What’s Going On In Judge Parker? Did Judge Parker just reset everything? July – September 2020


No, Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker has not reset everything. But there were some plot threads that reached what seem to be points of returning-to-the-norm the past few months. I’ll describe, and this should get you up to speed for the end of September 2020. Later plot recaps, and any news about the strip which I get, should appear in essays at this link.

On my other blog I yesterday posted the Playful Math Education Blog Carnival #141. It’s a big listing of educational and recreational and playful mathematics writing, most of it not mine. Also a bunch of amusement park photographs which are mine. I hope that you enjoy. I also have an A-to-Z series, explaining one mathematics word for each letter in the alphabet. I hope to have the letter P represented tomorrow.

Judge Parker.

5 July – 26 September 2020.

Everybody in the Judge Parker cast had their plans cancelled or weirded by the pandemic, last we checked in. Fortunately, Very Stable Genius Mayor Phil Sanderson knew a way out: just reopen the town! The virus will have to be reasonable now that we’ve gotten bored sitting at home a lot! What could go wrong? Nothing, unless you listen to enemies of the people like Toni Bowen. So that gives Toni Bowen to talk about. Also for her to tell Sophie to back off from. She wants to run her own campaign.

TV Reporter: 'In the wake of what many are saying were troubling remarks from the Mayor, opposing candidate Toni Bowel has called her own press conference at her headquarters.' Bowen: 'People have asked me what I think of Mayor Sanderson's remarks. To which I can only answer, 'Do you honestly need to be told, even now?'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 9th of July, 2020. Personally, I think modern political discourse is under-applying the question “What exactly is wrong with you?”

And the TV show based on Neddy Spencer and Ronnie Huerta’s notes gets under way again. It’s all a little weird, especially as Ronnie sees again Kat, who’s playing Neddy on the show. Neddy’s also freaked out to meet Michelle, who’s playing Godiva Danube. Partly from memories and reevaluating her friendship with Godiva. Also because it’s a clue that the production is changing out from under them.

Mayor Sanderson meanwhile is mad. The local TV won’t apologize for running a poll showing Bowen surging. His staff won’t even remember to take their masks off in the office. But he is aware of Bowen’s weakness as a candidate. He calls Abbey Spencer, whose bed-and-breakfast plan, and renovations, were a fair idea for a money pit in normal times. During a shutdown? They’re a bleeding ulcer. Sanderson offers that he might be able to do her a favor. Since Sophie started the Bowen campaign, and Sam Driver supports it and used to date Bowen, this seems weird. But he offers: the campaign’s drawing a lot of coverage. Out-of-town reporters need to stay somewhere. Why not a place struggling but surviving thanks to a supportive local government?

Abbey, on the phone: 'You are not helping anyone but yourself, PHIL! You are the voice of no one but your crippling insecurity that fuels your rage that no one should speak but you! And I will make sure EVERYONE knows that!' Sanderson, hanging up: 'Ha ha. Of course you will ... '
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 7th of August, 2020. We haven’t yet really seen Abbey’s letting-everyone-know-that yet, by the way, nor have we seen Sanderson’s clever scheme at work. But we have the problem of seeing very little in-universe time even since mid-August.

The offer could hardly be better-designed to enrage Abbey. She promises to make sure everyone knows she’s on Team Bowen. Which Sanderson wants, in the first moment that makes him look like a skilled politician. Bowen’s weakness is that she can look like a tool of the Parker-Spencer-Driver clan.

Bowen’s got some good instincts, though, aware that this kind of unsolicited support can be trouble. She lays down the law to Sophie. If they want to support her, all right, but they have to know what she’s about. Which would likely make for a better campaign. Also a better campaign plot, must admit, as it’s not clear what issues there even are in town. Equitable gentrification is a great challenge, and goal. But it’s a danged hard thing to fight for in any intelligible way, especially in this medium.

Bowen’s law-laying helps Sophie with another problem, though. She looks into Local College courses. This is a step in her realizing that she doesn’t know everything she needs. And that she’s been blocking herself from that learning. And, after a lot of hesitation, she calls Honey Ballinger and apologizes.

[ Ronnie breaks some bad news to Neddy ] Neddy: 'They WHAT?!' Ronnie: 'It looks like they're diminishing the 'Neddy' role in our show to focus more on how Godiva's and April's lives intersect.' Neddy: 'THEY WHAT?!?' Ronnie: 'OK, this would be the third time I'm telling you this, so I assume you're in full 'shocked' mode now.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 31st of August, 2020. It’s a small bit but I appreciate that Neddy’s punctuation gets longer with the repetition.

And the TV show continues to change. The showrunners have decided Godiva and April Parker’s lives make for better stories than Neddy’s does. This makes for an interesting bit of story commentary by strip writer Francesco Marciuliano. Marciuliano has, mostly, done a good job at having things go crazy and then rationalize some. But it would be strange if he didn’t consider some storylines to have gone awry, or to regret not having done more with characters than he did. The revelation that Godiva was also running drugs was a shocking turn of events, sure. But to make it a shock to readers meant we had to not see it. It’s plausible Marciuliano didn’t consider it until he needed the twist. This frame lets him, if he wishes, build a new storyline for Godiva. It may not be what “really” happened to her, but if it’s interesting, who cares?

Ronnie: 'Wait ... are you seriously thinking of not going back to LA? Just because they changed some of our show?' Neddy: 'That's not the reason. I mean, that hurt, but ... but every time I think how close we are to leaving here, I try to think of anything else. And that has got to be telling me something.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 9th of September, 2020. I don’t know where they are since the horse barn was renovated into Abbey’s bed-and-breakfast either.

So the studio figures that April and Godiva is the true-crime drama that’s the real series. And that’s that. The shooting in Real Cavelton wraps, with the rest of the series done in Los Angeles and Vancouver. And Neddy decides she isn’t interested in moving back to Los Angeles. Ronnie is, though, and that makes the transition into autumn all the harder.

And that’s where things stand now. Bowen’s campaign seems to be going well. Sophie’s reconciling with Honey Ballinger and looking at Local College. Neddy’s staying in town. Ronnie’s off to Los Angeles and, it’s teased, out of the strip. (It’s very self-referentially teased, with talk about sitcom characters who vanished. I am old enough to sometimes speak of myself as if I were on a sitcom. But I am also young enough to sometimes speak of myself as if I were a podcast host.) And if all goes well, we can come back together in a happier December to see what has changed.

Next Week!

We dip into the comic strip most inexplicably in reruns with Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s The Amazing Spider-Man. (I mean, you wouldn’t think Marvel would be unable to find someone who can draw Spider-Man, right?) That’s if all goes well, and here’s hoping that it does. Good luck to you all.

Jules Rivera takes over Mark Trail in October


Finally, some good news for 2020. Per D D Degg at The Daily Cartoonist, King Features has a new artist and writer for Mark Trail. Jules Rivera, creator of the slice-of-life web comic Love, Joolz, is to take over the strip from the 12th of October. (I haven’t read the web comic, but I am a surprisingly poor reader of web comics.)

The New York Times has more of a story, and comments from Rivera. She says that she hadn’t read the strip before — I assume — being asked to consider it. But that she got to love his square wackiness.

The sample strip that The New York Times has suggests a more visually dynamic strip. Also one that suggests the Trails have specific jobs in-between hearing giant squirrels talking. Maybe even something the hew-mons call sexual attraction. The Times article says that Rivera’s strip should have a “modern sensibility” and more prominent roles for Cherry and Rusty Trail. But Rivera has an electrical engineering background, so I am hopeful that some of Mark Trail’s natural squareness will stick around.

Any further news I get about Mark Trail should be posted to an essay at this link. My next regularly scheduled plot recap I plan to be in mid-November, when Rivera should have about a month’s worth of daily strips to snark on. The most recent plot recap, getting halfway into the Jack Elrod rerun story, is at this link. And all my story comic plot recaps and news should be at this link.

What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? Is Gil Thorp just ignoring Covid-19 too? June – September 2020


Yes, it appears that Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp is going ahead as though things were normal. It’s a defensible choice. The only sports one could morally play during the pandemic are outdoor sports with physically separated individuals. I don’t know if Milford even has an archery team. There’s a fair chance it’s never come up in the strip before. But that would leave the strip with nothing to write about, which is a heck of a writing challenge.

So. This essay should catch you up to mid-September 2020. If you’re reading this after about December 2020, or want what news on Gil Thorp there is, a more useful essay should be at this link. And, lest we forget, my mathematics blog continues its weekly glossary entries, at this link. This week we get to O, finally. Not zero.

Gil Thorp.

29 June – 19 September 2020.

Milford’s boys’ softball was playing against Valley Modified, the school for delinquents. Not a formal game. Mike “The Mayor” Knappe, kicked out of Milford for bringing a butter knife to school, organized it because hey, wouldn’t it be fun? What would go wrong with Valley Modified’s ragtag bunch of misfits playing against an actual team? Anyway Milford was ahead 149 to nothing at the top of the first inning, with the upstate returns not in yet. Some of the Milford players defect, to give the other kids a chance.

[ Unsurprising: Milford is lots better than Mike Knappe's ragtag team. Unexpected: free pizza! ] Corina Karenna: 'Yo, other catcher. What's your story?' Hiawatha Jones: 'Call me Hiawatha.' Karenna: 'Do I have to?'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 30th of June, 2020. Based on the first panel either some people brought their little kids or else Milford freshmen are 40% the size of the seniors.

And then pizza arrives. 20 pizzas, giving everyone a break. The game resumes and Valley Modified stumbles on until Phoebe Keener, from the Milford Girls Softball team, calls time. She gives Valley’s shortstop some tips. Things resume, less competitive and more collegial, until a someone delivers subs. And, later, ice cream. What would have been a shellacking turns into a picnic and everybody kind of forgets about finishing things.

The adults wrap things up, with Gil Thorp not-denying having a hand in sending the pizza order. Assistant Coach Kaz not-denying sending in the subs. The coolers with pop? Why, that’s Knappe’s English teacher, the one who reported his having a butter knife in school. And so on. And, hey, Generic State University decided not to rescind its acceptance of Knappe. Coach Thorp’s report about Knappe organizing the event convinced them of his good character. Their admission letter even jokes about leaving knives in the dining hall, like the tag of a 70s cop show. Uhm. Right.


That, the 11th of July, finally wrapped up the spring storyline. The summer story began the 13th of July.

It starts with a follow-up to the softball game. Phoebe Keener recognizes Valley Modified’s catcher, Corina Karenna. She got introduced as a nice snarky type who has “problems with authority”, like you want on a sports team. They share a lunch and go shopping, Karenna amazed that Keener is looking for buttons, and sews and such. And Keener … wonders what Karenna is doing in town, actually.

Corina Karenna: 'Our shortstop was Ardis Carhee, not Carver.' Phoebe Keener: 'Right! You passed the test! So, Corina Karenna, what brings you to bustling downtown Milford?' Karenna: 'I'm thinking of committing a series of unspeakable crimes.' Keener: 'Wow, me too!'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 17th of July, 2020. I literally can not imagine being even slightly irked that someone remembered the name of someone she met once as “Carhee” rather than “Carver”. Mind, I have also given up on the cashier at Burger King typing in my name as anything but “Joeseph”. Also given up: going to Burger King.

Also, True Standish is back in Milford. Years ago he’d been the star quarterback and brought Milford to the state championship. He went off to college and now he’s … a pitcher for the Tampa Bay Rays. He kept getting injured in football. He’s getting injured in baseball too. But he’s a low enough draft choice that the Rays figure, eh, let him wander around, he’ll probably be all right.

Another lunch hangout. Karenna admits she’s looking for a new direction. Also to return a catcher’s mitt from the ball game. The waitress at the diner shares the bad news; the guy she’s returning the mitt to is out of town for the week. Did you see the plot point dropped there? Because I’ll admit, I didn’t, not until writing this up. And after that we see the two obvious threads come together. Standish needs a catcher for pitching practice. So they set up pitching camp.

True Standish: 'Coach Thorp! Thanks for coming. Meet Corina Karenna.' Karenna: 'Charmed.' Standish: 'I'm ready to roll. Oh --- if I brush my chest, it's a slider.' Gil Thorp: 'You've probably never caught one of hose, Corina. It'll --- ' Karenna: 'I'll figure it out after the first one.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 5th of August, 2020. You might think it obnoxious that Gil Thorp is giving advice to a girl who has not asked for his advice, whom he has no supervisory role over, and whom he has no established relationship of any significance. But remember that Coach Gil Thorp is a white guy.

Coach Thorp watches a session. He notices how Karenna has no trouble handling professional-grade pitching. And Karenna admits to Keener that “I’m thinking of moving to Milford”. Keener asks the obvious: isn’t there a “we”, what with her having a mom and all? And the thing is her mother is depressed, bad enough that Corina has to lead the family. (Her father left long ago.) She mentions how she and her mother could live anywhere there’s support. She mentions this in the diner, where the waitress from earlier happens to be. The waitress drops the advice to ask True Standish about his mom. Standish does more, bringing her to meet her mom.

So, Standish’s mother has similar depression problems, though not as severe. She’s got good support, though I’m not sure how this would transfer to Karenna’s mother. Also, Mimi Thorp watches Karenna at a pitching workout and offers her business card in case Karenna has questions. Also high school girls coaches have business cards. After some prodding about mysteries of the softball game, she decides. Orientation day comes and she’s signed up to Milford. Even to try out for volleyball. The story resolves, more or less, the 4th of September.

I will lose standing in the comics snarker ranks for this: I think this story was pretty well-done. Karenna’s problem gets laid out naturalistically, for the story strips. Her situation, having to be the functioning adult in a broken home, is realistic enough. That she wears a protective layer of sarcasm makes sense. How a resolution will happen gets laid out in the open where it’s easy to miss. The only piece that comes from nowhere is True Standish’s mother also coping with depression. But there’s little reason for him to have discussed that. It’s possible this was established when Standish was a regular character. If it was, then I sincerely bow to Neal Rubin. Even if it wasn’t, it’s a slick move to have introduced a supporting character last story to be the main for this one. And then she seems to be inspiring significant action for the current story. There’s some good crafting here.


With the 5th starts the current story. And yeah, that’s a midweek transition. The heart of this, like many fall storylines, is the boys’ football team. Will Thayer’s bulked up over the summer. This could challenge Charlie Rapson for the quarterback’s position. Radio sports reporter Marty Moon is interested in this quarterback controversy. Coach Thorp isn’t worried by the rivalry, nor by Marty Moon attempting to be clever, since Marty Moon is not a clever man.

Rebecca Ramirez, explaining the Bonfire: 'It's a tradition. We build a bonfire, and the next night, the football team clobbers Oakwood.' Corina Karenna: 'Super. And what does everyone do for the volleyball team?' From a distance, one boy asks, 'Hey, who's that?' and his friend answers, 'Becca Ramierez. You've known her since first grade.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 19th of September, 2020. I went through high school making almost no impression on anyone besides my friends. And the experience wasn’t bad. So were I on the volleyball team, I’d be happy with “everyone carries on as if we did not exist”.

And her new teammates bring Karenna to that most ominous of Milford athletic community events: the Bonfire. So, I never went to a school that had any self-esteem. Occasionally high school would have a pep rally, where we sat in the gym bleachers while people tried to get us excited about … the school, I guess. All it did for me was reinforce my suspicion of mass emotion. I could not imagine participating in a bonfire. So I am very much on Karenna’s side in looking at this as a borderline terrifying activity from a whole other universe.

And that’s our story, so far.

Milford Schools Watch

This may have been the slowest three months on record for Milford’s sports. If I haven’t missed anything there were only two other schools named on-screen. They were:

Next Week!

Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker was the first story strip to incorporate Covid-19 into the story. What’s happening in it now? If all goes well, we’ll see in a week. Thanks for reading.

What’s Going On In Rex Morgan, M.D.? What is Rex Morgan doing for the pandemic? June – September 2020


Terry Beatty had decided he couldn’t do a pandemic story without the lead times for Rex Morgan, M.D. making it too dated. So the first story he wrote after the pandemic hit the United States was a flashback, Rex and June telling young Sarah how they got together. After that, Beatty decided he could tell some stories. And so since then we’ve had vignettes of the major characters and how the disaster has hit them.

So that’s the essence for things as of the middle of September, 2020. If you’re reading this after about December 2020 or if any news breaks out about the comic I’ll have a more up-to-date Rex Morgan, M.D. post here. And, on my other blog, I’m looking at mathematical words from the whole alphabet. This week we reach the back half and the letter N, at last. (The word this week will not be ‘Nebus’.)

Rex Morgan, M.D..

21 June – 13 September 2020.

As Rex Morgan told the story to Sarah, things were really fitting together for him a couple years ago. He had a nice spot at Glenwood hospital. His mentor, Dr Dallis, is ready to retire and offers to sell his practice to our young protagonist. (The Dr Dallis thing is an in-joke. Psychiatrist Dr Nicholas P Dallis created the Rex Morgan, M.D. comic strip. He also created Judge Parker and Apartment 3-G.) While jogging and considering the offer, he bumps into June Gale. He claims (to Sarah) that he apologized. June claims (to Sarah) that she only thought about calling him a jerk.

Flashback Keith, another doctor: 'So when do the wedding invitations go out?' Rex: 'Cut the joking, Keith. I barely know the woman.' Present Rex: 'Wait a minute. You weren't in the exam room. How do you know what Keith and I talked about?' June: 'The walls have ears, dear husband. And so do my fellow nurses.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 11th of July, 2020. I like this moment in part because the day before, comics snarkers had been asking how June could possibly be recounting a conversation she wasn’t part of, and I always like it when the artist out-thinks us.

A couple days later he runs into her again, this time metaphorically. She says hi. This distracts him, and he stumbles, fracturing his ankle. She gets her first-aid kit and takes him to the hospital. He’s impressed by her professionalism, and how she’s not intimidated to give medical instructions to a doctor. This attitude surprises him because Rex Morgan has never spoken to any nurse at any time for any reason, ever.

Rex Morgan tries to take June Gale to dinner, and to flirt. His clumsy efforts offend her. An elderly woman pops up behind him and orders him to marry her. And the weird thing is it’s not Mary Worth. Rex and June deny knowing who she was. Long-time readers recognize her as Melissa Claridge, who’d been in the comic strip for decades, most recently appearing in 2012. Claridge spent decades trying to make Rex and June pair-bond already.

Melissa Claridge: 'Dr Morgan, taht young nurse you just chased away is the loveliest, smartest, most capable and kindhearted woman you could ever hope to meet. She clearly has feelings for you, heaven knows why. If you don't apologize for your arrogance and find some way to make it up to her, you're nothing but a fool.' Rex: 'Well, I don't think that's exactly ... ' Claridge: 'And that's your problem right there, young man. Too much focus on what you think and not enough on what you feel. ' Claridge: 'Uh ... I don't ... I mean ... I'm sure she's nice and all, but ... ' Claridge: 'It's true what they say. Youth is wasted on the young.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 19th of July, 2020. You know, she just goes around ordering random pairs of people to marry, and every now and then it pays off. (The Marvin Bradley thanked here was the comic strip’s original and longtime artist. Frank Edgington did backgrounds.)

I didn’t read the comic before this past decade. So I don’t have a particular allegiance to the old continuity. But: why this retcon? Terry Beatty had already established that this is not my father’s Rex Morgan. (My father is more a Mary Worth reader.) This on-screen Rex and June Morgan just happen to have the same names as an earlier Rex and June who happened to be doctor and nurse in the same town decades ago.

I am reluctant to play the “Unreliable Narrator” card. It’s too easy a fix for any continuity question. But here? It’s defensible at least. Rex and June are describing the story of how they met to their daughter. They have reason to avoid confusing sidelines. This justifies skipping decades of June considering other suitors and coming back to work for Rex. But then what benefit to Sarah to say that some strange old woman told Rex to marry June? Rex and June swear they don’t know who this woman was. If they’re fibbing for Sarah’s sake, why?

Well, Rex buys Dr Dallis’s clinic. June takes the job as clinic nurse. Eventually they marry. And everything’s happy ever after. With that comforting conclusion, the flashback ends, the 9th of August.


After that, and with panels explaining to the reader, the strip begins “Lockdown Stories”. These are vignettes of what all the characters do during the crisis.

First up, from the 10th of August: the Morgans themselves. Their clinic is shut down for the crisis. June is doing triage over the phone. Rex is back at the hospital supporting the Covid-19 unit. The story’s main concern: how to set it up so Rex can work without infecting his family. Rex will be sleeping in his study, using the downstairs bathroom, and going into and out of the house through the garage. And he’ll have to see his family online, but, that’s the best of options.

Lockdown Stories: The Morgans. June, to the kids: 'Once dad starts working at the Covid-19 unit at the hospital, he'll have to stay down here in his study for a while.' Sarah: 'And we can't go in to see him?' Mike: 'No fair.' Rex: 'I'm afraid not, kids. I'll be taking every safety precaution, but we don't want you to risk any of you getting the virus.' Sarah: 'That stinks, dad. Who's gonna read me my bedime stories? Mom can't do all the voices like you do.' Mike: 'Yeah, the voices.' Rex: 'I'll still read to you, Sarah. And the boys. We'll use our electronics to talk and to see each other.' Sarah: 'Like the 'remote learning' I'm doing for school?' Rex: 'Sure. Same kind of deal.' Sarah, hugging: 'You gotta promise you won't get sick, Dad. Promise me you'll be SUPER ULTRA CAREFUL.' Rex: 'I will be super ultra super careful, Sarah. For all of us.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 16th of August, 2020. Rex talked about how he sleeps soundly in that recliner but I’m pretty sure about three days into this he’s going to be sorry he doesn’t have a cot or a futon instead. I’m not here to diagnose fictional people’s problems, or believe me I’d be hauling off on Funky Winkerbean right now, but I have observed how backs work.

And that’s it. The 17th of August we switch to Jordan Harris and Michelle Carter. Jordan’s restaurant made the shift to doing take-out orders. Michelle is a nurse, though, and wants to go back to the hospital’s Covid-19 unit. But there’s no safe way they can live together for this. Jordan moves into the apartment above the restaurant for the duration, and they’ll have to make do.

With the 23rd of August we move to the next vignette. This is about Rene Belluso. He had been Sarah Morgan’s art instructor back before Terry Beatty took over the writing. This was back when a rich mob widow was setting Sarah up as the next Leonardo da Vinci. Since then Belluso’s been hiding from mobsters he owes money. And forging comic strip art. And he ran that Celestial Healing scam that Rex and Lana Lewton busted up. He’s still working a scam, with a web site offering the secret cure for Covid-19. Also cold-calling people for a stimulus check scam. He’s barely got into his vignette before officials bang on his hotel door and take him away. So he’s now leading the Trump administration’s pandemic response team.

