I mean, for the insurance payout to salvage something from a failed business? At least that’s the obvious motive for the obvious suspect. What we don’t know is whether how much to trust what we’ve seen. Later on I go over some possible explanations and what does or doesn’t make sense in them.
Neddy returns to Cavelton to support Abbey in her troubles (see below). Huerta wants to use the chance of “housesitting” Neddy’s place to get some breathing space from Kat before their wedding. She explains to a Kat who did not have any idea Huerta wanted to be away from the person she was marrying. They have a discussion that escalates quickly. Neddy reassures Huerta that Huerta and Kat will get back together. That’s been a painful side plot. Not that the reactions of everybody hasn’t been plausible. We’ve seen Kat being insecure and high-maintenance. Also perceptive and quick to cut through the ways people kid themselves. We haven’t seen enough of what makes Kat desirable, although that perceptiveness and sincerity is a solid start.
On to the Spencers. Abbey’s devastated by the fire. Also by the verdict that it was arson. Mayor Sanderson vows, at every public event including ordering lunch, to investigate every reason Abbey Spencer did it.
And it takes hold. In a weird scene at the coffee shop the cashier, and other customers, harass Abbey for being at fault for everything wrong in town. This seems at first like a weird reaction. Like, the previous mayor of Lansing got in a lot of fights with people, but I can’t remember anyone who cared enough to join in. He fought mostly city council members, or other political figures. The owners of a just-built bed-and-breakfast destroyed in a fire that luckily didn’t kill or hurt anyone, or any animals? Why get in on this fight?
But I can make the town caring sound more plausible. The Spencers also owned the aerospace-factory-turned-clothing-factory that collapsed in a sinkhole. That was the first story of Francesco Marciuliano’s tenure as author. Yes, that was Neddy Spencer’s project, and was in no possible way her fault. Fault would go to the site surveyor, the architect, and whoever supervised construction. But I understand the general public not caring about fine distinctions like that. It’s fair all they know is every time there’s a disaster that puts Cavelton into the regional news the Spencers are there.
So the family gathers around Abbey for support. Neddy comes in from Los Angeles. Sophie takes the semester off. Sam Driver keeps pointing out an indictment isn’t everything and besides they made bail. And then Deputy Mayor Stewart, taking a break from his job of making faces of pouty concern about Mayor Sanderson, steps into Driver’s office.
Driver protests, correctly but not for long, that he and Stewart can’t talk about anything while Driver has his suit against the mayor going. That lawsuit alleges Sanderson evicted people illegally for a gentrification project. Stewart talks oddly, too, for example saying he wants to get through this conversation before “I get so bored I ruin everything for the both of us”. Bored is not the feeling Stewart should be having in this moment.
Stewart holds out the prospect of getting the charges against Abbey dropped. And getting Driver to win the gentrification lawsuit. Driver listens, which seems like a believable failing of professional ethics.
What Stewart has is drone footage of Abbey Spencer carrying accelerants out to the bed-and-breakfast ahead of the fire. Not established yet is how any of this could help Abbey Spencer, Or how it could get the lawsuit about wrongful evictions settled.
Who Burned Down Abbey’s B-and-B?
So the obvious question is did Abbey Spencer burn down her own bed-and-breakfast? If not, who did? So here’s my quick thoughts about suspects.
Abbey Spencer (in her right mind). The obvious suspect, with a clear motive, as the B-and-B was a money pit. But, without expert handling, this could damage Abbey’s character beyond repair.
Abbey Spencer (not in her right mind). She burned the place down, but was sleepwalking or in some kind of altered mental state. This answers the objection that the B-and-B had survived the worst year it could have and would be less of a money pit for the future. But could mental illness, to the point of endangering lives, be handled in the story comics in a tasteful, appropriate manner?
Senna Lewiston. Abbey’s secret half-sister, seeking revenge on Abbey for “stealing” the comfortable life. She’s presumed dead, but we never saw the body.
April Parker. Presumably able to disguise herself as anyone useful for the plot. Motive is inscrutable. But she’s off in the world of super-hyper-ultra-secret agents where motive can be inscrutable anyway. Revenge on the main cast for somehow not doing something more? “Liberating” the Parkers or Spencers from Cavelton and get them to join her and Sophie and (we assume) Randy Parker? Revenge for how the show based on her story’s come out is untenable. The fire happened well before the trailer came out.
Plus+. Or someone connected with the show made about April Parker and Godiva Danube. They have actors who look uncannily like the Spencers for some reason. The motive would be publicity. But we’ve been signalled the people making the show are low-rent. That’s nothing like “willing to risk killing someone in the hopes it somehow gets a thousand new subscribers”.
CIA Agents. The motive here would be flushing out April Parker. Or getting the Spencers and Parkers to suddenly remember something they’ve been concealing. Or some other inscrutable reason.
As-Yet-Unknown Agents. It could have been someone we’ve never seen or suspected before! Some might complain about throwing in new villains, but, it would expand the setting and open up new sources for chaos.
My bet? I’d put about half my stake on Senna Lewiston, a third on CIA Agents, and a sixth on Abbey Spencer not-in-her-right-mind. But I don’t write any narratives more complex than MiSTing host sketches, and don’t get any tips either. If someone’s heard something on a Judge Parker podcast, please let me know.
I didn’t know the athletes at my high school, so I can’t say how authentic this is. But there is a recurring Gil Thorp motif of pretty good athletes figuring they don’t want to keep doing this. It feels mature, but that might be because I suspect I wouldn’t want to have to go on playing any sports. It intrigues me the strip has its characters feel such ambiguity about the sports they work that hard at.
From the 30th of August the autumn, and current, storyline started. One key figure is Kianna Bello, a bit overcommitted to girls volleyball and the gymnastics team. Another is Boyd Spiller, on the boys football team, who’s discovered this thing called consciousness and wants to see it raised. He has a glorious scene trying to turn the annual Bonfire into a visualization of the cosmic All that happens to include beating Oakwood. They beat Oakwood anyway.
They also beat Kettering, although it’s a closer thing than Oakwood. Tevin Claxton fumbles and Spiller asks if he wants to do something about his choking problem. After Claxton misses a pass in the Goshen game he hears what Spiller has to offer. It’s hypnosis. Which Spiller totally knows how to do because he learned it on YouTube. I adore this, and I wish also to thank whatever junior high teacher assigned him a book report on Jonathan Livingston Seagull.
Thing is, it seems to work, with Claxton putting in clutch performances the next couple games. More people start coming to Spiller for hypnotherapy. Including, finally, Kianna Bello. The strip’s cut back to her and her overloaded schedule several times. Her frustration at taking only third in a tournament; she’d been second the year before. Her barely getting enough rest, and keeping going on caffeine and competitiveness. She thinks Spiller’s hypnosis might be a way to push through her fatigue.
But she doesn’t feel better-rested. And she takes a bad landing at the district meet, spraining her foot and putting her out of competition for two weeks. She can not believe what an idiot she’s been. And (we learn this week) Claxton has had enough, and has secrets to reveal.
Milford Sports Watch!
Who’s Milford been playing? These schools, back around these dates:
Jordan Harris was in the Army, before his curent life as a chef and restauranteur. He’d lost a leg in the service. He’d created, or allowed to be created, a story of how he lost it in combat. He told childhood friend and incompetent mugger Delmer Robertson what we took to be the truth. He was in food services. He lost his leg going to an improvised explosive device as he was off to buy food.
Now? That may be in question. Because “Griff” Griffin tried recruiting Jordan for “a job”. Jordan refused. It seems odd that a top-secret mission would need a chef, particularly. But Griffin talks of Jordon’s classified work in the past. And Jordan talks of how the “cover story” he’s given his fiancee is “mostly true”.
Sarah Morgan and her hundred-page fan-letter/fan-fiction broke children’s author Kyle Vidpa out of his writer’s block. Vidpa sends his young coauthor the Advance Reader Copies of the book based on her work. Here my suspension of disbelief breaks. I can’t believe there was enough time for the book to be that far along in publication. Let that pass. Sarah’s uninterested in it anyway, since she wrote the story, she knows it.
The big story has been Jordan Harris and Michelle Carter, nurse at the Morgan clinic. They’d already planned an online wedding. But now think they could have a few people for an in-person ceremony. He’ll cook, of course, because he can’t not. Rex and June Morgan make the list. Rex quips about how he wouldn’t turn down a free meal enough times it feels weird. Several of Michelle’s family plan to attend too. Jordan offers only excuses for his family. He doesn’t want anything with his old Army buddies.
They want something with him, though. “Griff” Griffon stops by, saying his old team is getting together for a mission and they could use his talents. Griffin accepts Jordan’s hard “no”. Griffin’s boss does not, on the grounds that now Jordan knows someone connected to Griff is planning some job. So the only thing to do is kill Jordan. Griff acknowledges this, connects some dynamite to a control module, and scopes out Jordan and Michelle’s wedding.
Beatty did have me fooled. Most of his run has made the strip about pleasant characters to whom nothing very bad happens. It’s been comfortable reading. That’s been welcome as we endure the berserker rage against civilization of capitalism’s most recent crisis. But I thought it plausible that Griff would kill Jordan, putting real shock and surprise into the strip. No, though. Griff watches the ceremony, and once the two wed, he calls his boss. Assured that his boss is near the car, Griff presses the button, blowing up the device, the car, and his shadowy mysterious employer. He figures to go hide out maybe in the Caribbean.
We don’t know! The past three months in the Sunday continuity saw The Phantom share what’s known about The Visitor. It seems to be material; it leaves footprints and can punch out and skull-mark minions. It doesn’t seem to be material; it disappears from exitless rooms and caves. It seems to know language; it told the 16th Ghost Who Walks of the Origin Story. It doesn’t answer inquiries. The current Phantom, and his listeners, speculate that it’s some force that’s been present since the beginning. Always watching. Sometimes intervening. And that’s all they can know.
There is a Doylist explanation, one that appeals but is unconfirmable from text. And I forget which commenter I saw put this forth, but: could The Visitor be a representation of the audience? The audience sees everything The Phantom does. The audience — the fans, at least — know everything The Phantom could know. And the audience does affect The Phantom’s life, although in indirect ways, incomprehensible to the character.
But that’s not something the characters in-story can understand. And The Visitor has left, chased off by Devil, the Phantom’s wolf. So what it is may be impossible to ever determine from within the text.
The story excites the Bandar people who hear it. A being from before The Phantom’s own time? That witnesses it all? That supports, even spreads, the legend? (You see how this goes with the “it’s the audience” hypothesis.) But there’s no conclusions one can draw. As the Bandar youths leave The Phantom asks them to unchain Devil. And why was Devil chained, Diana Walker asks? So as not to disturb their guest. In a wonderful, creepy moment, The Phantom reveals that The Visitor has been there, listening, all night.
Diana tries to get it to speak, to respond. It doesn’t. She speculates that it doesn’t understand. It can mimic what it sees and hears in the Skull Cave, but that’s all. Also unprovable, as Devil races in, and leaps for The Visitor … who vanishes, reduced to mist. And we’re left not knowing most anything about The Visitor, including whether it’s gone. My supposition is The Visitor has donned a bunch of pizza boxes to go and mildly annoy Funky Winkerbean.
What is gone is the story “The Visitor”, ended the 10th of October. With the 17th begins the new story, “The Ingenues”. It’s the 192nd Sunday-continuity story. It’s about another of The Phantom’s many responsibilities, this one taking a crew of Mori youth to sea to test their boating abilities. It references a story from 2007 where this expedition ran into trouble. And all we know so far is that some young women among the Mori want to be among the crew. By February we should have a better idea what the story is.
The current story in Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth has focused on Wilbur Weston, a giant mayonnaise sandwich of a man. As usual for his stories, it’s about how he’s screwing up his own relationships by acting dumb. Wilbur Weston’s day job is advice columnist. Doesn’t this strain credibility?
I rule that it does not. First, it is hard for any of us to change the ways we screw up our relationships. We wouldn’t screw them up if it were easy for us to spot what we were doing wrong, or to do something else. Second, an advice columnist gets a problem in a clean, discrete lump that sets out (one hopes) all the relevant information. Spotting the relevant information while in the midst of the mess is hard. Yes, I would expect him to be better than average at diagnosing his problems and prescribing a cure, once he was aware he was the problem. And I don’t expect him to be any better than any of us in following the cure.
