What’s Going On In Prince Valiant? October 2017 – January 2018


I thank all you kind readers interested in what’s happening in Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant. This is my recap for mid-to-late January 2018. If it’s gotten far past that, this essay might not help you very much. But! If it’s past about April 2018, I should have other essays getting closer to your present. If I have done that, they should be at or near the top of this link. Good luck.

I also review comic strips for their mathematical themes, over on a blog trying less to be about comedy. You might find that interesting too.

Prince Valiant.

28 October 2017 – 21 January 2018.

When I last checked in on Prince Valiant things had reached a happy conclusion. Valiant had helped a refugee village smash a band of marauders. The marauders who weren’t so much into the marauding thing were settling down to join the villagers. And he was leaving behind some of the supporting cast where they were sure they’d be happy. With that, they were to sail down the river, hoping ultimately to get home.

They raft along the Yinchu. This river’s now known as the Syr Darya, one of the rivers in Kazhakstan that leads to the Aral Sea, which was a vast body of water that existed in Prince Valiant’s time. Along the way the party runs into (checks encounter table) a nasty swarm of insects. They escape the insects, but not before Valiant’s stung or bitten or otherwise harassed by one enough to fail his constitution check. He falls into a delirious sleep, and that night, pursuing the vision of his mother, he falls into the river.

Bukota, Karen, and Vanni are jerked from their sleep by the sound of a great splash. The Ab'saban warrior immediately realizes that the feverish Val is gone from his bedding and is nowhere to be seen. Karen is close to panic with concern for her stricken father, but frantic eyes can find little in the moonless dark. Flint is hastily struck to iron and a torch is set ablaze. Bukota wades to shore and sees evidence that Val has passed into the tall grasses, but the trail is soon lost. 'We must wait for dawn, and hope his fever does not lead him to destruction.' Meanwhile, a delirious Val stumbles forward, chasing the elusive phantom of his long-dead mother, a vision that suddenly transforms into the terrible figure of Horrit, the witch-prophet of his youth! 'Why do you hurry so, O Prince?' [ Next: Past and Future ]
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 19th of November, 2017. I admit I’m a bit impressed Valiant could get this lost this fast, given that he would have to get to the edge of the river. On the other hand, consider how easy it is to have something you’re holding in your hand drop eighteen inches onto a table, make some rattling noise, and then never be seen again. So yes, I am suggesting that Prince Valiant is kind of like that great dragon earring that was just here.

Valiant hacks his way through taunting visions of the witch-prophet Horrit and stumbles into a village. Jahan, the ruler, hooks him up with some salix tree extract, which naturally works great. Jahan explains their deal. His people are healers. They keep their neutrality in the wars between the Persian and Turkic people around them, ministering to both sides. And he’s atoning for a time when he kind of accidentally got the village cursed by not treating an ill stranger. (Jahan wasn’t sure if healing the stranger might alienate either of the warring sides around him.) Now, though, with “a good man — a man with an important destiny” treated despite being a stranger, he’d balanced the wrong.

Valiant’s companions find him. He’s sprawled out in the ruins of some ancient village, one massacred a long while ago. But then … how did Valiant find salix tree bark to chew on and to save his life? And with this (I found) charming bit of light Twilight Zone/folklore play Prince Valiant can get back to pondering the nature of reality and all that. For a couple days, anyway, while Karen and Vanni talk about healing herbs and chatter a bit with the local ravens. There’s a joke that the raven is passing word of their safe travels back home, but it turns out that is exactly what it’s doing.

Jahan the Healer continues to tell his story to the recovering Val. 'Our village maintained a delicate balance, providing remedies to the two powers surrounding us, until one day a man, dressed like none we had ever seen, rode into our village and collapsed. As headman, it was my decision as to how to treat the very sick stranger. But I was afraid --- he was neither Persian nor Turkic, and I feared that healing him might alienate one of those two clients. And so I chose not to treat him. The desperate man saw my intent to abandon him and, with the last of his strength, spewed forth a terrible curse. Then he died, and it was thereafter that disaster struck this village. But now I have saved a good man --- a man with a important destiny. I have balanced my wrong. I am finally free to go.' And as Val watches Jahan disappear into shadow, three worried figures track the prince's passage through the tall grass. [ Next: The Salix Tree ]
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 17th of December, 2017. There’s a lot that I like in the art of this panel, including Jahan introducing the audience to a scene presented behind him, the stranger’s desperation and anger as he curses the village, and all the fabric patterns. The vases aren’t bad either.

Something I didn’t pay attention to while it was happening, possibly because the one was taking place weekdays and the other Sundays: both the current weekday Phantom continuity and Prince Valiant include major, confusing, delusional dream-encounters for their strips’ titular characters. It also features what’s surely just a coincidence of words: Jahan speaks of Prince Valiant as “a man with an important destiny”; Savior Z speaks of The Phantom as “an important man of your kind”. All coincidence, surely. But I’m tickled to notice this.

Next Week!

So how did that bunco squad raid on the movie theater turn out? Is the strange Moon Governor Or Something closing in on Dick Tracy’s granddaughter from his abandoned farm base? How is Mister Bribery’s plan to bring someone from outside the strip in to murder Dick Tracy turning out? Did the strip acknowledge Gasoline Alley sending Joel over to visit? If all goes well, next week, I’ll read three months’ worth of Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy and let you know what the heck’s going on.

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The Seventeenth Talkartoon: Teacher’s Pest


So there’s no lost-or-good-as-lost cartoons or, as best I can tell, misnumbered entries or any other weirdness. Last week I talked about the Bimbo cartoon “Tree Saps”. This week, “Teacher’s Pest”. The one odd thing about this: it was released the 7th of February, 1931. That’s four days after “Teacher’s Pest”. I’d like to say that obviously Bimbo-mania was sweeping the country. But the next Talkartoon after this wouldn’t come out for a full month. They must’ve just had a slot that needed filling. This is a cartoon animated by Grim Natwick and Seymore Kneitel and who knows if anyone uncredited was in there too.

The action gets a bit out of synch with the animation. I’d think that’s an error of how the short was digitized and uploaded. But these were still very early days for sound-synchronized cartoons, and I can’t rule out that the animators just misjudged the timing. It’s striking to me that in the bit of singing about “who’s the greatest man in history” the students’ responses are perfectly timed but one answer off.

This short features a Young Bimbo. At least, one who’s a kid young enough to go to school and have an off-screen mother and all that. I think this is the first time he’s been shown in a variation from the generic young adult who could work in a lumber mill or get hauled into court for harassing women. There’s also a girl who looks, to me, plausibly like a Young Betty Boop. This isn’t normally listed as a Betty Boop cartoon, and I’m not at all sure they meant the girl Bimbo meets in the hallway to be anyone particular. I’m not sure the knew yet that Betty Boop was going to be anybody either; she wouldn’t be named until “Silly Scandals”, released in late May 1931.

One thing I like in old cartoons, and that the Fleischer studios were prone to doing, is basic stuff made complicated. So I’m tickled that Bimbo gets out of bed by climbing through the footer. Or that he travels the last couple feet into school by going up the see-saw and using that to propel himself, and then his books, into the building. This is an era that didn’t tend to have strong narratives or much of any dialogue. Doing things in roundabout ways is not yet worn out. I also appreciate that a lot of Bimbo’s motion is in perspective, approaching or receding the camera. It makes walking across the screen something more.

The song that the teacher leads everyone in, after “Good Morning To You”, is a folk tune named “Bulldog on the Bank” or “Pharaoh’s Daughter” that I never heard of either. Here’s a transcription of at least one version of the lyrics, and a recording of date unknown to me. It’s a shame the cartoon’s recording is bad because I couldn’t understand the joke in the verse just by listening to it.

A pair of mice pop in, quickly, at about 2:16 in. A monstrously large one shows up at 6:56 in the dance. I’m tickled by the early joke of Bimbo setting his alarm clock back an hour, and by the quick moment of the clock’s retaliation. I have to call that the best blink-and-you-miss-it joke; there’s not a lot of competition in this short. Arguably competition: Bimbo stopping in to feed the pet frogs in the lowest stair-step. (Also, did anyone ever keep frogs in a stair-step? It seems ridiculous but not impossible.) Their first pair of names, Max and Dave, are funny if you are the kind of person who remembers the names of the Fleischer Brothers. Their second pair of names, Amos and Andy, are of course a reference to radio’s long-running contemporary examination of the effects the Great Migration on the American experience.

I have no idea why the short ends in a string of musical instruments morphing into one another as Bimbo plays them. Nor have I got an idea why it should end in a string of letters and arithmetic problems and stuff dancing around the background. Possibly they didn’t have a better way to conclude the short. I sympathize with the problem.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Weekdays)? October 2017 – January 2018


Are you hoping to get up to date on The Phantom‘s 248th weekday-continuity story, The Return of the Locust? Then you’re in luck, if you want to know how the story stands as of mid-January 2018. If you’re looking for later parts of the story, possibly including its conclusion, you’ll need a later essay. If I’ve written one about Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s comic strip, it should be at or near the top of this page. It has to share that page with the Sunday Phantom continuity, a separate story being revealed to us in parallel. But it’s there. This is about the strips running Monday-to-Saturday.

If you’re interested more in comic strips that are about mathematical topics, and the mathematics those imply, please consider my other blog. I try to round up the past week’s comics and explore the ones that give me something good to talk about.

The Phantom (Weekdays).

23 October 2017 – 13 January 2018.

The Ghost Who Walks had been encouraged to take up flying last time. He got a curious summons from The Locust, a Mandrake-class magician working out of the American Southwest. The Phantom flies his private plane to Walker’s Table, a remote and impossibly inaccessible pillar of rock somewhere in New Mexico that’s been in the Phantom’s family since the father of the first Phantom explored the desert in 1499. And it turns out there’s anti-aircraft gunners on the Table.

So he withdraws, and checks in with the local diner to ask what the heck’s going on. He talks with the guy who runs the diner. He’s called the General and speaks the way characters with backstory do, although I don’t know what it is. The Phantom Wiki doesn’t have anything logged about it either. May just be written like he’s an old hat. Anyway, the General explains how there’s squatters on top of the Table. They hook up with the helicopter pilot who’s been delivering supplies to people he just trusted were supposed to live atop a massive cylinder of rock.

Helicopter pilot: 'That's YOUR place? And you don't even know these people?' Phantom: 'Afraid not.' Helicopter pilot: 'Man, they said it was THEIR place! I'm way too trusting!'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 7th of November, 2017. “I can be so gullible! Well, nothing to do now but throw my lot in with the stranger nobody in town has seen or heard from in years who claims that two dozen generations of his family have owned the most remarkable geographic feature in this part of New Mexico!”

The Phantom arranges for the helicopter pilot to fly him, at night, to somewhere out of gunnery range above the Table. And to drop him, in one of those cool wing-suits used by those people who talk with Conan O’Brien about how they jump off of skyscrapers. With this he’s able to land on the Table without drawing attention until he’s ready to shout at or punch people.

Savior Z: 'You're here! You're now! Y-you're really here!' The Phantom: 'I own this place. Of course I'm here.' Savior Z: 'So many said I --- I made it up! I-in my mind! But it's true! Y'you're here! An important man of your kind! ... Important like I am!' The Phantom thinks, 'This is more than I knew a moment ago: he's out of his mind!'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 1st of December, 2017. Not even slightly Tony DePaul’s fault but Savior Z’s open of “You’re here! You’re now!” puts me in mind of some late-60s audio clip about something being a happening thing and I can’t track down what I’m thinking of. No, it is not The Peanut Butter Conspiracy’s “It’s A Happening Thing”.

On the ground he finds Spock’s half-brother Sybok, sporting a long green coat and talking about this proves everything he ever said. He’s got a bunch of followers, a bunch of mostly young, racially mixed young adults living in tents. They call Sybok the “Savior Z” and cling to his every word, such as “Stop him!” and “He’s getting away!” and “Don’t let him throw all our guns off the edge of the cliff!” and “don’t let him bludgeon us with that meteorite!

After shoving the cult’s artillery over the edge and bluffing Savior Z into giving up his pistol, the Phantom asks what the heck their whole deal is. Savior Z tells his followers that this is exactly the way he foresaw all this playing out, and his followers are fools to question him. His followers look around and shrug and agree, this is definitely all in Savior Z’s vision and they’re not fools to question this. Savior Z has some story about an amassing alien invasion fleet gathered behind the far side of the Moon, and insists The Phantom is the vanguard of the invasion.

Savior Z, to his followers: 'So don't be deceived! We came here to fight! To defend the good!' The Phantom, grabbing him: 'Enough! You've had your say. Now here's mine. Get some rest. In the morning, we're walking out of here.'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 21st of December, 2017. Now I’m picturing what it’d be like if The Phantom was a weary assistant professor dealing with yet another round of plagiarized essays turned in for his intro class. Also that every college instructor would like the power to punch hard enough that it leaves a skull-head imprint forever.

