Hasn’t been revealed yet why someone wanted to kill Lady Worthington at this dinner of inventors she’d summoned. Or why she summoned them. The obvious supposition is money, but the truth may be something sillier.
This should get you up to date on Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the end of March, 2021. If you’re reading this after about June 2021, there’s likely a more up-to-date plot recap here. The link also will have any news about the comic strip which I notice.
3 January – 27 March 2021.
Alley Oop, Ooola, and Doc Wonmug had contracted a case of shrinking last we saw. This after getting zapped by shrink rays several times over. They first settled in at paramecium-sized. Then spontaneously re-shrank to bacterium-sized. Then to DNA-sized. Then into the subatomic, coming to be the size of quantum strings. Also, in the Alley Oop universe, it turns out string theory is right. Once shrunken so, though, they meet someone.
Plank seems to be a pleasant, all-knowing, mysterious entity. They’re able to show Our Heroes the wonders of alternate dimensions and the Theory of Everything and all that. And then it’s time to shrink some more. And what happens when you shrink smaller than anything can be? That’s right: you end up bigger than galaxies. Like in that ancient science fiction short story. Plank guides them to shrinking all the way back to Earth, and their proper size again. Wonmug hopes to chat physics with Plank some. Alley Oop and Ooola dash back for home.
They get home the 2nd of February and get exciting news: Garg is getting married! He doesn’t know to who. He’ll find out at the ceremony. Also everybody else is getting married too. Why is everyone marrying at the same time? The Mighty Feather, their new spiritual leader, decreed it. So that’s looking creepy and evil, however much everyone denies their evilness, in unison. Also, the Mighty Feather talks about how everyone needs to jump in the volcano tomorrow, so this needs action.
Alley Oop puts on his thinking feathers and realizes, why not pretend to be The Mighty Feather, cult leader, and guide Moo back to normal? And it turns out that’s all anybody needed. The story wraps up the 17th of February.
From the 18th the new, and current, story starts. They get an invitation to a “gathering of geniuses” at the palatial estate of Lady Worthington. The butler greets them, with a warning against “the butler did it” jokes. She’s gathered the finest minds in the world as she’s lost the key to her safe full of riches and needs help. Alley Oop finds it underneath a fake rock in the bureau, so on to a nice after-mystery dinner.
At the dinner it turns out all the guests but Ooola and Alley Oop are inventors. As Our Heroes ponder this strangeness, Lady Worthington admits she gathered everyone for a second purpose. Then the light flicks out a moment. When it comes back, Lady Worthington is dead, stabbed in the back.
It’s easy to solve a murder when you have a time machine like Doc Wonmug. The time machine won’t work. Another inventor has a post-mortem communicator. It doesn’t work. Another inventor has a reincarnator. it doesn’t work. Nor does the robo-cloner. Alley Oop’s club even acts weird. Wonmug deduces the presence of a Faraweek cage, interfering with the workings of technology.
Our Heroes explore the manor and find the Faraweek cage in the basement. Ooola snips the correct wire and all the technologies become available. The reincarnator, for example, is able to bring Lady Worthington back to life, only to die again of her stab wound. The post-mortem communicator gets Lady Worthington’s spirit demanding that nobody get her money and hangs up. The robo-duplicator produces a dead robot Lady Worthington. Finally we get to the time machine.
So, yes, the butler did it. And since they went back in time and interrupted the murder, Lady Worthington now isn’t dead and we get another bit of timeline-changing.
In the Sunday strips, there was one Little Oop comic where Penelope took herself and Alley Oop back to Moo. This teased a resolution of the scenario where Little Alley Oop’s in the present day. But it wasn’t followed up on the next week. So there’s not a real story resuming there.
The next story started the 19th of October. It starts out looking like it’s about some corporate intrigue. Potato chip magnate Leslie Stenk calls in a favor from Doc Wonmug. She needs something done about Chip Hamberden’s far more successful potato chip company. Wonmug takes the Civil-War-Enthusiast Hamberden on a time trip back to the Battle of Antietam. And leaves him there, where he seems happy, which, fair enough.
