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


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

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

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

Mark Trail.

8 March – 31 May 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Sunday Animals Watch!

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

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

Next Week!

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

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? What’s Detective Frisk doing not being dead? September – November 2019


Evening, everyone wondering what’s going on in Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy. If you’re reading this after February 2020 there’s probably a more up-to-date plot recap at this link, which also holds older Dick Tracy recaps. Thanks for reading.

Dick Tracy.

8 September – 30 November 2019.

Dick Tracy had just wrapped up a story when I last checked in. They were moving into two weeks of a Minit Mystery, solving a poisoning. That started the 1st of September and ran through the 15th. Makes things very neat for me. It featured characters from the Friday Foster comic strip of the early 70s.


The story opens with Detective Frieda Frisk. She’s been busy the last few years, ever since she died in the line of duty. She explains to Dick Tracy that yeah, back in a 2004 adventure Sal Monella drowned in the river. But you all just thought she drowned too. And since she was reported dead at work, she figured she might as well not come in anymore. Before you ask whether this makes sense please consider that Sal Monella had previously been crushed in a trash compactor. He turned up alive, albeit more cubical than before, and a legit concert promoter. Again, if you aren’t regularly going “wait, what?” you aren’t reading the real Dick Tracy.

[A familiar face from the past] Tracy; 'DETECTIVE FRISK?' Frisk: 'Ah, you got me, Tracy. Which is more than I can say for my would-be assassin.' Tracy: 'We all thought you DIED in pursuit of Sal Monella. What happened, Freida?' Frisk: 'Well, obviously Monella drowned and I didn't. Anyhow, Justice was serviced, and since I don't play well with others, I decided not to return to the MCU. For the past few years I've been investigating the activities of Mrs Clair Howell. Her specialty is selling infants to prospective parents.' Tracy: 'A baby broker.' Frisk: 'One of the biggest. She's been in the business for decades.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 22nd of September, 2019. I do not know whether we’re meant to take it that Frisk saw Monella drowned, or whether she’s just supposing someone who seemed to have drowned, and hasn’t made contact with any of the people he knew for a decade and a half now, must be dead. Anyway, Monella’s thing when he was a concert promoter was set-decorating a venue with real actual garbage, and somehow this was a major hit, netting like nine million bucks before Frisk decided he needed to be not so alive. Monella’s original scheme, when he was first a villain in the comic, was selling recycled garbage as discount airline snacks, which gave Dick Tracy a case of amnesia, causing him not to wonder why a discount airline has snacks. I don’t know, I’m just telling you what’s on the Dick Tracy Wiki.

Anyway, Frisk’s new job is providing family information to Howell Babies. These are the children sold, for decades, by Clair Howell’s for-profit adoption agency. Which Frisk notes is not against the law, merely wrong. Frisk gets back in touch with Tracy because she shot an extra named Edward Delacroix. But she was going contact him anyway. She’s discovered that Officer Lizz Worthington-Grove, who’s been in the strip since the 50s, was also one of Howell’s sold babies. Tracy has questions. Frisk says she doesn’t know why Delacroix was shooting her. She also won’t reveal how she’s getting the Howell’s adoption records.

The Howells would like to know that too. Their plan of sending Edward Delacroix to shoot the information out of her didn’t work. They think long about what motivates people besides bullets, and hit on the idea of money. It turns out Frisk herself is a Howell Baby. They take the chance that Frisk’s birth mother, Lily Seven, would take money in exchange for setting up a trap. So she would.

Seven contacts Frisk, claiming to have only recently found out about her from Howell. Frisk and Tracy grant Seven might be working with Howell. But she’s interested in where this is going. It goes to dinner, and a movie, and before long, going to see Vitamin Flintheart in Our Town. They’re having a great relationship except for how Seven is only in it as long as Howell’s bankroll holds up.