By the way, Savior Z isn’t automatically delusional for saying this. The Phantom takes place in a continuity with a lot of wild stuff happening. Within the past decade the Ghost Who Walks himself helped transplant a small population of lizard-men to a more remote, defensible spot here on Earth. And sister strip Mandrake the Magician has, in the past two decades, chased off aliens (these aren’t the only ones in the past four years of reruns) and time travellers abducting people to the far-distant future in order to teach them how to be spanked. In the vintage strips from the 1940s that Comics Kingdom also runs, they’ve dealt with giants, a floating city in the clouds, and I’m pretty sure at least one iteration of Atlantis. When that’s the standard for normal, why couldn’t Savior Z know that the Emperor of the Moon is up to his old tricks?

(And my thanks to the Mandrake The Magician blogspot, without which recaps I couldn’t have found those two instances before my patience ran out.)

Well. The disarmed Savior Z explains they can’t just leave because the elevator’s unsafe. He shows the skeptical Phantom what the problem is: it’s the concussion grenade he booby-trapped the elevator with. The unconscious Phantom dreams he’s visiting his son, off at his Tibetan finishing school. Although his dream starts to fall apart when he realizes it doesn’t make sense, a phenomenon that sometimes happens to dreaming people. (My love has this happen all the time and I’m always amazed by it.)

Savior Z, over the (concussed) Phantom: 'These exoplanet warriors! Just look at him! Hardened in intergalactic battles your small minds cannot imagine! All in my vision! All foretold!' Followers: 'He foretold it all ...' 'I love Savior Z ... follow him anywhere ... '
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 12th of January, 2018. I am expecting in another day or two that the Ghost Who Walks will try some kicking and stuff. But I am also curious that something like four months into The Return of the Locust we haven’t seen that much of the Locust. Can’t blame The Locust if he figured all he had to do was place an ectoplasmic call in to deal with this oddball cult, but it seems like very little of a return. But, then, Tony DePaul isn’t afraid of long storylines. Six-month storylines aren’t rare, and a couple years back he ran one about the kidnapping of Diana Palmer designed to run over a year and a half.

Some of Savior Z’s followers are a bit put off to learn the elevator was booby-trapped. But some of the others figure out why this isn’t a creepy, manipulative, controlling thing for their cult leader to do: he was protecting him from their own weakness. Lest his cult figure out they don’t even need him to dominate their thoughts anymore, Savior Z tells them that their doubts are exactly part of his plan, and for their part in fulfilling his vision they should enjoy this punch. Also, they should roll The Phantom over the edge of the cliff.

And that’s where the story ended Saturday.

Next Week!

We return to the fantastic and bizarre Far East, as Prince Valiant and his companions try to head back west. Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant, having conquered his enemies, now has to overcome the elements and find his way home without dying.

The Sixteenth Talkartoon: Tree Saps


I have to skip another cartoon in this Talkartoons progress. The fifteenth, Ace of Spades, was apparently lost for decades. Wikipedia says the cartoon was found in 2010. I don’t have a copy. If you have one, let me know, I’d be interested to see.

So here’s the next of them. It was originally released the 3rd of February, 1931 — a busy week; next week’s Talkartoon was released the 7th — and animated by Grim Natwick and Ted Sears, both of whom have had mentions here before. It’s “Tree Saps”. And, ah, a quick content warning. Al Jolson. (Well, a blackface gag.) It’s the tag of the short, after the building finishes falling down.

I’ll get to the first 7 minutes, 16 seconds of this 7 minute, 35 second short in a bit. But I have got a rhetorical question: why did like every cartoon of this era think it was a killer gag to have a character get blackened up and then call out “Mammy?” I mean, yes, I get that Al Jolson was as big a star then as he isn’t now. And that it’s a easy joke to make. But it’s not much of a joke. It’s more a moment of “remember this popular thing and giggle!” I know, we always have these things. And it’s easy in a moment of twitchiness while trying to think of something funny to call on it. I suppose it stands out because blackface gags have a social charge to them that, like, an Austin Powers impersonation hasn’t gathered. I’d rather they have worked a little harder back then.

Up to that point, though, it’s an amiable cartoon. The title suggests a logging camp and that’s just what we get. I’m a little curious what the earliest logging camp cartoon is; it doesn’t seem like it’s a setting anyone uses anymore. Standing out to me is how many of the lumberjacks are asleep, or near asleep. I feel like there’s a payoff to that which is missing.

It’s otherwise a long series of spot jokes about how cutting down trees might go wrong. Easy enough, and the sort of cartoon that can run as long or as short as you need to fill time. Here, it’s about five minutes before the short figures that’s enough lumberjacking, let’s do a chase. And not much of a chase, as a tornado for some reason gets entered into the narrative? I guess it ends the action, and makes for a bunch of silly action in the climax. But why a tornado?

Bimbo doesn’t get to act all screwball this time around. He’s probably the most responsible lumberjack of the bunch. And he keeps losing focus to his seal(?) partner who needs a steady bribe of fish to act. I’m curious why Bimbo’s given such a dull role this cartoon. It’s possible to be an entertaining straight man, but he’s not doing it.

There’s a mouse showing up regularly in the cartoon as one of the lumberjacks, appearing at just before 1:30, 2:15, 3:30, 4:40, and 5:30, the half-minute mark through the whole short. There’s a surprising lack of really body-horror-ish jokes. Also of jokes you miss by blinking. I mean, I like the seal uprooting and replanting a tree that Bimbo keeps missing, but that’s too well clearly presented to miss. I love the musicians playing instruments while thrown in the air, particularly the cats on the fiddle, but again they’re too central to miss. Bimbo grabs and drinks a glass of water while falling, but that isn’t much of a joke either. It’s just activity.

That the lumberjacks play instruments in the end doesn’t come from nowhere. They’re set up for it in the introductory scene. It does give the cartoon the chance to end with action set to the William Tell Overture. Good piece, certainly. The sort of thing that gives a strong beat for the action to play against.

Comic Strip Piranha Club Ending; Nancy Possibly Ending; Bizarro Shifting Bizarreness Source


So, had a bit of a shock when I checked in on rec.arts.comics.strips yesterday. You know the results from the subject line here but, whatever. Bud Grace, of The Piranha Club, announced he’s retiring the comic strip as of the 3rd of February. That’s after thirty years of the comic strip, originally titled Ernie and renamed after it turned out the club generated more stories than Ernie himself did. (This was posted by Charles Brubaker, cartoonist for Ask A Cat and The Fuzzy Princess and one of those working cartoonists that I kind of loosely know.)

As ever, I’m disappointed for the comic strip to end. I don’t suppose The Piranha Club ever got regard as an A-list comic strip. But I remember it as one of my happy discoveries in the late, incompetently run Strips weekly newspaper. It’s always been a reliably good belly-laugh, slightly-risque comic. Also Grace’s retirement reduces the number of comic strips drawn by physics majors out there. (Bill Amend, of FoxTrot, is another, which will surprise nobody who’s read his mathematics jokes.)

Also announced and shocking, and coming to me by way of D D Degg by way of the Nashville Tennessean: Guy Gilchrist is retiring after over two decades producing Nancy. His last strip is to be the 18th of February. His tenure’s to end with Aunt Fritzi marrying Phil Fumble. Phil had been a characer in the earliest days of the comic, and was reintroduced in late 2012. There’s no word yet as to whether the syndicate will find a successor writer or artist, or whether they’ll put the comic into eternal-reruns, or whether they’ll just let it end.

Nancy was, I admit, one of those comics I didn’t pay much attention to growing up, even though it ran in the evening paper and was even still done by Ernie Bushmiller at that time. In the 90s I would occasionally hear cartoonists talk about the astounding design of the comic, and wondered what they were on about. Since then, and especially with the rerunning of vintage Nancy strips on Gocomics.com, I’ve been able to see what they were on about.

Gilchrist doesn’t write or draw with the uncanny streamlined precision of Bushmiller. I imagine he’d agree, much as I expect he’d agree if I were to say he wasn’t as good a singer-songwriter as Ray Davies is. But he did a number of things to revitalize the comic strip, including bringing back long-forgotten characters such as Phil and the Goosepimple family (an Addams Family expy that originally appeared in the Nancy comic books), which expanded the kinds of jokes the comic could do. And he also brought a appreciation that was fanboyish in the good ways, particularly to musicians. One could complain that it’s as obvious as the editorial-comics celebrity-at-the-Pearly-Gates cliche to have Fritzi talking about how great (say) David Bowie was one lead-time after his death. But how often do you see comic strip characters who are both aware of pop culture and actually just like stuff?

Last other major bit of news, that again I get thanks to D D Degg, is about Dan Piraro’s Bizarro. It’s going to stay Dan Piraro’s comic on Sundays. But Wayno, Wayne Honath, is to take over the weekday comics. For this, he’s dropping his own, thematically similar, Waynovision. Wayno’s filled in some weeks or collaborated with Piraro on Bizarro in the past, and this succession makes fantastic sense. It’s just a shame to have two lushly-drawn offbeat panel strips merged into one.

Oh, and, since people do wonder: Gasoline Alley has been in unannounced reruns the last couple months. As best D D Degg can work out, the last new daily was on the 11th of November. Yes, I’m freaked out that this was just when I did my last recap of the venerable comic strip. There’s no public word about what’s going on or just why. I plan to recap what’s run when the comic’s turn comes again in I think early February. But I am worried that the comic might have quietly lapsed into the comatose state that befell The Katzenjammer Kids. At least we noticed this before nine years went by.

What’s Going On In Alley Oop? October 2017 – January 2018


Good evening, you many people who’d like to understand what’s happening in Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop. This is my effort to bring people up to date to what’s happening as of early January, 2018, reader time. If you’re reading this later than about April 2018 I probably have a more recent update available. That’ll be at or near the top of this page. If I don’t have a more recent update, then this will be at or near the top of that page. This seems only fair.

If you’ve got an interest in mathematically-themed comic strips I can help you there. On my other blog I review some of last week’s comics, and along the way help you to learn why the new year comes when it does and what I think the cube root of 50,653 is. It’s easier than you imagine!

Alley Oop.

16 October 2017 – 7 January 2018.

The Land of Moo was facing a great peril last time we checked in, as rich idiot M T Mentis III had big plans for Dr Wonmug’s time machine. Mentis had the idea to use the time machine to go fixing up history. Wonmug can’t think of a better way to explain how problematic this is than to drop Mentis and his bodyguard Gunther off in Moo and say, “see what you can do with this”.

What he can do is get his hat stepped on by dinosaurs, at least until Alley Oop warns him to shut up. Approaching are raiders from Farzoon, which legend says has a major construction project going on that they need slaves for. Oop figures to get back home and warn everyone. But Mentis figures he’s such a brilliant dealmaker that he can teach the Farzoonians the errors of their ways. He sneaks out to try explaining to the raiders that they would, in fact, get better labor by advertising for employees and offering good wages.

Mentis, arguing to Farzoonian slavers: 'Excuse me, Gentlemen, could I have a moment of your time? As I understand it, you recruit workers by kidnap and forced employment! I assure you, though, that you'd get the best workers by advertising and offering good wages!' The slavers: '? Wages?!' Mentis: 'Paying makes a stronger, happier work force, and I guarantee people will come begging to work for you when they find out you're offering payment!' Korvo, the raider: 'Is that so? Whadya use for pay?' Mentis, taking out a bankroll: 'Where I come from, we use this ... ' Korvo grabs the cash. 'We'll give it a try! Thanks!' Mentis: 'Wait, no! That's not for you! It's only of value where I'm from!' Korvo: 'I knew it! You lied! It *is* worthless!' And he throws the money in the air. Mentis: 'What are you doing? That's a fortune!' Korvo: 'Ha! You just said yourself that it's worthless!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 5th of November, 2017. Don’t tell me you aren’t also enchanted by this comic strip fantasy of a billionaire like Mentis arguing in favor of well-paid, freely-employed workers. Unfortunately Roxly and Korvo take the dollars and start rambling about how bitcoin is a thing of real value unlike even gold or silver.

Part of me admires Mentis for arguing, rightly, that a well-paid class of workers free to do as they choose is better for everybody than slavery is. And part of me admires his courage in stepping up to an actual slave-capture party, with cage and a trained vulture that uses anesthetic-tipped claws to knock out victims and all, with no defense save reason. The rest of me wonders whether Mentis has ever met people, or studied any history, or ever read any story about anyone or anything ever. I love the Enlightenment-derived ideal that rational discussion is the best way to make people’s lives better. I just want faith in that ideal to be discernible from complete oblivious stupidity.

So Oop and Gunther set out to rescue Mentis. Technically before they even know for sure that Mentis is captured. Well, they’re properly going off to fight off the Farzoon raiders, but have to have known Mentis needed rescue. They bring some antidote potion that Wizer has, and one of the shields that fended off the Jantrullian frog-plant alien’s mind-control rays earlier in 2017.

