I like to think I’m a good audience member. Like, I’ll try to accept the premise, best I can. My best is maybe not as good as the author hopes, but if I can see where the conclusion follows from the premise, I’ll agree the problem is me getting stuck, not them. Also, I’m aware that the conventions of storytelling, even in comic strips, have changed over the decades. That the author has a point of view and trusts that most readers will default to that point of view, at least while reading.
So, in ComicsKingdom’s current vintage daily Phantom story, written by Lee Falk and illustrated by Wilson McCoy, Diana Palmer’s aunt Elsie is visiting. And she’s learning about this strange masked man from a jungle cave whom her niece is delighted by. She tries to Mary Worth her niece into dating someone more acceptable, a rich athlete name of Jack.
And, yeah, I know The Phantom’s a good guy, and Diana knows he’s a good guy, and all the readers know he’s a good guy. And that Jack’s being presented as … maybe not conceited, but at least a bore. But, still … yeah, when Diana’s aunt Lily lays out the facts of the matter like this? There are some flags.
Yeah, she said on Sunday that she’s Queen of the Witches. That she’s a witch hasn’t come up much lately. But when Valiant first saw her he was enchanted, and they teased a while about whether that was literal or figurative. And she’s done magic stuff lately. I don’t know if this Queen of the Witches thing is established or whether that’s a bluff, though. So that catches you up on Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant as of early August 2020. If you’re reading this after about November 2020 there’s likely a more up-to-date plot recap at this link.
Prince Valiant and team were just outside Camelot, dealing with local issues. Imbert, local landlord, died. His son Gareth died shortly after. The suspect: Afton and Audrey, with whom Imbert was quarreling about some land. Sir Gawain had arrived in the story to sort that out, but he hasn’t been much use to anyone. The locals figure Afton and Audrey are witches, what with how they have good crops and aren’t dead of the plague. Valiant’s son Nathan believes the women are good students of nature and learned how to farm.
Audrey lead Valiants and Nathan to the cave, key to the land dispute. Some say it contains eternal youth. What it mostly has is bats, loads of guano that are indeed good fertilizer. Valiant also notices it has a curious yellow ore, and he keeps a sample.
Meanwhile the villagers have had enough of this, and attack Afton and Audrey’s cottage. Gawain tries to defend it, but he’s just one person, and not main cast(?) I guess(?). Afton escapes being feathered. But the mob burns her cottage. Valiant sees this and races to the scene. He bellows that the women are innocent and he can explain the deaths. As soon as they get back to Imbert’s estate, anyway.
The proof is in Imbert’s kitchen. The cook recognizes Valiant’s ore. It’s arsenic. This gives Schultz and Yeates the problem of having characters who think this is a good thing not advise newspaper readers to take poison. Valiant settles on saying how “it is rumored to aid good bodily health”. So Imbert was stealing ore from the cave, and taking it for his health. But Valiant knows arsenic is a poison, used “by assassins in the court of a distant land”. So Imbert arsenic-poisoned himself. Gareth, trying to have the same meals as Imbert, had the same poison.
Gawain reports that the royal records confirm Afton’s claims on the disputed land. Also, that Imbert and Gareth’s death was their own fault, and there’ll be no further persecution of Afton and Audrey. Aleta steps in to support Afton and Audrey against the claims of witchcraft. She declares their innocence and she would know, as she’s Queen of the Witches. She summons her raven familiars to put Afton and Audrey under her protection. Aleta thinks she’s helping. Our heroes leave. They trust Afton and Audrey will have a good time next week, when I look at Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy.
Well, The Phantom apparently went and changed destiny on himself, so who can say what’s going to happen next? Happy to catch you up on the goings on in Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity. If you’re reading this after about October 2020, or if you’re interested in the separate Sunday storyline, there is probably a more up-to-date plot recap at this link.
The Phantom doesn’t have much luck tracking the lion. The lion has better luck tracking The Phantom, catching him right before sunset. He shoots the lion, which seems to end the problem. And he eats the heart of the lion, respecting a Llongo tradition as promised. The Phantom lies down to unsettled dreams.
He wakes to find the lion carcass gone. Also, that the lion’s alive. And heading off on its own business. The Phantom tries to clear his thoughts. Then he sees The Python, the big-bad terrorist from before Eric Sahara. The Python vanishes into thin air, though. The Phantom tries to work out a rational explanation for this all. The woods are said to drive men mad. Maybe he had a concussion. The important thing is to get out and get somewhere safe. Like, Skull Cave, which pops in to the middle of the Forbidden Forest, far from where it ought to be.
And inside the cave is … The Phantom? The figure, who keeps calling our Ghost Who Walks “Son”, scolds him. I wasn’t sure whether this was meant to be literally the 20th Phantom. But he eventually describes Kit Walker Junior as his grandson, so that’s a good answer. Phantom Dad scolds about the events of “The Curse of Old Man Mozz”, a story from back in 2017. In it, Old Man Mozz foresaw the killing of The Phantom by a petty henchman getting in a lucky shot. That didn’t happen, because King Features and Tony DePaul worked out a new contract. And Diana Walker tipped off Babudan, who was there with a well-timed arrow.
The Phantom protests, fairly, that he didn’t send anyone out to mess up his destiny. The 20th says they were forced to do what they did, when Kit Walker sent his son off to that Himalayan monastery. And did nothing to protect Heloise Walker. 21’st daughter was the one who captured Eric “The Nomad” Sahara, most recent terrorist nemesis of The Phantom. 20 warns that his son, having altered the course of The Phantom’s legend, “will not lie here among your ancestors”. He’ll instead be left in a faraway grave. He’s lost “the right to lie in the crypt of the Phantoms”. And threatens him with oblivion, right then and there, lost to all time.
As the 20th Phantom dissolves into an angry, flaming skeleton taunting his son with ruin, The 21st Phantom suspects something is wrong. It’s the woods, he tells himself, and chooses to leave. As he does, 20 warns that all his feeble mortal plans will be overturned. 21 starts to taunt back, hey, everybody’s plans are overturned, it’s the year — and then stops short before he can say “two thousand and … 20”.
The Phantom runs out of the woods, going past the illusions of Babudan and his faithful supporter Guran and Guran’s elephant. And keeps going until it turns out those are the real Babudan and Guran and Elephant. They’ve got one question for The Ghost Who Walks: what were you thinking tromping into the Forbidden Forest like that? Don’t you know that’s a good way to go mad? Why, Guran’s even seen his son Timo in those woods, and Timo hasn’t been on-screen in the comic strip since 1943. Anyway, the cause of these strange visions is rational enough. There’s fleas in the Llongo woods with a toxin that causes hallucinations. Guran’s got an antidote, though. Why not tell the Llongo about this? Well, Guran tipped off James Allen about these fleas and they’d be in a Mark Trail Sunday panel except, you know, all that drama.
The Phantom’s left to wonder the significance of his vision, though. It’s easy to shrug it off as hallucinations, yes. But The Phantom does happen in a superhero universe. More, a magical superhero universe, since Mandrake the Magician shares the continuity. (Mary Worth, too, by the way.) And, after all, Old Man Mozz did have a useful prophetic dream. So, like many of us, he’s left to sulk about the consequences of his actions.
So today’s Mark Trail is a reprint from Jack Elrod’s long tenure on the comic strip. I don’t know when its original publication was. The initial strip doesn’t bring back any memories for me, and I haven’t seen any comments from anyone who can pin it down.
James Allen has said he does not know when someone else will be hired to write or draw the strip. Nor whether the story — about an actor who’ll be playing Mark Trail in a movie based on his adventures watching Lisa Moore die of plot complications — will be continued.
Since Lemon and Sayers took over, the Sunday Alley Oop strips have been a separate continuity. (Under Jack and Carole Bender they had been a recap-and-preview of a week’s worth of strips.), The Sunday strips are set when Alley Oop is a little kid. In February a story seemed to start: Penelope, a young science-type genius girl of the year 2020, popped into Little Alley Oop’s world. She brought him back to the present. Then then the time machine broke.
Penelope has not been anxious about getting her time machine fixed, although there’ve been a couple attempts at it. Instead, we’ve seen Little Oop get set up in Penelope’s family’s guest room. To start going to school. To meet some of Penelope’s friends and her brother and all that. It’s read more like we’re getting a revised setting to the Sunday strips more than anything meant to go anywhere.
So at this point I can’t give a plot recap because there isn’t really a plot. There’s just Little Oop getting into cute shenanigans in the present day. If this turns into a story I’ll add it to my regular plot recaps. But for now, it seems to be just stand-alone incidents. At least once you know what a caveboy is doing in 2020.
Yes, it looks like the thing where Universe-3 is prosecuting our, Universe-2, Alley Oop and company is resolved. The charges are dropped until some later nonsense happens. The original, V T Hamlin-created Alley Oop is in Universe-1, not a part of these shenanigans. Glad to catch you up on Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop, as of mid-July 2020. If you’re reading this after about October 2020 there’ll likely be a new plot recap at this link.
Copious separates Alley Oop from Dr Wonmug and Ooola. He has a test. Copious abducts Wonmug and Ooola, losing them somewhere in time, and Alley Oop has to rescue them. Wonmug’s stranded at a Beatles concert. It takes Alley Oop some time to find him, until he remembers he has a time machine. It takes longer to find Ooola, who’s hidden in the post-apocalyptic year of August 2020 2485. At least until they realize they can use the time machine to check where Copious sent her.
Why all the testing? Because Copious wants to know if they’re up to helping him conquer the multiverse. He’s teamed up with the Nudellians, the useless aliens from the Pyramids. Copious explains they’re intelligent but gullible, and thus, useful. They sold Copious a device to travel between universes, which stopped working. We readers know why that is. To escape Time Court, Wonmug got a Universe Transit Device that locked out cross-universe travel. Copious is looking for a way to overcome that.
There’s one party Alley Oop and gang know who could help. That’s Ollie Arp and Eeena, their Universe-3 counterparts. And the ones who brought them up for trial in Time Court. And the only way to contact them is Copious’s pencil. Alley Oop sneaks up on Copious and distracts him by whacking him unconscious. Arp and Eeena debate it a little and decide saving the multiverse is worth dropping the charges.
Arp and Eeena guide Wonmug in the use of Copious’s universe-travel device. It sends him to Universe 92, one where money was never invented. Arp and Eeena send Copious’s accomplices to Universe 212 and a hot bath. They were just “a few bad noodles”, paying off the pun set up by saying they were from the planet Nu-Dell. So the multiverse is saved, Universe-3 dropped the Time Crime charges against Our Heroes, and all’s well. That wraps things up … let’s call it the 24th of June.
The 25th of June everyone goes back to Moo. Wonmug included, since he hasn’t got anywhere else to be. Also there’s some weird giant ominous cloud looming over the Time Lab.
Bad news in Moo, though. Dinny the dinosaur’s run away. But he’s not hard to find: he went to Inspiration Peak, where to canoodle with Francine, a dinosaur he met at the dino park. They’ve just started dating, no idea where this is going. They’ll see what happens. So that’s sweet.
Meanwhile, Ooola, who went off to the hot springs, is in some kind of fight. With her cry of “Die, fiend!” we reach the 18th of July and the nominal end of this recap period. (She’s rehearsing a play, we learn on Monday and Tuesday.)
Well, lying has to carry with it intent. I wasn’t lying when I said I planned to do my comic strip plot recaps for Tuesdays, for example. Stuff just got in the way. And it’s not as if anyone’s 2020 has gone to plan, or else I’d have written this during slack moments of Pinburgh. But as we finish another quarter-year with no new creative team for The Amazing Spider-Man, it’s getting harder to believe that there ever will be. If I get any news about Spider-Man returning to the comics I’ll report it in an essay at this link. And, what the heck, I’ll keep it in the story-update cycle at least a bit longer. This story, from Roy Thomas and Larry Lieber, ran in 2015-16.
J Jonah Jameson takes the injured Peter Parker to the same hospital. (Parker was woozy after his fight with Namor.) Partly to be a decent person, but also because Parker let slip that Pharus went there. Jameson meets Dr Liz Bellman, who’s got the toxins out of Pharus, and that’s all he can get before the soldiers arrive. They figure to take Pharus into custody. Parker slips out and, as Spider-Man, uses his spider-powers to open a door. Spidey kidnaps, or liberates, Pharus, who dives into the New York Harbor. And disappears. There’s one day until Namor declares even more war on the surface world.
Pharus swims to Namor’s ship, though, and tells of his treatment, and the kindness received. Namor doesn’t see this as any reason to call off the war, and sails back to the New York City pier he just left. He steps out to fight Spider-Man, because it would be rude not to. Spider-Man’s no match for Namor, but Pharus pleads for his life. And the life of the surface world, arguing that Spider-Man can be the brave leader who alters the surface world. Namor’s unmoved.
Mary Jane Parker arrives, offering to become his bride if he’ll spare Spider-Man. Namor refuses this, on the reasonable grounds a leader cannot put his desires ahead of his country’s.
Finally Dr Bellman arrives, asking for mercy on her behalf. She’s the spitting image of her grandmother, Betty Dean, who talked Namor out of attacking the surface world back in 1940 or so. And who Namor’s been crushing on ever since. Bellman says Dean’s last words were begging to remind Namor of how the surface world and Atlantis can share the world peacefully.