Tracy: 'Well, Frisk, it's been two weeks and no move against you. How are you and Lily getting along?' Frisk: 'Eh, I could still be on someone's marked list, so I'm keeping an eye out. As for Lily, I think she may be on the level.' [ Elsewhere ] Lily: 'Look here, Clair, I'm getting tired of playing Mommy. When are you gonna make your move?' Clair Howell: 'The next time you meet with Frisk.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 10th of October, 2019. Really genuinely curious what the small talk between Seven and Frisk is like. “So, uh, when you decided to just go along with the people who decided you were dead, uh … like … did that get the student loan people off your back? Because if plunging into the icy rivers of Tracy City and then never returning to your workplace or apartment is what it takes, I can think of some people who’d figure that’s worth it.”

Seven and Frisk go to Our Town again, I’m assuming because The Best Man was sold out. At the close of the play Seven jabs a hypodermic into Frisk’s neck. Seven and the Howells, who’ve been lurking around the show, drag her away.

They have a great plan to kill Frisk only slowly and uncertainly. They drag her to the abandoned building district, and to the roof of the Crow-Infested Building Hotel. There they tie her to the Roof Machinery and leave her in the rain-turning-to-snow. There’s only one possible way that she might escape. And that is if her Wrist Geenee, the souped-up version of the Dick Tracy Wrist-Radio that they were using in the early 2000s, was not in fact destroyed when she wrestled with Sal Monella in 2004, but instead fell into the lining of her jacket where it has rested ever since, waiting for the random motions of Frisk trying to break the zip ties binding her arms to her legs to activate its distress signal mode on a frequency still monitored by contemporary Dick Tracy Wrist Wizard technology, which it has retained enough battery power to do for fifteen years. And what do you know but — ! So Tracy’s able to rescue Frisk before she would plummet to her death.

Tracy, racing to the rooftop where Frisk is about to fall to the ground: 'FRISK! DON'T MOVE!' (Grabbing her.) 'I've got you!' Frisk: 'T-Tray! How'd you find me?' Tracy: 'Your Wrist Genii signalled me. You're freezing.' Frisk: 'M-my Wrist Genii? I LOST IT when I fell in the bay chasing Sal Monella.' Tracy, tearing it out of her coat as he unties her: 'It's in the lining of your coat! Your struggling must have activated it.' Frisk: 'Tracy, I'm so SORRY about the mean things I said to you.' Tracy; 'We're OK, Frisk. Now come in out of the cold.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 3rd of November, 2019. Not denying that it’s a normal and realistic and human thing to say, but: Dick Tracy yelling at Frisk to stop falling off the roof makes me so happy. Really great stuff there. (They spelled Frisk’s device as the Wrist Genii here, although back in the early 2000s it was called the Wrist Geenee. I do not know what significance this change in spelling has and would not rule out that Genii is easier to letter.)

The Howells hear about this on the news and just. Can. Not. I sympathize. They make a break for it as cops converge on their house. The Howells spot one cop car, T-bone it, and keep going. But that’s damaged their own car, and when its tire blows the car careens off a bridge into the river below. Tracy calls for an ambulance and divers, but there’s not much to do. When you’ve witnessed two people get dumped into the cold waters and not come up you have to accept them as dead. Tracy asks Frisk about her plans.

She figures to carry on contacting Howell Babies and offering them information on how to contact their birth parents. Oh, and she’ll definitely stop back in when Lily Seven’s trial comes up.


So that, the 14th of November, closed out the story that’s dominated the last couple months. It also introduces the new, currently-running story. It opens at Wertham Woods Psychiatric Facility (motto: “Get it? Eh? EH?”). We know it as the facility holding Tulza Tuzon. Tuzon’s half-handsome, half-monstrous face earned him the performing and crime name Haf-and-Haf. He contracted a case of Soap Opera Multiple Personality Disorder. If that’s the sort of subject matter you do not want in your casual entertainment, you may want to drop Dick Tracy from your reading the next couple months. So far Tuzon hasn’t done very much in the story that any old villain looking for revenge wouldn’t be doing anyway.

