Why I Am Not A Successful Secret-History Writer


I had gotten nearly one-third of the way through the logline for my next book before the reading group tackled me, sending the manuscript flying into the air and threatening a turnover and significant loss of yardage. But I reached up mightily and regained possession and while it didn’t help me gain the down any, I was able to eventually make my voice heard over the howls of preemptive and I think unjustified pain.

So it starts with ancient alien astronauts and see that’s about where my group started to scream. I didn’t even get to explain how I didn’t mean this in the racist way where we suppose that, like, the Egyptians of thousands of years ago couldn’t think of “pyramids” without help. I don’t see why anyone figures ancient peoples needed help thinking of the idea of “build stuff using stones”. It’s not like they had a stone shortage.

Anyway, my premise — stop tackling! — is how what if ancient astronauts did come to visit the Egyptians in the era of the great pyramid-building phase? Only the aliens don’t use their advanced technology to help the Egyptians build pyramids. Instead the Egyptians are able to use their pyramid-building skills to give the aliens much-needed guidance on how to get their advanced technology to actually work? And then came another round of tackling and a question about “the heck are you thinking” and “even if there is some non-offensive way to do this” and I know, I know. But I’m willing to do the work to treat this material responsibly. I’m like this close to looking up like what millennium was the great pyramid-building boom and getting a book about what Egypt was like as close to then as the branch library has, so you know my sociology would be not provably wrong and that demonstrates my story to be worth telling!

And I can answer questions about how the pyramid-building era of Egyptians could have stuff to tell alien astronauts about their technology. Who are we to figure that they wouldn’t have stuff to teach the other thems? I mean at a responsible, appropriate tutoring rate. I figure any species sophisticated enough to traverse the stars is too ethical to take someone’s consulting advice without fair compensation. If they don’t I don’t want them in my creative universe anyway.

So what do the aliens need help on? Oh, heck, I don’t know. It’s alien technology. It’d be futuristic even today. How am I supposed to go into details? Maybe something about sphere-packing. That’s a mathematics problem about how you can stack together balls of the same size so there’s the least possible wasted space between them. And the best way to do this turns out to imagine you’re the grocer seen in the comedy putting oranges out on a huge stack for the hero to send the villain crashing into. That is, make pyramids.

Now obviously I don’t mean to say the Ancient Egyptians had some supernatural powers of pyramid-building. I think we’ve got a decent idea of roughly how they went about pyramid-building. But imagine you’re an ancient astronaut and you’re put down somewhere with a big pile of stones and a sense that it’s important to start making pyramids. What would you start out by doing? Exactly. There’s all these little skills that you pick up by practice. You don’t just start out at the top of your thing-stacking game. You start out with what seems obvious and you share tips with outer people who want to do this stuff well, and you try some of what they do, and you get it a little wrong and maybe it works out all right. Eventually, you’re a master of the thing.

And that’s what I figure the Ancient Egyptians would be giving in this cultural exchange that I’m sure can be written up into a culturally sensitive and not at all insulting novel. I’m saying I think that issue of Skeptical Inquirer magazine was premature in leaping off the shelves and slapping me senseless and into a balled-up mound of flesh over by the board games. I bet my next draft changes everything.

Is this even secret history? I don’t know what to call it. I just mean stuff we don’t realize happened because there was a lot of stuff that happened and we can’t hear about it all.

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Lost Pet Calls


We got a message about a lost cat on the answering machine. I mean the message was there. I had no idea there was some kind of service in the area spreading the word about lost pets. It was one of those messages created by stitching together prerecorded phrases that I guess they figure can describe a lot of animals. And all delivered in this weird upbeat tone. So what we got were chipper sentences about how this cat “is a friendly talkative type; he’s been neutered, and gets along great with dogs!” I’m still working on whether the logic of that sentence makes sense.

I’m glad to know the service exists. I suppose I don’t expect our pet rabbit to get lost, since he’s quite busy keeping a suspicious eye on me. And our other pets are goldfish. If they make a break for it I’ll be impressed. But I know they’re not likely to, not until they gather a thousand of their kin and manifest a dragon. Which, if they do, I want them to know I’m very supportive of their dragon existence and really want to know whether they have lost-pet messages recorded for that.

The First Talkartoon: Noah’s Lark


I’m feeling in a talk-about-cartoons mood so why not look to the Fleischer Studios’ Talkartoons? These were a string of 42 sound cartoons that the Fleischer Brothers made from 1929 to 1932, and it’s where Betty Boop made her debut. She’s not in this cartoon. It’s easy to suppose the Talkartoons were made in response to Disney’s Silly Symphonies series. I’m not sure that’s the case, though. This installment, for example, doesn’t have any particularly strong song component. There’s music throughout, of course. It was 1929; if you weren’t putting sound into your cartoons you were hopelessly behind the times, or you were Charles Mintz and too cheap to do sound. And I’m not even sure that’s true.

In any case Leonard Maltin’s Of Mice And Magic cites a June 1929 trade advertisement for the series. The first Silly Symphony came out in August 1929, and while every animation studio tried to copy Disney, it’d be a bit ambitious to plan the copying of something that hadn’t come out yet. Here, originally released the 25th of October, 1929, is Noah’s Lark.

So, some thoughts. First is that I think this short predates the use of animation cels. For most of the 20s the Fleischer cartoons were illustrations done on sheets of bright white paper. The advantage of this is that if you only need to move a small part of the scene — like the monkey’s arms in that scene about 1:15 into the short, or the hippopotamus singing while his chest tattoo moves at about 1:35 — you just need to draw that fragment of art and put it over the base. On many silent cartoons you can even see the tear lines of the paper.

Second: the title actually parses. I was thinking through the first half that they’d done the most obvious humorous variant on the common phrase “Noah’s Ark”. But by bringing the action to Coney Island — Wikipedia says Luna Park, but I don’t know how they can pin it down to that, given that there’s no particularly iconic rides on display — they justify calling it a lark. Good, then.

That fun old-style stretchy-squashy-playing with geometry: I like the ship’s portholes bouncing around merging together to let the elephant out. Also the … magpies? Crows? Possibly penguins? … at about 2:22 in that need three of them with bicycle pumps to unflatten their comrade.

The Suspiciously Mickey Mouse-like character enters into this cartoon at about 5:00 in. The Blink-And-You’ll-Miss-It gag with the best laugh was on the carousel at about 4:50 for me.

There’s a recording of The Stars And Stripes Forever in here that I wonder if they didn’t use in the first couple Popeye cartoons as his post-Spinach action music.

Does this short have an ending? … I suppose so. The idea that the animals are out on Shore Leave does contain the implication that Shore Leave has to stop, so there’s a tolerably set-up conclusion to the short and a reason for the final scene to happen. I’ll allow it, but I’ll listen to contrary opinions.

Good News on the Immortality Front


So when I was a kid I picked up a little habit, sweeping my tongue across the backs of my front teeth. Just a little swipe, left to right. But that bothered my sense of balance that I swept from left to right, and so I added to that a sweep from right to left.

Thing is, it bothered me that I would sweep my tongue from left to right and then right to left. I wasn’t doing a balancing sweep from right to left and then left to right. So it was easy enough to make this a two-stage sweep: left-to-right-to-left, and then a right-to-left-to-right sweep. And that would be balanced at last, right?

