Is _Zippy the Pinhead_ Cartoonist Bill Griffith a Cranky Old Man?


I mean, yes. He’s an underground cartoonist. The job selects for cranky old men, even when they’re, like, 19 and happy. If you’re not a cranky old man you leave underground cartooning for another field, such as ground cartooning, or telling people who tried the door anyway that the credit union closed ten minutes ago. They’re all useful services to society. But I wanted to share the glory of yesterday’s Zippy the Pinhead comic strip.

Giant shoes drop on Zippy and Griffy, and chase after them. Zippy: 'Oh no! It's th'Attack of th'50-foot sneakers!' Griffy: 'FOOTWEAR that we refuse to wear is coming after us in revenge!' Zippy: 'They want me to trade in my styrofoam roll-tops for UGLY ALLIGATORS!' Griffy: 'My leather shoes will become an endangered species!' Zippy: 'If I wanted to wear clown shoes I would have stayed in th'circus!' Griffy: 'How did 90% of the America public believe that shoes in th'form of ANGRY INSECTS should replace their Florsheims and Capezios?!
Bill Griffith’s Zippy the Pinhead for the 19th of October, 2021. And I mean, this is about sneakers, that have been the default kind of shoe to wear for my entire life so far. I get having sartorial preferences not shared by the common people. I mean, I don’t like blue jeans and don’t wear them, but I’m not going to call them clown pants unless you’ve modified your jeans some.

Understand, I’m not disapproving of his cranky rant here. Anyone who’s managed to make it in the world of somehow still syndicated newspaper comic strips should take pride using their platform for whatever pet peeves they have, even if most of them want to complain about “participation trophies”. And I’m glad to have the rant turned into a visually arresting monster-movie nightmare scenario. I post this only to share my joy with you.

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? What happened between Diana Daggers and Bee Sharp? July – October 2021


It’s not revealed yet! Last story, Diana Daggers was protective to the point of fanaticism of pop-scientist “Professor” Bee Sharp. This story she turned up without him, and won’t say anything about her former partner. We see one panel of Bee Sharp checking, it seems, Daggers’s social media and getting riled up that she’s working with Mark Trail. And Mark Trail spits out a nasty comment about how she drives everyone away from her. She goes off to console herself with pancakes and old photos of Sharp. What this all means, and what their exact relationship was, has yet to be told us.

So this should catch you up on Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for mid-October 2021. If you’re reading this in 2022 or later, a more current plot recap should be at this link.

And for my side gig, I’m doing a little mathematics glossary, one essay a week explaining some mathematical term. There should be a new post in the middle of the day Wednesday, and I hope you enjoy that too.

Mark Trail.

25 July – 1 October 2021.

I caught Mark Trail at the end of a caper last time. Not catching him were Professor Bee Sharp and his producer/bodyguard Diana Daggers. “Cricket Bro” Rob Bettancourt calls Mark Trail’s editor to complain about his breaking in to a facility he was invited into and the editor asks about this weird boxing thing. So Mark Trail had a clean escape.


Mark Trail’s current story started the 2nd of August. Bill Ellis has a new job, for Rafael Suave at fishing magazine Hot Catch. It’s to investigate whether the Duck Duck Goose shipping line is bringing zebra mussels into the waterways near the Lost Forest. Suave has a partner for Mark Trail, too: Diana Daggers. Mark tries to get out of this without admitting to any crimes. Suave doesn’t care and points out that given the danger of crossing big companies they’ll need people who can punch a lot.

Diana Daggers: 'Heh-heh. You scare easy, Mark.' Mark Trail: 'Can you blame me for being a little jumpy, Diana? The last time we met, you were about to mow me down!' Daggers: 'And? You lived. What's the problem?' Mark Trail: 'The problem is that I'm having a hard time working with someone who attacked me!' Daggers: 'Don't be such a baby. People work with bad guys all the time. Welcome to Hollywood.'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 31st of August, 2021. I accept that Rivera’s keeping to herself for now just why Daggers is free of Bee Sharp, and why she went to take a job alongside Mark Trail. And I understand her wanting to load more fun characters into the story. And that she accepted we’d have doubts Mark Trail would be willing to work with her right after that whole car chase thing. I still hope that by the time the story’s done we have a clear idea why she’s here, and why Rafael Suave thought she was a good partner for this project.

Daggers is sharp but not exactly hostile. She also has nothing to say about Bee Sharp. They set out in Mark Trail’s boat. Once close enough to a Duck Duck Goose freighter, Mark Trail’s able to get shoved into the water by Daggers. From underwater he takes pictures of zebra mussels clung to the ship. Also another fishing boat charges in, demanding to know why this woman they never saw before is piloting Mark Trail’s boat. This all attracts the Duck Duck Goose ship’s attention, and anti-pirate deterrents. This includes water hoses that, shot long enough, could sink the interloper.

[ Mark finds himself caught between a boat and a hard place ] Mark Trail, between his boat the Debait boat: 'Stop!' Daggers: 'Mark! It's about time you got back! These guys are giving me static about your boat!' Debait Boater: 'Hey, we know this boat doesn't belong to you!' Daggers: 'Back off!' Mark Trail: 'Everyone keep it down or the shipper will --- !' [ And then things get harder. ] The Duck Duck Goose ship blasts a siren.
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 23rd of September, 2021. I’m assuming the guy on the De-Bait boat is Cliff, since I’m not sure anyone else in the club knows Mark Trail. But I don’t understand why he didn’t mention having been the guy in the interloper boat here. It’s something that would take a load off Mark Trail’s mind, for one thing. (This is not a plot hole. A character isn’t wrong to not think of doing something that would clarify a mystery right away.)

Daggers takes the boat out of there, against Mark Trail’s insistence they have to help. He’s horrified by this and goes ashore, intending to walk back to his car. But he’s picked up by Cliff, an old friend, and — like Mark Trail — a war veteran. Cliff joined a veteran’s fishing lodge, the De-Bait Team. Mark Trail meets the gang, and they get to talking. As I write this, Mark Trail hasn’t noticed the interloping boat was marked De-Bait, but I expect that to be discovered soon.


Meanwhile, Cherry Trail’s been having unrelated adventures. This we’ve seen a week at a time, separate from Mark’s plot. She’s been working with the Soleil Society’s garden and not needing to strangle society chair Violet Cheshire too much. But uncovering a Forest Pioneer statue reveals an incredible swarm of bees. Cherry Trail knows a bee-removal person. Cheshire knows a bee-exterminator person. You see why the two women get along so well.

