What’s Going On In Prince Valiant? Who’s put Queen Makeda under a spell? December 2018 – March 2019


Thanks for finding this summary of about three months’ worth of Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant. If these aren’t the three months of story you need summarized, such as because it’s after about June 2019, please check this link. There may be a more up-to-date recap there.

Also on my other blog I read comic strips looking for their mathematics content. This week has a special, easy-to-read theme, since we just had Pi Day. I’d appreciate your reading that sometime.

Prince Valiant.

23 December 2018 – 17 March 2019.

A new story had started the 25th of November. Queen Makeda, of the House of Ab’saba, visits the Misty Isles. Prince Valiant’s friend Bukota feels complicated things about this. His long-ago heroism-while-in-disgrace got him named ambassador to Camelot, which is why he’s in the comic strip.

Queen Makeda gets a private conversation with Bukota. She needs him. Personally, yes; she regrets the exile he’d been forced into. And professionally. There are nobles who doubt her ability to lead. She needs Bukota to help keep Ab’sala from them. Bukota is thrilled to return home and to be with Makeda again.

With Aleta's aid, Makeda secretly visits Bukoa. 'I am needed by my Queen? Then, I am forgiven?' asks the exiled Ab'saban. 'As Queen of Ab'saba, I forgive you,' replies Makeda. 'As Makeda, I beg forgiveness for the punishment that stole years from us.' All anxiety drains from Bukota and he draws his love near. But Makeda resists: 'No! Our happiness must wait. Listen, there is much danger here. Danger to me, and to Ab'saba. There are powerful noble families in Ab'saba who exert much influence over the tribal leaders. They promote the story that I am too young and inexperienced to rule our nation. They undermine me - they seek to control me ... and they watch me like vultures! I need you to help me keep Ab'saba from their clutches!' Bukota presses his fist to his heart: 'All I have to give is yours!' Makeda smiles and turns to leave: 'I never doubted that. Now - be patient, and silent. I must return to my scavengers, before they become troubled.' Next: The Healer.
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 13th of January, 2019. I’ll admit I only started reading the strip for the stories, as opposed to the striking artwork, since I began doing these What’s Going On In storylines. So I am still catching up on the many relationships and backstories between characters. This was the first time for me that I learned Bukota and Makeda had a relationship more substantial than Bukota being chivalrously enamored of Makeda.

The nobles are less keen on this. They didn’t hear the conversation any. But they insist that there’s trouble when Queens go off unaccompanied to places like the Hall of Bachelor Warriors the way she did. They insist on a cleansing ritual performed by Fewesi the Healer. She can’t resist the logic or Fewesi’s eyes or his mind-controlling drugs. I mean, she tries. But the nobles are too fast and Fewesi has too many fumes for her.

This leads to a couple confusing days for Bukota. Queen Makeda is going about the business of being present and aware of trade negotiations and all. But she’s not following up on their conversation or even noticing him when he’s in sight. He tells Queen Aleta of the meeting before, and how Makeda’s been freezing him out. Aleta’s reluctant to point out that, y’know, just because Bukota is a nice guy doesn’t mean — oh, never mind, he’s going to try something stupid.

Bukota charges the Queen’s apartment, calling for her and reminding everyone how much they both kinda liked Breakfast at Tiffany’s. He fights with the guards, which is the kind of stunt that got him exiled in the first place. Makeda emerges, the action bringing her out of her trance some. She declares that yes, Bukota’s exile is lifted, and that he’s her … well, the guards clobber him on the head before she can finish. That’s all right. There was someone standing behind a pillar, listening. There’s always someone standing behind a pillar, listening. In ancient times 95% of the population was farmers, fishers, or pillar-listeners.

The Ab’salan nobles — Habte, Mahren, and Ambelu — agree this has gone all wrong. They figured with Queen Makeda away from home, with a small retinue, they’d be able to reinforce their control. They want to head home right away. Fewesi doesn’t like that plan. Having the queen in his power has been going really well, as he makes it out.

Goaded by fears for Makeda's safety at the hands of her own entourage, Aleta permits Bukota and Val entry to the Ab'saban quarters. When there is no response from within, Val orders the door battered down. They find horror within. There is nothing but death - the entire Ab'saban company appears to have silently slaughtered each other! What dreadful sorcery could bring this madness? What awful circumstance would cause these royal guests to rend and tear themselves so? Sick with worry, Bukota searches frantically for Makeda. He does not find her, but then - a gasp - a groan! It is Ambelu, Makeda's guardian, who alone amongst his fellows clings to life: 'Fewesi!' he sputters weakly. 'He .. has ... he has taken ... the queen!' Indeed, the man called the healer drags the spellbound Makeda toward the waterfront ... ' Next: Double-crossed
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 10th of March, 2019. And, mm. Between this and Senator Krios’s conspiracy to murder Norse traders the Misty Isles are having a nasty time of foreigners getting killed in gruesome, scandalous ways. I know it doesn’t have anything to do with Krios selling out his land but it really makes life harder for everybody else that he did that so recently.

Bukota reports the trance of Makeda to Queen Alita. She’s sympathetic but skeptical, even when Bukota says his exile was lifted. Nathan, the pillar-listener and Aleta’s son, attests that this is so, and that when she did the guards smacked Bukota and closed the gate. She sends guards to the Ab’saban quarters. No one answers the door. No one answers the battering ram either. The whole Ab’saban party is dead at one another’s hands. One person has barely survived. Ambelu says that Fewesi deployed powders that set them all in a murderous rage. And he’s abducted the Queen. So he has, and he’s taking her to the waterfront.

Next Week!

I have seven days to summarize Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the past three months! How many of the paragraphs describing that will be written less than eight hours before publication? Take your best guesses in the comments.

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What’s Going On In The Phantom (Weekdays)? What’s that weird Bangallan Navy ship? December 2018 – March 2019


If you’re reading this after about June 2019 I probably have a more up-to-date recap of Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity, at this link. The link also has the separate Sunday continuity recapped there. If you’re trying to work out all this stuff about Heloise Walker and the Bangallan Embassy? This is a good essay for it.

I try to recap all the syndicated story comics still in production. All those recaps should be at this link. I also discuss the mathematical topics inspired by comic strips. One of those essays, including a challenge to rewrite a joke, is at this link.

Before I get to the weekday Phantom storyline I have a warning. The storyline includes a despairing character considering suicide. If you aren’t comfortable with that, you’re right. Skip this installment. We’ll catch up again in June.

The Phantom (Weekdays).

December 2018 – March 2019.

I last visited the weekday Phantom at the start of a new story. This one, the 251st, is “Heloise Comes Home”. Heloise Walker had crashed the plane of Eric “The Nomad” Sahara and gotten the terrorist arrested. She’d made her way back to the Briarwood School and her roommate, Kadia Sahara. Kadia knew nothing of her father’s avocation. All she knows is her roommate is demanding they flee the country now before it’s too late.

Continue reading “What’s Going On In The Phantom (Weekdays)? What’s that weird Bangallan Navy ship? December 2018 – March 2019”

Is The Spider-Man Comic Strip Ending? Is Ballard Street Ending?


The Amazing Spider-Man comic strip isn’t ending right now. But it is going into reruns. D D Degg, at The Daily Cartoonist, passes on the press release about it. From the 25th of March the syndicate will “be re-running some of Spinder-Man’s greatest hits”.

I’m startled, certainly. I think everyone who had an opinion supposed the comic strip would respond to Stan Lee’s death with a change in credits. Acknowledging Roy Thomas’s writing would seem fair enough and as he’s been writing the strip for years it seems an easy enough change.

Cage: 'If you're sticking around to turn Killgrave over to the cops, I'm outta here.' Spider-Man: 'Actually, Cage, I was kinda wondering ... if you'd mind posing for a picture or two with me?' Cage is baffled.
Roy Thomas and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 6th of March, 2019. Peter figures it’s worth the effort to get some pictures of Spider-Man fighting Luke Cage, because J Jonah Jameson is always looking for that sort of thing. This storyline originally started with Jameson attempting to hire Luke Cage to bring down Spider-Man. But if you want to headcanon this as asking for a prom date I won’t stop you.

The press release claims that the strip will “be back soon with great new stories and art”. If we take them at their word, they’re looking to refresh the comic, possibly taking on new writers or artists. That’s all fine. But it’s also what you would say if you were going to let the comic fall into endless repeats forever. I don’t remember if they promised someone would take over Mandrake the Magician after Fred Fredericks retired, but nobody ever has.

The Amazing Spider-Man seems to be going into reruns at the end of a story. Really the story seems to be at its end already. But the tne of the strip lets the characters putter around a while, re-establishing Peter Parker’s hapless loser-ness. That can fill time without standing out as time-wasting.

For my part I plan to keep doing plot recaps of The Amazing Spider-Man, at least until I get word that the strip’s gone into eternal reruns. My last plot recap, a few mere weeks old, is at this link. Any future plot updates or breaking news should appear at this link.


And then for the other question I put in the subject line here. And again from D D Degg at The Daily Cartoonist. Jerry van Amerongen, who creates the panel comic Ballard Street, is retiring. His last strip is scheduled to appear the 30th of March. Amerongen’s been cartooning like this for about forty years, with a strip called The Neighborhood from 1980 to 1990, and Ballard Street from 1991 to this year.

Man sitting in a stuffed chair. Around him are a variety of tiny building roofs. Caption: As much as anything, it's Arthur's miniature roof collection that's reduced his social sphere.
Jerry Van Amerongen’s Ballard Street for the 20th of February, 2019. You know, if he got a good two yards of sherpa fleece he could set all those roofs around and play “village during a Keeweenaw Peninsula, Michigan, winter” and everybody would think he was normal.

I’m saddened by this, of course. I always am by strips ending. Ballard Street never drew much attention, but it had a deep, natural weirdness that I enjoyed. Someone, and I can’t think where, described it as “inscrutable people acting bafflingly”. It’s a fair summary. There are a lot of panel comics out there. There’s few panel comics where you can pretty much count on seeing, like, an older man dressed in a mouse outfit and holding a hand-cranked propeller beanie listening to his wife chide him for bothering the neighbors again.

Two people, on the sidewalk, waving and flamboyantly stretching their legs and arms. Caption: 'It's those insufferable Drexlers, fresh from stretching class.'
Jerry Van Amerongen’s Ballard Street for the 7th of March, 2019. I’m feeling very called out for what I was like back when I was doing yoga every Wednesday.

There are a lot of panel strips out there, many of them trying to capture that Gary Larson weird vibe. And good for them for trying. Ballard Street ran as a sort of character-based Far Side. It featured people committed to their weirdness, and that really worked. I’m glad to have had as much of it as we did.

I imagine GoComics will carry repeats of the comic, but I don’t know that it will.

What’s Going On In Alley Oop? What are the new writer and artist doing to Alley Oop? December 2018 – March 2019


Greetings from the past. If you’re reading far enough in my future I have a more recent recapping of Alley Oop‘s plot at this link. If you’re reading this around March 2019, this is the current plot.

Also, if you’re interested in some mathematically-themed comic strips, why not look at my other blog? I have fun writing those posts. You might like reading them.

Alley Oop.

Oop under a tree, rubbing his head: 'Wow! I just had the craziest dream! There was this time machine. I was in the future, and then in the past. And there were these weird scientists, and ... ' King Guz, fighting a T-Rex: 'You were DREAMING? Just NOW? Is that why you're not HELPING ME FIGHT THIS DINOSAUR?'
Joey Alison Sayers and Jonathan Lemon’s Alley Oop for the 7th of January, 2019. The first of the new creators’ regime and, yes, one that had me quite worried. I mean, King Guz doing a thing? That seems out of character.

10 December 2018 – 2 March 2019.

I last checked in on Alley Oop during a rerun of a Jack Bender and Carole Bender story. It seemed to be the end of the story. Doc Wonmug had brought Alley Oop back from 1816 Switzerland and made some speculations about Mary Shelley. But there was about another month’s worth of 2013-vintage reruns until Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers took over. I guessed there might be some puttering around in the present day.

Not to brag but I was right. During the Switzerland expedition Alley Oop fell off a cliff and got dead a little bit. (Wonmug had a defibrillator which somehow helps with falling from great heights.) Wonmug wants him checked out by a real doctor in a doctor’s office and all. The doctor’s receptionist won’t let him in without an insurance card. Alley Oop laughs at this, as if health care were not a fundamental right of all humans. Doctor Lambert tries getting some of Oop’s basics down. But they haven’t got a clear answer for what Alley Oop’s birthday or age should be. Wonmug seems to be keeping quiet about how Alley Oop’s from prehistoric times, and I don’t know why. Maybe he was keeping his time-travelling stuff quiet? Except, like, he has a sign pointing “To Time-Travel Laboratory” on his mailbox.

Doctor examining Oop: 'You've got a good strong heartbeat but I'll order an EKG to get a complete picture. Let's get some blood to make sure that's OK. You'll just feel a little sting.' Oop, looking at the doctor's syringe: 'Holy cats! Whaddya think you're gonna do with that?' (The doctor can't get through Oop's skin.) 'You broke my needle! Your skin's as tough as dinosaur hide!' (Putting gloves on.) 'Now I'd like to have a look at your insides!' Oop: 'How are you gonna do that?' (Wonmug whispers to Oop.) Oop: 'No way! No how! No EKG! No blood test and no searching inside my guts! I'm getting outta this nut house! If I need any doctorin I'll go t'Wizer! You comin', Doc?' Wonmug: 'Sorry, Mark! Give Mabel my regards, and have her send me a bill!' Doctor Lambert: 'Will do, and don't worry about your friend! He's healthy as a horse!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 30th of December, 2018. It originally ran the 1st of December, 2013, so if you want to see what story this originally lead to, please enjoy. When Oop returned to Moo, Oola was going off on her own adventures. She meets a pterodactyl and ends up in the neighboring land of Lem. Oh, in the Sunday strip the doctor wants to do an EKG; in the dailies he’d wanted to do an MRI, but Oop didn’t like this talk about going in a narrow tunnel.

The doctor diagnoses Alley Oop with a lot of head injuries, which, fair enough. He wants to give Alley Oop an MRI. But it’s hard enough to get a blood sample, since his skin is so tough. There’s talk about a colonoscopy, quickly written off. Dr Lambert puts on a rubber glove with the intent of checking Oop’s prostate. When Wonmug whispers what that is, Oop gets up and storms out of the doctor’s office. This is a funny idea that doesn’t have any homophobic connotations. And it’s not like a prostate ever causes actual heath problems for a person anyway! Doctors are being all weird when they want to check it.

Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s reruns end on that unhappy note. Wonmug sends Alley Oop home in a sequence that, back in 2013, started a new adventure. Instead, we start a new adventure … with new artist and writer.


That new adventure started the 7th of January, 2019. With, at the risk of being cliched, someone waking up.

Alley Oop thinks he’s had a crazy dream about time-travelling and scientists from the future and all. I was not at all comfortable with this. One of the benefits of a long-running character is the building-up of a continuity. Its mass and often apparently contradictory nature give it verisimilitude. Sometimes you get caught in an actual contradiction that can’t be rationalized away. In that case I’m usually willing to give the creators the tool of “just don’t bring up the contradictory stuff again”. Or start repairing things and pretend the older problems never happened.

Oop: 'Doc, tell me again how we ended up in an alternate dimension.' Wonmug: 'You see, Alley, our time machine creates a Hamlin field. Last time we travelled, our Graue manipulator slipped, causing us to be bombarded with Bender particles, which made our dimensional alignment ... [ Oop looks on with calm, smooth incomprehension ] Our time machine had a flat tire.' Oop: 'Ohhhh, that makes PERFECT sense!'
Joey Alison Sayers and Jonathan Lemon’s Alley Oop for the 15th of January, 2019. So as you might guess, the names dropped in the technobabble of the second panel are from the comic’s past creators. V T Hamlin created the strip, as a caveman strip, and then seven years later added time-travel to it. Dave Graue, Hamlin’s assistant, took over the daily strip in 1966 and the Sundays in 1971. Jack Bender took over as illustrator in 1991 and Carole Bender joined in 2001.

A clean-slate reboot has advantages when the core idea is good, but there’s stuff that can’t be reconciled or repaired. Often this is a difference in attitude. There’s no fitting the Adam West Batman and the 90s cartoon Batman in the same continuity, and no sense trying. So … would this be such a different approach that it didn’t make sense to treat them as in-continuity?

Ooola comes in to assure Alley Oop that it wasn’t a crazy dream, he just got hit in the head by a coconut. The time-travel stuff is real and they’ve been doing it for years. But … something happened and they’re in an alternate universe. It’s much like the knew, except that tacos will never be invented. Oop drops to his knees and cries out in agony.

Do you find this funny? Because this is the major writing difference between the old Alley Oop and the current one. Sayers and Lemon are still telling a serial adventure comic. But there is much more emphasis on joke-telling. Every strip ends with a punch line, even if it has to be forced in there. It’s an effect quite like Dan Thompson’s Rip Haywire, a strip I’m thinking about adding to these what’s-going-on-in reads.

If this style isn’t working for you, then you’ll probably find the new team to be a bust. To my tastes, the punch-line-panel bit has been getting better, as the jokes have been more based on character and situation. A zany, out-of-nowhere punch line can be great fun. We wouldn’t have had web comics in the 90s without them. And a story can be good with this sort of wackiness. Readers love to accept stories. All they demand is some combination of the characters, plot, writing, and concepts to be interesting enough. Where wacky, zany punchlines disappoint me as a reader is when they aren’t tied enough to the characters or the situations. If you could reassign a joke to another character, or another day’s strip, without making it less funny? That’s often a symptom of a weak joke. To my tastes, that’s been happening less as Sayers and Lemon inhabit the characters longer.

Wonmug: 'This is the Golden Gate Bridge, a marvel of human engineering.' Ooola: 'It's orange.' Wonmug: 'Actually, it got its name from the Golden Gate Strait ... ' Ooola: 'There's no gate.' Wonmug: 'Well, that's because ... ' Ooola: 'Is this thing even a bridge?'
Joey Alison Sayers and Jonathan Lemon’s Alley Oop for the 28th of February, 2019. This is another exchange I like, not just for the guy doing the “Actually” drawl getting cut down. And yeah, in this strip you could swap Oop in for Ooola and have the joke land as well. You could swap Ooola and Oop’s roles in the strip for the 27th, too (see below). But for either day’s jokes to make sense you need a character who’s a longtime adventure hero and who doesn’t know San Francisco. From that perspective, either Ooola or Oop does just as well. Just because a line can be given to another character doesn’t prove the line is weak. It’s a symptom is all.

So the story. After a week of Ooola explaining the premise of the strip to Oop, Dr Wonmug popped in. He has a mission. They need to venture to the far-off world of 1986 to retrieve a mixtape. This isn’t just zany wackiness. Wonmug asserts it’s “very important and extremely time-sensitive”. So far he hasn’t explained what’s important. We’ll leave aside how a time traveller can face a time-sensitive problem. So far as I can tell, time travel in Alley Oop works like it would in Old Doctor Who. You know, where you don’t do that thing of coming back to your home time after fewer days than you spent in the other time.

Wonmug, reading the ransom note: 'Friends, it's worse than I feared. The tape has been stolen. The thief wants three things.' Oop: 'No problem! Here are three things: a rock, a stick, and a leaf! Let's get that tape back!'
Joey Alison Sayers and Jonathan Lemon’s Alley Oop for the 30th of January, 2019. I find the punch line funny enough. But if Oop had held up a leaf, an insect, and a bit of dirt? The joke would have been as funny. And would have been a cute reference to the pretext of the previous, rerun, story.

They get to Wonmug’s old room. But the mixtape is gone. There’s a ransom note. Whoever took it wants three things. First is a jelly bean from the desk of President Reagan. They take a bus to Washington, DC. Wonmug has a plan for sneaking in to the Oval Office. They’ll deliver his Presidential Portrait. Fortunately Oop’s whipped up one of Reagan with a chimpanzee.

Things are going their way. Ronald Reagan wakes up senile, racist, homophobic, and missing his eyeglasses. So he’s in a great mood when Wonmug, Oop, and Oola come in. He identifies them as George Bush, Mikhael Gorbachev, and Nancy Reagan. While Reagan hangs the picture of “a sunset”, Oop grabs a bunch of jellybeans, and eats all but one of them.

In the Oval Office. Ronald Reagan: 'Yes? Who is it?' Oop, carrying a portrait, Wonmug, and Ooola enter. Reagan: 'GEORGE BUSH, NANCY, and GORBACHEV! Come in. Take a seat.' He looks at Oop's painting of Reagan with a chimpanzee. 'Gasp! Is this painting for ME? It's such a beautiful sunset!'
Joey Alison Sayers and Jonathan Lemon’s Alley Oop for the 14th of February, 2019. I haven’t talked much about pacing. I’m not sure what I think of it yet. But the meeting between Oop and Reagan took maybe three days’ worth of strips. That feels fast. Still, this storyline is eight weeks old and has managed to establish three locations and travel to a fourth. The plot may be thin, and a lot of time is spent making jokes rather than doing things, but I can’t say it isn’t moving along. I’ve had trouble picking out a handful of strips to represent the storyline because of it.

The next item is in San Francisco. They need to grab the master copy of the game disk for Caves of Zgfrhkxp. And they’re going to get there in good time. Reagan agreed to let Wonmug, as “George Bush”, take Air Force Two to San Francisco. This is a fun historical shout-out. That’s what they nabbed Bush’s chief of staff John Sununu on, back when there were consequences to things. And this week they’ve landed in San Francisco.

Wonmug, Oop, and Ooola walking off the foggy airfield. Wonmug: 'Despite almost blowing our cover on Air Force Two, we made it! Welcome to San Francisco! It's a little foggy today.' Oop: 'I'm nervous. I've never been to a cloud city.' Ooola: 'We'll be treated as gods, since we come from the mystical solid lands.'
Joey Alison Sayers and Jonathan Lemon’s Alley Oop for the 27th of February, 2019. Now this is a punch line I like. I’m a sucker for the premise of longtime adventuring heroes assuming that of course they’re going on an epic journey through strange and exotic space-operatic settings and taking that attitude with them when they’re just going to the deli for pork roll.

And then there are Sundays. Often for story comics the Sunday strip is a recap of the previous week’s. Jack Bender and Carole Bender adapted this approach. Their Sunday strip usually recapped the previous Tuesday through the coming Monday. Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers are doing something different. Their Sunday strips are installments of Little Oop, the adventures of a middle-school-age Alley Oop and his friends.

Little Alley Oop: 'You think scientists will ever invent a number bigger than three?' Garg: 'I guess it's possible. There are three scientists working around the clock trying to come up with a new number.' Oop: 'Three scientists? Wow! That's a lot.' Garg: 'Maybe someday *we'll* be scientists. Then there'll be *three* scientists.' Oop: 'Nah, I think I want to be a fire-fighter. There are only three of those in the whole world.'
Joey Alison Sayers and Jonathan Lemon’s Alley Oop for the 20th of January, 2019. Another example I’ve enjoyed of jokes growing out of personality. And I’m a nerd, so I have a dreary literal mind, and thus love jokes built on smashing up the idea that words have meanings. You’d think I would pun more often than I do. This particular Sunday strip was one I could discuss on my mathematics blog, also.

These have been fun. Alley Oop at school. Alley Oop hanging out with friends. Alley Oop asking his parents for a pet dinosaur. They’ve been fun, and haven’t had the same sort of wacky zany punch lines. This might reflect the strips having enough space to build a scenario. What they haven’t been is an ongoing story. So I’m going to hold off on recapping those stories until I see that there are stories to recap.

Next Week!

The last time I looked at The Phantom‘s weekday continuity, Heloise Walker had got her roommate’s father arrested for terrorism and was trying to get her to flee the country. How’s that turned out? I expect to check back in Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom next Sunday.

What’s Going On In The Amazing Spider-Man? Why did Mary Jane toss a sheet on the Purple Guy? November 2018 – February 2019


I see a lot of people wondering about Roy Thomas and Alex Saviuk’s The Amazing Spider-Man. (Stan Lee’s name is still on the strip, but I do not know whether anything he might have contributed is still relevant.) This should have you set up for the story as it stood in February 2019. Somewhere around May 2019 I expect to have a more up-to-date plot recap that might be more helpful to you.

And if it’s mathematics you’re looking for, I discuss mathematics from the comics pages at my other blog, here. Thanks for reading these pieces.

The Amazing Spider-Man.

18 November 2018 – 23 February 2019.

Last time, J Jonah Jameson had just tried to hire Luke Cage, Hero for Hire, to expose Spider-Man once and for all. Cage refused, on the rounds he’s not for hire anymore. And that’s where we left off. The story had just started the 10th of November.

Luke Cage storms off from not being hired. He sees a car about to hit a pedestrian, and runs up to smash the car off the road. The pedestrian is a purple-skinned fellow. A narration box says if this were a Sunday strip you’d see that. But the weekday strip online was in color. The wonder is that it got the correct color. The purple guy is Killgrave. When Cage starts ragging him about that he orders the hero for not-hire to freeze. Cage does, and is shocked he can’t move a muscle. Killgrave orders the driver who’d almost hit him to go walk in front of a bus. The driver complies.

Driver: 'Sorry I nearly ran you over. My foot accidentally hit the gas pedal.' Killgrave: 'No harm done, friend. You can make it up to me ... by stepping in front of that bus!' Driver, dazed: 'Yes ... I'll do that.' Cage cries 'NO' while, thinking: 'Hey! I'm starting to be able to move again!'
Roy Thomas and Alex Saviuk’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 28th of November, 2018. City buses routinely drive dangerously fast on neighborhood roads where the wreckage of a smashed car and three people standing around yelling at each other are in the middle of the street!

Cage shakes off his immobility enough to save the driver. Killgrave orders him to stop again. He lays on some backstory for those of us who don’t know about every purple-skinned person in the Marvel Universe. Killgrave got splashed with a mysterious purple chemical nerve-gas concentrate while spying around an Army Ordnance Depot. Since then, he’s been purple-skinned, but anyone who hears him must obey his commands. Not all these characters have complicated backstories. Somewhere on the line he picked up a case of amnesia. But luckily Cage shook him out of the amnesia. So that’s looking up for the forces of purple. But he’s still getting his Power Voice back, so he can only control one person at a time. And hey, Luke Cage is a great person to have in your total power.

Mary Jane returns home. The studio’s giving up on publicity for her movie Marvella 2: Sword of the Dragon Prince. And the Mammon Theater, where she’s been working, got smashed up last story. So, facing a layoff from her Broadway acting gig and an imminent movie flop, why not pop off to Australia for a while? Newspaper photojournalist Peter Parker, who like me can’t remember if he’s freelance or staff, thinks that’s a good idea. She can even buy first-class tickets to head out that afternoon. Maybe this says more about me, but that’s the most terrifying concept I’ve read in this strip in a year.

Spider-Man: 'I said - LOWER THAT SAFE!' Cage: 'I'm ... not ... sure ... I can!' Killgrave, thinking: 'Got to risk a stage whisper here!' Killgrave, yelling: 'Cage --- THROW it at him!' Cage, throwing the large safe at Spidey: 'SORRY, man!'
Roy Thomas and Alex Saviuk’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 21st of December, 2018. Yes, it looks like Killgrave doesn’t know the difference between a “stage whisper” and “shouting”. Show some empathy. How long would you keep on practicing your whispering skills if anything people heard you tell them they had to do?

They’re interrupted by an armored-car holdup. Luke Cage lifted the armored car right off the Grand Central Parkway. (I don’t know that any airline flies to Australia from out of LaGuardia. I’m just assuming Peter Parker is a guy who has to fly through LaGuardia a lot.) Fortunately Peter Parker wore his Spider-Man suit, under his clothes. He figured travelling first-class he wouldn’t be strip-searched at the airport. Peter Parker still doesn’t know how airports work. But, in fairness, he’s managed to successfully take a flight like once in the last decade and even that needed President Obama to help with.

Cage starts fighting Spidey, and not because they’re doing traditional superhero meet-cutes. Killgrave is ordering Cage around. Cage is able to resist enough of Killgrave’s instructions that Spider-Man keeps escaping. He’s not able to control people of strong enough will, because, I’m assuming, Steve Ditko created the character. So Killgrave figures, hey, why not take over Spider-Man instead? From this we learn Killgrave is not connected to the story-comics snark community. But he’s got some good reasons on his side. Spider-Man’s able to web Cage up, for example. And granting he’s an evildoer, it’s still better optics to be enslaving the white guy when the story’s sure to run into February. Killgrave takes off with Spidey.

Spider-Man, webbing Cage: 'Sorry, Cage! His voice --- made me do it!' Killgrave: 'Spider-Man: Stand down!' Cage, wrestling with the webs: 'This webbing ... too strong to bust out of!' Killgrave: 'Proving I made the right choice! My mid-season trade of Luke Cage for Spider-Man is definitely proving a game changer!'
Roy Thomas and Alex Saviuk’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 1st of January, 2019. “My mid-season trade”? Okay, so if you didn’t dislike Killgrave before, how does your opinion change if you know he talks about his fantasy sports league in public?

Mary Jane meets up with Cage, who recognizes her from Marvella 1: Prince of the Sword Dragon. And the cops let the guy who was tearing open an armored car five minutes ago leave because, y’know. They’re not jerks about this. Mary Jane brings Cage back to her apartment. And there’s a quick beat, in the elevator, which might be planting something. The landlady(?) warns Mary Jane. If she wants to consort with superheroes, you know, maybe she should live somewhere that can take being attacked by supervillains. I’m sure the warning would be the same if Mary Jane were having Tony Stark for company.

