What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? What’s Detective Frisk doing not being dead? September – November 2019


Evening, everyone wondering what’s going on in Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy. If you’re reading this after February 2020 there’s probably a more up-to-date plot recap at this link, which also holds older Dick Tracy recaps. Thanks for reading.

Dick Tracy.

8 September – 30 November 2019.

Dick Tracy had just wrapped up a story when I last checked in. They were moving into two weeks of a Minit Mystery, solving a poisoning. That started the 1st of September and ran through the 15th. Makes things very neat for me. It featured characters from the Friday Foster comic strip of the early 70s.


The story opens with Detective Frieda Frisk. She’s been busy the last few years, ever since she died in the line of duty. She explains to Dick Tracy that yeah, back in a 2004 adventure Sal Monella drowned in the river. But you all just thought she drowned too. And since she was reported dead at work, she figured she might as well not come in anymore. Before you ask whether this makes sense please consider that Sal Monella had previously been crushed in a trash compactor. He turned up alive, albeit more cubical than before, and a legit concert promoter. Again, if you aren’t regularly going “wait, what?” you aren’t reading the real Dick Tracy.

[A familiar face from the past] Tracy; 'DETECTIVE FRISK?' Frisk: 'Ah, you got me, Tracy. Which is more than I can say for my would-be assassin.' Tracy: 'We all thought you DIED in pursuit of Sal Monella. What happened, Freida?' Frisk: 'Well, obviously Monella drowned and I didn't. Anyhow, Justice was serviced, and since I don't play well with others, I decided not to return to the MCU. For the past few years I've been investigating the activities of Mrs Clair Howell. Her specialty is selling infants to prospective parents.' Tracy: 'A baby broker.' Frisk: 'One of the biggest. She's been in the business for decades.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 22nd of September, 2019. I do not know whether we’re meant to take it that Frisk saw Monella drowned, or whether she’s just supposing someone who seemed to have drowned, and hasn’t made contact with any of the people he knew for a decade and a half now, must be dead. Anyway, Monella’s thing when he was a concert promoter was set-decorating a venue with real actual garbage, and somehow this was a major hit, netting like nine million bucks before Frisk decided he needed to be not so alive. Monella’s original scheme, when he was first a villain in the comic, was selling recycled garbage as discount airline snacks, which gave Dick Tracy a case of amnesia, causing him not to wonder why a discount airline has snacks. I don’t know, I’m just telling you what’s on the Dick Tracy Wiki.

Anyway, Frisk’s new job is providing family information to Howell Babies. These are the children sold, for decades, by Clair Howell’s for-profit adoption agency. Which Frisk notes is not against the law, merely wrong. Frisk gets back in touch with Tracy because she shot an extra named Edward Delacroix. But she was going contact him anyway. She’s discovered that Officer Lizz Worthington-Grove, who’s been in the strip since the 50s, was also one of Howell’s sold babies. Tracy has questions. Frisk says she doesn’t know why Delacroix was shooting her. She also won’t reveal how she’s getting the Howell’s adoption records.

The Howells would like to know that too. Their plan of sending Edward Delacroix to shoot the information out of her didn’t work. They think long about what motivates people besides bullets, and hit on the idea of money. It turns out Frisk herself is a Howell Baby. They take the chance that Frisk’s birth mother, Lily Seven, would take money in exchange for setting up a trap. So she would.

Seven contacts Frisk, claiming to have only recently found out about her from Howell. Frisk and Tracy grant Seven might be working with Howell. But she’s interested in where this is going. It goes to dinner, and a movie, and before long, going to see Vitamin Flintheart in Our Town. They’re having a great relationship except for how Seven is only in it as long as Howell’s bankroll holds up.

Tracy: 'Well, Frisk, it's been two weeks and no move against you. How are you and Lily getting along?' Frisk: 'Eh, I could still be on someone's marked list, so I'm keeping an eye out. As for Lily, I think she may be on the level.' [ Elsewhere ] Lily: 'Look here, Clair, I'm getting tired of playing Mommy. When are you gonna make your move?' Clair Howell: 'The next time you meet with Frisk.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 10th of October, 2019. Really genuinely curious what the small talk between Seven and Frisk is like. “So, uh, when you decided to just go along with the people who decided you were dead, uh … like … did that get the student loan people off your back? Because if plunging into the icy rivers of Tracy City and then never returning to your workplace or apartment is what it takes, I can think of some people who’d figure that’s worth it.”

Seven and Frisk go to Our Town again, I’m assuming because The Best Man was sold out. At the close of the play Seven jabs a hypodermic into Frisk’s neck. Seven and the Howells, who’ve been lurking around the show, drag her away.

They have a great plan to kill Frisk only slowly and uncertainly. They drag her to the abandoned building district, and to the roof of the Crow-Infested Building Hotel. There they tie her to the Roof Machinery and leave her in the rain-turning-to-snow. There’s only one possible way that she might escape. And that is if her Wrist Geenee, the souped-up version of the Dick Tracy Wrist-Radio that they were using in the early 2000s, was not in fact destroyed when she wrestled with Sal Monella in 2004, but instead fell into the lining of her jacket where it has rested ever since, waiting for the random motions of Frisk trying to break the zip ties binding her arms to her legs to activate its distress signal mode on a frequency still monitored by contemporary Dick Tracy Wrist Wizard technology, which it has retained enough battery power to do for fifteen years. And what do you know but — ! So Tracy’s able to rescue Frisk before she would plummet to her death.

Tracy, racing to the rooftop where Frisk is about to fall to the ground: 'FRISK! DON'T MOVE!' (Grabbing her.) 'I've got you!' Frisk: 'T-Tray! How'd you find me?' Tracy: 'Your Wrist Genii signalled me. You're freezing.' Frisk: 'M-my Wrist Genii? I LOST IT when I fell in the bay chasing Sal Monella.' Tracy, tearing it out of her coat as he unties her: 'It's in the lining of your coat! Your struggling must have activated it.' Frisk: 'Tracy, I'm so SORRY about the mean things I said to you.' Tracy; 'We're OK, Frisk. Now come in out of the cold.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 3rd of November, 2019. Not denying that it’s a normal and realistic and human thing to say, but: Dick Tracy yelling at Frisk to stop falling off the roof makes me so happy. Really great stuff there. (They spelled Frisk’s device as the Wrist Genii here, although back in the early 2000s it was called the Wrist Geenee. I do not know what significance this change in spelling has and would not rule out that Genii is easier to letter.)

The Howells hear about this on the news and just. Can. Not. I sympathize. They make a break for it as cops converge on their house. The Howells spot one cop car, T-bone it, and keep going. But that’s damaged their own car, and when its tire blows the car careens off a bridge into the river below. Tracy calls for an ambulance and divers, but there’s not much to do. When you’ve witnessed two people get dumped into the cold waters and not come up you have to accept them as dead. Tracy asks Frisk about her plans.

She figures to carry on contacting Howell Babies and offering them information on how to contact their birth parents. Oh, and she’ll definitely stop back in when Lily Seven’s trial comes up.


So that, the 14th of November, closed out the story that’s dominated the last couple months. It also introduces the new, currently-running story. It opens at Wertham Woods Psychiatric Facility (motto: “Get it? Eh? EH?”). We know it as the facility holding Tulza Tuzon. Tuzon’s half-handsome, half-monstrous face earned him the performing and crime name Haf-and-Haf. He contracted a case of Soap Opera Multiple Personality Disorder. If that’s the sort of subject matter you do not want in your casual entertainment, you may want to drop Dick Tracy from your reading the next couple months. So far Tuzon hasn’t done very much in the story that any old villain looking for revenge wouldn’t be doing anyway.

The person we see on screen might be acting in the character of Tulza Tuzon, or as Haf-and-Haf, or as the particularly villainous Splitface. Which gets even more confusing than usual, because there was another, earlier Splitface in the Dick Tracy universe. I think that this Splitface has taken his name in tribute to the older one. But, gads, they aren’t making it easy for me. Haf-and-Haf was a character Chester Gould created in the mid-60s by Totally I Swear Not Having Heard Of Two-Face Over In Batman.

Last time I dealt with Tuzon/Haf-and-Haf/Splitface, they were kidnapping Zelda, Tuzon’s ex-wife. Along the way they picked up a sidekick, a homeless guy name of Clybourne Mayfair. The kidnapping plan didn’t work, but Splitface orders Clybourne to escape before the cops finally close in.

