I’m happy to be one source of plot summaries for Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley. If you’re reading this after about September 2019 I may have a more up-to-date summary at this link. I also have a good number of older essays at that link. If you want to know the last couple years’ story developments. Thanks for using them.
Rufus takes Melba to Corky’s Diner. It goes well. Rufus is walking on air as he heads home. He’s also walking through the woods, which gets him chased by a wolf. The wolf gets stopped and scared off by Toro, a small dog. Toro’s there with Willow, a young woman wandering the woods. Toro’s hungry. Willow claims that she isn’t, right before passing out.
Rufus feeds both of them, and offers Willow a place to sleep. He sleeps on the porch, in the rain. By morning, when Joel picks him up to go in to work, he’s a mess. And please consider how bad he has to look for Joel to think he’s a mess. They go to the thrift store for some better clothes and run into Frank Nelson. It’s a rare non-Skeezix-connected appearance for Frank Nelson in these pages. They get a fresh coat and head on.
At the end of the day Rufus returns home. Willow’s sleeping, but she offers to make dinner. If Rufus has brought any more food, since she finished what was there. And Toro is still a growling, angry little dog. This after being fed several times and getting to see that Rufus is a good guy. I mean, you may find the comic tradition he comes from annoying. But he’s been consistently kind and generous this story.
Come bedtime Rufus heads out to Joel’s. He doesn’t want to sleep on the porch in the rain again. He doesn’t like how Toro’s chased out his own cats. Joel has harsh advice on this: stop feeding Willow and Toro. If she’s sick, take her to the emergency room. If she’s not, then — what’s she doing?
And it’s a fair question. Rufus spends the night sleeping with Joel’s mule. He stinks of it when he gets to work. He covers this up with the free perfume samples at the department store. This is too much in a different direction. But he’s able to tone his odor down to “existing” by lunchtime. He and Melba walk the streets downtown. And then he sees …
Well, he’s sure he saw Willow’s reflection. Why would she be in town despite her fatigue and dizziness? We’ll see in the next few weeks what her deal is. The strip has gone to some length to paint her as a mooch and even an unpleasant person. But I notice it hasn’t committed to anything that couldn’t be rationalized. I don’t say there is a plot twist coming. I think it’s plausible there will be, is all.
Before writing a What’s Going On In … essay I try to remember the highpoints of the last three months’ of a comic. I go on to re-read the whole comic run, yes. But I like to think of what my impressions were. It helps me figure whether I need to schedule time for another 2,000-word doorstop of an essay. This time around I realized I couldn’t think what had happened exactly. Rufus and Melba Rose … were on a date back in early April, and then this last week … they still were? Something like that? With an odd week of Frank Nelson in the middle?
Mind, there’s nothing wrong with a story strip not being that plot-dense. Jim Scancarelli writes a casual comic, with low stakes. I’m surprised that it has been this little. I suppose this is why I expect Willow not to be what she obviously is. I’m also surprised by Rufus getting two stories in a row. Also that there’s a mention to the unresolved story of his courting The Widow Emma Sue and Scruffy’s Mom. I’d assumed that story was dropped in favor of Rufus courting the Mayor. So, even if not much is happening there’s still surprises coming around.
There was a special guest star in Dick Tracy last time around. Not from another comic strip. Joe Samson, who’d been a character in the late 70s, was back. He’s pursuing a Tacoma serial killer who’s murdering schoolteachers. Schoolteachers who are also basketball coaches and maybe sportswriters. We readers know who it is, and why he changed towns. It’s Barnabas Tar, hit new sports columnist for The Daily. He’s moved because his brother Reggie “Rocks” Tar thought this might stop his brother’s murdering.
Tar’s newest killing makes the papers. And gets him a Serial Killer Headline Name, “Teacher’s Pet”. The Tacoma newspapers called him that too. This outrages the killer. He confronts Wendy Wichel, star crime reporter for The Daily. And threatens death if he calls her anything but The Professor. She writes up the encounter for The Daily. And hasn’t got much more to share with Tracy. The Professor had a disguise. Also one of those voice altering devices that exists in this kind of story.
The investigation’s short on leads, so the subplots have to pick up the slack. Bonnie Tracy, who turns out to be a schoolteacher, takes the class on a tour of The Daily newsroom. Barnabas Tar is smitten with Bonnie Tracy, and they set a date at Coletta’s Restaurant. And just in time, as Reggie Tar has thought hard about his brother’s serial-killing and decided to call the cops on him. One might complain that once again Tracy gets the solution handed to him, no super-detective work needed. And I admit I’m not the crime podcast listener in the household. But my understanding is “family member turned them in” is one of the top ways serial killers get caught. It’s that and “gets stopped for an expired license plate and somebody checks”. Tracy catches up with Barnabas Tar at the date with Bonnie. Barnabas flees, out the kitchen and into the alley. Cornered in an alley, he tries to shoot Tracy and misses. Tracy tries to shoot Tar and succeeds.
So that covers the Teacher’s Pet killings. The only big loose end is that Bonnie Tracy still has ambiguous feelings for Joe Samson, who’s been less a part of this story than you’d expect. But Samson doesn’t have to leave the strip just yet.
And some other busienss. The 26th and 27th of April, Vitamin and Kandikane Flintheart’s son is born. He’s named Kane Flintheart. Seems cute as kids go, so far as I can tell.
The mystery featured a lot of text, though, and a lot of plot. When I read this as it came out I felt lost. I trusted that if I read the whole two weeks’ worth of strips at once, it would make better sense. It does. The solution is — well, it’s sensible. I’m not positive that it’s adequately planted by the narrative. But the puzzle would not have taken Dick Tracy so long without all the heavy plotting and heaps of information piled on the reader either. So was it fair? … Yes, I’ll say it was. I hope not only because I can imagine, say, Gerald Mohr reeling off Dick Tracy’s lines here.
Back to the main continuity. The current story started, more or less, the 13th of May. (There was one day’s strip previewing it before the Minute Mystery.) It features a special guest star. B-B Eyes’s trial for murder has hit a snag, from the prosecutor’s point of view. Its main evidence, the sworn statement of Trixie Tinkle, is missing. So is Tinkle. She was last seen on a cruise with her husband, Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks. Yes, the story is a chance to check in on Dick Tracy‘s foster comic, the orphaned Annie.
Trixie Tinkle’s been missing for twenty years. I have no idea whether this is something from the actual Annie. I’m sorry. GoComics has Annie comics going back to spring of 2001, but I don’t have the kind of research time for that. Tracy’s sent to ask Warbucks about the disappearance of his wife.
Warbucks doesn’t want to talk about his wives, and being rich and white, doesn’t see much reason he should answer fool questions from a public servant. But he’ll admit eternal gratitude to his first wife for taking in Annie. His second … he calls a golddigger with whom he couldn’t make things work. Like, how could Annie know someone who disappeared twenty years ago? Also, wait, how can B-B Eyes have been waiting twenty years for a trial? (B-B Eyes was thought dead during that time which, yeah, would delay his being brought to trial.) Also wait, Oliver Warbucks hadn’t adopted Annie before … recently? Really? That seems weird, but … I mean, I’m not going to challenge Joe Staton and Mike Curtis on story strip continuity.
It’s not just you, though. Emphasizing that Tinkle’s disappearance was twenty years ago, instead of a vague “years ago”, is weird. I think most comics readers accept this sort of floating timeline continuity. You know, where we don’t bring up that Tracy’s been about the same age since Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president. Maybe it is going to be important that this was twenty years ago, but as of now, I don’t know why “years ago” wouldn’t suffice.
Meanwhile B-B Eyes thinks he might be able to do something, now that the key evidence against him has vanished. He visits lawyer Tim Jackel, who’d tried years ago to get Tinkle a separation from Oliver Warbucks. Jackel actually says he got “a beating”. I’m not clear if he means in court or with a diamond-crusted mace. You don’t want to think that Oliver Warbucks, one of the protagonists of a long-running story comic, would be a violent and malevolent person. Then you remember he’s not just a billionaire, he’s a munitions manufacturer.
Anyway, B-B Eyes knows that Tinkle spoke often with a woman named Gypsy Gay. She might know something that might be admissible. He hires Jackel to track her down. Also searching for Gay: Dick Tracy. All they have to go on is her employer from when Tinkle vanished. And the hopes that that employer maybe knows where she’s gone. Really I would’ve checked Facebook first.
Gypsy Gay turns out to be in the other plot thread. Honeymoon Tracy, Ugly Crystal, and Annie are hanging out at the hotel Siam. It’s Annie and Warbucks’s home for the summer. Annie realizes she doesn’t have a toothbrush so stops in the gift shop where, what do you know, but Gypsy Gay is working. Ugly Crystal makes a note of her name. Why? She says “I collect unusual names,” or as they are known in the Dick Tracy universe, “names”. Jackel, reading the comics as they come out, passes news of Gay’s location on to B-B. But will Honeymoon Tracy ever pass on to her grandfather what she just learned? Guess what happened today, then. I’ll let you know if you’re right in, oh, let’s say September.
If you’re looking for the latest plot events from Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant please try this link. If it’s not later than about September 2019, this particular essay is probably my most up-to-date recap. Thanks for reading.
Fewesi brings the drugged Queen to her ship, telling of treachery from the Misty Isles. They flee the harbor. Bukota and Prince Valiant hop onto another Ab’sabam ship and give chase. In the long chase, Bukota considers what he now knows about Fewesi, and identifies him as one of “a nomadic people who know the secrets of poisoning the mind”. Well, you’ll get a certain amount of that in the time of King Arthur and all. Meanwhile Queen Aleta has pieced together enough of the story, and of Bukota’s poisoned guard Ambelu, to understand things. She sends her fastest war galley to chase Fewesi to Africa.
It’s a close chase. Fewesi has a lead and the ability to control his galley’s slaves’ minds. But he doesn’t quite know what he’s doing, and Bukota’s ship’s captain does. They catch Fewesi’s galley, in time for a dust storm to confuse everything. In the storm Fewesi’s galley meet another ship — not Bukota’s. An innocent fishing vessel. He takes the Queen and leaves on that ship. He escapes while Bukota and Valiant swim up to Fewesi’s galley, abandoned except for the slaves worked to near-death. Bukota and Valiant tend to the galley’s crew, at least.
And they get a break: a raven drops a piece of torn cloth to them. Bukota recognizes the raven as Aleta’s familiar. The cloth is a hint to look in the harbor of Paraetonium. They find in the bazaar the sign from which the cloth was torn. And it’s a good clue: there’s 1d6+3 first-level spell-controlled minions who rush out of the building for a quick fight. That’s easy enough to handle. But Fewesi’s also left spell-controlled melee attackers all through the building, the better to give him time to escape.
Still, they get through all this. They chase Fewesi and Makeda through the rooftops of Paraetonium. Finally one roof has had enough of this, and the pair fall through and startle the old couple who’d just offered Raul some empanadas. They rush out of the mess, reasonably, and get to the street just in time for Fewesi, riding a camel, to nearly trample them. They run over to the merchants and toss a bag of 25 gold pieces. It’s too much for two camels, but it lets them get on the chase into the desert nice and fast.
It’s too soon, as I publish this, to say whether Kadia’s mother is alive. The past three months of story were built on The Phantom assuming she’s alive and well. But she’s not been seen on-camera. Nor has anyone with authority to know said she’s dead. This may change in the coming week.
The Phantom (Weekdays).
11 March – 1 June 2019.
The Ghost Who Walks was riding a weird ship last time I checked in. He and Bangallan President Luaga had gotten Heloise Walker and Kadia Walker, née Sahara, out of New York City. Kadia was still reeling from the discovery her father was the international terrorist The Nomad. She’s coaxed Kit Walker into rescuing her mother. At least to arranging the rescue; he claims to know someone who could do it. One of the Nomad’s militias holds her at one of his estates, hostage to secure his silence about their activities.
Kadia draws the best map of the compound she can for her newly-adopting father. Kit Walker promises this will be a big help to him, and by him he means the person who’s going to rescue Imara and, uh. You know, at some point they’ll need to have a talk about the Walker family business but that can wait. Well, Kadia’s doing quite well with this whole learning-your-father-has-a-secret-life thing.
In Mawitaan, Diana Walker’s found a new school and apartment for Heloise and Kadia. They set off for that. Kit Walker sets out for North Africa, by himself.
And we set out for somewhere in New York. Secret Service guys are visiting David Palmer and his sister Lily. David Palmer’s the uncle of Diana Walker. He’s been in the strip, off and on, since 1940, and been an intelligence agent at least some of that while. The Secret Service people want help. They’ve confiscated the video of the unknown party who crashed The Nomad’s plane and made a cop arrest him. They know who the party is. They want to know what Heloise Walker was doing for the Bangallan President. He doesn’t know she was doing any such thing. They want to know what he’s been saying about Imara Sahara. He denies having ever said such a name. They want his advice on blowing up The Nomad’s North African compound. He has none to give them.
It seems like a curious detour. Men come to bring David Palmer into the story, and he refuses to be part of it. It does serve to re-establish what role Heloise Walker has had in all this, and why this North African expedition might matter to anyone. One of the many hardest parts of any serial story is helping casual readers not lose the plot without annoying the dedicated readers. And then also …
Well, on to North Africa. The Phantom readies to infiltrate the Nomad’s compound. Last time he tried something like this he got suckered by a decoy, and quite badly wounded. He’s better-armed, better-shielded, and ready to do one of his classic one-man infiltrations.
The complication: oh yes, American military forces are figuring to bomb the compound like it’s a wedding party. Their drones detect The Phantom moving in. So the drone warriors pause. They can’t figure what his deal is, and they’re not eager to wait for early June for me to explain it all to them. They couldn’t even get David Palmer to explain things to them, no matter how much they invited him into this story. They hold off on the bombing a bit, though.
The Phantom finds some useful cues. A pile of ammunition he can use to blow stuff up. A crate containing a chunk of ham on a bone that’s good for 20 health points. People he can beat up for intelligence. Some cute chances to call back to things other characters said.
He’s not going undetected in the compound, though. He’s already knocked out a bunch of low-level minions, and they’re starting to be discovered. He collects a not-unconscious minion. The minion reports Imara Sahara is in the safe room, as The Phantom expected. There’s four guards holding her. Two of them have orders to kill her rather than let her be freed. It’s going to make an already bad situation worse.
And that’s where the situation is. The Phantom, alone, trying to rescue Imara Sahara. She’ll have have no idea who he is or what he’s doing. She’s held by a militia ready to kill her in case The Phantom gets too close. That’s if she is still alive. The interrogation this week made clear the militia has limited reasons not to kill her. And American armed forces are ready to blow up everything. Bit of a fix. Well, I suppose he knows his business.
Alley Oop and Ooola were in the 1980s, searching for Dr Wonmug’s mixtape. It was stolen. The ransom note demanded three items for ransom. They’d gotten the first, a President Reagan jellybean. Now they were in San Francisco for the second: the master disks for shareware game Caves of Zfgrhkxp. They’re off to the home of 1986-shareware-video-game-famous programmer Steve Hobbes.
Before I go farther, a question for you. Do you find this gather-the-zany-tokens plot pointless? Are you annoyed by whimsical names like Caves of Zfgrhkxp and Steve Hobbes? Then probably the Jonathan Lemon/Joey Alison Sayers era of Alley Oop isn’t for you. It’s still a serial-adventure comic about a time-travelling caveman. But the story has been much more goofy, with a punch line in every strip. That has a good, respectable heritage in the comics. But it’s different from the way Alley Oop was. If you liked the old way and can’t get into the new, hey, you’re right. I’m sorry this isn’t working for you. Maybe Lemon and Sayers will evolve into a creative team you like better. Maybe they’ll only work the strip for a short while. Maybe you’ll come to like the different style, as a different take on a really good premise.
But for those who do like this, or are willing to see where it leads, here’s the story. Oop, Ooola, and Wonmug enter the ominous headquarters of Hobbesware Inc. The door locks behind them. The are no exits visible. On the table are: rope, box, envelope. Wonmug recognizes the genre of puzzle he’s in. He chooses to pick up envelope, getting ready to open envelope and examine contents for a puzzle lasting about six hours. I’m glad he’s having fun. Me, I could never get out of the first room of any of these text-adventure puzzles.
They try to prove they’re from the future, like, by dancing the macarena. I have not checked that this is when I got a flurry of comments from people who hate the new Alley Oop, but I get it if they did. Wonmug makes a more convincing case that they’re from the future by showing off his phone. Ooola’s worried this might screw up the timeline, if timelines are a thing that can be screwed up by Alley Oop time-travel rules. Wonmug’s confident. He left the phone locked, for one, and besides the older Hobbes invents some important smartphone and … uh … Wonmug concludes this must have been inevitable, because “time is a trick science”. Ooola thinks Hobbes has unlocked the phone and that maybe the timeline is changing?
That peril, like most, is played for a joke. One of the first gags of the new continuity was that this was an alternate dimension, just like the original except that tacos are never invented. Showing Hobbes the smartphone of his future design makes some kitchen staff hypothesize about inventing a taco. Anyway, Hobbes gives them the disk and they’re off to the third piece of mixtape ransom.
They don’t know what to get. The ransom note just says “Gator Gertie’s Miasmic Swamp”. It’s in Florida. Oop and Ooola don’t want to deal with that nonsense, and point out how this entire project seems like a colossal waste of time. Wonmug bribes them with a roller coaster ride. And, y’know, as a roller coaster fan I have to say: in 1986? There were like three roller coasters in Florida back then. The place is lousy with amusement parks now, but if Sayers and Lemon aren’t thinking of visiting the now-defunct Circus World park then they Didn’t Do The Research. Sorry to be all snide about this.
