I’m sorry to be a little down but over the weekend I learned that my phone, my camera, and our Mi-Fi device all use the exact same size mini-USB plug. And then we also successfully used our Mi-Fi device to get a little bit of functional Internet in a place that didn’t otherwise have it. Oh, it only lasted until the Mi-Fi device’s power wore out, and we weren’t able to buy a second day of service in a row. But still. Three things using the same mini-USB plug, and using a Mi-Fi device to have a portable block of Internet service where we needed it? When am I ever going to achieve anything as impossible in life again?
Anyway, over on my mathematics blog I ask people for word problems because I’m all but sure that cartoon Jef Mallett mis-represented one in one day’s Frazz so at least I have that going for me.
If you’re here to follow the most recent storylines in Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man, the newspaper-syndicated comic strip version of the character, thanks! This link should bring you to whatever the most recent post is, at the top of its page.
The Amazing Spider-Man, 23 January – 23 April 2017
I last reviewed Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man at what felt like the one-third mark in the current story. Ronan The Accuser had crashed his spaceship in the Arizona desert and slurped up the contents of a diner. Peter Parker and Mary Jane Parker, on a road trip, couldn’t do anything about that, but they do witness Rocket Raccoon’s arrival. Rocket and Spider-Man complete the Ritual Battle of Superheros Meeting, and they pretended to be a costuming family for a motel owner. So what’s the story since then?
Rocket warns that Ronan The Accuser is looking around for The Sentry, an 80,000-year-old alien-built contraption that looks faintly like a robotic Moe Howard. Ronan figures he can use this to unleash all sorts of accusations on the whole galaxy. Peter, Mary Jane, and Rocket deduce The Sentry must be somewhere in Petrogylph National Monument, as the road sign for it is clear and fills up nearly half a panel. Ronan The Accuser follows similar clues and he and Spidey punch each other until The Sentry wakes up. It goes off to blow up Albuquerque. Rocket remembers that Ronan (“please, my dad is Mister The Accuser”) is extremely vulnerable to Earth air. So he and Spidey try to knock his helmet off, which goes great.
Luckily Newspaper Spider-Man is extraordinarily good at taking blunt force traumas. He uses this to do a “why are you hitting yourself?”, using Ronan T A’s own large hammer to smack his helmet off. Spider-Man tries to put the unconscious Ronan’s helmet back on, on the grounds that he can’t just suffocate the guy even if he is trying to blow up the world or galaxy or whatnot. And I admire this idealistic bit from Peter Parker, who’s not going to be more cruel than he must be, however much trouble it makes. The resolve to be kind even when it’s hard, or worse, inconvenient is something we should take from superheroes. Anyway, Spidey accepts Rocket’s promise that Ronan isn’t dead, he’s just sleeping, and they go off to fight The Sentry.
Rocket and Spider-Man leave Mary Jane to watch Ronan just in case he wakes long enough to gasp out something plot-relevant. And hey! So she flags down a truck and buys it and a bunch of day laborers to bring Ronan to the big Albuquerque fight, because she always travels with that kind of cash. Using the unconscious Ronan — whom The Sentry can’t harm — as body shield Spider-Man teases The Sentry mercilessly. Meanwhile Rocket climbs inside and punches stuff until it breaks.
So that looks like it’s ended the Ronan and The Sentry menace: this Sunday’s comic teases that coming next is “Farewell to a furry comrade!” A shame, since I’ve loved Rocket’s time on the strip. I mean, all his guest stars insult newspaper Spider-Man relentlessly. And Rocket’s depiction has varied from “pretty raccoony” to “maybe a small, bug-eyed werewolf” to “EEK! wasn’t that the deer-kangaroo-fox-nightmare Tommie brought home to Apartment 3-G that one year?”. (Here’s the Apartment 3-G deer-kangaroo-fox-nightmare for comparison. Warning: deer-kangaroo-fox-nightmare content.) But they really click as the effective and the put-upon members of a team. It can’t last, of course, and I’m sure Rocket is about to deploy some suspiciously vague explanation of how he needs to be … elsewhere, with … other people, soon enough.
Also, yes, Spider-Man did pretty near nothing to drive the story. Rocket did most of the heavy lifting and Mary Jane overcame plot-related sexism to do something too. Peter Parker was mostly there to, I dunno, get hit with stuff. This is healthy.
Peter and Mary Jane Parker were in Arizona to start with as they were taking a driving trip to Los Angeles. I don’t have any guesses who’s going to be the Hollywood antagonist. And I hope it’s not long before they bring Rocket around for another session.
I’ve got the usual Sunday comic strips post over in the mathematics blog. Have you given it a try? It might like the company. There’s an Archie comic over there, if that affects your choice. If not, that’s fine. We’ve been spending the weekend trying to figure out which of Paas’s four egg-dye tablets that could plausibly be pink actually is the pink already. People keep asking the Internet this question and there’s suspiciously few answers considering it would just take one person with a dye kit and two pictures, and then we’d know which tablet isn’t supposed to get mixed with vinegar. Fix that problem, Internet. Anyway, fresh off yesterday’s activities, a scene that came to mind:
“Hey? Hey guys? Guys? What are you talking about? Are you doing something? Are you talking about me? Can I come over and talk with you? Can I? Guys? Hey, are you ignoring me? Do you wanna talk about me? It’s okay with me if you wanna talk about me. Hey?”
Hi! Thanks for coming here trying to understand what’s going on in Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp. The most recent of my posts tracking the stories should be at the top of this link, until I forget to tag some of these installments. Thank you.
16 January 2017 – 15 April 2017
When last I checked in on the goings-on of Milford school coach Gil Thorp and his band of students it was basketball season. The story was about Aaron Aagard, who’s 46% punchable, 51% charming for a teenager and 3% basketball phenomenon or something. It’s a good enough mix. His problem was he was really good some days, really bad some others, and he’s known to go to raves even in whole other towns. Some teammates overheard he was “taking Molly”. My “hep” “cat” informants assure me this is how “the kids” refer to the ecstasy when they “rap” about drug habits. Aagard had promised Coach Thorp he’d clear up their misunderstanding. I predicted it would turn out he was taking his “generically-disabled niece or something” Molly to the raves.
Shows what I know; Molly O’Herlihy is his girlfriend who totally exists and all, he just doesn’t want to show her off because you know how teenage boys are. There’s no group less prone to ostentatious displays of deployed heterosexuality. Thorp tells Aagard’s teammates to stop trying to figure out his deal, so they continue trying to figure out his deal. They have a breakthrough when they realize Aagard lives in an apartment far below his mother’s standing as an actuary. It’s good thinking on their part. Any mathematics major who’s bought his department’s propaganda will tell you how actuaries are just rolling in cash. If I ever need a quick 25 grand I just have to walk down to the business district and mutter about how I’ve got an advanced degree in mathematics and then, like, Jackson Life Insurance supposes I might be an actuary and they should pay me something just to be safe.
