Also, the old Mandrake the Magician comics are being funny


So for all my What’s Going On In sequences there’s story comics I don’t do regular recaps of. This is because they’re in eternal reruns with no prospect of ever coming out again. I just read them for fun. One of these is Mandrake the Magician. Comics Kingdom has got three story tracks going on here. One is repeats of Fred Fredricks’s strips from the 90s. One of them is the daily stories from the 1940s. And one of them is the Sunday stories from the 40s where Mandrake keeps visiting strange lands of giants in the South Pacific. I wanted to bring up something wonderful from the daily 40s reruns.

The police chief receives a note on his own cigar band --- from the Brass Monkey! 'On Thurs., at 3:06 p.m., another strike. The Royal Scarab. Try to stop me.' Police chief: 'If we could find out who put that band on my cigar --- ' Mandrake: 'I don't think we will, chief. He's too clever.' Chief: 'The Brass Monkey has threatened to steal the Royal Scarab. What is it --- and is it valuable?' Museum Director: 'Valuable? It's the rarest antique in existence. This is the Royal Scarab, on an ancient Egyptian necklace. It's 40 centuries old. Valuable? It's pricesss.' Chief: 'Naturally. Nothing's too good for that blasted brass monkey.'
Lee Falk and Phil Davis’s Mandrake the Magician for the 13th of January, 1947. It got reprinted the 22nd of April, 2019. The Brass Monkey’s name gets changed to the Clay Camel later on, because that villain’s doing a lot of quick identity changes. Mandrake thinks that’s a clue since he knew a master of disguise named the Clay Camel that he put in jail in Brisbane. Also, I know that museums didn’t have rules for stuff in the 1940s but I really would have thought this precious 40-century-old necklace would be under glass or locked up in a drawer or something, you know? At least as hard to access as the four partially used books of Christmas-themed stamps we’ve got.

So the current story. Some crook is doing that thing where they send taunting notes to the cops about what they’re going to steal and when, and what do you know but their predictions come true. So there you see the promise: “On Thurs., at 3:06 pm, another strike. The Royal Scarab. Try to stop me.’ And when Thurs. at 3:06 pm comes and the Royal Scarab is stolen, Mandrake has to start thinking hard for clues. And where did he get?

Chief: 'Here are the Clay Camel's fingerprints. Assuming he's also the Brass Monkey --- where do we go from here?' Mandrake: 'These notes ... ' (One reads about 'another strike and take the koo ... try to stop me'. Mandrake: 'Notice something strange --- that word 'strike'?' Chief: 'What's he mean --- a 'strike'?' Mandrake: 'A bowling strike. I think he's a bowling fanatic. Which gives me an idea.'
Lee Falk and Phil Davis’s Mandrake the Magician for the 28th of January, 1947. It got reprinted the 7th of May, 2019. I am always, genuinely, delighted when a writer decides something is too “slangy” to just be left in text unprotected by quote marks. Like, right now I’m reading a book about the Civilian Conservation Corps, and it has an extended quote from the 1940s where they write about how inexperienced recruits had to be trained “on the job”. It’s so sweet to think of some Interior Department official worried that there’s just no clearer way to describe the manner of training people received but, goodness, what if a copy editor peruses this?

Welp. Yes, I suppose the Clay Camel might well be using the word “strike” because his love of bowling is impossible to put aside, even for the business of announcing his sudden surprising attacks on protected facilities. Anyway, Mandrake’s setting up, I swear, an “exhibition of mass hypnotism, as well as bowling” to catch a jewel thief whom I must assume is Crankshaft. I’ll keep you posted if something really glorious happens.

Anyway I’ve been thinking for twenty years now about the time Andy Richter said he and his wife “meant to go bowling ironically, but we ended up having actual fun”.

Advertisements

Mysteries Of The Neighborhood


I’ll start this roster from close to home and work my way out. First is that the goldfish we finally moved back into the pond outside just aren’t eating algae. They look like they are, what with their being goldfish and the algae being algae. I would have imagined that an arrangement they could keep up with. But they’re not eating it, not nearly so fast as the algae’s growing. Some of the goldfish are going so far as to swim into the middle and hover worryingly still. I guess they’re doing what I would do if I walked into a room and was covered in a pile of powdered doughnuts. I mean, I wouldn’t leave either, and I guess I’d be annoyed if someone reached in with the pool grabber and poked me. So maybe that’s not mysterious on the part of those goldfish. But I’d be making clear progress in doughnut-eating in that case. I may not always know what to do, but I’m almost mastered doughnut-eating. Happy as the fish may be, they’re dragging down the house’s efficiency ratings and I’m considering calling in an expert. If you know of one please write in care of your television market’s local news-weather-and-traffic leader. I bet they’d like to know.

Down the block. That auto care shop that was having the weird passive-aggressive fight by way of its message sign? It finally put up a message to replace “The Cost Is Zero To Be A Decent Human Being” and it went over to “We Can’t Save Everyone But Everyone Can Save Someone”. So they were apparently getting back to their groove of messages that unintentionally inspire dread at the futility of existence. And then that message about saving someone lasted maybe a week and a half. Now it’s “Whether You Think You Can Or You Can’t You’re Right”. This inspirational messages has limitations. They’re not referring to your ability to just charm your way past a defensive perimeter and through the security cordon. They’re thinking more about whether you could get that Associate’s Degree in actuarial mathematics with night, weekend, and online classes. And even with small-scale things there’s limits. No matter how confident I am in how I spell “accommodation” today I can’t get the spell checker to agree I’ve managed to hit any word. I have to put it in quotes to fool it into not putting this ugly underline squiggle there.