[ Violet discovers the Sunny Soleil Society's prized statue is covered in ... ] Violet Cheshire, running from a huge swarm of bees; 'BEES!' Cherry Trail; 'The bees built a hive right on top of the statue?' Cheshire: 'Run, Cherry, run! The bees will destroy us all!'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 25th of August, 2021. I love how stilted Violet Cheshire is when she speaks. Possibly it’s an ongoing riff about the stylized forms Mark Trail dialogue has taken in the past. It’s quite effective in conveying how Cheshire is someone you have to breathe deeply before dealing with, without requiring Cheshire to do anything that outrageous. And, that said … I understand we’re not seeing the statue as the sculptor intended, but I’m also not clear what it’s supposed to look like. I assume that when the bee problem is resolved we’ll understand the image better.

As Cherry Trail has dinner at Planet Pancake, Diana Daggers storms in. Daggers demands a stack of pancakes “big enough to make me forget the last eight hours of my life”. Cherry Trail judges this a reasonable response to boating with Mark Trail. Daggers needs her space, looking and sighing at old pictures of her with Bee Sharp. Cherry Trail respects her privacy, and goes to a friend named Georgia, member of the Underground Black Rose Garden Club. I have no special foreknowledge, but it does look like we may be in for a bee heist.

Sunday Animals Watch

  • Butterflies, 25 July 2021. The understated stars of Cherry Trail’s last story get their Sunday page in.
  • Southern Alligator Lizard, 1 August 2021. Which doesn’t seem relevant to the recent stories any, but they don’t all tie in to anything.
  • Zebra Mussels and Marimo Moss Balls, 8 August 2021. Zebra mussels became a big driving point this story, but I haven’t seen anything about the moss balls. Or heard of them before this Sunday strip.
  • Drugs in waterways, 15 August 2021. Also a problem and you shouldn’ flush unneeded drugs away.
  • Hybridized “Killer” Bees, 22 August 2021. Once this dropped we were all waiting to see when killer bees might break in to the plot.
  • Canada Geese, 29 August 2021. One time I stayed at a hotel with a nesting pair of geese out by the parking lot. Made for some exciting times getting luggage in the car.
  • Spiders, centipedes, and bees, 5 September 2021. Warning: do not look at this page if you have a house centipede phobia.
  • Frogs and Toads, 12 September 2021. Cherry Trail’s story does feature an abundance of frogs too, in one panel, but they’re less of an urgent issue than the bees were.
  • Coyotes, 19 September 2021. They’ve got projects not involving road runners.
  • Birds, 26 September 2021. So we could either lose two-thirds of North American bird species to climate change or we could pay coal miners to take other jobs. This should not be a hard choice.
  • Catfish, 3 October 2021. Not part of the story yet, but Mark Trail does get exasperated with Florida, which is always fun.
  • Mushrooms, 10 October 2021.
  • Bees, 17 October 2021. This may seem like a lot of bee talk, but bees have a lot of problems, and most of them are our doing.

Next Week!

Wilbur Weston returns, so it’s cautionary tale season in
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth.
We’ll catch up with the Santa Royale community next week, if all goes well.

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? Did the widow Rufus was dating die? July – October 2021


No. The current Gasoline Alley story mentions the old Emmons house, and that the widow Sarah, resident there, had died. That is not that woman dating Rufus in an incomplete storyline from 2017. Rufus’s date was the Widow Leela, or as I knew her, the Widow Emma Sue and Scruffy’s Mother. We haven’t seen her since the comic strip came back from its never-explained long hiatus in early 2018.

So this should catch you up to mid-October 2021 in Gasoline Alley. If you’re reading this after about December 2021 there’s likely a more up-to-date recap here. And if news about the strip breaks out I’ll share it at that link too.

And if you’d like some heavier reading, my Little 2021 Mathematics A-to-Z is a glossary of mathematics terms. The second essay of this year’s set tried to explain Addition, and how we can tell it from multiplication.

Gasoline Alley.

19 July – 10 October 2021.

I last checked in near the end of the story where Rufus and Joel get strange signals from outer space. They spent a week or so talking about that, and then went off to their job garbage-collecting. They passed Boog and Aubee Skinner, the young kids who’re the latest generation of the Wallet clan. And that, the 4th of August, was the transition to the current story.

Ferd Frog: 'You thought I was going to say I was a prince, weren't you? I'm a prince of a fellow; handsome; and I sang country music until I was turned into a frog!' Aubee: 'I don't believe it!' Ferd: 'Kiss me and you'll believe it!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 14th of October, 2021. I don’t know, I’d think hearing Ferd try would prove he hasn’t sung country music since he was turned into a frog. I don’t know why Ferd said “weren’t you” instead of “didn’t you” in the first panel there. I suspect a last-minute rewrite went wrong.

Aubee has a school assignment to collect leaves. She skips a rock across a pond and hits a narcissist unicorn talking frog. Ferdy’s an old friend of Boog, who of course talks with the animals. The rather large Ferd asks for a kiss on the lips to restore his ‘real’ life as a country music singer. She has enough of his schtick and he leaves, saying the only way for her to grow is “older”. Which is true but seems like the punch line for a conversation they didn’t have.

The next animal met is Boog’s best friend, Bear. Who is what you think from the name, and so frightens Aubee. Boog is still too young to understand how to keep people informed. Bear has seen her before. Her mother, Hoogy, was a very pregnant forest ranger and went into labor deep in the woods. But Bear and his forest friends knew where to find Chipper Wallet, Physician Assistant. (Gasoline Alley has more good things to say about physician assistants than even the American Academy of Physician Assistants does.) It’s a swiftly-told tale of the animals grabbing Chipper by his shirt and pulling him over to the very pregnant lady. From there, they let nature take its course.

Bear: 'Temptation is something that leads you into a situation that sounds good, but you might not like it later! So if you kissed Froggy, he would have gotten a kiss ... and you would have gotten a bad taste on your lips! See?' Aubee, making a sour face; 'Yuk! Yes!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 17th of September, 2021. Boog knows the frog as Ferd, by the way, while Bear speaks of him as Froggy. I’ve gone with ‘Ferd’ because Boog, as a friend of the frog, seems more likely to be addressing him by his preferred name. This is the sort of thing I have running around my brain.

After that tale Bear mentions how Ferd is a hoax, trying that “country singer line” on people for years. And she shouldn’t give in to temptation, such as the temptation to kiss a frog. It’s a good lesson, I guess, although she was never tempted and nobody suggested she was.

