Gasoline Alley, at least under Jim Scancarelli’s tenure, is a lightly fantastic universe. That’s all. There’s elements that can’t exist, like the Old Comics Home, or the recent visit with Santa Claus, or the current story with Bear. There was an attempt at saying the recent visit with Santa Claus was imaginary. I think it’s not possible to make the talking bear only something in kids’ imagination. Scancarelli enjoys a strip that lets him step outside the already-gentle realism of the normal story and that’s that.
Walt Wallet was finally writing up a bucket list. The least recklessly dangerous thing on it? Riding on the back of a garbage truck, something that caught his imagination as a child and that he never got to do. The trouble: nobody’s going to let a man who can remember when there were 45 states in the union ride the back of a garbage truck. Even if they would, they can’t; there’s no perch for that anymore. Hulla Ballew, reporter for the Gasette newspaper, thinks it’d be a fun story if he could. And Rufus, of the comedy-relief team of Rufus and Joel, has an in with Mayor Melba.
Over dinner at Corky’s Diner Rufus asks if Walt Wallet could get a ride. Melba thinks it’s a great idea; fun for Walt Wallet and some good publicity for the sanitation department. Despite Skeezix’s reasonable concern, the bit of civic whimsy gets set up in good order. By early December the city has a garbage truck, with a platform on the back, and a harness so a theoretically 122-year-old man can’t fall off, ready to go. And so, in front of cameras, the press, and half the population of town, he gets his ride.
Though we see him take off, we don’t get to actually see his ride. We see him arriving back home and thanking the mayor, who thinks she’ll ride the garbage truck back City Hall herself. And, the 13th of December, he falls into a happy sleep.
The 14th starts the next story, with Aubee Skinner (great-granddaughter of Walt Wallet), Ava Luna, and Sophie visiting. Also Ida Noe, Ava Luna’s magic doll, who’s used as an excuse for Scancarelli to spend a week drawing The Twelve Days Of Christmas. Which was not the only Twelve Days of Christmas montage this season, either; Barney Google and Snuffy Smith had a take on the song too.
After that — and after Christmas — Ava Luna says she’s going to take Santa up on his invitation last year to visit again. And in a poof they’re off to … not the North Pole. It’s after Christmas. Santa’s vacationing in the tropics. Not for long, though, as there’s a crisis back at the North Pole. Bunky, the Big Book Brownie — keeper of the list of naughty and nice kids (we met him in 2021) is resigning. He wants to strike out on his own, form some company of his own to do elf business. Santa is skeptical of this plan, which you can’t even call half-baked. It’s more resting in the mixing bowl waiting for someone to find the cake dish and start preheating the oven.
But Santa understands Bunky’s aspirations and mentions his own childhood wish to ride the back of a garbage truck. This, I’m sure, reflects Jim Scancarelli’s awareness of how The Jack Benny Show could turn anything into a runner. Anyway, Santa wishes him luck. He may be aware that the moment Bunky saw Santa’s new secretary, Allure, he’d insist on staying another 99 years. So everything is resolved in a happy if old-fashioned manner.
And then — you know, I’m going ahead and putting the start at Sunday, the 29th of January — we start what seems like the current story. Boog Skinner, Aubee’s older brother, is talking with the local wildlife again. Particularly, Bear, his best friend. Bear’s having some trouble sleeping, what with the racket of the city (Gasoline Alley) encroaching on the wilderness. Also all the fuss about Groundhog Day. Boog offers some earplugs and wishes him a good late hibernation and that’s where that story’s gotten.
The current storyline in Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy included some scenes at a furry convention. It was a decent way to get the story’s main villain (Art Dekko) on-screen and explain his deal (art forgery). And, along the way, we encountered Mumbles, whom you remember from that one odd yet strange scene in the Dick Tracy movie. I mean the one with the polar-bear-shaped water cooler that’s a tape recorder. Mumbles says he’s a furry and acts surprised Tracy didn’t know.
It’s a moment that left me startled. It felt weird to write a personality trait like that into a character who’s been with the comic since before anybody ever heard of Chuck Yeager. I understand, Mike Curtis is the writer of the strip, he has the right to play with the character any way he likes. But — as with Francesco Marciuliano’s decision that Abbey Spencer’s father had a secret second family — I do wonder how the writers feel about adding big new traits to long-established characters. I’d love to know if they feel intimidated changing, or at least augmenting, someone that way.
Oddly, this threw me more than the same storyline’s revelation that Officer Lee Ebony, part of the strip since the Carter administration, was lesbian or bisexual. I don’t know why this registered as different except maybe that the Mumbles news came first. But I know at least one friend of mine wondered if Mumbles was there as part of the storyline, using “I’m a furry” as his abili. Doesn’t appear to be so; he just, you know, has a life outside whatever his exact guitar-based crime deal is.
And there might be something Mike Curtis has in mind for all this. He’s a writer not afraid to plant stuff for use years later. For example, and relevant to the first story of this recap, Curtis established Sam Catchem as a fan of the fictional-in-our-universe comic strip Derby Dugan ages ago. (For us, it’s a series of novels by Tom De Haven, with illustrations by Art Spiegelman.) It set him up as having a reason to hang around the Derby Dugan musical being put on at Vitamin Flintheart’s theater.
Steelface, fuming about the theft of the wrist radio, has a car accident. He drives to the hospital where they start giving him an MRI. The powerful magnets resonate mightily with the chunks of metal in his face. They cause extraordinary pain before the hospital staff yanks him out of there and asks, oh, like you were named Steelface literally?
Parrish, who’d got a text his uncle Steelface was in an accident but nothing more, comes clean about everything to Catchem. Steelface, maimed by the MRI pulling his skin out, decides to take his chances with car crashes. He races out of the hospital to find his car, ironically, stolen. Or “stolen”, since he was using a bait car, and Dick Tracy and Sam Catchem were right there to pick him up. And that wraps up the story, the 25th of November.
After a pause to observe Charles Schulz’s centennial the current story started. Tom De Haven is back, looking unsettlingly like Les Moore, to show Dick Tracy some animal cells he got from a 1930s Derby Dugan cartoon. Tracy’s impressed, he guesses, until De Haven reveals there were never Derby Dugan cartoons. Someone’s selling forged animation art. This … doesn’t seem like a Major Crimes Unit case. But Dick Tracy knows who’s writing this strip. He goes to meet Sam Catchem’s pal Eric, who deals movie memorabilia at Fanfur Con. That’s how we get the revelation about Mumbles mentioned above.
Eric’s not saying he knows anything but that Art Dekko guy’s selling counterfeits. So he is, although not clearly enough that Tracy and Catchem can nab him. But he’s got a plan, that he explains to his moustachioed assistant, Sue Reel. Art Dekko explains a lot this story, mostly by explaining how Art Dekko didn’t get where he did by making obvious mistakes. Such as taking shortcuts in his counterfeiting. We get this shown by his demanding wardrobe tags for a fake George Reeves Superman costume be made right. (Granting, that is the sort of oversight a casual inspection would catch.)
His big plan? Faking a Leonardo da Vinci. In Paul Chandler he has a talent who can do the painting. He sets Chandler up with period materials and special paints and access to da Vinci sketchbooks. And while Dekko is happy to explain this to his assistant, he’s not telling anything where any cops can hear.
Enter Blaze Rize, last seen in the strip somewhere around 2015-16. She had been part of a scam to defame Dick Tracy with forged video. She turned state’s evidence against the gang. In the past few months she’s started a relationship with officer Lee Ebony, who’d met Rize when undercover in Mr Bribery’s gang. She’s willing to do the cops a solid and goes into Dekko’s memorabilia shop. She finds a post-it note to ‘Call Paul Chandler’, the first thing that looks anything like evidence for the cops.
Fortunately, everybody is ready to blow up a perfectly good scam. Chandler demands a bigger share of the Da Vinci job. Dekko declares he didn’t get where he is by not being fair, and agrees. And pays for Chandler to take a vacation in Panama City, Florida. Dekko then declares (to himself) that he didn’t get where is by doing his own killing. He calls a hit man named Kriptonite, or Kyptonite, or Kryptonite, depending on which day you read. And before he knows it Chandler enjoys an early-morning swim with nobody but the fishes and the hired killer spearing him, leaving his corpse to wash ashore days later.
Dekko tells Reel he’s going to Chandler’s place, pretending to check on him. He’s confronted by a woman calling herself 99 and demanding half the da Vinci job’s take. And warning she’ll call in Kryptonite if Dekko tries to trace her. She muses how if Chandler had needed Dekko’s connections to pull off the scam, and if he’d only kept his cool … and, of course, she’s planning to knock off Dekko whatever happens. Meanwhile, Dekko observes that he didn’t get where he is by not being able to turn people against each other. Where he is is hiding in the storeroom, living on Montoni’s Pizza, so you know he’s in dire straits. He’s thinking of how to break up whatever links 99 and Kryptonite might have.
And that’s how we got where we are now. We have had a couple appearances by Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks, who’s got some hand in Diet Smith rebuilding his laboratory. And worrying about Annie growing up. And, this Sunday receiving a mysterious package that Diet Smith needs to know about. We may suppose that’s to be dealt with in a coming story.
The last couple months of Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant have been about freeing people from a witch-hunter. The catch is that in the Prince Valiant world there are witches. And people have good reason to be afraid of them. A couple months ago we saw Morgan Le Fay bring a flood to London, killing dozens, for her (and Valiant and others with them) to escape. This story we saw witches call down asteroids from the skies to kill their would-be tormentor.
So this is what has me angry. It’s the same thing I can’t swallow about the movie Hocus Pocus or certain episodes of Sabrina the Teenaged Witch. I grant the dramatic irony of witch hunters in a world where witches really exist, especially if (as far as we can tell) they go after the completely innocent. But the moral outrage of witch-hunting is people letting their own fears and imagination and prejudices into actual persecution. Make witches real and present and actively working against the witch-hunter, and you have a hard time not trivializing this injustice. I know, it’s just a story. But we have enough trouble with would-be witch-hunters without so many stories building on the idea that sometimes they’re in the right.
Audrey, Afton’s partner, does escape the chaos and get back to Camelot. She’s able to summon one cavalry: Valiant and Galahad gallop off to the scene. She also gets another, though. Aleta, Queen of the Witches, tells Maeve and Audrey they have work to do too. While Dialyodd gathers a nice big party together at a megalithic temple (I suppose Stonehenge, though for all I know it could be another ancient stone circle), Aleta gathers ingredients and allies. With Sebel, who I totally know who that is, and Morgan Le Fay they cast a spell calling for the sky to come to Earth, and let like find like.
Valiant and Galahand charge into the demon-burning. Valiant’s taken aback when Dialyodd complains of Camelot breaking its pact with him. Dialyodd claims Camelot agreed to not interfere with his crusade in exchange for protecting the western shores from Saxon invasion. Galahad says if that’s true they should keep the children but leave. Valiant is too angry to care, and attacks Dialyodd. He doesn’t kill the witch-hunter, though. The Orionid meteor shower does it first, sending a meteor through Dialyodd’s heart. It’s a heck of an accomplishment, given that the Orionid meteor shower wasn’t discovered until 1839. (It’s one of a couple meteor showers created by Halley’s Comet, by the way.) If the text is right that these are the Orionids, the story is happening in October, by the way.
It’s convenient to our heroes to have the witch-hunter out of the way. But having the stars fall from the sky to shoot him through the heart seems unlikely to convince people that Dialyodd was wrong. And Morgan Le Fay sneaks out to Stonehenge, finds the stone that killed Dialyodd, and brings it back to her castle. So that might be leading somewhere.
But where that does lead is to this week’s comics. You know now what’s been doing on the last several months, in slightly less time than it would take to read yourself. When I get back to the strip around April we’ll be able to say whether this thread continues, or whether we’re on a new adventure.
For those who came in late: The Phantom, in his escape from Gravelines Prison, saw “the Bandar nation” ride out of the mists to save him and Savarna Devi. The question is how they knew where to be. This hasn’t been explicitly answered but we can surmise. Mozz the Prophet finished telling The Phantom of the wrack-and-ruin he foresaw. When finished, The Phantom took Mozz’s Chronicle and set it in the catacomb reserved for his body. Mozz had deceived The Phantom: what he seemed to read from was not his text of his prophecy, but one of The Phantom’s own Chronicles. Somehow the prophet was able to anticipate that The Phantom wouldn’t check which volume he was setting on the shelves and which he was hiding. We last saw Diana Walker reading Mozz’s Chronicle. I have a suspicion what dots we’re meant to connect.
Having heard Mozz’s prophecy of how rescuing Savarna Devi from Gravelines Prison will destroy his family, The Ghost Who Walks sets out anyway. He’s making some changes from the prophecy, though. He’s setting out a couple days later, for one thing. He’s accompanied by Devil, his wolf. He’s setting out with the knowledge of the prophecy. He’s setting out with all the self-ruining confidence of a guy who’s crammed every strategy guide before playing the game for the first time. It’s a fun energy to read, as he keeps trying to remember what comes next and doubting that he could know. Also in the delight he takes in, he thinks, outwitting Fate. One great side of The Phantom is he’s basically happy. His glee at being clever is infectious.
One thing he does know: in the prophecy he reveals to Devi the critical information — the location of Jampa, who killed her family and enslaved her as a child — in a post-surgical daze. So he figures all he has to do is not get shot. That was already part of the plan. Further planning: if he does get shot, he has to not have a post-surgical daze. So he drops in on Dr Fajah Kimathi, a veterinarian who in Mozz’s vision performs the operation that saves his life. And here we get controversy.
The Phantom’s intention is to warn the doctor that she must not save his life, if she’s pressed by Savarna Devi to do emergency surgery on him. He does this by waking the doctor and her husband in the middle of the night. And holding his guns on them. That is, on people who not only haven’t done anything objectionable yet, but who would in the prophecy do heroic service to him. Tony DePaul explains his understanding of The Phantom’s thoughts in the essay above. I agree with DePaul. The Phantom figures conspicuously holstering his guns he shows he chooses not to be the threat a masked man breaking into their house is. I also think The Phantom’s wrong. Waking someone while holding guns on them does not put them in a more agreeable mood however much you put the guns away. But that is part of the fun of The Phantom. He has blind spots. Here, that people he knows through hearing of Mozz’s vision don’t know who he is or what he’s on about. (Although they’ve got to suspect this is The Phantom of regional lore.)
I’m not sure that’s fair. I think it plausible she sincerely believed she was done with vengeance. Learning where Constable Jampa was presented an irresistible temptation. Now The Phantom asks a question to make super-sure he doesn’t let slip Jampa’s location: if he’s shot does she promise to leave him behind? She says she will, which we know from her thought balloon is a lie. I love this irony.