Anyway, Mary Jane’s has a plan. She’ll use the Spider-Tracker that Spidey gave her for reasons that are innocent and should not raise any suspicions in Luke Cage’s mind. With that, they’ll find Spider-Man, and Killgrave. Killgrave will surely order Spider-Man and Cage to fight, and while he’s micromanaging that, Mary Jane can sneak up from behind and bonk him. It’s not an elegant plan. But remember, Killgrave’s powers are that he can control one person at a time. Also that he’s who white people are thinking of when they swear they don’t care if someone is white, black, green, or purple. He’s still a normal human as far as getting bonked counts.

Killgrave: 'Spider-Man! Get me inside that armory!' Spidey, thinking: 'If only - I could RESIST his vocal commands!' Killgrave, following Spidey up the steps: 'He's getting harder to control! Once he acquires the nerve gas I need to restore my full powers I'll dispose of him!'
Roy Thomas and Alex Saviuk’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 17th of January, 2019. Now, I’m not telling you how to use your power to tell people what to do, Killgrave, but it seems like if you were at full power, you probably wouldn’t have that hard a time controlling Spider-Man again? Or am I not understanding what your power level routine is like? I grant it’s maybe my doing. You’re the one with the powers, although you have had that amnesia thing going on so maybe you’re assuming problems you really shouldn’t be having with controlling the mind of Newspaper Spider-Man?

Meanwhile Killgrave took Spider-Man to the 369th Regiment Armory, in Harlem. Cage’s stomping grounds, the strip points out. In the Armory is more of the purple nerve-gas stuff that gave Killgrave his powers in the first place. He’s figuring a recharge on it will help him control the whole city, if he needs. He doesn’t seem to reflect how this is what he should’ve done with Cage in the first place. Never mind robbing some stupid armored car. But, you know, everybody’s wise after the fact.

Killgrave: 'Dealing with those security guards [webbed up] cost us precious time! Bring me the METAL CYLINDER beneath that plastic sheet!' Spidey: 'Yes, Master!' As Spider-Man picks up the plastic sheet Killgrave says, 'Hmm. I never realized how quickly I would tire of hearing that phrase repeated. From now on, just do what I say --- WITHOUT speaking.'
Roy Thomas and Alex Saviuk’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 30th of January, 2019. You know, Killgrave has not specifically ordered Peter Parker to stop making faces at him underneath that mask.

The Armory is closed, what with Trump’s Shutdown. Killgrave has to have Spider-Man carry him up to a high enough window they can break in. Also to mention his fear of heights like fourteen times, so you know that’s being set up to be a plot point. It hasn’t been.

They break into the Secret Origin Chemicals closet. There’s cylinders of the purple nerve-gas underneath a plastic sheet. The plastic sheet is a plot point. But it’s picked up and tossed off by Spider-Man so quickly I didn’t notice it either until I was writing this paragraph. Cage and Mary Jane arrive at the armory and break the doors open. Killgrave has Spidey climb to the top of the building for reasons not directly addressed. We can infer reasons, though. Cage waved off Mary Jane’s suggestion they sneak up quietly on Killgrave. He pointed out his breaking down the steel doors could be heard in another borough.

Cage: 'C'mon, MJ! We gotta track down Killgrave!' Mary Jane: 'Just a second. I need to grab THIS!' (She takes the plastic sheet that had been on the nerve-gas cylinder.) Narrator: WHILE ABOVE ... (Spider-Man is climbing the building, with Killgrave clinging to him.) Killgrave: 'Get me up to the roof --- FAST!'
Roy Thomas and Alex Saviuk’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 5th of February, 2019. I get that Spider-Man is very good at climbing things but I really would have thought the stairs would be better.

Cage and Mary Jane find the broken-in closet, and Mary Jane grabs the plastic sheet that the chemicals had been under. Everyone gathers on the roof. Killgrave orders Spider-Man to throw the gas cylinder at Luke Cage. The cylinder breaks open. Killgrave breathes deep the gases which he’s confident will recharge his voice-control powers more than it’ll be nerve gas. Killgrave called that one right, and orders Spider-Man and Cage to fight each other. They do, resisting the command as much as they can, until Mary Jane bonks Killgrave in the throat with a pipe. This shuts him up long enough for Spidey and Cage to break out of his control? I guess? Anyway, Mary Jane covers Killgrave with the plastic sheet from before.

Cage: 'That hunk of pipe MJ threw hit Killgrave's throat --- so he can't talk!' Spider-Man: 'Which means he can't control us!' (Killgrave is gasping.) Mary Jane: 'And now, for my next miracle --- voila!' (She throws the plastic sheet over Killgrave.) Cage: 'Huh? Why's she throwing a plastic sheet over him?' Narration box: 'Watch and learn, Cage!'
Roy Thomas and Alex Saviuk’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 18th of February, 2019. I’m not going to dismiss Mary Jane’s heroism here. It’s admirable that someone would rush in, unflinching, to save lives when their only advantage is their wits and their intelligence. It does mean, though, this is another story where Spider-Man was standing by helplessly while someone else defeated the supervillain.

Many readers were confused by this action. Even the other characters seem baffled by this choice. But she’s on top of things. Daredevil had dropped the tip that Killgrave’s powers are blocked by special sheeting. Also I guess Killgrave is one of Daredevil’s villains? All I really know of Marvel is what I get from the newspaper comic, plus I saw Black Panther and Guardians of the Galaxy. Oh, and Into The Spider-Verse which was a blast. And yeah, I’m on the mailing list for news about Marvella 3: Dragon of the Prince Sword. Anyway, Killgrave can’t project his power out, so it’s doubling back on himself and in the confusion he rushes for the edge of the armory. Spider-Man webs him, just as he’s going over the dangerously low edge of the roof. The momentum threatens to carry Spider-Man over the edge too. Cage grabs hold of Spider-Man and a rooftop pipe, but he isn’t up to full speed yet either, so can’t be sure he won’t slip over the edge too.

Next Week!

I finally get to close out Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s story about Alley Oop facing a modern doctor’s office! And then I have to have an opinion about what Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers have been doing! It’s the first recap of the new Alley Oop, due in seven days. It’ll be a different number of days if you are a time-travelling caveman or know someone who is.

What’s Going On In Judge Parker? Did Marie kill her husband? December 2018 – February 2019


Hi, person searching for Judge Parker plot information. If it’s after about May 2019 I’ve probably written a more up-to-date recap of Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s comic strip. That more current recap should appear at this link.

On my other blog I talk about mathematics that comic strips mention. Might like that, too.

Judge Parker.

2 December 2018 – 17 February 2019.

What was happening last time I checked in on Judge Parker? An exhausting set of plot twists. The most salient was Neddy Spencer being back home. She’s nursing her emotional wounds after witnessing, among other things, April Parker murdering the CIA agent who killed — oh, it’s a lot of blood. Sam Driver was getting snotty about Neddy retreating for shelter, but I’m on Neddy’s side in this. Sophie Spencer scolded Neddy about her shunning Ronnie Huerta. Huerta had backed off from Neddy after witnessing altogether too many murders, but was trying to reach out again.

Neddy, to Sophie: 'You know, talking about Marie really shows just how lucky you and I are to have the people we do in our lives.' (Her phone rings and she looks at it.) 'And just how often I take those people for granted.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 13th of December, 2018. Neddy, talking with Sophie, about Marie, when Ronnie calls, seems like a lot of people in two panels to have the -ie sound as the end of their two-syllable names. Well, that’s most likely coincidence.

Neddy tries to call … Marie, the Spencers’ old reliable … housekeeper? I think? I wasn’t sure about her position and the strip only talked about her being on vacation. Marciuliano is sometimes too scrupulous about characters not explaining things they should know to one other. No character, for example, ever says what country Marie is vacationing in, or what island she’s on. This even though her vacation becomes a plot.

Well, Wikipedia says she works as their maid. All right. Anyway, Marie’s off on vacation. More than that: she’s eloped with her boyfriend-of-eight-years, Roy Rodgers. Well, the shock that Marie has her own happiness gives Neddy reason to call Ronnie Huerta again. And to apologize. After Christmas, Neddy plans to set back out to Los Angeles, to pick up whatever she figures her career there to be. A family crisis not of her making postpones this.

Katherine, talking about Norton's gift of rings: 'How could he have left the rings the last time? We weren't back together yet.' Alan: 'You know Norton. He probably thought this would either make him look like a prescient genius or let him get away with one last cruel joke.' Katherine: 'Did I ever tell you how much I hate your in-laws?' Alan, crumpling the note: 'Not more than I do.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 22nd of December, 2018. Must admit, sometimes I think about doing a dive into the story comics from before I started doing regular recaps. The point would be to track down things like how Alan Parker got around to faking Norton’s death and all that. But there is a long of old story strip out there. And I have the slight dread of finding that the comic spent, like, two days on that in the midst of a twenty-week stretch of a car dealer begging the Parkers to take this like-new RV off his hands since he’s getting fired anyway so what does he care if they pay for it with “whatever’s left on this $5 gift card to Radio Shack”? (There was a lot of this sort of people-giving-the-main-cast free stuff going on in the old days.)

There’s some unsettling stuff. One of the Christmas presents Alan Parker finds is from Norton. It’s wedding bands and a note about how he knew Alan and Katherine would reconcile. Norton’s supposed to be dead. Sam Driver swears he’s dead. Driver’s seen pictures. He’s got this from “multiple contacts”. Norton must have snuck it in sometime before he went into Super Hyper Ultra CIA Duper Jail. Norton’s alive, of course, but the CIA is passing the story that he’s dead. Katherine avows how much she hates the Norton subplot, and Alan agrees.


All that was cleared up by the 29th of December. This is when the current plot got underway. (Huh; that’s almost the same day the airplane adventure got under way over in Rex Morgan, M.D..) Marie calls the Spencers, crying. Her husband’s missing. He had left that morning, promising a “surprise”. His clothes were found on the beach and nothing else. Sam Driver flies to whatever island it is exactly that Marie and Roy were honeymooning on. It must be in Greece. The 16th of January’s strip shows the logo of the Hellenic Police. And the story of a man gone missing on his honeymoon turns into one of those exciting missing-person media frenzies that we used to have. You know. Back in the before-times. When there was time to think about anything besides the future Disgraced Former President.

Katherine breaks the news that Toni's memoir will reveal Alan helped Norton fake his death. Randy: 'This is all my fault! If I'd never said one word to Toni ... ' Alan: 'It's MY FAULT, Randy. How could I have done this?' Katherine: 'OK, all the mea culpas in the world won't help us now. We have to figure out a plan. I can try to get Toni to cut it. I mean, we haven't talked in a while, but ... ' Alan: 'If news get [sic] out you tried to quiet this, it will only make things worse.' Katherine: 'Maybe ... Maybe I can stop my publisher somehow ... but how?' Alan: 'There is no 'how'. You try that, news gets out, we're all ruined. I ... I don't think there is anything we can do to stop this.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 13th of January, 2019. See, here, that name thing mentioned the 13th of December was coincidence. Here we have Randy talking about Toni … uh. Well. I have to agree with Alan Parker here that trying to suppress the story is just going to make it worse. I’d imagine that the publishers would insist on the manuscript sticking as close as possible to what’s in the public record already. Or that she had direct evidence for, which may not be much beyond Randy’s claims. I don’t know whether this is true, but Alan could probably plausibly claim to have been coerced, at fear for his life or his family’s life, and at least seem plausibly not-so-bad-ish a guy.

While he’s on the plane there’s time for still more Norton-related chaos. Katherine Parker works for the company publishing Toni Bowen’s memoir. The draft of it contains the (correct) bombshell that, at one point, Alan Parker helped Norton fake his own death. Randy Parker had mentioned this to her while these two were dating. Katherine wants to suppress the story. Alan thinks the least bad thing to do is nothing. Let it come out and take his lumps. Randy curses himself for his foolishness but I don’t think recommends any particular action. Alan points out that Norton is dead, and Katherine points out, this is a soap strip. More, it’s one Francesco Marciuliano is writing. Nobody’s dead until you’ve incinerated their dismembered corpse. And even then we’re somehow not done with Norton.

Back to Greece. Sam Driver wants to know how this missing-groom story hit the global news wires before it even hit the local media. He’s promised an answer at Commissioner Christou’s press conference. Rodgers disappeared the 30th of December. They think he either drowned or met with foul play. They believe Marie Rodgers was the last person to see him alive. She hasn’t answered any questions since Driver showed up to serve as legal adviser.

Driver goes to Christou after the conference, which didn’t answer his question. At least not on-panel. Christou has the good news that Marie is being released from custody but is not to leave the island. It’s a baffling development. The next morning, Christou calls Driver. They’ve found Rodgers. He was arrested in a bar in Madeira. It’s an impressive distance to swim from Greece, considering.

Early morning, Sam goes to see Marie at her hotel ... Marie: 'Sam, what are you doing here so --- you heard something didn't you?' Sam: 'Police commissioner called me directly.' Marie: 'Oh no, oh no! They found his body, didn't they! Oh Roy! My --- ' Sam: 'Marie? Marie! Roy's alive.' Marie: 'Wha ... WHAT?' Sam: 'He's alive. He didn't drown. He wasn't eaten by sharks.' Marie: 'This is wonderful, Sam! I have to see him! Take me to him!' Sam: 'Oh, Marie. I'm afraid I can't.' Marie: 'Why ... why not?' Sam: 'Because he's being held by police in Madeira.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 3rd of February, 2019. I’m willing to suppose the Hellenic Police checked whether the missing Roy Rodgers might be wanted by police for anything. It’s striking that he was wanted, though, since he and Marie had just left on vacation … well, time is an elastic thing in a story strip. But quite recently anyway. It makes sense Roy would flee when he figured the cops were close to arresting him. I’m just not quite clear what the Portuguese police would have arrested Roy Rodgers for. (Fraudulent passport?) Like, who’s requesting extradition and from whom?

Driver has a hypothesis. It’s pretty bonkers, so it makes for a good soap opera story. Maybe it’s based on some real incident. I don’t tend to follow true-crime/missing-persons stories, so what would I know? The idea, though: Rodgers wanted to fake his death and start a new life. Driver thinks Christou saw through that, though. And made Rodgers’s presumed death as big a story as he could. This to fool Rodgers into thinking he had faked his own death, meanwhile letting every cop in the TV audience know what he looked like. That this gave Marie a public reputation of being Probably A Murderer was a side effect, regrettable but worth it for the sake of Justice.

Toni Bowen, reporting on TV while Neddy and Sophie watch, jaws dropping: 'Roy Rodgers' business partner, Handyman Harvey Stonehouse, has been working with authorities to trace the 1.5 million Rodgers allegedly stole from their home repair company. The once-thriving firm has lost most of its contracts over the past three years ... '
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 13th of February, 2019. No, I don’t know why I keep including strips from the 13th of the month. It’s some mildly weird coincidence. Anyway, I was so tempted to take a screenshot of this comic inside my web browser, and then post a photograph of that screenshot of this comic, so that this second panel would have a good fake mise-en-abyme effect.

And the hypothesis seems to hold up. Back home in Cavelton, Toni Bowen reports on the collapse of Rodgers’ home-repair company. They’ve lost a lot of contracts the last several years. Rodgers himself is under suspicion of stealing one and a half million dollars from the failing company. And Katherine Parker “reaches a breaking point” with Bowen’s reporting about her family and family’s close friends. She figures to return the favor. That’s sure to be a very good idea that works out well and leaves her happy. By the next time I recap Judge Parker’s plot — probably around May 2019 — I’m sure we’ll see how much better this has made everybody’s lives. Can’t wait.

Next Week!

The comic strip still claims that Stan Lee is writing The Amazing Spider-Man. And isn’t admitting that Roy Thomas has something to do with it. Well, what have Thomas and Alex Saviuk gotten up to? I expect to say, next week. But we’ll see what happens and how Luke Cage and this purple guy with the mind control voice are doing.

What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? Is Gil Thorp Going To Be Fired? November 2018 – February 2019


No, Gil Thorp is not going to be fired. But I’m happy to provide recaps of the stories in Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the indefinite future. If you’re in the definite future of after about April 2019 there’s probably a more up-to-date recap at that link.

I don’t just read the story strips for the plots. I also read lots of comic strips for the mathematics, and write about that on my other blog. You might enjoy the results. I do, myself.

Gil Thorp.

26 November 2018 – 9 February 2019.

Some well-intended but dumb schemes were under way last time I checked in. Thomas Kyle “Tiki” Jansen’s family transferred him from New Thayer to Milford when his old gang of friends went bad. The gang got into vandalism, burglary, assaulting Jansen for ditching them, that sort of thing. Jansen’s family had rented but not used an apartment to give Jansen a technical address in Milford. Joe Bolek, that kid who wants to talk about the cinema, figured to help. Record the New Thayer gang beating up on Jansen and boom, Coach Thorp will be glad to let him stay on the team, right?

Jansen, in the locker room: 'I sent our little Oscar-winner to my ex-friends back in new Thayer. They agreed it was better to call a truce than see it blasted all over the Internet.' On the field, a teammate asks: 'Great. Does that mean you're switching schools again?' Jansen: 'Not any time soon.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 30th of November, 2018. Meanwhile, over at New Thayer, at least a third of the gang is asking, so they shouldn’t have Snapchatted chasing down and trying-but-failing to beat up Tiki Jansen, then? Snapchat is a thing that non-old people do, right? Also it’s a thing to do? Please advise. I haven’t understood any social medium since IRC.

Coach Gil Thorp sees the video and doesn’t really seem to care. Whoever it is decides these things rules that Jansen’s eligible, so, he plays. With the note that he might transfer back after a year when the seniors in the gang graduate. And Joe Bolek goes meeting up with Kelly Thorp. Both are glad to know someone else who’s interested in Movie Nerd stuff. Gil Thorp is a good partner, but his interest in movies is that they’re important to his wife. That’s great, but a primary interest is still different.


Monday, the 10th of December, opened the new plot. Its main action promised to be glorious and it has been holding up. It’s a sequel, and to a storyline from before I started doing regular recaps. That’s all right. The text fills in all the backstory you need.

It opens with a young man buying space on two billboards. So right away you know it’s a 20-something-year-old who actually falls for the billboard company ads about “See? Made you look!” or “our texts go to the whole Milford area”. Still, it’s exciting. The “Billboard Advertising: It Works” sign comes down, a month before reaching its six-year anniversary. The replacement message: “Is Mediocre Good Enough?” And with that bold demand on the commuters of Milford … nothing happens and nobody much cares.

Howry, arms spread wide, seen from above: 'First, ask the question --- ' Then a close-up of his fist slamming into his other hand. 'And then knock 'em over with the answer!' Later, in the school, one of Filion's teammates asks: 'Make time for the Bucket after practice. Soto's gonna try to eat three banana splits!' Filion: 'I'd better pass.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 15th of December, 2018. “Are you positive you wanna pass? They’re using the same banana model that Eugene the Jeep uses to cure purple-ness.” “Um. I’m supposed to be an eighteen-year-old in 2019. What do you imagine the syllables `Eugene the Jeep’ mean to me?” And in non-snarky commentary, I like the camera angles in the first two panels. They put a healthy amount of energy into a single character talking to himself about his plans for revenge against his high school basketball coach.

The other plot thread. It’s basketball season. Milford’s off to an indifferent, one might say mediocre, start. And guard Nate Filion is having a bad time of it. He’s not hanging out with the other basically well-meaning if dumb kids on the team. Or much of anything else. And the billboard takes on a new message: “Don’t Our Kids Deserve Better?”

Filion’s teachers get worried. All that seems to engage him is quoting That 70s Show. That’s no way for a healthy teen to live. Thorp prods a bit, but can’t get anything. And then the billboard goes to its newest message: “Save the Kids — Fire Gil Thorp”, and includes a link to the blog of Robby Howry. Also his podcast. Howry explains his motives to a reporter for the Milford Star who turns out not to be Marty Moon. I don’t know the reporter’s name. You can tell he’s not Marty Moon because his hair is a little different and Marty Moon’s sideburns don’t grow down to join his goatee. I don’t keep doing the six-differences puzzles in Slylock Fox for nothing.

Howry explains to the reporter that he was more than an equipment manager, he was “unofficial assistant coach” for Thorp years ago. And that his conscience would not allow him to let Milford “wallow in mediocrity” any longer. And that he loves the comic strips and wants the story strips held to high standards of plot, character, and art. Anyway, he left because Thorp “didn’t share my commitment to winning.”

That isn’t how Thorp remembers it. But he keeps his memories to himself, his assistant, and us nosey people in the audience. He remembers Howry as the equipment manager and up-and-coming stats nerd. And, dear lord help us, one of those people who insists that you need to be a brand. Before he could be mercifully kidnapped and terrorized by The Ghost Who Walks, he got dumb. He gave in to Maxwell “Max” Bacon’s pleas for Adderall. Except he didn’t in fact do that. Howry gave Bacon aspirin tablets, figuring that’s all Bacon really needed. And who could get in trouble for taking aspirin on game day? Thorp suspended Bacon and dropped Howry altogether. But feels he can’t explain this in public without humiliating students who didn’t deserve that.

Gil Thorp: 'Bobby Howry --- I mean, Robby --- is attacking me on a billboard?' Assistant: 'And a web site, and a podcast.' Thorp: 'Well ... I guess it's good to see he's well-rounded.' (At a coffee shop.) Reporter: 'Tell me about yourself, Robby.' Howry: 'I'm just a multi-dimensional guy who cares about Milford.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 11th of January, 2019. So what is better: the second panel where Gil Thorp is barely able to believe Robby Howry has decided to make this his life’s goal? Or the implied fourth panel where the Milford Star reporter sighs, puts his pencil and notepad down on the table, and says, “Before I continue you must tell me whether you have ever addressed a woman as ‘milady’ unironically”, resolved that if Howry has then this interview and all interactions with Howry forever are now ended.

And that old incident I think serves as a good example of the Gil Thorp storytelling style. It has a lot of stories driven by how teenagers are kinda dopey. But there’s almost never actual malice involved, not from the kids anyway. They don’t think of being truly nasty. And they’re limited in how much trouble they get into anyway. Partly because as teens they have limited resources. Partly because as teens they’re a little dopey, so their lack of foresight saves them. That’ll come back around.

And yes, also saving them is the writer. Part of the Gil Thorp style is that nobody’s really involved in serious wrongdoing. Several years ago there was a storyline about a guy selling the kids bootleg DVDs. Except, it turned out, they weren’t bootlegs. The guy got legitimate DVDs. He put them in bootleg-looking cases so his teenage customers thought they were getting away with something. It was a bizarrely sanitized minor transgression. I wondered if Rubin and Whigham were mocking someone who’d sent them a letter about what it was acceptable to portray teenagers doing. Or if they were trying to see if they could fool Luann into imitating it.

(I owe gratitude to the Comics Curmudgeon, for posting about the bootleg-DVD story in a way that I could search for the strips. I’d never have dug them up otherwise.)

So we already had a delightful story about Robby Howry’s quixotic lurch for vengeance going. What takes it up to glorious heights? The involvement of Marty Moon, of course. Moon is delighted to read of someone dishing Gil Thorp-related dirt. Howry is glad to tell Moon at length about how Coach Thorp just lost the game to Jefferson by six, or whatever. And Marty feigns understanding what Howry is going on about when he talks about these pre-measured mattress kit delivery eyeglasses who sponsor the podcast.

Thorp tries his best to ignore Howry, focusing instead on what’s bothering Filion. This goes so far as to remind the whole team about a suicide hotline number and insist they put it in their phones. Possibly overreacting (“Coach, we only lost to Jefferson by six!”) but he does insist he’d rather overreact.

It may earn him loyalty. The basketball team finds people who remember Howry. They work out that as best they can figure, yeah, he needs a swirly. They are correct, but Thorp overhears and tells them: NO. Leave him alone, you idiots. The team, thinking cleverly but stupidly, finds the loophole. They weren’t explicitly told not to go to Howry’s “Fire Gil Thorp” billboard and graffiti it. They’re foiled. Oh, sure, they thought of a great wisecrack about Tiny Tim. But none of them thought to bring a ladder. Which is lucky, since some cops show up. They notice the players look like they’re popular kids, so he lets them go with a warning and a call to the school.

At the billboard. Narrator: 'Two cars, four kids, four cans of spray paint, and ... ' One kid: 'Seriously, Andre? You didn't think to bring a ladder?' Andre: 'I thought there'd be one here.' Kid: 'Right. And maybe a cooler full of snacks marked 'For graffiti artists only'.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 30th of January, 2019. I don’t blame them for not thinking out how you get up onto a billboard. I would have guessed there’d be something built into one of the support pillars, if for no other reason to let someone caught on the sign get down safely. Anyway, the real question is, in that first panel are we looking at the front or the back end of the car with the ‘MILFORD’ license plate?

Thorp gives two-game suspensions to the participants and calls Filion in to his office. This is exactly the sort of stupid thing Filion should have done; why wasn’t he? Which is an odd tack but, yeah, I’ve known people I had to deal with that way. Filion finally opens up. With the end of high school coming, he feels like everything is ending. He doesn’t know how to handle that. Now Thorp’s able to hook him, and his parents, up with counseling. And there’s the promise that the team might play better too.

My words alone might not express how much I’ve enjoyed this plot. I’d said last week how I love when story comics get a preposterous character in them. And this is a great one. It’s the story of Robby Howry, a maybe 21-year-old guy, seeking revenge on his high school basketball coach. And going to great effort about this, starting a blog and podcast and talking daily with Marty Moon. And laying out hard cash. I don’t know how much it costs to rent two billboards for a month-plus, but boy, that’s got to run into the dozens of dollars. Add to his mission fanaticism some grand self-obliviousness. He’s confident nobody will mind his whole fake-prescription-drug-pushing thing. Not if the alternative is losing buzzer-beaters to Arapahoe High School. Probably it won’t be as grand a comeuppance as happens to Marty Moon in every Marty Moon story. But it’s so promising.

Milford Schools Watch

People sometimes wonder where Milford is. The real answer is nowhere, of course; it’s meant to be a place that could be any high school. And then mucks things up with the idiosyncratic use of “playdowns” where normal people say “playoffs”. Anyway, here’s some schools or towns named in Gil Thorp the last several months. I offer this so you can work out your own map of the Milford educational system.

  • Arapahoe
  • Central City
  • Danbury
  • Jefferson
  • Madison
  • New Thayer
  • Tilden
  • Valley Tech

Okay, “Danbury” really sounds Connecticut. But then there was the thing a couple years ago where they name-checked famous Ohio I-75 highway sign Luckey Haskins.

Next Week!

What is reliably my greatest challenge. What’s going on in Judge Parker? Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley know. I’ll try to figure it out.

What’s Going On In Rex Morgan, M.D.? Does the ham radio guy know what kind of plane this is? November 2018 – February 2019


I’m always happy to help people follow the plot in Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D.. If you’re reading this after about May 2019, there should be a more current recap at this link. Older recaps should also be at that link. And I have mathematically-themed comic strips reviewed at this link. Now, to what’s happened in late 2018 and early 2019.

Rex Morgan, M.D.

11 November 2018 – 3 February 2019.

What was happening: Delmer Robertson, childhood friend of and failed robber to Jordan Harris, has diabetes and failing kidneys. (For future reference: Jordan’s last name was given the 19th of November, 2018. I had a ridiculously hard time finding his last name. If anyone knows of a good Rex Morgan cast list please say so.) Jordan offers to donate one of his kidneys. It’s an admirable but quixotic gesture, but I’ll say later why I understand his rush to offer.

A medically better source of transplant organs is Delmer’s family. Might be socially worse, though. Delmer, out of the army, dealt with his experiences by drugs and alcohol. It’s why he tried to mug Jordan in the first place. It’s also why his attempt faceplanted so badly that Wile E Coyote winced at it. Delmer figures his family all hates him for his life-wreck. Turns out they don’t. Once they learn of Delmer’s need, they’re good with it. His brother Dalton is a good match. Dalton insists Delmer has to clean up his act. Delmer’s eager to, though. They schedule surgery quickly. Rex Morgan doesn’t do it, since you want a kidney transplant done by someone who specializes in medicine. All goes well.

A donor has been chosen from among Red's brothers. Dalton: 'So here's the deal. Seems I'm the best choice for a transplant donor.' Delmer: 'I don't know if I deserve you doing that for me. There's risks.' Dalton: 'I know all about the risks. And no, you probably don't deserve it, jerkface. But you are my brother so we're gonna do this and you're gonna accept it. One thing, though.' 'Yeah? What's that?' 'If I do this, you're gonna clean up your life. I'm not giving you a kidney so you can be a drunk, trying to mug people on the street.' 'Seems like a fair deal. If I get a new shot at life, I want to make something of it.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 25th of November, 2018. Delmer’s family was so immediately supportive of him once they heard of his circumstances that it’s a bit surprising he ever ended up screwed up in the first place. But perhaps the sharpened focus of “he needs this new kidney or will die within months” affected how much they felt able to do for him.

Jordan talks with the recovering Delmer about his own breakthrough. Jordan lost a leg while in the army. He’s spun a story about losing it in battle. He was never in battle. He was a cook, and lost it to an improvised explosive device while going to the market. He told himself he made up a heroic adventure because other people expected it. But Jordan’s ready to be honest with people about this, now. And this is why I understand his offering Delmer his kidney. It would be a way to act the hero he felt he was expected to be. They both resolve to do better with their lives.