When Wonmug gets back to the present, Ava is gone. All that’s present is an Interdimensional Soul Reanimator and a set of time coordinates. It’s the lab’s location, four billion years in the past. This makes me wonder, like, location on the continental plate? Or latitude-longitude? How is the prime meridian handled over that length of time? Not important. They get some magic breathing apparatuses and pop back to the primordial soup.
Ava is there, though she’s floating in the air and shooting flame-breath at Wonmug. Also she’s calling herself Zanzarr, “master of the demonic souls of the afterlife”. Zanzarr’s plan: zap the primordial soup with demon energy to prevent life as humans know it ever existing. It’ll be nothing but demons. I don’t know how to square this with what The Clawed Oracle just said about timeline changes.
Wonmug tries appealing to Ava, who must be wrestling Zanzarr for control of her body. Ava notes how lousy her job actually is. It’s a beat about what a jerk Wonmug can be, augmented by Ooola and Alley Oop saying they forgot to invite her into their union. I know being a jerk has been a staple of comic scenes since forever, but it doesn’t need to be nasty.
So, they get the demon out. Wonmug sets it at the dinosaur-asteroid-impact-spot. I suppose that’s practical and maybe even responsible — Zanzarr was trying to destroy all life, after all — but it’s also murder. Also, he leaves ten seconds before impact. What if his time thingy had decided to reboot? Anyway, Wonmug promises to at least buy Ava a better office chair. (There’s also a casual mention that Ava dated a female demon, back in college. So the time-travelling caveman comic strip acknowledged lesbian-or-bisexual relationships before Mary Worth did.)
One more thing, though. How did Ava leave a note with the time coordinates for Wonmug to find? And … she didn’t.
From the 30th of November we moved into a new story, but one that grew out of that loose end. Who wrote the note? The author enters the 2nd of December. It was Rody, a mouse in a lab coat, speaking now to them for the Coalition of Tiny Scientists. To further their talks, Rody shrinks Wonmug, Ooola, and Alley Oop to mouse-size. And you thought I was tossing off a joke last week when I talked about Hank “Ant-Man” Pym hanging out with Doc Wonmug. I was; I forgot there was a shrinking tie-in there.
The shrink ray is incredible, but you know what would complete it? An unshrinking ray. Rody doesn’t have one. But Ant #3229BX — inventor of the shrink ray — might have an idea. Rody shrinks the bunch to ant-size to better talk with her. She isn’t interested in an unshrinking ray either. But she does have a genius aphid they should talk to, and she shrinks them to aphid scale. But they’ve had enough of this silliness. (Meanwhile Rody does make some wonderful progress on un-shrinking.)
Wonmug thinks he knows how to reverse the shrink ray. Alley Oop’s able to follow #3229BX’s pheromone trail back to the shrink ray. But, whoops, they have an accident and get shrunk even further, to microscopic size. They’re lucky they still have the magic breathing technology from their trip to four billion years ago.
Oh, and what about the Sunday strips? In those Little Oop stories, Alley Oop’s stuck in the present, and hanging out with the kid inventor who stranded him in 2020. This was a less dire fate when the thread started. The strip is ignoring the pandemic and I don’t blame it. But there hasn’t been a story going on here. It’s strips of Little Alley Oop in school, or at the mall, or making friends or such. I suspect Lemon and Sayers have figured this is a more fun Sunday strip to write than Little Alley Oop in prequel Moo. If I’m right they’ll keep him in suburbia until they run out of jokes. I’m sorry not to have another Sunday-continuity strip to recap. Sunday-only strips are fun and also easy to recap. But they’re also hard to create and I don’t fault them not wanting that challenge.
But this essay is, in the main, about Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop. This should catch you up to mid-October. If you’re reading this after about January 2021, if there is a January 2021, you’ll likely find a more up-to-date plot recap at this link. Also any news about Alley Oop, if there is news.
Everyone was hanging around in Moo, last we left off. Ooola was rehearsing a play. She impressed Gromp, the director. Gromp pitches another job for her: using the play as cover to enter neighboring land Lem and steal King Tunk’s giant opal. She hates the plan. Gromp sends his dinosaur, Steve, to make her see reason. She beats Steve in a fair fight, though, and hauls Gromp off to be in a desert island cartoon.