They find the dollar bills that Mentis brought to the past for some reason, and from there find the caged Mentis and his captors. Gunther sets out to slip Mentis the antidote and get him back on his feet. Oop stands in the slaver’s way and, when challenged, hits their trained vulture with his club. With the bird out of commission, Oop and Gunther are able to smash the slavers’ cage and knock the Farzoonians unconscious and help Toni have what she tells Brad is sex. It’s a stirring conclusion that just raises the question of why Alley Oop was so afraid of these guys to start with. He handles them with his normal Popeye-ish aplomb. I guess it makes sense Alley Oop would want everyone warned in case he failed. But it’s not like that’s ever really come up.

Alley Oop: 'This road's closed to you!' Roxly: 'You can't stop us!' Korvo: 'Yeah! Our secret weapon says we can go anywhere we want!' Gunther goes up to the unconscious Mentis, thinking, 'Time to rescue Mentis!'. Oop: 'Oh yeah? You mean that?' (He clobbers their vulture.) 'Looks like he won't be a secret weapon anytime soon! Not so tough now, are you?' Korvo: 'That's what you think!' Gunther, giving the antidote: 'Here you go, boss! This is supposed to wake you up!' And then Gunther joins Oop: 'Need some help, Oop?' They fight, knocking out the Farzoonian raiders and smashing the cage, but also bumping Mentis over the cliff.
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 26th of November, 2017. The Sunday strips are recaps of the action from Tuesday through Saturday before, and a preview of Monday, which occasionally results in oddities like where in the second row Gunther seems to give Mentis antidote drops twice over. When that’s action on separate days it’s less obvious they’re underlining the action for people who missed a day.

In a dangling plot, Mentis gets knocked over a cliff and dangles a while. He’s saved by Dinny, getting Mentis to admit that maybe there is a place for dinosaurs in Moo. (On first arriving in Moo, Mentis figured the place needed their dinosaurs killed since history knows that humans and dinosaurs never coexisted.)

And then we got a couple weeks of determined epiloguing. Oop talks with Wonmug about how he figures Mentis has learned his lesson about interfering with history. Here I question this time-travelling caveman’s pedagogy. Wonmug tries another approach, pointing out that time travel could be used to understand the normal person and the challenges history’s non-winners face, allowing a fuller and more true understanding of the courses of societies. It’s a good plan that as far as I’m aware Wonmug has never used his time machine for. But maybe it is for want of funding; Mentis declares his willingness to fund research expeditions.

King Guz: 'Good work, Oop!' Oop: 'Thank Gunther too! It was a team effort!' Wonmug: 'Gunther?! Oh, thank goodness you're okay! And look at you, M.T.! Looks like you had a little rouble out there!' Mentis: 'I admit, Doc, that I wasn't prepared for this trip! I just wanted to help the world! Maybe I went about it the wrong way, but I still think I could fix some problems with time travel!' Wonmug: 'Perhaps you still could, but let's look at it in a different way! Since history is written by the winners, we only hear one side! If we could use time travel to witness history in the room where it happened, so to speak, think of how much we could learn! If you really want to use time travel to fix our problems, why not partner with our time labs and use your wealth to fund trips for research purposes?' Mentis: 'You know, with the memory fresh in mind of what happens if I try to change things in the past ... I think you've got an excellent idea, Doc Wonmug! I'm happy to join your team!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 17th of December, 2017. I am, legitimately, interested to see whether this addition of Mentis as the money behind Wonmug’s time-travel operation sticks. How Wonmug supports his research is the sort of thing I’d have expected to have been covered in the comic long before, but I suppose the nature of financing is that it’s always needing replacement.

Gunther floats the idea of staying in Moo. King Guz likes his attitude, and Ooola likes even more of him. Wonmug’s appalled by the idea, and Oop figures there’s no way he can let Gunther stick around while he’s holding arms with Ooola and stuff. Funny enough bit of business.

As they’re dematerializing back to the present, Mentis sneezes, and all over Oop. Mentis thinks it’s allergies. Wonmug worries he’s going to spread a cold in Moo. (Cross-time infections seem like the sort of thing that should have been a concern and to have happened sooner in the comic’s history. But it’s not the sort of story that people would find interesting in Like 1941. And it’s a legitimate concern, I think, so might as well do the story now as ever.) They zap back to the present and tell Alley Oop to find some echinacea, so, good luck with that. I, being aware of the laws of dramatic economy, trust this is the hook on which we’ll hang the next storyline. And yeah, the last panel for the 7th of January is Alley Oop sneezing. As ever, I’m amazed the change of story matches so closely my recaps.

Next Week!

It’s the return of The Return of the Locust, revisiting Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity. There’s been someone living on top of the Ghost Who Walks’ Southwest-American butte. He wants to know who’s still living there and shooting at him. I think many of us would have similar questions in his place.

Statistics Friday: How Popular I Was In 2017


WordPress used to make this nice little fireworks video to represent what blog readership was like over the year. It’d do a presentation with a firework for every post, spaced out the way your posts of the year were. And it’d compare your readership numbers and averages and peaks to the population that would fit inside various easy-to-understand concepts like baseball stadiums or buses full of people. If they did that for 2016 I missed the e-mail, and since I despair of them bringing it back this year I’ll just go ahead and report on the year’s statistics as I know them.

2017 was the year that I embraced what Apartment 3-G coverage had taught me: people want story strips explained. So this year I did that, rotating among the twelve syndicated story comics that appear in actual newspapers as far as I know. I’m glad to do it. It gives me reason to pay more attention while reading my comics. I like writing summaries. I especially like doing that while keeping to a low-daisy diet. Avoiding reflexive, unconsidered snark while reviewing comics is good for my development as a writer. It’s probably better for the reader too. Not to dismiss snark; it’s a great rhetorical tool. It’s just reflexive snark that I want to avoid.

I managed to post something each day in 2017 and I admit sometimes I had no idea how I would. That’s my fourth year straight posting something every single day, even if those somethings aren’t always big ones. Besides the What’s Going On In series I also stumbled into a review of all the available Talkartoons. I thought at first that might be a nice, easy, low-effort way to get something respectable posted once a week and that’s turning into a research monster eating me so, good work? I also brought the Another Blog, Meanwhile index to its conclusion after something like a year of drawing exactly two comments on it ever. One of them was from my love, who wanted to know what the heck it was even about. It was about me seeing how long I would find this random gibberish amusing. This turns out to be something like a year.

In 2017 I got 24,695 page views, says WordPress. That’s way above my second-best year, 2015, when Apartment 3-G turned into such a fiasco. And both are better than 2016, when I resisted embracing my fate. You know, I’m probably going to want to find this in a convenient form later on so let me make a little table.

Year Views Visitors Views Per Visitor
2013 3,874 1,869 2.07
2014 8,621 4,422 1.95
2015 17,729 9,904 1.95
2016 14,484 8,297 1.75
2017 24,695 15,187 1.63

2013 was the year I started the blog, in early February or so, and so that has a mere 335 posts. I’m curious about the steady decline in views per visitor, although I suppose with the large number of people apparently stopping in just to see what’s happening in one of the story comics there’s less reason for them to go archive-binging. That’s what I’m telling myself anyway.

As I’d said, what people wanted to read around here was stuff about the story strips. What was most popular among that? I admit I was surprised. I guessed four of the comics that would be particularly asked about, but got one of the questions wrong. My top five essays, by page views, for 2017 were:

Two of those essays were even posted in 2017! And yes, Has the comic strip _Momma_ come to an end? made the top ten. My most popular original-content longform piece of the year was Popeye Space Ark 2000 Pinball … I Don’t Even Know. Which I’m not sad about, since it’s funny. But it was more an act of recapping the crazypants backstory that pinball and video game artist Python Anghelo crated for the Popeye pinball machine. I didn’t have to bring much to it.

If I haven’t missed something the long-form original piece from this year that got the most views was … nothing I would have guessed. It was Probably Not A Good Idea To Get Them Playing Diplomacy Though, based on a book I read about one of the earliest murders we have good, detailed investigative records for, the 1407 murder of Louis of Orleans. I guess that’s more naturally funny than it sounds like considering the whole affair ended in great national tragedy?

Speaking of nations. I can do a list of countries by page views for the year. I make out that there were 128 countries sending me any readers at all. 22 of them were countries that sent out a single reader, and that was it, for the whole entire year. I wonder what I said to scare people off.

Country Readers
United States 18,672
Canada 857
India 742
United Kingdom 658
Australia 309
Germany 309
Brazil 254
Philippines 189
France 165
Mexico 133
Romania 133
Sweden 122
Spain 116
New Zealand 112
Italy 109
Netherlands 101
South Africa 99
Russia 94
Ukraine 68
Norway 67
Argentina 66
Hong Kong SAR China 60
Vietnam 59
Ireland 58
Poland 57
Indonesia 54
Singapore 48
Japan 42
Denmark 40
Finland 38
Hungary 36
Malaysia 36
Bangladesh 35
Switzerland 34
Austria 30
Turkey 30
European Union 29
Israel 27
Pakistan 25
Belgium 22
Greece 21
Serbia 21
Thailand 20
Kenya 19
Trinidad & Tobago 18
Portugal 17
South Korea 17
Chile 16
United Arab Emirates 14
Cambodia 12
Colombia 12
Czech Republic 12
Peru 12
Lithuania 11
Taiwan 11
Armenia 10
Georgia 9
Madagascar 9
Croatia 8
El Salvador 8
Kuwait 8
Puerto Rico 8
Slovakia 8
Belarus 7
Ghana 7
Jamaica 7
Laos 7
Panama 7
Bulgaria 6
Egypt 6
Estonia 6
Iceland 6
Lebanon 6
Uruguay 6
Moldova 5
Nepal 5
Nicaragua 5
Venezuela 5
Ecuador 4
Guadeloupe 4
Latvia 4
Malta 4
Paraguay 4
Qatar 4
Saudi Arabia 4
St. Kitts & Nevis 4
Tunisia 4
Angola 3
Barbados 3
Bermuda 3
Jordan 3
Maldives 3
Slovenia 3
U.S. Virgin Islands 3
Afghanistan 2
Albania 2
Algeria 2
Bosnia & Herzegovina 2
China 2
Kazakhstan 2
Luxembourg 2
Macedonia 2
Mongolia 2
Mozambique 2
Myanmar (Burma) 2
Nigeria 2
Bhutan 1
Bolivia 1
Cameroon 1
Cape Verde 1
Costa Rica 1
Curaçao 1
Cyprus 1
Dominican Republic 1
Ethiopia 1
Fiji 1
Haiti 1
Libya 1
Malawi 1
Northern Mariana Islands 1
Oman 1
Palestinian Territories 1
Réunion 1
Sri Lanka 1
St. Lucia 1
Turks & Caicos Islands 1
Uganda 1
Zambia 1

Won’t lie; I’m curious just what the single page some reader in Bhutan felt like reading. Also whether they were satisfied. I suppose not, or there’d have been more than the one page viewed.

Oh, yes, and comparisons between page views and some easy-to-understand alternative. 24,695 pages is a lot of views. It’s more than the number of people who’d go on 8,231 Apollo-style lunar landing missions. It’s more than 69 times the number of people who flew on every space shuttle mission combined. It’s more than one times the number of people who lived in Rockaway Township, New Jersey, in 2010, although not so many as lived in Ridgewood, New Jersey. The 15,187 unique visitors is almost exactly equal to the 2010 population of Hopatcong, New Jersey, but not quite equal to that of Mantua Township.

I hope that makes things easier to understand.

Statistics Thursday: What Happened Around Here In December 2017


And now I have just enough time and a free daily slot to review my readership figures from December 2017. It was a rough month for me, even by the standards of 2017, as our pet rabbit died partway through. We didn’t see any signs of it coming. And suppose our rabbit didn’t, either. It was also hard in that it came just shy of a year after our previous rabbit died. I gave serious thought to cutting down on posting and the reader sensitive to style might have noticed some trunk pieces pulled out to keep up my baffling schedule.

Anyway, thanks for being here, and also thank you for kind words that I’m honestly not just trying to attract. I’m really properly here to look over how WordPress figures the blog here did.

Grey Flemish giant sprawled out in the grass, with a harness and leash on him, peering from behind a few tall strands of grass.
It’s very rare to find a rabbit who doesn’t mind showing you his care and instruction label like that. Also after this photo, if I remember right, he would scissor some of the longer strands of grass by biting them down, not to eat them, but just to have them trimmed down. He was peculiar. Yes, you’re right to want to fall into that shoulder fuzz.

I start 2018 at 69,402 pages viewed, from what WordPress tells me are 38,869 unique visitors. That seems like a pretty good bundle of visitors. How many page views and unique visitors arrived in December 2017?