They find Gator Gertie’s. Gertie’s a pleasant, weird-in-that-roadside-attraction-way kind of person. She rents alligators and bakes treats. She can’t think what someone might send them there for. Oh, she has a secret human/alligator dinosaur lab. She doesn’t have a geneticist, but she has taught some gators to wear pants. Oh, and she has this haunted gator-tooth scone, baked ten years ago and containing an alligator tooth and a malevolent spirit. She’s happy to give it over since it’s only caused her trouble and made pants disappear. I’m sorry that Gertie was in such a rush to get out of this storyline; I liked her attitude. And who doesn’t love a daft roadside attraction? Maybe she’ll pop back around.
They get back to Wonmug’s 80s apartment and wait for instructions. Not long. Someone behind the door orders them to give the items over. Oop looks inside. It’s raccoons. They’re wearing lab coats. One has eyeglasses on. They’re building something.
Yeah, so it turns out Dr Wonmug did some experiments where he created superintelligent raccoons to do chores. And their intelligence went beyond what he anticipated. Now they’re building their own time machine. The floppy disk has code that solves some of the equations of time-travel. The haunted scone opens a dimensional portal. The jellybean satisfies Gunther’s sweet tooth. And with these final components their time machine is complete and … they’re off! To where? And when?
No idea. The story seems to end on that beat, with the Time Raccoons leaving. Wonmug drops off Ooola and Oop back in prehistoric Moo, and home. They putter around a bit and it all looks like the start of a new story. There hasn’t been talk about the Time Raccoons. It seems like rather a cliffhanger. I don’t know if Alley Oop has done that before, though. It didn’t happen when Jack Bender and Carole Bender, the prior creative team, were working the last couple of years.
Is leaving something like the Time Raccoons unresolved new? I talk a confident game. But the truth is I am not well-versed in Alley Oop lore. I’ve been reading the daily strip for a couple of years now. I’ve read a couple collections with storylines from V T Hamlin’s day, and enjoyed them. Still, I don’t know whether the Alley Oop universe has ever had a party with a time machine independent of Dr Wonmug’s before. This can be narratively perilous, especially if you’ve bought the idea of a changeable history. There have been stories with rival time-travellers to Dr Wonmug before (one story had a character kidnapped to another era, for example), and the comic strip stayed intact.
Will the Time Raccoons come back? Certainly if I were writing the strip. (I’d thought there was a good chance they’d show up in Moo by the end of this past week.) Rivals are good ways to generate stories. It’s obviously good to have parties who can drop in and add chaos to storylines. Uplifted animals with only casual interest in the plans of humans only heighten the fun. But I’m in no privileged position here. I’m just reading comics and talking about what I see. Indeed, my other blog gets into mathematically-themed comic strips, as here. If I encounter any news about Alley Oop, I’ll pass it on here.
I need a low-key, low-effort week so I’m hoping next on the roster is something easy to recap. Maybe one of the Sunday-only strips. The Sunday Alley Oop comics, the Little Oop adventures, have all been spot jokes. There hasn’t been an ongoing story. There’ve been some things mentioned in the Sunday strips that went on to mention in the weekdays. Like Alley Oop joining the Dino Guides, a Scouts-type group, used after that mention. So the Sunday strips aren’t part of the continuity, but they haven’t needed recapping. So let me just check what’s next on the schedule.
I don’t have information about when The Amazing Spider-Man comic strip might emerge from reruns. If and when I do, I’ll post it here. I do have some thoughts and will include them at the end of this recap of the end of Roy Thomas and Alex Saviuk’s run, and the first two months of the first repeat.
The Amazing Spider-Man
24 February – 18 May 2019.
It was an action-packed moment when I last updated the Spider-Man plot. Mary Jane had covered Killgrave with the plastic sheet that neutralizes his power to command people. Look, if you’re going to stare at me that way there’s no point describing the plot of a superhero comic. But he was falling off the edge of a building. Spider-Man webbed him, but Killgrave’s momentum pulled the superhero along. Luke Cage, also in the plot, grabbed Spider-Man by the ankle.
Neither Spider-Man nor Cage is doing that well. They’re shaking off Killgrave’s command that they fight each other. Mary Jane gives Spider-Man the important clue that he has two web-shooters. Reminded of his power set, Spidey’s able to use a second line to anchor himself and keep anyone from dying.
With Killgrave neutralized, Spider-Man turns to the important stuff. That’s getting selfies with Luke Cage. He needs some good photos of Spider-Man fighting Cage, since J Jonah Jameson wants them off of Peter Parker and all that. You know. The usual.
Peter Parker drops off the pictures at the Daily Bugle and heads out. The plan’s to resume his and Mary Jane’s planned yet last-minute Australia trip. They head to the airport. There is a ritual of the Spider-Man comic strip in airports. Peter doesn’t know how to get his Spider-Man costume through security. Sometimes he forgets he’s wearing it under his normal clothes. Sometimes he worries it will get noticed in his luggage.
And, the 23rd of March, the run of The Amazing Spider-Man came to an end. At least, they’re still calling it a hiatus. I haven’t seen any news about the supposed search for a new creative team, or any planned time for new comics to come out. The 24th, the strip went into its current rerun phase, with an edited strip from 2014. The editing teases that this is Peter Parker dreaming of old times while on the plane. New York City to Australia is a long flight, and the newspaper Spider-Man spends a lot of time asleep anyway.
Had the newspaper comic continued, Roy Thomas’s plans included an encounter with The Kangaroo. And I suspect Mary Jane wearing the Spider-Man costume would foreshadow something. Instead, we’re getting a rerun of an encounter with Mysterio. I have a certain odd affection for Mysterio. I learned of him while a teenager, reading the 1980s Sensational She-Hulk comic, which specialized in featuring the villains who were kind of … uhm … how can I put this politely? It’s where I first saw Stilt-Man, a villain who goes around on extendable robot legs. Mysterio was one of that comic book’s first villains. And his gimmick’s a fun one. He doesn’t quite have superpowers. He’s a master of special effects and hypnosis and stagecraft and performance. I guess in principle everything he does is something a professional special-effects team could put together. But, like, in that She-Hulk comic he faked an alien invasion. That seems like it would need a larger special effects house than “one guy with a great swooping cape and a ball covering his head”. I bet the hypnosis helps.
So to the rerun plot, which is still under way. Mary Jane’s show on Broadway is closing. Not for unpopularity; the theater needs repair. This was, in 2014, because of damage done the theater by Spider-Man’s fight with Doctor Octopus. In 2019, it would still be justified, after the damage with Spider-Man’s fight with the Kingpin and Golden Claw. She’ll be out of work three months, or an eternity. But there’s good news: Abe Smiley is in town. A few years before he produced the direct-to-DVD superhero film Marvella. Mary Jane starred. Now it’s time for a sequel. Which is filming in New York, and needs like three months to do. Perfect.
She loves meeting back up with the old gang and the costume still looks good on her. What could go wrong? Besides Peter being mopey about the project. And the strip cutting away to Mysterio cackling about how he loves show business while the narrator asks what he could have to do with all this. The question still hasn’t been answered.
But what could go wrong has. Sharon Smiley, the producer’s daughter, had been slated to play Marvella. Now she’s bumped down to the villainess role, Sister Steel. She’s not happy about this. Mary Jane offers to resign and avoid the unpleasantness. Abe Smiley holds her to her contract. She’ll have to deal.
Spider-Man has a weird event while stopping a routine carjacking right outside his and Mary Jane’s apartment. It’s a bright flash of light and his spidey-sense tingling even after he’s stopped the crime. The cause: Mysterio. He hired a “petty hoodlum” to snatch the car. This to test his hypothesis that Spider-Man is keeping close watch on Mary Jane. This’ll help Mysterio’s project of destroying them both, so that’s something. Spider-Man isn’t sure what’s going on, so he digs an old raincoat out of a trash can to get back into his apartment undetected. That’s not an important story beat, but it’s a wondrous line and I wanted to give it some attention.
On to filming. There’s a fight scene on top of the Empire State Building. Sharon Smiley, as Sister Steel, hits Mary Jane a little too hard. The railing is a little too soft: Mary Jane falls through as if it weren’t there. It’s not: Mysterio removed it, somehow, right where they’d fight and hid the removal. Spider-Man sees Mary Jane falling from the top of the Empire State Building and leaps into action. He grabs her, but something messes up his web-slingers. He tries to get to another building, but smoke clouds his vision. Something else clouds his spider-sense. But he’s able to slow their fall enough and guide them to landing in a dumpster, as safe as can be after a fall from the top of a skyscraper.
There are many questions. How could Mary Jane fall through the Empire State Building observation deck’s railing? Why does Spider-Man immediately suspect Mysterio? Couldn’t, like, one-third the characters in the Marvel universe do the same stunt? Is someone on the film crew working with Mysterio to kill Mary Jane and Spider-Man? Will Mary Jane — at the film crew’s insistence — calling Peter Parker to tell him not to worry reveal Spider-Man’s secret identity? What adjacent building is putting their dumpster on the side of the lot that faces the Empire State Building? (It’s the CUNY Graduate Center, isn’t it? Making some obscurantist point about something?) And, to the other characters, why is Spider-Man always hanging around Mary Jane? Are they an item or something? But she’s married!
So we are, in the repeats, up to the 11th of January, 2015. If you want to skim ahead and see how all this turns out, the Mysterio storyline went on until about the 14th of March, 2015. That fed into a team-up with the Black Widow to fight the Hobgoblin. So that’s nine weeks into our future. That would be the first chance that Marvel and Comics Kingdom would have to transition out of reruns and into a new story.
But if they do mean to get out of repeats in mid-July, as this would imply, then they’d need to have a new creative team working now. If there’s not an announcement in the next week or two I’d suppose they’re going to carry on through another repeat story. Whether the Black Widow/Hobgoblin story or another would be beyond my powers to deduce.
A long-running story comic about a superpowered do-gooder that came to an end, went into reruns for a storyline, and came back with new creators! Come with me to the 80s and Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop, now featuring raccoons!
The good news is this clears Marie of the suspicion of murdering her husband. She and Sam Driver fly back home to Cavelton. While she’s legally unencumbered, this has wrecked her life. She felt herself defined by her relationship to the Parkers for years, then to her boyfriend-fiancee-husband, and now … what? Mostly she wants everyone to stop trying to comfort her. Except maybe Sophie, who went through her and her band being kidnapped by her mother’s previously-unsuspected evil half-sister. They’re starting to bond over having such identity-shattering experiences. Then her husband calls.
Roy begs her to see him. She can’t think of any reason she would. She gets a lot of pressure to hear him out, though. From characters in the strip. Also from comics commentators. I saw a fair number of readers who thought Marie was being terrible, not to mention hypocritical. When Roy went missing got was suspected of murder, vaguely by authorities, certainly in public opinion. And she was wholly innocent. Now she won’t extend to Roy the same benefit of the doubt?
Me, I don’t think ill of Marie for not wanting to hear Roy’s line. She’s correct to feel betrayed by Roy. He literally disappeared on their honeymoon. He faked his death in ways that made her the obvious suspect. The scandal made headlines on two continents. He’d kept secret for years his company failing. And she’s had at most a couple days to deal with learning all this. It would be admirable if she were open, already, to hearing his sad story.
And she does stop to hear his story. Well, she goes to look at him in person and confirm that she’s done and moving on. But he pleads his case fast, and she listens. The company was failing. They needed ready cash. He borrowed money from the mob. His partner — the one who’s turned State’s Evidence — was stealing from the company. He figured he had to leave. He thought he could leave with Marie. He saw one of the mobsters while on their honeymoon. An expensive honeymoon, it’s pointed out, considering money was his problem. He thought he had to flee, even if he didn’t have any idea what to do after running.
It’s stupid, yes. But it’s stupid in a way I believe of people. I don’t think I’m misanthropic, not mostly. But I do figure most of us form our idea of how to plan out the world when we’re about eight, and think that other people will obviously go along with us. At worst we’ll have to trick them like we’re Bugs Bunny and they’re Daffy Duck. And that this never works doesn’t really stop us. We just accept that plans never work out but we don’t know how to have better ones.
Anyway, what Roy wants to say: the mob still wants their money, or at least their revenge, and, well, she’s an available target. So, I’m not sure what a good plan in this situation would be. I know he didn’t have one.
Does Marie have one? She was already thinking she needed to leave the Spencer-Driver world before she talked to Roy. Now she also knows she’s probably in danger for her life. Sam Driver claims he knows people who could help and set her up in a safe hiding spot. Marie thinks about it, and then decides against it. Going into hiding would be a surrender of her life. Going into hiding under Sam Driver’s protection would be surrendering her independence. She has to set out wholly on her own.
Here again I can understand her thinking. I think it’s foolish to refuse the eagerly offered protection of a family that’s not just rich, it’s soap opera wealthy rich. I mean, that’s a class of people who can just turn out to have a home in Newport, Rhode Island, that they didn’t think worth mentioning anytime the past 35 years. Granted money can’t fix broken personalities, but it can do a lot in supporting the flesh the personality depends on.
Well, I’ve had lesser problems than Marie has. The week of the 8th of April she moves into her new apartment. We then get views of the other characters. Roy getting into fights with the inmates at Cavelton Prison. Neddy and Ronnie trying to make a go of Los Angeles again.
And, oh lord, but April Parker is back in the story. We see her, with her Mom. April left with her mother, whose name I haven’t caught. I’m going with Candice Bergen in the meanwhile. Candice Bergen has been training April in the ways of being a somehow even more super-hyper-ultra-duper secret agent for hire. April’s determined to rescue Norton, her father, from his Super Mega Hyper Duper Extra Special Secret Agent Jail. Candice Bergen insists Norton is dead. April doesn’t believe it. She knows anything about soap operas.
(And this is not at all relevant to Judge Parker. But. I caught an advertisement for The Young and the Restless this past week. It started with how, on [ date ] three years ago, [ character ] died, and showed the footage of the building fire. And then, coming this week … and they showed someone declaring “[ character ] is alive”. It was such a wonderful pure moment of what soap operas are for. I kind of regret knowing nothing about The Young and the Restless so I can’t truly appreciate [ character ] not having died in [ incident ]. And how cleverly he [ whatever he did to be not dead ].)
And that leads to the current events. The 27th of April established that Toni Bowen’s memoir was ready for publication. Among the things this Cavelton-to-national-to-Cavelton reporter reveals many things. The biggest is that Judge Alan Parker helped arms-dealer and generally-exhaustingly-bad-guy Norton fake his own death. And worse, it’s all true. Katherine Parker quits her job with the memoir publisher, and realizes that’s what her boss really wanted. I’m not clear why he did want her to quit, but it does explain why he’s involved her in the publication of a book with scandalous news about her husband.
Still, she has the PDF proofs for the memoir. And Judge (retired) Alan Parker has to confirm that yeah, it’s correct, and it’s awful. All he can think to do is go public with the news first. The goal is to convince the public that he was trying to protect his son and daughter-in-law. That daughter-in-law is April Parker. She’s a rogue, disgraced CIA agent who broke out of Mega Ultra Duper Secret Spy Jail and is roaming the world looking for people to kill for money. He calls Sam Driver for advice.
Sam’s direct about this. Alan just confessed a crime to him. There’s little to mitigate this. Norton had not threatened Alan or his family when he asked for help faking his death. Alan felt threatened, he says now, and that maybe helps. And yeah, Norton did end up holding Alan hostage and drugging him and bringing crazy and violent people into his life. I know, it’s so weird that inviting CIA people into a life results in physical harm, mental torment, and widespread misery. But there you have it. But all that came later, after the faked death certificate. Sam can’t see a way out of this which doesn’t involve Judge Alan Parker — the original center of this longrunning story comic — going to prison.
So will he? I don’t know. I could imagine circumstances where he doesn’t. He’d — I infer — helped Norton fake his death right after Romanian mobsters launched armed raid on his son’s wedding reception. He could (honestly!) claim he was trying to save a family member from future armed raids. And, well, he is rich and white and was on the bench for decades. I can easily imagine the district attorney going light on him.
But I can also imagine Marciuliano deciding not to. He’s been happy to put characters through the ringer before. He’s had Sophie Driver kidnapped and tortured for months. He’s made Abbey Driver’s father a bigamist with a secret second family. He made Godiva Danube a celebrity drug smuggler before killing her. And he is, really, simply following up the implications that were already in the strip when he took over writing. I think he’s bold enough to do it. I don’t know whether he would. It’s exciting that it’s plausible, though.
I feel the need to break my format a little. There’s a major question in the backstory of the current Judge Parker plot. That current storyline doesn’t actually depend on parts of the plot not previously revealed. But Francesco Marciuliano writes the story as though we should remember the circumstances of Norton’s faked death. At least he writes the characters as though they know it. So let me reveal what we do know about this.
What Exactly Is The Deal With Judge Alan Parker Faking Norton’s Death?
To be honest, this has been annoying me a long while too. And I didn’t think I could untangle it, especially not now that Comics Kingdom redesigned their archives so it’s harder to read old strips. I was saved by this essay by Mark Carlson-Ghost. It lays out the characters of Judge Parker in some depth. I’m impressed by his diligence. The essay includes people not seen since the 1960s, according to itself. Without it I’d have no hope of tracking down enough story to explain any of this.
The story goes back several years and to the previous writer, Woody Wilson. The artist, Mike Manley, was the same, so at least the art will be familiar. In the backstory to this backstory, Alan Parker had retired as judge and occasional comic strip character. He’d written some of his experiences into a novel, The Chambers Affair, which everybody in the world loves. People fall over themselves to talk about how much they love it. And Randy Parker has found love in the form of April Bowers. She’s a CIA “asset” who claims to be a single linguist, but who keeps having stuff pull her away from linguistics. They were readying to marry.
So first, his name was not Norton, which may be why I have always had trouble figuring out what his last name is. He’s presently “Norton Dumont” by the way. On his introduction he was known as “Abbott Bower”. At least, until the wedding of Randy Parker and April Bower, a sequence which ran from February through June 2014.
