

  • The Vaquita Porpoise, 7 April 2019. They’ve got, like four months to live.
  • Tremella Mesenterica (“Witches’ Butter”), 14 April 2019. About five years.
  • The Crest-Tailed Mulgara, 21 April 2019. 28 months.
  • The Vietnamese Moss Frog, 28 April 2019. Like, maybe through lunch tomorrow.
  • Ocelots, 5 May 2019. 40 weeks in the wild, indefinitely in captivity.
  • Wallace’s Giant Bee, 12 May 2019. Three years.
  • Hammerhead Sharks, 19 May 2019. Ten years.
  • Spix’s Macaw, 26 May 2019. In the wild: not since like 1986. In captivity: for as long as they can convince people they’re the birds from Rio.
  • The Arizona State Tree, 2 June 2019. Is a fictional construct anyway.
  • The Indian Giant Squirrel/Malabar Giant Squirrel, 9 June 2019. 18 years.
  • Bombardier Beetles, 16 June 2019. Two years in its native habitat, then it turns invasive.
  • Syndicated Newspaper Comic Strips, 17 June 2019. Died finally when Richard Thompson had to retire from Cul de Sac because bodies suck.
  • Doc: 'Mark, remind me when we get back home to call my old buddy Barney Google!' Mark Trail: 'Why is that, Doc?' Doc: 'Well, it's his birthday, and I just want to call him and say 'Happy birthday, Barney Google'!'
    James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 17th of June, 2019. So a lot of comic strips did a shout-out to Barney Google and Snuffy Smith on the 17th of June, celebrating that comic’s centennial. Most of them were joke strips, so it wasn’t any weirder or more continuity-straining than those strips where the characters stand together to shout Merry Christmas at everyone. Presented like this, at a tense moment in a life-or-death struggle, raises the question: “Hey, Joseph, why didn’t you say anything about Barney Google‘s centennial? You’re the freak who has some 1,150-word essay ready about what Snuffy Smith meant to you as a child.” And to this I can only say: hey, look, a big distracting thing! (I was on a road trip, and I forgot Barney Google‘s centennial was coming up, and I still might write something, so don’t go provoking me.)
  • Hummingbirds, 23 June 2019. For as long as people decorate their backyards with hummingbird-feeder tubes of sugar water, those people will be visited by situationally-unreasonably angry, angry hornets.
  • Formosan Clouded Leopard, 30 June 2019. Till about the next time you brush your teeth.

Next Week!

Oh. Oh. I have some of the happiest words that any snarky comics blogger can have. I plan to look at Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth next week. How well did it go when Mary and Toby explained to Estelle that, in fact, Artheur Zerro was not a world-famous construction engineer and Nobel-prize winning astronaut rock star who’ll be joining her in Charterstone and his private mansion in Gold Monaco — it’s like normal Monaco, except way more elite because it’s made of gold — just as soon as he sends her (INSERT RETIRMENT SAVINGS HERE ONLY IN BITCOIN) in seed money?

Oh man now I want the Mary Worth story where she explains bitcoin scams and I am not going too far when I say so are you.

Gasoline Alley is trying to make a fool of me


So yes, I do enjoy the couple hours I spend each week perusing the story comics so that I can write a plot summary. And even the writing of the plot summary. If I am doing a public service, good. It’s fun, and it seems to help people out.

So I would have written this past Sunday’s recap of Gasoline Alley in any case. But I feel a little disheartened that Jim Scancarelli posted this on Wednesday, and it goes and does the whole plot recap thing in three panels.

Melba: 'How did you meet this Willow woman?' Rufus: 'Her little dog scared off a wolf that was chasin' me and she hadn't eaten in days an' passed out in my place an' never left!' Melba: 'Sounds like *you* passed out in the vineyard an' never left!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 26th of June, 2019. By the way, this is a nice use of a continuous background with only implicit panels. I enjoy that sort of composition.

Anyway I’m just hoping that this was coincidence. I’d hate to think Jim Scancarelli was trying to undercut me. I thought it was clear that jokes like saying he was trying to get installed as an exhibit at the Museum of Old-Time-Radio were affectionate. I mean, I’d love to be at the Museum of Old-Time-Radio myself.

Well. At this rate I’m wondering what James Allen is planning to do to me come Tuesday.

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? What’s with the woman living in Rufus’s house? April – June 2019


I’m happy to be one source of plot summaries for Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley. If you’re reading this after about September 2019 I may have a more up-to-date summary at this link. I also have a good number of older essays at that link. If you want to know the last couple years’ story developments. Thanks for using them.

On my other blog I look for mathematics topics as discussed in the syndicated comics. You might enjoy that too. I enjoy it all. But for now, back to the story strips.

Gasoline Alley.

1 April – 22 June 2019.

The story seemed over last time I looked in on Gasoline Alley. Major “Buy-Buy” Bertie’s career of real estate fraud had collapsed. So had his relationship with Mayor Melba Rose. Rufus was now free to try getting his feelings requited.

Rufus takes Melba to Corky’s Diner. It goes well. Rufus is walking on air as he heads home. He’s also walking through the woods, which gets him chased by a wolf. The wolf gets stopped and scared off by Toro, a small dog. Toro’s there with Willow, a young woman wandering the woods. Toro’s hungry. Willow claims that she isn’t, right before passing out.

Rufus, to the dazed Willow, on his bed: 'That's OK, Willow! Yo' take th'bed an' I'll sleep on the porch! It's a nice night ... outside ... er ... ' (Willow collapses on the mattress and instantly falls asleep.)
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 29th of April, 2019. I only ever seem to write about the art in these photo captions. So be it: that’s a great-looking sloppy bedroom there. It looks like it was fun to draw. Also in minor plot points notice that Toro is still growling at Rufus, long after their first meeting. This is because Toro is part of the Gasoline Alley snark community, who would like rather less of Rufus but aren’t sure who they’d like to see more of instead.

Rufus feeds both of them, and offers Willow a place to sleep. He sleeps on the porch, in the rain. By morning, when Joel picks him up to go in to work, he’s a mess. And please consider how bad he has to look for Joel to think he’s a mess. They go to the thrift store for some better clothes and run into Frank Nelson. It’s a rare non-Skeezix-connected appearance for Frank Nelson in these pages. They get a fresh coat and head on.

At the Used Thrift Shop. Joel: 'We better stop in the Used Thrift Shop an' get you a new used jacket!' Rufus, to the clerk at the suits: ''Scuse us fo' protrudin', but do yo' work here?' Frank Nelson: 'Oooooh! No! I'm a display mannequin on break!' Rufus, to Joel: 'Wha's he mean?' Joel, to Rufus: 'He's a dummy - yo' dummy!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 10th of May, 2019. It’s interesting that Scancarelli framed that first panel so that Joel would appear to have mule ears. Maybe even a tail, if you read the lines of Becky’s harness wrong. I suppose Joel’s had a stubborn insistance that Rufus should dump Willow. But that’s a weird small point to reinforce in artwork. It might just be an accident. Scancarelli tried to fit Rufus, Joel, vehicle, and door together in frame. Maybe he couldn’t avoid the composition making something unintentionally funny. I do feel like the repetitions of ‘used’ in the first panel are meant to be funnier than I found them.

At the end of the day Rufus returns home. Willow’s sleeping, but she offers to make dinner. If Rufus has brought any more food, since she finished what was there. And Toro is still a growling, angry little dog. This after being fed several times and getting to see that Rufus is a good guy. I mean, you may find the comic tradition he comes from annoying. But he’s been consistently kind and generous this story.

Come bedtime Rufus heads out to Joel’s. He doesn’t want to sleep on the porch in the rain again. He doesn’t like how Toro’s chased out his own cats. Joel has harsh advice on this: stop feeding Willow and Toro. If she’s sick, take her to the emergency room. If she’s not, then — what’s she doing?

Rufus, dressing, in the hay next to Becky the mule: 'Sorry 'bout the commotion last night, Joel!' Joel: 'Don't give it no never mind! Becky ain't used t'sleepin' with humans!' Becky, thinking: ''Specially if they haven't bathed in a while!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 4th of June, 2019. Rufus’s bathing habits, and general odor, have been a running gag in the story. It’s not been a plot-relevant thing, just, a little something we’re supposed to find funny.

