What’s Going On In Alley Oop? What happened to the time-travelling raccoons? March – May 2019


This is my May 2019 recap of Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop. It concludes their first storyline, the 80s mixtape one. All my recaps of Alley Oop strips, both by Jack and Carole Bender and by Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers, should be at this link. Around August 2019 I plan to have another plot recap, so if you’re trying to catch up and it’s September 2019 you’ll probably want to go there.

Alley Oop.

4 March – 24 May 2019.

Alley Oop and Ooola were in the 1980s, searching for Dr Wonmug’s mixtape. It was stolen. The ransom note demanded three items for ransom. They’d gotten the first, a President Reagan jellybean. Now they were in San Francisco for the second: the master disks for shareware game Caves of Zfgrhkxp. They’re off to the home of 1986-shareware-video-game-famous programmer Steve Hobbes.

Before I go farther, a question for you. Do you find this gather-the-zany-tokens plot pointless? Are you annoyed by whimsical names like Caves of Zfgrhkxp and Steve Hobbes? Then probably the Jonathan Lemon/Joey Alison Sayers era of Alley Oop isn’t for you. It’s still a serial-adventure comic about a time-travelling caveman. But the story has been much more goofy, with a punch line in every strip. That has a good, respectable heritage in the comics. But it’s different from the way Alley Oop was. If you liked the old way and can’t get into the new, hey, you’re right. I’m sorry this isn’t working for you. Maybe Lemon and Sayers will evolve into a creative team you like better. Maybe they’ll only work the strip for a short while. Maybe you’ll come to like the different style, as a different take on a really good premise.

Wonmug, looking at things on the table: 'Aha! I get it now! We are in a dungeon, just like in 'Caves of Zgfrhkxp'. Our job is to escape. We have these three items, and doors to our north and west. Now, 'Zgfrhkxp' is a text-based game so ... [ to the ceiling ] Pick up rope! PICK UP ROPE!' Alley Oop, looking concerned, to Ooola: 'Is he talking to us?'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 13th of March, 2019. So my love and I were at a live text-adventure-game event. In this like a dozen people each took turns giving one action at a time to our “computer”, the host who looked over the story flowchart and told us what the results of our action were. In the previous couple rounds the group, needing our game protagonist to climb to the top of a tower, had successfully gotten a rope and forged a grappling hook. And it was my turn and I said, “toss the hook up the tower” and before my love started to cry out “Nooooooo” I realized what our host did: we had not yet tied the rope to the grappling hook. What could I do? I sat there with my face frozen in the moment of my recognition of what I had screwed up.

But for those who do like this, or are willing to see where it leads, here’s the story. Oop, Ooola, and Wonmug enter the ominous headquarters of Hobbesware Inc. The door locks behind them. The are no exits visible. On the table are: rope, box, envelope. Wonmug recognizes the genre of puzzle he’s in. He chooses to pick up envelope, getting ready to open envelope and examine contents for a puzzle lasting about six hours. I’m glad he’s having fun. Me, I could never get out of the first room of any of these text-adventure puzzles.

Steve Hobbes: 'Hey! You scared the heck of out me! You didn't cheat, did you?' Wonmug: 'No. Of course not. We defeated the, uh, kobolds on level three and then used the ring of ... Gungle ... Thorn to cast a, um, door blast spell?' Hobbes: 'Well, that checks out. Congratulations on solving my dungeon! I'm Steve Hobbes.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 16th of March, 2019. So you know, not to excuse my grappling-hook blunder but in other adventures I plainly saved the day with sharp-thinking actions like looking in the back of the car before going in and using one of our three save slots for right after the group had loaded our protagonist up with the five plot tokens. And yet I still can’t play an actual text adventure game to save my life.

Alley Oop gets through the puzzle, and the wall, by going through the wall. Steve Hobbes is impressed with their speed and acumen. He’s not stupid enough to give them the master disks for his game. (And they aim some nostalgic thrill energy at me by Hobbes pointing out how each disk holds nearly 360 kilobytes of information. “Do you know how much that is?” “Not very much?” “True.” It’s a dumb joke but well-aimed at people who grew up typing in their software.) Wonmug tries honesty. Hobbes is unimpressed by their story of being from the future and needing to ransom a mixtape.

They try to prove they’re from the future, like, by dancing the macarena. I have not checked that this is when I got a flurry of comments from people who hate the new Alley Oop, but I get it if they did. Wonmug makes a more convincing case that they’re from the future by showing off his phone. Ooola’s worried this might screw up the timeline, if timelines are a thing that can be screwed up by Alley Oop time-travel rules. Wonmug’s confident. He left the phone locked, for one, and besides the older Hobbes invents some important smartphone and … uh … Wonmug concludes this must have been inevitable, because “time is a trick science”. Ooola thinks Hobbes has unlocked the phone and that maybe the timeline is changing?

Ooola: 'Doc, aren't you a little worried about exposing someone from 1986 to technology that won't exist for 20 years?' Wonmug: 'Eh, I didn't even unlock it. All he can see is the lock screen. Besides, when he's a little older, he actually invents some integral smartphone ... *uh oh*.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 27th of March, 2019. “Gee, I don’t know, Ooola. I’m sure that it’s very different to how I feel about the eighty years I’ve spent introducing prehistoric cavepeople to smartphones, cars, airplanes, electricity, air conditioning, pizza, defibrillators, spaceships (with warp drive!), Alexander Hamilton, and for that matter the 22nd century.”

That peril, like most, is played for a joke. One of the first gags of the new continuity was that this was an alternate dimension, just like the original except that tacos are never invented. Showing Hobbes the smartphone of his future design makes some kitchen staff hypothesize about inventing a taco. Anyway, Hobbes gives them the disk and they’re off to the third piece of mixtape ransom.

They don’t know what to get. The ransom note just says “Gator Gertie’s Miasmic Swamp”. It’s in Florida. Oop and Ooola don’t want to deal with that nonsense, and point out how this entire project seems like a colossal waste of time. Wonmug bribes them with a roller coaster ride. And, y’know, as a roller coaster fan I have to say: in 1986? There were like three roller coasters in Florida back then. The place is lousy with amusement parks now, but if Sayers and Lemon aren’t thinking of visiting the now-defunct Circus World park then they Didn’t Do The Research. Sorry to be all snide about this.

They travel, by three-seater bicycle, by hot air balloon, and by zebra-drawn covered wagon, to Florida. So, again, if that strip annoys you without amusing you in the slightest, I’m sorry, this isn’t the comic for you.

Gator Gertie: 'I've been thinking, and I bet the thing you're looking for is this ... the haunted gator-tooth scone. It's a scone I baked ten years ago. While I was mixing the dough, an alligator fell in. Also, it seems to be inhabited by a malevolent spirit. It's one of a kind.' Alley Oop: 'I'll take six!'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 26th of April, 2019. Also around this sequence was some fun business with Alley Oop being menaced by alligators, some of whom wanted to eat him. Again, if you don’t like the jokey tone of the strip these days I don’t fault you. But Alley Oop mistakenly thinking this alligator was related to one he had a beef with, and the alligator mistakenly thinking Oop’s delicious? And their being pals once they’ve sorted out this misunderstanding? That’s some good stuff.

They find Gator Gertie’s. Gertie’s a pleasant, weird-in-that-roadside-attraction-way kind of person. She rents alligators and bakes treats. She can’t think what someone might send them there for. Oh, she has a secret human/alligator dinosaur lab. She doesn’t have a geneticist, but she has taught some gators to wear pants. Oh, and she has this haunted gator-tooth scone, baked ten years ago and containing an alligator tooth and a malevolent spirit. She’s happy to give it over since it’s only caused her trouble and made pants disappear. I’m sorry that Gertie was in such a rush to get out of this storyline; I liked her attitude. And who doesn’t love a daft roadside attraction? Maybe she’ll pop back around.

They get back to Wonmug’s 80s apartment and wait for instructions. Not long. Someone behind the door orders them to give the items over. Oop looks inside. It’s raccoons. They’re wearing lab coats. One has eyeglasses on. They’re building something.

Wonmug, looking over raccoons in lab coats making a device: 'Wh --- WHAT is going on here?' Head Time Raccoon: 'Oh, Dr Wonmug, don't be naive. *You* created us.' Alley Oop, Ooola: 'GASP!' Wonmug: 'Oh, um ... gasp?'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 13th of May, 2019. I don’t know how carefully Sayers and Lemon are plotting these stories out, or want to. But the story did early on mention Wonmug warning not to make eye contact with the raccoons near his 1986 apartment. Foreshadowing? Don’t know. It’s good form for serial writers to toss out many loose ends so that when they need a resolution they can pick one up and it doesn’t look like it comes from nowhere. But you don’t need the reveal of the Time Raccoons to make the original mention of raccoons make sense, either. Gator Gertie hoping to make alligator-human hybrids could also be foreshadowing, even as it is a sufficient joke itself.

Yeah, so it turns out Dr Wonmug did some experiments where he created superintelligent raccoons to do chores. And their intelligence went beyond what he anticipated. Now they’re building their own time machine. The floppy disk has code that solves some of the equations of time-travel. The haunted scone opens a dimensional portal. The jellybean satisfies Gunther’s sweet tooth. And with these final components their time machine is complete and … they’re off! To where? And when?

No idea. The story seems to end on that beat, with the Time Raccoons leaving. Wonmug drops off Ooola and Oop back in prehistoric Moo, and home. They putter around a bit and it all looks like the start of a new story. There hasn’t been talk about the Time Raccoons. It seems like rather a cliffhanger. I don’t know if Alley Oop has done that before, though. It didn’t happen when Jack Bender and Carole Bender, the prior creative team, were working the last couple of years.