We get a haunting moment in this of other prisoners, possibly also on death row, begging for The Phantom to release them instead. It’s hard to give a fair reason The Phantom should not rescue them. He knows Devi can help fight their way back out, but that doesn’t mean the others don’t deserve rescue.
To the breakout. Devi sees no reason not to grab an armored vehicle and shoot their way out. The Phantom knows. It’s gunning their way out through the well-defended roads that gets him shot. But then how to get out instead?
Devil, who wasn’t there in Mozz’s vision, has an answer. He guides The Phantom off to the mists where, as said in the introduction here, the Bandar nation has come. The Gravelines guards may be ready to handle one or two people with machine guns. Dozens of people with poison-tipped arrows, though? That’s something they can’t even imagine is coming. And the best part is there’s no way an evil state like Rhodia will retaliate against the Bandar people for crossing the border and attacking a maximum-security prison. (I snark. I’m sure DePaul has put some thought into how Rhodia might answer this.) And this is where we stand as of the second week of January, 2023.
Myc, their daughter, is some weird organism ageing dozens of years in a day. It’s attached to Alley Oop and Ooola because they’re the lead characters. Past that we’re still learning her deal so I don’t have more to say about them.
On another note, Jack Bender, longtime artist on Alley Oop, has died, reports D D Degg at The Daily Cartoonist. I came in to reading Alley Oop and appreciating his work only at its tail end but did always enjoy it. The Daily Cartoonist shares more of his life’s work, including the sports comics he made his name on.
This essay should catch you up on Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for early January, 2023. All of my Alley Oop essays should be at this link, so if you’re reading this after about April 2023 there’s probably a more current plot recap there. Now to the past fourteen weeks of shenanigans and whatnot.
The plan seems unshakeable. Alley Oop and Ooola keep trying to go back to the day before Atoby first visites the young Wonmug, only to find he’s gone back to a day before that. It’s the logical yet funny end and points out one problem of a “Time War” story. It’s hard to see how it could ever be won. Alley Oop and Ooola ask, if Doc Wonmug’s history has been rewritten so he never got into science how does he still have a lab and all? Wonmug explains something about changes in time taking time to change the present. It doesn’t make sense but if we don’t have some buffer like this we can’t have a story, okay?
The Clawed Oracle, cat-shaped being unbound by time and space, has advice for Alley Oop and Ooola. (Doc Wonmug is getting too much into free jazz and other “silly” arts stuff, as the time changes seep into ‘now’.) That advice is: take the battle to Doc Atoby. So they venture into Universe-4, the villain world. It’s a difficult place to be. Everything kind of operates on the inverse-logic of Bizarro World so it’s confusing working out normal conversations. Like, when the person who works the Misinformation Booth offers to help, should Alley Oop clobber them or what?
Our Heroes barely start figuring out a plan when Doc Atoby captures them. His Time Heptahedron is far more powerful than their Time Cubes. he brings them seven billion years in the future, when Earth is a lifeless void, a half-billion years from being consumed by the sun. He plans to leave them there. But Ooola outwits him, and Alley Oop catches him, and they’re left with what to do with the villain. Abandoning him in the dead future Earth is so villainous he approves. Lecturing doesn’t work. What about going back into his childhood to make him less villainous? That’s only arguably murder.
So, they go to Doc Atoby’s childhood and give him a puppy, to make him less villainous, or at least a villain with a cybernetic evil dog. Hard to be sure. But when they get back to the present, Doc Atoby’s a much less evil, less ambitious mad scientist; he’s into free jazz and all that stuff. So this somehow undoes all the time-tampering done with our (Universe-2) Doc Wonmug. I assume also the other versions of Doc Wonmug since there’s a couple that are surely jokes they’ll want to come back to. And with that, the 16th of December, we come to a happy conclusion.
The 17th of December started the current story, with Alley Oop and Ooola getting back to Moo. Inside Alley Oop’s cave is a crying infant. Nobody in Moo knows who she is. Or why she’s growing so fast, going through years of (human) growth in hours. She tells Our Heroes that her name is Myc. And … she’s pretty sure she’s a fungus. Is that weird? No, of course not. They’ve lived. They know people from Mastodon who are feral dreams hoping to invade shampoo by way of Louisa May Alcott novels. Being a rapid-ageing fungus from space is mundane in all but the literal sense. But what her deal is, past that? We don’t yet know.
Eye Lie Popeye is another web comic about everyone’s favorite crusty sailor who isn’t Shipwreck from the 80s G.I.Joe cartoons. At least I’ve been treating it as a web comic, as Marcus Williams’s manga-style comic book’s been presented to us. It’s properly a comic book of at least twenty pages, available for preorder. One page has been shared roughly each week for the last couple months. We’ve had ten pages published online and I don’t know whether there’s going to be a continuation. They do want to sell the comics, after all.
One may ask: is this adventure canonical? One may answer: does that matter? If the story’s good does it matter whether it gets referenced anywhere else? But it probably is. Randy Milholland, who draws the new Popeye strips, and half of the Olive and Popeye side project, seems to have an inclusive view of what’s Popeye Canon. He’s tossed references to the radio series of the 1930s, to the Popeye’s Island Adventure short cartoons, to Bobby London’s run on the strip, and to characters created for the King Features cartoons of the 1960s into his tenure. If I had to put a bet I’d suppose some of this gets into the “official” strips. Heck, I’d be only a little surprised if Milholland worked in a reference to the bonkers pinball game backstory Python Anghelo wrote up.
So we flash back to the start. Judy P’Tooty, reporter from the Puddleburg Splash, wants to write the story of how Popeye lost his eye. (The name Puddleburg Splash references a 1934 Popeye story. That story’s the source of a panel you might have seen where Popeye explains cartoonists are just like normal people except they’re crazy.) Olive Oyl intercepts her and promises to tell the story. We get a nice view of what looks like a classic (cartoon) adventure. A titanic mer-man sucker-punches Popeye and harasses Olive Oyl. Popeye eats his spinach, rockets in, and smashes the mer-man into cans of tuna. Only, this time, in the sucker-punching the monster knocked out his eye. I think the mer-man may be a representation of King Neptune, who appeared, among other places, in the 1939 story “Homeward Bound”. It’s the one going on in the Vintage Thimble Theatre run on Comics Kingdom right now.
Bluto has a different take. In Bluto’s telling, sure, Popeye was fighting a giant horned octopus. This series has not been short on fun monster designs. I’m not sure if this is meant to be any particular giant cephalopod from the rest of the Popeye universe; there’s a couple it might be. But it’s Bluto who stepped up to save the day, using Popeye as the impenetrable rock to beat the monster back. And in smashing Popeye against the monster the eye popped out. Popeye and Olive Oyl declare this story baloney, but P’Tooty is barely listening. She’s telling someone that she’s located and eliminated each stash — which she tells the gang is just her taking notes.
Wimpy has yet another take, in which he’s interrupted during a six-hamburger lunch. Popeye smashes through the window, battling another, this time winged, monster. This one’s called Bill and I believe it to be one of the underground demons, or De-Mings, from the final story Elzie Segar worked on before his death. This makes me suppose the other monsters are from other Thimble Theatre adventures. Bill targets Wimpy with a finger laser, as one will, and Popeye intercepts it, saving Wimpy’s life but losing his eye. Bluto calls this nonsense but Popeye acknowledges that this at least happened.
Meanwhile, P’Tooty has lost her patience. She declares this a waste of time and demands Popeye tell her where is the eye. And that she’s done with her cover story. She is, in truth, P’Tooty the Jade Witch. She’s sent by the Sea Hag. She’s eliminated all the spinach in the area, including the can Popeye keeps in his shirt collar. She wants to know where is the Bejeweled Eye of Haggery, and where is the Jeep. She dissolves into this huge inky goop, bubbling up from the sea, and it’s not hard to connect this to page one.
And that’s where we stand.
Oh, for the record. None of the flashback encounters we’ve seen can be perfectly true. Popeye was introduced, with his missing eye, before he ever met Olive Oyl, King Neptune, Bluto, Wimpy, or Bill the De-Ming. At least in the Thimble Theatre continuity. But you knew that. And there’s no limit to the number of continuities of Popeye except the willingness of people to hear the stories.
Happy end of the year! So, late this past summer, Comics Kingdom started to run a twice-a-week strip, Olive and Popeye. The strip, which has a daily-strip form, is done alternately by Shadia Amin and Randy Milholland. Milholland is the person who draws the Sunday-only Popeye strip. I don’t know how they’re coordinating the writing. I remember seeing Milholland tweet that both their strips were “canon”. I don’t know whether anyone said whether this is supposed to be in continuity with the Sunday Popeye. I doubt there’s going to be anything irreconcilable.
A couple weeks back I realized that while the Olive and Popeye strips stood alone, there was a continuity going. And things look like they’re putting a story together. I don’t know that this is going to be a new story strip in the way that the standard syndicated newspaper strips are. But, you know, I want to encourage Popeye re-entering the popular culture. And it’s easy to imagine without knowing and without hearing anyone suggest this is the case that doing a two-day-a-week strip is testing whether a full-time daily strip would be viable. So let me take one of my Tuesday slots and say stuff about a comic strip you might have had no idea existed.
Olive and Popeye.
30 August – 22 December 2022.
Olive Oyl leaves a canoodling session with Popeye to meet her brother Castor. He’s meeting up with his wife Cylinda, a character who hasn’t been in Thimble Theatre since before Popeye was introduced. She was written out in 1928, either running off to Hollywood or divorcing her unfaithful husband. It depends whether you read the daily or the Sunday strips. In any case it has to be a record for characters re-emerging from off stage. But she’s back and “a bat now”, according to Castor’s daughter Deezil. Deezil’s a character from the 1960s cartoons.
Meanwhile, Popeye’s mother Irene(!) and his aunt Jones fly in to spend time with the family. His mother, it turns out and is footnoted, got introduced in an early-50s story. This makes sense of her appearance in that one Famous Studios cartoon. His aunt Jones is, by the way, married to Davy Jones, of Locker fame. She’d been introduced in the early 40s and neglected since then.
Then we get some slice-of-life stuff. Popeye’s mother and aunt bonding with him and Swee’Pea. Olive Oyl working out with a friend named Mae. Mae seems to be her rival from the 1936 short Never Kick A Woman. The woman was unnamed there, but “Mae” suggests both Mae West (a clear influence on the short) and Olive Oyl’s longtime voice actor Mae Questel. Poopdeck Pappy stopping in, wondering if Irene is still upset about all those times he ran off and such.
There’s some antics in the background too. A character that makes me think of Susie the Sea Nymph, a menace from the late 30s, emerges from the water a couple times but Olive Oyl easily foists her off. (Susie the Sea Nymph was in the story run a couple months ago in Comics Kingdom’s Vintage Thimble Theatre.) Popeye going off to foil the Sea Hag and dump some of his stress at his family situation on her. Also, Bluto and Brutus keep popping in to slight effect. Ham Gravy pokes around to see if Olive Oyl might be up for getting back together. Her sisters protect her from him. But Olive and her big-city cousin Sweet still get along mostly by fighting.
Popeye hires Wimpy to keep an eye on Pappy, and keep Pappy away from his mother. Wimpy offers that someone down by the docks is asking for him. It turns out to be Whaler Joe, Popeye’s guardian when Pappy and his mother were both missing. I had assumed Whaler Joe to be one of Randy Milholland’s creations for Popeye’s Cartoon Club. Turns out, no; he was Elzie Segar’s creation, for a 1931 newspaper promotional piece titled The Private Life of Popeye, his biography as imagined before there were any animated cartoons or much comic strip lore.
Well, Whaler Joe is in Sweehaven to see his daughter Petunia, who I belive is a new character here. At leas, the Popeye Wikia I use doesn’t mention her before. She was an infant when Popeye last saw her, when he was eighteen. We first see Petunia when she happens to ask Olive Oyl for help scaring off some men following her. Petunia’s hoping to be a marine biologist, much like all of us who were kids in the 80s did. But she’s got the help that her father and her big brother are sailors and I guess her great-uncle is Davy Jones. She’s thrilled to meet Popeye, and wants to know everything he’s experienced with sea monsters. Like, now.
And that’s where “Now” is in the comic strip! As I warned above, I’m not sure this is a story strip in the way that, like, Mary Worth is a story strip. But I’m willing to take at least one try at summarizing a strip that’s been a lot of reintroducing obscure characters. We’ll see if that ever needs doing again.
No, I’m not mad at Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker. Not yet, anyway. The story has been a big conspiracy-tinged murder mystery. I have no doubts about Marciuliano’s ability to create a big, confusing, messy scenario. He’s done it many times, often in interesting ways. But I agree he has a habit of jumping the action ahead a couple months, so we don’t see the exact resolution of the chaos. It’s an effective way to change what the default condition of things is, but it can leave mysteries under-written or under-motivated.
I can be okay with a mystery that isn’t perfectly explained. Heck, I love your classic old-time-radio mystery. Those are all attitude and action and fun dialogue. The story logic is a charming hypothesis. I understand readers who have a different view and understand if they have no faith in where this is going. We readers still don’t know Deputy Mayor Stewart’s reason for framing Abbey Spencer for her bed-and-breakfast’s fire. Whether you can accept that Marciuliano had one for Stewart, I imagine, tells whether you think this mystery has an answer.
Before getting to the recap, a content warning. The story started with murder, and several murders or attempted murders are centers to the action. If you do not need that in your goofy fun recreational reading, go and enjoy yourself instead. We can meet back soon for the Alley Oop plot recap or whatever I get up to next week. I’ll put the recap behind a cut so people can more easily bail on it.
Henry Barajas has brought a different style of writing to his and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp. Compared to the Neal Rubin era the stories are much less linear, with many characters having stuff going on at once. And Barajas has an apparent desire to set everyone up with a host of issues. The combination has made the strip — already having a reputation for jumping around, because it often changed scene during a day’s strip — seem more unfocused.
So things are still going on, and the story threads are more obvious when read a week or more at a time. This may be inconvenient for people who can only read Gil Thorp in the newspaper, but, c’mon. People doing that aren’t reading my blog, anyway. Still, Barajas may need more experience with providing background or reminders in the text. It’s a hard thing to do. Science fiction fans call it “incluing” and the daily story strips are a master challenge in doing that well.
Meanwhile, Milford’s been having a good season for the boys football team. After losing the first game the team would go on to a string of of wins, including two wins in a row against Madison, somehow. I assume this was an editing mistake but never saw it explained. Centerpiece for the season — and what I imagine Neal Rubin would have made the focus of the season — is Tobias Gordon. His soccer talent leads Thorp and Kaz to naming him a kicker, and over the season he transitions to being a linebacker. GoComics commenters say this is an improbable turn of events, but I don’t know any better.