The current storyline, which has been pleasantly wrinkled, started the 16th of August. Wilbur and Estelle, whose last name I don’t seem to have recorded, are having more dates where they get together and sing. Estelle’s one-eyed cat Libby likes to sing along, somehow raising Wilbur’s ire. Wilbur locks the cat in the bedroom, where neither she nor Estelle want her to be.
Wilbur’s position is simple: he doesn’t want the cat interrupting his singing. Estelle’s position is simple: Libby’s a cat, she likes being with her. Libby’s position is simple: she can make Wilbur’s life miserable. So she does, including peeing on his end of the sofa. Estelle forgives this; Wilbur does not, and demands the cat apologize. Estelle declares that she and Wilbur need to take a break.
While pondering how anyone could choose a pet over him, Wilbur runs into Saul Wynter. He knows Wynter as that grumpy old recluse. But Wynter’s changed, becoming a warm, outgoing, sunny person, which he credits to his new dog Greta. This seems a bit weird since Wynter had a dog, Bella, when he was all misanthropic and unliked. But I rule this acceptable too: Greta, a rescue dog, was shy and needful in ways that we can suppose Bella was not. And the experience of helping Greta seems to have given Wynter an emotional security that Bella didn’t.
Wilbur has the brilliant idea to draw the wrong lesson from this. He goes to the Animal Shelter and adopts the first dog he sees, a French bulldog he dubs Pierre. At the dog park Pierre meets Sophie, a French bulldog kept by Carol. And Carol meets Wilbur, an experience both find pleasant enough. Carol explains some of the little things an expert dog-owner knows, like that dogs should have toys.
Estelle catches a glimpse of them going to the pet store, and leaps to the conclusion Wilbur has a new girlfriend already. So does Wilbur, who mentions how he and his ex loved having singalongs. She doesn’t like singing. She likes salsa dancing. He doesn’t like dancing. He likes travel. She doesn’t. He likes talking about everything his ex liked and did. When he accidentally calls her Stella, she calls the date off. This may seem abrupt but we’ve seen two or three panels of him every day. She’s seeing the full thing.
“A woman’s heart is a deep ocean of secrets.” — Gloria Stuart, 1 August 2021.
“I will trust you — I will extend my hand to you — despite the risk of betrayal. Because it is possible, through trust, to bring out the best in you, and perhaps in me.” — Jordan B Peterson, 8 August 2021.
“He did not care if she was heartless, vicious and vulgar, stupid and grasping. He loved her.” — W Somerset Maugham, 15 August 2021.
“Those who’ll play with cats must expect to be scratched.” — Miguel de Cervantes, 22 August 2021.
“I never met an animal I didn’t like, and I can’t say the same about people.” — Doris Day, 29 August 2021.
“Love is unconditional, relationships are not.” — Grant Gudmundson, 5 September 2021.
“Attitude determines the altitude of life.” — Edwin Louis Cole, 12 September 2021.
“The biggest room in the world is the room for improvement.” — Helmut Schmidt, 19 September 2021.
“Morning will come. It has no choice.” — Marty Rubin, 26 September 2021.
“Back in my day, people met in the real world, not on their telephones.” — Julianne MacLean, 3 October 2021.
“Jealousy is all the fun you think they had.” — Erica Jong, 10 October 2021.
“I am not what you see. I am what time and effort and interaction slowly unveil.” — Maugham, 17 October 2021.
“I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it.” — Groucho Marx, 24 October 2021.
Yes and no. Sunday’s Dick Tracy caught me by surprise, as one unrelated to the current Time Drone storyline. It was instead about a bunch of people talking about how they made a great team, but one’s at the end of the line and he says goodbye.
I’m a touch surprised the change in lead artist came mid-story, but I suppose one has to step down sometime. And with the reappearance Monday of Oliver Warbucks we have reason to think the story’s got a fair while left in it.
It’s not revealed yet! Last story, Diana Daggers was protective to the point of fanaticism of pop-scientist “Professor” Bee Sharp. This story she turned up without him, and won’t say anything about her former partner. We see one panel of Bee Sharp checking, it seems, Daggers’s social media and getting riled up that she’s working with Mark Trail. And Mark Trail spits out a nasty comment about how she drives everyone away from her. She goes off to console herself with pancakes and old photos of Sharp. What this all means, and what their exact relationship was, has yet to be told us.
And for my side gig, I’m doing a little mathematics glossary, one essay a week explaining some mathematical term. There should be a new post in the middle of the day Wednesday, and I hope you enjoy that too.
25 July – 1 October 2021.
I caught Mark Trail at the end of a caper last time. Not catching him were Professor Bee Sharp and his producer/bodyguard Diana Daggers. “Cricket Bro” Rob Bettancourt calls Mark Trail’s editor to complain about his breaking in to a facility he was invited into and the editor asks about this weird boxing thing. So Mark Trail had a clean escape.
Mark Trail’s current story started the 2nd of August. Bill Ellis has a new job, for Rafael Suave at fishing magazine Hot Catch. It’s to investigate whether the Duck Duck Goose shipping line is bringing zebra mussels into the waterways near the Lost Forest. Suave has a partner for Mark Trail, too: Diana Daggers. Mark tries to get out of this without admitting to any crimes. Suave doesn’t care and points out that given the danger of crossing big companies they’ll need people who can punch a lot.
Daggers is sharp but not exactly hostile. She also has nothing to say about Bee Sharp. They set out in Mark Trail’s boat. Once close enough to a Duck Duck Goose freighter, Mark Trail’s able to get shoved into the water by Daggers. From underwater he takes pictures of zebra mussels clung to the ship. Also another fishing boat charges in, demanding to know why this woman they never saw before is piloting Mark Trail’s boat. This all attracts the Duck Duck Goose ship’s attention, and anti-pirate deterrents. This includes water hoses that, shot long enough, could sink the interloper.
Daggers takes the boat out of there, against Mark Trail’s insistence they have to help. He’s horrified by this and goes ashore, intending to walk back to his car. But he’s picked up by Cliff, an old friend, and — like Mark Trail — a war veteran. Cliff joined a veteran’s fishing lodge, the De-Bait Team. Mark Trail meets the gang, and they get to talking. As I write this, Mark Trail hasn’t noticed the interloping boat was marked De-Bait, but I expect that to be discovered soon.
Meanwhile, Cherry Trail’s been having unrelated adventures. This we’ve seen a week at a time, separate from Mark’s plot. She’s been working with the Soleil Society’s garden and not needing to strangle society chair Violet Cheshire too much. But uncovering a Forest Pioneer statue reveals an incredible swarm of bees. Cherry Trail knows a bee-removal person. Cheshire knows a bee-exterminator person. You see why the two women get along so well.
As Cherry Trail has dinner at Planet Pancake, Diana Daggers storms in. Daggers demands a stack of pancakes “big enough to make me forget the last eight hours of my life”. Cherry Trail judges this a reasonable response to boating with Mark Trail. Daggers needs her space, looking and sighing at old pictures of her with Bee Sharp. Cherry Trail respects her privacy, and goes to a friend named Georgia, member of the Underground Black Rose Garden Club. I have no special foreknowledge, but it does look like we may be in for a bee heist.
Sunday Animals Watch
Butterflies, 25 July 2021. The understated stars of Cherry Trail’s last story get their Sunday page in.
Southern Alligator Lizard, 1 August 2021. Which doesn’t seem relevant to the recent stories any, but they don’t all tie in to anything.
Zebra Mussels and Marimo Moss Balls, 8 August 2021. Zebra mussels became a big driving point this story, but I haven’t seen anything about the moss balls. Or heard of them before this Sunday strip.
Drugs in waterways, 15 August 2021. Also a problem and you shouldn’ flush unneeded drugs away.
Hybridized “Killer” Bees, 22 August 2021. Once this dropped we were all waiting to see when killer bees might break in to the plot.
Canada Geese, 29 August 2021. One time I stayed at a hotel with a nesting pair of geese out by the parking lot. Made for some exciting times getting luggage in the car.
Spiders, centipedes, and bees, 5 September 2021. Warning: do not look at this page if you have a house centipede phobia.
Frogs and Toads, 12 September 2021. Cherry Trail’s story does feature an abundance of frogs too, in one panel, but they’re less of an urgent issue than the bees were.
Coyotes, 19 September 2021. They’ve got projects not involving road runners.
Birds, 26 September 2021. So we could either lose two-thirds of North American bird species to climate change or we could pay coal miners to take other jobs. This should not be a hard choice.
Catfish, 3 October 2021. Not part of the story yet, but Mark Trail does get exasperated with Florida, which is always fun.
Mushrooms, 10 October 2021.
Bees, 17 October 2021. This may seem like a lot of bee talk, but bees have a lot of problems, and most of them are our doing.
No. The current Gasoline Alley story mentions the old Emmons house, and that the widow Sarah, resident there, had died. That is not that woman dating Rufus in an incomplete storyline from 2017. Rufus’s date was the Widow Leela, or as I knew her, the Widow Emma Sue and Scruffy’s Mother. We haven’t seen her since the comic strip came back from its never-explained long hiatus in early 2018.
Aubee has a school assignment to collect leaves. She skips a rock across a pond and hits a narcissist unicorn talking frog. Ferdy’s an old friend of Boog, who of course talks with the animals. The rather large Ferd asks for a kiss on the lips to restore his ‘real’ life as a country music singer. She has enough of his schtick and he leaves, saying the only way for her to grow is “older”. Which is true but seems like the punch line for a conversation they didn’t have.
The next animal met is Boog’s best friend, Bear. Who is what you think from the name, and so frightens Aubee. Boog is still too young to understand how to keep people informed. Bear has seen her before. Her mother, Hoogy, was a very pregnant forest ranger and went into labor deep in the woods. But Bear and his forest friends knew where to find Chipper Wallet, Physician Assistant. (Gasoline Alley has more good things to say about physician assistants than even the American Academy of Physician Assistants does.) It’s a swiftly-told tale of the animals grabbing Chipper by his shirt and pulling him over to the very pregnant lady. From there, they let nature take its course.
After that tale Bear mentions how Ferd is a hoax, trying that “country singer line” on people for years. And she shouldn’t give in to temptation, such as the temptation to kiss a frog. It’s a good lesson, I guess, although she was never tempted and nobody suggested she was.
Bear then moves into telling about the dangers of forest fires. It’s another good lesson, I guess. And it’s presented with some good creative work, the kind where Jim Scancarelli shows off his drafting skills. It’s also something that hadn’t been an issue. Bear mentioned how he and Boog had saved each other from “school bullies” and “forest fires”. And later mentioned the pair had been in three forest fires since Boog’s birth in 2004. This seems like many forest fires, especially as they have to have come before I started doing these recaps like five years ago. But then Bear goes on to share some of his anti-forest-fire poetry, hammering down a lesson nobody needed to learn. Aubee and Boog hadn’t been doing anything that could start a fire, or even talking about doing anything.
Rain starts, so Aubee and Boog head to their mother’s ranger tower. They forget the leaf collection in the surprise downpour, but not to worry, Bear brings it to them. And talks with their mother some, somehow not warning her about the danger of transporting firewood great distances. (It spreads invasive insects.) This, the 2nd of October, seems to finish that story.
Back home, Hoogy shares that the forest rangers are putting on a Halloween party. They don’t have a spooky enough place for it, though. The kids suggest the Emmons house, fallen into disrepair since the widow Sarah died. And that’s where we are on the new story, started the 4th of October. I look forward to sometime just before Christmas talking about how this Halloween story turned out.
The current story in Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy has super-inventor Diet Smith sending machines back in time. It’s presented as the continuation of something he had tried before with humans.
I don’t, and Lien didn’t, know quite when this earlier time travel experimentation was done. I assume it’s something from that period in the 60s when Chester Gould tossed all sorts of wacky sci-fi fangles into the strip. You know, the Space Coupe, the psychic Lunarians and Tracy Junior’s bride from the Moon. The nation that controls magnetism controlling the universe. All of that stuff Gould put in with the assertion it was as much hard science as anything done in a forensics lab, scoring an own goal. But I can’t find when time travel was in the strip before. It could have been one of the antics in the Dick Locher run, for example, when the stories became very weird and impressionist and hard to follow. But it’s hard to think of Locher-era characters as driven by the emotions normal people have.