Coach Thorp, roused into something like action, checks in on Aagard’s mother. She’s not even actuarying, just doing bookkeeping for a couple small businesses. Aaron Aagard, deploying the sort of pacing that indicates he thinks he’s the charming star of an occasionally-serious three-camera sitcom, explains that the problem is not drugs. It’s drugs. His mother’s opioid habit. So he does well when there’s enough money in the house for, like, food and all. This leaves Thorp some unpleasant responsibilities. Thorp tries to figure out what he can do without screwing up Aagard’s life all the more. It’s not like he can even just pass Aagard some money to get groceries without inviting a world of scandal. So he covers where he can, inviting his student for one-on-one dinners in public areas.
After being fed enough pie and I’m going to go ahead and assume cheese fries, Aagard consents to turning his mom in to the Actuary Police. Before she’s taken off to answer sumptuary charges of living beneath her actuarial station she gets to see one last, and first, basketball game starring Aaron. Pressured, he has a lousy game, at least until Thorp points out that as a person with advanced mathematical skills and training, Tina Aagard completely lacks the ability to tell whether a basketball player is doing well or badly. I agree, although the boo-ing from the rest of the audience might clue her in. Anyway, with that reassurance Aagard finishes up decently and goes into foster care with one of the teammates who did so much to change the set of hassles he’s dealing with.
Got to say, honestly, I did enjoy the story. I’m snarking about it because it’s more fun to recap stuff with a little silliness. The pacing was decent, the star was appealing, and Thorp got to be charmingly exasperated with the kids who insisted on figuring out what Aagard’s deal was. And the underlying problem was credible, and that the characters were stuck in their situation made sense too. It wasn’t anybody being stupid, just, stuck over their heads in a situation that just grew bad.
April started softball season. Its plot starts with student reporters for the Milford Journal discovering the school board’s vice-president way padding his expense accounts and he gets all angry at them for doing this. I understand. When I travel for work I live in fear the company’s going to decide I’m indulging my hedonism at their expense. And I fly United. Meanwhile in sports, transfer-student pitcher Ryan van Auken reveals that he’s handled his anger issues by putting that energy into having a large face. That’s been about all the time we’ve had for this story so far, so I don’t figure to predict where it might be going. When there’s updates, I’ll pass them along. Thank you.
Everything ends. I guess we can’t put a stop to that. In early 1999 the Sci-Fi Channel decided not to renew Mystery Science Theater 3000. There were a bunch of ideas for continuing the show, most of them floated by the regulars on Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.tv.mst3k.misc. There was moving to another cable channel. Or maybe going to PBS. Maybe releasing stuff direct to videotape or that newfangled DVD. Maybe forget about fangling stuff and just release stuff online. Maybe save the we-imagined pricey business of recording host sketches and stuff and instead just release audio tracks that people could match to movies they’d buy. Maybe just go to doing live shows on new, never-ending college tours. Maybe even transcend the movies thing altogether and do comic books or something. Maybe do some fundraising scheme to buy new episodes. Not interested in this: the people who actually made the show, far as we could tell. It went off the air in August 1999 with the final episode, Danger Diabolik, and then went off the air again in September 1999 with Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders which had been sitting in some kind of rights quibble for months. The show went off the air once again with The Screaming Skull a bit over four years later, when the Sci-Fi Channel stopped airing reruns.
But losing the original show hurts a group of fans gathered for stuff. And yes, the group’s focus expanded; we got to talking about movies and TV shows and books and all sorts of pop culture, viewed with that perspective of loving good stuff, but also loving looking for what’s enjoyable about the bad. Or looking at the bad and trying to find stuff enjoyable about it. If Mystery Science Theater 3000 has any positive insight, it’s that there is something worth sharing that can be made out of most anything.
Still, it hurts a group to lose its TV show. And it hurts a group to be on Usenet. The great thing about Usenet is it was designed in the early 80s, for anyone who likes to run a server to set up and run and share with people. The thing that kills it is that who wants to set up and run a server for talking about cancelled TV shows? If there’s any money in it, it’s in proper web forums that can show advertisements or at least harvest user information. Usenet can’t do that. Servers dwindled out of operation, probably because they broke and nobody knew they were even there or how to fix them. A couple of big ISPs dropped Usenet on allegations the system was used to pirate movies and TV shows and music and while that may have been true we also used it to legitimately talk about urban legends and pinball and comic strips and stuff like that. Still, with each month, there was a little less Usenet, and some people drifted away not to be seen again, and so there was even less Usenet, and some more people drifted off, and then suddenly there wasn’t anything left but a few people who refuse to turn off the lights.
My community dwindled away. Web Site Number Nine, the center of the MiSTing community, went down for a weekend of maintenance sometime in 2004 and hasn’t come back yet. rec.arts.tv.mst3k.misc I’d say had its final collapse around 2007 or 2008. I stick around, checking in some and talking occasionally. I try to write at least one new MiSTing a year and post that, but I admit a lot of it feels like putting in designated at-bats to keep alive some abstract streak no one but me even knows exists.
There’s still fans, though. One time I had a rare chance to meet in person some friends from the Seattle area; they spent nearly the whole weekend talking in MST3K quotes, to the point I felt like I was being quizzed. Did I recognize the episode with the jingle about “when you want the flavor of bacon in a dip”? Well, of course I did, but … is this everything we have to talk about? Somehow it felt alienating and I started taking dives, claiming I don’t recognize episodes that I actually do. Boy that’s screwy.
Weirder stuff happened. Really, every crazy plan we had on Usenet in 1999 to save the show came true. There’s live shows, as Cinematic Titanic and as Rifftrax. There’s recorded audio-only tracks, for Rifftrax. There’s episodes made direct for DVD release. There’s episodes brought back on air, sent to PBS stations or some of those weird digital sub-channels on broadcast TV. I remember somewhere seeing a plan to license an MST3K comic book, but goodness knows if that’ll come about.
And so we come to today, when the Kickstarter-funded, Netflix-backed season debuts. I haven’t seen it yet. Don’t have Netflix. We used to get Internet through AT&T, and they don’t want working-class neighborhoods in the state capitol as customers, so we couldn’t get Internet nearly fast enough to stream videos. They were bad enough that Comcast was the improvement. We probably have fast enough Internet to stream videos now. But the habit built from getting ten minutes into a show and stuff freezing up, until I call tech support and demand someone answer “Why?” dies hard. I recommend asking tech support “Why?” It’s at least as productive as saying what your specific problem is, and we do need more people working out exactly why we’ve let society come to this.