And it’s a fair question. Rufus spends the night sleeping with Joel’s mule. He stinks of it when he gets to work. He covers this up with the free perfume samples at the department store. This is too much in a different direction. But he’s able to tone his odor down to “existing” by lunchtime. He and Melba walk the streets downtown. And then he sees …

Melba, pointing in a store window: 'Oh, Rufus! Let's look at these shoes in the window! It'll only take a sec! That brown pair is divine, isn't it?' Rufus, looking to the side: 'Hmm!' Melba: 'Rufus! You're not looking!' Rufus, thinking: 'Yes I am! But not at shoes!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 20th of June, 2019. It’s a good, cinematic selection of panel shots here. And yet I’m distracted by reasoning that actually, yes, Rufus’s face should look about like that when seen from that angle, that close up. It’s somehow not what I expect, but the reasoning behind it seems correct. I don’t know; this is just one of my problems again.

Well, he’s sure he saw Willow’s reflection. Why would she be in town despite her fatigue and dizziness? We’ll see in the next few weeks what her deal is. The strip has gone to some length to paint her as a mooch and even an unpleasant person. But I notice it hasn’t committed to anything that couldn’t be rationalized. I don’t say there is a plot twist coming. I think it’s plausible there will be, is all.

Before writing a What’s Going On In … essay I try to remember the highpoints of the last three months’ of a comic. I go on to re-read the whole comic run, yes. But I like to think of what my impressions were. It helps me figure whether I need to schedule time for another 2,000-word doorstop of an essay. This time around I realized I couldn’t think what had happened exactly. Rufus and Melba Rose … were on a date back in early April, and then this last week … they still were? Something like that? With an odd week of Frank Nelson in the middle?

Mind, there’s nothing wrong with a story strip not being that plot-dense. Jim Scancarelli writes a casual comic, with low stakes. I’m surprised that it has been this little. I suppose this is why I expect Willow not to be what she obviously is. I’m also surprised by Rufus getting two stories in a row. Also that there’s a mention to the unresolved story of his courting The Widow Emma Sue and Scruffy’s Mom. I’d assumed that story was dropped in favor of Rufus courting the Mayor. So, even if not much is happening there’s still surprises coming around.

Next Week!

We’ve got desert. We’ve got a gold mine that might exist. We’ve got a guy with facial hair. We’ve got obscure raccoon-like mammals in the foreground. If there’s not some major breaking news we’ll have James Allen’s Mark Trail featured in a week. Thanks.

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? Did Daddy Warbucks really kill his wife? March – June 2019


Thanks for wondering about Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy. If it’s later than about September 2019, there should be a more up-to-date plot recap at this link. This should get you up to date on what’s happening as of mid-June 2019.

Dick Tracy.

24 March – 16 June 2019.

There was a special guest star in Dick Tracy last time around. Not from another comic strip. Joe Samson, who’d been a character in the late 70s, was back. He’s pursuing a Tacoma serial killer who’s murdering schoolteachers. Schoolteachers who are also basketball coaches and maybe sportswriters. We readers know who it is, and why he changed towns. It’s Barnabas Tar, hit new sports columnist for The Daily. He’s moved because his brother Reggie “Rocks” Tar thought this might stop his brother’s murdering.

Tar’s newest killing makes the papers. And gets him a Serial Killer Headline Name, “Teacher’s Pet”. The Tacoma newspapers called him that too. This outrages the killer. He confronts Wendy Wichel, star crime reporter for The Daily. And threatens death if he calls her anything but The Professor. She writes up the encounter for The Daily. And hasn’t got much more to share with Tracy. The Professor had a disguise. Also one of those voice altering devices that exists in this kind of story.

[ The SBN Parking Lot - As Dark As It Gets ] Wendy Wichel, to a masked assaulter: 'W-What do you want?' Professor: 'Your story about the murder was an INSULT! Do I look like a 'Teacher's Pet' to you?' Wichel: 'No!' Professor: 'I don't pander to anybody! I teach the teachers about death! You will call me 'The Professor'! Understand? Use 'Teacher's Pet' again and you'll be victim number eight!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 31st of March, 2019. Also hey, check that Crimestoppers reference to The Stan Freberg Show. The sixth and eighth episodes included a “Face The Funnies” sketch in which people too smart for their own good talk about such nonsense as … Dick Tracy and … Little … Orphan … Annie. Hm.

The investigation’s short on leads, so the subplots have to pick up the slack. Bonnie Tracy, who turns out to be a schoolteacher, takes the class on a tour of The Daily newsroom. Barnabas Tar is smitten with Bonnie Tracy, and they set a date at Coletta’s Restaurant. And just in time, as Reggie Tar has thought hard about his brother’s serial-killing and decided to call the cops on him. One might complain that once again Tracy gets the solution handed to him, no super-detective work needed. And I admit I’m not the crime podcast listener in the household. But my understanding is “family member turned them in” is one of the top ways serial killers get caught. It’s that and “gets stopped for an expired license plate and somebody checks”. Tracy catches up with Barnabas Tar at the date with Bonnie. Barnabas flees, out the kitchen and into the alley. Cornered in an alley, he tries to shoot Tracy and misses. Tracy tries to shoot Tar and succeeds.

(Gunshots in an alley between The Professor and Dick Tracy.) Tracy; 'Stay still. I'm calling an ambulance.' The Professor, falling into a heap of garbage: 'Don't bother ... dying in a garbage dump ... how ironic.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 21st of April, 2019. Not to pick on someone’s dying utterances here but … I’m not clear what the irony is here. I can headcanon this, certainly, fitting it to Barnabas Tar/The Professor here having been proud to make it out of the dumps. And there’s no reason that his dying thoughts have to be anything Tracy would understand. I feel unsatisfied that they’re something we readers don’t quite fully have.

So that covers the Teacher’s Pet killings. The only big loose end is that Bonnie Tracy still has ambiguous feelings for Joe Samson, who’s been less a part of this story than you’d expect. But Samson doesn’t have to leave the strip just yet.

And some other busienss. The 26th and 27th of April, Vitamin and Kandikane Flintheart’s son is born. He’s named Kane Flintheart. Seems cute as kids go, so far as I can tell.


The 28th of April started another Minit Mystery, a two-week diversion written by Jim Doherty. The framing device is Dick Tracy recounting his time as police chief of Homewood. This for the benefit of Patrick Culhane and Austin Black, history writers. The story’s illustrated in a different style to the modern Dick Tracy usual. And it’s soaked in bits I love from old-time-radio detective stories. Wide-open cities run by gangsters, mayors being elected on a reform slate, protection rackets, insurance fraud.

The mystery featured a lot of text, though, and a lot of plot. When I read this as it came out I felt lost. I trusted that if I read the whole two weeks’ worth of strips at once, it would make better sense. It does. The solution is — well, it’s sensible. I’m not positive that it’s adequately planted by the narrative. But the puzzle would not have taken Dick Tracy so long without all the heavy plotting and heaps of information piled on the reader either. So was it fair? … Yes, I’ll say it was. I hope not only because I can imagine, say, Gerald Mohr reeling off Dick Tracy’s lines here.


Back to the main continuity. The current story started, more or less, the 13th of May. (There was one day’s strip previewing it before the Minute Mystery.) It features a special guest star. B-B Eyes’s trial for murder has hit a snag, from the prosecutor’s point of view. Its main evidence, the sworn statement of Trixie Tinkle, is missing. So is Tinkle. She was last seen on a cruise with her husband, Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks. Yes, the story is a chance to check in on Dick Tracy‘s foster comic, the orphaned Annie.

Trixie Tinkle’s been missing for twenty years. I have no idea whether this is something from the actual Annie. I’m sorry. GoComics has Annie comics going back to spring of 2001, but I don’t have the kind of research time for that. Tracy’s sent to ask Warbucks about the disappearance of his wife.

Tracy: 'Oliver, you've been married ... ' Warbucks: 'Yes. Twice, at last count. My first wife took in an orphan. It was a fad. I came home and there was Annie. I'll always be grateful for that.' Tracy: 'And your second wife?' Warbucks: 'Kind of nosy today, eh, Tracy?'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 21st of May, 2019. That’s some typically good use of shadowed faces especially in the first panel. Also this strip makes me realize I don’t know the canonical explanation for how Warbucks and Annie ever met. I think like most people of my age cohort I just knew … uh … it was like in the Broadway musical that we never saw either, right? More or less anyway. So I appreciate getting the surprising news that Warbucks had a wife and she did the hard work of making the comic strip happen.

Warbucks doesn’t want to talk about his wives, and being rich and white, doesn’t see much reason he should answer fool questions from a public servant. But he’ll admit eternal gratitude to his first wife for taking in Annie. His second … he calls a golddigger with whom he couldn’t make things work. Like, how could Annie know someone who disappeared twenty years ago? Also, wait, how can B-B Eyes have been waiting twenty years for a trial? (B-B Eyes was thought dead during that time which, yeah, would delay his being brought to trial.) Also wait, Oliver Warbucks hadn’t adopted Annie before … recently? Really? That seems weird, but … I mean, I’m not going to challenge Joe Staton and Mike Curtis on story strip continuity.