Homer “Peanutbutter” Barley, a freelance cartoonist and old acquaintance of Dick Tracy, takes action. He points out to Dick Tracy that Mysta Chimera is not actually a Lunarian. She’s the brainwashed, genetically-altered daughter of the quite human crime boss Posie Ermine. Thus she is a missing attractive white woman. With this to go on, the cops swing into action. Tracy checks in with Brock Archival, the last person the missing people were known to meet.
It’s the obvious lead, but it’s a good one, since the wealthy Brock Archival has kidnapped them. He intends to keep them both on his private island, and he’s got the private island — and the ring that neutralizes Chimera’s Lunarian powers — to do it. Alldid shoves them into a secret room when Tracy knocks on the door. Mysta uses her last ounce of strength to blast a telepathic cry for help that Honeymoon Tracy (herself half-Lunarian) picks up. And she relays that to her grandfather.
You might ask: wait, Mysta’s telepathy had been starved by lack of direct sunlight. How can she now have the energy to send out a last blast? Yeah, because if there’s one thing we can’t buy in narratives, it’s the last gasp of an exhausted hero finally making the difference.
With something that kind of resembles probable cause if you squint, Tracy asks to inspect Archival’s mansion. And he consents, because how could you find people shoved into a closet? This does give us some actual super-detection. Tracy follows strange scuff marks in the carpet to find one of Alldid’s drawing pen nibs. From there he finds the secret room holding Alldid and Chimera. Archival fumes that Tracy can’t possibly prove a kidnapping charge and Chimera kicks him in the Great Hall.
So, the 20th of August, this story resolves. Alldid gets back to his studio to draw comics. Chimera gets home again. The powers-controlling ring gets handed to Diet Smith because when would he ever do something ill-advised or dangerous with super-technology?
The next and current story got seriously under way the 21st of August, although it had a teaser a few weeks earlier. This debuts Diet Smith’s newest creation, the Time Drone. It’s a drone, like you might fly over the park and record video with, except it travels through time and space too.
Smith’s got a few videos. Dick Tracy’s iconic villain Flattop. The building of the Great Pyramid of Giza. He sends one to Ford’s Theater to catch a show. Another to see Washington’s Inauguration. The “treasure pit” at Oak Island, Nova Scotia. He announces this to the public, and the Ace of Spades, new head of The Apparatus crime syndicate, sees opportunity.
We don’t know his plans. From the 9th of September we got a short diversion, Dick Tracy talking with Briar Rose of Law Enforcement Magazine. Tracy tells the story of how the murder of Tess Trueheart’s father spurred him to move from patrolman to detective. How the city attracted newer and weirder criminals. How Tracy stepped up to become the super-scientific detective of world renown. It all smacks of an anniversary celebration, and it’s curiously timed: the comic strip debuted on the 4th of October, 1931. I’m not sure why this sequence ran a few weeks early except perhaps to get us fans talking about it early?
I don’t know. She’s Morgan Le Fey, she’s got a lot of projects going on. Unfortunately I’m not a devoted enough Prince Valiant reader to know what all their past history is. She had some roles in very early, 1930s, stories. Here are some panels from some of them. I can say Valiant was part of foiling her plan to marry Sir Gawain. I don’t know if there’s more.
I foresaw last time that a new story was starting. It starts uneventful, with Valiant finding an inn to rest. But his arrival’s reported to a mysterious hooded, feminine figure. He drinks from a pitcher the figure had enchanted. And Valiant falls over, hallucinating, finding himself in a fairyland of legend. Past and future: the first panel includes the White Rabbit of Wonderland fame.
We get several gorgeous weeks of fairyland artwork. I’m sorry I can’t justify including all of them. I never say enough about the art but it’s wonderful looking at.
Less wonderful being in; Valiant’s outmatched in a battle against everything in the world. Also the world, which swallows him up. He sees ravens, and cries to them to tell his wife Aleta. She, a witch with affinity for ravens, suddenly wakes. But she doesn’t get back into the story before the Kraken drags Valiant into the underwater throne room of the Queen of the Fairies.
“Wait,” you ask. “The Queen of the Fairies lives underwater?” Yeah, I don’t know either. But Valiant recognizes her. She’s Morgan Le Fey, from the time of King Arthur, just like he is. And from the waters rise Valiant’s Singing Sword, held by Aleta, who demands Le Fey release her husband. Instead, Le Fey transforms Valiant into some great sea monster, sending him to devour his wife. So that’s exciting, and we’ll see how that works over the next couple months.
That said, we are seeing what sure looks like a death of the current, 21st, Phantom, at the hands of Gravelines Prison guards. And Old Man Mozz, wilderness prophet, warned that going to Gravelines Prison would kill him, and also keep Kit Junior from being the 22nd Phantom. And even end the journey of the Walkers in Bangalla. So: is that what we’re seeing here?
The Phantom was ready to go to Gravelines Prison, in fascist Rhodia, to free Captain Savarna Devi. Savarna’s an oceangoing vigilante who could host her own action-adventure comic strip if action-adventure comic strips were sustainable yet. She’s helped The Phantom often. Most notably, she helped him free Diana from Gravelines in 2009-11’s 18-month-long Death Of Diana Palmer Walker. Old Man Mozz warns of a dire vision, that if he frees Savarna, The Phantom will ruin everything he holds dear. The Phantom pauses to hear what will happen.
And this strip — the 30th of June — is critical. Notice the broken panel borders. The story from this point continues to The Phantom busting into Gravelines Prison and breaking Captain Savarna out. But it is the story Mozz is telling, explaining to The Phantom what happens if he goes in as he plans. Yes, I missed the significance of this when it happened. In my defense the 30th of June was a busy day for me. Also, at least one of the X-Band Podcast hosts missed it too, and they’re hardcore Phantom fans. They’re people, with, like, collections of souvenirs and ranked lists of opinions and everything.
In Mozz’s vision, The Phantom disregards his warning that if he frees Savarna Kit Junior will never return to the Deep Woods. The Phantom regrets that he has to do this right after breaking out Captain Ernesto Salinas. Security will be more, if not more competent, right after that jailbreak. But many of the usual tricks still work. He stops a truck by putting signal flares in the road, and sneaking in the back doors. He sneaks through the prison by catching one guard at a time, knocking them out and tying them up.
I did see one commenter say this reads like a first-person shooter video game. I grant the resemblance. Whether you find this plausible, I suppose, depends on whether you think Gravelines Maximum Security Prison guards should be bad at their jobs. The comic does try to anticipate snarkers. The Phantom reflects how yes, they’ve increased the number of guards, but by dragging people who didn’t want to be prison guards into this job. (Seen the 17th of August, and reinforced the 28th of August.) That they’ll be people who will find good reasons in the rulebook about why they didn’t rush toward the gunfire.
And that I accept. First, the Phantom isn’t going to sit and listen to a story where he can’t even break open Gravelines. Second, what authoritarians rely on us forgetting is that authoritarians are incompetent. Making a competent organization requires getting subordinates to say what things are wrong, and what’s needed to fix them, and how it’s taking longer to fix than they expected. Authoritarianism demands reports that everything is swell. It can only create illusions of capability, which shatter in crisis. Third, the guards are people who grew up in a world where The Phantom is real and sometimes strikes Gravelines Prison. They have good reason to want to avoid him. So I buy most of the guards working to rule when The Phantom beelines for Captain Savarna’s cell.
The Phantom pauses for an oddly indirect question before freeing Savarna. When she pledges she’s had enough revenge he lets her out, and they begin the escape. They swipe a jeep and pretty near drive right out, helped by the number of guards who don’t want to be shot at over this. But there are the hardcore guards, the true believers in their mission, and they’re the ones who block the road. They shoot a lot at The Phantom and at Captain Savarna, who manage to drive through. The Phantom pulls off the road where he left his horse, Hero, tied up. He tells Savarna how to let Hero carry her back to Bangalla. As for The Phantom himself …
Well, this takes us out of the proper date range for this recap. But Savarna got a good look at The Phantom and gasped “Oh my god!!” And he’s bleeding. This is explained in the characters’ dialogue and action, but unfortunately is muddled in the coloring. Rather than use Guran’s wound-healing super-powder, he asks Savarna to let him rest a while.
Again, we are not seeing the death of the 21st Phantom. We’re seeing a death, something to happen if The Phantom disregarded Mozz’s advice. And, my understanding is, we’re to see more of what happens after this death, and what ruin it brings to the Walkers’ project. Tony DePaul said he thought the story might be the longest yet, at least comparable to the 18-month Death Of Diana Palmer Walker story. I trust it won’t all be warnings of how The Phantom’s marching towards death. I also expect there’ll be some clever way to rescue Captain Savarna from death row. But that’s the thing about expectations; so much of storytelling is subverting them.
It’s not impossible that Marvel and King Features will decide on a new creative team to draw Amazing Spider-Man comic strips. But I don’t see any reason to think they will. They’ve had several years and there haven’t even been rumors.
While the Sentry goes off to Albuquerque, Ronan fights Rocket and Spider-Man some. It’s a tough battle, since Spidey and Rocket can’t get through one day’s strip without saying how much they’re doomed. But, with a bit of help from Mary Jane, Rocket remembers that Ronan needs his space helmet to breathe Earth air. So the two go for a new approach, Rocket being jumpy and annoying while Spider-Man sneaks up from behind. It’s a great plan except for how Ronan falls over backward and maybe kills Spider-Man.
It’s a trick, of course. Newspaper Spider-Man is used to much worse head trauma than that. What he wanted was a solid perch on Ronan’s shoulders, so he could peel at the helmet until Ronan was really annoyed. As Ronan tries to use his magic space hammer to knock Spider-Man, Spidey’s able to tug his arm and make Ronan hit himself, knocking his helmet off. The Accuser falls unconscious.
And we get a moment that defines Spider-Man, at least his newspaper incarnation, very well. With the Accuser defeated, Spider-Man grimaces and acknowledges he has to put the helmet back on. He can’t let a beaten enemy die like that. Mary Jane points out this is crazy: once revived, Ronan will try to destroy the planet. Rocket points out this is unnecessary: Ronan doesn’t need his helmet to live, only to breathe. He’ll be fine in Earth’s atmosphere without his helmet, unconscious. It’s a line that Spider-Man buys, and even turns out to be true.
Meanwhile, oh yeah, Albuquerque. Rocket and Spider-Man head out to save the city from the Sentry. Mary Jane stays behind, to watch Ronan and call the superheroes if he shows signs of life. The Sentry turns out to be hard to fight. And Ronan shows signs of life, which Mary Jane doesn’t call about. But Ronan stirs enough to say how the Sentry is programmed to never hurt a Kree like him, and passes out. She sees in this a world-saving tool, if she can get Ronan to Albuquerque.
So she stops a truck, offering to buy it so it and the day laborers on it can rush Ronan to the city. Also Mary Jane carries around enough cash to buy a truck? Or can plausibly present herself as writing a valid check for this? In a story about a space raccoon and a radioactive spider-bite victim saving Albuquerque from a 20-foot-tall, 80,000-year-old killbot, we’ve hit a point I don’t buy. They even repeat it, Mary Jane explaining to Spider-Man how she got the truck there. I think I’d buy it more if the laborers were all fans of Movie Star Mary Jane Parker and did her a favor.
But if we don’t buy this, we can’t get to the end of the story, so there we go. Mary Jane brings the unconscious Ronan to Albuquerque and explains the rules. So Spider-Man grabs Ronan’s body, using him as what is technically not a human shield because Krees aren’t humans. This befuddles the Sentry while Rocket climbs inside to rip out wiring. It’s a close-run thing, Rocket trying to decide what things to yank out before the Sentry decides what limbs of Spider-Man’s to yank out. But he pushes a button, and it turns out to be the “turn off forever” button and it’s a happy resolution.
So they haul the Sentry off somewhere, stuff Ronan into Rocket’s spaceship, and say their goodbyes. Rocket finally gets around to saying who the other Guardians of the Galaxy are, but not why none of them came along on this mission. And says hey, you never know, we all might team up again. With that, the 4th of September, he flies off into the skies.