So I don’t know what I feel or what I expect exactly from the new season. I want to be enthusiastic, but I’m not good with enthusiasm. Especially if it’s something lots of people are enthusiastic about. It makes me worry something’s going wrong. So here’s what I can manage, before ever seeing Season Eleven: I really hope they don’t screw this up.
I don’t know if I want you to tell me whether they did.
So what to do after finally seeing, and getting into, Mystery Science Theater 3000? It being 1996, the answer was: Usenet. The medium is all but dead now, but attempts to reinvent what was great about it continue, without success. I suppose the nearest analogue is Reddit. Or if you imagine the web forum for whatever your favorite subject is. Or the Facebook chat group for your favorite podcast. There’s big technical differences in how they’re organized and administrated. But the important social thing was: here was a way to find and talk with people about stuff you liked. So I got to the newsgroup called rec.arts.tv.mst3k.misc. The name meant it was part of the big group about recreational topics; then the subsection of recreational topics that are about the arts; the subsection of the arts known as TV; the subsection of TV known as MST3K; and then … uhm … miscellaneous. Well, there was a rec.arts.tv.mst3k.admin that just posted “administrative” stuff like show schedules.
It was, like many newsgroups in the mid-to-late 90s, a lively place. Hundreds of people delighting in how they liked something, and how much they liked something, and how they liked it more than other people, and how other people didn’t like the right stuff about it, and how other people should stop liking the wrong stuff about it. You know, like people do. This sounds bog-standard now, but it was new to us all back then.
Some of the most fascinating stuff going on back then was a kind of flame war with a Star Trek fanfic writer. The fellow was named Stephen Ratliff. So far as I know he still is. You remember that episode where the Enterprise crashed into an Irwin Allen Disaster Movie, and the crew has to endure adventures like Worf helping O’Brien deliver her baby and Data popping his head off and Picard getting some kids to climb out of a stuck elevator? Stephen Ratliff was inspired by the kids of that episode and wrote some fan fiction. It has the kids start playing Star Fleet Officer on the holodecks and all that and forming their own little Kids Crew of under-twelve-year-olds. Anyone could have that idea. Ratliff had an idea of pure genius. He came up with some reason to put these kids in charge of the actual starship Enterprise. And then do it again, in more fan fiction.
There had been Mystery Science Theater 3000 fanfiction — taking the text of something and inserting jokes, using the characters from the show — for a couple years even then. But when one MiSTer (get it?) discovered Stephen Ratliff the genre was made. The stories had this magnificent natural absurdity told, in the earliest stories, with remarkable ineptitude. These flame wars on rec.arts.tv.mst3k.misc amounted to people decrying the offensiveness of the Kids Crew premise — ten-year-olds put in command of starships, even Next Generation starships where nothing all that bad ever really happens? — and Stephen Ratliff defending his premise with remarkable patience and grace and the not-quite-off-point argument that kids used to be inducted into the Royal Navy so why not have that happen again?
Sure, even without Stephen Ratliff there’d probably be a good MiSTing genre. The idea is too good. But he made it part of the fandom. Partly by writing stuff that was so joyous to read, and to riff on. Partly by being so interesting to talk about. Marissa, the girl from the elevator, gets adopted by Picard and becomes Princess of Deep Space England and travels in time to hook up Wesley Crusher and Chelsea Clinton before sending a space shuttle to Mars and becomes Lord High Admiral of the Federation and all that? (I swear.) How do you not want in on that?
So I got in, despite having — then — only seen a handful of episodes. I had a good source text. There was this cartoon series based on Sonic the Hedgehog, the video game character. In it he and the gang are rebels trying to save the world from the evil Doctor Robotnik and his robots — you know what? Doesn’t matter. It was popular in the 90s, and a lot of people wrote fan fiction. I found a piece and asked the author for permission to riff it. Asking permission was an important part of MiSTing culture. I mean, we didn’t ask for permission to riff spam. But if it was something someone identifiable wrote, it was at least bad form not to ask permission, and to give the author the chance to veto any truly unfair lines — or, in principle, the whole thing — before publishing. No sense being a cad.
It was well-received. One of my friends who’d written his own Sonic the Hedgehog fanfictions asked me to riff his. Other people in the group started looking to Sonic fandom and finding volunteers. There was much more to the MiSTing community than Stephen Ratliff and Sonic the Hedgehog, of course. There was a lot of fanfiction. There were the bizarre rants and conspiracy theories that people published on Usenet without regard for whether that made any sense. My favorite was someone accusing the English department of my grad school, an engineering school, with working to bring down civilization. (Did we even have an English department?) There was spam. So much spam. There was more normal yet poorly-targeted commercial messages. Someone did a whole Tom Swift novel. We did a lot of writing. I learned from it, a good bit about timing and pacing and how to write host sketches that could plausibly be done on the actual show. (Two or three minutes at most, few characters, few entrances and exits, as little editing as possible. This was my taste. Others wrote sketches that could only be done in fan fiction, where budgets and staging action and all aren’t issues. Their tastes.) Stephen Ratliff continued writing Marissa Picard stories that were gradually getting better, in internal logic and in fundamental writing technique. And sending out announcements so people could organize who’d get to riff his newest work.
He won us over. How can you not like someone who listens to you telling him why his stories suck, and thanks you, and writes stories that stop sucking those ways? We won him over. How can you not like an alert and obsessively responsive set of readers for your every word?
There was a lot that was great in the 90s. Mystery Science Theater 3000, Usenet, and MiSTing, were big parts of my great 90s.
Friday: I bet I have some more of this talk in me.
Friday comes the release of the new season of Mystery Science Theater 3000. It’s a show that was important to me so I thought I’d talk about my relationship with it some. It’s a nearly one-sided relationship, although I do follow Frank Conniff on Twitter, where he has never noticed me. He’s had other stuff to do.
My first clear memory of knowing about the show was during one of their college tours. I think it had to be 1993. Some friends told me I had to go see it because I would love the show. They were right, but I didn’t believe them. I was still feeling burned after a lot of buildup for Ren and Stimpy, which I tried and learned was so utterly inappropriate for my tastes as to make me wonder if the people who recommended it to me knew anything about me. So I skipped it. Probably just as well. I’m sure whatever I was doing that night was more important anyway. It would have been playing Civilization I on the Macs in the office of the unread left-wing student weekly I wrote for. And I had nowhere to watch the show anyway, as I didn’t have cable, and even if I did, no cable systems had Comedy Central in those days. Yes, yes, there was trading in videotapes but I didn’t have a videotape player at college, because it was 1993.
