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


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

Alley Oop, 30 January – 30 April 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

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

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What’s Going On In Alley Oop?


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


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

Alley Oop.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

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

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