The person we see on screen might be acting in the character of Tulza Tuzon, or as Haf-and-Haf, or as the particularly villainous Splitface. Which gets even more confusing than usual, because there was another, earlier Splitface in the Dick Tracy universe. I think that this Splitface has taken his name in tribute to the older one. But, gads, they aren’t making it easy for me. Haf-and-Haf was a character Chester Gould created in the mid-60s by Totally I Swear Not Having Heard Of Two-Face Over In Batman.

Last time I dealt with Tuzon/Haf-and-Haf/Splitface, they were kidnapping Zelda, Tuzon’s ex-wife. Along the way they picked up a sidekick, a homeless guy name of Clybourne Mayfair. The kidnapping plan didn’t work, but Splitface orders Clybourne to escape before the cops finally close in.

Anyway, Clybourne’s popped in again, pretending to be a statue delivery guy to Wertham Woods so he can sneak Tuzon/Haf/Splitface out. He’s not out to kill Zelda this time and anyway she’s out of the country. Instead he’s got a car bomb project. A two-car bomb, that he sets off outside the Hotel Siam when Dick Tracy’s car pulls up. You’ll remember the Hotel Siam as the place where Oliver and Annie Warbucks stayed while they were most recently in the strip. The bomb doesn’t kill Tracy or Sam Catchem.

Car explodes. Narrator: 'Tracy, Sam, Steve, and Mike narrowly escaped a car bombing at the Siam!' Steve Roper: 'This is quite a welcome, Tracy.' Tracy: 'Yes, isn't it?' Sam Catchem: 'Friends of yours, Tracy?' Tracy: 'Sam, this is Steve Roper and Mike Nomad.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 25th of November, 2019. “Sam, did I mention I’ve been learning how to throw my voice? … … … I’ve been learning how to throw my voice.” Anyway, did you know that Steve Roper and Mike Nomad was written by Allen Saunders, who also wrote Mary Worth for like six hundred years back in the mid-20th century? And, yes, the strip started out as a joke strip titled Big Chief Wahoo, and changed. So it did the Wash Tubbs and Captain Easy thing of changing genre, and the Barney Google and Snuffy Smith or Robotman/Monty thing of getting a new cast and dropping the old. Comic strips used to be even weirder.

It does reveal this story’s special guest stars, Steve Roper and Mike Nomad. From the remembered comic strip Steve Roper and Mike Nomad. When that comic was last seen, in December 2004, Steve Roper was the editor of Proof Magazine. Mike Nomad was a private eye. Together they’d have action-adventure stories that I never read. I mean, c’mon, who was doing story-comic snark blogging in 2004?

Roper’s car was completely destroyed by the bomb. Roper and Nomad were in town, by a great stroke of luck, investigating Tulza Tuzon. Nomad explains they knew Haf-and-Haf, from an investigation they ran ages ago into carnival cons. The one they could pin on Haf-and-Haf: the old purse-snatching-crows plan. Which, I read, was part of the original Haf-and-Haf story in 1960s Dick Tracy. They spotted Haf-and-Haf’s scam, called the cops, and Tulza went on the run. He ran all the way into a truck carrying a vat of toxic disfigurement chemicals. So, uh, good job, Proof Magazine, giving some supervillain his Origin Story. I get why Tuzon would be aiming a bomb at them; what I don’t know is why they figured they had to come back into town now and be a target for him.

And that’s where the story has gotten to, as of Saturday.

Next Week!

Will I get to talk about old-time radio? It’s time to explain what’s going on in Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley, so, yes. Catch you in a week, unless something demands the publication slot first.

What’s Going On In Rex Morgan, M.D.? And Who’s Contesting the Adoption? December 2017 – March 2018


Are you interested in the goings-on of Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D.? If you aren’t this essay isn’t for you. But if you’re interested and want to know what the current storyline is, this is the essay for you. Unless it’s gotten much later than early March 2018 for you. If you are reading this later than about June 2018 you’ll probably want an essay at or near the top of this page as a more recent story summary. Unless you’re looking for how things got to those later-essays’ points, I mean. I suppose you know your business.