And there we conclude Spider-Man’s encounter with Rocket Raccoon and Ronan The Avenger. From the 5th of September we started an adventure with the Mole Man hoping to rekindle his relationship with Aunt May. He figures he has a chance now that he’s been deposed as the subterranean king by Tyrannus the Conquerer. Also, Tyrannus the Conquerer is hoping to conquer the surface world, starting from Los Angeles. That’s a story that first ran in spring and summer of 2017, and I have it adequately recapped in essays starting here.
And from there … well, if the newspaper Spider-Man strip keeps repeating comics in this order? There’s not much sense my writing these plot summaries. I suppose it’d be an easy week of work, which is something. But for the foreseeable future, I intend this to be my sign-off to the Marvel Comic Strip Universe. Thanks for reading, everyone who enjoys action, adventure, and energy beams surrounded by black bubbles. It’s been fun and I’m sorry it isn’t continuing.
No. Alley Oop and crew observed Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin going through a mysterious door in the Sea of Tranquility. It turned out to be the bathroom. The Apollo 11 crew did not find the Moon Alien, Frodd. Alley Oop, Ooola, and Doc Wonmug met him later.
So this should catch you up on Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the start of September 2021. If any news about the strip breaks out, or if you’re reading this after about December 2021, there may be a more useful essay at this link. If there isn’t, well, we live in complicated times.
20 June – 4 September 2021.
This story almost exactly fit my publishing cycle. It started a week before my last Alley Oop update, with the gang going back to 1969 to watch the Apollo 11 moon landing. They start with understandable celebrity-creeping behavior. Pretending to be NASA workers. Messing around in training facilities. Then it escalates to following Apollo 11 all the way through the landing.
So Our Heroes watch Apollo 11’s moonwalk. This in a strip that ran the 21st of July, a timing miss I’m sure keeps Lemon and Sayers from getting a decent night’s sleep. After solving the mystery of the door, Our Heroes walk over to the far side of the Moon, where it happens also to be dark. There they discover a bored-looking alien playing at a computer.
Frodd’s playing Earth as a “kind of a video game”, for a school project. Frodd starts to defend his Earth-playing skills, but has to come home for dinner, and takes Our Heroes with them. Frodd’s mother sees the humans and grounds Frodd, for “a Froddulon Millennium”, which is something like a billion earth-years.
So Our Heroes escape, Alley Oop along the way swiping some kind of necklace from somewhere. Turns out the thing makes Our Heroes invisible, which is good for getting them away from alarmed Froddians. They get to Frodd’s spacefaring bubble, which turns out to be able to get them anywhere instantly. They return to the Moon, planning to resume the Earth that Frodd left paused. Turns out Frodd’s there. He passed his school project, with a C-.
They talk Frodd out of shutting down this Earth simulation, and even snag a nice moustache toggle for Alley Oop. With a pretty successful week, then, they head home. It’s too early to say what the next story will be, although Doc Wonmug has gone back to prehistoric Moo with them.
I admit some dissatisfaction with the story. A little bit from not caring for the reality-is-a-video-game premise. It’s something a certain streak of nerd loves without learning enough philosophy to know what issues it’s not addressing. But most of us enjoy pop culture items that raise issues it doesn’t address. Besides, if it address an issue well then it stops being a pop culture thing and becomes culture. I’m also a bit dissatisfied that Alley Oop, Ooola, and Doc Wonmug don’t have much to do. For most of the story, they’re just present. Note how little I had to break down what Alley Oop did, versus what Oola did, versus what Wonmug did.
It’s been one week longer in arriving than usual, but I look at Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the final time. Did Spider-Man save Albuquerque from destruction at the hands of an alien war machine using nothing more than Rocket Raccoon and the secret alien war machine’s commander? The only person I knew in Albuquerque moved away years ago, so I have no way of knowing. Sorry!
Some, more inclined to snark than I am, will say nothing happened. Hardly so, but I’ll grant that much of the last twelve weeks read like setting up for new things to happen. These things divide into four major focuses and I’ll take them as separate pieces.
First: Neddy Spencer. Her plans to hang around Los Angeles and someday find a place get kicked up when Ronnie Huerta and Kat get engaged. Which makes it even harder for her to keep crashing at Huerta’s place. She picks out a “beautiful little 1930s Hollywood-style bungalow apartment” that’s not guaranteed to not be haunted. As her first visitor, Huerta points out Spencer has been doing Los Angeles stuff for three years and not had a romance plot yet. So I’m looking forward to Neddy Spencer finding whoever is the exact opposite of Funky Winkerbean main character Les Moore.
Second: Alan Parker, original Judge of the strip, and Sam Driver, who took over the comic in the 60s. Alan’s been hit hard by the loss of his son and granddaughter, finding comfort in drink and misanthropy. He also blames Sam Driver for not doing something to keep Randy out of CIA Jail or a Norton plot or whatever. Driver pushes his way back into Parker’s life, arguing that they need a mission and he has a useful one. This in forming a new law partnership, one that can sue Cavelton Mayor Sanderson for gentrifying the people out of the city. Parker, in time, accepts. And it gives him a new energy and purpose.
Their first lawsuit starts great. They file on behalf of tenants arguing they were wrongly evicted so Sanderson could sell property to a corporate donor. This catches Sanderson off-guard at a press conference. And it lets Deputy Mayor Stewart add to his collection of faces of pouty concern.
Third: Sophie Spencer. She’s facing a second year at college having made no friends in New York City. And her only serious friend in Cavelton is Honey Ballenger, who she hasn’t been talking with much. Ballenger calls, though, and they reconnect. Partly over lunch, more over early-morning jogging. They never meant to stop talking, they just lost the power to call the other first. It’s a feeling I know and I wasn’t even ever kidnapped by Abbey Spencer’s previously-unknown half-sister. One early-morning jog they’re almost run off the road by fire trucks, heading …
Fourth: Abbey Spencer. Her bed-and-breakfast, made out of converting (part of?) the horse barn, has been a money pit, from doing the renovations and from opening at the start of the pandemic. Indeed, its first event — a rally for Alan Parker’s mayoral campaign — brought Covid-19 to Cavelton (17 August). So is it a good thing that the whole structure burned to the ground in a catastrophe that hurt no person (or horse)? Is it a suspicious thing? Mayor Sanderson was happy to assert, on TV, that the city would investigate every reason Abbey might burn the place down for the insurance money (18 August). We have yet to see what caused the fire, or that it was the CIA trying to make Randy Parker’s family suffer enough that he turns in April Parker. Or that something else happened. (Now I like the notion that Randy and all have been in Secret CIA Jail as we assumed April’s super-spy super-skills got them super-out of super-trouble.)
The Summer story in Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp turned, in part, on what school a “BSU” jacket belonged to. The school colors therefore mattered. Gil Thorp has started running, in GoComics, in color. But, as is common for weekday comics, the colorizing gets done without checking the writers for guidance. I do not know why the colorizers of daily strips don’t get guidance from the original cartoonists. I understand if the cartoonists do not wish to do the extra work of picking out colors if they’re not paid for it. It makes every day as much work as a Sunday strip.
But the practice keeps screwing things up. Here, at least, it’s an innocent screw-up. The BSU jacket colors were not mentioned in text until several weeks after the jacket’s appearance. Whoever put color in had no direction. And that’s the sad usual for colorized dailies.
Karenna saw no point going to college. She’s got an appalling record. All the athletic scholarships she could apply for are long gone. And her mother is too depressed to function without her. Still, Mimi Thorp hates to see a talented, bright, determined kid just peter out. She pokes around her contacts and alumni and finds a setup. Karenna moves to Syracuse, takes community college classes to get her credentials in order. Transfer to Le Moyne College, where there’s volleyball scholarship money and roommates to be had.
And … Karenna’s mother? She, Thorp says, did a lot of the work putting this together. And believes she can keep herself together while her daughter’s at school. One likes her optimism, but I admit seeing many failure modes.
Meanwhile, the vacancy on the Library Board. The Board loves it. It’s drawn them, like, attention. It helps they have two candidates. One is young Zane Clark whose family depends on the library’s public good. The other is cranky middle-aged Abel Brito who doesn’t see why the public should be paying for good. And the juicy part is that Zane’s dating Katy Brito. So Zane’s and Abel’s every interaction is a good rousing fight.
The Library Board plays it for what it’s worth, with a public debate and everything. Zane pushing ideas of ways the library could do more. Abel pushing ways that the library could run like a business, unaware that almost every business is appallingly run. Only one person can get the seat, though, and either way will hurt Katy. Coach Thorp pushes his way into the action for some reason.
What he does is nudge Rollie Conlan, 29-year veteran of the Library Board, into retiring. The argument being they need both Zane Clark’s ideas about providing public services and Abel Brito’s ideas about making money. So, two vacancies, two candidates, and all is happy. Apart from family dinners that now argue about whether the library should be providing a service or something.
With that, the 10th of July, the Spring story ended. The Summer story began the 12th of July and it looks to wrap up this week or next. This was a hard one to parse, as Rubin and Whigham played coy about what the conflict even was. And there were two threads that didn’t seem to have anything to do with one another, not until the end. I can’t fault them for verisimilitude. Often in life we have no idea we’re in a story until it’s ending. But as art? It meant we had weeks that seemed to be watching people deploy golf terminology.
So here’s the golf thread. Carter Hendricks is in his second summer as part of the Milford Country Club. And he’s a popular guy. Does well, as a “humble industrial solvents salesman”, playing games for money. Oh, he blows the occasional shot, sure, but somehow he’s always got what he needs when it counts. Almost suspiciously so. Like, when he happens to play a cheap golf ball instead of his usual.
Enter someone who can be suspicious, besides Gil Thorp. Heather Burns, who’d been star of the summer storyline in 2017, is back from college. University of Iowa. Thorp’s able to get her a spot as assistant coach for Milford Football, which pays in glory. She wants to be a reporter, because she doesn’t know where money comes from. It comes from selling coffee in the library’s former periodicals alcove.
She puts together Thorp’s doubts with Hendricks’s green-and-white “BSU” rain jacket that he got from somewhere. He’s in fact Carson Hendry, who won two conference golf championships for Bemidji State University, in Minnesota. Had a minor career as a pro. Also had a six-month jail term for stealing clients’ money. He is, in short, hustling the club members.
They kick him out, demanding he repay his winnings, which they know he’ll never do. Meanwhile, at the Milford Star, sportswriter Marjie Ducey sees good reporting talent, albeit in the service of a non-story. Hendry isn’t a public figure, at least not public enough, unless the country club presses charges, which they don’t see any good reason to do. Editor Dale Parry agrees this shows Burns to have good instincts and abilities. But he’s already offered their job to someone with two years’ reporting experience.
And that is about where we land. It’s again a point for Rubin and Whigham’s verisimilitude that Burns’s good work doesn’t get rewarded with the job she wants and needs. Sometimes things suck and you have to muddle along with what’s all right in the circumstances. But the story isn’t quite over yet, and as you can see, sometimes Coach Thorp figures a back door into solutions.
Milford Sports Watch!
Who’s Milford been playing, at least until the summer break caught up ? These teams have turned up in past months.
Bemidji State University (5, 6, 16 August.) Also a reference in the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode Red Zone Cuba that’s now about something I specifically kind-of understand. (“They’re over the Cuba-Bemidji border.”)
Boise State University (16 August.) A guess about the BSU jacket.
It’s been months since Randy Parker disappeared from Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker! And weeks since the bed-and-breakfast burned down! And we haven’t been seeing Norton any! Is there anything left in the comic strip? We’ll check in soon, if all goes well.
Couple years back, in the last major story before Terry Beatty took over writing Rex Morgan, M.D., Sarah got mixed up with an art museum. It started with the museum soliciting art made by kids, to sell as a fundraiser. But it turned out Sarah was such a good artist that it impressed a patron with mob ties. That patron pressed on the museum to replace the charity book with one done entirely by Sarah Morgan. And she’d go to the museum to draw it, and be seen as part of the tour.