That, the 1st of August, wraps up that little story. From the 3rd we get a string of events leading into the current story. It starts with a joyride: Alley Oop wants to go to an amusement park. So they return to the present, and Doc Wonmug looks for the greatest amusement park, past, present, or future. But who can tell him what that is? rec.roller-coaster just fights about Kennywood versus Knoebels versus Efteling versus Holiday World. (Did you consider Waldameer? Especially if you have a family? Very under-rated park, especially if you aren’t all about high-intensity everything.) So he goes to The Clawed Oracle.
The Clawed Oracle, off in a never-before-mentioned room of Wonmug’s Time Laboratory, is a cat. She pronounces that the greatest amusement park ever is in Saint Louis in the year 3277. They zip off to Future Saint Louis. The place stinks, apart from the giant pine tree air freshener hanging from the Arch. What looks like an abandoned warehouse is labelled Amusement Park #41. Inside is an array of virtual-reality goo-filled tubes. Despite the ominous everything, they go in.
It’s a good time, though, until the fortune teller learns they’re from the 21st century. On that she leads them to a secret reality within the virtual reality. And to Phil, leader of the Underground Stronghold Alliance. He tells of the Great Culture Famine, a mysterious event that destroyed culture. All that’s left since 2081 are these virtual-reality amusement parks. But what can three time travellers do? They leave the park and journey to Phil’s coordinates in 2081. And there they meet … The Clawed Oracle.
It turns out The Clawed Oracle is an eternal ethereal being who manifests on earth as a cat, so that’s a nice gig. She reveals who’s responsible for the Great Culture Famine. It’s Dr Wonmug, yeah. Indirectly. It’s really the clone of Albert Einstein that Wonmug made and then abandoned on a farm. She sends them off to deal with Einstein Two. (Why not Zweistein?)
Einstein Two’s gripe: his parents insisted he put all his scientific energies into the farm, and the zany cow bra business. So he invented a Grand Culture Eraser, to destroy all forms of art, past, present, and future. He has justification for this: he’s grown up to be a STEM jerkface so doesn’t see why gadgetry is not a life. Einstein Two proclaims this a gift to every child whose love of science was crushed by small-mindedness. Then Alley Oop punches his machine to rubble. Ooola smashes his backup, too. Dr Wonmug tears up the machine’s plans. Alley Oop digs up and rips up the backup plans. So that’s some success.
And that takes us to the start of the week. Also into a new timeline. Saint Louis of 3277 “now” has a giant chandelier hanging from the Arch. And Amusement Park #41 is the aquatic stadium any amusement park used for dolphin shows back in the 1970s when we were making that mistake. This looks like the resolution of a storyline. But it could also be the transition to a new story. Too soon to tell.
Since Lemon and Sayers took over, the Sunday Alley Oop strips have been a separate continuity. (Under Jack and Carole Bender they had been a recap-and-preview of a week’s worth of strips.), The Sunday strips are set when Alley Oop is a little kid. In February a story seemed to start: Penelope, a young science-type genius girl of the year 2020, popped into Little Alley Oop’s world. She brought him back to the present. Then then the time machine broke.
Penelope has not been anxious about getting her time machine fixed, although there’ve been a couple attempts at it. Instead, we’ve seen Little Oop get set up in Penelope’s family’s guest room. To start going to school. To meet some of Penelope’s friends and her brother and all that. It’s read more like we’re getting a revised setting to the Sunday strips more than anything meant to go anywhere.
So at this point I can’t give a plot recap because there isn’t really a plot. There’s just Little Oop getting into cute shenanigans in the present day. If this turns into a story I’ll add it to my regular plot recaps. But for now, it seems to be just stand-alone incidents. At least once you know what a caveboy is doing in 2020.
Yes, it looks like the thing where Universe-3 is prosecuting our, Universe-2, Alley Oop and company is resolved. The charges are dropped until some later nonsense happens. The original, V T Hamlin-created Alley Oop is in Universe-1, not a part of these shenanigans. Glad to catch you up on Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop, as of mid-July 2020. If you’re reading this after about October 2020 there’ll likely be a new plot recap at this link.