Lockdown Backstories: Rene Belluso. 'Rene THOUGHT he'd make a mint taking advantage of people's fears about the virus. INSTEAD, he's going to be doing some time BEHIND BARS. Sometimes people DO get what's coming to them.' Cop, taking Belluso in: 'You have the right to remain silent. You have the right ... ' Belluso: 'I KNOW my right! I've got a right to earn a living, don't I? So WHAT if I take advantage of a few ignorant sheep? I WANT MY LAWYER!'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 29th of August, 2020. So that first panel there: Rod Serling narration or Dick Tracy Crimestopper tip? Tune in next week to Rex Morgan, M.D. for a Minit Medical Mystery!

And the 30th of August moves to “Horrible” Hank Harwood and his son Hank Junior. “Horrible” Hank’s a comic book artist from way back, so his life isn’t changed: he’s spending his 90s redrawing magazine covers for pay. Hank Junior’s missing doing stuff. At his dad’s suggestion, he starts building plastic model kits. And they give each other haircuts. That’s about all.

With the 11th of September — a rare midweek transition — we move over to Niki Roth, one of the teen cast. He delivers food to the Harwoods, which is how we make the segue. And then to his girlfriend Kelly and her mom. Kelly’s also the Morgans’ babysitter, but that’s off for the time being. We only got to them this past Saturday, so, there’s not much guessing what they’re up to.

So, yeah, I call these vignettes but that might be too strong a word. It’s more going around the horn and establishing that everybody has some situation. Even Rene Belluso’s scam got introduced and then resolved in a week. It’s nice to go around and see everybody, but none of these have been real stories. There is of course a story problem when characters have to be apart. And, like, there’s almost no reason for June Morgan to chat with Hank Junior online. At least if he came into the clinic for something they would talk.

Next Week!

What happened to high school sports during the pandemic summer? I look at Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp next week. This is going to be a challenging one because I can’t remember what I’ve been reading the last three months here.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Sundays)? The Phantom Head isn’t part of Skull Cave? June – September 2020


Yeah, so it turns out the mountain with Skull Cave is a completely different peak from the mountain with the giant carved head of a Phantom. And yet our current Ghost Who Walks was all upset about his face on postage stamps. I don’t know.

This essay should catch you up on Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom, Sunday continuity, for early September 2020. If you’re reading this after about December 2020, or you’re interested in the separate weekday continuity, there’s probably a more up-to-date essay at this link.

On my other blog I’m writing an essay for each letter of the alphabet. This week: M, so, I’m halfway there, as soon I write it!

The Phantom (Sundays).

14 June – 6 September 2020

Kit Walker was telling Heloise of their ancestor, the 13th Phantom. Ghost of 1805 and George Bass — a historical figure who did go missing, with his ship, in 1803 — had survived the Battle of Trafalgar, only for their ship to be destroyed immediately after. Bass and Walker 13 washed ashore, somewhere, in bad shape. 13’s lost his eye covering. Bass has lost his sight, so at least he’s safe against seeing The Phantom’s face. Bass also lost his memory. So they faced a legendary trip to return to the Deep Woods.

They make it in two panels, with Bandar medicine able to restore Bass’s physical health. Mostly. He’s still blind, and not really aware of who he was or what his life had been. Bass wants to wait until he’s well to return to his wife Elizabeth. He never would be, and died four years later in the Deep Woods. This is how he got interred in The Phantom’s Vault of Missing Men. After his death Phantom 13 travelled to London, to find Elizabeth Bass and tell what happened.

Phantom 21 narrating: 'The journey south from Europe ... across deserts, grasslands, jungles ... Bandar elders restored George bass to health, but his sight never returned. Nor his full awareness of the man he'd once been.' Bass: 'I was a ship's captain, wasn't I, Walker? Was that a dream?' Phantom 13: 'It was no dream, George.' Bass: 'I think I have a wife. Is she in England?' Phantom 13: 'You've said her name is Elizabeth! And that you two are very much in love. Our Bandar friends have done well by you, George. Done all they can. I'm happy to take you home now ... to England.' Bass: 'Elizabeth mustn't see me so ... diminished, Walker When I'm well we'll go. Yes, that's it! We'll go to England *then*!'
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 21st of June, 2020. I doubt this is in Tony DePaul’s plans but this does imply about a four-year stretch where the 13th Phantom has a semi-voluntary sidekick in the form of George Bass and that seems like an interesting thread in case that era earns a fresh visit.

And this completes The Current Phantom’s telling of this story to Heloise. They leave the Skull Cave and Heloise rejoins Kadia, who’s been meeting the Bandar people. And this (finally) concludes The Spy Ship, the 189th of the Sunday Continuity stories, on the 12th of July.


The current story, 190th of the Sunday continuities, began the 19th of July, 2020. It starts with a low-lying cave, covered by a grate. A criminal gang’s imprisoned a detective. The cave offers just enough water, just enough seafood, just enough of a gap between high tide and the grate for the Detective to not die too fast.

The Mawitaan Police think he’s already dead. His grandmother does not, though. She treks, with her dog Bunny, deep into the woods to find Phantom Head Peak. It’s a mountain carved, hundreds of years ago, into the head of the 7th Phantom. (Or possibly 6th. The comic strip continuity has apparently got anomalies.) It was carved on the orders of her ancestor, the Emperor Joonkar. (This, apparently, was established in a story that ran November 1997 to April 1998. This is two stories before Comics Kingdom’s archives pick up the daily strips, unfortunately.)

[ Jungle ruins rediscovered ] Woman, to her dog :'I remember playing here ... this exact spot! I should be able to see the peak from here! It's this way, I'm sure of it!' [ Meanwhile, in the cave cell ] Detective, thinking: 'I haven't heard the voices of my captors for days now. No more incoming truck traffic. Their stores must be full. They'll be meeting with the buyers soon. Must free myself and do my sworn duty! Bring these men to justice!' [ Back to the woman, looking at a Phantom head carved into the mountain. ] Woman, to dog: 'Bunny! W - we're here! The peak fashioned by my ancestor, mighty Emperor Joonkar! Phantom will come to us here! I know he will!'
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 2nd of August, 2020. Phantom, later: “Um … you know I have a mailbox for, like, this sort of thing? Right? You can just drop a letter, you don’t have to go to any great dramatic gestures … ” Woman: “Direct action gets the results.”

In this spot she meets The Phantom, as she hoped. Her dog Bunny meets The Phantom’s wolf Devil, who refrains from eating the much smaller animal. The woman tells of her grandson. The Phantom takes the case.

And then he passes the case on to the Jungle Patrol, in his role as the Unknown Commander. They take their orders to find information about the Lost Detective. The Phantom pieces this together. He finds and frees the Detective.

That’s where things stand. The Detective’s free, and with The Phantom. And there’s this criminal organization that’s all set for whatever mischief they were up to. Where will it go and how will it end? We’ll see over the next few months.

Next Week!

Is Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. still ignoring the biggest medical story of the past 102 years? We’ll have the answer next week, or you can read the strips yourself. It’ll take longer but you’ll have the result sooner.

What’s Going On In Mary Worth? Is banana bread hard to make? June – August 2020


Banana bread is not hard to make. Toby is just Toby.

So that catches you up on Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the end of August 2020. If you’re reading this after about December 2020, or if any news about Mary Worth develops, I’ll try to post it here.

Meanwhile, on my other blog, I’m going through the alphabet explaining mathematics terms. Also, at the end of this month, I’m hosting the Playful Math Education Blog Carnival. That’s a gathering of educational and recreational mathematics writing. If you know something mathematical that delighted you, please, let me know. More people would like to know it, too.

Mary Worth.

8 June – 30 August 2020.

Delightfully grumpy Saul Wynter had niece Madi as houseguest for the summer. Her father had to go to Venezuela for The Company, so I trust they mean he’s part of another inept CIA coup attempt. Madi’s mother died years ago. Madi’s grandmother — Saul’s cousin — just died, and Madi’s not coping well. But what else is there to do? Let her stay with a friend? After many walks with his rescued shelter dog Greta, Saul thinks he’s ready for a summer with Madi.

Saul Wynter: 'Madi, I'll show you the spare bedroom where you'll be staying. You can put your things in here.' Madi, looking at her phone: 'Fine.' Saul: 'Oh, that's my dachshund. Let me introduce you to Greta.' Greta looks up, wagging. Madi: 'Ew! Keep it AWAY from me!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 19th of June, 2020. First, I love that Saul Wynter’s interior decorating is “pictures of my dog” and “pictures of me with my dog”, although it’d be nice if we saw some of Bella, his beloved previous dog, too. Second: I am so anxious about Madi’s clothes spilling out of her luggage there. I know it’s just stuff she’d had in the living room so she’s moving it like fifteen feet but still. Also she pulled a bunch of her stuff out in the living room before she’d seen the spare bedroom for some reason.

Oh, but hardly! Why, Madi is sullen, and messy, and on her phone like ALL the TIME. More, she doesn’t like dogs and shoos the timid but friendly Greta off. Greta returns the courtesy, ripping up a shirt she’d left on the floor. Everybody gets stressed out and Greta hides under the bed.

It goes on like this until the start of July when Mary Worth’s meddle-sense finally kicks in. Once she’s aware of friction between housemates Mary Worth can not act fast enough. She has them over for lunch, teleporting them into her kitchen before Saul Wynter gets off the phone. “It’s all right, Mary Worth just does that,” Saul reassures Madi. Mary Worth notices Madi noticing her flowers, and Madi admits her grandmother loved color. Mary Worth agrees: color is one of her favorite intensive properties of matter, up there with viscosity and specific gravity. Mary Worth coaxes Madi to an afternoon at the pool. And to have cookies, since her grandmother was a great cook.

Mary Worth: 'Tell me more ... about your grandmother.' [ When Mary gives Madi a flower. ] Madi: 'Gram loved colorful things.' Mary Worth: 'She must have loved your hair ... the colors.' Madi: 'She loved *me*.' Mary worth: 'People we love who've passed away are still with us in spirit. Love is the bridge that connects us. Something may remind you of her, or you may have a feeling of her near you. That's her watching over you, loving you still.'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 19th of July, 2020. That is a lot of meddle Mary Worth is offering considering Madi has said just seven words about her feeling. Also, the word balloon break in the top row adds a level of sinister they can’t have intended. Unless they’re writing a bit for us ironic readers, I guess.

At the pool Mary Worth asks Madi about her grandmother, and listens a short while. She comments how things Madi does to remember her are nice. How we honor loved ones by imitating the good they did. Have to say, Mary Worth’s meddle game is on.

Madi resists the suggestion to get to know Saul and Greta, though. She complains her Gram’s died, her life’s “shaken”, and she’s living all summer with a grouchy old man and his dog. She makes a fair point. Mary Worth talks about Greta’s long time spent looking for a home and Madi rolls her eyes all the way into Gil Thorp. But she invites Mary Worth to jump into the pool and that helps some. She says Mary Worth reminds her of Gram.

Madi is flopped on her bed, crying. Greta the dachshund comes up and stand up on hindlegs to examine her. Greta hops up and lies down beside Madi.
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 1st of August, 2020. It’s adorable but how did Greta get up on the bed?

This meddles Madi at least into being a quiet sullen who doesn’t put her feet on the couch. She’s still crying at night, though. Until Greta pokes in and squeezes up against her because dog. And that fixes the problem of her not liking dogs. At least not liking Greta.

So way back when this story started an incident happened that I didn’t think rated mention. Toby was having trouble making desserts for a Charterstone meeting. I thought it was no more than a bit of color along the way to the actual Saul-and-Madi-and-Greta story. I should have known better. Mary Worth isn’t some slapdash strip that would leave a plot point like that hanging. And the resolution of this launches the end of the story to greatness. From the 5th of August we see Toby struggling again to make dessert for, I think, a different Charterstone meeting.

Toby on the phone: 'Mary, I need your help!' Mary Worth: 'What's wrong, Toby? What happened?' Toby, in her itchen, the counter filled with batters and banana peels and eggs splattered on the counter and all: 'I'm making banana bread for the next Charterstone meeting, and the recipe doesn't make sense!' Mary Worth: 'I'll be over soon. Do you mind if I bring a friend?'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 6th of August, 2020. “I don’t understand how but my kitchen is a Slylock Fox Six Differences puzzle! A bird just swooped in here and carried off a fish that does or does not have a gill slit, and there’s a cat pointing and laughing at me!” “No, no, Toby, we’ve been through this. That cat is always pointing and laughing at you. Also that cat is Professor Ian Cameron, your husband. Remember?”

Toby needs Mary Worth’s help: she can’t figure out the banana bread recipe. This raises many questions, among them: what, she can’t go to Bake-N-Cakes and buy dessert? I concede the plot requirement that Toby be working on something a 13-year-old could plausibly have experience with. But, like, the banana bread recipe at AllRecipes.com is seven ingredients, one of which is “bananas”. It has three steps, one of which is “preheat oven and grease pan”. (Snark aside, I think AllRecipe’s step two is over-stuffed. I would break that into three or four steps, one for each time something’s mixed or poured into a new bowl.) Toby’s kitchen is a wasteland of ruined bananas, spent eggs, and viscous puddles of things. I can’t swear that her ice cubes weren’t somehow on fire. If we the audience had not seen that, I would theorize this was a setup to trick Madi into opening up. Instead, no, we have to suppose that Toby is a person who can’t parse “In a separate bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar”.

Madi comes with Mary Worth. Toby provides an example of her failed banana bread, so Madi never suspects she’s being patronized. A person who can’t “stir in eggs and mashed bananas until well blended” is not trying to outthink a 13-year-old. Madi offers that her Gram made banana bread with a “secret ingredient” and she decides, finally, to let Toby know what it is. With the secret Toby tries again and now she has a successful banana bread! The little project makes all the difference. From here on Madi’s a pleasant friendly teen and likes Greta and Saul and Mary Worth and feels bad for Toby and everything.

Toby: 'Madi *what* did your Gram put in her banana bread?' Madi: 'It's a secret ... ' (She leans up, to whisper into Toby's ear.) 'But I'll tell you since you *really* need it ... '
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 11th of August, 2020. “It’s `bananas’. You put bananas in the bread.”

So from the 18th of August we move into the ritual of thanking Mary Worth for everything. This story she did do something to be thanked for. Madi’s decided her summer turned out great. And she’s going to be a chef and bring her Gram’s recipes to everyone. And hey, her dad’s been released by Venezuela counter-intelligence, so he’ll be swinging by to pick her up soon and we can … never see her again I guess. We haven’t quite gotten to Madi’s last strip, much less any hint what the next story is. I expect that to start next week.

Dubiously Sourced Mary Worth Sunday Panel Quotes!

[ 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. So the Auto Care place has been updating its signs, but just to announce when they would reopen after the Covid-19 shutdown, and then to thank the Lansing Economic Development Corporation for assistance and that’s all fine enough. There’s just no way to turn those into inspirational-despair messages, is all.
  • “When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favor.” — Elon Musk, 7 June 2020.
  • “No one appreciates the very special genius of your conversation as the dog does.” — Christopher Morley, 14 June 2020.
  • “It is an illusion that youth is happy, an illusion of those who have lost it.” — W Somerset Maugham, 21 June 2020.
  • “When anger rises, think of the consequences” — Confucius, 28 June 2020.
  • “Man invented language to satisfy his deep need to complain.” — Lily Tomlin, 5 July 2020.
  • “Be a little kinder than you have to.” — E Lockhart, 12 July 2020.
  • “Where flowers bloom, so does hope.” — Lady Bird Johnson, 19 July 2020.
  • “A kind gesture can reach a wound that only compassion can heal.” — Steve Maraboli, 26 July 2020.
  • “I don’t think people really realize or understand just how wonderful and special dogs are.” — Robert Crais, 2 August 2020.
  • “If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again” — Thomas H Palmer, 9 August 2020.
  • “Take care of all your memories, for you cannot relive them.” — Bob Dylan, 16 August 2020.
  • “Silent gratitude isn’t much use to anyone.” — Gertrude Stein, 23 August 2020.
  • “We could never learn to be brave and patient, if there were only joy in the world.” — Helen Keller, 30 August 2020.

Next Week!

I don’t have to worry what Mary Worth is doing. I’ll be updating you on Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom (Sunday continuity) unless something forces me to do otherwise. Thanks for reading.

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? Is Mark Trail ever coming back? June – August 2020


There is no word, yet, on who King Features Syndicate is hiring to take over Mark Trail. Nor whether they are actually going to hire anyone. If I get any news about Mark Trail I will share it in a post at this link.

[Edited 25 September 2020: Good news!  Jules Rivera is taking over the comic as of the middle of October.]

Also on my mathematics blog I’m looking at mathematical terms from A through Z. This week: K. I’m not covering all the mathematical terms that start with K, not in one essay.

Mark Trail.

1 June – 22 August 2020

A story about Andy, Mark Trail’s dog, had just started last time I checked in. Andy, unsupervised, playing near a construction site. He’s accidentally locked into a truck trailer and driven off. Rusty and Cherry worry that Andy’s out and won’t come back, but Mark Trail is confident everything is fine.

Mark Trail, off-screen: 'Yes, Andy has ben gone before, but he always comes home!' Andy is seen running through a stream, startling a raccoon and deer and drawing the wary eye of a robin.
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 6th of June, 2020. That raccoon is auditioning for the Disney+ remake of The Hound That Thought He Was A Raccoon. (It’s a cute movie except when you realize what they had to be doing to the raccoon “actors” and an animated version would be great to have.)

At a motel the truck driver opens the van and finds that weird noise was a dog in the back. Andy leaps out and runs into the woods. Mark Trail reassures Rusty and Cherry that sure, Andy’s been gone a long while, but “he always comes home”. And Mark Trail tells of how pets can find their way home over great distances. Like, how dogs can focus on scent. Rusty puts Andy’s bed out on the porch in case that extra bit of familiar scent might help. There is some neat storytelling to how it’s done. We see Andy bounding through the forest, passing turtles and raccoons and waterfalls and everything else. We hear Mark Trail explaining the clues that a dog might use to find home from a great distance away. And, sure enough, Andy finds his way home.

Mark Trail, explaining: 'As the dog gets closer to home, faint familiar scents will get stronger and stronger! As the scents get stronger, the dog will know he's headed in the right direction!' We see Andy on a rock, looking down on Mark Trail's log cabin and several other buildings in the vincity.
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 17th of June, 2020. So there’s several other cabins right beside Mark Trail’s, too? I guess Mark Trail’s neighborhood is gentrifying. There’s all sorts of nature-explainerers and poacher-punchers around now. There would be even more of them except new residents keep growing hipster beards and having to punch themselves.

And, yeah, as Mark Trail predicts, Andy finds his way home safe and sound. Which is all good for the Trails. “Don’t worry, dogs usually come home” is awful advice for anyone whose dog or cat has gone missing. The only useful thing was Rusty planning to put up Lost Dog posters. There’s not even a mention of getting your pets’ ears microchipped, so Animal Control will have a chance at contacting you. Or that you could watch your dog when’s playing at the construction site so he doesn’t get locked in a truck trailer or something.

But Andy is safe back home. And on the 22nd of June what proved to be James Allen’s last story started. It’s incomplete. If a new team is hired, I assume they will have the choice to complete this story or let it drop. They will also have the choice whether to see “Dirty” Dyer’s revenge against Mark Trail carried out.


The last story’s premise: Hollywood liked Mark Trail’s story about white-nose syndrome in bats. Not just for bats. Along the way Mark Trail discovered human traffickers. (This was the story from just before I started doing plot recaps. Mark Trail eventually caught the traffickers while he was in Mexico with Dr Carter, though.) And found an astounding cave system of wondrous beauty, most of which survived Mark Trail’s visit. So producer Marnie Spencer wants to make a film adaptation of this award-winning Mark Trail article. And she wants her boyfriend, bad-boy action hero Jeremy Cartwright, to play the lead. And the lead is Mark Trail. Also, yeah, they’re interested in the bats. Not the Yeti search. Could be they’re waiting to see how the civil suit from Harvey Camel’s family plays out.

Mark Trail’s open to making a movie, though. This provided money from it goes into fighting human trafficking. And he’s glad to have Jeremy Cartwright over to meet him. Learn what he’s like. Read his Starbuck Jones comic books while drinking hot chocolate and eating cookies. Rusty is impressed. Mark Trail is less so, noting how Jeremy Cartwright is just an actor and hinting about his reputed bad behavior.

Poacher: 'Hunting out of season is one thing but taking down these bighorn sheep is highly illegal!' Other poacher: 'We could make a small fortune guiding individual hunters out to bag a bighorn!' Another poacher, with a hacksaw, cutting the horn off: 'Yeah, a lot of money --- if we don't get caught!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 14th of July, 2020. And there we are, the last poachers of Mark Trail, at least before it goes into reruns for an unknown time! I don’t know why the poacher in the middle is Bill Bixby as Mark Trail’s evil twin, Mike Trail. Sorry. Anyway, just imagine living in a world where wanton, pointless cruelty to animals was punished. You know?

And then we get the return of a traditional Mark Trail guest star: poachers! Someone named Digby and someone who isn’t are hunting bighorn sheep. It looked like Jeremy Cartwright was being set up for the full Mark Trail experience.

Spencer is delighted to meet everyone and see everyone in the Lost Forest. Cartwright is smug and vaguely condescending toward the small town. We don’t see exactly what happens but Mark Trail describes him as not being “a very gracious guest”. He complained about the food, which Cherry shrugs off. And he’s not big on the outdoors. Of course, during James Allen’s tenure, the outdoors has done a whole lot of trying to kill Mark Trail. While fishing with Rusty Cartwright complains how he needs a drink, and wonders if they’re heading back to the hotel soon.

Movie Actor's Companion: 'I love these personal stories about your family, Rusty!' Rusty: 'Growing up in a wooded area has been a lot of fun!' Actor: 'Are we heading back to the hotel soon?'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 25th of July, 2020. The last new daily Mark Trail for the foreseeable future. I am a little surprised King Features didn’t have the last panel rewritten, or if need be redrawn, so that Rusty said something about “let me tell you about a time that — ” so that we could pretend the reruns are a framed device within the story.

And that, the 25th of the July, is the end. James Allen leaves Mark Trail (dailies) and we go into Jack Elrod-era reruns. James Allen-produced Sunday strips continued for a few more weeks, because Sunday strips have a longer lead time than dailies. And this week we got back to Jack Elrod-written Sundays with a bit about squirrels.


With the 27th of July we enter Jack Elrod reruns. I don’t know when this story first appeared. It is, in odd symmetry with the last complete James Allen story, an Andy story, and a lost-pet story. In this case, it’s a cat “not wanted by its owners” that’s deliberately abandoned. Far enough away that the owner is sure it won’t find her way back. The cat, unfamiliar with wild life, approaches some animals, who all run away. Except for Andy. So the lost cat makes a friend.