Jordan: 'I don't know, Red. I've been telling myself I'm okay and handling these things just fine. But I can see now that I have some issues I need to deal with.' Delmer: 'Well, you saw how I handled *my* issues. Substance abuse and thievery don't seem like the best choices I could have made.' Jordan: 'They have counseling and therapy available here. I was thinking I'd sign up. How about you?'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 19th of December, 2018. So this is all pretty well settled. Not addressed in the comic: do all the males in Delmer’s family look faintly like redheaded Abraham Lincolns? Or is this just something my brain has decided to fix on?

Part of that resolution in action: Jordan and Michelle, whose last name I have not been able to track down, want to marry soon. [Edited to Add: Dawnpuppy was good enough to tell me her name. Michelle’s last name is Carter.] They’ve been engaged — I think — since before I started doing these recaps. Or I failed to log their engagement in these essays. It’ll be tough scheduling. Jordan has a restaurant opening soon. Michelle pledges she’ll do all the planning. And with the 29th of December, 2018, we leave Jordan, Michelle, Delmer, and that group, for the time being.


The current story started with the new year. Well, the 31st of December. Rex is off to a conference in Phoenix. He’s told his family it’s a medical conference, so please adjust your snarky comments to match what’s in text. On the plane he’s seated next to Brayden, portrayed by that kid from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Brayden’s unnervingly cool about the flight, including the long delay before takeoff.

Brayden: 'Hey, we're finally moving.' Pilot: 'Sorry for the delay, folks. We're now cleared for takeoff. We'll be in the air momentarily.' Brayden: 'Do you get nervous flying, Doc?' Rex Morgan: 'Just a little. I don't do it often enough to feel like it's no big deal.' (The plane takes off.) Brayden: 'Oh, there we are. Up in the air.' Rex: 'I'm sure it'll be smooth sailing from here on.' Brayden: 'I'm okay with the middle part of flying. It's just the takeoff and landing that get to me.' Rex: 'I don't think you're alone on that. But I'm sure everything will be okay.' Flight attendant, checking Brayden: 'Is everything all right here? Do either of you need anything?' Mr Cranky: 'HEY! I COULD USE A DRINK WHEN YOU'RE DONE WITH THE KID!'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 13th of January, 2019. Crankshaft looks a lot younger when he isn’t in a Tom Batiuk comic strip, but then who doesn’t?

Unnervingly not cool is another passenger. We haven’t got a proper name for him. Brayden’s called him Mr Cranky and I’ll go with that. He wants to know why he hasn’t got drink service yet. Or why he can’t go wandering around the aisles during the flight. Or why he can’t go into the bathroom right now just because someone else is in it. He’s the kind of supporting character you live for, if you read story strips. His emotions are big, bombastic, and way out of proportion to what’s going on. Yes, I know actual flights have this kind of cartoonishly hostile passenger too often. Doesn’t matter. Every story strip becomes one order of magnitude more delightful when some guest character rampages like a bull through the storyline. Big drunken guy on a flight? Excellent. The only thing better is when the rampaging-bull character’s emotions are wholly out of line with the narrative, or any credible narrative. Looking at you, past week of Mary Worth, and regretting how long it’ll be before I get back to that strip. I’m sorry the flight isn’t long enough he gets to have a fight about how he has a right to play the trombone, and where the stewardesses get off telling him this isn’t a bowling alley flight.

Brayden: 'Hard to believe a grown man would act like that guy does.' Rex: 'It's good that even at your age you know what sort of behavior is acceptable and what isn't. Brayden: 'My folks may have split up --- but they've *both* taught me a thing or two.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 23rd of January, 2019. Brayden … Brayden is actually older than me, right? That’s why he talks like this?

Extremely not cool is a long rumbling noise that starts the 25th of January. It even shakes the cartoonishly unflappable Brayden. It also shakes the plane. The flight attendants prepare for an “unscheduled landing”. They do this with the cool confidence of professionals who’ve recently reviewed the Schedule of FAA-Approved Euphemisms. Their attempts to explain the brace position for landing get interrupted by Mr Cranky. If you liked his rage at having to wait for drink service to start you’ll love how much he hates the flight ending at a ham radio shack so far out in the middle of nowhere that even The Ghost Who Walks doesn’t have a secret airbase there.

Ham radio guy, outside his shack, going 'WHOA!' as a passenger jet trailing a nasty-looking dark cloud and making a rumbling noise comes landing on the road beside him.
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 2nd of February, 2019. “That’s the third-largest RV I’ve ever seen!”

So far as I know. I wrote that bit before seeing this Sunday’s strip. We’ll see what happens. (It’s included a lot of people in the comments section complaining the airplane is no craft flown by any actual airline, and has way too much leg room. I am as bothered by this as I am by how people in movies can park downtown.) I kind of what it to involve Zippy the Pinhead berating a thing by the roadside.

Next Week!

What well-intentioned but dumb scheme did the kids in Milford get up to? What well-intentioned but dumb scheme did the kids in Milford get up to after that will-intentioned but dumb scheme? Is Marty Moon going to be set up to be a laughingstock? What blogger is hilariously overestimating how interested people are in second-guessing Gil Thorp’s decision-making process? Wait. I … Um. Well, I should be back on Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp in seven days.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Sundays)? Where in Africa is Bangalla? November 2018 – January 2019.


If you’re here to catch up on Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom, Sunday continuity, good. If it’s past April 2019, a more current plot summary should be at this link. The link contains both the Sunday and the separate weekday continuities. But you’ll figure it out. And you may be able to use PhantomWiki, a guide to just what you’d think. I keep going back to check stuff on it myself.

And if you’re here to see where the mathematically-themed comic strips are, the answer is over on my other blog. Glad to have you read a couple of paragraphs about such comic strips as Alley Oop, Ask A Cat, and Six Chix.

The Phantom (Sundays).

4 November 2018 – 27 January 2019.

I teased last week the question of how that whole The Rat dying project was coming along. By the time of my last plot update, he had died, yes. The last bit of business was his funeral. The Phantom stole The Rat’s corpse from Boomsby Prison. He was buried instead in The Phantom’s Vault of Missing Men. The Phantom had felt bad about all those times he told The Rat he was going back to Boomsby after all. Also Skull Cave has a private mausoleum for people who’re Phantom-connected. I bet you Bruce Wayne never considered whether the Batcave needed one of those.


The 18th began the new, and current, Sunday adventure, The Little Detective Who Disappeared. PhantomWiki lists it as the 187th Sunday story. It starts with a B-29 crew landing in a remote jungle airfield. Jungle Patrol is there, to take the three-man crew into custody. Evacuating just ahead of them: The Phantom — the Unknown Commander of the Jungle Patrol — along with his wolf Devil, and a girl. The Phantom brings the girl back to her home in a Xananga village. (The Xananga are a tribe in the Elephant Valley of Bangalla. If PhantomWiki hasn’t missed something this is their first appearance in the strip since 1991.)

[Homecoming. A heroine thought to be lost forever.] Phantom, riding his horse with The Little Detective alongside, through a town square packed with celebrating people; he progresses through an afternoon and evening of celebrations. He thinks: 'A great people, thee Xananga. This girl has the grit of the Xananga leaders my ancestors encountered over the centuries. This celebration will go on for days. I'll slip away tonight ... home to the deep woods.'
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 23rd of December, 2018. The easy joke to make is that I share The Phantom’s feelings here, about sneaking out of a party long before it’s over. But that’s got no truth in it. It’s hard rousing me to go out and do a thing, yes. But once I’m there? I’ll stick around until the event’s over, and then put in another half-hour, and then when it’s gotten awkward that I haven’t left yet, will wait for some clear sign that it’s been too long. Ideally, this will involve my hosts apologizing but it has been four days now and they had promised to go do some other party, to which I wasn’t invited, correctly.

That done, The Phantom returns to Skull Cave to tell his wife and Guran and also the audience about what just happened. In flashback it tells of The Little Detective, who’d followed strange noises. And disappeared, to her family’s distress. What she found was wildlife poachers, emboldened by Mark Trail’s long sojourn in Mexico. She was examining the crates in the airplane’s hold — including grey parrots being stolen from Bangalla — when the cargo door closed and the plane took off.

Phantom, recounting: 'With the plane loaded and fueled our Little Detective made a bold move! [She found] grey parrots from Bangalla, pangolins from Asia ... a dozen species inhumanely created for transport. She was about to run for home when [ the door slams shut ]. The crew climbed into the forward compartment. [ The plane takes off. ] Our Little Detective was airborne! For destinations unknown!'
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 13th of January, 2019. That African grey parrots can be found in Bangalla suggests the place would be near equatorial Africa, on the western side. (But I’m aware the country’s location has been vaguely defined, and sometimes redefined, over the strip’s history.) Anyway, the important thing is: pangolins. Aren’t they great? We should be ashamed what we’re doing to them.

The smugglers’ plan: use the B-29 as a show plane, moving across borders with little scrutiny. Vintage trucks and cargo crates were treated as props, and accepted as such by customs officials. Meanwhile the Little Detective, stowaway, found some projects and kept busy. She’d swipe food from the crew, encouraging them to fight each other. She’d drop notes to bystanders at air shows. She’d … I don’t know from there. That development brings the story to the 27th of January. Shall have to follow up in a few months, when we’ve seen more of what The Little Detective did.

I’ve read comments skeptical that this airplane-show-smuggling scheme could work. It seems to depend on a particular laxity or incompetence on the parts of customs officers. My readings of how security-state organizations work leads to to believe they run at about 49% adequate, 51% fiasco, with occasional flutterings one way or the other that make it into true-crime podcasts. So I wouldn’t expect every customs official to ignore cargo being carried by a show plane. But I can absolutely buy an organization that manages to make themselves look boring enough to avoid close scrutiny by un-corrupted officials, at least for a while. I also understand people who figure that of course customs and immigration works like it’s supposed to. Anyway, it’s a story; we can suppose the bad guys are clever enough to out-think the obvious problems. It’s whether they should also be clever enough to out-think the protagonist that’s where credibility can be strained.

Next Week!

Would-be clumsy mugger Delmer Robertson has reconnected with his old pal and comic strip regular Jordan. But it’s just in time to learn he needs a new kidney. But where will we find anyone who can do something medical? I’ll check back in seven days with the plot recap of Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D.

What’s Going On In Mary Worth? Is That Student Really Infatuated With Professor Ian? October 2018 – January 2019


If you’re looking for the latest plot recaps for Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth, you may want to check this link. If you’re reading this before about April 2019 I probably don’t have a more up-to-date post. But this essay just gets you up to speed for mid-January 2019.

Also, each week I look at mathematically-themed comic strips, in another blog, with a very similar name.

Mary Worth.

28 October 2018 – 19 January 2019

I was furious with Mary Worth last time I recapped its plot. This is just like any reasonable person who has strong emotions about Mary Worth. Saul Wynter, local curmudgeon, was grieving the loss of his beloved dog after 17 years of companionship. Mary Worth decided he’d had enough of that. She dragged him to the Animal Shelter and shoved a dog into his arms with orders to be happy now OR ELSE.

Wynter complies, though. He sees something in Greta, a dachshund who shows signs of past trauma. Greta sees something in him. He takes her home. Greta’s shy at first. But Wynter’s patient, and supporting, and repeats Worthian platitudes about living life sad afraid and grumpy. She recommends not doing that. And Greta sees he’s already bought a food dish with her name on it.

Saul Wynter, speaking to his dog Greta: 'I hope you know that I'm one of the good guys. This is unfamiliar territory for both of us! You're not Bella, but I'm glad you're here. You'll get to know me *and* your knew home. And you'll see that you don't need to e sad or afraid anymore. Greta, lifes' too short to be sad or afraid ... or grumpy.'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 11th of November, 2018. I do know that look of hesitant distrust in Greta’s eyes, there. My love’s parents have a dog who has been afraid of, among other things, how the bowl holding some table scraps was just too large.

So they get along, and pretty well. In a couple days Wynter’s going out again, introducing Greta to everyone, and smiling contagiously. It’s a sweet moment. It’s a touch odd: when the story started and he had the dog he’d loved for seventeen years, he was also a grouch. But I suppose everyone does sometimes fall into habits, even grumpy ones without realizing they’re doing it. Well, here’s hoping we can all get to a better place, but may it be through smaller traumas.


The 19th of November started a corollary story. And a great one. Wynter’s story infuriated me with its clumsy-to-offensive handling of pet death. This follow-up, though, was almost uncut, gleeful hilarity.

Mary gets a call from Animal Shelter. They need a foster home for one of their cats. Libby is a one-eyed cat with an appealing scruffy look. I’m surprised she wasn’t adopted already. Mary agrees to foster Libby. This leads to a great string of scenes where Libby goes about cat business, and Mary is put out in delightful ways. We don’t often see Mary Worth coming up against someone she can’t meddle into compliance with her view of life’s order. Pets are great. But you can’t have pets if you aren’t emotionally ready, at all times, to have any day transformed into “emergency vet visit because the animal was sitting in the living room surrounded by a three-foot-wide annulus of poop”.

Mary Worth, thinking: 'Time to check my e-mail.' The cat is sprawled across her laptop, with her one eye wide open. Slight blep.
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 27th of November, 2018. Second panel: “Hello, ladieeeeeeeez.”

We get a twist when Doctor Jeff visits for dinner. It turns out he’s explosively allergic to cats. He has to flee the apartment in minutes. It puts Mary in a quandary. She adopted Jeff years ago; it’s not fair to turn the old pet out in favor of the new. Good news, though. It turns out they had another Old Woman character in stock. Estelle likes the one-eyed Libby, and is very optimistic about being able to take care of a cat for the first time in her life. Libby goes off with Estelle. Both return to the primordial xylem of supporting cast members, and Mary reflects on trading the cat for Jeff after all.

Mary: 'It's a relief that you'll be able to visit me at my place and enjoy my meals again!' Jeff: 'I do love your cooking. And I do love you.'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 13th of December, 2018. That is definitely Mary looking very nearly in Jeff’s direction with very nearly a feeling as he kisses her temporomandibular joint!

The 17th of December started a new, and the current, story. It’s about the marriage of Toby and Professor Ian. And starts, promisingly, with Toby telling Mary about how great it is that she and Ian have a nice boring marriage. With the benefit of separate day lives. Mary suggests, you know, they could try a cruise ship or something to spice things up. Toby chuckles about how not even God could sink this ‘ship.

So, Ian teaches Shakespeare over at Local Collage. Jannie, a student, comes up after class to talk about how inspirational he is. How he has a great theater voice. How impressive his knowledge is. How she wants to bask in the glow of his brilliance. Toby snorts at how some students will do anything to butter up their instructors. Ian doesn’t see any reason he might not just be “nut-rageously amazementballs”, as he desperately imagines the kids say.

Jannie: 'Just doing your job? You INSPIRE me, Professor Cameron!' Ian: 'Then I'm doing an ADMIRABLE job! It's the hope of every educator to spark that fire of learning in his students! To make a difference!' Jannie: 'Oh, you do *more* than that ... '
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 28th of December, 2018. So, I haven’t taught anything in a couple years. I don’t remember even the students who were enthusiastic about my mathematics instruction being remotely this appreciative of learning any prosthaphaeretic rule. (Prosthaphaeretic rules are ways to do calculations by way of trigonometric functions. This made sense, back in the days we didn’t have calculators but did have tables of since and cosines and stuff.)

Ian is so convinced that Jannie is not buttering him up that he doesn’t even ask why their semester runs across Christmas and New Year’s. (I know this sounds like me not giving them the dramatic license to show events that happen out of synch with the reader’s time. But the strip does pause to explicitly say it’s New Year’s Eve, right in the middle of the plot. Yes, I know there are colleges on trimester systems that have classes running across New Year’s. I’m sticking to my joke.) Why, he asserts, she really and truly likes him. This inspires jealousy in Toby, and fears that she might lose her husband to this undergraduate. She sends up the Mary Signal.

Mary gives Toby some good advice: tell him she’s concerned about this relationship. Toby dismisses this, because she doesn’t want to seem “clingy”. Well, what kind of relationship survives honest talk about the important stuff? Mary asks how she knows that Jannie actually has feelings for Ian. He might be misunderstanding things. Toby can imagine only one reason someone might say her husband “[stands] out as an educated man among Neanderthals”. All Toby will commit to doing is twisting in uncertain agony.

Jannie: 'I don' *need* to *study* for Professor Cameron's class.' She thinks, 'I've charmed him into giving me an easy A'. Michael: 'Don't be fooled by the A he initially gave everyone! I heard he goes easy on his students at first, but expects them to deliver!' Jannie, thinking: 'Maybe you ... but not me!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 16th of January, 2019. Anyone who’s taught knows the wisdom of starting your class looking like you’re a creampuff and then getting harder and harder until finally, just before the student evaluations come up, you’re failing 95 percent of the class.

Which all tees up some funny ironies. First, Ian isn’t wavering in his commitment to Toby. As best we can tell, he’s never considered that this should ever be more than listening to how awesome he is. He’s certainly never considered campus policy about appropriate instructor-student relationships, anyway. Second point, Jannie is just buttering him up. We learn this week that she’s figuring a hefty load of flattery will help her ace the rest of the course. And to complete a fun bit of frustrated-or-false crushes, this week we met Michael. Michael is one of her fellow young people. He seems interested in her and her exotic style of vaping though a six-inch countersunk-head nail. She’s too busy chuckling over how she’s out-thought Professor Ian to care about mere classmates.

And that’s where things stand this weekend.

Dubiously Sourced Quotes of Mary Worth Sunday Panels!

[ Back to GRIFFY, on his quest --- he enters the MARY WORTH strip! ] Jeff, on the phone: 'What should I do? There's this oddly drawn guy here, looking for a missing girl!' Griffy: 'I need so see Mary!' [ Soon ] Griffy: 'Morning, Ms worth! I'm from th' Zippy comic! Can we talk?' Mary Worth: 'Young man, you need help, all right. Th'kind only a MENTAL HEALTH professional can provide!' (Griffy, thinking) 'Uh-oh! I'm frozen in place and unable to speak under th'withering gaze of Mary Worth!!'
Bill Griffith’s Zippy the Pinhead for the 19th of August, 2002. The auto care place has not updated their sign since last time I recapped Mary Worth. Please enjoy these not-at-all despairing messages instead.
  • “The strongest principle of growth lies in the human choice.” — George Eliot, 28 October 2018.
  • “Dogs do speak, but only to those who know how to listen.” — Orhan Pamuk, 4 November 2018.
  • “Change is the end result of all true learning.” — Leo Buscaglia, 11 November 2018.
  • “In the midst of winter, I found there was in me an invincible summer.” — Albert Camus, 18 November 2018.
  • “Time spent with cats is never wasted.” — Sigmund Freud, 25 November 2018.
  • “Be miserable. Or motivate yourself. Whatever has to be done, it’s always your choice.” — Wayne Dyer, 2 December 2018.
  • “What greater gift than the love of a cat.” — Charles Dickens, 9 December 2018.
  • “We do not remember days, we remember moments.” — Cesare Pavese, 16 December 2018.
  • “Flattery is like chewing gum. Enjoy it, but don’t swallow it.” — Hank Ketcham, 23 December 2018.
  • “I will praise any man that will praise me.” — William Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra, 30 December 2018.
  • “To catch a husband is an art; to hold him is a job.” — Simone de Beauvoir, 6 January 2019.
  • “Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorry, it only saps today of its joy.” — Leo Buscaglia (again!), 13 January 2019.
  • “I was a disinterested student.” — David Fincher, 20 January 2019.

Next Week!

So … uh … the Rat? Did he Must Die yet? Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom, Sunday continuity, gets summarized in a week, barring surprises.

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? Who Are These Guys Mark Trail Is Punching? October 2018 – January 2019


If you’re trying to understand the current storyline in James Allen’s Mark Trail, this is a good piece to read. Unless it’s later than about April 2019. If it is, I’ll probably have a more up-to-date plot recap here. Good luck finding what you need.

If you need discussions of mathematically-themed comic strips, you can find some on my other blog, and I’d be glad if you tried them out too.

Mark Trail.

21 October 2018 – 13 January 2019.

My last check-in on Mark Trail had almost no Mark in it. Instead, Rusty Trail and Mara, a girl he met on the plane down to Mexico, took the lead. Rusty and Mara noticed assistant archeologist Becky was passing artefacts to someone who didn’t look like he was a museum. They follow the man, Juanito, to the nearby town of Santa Poco. There he explains to them he’s a courier, but they’re welcome to come with him since this isn’t a great part of town.

Narration: As Rusty and Mara try to catch up to Juanito, Raul has taken to the rooftops in order to locate them. (A toucan flies up toward Raul.) Raul, thinking: 'Me, on a rooftap, looking for two brat kids ... this is NOT how I would've imagined my life would turn out!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 19th of November, 2018. You forget how weird the theme song to Friends gets in the third verse. But that’s what you get for going back and listening to the “full” version of any TV show’s theme songs. They’re all either nervous repetitions of whatever the part that came on-screen was, or they’re weird riffs on the TV show lyrics that have maybe aged in unfortunate ways. Looking at you, Cheers.

Pursuing Juanito, Rusty, and Mara, is a motorcycle-riding, long-haired guy named Raul. Raul has some connection to Joe/José. José’s been truck-driving for the archeologists. And also watching all this artefact-passing. And making suspicious-sounding CB radio calls to Raul. So when we left off we were looking at a motorcycle-fueled chase in the bad parts of Santa Poco. Rusty and Mara were in the company of a man of unknown-to-us objectives. And they were pursued by men of unknown-to-us objectives. A bit confusing, yes, but the last several months of strip have given some clarity to who’s trying to do what and why.

Rusty and Mara run down an alley. Raul calls out, claiming to be a friend of Mark Trail’s. They don’t buy it, and find a lucky hole in the wall to dig through. Raul calls José, asking him to call Mark back into the story. He’ll chase the kids. And warns he’s going to leave his bike “in this nasty alley with rats … big rats!” It’s a declaration so intense I feel like it’s got to refer to something, but I don’t know what. José does call Mark, promising to explain everything when he gets there.

Mark: 'You don't think anything strange about Jose?' Carter: 'Well, now that you mention it, he seems more highly educated than most of the guys that grew up here in the jungle like he claims, but I think he did mention going away to school somewhere!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 27th of November, 2018. “I suppose I do occasionally think about if José were a robot made of Moon Cheese and whether he’d still like me if he were, and whether that answer would depend on whether he were a hard or a soft Moon Cheese robot. That’s kind of a strange thought about José, but … I mean, why do you wonder, Mark Trail?”

Mark asks senior archeologist Howard Carter (get it?) if there’s something funny about José. This allows us to enter into the plot that José seems “more complicated” than they expect from their truck driver. But they allow that he seems more educated than the average person around town. Mark figures, what the heck, let’s see what’s going on.

Raul, on the rooftops, takes time from yelling at toucans to notice them. He misses one leap from rooftop to rooftop, and falls through a skylight. He lands on the supper table of a couple who take a man falling through their roof in distractingly good spirits. They listen to his story of chasing someone around town all day. They offer him some landed-on empanadas. And they let him throw a lamp through the window to get out because the door was in the wrong direction? He leaves them money for the damages, at least.

Raul: 'Something smells delicious!' Scared Man: 'That's my wife's cooking ... you landed in it! All of her food is delicious!' Raul: 'I certainly believe that from the smell!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 7th of December, 2018. So I’m no good at small talk. If I had just fallen through someone’s skylight and smashed onto their dinner table, flattening their supper, I would never think to talk about the pleasantness of that room’s odors.

It’s a bizarre interaction. What it read like was a comic beat in a genially dopey mid-80s movie that’s trying to be Romancing The Stone. You know, about forty minutes in, and the protagonist finally realized he has to do something about the people who stole the necklace that woman stuffed in his carry-on, and he pratfalled out of his chase, and now the director’s mother who’s thrilled to be in a movie is cleaning him up. It may be James Allen was going for that effect.

Scared Woman: 'I'm sorry to hear that [ you've been chasing someone all day ]. Take some empanadas and some churros with you. Maybe they'll pick you up some, and you won't look or feel so tired when you finally catch whoever you're looking for!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 11th of December, 2018. And see again, if some strange man crashed through my ceiling and landed on my supper table, and shared with me a story about how frustrated he was chasing someone through the city all day, I wouldn’t think to talk about how my cooking might be a useful pick-me-up. This is because I am deeply incompetent at promoting my brand.

Rusty and Mara figure they’ve escaped Raul. They figure to find Juanito by using the tracking app on the phone they dropped in his backpack. Juanito’s not looking for them. He’s delivering Becky’s artefacts to some silhouetted figures. They chuckle about how the collectors buying smuggled artefacts will give them a nice Christmas bonus. The chuckling happens right before Christmas, reader time. It makes an odd bit of time-binding for the story, though. Story strips are vulnerable to some weird time dilations. Like, this story, which has run since April, has been only a couple of days for the characters.

Anyway, the boss, Boss, and his underling Jefe, are barely done giggling about this when the phone rings. It’s Rusty’s Mom calling. Boss, Jefe, and Juanito realize they’re in a lot of trouble when Cherry Trail addresses them by full name including their middle names. Raul curses Rusty and Mara for following the tracking app right into Juanito’s boss’s lair. He figures it’s time to call José.

A phone inside the backpack rings. Boss: 'Juanito, you know how I feel about cellphones in here!' Juanito: 'That's not my phone ... I turned mine off!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 21st of December, 2018. “We have talked about this! Cell phones are pleasant. But it is their nature to spoil people’s abilities to be fully present. Instead of experiencing as a coherent whole what you are doing in person, or what you are doing with your online community, you experience this shadowy, half-dreaming state. You feel alive, because you’re twitching in response to interruptions. It’s thrilling, but it doesn’t satisfy your need as a social being to participate in things. You’d do better to set time to be wholly present in person, or wholly present online, and experience the healing action of emotional and mental continuity.”

José meanwhile is talking with Mark Trail, and Professor Carter. He’s finally collapsing the quantum waveform of sides and motivations of this story. José’s an undercover cop, which according to the rules of Mark Trail puts him on the side of Good. He’s been undercover, investigating Becky for smuggling archeology. Rusty and Mara saw one of their agents at the temple. They pulled that agent back, and sent in Raul to intercept the kids. So yes, Raul may have spent months in the story grumbling about Rusty and Mara, and thinking of them as “those brats”. But he’s not a bad guy, he just doesn’t feel as though he has to like two kids he doesn’t know and who’ve been making his life harder. It’s a step toward more real characters in Mark Trail. It means someone can be on the Good side without liking the lead characters.

Now they know where the kids are, but also that Boss, Jefe, and Juanito are there too. So they figure, better to bring along Mark Trail, in case somebody needs punching.

And boy do they ever need punching. Mark recognizes Boss and Jefe. They were in a story in early 2016, from just before I started recapping plots regularly. Back then Boss and Jefe were smuggling humans into the southwestern United States. It partly showed off the ecological consequences of this. And partly got Mark Trail and company caught in an endless yet fascinating series of caves. That storyline left the human-traffickers’ fates unresolved. That alone was a major change from the linear, self-contained stories of Jack Elrod.

Mark, furious: 'You tried to kill me and my friends by dynamiting us in a cave ... then you left us for dead!' (He punches Boss, in a dramatic scene where Boss, upside-down, flies at the camera with Mark finishing his punch, tiny, in the centerbackground.) 'WHERE IS MY SON!?'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 12th of January, 2019. I’m aware that many of the strips I excerpted here weren’t that visually exciting: a lot of tight shots of people’s faces. Well, the first panel brightens things up by showing Mark Trail making the eye expression that Michael Dorn had to use whenever Worf felt an emotion. And that second panel is a solid “Yeah, so this is why we started reading Marvel Comics in the 60s” image.

And I know, you’re wondering: wait, they’re trafficking humans and they’re smuggling pre-Mayan artefacts? Aren’t those separate lines of work? All I can say is that the gig economy is becoming more respectable, and there’s now ways for everyone in the underworld to pick up a side hustle. Boss and Jefe signed up early for Smuglr. It’s the crime-sharing app that’s disrupting the traditional black markets by cutting out the hench-middle-men. And it’s one I’m happy to welcome as the newest advertiser on my podcast.

One might ask how a reader should recognize these guys. They were a small presence a couple of years ago and in a very different context. But, hey, Funky Winkerbean expects readers will thrill to recognize names from the supporting cast of John Darling. And that’s not weird at all. So I don’t know what to tell you. Well, Mark’s filling everyone in.

And finally, after several stories of nothing more exciting than islands blowing up, Mark Trail is punching baddies. This probably indicates that the story is coming near an end. It’s been a big one; it started back in April. All the major narrative questions are answered, or looking nearly answered. There have been a couple stray bits. But I’m going ahead and supposing any weirdly specific detail never mentioned again is a reference to something I haven’t seen. I’m thinking of the Zuni fetish doll delivered anonymously in a box and that gets moved during the day. I’m sure that means something.

I just know I’m going to have to re-use the follow-up question for this plot summary. But, what the heck. It’s the question that people reading this essay would want answered.

[ And tracks down 'Mark Trail' ] Griffy: 'No, she doesn't have an ear tag or a tufted forelock.' Mark Trail: 'Sorry, Chief --- if she's not tagged or tufted, I can't help you!'
Bill Griffith’s Zippy the Pinhead panel for the 20th of August, 2002. Part of a storyline in which a “realistically drawn woman” interrupts the comic and Griffy (left) goes on a search through the story comics to try to find where she belongs.