Copious separates Alley Oop from Dr Wonmug and Ooola. He has a test. Copious abducts Wonmug and Ooola, losing them somewhere in time, and Alley Oop has to rescue them. Wonmug’s stranded at a Beatles concert. It takes Alley Oop some time to find him, until he remembers he has a time machine. It takes longer to find Ooola, who’s hidden in the post-apocalyptic year of August 2020 2485. At least until they realize they can use the time machine to check where Copious sent her.
Why all the testing? Because Copious wants to know if they’re up to helping him conquer the multiverse. He’s teamed up with the Nudellians, the useless aliens from the Pyramids. Copious explains they’re intelligent but gullible, and thus, useful. They sold Copious a device to travel between universes, which stopped working. We readers know why that is. To escape Time Court, Wonmug got a Universe Transit Device that locked out cross-universe travel. Copious is looking for a way to overcome that.
There’s one party Alley Oop and gang know who could help. That’s Ollie Arp and Eeena, their Universe-3 counterparts. And the ones who brought them up for trial in Time Court. And the only way to contact them is Copious’s pencil. Alley Oop sneaks up on Copious and distracts him by whacking him unconscious. Arp and Eeena debate it a little and decide saving the multiverse is worth dropping the charges.
Arp and Eeena guide Wonmug in the use of Copious’s universe-travel device. It sends him to Universe 92, one where money was never invented. Arp and Eeena send Copious’s accomplices to Universe 212 and a hot bath. They were just “a few bad noodles”, paying off the pun set up by saying they were from the planet Nu-Dell. So the multiverse is saved, Universe-3 dropped the Time Crime charges against Our Heroes, and all’s well. That wraps things up … let’s call it the 24th of June.
The 25th of June everyone goes back to Moo. Wonmug included, since he hasn’t got anywhere else to be. Also there’s some weird giant ominous cloud looming over the Time Lab.
Bad news in Moo, though. Dinny the dinosaur’s run away. But he’s not hard to find: he went to Inspiration Peak, where to canoodle with Francine, a dinosaur he met at the dino park. They’ve just started dating, no idea where this is going. They’ll see what happens. So that’s sweet.
Meanwhile, Ooola, who went off to the hot springs, is in some kind of fight. With her cry of “Die, fiend!” we reach the 18th of July and the nominal end of this recap period. (She’s rehearsing a play, we learn on Monday and Tuesday.)
The team has a mission: get some tea from the Boston Tea Party. The billionaire Drew Copious wants some. All right. They zap back to Boston and have some trouble hooking up with the tea party. Falling afoul of Loyalists, not being able to find the right wharf, that sort of thing. But they find the spot, and join in tossing tea overboard, except for one crate that Alley Oop swapped out ahead of time. With success and tea in hand, they head back to the present.
Copious offers another mission. And promises wealth beyond their reasonable dreams if they finish his tests. The first: he wants proof that aliens built the pyramids. Ooola finds something fishy about all this, but Wonmug points out: money! You don’t get billions of dollars without falling for loads of racist pseudoscientific codswallop. So they’re off to Ancient Egypt.
They get to a pyramid construction site. Oop falls in with the brick-movers. Wonmug passes himself off as an architectural inspector, and while snooping around finds an alien! Sellomina is a creature from the planet Nu-Dell, and is … just … nothing. Kind of a clod. They’re only, maybe, six or eight weeks more advanced than humans. And that only in some areas. They bought a Marinarian spaceship to get here. And can’t even get the eight-track to work. (Explanation for younger readers: the eight-track was a thing that cars had in the seventies. It didn’t work.)
Ooola, meanwhile, gets mistaken for the Princess Lula, and is whisked away to the royal apartments. Where the real Princess Lula also is. They’re somehow identical. Lula is not upset. She sees this as a great chance to set up a Parent Trap situation. Not the movie, which she doesn’t know about. No, she wants to put her parents in a trap, so she can get away and marry Pardel, an alien she loves. Ooola is up for this.