And this changes his mind. Namor can now see how his way of going to war will only lead to war. He’ll give the surface world another try, and never bother with killing Spider-Man or whatnot. Namor sails his flying Atlantis boat out of the story on the 15th of June, although it takes a little while to quite wrap everything up. Dr Bellman heading out. Reporters showing up. Spider-Man telling the United Nations how there will be peace when the people of the world want it so badly that their governments will have no choice but to give it to them. That sort of thing. Spider-Man webs out, too, so that Peter Parker can learn how Jameson isn’t buying Spider-Man Versus Namor pictures.
We get the transition to the current story the 28th of June. Peter Parker and Mary Jane walk through the crowds. A trenchcoated figure starts following. He’s Xandu. He figures Mary Jane might just help him get the Wand of Watoomb, and that will make him happy. By a wild coincidence, though, the Parkers walk past the lair of Doctor Strange. Newspaper Spider-Man, sometime in the past, teamed up with Dr Strange to stop Xandu the sorcerer. Hey, what are the odds?
Mary Jane wants to meet Dr Strange, but Peter can’t think of a pretext that isn’t weird or secret-identity-spoiling. Xandu can, though: he ‘accidentally’ bumps her hand and it sets off a weird tingling. She, claiming a strange compulsion to meet Strange, knocks on his door. Dr Strange is happy to take some time away from his job of wearing a giant pinball surrounded by flower petals to meet an actress like Mary Jane. So there we are.
This story originally started the 21st of February, 2016. It ran through the 17th of July, so, 21 weeks total. We should finish the 22nd of November this year if I haven’t counted wrong.
Yes, I did see the official video for Sparks’s new song, The Existential Threat. If you’d like to see it, it’s here. Content warning: the animation has the style of 70s-underground-comix grand-guignol body horror. Consider whether you’re up for that before watching. I’d recommend listening anyway.
With that wholly unrelated topic taken care of let me get to business. This plot recap gets you through early July 2020 for Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker. If you’re reading this after about October 2020 there’s likely a more up-to-date plot summary at this link. I’ll also put any news I have about the comic strip at that link.
Yes, it’s hard to remember as long ago as mid-April. Let me try anyway. Neddy Spencer and Ronnie Huerta’s series, based somehow on April Parker, had started filming in Cavelton. Sophie Spencer crashed filming, protesting Mayor Sanderson’s politics. And then Covid-19 hit the comic strip, the first of the story strips to address the pandemic at all. This was an amazing feat of work by Marciuliano and Manley. It has to have involved throwing out completed work to rush stuff out at deadline.
Neddy and Sophie barely start arguing the dragging of politics into decisions about how to spend public money when the show shuts down. Part of the lockdown, in the attempt to contain the pandemic. Ronnie stews about how she can’t even see her new girlfriend Kat, who’s to play Neddy on the show. And then Neddy’s ex-boyfriend Hank calls. She fumbles over the conversation, talking more and more enthusiastically than she would have thought. Why did Hank call? Why was she eager to talk to him?
Well, because of the pandemic. Everybody we know got locked in the Total Perspective Vortex. Enough of that and you start to ask, “was I really so upset with this person that it’s worth never having anything to do with them again?” You’re going through it too. Remember that you had reasons, and think about whether those are reasons still things of value.
Meanwhile in changing values: Honey Ballinger drops out of Toni Bowen’s mayoral campaign. She had joined Sophie’s plans for Bowen to do something meaningful, working therapy for her post-kidnapping stress. But now, with even the candidate not that enthusiastic, and the world shut down? She wants something else. The collapse of Sophie’s campaign-manager ambitions sends her talking again to Abbey. They had fought over whether Sophie going to college even meant anything after the kidnapping.
Meanwhile, Alan Parker’s mayoral campaign hits a problem: he and Katherine have Covid-19. While both look to recover, Alan Parker acknowledges he doesn’t want to be mayor enough to take him away from his family, whom the virus keeps him away from. He calls off his campaign, endorsing Toni Bowen on the way out, to her surprise. And to Sophie’s rejuvenation. She can’t wait to get the campaign going again.
And things are a bit tough for the Drivers. Sam Driver hasn’t got any lawyer work, and Alan Parker hasn’t got a campaign to manage anymore. Abbey’s bed-and-breakfast, finally completed, was ready to open as the lockdown hit. It’s cut into their finances. Abbey mentions how they were hit hard when they had to sell on the stock market, which is interesting. I mean, I know I’m bad at finance. I have two Individual Retirement Accounts, one a Traditional and one a Roth, because I could not figure out which was better for me. This way I’m sure to be at least half-wrong. But even I knew to put my spare thousand bucks into buying at crash prices. This is why I’m today the tenth-largest shareholder in Six Flags Amusement Parks. So how leveraged were the Parker-Drivers that they had to sell stocks into the crash?
Sam can’t get a rebate or early cancellation on the lease for his useless downtown office. Mayor Sanderson, who partly owns that office building, is reopening the town, the better to get everybody infected and dead sooner. So Sam turns to Sophie, offering his help in the Toni Bowen campaign.
And these are the standings, as of early July. I hope to check back in after a couple months to see what develops.
I have heard nothing about who the new writer or artist (or both) will be. Nor about just when the transition will happen. In comments on that Facebook post Allen says he will not finish the story that’s just begun, and doesn’t know if the new person will.
Yeah, so, as of the end of June, 2020, Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp has not mentioned Covid-19 at all. The story strips, as I’ve mentioned, have trouble addressing fast-moving real-world events like this. Even a strip that only runs dailies, like Gil Thorp, has a lead time of at least two to three weeks. And a whole storyline should be sketched out months ahead of time. Granted I suspect that the word “should” there carries a large load. I’m sympathetic to wanting not to throw out large amounts of work, and putting off addressing the pandemic until later. Possibly the summer storyline.
The spring storyline had just begun the week before the last recap. We hadn’t even met its star, Mike “The Mayor” Knappe. Like most Gil Thorpe teens he has a dumb but harmless eccentricity. His is eating weird. Like, eating a normal thing (scrambled eggs) in a weird way (out of a baggie, using a spoon). Or weird stuff (orange juice with banana slices) had normally (drunk from a thermos). But he’s popular and outgoing. And keeps celebrating his teammates, and the girls softball team too. So he’s easy to get along with.
This goes on for like a month, inspiring the question: is there even going to be a story? We finally reach “yes” the 29th of April, when Knappe shows off, in English class, today’s weird meal. Sesame bagels with peanut butter. I know people who find peanut butter bagels to be the worst. But as weird goes? If you can get it prepackaged at Wawa it’s not weird yet.
What is weird is that Knappe’s English teacher goes to … I’m not sure. I guess the guidance counsellor, although it might be the school physician or an assistant principal. Dr Pearl, anyway. Pearl joins Gil Thorp at softball practice, and they have Knappe in for A Talk. Knappe realizes his mistake right away, and worries that someone had an allergic reaction to the peanut butter. No, the problem is he brought a knife to school. At this point, if you ever read the comments on Gil Thorp, you should stop. No thread you read will ever lead you to joy.
Because the thing is that a knife is a weapon. Yes, even a butter knife is a knife. And bringing a weapon to school is a bad thing. Even if it is a butter knife. There’s a zero-tolerance rule: mandatory expulsion.
Knappe is devastated, reasonably. His classmates are, too, and there’s some short-lived talk about a student walkout. This comes to nothing, which is a pity. It’s good for high school students to do walkout protests, so they can learn what a walkout protest gets. It gets one paragraph in the local newspaper, which quotes no students and carries the principal’s lie that the walkout disrupted no classes and ended within five minutes.
The Knappes consult a lawyer, but there’s not much hope. The point of a zero-tolerance policy is to allow officials to harass minorities while using the formalism of equality. It’s regrettable when a popular white male kid suffers a consequence. But making an example of Knappe means the institution will get to torment dozens of Black boys and girls for a decade or more and claim it’s impartial treatment. The Knappes can’t do anything effective.
Knappe figures his life is over. He’s been expelled, his admission to Generic State University is threatened. And it’s for lousy reasons. Coach Gil Thorp settles in to doing something. He talks with Knappe, explaining how moping can’t make anything better. Going to the alternative school, Valley Modified, can. And being with other people will. Knappe bows finally to the inevitable.
Within minutes he’s making friends, though. And finding that his old friends still like him even though his new shellac of Drama. Within hours, Knappe has a plan. Valley Modified doesn’t have any sports teams, but they’ve got individual athletes. Why not a Milford versus Valley Modified softball match?
OK, it’s weird, but weird is Knappe’s thing. Thorp turns down the request to use Milford’s field and equipment; that’s against the rules. But he does point out places they could play and ways to scrounge equipment, so there’s that. Milford’s varsity team wonders … why waste a day beating juvenile delinquents, and the best argument is, Knappe’s a cool guy and it’s better playing than not playing. About the same argument works for Knappe’s new gang.
A surprising number of people turn out for the game. And you know how it goes, if you’ve seen any movie about the scrappy upstarts versus the elite snobs. Valley Modified gives up like 2,038 runs in the first inning, with the upstate returns not in yet, and then starts to falter. It’s embarrassing enough that Gonzalo “Gonzo” Aceves defects from Milford, joining Valley Modified to give them a bit of pitching help. Also equipment advice. It’s an act of kindness and mercy of the sort we all wish we had done for others in school. But he’s repaying Knappe for giving him an upgraded nickname.
Will the game turn out non-humiliating? Will Knappe get accepted into some college? And will Covid-19 hit Milford? We’ll see.
Milford Schools Watch
Who else is in the Milford school district? Or at least rates a mention in the sports comic pages? These schools, the past couple months:
Yes: Rex Morgan, M.D., is not doing a Covid-19 plot. Its writer and artist, Terry Beatty, chose this. A story strip like this, with Sundays tied in to weekly publication, needs about two months’ lead time. Beatty did not think he could write a medical story that could plausibly track whatever happened by publication.
I also imagine that when they reopen Comic Strip Master Command he will be stabbing the Judge Parker team in the kidneys. But, there, Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley took on an incredible emergency workload, throwing out a story to replace it with a pandemic one. And they don’t have to write a medical story; their focus is people whose lives stopped.
While I understand Beatty’s reasoning, I’m not sure it’s the decision I would make. It’s not as though anyone expects Rex Morgan and June Morgan to find a vaccine. Stories of them pressed into the longest work they’ve done would seem enough. Even if they were “merely” taking over the caseloads of doctors and nurses put on Covid-19 duty, I’d think the strip would better fit the role cast for it. Still, I trust that Beatty knows his workload and how to manage it.
I’m writing this recap in middle June 2020. If you’re reading this after about September 2020, if there is a September 2020, I’ll likely have a more up-to-date plot recap at this link. It’ll also have any news about the strip that seems worth my mentioning. Now to the story.
Rex Morgan, M.D..
29 March – 21 June 2020
Buck Wise was off to see Truck Tyler’s concert, last we looked in. Tyler’s a roots country player and he’s touring without a band, just himself and his guitar. Also his scratchy throat. He has to switch to instrumentals, and even cut the show a bit short. Wise checks in on Tyler, who knows him, and finds him coughing up a lung. Tyler says it’s a cold and asks Wise to handle the merch table while he recovers. Sure thing. Wise passes him his card, in case he wants a doctor in town.
So you maybe see where this is going. Tyler isn’t touring with a band because he can’t afford it. He can’t even afford a hotel room; he sleeps in his car in the bar’s parking lot. And he’s sick. So he’s living the American dream: choose medically-induced bankruptcy or unemployment-induced bankruptcy. Overnight his cough gets so bad that he seeks medical care, or at least Rex Morgan.
This all happened, for us readers, in late April. Given that his big symptom was coughing nonstop, boy did it seem like a Covid-19 story. No. Truck Tyler had walking pneumonia. He needed antibiotics and complete rest. Which at least avoids medical bankruptcy but still threatens him with unemployment bankruptcy.
Tyler asks Wise for help. And owns up to his poverty. Wise can’t put him up in his own home; they have a baby. But he has a friend, Doug, who manages a motel when he’s not Griffy from Zippy the Pinhead. The motel always has some extra rooms, and Doug’s a fan, so, what the heck, he can have the room for a couple autographs and stuff.
Meanwhile Wise has an idea about how Tyler’s music income is all derived from his music career. What if they sold Truck Tyler merch online? Tyler doesn’t see how that could work, but Wise listens to podcasts. He knows you can set up web sites. Tyler’s even got a new album almost ready to publish. Wise proposes crowdfunding and Tyler has no idea what this is all about. That’s all right; Wise can set it up for a cut of revenues. Tyler is cool with a friendly person taking a cut of a big new project whose exact details he doesn’t understand. This may give us insight to why, after decades in the music industry, Tyler doesn’t have the cash to stay in a motel for a week. It’s because he joined the part of the industry that makes music. It’s the other side that makes money.
Anyway Wise is enthusiastic and, we readers know, a Good guy. So that’s all great and Tyler can get back to writing some new songs as he finishes recovering. And that, the 30th of May, finishes the Truck Tyler storyline. And the last storyline Beatty wrote before the pandemic smashed up everything.