Head Time Raccoon: 'So, without further ado, it's time for us to take this baby out for a spin! See you in another epoch, foolish humans!' Wonmug: 'Wait! Can I at least study the device's schematics?' Time Raccoon, climbing into the machine: 'Nope!' (The device disappears with a big ZONG!; Wonmug's mixtape flies out of the flash of light.) Wonmug: 'The mixtape!' (He grabs it.) 'Hey, they didn't rewind it!'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 18th of May, 2019. By the way, I can be friends with people who disagree with me on many issues. But if you’re going to disagree on “eyeglasses and lab coats are a great look for raccoons” then we can’t be friends. So think carefully before you try to contradict me on this one.

Is leaving something like the Time Raccoons unresolved new? I talk a confident game. But the truth is I am not well-versed in Alley Oop lore. I’ve been reading the daily strip for a couple of years now. I’ve read a couple collections with storylines from V T Hamlin’s day, and enjoyed them. Still, I don’t know whether the Alley Oop universe has ever had a party with a time machine independent of Dr Wonmug’s before. This can be narratively perilous, especially if you’ve bought the idea of a changeable history. There have been stories with rival time-travellers to Dr Wonmug before (one story had a character kidnapped to another era, for example), and the comic strip stayed intact.

Will the Time Raccoons come back? Certainly if I were writing the strip. (I’d thought there was a good chance they’d show up in Moo by the end of this past week.) Rivals are good ways to generate stories. It’s obviously good to have parties who can drop in and add chaos to storylines. Uplifted animals with only casual interest in the plans of humans only heighten the fun. But I’m in no privileged position here. I’m just reading comics and talking about what I see. Indeed, my other blog gets into mathematically-themed comic strips, as here. If I encounter any news about Alley Oop, I’ll pass it on here.

Next Week!

I need a low-key, low-effort week so I’m hoping next on the roster is something easy to recap. Maybe one of the Sunday-only strips. The Sunday Alley Oop comics, the Little Oop adventures, have all been spot jokes. There hasn’t been an ongoing story. There’ve been some things mentioned in the Sunday strips that went on to mention in the weekdays. Like Alley Oop joining the Dino Guides, a Scouts-type group, used after that mention. So the Sunday strips aren’t part of the continuity, but they haven’t needed recapping. So let me just check what’s next on the schedule.

It’s Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity.

Well, low-key weeks aren’t everything.

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


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

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

Alley Oop.

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

10 December 2018 – 2 March 2019.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Week!

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

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


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

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

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

Alley Oop.

2 September – 9 December 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Week!

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s Going On In Alley Oop? Did Alley Oop End? June – August 2018.


I had last week promised to look into Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker. Given the surprise announcement of Jack Bender and Carole Bender retiring from Alley Oop, though, it seemed important to change the schedule up.

Daily Cartoonist says that the comic strip will continue in reruns through the end of 2018. They’ll be deciding what to do with the comic. Perhaps it will be taken up by new writers and artists. Perhaps not. Any future news I get on Alley Oop, including plot recaps if appropriate, I’ll have tagged so they should appear at or near the top of this page. Thank you.

Meanwhile I continue to look at mathematically-themed comic strips on my other blog. You might like those. Not all of them are reruns.

Alley Oop.

24 June – 1 September 2018.

Last time I checked in, money-man M T Mentis was explaining what’s going on in Alley Oop. It was the wrap-up of the storyline where Alley Oop and Wizer, trying to get to Doc Wonmug’s time lab in 2018, ended up in 1781 Philadelphia. Mentis explained how he had used the powers of a “time machine” to recover Alexander Hamilton’s stolen commission. It had stolen by … well, himself, because that’s how time travel would work if it could work. Anyway, Hamilton gets his commission. Storyline guest star Isaac Holmes — a real person — gets named as his aide-de-camp. I don’t know if that’s historical. But Hamilton and Holmes did have impenetrable professional correspondences later on, so, what the heck. That wraps up the story.

The 4th of July they return to the present, where Oop and Wizer get startled by all the fireworks. Wonmug explains it’s celebrating the war they just left. And since it’s late and everyone’s tired they figure to go to bed. Wizer’s amazed by the light switch in Wonmug’s home. Wonmug’s amazed that Wizer hasn’t been in the 20th-or-21st century before? I would have assumed he had been. This time travel business has been going on about eighty years now. I’d have thought all the player-characters had visited one another’s times by now. Wonmug’s assistant Ava Peckedge recognizes Wizer, anyway. Of course, she also thinks the United States is looking great ever since Operation Butterfly Stomp got up to full speed, so, you know.

Wizier: 'What magic did you use to summon the light, Doc?' Wonmug: 'I forgot! You haven't been here before, have you, Wizer? It's the magic of harnessing electricity! Go ahead! Give it a try!' Wizer switches the light off and gasps.
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 9th of July, 2018. A little thing to watch for in the art is Wizer’s hat. It reacts, sometimes, to the action.

Oop and Wizer take up Wonmug on his suggestion they “help themselves” to anything in the kitchen while he slips into something more comfortable. That clears the stage for some physical comedy. Wizer burning himself on the toaster (a four-slice model, so you know Wonmug’s living the dream). Oop smashing open a can of tomato paste. Spilling open a bag of flour. Wizer cries out “Why’s it so hard to find something to eat?” and there’s an answer. From Alexa, or something at least as good. It makes sense that Wonmug, pioneering technology of literally history-shaking importance, would keep a device that monitors every sound near it. And that sometimes transmits recordings of those sounds to one of the evil megacorporations leading society to its death. It’s good operational security.

Oop (holding a coffepot): 'Doc sent us to the kitchen, so htere's gotta be food somewhere in this room!' Wizer: 'There's something in here!' (He burns his finger on the hot toaster element.) Wizer: 'OK, if there's food in that box, it's not worth going after it!' Oop: 'Aha!' Wizer: 'Did you find the food?' Oop, holding a can of tomato paste: 'Maybe! There's a picture o'food, anyway!' Wizer tries chewing the tin can. 'Is this what folks in this time eat? They must have awfully strong teeth!' (Patting a bag of flour.) 'Maybe this is something! At least it's softer than what you found!' (He pats it, spraying flour everywhere.) 'WHY'S IT SO HARD TO FIND SOMETHING TO EAT?!' Alexa: 'Searching-for-something-to-eat..." Oop: 'Who was that?!!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 22nd of July, 2018. Oh, I guess if they have a coffeepot then Doc Wonmug hasn’t got a Keurig. Good. I have no idea who turned the toaster on.

They accept Alexa-or-Siri-or-whoever’s offer of the “usual order”. Then they find how to turn the gas burners on the stove. And I don’t want to be too snarky, but, like, in the Disney Wonderful World Of Color movie The Hound That Thought He Was a Raccoon, the raccoon needed way less time than this to accidentally set the whole toolshed on fire. It was like two minutes tops from going inside to escaping the flames. Charming film except when you notice where the raccoon was chained to the ground to film the scene. Stuff like that. Anyway. Between the can and the flour and opening the fridge Oop and Wizer make a pretty solid mess before Wonmug gets from the living room to the kitchen.

Anyway, the pizza — the “usual order” — arrives. I don’t know whether to be more impressed by how fast the pizza place is or by how much time Wonmug spent dithering around before helping his caveman visitors work out the Keurig. I’m also a little surprised Alley Oop’s had so much trouble. He’s been to the Present Day a bunch of times. But even in his first modern-day adventure (collected by Dark Horse press a couple years ago) he handled 1939 Long Island pretty well. But then I have never gotten a Keurig to produce anything but rage and weak, grounds-bearing almond amaretto. And I don’t even have “coming from a prehistoric land” as my excuse.

Pizza’s a hit with Oop and Wizer. Soda pop less so, since it goes all foam-explody in Wizer’s face. Anyway, the 3rd of August — a month, reader time, since they arrived — they get down to business. Wizer’s worried about the threat of time travellers bringing disease to Moo. The story before the Revolutionary War one was about Mentis’s cold spreading through Moo. Wizer cured it fast enough. But what about the next disease?

Oop, looking at a hazmat suit: 'We really need t'wear all this?' Wonmug: 'It may be more protection than you need, but if we want to prevent the spread of illness, with this suit there is no doubt! If you haven't gotten sick in seven days, you should be safe!' Oop: 'SEVEN DAYS? Sheesh! ... C'mon, Wizer! Hurry up and put your suit on so we can go home!' Wizer: 'Wait, Oop! I want more time to talk to Doc about his 21st-century powers!' Wonmug: 'What powers, Wizer?' Wizer: 'Why, you have power over light and dark! You can control the climate, and you can summon fire instantly!' Wonmug: 'Oh ... THOSE powers!' Wizer: 'Doc, you MUST teach me your powers so I can use them in Moo!' Wonmug: 'Sorry, Wizer, but taking that knowledge to your time would change all history! We can't risk that! ... But Oop said you have a cure for the common cold! Is that right?' Wizer: 'Of course I do! Don't you?' Wonmug: 'No, we've never found that! Would you share it with me?' Wizer: 'Hmmph! NOT A CHANCE! Think of the change to history if I shared that with you!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 12th of August, 2018. But just imagine! If the modern day had Wizer’s cold-cure potion then Mentis would have gotten over his cold in time for the adventure in … 1781 … Philadelphia. Hey, wait a minute.

Wonmug has an idea. He’s got a couple hazmat suits that time-travellers could wear, at least for a reasonable quarantine period. He suggests seven days. That settles the concerns about cross-time disease, since nobody asks how they’re supposed to eat or go to the bathroom in these things. And so Oop and Wizer go home to Moo.