Gordon’s progression draws media attention, as he is the first (open) transgender male athlete in Milford football. Early on some of the athletes complain about how Coach Thorp “went and got woke”, talk a win streak squelches. I appreciate the choice to portray treating transgendered people as people as the winning course. But it does carry an undercurrent of “respecting human rights will be profitable” rather than “is what decent people do”. Still, Milford enjoys a good season and is — this week — facing Valley Tech and Coach Martinez in the finals.
Speaking of Martinez. After one of Valley Tech’s wins Martinez describes what his issue is with Gil Thorp. It goes back to the Valley Tech/Milford game of 1987, when he was playing. It was a hard-fought game, and Valley Tech won. But the local press reported on how “Coach Thorp Ends Season Strong”. And now Martinez is out to right that historical wrong.
Anyway, the game was a rough one. Tays sure seems to have done something foul-worthy against Martinez. But Tays fumbles the last play, letting Martinez save the game for Valley Tech. In the 1987 postgame interview Martinez says he hopes “Coach Thorp knows one thing … I’m coming for your spot, Thorp”. Which … doesn’t quite satisfy me? It doesn’t seem to me like Thorp did anything particular besides be the coach he beat in the playdowns. Fixations can be weird, though, and small incidents can curdle in one’s mind.
Other stuff going on. Keri Thorp is having a rough time of it. The school has a mass-shooter drill, with the simulated shooter holding Keri’s class. This is less traumatic than an actual aggrieved white supremacist with a gun collection coming into the classroom, but that’s all. On top of that trauma is a fellow student’s death, identified as “the third overdose this semester”. Three seems very high to me, especially given it was only November, but I understand high school has changed since I was in it.
Dorothy, who’s been bullying Keri (cropping her out of team photos, for example), mocks her for tearing up over this. Kari punches Dorothy, getting her sentenced to counseling through December. I know high school hasn’t changed to much that the worst offense of all is punching a bully. (Many commenters pointed out two years ago we saw a kid expelled for bringing a bread knife in to spread peanut butter on a bagel. Actual violence getting a “talk with someone ineffective” punishment seems like inconsistent standards.)
And in the most important non-student relationship bit of business: Gil Thorp asks Mimi if she wants a divorce. She says she does not, and that she’ll always love him. It doesn’t make their relationship any easier. And I don’t believe Mimi has yet owned up to how her mother is months away from death (and encouraging Mimi to leave Gil). That’s surely a heavy strain that Gil Thorp can’t anticipate or deal with.
Past that there have been a lot of small bits of business. Mimi’s mother noticing how much attention Tobias is paying to Keri, and Mimi encouraging her child if they want to date him. Kaz talking about how happy he is with his partner, maybe wife, Rachel. Keri bruising their ankle in a volleyball practice. Discovering Marty Moon has a two-year-sober Alcoholics Anonymous medallion. (Combined with how amiably he chatted with Gil Thorp back in September, this suggests Moon’s clashes with Thorp reflected alcoholism. I don’t know that Barajas meant that, but it’s a thread for possible exploration.) Thorp saying he’s old enough to have had Cold War civil-defense drills in school. Student Monica Yellowhair preceding her singing the National Anthem with the observation that the school was on stolen land, which narrows Milford’s location down to “the United States”. All told, many miscellaneous things that I’m noting in case they get built on. Or because I took notes and you’re going to see notes. As you like it.
Milford Sports Watch!
Among my notes I tried to keep track of the other schools mentioned in the strip. Here’s my record of them:
‘Mud Mountain’ Murphy was a delight to see enter Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D.. Most of the characters, as Beatty writes them, are pleasant enough if a bit vague. Not Murphy, who entered as a Brian Blessed-esque force of nature, all bold text and boundless energy. Story strips do great with outsized emotions and Murphy carried himself so even saying hello was outsized.
During the current story he had to run offstage rather than perform. It looked like some digestive issue, since he had just eaten four steaks, three dozen pancakes, thirty eggs (scrambled), eight gallons of mashed potatoes, a quadruple order of bacon-fried hash browns, two bystanders, six quarts of ice cream topped with twelve bananas, a Honda Civic hatchback, and five packzi. He claimed later that it was all a stunt to make himself the headliner rather than the opener. But —
Well, I noticed some points Terry Beatty dropped. We’re told that Murphy hasn’t performed in a decade. A club owner and another musician say it’s because he was unreliable about actually showing up. When Murphy does appear at the venue he talks about not having any merchandise to sell. Murphy tells a fan who mentions having a complete set of his albums that he doesn’t even have a full set of his own albums. I’d call that good crowd work if it weren’t for other mentions suggesting Murphy’s in dire straits.
When Murphy arrives at the venue Truck Tyler mentions how “I don’t think he’s showered in a while”. Murphy’s diner order is enormous like you expect from a bombastic person. But also like you expect from a starving person eating on someone else’s account. I was a grad student, I know this pattern.
Right now we’re at a point where Murphy’s story is at a sensible conclusion. He’s been a manipulative jerk and got called out on it and the regular cast are done with him. But. There is plenty of material in-text to suggest that Murphy’s dealing with some issues, plausibly a social anxiety, that sabotage his career and relationships. I don’t know whether we’re going to see him rehabilitated in the coming weeks. The room is there, is all I want to flag.
Through the visit Hank and Yvonne talk about their past relationships, and how much comfort they’ve found in each other. How close Yvonne is to retiring and turning the family diner over to her kids. Hank Junior’s challenges caring for his father. And then they turn up in the strip the next day, married.
I found the development interesting. To us readers it’s entirely a retcon; we never saw a word about their relationship before this story. But it didn’t feel arbitrary. I bought that they had a happy long-distance relationship and that it made sense to them to marry on a day’s notice. It seems fast to me, but not arbitrary or foolish. So here’s hoping that all turns out well. And I note that Rex Morgan is up at least three weddings on Mary Worth in the time I’ve been doing recaps, here.
From about the 16th of October the story moved from Hank Jr and Yvonne’s relationship over to roots country singer Truck Tyler, his agent Buck Wise, and returned-from-exile singer ‘Mud Mountain’ Murphy. Murphy’s first gig in a decade is opening for Tyler at Lew’s Nite Spot. Murphy defies his reputation by showing up in enough time that he, Tyler, and Wise can go get a bite to eat. Or, for Murphy, can get all the bites to eat. It’s a pretty fun scene in Nick’s Diner as he charms Wanda, their server, who’s a fan of Murphy. And eats pages three through eight off the menu.
After his Brobdingnagian dinner, though, he gets on stage and looks unsteady. He apologizes and runs off stage, promising to be back in a little bit. Rex Morgan gets ready to do a medicine, but Murphy won’t come out of the bathroom. With the audience growing restless Tyler steps out on stage and reassures everyone that Murphy will be fine once his tummy settles. And he puts on a good show, doing his set list an hour earlier than he figured.
And as Tyler finishes, Murphy emerges, insisting all he needed was a little time for his stomach to settle. He steps out and thanks Tyler for warming up the crowd for him, a joke that Tyler doesn’t laugh at. It gets worse as Murphy repeats the joke. And after the show, talking to Wanda from the diner, he boasts how this was all a fake. He couldn’t face being only an opening act; he had to be the headliner.
Buck Wise is furious, but Murphy says — not wrongly — that it made a good show so what else matters? Well, it’s still jerk behavior. Wise fires Murphy as a client. And Wanda, whose name Murphy insists on pronouncing ‘Rhonda’, says after that stunt she’s nto so much a fan. An angry Murphy storms out, even calling an innocent autograph-seeking fan a ‘loser’. This seems like an end to the story, but, who knows? Besides someone reading this like four weeks from now?
This may be hard to believe but as recently as the 21st of November, nobody was mad at Funky Winkerbean. At least nobody was mad enough at the soon-to-expire strip to click the ‘angry’ react at the bottom of Comics Kingdom’s page. That changed the 22nd, and since the 25th of November there’s been only one day that the strip got fewer than a hundred angry reactions, as of when I write this. So I want to explore that since people mad at comic strips is good for my readership.
So. The current, and it appears final, Funky Winkerbean story began the 24th of October. Summer Moore, the much-forgotten daughter of Les Moore and Dead Lisa Who Died of Death, returned from college. Her absence as a significant character for like a decade was explained as she kept changing her major. Now she’s thinking to take a gap year in her grad studies. Her goal: writing a book about Westview, the small Ohio town where Funky Winkerbean takes place. She figures to write about how the community’s changing over the last couple decades. Her plan is to use oral histories of her father, her father’s friends, and her dead mother’s diaries. Dead Lisa left a lot of diaries. And also a lot of videotapes. She recorded them after she decided it would be easier to leave a lot of video tapes with advice for her daughter rather than not die of breast cancer. (I sound snide, but what did happen was after a relapse she decided not to restart treatment.)
She started just in time! She’s barely decided to write a book when Funky Winkerbean, the character, announces he’s closing his restaurant, Montoni’s. The pizza shop was the social center of the comic strip since 1992. This event went so fast — in under a week of strips they were auctioning off the fixtures — and with so little focus that it felt like a dream sequence.
By the way if this storyline turns out to be a dream sequence, it would both make more sense and deserve even more to be punched.
So after some interviews Summer goes to the Westview High School janitor, a guy named Harley. Who turns out to be a longtime background character; ComicBookHarriet found he entered the strip no later than 1979. Summer says she kept finding a pattern, not shared with us readers, where Harley’s name popped up too much. And she read something in her mother’s diary about feeling watched. Harley curses himself for being a novice and starts to unreel the story that’s got everyone mad.
Because it turns out that Harley is not merely a janitor who’s been there since before they invented high-fiving. No. He is, in fact, a Custodian, one of a group of people from some other time, with a mission to tend “important nexus events in the timeline” so they’re not disrupted. You know, like in Voyagers!, which you remember from my childhood as somehow the only TV show even more awesomer than Battlestar Galactica. Or like the early-2000s Cartoon Network series Time Squad, which answered the question “what if Voyagers! had three main characters but they were all jerks?”
So he’s been around for forty years watching over Westview High School as a janitor. Apparently it wasn’t intended, exactly. It’s that his Time Helmet got stolen, years ago, by … Donna, who back in the 80s wore this goofy space-guy-ish helmet to play video games as “The Eliminator”. Part of modern Funky Winkerbean lore was that she had worn the helmet to disguise her identity. This way, fragile boys wouldn’t freak out at a guh-guh-guh-girl being good at video games. (Which, eh, fair enough.) (Also she got her Mom to call her ‘Donald’ to help her cover.)
We’ll get back to this in a second. But a lot of what has people mad about this is that the strip revisited The Eliminator’s helmet a few months ago. This in a story where Donna’s husband, Crazy Harry, found the helmet in the attic, put it on, and found himself somehow back in April of 1980. He met up with his high-school self. He told Young Lisa that Les Moore liked her in a not-at-all extremely creepy way. He almost told her to get regular mammograms. He bought a copy of Spider-Man’s debut (a comic book twenty years old at the time) at a convenience store. And lost it, for John The Comic Book Guy to find. And he blipped back to the present. Everyone agreed that was wild. It must have been a hallucination from the helmet outgassing, the way 40-year-old plastic will. Anyway after that weird yet harmless experience they throw the helmet out. But a stray cat wandered into it and blipped into hyperspace. This in just the way The Eliminator would back in the day.
Back as it were to the present. So, Harley took a job as a janitor to be where he could watch over stuff. OK. He lost his Time Helmet when the young Donna swiped the cool-looking helmet form his supply closet. He couldn’t snag it back because that would disrupt the timeline. But he could touch her mind enough to make her think she’d made it herself, like she’d always told people. And touched the mind of comic book artist Ken Kelly to make a design that Donna would use as the basis for her helmet. Because that’s easier than touching Donna’s mind to bring the helmet back. And all this mind-touching isn’t creepy or weird so you will stop thinking it is, starting now[ snaps fingers ]. Anyway he figured he could always snag the Time Helmet if he really needed it … except that then it went missing a couple months ago and he has no idea where it went. It’s that cat wearing it.
There’s the first big thing everyone’s mad about: how the heck does it make sense to leave the Time Helmet lost in someone else’s attic for 40 years? And was his mission supposed to be “hang around Westview High School for forty years in case something happens?” And if that was the plan, then what Time Admiral’s great-grandmother did he punch out as a baby to draw that assignment?
Next big thing: what big nexus is it he’s there to protect? And can we shut down everything if his mission was being sure Les Moore wrote How Dead Lisa Died In The Most Tragically Tragic Thing That Ever Happened To Anyone Ever? In a twist, considering Dead Lisa has been the center of most every Funky Winkerbean story the past fifteen years, it is not. No, the thing that needs protection is the book that Summer Moore is about to start writing.
Yes. As you might think if you watched Bill And Ted Face The Music but missed the movie’s thesis that utopia can only be created as an active collaboration of all people, Summer Moore’s going to create a utopia. Specifically, her book connecting the grand sweeps of history to Westview inspires “a science of behavioral-patterend algorithms that will one day allow us to recognize humanity as our nation!” If I have this right, Harley means she lets them invent psychohistory, like in Isaac Asimov’s science fiction novels. In The End of Eternity and Foundation’s Edge, Asimov’s capstones to exploring the implications of a mathematically predictable future history, he concluded psychohistory would be a bad thing. I have to paraphrase because I don’t have the energy to dig up either book. But viewpoint characters come to see the future psychohistory creates as “condemned to neverending stasis by calculation”. I agree we could make a much better world if we treated all people as worthy of our brotherhood. But if the powerful can choose to shape future history they will not choose one for the good of the powerless.
So that’s what else has people mad. First, the declaration that yet another character in this strip is going to become an important author. Authors already in the strip have written a blockbuster biggest-movie-of-the-year superhero franchise, a bestselling memoir that got turned into an Oscar-winning movie, and an Eisner-winning graphic novel. Second, not even an important author but someone who makes a better future. Third, an author whose work is so important it’s worth having a league of Timecops send one of their members to while away his life watching over her. But not someone good enough to do things like “not lose his Time Helmet for forty years”. Also not good enough to “maybe get a job somewhere near where Summer spends ten years in college”. Or even a job “where Summer spent anything but four years of her life”. Fourth, that it’s toying with some respectable comic book or science fiction ideas, badly. As said, it’s fiddling with what you see in the Bill and Ted movies, or with The End of Eternity, but missing their points. And, what the heck, because all this is being presented in big blocks of exposition rather than, you know, a mystery. Summer’s presented in-text as though she had cracked an elaborate mystery. But we-the-readers never saw any clues or even more than maybe two people mentioning the janitor had been here forever.