A couple years pass and I hear occasional bits about what a great show it is. I go off to grad school. Mystery Science Theater 3000 begets a syndicated hourlong version, made by cutting each episode in half and airing them successive weeks. It doesn’t air in my grad school’s TV market. But I get to try out some episodes when I’m home for some break. The first half of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. The first half of Pod People. Both are classic episodes, although Pod People was the harder to watch. The underlying movie is really sluggish, with muddy audio; if you’re not paying close attention the thing is gibberish. Still, I’m intrigued. The syndicated version goes off the air without my ever catching the second half of an episode.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 begets a movie version. I’m glad to give that a try. There’s some nice publicity drives that make the show sound appealing, or at least worth trying out. The movie is finally released, although not to theaters. The studio makes maybe two-thirds of a print and circulates it for literally minutes. If it ever, ever appeared in a theater in the Albany area I never heard about it.
Ah, but! My grad school changes its cable provider to one that’s got Comedy Central. Finally I can give the show a try. By that time the show’s been officially cancelled from its Comedy Central home, but it’s still running a bunch of episodes ahead of the move to the Sci-Fi Channel. It occupies a couple timeslots early Saturday and late Sunday. I try out my first episode: The Magic Voyage of Sinbad. It’s a fine episode, still one of my favorites. It’s a foreign movie, a Ruso-Finnish coproduction telling one of the legends of Sadko, whom I don’t know anything about either, which is why when the movie was imported it was redubbed as “Sinbad”. It’s a gorgeous film, full of practical effects and telling about a hero trying to bring happiness to his people and sailing to India and encountering magic and wonder. If it all comes out a little weird that’s probably because legends are a bit like that, especially when it’s legends from another culture and then made into a movie and then redubbed and probably reedited and all that. But it’s beautiful if odd and delightful. By the time I was forty minutes in I was sold on the show. It was also 2:40 am and I theoretically had classes the next day, so went to sleep, still never having seen the end of an episode.
Next Saturday there’s another episode. The Brain that Wouldn’t Die, 10 am. I forget to set the VCR. (I know which episode it was because MST3K fans, incredibly, have kept track of the broadcasting of episodes.) Also somewhere in this time I’ve gotten a VCR. I set the VCR for Kitten With A Whip, 7:00 the next morning. Finally, finally I get to see an episode all the way to the end.
So, yes, I’m sold. Also I’m there at the last three months of the show’s Comedy Central run. I’ll have the chance to catch two episodes a week of a show that’s run for (then) seven seasons, and then probably never see them again. Mystery Science Theater 3000 exists in a complex battlefield of airing rights; there were already, then, episodes that everyone knew could never be legally shown again. There’s still some episodes that it looks like might never be legally released. But three months of the experience is far better than not having the experience at all.
I splurge, and start recording episodes in LP so they’ll be of higher fidelity. Not SP, though. I was a grad student. I didn’t have SP kind of money to spend on blank videotape, come on.
Tomorrow, unless I forget: my new MST3K fandom gets worse.
So if you’re like me, and I think you are, when you go to a hotel you use the tiny bottles of shampoo they give there? And in those circumstances there’s plenty of shampoo to clean your hair using that little dabby dot that you get out of that? And it’s not a large dot. It’s about half the size of a tear, if a tear were half the size of the dot of shampoo you get out of that bottle. And somehow this little blop of shampoo, that’s less than one-quarter of the size of itself, is plenty. And yet at home it takes way more shampoo. I mean, I get the cheap shampoo, because I never look at myself so I have no idea my hair looks like that, so it’s easy to do this. I’ll use enough shampoo to cover myself to a depth of eight feet, and still wonder if I need to repeat. (No.) So there’s clearly some difference in hair-cleaning pressure between hotel showers and home showers and I just think there’s some way to exploit this to make a new and very clean, manageable, vibrant, and bouncy source of power.
While I’m busy you can read my mathematics-comics stuff over on the other blog. That’s content, so that’s exactly as good as something here.
PS: Um … Okay, so, no, this shampoo power thing won’t work. Sorry for the inconvenience.
Hi! Looking for my most recent report on Judge Parker? This might be it. But check this page, with all the Judge Parker-tagged essays, just in case it’s not.
When last I talked about Judge Parker, new writer Francesco Marciuliano had finished his round of thoroughly blowing up the Parker and Spencer families’ incredible streak of fantastic good luck and fortune’s favor. Judge (Retired) Alan Parker’s movie deal had stalled and his new book was going nowhere. Sophie Parker had reappeared after months missing, with the rest of her band still gone, abducted by strange parties unknown. And Parker Sr had received a mysterious bouquet and message from shadowy intelligence-types, and made a promise to “have it done for you soon”.
Blowing up plots is fun and, relatively speaking, easy. How has Marciuliano handled putting things back together?
1 January – 8 April 2017
Sophie Spencer, returned just in time for Christmas, has as rough a time of it as you might figure. Finding her father’s Crazy Evidence Wall, full of clippings thumbtacked in around circled notes (no strings of yarn connecting stuff, though) sends her into a rage which she takes out on her room, setting off a potentially-fatal-to-their-marriage fight between Sam Driver and Abbey Spencer. But Sam persists, setting back up his Crazy Evidence Wall, growing out his beard to Not Obviously Unhinged levels, and finally (this week) agreeing to go to Ambush Ridge with Sean Ballenger, father of the first abducted teen to have been released. That should turn out well. He can still get his beard out to Riker In The Borg-Are-Everywhere Timeline levels, if need be.
Sophie, understandably still traumatized, gets into therapy. It played as a belated move, but just because even when stuff is happening swiftly there’s only a few panels per day and a lot was going on. In-story it was clearly set up within days of her release. This might still be late, but after all, nobody expected her tolerably safe return. She reveals that the only thing she knows of her kidnapper is that she soundd “so much like Abbey”, calling her adopted mother “a cheat” who “doesn’t deserve what she has”. It’s hard not to see this as teasing the fourth wall, or smashing right past it, given the years during which the Parker-Spencer-Drivers were in fortune’s favor. Marciuliano had a more literal, and classically soap-operatic, idea in mind.