Rex Morgan, M.D.

11 December 2017 – 4 March 2018.

My last update came fortuitously near the start of a story thread. June Morgan’s childhood friend Margie Tyler had died offstage. Tyler had left her child, Johnny, with the Morgans to adopt. With the Morgans willing and able to take him in, and no known living relatives of Johnny interested, everything looked smooth. That’s where things stood the 10th of December.

June took the kids — Sophie and Michael, both of whom she gave birth to, and Johnny, on whom she’s waiting for court decrees to settle — to the mall. A couple older people watch them at the play area and nudge June for the story of the two boys. June doesn’t tell. After they leave, the strip stayed with the elder couple. So, yeah, they were Johnny’s grandparents. Not Margie Tyler’s parents; her (dead) husband’s parents, Arnold and Helen March. They were estranged from their son, and only just learned they had a grandchild. Now that they do, they petition for custody.

June: 'Go on and get in your booster seat, honey. I have to get the boys into their car seats.' Sarah: 'Okay. I still wonder who those old people were.' Jone: 'They were just a nice old couple. Being a little too friendly, maybe.' Sarah: 'Those old folks were kinda nosy, weren't they?' June: 'People see the boys and have to ask if they're twins. Natural curiosity, I guess.' [ INSIDE ] Helen: 'Should we have spoken to her? Was that smart?' Arnold: 'There's no way she could know who we are. And you wanted to see the boy, didn't you?' Helen: 'Of course. I just don't want there to be any trouble. It was so hard just to sit here and pretend. He's the spitting image of Ronnie at that age.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 17th of December, 2017. After the first encounter at the mall, and before the Marches file for custody of Johnny. … Also given that Johnny and Michael are the same age — born the same day, the strip established — but became brothers through adoption I wonder what kind of twins they would be considered. It doesn’t quite seem like any category fits, does it?

The Morgans take the kids to the mall again. They see the elderly couple and recognize who they are. June approaches them. She offers that if they knock it off with the stalking, she won’t bury them in Rex’s medical practice, never to be seen again. The next day, Rex Morgan is barely able to get in to not seeing patients before his lawyer calls. The Marches want to talk.

More precisely they want to grovel. They’d only just learned they had a grandchild, they drove down to town to see him, and they kind of stumbled in to being stalkery. “Our bad,” Helen calls it, in a moment sincerely endearing to me. But on to serious business. They’re dropping their petition. They’re confident the Morgans can take better care of Johnny. They’re sorry for all the trouble they caused. They ask only that they not be killed as an example to the others. Rex and June are happy to agree to this, and they all agree that the Marches should be part of Johnny’s life; an auxiliary set of grandparents.

Helen: 'Sneaking around to see our grandson wasn't the best idea, Arnold.' Arnold: 'I suppose you're right, Helen. I just didn't want to wait for lawyers to decide when and how we could see him.' Helen: 'But now the Morgans think we're some kind of crazy stalkers!' Arnold: 'What do we do now that the Morgans are so upset with us?' Helen: 'I suppose we call our lawyer and see what kind of damage control we can do. And there's something I need to ask you ... ' [ MEANWHILE, THE MORGANS HAVE ARRIVED HOME. ] June: 'Okay, guys. Let's get your coats off.' Sarah: 'So WHY did we have to leave the funplace so early?' June: 'Nothing you need to worry about, honey.' Sarah:' I get it. It's one of those 'None of my business' kind of deals.' June: 'Pretty much. Yes.' Sarah: 'I'm keeping track of all this stuff so you can explain it to me when I'm grown up.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 14th of January, 2018. After the second encounter at the mall, and after the Marches had petitioned for custody of Johnny. There’s an extent to which the seriousness with which Sarah treats her presumptive participation in the adult world amuses me. Also there’s the thought of how, when Sarah is Like 36, her parents are going to be able to reduce her to embarrassed cackling by pointing out the time she was this age and said things like “I’m keeping track of all this stuff so you can explain it to me when I’m grown up”.