Oh also, that we’ve never seen evidence that Summer writes, or is any good at writing. Sometimes a newcomer has an amazing talent, yes. To get back to Isaac Asimov, he write “Nightfall” — acclaimed for decades as the best science fiction short story ever — when he was about twenty. It was only his seventeenth published story. Writing about the experience, Asimov noted that, had someone told him the night before he began writing, “Isaac, you are about to write the greatest science fiction short story ever”, he would never have been able to start. He’d have been destroyed by the menace of that potential. I think we don’t have enough time for a clash between forces helping and hindering Summer’s writing. I can imagine the story, though; Jack Williamson wrote something like it, in the Legion of Time. I’m told, anyway. I haven’t read it.
Anyway, everybody likes that the strip is trying to go out bonkers. But it’s fumbling the ideas, so the plot points don’t hold up to casual scrutiny. And they’re being delivered in time zeppelins of word balloons. I’ll try to post updates, when they’re deserved. But again, Son of Stuck Funky is the place to really know what’s going on here.
After a lot of running late I wanted to prove I could meet my own deadline, okay? Also I’m probably going to want to explain why everyone’s angry at Funky Winkerbean soon and I’ll need to clear some publication slots for that, too.
The Phantom, his wife, and of course Devil were exploring the Temple of the Gods. This ancient lair held an Egyptian cult, long ago. And also inhuman mummies. And the relics of ancient battles, including a particularly bloody one that the Third Phantom barely survived back in 1624. He tried to keep his descendants from visiting again, down to using hieroglyphic riddles in his Chronicles to conceal the place.
The current Phantom has visited at least twice, exploring some of the place in the comic strip in 2005. (There were sequel stories by Team Fantomen in 2006 and 2007; I don’t know whether they returned to the Temple.) He’s there now pursuing a German team that got its host mauled on-camera and, apparently, knows something, somehow, about all this.
The past months have been The Phantom and Diana Walker exploring the caverns. They had a first remote encounter, aware that something was watching them. They were easy to scared off, though. Further exploring found the skeletons of ancient battles, and the mark the Third Phantom left at his ne plus ultra. They press on, farther than the 21st Phantom had gotten. They find remains of a much more recent fight, one with animal-headed people whose bodies haven’t even decomposed. And hear … something.
The Phantom sends Diana ahead, with the torch, while he hangs back in the shadows. He sees their follower, a woman, and says they’re friendly, they don’t need to be stalked. Diana hears a load roaring. She and Devil race back to The Phantom but that’s all we have seen yet.
What terrible medical condition in roots-country singer Mud Murphy did we see Rex Morgan, M.D., very nearly treat? Food poisoning? Irritable bowel syndrome? Crippling social anxiety? Or is he a big lying liar who tells big lies? I explore Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. next week, and just guess which day I do it!
While we were all distracted with GoComics being broken, Comics Kingdom went and broke themselves. Well, changed, although the specifics of the change damaged something. Comics Kingdom replaced the commenting software used, moving away from Disqus and to OpenWeb instead. Along the way, this lost all the comments people had made, for years, on all of their strips. It’s yet another reminder that corporations are not only bad stewards of public platforms, they are hostile and destructive to it. I grant there’s limited value in reading how angry people can be when a comic strip makes a reference aimed at the young folks. But it’s good to see what people’s impressions of these strips were at publication. And many commenters are good enough to explain referenced older storylines or now-obscure characters. All of that connective tissue is gone now.
Anyway Dawn thanks Mary Worth for helping her see that letting Mylo go after he broke up with her was good for their friendship. But we have to have some thanking of Mary Worth or it’s not a plot. And on the 18th of September we go around the horn and see everyone content. Mylo and Jess are enjoying each other’s company. Dawn is happy she’s alone again. Wilbur Weston is content to spend more time with his sandwiches. Stella is singing with her cat and dog. And then Dr Jeff comes over so he and Mary Worth can agree how they’re a great couple with a way better relationship than anyone else has. Also they are definitely not getting married. And that takes two weeks.
The 3rd of October starts the current story. It’s about Iris and her much-younger computer-game-guy boyfriend Zak. I bet one or both of them have last names, but if they don’t, pick any that you like. I’m going to say one of them is “Beedie”. They’ve had a great relationship despite the unconventionality of her being older than him and knowing of obscure, hard-to-find movies like Casablanca. So well, in fact, that Zak proposes, catching Iris completely off guard.
Iris, having been married before, doesn’t want to do that again. Zak is crushed but accepts that she would rather keep the relationship as it is. She does agree to a long-delayed hike at Piccadee Falls and, sweet Zak, that’s as good as marriage to him. How can you dislike a guy who’s that able to bounce back from depressing news?
Oh, right, because he’s got the judgement of a jack-chi puppy in a chocolate store. He demands a selfie from the edge of the waterfall, declaring, “Not even the Gods themselves could make me fall off!” Well, what do you know but Parakutes, the Ancient Greek God of Plummeting, is in a grove nearby and, well, there we go. Zak clings to a branch, something he can do for the rest of his life. But Iris is able to overcome her fears — and her fear of her own frailty — and pull him back up.
Back on safe ground they hold each other tight. And Iris realizes her fears of marriage are nothing compared to how she feels about Zak. Is it just anyone who would rather he did not die? No. She accepts his proposal, the 6th of November, which might be the first time in my tenure covering these strips that we’ve achieved the summum bonum of Mary Worth.
Or almost achieved, anyway. Even a small, modest ceremony takes time to arrange. Iris hurries to Mary Worth to tell her the good news that she isn’t dead, and neither is Zak, and so they’re getting married. Mary Worth seems so surprised by this that she’s left saying stuff like “Are you referring to your previous married state versus his inexperience with matrimony?” that even Tom Batiuk says is not how people talk. Commander Data pops in to offer to punch that line up a little. Anyway, Mary Worth is so happy they’ll be able to celebrate the unconventional love of a woman who’s older than the man. And that is our happy (US) Thanksgiving-week resting point for Mary Worth.
Dubiously Sourced Mary Worth Sunday Panel Quotes!
“I’ve learned that love, not time, heals all wounds.” — Andy Rooney, 4 September 2022.
“Some of us think holding on makes us strong but sometimes it is letting go.” — Hermann Hesse, 11 September 2022.
“And if by chance that special place that you’ve been dreaming of … leads you to a lonely place, find your strength in love.” — Linda Creed and Michael Masser, 18 September 2022.
“Familiar acts are beautiful through love.” — Percy Bysshe Shelley, 25 September 2022.
“Growth is the only evidence of life.” — John Henry Newman, 2 October 2022.
“Marriage is a gamble. Let’s be honest.” — Yoko Ono, 9 October 2022.
“If you don’t lose, you cannot enjoy the victories. So I have to accept both things.” — Rafael Nadal, 16 October 2022.
“It’s a good thing to learn caution from the misfortune of others.” — Publilius Syrus, 23 October 2022.
“Love is what you’ve been through with somebody.” — James Thurber, 30 October 2022.
“Ultimately, love is everything.” — M Scott Peck, 6 November 2022.
“Life is a collage of events, really.” — Mohanlal, 13 November 2022.
“The real meaning of enlightenment is to gaze with undimmed eyes on all darkness.” — Nikon Kazantzakis, 20 November 2022.
So those ads I was complaining about yesterday? Comics Kingdom wrote back. They explained they had changed to a new company providing “programming” and they’re working on the problem which should be solved soon. I am filled with no confidence because it’s been nine months since the Sunday comics problem started and they’ve done nothing about it. Also, they’re calling advertisements “programming”. They are “programming” only in the propaganda sense of the word.
Also for what it’s worth I started clicking on the little ‘Stop seeing this ad’ box. Google Ads told me OK, they won’t show this particular ad again. And three links after that, guess what was back? It’s wild that there’s such a sexual harassment problem at Google, isn’t it?
Cherry Trail returns, fruit basket in hand. She means to apologize to Violet Cheshire for accidentally trespassing and ask if they could tone down the toxins. Cheshire’s instantly suspicious, and nearly panics when Cherry says she wants to talk about Ernest. Cherry can barely talk about the Lawn Libation chemicals before Cheshire denies having an affair with Honest Ernest. Also, Ernest comes up with a bouquet of flowers declaring he doesn’t care who knows about his love. Although he’s a little embarrassed to say it right in front of Cherry Trail. Cherry talks with Mark about this; on the one hand, it’s rotten to Cheshire and Ernest’s partners. On the other, it’s not specifically their business. It’s something that ran into them like a rampaging elephant or something.
Speaking of rampaging elephants. The story Mark Trail passed up? You know, to cover Tess Tigress’s Tiger Touch Center? And work alongside stunt-driver-turned-naturalist Rex Scorpius? That other story was an escaped elephant reported in four states. Keep that in mind.
Mark Trail snoops on the reclusive Rex Scorpius, and finds he’s Facetiming his dog back home. Mark Trail shares his own Facetiming with his dog, and they bond over having dogs who helped them through traumas. So they’re new friends as the arrive for the first day of shooting with Tess Tigress. Diana Daggers starts things off polite but vicious, complimenting her “roadside zoo”. Tigress declares they won’t have her bad vibes and kicks her out. This leaves an unprepared Mark Trail with directing duties since, hey, photography is pretty much like directing, right? Well, it worked for Stanley Kubrick and I bet some other director too.
Tigress leads them on a tour that threatens to be so exciting and adorable as to overwhelm one’s senses. It’s exciting and thrilling and magical to hold a tiger cub. Should a cub be separated from their mother so young? There must be a lot of people paying cash for seeing so many tiger cubs; does the volunteer staff get paid? Or deeper questions, asked when Tess Tigress isn’t around to glare at volunteers. Where are they getting enough meat for the animals? Do they have a vet on-site? Have they harmed other animals? That rogue elephant, is she moving in this direction because she remembers a traumatic experience with the Tiger Touch Center?
Jiffy, one of the Tiger Teammates, says they don’t have a vet, and half their animals are sick. And there’s a “weird trailer” they’re not allowed in because that’s where Gemma the Rogue Elephant’s cub is kept. The staff sleeps in tents, and there’s not resources to care for the animals. Mark Trail’s ready to investigate the weird trailer, when he’s interrupted by Tess Tigress and Rex Scorpius.
Tigress and Scorpius have been committing acts of canoodlery almost since first meeting. I’m not sure is this is strategic on Tigress’s part. It’s wise if it is; Scorpius’s infatuation makes him dismiss Mark Trail’s concerns. It may be sincere, though. Scorpius was a celebrity stunt driver and became a Bikbok star animal-wrangler. He seems attractive enough in his own right. Scorpius’s angles are clearer. He’s been going through a rough time. He abandoned stunt driving after a severe crash and found that being a video star is hard, unfulfilling work. And Tigress fits neatly with a fantasy he’s had since his childhood favorite superhero movie had “the ultimate catgirl”. (I don’t know if that’s an elliptical way of saying Catwoman, of if the character is literally named Ultimate Catgirl.) But between that transferred crush and her warm, inviting, accepting pose he’s fallen hard for her.
And foolishly, too. This past week we saw him shirtless and chained down in an arena for the “Tiger Truth Ceremony”. He can be part of Tigress’s family if he proves himself true, by the tiger not mauling him. Her other five boyfriends didn’t pass but he’s feeling good about this. Until Mark Trail reminds him: if something goes wrong who feeds his dog? Scorpius has a moment of life-clarifying doubt, but the tiger is already loose.
So is Gemma, the rogue elephant who it turns out was heading right for here, and smashes into the arena.
That closed out last week; this week has been back on Cherry Trail’s storyline.
Sunday Animals Watch!
Scorpions, 28 August 2022. Note: not former stunt-driver turned Bikbok star Rex Scorpius! Know the difference!
Armadillos, 4 September 2022. Apparently armadillo litters are identical pups, which seems like something that should’ve been used in more kids shows.
Lawn Chemicals, 11 September 2022. Just use native grasses and if you absolutely must have a uniformly green lawn, try food dye.
Monarch Butterflies, 18 September 2022. If you’ve got some milkweed you could do the butterflies a solid.
Horned Lizards, 25 September 2022. Also known as the ‘horny toad’ because of its after-dark account.
A good deal of September and October in Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley starred mall-based piano player Sir Terrence Smiles. He was illustrated with that odd specificity that inspires the question, was this based on some real person? And yes, it was. I admit I know this only because of a comment the 15th of September by charliefarmrhere over at GoComics, but I can pass that on. Sir Terrence Smiles is a riff on Terry Miles, a YouTube guy who plays boogie woogie at shopping malls. Here’s a five-minute video with one example of this. Seems like fun. Miles has a whole YouTube channel of this stuff and that’s all I know about him and his groove. I trust he’s flattered to inspire a comic strip character.
Boog’s fantasy of building a spaceship for Jimmy had faded, last I checked in, replaced with building a model. He impresses his would-be girlfriend Charlotte with the toy, and everyone gets excited to launch it. Polly the parrot even calls Gasoline Alley Television to get some media coverage for the model rocket launch. This doesn’t pan out to anything. They show up after the accidental launch. But it does foreshadow the Gasoline Alley media coming around for the current story.
Polly sits on the remote control by accident, launching the rocket inside the house. It flies around, smashing up everything, just before Jimmy and Charlotte’s parents get home. They’re okay with this. Charlotte’s Mom says they were going to get new lamps and vases anyway, and jabs her husband in the gut until he agrees they totally were. You know how the women-folk be with the shopping.
So, the 14th of September, the story transitions from all the model-rocket stuff to the mall. Jimmy discovers Sir Terrence Smiles at the piano, playing boogie-woogie. Smiles is a relentlessly cheerful, enthusiastic person, and he encourages Jimmy to sit up and play with him.
This takes us onto a conflict-free patch of story. It’s all about Smiles and Jimmy playing together. Jimmy’s a novice; Smiles is a most enthusiastic … teacher isn’t the right word. But the person introducing him to piano-playing. This includes some fanciful scenes, the sorts of nonrepresentational mood imagery that Scancarelli does well but not enough. It’s a nice depiction of struggling to learn a little of playing music. And then we get into some silliness, Smiles’s getting his sock stuck in the piano keys somehow and going on from that for a while.
Jimmy’s parents come over; he never answered their texts about it being time to go for ice cream. Smiles talks about how Jimmy’s got an impressive ability, and he goes with Jimmy and Charlotte and parents to the ice cream place.
And so, with the 10th of October, we start the current story. It’s a Walt Wallet story. He’s working on his bucket list, in the touching belief that he might someday die. He has a couple of the wide-eyed ambitions any of us might, like walking on the moon or skydiving. He’s also got one that seems so mundane it ought to be possible: riding on the back of a garbage truck. It’s one of those fanciful ideas that caught him in childhood, to the disapproval of his teachers. They didn’t like the idea of his being a cowboy, either.
Rufus and Joel, junk dealers, are glad to give Walt a ride on their mule-pulled wagon. But that’s not the fantasy, which is to ride a garbage truck like Denzel Washington rides in the movie Fences, which I never saw. Rufus and Joel ask their friend DC, who’s in the city Refuse Department. DC would be glad to, if that were possible. The city’s garbage trucks don’t have running boards or grab bars anymore. The yard waste trucks do, but they’re not used, and anyone letting someone ride on them would get fired fast. Even if that person weren’t eight years older than the number zero.