At least until I thought seriously about that and reflected how I needed a two-stage sweep that started on the left to be balanced by a two-stage sweep that started on the right. So again, that was easy enough to add. A left-to-right-to-left, and then a right-to-left-to-right, followed by a right-to-left-to-right and then a left-to-right-to-left sweep. It’s a four-stage sweep and that’s great except that, of course, it starts on the left and it needs a counterbalancing one from the right.

Where I’m getting with this is I’m hoping this week to finish off a 536,870,912-stage sweep from the right counterbalancing one that started from the left back sometime in 1996, and I’m looking forward to living long enough that I can make it to the end of the forthcoming 1,073,741,824-stage sweep starting, of course, on the left, which I should reach sometime in 2059 or early 2060. So I’ve got that to stick around for.

What’s Going On In Alley Oop? July – October 2017


Do you need to know where we are in Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop? I’m happy to do my best to catch you up on the storyline. I have my limits, though. I’m writing this in mid-October 2017. If you’re reading this much later than that, the story might have got so far advanced that this isn’t useful. In that case, try checking the top of this page. If I’ve written a further update it should be at or near the top there. Meanwhile, story. here.

If you’re interested in comic strips that talk about mathematics stuff, you probably already saw this on my other blog, but what the heck. Never hurts to remind people that a thing exists, until they get tired of it and turn to rioting.

Alley Oop.

24 July – 15 October 2017.

Last time you’ll recall Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop was still wrestling with a spinoff of the pantsless-alien-frog storyline. The alien plant-frog-guy had left behind a mind-control ray gun that Alley Oop smashed and tossed all the way to the rival kingdom of Lem. There, King Tunk patched the thing together and figured to zap his way into, at last, the conquest of Moo. His attempt backfired, and shooting the thing left himself zapped and in King Guz’s power.

Alley Oop: 'You know when Tunk snaps outta this brain fog, he's gonna take Lem and his crown back, don't you?' Guz: 'HE GAVE IT TO ME! YOU'RE MY WITNESS!' Oop: 'Yeah, but it was a game, Guz! I don't think decisions like that count when a person's in a fog like that!' Guz: 'THAT'S WHAT YOU THINK! I ... ' A woozy Tunk: 'Oooohhhhh! Where am I?'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 27th of July, 2017. If you’re wondering how Alley Oop resists the urge to clobber everybody in Moo and Lem on the head and just take over for himself, I don’t know. I guess he’s tried a couple times in the past and it’s just too much work keeping everybody from doing something dopey, so it’s easier to hang back in a position where you can snark on everybody.

Guz orders Tunk to turn over his lands, his power, and his crown, and Tunk can’t refuse. Oop, fed up with this disrespect for consent, smashes the ray gun to pieces. Tunk comes to his senses, calls “no way” on his cession. He chases Guz, and the last pieces of the pantsless mind-controlling alien-frog storyline, out of the comic.

The new, and current, story started the 1st of August. “Meanwhile” in the 21st century (it’s their convention, run with it or read some other comic strip), Doctor Wonmug faces civilization’s greatest current menace. Rich white guy idiot M T Mentis III is interested in the time laboratory. His objectives are unclear at first. But the Time Lab could always use some more money. How could you make a profit with just the ability to traverse space and time to an exact spot at any exact second? So after a tour of the slick modern computerized time machine Mentis says what he’s up to.

Wonmug: 'I'm flattered at your interest in the time lab, but it's not for sale.' Mentis: 'Everything is for sale, as long as the right price is offered! Imagine pairing your time machine with my skills! I could visit key events in history to give just the right tweak to keep positive progress on track!' Wonmug: 'WHAT?! M.T., the one rigid rule of time travel is that it is for observation only and that NOTHING can be changed! Any change, no matter how well intentioned, would cause a ripple effect that could threaten our very existence! Mr Mentis, you have wasted your time here! The time lab is NOT for sale at any price to anyone --- especially not to YOU!' Mentis: 'I'm sorry to hear you say that! Take care of him, Gunther!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 20th of August, 2017. Gunther’s doing pretty well as a bodyguard for the world’s richest idiot, which shows you how much people can flourish once they get deported from Greg Evans and Karen Evans’s Luann. I jest, of course, since that’s clearly their Mister Grey.

He’s bored of his career of fixing up struggling companies. He wants to do something with meaning, by which he means buying the Time Lab and using the machinery to fix history. Wonmug is aghast at the idea of deliberately altering history. Even trying could force the comic strip to face potentially premise-wrecking consequences. You prove everything is strictly ordained somehow. Or you make the time travellers complicit in all the atrocities of human history. Or you make the time travellers responsible for destroying every living thing in the present timeline. Any of that’s heavy stuff for a comic strip that does better with, like, Alley Oop punching dopes. Yes, I am aware none of those verb tenses withstands any thought but I’m not getting paid enough to give them proper thought.

Since Mentis isn’t getting this, Wonmug sends himself, Mentis, and Mentis’s bodyguard to Moo and says, “see what you can do with this”. What he does is get chased by dinosaurs until he runs into Alley Oop and falls over and knocked out. When he recovers what he uses as his senses Mentis, shaking the idea that this is a movie set or something, works out a plan: he needs to kill the dinosaurs. After all, humans and dinosaurs shouldn’t coexist and they’re drawn kind of off-model and colored all weird. Alley Oop isn’t having any of it.

Mentis: 'THIS IS ABSURD! YOU CAN'T EXPECT ME TO BELIEVE THIS PLACE IS FOR REAL! YOU MUST HAVE BROUGHT US TO A MOVIE SET!' Alley Oop: 'What do you mean? Of course it's real!' Mentis: 'Why, look around you! See all those dinosaurs?' Oop: 'Of course I do! I'm not blind! They're everywhere!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 1st of September, 2017. Tag yourself: which one of these dinosaurs is you when you realize you’re caught in a meeting where you don’t know what’s going on and if you don’t find a way out you’re going to be expected to give an opinion about the next quarter’s projections. For me, it’s the brontosaurs-y guy with a grimace and his teeth exposed.

Oop does admit that King Tunk of Lem is a problem, what with his invading now and then and being kind of a jerk the rest of the time. Mentis proposes a wall, and Oop rolls his eyes so far back into his head they threaten to come around the other side. Mentis figures, well, how about better defenses than Oop’s ax and his fists? Mentis’s bodyguard Gunther epically failed trying out Oop in hand-to-hand combat. But how about if Mentis shows off his superior strategy? Mentis shows off his plan. It’s “holding enough spears and axes and swords and knives at once that Oop barely has to stop laughing long enough to kick him unconscious”. I’m not saying I’d be much better at uplifting the poor noble cavemen if I figured that was my business. I’m not sure what I’d introduce them to, exactly. Soap, I guess. Clean water. A Lockean concept of the social contract. Potatoes. The categorical imperative. I know I wouldn’t try showing off that I could hold too many weapons at once to be able to hold without the whole pile falling and stabbing my foot.