2,427 of them, says WordPress. Page views, anyway. Which astounds me; that’s my highest monthly total since the Apartment 3-Gocalypse and my brief mention in the pages of the Onion’s AV Club. This came from 1,409 unique visitors, my third-highest total, after the end of Apartment 3-G and, for some reason, June of 2017. (There were a lot of people baffled by Judge Parker that month.) November 2017 had 1,805 page views from 1,049 unique visitors; October, some 2,151 page views from 1,337 visitors. My love mentioned bringing something I wrote up on a Facebook group, but I’m pretty sure hundreds of people didn’t follow that.

The number of likes rose to 182, from November’s 165. That’s down from October’s 184. Still, the last three months are above the running average as I make it out. There were 59 comments, way up from November’s 35 and October’s 22. For that, it’s the fourth-greatest number of comments at least going back to August 2015. That, at least, I can explain: Roy Kassinger, of the web comic HousePets!, has been finding and commenting on articles I forgot were in the archive and I’m trying to not freak out thinking about what the heck I said when I gave the size of Rhode Island in football fields and stuff. I should probably do more of my posting from underneath the bed.

What were the popular articles around here? Just about what you’d expect: explaining the story comics. Here’s what people wanted to read.

  • What’s Going On In Rex Morgan, M.D.? and I’m using the URL that summons the most recent Rex Morgan, M.D. post because actually two separate articles for the comic were in the top-five and I should really be encouraging the Google Rank of the grouping that always points to the most recent essay.
  • What’s Going On In Judge Parker? and I’m putting in the URL that summons the most recent piece again, because I suspect people are going to be looking for the most recent entries.
  • What’s Going On In Mark Trail? and you know why I’m doing that again.
  • What’s Nude on Television which is one of those trifles that people really like and I don’t blame them.
  • Deflated which is all about that tire problem and that I’m glad people like because it was so ridiculous to live through.

And what of the running of the countries? What places sent me how many readers? Fortunately, I’m told this, and can pass the news on to you:

Country Readers
United States 1973
Canada 82
India 51
United Kingdom 45
Australia 25
France 18
Germany 17
Brazil 16
Russia 15
Spain 15
New Zealand 8
Romania 8
Sweden 8
Hungary 7
Indonesia 7
Norway 7
Turkey 7
Ukraine 7
Vietnam 7
Mexico 6
Denmark 5
Italy 5
Japan 5
Philippines 5
Belgium 4
Hong Kong SAR China 4
Argentina 3
Ireland 3
Israel 3
Lithuania 3
Malaysia 3
Singapore 3
South Africa 3
South Korea 3
Armenia 2
Bangladesh 2
Finland 2
Greece 2
Malta 2
Serbia 2
Switzerland 2
Taiwan 2
United Arab Emirates 2
Austria 1 (*)
Cambodia 1 (*)
Colombia 1 (****)
Georgia 1
Laos 1
Latvia 1
Lebanon 1
Moldova 1
Mongolia 1
Mozambique 1
Netherlands 1
Nicaragua 1
Paraguay 1
Poland 1 (*)
Portugal 1
Réunion 1
Trinidad & Tobago 1 (**)
Tunisia 1 (*)

That’s 61 countries, if I didn’t mess something up. Down from November’s 68 and October’s 70. 18 of them were single-reader countries, down from November’s 22 and October’s 21. I think this is a “long tail” thing.

Austria, Cambodia, Poland, and Tunisia were single-reader countries in November. Trinidad & Tobago has been a single-reader country three months running. Colombia is going on five months with a solitary page viewed each month. Wouldn’t it be a kick if at this point they just check in once a month to see what I’m saying about Columbia, and I only say something about Columbia because they checked in? Anyway, they’ve now tied Cambodia’s streak from 2017 of single readership five months running. Yes, I find this interesting. I am also aware that I got a book about supermarkets for this past Christmas that is different from the book I got about the A&P supermarkets a couple Christmastimes ago.

So one of my resolutions for this year is to get ahead of deadline on my writing here. And that’s looking good: I’ve got stuff planned for the next two weeks, not counting the Fridays when I put up some big piece and the Sundays when I post my Statistics Saturday pieces. If you’d like to join the 1,056 who’re subscribed to get this in your WordPress Reader, please use the ‘Follow Another Blog, Meanwhile’ link in the upper right corner of the page here. If you’d like to join the like two who get it by e-mail, please use the ‘Follow Blog Via E-Mail’ link in the not-quite-so-upper right. And if you care for Twitter, you could join the 251 people following me there as @Nebusj, where I’ve been trying to post more than just announcements of new essays here and on my mathematics blog. Thanks for visiting.

The Fourteenth Talkartoon: Mysterious Mose, perhaps Betty Boop’s first showing


I can’t do the thirteenth Talkartoon, not for want of will. That one, Accordion Joe, is not technically a lost cartoon. The UCLA film library has prints of the title. But that’s as good as lost for someone like me who isn’t near Los Angeles and can’t be bothered to, like, try finding a copy. So we move on to the next.

I’ve enjoyed the last several Talkartoons, no question. They’ve been nice discoveries, cartoons I had never seen before, or not seen in so long I’d forgotten them. This week’s is different. It’s one I know well. She’s not named in it, and she’s still not quite found her right model yet. But it’s got Betty Boop. And unlike her previous outings, she’s the protagonist, at least for the first half of the cartoon. For the first time she’s important to the goings-on. From the 26th of December, 1930, and animated by Willard Bowsky, Ted Sears, and (Wikipedia says) Grim Natwick, here’s Mysterious Mose.

This is almost the type case for a minigenre of cartoons the Fleischers would do: the surreal adventure set to a jazzy tune. Here the tune is Mysterious Mose, which Wikipedia tells me was a new song in 1930. I had assumed it was a folk song given new form. Live and learn, if all goes well.

These cartoons-set-to-jazz include some of the best of the decade, or of all time. They would give us beauties like Minnie the Moocher — apparently some of the earliest known footage of Cab Calloway performing — and Snow White. And lesser but still fantastic pieces like Popeye’s Me Musical Nephews. I don’t have a good idea why a surreal jazz cartoon works so reliably. I understand classical music playing well against cartoons: the strong structure gives the chaos of the cartoon more room to play. A good jazz piece has the illusion of a looser structure, though, so what is the cartoon playing against? I suppose you could argue that the apparent freedom of a jazz piece harmonizes well with the apparent visual freedom of the cartoon. But that seems like we’re getting near an unfalsifiable hypothesis. On the other hand, maybe it’s just that animated cartoons go well with both classically-structured music and the strong beat of this kind of jazz (and swing, come to think of it).

So the cartoon is great throughout. It starts out nice and creepy, the proto-Betty sitting up in bed surrounded by mysterious noises. And haunted! I’m not sure if we need to see Betty put her blanket over an invisible creature in her bed three times, but it is such a solid gag I can’t fault them doing it. It’s a neat bit of business and I don’t think I could resist.

I’m not sure that I like Betty Boop’s nightshirt flying off twice. I’ve been getting less amused by women left vulnerable. But it’s as close as they probably dared to having her be frightened out of her skin. And for the early, most normally scary parts, vulnerability is emotionally correct.

Halfway through Bimbo shows up, as Mysterious Mose. And more strongly the screwball character I’ve realized he was in his early days. We loose the spookiness as Bimbo brings a string of inventive weirdness in. And then even Bimbo fades out of the protagonist’s role, as stuff gets crazier without him until he takes drastic action with a tuba. I think all the jokes work, but it does reach a point where there’s no longer narrative. We don’t necessarily need narrative, but it does leave the cartoon without a good reason to end now rather than a minute sooner or later, other than that the song’s run long enough.

Take your pick for the body-horror joke of the cartoon. There’s plenty of choice. I’d probably take the cat who recovers from being smacked by turning into nine cats, or the chain of fish that turn into a caterpillar. There’s also Betty’s toes growing faces and arms to hug each other. The shadow of Mysterious Mose popping his head off and bouncing it. Then slipping in through the keyhole and snipping his own shadow off. Mose moving so much by turning into an ink dot and changing the shape of that mounted moose head. A couple mice show up, around 4:55 in, to add to the music and signal the action getting out of Bimbo’s lead for a minute.

There’s a nice blink-and-you-miss-it joke, at about 3:50. It’s when Betty’s heart flutters out and over to Bimbo, and Bimbo’s heart reaches out to grab it. Bimbo’s heart is wearing a robber’s eyemask. Great touch.

I’d thought that while scared Betty’s eyes spiralled, a use of this effect for something other than “character is being hypnotized”. I was wrong, though. They’re just flashing in concentric circles. Well, it looked like an eye spiral initially.

What’s Going On In The Amazing Spider-Man? October – December 2017


Hi, enthusiastic reader of Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s The Amazing Spider-Man newspaper comic. I’m happy to help you catch up on what’s been going on. I write this the last weekend of 2017. If for you it’s later than about March 2018, there’s probably been a later essay bringing things closer to date. If I have one, it should be at or near the top of this page. I hope it helps.

If you’re interested in mathematically-themed comic strips, please give my other blog a try. Each week I spend some time talking about mathematical themes as expressed in the syndicated comics. I like it.

The Amazing Spider-Man.

8 October – 30 December 2017.

I said last time I figured we were at the end of the Tyrannus Invades The Surface World storyline. Tyrannus had begged for mercy, and River of Youth Water, after Spider-Man took a key supporting position in Kala’s plan to stop her husband’s nonsense. With an Imperial Promise from Tyrannus to stop all the invading, all seemed well. We just had to figure a reason that Aunt May could not engage in wedded bliss with Melvin, deposed ruler of the Mole-Men. At the risk of being one of those people who successfully predicts darkness arriving after sunset, I was completely right.

Though she rather fancies Melvin, Aunt May can’t move down to the subterranean world with him. She’s allergic and trying to adapt would kill her. And with Tyrannus sworn to retreat to his former kingdom, the Mole Men can’t think of who to lead them if it’s not going to be Melvin. So he’s got to go back to them just long enough to get an elected Presidency set up. They’ll have to part, neither of them remembering that there are dozens of ways to keep in contact with a distant loved one. Yes, yes, they’re older than calendars are, that doesn’t mean they can’t Skype. I mean, I can’t Skype, but that’s just because I’m boring. They don’t have that excuse.

Melvin: 'So you see, dear May, I'm torn on the horns of a dilemma. I fear my former subjects, the Subterraneans, will perish with no one to lead them. Thus, I must take back the crown I was content to have lost.' May: 'Perhaps ... perhaps there's some way I could come with you. Some medicine I could take to help me adjust to your underground realm.' Spider-Man: 'You know that's not possible, Mrs Parker. You learned, down below, that you're subject to Spelunker's Lung. It inflames the lungs, makes it a torment to breathe.' May: 'Yes, I know. But ... I dared hope.'
Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 29th of October, 2017. You know, it’s been a couple years since Aunt May was last kidnapped by Melvin. There might have been some work done on Spelunker’s Lung. Have we ruled out that she might wear a CPAP machine or something? It’s a bit of a hassle but they do make a happy couple.

So. 2nd of November and a new story starts. With Aunt May safely off to home as far as he knows, Peter goes to Miami to catch up with Mary Jane’s press tour. Also with J Jonah Jameson, there for a publishers’ conference that hasn’t actually played any part in the story, if I didn’t miss it. Maybe it’ll be important in the close of this story, which hasn’t come just yet.

With a couple days free, Peter suggests they visit Doctor Curt Connors, who yes, had become The Lizard, rampaging monster … lizard … man, but who’s been doing very well since he started taking aspirin for it. At Connors’s old lab Peter’s met with the traditional greeting of a gigantic metal comic-book science thing whomping him in the face. It’s Connors himself, trashing his lab in a rage fueled by grief over his wife’s death. But once he gets to hit Peter Parker with some gigantic metal comic-book science thing the rage disappears. I mean, I’ve fumed about unfair tilts on pinball games longer than Connors spent getting over his laboratory-trashing rage. They were pretty unfair tilts, though.

Peter Parker, opening Connors's door. 'The door's not locked --- so let's find out who the INTRUDER is!' Mary Jane: 'Oh, Peter --- please be --- careful!' And Peter's clobbered by a something or other.
Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 14th of November, 2017. People in the comics-snark community talk a lot about how many head traumas Peter Parker suffers, but in fairness, he takes a lot of head traumas. And that was really funny back before we were paying attention to what football does to people. And yes, I am legitimately angry at Gil Thorp the past two weeks ever since this update.

Connors invites Peter and Mary Jane to his emergency backup lab, in the Everglades. He’s hoping to do some science work to regrow his lost right arm only without turning into a giant rampaging lizard-man monster. And who better to assist than a stage actor and a staff photographer for a New York daily newspaper? Peter admits the sense in hanging around since he did know some science back in the day. Plus when the mad science starts maybe Spider-Man will be able to find another superhero to nag into action. So they venture out to the Everglades.