Sunday Animals Watch

What amazing yet endangered animals, plants, or natural phenomenon have been highlighted in recent Sunday strips? These.

  • Parsnips, 21 October 2018. Apparently they can doom you!
  • Tegu Lizards, 28 October 2018. We’ve gotten them to be invasive to Florida, so, good work everyone.
  • Giant Silk Moth, 4 November 2018. They seem to be doing all right for themselves.
  • Japanese macaques, 11 November 2018. Not actually threatened, which seems to break the rules for non-human primates.
  • Naked Mole Rats, 18 November 2018. You just know they’re going to make Rufus some other species for the live-action movie.
  • Hammerhead sharks, 25 November 2018.
  • Green Crabs, 2 December 2018. They’re going invasive, but they’ve inspired one area of Italy to try making them dinner, so that’s something I suppose.
  • Wondiwoi Tree Kangaroos, 9 December 2018. So for 85 years westerners only knew of it from one sample, but last year British naturalist Michael Smith took some photos of one, so, they’re probably not doing well but they’re not actually extinct yet?
  • The Jacuzzi of Despair, 16 December 2018. It’s a 100-foot wide zone, three thousand feet deep in the Gulf of Mexico, that’s too briney for anything to live, which is neat and weird and unsettling.
  • Frankincense, 23 December 2018. It’s not just for making Christmastime jokes about Frankincense’s Monster anymore!
  • Manatees, 30 December 2018. Incredibly endangered despite being crazy popular.
  • White Lions, 6 January 2019. Unbelievably endangered. This one mentions particularly a sterile white lion in danger of being auctioned off, possibly to canned-hunters.
  • The Lowland Bongo, 13 January 2019. Not threatened yet, but the year is young.

Next Week!

I spent so much of 2018 infuriated with Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth. Did I spend the end of 2018 and the start of 2019 similarly angry? Check back in next week and we’ll see!

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? What happened for the Gasoline Alley centennial? October 2018 – January 2019


Thanks for checking in on Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley, now into its second century. If you’re reading this far in the future of January 2019, there’s probably a more up-to-date plot recap at this link.

And yes, Joey Alison Sayers and Jonathan Lemon take over Alley Oop with their first strip slated to run tomorrow. I’ll write about it if and when appropriate. The last of the Jack Bender and Carole Bender reruns offers a cliffhanger, Ooola facing a sabre-toothed tiger, that started off a new story when this first ran in 2013, but I don’t know whether Sayers and Lemon will want to take up this hook.

Last, I talk about mathematically-themed comic strips over here. Yes, Andertoons will appear soon.

Gasoline Alley.

14 October 2018 – 5 January 2019.

When I recapped the plots in mid-October, Gasoline Alley was in the Old Comics Home. This is a fantastical place, filled with the characters from mostly long-gone comic strips. They were holding a celebration of Gasoline Alley‘s centennial, starting ahead of time. Mutt, of Mutt and Jeff, was emcee.

Gump: 'At his worst, my cartoonist could draw better than yours, Mutt!' Mutt: 'Your guy couldn't draw his breath, and you know it, Andy!' Gump: 'If he was doing this strip, you'd regret it!' Mutt: 'If my guy was doing this strip --- you wouldn't be!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 30th of October, 2018. This kind of exchange — possibly this exact exchange, mutatis mutandis — would appear when Jack Benny or Fred Allen visited the other’s show and groused about who was getting the better lines of dialogue. That feels to me like a sufficient reason for Scancarelli to write this joke, and maybe to set up a whole Mutt-Gump feud. … Also, while Mutt doesn’t really have anybody drawing him anymore, he has appeared often enough in Scancarelli’s visits to the Old Comics Home that he feels, to me, at least part-time adopted by Gasoline Alley in a way that the Gumps don’t. So it reads to me weird they’re writing this as if it were neutral ground.

October saw Mutt and Walt Wallet explaining early events in Skeezix’s life. The mail-in contest that got his unused name of Allison. The hiring of caretaker Rachel. The adoption of a pet dog and a cat. The question of whether Mutt looks like Andy Gump. You know, of the hit 1920s serial melodrama comic The Gumps. There is some resemblance. Maybe Gumps cartoonist Sidney Smith did take a few elements from Bud Fisher’s Mutt and Jeff. Maybe it was quite hep in the 1920s to joke about Andy Gump being a clone of Augustus Mutt. (I mean, even their names are similar.) I never heard of such, though. It seems like a weird diversion for Gasoline Alley‘s centennial.

But this is an example of a thread in Gasoline Alley’s centennial celebration. Jim Scancarelli would fill out the panels, and the storyline, with comic strip characters from the long-ago days. And I would disappoint Roy Kassinger. I’d have to admit I don’t recognize any of the characters from Dok’s Dippy Duck. And I only know the figures everyone recognizes from Fontaine Fox’s Toonerville Trolley. I know what everyone says about reading the comments. But GoComics.com has a good community of people who can pin down character cameos. It’s worth checking the full comments if you see a figure that’s got to be from something and don’t know what.

Mutt: 'Skeezix! You were really in the thick of things during WWII!' Skeezix, narrating: 'Yeah! One night we were on our way in Jenny the Jeep from repairing a Howitzer, when ... ' (And showing recreated footage of Skeezix and partners in the jeep, and a nearby explosion overturning the jeep and throwing them on teh ground.)
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 12th of November, 2018. The redrawings of old strips does underscore, besides Scancarelli’s abilities, just how much more action there used to be even in the non-adventure story comics. I’m not asserting that I want, say, Mary Worth to go to a war-torn site. But some adventure and action does give a strip suspense, and a reason to look forward to the next day’s installment that isn’t (say) about rolling your eyes at Tom Batiuk.

Gump and Mutt come close to a fight, and then write the whole thing off as an orchestrated joke. This doesn’t actually make sense — it was set off by a chance comment by Walt Wallet — but who cares? Everyone gets back to highlights of Gasoline Alley‘s history. Like the time, after Walt Wallet and Phyllis married, when they found another abandoned baby, this time a girl dubbed Judy. Before we can start asking what kind of reputation the Wallets were getting the story advances to World War II. Recapped here — surely not coincidentally the week of Armistice Day — was Skeezix’s wounding in World War II. We see only a few moments of it. It’s easy to imagine the suspense of the events.

And then another interruption from an ancient comic strip character. This time it’s Snuffy Smith, pointing out how the comic strip he took over from Barney Google is about to turn 100. Where’s his celebration? This befuddles Mutt. Smith, ornery in a way he hasn’t been in his own comic strip in decades, starts a grand custard-pie fight. And this silliness is what’s going on when the strip takes a moment the 24th of November, 2018, to observe its centennial. With a strip that got used for the 90th anniversary, a choice which logic I’m still not sure about.

A strip commemorating Gasoline Alley's 100th Anniversary, showing the hand of Jim Scancarelli doing realistic illustrations of past Gasoline Alley cartoonists Frank King, Bill Perry, and Dick Moores.
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 24th of November, 2018. For the next day, the Sunday strip, Scacarelli drew an ornate ‘100’ figure, with insets of the signs ‘100 Years on One Tank of Gasoline Alley’, Benjamin Franklin congratulating Walt on his century mark, and Walt answering, “I’d say the same to you, Ben, but no one will get it”, while holding up a $100 bill. Which might be overexplaining the joke, but is probably about the right amount of explanation so that a bright eight-year-old poring over the strip would get it and feel smart, which is one of the things comic strips should do.

Despite the intervention of Fearless Fosdick the custard pie battle rages. Walt Wallet and Skeezix decide to leave. This again passes up the chance to let Walt die of old age or prevent noodges like me pointing out the man is three years older than the Ford Motor Company. Or, for that matter, seven years older than the comic strip Mutt and Jeff. All right. They return their custard-stained tuxedos to sales clerk Frank Nelson. (Who’s working, I noticed this time, at Tuxedo Junction, a name I imagine is a reference to the Glenn Miller song.) So there’s the indignities of dealing with him. And a total $400 cleaning bill. And, on top of that, a parking ticket.

Skeezix: 'I am so sorry! I put my parking ticket in by mistake!' Sidewalk Santa: 'We all make mistakes!' Skeezix: 'Here! I'll trade you this for my ticket!' Sidewalk Santa: 'A $20 bill? May your kindness never be obliterated!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 19th of December, 2018. I don’t know whether this is a Santa figure who’s appeared in the strip in past years; I wouldn’t be surprised if it were. I also wouldn’t be surprised if the figure appeared in one of those storylines with the punch line of “wait, if that was just a sidewalk volunteer then why do we hear reindeer hooves on the roof?”.

The parking ticket — received the 15th of December — starts the segue into what looks like the new storyline. Skeezix, grousing about the ticket, accidentally drops it in a street Santa’s donation box. Skeezix swaps that out for a $20, and then grumbles about giving away money he needed. And then finds on the sidewalk enough cash to pay his ticket, affirming the sidewalk Santa’s claim about how God will be generous to the generous.

Skeezix heads to City Hall, where he runs into Rufus, of the Joel-and-Rufus pair. Rufus we last saw in November 2017, before the strip went into unexplained reruns. That was a story about him courting the Widow Emma Sue and Scruffy’s Mom. She probably had a name of her own. But she was also pursued by Elam Jackson. Rufus was heartbroken by Jackson proposing marriage. But he had just learned The Widow had turned Jackson down. That’s not resumed, or even mentioned, here. It’s the first chance to, though. This is the first story since the stretch of reruns that wasn’t about the centennial.

Rufus: 'Miz Melba! 'Scuse me for protruding! But after I dumps yo' trash, I ... would yo' join me in a cup o'coffee?' Melba Rose: 'Rufus! Don't be silly! We couldn't fit in a cup, separately or together!' (She has a thought balloon of the two of them inside a giant coffee cup.)
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 4th of January, 2019. I think the good mayor is overlooking some fine coffee- and tea-cup rides still present at many amusement parks. Just saying.

Rufus is working as janitor. He’s smitten with the Mayor, Melba Rose. He asks if she’d join him in a cup of coffee. She answers that the two of them wouldn’t fit, indicating that the mayor is either Gracie Allen or Commander Data. While I have my suspicions what sort of character she’ll be, I don’t actually know yet. And I don’t know whether the earlier storyline, abandoned but at a natural stopping point, will get mentioned.

The whole centennial celebration leaves me, as ever, with mixed feelings. The device is a good one. And it’s one appropriate to the comic, playing as it does on Scancarelli’s love of older comedy. And on the Old Comics Home that’s been one of the comic’s recurring scenes for ages now. And reviewing the strip’s history is a great use of the premise. And the conceit that the audience is every comic strip character ever is also great. Plain old recaps of plot developments are boring. Breaking them up with jokes or slapstick or cameos from other characters allows for good pacing. Also for Scancarelli to show off that he can draw every comic strip character in history. (I know, I know, he’d pick ones his style made convenient, or practice ones he absolutely needed until he got three panels’ worth of good art. But it’s a good stage illusion of omnicompetence.)

But the execution fell short. What actually got recapped? That the strip started out as a couple guys trying to make cars work. That Walt found and adopted Skeezix in an event that got nationwide publicity. Then some weirdly fine-detailed things like how Walt hired a housekeeper, or how they adopted some pets. Later, World War II happened. And that’s it. Time that could have outlined the Wallet family tree went instead to real-life centenarian Gasoline Alley fan Peggy Lee. Or to how Mutt, who’s appeared outside of Gasoline Alley as recently as the Reagan Recession, looks like Andy Gump, whose strip ended the 17th of October, 1959. That’s literally so long ago that Linus Van Pelt had not yet said the words “Great Pumpkin”. It’s fair to suppose someone reading in detail about Gasoline Alley‘s centennial is interested in comic strip history, yes. But it’s fair to expect the story to be about Gasoline Alley. The in-universe story, yes. Maybe reappearances from Gasoline Alley characters who have died or wandered, unexplained, out of the comic. Maybe something about Frank King, its originator. Or about Bill Perry, Dick Moores, and Jim Scancarelli, who’ve written and drawn the strip and who don’t get so much attention. A storyline that’s gone from July through December, and that has a goal of one task, shouldn’t feel like it wasn’t enough time. But it does feel like the centennial didn’t get some important things done. Maybe the bicentennial strip will summarize everything better. We’ll check back in in 2119.

Next Week!

Mexico! Mysterious artefacts in the Yucatan! The strange and wonderful wildlife of Central America that we somehow haven’t killed yet! Yes, this storyline is still going on in James Allen’s Mark Trail, but never fear! I’ll catch you up!

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? What is a “Neighborhood Bank” Scam? October – December 2018


If you’re looking for a recap of the plot of Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy, good news! This is a useful spot for that. If you’re reading this after about March 2019 there’s probably a more up-to-date recap. It’ll be at this link.

And while I missed my deadline today, it was for the mathematically-themed comic strips I review at my other blog. But there are many essays in there already, and I hope there’ll be another there tomorrow. You might enjoy that too. Thanks.

Dick Tracy.

7 October – 29 December 2018.

The major storyline when I last checked in regarded Polar Vortex. He’s running drugs, under guise of an ice cream vendor, at Honeymoon Tracy’s school. Henchman Pauly, following Vortex’s direction, grabs Crystal Bribery. And, against Vortex’s direction, also grabs Honeymoon Tracy. And, probably against Vortex’s direction, clobbers Henchwoman “Devil” Devonshire. She’s left behind, for the cops. She stays quiet until threatened with hanging out with new Major Crimes Unit smiley guy Lafayette Austin.

Polar Vortex: 'You're back, Pauly! Did you get the Bribery girl?' Pauly: 'Yes, and the Moon kid too.' Vortex: 'Why, Pauly? I told you I didn't want her!' Pauly: 'Tracy will come for her. And I'll be waiting.' Vortex: 'I had a time and place for you to kill Tracy!' Pauly: 'You put me off too long. TRACY's MINE!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 12th of October, 2018. You know, henchmen wanting to kill Dick Tracy at some other time than what the crime lord wants is rather a recurring theme of this comic strip. They maybe need some task-coordinating software to sort this out. Also, kidnapping Honeymoon Tracy is also a recurring theme. Might want to let the crime lords know that the premise was tried a couple times and it didn’t work the way they wanted.

Polar Vortex and Pauly get to fighting in their hangout. Pauly’s ready to kill Vortex, who’s got the cavalry on the way. He’d taken Honeymoon Tracy’s wrist-wizard communicator out of the ice cream freezer. For some reason Pauly thought this would inactivate it. Tracy and Sam Catchem bust down the door and get into a shootout with Pauly. Pauly lives long enough to say that all this was for his father, Crutch.

… Which you’d think would be a big deal. Or which would be a big deal if it got some attention. Crutch is a character from the very first-ever Dick Tracy storyline. He was the gunman who killed Tess Trueheart’s father. It was the case that brought Dick Tracy into the scientific-detective line. I didn’t recognize this, no, and needed GoComics.com commenters and the Dick Tracy Wikia to guide me. Which all highlights some cool and some bad stuff about Staton and Curtis’s run on the strip. They’re incredibly well-versed in the history of the comic strip and can pull out stuff from about ninety years’ worth of stories. But when they’re doing this isn’t communicated well. To put Dick Tracy up against the son of the first man he gunned down? Good setup. But we didn’t know that was going on until that son was gasping his last breaths. Pauly’s role could be any henchman’s. So, what was the dramatic point made by linking him to the murderer of Tess’s father? In a way that you would never guess without auxiliary material?

Sam Catchem: 'He's down, Tracy!' Tracy, grabbing Pauly by the lapels: 'Where are the girls? TELL ME?' Pauly: 'You #$@&( Cop! The girls are safe ... this was for MY FATHER, CRUTCH ... ' (And an inset panel shows a picture of the original, 1931-era, Crutch, so far as I know.)
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 18th of October, 2018. It’s not me, right? There is something morbidly funny about Pauly’s life here being defined by getting revenge on Dick Tracy, but his being such a marginal figure he’s in like two weeks of strips and gets killed without anyone even really knowing who he is?

Maybe it doesn’t need a point. Life is complicated and messy and has weird links. Maybe Polar Vortex wanted someone who’d try something stupid like this, and summon Dick Tracy’s attention. Tracy does investigate Vortex’s business. I thought he didn’t find anything, but the 18th of November Tracy mentions that Vortex is out on bail after drug-trafficking charges. The kidnapping he seems to get a pass on, even though kidnapping Crystal Plenty was part of the lost plan. Vortex does say he had a plan for killing Tracy, and this was too soon. Maybe Vortex’s plan went wrong. But I’d feel more sure if I were clear on what the plan was.


Well. The next big plot thread started the 21st of October, with the introduction of the (imaginary) comedy duo Deacon and Miller. They’re getting a revival, with a film festival hosted by Vitamin Flintheart plus a new syndicated newspaper comic strip based on the pair. … Which might be the most implausible premise I’ve seen in this strip. And this is a strip that has telepathic, psychokinetic Moon Men and a guy who used a popcorn maker to shoot someone.

The revival’s funded by a trust set up by Miller, redeemable after 40 years. There’s a bunch of money in it, and Polar Vortex has got himself named trustee. And I’m confused on just how myself. It was described as a “neighborhood bank” plan scam. I’m not sure what this is. It reads like the mark (Dick Miller of the comedy team) was convinced to put money into a fake bank. But the scammer went ahead and actually invested it, and pretty well. And I’m comfortable with that, that far. The scam where it turns out to be easier to go legitimate is a fun premise. I loved it in the movie Larceny, Inc. (Well, the movie circles that premise anyway.)

So then to the present day. Vortex got charge of the money, and went looking for Peter Pitchblende. Pitchblende is the grandson of Miller, and rightful heir to all this money, and the point person for this whole revival. Vortex’s plan seems to be to get Pitchblende to sign over the money to him. There’s something I don’t understand in the phrase “neighborhood bank” scam, but I haven’t been able to work out what from the strip. I would understand embezzlement. I don’t understand why Vortex can’t just take the money without involving Pitchblende. Also it seems like the revival got started before Vortex contacted Pitchblende. But that might be that the revival would have been airy plans until Vortex dropped the promise of money into it.

Pitchblende, on the phone to a creditor: 'I'm sorry, Mr Daily. I'll check into it immediately!' Pitchblend, calling Devil: 'Hello, Ms Cypher? I got a call from Mr Daily at the Patterson Playhouse today. They haven't been paid yet.' Devil: 'If you check your copy of our contract, Mr Pitchblende, you'll know we have 90 days from the first notice of a bill to pay it. You gave us their bill just this week.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 19th of November, 2018. Fun activity puzzle challenge: identify a sentence which starts “if you’ll check your copy of our contract” and yet which ends with good news for the person being spoken to. Difficulty level: not in the final scene of a musical comedy where the protagonist is worrying about how he’ll afford to get married when his only asset is that song he sent in to the music publishers.

Well, Vortex’s plan seems to be … being very slow about repaying Pitchblende for out-of-pocket expenses with the Deacon-and-Miller revival. That at least seems like a workable start to a scam. Vortex claims this is a temporary sideline from his drug-dealing at schools. But it’s hard, especially with a small group. And I’m not sure he understands just stealing money. Like, I’m pretty sure even with a drug-oriented racket he could fake Peter Pitchblende’s signature on stuff. Anyway, he feels the personnel shortage. So Vortex hires some guy he sees talking confidently at the coffee shop. The guy’s named “Striker”, or as we know him, Lafayette Austin. (Austin is getting a lot of attention this year, mostly working undercover in foiling various villains.)

Devil, mourning her workload: 'Blah! I hate being stuck at this desk all day! I'll be glad when this Deacon, Miller, and Pitchblende business is over!' [ Elsewhere, at a coffee shop ] Vortex, drinking his coffee: 'I need someone who's good at customer relations.' Austin, next to him: ' ... when all was said and done, not only did the customer reinstate the order, he doubled it!' Vortex: 'That's the man I need!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 23rd of November, 2018. So I was workshopping this joke about job-seeking web sites that advertise on podcasts for Evil Masterminds, and I while I might still do that one, I give it freely to any sketch comedy groups in need of a premise. What I’ve got to thinking now is: how in the name of heck did Lafayette Austin figure out to be at this coffee shop at this time, and to start talking about his good customer-handling skills right where Vortex could overhear? And he goes on to talk about his cover story being taken. I’ll grant the cops working out that Vortex goes to this coffee shop regularly and planting Austin there. (It still seems weird to think of crime bosses just going to the coffee shop on the corner though, doesn’t it? I mean, I guess they must, but still?) And I’ll grant Austin overhearing Vortex talking about something he needs and improvising an appealing cover story. Coming up with stories like that on the fly is a decent actor’s challenge and probably a skill you pick up fast if you’re going to be an undercover cop. But this means Austin and his handlers were figuring that Vortex would someday be in the coffee shop, talking to himself about needing someone to do a thing. Why would they figure on that happening?

Austin, working undercover, is able to get at Vortex’s files by the cunning plan of being left alone in the room with them. Vortex likes Striker’s energy. He doesn’t like that of street-level pusher Ballpark, who’s been using the drugs instead of pushing them around some. Vortex sends Ballpark to “the bell tower”, which is a literal bell tower. There’s some setup about the experimental infrasound system being good for … well, it’s got to be killing, doesn’t it?

Start of December. The police sweep up drug dealers around Honeymoon and Crystal’s school. And over the rest of town. The cops close in on Vortex and Devil, up in the bell tower. I’m not sure he did get to killing Ballpark, or ever using this infrasound bell tower death machine. Maybe that’s left for a future villain to use, although I’d hope it gets a fresh introduction and explanation of what it’s supposed to do then. The story’s been one of those with a strong enough line of action that you seem like a spoilsport complaining about key parts of it not explained. It makes my life harder.

(Shootout at the bell tower.) Catchem: 'Tracy! Polar has a gun!' Tracy; 'DROP IT, VORTEX! This is your last chance!' Vortex holds his gun, more feebly, and drops it without shooting Tracy.
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 9th of December, 2018. I don’t quibble with Vortex not being able to actually shoot a person, even someone he hopes to kill. There’s a difference between ordering someone killed and doing it yourself and I’ll give Vortex difficulty making that leap.

Vortex tries to, but can’t shoot Tracy. He’s arrested. Austin finds the documents showing that Pitchblende should have the Miller-investment-inheritance. I really don’t understand what the setup of that was. But they turn over the money to Pitchblende and the show can go on. The show features Vitamin Flintheart, playing himself, in a musical based on J Straightedge Trustworthy. This is an in-universe comic strip inspired by and parodying Dick Tracy.


The 16th of December, I believe, starts a new plot. It opens at the Wertham Woods Psychiatric Facility (get it?) where Tulza Tuzon kills several doctors and escapes during a blackout. Tuzon’s better known to the cops as Haf-and-Haf. He’s got a reputation for breaking out of psychiatric hospitals. Last time he did, he got sprayed with some caustic waste, burning half his head. So since then he calls himself Splitface.

He makes for The City, where high-diving star Zelda The Great is performing. This all gets Tracy’s attention. Tuzon is something of a tribute act. Ages ago Tracy “put away” — I don’t know if he means jailed or killed — a serial killer named Splitface. The original Splitface’s ex-wife is Zelda the Great. Haf-and-Haf is also reported to have developed two alternate personas. That’s a development I’m sure won’t mean that I have to provide a content warning about mental health next time around.

But! That’s on hold for two weeks as the strip does another Minit Mystery. This one written by Donnie Pitchford, who writes and draws the Lum and Abner comic strip. And which makes me finally, about two months late, recognize what “Peter Pitchblende” is a reference to. So, y’know, anyone looking to me for insight please remember that that’s the level I’m working at.

(The Si and Elmer referenced in that strip was a syndicated serial comedy. It’s listed as an attempt at cloning Lum and Abner. I am not sure that both shows aren’t more properly clones of Amos and Andy, with hillbilly rather than blackface comedians. Si and Elmer were elderly small-town residents who decided to go into the detective business. At that point in their own series, Lum and Abner were a justice of the peace and the town sheriff, which makes them almost on-point for a Dick Tracy crossover. I haven’t listened to any of the episodes. Apparently something like 95 of the estimated 130 episodes made survive. That’s an amazing record for early-30s radio. Here are something like 67 of them available for the listening. There might be others elsewhere on archive.org.)

So I don’t know anything about the Minit Mystery besides what you saw in today’s strip. I’ll recap that and whatever this Haf-and-Haf/Splitface plot develops in a couple months’ time.

Next Week!

Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley is a hundred years old! How many of those years did its centennial celebration run? What happened with Peggy Lee? Did Walt Wallet move into the Old Comics Home? Find out here, in seven days, or, y’know, skim through the strip yourself. You’ll probably make a pretty good estimate.

What’s Going On In Prince Valiant? Did Prince Valiant get back home yet? September – December 2018.


If you’re interested in the plot of Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant you’re reading a correct web site. If it’s later than about March 2019 I probably have written a more up-to-date plot recap. That should be available at this link. So are recaps of the last two years of the comic strip’s action.

Also, on my other blog I read the comics for their mathematics bits. You might like that too. I’ve also just finished 26 posts explaining mathematical terms that were mostly fun to write. Could be fun to read.

Prince Valiant.

30 September – 23 December 2018.

My last recap of Prince Valiant came at the end of Senator Krios’s story. He was caught trying to sell out the Misty Isles to (Byzantine) Rome, and fled his homeland. The last panel of the strip from the 30th of September promised “The Return”, and I guessed that might be Valiant getting back to his own strip.

So it was: the 7th of October a ship carrying Valiant and his party came to the harbor of the Misty Isles. Valiant leapt from the boat to swim ashore, apparently a tradition. And he met up with Aleta who’s there to swim naked with him. So that’s a nice bit of getting-together.

And then began several weeks of what felt like a weird epilogue. Val, Karen, Bukota, and Vanni regale a fest with tales of what all they were doing out in the far east. They were finding Vanni, I gather. They started off before my first What’s Going On In post about the strip. But apparently not much before my first post. He recaps the tyrant Azar Rasa. And those refugees saved from various brigands. A couple of the many overturned rafts they survived. And then they get back to Krios.

Karen continues the story of an unpleasant meeting on Carpathos: 'As the tavern owner was showing me to my room, the gambling man with the wild, fixed stare leaped out from hiding! He struck, I parried! And all the while he cursed me as the cause of his ruin! Then, before I myself could incapacitate this madman, Father crashed onto the scene and, well, you know Father.' Val interjects: 'I did not want to kill him, but his wild rage left me little choice. He had clearly confused Karen with some other who had driven him to insanity.' 'Then,' concludes Karen, 'one of the other gamblers came up and offered how he could not understand how a man on such an amazing winning streak, gloating over the fortune he would rebuild, could so suddenly be driven to distraction.' Aleta and Valeta, Karen's twin, smile to themselves --- they understand. Justice can be strange, but Krios's story is now done.
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 18th of November, 2018. So now let me debunk the idea that I’m of any use telling you what’s going on in these stories: until that last panel I had not picked up on Karen and Valeta being twins. I just figured, oh, Krios saw a family resemblance and reacted to that. I’m just not that good with faces. I think half of what I like in comic strips is that since everybody has one outfit I can use that to tell who’s who.

Valiant doesn’t know it’s Krios; he missed the whole treachery story. All he knows is they were at Carpathos, a few days’ sail from the Misty Isles. There in a tavern they encountered someone who looked like the Senator. Who saw them, left the gaming tables, and charged Karen. She and Valiant fought back and. At least according to Valiant he had “little choice” but to kill Krios.

I can’t fault it as a postscript. I mean, it seems like a reasonable and absurd sad finale to Krios’s life. But it feels also a bit much. After all, his scheme already failed so dramatically as to end his career, kill one of his sons, estrange him from the other, and send him into exile. Being killed in a tavern brawl seems like piling on. But it will happen. That, the 18th of November, has got to be the end of Krios’s story, for real this time.


'Bukota', says Aleta, 'acted very oddly when I told him that his beloved Makeda was coming to visit the Misty Isles. He seemed upset.' Val replies: 'Bukota and Makeda have a complicated relationship. He was insanely jealous of the soon-to-be-queen, even to the point of actively harming her protector, that Norse rogue Skyrmir. Of course, he later redeemed himself as he stood between her and Twedorek's rebel army. Aye, he was fearless in her defense, and we slew shoulder to shoulder until that tide was turned! Even so, the victorious Queen Makeda was duty-bound to punish his previous misdeeds. She could justifiably have had him executed but, tellingly, she chose to send him into exile, as ambassador to Camelot.' Aleta answers reassuringly: 'As I would have for you, my dear, but I see why Bukota would feel apprehensive as to how Makeda will receive his presence here. And look how our Ab'saban friend vents his frustration on the training fields! He is reducing all his sparring partners to rubble!'
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 2nd of December, 2018. Goodness knows I don’t have the time to go archive-binging and exploring the distant past of the story strips like this, but I am holding it as an idea in case I ever do some kind of Patreon-like project. But I do regret that fact sometimes, especially when I see stuff like this battle against an army of gargoyles or bat-men.

The 25th of November started what looks like the new story. It begins with news Queen Makeda, of the House of Ab’saba, will be visiting. This promises to set off all sorts of complicated feelings from Bukota, what with how he’s exiled from Ab’saba. This all I didn’t know, but the strip gave the background. His heroism protecting Makeda from a rebel army didn’t negate his previous, jealousy-fueled, attack on her bodyguard. So he was exiled as ambassador to Camelot which I infer is how he fell in with Prince Valiant and all. Bukota puts all his feelings into sparring on the Royal Training Fields and trying to keep a stoic face as his queen arrives. This gets foiled as she notices him. And that’s the point our story has now reached.

