Thursday marks the 75th anniversary of the debut of Mark Trail this week. So, uh, Dad, I hope you do something special and maybe wave to the alligators. (Dad lives in South Carolina.)
I don’t remember the comic making a particular impression on me, as a kid. It was buried in the impenetrable dark column of story strips, on the left side of the first page of the Star-Ledger’s pages. I bet I looked at it because animal pictures were always interesting, but I didn’t know how to read a story strip to understand the goings-on. I didn’t really start paying attention until joining rec.arts.comics.strips. Having a group to read the comics with does a lot to encourage reading more comics. And Mark Trail offered a lot of chances to read. One could enjoy reading an action-adventure story and snarking on an action-adventure story. Sometimes for odd writing choices, especially in how to emphasize words. (Story strips, like older comic books, keep a convention of using bold for key words rather than to suggest line readings.)
The strip’s become a more important part of my life. Partly because I’ve shifted my snark from being the goal to being the side effect. Partly because I’m writing these plot recaps and have finally learned how to read story comics. (Reading three months’ worth in one day makes the plot much clearer.) Partly because people want to know why I’m not mad at the comic strip for changing. I have been mad at comic strips before, not all of them by Tom Batiuk. Even once at the Jack Elrod-era Mark Trail. I just don’t have it in me to be at a comic strip for not being the comic strip I used to read. And I’m glad to have the comic still in production. It would have been easy to lose the comic altogether.
Lockbramble’s a small fiefdom in the north of King Arthur’s England. Its Lord is an amiable figurehead, happy to let the lands run as a self-governing community. This because he doesn’t want to do stuff, which, relatable. Also because Rory Red Hood, the spearhead of this movement, is really good at management. Camelot is willing to overlook all this irregularity, because Sir Gawain rather fancies Rory. Also she’s making a lot of money. But other lords, who are not getting money from all this, disagree.
Prince Valiant and Sir Gawain were off in Lockbramble. Lord Hallam, of neighboring Wedmarsh, had sent bandits after Rory Red Hood. They’re not very effective. Durward, one of the bandits, was doing so under duress and he’s happy to move to Lockbramble if his family is safe. Valiant and Gawain are game for an evacuation/escort mission.
Wedmarsh’s Captain of the Guard catches them immediately. But they have a good lie to protect them. They assert that Durwood attacked their royal party, and though they slew him, the laws of Camelot give them rights to claim his family. Wedmarsh figures this sounds plausible so, what the heck. Durward and family are ultimately delighted. And Rory, speaking for Lockbramble, is too. Lockbramble’s prospering, but prosperity comes from people. So why not invite everyone who’s unhappy with their lot in life?
And the answer is that serfs ditching bad rulers for good rather annoys their bad rulers. The surrounding fiefs figure they can use law too, and demand a knight’s contest of champions. After all, they can pay a great outlaw knight to fight for them, while Lockbramble only has … at least two of Camelot’s knights. How can Lockbramble hope to win?
So it’s Sir Peredur the Rover against Sir Gawain. Peredur comes with a reputation. The reputation’s of betraying Castle Beringar to the Saxons, a mark of his deviousness and treachery.
Peredur wins the first round, thanks to some luck and a hidden iron core to his lance. Gawain’s a bit better-prepared for the second round, which ends up a tie. Meanwhile, Valiant follows some of Lord Hallam’s henchmen.
And that’s where we rest at the middle of April, 2021.
It won’t only be luck. The Phantom watches over Trusted Man, of course. Trusted Man uses some of the tricks he’s already learned from Ellerbee, although I regret “smash a rhino through the door” is not among them. Once confident that The Trusted Man has a handle on things, The Phantom sneaks into the computer room. His goal: getting a roster of the people “disappeared” into Gravelines Prison, which he’ll turn over to the Jungle Patrol.
The Trusted Man punches all the way to Salinas’s cell, and breaks him out. He tells the story of Towns Ellerbee’s work, and what he presumes to know about Ellerbee, as they exit. They’re alarmed by a speeding car, the first sign they’ve been detected. But it’s Towns Ellerbee driving it. So they’re able to make a grand escape.
The Ghost Who Taxi Drives takes them to somewhere in Bangalla. And vanishes into the fog, leaving behind the money The Trusted Man had paid him for his service. The two try to understand all his actions. The Trusted Man mentions Towns Ellerbee’s dark glasses and Colonel Worubu works it out. He’s incorrect, but not wrong. “Towns Ellerbee” must be John X, working on special detail for the Unknown Commander. The unresolved mystery to them: why should the Unknown Commander care about a kidnapped police chief from Ciudad Jardin?
And this is where the story’s reached. It feels like it must be near the end. All the Jungle Patrol’s attempts to understand their Unknown Commander fail, after all. The copied database of Gravelines prisoners seems likely to be more interesting to Jungle Patrol, too. Also possibly to generate future stories.
Hasn’t been revealed yet why someone wanted to kill Lady Worthington at this dinner of inventors she’d summoned. Or why she summoned them. The obvious supposition is money, but the truth may be something sillier.
This should get you up to date on Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the end of March, 2021. If you’re reading this after about June 2021, there’s likely a more up-to-date plot recap here. The link also will have any news about the comic strip which I notice.
3 January – 27 March 2021.
Alley Oop, Ooola, and Doc Wonmug had contracted a case of shrinking last we saw. This after getting zapped by shrink rays several times over. They first settled in at paramecium-sized. Then spontaneously re-shrank to bacterium-sized. Then to DNA-sized. Then into the subatomic, coming to be the size of quantum strings. Also, in the Alley Oop universe, it turns out string theory is right. Once shrunken so, though, they meet someone.
Plank seems to be a pleasant, all-knowing, mysterious entity. They’re able to show Our Heroes the wonders of alternate dimensions and the Theory of Everything and all that. And then it’s time to shrink some more. And what happens when you shrink smaller than anything can be? That’s right: you end up bigger than galaxies. Like in that ancient science fiction short story. Plank guides them to shrinking all the way back to Earth, and their proper size again. Wonmug hopes to chat physics with Plank some. Alley Oop and Ooola dash back for home.
They get home the 2nd of February and get exciting news: Garg is getting married! He doesn’t know to who. He’ll find out at the ceremony. Also everybody else is getting married too. Why is everyone marrying at the same time? The Mighty Feather, their new spiritual leader, decreed it. So that’s looking creepy and evil, however much everyone denies their evilness, in unison. Also, the Mighty Feather talks about how everyone needs to jump in the volcano tomorrow, so this needs action.
Alley Oop puts on his thinking feathers and realizes, why not pretend to be The Mighty Feather, cult leader, and guide Moo back to normal? And it turns out that’s all anybody needed. The story wraps up the 17th of February.
From the 18th the new, and current, story starts. They get an invitation to a “gathering of geniuses” at the palatial estate of Lady Worthington. The butler greets them, with a warning against “the butler did it” jokes. She’s gathered the finest minds in the world as she’s lost the key to her safe full of riches and needs help. Alley Oop finds it underneath a fake rock in the bureau, so on to a nice after-mystery dinner.
At the dinner it turns out all the guests but Ooola and Alley Oop are inventors. As Our Heroes ponder this strangeness, Lady Worthington admits she gathered everyone for a second purpose. Then the light flicks out a moment. When it comes back, Lady Worthington is dead, stabbed in the back.
It’s easy to solve a murder when you have a time machine like Doc Wonmug. The time machine won’t work. Another inventor has a post-mortem communicator. It doesn’t work. Another inventor has a reincarnator. it doesn’t work. Nor does the robo-cloner. Alley Oop’s club even acts weird. Wonmug deduces the presence of a Faraweek cage, interfering with the workings of technology.
Our Heroes explore the manor and find the Faraweek cage in the basement. Ooola snips the correct wire and all the technologies become available. The reincarnator, for example, is able to bring Lady Worthington back to life, only to die again of her stab wound. The post-mortem communicator gets Lady Worthington’s spirit demanding that nobody get her money and hangs up. The robo-duplicator produces a dead robot Lady Worthington. Finally we get to the time machine.
So, yes, the butler did it. And since they went back in time and interrupted the murder, Lady Worthington now isn’t dead and we get another bit of timeline-changing.
In the Sunday strips, there was one Little Oop comic where Penelope took herself and Alley Oop back to Moo. This teased a resolution of the scenario where Little Alley Oop’s in the present day. But it wasn’t followed up on the next week. So there’s not a real story resuming there.
I figure to stop covering Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s The Amazing Spider-Man the end of August. The current, Ant-Man, story, has ended. Peter Parker and Scott Lang (Ant-Man) take the subway home from Egghead’s mansion because they forgot they rented a car to drive there. Then we learn Mary Jane’s Broadway play is closed for a few more weeks. The theater’s getting more repairs. But there’s publicity for her film Marvella 2: The Quest For Peace to do. They go driving off to Los Angeles and along the way meet Rocket Raccoon and Ronan T Avenger. In its original run this story ran from the 20th of November, 2016, through the 30th of April, 2017. I make that out as 24 weeks, which is one week out of phase with my 12-week comic-strip cycle.
The end of that story is when I first started covering story strips regularly here. So that’s when I’ll bow out. That unless they rerun stories I haven’t covered, or they put the strip into new production. I don’t expect either case to happen, but this is a strange world we’re in. Still, any news about the Spider-Man strip should be posted here. And I have six months to figure out what to do with my content hole here. I’ll take suggestions.
The Amazing Spider-Man.
27 December 2020 – 21 March 2021.
The Daily Bugle has a new publisher since the death of J Jonah Jameson’s cousin Ruth. It’s Ruth’s widower, Elihas Starr, who’s known to Ant-Man as the villain Egghead. Starr demands Peter Parker get photos of Ant-Man. Why? Peter Parker doesn’t know. He guesses Ant-Man might know what Egghead’s up to. He doesn’t know the current Ant-Man, though. He only knows Dr Henry Pym, the original Ant-Man. So he takes the subway way out to the end of the world to the scientist’s lab.
The lab is deserted, and trashed. Spider-Man breaks in, and gets punched over and over by an invisible and intangible opponent. It turns out to be Scott Lang, the current Ant-Man. He’s staying small and unshrinking long enough to sucker-punch Peter Parker. Not even out of suspicion for anything. Newspaper Spider-Man has such big punchable-sucker energy nobody can resist.
The punching satisfies the Ritual of Super-Heroes Fighting When They Meet. Ant-Man doesn’t know what Egghead’s deal is either. Given the state of the lab, they guess someone kidnapped Dr Pym. Egghead’s the obvious suspect. So they go to J Jonah Jameson’s penthouse, guessing that he’d know where his cousin Ruth lived, and that’d be the place to hide Pym. Not sure I agree with the logic there — have they considered the Abandoned Warehouse District? — but they have to use what leads they have. Spider-Man stays outside, figuring Ant-Man is the one who could avoid raising Jameson’s ire. It goes well.
Still, they get an address, and plant the idea that Jameson might come into the story later and save our heroes from an impossible fix. You know, in case that comes about. They rent a car, drive out to the estate, break in, and set off an alarm that sprays them with shrink gas. It’s not one that Ant-Man can reverse, either. The modified shrink gas also shrinks Ant-Man’s strength from that of a Man to that of an Ant. Egghead vacuums them up, which is the kind of thing that keeps miniaturizing superheroes from achieving dignity. The shrunken heroes pass out in the vacuum because it’s a modified vacuum cleaner, okay? And wake to find themselves encased in plastic blocks. And Dr Pym tied up and bound to a chair right next to them.
So now it’s time for Egghead to explain his deal. he figured to steal and sell Pym’s shrinking formula. He wanted the newspaper as a way of laundering the sale money from this. He’d have been fine just romancing Ruth Jameson if he could have controlled the paper through her. But she wasn’t having any of that, so he married and killed her instead. And since Egghead was going to be busy with this, he assigned Peter Parker to photograph Ant-Man and so keep Ant-Man preoccupied.