It’s not just you, though. Emphasizing that Tinkle’s disappearance was twenty years ago, instead of a vague “years ago”, is weird. I think most comics readers accept this sort of floating timeline continuity. You know, where we don’t bring up that Tracy’s been about the same age since Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president. Maybe it is going to be important that this was twenty years ago, but as of now, I don’t know why “years ago” wouldn’t suffice.

Meanwhile B-B Eyes thinks he might be able to do something, now that the key evidence against him has vanished. He visits lawyer Tim Jackel, who’d tried years ago to get Tinkle a separation from Oliver Warbucks. Jackel actually says he got “a beating”. I’m not clear if he means in court or with a diamond-crusted mace. You don’t want to think that Oliver Warbucks, one of the protagonists of a long-running story comic, would be a violent and malevolent person. Then you remember he’s not just a billionaire, he’s a munitions manufacturer.

[ B-B Eyes's Apartment ] B-B: 'Tim Jackel! Long time no see!' Jackel: 'Same here! What can I do for you, B-B Eyes?' B-B: 'I've got to find someone, Tim. A showgirl named Trixie Tinkle.' Jackel: 'Trixie? You can have her as far as I'm concerned . I tried to get her a trial separation from her husband, Oliver Warbucks. What a beating I got! It wasn't long after that she and Warbucks took a world cruise. Trixie never came back.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 2nd of June, 2019. I’m very distracted in this side of the plot because I would swear that “Tim Jackel” is the name of somebody I play pinball with. So I keep thinking what the odds would be against him in a head-to-head match on Bad Cats. I like my chances. I can usually grind out the center ramp shot.

Anyway, B-B Eyes knows that Tinkle spoke often with a woman named Gypsy Gay. She might know something that might be admissible. He hires Jackel to track her down. Also searching for Gay: Dick Tracy. All they have to go on is her employer from when Tinkle vanished. And the hopes that that employer maybe knows where she’s gone. Really I would’ve checked Facebook first.

Gypsy Gay turns out to be in the other plot thread. Honeymoon Tracy, Ugly Crystal, and Annie are hanging out at the hotel Siam. It’s Annie and Warbucks’s home for the summer. Annie realizes she doesn’t have a toothbrush so stops in the gift shop where, what do you know, but Gypsy Gay is working. Ugly Crystal makes a note of her name. Why? She says “I collect unusual names,” or as they are known in the Dick Tracy universe, “names”. Jackel, reading the comics as they come out, passes news of Gay’s location on to B-B. But will Honeymoon Tracy ever pass on to her grandfather what she just learned? Guess what happened today, then. I’ll let you know if you’re right in, oh, let’s say September.

Next Week!

With “Buy-Buy” Bertie’s land swindle foiled, what more could be happening in Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley? I should reveal all in seven days.

Revealed today: what syndicated comic strips discussed something mathematical in the past week. I hope you enjoy my blend of pop-mathematics discussion and acknowledging that students don’t like story problems.

What’s Going On In Prince Valiant? Who abducted Queen Madeka and to where? March – June 2019


If you’re looking for the latest plot events from Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant please try this link. If it’s not later than about September 2019, this particular essay is probably my most up-to-date recap. Thanks for reading.

Prince Valiant.

17 March – 9 June 2019.

Madeka, Queen of Ab’sabam, was kidnapped. Her kidnapper was Fewesi the Healer, taking a break from his “healing” to deal out “mind control potions” instead. The pursuit was lead by Bukota, whose exile to the Misty Isles Madeka had lifted in a moment of clarity.

Fewesi brings the drugged Queen to her ship, telling of treachery from the Misty Isles. They flee the harbor. Bukota and Prince Valiant hop onto another Ab’sabam ship and give chase. In the long chase, Bukota considers what he now knows about Fewesi, and identifies him as one of “a nomadic people who know the secrets of poisoning the mind”. Well, you’ll get a certain amount of that in the time of King Arthur and all. Meanwhile Queen Aleta has pieced together enough of the story, and of Bukota’s poisoned guard Ambelu, to understand things. She sends her fastest war galley to chase Fewesi to Africa.

(On galleys at sea.) Another full day passes, with Val and Bukota's galley inching closer and closer to the fleeing Fewesi. The evil healer drives his spellbound crew mercilessly, but he has no great nautical skill, and senses his capture will come soon, even as the coast of Africa looms up. But Bukota is worried, and points to the darkening skies ahead. 'The sirocco winds are rousing a great dust storm --- we must overtake Fewesi and Makeda before it is upon us!' Closer they draw, and they are almost parallel to their prey, standing armed and prepared to smash oars and spring over the gunwales ... when a great blast of wind strikes, bringing with it a choking, blinding sheet of dust! The two galleys are driven sideways and apart.
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 14th of April, 2019. By the way it’s not my fault there’s no title panel here. Part of the altogether bad work of Comics Kingdom’s redesign has been that sometimes they’ll just run the alternate layouts meant for newspapers that aren’t giving comics a full half-page. That’s all right for those joke-a-day comics where the Sunday strip is, like, two panels without a background. But for the story strips? Especially one like Prince Valiant where so much of the point is the art? Bleah.

It’s a close chase. Fewesi has a lead and the ability to control his galley’s slaves’ minds. But he doesn’t quite know what he’s doing, and Bukota’s ship’s captain does. They catch Fewesi’s galley, in time for a dust storm to confuse everything. In the storm Fewesi’s galley meet another ship — not Bukota’s. An innocent fishing vessel. He takes the Queen and leaves on that ship. He escapes while Bukota and Valiant swim up to Fewesi’s galley, abandoned except for the slaves worked to near-death. Bukota and Valiant tend to the galley’s crew, at least.

And they get a break: a raven drops a piece of torn cloth to them. Bukota recognizes the raven as Aleta’s familiar. The cloth is a hint to look in the harbor of Paraetonium. They find in the bazaar the sign from which the cloth was torn. And it’s a good clue: there’s 1d6+3 first-level spell-controlled minions who rush out of the building for a quick fight. That’s easy enough to handle. But Fewesi’s also left spell-controlled melee attackers all through the building, the better to give him time to escape.

(Fighting a mob through a bazaar.) As Val and Bukota seek to enter the inn to which the raven's clue has led them, a crazed horde rushes out. It is quite obvious that the attackers are inexperienced, unorganized, and mere pawns deployed by Fewesi, but they are an effective obstruction. The two warriors do their best to disable the spellbound innocents without permanent damage. Knocking out hte supports on the inn's canopy eventually clears their path, but they burst into the inn only to find more mindless attackers awaiting them. A scream sounds from an upper flor --- Makeda! Up the staircase they plow, fighting past flailing, scratching men and women every step of the way and losing precious time, as Fewesi again manages to create enough delays to stay one step ahead of his pursuers.
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 19th of May, 2019. Bukota and Valiant’s armor there isn’t a compression artifact, by the way. It’s chain mail. I will say a good part of the Comics Kingdom redesign is they have the original art in an abundantly large size. The two strips used here ran, originally, as two- and four-megabyte PNG files. Great news except for people trying to read the strip on mobile. Although if you’re trying to read this comic on your phone you’re just … I don’t know what to tell you. Go back to watching Lawrence of Arabia on your Apple Watch or something.

Still, they get through all this. They chase Fewesi and Makeda through the rooftops of Paraetonium. Finally one roof has had enough of this, and the pair fall through and startle the old couple who’d just offered Raul some empanadas. They rush out of the mess, reasonably, and get to the street just in time for Fewesi, riding a camel, to nearly trample them. They run over to the merchants and toss a bag of 25 gold pieces. It’s too much for two camels, but it lets them get on the chase into the desert nice and fast.

Next Week!

What are Daddy Warbucks and Annie doing in Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy? My recap of the last three months of that strip should be at this link, barring some surprising development.

Meanwhile, each week I read comic strips for mathematical content too, and share the thoughts they inspire here. Thanks for considering reading it.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Weekdays)? Is Kadia’s mother even alive? March – June 2019


This is my snapshot of the March-through-June 2019 storyline in Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity. If you’re looking for the plot of the separate Sunday-continuity Phantom, or are reading this after about September 2019 and want something more up-to-date you’ll want another essay at this link. If you’re looking for the latest mathematically-themed comic strips, that’s at this link. Thank you.