They’re greeted with cries of recognition! Also rocks! Because they were recognized as space aliens trying to invade Moo. This calls back to a couple storylines ago, when pantsless alien frog-plant Volzon and his mind-control ray tried to take over Moo. It’s an innocent mistake. It’s cleared up when Oop takes off his hazmat suit. Wizer warns this could make the Moovians sick; Oop argues they deserve it.

[ Wizer refuses to share the cure for the common cold with Doc. ] Wizer: 'I guess I deserved that, but I wish you'd ... ' Oop: 'Give it up, Doc! I wanna go home NOW!' (ZANG!) Wizer: 'It's nice to be back where no one is shooting at us for a change!' Oop: 'You can say that again!' Moo guard: 'Oh no! The aliens are back!' (And he throws a rock, hitting Oop in the head.) Moo Guard: 'King Guz, come quick! Volzon's back!' Guz: 'Send the word to everybody! Prepare for attack!' Oop: 'I've got a bone t'pick with you, Guz!' Guz: 'Attack! It's the pit for you two, whoever you are!' (Moovians all over throw sticks and rocks and arrows at Oop.) Oop: 'That it! I'm leavin'!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 19th of August, 2018. Wait, why does Wizer has a cure for colds if the people of Moo’s time don’t have colds?

Oop goes off to sulk. It’s one of his minor and realistic habits. He gets a lot of gripes, not all from me, about his day-saving hobby and sometimes it’s too much. He thinks of leaving Moo, starting over somewhere else. Maybe put together that rock band and record that song that’s been stuck in his head the last sixty years, something. But while moping he runs across Dinny, his dinosaur. He’s all caught up in vines and needs Oop’s help getting free. “Just like the day we met! Remember?” I guess. I never read the original storyline. Yeah, he figures, and says to a concerned Oona. He’s not leaving. What’ll he do? He doesn’t know, but he’ll relax and enjoy the view a while. Jack Bender and Carole Bender, though, they’re retiring, and there you go.

Oona: 'So what's next, Alley?' Oop: 'Hmm .. I dunno! Let's just relax and enjoy the view a while!' Oona: 'Good idea!' (They look out over the Mu swamp, with dinosaurs in the setting sun. Caption at the bottom of the strip: 'Ah! Retirement! Thanks to Alley Oop and our readers for a great ride! J + C!')
Jack and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 1st of September, 2018. Since I don’t have a better place to mention this, I’ll say, on the 7th of August — anniversary of the strip’s 1933 syndicated debut — the Benders reran a piece of fan art made in 2008 by Connor Ross. Ross has since become an art and history major in college. The panel explaining all this also teased people with the challenge of finding Alley Oop in this picture of a (realistic) dinosaur, the Saurophaganax Maximum, eating another’s tail. For those who didn’t find it, select this next block of text for the location. It’s Oop’s face, and it’s traced out in the lines of the leftmost tree, starting about center of the left edge of the dinosaur panel. There you go. You’re welcome.

So the comic strip is slated to go into reruns to the end of the year. (The first, starting the 2nd of September, is sending the gang to 1816 Switzerland in a storyline from 2013.) The syndicate will figure out what to do. Yes, I hope they find new people to produce the comic strip. I don’t like comic strips ending. Not just because the bulk of my readers are here for story-strip recaps. Alley Oop has a neat, slightly bonkers premise and I think it’s still got interesting storylines to run.

I did see commenters suggesting maybe they could rerun the earliest Alley Oop strips. I understand the desire. The early days of a successful comic strip are often most interesting. They’ll show what the cartoonist did before finding what worked best. So there are all sorts of imperfect variants on the strip’s best ideas, and odd turns and cul-de-sacs and situations that didn’t work out. It’s fascinating reading. But … look, it took six years for V T Hamlin to get time travel into the comic. Nobody reminisces how they loved reading the antics of that comic strip caveman who didn’t travel through time, because they forget that B.C. used to be a pretty good strip. But it’s okay to jump into a continuity somewhere other than the beginning. It’s especially fine if it took some time to get good.

But, given the (good as) boundless page space available on a web site, it would be interesting to see an Alley Oop Classics rerunning ancient comics. Or, if a curator could be found, something like the Doonesbury reruns. Those show samples of the storylines which shaped the major characters. This would be harder than Doonesbury, where stories advance in discrete weeklong chunks. But it’s imaginable. So it must be easy for someone else to do for me. We’ll see.

Next Week! For real!

I’ll pick up where interrupted, with Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker. If nothing else goes weird and crazy and wrong.

Statistics Saturday: What Do I Know About If Alley Oop’s Ending?


Not a thing. Nothing at all. Yeah, sorry folks, this one caught me by surprise. Shall pass on word if I get any, but I guess we’ll see what gets printed Monday and whether Olivia Jaimes takes over the strip or something. When I have more I’ll post it at this link.

It’s bizarre that they would have introduced M T Mentis as this major new character if they were only going to use him for two stories. Also that if they expected a farewell that they’d go out on a story quite as mundane as Wizer and Alley Oop getting confounded by Alexa and having pizza. (I’ll get around to that shortly.) But I hadn’t even heard rumors of the strip ending, or of the Benders considering retirement, before this.

Oona: 'So what's next, Alley?' Oop: 'Hmm .. I dunno! Let's just relax and enjoy the view a while!' Oona: 'Good idea!' (They look out over the Moo swamp, with dinosaurs in the setting sun. Caption at the bottom of the strip: 'Ah! Retirement! Thanks to Alley Oop and our readers for a great ride! J + C!')
Jack and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 1st of September, 2018. … Honestly this is probably all right since the idea I’d had ready for publication today wasn’t really ready for publication, but deadlines come and you have to do something.

What’s Going On In Alley Oop? What’s With All The Time Travel Suddenly? April – June 2018.


I know what you’re wondering: Did I review any of last week’s mathematically-themed comic strips? I sure hope so, although I really have to get to writing that essay right now.

Also at least some of you are wondering what’s going on in Alley Oop. This is my recap for basically spring of 2018 and it should get you well-grounded for at least another couple weeks. If it’s past about August 2018, that might not be a big help. But an essay at or near the top of this page might be. Good luck. Let me know if it doesn’t do anything for you.

Alley Oop.

1 April – 23 June 2018.

So I left Oop somewhere near Philadelphia on the 31st of July, 1781. OK, Jack Bender and Carole Bender did, but still. Alley Oop and Wizer were sent there by well-meaning rich idiot M T Mentis. Mentis had responded to Oop’s transport-request beacon. He didn’t notice how all the screens in Dr Wonmug’s Time Lab read “DESTINATION: JULY 31, 1781”. This is one of those subtle big events in history. It’s when General George Washington commissioned Alexander Hamilton to command several regiments. Great time to toss in some confused Moovians.

Private Isaac Holmes, carrying Hamilton’s commission, runs into Oop and Wizer. In the collision both the sealed commission and Oop’s time-signalling necklace fly loose. Holmes suspects spies, or something, anyway. But they come under enemy fire, and by the time they find some quiet they realize the letter’s gone. Oop and Wizer start to worry they’ve changed history, a risk that hasn’t been a major concern in the strip so far, best I know.

[ 2018 ] Wonmug: 'Why would the transport be set for the Revolutionary War?' Mentis: 'I guess I forgot I'd been researching that as a trip we might take to find out more about Alexander Hamilton (gulp) ... you know, since he's so popular now.' Wonmug: 'POPULAR? You must be joking!' [ 1781 ] Alley Oop: 'I promise you we're not a threat to you!' Holmes: 'Well ... I guess I'll have to trust you, since I must deliver this urgent letter from General Washington! ... WHERE'S THE LETTER? YOU MADE ME LOSE THE LETTER!' Oop: 'Relax! It's just a letter!' Holmes: 'JUST A LETTER? LOSING THAT LETTER COULD MAKE US LOSE THE WAR!' Oop, whispering to Wizer: 'Oops!' Wizer, whispering: 'You think we just changed history?'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 15th of April, 2018. In fairness, Wonmug had been talking with Mentis about planning out a time-travel trip. So having a particular place and time in mind, and practicing setting the time machine, is not a dumb thing to do.

Meanwhile in 2018, Mentis tells Wonmug about Oop’s signal. And that Oop isn’t there. Also that maybe it’s kind of because he had set the time machine to 1781 because he was thinking about Alexander Hamilton, “you know … since he’s so popular now”. Wonmug gets a Revolutionary War outfit from somewhere I seem to have missed, and figures to set off to try fixing whatever’s gone wrong. He leaves Mentis at the Time Lab with orders to stop breaking all time and space already.

Meanwhile in 1781, a desperate Holmes enlists Oop and Wizer to help recover the letter. They borrow outfits from a couple wounded Continentals. Wizer applies some healing potion in trade. And they get a funny little training session about how to load and fire a musket. This pays off a bit; later Oop’s able to tell someone a fresh-discharged musket is harmless except as a club. Oop’s more into using the thing as a club which, fair enough. He also gets the bayonet, too. Oop, Wizer, and Holmes follow the tracks of the letter-thief and find the shaded figure in Redcoat custody. Oop gets a daring raid on this small party started. But that’s broken up when Dr Wonmug materializes right in the midst of things. The Redcoats and their captive get away in the confusion.

Wonmug knows what the letter must have been. Hearing that it’s Alexander Hamilton’s commission orders makes Holmes suspect spies. Fair on him. Also at this point Mentis wandered over to ask me why I go off on him being the dumb one when Wonmug, with 80 years of experience at this, is acting like that. Fair enough. Wonmug says that the British spy to actually watch for was likely James Moody, who’d intercept Continental couriers. I’m going ahead and assuming that’s legit history because I don’t have the time to research that myself. Ah, yes, Moody was born in Little Egg Harbor, New Jersey. I’ve been there. Story Book Land’s a great little kiddie amusement park there. He wrote one of the few memoirs of the Revolution from the Loyalist perspective. Hm.