As a reader I’m a bit torn on this. I like stories that involve people acting thoughtfully. Senior citizens concluding that, sure, they would like to adopt their grandchild but they really aren’t up for it? That’s sensible behavior. I’m glad they do that. The Morgans concluding that while their relationship with the Marches started creepy-to-bad, they’re better off taking this couple into their lives? There’s also good sense to that.

But. One of the motifs of Rex Morgan, M.D. before Terry Beatty took over writing was that people kept giving the Morgans free stuff. A massive publishing contract for young Sarah. A too-great-to-believe Victorian Mansion. That kind of thing. It’s fun to daydream about getting great good fortune dropped on you, but when the characters haven’t done anything particular? A contested adoption looked promising as a story. The Morgans could still adopt Johnny, but they’d have to do more than be someone his previous mother trusted when she was dying. And now here’s that promising conflict skipped.

It’s not that I don’t buy this ending. Nor even that I don’t like it. It seems to me the settlement that leaves everyone happy and that’s even probably best for Johnny. The problem is the choice to go for this is made by the Marches, off-screen. The viewpoint characters haven’t done anything to influence this, apart from June telling the Marches not to spy on them. (Coincidentally I watched the 1979 movie Kramer Vs Kramer this week. It too leaves me unsatisfied, by an important choice about custody of the kid being made off-screen.) I’d have liked to see more of the Marches wrestling with their decision, and maybe the Morgans working to emotionally earn Johnny better.

Sarah: 'Can I finish writing in my diary before I go to bed?' Rex: 'You MAY. Just turn your light out when you're done.' Sarah: 'Okay. Thanks, Dad.' [ SARAH MORGAN'S DIARY ] (Illustrated as a talented but still young kid might, for example with labells pointing out 'My brother' versus 'Robot'.) It was fun having Johnny's grandparents here today. i know they are not really my or Michael's grandparents --- but they are very nice. And since we really don't have much family, I'm going to adopt them, like we adopted Johnny. A kid really ought to have grandparents, don't you think? And it's not just 'cause they gave me and Michael gifts. Though I'll never complain about getting a new box of crayons! I just think a family feels more complete when there's a grandma and grandpa involved! Goodnight, Diary. Time for lights out!'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 18th of February, 2018. Something the comic strip has featured more since Beatty took over writing duties is to illustrate stuff as Sarah might. It’s always fun when a comic strip’s artist breaks away from the normal format, and the kid’s diary is a great excuse to do it. (Lincoln Pierce’s Big Nate used to showcase the title character’s own-drawn comics a lot, but that seems to have fallen away in recent years.) Not quite ready for me to ask: is Sarah of the age to write sentences like “A kid really ought to have grandparents, don’t you think?” (No reason kids don’t sometimes write above their level, especially if it’s a phasing they might have encountered and identified as A Way Grown-ups Speak.)

Still, all agree. And all agree that agreeing is swell. The week leading up to the 18th of February was about the March’s first proper play date with the Morgans. It goes swell, everybody amiable all around. The Marches bringing toys and new crayons help. Sarah, writing in her diary, remarks on how she knew “getting new grandparents would mean extra presents”. It’s the sort of innocent avarice that I remember from childhood.

The 19th of February the new story started. It’s following the Morgan’s babysitter Kelly and her genial but basically clueless boyfriend Niki. Their friend Justin chokes on a sandwich. Before anyone can remember if they know how to do the Heimlich Maneuver he vomits it up and decides he’s done with lunch. He doesn’t want to go to the nurse. Kelly also mentions to Niki that isn’t not necessary that Justin hang out with them all the time. Niki doesn’t understand because while he is genial, he is also basically clueless. At the coffee shop after school, Justin gets some pastries and seems to be choking again.