Anyway, Clybourne’s popped in again, pretending to be a statue delivery guy to Wertham Woods so he can sneak Tuzon/Haf/Splitface out. He’s not out to kill Zelda this time and anyway she’s out of the country. Instead he’s got a car bomb project. A two-car bomb, that he sets off outside the Hotel Siam when Dick Tracy’s car pulls up. You’ll remember the Hotel Siam as the place where Oliver and Annie Warbucks stayed while they were most recently in the strip. The bomb doesn’t kill Tracy or Sam Catchem.

Car explodes. Narrator: 'Tracy, Sam, Steve, and Mike narrowly escaped a car bombing at the Siam!' Steve Roper: 'This is quite a welcome, Tracy.' Tracy: 'Yes, isn't it?' Sam Catchem: 'Friends of yours, Tracy?' Tracy: 'Sam, this is Steve Roper and Mike Nomad.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 25th of November, 2019. “Sam, did I mention I’ve been learning how to throw my voice? … … … I’ve been learning how to throw my voice.” Anyway, did you know that Steve Roper and Mike Nomad was written by Allen Saunders, who also wrote Mary Worth for like six hundred years back in the mid-20th century? And, yes, the strip started out as a joke strip titled Big Chief Wahoo, and changed. So it did the Wash Tubbs and Captain Easy thing of changing genre, and the Barney Google and Snuffy Smith or Robotman/Monty thing of getting a new cast and dropping the old. Comic strips used to be even weirder.

It does reveal this story’s special guest stars, Steve Roper and Mike Nomad. From the remembered comic strip Steve Roper and Mike Nomad. When that comic was last seen, in December 2004, Steve Roper was the editor of Proof Magazine. Mike Nomad was a private eye. Together they’d have action-adventure stories that I never read. I mean, c’mon, who was doing story-comic snark blogging in 2004?

Roper’s car was completely destroyed by the bomb. Roper and Nomad were in town, by a great stroke of luck, investigating Tulza Tuzon. Nomad explains they knew Haf-and-Haf, from an investigation they ran ages ago into carnival cons. The one they could pin on Haf-and-Haf: the old purse-snatching-crows plan. Which, I read, was part of the original Haf-and-Haf story in 1960s Dick Tracy. They spotted Haf-and-Haf’s scam, called the cops, and Tulza went on the run. He ran all the way into a truck carrying a vat of toxic disfigurement chemicals. So, uh, good job, Proof Magazine, giving some supervillain his Origin Story. I get why Tuzon would be aiming a bomb at them; what I don’t know is why they figured they had to come back into town now and be a target for him.

And that’s where the story has gotten to, as of Saturday.

Next Week!

Will I get to talk about old-time radio? It’s time to explain what’s going on in Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley, so, yes. Catch you in a week, unless something demands the publication slot first.

What’s Going On In Prince Valiant? How did Valiant escape the lions? September – November 2019


This plot recap for Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant should get you up to speed for late November 2019. If you’re reading this after about late February 2020, you may find a more up-to-date recap at this link. Thanks for reading at all, though.

Prince Valiant.

1 September – 24 November 2019

All the player-characters were in North Africa last time I checked in. Fewesi the Healer had kidnapped Makeda, Queen of Ab’sabam. Bukota, Makeda’s exiled lover, caught up to them. She escaped Fewesi’s mind-control enchantment, and she and he team up to chase down Fewesi. And Prince Valiant, trailing all this, is busy fighting some lions. He’s doing all right but, after all, they have a whole hunting party while Valiant is off on his own.

As luck would have it, though, not for long. Fewesi is fleeing back the way he came. This takes him to the oasis where Valiant and the lions are having it out. Bukota and Makeda surround Fewesi, on the ledge. Fewesi lunges for Makeda; she whacks him good and sends him plummeting. He lands near enough Valiant. The lions break off from Valiant, going for the pre-dead delivery meal now that they can.

Fewesi had sought to circle behind and ambush Bukota - suddenly, there before him stands Makeda! He had not considered her ferocious resolve! He attempts to again exert his will over the Queen, but he is exhausted, and Makeda is now on guard. In desperation, he lunges at her. Before she was queen, Makeda was an adept warrior - she decisively counters Fewesi's awkward attack and now the man called 'The Healer' plummets, screaming, toward the roars that echo up from far below. A moment, and a thud, later, the angry lions circling Val pause, as the thrashing of a broken body has caught their attention. Their pursuit of Val has proven wearisome and painful ... and this gift from above offers much easier pickings. And, so, the healer did save someone in the end.
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 22d of September, 2019. And with this fresh supply of meat, the lionesses put off their rebellion against Scar for another two weeks. “Maybe he had a legitimate purpose in that Ukraine phone call,” they assert, once their bellies are not so empty. “Who are we to judge?”

So that’s some major crises settled. Valiant cleans his wounds, and then the gang all run into the Idar Uhag. These are Fewesi’s people, the ones who taught the Healer his mind-control powers before turning him out as gads such a loser. Makeda asks why, when Fewesi brought her to them, they didn’t free her then? They hadn’t wanted any part of Fewesi’s stupid hold-Makeda-as-hostage scheme. The chief explains how, y’know, you don’t waste energy making Wile E Coyote’s scheme blow up. Anyway, they give Makeda, Bukota, and Valiant some camels as a parting gift.

They head back toward Paraetonium, where they landed in Africa. And meet up with the cavalry: Valiant’s daughter Karen, with her husband Vanni, and the armed party from the Misty Isles there to rescue Makeda. They start flashing back to Karen’s adventure when (rolling 1d10, checking the encounter table) an Egyptian army comes over the hill. They’re from the local government and somehow all testy about the Misty Isles sending an armed party through their city and into their lands.

Val and the leader of the Egyptian force meet to parley: 'I am Patape, Governor of Paraetonium, and ... ' the little man, whom Val recognizes, hesitates, 'Do I know you?' Val answers: 'We met, but unintentionally. I fell into your boudoir in the midst of your ...' A shock of recognition lights Patape's eyes, and he glances nervously at his stern seconds. Val sees that the Governor does not wish his affair to be divulged. 'Or perhaps I have the wrong man. But I believe you are a reasonable sort, who must see that our presence here is only by mistake - we bring no threat. Escort us back to our ships and no blood need be shed.' At that, Patape looks both relieved and conflicted. 'Unfortunately, the good people of Paraetonium have already been offended by your incursion. My hand is forced. And if word ever got back to Justinian's generals in Alexandria ...' Suddenly, Vanni rides up, waving a handful of herbs. 'Perhaps I can offer an agreeable solution. These medicinal herbs I found in your market would have much value in the Misty Isles, if we could accomplish a contract for export.' Patape brightens; this talk is more to his liking. 'As it happens, I have much influence with the growers and distributors of this most excellent fenugreek!'
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 3rd of November, 2019. I know it’s a real herb. I see references to it. I sometimes see it on the store shelves. I believe our spice rack has it. If it does it’s among the dusty glass jars of things that look like dried brown leaf shreds that have always run out when we do need the contents. I just can’t make myself believe that ‘fenugreek’ isn’t a name someone came up with when they had to bluff their way through a conversation about herbs.

At their head is Patape, the Governor of Paraetonium. He’s met Valiant. He and Bukota fell through his roof when they were chasing Fewesi through the city. Valiant tries to explain how they really don’t want any trouble. Patape points out there already is trouble and there’s no way they can’t have more. Vanni has an idea that could solve things, though: what if the Governor got a bunch of money? You know, in exchange for the fenugreek growing around Paraetonium. The Governor finds interesting this plan where he gets a bunch of money. Remember, they lived when it was acceptable for public servants to use their positions to directly enrich themselves. (And yet, for my snarking, I agree with the plan of seeing if there’s a way to buy our way out of a pointless, stupid fight. That it can be done as a trade agreement satisfies me that it’s at least honest corruption.)

So Valiant and party get to head home and all looks happy. Except that, yeah, Valiant took a bunch of scrapes from the lions. And now he’s got some infection. He collapses. Vanni puts some “herbs and honey” on him, and that’s the suspenseful hook on which we end today’s strip.

Next Week!

Wait, have Steve Roper and Mike Nomad really been brought back out of the void? If anyone could do it, Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy could do it. Check back here in a week for that, barring surprise developments. Also if you like comic strips that explore mathematical themes please try my other blog. Thanks for reading in any case.