All may not be lost, though. Hulla Ballew — failing for once to identify herself as Bob and Ray reporter Wally Ballew’s sister — hears something’s up and wants to know what it is. She also forgets one time that she works for the Gasette, introducing herself as working for the Gazette instead. How will this lead to a happy conclusion? Is there a happy conclusion possible? We’ll see over the next couple months.
The current story in Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy has Robert Parrish, who’s been paying for his acting career by stealing cars, stole a cop car. One may ask why any criminal with a lick of sense would do that. And the answer is that it wasn’t, you know, a cop car. The thing with the seal of the city and some motto about serving and protecting on it. It was the blue sedan owned by a a person who happens to be a cop, in this case, Sam Catchem. It happened to have some of Catchem’s work gear inside too. But the robbers have no idea they’re getting a cop’s car; it’s just, a car.
So this should catch you up to the end of October 2022 in Dick Tracy. If you’re reading this after about December 2022 a more useful plot recap should be here. I’ll also post any news I get about the comic strip. Now on to the last couple months and how the Earth got saved from conquest plus right before a musical went into production.
14 August – 29 October 2022.
Dick Tracy accepted Moon Governor Thorin’s invitation for him, Honeymoon Tracy, and Mysta Chimera to visit the Lunarian hideout. This so Honeymoon and Chimera could learn something of their heritage. The heritage is of pulpy 1930s sci-fi adventure, with big angular architecture and psychic powers and snail-based economies and all. Also so Tracy could learn there’s a rogue faction respecting their pulpy 1930s sci-fi heritage by conquering the Earth. And what do you know but Ro-Zan is preparing to launch his conquest of the Earth, like, tomorrow! To show he’s serious he orders the electro-killing of Marina, who pointed out this was madness, madness I tell you, at the pre-conquest rally.
Marina’s friend Shay-Gin flees the rally to tell Tracy and Thorin what’s happening. They choose to go to the space coupe hangar, to see Ro-Zan’s weaponized space coupes and get ambushed. That plan succeeds, and Ro-Zan orders his men to electro-kill Tracy and Thorin. Tracy faces the electro-firing squad with a strange calm and also Mr Bribery’s ring to neutralize Lunarian powers.
The ring does more than neutralize the powers; it shoots the electro-kill ray back at the firing squad. It’s dispersed or something enough to only stun them all. Tracy and Ro-Zan get into a Star Trek fistfight, the only way to overcome this genre of villain for good.
With the conquest of Earth halted, Tracy asks what the Moon Government will do with the coup plotters. Thorin promises the New Moon Valley has a zero-tolerance policy about crime. It’s a reminder that this sort of pulpy 1930s sci-fi has a technocratic fascism built into it. It’s things to think about, especially as Tracy refuses to turn over Mr Bribery’s ring. Thorin considers how they have to rethink their zero-tolerance policy, especially as he can’t execute Ro-Zan, his own brother.
Which, first, yeah, zero-tolerance policies are generally bad as they squeeze out judgement. Especially when it’s about something like execution, which you can’t repair if you get a judgement wrong. But Ro-Zan was trying to overthrow the government and conquer the world, which needs a serious response. On the other hand, Thorin thinks of how they need to find a ‘permanent solution’ to handling crime and again with the technocratic fascism.
Back to the text. Liska — who’d been sweet on Dick Tracy — gives him a gift of some Lunarian ground-escargot coffee, a reminder of nice times in the valley. And the Lunarians conclude this isn’t the right time for them to engage with the whole world. Not until they can get their taking-over-the-world problem dealt with. Tracy et al return home, and we return to mundane plots.
I’ll handle some small ones that seem to be threads for another day. The first, explored for a few days in mid-September, was about the Cinnamon Knight. He’s retiring from his costumed-vigilante superhero thingy, and going to the Police Academy. The second, getting a couple in late October, had a man with no clear pupils sorting through papers. He finds an old note from ‘Harold and Winifred’. The name, and art style, suggests Harold Gray, creator of Little Orphan Annie (his wife was Winifred). We saw this paper-sorting fellow a couple months ago, with a narrative box promising that he’d be important to Tracy someday. How has yet to transpire.
Also the strip took a two-week pause for a ‘Minit Mystery’, written by Walt Reimer and drawn by Joe Staton, who only retired from the strip a year ago. That one broke from the Minit-Mystery format, offering an ‘adventure’ instead. It had significant-looking funny names were there, people like Wren Christopher and Dr Anita Bath. But it was about a museum theft of precious artifacts like the Froyne of Layven. It didn’t have any element of ‘why were the boots wet but the umbrella dry’ sort of reasoning.
The big story, though, started the 16th of September and it’s still going on now. It’s instigated by Vitamin Flintheart, whose newest play is the musical Funny Papers. It’s a history of the comics, told through the history of the comic strip Derby Dugan. In our reality this is a series of novels by Tom De Haven, with illustrations by Art Spiegelman. In the Dick Tracy universe it was an actual comic strip that Tracy’s sidekick Sam Catchem is a huge fan of. And that’s got a musical, now. Derby Dugan, the strip, evokes a lot of Little Orphan Annie; I don’t know if this will tie in to that fellow with the letter from Harold and Winifred.
Fellow name of Robert Parrish really wants to perform as Pinfold, the street urchin who inspires the Derby Dugan character. He goes to his uncle Steelface, who runs a car-theft ring. Steelface feels like a long-established character to me. His gimmick is he was an arc welder who got enough metal embedded in his body that he wears magnetized plates on his head. But I can’t find him in the Dick Tracy Wikia. Could be Curtis and Pleger created someone new who feels like an established villain. (Steelface’s real name is given as Arceneaux, last name unclear. I guess Parrish but can’t say for sure.)
Parrish easily snags the Pinfold part. And Sam Catchem is so eager to see the rehearsals he asks Tracy about 400 billion times if Vitamin Flintheart would do the favor of letting him. Since Tracy’s saved Flintheart’s life about 400 billion times this is easy to arrange.
Catchem and Parrish get to nerd-pair-bond over their Derby Dugan fandom. When Parrish gets a phone call from Steelface, though, Catchem’s alert. He fills Tracy in on how back in the day he and the Boston police tried to bust up Steelface’s car-theft ring. Meanwhile Steelface’s call is for Parrish’s help: they don’t have enough cars and Parrish is really good at lifting them, and owes a big favor. The time-pressed Parrish swipes something right next to the playhouse. It turns out to be Sam Catchem’s car.
Parrish is horrified to have accidentally grabbed a cop’s car. Steelface isn’t. For one, it’s freaking hilarious. For another, there was cop gear in it, including one of the wrist radios that Tracy’s unit uses. Steelface’s group can use it to monitor the cops and, like, clear out their chop shop ahead of the raid.
And this is where we’re standing as of early November.
This year’s seen Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant leaning into the witchcraft. At least the supernatural-women side of things. This, in large part, is from focusing more on Morgan Le Fay, a choice I understand. As a character she opens a lot of strange, weird story possibilities. And it shores up Prince Valiant’s taking place in the time of King Arthur, like the title panel used to tell us.
I’m less sure I like the current story, which has a woman captured by a witch-hunter. I don’t dispute this kind of thing happened. (And I’m aware the story is much distorted in the popular culture, of which Prince Valiant is part. In particular, witch-hunting mostly happened in what we call the Renaissance or early Enlightenment.) But I start out uncomfortable with stories about witch-hunting in a setting that posits witches actually exist. The historical lesson of witch-hunting is about how authoritarian group-think targets the helpless. This often with heavy doses of misogyny and racism. Adding in a layer of “also they kept missing the real ones” needs to be done with thought. So far I feel Schultz and Yeates are aware of this. The text is explicit this witch-hunting craze is Camelot’s population going wrong and the characters are coming to realize it.
Since my pre-roll started with a downer let me try fixing the mood. First, a puzzle on the old game show Whew! rebroadcast the other day mentioned how Prince Valiant is a Viking. That’s … I mean, a little like calling Cotton Mather an American writer but let’s allow it for the sake of only experts knowing what to call pre-Viking cultures. This does mean that if I had a nickel for every time the story of a wholesome Viking family became the subject of a long-running syndicated American newspaper comic strip, I’d have two nickels. Which, like the kids say, isn’t a lot, but it’s weird that it happened twice.
And Prince Valiant got a bit of screen time and amazing trivia in this Sunday’s Thatababy comic. Thought you’d want to see that too.
But all she does is warn them. Nathan is Aleta and Valiant’s son and so has her protection. Yewubar is a visitor from Africa (her father’s an emissary) and apparently strong in the craft too. So she bids them to “choose to help those in need”. This seems more reasonable on Le Fay’s part than I had gathered from that time in 2003 my eyes passed over most of the words in The Once And Future King. I don’t think she’s in it. That’s Madame Mim I’m thinking of.
By light of day, Yewubar and Nathan debate: the heck was all that? Did they see what they thought they saw? They decide to investigate Le Fay’s castle, but get distracted on the way by a parade carrying a bound woman. The captured woman is Afton. We saw her, as Aleta, Queen of the Witches, declared her under protection, in summer 2020 our time. Afton’s partner Aubrey, following the captors, meets up with Yeubar and Nathan and shares an incredible story. She insists that the villagers were cool with her and Afton and their strange ways and knowledge far beyond the customary. But then Dialyodd, who styles himself God’s avenger, came searching for witches. That is to say, women who seemed all uppity what with not dying of famine like his sort are. While the villagers protected them, that didn’t mean Dialyodd and his followers couldn’t just kidnap them.
Dialyodd’s plan: burning at the stake in the town square. Yewubar has a plan for rescue, though. She sneaks through the crowd and spreads the bee-attracting scent used in that bee-swarming stunt we saw set up a couple months ago. So a sudden unforeseeable swarm of insects interrupts this witch-burning. Yewubar thinks she’s helping.
This is all quite distracting, giving Nathan time to free Afton. But also time for Dialyodd to see Nathan, and snag him as the devil who conjured the winged demons. And that’s where we’ve gotten, which, must admit, seems like it could have gone better. But is well-timed for an October cliffhanger too.
When I last checked in on Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy, Earth was about to be conquered by Lunarian extremists. As we look over the comics today, a small-time gangster tries to get into a musical comedy based on an early 20th-century comic strip. How did we get here? I’ll try and explain Dick Tracy in a week, all going well.
But we can’t know when the comic strip will die. Not that there’s any specific reason that this strip should end. But the newspaper industry is near failure under the relentless assault of vulture capitalists. It’s hard to imagine most comic strips surviving its last collapse. And from these insights DePaul discusses why he wanted to spend so much time on an imaginary story … if it is imaginary. Also with some thoughts about what went into it, including confirmation about the role an earlier story served for this. It’s also a really good summary of where this quite long story has gotten, to the point that I’m not sure I have anything to add but typos. We’ll see.
Chronicle book in hand, Mozz tells of a dire future. The Phantom, seeking his son — who’s become a guerilla leader in northern India — is mistaken for an assassin. Manju, Kit Junior’s trusted partner, now an expert sniper, finds the already-wounded Kit Senior and shoots him through the chest. And shoots his eyeglasses off. A mysterious figure demands he stand, and The Phantom looks up and — we the readers see his face, unconcealed by sunglasses or a mask or even deep shade. It’s stunning.
Tony DePaul confirms that this has never happened in the strip before. Not only does nobody in The Phantom universe see The Phantom’s eyes, but none of us readers outside have seen it either. Even for an imaginary story — and after he’s taken a fatal wound — it feels illicit.
The demand to stand came from the 20th Phantom, appearing — with all the Phantoms before him — before the dying man’s eyes. The spectral voices promise he was the 21st Phantom. He staggers back to his feet, to Manju’s shock and amazement. She will conclude that he’s the one assassin who could have killed Kit Junior. Manju’s not so awed as to not shoot him again. But he’s all right with embracing this end.
Manju and the soldiers with her bury him. She toasts him, even, when she gets back to camp, and shows Kit Junior souvenirs taken from the dead man. They’re the Phantom’s rings, the “Good Mark” ring with the four swords and the “Skull Mark” ring with you-know-what. Kit Junior recognizes this, and has Manju take him to his father’s grave, without saying who it was she killed. He says a regretful farewell and … what else is there to do? Die, similarly, in a year’s time, tells Mozz, his body left unburied in some valley of the Nyamjang Chu river (in Tibet and India).
And this concludes his prophecy. The Phantom, eager to get on to saving Savarna Devi from Gravelines Prison — the mission that started this wrack-and-ruin — promises it’ll be different. For one, he’ll bring Devil, his wolf, with him, something not done in the prophecy. And he knows what will happen if Savarna learns that her former enslaver Jampa is the constable who butts heads with Kit Junior’s mentor Kyabje Dorje.
The Phantom takes the Chronicle that Mozz held, as he read, to keep his promise to set it in Skull Cave for all tim. He intends a trick, to keep his wife or Guran or anyone else reading it, and so inters it in the burial vault reserved for him. And, confident he’s outwitted fate, he rides off to Gravelines.
Diana is aware that Mozz has been writing a Chronicle. But Mozz is sworn to not say a word of his prophecy. His silence when Diana asks about it fires her curiosity. And, wordlessly, enters Skull Cave and takes his Chronicle off the shelves. He had handed The Phantom a different Chronicle, confident this would trick The Phantom. One may think he was lucky that The Phantom didn’t leaf through the book to make sure what we was hiding in the vault. But if there’s any character we can say will know what someone else will or won’t do in a situation, it is Mozz.
The current story in Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop sees Doc Wonmug finding his young self living a ‘wrong’ life. It appears to be from someone meddling with his own past. But he didn’t have any hint this was going on, when he started this. He had started out with moping about his childhood.
The seed of this moping may have come from the previous story. It revealed that, to hold the devices he was solving Moo’s problem with, he went back to swipe some of his own childhood toys. Ooola observes that’s a weird choice to make. Wonmug says yeah, he had an unconventional childhood; “some guy kept stealing all my stuff!” Though it’s not explicit, we could suppose this is what got his childhood on Doc Wonmug’s mind.
The settlers are from New Cleveland, from the overpopulated world of 2155. A weird portal popped up there a couple days ago. They’re taking the chance to go somewhere there isn’t a waiting list to see the sky or get on the sidewalk. A quick trip to 2155 to see overstuffed cities in a world with 100 billion people convinces Ooola and Alley Oop there’s maybe some justice in their fleeing? It’s not like Moo doesn’t have empty space?