It’s too early in the story for me to make any guesses where it’s going. I mean, I would expect Justin’s strange choking to matter again, but because otherwise why should Beatty have spent screen time on it? (I wrote most of this paragraph before reading the Sunday installment, but I think it still stands, especially once I deploy the next sentence here.) Don’t know yet, for example, whether Justin is really choking or whether he’s making a joke about earlier in the day. And perhaps the story is something about the challenges of the partners in a relationship also having their own friendships. But (so far) less time was spent on that than on the sandwich. So all told there’s nothing for me to make plot guesses about. Shall try to check back when there is news to report. And I’ll try not to grumble about a soap strip having the plot advance on a Sunday forcing me into some rewrites.

Next Week!

Oh, wow, you do not know with what levels of confused and only partly ironic nerd rage I say this. But I have been dying to get back to Milford and Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp and yes, Marty Moon is only a part of it. Send help.

And before then? Mathematically-themed comic strips over on my other blog, if that’s your taste.

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


I am embarrassed to admit this is a story summary done in greater haste than usual. Somehow I’d got in my head that I was due to review Gil Thorp and was thinking about that storyline all week, and then late Saturday actually looked at my schedule. I’ll try to be fairly complete about this anyway. And for those hoping to understand Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D., thanks for reading. If it’s much past September 2017 when you read this, the story might have drifted. If I have more recent updates they should be at or near the top of this page.

On my other blog, I have not just the usual roundup of mathematically-themed comic strips but also my finally noticing something shocking about the cast of John Rose’s Barney Google and Snuffy Smith. Please, let me know your opinion on this.

Rex Morgan, M.D.

26 June – 17 September 2017.

My last summary of Rex Morgan, M.D. missed by one week the conclusion of the Kelly-Niki-Holly love triangle plot, when it was revealed Niki didn’t know Kelly was jealous of his time with Holly. Niki needed some advice from her parents on how to cope with a non-heterosexual friend because millennials have so much trouble coping with this stuff than their parents do. That’s all.

The 2nd of July started the new and current storyline, when June Morgan’s childhood friend Margie Taylor dropped into town. She bring along her son Johnny, played by Norm Feuti’s Gil, who instantly gets along with Sarah and Michael Morgan. Margie talks about how she’d had to leave town as a teen when her mother died, and how screwed up her life had gotten, and how she’s straightened out enough things that she had the courage to look up June Morgan again.

Rex: 'Is your friend showing up soon?' June: 'Should be here any time now.' (Ding dong!) 'Like I said, any time now!' (At the door.) 'Margie!' 'June!' June: 'It's been ages, but I'd have known you ANYWHERE!' Margie: 'You, too. How could I ever forget my BEST FRIEND?' Toddler: 'Mam?' June: 'OH MY! Who's THIS little sweetheart?' Margie: 'That's my SURPRISE --- my SON, Johnny.' June: 'That's a nice surprise!' Sarah: 'Look, Michael --- Mommy's friend brought someone for you to PLAY with!' June: 'Well, what are we STANDING here for? Come on in!'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 16th of July, 2017. By the way, Johnny in the last row there? That’s me at every social event. Except I’ve got a beard, and I somehow put on a shirt and pants that don’t quite match even though you can’t really say just why. And my pants are black half the time. The instructions say that’s supposed to work with anything. I don’t know what’s gone wrong.

So yeah, Margie’s dying. June’s the first to mention it, to Rex, who does enough medicine to agree. It takes a couple weeks of reader time for Margie to open up about it. But she’s got third-stage plot complications and expects them to be imminently fatal. Margie panels the people in Rex and June Morgan’s lives about how good they are as parents and the reports are favorable. “Yeah, there was that weird thing where they let a mob widow muscle the Museum into publishing and buying a zillion copies of her book of horse drawings, and I guess June’s pregnancy did get into the tenth trimester before she gave birth, but they’re basically pretty good eggs,” answered person after person, verbatim.