Next Week!

Watch me try to summarize three months’ worth of Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy while still keeping up with everything Christmas expects me to do! I’m not going to make it!

What’s Going On In The Phantom (weekdays)? What’s the shortest Phantom story ever? September – December 2018


So this is the first, and surely last, time one of my recaps spans three Phantom stories. I’m delighted. This covers the last couple months of 2018. If it’s much past about March 2019 when you read this you’ll probably find a more up-to-date recap at this link. The link covers both the weekday continuity and the separate Sunday storylines. But it should be clear enough what I’m writing about, either way.

If you like comic strips that mention mathematics, please give my other blog a try. I get usually a couple of posts per week discussing topics raised by the comics. Not this week, it happens. But I am also nearing the end of a glossary of some terms, one for each letter in the alphabet, and what they mean. Might find that fun too.

The Phantom (Weekdays).

24 September – 15 December 2018.

The Ghost Who Walks had spent a couple months on his back, last time I checked in. He was recovering from major injuries after a failed capture of Eric “The Nomad” Sahara. The Nomad was in Manhattan, having one last weekend with his daughter Kadia, before going into hiding. Also spending time with his daughter’s roommate, Heloise Walker. Sahara concluded, wrongly but not stupidly, that Walker was a secret agent plotting to capture or kill him. So he threw together a plan. He reported Heloise as a terrorist to the Transportation Security Authority. They arrested her in front of Kadia and everything. This so Kadia would not try to work out Walker’s disappearance. Sahara then collected the released Walker, planning to fly her somewhere she could be killed without detection. My last recap ened with them on the runway, Sahara getting his private jet up to speed.

Picture of the plane crashing down the street of the neighborhood just past the airport edge. Heloise Walker, narrating: 'The Nomad *had* to be stopped! At any cost! But I --- I'm going to live! Somehow I *know* I am!'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 29th of September, 2018. I did see people on Comics Curmudgeon griping that after the plane crash it took forever for a response to come. I think that’s conflating reader time with in-story time, though. The fight between Walker and The Nomad after the crash took a week or so of strips, yes. And Walker fleeing the cop took another week or so. But that’s all things that happen, in-universe, over a couple of minutes. Barely enough time to get the emergency crews to the crash site. Complaints that people hadn’t left their houses to see what was going on are a little more grounded, although I know I’d be watching from the windows. At least once I was confident my house wasn’t on fire from stray jet fuel.

Walker recovers consciousness just into takeoff. She fights him in the cockpit, sending the plane out of control, crashing it into the suburban neighborhood beside the airport. Walker and Sahara are still alive, and keep fighting, Walker thinking of the 21 generations of Phantoms before her. Walker knocks Sahara unconscious and drags him out of the plane before the airport emergency crash teams can get there.

The first cop on the scene is one who’d arrested Walker at Sahara’s misdirection earlier. Walker tells him Eric Sahara is The Nomad, internationally wanted terrorist. She flees. The cop follows, and shoots, but into the air. She escapes.

Cop and supervisor watching the cop's body cam footage. On the footage the cop calls 'STOP!' and Heloise Walker answers, 'What are you DOING? I'm on your side! Guard the Nomad, you fool!' Scene reveals The Nomad, held by a couple Men In Black types: 'You misspoke, officer. There was no girl. This footage does not exist. Understood?'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 26th of October, 2018. Oh yes, and a piece of the story is that the authorities chose to conceal Heloise Walker’s existence from the news about this. Their exact reason for this is unclear as yet. But it’s probably feeding Walker’s choices later on and might become less obscure as the current story develops.

Back home in Bangalla, The Phantom wakes after uneasy sleep. He gets the message Heloise Walker left earlier in the morning, and in my previous recap. The one about her having found The Nomad and her then-plan of getting him to share his plans. The Phantom’s ready to run for New York, despite his neck being only barely connected yet. It’s moot anyway. Heloise Walker calls with the news about The Nomad’s arrest.

She’s stumbling around convenience and dollar stores. She’s trying to disguise herself. She’s certain that the authorities have her picture, and soon, her identity. The authorities publicly claim the cop’s body camera malfunctioned. That initial reports of a girl being with Sahara were mistaken. That it was that one airport cop to credit for this capture. Heloise guesses, correctly, that that’s a lie. And she’s torn between pride in her having stopped a major international criminal and wanting to go home.

The Phantom and Guran in the Skull Cave, listening to Heloise Walker about her night: 'I was so dumb to follow The Nomad to his jet! There's something *dead* in his eyes, Dad. I *saw it*, and ... and I went with him anyway.' Phantom: 'Yes, there's something dead in him ... he uses terror to further his aims. The worst kind of man alive on the Earth ... '
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 8th of November, 2018. I think we have to be more specific about someone who “uses terror to further his aims” or we’re going to have to revisit that bit where The Phantom kidnapped, tied to a tree in the Whispering Grove — where the tree seem to whisper The Phantom’s name — and left for a day, then dragged back to the Skull Cave for scolding a man who wanted to put The Phantom on postage stamps and otherwise promote his “brand”. But one legitimately fun thing about The Phantom is that he does miss stuff sometimes, and it’s occasionally important.

That, the 10th of November, ended “A Reckoning With The Nomad”, which The Phantom Wiki lists as the 249th daily-continuity story. The 12th of November started “Kit’s Letter Home”, the 250th weekday storyline and, at four weeks, surely one of the shortest ever. The Phantom Wiki claims it is. I can only imagine the occasional Christmas story possibly competing. “Kit’s Letter Home” is more of a mood piece, so the plot won’t seem like much. Kit Walker, the presumptive 22nd Phantom, is in Tibet. He’s studying with monks he’s presented himself to as the reincarnation of the 11th and 16th Phantoms. They present themselves as believing him. Kit, awake early, takes a bit to write a letter home.

Kit Walker, writing: 'Dad, I saw plenty of this growing up as your son.' (It's the monks keeping him away from Kyabje Dorje, hiding his injuries.) 'I think my tutor fights on our side somewhere. He fights for what's right. He's that kind of man, I just know it ... '
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 24th of November, 2018. This is part of a sequence of strips comparing Kyabje Dorje’s behavior to how The Phantom acted when Kit and Heloise were young. And while this does read like a setup to a future adventure, I’m fine with it if it’s not. I like when minor characters have their own quite full lives when they aren’t waiting for one of the title cast to need them.

In this he lays out some of the setting. Notably about his tutor, Kyabje Dorje, who gives off strong Phantom vibes himself. That he’s a scholar, a gentleman. He occasionally returns from disappearances with unexplained injuries. (Be a heck of a thing if he goes flying off to vanquish evil and maybe reconnect with his mentor in El Paso who taught him the mysterious ways of the cowboy, right? By “a heck of a thing” I mean “a thing that seems like the premise of a guest-star Control agent on Get Smart”.) And about Chief Constable Jampa, the local corrupt law agent. They got off to a bad start, with Jampa holding this foreigner at gunpoint. He relented only because Kyabje Dorje’s whole monastery insisted. Since then … well, we haven’t seen anything. But we’ve got the threads for this ready to go.

Anyway, he wraps up, congratulating his dad for capturing The Nomad and all. He makes a couple ironic jokes about his sister having a soft time of it. And he sends his love. And wraps up the letter and burns it to ashes, the better to keep family secrets.


And that’s that story. This past week, the 10th, started the 251st daily-continuity Phantom story, “Heloise Comes Home”. The title picks up from what Heloise said in the last strip of “A Reckoning With The Nomad”. She’s made her way back to the Briarson School, not because she figures she can return to classes. “Crashed Your Roommate’s Father’s Private Jet And Got Him Arrested For Terrorism” gets you out of the semester in most any school. It’s only an urban legend that it’s an automatic A for the semester, though. Walker gets back to her room and very briefly informs Kadia they have to flee now or they’ll never get out of the country. But that’s all she’s had time to do.

I have no information about where the story might be going. (And I’m not seeking any. I’m content to read the comic like anyone might. Let actual comic strip news sites carry teasers.) I can see obvious potential paths. It would be ridiculous were authorities not to investigate Kadia Sahara. This though she does appear to be wholly uninvolved with anything. Fleeing the country would be the first suspicious thing she might do that we’ve seen on-screen. Heloise Walker would likely be investigated as someone near to Eric Sahara even if she weren’t on the body-camera footage. That her mother’s got a senior position with the United Nations is likely to attract more official attention. And it makes me realize I don’t know what the world thinks the senior Kit Walker does. That is, they do see this fellow named Mr Walker who’s always wearing sunglasses and has antique airplanes and the like. I don’t know what people imagine his day job to be.

A running thread of Heloise Walker’s story has been her desire to be a female Phantom. It’s quite fair that she might be afraid of that now that she’s been through an intense and terrifying experience. (Can’t forget that, for all her poise and formal-dinner-wear outfit, she is a teenager, 15 or 16 years old.) Reconciling the fantasy of her family’s superheroic lifestyle with the reality is a solid character challenge as well.

Also, I keep losing this link and cursing myself until I re-find it. So here’s The Phantom Wiki. I keep drawing on it as reference about things like what story number this is and where earlier characters came from.

Next Week!

I get to relax and take things easy. It’s time for Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant to take the stage again. I’m sure I can recap twelve Sunday panels sometime before the actual Sunday arrives, even with this being a busy season. What me fail to do so. It’ll be fun.

What’s Going On In Alley Oop? Who’s Writing Alley Oop Now? September – December 2018


I know everyone’s interested to see Alison Sayers and Jonathan Lemon’s take on Alley Oop. It’s not coming until January. Here I’m recapping the last couple months of Jack Bender and Carol Bender-produced reruns. I figure, at least for now, to keep Alley Oop in the regular story strip rotation. So my first recap of the New Era should come around early March 2019. And it should be at this link. If there’s news updates warranting more articles, they’ll be there too.

Meanwhile each week I look at comic strips for mathematics topics and post the essays here. You might like reading that. I like writing it.

Eight-Ball and Weenus in a cave. Fred Flintstone says, 'Sorry. Batman won't be here for another 2.6 million years.' The cave is filled with caveman figures, including Alley Oop and Ooona, B.C.'s Peter and Fat Broad, the Croods, the kind from The Good Dinosaur, a Far Side caveman, someone from Early Man chasing a rabbit, and a couple other characters. The comments thread on GoComics identifies them all.
Jonathan Lemon’s Rabbits Against Magic for the 2nd of December, 2018. So we at least know Lemon’s figured out how to draw the main characters. Fun fact: my love and I were eating in a Mexican restaurant in Denver once, and noticed on the TV an animated movie, without sound, that seemed annoyingly familiar without being at all understandable. It was the Croods, which we’d seen and liked in the theaters. (They’re the characters in the lower-left corner here.) While a fact, this is not in fact a fun fact. I own multiple books about the history of containerized cargo. I have no functional mental model of what “fun” is. I probably can’t even imagine a person who would know what “fun” is.

Alley Oop.

2 September – 9 December 2018

My last update about Alley Oop covered the end of Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s run as writer and artist. That included the end of a storyline. So I have a clean slate of story here. This has been from a storyline which first ran in 2013. That’s from before I was doing regular plot recaps. So I can’t just reuse an old essay. Gr. But also on this story there’s another credit, for John Wooley. I don’t know what role Wooley played.

Dr Wonmug has a job! A client is paying him to gather samples in 1816 Switzerland. I honestly didn’t know the Doc took jobs like that. The client’s never named, but that doesn’t seem to be a plot element. It’s just an excuse for why he has to “hurry” to travel in time. Anyway, Doc pops in to Ancient Moo, interrupting Alley Oop’s and Ooola’s picnic. And annoying Ooola, who teases that “maybe I’ll have a little adventure of my own”. This hasn’t paid off yet and I haven’t checked whether it ever does.

Ooola: 'Alley, after all this time, do you really have to ask why Doc is here? Why is he EVER here?' Oop: 'Whadya mean by that?' Doc Wonmug: 'She's right, Oop! Ooola, I'm sorry to interrupt your picnic, but I need to borrow Oop for ... ' Ooola: 'Blah, blah, blah! You don't need to explain to me, Doc!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 5th of September, 2018. I usually like it when characters admit they should recognize a situation from all the times they’ve done it before. Alley Oop had asked what Wonmug was doing there, which does have the obvious answer Ooola’s annoyed he doesn’t know. He’s supposed to go tromping around in space and time for something. But it seems like Oop’s got the question, what are they tromping around for this time, and that’s at least as reasonable a question.

Oop thinks this “scientific research” is a new game, but what the heck. He’s up for it. 1816 is a good year for for science research; you might faintly remember it as “the year without a summer”. After the explosion of Mount Tambora the previous year the northern hemisphere suffered widespread cold, leading to food shortages and even more poverty. And a pretty boring summer retreat at the Villa Diodati, in Cologny, Switzerland. There Mary Shelley is fed up with Percy Shelley and Lord Byron going on about electricity to each other. She decides to take her chances walking outside in the cold rain. Oh, should say, nobody’s last name gets mentioned. This is probably to set up the punch line ending. It’s a good punch line for someone who doesn’t know about how Frankenstein was originally written.

Mary sees a flash atop a mountain. It’s the arrival of Doc Wonmug and an underdressed Alley Oop. She’s wondering how they survived what she took to be lightning. Also wondering what’s with this gigantic, incredibly muscular figure surrounded by glowing light. Alley Oop and Doc Wonmug realize they’re being followed. But they figure they can evade this past-dweller long enough. They’re hilariously wrong. But they just need a soil sample, a plant sample, and some insect. It’s an oddly plausible enough scientific mission. I can already imagine the science team very cross that there wasn’t enough soil and they didn’t provide enough photographs to understand the context of the plant sample. Mary Shelley watches them digging up soil and wonders if they’re burying something. Or digging something up.

Alley Oop, struggling to put winter jacket on: 'This weather's miserable, Doc!' Wonmug: 'That's why we came here!' Meanwhile: Mary Shelley looks up the hill at the two. 'It looks like they're moving on!' Meanwhile: Wonmug: 'See anything, Oop?' Oop: 'I think I see that woman again! She must be following us!' Meanwhile: Shelley: 'I must find out how those people survived that lightning flash!' (There's another flash of lightning, silhouetting Alley Oop, who's got his arms and axe raised.) Shelley: 'GASP! What kind of monster is this that I'm seeking?!'
Jack Bender, Carole Bender, and John Wooley’s Alley Oop for the 30th of September, 2018. In 2011 astronomer Donald Olson deduced (on what evidence I don’t know) that the walk during which Mary Shelley had the inspiration for Frankenstein happened after midnight the 16th of June, 1816. If we take his work as correct then this means we can pin down when this particular strip happens to within a couple hours. I’m curious whether news about Olson’s deduction influenced the decision to write this story.

Wonmug explains about the harshness of the year. Oop asks, reasonably, whether they’re doing something to help the starving population of the world. Wonmug says they can’t. I don’t know whether Alley Oop has an unchangeable past built into it or not. If Wonmug and company are wise they’ve never tested it. But I know barely a tiny bit of the strip’s long history and what stories they might have explored.

Plants and insects are harder to find. They spot a small scraggly plant growing on the edge of a cliff. Oop’s able to climb cliff faces like that, even in the freezing rain. While he does, Wonmug sets up a little science kit to measure the atmosphere. And Mary Shelley watches all this strangeness. She gasps as Oop slips (but does not fall). Wonmug follows her, using his iPod’s flashlight feature to spot her in the gloom. She’s afraid of him, for reasons Wonmug can’t understand. As a scientist Dr Wonmug hasn’t got the common sense that God gave scraggly plants growing on the edge of a cliff in the Year Without A Summer.

Mary Shelley: 'Don't hurt me!' Doc Wonmug, shining light from his iPod-class computer: 'Calm down! Why would you think I'd hurt you?' Shelley, pointing ot the iPod: 'Because whatever that thing is, it can't be used for good!' Wonmug: 'Oh ... I forgot ... Forgive me!'
Jack Bender, Carole Bender, and John Wooley’s Alley Oop for the 26th of October, 2018. “I mean, I mostly use it to listen to podcasts, so I’m not sure if that’s really good or bad or what. Have you ever tried I Don’t Even Own A Television? I mean, you don’t, y’know?”

You know what else climbs cliff faces like that, even in the freezing rain? Mountain goats. An ibex watches Oop grabbing at the plant that’s maybe the only food around, and takes action. Oop’s able to grab onto one leaf, at least, before he’s knocked down the hillside. He takes a nasty fall, landing right outside the cave where Wonmug is trying to figure out why Mary Shelley looks somehow familiar.

Oop, dodging an ibex: 'Whew! That was close!' (The ibex eats the plant.) 'I guess he was just protecting his food. Th'thing is, I need a plant sample to take home with me. I just need one leaf! You can eat the rest!' (He reaches for one leaf.) 'Whaddya say?! Let me have one leaf?' (The ibex headbutts Oop in the stomach. He falls off the cliff face and thuds in front of Wonmug and Mary Shelley.) Wonmug: 'Oop!' Shelley: 'Oh my!! Is that your friend?!'
Jack Bender, Carole Bender, and John Wooley’s Alley Oop for the 11th of November, 2018. One of the narration panels in one daily strip told me this was an ibex. This made me want to call the narration box a liar. But it turns out there’s an Alpine ibex, which lives right where the name would make you think. So, neat.

Wonmug can’t feel a pulse. Shelley fears he’s dead, but still wants to take him to a doctor. I guess this is on the grounds that 19th century medicine couldn’t make the situation worse. Me, in the 21st century, is pretty sure they could. But her naming Dr Polidori gives Wonmug the clue to who she is, and the punch line that this Mary Shelley. Anyway, Wonmug’s got a portable defibrillator. He warns about the dangers of the electricity, gives Oop a couple good shocks. He brings this gigantic, impossibly strong human to life. He, grunting, confused, and disoriented, lunges toward the woman he had seen following them. She flees. So you see the joke here. I think the joke’s better when you consider that Alley Oop’s a fundamentally kind, good person being shunned for looking like a monster. Shelley flees back to the villa, where she learns the men around her are going to hold a writing competition.

Alley Oop grunts after the defibrillators have shocked him. Wonmug: 'He's alive!' (Mary Shelly gasps.) Wonmug: 'Don't worry about not getting the plant sample, Oop! All that matters is that you're okay!' (Oop holds up the leaf he'd taken from the ibex.) Wonmug: 'YOU GOT IT! Now we just need a bug, and we're done here!' Oop, dizzily, pointing at Mary Shelley: 'It's that woman who was following us!' (He tries to stand, groaning, arms dangling forward.) Wonmug: 'Oop, meet Mary Shelley! She's ... ' (She's out of there.) Shelley: 'I don't know what that man was like before the electricity brought him back to life, but he appears to be a MONSTER now! I hope he isn't following me!'
Jack Bender, Carole Bender, and John Wooley’s Alley Oop for the 25th of November, 2018. The Sunday strips, for the Benders, would recap the action of the six days around them. But done in six panels rather than six days they lose stuff. Among the stuff lost here: there was this butterfly hovering around the plant Oop was trying to recover. So when that appears a couple strips after this it’s not a lucky break out of nowhere. It’s a lucky break that’s been correctly planted earlier.

Oop asks why they don’t check that she’s okay. Wonmug promises that he knows she’s just fine, which seems like he’s pretty confident they can’t accidentally alter history here. Anyway, Oop has the leaf in his hand yet, so that’s the plant sample. And a butterfly’s landed on his head, a good insect sample and a time-travel joke nicely underplayed. They return to the present.

And Wonmug explains stuff for Oop and anyone who didn’t know the story already. He presents a copy of Frankenstein and suggests, hey, where did she get that idea, after all? And this feeds to a couple strips just laying out the story of how Shelley had a vision of the story. Hm. Oop figures he’d like to read this, sure. Wonmug also offers that they could watch the movie. I’d also like to speak up for the Mister Magoo adaptation. This seems to end the story with a month left to go before the reruns end. But just this weekend we got Wonmug refusing to let Oop go back home again. He was “actually dead” for a couple minutes, after all. He needs some time of observation. And that’s where the story stands.

I’m mostly content with the storyline. The particular time-travel venture makes good sense. That it can intersect with a real historical figure at a real historically important moment is a bonus. But I personally dislike “here’s where a writer got their crazy idea from”. Writers get their ideas by thinking about things that give them ideas. Those ideas are fed from sources, yes, including writers’ experiences. But they’re created by the writers working. To show the “real events that inspired the writer” replaces that hard work with stenography. (Which is, yes, another kind of hard work, but hard in a different way.)

This motif is at least as old as Flash Of Two Worlds, the comic book where the 1960s Silver Age Flash met the 1940s Golden Age counterpart. Silver Flash had read Golden Flash comics when he was a kid. He speculated that the writer of those Golden Age comics was somehow cosmically attuned to Golden Age Flash’s world and could transcribe that. But there, Flash Of Two Worlds was written by Gardiner Fox, who wrote (most of) the Golden Age Flash comic books. He could be having a joke on himself.

Jack Bender and Carole Bender and John Wooley don’t quite do the writer-as-transcriber idea, at least. As presented in this story, Mary Shelley sees a story about electricity bringing a hulking brute to life. Fine; allow the premise that she took this inspiration from something she witnessed. She’s still presented as turning that one great idea into a novel, with so much happening that she doesn’t witness here. So that tempers my complaint.

I haven’t gone back to check the storyline’s original run in 2013. I want to be as surprised as you are and also am lazy. I’m supposing that Wonmug’s assertion that Oop needs observation will give us a couple weeks of puttering around in the present. And that should lead up to the 7th of January, 2019, when Alison Sayers and Jonathan Lemon take over.

Next Week!

International terrorist mastermind The Nomad had an unconscious Heloise Walker, daughter of The Phantom, in his private jet, with plans to fly her to the Caribbean and drop her in the ocean. So we’ll see how well that turned out for him. It’s Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity.

What’s Going On In Judge Parker? Is April Parker Dead? Is Norton? September – December 2018


Greetings, reader confused by Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker. This is my effort to bring you up to date about the plot as it stands in early December 2018. After about March 2018 you should get a more up-to-date recap here. And if you just want to hear me talk about mathematics in the comics, look over here.

[ Desperate to locate the comic strip home of the 'pretty girl' character who's wandered into Zippy's domain, Griffy ransacks 'Apartment 3-G' ] Lu Ann: 'I don't know WHY but I have this terrible feeling I'm being ... satirized! Now please leave.' Griffy: 'But -- we work for the same syndicate!' [ Visits 'Judge Parker' ] Griffy: 'She may be in copyright violation!' Parker: 'I don't see a SEARCH WARRANT, Mister --- I'll see you in court!' [ And tracks down 'Mark Trail' ] Griffy: 'No, she doesn't have an ear tag or a tufted forelock.' Mark Trail: 'Sorry, Chief --- if she's not tagged or tufted, I can't help you!'
Bill Griffith’s Zippy the Pinhead for the 20th of August, 2002. Part of the storyline that sees him withering under the gaze of Mary Worth. Yes, this will likely reappear when it’s Mark Trail’s turn to be talked about here.

Judge Parker.

9 September – 2 December 2018

Last time I checked in on Judge Parker I figured we were getting near some retrenchment. There had been a bunch of craziness going down, mostly in Los Angeles. Neddy Spencer and work-friend Ronnie Huerta were trying to figure who killed Godiva Danube. They learned Danube had been fronting a drug-running scheme. And that someone in the CIA wanted Danube dead, so they got April Spencer to do it. Except, we learned, she didn’t do it. Someone else, who’s now killed Danube’s boyfriend, the guy who gave Neddy Spencer and Ronnie Huerta as much exposition as they have. Meanwhile, April Parker’s father Norton was betrayed by his aide and was in the hands of maybe a dozen CIA agents. I know this is confusing; I’m trying to summarize a summary here. My summary article last time has the space to explain more of it. Anyway, I figured we were coming near some drawing down of the craziness. Possibly a jump several months ahead in time. An incomplete resolution of what’s been going on and a bunch of new story elements. Let’s see what happened.

Well, Neddy and Ronnie get out of Danube’s boyfriend’s apartment. April Spencer’s dropped in to kill the CIA agent who was killing the boyfriend anyway. Ronnie declares she’s had enough of Neddy’s crazy life and wants out. Can’t fault her that. Also it turns out Norton is not dead, but just in Super-Duper-Secret CIA Jail, being interrogated about what’s April Spencer’s deal already.

Bowen, on the phone: 'Fine, Randy. I'll look after Charlotte so your dad can have his 'emergency' date with Katherine. Anything to help his relationship get on better footing than ours right now.' Randy: 'Hahaha ... wait, that's a joke, right?'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 21st of September, 2018. Oh, and the ’emergency’ date between Alan Parker and Katherine is where Katherine says that she’s ready to reconcile with Alan, which is a pretty big step in their relationship too. Also, boy, you cannot say that Bowen wasn’t clear about being unsatisfied with the state of their relationship even before that night made it extra crazy.

Meanwhile back in Cavelton, Judge Randy Parker calls off a date with Toni Bowen. She’s the local-turned-national-turned-local-again newscaster. Her life’s been tied to the Parkers’ since Marciuliano took over writing. Randy uses the excuse that he’s swamped with judge work. She pretends to believe him, and further, agrees to babysit his-and-April’s daughter Charlotte for the night. Randy picked such a lucky night to be absent I wondered if he was up to something. Because April Parker stops in. April demands Charlotte. Bowen refuses to give her up. Randy Parker finally gets home in time for this scene, and for April to knock him unconscious for dating in her absence. And then who intrudes but … Candice Bergen?

[ April comes face-to-face with ... ] April Parker: 'M-Mom? I ... I don't understand how ... I thought you were dead!' April's Mom: 'Oh, Darling. How many times did you know your dad to die? We're problematic parents at best.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 8th of October, 2018. So the most unsettling thing about April’s Mom: she never opens her mouth. Well, there’s like one panel in the week-plus she appears where her lips are opened a tiny bit, but it’s not much. I’m assuming it’s a deliberate choice to make her subtly weird, even on top of there being another long-lost secret Greater Spencer Family member. It’s weird that it works that well.

So, turns out she’s April Parker’s Mom. She’s been absent something like thirty years with her business and all. And it turns out she’s the partner Wurst was reporting to last time. Candice Bergen warns that no, April can’t take Charlotte. She’ll have to wait and come back to her sometime later. Maybe after the new series of Murphy Brown wraps up. On Candice Bergen’s promise of safety, Bowen lets April hug Charlotte, for maybe “the last time she can hold her as a child”. And then they leave before they can kill even more CIA agents.

Maybe. We don’t see that. The 15th of October had the much-anticipated-by-me “We Jump To Mid-Fall” narrative caption. The changes: Bowen’s had enough of the Parker craziness and is done with Randy. Can’t fault her that. Katherine and Alan Parker have gotten back together. They’re at that stage where every floor in their house is filled with boxes labelled for some other room. Norton is dead, according to Sam Driver’s Super-Ultra-Secret contact at the CIA. So they’re all safe, right?

And Katherine Parker learns something interesting at the publishing house where she works. Also I learn she works at a publishing house. Toni Bowen’s publishing an autobiography and it’s going to have a bunch of stuff about Randy and April. She brings word to Alan. Alan brings word to Randy. Randy already knew. Bowen had talked about it with him before submitting the book proposal. So he roughly knew what would get published and what it might do to him. Also, Randy has to admit he would never do anything to hurt his father but …

So Randy confided to Bowen how Alan Parker had helped Norton fake his own death some time ago. Randy meant this to show that Norton wouldn’t be coming after them. Now, well, they don’t know if it’ll be in the book but it’s going to be an awkward conversation. Still, at least Norton’s not faking his death this time. Super-Hyper-Duper-Secret CIA Prison is.

FBI Bureau Chief: 'It's not a lie, Norton. Your daughter never made it out of the country.' Norton: 'Does April know she's dead? Has anyone been able to find her and break the news?' Chief: 'There is a photo, but I hesitate to share it.' Norton: 'After going through all that trouble of doctoring it? Come on, let's have a look.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 14th of November, 2018. Not sure whether Norton’s confident demeanor reflects his being just that aware of all the tricks of Super-Hyper-Ultra-Duper-Secret Spy stuff, or whether he just knows that it’s a soap opera strip, if you don’t see the body bleeding out they’re not dead. And even if they are, there’s a good chance of duplicates.

And there might be fresh deaths. In Super-Mega-Hyper-Ultra-Duper-Secret CIA Prison the bureau chief has bad news. April Parker is dead. They have a photo and everything. Norton’s willing to pretend to believe them long enough to look at their photo. And he thinks how “April may be in even better hands than mine”. The phrasing reads as though he’s considering that April has died, but is still way open to reading as though he’s admiring his wife’s work in the field of Honestly Just Exhausting At This Point Super-Hyper-Ultra-Duper-Mega-Looper-Secret Double-Crossing. The agents reviewing his reaction figure Norton “may not know where April is, but certainly knows who helped her get out”.

The 18th of November introduced another plot thread. Neddy Spencer’s flying home for Thanksgiving. And ignoring Ronnie Huerta’s repeated texts to call back. Neddy’s life has been a mess since we saw it turn into an enormous mess. Huerta’s trying to reconnect, but Neddy won’t have it, suspecting Huerta of being the same kind of false friend Danube was. Sophie Spencer points out, correctly, that withdrawing from the craziness is not wrong. After major drama — the word seems trivial for what they went through, but what is there to say? — you may need time away. Neddy’s the bad friend, ignoring the attempts to reach out and assuming malice. I get Neddy’s anger, but that’s still a good way to create malice.