So things work out for the player-characters. Ooola helps Lula trap her parents. Alley Oop finishes building a pyramid himself. Wonmug is convinced that the aliens were just in the way of building the pyramids. Sellomina gives Wonmug the highest piece of Nu-Del technology: a pencil. Used for cleaning gunk out of ears. Pretty sure the Nu-Del aliens don’t have ears.
A pencil isn’t much of an alien artifact, but it’s what they have. They return to the present and give Copious the news. He’s not disappointed to learn that aliens are dumb. He declares if there were intelligent life in the universe, it would have visited him. So, yeah, can’t fault the characterization here. He’s got more missions, and gives them the run of his mansion for a couple days off.
And, in private, does a thingy with the pencil. The image of an alien he calls Farfell appears. Farfell acknowledges Copious acquiring the device and asks if he’s ready to commence their plan. So that’s something.
I feel the last couple months have been strong ones for the weekday continuity. There’s been a solid enough story. While there have been side bits of nonsense, they’ve been kept short. Princess Lula talking about the Parent Trap, which seems like a reality-breaking joke, subverts that expectation. Having aliens be in Ancient Egypt, but just killing time there, is a fair enough joke. Having Copious and Farfell up to something makes the joke also a useful story element. I’d say this is reflected in how I see fewer complaints about what’s happened to Alley Oop. But I suspect the bigger factor is people wanting to know what’s wrong with Mark Trail suddenly. And after that it’ll be [spinning the wheel] what the heck happened to Gil Thorp.
Something I didn’t expect happened the 9th of February, 2020, which you may remember was three million years ago. This was a Sunday strip, when Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers have been doing panels about Little Oop, Alley Oop as a kid. They started a story.
Yes, I agree it’s a weird coincidence that this Sunday story started so close to the last time I did a plot recap. Back in February, I was more distracted that the weekday strips were starting a new story at the same time.
3 February – 25 April 2020.
The story started with a girl popping in from nowhere, wondering why it wasn’t 1999, seeing Little Oop’s pet dinosaur Max and fleeing. She’s Penelope. She’s invented a time machine. And she’s freaked out by the dinosaurs and volcanoes and ice ages and all that. When a mammoth charges at them she hits the thingy on her thingy, and zaps herself and Little Oop to the present. Bit of a mistake. The mammoth was just eager to share cookies.
Her time machine contracts plot issues. Little Oop’s stuck in the present for a while. He’s got to hide. Penelope figures it’s better if she keeps him close by. So she smuggles him in to school. Still dressed as a caveman, but, trying to put him in regular clothes didn’t really work. Little Oop meets Penelope’s friend Julius. He’s described as a mathlete, and he resembles Little Oop’s friend Garg.
Does that resemblance signify anything? Maybe. It did strike me that as part of the Time Jail storyline we met Dr Piedra, Dr Wonmug’s Universe-3 equivalent. She’s a time-travelling scientist and wears a purple … uh … hair thingy. Penelope’s hair is noticeably purple. But if we’re supposed to link them, well, Penelope wears glasses and Dr Piedra doesn’t. There are plenty of explanations for this in real people. But comic strip convention relies on characters keeping some key accessories. (And, yes, their head shapes are different, but to my eye about the same way grown-up Alley Oop and kid Little Oop’s shapes are different.)
Anyway I guess we’ll see in the Sundays whether there are any stories to find in a scientist’s time machine stranding a caveman in the present day.
Next question: How does Little Oop having time-travel adventures in the year 2020 fit with the continuity of Alley Oop? All I can say is to offer the closing lines of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 theme: “it’s just a show, I should really just relax”. If you want it rationalized, treat this as an Alternate Universe Alley Oop. Alternate, maybe, even to the Universe-2 adventures that we’ve been reading since Lemon and Sayers took over the strip.
If you must fit this together? Well, some good news. Alley Oop, when he was first brought into the then-present of 1939, handled his experiences pretty well. He was in the present for only a few hours before … well …
So, if you want to head-canon that Alley Oop had some useful childhood experiences that prepared him for adventures with Doc Wonmug and all? You have some room for that. But you do have to work out how it is that Ooola, who was also brought to 1939 Long Island and has not been brought to 2020, handled things better. (Of course, Little Ooola might come to 2020 yet.) Also, you have to rationalize Alley Oop’s problem understanding mirrors.