It’s too soon, as I publish this, to say whether Kadia’s mother is alive. The past three months of story were built on The Phantom assuming she’s alive and well. But she’s not been seen on-camera. Nor has anyone with authority to know said she’s dead. This may change in the coming week.

The Phantom (Weekdays).

11 March – 1 June 2019.

The Ghost Who Walks was riding a weird ship last time I checked in. He and Bangallan President Luaga had gotten Heloise Walker and Kadia Walker, née Sahara, out of New York City. Kadia was still reeling from the discovery her father was the international terrorist The Nomad. She’s coaxed Kit Walker into rescuing her mother. At least to arranging the rescue; he claims to know someone who could do it. One of the Nomad’s militias holds her at one of his estates, hostage to secure his silence about their activities.

Kadia draws the best map of the compound she can for her newly-adopting father. Kit Walker promises this will be a big help to him, and by him he means the person who’s going to rescue Imara and, uh. You know, at some point they’ll need to have a talk about the Walker family business but that can wait. Well, Kadia’s doing quite well with this whole learning-your-father-has-a-secret-life thing.

Kadia, as she and Heloise board the plane: 'There's no friend.' Heloise: 'Sorry, what?' Kadia: 'No associate, no expert ... Heloise, I'm not stupid! He's going there himself!"
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 3rd of April, 2019. I have wondered at what point Kadia is going to be brought in on the secret of her new family. In any event it’s nice seeing Kadia work out things on her own. I can accept easily people keeping secrets from their family, but those are usually secrets that require fewer days of emergency surgery.

In Mawitaan, Diana Walker’s found a new school and apartment for Heloise and Kadia. They set off for that. Kit Walker sets out for North Africa, by himself.

And we set out for somewhere in New York. Secret Service guys are visiting David Palmer and his sister Lily. David Palmer’s the uncle of Diana Walker. He’s been in the strip, off and on, since 1940, and been an intelligence agent at least some of that while. The Secret Service people want help. They’ve confiscated the video of the unknown party who crashed The Nomad’s plane and made a cop arrest him. They know who the party is. They want to know what Heloise Walker was doing for the Bangallan President. He doesn’t know she was doing any such thing. They want to know what he’s been saying about Imara Sahara. He denies having ever said such a name. They want his advice on blowing up The Nomad’s North African compound. He has none to give them.

David Palmer, pouring tea: 'Those agents think that I know more about Lamanda Luaga's business than they do. That the woman in North Africa is an asset, one whose survival is in our national interest.' Lily: 'Oh, Dave, I thought you were through with all this!' David, while the picture is of The Phantom at night infiltrating the grounds: 'I am, Lily. That's why I'm not in a dark room right now, advising those fellas on whether to bomb the place flat in the next ten minutes.'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 25th of April, 2019. So part of me curses my compulsion to look for load-bearing strips for these plot-point-illustrations. I was really amused by the strip for the 13th of April, for exactly the reason you’d expect: I like building models too. Well, having unbuilt model kits, anyway. I’ve never known someone in the model-building community to actually build a model.

It seems like a curious detour. Men come to bring David Palmer into the story, and he refuses to be part of it. It does serve to re-establish what role Heloise Walker has had in all this, and why this North African expedition might matter to anyone. One of the many hardest parts of any serial story is helping casual readers not lose the plot without annoying the dedicated readers. And then also …

Well, on to North Africa. The Phantom readies to infiltrate the Nomad’s compound. Last time he tried something like this he got suckered by a decoy, and quite badly wounded. He’s better-armed, better-shielded, and ready to do one of his classic one-man infiltrations.

Phantom, thinking as he runs up to and tackles two unsuspecting guards: 'The sound of the surf is on my side ... the only penalty in *this* game is if the players get back up!'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 1st of May, 2019. So what do you figure the guy on the right was looking at on his phone? I’m thinking otter memes. You?

The complication: oh yes, American military forces are figuring to bomb the compound like it’s a wedding party. Their drones detect The Phantom moving in. So the drone warriors pause. They can’t figure what his deal is, and they’re not eager to wait for early June for me to explain it all to them. They couldn’t even get David Palmer to explain things to them, no matter how much they invited him into this story. They hold off on the bombing a bit, though.

The Phantom finds some useful cues. A pile of ammunition he can use to blow stuff up. A crate containing a chunk of ham on a bone that’s good for 20 health points. People he can beat up for intelligence. Some cute chances to call back to things other characters said.

Terrorist minion: 'Already we have won! No matter what you do! We don't need her alive to compel the Nomad to guard our secrets!' The Phantom: 'You just need him to *believe* she's alive. [ Slugging the minion. ] We're assuming he *cares*, aren't we?'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 1st of June, 2019. I’ll admit the part of the story where everybody starts openly double-crossing everyone else is typically where I get lost. But I’m hanging on so far and, in any case, I’ll have until late August or early September to work it all out. That’ll be plenty of time to get organized!

He’s not going undetected in the compound, though. He’s already knocked out a bunch of low-level minions, and they’re starting to be discovered. He collects a not-unconscious minion. The minion reports Imara Sahara is in the safe room, as The Phantom expected. There’s four guards holding her. Two of them have orders to kill her rather than let her be freed. It’s going to make an already bad situation worse.

And that’s where the situation is. The Phantom, alone, trying to rescue Imara Sahara. She’ll have have no idea who he is or what he’s doing. She’s held by a militia ready to kill her in case The Phantom gets too close. That’s if she is still alive. The interrogation this week made clear the militia has limited reasons not to kill her. And American armed forces are ready to blow up everything. Bit of a fix. Well, I suppose he knows his business.

Next Week!

I finally get what should be my easy week. Scheduled in seven days is Mark Schulz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant. Oh, wait, I have to read it through Comics Kingdom’s really quite bad redesign. Hm.

What’s Going On In Alley Oop? What happened to the time-travelling raccoons? March – May 2019


This is my May 2019 recap of Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop. It concludes their first storyline, the 80s mixtape one. All my recaps of Alley Oop strips, both by Jack and Carole Bender and by Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers, should be at this link. Around August 2019 I plan to have another plot recap, so if you’re trying to catch up and it’s September 2019 you’ll probably want to go there.

Alley Oop.

4 March – 24 May 2019.

Alley Oop and Ooola were in the 1980s, searching for Dr Wonmug’s mixtape. It was stolen. The ransom note demanded three items for ransom. They’d gotten the first, a President Reagan jellybean. Now they were in San Francisco for the second: the master disks for shareware game Caves of Zfgrhkxp. They’re off to the home of 1986-shareware-video-game-famous programmer Steve Hobbes.

Before I go farther, a question for you. Do you find this gather-the-zany-tokens plot pointless? Are you annoyed by whimsical names like Caves of Zfgrhkxp and Steve Hobbes? Then probably the Jonathan Lemon/Joey Alison Sayers era of Alley Oop isn’t for you. It’s still a serial-adventure comic about a time-travelling caveman. But the story has been much more goofy, with a punch line in every strip. That has a good, respectable heritage in the comics. But it’s different from the way Alley Oop was. If you liked the old way and can’t get into the new, hey, you’re right. I’m sorry this isn’t working for you. Maybe Lemon and Sayers will evolve into a creative team you like better. Maybe they’ll only work the strip for a short while. Maybe you’ll come to like the different style, as a different take on a really good premise.

Wonmug, looking at things on the table: 'Aha! I get it now! We are in a dungeon, just like in 'Caves of Zgfrhkxp'. Our job is to escape. We have these three items, and doors to our north and west. Now, 'Zgfrhkxp' is a text-based game so ... [ to the ceiling ] Pick up rope! PICK UP ROPE!' Alley Oop, looking concerned, to Ooola: 'Is he talking to us?'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 13th of March, 2019. So my love and I were at a live text-adventure-game event. In this like a dozen people each took turns giving one action at a time to our “computer”, the host who looked over the story flowchart and told us what the results of our action were. In the previous couple rounds the group, needing our game protagonist to climb to the top of a tower, had successfully gotten a rope and forged a grappling hook. And it was my turn and I said, “toss the hook up the tower” and before my love started to cry out “Nooooooo” I realized what our host did: we had not yet tied the rope to the grappling hook. What could I do? I sat there with my face frozen in the moment of my recognition of what I had screwed up.