The wedding was also the occasion for Abbott Bower to meet the Parkers and their gang. They had come to the jungles of Mexico because, Abbott was unable to travel away from his clinic. He was dying from radiation exposure, the result of some CIA mission he’d been on. This was by the way presented as of course true by the strip’s then-writer Woody Wilson. Current writer Francesco Marciuliano is eager to indulge in every soap-operatic plot twist. So I accept that Wilson intended that this was an old CIA agent turned gun runner who was dying of exposure to patriotism. (Seriously, the strips from this era lay on really thick the “thank God we have super-spies ready to Save America” bunk.)
Over the wedding, Abbott gives to April a bag full of diamonds. His “retirement fund”, he quips, now a wedding gift. The evening of the reception, Flaco and Franco Gardia launch a bungled raid on the wedding party. The Gardias have the idea the diamonds are theirs. And that April killed Flaco’s wife. I don’t deign to declare whether the Gardias or Abbott have the greater title to the diamonds. But Flaco’s wife is in a Mexican prison, thanks to Abbott’s work.
I don’t mind that the raid is a fiasco. My reading of this sort of thing is that pretty much every attempt at armed force is largely a fiasco. Afterwards the winners organize a narrative that makes it, sure, a close call at points but ultimately inevitable. But part of the last few years of Wilson’s writing was that anything bad that might happen to a Parker or Spencer or Driver would fall apart of its own accord. In the raid it turns out April is one of those movie-style super-spies who can grab someone’s surveillance drone out of the sky. Katherine gets captured, but stays pretty in control of the situation. She even talks to one of the Gardia brothers about surrendering to her, and he at least hears her out.
After a tense standoff with mutual groups of hostages they compromise. The Gardias will take half the diamonds. Oh, also Alan Parker’s autograph on their copies of his best-selling novel The Chambers Affair. And then they’ll leave the strip forever. And they do. This sort of convenient working-out of things happened all the time in the Woody Wilson era. Especially with people so loving Alan Parker’s book. It’s a great running joke if you don’t suspect that Woody Wilson meant it sincerely. At the time, I thought he meant it sincerely. In retrospect, and on reading a lot of these strips in short order, I’m less sure. It reads, now, to me more like a repeated punch line.
After the wedding various other plots go on. In October 2015 it’s revealed that Abbott has left the Mexican clinic. He’s returned to the United States. He’s helping Alan Parker write the screenplay for The Chambers Affair. And that his name is now Norton Dumont.
And finally, months later, the money shot. Or as near a one as we get. It’s in December 2017. Alan Parker declares how “Abbott Bower died of cancer in Mexico. There’s even a death certificate!”
As best I can tell this is as much as the strip laid out the circumstances of Norton’s previous faked death. It is quite possible that I have missed some strip between June 2014 and December 2015 that made it more explicit. But what I infer is that Abbott Bower got himself declared dead, the better to escape people like the Gardias who might hold his life against him. The extent to which Alan Parker helped in this was, as best I can find, unstated at the time. It transpires only now, as Francesco Marciuliano writes what “really” went on.
So for all my What’s Going On In sequences there’s story comics I don’t do regular recaps of. This is because they’re in eternal reruns with no prospect of ever coming out again. I just read them for fun. One of these is Mandrake the Magician. Comics Kingdom has got three story tracks going on here. One is repeats of Fred Fredricks’s strips from the 90s. One of them is the daily stories from the 1940s. And one of them is the Sunday stories from the 40s where Mandrake keeps visiting strange lands of giants in the South Pacific. I wanted to bring up something wonderful from the daily 40s reruns.
So the current story. Some crook is doing that thing where they send taunting notes to the cops about what they’re going to steal and when, and what do you know but their predictions come true. So there you see the promise: “On Thurs., at 3:06 pm, another strike. The Royal Scarab. Try to stop me.’ And when Thurs. at 3:06 pm comes and the Royal Scarab is stolen, Mandrake has to start thinking hard for clues. And where did he get?
Welp. Yes, I suppose the Clay Camel might well be using the word “strike” because his love of bowling is impossible to put aside, even for the business of announcing his sudden surprising attacks on protected facilities. Anyway, Mandrake’s setting up, I swear, an “exhibition of mass hypnotism, as well as bowling” to catch a jewel thief whom I must assume is Crankshaft. I’ll keep you posted if something really glorious happens.
Anyway I’ve been thinking for twenty years now about the time Andy Richter said he and his wife “meant to go bowling ironically, but we ended up having actual fun”.
Gil Thorp was in the fight of his life when I last checked in. The fight for his professional life, anyway. Former student-assistant-coach Robby Howry was blogging mean stuff about his coaching. And teaming up with radio sports reporter Marty Moon to say mean stuff about his coaching, but on the radio. And Gil wasn’t fighting. He was waiting for all this to get done. It’s as if Gil Thorp, deep down, didn’t really care.
Coming back into the strip was Maxwell Bacon. He was part of the storyline that set off Robby Howry’s quest for revenge. As senior, Bacon had wanted adderall, the better to manage whatever. Howry gave him baby aspirin, filed off, and told him it was adderall. Thorp found out about this, suspended Bacon, and threw Howry off the team-management thing. Bacon’s back from State University to see his mom. But he’s glad to break the silence about Howry’s motivations. Thorp refuses his help. He argues Howry isn’t worth Bacon making a dumb scandal public right as he’s looking for, you know, a job. Bacon leaves, without affecting the plot further.
It’s a neat development, I thought. It seems obvious that Bacon could deflate the Howry bubble. That Thorp won’t do that says something about his character. First, that he won’t screw up even a former student’s life, not on purpose. Second, that he’s confident he’s not going to lose his job to Robby Howry.
Because Howry isn’t after Thorp’s job. Mimi Thorp lays it out for Marty Moon, and everybody else. Howry wants that sweet local-sports-reporter job. And he’s going about it by saying interesting things in a forceful way about local sports.
The Gil Thorp snark-reading community has a consensus opinion about Marty Moon. He’s a hilarious, bumbling fool. He has the ill grace to be kinda right that Thorp’s teams never do great in their divisions. He’s somehow always finding new little ways to be a jerk. (I mean, dropping in Gil Thorp’s wife when she’s hanging with friends? And to say “nothing personal about my daily guest wanting your husband fired”?) But still. He’s kind of a dope.
Ah, but, swiping his job? Doing something about that is within Marty Moon’s set of powers. He and Howry settle in for their next broadcast. Marty casually turns eighty-four microphones over Howry’s way and asks, “So, how much do, Robby Howry of RobbyReport, declare that Milford sucks? As a town, that is. But also as a collection of super-sucktacular individuals? Please freely express your honest opinion while you’re here under no compulsion or duress of any kind.” And Howry must admit, he’s run some metrics and has rarely seen a town better living up to its potential suckitude than Milford. Then learns he was on the air.
Now, I’m from New Jersey. I went to grad school in Troy, New York. I currently live in Lansing, Michigan. What I mean by all this is I have never lived in a place that had self-esteem. The closest I ever have is when I lived in Singapore, a city-state that takes considerable pride in itself. But it’s also aware that, jeez, it’s only as important as it is so long as it does containerized cargo and hosting a US Navy base well. So I don’t feel the Milford community’s outrage at being called a “Podunk town” he figures to use as a “launching pad”. I’m more inclined to expect people to say hey, but we’re a great “dump”. And were only better before the gentrifiers tore down the abandoned dance studio that used to be a gas station.
Marty Moon expects thanks from Gil Thorp for bursting the Howry bubble. Thorp won’t give it. Robby Howry himself thinks, he guesses he’ll finish school. But he knows, he’s got talents and this town will never forget him. As he says this, the strip shows his billboards papered over. It’s a funny end.
Will Milford forget him? I don’t know. It’ll be a while before I do. He’s got a great story-comic personality, that of being far too involved over a petty issue. And students do return for new storylines, sometimes. It wouldn’t be absurd for Howry to make some new attack on the Milford high-school sports ecological balance. But, yeah, nobody in town would remember him three months after this.
The new, and current, storyline started the 11th of March. And it’s focused on the girls’ sports. It’s softball season. The centerpoint student seems to be Linda Carr, who’s playing softball and volleyball. And is very busy. She has to beg off a Saturday scrimmage, for softball, on the grounds she already has a volleyball tournament. This causes one of Linda’s teammates to snap at her for some reason. In all four girls say they can’t make Saturday. Three of them beg off for “family stuff”. It’s a lie.
Molly Hatcher, for example, was performing in a synchronized ice skating team. She didn’t want to talk about it because whenever she talks about it people make fun of her. Nancy Kaffer’s “family stuff” was that she was going to a comic convention. She says it’s because she writes a blog about female superheroes. I’m not sure if she was running a panel or if it’s just that she’s interested in comic books. She gets about 30,000 visitors a month so excuse me. I need to step over into the breakfast nook and fume about being one-tenth as popular as a fictional high school girl. All right. I’m back.
Anyway, Linda feels the softball team is lacking a needed unity. It’s a good diagnosis. Everybody has other things they like doing, which is fine. Everybody’s getting snippy at other people for their things, though, which isn’t.
At the season opener, Jocelynn Brown takes a moment to rally the team’s spirits. She gets the team through a tough spot and into a win. And her teammates admire her neat hat, which she knitted herself. She had missed the scrimmage because she and her mother had a booth at a craft show. In admiring the hat Molly Hatcher says everyone on the team is “too cool for school”, and for a moment her entire life hangs in the balance.
But the other teens decide this is such an uncool thing to say that it falls over the edge and comes back around to being cool. It becomes their rallying cry for the next month. Jocelynn and her mom knit matching hats for everyone, which Molly declares they’ll wear on game days.
After a close loss to Tilden, Jamila brings out a Rally Hippo, a plush doll from her collection. She declares that to be her contribution to being too-cool-for-school. And, you know? These things can work. Weird thing about sports psychology is that having anything you can do for luck works, even if you don’t believe in luck. Having a thing in your control helps you get bigger control. The Rally Hippo’s only had one outing, but the girls did come back from being down 3-1 to win.
Less sure, and what seems to be the actual problem this story: Linda has gotten bored with volleyball. But it’s the sport that she has a scholarship for. So, what to do about that?
Fair question. Won’t know until the next few weeks of Gil Thorp transpire. We’ll have to see.
There was no secret volleyball. It was synchronized ice skating being kept secret. Also disenchantment with volleyball kept secret. Volleyball itself was always known to all interested parties.
Milford Schools Watch
So here’s the towns or other schools named as competitors to Milford the last several months. Tilden and Oakwood have turned up twice, and in that order, for basketball and for softball.
Burke (the Bulldogs)
Benson (the Mighty Bunnies)
And again, of course, Milford isn’t anywhere real. But if “Nebraska City” isn’t the name of someplace in Pennsylvania, it should be.
So the thing about Edward’s dog is that he’s ugly.
Like, supernaturally ugly.
Like, “that’s … a … dog???” ugly.
It’s how the strip introduced him. It’s how he’s presented each time he comes back. This is a running joke now. It’s one with respectable comic strip precedent.
Al Capp introduced Lena the Hyena to Li’l Abner in summer of 1946 as “the world’s ugliest woman”. She first appeared unseen, with the editorial note that they must hide her face to protect the readers. She would be seen, when the great Basil Wolverton achived the horrible. I had thought there were more examples of too-hideous-to-see characters in the comics. I’d imagined there’d be one in Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy for example. I seem to be wrong about that, though. Ugly Christine had hair covering her face, but we did see most of her. (Searching for other unseeable characters lead me to Spots, only seen in profile or three-quarters shots, with spots floating in front of his face. He’s not on point for this, but he does present a heck of an image.)
Al Capp did also have Big Barnsmell, the “inside man” at the Skonk Works, who did unspeakable things with skunks for unknown reasons. I haven’t found reference about whether Barnsmell appeared on-screen, though. The last few appearances of Simple J Malarkey in Walt Kelly’s Pogo had the man’s head covered. (This was not a joke about Joe McCarthy’s deep ugliness, though. Kelly was working out his irritation at editors afraid of offending evil people, who demanded Malarkey’s face not be shown.)
There are more examples of this joke in other media. Most familiarly these days, Norm’s wife Vera on Cheers, and Niles’s wife Maris on Frasier, were presented as too hideous to ever be seen. Then there’s old-time-radio. On Fibber McGee and Molly, half of Wallace Wimple’s whole schtick was telling horror stories of his wife. She would never be on-screen to present her case. … I’m a bit unsettled that Edward’s dog is the first example I can come up of too-ugly-to-see that isn’t about an adult woman we’re supposed to laugh at. (The other half of Wallace Wimple’s schtick was saying he would look something up in his “bird book”. They knew how to make a gag run back then.)
In any event. Terry Beatty is mixing this running joke into Rex Morgan, M.D.. This is why the dog is only ever put off-screen, and explained with narrative bubbles and arrows pointing at ‘Dog’. I have no idea whether Beatty intends to ever depict Edward’s Dog, or to hold a similar contest. He may be satisfied with Dog as-is. He has been writing the comic as a more humorous one. The change in tone is less than what’s happened in Alley Oop, but still. He’s bringing more jokes in.
Rex Morgan’s plane was landing in the middle of the desert when I last checked in. It’s an extreme emergency, but the only way to keep Rex away from a medical conference in Phoenix. The touchdown takes a week of action, roughly, with Rex yelling reassuring things at his young temporary ward Brayden. And with Mister Cranky, who wanted booze and lots of it on the flight, yelling about how he was going to sue. Cranky was a particularly obnoxious fellow through January. But I can’t fault him yelling angry things about the airline as it lands by some ham radio operator’s shack in the desert.
The passengers, fully evacuated, get off the plane. Mister Cranky tries grabbing his carry-on, and gets scolded by the flight attendant. But again I sympathize; I don’t know how hard it would be for me to abandon my laptop in the circumstance. They’re well outside cell phone service range, but all’s not lost. The ham radio operator called in the emergency before driving his jeep up to the plane. His shack can be at least a gathering point for the passengers while a jet engine finishes exploding.
Mister Cranky, having had enough of this, decides to leave. He notices the radio ham left the keys in his jeep. So he sits in the driver’s seat and is immediately snarled at by a large dog. Chased out from there, he sits on a large rock, ignoring Rex Morgan’s warning to Brayden about checking for scorpions. And what do you know, but, a scorpion bites him on the rear end! And the cops arrive and arrest him for trying to steal a car! Which has this curious state where it’s true, but I don’t think there’s any evidence except for his thought balloons. Cranky said he was “just sitting down” and I think that’s all they could prove. Anyway, he’s made fun of by the local news. On Morgan’s word the cops take him to the hospital first. But I’m sure as they transferred him from the ambulance to the hospital someone slipped, and his wheelchair rolled out of control, downhill into the county Manuratorium. And then he crawled out of that only for a cartoon elephant to sit on him.
Rex, and everyone, call to their loved ones as soon as they can. Brayden’s father is grateful beyond words for Rex’s help. You might ask what Rex did for Brayden. He was flying, unaccompanied, from his mother to his father. The flight attendant asked Rex to just watch over the weirdly old pre-teen. Brayden handled the emergency better than I would have, but still. Brayden’s father, wanting to do something for Rex, gives him a ride to the airport and a change of clothes from his store. All their stuff was left in the plane, after all. I did see commenters complain that this evokes the old, Woody Wilson-era “What Can We Give The Morgans Today” writing era. I guess that’s so. But the scene feels true to me. His son came through a plane crash unscathed. It’s natural for him to lavish money on the nearest person with the slightest involvement in that.
Morgan attends the conference after all, although since it’s all medical talk we don’t see it. On the flight home, who sits next to him but … Mister Cranky?
Well, no. It’s a sweet, polite, kindly person who just looks like him. He’s J T Needle. Mister Cranky was his twin brother, T J Needle. J T demonstrates how he’s the good identical twin by explaining how he’s always been the nice brother. T J’s always been self-centered and rude, doing stuff like trash-talking his relatives and all. Morgan questions the plausibility of sitting right next to Mister Cranky’s twin on the flight home. But he points out, he and his brother both live in Arizona, while their parents live in Glenwood, so of course they’d fly between those cities. Morgan accepts that this coincidence will now not get listed under Plot Holes.
The last plot thread — about when Rex Morgan would get his luggage back — was resolved the first of April. The airline delivered his stuff back to his house. So that’s all covered.
Starting the 6th of April came the tease of a new storyline. Jordan Harris is ready to open his restaurant. He’s invited the Morgans to be part ofa test-run night. His fiancee Michelle Carter is the acting hostess. Everything’s going great. This includes Delmer Robertson. He’s recovering from his addiction and homelessness and kidney transplant and all that.
That’s not, so far as I can tell, the story. It was an epilogue to the Jordan/Michelle/Delmer storyline from last fall. Instead we’re following young Sarah, and her former-bully-turned-friend Edward. And his improbably ugly dog. They run across a crying young girl. Some older kids made her drop her ice cream. Edward buys her a replacement before his sister makes him come home. And it looks like Sarah has a new friend. That’s all we’ve seen about this storyline so far.
The Phantom Sunday continuity was partway through its flashback when I last checked in. He had returned a Xanangan child to her village. She was a stowaway on a vintage B-29. The plane’s crew flew at air shows. And they flew stolen wildlife from show to show. And don’t you think Mark Trail won’t be quite cross about all this smuggling when he finds out. But The Little Detective, accidentally locked into the cargo hold, started keeping notes. She dropped postcards at airshows. She trusted someone would mail them off.
Finally someone did. It was a letter to her family, who finally had some assurance that was alive and somehow in Sweden. Her family turned the news over to the Jungle Patrol. They turned it over to the Unknown Commander, our favorite stripey-panted walker. Meanwhile she keeps notes on what the smugglers take, and where they take them.