Bear then moves into telling about the dangers of forest fires. It’s another good lesson, I guess. And it’s presented with some good creative work, the kind where Jim Scancarelli shows off his drafting skills. It’s also something that hadn’t been an issue. Bear mentioned how he and Boog had saved each other from “school bullies” and “forest fires”. And later mentioned the pair had been in three forest fires since Boog’s birth in 2004. This seems like many forest fires, especially as they have to have come before I started doing these recaps like five years ago. But then Bear goes on to share some of his anti-forest-fire poetry, hammering down a lesson nobody needed to learn. Aubee and Boog hadn’t been doing anything that could start a fire, or even talking about doing anything.

Bear: 'Aubee! A tiny spark can cause a tremendous catastrophe!' Aubee: 'How?' Bear, speaking over a large panel in which the trees of the forest are arranged to spell out the word 'FIRE', itself burning, or are reacting in horror and leaning away from this fire: 'Easy! That tiny spark can start smoldering in a pile of dry leaves! It'll grow big, then bigger, and in minutes it will catch our forest on ... ' and the word balloon leads up to the blazing tree sculpture reading 'FIRE'.
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 21st of September, 2021. I admit I’ve had trouble following the connective tissues between the conversations Aubee’s having with Ferd and Bear. This even though each individual conversation makes sense, and offers chances for good stuff like this second panel. It could be Bear is just someone who figures he’s got to be dispensing life advice, even if there’s no help needed. Kind of a Polonius/Dean Pelton figure. Yeah, maybe that works.

Rain starts, so Aubee and Boog head to their mother’s ranger tower. They forget the leaf collection in the surprise downpour, but not to worry, Bear brings it to them. And talks with their mother some, somehow not warning her about the danger of transporting firewood great distances. (It spreads invasive insects.) This, the 2nd of October, seems to finish that story.


Back home, Hoogy shares that the forest rangers are putting on a Halloween party. They don’t have a spooky enough place for it, though. The kids suggest the Emmons house, fallen into disrepair since the widow Sarah died. And that’s where we are on the new story, started the 4th of October. I look forward to sometime just before Christmas talking about how this Halloween story turned out.

Next Week!

Rather more bees than we had expected visit us in Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail, if all goes to plan. See you there!

How Angry Should You Be About the _Crankshaft_ and _Funky Winkerbean_ Stories Not Being Done YET?


I’m not sure if I’m more angry or exhausted by both of Tom Batiuk’s comic strips. In Funky Winkerbean we’re entering the 412th week of a story where Holly Budd Winkerbean tried to do her old flaming-baton-trick at homecoming, only to get injured. Unlike in the classic wacky days of the comic strip, where she’d get set on fire, this time she slipped on the rain-slicked grass. So she’s being treated for all the fun injuries you get when you fall and are 300 years old. That thing where it turns out if you did slapstick in reality it would hurt. Great revelation there.

Meanwhile in Crankshaft a reporter we’ve seen, like, once before is asking the vulture capitalist firm that took over his paper sold off all the assets while laying off all the employees, leaving behind something unable to function. This story of a reporter unaware of what vulture capitalist firms are for is being treated like it’s this era-defining story in which the thing we’ve all known is wrong finally gets a name and a face.

I try and read the comic strips I like, and stop reading the ones I don’t. And I just don’t know how these stories are still going on. I’m having a hard enough time. If they want to do stories I don’t like they can at least get done faster, so we have more of them.

Anyway so, without knowing anything specific about you, I recommend being angry at some level between 4.75 and 5.45. I’d like to think either story will be finished soon. But the ending of any Funky Winkerbean opens a chance for a Les Moore story to start.

In short, harrumph.

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? Why is there time travel now? July – October 2021


The current story in Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy has super-inventor Diet Smith sending machines back in time. It’s presented as the continuation of something he had tried before with humans.

Back in 2017 there was a throwaway mention of Diet Smith experimenting with time travel. Denny Lien was kind enough to explain a bit. Some years before 2017, Diet Smith mentioned working on a time machine to rescue his long-dead genius son Brilliant Smith. Brilliant, inventor of the two-way wrist radio, was killed in 1948 by the racketeer Big Frost. But there was no controlling when the time machine would send you, which limits its use for this sort of rescue operation.

I don’t, and Lien didn’t, know quite when this earlier time travel experimentation was done. I assume it’s something from that period in the 60s when Chester Gould tossed all sorts of wacky sci-fi fangles into the strip. You know, the Space Coupe, the psychic Lunarians and Tracy Junior’s bride from the Moon. The nation that controls magnetism controlling the universe. All of that stuff Gould put in with the assertion it was as much hard science as anything done in a forensics lab, scoring an own goal. But I can’t find when time travel was in the strip before. It could have been one of the antics in the Dick Locher run, for example, when the stories became very weird and impressionist and hard to follow. But it’s hard to think of Locher-era characters as driven by the emotions normal people have.

So this should catch you up on Dick Tracy for early October, 2021. If there’s any news about the comic strip, or you’re reading this after 2022 starts, there may be a more useful essay at this link. I’ll try to have one anyway.

And in mathematics blog news: I have interesting material on my mathematics blog. I’ve started my Little 2021 Mathematics A-to-Z, a glossary of various mathematics terms. The first essay of this year’s set discusses Multiplication.

Dick Tracy.

11 July – 2 October 2021.

Vera Alldid and Mysta Chimera have disappeared, eloping, according to their social media. Everyone agrees it’s unlike them. It threw Alldid’s popular comic strip J Straightedge Trustworthy into unexpected reruns, mid-story. And Mysta Chimera, who’d been doing publicity as the comic strip’s Mars Maid character, had thought Alldid a creep. Still, what are the cops supposed to do about two people vanishing on a story nobody who knows them believes? Look for them?

Tracy: 'I'm familiar with Vera Alldid and his comic strip. We've met on many occasions.' Homer 'Peanutbutter' Barley: Then I'm sure you've seen the news. *Do you believe* he eloped with miss Chimera?' Tracy: 'Not a chance. I know Mysta Chimera very well. She'd never marry him.' Tracy, thinking: 'But it's odd nobody close to her has raised the alarm yet.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 28th of July, 2021. Believe me, I feel weird too wondering why Dick Tracy is showing such restraint in investigating the disappearance. I guess it is better that he’s willing to suppose it isn’t inherently a crime if Mysta Chimera marries someone he doesn’t like.

Homer “Peanutbutter” Barley, a freelance cartoonist and old acquaintance of Dick Tracy, takes action. He points out to Dick Tracy that Mysta Chimera is not actually a Lunarian. She’s the brainwashed, genetically-altered daughter of the quite human crime boss Posie Ermine. Thus she is a missing attractive white woman. With this to go on, the cops swing into action. Tracy checks in with Brock Archival, the last person the missing people were known to meet.