Instead they’re doing a flashback: little Sarah Morgan asking how Mom and Dad first met. Rex explains it was when he was first in Glenwood and working at the hospital. One of the older doctors, Dr Dallis (get it?), too him under his wing. What you’re supposed to get is that Rex Morgan, M.D. was created in 1948 by Dr Nicholas P Dallis. The real Dallis was a psychiatrist. He also created Judge Parker and Apartment 3-G.
According to Rex, Dallis was planning to retire, and wanted someone to take over his practice. He offered it to Rex Morgan. (This seems abrupt to me, but Rex could be condensing events for Sarah’s sake.) While thinking this over the next day, during his regular run, he bumped right into June. He apologizes, but she calls him a jerk. June disputes having said that out loud.
And that’s the flashback story so far. Do Rex and June get together? If so, how? We’ll see over the next several weeks. But how about for …
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp? Surely the story strip about high school athletics has adapted to events that shuttered high schools and athletics, right? We’ll see next week, if things go well. Thanks for reading.
Well, he had some friends who were going to be there. So, I’m happy to help you catch up with Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom, Sunday continuity. If you’re reading this after about September 2020? If you’re interested in the separate weekday continuity? I may have a more up-to-date plot recap at this link. Though I admit, right now, I don’t know what’s going on with the current dailies storyline. I know the Phantom getting berated by his father for sending Kit Junior off to a monastery in China. We have to read what comes next.
Bass has, in his voyages, found useful intelligence for Admiral Nelson and the British fleet. And he communicates that. I’m not sure what the intelligence is. Heloise surmises that it was the locations of the French and Spanish fleets. I’m not sure this was particularly what Nelson had needed. But I’m also not sure what Bass could plausibly offer. 1805 naval warfare espionage involves a lot of technical points challenging to communicate in a Sunday strip, after all. And it would have to be points that could have been recorded by the 13th Phantom. So, likely best to leave it as Heloise’s guess and move on with the story.
Long story short, France loses Trafalgar. Bass and his crew celebrate, confident that whatever happens now, Britain is safe from invasion. Bass can plan to go back to Australia and think up a cover story for where he’d been for two years. That night, though, we see Carter, fuming about royalist spies. We had last seen him lurking around after Bass and Phantom, ashore for no good reason. It turns out the person they thought was acting all suspiciously? He was up to no good. He and some minions knocked out the watch officer, raised the French flag on the Venus, and got into a swordfight with the Phantom of 1805.
The Phantom can stab Carter easily. Not so easy to deal with: the Royal Navy ships shooting at what they take to be a straggler French ship. Bass’s crew can’t strike the flag fast enough. The ship’s quickly destroyed. Bass and the 13th Phantom survive, clinging to debris. They make it to some shore, Bass blinded and apparently not recognizing anything. The Phantom promises they have a long journey, to the Deep Woods. Given the location Bass and 13th Phantom have to be either in southern Spain or Morocco. It’s not clear where the Deep Woods are, but that’s quite the hike for two shipwrecked men with nothing but the contents of their pockets. We’ll see how that all develops.
How is Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D., the most medically-themed comic strip in (United States newspaper syndication) history, addressing the biggest public health disaster in 102 years? The answer may surprise you! See you then.
Dawn and Jared hang out, more and more. And it starts to get Serious. At least, Jared does, moving in for a kiss and confessing his love. And Dawn admits she’s fallen for him. So that all sounds nice and great for them. What about Hugo?
Things brings Mary Worth back into the strip for a session of “What’s wrong with you, Dawn?” She tells Dawn she has to be honest with Hugo and Jared, which, I agree with. What I’m vague on here is why she has to make a particular decision. Not that I am suggesting a polycule in the hallowed pages of Mary Worth. I’ve seen many once-absurd things become acceptable in my time; heck, in the last two weeks. But I know there are limits. No, I mean, as far as I can tell, Dawn’s dating two guys, and she hasn’t made any promises of exclusivity to either. If Hugo or Jared don’t insist on an exclusive dating relationship, then, why decide now? Let it roll. See who you like after having a fourth date.
Luckily, Dawn has the chance for a date with Hugo. His company wants him in New York for a week, and she’s free, what with her … just … I think she’s in college? Oh, I guess she manages it during Spring Break. Also, yeah, Mary Worth is using the “let’s pretend the pandemic isn’t happening” approach to handling the biggest and most society-changing event of the millennium so far. So far all the story comics except Judge Parker are carrying on as though things were normal. Yes, this includes Rex Morgan, M.D., and yes, that’s daft.
Dawn agrees to meet Hugo in New York City, though. She tells Jared that she needs to talk with Hugo face-to-face. Jared, with reason, worries that she’ll never leave Hugo after seeing him in person again. Hugo and Dawn have a fine time in New York City, going around looking at stuff. “Oh, your Empire State Building is fine, but we have a much nicer Empire State Building in Lyons.” “Coney Island is thrilling for those who can’t visit Festyland in Normandy.” As he explains how Paris has a much nicer Statue of Liberty Dawn realizes she’d have more fun with Jared.
So she owns up, admitting her feelings for Jared. And Hugo takes it great. He’s got feeling for someone else, Chloe whom we the readers saw implied months ago. Of course they can still be friends. And he’d still like her to visit him in Paris this summer. Bring Jared along. Dawn is so happy to be let off the hook she doesn’t wonder when Hugo was going to mention he was dating someone else. Of course not; Hugo made up Chloe on the spot to give Dawn a graceful way out of their relationship. He’s just that French, you know? (This means nothing and I’m making up that Chloe was made-up.)
Dawn flies home. She doesn’t think to tell Jared that she broke up with Hugo. To be fair, to tell him would need her to have some means of rapidly communicating with people a great distance away. So Jared spends a week in suspense while we readers wonder, like, Dawn couldn’t text “can’t wait to see you in seven hours”? I never turn my phone on and I haven’t answered an e-mail since 2014 and I’m better than that.
So that’s all sorted by the 15th of May. The 16th of May starts the traditional stretch of thanking Mary Worth for her Tuxedo Mask-esque contribution to the story. Dr Jeff takes the lead. But then Dawn comes around to say how she was right to pick Jared over Hugo. I disagree, myself. Jared’s pleasant enough but Hugo has a nice home-grown cartoonishness that makes him fun to play off. Dawn talks about how she felt about having feelings for a long while. And she talks about Jared’s good qualities long enough to make us ask who she’s trying to convince. But she finally gets that out of her system by the 31st of May.
The start of June starts the new story. It’s about Saul Wynter, delightfully cranky old man with a young dog Mary Worth made him get. His cousin, who I bet has a name, has died. Her bereaved husband Lyle needs help. The Company is sending him to Venezuela, to take part in a hilariously incompetent coup attempt against Nicolás Maduro. But who’s to look after his kid, Madi, who’s going through the phase of young-teenage life where she looks kind of like she might be in the new Heart of the City?
So after protestations, Saul Wynter agrees to take in a 13-year-old for summer. Or until Lyle can be exchanged for a Venezuelan spy. Or Venezuela agreeing not to switch oil contract denominations from dollars to euros. I’m looking forward to this story. We’ll see where it goes.
Dubiously Sourced Mary Worth Sunday Panel Quotes!
“Your friend is your needs answered.” — Khalil Gibran, 15 March 2020.
“Although I may try to describe love, when I experience it, I am speechless.” — Rumi, 22 March 2020.
“Rare as is a true love, true friendship is rarer.” — Jean de la Fontaine, 28 March 2020. (Bonus Saturday quote!)
“Came but for friendship, and took away love.” — Thomas Moore, 29 March 2020.
“Follow your heart and make it your decision.” — Mia Hamm, 5 April 2020.
“One thing I want you to understand is if I make a decision, it’s my decision.” — Mike Singletary, 12 April 2020.
“Love and doubt have never been on speaking terms.” — Kahlil Gibran, 19 April 2020.
“Honesty is the best policy.” — Benjamin Franklin, 26 April 2020.
“We must let go of the life we planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.” — Joseph Campbell, 3 May 2020.
“Choose your love. Love your choice.” — Thomas S Monson, 10 May 2020.
“Familiar acts are beautiful through love.” — Percy Bysshe Shelley, 17 May 2020.
“Love is a friendship set to music.” — Joseph Campbell, 24 May 2020.
“Love is the only constant, the only reality, and when you accept and understand that you will know it.” — , 31 May 2020.
“When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favor.” — Elon Musk, 7 June 2020. (He didn’t actually say this, but he paid a bunch of money to the person who did in order to take over credit for saying it.)
Yes, it still looks weird, although it’s looking less weird. I still have no explanation.
I apologize if this isn’t as merry a plot recap for James Allen’s Mark Trail as usual. I’m tired of how much misery my country will go to rather than punish killer cops for killing an innocent man we saw them kill. I don’t have a lot left over after that.
Also the art style was weird. The unsourced rumor I keep hearing is that James Allen had to move in with a relative to provide support and care. And, away from his studio, he’d had to adapt to new drawing techniques, which probably means digital art. That takes time to learn. When this story had started, Comics Kingdom commenter George K Atkins hypothesized that the strip was presenting a comic strip drawn by Rusty Trail, rather than “real” events. It’s a great hypothesis, but, it’s not so. It’s a shame; that would have given Allen plenty of time to learn how to draw in strained circumstances.
At the campsite some of the kids start mocking Kevin, a homeless kid. Rusty invites Kevin along, though. Kevin’s inexperienced in things like fishing. Geoff Aldridge is kind and supportive, but other kids see weakness. Eric Crowley particularly takes the chance to attack. Meanwhile Geoff Aldridge mentions to Mark Trail that the Crowleys are thinking of adopting someone. It’s a nice though, although it added a slight reality-show “Who Wants To Be Adopted” cast to the proceedings.
At night Eric reveals motivation: jealousy. He suspects Kevin is trying to steal his family. But he promises Kevin, nobody likes him. Kevin resolves to run away. Rusty overhears him leaving the campsite and offers to join him. And, in a moment of cleverness, sets his alarm clock to wake Mark Trail and bring adults after them. In a moment of less cleverness, he sets it to go off in an hour, rather than like, ten minutes. Still, for a kid, it’s good quick thinking.
The alarm clock gambit works, though, waking Mark Trail, who rouses the other adults. And Rusty’s left clues to their trail. Also he’s left a thunderstorm brewing. That’s great news: a good storm will do something about the drought. Specifically, the lightning will set the brush on fire. So that’s our big Attack of Nature for the story, which kept to the one. But Rusty and Kevin are walking toward the wildfire.
Mark Trail, unaware of the fire, organizes a search. Eric admits what he did and why. While the adults plus Eric set out in search parties, Rusty and Kevin encounter the fire. They turn around for the campsite, and along the way find Eric and Mrs Crowley. A burning tree threatens to fall on Eric and Mrs Crowley, but Kevin saves them by shouting a warning. Eric and Mrs Crowley are happy, of course. And Mark Trail hears the shouting too, so everybody’s able to gather together in the forest fire.
They move together, getting first to the campsite and then to their vehicles. This is in time to meet the fire fighters. Everyone gets out safe. And the forest fire can be put out before it does too much damage.
Eric apologizes to Kevin, and says he hopes they can be friends. Kevin shakes his hand. And, Mr Crowley announces his intention to adopt Kevin. It’s a happy resolution, although it also feels a little like a bonus prize round rather than a moment of true affection.
The story wrapped up the 23rd of May, with Aldridge inviting Mark Trail to future camping trips. Mark Trail thanks him, but says he wants to go home to spend time with his family “and my big dog Andy”. It seems like a curious declaration, until you know that the current story is an Andy special. It has Andy, playing loose in the yard, wandering over to a home under construction. He jumps into a truck trailer ahead of some rain, because you know how dogs hate getting wet and muddy. The truck driver, not noticing Andy in the trailer, closes it up and drives off. Andy’s missing, then, and that’s the start of the story.
Sunday Animals Watch!
What nature does Mark Trail want us to watch out for? The last couple months it’s been this:
Police dogs, 8 March 2020. Dogs are great. Don’t force them to become cops.
Pikas, 15 March 2020. The other lapine, besides rabbits and hares. They’re great. Human-caused climate change is killing them.
Animal tracks, 29 March 2020. They’re all amazing. People creeped out by raccoon paws? You all are wrong.
Jellyfish, 5 April 2020. They’re not like in that Popeye cartoon but they’re still weird and wondrous.
Müllerian Mimicry, 12 April 2020. That’s the thing where one dangerous creature camouflages itself as a different dangerous creature, so that anything preying on it turns to camera and goes, “Seriously? … Not. Fair.”
So shy are farms like scrapbooking, but for food? A couple years ago the schoolteacher in Gasoline Alley promoted scrapbooking to the kids, as a good creative thing they should do. And Jim Scancarelli’s comic strip talked about it a lot. Or so it felt like; probably it was just a month or two of the characters being really into scrapbooking. That memory’s lodged itself in the Gasoline Alley snark-reading community, anyway. It’s a fun reference whenever a comic strip seems to start obsessing over something, whether it’s Mary Worth and CRUISE SHIPS or Gasoline Alley again and … farms. So that’s what I was on about last week.