Mentis: 'The key to defense is that you need more weapons than your enemy has! It's such a simple concept! As experienced as you are in hand-to-hand combat, I'm surprised you haven't figured it out before now! I'd show you if I could borrow some weapons!' Alley Oop: 'YOU'RE gonna fight ME?!' Mentis: 'Oh, there will e no need for a fight! You'll see! I could never compete with your muscle, but with weapons, I can show you the superiority of a well-armed fighting force!' Oop: 'Okay, whatever you say! Take your pick!' [ Mentis takes *everything* from the armory, at once. ] Mentis: 'If an enemy came at you armed like this, when all you had was that ax, I'm sure you'd agree you'd be inclined to retreat!' Oop laughs deeply, and kicks Mentis unconscious and ties him up. A recovering Mentis asks: 'What th' ... ?' Oop: 'You needed a free hand!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 1st of October, 2017. So Mentis has made his fortune buying out distressed companies and straightening out their messes. Which implies that there are a lot of companies so incompetently managed that the guy who figured he had achieved Caveman Invulnerability in the first panel of the bottom row there was a major improvement. Based on every corporate history I’ve ever read, this is likely.

Here Oop asks a good question: the heck is Mentis’s deal, anyway? Before the rich idiot can mansplain why he figures he can patch up history despite his manifest incompetence some actual plot intrudes. It’s raiders from Farzoon, seeking slaves for some massive project. Mentis wonders if it might be Stonehenge or the Great Wall because I’m going ahead and assuming thought Chariots of the Gods was nonfiction. Oop and Mentis hide, but the Farzoonian raiders have their scent.

And that’s got us caught up.

So, still not answered: what is Mentis’s deal, anyway? It’s hard to square someone being bright enough to save struggling companies repeatedly with not being able to see any problems whatsoever in meddling with history. So what’s h out for? I guess it would be admirable if he did just want to fix the messy, terrible sides of history. And that would show up Wonmug and Oop for laughing at him. But if he is then he’s done a pretty poor job thinking through what that implies which, yeah, isn’t impossible. Especially given the casual, light tone of the Alley Oop world.

But it’s also baffling story for the Benders to write. As far as I know Alley Oop has avoided setting out the rules about whether, and how, history can be changed in its time-travel view. The storyline seems to threaten to commit them to something. Dr Wonmug says that history can change and time-travellers have to take care not to screw things up. But I don’t know what his evidence for that is. They seem to have a pretty casual attitude about time-travelling if they are afraid of messing up stuff. Alley Oop can activate the time machine to destinations of his choosing. Alley Oop’s an upstanding person, and he gets up to speed in situations quickly. But would you want to count on a caveman dropped into (say) the Battle of Manzikert to not do something off-script?

I suppose it’ll be avoided, or at least left ambiguous. I’m also curious how Wonmug figures that getting his hat stomped by dinosaurs will help Mentis learn about the interconnectedness of events or whatever his vague lesson is. You’d think just “what if you set it so your parents never met?” would get the point across. I suppose a reasonable person might learn from being shoved headfirst into Moo just how complicated and messy and big the world is and so how implausible it is to “fix” the timeline. But I’m not sure a reasonable person would have done more than have fantasies about history-fixing either.

So, I’m curious whether we’ll learn Mentis has some ulterior motive, or whether he simply believes he’s worked out the killer app for time travel.

Next Week!

We pop back in on the Bandar tribe and learn whether Tony DepPaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom Weekdays continuity has seen the Ghost Who Walks try out dying.

In Which I Am Disappointed By DuckDuckGo


Oh, first, yeah, did I mention doing some more comic strip review over on my mathematics blog? I did some more comic strip review over on my mathematics blog. Thanks for noticing. I changed the theme over there because there’s no such thing as a theme I’m actually all that happy with.

Yes, yes, I’m that guy using DuckDuckGo. I like how it keeps asking me to make it my default search engine, even though it has been for years now. But when you get something like this, I just …

DuckDuckGo search: 'Addams Family theme'. It returns, 'Addams Family Theme Kids Vocals. The Hit Crew. Boy, the way Glenn Miller played/ Songs that made the hit parade/ Guys like me we had it made./ Those were the day./ Didn't need no welfare.' More at MetroLyrics.
Yes, yes, there’s no telling whether the problem is DuckDuckGo or MetroLyrics, since there’s few things worse at song lyrics than song lyrics sites. Song lyrics sites are so bad it’s surprising to think they aren’t a part of iTunes. But still.

Putting aside everything else there’s at least two mistakes in the lyrics for the song they are doing and it’s taking all my willpower not to drive over to MetroLyrics Master Command and berate what I’m guessing is a strip mall’s communal mailbox station. I should probably go lie down a while and twitch.

Why I Am Not A Successful Fiction Writer


So we begin with the Ken Russell’s 1975 documentary Tommy about the pinball cult growing out of Roger Daltrey mostly not looking directly at stuff. The cult was going great with people showing up at pinball holiday camps right up to the point they were expected to play pinball. I agree some of those old electromechanical games were brutal, but the mass riots were overreacting. Not really sure what they were expecting. They were expecting free love, by which “they” I mean “guys” and by which “free love” I mean “women don’t get to say no”.

Thing is, it was a worldwide utopian cult. The movie only shows one getting rioted into oblivion. But they showed the giant world map with light bulbs for all the camps all over the place. That sort of stuff doesn’t die easily. Not if you’ve reached the point you have a giant world map with light bulbs. When you’ve got past where you can do a poster from Staples with push-pins you’ve got too much momentum for one day to bring you down. There’s going to be true believers who aren’t going to be shaken off. They’re going to gather somewhere. So it’ll be in some place just rural enough that they can afford the property taxes, but just urban enough that people who want to join the utopian cult can rest assured if the free love doesn’t work out they can still find a department store.

So we follow one in I’m going to go ahead and say west Michigan. A bunch of dreamers who figured they were gonna take it, and go on having pinball contests for tourists who wonder why it doesn’t look like it did in the movie. “We’re fundraising to build a garish arena,” the guides would say. “We’ve almost got enough to build a shoe.” The tourists look on, wondering why the competition still doesn’t look quite like the movie. “Have you had anything at our snack bar?” the guide tries to direct people. “It’s quite good.” It isn’t, but it’s cheap and what, you’re going to schlep all the way to Ludington for lunch?

Anyway, they would offer “silverball” hoagies. They’re meatballs tinted silver. Well, they’re vegetarian meatballs, made of cracked wheat or something late-70s like that. They do something to so it seems exactly like meat when the right person makes it, and just an exotic substance someone can put in their mouth if they choose to, whenever anyone else makes it. Comes with cheese and, if you also buy a roll of color film, a 15-cent discount. Also, yes, baked beans, but you mark yourself as a total doof if you ask for them.

The color comes from a shocking amount of colloidal silver dosed into the “meat” balls, and eventually results in an investigation by the state into just what they’re doing buying that many boxes of dragees and grinding them up. “We don’t eat them regularly, we just feed them to strangers!” is the embarrassing quote that makes every statewide TV station during the 1985 trial for whatever the heck they were up to. The cult gets vindicated when the jury establishes that no, nobody takes the dragees off a cookie or cake before eating it, why would you do that? But it’s a blow to the cult’s attempts to get out of the “free love” image. Figures.

And there’s schisms, of course, because there always are. Electromechanical versus solid-state, obviously, because the early solid state games are totally different from electromechanical pinball machines in ways that are obvious to someone who’s not a pinball aficionado, what with the solid state games having electronic buzzing noises instead of bells. And then I bet when they got into modern games, with dot-matrix displays and complicated rule sets. Let me explain that to people who aren’t pinball fanatics: these are pinball terms. They mean things.