This was all a bit much. Among the things Terry Beatty did as writer was dial that back. Like, by making clear the patron pushing for all this was looking at Sarah as surrogate daughter. Like making her mentor for the museum-drawing — Rene Belluso — into a regular character with an amusing string of scams. Like turning one of the kids on a tour seeing Sarah — Edward — into a regular, with an impossibly ugly dog. And finally having Sarah get hit by a car carrying Soap Opera Amnesia Disease. She lost her too-precocious artistic abilities. And she realigned to something more in range of actual six-or-seven-year-olds.
So she’s composed a hundred-page fan letter/fan fiction. And Rex Morgan had promised that Buck Wise, his friend and Vidpa’s licensing agent, would get it right to him. He’s taking his first break outside the home in a year-plus, visiting his parents, who don’t understand why he can’t use his real name on his books. His real name is Jake Rowling. Weary after a night of explaining the should-be-obvious-thesis that TERFs are bad even if standing near one might help your career, he gives in and opens the letter.
It’s love at first sight. Or story love anyway. Sarah’s story is perfect, a new Kitty Cop novel ready to go. It needs some work, yes, but “not much”. And it’s even inspired him for more books. All he has to do now is get permission to use this.
So now all that’s left is making the deal. It’ll have to go through Vidpa’s literary agent and the Morgan’s lawyers. But she’ll get co-author credit plus royalties on the book and any new-character merchandise. So, that’s a nice step up on her college expenses, and she gets to pick out a pseudonym. Plus, Kyle Vidpa’s wife is pregnant, so he could get inspiration from within his own family in nine years.
And that’s the important stuff gone on in the strip the last several months. We seem to be transitioning to a new story this week, so I can begin November 2021’s plot recap without much prologue.
I try to explain what’s going on in Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp, which is going to be hard. The library plot I understand. But the summer plot, about golf? If I’m working this out right it’s about someone pretending to be a worse golfer than they actually are, for the reasons. I know, that doesn’t sound like I”m on the right track to me either”.
The Sunday continuity has been The Current, 21st, Phantom, telling of encounters four previous Phantoms had. These all involved The Visitor, who looks like The Phantom, and seems to have knowledge and abilities only The Phantom should have. We’ve now seen stories from all the four previous Phantoms to encounter The Visitor. This implies we’re near the end of the backstory. But we haven’t got any hint what The Visitor “really” is, yet.
What we know seems hard to square with a rationalist, scientific explanation. But The Phantom universe is one that has non-rational, magical elements. Me, I would be satisfied if The Visitor remains a mystery, but I am fond of fictional universes with weird craggly unexplained bits. And I understand readers who dislike having a mystery presented and then unresolved.
This should catch you up on Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s Sunday-continuity The Phantom for mid-August 2021. If you’re interested in the weekday storyline, with The Phantom maybe breaking Captain Savarna out of Gravelines Prison? Or if you’re interested in the Sunday stories and reading this after about November 2021? Then you’re likely to find a more useful post at this link.
In the time of the 3rd Phantom a strange figure — The Visitor — appeared to Bandar villagers. The Visitor looked indistinguishable from the Phantom. But he ignored them. He left footprints. The footprints vanished. That’s all anyone knows of it.
The Visitor next appeared in the time of the 6th Phantom. A girl of the Bandar tribe saw The Visitor enter Skull Cave and write in the Phantom Chronicles. And disappeared once cornered in the Chronicle Chamber, which I need hardly tell you has only the one exit. The Visitor’s message? A transcription from the Odes of Horace. The 6th Phantom had memorized the piece about the difference between courage and recklessness. It was an issue he always struggled with. It would prove a timely reminder to him before another big adventure.
The 12th Phantom was the first to see The Visitor. Briefly, in Skull Cave. Later, in some city, working his way through 2d6+6 henchmen, the 12th Phantom found … the place cleared. All the minor villains knocked out, and with the skull mark of the Phantom’s ring on their foreheads.
On to the 16th Phantom, who saw and talked with the Visitor. Who was as fast on the draw as the Phantom was. Who told the origin story of the Phantom legend, turned, and disappeared.
And those are the facts as we have them handed down to us.
Fanfiction! Fanfiction and Crunchyroll! No, I’m not trying out for Zippy the Pinhead: The Next Generation. I’m thinking of what’s happening in Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. so I can recap it next week, if all goes to plan. I know one of the Facebonk groups my love is on would like to have Rex Morgan, M.D. explained, except that they’ll have forgotten they cared about the strip by next Tuesday. Too bad.
Ashlee and Shauna are two women with a violent hatred of each other in the current Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth story. It hasn’t been revealed how they know one another. They both have disreputable histories, and we can infer this somehow let each learn the other’s deal. Shauna thinks Ashlee is a grifter ready to take Drew Cory for all he’s worth. Ashlee thinks Shauna wants to get back together with Drew Cory. Both are correct so both have reasonable resentment of the other.
Mary Worth shares her worry that she’s not in this plot with Jeff Cory, her perpetual not-fiancée and Drew’s father. Jeff says his son just always falls for wild, uncontrollable women. Like Shauna, who even served time in jail for petty theft. But she’s out of his life forever and ever now, so no need to worry there!
During their delayed photoshoot Drew loses his Rolex to Ashlee’s pocket-picking. Drew’s tale of regret at losing a gift from his late mother moves her, though. She returns the watch, claiming to have gone back out to nature and checked the ground. It’s a heartwarming moment, interrupted when who shows up at The People’s Clinic but Shauna?
Shauna has an instant resentment of Ashlee. Also a story that Ashlee’s a grifter who’ll use Drew and throw him away. Also a story that she herself has cleaned up her life since they broke up. Also dermatitis, the reason for her visit. Drew believes her about cleaning up her life and about the dermatitis. But the rest? How could Ashlee possibly be wicked when she’s always been nice to him?
Ashlee and Shauna show up at The People’s Clinic again, and fight again. Ashlee decides to step up her grift. She gets Drew to agree to loan five thousand dollars to jump-start her modeling career. He’s slow to send it, though. Doctor stuff, although she suspects Shauna stuff. So she comes to The People’s Clinic to get her money already.
She catches Drew giving a lollipop to a little girl, and has a change of heart. She breaks up with her mark, by text. She claims to have a great job offer out of town, she won’t need the money, and she has to leave forever now. Bye. And she does leave town. This doesn’t stop Drew thinking about her, though.
And that’s where things stand as of the start of August. It’s hard to believe the story is over, since nobody’s pair-bonded yet and there’s no sign of thanking Mary Worth for her contributions. So my guess is we’ve got another month or so before the next story. See you in late October and we’ll find out what’s right!
Dubiously Sourced Mary Worth Sunday Panel Quotes!
The auto care place up the street has changed its message a little bit, thanking Lansing for its support. It’s not only the economic development council. I hope this doesn’t signify a tiff with whoever gives out loans and grants around here. Meanwhile, here are inspirational quotes from the Sunday panels that could have been said by someone. Maybe even the named person!
“Human behavior flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge.” — Plato, 9 May 2021.
“I generally avoid temptation unless I can’t resist it.” — Mae West, 16 May 2021.
“Mysteries of attraction could not always be explained through logic.” — Lisa Kleypas, 23 May 2021.
“Love can sometimes be magic, but magic can sometimes … just be an illusion.” — Javan, 30 May 2021.
“The past is never the past. It is always present.” — Bruce Springsteen, 6 June 2021.
“Honesty is more than not lying. It is truth telling, truth speaking, truth living, and truth loving.” — James E Faust, 13 June 2021.
“It’s what you don’t expect … that most needs looking for.” — Neal Stephenson, 20 June 2021.
“Saying ‘yes’ to one thing means saying ‘no’ to another. That’s why decisions can be hard sometimes.” — Sean Covey, 27 June 2021.
“I’m a lover, not a fighter, but I’ll fight if I have to.” — Yungblud, 4 July 2021.
“There are no good girls gone wrong — just bad girls found out.” — Mae West, 11 July 2021.
“When someone else’s happiness is your happiness, that is love.” — Lana Del Ray, 18 July 2021.
“Life is always at some turning point.” — Irwin Edman, 25 July 2021.
“A woman’s heart is a deep ocean of secrets.” — Gloria Stuart, 1 August 2021.
There’s a point in Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail’s current story where Mark Trail’s in a nighttime car chase. He tells the driver to turn off the headlights. This confuses the pursuers, Diana Daggers and Bee Sharp, but only for a few moments. I’m not sure why it’s supposed to work. I get the idea is to make the car as invisible as possible at night and go in a direction that Daggers and Sharp can’t see. But it’s not clear in the panels that there’s anywhere to go. They can’t have gone far off the road, after all, not in the couple seconds we see. This might be a problem of the limited time and space the strip has. In a movie, one good overhead shot of a complicated city street would address the question. I’m sorry not to have a more definite answer.
We had two story threads going, last time I checked in. Mark Trail was in Los Angeles as his odd charms landed him a music video cameo with rapper Reptiliannaire. Meanwhile Cherry Trail’s landscaping company was having trouble with the Sunny Soleil homeowners association. The plots have nothing to do with one another. So the strip’s done two weeks with Mark and then a week with Cherry. For sake of clarity I’ll re-separate the plot recaps, and start with Cherry’s.
Cherry Trail saw her big landscaping project, the roundabout near the Planet Pancake diner, had been demolished. Violet Cheshire, of the Sunny Soleil society, tore out all the “savage jungle brush” in favor of butterfly bushes. Butterfly bushes, I learn from this, attract butterflies but are not good for them. Butterflies like the plants, but the larva they lay on them can’t eat the leaves, which sucks for the next generation of larvae.
So she calls her brother Dirk Davis. He’s one of those I-hate-the-government recluses who knows how to wrangle a herd of feral hogs onto a truck bed and leave them off where they can devour a landscaped roundabout in minutes. You know, like that friend your younger brother still has from high school somehow. It’s an awesome scene of destruction that leaves Cherry ashamed of what she wrought.
Also awesomely destroyed: Violet Cheshire, trying to drown her sorrows in pancakes and syrup. Cherry tries to say something consoling. “I mean, sometimes a pack of eight feral hogs will happen to appear at a reserve of invasive butterfly bushes between 11:35 and 11:55 on a Friday night,” she offers. Violet suspects Cherry knows something about the destruction. And, in a moment that surprised me, Cherry owned up. I’d had thought she could bluff through it. But she’s feeling guilty and Violet’s feeling desperate. They agree to work together fixing this.
Now to Mark Trail’s story. He was hanging out with Reptiliannaire and the Herp Hacienda gang. They suggest he hit the sack early, like, before sundown even. Mark eavesdrops. The gang is reminding each other why they’re angry at “Cricket Bro” Rob Bettancourt. (Yes, this is people telling each other stuff they already know. But I absolutely believe in a group of people talking about how they were all screwed by the same ex-friend.) He’s the tech-millionaire-turned-cricket-protein-seller who hosted the party they just came from. Bettancourt had sponsored the Herp Hacienda and their reptile-rescue(?) sideline. This until they learned he was using spying on them. (I’m not clear whether he was spying on the group or on the reptiles themselves. I’m also not sure why he would bother. But there is a streak of tech guy that figures everybody not them should be under surveillance, so, fine.) And he impounded Aparna’s laptop. She’d been developing an app for testing air quality for animals. This so people would be better able to judge when to keep animals indoors for safer breathing.
So this gives the heist a goal: get the laptop that has the impounded “Air For All” app code. I admit I don’t understand why Cricket Bro wants this suppressed, but accept it under the “tech millionaires are jerks” rule. I also don’t understand why Aparna didn’t have her own copy. I mean, they sell 256 GB Flash drives. But I’ll accept that as a “didn’t expect to need an off-site backup” case. I also don’t understand why she can’t rewrite it. Maybe it requires models that she no longer has access to. I grant that I would be much harder on these same plot points if they turned up in, say, Funky Winkerbean. But I feel justified in my anger at Funky Winkerbean. Rivera I’m willing still to suppose there are reasons for things not explained.
Mark Trail’s way into this heist idea. He’s got a history back to childhood of not liking Bettancourt. And he hasn’t stolen anything since those motorboats last plot. He’s overdue. At the party earlier Bettancourt offered Mark Trail “help” with his career. So Mark calls, feigning interest. Bettancourt’s got a great idea. How about some interaction between “Marky” Trail and his pop-science celebrity Professor “Killer” Bee Sharp?