[ Late Night, Thanksgiving Day ] Neddy: 'How can I still be hungry for a turkey sandwich after everything I ate today?' Sophie: 'Just be ready for turkey omelets tomorrow morning.' Neddy: 'I'm just so happy to see you, Sophie.' Sophie: 'And I'm happy to see you. But I wish you'd tell me what's really going on.' Neddy: 'It's like I said last time we spoke. My life's a mess. Every time I think I'm heading toward something, chaos reigns.' Sophie: 'Neddy, this time involved a famous celebrity murder, you beating up some dealer, a family-friend assassin, and a Austrian drug lord.' Neddy: 'So you're saying I'm upping my fiasco level?' Sophie: 'I'm saying if you can make it through that you can make it through, anything.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 25th of November, 2018. So is it a little too … you know … glib that Neddy would talk about “upping my fiasco level”? Part of the fun of Judge Parker since Marciuliano took over the writing has been that the characters have more self-aware humor about their situations. And I grant that Neddy has had several months to cope with her feelings about Godiva Danube’s murder and all the killings that she saw in that aftermath. I don’t want the characters to go all Les Moore on us, ever. But this feels like she’s taking things lightly.

Meanwhile Sam Driver isn’t sure Neddy should move back home. He thinks she responds to every setback by running back home, and that she shouldn’t be doing that now. Which has enough truth in it to be credible. But, especially since Marciuliano took over, Neddy hasn’t been through “setbacks”. She’s seen family twist someone by their neck until they’re dead. I’m not sure what she does need, except that it involves professional care. So this is probably something that will get further discussion. Maybe a jolly fight over Christmas. We’ll see.

Next Week!

Well, The Amazing Spider-Man jumped the queue a bit. So I’ll get back on schedule with a recap of Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop repeats. Which looks like it’s just wrapped up the story, a month ahead of my expectations. I don’t know what they’re going to do while waiting for the new writing team to take over. Should catch up to Prehistoric Moo in a week, though. And by Prehistoric Moo I mean 1816 Switzerland. You know how it is.

What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? Is Tiki Jansen Academically Eligible or What? August – November 2018.


Hi, fans of Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp. I know the current storyline’s been a bit confusing. It started out so strongly establishing one character, then jumping to another, that it wasn’t clear what they had to do with each other. The past week the threads have come together more strongly. And, must say, the narrative logic was easier to follow when I re-read several months’ worth of story all at once. The narrative was harder to follow chopped up into three panels a day.

If you’re reading this essay after about February 2019 it’s probably been superseded. A more recent plot summary should be at my Gil Thorp plot summary page here.

Gil Thorp.

27 August – 24 November 2018.

Last time I checked in in Milford it was golf season. Coach Thorp was lightly occupied in his summer job, coaching Wilson Casey and Tony Paul in the game. Thorp’s realized that the kids from the Pine Ridge and the Blackthorne country clubs have been turning in false scorecards. The cheaters can’t be shamed. Thorp tries consoling his honest students.

Gil Thorp’s solution: organize his own, Milford Invitational, golf tournament. Only Pine Ridge and Blackthorne aren’t invited. And those kids have a mediocre outing at another tournament where scorers accompany the quartets. We never actually see the Milford Invitational. Just Thorp’s reminding his players that if they’re playing with integrity, the scores aren’t important. Good life lesson. Not one I’ll be sharing with my love next time we’re at a pinball tournament though.


The 3rd of September started the current story. Or set of stories. One is about Joe Bolek, student, and that kind of teenage film buff who watches Reservoir Dogs every other week just in case it’s changed. I can’t be smug. At that age I was very busy watching The Wrath of Khan every Friday night. The other is Thomas Kyle “Tiki” Jansen, recently transferred from New Thayer. They knew each other in middle school, when Bolek did stunts like making his own movie in the middle of the street until the cops showed up.

Teen: 'Bolek's into movies. Last year, he and his buddies borrowed a barricade.' Other teen: 'Borrowed?' Teen: 'A technicality. Anyway, they bought these little bitty paint brushes, blocked off a side street downtown, and Joe filmed them repainting a crosswalk.' (It flashes back to show this. The car in the central frame has license plate 'MST 3K'.)
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 13th of September, 2018. I admit I don’t quite get the point of this video, but I also know teenagers who want to make films are going to make all sorts of strange, slightly Dadaist projects. So, all right. Yes, I see the license plate there, and so does Ray Kassinger.

This is part of the football storyline for the year. Thorp’s problem: Sam Finn is his best punter. But he’s also his best snapper. And it’s bad form to have a player snap the ball to himself to punt. So Thorp has an actual coaching problem, since he can’t put together a punting team that works. He has a lead: Joe Bolek, allegedly, was a pretty good athlete before he got swallowed up being that film guy.

Thorp approaches Bolek. Thorp sighs inwardly as Bolek wants to talk about his life in terms of movies. Thorp tries pointing out that they both hated The Legend Of Bagger Vance, a movie I once saw because I was flying from Newark to Singapore. My recollection is that it was a series of shapes moving in what seemed to be patterns. Thorp is able to communicate slightly in the language of referencing movie titles. Gil Thorp doesn’t actually know that much about movies, but his wife does, and he’s learned things from her. Along the way it’s revealed Gil Thorp’s been allowed to hold a position in adult society without ever seeing Paths Of Glory, which, I just don’t know. Anyway, Bolek watches the Milford team play a game, figures he can punt better than that, and joins the team.

Thorp's Assistant: 'We might get a punter because you watched a French movie?' Thorp: 'C'est la vie.' [ Next Morning, a classroom. ] Teacher: 'Late again, Mr Jansen?' Jansen: 'Sorry, Mr Stoddard. Car troubles.' (Thinking: 'And a slow sister problem.')
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 4th of October, 2018. So I suppose Jansen thinking about his sister implies she must be a real person who has some real problem. But she hasn’t been seen on-screen and for a while I supposed she was just this convenient excuse to pin problems on. If she really is having trouble doing things, then, Jansen’s lateness is more understandable. And I suppose sometime in the next month or so of the story’s run they’ll try to remember to say what the issue is exactly.

Next plot point. Jansen shows up late to class. A lot. Enough that Thorp has to warn him this could screw up his eligibility. Jansen talks about his sister and her needs. How her needs make him late, or force him to leave events early, or stuff. And tries to avoid saying anything independently confirmable about her. It doesn’t go well: he says enough about his sister that one of his teammates can confirm she doesn’t exist. Or at least she isn’t going to school where Jansen implies she is.

Jansen: 'We're just renting for now, at the Pinetree Apartments.' Teen: 'The ones off 5th Street? You guys like it over there?' Jansen: 'Oh, yeah. It's nice.' [ Later ] Teen: 'That was helpful --- except the apartments are called Pine *Trace*.' Other Teen: 'And they're not off 5th, and they're kind of dumpy.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 23rd of October, 2018. I would like to help you with character names but I’m just not sure, I’m sorry. Gil Thorp is pretty good about showing characters wearing varieties of clothing, which, good, but it means there’s fewer visual hooks to be sure of who’s who. That Rod Whigham tends to draw extreme angles and extreme variations in composition, panel to panel, doesn’t help me either. I’m not going to tell him to draw more boring, though, because that’s just stupid.

His teammates ask Jansen where he lives. He names an apartment complex, slightly wrongly, and doesn’t notice he put it on the wrong street. In the world of story strip narrative economies that shows he’s bluffing. But I have to admit, I’ve lived at this house in Lansing for six and a half years now and I could not name the streets two blocks to either side of me. And I’m pretty sure I’m not pulling a fast one with my residence. Still, his teammates watch him driving off the wrong way for the home he claims to be going to.

Jansen’s tardiness reaches the point Coach Thorp has to do something about it, though. Jansen’s twenty minutes late for a game. He claims it’s because his car broke down. Thorp points out Milford is, like, four blocks across. He could’ve walked.

[ In Thorp's office. ] Jansen: 'I know it's a lame excuse for showing up 20 minutes before kickoff, but my car died.' Thorp: 'Mmm. Then why didn't you take the subway, or the bullet train? Oh, that's right. Because this is just *Milford*, where you can bike or jog or ride a unicycle!'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 2nd of November, 2018. Fine, yes, Thorp has a point about Milford being a small town. But I’m sympathetic to the supposition that Jansen would get so absorbed in trying to get his car working that he wouldn’t accept that it didn’t make sense and he should just walk there instead. There’s a reason everybody knows the sunken cost fallacy.

Thorp and his assistant coach, who probably has a name, check Jansen’s paperwork. It says he lives in the Pine Trace Apartments. Pine Trace Apartments say that address is a one-bedroom apartment. For a family of four. So Thorp swings into the exciting world of student-athlete regulatory compliance and asks Jansen where he does live. Jansen says it’s complicated. Thorp hasn’t got time for this. Jansen explains he had to leave New Thayer, but the family couldn’t afford to move, not all at once. So they rented a cheap, empty apartment that could be his address for the sake of school. And a cheap car that could get him from New Thayer to Milford. Mostly. I’m not sure this actually makes economic sense, but, eh. Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham know what housing prices are like in the Milford/New Thayer metropolitan region, I don’t.

Thorp sidelines Jansen while figuring out whether the kid is eligible to play. The school administrators conclude that he is. Thorp’s still got doubts, admitting that part of it is that Jansen turned out to be a good player. I honestly commend Gil Thorp for being aware of his motivated reasons to let Jansen play. That awareness is one of the ways to support procedural fairness.

Thorp: 'Your family rented an apartment no one is living in?' Jansen: 'Right. And officially, that's my address. So I'm totally legit for school --- and football.' [ Later ] Thorp's Assistant: 'School: probably. Football: problematic.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 13th of November, 2018. And yes, this Gil Thorp plot is now focused on the issue of what student-athlete eligibility rules are. So yeah, they’re now writing the strip entirely to appeal to me, a person who likes to play grand strategy games with lots of fine-grain micromanagement, so that my free time is bureaucracy sims.

Jansen explains that back at New Thayer he fell in with a bad crowd. Started as small stuff, vandalism and petty theft and whatnot. When they started getting into burglary, Jansen bailed on them. They whaled on him, and warned him not to come back to New Thayer. They’re still there. But there’s no way to prove to Thorp that he’d be in danger at New Thayer’s high school.

Except that Joe Bolek, film nut, has the idea of let’s just have Jansen go to his old school and get beat up, on video. And Jansen’s cool with this idea. Well, the plan is that Bolek will interrupt the savage beating before it gets all that savage. And that’s the point the story has reached as of the 24th of November. Jansen’s old gang has come out with battery on their minds, and now they’ve got a film nerd, with a big ol’ video camera set up on a tripod, waving at them.

[ Outside New Thayer High, Tiki Jansen's old friends renew acquaintances. A fist cocks ( to punch Jansen ) and --- ] Bolek, calling out: 'Hey, idiots! Over here!' (We see Bolek with a camera set up on a tripod.) 'Wave to the camera, fellas!'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 23rd of November, 2018. The good part about Bolek’s plan is how there’s no way it can possibly go wrong! Also by the way see what I was saying earlier about the art. I grant it’s a little hard to read that last panel — too uniform a line weight, I think — but to have a fist in the extreme foreground and a tiny Bolek standing behind it is a good bit of staging.

This is sure to develop exactly as well as Jansen and Bolek could possibly have hoped.

Next Week!

I have seven days to try to condense the plot of Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker into a coherent essay. Will I make it? Find out here in seven days, barring surprises.

If you don’t want to wait for more me-content, why not watch me Reading the Comics for the Mathematics Stuff, on my other blog? Or, now through the end of 2018, see me defining mathematics words, two per week. I’m looking at nominations for the last letters in the alphabet now, and you might make it.

What’s Going On In The Amazing Spider-Man? Who’s Now Writing Spider-Man? September – November 2018


Hi, sports fans. I know I promised a Gil Thorp plot update this week. But with the death of Stan Lee I figured people wanted more urgently to know what’s going on in The Amazing Spider-Man. So I’ll get to Milford next week at this link. And if you’re reading this, looking for Spider-Man plot elements, after about February 2019 I should have a more updated plot summary here.

My reading of comics for the mathematics bits continues at this link. I’ll finish the comics yet, surely.

And at least for this installment I’ll continue to credit the strip as written by Stan Lee and drawn by Alex Saviuk. But since it’s now getting admitted in The Hollywood Reporter that Roy Thomas has been ghost-writing the strip, I’ll go ahead and put that credit in. Then they’ll go double-cross me by putting some new name on the strip.

The Amazing Spider-Man.

16 September – 18 November 2018.

I last checked in on Spidey at a big moment in his team-up with Iron Fist. They, with Colleen Wing and heel-turned-face Suwan have tracked The Kingpin and Golden Claw to the Mammon Theatre. Kingpin and Golden Claw are using the closed-for-repairs theatre for a crime summit. Kingpin and Golden Claw explained to New York City’s mob bosses that they were taking over everybody’s rackets. The New York City mob replied with enthusiastic bullets.

As bullets pass through the ghostly images of Kingpin and Golden Claw, a mobster cries out 'Our shots are goin' through them two, like they ain't really here!' Golden Claw Hologram: 'THAT, fool, is because ... we never were!' Mobster: 'Th- they're fading away!' Spider-Man, behind the wall: 'Just like we figured.' Iron Fist: 'They were HOLOGRAMS all along!'
Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 18th of September, 2018. “We first suspected them when they interrupted their plot to make a music video of ‘Truly Outrageous’!”

Spidey and Iron Fist are calm, though. The Kingpin and Golden Claw speaking before the crime summit were holograms, just like Spidey and Irony totally figured out. But then a gas canister drops from the ceiling. Spidey swings out to grab it, since there’s no way to guess whether it’s knockout or poison gas. That’s all right. Every crime boss in New York City is happy to start shooting at Spidey, canister in hand, even though they could draw the same conclusion. Luckily none of them can draw a bead, so Spidey is able to get backstage with the gas.

There’s a bit of a battle royale as crime bosses race Spider-Man and Iron Fist. But Iron Fist can do that thing where if a superhero punches the ground it knocks out people who are just standing on it. So he punches the ground and it knocks out people who are just standing on it. Not all the crime bosses, but that’s all right: the cops are here. Iron Fist, in his secret identity as billionaire rich man Danny Rand totally called them earlier. So there was always a cavalry on the way and he just didn’t have the chance to mention it before.

As mobsters swarm Our Heroes. Colleen; 'There's so many of them they're getting in each other's way!' Iron Fist: 'Still, they'll overwhelm us by sheer numbers --- unless I remind them WHY I'm called IRON FIST!' (He punches the ground, knocking people away.)
Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 25th of September, 2018. I was distracted trying to work out that ‘SLKE’ noise from the sword too. I was reading the sound effect wrong: it’s ‘SLICE’, which also doesn’t quite make sense as a sound but all right.

Our Heroes infer that Kingpin and Golden Claw have to still be in the area. It would take too much energy to create realistic holograms if they weren’t nearby. That’s totally a logical reason the Kingpin and Golden Claw have to be in a helicopter taking off from atop the Mammon Theatre right now.

Let me pause. I know I’m sounding snarky here. A bit of me is. The story logic is not airtight. But understand: I’m enjoying it. The Amazing Spider-Man has this airy, cheerful, upbeat tone. I’ll go along with “They’re not really here, they’re holograms! Also they’re really here!” when I’m having fun. In this I am like everybody. I grant if you feel this story’s gone on too long for the plot points established then you’re not going to be won over by the reasoning that has Spider-Man and Iron Fist jumping onto a helicopter trying to flee Broadway. That’s fine. It’s good news for the oatmeal shortage.

So. Spidey and Irony punch the getaway helicopter. The good news: this does stop the helicopter. The bad news: the helicopter was in flight. Fortunately, Spider-Man’s overcome a temporary jam in his web shooter and is able to make an emergency parachute out of his webbing. I didn’t know that was a thing, and Spider-Man admits it’s been so long since he did that he didn’t know if he could anymore. Anyway, the empty helicopter crashes into the theatre.

Iron Man, falling from the damaged helicopter: 'The rooftop's coming up fast!' Spider-Man: 'We can't stop this chopper from crashing! But we don't have to go down in flames with it!' (Spidey makes a webbed parachute.) Iron Fist: 'A parachute made out of your webbing?' Spider-Man: 'Hadn't tried this in a while, but I guess it's like riding a bicycle!' Spidey, thinking: 'Good thing I managed to un-jam my web-shooter!'
Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 12th of October, 2018. Never mind the astonishing engineering and materials science involved in Peter Parker having made his wrist web-slingers capable of spitting out an incredibly strong, incredibly adhesive, yet short-lived material. If he’s able to make this webbing spit out to form a parachute while falling, he’s got some crazy skills in packaging. Also in whatever mastery of user interfaces lets him weave something like that from his wrist and, like, two buttons?

Spider-Man and Iron Fist land in a construction site. It’s also where the Kingpin and Golden Claw have landed. The villains had emergency escape jet packs in the helicopter because of course they have. Why wouldn’t you? It’s just good sense.

So, the fight. It’s a tough one. The Kingpin has been studying Spider-Man’s methods ever since they last fought. He’s ready for anything Spidey can throw at him. Mostly it’s punches. No webs, which seems like an oversight to me. Meanwhile Golden Claw was figuring Iron Fist would eventually punch him, so he’s wearing a metal talon that’s got full anti-punch powers.

The Kingpin: 'I'm not afraid of some beareded clown with a hand that glows like a firefly!' Iron Fist: 'Well, at the risk of dispensing unwanted advice ... maybe you should be!' (He punches Kingpin, with a SZZRAK noise; Kingpin falls backwards.)
Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 24th of October, 2018. [ Extremely nerdy voice ] Uhm, excuse me Mister Kingpin but I believe if you examine closely you will realize the glowing part of the firefly is not its hand.

The fight is a stalemate. Spidey and Irony can only hope to hold out until Kickpuncher can arrive. Spidey and Irony figure, hey, why not try punching the other guy’s villain? And that works out great. The Kingpin might be ready for Spider-Man’s punches, but for Iron Fist’s punches? Not nearly. Meanwhile Golden Claw might be ready to deal with Iron Fist’s punches, but when Spider-Man tries kicking? Ta-da. And you thought I was putting up a cheap Kickpuncher reference there.

Golden Claw: 'You can't stand against my POWER TALON, young fool!' Spidey, swinging on his webs from a crane: 'Not by facing it head-on! But what if I ... go around it!' (And he kicks Golden Claw in the face.)
Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 26th of October, 2018. Honestly not sure in the first panel there whether Spider-Man’s on the ground or not. I suppose it’s not important to the line of action.

Our villains are resoundingly punched and kicked. Also turned over to the cops. Spider-Man and Iron Fist go off for a little chat. Spider-Man wants to make good on earlier in the story, when he didn’t reciprocate Iron Fist’s revelation of his secret identity. But Iron Fist isn’t having it. He’s been thinking about it, and realized he was being presumptuous earlier. If he, billionaire Danny Rand, had his secret identity leaked he could still protect himself and loved ones. Spidey? Not likely. So, you know, cool. Anyway, if Spider-Man needs him he’ll be at the Rand Tower and totally answering his phone and not evading Spider-Man to go on weirdly nonspecific missions, like usually happens when Spidey needs the help of the X-Men or the Avengers or the Fantastic Four or somebody.

Incidentally, Spider-Man as he tries to unmask mentions that it’s Halloween. This is part of the weird flow of time in the newspaper Spider-Man universe. All this action since September, our time, has taken place over the same day. It could easily be under an hour of time. The strip does this sort of compression of time, naturally. But it will also sometimes throw in a reference to the date of publication. I don’t think there were any other specific days mentioned this storyline. But it would be plausible for one in-strip day to be mentioned as being, like, Labor Day, Halloween, and Thanksgiving at different parts of the story. Not sure why the comic strip wants to draw attention to the weirdness of time like that. I suppose the writers figure, you know, we readers should relax.

Anyway, Spider-Man looks on in dismay at the destruction of the Mammon Theatre. This was where Mary Jane Parker had been performing. No telling how long that’ll be closed now. Mary Jane’s accepting of it: now her publicity tour, which took her to Las Vegas (with Rocket Raccoon) and Los Angeles (with Melvin, King of the Mole Men) and Miami (with the Incredible Hulk), can end and she can go home.

J Jonah Jameson’s home too, as of the 10th of November. Which I’m calling the start of the new story.


The new story: Jameson is figuring to find and expose Spider-Man once and for all etc etc. But he’s got a new plan this time. He’s hired Luke Cage, Hero for Hire, to find and expose Spider-Man etc etc. After breaking down managing editor Robbie Robertson, though, Cage has bad news: he’s nota hero for hire anymore. If Jameson proves he’s a crook, Cage will haul him in. But he won’t do it for money. He’s just in it for smashing in newspaper managing editors’ doors. Well, that’s relatable. And that’s what’s happening as of today.

Next Week!

Golf! Football! That annoying kid who’s trying to be a cinema snob! Yet another kid who’s being all coy about his home situation! It’s time for Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp to take its innings! This time I mean it!

Who’s Writing and Drawing Alley Oop Now? Who Is Li’l Alley Oop?


Good news as I make these things out. Alley Oop, the dean of the time-travelling caveman-adventure newspaper-syndicated serial story comics, is not doomed. I mean not particularly doomed. In early 2019 new strips are to start, from a new writer and artist team.

D D Degg, at The Daily Cartoonist, is who I got the news from. Joey Alison Sayers, who draws for GoComics.com and for The Nib, is to take over writing. Jonathan Lemon, of Rabbits Against Magic, is to take over the art. Both believe they’ve got their workflows figured out to where they can keep doing their other strips as well as Alley Oop, so, good luck there. I remember when I thought I could do two things in a day myself.

8 Ball: 'What would happen if your protest had its intended effect and closed down the magic show?' Weenus, holding a megaphone and sign reading 'Rabbit Rights': 'I'd be able to venture out into the world, thus setting myself up for a lifetime of disappointment and failure.' 8 Ball: 'You're a glass-fully-emptied-and-smashed-on-the-floor kind of guy.'
Jonathan Lemon’s Rabbits Against Magic for the 12th of November, 2018. Lemon’s to draw the Alley Oop comic from January 2019 on.

The Daily Cartoonist links to an episode of the Tall Tale Radio comics podcast which I haven’t listened to. But in it Lemon and Sayers discuss the comic and how their work on it came about, according to the show notes. I assume they’re going to resume the strip as a serial-adventure comic, but don’t actually know that.

According to The New York Times’s article on this new writing team, there’ll be a separate storyline for Sunday strips. They’ll “tell the story of Li’l Oop, a new preteen version of Alley Oop that will focus on his early middle-school years”. I’m intrigued by this prospect. Not just because it’ll let me add another article to my reliable “What’s Going On In” roster. But for whatever reason I’ve always liked “Li’l ___” versions of characters, ever since I was too young to read and encountered them in Archie comics. (I have no memories of ever being too young to read.)

Joey: 'Sometimes I think what if everyone else is a robot and I'm the only one who's a human.' Friend: 'That sounds paranoid and more than a little egotistical.' Joey: 'What? No! It's wishful thinking. It would take the pressure off having to act normal all the time.'
Joey Alison Sayers’s Joey Alison Sayers Comics for the 14th of September, 2018. Sayers is to write the Alley Oop comic from January 2019 on.

I don’t know why it appeals, but as long as the Li’l Version is about having its own adventures rather than explaining every little quirk of the original, it does appeal. I would also be excited by a variant where they’re all costumed Silver Age superheroes. And maybe one where they’re robots in a Jetsonian future. And if you’re about to tell me “time-travelling robot caveman from a shiny happy future” is way too much stuff then tell me why the Office of Original Character Registration rushed to approve my plans and even sent me a certificate of total OC awesomeness? Explain that. Check and mate, thank you.

And if you do want regular comic strip news you should be reading it or a similar web site. But I know it’s hard to start reading new web sites. I have the same problem myself. I mention all this so people who aren’t plugged in to the comic strip news circles, such as myself, get their Alley Oop news.

The Andrews-McMeel Syndicate press release mentions that Alley Oop currently runs in “three dozen” newspapers. That’s a bit off the comic’s peak of 800. The strip also has 22,720 subscribers on GoComics.com. So I guess that gives an idea of what kind of existing audience they regard as enough to keep a venerable comic strip going.

The press release also mentions that catchy song from the 60s. And that Alley Oop’s among the many characters, many of them comic strip characters, to make a cameo in the Clifford Simak novel The Goblin Reservation, which marks the first time a non-old science fiction fan has mentioned Clifford Simak since 1998. Which is a shame since Simak’s great. The release also says “Alley Oop” comes from the French gymnastics command “Allez, ho!”, meaning, “Go, hop!”, which is the kind of explanation that I would give except that I’d be making it up, and afterwards I’d be told I may not explain stuff to my nieces anymore.

Anyway, any plot recaps or other Alley Oop news I’ll try to keep at this link.

I Don’t Know Who’s Officially Writing Spider-Man Now


Stan Lee has died. Many people have written better eulogies and retrospectives than I could for a man who was one of the most important writers and editors of comic books for like 14,680 years, going back to the discovery of pigments. It’s oversimplifying to say that if you think of a comic book, you think of something that was in part Stan Lee’s idea of what a comic book should be. But it’s a starting point toward truth.

What’s relevant around Another Blog, Meanwhile is: Stan Lee’s the credited author of the Amazing Spider-Man newspaper comic strip. What happens now that he’s died?

I don’t expect much. None of the people into the serious business of comic strips thought Stan Lee was literally writing the daily strips. I’d heard questions about whether he at least gave story ideas or overall direction, but never a clear answer that he particularly did, or didn’t. D D Degg, writing for The Daily Cartoonist about the retirement of artist Larry Leiber, mentioned “it is generally known that Roy Thomas is the ghost-writer” of the comic strip. Thomas didn’t start getting author credit when Leiber’s name dropped off the comics. Perhaps that will change.

Spider-Man, having stopped a car from crashing full-speed into a wall, fails to notice a cracked brick coming loose. It THONNKs him on the head, which *that* he notices.
Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 14th of March, 2007. I do not know whether Thomas was the ghost-writer for this 11-year-old installment or how much Lee was involved in this particular but very popular moment

I’m three weeks out from my scheduled recap of The Amazing Spider-Man. But I may bump that up to reflect what I assume will be reader interest in what’s going on there.


Also yes, I’ve heard the news about Alley Oop. I’m hoping to write something for that for Wednesday.

What’s Going On In Rex Morgan, M.D.? Who Was That Incompetent Mugger? August – November 2018


Thanks for your interest in Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D.. This plot summary’s good for the couple of months leading up to November 2018. If you want earlier plot recaps, or if you’re reading this after about February 2019 and want a later recap, you should find it at this link.

If you’d like to read about mathematical topics raised in the comic strips, you should find that at this link. Also over on my mathematics blog I’m explaining mathematical words and short phrases. It’s fun for me. You might like it too.

Rex Morgan, M.D.

19 August – 11 November 2018.

We last checked in on Rex Morgan at the Elvis-assisted Las Vegas wedding of Buck and Mindy. At the reception Rex and June apologize and say they have to get back to doing medical stuff. After everyone gets done laughing Penn and Teller walk over to give “Horrible” Hank Harwood and his son Hank Junior tickets to the show. The Harwoods figure to continue their road trip home.

Horrible Hank: 'Trying to call the diner to see about Millie joining us for lunch --- but nobody's answering.' Hank Jr 'That's kind of odd. Maybe they're just too busy. We'll be there in an hour anywhow. I'm sure we can make it all work once we get there.' Horrible: 'Sounds right.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 30th of August, 2018. By the way it’s been since about late August since I was last able to call my father on his cell phone and get an answer, but that’s not because of anything more ominous than Verizon having managed to screw up our accounts so severely that we’re somehow now blocked from communicating with the other.

Hank wants to visit Millie’s Diner again. Skip the roadside attractions. They get to the restaurant where he reunited with his old high school flame. It’s closed. She died the night after their visit. They can get to her visitation. Her family talks of how joyed she was that last day. So, good reminder there about reaching out to people you just drifted away from. It’s a sobering end to this thread. After it the Harwoods go home. It closes this plot.


The new plot started the 10th of September. It’s about Jordan and Michelle, until recently housesitters for the Avery mansion. Heather Avery’s given Jordan startup capital for his restaurant. He’s bought a former hardware store downtown for his place. This seems odd. But there’s a bunch of restaurants in the area already. Maybe the only choice was converting a place that wasn’t already food-ready. Jordan and Michelle talk out what kind of restaurant he’ll open. Then an intoxicated, shabby-looking guy runs at them, demands Michelle’s purse, trips on his own feet, and knocks himself out.

Michelle: 'It's a little chilly. Glad I wore a sweater.' Jordan: 'And me with no jacket'. (An intoxicated man staggers toward them.) Jordan: 'What's going on with this guy? Hey, pal, are you okay?' The man, stumbling toward and then past them: 'Gimme 'at purse!' (Michelle and Jordan are shocked, as the man stumbles forward and thuds on the sidewalk.) Jordan: 'You all right?' Michelle: 'Yeah. All my years of akido practice and the guy takes himself out by tripping. ... Do you think he's hurt? Jordan: 'A little.' (The man groans.)
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 16th of September, 2018. I feel bad for how I find Delmer’s faceplant here funny, even as I’m confident Beatty wanted readers to find it funny and then feel bad for finding it funny.