After a couple weeks of waiting-room gags Beluga meets Aubee Skinner. She’s the three-year-old latest generation of the comic strip’s star family. And we follow her and her mother home, to Rover Skinner. (Grandson of Walt Wallet, original centerpiece of the strip.) The handoff is done … oh, I’ll call it the 24th of March. You could date it as early as the 12th, when they arrived at the clinic, if you like. Or the 19th, when Aubee climbs into Beluga’s lap.
Rover is getting ready for the Farm Collective’s meeting. And he talks his teenage son Boog into coming along. (Wikipedia tells me Boog was born in September 2004, and Aubee in September 2016. So, yeah, these ages still check out for being real-time.)
The point of the meeting: to promote “saving our farmlands”. Attending the meeting are a bunch of the local farm families. Skinner’s thesis: without family farms, they’ll pave over the land, there’ll be no food, and people will starve. Checks out; that’s what must happen. But Skinner expands on the problem: land is expensive. And that’s all he mentions before explaining his special guest speaker isn’t there yet.
The Molehill Highlanders band plays, particularly, the World War I ditty “How’re You Gonna Keep ‘Em Down On The Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree?)”. Boog sees in this century-old paean to the dullness of farm life a way to get people excited about farm life. His father agrees, and soon everyone is buzzing about their campaign’s theme song. Also they have a campaign, I guess. Charlotte, Boog’s girlfriend, also has a great idea. Wouldn’t it help cut down farm expenses if local teens did the farm work, but for free? It sure would!
She’s thinking internships or something. Anyway after all this, special guest speaker Eric Helmet arrives. He’s got a broken tractor and a bunch of farm-life jokes. And talks about how farming is expensive and hard. But, he figures, what if they had some kind of outreach program so that people understood agriculture? Also, Don Henley wrote “A Month Of Sundays”. That’s a fanciful ballad imagining a time in 1957 that bankers were friends to farmers.
I don’t mean to make this sound disjointed. But what we see on-camera is disjointed. And shallow, considering it went on for about two months. I’m willing to trust that in “reality” Helmet talked in some detail about being a struggling farmer, or as it’s known technically, “being a farmer”. And I understand Scancarelli wanting to tell corny but amiable jokes. It’s more readable than the screwed up parts of agricultural policy, or as they’re known technically, “all of agricultural policy”. But it did read like a slightly weird obsession.
There’s no handoff to the current storyline. It just started the 18th of May. It’s also a repeat, something I would not have noticed (at this point) without reading the comments. It originally ran from the 19th of April through the 5th of June, 2010. So that’s six more weeks of this storyline. As it is, Walt Wallet is home from the hospital, after a stretch of being a hundred and twentyten years old. Gertie looks over his pills and worries about the side effects. We’ll see what happens after the 6th of July.
Shaky, nephew of a Dick Tracy antagonist killed in the 40s, was attempting revenge. His plan: give an alibi to James McQueen, who he doesn’t care anything about. McQueen had been convicted of first-degree backstory. The evidence against him was gathered by Tess Tracy’s detective agency. Shaky figured to extort Tess Tracy. His deal: she pays him to suppress his (fake) evidence, or he goes to the press saying she suppressed evidence.
Shaky is confident in his plan, even though his plan is quite bad. The only way it could fail is if Tess reports the scheme to her husband, star detective of the Major Crimes Unit. Somehow, she does. Shaky shows up for his first payoff, and Dick Tracy provides it by shooting him. Shaky shoots Tess, though.
Shaky and his wife(?) Edison flee to a safe house. “Ugly” Crystal, daughter of undercover cop Lafayette Austin and (the late) Ugly Christine, is there. I think we’re supposed to take that Shaky got a key to the house from Mister Bribery, Ugly Crystal’s uncle. Crystal takes this intrusion with calm. She nags him about smoking until he flees, and then calls the cops.
Shaky and Edison show up at the door of his cousin Quiver Trembly. Who tells him to get lost: she’s dealt with Dick Tracy twice and has had enough. But he has ideas to help Trembly’s charity-donation scam. So she agrees to deal with his crazy. Within minutes, the cops converge on him. Trembly says she’s not even gonna fight this. I’m not clear that she has any reason to think Dick Tracy knows she exists, but I understand her wanting to skip to the end. Edison gets out of the car and tries to get lost in the crowd. Shaky, though, he’s got a plan.
Shaky is confident in his plan, even though his plan is quite bad. Shaky holds a construction crew foreman at gunpoint, demanding to be raised by a crane on a steel girder, the better to shoot Dick Tracy. So, you know something? Using a handgun? From 50 feet off the ground? When you’re on a steel girder? Held only by ropes? That you cling to? When you’re a guy named “Shaky”? Turns out that’s a bad way to be a sniper. The cops arrest Shaky, and Trembly for good measure. And figure they’ll get the accomplice (Edison; they don’t know who she is) later on.
The 7th of April saw the new, current story start. Its center is B.O. Plenty, Junior Tracy’s father-in-law. And like many Staton/Curtis stories, it’s steeped Dick Tracy lore of the 40s. Breathless Mahoney was, before Madonna played her in the movie, step-daughter of the original Shaky. I learn from the Dick Tracy wikia, which tries to explain the Plenty-Mahoney connection. If I have it right, Mahoney, on the run, stumbled into the Plenty farm. While hiding there she drugged Dick Tracy and, with fled to the city with Plenty for some reason. They got separated, but reunited when Plenty stole the car she was hiding in. Plenty strangled Breathless “nearly to death” while robbing her. She got arrested and recovered from the battery, but died in prison anyway of plot disease. B.O. would reform and become a respectable citizen and part of the Tracy clan.
So, someone’s making a bio-pic about Breathless Mahoney. B.O. Plenty tries and fails to keep the news secret from his family. The lead actor, Fortuna Dyer, wants to know everything about Mahoney. So she’s talking with everyone who knew her. And she’s telling people to call her Breathless during the film shoot. And while she talks with Dick Tracy. And while she looks over Mahoney’s career and works out exactly when and how she blew it. She mentions how she’s a method actor. So she’s looking forward to a long life as a respectable and respected member of society.
Those are all the major plot threads that have been going on the last few months. There are a couple of minor ones. The most ambiguous is a two-week Minit Mystery, written and drawn by Charlie Wise. It’s about Mysta Chimera, who used to be Mindy Ermine, a crime boss’s daughter. She got mind-wiped and genetically engineered to be the new Moon Maiden. So now she’s a Lunarian with sci-fi powers that Chester Gould would hilariously insist was based on real science. In the “Mystery”, Chimera gets kidnapped. It’s by Scarmony Corybant, former cellmate of Mindy Ermine. Corybant’s looking for plans for the Space Coupe, Diet Smith’s famous magnetically-driven spaceship. Which, again, Chester Gould would hilariously insist was based on real science.
While fighting Corybant, Chimera says how now she remembers hating her jokes. Corybant complains how Ermine broke her promise to write her cellmate. Or to, when they got out, buy a pony farm, which Chimera finds as weird as I do. They fight long enough for Dick Tracy to arrive, and catch Corybant. Chimera, though, thanks Scarmony “for showing me who I was,” and does buy a pony farm. And sends Corybant, in jail, pictures from it.
So, first, this wasn’t any kind of mystery. Not in any aspect. Second, it seems to establish that Chimera is regaining some memories of her life as Mindy Ermine. Is that part of the continuity now? I would be surprised if Staton and Curtis would let Charlie Wise change something about a major character in a way they didn’t approve. But it does mean they have an excuse to revert this change if they decide they don’t like it. So I’m not quite sure what we did watch, then.
They’re collecting guano as fertilizer. So thanks for catching up on Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant here. If you’re reading this after about August 2020 I should have a more up-to-date plot recap at this link, where you’ll also find past plot recaps. And if you want to be up to speed for the time of King Arthur, as seen in May 2020, please keep on reading.
16 February – 10 May 2020.
Prince Valiant was heading home! Or at least to Camelot. It turns out his ‘home’ thing is complicated. Our Heroes are about a day out from Camelot when they run into a village trying to execute some witches. The evidence is pretty strong: they’re women. They’re doing a lot with bats. And shortly after criticizing the women, the old Baron Imbert died. Sir Gawain rides in, adjudicating a land dispute between Imbert and Afton, one of the locals. The land has a cave on it that legend says restores youth. And there’s the rumor that Afton, or one of the women, summoned a demon to clear Imbert away.
Aleta figures the women aren’t witches. Valiant agrees, but they are out there being weird, and that’s all your average peasant needs to tag women as witches. Valiant and party go to the tavern for dinner. They’re confronted by a drunk and belligerent Gareth. Gareth was Imbert’s son, but was not recognized as his heir, so I got that wrong last time around. I’m sorry. Goaded by his mother to “claim what is rightfully ours” he stumbles out in the night. Gareth’s mother, Hadwise, reiterates that he totally has a claim on the dead lord’s estate. Valiant and Aleta groan that they’ve got plot to deal with now.
A band of 1d4+2 ruffians who overheard all this confront Valiant outside the tavern. They warn him off asking questions. And mention that what was done was ‘at the baron’s behest’. Valiant wins the fight, although since all the ruffians except the one he knocked out fled, he can’t get more information.
In the morning Hadwise is outside, calling out the mob. Gareth’s dead and she blames the women as witches. Aleta tries to break this up. She points out if they are witches who’ve magically killed Imbert and Gareth maybe don’t rile them up? This buys a little time for investigations.
Gareth’s corpse is in Imbert’s manor house, looking pretty well twisted and tortured. The cook was the last to see Gareth alive. The drunk Gareth came in, declaring he was the new Lord, and demanded the same supper Imbert would have. The cook decided making it was less hassle than arguing, fed him, and left. Aleta can’t find any poisons. And the staff is cleaning up the room where Gareth’s body was found, so there won’t be any fingerprints or usable DNA. Oh, also the mob has gone off to burn down the accused witches. Which, great. They race off for the cottage.
Turns out that’s a misunderstanding: the women are doing a controlled burn of their fields. All right. And Valiant and Aleta’s son Nathan has a discovery too: the women are not witches. They’re just very observant, have looked around, and found that the dark ages sucks. They want to zip right to the era of Jethro Tull. The agriculturalist, not the band. For bands they’re more into Pink Floyd, or as they exhaust everyone by saying, The Pink Floyd Sound. Valiant sighs but accepts it’s his duty to work out their land dispute.
The women are proud and defensive of their discoveries. And would like to point out the villagers are idiots who’ll mess with the bats in the cave. Valiant wants to see this cave that everybody’s so excited about.
And that’s where we’ve gotten. I understand the women’s interest in the cave. And Imbert’s, although where he had gotten the idea the caves would grant youth from is a mystery yet. And we’re still lacking an answer for how Gareth died. It could be something in his being an angry entitled drunk demanding lots of food. We’ll see what develops over the next several months.
The Phantom had busted up a Rhodian column that was messing around in Wambesi territory. Their goal: Chatu, The Python, who a decade ago was the big terrorist nemesis of The Phantom. From a Bangallan prison he orchestrated the apparent death and actual imprisonment of Diana Palmer Walker, the Phantom’s wife. Since then he’s been held by his Wambesi countryment in a secret jail. And now The Phantom was settling in for a serious talk with Chatu about the deal and what is with it.
The Phantom explains how he turned back the Rhodian column. Chatu says he doesn’t see why The Phantom is trying to mess with his head like that. As if the Ghost Who Walks would play head games. But it tells The Phantom that Chatu did not organize this breakout attempt. There’s no way to know how the Rhodians got word of Chatu’s secret prison, unless any Wambesi person said anything to any Rhodian person about it. Chatu taunts that he’ll kill Diana Walker yet, and The Phantom slugs him. Then heads home, along the way asking Babudan what was with his poking in around the corners of that last story. Babudan gives a noncommittal answer. And this wraps up the story.
The 253rd daily-continuity story, Unfinished Business, began the 24th of February. The Phantom, riled up by punching The Python, heads to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he punches successor top terrorist The Nomad. … I figured this summary would run a bit longer, but that is the important stuff.
The Phantom snuck in to Guantanamo Bay and disguised himself as Commander Burford. Eric “The Nomad” Sahara acts familiar with The Commander. I’m not clear whether it’s The Nomad being all smug or whether we’re expected to believe that American intelligence agencies will partner with the worst people in the world as long as they’re right-wing enough. The Phantom talks about the woman who captured him, Heloise Walker. The Nomad had thought Heloise Walker a Bangallan intelligence agent, and takes this as a sign the Americans have captured her.
Then The Phantom reveals that he’s not Commander Burford. He’d been using shadows and night as cover. Saying he wants The Nomad to know he’ll never be safe from him, he slugs the prisoner enough to break his jaw. He gloats that his daughter fought back against him. With The Nomad unconscious, The Phantom escapes to the fishing trawler he’d used as cover to get to Cuba. The action may seem pointless, but it turned out also to be dumb. Now it’s got The Nomad wondering why Heloise Walker matters to The Phantom.