The plan: Mark Trail will talk to Bettancourt long enough to distract him while the Herp Hacienda guys steal the laptop. (Why would the laptop not have been wiped clean? Aparna is betting on the tech guys being too lazy to bother. I accept this; I understand if you do not.) How do the Herp Hacienda gang get into Bettancourt’s facility when only Mark Trail was invited? Professor Bee Sharp is enough of a celebrity that the gang can say they couldn’t pass up the chance to get to meet him. And the Professor is enough of a narcissist to buy that.
Bettancourt has an even better idea than talking about a Mark Trail/Bee Sharp interaction. Why not have them do something for real right now? He knows a director and everything, and here he is. Also, instead of, like, two pop-science guys enthusing over one another, why not have them punch each other? So that’s why it’s a sudden boxing match.
A boxing match is good and distracting, though, and Aparna and crew have time to find the laptop. When they take it out of the charging docks, it sets off an alarm, though. It’s a race against time to upload the source code to the Internet, which the upload wins.
So now it’s about escaping. Bee Sharp’s manager, Diana Daggers, wants to catch Mark Trail on camera, “breaking and entering” the Cricket Bro tech labs. I don’t know why she thinks that’s important. I only have the knowledge of the law that you get from being on a student newspaper in the early 90s. But whatever laws Mark Trail did violate there, none of them were about breaking or entering. He came at the owner’s invitation. I also don’t get what’s important about getting him on camera fleeing. There were plenty of witnesses that he was there. They might even have video of him boxing with Bee Sharp. The thing to get him on is conspiring with people who stole company property. I don’t get where video of Mark Trail fleeing matters.
Daggers is angry about Mark Trail punching Bee Sharp, which, fair enough. But it was in a boxing match that Bee Sharp presumably agreed to.
Daggers and Sharp, in a faster car, chase Trail and gang. This leads to the headlight trick mentioned at the start of this essay. Since they’re found the moment they move, Mark Trail thinks of a better plan. That’s camouflage. Where to hide a green hybrid in the city on a weeknight? … Well, the farmers market, that’s where. I laughed. It’s silly, but jabs close enough to me that I respect it. I understand if you do not. Sharp concedes that Mark Trail has escaped … but also that this is not over.
What is over, though, is the window for my plot recapping here. We’ll see how these stories resolve over the weeks ahead and I’ll recap them in about three months, if all goes well.
Sunday Animals Watch
A neat and understated bit about the animals here? Nearly all of them have had some appearance in the comic strip dailies. Not always the same week as their Sunday appearance. Like, the Burrowing owls were mentioned as being around Los Angeles International Airport. And one’s seen in the daily strip when Mark Trail arrived in Los Angeles. I like that.
Sabal palms, 2 May 2021. Imported into southern California and somehow not an ecological disaster, which is a nice change of pace.
Burrowing owls, 9 May 2021. Hanging around LAX, which is nice.
Coyotes, 16 May 2021. Yes, roadrunners are coming.
Native grasses, 23 May 2021. I’d love to have more native grasses on our lawn but I live in mid-Michigan so the ecologically correct thing is to be a marshland. This is hard to mow.
Peregrine falcons, 30 May 2021. I’m old enough to remember when it seemed inevitable they were going to go extinct so, uh, it’s possible for good things to happen in the environment.
Mountain lions, 6 June 2021. The Sunday panel isn’t just listing all 640 common names for these animals, but it’s close.
Muscovy ducks, 13 June 2021. OK, did not know they were invasive. That’s inconvenient.
Butterfly bushes, 20 June 2021. I never even heard of these before this story but now I know of a new kind of invasive plant to feel bad about.
Black-tailed jackrabbits, 27 June 2021. Featuring illustrations of jackrabbits standing upright, and you’ll want to see that because they look weird when they do.
Feral hogs, 4 July 2021. Mark Trail points out how the 80s were an ecological disaster, which yes, but it understates how much everything else was a disaster. The eight-bit computers were pretty great, though.
Grizzly bears, 11 July 2021. Mark Trail takes a moment to process his feelings about the California Grizzly’s extinction, which I’m guessing is him playing to stereotype? Amusing, though.
Roadrunners, 18 July 2021. Will say I was worried for the roadrunners along the roads during Mark Trail’s car chase.
A major part of the story in Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley is a radio signal from 1952 being and heard on someone’s colander. Could this happen? Well, no, of course not.
The thing that isn’t obviously impossible is the radio reception. A crystal set radio needs no battery or electricity. It uses the energy of the radio signal it detects to drive the speaker. It needs only a few components, many of them ones you could make yourself in 1920. Building a crystal set radio is a great way to learn electronics. After a few minutes’ work, you can set about hours, days, whole months of trying to get the stupid thing to work. It never will. But for purposes of a comic story? All right, let it happen.
A radio signal from 1952 bouncing back to Earth and getting stuck in a communications satellite? Yeah, that’s nonsense. It would be less bad if the signal were broadcast from some station that has an old-time-radio night. I don’t know why Jim Scancarelli didn’t go for that instead. It could encourage people to look for broadcasters who bring up old recorded stuff.
At the store again, Gertie runs into Mim and Tim, the couple whom she helped cute-meet back in February, our time. Mim and Tim got along great, turns out, and now they’re married. You see why I say this has got to me later than “the next day”. As it is, Gertie sets off their first argument, over whether “cackleberries” is a clever joke name for eggs. I understand there’s whirlwind romances. I still say Mim and Tim should have dated a little longer.
On her way out Gertie runs in to Rufus and Joel, as they run into her car. Rufus and Joel are the most 50s/60s-sitcommy characters in Gasoline Alley. Their stories tend to be deep in the American Cornball style. So if you don’t like that, bail out of any and all Rufus-and-Joel stories. You will not have fun.
If they are for you, then what you got the last two months was Joel hearing mysterious voices. “Astro on the Polaris, calling Earth! Come in!” And when Earth does not come in, Cadet Roger Manning tries to get Earth on the radio. Anyone with old-time-radio credentials recognizes this: it’s the Tom Corbett, Space Cadet series. I’m assuming this the radio series, as Jim Scancarelli is a major fan of old-time-radio. (I’m aware it was a TV show first. And last, as the radio program ran less than a year. The clip gets identified as from the radio series, on what grounds I do not know.) The important thing is Joel doesn’t recognize it, and neither does anyone else until the end of the story.
Since there’s a racket, Joel goes off to Rufus’s house to sleep. And keep Rufus awake, since Joel snores like I snore. In the morning, the strange sound is still going. Rufus can hear it too. It’s not the radio, since Joel doesn’t have one. So, aliens it is, then.
The press is hardly going to ignore a good flying-saucer story. Reporters from the Gasette newspaper show up. So does Polly Ballew, of Gasoline Alley Television. Polly’s so excited by the story she doesn’t even mention being the sister of Wally Ballew of Bob and Ray’s old-time-radio show. (This might be because Bob and Ray had a running spoof of Tom Corbett. This was the Lawrence Fechtenberger, Interstellar Officer Candidate series. Too close a mention might spoil people’s suspension of disbelief. Except I’d think anyone who would spot that link would be going along with Scancarelli on this, so who knows?) But she also confirms the strange noises are coming from the kitchen colander.
Drawn by Polly Ballew’s live reporting, three members of the Galactic Institute of Space Research and Astral Studies show up. Cosmos Quasar, Dr Lana Luna, and Andrew Andromeda are happy to study this apparent alien transmission. With scientific investigators on the scene, Polly leaves. But their verdict: It’s the Tom Corbett, Space Cadet radio series. They recognize “Cadet Roger Manning of the Astro”. Their explanation: last week a communications satellite went off-course. A fragment of ancient radio got stuck in its circuits, and by freak coincidence is getting sent right to his kitchen colander. They recognized the names.
The story’s punch line, fitting to a cornball 50s/60s sitcom, is the departure of the Galactic Institute of Space Research and Astral Studies trio. Scotty beams them up.
This would seem to end the Rufus-and-Joel story in time for this essay. Monday’s strip still had the characters talking about it. But the transition to a new story sometimes does happen mid-week. Often the protagonist for one story sees the protagonist for the next. Who that will be, and what they’ll do, I have no way to know except wait.
The “Mars Maid” is a character in the J Straightedge Trustworthy comic strip, which Vera Alldid draws in the continuity of Dick Tracy. Trustworthy is a riff on Tracy, yes. Alldid created the Mars Maid after reading an article about Mysta Chimera, the false Moon Maid.
This should catch you up to mid-July in Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy. If you’re reading this after about October 2021, or if any news breaks out about the strip, I’ll have an essay of perhaps more use to you here. Thanks for reading.
18 April – 10 July 2021.
Our last visit with Dick Tracy was one week past the start of a story. Abner Kadaver, retired horror-movie host turned assassin, had recovered from tumbling down Reichenbach Falls with Dick Tracy. He broke his old partner Rikki Mortis out of jail and set about his old contract to kill Dick Tracy. But he’s also got a job from a shadowy figure, the Ace of Spades. Ace represents The Apparatus, the big crime syndicate in Tracyburgh. The Apparatus wants to cancel its contract to murder Tracy, in favor of killing Charlie 21. Kadaver accepts, but Ace knows, he’s gonna try killing Dick Tracy anyway.
Charlie 21 is a bookkeeper for The Apparatus, turned State’s evidence. Tracy and Sam Catchem have the extended escort mission of keeping him alive long enough to testify. They hate the job, since the only thing worse than an escort mission is an extended escort mission. Plus Charlie 21 keeps wandering off.
Kadaver’s first assassination attempt fails. The poison dart hits Sam Catchem’s hat instead. Mortis blames the downdraft from the building Kadaver was shooting from. Kadaver blames his trembling arm, and the complications of his advanced plot disease. He has Mortis pledge to carry out the contract if he dies.
Meanwhile, Charlie 21 wants to see Vitamin Flintheart in The Tempest. Flintheart is starring in The Tempest, opening next week, so that part’s easy. But bringing him to opening night would be incredibly stupid. Flintheart suggests he could watch the closed dress rehearsal instead.
Kadaver is also up-to-date on Tracyboro’s theatrical community. He reasons Tracy would never miss opening night of a Vitamin Flintheart show. When Mortis goes to buy opening-night tickets she sees Charlie 21 arriving for the rehearsal. He rushes down and they get into the theater … somehow. Not sure.
Tracy spots Kadaver in time to push Charlie 21 out of the way. The dart hits Tracy’s arm instead. 10 of Spades, a shadowy figure we presume to be affiliated with Ace of Spades, is there. He scolds Kadaver for disobeying The Apparatus’s order to kill Charlie 21, not Dick Tracy, and won’t hear how Tracy got in the way. Kadaver’s shot before the cops can break the scene up. Mortis takes his mask off and whispers something “I have to tell you” that’s not any of our business.
And so Abner Kadaver seems to be dead. Charlie 21 completes his testimony and goes off to Other Protective Custody. 10 of Spades appears to be arrested. And with the 6th of June, the story of Abner Kadaver ends.
The current story starts with a tease that 6th of June. Vera Alldid creates the Mars Maid for his J Straightedge Trustworthy comic strip. And he hires Mysta Chimera to play the Mars Maid for publicity. (The Dick Tracy Wiki notes there was a 1964 contest to find a “real life” Moon Maid. In case you question whether an attractive woman might actually dress in costume to promote a comic strip.) That goes well, despite everyone warning Chimera that Alldid is a womanizer. She doesn’t need much help to find him creepy and even electric-shocks him when he’s getting too much.
No hard feelings, though. They accept an invitation to meet Brock Archival, a comic historian and collector. Archival would like to buy an Art, if it’s up to his exacting standards. And take some pictures of Chimera as the Mars Maid. When that’s all done he mentions how his guests should stay overnight, and also for the rest of all time. And he’s got Mr Bribery’s ring, which repels the Moon Maid’s powers, so what are they going to do? And that’s the cliffhanger we left Saturday on.
There’s some other stuff in the meanwhile. Particularly, Honey Moon Tracy has been going more and more steady with a kid named Astor Boyd. Going to movies, holding hands, that kind of thing. I don’t know if that’s setup for a future story or simply life. I mention so if this does become plot-bearing I’ll have this reference.