So they turn him over to the cops. Over dinner they talk about how they’re the lucky veterans. They’d come through their combat experiences basically all right. Many don’t, and they wonder if their would-be mugger is a traumatized vet. Then someone at another table passes out, possibly choking. Michelle, a nurse, is the person to rescue him, and they enjoy the rare double 9-1-1 call night.

The cops ask Jordan and Michelle if they want to press charges against their mugger, Delmer Robertson. He realizes he knew a “Delmer Robertson” back in high school. Lost touch with the guy after they both went into the army. Jordan, in food services, lost his leg when some catastrophe struck as he was getting fruits and vegetables. Delmer … who knows, exactly? But Jordan does mention how he’s built up the story of how he lost his leg to something more exciting for the civilians back home. I’m not sure if this is setting up a plot point for the current (or a coming) story. Terry Beatty might be retconning something established when Woody Wilson wrote the strip. If it is a retcon, I don’t know what the point of it is.

Delmer: 'Jordan --- I'm awful sorry, man. I didn't even know that was you. I didn't even know what I was doin'.' Jordan: 'I got that impression from the way you stumbled unconscious onto the concrete.' Delmer: 'I've had better days, man. Things have been pretty rough lately. I've been sein' things, Jordan!' Jordan; 'Seeing things?'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 2nd of November, 2018. I understand the strip needs characters to recap what went before, for new readers or readers who’ve forgotten what went before. But in the first panel this makes Jordan come off like a snarky jerkface to me. At least I have trouble not hearing Comic Book Guy read it, in that mode where a nerd says something sarcastic but literally true. It’s not an emotionally open mode, not for people who don’t know each other.

Jordan confirms that this guy was the Delmer he knew way back when. And that Delmer’s had a tough time since getting back from the army. So he asks the court to be lenient with Delmer, and offers to help him get back on his feet. The court is fine with this, even if it sounds a bit like the setup for a Dan Harmon sitcom.

(In the medical clinic waiting room) Delmer: 'You ever talk to anybody about losing the leg? I mean, you gotta have issues with that. I sure would.' Jordan: 'Many not as much as I should have, Red. Maybe we could both use a little counseling, huh?' Delmer: 'Yeah. Hey, do you see spiders on my arm? Cause I see spiders on my arm.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 7th of November, 2018. I’m open to the notion that Jordan has unresolved trauma from the loss of his leg. But I haven’t felt like that’s a problem he’s been living with. Actually until it was brought up this storyline I didn’t know, or had forgotten, that he had lost a leg. I don’t want the comic strip to act more like Funky Winkerbean, since I don’t want to have to punch it harder than I’ve wanted to punch anything else in my life ever. But maybe it could play up a bit more of what’s Jordan’s problem besides renovating a place into a restaurant before he’s decided what kind of restaurant he means to open.

Jordan meets up with Delmer, and they have the sort of awkward-but-hopeful conversation you might expect as they go to Rex Morgan’s clinic. Where Michelle’s a nurse. They promise they’re trying to help Delmer get the help he needs. And he needs more: according to someone who passed medical information on to Rex Morgan, he has both diabetes and failing kidneys. So that’s a bit of seriousness after some amusing follies.

And that’s where the plot of Rex Morgan, M.D. stands as of the 11th of November, 2018.

Next Week!

Golf! Football! That annoying kid who’s trying to be a cinema snob! Yet another kid who’s being all coy about his home situation. It’s time for Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp to take its innings. Catch you then.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Sundays)? Is The Rat Nearing Death Yet? August – November 2018


There’s always two answers about what’s going on in The Phantom. The Sunday strips, written by Tony DePaul and illustrated by Jeff Weigel, are one thread. That’s the one I recap here. The weekday strips, written by Tony DePaul again but illustrated by Mike Manley, are a different storyline. Both have plot recaps at this link, because I can’t think of a better way to arrange the tags. I never learned that you can easily have subsidiary categories of a main tag, and have been able to on WordPress blogs for years, you see. It’s a shame and someone should tell me. Anyway, both storylines are recapped there and you can get the most recent update to both by using it and a bit of sense.

The Rat is getting farther from death, but on the other side of the event.

Also, I look at comic strips for mathematical topics. That’s over there. You might like it. You might also like my progress through the alphabet, looking at and explaining mathematical terms. Thanks for considering it all.

The Phantom (Sundays).

12 August – 4 November 2018.

The story of The Rat, who must Die, reached its one-year mark since the last time I checked in. The Rat had lead The Phantom to his former partner-in-crime, The Boss. The Phantom had promised to recommend time off The Rat’s sentence for his help bringing in The Boss. The Rat failed spectacularly at getting away from The Phantom. But in the struggle between The Phantom and The Boss, he took a chance to clobber The Phantom with The Shovel. And The Boss was readying to run down The Phantom with his car.

The Phantom shoots his gun at the driver. He forgets that in Rhodia they drive on the other side of the road. I liked that bit. I like superheroes who make realistic mistakes such as that. The car still smashes against The Phantom. The Boss comes out to kick The Phantom before shooting him. The Phantom staggers to his feet, holding a knife against The Boss. The Rat warns that The Phantom’s never going to give up. The Rat finds The Phantom’s other gun, and declares he knows for sure how this plays out.

Phantom: 'I'm giving you one chance ... to drop ... that ... weapon.' Boss: 'Ha ha! Do you believe this guy?' Rat: 'I do! He never gives up!'' [ Cutaway: Jungle Patrol inbound. ] Rat: 'Hey! I got his other gun right here! Now I know for sure how this thing plays out ...' (Rat oints the gun toward Phantom.) Rat, to Boss: ' ... Old Buddy.' Boss thinks, 'Uh-oh'. The Rat shoots the Boss, who shoots back.
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 16th of September, 2018. When I first read it, I did misunderstand the action of the final panel, and thought The Boss had shot at The Phantom as he was being shot himself.

The Rat turns again: he shoots The Boss, who fires back. They’ve killed each other. The Rat takes a bit longer to die. It gives him the chance to say how he wished he could have a life more like The Phantom’s. And chuckles that, hey, he got out of Boomsby Prison, never to return, after all.

[ Final Matters ] The Rat, dying: 'Sorry about the sucker punch. Oh, and yeah, the, uh, shove.' Phantom: 'Don't mention it.' Rat: 'It feels so weird ... doing something not for me ... for somebody else ... *told you* I wasn't going back to Boomsby! ... I owe you, brother.' Phantom: 'You owe me? How do you figure that?' Rat: 'You got me out.' (He dies; the Jungle Patrol helicopters arrive.)
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 30th of September, 2018. That’s a pretty neat split-screen effect in the first panel, bottom row. It reads well even though it defies the normal left-to-right order of word balloons.

Jungle Patrol arrives. The Phantom had called in his private air cavalry earlier in the story. They collect the bodies and return to Bangalla, and Boomsby Prison. The Warden soon has a report for Bangalla’s president, Lamanda Luaga. They believe The Phantom kidnapped and executed The Rat. They don’t know the Jungle Patrol is under The Phantom’s control. President Luaga publicly dismisses this as legend. And privately concedes he doesn’t know why The Phantom wanted The Rat dead but is sure he had a good reason. It’s nice to see a superhero who’s got the confidence of the authorities these days. But, jeez, that’s putting a lot of trust in someone’s judgement.

And there’s another mystery. The Rat’s corpse has disappeared from the morgue. The Phantom took it, of course. He’s giving The Rat a funeral, with the help of Bandar pallbearers. His wife asks a question that’s been nagging at me for a year-plus: what was his name? The Phantom doesn’t know.

[ Last Rites for the Rat ] Diana: 'Who was this man? A friend of yours?' Phantom: 'Not exactly ... what an honor! To be carried on one's final walk by great Bandar leaders! Guran, Babudan, friends! Please follow me.' (He leads the pallbearers into a cave.) Diana: 'Darling, what was this man's name?' Phantom: 'Name? I suppose he must have had one. I never knew it. To some he was The Rat. To others, prisoner number 5364278. Let's just call him a man who has gone missing. And so here we are ... the Vault of Missing Men!'
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 4th of November, 2018. So I know what you’re thinking: if The Phantom didn’t know The Rat’s name, how did he tell the Jungle Patrol that The Rat should get time off his sentence for his cooperation? And the answer is that The Phantom described The Rat, and what was to be done, but trusted that The Rat would be left alive when picked up by the Jungle Patrol.

Tony DePaul was kind enough to reveal this story’s set to end the 11th of November. I’m sorry to miss the end of the story by such a slight margin, but what am I to do, adjust my arbitrarily set schedule for good reason? No, I’ll just include a sentence or two about the end of this story when I get to the next Sunday-continuity recap, sometime around February 2019.

Next Week!

It’s a look at three months of action in Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. Have we seen the Las Vegas Pinball Hall of Fame? Have we talked to every roadside statue in the midwest? Has Rex Morgan seen a patient or done a doctor-y type thing? Well, no, probably not that. But they must have done something or other.

Statistics October: How Good It Is For Me When Longrunning Comic Strips End


Given the choice, I’d rather comic strips not end. Oh, there are strips I don’t like, even ones I won’t read. But for the most part, I like comics. I like them carrying on. I love it when a new creator comes in and revives a moribund property. But even something that’s just marking time is this comfortable, familiar friend for whom nothing exciting is happening, but nothing bad is happening either. And that’s consoling, especially in the face of a terrifying world.

So I expected the ending of Hazel and then Henry to bring readers here, since who else writes anything about either? Besides actual comic strip news sites. Still, people did come. Partly from the comic strip news. Partly spillover from my mathematics blog, which hosted the Playful Mathematics Education Blog Carnival at the end of September. Give that a try, please. You might find something delightful there. Here’s how the figures worked out, precisely:

3,070 views; 1,681 visitors. 1.83 views per visitor. 31 posts published. 99 page views, on average, per day.
Yes, I am thrilled to be back above three thousand page views for the first time in four months.

WordPress tells me of 3,070 page views in October. That’s way up from September’s 2,644 and August’s 2,848. These views came from 1,681 unique visitors, again way up from September’s 1,436 but basically level with August’s 1,619. Still, there were 173 likes submitted around here in October. That’s basically the same as September’s 174, August’s 180, and really every month going back to April. It’s been in a 165-to-180 range all this time now. I don’t know. The number of comments jumped, up to 67, the highest figure since March. September had 50 comments and August 39. I’m trying to be comfortable with people talking to me.

Comic strip talk made up the bulk of my readership. Part of this is comic strip endings or major changes. Part of this is story strips getting really confusing. Here’s the top five posts for October:

Yes, none of them actually published in October. My most popular thing actually published in October was In Which I Am Distracted By Ziggy For Crying Out Loud, a cry of despair provoked by paying too much attention to the art one strip. I had a lot of well-liked short pieces, by the way, possibly because I got into this good groove of having an amusing trifle and being able to put it down in 150 words. My most popular long-form piece was, like, the 814th most popular thing around here last month. That was Regarding The Time When I Had Too Much Desiccant, showing that what really amuses people is me somehow having problems with petty stuff.

Here by the way is my schedule for upcoming What’s Going On In The Story Strip posts. Subject to change if some fast-breaking news breakfasts:

I also have another seven weeks of recaps of The Stan Freberg Show to run. Don’t think I’m not already panicked about what to write about after that.

Now for the running of the countries. There were 69 countries, if you count the European Union as one and Trinidad & Tobago as one other. And Bosnia & Herzegovina as another one. In August and September there were 60 such countries. In August and September there were 16 single-reader countries. In October? 17. So I’m clearly in a growth spiral here. Here’s the roster:

Country Readers
United States 2,329
Australia 140
Canada 96
United Kingdom 54
Spain 53
India 47
Italy 31
Philippines 26
Germany 24
Japan 19
Brazil 18
Mexico 17
Hong Kong SAR China 16
Netherlands 13
Romania 13
France 12
Saudi Arabia 11
Sweden 10
Belgium 9
Finland 9
Denmark 7
Sri Lanka 7
Colombia 6
Pakistan 6
South Africa 6
Ireland 4
New Zealand 4
Norway 4
Peru 4
Singapore 4
Taiwan 4
China 3
Czech Republic 3
Latvia 3
Malaysia 3
Slovenia 3
Thailand 3
Zimbabwe 3
Chile 2
Ecuador 2
European Union 2
Greece 2
Indonesia 2
Nigeria 2
Poland 2
Russia 2
Serbia 2
Slovakia 2
South Korea 2
Turkey 2
Ukraine 2
Vietnam 2
Argentina 1
Austria 1
Bahrain 1
Bangladesh 1 (*)
Bosnia & Herzegovina 1
Croatia 1
Curaçao 1
Cyprus 1
El Salvador 1
Estonia 1
Kazakhstan 1
Luxembourg 1
Madagascar 1
Maldives 1
St Lucia 1
Suriname 1
Trinidad & Tobago 1

Bangladesh was a single-reader country in September. No other countries were, though, and no country’s sent me a single reader each month for three months running now.

According to Insights, by the end of October I had published 195,599 total words in 304 posts for the year. This is 643 words per post total, on average. I had been averaging 641 words per post at the start of October. There were 18,418 words published around here in October, over 31 posts. That’s up a little bit from September’s total, although really only because there were only 30 September posts. Huh. Anyway, I’ve had 742 total comments for the year, as of the start of November. 2.4 comments per post this year up from 2.3 at the start of October. 6.1 likes, on average, per post, the same number as at the start of October. 1,844 total likes so far this year, by the way, if you wondered.

November opened with the blog having had a total of 102,048 page views, from 56,394 unique visitors. And yes, I reached my 100,000th page view this past month, and celebrated it with a special Statistics Saturday post.

If you’d like to follow Another Blog, Meanwhile, please do. You can add it to your WordPress reader. You can add it by RSS reader, using whatever tool you like to read my content, and maybe even get the versions with the dumb typoes and grammatical errors not corrected out. And if you’d like to see me on social media, that’s your business. But I’m @Nebusj on Twitter, so that’s an option. Choose wisely.

What’s Going On In Mary Worth? Why Is Everyone Rightly Mad At Mary Worth? August – October 2018


I have a content warning before going into Karen Moy and June Bridgman’s Mary Worth today. It features pet death, and handles it with spectacular incompetence. If you don’t want to read that, I don’t blame you. You might skip the whole thing. Around about January 2019 I should have another plot recap. I trust this storyline will be done before that point.

In non-warn-worthy content, I have comic strips based on mathematical topics discussed over here. I also have a fun series describing mathematical terms, which you might enjoy. Last week included mathematical jokes. And monkeys at typewriters.

Mary Worth.

6 August – 28 October 2018

The running story last time was about Tommy and Brandy’s relationship. Brandy’s father was alcoholic, and used drugs. Tommy’s been addicted to alcohol and painkillers. He’s quit for a year now, and hopes to stay clean. But he’s afraid when Brandy finds out about his past she’ll dump him.

Everybody Tommy knows gives him the same advice. So he takes it. He tells her about his painkiller addiction. That he’s not used anything in over a year. That he has a support group he feels confident in. That he’s found both God and Mary Worth. And she’s okay with that. She loves him, and trusts him. They stick together. So that’s sweet.

[ When Brandy learns of Tommy's past ] Brandy: 'You're not perfect, but neither am I! I love you and I want to be with you!' Tommy: 'I love you too!' Brandy: 'It feels right, being together! Let's keep going and see what happens!' Tommy: 'Only good things ... I promise!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 18th of August, 2018. Not going to be snarky here. I’m glad a couple characters are trying to hope in and trust each other at the end of a story I had no reason to hate.

There’s a week of Mary and Iris talking about how happy everything is and how great Mary is. And that leads to the current storyline. And this one, as I warn, includes pet death treated badly. So here’s one last chance to ditch if you need to.

Continue reading “What’s Going On In Mary Worth? Why Is Everyone Rightly Mad At Mary Worth? August – October 2018”

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? Who Is Chasing Rusty Trail And Why? July – October 2018


I know you want to find out about all the comic strips which mentioned mathematics topics last week. They’re discussed on that link, the one that just passed. And you probably also want to know about a fascinating selection of words from mathematics. That’s here. It’s also possible that you want to know about James Allen’s Mark Trail, but it’s so much later than the mid-October date when I publish this that my plot summary doesn’t help. If I’ve got a more recent recap, it should be here. Glad to help. If you’re reading this around lat October, though, this should get you caught up soon enough.

Mark Trail

31 July – 21 October 2018.

[ And tracks down 'Mark Trail' ] Griffy: 'No, she doesn't have an ear tag or a tufted forelock.' Mark Trail: 'Sorry, Chief --- if she's not tagged or tufted, I can't help you!'
Bill Griffith’s Zippy the Pinhead panel for the 20th of August, 2002. Part of a storyline in which a “realistically drawn woman” interrupts the comic and Griffy (left) goes on a search through the story comics to try to find where she belongs.

Last time I checked in, Mark Trail and company were in the pop-culture district of Mexico. Mark’s archeology buddy Professor Howard Carter was finding weird stuff in a 2500-year-old temple. His assistant Becky had this weird habit of cataloguing and making 3-D scans of everything before taking it to a secure facility. And hey, she’s off-stage now for unknown reasons. Rusty found a “Zuni Fetish Doll” that arrived in an anonymous box. And this wasn’t the first time one of these has turned up. That and some references to Indiana Jones and Three Amigos filled out the setting. I don’t know if the doll is a reference to something.

Mark Trail realizes the story is stalling out. It’s been going since April and what we know is this ancient temple is weird and Becky’s off-stage. He suggests Rusty and his girlfriend-based partner organism Mara go to the other temple. See if they can’t get kidnapped or something while he takes a nap and disappears from the story. Joe the van driver mentions how the dolls started showing up and the site has a curse or something. Also that he’d heard Becky was at the dig site in the morning but guesses he was wrong. Anyway, he drops them off in care of the tour guide at Non-Creepy Mayan Temple.

Mara: 'Who is that man she's [ Becky's ] talking with --- he wasn't part of the group!' (Becky hands a mask to Backpack Guy.) Rusty: 'Hey! That's the mask from Professor Carter's trailer!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 17th of August, 2018. You can’t see it from this angle, but just out of frame, Rip Haywire is punching an explosion. It’s pretty cool.

Rusty and Mara notice that Becky’s in with the tour group. They call to her, but she doesn’t react. Mara thinks it’s odd that Becky didn’t hear them. But Rusty has people “not hearing” him and fleeing his approach all the time. Still, they press on. They find Becky! She’s talking with someone else, someone wearing a backpack who was not from the tour group. And holding what looks like one of the masks dug up earlier. Mara thinks Becky is trying to sell it. They work up the hypothesis that Becky is making 3-D prints of the artifacts, selling the real ones, and putting the fakes into museums. Rusty thinks it’s a shame someone as nice-seeming as Becky would do something so underhanded. Mara calls him out on this: “you meet a girl one time, and just because she’s pretty, you think she’s nice”. A good point. Rusty doesn’t seem to consider he hasn’t met Mara all that much, and she seems nice, and she’s feeding the idea Becky is arranging an artifact sale. Just saying.

Raul, over the phone: 'I didn't see much --- the kids were in the way --- but I know the rop went as planned!' Joe, in his truck: 'That complicates things ... we may have to use the kids for a while before we get them out of the way! This makes me very unhappy --- you know Mark Trail's reputation!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 30th of August, 2018. The next day’s strip makes it clear they’ve read Mark Trail’s writings before, so they just happen to be low-level Mark Trail fans out here. It’s not like he showed up in their scheme and they quickly looked up what this means for their life-stories.

They notice someone’s watching them. And they follow the guy who took the mask. Backpack Guy is taking the tour bus back to Santa Poco. The guy who watched them gets on the radio with Joe the driver, though. Joe and Watching Guy share an ominous radio conversation about having to use the kids before getting them out of the way. And that they know this is dangerous, given Mark Trail’s reputation for how every story ends in major explosions lately. Rusty and Mara get back to Joe, and ask him to take them into Santa Poco and hey, why not stop wherever the tour bus does? He can’t figure an excuse not to comply. Mara wonders if Joe might have been the watcher, and she thinks that’s a shame, as “he seems like such a nice guy”. Credit to James Allen for underplaying the character moments there. Anyway, they drive past a week’s worth of panels of Central American wildlife eating other pieces of Central American wildlife.

Mara’s talked Rusty into putting some kind of tracking app on his phone and I’m sorry, Rusty Trail has a smart phone. I have to go lie down a while. Also he has a smart phone that works in Mexico. Y’know, my love and I spent a week in Mexico City earlier this year. Working out whether we could get a phone to work on the Mexican network was something we stressed about without ever solving the problem. (We made it through the week without a phone. Not looking for a medal here, just some acknowledgement of our courage.) Anyway, Mara’s plan is to turn on the tracking app, drop the phone in Backpack Guy’s backpack and then even if they lose sight of him, it’s all right. They can follow. Mara mentions getting the idea from Nancy Drew, a reference Rusty doesn’t get, and wait Nancy Drew has smart phones now? I have to go lie down again.

Mara: 'We're going to walk over to Backpack Guy. You kind of push me into him, I'll trip and fall. When he tries to help me up, you slip the phone into his backpack!' Rusty: 'Awesome! Then we can use your phone and the Snap-N-Rap App to track my phone's location and find out where he is in case we lose sight of him!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 21st of September, 2018. So, seriously, the only comic strips that show kids with cell phones in anything approaching realism are Nancy, Phoebe and Her Unicorn, and Mark Trail? The heck, world? You know?

Back to Joe, who mercifully gives us some names for characters. Watching Guy turns out to be Pablo. They and Raul — who’s talking to Joe while posing with his cool motorcycle — know the kids are on to something. And that Pablo saw the “courier”, while Raul saw Becky. They note that they didn’t see the courier and Becky together. This point is so inconsequential that taking panel time to establish it must mean it’s consequential. Joe think that Rusty and Mara were following the “second courier”. But since they’re not following Backpack Guy now he doesn’t know what to think. This may be how this scenario would happen. But it made for a week of baffling reading as people say they don’t know what’s going on. Raul promises to “take care” of Rusty and Mara. He also says he’s “let Pablo take care of” Becky. Yes, I’m aware the phrasing looks ominous without actually committing to anything. I mean, there’s enough space here for Joe and Pablo and Raul to be part of the smuggling operation. There’s also enough for them to be undercover agents busting the crime syndicate.

Raul: 'What do you mean?' Joe: 'I thought the kids had just led me to the second courier --- they just tripped over a guy wearing a backpack who was getting off the bus, but now they seem to have lost all interest in him!' Raul: 'I'm sorry, but I'm not following you!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 28th of September, 2018. A sentiment that I did see expressed while the story was going on. The lack of explicitly given names didn’t help following the story as it suddenly got all this intrigue.

All right. So. Rusty and Mara try to act casual as Backpack Guy encounters them. He recognizes his “clumsy friends” who knocked him over at the bus stop. That scene wasn’t actually shown on-panel by the way. But it was how they dropped Rusty’s phone into his backpack. He proposes that they walk with him, since this is not a great part of town for unattended kids. And introduces himself as Juanito, so now I have all the player-characters’ names. Juanito says he’s a courier, and he’s got a package to deliver nearby, so why not walk with him? Rusty and Mara go along with this. Juanito stops at the next street because he’s seen the motorcyclist, whom we know to be Raul. Juanito’s not sure that Raul is following them, but does think he “looks like trouble”. Juanito proposes they run into a crowd. I’m assuming a fruit stand is going to get knocked over. Could even get exploded.

Mara: 'Rusty, Backpack Guy is headed this way!' Rusty: 'Quick! Let's act like we're reading!' (They pick up comic books. Rusty reads 'Fist of Justice' and Mara 'Giant Squirrel!'. Comics in the background include 'Spider Guy' and 'Super Dude' and a 'Gore' that I think might be a reference to this early 50s Peanuts strip where Charlie Brown demolishes a poor newsstand owner's comics display.)
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 6th of October, 2018. Wait, those comics. Fists of Justice? Giant Squirrel? Mark Trail is getting all self-aware and I’m not sure I can take it!

I do appreciate that James Allen has put in play at least three groups here. Each knows a little about the other groups. None knows enough that anyone can be confident in who to trust or how far. It’s a bit foggy reading this day-to-day. Comics Kingdom lets subscribers read a week’s worth of strips at once. That helps the plot threads focus for me. And, I hope, I help that for you.

Sunday Animals Watch

What fascinating animals, plants, or forces of nature were highlighted in the Sunday panels recently? And have we killed them yet? Here’s the recap.

  • Ants, 29 July 2018. So there’s ants that explode and they’re not even from Australia and what the flipping heck?
  • Honeysuckle, 5 August 2018. Not any more endangered than all life on Earth is right now.
  • Dobsonflies, 12 August 2018. Early indicators of when the local environment is dying.
  • Hognose Snakes, 19 August 2018. Not endangered, but they do play dead so they’re a little drama-prone.
  • Giant Hogweed, 26 August 2018. Also called Giant Cow Parsley or Hogsbane, claims Mark Trail. It’s invasive and its sap can send you to the hospital with third-degree burns.
  • Gila Monsters, 2 September 2018. Fun episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
  • Humbolt Martens, 9 September 2018. Endangered, and Mark Trail tries to cast some blame on the marihuana.
  • Rhinoceroses, 16 September 2018. Ugh. You know. But it does mention that thing where earlier this year it looks like lions killed a poacher of rhinoceroses.
  • Mount Lico’s “Lost Continent”, 23 September 2018. Cool, technology-assisted discovery of a previously undisturbed forest with a bunch of unknown species that’ll probably blow up, if that episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 is any guide.
  • Jaguars, 30 September 2018. Endangered. Features one of the three known in recent years to be in the United States and that got killed by a poacher.
  • The Larger Pacific Striped Octopus, 7 October 2018. Probably endangered, but apparently it’s too rarely seen to be sure.
  • Parasitoid Wasps, 14 October 2018. Yeah, it’s got a stinger that’s, like, twelve feet long and Mark Trail looks like he’s about five feet into his impalement here.
  • Parsnips, 21 October 2018. They can cause second-degree chemical burns, which is no Giant Hogweed but is still a valuable reminder to never eat anything natural enough that its name isn’t required legally to be misspelled.

Next Week!

Will I make it seven days without turning into a white-hot ball of incoherent, jibbering rage? There’s only one way to know and that’s to see if I last until next Sunday reading Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth. If I survive, I’ll tell you why you should probably be a white-hot ball of incoherent, jibbering rage too!

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? Why Is ‘Peggy Lee’ In It? July – October 2018


If you’re looking for the latest story developments in Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley, thanks for thinking of me. If you’re reading this after about January 2019, there’s probably a more recent article for you. It should be posted here, and good luck finding what you need.

On my other blog I talk about mathematics touched on by comic strips, which might interest you. Also for the last several months of 2018 I’m looking at words from mathematics and explaining them. You might find either of these interesting; please give them a try.

Gasoline Alley.

23 July – 13 October 2018

When I last recapped Gasoline Alley, the comic strip was publishing new strips again. Walt Wallet was trying to buy clothes from omnipresent clerk Frank Nelson. So that was going well.

Frank Nelson: 'Where will you gentlemen go in your new dapper suits?' Walt: 'Diaper suits?!' Skeezix: 'No, Uncle Walt! Dapper! You know! STYLISH!' Walt: 'You don't have to yell! I'm not deaf!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 23rd of July, 2018. Oh, yeah, so why does Skeezix call his adopted father ‘Uncle’ Walt? Well, you see … I don’t know. I assume it was explained at the time. It keeps throwing me when I want to describe the action and there’s that ‘Uncle’ throwing me off about the relations among like five generations of the Wallet family.

Still, it’s productive. Nelson bemoans the world situation and, longing for a hero, asks “Where is Orphan Annie when we need her most?” Wallet picks up the line. He finds it the right close for his roast of Little Orphan Annie at the Old Comics Home. Skeezix and Walt drive to the Old Comics Home, which is bigger than it used to be. Also very empty. They don’t know what’s gone wrong.

(Pulling up in the car.) Skeezix: 'Wake up, Uncle Walt! We're here! I don't remember it being so big before!' (The Old Comics Home sprawls out over the whole strip, a mass of porches, overhangs, gabled roofs, conical rooves, floors, and walkways, like it was built by a guilt-ridden guns manufacturer's widow and if they ever stopped building they'd die.)
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 3rd of August, 2018. And for all that the Old Comics Home is this sprawling, rambling, architecturally incoherent thing, it doesn’t provoke the spontaneous laugh from me that about two-fifths of the McMansion Hell spectacles do. Possibly because it does look like someplace it’d be fun to wander through.

Jiggs, of Bringing Up Father, rescues them. The dinner is at the new banquet hall. They could afford it thanks to “a famous cartoonist that included us in his will”. The commenters at GoComics speculate that Jiggs was talking about Mort Walker, who died earlier this year. That sounds good to me. You don’t think of Beetle Bailey as having raked its creator a great heaping pile of money, but remember, he also had those Boner’s Ark royalties coming in for years. They need the expanded home, too, as there’s more and more old-comics every day, what with newspapers having died in 2008.

They get to the banquet hall, and Jiggs passes off Walt and Skeezix to Mutt and Jeff. This opens things to a good spot of corny old dining jokes, and a lot of challenges to identify some 1930s comic strip character. But finally, with the start of September, the banquet reaches its point: it is not a roast of Little Orphan Annie. It’s a tribute to Gasoline Alley in honor of its centennial. Walt Wallet points out this is a couple months early. Mutt says “We know! We’ve got an Orphan Annie roast planned then!”