I do not know how GoComics decided which Alley Oop stories to add to its Deep Archive. There’s even one from January 1939, before the strip included time travel. But the important one started the 7th of April, 1939, when Doc Wonmug got his movie camera back from the past. If you somehow have a bit of spare time, you might want to read the story. It’s always good to see the work that made something famous. And it’s enlightening to see how the strip has always been willing to go for the dumb joke. Also, that Doc Wonmug has a real problem with being a jerk. Also, turns out, a daughter. Huh.
I’ll recap the plot in the weekday-continuity Alley Oop. Unless something goes wrong.
It’s a world of enormous crystals continuously playing the Piña Colada Song. Of DMV lines that wrap around the globe twice. And time criminals. Ollie Arp is the prosecutor, holding this Alley Oop for all the comic strip’s nonsense since Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers took over. Their defense: Petey, a cloud of gas from Universe 248. Their judge: Bushney, a tough, old-fashioned computer judge. It looks like an Atari 2600, so, do you get the nerd joke there? (Atari was founded by Nolan K Bushnell.) The jury is volunteers from the multiverse. It includes at least one Cutie-pie, and one of the Time Raccoons that Dr Wonmug created.
Ollie Arp calls witnesses. Mostly from universes made worse by the side effects of Our Heroes’s nonsense. And then, the 12th of December, he calls Alley Oop of Universe-1. That is, the original Alley Oop, the one from the newspapers. The one V T Hamlin created and the continuity we were following through to the end of Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s run. The trial itself is almost an apologia to old fans angry with Sayers and Lemon’s strip. This brief appearance makes it even more explicit. The original Alley Oop wasn’t eliminated by their new run and this Universe-2 stuff. It’s still there, ready to enjoy. Someone else could even pick it up later, unharmed, and do new stuff in it. Anyway, Petey the Gas Cloud Lawyer is excited to meet Newspaper Alley Oop.
Sensing disaster, Alley Oop, Oona, and Dr Wonmug flee the trial. And go looking for help. The helper: Dr Wonmug of Universe-68. Albart Wonmug, son of that universe’s Elbert. Albart Wonmug seems to have nothing but plasma balls. It’s a cover. When Albart learns the gang is fleeing their Time Crime trial he reveals The Wonmug Elite Club.
He sets up Universe-2 Wonmug with a Universe Transit Device. It’ll get his party to and from other universes. And can lock that universe so nobody else can go in or out of it for a year. Some of the universes are obviously dangerous: Universe-44 invented cold sores “and the rest of us still haven’t forgiven them”. Some are wackily dangerous: Universe-129 is nothing but puppies and it’s too adorable to leave of your own free will. Alley Oop grabs the Universe Transport Device and whisks them off to Universe-27.
Universe-27 is a nice enough place. Idyllic. Utopian even, if you’re one of the gigantic slug monsters eating the terrorized human population. Our Heroes get some distance and flee that universe. It’s a moment I disliked. I grant there’s not much three people with the contents of their pockets could do about a nightmare world of giant human-eating slug monsters. But they ought to feel some urge to try. It’s one thing to be foolish and cowardly heroes. It’s another thing to be foolish and cowardly without the heroism. Belatedly, Alley Oop thinks he could have made friends with one of the giant murder slugs, which is something.
They land in Universe-900. There’s dinosaurs, even though Wonmug says “we didn’t travel through time”. Also as if you could make “the present” in two universes a coherent thought. Well, Alley Oop thinks it’s the handsome universe: everyone in it looks like him. Hundreds of Alley Oops gather silently around. It’s suspicious.
They flee. Back in Universe-900, the Oops regret everyone waiting for someone else to say something first. Too bad; apparently the Alley Oop Universe had a couple things sorted out. Our Heroes, anyway, end up back in Universe-2. Ooona uses the device, locking the rest of the multiverse out of Universe-2 for a year. Again, as if that concept makes sense, especially when the others in the multiverse are time travellers. Anyway, this is all a lead-up to their new mission … which we’ll see over the coming months. It’s another suspiciously well-timed break point for these recaps. I don’t know.