The Phantom catches up with the B-29. I’m not sure where. He must have figured there aren’t that many touring B-29s that have made stops in Bangalla recently. He sneaks into the cargo hold at night, catching The Little Detective by surprise. Diana points out, so, he and his wolf named Devil, in the middle of the night, snuck into the cargo hold where a lone girl has been hiding from the crew for months. He concedes he could have introduced himself less alarmingly. But there was a deadline. The plane was leaving just before dawn; this was his best chance of contacting her before a fight.
The smugglers return to the plane. The Phantom glad-handles them, praising their cleverness and what a great story they’ll have to tell in prison. One of the smugglers spoils the cheery mood by taking out a gun. The Phantom takes back the scene, though. He explains he’s just moving the action over there so nobody accidentally shoots the airplane. It’s a deft touch, showing how simple persuasion is a superpower. The smugglers hardly notice they are letting The Phantom lead them, not until he grabs their gun.
Having blown it, the smugglers try to appeal to The Phantom’s patriotism. At least his historical enthusiasm. How can we possibly have both vintage World War II aircraft operating and some pangolin left surviving somewhere in the wild, after all? The smuggler starts some Greatest Generation talk when The Phantom slugs him, correctly. I mean, first, War Hardware fans are the worst. Second, Bangalla was part of the British Commonwealth of Fictional Nations. They, and their Buranda and Qumran brethren, were having people killed for a year and a half before the Americans put anything on the line. Still, The Phantom’s reaction is only at the level of punching. It’s not like these are Avro Arrow fanboys.
And yeah, I talk a smug game. But I know where my standing is weak. I kinda like the various preposterous ideas to do a lunar landing with Gemini spacecraft. There is an audience to which this is a very funny thing to admit and it is not my fault that you are not in it. Anyway that’s where the action has gotten by now.
It is a refreshing change that I am not upset with Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth. I am still upset with Comics Kingdom, since the redesigned site is quite bad. But that won’t stop me recapping the plot of the last three months. If you’re reading this essay after about July 2019, I may have a more up-to-date plot recap here. Good luck finding what you need.
Last time you’ll recall, Toby thought her marriage to Ian was in danger. The danger was Jannie. She’s one of Ian’s students. She can stop talking about what an inspirational teacher Ian is only long enough to point out he’s brilliant too. Toby could not believe someone saying stuff like that about her Ian. Ian had no doubts that he is, truly, the greatest Local College instructor of all time. Jannie had no doubts that she had Ian wrapped around her fingers. Toby was sure they must be having an affair. Ian was unaware that this could be, or could even look like, an affair. It’s a specific sort of obliviousness that I believe in.
Jannie figures it’s time to slack off. And she commits to it, slacking off as much as she buttered up Ian in the first place. She skips turning in an assignment, giving Ian nothing but a wink instead. Ian gets so mopey about having to fail a student who didn’t turn in an assignment that it convinces Toby he’s having an affair. Mary Worth reminds her that “talking with your husband about things that distress you” is an option. Toby is unconvinced.
Jannie is angry that she failed. Ian tries to explain that she didn’t turn in the assignment. She unloads on what an old fool he is and demands to know, pretty much, why he isn’t dead or something. We don’t actually see her ask if she can get extra credit. Jannie goes back to wherever temporary Mary Worth characters go after their plots have ended. She tries to hook up with Michael, who’d been interested in her when she was flattering Ian. He’s got a girlfriend now. So, she can’t talk with him anymore. She’s got to smoke her collapsible blackboard pointer by herself.
Ian comes home, moping about what a fool he is. He tells Toby he needs to talk. This is lucky. Mary Worth has been trying, continuously, since the start of the year to get Toby to try talking with Ian about her anxieties. And it finally took! Ian laughs off the idea he was having an affair with one of his students. Or even that one of his students could find him attractive or inspirational. Fair enough that he doubts himself, in the situation. But it also means his answer to “I’m worried you’re having an affair with one of your students” is “Oh, no, that student was only using me for my gradebook”.
But that is, after all, a happy ending. Toby and Ian are extremely married. They’re happy that they are too. And they’ll even try this “communicating” thing, in case a problem ever comes up again, which it never will.
The new, and current, plot started the 18th of February. It began with a visit to Estelle, who I never figured on seeing again. She’s the widow who adopted Libby, the one-eyed cat that Mary picked up after pet-dating Saul Wynter. Estelle and Libby are having a great time. But Mary Worth is going to keep visiting until Estelle gets herself a very heterosexual relationship. So Estelle tries out a seniors dating web site. Mary is so happy with the prospect she doesn’t even have time to register disapproval of doing stuff on the Internet.
Estelle tries out a couple of dates, which all go hilariously wrong. One guy turns out to be old! Another is a male chauvinist. Another is polygamous. One is even a poor. It’s a fun week watching her have fantastically bad dates. Fun enough I don’t mind that they could have talked on the phone for ten minutes before the date. Or they could have gotten a coffee mid-afternoon instead. Estelle could have saved herself some awful evenings. I don’t care.
And Estelle doesn’t give up. She’s going to keep online-dating until she finds the right scam to fall for. That would be Arthur Zerro, a “widower, construction engineering manager, music lover, and traveller”. He’s working in Malaysia. But he lives in Santa Royale, and is eager to get back home in a couple months. It looks like a great match. They both love travel. Estelle says she loves “multicultural cuisine”. We longtime Mary Worth snarkers take this to mean she likes those combined Taco Bell/Kentucky Fried Chicken/Pizza Hut places.
Arthur Z continues being too good to be real. He loves cats. He calls to read poetry to Estelle. He wants to devote his retirement to Estelle’s happiness. And she thinks that sounds great. He wants to have a nice exchange of questionnaires, the way real people will really do for real in reality. She offers answers. Her favorite food. Her hobbies. What kind of car her drives. What was her elementary school teacher’s pet’s maiden name. What’s her bank’s routing number. Still, the questionnaire part goes great. Arthur even has the same favorite band that she does! It’s the Beatles.
It’s not much of a story if nothing weird happens, though. In an e-mail Arthur misspells his name. I’d be snarkier about this except I know how many times autocorrect has fixed my ‘Jsoeph’ at the end of e-mails this past month. I think my keyboard has issues. Anyway, we also finally see Arth[e|u]r on-screen. He’s not the stunningly good-looking man of his profile picture. He’s more what you get when Louie DePalma didn’t realize that Oscar Madison was also in the transporter pod. So now we experienced readers know something must be up. Persons are only untidy because they’re using all their organizing energy running a confidence scheme.
Artheur falls silent. When he finally connects he has woes. There was an accident on the job site. He’s all right, but the job is going to take months, maybe a year longer now. At least, unless someone has ten thousand dollars that she could wire him. Just as a loan. You know, like someone whose credit score has fluttered between 785 and 813 for the past thirty-six months might be able to swing. Its a hard story, but Estelle decides she had best fall for it.
Estelle mentions Artheur’s problems to Mary Worth. Mary Worth underplays her concern. She just asks if it was a lot of money Artheur needed. How well Estelle knows Artheur. Whether Estelle does, in fact, have the common sense that God bestowed upon gravel. But, Mary hasn’t got actual evidence.
So what’s there to do but call on Toby? Who is an expert in this sort of thing. In a sequence that ran in the strip like 800 years ago she fell for a phishing e-mail and she had to get a whole credit card cancelled and replaced. So Toby has skills, and a need to prove them. She’ll wipe out the shame of falling for a “you’re account has exhalated” notice yet! It’s on to a series of panels of “people looking at a laptop”. Thanks to Google Image Search she finds Artheur Zerro’s picture is really that of a “South African male model named Ivan Inghem”. I’m disappointed that my own DuckDuckGo search indicates there’s no such person. I would have been so impressed had Mary Worth used some obscure-to-Americans attractive face.
Anyway, Artheur Zerro’s name is fake too. So now the problem is how to break this to Estelle. That should go great, though. What person do we love more than whoever makes it impossible to ignore how titanic our blunders were? Mary tries the direct approach: show her pictures of Ivan Inghem. Point out nobody in the construction industry knows the name “Artheur Zerro”. That he took ten thousand bucks off her. So this all looks like it’s going well.
I am delighted to have a whole Mary Worth plot recap that does not leave me furious with the story. It’s been a couple of stories of gentle emotional charge. Jannie, Ian, Toby, and Estelle have been acting like clods. But they mostly acted like clods in ways I can accept. Jannie assumed she had a level of trust she didn’t. Ian didn’t think his little problems worth discussing. Toby thought her problems too big to discuss. Estelle fell for a decent line from a scammer. They’re believable enough. And I’m pleasantly surprised that Mary Worth is going back and checking in on the cat she couldn’t adopt because Doctor Jeff was allergic. I’m curious what’s going to follow Estelle’s fall.
Dubiously Sourced Quotes of Mary Worth Sunday Panels!
“I was a disinterested student.” — David Fincher, 20 January 2019.
“Communication is something we all take for granted.” — Miriam Margolyes, 27 January 2019.
“Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s ability to persuade.” — Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 3 February 2019.
“A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.” — William Shakespeare, 10 February 2019.
“A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person.” — Mignon McLaughlin, 17 February 2019.
“As daddy said, life is 95 percent anticipation.” — Gloria Swanson, 24 February 2019.
“The single life is not one I willingly chose for myself.” — Jessica Savitch, 3 March 2019.
“Falling in love as we know it is an addictive experience.” — Susan Cheever, 10 March 2019.
“Falling in love and having a relationship are two different things.” — Keanu Reeves, 17 March 2019.
“All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.” — Edgar Allan Poe, 24 March 2019.
“Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.” — Henry David Thoreau, 31 March 2019.
“It is by doubting that we come to investigate, and by investigating that we recognize the truth.” — Peter Abelard, 7 April 2019.
“Love is blind.” — William Shakespeare, 14 April 2019.
I have no idea why Comics Kingdom decided to screw up its web site. But they went and redesigned it, so now it works worse by every measure. It’s that thing where a web site decides to see what it can do to annoy its regular customers. For me, that’s by two approaches: I can’t load all my comics in one go anymore. You know, the way you’d think a comics page on a comics-page site would do. I have to keep hitting ‘load six more comics’, and hoping that the site doesn’t hang, so that I have to reload the entire thing from scratch. Since the site redesign I have gotten through the day’s comics without a glitch exactly zero times. Also for me, that’s the trashing of archives. Comics Kingdom used to let me look at seven comics on a single page, which is invaluable for following a story comic. They’ve forgotten to include that in the redesign. So I’ll be sending them notes about this lost functionality until they stop reading complaints about things they broke. That would be when I first sent any complaint at all.
Anyway. If you’re reading this after about June 2019 I probably have a more up-to-date recap of James Allen’s Mark Trail. Or I’ve given up on comics altogether as a bad job. If I haven’t, though, my newer plot recaps should be at this link. Thanks for sticking with me through this mess.
13 January – 7 April 2019.
Mark Trail’s long journey in Mexico seemed ready to end, last time I checked in. Mark and responsible-ish authority-like figures found Rusty Trail and Mara. They, in turn, had found Boss and Jefe, who were smuggling archeological finds out of Professor Carter’s dig site. And Mark Trail knew them: in early 2016 they were smuggling people into the United States. Along the way Boss and Jefe left Mark and company for dead, in an enormous and amazing cavern system. Now, finally, Mark Trail has someone to punch.
Mark and Jose are able to punch, and catch, Boss, Jefe, and their underling Juanito. They don’t find Rusty and Mara right away, though. The last they saw, the kids were heading towards the old library Boss and Jefe had been using. Rusty and Mara are there, playing Go Fish with Raul. You remember Raul: he’s the slightly bearded motorcycle … agent … who was part of the ring trying to catch the smugglers. So everyone’s reunited, the bad guys are foiled, and it’s been a productive day that’s run since, like, July of last year.
The rest of the Mexico visit is quiet. The Trails spend time on the beach watching nature. Rusty and Mara agree to swap e-mail addresses, in case either of them ever sends an e-mail. And there’s a lot of pictures of toucans, a running joke this storyline that I don’t understand. While flying home, Mark Trail takes time to explain how he loves the great adventure comics of the past. He cites particularly Jungle Jim, which ran from 1934 to 1954. This seems a little old for Mark Trail, if he’s not supposed to be a timeless, unageing spirit. Maybe he encountered it in reprints. Jungle Jim, written by Don Moore and illustrated by Alex Raymond, is a Vintage reprint on Comics Kingdom. Good luck reading it.
The close to the Mexico storyline came the 9th of March. Rusty Trail got a package. After a couple days spent talking about how good it is to read the comics, Rusty opened it: it’s the Zuni fetish doll. The one that turned up without explanation at the archeologists’ camp. The one that revealed Mark Trail knew of the word “fetish”. Even though it’s not that kind of fetish. Anyway, with that note, something that surely refers to something I don’t know, we could leave Mexico in the past.
But before that was another “Dirty” Dyer interlude. We hadn’t seen him since April 2018. He’s still figuring to kill Mark Trail. We meet him testing out a flamethrower in the Bahamas. He’s trying out that and a rocket launcher supplied by a Mister Smith. Smith is surprisingly curious about why Dyer wants to buy stuff that can kill someone so much. Dyer is surprisingly upfront about it: he wants to kill someone so much.
And Smith is surprised who Dyer wants to kill. He knows of Mark Trail, and loves his articles. He’s glad to help kill Mark Trail. He’d like to get an autograph first, but it’s not like he’s going to run out of Mark Trail archives. Also surprisingly interested in joining the fun: Semo, the cabana boy. He’s good at forging passports and other legal documents. And he knows Microsoft Office, so that’s useful. Also he’s tired of being a cabana boy and getting, like, crazy demands from guests such as David Hasselhoff. (Yes, the text in that strip is written in an odd, evasive style. But on the 4th of March Dyer names “The Hoff”.)
The new story got started the 11th of March. Doc had sad news: his old buddy Amos died. And he tells a story of when he and Amos were working a dude ranch. One day a bearded stranger came to them with the map of a vanished gold mine. He’d said the Native Americans who worked the strange mine with an entrance that moved around had left a rich cache of gold. They’d gone with him, and followed the map. The stranger dug underneath a pile of rocks, going into the opening alone, and emerged hours later with bags of gold. The stranger left town, saying he had all the gold he needed. Doc and Amos and other boys from town searched the area the next day, but the land seemed to have changed.
So that’s the story. Amos had the stranger’s map. His widow is giving it to Doc. He wonders what became of the mine that he swears he saw. So, let’s put on a mining expedition! Besides, Mark can probably photograph some Sonoran desert creatures and make a story about it and maybe blow up a jeep or something. They fly to Phoenix, a city where I know surprisingly many people considering I’ve never been in Arizona. And set out to get gold-prospecting equipment while trading facts about the Sonoran Desert. This has offered a lot of chances to show animals in the foreground and large vehicles driving in the mid-background. They meet up with J J Looper, who owns a supply store, and acts friendly even though he’s got a stubbly beard. But Looper offers his expertise in gold-prospecting and in gold-prospecting lore. The folklore might be handy this adventure.
What wonders of the natural world — animals, plants, phenomena — have been highlighted in recent Sunday strips? And how much have we specifically doomed them? Here’s your roundup.
The Lowland Bongo, 13 January 2019. Not threatened. Yet.
Tanzanite, 20 January 2019. It was discovered only in 1967, and there’s one spot where it’s known to occur, but don’t worry: the American Gem Trade Association has named it a birthstone so we’ll be doing something terrible to people to get it now.
Spotted Lanternflies, 27 January 2019. They’re doing very well, now that they’re an invasive species in the United States Northeast.
Redback Spider, 3 February 2019. It’s in Australia so I assume any one of them is able to poison over one-quarter of the world’s human population.
The United States Forest Service, 10 February 2019. Incredibly endangered.
Albatrosses, 17 February 2019. Threatened or endangered, plus, you start talking about them and some nerd does Monty Python at you.
Tortugas National Park, Florida, 24 February 2019. Unbelievably doomed.
The Horned Marsupial Frog, 3 March 2019. We’d thought it was extinct the last decade, but it’s turned up in Ecuador, so that’s something.
King Vultures, 10 March 2019. Not particularly threatened, although they do live in Brazil, so, mm. That won’t end well.
The Deep-Sea Cucumber, Enyphiastes Eximia, 17 March 2019. It’s a deep sea creature. Who even knows?
Scorpions, 24 March 2019. They seem safe. The panel gives “Special Thanks to Jude Nelson”. So we may infer that scorpion in your room is Jude’s doing.
Cantor’s Giant Softshell Turtle, 31 March 2019. It’s a turtle you never heard of, so, you see where this is going.
The Vaquita Porpoise, 7 April 2019. There might be as many as fifteen of them left alive.
If you’re looking for plot recaps for Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley, and it’s later than about June 2019, this essay is probably out of date. There should be a more current one here. There’s also my complete back catalogue, so you can see what was going on in months gone by, including during the long Centennial celebration. If you just want to understand the first three months of 2019, in the context of this one serial comedy strip, this is a correct place.
Joel gives Rufus advice. None of it involves the 2017 storyline where Rufus courted the Widow Emma Sue and Scruffy’s Mom. Rufus was set up for heartbreak there, averted when The Widow turned down rival Elam Jackson’s proposal. But the strip went into reruns and I guess we’re dropping that thread now that it’s out again. In the current storyline, Rufus faces heartbreak when Melba Rose won’t acknowledge him. Anyway, Joel’s advice is to stop feebly asking out Rose and tell her he’s taking her out. This is because Joel and Rufus come from a world where it’s still a 1940s radio sitcom. Or a 1920s Harold Lloyd movie. This advice fails, as it always has. The next day Rufus doesn’t even recognize Rose, who’s dressed up and has different hair and also a boyfriend.