But for those who do like this, or are willing to see where it leads, here’s the story. Oop, Ooola, and Wonmug enter the ominous headquarters of Hobbesware Inc. The door locks behind them. The are no exits visible. On the table are: rope, box, envelope. Wonmug recognizes the genre of puzzle he’s in. He chooses to pick up envelope, getting ready to open envelope and examine contents for a puzzle lasting about six hours. I’m glad he’s having fun. Me, I could never get out of the first room of any of these text-adventure puzzles.

Steve Hobbes: 'Hey! You scared the heck of out me! You didn't cheat, did you?' Wonmug: 'No. Of course not. We defeated the, uh, kobolds on level three and then used the ring of ... Gungle ... Thorn to cast a, um, door blast spell?' Hobbes: 'Well, that checks out. Congratulations on solving my dungeon! I'm Steve Hobbes.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 16th of March, 2019. So you know, not to excuse my grappling-hook blunder but in other adventures I plainly saved the day with sharp-thinking actions like looking in the back of the car before going in and using one of our three save slots for right after the group had loaded our protagonist up with the five plot tokens. And yet I still can’t play an actual text adventure game to save my life.

Alley Oop gets through the puzzle, and the wall, by going through the wall. Steve Hobbes is impressed with their speed and acumen. He’s not stupid enough to give them the master disks for his game. (And they aim some nostalgic thrill energy at me by Hobbes pointing out how each disk holds nearly 360 kilobytes of information. “Do you know how much that is?” “Not very much?” “True.” It’s a dumb joke but well-aimed at people who grew up typing in their software.) Wonmug tries honesty. Hobbes is unimpressed by their story of being from the future and needing to ransom a mixtape.

They try to prove they’re from the future, like, by dancing the macarena. I have not checked that this is when I got a flurry of comments from people who hate the new Alley Oop, but I get it if they did. Wonmug makes a more convincing case that they’re from the future by showing off his phone. Ooola’s worried this might screw up the timeline, if timelines are a thing that can be screwed up by Alley Oop time-travel rules. Wonmug’s confident. He left the phone locked, for one, and besides the older Hobbes invents some important smartphone and … uh … Wonmug concludes this must have been inevitable, because “time is a trick science”. Ooola thinks Hobbes has unlocked the phone and that maybe the timeline is changing?

Ooola: 'Doc, aren't you a little worried about exposing someone from 1986 to technology that won't exist for 20 years?' Wonmug: 'Eh, I didn't even unlock it. All he can see is the lock screen. Besides, when he's a little older, he actually invents some integral smartphone ... *uh oh*.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 27th of March, 2019. “Gee, I don’t know, Ooola. I’m sure that it’s very different to how I feel about the eighty years I’ve spent introducing prehistoric cavepeople to smartphones, cars, airplanes, electricity, air conditioning, pizza, defibrillators, spaceships (with warp drive!), Alexander Hamilton, and for that matter the 22nd century.”

That peril, like most, is played for a joke. One of the first gags of the new continuity was that this was an alternate dimension, just like the original except that tacos are never invented. Showing Hobbes the smartphone of his future design makes some kitchen staff hypothesize about inventing a taco. Anyway, Hobbes gives them the disk and they’re off to the third piece of mixtape ransom.

They don’t know what to get. The ransom note just says “Gator Gertie’s Miasmic Swamp”. It’s in Florida. Oop and Ooola don’t want to deal with that nonsense, and point out how this entire project seems like a colossal waste of time. Wonmug bribes them with a roller coaster ride. And, y’know, as a roller coaster fan I have to say: in 1986? There were like three roller coasters in Florida back then. The place is lousy with amusement parks now, but if Sayers and Lemon aren’t thinking of visiting the now-defunct Circus World park then they Didn’t Do The Research. Sorry to be all snide about this.

They travel, by three-seater bicycle, by hot air balloon, and by zebra-drawn covered wagon, to Florida. So, again, if that strip annoys you without amusing you in the slightest, I’m sorry, this isn’t the comic for you.

Gator Gertie: 'I've been thinking, and I bet the thing you're looking for is this ... the haunted gator-tooth scone. It's a scone I baked ten years ago. While I was mixing the dough, an alligator fell in. Also, it seems to be inhabited by a malevolent spirit. It's one of a kind.' Alley Oop: 'I'll take six!'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 26th of April, 2019. Also around this sequence was some fun business with Alley Oop being menaced by alligators, some of whom wanted to eat him. Again, if you don’t like the jokey tone of the strip these days I don’t fault you. But Alley Oop mistakenly thinking this alligator was related to one he had a beef with, and the alligator mistakenly thinking Oop’s delicious? And their being pals once they’ve sorted out this misunderstanding? That’s some good stuff.

They find Gator Gertie’s. Gertie’s a pleasant, weird-in-that-roadside-attraction-way kind of person. She rents alligators and bakes treats. She can’t think what someone might send them there for. Oh, she has a secret human/alligator dinosaur lab. She doesn’t have a geneticist, but she has taught some gators to wear pants. Oh, and she has this haunted gator-tooth scone, baked ten years ago and containing an alligator tooth and a malevolent spirit. She’s happy to give it over since it’s only caused her trouble and made pants disappear. I’m sorry that Gertie was in such a rush to get out of this storyline; I liked her attitude. And who doesn’t love a daft roadside attraction? Maybe she’ll pop back around.

They get back to Wonmug’s 80s apartment and wait for instructions. Not long. Someone behind the door orders them to give the items over. Oop looks inside. It’s raccoons. They’re wearing lab coats. One has eyeglasses on. They’re building something.

Wonmug, looking over raccoons in lab coats making a device: 'Wh --- WHAT is going on here?' Head Time Raccoon: 'Oh, Dr Wonmug, don't be naive. *You* created us.' Alley Oop, Ooola: 'GASP!' Wonmug: 'Oh, um ... gasp?'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 13th of May, 2019. I don’t know how carefully Sayers and Lemon are plotting these stories out, or want to. But the story did early on mention Wonmug warning not to make eye contact with the raccoons near his 1986 apartment. Foreshadowing? Don’t know. It’s good form for serial writers to toss out many loose ends so that when they need a resolution they can pick one up and it doesn’t look like it comes from nowhere. But you don’t need the reveal of the Time Raccoons to make the original mention of raccoons make sense, either. Gator Gertie hoping to make alligator-human hybrids could also be foreshadowing, even as it is a sufficient joke itself.

Yeah, so it turns out Dr Wonmug did some experiments where he created superintelligent raccoons to do chores. And their intelligence went beyond what he anticipated. Now they’re building their own time machine. The floppy disk has code that solves some of the equations of time-travel. The haunted scone opens a dimensional portal. The jellybean satisfies Gunther’s sweet tooth. And with these final components their time machine is complete and … they’re off! To where? And when?

No idea. The story seems to end on that beat, with the Time Raccoons leaving. Wonmug drops off Ooola and Oop back in prehistoric Moo, and home. They putter around a bit and it all looks like the start of a new story. There hasn’t been talk about the Time Raccoons. It seems like rather a cliffhanger. I don’t know if Alley Oop has done that before, though. It didn’t happen when Jack Bender and Carole Bender, the prior creative team, were working the last couple of years.

Head Time Raccoon: 'So, without further ado, it's time for us to take this baby out for a spin! See you in another epoch, foolish humans!' Wonmug: 'Wait! Can I at least study the device's schematics?' Time Raccoon, climbing into the machine: 'Nope!' (The device disappears with a big ZONG!; Wonmug's mixtape flies out of the flash of light.) Wonmug: 'The mixtape!' (He grabs it.) 'Hey, they didn't rewind it!'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 18th of May, 2019. By the way, I can be friends with people who disagree with me on many issues. But if you’re going to disagree on “eyeglasses and lab coats are a great look for raccoons” then we can’t be friends. So think carefully before you try to contradict me on this one.

Is leaving something like the Time Raccoons unresolved new? I talk a confident game. But the truth is I am not well-versed in Alley Oop lore. I’ve been reading the daily strip for a couple of years now. I’ve read a couple collections with storylines from V T Hamlin’s day, and enjoyed them. Still, I don’t know whether the Alley Oop universe has ever had a party with a time machine independent of Dr Wonmug’s before. This can be narratively perilous, especially if you’ve bought the idea of a changeable history. There have been stories with rival time-travellers to Dr Wonmug before (one story had a character kidnapped to another era, for example), and the comic strip stayed intact.

Will the Time Raccoons come back? Certainly if I were writing the strip. (I’d thought there was a good chance they’d show up in Moo by the end of this past week.) Rivals are good ways to generate stories. It’s obviously good to have parties who can drop in and add chaos to storylines. Uplifted animals with only casual interest in the plans of humans only heighten the fun. But I’m in no privileged position here. I’m just reading comics and talking about what I see. Indeed, my other blog gets into mathematically-themed comic strips, as here. If I encounter any news about Alley Oop, I’ll pass it on here.