The Trails are happy to take in the cat, dubbed Tabby. Tabby is happy to explore the farm. Also I guess Mark Trail has a farm? Maybe that’s the buildings so close to the log cabin? I do not know. Tabby’s chased off by a rooster, prompting Andy to rush in and protect her. Cherry Trail scolds Andy for harassing the rooster. So for all of you whose favorite Animaniacs segment was Buttons and Mindy, good news: you do not exist. Nobody’s favorite Animaniacs segment was Buttons and Mindy. Buttons and Mindy just made us all feel tense and bad.

[ Andy rushes to rescue Tabby from the skunk ... but he realizes his mistake before he can back off. ] Andy jumps over a log toward a skunk, who stands on its front legs, the warning before spraying. Andy tries to scramble away but can't. [ Later ] Cherry Trail, looking over a stinking Andy: 'WHAT is that smell? OH, NO!'
Jack Elrod’s Mark Trail rerun for the 19th of August, 2020. I do, sincerely, appreciate and like how much James Allen worked to make the Mark Trail storytelling less stodgy. Plots that are less linear, for example. Mark Trail sometimes having thoughts Mark Trail does not express aloud. The narration box’s role reducing to the minimum possible. (I like a narration box that’s also a character, myself. But I know that’s one of many old-fashioned things that I like.) But I also do like just how resolutely square Jack Elrod could be, and scenes like this are a part of it. Also it’s adorable seeing that skunk do the about-to-spray handstand from over here on the safe side of the page. Also a prime moment: the day before, as Tabby approaches the skunk, and according to the narration, “Andy, keeping an eye on the cat, can’t believe what he sees”.
Wild dogs raid a neighbor’s farm, and Mark Trail mentions how they need to keep a close watch. Not close enough to keep Andy and Tabby from wandering unsupervised, though. Andy tries to rescue Tabby from a skunk, realizing too late that this is not a rush-in-and-rescue situation. Even washed off he still stinks, though, so Andy goes off deeper into the woods to avoid bothering anyone. Tabby insists on following. The wild dogs, meanwhile, move into the area and surround Tabby. Looks serious.

Sunday Animals Watch!

  • Thorn Bugs, 31 May 2020. They know some things about not being eaten by predators. Do you?
  • Fossa, 7 June 2020. They’re nice and weird creatures and if I’m not wrong their name’s better pronounced “foosh”, which is pleasant to say. They’re doomed in the wild.
  • Blue Whales, 14 June 2020. There’s evidence they’re making a comeback. Nothing like how prairies dogs are making a comeback, of course, but still, a comeback.
  • Rhinoceros and Oxpecker, 21 June 2020. Great team. Some of our earliest sound films are recordings of this pair’s vaudeville act.
  • Lava Crickets, 28 June 2020. They’re doing all right in the volcano eruptions, if you wondered.
  • Maned Wolfves, 5 July 2020. Legs.
  • The Fly Geyser, Washoe County, Nevada. 12 July 2020. So as industrial accidents go this one is pretty cool. I hope it’s not screwing up the water table too badly.
  • Asian Giant Hornet, 19 July 2020. That is, the “murder hornet”; it kills as many as 50 people a year, which is about one-third of yesterday’s reported Covid-19 deaths in Florida alone. So let’s not get worked up about hornets.
  • Banksia, 26 July 2020. It’s a plant that relies on bush fires to grow and reproduce so at least it’s having a good year.
  • Iterative Evolution, 2 August 2020. So the Aldabra white-throated rail went extinct when their atoll sank. When the atoll emerged from the sea again, the animal re-evolved from its parent species, and isn’t this amazing?
  • Invasive Species, 9 August 2020. Kudzu, of course, and Tegu lizards, a “squamate scourge” intruding into Georgia.
  • Blanket Octopus, 16 August 2020. Last James Allen Sunday strip. So the male of this species “detaches a specialized arm and gives it to the female during mating”, which is a heck of a thing for Mark Trail to go out on.
  • Squirrels, 23 August 2020. First Jack Elrod Sunday rerun. Check out the flopsweat from that one on the bird feeder line, though. That’s just great. And I say this even though I have a squirrel feeder, to feed the raccoons.

Next Week!

How is Madi doing, living with her (uncle?) Saul while her dad’s busy getting arrested for his hilariously failed coup in Venezuela? We check in with Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth next Tuesday, unless things get in the way.

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? Is Gasoline Alley in repeats still? May – August 2020


I can’t tell whether the current storyline in Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley is a repeat. From May through early July the strip repeated a story from 2010. We assume this was to give Jim Scancarelli some time to research and work ahead for the February 2021 centennial of Skeezix’s debut.

So a story began the 6th of July. It feels like a repeat to me, and to many of the GoComics commenters. But nobody has found it in the archives, to my knowledge. Those archives only go back to April 2001, true. But it would be odd to reprint a strip from more than twenty years ago; strip sizes have changed since then. But there’s no definite word either way.

If I get word that this is definitely a repeat, or definitely new, or any other Gasoline Alley news I’ll post it here. Also, I expect, a new plot summary around November 2020.

Gasoline Alley.

25 May – 15 August 2020.

The story as repeated: Gertie, Walt Wallet’s caretaker, worried about the side effects of his medications. Like, they can cause hallucinations. They seem to be working: Walt calls Gertie out to see a mass of exotic tropical birds. The birds vanish before Gertie gets outside. Then there’s monkeys swinging from the trees, except when Gertie steps outside. A hippopotamus on the lawn. Gertie worries about the hallucinations until she comes face-to-face with a lion.

Gertie: 'Mr Walt! You were right! There ARE critters everywhere!' Walt, surrounded by monkeys, exotic birds, a hippo, an elephant, and so on: 'I told you so!' Gertie, pointing to a friendly lion: 'Hoo-wee! This one didn't brush his teeth!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 13th of June, 2020. This is what it’s like to have a furry convention set up in your town, by the way. You’re walking to that place where you build-your-own-tacos and whoop, hyenas!

It draws a crowd, including Polly Ballew, oddly young sister of Bob and Ray reporter Wally Ballew. (Hi, Dad!) And, finally, it draws an answer: “world’s greatest animal trainer” Clyde Bailey. These are circus animals, who escaped after “hungry vagrants” broke into their cages and stole food. Bailey’s able to round up the animals and get them back, and bring this repeat to a close.

Animal trainer Clyde Bailey, calling the animals: 'Tantor! Simba! Tarmangani! Oongowah!' The next panel the elephant and lion screeeeech to a sharp halt. The birds flying around them are probably also stopping too.
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 26th of June, 2020. I’m sorry not to share more pictures as Scancarelli draws a great cartoony animal. It looks like he had a blast with this action. I would pay for a cornball funny-animals comic book like they published in the old days drawn by him. Give me that elephant and that lion swapping vaudeville patter.

The current and possibly new story started the 6th of July, with Rover Wallet and son Boog driving home. This would fit from the end of the previous story, the Farm Collective one, by the way. They pick up a hitchhiking Joe Pye, and his three sons. On W-PLOT Radio, they hear of four “armed and dangerous” escapees from State Prison. The Pyes jump out of the truck.

On the truck radio: 'I repeat! The FOUR escaped convicts are armed and dangerous! This is not a fake report!' One of the Pye kids, riding in the truckbed: 'It IS too! We ain't armed!' Joe Pye: 'Joe Pye and his boys will sue em fo' desperation of character!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 13th of July, 2020. Wh … why are the bunnies spying like that in the first panel? Are they hoping to nab the escapees and grab the reward?

It’s hard to believe in a Scancarelli character being “dangerous”. But the Pyes agree they’re fleeing the cops, and go tromping through the wilderness. They tromp through the water, figuring this will wreck their trail. And then come the dogs. They surrender to what they take are police dogs. But they’re not; the dogs, Flotsam and Jetsam, are a woman’s.

Shari Pye, cross, and arms crossed: 'The Joe Pye I'm talking about had three sons named Red Tommy, Milferd, and Roscoe Baby!' One of the Pye kids: 'Roscoe BABY? Ha ha ha! Oh! BABY mine!' Shari: 'What're YOUR names?' Pye kid: 'Gulp! Uh ... ... Manny!' Next kid: 'I'm Moe!' Last kid: 'An' I'm Jacques!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 10th of August, 2020. I’d like to help by tagging which of the Pye kids is which but I just don’t know. They seem to reliably be shown together which makes it hard to say who’s who. Also, I know Scancarelli fought the impulse to have them declare they were Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered/Bemildred. (They were the trio of bats in Walt Kelly’s Pogo.)

The woman thinks Joe Pye looks familiar. His name is familiar too. She’s Shari Pye. Joe Pye knew someone by that name, years ago. Married her, in fact. She’d married a Joe Pye, it turns out. And had three sons who fled with Joe. Joe Pye comes clean: he’s her long-lost husband. Also, when he told his sons that their mother had died he had mixed up his phrasing. So the family’s reunited, then, that’s sure to be a good thing, right?

And that’s where the storyline stands as of the middle of August. Again, if I find evidence this is a repeat, or is definitely not, I’ll pass word on.

Next Week!

It’s a comic strip I know to be in repeats! I’ll look at the last weeks of James Allen’s Mark Trail and the start of Jack Elrod repeats. Unless something disrupts the plan. Thank you for bearing with me as we hope there is a plan.

The last new Mark Trail just ran on Sunday and it’s all reruns for now


Per D D Degg’s article in The Daily Cartoonist, yesterday was the last of James Allen’s Mark Trail Sunday panels. The dailies have been reruns from the Jack Elrod era for several weeks now. Allen continues to publish his Edge of Adventure comic strip on GoComics.

Since the world is a strange one, of course the last new Mark Trail for the foreseeable future is about octopus sex.

Although new species are found regularly, there are at least 800 known species of cephalopods! Cephalopods can be found in oceans all around the world! Asie from a species of squid that tolerates brackish water, no cephalopods live in fresh water! Aptly named because they seem to be draped in bed linens, the blanket octopus has one of the largest size differences between the sexes in the animal kingdom. While the females can reach 6 feet in length, the males are the size of a walnut. The male detaches a specialized arm and gives it to the female during mating. She will then use the arm to fertilize her eggs, producing the next generation of deep-sea denizens.
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 16th of August, 2020. And, wow; it’s amazing to think things have come to an end just as Mark Trail got relaxed enough to not button the top button of his shirt. While he’s walking on the beach. And no other time. Ever.

There’s no word yet on a new creator (solo or team). If I get any, first, it’ll probably be through The Daily Cartoonist. And second, I’ll pass word along in an essay at this link. I am still planning to do plot recaps, at least unless I get word that the strip has been retired into permanent reruns.

[Edited 25 September 2020: Good news!  Jules Rivera is taking over the comic as of the middle of October.]

Degg’s article, linked at the top of this piece, shares the first-and-last pages for the comic strip’s various artists and writers. Also the first appearance of Cherry Davis, eventually Mark’s wife. And some promotional art. And some fan art. Also the revelation-to-me that James Allen had a writing partner, Brice Vorderbrug. Maybe this was generally known to the community, but I didn’t, and that’s why I didn’t credit him in my various plot recaps. (Vorderbrug has been credited all along on Edge of Adventure.)

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? Who is Dethany and why does she look like a villain? May – August 2020


Dethany Dendrobia, the pale Goth guest star is from Bill Holbrook’s On The Fastrack. I’ll get to what she’s doing in Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy some paragraphs down. On The Fastrack is a longrunning workplace-humor comic strip. It turned up often enough when I was Reading the Comics for my mathematics blog. Dethany Dendrobia is the comic strip’s third protagonist. She took over the strip about a decade ago from previous lead character, Wendy Welding. Dendrobia is Goth, yes, and I forget whether her paleness is makeup or her nature.

Holbrook’s three comics (On The Fastrack, Safe Havens, and the web comic Kevin and Kell) go in for a cartoony world. In it, for example, the Computer Bug, source of so many problems, is a real literal character, who can speak with and negotiate with you and all. Dendrobia, hardworking and cheerful, is also Goth, fascinated by death and time’s ravages. So her “freakish”, Morticia Addams-influenced, appearance codes her in Dick Tracy as a villain. But in her home comic strip this is how a normal person looks.

While the characters are crossing over there are some differences between the comic strip universes. Dick Tracy is carrying on as though the Covid-19 disaster weren’t happening. Except for the Crimestoppers tips at the top of Sunday panels, which carry warnings about scams. People faking being from the IRS asking for stimulus check information. People running fake health screenings. Scammers telling you the schools are “safe to reopen” for in-person classes. People claiming that employers should not be legally liable for their employees getting the coronavirus at work. People selling fake vaccinations. The frauds you would expect.

On The Fastrack, meanwhile, has made the characters being locked down an important part of the story. The easy way around this is to say the Dick Tracy events happened, like, last year or so. Except both strips have built in how Dendrobia is preparing for her wedding, to Guy Wyre, this coming Halloween. (Dick Tracy also recently made a guest appearance in On The Fastrack, there as a hologram, to avoid spreading non-ironic death.)

It gets more “inconsistent”. In Holbrook’s other newspaper comic, Safe Havens, Fastrack built and launched a spacecraft to Mars. That crew went and bioengineered that planet into new life. In that strip, Dethany is the chief flight director for Fastrack Inc. There is no good reason I haven’t been doing plot recaps for that comic. But that’s even harder to reconcile with what we’ve seen here. Especially since Holbrook decided to freeze the On The Fastrack characters’ ages, when Dendrobia took over. But Safe Havens continues aging the characters in loose realtime. You never hear this mentioned by people who say they can’t understand the relationship between Crankshaft and Funky Winkerbean.

(Tom Batiuk’s Crankshaft and Funky Winkerbean both take place in the present day. But Funky Winkerbean is also a decade “ahead” of Crankshaft. That is, if a Crankshaft character appears in today’s Funky Winkerbean he’s ten years older than he “should” be. A Funky Winkerbean character appearing in Crankshaft is about a decade younger. That’s all.)

Dick Tracy.

17 May – 9 August 2020.

Actress Fortuna Dyer was getting into character for her Breathless Mahoney bio-pic. Thing is Breathless Mahoney was a villain. Dyer wants information out of B.O.Plenty, who back before his heel-face turn kind of got pretty near murdering her. Tracy gives Dyer an interview, recapping the Mahoney-Plenty story of the 40s. And asks her not to contact Plenty, who’s gone all good.

Dyer bails Shaky out of jail, a surprising fast return for last story’s villain. Shaky’s uncle, the original Shaky, was married to Breathless Mahoney’s mother. Dyer says she wants more background on Mahoney. So he’s got a job now, that’s great. The job seems to be talking about their relatives over dinner with Dyer. That doesn’t cause any conflict at all with Edison Lighthouse, Shaky’s girlfriend, whom he starts missing date nights with.

Shaky: 'Breathless, we've been at this for two weeks now. What would you say to dinner with no movie talk?' Dyer/Breathless: 'I wondered when you'd bring that up. Sure, we can go out. But tell me something ... do you shake *all* the time?'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 30th of May, 2020. “Because if you do shake all the time, well, this could be even better than that time I was dating Chef Wiggly!”

Lighthouse, annoyed at her abandonment, turns to her one friend: Ugly Crystal. You know, whom she met while fleeing the cops last time around. Over coffee at the mall Crystal recommends dumping Shaky. She doesn’t know what his deal is. But she knows someone sending his signals is not good. Lighthouse challenges Shaky, who admits to what’s going on, even though it’s a little weird.

Meanwhile Dick Tracy learns that Shaky’s out of jail, when Sam Catchem notices Shaky at the filming location.

In another mall hangout, Ugly Crystal mentions how her dad’s got a cool Oklahoma Days centennial belt buckle. And there’s a whole world of belt-buckle-collectors who’ll pay good money for that sort of thing. Shaky, eavesdropping, hears how this could be worth thousands. He forms a plan. Shaky is confident in his plan, even though his plan is quite bad. He needs cash. Dyer’s been pumping him for information, but all she’s delivered is the promise of a movie cameo. When she puts off a dinner date, he breaks in to Ugly Crystal’s home to steal her dad’s belt buckle.

So a thing Ugly Crystal maybe never mentioned to Shaky when he mistook her place for a safehouse? Her dad’s Lafayette Austin, undercover cop. Also he has like a dozen belt buckles so it’s easy to find one’s missing.

On the movie set, Shaky, playing Original Shaky, says, 'Come on, Breathless. I said I was sorry.' Dyer, as Breathless: 'No, Shaky. I don't take that from anyone. We're through!' Shaky: 'Please, baby?' Dyer: 'No. I've filed charges.' Shaky: 'You what?' Dick Tracy: 'Shaky.' Shaky: 'Buzz off! This is none of your business!' Tracy: 'Oh, but it *is*. You're under arrest.' Shaky: 'Ugh ... Dick Tracy!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 21st of June, 2020. Having yet another instance where characters play Dick Tracy characters, particularly with Current Shaky playing Original Shaky for this movie cameo, made this a confusing strip to read when it came out. What we’re seeing here, through the first panel of the bottom row, is a movie scene being filmed with Shaky playing his uncle the Original Shaky, and Dyer playing Breathless. The last two panels are the real Dick Tracy intruding, breaking up the scene with an actual real-world arrest. This seems needlessly jerky of Dick Tracy. Like, he couldn’t have waited one minute for the scene to be clear? But, Shaky responding to something off-script so plausibly suggests that maybe his real calling was an actor. He’s certainly not a competent crook.

Tracy goes to the movie set to arrest Shaky, who’s doing his cameo as Uncle Shaky. The arrest is for “harassment”, and I’m not sure who he’s harassing. But he’s got the belt buckle on him too. There’s a short fight, and a new arrest, and that’s it for Shaky.

Also maybe for Dyer. On Shaky’s arrest she drops her method-actor pose of demanding everyone call her Breathless. .

Oh, and that $2,000 buckle was actually a $20 buckle. Ugly Crystal was “worried” about Edison Lighthouse being with Shaky. And Shaky thought that baiting Shaky into stealing from Austin might “[help] save Fortuna Dyer”. Which … I guess succeeded, but it feels like some class of entrapment at least. Also it’s not clear that Tracy did much besides have the matter solved for him.


The current story began the 5th of July. It brings in Dethany Dendrobia from Bill Holbrook’s On The Fastrack. Fastrack itself is a company with a slightly vague portfolio, but a lot of what it does is data warehousing.

Dendrobia’s in Tracy Town because Fastrack is buying a new warehouse. Dendrobia’s investigating the string of construction accidents. Someone’s following her, and took a shot, tearing her overcoat. The warehouse is one that used to belong to Stooge Viller, whom GoComics commenter Neil Wick writes was the fifth-ever Dick Tracy villain, back in 1933. Viller survived a couple stories and died in 1940.

The antagonist is someone named Coney, a rotund fellow whom we meet buying a double-wide ice cream cone. And the motive: there’s a rumor that Viller hid millions somewhere in the building. But after a month of work Coney’s gang hasn’t found anything.

Tracy and Dendrobia investigate the warehouse. They find Coney and his gang. Coney insists he’s the building’s owner. So, all right. That stalls things for a couple days. Coney goes to Wilson Properties, complaining about these snoopers. Alex Wilson says the warehouse was sold by mistake and they haven’t been able to negotiate anything with Fastrack. It’s … a heck of a mistake. But, don’t worry. The real estate investment trust that fraudulently sold the building? Whose mistake results in the attempted murder and actual kidnapping and possible death of several people? They will never face a consequence.

Alex Wilson: 'What have you tried to persuade Miss Dendrobia to leave?' Coney: 'The usual cat and mouse. But she won't scare. After the last try she brought Dick Tracy into the situation.' Wilson: 'We may be on borrowed time, Coney. You've had no luck finding Viller's Millions?' Coney: 'No, but too many of his old mob remember his bragging about it being hidden in that warehouse. It MUST be there!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 30th of July, 2020. OK, yeah, but, like, Villiers was operating in the 30s. There was probably some candy bar named “Villiers’ Millions” and it was advertised as the combination bar that filled you up like a five-course dinner served to a member of the Sugar Trust. They sponsored Stoopnagle and Budd for three months in 1934.

Still, it gives underling Howdy a new chance to get rid of Dendrobia or else. Howdy by the way looks rather like Howdy Doody. This makes me think we’re supposed to recognize Coney from something, but I don’t know what. He looks generically like an ice cream mascot but that could just be good character design. He also doesn’t look anything like the iconic “Tillie” caricature of Coney Island showman George Tilyou, which knocks out the other obvious association.

Howdy gets some information from Bookworm, which might be a shout-out to the Adam West Batman. With that information he drives over to On The Fastrack and kidnaps Dendrobia’s fiancee, Guy Wyre. Howdy gives Dendrobia the ultimatum: get her boss (Rose Trellis) to let go of the warehouse and she gets Guy Wyre back.

And, the 9th of August, Sam Catchem meets up with Sleet. Catchem knew her back when she was a racketeer and paid $500 to kill him. So it’s nice they’ve gotten past that. What relevance it has to these proceedings is unknowable as of Sunday. (He was getting information about Wyre’s kidnappers.)

This catches you up to mid-August 2020. If you’re reading this after about November 2020, or want what Dick Tracy news I come across, I may have something at this link. Thank you.

Next Week!

I look through a couple months’ worth of Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley, unfortunately still in reruns for the dailies. I believe at least some of the Sunday strips are new, but haven’t checked. I’ll let you know what I find.

And one last note. Over on my mathematics blog I’m spending the rest of the year explaining one mathematics term at a time. I’m leaving a lot of mathematics terms un-explained. But you might like what you see. Thanks for reading.

Vintage Phantom: I can see Aunt Elsie’s point


I like to think I’m a good audience member. Like, I’ll try to accept the premise, best I can. My best is maybe not as good as the author hopes, but if I can see where the conclusion follows from the premise, I’ll agree the problem is me getting stuck, not them. Also, I’m aware that the conventions of storytelling, even in comic strips, have changed over the decades. That the author has a point of view and trusts that most readers will default to that point of view, at least while reading.

So, in ComicsKingdom’s current vintage daily Phantom story, written by Lee Falk and illustrated by Wilson McCoy, Diana Palmer’s aunt Elsie is visiting. And she’s learning about this strange masked man from a jungle cave whom her niece is delighted by. She tries to Mary Worth her niece into dating someone more acceptable, a rich athlete name of Jack.