It’s the obvious lead, but it’s a good one, since the wealthy Brock Archival has kidnapped them. He intends to keep them both on his private island, and he’s got the private island — and the ring that neutralizes Chimera’s Lunarian powers — to do it. Alldid shoves them into a secret room when Tracy knocks on the door. Mysta uses her last ounce of strength to blast a telepathic cry for help that Honeymoon Tracy (herself half-Lunarian) picks up. And she relays that to her grandfather.

You might ask: wait, Mysta’s telepathy had been starved by lack of direct sunlight. How can she now have the energy to send out a last blast? Yeah, because if there’s one thing we can’t buy in narratives, it’s the last gasp of an exhausted hero finally making the difference.

Narrator: [ Tracy's search of Archival's home yields silver. ] Tracy, thinking: 'It's some kind of metal object, but it seems to be stuck beside, not under the molding ... A used pen nib! The type Alldid uses to draw with ... now I see ... no caulking and *there's an opening in the wall here*.' Out loud: 'Sam, come here, and bring Archival with you!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 12th of August, 2021. I don’t know how Alldid’s pen nib got stuck there. I don’t see where Alldid planted it on-camera or had an unsupervised moment when he could have off-camera. Still, the pen nib is there, isn’t it?

With something that kind of resembles probable cause if you squint, Tracy asks to inspect Archival’s mansion. And he consents, because how could you find people shoved into a closet? This does give us some actual super-detection. Tracy follows strange scuff marks in the carpet to find one of Alldid’s drawing pen nibs. From there he finds the secret room holding Alldid and Chimera. Archival fumes that Tracy can’t possibly prove a kidnapping charge and Chimera kicks him in the Great Hall.

So, the 20th of August, this story resolves. Alldid gets back to his studio to draw comics. Chimera gets home again. The powers-controlling ring gets handed to Diet Smith because when would he ever do something ill-advised or dangerous with super-technology?


The next and current story got seriously under way the 21st of August, although it had a teaser a few weeks earlier. This debuts Diet Smith’s newest creation, the Time Drone. It’s a drone, like you might fly over the park and record video with, except it travels through time and space too.

Hooded woman, wearing a Queen of Spades card: 'Stealing the time drone won't be easy. Dick Tracy's a close friend of Diet Smith. He always shows up when Smith's tech is threatened.' Ace of Spades: 'I have plans for Dick Tracy. There will be plenty to keep him busy.' Queen: 'And what about your friends in the Apparatus?' Ace: '*What* friends?'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 8th of September, 2021. I suppose as long as they keep looking around and not seeing a Time Drone pop into the room gathering evidence they can feel confident their plan is working.

Smith’s got a few videos. Dick Tracy’s iconic villain Flattop. The building of the Great Pyramid of Giza. He sends one to Ford’s Theater to catch a show. Another to see Washington’s Inauguration. The “treasure pit” at Oak Island, Nova Scotia. He announces this to the public, and the Ace of Spades, new head of The Apparatus crime syndicate, sees opportunity.

We don’t know his plans. From the 9th of September we got a short diversion, Dick Tracy talking with Briar Rose of Law Enforcement Magazine. Tracy tells the story of how the murder of Tess Trueheart’s father spurred him to move from patrolman to detective. How the city attracted newer and weirder criminals. How Tracy stepped up to become the super-scientific detective of world renown. It all smacks of an anniversary celebration, and it’s curiously timed: the comic strip debuted on the 4th of October, 1931. I’m not sure why this sequence ran a few weeks early except perhaps to get us fans talking about it early?

Tracy: 'I'm glad to tell you what I know of our precinct's history, Miss Rose. It won't be dull, I promise.' Rose: 'Thank you, Detective Tracy.' Tracy: 'This precinct was established during the era when gang bosses, made rich and powerful by Prohibition, reigned over the city with little fear of consequence.' Rose: 'My! How wild and woolly were those days?' Tracy: 'The lives of ordinary citizens were often in peril. It wasn't unusual for gun battles to be fought on city streets. Some of the older buildings still have bullet holes. In fact, it was during a robbery that my fiancee's father was shot and killed.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 12th of September, 2021. This particular strip comes up to but doesn’t quite force us to accept that Tess’s father’s murder was in the Prohibition era (for us readers it was in 1931). Look at precisely what’s said. So that’s a fair squaring of the circle that these characters don’t (much) age without retconning events to have happened later than they appeared in the newspapers.

And then one more story promising to start. Blackjack broke out of prison. Someone stole his collection of autographed Dick Tracy memorabilia and he intends to do something about it.

Not particularly threatening to be a story: Rikki Mortis is pregnant with Abner Kadaver’s child. So there’s the hope for a new generation of horror movie hosts to be Dick Tracy villains.

How does the Time Drone fit into Blackjack’s plans? I don’t know. They might not at all. Staton and Curtis are comfortable introducing something they don’t follow up for months. Sometimes years. Several years ago B O Plenty complained that his house was haunted. Could that be the Time Drone which we saw used to take photographs of the whole entire family? I’m not confident saying it is. We’ll have to check back in a couple months.

Next Week!

Bears discover fire, and they don’t approve. All that and leaf-gathering as as I recap Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley, if things go well.

What’s Going On In Prince Valiant? What does Morgan Le Fey have against Prince Valiant? July – September 2021


I don’t know. She’s Morgan Le Fey, she’s got a lot of projects going on. Unfortunately I’m not a devoted enough Prince Valiant reader to know what all their past history is. She had some roles in very early, 1930s, stories. Here are some panels from some of them. I can say Valiant was part of foiling her plan to marry Sir Gawain. I don’t know if there’s more.

So this should catch you up to late September in Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant. If any news about the comic strip breaks, or if you’re reading this after about December 2021, there might be a more useful plot recap here.

Prince Valiant.

4 July – 26 September 2021.

I foresaw last time that a new story was starting. It starts uneventful, with Valiant finding an inn to rest. But his arrival’s reported to a mysterious hooded, feminine figure. He drinks from a pitcher the figure had enchanted. And Valiant falls over, hallucinating, finding himself in a fairyland of legend. Past and future: the first panel includes the White Rabbit of Wonderland fame.