Next Week!

I need a low-key, low-effort week so I’m hoping next on the roster is something easy to recap. Maybe one of the Sunday-only strips. The Sunday Alley Oop comics, the Little Oop adventures, have all been spot jokes. There hasn’t been an ongoing story. There’ve been some things mentioned in the Sunday strips that went on to mention in the weekdays. Like Alley Oop joining the Dino Guides, a Scouts-type group, used after that mention. So the Sunday strips aren’t part of the continuity, but they haven’t needed recapping. So let me just check what’s next on the schedule.

It’s Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity.

Well, low-key weeks aren’t everything.

What’s Going On In The Amazing Spider-Man? When might Spider-Man come out of reruns? February – May 2019


I don’t have information about when The Amazing Spider-Man comic strip might emerge from reruns. If and when I do, I’ll post it here. I do have some thoughts and will include them at the end of this recap of the end of Roy Thomas and Alex Saviuk’s run, and the first two months of the first repeat.

The Amazing Spider-Man

24 February – 18 May 2019.

It was an action-packed moment when I last updated the Spider-Man plot. Mary Jane had covered Killgrave with the plastic sheet that neutralizes his power to command people. Look, if you’re going to stare at me that way there’s no point describing the plot of a superhero comic. But he was falling off the edge of a building. Spider-Man webbed him, but Killgrave’s momentum pulled the superhero along. Luke Cage, also in the plot, grabbed Spider-Man by the ankle.

Luke Cage, supporting Spider-Man and Killgrave by the foot from the edge of a building: 'Can barely hold on to you, and this pipe's going!' Spider-Man: 'My brain's on empty --- can't *think straight*!' Mary Jane: 'HEY! Don't forget You've got TWO web-shooters!' Spidey, shooting a second line: 'Huh? Oh --- yeah --- I forgot!'
Roy Thomas and Alex Saviuk’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 26th of February, 2019. It does seem like giving in to jokes about Newspaper Spider-Man that he’d forget basic stuff about his own superhero identity. But in the story Killgrave had used his powers to put Spider-Man and Luke Cage under his control. They could resist, but only with great efforts of will because Killgrave comes from the 1960s and Marvel villains were just like that back then. Anyway, their heads are fogged up because they’re trying to wash out a supervillain’s mind control, okay? How would you do in those circumstances?

Neither Spider-Man nor Cage is doing that well. They’re shaking off Killgrave’s command that they fight each other. Mary Jane gives Spider-Man the important clue that he has two web-shooters. Reminded of his power set, Spidey’s able to use a second line to anchor himself and keep anyone from dying.

With Killgrave neutralized, Spider-Man turns to the important stuff. That’s getting selfies with Luke Cage. He needs some good photos of Spider-Man fighting Cage, since J Jonah Jameson wants them off of Peter Parker and all that. You know. The usual.

Luke Cage: 'You want the two of us to pose for a selfie?' Spider-Man: 'Nothing as corny as that. I want us to make like we're having a battle royale --- and MJ will take pictures of it!' Cage: 'I thought it was your husband who took photos for the Daily Bugle.' Mary Jane: 'Well ... don't tell the publisher, but sometimes I help him out a little.'
Roy Thomas and Alex Saviuk’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 7th of March, 2019. Oh, yeah, so the story began with Luke Cage promising Jameson that if he came to the conclusion Spider-Man was a menace then he’d bring the web-crawler in and not otherwise. I guess we can take from this that Cage was convinced in Spider-Man’s superhero identity. We don’t see him going back to tell Jameson that he was wrong or anything.

Peter Parker drops off the pictures at the Daily Bugle and heads out. The plan’s to resume his and Mary Jane’s planned yet last-minute Australia trip. They head to the airport. There is a ritual of the Spider-Man comic strip in airports. Peter doesn’t know how to get his Spider-Man costume through security. Sometimes he forgets he’s wearing it under his normal clothes. Sometimes he worries it will get noticed in his luggage.

Mary Jane: 'You were up there a long time, Tiger. Was Jameson a hard sell on the photos?' Peter: 'Naw, he took 'em all. And he offered me a big fat bonus, if I cancelled our trip to Australia.' Mary Jane: 'Oh? And what did you --- ' Peter: 'The only thing I could do, honey. I tok him 'I'll throw another shrimp on the barbie in your honor, mate!'.' Mary Jane: 'Peter Parker, I love you!' Peter: 'Like somebody once said in a movie ... 'ditto'.' Final panel: Spider-Man posed mid-swing, on a white background, with the caption 'Excelsior!'
Roy Thomas and Alex Saviuk’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 17th of March, 2019. The last original Sunday strip. Good luck to anyone who didn’t know the strip was ending to try understanding this; the last panel’s baffling then. And it baffled readers who did know about the ending, since the last panel reads like a full stop, and then the week after this was the adventures of Peter Parker getting through Airport Pretend Security.

This time around he had an idea. He had Mary Jane wear the Spider-Man costume under her clothes, for the reasons. Still, something about him set off a security screen and who knows what all that might be. But it did fake out readers expecting some ridiculous resolution to Peter versus The Transportation Security Theater.

Airport security cop: 'Sorry we troubled you, sir. Must've been a glitch in our machine.' Peter, whispering to Mary Jane: 'Or somehow it reacted by my radioactive spider-altered DNA!' Mary Jane, whispering back: 'We're lucky I didn't set off the alarm and have to explain why I'm wearing a Spider-Man costume under my clothes!' Peter: 'Avant-garde fashion sense?'
Roy Thomas and Alex Saviuk’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 22nd of March, 2019. Hey, so back in the days when Peter Parker would be using a film camera, did his radio-active blood ever fog the film? Or did they toss in some throwaway line like he always used lead-lined cameras, right? I mean, he couldn’t “really” be strongly radioactive or there’d be serious problems, but this is comic book radioactivity, so anything could happen. (Like, I don’t even know whether radioactivity should be expected to fog commercial film stock instead of, like, science-grade glass plates, but it’s what I associate with radioactivity and cameras so why wouldn’t a comic book writer too?) And, like, I’m guessing he developed his film himself so there’d be all that darkroom time for his body to affect the film. Right? So this was surely dealt with in some pretty funny way at some point? Anybody know?

And, the 23rd of March, the run of The Amazing Spider-Man came to an end. At least, they’re still calling it a hiatus. I haven’t seen any news about the supposed search for a new creative team, or any planned time for new comics to come out. The 24th, the strip went into its current rerun phase, with an edited strip from 2014. The editing teases that this is Peter Parker dreaming of old times while on the plane. New York City to Australia is a long flight, and the newspaper Spider-Man spends a lot of time asleep anyway.

Had the newspaper comic continued, Roy Thomas’s plans included an encounter with The Kangaroo. And I suspect Mary Jane wearing the Spider-Man costume would foreshadow something. Instead, we’re getting a rerun of an encounter with Mysterio. I have a certain odd affection for Mysterio. I learned of him while a teenager, reading the 1980s Sensational She-Hulk comic, which specialized in featuring the villains who were kind of … uhm … how can I put this politely? It’s where I first saw Stilt-Man, a villain who goes around on extendable robot legs. Mysterio was one of that comic book’s first villains. And his gimmick’s a fun one. He doesn’t quite have superpowers. He’s a master of special effects and hypnosis and stagecraft and performance. I guess in principle everything he does is something a professional special-effects team could put together. But, like, in that She-Hulk comic he faked an alien invasion. That seems like it would need a larger special effects house than “one guy with a great swooping cape and a ball covering his head”. I bet the hypnosis helps.


So to the rerun plot, which is still under way. Mary Jane’s show on Broadway is closing. Not for unpopularity; the theater needs repair. This was, in 2014, because of damage done the theater by Spider-Man’s fight with Doctor Octopus. In 2019, it would still be justified, after the damage with Spider-Man’s fight with the Kingpin and Golden Claw. She’ll be out of work three months, or an eternity. But there’s good news: Abe Smiley is in town. A few years before he produced the direct-to-DVD superhero film Marvella. Mary Jane starred. Now it’s time for a sequel. Which is filming in New York, and needs like three months to do. Perfect.