Diana's aunt/caretaker Lily, explaining The Phantom: 'He wears a mask and a strange suit .. and lives in a cave in the jungle ... ' Aunt Elise: 'This is Diana's boy friend? You keep the big guest room --- my room --- for him? What it has no furniture --- except two straw mats? And why is the window open on a cold day like this?' Lily: 'Diana always leaves it open. That's the way he comes in. We never know when he'll come. He doesn't use beds. He sleeps on the mat. The other one's for his wolf.'
Lee Falk and Wilson McCoy’s The Phantom for the 26th of June, 1953, and reprinted the 6th of August, 2020. I know it’s 1953 in the strip here, and a long-distance phone call to say “I’m going to be in town Thursday” could take upwards of six days and the involvement of three battalions of the Signal Corps and maybe the ionosphere allowing for long-distance radio bouncing. But still: Why does The Phantom need a suburban house’s bedroom window to be left open? Are we supposed to believe The Nomad kept him at bay for ten years by latching the little plastic handle on the sash?

And, yeah, I know The Phantom’s a good guy, and Diana knows he’s a good guy, and all the readers know he’s a good guy. And that Jack’s being presented as … maybe not conceited, but at least a bore. But, still … yeah, when Diana’s aunt Lily lays out the facts of the matter like this? There are some flags.

What’s Going On In Prince Valiant? Wait, Aleta is Queen of the Witches? May – August 2020


Yeah, she said on Sunday that she’s Queen of the Witches. That she’s a witch hasn’t come up much lately. But when Valiant first saw her he was enchanted, and they teased a while about whether that was literal or figurative. And she’s done magic stuff lately. I don’t know if this Queen of the Witches thing is established or whether that’s a bluff, though. So that catches you up on Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant as of early August 2020. If you’re reading this after about November 2020 there’s likely a more up-to-date plot recap at this link.

Also on my other blog I’m explaining words from the mathematics glossary. No promise of comics there, but you might find something interesting. Thanks, and now back to the time of King Arthur.

Prince Valiant.

10 May – 2 August 2020.

Prince Valiant and team were just outside Camelot, dealing with local issues. Imbert, local landlord, died. His son Gareth died shortly after. The suspect: Afton and Audrey, with whom Imbert was quarreling about some land. Sir Gawain had arrived in the story to sort that out, but he hasn’t been much use to anyone. The locals figure Afton and Audrey are witches, what with how they have good crops and aren’t dead of the plague. Valiant’s son Nathan believes the women are good students of nature and learned how to farm.

Audrey lead Valiants and Nathan to the cave, key to the land dispute. Some say it contains eternal youth. What it mostly has is bats, loads of guano that are indeed good fertilizer. Valiant also notices it has a curious yellow ore, and he keeps a sample.

Audrey had brought Nathan and Val to the bats' cave, with the task of gathering fertilizer for her and Afton's gardens. As she and Nathan put their backs into shoveling the bat droppings, Val peels off to look farther along. He finds strata of tin ore running along the walls --- not uncommon in this part of Arthur's kingdom. And there is another stratum. This of a dull yellowish color, which angles down into the spring waters. The prince digs out a chunk of the yellowish ore and inspects it closely --- suddenly he believes he has found the answer to the mystery surrounding this place. He returns to assist the shoveling and the loading of the guano. When the wagon is full, the three begin their return ... while in the dark thickets outside Afton's cottage, menacing figures skulk forward. Next: The nightjar.
March Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 24th of May, 2020. This made me wonder whether guano is something you really have to gather at night. But then I guess at night most of the bats will be out, so you don’t have to worry about disturbing them? So I guess that’s an advantage? So anyway, if you somehow didn’t know what kind of person I am, now you know, it’s “person who wonders about the best guano-gathering practices because of reading a comic strip”.

Meanwhile the villagers have had enough of this, and attack Afton and Audrey’s cottage. Gawain tries to defend it, but he’s just one person, and not main cast(?) I guess(?). Afton escapes being feathered. But the mob burns her cottage. Valiant sees this and races to the scene. He bellows that the women are innocent and he can explain the deaths. As soon as they get back to Imbert’s estate, anyway.

The proof is in Imbert’s kitchen. The cook recognizes Valiant’s ore. It’s arsenic. This gives Schultz and Yeates the problem of having characters who think this is a good thing not advise newspaper readers to take poison. Valiant settles on saying how “it is rumored to aid good bodily health”. So Imbert was stealing ore from the cave, and taking it for his health. But Valiant knows arsenic is a poison, used “by assassins in the court of a distant land”. So Imbert arsenic-poisoned himself. Gareth, trying to have the same meals as Imbert, had the same poison.

With Val having solved the mystery of Imbert's death, Gawain announces his verdict to the gathered villagers: 'Matter the first: the royal archives prove Afton's claim on the land in question. Lord Imbert had no right to take possession of anything on Afton's land. Matter the second: Afton and Audrey are blameless in the deaths of Imbert and Gareth. Imbert's theft from Afton's land was responsible for his and Gareth's inadvertent deaths by poison. As the representative of the court of Camelot, I forbid any further persecution of these two women!' Then, unexpectedly, Aleta's voice rises above the crowd's murmuring 'You have accused Afton and Audrey of using witchcraft for evil purpose but I assure you, they are no more witches than are any of you! I know this because I am a witch! A witch queen from the far south! And these are my familiars, who will watch and assure that no harm comes to those I protect!' The crowd gasps as two huge creatures suddenly appear at her call! Next: the greater fear
March Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 26th of July, 2020. Aleta’s not a stupid woman. So we must ask, then. What are the experiences she has had which make her believe this is an effective way to protect women reputed to be witches?

Gawain reports that the royal records confirm Afton’s claims on the disputed land. Also, that Imbert and Gareth’s death was their own fault, and there’ll be no further persecution of Afton and Audrey. Aleta steps in to support Afton and Audrey against the claims of witchcraft. She declares their innocence and she would know, as she’s Queen of the Witches. She summons her raven familiars to put Afton and Audrey under her protection. Aleta thinks she’s helping. Our heroes leave. They trust Afton and Audrey will have a good time next week, when I look at Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy.

Next Week!

You know, I did get the Prince Valiant plot summary finished way ahead of deadline. I should be getting to work on the Dick Tracy plot recap like, four days ago. Well, shall try to have that for next week. Thanks for reading.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Weekdays)? Why is The Phantom destined for an unmarked grave? May – July 2020


Well, The Phantom apparently went and changed destiny on himself, so who can say what’s going to happen next? Happy to catch you up on the goings on in Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity. If you’re reading this after about October 2020, or if you’re interested in the separate Sunday storyline, there is probably a more up-to-date plot recap at this link.

Also, on my other blog, I’m going through the alphabet to explain mathematical terms. I hope you enjoy that all.

The Phantom (Weekdays).

4 May – 25 July 2020.

The Phantom had caught himself some wildlife poachers, last I looked. But the poachers had wounded a lion, who’s gone into what the Llongo people call the Forbidden Forest. The Ghost Who Walks figures he has to kill the wounded lion, lest it go attacking people, and he doesn’t see any reason to ask why the forest is forbidden.

The Phantom doesn’t have much luck tracking the lion. The lion has better luck tracking The Phantom, catching him right before sunset. He shoots the lion, which seems to end the problem. And he eats the heart of the lion, respecting a Llongo tradition as promised. The Phantom lies down to unsettled dreams.

The Phantom, watching a lion: 'That's not the same lion! It's not wounded! Not leaving a blood trail! ... What am I saying? I cut out the lion's heart! Of course it's not the same lion!'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 20th of May, 2020. The Man Who Cannot Die is being pretty confident about the possibility of a Lion Who Cannot Die, have to say.

He wakes to find the lion carcass gone. Also, that the lion’s alive. And heading off on its own business. The Phantom tries to clear his thoughts. Then he sees The Python, the big-bad terrorist from before Eric Sahara. The Python vanishes into thin air, though. The Phantom tries to work out a rational explanation for this all. The woods are said to drive men mad. Maybe he had a concussion. The important thing is to get out and get somewhere safe. Like, Skull Cave, which pops in to the middle of the Forbidden Forest, far from where it ought to be.

And inside the cave is … The Phantom? The figure, who keeps calling our Ghost Who Walks “Son”, scolds him. I wasn’t sure whether this was meant to be literally the 20th Phantom. But he eventually describes Kit Walker Junior as his grandson, so that’s a good answer. Phantom Dad scolds about the events of “The Curse of Old Man Mozz”, a story from back in 2017. In it, Old Man Mozz foresaw the killing of The Phantom by a petty henchman getting in a lucky shot. That didn’t happen, because King Features and Tony DePaul worked out a new contract. And Diana Walker tipped off Babudan, who was there with a well-timed arrow.

Finding a replica of Skull Cave deep within the Llongo Forbidden Forest, in a deep wash of blue-greens. The Phantom says, 'Skull Cave isn't on Llongo land ... it's in Bandar territory! The Deep Woods of my ancestors!!'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 2nd of June, 2020. Did want to say a good word here for Mike Manley in doing a really deeply atmospheric eerie Skull Cave. Also for the colorists. The colorists for the daily comics take a lot of razzing for incompetent flood filling of strips. It’s important to point out when they’ve done a great job like this.

The Phantom protests, fairly, that he didn’t send anyone out to mess up his destiny. The 20th says they were forced to do what they did, when Kit Walker sent his son off to that Himalayan monastery. And did nothing to protect Heloise Walker. 21’st daughter was the one who captured Eric “The Nomad” Sahara, most recent terrorist nemesis of The Phantom. 20 warns that his son, having altered the course of The Phantom’s legend, “will not lie here among your ancestors”. He’ll instead be left in a faraway grave. He’s lost “the right to lie in the crypt of the Phantoms”. And threatens him with oblivion, right then and there, lost to all time.

As the 20th Phantom dissolves into an angry, flaming skeleton taunting his son with ruin, The 21st Phantom suspects something is wrong. It’s the woods, he tells himself, and chooses to leave. As he does, 20 warns that all his feeble mortal plans will be overturned. 21 starts to taunt back, hey, everybody’s plans are overturned, it’s the year — and then stops short before he can say “two thousand and … 20”.

20th Phantom: 'Hear me now ... having altered the course of the legend, YOU WILL NOT LIE HERE among your ancestors!' In front of the 21st Phantom's eyes, 20 turns into a flaming skeleton. 20: 'You have consigned yourself to a faraway grave, my son ... '
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 18th of June, 2020. So, first, my brother had that second panel on a T-shirt in high school. Second, OK, so if 21 had been shot in the back by that coward, back a couple years ago, how would his body have gotten back to Skull Cave? Would Kit Junior have been along for some reason? Or someone else from the Ghost’s support team?

The Phantom runs out of the woods, going past the illusions of Babudan and his faithful supporter Guran and Guran’s elephant. And keeps going until it turns out those are the real Babudan and Guran and Elephant. They’ve got one question for The Ghost Who Walks: what were you thinking tromping into the Forbidden Forest like that? Don’t you know that’s a good way to go mad? Why, Guran’s even seen his son Timo in those woods, and Timo hasn’t been on-screen in the comic strip since 1943. Anyway, the cause of these strange visions is rational enough. There’s fleas in the Llongo woods with a toxin that causes hallucinations. Guran’s got an antidote, though. Why not tell the Llongo about this? Well, Guran tipped off James Allen about these fleas and they’d be in a Mark Trail Sunday panel except, you know, all that drama.

The Phantom’s left to wonder the significance of his vision, though. It’s easy to shrug it off as hallucinations, yes. But The Phantom does happen in a superhero universe. More, a magical superhero universe, since Mandrake the Magician shares the continuity. (Mary Worth, too, by the way.) And, after all, Old Man Mozz did have a useful prophetic dream. So, like many of us, he’s left to sulk about the consequences of his actions.


That, the 18th of July, ends “The Llongo Forest”, 254th of the weekday continuity stories. The 20th started “The Reunion”, 255th of the weekday stories. It opens with Kit Walker getting a letter to Box 7, Mawitaan, his secret post office drop for people in trouble. It’s from Ashrama Raia, General Delivery, Nairobi. The Phantom keeps up his Jumble practice. Those are the letters of Imara Sahara, mother to Kadia Walker, nee Sahara and Heloise Walker’s schoolmate. The Phantom had broken Imara Sahara out of The Nomad’s compound before militias and American terror-bombing could destroy it. But she fled rather than stick around with The Phantom. The Phantom had advised her that someone would answer a letter set to Box 7, Mawitaan, though. Did kind of expect that thread to resume someday.

Next Week!

Will I write up the development of
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant before deadline on Tuesday?
We’ll see!

It looks like we’ve run out of James Allen _Mark Trail_ dailies


So today’s Mark Trail is a reprint from Jack Elrod’s long tenure on the comic strip. I don’t know when its original publication was. The initial strip doesn’t bring back any memories for me, and I haven’t seen any comments from anyone who can pin it down.

[ A car rounds a hill overlooking Lost Forest. ] Driver: 'There's a ranch ... we'll put her out close to the entrance! I'm sure someone will find her and give her a good home ... stop crying, we just don't have time for a pet!' Passenger: 'I feel so guilty ... it doesn't seem right.'
Jack Elrod’s Mark Trail rerun for the 27th of July, 2020. While I did, sincerely, appreciate James Allen’s work in making the stories less relentlessly linear, and in sprucing up the depth of character motivation? I did miss the frequency of giant foreground animals. Also the word balloon tails that seem to mix up which silhouetted background character is saying what. I mean, the driver’s dialogue isn’t exactly inconsistent, if they’re first saying where they’ll put ‘her’ out and then admitting to feeling guilty. But it does read a little weird.
Saturday’s strip, apparently the last of James Allen’s weekday-continuity work, wasn’t apparently rewritten to cover the change of staff. The mention of ‘personal stories’ could have been used to cover reruns as ‘flashbacks’. This would mirror the way the final Amazing Spider-Man posits that everything since is Peter Parker dreaming while on the long flight to Australia.

Movie Actor's Companion: 'I love these personal stories about your family, Rusty!' Rusty: 'Growing up in a wooded area has been a lot of fun!' Actor: 'Are we heading back to the hotel soon?'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 25th of July, 2020. So Jeremy Cartwright, the actor, is there to meet Mark Trail and understand him a bit better for A Movie. He’s been labelled as a bad boy, and Mark Trail thinks he hasn’t been “a very gracious guest”, as he complained about lunch and as you can see wants drinks. Cherry’s been more able to roll with things. I don’t know whether Cartwright’s wife(?) girlfriend(?) agent(?) companion has been given a name. (She’s called Cartwright ‘honey’, but that could just be an affectation.) Also, “not far from Lost Forest”, there were poachers, so we have some hint where things might have gone.

We got the news of James Allen leaving the strip at the end of June, so now we know what kind of lead time he was maintaining. I would guess without knowing that there are probably another month’s worth of Sunday strips in the works.

James Allen has said he does not know when someone else will be hired to write or draw the strip. Nor whether the story — about an actor who’ll be playing Mark Trail in a movie based on his adventures watching Lisa Moore die of plot complications — will be continued.

If I do get any information about Mark Trail I intend to put it on a post at this link.

[Edited 25 September 2020: Good news!  Jules Rivera is taking over the comic as of the middle of October.]

What’s Going On In Alley Oop (Sundays)? Is there a plot in Alley Oop (Sundays)? April – July 2020


So maybe yesterday you noticed I didn’t tag the recap for Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop as the weekday continuity. It’s not that I forgot that there was an ongoing story in the Sunday, Little Oop, strips. It’s more that I am not sure whether there is a story going on in the Sunday strips.

Since Lemon and Sayers took over, the Sunday Alley Oop strips have been a separate continuity. (Under Jack and Carole Bender they had been a recap-and-preview of a week’s worth of strips.), The Sunday strips are set when Alley Oop is a little kid. In February a story seemed to start: Penelope, a young science-type genius girl of the year 2020, popped into Little Alley Oop’s world. She brought him back to the present. Then then the time machine broke.

Penelope: 'Mom, this is Alley. He's going to stay with us a little while, OK?' Mom: 'No way! I'm not letting some stranger live in our house.' Penelope, holding up the Convince-O-Ray: 'Oops. Forgot to turn this on.' With a purple light shining on Mom: 'Mom, this is Alley. He's going to stay with us a little while, OK?' Mom: 'Of course! The more the merrier. I'll fix up the guest room for you, Alley. ... Wait a minute. Are you using your Convince-O-Ray on me again?' Penelope: 'Um ... no, Mom. This is my new anti-aging machine.' Mom: 'Oh, well, in that case ... ' Little Oop: 'I don't know, Penelope. Something about this invention doesn't feel quite right.' Penelope: 'It's no big deal. Now go stand in that purple light for just a second.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 21st of June, 2020. Got to say, Penelope being a little kid makes her brainwashing device more fun. And I know what you’re wondering: so could the weekday-continuity Alley Oop grab the Convince-O-Ray next time he’s in 2020? They’re all in the same continuity and everything, right? I don’t know, I didn’t think to wonder that until I started writing a caption for this strip myself.

Penelope has not been anxious about getting her time machine fixed, although there’ve been a couple attempts at it. Instead, we’ve seen Little Oop get set up in Penelope’s family’s guest room. To start going to school. To meet some of Penelope’s friends and her brother and all that. It’s read more like we’re getting a revised setting to the Sunday strips more than anything meant to go anywhere.

Teacher: 'And that's how we know that humans and dinosaurs never coexisted ... yes, Alley?' Little Oop: 'I think my pet dinosaur, Max, would disagree. In fact, I know tons of dinosaurs back home. My gym teacher is one. I mean, sure, they're not *all* great. My cousin almost got eaten by a Utahraptor, but he's a bit of a daydreamer. What I'm trying to say is that you don't have the slightest idea what you're talking about.' (Teacher points Little Oop out the classroom.) Little Oop, to another student outside the principal's office: 'I guess my teacher wants me to tell the principal all about my dinosaur friends too.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 12th of July, 2020. Incidentally, V T Hamlin handled the question of “but dinosaurs went extinct way before humans ever appeared” way back in April 1939, when the new premise of the caveman strip was just being introduced. Also, if you want to see Little Oop’s gym teacher, here he is organizing a rockball game. He doesn’t look much like Gil Thorp even for being a dinosaur.

So at this point I can’t give a plot recap because there isn’t really a plot. There’s just Little Oop getting into cute shenanigans in the present day. If this turns into a story I’ll add it to my regular plot recaps. But for now, it seems to be just stand-alone incidents. At least once you know what a caveboy is doing in 2020.

If this changes, or if I get any news about Alley Oop, I’ll post an essay at this link. Thanks for reading.

What’s Going On In Alley Oop? Is Alley Oop off the hook for Time Crime? April – July 2020


Yes, it looks like the thing where Universe-3 is prosecuting our, Universe-2, Alley Oop and company is resolved. The charges are dropped until some later nonsense happens. The original, V T Hamlin-created Alley Oop is in Universe-1, not a part of these shenanigans. Glad to catch you up on Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop, as of mid-July 2020. If you’re reading this after about October 2020 there’ll likely be a new plot recap at this link.

My other blog has given a break to reading comic strips for a while, but I am building a little glossary of mathematical terms, one a week, at this link. You might like that, too.

Alley Oop.

27 April – 18 July 2020.

In the most surprisingestly surprising surprise in the history of surprises, billionaire Drew Copious was up to something evil. Last time, Copious hired Dr Wonmug and his gang for some little time-travel adventures. This got him a pencil from the useless aliens who watched the Egyptians build the Pyramids. The pencil was a communicator to some alien named Farfell.

Ooola: 'Where were you guys? I was in 2485 for almost a year!' Oop: 'We traveled all over time looking for you, from the Big Bang to the heat death of the universe.' Wonmug: 'Finally, we went back to the moment that Copious sent you to the future and looked at the date on the time cube.' Oop: 'And we brought you back to just a short while after you left.' Ooola: 'So after a year, you finally did the easiest thing possible?' Oop: 'We really didn't want to cheat!'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 15th of May, 2020. So this is one of those little ways that time travel would change computing as we know it, by the way. (Also, in rescuing Wonmug from the past, Oop “originally” returned to ten days after he set out, earning Copious’s mild praise, then went back to just ten minutes after he set out, doing an “amazing job”.)

Copious separates Alley Oop from Dr Wonmug and Ooola. He has a test. Copious abducts Wonmug and Ooola, losing them somewhere in time, and Alley Oop has to rescue them. Wonmug’s stranded at a Beatles concert. It takes Alley Oop some time to find him, until he remembers he has a time machine. It takes longer to find Ooola, who’s hidden in the post-apocalyptic year of August 2020 2485. At least until they realize they can use the time machine to check where Copious sent her.

Oop: 'Ooola, what was the year 2485 like?' Ooona: 'It wasn't too bad. I was president of the zombies for a few months. I built affordable housing on the Moon. Oh, and I started a business selling food pills.' Oop: 'Wow! The future has food pills?' Ooona: 'No. I went out of business right away. I lost millions.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 16th of May, 2020. All right, but if she sold those little cubes of bright-colored food you saw on the original Star Trek? And if they were blocks of cheese? That would be different. My point is if someone opened a nothing-but-cheese buffet near me I would never eat anywhere else for any reason, not until I was too large to fit through doors.

Why all the testing? Because Copious wants to know if they’re up to helping him conquer the multiverse. He’s teamed up with the Nudellians, the useless aliens from the Pyramids. Copious explains they’re intelligent but gullible, and thus, useful. They sold Copious a device to travel between universes, which stopped working. We readers know why that is. To escape Time Court, Wonmug got a Universe Transit Device that locked out cross-universe travel. Copious is looking for a way to overcome that.

There’s one party Alley Oop and gang know who could help. That’s Ollie Arp and Eeena, their Universe-3 counterparts. And the ones who brought them up for trial in Time Court. And the only way to contact them is Copious’s pencil. Alley Oop sneaks up on Copious and distracts him by whacking him unconscious. Arp and Eeena debate it a little and decide saving the multiverse is worth dropping the charges.

Ollie Arp: 'I can't help but notice you guys ran out on your trial.' Wonmug: 'Oh yes ... ha ha ... well, I left my ... mechanical bull running and ... ' Alley Oop: 'I have a question. Was that even a real trial? What authority did you have to arrest us?' Ooola: 'When did you learn so much about the legal system?' Oop: 'Well, I did get into some trouble as a teenager back in Moo.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 9th of June, 2020. One advantage to making your story a comedic serial adventure is you never have plot holes. You have “hey, wait a minute” jokes set up for later use.

Arp and Eeena guide Wonmug in the use of Copious’s universe-travel device. It sends him to Universe 92, one where money was never invented. Arp and Eeena send Copious’s accomplices to Universe 212 and a hot bath. They were just “a few bad noodles”, paying off the pun set up by saying they were from the planet Nu-Dell. So the multiverse is saved, Universe-3 dropped the Time Crime charges against Our Heroes, and all’s well. That wraps things up … let’s call it the 24th of June.