Mary Jane figures her best chance to stay in the story is to appreciate the natural beauty of the setting. So she steps out to find some Everglades nature and get eaten by it. As the alligator attacks a mysterious figure that I initially snarked was Mark Trail decides he can’t stand by while she dies. He tries to intervene, but is body-checked by Connors, who’s heard all the shouting. Before anybody knows what the heck is going on the Incredible Hulk declares his intention to smash. He picks up the alligator and throws it into Moo’s neighboring land of Lem.

Peter Parker’s delighted in the success of his “attract another superhero when the mad science goes down” plan. But to get The Hulk from throwing all of them into a neighboring comic strip he’ll have to do a proper superhero fight. He figures the alligator-injured Connors is too delirious to work out any superhero identities. So he strips to his Spidey-Suit. From this I infer he’s been wearing two layers of long-sleeved clothing in Florida. Mary Jane interrupts the ritual punching match upon the meeting of two superheroes. She warns if they don’t stop they’ll have to go to their rooms. And this calms the Hulk back to his human form, the figure I thought was a dissolute Mark Trail earlier.

[As the last vestiges of the Incredible Hulk fade.] Peter: 'Good to have you back, Bruce.' Bruce: 'Peter? Peter Parker? Now I remember! I saved MJ from a python.' Mary Jane: 'You sure did!' Bruce: 'And then --- a big gator rushed me and --- and --- that's all I can remember!' (He flashes back to the Hulk throwing an alligator.) Peter, thinking: 'And now that my shirt's closed let's keep it that way! We've got more important things to worry about.' Peter, aloud: 'How's Dr Connors?' Mary Jane: 'He's lost a lot of blood from that gator bite. We've got to get him back to the city --- fast! Or he'll die!'
Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 24th of December, 2017. I am, at this point, confused about whether Newspaper Incredible Hulk knows that Peter Parker is Spider-Man or not. As I follow the action Peter figured that Connors is either unconscious or delirious and probably won’t remember things reliably, and Mary Jane knows full well her husband’s recreational pastime. Bruce Banner certainly knows Peter Parker, and the Incredible Hulk recognized the Amazing Spider-Man, but that’s as far as I am sure.

Bruce Banner had been lurking around the emergency backup lab because he thought Dr Connors might help with his Hulk problem. Dr Bruce Banner, I should point out since this seems like it’s going to matter. But Banner thinks Connors might be able to help. Why, they even have the same rare blood type, Banner points out in an expository lump so perfectly clumsy I genuinely admire it. Anyway, Connors is losing a lot of blood, and they’re going to have to rush him to a hospital somehow, and probably arrange a transfusion. At the risk of forecasting the arrival of darkness after nightfall, I suspect there might just be one that has awkward side-effects. If they can get him to a hospital in time, anyway.

As my tone maybe suggests, I’m enjoying all this. It’s got the cheery daftness that I enjoy in comics about the superpowered. And the stories are moving well enough, certainly if you go back and read them all a couple months at a time. I’m looking forward to 2018 with this crew.

Next Week!

Check in on Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop. The Land of Moo versus a time-travelling idiot with a lot of money: who! will! win!?

The Twelfth Talkartoon: Up To Mars, thanks to a pantsless Mickey Mouse


This week’s cartoon happens to call out Merry Christmas. And to get a Happy New Year back. That’s the sort of subtle act of timing that’s really beyond my abilities; it just got lucky. But here’s Bimbo’s second cartoon in three weeks, and the second in which he was named as such. From the 20th of November, 1930, and animated by Rudy Zamora and Shamus Culhane: Up To Mars.

So why does this short start in an amusement park? (At least after some striking and neat special effects animation.) Why not, I suppose you could say. Also that it’s somewhere you could just have lots of big firecrackers hanging around. I suspect there’s a deeper reason. It goes back to A Trip To The Moon. I don’t precisely mean Georges Méliès and one of the maybe three silent movies even people who don’t care about silent movies recognize. But that helps. A Trip To The Moon was a ride at the Pan-American Exposition of 1901, in Buffalo, New York, showing exactly that. It was moved to Coney Island to be one of Steeplechase and then Luna Park’s signature rides. And to inspire trip-to-outer-space rides, to the Moon or Mars or other worlds, from there. So a trip to Mars starting at an amusement park might not be just because you gotta get rockets from somewhere. It might be because you could get to Mars from there.

Other planets, in the cartoons, were often wackyland places of reverse-logic and sight gags; see Tex Avery’s 1948 The Cat That Hated People for similar and I’ll admit better sight gags. I haven’t checked what earlier, and particularly silent, cartoons did with other planets. But the placement makes sense; jumping to another planet does give license to get weird and surreal.

It’s the second cartoon where Bimbo gets named. But he gets less distinctive stuff to do than even in last week’s Sky Scraping. I suppose he makes the choice to chase after the strikingly Mickey Mouse-like rodent that had been in his Roman candle. But that’s not a lot of character. And once up on Mars he has even less to do; he’s mostly just watching the shenanigans. Arguably the mouse does more to affect the cartoon. I kept waiting, once Bimbo fell in with the Martian soldiers, for him to be detected and that to become the story. Somehow it never did. He does get a few frustrated moments to snarl and snap at people in a satisfyingly dog-like manner, which is worth something certainly.

This is the second week in a row that the Moon gets punctured. Also the depiction of Saturn as a character with a big hat is one that I believe gets repeated in the October 1932 Betty Boop’s Ups And Downs.

It’s maybe too well-established to count as a blink-and-you-miss-it joke but I laughed when Bimbo tried to light the rocket and sets a cat’s tail on fire instead. The elderly Martian dancing with his detached legs and no body is a good reliable body-horror joke.

What’s Going On In Judge Parker? October – December 2017


Hi, reader interested in figuring out what’s going on in Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker. It’s an exciting ride. It’s also one that’s probably gone off a couple of tracks since I wrote this in late December 2017, if you’re reading it more than a couple months after late December 2017. If I’ve had a more recent story summary it should be at or near the top of this page.

Also, my other blog has reviewed the handful of comics with mathematical themes from last week. I helped it some.

And finally, if you’re interested in having opinions on Mary Worth, the Mary Worth and Me blog has opened voting for the best of the year in various Mary Worth storytelling events. I wouldn’t dare tell you what the greatest floating head of the year that strip was. But I am baffled by the thought that there might be a better storyline than CRUISE SHIPS. Well, each to their own, even when they’re wrong, I suppose.

Judge Parker.

2 October – 24 December 2017.

I don’t know how many movies I was introduced to by SCTV. Possibly everything that wasn’t a kid’s movie. (Indeed, just last night I caught a moment of The Unholy Rollers and realize I just saw the source for one of SCTV’s Movies of the Week although I can’t place the title just now.) But I was also introduced to a genre by SCTV. They ran a soap opera spoof, The Days Of The Week. It started with a simple premise, the town’s respected surgeon trying to con a widow out of her fortune by setting up a patsy to play her long-lost son. Within a half-dozen sketches they had dozens of conspiracies unfolding at a wedding interrupted by multiple gun-weilding fanatics. And somewhere along the line I realized they had made a ridiculous yet strangely legitimate soap opera. They just chose to make every possible storyline go crazy, and cling to the crazy.

When I last checked in on Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker the strip had just jumped three months ahead. April Parker was in super-duper top-secret jail after being framed for a complicated CIA-based fiasco. Randy Parker’s been united with his daughter Charlotte, through the workings of April’s father Norton. But the craziness and Alan’s secrecy has smashed his relationship with his wife Katherine, and she’s leaving. It had blown up what of the status quo hadn’t been blown up already. It was crazy.

Alan fumbles the last chance of Katherine reconciling with Alan. She sees he’s mining their scenario for his stalled-out novel. Sophie Spencer, recovering from her own kidnapping at the hands of her mother’s long-lost half-sister, buys a replacement guitar. And talks with Neddy, who’s herself recovering from when her ill-conceived clothing factory fell into a sinkhole. And Neddy agrees with Sophie that yeah, she needs to have some focus for her life again. That’s a couple weeks spent working out older stories and setting them basically in order. A not-crazy order.

Neddy: 'Hey, Sophie. Mind if we chat for a moment?' Sophie: 'What's up?' Neddy: 'I know we discussed me moving forward. But every time I try to determine a new career path, I draw an absolute blank. All I can see is that factory imploding. All I can hear are people's accusations. All I can d is ... nothing. I feel like I can do absolutely nothing.' Sophie: 'Okay, let's start simple. Write a list of everything you're good at. Don't be modest or self-deprecating. Just do it.' Neddy: 'That ... that sounds like a good idea.' Sophie: 'You should probably do it now.' Neddy: 'Oh, right.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 12th of November, 2017. My experience with depressed people is they are not able to think of things they’re good at, and will not accept other’s testimony about what they are good at. Which is not to say I think Sophie’s giving bad advice, nor that she’s acting improperly for her character. (And I suppose Neddy is more guilt-wracked than depressed, but I imagine the problem is similar.) Mostly, depression: who’s responsible for that being a thing we have, you know?

Then we got to the end of October, and focus on April Parker. She’s spending her three-year prison sentence the way Calvin might spend having to sit in the corner and almost as successfully. She picks fights with her cellmate, her blockmates, the guards, the plumbing, the air, and several imaginary friends. So the early-release plans are off. Randy isn’t able to talk her down and fears she’s going to go crazy.

Charlotte: 'Mama!' April: 'Charlotte! You ... you said your first word!' Charlotte: (crying) 'Mama! Mama!' April: 'Mama is right here, sweetie. Right here.' Charlotte: (crying, fidgeting out of April's arms.) 'MAMA!!!' April: 'I'm here, Charlotte! I'm right --- ' April wakes up, alone, in prison.
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 5th of November, 2017. Marciuliano’s tenure has been a very plot-heavy one, with stuff happening in the middle of other stuff happening. But that doesn’t keep the strip from pausing to soak in the torments inflicted on its characters, such as in this nicely effective page.

One night Alan’s pondering how screwed up everything is when Norton breaks in. Norton dismisses Alan’s complaints that his scheming and conspiracies have destroyed his life. And explains that he’s there to reunite the family, for example by breaking April out of her maximum-security federal prison. And flee the country with Randy and Charlotte. And Norton won’t discuss whether there’s any options that don’t involve doing the craziest possible thing.

And this past week the crazy thing happens. Norton kidnaps Alan. His operatives break April out of prison. April breaks in to her and Randy’s house, collects Charlotte, and informs him they’re going to become a family of fugitives. He tries to point out, this is crazy.

Alan: 'You're ... you're making me a prisoner in my own house.' Norton: 'Alan, this is all about freedom. All of ours. Trust me, you'll never feel freer than when you're away from all this.' Alan: 'But if ... if you break April out, her life will be ruined. My son's and Charlotte's too. We can't become fugitives. We ... we just can't give up everything.' Norton: 'My daughter has been without her family long enough, Alan. She will not leave without Charlotte. Asking you and Randy to come is for your benefit, so you can keep the family together. And speaking of family, shame we had to destroy your phone. It appeared Katherine had left a message.' Alan: 'She did?!' Norton: 'Of course not. She's moved on. This life is over, Alan. So start getting ready.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 10th of December, 2017. I … I had not noticed how often Marciuliano uses a word that’s trailed off and repeated after ellipses until I started transcribing the dialogue for the alt text. Just … just saying. Also yeah, breaking April out of Federal prison and taking her whole family into a fugitive life is one thing, Norton, but that talk about Katherine is going a bit far.

So something like sixteen months into his tenture writing Judge Parker Francesco Marciuliano has thoroughly embraced the Days of the Week style plotting. It’s almost seemed like a search for status quos to blow up. And clings to that.

It’s also all been surprisingly funny. The scenarios a little funny, yes, in the way that Doctor Strangelove presents an irresistible argument for a nightmare. But also funny in the writing of daily strips. There’s well-formed, logical punch lines often, and characters keep reaching for them. A woman tells Neddy she heard what happened. “What, that Hank and I broke up or that I fear my life is devoid of all direction, purpose, or even the faintest ember of hope?” Norton tries to allay Alan’s suspicions of something being in the coffee. “Here, I’ll prove I’m not poisoning you … oh … uh-oh … this … this is some expired creamer.” It all happens a good bit. It’s not overwhelming and doesn’t threaten to shift the comic into the serial-comic form of, say, Sally Forth or Funky Winkerbean or Luann. That it’s not every strip, not by far, helps. That it’s playing against such big, breathtaking plotting, helps too. It’s people responding rightly to the craziness around them.

Next Week!

Did Aunt May marry Melvin the Mole Man after all? Who’s this one-armed fellow in Florida that Peter Parker’s hanging out with? Who’s throwing all these alligators around? And why isn’t there more Rocket Raccoon? There’ll be answers to some of this when I get back to Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man. Spoiler: no, somehow, Aunt May did not get married.