So I figure this gets to the present day, when the unleashing of the new Star Wars game — a game of such unbridled complexity that the only response to it is to sit down and weep some — the camp decides, yes, they’ve done all they can do. It’s time to close up. The last days of the last utopian pinball cult present scenes of such John McPhee-esque piquancy that they’re not even remotely pleasant to read.

My beta readers described it as “I guess what we were getting in for when we let you know we picked up that Murakami book we never did read” and “shocklingly involved arguments about whether it’s ethical to tilt your own ball away as seen from the perspectives of different decades so I guess that’s a thing?”, so hey, I’m in a good place now!

Me: Self-Image Versus Reality


What I Think I’m Good At What I Am Good At
Pop mathematics writing


Listening to distressed friends without making their anxieties worse


Nursing ill pet animals back to health


Reducto-ad-absurdum chains of humorous reasoning


Providing, when asked, historical context for minor oddities
Telling casual acquaintances on social media how to handle it if they’ve accidentally forgotten they were on call for jury duty this week and are kind of freaking out about this

In Which I Am Once Again Dumbfounded


So I was reading Jonathan Green’s The Vulgar Tongue, about the history of slang so far as that can be worked out. And it got to a section about minstrel shows and blackface jokes and what slang we get from that. Surprisingly little, it turns out. Between a whole bunch of pages that left my jaw hanging open, speechless, was this bit from Charles Townsend’s circa-1891 guide for minstrel performers, along with tips like how to get blackface:

End Men should carefully avoid anything approaching vulgarity and no offensive personalities should be introduced. Avoid slang.

I understand, intellectually, that everything that ever touches race ever is deeply screwed up in all kinds of bizarre and stupid ways. But … “don’t use slang, you want to keep your minstrel show classy and inoffensive” is why I spend more and more of every day curled up in a ball in the corner of the room.

In Which Capitalism Asks Me To Make A Decision


Yes, it’s my fault for trying to read a local newspaper article about something instead of doing what they want, which is buying a subscription to the local USA Today franchise for Clementon, New Jersey, or whatever just so I can see one piece about an amusingly shaped pumpkin or whatever it was. And I realize that many people have no trouble forming or giving opinions about stuff. But then they wanted my opinion on this to let me read on.

Answer a survey question to continue reading this content. If you saw a brand of hummus, dips, or spreads made with vegetables named 'C'est la V', how would you feel about it?
Also how am I supposed to have emotions about hummus, dips, or spreads? I’m very interested in eating them, yes, but jeez. I don’t have the energy to care about the things I care about, where am I supposed to get a feeling about dip brands from? I’m going to give them a pass on suggesting the vegetables are named “C’est la V” because I’m being cranky and unkind to read that as if it were really confusing.

And this is after I had said what the phrase “C’est la vie” suggests to me. Well, as best I could approximate. What the phrase really makes me think is someone who accepts that yeah, this sucks, but it’s the way the game is played and if you get through this you can move on to some other phase of the doom. They wouldn’t let me write that down so I had to select ‘Neutral’ instead.

Anyway I feel like I have the chance to mess up somebody’s hummus marketing campaign here. Wish me luck.

What’s Going On In The Amazing Spider-Man? July – October 2017


Do you like superhero stories that have a good bit of that Silver Age flair? I mean the melodrama, the plots that get a little goofy but are basically delightful, the stories that touch on serious subjects but avoid being dire or grim, and the resolutions that turn on some crazy fairy-tale logic. So I am, indeed, a fan of Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man comic strips. If you’re reading this, I trust you like this sort of thing too, or at least you find it interesting. Also that you want to know what the current storyline is. If you’re reading this around mid-October 2017 you’re in luck: this essay should be on point. If it’s much later than that, the story might have moved on. If I have a more recent update it should be at or near the top of this page. Thank you.

And if you just like comic strip talk in general, my other blog has some mathematics-themed strips to talk about. Nothing deep this time.

The Amazing Spider-Man.

17 July – 8 October 2017.

I didn’t guess last time I reviewed the Amazing Spider-Man what the next recap would include. If I had, I would have included “the end of the current story”. That story saw Peter and Mary Jane Parker in Los Angeles on one of those comic-strip weeklong getaways that runs twelve months of reader time. They discovered Melvin, the Mole-Man Ruler of the Underworld wants to marry Aunt May. He’s free to do that now that he’s been overthrown by Tyrannus, the immortal Augustulus, last ruler of the Roman Empire of the West. And Aunt May’s partial to it too. And, yeah, the comic strip is its own separate continuity from everything else Marvel-branded. Still, I knew Melvin and Aunt May would have something keep them from getting married. Tyrannus leading an army of subterranean monsters to destroy Los Angeles seemed like a good enough excuse.

Thing is, that was back in the middle of July. I thought there were a couple weeks’ worth of Tyrannus invading. People around Spider-Man foiling the invasion while he’s tied up or maybe unconscious. Melvin accepting his responsibility to the Mole People Or Whoever Lives Down There that he has to go rule them. Aunt May not being able to join because she’s allergic to the Mole Kingdom. (I’m not being snarky there. It’s what kept them apart before.) They haven’t got quite there yet. But it does look like it’s going to wrap up soon? Maybe in a couple weeks? I think?

Well, here’s what happened. Peter Parker told Aunt May and Melvin that yeah, actually, they should get married if they want to. They set a date of “pretty soon, considering we’ve both died of old age as many as fourteen times dating back to the era of King Aethelred the Ill-Advised already”. And they both like James Dean. So they figure to marry at Griffith Observatory, taking the Observatory officials entirely by surprise. Mary Jane’s not able to participate in the plot, as a heavy storm trapped her in a side thread about her publicity tour.

Giant octopus-like tentacles grabbing Spider-Man and the Mole Man. As the tentacled beast descends deep into the earth ... Melvin: 'You can't help ME! Go help PETER PARKER - he must be clinging to a LEDGE up above!' Spider-Man: 'I already took care of HIM, Moley. Now it's YOU I've got to --- oh NO you [the monster] don't! No nigh-brainless brute sneaks up on your friendly neighborhood SPIDER-MAN!' As Spidey wrestles with the tentacles. Melvin: 'I should TELL you --- that's a DECTOPUS. It has TEN enormous tentacles!' And the thing slams Spidey. WHILE LEAGUES BELOW: Tyrannus watches this on TV. 'It's like having a FRONT ROW SEAT --- at the greatest GLADIATOR contest of all time!'
Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 27th of August, 2017. I’m so delighted by Melvin the Mole Man correcting Spider-Man’s misapprehension about the number of giant tentacles attacking him that I won’t even point out Spider-Man didn’t call the creature an octopus or anything that would suggest he was only worried about eight tentacles. It also reminds me of an episode of the Disney Hercules series that they made for some reason, where one of a Chauncey-and-Edgar pair says how they’re being attacked by some giant octopuses. “You mean octopodes,” says the other. “What difference does that make?” “I like to be precise.”

Also taking Griffith Observatory by surprise: Tyrannus, who breaks the promise he made to Kala, his wife, that he’d leave Melvin alone. Kala’s content with having conquered the whole of Subterranea and doesn’t see any reason to bother the Mole Man as long as he’s staying on the surface. Well, not taking them completely by surprise. Peter Parker had spotted one of Tyrannus’s drones sneaking around the night before so he expected some kind of attack. But he figured going ahead with the wedding was the best way to get to the next big scene, and what do you know. A bunch of tentacled monsters grab Melvin, and Spider-Man follows close behind. Aunt May and the minister are left at the Observatory.