The poacher’s easy to find; just follow the trail of slaughtered animals. His guides are nervous, afraid of what the Llongo people will do. The Phantom’s friends know: their queen’s ordered them dead. The Phantom talks them into seeing if they can’t stop the poachers without so much bloodshed. They’re up for it. They sneak up on the poacher’s camp and clobber the guides. The poacher himself needs more coaxing, by having Devil, the Wolf Who Walks, poised to rip out his throat.
The Phantom checks out the poacher’s home movies. Turns out he had wounded a lion without killing it. That’s a problem, as a badly wounded lion might turn to hunting humans. The trail leads into a forbidden forest, which the Llongo warriors won’t venture into. All right. The Phantom puts the poacher and his guides in the Llongo’s care and recommends they be handed over to the Jungle Patrol. And resolves to go into the forbidden forest by himself to track down the wounded lion.
That’s where the story sits as the first full week of May begins.
The team has a mission: get some tea from the Boston Tea Party. The billionaire Drew Copious wants some. All right. They zap back to Boston and have some trouble hooking up with the tea party. Falling afoul of Loyalists, not being able to find the right wharf, that sort of thing. But they find the spot, and join in tossing tea overboard, except for one crate that Alley Oop swapped out ahead of time. With success and tea in hand, they head back to the present.
Copious offers another mission. And promises wealth beyond their reasonable dreams if they finish his tests. The first: he wants proof that aliens built the pyramids. Ooola finds something fishy about all this, but Wonmug points out: money! You don’t get billions of dollars without falling for loads of racist pseudoscientific codswallop. So they’re off to Ancient Egypt.
They get to a pyramid construction site. Oop falls in with the brick-movers. Wonmug passes himself off as an architectural inspector, and while snooping around finds an alien! Sellomina is a creature from the planet Nu-Dell, and is … just … nothing. Kind of a clod. They’re only, maybe, six or eight weeks more advanced than humans. And that only in some areas. They bought a Marinarian spaceship to get here. And can’t even get the eight-track to work. (Explanation for younger readers: the eight-track was a thing that cars had in the seventies. It didn’t work.)
Ooola, meanwhile, gets mistaken for the Princess Lula, and is whisked away to the royal apartments. Where the real Princess Lula also is. They’re somehow identical. Lula is not upset. She sees this as a great chance to set up a Parent Trap situation. Not the movie, which she doesn’t know about. No, she wants to put her parents in a trap, so she can get away and marry Pardel, an alien she loves. Ooola is up for this.
So things work out for the player-characters. Ooola helps Lula trap her parents. Alley Oop finishes building a pyramid himself. Wonmug is convinced that the aliens were just in the way of building the pyramids. Sellomina gives Wonmug the highest piece of Nu-Del technology: a pencil. Used for cleaning gunk out of ears. Pretty sure the Nu-Del aliens don’t have ears.
A pencil isn’t much of an alien artifact, but it’s what they have. They return to the present and give Copious the news. He’s not disappointed to learn that aliens are dumb. He declares if there were intelligent life in the universe, it would have visited him. So, yeah, can’t fault the characterization here. He’s got more missions, and gives them the run of his mansion for a couple days off.
And, in private, does a thingy with the pencil. The image of an alien he calls Farfell appears. Farfell acknowledges Copious acquiring the device and asks if he’s ready to commence their plan. So that’s something.
I feel the last couple months have been strong ones for the weekday continuity. There’s been a solid enough story. While there have been side bits of nonsense, they’ve been kept short. Princess Lula talking about the Parent Trap, which seems like a reality-breaking joke, subverts that expectation. Having aliens be in Ancient Egypt, but just killing time there, is a fair enough joke. Having Copious and Farfell up to something makes the joke also a useful story element. I’d say this is reflected in how I see fewer complaints about what’s happened to Alley Oop. But I suspect the bigger factor is people wanting to know what’s wrong with Mark Trail suddenly. And after that it’ll be [spinning the wheel] what the heck happened to Gil Thorp.
Something I didn’t expect happened the 9th of February, 2020, which you may remember was three million years ago. This was a Sunday strip, when Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers have been doing panels about Little Oop, Alley Oop as a kid. They started a story.
Yes, I agree it’s a weird coincidence that this Sunday story started so close to the last time I did a plot recap. Back in February, I was more distracted that the weekday strips were starting a new story at the same time.
3 February – 25 April 2020.
The story started with a girl popping in from nowhere, wondering why it wasn’t 1999, seeing Little Oop’s pet dinosaur Max and fleeing. She’s Penelope. She’s invented a time machine. And she’s freaked out by the dinosaurs and volcanoes and ice ages and all that. When a mammoth charges at them she hits the thingy on her thingy, and zaps herself and Little Oop to the present. Bit of a mistake. The mammoth was just eager to share cookies.
Her time machine contracts plot issues. Little Oop’s stuck in the present for a while. He’s got to hide. Penelope figures it’s better if she keeps him close by. So she smuggles him in to school. Still dressed as a caveman, but, trying to put him in regular clothes didn’t really work. Little Oop meets Penelope’s friend Julius. He’s described as a mathlete, and he resembles Little Oop’s friend Garg.
Does that resemblance signify anything? Maybe. It did strike me that as part of the Time Jail storyline we met Dr Piedra, Dr Wonmug’s Universe-3 equivalent. She’s a time-travelling scientist and wears a purple … uh … hair thingy. Penelope’s hair is noticeably purple. But if we’re supposed to link them, well, Penelope wears glasses and Dr Piedra doesn’t. There are plenty of explanations for this in real people. But comic strip convention relies on characters keeping some key accessories. (And, yes, their head shapes are different, but to my eye about the same way grown-up Alley Oop and kid Little Oop’s shapes are different.)
Anyway I guess we’ll see in the Sundays whether there are any stories to find in a scientist’s time machine stranding a caveman in the present day.
Next question: How does Little Oop having time-travel adventures in the year 2020 fit with the continuity of Alley Oop? All I can say is to offer the closing lines of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 theme: “it’s just a show, I should really just relax”. If you want it rationalized, treat this as an Alternate Universe Alley Oop. Alternate, maybe, even to the Universe-2 adventures that we’ve been reading since Lemon and Sayers took over the strip.
If you must fit this together? Well, some good news. Alley Oop, when he was first brought into the then-present of 1939, handled his experiences pretty well. He was in the present for only a few hours before … well …
So, if you want to head-canon that Alley Oop had some useful childhood experiences that prepared him for adventures with Doc Wonmug and all? You have some room for that. But you do have to work out how it is that Ooola, who was also brought to 1939 Long Island and has not been brought to 2020, handled things better. (Of course, Little Ooola might come to 2020 yet.) Also, you have to rationalize Alley Oop’s problem understanding mirrors.
I do not know how GoComics decided which Alley Oop stories to add to its Deep Archive. There’s even one from January 1939, before the strip included time travel. But the important one started the 7th of April, 1939, when Doc Wonmug got his movie camera back from the past. If you somehow have a bit of spare time, you might want to read the story. It’s always good to see the work that made something famous. And it’s enlightening to see how the strip has always been willing to go for the dumb joke. Also, that Doc Wonmug has a real problem with being a jerk. Also, turns out, a daughter. Huh.
I’ll recap the plot in the weekday-continuity Alley Oop. Unless something goes wrong.
Nope, no cartoonists yet. We’re still rerunning a Roy Thomas and Larry Lieber story from 2015-16. If the story will repeat in full, then it will end in the middle of June. The following story would be a team-up with Doctor Strange to fight Xandu. I have not heard anything about hiring a new creative team. Given the lead time needed for comics that run on Sundays, I expect this means the strip is not leaving reruns anytime soon.
Atlantis starts sinking ships, although gently, to avoid loss of life at first. And then Water Force One, carrying Namor, shows up at the East River docks. Namor’s come to scold the United Nations. And he’s brought along an adorable water moppet. He’s Pharus, a kid who’s contracted Backstory Syndrome, suffering from human pollution and doomed never to recover. Namor says the Atlantean hospitals can’t help him. Spidey asks, well, why not try human hospitals? They’re sure to do great with a non-human child who can’t breathe air without taking an oxygen pill and who’s got all the symptoms of mer-consumption. As they punch each other, Mary Jane kidnaps Pharus. With the help of Dr Liz Bellman she gets him away from the Atlantean guards and over to Metro General Hospital.
Namor tosses Spider-Man into the water, where they can fight on the Sub-Mariner’s home lack-of-ground. Mary Jane scolds Namor, who says there’s no reason for him to keep fighting now that he’s beaten. Namor accepts Mary Jane’s answer to where Pharus went, and then heads to the United Nations, in session.
He informs the assembled heads of state that he’s taking over the seas. If the surface-dwellers keep control, after all, Earth will soon be dead. It’s a complaint he’s made before and, again, he’s not exactly wrong. He gives the United Nations one day to figure out how it’s going to fix pollution and that’s it. And then he leaves, before anyone can stop him. And almost before Spider-Man wakes up again.
Well, at least Peter Parker can sell some pictures of Spider-Man fighting with Namor. J Jonah Jameson is delighted to have proof that Spider-Man and Namor are in a state of cahootery. While Jameson explains his reasoning, though, the still-woozy Peter Parker faints. Parker says he got hit by debris during the fight. Jameson sees a chance to rush to Metro General Hospital. Which turns out to be a lucky break: Peter Parker mentions that’s where Mary Jane said the Atlantean boy was. So now Jameson figures to prowl around the hospital until he finds Pharus.
Will Jameson, and Spider-Man, find the Atlantean boy? Will there be some act of human kindness that melts Namor’s hardened heart? Will the surface world remain in control of the seas? Will there be an astounding link to the policewoman Betty Dean who headed off the Sub-Mariner’s destruction of the surface world in 1940? Will Scrooge become a second father to the boy, who did not die? There are two ways to find out, one of them coming back here around mid-July and the other looking at late 2015 and early 2016 on Comics Kingdom. Your choice.
So here’s the thing about comic strips: they have lead time. Cartoonists can work as far ahead of deadline as the like, but deadline for weekday comics is about two weeks ahead of publication. It takes time to distribute and print. Note that comic strips are usually in the sections of the paper that are not so time-sensitive. Especially the Sunday comics. So they get printed when the presses are available. Sunday comics, with color done on purpose, need more time: on average about two months.
Cartoonists can respond to emergencies. A few months ago Patrick McDonnell cancelled a Mutts sequence in which Mooch dreamed of being in Australia, in deference to the wildfires. Story strips have a harder time doing sudden changes like that. This especially since most of them have weekday and Sunday continuity tied together. Terry Beatty, of Rex Morgan, M.D., recently wrote about this lead time. The just-begun Truck Tyler storyline will not even mention Covid-19 until its end, the 31st of May. This even though it’s the story comic for which the pandemic is most on-point.
So, that Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker mentioned social distancing means they are doing some astounding last-minute rewriting. But that’s also happening in my future too. If you’re reading this essay after about July 2020, and there is a time after July 2020, you’ll see how the pandemic plays out in an essay at this link, I hope. For now, let me catch things up for the last three months which began twenty years ago.
Alan talks with his son Randy Parker about his mayoral ambitions. Randy points out the idea is stupid and crazy. But, hey, what’s life for if not doing the stupid and crazy thing? Alan wants Sam Driver as campaign manager. Sam thinks it over. This gives Sophie the idea it might be fun to run a campaign. She works up a Leslie Knope file of campaign plans, and Sam takes that and the job.
In Hollywood, Neddy Spencer and Ronnie Huerta have mixed news. Their April Parker-based show is developing into a pilot. Nothing of their work is getting in, though. Except that the studio likes Cavelton, as a place, and figures to shoot on location. At least for the pilot. And use Neddy especially as scout for good locations and bits of local color and all. They get a story-by credit and a mission of finding places that will look good on screen. Ronnie mourns the loss of her Los Angeles apartment and their move to Cavelton. This seems to me premature; even if they do have to live in Cavelton for months, that is only months. They could at least ask the studio to cover rent.
Alan Parker announces his “possible” run. Local News anchor Toni Bowen reports this, while showing footage of him going into custody for helping an arms dealer. And interviews his judge, who Sam Driver got blackmailed off the bench. Alan’s hurt. Driver asks what he thought was going to happen. And that Alan has to make clear what it is he thinks is so important that it takes him to do it.
Sophie tries to recruit Honey Ballinger, another survivor of the kidnapping plot, to campaign. Ballinger points out she should research the other candidates and not just support the one who’s family. Sophie wonders why Alan Parker isn’t volunteering to support someone then, instead of going straight for power.
Randy Parker goes to ask Toni Bowen what her deal is, exactly. Why so mean to his father? I mean, Randy and Bowen used to date, so what’s wrong? She unloads on him: he may be the protagonist but that doesn’t mean everyone he hurts doesn’t count too. After telling him off and leaving, she realizes she’s still ranting at him in her head. She wants to do something useful with this anger at entitled elitists. But she settles for writing an op-ed piece instead.