Mentis: 'Oop, did you say you know who has the ltter from Washington to Hamilton?' Oop: 'Yeah! Two enemy scouts have it, my necklace, AND an American prisoner! We've got 'em outnumbered, so let's go get it back!' [ Meanwhile ] Redcoat: 'It looks like we lost those Yanks!' Other Redcoat: 'Good! We're almost to the camp, so we can relax now!' Alley Oop falls on them, yelling 'ALLEY OOP' as he does. Oop, to the Redcoats' prisoner: 'You're safe now! Stay back!' Prisoner: 'Thank you!' [ Meanwhile, not far away ... ] (ZANG! and a cloud as someone appears from the Time Lab.) Holmes: 'Not again!' Wonmug: 'What now?' (Mentis appears, in Continental garb.) Wonmug: 'Mentis?!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 27th of May, 2018. … So I guess that one of the Redcoats should be identified as James Moody. But that hasn’t been directly established by someone who could know, on-screen. It’s just Wonmug’s surmise so far unless I’ve missed a reference.

Oop and Wizer chase after the Redcoats and their prisoner. Wonmug and Holmes hang back long enough for Mentis to pop in from 2018. Mentis asks why they don’t make a copy of the letter, since Wonmug knows its contents and all. Wonmug says there’s no time; they need to go in and help Oop in his fight and recover the real letter.

Mentis time-transports away. But that’s all right. Oop’s already clobbered the Redcoats into unconsciousness. This lets him recover the time-signal amulet, but the letter is still missing, as is the prisoner. Given the hopeless muddle this all seems to be, Wonmug decides to go with forging the commission after all. They race to deliver the letter and, along the way, find Oop’s time-signal amulet again. This isn’t a continuity error in the story; Oop notices, he already has his recovered amulet. Wonmug figures to worry about it later because, yeah. Mentis is right. I shouldn’t be calling him the strip’s dunderhead. In fairness, Wonmug’s had a bunch of crazy stuff happen today.

Also his forgery doesn’t work for even a second. Alexander Hamilton may be kind of a dope w/r/t William Duer, but he knows legitimate commissions are going to have a proper seal. Hamilton orders Holmes, Oop, and Wizer arrested when the mysterious Contental prisoner races in with the real letter. Also a startling revelation: the prisoner was M T Mentis all along. Mentis explains to Hamilton that when the first letter was lost, his friends made that duplicate. But here’s the original, with the seal, and the content seems to match so everything’s all right with history and all?

Alexander Hamilton: 'WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS? GENERAL WASHINGTON WOULD NEVER SEND COMMUNICATION WITHOUT HIS SEAL!' Wonmug, slapping his head: 'The seal! I forgot the seal!' Hamilton: 'This letter is a fake! Guards, arrest this spy and his friends too!' (The Redcoats' prisoner races into Hamilton's tent.) Prisoner: 'WAIT!' Wonmug, recognizing the prisoner: '(GASP!) Mentis!' Mentis: 'Here is the real letter from General Washington! General Washington's original letter was lost! My friends made a copy so you would have the information! Meanwhile, I found the first letter! I had trouble getting here, but I assure you it is authentic, sir!' Hamilton: 'Hmmm. This letter does have the right seal ... and the two letters do match!' Guard: 'Are these the spies you want me to take, sir?' Hamilton: 'There are no spies here! Only patriot heroes!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 17th of June, 2018. But really isn’t the amazing thing that Wonmug doesn’t doubt he would be able to plausibly forge George Washington’s handwriting and style of composition to a person who had served as his aide-de-camp for years? Even by the standards of white guy scientist types that’s some remarkable self-confidence.

With that straightened out, Mentis starts explaining to Oop, Wonmug, and Wizer what’s going on in Alley Oop. It turns out while Wonmug and Oop and all tromped around whatever they were doing in 1989, Mentis was paying attention to Bill And Ted’s Excellent Adventure. He didn’t use the time machine to run off. He used it to pick up the commission right when it was first lost. And thus was the mysterious shadowy figure that set Oop and company were pursuing.

So, this story. I’m surprised by the direct talk about the chance Wonmug’s Time Lab might change history. My impression was the comic strip had always taken that as something not to worry about, at least since I started reading it with attention. But then it’s also only in the forerunner to this story that they worried about time travellers bringing diseases. It looks as if they’re setting up one of those closed-time-loop adventures. These can be a particularly satisfying sort of time-travel story. Also the rare Alley Oop story where time travel more than how they get from one story to another. And, yes, I’m glad that it’s given Mentis the chance to recover some needed intelligence points. It’s a pity that Wonmug lost a bunch along the way. But he’s got some to spare. And I am also impressed by the grain of historical detail being put into the minor parts. Apparently there was an Isaac Holmes, too, who’d be a prisoner of war in Philadelphia. This might be a spoiler. I’m not sure this is the person who’s made a character here; the Wikipedia article on him doesn’t list things like when he was a prisoner or how, precisely the historic Holmes served in the army. There’s room to not worry about it all.

Next Week!

They say there’s a ghost who walks. They’re right. Next week I see what’s happening in Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity.

What’s Going On In Alley Oop? And Why Is He In Philadelphia? January – April 2018


Hi, people interested in the lighthearted, pleasant stories of an unbeatable man from a mysterious land travelling through time and solving the various problems of people who’re in over their head at historically significant moments, but who forego sonic screwdrivers in favor of a good solid axe. My most recent essay on Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop should be at or near the top of this page. Here, now, is my most recent essay as of early April, 2018.

And over on this page is my discussion of comic strips with mathematical content. Or themes. Or name-dropping sudoku. They’re not all deep discussions.

Alley Oop.

7 January – 1 April 2018.

Where were we at the start of the year when I last checked in on Moo and its associated areas? The well-meaning but dumb rich guy M T Mentis III was on his way back to Dr Wonmug’s Time Lab and hoped to become a new supporting character. May not sound like much, but a part in a longrunning comic strip is nothing to sneeze at. Mentis tried, though, getting a faceful of snot all over Alley Oop as he disappeared back to the present day.

I guessed that was the start of a story, and so it was. Alley Oop gets a cold in record time, something neither Oop nor anyone in Moo has ever got before. Wizer understands what it is right away, though, and tells Oop to sit still a while so he can whip up a cure. Which includes echinacea, by the way, something Wonmug recommended as he zipped back to the 21st century. Wizer explains to Ooola that if Oop spreads his cold to the never-exposed population of Moo it could be disastrous and wipe the population out. Oop overhears exactly enough to figure Wizer’s said he’s dying. And figures Ooola is telling a comforting lie when saying Wizer’s getting the ingredients for a cure.

Oop: 'You've always been a good friend to me, Foozy! I hope you'll never forget me!' Foozy: 'Forget you? No! I'd gladly swear! Do you plan to go somewhere?' Oop: '(Sigh!) It's more permanent than goin' somewhere, Fozzy! I'm dying!' Foozy: 'No! Dear Oop, that can't be true! We exist because of you!' Oop: 'Here, Foozy! Take this! It's the only real thing of value I have, and I wouldn't trust anyone else with it!' (Foozy gasps at being given Oop's axe.) Oop: 'Take care, Foozy!' Foozy: 'My heart is broken, Alley Oop! We'll miss you in our tight-knit group!' (Oop, sitting, encounters Dinny the dinosaur.) Oop: 'You're free to go live your life the way you want to now!' Dinny: '?' [ Meanwhile, Wizer's quest for ingredients continues. ] Wizer, talking to himself and holding a bag of stuff: 'This willow bark will take care of Oop's headache!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 28th of January, 2018. I like that Wizer’s sack keeps to the comic-art convention of seeing something poking out the top so you know what’s inside. A part of me is thrilled anytime I have to buy celery because then I can arrange the top of it to poke out of the shopping bag, just like in the comics.

So Oop goes around Moo saying his goodbyes to everyone. The first: to Ooola, saying how he regrets they never got married and had kids and all. To Foozy, the relentless poet, he gives his trusty axe. To Dinny, the dinosaur, Oop gives his thanks and the command to go off and be free now. To Guz, Oop gives his honest opinion of the way the King of Moo runs things. In exchange, Guz gives several solid punches and a banishment for life. This all takes about as long as Wizer needs to gather a bunch of leaves and branches and bits of tree bark.

Wizer, talking to himself: 'With this willow bark, that's everything I need! Time to go brew the cure and get Oop well!' [ Meanwhile at the Royal Palace of Moo ] Oop: 'Just one more person I need to talk to before I die! (Sigh!) King Guz: 'Oop! You look awful! What's goin' on?' Oop: 'I've got something to say to you, and I don't have much time left! Your leadership skills stink, and I think you should step dow nand let Umpa take over all the duties!' Guz: 'WHY YOU ... ' [ And they fight. ] [ Meanwhile, at Wizer's place ... ] Wizer: 'Hi, Ooola! I'm back, and I have all the ingredients for Oop's cold cure! Oop's cure will be ready soon! I ... Ooola? What's wrong?' Ooola: '(Sob! Sob!) Alley broke up with me!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 4th of February, 2018. Among the things I like about the strip is that Oop and Guz have a relationship that’s largely basically friendly, but they do keep annoying the other even without quite meaning to, and that does get them into bouts of early-human fisticuffsmanship. It can be a good story-generating conflict that isn’t arbitrary, but also isn’t automatic.