They take the issue to the Moovians. Moo is, unfortunately, a very new democracy, and it’s filled with people. The community meeting to discuss what to do winds around some very Springfield/Pawnee doddering. That’s when Doc Wonmug pops back in from the 21st Century, promising to fix whatever problem they’ve got now. He snags some toys of his childhood and using some Time Cube-like technology sends the settlement to the seventh-and-a-half dimension. Somewhere beyond normal perception, at least.
Wonmug then pops into the year 2155 to figure out why the world is so crazy overpopulated. Especially considering that by 2160 it’s not nearly so crowded. By the mid-22nd century humanity managed to overcome every known disease and cause of premature death, so, what could ruin that? And we see some kind of bug hop off Wonmug’s arm and into the soon-not-to-be-overpopulated world of tomorrow. So that’s a bit of a grim joke to end the story on.
With the past, at least, saved, it’s time for a new story. This one started the 5th of September. Doc Wonmug gets to moping about his childhood and decides to go to his childhood home. He ditches Alley Oop and Ooola, somewhere in his past, to find his nine-year-old self. His nine-year-old self, though, has sworn off inventing in favor of visual art. It’s not something Doc Wonmug remembers from his own past. He takes young Elbert forward seven years, to find their 16-year-old self.
This self, Burt, is a snide, sullen teenager. He’s not winning science competition; he’s reading comics. Doc Wonmug can’t figure what’s gone wrong, but Burt and Elbert offer something. Several months ago — to both of them — an old guy came, convincing them that science was a waste of time. Also paying a couple hundred dollars to convince them. But neither can offer a useful description of the guy who bribed them. So — leaving Elbert with his alternate-teen-self — Wonmug goes ahead to find his 25-year-old self.
His 25-year-old self has a lab, as he ‘should’. But it’s not a science lab. Instead, this The Lab a free jazz club. Wonmug could not be more horrified, or helpless. But Benny, sax player for The Lab, recognizes Doc Wonmug as looking familiar. He sketches the familiar-looking person, who has a weekly gig at The Lab. He looks like Doc Wonmug with ‘an evil mustache’. This might be Doc Wonmug from an evil or villain timeline; who of us could say? I imagine we’ll learn in the weeks to come.
The Ghost Who Walks now knows how his rescue of Savarna Devi will bring wrack and ruin to his family — or does he? And he marches on regardless, to save a kindred spirit from an unjust judicial murder — or does he? I’ll summarize the goings-on in Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom (Weekdays) in six days — or will I? I’ll make the attempt at least, yes.
So. Henry Barajas knows much more of the lore of Gil Thorp than I do. As part of his first three months of writing the strip he’s brought back Melissa Gordon, who was a student athlete seen in a story from 2002-03. Back then the strip was written by Jerry Jenkins. Yes, the Left Behind novelist. (And illustrated by Frank McLaughlin.) This Week In Milford dug out the original strips and summarized the story, with examples of the strip. I’ll make the story even shorter. Melissa, pregnant with fellow student Kyle Gordon, took refuge with the Thorps when her parents kicked her out. She and Kyle had decided on an abortion and Coach Thorp talked her out of it.
Then it got confusing. On the 15th of September (this year) Thorp apologized, saying, “I shouldn’t have told you to get that abortion.” In the comments on GoComics that day it’s explained that this was a lettering error. Barajas had written that Thorp apologized for telling her not to get that abortion. It’s always the critical word that gets dropped, isn’t it?
One can’t fault Thorp for having regrets about advice he gave long ago. One can fault him for saying this to Mel, when he’s having a meal with her and her child. So this makes Mel’s reaction — to someone who had, when she was a vulnerable teen, shown kindness — more understandable. Well, Thorp has been going through a rough time himself. let me try and catch up on all that. Here’s my first attempt at recapping the plot in Henry Barajas and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp.
Barajas opened his writing tenure with Gil Thorp receiving the Jack Berrill Coach of the Year award. (Jack Berrill was, in reader time, the creator of Gil Thorp.) Again. Presenter Emmett Tays introduces Thorp with a quick football story. It’s about how Coach Thorp bonded with him over having abusive parents(!) to help him find the drive to win the big game. It’s a story that makes you ask: wait, isn’t Coach Thorp a mandatory reporter? Even if he wasn’t at the time of the story, is it admirable he saw a kid’s traumatized home life as a chance to complete forward passes? Not that a character has to be admirable to be worth our focus, but Tays is trying to tell a story of Gil Thorp doing something great.
I hesitate to play the “unreliable narrator” card. But it seems important how in the story Thorp speaks with Tays’s voice. I’m willing to suppose the story was compressed to the point it created confusion. What I don’t know is whether this was an adaptation of an actual story from deep in the Thorp archives. What I can say is what this establishes for Barajas’s writing here. It starts with a quick sports story, a promise that he’s not losing sight of that as we get into some serious family drama.
The drama: Coach Thorp’s family is not there. Mimi’s mother is dying, and Mimi’s taking a leave of absence to deal with her. Also, Mimi has not revealed how bad her mother’s health is to Gil. The subject got buried under how their own marriage is failing. She’s taken to leaving notes about how she thinks she’s worthy of his love, but not answering his phone calls. It’s a frustrating level of conflict-avoidance, one that her own child Keri calls her out on. I’m frustrated because I can’t tell you exactly what they’re struggling with. The reader’s desire to know who’s in the Right is understandable. But I’ve seen where people can fail to recognize one another’s signals of acceptance, so the relationship fails without anyone doing wrong.
Beth, a bartender at wherever it is the ceremony was, hits on Gil Thorp before finding out he’s married. Natural mistake. But they’re seen by Luke Martinez, the new coach of Valley Tech, a bombastic and outgoing and somewhat aggressive man. He declares he’s tired of Thorp winning this trophy every year and offers the deal. If Martinez wins next year, Thorp quits, and if he doesn’t, Martinez gives up coaching. Thorp doesn’t see why this man has decided to be Thorp’s problem.
Martinez goes on Marty Moon’s “Behind the Playbook” podcast to boast to everyone about how good he is, which shows how new Martinez is in town. (Also for some reason he’s introduced as Luke Martinnez. Maybe a middle name.) But he drops a mention of seeing Thorp flirting with the bartender. Moon is skeptical. But Martinez says how he’s in Mensa, so anyone should know never to take a thing he ever says seriously. Moon calls Thorp for his side before publishing. Thorp says what happened. He also opens up to Marty Moon of all people about how Mimi’s avoided him and took the kids to her mother’s while he was away for the awards.
When she learns of this Mimi says of course she doesn’t believe anything went on. She’s not jealous of some random person hitting on Gil Thorp. Also that the trip was not set off by anything; it was the only weekend free before his Pinewood summer camp coaching. But she still wants him to be at home, emotionally, more. This desire seems to contradict scheduling a trip away the last weekend he’s free. But it’s muddled but in a way people are.
On the golf course — I think at Pinewood — Gil and Mimi run into Luke and Francesca Martinez and their son Pedro. They play together, and Luke turns on what he believes is charm. His jolly references to Mimi as the ‘ball and chain’ or ‘your old lady’ sink him somehow even farther in Gil’s eyes. Francesca’s happy to meet the Thorps, though, and mentions how she’s a heart surgeon starting at Milford Medical. This is where we the readers learned Mimi was a “stay at home” mother now, though not yet that it’s to care for her own mother.
This gets us to the new school year, though. And the formal reintroduction of the Thorp Children, who’d gone without much (any?) mention in years. It’s also where we learn that Keri Thorp goes by they/them pronouns, the second nonbinary human character I know of in the syndicated strips. (The first would be Kelly Welly, in Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail.)
We also meet Melissa Gordon, and her child, born Tabatha but now her son Tobias. I don’t know that this is the first transgender human character in syndicated newspaper comics, but Tobias is at least the first in a long while. (I’m adding the ‘human’ qualifier as I’m not sure how to characterize Rosebud from the 1980s Bloom County. I imagine “aged in awkward ways”. And of course Krazy Kat is a bunch of essays.) Also that, apparently, she and Kyle married, but separated. Melissa asks for Thorp’s hep watching after Tobias, who, yeah, can’t be having a good time in high school. I’m sure it’s better now than it would be in, oh, 1992, but that’s still not great.
And we finally see Mimi Thorp going to Milford Adult Care, spending time with her mother, who says she has six months to live. Also we meet Mimi’s replacement as girls coach, Cami Ochoa, a name that seems familiar but that I haven’t mentioned here at least. (Also the part of my brain that used to do Jumble notes her name is an anagram for ‘I Am Coach O’. This I suppose is coincidence.) The girls volleyball team wins their first game, but Coach Ochoateammate Dorothy crops her out of the team photo for some reason.
Meanwhile, Jami Thorp doesn’t have to worry so much about making friends at school. He’s getting along great with this Luke Martinez Junior character, prompting Coach Thorp to eat his glass. Jami and Keri like the Martinez kids, though, as if they have an instinct to drive their father crazy.
And it falls outside the official date range for this recap. But we learned this week that Assistant Coach Kaz is moving to another school after this year. We’ll see whether it’s Valley Tech or someone else.
Milford Sports Watch!
Here’s my attempt at tracking all the schools besides Milford that get a mention or appearance. Summers usually see a lull in team references, but this has been a quite short season. All that time on new drama, I suppose.
Since my last update on Rex Morgan, M.D. there was one complete story, about the health problems of Aunt Tildy and her husband. And then there’s the month or so since then. This hasn’t focused on any particular character, and hasn’t shown any particular event developing. It seems to be more a refreshing of audience memory of various characters and their situations than anything else. So I can’t say what the story is, as it’s not yet clear who’s taking the lead.
Last time I checked in, Andrzej “Count Crushinski” Bobrowski felt sick. He snuck out on his wife, June Morgan’s vaguely-Aunt Tildy, to the hospital. His presumed heart attack turned out to be heartburn. No big deal, but Rex Morgan does deliver a stern warning against driving yourself to the hospital when you’re feeling like that. You might pass out or something and have an accident. Released, Andrzej buys flowers and chocolate and tries to pretend he wasn’t anywhere in particular for hours on end.
It doesn’t work and Tildy scolds her husband for sneaking off to the hospital like that. Only then she’s feeling woozy and doesn’t feel she can spoil Andrzej’s day by having him drive her to the hospital. So she takes his car and drives herself, hoping to outrace her symptoms to the emergency room. She loses.
She’s fortunate not to be seriously hurt in the accident. In the hospital June scolds her to let the doctor on call treat her instead of holding out for Rex Morgan. Tildy turns out to have a more serious problem, a cardiac arrhythmia that they hope to treat with medicine. Andrzej rushes to join his wife and acknowledge the irony that she did the thing she had just scolded him for doing. But everything except the bills looks okay. Andrzej and Tildy settle down to watch what they think are the free streaming movies in her hospital room. And that wraps up the story.
From the 16th of August the new story started. I’m not sure how to word that. At least it’s when we began checking in on major characters. Hank Harwood Junior, for example, is off to see Yvonne, whom he met on his and his father’s road trip a couple years ago. (She’s the daughter of Millie Grey, a woman that Hank Senior might have married, and re-found with in her last days.) Buck Wise, who seems to do some kind of agent merchandising work or something, promises to check in on the elderly Hank Senior.
After discovering that his son Corey is somehow taller than him, Wise checks in on another of his projects. This is managing the revived career of roots country singer Truck Tyler. Wise arranged a new opening act: ‘Mud Mountain’ Murphy, whom Truck had thought was dead. Nope, he was just living off the grid a while, hiding out in Funky Winkerbean after donating all his comic book stuff to Boy Lisa and joining the team at Atomik Comix. But he’s back now. Tyler is skeptical: Murphy was famously unreliable. Wise says Murphy insists he’s gotten his act together.
And then on to some of the teenagers, a futile attempt to warm me up for recapping Gil Thorp next week. Niki Roth once again uses his delivery job to get into the comic, and to visit his girlfriend Kelly. (She’s the Morgans’ babysitter.) Kelly is ready for senior year, and thinking of college. Niki has a faint awareness that they’ve been in high school since the comic strip started in 1732. He is not ready for college, or even next week, which, mood.
I want to say that’s how far the story has gotten, but as you see, it’s not much of a story yet. It seems more to be refreshing our memory of the various characters and their settings. We’ll see what thread takes the lead and where it goes by the time I get back to this strip in eleven weeks or so.
The last couple months of the Sunday continuity of The Phantom have not been dense in plot. You’ll see that in how short this recap is. But a story is not its plot; plot is only the easiest part of a story to summarize. There is mood and character and art and how they come together.
The Phantom had taken Diana to Eden, the curious paradisical island where even large carnivores like tigers and lions live in harmony. Diana was not distracted, though, and followed his journey to the nearby Temple of the Gods. The temple was built by an exiled Ancient Egyptian cult that had developed a race of super-men. Within its catacombs are carvings of Egyptian deities, yes. But also inhuman mummies. The Third Phantom had visited the cave, in 1624, and left a warning against going there. The current, 21st, Phantom, visited in a story published in 2005. He found creatures with the heads of animals and bodies of men. The Phantom did he could, then, to hide their existence.
He explains much of this to Diana, in-between encouraging her to turn back and get somewhere safe. Because these creatures might maybe recognize The Phantom and might respect that. They can’t know anything about Diana. And this story started with a German man exploring the cave being torn apart, on camera, apparently by one of them.
And the German bit. The 2005 story was driven by Mina Braun, an explorer following her great-uncle’s diary. The diary tells of a desperate Nazi plot to turn the tide of war by securing this secret of creating super-soldiers. The Phantom believed he had gotten all documents that might lead someone here. Now he needs to learn what he’s missed.
The past eleven weeks of Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth have been about the breakup of Dawn Weston and Jared Mylo. This included Mary Worth pushing Dawn to tell Jared how there’s no bad blood and she hopes they can be friends. It’s odd advice and let me wanting to slug the strip. Like, yeah, it’s nice to be on good terms with people if you can help it. But it’s not like they’re coworkers or people who can’t avoid one another. Who cares if your ex knows you don’t take it personally?
Rereading the whole sequence to recap this I realized something. Both Jared and Dawn, separately, told Mary Worth of how they still care for the other. From the information she has, she’s making a reasonable supposition that they need to talk with one another. Her angle seems more that if Dawn acknowledged and apologized for hurting Jared’s feelings they could work things out. I can’t argue with that, and so regret a bit of my anger at recent Mary Worth.
Jared talks with Mary Worth about this. While he’s upset by the breakup he also feels it important to note it’s Dawn’s fault. And yeah, he has found someone who’s treating him better. Mary Worth advises being respectful towards Dawn, insisting that Dawn wouldn’t want to hurt him intentionally. He does say how he wishes Dawn would talk with her. And Mary Worth hopes that Dawn will eventually talk to her, too. So there’s where Mary Worth gets the sense this is a meddle-ready relationship.