Identifying the ways society is screwing up for everybody but the elites does bring some response. Her boss at the station is upset that Bowen’s getting unauthorized attention, and puts her on leave. Meanwhile, Sophie notices Bowen’s editorial and thinks: now that’s a mayoral candidate. She goes to Bowen, who wants to know why everyone in the Parker-Spencer-Driver nexus is stalking her. Sophie argues that if Bowen believes in what she wrote, then, she’s got the chance to do something. And, a few weeks (story time; reader time it’s the next day) the Toni Bowen for Mayor campaign office opens. This despite the candidate not being completely sure this is a good idea.
Alan Parker’s campaign gets under way too. This with a $1,000-a-plate fundraiser at Abbey Spencer’s newly-opened bed-and-breakfast. The one that was formerly a barn. Channel 6 reporter Not Toni Bowen sets up a nice softball, letting Parker present this as celebrating local small business owner. You know, Abbey Spencer, millionaire and mother of Toni Bowen’s campaign manager.
And the TV crew finally settles into town, ready to start filming. Kat Alyson, playing Neddy Spencer, is thrilled to meet Neddy Spencer. Alyson bubbles over in that excited, outgoing way that makes me terrified of someone. Huerta finds Alyson surprisingly attractive too. I’m sure this will not make for any weirdness in her relationship with Neddy or anyone else, ever.
Filming is a big deal for Mayor Sanderson, who insists it’s a great deal for town. Sure, the TV production isn’t paying taxes. But there’ll be all kinds of money that falls out of the pockets of wealthy people as they waddle around filming. That’s just how tax incentive plans work. Then Sophie crashes the set, holding up a protest sign and chanting, “Mayor Sanderson is the real actor here!” She got help from that guy on Conan O’Brien’s show with the bad chants. She tries to complain about the deal, and gets distracted by it also being so cool to see Neddy on a film set.
And that gets us to the start of this week, which saw the first mention of the pandemic in the story comics. I know what you’re wondering: well, isn’t the film crew staying in Abbey’s bed-and-breakfast? My guess for that is no, because the renovations kept dragging out and the film crew would need reservations they could count on. Would have been great for Abbey if it worked that way. That’s my guess, though. We’ll see how it develops in the next months.
So, no, Gil Thorp hasn’t mentioned Covid-19 yet. Comic strip lead times vary. Some artists work very close to deadline. Some work a long time ahead. The story goes that Tom Batiuk is more than a year ahead of publication on Funky Winkerbean. Some will jump in for an opportunity. Stephen Pastis, of Pearls Before Swine, everyone says is like a year ahead of publication, but this week’s strips are a Covid-19 theme. Anyway this disaster is, at least, a chance for us to learn how far ahead comic strips are being made.
Sunday strips have a greater lead time, usually something like an extra month. It takes time to get comic strips colored on purpose by people who know what the characters are supposed to look like. Story comics that have both the daily and Sunday continuity tied together will have to work to that deadline. (These are Gil Thorp, which has no Sunday strip, and Alley Oop and The Phantom, which have separate Sunday stories.)
Anyway, I can’t imagine this news not coming to the story strips, especially one set in high school, about athletes. When it happens it’ll surely interrupt the storyline as much as it interrupted our lives. I’m as curious to see what that’ll do.
The story, as it had developed from its start the 9th of December? Alexa Watson is a bright young basketball potential star whose life got annoying in 2011, and then incredibly annoying in 2014. She’s decent but not as good an athlete as everyone agrees she could be. She and Chris Schuring, on the boys basketball team, are hundredths of a point away from each other to be valedictorian. And Teddy Demarco and his posse are mocking Schuring at every chance. So! Who will valedictate? That’s the setup.
Also a lot of the plot. A lot of the fun in Gil Thorp, or any story strip, is stuff getting weird. Or at least operatic, which the core ridiculousness of high school encourages. That never quite came together this plot. It’s not that anything was bad. But if you wanted to see Marty Moon humiliated? And who reads Gil Thorp who doesn’t? It wasn’t happening.
Demarco figures to keep messing with Schuring. His idea: a cheap sound effects machine from a tiresome novelty store. As Schuring tries to present something in Something Class, Demarco buzzing and wah-wah noises. This doesn’t come close to throwing Schuring, or anyone else. But it leaves us wondering why Demarco wants to bully Schuring, and why he’s so god-awful at it.
Coach Mimi Thorp tries to get Watson to play more offensively. But she’s got no interest in trying. Schuring identifies her problem as wanting to be invisible. At least in situations she can’t control. Watson, talking this over with her friend Phoebe Keener, grants that Schuring may have a point. But, back in third grade, he was the first person to make a Watson the Supercomputer joke at her. I empathize deeply with the anger at the person who gives you The Joke that’ll harass you through school. In this case, though, I think she’s not being fair to inevitable discovery. Of course, if they were always fair, they wouldn’t be our feelings.
Schuring offers Keener advice, to get Watson to play better basketball. Act more aggressive off the court, and she’ll play more offensively. And it’ll get people to think about her athletics instead of that her name is Alexa Watson. You may protest that this reasoning is dumb, but please remember that it comes from a teenage boy, and so is dumb. Watson tries it, to the point that Coach Mimi Thorp has to get involved, because she’s being a jerk. And getting fouled out of games.
Back to Demarco, who needs to try something dumb. He gets a copy of last year’s AP Chemistry midterm. He offers it to Alexa Watson, who refuses. It’s the mark of a good student, after all, to … not use previous years’ tests, where available, as study guides. This is a point where I felt completely lost. Demarco got the test from “a guy who took it last year”. If it wasn’t a test he was supposed to return to the instructor, then I have no idea what the problem is. But we have to read it as an illicit copy or the whole story falls apart.
With Watson refusing to be valedictorian “by cheating”, Demarco goes to Schuring. He claims that, to make amends for all the pranks, he’s giving this present of last year’s midterm. Schuring tosses it without looking. Doesn’t matter: after the midterm, Demarco goes to Mr Rollins and says he gave Schuring the midterm.
None of the teachers, nor the coaches, believe Schuring cheated. But they have to investigate. Schuring says he doesn’t even know what he got; he tossed it. Watson vouches for him. Mr Rollins changes out at least some of the questions each year, and Schuring did as well on those as he did on the rest. And they’ve noticed Demarco has been incompetently sniping Schuring for years, so why the change? And then they remember that teenage boys are dumb, and suspend Demarco for, jeez, seriously.
Schuring goes to Demarco to ask what his deal is. As with all high school, it’s dumb. In 9th grade, Schuring’s jock friends picked on Demarco, and Schuring doesn’t do anything about it. Schuring apologizes. He doesn’t remember it at all and admits that he should have stopped it. It doesn’t fix Schuring letting Demarco get bullied years ago, but it’s something. Good thought for everyone who’s callously hurt someone else. It’s never wrong to own up to your mistakes and apologize.
On to valedictation. The guidance counselor asks Watson what she thinks of Schuring’s plan to be co-valedictorians. She doesn’t want a reward for backing up Schuring against Demarco’s failed scam. Schuring says it’s not: he proposed co-valedictorian months ago. All right, then. All’s well. Oh, and he introduces her to his girlfriend, Siri Conti.
And that, the 28th of March, wrapped up the story, which was not the most tense or action-packed one.
The current story started the 30th of March, introducing a bunch of kids And Gil Thorp saying how his favorite opening day is baseball, which is right up. And that’s about all we have. Check back around here in early July, by which time whatever plan Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham had will have been blown apart.
Milford Schools Watch
Who plays Milford? Who are their big rivals? Here’s some other schools mentioned in the strip over the last few months.
And hi at last, people who want the story in Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. explained. This post’s written in late March 2020, so if you’re reading this in some far-future decade like May 2020 it may be so out of date that it’s useless. In that case, though, if I have a more recent plot summary or news about the strip it should appear here. I hope that helps. If you prefer some mathematics with your comic strips, please look over at my other blog, as it’s got that. Thank you.
Aunt Tildy settled in fast, and peacefully. Making breakfast, offering to watch the kids instead of sending them to daycare. Watching wrestling on TV. Passing out watching wrestling on TV, surrounded by cans of something.
Don’t worry; it wasn’t demon alcohol. It was her favorite pop that she can’t get at home anymore. I understand; I live in mid-Michigan and I actually know a couple spots where I can get Moxie. Anyway, we aren’t told that it’s Faygo and that Aunt Tildy is a secret Juggalo, but, you know. Media literacy, people. Read the inferences.
Aunt Tildy fell asleep in the afternoon, like anyone might. Still, Rex Morgan presses June for details like … how old is she, anyway? June’s not sure. She remembers that when she was a kid, Aunt Tildy was forty years older than dirt, so that’s something. Well, how long does she plan to stay? June doesn’t feel comfortable asking that. Why is she here? Aunt Tildy says, no special reason, just she hasn’t seen the kids and she could die anytime, so why not now? She means why not see them now.
A lot of this storyline was Rex Morgan being all miffed that Aunt Tildy is around, and this was great. I mean, absolutely I understand the discomfort of having a houseguest, especially one you don’t really know. Especially when there is no way of guessing how long until they leave. But the amount of peevedness he brings to a houseguest who is family, who’s entertaining the kids, and who’s volunteering to household chores is great. It’s the sort of disproportionately strong emotion that makes for hilarious soap-comic reading.
June and Rex Morgan recognize the plot tokens, though. If Aunt Tildy doesn’t know how long she has left, why is that? They arrange for a doctor to look at her, and Rex Morgan does too. It turns out she’s sixty years older than dirt, but that’s not any specific problem. There’s a backlog to date Zak, but there’s no reason to think her condition needs to date Zak right away. So, cool.
That seems to leave the story becalmed, though. So it’s time to hire a new character. He shows up the 2nd of February. Rex Morgan’s next patient is Andrzej Bobrowski, who’s outlived yet another doctor. So he’s here to let Rex Morgan die. Again, a wonderful disproportionately strong emotion to the scene. Great setup. Bobrowski is in great shape, considering he’s sixty-two years older than dirt. His only problem: the knees he wrecked in his thirty years as a pro wrestler.
Rex Morgan mentions how his wife’s aunt is a huge wrestling fan and will be thrilled to hear about meeting a wrestler. Bobrowski says not to use his real name, since who’d know that? Use his stage name: Count Crushinski. And here’s where the actual plot tokens come into play. June had remembered that Aunt Tildy was, reportedly, once married to someone called The Count. And … wait, no, seriously?
Well, I didn’t see it coming, but in my defense we only knew Bobrowski was a wrestler for like three days before the revelation. Further revelations: Bobrowski regrets how he threw away his relationship with Tildy. He was unfaithful, she divorced him for that, and she was right to do so.
Still, he’d like the chance to apologize to her. Rex Morgan is glad to sound her out, possibly because he figures this is the easiest way to get Aunt Tildy out of his strip. Aunt Tildy, hearing that Bobrowski was there, calls him a rat, a stinker, a jerk, and a cheater. But she is interested that Bobrowski owned up to being wrong, and wanted to make amends. And, you know, it takes courage to reach out to someone you’ve hurt, and takes courage to admit your own screw-ups. It’s good to have courageous people in your world.
So she agrees to see him. It’s hesitant, for a bit, but … you know, it goes well. In a couple hours Aunt Tildy’s packing her bags, moving out of the comic strip and into Bobrowski’s place. Soon, she’s managing Bobrowski’s autograph-signing sessions. Rex Morgan can get back to buying pulp magazines and not wanting to talk to people. Anyway, I’m sure we’ll check back in on them when the next Gathering of the Juggalos happens, and aren’t you dying to see Rex Morgan in that crowd?
The 22nd of March I’m going to declare the start of the current storyline. But we saw the handoff more gradually, revisiting seeing (from the 17th) Buck Wise and Hank Harwood. Buck is off to see roots country performer Truck Tyler play. He never misses Tyler when he’s in town, and Tyler remembers him.
Tyler’s doing the show on his own, no band. This was mentioned in a daily strip (the 27th, Buck talking with Truck) and a Sunday strip (the 29th, Buck talking with a different friend). So that sure looks like it’s a something. We’ll know, if anything goes to plan, by June 2020.
Hi at last, people who want to know what’s happening in the Sunday continuity of Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom. The Phantom is sharing a story of one of his ancestors is what’s going on. If you’re looking for the weekday continuity, or if you’re reading this after (I expect) June 2020, you’re likely to find a more relevant essay here. If you’d like a little mathematics in your comic strip talk, please try out my other blog. Thank you.
The Phantom (Sundays).
29 December 2019 – 22 March 2020
We left The Phantom teasing his daughter Heloise with tales of past Phantoms. He suggested he could tell Heloise what really happened to Ambrose Bierce, or to the body of Thomas Paine. Or Khe Pandjang, who’d lead an army against Dutch imperialism in Indonesia in the 18th century. (I hadn’t heard of him before this, but it’s a good reference. Linking The Phantom to him helps diffuse the colonialism baked into the comic strip’s premise.) Or the sole (then-)surviving witness to the Mary Celeste.
What The Phantom finally suggests, and Heloise accepts, is hearing the story of George Bass. Bass was a real-world British naval surgeon and explorer. That strait between Australia and Tasmania is named after him. In reality, he was last seen in February 1803. He was expected to sail the brig Venus from Sydney to Tahiti and then, perhaps, Spanish colonies in Chile. No one knows what happened to him and his crew. What The Phantom (Sundays) supposes is … not no one knows?