If You Need 654.5 Cubic Inches of Gil Thorp then Today Is Your Lucky Day


My love and I went to Ann Arbor over the weekend because the University of Michigan Natural History Museum is moving to a new building after this month, and we wanted to see the charmingly old-fashioned diorama labels before they get thrown out in favor of some boring old accurate-to-stuff-we’ve-learned-since-1963 text written in Helvetica. But we also stopped in the Dawn Treader used bookstore because why would you not go to a used bookstore like that? And there we spotted … the 1991 Science Fiction Fan Directory, a list of among other things all the bookstores that have major science fiction sections. So there, in the Dawn Treader bookstore, I found the address listed for the Dawn Treader bookstore. And that I found that funny gives you some idea why I am a humor blogger instead of a successful humor blogger.

Anyway, we also found this on the Comics/Humor shelves.

Eight _Gil Thorp_ collections on a bookshelf at the Dawn Treader, Ann Arbor.
Also in the shop, if you want: one of those collections of “the funniest stuff on the Internet” that the publisher insists in the foreward is too in the public domain because it was on the Internet so shut up asking questions. My love took a photo of the introduction and I’m encouraging putting that up on the Internet to insult the guy. Also, really, nothing in that book is going to be as funny as this time on sci.math that someone tried to explain that the then-resident crank’s proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem was wrong by using the crank’s method to attempt to show that 15 should be equal to 3 times 5. It went on for hundreds of words and got nowhere near that or anything else, and I just bet that wasn’t included. Also besides that I think someone bought the collection of the web comic User Friendly that had been there last time.

So yes, that’s eight collections of Gil Thorp comics. Most of them were printed in the mid-2000s, although the Silver Anniversary yearbook on the far left there is dated 1984. It’s a slightly weird set. The books give off many of the signs of being self-published, such as the publisher’s contact information including a comcast.net e-mail address. But not entirely! And the Silver Anniversary book is dated two decades earlier yet looks just about the same, apart from not listing the publisher’s comcast.net e-mail and having a silver rather than white cover. (Trust me on this.) They’re all 8.5-by-11-inch pages, and as you can see, there’s eight books there and it’s got to be at least seven inches thick of reading to get to. That’s why I estimate the volume so.

Obviously Playdown Pandemonium intrigued me because of the promise of explaining what the deal is with “playdowns”. What I learned from skimming it is: the “playdowns” first appeared for the basketball storyline of 1963-64. The introductory text makes it sound like the playdowns are a format for a bunch of teams to get gradually eliminated — played down — to a final two. But that description also matches every playoff format ever, so I’m not enlightened.

Despite the temptation I didn’t buy any of the books, or all of them. But now I have another source of possible bonus content for my Patreon subscribers. We’ll see. Let me know if I have a Patreon.

Oh, also, I had another couple comics with mathematics themes over on the other blog. Thanks.

The Eleventh Talkartoon: Sky Scraping, Where Bimbo Gets A Name


So, something new’s added to the Talkartoon family for this short, released the 1st of November, 1930. Bimbo’s emerged from his prototypical form as this slow-motion screwball character who’s been around five-or-so times. He’s worthy of a name. It’s not given on-screen because of course not. But it’s there in the title card that I assume is the original title card and not a later addition.

There’s a couple cartoon premises that seem to always work for me. One of them is the orchestra, typically playing the Hungarian Rhapsody Number Two. And another is this short’s theme, that of skyscraper-building. My supposition is that the premise gives the cartoon a natural, logical structure. The underlying material is necessarily ordered, so the cartoon can riff on that and have pretty near every joke land. (And one of the all-time best-ever cartoons is Friz Freleng’s “Rhapsody in Rivets”, fusing the two premises.) With skyscraper-building cartoons I think there’s another factor: all those steel girders. That is, to use the setting at all you need to draw these big steel meshes, often in perspective. It’s hard work drawing a plausibly in-construction skyscraper, and I think the knowledge that they put all this work in influences the audience. The dazzling visual can carry a weaker script.

Skyscraper-building would probably always be popular; the idea just boggles the mind to start. The skyscraper races of the late 1920s added fine and ridiculous drama to the construction, and if you haven’t read up about the spire on the Chrysler Building and its secret installation please go look that up now. Thank you. In the early 30s the last spurt of skyscrapers under construction, such as the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center, were much-needed work for thousands of people, and a curious note of not-yet-broken ambition. Great themes to hang art on.

So. Bimbo finally gets a name this cartoon. But he’s not called by name in the cartoon. He’s also barely in the cartoon itself. I suppose we do see him repeatedly, but I’m not sure that he stands out compared to the other workers. Dragging his feet to get to work and tripping over two bricks, working sleepily, but racing home, is fine enough, but it’s not a deep bit of personality.

And it feels odd that Bimbo trips over two bricks but hasn’t got a third punchline. And that there’s two strings of him sleepily laying mortar on bricks but not a third. The so-called Rule of Three is, like many comic rules, better a guideline for not screwing up a premise. But this does feel like punch lines were set up and then unresolved. I’d suspect scenes lost to editing but it’s tough to figure what they would be or why.

There’s suspiciously-Mickey-Mice all over this short. And even a suspiciously-Felix-the-Cat too, at about one minute in, having swallowed a quartet of mice while they passed behind a billboard. Which was almost my moment of weird body horror this short. All the while they passed behind the billboard I was thinking about oh no, they’re going to go there. But somehow the skyscraper reaching up high enough its structure pierces the Moon hit me harder. It’s a solid joke, especially as I didn’t suspect it coming.

A couple years after this short Disney would create the multiplane camera, making it possible to have animated elements moving in foreground, middle-ground, and background. The Fleischers would one-up that by building a multiplane camera that could also use real-world sets, for some live-and-animated scenes that are still dazzling. This short might prototype that, by having the girders and people in the foreground moving while the background’s held fixed. It’s a simple trick, but an effective one: there’s distance here.

A skyscraper-building cartoon has three compelling end points: the work day ends, or the building’s finished, or the building collapses in ruin. (And note how “Rhapsody in Rivets” does it.) This short takes mostly the first ending, fair enough, albeit with a weird coda after Bimbo’s rushed home from work. So, once more, I’m satisfied.

What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? September – December 2017


Thanks for finding me in your search for an explanation of what’s going on in Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp. This is, for me, the middle of December. So if you’re reading this much past December 2017 the story might have resolved and gone on to the next, or even one after that. If it’s far enough past December 2017 there’s, I hope, a more up-to-date description of what’s going on. It should be at or near the top of this page. Good luck.

Also, I review mathematically-themed comic strips of the past week over on my other blog. Thank you.

Gil Thorp.

25 September – 16 December 2017.

My last update came about two weeks into the current Gil Thorp storyline. What we knew back then: Coach Thorp had tested all his players’ brain function so parents will stop asking questions about Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. Rick Soto is a promising offensive linesman with musical talent. His uncle Gary — really Les Moore, taking some time off Funky Winkerbean to see if he can be the most punchable person in two comics at once — hopes to move from his attorney job into being a pushy stage-mother agent for Rick. And since then?

Gary’s pushed his program of getting Rick out of football and into music. His first strategy: concern-trolling. That was a great touchdown, Ricky. “Do your eyes look cloudy? Cloudy eyes can be the first signs of a major problem. You know my wife Dead Lisa died of death. And her eyes were cloudy at some point I’m going to suppose.” That doesn’t get Rick or his mother to think about dropping football.

Rick's Mom: 'If it's NOTHING, why did you tell Rick his eyes looked cloudy?' Gary: 'Ease up. He barely heard me.' [At lunch.] Rick: 'Hey, Pelwecki, do my eyes look weird?' Pelwecki: 'Vacant, empty ... nope, same as always!' Somebody: 'Yo, Soto! Get up here and sing the Milford fight song!'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 9th of October, 2017. There is no Milford fight song that anybody knows, which is fine by me. Rick Soto goes on to sing something or other that my research indicates is a correctly-formed tune that’s popular with the kids and so we shall accept this as correctly formed. Also, wow but it’s annoying how teenage boys can only talk to one another in insults, but that’s not the comic strip’s fault.

The football season carries on like like football seasons do. There’s a couple games and the action seems to be football. I admit I’m not a football fan. I’m aware of it and only have the normal moral objections to it. But I grew up in the New York City media market in the 80s, with the Giants and the Jets, so grew up without professional football except for 1986. And I went to Rutgers, which played in the first intercollegiate football game in 1869 and is hoping to someday play in a second game. So I missed a lot of exposure back when I was young enough to learn things. When I watch football what I see is:

  1. Somebody kicks the ball toward the field goal posts.
  2. Somebody catches a passed ball and runs, then stops.
  3. Everybody collides into a huge pile, and then the person with the ball runs straight into the pile as if that should help clear matters up.

After any of these there’s three yellow flags, two red flags, a checkerboard rally flag, and a Klingon insignia tossed on the field. Then everyone has to wait about eight commercials to straighten it out before the next play. It’s all jolly good fun and if you like that, please don’t let my ignorance stop you. I’d like to see if the sport could be played with less brain injuries. Anyway the talk between Coach Thorp and other people about how they’re going to improve their strategy doesn’t mean much to me. I will trust that it’s relevant to football. But I’ll defer to fans about whether it’s sensible to say, “we’re adding pieces of the veer offense. It’s sort of like the read-option, but the running back and the QB go the same way”.

Gary doesn’t understand the football talk either, and points out to Rick that cat videos are popular things and he should try going viral. Rick rolls his eyes and I did not mean that, but you’ll notice I let it stand. And now I’m curious if the whole arc was built out of Rubin or Whigham thinking of those words together and figuring “why not?” Gary suggests Rick sing the National Anthem to Coach Thorp, every ten minutes. And he offers to e-mail the suggestion more often if it’ll make this happen. Coach Thorp digs deep into his reserve of not really caring and decides he doesn’t really care. And even if he did care, he couldn’t have one of his linesmen singing the National Anthem when he’s needed right after that on the … line.

Rick, watching his video on a phone: 'What IS this?' Friend: 'Some website that my grandpa goes to with his old Marine buddies. Check it out --- Rick's singing at the homecoming game!' Someone: 'You sound even better than you did on the field. But what are you doing online?'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 10th of November, 2017. That last panel is also my face when my father tells me how he read the thing I posted last week, the one that included my annual kind-of-racy slightly off-color joke, and he’s making sure all his friends and all my aunts and uncles see it.

But Gary has a stroke of luck when Dead Lisa phones in a bomb threat to the airport (some December 2010 silliness in that comic). Plus, Rick has a sprained ankle and has to skip a game, so he’s free to sing. Gary arranges a camera crew. They make a video that goes viral among the National-Anthem-before-high-school-football-games crowd, a group I accept exists. Gary seeds the video with the story of how the concussed Rick wanted to sing and had a father posted overseas and all that. Rick’s father isn’t in the Army. He’s a contractor in Dubai, helping the United Arab Emirates build the world’s largest slab of diamond-clad concrete. It’s a prestige project that, when done, will allow them to smother the workers building the world’s largest slab of diamond-clad concrete beneath the world’s largest slab of diamond-clad concrete. Rick’s annoyed, Gary’s proud, and Rick’s mother is a person who exists and has feelings about all this, I would imagine. Rick’s father might, too.

As Rick Soto watches the last four minutes, Milford holds off New Thayer, 30-20. Rick's Mom: 'You can ride home with us.' Rick: 'Thanks, but I'd rather ride the bus an act stupid with my friends.' Rick's Mom: 'We just want you to be with us, in case you ... you ... ' Gary: 'Have to go to the hospital!'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 1st of December, 2017. “You know, my dead wife Dead Lisa had a videotape about how great it would be to have her football surgically removed before it could kill her! Would you like to read my three-volume graphic novel collection about that?”

In his next game Rick takes a knee to the helmet, when Gary arranges to have a squad of knees thrown at Rick’s helmet. The team doctor doesn’t see any reason Rick shouldn’t keep playing. But Gary explains how they should cover Rick in a soft, protective layer of foam and bury him in a cube of feathers eight feet across to rush to the hospital. And his new round of concern-trolling does give Rick’s mother reason to doubt this football stuff is a good idea. Rick’s pediatrician says this looks all right. And a concussions expert says Rick’s all right. So Gary has to go back to the closet of Dead Lisa videotapes to see what advice she has about quitting football and being a professional singer.

And that’s where we have gotten: to multiple people in this comic strip about sports issues saying “don’t worry about all those blows to the head”. Part of me is sympathetic: we should act on realistic estimates of risk. To respond to a long time of under-estimating the risk of head injuries with a period of over-estimating the risk does not make things better. But part of me also thinks: there’s a lot of money which would very much like it to be believed football-caused head traumas aren’t so bad. If nevertheless we’ve heard they’re this bad, they’re likely worse. I will accept the author’s intention that Rick’s injuries are routine and unthreatening. And that the medical professionals who’ve cleared him repeatedly are acting according to the best evidence they have. Neal Rubin would know. It’s still a weird tone. The premise of the athlete being pushed out of sports by a noodge of a relative is good enough. I would feel less weird about it if it weren’t about football-caused head injuries. I feel weird that my essay about all this has been so merry, considering.