Dawn sees in her father the things that wreck her own relationships. Also she gets worried about “inconstancy”, the way people in the year 2022 do. This leads to a Mary Worth Dream Sequence, a very literal one where she turns into her father. Afraid of turning into her father, she turns to Mary Worth, the least inconstant character in the story comics now that Mark Trail has internalized thoughts, for help.
Mary Worth says she saw the signs of this, but that Dawn had to discover them for herself. All right. So Dawn needs to click her silver shoes together and tell Jared there’s no bad blood between them. She does, using those words. They agree they don’t hate each other. Jared asks if she’d like to hang out sometime, and Dawn says no, not yet. Maybe sometime.
Feeling freed, though, Jared goes on another pleasant date with Jess. Both agree that it was Dawn’s fault, but this is the first time Jared ever broke up with someone so he feels bad about it. Jess wishes he weren’t so “hideous”, so that Jared might kiss her, and, what do you know but he does.
And this is where we’ve gotten in early September.
Dubiously Sourced Mary Worth Sunday Panel Quotes!
“I always entertain great hopes.” — Robert Frost, 19 June 2022.
“Loving you was like going to war: I never came back the same.” — Warsan Shire, 26 June 2022.
“I think heartbreak is something you learn to live with, as opposed to learn to forget.” — Kate Winslet, 3 July 2022.
“A kind gesture can reach a wound only compassion can heal.” — Steve Maraboli, 10 July 2022.
“Ihe dew of compassion is a tear.” — Lord Byron, 17 July 2022.
“A man is already halfway in love with any woman who will listen to him.” — Brendan Behan, 24 July 2022.
“Respect is one of the greatest expressions of love.” — Miguel Angel Ruiz, 31 July 2022.
“The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” — Proverb, 7 August 2022.
“My father didn’t tell me how to live: he lived, and let me watch him do it.” — Clarence Budington Kelland, 14 August 2022.
“Character is the ability to carry out a good resolution long after the excitement of the moment has passed.” — Cavett Robert, 21 August 2022.
“What we have one enjoyed we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.” — Helen Keller, 28 August 2022.
“I’ve learned that love, not time, heals all wounds.” — Andy Rooney, 4 September 2022.
I’m aware Jules Rivera’s tenure on Mark Trail hasn’t been to everyone’s tastes. The more cartoony art style, and the soft reboot of the characters, hasn’t worked for many. That characters and, especially, the narrator lean in to delivering jokes more has also bothered some. They liked the strip more when it was square.
So I’m taking my preface to point out something that’s grown more prominent the last few months. And that is that the writing — as in, the words on the page — is becoming more square again. The stories haven’t changed, particularly in running separate Mark and Cherry stories. But we’re seeing Mark Trail say things like “Holy guacamole! Rex handled those Canada geese well! He’s sure got a way with animals.” Or “Oh, for Pete’s sake! Cricket Bro is locked in the EUV! We have to get him out!” We’re also seeing more exaggerated reaction poses for individual characters. And minor character names that are more on the nose, like “Jimmy Songbird” the keytar player.
It’s a return to a more stodgy, slightly off mode of your classic Jack Elrod narrative. It’s not a complete reversion. For one, I feel Rivera is doing this as deliberate effect; Elrod, my sense is, just wrote like that. Mark Trail continues his new habit of internalized thoughts. Sometimes he even says things without exclamation points.
I imagine someone who can’t stand Rivera’s style will not be moved by this observation. But, for those who aren’t sure? You might enjoy the comic strip more if you’re cued to look for it.
Rob is angered by the EDM lyrics, and also the revelation that EDM has lyrics. He charges at Mark Trail and Bee Sharp using the only weapon at hand, his Electric Utility Vehicle. He crashes immediately into a tree, and the car locks up and catches fire. The two smash open the car’s windshield and drag an angry Rob out. The crash starts a wildfire, though. The partygoers evacuate, and leave the area. But not before a piece of the half-pipe built for the event falls on Rusty Trail. Rusty calls for help, and sees what he believes to be the Seaside Specter. We don’t see what happens, or what he “really” saw. We see him reunited with his parents, safe and sound, though.
The wildfire doesn’t grow much, and the local fire authorities credit our friend the beaver. Beaver dams around the location kept the local area moist, limiting the fire’s spread. Oregon Fish and Wildlife wants to talk with the Bettancourts, but they’ve fled to California. And, with Happy Trail considering whether he can sell flame-roasted cricket protein bars, the story comes to a natural end, the 2nd of July.
The current stories began the 4th of July. There are two pieces, as has become traditional, one following Cherry Trail and one following Mark Trail. I’ll recap Cherry Trail’s first.
Her father, Doc Davis, asks for help at the veterinary clinic. There’s all kinds of animals suffering allergic reactions or chemical burns. It looks like pesticide poisoning, but that’s not usually this serious. And it becomes personal for the Trails, as Sassy, their other dog that I forgot about too gets the same rash. Mark Trail figures it’s some kind of weed killer, but who’s using such strong weed killer out here in the Lost Forest?
I mean, it’s the Sunny Soleil Society. We all knew that going in, but how they’re responsible takes time to reveal itself. Early August, reader time, we get that. Violet Cheshire wants that big mass of native plants ripped out to make a proper lawn, for the teatime garden. And she’s hired Honest Ernest, bug exterminator, to do it. He’s got a great new compound “of my own creation” to control weeds and insects. That “thud” you heard was the jaws of everybody at the EPA and FDA hitting the floor. Ernest is happy to give Cherry a sample, though, and she takes it back to Doc to test how corrosive it is. It quickly dissolves away the dirt on a penny, then the penny, then the pan the penny’s in, the table, the floor, the basement, and five feet of Piedmont anorthosite underneath. And that’s how far that story’s gotten.
The 14th of July saw Mark Trail’s story split off from Cherry’s. Bill Ellis offers a choice of stories. One is tracking a rampaging elephant reported in four states. The other is for Teen Girl Sparkle, and it’s about a New Age healing center with an animal-therapy focus. Mark Trail picks the boring safe one, and we get Amy Lee back in the strip. She explains how it’s not so much a healing center as a roadside zoo. But he’ll be working with celebrity stunt driver-turned-Bikbok animal wrangler Rex Scorpius. Also, the New Age resort may be some kind of tiger cult, you know how these things go.
On scene in Houston Mark Trail meets up with … Diana Daggers again! She’s working with Rex Scorpius as he’s not doing NFT/crypto scam money. Also, hey, she was in Raccoon Rangers with Amy Lee. She’s where Lee got the idea of pitching this job to Mark Trail. She wanted Mark Trail because she believes Rex Scorpius is in real danger. Not so much physical danger, as emotional. He’s been going through some major stuff and guys like him get sucked into cults like this.
Mark Trail’s first meeting with Rex Scorpius goes well enough. He’s filming an episode about removing Canada geese from the yard of famed keytar musician Jimmy Songbird. Removing Canada geese is the stuff for professionals and … I guess Rex Scorpius is one, or brought in experts for his show, as that goes well enough. Mark Trail tries to catch up with Rex and ask about his secret, but Rex has to get to bed and to the gym. Anything to spend time not with other people. I get that.
And that’s about as far as that story’s gotten. We’re not yet to the tiger cult. I trust this will all play out in the next eleven weeks, by the time I get back to recapping Mark Trail plots.
Sunday Animals Watch!
Spiders, 12 June 2022. With advice about how to get more spiders!
Native-Plant Lawns, 19 June 2022. This is where that smug friend showing a picture of a yard that’s covered in what turn out to be invasive Siberian wheats got their idea.
Goats, 26 June 2022. They can mow lawns and chew on lab coats!
Bald Eagles, 3 July 2022. Remember when we almost killed them all? Glad we’re not trying to that anymore … right?
Turtles, 10 July 2022. Don’t mess up their work. They’re busy defeating Shredder and the whole Foot Clan for us.
Wildfires, 17 July 2022. Let’s stop setting them, OK? Think we can do that a little?
Sea Turtles, 24 July 2022. Could we stop making their lives harder than they need to be too?
De-Pavement, 31 July 2022. Turns out having soil and plants and trees and stuff is good even for cities.
Rabbits and Hares, 7 August 2022. Which ones are the clever ones, and which are the ones that are full of tricks?
Sharks, 14 August 2022. Are we making their lives harder than they need to be too? Why do we keep doing this?
Canada Geese, 21 August 2022. Just … like … don’t start with them. Oof.
Scorpions, 28 August 2022. Don’t start anything with them, they won’t start anything with you. Check your boots.
The story in Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley starred Boog Skinner, one of the fifth generation of the comic’s central family. He was born in September 2004, implying that he should be eighteen. But anyone can see he’s not. I’m not sure how old to peg his age, since I’m at the age where every kid looks either three, ten, or sixteen. I’d put him at ten. He’s old enough to be interested in the idea of girls, at least. And to be able to build a plastic scale model without comic mishaps. I couldn’t claim he wasn’t fourteen or so, but he’s not leaving-high-school old.
What’s going on is that while the identifying gimmick of Gasoline Alley is the characters aging, they don’t age in real time. It’s not as static as it was in the 1970s and 80s, when the aging froze. But it is slower than real time. Given that a story can take a month or more of reader time to do a couple days of character time that seems a fair way to show enough of characters’ lives. Reasonable people may disagree.
Anyway they phone home to learn they were fired and there’s nothing to do but return to Gasoline Alley. They do, along the way spotting a meteor that serves as transition to the current story, which started the 1st of July.
Boog Skinner and his girlfriend Charlotte are stargazing and making a wish on the falling star. Charlotte’s little brother Jimmy comes in to remind us he’s not dead yet. Jimmy we met a couple years ago. He suffers from Tiny Tim Syndrome, suffering an unspecified fatal illness that some new treatment helps. He’s still getting better. Boog has the idea to build a rocket ship for Jimmy, who’s not only a train enthusiast but also a spaceships guy.
His grandfather Slim Skinner offers his help, and his metal junk pile. The building of a Flash Gordon-esque rocket goes swiftly. In days they have something ready to launch. Ah, but Rufus and Joel, getting home just in time, ask with what fuel? Slim offers his El Diablo Fuego-hot jalapeño chili pepper chews. That’s not enough to fuel a rocket. But add a bit of Joel’s cousin Zeb’s high-potency medicinal home-brew “koff medicine”? Well now you’ve got something ready to take off before you can even say “lunch not launch”.
So it does! The homemade contraption lifts off and soon passes the Moon. And, according to the news, soars to Mars, NASA calculating it’ll arrive in minutes. Boog’s rocket lands on Mars in sight of Percy, the Perseverance rover that landed on Mars back in 2021. (Here I learned something; I thought ‘Percy’ was the comic strip’s jokey nickname for the rover. Not so.) And, more amazing, Perseverance detects life inside the rocket. Through its porthole we see Polly, Charlotte’s parrot, begging to be let out.
It’s a dream, of course, as Polly tells Boog over the TV feed. Boog wakes up, regretting only that he has to do it all over again. But if it was all a dream, why does he have Slim’s bag of jalapeño chews?
Anyway he rebuilds his rocket, as a kitbashed model this time, and brings it to Jimmy. And that’s where things stand now.
Who’s responsible for soaking the Lost Forest in so much toxic lawn chemicals that it’s making the local pets sick, and why is it the Sunny Soleil Society? Are we not going to chase a rogue elephant? And why is a nature-show streamer in danger of being slurped up into a roadside zoo cult? All this and Canada geese in Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail, next week’s story strip, if things go to plan. See you then.
The current story in Joe Staton Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy is about a block of Lunarians planning to conquer Earth. And they have a good bid for it too, given that the former Moon Valley people have antennas and energy powers and stuff. The Lunarian’s leader wants to head off this invasion and warns Dick Tracy of Earth’s potential conquest here. But … didn’t we see that the Lunarians’ powers can be suppressed? How big a threat could this be?
What is not established, though, is first that the Lunarians know anything about this. Dick Tracy knows (or should), but he has good reason to keep that confidential. It’s also not established that anyone but Mr Bribery’s dead henchmen know how the ring works or how to duplicate it. And, it turns out, even if they could duplicate it, the Lunarian Invasion of Earth is set for quite soon now. There may not be time to make and deploy rings to strategic defense points. And, of course, even a failed coup would be quite bad for us all. Thus the urgency to warn, to act, and to stop this menace.
Mr Memory, last seen in the unsuccessful pilot for a 1960s Dick Tracy series, had robbed a guy at the ATM, last I checked. Then used some kind of implant to clean out the whole cash machine. And not just the cash machine. He loots half the bank’s assets, and similarly hits four other local banks. They try to keep quiet about this, to avoid a panic. But retiring vigilante superhero Cinnamon Knight — by day a mild-mannered bank worker — tips off Dick Tracy. Tracy’s only leads are that the five banks have a common security service provider. And the security camera shows a large man whose presence causes the camera to go blurry. Tracy checks the Dick Tracy Wikia and figures Mister Memory is the first suspect.
Mister Memory, meanwhile, is getting to know his neighbors, the Plenty family. They think kindly of him ever since he gave B.O. a lift into town. Gertie brings over gifts of sorghum and hot biscuits and for a while it looks like we’re going to see a villain redeemed by kindness. I’m up for that, especially when the villain is only using his experimental computer chip implants to digitally rob banks.
So when Tracy and Sam Catchem finally get to Memory’s place — the GPS goes awry as they get closer — they find the Plentys, rallying to Memory’s defense. Mister Memory agrees to go downtown and answer questions, though, if he can use the restroom first. Tracy agrees to fall for this and lets Memory sneak out to his motorcycle. It’s raining a little, and Memory regrets not practicing more on the motorcycle: he skids out in a car’s backspray and crashes. And, fortunately for Dick Tracy, B.O.Plenty talked about how Memory asked him to enter some codes in the computer while he was off establishing an alibi. This means there’s something to hold Mister Memory on. That, and a mention that the Crimson Knight is applying to the police academy, brings us to the end of the story.
It’s all structured okay, but once again Dick Tracy gets the bad guy by luck. Like, he’s following the correct trail and has good evidence to lead him there. And Memory has a fair reason to flee, and be bad at fleeing. But I liked the guy and felt like we were just getting to know him, so I’d have been up for another month of twists and turns in his story.
Oh, and there was a teaser for another story: the 13th and 14th of June we saw a whiskery old guy discover a bunch of old legal documents in the garage. We’re promised that “one day this man will be important to Dick Tracy”. But we’ve seen the comic is comfortable letting that sort of thing sit for years. We still haven’t resolved those haunts at the Plenty house, for example.