Yes, I’m also having a delightful time reading Buz Sawyer lately


Just wanted folks to be assured that yes, I’ve been following Comics Kingdom’s vintage Buz Sawyer storyline. The story so far: the Sawyers, driving cross-country, had a freak car accident with the Cobbs that sent their car down a thousand-foot ravine. Fortunately the Cobbs are wholly accepting of all blame, and eager to make it up to them, and have the money to buy them a replacement car, luggage, and what the heck, treat them to hotels and restaurants all the rest of the way to Los Angeles. And it’s been a madcap spree since then, Chuck Cobb spontaneously deciding to drive hundreds of miles out of the way, sometimes driving hundreds of miles back because the waitress at a restaurant thinks she recognizes his picture from the paper. Disappearing without warning. Coming back with buckets of cash hidden under his wife’s handbag, and his wife getting her hair dyed “always” changing it. And then, today in 1956, we got to this point.

Buz, reading the paper: 'Just listen to this, Christy! 'Early this morning the bank at Jackrabbit, Nevada, was robbed of $40,000.' Christy: 'Why, that's the town we spent last night in with the Cobbs.' Buz: 'Sporty gunman and red-headed woman made getaway in blue custom convertible.' Christy: 'Merciful heavens! The COBBS! Their car's a blue convertible ... and alll that money flying out of Bee's bag ... and having her red hair bleached ... oh, Buz, how horrible!' Buz, smugly: 'Easy, chum. Aren't you jumping to conclusions?'
Roy Crane’s Buz Sawyer for the 26th of July, 1956, and rerun the 18th of November, 2019. I mean, c’mon, we’re talking Jackrabbit, Nevada. The metropolis is just hopping with man-and-red-haired-woman couples driving blue custom convertibles. Also jackrabbits.

So yes, I am delighting both in how uproariously dense Buz is acting. Also waiting enthusiastically to see what goofball contrivance Roy Crane has in store to explain why Buz was, well, actually, right all along. I can’t rule out that he’s been doing all this under secret orders to find and keep contact with the Cobbs and the thing where the bear cub set off the accident was all a Part of the Mission. Or that it’s all a wacky coincidence of the kind you’d never believe. I can’t wait.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Weekdays)? Why are art students heading to Wambesiland? August – November 2019


Hi all. This recap for Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity, should get you caught up to mid-November 2019. If you want the separate Sunday continuity, or if you’re reading this after about February 2020 and want the weekday continuity, I should have a more relevant essay at this link. Thank you.

The Phantom (weekdays).

26 August – 16 November 2019

When I last checked in, The Phantom had rescued Imara Sahara from terrorist militias and American bombing. Imara Sahara is the mother of Kadia Sahara Walker, Heloise Walker’s former roommate. Kit Walker was feeling pretty good about having got out of a pretty intense situation without serious harm.

The Phantom and Imara Sahara settle overnight at a safe house. It’s a pretty nice-looking lair and he seems to have the absent owner’s permission to be there. He takes a shower and over a meal answers Imara’s most urgent questions, like, who is he? And why did he save her? OK, he doesn’t so much answer them as say they’ll head out to somewhere else in the morning. But there’s nothing that could go wrong by needlessly withholding information about identity and motivations and objectives from a woman rescued from captivity by a massive, three-party firefight that obliterated her longtime home.

Overnight, Sahara is tormented by thoughts of her husband, and fear of the strange man who’s taken her to an unfamiliar place. While The Phantom sleeps, and relives the day in his dreams, Sahara steals one of his guns. And one of the homeowner’s cars. The Phantom discovers this only in the morning.

[ Phantom heads for home ] Diana, on the phone: 'Gone? What do you mean she's gone!? Kit, what happened?' Phantom: 'Think about it, Diana. I wish I had! Before now, I mean. She knows now that her husband's a monster. She couldn't chance that I might be in league with him.'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 23rd of September, 2019. So I am snarking about the obviousness of this. But reading it day-to-day surprised me. And then I realized that yes, Imara Sahara fleeing is the most sensible thing for her to do. It also made me realize I had assumed The Phantom had explained what was going on in their drive to the safe house, or once they arrived, things not actually shown to us. (Jeez, what were they talking about instead? Was The Phantom making her listen to his podcasts? You gotta know something about someone before you put your podcasts on for them.) Also, even if he had explained who he was and why he was there, she had no reason to believe a word of it.

And, in a further surprise, The Phantom doesn’t have an idea where to track her down. He had given Sahara instructions to write The Phantom’s secret post office box, and they can watch that. In case she wants to make contact with someone the person she just fled wanted her to contact. And they’ll have to pay the homeowner for the stolen car. The Phantom jokes how he’ll get a terrible AirBnB review for this and, so help me, I don’t know if he’s joking.

Still, at least, Imara Sahara is alive and they can provide evidence of this to Kadia. And The Phantom got out of this all right. Diana Walker asks, you know, given all this, could they maybe bring Kit Junior back from his secret hiding place? (It’s a Himalayan monastery that earlier Phantoms had visited, and who remember them.)

That, the 28th of September, ended the 251st daily-continuity story, Heloise Comes Home. It had started back in December 2018, running 42 weeks overall.


The current story, The Rhodian Column, started the 30th of September. It’s the 252nd daily-continuity story.

Bangallan, seeing silhouetted figures bicycling along the jungle trail, thinks: 'Strangers in my land .. are they good, or ... ?' They shoot twice as he falls out of the way.
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 1st of October, 2019. “OK, if they shoot at me one more time I’ll consider taking them off the `good’ list!” (This is pretty much how I think about people.)

It starts with a couple bikers in the Bangallan forest. They notice someone peeking at them, and shoot at him. Missing the Bandar man, but still. The gunfire attracts a warning from the biker’s superiors. No shooting. Use knives if they have to. And spread out more, for crying out loud.

The Bandar know what to do about this, and consult The Phantom. The data: there’s an alarming number of strange travellers moving through the jungle. Kipawa, heir apparent to lead the Bandar tribe, finds them suspiciously inoffensive. Like, if they were really innocent, at least a couple would be jerks. These have all been non-threatening, I guess because nobody mentioned the one that shot at somebody.

The Phantom goes looking. At one part of the trail he sees three pairs of tourists marching past the same spot over three hours. All the travellers on the trail, he learns, stop at the same moment for the night. He sneaks into one of the travellers’ tents. They’re quite well-armed. But this checks out: they were posing as artists. They got paints and canvas from somewhere, and armed robbery is the least difficult way to afford that. But they also don’t have any cards about how to donate to their ko-fi or what their Patreon is, which is suspicious. So he does another another test: he swipes their guns and ammunition. In the morning the artists blurt out how they’re useless to the mission. So now The Phantom is all but sure something is going on.

[ Turning Back ] The Phantom watches one party chewing out the artists: 'The Colonel won't be happy when you two don't show up at the rally point!' Guy Artist: 'Somebody took our guns! We're unarmed! End of story!' Other supervisor-type guy: 'Don't say your weapons were take! Say you're sick! If anybody else in the column turns back, it's on you!'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 28th of October, 2019. So, these are the guys that The Phantom, this past week, has punched into heading back and I hope for fairness’s sake they aren’t going to hold their own turning back on Artist Couple. Just saying.

The trail of people go through Ogoru and then Llongo territory. They seem to be heading for the Wambesi lands. Next night, the Phantom wakes a different camping pair. He demands information about this whole plan. He warns he recognizes them as carrying papers forged in Rhodia. And part of an column moving to the Wambesi. He warns them to go back, and to invite all their comrades to walk back to Rhodia. He demands they tell what they know about the Python; they insist they don’t know anything about a Python. He knows well enough. And then he has some flashbacks, to help readers who don’t know who this Python is.

The Python is another terrorist leader, from the Wambesi tribe originally. He’s been in stories since 2003’s Terror In Mawitaan, sometimes under the name Chatu. The Python was behind a massive, five-part storyline that started in August 2009 and ran about a year and a half. This is long before I started doing What’s Going On In recaps. It started with The Death of Diana Walker. In this the Python feigned the death of Diana Walker, secreting her away in a Rhodian jail under a false identity.

The Phantom punches the two supervisor-y types from before while thinking, 'The Python murdered hundred at the UN building in Mawitaan', flashing back to the strip of October 6, 2009
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 11th of November, 2019. This explosion did happen in October 2009, reader time, as footnoted. The Phantom was meeting with Bangallan President Lamanda at the time. Incidentally the Sunday storyline back then was the one introducing the Avari, who’ve returned in the recently concluded Sunday continuity just now.