Wizer mixes up his potion which works great. Oop’s recovered even faster than he got sick, and explains what he did while he thought he was going to die. After rolling his eyes all the way into Dick Tracy and back, Wizer mixes up enough potion for all the people Oop contacted. I’m not sure whether I’m more impressed that Wizer knows how to cure colds or with his advanced understanding of infection vectors.

Anyway he sends Oop out with the potion to apologize to people and, where needed, get his stuff back. It’s easy to apologize to Ooola, who teases for a moment holding Alley Oop to his declaration that they should have gotten married. But Moo exists in a land before there were reach-of-promises suits.

At his cave Oop finds Foozy’s kids playing, and figures “I must’ve told Foozy he could have the place”. He didn’t say this on-panel, by the way. Also Foozy has kids I guess? Beau, Moe, and Joe. They take after their father by speaking in rhymes across one another’s dialogue. Foozy’s sick, but he and Wizer have the healing potion, so there we go. He’s glad to return Oop’s cave (“You never gave away your house!”) and also his axe except the kids kind of broke it (“cracking coconuts”).

All that’s easy, since who wanted it to be hard? King Guz is a tougher case because besides calling him an incompetent, Oop also gave him the cold. The cure brightens Guz’s feelings, but he still insists on an apology from Oop before lifting the banishment and all that. And Oop doesn’t see why he should apologize for calling Guz out on his incompetence. Wizer encourages Oop to think of the long history he has with Guz, and to apologize anyway. And Oop apologizes for telling Guz he’s a bad king. That’s close enough to peaceful for Wizer to get on his real point.

[ Wizer gives Guz the cold cure. ] Guz: 'Wow! It worked!' Wizer: 'If I told you how, you'd think you could make it yourself! I'd rather keep my job, if you don't mind. Now we must talk about how to prevent a future epidemic!' Guz: 'What? No apology?' Oop: 'Heck, no! Wizer didn't say I had to apologize!' Wizer: 'Oop, I think an apology is a fair request! You were sick and not thinking clearly when you insulted Guz!' Oop: 'Oh, all right! ... Sorry I said you were a bad king, Guz.' Guz: 'That's okay, Oop! Deep down, I knew you didn't mean it.' Oop: 'Hey, I didn't say I didn't mean it! I just shouldn't have said it out loud! Right, Wizer?' Guz: 'Why you ... ' Wizer: 'Stop! (Sigh!) I never had kids, but I've got a pretty good idea what it'd be like after refereeing you two! Now that we're all 'friends' again, we have important business to discuss!' Guz: 'Okay, what is it?'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 11th of March, 2018. The reason the dialogue in the first panel doesn’t make sense is because it condenses from the 5th of March. There, Guz says, “Wow! It worked! What’s in that stuff?” and Wizer says “If I told you how, you’d think you could make it yourself! I’d rather keep my job, if you don’t mind.” And then Guz says “I wouldn’t hafta worry about how to make a cure if you weren’t goin’ around makin’ people sick!’ Oop protests it wasn’t his fault, but Mentis’s, and that’s what Wizer uses to get to his discussion about the infection vectors of time-travel.

Which is: what are they going to do about infections passed back and forth between eras of history? The cold was nothing big, but what’s next? Guz figures the cure is to ban time travel into Moo. Oop says that Guz has finally found an idea even stupider than his border wall. Wizer suggests that maybe Wonmug has an idea and proposes visiting the Time Lab. Oop’s only supposed to use his time-travel device in an emergency. But surely this counts in a way the invasion of mind-controlling plant-aliens didn’t, right? So he hits the button and starts a new story. Let me log that as the 17th of March, admitting that there’s some leeway in when you pick.

Meanwhile in the 21st century Wonmug’s headed out to do some contracts stuff with a lawyer guy and all. When Oop’s time beacon calls for a pickup, Mentis is alone in the lab. Wonmug’s forgotten his cell phone, which yes I do all the time too. Well, Mentis does his best to respond to the message ‘URGENT! ALLEY OOP REQUESTING TRANSPORT’ while studiously ignoring the declaration `DESTINATION: JULY 31, 1781 40.0285 ° N 75.1750 ° W’. Mentis hits Enter and so far has shown no signs of wondering what that whole ‘JULY 31, 1781’ business might be about. He stands there waiting for Oop to appear. I mean, I know, he’s barely even seen the Time Lab. But when Phineas Bogg is more on the ball you have to step up your “noticing things” and “drawing reasonable conclusions” games.

Meanwhile in the 18th century Alley Oop and Wizer have popped in just in time to have boats shooting cannonballs at them. By the way, the given latitude and longitude are inside Philadelphia. So I guess there was more action on the Schyulkill River in July 1781 than I had remembered? Also meanwhile Alexander Hamilton is turning in his commission if George Washington. He says only a field command will keep him. Of course we all know how that turns out. Washington writes out Hamilton’s assignment to command the 1st and 2nd New York Regiments and two Connecticut provisionals. Meanwhile at the same time, Oop and Wizer hide from the Redcoats.

At the Time Lab, Mentis sees Alley Oop requesting transport. Mentis: 'See you soon, Oop! This should please Doc!' [ He hits enter; nothing seems to happen. ] 'Hmmmm ... I thought Oop would get here immediately! I guess it must take a while.' [ Meanwhile, in Moo ... ] Oop: 'That's the sign! Doc's bringing us in! Hang on tight!' Oop and Wizer disappear. [ Somewhere in Time, in a different forest. ] Wizer: 'Where th'heck are we oop?' [ Sailing ships fire cannon at them. ] Oop: 'Uh ... this is just a guess, but I don't think we're at Doc Wonmug's Time Lab! Those boats are shootin' at us!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 25th of March, 2018. So yeah, when I talk about stuff happening meanwhile in the 21st century or meanwhile in prehistoric Moo or so, yes, part of me is just being funny. But there is some synching between Oop’s time and Wonmug’s time that they mostly respect, although there was a storyline recently where Oop went to the Time Lab of the 1940s. I’m not sure there is a clear logical rule for this but what it mostly means is that the strip is not doing the events-happening-out-of-sequence story that Doctor Who does once a season.

That’s where we stand, right now, about two weeks into the Revolutionary war, and at a curious point. I mean, you say Revolutionary War and 1781 and where are you going but the Siege at Yorktown? I mean, obviously the action the Caribbean and in India was important but this is for an American audience. One might speculate that Alexander Hamilton’s recent return to the popular consciousness has something to do with this story. I cannot promise that this story will end with Alley Oop attempting hip-hop but I don’t know that we can be sure this will not happen, either. So, you know, prepare yourselves.

Next Week!

So how was that weird religious cult and the crazy(?) aliens-are-watching-us guy hanging out on Kit Walker’s pillar of New Mexico rock? We’ll look back in on Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity, and see just what The Locust was up to with his returning and all.

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.

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


Do you need to know where we are in Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop? I’m happy to do my best to catch you up on the storyline. I have my limits, though. I’m writing this in mid-October 2017. If you’re reading this much later than that, the story might have got so far advanced that this isn’t useful. In that case, try checking the top of this page. If I’ve written a further update it should be at or near the top there. Meanwhile, story. here.

If you’re interested in comic strips that talk about mathematics stuff, you probably already saw this on my other blog, but what the heck. Never hurts to remind people that a thing exists, until they get tired of it and turn to rioting.

Alley Oop.

24 July – 15 October 2017.

Last time you’ll recall Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop was still wrestling with a spinoff of the pantsless-alien-frog storyline. The alien plant-frog-guy had left behind a mind-control ray gun that Alley Oop smashed and tossed all the way to the rival kingdom of Lem. There, King Tunk patched the thing together and figured to zap his way into, at last, the conquest of Moo. His attempt backfired, and shooting the thing left himself zapped and in King Guz’s power.

Alley Oop: 'You know when Tunk snaps outta this brain fog, he's gonna take Lem and his crown back, don't you?' Guz: 'HE GAVE IT TO ME! YOU'RE MY WITNESS!' Oop: 'Yeah, but it was a game, Guz! I don't think decisions like that count when a person's in a fog like that!' Guz: 'THAT'S WHAT YOU THINK! I ... ' A woozy Tunk: 'Oooohhhhh! Where am I?'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 27th of July, 2017. If you’re wondering how Alley Oop resists the urge to clobber everybody in Moo and Lem on the head and just take over for himself, I don’t know. I guess he’s tried a couple times in the past and it’s just too much work keeping everybody from doing something dopey, so it’s easier to hang back in a position where you can snark on everybody.

Guz orders Tunk to turn over his lands, his power, and his crown, and Tunk can’t refuse. Oop, fed up with this disrespect for consent, smashes the ray gun to pieces. Tunk comes to his senses, calls “no way” on his cession. He chases Guz, and the last pieces of the pantsless mind-controlling alien-frog storyline, out of the comic.

The new, and current, story started the 1st of August. “Meanwhile” in the 21st century (it’s their convention, run with it or read some other comic strip), Doctor Wonmug faces civilization’s greatest current menace. Rich white guy idiot M T Mentis III is interested in the time laboratory. His objectives are unclear at first. But the Time Lab could always use some more money. How could you make a profit with just the ability to traverse space and time to an exact spot at any exact second? So after a tour of the slick modern computerized time machine Mentis says what he’s up to.