Spidey breaks loose, and Egghead tries to shoot the shrunken heroes. This doesn’t work. Egghead instead sprays Pym with the new shrink gas, reducing him even beyond the Ant-Man norm; Our Heroes leap into the gas cloud to join them. They have to fend off a spider, which they do by using a Spider-Man and also a convenient wasp.
They also have to fend off Egghead’s modified bug-bomb. Thing is Pym never goes anywhere without enlarging gas. Even when he’s kidnapped by supervillains and tied up and sedated. Lucky, huh? And then J Jonah Jameson arrives and whacks Egghead in the egg with a lamp. Egghead recovers enough to repeat his boast that he killed Ruth Jameson. So now there’s four witnesses to Egghead boasting that he killed his wife. And there’s the camera Spider-Man planted in the corner when none of the readers were there. Its photos may well show Egghead trying to shoot, spray, and set on the shrunken Pym, Ant-Man, and Spider-Man. That should be good for prison, right?
The camera, by the way, we saw Spider-man planting outside the estate. Ant-Man commented on this as how Peter Parker got such great action shots of Spider-Man. On the 21st of March Spidey explained to Ant-Man that he brought the camera inside while Egghead was unconscious. This in the hopes of getting incriminating pictures. Also, Jameson would like to know why Spider-Man’s taking pictures of Spider-Man. There’ll be some quick rationalizations and that trip back home.
The relationship-wrecking catastrophe was the start of Francesco Marciuliano’s run on Judge Parker. This was the collapse of a clothing factory Danube and Neddy Spencer were opening. It fell into a sinkhole right in front of the press, particularly local reporter Toni Bowen. The factory idea was the last story of former writer Woody Wilson. Wilson had a lot of stories where people lavished riches and wealth and good fortune on the main characters. Here, for example, Danube had pressured her ex-boyfriend and head of Europa Aerospace to just give her the factory site. I have no doubt that Wilson meant the giving to be sincere. (On the characters’ part. When I re-read strips from that era I suspect Wilson was having fun seeing what it would take to make an editor say that was a bit much.)
Marciuliano has put into the backstory that “everyone suspected” Danube was running drugs. Or otherwise cheating on people to fund the project. Danube did flee after the sinkhole, on Marciuliano’s watch. Her relationship with Neddy collapsed then. We saw all that. But wanting to flee a disaster like that is human enough. And it’s hard to see how the sinkhole could be blamed on Danube or Neddy. If it’s anyone’s fault, it’s whoever failed to survey the grounds properly. Or whoever covered up the grounds results. Which would be a decent retcon explanation for why an aerospace company gave up a brand-new factory to a minor movie star and a young woman with money.
Establishing that Danube was a narcissist, though, is no great stretch. She had a job that selects for narcissism. And a problem dealing with narcissists is it’s hard to distinguish between their thinking of you and their wanting you to think of them. (It’s hard to know this for anyone. But when you see the narcissism you realize how much you don’t know the person.) When you suspect a relationship with a narcissist has gone sour, or become abusive, it forces a lot of difficult memory-parsing. Were they helpful at this delicate moment to be kind to you, or to teach you that kindness comes from them? Your answer depends on your feelings about them, and that affects your future answers about how their motivations. It’s always hard to tease out motivations, and when the narcissist is impossible to cross-examine, there’s not much to do but yell in your head.
Sophie won’t be completely alone in New York City. Toni Bowen will be there too. Her failed bid to unseat Mayor Sanderson drew enough attention for University of New York to hire her to teach a course on local politics. Unfortunately that’s about as not-alone as Sophie gets. It’s hard meeting people at all, and in pandemic times it’s even worse.
With the kids gone Abbey wonders whether she and Sam should downsize. Or even leave Cavelton altogether. She’s lonely, yes. And regrets the bed-and-breakfast, “a money pit” and business the mayor’s determined to make fail. She talks of wanting a change, although to what and where is open.
Meanwhile in Los Angeles, Neddy faces several challenges. One is that Ronnie Huerta has a new roommate, Kat. (I’d give her last name but can’t find it.) She’s playing the Neddy role in the April Parker TV series. Kat is very eager to help Neddy move out, shoving hard in that way people who think they’ve figured out how to solve your problem do. But Kat does have some fair observations. The poor little rich girl whose problem is doing her dream job can maybe find an apartment in the second-biggest city in the country. Also that Neddy not doing this writing is screwing up her, Kat’s, job. (One leitmotif in Marciuliano’s writing is characters explaining how one of the main cast looks to people who have to live with them. And how the main cast needs to get over themselves.) While talking this out with Ronnie, Kat lets slip that she wants to spend the rest of her life with Ronnie. That was something they didn’t realize they were ready for.
And Neddy does get down to work work, as opposed to househunting work. The TV producers want Godiva Danube to be a bigger part of the show, so they need Neddy to write more of her. And Neddy is still angry with the dead Godiva. How do deal with that? Hallucination is a good, tested method. That and my favored technique, a good argument with someone who can’t outwit you.
Ghost Godiva Danube refuses to play fair, though, insisting that while she fled, Neddy didn’t chase either. That she had to recover from the disaster herself. That she was “always there for” Neddy. Which Neddy admits, but argues was because Danube wanted to be the star of Neddy’s suffering. The one that guided where it went. Neddy comes out of this convinced that what she needed wasn’t to tell Ghostdiva off, but to face her own anger. And as Ghostdiva storms off, Neddy feels triumphant that she has.
And then the 1st of March started the current and exciting thread. Charlotte Parker, Randy’s and April’s couple-years-old daughter, says she didn’t see Mommy “today”. You know, like she sees her every day. Which was a development catching Randy by surprise. April’s been busy with that super-hyper-ultra-etc assassin agent nonsense. I did see this excite a bunch of comics snarkers pointing out the idea that April Parker had been secretly visiting Charlotte made no sense at all.
The next week of the strip — the last full week, as I write this — showed Marciuliano explaining how this might make sense. That this was going on for only the last two weeks. That April, if it is April, had signalled to Charlotte to keep it secret. That Charlotte could recognize April because they keep pictures of her in the house. And yes, it may be dumb but it’s a recognizable human dumbness. And that they can’t find anything on the security cameras. Randy got rid of the network of security cameras when he realized April had tapped them all. (I’m not sure we saw that it was April and not the super-hyper-ultra-etc spy network that was holding Norton in mega-secret spy hyper-jail.) This implicit threat to take Charlotte does quite good, fast work in driving Randy crazy. But Randy is right that it’s within April’s demonstrated power set to do something like this, even if it is only to mess with Randy’s head. And, as Alan Parker noted this Sunday, they don’t yet know it is April.
The kid, Vic Doucette, was going on about the 90s Pistons because he researched them. He researched them because Coach Gil Thorp referenced them and he wanted to do his job as game announcer well. Not that anything about the Pistons is likely to come up in a Milford basketball game. But a marker of excellence in a field is enthusiasm for its trivia. Doucette’s decided he wants to be an announcer and he is throwing himself wholeheartedly into the role.
It happens that last time I checked in was the week the story wrapped up. I often feel like these recaps happen suspiciously close to a new story’s start. That’s an illusion created by “close” feeling like “within two weeks, give or take” and that covers, like, a third of my cycle. Still, the new and current story started the 14th of December, neat as I would hope.
We start basketball season. First major player: Vic Doucette. He’s not an athlete, owing to cerebral palsy. He asks Coach Gil Thorp to be the announcer for boys’ basketball games. Thorp is impressed with Doucette’s knowledge of basketball trivia and also his existence as a living body willing to do this job.
Next major player: Shooting guard Doug Guthrie. He has a 1966 Pontiac GTO, which I am informed is an impressive car to have. He’d found and rebuilt it with his dad. And he keeps ducking out for thinks like go-kart races in Florida. Like, real kart racing at 70 mph and so on.
Third major player: Tessi Milton, forward for the girls’ basketball team. And teammate to Corina Karenna, who’s transferred over from volleyball. The girls’ team feels disrespected, relative to the boys’ team. She comes into significance later in the proceedings.
Doucette got the job of announcer because he was willing. It turns out he’s eager, though. Enthusiastic even. He works out catchy nicknames for everyone, he rallies the crowd, he shows open and unbridled delight in a high school thing. He goes to away games — where he’s not an announcer — to take notes about the team. He follows Gil Thorp’s mention of the 90s Pistons to study how Ken Calvert announced players, and pick up moves from that work. In short, he shows unbridled interest in a thing. In high school. Vic Doucette is braver than the troops.
At a postgame dinner at The Bucket, Guthrie talks about Doucette’s car. It’s a modified 2004 GMC Safari. The modifications are to help Doucette when he’s having a harder day. They bond over the car talk, though, Guthrie asking about the MV-1, identified as “the first van designed for wheelchairs from the start”. So you know how deep the car thing interests Guthrie.
The girls’ basketball team, meanwhile, wants for attention. Tessi Milton figures to get Vic Doucette to announce their games, too. It’s not a bad plan. In boys’ basketball he’s advanced to running in-game givewaways and stuff that plays well with the crowd. (He’s giving away the hot dog and soda that are his “pay” for announcing. I mention because the strip made a point of mentioning it. I appreciate the craft of that. You can fault Gil Thorp for many things, but it does justify most everything that appears on screen. It may be the story strip that most improves on rereading twelve weeks’ worth at a go.) Fun enough that Guthrie even skips a car-racing thing to play. Doucette even has some decent sports-psychology, talking Guthrie out of the funk of a lousy game.
So Milton asks Doucette to announce their games. He’s not sure. He needs time to study, after all, and see his friends and do stuff that isn’t basketball announcing. Also, I notice, he uses a crutch reliably from mid-January on; he hadn’t needed one earlier. This may be a signal that he’s getting worse.
He decides to announce girls basketball games, though, saying, “studying is overrated, right?” And he brings the same level of research and hard work to this that he did the boys games. It goes well, and Milton’s grateful, to the point everyone tells Doucette that she’s flirting with him. So he asks her out and she “can’t this weekend”.
Guthrie, with Tom Muench, are late to a practice. They’re pulled over by a traffic cop, who recognizes that they’re popular white athletes and lets them off with a little car talk. But, running laps at practice, Muench sprains his knee and is out for a couple games. And this throws Guthrie way off his game.
Doucette notices all this, and tries to sort out Guthrie’s problem. He observes how Guthrie’s interested in someday driving racecars at 200 mph; it’s hard to do that when you’re worried about running laps. And this bit seems to help.
After a girls basketball game, Tessi Milton dodges Doucette, whom she points out to her teammates has asked her out twice now. Her teammates point out she was flirting with him. Which she owns up to, yes, but they needed an announcer. And while he’s “a nice guy,” well, “would you go out in that grandpa van?” Which does support Karenna’s earlier assessment that Milton is a deeply shallow person. To be empathetic, though, Milton is in a lousy place herself. Suppose you’ve agreed the team needs Doucette to announce their games; what tools do you have to get him to do it? There’s no pay available, and no glory either. What option does she have but flattery? And — I write before seeing Monday or Tuesday’s strips so may be setting myself up to be a fool — faulting Doucette’s car is less bad than sneering at the idea of dating someone with cerebral palsy.
And that’s the standings as of mid-March. It does feel like Milton’s being set up for some comeuppance. But the story might resolve to something as simple as hurting a guy who’s been quite giving. It does feel to me significant that Doucette’s repeated his worry he’s ignoring friends and school for all this announcing work, though. Also that he’s seen using the crutches more than he was early in the story. Maybe not significant is Guthrie mentioning how his dad teaches driving to the area cops, part of why he and Muench were let off with small talk. I’m not making detailed predictions, though.
Milford Schools Watch
Who’s Milford playing? The past couple months, these teams. If you want the win-loss record, oh, I don’t feel up to tracking that. You have your fun.
The current story was just a week old when I last checked in. Buck Wise, who has a job doing … something … with collectibles? … was feeling tired and thirsty. Like, a lot, even considering it was 2020. Still, Rex Morgan was opening his clinic for virtual visits. So even though he can’t point to any particular complaint, and has been losing weight, he gets a checkup.
Rex Morgan suspects a medical condition, but has Buck come in to his clinic anyway. The results of the blood draw: he’s got a crazy high blood glucose count, and needs a second screening. And to not finish the fries and triple-thick butterscotch malt he just got from the fast food place.