With the help of Captain Savarna and her highly automated freighter with guns, The Phantom found and broke Diana out of jail. And captured the Python, whom he brought to a secret prison in Wambesi territory where the locals keep watch. I can’t say I like The Phantom’s civil-rights record here, but I do understand how he came to this point. And, incidentally, putting the Python away like this gave Eric “The Nomad” Sahara his big break, so, you know. Probably something about the unending struggle of life in there.

And that’s where we stand on the field: some armed force is moving, in pairs, towards The Python. The Phantom knows that they exist, but their exact motives and goals are not actually yet known. There’s a lot of sinister explanations, though.

Next Week!

We check in on the time of King Arthur with Mark Schulz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant, barring surprises or breaking news. Also please consider looking at the comic strips discussed in my mathematics blog. Thanks for reading.

Yes, I Caught Mary Worth Today And Maybe You Should, Too


I just wanted people to know that yes, I saw today’s Mary Worth. And yes, it is that wonderful. It is not quite so wonderful as to make me jump the comic in its queue. I expect Sunday to share what’s going on in The Phantom, weekdays continuity. But today’s was a wonderful Mary Worth and it might be a shame to let it just sit there an extra month without attention. When I next do a proper recap of the plot of Mary Worth it should be at this link.

What’s happening is that Estelle, rebounding from being taken by an online romance scam, has been dating Wilbur Weston, Chartersone’s leading sandwich enthusiast. Wilbur is not even slightly over his ex-girlfriend Iris. But Estelle and Wilbur set up a double date with Iris and her new, young, handsome, financially successful boyfriend Zak. Wilbur prepared for this by combing his hair and getting too drunk to function. Estelle took him on the double date anyway, because what could she have done? Apologized that Wilbur wasn’t up to this tonight and reschedule for “sometime later”?

Anyway, after the fiasco, the disaster, and the embarrassment, she went home and had this dream about what it might be like to have a life with Wilbur.

[ As Estelle dreams of being married to Wilbur ... ] Panel of sleeping Estelle being watched over by Libby the cat. Next panel: a dream-future family portrait of Estelle and Wilbur, with four identical pudgy babies, each wearing boxing gloves and with the eyeglasses and hair of Wilbur.
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 15th of November, 2019. The boxing gloves are there because Estelle and Wilbur’s first date after he got back from overseas was, at his choice, just hanging out at home watching a boxing documentary. Estelle hated it.

I can barely exaggerate how wonderful the comics snark community has found this. The first panel, the one-eyed cat Libby peering over a sleeping Estelle, is nice enough. But that second panel? That’s … wow. That’s … you know, that sure looks like it’s a riff on something but I can’t place what it is. If you have any ideas, please let me know. Trying to think of what is driving me … oh, about two-thirds as crazy as you might think. It’s not that urgent.

I have seen in some comment threads people snarking at how Estelle, a retiree and comfortably past the age of menopause, could be having a nightmare of having four children. These commenters are correct: there is no logical way that Estelle could have children with Wilbur, and I hope that before the story is out we shall see Estelle file a Report of Factual Inaccuracy or Inconsistency with the Bureau of Dream Management. (And to step my snark back a bit, my love has several times woken up from a dream upon realizing that details in it did not make logical sense. So, dreams, you know? What the heck?)

Anyway, I don’t know how long this dream sequence will last. It’s only on its second day now. If it could keep giving like this, then we’d have to say it could not go on too long. But there’ll probably be a limit, and we won’t see Wilbur’s Four Children again. On the other hand, Popeye’s nephews started out as a dream-story quartet of children and they were eventually promoted into real-cousinhood. Maybe someday we’ll have people asking the difference between Welber, Walber, Wulber, and Woolber.

What’s Going On In Alley Oop? Who blipped Alley Oop and Ooola out of existence? August – November 2019


Hi, person wanting to complain about Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop. This is a good place to talk about the strip, as I have a plot recap bringing people up to date for about early November 2019. If you’re reading this after about February 2020 there’s probably a more up-to-date recap at this link. Thank you for disliking the comic strip, but I trust, liking me.

Alley Oop.

19 August – 9 November 2019.

I last checked in as Ollie Arp and Eeena, from Universe 3, finished sanctioning the comic for being all wacky and stuff. Universe 3, annoyed with how the new Alley Oop, Oona, and Doctor Wonmug were messing up time, gave them a ticket, and left. They haven’t played an explicit part in the story since, as of the 9th of November. But, gosh, it sure would be wild if they had something to do with the vanishing of Wonmug’s time lab staff after a really big messing up of time, wouldn’t it?

(This is my inference. I don’t read the strips ahead of the day of publication. I am given to understand that other comic strip bloggers have the Secret Knowledge of ways to get future strips. It requires something more sophisticated than hacking a strip URL to a future date, so, I’m not going to bother.)

And they left Alley Oop and Ooola with their previous mission. This was bringing Plato back to the present day. Genevieve Collingsworth, (fictional) Pulitzer-prize winning writer, hoped to interview him. The disappointment: Alley Oop and Ooola had gotten Plato from a time before he was doing philosophy. It’s from the era when Plato was doing puppetry. Collingsworth makes a Pulitzer-winning book out of it anyway.

Dr Piedra: 'You walked to Dr Wonmug and his partners?' Ollie Arp: 'Yes. I was very clear that they should stop altering the timeline. I was firm, but fair.' Piedra; 'And how do you explain this?' (She holds up a picture of Plato on a scooter, wearing a sleeveless leather vest and short jeans.) Arp: 'Oh ... ha ha ... Plato, uh, always dressed like that.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 5th of September, 2019. This is funny enough, although if you wanted the Slightly Over-Researched version of this joke? Have Dr Piedra show a photo of Plato as a lucha libre wrestler.

With the 6th of September, the new and current storyline starts. It’s to the Galapagos Islands of about two million years ago. Dr Charles Losthouse thinks there was then an advanced tortoise species that used a sharp stick as tools. What’s needed is evidence.

The first two turtles Alley Oop and Ooola meet, two million years ago, push them into the sea. Dolphins pick them up and carry them to another island, one with a stone statue of a tortoise. They find a tortoise playing a flute. The tortoise, Sharp, brings them back to the local city. It’s a futuristic megalopolis.

Alley Oop: 'Wow! Your society is SO advanced!' Sharp: 'Yes, it must be very shocking to you. Apologies that I cannot offer you a banana or a vine to swing on. I know how you primates are.' Ooola: 'Sharp, come on, just because we're primates ... [ Notices Oop doing something with her hair ] Oop, what are you doing?!' Oop: 'I wasn't grooming you. There was just a bug in your fur ... I mean hair.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 24th of September, 2019. One joke used repeatedly, and never failing me, this storyline was this kind of “oh, you know primates” setup. I don’t say it’s a deep joke. I do say I had fun hearing humans described as “a bunch of greasy, hairy bipeds who don’t even have the sense to evolve a shell over their backs … stinky, violent, high-center-of-gravity, fragile creatures … the most annoying and destructive beings”.

They explain to Uldo and Sharp that they’re from the future. Uldo, a scientist, understands. Tortoise society has discovered time travel but never been so reckless as to use it. They don’t dare change the timeline. But then why would future primates not know tortoise scientists? … And Ooola drops the news that in their time, tortoises aren’t, you know, smart. It’s humans who are the scientists. Uldo declares they have to change the timeline immediately.

Alley Oop starts feeling it’d be wrong to let the intelligent tortoises die out. President Shellington can’t believe the news. But she laughs at Alley Oop’s offer of help, and claim that they’re “from the future and kind of smart”. Alley Oop and Ooola go home.

Uldo: 'We must tell the President what we've learned! We must save the Cutie-Pies!' Alley Oop: 'Who are the Cutie-Pies?' Uldo: 'We are! That's what we call ourselves.' Oop: 'That's ... weird.' Uldo: 'Wy? Aren't we cute?' Oop: 'I mean ... not really.' Uldo: 'First we learn about the end of our species, and now I'm called ugly? Can this day get any worse?'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 2nd of October, 2019. I don’t know; I think they’re cute. Also in the next couple days Alley Oop comes to see the Cutie-Pies as fairly cute, really, and deserving saving.