Wonmug: 'I'm flattered at your interest in the time lab, but it's not for sale.' Mentis: 'Everything is for sale, as long as the right price is offered! Imagine pairing your time machine with my skills! I could visit key events in history to give just the right tweak to keep positive progress on track!' Wonmug: 'WHAT?! M.T., the one rigid rule of time travel is that it is for observation only and that NOTHING can be changed! Any change, no matter how well intentioned, would cause a ripple effect that could threaten our very existence! Mr Mentis, you have wasted your time here! The time lab is NOT for sale at any price to anyone --- especially not to YOU!' Mentis: 'I'm sorry to hear you say that! Take care of him, Gunther!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 20th of August, 2017. Gunther’s doing pretty well as a bodyguard for the world’s richest idiot, which shows you how much people can flourish once they get deported from Greg Evans and Karen Evans’s Luann. I jest, of course, since that’s clearly their Mister Grey.

He’s bored of his career of fixing up struggling companies. He wants to do something with meaning, by which he means buying the Time Lab and using the machinery to fix history. Wonmug is aghast at the idea of deliberately altering history. Even trying could force the comic strip to face potentially premise-wrecking consequences. You prove everything is strictly ordained somehow. Or you make the time travellers complicit in all the atrocities of human history. Or you make the time travellers responsible for destroying every living thing in the present timeline. Any of that’s heavy stuff for a comic strip that does better with, like, Alley Oop punching dopes. Yes, I am aware none of those verb tenses withstands any thought but I’m not getting paid enough to give them proper thought.

Since Mentis isn’t getting this, Wonmug sends himself, Mentis, and Mentis’s bodyguard to Moo and says, “see what you can do with this”. What he does is get chased by dinosaurs until he runs into Alley Oop and falls over, knocked out. When he recovers what he uses as his senses Mentis, shaking the idea that this is a movie set or something, works out a plan: he needs to kill the dinosaurs. After all, humans and dinosaurs shouldn’t coexist and they’re drawn kind of off-model and colored all weird. Alley Oop isn’t having any of it.

Mentis: 'THIS IS ABSURD! YOU CAN'T EXPECT ME TO BELIEVE THIS PLACE IS FOR REAL! YOU MUST HAVE BROUGHT US TO A MOVIE SET!' Alley Oop: 'What do you mean? Of course it's real!' Mentis: 'Why, look around you! See all those dinosaurs?' Oop: 'Of course I do! I'm not blind! They're everywhere!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 1st of September, 2017. Tag yourself: which one of these dinosaurs is you when you realize you’re caught in a meeting where you don’t know what’s going on and if you don’t find a way out you’re going to be expected to give an opinion about the next quarter’s projections. For me, it’s the brontosaurs-y guy with a grimace and his teeth exposed.

Oop does admit that King Tunk of Lem is a problem, what with his invading now and then and being kind of a jerk the rest of the time. Mentis proposes a wall, and Oop rolls his eyes so far back into his head they threaten to come around the other side. Mentis figures, well, how about better defenses than Oop’s ax and his fists? Mentis’s bodyguard Gunther epically failed trying out Oop in hand-to-hand combat. But how about if Mentis shows off his superior strategy? Mentis shows off his plan. It’s “holding enough spears and axes and swords and knives at once that Oop barely has to stop laughing long enough to kick him unconscious”. I’m not saying I’d be much better at uplifting the poor noble cavemen if I figured that was my business. I’m not sure what I’d introduce them to, exactly. Soap, I guess. Clean water. A Lockean concept of the social contract. Potatoes. The categorical imperative. I know I wouldn’t try showing off that I could hold too many weapons at once to be able to hold without the whole pile falling and stabbing my foot.

Mentis: 'The key to defense is that you need more weapons than your enemy has! It's such a simple concept! As experienced as you are in hand-to-hand combat, I'm surprised you haven't figured it out before now! I'd show you if I could borrow some weapons!' Alley Oop: 'YOU'RE gonna fight ME?!' Mentis: 'Oh, there will e no need for a fight! You'll see! I could never compete with your muscle, but with weapons, I can show you the superiority of a well-armed fighting force!' Oop: 'Okay, whatever you say! Take your pick!' [ Mentis takes *everything* from the armory, at once. ] Mentis: 'If an enemy came at you armed like this, when all you had was that ax, I'm sure you'd agree you'd be inclined to retreat!' Oop laughs deeply, and kicks Mentis unconscious and ties him up. A recovering Mentis asks: 'What th' ... ?' Oop: 'You needed a free hand!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 1st of October, 2017. So Mentis has made his fortune buying out distressed companies and straightening out their messes. Which implies that there are a lot of companies so incompetently managed that the guy who figured he had achieved Caveman Invulnerability in the first panel of the bottom row there was a major improvement. Based on every corporate history I’ve ever read, this is likely.

Here Oop asks a good question: the heck is Mentis’s deal, anyway? Before the rich idiot can mansplain why he figures he can patch up history despite his manifest incompetence some actual plot intrudes. It’s raiders from Farzoon, seeking slaves for some massive project. Mentis wonders if it might be Stonehenge or the Great Wall because I’m going ahead and assuming he thought Chariots of the Gods was nonfiction. Oop and Mentis hide, but the Farzoonian raiders have their scent.

And that’s got us caught up.

So, still not answered: what is Mentis’s deal, anyway? It’s hard to square someone being bright enough to save struggling companies repeatedly with not being able to see any problems whatsoever in meddling with history. So what’s h out for? I guess it would be admirable if he did just want to fix the messy, terrible sides of history. And that would show up Wonmug and Oop for laughing at him. But if he is then he’s done a pretty poor job thinking through what that implies which, yeah, isn’t impossible. Especially given the casual, light tone of the Alley Oop world.

But it’s also baffling story for the Benders to write. As far as I know Alley Oop has avoided setting out the rules about whether, and how, history can be changed in its time-travel view. The storyline seems to threaten to commit them to something. Dr Wonmug says that history can change and time-travellers have to take care not to screw things up. But I don’t know what his evidence for that is. They seem to have a pretty casual attitude about time-travelling if they are afraid of messing up stuff. Alley Oop can activate the time machine to destinations of his choosing. Alley Oop’s an upstanding person, and he gets up to speed in situations quickly. But would you want to count on a caveman dropped into (say) the Battle of Manzikert to not do something off-script?

I suppose it’ll be avoided, or at least left ambiguous. I’m also curious how Wonmug figures that getting his hat stomped by dinosaurs will help Mentis learn about the interconnectedness of events or whatever his vague lesson is. You’d think just “what if you set it so your parents never met?” would get the point across. I suppose a reasonable person might learn from being shoved headfirst into Moo just how complicated and messy and big the world is and so how implausible it is to “fix” the timeline. But I’m not sure a reasonable person would have done more than have fantasies about history-fixing either.

So, I’m curious whether we’ll learn Mentis has some ulterior motive, or whether he simply believes he’s worked out the killer app for time travel.

Next Week!

We pop back in on the Bandar tribe and learn whether Tony DepPaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom Weekdays continuity has seen the Ghost Who Walks try out dying.

What’s Going On In Alley Oop? May 2017 – July 2017


Thanks for trying to work out what’s going on in Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop. I’m writing this in mid-July 2017. If it’s a lot later than July 2017, the story might have moved on, although I admit right now that’s not looking very likely. There might have been enough story development that this stuff isn’t useful anymore. If I’ve written a fresh follow-up since this essay, it should be at or near the top of this page. Let me know if you don’t see something and if the story has got so baffling you need an update.

And before I continue may I point out that on my other blog, I talk about whatever comic strips the past week touched on some mathematics subject. These are almost never story strips, but that’s all right. There’s interesting stuff brought up by them. Also, this week it features bunnies wearing eyeglasses, although not as well as they could.

Alley Oop

1 May – 22 July 2017

The current storyline in Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop started sometime in October of last year. The end of April and my last update of the strip coincided with what looked like the end of the story. Volzon, an alien plant-frog-guy with a mind-control ray gun, had been foiled in his attempts to colonize prehistoric Earth. It turns out dinosaurs, like Dinny the brontosaurus, aren’t subject to alien mind-control rays and don’t see any reason they couldn’t eat invading alien spaceships. Good stuff to know.

Alley Oop, knowing a loose end when he sees it, tosses the remains of Volzon’s mind-control gun out of Moo, and rejoins the quest for food and whatnot. King Guz, reasonably annoyed at yet another attempt to overthrow Moo, starts talking crazy about building a dome that will keep invading aliens out. Alley Oop reminds him that just because someone has an idea doesn’t mean that idea isn’t incredibly stupid. And he soothes the mind-control-wary Moovians. Even if Volzon or another Jantrullian return, it’s not like dinosaurs are going to vanish from the face of the Earth.

Tunk, examining the mind ray: 'There are some strings inside this thing.' Lemmian: 'Whatcha got, King Tunk?' Tunk: 'I'm not sure yet, but once I join these strings back together, I'll be able to tell what this thing is!' He gets zapped. Queen Loola: 'Am I imagining things, or is that my husband I see? It's about time you came home, Tunk!' Tunk: 'Quiet, dear, I'm concentrating!' Loola: 'You're concentrating? On what?' Tunk: 'I found a very delicate piece of equipment that needs to be repaired!' Loola: 'Hmmm... What is it?' Tunk: '(Sigh) I don't know yet!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 21st of May, 2017. A couple notes about the art. First, I like the composition of the first panel, bottom row, close-up on the mind-control ray gun and with the characters receding behind it. It’s the sort of composition I’d use for a dramatic picture. Second: I really like Queen Loola’s ‘Hmmmm’ drifting into smaller and smaller characters. These days the use of computer-typeset letters seems common, and I understand why. But that does seem to discourage cartoonists using varied sizes to emphasize tone and pacing of dialogue and that is a loss. I’m glad to see size used.

This fine example of dramatic irony gets a little bit weirder when you remember the premise of the comic strip. Alley Oop is a time traveller. He’s been, repeatedly, to the present day and knows that dinosaurs do vanish. On the other hand, he also knows the Jantrullians don’t manage to conquer the Earth, not before about 2016 anyway. (I don’t know if he’s ever been to our future.) I’m not sure how wry this is all supposed to be.