The second draw confirms Rex’s suspicion. Buck’s got type-two diabetes. They’ll start with oral medication, regular blood glucose checks, and diet changes. Buck comes into the clinic for a third time, to learn how to test his blood glucose levels. And on the way home gets one last bacon cheeseburger, fries, and triple-thick malt. Which, yeah, hard not to empathize.
He feels lousy after the cheat on his diet. But he uses the stationary bike until his glucose numbers look not-awful again. He does confess to Mindy, his wife, who’s kind about not making him feel worse for the occasional backslide. (Yes, the “backslide” happened before anything else could, but I’m aware I wouldn’t do much better.) And she’s happy to find diabetic-friendly meals in a good variety.
So, yeah, that’s been the story. Buck’s learned he has diabetes and his family is positive and supportive. It’s not been much of a conflict and it did feel like a lot of the story was Buck going back in to the Morgan Clinic. But, you know, what else should happen?
His work — three hundred stories, which appears to give him more stories than anyone but Lee Falk himself — has been almost all for Team Fantomen, the Scandinavian-produced comic book. It’s a side of The Phantom that I know almost nothing about. I’m aware that ideas flow between the continuities. Writers too: Reimerthi did some work for the comic strip (apparently stories adapted from the Team Fantomen line) after Lee Falk’s death. And I learn that Tony DePaul wrote for Team Fantomen before taking up the newspaper strip. I don’t know what concepts Reimerthi might have done that’s been adopted into the newspaper continuity. But I do see that Comics Kingdom’s archive reaches back far enough that it includes about half of The Halloween Kidnappers, the first of his stories for the newspaper comic. So it’s available for subscribers or, if I ever feel a strong need to do even more plot recaps, for me.
The Phantom is using this story as a chance to reinforce the legend of his immortality. He’s using what he learned from The Phantom Chronicles to talk as though he were friends with an historical ruler of Bangalla.
The gang is, lucky for The Phantom and The Detective, coming in groups small enough for two guys and a wolf to knock out. And yeah, The Detective. It’s another story where people get addressed by title. When they get to the boss level, they’re able to just drive a truck into the warehouse and hold the bosses at gunpoint.
And, as a bonus, to give The Detective the chance to hit the bosses a lot. This is extrajudicial and all, yes. But they are the people who had The Detective locked in a cell below the water line, which so nearly drowned him. It can be called karmic justice, at least.
So, with the whole criminal syndicate recovering from being punched, The Detective calls in the Mawitaan police. And explains to them how he’s not dead! And how he punched unconscious a whole crime syndicate! And did not need the help of an immortal spirit-protector summoned to his aid by his worried grandmother! Because The Phantom finally learned the name of The Detective — Yusuf Ali Malango, badge 941 — and vanished.
This past Sunday strip did not promise a new adventure next week. I imagine there may be a coda with The Detective’s Grandmother. We last saw her in August, waiting by the giant Phantom head that Emperor Joonkar had people carve into a mountain. After that, though, I expect the 191st Sunday story to begin. We’ll see, though.
So … uh … nothing. The 14th of February, 1921, was the day that Gasoline Alley turned into a comic strip anyone but a specialist would have heard of. It’s when Walt Wallet found an abandoned infant on the doorstep. The child was soon named Allison (Get it? Alley-Son), but everyone’s called him Skeezix. It was a milestone for the comic, and for comics. It pioneered the comic strip where characters grow up in something like real time.
Despite their help with thanksgiving, Clovia’s quite stressed having them around. Slim’s not too thrilled by them either. So in the tradition of old-time-radio and old-fashioned TV sitcoms, they hatch a Scheme. They’ll use the haunted house props to make Lil and Chubby think the place is haunted. To work! Lil’s makeup kit is out of place. The clocks are set wrong. A weird figure appears before them. This convinces Lil and Chubby, who flee. Clovia’s proud of her husband’s haunting. Slim’s baffled because he hadn’t even started haunting yet. But how could that happen?
So that wraps up the story, on the 8th of December. The 9th of December started the next, again centered on Slim and Clovia, so there’s little transition needed. Bleck’s Department Store asking Slim if he can play Santa again this year. Trouble is in washing it. The dryer doesn’t work.
The dryer repair person says the dryer is fine. Dire news from the electrician: he’s the Frank Nelson character. He figures the dryer needs a new power cord. Fixing that doesn’t help. His next diagnosis is the circuit breaker. Now the dryer works … once. They yield to the inevitable and go shopping for a new dryer. The dryer salesman is Frank Nelson again.
This leads to a couple weeks of delivery attempts by Sidney and Lew. They feel like a reference to me. I can’t figure out who, though. There’ve been a lot of delivery-team scenes in the past. In the first delivery attempt, Slim’s fallen asleep and can’t hear them. On the second attempt, Slim and Clovia are awake. But they notice a dent on the back of the dryer, and touch-up paint on the front. I’m not clear where the damage came from. Frank Nelson offers them a $150 discount to take the dryer, but Clovia suspects it’s not a new dryer. She’s convinced by the promise of a discount, though, and Sidney and Lew are happy to leave. And the new dryer doesn’t work.
So if you like this mode of American Cornball plotting? (I do, by the way.) You likely enjoyed Scancarelli’s skill respecting the styles and conventions of the genre. If you don’t like this, the story was like chewing tin foil. You know, these are the sorts of stories he wants to tell.
Sidney and Lew return, to take out the broken one and return a new one. And that seems to work, and to end the story, with the 6th of February.
Last Monday the current story began. It features Gertie, Walt Wallet’s live-in caretaker. At the supermarket she encounters someone in distress. She’s lost her glasses, and crying. Gertie volunteers to help. I don’t know where this might lead.
I need to give a content warning about for this Mary Worth plot recap. The currently ongoing story is about a person who’s suffered abuse from a spouse. If you don’t need that in your recreational reading, you’re right, and you may want to skip that bit. But Eve Lourd, who’s the center of that story, had an anxiety attack when she noticed the suit on a mannequin.
So Tommy throws himself into being a better person. Sharing his experience with schoolkids. I hope after getting their teacher’s approval. Doing more at work, to the point the manager notices. As a way of coping with a breakup, that’s pretty good. There’s no reason to think it’ll win back your lost love, but it puts you in a better spot for the next love. And, you know, you get to enjoy being better off too. Less good is that Tommy also mentions to Brandy every 105 minutes that he’s not an addict and loves her.
Still, Brandy does notice how hard he’s working at bettering himself. And she’s been talking to a therapist, and decided she does believe him. So they’re back on. She’s still not ready to marry, by the way, but she’s open to becoming ready, in case you worried about that plot thread. Tommy visits Mary Worth for the ritual thanking Mary Worth for her advice, and to accept blueberry cobbler foodstuff. And, Tommy even gets a new job for Christmas: part-time school monitor.
The 27th of December we have a moment of Mary Worth and Doctor Jeff acknowledging how hard a year it’s been. Dr Jeff had knee surgery, for example, and Drew had some problem with his ex, and a good friend had business losses. I don’t know who Drew is and I don’t know about this good friend business. The last good friend of Dr Jeff’s I noticed was muffin enthusiast Ted Miller, a plot from early 2018 that I’m still angry about. I guess it’s nice that the characters have problems going on that don’t make it on-screen. Still, I’d have taken that year.
The current story started the 28th of December. It’s about Saul Wynter and Eve Lourd, a new Charterstone resident and dog-owner. And she’s dealing with the aftermath of a physically abusive relationship. So I’m putting the recap of that behind a cut.
I have no idea. In the current story Mark Trail’s stolen a speedboat and damaged a lot of rich people’s stuff. And knocked a man unconscious into the water. Some of this I can imagine getting cleared up. I don’t know how he’s not awaiting arraignment, though. Sorry.
The new Mark Trail had just got his first assignment in months. It’s investigating Happy Trail Farms for Teen Girl Sparkle magazine. He was freaking out about this assignment, down to not telling anyone what upset him. And by chance Kelly Welly stopped in town to mention how popular they are on the Internet, unlike Mark Trail.
Instagram Envy sends Mark Trail on a frenzy of doing little web features for Teen Girl Sparkle. Editor Amy Lee likes it. And his natural enthusiastic squareness works for readers too, a thing I can see. But that’s a side line to getting to Florida and meeting Jolly Roger.
Or re-meeting Jolly Roger, who’s been a python hunter ever since losing his farm. Mark gets bitten by a python, while trying to find a Burmese python, and asks immediately whether the snake’s all right. It’s part of what convinces Roger’s partner that this Mark Trail they can trust.
Meanwhile Cherry Trail, with Rusty, are also driving to Florida. He has a homework project of making a family tree. It’s not at all suspicious how convenient this is. Cherry was driving to see her family. And she reveals that the woman she’s told Rusty was her aunt is in fact her mother. They drive to an RV park. We meet Cherry’s younger stepsisters, Olive and Peach Pitt. Cherry says she’s not there to dredge up the past, but to talk. Olive wants to know things like was she ever going to mention she had a son? The reunion turns into a brawl immediately.
Back on Mark Trail. We get Jolly Roger’s story. Mark’s father, Happy Trail, had a deal for his neighbor and friend Roger. Sign over his farm to the Happy Trail Farms trail-mix company for a share of the revenue. All right. In practice, Happy Trails used Roger’s farm for fertilizer runoff. Algae filled the nearby ponds. Roger brought his case to the media. It stirred up controversy. Roger is a Black man going up against a wealthier white man with a corporation. So that hasn’t been happy for him.
All Mark Trail can do is apologize. For not doing anything to stop his father. Also for running away, which confirms the meaning of a flashback we’d seen in October. Mark says how he was “old enough to fight for my country, but I didn’t fight for my friend”. It’s an interesting mention. When the comic strip started in 1946, Mark Trail was, as you’d expect for his age and physical condition, a veteran. Whatever else might be getting retconned or revised, that was kept.
Back on Cherry Trail. Her mother breaks up Cherry’s fight with Olive, using a bucket of water. Peach Pitt reveals she’d asked Cherry to come for “business advice”. Peach had been following Cherry on social media. I don’t know if that was reciprocated. Peach confirms their mother’s bipolar disorder isn’t getting better. And Cherry explains to Rusty that this is why she and her father left, years ago, and have kept so much distance. The business advice is that their mother needs more professional care. Peach has found what she calls a great inpatient treatment center. It’s $20,000.
Back to Mark Trail. He’s got his Roger interview. Now he needs to interview his father. I’ll be calling him Happy Trail; it can be confusing when father and son have identical names. Happy’s glad to see him at the Miami Speedboat Mania here. He’s also huggy. But he’ll talk about the farm if that’s what he can’t avoid doing. Happy’s argument is he bought the farm fair and square. It’s not his or Roger’s fault that the land’s more valuable now. He didn’t create the toxic algae. He did buy a speedboat, though, he’ll own up to that.
And this really sets off Mark. We flash back to a childhood memory, Mark Trail’s father explaining how speedboats hurt hundreds of manatees every year. How they have to fight to keep speedboats off Florida waterways. So this is a potent mix of betrayed ideals and hypocrisy. All Mark Trail can do is something dramatic and stupid.
He steals his father’s speedboat and races off. It’s a messy, confusing chase with a lot of incidental damage. His father mentions, Mark Trail has a bad track record with boats, a motif of the James Allen run. One of his father’s employees manages to stop the boat for a moment. This gives Mark his first chance to punch someone this story. A whole fight, too, one going on a week reader time. But the cops pull up ordering him to shut off his engines.
But Mark’s inspired by the advice that an ibis and a shark offer. Or that he thinks he’s offered. The strip has not quite committed to the idea this isn’t all in Mark Trail’s head. He takes their recommendation and guns the boat. The cops pull out the sound cannon and blast like he was advocating for police accountability. Mark Trail steers his father’s speedboat into a fireworks yacht, setting off a pretty awesome scene that does a lot of damage.