The other kidnapped kids reappear with their own harrowing tales. They had been kept in a remote shack, fed occasionally, waiting for any sign they might be able to escape, or any hint about what this was all about. They don’t get much. Some kind of ransom, some kind of torture to make Sophie Spencer “fall in line”. And then the gradual and then sudden collapse of the kidnapping scheme, as the woman in charge — the one who sounded so much like Abbey — has a fallout with another woman, “the only one who ever helped” her. The One Who Sounded Like Abbey shoots her partner, and then starts shooting the guards. The kids escape when she comes around to kill them, injuring but not killing The One Who Sounded Like Abbey.
So who is The One Who Sounded Like Abbey? The clear implication is that she’s Abbey’s sibling, or some other person with a claim to the Spencer family (and fortune), denied for reasons not yet revealed. Or at least someone who believes she has a claim.
Not yet resolved: who the mysterious intelligence-type guy was that phoned Judge Parker Senior, or what he was promising to do.
I say Marciuliano’s succeeded in both blowing up the old status quo and putting things together into a plausible, credible, and intriguing new storyline. I’m looking forward to the next couple months of this.
I did some more comic strip review stuff on my mathematics blog and I figure to do more of that on Sunday, but that isn’t what’s got my focus right now. I got a mildly ironic purchase of the Superman Showcase #3, a collection of early-60s Superman comic books. What can I say, I like the Silver Age of superheroes doing goofy things for peculiar reasons. (No color, but that does mean they can include more stories to sit on your head and make you beg for logic, which works for me.) I was sold on the book, even though it might not be very good for me, when I ran across “The Babe of Steel” story, originally from Action Comics number 284.
In it, Superman receives a message from an invisible hand on what I had thought was the Super-Chalkboard but which on careful review is just an ordinary grade chalkboard. It warns him of peril, which he figures he can best cure by turning himself into an infant for 24 hours. Fortunately he has the stuff on hand to do this, because that’s the world Silver Age Superman lived in. If I had to choose a superhero world to live in, it would be the one where Superman has the ability and willingness to spend 24 hours as an infant in response to cryptic messages on chalkboards. If you don’t agree, I don’t know that we can truly understand one another. Anyway, while waiting for the big problem to show itself this happens:
And I gotta say, Supes, of all the living beings on planet Silver Age Earth, how are you the one to leap to this particular conclusion? I mean, you have travelled back in time on like a half-dozen different occasions to see how the Kryptonian Jerk Council dismissed your own father’s conclusions about Krypton exploding as the ravings of a madman, right? Don’t go telling me you were right. That’s only moral luck, and you should be above that. Just saying.
I finally have some time to review my WordPress readership statistics for March 2017. So, thank you and good day.
There were 2,085 page views in March, says WordPress’s statistics page. That’s gratifyingly large, above February’s 1,837 and close to January’s 2,340. This came from 1,308 unique visitors in March, up from 1,093 in February and down slightly from January’s 1,361. That’s pretty close to the Apartment 3-Gocalypse highs, back in October and November in 2015.
This dovetails nicely with my transition to being a blog that updates people on the story comics, plus some other stuff the rest of the week. Exaggeration? Here’s the five most popular posts for March:
- What’s Going On With Rex Morgan, M.D.?
- What’s Going On With Judge Parker?
- Why Does Mary Worth Look Different?
- Oh Yeah, One Thing I Didn’t Understand About Rex Morgan
- Has the comic strip _Momma_ come to an end?
I’m doing my very best not to be hurt that my original-compositions aren’t more liked. Well, I’m honestly not hurt, and one of my long-form Friday pieces is in the top ten, and at least I’m relieving people’s anxieties by more or less knowing what Rex Morgan, M.D. is up to.
So here’s the report on the number of views per country for March:
|Hong Kong SAR China||9|
|United Arab Emirates||5|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||1|
|Trinidad and Tobago||1|
None of the single-reader countries were single-reader last month, which is I think the first time I’ve had a complete turnover like that. I make that out to be 14 single-reader countries, down from February’s 22 but matching January’s 14. That’s 55 countries represented altogether, down from February’s 61, but up from January’s 48. What does that signify? I do not know, but what the heck. It’s a number, I can report it.
Midnight remains the most popular hour for readership here, with 15 percent of page views coming in the hour after stuff gets posted. For March Wednesday was the most popular reading day, with 16 percent of page views then. This breaks the streak Tuesday was having. February saw Tuesday getting 19 percent of page views, and in January Tuesday got 18 percent of page views. Since one-seventh is just over 14 percent, I think that’s indicating no weekday’s really more popular than any other around here.
I am getting some more fun search terms bringing people here. Among them:
- what does funky winkerbean mean
- judge parker getting weird
- how many fleischer cartoons used 3d sets?
- is sally forth hyphenated
- has mary worth had plastic surgery
I’m curious how many 3-D sets the Fleischers did use in their cartoons. Funky Winkerbean just means for us all to feel worse about everything.
WordPress’s Insights page says I start the month with 725 followers on WordPress directly and a couple by e-mail. You can join them if you like by clicking on the Follow By WordPress tab in the upper-right corner, at least in the current theme.
They have some new artists. Tom Batiuk recently announced that Chuck Ayers, who’d done the art for Crankshaft and pencils for Funky Winkerbean, is leaving to do “other things”. I haven’t seen anyone say what those things are; I hope they’re personally rewarding things. Also, I had no idea that Ayers was doing the pencils for Funky Winkerbean. I had thought that Batiuk drew the whole strip, except for well-publicized guest-artist events or when he’s had to focus on medical care instead.
Dan Davis, who’s worked on a bunch of comic books and pencils for Garfield, took over the art on Crankshaft starting with this Sunday, the 2nd of April. Rick Burchett, who’s won two Eisner awards, is to take over penciling for Funky Winkerbean starting with the Sunday, the 25th of May.
Ayers is, according to Batiuk, not leaving the Crankshaft world altogether: “Chuck and I will still be working on selected story arcs down the line. This is one of those rare examples in life of being able to have your cake and eat it too, and I couldn’t be happier as I move forward on Funky and Crankshaft with these titanically talented artists.”
King Features’s press release about this consistently spells Ayers’s name “Ayres”, which seems like the kind of joke we’d make about Crankshaft and Funky Winkerbean.
In still more comic strip talk, my mathematics blog etc you know the rest. Thank you, won’t you?
When last I officially looked in on Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. little Sarah Morgan was in dire shape after being hit by a car. This after her parents learned her book of horse pictures was not actually a bestseller but rather propped up by the curious patronage of mob-ish widow Dolly Pierpont, who used Sarah as substitute for her estranged daughter Linda. back in July, June Morgan listed some of the incredible good fortune that had befallen the family and wondered “what happens when the pendulum swings back the other way?”