Meanwhile in the loose end, it turns out Alley Oop threw the remains of Volzon’s mind-control gun all the way into Lem, where King Tunk found it. As he only just got in the story he doesn’t know what it is or what it should do, but he can tell these are a bunch of sparky wires that got ripped apart. He figures he could twist the wires back together, cover them with tar, and wrap the whole remains of the gun in a palm leaf and maybe then it’ll work again. I admire his ingenuity and his success. I mean, I’ve needed the help of the car care place down the street just to take off my license plate holder. Twice. He’s fixing up an alien mind-control gun using sticks and leaves.

King Tunk, thinking how to repair the ray gun: 'Let's see - I need something sticky t'glue these things together! Hmm ... I've got it! Th'tar pit!' (He runs to the tar pit) 'This should do it! There's nothing stickier than this tar!' (He glues the ray gun together, and wraps it in a leaf.) 'Maybe once those strings are coated with this goo, they won't shock me anymore! I guess I'll just hafta settle for making a skin for this thing to cover up that hole! The tar should keep it secured. Not bad! Now it's time to figure out what this thing can do!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 4th of June, 2017. Seriously, folks, give it up to King Tunk and his hacking skills. This is a great bit of problem-solving and thinking outside of the box by someone who lives tens of thousands of years before boxes were invented. Think what this guy could do at your town’s Maker Faire.

At least he’s trying to. He tromps into Moo with the repaired gadget, accusing King Guz of designing a weapon to attack Lem. His attempt to use it backfires, leaving him in a dazed and suggestive state. King Guz sees an opportunity, figuring “I think it’s high time Tunk did something good with his life”. This serves as a reminder that there are people who can’t be trusted with mind-control technology, and that would be pretty much “people who’d use it on the unsuspecting”. And I’m not sure it should be trusted to people who’d volunteer to have it be used on either. I get the idea, but there’s such major issues about consent and the respect of personal autonomy that I can’t see a way around it.

King Tunk: 'You designed this weapon [ the ray gun ] to attack Lem!' King Guz: 'You're crazy! I didn't make any weapon!' Tunk: 'Let's see what it can do!' Alley Oop: 'Noooo! STOP! Quick, Guz, shield your eyes!' The gun shoots out a fizzly bunch of lines that boomerang back at Tunk. Tunk: 'What's goin' on with this thing? Is this what this thing's supposed t'do? I'm ... ' And he falls over, wide-eyed and staring vacantly.
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 9th of July, 2017. I didn’t realize until this point that all the plot-representative strips were from King Tunk’s storyline, with nothing about Alley Oop trying to talk King Guz out of building a stupid dome and promising that nothing bad can happen to Earth as long as there are dinosaurs. Well, all right. Again, have to give it up for King Tunk that the mind-control ray gun is working at all he repaired its dinosaur-chewing damage using tar and leaves. Also have to give it up for Jantrullian technology that the thing can be repaired in the field so easily. I bet Volzon would feel the right fool that it ran off so fast.

Anyway, this storyline keeps puttering on at the lethargic pace of a strip that makes sure the Sunday strip contains all the plot of the six weekdays around it. I would have bet the mind-control ray story was over with the end of April, so I’m not going to make guesses about when this story will end. There’ve been some teases that King Tunk needs to learn about working with people, and maybe that’s where the mind-control gun is going. We shall see, I assume.


Next week: News about Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom. The weekdays storyline, not the production of the comic strip.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile index rose — wait, this can’t be right. OK, it’s what everybody is saying, anyway. All right. The index rose 36 freaking points during the day, blasting way past the 300 margin and raising questions about whether the whole project is properly ballasted or what. I’m skeptical. Not looking to cause trouble but I’m not one of those people cranky about how they didn’t buy when it was at 80 or that did sell when it was at 256 because whatever this is, it’s not right.

327

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


And I’m back around to Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop. While I’m writing about the current storyline, it’s possible you’re reading this while trying to figure out what some other storyline in my future is about. That’s only fair given we’re talking about Alley Oop, isn’t it? Anyway, if you’re reading this much later than about May or June of 2017, you may want to look at whatever essay’s at top of this page. It should have my most current low-daisy review of what’s going on.

Alley Oop, 30 January – 30 April 2017

When I last checked in on Alley Oop the land of Moo was invaded by this pantsless alien plant-frog guy with a mind control ray gun. The planet Jantrulle has an exploding population. Their explorer, Volzon, found Earth to be a lovely spot with plenty of ecology, raw materials, and nipple-free cavemen who’d be a good labor pool. At least would be once they stopped complaining about the mind control, which is after all part of how mind control works.

Dire? I suppose, although the comic strip — while taking its adventure seriously — never get all that dire. Plus at that point only Alley Oop himself had been taken over. He was joined by Zan, while fellow Moo bit player Bug ran back to his sergeant to report on the alien invasion. Ooola overhears; the soldiers work up a story about how Oop’s just got so much meat to bring home he hasn’t had time to get mind-controlled by an invading pantsless alien plant-frog guy, a story she pretends to believe.

Bug and Sarge are on their way to free Alley Oop and an from Volzon's grip. Meanwhile Volzon's mind-control device is still at work on the two. 'This would be the perfect spot for the power plant, wouldn't it? Before we can build, though, all these trees must go! Can you do that?' 'Sure! Happy to!' Bug: 'OK, Sarge, this is where I saw Zan get taken prisoner by that thing! Zan and Oop were right over there!' 'I don't see any creature here. I knew it! You imagined the whole thing, bug!' 'NO I DIDN'T! But maybe we can rescue them before he comes back! Just be careful! He's really dangerous!' And Volzon gets the drop on Bug and Sarge.
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 26th of February, 2017. Really I’m not sure why everyone saw Volzon’s invasion as that big a menace since according to his sleeve stripe he’s just a lieutenant, and a red-shirt at that. He’s the first one going to be taken out by the episode’s dangerous alien menace! .. Oh, wait, he is the alien menace, isn’t he? Well, it’d still be plausible he might take himself out.

Volzon, warming stuff up for the reinforcements by having Oop and Zan punch trees, spots Bug and the Sarge and takes them over in time for the mind control ray to wear off Alley Oop. And while Oop had been under the ray for like six weeks of reader time, in story time it can’t have been more than a couple hours. It suggests there’s some practical problems in an economy built entirely on mind controlling cavemen. At least it means they’d be spending a lot of time re-zapping Moovians instead of enjoying stealing the fruit of others’ labor.

Volzon: 'Excellent work, gentlemen, but it would go faster if I recruited more help! I'll see what I can do!' Elsewhere in Moo. Oola: 'Dinny! I'm so glad I found you! I need a favor!' Dinny: 'Eep!' Trnslation: Eep!
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 20th of March, 2017. I admit I’m not sure I need this panel given the ones that have run before, but I like the playfulness of translating Dinny’s ‘Eep’ after the strip spent a week translating Volzon’s reports.

While Volzon gloats about preparations for his totally hip log-cabin spaceport being underway Ooola gets tired of not being in the story. She teams up with Dinny, Alley Oop’s pet/friend dinosaur, and go looking for him by the ancient Moovian technique of trying. Volzon’s startled by the big charging dinosaur somehow living at the same time as cavemen, but before he can question the plausibility of this worldbuilding the invading pantsless alien plant-frog guy discovers his mind control ray doesn’t work on dinosaurs. Yes, I enjoyed writing that sentence. I’m going to be cheery about it for days to come.

Volzon continues to report to his fellow Janthullians. 'Ikthio Frontigan Al ... Drudonga stungali freg!' Translation: perfect atmospheric conditions ... structural preparations progressing well!
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 17th of March, 2017. It may seem quirky that the first priority of the invading Jantullians is to send out a scout who gets a track and field stadium out of logs. But remember, the Jantullians are able to use some dimensional-warping technology to fit an entire starship into a ball small enough to fit in a dinosaur’s mouth which is totally not a giveaway for what happens by the 20th of April because the spaceship gets away. Anyway, so they don’t really seem to need Earth space for buildings or stuff, just, play.

It gets worse for the invader. Even when Ooola’s separated from any dinosaurs it turns out her boogie board is an effective defense against mind control rays. With Oop coming out of control and Dinny coming close to suppertime, Volzon retreats to his pocket-dimensional spaceship and takes off for some easier invasion target. Possibly, like, the place forty miles down the road but, that would be in a different comic strip.

Volzon: 'Get away from my workers!' Ooola: 'We have to go now, Alley! That thing is back!' Volzon: 'Stop!' Ooola and Alley Oop duck under her shield as Volzon's mind-control ray bounces off it. Dinny charges Volzon. 'How is it possible that my mind-control device doesn't work on this beast?' And Dinny eats it.
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 16th of April, 2017. So if any of you were wondering how modern capitalism can be brought to its much-needed end, this pro tip: mind-control-resistant dinosaurs. I’m surprised you needed the advice.

If this isn’t the end of the story it’s darned close. The past week has been Oop explaining what was going on to Zan, Bug, the Sarge, and someone else who joined the story while I wasn’t looking. There might be another week of transition left in things, but we’re getting onto a new story soon enough. I thank Jack Bender and Carole Bender for organizing stuff that neatly.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose four points today on rumors of investor confidence and a sense that what’s the worst that could happen? The folks shorting the index have their answers, but nobody listens to them until the market crashes and they’re the only ones with money until everyone else gathers around and punches them.

125

What’s Going On In Alley Oop?