Melvin’s points out what an unnecessary jerk Tyrannus is being about all this. And Kala quickly joins Team Melvin, which serves as a reminder of how making false promises to your loved ones will come back to you. She gets the chance because Tyrannus is catching a bit of Old Age. He needs to recharge from the Fountain of Youth. This it turns out is a river underneath Los Angeles. Well, it wasn’t always, but with Tyrannus’s recent conquest of Mole Man’s territories he had the river diverted to Los Angeles.

The captive Spidey and Mole Man are witnesses to a subterranean DOMESTIC SPAT ... Kala: 'You LIED to me, Tyrannus! You swore you wouldn't try to SLAY the Mole Man since he'd abdicated and fled to the surface!' Tyrannus: 'Surely you didn't truly BELIEVE that little white lie, wife! I --- WE --- can never sit safely on our thrones while HE lives!' Kala: 'I already ruled my OWN underground realm --- and I SHARED it with you!' Tyrannus: 'Don't you see? I wanted a kingdom I had CONQUERED! Now, I HAVE one, and I'll make it MINE forever, by EXECUTING the Mole Man and his bewebbed protector!' Spider-Man: 'Y'know, it might almost be WORTH dying just to get away from your CORNBALL MONOLOGUES!'
Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 3rd of September, 2017. I didn’t have a good chance in the main essay to mention but, yeah, Tyrannus’s power base was Kala’s lands that he married into. So once again, all the trouble is being caused by a white guy all cranky that he wouldn’t have succeeded without other people giving him help. We’re never going to have a minute’s peace before we stop letting us white guys have positions of authority, you know.

Tyrannus runs off for the sacred chalice with the line drawn on it so he knows how much youth to imbibe. (It’s always a sacred chalice, isn’t it? They never just need a Wawa coffee mug.) Kala pops out the key to Spidey and Melvin’s handcuffs. She expositions about how he needs a drink or he’ll turn 1500 all at once. And she works out how to extort Tyrannus into giving up his conquest plans. Spidey, glad not to have to come up with a plan, goes for it. Spider-Man dams up the River of Youth before Tyrannus can get his drink. Kala tells the ancient Roman Emperor that if he does invade the surface world he’ll be a murderer. He’d have killed the man she fell in love with.

Again, this is what I like in superhero adventures. I don’t think I would have been happier here if Brainiac-5 put in a sudden cross-company appearance.

Tyrannus sends a flock of subterranean monsters after Kala, Spidey, and Melvin. Unless that should be a “herd” of subterranean monsters. (To be precise.) But his monsters can’t match Melvin’s knowledge of the tunnels. And he’s in a bad way, anyway. Without access to the River of Youth water he’s showing his 1500 years and might even get to be older than Aunt May. Kala gets him to make an Imperial Oath to never attack the surface world again, in exchange for Spidey un-blocking the River of Youth. And this one will count. Merlin the Magician made fidelity to Imperial Oaths a condition of the last Western Roman Emperor’s access to eternal youth. Spider-Man takes a moment to reflect on how this is kind of a weird scene. Tyrannus and Melvin shrug and point out, hey, you’re Spider-Man.

Tyrannus: 'You three - have WON! I vow to never ATTACK you again! As my Queen knows, I cannot break an imperial OATH! Such is the bargain I made 15 centuries ago with MERLIN THE MAGICIAN - in exchange for the secret of ETERNAL YOUTH!' Spider-Man: 'I can't believe I'm HEARING this! You're not only the LAST ROMAN EMPEROR, from 476 AD - with his own PRIVATE FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH - but you got it from MERLIN? You mean, like - KING ARTHUR'S Merlin?' Mole Man: 'Surely you can accept such FAR-FETCHED tales. After all, didn't I hear that YOU got your powers from the bite of a RADIOACTIVE SPIDER? Now THAT'S something I find difficult to believe!'
Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 8th of October, 2017. Careful there, Melvin. Pick too hard at the plausibility of any of the world and the whole superhero universe is liable to cave in. Also, since I didn’t get to mention this above: ‘bewebbed’? I guess it parses, but should it? Are we all okay with this?

And that’s where we are as of today. Also, so now you see why I figure we’ve got to be near the end of this story. They just have to figure out reasons for Melvin to stay underground and Aunt May not to marry him. Then Peter Parker can head off to the next casually insulting scene.

Maybe you notice. I’ve been enjoying this. I guess there’s high stakes here, what with the threatened conquest of the surface world and all by an immortal Ancient Roman. But in truth it’s an endearing small story about people with goofy costumes and funny names messing up each others’ marriages. And Spider-Man even gets to do some stuff, although at the direction of much better-informed people. Which I like too. Newspaper Spider-Man has a passivity problem. But people with a lick of common sense should shut up and listen to the folks who are experts in their field of expertise. And yeah the story has covered really very few points considering it’s been a quarter of a year. But it’s had a good bit of action and humor and very little spider-moping.

Next Week!

We journey back to the land of Moo and peek in on Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop. There was still more mind-control ray gun story to deal with. After that, Alley Oop faces the biggest problem of 21st century humanity: an idiot white guy with money. See you then, in the past.

Statistics Saturday: Some Sequels Given The Subtitle ‘2000’


  • Blade Runner 2000
  • Star Trek 2000
  • Toy Story 2000
  • Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey: 2000
  • Step Up 2000 The Streets
  • Grease 2000
  • Back To The Future 2000
  • Death Race 2000: 2000
  • Indiana Jones 2000
  • Bridget Jones 2000
  • Godzilla Versus 2000
  • Face/Off 2000
  • French Connection 20000
  • Superman 2000
  • From Russia With Love 2000
  • For 2000 Dollars More
  • xXx: MM
  • Spy Kids 2000
  • The Matrix 2000
  • 2010: 2001 2000

What Does This Compu-Toon Even Mean: 4 October 2017 Edition


I hope I don’t seem like I’m picking this comic. It’s a small comic, and from everything I can work out the cartoonist is someone who’s trying with a thoroughgoing earnest kindness to make the world a little nicer. But, I mean, what am I even looking at?

Drawing of a kid in striped beanie cap looking at his phone. The caption: 'A bully's bullying doesn't mean much when his friends count is well over eight-hundred.'
Charles Boyce’s Compu-Toon for the 4th of October, 2017. Don’t think I’m not bothered by the superfluous space between “is” and “well” there, either. Also baffling: there’s (as I write this) five people who’ve favorited it on GoComics.com.

I think it’s supposed to say that the pain of being bullied is lessened by having a wide and supportive network of friends online? And I’ll agree that sort of thing makes things a little better. But it’s still bizarrely worded. I don’t think I’m reading the caption uncharitably, but I have to force myself not to read the antecedent to “his” as being “a bully” and that’s all wrong.

Also I have no idea how non-celebrity people get like 800 followers. I’m not sure I’ve had non-casual encounters with 800 people in my whole life, and when I think what fraction of them would figure they haven’t had about as much of me as really improves their lives? No way.

I guess also since I haven’t mentioned this since Monday: I talked about some other comic strips on my mathematics blog. Includes a Mutts, which you might or might not like, but is awfully cute. So there’s that.