In The Phantom’s retelling there were a 26th and 27th person on the Venus. The 13th Phantom was one of those people lost to history. The other was called Carter, and we’re promised that his treachery put Bass in the Vault of Missing Men. And instead of sailing for Tahiti, Bass intended the ship to go “missing”. And then to join actively the Napoleonic Wars, attacking French and Spanish ships under a false flag.
This is a quite interesting plan since I don’t see how this isn’t piracy. There’s a reference to Bass having “sponsors” in England, so perhaps this got the legal cover of being a privateer. But then that would be on Bass’s Wikipedia page, unless of course Tony DePaul has an explanation to come for that.
Bass, in fiction, renames his ship the El Sol. He names his lifeboat the Tom Thumb III, in honor of the small boats the historic Bass used to explore Australian rivers. He says that he and Walker will launch the Tom Thumb III to save England from Napoleon. Meanwhile they sail to some Mediterranean port, “a nest of cutthroats, spies”. While walking down Ambush Alley in the port, Bass and Walker notice they’re being followed. It’s Carter, who hasn’t got any reason to be off the ship and less reason to follow them. They suspect Carter of working for someone, they know not who. Bass declares he can’t just leave Carter there. He means, unless he murders the bilge rat. But he’s too honest for that. The first time I read this, I thought Bass was saying he’d have to take Carter along and forgive his leaving the ship. On re-reading, I’m not sure Bass didn’t mean to just leave Carter in port. In either case the reasoning seems designed to force Carter to throw in with anyone working against Bass. But no one has ever accused the Napoleonic-era Royal Navy of having any idea how to create or sustain loyalty.
So, this week, we saw the VenusEl Sol sailing under United States, French, and even Spanish colors, on various missions. We’re promised that this will turn into Bass having a key role in the Battle of Trafalgar. We’re not there yet.
How are things going with Aunt Tildy? And that pro wrestler? I look in on Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D., unless events get in the way. But, come on. This is March 2020. How could an event get in the way of anything? Good luck to you all.
Here are the relationship screwup standings, as of late December 2019. Wilbur Weston humiliates himself, and everyone around him, and everyone who eats sandwiches. He and Estelle went on a double-date with his ex-girlfriend Iris and her considerable boyfriend upgrade Zak. Wilbur, swearing off demon alcohol, begs Estelle to forgive him. Estelle misses him enough to consider it. Meanwhile Iris’s doctor has diagnosed her as old. To hide this from her supportive and emotionally engaged boyfriend she says they need time apart. With that background: what’s happened since Christmas?
Estelle goes to dinner with Wilbur. He shares his resolve not to drink anymore, and to stop embarrassing himself or disappointing her. So, credit to Estelle for having the patience for this. Everyone needs to recover from their screw-ups. Everyone around them needs to know how much screw-up they can take before it’s hurting themselves. I’d like to think Estelle has figured this out, but she was under a lot of Mary Worth pressure to just pair-bond with Wilbur already, despite his issues.
That puts Estelle away for a while. How about Iris and Zak? Iris finally admits her problems to Mary Worth. Mary Worth asks: Zak is loving and supportive and you’re ditching that? And you haven’t even told him what the doctor said explained your weight gain and fatigue and hair loss? Look, just pull over and let me drive. I can sort this out in like ten minutes.
The test comes back positive: it’s Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease. So, some medicine, some diet, some exercise. Naps you plan for. Zak is of course supportive and helpful and tactfully avoids calling out the first doctor for screwing up. The treatment works great. Within days she’s feeling better. And Iris and Zak are hugging each other talking about how they love the other.
So that, the 19th of January, settles that. We then check in on Estelle, who’s settling for Wilbur quite well. And Estelle’s cat Libby, who cats. And back on Iris and Zak, in what seems like a redundant point. But Iris did have to thank Mary Worth for her advice. Which, to be fair, was correct and needed.
The 3rd of February started off the new and current story. It features Dawn Weston, Wilbur’s daughter. She’s keeping up her long-distance relationship with her French boyfriend from France, Hugo Lambert Bilbiothèque Quatre-vingt de Poisson, Comte de Franceypants. They’d had a nice summer fling last year and kept it going. He’s got a nice job in Paris, in the being French industry. She figures to fly out to see him in summer.
While at a pizza place, thinking this over, she spots Jared Mylo. They’d worked together for Local Medical Group a couple summers ago. It’s a nice reunion. He’d had a crush on her back then. They talk some and decide to go see a movie, a parody Star Wars film. This causes me to wonder: hey, yeah, isn’t it weird there hasn’t been a Star Wars spoof movie in a generation now? Or at least a Spaceship Movie spoof? Is it that there’s enough Star Wars Trek spoofs on TV and web comics and podcasts and stuff that nobody needs a movie?
Anyway, Dawn reassures herself that this is just friends hanging out. It can’t possibly threaten her relationship with Hugo Lambert Cahier sur la Tante du Votre, 2CV. So that’s our conflict: is hanging out with Jared Mylo here in Santa Royale going to distance her from her French boyfriend in France, Paris? Dawn and Jared have a great time at Ruse Of The Fast Talker. Oh, maybe I see why there hasn’t been a Star Wars spoof movie in a while now. At dinner afterward Dawn and Jared bond over how their parents do embarrassing things, like karaoke and naked yoga. And meanwhile in Paris, Hugo is … agreeing with women.
So you know their thing is serious. Mary pops in to ask Dawn how serious this all is. Dawn says it’s not at all, they just like hanging out. And there’s the conflict for the story. How will it all turn out? Will Dawn handle having two people she likes seeing? I figure to check back in around June and give an answer.
Dubiously Sourced Mary Worth Sunday Panel Quotes!
What has BrainyQuotes thought people said, since we last checked in on Charterstone? These inspirational mottos:
“To err is human; to forgive, divine.” — Alexander Pope, 22 December 2019
“Forgiveness says you are given another chance to make a new beginning.” — Desmond Tutu, 29 December 2019
“To love is to be vulnerable.” — C S Lewis, 5 January 2020
“I told my doctor I broke my leg in two places. He told me to quit going to those places.” — Henny Youngman, 12 January 2020
“Love Heals.” — Maya Angelou, 19 January 2020
“I mean we all need a second chance sometimes.” — Joel Osteen, 26 January 2020
“We all need each other.” — Leo Buscaglia, 2 February 2020
“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson, 9 February 2020
“As a body everyone is single, as a soul never.” — Herman Hesse, 16 February 2020
“Friendship is something that is cultivated.” — Thalia, 23 February 2020
“In March, winter is holding back and spring is pulling forward. Something holds and something pulls inside of us too.” — Jean Hersey, 1 March 2020
“There are as many kinds of loves as there are hearts.” — Leo Tolstoy (in Anna Kernina), 18 March 2020
“Your friend is your needs answered.” — Khalil Gibran, 15 March 2020
I addressed this in a strip caption on Sunday, but I’m aware people are poking around looking for explanations. Particularly since this week and in the new story the art style has gotten cartoony and loose in a way that’s quite an adjustment for Mark Trail. Say what you will for emotional authenticity, but a big part of the comic strip has been that its characters are drawn photo-realistically, which is part of what makes the animal and plant and landscape art count. And then this week, well, here you go.
So. I do not know with the confidence that I would like just what’s happened. Many commenters on Comics Curmudgeon have reported that James Allen has been taking care of a family member in need. And this has forced him away from the usual studio, so that he’s trying to draw without the usual setup. And, one may imagine, with less time and less ability to focus on the art. Also perhaps the writing, if you thought the conclusion of the Yeti story was an abrupt halt rather than a planned resolution.
This is a plausible and understandable story. What it is not is confirmed, at least to my eyes. I have not seen a comment from James Allen, who would post on the Comics Curmudgeon under the screen name “The Real Mark Trail”, about this. Nor any comment from him in months. Nor have I seen a comment from King Features Syndicate about this. Nor an article on Daily Cartoonist, nor on rec.arts.comics.strips.
It would be new for Mark Trail to slip into “fiction” without warning the reader ahead of time. But Allen has been trying to add some narrative complexity and nonlinearity to the comic. Pulling back to show Mark Trail reading the comic strip his son created would fit that nicely. And if that is the intention, then it’s well done.
But this is again all guesses. It is not confirmed. All I can say with certainty is, yes, there’s something weird in the art of Mark Trail lately.
I don’t want to say Mark Trail left Harvey Camel for dead in a Nepalese avalanche. But he didn’t spend a lot of time looking, either. He had fair reasons not to look, in what we saw on-panel: it has to have been too dangerous to try right after the avalanche. But we don’t see this explained, and we don’t see, like, the day or two after the avalanche either. It’s some unsettling stuff.
And he keeps insisting stuff is evidence of Yetis. Whistling? Yeti. Destroyed hiking station? Yeti. Four rocks by the side of the hiking path? Yeti. Early-morning rain showers? Yeti. Goldbach’s Conjecture? Yeti. “You can’t just keep pointing at things and calling them Yetis,” cries Mark Trail. Camel posts this to TikTok, declaring, “You’re the meme now, dog.” So with this history in mind, you can understand why Mark Trail might leave him for dead.
Also a Himalayan red bear attacks. It’s the fourth Attack of Nature this story. Pemba, one of the Sherpas they’re hiring, has bear repellent, so it’s okay. And Camel opens up about his motivations. He doesn’t want the Yeti captured or brought to zoos or exploited by humans. He wants to show the world that such an astounding things exists. And, yeah, the fame and fortune would be a pleasant reward.
In a hiking station for the night, Mark Trail presses Camel. Why is he so sure there’s one to find? Camel has a heck of an answer: when he was a child, a Yeti ripped his leg off. He’d been hiking with his father, and a Yeti broke into their cabin, tossed his father around, and grabbed him by the leg. And now Camel reveals his prosthetic leg. This pays off the “why does he walk funny” question Mark Trail asked Genie back in November.
Later, Mark Trail asks Genie, like, seriously? Camel’s assistant says she believes in his trauma. But whether it was a Yeti? How is she to know? Unless she’s been his friend for decades and taking care of him and helping him with his trauma? Anyway, they turn in, and Mark Trail sees something inexplicable: Genie going in to Harvey Camel’s room. At night. It makes us wonder whether sex exists in the Mark Trail universe. Before you say that’s obvious since Mark has a son? Remember that Rusty Trail was adopted. Still, yeah, of course people in the Mark Trail universe have heard of sex, and may even enjoy it. It’s not like they’re in Luann.
They get back to hiking, Mark Trail still prodding Camel, “Yeah no but really?” At night they set up camp. And Camel hears something. A whistling. Genie insists it’s the wind. Camel says it’s the Yeti. He runs out of the tent, into the snowstorm.
And the avalanche.
Mark Trail, Genie, and the Sherpas are all right. Mark Trail suggests maybe Camel made it out the other side of the valley? Genie hopes so. But … they don’t look.
In the circumstance, at that hour? That’s defensible. Yes, Camel is lost and likely wounded. But it’s also the middle of the night, immediately after an avalanche, and there’s only four people who could start searching. Waiting for daytime, contacting authorities, getting an organized rescue together is sensible. But this reasoning is never made on-screen. Mark Trail, or better the Sherpas, could explain that searching for Camel right now is likely to fail and get more people injured or killed.
Instead what we see is Genie explaining Camel’s life story. Camel lost a leg to juvenile diabetes. They became friends shortly after he lost his leg. She caretook him. And Camel got onto social media, becoming an adventurer with a worldwide fanbase and niche fame. And, needing to make ever-bigger adventures for his audience, going finally to the search for the Yeti. Mark Trail nods, thinking of this as a lesson in the search for online fame. And we see how this quest ends. Unless, of course, Camel did make it out alive.
And … the heck? Because this is good enough exposition. It fills out character and explains motivations and actions. But it leaves new questions. Like: so was Harvey Camel a legitimate anthropologist who turned into a celebrity? Or was he always a showman, with enough science in him to get respectable magazines like Woods and Wildlife to finance him? And: so … did Harvey Camel, as a child, travel with his father to Nepal and have some encounter that he could remember as a Yeti attack? It’s all right if the characters don’t know answers. But a reader can, fairly, ask whether James Allen has answers in mind. A storyteller always has the right to change their mind about characters’ histories. If the revision makes for a better story, it’s a brilliant twist. If it confuses the audience, it’s a mess.
So this time spent in revelations threw a lot of people off the story. We go from that night, and Genie revealing what she knew about Camel’s history, right to Mark Trail readying to leave Nepal. Mark Trail talks about how they need to inform the authorities. And I suppose we can take as implicit that there was a search. But what counts to the audience is what the characters spend time on. Especially in comic strips, which get read and thought about for seconds per day.
(There are more interesting patterns, though. That earlier story also involved the search for something Mark Trail didn’t think existed, in this case a Vanishing Gold Mine. And had Mark Trail be as suspicious of JJ Looper as he would be of Harvey Camel. Looper would justify Mark Trail’s suspicion, but Mark Trail didn’t have anything but a hunch to go on there.)