[ Edited 2 September 2018 to add: ] Jack and Carole Bender have retired. The comic strip is going into reruns through the end of 2018 while the syndicate figures out what to do. I summarize the final original-run story by the Benders here.. And as said below, this link will have my most recent updates about the comic strip generally. Thank you. ]


[ Edited 29 April 2017 to add: ] Thanks for coming here in search of catching up on what’s going on in Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop. The essay here was right and so far as I know just fine when I wrote it in late January 2017. If you’re looking for what’s gone on since then try this link; the most recent posts I’ve had about the comic strip should be at the top of its results.


I know, I bet you all thought I was going to go from The Amazing Spider-Man over to The Phantom, as that’s the other newspaper-syndicated superhero comic strip. I admit I’m not sure when’s the last time I saw Alley Oop in a newspaper. It might have been decades ago at my grandparent’s house, when I also saw The Amazing Spider-Man there on the cover of the New York Daily News comics section and nowhere else. (People with records of the Daily News comics page offerings, please write in to let me know if that’s possible!) Big deal. It certainly used to run in newspapers, and for all I know it still does. It looks like one. Plus it’s easier to explain than The Phantom and I had a week far to distracted to deal with complicated strips.

Alley Oop.

So, Alley Oop started in 1932 by V T Hamlin as essentially a sitcom/adventure strip. It was about Alley Oop and his prehistoric land of Moo. He’d do caveman-type stuff, like adopting a pet dinosaur Dinny and being alternately indispensable to or on the run from Moo’s King Guz. Sometimes they’d be in the sort of low-scale war with Tunk’s neighboring kingdom of Lem that you got in those days when the world had maybe twenty people in it. Hey, caveman comics and cartoons were a viable thing back then, and if the whole genre’s been taken over by The Flintstones that’s not the fault of the properties working a generation before them.

And surely Alley Oop would have gone wherever rambling story comics go if not for a 1939 tale (recently reprinted by Dark Horse, so you can read it in book form). In that, the brilliant 20th-century scientist Dr Elbert Wonmug, testing out his time machine, plucked Alley Oop into the present day and suddenly the strip had that touch of madness that allows for greatness. A mildly humorous adventure strip about cavemen is fine enough. But a mildly humorous adventure strip about time-travelling cavemen? That’s brilliant. I don’t know how the thing has resisted adaptation into a goofy 70s live-action show or a modern movie.

So it’ll say something about the strip that the 20th, now 21st, century scientist is Dr Elbert Wonmug. Do you get it? Because I had been reading the strip reasonably faithfully for like six years before someone, I think an essay at the front of a collection, explained it to me. How would you translate won (one) mug into German?

I mention that not for it being the record-holder in me only belatedly getting the joke, as it’s not. There’s a Far Side cartoon that holds that record at something like 15 years before I got it. I mention it to calibrate the sort of humor the strip has. It’s never a thoroughly serious comic, and a lot of silly business does go on, especially slapstick. But it’s not primarily a joke strip. If something’s funny it’s because there’s an absurd situation, such as (last year) Guz deciding that the fantastically unqualified Alley Oop should be the kingdom’s doctor. Alley Oop didn’t do very well. But I think that’s because the whole storyline was (in-universe) done in a couple of days, and nobody’s at their best their first week on the job. He’s pretty good at picking up stuff; anyone who can go from primitive Moo to 1939 Long Island with only a few missteps has got solid resources.

'How do you fit in that little [spaceship]?' 'The compartment is simply a product of transdimensional engineering! In other words, the interior exists in a different dimension than the exterior. (Sigh) It's bigger on the inside than the outside!' 'Oh! Why didn't you say that in the first place?'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 28th of November, 2016. What tickles me about this is there’s a good shot Alley Oop isn’t bluffing here. I mean, the guy went to the Moon in the 1940s. Transdimensional engineering probably doesn’t throw him that much.

The current storyline started around October of 2016. (There wasn’t a clean break from the previous story, a common feature of Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s writing.) And it’s built on a premise designed to shake seven-year-old me out of watching In Search Of and reading the paranormal-events section of The People’s Almanac 2. Aliens have come to invade Moo.

Oh, they didn’t talk about invading at first. Volzon, of the planet Jantulle, spent some time showing off his superior technology and negging on Alley Oop’s sensor readings. Volzon then declared ancient Earth to be just about perfect for their needs: the Jantulle population’s exploding and their plant-frog-men need colonies. Earth will do nicely. Alley Oop pointed out that their superior technology was no match for his big stick. And it must be said, he’s quite good with sticks. And punching. Alley Oop does pretty well satisfying the gap left by Popeye not really being a comic strip anymore. And then Volzon went and spoiled things by whipping out his mind-control device. That’s about where things stand just now.

'These tendrils absorb sunlight, which is a food source, but they can also give me instant readings on anything with which I come in contact! You, for instance! Interesting! I see you are primarily made of water! There is also protein, fat ... ' 'HEY! This isn't fat! It's all muscle!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 3rd of December, 2016. I admit the strip surprised me since I really would have bet the first newspaper-syndicated comic strip to feature alien tentacle probes would have been Bill Holbrook’s Safe Havens or maybe Brooke McEldowney’s 9 Chickweed Lane.

Of course the Jantulle invasion is going to be foiled. For one, comic strips like this just don’t end in aliens conquering Earth. Not permanently, anyway. For another, we know that since Earth isn’t a colony world of alien plant-frog-men the invasion does come to nought. And it’ll be up to Alley Oop and his team to do something about that. The comic strip, as best I can determine, doesn’t try to pull any nonsense about time travel resulting in alterante timelines or histories or anything like that. There’s the history of how things worked out, and it works out that way because the protagonists of our stories did something about it.

For a premise that’s got time travel baked into it there’s refreshingly little talk about paradoxes, or fixing up a solution by planting the stuff you needed to escape it afterwards. It’s rather like (most of) the old-school Doctor Who serials that way. The time travel is a way of getting to interesting settings. Mostly, of late, they’ve been ancient Moo, or the present day. There was recently a curious story where Alley Oop and his partner Oola travelled to 1941 and left a message with then-contemporary Dr Wonmug. This didn’t threaten the stability of the spacetime continuum or threaten paradoxes or anything; it’s just, history worked out like that.

And yeah, somehow, 1941 Wonmug wasn’t impossibly young nor 2016 Wonmug impossibly old. All the characters are holding at about the same age and if you don’t want to accept that maybe you should read some other comic strip about time-travelling cavemen and their dinosaurs.

'Once you view the situation with a clear head you will see that mine is a superior race and more deserving of this land. When I look at your homeland all I see are abundant natural resources, none of which have been developed! I can promise you'll always have a place in Moo with my people here ... your function will just be different! With all the building going on, the demand for laborers would mean you'd never be expelled!' 'It's starting to sound like slavery!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 1st of January, 2017. I didn’t get the chance to talk about it in the main essay, but I do like the design of Volzon here. It’s got a bit of a frog look, a bit of a plant look, a bit of a Zeta Reticulan Ninja Turtle look. And all wearing a leftover jacket from the Original Series Star Trek movies. It comes together pretty convincingly. Meanwhile, note the gentle social spoofing going on the first two-thirds of this strip.

Oh yeah, the dinosaurs. Dinosaurs and cavemen never lived together, never even got close to together. To my delight the comic strip acknowledged this back in 1939 or 1940, when Hamlin was discovering he had a new premise taking over his comic. They explained how there could possibly be dinosaurs in Moo: they don’t know. Obviously things are more complicated than they realize. So far as I’m aware Hamlin and his successors writing the strip haven’t gone back and filled in some explanation for how this impossibility came about. It’s just part of how this fictional world works. I’m honestly impressed that they resist filling in some explanation. You could come up with any number of explanations that work as long as nobody thinks through their implications. “We don’t know; the world is more complicated than we realize,” though? That’s irrefutable. And it’s even what an actual scientist would say to an unanswerable mystery like that. (Oh, they’d work up hypotheses and start testing, yes, but it would start from an acknowledged ignorance.)

A last note. I’d mentioned with The Amazing Spider-Man the problem story strips have with Sundays. All the soap opera comics adopted a Sundays-as-recap-days policy. The Sunday strip would repeat the action of the Monday through Saturday preceding, a mercy for people who get only the Sunday comics but killing the pacing. Amazing Spider-Man just barrels through Sundays as though nothing weird were going on and trusts people to fill in the blanks. Alley Oop works closer to the soap opera model. Sunday strips largely recapitulate what happened the previous week, but in a clipped, notes-for-class version. The daily strips have more texture, more of the fun little asides filling in plot points. If you were to adapt Alley Oop to another medium, you’d use the Sunday strips to guide the plot and the daily strips to write the scenes.

Volzon zaps Alley Oop with some kind of Apple iRaygun. 'How do you feel, Alley Oop?' 'Great! How are you? Who are you?' 'Great, how are you?' 'Would you mind if I brought my friends here to settle in your land?' 'Not at all! The more, the merrier!' 'Excellent! the mind-control device worked!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 15th of January, 2017. Oh, yeah, the storyline started out with everybody going off foraging for food, which is the sort of thing they need to do and can never finish because there’s extraterrestrials invading or other hassles like that going on. It’s hard living as the protagonist to something.

And the Sunday strips don’t recap the previous Monday-to-Saturday. They recap, roughly, the previous Tuesday to the coming Tuesday. That is, the Sunday strip tells you what’s going to happen the coming Monday and Tuesday. (More or less.) Of course a comic strip about time travelling cavemen would be a little out of synch with the weeks. That just makes sense, surely.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index dropped five points overnight. No one really knows why but the leading hypothesis is that it’s related to the neap tides because everybody agrees “neap tides” are the best tides. Neap.

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