Meanwhile back in the present, Dr Wonmug is annoyed they haven’t brought back the Galapagos Apparatus, needed to prevent the end of the world. Yes, this is the first we’ve heard about the end of the world. Ooola tries to explain what they saw. Dr Wonmug calls in his colleague, Dr Silverstein, a tortoise scientist. In the changed timeline there’s both humans and tortoises. Ooola and Dr Silverstein were good friends. Alley Oop used to date a tortoise. This is bad.

I’m surprised that when this dropped, mid-October, I didn’t see a flurry of people angry at Alley Oop. So far as I am aware the comic strip hasn’t had a malleable timeline. But I am only dimly aware. I’ve read a little bit of V T Hamlin’s original strips, and a couple years of the Jack Bender and Carole Bender era. That’s it. All sorts of shenanigans might have happened and I wouldn’t know, any more than I’d know what happened in the original-run Doctor Who. Which also mostly didn’t have a malleable timeline.

Ooola: 'I don't understand. Humans are horrible to the environment in our timeline, but the world doesn't end there.' Dr Wonmug: 'Yes, that puzzled me at first, too, but I've been running the numbers. The increased biomass of the tortoises in this timeline has put an extra strain on Earth's limited resources. [ Looking over at a Cute-Pie. ] See, I told you it was the tortoises's fault, Silverstein! You owe me a dollar!'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 22nd of October, 2019. Moving swiftly onward from yet another science fiction “oh, we can’t have an environment and avoid genocide, choose one” line of bull: Hey, Wonmug, they want to be called Cutie-Pies. Why you being a jerk about this? Unless we hypothesize that a group’s sense of their own identity might change over two million years which is, of course, absurd and impossible. Anyway there’s a cute moment the 24th, when Wonmug tries to tell Silverstein they were talking about “bananas and body hair”, as primates will.

Anyway, in the new timeline, the world is doomed. Environmental collapse. A combination human/tortoise civilization is too much for the planet. Yes, we have to pretend this makes sense. Doc charges Alley Oop and Ooola with stopping the world from ending. Doc stays with Dr Silverstein. He pledges he’ll “breed a species of hyperintelligent giant tortoises that will rebuild my forgotten society”. Yeah; take a number after the Time Raccoons.

Alley Oop has his doubts about making the giant tortoises not exist. Ooola points out there’s saving the rest of the earth that’s worthwhile. Which, all right, but this is why it’s bad to stare into the ethics of changing history. Anyway, Alley Oop’s first plan to save the timeline is to go back to Moo and stop himself from being born. That way, he can’t go back to the Galapagos Islands of two million years ago. In a serious story this could have a nice moral balance, atoning for destroying so many people by also destroying oneself. In this story, he completely fails to talk his parents out of having children. Which is at least a fun ironic conclusion.

Alley Oop, to his parents: 'I know it's complicated, but I'm your son. I'm from the future. I'm kind of responsible for the world ending. For the sake of the whole world, have you ever thought about not having any kids? You could travel the world, chisel the great Moo-ian novel, collect cool-looking rocks, learn how to ... ' As he keeps talking Oop's father says, 'When he leaves, do you still want to ... ?' Oop's mother: 'Oh, yeah.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 31st of October, 2019. Granting that Alley Oop isn’t offering much evidence for his claims about being from the future and being a threat to the world. But, jeez, if you were Alley Oop’s parents wouldn’t this at least spoil your mood? There’s more than a bit of 90s-webcomic-mean in the writing and I think it gives moments like this the wrong tone.

Ooola has the more sensible plan of just interfering with their own Galapagos Island mission. They go back to about five minutes before their original arrival. The new plan: keep the tortoises they first met from knocking them onto the dolphins. The easiest way to do this is grab the tortoises and hide them. The now alternate-past Alley Oop and Ooola don’t find anything and, presumably, go back to the present. Where, uh, Dr Wonmug has vanished. Ooola disappears in the next panel, and Ava and finally Alley Oop. So I guess the comic strip has ended and nobody will be angry about it anymore? That’s good, right?

Ava: 'Alley! Ooola! I'm so glad to see you! Dr Wonmug is GONE! He just VANISHED!' (As Ooola vanishes behind them.) Alley Oop: 'Don't be silly, Ava. (He looks to where Ooola was, as Ava vanishes.) People don't just ... (As he vanishes.) ... disappear ... '
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 9th of November, 2019. Yes, people disappearing is completely inexplicable in a comic strip about people who disappear through time and occasionally alternate universes.

Next Week!

I trusted that The Ghost Who Walks was about to take Imara Sahara back to the fabulous Skull Cave. How’d that turn out? We’ll see as I look at Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom (Weekday continuity) next Sunday, I hope.

Also this week, on my other blog, I talk about mathematics through the filter of comic strips. You might enjoy that too.

What’s Going On In The Amazing Spider-Man? Also, turns out it’s not safe to read Funky Winkerbean. August – November 2019


So, first, the content advisory business. I thought last week that Tom Batiuk’s Funky Winkerbean was done with the storyline involving a character’s suicide. The strip was into its third week of other, more lighthearted topics. Well, this week that’s changed. The eminently punch-worthy Les Moore was in today’s strip, meeting up with someone married to the person who died. So, again, if you don’t need that in your recreational reading, give this strip a pass, certainly for this week, possibly for the next several. I’ll try to give a warning when the storyline isn’t the direct focus anymore. Also maybe when Les Moore is not part of the story, because, jeez, that guy.


Back to main focus. Roy Thomas and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man is still in repeats. I still haven’t heard anything of it coming out. I’ll at least carry on recapping the repeats a while longer yet before dropping it. Or being fair and picking up Mandrake the Magician and Flash Gordon. If I hear any news, or if February 2020 rolls around and it’s time for another recapping, I’ll try to post it at this link. And as ever, I use comic strips to explore mathematical topics, over on my other blog. Thanks for reading.

The Amazing Spider-Man.

11 August – 3 November 2019.

Spider-Man and Black Widow were teaming up to project Mary Jane Parker, last we saw. Mary Jane, trying again to film Marvella 2: Mo Mar, Mo Vella, had been kidnapped by and rescued from The Hobgoblin already. This irked Peter Parker, since he thought Harry Osborn had outgrown being The Hobgoblin. Osborn was Peter Parker’s old high school best friend. And Mary Jane’s former fiancee. Harry Osborn blames Spider-Man for murdering his father, Norman Osborn, the Green Goblin.

Mary Jane: 'Since *you're* no more superhuman than I am, Black Widow, I'm coming *with* you to hunt for the Hobgoblin!' Black Widow, shoving her off the rooftop: 'All right, you win!' Mary Jane: 'WHA-?' Black Widow, leaping off the rooftop after her: 'Surely Marvella won't have a problem grabbing that flagpole as we hurtle by!'
Roy Thomas and Alex Saviuk’s The Amazing Spider-Man rerun for the 16th of August, 2019. By the way, Gwen Stacy, who’s key to the whole Green Goblin/Hobgoblin backstory, died from a great fall. Spider-Man caught his love, yes, but this was during the two minutes a year when physics worked in a superhero universe, so the sudden stop still broke her neck. So when Spider-Man doesn’t react to Black Widow shoving his wife off the rooftop there’s some new levels of screwed-up in there.

Spidey asks Black Widow to bodyguard Mary Jane. She doesn’t see a good reason why, so Black Widow pushes her off a roof ledge. And saves her, yes, but still. And Spider-Man doesn’t lift a finger to rescue his wife from plummeting from atop another yet another building. His excuse is that Black Window was going to rescue her. And Mary Jane had to be convinced that he would not always be able to rescue her. Still, you know, you remember the web site Superdickery? Just saying.

So they put Mary Jane up in a hotel to hide out. And then Spidey and Black Widow go off together to chase down The Hobgoblin. Spider-Man’s first thought: check in Harry Osborn. Mary Jane’s first thought: how does she know Peter Parker isn’t making the loves with Black Widow? Black Widow’s first thought: hey, isn’t Mary Jane married? Should we check in on her husband or anything? Anyway, Spider-Man fills Black Widow in on the Green Goblin storyline and why Hobgoblin wants revenge.