Madness! Immediately after having drunk from a pitcher of water proffered by the innkeeper, Val finds his world transformed into a fairyland. 'I have been bewitched!' he cries ... and the elvis creatures surrounding him hoot and chortle in reply. Then, through the forest gloom, three hulking riders materialize ... who, upon sight of the bewildered prince, begin a wordless charge! Their weird mounts seem to glide effortlessly forward, but with obviously malignant intent. Then the entire forest seems to turn on Val! The only thing he understands is that this world is no place to make a brave stand. He wheels his steed about and flees!
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 1st of August, 2021. I was tempted to link instead to the previous Sunday’s installment. It did a wonderful bit of the panel borders turning into great arches, a wonderful visual depiction of the world going mad. But this is more representative of what Valiant was going through. I notice that the White Rabbit appeared in the previous Sunday’s panel. And this strip includes the word ‘Chortle’, introduced to the English language by Louis Carroll. I don’t know if that’s coincidence or a little joke aimed at … me and only me.

We get several gorgeous weeks of fairyland artwork. I’m sorry I can’t justify including all of them. I never say enough about the art but it’s wonderful looking at.

Less wonderful being in; Valiant’s outmatched in a battle against everything in the world. Also the world, which swallows him up. He sees ravens, and cries to them to tell his wife Aleta. She, a witch with affinity for ravens, suddenly wakes. But she doesn’t get back into the story before the Kraken drags Valiant into the underwater throne room of the Queen of the Fairies.

As a confused Val had suspected, the 'Fairy Queen' is revealed to be Morgan Le Fay. 'I may be no fairy queen,' she cries, but so long as I hold his spear, Prince Valiant is mine to destroy!' What surprises Val more is that the ravens did carry his summons to Aleta. 'No matter how badly my husband behaves,' his wife retorts, 'you have no right to him!' Behaved badly...? Val feels a bit offended, but Aleta continues: 'No matter what ancient grievances you may hold against Arthur and the knights of his court, my husband's fate is not yours to decide!' The furious sorceress rises and gathers arcane and hypnotic energies. 'You have no idea of my grievances, foreign concubine! Will you still hold close to your husband ... when his wicked nature is revealed? How do you like your handsome body now?!' Val feels Morgan's magic envelop him, and suddenly he is no longer himself! He sees Aleta stare at him in horror!
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 19th of September, 2021. So first, this week’s revealed I had just assumed Morgan Le Fay was a fairy queen or some kind. I mean, it’s kind of in the name, right? I don’t know the Arthurian legends. Closest I get is I last saw The Sword In The Stone like 20 years ago and was annoyed that all Merlin’s dialogue, about the need for intelligence and planning and cleverness, was undermined by every bit of plot activity, in which Wart/Arthur gets saved by dumb luck and powerful friends and never does a witful thing. Second, yeah, I don’t know what Aleta is going on about Valiant behaving badly. All he had done to get into this fix was go to an inn for the night and drink water the innkeeper offered. Maybe they’re talking bigger-picture stuff.

“Wait,” you ask. “The Queen of the Fairies lives underwater?” Yeah, I don’t know either. But Valiant recognizes her. She’s Morgan Le Fey, from the time of King Arthur, just like he is. And from the waters rise Valiant’s Singing Sword, held by Aleta, who demands Le Fey release her husband. Instead, Le Fey transforms Valiant into some great sea monster, sending him to devour his wife. So that’s exciting, and we’ll see how that works over the next couple months.

Next Week!

What connects time-travelling camara drones, a stolen memorabilia collection, the kidnapping of the Moon Maid, and the murder of Tess Tracy’s father? They’re all things I need to understand when I recap Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy next week, if all goes to plan. We’ll see what happens.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (weekdays)? Are we about to see the death of the 21st Phantom? June – September 2021


I know I answered this last time, but: no, The Phantom is the Man Who Cannot Die. It’s right there in the premise. Ghost Who Walks and all that.

That said, we are seeing what sure looks like a death of the current, 21st, Phantom, at the hands of Gravelines Prison guards. And Old Man Mozz, wilderness prophet, warned that going to Gravelines Prison would kill him, and also keep Kit Junior from being the 22nd Phantom. And even end the journey of the Walkers in Bangalla. So: is that what we’re seeing here?

Odd as this is for a plot recap essay, I’m going to give a spoiler warning. Stuff regarding the next year of The Phantom will come up. I come by this knowledge through a special edition of X-Band: The Phantom Podcast. Its about 17 minutes long, and in it Tony DePaul, Mike Manley, and Jeff Weigel discuss the current story and how the 21st Phantom dies.

So this should catch you up on Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity, through late September 2021. If you’re interested in the Sunday continuity, or you’re reading this after about December 2021, you may find a more useful recap at this link.

The Phantom (Weekdays).

28 June – 18 September 2021.

The Phantom was ready to go to Gravelines Prison, in fascist Rhodia, to free Captain Savarna Devi. Savarna’s an oceangoing vigilante who could host her own action-adventure comic strip if action-adventure comic strips were sustainable yet. She’s helped The Phantom often. Most notably, she helped him free Diana from Gravelines in 2009-11’s 18-month-long Death Of Diana Palmer Walker. Old Man Mozz warns of a dire vision, that if he frees Savarna, The Phantom will ruin everything he holds dear. The Phantom pauses to hear what will happen.

Old Man Mozz, sitting, as The Phantom sprawls out and listens: 'The tale begins here, O Ghost ... on the path you take when you refuse to hear me. When you *don't* turn around ... no matter what I say.' In a panel with jagged corners we witness The Phantom riding Hero away, ignoring Mozz's warning: 'If you free Savarna, Kit will never return to the Deep Woods ... Never be the 22nd Phantom!'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 30th of June, 2021. The second panel is a redrawing, from a different perspective, of what we saw on the 26th of June. Which is part of how I missed the significance: story strips often repeat important beats, to help readers who missed a day or did not catch it first time around.

And this strip — the 30th of June — is critical. Notice the broken panel borders. The story from this point continues to The Phantom busting into Gravelines Prison and breaking Captain Savarna out. But it is the story Mozz is telling, explaining to The Phantom what happens if he goes in as he plans. Yes, I missed the significance of this when it happened. In my defense the 30th of June was a busy day for me. Also, at least one of the X-Band Podcast hosts missed it too, and they’re hardcore Phantom fans. They’re people, with, like, collections of souvenirs and ranked lists of opinions and everything.

In Mozz’s vision, The Phantom disregards his warning that if he frees Savarna Kit Junior will never return to the Deep Woods. The Phantom regrets that he has to do this right after breaking out Captain Ernesto Salinas. Security will be more, if not more competent, right after that jailbreak. But many of the usual tricks still work. He stops a truck by putting signal flares in the road, and sneaking in the back doors. He sneaks through the prison by catching one guard at a time, knocking them out and tying them up.