Why I Am Not A Successful Alternate-History Writer


So, it’s an alternate history where everything is like it was here, only instead of the gold standard countries drifted to the gold dragon standard. It’s 1893. Industrial-capitalism-driven finance, as embodied by J.P. Morgan, has after decades of fighting reached a tentative but solid-looking peace accord with the nascent environmental movement, as embodied by John Muir. But danger is mounting. The Granger movement is pressing hard for the re-adoption of silver dragons as a foundation for currency outside South Asia. And the so-called Treaty of Oyster Bay may collapse against the deepening of the balance-of-payments crisis in Washington. As Grover Cleveland fends off appeals from the Bryan wing of his own party, and arranges his own secret and possibly illicit cancer surgery, Muir and Morgan have to work out whose sides they want to be on, and what they want to press for, before the endangered North American Gold Dragon is lost forever.

My fellow reading group members described it as featuring “oh Lord even more words?” and bringing up memories of “how much my head hurt as a kid when I asked my parents what it meant that, like, France was buying Japanese Yen”. Other comments included, “do the dragons even do anything?” and “did you have to call it the Bland-Allison Act? Is that even a joke? What is this thing?” and, in what I consider a glowing review, “can you at least have a dragon eat Prescott Hall or something? Please?”

In the first sequel it’s 1898 and rumors of a major cache of gold dragons coming out of the Yukon threatens to scramble the worldwide recovery from the Panic of 1893. The rush of American settlers into northwestern Canada presents great new challenges to the meaning of Canadian — and Alaskan — national identity, just as biologists find their understanding of the development of dragons challenged by the extreme-cold-weather breed’s anomalous sides. The new potential for Canadian self-determination calls into question the whole constitutional settlement of the British Empire, at a time when Australia and New Zealand’s needs for local constitutions and the stirrings of a new war with the Boers occupy Her Majesty’s Government, and the scientific minds try to square paradigm-shattering data about evolution and thermodynamics into their worldview.

My beta readers describe the roughed-out novel as “incredibly many words between cool parts that have dragons” and “are you working out some crazypants obscurant flame war with somebody about this Lord Carnavon [sic] guy?” And when I bring new chapters to a group session at the bookstore people’s eyes light up and they hide behind the Coffee Table Art books and do that thing where they playfully feign tossing manuscript pages into the fireplace! The kidders. They have to know by now I know there’s a grate over the fireplace.

Now the second sequel is set in the early 1910s and pulls back from the questions of the relationship between the United Kingdom and the Dominions and prospective Dominions to more closely examine United States monetary policy. Between the influence of the Populist movement on American politics and the passing of people like Morgan, the public’s coming around to accept the need for regularized, boring systems that can handle dragon-related crises instead of trusting that Great Men will somehow be found when needed. And so it’s a struggle among the followers and students of the previous generation’s greats to exactly work out the parameters of the Federal Preserve System.

I only have this in a roughed-out form, mostly notes on my laptop. But already Scrivener is so excited by this it’s set my computer on fire and several of its programmers have come around my house to holler at me at six in the morning, every morning, for a week now. But even they have to admit that the couple chapters I’ve written “don’t read nearly so much like a manifesto as I expected” and “wait, so, like, are banks just keeping dragons in vaults or something? Like, can tellers go in back during lunch and pet one? Do bank robbers come out with nests of dragons?” I don’t know, but that might be interesting if I can find space for a side story that petty in what I figure’s going to be a 700,000-word book!

Now I know all this sounds great, but I know my readers are trying to be nice so the stories aren’t that compelling. At that I still think the publisher might not have thrown me out on the street and kicked me in the back if I hadn’t insisted on naming it The Origin of Specie trilogy. I’m sorry, but her suggestion of The Gilded Age is a great title but it would need a story set in the 1870s to make the title sensible and I can’t think of anything sensible for that era.

PS no stealing my story, I e-mailed it to myself in an attachment I haven’t opened yet so I can prove it’s mine.

Vic and Sade: A Box Of Old Letters


So years and years ago two then-friends played a little prank on me. One said hello to me, and we chatted a bit about the day and how it was going. Twenty minutes later the other said hello to me, and used the same prompts, and got the same conversation out of me without my noticing.

I was listening to the Retro Radio Podcast of Vic and Sade and last week they had a thoroughly delightful episode. If you don’t care to deal with your podcast software — and I admit, given that I’m on iTunes, I’m quite fed up with mine — here’s a link to the file from archive.org. And I should have it embedded to play below, if I can remember how to do that right.

It’s the Vic and Sade episode of the 26th of September, 1944. And it’s got a classically simple premise. Uncle Fletcher has made Russell the present of a box of old letters. They start off magnificently mundane and petty. And then writer Paul Rhymer brought his absolute freaking genius to something that makes my anecdote something on point. I know that Vic and Sade isn’t to everyone’s taste — it’s not a program to listen to casually, and the comic style defies the picking-out of specific punch lines — but this one just sang.

(In other Vic and Sade podcast news, Jimbo over at The Overnightscape Underground has had a bunch of small episodes of the Vic and Sadecast the past couple weeks. I would like to share the URL for that, but iTunes isn’t letting me, because iTunes.)

In Which I Am Tasked In The Pet Store


I was just getting some rabbit food at the pet store, but I paused to watch the guinea pigs, because they’re always soothing and fun. Someone was there with a little kid, and she was pointing out and naming the animals to him. “There are some rats,” she said, “fancy rats.” And the kid asked, “Why?”

And I understand the kid was just at that age where “why” is the response to any question, including “would you like this extra chocolate we happened to have hanging around?” But I also feel like I’ve been given the responsibility of writing a charming, slightly twee children’s book explaining why some animals are rats.

And I gotta say, I’m not the person to ask that. The best I can come up with, and this is after literally dozens of minutes thinking about it, is that there are some animals who just did awesomely well in Mouse College, and they went on to earn their Masters of Rodent Arts. But they got ultimately sound advice to not go on to a doctorate in Possum Studies or something like that, so that’s left them as well-equipped and highly trained rats prowling around the world and adding to it that charming Halloween touch and also those great pictures online where one’s looking right at you with big, sweet, innocent eyes and grabbing a hindpaw with both front paws. Anyway, this is why my nieces refer to me as “Silly Uncle Joseph”. I’m sorry.

Statistics Monday: How September 2017 Treated My Humor Blog


So the first thing is readership was up again, back above the 2,000-pageview mark. WordPress says I had 2,126 pages viewed in September, back from August’s 1,965 to about July’s 2,132. This seems to be roughly my level, now that I’ve made “summarizing the plots of the story strips” a regular feature around here. The regular monthly page view count is just about what it was in October 2015, shortly before the espers completed the final demolition of Margo, Lu Ann, and I suppose there must have been another woman living in Apartment 3-G.

If there is a troubling sign, and I can find a troubling sign in anything, it’s that this reading comes from fewer people. WordPress says there were 1,089 unique visitors in September, noticeably down from August’s 1,301 and July’s 1,349. But there is a good sign, and I can find a good sign in anything, it’s that the number of pages viewed per visitor rose. So at least enough people went archive-binging to change the views-per-visitor average. It’s usually around 1.4 to 1.6 page views per visitor; for September, it was 1.95.