So there’s some comic strip news that’s great for my Dad. Maybe your Dad too. It’s really for anyone who’s into the story strips, though. Comics Kingdom has added to its Vintage comics section two prominent story comics.
The first is Mark Trail, which has gone back to the era of original writer Ed Dodd, with Tom Hill and Jack Elrod illustrating. Not all the way to the start of the comic, but to July of 1971. I’m a little sad not to see it run from the comic’s start in 1946, but perhaps they had to go with where the archives first start being well-organized. It’s begun in the midst of a story, with a kid named Scat who seems to be a prototype for the not-yet-introduced Rusty.
The second is Prince Valiant, which it turns out they started running in January of 2020 if you can imagine that far back, and I only just noticed this past week. I’ll own up to my general obliviousness but I do think maybe Comics Kingdom isn’t publicizing its vintage comic launches effectively. (On the other hand, as it is I never have to hear about Mallard Fillmore.) The vintage Prince Valiant only goes back to panel #2239, which ran the 6th of January, 1980. That then includes the last strip that Hal Foster wrote (#2241). But it’s mostly the comics from John Cullen Murphy’s tenure as artist and Cullen Murphy as writer.
The Mark Trail run doesn’t seem to include Sundays. And the Prince Valiant panels are not in color. None of the vintage Sunday strips are. I assume this reflects the original color instructions being lost or too difficult to reconstruct. It’s all still grand to see.
So this all leaves Walt Kelly’s Pogo as the comic strip most in need of a decent online presentation. It was before, but this gives me a fresh chance to complain about that lack.
Lord Grunyard, of Lockbramble, had enemies. Those enemies were his brothers, the Lords Hallam of Wedmarsh, Kenward of Greystream, and Ravinger of Barrenburn. The specific complaint? Lockbramble’s swiping their populations. Grunyard, aware of his incompetence in running things, lets the people of Lockbramble run it themselves. And they do well, not least because Rory Red Hood is just that great at managing estates. And she has humiliated Lord Hallam before.
During the joust, several of the brothers’ henchmen snuck off to kidnap Grunyard. This was the real plan all along. Prince Valiant had noticed them sneaking off, though, and in a fight at the brewery Valiant captured them all. As one of them’s the Captain of Lord Hallam’s guard the brothers can’t profess much innocence.
And so Lord Grunyard, with Valiant and Gawain backing him up, subject his brothers to … a trade accord. Lockbramble has farmland but needs labor. Wedmarsh has fish. Greystream has rapids that could provide mill power. Barrenburn has iron and copper. They can put all this together, right? And sure, his brothers proclaim how happy they are to get out of this with light commerce instead. And Grunyard is happy to back to his not paying attention to running the province.
So the 13th of June, Price Valiant decides that everything’s pretty well under control and he can head home by himself. Along the way he reflects on his past. Stuff like how he used to wade into streams and spear fish. It turns out it’s more fun to remember doing this stuff than to actually do it. Fair enough. During this nostalgic tour we’ve seen a lot of gorgeous pictures. We haven’t gotten to the new story yet, though. Feels like it’s going to start next week, though.
Don’t be silly; The Phantom is immortal. That’s, like, the second thing you learn about the comic, after how he’s called The Ghost Who Walks. But yeah, there has been a lot of foreshadowing the end of the current Phantom’s life. It’s been like this for several years now, but the current story is hitting it hard.
I last checked in near the end of an encounter with “Towns Ellerbee”. The Phantom used that false name. Under it he helped The Trusted Man sneak through Gravelines Prison and free his boss and friend Ernesto Salinas. Salinas tries pondering the mystery of who Towns Ellerbee could be, and finally turns to anagarms. The name translates to “Be Well Ernesto”, a thing I totally would have gotten if I’d thought to pick out proper names.
The 26th of April began the 257th Phantom daily story, Hello the Himalayas. Once again after a fairly long (26 week) and action-filled story we got a short (4 week) reflective one. Heloise Walker comes to the Deep Woods, into the Phantom’s Cave, and into even the Chronicle Chamber. And there she writes a letter that she knows she’s “not supposed to be writing” to her brother Kit Junior. She writes of being afraid to sleep, traumatized by nightmares of the night she captured Eric “The Nomad” Sahara. And that she has been trying to reason where exactly Kit Junior is.
The Phantom had placed him in secrecy in the Himalayas somewhere, ahead of his anticipated and foiled death in The Curse Of Old Man Mozz. Heloise, thinking it’s daft that nobody knows how to find Kit Junior in case something happens to The Phantom, tried to work out where her brother is. She’s confident she’s figured out what Himalayan monastery he’s at. And she closes up the letter, and seals it, and conceals it within the Chronicle Chamber. With the 22nd of May, this story ends.
The story opens with Colonel Worubu meeting the Unknown Commander of the Jungle Patrol. Part of the raid that got Salinas out of Gravelines Prison was a database of who was being held there. Many are dissidents, opponents of Rhodia’s fascist government. But, Worubu concedes, there are some people there on legitimate grounds. His example is this Indian-national woman who killed nine flag-rank naval officers and four aviators. Even granting that fascists are better off being dead, you can’t fault a government executing someone for that.
The Phantom knows about this. Savarna had killed the Rhodian naval officers who’d sunk her India Voyager II. They were retaliating for her shelling the prison to free Diana Palmer. The Phantom sets his plans to go back to Gravelines and free her, and regrets how this would have been easier if it weren’t right after Salinas’s escape.
Old Man Mozz stops him. Mozz shares a sketch from one of his visions. It’s the hallucination-setting of the story The Llongo Forest. In that vision a spirit presenting as The Phantom’s father warned the Ghost was Walking into oblivion. This as penalty for having not died in The Curse Of Old Man Mozz. The warning said he was now without “the right to lie in the crypt of the Phantoms”.
Now Mozz offers similar warnings: if he interferes with Savarna’s fate, The Phantom’s body will lie in that Llongo Forest doom. And Kit Junior will never return from the Himalayas. And will never be the 22nd Phantom. He even promises that “the journey of the Walkers in this land … will end”.
That doesn’t sound good, no. But even granting that this is happening in a world where prophetic visions happen? I notice Old Man Mozz hasn’t warned that The Phantom will die from this. Nor has he quite said there won’t be a 22nd Phantom. Still, between Old Man Mozz, The Phantom himself, and Heloise Walker, there’s a lot of people with grim visions of what’s to come.
The Chrabs were on an alternate Earth, Universe 881, not by their own will. They would pinch people to death as they could not bear being around arguments and had ended up in a most argumentative universe. It turns out to be Ollie Arp’s fault, for once.
The new, and just-wrapped-up, story began the 12th of April. The gang chooses to explore the mysterious Universe 881, an unexplored and locked universe. (Its password is “password123”.) It looks like an Old West themed world. Alley Oop gets some clothes by going up to some guys and demanding their clothes. They’re happy to comply.
It turns out everyone in this Old West town is happy to comply. Amicable. Someone accused of cheating a poker game denies they could ever value a game over their friendship. An actual showdown turns out to be competitive dancing. The locals don’t ever fight, over anything, because they don’t want to die. Also, on this Earth, if you fight, the Chrabs come out and pinch you to death.
There weren’t always Chrabs. One day there was a flash of light and then anyone who got a little disagreeable got pinched to death. So Alley Oop and all venture into the City of the Chrabs, using a disguise that gets them arrested immediately. They’re taken to Queen Chrab. (Her name. She’s the democratically-elected president.)
Queen Chrab reveals they’re not from this universe. They’d been minding their own business. There was this flash of light, and then they were stuck in this universe. Doc Wonmug arranges to send the Chrabs back to their home Universe 7. It’s a bigger project than they planned: there’s almost a hundred million of them.
So the Chrabs are home. Universe 881 is free of the pinching menace. Everyone can go home. It’s a brilliant success, which is when Ollie Arp, of Universe 3 appears. Ollie’s there to explain what a stupid failure that all was. He sent the Chrabs there, because the Universe 881 humans were far too violent. They were on the brink of destroying their own world. Ah, but the reign of the Chrabs must have made a lasting change in their temperament, right?
Ollie Arp figures to try and save … whoever’s survived. He sends Our Heroes home, without charges, since they were trying to do good. And once hope, Ooola ponders whether they actually are doing any good.
There’s not much self-examination, though. From the 18th of June what seems to be a new story starts, with a trip to the 60s to see the Moon Landing. They arrived in 1969 last week. Might know by September how that works out for everyone.
The current-rerun storyline, the last one I intend to cover here, features Rocket Raccoon. Rocket does mention the rest of the Guardians of the Galaxy. Also the team name. They don’t appear in this story. I don’t remember (from when this ran in 2016-17) if there was any excuse given for their non-appearance then. Could be nobody was picking up Rocket Raccoon’s calls. Also, yes, this story first ran two and a half years after the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie. It did wrap up close to the release of the second movie, at least, so that’s the level of cross-promoting tie-in you got from the newspaper strip.
The current repeat story started the 26th of March. Mary Jane’s Broadway play, already shut down, has shut down even more. Theater repairs. But that movie she did? Marvella 2: The Rise of Doctor Bong? The producers would like her to do publicity. So they rent a car, like Peter Parker had such trouble doing last story, and aim for Route 66. Somewhere in New Mexico, they see a meteor strike suspiciously close to them and investigate.
The suspicious meteor is actually a suspicious flying saucer. Inside is Ronan The Accuser, who’s come tens of thousands of light years to mess with patrons at a Route 66 Diner. “WHERE IS IT?” he demands, refusing to answer what “it” he means. “Do you want our 600-pound man-killing Mystery Spot?” they ask, assuming supposing he’s here for the tourist trap stuff. “The world’s largest pair of size-32 men’s slacks? (The pant legs have a 612 inseam.) The world’s Most Electrified Mirror Maze? Are you here for the Dueling 40-foot-tall Tic-Tac-Toe Chickens? The Northernmost South Pole Below the 37th Parallel? North America’s Highest Ball of String?” He refuses to say, instead punching out Peter Parker. (Mary Jane, aware she has no powers and is facing a possible supervillain, stayed in the car.) Ronan slurps a bunch of diner food up into his magic hammer, deflating his menace a bit, and storms off seeking The Sentry.
Peter and Mary Jane don’t know where Ronan’s off to. They also don’t try calling the Fantastic Four, who’ve dealt with Ronan before. Other superheroes never pick up Peter Parker’s calls. That’s not even my joke; he’s gotten Reed Richards’s answering machine in past stories. Anyway, there’s another suspicious meteor strike nearby. (Mary Jane, aware she has no powers and is facing a possible supervillain, insists on going with.) And inside is Rocket Raccoon.
They do the ritual superhero meeting-fight, with Spidey oddly confident he should be doing better against a space raccoon. And then they remember there’s not a blasted thing for them to fight over. Anyway, Rocket Raccoon is on Earth to find the Intergalactic Sentry that Ronan’s after. The Intergalactic Sentry’s this Kree Empire superweapon that blah blah galaxy conquest etc. Also Rocket hopes to deploy a lot of hilarious 60s-70s comic book techno-wordistrifications. He’s got a Lingua-Trans, for example, which is why everyone understands him. A trackoscan that might find Ronan. A ptero-salad sandwich for lunch. He reads the news-a-gram. Talks of putting Ronan into electro-manacles. It’s my level of goofy.
Rocket’s ready to go searching on his own. Spider-Man points out he lives in the galaxy so he’s got an interest in it not being conquered. Mary Jane, aware she has no powers and is facing a possible supervillain, insists on going with.
Rocket’s track-o-scan finds Ronan. The Accuser is at Petroglyph National Monument, a National Park with thousands of figures carved by Pueblo peoples. The “star person” carving Rocket Raccoon identifies as the marker for the ancient Kree starship used to transport sentries. The revelation, about a real-world petroglyph, is not even the littlest bit near the racist “Ancient Astronaut” myth so don’t worry about that. Rocket and Spider-Man head off for Ronan. Mary Jane, aware she has no powers and is facing a possible supervillain, stays in the car.
This story has about thirteen weeks left to it. So my plan is to run the next Spider-Man plot recap a week late, and give the web-slinger an honorable retirement. I haven’t decided what if anything will take its place in my rotation. I’m up for thoughts, if anyone has them.