The 25th of June everyone goes back to Moo. Wonmug included, since he hasn’t got anywhere else to be. Also there’s some weird giant ominous cloud looming over the Time Lab.

In Moo, Oop asks, 'So, Doc, why didn't you go back to your place? Everything okay?' Wonmug: 'I just have a weird feeling about going home.' Oop: 'Why? Are you afraid you left the oven on or something?' Wonmug: 'Haha. Something like that.' Back at the Time Lab, a gigantic storm cloud in the shape of a sinister face gathers, shooting lightning bolts.
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 27th of June, 2020. ObFuturamaReference: “Hmm, must be a friend of theirs!” (Hi, Love!)

Bad news in Moo, though. Dinny the dinosaur’s run away. But he’s not hard to find: he went to Inspiration Peak, where to canoodle with Francine, a dinosaur he met at the dino park. They’ve just started dating, no idea where this is going. They’ll see what happens. So that’s sweet.

Meanwhile, Ooola, who went off to the hot springs, is in some kind of fight. With her cry of “Die, fiend!” we reach the 18th of July and the nominal end of this recap period. (She’s rehearsing a play, we learn on Monday and Tuesday.)

Next Week!

More ghosts than usual have been walking! What did it all mean? I’ll try to say something organized about Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom (Weekdays) next week. If something doesn’t disrupt the lineage of 21 plot-recap comics snark bloggers before me. Thanks for reading.

What’s Going On In The Amazing Spider-Man? Were they lying when they said Spider-Man would come back? April – July 2020


Well, lying has to carry with it intent. I wasn’t lying when I said I planned to do my comic strip plot recaps for Tuesdays, for example. Stuff just got in the way. And it’s not as if anyone’s 2020 has gone to plan, or else I’d have written this during slack moments of Pinburgh. But as we finish another quarter-year with no new creative team for The Amazing Spider-Man, it’s getting harder to believe that there ever will be. If I get any news about Spider-Man returning to the comics I’ll report it in an essay at this link. And, what the heck, I’ll keep it in the story-update cycle at least a bit longer. This story, from Roy Thomas and Larry Lieber, ran in 2015-16.

On my other blog, I am temporarily not reading comic strips except for my own pleasure. But I am looking at one mathematical term or concept a week, one for each letter of the alphabet. These are all essays I hope bring some fresh thoughts about some familiar old notion like what “normal” is. You might like, and you can suggest topics of your own interest that I might get to. Please consider that.

The Amazing Spider-Man.

19 April – 11 July 2020.

Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner, was threatening the surface world with destruction. He does that every now and then. Something about how the surface world despoils the oceans. As ever, he’s not wrong. He brought Pharus, an Atlantean boy who contracted Tiny Tim Disorder from human pollution. White Spider-Man and Namor fought, Mary Jane brought Pharus to Metro General Hospital.

J Jonah Jameson takes the injured Peter Parker to the same hospital. (Parker was woozy after his fight with Namor.) Partly to be a decent person, but also because Parker let slip that Pharus went there. Jameson meets Dr Liz Bellman, who’s got the toxins out of Pharus, and that’s all he can get before the soldiers arrive. They figure to take Pharus into custody. Parker slips out and, as Spider-Man, uses his spider-powers to open a door. Spidey kidnaps, or liberates, Pharus, who dives into the New York Harbor. And disappears. There’s one day until Namor declares even more war on the surface world.

Peter Parker, ducking into a hospital closet, thinking: 'Namor has a grudge against the human race ... but I can't let the *boy* he brought with him become a hostage!' Coming out, as Spider-Man, thinking: 'Dr Bellman must've come out of one of THESE rooms ... ' (Opening a door) 'Bingo!' Pharus: 'Are --- are you going to HURT me?'
Roy Thomas and Larry Lieber’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 29th of April, 2020. Yes, I know, dramatic economy and it’s not like the story needs to be slower, especially given how heavy an exposition workload newspaper story strips have to carry. But, man, can you imagine how tough it would have been if Spider-Man had to choose among three doors?

Pharus swims to Namor’s ship, though, and tells of his treatment, and the kindness received. Namor doesn’t see this as any reason to call off the war, and sails back to the New York City pier he just left. He steps out to fight Spider-Man, because it would be rude not to. Spider-Man’s no match for Namor, but Pharus pleads for his life. And the life of the surface world, arguing that Spider-Man can be the brave leader who alters the surface world. Namor’s unmoved.

Mary Jane Parker arrives, offering to become his bride if he’ll spare Spider-Man. Namor refuses this, on the reasonable grounds a leader cannot put his desires ahead of his country’s.

Jameson, watching Spider-Man and Namor fight on TV: 'I don't get it Robbie! Wy isn't the army moving in on the Sub-Mariner? Heaven knows I'm no fan of Spider-Man, but that doesn't mean I want that waterlogged warmonger to kill him!' Robertson: 'Don't you see Mary Jane Parker there, Jonah? And that boy? If the army acts, they'll be caught in the crossfire!' Jameson: 'Isn't there anybody who can intervene?' Robertson: 'The President reached out to some folks who're on a mission out of the country ... but it doesn't look like the Avengers will arrive in time to save their fellow masked man!' Jameson: 'Then, whether I like it or not ... and I don't ... the web-crawler is history!'
Roy Thomas and Larry Lieber’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 31st of May, 2020. So a recurring bit that always amuses me is when someone in the strip proposes getting Spidey some backup. This always leads to the discovery that all eight thousand other superheroes in midtown Manhattan alone are out on other business. Usually that’s enough spackle to put over the plot hole. But here, Namor has announced he’s going to war, Atlantean ships have been stopping surface ships, and Namor has come to New York City, a city he’s specifically threatened with destruction before, in a situation that’s been developing for … days, at least. Weeks, more likely. Plausibly a month or more. What other thing is going on that Captain America has to deal with this afternoon?

Finally Dr Bellman arrives, asking for mercy on her behalf. She’s the spitting image of her grandmother, Betty Dean, who talked Namor out of attacking the surface world back in 1940 or so. And who Namor’s been crushing on ever since. Bellman says Dean’s last words were begging to remind Namor of how the surface world and Atlantis can share the world peacefully.

And this changes his mind. Namor can now see how his way of going to war will only lead to war. He’ll give the surface world another try, and never bother with killing Spider-Man or whatnot. Namor sails his flying Atlantis boat out of the story on the 15th of June, although it takes a little while to quite wrap everything up. Dr Bellman heading out. Reporters showing up. Spider-Man telling the United Nations how there will be peace when the people of the world want it so badly that their governments will have no choice but to give it to them. That sort of thing. Spider-Man webs out, too, so that Peter Parker can learn how Jameson isn’t buying Spider-Man Versus Namor pictures.


We get the transition to the current story the 28th of June. Peter Parker and Mary Jane walk through the crowds. A trenchcoated figure starts following. He’s Xandu. He figures Mary Jane might just help him get the Wand of Watoomb, and that will make him happy. By a wild coincidence, though, the Parkers walk past the lair of Doctor Strange. Newspaper Spider-Man, sometime in the past, teamed up with Dr Strange to stop Xandu the sorcerer. Hey, what are the odds?

At Dr Strange's door. Peter: 'He mus not be home, Honey. Let's ... ' Mary Jane: 'Wait! The door's starting to ... ' [ The door opens with a slow kreeeeeek ] Dr Strange: 'Hello, I'm Stephen Strange. What can I do for you?'
Roy Thomas and Larry Lieber’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 10th of July, 2020. Dr Strange is really at ease considering it was, like, maybe this morning that Namor was still planning to sink every surface ship that left port. I mean, the time transition is ambiguous so it’s maybe been a couple days but … like, were people just this chill two days after the end of the Cuban Missile Crisis?

Mary Jane wants to meet Dr Strange, but Peter can’t think of a pretext that isn’t weird or secret-identity-spoiling. Xandu can, though: he ‘accidentally’ bumps her hand and it sets off a weird tingling. She, claiming a strange compulsion to meet Strange, knocks on his door. Dr Strange is happy to take some time away from his job of wearing a giant pinball surrounded by flower petals to meet an actress like Mary Jane. So there we are.

This story originally started the 21st of February, 2016. It ran through the 17th of July, so, 21 weeks total. We should finish the 22nd of November this year if I haven’t counted wrong.

Mary Jane also name-drops Mandrake the Magician, another King Features syndicated comic strip. Mandrake’s a fun strip, sent into reruns in July 2013 when writer and artist Fred Fredericks had to step down mid-story, for health reasons. They’re probably going to get a new creative team for that one soon too.

Next Week!

So that rich guy who wanted ancient alien technology. I bet he was up to something good, right? We’ll find out with a check on Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop. Thanks for reading.

What’s Going On In Judge Parker? Did you see the new Sparks video? April – July 2020


Yes, I did see the official video for Sparks’s new song, The Existential Threat. If you’d like to see it, it’s here. Content warning: the animation has the style of 70s-underground-comix grand-guignol body horror. Consider whether you’re up for that before watching. I’d recommend listening anyway.

With that wholly unrelated topic taken care of let me get to business. This plot recap gets you through early July 2020 for Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker. If you’re reading this after about October 2020 there’s likely a more up-to-date plot summary at this link. I’ll also put any news I have about the comic strip at that link.

I’ve put on hold the reading-comics part of my other blog. I am still writing stuff, though, with the focus being an A-to-Z glossary, one term for each letter, publishing over the course of the year.

Judge Parker.

13 April – 5 July 2020.

Yes, it’s hard to remember as long ago as mid-April. Let me try anyway. Neddy Spencer and Ronnie Huerta’s series, based somehow on April Parker, had started filming in Cavelton. Sophie Spencer crashed filming, protesting Mayor Sanderson’s politics. And then Covid-19 hit the comic strip, the first of the story strips to address the pandemic at all. This was an amazing feat of work by Marciuliano and Manley. It has to have involved throwing out completed work to rush stuff out at deadline.

At the dinner table. Abbey: 'These are difficult times. We all know this. But more importantly, we're all here. Together. As family.' Ronnie: 'Plus one.' Abbey: 'Now that you're here you're family too, Ronnie.' Sam: 'So prepare to have your life take some bizarre narrative turns.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 20th of April, 2020. “Sooooo, ever had a secret evil half-sister? Been chased through a Mexican jungle by armed insurgents who want your dad’s autograph often?”

Neddy and Sophie barely start arguing the dragging of politics into decisions about how to spend public money when the show shuts down. Part of the lockdown, in the attempt to contain the pandemic. Ronnie stews about how she can’t even see her new girlfriend Kat, who’s to play Neddy on the show. And then Neddy’s ex-boyfriend Hank calls. She fumbles over the conversation, talking more and more enthusiastically than she would have thought. Why did Hank call? Why was she eager to talk to him?

Well, because of the pandemic. Everybody we know got locked in the Total Perspective Vortex. Enough of that and you start to ask, “was I really so upset with this person that it’s worth never having anything to do with them again?” You’re going through it too. Remember that you had reasons, and think about whether those reasons are still things of value.

Meanwhile in changing values: Honey Ballinger drops out of Toni Bowen’s mayoral campaign. She had joined Sophie’s plans for Bowen to do something meaningful, working therapy for her post-kidnapping stress. But now, with even the candidate not that enthusiastic, and the world shut down? She wants something else. The collapse of Sophie’s campaign-manager ambitions sends her talking again to Abbey. They had fought over whether Sophie going to college even meant anything after the kidnapping.

Abbey: 'Sophie, you'll never be alone! We're always here for you!' Sophie: 'I know. But you can be surrounded by loved ones and still feel utterly separate ... I ... I just want this feeling to stop. It's been over three years since everything happened. And I know that's not a long time. And that there's no timeline for getting past something like that. But I want this pain to stop ... '
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 14th of May, 2020. Jeez, you ever think how hard it’s got to be overcoming traumatic memories when you’re in a soap comic that doesn’t consistently advance in real-time? Like, it’s hard enough to spend four years as a high school sophomore but then not being able to count on whether The Incident was last fall or four years ago has to be a real head trip.

Meanwhile, Alan Parker’s mayoral campaign hits a problem: he and Katherine have Covid-19. While both look to recover, Alan Parker acknowledges he doesn’t want to be mayor enough to take him away from his family, whom the virus keeps him away from. He calls off his campaign, endorsing Toni Bowen on the way out, to her surprise. And to Sophie’s rejuvenation. She can’t wait to get the campaign going again.

And things are a bit tough for the Drivers. Sam Driver hasn’t got any lawyer work, and Alan Parker hasn’t got a campaign to manage anymore. Abbey’s bed-and-breakfast, finally completed, was ready to open as the lockdown hit. It’s cut into their finances. Abbey mentions how they were hit hard when they had to sell on the stock market, which is interesting. I mean, I know I’m bad at finance. I have two Individual Retirement Accounts, one a Traditional and one a Roth, because I could not figure out which was better for me. This way I’m sure to be at least half-wrong. But even I knew to put my spare thousand bucks into buying at crash prices. This is why I’m today the tenth-largest shareholder in Six Flags Amusement Parks. So how leveraged were the Parker-Drivers that they had to sell stocks into the crash?

Sophie: 'You want to what?' Sam: 'I want to help with Toni's campaign.' Sophie: 'So Mayor Sanderson's policies have now impacted you, huh?' Sam: 'Okay, my impetus was personal. But my drive is social.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 23rd of July, 2020. Looking forward to campaign worker Sam Driver going out and definitely not knocking on doors, not in this crisis. Just standing out on the sidewalk of some registered voter’s house, calling out, “[ something something something ] Toni Bowen [ something something ]” and answering residents’ questions with a confident, “What? WHAT? Can you speak up, please?”
Sam can’t get a rebate or early cancellation on the lease for his useless downtown office. Mayor Sanderson, who partly owns that office building, is reopening the town, the better to get everybody infected and dead sooner. So Sam turns to Sophie, offering his help in the Toni Bowen campaign.

And these are the standings, as of early July. I hope to check back in after a couple months to see what develops.

Next Week!

Oh, an exciting chance to check in on those “great new stories and art” for … oh. Yeah, King Features and Marvel haven’t got around to hiring anyone to write or draw The Amazing Spider-Man yet. So Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s reruns get another turn next week, and probably again three months after that.

Why does Mark Trail look different? Did James Allen leave Mark Trail?


So some breaking comic strip news, that I learn through Daily Cartoonist again: James Allen is leaving the story strip Mark Trail. In a Facebook post for his Edge of Adventure comic strip Allan says the strip will continue, “with a bit of a new direction”. And, in comments, that the choice was “a bit of both” his choice and King Features’s. Allen says “I’m tired and they wanted a new direction”.

I have heard nothing about who the new writer or artist (or both) will be. Nor about just when the transition will happen. In comments on that Facebook post Allen says he will not finish the story that’s just begun, and doesn’t know if the new person will.

If I get any news on Mark Trail I’ll post it at this link. If I get any news about any story strip, I’ll post it at this link.

[Edited 25 September 2020: Good news!  Jules Rivera is taking over the comic as of the middle of October.]

What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? Is Gil Thorp really not doing a pandemic story? April – June 2020


Yeah, so, as of the end of June, 2020, Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp has not mentioned Covid-19 at all. The story strips, as I’ve mentioned, have trouble addressing fast-moving real-world events like this. Even a strip that only runs dailies, like Gil Thorp, has a lead time of at least two to three weeks. And a whole storyline should be sketched out months ahead of time. Granted I suspect that the word “should” there carries a large load. I’m sympathetic to wanting not to throw out large amounts of work, and putting off addressing the pandemic until later. Possibly the summer storyline.

If you’re reading this after about October 2020, I should have another Gil Thorp plot recap at this link. It shall also have any news about the comic strip that I don’t want you to miss.

Gil Thorp.

6 April – 27 June 2020.

The spring storyline had just begun the week before the last recap. We hadn’t even met its star, Mike “The Mayor” Knappe. Like most Gil Thorpe teens he has a dumb but harmless eccentricity. His is eating weird. Like, eating a normal thing (scrambled eggs) in a weird way (out of a baggie, using a spoon). Or weird stuff (orange juice with banana slices) had normally (drunk from a thermos). But he’s popular and outgoing. And keeps celebrating his teammates, and the girls softball team too. So he’s easy to get along with.

Knappe, holding up bagels: 'Today's breakfast a la bus: sesame bagels!' Girl: 'That sounds surprisingly normal.' Knappe, holding up peanut butter and a smooth knife: 'With peanut butter!' Girl, hiding her face: 'I stand corrected.' English Teacher: 'Can we start class now, please?'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 29th of April, 2020. I understand that many people come from food microecosystems for one reason or other, but … I mean, if she’s cover-her-face embarrassed by bagels with peanut butter? She’s going to literally melt when exposed to Cincinatti chili. Anyway I stand by my assertion that cottage-cheese-with-sour-cream is NOT a freak combination of fridge dairy.

This goes on for like a month, inspiring the question: is there even going to be a story? We finally reach “yes” the 29th of April, when Knappe shows off, in English class, today’s weird meal. Sesame bagels with peanut butter. I know people who find peanut butter bagels to be the worst. But as weird goes? If you can get it prepackaged at Wawa it’s not weird yet.

What is weird is that Knappe’s English teacher goes to … I’m not sure. I guess the guidance counsellor, although it might be the school physician or an assistant principal. Dr Pearl, anyway. Pearl joins Gil Thorp at softball practice, and they have Knappe in for A Talk. Knappe realizes his mistake right away, and worries that someone had an allergic reaction to the peanut butter. No, the problem is he brought a knife to school. At this point, if you ever read the comments on Gil Thorp, you should stop. No thread you read will ever lead you to joy.

Because the thing is that a knife is a weapon. Yes, even a butter knife is a knife. And bringing a weapon to school is a bad thing. Even if it is a butter knife. There’s a zero-tolerance rule: mandatory expulsion.

Knappe, at the Conference: 'I'm being suspended for bringing a knife to spread my peanut butter? How long?' Gil Thorp: 'District policy doesn't call for suspension, Mike.' Dr Pearl: 'It's mandator, young man. You're expelled.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 11th of May, 2020. I’m … not clear why Gil Thorp is here, as opposed to (say) Knappe’s homeroom teacher or whoever’s on record as his guidance counsellor if that’s not Dr Pearl there already. I get Thorp would be in the loop on the results but he’s not the teacher who ratted on Knappe or anything that gives him a need-to-know.

Knappe is devastated, reasonably. His classmates are, too, and there’s some short-lived talk about a student walkout. This comes to nothing, which is a pity. It’s good for high school students to do walkout protests, so they can learn what a walkout protest gets. It gets one paragraph in the local newspaper, which quotes no students and carries the principal’s lie that the walkout disrupted no classes and ended within five minutes.

The Knappes consult a lawyer, but there’s not much hope. The point of a zero-tolerance policy is to allow officials to harass minorities while using the formalism of equality. It’s regrettable when a popular white male kid suffers a consequence. But making an example of Knappe means the institution will get to torment dozens of Black boys and girls for a decade or more and claim it’s impartial treatment. The Knappes can’t do anything effective.

Knappe figures his life is over. He’s been expelled, his admission to Generic State University is threatened. And it’s for lousy reasons. Coach Gil Thorp settles in to doing something. He talks with Knappe, explaining how moping can’t make anything better. Going to the alternative school, Valley Modified, can. And being with other people will. Knappe bows finally to the inevitable.

Ardis Carhee, student at the Alternate School: 'Never ask why someone is here.' Knappe: 'Um ... OK. Sorry.' Carhee: 'No worries. You always find out. But the tradition is that you don't ask. I was what they call 'chronically truant'.' Knappe: 'You should probably make up a better story.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 23rd of May, 2020. Carhee: “That … that was my better story.”

Within minutes he’s making friends, though. And finding that his old friends still like him even though his new shellac of Drama. Within hours, Knappe has a plan. Valley Modified doesn’t have any sports teams, but they’ve got individual athletes. Why not a Milford versus Valley Modified softball match?

OK, it’s weird, but weird is Knappe’s thing. Thorp turns down the request to use Milford’s field and equipment; that’s against the rules. But he does point out places they could play and ways to scrounge equipment, so there’s that. Milford’s varsity team wonders … why waste a day beating juvenile delinquents, and the best argument is, Knappe’s a cool guy and it’s better playing than not playing. About the same argument works for Knappe’s new gang.

[ The ballpark ] As friends, families, sun-seekers and the idle curious gather at town park ... Knappe, holding up a T-shirt to his fellow players: 'Check it out, everyone - team T-shirts!' Milford pitcher, to his catcher: 'What do you think ... should I go hard at these guys?' Catcher: 'Until they prove they can't hit ... yes.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 24th of June, 2020. So, this might seem patronizing or even just mean-spirited, but it is the high school varsity team against a team that’s played together for like two weeks total and isn’t even sure why it’s there. And it’s not like choosing to take it easy on them would be any less patronizing. It’s hard competing against someone you have good reason to think you outclass. Anyway that time I needed 90 minutes to beat that vague relative who was seven years old and really wanted a chess set and didn’t know that castling was not some weird thing I made up was for good reasons: I’m not very good at chess.

A surprising number of people turn out for the game. And you know how it goes, if you’ve seen any movie about the scrappy upstarts versus the elite snobs. Valley Modified gives up like 2,038 runs in the first inning, with the upstate returns not in yet, and then starts to falter. It’s embarrassing enough that Gonzalo “Gonzo” Aceves defects from Milford, joining Valley Modified to give them a bit of pitching help. Also equipment advice. It’s an act of kindness and mercy of the sort we all wish we had done for others in school. But he’s repaying Knappe for giving him an upgraded nickname.

Will the game turn out non-humiliating? Will Knappe get accepted into some college? And will Covid-19 hit Milford? We’ll see.

Milford Schools Watch

Who else is in the Milford school district? Or at least rates a mention in the sports comic pages? These schools, the past couple months:

Next Week!

OK, this is an easy one. I know Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker is addressing the pandemic and how it affects the race for mayor of Cavelton. See you in a week to discuss that, barring something urgent happening.

What’s Going On In Rex Morgan, M.D.? Is Rex Morgan really not doing a pandemic story? March – June 2020


Yes: Rex Morgan, M.D., is not doing a Covid-19 plot. Its writer and artist, Terry Beatty, chose this. A story strip like this, with Sundays tied in to weekly publication, needs about two months’ lead time. Beatty did not think he could write a medical story that could plausibly track whatever happened by publication.

I also imagine that when they reopen Comic Strip Master Command he will be stabbing the Judge Parker team in the kidneys. But, there, Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley took on an incredible emergency workload, throwing out a story to replace it with a pandemic one. And they don’t have to write a medical story; their focus is people whose lives stopped.