Phantom, lurking around the corner, watching a lone guard come back from his smoke break, thinking: ( Timing's on my side. The other two are likely to be looking the other way when I ... ) He grabs the guard, who cries 'Gurkk!', but is unheard as the other guards light their cigarettes.
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 14th of July, 2021. So in response to this incident, Gravelines Prison has required guards to switch to vaping.

I did see one commenter say this reads like a first-person shooter video game. I grant the resemblance. Whether you find this plausible, I suppose, depends on whether you think Gravelines Maximum Security Prison guards should be bad at their jobs. The comic does try to anticipate snarkers. The Phantom reflects how yes, they’ve increased the number of guards, but by dragging people who didn’t want to be prison guards into this job. (Seen the 17th of August, and reinforced the 28th of August.) That they’ll be people who will find good reasons in the rulebook about why they didn’t rush toward the gunfire.

And that I accept. First, the Phantom isn’t going to sit and listen to a story where he can’t even break open Gravelines. Second, what authoritarians rely on us forgetting is that authoritarians are incompetent. Making a competent organization requires getting subordinates to say what things are wrong, and what’s needed to fix them, and how it’s taking longer to fix than they expected. Authoritarianism demands reports that everything is swell. It can only create illusions of capability, which shatter in crisis. Third, the guards are people who grew up in a world where The Phantom is real and sometimes strikes Gravelines Prison. They have good reason to want to avoid him. So I buy most of the guards working to rule when The Phantom beelines for Captain Savarna’s cell.

Phantom, at Savarna's jail cell: 'I didn't come all this way to leave you here, Savarna, but I will.' He thinks: (I won't. But she doesn't know that.) Savarna: 'Revenge!? Is *that* what you're asking? I'm *done* with it, Phantom! Yes! You have my word! *Enough* revenge!'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 11th of August, 2021. Revenge here coming into play as she murdered Rhodian flag officers after they sank her ship, which she was using to harass pirate ships in and around Rhodia’s waters.

The Phantom pauses for an oddly indirect question before freeing Savarna. When she pledges she’s had enough revenge he lets her out, and they begin the escape. They swipe a jeep and pretty near drive right out, helped by the number of guards who don’t want to be shot at over this. But there are the hardcore guards, the true believers in their mission, and they’re the ones who block the road. They shoot a lot at The Phantom and at Captain Savarna, who manage to drive through. The Phantom pulls off the road where he left his horse, Hero, tied up. He tells Savarna how to let Hero carry her back to Bangalla. As for The Phantom himself …

Well, this takes us out of the proper date range for this recap. But Savarna got a good look at The Phantom and gasped “Oh my god!!” And he’s bleeding. This is explained in the characters’ dialogue and action, but unfortunately is muddled in the coloring. Rather than use Guran’s wound-healing super-powder, he asks Savarna to let him rest a while.

The Phantom's pulled their jeep up to Hero, his horse. Savarna: 'Why on earth would I be riding your horse out of here, Phantom?' Phantom, getting up: 'Because Mozz was right ... ' He reveals ... it's not perfectly clear. Bullet marks across his side? Savarna: 'OH MY GOD!!'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 20th of September, 2021. Mozz had warned that if The Phantom succeeded, then his body would “for all coming time” lie in the landscape he hallucinated during The Llongo Forest.

Again, we are not seeing the death of the 21st Phantom. We’re seeing a death, something to happen if The Phantom disregarded Mozz’s advice. And, my understanding is, we’re to see more of what happens after this death, and what ruin it brings to the Walkers’ project. Tony DePaul said he thought the story might be the longest yet, at least comparable to the 18-month Death Of Diana Palmer Walker story. I trust it won’t all be warnings of how The Phantom’s marching towards death. I also expect there’ll be some clever way to rescue Captain Savarna from death row. But that’s the thing about expectations; so much of storytelling is subverting them.

Next Week!

Fairies and sea monsters! Some of my favorite material. It’s Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant, if all goes well. Not to spoil things, though, but I haven’t had a thing go well since the 11th of August. Please send words of comfort and also large checks made out to Cash.

What’s Going On In The Amazing Spider-Man? Will Spider-Man ever come back to the comics? June – September 2021.


It’s not impossible that Marvel and King Features will decide on a new creative team to draw Amazing Spider-Man comic strips. But I don’t see any reason to think they will. They’ve had several years and there haven’t even been rumors.

But the world is vast and defies predictions. If any news breaks out about the Spider-Man comic strip I’ll post it here. It’ll fit along with all my other essays about Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s The Amazing Spider-Man. For now, though, let me give what I expect is my final plot recap for this superhero comic.

The Amazing Spider-Man.

13 June – 12 September 2021.

Peter Parker and Mary Jane, driving Route 66, had teamed up with Rocket Raccoon last time I checked in. Rocket was there on the trail of Ronan The Accuser, a Kree alien with a space hammer. Ronan The Accuser was there on the trail of an ancient Kree Sentry buried at Petroglyph National Monument. The Sentry was there in case someone needed a killbot to destroy Albuquerque someday. Well, Ronan figures he needs a killbot to destroy the Guardians of the Galaxy, but he can test it out on Albuquerque.

Spider-Man: 'The Kree Sentry was imprisoned in that dormant volcano! It must be 20 feet tall!' Rocket: 'The Kree built 'em in all sizes.' Ronan, to the Sentry: 'You are programmed to OBEY me. And I order you - to DESTROY!' The Sentry robot is large, and blue, and has a face that somehow looks like Moe from the Three Stooges.
Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 24th of June, 2021. The Sentry has many modes of attack, but the worst must be when he tells you to pick two of his fingers and you do, and he pokes them into your eyes.

While the Sentry goes off to Albuquerque, Ronan fights Rocket and Spider-Man some. It’s a tough battle, since Spidey and Rocket can’t get through one day’s strip without saying how much they’re doomed. But, with a bit of help from Mary Jane, Rocket remembers that Ronan needs his space helmet to breathe Earth air. So the two go for a new approach, Rocket being jumpy and annoying while Spider-Man sneaks up from behind. It’s a great plan except for how Ronan falls over backward and maybe kills Spider-Man.

It’s a trick, of course. Newspaper Spider-Man is used to much worse head trauma than that. What he wanted was a solid perch on Ronan’s shoulders, so he could peel at the helmet until Ronan was really annoyed. As Ronan tries to use his magic space hammer to knock Spider-Man, Spidey’s able to tug his arm and make Ronan hit himself, knocking his helmet off. The Accuser falls unconscious.