We don’t know! The past few months of Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker saw a crazification, where what had been a stable arrangement blew up. It’s too soon to say where Randy Parker, April Parker, and their daughter Charlotte are. Nor whether they’re going to run into Ted Forth and shock him by being The Chadwells.
Charlotte Parker was seeing her mother walk by the house every day. This perturbed her father, Randy Parker, because April was off in Super Hyper Ultra Duper Spy Assassin World. It’s a dangerous world, one in which we’re likely to run into Norton, even though April Parker said on-screen that he’s dead. (Norton will never be dead.) Retired Judge Alan Parker asked Sam Driver to check. Is April Parker lurking around her (ex?)-husband’s home, and if so, why? And this leads to a day in which everything happens at once.
The easy stuff, first. Cavelton’s reelected crazypants mayor Phil Sanderson sent out the new property taxes. They include punitive tax hikes on his political opponents, such as Abbey Spencer. This seems like something one could challenge in court. But Sanderson’s already looking ahead to his third term in office. Also to changing the town laws so he can serve a third term. Deputy Mayor Stewart, who I bet has a second name, takes this news with a sequence of faces of pouty concern.
Second, and happy news: Neddy Spencer and Ronnie Huerta’s series got picked up! The show is based on what they imagine the April Parker/Godiva Danube relationship was like. It’s to run on a streaming service that exists in the minds of its investors. Still, a show credit is a show credit. They call that in to home as everything else explodes.
Now the explosions. Almost all the past three months of Judge Parker took place over a single day. Sam Driver, staking out Randy’s home, sees who he thinks is April Parker. He chases her, until a bicyclist accidentally collides with him. The bicyclist has nothing to do with anything and is happy to leave when the woman draws a knife on him. The woman is not April Parker. She’s Rogue Agent Strand, former partner to Norton and a woman who looks rather like April.
Meanwhile inside Randy’s house is April Parker. She and Randy have a furious argument about how this does too make sense. April’s thesis is that the CIA is going to capture her by killing Randy and kidnapping Charlotte. Strand, who needs back in the CIA Good Graces file, is there to provide credible sightings of April Parker. April can then be framed for the murder of Randy and kidnapping of Charlotte. And this would leave April with no contact with her former life. Unless she turned herself in and revealed everything she’s learned in her rogue super-agent days. The only way for Randy to live, and Charlotte to be free, is to abandon their lives now and join April on the super-assassin circuit.
It’s a lot to swallow. And Randy’s under a lot of pressure. Like, everybody in the world is calling him at once. You tried calling him. If I have two phone calls in a day I’m useless until next Tuesday. The pressure keeps up. “They” get cited as closing in. April insists they must go now. Here the fact that story comics only get two or three panels a day fights the drama. This whole scene takes a month and a half of reader time to finish. It allows for unwanted giggles about April’s insistence they don’t have much time. In-universe, yes. I think you could do Randy and April’s whole scene in as little as five minutes. But, especially with the cutaways to everyone calling or driving to the scene? It was hard to feel the rush day-by-day.
Sam Driver recovers consciousness and races back to Randy’s house. He and Abbey Spencer converge inside, in time to be surrounded by police. Who called them? Unknown. (I’d guess the bicyclist, if it isn’t someone in on the conspiracy.) Where are Randy and April and Charlotte? Unknown. Randy gave his father a quick choking good-bye call and left behind … everything.
The 31st of May saw another several-month time jump, a common Marciuliano response to having crazyfied the story. Randy and Charlotte and April Parker are all missing still. The police and the CIA questioned Sam Driver and everybody they could find. But none of them know anything about anything. That’s about where we readers stand too. (Among other things we don’t know whether anyone in authority believes Sam and all know nothing.) And Sam’s feeling guilty about failing Alan Parker.
How does this all develop? If the pattern follows, we’ll see a couple weeks of rationalizing and stepping back from the craziest parts of what just happened. I can’t guess whether that involves showing Randy and Charlotte Parker. Or showing everyone else reacting to their absence.
Beats me! There’s a couple different feeds for Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp and one of them offers colorized pictures. GoComics.com, where I read the strip, has, like, always used the black-and-white feed. But then in March it started, sometimes, switching to the color feed for a week or two. And then switching back to black-and-white. If I ever hear an explanation why I’ll pass it on. I do find the color version of the strip easier to read, making me wonder how Rod Whigham plans out the comics.
The other girls basketball players decide Doucette needs to know she’ll never date him and why. She says it’s because he drives this “grandpa van”. The other players take her at her word. I’d wonder if Milton was offering a less-bad excuse than that she doesn’t want to date someone handicapped like Doucette is. His car is a 2004 GMC Something, modified so that he can drive it on days his cerebral palsy is particularly bad.
So they tell him. She won’t date him, because of his car. “And because she’s vapid and shallow”. Doucette says he can stop working on his prom-posal, then, a statement they take at face value. I’m not sure he wasn’t being wry. Doucette’s friend Doug Guthrie (they bonded over car stuff) tries consoling by the weird tack of asking why he was interested in Milton at all. Doucette liked how she was cute and seemed interested in him, and asks if that isn’t shallow. Which … like, all right, but you don’t need deep reasons to go see a movie with someone. It could be Guthrie’s bad at sympathy. But Guthrie does know that revenge is a dish best served in a cryptic, confusing way.
Guthrie gets the team to take some photos. At the photo session, after the team gets knocked out of the first round of playdowns? Why, Doucette pulls up behind the wheels of a 1966 Pontiac Something, which I’m told is a cool car to have. He waves to Milton and then tears off.
He’s physically able to do this because Doug Guthrie crouches under the seat, working the pedals. (It’s Guthrie’s car; he and his father restored it.) And that sure showed her … uh … I’m not sure I can tell you. It has the shape of revenge, but I can’t imagine Milton feeling humiliated by this. But I also can’t read Doucette as being too traumatized by someone who flirted with him not being willing to date. Disappointed, sure, but … ? Eh, what do I understand of high school drama?
With that, the 27th of March, the Vic Doucette and girls-basketball storyline ended. The current one began the 29th of March, with one of the Milford Library Board resigning. Family’s moving to Denver. Also with senior Zane Clark rejoining the boys softball team. Things are “looking up” at home, in that he thinks he can make the time to be on the ball team. His father’s disabled, and his mother can only work part-time. So Zane Clark’s working, like, to midnight most nights. I am not sure what Zane thinks is “looking up”. But he’s also the vice-president of the senior class. So he seems to be one of those people who needs to do everything. He might even see his girlfriend Katy Brito again.
Meanwhile, Brito’s family Internet is out. This sends her father, grumbling, to the library to get some work done. There, Abel Brito discovers the library has computers that aren’t even being used. And a librarian who’s just, like, standing there answering questions that better signage could handle. He comes home fuming about the waste of taxpayer money.
He’s still fuming weeks later, after Zane Clark’s first and ultimately successful spell as relief pitcher, when he comes for a family dinner. Clark takes Abel’s attack on the library having computers personally. He depends on them, after all, and knows other people do, and that the library does not always have more than it needs. And storms out. It plays a bit abrupt, but we have to allow some narrative compression. I suppose also that they must have met before. The story introduces Clark and Katy Brito as an established couple. And Abel Brito must have been like this before. You don’t wake up one day the sort of person who fumes about the city spending money on the library. You get there by making a long series of wrong choices about your politics.
Mrs Brito says if Abel is so worked up about the library why doesn’t he join its board. And since it would be a terrible idea for him to take this advice, he takes this advice. When Clark learns there aren’t any other candidates, he decides to take responsibility and applies. Partly to kick back at Abel Brito, yes. Partly also because Corinna Karenna has pointed out his need to focus instead of bouncing around things. She meant about his pitching, which flutters between lousy and awesome. But when you give someone advice there’s no controlling how they’re going to use it.
So things look to be exciting for Katy Brito, who knew nothing about Clark’s plans until after they were made. So she’s angry at him, even though he declares he can’t see what he was wrong about.
Meanwhile there’s a story going about Corina Karenna. She’s been delivering blunt and perceptive advice to the Milford kids. Coach Mimi Thorp also notes she’s a skilled athlete. Has she considered applying for athletic scholarships to college? Karenna has. But her mother’s too depressed to function if she were to go to college. And anyway, all the deadlines are long past. I don’t know whether the Thorps are going to find some way around that. Sometimes the comic strip admits that things suck and there’s only bits one can do about that. We’ll have to wait and see what develops.
Milford Sports Watch!
Who does Milford play? Who do they just talk about playing? Here’s teams that showed up in the strip the last couple months.
Buck Wise, who’s been the conduit for a lot of the stories in Rex Morgan, M.D., since I started recapping, is … uh … He does merchandising somehow, and that’s got him in touch with a bunch of comic artists. Some, like “Horrible” Hank Harwood, were famous in the old days. Some, like Kyle Vidpa, are rising stars of today.
And since then? … It’s been a gentle plot even for a story strip that was already full of gentle plotting. This started with Sarah Morgan feeling neglected by her parents and having a string of fantasies. So she imagined what if her father wasn’t a doctor? What if he was, say, a Western cowboy? So this started a series of fantasy sequences which let Terry Beatty show off different ways he could draw the strip if it had a different theme. The first sequence, Tex Morgan, ran from the 9th through the 17th of March. It was about Tex Morgan saving Sarah from kidnapping desperado Butch Belluso.
As happens, Sarah got tired of the setting, so she changed genre, and Beatty changed art style. And we got a couple weeks of Rod Morgan, a Dick Tracy-esque figure. This carried on her rescue from Shinytop, who’s another representation of Rene Belluso. So that ran from the 18th through the 26th of March. From the 27th, it shifted once more into a Batman ’66 pastiche, Doctor Rex and Princess. Here, again, foiling The Forger, another Rene Belluso figure, who’s been forging all sorts of classic bits of comic art. And that went on through the 8th of April, when Rex had some time away from not seeing patients to talk with Sarah. He promised to spend some more time with her, alone. And she promises to write out these stories she’s making up.
We get a short visit with Jordan Harris and Michelle Carter, from the 25th of April through the 2nd of May. They now plan to get married over Zoom, we get into the next and current story. It’s again through Sarah Morgan. Her new favorite books ever are the Kitty Cop series of books, by Kyle Vidpa. Who’s a client of Buck Wise’s, it happens. She can’t wait for the next book in the series. She starts writing a fan letter, encouraged by Buck Wise’s promise that he can get him to actually read it himself. Before you know it, Sarah’s on page 782 of her letter.
Which may work out for Kyle Vidpa. He’s been suffering writer’s block. After having Kitty Cop fight a giant robot, a giant robot dinosaur, a giant robot monkey, and a giant robot squirrel, what’s next? (My suggestion: two regular-size robot bunnies.) His wife offers limited sympathy since she figures children’s books are silly and thus easy. It’s an attitude I imagine gets her talked about when they go to professional conferences. But she does offer the advice that they’ve been stuck in one house for a year-plus now. Any kind of visit, even to see family, may help him.
And that’s where things stand. We have a children’s book writer with no ideas for his next work. We have a child about to unleash an 86,398-page fan latter on him. The child’s been shown to have an energy for creating at least fragments of stories in traditional comic-strip or pulpy modes. Will those come together? I don’t know. My experience with writers block is sometimes someone else’s ideas, without my using them, will shake my own thinking loose.
Couple curious things in Sarah’s imaginary versions of her father. One is that these stories are self-aware, with the characters talking about how they know they’re sidekicks or villains or whatnot. Sometimes complaining about their parts in the story. I’m fine with that, though. Self-aware stories are some of the most liberating and wonderful things a child can discover and it’s natural to imitate that.
More curious is that in all of them Rene Belluso is a villain, and particularly an art forger. The real Belluso is both. Last we saw him he’d been arrested for running scams on Covid-19 victims, and before that he was running a Celestial Healing health scam. Before that, he was forging art, too, yes. But when Sarah did know him (mostly before Terry Beatty took over the writing) it was him as an art instructor. Does she actually know any other side of him? I do not remember. But we can suppose Sarah’s parents said something about why she was suddenly no longer seeing this adult. I can’t answer what Sarah knows about Rene Belluso is all.