Caught in the sad emotional lee of having caused Drama, Mark calls for help. The only help is Kelly Welly, who was going to Florida on a different assignment after all. (Their setup seemed ambiguous to me.) They refuse to take over the assignment, asserting it’s Mark’s first un-safe story, and one he has to tell. And that’s where things stand.
So, do I hate the strip? Do I think you should?
No; I don’t hate any of the story strips, or any of the strips I read regularly. Although Funky Winkerbean tests me. Should you hate it? No. I understand not liking it. But even if can’t stand Jules Rivera’s art or story style, then, you’re better off than if the strip had been cancelled. If the strip stays alive, then whatever artist succeeds Rivera might do work more to your liking. A few cancelled strips have been revived, but name two that lasted five years. I’ll give you Annie as the first.
Do I love the strip? I’m feeling warmer toward it. The mysteries set up in Rivera’s first month got some reasonable development. We’ve got some action. We’ve been getting more animals. And some attention on agribusiness, which is all about nature and how we use it.
I admit an unease with the revelations about Mark Trail’s family. And, to a lesser extent, Cherry Trail’s. So far as I know their families had gone unmentioned in the strip. At least they’ve gone unmentioned in long enough a time any reasonable reader would have forgotten. So here Rivera fills in families they would with reason avoid talking about.
Depicting Mark Trail’s father as the Classic Mark Trail carries symbolic heft. Depicting him, more, as someone who’s let money override his love of the environment? That feels like a betrayal. It should. It addresses the hardest lesson about idealism. Our ideals are not goals; they are ongoing works. We have to keep a reasonable level of self-inquiry and self-skepticism and stay mindful of how much we settle for convenient over right. Even our heroes will sometimes fail. And using the Classic Mark Trail as the person who’s failed gives the story a greater substance.
And again, if this doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t work for you, and there’s no arguing that. But if you don’t like it but keep finding something you need to read about it? This might be some of what it’s addressing and why it’s sticking.
Sunday Animals Watch!
I’m still tracking the animals and other nature-related items in the Sunday pages. I’d hope even people who can’t get into Rivera’s style enjoy the playfulness she’s brought to title panels. These have rendered the strip’s title in more fanciful ways. Like, having the letters spelled out by the legs of ibises, or in tree leaves, or cried out by a peacock. That’s fun and I bet satisfying for Rivera to do.
Blacktip Sharks, 24 January 2021. Like was giving Mark Trail advice.
Cicadas, 31 January 2021. They’re loud, although not so loud as peacocks.
I’m still holding off on recapping Gasoline Alley for some mysterious reason that hasn’t anything to do with the story about buying a new clothes dryer still going on. While I wait, though, I’ll look in on Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth. I’d like to say that’s always fun but the current storyline does involve a character recovering from an abusive relationship. If you don’t need that in your fun recreational reading, you are right, and may want to approach the strip and the recap with caution.
Pouch is this balloon-seller at the city zoo, by day. He’s also an informant, passing messages along to the criminal and, sometimes, cop worlds. The current storyline had him forced to sell a blue balloon. Why is Pouch so freaked out about selling the blue balloon? Because that balloon held information for a job, for one of Pouch’s clients. They need it back within an hour. Why was Aquarius, the buyer, so determined to get the balloon? He doesn’t know why it’s important, but it’ll be leverage. How did Aquarius know there was any reason to care about any of these balloons? … I don’t know. Maybe he reasoned Pouch would have something if he was still hanging around the zoo at sunset.
So this should catch you up on Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for late January 2021. If you’re reading this after about April 2021, I hope to have a more up-to-date plot recap here. That link also will hold any news about the comic strip which I get.
1 November 2020 – 23 January 2021.
My last plot recap coincided with the end of a story and start of a new one. Lucky for me. Also lucky for Mark Bernard, guest writer for this story. Not so lucky for Rabbit, delivery man for Elegance Fragrances. Rabbit mistakenly included some of the boss’s poison with a legitimate perfume delivery. The boss — Yeti — kills him. And sends Daisy Dugan to recover the poison. Daisy recovers it, but comes close to Dick Tracy, who’s investigating a string of poisonings. Daisy shoots at Tracy, causing the scientific detective to wonder why someone’s shooting him. Other than, like, half the town is relatives and remakes of crooks he’s killed.
The poison business isn’t what it used to be. Yeti has a plan to tide himself through the slump: stealing a million-dollar meteorite from the city museum. The plan is to drive one of the well-marked Elegant Fragrances trucks to three blocks away from the museum, sneak in through the sewers, and grab the rock. It’s our first clear hint that Yeti may not be Dick Tracy’s most ingenious opponent ever. The delivery van’s noticed by the cops’ drone camera network. Also, the cops have a drone camera network. It’s an element that fills a much-needed gap in Dick Tracy’s surveillance-state dystopia.
Grabbing the meteorite goes well, though, since Yeti and Daisy can just step over the security lasers. Climbing back down into the sewer goes less well, as Daisy slips and breaks something. Yeti leaves him to die. Yeti puts the meteorite in the back of the truck, takes off, hits the curb, and loses the meteorite right out the back of the truck. He doesn’t notice until he gets home.
So, ah, good job, Yeti. He gets his gun ready to shoot Dick Tracy; Sam Catchem shoots it out of his hand. Yeti flees to the back room, telling himself that he’s survived far worse. I would like him to name two examples. He won’t, though. In his haste to gather his papers and flee, he lets loose a giant poison spider who kills him.
And that, the 5th of December, closes the story. I’m sorry to see Yeti go, since he had a weird name and a snooty attitude about poisoning being elegant while guns and knives suck. And there’s his whole vendetta to destroy Dr Harvey Camel’s life. That’s enough for a character. It’s disappointing that he so completely foiled himself. Dick Tracy hardly had to show up.
The 6th of December, 2020, started the still-running story. And this is by Staton and Curtis on their own. It’s the one with, yes, a hippie commune. It starts at the city zoo, where balloon dealer and information-seller Pouch growls at a cocaine dealer name of Dollar Bill. Pouch — one of the few Dick Tracy characters to have got away with murder — doesn’t want drug dealers messing up his businesses.
Pouch calls on Tiger Lilly to rough Dollar Bill up a bit. Lilly roughs too much up, and snaps Dollar Bill’s neck. Pouch leaves Lilly to clean up his own problems. Lilly leaves the body to be discovered, figuring it’ll send the signal to keep the drug deals out of Pouch’s park. Dick Tracy gets the signal too, and suspects the start of a drug war. “It looks serious,” says Dick Tracy, “Prilosec and Meclizine have lost patience waiting for the Rolaids Empire to crumble. They might maneuver Cimetidine into giving a push.”
Aquarius, who runs the dealing network Dollar Bill was part of, replaces him with a guy named Ty. And warns Ty to be careful of the cops. Ty is immediately spotted by Sam Catchem. Ty runs into a farmer’s market, though, disappearing in the crowd. One of the farmers tips Catchem off to the commune, though. Catchem and Tracy go to the commune at 1312(!) Bedwell. They ask Aquarius for information and get nothing, not even his name.
This does send Aquarius to Pouch, to figure out his deal. He does this by asking Pouch where to find Dollar Bill and Pouch is having none of that. Aquarius offers to buy one of Pouch’s balloons, though, the blue one, which he refuses to sell at any price. It turns into an argument that park cops come in to break up. Aquarius offers to make peace by buying all the balloons, including the blue one. Given the scene, Pouch can’t refuse.
Tiger Lilly follows Aquarius. So Aquarius is incredibly aware of Tiger Lilly’s pursuit. Aquarius returns to the commune, and Lilly breaks in after everyone goes setting up an ambush. Lilly’s overwhelmed, and captured, and Aquarius demands to know who sent him and what he’s after.
And that’s where we stand. It’s on a lot of characters noticing the people following them. Also thinking people were following them who weren’t. It’s a curious little motif for the comic. We’ll see where it leads in about twelve weeks.
My schedule calls for Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley. But I realize I may want to postpone that for … let’s say two weeks. So I will have a Gasoline Alley plot recap at this link, but around the 16th of February. So I’ll go to the next strip on my routine instead, then, and that’ll be … ooh! Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail. Should be fun. See you then.
Lockbramble is this fiefdom near enough Camelot. Lord Grunyard rules it, in name. He’d rather not have anything to do with anything. It’s actually ruled by the people living there, and he’s fine with that. They use Grunyard as a shield against meddlers like King Arthur “fixing” their nice setup. This was established in the 2012 story that introduced Rory Red Hood to the Prince Valiant cast.
Valiant, back home at last, had found a little awkward money problem. Sir Gawain has been managing the estate very well, thanks to his beau, Rory Red Hood. She’s technically speaking a fugitive, for her stance that the people should govern themselves. But she also is really good at running things and is making a lot of money. With Queen Aleta prodding Valiant, and Princess Maeve kicking Prince Arn out of bed, the menfolk agree to a compromise. Rory Red Hood can go on managing things and making a lot of money for them. Just stop with the undermining the social order.
Around the 15th of November we move into a fresh story. Rory means to return to Lockbramble. Sir Gawain goes with her. So does someone named Little Ox, who I didn’t even know was in the story. Valiant goes along too because it’s been all peaceful for whole weeks now. In a snowy gorge — a “defile”, the strip teaches me — a band of 1d4+4 bandits ambush them. After Valiant and Gawain charge into the action, Ox charges from farther behind. Rory gets to a ledge and shoots arrows at the bandits, who flee.
Little Ox is badly wounded, though. They’re near enough Little Ox’s house to bring him home. And we learn Little Ox is Rory’s brother. Rory, her mother, and Ox’s wife get to work on the medicine-ing and arguing about Rory’s life choices. Valiant and Gawain return to the scene of the ambush to harass one of the not-yet-dead bandits. They figure to make him tell what the deal is.
He’s quite eager to tell. Durward, he explains, is bound to Lord Hallam of the neighboring Wedmarsh. Rory foiled Hallam’s schemes to take over Lockbramble when she dragged Lord Grunyard back from Camelot. Hallam’s looking for revenge, yes, but also to kill Lockbramble’s real leader. Durward despairs for his family. Hallam’s sure to think his capture was actually Durward turning traitor, and so will punish Durward’s family. Valiant suggests he could save Durward’s family. This sounds great to Durward. I’m not sure what Valiant is getting out of this besides some thrills. But he and Gawain are off, and that’s where things stood as of Sunday. What could go wrong in this furtive mission to rescue hostages-of-fate for a person enthusiastic to turn on his evil boss? We may know by April.
“Towns Ellerbee” is a fake name The Phantom, Kit Walker, uses in the current story. He gave it to someone we know as the Trusted Man. I can’t say why he gave the Towns Ellerbee name rather than Kit Walker. It might be so as to keep other people in the story (Ernesto Salinas and Victor Batalla) from linking this person to The Phantom.
Monday the 24th started Then Came Towns Ellerbee, the 256th weekday-continuity story. It picks up on a trio of stories from 2011 and 2012: A Detente with Crime, and The Den with Crime, and Mexico’s Phantom. These introduced Ernesto Salinas, a police chief in Ciudad Jardin, Mexico. Salinas used his prowess as a lucha libre wrestler to battle organized crime for territory. We’d last seen Salinas beating his old childhood friend Victor Batalla for control over some part of Ciudad Jardin. Now? They’re both in Rhodia, the fascist state bordering Bangalla. Salinas is under “house arrest”, and Batalla taunts him with actual arrest and entombment in Gravelines Prison. There’s some mutterings about a broken promise of safe conduct from the Rhodian government. When Batalla falls asleep Salinas calls his assistant back in Mexico. His assistant — the Trusted Man — flies to Bangalla. The Trusted Wife sends a note to Walker, Box 7, Mawitaan.
The Phantom moves to intercept the Trusted Man, before he gets himself in serious trouble with the Rhodian police. As the bus crosses from Bangalla to Rhodia he gets into serious trouble: his forged passport is awful. He readies for a fight with the border guards. What do you know, though, but Kit Walker’s on the bus too, and picks a fight before the Trusted Man can have it. The Phantom and the Trusted Man are able to punch out all four border guards pretty efficiently. This would seem to cause trouble for the bus driver and the other passengers. The Phantom tells them to drive to the next town, report what happened and describe the two vigilante superheroes in great detail. I’m not sure this would actually clear the innocents. I guess The Phantom must do this sort of thing often enough Rhodian security is used to it.