The long, long secular decline of “likes” took a pause. 143 things were liked around here in September, as opposed to August’s 137 and July’s 154. Nothing like the heady days of summer 2015, but still, any delay in my unavoidable collapse is welcome. Comments rebounded, happy to say, to 38 in September. They’d been at 19 in August and 11 in July. This one’s easier to explain: Roy Kassinger, of the fun web comic Housepets!, is in that happy stage between discovering me and discovering he’s seen about all of my tricks. I’m going to enjoy that while it lasts. You might enjoy the comic; please, give it a try.

My most popular readership day has switched to Thursday, when 17 percent of page views were logged in September. The long-form pieces that I put the most effort into I post on Fridays, per the WordPress clock, so I’m going to cling to how 17 percent isn’t really that much more than 1/7th to tell myself that’s all right. The most popular hour is that starting 12 am, WordPress time, which is when I set stuff to post anyway. That hour saw 13 percent of page views. Last several months it had seen 12 percent.

Now for the Running of the Countries: How many page views went to each country, per WordPress’s statistics, plus that European Union entry that’s there for the reasons:

Country Readers
United States 1550
Canada 77
United Kingdom 62
India 60
Brazil 43
Spain 32
Australia 21
Mexico 20
Philippines 19
Romania 16
New Zealand 15
Germany 14
Russia 14
Ireland 13
Norway 11
Italy 10
South Africa 10
Sweden 9
Malaysia 8
Vietnam 8
France 7
Ukraine 7
Argentina 6
Bangladesh 6
Netherlands 6
Turkey 6
Finland 5
Switzerland 5
European Union 4
Indonesia 4
Poland 4
Chile 3
Hong Kong SAR China 3
Pakistan 3
Belarus 2
Denmark 2
Iceland 2
Lithuania 2
Peru 2
Singapore 2
Thailand 2
Armenia 1 (*)
Cambodia 1 (****)
Colombia 1 (*)
Croatia 1
Hungary 1
Jamaica 1
Jordan 1
Laos 1
Latvia 1
Luxembourg 1
Malta 1 (*)
Nepal 1
Nicaragua 1
Nigeria 1 (*)
Oman 1
Paraguay 1 (*)
Saudi Arabia 1
Serbia 1 (*)
Slovakia 1
St. Kitts & Nevis 1
St. Lucia 1
Taiwan 1
Uruguay 1
Venezuela 1

WordPress there were 65 separate countries sending readers in September. In August there were 68, and in July 69. World politics is complicated. There were 24 single-reader countries, up from August’s 20 and July’s 17. Armenia, Colombia, Malta, Nigeria, Paraguay, and Serbia were single-reader countries last month too. Cambodia’s been a single-reader country for five months now. I’m curious what gets read.

So what were the most popular posts around here? Like I said, my recaps of the story strips. The specific top five were:

So this shows me what I should do to keep growing ever-more-popular: talk about Rex Morgan and republish public-domain pieces from the great humorists of the 20th century. My most popular bit of original, written-by-me, stuff was Statistics Saturday: Some Chemical Elements Whose Names Sound Fake, which caused my love to learn, and disapprove, of the existence of “Tennessine”, with which I can’t argue. My most popular bit of long-form original writing was How To Clean A Thing, part of my little theme of how-to pieces that I stumbled into by accident over September. (And let me tell you: having a specific theme like that makes it so much easier to write stuff.) I suspect this is going to have what the trades call a “long tail”, as it resembles a rat or maybe Marsupilami. People would always like to know about how to do stuff, since that saves us the pain of actually doing stuff.

October starts with my page here having gotten 63,019 page views from an admitted 35,074 unique readers. Hi, whoever was number 35,000. It says I’ve got 780 followers on WordPress, which is sixteen more than I supposedly had at the start of September. Hi, people who I suppose are watching on my Reader page, then.

Do you think you might enjoy reading Another Blog, Meanwhile? Why, you’re doing it already. Why, I don’t know. But if this feels like the sort of thing you could do indefinitely, please, consider the button to Follow `Another Blog, Meanwhile’ that’s in the upper right of the page here. You can also get the essays delivered by e-mail, like my father does. He enjoys reading my stuff, when he remembers who this mysterious `Another Blog, Meanwhile’ that keeps sending him e-mail is. You, too, can enjoy this sort of fun!

On Twitter I’m @Nebusj. On tumblr I’m a confused visitor, screaming at pictures of kinda neat stuff comments like, “WHO POSTED THIS?” and “HOW DO YOU FOLLOW A COMMENTS THREAD?” and “WHAT ARE THINGS EVEN?” It’s not a social medium I understand is all. Thank you, won’t you? On to October.

But seriously, why is it always Rex Morgan and Mark Trail people want to know about? Other story strips come and go, but these two seem like they’re always on my most-popular list.

What’s Going On In Judge Parker? July – September 2017


Are you interested in the current storyline in Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker? Are you reading this in or near early October 2017? Because if your answer to both is ‘yes’ then great, glad to have you here. If your answer to the first is ‘yes’ and the second ‘no’, the comic strip might have gotten on to some completely different storyline. So this essay might be true enough but not helpful. If I’ve written a successor it should be at or near the top of this page. If your answer to the first question is ‘no’ I’ll try to be interesting anyway but I admit I feel a little hurt you’d be so blunt.

My last update on Judge Parker storylines came suspiciously close to a change in the plots. This keeps happening with my What’s Going On In updates, by the way. I’m definitely not arranging stuff with Comic Strip Master Command to make these recaps come within a week or so of one story yielding to the next. It’s still weird.

Also, if you like comic strips that talk about mathematics, and all of which ran on the same day last week, you might be interested in my mathematics blog. I get to thinking very hard about something a squirrel said to Broom Hilda, but it’s not all that high-level a discussion.

Judge Parker.

3 July – 30 September 2017

I had said last update that it looked like the one major storyline dormant since Marciuliano took over writing the strip — the whereabouts and activity of April Parker, Super-Secret Spy Person — seemed to be heating up. Current Judge Randy Parker was falling apart with his wife and by-now-born child missing somewhere in one of those foreign countries where the CIA is always sending Super-Secret Spy Persons. Retired Judge Alan Parker was visiting, trying to help him through this. And he brought a guest.

It was April Parker, along with a picture she said was their daughter Charlotte. Who’s somewhere “safe” and “in the country” that she gives Randy. She gives Alan an audio cassette. And then gives herself to the CIA-types who appear at the door, as foretold in the Thursday strip the week before. The CIA types let Alan and Randy keep their tape and the picture, which seems criminally negligent of them, so it’s plausible.

There’s an SD card taped to the back of Randy’s picture. Randy pops over to Sam Driver’s farm and plays April’s tale of entrapment and betrayal. April’s supervisors had been testing her on make-work assignments, and now she’s invited to join a secret sub-unit of the CIA, “patriots who just go that extra step”, the sort of thing that never goes wrong, ever, except for every time, ever. She’s revolted by the rogue agency, even before hearing about the “profit-sharing” potential, and horrified that by going on enough of what she now knows were nonsense assignments she’s been coopted into their group.