She’s dating Major “Buy-Buy” Bertie. She’s impressed with him. Bella, one of the cleaning women, isn’t impressed. She explains Bertie’s nickname comes from his land speculations, but that he’s not honest. He’s not even an actual Army major; that’s his middle name. (This reminds me of President James Garfield’s doctor. Garfield’s doctor was named Doctor Bliss. Like, Doctor was his first name. Doctor Bliss had a medical degree too. But, tragically, it was in 19th century medicine. This in turn reminds me of why everybody treated me like that in middle school.) Rufus rushes back to Joel with the news; Joel already knows. Everybody who knows Bertie, except for Rose, knows he’s a fraud.
Joel leads Rufus over to Zeb, a local moonshiner. Joel and Rufus need more of what they term medicine. While there, Bertie drives up to see Zeb. Bertie’s carrying a million-dollar check and a contract to buy Zeb’s land off him. Or so he says; he breaks Zeb’s glasses before he could read anything. Bertie gets Zeb to sign the contract, and then whites out part of it. Zeb doesn’t notice this. Rufus and Joel, standing by the window, do.
After Bertie leaves Rufus and Joel ask Zeb what’s this all about. Like, selling twenty acres to someone for a million dollars is fine, but the contract’s been whited out to make it a sale for a thousand dollars instead. Zeb is offended by this double-dealing. The check still says it’s for a million dollars, though. What if they get to the bank before Zeb can stop payment?
Now at this point you’re either going along with it, appreciating its slightly dopey old-time sitcom plotting. Or you’re tearing your hair out because of its slightly dopey old-time sitcom plotting. It’s a Rufus and Joel story. It’s going to be like this. At this point the story gets really old-time sitcommy. If you’re not liking this, you might want to bail of the rest of this summary.
So they get to the bank. It’s not open, but there is an ATM. Rufus and Joel and Zeb are characters from a 1968 sitcom at the latest. How can any of them deposit a check in an ATM? They give it their best try, and the machine eats up the check. Zeb takes this as well as you or I might. He goes to apply reason to the machine and also a sledgehammer. Also a crowbar. And some moonshine. They rode their horse cart into town, which is why they have the tools to break into an ATM.
Or to try breaking in. They’ve made no progress getting in when the Gasoline Alley City cops intrude. The cops — one of them named Barney, by the way — are starting to arrest them when bank manager J Thaddeus Pelf stops them. He claims the ATM’s been eating checks and these are the guys hired to fix it. It’s a convenient coincidence, but, you know? I accept it. If the machine’s eating checks, it makes sense it would eat Zeb’s check. It also makes sense that someone would be coming to fix the machine. I understand if you’re not sympathetic to this style of plotting. But it defuses the characters’ crisis in a way that’s believable enough. If you’re a sympathetic reader. I understand if this makes you grumble. (If you do, meet me around back and we’ll say snarky things about Luann some.)
Rufus and Joel and Zeb got the machine open and unclogged. The grateful manager offers to cash Zeb’s check right away, and trusts Rufus and Joel to put the machine back together. There’s the bad news for Zeb you might expect: of course Bertie doesn’t have a million dollars. Or any dollars, as his account’s overdrawn and closed. I’m not sure those are actually logically compatible states. Pelf may be speaking for dramatic emphasis. Sad news. Rufus, Joel, and Zeb head out, in time for the actual ATM repairers to arrive.
Back to work. Rufus sees Mayor Rose in City Hall. She’s miserable. Major Bertie’s been arrested, for “falsifying contracts, an’ passing bad checks, an … falsifying his affections to me!” Rufus explains what he knows of Bertie’s attempt to buy Zeb’s land, although I’m not clear that this is part of the rap against Bertie. Or at least isn’t yet. I had thought this came the same day as the ATM shenanigans. But that isn’t explicit, or necessary. Anyway she says the million-dollar check is one of the reasons Bertie’s arrested. This does make the breakup of Bertie and Rose something related to the story. Rufus tries to console Rose. He’s not very good at it, but she does take him up on the offer of a consoling ice-cream sundae.
It’s too soon to make it official. But I suspect we’re at the end of this storyline. Among other things, Bertie’s already been sentenced to “never mention his name again” status. Also ten years in prison, which seems like a pretty speedy trial, considering. But they used to wrap up loose ends fast in old-time sitcoms. I expect a transition over to some other characters in the next week. I mean besides the transition to another comic strip I’ll be making next week.
In short, I have no idea why Bertie wanted to buy Zeb’s land, although I guess if it worked then getting twenty acres for a thousand dollars would be worth the effort.
The last, for the known future, original Amazing Spider-Man daily strip ran on Saturday, the 23rd of March. It has Mary Jane and Peter Parker on an airplane — first class — travelling to Australia. This is what they had planned to do before that whole Luke Cage/Killgrave problem got going.
Had the comic not been cancelled, Thomas reports, they’d have gotten to Australia to face The Kangaroo. There are several The Kangaroos in Marvel Comics history. Given the loosely original-Marvel-Universe theme of the comic strip I’d guess it to be the first, the one who debuted in the comic book in 1970, but who knows? Both had great powers of leaping.
Sunday the 24th showed a weirdly hacked-together comic. It has the narrative tag “Peter Dreams of Good Times”, suggesting that all the reruns to follow are simply Peter Parker, asleep on a plane, thinking of the past. It’s not a bad way to set up rerun sequences. For that matter it excuses any plot holes in past stories, or any inconsistencies made by presenting them out of order. It’s not a good way to overcome the snark community impression that Peter Parker mostly wants to nap. Never mind.
The strip from the 24th is an edited version of one from the 16th of November, 2014, as commenter seismic-2 on Comics Kingdom tracked down. When this Sunday strip first ran it was a transition. The storyline had Doc Octopus feigning being a hero and framing Spider-Man as villain. Thus the second panel; when it was talking about and showing Doc Octopus it fit the action of that storyline. The next storyline, and the one I’m assuming we’re repeating, features Mysterio, supervillain master of special and practical effects. He’s a goofy villain, but one I like, since part of his gimmick is supposed to be that he doesn’t have “real” powers, he just puts on a good performance.
Mary Jane talking about her play’s theater being destroyed is not an edit. When this story first ran in 2014 the Mammon Theater was closed for repairs. The theater got to host a gunfight and then had a helicopter dropped into it in the Iron Fist storyline, the one previous to the Killgrave story that closed up the strip. Coincidence but, I suppose, a useful one. If someone didn’t know this was all Peter’s dream, well, there’s reason for the theater to need repairs.
And a warning before I get started. The antagonist in the major storyline of the past three months is presented with multiple personalities. If you aren’t comfortable with mental health problems used for comic-strip villainy this way, you are right. Skip the plot recap below the ‘Continue reading’ link, and we’ll catch back up in June.
Thanks for finding this summary of about three months’ worth of Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant. If these aren’t the three months of story you need summarized, such as because it’s after about June 2019, please check this link. There may be a more up-to-date recap there.
A new story had started the 25th of November. Queen Makeda, of the House of Ab’saba, visits the Misty Isles. Prince Valiant’s friend Bukota feels complicated things about this. His long-ago heroism-while-in-disgrace got him named ambassador to Camelot, which is why he’s in the comic strip.
Queen Makeda gets a private conversation with Bukota. She needs him. Personally, yes; she regrets the exile he’d been forced into. And professionally. There are nobles who doubt her ability to lead. She needs Bukota to help keep Ab’sala from them. Bukota is thrilled to return home and to be with Makeda again.
The nobles are less keen on this. They didn’t hear the conversation any. But they insist that there’s trouble when Queens go off unaccompanied to places like the Hall of Bachelor Warriors the way she did. They insist on a cleansing ritual performed by Fewesi the Healer. She can’t resist the logic or Fewesi’s eyes or his mind-controlling drugs. I mean, she tries. But the nobles are too fast and Fewesi has too many fumes for her.
This leads to a couple confusing days for Bukota. Queen Makeda is going about the business of being present and aware of trade negotiations and all. But she’s not following up on their conversation or even noticing him when he’s in sight. He tells Queen Aleta of the meeting before, and how Makeda’s been freezing him out. Aleta’s reluctant to point out that, y’know, just because Bukota is a nice guy doesn’t mean — oh, never mind, he’s going to try something stupid.
Bukota charges the Queen’s apartment, calling for her and reminding everyone how much they both kinda liked Breakfast at Tiffany’s. He fights with the guards, which is the kind of stunt that got him exiled in the first place. Makeda emerges, the action bringing her out of her trance some. She declares that yes, Bukota’s exile is lifted, and that he’s her … well, the guards clobber him on the head before she can finish. That’s all right. There was someone standing behind a pillar, listening. There’s always someone standing behind a pillar, listening. In ancient times 95% of the population was farmers, fishers, or pillar-listeners.
The Ab’salan nobles — Habte, Mahren, and Ambelu — agree this has gone all wrong. They figured with Queen Makeda away from home, with a small retinue, they’d be able to reinforce their control. They want to head home right away. Fewesi doesn’t like that plan. Having the queen in his power has been going really well, as he makes it out.
Bukota reports the trance of Makeda to Queen Alita. She’s sympathetic but skeptical, even when Bukota says his exile was lifted. Nathan, the pillar-listener and Aleta’s son, attests that this is so, and that when she did the guards smacked Bukota and closed the gate. She sends guards to the Ab’saban quarters. No one answers the door. No one answers the battering ram either. The whole Ab’saban party is dead at one another’s hands. One person has barely survived. Ambelu says that Fewesi deployed powders that set them all in a murderous rage. And he’s abducted the Queen. So he has, and he’s taking her to the waterfront.
Before I get to the weekday Phantom storyline I have a warning. The storyline includes a despairing character considering suicide. If you aren’t comfortable with that, you’re right. Skip this installment. We’ll catch up again in June.
The Phantom (Weekdays).
December 2018 – March 2019.
I last visited the weekday Phantom at the start of a new story. This one, the 251st, is “Heloise Comes Home”. Heloise Walker had crashed the plane of Eric “The Nomad” Sahara and gotten the terrorist arrested. She’d made her way back to the Briarwood School and her roommate, Kadia Sahara. Kadia knew nothing of her father’s avocation. All she knows is her roommate is demanding they flee the country now before it’s too late.
I’m startled, certainly. I think everyone who had an opinion supposed the comic strip would respond to Stan Lee’s death with a change in credits. Acknowledging Roy Thomas’s writing would seem fair enough and as he’s been writing the strip for years it seems an easy enough change.
The press release claims that the strip will “be back soon with great new stories and art”. If we take them at their word, they’re looking to refresh the comic, possibly taking on new writers or artists. That’s all fine. But it’s also what you would say if you were going to let the comic fall into endless repeats forever. I don’t remember if they promised someone would take over Mandrake the Magician after Fred Fredericks retired, but nobody ever has.
The Amazing Spider-Man seems to be going into reruns at the end of a story. Really the story seems to be at its end already. But the tne of the strip lets the characters putter around a while, re-establishing Peter Parker’s hapless loser-ness. That can fill time without standing out as time-wasting.
And then for the other question I put in the subject line here. And again from D D Degg at The Daily Cartoonist. Jerry van Amerongen, who creates the panel comic Ballard Street, is retiring. His last strip is scheduled to appear the 30th of March. Amerongen’s been cartooning like this for about forty years, with a strip called The Neighborhood from 1980 to 1990, and Ballard Street from 1991 to this year.
I’m saddened by this, of course. I always am by strips ending. Ballard Street never drew much attention, but it had a deep, natural weirdness that I enjoyed. Someone, and I can’t think where, described it as “inscrutable people acting bafflingly”. It’s a fair summary. There are a lot of panel comics out there. There’s few panel comics where you can pretty much count on seeing, like, an older man dressed in a mouse outfit and holding a hand-cranked propeller beanie listening to his wife chide him for bothering the neighbors again.
There are a lot of panel strips out there, many of them trying to capture that Gary Larson weird vibe. And good for them for trying. Ballard Street ran as a sort of character-based Far Side. It featured people committed to their weirdness, and that really worked. I’m glad to have had as much of it as we did.
I imagine GoComics will carry repeats of the comic, but I don’t know that it will.
Not to brag but I was right. During the Switzerland expedition Alley Oop fell off a cliff and got dead a little bit. (Wonmug had a defibrillator which somehow helps with falling from great heights.) Wonmug wants him checked out by a real doctor in a doctor’s office and all. The doctor’s receptionist won’t let him in without an insurance card. Alley Oop laughs at this, as if health care were not a fundamental right of all humans. Doctor Lambert tries getting some of Oop’s basics down. But they haven’t got a clear answer for what Alley Oop’s birthday or age should be. Wonmug seems to be keeping quiet about how Alley Oop’s from prehistoric times, and I don’t know why. Maybe he was keeping his time-travelling stuff quiet? Except, like, he has a sign pointing “To Time-Travel Laboratory” on his mailbox.
The doctor diagnoses Alley Oop with a lot of head injuries, which, fair enough. He wants to give Alley Oop an MRI. But it’s hard enough to get a blood sample, since his skin is so tough. There’s talk about a colonoscopy, quickly written off. Dr Lambert puts on a rubber glove with the intent of checking Oop’s prostate. When Wonmug whispers what that is, Oop gets up and storms out of the doctor’s office. This is a funny idea that doesn’t have any homophobic connotations. And it’s not like a prostate ever causes actual heath problems for a person anyway! Doctors are being all weird when they want to check it.
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s reruns end on that unhappy note. Wonmug sends Alley Oop home in a sequence that, back in 2013, started a new adventure. Instead, we start a new adventure … with new artist and writer.
That new adventure started the 7th of January, 2019. With, at the risk of being cliched, someone waking up.
Alley Oop thinks he’s had a crazy dream about time-travelling and scientists from the future and all. I was not at all comfortable with this. One of the benefits of a long-running character is the building-up of a continuity. Its mass and often apparently contradictory nature give it verisimilitude. Sometimes you get caught in an actual contradiction that can’t be rationalized away. In that case I’m usually willing to give the creators the tool of “just don’t bring up the contradictory stuff again”. Or start repairing things and pretend the older problems never happened.
A clean-slate reboot has advantages when the core idea is good, but there’s stuff that can’t be reconciled or repaired. Often this is a difference in attitude. There’s no fitting the Adam West Batman and the 90s cartoon Batman in the same continuity, and no sense trying. So … would this be such a different approach that it didn’t make sense to treat them as in-continuity?
Ooola comes in to assure Alley Oop that it wasn’t a crazy dream, he just got hit in the head by a coconut. The time-travel stuff is real and they’ve been doing it for years. But … something happened and they’re in an alternate universe. It’s much like the knew, except that tacos will never be invented. Oop drops to his knees and cries out in agony.
Do you find this funny? Because this is the major writing difference between the old Alley Oop and the current one. Sayers and Lemon are still telling a serial adventure comic. But there is much more emphasis on joke-telling. Every strip ends with a punch line, even if it has to be forced in there. It’s an effect quite like Dan Thompson’s Rip Haywire, a strip I’m thinking about adding to these what’s-going-on-in reads.
If this style isn’t working for you, then you’ll probably find the new team to be a bust. To my tastes, the punch-line-panel bit has been getting better, as the jokes have been more based on character and situation. A zany, out-of-nowhere punch line can be great fun. We wouldn’t have had web comics in the 90s without them. And a story can be good with this sort of wackiness. Readers love to accept stories. All they demand is some combination of the characters, plot, writing, and concepts to be interesting enough. Where wacky, zany punchlines disappoint me as a reader is when they aren’t tied enough to the characters or the situations. If you could reassign a joke to another character, or another day’s strip, without making it less funny? That’s often a symptom of a weak joke. To my tastes, that’s been happening less as Sayers and Lemon inhabit the characters longer.
So the story. After a week of Ooola explaining the premise of the strip to Oop, Dr Wonmug popped in. He has a mission. They need to venture to the far-off world of 1986 to retrieve a mixtape. This isn’t just zany wackiness. Wonmug asserts it’s “very important and extremely time-sensitive”. So far he hasn’t explained what’s important. We’ll leave aside how a time traveller can face a time-sensitive problem. So far as I can tell, time travel in Alley Oop works like it would in Old Doctor Who. You know, where you don’t do that thing of coming back to your home time after fewer days than you spent in the other time.
They get to Wonmug’s old room. But the mixtape is gone. There’s a ransom note. Whoever took it wants three things. First is a jelly bean from the desk of President Reagan. They take a bus to Washington, DC. Wonmug has a plan for sneaking in to the Oval Office. They’ll deliver his Presidential Portrait. Fortunately Oop’s whipped up one of Reagan with a chimpanzee.
Things are going their way. Ronald Reagan wakes up senile, racist, homophobic, and missing his eyeglasses. So he’s in a great mood when Wonmug, Oop, and Oola come in. He identifies them as George Bush, Mikhael Gorbachev, and Nancy Reagan. While Reagan hangs the picture of “a sunset”, Oop grabs a bunch of jellybeans, and eats all but one of them.
The next item is in San Francisco. They need to grab the master copy of the game disk for Caves of Zgfrhkxp. And they’re going to get there in good time. Reagan agreed to let Wonmug, as “George Bush”, take Air Force Two to San Francisco. This is a fun historical shout-out. That’s what they nabbed Bush’s chief of staff John Sununu on, back when there were consequences to things. And this week they’ve landed in San Francisco.
And then there are Sundays. Often for story comics the Sunday strip is a recap of the previous week’s. Jack Bender and Carole Bender adapted this approach. Their Sunday strip usually recapped the previous Tuesday through the coming Monday. Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers are doing something different. Their Sunday strips are installments of Little Oop, the adventures of a middle-school-age Alley Oop and his friends.
These have been fun. Alley Oop at school. Alley Oop hanging out with friends. Alley Oop asking his parents for a pet dinosaur. They’ve been fun, and haven’t had the same sort of wacky zany punch lines. This might reflect the strips having enough space to build a scenario. What they haven’t been is an ongoing story. So I’m going to hold off on recapping those stories until I see that there are stories to recap.