Peter Parker, suiting up: 'How can you start filming? You haven't seen a contract yet!' Mary Jane: 'Mr Smiley said he'll have it ready today.' Peter, climbing out the window: 'Sometimes, honey, I wonder if playing Spider-Man isn't less dangerous than dealing with Hollywood types!'
Roy Thomas and Alex Saviuk’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 10th of April, 2019. Well, I mean, Spider-Man’s just dangling from skyscrapers on a finite supply of short-lived tethers made of a rapidly-disintegrating material of his own design clasped to his wrists while super-powered villains hurl energy bolts and sometimes cars at him. Meanwhile Mary Jane faces emotional abuse and sexism in an industry as synonymous with financial scams as … well, any industry, honestly. But famous for it. So, yeah, take your pick.

She loves meeting back up with the old gang and the costume still looks good on her. What could go wrong? Besides Peter being mopey about the project. And the strip cutting away to Mysterio cackling about how he loves show business while the narrator asks what he could have to do with all this. The question still hasn’t been answered.

But what could go wrong has. Sharon Smiley, the producer’s daughter, had been slated to play Marvella. Now she’s bumped down to the villainess role, Sister Steel. She’s not happy about this. Mary Jane offers to resign and avoid the unpleasantness. Abe Smiley holds her to her contract. She’ll have to deal.

Spider-Man has a weird event while stopping a routine carjacking right outside his and Mary Jane’s apartment. It’s a bright flash of light and his spidey-sense tingling even after he’s stopped the crime. The cause: Mysterio. He hired a “petty hoodlum” to snatch the car. This to test his hypothesis that Spider-Man is keeping close watch on Mary Jane. This’ll help Mysterio’s project of destroying them both, so that’s something. Spider-Man isn’t sure what’s going on, so he digs an old raincoat out of a trash can to get back into his apartment undetected. That’s not an important story beat, but it’s a wondrous line and I wanted to give it some attention.

[ Movie-acting atop the Empire State building suddenly turns deadly ] Sharon Smiley: ''They'll be scraping you up off the street!'' (She hits Mary Jane, who falls back.) [ When Mary Jane PASSES THROUGH what had seemed solid metal! ] (She falls through the barrier, shrieking.) [ To her watching spouse's horror! ] Spider-Man, swinging up to her: 'Got to save her!'
Roy Thomas and Alex Saviuk’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 6th of May, 2019. So, props to Spider-Man for figuring something’s bound to happen at the filming and sticking nearby. Might have wanted to, like, hang around the 86th floor observation deck instead of the roof of one of the surrounding buildings, but maybe he didn’t know just how the film crew was staging things. It’s not like he could’ve gotten a view from above to check that out.

On to filming. There’s a fight scene on top of the Empire State Building. Sharon Smiley, as Sister Steel, hits Mary Jane a little too hard. The railing is a little too soft: Mary Jane falls through as if it weren’t there. It’s not: Mysterio removed it, somehow, right where they’d fight and hid the removal. Spider-Man sees Mary Jane falling from the top of the Empire State Building and leaps into action. He grabs her, but something messes up his web-slingers. He tries to get to another building, but smoke clouds his vision. Something else clouds his spider-sense. But he’s able to slow their fall enough and guide them to landing in a dumpster, as safe as can be after a fall from the top of a skyscraper.

There are many questions. How could Mary Jane fall through the Empire State Building observation deck’s railing? Why does Spider-Man immediately suspect Mysterio? Couldn’t, like, one-third the characters in the Marvel universe do the same stunt? Is someone on the film crew working with Mysterio to kill Mary Jane and Spider-Man? Will Mary Jane — at the film crew’s insistence — calling Peter Parker to tell him not to worry reveal Spider-Man’s secret identity? What adjacent building is putting their dumpster on the side of the lot that faces the Empire State Building? (It’s the CUNY Graduate Center, isn’t it? Making some obscurantist point about something?) And, to the other characters, why is Spider-Man always hanging around Mary Jane? Are they an item or something? But she’s married!

So we are, in the repeats, up to the 11th of January, 2015. If you want to skim ahead and see how all this turns out, the Mysterio storyline went on until about the 14th of March, 2015. That fed into a team-up with the Black Widow to fight the Hobgoblin. So that’s nine weeks into our future. That would be the first chance that Marvel and Comics Kingdom would have to transition out of reruns and into a new story.

But if they do mean to get out of repeats in mid-July, as this would imply, then they’d need to have a new creative team working now. If there’s not an announcement in the next week or two I’d suppose they’re going to carry on through another repeat story. Whether the Black Widow/Hobgoblin story or another would be beyond my powers to deduce.

Next Week!

A long-running story comic about a superpowered do-gooder that came to an end, went into reruns for a storyline, and came back with new creators! Come with me to the 80s and Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop, now featuring raccoons!

And meanwhile, my other blog looked at some mathematics-themed comic strips today. You might like that too.

Statistics Saturday: Animals We Can Say The Guy Who Draws Beetle Bailey Has Or Hasn’t Seen


Animal Can we say the guy who draws Beetle Bailey has seen this?
Duck No because why aren’t its feet webbed and do they even rest in trees? But if that’s not a mallard then what is it?
Squirrel Still Not Yet
Snake Yes
Another duck or maybe a badly colored pigeon? I guess? I’m stuck figuring out what it’s holding.
Horse Maybe?
Bear From the front and only the front
Mouse Also only from the front
Butterfly Yes
Uh … is … that one of those comical fish lures you see in 1950s cartoons and sitcoms about marginally competent fathers? I guess so?
Whatever kind of bird that is standing on the edge of the large tub there? No
Raccoon Turns out, yeah
Dog? Maybe? In that lower right corner? Or maybe it’s another bear? Y … uh … yeah? Maybe?

Reference:

Cookie: 'I thought the men would like a vegetarian meal for a change.' Sarge: 'Well, they didn't go for it.' Cookie: 'But it's a hit with the herbivores.' They look, in silhouette, over a number of animals drawn in that worn-down mid-century-modern style of Beetle Bailey; the animals include several birds, a horse, at least one bear cub, a squirrel, a raccoon, a mouse, a snake, and some flying insects.
Greg Walker’s Beetle Bailey for the 14th of May, 2019. So, mallards, bears, and raccoons are omnivores. While mice and squirrels are mostly herbivorous, they’ll eat meat given the chance. I’ve heard rumors of an herbivorous snake but I’m not believing it before I see Mark Trail introduce it in a Sunday panel. And if that’s a dog instead of another bear cub under the table, that’s not an herbivore.

What’s Going On In Judge Parker? Is Judge Parker Going To Jail? February – May 2019.


Now that I’ve laid out what is known, as of mid-May 2019, about Alan Parker faking Norton’s death I can get back to normal. All my plot recaps, and news, about Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker should be at this link. If you’re reading this after about August 2019 I’ll probably have a more up-to-date for you plot recap there.

Judge Parker.

17 February – 12 May 2019.

What Happened In The Last Three Months Of Judge Parker?

Marie, longtime housekeeper to the Parkers, was distraught when I last checked in. It wasn’t my fault. It was the fault of her husband. Roy Rodgers disappeared on their honeymoon in Greece. He was caught, drunk, in a bar in Madeira. His home repair company, back home, collapsed following the alleged embezzlement of one and a half million dollars. Everyone’s suspicion: he was trying to fake his death.

The good news is this clears Marie of the suspicion of murdering her husband. She and Sam Driver fly back home to Cavelton. While she’s legally unencumbered, this has wrecked her life. She felt herself defined by her relationship to the Parkers for years, then to her boyfriend-fiancee-husband, and now … what? Mostly she wants everyone to stop trying to comfort her. Except maybe Sophie, who went through her and her band being kidnapped by her mother’s previously-unsuspected evil half-sister. They’re starting to bond over having such identity-shattering experiences. Then her husband calls.

Abbey: 'What I mean is, when Neddy confronted Godiva about their false friendship, it helped her. When Sophie visited her grandfather's grave and confronted their past, it gave her the strength to move on. Maybe confronting Roy will give you the closure you need.' Marie; 'How can I get closure if the prison guards won't let me repeatedly punch him?'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 3rd of March, 2019. Honestly this is mostly what I feel when I hear someone talking about the need for closure after a trauma. I don’t want closure. I want something good and healthy instead. I want my opponent to stand in public and cry out how they were wrong and terrible and are now ashamed and everyone should remind them every day of their life how horrible they were to me, a flawless and boundlessly kind person. And then everyone does so.

Roy begs her to see him. She can’t think of any reason she would. She gets a lot of pressure to hear him out, though. From characters in the strip. Also from comics commentators. I saw a fair number of readers who thought Marie was being terrible, not to mention hypocritical. When Roy went missing got was suspected of murder, vaguely by authorities, certainly in public opinion. And she was wholly innocent. Now she won’t extend to Roy the same benefit of the doubt?