While I understand Beatty’s reasoning, I’m not sure it’s the decision I would make. It’s not as though anyone expects Rex Morgan and June Morgan to find a vaccine. Stories of them pressed into the longest work they’ve done would seem enough. Even if they were “merely” taking over the caseloads of doctors and nurses put on Covid-19 duty, I’d think the strip would better fit the role cast for it. Still, I trust that Beatty knows his workload and how to manage it.

I’m writing this recap in middle June 2020. If you’re reading this after about September 2020, if there is a September 2020, I’ll likely have a more up-to-date plot recap at this link. It’ll also have any news about the strip that seems worth my mentioning. Now to the story.

Rex Morgan, M.D..

29 March – 21 June 2020

Buck Wise was off to see Truck Tyler’s concert, last we looked in. Tyler’s a roots country player and he’s touring without a band, just himself and his guitar. Also his scratchy throat. He has to switch to instrumentals, and even cut the show a bit short. Wise checks in on Tyler, who knows him, and finds him coughing up a lung. Tyler says it’s a cold and asks Wise to handle the merch table while he recovers. Sure thing. Wise passes him his card, in case he wants a doctor in town.

Nick's Diner, offering 'Zippy Service!' Waitress: 'Hot tea with lemon, as requested. Here's some honey for your tea if you like, might help soothe that sore throat and cough you're fighting.' Truck Tyler: 'Thanks. I sure appreciate it.' Waitress: 'Your eggs and hash browns will be up in just a minute.' Tyler: 'Sounds good. [ Coughs ]' Waitress: 'You don't, though. You really ought to see somebody about that cough.' Tyle: 'You're probably right.' [ He coughs a few more times, and thinks, and looks at 'Buck's card. He said I should call. ] Tyler, on the phone: 'Hey, ol' Buckaroo, yeah --- it's Truck Tyler. Listen, about that Doctor you mentioned?'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 19th of April, 2020. The sign promises Zippy Service and Yowaza! Are we having raisin French toast yet?

So you maybe see where this is going. Tyler isn’t touring with a band because he can’t afford it. He can’t even afford a hotel room; he sleeps in his car in the bar’s parking lot. And he’s sick. So he’s living the American dream: choose medically-induced bankruptcy or unemployment-induced bankruptcy. Overnight his cough gets so bad that he seeks medical care, or at least Rex Morgan.

This all happened, for us readers, in late April. Given that his big symptom was coughing nonstop, boy did it seem like a Covid-19 story. No. Truck Tyler had walking pneumonia. He needed antibiotics and complete rest. Which at least avoids medical bankruptcy but still threatens him with unemployment bankruptcy.

Tyler asks Wise for help. And owns up to his poverty. Wise can’t put him up in his own home; they have a baby. But he has a friend, Doug, who manages a motel when he’s not Griffy from Zippy the Pinhead. The motel always has some extra rooms, and Doug’s a fan, so, what the heck, he can have the room for a couple autographs and stuff.

[ On the phone ] Buck Wise: 'How tight is your budget?' Tyler: 'I could cover one or two hotel nights maybe, but then wouldn't have much left over for gas, food, and phone.' Wise: 'Ordinarily I'd be happy to put you up here, but with the baby now I can't risk getting her sick.' Tyler: 'I'm crossing my fingers nobody's caught this off me already. Last thing I want is to share this! [ Coughing ]' Wise: 'Let me check something and get back to you.' Tyler: 'Sure'. Wise, texting, and thinking: 'Ok, Doug, are you around?' Doug, managing a motel, reads. Wise is asking for a favor for Tyler: 'He's sick and needs to crash for at least a couple weeks. Can you comp hi a room at the hotel?' Doug texts back: 'Anything for Truck. We're never full up these days anyhow ... the only payment I want is to sign a bunch of stuff for my collection.' Wise, thinking: 'Autographs. Always with the autographs.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 10th of May, 2020. I would have let the “Zippy Service” joke pass without mention except then we got the motel guy, who could be either Griffy or that guy in the diner that Zippy’s sometimes talking to and whom the Cast of Characters page tells me is Claude Funston. The fact that seeing some resemblance there delights me so will tell you plenty about my sense of humor or maturity.

Meanwhile Wise has an idea about how Tyler’s music income is all derived from his music career. What if they sold Truck Tyler merch online? Tyler doesn’t see how that could work, but Wise listens to podcasts. He knows you can set up web sites. Tyler’s even got a new album almost ready to publish. Wise proposes crowdfunding and Tyler has no idea what this is all about. That’s all right; Wise can set it up for a cut of revenues. Tyler is cool with a friendly person taking a cut of a big new project whose exact details he doesn’t understand. This may give us insight to why, after decades in the music industry, Tyler doesn’t have the cash to stay in a motel for a week. It’s because he joined the part of the industry that makes music. It’s the other side that makes money.

Anyway Wise is enthusiastic and, we readers know, a Good guy. So that’s all great and Tyler can get back to writing some new songs as he finishes recovering. And that, the 30th of May, finishes the Truck Tyler storyline. And the last storyline Beatty wrote before the pandemic smashed up everything.


The 31st of May had the transition page, and Beatty’s explanation about why the comic will not tell a Covid-19 story for now.

Instead they’re doing a flashback: little Sarah Morgan asking how Mom and Dad first met. Rex explains it was when he was first in Glenwood and working at the hospital. One of the older doctors, Dr Dallis (get it?), too him under his wing. What you’re supposed to get is that Rex Morgan, M.D. was created in 1948 by Dr Nicholas P Dallis. The real Dallis was a psychiatrist. He also created Judge Parker and Apartment 3-G.

Rex, telling Sarah his story: 'All this will tie in with how I met your mom, just trust me.' Sarah: 'Of course I trust you, I just think you're taking too long to get to the point.' Rex: 'Patience you must have, my young Padawan.' Sarah: 'You're not Yoda, Dad.' Rex: 'Dr Dallis, one of the older physicians at the hospital, became something of a mentor to me.' Sarah: 'Wait, isn't a mentor the half-man half-bull thing in the Hercules stories?' Rex: 'That's a minotaur, and it was Theseus, not Hercules ... and now you're just messing with me.' Sarah: 'Caught me, Dad. I'm listening, though. Keep going.' Rex: 'Anyhow, Dr Dallis --- ' Sarah: 'Whoa! Hold on. Isn't Michael's middle name Dallis?' Rex: 'Yes, named for this doctor I'm *trying* to tell you about.' Sarah: 'OK. Just wanted to be clear on that detail.' Rex: 'Are you sure you want to hear this, or should we just play with the dog for a while?'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 14th of June, 2020. Mostly I’m including this panel because I like Terry Beatty’s drawing of a minotaur there. I like Rex and his daughter’s hanging-out banter here, but I understand people who think this is a lot of time spent on nothing.

According to Rex, Dallis was planning to retire, and wanted someone to take over his practice. He offered it to Rex Morgan. (This seems abrupt to me, but Rex could be condensing events for Sarah’s sake.) While thinking this over the next day, during his regular run, he bumped right into June. He apologizes, but she calls him a jerk. June disputes having said that out loud.

And that’s the flashback story so far. Do Rex and June get together? If so, how? We’ll see over the next several weeks. But how about for …

Next Week!

Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp? Surely the story strip about high school athletics has adapted to events that shuttered high schools and athletics, right? We’ll see next week, if things go well. Thanks for reading.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Sundays)? What was The Phantom doing at Trafalgar? March – June 2020


Well, he had some friends who were going to be there. So, I’m happy to help you catch up with Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom, Sunday continuity. If you’re reading this after about September 2020? If you’re interested in the separate weekday continuity? I may have a more up-to-date plot recap at this link. Though I admit, right now, I don’t know what’s going on with the current dailies storyline. I know the Phantom getting berated by his father for sending Kit Junior off to a monastery in China. We have to read what comes next.

The Phantom (Sundays).

29 March – 14 June 2020

The 21st Phantom was telling Heloise a story of the 13th Phantom. It’s about George Bass. In history, Bass and his brig Venus disappeared after February 1803, on a voyage from Australia to Tahiti. The Phantom explains how Bass teamed up with the 13th Phantom. Bass then turned the Venus to a spy ship dubbed El Sol, sailing the Mediterranean under false flags. This to support the United Kingdom’s War of the Third Coalition against Napoleon.

Phantom, reading: 'George Bass and the 13th Phantom rowed into the heart of the English fleet.' Heloise: 'Dad, I think I know! George Bass had discovered where the French and Spanish fleets were anchored!' Phantom: 'For two years he'd been presumed lost at sea in the South Pacific. Or perhaps he and his crew had been enslaved in the Spanish silver mines of South America.' Heloise: 'He made himself disappear ... so he could go spying in the South Atlantic and the Mediterranean!' Phantom: 'His years of clandestine work came to fruition in October 1805 ... ' Panel showing Bass and The Phantom rowing a longboat up to an enormous ship. Bass: 'There she is, Walker ... HMS Victory!'
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 5th of April, 2020. Lost at sea, possibly enslaved, are what history records as the likely fate for Bass and his crew. Anyway, uh … so, the 13th Phantom was active in 1805, and the current, 21st, Phantom is the one we’ve been following since the strip started in 1936 so the 19th Century was really bad for Ghosts Who Walk. Like, “13th Century Pope” bad. Yet the 20th Century was surprisingly gentle. (I am happy to suppose the current Phantom isn’t actually old enough to be in Gasoline Alley and his whole career has been “the last couple decades” as of publication.)

Bass has, in his voyages, found useful intelligence for Admiral Nelson and the British fleet. And he communicates that. I’m not sure what the intelligence is. Heloise surmises that it was the locations of the French and Spanish fleets. I’m not sure this was particularly what Nelson had needed. But I’m also not sure what Bass could plausibly offer. 1805 naval warfare espionage involves a lot of technical points challenging to communicate in a Sunday strip, after all. And it would have to be points that could have been recorded by the 13th Phantom. So, likely best to leave it as Heloise’s guess and move on with the story.

Long story short, France loses Trafalgar. Bass and his crew celebrate, confident that whatever happens now, Britain is safe from invasion. Bass can plan to go back to Australia and think up a cover story for where he’d been for two years. That night, though, we see Carter, fuming about royalist spies. We had last seen him lurking around after Bass and Phantom, ashore for no good reason. It turns out the person they thought was acting all suspiciously? He was up to no good. He and some minions knocked out the watch officer, raised the French flag on the Venus, and got into a swordfight with the Phantom of 1805.

The Phantom, recounting the attack on Bass's ship: 'The men of the El Sol were slaughtered by English cannon fire ... her masts toppled ... her hull shattered ... timbers were blasted into deadly storms of splintered wood. Dead and dying men went into the sea, entangled in the rigging, their fates certain. Where the El Sol had been moments earlier, a debris field rose and fell on the night sea.'
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 31st of May, 2020. This by the way is why they didn’t want brigs at the Battle. (There were two brigs attached to the French fleet, but they weren’t part of the action, and both escaped.)

The Phantom can stab Carter easily. Not so easy to deal with: the Royal Navy ships shooting at what they take to be a straggler French ship. Bass’s crew can’t strike the flag fast enough. The ship’s quickly destroyed. Bass and the 13th Phantom survive, clinging to debris. They make it to some shore, Bass blinded and apparently not recognizing anything. The Phantom promises they have a long journey, to the Deep Woods. Given the location Bass and 13th Phantom have to be either in southern Spain or Morocco. It’s not clear where the Deep Woods are, but that’s quite the hike for two shipwrecked men with nothing but the contents of their pockets. We’ll see how that all develops.

Next Week!

How is Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D., the most medically-themed comic strip in (United States newspaper syndication) history, addressing the biggest public health disaster in 102 years? The answer may surprise you! See you then.

What’s Going On In Mary Worth? Why does Saul Wynter have a teenage daughter? March – June 2020


She is not Saul Wynter’s daughter. She’s just watching her for a guy he kind of knows. You might need more to catch up on Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth. This essay should get you to mid-June 2020. If you’re reading this after about September 2020 there’s probably a more up-to-date plot recap at this link, along with any news I have about the comic. And in the meanwhile, I look at mathematically-themed comic strips on my other blog. And now, let’s catch up.

Mary Worth.

16 March – 7 June 2020

Dawn Weston had been long-distance dating Hugo Lambert du Vichyssoise sur l’écureuil, quelque cherchez de la plume verte, Bureau des Passeports. He’s a preposterous, proud Frenchman. You may know him from turning every conversation, including those about neodymium, around to the greatness of France. Thing is, France is pretty far away. And right on hand is Jared Mylo. She knew him from a summer job. He’s a tolerable enough nerd. They go to movies and diners together.

[ When Jared impulsively kisses Dawn ] Dawn pulls back. Jared: 'Dawn, I'm sorry! I'm in love with you!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 23rd of March, 2020. Crow T Robot: “That’s all right, I’m sorry you’re in love with me too!”

Dawn and Jared hang out, more and more. And it starts to get Serious. At least, Jared does, moving in for a kiss and confessing his love. And Dawn admits she’s fallen for him. So that all sounds nice and great for them. What about Hugo?

Things brings Mary Worth back into the strip for a session of “What’s wrong with you, Dawn?” She tells Dawn she has to be honest with Hugo and Jared, which, I agree with. What I’m vague on here is why she has to make a particular decision. Not that I am suggesting a polycule in the hallowed pages of Mary Worth. I’ve seen many once-absurd things become acceptable in my time; heck, in the last two weeks. But I know there are limits. No, I mean, as far as I can tell, Dawn’s dating two guys, and she hasn’t made any promises of exclusivity to either. If Hugo or Jared don’t insist on an exclusive dating relationship, then, why decide now? Let it roll. See who you like after having a fourth date.

Luckily, Dawn has the chance for a date with Hugo. His company wants him in New York for a week, and she’s free, what with her … just … I think she’s in college? Oh, I guess she manages it during Spring Break. Also, yeah, Mary Worth is using the “let’s pretend the pandemic isn’t happening” approach to handling the biggest and most society-changing event of the millennium so far. So far all the story comics except Judge Parker are carrying on as though things were normal. Yes, this includes Rex Morgan, M.D., and yes, that’s daft.

[ As Dawn and Hugo sightsee in New York City ] They walk along a boulevard, past a Star Wars shop that Dawn's interested in and Hugo is not. At a restaurant Hugo declares, 'Good bouillabaisse, but NOT as good as in Marseille!' At Hamilton, Dawn thinks, 'I'm in an amazing city with a handsome, sophisticated man ... why aren't I happy?'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 19th of April, 2020. It’s a good question. Who wouldn’t be happy going to a performance of Hamilton and being seated right next to the late Ed Wynn? I’d worry that Dawn doesn’t know how to be happy.

Dawn agrees to meet Hugo in New York City, though. She tells Jared that she needs to talk with Hugo face-to-face. Jared, with reason, worries that she’ll never leave Hugo after seeing him in person again. Hugo and Dawn have a fine time in New York City, going around looking at stuff. “Oh, your Empire State Building is fine, but we have a much nicer Empire State Building in Lyons.” “Coney Island is thrilling for those who can’t visit Festyland in Normandy.” As he explains how Paris has a much nicer Statue of Liberty Dawn realizes she’d have more fun with Jared.

So she owns up, admitting her feelings for Jared. And Hugo takes it great. He’s got feeling for someone else, Chloe whom we the readers saw implied months ago. Of course they can still be friends. And he’d still like her to visit him in Paris this summer. Bring Jared along. Dawn is so happy to be let off the hook she doesn’t wonder when Hugo was going to mention he was dating someone else. Of course not; Hugo made up Chloe on the spot to give Dawn a graceful way out of their relationship. He’s just that French, you know? (This means nothing and I’m making up that Chloe was made-up.)

Dawn flies home. She doesn’t think to tell Jared that she broke up with Hugo. To be fair, to tell him would need her to have some means of rapidly communicating with people a great distance away. So Jared spends a week in suspense while we readers wonder, like, Dawn couldn’t text “can’t wait to see you in seven hours”? I never turn my phone on and I haven’t answered an e-mail since 2014 and I’m better than that.

[ As Jared wonders ] Jared, wondering 'You said you have feelings for me. Now that you've seen Hugo again, does that still hold true?' [ Dawn boards her plane to return to Santa Royale ] Dawn does as described.
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 5th of May, 2020. Jared, thinking: “Without Dawn even my hobby of piling up small flat-screen TVs brings me no joy!”

So that’s all sorted by the 15th of May. The 16th of May starts the traditional stretch of thanking Mary Worth for her Tuxedo Mask-esque contribution to the story. Dr Jeff takes the lead. But then Dawn comes around to say how she was right to pick Jared over Hugo. I disagree, myself. Jared’s pleasant enough but Hugo has a nice home-grown cartoonishness that makes him fun to play off. Dawn talks about how she felt about having feelings for a long while. And she talks about Jared’s good qualities long enough to make us ask who she’s trying to convince. But she finally gets that out of her system by the 31st of May.


The start of June starts the new story. It’s about Saul Wynter, delightfully cranky old man with a young dog Mary Worth made him get. His cousin, who I bet has a name, has died. Her bereaved husband Lyle needs help. The Company is sending him to Venezuela, to take part in a hilariously incompetent coup attempt against Nicolás Maduro. But who’s to look after his kid, Madi, who’s going through the phase of young-teenage life where she looks kind of like she might be in the new Heart of the City?

[ As Saul Wynter talks to his distant relative ... ] Saul: 'My late cousin was like a sister to me before she moved to the midwest.' Lyle, on the phone: 'Her passing has been hard. Especially because my late mother-in-law took care of Madi.' Panel showing Madi, staring at her phone and cursing. Saul: 'How is Madi? I haven't seen her since she was a toddler.'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 3rd of June, 2020. Yes, structural demands — mostly that people who missed a day or two can pick up the plot — require emphasizing that Saul’s cousin has died. But in-universe Saul Wynters has only just learned that she did die. So if you read the dialogue literally it comes out all weird, even though it shouldn’t. That Lyle immediately mentions his “late” mother-in-law, again, needed for in-cluing readers. And any other phrasing comes off as callous (“my dead mother-in-law”) or worsens the wall of text (“mother-in-law took care of Madi until she died”). I’m not sure there is a graceful way out of this other than not reading the strip with hyper-attentive focus and just accepting the conventions of the medium.

So after protestations, Saul Wynter agrees to take in a 13-year-old for summer. Or until Lyle can be exchanged for a Venezuelan spy. Or Venezuela agreeing not to switch oil contract denominations from dollars to euros. I’m looking forward to this story. We’ll see where it goes.

Dubiously Sourced Mary Worth Sunday Panel Quotes!

  • “Your friend is your needs answered.” — Khalil Gibran, 15 March 2020.
  • “Although I may try to describe love, when I experience it, I am speechless.” — Rumi, 22 March 2020.
  • “Rare as is a true love, true friendship is rarer.” — Jean de la Fontaine, 28 March 2020. (Bonus Saturday quote!)
  • “Came but for friendship, and took away love.” — Thomas Moore, 29 March 2020.
  • “Follow your heart and make it your decision.” — Mia Hamm, 5 April 2020.
  • “One thing I want you to understand is if I make a decision, it’s my decision.” — Mike Singletary, 12 April 2020.
  • “Love and doubt have never been on speaking terms.” — Kahlil Gibran, 19 April 2020.
  • “Honesty is the best policy.” — Benjamin Franklin, 26 April 2020.
  • “We must let go of the life we planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.” — Joseph Campbell, 3 May 2020.
  • “Choose your love. Love your choice.” — Thomas S Monson, 10 May 2020.
  • “Familiar acts are beautiful through love.” — Percy Bysshe Shelley, 17 May 2020.
  • “Love is a friendship set to music.” — Joseph Campbell, 24 May 2020.
  • “Love is the only constant, the only reality, and when you accept and understand that you will know it.” — Frank Natale, 31 May 2020.
  • “When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favor.” — Elon Musk, 7 June 2020. (He didn’t actually say this, but he paid a bunch of money to the person who did in order to take over credit for saying it.)

Next Week!

I’m supposed to have an easy time! See if I have an essay on
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom (Sundays) done more than 45 minutes before deadline!
It’s going to be close.

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? Does Mark Trail still look all weird? March – May 2020


Yes, it still looks weird, although it’s looking less weird. I still have no explanation.

I apologize if this isn’t as merry a plot recap for James Allen’s Mark Trail as usual. I’m tired of how much misery my country will go to rather than punish killer cops for killing an innocent man we saw them kill. I don’t have a lot left over after that.

Anyway I’m hoping this catches things up to the end of May 2020, though. If you’re reading this after about September 2020 there’s probably a more up-to-date plot recap here. And, if you like other kinds of comic strips, I’ve been reviewing mathematically-themed comic strips on my other blog. You might like that.

Mark Trail.

8 March – 31 May 2020

The story had started the 29th of February, with Mark Trail joining Geoff Aldridge, head of the Forest Explorers. The Explorers do nature outings for “troubled children”. So we got a lot of parents and kids introduced all at once.

Also the art style was weird. The unsourced rumor I keep hearing is that James Allen had to move in with a relative to provide support and care. And, away from his studio, he’d had to adapt to new drawing techniques, which probably means digital art. That takes time to learn. When this story had started, Comics Kingdom commenter George K Atkins hypothesized that the strip was presenting a comic strip drawn by Rusty Trail, rather than “real” events. It’s a great hypothesis, but, it’s not so. It’s a shame; that would have given Allen plenty of time to learn how to draw in strained circumstances.

At the campsite some of the kids start mocking Kevin, a homeless kid. Rusty invites Kevin along, though. Kevin’s inexperienced in things like fishing. Geoff Aldridge is kind and supportive, but other kids see weakness. Eric Crowley particularly takes the chance to attack. Meanwhile Geoff Aldridge mentions to Mark Trail that the Crowleys are thinking of adopting someone. It’s a nice though, although it added a slight reality-show “Who Wants To Be Adopted” cast to the proceedings.

Eric: 'Don't think I don't know what you're doing ... ' Kevin: 'Huh?!' Eric: 'You don't have a family of your own, and you're trying to steal mine!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 26th of March, 2020. Later, the Young Funky Winkerbean will wonder if he said anything to drive Kevin off. They’ll bond, though, over the junior novelization of Starbuck Jones III: Starbucker Jonesiest.

At night Eric reveals motivation: jealousy. He suspects Kevin is trying to steal his family. But he promises Kevin, nobody likes him. Kevin resolves to run away. Rusty overhears him leaving the campsite and offers to join him. And, in a moment of cleverness, sets his alarm clock to wake Mark Trail and bring adults after them. In a moment of less cleverness, he sets it to go off in an hour, rather than like, ten minutes. Still, for a kid, it’s good quick thinking.