Ronan, wrestling Spider-Man: 'My weapon will REPEL you from my helmet!' Spider-Man: 'It probably WOULD! If I hadn't stopped tugging at your headgear - and pulled your arm at the last second - so that your MALLET blasted the helmet loose!' Ronan: 'NO! Without it --- I can't breathe --- !'
Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 16th of July, 2021. With bits of slapstick like this you see why it’s hard to get past the “Sentry looks like Moe the Three Stooge” thing this story, right? Anyway yes, this dialogue is a challenge to read so it sounds natural. But how else could one communicate what was going on within the constraints of a daily comic strip? I’m not being snarky; this is probably the least awkward way to carry out this fight.

And we get a moment that defines Spider-Man, at least his newspaper incarnation, very well. With the Accuser defeated, Spider-Man grimaces and acknowledges he has to put the helmet back on. He can’t let a beaten enemy die like that. Mary Jane points out this is crazy: once revived, Ronan will try to destroy the planet. Rocket points out this is unnecessary: Ronan doesn’t need his helmet to live, only to breathe. He’ll be fine in Earth’s atmosphere without his helmet, unconscious. It’s a line that Spider-Man buys, and even turns out to be true.

Spider-Man: 'You said Ronan needs this helmet to breathe. Then without it, he's a deader, right?!' Rocket: 'Maybe that's how it works for *your* species ... all lack of 'air' does to a Kree is send him into suspended animation.' Spider-Man: 'Then - that means - ' Mary Jane: 'That *you* two can go try to save Albuquerque from the Sentry!'
Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 23rd of July, 2021. So, you know, as long as we all agree we pretend we believe this, all right. Hurry on to Albuquerque, where the Sentry is blowing up one car or street light or billboard at a time. I mean, I wouldn’t want this to come to my town, but it’s a low-key rampage. Mostly it seems like it’s Rocket and Spider-Man agreeing they’re slowing the Sentry down.

Meanwhile, oh yeah, Albuquerque. Rocket and Spider-Man head out to save the city from the Sentry. Mary Jane stays behind, to watch Ronan and call the superheroes if he shows signs of life. The Sentry turns out to be hard to fight. And Ronan shows signs of life, which Mary Jane doesn’t call about. But Ronan stirs enough to say how the Sentry is programmed to never hurt a Kree like him, and passes out. She sees in this a world-saving tool, if she can get Ronan to Albuquerque.

Truck Driver: 'You crazy, girl? You coulda been killed!' Mary Jane, fishing for her purse: 'I need your day laborers to load an alien spaceman onto your truck and rush it to the city!' Driver: 'Huh? What kinda nut do you think I --- ' Mary Jane, holding some cash out: 'What if I buy your truck - and your time?' Final panel, Ronan's on the truck bed, surrounded by day laborers, riding down the highway.
Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 3rd of August, 2021. Putting aside the whole buying-a-truck thing: did the driver not hear on the radio about how a giant alien robot was blowing up Albuquerque? Where was he planning to go?

So she stops a truck, offering to buy it so it and the day laborers on it can rush Ronan to the city. Also Mary Jane carries around enough cash to buy a truck? Or can plausibly present herself as writing a valid check for this? In a story about a space raccoon and a radioactive spider-bite victim saving Albuquerque from a 20-foot-tall, 80,000-year-old killbot, we’ve hit a point I don’t buy. They even repeat it, Mary Jane explaining to Spider-Man how she got the truck there. I think I’d buy it more if the laborers were all fans of Movie Star Mary Jane Parker and did her a favor.

But if we don’t buy this, we can’t get to the end of the story, so there we go. Mary Jane brings the unconscious Ronan to Albuquerque and explains the rules. So Spider-Man grabs Ronan’s body, using him as what is technically not a human shield because Krees aren’t humans. This befuddles the Sentry while Rocket climbs inside to rip out wiring. It’s a close-run thing, Rocket trying to decide what things to yank out before the Sentry decides what limbs of Spider-Man’s to yank out. But he pushes a button, and it turns out to be the “turn off forever” button and it’s a happy resolution.

Mary Jane: 'Who *are* these Guardians of the Galaxy you keep talking about?' Rocket, surrounded by thought balloons of the other Guardians: 'Well, there's Gamora, she's green. And Drax, big dude, they call him the Destroyer. And Groot ... he's sort of a tree ... oh, and then there's Starlord. Actually, he's fro your world!' Mary Jane and Spider-Man: '?'
Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 2nd of September, 2021. “Starlord”? You can’t fool me, that’s a guest appearance by Bruce “Incredible Hulk” Banner that last panel there. I assume these are all approximations of the way the characters looked in the comic books. At least before the comic books got all airbrushed and loaded up with special effects. You know, when they looked like the newspaper comic strip. Anyway, appreciate these great heroes who aren’t in this story and who we don’t learn anything about, here, to make us appreciate them! The guy who writes Funky Winkerbean approves!

So they haul the Sentry off somewhere, stuff Ronan into Rocket’s spaceship, and say their goodbyes. Rocket finally gets around to saying who the other Guardians of the Galaxy are, but not why none of them came along on this mission. And says hey, you never know, we all might team up again. With that, the 4th of September, he flies off into the skies.


And there we conclude Spider-Man’s encounter with Rocket Raccoon and Ronan The Avenger. From the 5th of September we started an adventure with the Mole Man hoping to rekindle his relationship with Aunt May. He figures he has a chance now that he’s been deposed as the subterranean king by Tyrannus the Conquerer. Also, Tyrannus the Conquerer is hoping to conquer the surface world, starting from Los Angeles. That’s a story that first ran in spring and summer of 2017, and I have it adequately recapped in essays starting here.

And from there … well, if the newspaper Spider-Man strip keeps repeating comics in this order? There’s not much sense my writing these plot summaries. I suppose it’d be an easy week of work, which is something. But for the foreseeable future, I intend this to be my sign-off to the Marvel Comic Strip Universe. Thanks for reading, everyone who enjoys action, adventure, and energy beams surrounded by black bubbles. It’s been fun and I’m sorry it isn’t continuing.

Next Week!

Old Man Mozz warned The Phantom that if he freed Captain Savarna from Gravelines Prison, he’d be ruined and Kit Walker would never be the 22nd Phantom. And now The Phantom’s gone and broken Captain Savarna from Gravelines Prison! Has this ended five centuries of the Walkers’ project to rid the world of piracy? I’ll check in on Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity, next week, if all goes as foretold. And if I don’t, well, send someone into Gravelines Prison to free me, they’re used to it.