Spider-Man and Black Widow break into Harry Osborn’s penthouse apartment. He binds and gags the bodyguard, and they find Osborn asleep. But when he wakes he’s agitated by the man who killed his father having broken into his house and webbed his bodyguard and hovering over his bed in the dark. He reaches for a gun, but Black Widow slams his arm in a drawer. So the questioning gets off to a rough start. But Harry insists he knows nothing about the Hobgoblin and has been asleep all night. Spidey comes away from this convinced that Harry Osborn represses his memories of Hobgoblinning. Or maybe someone’s trying to frame him, whatever. There’s no way to tell unless they also manage a crossover with Slylock Fox.

Obsorn: 'WHAT ARE YOU TWO DOING IN MY BEDROOM?' Spider-Man: 'Harry ... we just want to talk to you.' Osborn: 'SPIDER-MAN? You've come to kill me! Just like you killed my father! But I'll get you first!' (He reaches into a drawer.) Black Widow: 'Sorry, we're both allergic to lead.' (She kicks the drawer closed, slamming his fist on it. He screams in pain.) Spider-Man: 'Now, just calm down a minute and answer me one question. Are you now or have you ever been The Hobgoblin?'
Roy Thomas and Alex Saviuk’s The Amazing Spider-Man rerun for the 1st of September, 2019. Spider-Man, afterwards: “Yeah, so I don’t know why I can’t get Harry Osborne to make peace with me. I keep reaching out, but he just won’t reach back. I’m not going to stop trying, but I have to admit, I despair of it making any difference.”

With nothing else to learn Spider-Man swings by Mary Jane’s hotel room. She’s prickly about Black Widow, certainly. Some of it on reasonable grounds: if Black Widow is watching Mary Jane, won’t she figure out Peter Parker is Spider-Man? Peter’s casual about that, claiming that she’s someone he can trust.

At movie filming the next day, Black Widow’s on hand to be Mary Jane’s stunt double. There’s a great chance, a stunt requiring yet another fall off a building, which Mary Jane’s got to have built up an immunity to by now. But that goes perfectly, both Mary Jane’s short fall and Black Widow as stunt double’s several-stories fall. Another stunt goes well too: while Peter Parker very obnoxiously drops in on set, a “dummy activated by a timer” swings past and they both point it out. “See that, Black Widow? I, Peter Parker, and pointing out Spider-Man! Who is another person, there, in your, Black Widow’s view! At the same time that I, Peter Parker, am, even though we are in different places! So it would be ridiculous for you to start thinking that I, Spider-Man, am also Peter Parker! I mean. That Spider-Man is not. I. Um. Look, a big distracting thing!” And then he runs into a shop door that’s actually a mural painted on a brick wall.

There’s several more days of dangerous stunts coming off perfectly. So Spider-Man figures he just has to shadow Harry Osborn. He follows Obsorn to his psychiatrist’s appointment. And listens to the whole thing. Which is a jerk move, yes, but you have to remember the context. He could follow Osborn by secretly planting tracers in Osborn’s shoes that night he broke into his apartment. I’m pretty sure Spider-Man is the good guy here? Yes, that’s what my notes say. Well.

After Osborn leaves Spider-Man pops in to ask Dr Mark Stone, what’s the deal here? Why are you just validating Osborn’s assertions that his father was a hero brutally slain by the villain Spider-Man? Stone points out it’s not his business to clear Spider-Man’s name, it’s his job to listen to Osborn’s problems and try and give advice. And hey, Spidey looks like he’s got issues. Would he want to talk about them any? Peter almost goes for it, then recovers his senses. What possible use could therapy be to a person haunted by how a moment of petty self-indulgence allowed the murder of the man who raised him?

Spider-Man: 'You're encouraging Harry's obsession that I murdered his father!' Dr Stone: 'As his psychiatrist, it's my job to LISTEN to him- and offer advice. As a matter of fact, it occurs to me that YOU could benefit from a little therapy.' Spider-Man: 'ME!?'
Roy Thomas and Alex Saviuk’s The Amazing Spider-Man rerun for the 10th of October, 2019. Boy, this story is such a puzzle! Do you have any ideas who the Real Bad Guy might turn out to be?

Also recovering her senses: Mary Jane. Spider-Man swings by the movie set again, though to check in with Black Widow. They swing off to go patrolling for Hobgoblin or something. Mary Jane grabs a taxi to follow them. The taxi driver’s a fun guy who talks about other times that superheroes have grabbed his taxi, which I trust all happened in the Silver Age. He asks Mary Jane why she’s spying on Spider-Man. And she realizes, yeah, she’s got no good reason to.

This was, by the way, the high point of the last couple months for me. What I think of as the great breakthrough in Marvel Comics was a touch of psychological realism. Mostly that’s reflected in how people discover that their problems don’t go away when they get superpowers. They just change, in the ways they change when you grow up too. Mary Jane realizing that, yeah, her doubts about Peter Parker’s fidelity are ridiculous and she needs to get over them? That’s got truth behind it. So she goes home.

Spider-Man and Black Widow see Harry Osborn pulling up. So Spidey sheds one disguise and Peter Parker “happens to” bump into Osborn. In a car drive while nominally looking out for Spider-Man, Osborn reiterates that he wants revenge on Spider-Man for killing his father. And then WPLOT, New York City’s 24-hour all-plot radio channel (550 on the AM dial), breaks in with a Hobgoblin sighting.

Limosine screeching to a stop. Peter Parker, inside: 'Your chauffeur made good time, Harry!' Osborn: 'Rinaldo used to be a race-car driver. (Pointing to a silhouetted figure flying around.) Look! There's the Hobgoblin!' Peter, thinking: 'But - I was almost positive Harry Osborn is the Hobgoblin!'
Roy Thomas and Alex Saviuk’s The Amazing Spider-Man rerun for the 1st of November, 2019. I’m in this storyline for a month from now, when Spider-Man explores the possibility that Peter Parker is the Hobgoblin. Anyway, gosh, I mean, sure, the psychologist is the only other person in the story, but how could a superhero comic psychologist be anything but the most reliably good person in the whole world?

They race there, and both look up at Hobgoblin flying about on his bat-gliders. Peter Parker reflects how that proves Harry Osborn is not this Hobgoblin, at least. He’s forgotten that he himself set up a dummy Spider-Man to trick someone out of recognizing his secret identity just a couple days before. It’s easy for Spider-Man to catch this Hobgoblin; this because it’s a booby trap. It explodes on him.

And that’s where things sit, and there I’ll leave it. But if you do want to read ahead, and you have a Comics Kingdom account, you can pick the story up from the 29th of June, 2015 and proceed from there. The Hobgoblin storyline, with a couple bits about the movie, wrapped up around the 23rd of August. So, if Marvel and King Features really and truly mean to restart the comic with new adventures they’ll have a seamless chance to in eight weeks, about the 29th of December. It would be an auspicious time to start a new team, but they would need that team in place, like, today. I haven’t heard anything to imply they have. But the world is vaster than I imagine; many things can happen.

Next Week!

Time travel and tortoises! It’s everyone’s chance to complain about
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop.
See you then, unless the Time Tortoises get to me first.

What’s Going On In Judge Parker? Why has Rex Morgan stopped updating? Is Norton gone? August – October 2019


So a quick thing that might be obsolete by the time this publishes on Sunday evening: Comics Kingdom didn’t print Rex Morgan, M.D. for Friday or Saturday. I have no idea why. I assume it’s yet another glitch with the new design web site, which has mostly gotten its glitches out of the way but is still keeping problems in reserve. Whenever Rex Morgan does publish, Friday’s and Saturday’s strips should appear in the archive. This is at an annoying moment since the story was unfolding mysteries of Mindy’s pregnancy.

As for Judge Parker. We will never see the last of Norton, not in Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker. Maybe under the next writer we will, but no. When we most recently saw him he was stepping up toward a person concealing a knife in her hand. There’s no reason to think that’s the end of him.

Anyway, if you’re reading this after about January 2020 I may well have a more current plot recap at this link. Older plot recaps are at that link too. Good luck finding what you really want.

Judge Parker.

4 August – 26 October 2019.

Norton Dumont, with the aid of super-secret agent Strand, had escaped from hyperprison. Retired Judge Alan Parker was in jail for helping Norton fake his death. Roy Rodgers was extending some protection to Parker. He had protection because he helped the mob kill his business partner who’d been embezzling from their firm to not pay mob debts. Rodgers was doing this for information on Marie, who’d been his wife before he faked his death on their honeymoon. And Marie had been Abbey Drivers’ housekeeper for years. I think that’s enough background for where things were as of early August, my last check-in on this plot-heavy soap. And you may not like all the plotting, but you can’t deny its soapiness.