I’m not asserting that the office-supply store down the street, the one with the showroom floor that seems to be nothing but task chairs pressed up against each other, is necessarily the front for some secret society maintaining a portal to a magical alternate dimension where possibly everybody is robot dinosaurs. But I did stop in recently because I needed some manilla envelopes. I figured, why not support a neighborhood business that’s got an extremely faded poster in the window for Space Pens? OK, because I terrify the woman working the showroom what with not making enough noise going in and her coming out of the back room not expecting a tall, beareded man seeking manilla envelopes there. I’m sorry.

Thing is, they didn’t have manilla envelopes. At least she couldn’t find any. They had a small stock of actual office supplies, with most o the showroom being dust-covered task chairs. She was able to find a couple envelopes, but they were kind of peach or maybe salmon-colored. I was looking for manilla envelopes because I needed some paper folded up and glued together so that other paper could be put inside it, to then put the envelope inside a filing cabinet, there to be lost. The color didn’t matter. I had to promise that it was all right they had peach envelopes. I trust they got them from their warehouse supplier in that alternate timeline where history has proceeded just like it has here, only envelopes are colored weird.

So there’s this bowling alley not too far off. Rumor is it used to be a city park, for some reason, and I don’t know anyone who understands why or whether it is anymore. I’d go and ask them but I’m worried they would try explaining bowling to me. “You know how it’s fun to knock stuff over? What if you could knock stuff over in a manner tolerated by society? And have a machine pick things up to be knocked over again? And, from 10 pm, with a blacklight and a diffracted laser turned on?” The proposition sells itself. I don’t need to have that explained to me.

What I do need to be sold on, if I read their sign right the other day, was traffic hazard cones. It was in traffic and I was driving so I didn’t want to pay too much attention to it but they were going to have a sale on traffic hazard cones? Which is somehow something you can just do at bowling alleys? I mean, I understand needing traffic hazard cones. And you have to get them from somewhere. I just wouldn’t have thought the bowling alley.

All told this is a mysterious neighborhood.

In Which I Am An Awful Person


There was this guy at the bowling alley with a couple kids, the kind you see at bowling alleys, the ones that are nearly three-quarters as tall as the pins. They had the bumpers up because a kid that small has no chance of a ball rolling all the way down the lane without it falling in the gutter. A kid that small has only a sixty percent chance of the ball rolling all the way down the lane. But this kid took the ball and heaved it from the front line, and it dribbled sideways, not even making it as far as the bumpers, and it dropped in the gutter. And, dear reader, I laughed. I am ashamed, but in my defense, this actually happened. Please forgive me.

It’s Great Being Tall, In Case You Wondered


So we were at pinball league — not that one, the other one — when I reached up and plucked a can of soda out of thin air. “How did you do that?” my love demanded, as the soda was a surprise even though it was just a can of Diet Mountain Dew. Well, there’s these small shelves, a couple inches wide, running just below most of the ceiling at the pinball league’s location. All the taller people put their drinks up there, out of the way. “What is it like being tall?” my love wanted to know, and I don’t want to sugar-coat it: it’s pretty great.

There’s down sides, of course, like how you can’t be comfortable in an airline seat unless you gate-check your legs, but nobody’s been comfortable in an airline seat since 2007, when United started charging $25 per flight segment for “Double Plus Economy” seats in which flight attendants would not repeatedly batter passengers with bags of rocks. But otherwise, being tall is a great thing and I suppose it’s only fair to tell you about some of the privileges.

First, you’re never actually fat as long as you’re tall. Until five years ago I weighed about as much as the Principality of Andorra, but because I could peek down over top of the refrigerator, all that obesity did was make me look even bigger yet, since people could see me from so far away. When I started losing weight — I’d leave some in the junk drawer, some outside the garage for the squirrels to use as nesting material, some in the Weird-Sized Falling-Apart Books About Motorcycles section of the library — I got appreciably skinny, and yet that didn’t hurt my apparent tallness either. It just made me look more like a compass needle, the tallest of all the orienteering tools.

The next thing is you never have to play basketball again. If a social group starts talking about basketball of course they’ll look to you, as a tall person, as a ringer. You can just shake your head and wave them off, saying, “Oh, I’m no good, you should stick with people who can really play,” and everyone will assume you’re being self-effacing. If you stand firm on this they’ll suppose you’re more interested in their having a good sporting match between roughly equal teams. If they draft you into the game anyway you can do like me, standing around looking befuddled and thinking about rockets, and as long as you ever at any point touch the ball in any play that ever results in a score, you’ll get credit for being a good team player. You can’t lose except by actually participating, and showing that you can’t dribble without the ball somehow hitting your foot, your nose, and your car simultaneously. You didn’t even take your car to the basketball game. And yet — smile afterwards and you still look charming.

Tall people always get to influence society — George Washington was put in charge of the Continental Army because he was taller than anyone else in the room, and he finally won the Revolutionary War when qualified negotiators established King George III was shorter than him — but it’s not always in obvious ways. For example, as someone more than six foot two inches tall, every year I get to introduce two new phrases that become common sayings even though people don’t know quite what they’re supposed to mean. I’m not perfectly satisfied that I’ve got my late-2014 choice perfected just yet, but, what the heck, you’re friends, or at least readers. This time next year, when you realize you don’t even clearly remember life before everyone used the aphorism, “it’s as real as bowling”, know that’s one of mine. You’re welcome.

I shouldn’t say this, but I guess you know about taller people being able to see the tops of refrigerators. There’s a thriving zine culture of fascinating reading materials distributed exclusively on the tops of taller consumer appliances. I guess you could get a stool and examine them but I don’t think you’d appreciate the social mores quite well enough. Sorry.

In all, I’d say that given the choice between being tall and not, I recommend being tall, because it would hurt my knees to crouch around all day and even then I wouldn’t be all that not-tall.