Me, I don’t think ill of Marie for not wanting to hear Roy’s line. She’s correct to feel betrayed by Roy. He literally disappeared on their honeymoon. He faked his death in ways that made her the obvious suspect. The scandal made headlines on two continents. He’d kept secret for years his company failing. And she’s had at most a couple days to deal with learning all this. It would be admirable if she were open, already, to hearing his sad story.

And she does stop to hear his story. Well, she goes to look at him in person and confirm that she’s done and moving on. But he pleads his case fast, and she listens. The company was failing. They needed ready cash. He borrowed money from the mob. His partner — the one who’s turned State’s Evidence — was stealing from the company. He figured he had to leave. He thought he could leave with Marie. He saw one of the mobsters while on their honeymoon. An expensive honeymoon, it’s pointed out, considering money was his problem. He thought he had to flee, even if he didn’t have any idea what to do after running.

Roy: 'Everyone was closing in. I had to leave. I had to leave with you. All I ever wanted was to be with you.' Marie: 'So you married me knowing you would never see me again?' Roy: 'That was never the plan! I hoped we would be together forever! But one night I saw one of the mobsters on the island and I ... I had to leave.' Marie: 'Without thinking what could happen to me. Wow, somehow you're even more despicable than before I got here. Goodbye, Roy.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 22nd of March, 2019. Me, I’m still stuck on how he got from Greece to Madeira with only what he might have taken from his hotel room the morning he disappeared. Like, I get he could swim (or whatever) to the next island or the mainland but that’s still quite a distance to cover without a passport or any money that he didn’t already have in his pockets.

It’s stupid, yes. But it’s stupid in a way I believe of people. I don’t think I’m misanthropic, not mostly. But I do figure most of us form our idea of how to plan out the world when we’re about eight, and think that other people will obviously go along with us. At worst we’ll have to trick them like we’re Bugs Bunny and they’re Daffy Duck. And that this never works doesn’t really stop us. We just accept that plans never work out but we don’t know how to have better ones.

Anyway, what Roy wants to say: the mob still wants their money, or at least their revenge, and, well, she’s an available target. So, I’m not sure what a good plan in this situation would be. I know he didn’t have one.

Does Marie have one? She was already thinking she needed to leave the Spencer-Driver world before she talked to Roy. Now she also knows she’s probably in danger for her life. Sam Driver claims he knows people who could help and set her up in a safe hiding spot. Marie thinks about it, and then decides against it. Going into hiding would be a surrender of her life. Going into hiding under Sam Driver’s protection would be surrendering her independence. She has to set out wholly on her own.

Here again I can understand her thinking. I think it’s foolish to refuse the eagerly offered protection of a family that’s not just rich, it’s soap opera wealthy rich. I mean, that’s a class of people who can just turn out to have a home in Newport, Rhode Island, that they didn’t think worth mentioning anytime the past 35 years. Granted money can’t fix broken personalities, but it can do a lot in supporting the flesh the personality depends on.

[Marie comes to a decision.] Sam: 'This is what you want?' Marie: 'Absolutely. Roy took enough from me. He's not taking my sense of self. Sure, if I go into hiding, under an assumed name, I may be safe. But I'll also spend every day looking over my shoulder, not looking ahead. I can't let that happen. Of course, I can't put this family, my family, in danger. So I'm getting my own place. So I'm starting fresh, standing on my own two feet, not running. And so --- this is the hardest thing I've ever had to say --- I'm ... I'm no longer going to be working here.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 7th of April, 2019. So this announcement shocked, I saw, many longtime readers of Judge Parker who had stronger connections to Marie than I had. I confess I’ve only been reading closely for the last couple of years, since I started doing these summaries — which has done a lot to make me appreciate the strips more — and this has been her first important story in that time.

Well, I’ve had lesser problems than Marie has. The week of the 8th of April she moves into her new apartment. We then get views of the other characters. Roy getting into fights with the inmates at Cavelton Prison. Neddy and Ronnie trying to make a go of Los Angeles again.

And, oh lord, but April Parker is back in the story. We see her, with her Mom. April left with her mother, whose name I haven’t caught. I’m going with Candice Bergen in the meanwhile. Candice Bergen has been training April in the ways of being a somehow even more super-hyper-ultra-duper secret agent for hire. April’s determined to rescue Norton, her father, from his Super Mega Hyper Duper Extra Special Secret Agent Jail. Candice Bergen insists Norton is dead. April doesn’t believe it. She knows anything about soap operas.

April: 'Mom, I will forever thank you for rescuing me. And for the current odd combination of paramilitary training and meditation. But I can't just hide. I can't just do nothing.' Mom: ''Nothing'? You and Wurst have gone on numerous missions.' April: 'I've gone on *jobs*, Mom. *I* have a mission.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 24th of April, 2019. That we don’t see Candice Bergen’s lips open does have to be a conscious choice at this point, right? It’s a subtle way to make the character that bit extra weird. It’s going to break my heart if Mike Manley pops in to say oh, no, that’s just how the panels happened to make sense every time he’s drawn her.

(And this is not at all relevant to Judge Parker. But. I caught an advertisement for The Young and the Restless this past week. It started with how, on [ date ] three years ago, [ character ] died, and showed the footage of the building fire. And then, coming this week … and they showed someone declaring “[ character ] is alive”. It was such a wonderful pure moment of what soap operas are for. I kind of regret knowing nothing about The Young and the Restless so I can’t truly appreciate [ character ] not having died in [ incident ]. And how cleverly he [ whatever he did to be not dead ].)

And that leads to the current events. The 27th of April established that Toni Bowen’s memoir was ready for publication. Among the things this Cavelton-to-national-to-Cavelton reporter reveals many things. The biggest is that Judge Alan Parker helped arms-dealer and generally-exhaustingly-bad-guy Norton fake his own death. And worse, it’s all true. Katherine Parker quits her job with the memoir publisher, and realizes that’s what her boss really wanted. I’m not clear why he did want her to quit, but it does explain why he’s involved her in the publication of a book with scandalous news about her husband.

Still, she has the PDF proofs for the memoir. And Judge (retired) Alan Parker has to confirm that yeah, it’s correct, and it’s awful. All he can think to do is go public with the news first. The goal is to convince the public that he was trying to protect his son and daughter-in-law. That daughter-in-law is April Parker. She’s a rogue, disgraced CIA agent who broke out of Mega Ultra Duper Secret Spy Jail and is roaming the world looking for people to kill for money. He calls Sam Driver for advice.

Sam: 'We'll have a press conference before review copies of Toni's book are sent out. You'll admit to what you did. You'll say how you were only trying to protect your family, how you felt you had no other option.' Alan: 'Right, right.' Sam: 'But you have to realize, Alan. There is no grand upside here. We may get them to see things our way, but in the end, you *will* be going to prison.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 11th of May, 2019. Alan: “But … we can mention how I wrote bestselling novel and soon-to-be-major-motion-picture The Chambers Affair, right?”

Sam’s direct about this. Alan just confessed a crime to him. There’s little to mitigate this. Norton had not threatened Alan or his family when he asked for help faking his death. Alan felt threatened, he says now, and that maybe helps. And yeah, Norton did end up holding Alan hostage and drugging him and bringing crazy and violent people into his life. I know, it’s so weird that inviting CIA people into a life results in physical harm, mental torment, and widespread misery. But there you have it. But all that came later, after the faked death certificate. Sam can’t see a way out of this which doesn’t involve Judge Alan Parker — the original center of this longrunning story comic — going to prison.

So will he? I don’t know. I could imagine circumstances where he doesn’t. He’d — I infer — helped Norton fake his death right after Romanian mobsters launched armed raid on his son’s wedding reception. He could (honestly!) claim he was trying to save a family member from future armed raids. And, well, he is rich and white and was on the bench for decades. I can easily imagine the district attorney going light on him.

But I can also imagine Marciuliano deciding not to. He’s been happy to put characters through the ringer before. He’s had Sophie Driver kidnapped and tortured for months. He’s made Abbey Driver’s father a bigamist with a secret second family. He made Godiva Danube a celebrity drug smuggler before killing her. And he is, really, simply following up the implications that were already in the strip when he took over writing. I think he’s bold enough to do it. I don’t know whether he would. It’s exciting that it’s plausible, though.

Next Week!

In seven six days I look into my first rerun storyline since Gasoline Alley came back. It’s Roy Thomas and Alex Saviuk’s The Amazing Spider-Man Again.