The alarm clock gambit works, though, waking Mark Trail, who rouses the other adults. And Rusty’s left clues to their trail. Also he’s left a thunderstorm brewing. That’s great news: a good storm will do something about the drought. Specifically, the lightning will set the brush on fire. So that’s our big Attack of Nature for the story, which kept to the one. But Rusty and Kevin are walking toward the wildfire.

In a forest fire, a woman and child run as a flaming tree trunk falls toward them. Kevin calls out: 'Look out behind you!' They leap(?) and avoid the flaming tree trunk's fall.
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 27th of April, 2020. It’s an exciting scene, and shows that Allen is getting more comfortable with drawing figures. Compare it to the tent scene from the above comic, or from ones from earlier in March. I admit I’m not sure what they did in response to Kevin’s warning, though.

Mark Trail, unaware of the fire, organizes a search. Eric admits what he did and why. While the adults plus Eric set out in search parties, Rusty and Kevin encounter the fire. They turn around for the campsite, and along the way find Eric and Mrs Crowley. A burning tree threatens to fall on Eric and Mrs Crowley, but Kevin saves them by shouting a warning. Eric and Mrs Crowley are happy, of course. And Mark Trail hears the shouting too, so everybody’s able to gather together in the forest fire.

They move together, getting first to the campsite and then to their vehicles. This is in time to meet the fire fighters. Everyone gets out safe. And the forest fire can be put out before it does too much damage.

Eric apologizes to Kevin, and says he hopes they can be friends. Kevin shakes his hand. And, Mr Crowley announces his intention to adopt Kevin. It’s a happy resolution, although it also feels a little like a bonus prize round rather than a moment of true affection.


The story wrapped up the 23rd of May, with Aldridge inviting Mark Trail to future camping trips. Mark Trail thanks him, but says he wants to go home to spend time with his family “and my big dog Andy”. It seems like a curious declaration, until you know that the current story is an Andy special. It has Andy, playing loose in the yard, wandering over to a home under construction. He jumps into a truck trailer ahead of some rain, because you know how dogs hate getting wet and muddy. The truck driver, not noticing Andy in the trailer, closes it up and drives off. Andy’s missing, then, and that’s the start of the story.

Sunday Animals Watch!

What nature does Mark Trail want us to watch out for? The last couple months it’s been this:

  • Police dogs, 8 March 2020. Dogs are great. Don’t force them to become cops.
  • Pikas, 15 March 2020. The other lapine, besides rabbits and hares. They’re great. Human-caused climate change is killing them.
  • Banyan Trees, 22 March 2020. Wait, they’re fig trees? Really? Wow.
  • Animal tracks, 29 March 2020. They’re all amazing. People creeped out by raccoon paws? You all are wrong.
  • Jellyfish, 5 April 2020. They’re not like in that Popeye cartoon but they’re still weird and wondrous.
  • Müllerian Mimicry, 12 April 2020. That’s the thing where one dangerous creature camouflages itself as a different dangerous creature, so that anything preying on it turns to camera and goes, “Seriously? … Not. Fair.”
  • Poison Ivy and Poison Oak, 19 April 2020. Yeah, it’s actually not trying to poison you, by the way.
  • Birds, 26 April 2020. Bee hummingbirds are smaller than you would think!
  • Tornadoes, 3 May 2020. Not the kind you get on the hot-roller grills at the gas station. They don’t issue alerts about those. (The alert would be “they’re out of the cheesey pepper-jack tornadoes”.)
  • Hippopotamuses, 10 May 2020. Most of their attacks on humans are caused by people playing that song too much at Christmastime.
  • Frogs, 17 May 2020. The Wallace’s Flying Frog can actually glide from tree to tree, reminding us what a shame it is that the comic strip Spot The Frog didn’t last.
  • Pigs, 24 May 2020. Mark Trail is a fan of much of Pink Floyd.
  • Thorn Bugs, 31 May 2020. They avoid being eaten by making themselves look like thorns. This keeps them alive, if you call that a life.

Next Week!

Uh-oh! Dawn was trying to have an emotional life! Could Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth fix that? We’ll see next week.

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? Why is Gasoline Alley in reruns? March – May 2020


I don’t know why Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley went into reruns this last week. GoComics commenter 436rge asserted that Jim Scancarelli is preparing something for the 100th birthday of Skeezix. This seems plausible. Skeezik’s arrival in the strip made this comic. And others; it’s a landmark in comics history. It was key in giving us comic strips that are about people with life stories. And strips in which characters grew older and changed. It would be odd if Scancarelli did not make a big production of this.

Skeezix entered the strip the 14th of February, 1921. I have no information about whether Gasoline Alley will be in repeat through February of next year. It’s possible, but it’s not a sure thing.

If you’re reading this essay after about August 2020, we’ve probably left farms far in the distance. There should be a more up-to-date plot recap in a post at this link. Thanks for reading.

Gasoline Alley.

2 March – 23 May 2020.

So shy are farms like scrapbooking, but for food? A couple years ago the schoolteacher in Gasoline Alley promoted scrapbooking to the kids, as a good creative thing they should do. And Jim Scancarelli’s comic strip talked about it a lot. Or so it felt like; probably it was just a month or two of the characters being really into scrapbooking. That memory’s lodged itself in the Gasoline Alley snark-reading community, anyway. It’s a fun reference whenever a comic strip seems to start obsessing over something, whether it’s Mary Worth and CRUISE SHIPS or Gasoline Alley again and … farms. So that’s what I was on about last week.

Baleen Beluga, the new and personality-rich waitress at Corky’s diner, was getting closer to T-Bone, the cook. He’d like to get closer to her too, but rejected her Sadie Hawkins Day proposal trick. I don’t know the details of the Sadie Hawkins tradition but I’m pretty sure getting someone to agree that “I do [ know what leap year is ]” doesn’t make a breach-of-promise suit. Her feelings were hurt by T-Bone’s reluctance. Then her body was hurt, by slipping on the floor somehow. And you know what that means: visiting mirror-touch synesthetic physician’s assistant Peter Glabella at the clinic.

Beluga, crying: 'Boo-hoo! You care more for the soup than you do me!' T-Bone: 'Please don't cry, Baleen! Listen! We've got to work here at the diner! Let's talk about all this later!' Beluga: 'Leave me alone!' (Black panel filled with crashing noises: BANG! CRASH! E-YOWCH! Tinkle!) T-Bone: 'Baleen! Are you OK?'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 7th of March, 2020. I swear I’m not one of those needlessly literal readers who needs every single step explained. But I’d like to know what Baleen was doing, sitting down, that she could fall badly enough to hurt herself. Also I’m not sure that if I were doing the strip I’d have put ‘TINKLE’ there, just because, you know, bad laughs.

After a couple weeks of waiting-room gags Beluga meets Aubee Skinner. She’s the three-year-old latest generation of the comic strip’s star family. And we follow her and her mother home, to Rover Skinner. (Grandson of Walt Wallet, original centerpiece of the strip.) The handoff is done … oh, I’ll call it the 24th of March. You could date it as early as the 12th, when they arrived at the clinic, if you like. Or the 19th, when Aubee climbs into Beluga’s lap.


Rover is getting ready for the Farm Collective’s meeting. And he talks his teenage son Boog into coming along. (Wikipedia tells me Boog was born in September 2004, and Aubee in September 2016. So, yeah, these ages still check out for being real-time.)

The point of the meeting: to promote “saving our farmlands”. Attending the meeting are a bunch of the local farm families. Skinner’s thesis: without family farms, they’ll pave over the land, there’ll be no food, and people will starve. Checks out; that’s what must happen. But Skinner expands on the problem: land is expensive. And that’s all he mentions before explaining his special guest speaker isn’t there yet.

The Molehill Highlanders band plays, particularly, the World War I ditty “How’re You Gonna Keep ‘Em Down On The Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree?)”. Boog sees in this century-old paean to the dullness of farm life a way to get people excited about farm life. His father agrees, and soon everyone is buzzing about their campaign’s theme song. Also they have a campaign, I guess. Charlotte, Boog’s girlfriend, also has a great idea. Wouldn’t it help cut down farm expenses if local teens did the farm work, but for free? It sure would!

Boog: 'Hey, Pops! Charlotte came up with a cool suggestion! How 'bout us teens helping out some farmers with chores, planting, etc etc? They wouldn't have to pay us and ... ' Boog's father: 'How about you doing chores, etc, around your own home for free?' Boog and Charlotte: 'Gulp!' Comedy Parrot: 'Oh, brother ... er ... father!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 27th of April, 2020. Wait wait wait, have an agricultural labor force made up of unpaid and under-paid persons from a socially disadvantaged group? Is that possible?

She’s thinking internships or something. Anyway after all this, special guest speaker Eric Helmet arrives. He’s got a broken tractor and a bunch of farm-life jokes. And talks about how farming is expensive and hard. But, he figures, what if they had some kind of outreach program so that people understood agriculture? Also, Don Henley wrote “A Month Of Sundays”. That’s a fanciful ballad imagining a time in 1957 that bankers were friends to farmers.

Eric Helmet, speaking to the crowd: 'My memory must be in erase mode! I forgot to tell you something! There's a song by Don Henley called, 'A Month of Sundays!' It's about a farmer's feeling and the changing times! You can Google the lyrics! They sure are poignant!' Comedy Parrot: 'Does that mean *loud*?'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 11th of May, 2020. Now, if you google the melody instead of the lyrics, you find out Don Henley forgot to write one, but hey, some folks like that.

I don’t mean to make this sound disjointed. But what we see on-camera is disjointed. And shallow, considering it went on for about two months. I’m willing to trust that in “reality” Helmet talked in some detail about being a struggling farmer, or as it’s known technically, “being a farmer”. And I understand Scancarelli wanting to tell corny but amiable jokes. It’s more readable than the screwed up parts of agricultural policy, or as they’re known technically, “all of agricultural policy”. But it did read like a slightly weird obsession.


There’s no handoff to the current storyline. It just started the 18th of May. It’s also a repeat, something I would not have noticed (at this point) without reading the comments. It originally ran from the 19th of April through the 5th of June, 2010. So that’s six more weeks of this storyline. As it is, Walt Wallet is home from the hospital, after a stretch of being a hundred and twentyten years old. Gertie looks over his pills and worries about the side effects. We’ll see what happens after the 6th of July.

Next Week!

Why does James Allen’s Mark Trail look weird? I’ll share what I have learned. (I have learned nothing.) But we’ll see what the story has been.

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? How was Shaky’s extortion of Tess Tracy supposed to work? February – May 2020


There is no possible way that Shaky’s extortion of Tess Tracy could have worked.

I’m happy to catch you up on Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy. If you’re reading this after about August 2020 I probably have a more up-to-date plot recap here.

Also, if you’re interested in comic strips with a mathematical theme? I am, too, and I write about them regularly at my other blog. Plus there’s some other interesting stuff happening there. I hope you enjoy.

Dick Tracy.

23 February – 17 May 2020.

Shaky, nephew of a Dick Tracy antagonist killed in the 40s, was attempting revenge. His plan: give an alibi to James McQueen, who he doesn’t care anything about. McQueen had been convicted of first-degree backstory. The evidence against him was gathered by Tess Tracy’s detective agency. Shaky figured to extort Tess Tracy. His deal: she pays him to suppress his (fake) evidence, or he goes to the press saying she suppressed evidence.

Shaky is confident in his plan, even though his plan is quite bad. The only way it could fail is if Tess reports the scheme to her husband, star detective of the Major Crimes Unit. Somehow, she does. Shaky shows up for his first payoff, and Dick Tracy provides it by shooting him. Shaky shoots Tess, though.

[ The Tracy Agency ] Shaky: 'Time's up, Mrs Tracy! Your payment is due today and I'm here to collect.' Dick Tracy: 'And I'm here to arrest you for extortion, Shaky!' Shaky: 'Aw, heck no! BACK OFF, TRACY!' He reaches for a gun; Tracy shoots him. Shaky shoots wildly(?), hitting Tess Tracy.
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 8th of March, 2020. Tess Tracy would spend a while in the hospital. I’m not sure we’ve seen her discharged yet. We did see several days of doctors agreeing this was very serious and Dick Tracy seen from behind, standing somberly.

Shaky and his wife(?) Edison flee to a safe house. “Ugly” Crystal, daughter of undercover cop Lafayette Austin and (the late) Ugly Christine, is there. I think we’re supposed to take that Shaky got a key to the house from Mister Bribery, Ugly Crystal’s uncle. Crystal takes this intrusion with calm. She nags him about smoking until he flees, and then calls the cops.

Shaky and Edison show up at the door of his cousin Quiver Trembly. Who tells him to get lost: she’s dealt with Dick Tracy twice and has had enough. But he has ideas to help Trembly’s charity-donation scam. So she agrees to deal with his crazy. Within minutes, the cops converge on him. Trembly says she’s not even gonna fight this. I’m not clear that she has any reason to think Dick Tracy knows she exists, but I understand her wanting to skip to the end. Edison gets out of the car and tries to get lost in the crowd. Shaky, though, he’s got a plan.

Shaky, on a steel girder, shooting down: 'Stay back, you lousy cops!' Dick Tracy, through a megaphone: 'Shaky, throw down the gun or we'll shake you off that girder!' Shaky: 'The devil you will!' Tracy, to crane operator: 'Start moving the girder!' Shaky: 'NO! STOP IT! I GIVE UP!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 5th of April, 2020. I’m supposing the interrogation of Shaky mostly centers on “what about your plans made you think they were anything but quite bad?” and “have you considered that you’re not good at crime?”. Maybe, “so have you ever had a plan that turned out like you planned?”. Certainly at least “do you have other interests that might get you not-arrested sometimes?”.

Shaky is confident in his plan, even though his plan is quite bad. Shaky holds a construction crew foreman at gunpoint, demanding to be raised by a crane on a steel girder, the better to shoot Dick Tracy. So, you know something? Using a handgun? From 50 feet off the ground? When you’re on a steel girder? Held only by ropes? That you cling to? When you’re a guy named “Shaky”? Turns out that’s a bad way to be a sniper. The cops arrest Shaky, and Trembly for good measure. And figure they’ll get the accomplice (Edison; they don’t know who she is) later on.


The 7th of April saw the new, current story start. Its center is B.O. Plenty, Junior Tracy’s father-in-law. And like many Staton/Curtis stories, it’s steeped Dick Tracy lore of the 40s. Breathless Mahoney was, before Madonna played her in the movie, step-daughter of the original Shaky. I learn from the Dick Tracy wikia, which tries to explain the Plenty-Mahoney connection. If I have it right, Mahoney, on the run, stumbled into the Plenty farm. While hiding there she drugged Dick Tracy and, with fled to the city with Plenty for some reason. They got separated, but reunited when Plenty stole the car she was hiding in. Plenty strangled Breathless “nearly to death” while robbing her. She got arrested and recovered from the battery, but died in prison anyway of plot disease. B.O. would reform and become a respectable citizen and part of the Tracy clan.

B.O. Plenty, reading the paper: 'Some outfit is shooting a movie in this city! About Breathless Mahoney! Gertie don't know anything about me and Breathless, and I want to keep it that way. My lettle Sparkle don't know her pappy was almost a murderer!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 8th of April, 2020. I guess B.O. Plenty’s explained things just fine here. I don’t know that I need to detail it further.

So, someone’s making a bio-pic about Breathless Mahoney. B.O. Plenty tries and fails to keep the news secret from his family. The lead actor, Fortuna Dyer, wants to know everything about Mahoney. So she’s talking with everyone who knew her. And she’s telling people to call her Breathless during the film shoot. And while she talks with Dick Tracy. And while she looks over Mahoney’s career and works out exactly when and how she blew it. She mentions how she’s a method actor. So she’s looking forward to a long life as a respectable and respected member of society.


Those are all the major plot threads that have been going on the last few months. There are a couple of minor ones. The most ambiguous is a two-week Minit Mystery, written and drawn by Charlie Wise. It’s about Mysta Chimera, who used to be Mindy Ermine, a crime boss’s daughter. She got mind-wiped and genetically engineered to be the new Moon Maiden. So now she’s a Lunarian with sci-fi powers that Chester Gould would hilariously insist was based on real science. In the “Mystery”, Chimera gets kidnapped. It’s by Scarmony Corybant, former cellmate of Mindy Ermine. Corybant’s looking for plans for the Space Coupe, Diet Smith’s famous magnetically-driven spaceship. Which, again, Chester Gould would hilariously insist was based on real science.

[ Minit Mysteries ] Corybant: 'You can't imagine what it was like after you stopped writin'! I waited, always hopin!' Mysta Chimera: 'I was kidnapped! They took away my memory!' Behind them is a jail cell, with the figure of Corybant curled up and shown only in silhouette, to reflect it being a memory. Corybant: 'You really won't remember? We were gonna buy a pony farm together.' Chimera: 'IS THAT WHAT THIS IS ALL ABOUT?!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 20th of April, 2020. Guest artist and writer Charlie Wise. I won’t quarrel with you if you don’t like the way Charlie Wise drew the characters. But having Corybant’s memory be shown behind them, with herself in a featureless outline (done several times in the sequence) is a quite good choice.

While fighting Corybant, Chimera says how now she remembers hating her jokes. Corybant complains how Ermine broke her promise to write her cellmate. Or to, when they got out, buy a pony farm, which Chimera finds as weird as I do. They fight long enough for Dick Tracy to arrive, and catch Corybant. Chimera, though, thanks Scarmony “for showing me who I was,” and does buy a pony farm. And sends Corybant, in jail, pictures from it.

So, first, this wasn’t any kind of mystery. Not in any aspect. Second, it seems to establish that Chimera is regaining some memories of her life as Mindy Ermine. Is that part of the continuity now? I would be surprised if Staton and Curtis would let Charlie Wise change something about a major character in a way they didn’t approve. But it does mean they have an excuse to revert this change if they decide they don’t like it. So I’m not quite sure what we did watch, then.


Another little bit: Annie Warbucks has been accepted into the Young Journalists Academy. One of her teachers is another cancelled-adventure-strip star, Brenda Starr. I wasn’t figuring on some vague wordplay when I started that sentence, but you’ll notice I let it stand.


Mysta Chimera, who’s been having a heck of a year, got a visit from Dennis Deyoung, of Styx. This in a follow-up to her being kidnapped by a Mister Roboto-themed Styx fan.


And Dick Tracy put off talking with Fortuna “Breathless II” Dyer a bit to recommend against paroling William “Broadway” Bates. Bates is a con artist, going back in the strip to 1932. He’s also The Penguin’s brother, but in ways that could be denied in front of a trademark hearing. So that’s a refresher that the character exists and might do a thing.

Next Week!

Farms: they’re like scrapbooking, but for food! What does this weird string of words mean? My recap of Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley should have an answer. Someone remind me to answer that.

What’s Going On In Prince Valiant? What are those women doing with bats? February – May 2020


They’re collecting guano as fertilizer. So thanks for catching up on Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant here. If you’re reading this after about August 2020 I should have a more up-to-date plot recap at this link, where you’ll also find past plot recaps. And if you want to be up to speed for the time of King Arthur, as seen in May 2020, please keep on reading.

Prince Valiant.

16 February – 10 May 2020.

Prince Valiant was heading home! Or at least to Camelot. It turns out his ‘home’ thing is complicated. Our Heroes are about a day out from Camelot when they run into a village trying to execute some witches. The evidence is pretty strong: they’re women. They’re doing a lot with bats. And shortly after criticizing the women, the old Baron Imbert died. Sir Gawain rides in, adjudicating a land dispute between Imbert and Afton, one of the locals. The land has a cave on it that legend says restores youth. And there’s the rumor that Afton, or one of the women, summoned a demon to clear Imbert away.

Aleta figures the women aren’t witches. Valiant agrees, but they are out there being weird, and that’s all your average peasant needs to tag women as witches. Valiant and party go to the tavern for dinner. They’re confronted by a drunk and belligerent Gareth. Gareth was Imbert’s son, but was not recognized as his heir, so I got that wrong last time around. I’m sorry. Goaded by his mother to “claim what is rightfully ours” he stumbles out in the night. Gareth’s mother, Hadwise, reiterates that he totally has a claim on the dead lord’s estate. Valiant and Aleta groan that they’ve got plot to deal with now.

Having their interest in the death of the local lord met with treachery, Val and Aleta choose to retreat to their room at the village inn. Val braces the lone chair against the door and places the Singing Sword at the ready. 'So much for a romantic evening to ourselves', says Val ruefully. 'We have stepped into a rat's nest, and will need to watch our toes.' Aleta reflects on the eventful day: 'There seems to be no obvious explanation for Lord Imbert's death. Afton and Audrey are passionately jealous of their land, and as such are easy to blame, but there are others here with equal reason ... ' 'Gareth, certainly,' muses val. 'He has an entitled demeanor and so a motive. Hadwise, as well. She is a scorned woman with much to gain from the Baron's demise, and the men who waylaid me acted out of fear of our inquiries ... ' He stops. There is a shuffling outside their room. A light flickers under the door, and shadows move across that light ...
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 22nd of March, 2020. So, fun recreational puzzle for you. Prince Valiant, like most of the story strips, is designed so that you can lay it out for a broadsheet newspaper, two broad rows of panels, or a tabloid, with three narrow rows of panels. How can you rearrange these panels to fit the tabloid format without redrawing them all? If you’re stumped, The Daily Cartoonist’s D D Degg solved the problem, albeit for a different Sunday page.

A band of 1d4+2 ruffians who overheard all this confront Valiant outside the tavern. They warn him off asking questions. And mention that what was done was ‘at the baron’s behest’. Valiant wins the fight, although since all the ruffians except the one he knocked out fled, he can’t get more information.

In the morning Hadwise is outside, calling out the mob. Gareth’s dead and she blames the women as witches. Aleta tries to break this up. She points out if they are witches who’ve magically killed Imbert and Gareth maybe don’t rile them up? This buys a little time for investigations.

Gareth’s corpse is in Imbert’s manor house, looking pretty well twisted and tortured. The cook was the last to see Gareth alive. The drunk Gareth came in, declaring he was the new Lord, and demanded the same supper Imbert would have. The cook decided making it was less hassle than arguing, fed him, and left. Aleta can’t find any poisons. And the staff is cleaning up the room where Gareth’s body was found, so there won’t be any fingerprints or usable DNA. Oh, also the mob has gone off to burn down the accused witches. Which, great. They race off for the cottage.

Turns out that’s a misunderstanding: the women are doing a controlled burn of their fields. All right. And Valiant and Aleta’s son Nathan has a discovery too: the women are not witches. They’re just very observant, have looked around, and found that the dark ages sucks. They want to zip right to the era of Jethro Tull. The agriculturalist, not the band. For bands they’re more into Pink Floyd, or as they exhaust everyone by saying, The Pink Floyd Sound. Valiant sighs but accepts it’s his duty to work out their land dispute.