But that’s where things stand for the middle of December, 2017. The story feels at least a couple weeks away from resolution to me. I’d expect the basketball-season story to start in around a month, unless there’s a major twist coming. And we’ll see; sometimes they happen. The softball-season story took such a major twist last year. These things happen.

Next Week!

Spies! International intrigue! Prison drama! Divorce, kidnapping, and deliberately smashed cell phones! What else could it be but Judge Parker, the most “What” of What’s Going On In comic strips for 16 months running! Francesco Marciuliano’s writing has brought a lot of changes to the strip, but don’t worry. He hasn’t gone so far as to make Mike Manley illustrate any judge work.

The Tenth Talkartoon: Grand Uproar


The next cartoon would be Swing You Sinners!, but I just reviewed that for Halloween and I don’t think it’s been long enough I’d have different feelings about it now. So here’s the next, instead. From the 3rd of October, 1930: Grand Uproar, animated by Seymore Kneitel and Al Eugster. Kneitel’s already shown up here a bunch that we know of. This is Al Eugster’s first credited appearance. Eugster spent over six decades animating, from silent-era Felix the Cat to Disney’s Snow White to the last years of the Paramount studio, when Shamus Culhane and Ralph Bakshi made it their strange own, and on past the end of theatrical cartoon shorts.

The cartoon felt a little out of place, somehow. After a bunch of Bimbo cartoons in a row he doesn’t appear this time At least unless one of the characters is meant to be him in a modified form. Perhaps one could argue the Gay Caballero is meant to be Bimbo. On the first look at the Senorita I wondered if she might be an off-model Betty Boop, but I don’t think that’s sustainable. She’d need more hair curls over her face, I think. And maybe they just weren’t thinking about Bimbo for this one.

Wikipedia gives the release date of this carton as the 3rd of October, 1930, barely a week and a half after Swing You Sinners! was released. That seems weirdly close to me; no other pair of Talkartoons their first year were released so near one another. It made me wonder if the short was made earlier, perhaps before Bimbo started to crystallize as a character, and got held up any. But it doesn’t look as primitive as, say, Fire Bugs did. I’m curious how the scheduling for the short worked out. It’s probably foolish to read too much into the timing of successive shorts, though. The release dates don’t seem to show any particular pattern. February 1931 has two Talkartoons released in a single week.

There’s no end of suspiciously Mickey Mouse-like characters in it. And I’m not sure I have a candidate for the blink-and-you-miss-it joke. All the clear jokes are made pretty clearly, with about the right focus to appreciate them. There are several Fleischer studios cartoons that feature stage presentations and, for my tastes, they always work. There’s something about putting on stage theatrics with cartoon mechanisms that works for me. But I also couldn’t get enough of the hippopotamus apologizing his way through rows of the audience, so, what do I know?

For all the title promises an “uproar” there’s really not one. The action is all fairly well controlled. Even the climax doesn’t feel like it’s getting out of control. It’s funny enough, I think, and fitting. Just the title promises more chaos than the short delivers. There’s nothing wrong with a cartoon like this that’s just a bunch of jokes in a setting. But that there isn’t a protagonist probably keeps it from being able to build to any particular finale. Possibly the cartoon needed more Bimbo.

I have the impression the early joke about looking at the hippopotamus with all those diamonds is a reference to something, but I don’t know what it is.

What’s Going On In Rex Morgan, M.D.? September – December 2017


Hi, enthusiast of Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. trying to figure out what’s going on. This is my best effort at catching up what’s happening in the strip as of mid-December 2017. If you’re reading this after around March 2018, barring some surprise, I’ll have some more current essay describing its events. You should be able to get that essay here. And, must say, it looks to me like the strip is transitioning from one story to another. So if you’re reading this in, say, February and don’t know what’s going on, and can’t wait for me, you’ll probably have it all if you just go back to mid-December in the archives and catch up from there.

And if you’re just interested in mathematically-themed comics, I’ve got a week’s summary on my other blog. The mathematics one.

Rex Morgan, M.D.

18 September – 10 December 2017.

I keep remarking how it seems like my story comic summaries coincide with new stories starting in the comics. Some of it’s luck. Some of it’s the ease of confirmation bias. I get to each strip about every 12 weeks. If I’m off by half a month that’s still one chance in three of being “near” the start of a story. Still, last time I checked in on Rex Morgan, M.D. I was like right on the end of a story. June Morgan’s old childhood friend Margie Taylor, dying of plot, had got the Morgans to agree to adopt her child. And she had just vanished, leaving only a pile of problem-clearing paperwork and nice enough kid Johnny in her wake.

Like the week after my last essay the strip went around the horn, touching on some of the major storylines. Wealthy industrialist Milton Avery was shown settling back in his old home in England, no longer recognizing his wife Heather, and unaware that she’s pregnant. The Avery’s house-sitters for their on-panel house are shown to be … nice people that I guess have something going for them. Edward, the kid who tried to bully Sarah during the gas-leak year when she was resident child artist at the municipal art gallery, comes over to show off a dog that’s supposed to be fantastically weird that he can only be shown as a Dick Tracy-style explanatory caption.

And then, come October, we started the real story of the last couple months. It involves the highest form of art according to the people who write comic strips, which is, comic books. Early this year the Morgans helped their friend Buck reconnect with Great 50s Horror Comics artist Hank Harwood. Since then “Horrible” Hank’s gotten some satisfying late-in-life glory from fans who had just supposed he was dead or something, plus a bunch of commissions. But, following an anonymous Internet tip Harwood’s son discovers: somebody’s posting fake Horrible Hank art on auction sites.

Mindy: 'Someone is pretending to be you and selling forgeries of Hank's drawings on the Internet?' Buck: 'That's the gist of it, yeah.' 'Sounds crazy to me.' 'It may sound crazy, but scammers can make serious dough selling fakes online. Autographs, comic art, you name it.' 'I see plenty of reproductions in my antiques business, but that's usually just people who are mistaken about what they have. Intentionally defrauding people with fakes? I just can't understand the mindset of someone who'd do that.' 'They see others as marks, just victims to take advantage of.' 'Pretty darn sad, if you ask me.' 'No kidding'. ELSEWHERE. Mysterious woman handing over envelope: 'Your payment.' Rene Belluso: 'Thanks. I'm pleased with the quality.' Mysterious: 'You're good at what you do. Most people would never know these are copies.' Rene: 'Let me know when you want more.' Mysterious: 'I will, Rene. Thanks.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 8th of October, 2017. I don’t know, not my place to quarrel with someone else’s preferences in art. I just think that forged Horrible Hank piece is not all that good a portrait of a young maiden looking discreetly away from the viewer is all. And don’t get me started on the duckrabbit.

Buck, who’s been managing Horrible Hank’s return to the money factory that is commissioned comics art, is horrified. He lodges complaints with the auction site. The counterfeiter responds by saying (a) their stuff is too legit and (b) here’s some news stories about Buck being arrested for art forgery so nyah. Buck is offended by what he calls “doxxing” and files a complaint with the Commissioner of the Internet to get these untrue things removed.

But his certified letter to the Commissioner of the Internet is barely mailed when a major clue steps in. Buck’s getting-quite-serious girlfriend Mindy recognizes the women who spent an hour lingering around her antiques store. It’s Doris, Buck’s abusive ex-wife, who’s supposed to be in jail after this incident where she nail-gunned his head and came after him with a knife. He’s supposed to be under a protection order and get notified when she’s released, but, you know, things happen.

[MINDY IS TEXTING BUCK]: 'This woman has been poking around the shop for an hour. What do you bet she ends up not buying a thing?' [EVENTUALLY] ... (Woman): 'I'll just take this.' Mindy: 'Okay then. Thanks for stopping by. Do come again.' Woman: 'It's a lovely store. I'll be back.' Mindy thinks: 'I thought she'd never leave! I can close up, finally.' [LATER AT BUCK'S PLACE] Mindy: 'What are you looking at, Corey?' Corey: 'Some old pics of Dad. Just kind of comparing these with him now to see how much weight he's lost.' Mindy: 'May I see?' Corey: 'Well, yeah. Though a lot of these pics have Dad's ex, Doris, in them --- not sure you want to see her.' Mindy: 'THAT's Doris? But that's the woman who was in my shop today.' Corey: 'Oh, that can't be good. We'd better tell Dad.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 22nd of October, 2017. I can attest, as a person who has lost a lot of weight, how weird old photographs look. There was this time, when I was first thin, that I thought the weird part was the current me and this weird figure looking back in mirrors and new pictures and all. But that changes. Now I look at old pictures of me and I can kind of see myself, only my hair isn’t grey, and I appear to be incompetently smuggling an inflatable raft out of the sporting-goods store. I also kept one of my old shirts from when I was enormous and it’s hard to believe but it’s large enough to house my car.

Mindy texts Buck when Doris re-visits the antiques shop. Buck immediately charges into the scene, which goes as well as you could hope for doing the dumb thing. She misses hitting him with a paperweight, runs off, and lets him catch her in her apartment. Her plan: ruin Buck’s reputation as a legitimate comics-art dealer, thereby breaking up his relationship with Mindy, after which she’ll get Buck all to herself. Well, I’ve heard dumber schemes. A disgusted Buck tries to leave, but Mindy charges, ineptly, and falls down the steps just after a witness arrives to see the whole thing.

Doris: 'Buck, don't leave! I love you!' Buck: 'You have no clue what love is, Doris. I feel sorry for you --- but we are more than done.' Mindy: 'Buck!' (She throws a paperweight and misses.) Buck: 'You really have to stop throwing those paperweights, Doris.' Doris: 'YOU CAN'T LEAVE ME! I WON'T LET YOU!' Buck: 'Goodbye, Doris.' (Neighbor pokes his head out the apartment.) Doris: 'BUCK!!! DON'T YOU DARE!' (She jumps after him, and falls down the steps.) Neighbor: 'You want I should call 911?' Doris: 'Ow ... !'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 12th of November, 2017. I feel bad that I keep getting a little giggle every time I read that last panel.

With the crazy ex put back in jail, Buck can look forward to a life as a reputable comics-art dealer. And, with his son’s encouragement, he asks Mindy to marry. She’s happy to. Horrible Hank finally gets to see some of the forgeries. And he recognizes the artist: Rene Belluso. The guy who was giving Sarah art lessons up until Terry Beatty took over the comic and dialed way down the “free stuff for the Morgans” theme.

And besides that Rene Belluso is still out there forging art, that wraps up that storyline, one week ago. This past week was spent delivering the news that Margie Taylor had, indeed died. I intend no guess as to whether that’s starting a new thread about the adoption of Johnny or simply resolving the previous thread. Still, it’s a bunch of successfully deployed soap opera plotting, so, well done.

Next Week!

Viral videos! Micro-managing stage uncles! Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy! No word on the playdowns! It can’t be anything but Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp. Please stop in and see what football players are singing and for what reasons.

The Eighth Talkartoon: Barnacle Bill; and Betty Boop gets a name (it’s not Betty)


If the Fleischer Studios cartoons have any reputation in the current pop culture it’s “those black-and-white cartoons the animators must have been on drugs when they drew”. They always say this about stuff packed with weirdness and whimsy and more nonsense than is needed. It seems to reflect some need to make alien the mindset that does stuff purely for fun, as though intense play were unfit for the dignity of modern life. And like most reputations it’s overblown. Most of their cartoons are straightforward things with little fillips of weirdness because they had the time to fill.

So here’s one of the cartoons that isn’t an exception. It’s eight minutes of almost nothing but weirdness. This cartoon, originally released the 30th of August, 1930, was animated by Seymour Kneitel and Rudy Zamora, along with — Wikipedia says, anyway — Grim Natwick. And it’s kind of a weird one.

This is listed as a Betty Boop cartoon. It was on the eight-VHS Betty Boop collection I watched so often in the 90s. I imagine anyone with a clear idea who Betty Boop was would list this as one of her cartoons, even though she’s still in that dog-based model abandoned not soon enough. But the cartoon gives her a name, clearly and obviously, in Bimbo’s notebook: she’s Nancy Lee. Apparently “Betty Boop” is a rewrite, the way Tom Cat started out as Jasper. Huh.

Or it’s a character. The cartoon has a — well, plot seems like the wrong word. But it’s doing something. It’s playing out the folk/drinking song “Barnacle Bill the Sailor”. A cleaned-up version was a hit song of 1928 and again 1930. Bimbo, acting consistently with the screwball nature I talked about in Dizzy Dishes, sneaks off his ship. And then gets into character, I suppose, as Barnacle Bill. Perhaps Betty’s just playing the character of Nancy Lee here. It seems a little weird, but in 1935 the Fleischer studios would pretty much remake this as a Popeye cartoon, Beware of Barnacle Bill. And in that one Bluto is certainly “playing” Barnacle Bill.