A year ago, in a Vienna hotel, April learns she is a rogue agent. (She's choking rogue agent Lakemoor.) 'Just who is this 'agency within the agency' working with, Lakemoor?' Lakemoor: 'Groups that further American interest without having to deal with CIA oversight. Choking's making it hard to talk.' April: 'And I'm so sure these 'groups' do this out of the goodness of their own hearts.' Lakemoor: 'Oh, you know how people are. Everyone has their own interests. We need something from them, and they need something from us, which we provide. That's where the aforementioned profits come in, by the way.' April: 'So I was a courier for state secrets. You made me just as dirty as the rest of you so I couldn't reveal anything without admitting treason. YOU TRAPPED ME!' And she slugs him.
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 13th of August, 2017. You might say that Lakemoor’s proposal is ridiculously vague and that his talk of profits from illicit activity implausibly stupid for a person trying to recruit someone into his corrupt ring. If you have missed the entire administration of the Future Disgraced Former President, anyway. Against the backdrop of 2017, Lakemoor comes out looking about four steps more organized and on top of things than David Xanatos ever did.

Norton, her father, pops in. He’s a faintly Dr Strangelove-esque figure with segmented cigar and the ability to kill any number of off-panel henchmen, so he’s well-suited to gun down the agent trying to recruit April. He promises that he can get April to safety, shelter her child when it’s born, and get word back to Randy Parker by way of his contacts.

So that’s what led to the situation as unfurled: April was in hiding long enough to give birth, and prepare her recordings and messages and all that and to wait for the collapsed-clothing-factory and the kidnapped-Sophie stories to reach a quiet patch. And he brings the infant Charlotte Parker to Alan, who’ll have to keep the child in secret until the heat’s off.

Alan and Norton meet in Cavelton. Alan: 'Really, Norton? You had us meet in the factory that collapsed into the sinkhole last year?' Norton: 'Well, this place seemed like a good spot.' Alan: 'You could have just had April hand me a scrap of paper saying to come here. You didn't have to give cryptic clues on some cassette.' Norton: 'You seem tense, friend.' Alan: 'You had me illegally declare you dead. You made me hide the fact my own son's wife was already back in the country until you and she were ready. So yes, I'm not exactly looking forward to what you'll 'kindly ask me' to do next.' Norton: 'It's just one moer thing, Alan ... I want you to meet our granddaughter, Charlotte.' And she's brought in.
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 27th of August, 2017. Well, I think I know why Norton had everyone meet in the collapsed factory. It nudges the reader to remembering the factory collapse and the reporter who was on the scene for it last year. This prepares for her reappearance in the strip and her role in turning the scandal what would bury April in prison forever into a big public affair. So, yes, Norton’s motivations might be weird, but Marciuliano’s are good.

Over to Toni Bowen, the reporter who was on the scene when the deranged clothing factory storyline imploded. She’s not had much success since the factory collapse and the kidnapping of Sophie Spencer; her boss points out that the embezzling-stalker truck driver story went nowhere, which is unduly harsh on Marciuliano. It was a weird complicated side thread, but I liked that everyone in a soap opera universe is going through some crazypants events. Anyway, April’s sent her all the news about the rogue CIA agents, which shows that the Parker-Spencer-Davis clan does indeed forgive and bestow blessings even on those who’ve antagonized them, sometimes. Alan Parker, figuring the heat’s off somehow, brings Charlotte to Randy.

So. Three-month jump ahead in time. April Parker’s in jail, promising that between her testimony and her planned excellent behavior she’ll be released in under three years. Randy and Charlotte are as happy as could be. Alan’s wife, Katherine, is still furious enough about all this secret agent nonsense that she’s taken the flash forward as chance to leave, possibly from the strip altogether.

Alan and Katherine Parker fight. 'Katherine, let me explain.' 'Oh, NOW you want to explain?' 'I didn't want to get you involved.' Katherine: 'Involved in what? The fate of my family? The fact that my own granddaughter had to be smuggled in courtesy of a deranged arms dealer?! The fact you were working with him the whole time?!' 'I --- ' 'Enough about what you think, Alan! Let me tell you what I THINK ... I'm your wife. I'm your partner! And when it comes to our family I should know everything. But you kept me in the dark, not just to 'protect' me but to make sure I didn't get angry at you!' 'But I can --- ' 'It's too late, Alan. Go do something else in secret. I have to check on Charlotte.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 10th of September, 2017. Now, to give you the scale of the sort of amusingly dull upbringing I had, the most recent fight I overheard my parents having was over whether, after giving birth to me quite a few years ago, my mother sent my father out of the hospital to get her a hamburger from McDonald’s or from Gino’s Hamburgers on Albany Street. They’ve never been involved in international espionage … that they’ve told me about … although my father did make multiple trips to Poland in the early 80s. Just observing.

And that’s three months mostly spent explaining what April was up to. The story was mostly about characters learning what was, to them, in the past. But it’s not like the strips being flashbacks mean we weren’t watching tense stuff happen. Also we got some idea of who the mysterious figure sending Alan Parker cassette tapes with needlessly cryptic instructions was. (This might have been established before, but I don’t remember it.) And, after a bit over a year of this, I believe Marciuliano has finally taken all the plot threads left over from Woody Wilson’s writing tenure and done something with them. Mostly that’s been tamping them down to involve less unceasing praise of the Parker-Spencer-Davis clan. That’s involved a lot of blowing up the status quo, including another set of people being gunned down. There’s plenty of room to develop the stories from here. Most of the directions involve a lot of things families can quite correctly argue about. Should be quite some potential there.

Next Week!

You know what’s a comic strip that seems very close to wrapping up its current storyline? Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man. Please join us in Spider-Man’s natural habitat, the cavernous tunnels underneath Los Angeles, where a Roman Emperor with his own Fountain of Youth hopes to launch the conquest of the surface world and also break up Aunt May’s romance with Melvin the Mole Man. I realize I sound like I’m joking about what a Silver Age comic book would do, but no, this is what’s happening.

Statistics Saturday: Some TV Show Episodes I’m Still Angry About Decades Later


  1. That “Lash Rambo” episode of The New WKRP In Cincinnati.
  2. The one where Worf’s Brother saves this village from a planet-wrecking crisis and everybody acts like he’s the jerk.
  3. The Mary Tyler Moore Show where Ted Baxter gets a job as a game-show host that he’d be great at, and everyone pressures him to give that up so he can go on being a local-news anchor who’s not any good at it.
  4. That Aladdin where Iago gets the Genie’s powers, and he makes a mess of things his first day and feels like a total failure, even though, what, you figured you were going to be an expert the first time you tried something? Why is this talking parrot unrealistic about the speed of his ability to master genie powers?
  5. The Star Trek: The Next Generation where the Evil Admiral built an illegal cloaking device and everybody’s all smugly disdainful of him but they use it anyway because doing without would be a little inconvenient and nobody calls them out for this hypocrisy.
  6. The Far Out Space Nuts where their Lunar Module got stolen, but the planet has a machine that can duplicate anything, and Chuck McCann gives the thing a picture of the Lunar Module and the machine makes a really big duplicate of the picture, and he and Bob Denver were expecting it to make a new spaceship for them because what were they expecting?
  7. The 1980s Jetsons where Elroy accidentally stows away on the Space Shuttle.

Also, while I do not remember this at all, Wikipedia claims this wa the plot of a 1987-season episode:

George discovers that he has become stressed out lately due to his teeth, so his dentist creates special false teeth to relax him—but end up stressing him out even more.

I assume the episode guide writer is being wry.