The Trusted Man is happy to team up with “Towns Ellerbee”, as The Phantom calls himself, to rescue Ernesto Salinas. They make their way to Victor Batalla’s compound. There, The Phantom’s advanced skills in clobbering people impresses the Trusted Man. But there’s no sign of Salinas. They need to take Batalla by surprise. The Trusted Man goes in through the front door. The Phantom breaks in through the back window with the help of a trusted rhinoceros.
I’m sorry, I didn’t quite make a big enough deal of that. I’m not sure how to frame it well. But The Phantom got, somewhere, a rhino to charge through the back of this house. And then the rhino has nothing else to do with the story. I don’t know where it’s from. I don’t know how it got involved here. I have to suppose it was a statue or a taxidermy model or something like that which the Phantom slid through the window. It’s a wild, striking image and I don’t quite understand it. But it makes an impression.
Batalla taunts the Trusted Man, asserting there is no Salinas anymore. After the Trusted Man throws him into the wall enough Batalla explains he turned Salinas over to the Rhodian authorities, perhaps for making long-distance calls on the house phone. They sent him to Gravelines Prison. It’s a grim place. In a noteworthy 18-month-long storyline The Python arranged for Diana Walker to be imprisoned and almost killed in it. The Phantom knows well where it is. To raid Gravelines now requires doing something about Batalla and his henchmen.
Fortunately for them, the Phantom is also the Unknown Commander of the Jungle Patrol. He’s able to order this private army to kinda technically speaking invade Rhodia and abduct people for trial in a country they never set foot in. The Trusted Man is impressed with The Phantom’s resources. The two set off for Gravelines.
The next story started the 19th of October. It starts out looking like it’s about some corporate intrigue. Potato chip magnate Leslie Stenk calls in a favor from Doc Wonmug. She needs something done about Chip Hamberden’s far more successful potato chip company. Wonmug takes the Civil-War-Enthusiast Hamberden on a time trip back to the Battle of Antietam. And leaves him there, where he seems happy, which, fair enough.
When Wonmug gets back to the present, Ava is gone. All that’s present is an Interdimensional Soul Reanimator and a set of time coordinates. It’s the lab’s location, four billion years in the past. This makes me wonder, like, location on the continental plate? Or latitude-longitude? How is the prime meridian handled over that length of time? Not important. They get some magic breathing apparatuses and pop back to the primordial soup.
Ava is there, though she’s floating in the air and shooting flame-breath at Wonmug. Also she’s calling herself Zanzarr, “master of the demonic souls of the afterlife”. Zanzarr’s plan: zap the primordial soup with demon energy to prevent life as humans know it ever existing. It’ll be nothing but demons. I don’t know how to square this with what The Clawed Oracle just said about timeline changes.
Wonmug tries appealing to Ava, who must be wrestling Zanzarr for control of her body. Ava notes how lousy her job actually is. It’s a beat about what a jerk Wonmug can be, augmented by Ooola and Alley Oop saying they forgot to invite her into their union. I know being a jerk has been a staple of comic scenes since forever, but it doesn’t need to be nasty.
So, they get the demon out. Wonmug sets it at the dinosaur-asteroid-impact-spot. I suppose that’s practical and maybe even responsible — Zanzarr was trying to destroy all life, after all — but it’s also murder. Also, he leaves ten seconds before impact. What if his time thingy had decided to reboot? Anyway, Wonmug promises to at least buy Ava a better office chair. (There’s also a casual mention that Ava dated a female demon, back in college. So the time-travelling caveman comic strip acknowledged lesbian-or-bisexual relationships before Mary Worth did.)
One more thing, though. How did Ava leave a note with the time coordinates for Wonmug to find? And … she didn’t.
From the 30th of November we moved into a new story, but one that grew out of that loose end. Who wrote the note? The author enters the 2nd of December. It was Rody, a mouse in a lab coat, speaking now to them for the Coalition of Tiny Scientists. To further their talks, Rody shrinks Wonmug, Ooola, and Alley Oop to mouse-size. And you thought I was tossing off a joke last week when I talked about Hank “Ant-Man” Pym hanging out with Doc Wonmug. I was; I forgot there was a shrinking tie-in there.
The shrink ray is incredible, but you know what would complete it? An unshrinking ray. Rody doesn’t have one. But Ant #3229BX — inventor of the shrink ray — might have an idea. Rody shrinks the bunch to ant-size to better talk with her. She isn’t interested in an unshrinking ray either. But she does have a genius aphid they should talk to, and she shrinks them to aphid scale. But they’ve had enough of this silliness. (Meanwhile Rody does make some wonderful progress on un-shrinking.)
Wonmug thinks he knows how to reverse the shrink ray. Alley Oop’s able to follow #3229BX’s pheromone trail back to the shrink ray. But, whoops, they have an accident and get shrunk even further, to microscopic size. They’re lucky they still have the magic breathing technology from their trip to four billion years ago.
Oh, and what about the Sunday strips? In those Little Oop stories, Alley Oop’s stuck in the present, and hanging out with the kid inventor who stranded him in 2020. This was a less dire fate when the thread started. The strip is ignoring the pandemic and I don’t blame it. But there hasn’t been a story going on here. It’s strips of Little Alley Oop in school, or at the mall, or making friends or such. I suspect Lemon and Sayers have figured this is a more fun Sunday strip to write than Little Alley Oop in prequel Moo. If I’m right they’ll keep him in suburbia until they run out of jokes. I’m sorry not to have another Sunday-continuity strip to recap. Sunday-only strips are fun and also easy to recap. But they’re also hard to create and I don’t fault them not wanting that challenge.
I want to, and that’s that. The current story first ran from the 17th of July through to the 20th of November, 2016. So, if I’m reading this all right, the current storyline should last another 13 weeks. That’ll be around the 28th of March, 2021. The story after that features Rocket Raccoon. I started my plot recapping around the back half of the Rocket Raccoon story. So my plan for now is to keep recapping until I’ve looped myself and then retire this reading. Or I’ll reprint old recaps and take an easy week every three months. Or I might start covering Rip Haywire after all; there’s not much good reason I’m not. We’ll see.
And, finally, it’s Worthy Awards time over on Mary Worth And Me. If you’ve got opinions on who should win Outstanding Floating Head, Favorite Inconsequential Character, or other aspects of Mary Worthiness, go over and cast your vote. If you don’t remember anything from the past year of Mary Worth, I’ve got your plot recaps right here. Thanks for reading.
The Amazing Spider-Man.
4 October – 27 December 2020.
Mary Jane Parker had offered to marry evil sorcerer Xandu. This to get him to stop fighting Dr Strange, whom Xandu thinks is her boyfriend, and Spider-Man, who is her husband. Xandu uses the Wand of Watoomb to bring more and more of the Nightmare World into lower Manhattan. And there’s not much anyone can do about it. Spider-Man has to hide behind Dr Strange’s magic shield to not be mind-controlled … oh, OK, so Spider-Man runs out from behind the magic shield and he can’t be mind-controlled. He fights off a bunch of New Yorkers whom Xandu mind-controls into fighting him. But how could Spider-Man be immune to mind control? Don’t go making the quick and easy joke, now.
So since conquering New York City isn’t working out, Xandu goes back to the Nightmare World, and drags Mary Jane off with him. Spider-Man and Dr Strange follow because of the reasons. But Dr Strange is also frozen by the thingy with the magic doohickey. So what choice does Spider-Man have but to run away from Xandu’s magic blasts of magic blasterness? Ah, but there’s strategy to Peter Parker’s running away.
Way earlier in the story Xandu froze Nightmare, master of the world, in a layer of magic freeze stuff. Xandu misses Spider-Man, but hits Nightmare, freeing him. And he’s right fed up with all this nonsense. A revived Dr Strange offers the deal: if Nightmare lets the four humans go, they’ll leave. This sounds great to Nightmare, who drops them all off in Washington Square Park. Dr Strange takes the opportunity to wipe Xandu’s memories, he says just long enough to remove Xandu’s magic powers. I’m sure this is the sort of resolution that leaves Xandu a happy, beneficial member of society again forever and ever. And on that unsettling note — the 22nd of November — the story ends.
And the next story begins. The Daily Bugle has a new owner. J Jonah Jameson’s cousin Ruth, longtime silent owner, has died. Her widower thinks it would be fun to run a newspaper. He’s Elihas Starr. Or as Peter Parker knows him, the supervillain Not That Egghead. This Egghead is a fellow who uses long words and fights Ant-Man. Since Starr figures to publish the paper himself, he doesn’t need J Jonah Jameson any more.
He does need Peter Parker, though. Starr figures Peter should put his talent at taking pictures of Spider-Man to a good use: taking pictures of Ant-Man. Peter does not know what Egghead is up to. Ant-Man might know, but Peter also doesn’t know where to contact Ant-Man. He’s met Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man, but who’s the current Ant-Man? With the help of Mary Jane he has the idea that Hank Pym might know. I understand they have to lay out the thought process for readers who you can’t assume see every strip. But this is the kind of thing that gave Newspaper Spidey that reputation.
Anyway, the past week of comics Peter’s been trying to get to Hank Pym’s Long Island laboratory. Me, I’d try calling or sending an e-mail first. Too much genre-awareness can be a bother. But Peter Parker should know it would be exactly his luck to get all the way out there and find out Pym is visiting with Doc Wonmug for a week of shenanigans.
So, no, things did not just reset in Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker the last couple months. There were storylines in which characters’ ambitions failed, and they have to start over. But that’s different from a reset where it doesn’t matter what happened.
Ronnie Huerta was moving back to Los Angeles, last time. The first week in this plot recap’s timeframe was her going to the airport and Neddy Spencer choosing to stay in Cavelton. Staying home again doesn’t make Neddy any happier, but it does give her time to realize nothing much does seem to help. Ronnie’s new roommate is the actor playing the character of Neddy Spencer in the TV show. And, what do you know, but the producers want the real Neddy Spencer back in Los Angeles, to work with the character of Godiva Danube. She doesn’t know that she wants to deal with that, but she does need to do something.
Then there’s the mayoral election, Toni Bowen versus Phil Sanderson. Bowen’s behind, but gaining. It’s revived Sophie Spencer’s spirits. Not just the campaign but learning that she needs to know a lot more of everything. So she jumps from one online course with Local College to six classes to getting ready for University In New York.
It’s hard keeping up interest in the local mayoral election when there’s, you know, everything else going on. But Sophie works hard at it, to the point that even Toni Bowen gets a little sick of the mayoral race. Bowen gives Sophie a guitar, an “epiphone casino”. I must trust Francesco Marciuliano that this means something to guitar people. And promises her that it will all be good, whatever happens on election day.
What happens is Toni Bowen loses. She takes it in good grace, and good stride: she made it a nail-biter election, coming from nowhere, and this won’t be the last mayoral election. Abbey Spencer’s particularly horrified. Sanderson’s got a pet, revenge, project. It’s a boutique hotel downtown that he’s directing corporate visitors to. She sees this as draining what visitors Abbey might draw to her bed-and-breakfast. (The revenge is for Abbey not taking his offer — back in August — to support his campaign. Sanderson had not actually wanted her support, but that’s no reason not to be vindictive.) I’m not sure a downtown boutique hotel and a horse-farm bed-and-breakfast are quite in the same market. But there’s probably not a shortage of Cavelton-area hotel rooms. Especially during the pandemic and with the TV show’s location shooting done.
So Abbey feels particularly down in the post-Thanksgiving wash. Her bed-and-breakfast is a mess. Sophie is moving to New York City when that’s safe, which the comic is supposing will be the spring semester. And Neddy decides to move back to Los Angeles, to work on the show and with the Godiva Danube character concept again. She’s feeling desolate.
Sophie and Neddy are sensitive to this, and do something to help Abbey feel appreciated. So while Sam Driver takes her for a long walk and she talks about everything she’s anxious about, Sophie and Neddy decorate the house for Christmas. A nice bit of family.