The strip began to recap the first century of itself. This included some nice-looking redrawings of vintage comics. This Scancarelli did using the original Frank King-style model sheets, or good adaptations of them to modern newspaper needs. And then jump ahead to reviewing the 14th of February, 1921, when a most important thing happened: Jack Benny turned 39. And the infant Skeezix was left on Walt Wallet’s doorstep. This is taken as the moment when Gasoline Alley leapt out of its original premise — jokes about guys and their obsessive tinkering with cars — into something people cared about, wildly. Walt Wallet adopting this foundling was a story.

Mutt, as emcee: 'OK, Walt Wallet! Here's a photo of where it all began --- in the alley behind your house!' (Mutt holds a black-and-white photo of a small house and tiny garage.) 'And here is a shot of you and Avery, Doc and Bill, working on your autos in Gasoline Alley --- Nov 24, 1918!' (Black-and-white rendition of four very 1910s young men around a car. It's captioned 'Sunday morning in Gasoline Alley - Doc's Car Won't Start') Mutt: 'Isn't that how the town got its name?' Walt: 'Yeah! Uh, which one is me?'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 13th of September, 2018. I have heard that a “gasoline alley” was the slang term for anywhere bunches of young men would get together to tinker over cars that might someday even run. This seems plausible enough, and of a kind with the “radio shack” that the bunches of young men into ham radio would build. And would explain why there are places named “Gasoline Alley”, some of them even still having anything to do with cars. But I don’t know of citations for the term “gasoline alley” that predate the comic strip. Google’s NGram viewer doesn’t seem to have examples of the phrase from before the comic strip. And after the “Skeezix” word-origin mystery I want to be careful about passing on anything that isn’t at least a bit researched.

The strip recounts what I am going ahead and trusting are early comics about Walt trying to take care of Baby Skeezix. And describes the nationwide poll that I’m trusting Scancarelli when he says was held, to pick a name for the child. The result, I am surprised to learn, was “Allison”, a bit of wordplay on his being the Alley’s son. And a reminder that any name we might think of as a girl’s was also a boy’s name at most three generations ago. But Skeezix stuck. Walt repeats the claim that Skeezix is “cowboy slang for a motherless calf”. Perhaps, but I can’t find support for that word-origin story that doesn’t come from Gasoline Alley. “Skeesicks”, or several variant spellings of it, does seem to be 19th century slang for a rogue or rascal. The connotation of the word softened as the 20th century dawned. By 1912 it was the sort of thing a P G Wodehouse protagonist (in The Prince and Betty) could call the stuffy old fellow with money who’s slowing the whole scheme down.

Walt, recounting events of finding young Skeezix: 'Doc, Avery, and Bill came over to help bathe the little feller! I thought we'd wash and polish him like we do cars, then dry the moisture off, leaving the body finish in sparkling condition!' (Illustrated by the young men coming in, and drying off a baby while holding mop, sponge, and car wax, none applied to the baby.)
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 21st of September, 2018. I like seeing art done closer to the style of the original character designs and I’m surprised how well they work on the modern screen. Also, I admit, I’m a little glad the action is being narrated, because actual comics of the day had way too many words in them, and then would throw in eye-dialect to make it that little bit more of a task getting through everything.

All looked ready to carry on with recapping a century’s worth of overarching stories when October, and a special guest, arrived. I expected Phyllis Wallet, who died in the strip in 2004. Part of Gasoline Alley‘s gimmick has been that the characters age, loosely in real time, which for a long-running strip means even the core characters have to die. Walt Wallet’s been spared, I imagine for reasonable sentimental reasons. But it does mean if you pay attention, he’s 118 years old. There’s two people in history who lived demonstrably longer than him. Moving Walt to the Old Comics Home seems like a natural way to avoid having to bring up his age without killing off the last of the comic strip’s original characters. Reuniting Walt with Phyllis and letting them stay together would make so much sense. It might yet be done.

But it wasn’t done this month. The guest was one Mrs Peggy Lee. Whom the strip tells us is a real person. That she’s drawn in a much-more-realistic style than any other character suggested this. And why Peggy Lee? Says the strip, she also turned 100 years old this year. This opens the door to a couple weeks of old-age jokes (“I knew I was getting old when it took me longer to recover than it did to tire me out!”). And why Peggy Lee as opposed to any other centenarian? Apparently she’s been a fan of the strip her whole life, and Jim Scancarelli came to know that. Well, that’s sweet.

Mutt, as emcee: 'Peggy Lee told me she has read all the adventures of Gasoline Alley since 1918!' Peggy Lee: 'I did indeed!' Mutt: 'But wait a second! How could you have? You were a baby in 1918!' Peggy Lee: 'I was a fast reader!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 4th of October, 2018. Really, to have read all of an historically important comic strip is pretty amazing. The only important comics I could make a similar claim about are Peanuts, Calvin and Hobbes, and Bloom County, although I’m probably close enough for jazz for The Far Side. And four of those made it easy by being, in the scheme of things, pretty short-run comics. (I want to count Cul de Sac, since it was so fantastic, but I don’t know that it lasted long enough to be important.)

And that’s what’s been happening. The Sunday strips have kept on being spot jokes. They don’t fill out any particular story, but do keep the other characters in the comic. I assume the comic is going to continue celebrating its centennial. That will come, barring catastrophe, the 24th of November, or just short of six weeks from now. It seems likely to me that Scancarelli’s already completed the centennial strip. Wow.

Gasoline Alley is the oldest (American) syndicated comic strip that’s still in production. (The Katzenjammer Kids lapsed into eternal reruns long ago, and I have no idea if it’s still offered to any newspapers anywhere or if it’s just posted to Comics Kingdom.) There are a few others that should join it soon, though. Ripley’s Believe It Or Not (if you count it as a comic strip) first appeared the 19th of December, 1918. Barney Google first appeared the 17th of June, 1919. Popeye first appeared, as Thimble Theatre, on the 19th of December, 1919, and it at least still has new Sunday strips. (Popeye himself didn’t join the strip until 1929.) I suspect none of them figure to do an anniversary celebration like this.

Next Week!

Mexico! Mysterious artefacts in the Yucatan! The strange and wonderful wildlife of Central America that we somehow haven’t killed yet! Yes, this storyline is still going on in James Allen’s Mark Trail, but never fear! I’ll catch you up!

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? Who Is Ugly Crystal’s Father? July – October 2018


Hi, readers of Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy. I do my best here to bring you up to date on the last couple month’s developments. If it’s past about January of 2019 for you, there’s probably a more recent update here. Good luck finding the story you need.

The mathematics you need is over at this link, where I talk about the mathematics last week’s newspaper comics mentioned. I like this stuff. You might too.

Dick Tracy.

16 July – 7 October 2018.

Last time I checked in Dick Tracy was entering a charity bread-making contest so I’m sorry I have to go lie down a bit. All right. Sawtooth hopes to use the chance to kill Tracy; he and his gambling-addict partner Grimm have stolen a bread truck and, saying they were from the charity event, got into the Tracy’s home. They don’t fool Tracy for a second. He used the super-detective work of knowing the restaurant collecting the bread didn’t have a truck to send out. The fight spills out of Tracy’s kitchen, through the glass door. Sawtooth and Grimm flee as cop cars approach.

Catchem: 'How did you know Sawtooth was coming today, Tracy?' Tracy: 'We didn't. Tess and I have been ready for anything since you discovered Sawtooth. We expected Ernie's restaurant to pick up the bread, but when Tess said there was a large truck in the drive, I knew something was up. Ernie's doesn't have trucks.'
Joe Staton and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy for the 27th of July, 2018. Which, all right, Tracy’s reasoning makes sense — and was correctly foreshadowed — except that if Ernie’s doesn’t have trucks where did Sawtooth and Grimm get an Ernie’s Fine Eats truck from? Did they get it painted themselves? Why not a plain white truck that Tracy could take as something rented for the occasion?

They can’t take a train legitimately. Grimm lost the pair’s money betting on horses. Sawtooth (off-panel) kills him, and hops a freight train to Minot, North Dakota. Dick Tracy knows this thanks to one of the informants recruited by Lafayette Austin. Lafayette Austin’s this faintly Shaggy-esque introduced so prominently during the recent Green Hornet storyline that everyone had to wonder what his deal was. Early August, he explains his deal: He knew Mister Bribery and his sister Ugly Christine back in college. Back before Christine Bribery (?) turned to a life of crime. And then a death of leaping from a magnetic Moon Valley-technology Air Car into a smokestack. But he knew Ugly Christine as a beautiful person. He didn’t know she had a daughter. Ugly Crystal, friend to Honey Moon Tracy. Hold that thought.

Sawtooth: 'Grimm, this job was your second chance. Is this how you repay me? By losing my money too?' Grimm: 'It was a sure thing ... owww! Please, Sawtooth, I need a doc. My arm's killin' me!' Sawtooth: 'You're wrong, Grimm. Gambling is going to KILL YOU!'
Joe Staton and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy for the 25th of July, 2018. While we haven’t seen exactly how Sawtooth kills people, it looks awfully likely he just chews their necks open, so I can’t fault them not doing this on-screen.

Sawtooth, in Minot, goes to the Hoagland Cemetery. The grave of one “Private James Wesley Malone, CSA”. The baffling and offensive headstone is a fake. Sawtooth had left $50,000 in cash underneath it. Tracy and Sam Catchem, following the lead of Austin and of Usagi Yojimbo‘s Inspector Ishida, are already there. Sawtooth shoots first. Don’t know whether Tracy or Catchem shoots the bullet that kills him.

(Silhouetted figures at the graveyard.) Tracy: 'You've dodged arrest for too long, Sawtooth. HANDS UP!' Sawtooth: 'DODGE THIS, TRACY!' (He shoots at Tracy and Catchem.)
Joe Staton and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy for the 11th of August, 2018. I don’t talk about the art enough here, so let me just say: great panels here. Particularly the use of silhouettes with one item of clothing in the light for Tracy and Catchem.

And then, starting the 19th of August, was a two-week Minit Mystery, featuring as guest artist Rick Burchett. Burchett’s a two-time Eisner Award-winner, has penciled and inked a lot of comic books, and since 2017 pencils Funky Winkerbean. Anyway, this Minit Mystery is set at the Rogue’s Gallery, where a bunch of cosplayers feign being Dick Tracy characters. Lest you think this is entirely two weeks of self-reference and an excuse to show Flattop (deceased 1944) again, know that the Rogue’s Gallery building was established as 704 Houser. That was Archie Bunker’s address.

Anyway, the mystery is figuring out who killed the Cosplay Dick Tracy. It takes a week just to start collecting clues. The resolution is … well, there’s no information given on-camera that would let you find it. But it does show what the critical clue would be. It’s the old minute-mystery trick of an incriminating note that’s been torn off the sheet of paper, but that you can find by scraping a pencil over to read the impression of what was written there.

Third of September, and the start of the current storyline. A drug pusher by the school gets kicked out by a Sonic-the-Hedgehog-haired woman working for “Polar Vortex”. Polar Vortex seems to be quite fond of the air conditioner and he swears he’s got protection. Get his … guy … within six feet of Dick Tracy and “Poof! No more Tracy!” (I would have written “Vanished, without a Tracy” but I’m not the professional here.)

Back at school, Ugly Crystal and Honey Moon Tracy notice the drug dealer. Honey Moon calls her dad the cop, but the dealer confronts her and she kinda moon-electrocutes him. The dealer’s arrested. Honey Moon gets grounded, which I like as a nice understated joke.

Lizz: 'I'm sorry, Lafayette. I didn't know you and Christine were close. Did you know she had a daughter?' Lafayette: 'Huh?' Lizz: 'She's been in boarding schools all her life until recently. Bribery called her 'Ugly Crystal'.'
Joe Staton and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy for the 2nd of August, 2018. So what is the over/under on it turning out that when you brush the hair out of her face Ugly Crystal looks just fine, or even, you know, pleasant?

Back to Lafayette Austin. He thinks he might be Ugly Crystal’s father. He goes to Mister Bribery, in jail, for information. Bribery won’t talk with him. Tracy intervenes. Bribery is upset Tracy wants help with that “hippie” Lafayette Austin, which is a pretty good insult. It does kind of match Austin’s look, yes. But also if we accept that he was going with Ugly Christine back in the 60s, yeah, maybe we would have been a hippie. Also, rich old white guys have this weird obsession with hippies coming out and grabbing at the women-folk. So it’s possibly true, it’s funny, and it’s in-character.

It’s a bit of a weird embrace of the time-warped nature of a comic strip where characters age erratically, but, eh, so what? Crystal and Honey Moon also make a reference to “Anything Can Happen Day” on The Mickey Mouse Club and I’m not sure this is something people of their purported age cohort would have experienced. But if Honey Moon’s been a teenager for forty years? Why not?

Oh, also, turns out Lafayette’s brother is Adam Austin who writes those “Midnite Mirror” stories about the Mirror-Universe Evil Dick Tracy. And who’s going around with Sprocket Nitrate, of the film-fraud Nitrate siblings, because this crime-adventure comic is still a soap opera.

Tracy presses, though, arguing that Ugly Crystal should have a family if possible. And Bribery admits that, so far as he knew, Ugly Christine never had another serious relationship. They set up a blood test. Also the chance to meet and, for Austin, to talk about Crystal’s mother. The paternity test comes back, oddly enough sent to the Major Case Unit instead of Austin’s or Crystal’s residences. They’re daughter and father.

(Crimestoppers Textbook warns putting your address on a key makes it easy for burglars.) [ Polar Vortex's Hideout. ] Devil, looking a run-down ice cream truck: 'What the hey?' (Going in to see Vortex) 'Hey, boss. What's that hunk of junk doing here?' Vortex: 'It's all part of the plan, Devil, to recruit Crystal Bribery.' [ Elsewhere ] Dick Tracy: 'Hi, Junior. Is Crystal still getting mail at your house?' Junior Tracy: 'Yeah, why?' Dick Tracy (handing over envelopes): 'These are the results of the paternity test. One for Crystal and one for Lafayette.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 30th of September, 2018. Is … is putting your address on a key something people do? I’ve seen it on hotel keys with a holder promising postage paid if you drop it in the mailbox, but only in hotels from the 1950s or New Hampshire, not anywhere that real people live.

Meanwhile, Polar Vortex is still trying to I’ll go ahead and call it icing Dick Tracy. His plan relates to dealing drugs at Honey Moon’s school. He’s got an ice cream truck. And someone named Pauly who’s a mechanic and comes from a broken home which somehow makes him “valuable” to Vortex. And somehow this is all supposed to come together to destroying Dick Tracy. We’ll see what happens next.

Next Week!

How has Walt Wallet’s toothpaste conspiracy ranting gone? How is his roast of Little Orphan Annie going? Who is that creepily-realistically-drawn woman trading jokes with the cast? All this and more as we check what’s going on in Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley, all going well.

What’s Going On In Prince Valiant? July – September 2018.


In the headers of these What’s Going On In posts I like to include a link to my Reading the Comics posts. Those are on my mathematics blog, and use comics to discuss mathematics themes. I always have one on Sunday. But not this Sunday! This month I’m host to the Playful Mathematics Education Blog Carnival, and so I hope you’ll read it too.

Meanwhile, if you just want the latest in news about Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant, thanks for reading! If it’s later than about December 2018 I should have a more up-to-date recap, all going well. It, and any other relevant Prince Valiant posts, will be at this link.

Prince Valiant.

8 July – 30 September 2018.

When I last checked in on Prince Valiant some shocking news had come to light. It turns out Prince Valiant happens around the time of the Emperor Justinian’s reign. We know this because Justinian had dispatched one General Vialius to take over the Misty Isles. He was to do this through the treacherous and impoverished Senator Krios. This comes on the heels of the revelation-to-me that Prince Valiant’s based on the Misty Isles somewhere in the Mediterranean. At least these days.

On a secluded island Krios meets with General Vialius. The trade is easy enough. Krios had arranged the murder of a Norse trader. This was to stir up anti-foreigner sentiment that (Byzantine) Rome could exploit. But Vialius withholds the gold payment promised. Krios was supposed to supply a Norse hostage, but he had killed the only one on hand. Vialius wants to call the deal off. Krios offers his own son Antero as substitute hostage.

Upon learning that Krios cannot deliver a Norse raider as a hostage, an angry Vitalius snaps to his men: 'We no longer have business here! We leave!' 'Wait,' cries Krios, desperate to secure the patronage of the Emperor Justinian. 'Hear me out --- Justinian stands to profit much from your patience! His empire grows deeper in debt with every campaign he throws against the Vandals! If Justinian helps me gain control of the Misty Isles' tremendous trade economy, his share of all that trade will enrich his coffers beyond belief!' Vitalius sneers. 'Fine words, Krios --- you come to us driven to poverty by your gambling habits, and now you gamble that I am a fool. What, in good faith, can you offer us as a guarantee now?' Krios gestures grandly to Antero: 'I offer you the most secure guarantee possible - my own beloved son, Antero, as hostage!' This is the second child that Krios has betrayed in one day. But Antero does not react as expected - he throws his head back and laughs!
Mark Schulz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 22nd of July, 2018. The other child betrayed that day was described in the previous What’s Going On In Prince Valiant. He tried to insist his daughter Andrina was behind the murder of the Norse trader Ingolf. Antero pleaded to the Queen for the chance to protect his sister and her sick but not guilty mind.

Antero laughs this off. He points to Princess Valeta and the guard who’ve been watching all this treason going down. The Queen’s men declare how now that there’s incontrovertible proof of Krios’s treachery his place in political life is ended. Don’t you love a sweet fantasy like that? Valeta confronts Vitalius in what you’d have to figure is a pretty awkward conversation. But she offers that if they get out of there, everyone can pretend it all never happened. This sounds good to Vitalius, who doesn’t know his boats are going to be lost to the wine-dark sea, in a battle with Norse raiders. He and his whole mission will disappear to ironic history. Knowing how that turns out makes it awkward that I think he made the right choice.

Not making the right choice, yet again: Krios. When Vitalius refuses to take him along, he tries to start a battle and flee in the chaos. Antero grabs and holds his father, at least until brother Drakon spears him in the back. Drakon in turn is shot by Ittu, a woman … uh … I lost track where she’s from. I think she’s one of the attendants of Andrina, Krios’s daughter and the only one of the siblings to survive the night. Krios is able to flee in the chaos, but what good is that going to do him, really?

Krios has fled and Drakon is dead! The surviving soldiers of House Krios despondently throw down their weapons before Valeta's Royal Guards. Valeta and the Senators Charis and Methodios search the dark horizon to see Krios's sail slipping away. 'Bah!' grumbles Charis. 'And our boat lies on the far side of this isle.' 'Don't fret about father,' a soft voice gasps behind them. 'He won't be back.' It is Antero, who lies horribly wounded, barely clinging to life. 'He is finished. He was a bad gambler who lost the family fortunes and has now destroyed everything else in his treasonous bid to claim power. Know that it was he who ordered Drakon to slay the suspicious Ingolf, as well as the two servants used to incriminate the Norseman. It was all to cover and aid his plot. But, you know, he really did hate foreigners ... and now he will meet his doom in some foreign land ... ha ... ' Antero breathes his last.
Mark Schulz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 2nd of September, 2018. … Wait, hang on, so both Valeta’s group had their boats on the far side of the isle, and Vialius’s soldiers left their boats on the far side of the isle? … We either glided right past a pretty awkward scene where the lookouts blew their jobs or this is a boomerang-shaped isle and Krios just got away from the junction at the center.

And so the story moves toward conclusions. Valeta’s feted as a hero. Zulfa and Ittu, who did much to support the investigation and downfall of Krios, get saluted. Drakon gets his corpse dragged through the streets. Antero gets some recognition; through this story, he’s been the one person in Krios’s party to insist on stopping. Now there’s just Andrina to take care of. She’s angry with Zulfa for being part of the whole chain of events that got Antero killed. But Antero bequeathed his property to Zulfa. She proposes to Andrina that her brother wished they would be friends. She’s willing to try.

The “Next” tag for the 30th of September promises “The Return”. There’s an obvious person this could mean. Prince Valiant hasn’t been in this story, or this strip, since about February. He’s been busy coming back from Kazhakstan the long way, by river, building a long series of rafts that immediately capsize. Has he got back home? Has all waterway navigation in central Asia become impossible as a vast logjam of Valiant’s rafts blockades all the rivers? I don’t know. We’ll see.

Next Week!

Nice thing about Prince Valiant is that, as a weekly strip, there’s only so much plot it can have. Next week we go to the opposite end: Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy. Come see how close I come to deadline in getting all the story developments written down!

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Weekdays)? What’s The Plan To Kill Heloise Walker? July – September 2018.


Hi, readers interested in Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom. I’m writing here about the weekday continuity. It’s a story separate from what Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel have going on Sundays. Both storylines get their recaps at this page, although we’re about six weeks from the next Sunday-strips recap. Also at that page should be any recaps that I write after this one. So if you’re reading this after about December 2018 there’s probably an essay recapping more recent plot elements there.

Also posted at least once a week: a review of mathematical topics mentioned in the comics. My mathematics blog over there is also starting an always-exciting A to Z essay series. And it’s hosting the Playful Mathematics Blog Carnival this coming week, too. Please give it a try.

The Phantom (Weekdays).

2 July – 22 September 2018.

The Ghost Who Walks had got back to his cave and gotten sewn up last time I checked on the daily strip. It was part of a story, A Reckoning With The Nomad, that began the 19th of February. It’s the 250th weekday-continuity story. Eric Sahara, supercriminal terrorist known as The Nomad, had lured The Phantom into a raid on his bungalow. The Nomad wasn’t there. Many gunmen were. The Phantom got out, but with serious injuries. He wondered: Where is The Nomad?

The Nomad: 'Who is this girl? This ward of a president ... what do we really know about her?' Kadia: 'Dad, DON'T! She's the first real friend I've ever had!' Nomad: 'Who is she speaking to so ... secretively?' [ In the other room ] Heloise: 'Dad, I ... I think I'd better tell you something ... '
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 18th of July, 2018. In this conversation she only tells The Phantom that she loves him, so that’s delaying the cavalry a bit.

He’s in Manhattan, it turns out, visiting his daughter Kadia. She’s attending the prestigious Briarson School. Her roommate is Heloise Walker, daughter of the current Phantom. Also twin sister of the Phantom-apparent. Heloise would rather like to be a Phantom herself. It’s not a ridiculous plan. The Chronicles of Skull Cave record Phantom-connected women donning the purple-and-stripes for various missions. And not only in stories told recently, as we might expect a decades-old comic strip might try to downplay old casual sexism. Comics Kingdom runs 1940s and 1950s-vintage Phantom strips as well, and those have had stories of women acting as the Phantom. (The story linked to there, from 1952, is neat as it talks about that Phantom’s twin sister who decides to get into the superhero game, much as Heloise has been saying she could do.)

Still. Phantom has known for a while his daughter was roommates with The Nomad’s daughter. He’d kept this secret from his family, the better to not worry them. He had a change of heart after the ambush made him go horse-riding with a massive wound in his neck. Walker tells his daughter exactly who she’s roommates with. “Better late than in the middle of the dinner your loved one is having with the international supercriminal terrorist”, goes the Old Jungle Saying.

Because the Nomad is figuring it’s time he disappear. So he’s visiting his daughter for one last weekend before he vanishes. His pleasant tourist weekend with Kadia and Heloise was that last weekend. It’s also a neat bit of plot rhyme to the weekend Kadia and Heloise spent with The Phantom and his wife, by the way. Heloise gets this news in the middle of dinner with him. She’s ready to tell her father where The Nomad is. Fear overtakes her: if he knew, Walker would jump on an airplane right then, despite the risk to his life. She figures she can do at least as well by sticking close to the Nomad and if lucky getting an idea his plans. Pass that on to her father when he’s well enough to fight, and everything will be in great shape.

The Nomad’s got plans for Heloise too. He’s learned Heloise Walker was for a time the young ward of Bangallan President Lamanda Luaga. And that this is something she’s never found worth mentioning to Kadia. His conclusion: she’s a young agent of the Bangallan government, sent to get to him through his daughter. It’s wild but not absurd. It depends, for example, on ascribing deep meaning to Kadia and Heloise being roommates. In-story, that was set because the school’s headmaster thought it cute. Or why Heloise reveals so little about her past, or her parents. Well, there’s other good reasons for her to be quiet about all that.

So he figures to kill her before she kills him. He forms a plan that seems, at first, confusing. But the indirectness is for good reason. He doesn’t want Kadia distressed about Heloise. And also doesn’t want her asking questions about Heloise’s disappearance. So the next day he goes to the Transportation Security Agency with a report of how he’s heard Heloise goes making pro-terrorist statements like “terrorists are great” and “I love that terror stuff”. He tells them he’s glad to keep Heloise busy while they ready to arrest her. But he’ll have to act like he protests when they take her, for the sake of her daughter. You know he donates so much to the TSA’s widows-and-orphans fund? (Which is a heck of a sick joke that DePaul left there for you to realize was there.)

Chief, explaining to his cops and The Nomad: 'Here's how I want this handled ... ' The Nomad, thinking: 'Useful idiots ... in time, Kadia will come to believe Heloise Walker was not a friend, but a dangerous foreign agent. Her unexplained disappearance will be entirely plausible! And I, in Kadia's eyes, forever blameless ... '
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 3rd of August, 2018. Oh, such a cynical take on the security apparatus here. … Hey, remember that time a couple years ago the FBI crime lab admitted they just made up their reports? And we decided we were okay with that as long as we didn’t know the wrongly convicted either personally or because a really good podcast investigated their case?

The Nomad treats his daughters to dinner on his own private jet, on the runway yet. Heloise steps out to text her father about how she knows who the Nomad is and how she’s going to get his trail. She’s barely done giving the cavalry pretext to arrive when she’s arrested. Kadia demands her father do something. He does: he pretends to talk with the Chief. And that the Chief told her Heloise is going to federal custody. He takes the batteries from Kadia’s phone and tells her to rest. And to process the news that Heloise is some kind of terrorist and going away to Federal custody. Thus he has this goal: Kadia has a story to why Heloise will never be seen again.

[ The Nomad's Lies ] Nomad, faking ap hone call: 'Yes, Chief ... I ... I understand. No, we had no idea. She deceived us rather convincingly ... ' Kadia: 'Dad! What's happening!?' Nomad: 'Thank you for your vigilance, Chief. Goodbye.' (To Kadia.) 'They're turning your friend over to federal authorities ... she's not the person you think she is!
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 27th of August, 2018. I’m impressed that The Nomad can fake a phone call like that on his smart phone. When I’ve held a smart phone I can’t get it to start a call, or make a call, or end a call. If my 2008-era phone ever gives out I’ll just have to never speak to anyone on the phone ever again, which would be all right, really.

Meanwhile the security apparatus has done some investigating. They’ve worked out that Heloise Walker may be a Bangallan national. But she is white and rich and I’m guessing Anglican. (I mean, the original Phantom was born in England in the 16th century, so there’s an obvious guess but also plenty of room for that guess to be wrong. And there’s five hundred years since then, even if the family’s settled on some strong traditions. Doesn’t seem to be practicing any European religion strongly, anyway.) They let her back into the Nomad’s custody. This seems quick. But a cop that The Nomad encounters on the airport tarmac does say how Heloise checked out, and it’s worth reporting people anyway. You never really know.

The Nomad, faking a call to his daughter: 'She [ Heloise ] wants you to exit the jet and show yourself. Ha-ha! Yes! I've told her that myself --- she's being QUITE ridiculous!' Heloise: 'Kadia would NEVER say that about me! You see, I happen to KNOW and LOVE her far better than THE NOMAD ever could!'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 8th of September, 2018. I’m glad Heloise wasn’t suspicious about The Nomad’s “Ha-ha” laugh. Truth be told, I do that myself. Also “Hee hee” and “Tee hee”, because I’m pretty sure I learned how to laugh by just trusting that the noises people made in the comic strips were what the hew-mons did in reality.

The Nomad brings Heloise back to his plane and explains that of course he’s dismissed all his servants. Also Kadia’s totally on the plane. She insists on calling Kadia first. When she only gets voice-mail, she fears The Nomad has killed Kadia. And lets slip that she knows who he is. She flees. He catches her and knocks her out. He takes her into the plane. He’s going to fly her to somewhere he can throw her into the sea.

(One of her shoes fell off, since high heels are always doing that. The cop I mentioned earlier drives up when The Nomad’s picking up the shoe. He considers killing the cop, to cover up that possible thread. But the cop only talks about the importance of keeping everyone under surveillance, and doesn’t seem to notice the shoe, so The Nomad lets him go.)

(The Nomad, throwing a shoe onto the unconscious Heloise on his plane.) 'This is YOURS, I believe. And now we're free to queue for departure! Join me in the cockpit when you're able. We'll speak of your guardian, the great Lamanda Luaga! And what fools you both are ... '
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 19th of September, 2018. Still impressed by The Nomad’s phone-call-faking game, by the way. Just didn’t have space to mention it in the previous caption.

The unconscious Heloise dreams of sparring with her brother Kit. His dream-image is urging her to wake, now. The Nomad’s holding for clearance to take off.

Next Week!

It’s time to check in on Mark Schulz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant. Has the strip been invaded by the Byzantine Empire under Justinian? You’ll know soon!