I see a lot of people wondering about Roy Thomas and Alex Saviuk’s The Amazing Spider-Man. (Stan Lee’s name is still on the strip, but I do not know whether anything he might have contributed is still relevant.) This should have you set up for the story as it stood in February 2019. Somewhere around May 2019 I expect to have a more up-to-date plot recap that might be more helpful to you.
Luke Cage storms off from not being hired. He sees a car about to hit a pedestrian, and runs up to smash the car off the road. The pedestrian is a purple-skinned fellow. A narration box says if this were a Sunday strip you’d see that. But the weekday strip online was in color. The wonder is that it got the correct color. The purple guy is Killgrave. When Cage starts ragging him about that he orders the hero for not-hire to freeze. Cage does, and is shocked he can’t move a muscle. Killgrave orders the driver who’d almost hit him to go walk in front of a bus. The driver complies.
Cage shakes off his immobility enough to save the driver. Killgrave orders him to stop again. He lays on some backstory for those of us who don’t know about every purple-skinned person in the Marvel Universe. Killgrave got splashed with a mysterious purple chemical nerve-gas concentrate while spying around an Army Ordnance Depot. Since then, he’s been purple-skinned, but anyone who hears him must obey his commands. Not all these characters have complicated backstories. Somewhere on the line he picked up a case of amnesia. But luckily Cage shook him out of the amnesia. So that’s looking up for the forces of purple. But he’s still getting his Power Voice back, so he can only control one person at a time. And hey, Luke Cage is a great person to have in your total power.
Mary Jane returns home. The studio’s giving up on publicity for her movie Marvella 2: Sword of the Dragon Prince. And the Mammon Theater, where she’s been working, got smashed up last story. So, facing a layoff from her Broadway acting gig and an imminent movie flop, why not pop off to Australia for a while? Newspaper photojournalist Peter Parker, who like me can’t remember if he’s freelance or staff, thinks that’s a good idea. She can even buy first-class tickets to head out that afternoon. Maybe this says more about me, but that’s the most terrifying concept I’ve read in this strip in a year.
They’re interrupted by an armored-car holdup. Luke Cage lifted the armored car right off the Grand Central Parkway. (I don’t know that any airline flies to Australia from out of LaGuardia. I’m just assuming Peter Parker is a guy who has to fly through LaGuardia a lot.) Fortunately Peter Parker wore his Spider-Man suit, under his clothes. He figured travelling first-class he wouldn’t be strip-searched at the airport. Peter Parker still doesn’t know how airports work. But, in fairness, he’s managed to successfully take a flight like once in the last decade and even that needed President Obama to help with.
Cage starts fighting Spidey, and not because they’re doing traditional superhero meet-cutes. Killgrave is ordering Cage around. Cage is able to resist enough of Killgrave’s instructions that Spider-Man keeps escaping. He’s not able to control people of strong enough will, because, I’m assuming, Steve Ditko created the character. So Killgrave figures, hey, why not take over Spider-Man instead? From this we learn Killgrave is not connected to the story-comics snark community. But he’s got some good reasons on his side. Spider-Man’s able to web Cage up, for example. And granting he’s an evildoer, it’s still better optics to be enslaving the white guy when the story’s sure to run into February. Killgrave takes off with Spidey.
Mary Jane meets up with Cage, who recognizes her from Marvella 1: Prince of the Sword Dragon. And the cops let the guy who was tearing open an armored car five minutes ago leave because, y’know. They’re not jerks about this. Mary Jane brings Cage back to her apartment. And there’s a quick beat, in the elevator, which might be planting something. The landlady(?) warns Mary Jane. If she wants to consort with superheroes, you know, maybe she should live somewhere that can take being attacked by supervillains. I’m sure the warning would be the same if Mary Jane were having Tony Stark for company.
Anyway, Mary Jane’s has a plan. She’ll use the Spider-Tracker that Spidey gave her for reasons that are innocent and should not raise any suspicions in Luke Cage’s mind. With that, they’ll find Spider-Man, and Killgrave. Killgrave will surely order Spider-Man and Cage to fight, and while he’s micromanaging that, Mary Jane can sneak up from behind and bonk him. It’s not an elegant plan. But remember, Killgrave’s powers are that he can control one person at a time. Also that he’s who white people are thinking of when they swear they don’t care if someone is white, black, green, or purple. He’s still a normal human as far as getting bonked counts.
Meanwhile Killgrave took Spider-Man to the 369th Regiment Armory, in Harlem. Cage’s stomping grounds, the strip points out. In the Armory is more of the purple nerve-gas stuff that gave Killgrave his powers in the first place. He’s figuring a recharge on it will help him control the whole city, if he needs. He doesn’t seem to reflect how this is what he should’ve done with Cage in the first place. Never mind robbing some stupid armored car. But, you know, everybody’s wise after the fact.
The Armory is closed, what with Trump’s Shutdown. Killgrave has to have Spider-Man carry him up to a high enough window they can break in. Also to mention his fear of heights like fourteen times, so you know that’s being set up to be a plot point. It hasn’t been.
They break into the Secret Origin Chemicals closet. There’s cylinders of the purple nerve-gas underneath a plastic sheet. The plastic sheet is a plot point. But it’s picked up and tossed off by Spider-Man so quickly I didn’t notice it either until I was writing this paragraph. Cage and Mary Jane arrive at the armory and break the doors open. Killgrave has Spidey climb to the top of the building for reasons not directly addressed. We can infer reasons, though. Cage waved off Mary Jane’s suggestion they sneak up quietly on Killgrave. He pointed out his breaking down the steel doors could be heard in another borough.
Cage and Mary Jane find the broken-in closet, and Mary Jane grabs the plastic sheet that the chemicals had been under. Everyone gathers on the roof. Killgrave orders Spider-Man to throw the gas cylinder at Luke Cage. The cylinder breaks open. Killgrave breathes deep the gases which he’s confident will recharge his voice-control powers more than it’ll be nerve gas. Killgrave called that one right, and orders Spider-Man and Cage to fight each other. They do, resisting the command as much as they can, until Mary Jane bonks Killgrave in the throat with a pipe. This shuts him up long enough for Spidey and Cage to break out of his control? I guess? Anyway, Mary Jane covers Killgrave with the plastic sheet from before.
Many readers were confused by this action. Even the other characters seem baffled by this choice. But she’s on top of things. Daredevil had dropped the tip that Killgrave’s powers are blocked by special sheeting. Also I guess Killgrave is one of Daredevil’s villains? All I really know of Marvel is what I get from the newspaper comic, plus I saw Black Panther and Guardians of the Galaxy. Oh, and Into The Spider-Verse which was a blast. And yeah, I’m on the mailing list for news about Marvella 3: Dragon of the Prince Sword. Anyway, Killgrave can’t project his power out, so it’s doubling back on himself and in the confusion he rushes for the edge of the armory. Spider-Man webs him, just as he’s going over the dangerously low edge of the roof. The momentum threatens to carry Spider-Man over the edge too. Cage grabs hold of Spider-Man and a rooftop pipe, but he isn’t up to full speed yet either, so can’t be sure he won’t slip over the edge too.
I finally get to close out Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s story about Alley Oop facing a modern doctor’s office! And then I have to have an opinion about what Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers have been doing! It’s the first recap of the new Alley Oop, due in seven days. It’ll be a different number of days if you are a time-travelling caveman or know someone who is.
What was happening last time I checked in on Judge Parker? An exhausting set of plot twists. The most salient was Neddy Spencer being back home. She’s nursing her emotional wounds after witnessing, among other things, April Parker murdering the CIA agent who killed — oh, it’s a lot of blood. Sam Driver was getting snotty about Neddy retreating for shelter, but I’m on Neddy’s side in this. Sophie Spencer scolded Neddy about her shunning Ronnie Huerta. Huerta had backed off from Neddy after witnessing altogether too many murders, but was trying to reach out again.
Neddy tries to call … Marie, the Spencers’ old reliable … housekeeper? I think? I wasn’t sure about her position and the strip only talked about her being on vacation. Marciuliano is sometimes too scrupulous about characters not explaining things they should know to one other. No character, for example, ever says what country Marie is vacationing in, or what island she’s on. This even though her vacation becomes a plot.
Well, Wikipedia says she works as their maid. All right. Anyway, Marie’s off on vacation. More than that: she’s eloped with her boyfriend-of-eight-years, Roy Rodgers. Well, the shock that Marie has her own happiness gives Neddy reason to call Ronnie Huerta again. And to apologize. After Christmas, Neddy plans to set back out to Los Angeles, to pick up whatever she figures her career there to be. A family crisis not of her making postpones this.
There’s some unsettling stuff. One of the Christmas presents Alan Parker finds is from Norton. It’s wedding bands and a note about how he knew Alan and Katherine would reconcile. Norton’s supposed to be dead. Sam Driver swears he’s dead. Driver’s seen pictures. He’s got this from “multiple contacts”. Norton must have snuck it in sometime before he went into Super Hyper Ultra CIA Duper Jail. Norton’s alive, of course, but the CIA is passing the story that he’s dead. Katherine avows how much she hates the Norton subplot, and Alan agrees.
All that was cleared up by the 29th of December. This is when the current plot got underway. (Huh; that’s almost the same day the airplane adventure got under way over in Rex Morgan, M.D..) Marie calls the Spencers, crying. Her husband’s missing. He had left that morning, promising a “surprise”. His clothes were found on the beach and nothing else. Sam Driver flies to whatever island it is exactly that Marie and Roy were honeymooning on. It must be in Greece. The 16th of January’s strip shows the logo of the Hellenic Police. And the story of a man gone missing on his honeymoon turns into one of those exciting missing-person media frenzies that we used to have. You know. Back in the before-times. When there was time to think about anything besides the future Disgraced Former President.
While he’s on the plane there’s time for still more Norton-related chaos. Katherine Parker works for the company publishing Toni Bowen’s memoir. The draft of it contains the (correct) bombshell that, at one point, Alan Parker helped Norton fake his own death. Randy Parker had mentioned this to her while these two were dating. Katherine wants to suppress the story. Alan thinks the least bad thing to do is nothing. Let it come out and take his lumps. Randy curses himself for his foolishness but I don’t think recommends any particular action. Alan points out that Norton is dead, and Katherine points out, this is a soap strip. More, it’s one Francesco Marciuliano is writing. Nobody’s dead until you’ve incinerated their dismembered corpse. And even then we’re somehow not done with Norton.
Back to Greece. Sam Driver wants to know how this missing-groom story hit the global news wires before it even hit the local media. He’s promised an answer at Commissioner Christou’s press conference. Rodgers disappeared the 30th of December. They think he either drowned or met with foul play. They believe Marie Rodgers was the last person to see him alive. She hasn’t answered any questions since Driver showed up to serve as legal adviser.
Driver goes to Christou after the conference, which didn’t answer his question. At least not on-panel. Christou has the good news that Marie is being released from custody but is not to leave the island. It’s a baffling development. The next morning, Christou calls Driver. They’ve found Rodgers. He was arrested in a bar in Madeira. It’s an impressive distance to swim from Greece, considering.
Driver has a hypothesis. It’s pretty bonkers, so it makes for a good soap opera story. Maybe it’s based on some real incident. I don’t tend to follow true-crime/missing-persons stories, so what would I know? The idea, though: Rodgers wanted to fake his death and start a new life. Driver thinks Christou saw through that, though. And made Rodgers’s presumed death as big a story as he could. This to fool Rodgers into thinking he had faked his own death, meanwhile letting every cop in the TV audience know what he looked like. That this gave Marie a public reputation of being Probably A Murderer was a side effect, regrettable but worth it for the sake of Justice.
And the hypothesis seems to hold up. Back home in Cavelton, Toni Bowen reports on the collapse of Rodgers’ home-repair company. They’ve lost a lot of contracts the last several years. Rodgers himself is under suspicion of stealing one and a half million dollars from the failing company. And Katherine Parker “reaches a breaking point” with Bowen’s reporting about her family and family’s close friends. She figures to return the favor. That’s sure to be a very good idea that works out well and leaves her happy. By the next time I recap Judge Parker’s plot — probably around May 2019 — I’m sure we’ll see how much better this has made everybody’s lives. Can’t wait.
Some well-intended but dumb schemes were under way last time I checked in. Thomas Kyle “Tiki” Jansen’s family transferred him from New Thayer to Milford when his old gang of friends went bad. The gang got into vandalism, burglary, assaulting Jansen for ditching them, that sort of thing. Jansen’s family had rented but not used an apartment to give Jansen a technical address in Milford. Joe Bolek, that kid who wants to talk about the cinema, figured to help. Record the New Thayer gang beating up on Jansen and boom, Coach Thorp will be glad to let him stay on the team, right?
Coach Gil Thorp sees the video and doesn’t really seem to care. Whoever it is decides these things rules that Jansen’s eligible, so, he plays. With the note that he might transfer back after a year when the seniors in the gang graduate. And Joe Bolek goes meeting up with Kelly Thorp. Both are glad to know someone else who’s interested in Movie Nerd stuff. Gil Thorp is a good partner, but his interest in movies is that they’re important to his wife. That’s great, but a primary interest is still different.
Monday, the 10th of December, opened the new plot. Its main action promised to be glorious and it has been holding up. It’s a sequel, and to a storyline from before I started doing regular recaps. That’s all right. The text fills in all the backstory you need.
It opens with a young man buying space on two billboards. So right away you know it’s a 20-something-year-old who actually falls for the billboard company ads about “See? Made you look!” or “our texts go to the whole Milford area”. Still, it’s exciting. The “Billboard Advertising: It Works” sign comes down, a month before reaching its six-year anniversary. The replacement message: “Is Mediocre Good Enough?” And with that bold demand on the commuters of Milford … nothing happens and nobody much cares.
The other plot thread. It’s basketball season. Milford’s off to an indifferent, one might say mediocre, start. And guard Nate Filion is having a bad time of it. He’s not hanging out with the other basically well-meaning if dumb kids on the team. Or much of anything else. And the billboard takes on a new message: “Don’t Our Kids Deserve Better?”
Filion’s teachers get worried. All that seems to engage him is quoting That 70s Show. That’s no way for a healthy teen to live. Thorp prods a bit, but can’t get anything. And then the billboard goes to its newest message: “Save the Kids — Fire Gil Thorp”, and includes a link to the blog of Robby Howry. Also his podcast. Howry explains his motives to a reporter for the Milford Star who turns out not to be Marty Moon. I don’t know the reporter’s name. You can tell he’s not Marty Moon because his hair is a little different and Marty Moon’s sideburns don’t grow down to join his goatee. I don’t keep doing the six-differences puzzles in Slylock Fox for nothing.
Howry explains to the reporter that he was more than an equipment manager, he was “unofficial assistant coach” for Thorp years ago. And that his conscience would not allow him to let Milford “wallow in mediocrity” any longer. And that he loves the comic strips and wants the story strips held to high standards of plot, character, and art. Anyway, he left because Thorp “didn’t share my commitment to winning.”
And that old incident I think serves as a good example of the Gil Thorp storytelling style. It has a lot of stories driven by how teenagers are kinda dopey. But there’s almost never actual malice involved, not from the kids anyway. They don’t think of being truly nasty. And they’re limited in how much trouble they get into anyway. Partly because as teens they have limited resources. Partly because as teens they’re a little dopey, so their lack of foresight saves them. That’ll come back around.
And yes, also saving them is the writer. Part of the Gil Thorp style is that nobody’s really involved in serious wrongdoing. Several years ago there was a storyline about a guy selling the kids bootleg DVDs. Except, it turned out, they weren’t bootlegs. The guy got legitimate DVDs. He put them in bootleg-looking cases so his teenage customers thought they were getting away with something. It was a bizarrely sanitized minor transgression. I wondered if Rubin and Whigham were mocking someone who’d sent them a letter about what it was acceptable to portray teenagers doing. Or if they were trying to see if they could fool Luann into imitating it.
So we already had a delightful story about Robby Howry’s quixotic lurch for vengeance going. What takes it up to glorious heights? The involvement of Marty Moon, of course. Moon is delighted to read of someone dishing Gil Thorp-related dirt. Howry is glad to tell Moon at length about how Coach Thorp just lost the game to Jefferson by six, or whatever. And Marty feigns understanding what Howry is going on about when he talks about these pre-measured mattress kit delivery eyeglasses who sponsor the podcast.
Thorp tries his best to ignore Howry, focusing instead on what’s bothering Filion. This goes so far as to remind the whole team about a suicide hotline number and insist they put it in their phones. Possibly overreacting (“Coach, we only lost to Jefferson by six!”) but he does insist he’d rather overreact.
Thorp gives two-game suspensions to the participants and calls Filion in to his office. This is exactly the sort of stupid thing Filion should have done; why wasn’t he? Which is an odd tack but, yeah, I’ve known people I had to deal with that way. Filion finally opens up. With the end of high school coming, he feels like everything is ending. He doesn’t know how to handle that. Now Thorp’s able to hook him, and his parents, up with counseling. And there’s the promise that the team might play better too.
My words alone might not express how much I’ve enjoyed this plot. I’d said last week how I love when story comics get a preposterous character in them. And this is a great one. It’s the story of Robby Howry, a maybe 21-year-old guy, seeking revenge on his high school basketball coach. And going to great effort about this, starting a blog and podcast and talking daily with Marty Moon. And laying out hard cash. I don’t know how much it costs to rent two billboards for a month-plus, but boy, that’s got to run into the dozens of dollars. Add to his mission fanaticism some grand self-obliviousness. He’s confident nobody will mind his whole fake-prescription-drug-pushing thing. Not if the alternative is losing buzzer-beaters to Arapahoe High School. Probably it won’t be as grand a comeuppance as happens to Marty Moon in every Marty Moon story. But it’s so promising.