Hi, person wanting to complain about Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop. This is a good place to talk about the strip, as I have a plot recap bringing people up to date for about early November 2019. If you’re reading this after about February 2020 there’s probably a more up-to-date recap at this link. Thank you for disliking the comic strip, but I trust, liking me.
(This is my inference. I don’t read the strips ahead of the day of publication. I am given to understand that other comic strip bloggers have the Secret Knowledge of ways to get future strips. It requires something more sophisticated than hacking a strip URL to a future date, so, I’m not going to bother.)
And they left Alley Oop and Ooola with their previous mission. This was bringing Plato back to the present day. Genevieve Collingsworth, (fictional) Pulitzer-prize winning writer, hoped to interview him. The disappointment: Alley Oop and Ooola had gotten Plato from a time before he was doing philosophy. It’s from the era when Plato was doing puppetry. Collingsworth makes a Pulitzer-winning book out of it anyway.
With the 6th of September, the new and current storyline starts. It’s to the Galapagos Islands of about two million years ago. Dr Charles Losthouse thinks there was then an advanced tortoise species that used a sharp stick as tools. What’s needed is evidence.
The first two turtles Alley Oop and Ooola meet, two million years ago, push them into the sea. Dolphins pick them up and carry them to another island, one with a stone statue of a tortoise. They find a tortoise playing a flute. The tortoise, Sharp, brings them back to the local city. It’s a futuristic megalopolis.
They explain to Uldo and Sharp that they’re from the future. Uldo, a scientist, understands. Tortoise society has discovered time travel but never been so reckless as to use it. They don’t dare change the timeline. But then why would future primates not know tortoise scientists? … And Ooola drops the news that in their time, tortoises aren’t, you know, smart. It’s humans who are the scientists. Uldo declares they have to change the timeline immediately.
Alley Oop starts feeling it’d be wrong to let the intelligent tortoises die out. President Shellington can’t believe the news. But she laughs at Alley Oop’s offer of help, and claim that they’re “from the future and kind of smart”. Alley Oop and Ooola go home.
Meanwhile back in the present, Dr Wonmug is annoyed they haven’t brought back the Galapagos Apparatus, needed to prevent the end of the world. Yes, this is the first we’ve heard about the end of the world. Ooola tries to explain what they saw. Dr Wonmug calls in his colleague, Dr Silverstein, a tortoise scientist. In the changed timeline there’s both humans and tortoises. Ooola and Dr Silverstein were good friends. Alley Oop used to date a tortoise. This is bad.
I’m surprised that when this dropped, mid-October, I didn’t see a flurry of people angry at Alley Oop. So far as I am aware the comic strip hasn’t had a malleable timeline. But I am only dimly aware. I’ve read a little bit of V T Hamlin’s original strips, and a couple years of the Jack Bender and Carole Bender era. That’s it. All sorts of shenanigans might have happened and I wouldn’t know, any more than I’d know what happened in the original-run Doctor Who. Which also mostly didn’t have a malleable timeline.
Alley Oop has his doubts about making the giant tortoises not exist. Ooola points out there’s saving the rest of the earth that’s worthwhile. Which, all right, but this is why it’s bad to stare into the ethics of changing history. Anyway, Alley Oop’s first plan to save the timeline is to go back to Moo and stop himself from being born. That way, he can’t go back to the Galapagos Islands of two million years ago. In a serious story this could have a nice moral balance, atoning for destroying so many people by also destroying oneself. In this story, he completely fails to talk his parents out of having children. Which is at least a fun ironic conclusion.
Ooola has the more sensible plan of just interfering with their own Galapagos Island mission. They go back to about five minutes before their original arrival. The new plan: keep the tortoises they first met from knocking them onto the dolphins. The easiest way to do this is grab the tortoises and hide them. The now alternate-past Alley Oop and Ooola don’t find anything and, presumably, go back to the present. Where, uh, Dr Wonmug has vanished. Ooola disappears in the next panel, and Ava and finally Alley Oop. So I guess the comic strip has ended and nobody will be angry about it anymore? That’s good, right?