It’s been a lot of swinging.
Rex Morgan, M.D.
20 December 2016 – 1 April 2017.
Sarah emerged from her coma in a pretty sweet Christmas Day strip. But she’d been struck with a nasty case of Soap Opera Amnesia, leaving her unable to remember anything of the past year. The Morgans have tried various things to restore her memory of the lost time, but nothing seems to be working. Since most of that corresponds to the worst excesses of the “let’s throw fabulous money and prizes at the Morgans” era I expect that Beatty’s not going to allow this to work. It’s a drastic and, really, horrifying way to clear the boards. But it does get Sarah back to something like normal child life.
So she doesn’t remember the birth of her little brother Michael, so if they ever grow up he’s going to have that to tease her about his whole life. She also doesn’t remember how to draw, so her incredibly-popular horse-painting book looks to be a one-off. Nor does she remember the private school that Dolly Pierpont had paid tuition for; after a good look at the student uniforms she asked if she could go to public school instead. Losing a year of her memories also means she’s lost the year that she skipped ahead. I am impressed. We usually get resets this complete only after Captain Janeway and Seven of Nine spend forty minutes telling us about “chronometric wavefronts” and “temporal storms” and “did anyone check if we let Chakotay out of the shuttlecraft before the space vortex ate it and could we tell the difference if we didn’t?”.
It’s not a perfectly complete reset, though. Not all the good fortune of the Morgans wiped away. While exploring the attic Sarah discovered a cache of 1950s comic books and proofs and stuff in stunningly good condition. Rex’s friend Buck Probably-Has-A-Last-Name-But-I-Forget-And-Can’t-Find-It guided them to the original artist, “Horrible” Hank Harwood. Because this was in the comics, the comics stuff was valuable. The Harwoods sent the Morgans a pretty good finder’s fee in gratitude. Yes, it’s more giving-stuff-to-the-Morgans, but if we start from the premise of finding these vintage comics then everybody’s acting admirably.
Buck and the Harwoods were then whisked off to Generic Comic Con, the largest comics gathering in every comic strip ever. Hank got to deliver the con’s prestigious Fredric Wertham Is A Booger address and Buck got to have a dizzy spell. He uses his hospital stay to call Mindy, whom he met in one of his first gym sessions, and probably that’ll be picked up on sooner or later. They fly home, with the 90-year-old Hank possibly contracting a case of sleep apnea. Hey, medical stuff, who knew?
In the other major thread senile industrialist Milton Avery has gotten bad enough that even Heather can’t cover it up. She’s resolved to take him back to his home England. In this way if he has another spell of wandering off and getting on the bus looking for a flight to England he’ll at least have it resolved by people who’re on the other side of the road. She’s dispensing the job of looking after the house to Jordan, who I believe is just Buck without his glasses, and everybody seems well enough there.
Dolly Pierpont reconciled with her daughter Linda.
The Johnny Olson Report:
Major characters of Rex Morgan, M.D. have received these fabulous gifts and prizes:
|Character||Fabulous Gift or Prize|
|The Morgans||Finder’s Fee for valuable vintage comics art, first installment of promised many.|
|“Horrible” Hank Harwood||A CPAP machine to help with his snoring; good karma|
|Sarah Morgan||The chance to read her own book for the first time|
|Buck, dba Jordan||Sinecure as “property manager” or something like that for Milton Avery|
If I did anything on my mathematics blog this past week it was look at some comic strips, and yes, it includes that Todd the Dinosaur comic that you’re all sure I made up. It was a slow week.
Slow enough, indeed, that I don’t have a humorous picture or a Star Trek screen grab to share here and make the page look at least a bit more full. I’ve been busy kicking myself because of a joke I had thought of last Thursday that I meant to put into that “On This Date” article, and then forgot to in the time it took me to go downstairs to my computer. And then remembered when I went out for something or other, and forgot when I got home. The farther I got from my computer, the more powerfully I remembered the joke. It just didn’t get in there. You can go and check. I’m not saying this was a great joke, the linchpin that would tie the whole piece together. It would just have added a bit of a smile late in the bit, and I forgot to include it and it won’t make sense out of that context. So now I have to wait until it’s been long enough I can do an “On This Date” piece again without obviously repeating myself. I bet I forget the joke then, too. I need to write it down.
When I reviewed Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth back in December I wrote that it had changed rather less than Mark Trail and Dick Tracy had. Only the artist had changed; the writer hadn’t. And that’s still so, although I suspect a pretty significant change in the nature of Mary Worth may be happening. Let me explain.
12 December 2016 – 25 March 2017
If readers have any expectations for Mary Worth it’s that there will be a series of relentlessly literal, linear stories resolved by people having very heteronormative romances ideally ending in weddings, thank you, and recapped on Sunday with the decoration of a dubiously-sourced quote of dubious relevance. I’m not saying the strip doesn’t provide that anymore. But I do think it’s getting a little more textured than that.
When last we left things Iris and advice-columnist Wilbur had agreed to a pause on their relationship while he went around the world interviewing sandwiches of other lands. Mary Worth gives Iris some legitimately useful advice, helping her ambivalence following a dinner invitation from Zak, a much-younger community college student pursuing an Associate’s degree in Probably Being A Rotten Millennial, Those Rotten Millenials.
Meanwhile Mary Worth keeps on grinding out “Ask Wendy” columns for Wilbur, who’s too busy globetrotting to tell people to listen to their hearts. She gives some wishy-washy advice to a person torn between two jobs, and that surprised me. The relationship between the two-jobs and the two-boyfriends questions is obvious. But it seems unusual to me that Mary Worth would manage the trick of having characters talk about something that isn’t directly the plot. It’s a basic storytelling craft, but it’s one of those crafts for a story that’s more than just a plot delivery service. Case in point: Mary’s original advice isn’t enough, and she has to give it again, at a later point in Iris’s Zak-versus-Wilbur debate.
Iris tries dating Zak some. She goes to a concert with him and some of his rowdy college friends, who notice that she’s way older than him. She makes a reference to Casablanca that goes completely over Zak’s head, and she decides it isn’t working out. This might be premature. There’s a lot of pop culture from before you were born to catch up on, even the great movies. On the other hand, “Here’s looking at you, kid” is not an obscure reference these days shut up I’m not old have you thought about how you’re the old one instead huh? They part amiably, anyway.
Now for the next bit that surprised me. Before the Zak story started, Iris’s son Tommy got addicted to Vicodin. But he’d been assigned a help group and resolved to stop getting fired and that seemed like the resolution of that. The storyline reappeared, though, at the end of Zak’s adventures in the comic. The Sunday panel even noted how recovering from an addiction like that isn’t a straight path; one will have setbacks and feel like any progress is lost. To see that fact faced directly in the comic feels novel. I expect a problem fixed to stay fixed. It’s another bit of better crafting.