Milford Schools Watch
People sometimes wonder where Milford is. The real answer is nowhere, of course; it’s meant to be a place that could be any high school. And then mucks things up with the idiosyncratic use of “playdowns” where normal people say “playoffs”. Anyway, here’s some schools or towns named in Gil Thorp the last several months. I offer this so you can work out your own map of the Milford educational system.
Okay, “Danbury” really sounds Connecticut. But then there was the thing a couple years ago where they name-checked famous Ohio I-75 highway sign Luckey Haskins.
A medically better source of transplant organs is Delmer’s family. Might be socially worse, though. Delmer, out of the army, dealt with his experiences by drugs and alcohol. It’s why he tried to mug Jordan in the first place. It’s also why his attempt faceplanted so badly that Wile E Coyote winced at it. Delmer figures his family all hates him for his life-wreck. Turns out they don’t. Once they learn of Delmer’s need, they’re good with it. His brother Dalton is a good match. Dalton insists Delmer has to clean up his act. Delmer’s eager to, though. They schedule surgery quickly. Rex Morgan doesn’t do it, since you want a kidney transplant done by someone who specializes in medicine. All goes well.
Jordan talks with the recovering Delmer about his own breakthrough. Jordan lost a leg while in the army. He’s spun a story about losing it in battle. He was never in battle. He was a cook, and lost it to an improvised explosive device while going to the market. He told himself he made up a heroic adventure because other people expected it. But Jordan’s ready to be honest with people about this, now. And this is why I understand his offering Delmer his kidney. It would be a way to act the hero he felt he was expected to be. They both resolve to do better with their lives.
Part of that resolution in action: Jordan and Michelle, whose last name I have not been able to track down, want to marry soon. [Edited to Add:Dawnpuppy was good enough to tell me her name. Michelle’s last name is Carter.] They’ve been engaged — I think — since before I started doing these recaps. Or I failed to log their engagement in these essays. It’ll be tough scheduling. Jordan has a restaurant opening soon. Michelle pledges she’ll do all the planning. And with the 29th of December, 2018, we leave Jordan, Michelle, Delmer, and that group, for the time being.
The current story started with the new year. Well, the 31st of December. Rex is off to a conference in Phoenix. He’s told his family it’s a medical conference, so please adjust your snarky comments to match what’s in text. On the plane he’s seated next to Brayden, portrayed by that kid from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Brayden’s unnervingly cool about the flight, including the long delay before takeoff.
Unnervingly not cool is another passenger. We haven’t got a proper name for him. Brayden’s called him Mr Cranky and I’ll go with that. He wants to know why he hasn’t got drink service yet. Or why he can’t go wandering around the aisles during the flight. Or why he can’t go into the bathroom right now just because someone else is in it. He’s the kind of supporting character you live for, if you read story strips. His emotions are big, bombastic, and way out of proportion to what’s going on. Yes, I know actual flights have this kind of cartoonishly hostile passenger too often. Doesn’t matter. Every story strip becomes one order of magnitude more delightful when some guest character rampages like a bull through the storyline. Big drunken guy on a flight? Excellent. The only thing better is when the rampaging-bull character’s emotions are wholly out of line with the narrative, or any credible narrative. Looking at you, past week of Mary Worth, and regretting how long it’ll be before I get back to that strip. I’m sorry the flight isn’t long enough he gets to have a fight about how he has a right to play the trombone, and where the stewardesses get off telling him this isn’t a bowling alley flight.
Extremely not cool is a long rumbling noise that starts the 25th of January. It even shakes the cartoonishly unflappable Brayden. It also shakes the plane. The flight attendants prepare for an “unscheduled landing”. They do this with the cool confidence of professionals who’ve recently reviewed the Schedule of FAA-Approved Euphemisms. Their attempts to explain the brace position for landing get interrupted by Mr Cranky. If you liked his rage at having to wait for drink service to start you’ll love how much he hates the flight ending at a ham radio shack so far out in the middle of nowhere that even The Ghost Who Walks doesn’t have a secret airbase there.
So far as I know. I wrote that bit before seeing this Sunday’s strip. We’ll see what happens. (It’s included a lot of people in the comments section complaining the airplane is no craft flown by any actual airline, and has way too much leg room. I am as bothered by this as I am by how people in movies can park downtown.) I kind of what it to involve Zippy the Pinhead berating a thing by the roadside.
What well-intentioned but dumb scheme did the kids in Milford get up to? What well-intentioned but dumb scheme did the kids in Milford get up to after that will-intentioned but dumb scheme? Is Marty Moon going to be set up to be a laughingstock? What blogger is hilariously overestimating how interested people are in second-guessing Gil Thorp’s decision-making process? Wait. I … Um. Well, I should be back on Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp in seven days.
If you’re here to catch up on Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom, Sunday continuity, good. If it’s past April 2019, a more current plot summary should be at this link. The link contains both the Sunday and the separate weekday continuities. But you’ll figure it out. And you may be able to use PhantomWiki, a guide to just what you’d think. I keep going back to check stuff on it myself.
And if you’re here to see where the mathematically-themed comic strips are, the answer is over on my other blog. Glad to have you read a couple of paragraphs about such comic strips as Alley Oop, Ask A Cat, and Six Chix.
The Phantom (Sundays).
4 November 2018 – 27 January 2019.
I teased last week the question of how that whole The Rat dying project was coming along. By the time of my last plot update, he had died, yes. The last bit of business was his funeral. The Phantom stole The Rat’s corpse from Boomsby Prison. He was buried instead in The Phantom’s Vault of Missing Men. The Phantom had felt bad about all those times he told The Rat he was going back to Boomsby after all. Also Skull Cave has a private mausoleum for people who’re Phantom-connected. I bet you Bruce Wayne never considered whether the Batcave needed one of those.
The 18th began the new, and current, Sunday adventure, The Little Detective Who Disappeared. PhantomWiki lists it as the 187th Sunday story. It starts with a B-29 crew landing in a remote jungle airfield. Jungle Patrol is there, to take the three-man crew into custody. Evacuating just ahead of them: The Phantom — the Unknown Commander of the Jungle Patrol — along with his wolf Devil, and a girl. The Phantom brings the girl back to her home in a Xananga village. (The Xananga are a tribe in the Elephant Valley of Bangalla. If PhantomWiki hasn’t missed something this is their first appearance in the strip since 1991.)
That done, The Phantom returns to Skull Cave to tell his wife and Guran and also the audience about what just happened. In flashback it tells of The Little Detective, who’d followed strange noises. And disappeared, to her family’s distress. What she found was wildlife poachers, emboldened by Mark Trail’s long sojourn in Mexico. She was examining the crates in the airplane’s hold — including grey parrots being stolen from Bangalla — when the cargo door closed and the plane took off.
The smugglers’ plan: use the B-29 as a show plane, moving across borders with little scrutiny. Vintage trucks and cargo crates were treated as props, and accepted as such by customs officials. Meanwhile the Little Detective, stowaway, found some projects and kept busy. She’d swipe food from the crew, encouraging them to fight each other. She’d drop notes to bystanders at air shows. She’d … I don’t know from there. That development brings the story to the 27th of January. Shall have to follow up in a few months, when we’ve seen more of what The Little Detective did.
I’ve read comments skeptical that this airplane-show-smuggling scheme could work. It seems to depend on a particular laxity or incompetence on the parts of customs officers. My readings of how security-state organizations work leads to to believe they run at about 49% adequate, 51% fiasco, with occasional flutterings one way or the other that make it into true-crime podcasts. So I wouldn’t expect every customs official to ignore cargo being carried by a show plane. But I can absolutely buy an organization that manages to make themselves look boring enough to avoid close scrutiny by un-corrupted officials, at least for a while. I also understand people who figure that of course customs and immigration works like it’s supposed to. Anyway, it’s a story; we can suppose the bad guys are clever enough to out-think the obvious problems. It’s whether they should also be clever enough to out-think the protagonist that’s where credibility can be strained.
Would-be clumsy mugger Delmer Robertson has reconnected with his old pal and comic strip regular Jordan. But it’s just in time to learn he needs a new kidney. But where will we find anyone who can do something medical? I’ll check back in seven days with the plot recap of Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D.
If you’re looking for the latest plot recaps for Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth, you may want to check this link. If you’re reading this before about April 2019 I probably don’t have a more up-to-date post. But this essay just gets you up to speed for mid-January 2019.
I was furious with Mary Worth last time I recapped its plot. This is just like any reasonable person who has strong emotions about Mary Worth. Saul Wynter, local curmudgeon, was grieving the loss of his beloved dog after 17 years of companionship. Mary Worth decided he’d had enough of that. She dragged him to the Animal Shelter and shoved a dog into his arms with orders to be happy now OR ELSE.
Wynter complies, though. He sees something in Greta, a dachshund who shows signs of past trauma. Greta sees something in him. He takes her home. Greta’s shy at first. But Wynter’s patient, and supporting, and repeats Worthian platitudes about living life sad afraid and grumpy. She recommends not doing that. And Greta sees he’s already bought a food dish with her name on it.
So they get along, and pretty well. In a couple days Wynter’s going out again, introducing Greta to everyone, and smiling contagiously. It’s a sweet moment. It’s a touch odd: when the story started and he had the dog he’d loved for seventeen years, he was also a grouch. But I suppose everyone does sometimes fall into habits, even grumpy ones without realizing they’re doing it. Well, here’s hoping we can all get to a better place, but may it be through smaller traumas.
The 19th of November started a corollary story. And a great one. Wynter’s story infuriated me with its clumsy-to-offensive handling of pet death. This follow-up, though, was almost uncut, gleeful hilarity.
Mary gets a call from Animal Shelter. They need a foster home for one of their cats. Libby is a one-eyed cat with an appealing scruffy look. I’m surprised she wasn’t adopted already. Mary agrees to foster Libby. This leads to a great string of scenes where Libby goes about cat business, and Mary is put out in delightful ways. We don’t often see Mary Worth coming up against someone she can’t meddle into compliance with her view of life’s order. Pets are great. But you can’t have pets if you aren’t emotionally ready, at all times, to have any day transformed into “emergency vet visit because the animal was sitting in the living room surrounded by a three-foot-wide annulus of poop”.
We get a twist when Doctor Jeff visits for dinner. It turns out he’s explosively allergic to cats. He has to flee the apartment in minutes. It puts Mary in a quandary. She adopted Jeff years ago; it’s not fair to turn the old pet out in favor of the new. Good news, though. It turns out they had another Old Woman character in stock. Estelle likes the one-eyed Libby, and is very optimistic about being able to take care of a cat for the first time in her life. Libby goes off with Estelle. Both return to the primordial xylem of supporting cast members, and Mary reflects on trading the cat for Jeff after all.
The 17th of December started a new, and the current, story. It’s about the marriage of Toby and Professor Ian. And starts, promisingly, with Toby telling Mary about how great it is that she and Ian have a nice boring marriage. With the benefit of separate day lives. Mary suggests, you know, they could try a cruise ship or something to spice things up. Toby chuckles about how not even God could sink this ‘ship.
So, Ian teaches Shakespeare over at Local College. Jannie, a student, comes up after class to talk about how inspirational he is. How he has a great theater voice. How impressive his knowledge is. How she wants to bask in the glow of his brilliance. Toby snorts at how some students will do anything to butter up their instructors. Ian doesn’t see any reason he might not just be “nut-rageously amazementballs”, as he desperately imagines the kids say.
Ian is so convinced that Jannie is not buttering him up that he doesn’t even ask why their semester runs across Christmas and New Year’s. (I know this sounds like me not giving them the dramatic license to show events that happen out of synch with the reader’s time. But the strip does pause to explicitly say it’s New Year’s Eve, right in the middle of the plot. Yes, I know there are colleges on trimester systems that have classes running across New Year’s. I’m sticking to my joke.) Why, he asserts, she really and truly likes him. This inspires jealousy in Toby, and fears that she might lose her husband to this undergraduate. She sends up the Mary Signal.
Mary gives Toby some good advice: tell him she’s concerned about this relationship. Toby dismisses this, because she doesn’t want to seem “clingy”. Well, what kind of relationship survives honest talk about the important stuff? Mary asks how she knows that Jannie actually has feelings for Ian. He might be misunderstanding things. Toby can imagine only one reason someone might say her husband “[stands] out as an educated man among Neanderthals”. All Toby will commit to doing is twisting in uncertain agony.
Which all tees up some funny ironies. First, Ian isn’t wavering in his commitment to Toby. As best we can tell, he’s never considered that this should ever be more than listening to how awesome he is. He’s certainly never considered campus policy about appropriate instructor-student relationships, anyway. Second point, Jannie is just buttering him up. We learn this week that she’s figuring a hefty load of flattery will help her ace the rest of the course. And to complete a fun bit of frustrated-or-false crushes, this week we met Michael. Michael is one of her fellow young people. He seems interested in her and her exotic style of vaping though a six-inch countersunk-head nail. She’s too busy chuckling over how she’s out-thought Professor Ian to care about mere classmates.
And that’s where things stand this weekend.
Dubiously Sourced Quotes of Mary Worth Sunday Panels!
“The strongest principle of growth lies in the human choice.” — George Eliot, 28 October 2018.
“Dogs do speak, but only to those who know how to listen.” — Orhan Pamuk, 4 November 2018.
“Change is the end result of all true learning.” — Leo Buscaglia, 11 November 2018.
“In the midst of winter, I found there was in me an invincible summer.” — Albert Camus, 18 November 2018.
“Time spent with cats is never wasted.” — Sigmund Freud, 25 November 2018.
“Be miserable. Or motivate yourself. Whatever has to be done, it’s always your choice.” — Wayne Dyer, 2 December 2018.
“What greater gift than the love of a cat.” — Charles Dickens, 9 December 2018.
“We do not remember days, we remember moments.” — Cesare Pavese, 16 December 2018.
“Flattery is like chewing gum. Enjoy it, but don’t swallow it.” — Hank Ketcham, 23 December 2018.
“I will praise any man that will praise me.” — William Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra, 30 December 2018.
“To catch a husband is an art; to hold him is a job.” — Simone de Beauvoir, 6 January 2019.
“Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorry, it only saps today of its joy.” — Leo Buscaglia (again!), 13 January 2019.
“I was a disinterested student.” — David Fincher, 20 January 2019.
If you’re trying to understand the current storyline in James Allen’s Mark Trail, this is a good piece to read. Unless it’s later than about April 2019. If it is, I’ll probably have a more up-to-date plot recap here. Good luck finding what you need.
My last check-in on Mark Trail had almost no Mark in it. Instead, Rusty Trail and Mara, a girl he met on the plane down to Mexico, took the lead. Rusty and Mara noticed assistant archeologist Becky was passing artefacts to someone who didn’t look like he was a museum. They follow the man, Juanito, to the nearby town of Santa Poco. There he explains to them he’s a courier, but they’re welcome to come with him since this isn’t a great part of town.
Pursuing Juanito, Rusty, and Mara, is a motorcycle-riding, long-haired guy named Raul. Raul has some connection to Joe/José. José’s been truck-driving for the archeologists. And also watching all this artefact-passing. And making suspicious-sounding CB radio calls to Raul. So when we left off we were looking at a motorcycle-fueled chase in the bad parts of Santa Poco. Rusty and Mara were in the company of a man of unknown-to-us objectives. And they were pursued by men of unknown-to-us objectives. A bit confusing, yes, but the last several months of strip have given some clarity to who’s trying to do what and why.
Rusty and Mara run down an alley. Raul calls out, claiming to be a friend of Mark Trail’s. They don’t buy it, and find a lucky hole in the wall to dig through. Raul calls José, asking him to call Mark back into the story. He’ll chase the kids. And warns he’s going to leave his bike “in this nasty alley with rats … big rats!” It’s a declaration so intense I feel like it’s got to refer to something, but I don’t know what. José does call Mark, promising to explain everything when he gets there.
Mark asks senior archeologist Howard Carter (get it?) if there’s something funny about José. This allows us to enter into the plot that José seems “more complicated” than they expect from their truck driver. But they allow that he seems more educated than the average person around town. Mark figures, what the heck, let’s see what’s going on.
Raul, on the rooftops, takes time from yelling at toucans to notice them. He misses one leap from rooftop to rooftop, and falls through a skylight. He lands on the supper table of a couple who take a man falling through their roof in distractingly good spirits. They listen to his story of chasing someone around town all day. They offer him some landed-on empanadas. And they let him throw a lamp through the window to get out because the door was in the wrong direction? He leaves them money for the damages, at least.
It’s a bizarre interaction. What it read like was a comic beat in a genially dopey mid-80s movie that’s trying to be Romancing The Stone. You know, about forty minutes in, and the protagonist finally realized he has to do something about the people who stole the necklace that woman stuffed in his carry-on, and he pratfalled out of his chase, and now the director’s mother who’s thrilled to be in a movie is cleaning him up. It may be James Allen was going for that effect.
Rusty and Mara figure they’ve escaped Raul. They figure to find Juanito by using the tracking app on the phone they dropped in his backpack. Juanito’s not looking for them. He’s delivering Becky’s artefacts to some silhouetted figures. They chuckle about how the collectors buying smuggled artefacts will give them a nice Christmas bonus. The chuckling happens right before Christmas, reader time. It makes an odd bit of time-binding for the story, though. Story strips are vulnerable to some weird time dilations. Like, this story, which has run since April, has been only a couple of days for the characters.
Anyway, the boss, Boss, and his underling Jefe, are barely done giggling about this when the phone rings. It’s Rusty’s Mom calling. Boss, Jefe, and Juanito realize they’re in a lot of trouble when Cherry Trail addresses them by full name including their middle names. Raul curses Rusty and Mara for following the tracking app right into Juanito’s boss’s lair. He figures it’s time to call José.