A less-happy bit of family: Randy Parker and his daughter Charlotte decorating. Charlotte wants to know whether mommy — April Parker — will be there for Christmas. It’s hard to answer since last any of us saw, April Parker was teamed up with her Mom in deep super-secret hyper-spy undercover nonsense. Randy Parker still would like to know what’s happened to her. Alan Parker warns him, that’s going to make all sorts of trouble. Somehow this is still a hard question for Randy, though.
What trouble will this make, and will Randy learn better? We’ll see in a couple months, I hope.
In the game against Ballard, backup quarterback Terry Rapson gets put in, with directions to run the clock out. Rapson decides to run more aggressively, getting a touchdown and securing the game win. But also giving away a play that Thorp was keeping in reserve for a more important game. Now any opponent can prepare for it. This has to count as a failure of Thorp’s coaching. Granted teenagers are going to make dumb mistakes. But you can’t expect people to follow what seem like bad directions — here, to refrain from taking scoring chances — without reason. They have to know the point of this all.
Anyway, Rapson and Thayer compete to be the lead quarterback. Also to get the interest of Karenna, who can’t think of a reason to care. Rapson and Thayer are pretty well-matched in both contests. And get increasingly angry with each other. Rapson particularly when Thayer loses the game against Madison (for which Rapson was benched).
Rapson finally takes Karenna’s hints, and goes to a girls volleyball game. He also gets a bunch of friends to go with him. They don’t understand the game, but are putting in the effort, and Karenna consents to go to a football game. The teams start going to one another’s games and that would be great. Except that the football team divides between Rapson and Thayer for first-string quarterback. (And a couple kids who don’t see why they need to have an opinion on this.) They won’t even sit together in the stands.
Gil Thorp learns about this, and tells Rapson and Thayer to knock it off. Rapson and Thayer figure the other went to the coach so he would make their rival knock it off, so the team remains divided. It gets bad enough that teammates fight on the sidelines at a win.
So Karenna steps in. She invites Rapson and Thayer to her place to fight it out. She explains the problem with the authority of a teenager who’s had to be the functional adult for years. (Her parents divorced. Her mother’s been too depressed to parent.) They’re being selfish, they’re screwing up the team, and they’re not making themselves attractive to her. So what are you going to do? They agree they’ve, at least, had a weird night at Karenna’s place.
Karenna tells the Thorps she’s solved the quarterback problem. Coach Thorp figures he has, too: playing emergency quarterback Leonard Fleming. It works for the first game. At Valley Tech, it’s a bit tougher, and Fleming gets injured. Thorp tells Thayer to step in. But Thayer bows: he’s aware Rapson is reading the defense, should play instead. So, Rapson plays, and the season ends on a win. The girls volleyball players try to congratulate him. He credits Karenna as the most valuable player. She does a shrugging rah.
And that’s where things stand for the middle of December, 2020.
Milford Schools Watch
It’s a bunch of familiar teams that Milford’s played, in football and girls volleyball, the last three months. The dates are from the starts or first mentions of a rival school in the storyline; several of the games went on for a week-plus.
Did Toni Bowen win the mayoral race? Is Sophie Spencer going to go to Local College? Is Ronnie Huerta still in the comic strip? And what storylines have gone totally bonkers? You already know if you’ve reading Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker. Or you can wait a week and catch my Judge Parker recap here. Thanks for reading.
Well, yes. Things are happening. Terry Beatty had started “Lockdown Stories” in the middle of August. Each was a small bit of story, checking in with the major characters of recent years to see what they do during the Covid-19 crisis. This has continued. There hasn’t been any overall plot, and few of the characters have been able to interact much.
Also, mostly, everybody’s staying out of trouble. Maybe a bit bored. This is a difficult condition to write. I know from reading the popular comic-strip-snark-blogs that there are readers who find this all boring. I won’t tell you how to feel about this. But it has made Rex Morgan, as a comic strip, much closer in spirit to the semi-serialized comics like Luann or Funky Winkerbean. These are ones where the strip picks one of several sets of characters to advance for a week. (I don’t generally recap those strips, since the strips usually provide a refresher when they start the week.)
The 14th of September checked in with Kelly and her mother, Summer. Summer works in Rex Morgan’s clinic, which had closed while he worked in the hospital. That’s all.
The 19th of September looked at Buck and Mindy Wise. Her antiques store is closed, but Buck can do whatever the heck his work is online. And help her in selling stuff online, too. They listen to an online concert from Truck Tyler, starting the 25th of September.
And what about Doug, the manager and maybe owner of the Glenwood Motel? We check in on him starting the 4th of October, and the most dramatic conflict of these stories. A young woman comes in, without a mask, hoping to rent a room. He dimly recognizes her. Readers might, too, although I didn’t until I read the comments: it’s Nancy, one of the mean girls from high school. I don’t know her last name. It wasn’t said on-screen and there’s been too many characters for me to track down everybody’s full names. Nancy and her clique have been trying to get a Covid-19 party together. Her parents sent warnings and her photo to … I guess all the local hotels. So he refuses to rent, and she goes off in a huff. He calls her parents to at least give them this data point.
Some Comics Kingdom commenters were upset Nancy’s parents had not talked to her about this kind of offensive and dangerous stunt. This makes an interesting comment about how people see the stuff left out of stories. My assumption is to suppose that they had. I’d based this on imagining myself as a parent. And I know the generally pleasant, low-melodrama nature of Terry Beatty’s writing. But that they also knew Nancy was likely to try sneaking out, and took what safeguards they could. I’m willing to suppose that even excellent parents know that sometimes their kids will be stupider than they can be protective. Other readers took this as evidence of Nancy’s parents being awful at communicating with their daughter. Or being awful at managing their daughter’s behavior. There’s nothing in text indicating one way or another, though.
Nancy is the older brother of Edward, owner of that unseeable ugly dog. He gets some attention from the 12th of October. He’s in school with Sarah Morgan, and they like each other now that he’s outgrown being a bully. They hang out some.
This gets us back around to the Morgans. Rex Morgan was working in the hospital, in the Covid-19 center, and so was quarantined from the rest of his family. Reading the kids stories over video chat and all that. It’s exhausting work. Sarah Morgan’s working remotely, working a triage phone line. And she’s trying to cope with the kids being kids and doing stuff like accidentally cutting their hair. This is a lot to ask and there’s no real managing it all. She and Rex consider options in a world where they can’t get a babysitter or relatives to help.
Rex proposes that he leave the hospital’s Covid-19 unit, and reopen the Morgan clinic as telemedicine. It would let them both watch their kids. And we don’t need to worry about Rex ducking out of doing doctor stuff in the greatest public health crisis in 102 years. Glenwood’s infection rate was falling and the hospital planning to cut his hours anyway. But he still has to quarantine for two weeks, so there’s a pause before that state can change any.
The 30th of November got us back to Buck and Mindy. It’s the one that seems most to be going somewhere, although it’s hard to say where. What we’ve seen are that he’s tired, finding computer screens blurry. And looks like he’s lost weight. And he’s thirsty all the time. Since we know how narrative works, we know he’s being set up for something. But what? Too soon to say, as of the 6th of December anyway.
The Emperor Joonkar ruled the territory that’s now Bangalla, back in the latter part of the 17th century. The current Sunday story continuity features two of Joonkar’s descendants, although only one’s been seen in the last three months of strips.
The Detective mentions how the crime syndicate here is shipping weapons to terror networks across Africa and Asia. So that makes it a stronger Phantom job. The Ghost Who Walks figures two people is overkill for destroying a terror network supplier. But hey, sometimes you want an easy win. The warehouse is unguarded, allegedly because the gunrunners’ reputation is that fearsome. I don’t fault you if you don’t buy this point, but the comic strip is premised on the power of reputations.
Besides, it’s only like two dozen guys. The Phantom talks up how The Detective resembles, in character and body, his ancestor the Emperor Joonkar. This also feeds into The Detective — who’s heard stories of The Phantom without really believing them — and his suspicion that the unidentified purple-clad man he’s working with might just be …
And that’s been a lot of the past month. Preparing for the gang to arrive, and The Phantom talking up The Detective and his own self. The Phantom’s relying on the Phantom Chronicles and what the 7th Phantom wrote about Joonkar. The criminal gang finally started to arrive last Sunday. The Phantom explained how he avoids getting trapped in prison caves: clobber one or two of them at a time. Can’t deny the logic, but The Phantom is lucky they’re coming in groups of two, also.
Brandy’s last name I don’t know. I can’t find a good compendium of Mary Worth characters that gets to details like Tommy’s existence or his last name, never mind Brandy’s. So if someone knows a good source for Mary Worth character names and such? Please drop a link.
And yet the story … somehow … did not end. Saul Wynter keeps talking to his dog Greta about how things with Madi started rough but turned out great. While walking Greta, Wynter notices a woman walking a golden retriever. She comes over and introduces herself; Eve and her dog Max are new Charterstone residents. She’s a widow, looking to start her life anew and this sure looks like we’re gliding into the new story.
So the 21st of September we lurch into the new story, which has nothing to do with Saul and Eve and Greta and Max. It’s about Tommy and Brandy, coworkers at the supermarket, whom we last checked in on in 2018. Their relationship has a built-in crisis. After a workplace injury years ago, Tommy got addicted to alcohol and painkillers. Brandy’s father was an alcoholic and a drug abuser, and she wants none of that in her life ever again. Tommy’s told her about his past, and been clean.
And their relationship’s been going so well that Mary Worth and Toby spend their time talking about how great it is. So Tommy figures this is the time to propose, at the diner, slipping an onion ring onto her finger. Brandy is not ready for this, and doubts she’ll ever be ready for marriage, and says so.
This activates Tommy’s self-destruct sequence. He spends days interpreting Brandy’s fatigue as being she’s tired of him. Or asking “well, why don’t we get married then?” every 85 seconds. When Brandy asks for some time alone with her headache, Tommy goes for a walk in Santa Royale’s Bad Neighborhood. There he meets up with Vin, a friend from the old days, who offers him a drug. It’s hard, but Tommy declines.
A bit too late, though. Brandy, going to the drugstore of dramatic irony, sees Vin offering his metal lollipop to Tommy, and concludes the worst. The next day she says she saw him with the crack pipe. She won’t listen to his protests, and breaks up with him.
They each have lousy nights. The next day Tommy tries what he thinks is a charm offensive. This by leaving a rose and a note at her cash register and reminding her every 75 seconds that he loves her and doesn’t use drugs. This of course doesn’t work, and Tommy confesses his woes to Mary Worth, who’s still making banana bread even though that was last story’s foodstuff.
She points out that Tommy’s not a failure or a loser, and that relationships aren’t linear. And, you know, love yourself, live well, and everything else will work out. She even deploys a nearly-unthinkable meddle: “there’s so much more to life than relationships”.
Tommy decides to do more talks with schoolkids about his addiction experience. Also I guess he was doing talks with schoolkids about his addiction experience. Well, kind of him to do that. Less kind: he reminds Brandy every 65 seconds that he’s doing this for troubled(?) kids and he loves her and he’s been clean and everything.
And that’s where the story reached by this past weekend. It does feel near the resolution. And it does feel likely that it resolves with Brandy accepting Tommy’s declarations. It’s an ugly scene, though. Brandy’s understandable but wrong judgement is harsh. Judged-guilty-despite-being-good is a plot that makes me squirm. I blame that Donald Duck cartoon where he makes his nephews smoke the box of cigars that, oops, they bought as a gift for him. (For my money, a far more traumatizing childhood experience than watching Watership Down could ever be.) But so much of Tommy’s behavior has been nagging his way back into Brandy’s good graces and that’s so many kinds of bad. He should do like the rest of us, and subtweet her with such relentlessness that their mutual friends all end up taking her side. Also a lot of his effort has been hollering “I’m not on the drugs anymore” from four aisles over at the supermarket. Never force the assistant manager to have to notice your relationship.
But, we’ll see. Catch you in the Mary Worth universe, most likely, around late February or early March 2021, I hope.