Life continues. Wilbur Weston pursues his around-the-world tour for his column about disaster survivors, showing up to ask people who’ve been through a mudslide why they haven’t died. Just imagine. You’re in Sao Paolo. The earth itself slides out from under you, and from above you, washing away the whole world in a cataclysm that takes a moment yet goes on forever. You make it out somehow. And then, there, is longtime Charterstone resident Wilbur Weston. He’s standing with notebook in hand, camera strapped around his neck, and a jar of mayonnaise wedged under his opposite arm. He says one thing to you, heedless of whether you speak English: “What are you doing, being alive like that?” He surely must be an image from the deepest recesses of … well, not the deepest recesses. Maybe one of the lighter ones, from the less-serious areas. A vision from the outskirts of the Greater Heck Metropolitan Statistical Area, the place where it’s all strip malls and commercial office parks just before the farmland takes over from the main drag of Heck. Seeing that wouldn’t haunt me to the end of my days, but it would throw me off for as much as a half-hour, like the time the cashier at Wendy’s saw me come in and warned they were out of potatoes. How can I have gone to any Wendy’s enough times they know I’m there for the potatoes and Freestyle Coke machine? How?
Toby mentions to Mary Worth how the two of them haven’t been in any stories worth anything in donkey’s years, hint hint, and they figure to take a cruise. Mary’s longtime would-be fiancee Jeff doesn’t come along, what with Mary figuring he probably wouldn’t have any fun anyway what with his knee and how it connects his upper to his lower leg through a complex mesh of cartilage and muscle and she’ll totally talk with him about how he didn’t want to go after they get back.
And here I’m not sure if the storytelling is getting clever or if I’m just giving them too much credit: Wilbur’s current round-the-world trip interviewing disaster survivors got its start when he went on a cruise and that ship had your usual sort of cruise-ship disaster. He was so moved by the experience of not dying he wanted to find out about other people not dying from stuff instead of writing the “Ask Wendy” advice column he’s turned over to Mary. Are cruise ships a new leitmotif of change and new beginnings? Or is it just fun drawing people on boats? We’ll see. I’m just surprised the craft is getting more advanced like this.
Oh, also, I want to point out my mathematics blog, with its weekly review of comic strips that mention mathematics in some way. Yesterday I put in the comics for the week prior and that included Pi Day so you can imagine just what sort of merriment was filling the comics pages. OK, that was filling three or so strips worth. But it was there. There isn’t a lot more to say on this point, but I want to say just a touch more because of the Responsive Design theme I’ve got on this. It rearranges stuff based on how wide the browser is. And with the browser I post stuff in, at the width I like it being open to, I have this slender column on the left with a posting’s dateline and tags and Leave A Comment link and all that. And if I include a picture that’s far enough down the page that it’s past the Leave A Comment link then it gets to use that horizontal space for itself. So it gets to appear bigger by virtue of an optical illusion created by having more horizontal and vertical space. (It’s a very convincing illusion.) And I like the picture bigger, so that’s why I’m going on until I have enough words that I can
Mark Trail was the second story strip I reviewed as having had a sea change considerably improving it. And I’ve talked in passing about the major event of November and December. But let me recap the whole of the last few months as best I understand it.
4 December 2016 through 18 March 2017
When I last talked about Mark Trail he was off on a remote Hawai’ian atoll, there to document an invasive species of ant that was bothering the local birds. While human-induced carelessness will create ecological problems nature has its ways of restoring the balance. In this case, nature chose to go with “titanic volcano explosion that destroys the island, the invasive ants, and everything else on it”. Nature has a real problem figuring out the appropriate scale for its responses. This by the way isn’t the first time in James Allen’s tenure as Mark Trail author-and-artist that an invasive species has been solved by fire. Some kind of beetle boring into woods was solved by a particularly well-placed bit of semi-controlled wildfire.
Anyway, the volcano exploded a lot, and then exploded some more, and then went on exploding to the point that some readers got a bit cranky wondering if there was even any island left to explode. It reads better if you look at a week’s worth of strips at once, which Comics Kingdom’s web site makes easy to do, at least if you have a paid subscription. Once again, I recommend subscriptions to both Comics Kingdom and to GoComics if you like newspaper-grade syndicated comic strips. Both web sites do their jobs very well.
With the island escaped, Mark Trail observed the ritual of cleansing between storylines: eating pancakes while sharing stilted dialogue and promising his son Rusty that they’ll go fishing someday.
Meanwhile, Lee Hunter, whom I don’t know anything about either, arrives in West Africa for a licensed safari hunt. In the West African village of Village, where all the lionesses and cubs have been shipped off to zoos, there’s an elderly male that’s turned human-eater. Possibly from loneliness; he’d hardly be the first person to go a little crazy at work because of an unsatisfying home life.
As she arrives she bumps into Chris, nicknamed Dirty, a guy who’d been in some Mark Trail story a couple years ago when the strip was all about poacher smuggling. He’s on his way to the United States, and we haven’t seen Lee Hunter again since that encounter. I don’t have any guess whether Village is going to have anything to do with the current storyline, or whether James Allen is setting up a future storyline, or whether the strip just wanted to put in a good word for licensed exotic-animal hunting. (It feels out of character for Mark Trail, but it is a difficult question of ethics, and a character is under no obligation to make choices that even the author thinks correct. A character is only obliged to make choices that the author thinks credible for the story.)
That’s also just about all we’ve seen from Chris Dirty, too. Since that airport encounter Mark Trail’s been talking about how his old buddy Johnny Lone Elk spotted a pair of gray wolves and some cougar tracks at the Cheyenne River Reservation. Also evidence of a bear, which is quite exciting stuff when Mark was just thinking about getting in on some black-footed-ferret and prairie dog census work. Cherry Trail mentioned that it isn’t tornado season, so we can look forward to a tornado catching on fire and blowing up in the near future.
Cherry’s also mentioned some water park incident that I don’t know anything about. Trusting that it’s something that really happened back when Jack Elrod was writing and drawing the strip I’m going to suppose that someone was smuggling otters down the lazy river. I have no further information about this incident.