Val and Aleta finish their wild ride back fro Imbert's manor to find Nathan enthusiastically working on a field burn: 'I've had the most wonderful time with Afton and Audrey! They are not witches - they study the natural world and its phenomena! When they saw that I understand the studies they conduct with the bats, they invited me to join them. And they are observant farmers - they have learned that burning old growth off their fields promotes new growth, which is made even more bountiful when fertilized with the droppings of the bats.' The burn completed, Afton and Audrey join the group. 'The boy is a fast study,' says Afton. 'Tonight Audrey goes to the bats' cave to collect more of our fertilizer, the best in all the land. Much better than that of the pigs the stupid locals use.' Gawain, who is a slow study, cannot resist ;'Then, to afford protection against what dangers may lurk in the underworld, I insist that I should accompany the fair Au --- ' 'You most certainly should not insist', Audrey snaps, 'Unless you wish your right eye to match your left!'
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 3rd of May, 2020. Sir Gawain has not had a lot to do this story, but what he has done is “be Johnny Bravo”. So that’s why he’s got one black eye and is cruising for another.

The women are proud and defensive of their discoveries. And would like to point out the villagers are idiots who’ll mess with the bats in the cave. Valiant wants to see this cave that everybody’s so excited about.

And that’s where we’ve gotten. I understand the women’s interest in the cave. And Imbert’s, although where he had gotten the idea the caves would grant youth from is a mystery yet. And we’re still lacking an answer for how Gareth died. It could be something in his being an angry entitled drunk demanding lots of food. We’ll see what develops over the next several months.

Next Week!

It’s the traditionally busiest of these plot recaps. I look at
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy, if nothing disrupts my schedule.
But it’s 2020. It’s the year of un-disrupted schedules. For decades to come we will be saying, “2020 was the most rupt year of our lives”. Can’t wait to start work on it. Thanks for reading.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Weekdays)? Why is the Phantom punching terrorists? February – May 2020


I mean, if he’s not punching terrorists, he’s underachieving as a superhero. Anyway, this is a recap for three months’ worth of the weekday continuity for Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom. If you want to know about the separate Sunday continuity, my most recent recap of its plots are here. And all my plot recaps, Sunday and weekday, are at this link. If you’re reading this after about August 2020 there’s probably a more up-to-date plot recap here, too.

The Phantom (Weekdays).

10 February – 2 May 2020.

The Phantom had busted up a Rhodian column that was messing around in Wambesi territory. Their goal: Chatu, The Python, who a decade ago was the big terrorist nemesis of The Phantom. From a Bangallan prison he orchestrated the apparent death and actual imprisonment of Diana Palmer Walker, the Phantom’s wife. Since then he’s been held by his Wambesi countryment in a secret jail. And now The Phantom was settling in for a serious talk with Chatu about the deal and what is with it.

The Python, laughing at his bleeding nose, looking through the bars at The Phantom: 'Oh, what fun! I see you DO KNOW that Diana Palmer Walker ... will be my revenge ... mourn her now, o Ghost ... start mourning her ... now ... '
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 18th of February, 2020. Before leaving, The Phantom taunted the Python one last time by complimenting him on that cool milk snake tattoo.

The Phantom explains how he turned back the Rhodian column. Chatu says he doesn’t see why The Phantom is trying to mess with his head like that. As if the Ghost Who Walks would play head games. But it tells The Phantom that Chatu did not organize this breakout attempt. There’s no way to know how the Rhodians got word of Chatu’s secret prison, unless any Wambesi person said anything to any Rhodian person about it. Chatu taunts that he’ll kill Diana Walker yet, and The Phantom slugs him. Then heads home, along the way asking Babudan what was with his poking in around the corners of that last story. Babudan gives a noncommittal answer. And this wraps up the story.


The 253rd daily-continuity story, Unfinished Business, began the 24th of February. The Phantom, riled up by punching The Python, heads to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he punches successor top terrorist The Nomad. … I figured this summary would run a bit longer, but that is the important stuff.

The Phantom snuck in to Guantanamo Bay and disguised himself as Commander Burford. Eric “The Nomad” Sahara acts familiar with The Commander. I’m not clear whether it’s The Nomad being all smug or whether we’re expected to believe that American intelligence agencies will partner with the worst people in the world as long as they’re right-wing enough. The Phantom talks about the woman who captured him, Heloise Walker. The Nomad had thought Heloise Walker a Bangallan intelligence agent, and takes this as a sign the Americans have captured her.

The Phantom, gloating over the unconscious body of The Nomad: 'My Heloise fought back! She settled the score nicely on her own. But as a father, and just on general principle, Nomad ... ' The Phantom steps on a cigarette beside The Nomad's head, extinguishing it.
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 7th of March, 2020. So this got me wondering if prisoners in CIA torture camps are ever given cigarettes, which is the sort of dumb thing that I wonder about instead of why we keep letting the CIA run torture camps.

Then The Phantom reveals that he’s not Commander Burford. He’d been using shadows and night as cover. Saying he wants The Nomad to know he’ll never be safe from him, he slugs the prisoner enough to break his jaw. He gloats that his daughter fought back against him. With The Nomad unconscious, The Phantom escapes to the fishing trawler he’d used as cover to get to Cuba. The action may seem pointless, but it turned out also to be dumb. Now it’s got The Nomad wondering why Heloise Walker matters to The Phantom.

Also, if you’re wondering how The Phantom could impersonate a lead interrogator at Guantanamo Bay at all? Burford had at least one interview up on YouTube. And then interrogated Burford at gunpoint, to get finer details. I cannot force you to believe this, but the text offers an explanation, and I find it within the bounds of superhero stories.

The story ended the 28th of March, with now both the major international terrorist figures of the past decade vowing revenge from prison on the women around Kit Walker. This seems good.


Warrior, speaking of plans for the poacher's guides: 'A quick death, for we Llongo are merciful! But death it is! by our Queen's command!' Phantom: 'Your queen wants these guides to stop bringing destructive men onto Llongo land. We can accomplish that without bloodshed! Friends, are you with me?' Wrrior: 'Our queen would want us to be with you, Phantom!'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 9th of April, 2020. [ * In the Malay tongue. I know, right? I was expecting Llongo too. ]

On the 30th of March the current story, The Llongo Forest, started. It’s the 254th daily-continuity story. The Phantom gets into a pickup hunt with some Llongo people. They’re looking for a poacher, someone who’s gone around shooting any animal he can find. Poachers are really Mark Trail’s thing. But Mark Trail is being drawn all weird and dealing with a possibly fictional forest fire. The Phantom has to step into the gap.

The poacher’s easy to find; just follow the trail of slaughtered animals. His guides are nervous, afraid of what the Llongo people will do. The Phantom’s friends know: their queen’s ordered them dead. The Phantom talks them into seeing if they can’t stop the poachers without so much bloodshed. They’re up for it. They sneak up on the poacher’s camp and clobber the guides. The poacher himself needs more coaxing, by having Devil, the Wolf Who Walks, poised to rip out his throat.

Warrior, looking over the wounded lion's trail: 'Blood trail leads there! We cannot [ accompany ], O Ghost who Walks! Forbidden forest!' Phantom, thinking: 'These are brave men. If they won't venture into those woods, the tribal tradition they honor must be a strong one.'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 28th of April, 2020. Also I’m wondering if this is just the one Forbidden Forest for the Llongo, or if there’s a bunch of Forbidden Forests, and if different tribes respect others’ forest-forbiddings. Like, they probably come to some agreements about the territories, right?

The Phantom checks out the poacher’s home movies. Turns out he had wounded a lion without killing it. That’s a problem, as a badly wounded lion might turn to hunting humans. The trail leads into a forbidden forest, which the Llongo warriors won’t venture into. All right. The Phantom puts the poacher and his guides in the Llongo’s care and recommends they be handed over to the Jungle Patrol. And resolves to go into the forbidden forest by himself to track down the wounded lion.

That’s where the story sits as the first full week of May begins.

Next Week!

I get a lightweight week as one of the two-or-maybe-three Sunday continuity strips gets its attention. Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant comes up next time, and we’ll see how my shifting the publication date to Tuesdays helps.

What’s Going On In Alley Oop (Weekdays)? What’s with the aliens at the pyramids? February – April 2020


And now let me catch you up on the main, weekday continuity for Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop. All my posts about the strip, Sunday and weekday, should be at this link. If you’re reading this after about August 2020 I should have a more up-to-date plot recap, too.

Alley Oop.

3 February – 25 April 2020.

I last checked in when Alley Oop was starting a new story. The gang had fled Time Jail and locked the other universes out of their, Universe-2, continuity for a year. So let’s see what they’re doing with that time.

Wonmug, in the house of a colonial Loyalist: 'I think I've made a terrible mistake. I really should go.' Loyalist: 'You're on the wrong side of history, my friend.' Wonmug: 'I've heard that one before.' Loyalist: 'God save the King! Taxation without representation is fine by me!' (As Wonmug flees) 'I'll never stop fighting for our dependence!'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Allison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 12th of February, 2020. Just on the off chance, I did check to see whether the Loyalist here — Phineas Bottleneck — was a real person and, no. This did, though, lead me to discover the “Free State of Bottleneck”, a small chunk of German territory west of the Rhine composed of territory not occupied by the British, French, or Americans. It had a quasi-statehood from 1919 until 1923, when the French occupied the Ruhr and made the other zones of occupation irrelevant. And it left behind stamps and currency, so that’s exciting for people who collect those things. Anyway I’m always delighted to learn of more obscure, short-lived microstates and Free Cities and stuff.

The team has a mission: get some tea from the Boston Tea Party. The billionaire Drew Copious wants some. All right. They zap back to Boston and have some trouble hooking up with the tea party. Falling afoul of Loyalists, not being able to find the right wharf, that sort of thing. But they find the spot, and join in tossing tea overboard, except for one crate that Alley Oop swapped out ahead of time. With success and tea in hand, they head back to the present.

Wonmug, Alley Oop, and Ooona arriving at Copious's manion. Oop: 'Here we are! Wait, where are we?' Wonmug: 'We're at the estate of new newest client, billionaire Drew Copious.' Ooola: 'Can I ask him how he got his money? Find out of it was by exploiting his workers or through the dumb luck of the genetic lottery?' Wonmug: 'Let's not lead with that.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Allison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 2nd of March, 2020. Such a naive question, Ooola! He’s a billionaire. He needed both.

Copious offers another mission. And promises wealth beyond their reasonable dreams if they finish his tests. The first: he wants proof that aliens built the pyramids. Ooola finds something fishy about all this, but Wonmug points out: money! You don’t get billions of dollars without falling for loads of racist pseudoscientific codswallop. So they’re off to Ancient Egypt.

They get to a pyramid construction site. Oop falls in with the brick-movers. Wonmug passes himself off as an architectural inspector, and while snooping around finds an alien! Sellomina is a creature from the planet Nu-Dell, and is … just … nothing. Kind of a clod. They’re only, maybe, six or eight weeks more advanced than humans. And that only in some areas. They bought a Marinarian spaceship to get here. And can’t even get the eight-track to work. (Explanation for younger readers: the eight-track was a thing that cars had in the seventies. It didn’t work.)

Wonmug, walking in the desert with an alien: 'So you didn't come to Egypt to share your infinite knowledge?' Sellomina, the alien: 'Oh my, no! But for you, I will share something you may find verrry interesting. You may not know this, but sometimes a pyramid is POINTY at the top!'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Allison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 6th of April, 2020. So one problem with the snarky tone of the strip is that it’s not obvious from one day’s panel that Sellomina here is dumb and not sarcastic.

Ooola, meanwhile, gets mistaken for the Princess Lula, and is whisked away to the royal apartments. Where the real Princess Lula also is. They’re somehow identical. Lula is not upset. She sees this as a great chance to set up a Parent Trap situation. Not the movie, which she doesn’t know about. No, she wants to put her parents in a trap, so she can get away and marry Pardel, an alien she loves. Ooola is up for this.

Lula's mother: 'All right, Lula, we're here. What is it?' Lula's father: 'We're standing on the X, just like you asked, not that we don't have better things to do.' Lula: 'Now!' and Ooola pulls a rope; a wooden cage drops on Lula's parents. Mother: 'What is the meaning of this?' Father: 'Let us out right this instant!' Lula: 'What are you doing?' Ooola, who was opening the cage: 'Sorry. They're royalty! I thought I had to do what they said.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Allison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 13th of April, 2020. And this is the end of the Lula storyline. She thanks Ooola for her help and gives her a jewel-encrusted scarab as a reward but we’re left to infer the rest of her whole story with Pardel, including whether they do ultimately marry.

So things work out for the player-characters. Ooola helps Lula trap her parents. Alley Oop finishes building a pyramid himself. Wonmug is convinced that the aliens were just in the way of building the pyramids. Sellomina gives Wonmug the highest piece of Nu-Del technology: a pencil. Used for cleaning gunk out of ears. Pretty sure the Nu-Del aliens don’t have ears.

Ooola: 'So aliens didn't help build the pyramids?' Wonmug: 'Oh my, no. I think they'd have trouble building something small and two-dimensional, much less something as monumental as the pyramids. From what I could ascertain, they've been no help whatsoever. Mostly just getting in the way and asking a lot of dumb questions.' Alley Oop: 'Hey, why are you guys looking at me?'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Allison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 18th of April, 2020. It’s an understated dramatic irony that off in his own neglected subplot, Alley Oop did build a pyramid without Wonmug or Ooola noticing.

A pencil isn’t much of an alien artifact, but it’s what they have. They return to the present and give Copious the news. He’s not disappointed to learn that aliens are dumb. He declares if there were intelligent life in the universe, it would have visited him. So, yeah, can’t fault the characterization here. He’s got more missions, and gives them the run of his mansion for a couple days off.

And, in private, does a thingy with the pencil. The image of an alien he calls Farfell appears. Farfell acknowledges Copious acquiring the device and asks if he’s ready to commence their plan. So that’s something.

I feel the last couple months have been strong ones for the weekday continuity. There’s been a solid enough story. While there have been side bits of nonsense, they’ve been kept short. Princess Lula talking about the Parent Trap, which seems like a reality-breaking joke, subverts that expectation. Having aliens be in Ancient Egypt, but just killing time there, is a fair enough joke. Having Copious and Farfell up to something makes the joke also a useful story element. I’d say this is reflected in how I see fewer complaints about what’s happened to Alley Oop. But I suspect the bigger factor is people wanting to know what’s wrong with Mark Trail suddenly. And after that it’ll be [spinning the wheel] what the heck happened to Gil Thorp.

Next Week!

The Ghost Who Walks, weekdays! It’s to be Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom and his mission of … punching out The Python, unless something interrupts. See you then.

What’s Going On In Alley Oop (Sundays)? How does Little Alley Oop time-travelling fit continuity? February – April 2020


Something I didn’t expect happened the 9th of February, 2020, which you may remember was three million years ago. This was a Sunday strip, when Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers have been doing panels about Little Oop, Alley Oop as a kid. They started a story.

This story’s been going on since then. I do not know whether they mean to make the Sunday strips a regular ongoing continuity. So I don’t know how to fit it into my weekly plot recaps. For now, I’m making it a side post to my main weekday-continuity plot recap. I’ll keep the Sunday recaps, and the weekday ones, tagged as Alley Oop so you can read them here.

Yes, I agree it’s a weird coincidence that this Sunday story started so close to the last time I did a plot recap. Back in February, I was more distracted that the weekday strips were starting a new story at the same time.

Little Oop.

3 February – 25 April 2020.

The story started with a girl popping in from nowhere, wondering why it wasn’t 1999, seeing Little Oop’s pet dinosaur Max and fleeing. She’s Penelope. She’s invented a time machine. And she’s freaked out by the dinosaurs and volcanoes and ice ages and all that. When a mammoth charges at them she hits the thingy on her thingy, and zaps herself and Little Oop to the present. Bit of a mistake. The mammoth was just eager to share cookies.

Little Oop: 'Got any ideas how to get me home?' Penelope: 'Sorry, Alley, not yet. It's really complicated and I don't now how long it'll take to figure out. Anyway I've got to take a break. The weekend is almost over.' Alley: 'The WHAT-end?' Penelope: 'I've got school tomorrow and I think you should come with me.' Alley: 'Why?' Penelope: 'I can't let you stay here. You don't know anything about modern life. You'd probably try to make a fire in the kitchen to keep warm!' Alley: 'Fair point. Quick question, though, can I make a fire in the living room?' Penelope gets nervous and sweats. Alley: 'Ha ha! Just kidding!' Penelope: 'Oh, phew.' Alley amends a note: 'Where I can make a fire: lab, Penelope's room, Kitchen, Outside, Stairs, Living Room'. Kitchen and Outside are crossed out (Too Scary), and Alley crosses out Living Room.
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Allison Sayers’s Little Oop for the 29th of March, 2020. So, not looking to short-circuit the plot here, and Penelope is a kid of indeterminate age. But if she had watched the Bill and Ted movies she would understand she just has to decide really hard where she’s going to find the parts she needs. And then some follow-through, of course.

Her time machine contracts plot issues. Little Oop’s stuck in the present for a while. He’s got to hide. Penelope figures it’s better if she keeps him close by. So she smuggles him in to school. Still dressed as a caveman, but, trying to put him in regular clothes didn’t really work. Little Oop meets Penelope’s friend Julius. He’s described as a mathlete, and he resembles Little Oop’s friend Garg.

At school. Penelope: 'Don't be nervous, Alley, you'll fit right in.' Alley: 'You really think so?' Penelope: 'Sure, eventually.' Alley's terrified by kids on skateboards, tossing a ball, playing guitar, looking at phones. Penelope: 'It must be pretty different from your school back home, huh?' Alley: 'You have no idea.' Penelope: 'Let's focus on one thing. Look at this wall, you probably had walls at your school, right?' Alley: 'The walls at my school were stone. What are these? Some sort of high-tech rectangle magic?' Penelope: 'They're called 'bricks'.' Alley: 'ARGH! Everything is so different!'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Allison Sayers’s Little Oop for the 12th of April, 2020. Yes, yes, you know I’m a mathematics person, so the phrase “high-tech rectangle magic” is aimed at amusing me.

Does that resemblance signify anything? Maybe. It did strike me that as part of the Time Jail storyline we met Dr Piedra, Dr Wonmug’s Universe-3 equivalent. She’s a time-travelling scientist and wears a purple … uh … hair thingy. Penelope’s hair is noticeably purple. But if we’re supposed to link them, well, Penelope wears glasses and Dr Piedra doesn’t. There are plenty of explanations for this in real people. But comic strip convention relies on characters keeping some key accessories. (And, yes, their head shapes are different, but to my eye about the same way grown-up Alley Oop and kid Little Oop’s shapes are different.)

Anyway I guess we’ll see in the Sundays whether there are any stories to find in a scientist’s time machine stranding a caveman in the present day.

Next question: How does Little Oop having time-travel adventures in the year 2020 fit with the continuity of Alley Oop? All I can say is to offer the closing lines of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 theme: “it’s just a show, I should really just relax”. If you want it rationalized, treat this as an Alternate Universe Alley Oop. Alternate, maybe, even to the Universe-2 adventures that we’ve been reading since Lemon and Sayers took over the strip.

If you must fit this together? Well, some good news. Alley Oop, when he was first brought into the then-present of 1939, handled his experiences pretty well. He was in the present for only a few hours before … well …

[ Narrator: When Alley Oop got mad and left the house of Dr Wonmug, Ooola assured the eminent scientist that the big cave man would soon return, but ... ] Joe, assistant: 'I'm worried about our cave man, he's been gone for hours.' Wonmug: 'So am I. And it's getting dark. I think we'd better try to round him up.' Ooola: 'You didn't find Alley?' Joe: 'No, Ooola, not a trace!' Wonmug: 'I wouldn't worry. He'll probably turn up in the morning.' [ Next Morning ] Wonmug, getting the paper: 'No sign of Oop yet. Oh, well, he can't have gone far. Nothing much can happen to him.' [ Opening the paper ] 'Good heavens! It's happened!' Banner headline: 'GREAT WHITE APE STEALS & WRECKS FREIGHT TRAIN'
V T Hamlin’s Alley Oop for the 22nd of May, 1939. By the way, Alley Oop left because Wonmug and Joe were laughing at him what with how he didn’t know how to use a spoon or a fork. And, apparently, did not understand why this would be a bad laugh. They didn’t follow Alley Oop right away, on Ooola’s recommendation. But that just means they took the advice of the person most uninformed about the hazards of the surroundings. In short, Wonmug is such a STEM type and should never be allowed in charge of anything, at any time.

So, if you want to head-canon that Alley Oop had some useful childhood experiences that prepared him for adventures with Doc Wonmug and all? You have some room for that. But you do have to work out how it is that Ooola, who was also brought to 1939 Long Island and has not been brought to 2020, handled things better. (Of course, Little Ooola might come to 2020 yet.) Also, you have to rationalize Alley Oop’s problem understanding mirrors.

Alley Oop, pointing to the wreckage of the time machine: 'Y'mean I'm the guy that caused all this mess?' Meanwhile Ooola looks at herself in a small mirror. Joe: 'Yup! You short-circuited the time machine, and two years of hard work went blooie!' Wonmug: 'And now we've no way to send you back where you came from!' Oop: 'Then we ain't in Moo any more?' Joe: 'Not by a million years! You're now in the 20th century!' Oop: 'But where's ol' Guz and his gang?' Wonmug: 'I'm sorry, my friend, but I'm afraid you'll never see them again!' Oop: 'There, now, see? I toldjuh we'd outsmart them thugs!' Oop: 'Yes, yes, Alley, but don't you think my hair looks better this way?'
V T Hamlin’s Alley Oop for the 13th of April, 1939. The machine was wrecked by Alley Oop’s axe. I’m not clear whether this was the result of Alley Oop swatting at the bizarre contraption that had kidnapped him. Or was it was just the material interacted with the time machine in some weird way. In either case, I can’t attach blame to Alley Oop. Oh, uh, Alley Oop and Ooola were fleeing King Guz and all. GoComics doesn’t have the strips but my recollection is Guz thought Oop was trying to overthrow him or something. You know, the usual shenanigans.

I do not know how GoComics decided which Alley Oop stories to add to its Deep Archive. There’s even one from January 1939, before the strip included time travel. But the important one started the 7th of April, 1939, when Doc Wonmug got his movie camera back from the past. If you somehow have a bit of spare time, you might want to read the story. It’s always good to see the work that made something famous. And it’s enlightening to see how the strip has always been willing to go for the dumb joke. Also, that Doc Wonmug has a real problem with being a jerk. Also, turns out, a daughter. Huh.

Next Day!

I’ll recap the plot in the weekday-continuity Alley Oop. Unless something goes wrong.