Dubiously Sourced Mary Worth Sunday Panel Quotes!
The car care place still has, on its message board, the thanks to the local economic council for support in making it through the epidemic. So I have to look at the actual quotes that appeared in the Sunday panels instead.
“We could never learn to be brave and patient, if there were only joy in the world.” — Helen Keller, 30 August 2020.
“Although the world is full of suffering, it is also ful lof the overcoming of it.” — Helen Keller, 6 September 2020, for a rare double-header.
“All the windows of my heart I open to the day.” — John Greenleaf Whittier, 13 September 2020.
“The only way to have a friend is to be one.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson, 20 September 2020.
“Ultimately, love is everything.” — M Scott Peck, 27 September 2020.
“Who, being loved, is poor?” — Oscar Wilde, 4 October 2020.
“Sometimes I feel my whole life has been one big rejection.” — Marilyn Monroe, 11 October 2020.
“I had sadness for breakfast.” — Andy Milonakis, 18 October 2020.
“I generally avoid temptation unless I can’t resist it.” — Mae West, 25 October 2020.
“Tears come from the heart and not from the brain.” — Leonardo da Vinci, 1 November 2020.
“I myself am made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions.” — Augusten Burroughs, 8 November 2020.
“When I lost you, honey, sometimes I think I lost my guts too.” — Bruce Springsteen, 15 November 2020.
“You gain nothing from giving up.” — Robert Kubica, 22 November 2020.
And, now, a content warning. The story features a pet — Andy the dog — being harmed. He comes through it fine. But you folks who don’t need a pet-harm story in your recreational reading right now? You are right. I’ll put all this text behind a cut and we can catch up with the first Jules Rivera story.
[ Edit: I turn out to have overestimated my ability to just put a couple paragraphs behind a cut. Well, I tried. Zip ahead to the horizontal rule and resume reading from there if you want to skip the pet-harm stuff. ]
On my other blog, I’m writing up essays about mathematics terms. This week should be ‘V’. It’s probably also going to be late because it’s been a very busy week. I should have had a busy week for the letter ‘X’ instead; there’s so few X- words that I could miss the week and nobody could tell. Too bad. Now on to Gasoline Alley.
And she can offer a job. Pastor Neil Enpray’s happy to have them perform in church this Sunday. They’re worse at music than I am, and I’m barely competent to listen to music. But all the Traveling Truebadours can do is bluff through it. The Pye men try to figure what they can do, while the pastor lectures on the appearances of snakes in the Bible. Joe Pye figures what they can do is pocket cash from the collection baskets.
Pastor Enpray asks Roscoe Pye to bring him a box, though. And inside is a snake! They’re terrified, fairly, and run, fleeing the church. It’s a rubber snake, of course, a toy. Enpray was hoping to “make an impression” on his congregation.
So, they escape without showing how they don’t know any hymns. But they’re also hungry and homeless. And figure Shari won’t take them back. Joe Pye figures they have one hope left: go back to prison. Why not break back in to their cells? This inspired me to wonder, when someone does escape prison, how long do they wait to reassign their cell? I have no idea. If you do, please write in.
They get there as another prisoner’s trying to break out. They’re caught up by the prison guards and confess they’re escaped prisoners. Warden Bordon Gordon, a tolerably deep Bob Newhart Show cut, is having none of it. He insists their time was up and they were released. He just forgot to mention. It so happens they were let out the same night four other people escaped, which is why there was a manhunt.
The comic logic is sound. The Pyes figuring jail’s their best bet and they can’t get in, makes sense. I don’t know a specific silent comedy with this premise, but I’d bet all the A-tier comedians did something like that. I don’t fault you if you don’t buy this specific excuse.
Onward as the premise demands, though. They have to get arrested. Their best plan: steal from the grocery store. When they try to wheel a cart full of food out and admit they can’t pay, the store owner apologizes. Times are tough. Take the food. Have some soup, too. Because, you know, when you leave food in the hands of people rather than corporations, hungry people get to eat.
In the last days of October they approach a spooky old house. It sounds haunted. They run out of the place, and out of the strip; with the 30th of October we transition to Slim Skinner and the new story.
The haunted sounds are Slim’s fault, of course, but in a good way. He’d decked out a slated-for-demolition house for Halloween and that went great. There’s a bit of talk about getting the city to save the building, but that doesn’t seem to be the plot. Instead, in the middle of the night, Slim’s mother and cousin Chubby come to visit. And that’s where the daily plots stand.
For a couple weeks in September there was at least a running thread. Slim dreamed of being a Herbert Lewot, wealthy comic-book-reading bachelor who’s also the grime-fighter The Towel. (Spell “Lewot” backwards.) The setup feels very like an old-time-radio spoof of any number of old-time radio superheroes. (The ‘Tex Grxznopfski’ and talk about spelling backwards particularly feels Jack Benny Show to me.) Slim Skinner’s shown, for example, reading Yellow Jacket comics. Remember that both the Green Hornet and the Blue Beetle were respectable-enough radio superheroes. I’m sure there are more obscure bug-themed radio superheroes too. I think this is just a one-off, but if Scancarelli wants to fit a sub-strip into his strip? There’s a long history that he knows very well to support him.
Svengoolie did not. For a moment it looked like the vampire-killer was confessing to the horror-movie host. Svengoolie was instead used, with some elegance, to provide exposition about how a gadget needed for the story should work.
Dethany Dendrobia, star of Bill Holbrook’s On The Fastrack, was the guest star last time we checked in. She was in the Greater Tracypolitan Metro Area to investigate weirdness with a warehouse her company was buying. The weirdness: Coney, an ice-cream-themed villain. He’s searching the warehouse for a fortune left behind by Stooge Viller, a villain who died in 1940, our time. Coney’s desperate because the property management company “accidentally” sold the warehouse to Fastrack. To buy time and the warehouse, Coney’s gang kidnaps Dendrobia’s fiancee, Guy Wyre.
Sam Catchem’s informant has a tip for Wyre’s whereabouts: “some old warehouse”. It’s kind of a crazy lead, but you know what? Sometimes the crazy leads pay off. With the help of FBI Inspector Fritz Ann Dietrich they raid the warehouse, catching Coney mid-lick. Coney tries to put it all on Howdy, the Howdy Doody-themed henchman and yes you read that right. Dendrobia finds Wyre, and more, the restroom behind him. And one of those old-fashioned toilets with the water tank that’s up by the ceiling. She pulls the chain and finds piles of cash. This because none of the people searching the warehouse for Villier’s Millions ever looked in the toilet water tank.
So all’s squared away, and Dendrobia and Wyre can get back to their Halloween-scheduled wedding. (It did go on, over in their home comic strip of On The Fastrack, as a mostly online event. Some family attended, after a strict two-week quarantine.)
The 23rd of August started another two-week Minit Mystery, with guest writer Mark Barnard and guest artist Jorge Baeza. The mysterious ‘Presto’ makes the city’s new Aurora Rising statue vanish when his ransom isn’t paid. The story is one of how Tracy follows his one lead. But there is a legitimate mystery and the statue’s disappearance is by a more-or-less legitimate piece of stage magic. Also, there’s a guest appearance by Smokey Stover, so, you’re welcome, Dad. I had nothing to do with it.
The Halloween story started the 7th of September with a mad sciencey-type carving fangs. And in an atmospheric and silent week, does a vampire-attack on a woman, Faith Brown. She dies of blood loss from two wounds in her neck, and there’s chloroform in her blood. He goes on to admire his fang-and-pump apparatus. And how after a “minor adjustment” he’ll be able to add Faith’s sisters’ blood to his “collection”.
Honeymoon Tracy and Adopted Orphan Annie pop into the story the 13th, as their journalism tutor Brenda Starr gives them an assignment. Pick a story from the paper and they do their own investigation. They’re interested in the “vampire” killing. Starr recommends talking with Professor Stokes, Biology Professor at Local College. He’s the guy with the fangs, and he’s known to be an expert on vampire lore. Honeymoon and Annie go to Dick Tracy to see if he can get them an introduction. They’re too young to realize that if you’re even a bit female, and ask a white nerd about his obsession, he will never stop talking to you, including about it.
Tracy goes along with them, though, since he needs to get some suspects into the story. Stokes admits how he’s part of the local Nosferatu scene and sure there’ll be a certain amount of blood-drinking there, but not him. And it’s always from volunteers. And he has some literature.
Meanwhile Faith’s bereaved sisters — Hope and Charity — are not too bereaved not to talk themselves into buying a car with their inheritance. Not from Faith’s death, particularly; a fortune they’d come into before her killing. Their Uncle Matthew had been a “patron to some really eccentric types”. If Faith-Hope-and-Charity weren’t found, the money would have gone to the eccentrics. Have you spotted the eccentric in this story?
Then there’s another break. TV horror-host Svengoolie had a fan send him a “working artificial vampire system”. Could it have something to do with the vampire killing? No, it turns out. The machine’s from a Local College student, and does have actual blood-draw gear, but its motor wouldn’t draw enough blood to kill. And “confessing to Svengoolie” would be weird even for the Dick Tracy universe. But, the Local College student did find the parts he needed from the college lab. And here we get explained how Stokes could make this vampire machine, without a villain monologuing and without anyone telling someone things they should already know.
Professor Stokes learns of Hope and Charity buying a car with the money he feels entitled to. I don’t know how. He calls Hope Brown, though, with the promise of running a new-car-warranty scam. And stops in, coincidentally as Brenda Starr is visiting. Starr mentions she bought a new car and needs a warranty scam. He doesn’t have a card, he explains, but jots down his name and number.
Starr goes into action, because what kind of agent meets a client without business cards? In 2020, when I’m assuming smartphone owners transfer contact information by waving their phones in someone’s direction. So she calls Dick Tracy with her suspicion that Hope Brown’s the next vampire victim.
Stokes descends on a woman leaving Brown’s office. She turns, beating him up. It’s not Hope Brown. It’s Officer Lizz Grove, in disguise. Stokes breaks free, though, and runs to a nearby Jazz festival. And into the path of a cop car, that kills him. The police are aghast at killing a white guy who wasn’t protesting police violence, of course. But that wraps up the vampire problem.
Now the parts where I’m confused. It’s in motivations. I understand Stokes wanting to kill the Brown girls, on the hypothesis that would somehow get him the inheritance. (I can imagine ways Uncle Matthew might have set things up so this could work.) I could also understand him just taking “revenge” on people he’s decided wronged him by existing. I can also understand Stokes wanting this “collection” of blood he mentioned. I don’t understand these motives applying at once. Well, maybe Stokes was a complicated person.
Brenda Starr has one last question, though, for Adopted Orphan Annie. It’s one I would have thought too obvious to ask. Annie could have picked any story in the newspaper to investigate. Why was Annie interested in a weird, freakish killing that drew a six-column, two-deck headline? Why not the business piece about soy futures coming in even more in line with forecasts than analysts expected? Annie explains she knew murder victim Faith Brown, from a distance, aware she had been a kind and helpful fixture of the neighborhood. I guess it’s nice to learn give Faith Brown some traits besides being the inciting victim. But if Annie never met her how did she even know Faith Brown’s name? It’s an explanation that makes me less clear about what’s going on.
They can’t get there except through a party of Saxon raiders, out to attack some local village. That’s a pretty standard encounter, earning about 25 xp all around. With the start of September, Prince Valiant finally arrives back in Camelot. It’s been something like three years for them in-universe and about twice that for us readers.
Everything’s looking good, too. Like, they’ve fixed the damage from that time Godzilla attacked (summer 2009). Indeed, the place is thriving, just like you always worry about when you leave your department unsupervised a while. Prince Arn, Valiant’s son, explains that Sir Gawain is managing everything very well. Sir Gawain has never managed a thing well in his life. So what’s the trick?
Well, it’s the same trick as always: finding a good steward. In this case, it’s someone from before I started reading the strip carefully. A woman named Rory Red Hood, with whom Gawain’s fallen in love. And who turns out to know how to manage estate business. Gawain’s been hiding her, because her leveler impulses made her awkward to have at court. So on the one hand, she’s a fugitive from King Arthur for her relentless pushing the notion of commoners governing themselves. On the other hand, she makes a lot of money.