The current and science fiction-based story began the 28th of June. It’s about the former Lunarians, who years ago abandoned their valley on the Moon to set up an Antarctic colony. The Moon Governor — now the Ambassador — arrives at Dick Tracy’s door, inviting Dick Tracy, Honeymoon, and Mysta Chimera to visit New Moon Valley for a week. Tracy is suspicious of the Lunarians’ motives. But Dick Tracy Junior feels his daughter should know something about her heritage and this is what he can offer. It’s a half-hour flight by Space Coupe to New Moon Valley.
The Moon Ambassador — Thorin, we learn is his name — has a warning for Dick Tracy. There’s sentiment among the Lunarians that they should open up and join Earth society. Fine enough. There’s also a movement that figures they should join as Earth’s conquerers. They can use the Lunarian superpowers of having antennas that shoot energy bolts and telepathy and stuff. I know you agree that humans aren’t doing so great on their own. But the Lunarian society draws a little too much from pulpy science fiction of the 30s and 40s. So it’s got this technocratic fascism built in, even when it’s just getting together in groups to watch Japanese cartoons. Also the Lunarians keep the place way too cold and I’m not sure they blink.
Thorin doesn’t know who might be leading the faction and detectives are unknown in their land. Like, what if it were his second-in-command, Ro-Zan, leading the would-be Lunarian conquest of Earth? On the other hand what are the odds of that? Dick Tracy pokes around as unobtrusively as he can, sometimes chaperoned by Marina, a Lunarian widow smitten with the outsider. But all Tracy’s shown to work out is that a lot of the Lunarian population is missing. Thorin explains that when they abandoned the Moon many Lunarians went into deeper space and haven’t been heard from since.
Marina, humiliated after she kisses an uninterested Dick Tracy, accompanies her friend Shay-Gin to her meeting. The meeting is Ro-Zan’s rallying his troops the night before they make history. The history they plan to make is seizing power and launching a war against the humans. Marina is horrified, and says so. Ro-Zan orders her death, and his armsmen use their antenna energy beam thingies to cook her. So, uh, this is looking serious now.
And that’s where we are as of mid-August. In case we’ve been conquered by the Lunarians by October 2022, uh, well. There’s those lost Lunarian colonies that I bet might come to our aid? Maybe? We’ll see.
Hey, what’s the other story strip in production that might get us an invasion from, or of, outer space? That isn’t Brewster Rockit, I mean, since that’s a comedy? And that isn’t Safe Havens since that one already transformed Mars into a new green world and revealed to the world that mermaids are real, they’re shapeshifters, and they’re from Venus? Oh, possibly Rip Haywire although I think that’s a little outside its style? Well, I was thinking of Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley, to recap next week, if all goes to plan. See you then.
I haven’t caught it, sorry. Arn — Valiant’s son — and Maeve are the regents of Camelot, I learned in June. Valiant reports to them when he gets back from the sojourn that saw him escort Morgan Le Fay to safety. But how they got set up there goes back to before I was reading the strip with an eye toward remembering plots. If someone knows, please leave a comment. I appreciate the help.
Valiant returned, the 5th of June, to Camelot. Valiant and Arn fight over the recent debacle. Arn’s furious that Valiant let Morgan Le Fay go. Valiant’s furious that Camelot forgot a garrison of troops in Londinium. It doesn’t promise to be resolvable. But Aleta tells Valiant of a strange dream. One in which he summoned her, and she battled Morgan Le Fay. We saw this battle in a hallucinatory landscape back on 2021.
That won’t stop the two from sneaking out together and one night under the full moon they’re out in the woods. They see Aleta and Maeve walking into a circle of ancient stones. Welcoming them there is Morgan Le Fay.
And that’s the neat cliffhanger we’re on, as my plot recap window closes. We’ll have to see where this is going.
That is the surface implication of the 24th of June’s strip. We see The Phantom, about to go to North India to search for his estranged son again, kissing goodbye to a quite pregnant Savarna Devi. This is normal dramatic shorthand for someone bidding farewell to their spouse. Mozz tells us that this is the last time The Phantom will see the Deep Woods. However, Mozz has warned The Phantom that he would lie about his prophecy to keep The Phantom from bringing wrack and ruin to his line. And he’s thought, to himself where only we can see it, that he has to, now. Of course he may have thought that to deceive us but I don’t expect the comic strip to operate on quite that level of narrative experimentation.
Yet a theme of the Imaginary Story going on in Tony DePaul and Mike Manley and Bret Blevins and Scott Cohn’s The Phantom weekday continuity has been paying attention to what is said versus what is implied. So let’s all slowly come to understand Mozz, and DePaul, in not going beyond what the evidence is.
Previously in the prophecy, The Phantom rescues Savarna from Gravelines, he’s wounded. While delirious he reveals that Kit Junior is in the Mountain City, somewhere in Arunachal Pradesh, India. And that the local constable is the man who’d enslaved the young Savarna and killed her family. She journeys to the Mountain City and kills him. Understandable but a terrible mistake. The unnamed Northern Invaders see the murder of the constable, their man in town, as provocation. When they can’t assassinate monastery leader Kyabje Dorje or his understudy Kit Junior they bomb the city into ruin. In the disaster Kit Junior takes the phone from a person he couldn’t save and calls his parents.
He explains he can’t be the 22nd Phantom. His life, he knows now, has lead him to be here and to protect these people. And hangs up, going to his new life alongside Manju, daughter of the tea shop keeper. The Phantom goes to India to seek him out, but that whole legend of how you don’t find The Phantom, he finds you works against him. All he can find is the tea shop keeper, who won’t help someone she fairly suspects of being sent by Jampa’s friends. She begs out of this drama, but asks that if he finds Kit Junior that he send Manju home. It’s like that all over, and The Phantom’s first search for his son fails.
With this failure, Kit Senior’s home life falls apart. Diana leaves the Deep Woods; Heloise leaves for the United States, too, eventually never to tell her children of The Phantom. Sometime later, Savarna finds a broken, brooding Phantom. That there is this clear legend that no one finds The Phantom, he finds you, suggests this is where Mozz starts falsifying his prophecy. If “falsifying a prophecy” is a meaningful concept. But Savarna is an exceptional person, and acknowledges in text that she might be the only one who’s ever looked long enough.
Years later, The Phantom leaves for another trip to India, hoping to reunite Kit Junior with his mother and sister. He bids farewell to Savarna, never see the Deep Woods again, says Mozz. But we learn he’s not the last Phantom; merely the last of the Walkers to be The Phantom. Savarna’s descendants take up that role. It’s a twist I hadn’t thought of, but that’s obvious in hindsight, to split the Walker line from the Phantom line. It’s another of many steps the strip has taken to diffuse the colonialist white-savior stuff baked into the premise, too. It’s also got an interesting metatext. In the comic, Bangalla had started out as a vaguely located South/Southeast Asian land before becoming a vaguely located East African land. This adds to how Savarna’s life echoes without imitating The Phantom Origin Story. I imagine that’s the sort of happy coincidence you can arrange when you have ninety years of backstory that fans have got pretty well indexed for you. It’s still a neat bit of business to line up.
Kit Junior’s soldiers ask him for help with this extraordinary man, who can’t be shot but who can hit everything he tries to. He doesn’t recognize his father’s signature. He hasn’t got the time to divert from planning an operation for the next day. But he can spare Manju, now a very effective sniper. Her fire can pin him down. With a half-hour until sunset, someone hits Kit Walker Senior, fracturing his leg. Things look rather dire for The Ghost Who Walks, must say.
Leonardo da Vinci was the starting point for the past couple month’s story in Alley Oop. But he didn’t have much to do with the events. He identified the cloud city as the source of Alley Oop’s abductors, and offered the flying machine to get Ooola and Doc Wonmug up there. But besides that and some fun painting jokes he didn’t do that much. I wonder if the rough outline of the story gave him more to do and it somehow evaporated in the final draft. No way that I could know, though.
Leonardo da Vinci concludes Alley Oop was taken to the cloud city. Ooola and Doc Wonmug use his aerial screw — the only transportation available — to join him. (Leonardo refuses to get in the thing.) Once reunited Our Heroes try to work out what’s driving Murderov to attack the city. Cirrus, Oop’s abductor, knows why. The city keeps swiping the giant crow’s giant eggs, for food.
As existential threats go, this one’s fairly tractable. The gang dresses Cirrus in a worm costume, luring the giant crow into a birdcage. Once there, Oop talks Murderov into becoming the city’s pet, in exchange for birdseed for the rest of her life. Murderov gets into this, and soon is swooping down to the ground to bring the city gifts, like the sculpture of David. And Oop explains the groundling custom of eating animals that aren’t particularly trying to kill you. With chicken farms established Airshire looks to have a great future ahead. There’s a few parting words with Leonardo and Our Heroes return to the present day.
With the 28th of June the current story starts. Alley Oop and Ooola return to Moo to discover that, once again, King Guz isn’t doing anything. He’s retired as king, to spend time with his family. In his place Moo’s elected a brash yet cowardly president.
And what she has to be cowardly from? People from the future. There’s a mysterious portal and people from 22nd Century New Cleveland are coming through. A whole little future town is growing in Moo. And it’s growing very fast, with, like, skyscrapers popping up in minutes. Which is as far as this story’s gotten, so, catch you in about three months with even more story.
Meanwhile, the Sunday Little Oop strip continues the setting of Penelope trapped in Moo. She’s been learning her way around the even-more-ridiculous Moo of Little Alley Oop’s time. And been able to do a couple fun broken-time-machine jokes along the way. Still not proper stories, though.
So as sometimes happens the comic strip did its own pretty good plot recap, the 26th of June. The Sunday strip has the vibe of something put together to give the artist time to catch up, but it does also advance the story. And it makes a good jumping-off point. There are two major threads going on right now. Let me take them separately.
Randy Parker has readjusted to his normal life fitfully at best. Mostly he wants to not talk about the year he spent on the lam with April Parker and her mother. When Alan Parker insists on talking about how April emotionally abused Randy he throws his father out of the house. This sets Alan to fighting with his wife when she tries to get him to acknowledge Randy’s side of things.
One of Marciuliano’s strengths writing has been how his characters can with justice say how others are being the jerks here. It’s a good handle on motivation even if the result is a lot of unhappy scenes prone to yelling. He’s also good at the dynamic where people ask you to see the other person’s side, as though you wouldn’t be on your own side if you were aware of the other.
So he invites Neddy Spencer for a talk. Her streaming TV show about April Parker and Godiva Danube became a hit as the CIA grabbed their rogue agent. She needs material for a second season. She was thinking of April’s story hiding from the law. Randy offers something far better. April Parker’s troubles began when a rogue CIA faction suborned her into doing evil spy stuff for them instead of the CIA’s main evil spy stuff. All the agents of that rogue faction are dead, by her hands or by her father Norton’s. But April Parker has data on the whole operation, as best she could put it together. And, great news for TV production, libel laws don’t apply to the dead. So they can make a show about this and clear April Parker’s name in the Court of Public Opinion, if not in the Star Chamber courts.
I admit to tripping on this plot point. Not Randy’s giving this data to Neddy rather than a journalist. That I can understand. I don’t see how the CIA has allowed Randy Parker to have a hard drive of data from April Parker. I’m not even sure how she would have gotten it to him; his leaving their safe house was a surprise thing done (to him) on the spur of the moment. I have to imagine that the super-ultra-duper secret agents already know of and have copies of this hard drive. So they must have let Randy have this for reasons of their own. I don’t see what those are, but I’m willing to let the story unfold.
The other thread regards Abbey Spencer. She was cleared from suspicion of burning down her failed bed-and-breakfast when Deputy Mayor Stewart turned against his boss. Except her husband, Sam Driver, has suspicions, because Stewart shared a drone video showing Abbey setting fire to the building. Stewart’s bought Driver’s support for usurping his boss by burying the video.
Sam doesn’t really believe the footage is real. But what if it is? That’s been twisting him for months. Sophie Spencer, home from college, lets Neddy in on this secret. She also lets in her college roommate Reena, who’d invited herself to the Spencers’ place. I cannot imagine being a person like Reena, but I understand there are people like that. (I feel it’s too forward of me to call Marciuliano “Ces” the way all the successful comics bloggers seem to.) And it does some good in providing exposition that reinforces what readers might have forgotten about the situation.
Neddy cuts the Gordian knot of whether the footage is real by asking her video editor friend Brad … I’m going to say ‘Gordian’ … what he thinks. He thinks it’s all but certainly fake. They share the good news with Sam, who goes off to yell at Now Mayor Stewart. Stewart laughs him off: so what that it was fake? Sam acted on the presumption it was true and what is he going to do, blow up his marriage by telling Abbey what he thinks she would do? So Sam goes to blow up his marriage by telling Abbey about the footage and what he thought.
Here, I admit, I’m not sure I follow the motivation. I get Sam’s. But the implication is Stewart used what he knew to be fake video to get Sam Driver’s support in throwing Mayor Sanderson out of office. I don’t see why Stewart needed to buy Sam’s support here. It’s like giving me ten thousand dollars so I’ll go play pinball Tuesday night. I get Stewart wanting a strong ally in Sam Driver and Abbey Spencer. But he’d have that anyway for getting Mayor Sanderson out of office. And he has to have anticipated that Sam would learn, or decide, the video was fake. And, as Sophie observes, whoever faked the video can blackmail Stewart at any time. (I had thought we saw Stewart discovering the footage, but I seem to be wrong.) Also, please give me ten thousand dollars to play pinball Tuesday night.
Sam goes to talk with Abbey about the video in a scene we don’t see. We stick instead on Sophie and Neddy and Reena waiting for news. It’s suspenseful, and ominous, although I understand people for whom it doesn’t work. One of Marciuliano’s regular tricks on this strip has been to jump ahead three months and fill in the aftermath of some big event, rather than show it. This comes close to being that. I understand Marciuliano’s desire, to keep us off-screen and go to characters reacting, but it keeps us from seeing a juicy fight.
Sam texts Neddy that Abbey stormed out. The people we were watching rush home and Sam mourns that Abbey has given up on the town and the family. He mourns that everyone was right, he should have told Abbey about the video the moment he saw it. Abbey, after demanding to know how long everyone else knew about this video, disappears. Neddy calls in an expert on fixing their family: Marie, their trusty … uh … maid? Or former maid, anyway. Last we saw her she was working part-time at the bed-and-breakfast but I imagine it’d be impolite if she were still drawing a salary for that.
Marie is able to get Abbey on the phone, and they meet for a talk at some restaurant carefully ignoring them. Marie tries to suggest Abbey consider Sam’s point of view, but Abbey knows it. And she’s more interested in how Sam hurt her — rather than have a direct if frightening conversation with her — than in how he feels. I can’t argue with that. Marie can’t either. Given this, she plans to leave Sam. She may leave Cavelton entirely. It’s hard to say she’s wrong to plan this.
What do Leonardo da Vinci and a gigantic crow have in common? That they’re not in the current story in Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop! But they are in the story just concluded, which I plan to recap next week. Thanks for reading.