Rex: 'Kids are asleep?' Margie: 'Michael is. Sarah's in bed reading.' 'The girl DOES love her books.' 'GOSH --- I wonder how she came by THAT.' 'So, your friend is all settled in?' 'Yeah, seems to be. You saw she was sick right away didn't you?' 'Pretty much.' 'Took me a while. But when she went into her purse for her car keys, I couldn't help seeing the PRESCRIPTION PAINKILLERS she's packing.' 'Opiates?' 'Uh-huh'.
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 30th of July, 2017. I realize that this strip and the previous one make it look like Rex has spent this entire storyline staring intently into a book while talking distractedly to his wife, but … uhm … I’m not sure he actually hasn’t.

Margie asks June if she and Rex will adopt Johnny. June, hoping to stall long enough for the writer to change his mind, agrees to consider it if Margie agrees to see some specialists that she and Rex will think up. Margie agrees. While June and Rex take seriously the question of whether to adopt an all-but-certainly-orphaned boy, Margie tells babysitter Kelly that she’s off to run some errands, hugs Johnny, and walks out. She leaves behind a letter to the court asking that the Morgans be named Johnny’s guardian, and a note to not try to find her.

Margie: 'What a nice little park.' June: 'The kids enjoy it. It's one of the things that sold me on this neighborhood.' Margie: 'You've made quite a life for yourself, June.' June: 'I'm sorry things haven't worked out well for you, Margie.' Margie: 'I had Johnny. That's the one good thing. But now ... oh, this is hard to say.' June: 'It's okay, Margie. Take your time. Whatever you need to tell me.' Margie: 'You and Rex know I'm sick, don't you?' 'We could tell, yes.' 'I beat it twice, June --- but this time it looks like three strikes and I'm out.' 'And you're looking for someone to take Johnny when you're gone.' 'There's no family that can take him, on either side.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 13th of August, 2017. This isn’t the important thing, but I like public pavilions with that top panel’s style of brick-clad support pillars. The trash bin lined with vertical wood slats works for me too.

So that’s an exciting development. The police are vague about whether this does count as child abandonment or any other specific crime, which surprises me. I grant the situation’s not common, but it seems like it’s got to be something everyone who does child and family welfare cases has to hear about. I’m also curious what actual real-world case law suggests. My gut says that yeah, it wouldn’t be abandonment to leave a child with someone responsible who’d given you a verbal agreement to an adoption, along with a letter stating your intention to give the child to their custody, and contact information for your attorney (who’s presumably been clearly told the intention). But if I learned anything from watching too much of The People’s Court as a kid, the thing that seems instinctively right is contravened by actual law. (There must be some guide for this for soap opera writers, mustn’t there? So that if they want the story to go in a crazy direction they can do it in ways that don’t sound obviously crazy?)

And that’s where we land in mid-September. I am surprised to have another child airlifted into the Morgan family. For one, in previous months someone else in the comic — I forget who — had mentioned how she wanted a child. It seemed like a solution being set up for a problem. Also having a ready-made new child dropped into their lives feels a little like a return to the gifts-bestowed-on-the-Morgans format that Terry Beatty had drawn back from. There’s important differences, though. Particularly, the Morgans here think early and often about how much responsibility this child is, and how adopting him messes up reasonably made plans. Kids are work, and there’s been no discussion between June and Rex suggesting they’re thinking of how fun a third child could be.

Curious touch: Johnny is mentioned as having been born the same day as June and Rex’s second child, Michael. The adults remarked on the coincidence. It’s a remarkable coincidence. And none at all, of course, since Beatty got to choose when Johnny was born. So I’m left pondering: what is the artistic choice being made in having the adopted child be born the same day as the non-adopted one? It feels meaningful, but I can’t pin down what the meaning is to me. I’m curious if other readers have a similar sense, or thought about what it does mean.

Next Week!

Apparently I’m just that hungry to get back to Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp. You’ll join me, won’t you? Thanks.