I do like the lighthearted cynical air, and low-key historical verisimilitude, of all this. Aleta talks of how the Misty Isles folks tried this demokratia stuff centuries ago, and it worked fine. At least until the people decided to let a tyrant do their thinking for them. I suspect we’re hearing some motivated history here. She talks with Princess Maeve, co-regent. Aleta argues Rory is much less trouble than the surrounding thanes who’ve been whining about Rory’s existence. And also makes a lot of money. Maeve convinces her husband that Rory is not a real problem, by kicking him out of bed until he agrees.
And that’s where we sit. It’s not the most action-packed story we’re on. But I do like how it’s so tied to the problem of how to manage a land, in a time before bureaucracies could professionalize things. So, Mark Schultz, Thomas Yeates, thank you for writing this story for me and me alone.
The Villiers Millions! Vampires! Dethany from On The Fastrack! Svengoolie! Brenda Starr! Little Orphan Annie! It’s been busy times in Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy. Join me for a plot recap that, actually, I already wrote most of this past weekend. I’m trying to build a buffer of stuff to post. I’m expecting next few weeks are going to be, let us hope the final, boss rush of mind-crushing Republican venality, and need some space. Can’t wait!
I think she panicked? At least she hadn’t figured on ever having to explain Kadia was anything but her sister to Mrs Daft. That may seem like an oversight but she didn’t know she’d need an explanation anytime soon. That’s what I have, anyway.
The Phantom writes back, arranging a meeting on the outskirts of Mawitaan. But withholds information such as Kadia’s survival. He doesn’t know who wrote that letter, or whether they’re being eavesdropped on. The Phantom is late for the meeting, not at all helping Sahara’s paranoia. But he’s convinced she isn’t accompanied, at least. The Phantom gives her an address, saying that she lives with the friend she fled New York City with. Sahara realizes Kadia’s New York City friend was Heloise Walker, and the name can’t be coincidence.
The Phantom explains that the Walkers came to him on her behalf and he set up the post office box. And that addressing it to “Walker” then let him know who it really was. I mention this lie because it’s well-delivered. It make sense Sahara would believe it. Later, Heloise Walker tells a lie and it’s a mess that the recipient accepts because … I’m not sure. I think the lying motif shows the difference between the father’s experience and Heloise’s enthusiasm. But I’d be open to the argument that I’m reading things into a storytelling coincidence.
Over to Heloise, though, and Kadia, who’s taken the Walker surname and considers herself adopted. They’re in Bangalla, attending school. They’re boarding with a cheerful motherly type, Mrs Daft. They even have a job working a cafe. The Phantom arranged the jobs, getting references from Colonel Worubu of the Jungle Patrol. If this seems like a petty use of The Phantom’s influence, well, yeah. But asking someone to do you a small favor is a reliable way to make them like you more. Yes, human brains are broken. So could be The Phantom’s shoring up his social network. Also he figures if Kadia does become a danger, in another (justifiable) low moment, having Colonel Worubu ready is a good move.
Imara Sahara interrupts their breakfast by pulling up. Kadia calls out, “Mom!”, to Mrs Daft’s confusion. Heloise tries to explain why Kadia is calling someone who’s not Mrs Walker “Mom”, and it gets weird. She claims it’s their aunt who’s so much a favorite she might as well be their Mom and that’s why they’ve called her that. Mrs Daft accepts this explanation. Heloise huhs, and considers how they are never going to have trouble explaining boys in their rooms after curfew.
Imara Sahara tells of her escape from the North African compound, and of meeting The Phantom the night before. And that the Walker family had arranged his sending. Here Heloise does better at lying in a way consistent with what Kadia thinks she knows. She claims her dad arranged it through go-betweens that protect that mysterious man’s identity. The lie works for Imara, but not for Kadia.
Kadia was sure that Mr Walker went to save her mother. But she also knows she’s had a heck of a time after learning her father was international terrorist The Nomad. So she wonders what she’s wrong about now.
Imara tells Kadia that she has a new name, and assets that would “never” be connected to The Nomad. They can have their lives back and leave Mawitaan right away. Kadia can’t have it, refusing her father’s “murder money” and calling Diana Walker her mother now. It’s a horrible, messy scene, punctuated with Mrs Daft encouraging them to invite their favorite aunt to lunch now.
Heloise goes to Imara, trying to talk her into trying again, sometime when Kadia is less shocked. Imara says she wishes the Walkers had left her alone to die. Kadia smashes Imara’s windshield and demands she never come around again. She’s reasoned that Imara must have known who her husband was and what he was doing. It is hard to see how she wouldn’t, but people can be quite oblivious, given any motivation to be.
Heloise relays the events of the day to her parents. Kit Walker tells Diana that he believes she didn’t; “unlike you, she just has terrible taste in men”. This man, by the way, is someone who used to have her family leave a bedroom window and door open all the time in case he popped in unannounced some day. All right. Also, Diana proposes that they should get Kit Junior back home. Kit Senior had sent him off to study at a Himalayan monastery, a development that hasn’t lead to as many stories as you might have expected. And, what the heck, last story the hallucination of the 20th Phantom scolded the current Phantom for sending him off. (Sending Kit Junior off, by the way, to a place that the 20th Phantom wanted the 21st to go.) Might be time for a change.
The story feels at, or near, an end. I am curious whether Imara knew what was going on and, if so, how much she was willing to accept. She is hurt by Kadia’s turn, in ways that fit and that remind one that our protagonists are not the only people in the world. Kadia’s doing well in making connections. But she also has a lot of trauma on her and needs better therapy than being watched by Walkers. She’s going through her superhero or supervillain origin story now. Heloise has fumbled a couple points this story, but in ways it makes sense to fumble. Would have helped if Heloise had not tried to explain the “favorite aunt, called Mom” thing to Imara, though.
But this essay is, in the main, about Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop. This should catch you up to mid-October. If you’re reading this after about January 2021, if there is a January 2021, you’ll likely find a more up-to-date plot recap at this link. Also any news about Alley Oop, if there is news.
Everyone was hanging around in Moo, last we left off. Ooola was rehearsing a play. She impressed Gromp, the director. Gromp pitches another job for her: using the play as cover to enter neighboring land Lem and steal King Tunk’s giant opal. She hates the plan. Gromp sends his dinosaur, Steve, to make her see reason. She beats Steve in a fair fight, though, and hauls Gromp off to be in a desert island cartoon.
That, the 1st of August, wraps up that little story. From the 3rd we get a string of events leading into the current story. It starts with a joyride: Alley Oop wants to go to an amusement park. So they return to the present, and Doc Wonmug looks for the greatest amusement park, past, present, or future. But who can tell him what that is? rec.roller-coaster just fights about Kennywood versus Knoebels versus Efteling versus Holiday World. (Did you consider Waldameer? Especially if you have a family? Very under-rated park, especially if you aren’t all about high-intensity everything.) So he goes to The Clawed Oracle.
The Clawed Oracle, off in a never-before-mentioned room of Wonmug’s Time Laboratory, is a cat. She pronounces that the greatest amusement park ever is in Saint Louis in the year 3277. They zip off to Future Saint Louis. The place stinks, apart from the giant pine tree air freshener hanging from the Arch. What looks like an abandoned warehouse is labelled Amusement Park #41. Inside is an array of virtual-reality goo-filled tubes. Despite the ominous everything, they go in.
It’s a good time, though, until the fortune teller learns they’re from the 21st century. On that she leads them to a secret reality within the virtual reality. And to Phil, leader of the Underground Stronghold Alliance. He tells of the Great Culture Famine, a mysterious event that destroyed culture. All that’s left since 2081 are these virtual-reality amusement parks. But what can three time travellers do? They leave the park and journey to Phil’s coordinates in 2081. And there they meet … The Clawed Oracle.
It turns out The Clawed Oracle is an eternal ethereal being who manifests on earth as a cat, so that’s a nice gig. She reveals who’s responsible for the Great Culture Famine. It’s Dr Wonmug, yeah. Indirectly. It’s really the clone of Albert Einstein that Wonmug made and then abandoned on a farm. She sends them off to deal with Einstein Two. (Why not Zweistein?)
Einstein Two’s gripe: his parents insisted he put all his scientific energies into the farm, and the zany cow bra business. So he invented a Grand Culture Eraser, to destroy all forms of art, past, present, and future. He has justification for this: he’s grown up to be a STEM jerkface so doesn’t see why gadgetry is not a life. Einstein Two proclaims this a gift to every child whose love of science was crushed by small-mindedness. Then Alley Oop punches his machine to rubble. Ooola smashes his backup, too. Dr Wonmug tears up the machine’s plans. Alley Oop digs up and rips up the backup plans. So that’s some success.
And that takes us to the start of the week. Also into a new timeline. Saint Louis of 3277 “now” has a giant chandelier hanging from the Arch. And Amusement Park #41 is the aquatic stadium any amusement park used for dolphin shows back in the 1970s when we were making that mistake. This looks like the resolution of a storyline. But it could also be the transition to a new story. Too soon to tell.
Mary Jane Parker had just knocked on Dr Strange’s door. She’d wanted to, but actually doing so was an unexplained impulse. Dr Strange is pleased to meet both. He remembers Mary Jane Parker from seeing her on Broadway. He remembers Peter Parker as existing. Also as being Spider-Man. Dr Strange has those mind powers, you know, and can read scripts.
The impulse to knock on the door came from Xandu, trenchcoated street mystic master. He wants to steal Dr Strange’s Wand of Watoomb, which will make him happy. You understand. I smiled writing the first half of that sentence. He’d bumped Mary Jane and thanks to that can see what she sees, although not hear what she hears. More, he gives her the compulsion to walk to the forbidden upstairs and through the locked door to grab the Wand of Watoomb.
A burst of magic and Mary Jane swaps places with Xandu. Xandu takes over Spider-Man’s body, which, like, keeps happening to him. Well, he has the proportional ability to resist magical body-control of a spider. Xandu compelling him to punch Dr Strange and then do nothing, standing still. You know, like snarkers always say he does.
Xandu leaves Dr Strange’s mansion and grabs Mary Jane along the way. He apprehends her, to become his Queen. He also misapprehends that Mary Jane is married to Dr Strange. He’s going to feel SO AWKWARD when he finds out. She asks to see his kingdom, to distract him from killing Our Heroes. And meanwhile Spider-Man and Dr Strange escape their magical bondage by remembering Dr Strange has a magic thingy around his neck.
Xandu and Mary Jane pop over to the Realm of Nightmare. It’s one of those 70s comic book realms where everything is droopy shapes and silhouettes that sometimes look like teeth. Nightmare, lord of the realm, rides his horse in to threaten Xandu and Mary Jane. Xandu uses the Wand of Watoomb to freeze him solid. And then has an even better idea, moving a chunk of the nightmare world to Washington Square Park. Dr Strange does a lot of work building up this menace to Spider-Man, and the audience. Xandu does the same, only using Mary Jane.
Me, I admit, I’m not shaken. The Nightmare Dimension doesn’t strike me as all that fearsome. There’s elevated walkpaths that don’t look safe, given how far they are from level and how none of them have handrails. And there’s silhouettes of spiders. I guess that’s annoying, moreso if you have mobility issues. But annoying isn’t the same as terrifying. Oh, and there’s lots of those energy clouds and bubbles flying around, like you see all over Marvel Comics. But if you didn’t buy the original premise of “ooh, this is scaaaary”, it’s not going to become scaaaary by having energy ribbons around it.
Well, Mary Jane, trying to keep Spider-Man safe, kind of suggests she might marry Xandu if he transforms the world into a nightmare land. So that’s the project he’s working on now, as October gets under way. If I am judging right from when this ran in 2015-16, we should finish around the 22nd of November. The follow-up story, back in 2016, was about J Jonah Jameson losing control of the Daily Bugle to Elias Starr, the villain Egghead. One of Ant-Man’s villains, which is why you’re thinking wasn’t that Vincent Price on the Adam West Batman? We’ll see what they do with the reruns, when we get to that point, though.