[Norton and Agent Strand 'Confer' with Sam where Neddy's factory once stood.] Norton: 'Did you know this is where I safely brought Charlotte to the Parkers? Good times.' Sam Driver: 'So this is about April trying to take her daughter again!' Norton: 'I already told you, I made sure that wouldn't happen. Really, Samuel, mutual trust will make it so much easier for me to help you.' Driver: 'Help me? By kidnapping me? And who is this anyway?' Norton: 'Agent Strand. She's been with me for a while.' Driver: 'And it doesn't weird you out she looks almost exactly like your daughter?' Strand:' I knew I wasn't the only one who saw that!'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 11th of August, 2019. I don’t know what significance we should attach to Strand resembling April Parker so. It may be meant to suggest there’s something weird about Norton, a person who’s already overflowing with weird. It may be meant to just be a strange little bit. It might be that Marciuliano and Manley didn’t think much about Strand’s design when she was a background character in other scenes but when she got more screen time they were stuck with a model and decided to rationalize that.

Norton and Strand kidnap Sam Driver while he’s trying to meet Alan Parker. Norton’s offering help getting Alan Parker out of jail. Driver suspects it’s an attempt to kidnap Charlotte. She’s Randy and April Parker’s daughter and Norton’s granddaughter. Norton insists he’s sent April Parker elsewhere.

That elsewhere is Los Angeles, where Neddy Parker and Ronnie Huerta have been trying to write a screenplay. The screenplay’s based on April Parker, of course. And April, following a message from Norton, has found it. And now that April knows it exists, she has notes. I assume this sort of thing happens all the time in Real Los Angeles too, if there is such a thing. So April gives Neddy and Ronnie her real story, if there is such a thing. When the script’s in shape she says her final farewells to Neddy. She didn’t join the CIA to protect an America that does the sorts of things America created the CIA for. So she’s leaving. Unless the rewrites screw her story up.

Neddy: 'You want to help us write our screenplay about you?' April: 'This is my story. This is my truth. And I want to make sure everyone sees the truth onscreen, not some collection of tired action cliches and uninformed storytelling.' Neddy: 'By cliches and poor storytelling, are you talking about spy movies in general or our screenplay in particular?' April: 'By page two I already had three pages of notes.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 22nd of August, 2019. I need to get one of those jobs where you just make notes on other people’s work. Doing it for free like this on WordPress is fun but it’s putting stress on my Saturday plans.

Back in Cavelton, Norton claims to want to make amends before his totally real illness totally really gets him for total real. He’ll confess to threatening Alan Parker, coercing him into helping fake his death. He didn’t, but he’s willing to lie under oath for a friend and former family. (It’s never said exactly when Randy and April Parker divorced, or how those court proceedings happened. It’s happened off-screen, we’re to infer.) Driver can’t accept him saying he’s going to lie under oath. Norton writes that off as a joke. Driver can’t see a way to get Norton — officially dead, this time by the CIA faking it — to testify. Norton says he can do it remotely. Driver gets hung up on the technical challenges of this. Norton says he can get started now.

All this kept Alan Parker from meeting Sam Driver in prison. Roy Rodgers has been pressuring Parker to get Driver to help him, and to get information about Marie. Rodgers doesn’t believe Parker’s claim that Driver didn’t show up. Rodgers calls on his mob friends, who beat Alan Parker badly enough that he’s sent to the hospital.

[ Randy sees his dad at the prison hospital ... ] Randy: 'Dad ... ' Alan: 'I'm fine, son. I'm fine. No one beat me. They just pushed me around. Tried to scare me.' Randy: 'Well, it looks like you held your own.' Alan: 'I held on to my lunch tray and kept swinging. I bet if I were younger I wouldn't even be in here, but the bed sure is much nicer.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 6th of September, 2019. So the judge overseeing Alan Parker’s case refused to have Parker kept out of the general prison population. Yes, ordinarily, someone who’d been an officer of the court for decades would be in obvious danger all the time. “But,” the judge said, “you have to remember the Parkers never do court stuff, so no prisoners have anything to hold against them.”

After having a plausibly deniable conversation with Randy Parker about this, Sam Driver agrees to Norton’s plan, whatever it is. The plan to testify in court was a sham, because of course. That was a distraction to let Strand hack Driver’s cell phone. But Norton is as good as his word, for a wonder. They’d had a judge who was refusing Alan Parker bail, on the grounds that Parker betrayed a lifetime of public and professional trust. The judge suddenly resigns. The district attorney admits to having withheld footage of Norton holding Alan Parker hostage. And there’s now recordings of Norton threatening Alan Parker.

[ Norton (walking through the woods) bids a final farewell to Sam. ] Driver: 'That's it? You leave nothing but wreckage in your wake and stroll away scot-free?' Norton: 'No one walks away from wreckage unharmed, Samuel. Even when no scars are present. I had a family and I treated them like an appendage. I had a new start with my daughter and fell back on what was familiar instead of right. And over the last few months I realized I can't go back and fix anything. But with what time I have left in the world, I can move on a better path. I've had too many chances in my life to expect another. So I keep walking, hoping to do right by the few I never meant to hurt, even if it kills me.' (Norton and Strand walk up to Candace Bergen's apartment. She conceals a knife in her hand.)
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 22nd of September, 2019. So what odds do you give that next time we see Norton it’s with Agent Strand having learned she’s April Parker’s previously-unsuspected twin? Or is that too many unknown sisters in too short a time?

In what he claims will be a last conversation with Driver, Norton says he regrets everything. All the ways he screwed up his daughter’s life. Wrecking the Parkers’ lives. Everything And he walks up to the cabin of April’s Mom, Spy Candace Bergen. Which is the last we’ve seen of them, at least as of the 24th of October when I write this.


The 23rd of September opened with the feeling of another time jump. Although since it has Alan Parker hugging his granddaughter and talking of how he missed this, it can’t have been that long. Also, Abbey’s big project has been a success. She was thinking to run a little bed-and-breakfast out of the Spencer Farms. It’s been successful, and much more work than Abbey imagined.

Over lunch with Marie, Abbey admits how much she’s not keeping up with this. Also how, so far as she is keeping up, it’s because Sophie is masterminding things. Which is great, except that Sophie’s a high school kid. She’s not thinking about college or anything about her future, and refuses all entreaties to. This is understandable. She had been kidnapped and tormented for months by Abbey Spencer’s previously-unsuspected half-sister. As were her friends. But, you know, you can’t go about working instead of talking over feelings with other people, people keep telling us stoic types. This infuriates us, but what are we going to do? Complain?

Marie: 'Funny you should mention wanting to spend more time together, Abbey. My social work school program is ... not cheap. And while my field placement does take up quite a few hours, I ... well ... I could be persuaded to work part-time at the B-and-B if you're looking to hire.' Abbey: 'I'm passing you a proposed salary. It's actually a blank piece of paper, so you write whatever number you see fit!'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 5th of October, 2019. One small recurring theme of Marciuliano’s writing that I do like is characters having these nice big bold ideas which, they learn, are more tedious and more difficult than they realized, and having to back down from the great ambitions. It’s an echo of the crazification-and-retrenchment pattern in the plotting. Also, jeez, if someone offered me a write-your-own-salary I would be too embarrassed to actually ask for anything and probably would hide in the basement until the prospect of work went away.

And Marie admits it’d be nice to see Abbey more. And that … her expenses are higher than she figured on, and, you know? Maybe she could work part-time at the bed-and-breakfast and there we go. It might even open Sophie up some. Sophie is overjoyed to see Marie back around. So that goes well, right until Sophie starts talking about how she needs the help running the business.

Marie’s diagnosis is that Sophie is quite avoiding talking school. Also that Sophie’s right about the bed-and-breakfast needing to be better organized. Sophie’s plan is a bigger kitchen and a dedicated bed-and-breakfast building. Somehow they settle on converting the horse barn to rooms. This I don’t understand as I thought the point of a bed-and-breakfast was to stay in something that’s plausibly a person’s home. Also that they need a barn for the horses. Maybe it’ll come together by the next time I do a plot recap.

Meanwhile in Los Angeles, Neddy and Ronnie keep shopping their script around. The feedback is brutal, and worse, neither of them say it’s wrong. The most devastating critiques are the perceptive ones. They don’t seem to be comments people have made about the comic strip since Marciuliano took over the writing, by the way. They’re in-universe complaints. But they finally got a callback this past week! It’s Annada Pictures, who I assume are hiring Neddy and Ronnie for that big Lisa’s Story project that somehow has come back into Funky Winkerbean. I’m not saying I want Norton back, but if it involves him kidnapping Les Moore, I could get on board.