Dinny the Dinosaur prods Oop into action. The action is rescuing a baby stegosaurus from a cliff face. Alley Oop adopts the abandoned(?) Meggs. It’s cute and parallels a thread in the Sunday Little Oop continuity where young Alley Oop gets a pet dinosaur. Little Oop hasn’t had enough storyline to need recaps here but I’m not ignoring it.
Meanwhile in the present were a couple of jokes between Doc Wonmug and reliable assistant Ava. Most of these are about Wonmug being a clueless insensitive jerk. Not my favorite kind of joke. It’s a valid characterization, yes. I just find that sort of laugh-from-casual-meanness to be 90s web-comic-y. Which you could say about the current writing: often the punch lines are light dadaism with pop culture references. Anyway, this Ava-and-Wonmug interlude was are tossing spot jokes around. There’s one strip where Ava’s shown swapping objects with other universes. This reads as setup for something particular. It might be just playing with the fourth wall.
But the something particular: that storyline began the 17th of June. “In Another Universe” Ollie Arp and Eeena notice strange things outside their high-rise apartment. The Statue of Liberty not dancing. Their books being rearranged. The food printer gone missing with a microwave in its place. Dr Piedra identifies the problem: Universe 2’s Doctor Wonmug is screwing up the timeline. And it’s not only messing up his universe. It’s screwing up other universes too.
So this is a heck of a bundle of things to put on the reader. One of them seems like an olive branch to readers who Do Not Like The New Alley Oop One Bit, Thank You. The strip reiterates that the stuff we’ve been seeing since Lemon and Sayers started is a separate continuity from the original. If you preferred the old, don’t worry. It’s not getting broken. It’s sitting there, idle, ready for a future project. If you liked the old Alley Oop continuity with more realistic stories of student-repaired Saturn V rockets and warp drive sending Alley Oop to the Counter-Earth on the other side of the Sun, that’s still there. This reminds me of the 2009 Star Trek movie emphasized that the Original Timeline is still there and still counts so please Trek fans don’t hate us just because we made a movie where everybody isn’t tired.
So this move to make peace with readers of course got me riled up. I’ve grown to dislike stories with malleable timelines. It’s more that a setting with a changeable timeline puts on its characters ethical duties that I’m not sure any story can address. Not without being a career’s worth of inquiry. Alley Oop has used time travel as a way to get to interesting settings, and what they do is how history was “supposed” to turn out. Changing that model is a choice, and Lemon and Sayers have the right to make that. But I don’t know that the change was made thoughtfully.
They get the tip to look for Plato, of course, in the cave at the edge of town. They find him as this old guy playing with puppets. So even if you love the new Alley Oop you can see Dr Piedra’s point about interdimensional buffoonery. Plato agrees to go to the 21st century and talk with the historian, but there’s an emergency call from Ava. Wonmug rushes back to the present, while Oop and Ooola go with Plato back to his home in the over cave.
The crisis: something’s jamming the flow of time particles. Soon Wonmug’s time machine will stop working, among other things leaving Oop and Ooola in Ancient Greece. And things are happening fast: already the Time Phones aren’t working, leaving Wonmug out of touch with Ooola and Oop.
Ollie Arp and Eeena, yes, created the jam. They’ve shut off Universe 2 from time particles. And venture to Universe 2 to give Alley Oop and Ooona Ooola a talking-to. They convince Our Heroes of who they are and where they come from. And the two super-genius time travellers from the responsible universe issue Alley Oop and Ooona Ooola a citation. “Please be so kind as to refrain from time-travel for the next 14 days as punishment for your infraction”.
And that’s where the story has landed. If this is the end of the Universe 3 storyline then it’s a good-size shaggy dog of a story. But it’s a great setup. Super-science alternate-universe Alley Oop and Ooola meddling with Our Heroes? And (I trust) unaware that Ava’s developed the ability to move things between universes herself? That’s some great story dynamics ready to explore. Please visit again in three months when we’ll see whether they get explored right away.
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.
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.
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?
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Ooola. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
[ 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.