But that’s plenty of fussing about Betty Boop’s “original” name. There is a lot going on in this cartoon. Nearly every moment is a weird visual gag. I wonder if this is a side effect of tying so much of the cartoon to the song. There’s not a lot to do visually if you stick to the lyrics of any version of the song “Barnacle Bill the Sailor”. One person sings four lines, and the other person sings four lines. If you’re going to make it visually interesting you have to pack in weirdness. So sure, Bimbo knocks on the door with his tail. Or he leaps into the sofa as though it were a pool of water. Or Betty/Nancy’s chairs sneak out of the room and a sofa takes their place. The front door shrinks in horror and hides when Barnacle Bimbo threatens to tear it open. The apartment door swallows him into the room.

Put aside, though, how packed it is with throwaway visual gags. Did you notice the camera angles here? There are all sorts of weird perspective shots. Some of them make sense, shooting Bimbo from far above when he’s talking to Betty on the second floor, or Betty from below when she’s talking to Bimbo down below. Being above Bimbo when he’s walking up or down stairs makes sense. But, for example, the opening scene doesn’t need the boat to be charging at the camera to read cleanly, even to allow the boat (and bird) to sing. They chose to start from a weird perspective. It’s easy to imagine these scenes being framed in boring ways.

Does the short have an ending? Yes, it does, and then it blows right past it. Coming to the end of a round of “Barnacle Bill the Sailor” is the sensible stopping point. Finding that Bimbo’s been hitting on Gus Gorilla’s girlfriend (I suppose?) makes great internal logic. It makes Bimbo out to be a bit of a jerk, but a screwball character tends to be a jerk anyway. And puffing yourself up as Barnacle Bill is choosing to embrace the jerkiness. When they redid this as Beware of Barnacle Bill they cast Bluto as Barnacle Bill, wisely realizing that as the only moral person in his universe Popeye couldn’t take that role. Also I wonder if this doesn’t justify Bimbo fearing Gus Gorilla in Dizzy Dishes. Surely the cartoons were in production simultaneously, at least at some point. Maybe the logic of who did what to who got mixed up. Or, yeah, maybe it’s just that the big hulking character is always the villain and the scrawny little guy is the protagonist.

And yet after this perfectly good ending the short goes on. We get a chase, and a nice ridiculous one. I guess it gets the short up to eight minutes, if that’s what they were going for. It does end with delightful weirdness. But it’s also the sort of strangeness-for-strangeness’s-sake that gets these cartoons their reputation. … Well, all right. A lot of these cartoons are really weird.

There’s some suspicious-looking mice at about 0:53 and 1:25 in the short, all scenes before Bimbo gets off the ship. It’s hard to pick a best blink-and-you-miss-it gag — there’s a lot to feast on — but I’ll nominate the ship walking into harbor and having sneakers on. It’s another odd little touch in a short that’s overflowing with them.

Statistics Monday: What November 2017 Did For My Readership


I apologize for running this so late, but I was dealing with car stuff Friday. I didn’t have the time, or the energy, or enough desire to not crawl into the gap where the old maple tree’s rotted away to curl up to go looking over my statistics. They’re probably close enough now.

Might want to curl up again, though. My readership took a pretty big drop in November. I was below 2,000 page views for the first time in three months, and below 1,900 for the first time since April. It was nearly more dire than that: only 1,805 page views, compared to 2,151 in October and 2,126 in September. I’m curious what if anything explains this. I can’t imagine it’s the story comics rotating into a less-popular phase. November let me update people on the goings-on in Dick Tracy, Mark Trail, and Mary Worth. The first has lasting “did I miss something?” moments, and the other two are maybe the ironic-story-comics-reads now that Apartment 3-G has stopped happening.

The number of unique visitors dropped too, to 1,049. This stays above the nice round number of a thousand, at least, although it’s the smallest monthly total this year. I guess it says good-ish things about the number of views per visitor, although I’m still startled by it.

The number of pages liked was down, but not nearly so much: 165 likes were logged in November. There were 184 in October, but only 142 in September. This is still above the median for the year. The number of comments was up, too, to 35 from October’s 22. It’s close to September’s 38, and this is the third-highest total for the month. I know that’s juiced, though, by people sharing the origins of their blog names after I explained the title around here. I can’t do that every month, unless I start making things up. So now you know what next Monday’s bit is going to be.

The most popular essays have been, as usual, comic strip coverage. Fair enough. None of my long-form pieces were even remotely popular in November. This was a bit startling. They were (nearly) all variations of the same premise, goofy this-day-in-history pieces, and apparently people weren’t having it. Well, I stand by the long tail, and that future generations will find them when looking up “historical events november 24” and wonder what the heck this is before going off somewhere else. And I rake in the page views. As for what was genuinely popular or even remotely wanted now:

Those what’s-going-on posts are from the first time I thought to do a summary of recent plot developments in the strips. There’s a paragraph at the top of each to explain that more recent developments are covered at this other link, but I suppose it’s hard to resist the appeal of a subject line that exactly matches what people are asking the search engine. Kind of sorry I can’t just shuttle them right along to the page that’s probably more relevant to what they need to know, though. Maybe I need to retitle story strip posts as I supersede them.

Now for the running of the big list of countries! I make out 68 countries sending me readers, if we accept “European Union” as one. There were 22 single-reader countries in November. And who were they? These:

Country Readers
United States 1354
India 65
Canada 60
Germany 38
United Kingdom 35
Philippines 20
Brazil 19
Australia 18
France 14
Indonesia 14
Sweden 12
New Zealand 8
Italy 7
Netherlands 7
Romania 7
Russia 7
Ukraine 7
European Union 5
Japan 5
Mexico 5
Turkey 5
Denmark 4
Guadeloupe 4
Hong Kong SAR China 4
Hungary 4
Singapore 4
Switzerland 4
Vietnam 4
Belgium 3
Bermuda 3
Estonia 3
Ireland 3
Malaysia 3
Peru 3
Portugal 3
Argentina 2
Armenia 2
Chile 2
Greece 2
Israel 2
Serbia 2
South Africa 2
South Korea 2
Spain 2
Thailand 2
Algeria 1
Austria 1
Bangladesh 1
Bulgaria 1 (*)
Cambodia 1
Cameroon 1
Colombia 1 (***)
Czech Republic 1
Finland 1
Jamaica 1
Kazakhstan 1
Kenya 1
Nepal 1
Norway 1 (*)
Panama 1
Poland 1
Puerto Rico 1
Slovenia 1 (*)
Taiwan 1
Trinidad and Tobago 1 (*)
Tunisia 1
United Arab Emirates 1

October had 70 countries send me readers, and September 65. So, things are wobbling there. There were 21 single-reader countries in October, down from 24 in September. Again, wobbles.

Bulgaria, Norway, Slovenia, and Trinidad and Tobago were single-reader countries last month too. Colombia’s been a single-reader country four months running now. I think they’re maybe going for Cambodia’s five-month record from this year.

The month started at 66,974 page views, from something like 37,460 unique visitors. If you’d like to be among them, thank you, I’d be glad to see something unique out of you. I’m sorry to be so blunt, but, sheesh, the car thing is still dragging out. I don’t have the energy to be appealing.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Sundays)? September – December 2017


I’m glad to offer you kind readers an update about what’s going on in The Phantom. There’s two continuities at play in the strip, both written by Tony DePaul. This is an essay about the Sundays-only continuity, drawn by Jeff Weigel. If you’re interested in the weekday strips, or if you’re reading this essay much past December 2017, please look to the essays on this page. The Weekday continuity, and any later essays I’ve written about the Sunday continuity, should be right up top there.

And I also keep reviewing comic strips with mathematical themes on my other blog. I’m glad if you want to read that.

The Phantom (Sundays).

10 September – 3 December 2017.

My last recap of The Phantom Sunday continuity came near the end of the storyline “The Phantom Is Everywhere”. The Phantom Wiki says this was the 185th Sunday story, running the 26 weeks from the 9th of April through the 1st of October. I accept these claims. Also at some point over the storyline the Sunday artist switched from Terry Beatty to Jeff Weigel and I failed to point that out. I apologize to Beatty and Weigel.

The story was mostly wrapped up then, though. Three killers had escaped Jungle Patrol custody. The Phantom, relying on his intelligence network and drummers in the Bandar tribes, managed to capture them all the same night. Also to give them the impression he had captured them simultaneously, burnishing his reputation of being everywhere and timeless. Since my last essay the Jungle Patrol had found the three where the Ghost Who Walks left them. Guran covers up the bit early in the story where he knocks a Jungle Patrol officer unconscious, and reminds the Jungle Patrol about the yet another old jungle saying about how time is nothing to The Phantom. Hawa Aguda and Kay Molloy, women who years ago quit their humdrum jobs and joined the Jungle Patrol with the iconic declaration “I quit! We’re joining the Jungle Patrol!”, wonder if this might have something to do with the mysterious “John X” whom they suspect might be the Unknown Commander of the Jungle Patrol. (He is.)

With the 8th of October began the new story, the 186th, “The Rat Must Die”. The initial setting: Boomsby Prison, Bangalla’s spot for the most dangerous criminals. One is an as-yet-unnamed prisoner who looks like one part Daddy Warbucks, one part the closet monster from the end of The Brain That Wouldn’t Die. The warden laughs at Closet Warbucks’s proposed deal of his freedom in trade for the guy who was supposed to break him out of Boomsby. It’s not clear at this point the guy’s relationship to Closet Warbucks. My thought was he was someone hired to break him out, and who either reneged on the deal or who Closet Warbucks figured to double-cross on the way to getting out. It would be a kind of stupidly overcomplicated plot, but I could rationalize the logic. He’d either break out, or get buy his freedom by spoiling a break-out attempt. And if you’re not coming up with a stupidly overcomplicated plot you’re kind of wasting your superhero’s time.

[A Bid for Freedom ... ] Closet Warbucks: 'What are you laughing at? I know every crime he's planning! I can TAKE YOU to him!' [Meeting's over.] Guard: 'Warden has work to do! Move!' Warbucks: 'Y-you're TURNING ME DOWN!?' (As they walk down the hall, janitor listening. Warbucks: 'That stupid, lousy SUIT! I'll LEAD THE TEAM to my partner's door!' Guard: 'Yeah, yeah, MOVE IT!' Warbucks: 'You don't even have to give me a GUN!" Prisoner: 'There goes a real rat.' [ Nothing said in Boomsby stays in Boomsby ... Nothing ] (as prisoners pass word around.)
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 22nd of October, 2017. So I’ll return to my traditional role of talking about the art in captions rather than the text proper: this is a really well-composed strip. You know what’s significant here even if you don’t read the word balloons. They’re worth reading, since they paint such a sad picture of the Rat, but

Closet Warbucks’s attempted deal is the gossip hit of the prison. Pretty soon the guy — his ex-partner-in-crime, it turns out — gets word of the deal. And the prison janitor, another criminal who’s in the last 125 of his 1200-year sentence, send a note to Walker, Box 7, Mawaitaan. He quickly gets back the Consumer Information Catalogue, Pueblo, Colorado, 81009.

The letter brings out The Phantom, impressing me with his ability to separate valuable information from the noisy, messy volume of tips rolling in. The Ghost Who Walks arrives just as the ex-partner’s hit is on. A corrupt guard delivers a knife and opens the cell doors to a guy who smirks more than the whole cast of Funky Winkerbean, if such a thing is possible. The killer sneaks into the cell, draws his knife, and gets clobbered by The Phantom, who’s taken Closet Warbucks’s place on the bunk. The corrupt guard doesn’t fare better.

(Phantom holding his mouth over Closet Warbucks's mouth, in the dark.) [ The rat fights for air! But darkness awaits him ... A corrupt guard shames the uniform for dirty money.] (Guard letting out the assassin.) 'Step back! And don't forget what I said! Make a move on me and THE RAT won't die --- YOU DIE! Make it quick!' (Pushes the assassin into Closet Warbucks's cell.) 'And leave the shiv!' (The assassin approaches the bunk, where The Phantom has taken The Rat's place.)
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 19th of November, 2017. And this is another well-composed strip. The art isn’t monochromatic, but it evokes the sort of intense suspense that you can get from black-and-white thrillers. And it’s easy to tug my eye away from that final panel and its promise of action.

And there’s the action as of today. I don’t suspect we’re near the end of the story, not just because the last several Sunday-continuity stories have run at least a half-year each. But I’d imagine doing something about the ex-partner-in-crime has to be high on The Phantom’s agenda. No sense getting roused all the way to Boomsby just to foil one assassination of one failed prison snitch. And indeed, The Phantom told Closet Warbucks that he was taking this partner-for-freedom deal. Also maybe we’ll find out why Closet Warbucks wasn’t interested in selling out his partner before the trail began. We’ll see.

Next Week!

If all goes to plan it’s a chance to stop in again on Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. and learn all about how the Morgans are adjusting to life with — er, no, actually, it’s a surprising amount of text about comic-book art forgery and crazy exes and the physical infirmities that we all will endure if we live long enough. Join us, won’t you please?