Mark Trail heads home. He admits not knowing whether Harvey Camel died in the avalanche. But what are the chances of Camel surviving certain death, and then teaming up with “Dirty” Dyer to seek revenge on Mark Trail? Anyway, Mark Trail explains that his article for Woods and Wildlife won’t mention the Yeti. The crocodiles and bears and all are enough. Which … is … a decision I’d want to bounce off the editor. I would think a failed search for a Yeti alongside a preposterous minor celebrity would be a great story. Of course, I’ve written like two thousand words making fun of this story so far this essay, and I have two other essays about this story.
Anyway then Mark Trail warns Cherry and Doc about how the Internet can bring out bad stuff in people. Cherry agrees, talking about Rusty Trail reading the comments of online comics-reading communities. All right. With that, the story ends. The avalanche brought the Attack of Nature count up to five.
The new story started the 29th of February. Cherry Trail got a call from Geoff Aldridge, head of the Forest Explorers. They do nature outings for kids, particularly ones considered “troubled children”. Mark Trail figures he’ll do an article on the Forest Explorers. He and Rusty can join them a trip. So we’re still meeting everybody right now. There hasn’t been a plot to start yet. We’ll see where things go over the next few months.
Sunday Animals Watch!
So you know your headcanon where the Sunday panels explaining animals are articles that Mark Trail writes? Turns out everybody thinks the same way. I don’t know that it’s what James Allen or his predecessors thought they were doing with it. But everyone agrees that’s what it should mean. Anyway here’s what Mark Trail’s been writing about while lost in the Himalayas:
Babirusas, 15 December 2019. They’re neat; give them a look.
Myrrh, 22 December 2019. It’s one of many resins that you might like to know about.
Bear attacks, 29 December 2019. Mark Trail recommends you not be attacked by a bear. But if you are attacked with a bear, try to have bear repellent.
Tasmanian tigers, 5 January 2020. Extinct for 85 years now. But there’ve been sightings, and now and then someone who thinks genetics is easy says they’re going to clone the animal back into existence.
Saffron crocuses, 12 January 2020. The amount of work it takes to make saffron causes me to feel like I’m putting a lot of people to bother if I get anything that uses any.
Leatherback turtles, 19 January 2020. With a mention of other marine turtles.
Silver-backed chevrotains, 26 January 2020. A species not spotted for thirty years. This as part of the Global Wildlife Conservation’s “Search for Lost Species” campaign. This tries finding evidence for animals not spotted in a long while.
Dumbo Octopus, 2 February 2020. Which are amazing, and which live so deep in the ocean with so few predators around that they don’t even have ink sacs.
Did Estelle take Wilbur back? Why? Did Iris screw up her relationship with Zak? Why? Is Dawn screwing up her relationship with real French guy from France, Hugo Franceypants? Why? Did the auto care place at the end of the block finally update its sign with a new inspirational-yet-somehow-despairing thought? Yes! Will I belatedly work out the “Mark Trail joined Mastodon but left because he couldn’t find any” joke I’ve been trying to make fit into this all week? Could be! Join me for Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth in one week’s time, if things go like I plan. Thanks for reading. Like and subscribe me on Orkut, Ping, Yo, Ello, and Apple eWorld, please.
I last checked in on Gasoline Alley in the weeks before Christmas. A train full of kids were riding the Mistletoe Express to see Santa Claus. But it broke down in front of Corky’s diner. Corky put in a call to Slim Wallet to get his Santa gear on and entertain the restless kids. And what do you know but he got there in record time and put on a great show, never breaking character, and giving everyone a merry time. Even talking in rhyme the whole day. And there’s nothing mysterious or ambiguously supernatural about that at all.
Well, the day after Christmas started the new story thread. It’s still focused on Corky’s diner. Terry, the regular waitress, is back. She’s completed her treatment for the actue angina pectoris that Peter Glabella had diagnosed. With Terry back, guest waitress Baleen declares she’s off. But Corky and T-Bone (the cook) beg Baleen to stay. She has none of it.
Anyway, the diner’s doing great business. It’s crazy crowded. The strip never says their hotcakes are selling like hotcakes, but Jim Scancarelli is kicking himself for not doing that joke. They put up a fresh sign begging for more wait staff. And who shows up again but Baleen? She claims that she caught the wrong bus, and this is where it stopped for lunch. And she missed them all.
So Jim Scancarelli has realized that Baleen’s a pretty good fit for the gang at Corky’s Diner. She steps back in, and we get back to restaurant jokes. And a bit of story development: a jerk customer starts mocking Baleen’s name. T-Bone leaps to her defence. Terry had said that T-Bone had a crush on Baleen. The first real evidence we get of this is the hearts in his eyes when Baleen kisses her thanks. But then she gets all cold, particularly saying she missed him “like the bucolic plague”. Which when you look at it is a hard thing to parse. Terry gives T-Bone the advice to be patient and let Baleen find a comfortable spot.
But, it’s Valentine Season. Baleen starts getting cards. She’s been popular with the customers, to the point of sometimes sitting down with them. This is pretty much my deepest restaurant nightmare. There’s a Wendy’s I can’t ever go to again because the cashier recognized I always order the baked potato. A server feeling comfortable enough to sit down with me might well cause me to burst into embarrassment flames.
All the attention is making T-Bone jealous. Terry recommends he send her flowers. He feels like that’s hopeless. Terry claims Baleen sent the (anonymous) cards to herself and made up a Valentine party she was going to. I don’t know on what basis she deuces this other than that “Valentine party”? Well, T-Bone at least sends a card. And then a wreath of roses arrives.
He didn’t send them. Also they’re a funeral wreath. Terry reveals she ordered the flowers on T-Bone’s behalf. She didn’t order a funeral wreath, though. It’s one of those zany screw-ups that happen at florist’s in the 60s-sitcom world of Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley. T-Bone thinks fast for once, and says it shows how he’ll love her until she dies. And this wins Baleen’s heart.
That seems to put their story at a good resting point. The last couple days have been jokes about Baleen painting signs for the diner, advertising their hours and whatnot. Oh, and hey, is there something ritualistically special about Leap Year in proud-to-be-old-fashioned comic strips like this? Mm?
Shaky is the villain in Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy right now, in late February 2020. If you’re reading this summary after about May 2020 there’s probably a more up-to-date plot recap here. But this Shaky is the nephew, or nephew at least once removed, of the original Shaky. This first Shaky was a con man with a relentless shaking habit, and amazing dexterity, who died in the comic strip in January 1945. Asphyxiation, nasty stuff. The Dick Tracy Wiki helpfully explains there were a second Shaky, related to the first, who appeared in a 1986 and a sequel sometime in the 1990s. That character’s described on that page for Shaky. The current Shaky they dub Shaky II, because he is the third of that name and gimmick. I’m glad this acts as if it cleared things up.
Roper, Nomad, Dick Tracy, and Sam Catchem count it as good luck that Tuzon’s car bomb didn’t kill any of them. Tuzon and his partner, Clybourne, see it as bad luck; they don’t have the cash for another bomb. Tuzon makes some calls, though. He knows of some friends, Measles and Wormy, whom Sam Catchem busted before they could use their crime props. Why not use their gear?
Clybourne calls Roper and Nomad. He claims to be an armored car driver who saw something relevant to the bomb. He sets up a meeting at Ambush Parking Garage, and they agree to fall for this. Clybourne went to so much trouble bringing knockout gas it would be rude if they didn’t. Meanwhile Tuzon calls Dick Tracy, claiming he wants to turn himself in. He’ll meet Tracy and Catchem at the Big Cat House, at the zoo. Tracy and Catchem fall for this, too. Clybourne and Tuzon drag all four of them into the alligator pit. The ex-circus alligator Lorenzo is to get them.
Tracy wakes up moments ahead of Lorenzo getting to them, and rallies everyone. They call for help and … well, it’s able to get to them with plenty of time. Tuzon didn’t grab their wrist-radios or stick around to watch the alligator eat them because, you know. He had urgent business: getting to the aviary so he could free the original Clybourne, the crow he’d trained to pick pockets on the midway. Mike Nomad divines this is Tuzon’s plan, chases after him, and catches the guy. And, on the 28th of December, Steve Roper and Mike Nomad fly back for home, wrapping up the story.
The new story — one just recently wrapped up — started the 29th of December, 2019. This with a guy assembling a bunch of guns and a metallic face mask. He leads the robbery of Thermopolis Payroll, introducing himself as Mister Roboto. This isn’t his first robbery, but it’s the first big enough to make it grand larceny and be worthy of Dick Tracy’s attention. Mr Roboto’s gang also wears masks, “not as elaborate” in the words of the police chief, but, you know, you gotta do something.
Which seems to be Mister Roboto’s point. After splitting the payroll heist, Roboto dismisses his henchmen until next week. He resigns himself to his boring warehouse job.
Meanwhile — in a story foreshadowed the 9th and 10th of December — the new Vitamin Flintheart play assembles. They’re doing a stage version of Metropolis. Starring as the Robotrix and False Maria? Mysta Chimera, who — just a second. I need to warm up before describing all this. OK. Mysta Chimera has the appearance and some of the powers of the Lunarians, much like Honeymoon Tracy has. But she’s not from the moon. She’s a surgically modified, amnesiac mobster’s daughter who’d been mentally programmed to think she was the Moon Maiden, Junior Tracy’s murdered wife. Chimera has learned where she really came from, and has given up on her whole past identity to hang around with Dick Tracy’s gang. Bonding with Honeymoon Tracy over having, you know, Moon Powers and those cool antennas and all that. Junior Tracy has taken all this with a sangfroid I’m not sure I could manage in the circumstance.
Mr Roboto pulls another robbery and gets into a shootout with Dick Tracy. It has a couple delightful moments in it. First, the cashier blurting out “domo arigato, Mister Roboto”, which endears her to Roboto. He declares that she can keep the money. Second, though, during the shootout Roboto declares, “Hey, Tracy! It’s a cold war!” Which confuses his underlings. Also, everyone who read the strip because the thing that defines a “cold war” is not shooting directly at the enemy. What’s going on here is that “Cold War” is one of the other songs on the album with “Mister Roboto”. So the implication here is that yes, Mr Roboto is trying to build his villain’sona around a Styx thing, but that he … doesn’t … really … have exactly the material to do it with. Or didn’t have the command of the material to do the patter smoothly. I accept this as a funny, awkward moment in the training of a young supervillain.
They get out of the shootout, though. Mr Roboto has one of his henchmen lose his costume and fake being a hostage, for safe passage. He won’t be able to use that henchman again, but, that’s better than their getting killed or arrested. And they’ll have to lay low a while, but he was thinking to do that anyway. Roboto had noticed the ads for Metropolis, after all.
And the play is just his thing. The 19th of January — the first time we see Mr Roboto’s face unmasked — he’s gazing at Mysta Chimera, and even better, Mysty Chimera as a robot. It’s an explosive mix. He’s barely left the theater when he’s worked out how he’s going to kidnap her and be with her forever until she loves him. It’s the pretext of a magazine interview, in costume as the robot, of course, handcuffed to a chair, the usual.
He has to run to a bank job. So he leaves her some Moon Snail, fresh-poached from the city zoo, which is having a heck of a winter with the baddies breaking in. Once he leaves, she moon-zaps her handcuffs off and calls Dick Tracy. Mr Roboto and his gang get back to the lair — well, a two-level house in the suburbs — only for Mysta to moon-zap them, and then Dick Tracy arrives. Roboto and crew surrender, asking only to not be repeatedly shot. And that, the 8th of February, wraps up the Mister Roboto storyline.
I’m assuming we’ll see Mister Roboto again, since he’s got this fun goofball air while still doing actual crimes. I have no idea what anyone from Styx thinks of inspiring a Dick Tracy villain. But I am absolutely on board for this summer’s villain of “hardcore Atari 2600 Swordquest adventure games fanboy”. Also, nobody has yet added this storyline to the “Uses in Media” section of Wikipedia’s page about the song. Just observing.
The new and current story started the 9th of February, with someone baking a birthday cake for Shaky, whose gimmick is that he’s always trembling. Then, some flashbacks to explain his deal. He was shaking constantly from infancy, rather like his uncle Shaky. He parleyed this in his youth to being the schoolyard bully. Then to selling exam papers and book reports. Then to blackmail, forgery, that sort of thing. And today? Today, he’s looking for revenge on Dick Tracy.
Shaky’s plan get Tracy is to go through Tess Tracy. Her detective agency provided most of the evidence used to convict James McQueen of aggravated backstory. Shaky claims he can prove McQueen’s innocence, and that he’s willing to sit on that evidence, for a fee. And if she doesn’t pay, he explains, he’ll tell the press how Dick Tracy’s wife is suppressing evidence. Think of the scandal, since in the Tracy universe there are still scandals with consequences. Think how her husband will react.
Me, I would think “obscure relative of a killed antagonist is blackmailing me to get revenge on you” would be easy to explain to Dick Tracy. Heck, it’s happened so much they have to discuss it when something doesn’t have to do with a relative of someone Tracy’s killed looking for revenge. There’ve been like over two hundred relatives of Flattop alone trying to get revenge on Dick Tracy. Tossing in another Shaky shouldn’t strain the super-scientific detective’s belief in her. But we’ll see. For now, this is where the story’s gotten.