Animals or other natural phenomena featured on Sundays recently have included:
- The Pink Frogmouth, 12 March 2017
- Toucans, 5 March 2017
- The Western Pacific Biotwang (whale noise), 26 February 2017
- Flying Lemurs, 19 February 2017
- Amethyst, 12 February 2017
- This Leaf-Shaped Spider In Yunnan, China, 5 February 2017
- Hooded Nudibranches, 29 January 2017
- New Zealand Keas, 22 January 2017
- Spiders and Giraffe Assassin Bugs, 15 January 2017
- Good news for bats affected with white-nose syndrome, 8 January 2017
- Pyrosomes (which are these giant glowing sea-dwelling worms so don’t say I didn’t warn you), 1 January 2017
- Blue Nawab caterpillars, 18 December 2016
- Frog rescue and this amphibian-threatening fungus, 11 December 2016
- The Great Blue Hole off the coast of Belize, 4 December 2016
- Dodder Vine, 27 November 2016
As I promised my other blog, the serious one, talked more about comic strips with mathematical themes yesterday. At least it did if the automated posting worked right. I set that one and this to appear without my specific intervention because I think I’m going to be busy? I might be busy anyway.
I’d post an update with a later report of just how busy I was and when except I can’t figure that’s in fact interesting either. My point is, if I did have something posted there yesterday, it might be something interesting to you today.
And if it’s not then I’ll just go back to grabbing frames from Star Trek: The Next Generation, such as for instance this:
“Counselor? Do you know when you might be able to resume my exploration of the idiom `would lose my head if it were not attached’ anytime soon? And in … I am not certain which corridor?”
Have something better? I’m not surprised. Give it a try.
As has gotten to be normal for Mondays I mostly want to point you over to my mathematics blog where I thrill folks by showing off a 1956 installment of Jimmy Hatlo’s comic strip Baby Schnooks’ll Do It Every Time. I don’t know, but it brings in the readers, so who am I to object? There should be another one of those installments come Thursday, so I’ve already got my Next Generation picture all ready to go for it. Also I’m not going out of my way to pick on Next Generation, it’s just that I feel like there’s only one thing to say about the Original Star Trek episode where they left a newspaper on the floor in the background and that’s to point out they left a newspaper on the floor in the background. As ever, if you want to put in your own caption, please do. I like what folks make of this.
“Personal log. I now know how long is too long to spin in my chair.”
I started out this strikingly popular series of “What’s Going On In” story strips by describing how Dick Tracy had gotten pretty good. I stand by that assessment: the comic has been telling stories at a pretty good pace and with enough energy and excitement to demand attention. I discover reading my earlier piece that I didn’t actually describe the then-current storyline except to say it was going to have a guy get eaten by a hyena. Let me fix that and bring you to the present day.
29 November 2016 through 11 March 2017
So, the guy did not get eaten by a hyena. I apologize for the mistake, but it was after all only my best projection as to where the story was going. The fellow was a new Tracy-esque villain named Selfy Narcisse, whose gimmick was that he was always taking selfies. They can’t all be The Pouch.
Narcisse had been embezzling campaign donations to Representative Lois Bellowthon (herself proposing some anti-Lunar-people legislation); he was fleeing with a literal satchel of cash after poisoning the finally-wise-to-him Congressman. Yes, he used his selfie stick to inject the poison, so at least that keeps on-theme. He took refuge in the zoo where he had a friend willing to disguise him as a zoo keeper, which is a thing that happens in real big-city zoos.
His cover fell apart when his hat fell off for a moment and zoogoers put pictures that happened to have him in frame on social media. So again, that’s good work by Mike Staton and Joe Curtis in being on-theme. His friend accidentally drank Narcisse’s poison stash, thinking it alcohol. Narcisse tasers Tracy and drags him into the water buffalo pen. One of the water buffalo, annoyed by the villain’s selfie-taking, gored Narcisse, but was scared away from Tracy when his Wrist Wizard handheld computer’s battery exploded. Yes, I wrote that sentence, and you read it. Go back and read it again until you believe it.
In December a major new story started and it involved a major crossover event because everything in Dick Tracy does anymore. Their Christmas strip was the characters singing Deck Us All With Boston Charlie, Walt Kelly’s great Pogo doggerel, for crying out loud. The main attraction for this storyline is The Spirit, the great superhero character created by Will Eisner in a line of books I never read. Sorry. I know, I know, everybody who’s stood in a comic book store more than ten minutes will tell you they’re the greatest things ever made. I’ve been busy.
The Spirit’s in town because one Perenelle Flammel is auctioning off the immortality formula that’s kept her from dying since the 14th century. The auction brings together The Spirit, Dick Tracy‘s own super-science-industrialist Diet Smith, Oliver Warbucks (as Staton and Curtis are fostering the orphaned Annie cast), Mister Carrion (whom Wikipedia tells me is one of The Spirit’s recurring villains, and whom the story revealed to be an agent for The Octopus, which Wikipedia says is another of The Spirit’s recurring villains), and the Dragon Lady (allowed into the story via special passport issued by Terry and the Pirates). The preliminary auction helps convince bidders the formula might be legitimate because it checks out with a Doc Savage reference. Low-level con men Brush and Kitchen attempt to rob the preliminary auction’s treasury but get easily caught by Tracy and Spirit. And Tracy, doing some actual detective work for once, finds that Carrion brought cash from a bank robbery, so he’s out of the plot or so we think.
And then Flammel turned up dead, because the immortality serum doesn’t protect you against strangulation. Flammel’s bodyguard, recurring Tracy villain Doubleup, seems a poor suspect as he was being paid in Scarlett Sting comic books, so we’re on to Flammel’s valet and then check out anyone else who’s been in the story.
In miscellaneous plot threads, since there’s a lot of those planted in spaces between the main action: Sam Catchem’s wife has finished chemotherapy and been declared cancer-free. A crime boss name of Posie Ermine noticed Mysta Chimera, who had been his daughter Mindy before the mad science treatment that destroyed her memory and made her into a synthetic Moon Maid replica. He crashed his car into hers to try to recover her. This didn’t get him permanently back in her life, but he’s undeterred. I’m sympathetic to Posie Ermine here and not even being snarky about that. There’s some deeply emotionally messy stuff going on here.
Somewhere deep in an Antarctic valley someone who appears to be a Lunarian pledges to investigate “the halfling”, “my granddaughter”, which has to be Mysta Chimera. This matches a couple references in October with Mysta asking Honey Moon Tracy if she’s heard any telepathic contacts from anybody else. Tracy and the Spirit have been trading stories including The Spirit mentioning how he went to the Moon too. I think that’s all the stuff that sounds like threads ready to go somewhere, but for all I know that Pogo reference for the Christmas strip is setting up a scene late this year when Albert Alligator mistakenly swallows Gidney and Cloyd. We’ll see.