And that’s where we’re at now.

Next Week!

We have yet to see The Amazing Spider-Man “return” with “great new stories and art”. Or to hear any news about when it might. Still, I intend to recap Roy Thomas and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Reruns next Sunday, barring breaking news. And as ever, I keep up-to-date on mathematically-themed comic strips on my other blog. Thanks for reading.

What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? What does “blowtop mad” mean? July – October 2019


Thanks for coming in, soapy sports fans. If you’re reading this after about January 2020 I probably have a more up-to-date recap of
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp at this link.
If you’re just trying to figure out where the strip was as of mid-October 2019, you’re in a good place. And if you’d like to see me using comic strips to talk about mathematical topics, please try my other blog, here. Now to the story.

Gil Thorp.

20 July – 19 October 2019.

As a Milford student Hadley V Baxendale won the girls’ teams some dignity and larger lockers. She’s since become a star attorney for her Chicagoland firm. She’s also engaged to Jaquan Case, former Milford basketball player turned NBA star. She’s visiting her parents. Her father is all weird about how they don’t even live in the same city, and in ten years he’ll be retired and she won’t. How will they survive these quite survivable problems?

She’s got side projects, though. She’s gotten involved in Tiki Jansen’s story. Jansen was fleeing harassment at New Thayer by his family renting an apartment in Milford that they don’t actually live in. But the school board has reconsidered the matter and concluded that since he doesn’t live in Milford he shouldn’t be going to Milford High. And Baxendale is happy for a chance to fight with the school board again.

Baxendale: 'I'm here about Thomas Jansen, Mr Ballard.' Ballard: 'Are you a lawyer?' Baxendale: 'Right now, I'm just a family friend ... but I *could* be.' Later, Baxendale, on the phone: 'She said she didn't want to sue us, Carol. But she didn't say she wouldn't!'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 29th of July, 2019. I don’t intend to be snarky when I say I don’t know who Carol is, other than, someone connected to the school board. I haven’t caught her last name or what her exact connection is.

If she needs to. Jansen’s family can’t afford an empty apartment anymore. But teammate Leonard Fleming’s family is willing to put Jansen up. With that fact she goes to work. She talks with the Flemings, who say they’re trying to do a favor to someone who needs a favor, and keep the team from losing Jansen. She gets the video that High School Cinema Weenie Joe Bolek made of Jansen’s former schoolmates chasing him down. And she talks with Chet Ballard, head of the school board.

They don’t put Tiki Jansen’s case on the school board agenda. Carol Other School Board Person doesn’t want to do stuff that establishes a precedent. Baxendale is warm to this too, on the grounds that a private deal is more likely to go her way. The strip doesn’t mention but this is an interesting development for Baxendale. She’s arguing for special treatment for someone, not because of the facts of his case, but because of who happens to be Mary Worthing his life. But there is no such thing as not creating a precedent. Getting the school board to agree to this for Jansen means they can be made to agree to this again later.

At the school board. Ballard: 'How do we know Thomas will actually stay with the Flemings, or how often?' Baxendale: 'How do we know what roof anyone is under? You? Me? A child whose parents are divorced? Maybe we can have sign-in sheets for everybody. How many new hires will it take to verify them?'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 10th of August, 2019. “I mean, if we can’t trust the residency of someone whom we know to have lied about his residency within the last six months, who can we trust?”

So, meeting with school board members, Baxendale lays out her case. Jansen’s in physical danger at New Thayer. Reduced (most of his tormentors have graduated), but still credible. And while the old apartment was nonsense, he now has a real verifiable host family in town. To the reasonable question of how do they know he actually lives there, she points out they don’t know where any of their students live. Which is true but not a case I’d want to argue to a judge. Ballard isn’t a judge; he sells insurance. The school board accepts Jansen as student.

Hadley had invited her father Ed to watch her work. He’s impressed. And he’s worked out what his deal with Jaquan Case was. It wasn’t anything do to with Case. It was his longing to have his daughter move home and join his law firm. Seeing her at work, he’s content that she’s living a great life and he doesn’t need to wish her back home.


That, the 17th of August, wrapped up the Baxendale and the Jansen II stories. The current storyline started with football practice the 19th of August. Its star: sophomore Chance Macy, who’s looking to be a good halfback. Supporting player: Charlie Roh, stepson to Chet Ballard, head of the school board. I didn’t make the connection until writing up this summary. Ballard wishes that Charlie accepted him as “dad”, but, you know. That comes, or it doesn’t come. I don’t know if that’s going to end up important to the story.

In the opener Macy does great, getting the ball to the 2-yard line. Charlie Roh, put in to carry it over, fumbles. Ballard blames Coach Thorp for not giving his stepson more time carrying when it wasn’t critical. Macy’s forgiving of the mistake, though. And does a lot to bring Milford its win, too. He’s invited of course to the victory celebration, but declines, claiming fatigue.

Ballard: 'I didn't see Chance Macy out there. I wonder where their star running back is.' Chris Schuring: 'Probably fending off girls. A 180-yard game can upgrade your popularity factor!' Cut to Chance Macy, who's sitting in a chair at home, reading.
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 19th of September, 2019. Oh, wow. I remember when I had the hamstrings to sit like that in a chair. I’m lying. I have never had the hamstrings to sit like that in a chair. I barely have the hamstrings to lie down.

Local Newspaper reporter Marjie Ducey wants to interview Macy. Thorp declines for him. And now we have a story hook. Macy doesn’t want to hang out with anyone or be in the paper or anything. And we have a secondary story. Ballard worries his stepson isn’t getting the time or attention or coaching that he needs. Charlie wants his stepfather to relax already. And a third point: Macy is old for a sophomore. His grades are fine; so why is he a year behind? We readers also see Macy eating dinner with his grandparents, with no parents in view.

In a game against Tilden one of the guards cheap-shots Macy. It escalates, Milford’s guard retaliating against a Tilden linebacker. For once it’s not me losing track of names; that’s all we the readers get told. The tit-for-tat continues until Macy loses his temper. He gets a penalty and a sprained ankle. Bad for Macy, although it does give Charlie Roh the chance to play.

[ Tilden 19, Milford 14 ] Ballard: 'Almost a 5-yard average every time you touched the ball. Good work!' Roh: 'Thanks, Chet. But I didn't get that lats foot when we needed it.' [ While nearby ] Macy's Grandfather: 'I have to ask: were you situationally mad out there, or blowtop mad?'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 10th of October, 2019. “Almost a five-yard average” … oh no, this is going to end with Ballard turning into a hardcore sports stats nerd, isn’t it? Get out of there, Charlie! Go somewhere they just play!

Macy’s grandfather asks Chance whether he was “situationally mad” or “blowtop mad”. He says he was “cheap-shot-from-loudmouth mad”. Ballard, overhearing, wonders what the heck “blowtop mad” means. I share his confusion. There’s an obvious inference, at least. But Gil Thorp just did an “uncontrollable temper” story with the Barry Bader story in spring 2018. They couldn’t be doing that again right away, right? And where are Macy’s parents? Both Tiki Jansen stories were about him not living where he “should”; the strip can’t be doing a third iteration of that, can they?

Ballard asks Charlie what he knows about Macy. He knows only what we readers do. Macy’s fast. Didn’t go to the party. Oh, one more thing. Charlie would swear they were in second grade together but now he’s a grade behind. Ballard suspects Coach Thorp is up to something. And, worse, cheating his stepson of playing time to do it. That Charlie’s developing quite well now that he has some playing time helps Ballard feel suspicious. Finally, Ballard concludes, he’s on the school board. Therefore he has the right to hack into Neal Rubin’s writing notes and figure out what everybody’s deal is.

And that’s where we’ve gotten. There’s probably around a month left before we get out of football season and into basketball. I’ll give you updates as events warrant.

Milford Schools Watch

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

Next Week!

Has yet another time jump gotten us out of having to deal with Norton? surely not, but we’ll check in on
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker anyway, in one week,
unless something commands my attention more. You know, like how in Francesco Marciuliano and Jim Keefe’s Sally Forth their house has demons and stuff. Thanks for reading.

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.

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.

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 HarryNorman “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.

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.

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.