José meanwhile is talking with Mark Trail, and Professor Carter. He’s finally collapsing the quantum waveform of sides and motivations of this story. José’s an undercover cop, which according to the rules of Mark Trail puts him on the side of Good. He’s been undercover, investigating Becky for smuggling archeology. Rusty and Mara saw one of their agents at the temple. They pulled that agent back, and sent in Raul to intercept the kids. So yes, Raul may have spent months in the story grumbling about Rusty and Mara, and thinking of them as “those brats”. But he’s not a bad guy, he just doesn’t feel as though he has to like two kids he doesn’t know and who’ve been making his life harder. It’s a step toward more real characters in Mark Trail. It means someone can be on the Good side without liking the lead characters.
Now they know where the kids are, but also that Boss, Jefe, and Juanito are there too. So they figure, better to bring along Mark Trail, in case somebody needs punching.
And boy do they ever need punching. Mark recognizes Boss and Jefe. They were in a story in early 2016, from just before I started recapping plots regularly. Back then Boss and Jefe were smuggling humans into the southwestern United States. It partly showed off the ecological consequences of this. And partly got Mark Trail and company caught in an endless yet fascinating series of caves. That storyline left the human-traffickers’ fates unresolved. That alone was a major change from the linear, self-contained stories of Jack Elrod.
And I know, you’re wondering: wait, they’re trafficking humans and they’re smuggling pre-Mayan artefacts? Aren’t those separate lines of work? All I can say is that the gig economy is becoming more respectable, and there’s now ways for everyone in the underworld to pick up a side hustle. Boss and Jefe signed up early for Smuglr. It’s the crime-sharing app that’s disrupting the traditional black markets by cutting out the hench-middle-men. And it’s one I’m happy to welcome as the newest advertiser on my podcast.
And finally, after several stories of nothing more exciting than islands blowing up, Mark Trail is punching baddies. This probably indicates that the story is coming near an end. It’s been a big one; it started back in April. All the major narrative questions are answered, or looking nearly answered. There have been a couple stray bits. But I’m going ahead and supposing any weirdly specific detail never mentioned again is a reference to something I haven’t seen. I’m thinking of the Zuni fetish doll delivered anonymously in a box and that gets moved during the day. I’m sure that means something.
I just know I’m going to have to re-use the follow-up question for this plot summary. But, what the heck. It’s the question that people reading this essay would want answered.
Sunday Animals Watch
What amazing yet endangered animals, plants, or natural phenomenon have been highlighted in recent Sunday strips? These.
Parsnips, 21 October 2018. Apparently they can doom you!
Tegu Lizards, 28 October 2018. We’ve gotten them to be invasive to Florida, so, good work everyone.
Giant Silk Moth, 4 November 2018. They seem to be doing all right for themselves.
Japanese macaques, 11 November 2018. Not actually threatened, which seems to break the rules for non-human primates.
Naked Mole Rats, 18 November 2018. You just know they’re going to make Rufus some other species for the live-action movie.
Hammerhead sharks, 25 November 2018.
Green Crabs, 2 December 2018. They’re going invasive, but they’ve inspired one area of Italy to try making them dinner, so that’s something I suppose.
Wondiwoi Tree Kangaroos, 9 December 2018. So for 85 years westerners only knew of it from one sample, but last year British naturalist Michael Smith took some photos of one, so, they’re probably not doing well but they’re not actually extinct yet?
The Jacuzzi of Despair, 16 December 2018. It’s a 100-foot wide zone, three thousand feet deep in the Gulf of Mexico, that’s too briney for anything to live, which is neat and weird and unsettling.
Frankincense, 23 December 2018. It’s not just for making Christmastime jokes about Frankincense’s Monster anymore!
Manatees, 30 December 2018. Incredibly endangered despite being crazy popular.
White Lions, 6 January 2019. Unbelievably endangered. This one mentions particularly a sterile white lion in danger of being auctioned off, possibly to canned-hunters.
The Lowland Bongo, 13 January 2019. Not threatened yet, but the year is young.
October saw Mutt and Walt Wallet explaining early events in Skeezix’s life. The mail-in contest that got his unused name of Allison. The hiring of caretaker Rachel. The adoption of a pet dog and a cat. The question of whether Mutt looks like Andy Gump. You know, of the hit 1920s serial melodrama comic The Gumps. There is some resemblance. Maybe Gumps cartoonist Sidney Smith did take a few elements from Bud Fisher’s Mutt and Jeff. Maybe it was quite hep in the 1920s to joke about Andy Gump being a clone of Augustus Mutt. (I mean, even their names are similar.) I never heard of such, though. It seems like a weird diversion for Gasoline Alley‘s centennial.
But this is an example of a thread in Gasoline Alley’s centennial celebration. Jim Scancarelli would fill out the panels, and the storyline, with comic strip characters from the long-ago days. And I would disappoint Roy Kassinger. I’d have to admit I don’t recognize any of the characters from Dok’s Dippy Duck. And I only know the figures everyone recognizes from Fontaine Fox’s Toonerville Trolley. I know what everyone says about reading the comments. But GoComics.com has a good community of people who can pin down character cameos. It’s worth checking the full comments if you see a figure that’s got to be from something and don’t know what.
Gump and Mutt come close to a fight, and then write the whole thing off as an orchestrated joke. This doesn’t actually make sense — it was set off by a chance comment by Walt Wallet — but who cares? Everyone gets back to highlights of Gasoline Alley‘s history. Like the time, after Walt Wallet and Phyllis married, when they found another abandoned baby, this time a girl dubbed Judy. Before we can start asking what kind of reputation the Wallets were getting the story advances to World War II. Recapped here — surely not coincidentally the week of Armistice Day — was Skeezix’s wounding in World War II. We see only a few moments of it. It’s easy to imagine the suspense of the events.
And then another interruption from an ancient comic strip character. This time it’s Snuffy Smith, pointing out how the comic strip he took over from Barney Google is about to turn 100. Where’s his celebration? This befuddles Mutt. Smith, ornery in a way he hasn’t been in his own comic strip in decades, starts a grand custard-pie fight. And this silliness is what’s going on when the strip takes a moment the 24th of November, 2018, to observe its centennial. With a strip that got used for the 90th anniversary, a choice which logic I’m still not sure about.
Despite the intervention of Fearless Fosdick the custard pie battle rages. Walt Wallet and Skeezix decide to leave. This again passes up the chance to let Walt die of old age or prevent noodges like me pointing out the man is three years older than the Ford Motor Company. Or, for that matter, seven years older than the comic strip Mutt and Jeff. All right. They return their custard-stained tuxedos to sales clerk Frank Nelson. (Who’s working, I noticed this time, at Tuxedo Junction, a name I imagine is a reference to the Glenn Miller song.) So there’s the indignities of dealing with him. And a total $400 cleaning bill. And, on top of that, a parking ticket.
The parking ticket — received the 15th of December — starts the segue into what looks like the new storyline. Skeezix, grousing about the ticket, accidentally drops it in a street Santa’s donation box. Skeezix swaps that out for a $20, and then grumbles about giving away money he needed. And then finds on the sidewalk enough cash to pay his ticket, affirming the sidewalk Santa’s claim about how God will be generous to the generous.
Skeezix heads to City Hall, where he runs into Rufus, of the Joel-and-Rufus pair. Rufus we last saw in November 2017, before the strip went into unexplained reruns. That was a story about him courting the Widow Emma Sue and Scruffy’s Mom. She probably had a name of her own. But she was also pursued by Elam Jackson. Rufus was heartbroken by Jackson proposing marriage. But he had just learned The Widow had turned Jackson down. That’s not resumed, or even mentioned, here. It’s the first chance to, though. This is the first story since the stretch of reruns that wasn’t about the centennial.
Rufus is working as janitor. He’s smitten with the Mayor, Melba Rose. He asks if she’d join him in a cup of coffee. She answers that the two of them wouldn’t fit, indicating that the mayor is either Gracie Allen or Commander Data. While I have my suspicions what sort of character she’ll be, I don’t actually know yet. And I don’t know whether the earlier storyline, abandoned but at a natural stopping point, will get mentioned.
The whole centennial celebration leaves me, as ever, with mixed feelings. The device is a good one. And it’s one appropriate to the comic, playing as it does on Scancarelli’s love of older comedy. And on the Old Comics Home that’s been one of the comic’s recurring scenes for ages now. And reviewing the strip’s history is a great use of the premise. And the conceit that the audience is every comic strip character ever is also great. Plain old recaps of plot developments are boring. Breaking them up with jokes or slapstick or cameos from other characters allows for good pacing. Also for Scancarelli to show off that he can draw every comic strip character in history. (I know, I know, he’d pick ones his style made convenient, or practice ones he absolutely needed until he got three panels’ worth of good art. But it’s a good stage illusion of omnicompetence.)
But the execution fell short. What actually got recapped? That the strip started out as a couple guys trying to make cars work. That Walt found and adopted Skeezix in an event that got nationwide publicity. Then some weirdly fine-detailed things like how Walt hired a housekeeper, or how they adopted some pets. Later, World War II happened. And that’s it. Time that could have outlined the Wallet family tree went instead to real-life centenarian Gasoline Alley fan Peggy Lee. Or to how Mutt, who’s appeared outside of Gasoline Alley as recently as the Reagan Recession, looks like Andy Gump, whose strip ended the 17th of October, 1959. That’s literally so long ago that Linus Van Pelt had not yet said the words “Great Pumpkin”. It’s fair to suppose someone reading in detail about Gasoline Alley‘s centennial is interested in comic strip history, yes. But it’s fair to expect the story to be about Gasoline Alley. The in-universe story, yes. Maybe reappearances from Gasoline Alley characters who have died or wandered, unexplained, out of the comic. Maybe something about Frank King, its originator. Or about Bill Perry, Dick Moores, and Jim Scancarelli, who’ve written and drawn the strip and who don’t get so much attention. A storyline that’s gone from July through December, and that has a goal of one task, shouldn’t feel like it wasn’t enough time. But it does feel like the centennial didn’t get some important things done. Maybe the bicentennial strip will summarize everything better. We’ll check back in in 2119.
Mexico! Mysterious artefacts in the Yucatan! The strange and wonderful wildlife of Central America that we somehow haven’t killed yet! Yes, this storyline is still going on in James Allen’s Mark Trail, but never fear! I’ll catch you up!
If you’re looking for a recap of the plot of Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy, good news! This is a useful spot for that. If you’re reading this after about March 2019 there’s probably a more up-to-date recap. It’ll be at this link.
Polar Vortex and Pauly get to fighting in their hangout. Pauly’s ready to kill Vortex, who’s got the cavalry on the way. He’d taken Honeymoon Tracy’s wrist-wizard communicator out of the ice cream freezer. For some reason Pauly thought this would inactivate it. Tracy and Sam Catchem bust down the door and get into a shootout with Pauly. Pauly lives long enough to say that all this was for his father, Crutch.
… Which you’d think would be a big deal. Or which would be a big deal if it got some attention. Crutch is a character from the very first-ever Dick Tracy storyline. He was the gunman who killed Tess Trueheart’s father. It was the case that brought Dick Tracy into the scientific-detective line. I didn’t recognize this, no, and needed GoComics.com commenters and the Dick Tracy Wikia to guide me. Which all highlights some cool and some bad stuff about Staton and Curtis’s run on the strip. They’re incredibly well-versed in the history of the comic strip and can pull out stuff from about ninety years’ worth of stories. But when they’re doing this isn’t communicated well. To put Dick Tracy up against the son of the first man he gunned down? Good setup. But we didn’t know that was going on until that son was gasping his last breaths. Pauly’s role could be any henchman’s. So, what was the dramatic point made by linking him to the murderer of Tess’s father? In a way that you would never guess without auxiliary material?
Maybe it doesn’t need a point. Life is complicated and messy and has weird links. Maybe Polar Vortex wanted someone who’d try something stupid like this, and summon Dick Tracy’s attention. Tracy does investigate Vortex’s business. I thought he didn’t find anything, but the 18th of November Tracy mentions that Vortex is out on bail after drug-trafficking charges. The kidnapping he seems to get a pass on, even though kidnapping Crystal Plenty was part of the lost plan. Vortex does say he had a plan for killing Tracy, and this was too soon. Maybe Vortex’s plan went wrong. But I’d feel more sure if I were clear on what the plan was.
Well. The next big plot thread started the 21st of October, with the introduction of the (imaginary) comedy duo Deacon and Miller. They’re getting a revival, with a film festival hosted by Vitamin Flintheart plus a new syndicated newspaper comic strip based on the pair. … Which might be the most implausible premise I’ve seen in this strip. And this is a strip that has telepathic, psychokinetic Moon Men and a guy who used a popcorn maker to shoot someone.
The revival’s funded by a trust set up by Miller, redeemable after 40 years. There’s a bunch of money in it, and Polar Vortex has got himself named trustee. And I’m confused on just how myself. It was described as a “neighborhood bank” plan scam. I’m not sure what this is. It reads like the mark (Dick Miller of the comedy team) was convinced to put money into a fake bank. But the scammer went ahead and actually invested it, and pretty well. And I’m comfortable with that, that far. The scam where it turns out to be easier to go legitimate is a fun premise. I loved it in the movie Larceny, Inc. (Well, the movie circles that premise anyway.)
So then to the present day. Vortex got charge of the money, and went looking for Peter Pitchblende. Pitchblende is the grandson of Miller, and rightful heir to all this money, and the point person for this whole revival. Vortex’s plan seems to be to get Pitchblende to sign over the money to him. There’s something I don’t understand in the phrase “neighborhood bank” scam, but I haven’t been able to work out what from the strip. I would understand embezzlement. I don’t understand why Vortex can’t just take the money without involving Pitchblende. Also it seems like the revival got started before Vortex contacted Pitchblende. But that might be that the revival would have been airy plans until Vortex dropped the promise of money into it.
Well, Vortex’s plan seems to be … being very slow about repaying Pitchblende for out-of-pocket expenses with the Deacon-and-Miller revival. That at least seems like a workable start to a scam. Vortex claims this is a temporary sideline from his drug-dealing at schools. But it’s hard, especially with a small group. And I’m not sure he understands just stealing money. Like, I’m pretty sure even with a drug-oriented racket he could fake Peter Pitchblende’s signature on stuff. Anyway, he feels the personnel shortage. So Vortex hires some guy he sees talking confidently at the coffee shop. The guy’s named “Striker”, or as we know him, Lafayette Austin. (Austin is getting a lot of attention this year, mostly working undercover in foiling various villains.)
Austin, working undercover, is able to get at Vortex’s files by the cunning plan of being left alone in the room with them. Vortex likes Striker’s energy. He doesn’t like that of street-level pusher Ballpark, who’s been using the drugs instead of pushing them around some. Vortex sends Ballpark to “the bell tower”, which is a literal bell tower. There’s some setup about the experimental infrasound system being good for … well, it’s got to be killing, doesn’t it?
Start of December. The police sweep up drug dealers around Honeymoon and Crystal’s school. And over the rest of town. The cops close in on Vortex and Devil, up in the bell tower. I’m not sure he did get to killing Ballpark, or ever using this infrasound bell tower death machine. Maybe that’s left for a future villain to use, although I’d hope it gets a fresh introduction and explanation of what it’s supposed to do then. The story’s been one of those with a strong enough line of action that you seem like a spoilsport complaining about key parts of it not explained. It makes my life harder.
Vortex tries to, but can’t shoot Tracy. He’s arrested. Austin finds the documents showing that Pitchblende should have the Miller-investment-inheritance. I really don’t understand what the setup of that was. But they turn over the money to Pitchblende and the show can go on. The show features Vitamin Flintheart, playing himself, in a musical based on J Straightedge Trustworthy. This is an in-universe comic strip inspired by and parodying Dick Tracy.
The 16th of December, I believe, starts a new plot. It opens at the Wertham Woods Psychiatric Facility (get it?) where Tulza Tuzon kills several doctors and escapes during a blackout. Tuzon’s better known to the cops as Haf-and-Haf. He’s got a reputation for breaking out of psychiatric hospitals. Last time he did, he got sprayed with some caustic waste, burning half his head. So since then he calls himself Splitface.
He makes for The City, where high-diving star Zelda The Great is performing. This all gets Tracy’s attention. Tuzon is something of a tribute act. Ages ago Tracy “put away” — I don’t know if he means jailed or killed — a serial killer named Splitface. The original Splitface’s ex-wife is Zelda the Great. Haf-and-Haf is also reported to have developed two alternate personas. That’s a development I’m sure won’t mean that I have to provide a content warning about mental health next time around.
But! That’s on hold for two weeks as the strip does another Minit Mystery. This one written by Donnie Pitchford, who writes and draws the Lum and Abner comic strip. And which makes me finally, about two months late, recognize what “Peter Pitchblende” is a reference to. So, y’know, anyone looking to me for insight please remember that that’s the level I’m working at.
(The Si and Elmer referenced in that strip was a syndicated serial comedy. It’s listed as an attempt at cloning Lum and Abner. I am not sure that both shows aren’t more properly clones of Amos and Andy, with hillbilly rather than blackface comedians. Si and Elmer were elderly small-town residents who decided to go into the detective business. At that point in their own series, Lum and Abner were a justice of the peace and the town sheriff, which makes them almost on-point for a Dick Tracy crossover. I haven’t listened to any of the episodes. Apparently something like 95 of the estimated 130 episodes made survive. That’s an amazing record for early-30s radio. Here are something like 67 of them available for the listening. There might be others elsewhere on archive.org.)
So I don’t know anything about the Minit Mystery besides what you saw in today’s strip. I’ll recap that and whatever this Haf-and-Haf/Splitface plot develops in a couple months’ time.
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley is a hundred years old! How many of those years did its centennial celebration run? What happened with Peggy Lee? Did Walt Wallet move into the Old Comics Home? Find out here, in seven days, or, y’know, skim through the strip yourself. You’ll probably make a pretty good estimate.