What’s Going On In Alley Oop? Did the Apollo astronauts meet an alien on the Moon? June – September 2021


No. Alley Oop and crew observed Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin going through a mysterious door in the Sea of Tranquility. It turned out to be the bathroom. The Apollo 11 crew did not find the Moon Alien, Frodd. Alley Oop, Ooola, and Doc Wonmug met him later.

So this should catch you up on Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the start of September 2021. If any news about the strip breaks out, or if you’re reading this after about December 2021, there may be a more useful essay at this link. If there isn’t, well, we live in complicated times.

Alley Oop.

20 June – 4 September 2021.

This story almost exactly fit my publishing cycle. It started a week before my last Alley Oop update, with the gang going back to 1969 to watch the Apollo 11 moon landing. They start with understandable celebrity-creeping behavior. Pretending to be NASA workers. Messing around in training facilities. Then it escalates to following Apollo 11 all the way through the landing.

In front of a Saturn V rocket signed 'Apollo 11B', Doc Wonmug says, 'Guys, I think I found our ticket to the Moon!' Ooola: 'Doc, this sign says 'for display use only. Not for space travel'.' Wonmug: 'I'm sure we can make it work. I am a scientist, after all. I have a brand-new roll of duct tape.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 6th of July, 2021. Sure, you may sneer at using a display prop as a rocket. But almost exactly this idea appears in renowned science fiction author Stephen Baxter’s 1997 novel Titan. In it, the Saturn V Structural Test Article — used in the 60s to develop processes for handling the actual rockets — is refitted and launched into space as part of sending a space shuttle to Saturn’s moon Titan. And do we call Baxter’s Titan bad? Yes. It was appalling in its badness. It was a novel I finished because if I threw it across the bus someone else might have picked it up and read it, and I could not inflict that on an innocent stranger. The comic strip, though? That’s cool.

So Our Heroes watch Apollo 11’s moonwalk. This in a strip that ran the 21st of July, a timing miss I’m sure keeps Lemon and Sayers from getting a decent night’s sleep. After solving the mystery of the door, Our Heroes walk over to the far side of the Moon, where it happens also to be dark. There they discover a bored-looking alien playing at a computer.

Doc Wonmug, to Frodd, who's at a video game console on the Moon; 'So, you've been here on the back of the Moon, controlling all life on earth for billions of years? Why?' Frodd: 'Every kid from my world has to do a planetary simulation to graduate. It's like part of our school.' Ooola: 'And you lucked out and got Earth?' Frodd: 'Ha! No. I pushed my teacher's hafktq into a aabaao and got in big trouble. Earth is my punishment.' Alley Oop: 'Yep. Same thing happened to me one time.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 5th of August, 2021. So, folks who played SimEarth on the Mac back in the 90s. Remember there was an easter egg, a little thing where you typed in ‘JOKE’ and got this weird little Dadaist message? Right. So, anyone remember what it was exactly? I can’t find the joke for the Mac port listed in web sites listing video game easter eggs. There’s emulators to play SimEarth, but it’s the PC version, where the joke is it shows an image of the Earth in a giant frying pan, next to some space bacon and eggs, and labels it ‘Pan-Gaia’. I could swear that on the Mac SimEarth, the easter egg joke was something like “How many Glenn Campbells does it take to screw in a light bulb?” (Hit OK, and get the answer) “Two.” But I can’t find any evidence anyone else has this memory at all. Do I have a weirdly detailed false memory?

Frodd’s playing Earth as a “kind of a video game”, for a school project. Frodd starts to defend his Earth-playing skills, but has to come home for dinner, and takes Our Heroes with them. Frodd’s mother sees the humans and grounds Frodd, for “a Froddulon Millennium”, which is something like a billion earth-years.

So Our Heroes escape, Alley Oop along the way swiping some kind of necklace from somewhere. Turns out the thing makes Our Heroes invisible, which is good for getting them away from alarmed Froddians. They get to Frodd’s spacefaring bubble, which turns out to be able to get them anywhere instantly. They return to the Moon, planning to resume the Earth that Frodd left paused. Turns out Frodd’s there. He passed his school project, with a C-.

Ooola: 'I think we're invisible!' Doc Wonmug: 'I don't know about that. I can see you.' Alley Oop: 'Let me try something.' The invisible Alley Oop approaches a Froddian: 'Excuse me, may I ask you a question?' Froddian; 'Who said that?! Oh, no! The inquisitive ghosts are back! Everyone run for cover!' Alley Oop: 'Hmph. I was just going to ask how this necklace worked.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 19th of August, 2021. While it is jumping for a silly punch line, the Froddian’s declaration that “the inquisitive ghosts are back” works for me. I don’t know why it works and others don’t. Maybe because it suggests other stories, relying on the idea the world has more stuff in it than we could get to see.

They talk Frodd out of shutting down this Earth simulation, and even snag a nice moustache toggle for Alley Oop. With a pretty successful week, then, they head home. It’s too early to say what the next story will be, although Doc Wonmug has gone back to prehistoric Moo with them.

I admit some dissatisfaction with the story. A little bit from not caring for the reality-is-a-video-game premise. It’s something a certain streak of nerd loves without learning enough philosophy to know what issues it’s not addressing. But most of us enjoy pop culture items that raise issues it doesn’t address. Besides, if it address an issue well then it stops being a pop culture thing and becomes culture. I’m also a bit dissatisfied that Alley Oop, Ooola, and Doc Wonmug don’t have much to do. For most of the story, they’re just present. Note how little I had to break down what Alley Oop did, versus what Oola did, versus what Wonmug did.

Doc Wonmug: 'Frodd, please don't shut down Earth. There are so many great things about it.' Alley Oop: 'And many terrible things.' Frodd: 'I don't know, guys. Another Froddian left her Earth running, and she got in big trouble.' Wonmug: 'Wait, there's *another* Earth?' Frodd: 'In *this* galaxy? There are thousands. ... Aw, did you think you were special? That's so cute.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 30th of August, 2021. The notion of thousands of Earths is the sort of thing I mean, raising issues the comic strip isn’t dealing with. But those are essentially the issues raised by the multiverse idea — and the changeable-timeline idea — that’s been part of the Lemon and Sayers run on Alley Oop anyway, so it’s not a new issue.

My bigger dissatisfaction is that, in the strip’s focus on having a punch line and a plot development every day, we get some conflicts. I don’t want to call them continuity errors. For one, there’s very little that can’t be harmonized. But we get things like Frodd starting the 40,000-light-year journey to Froddulon A (the 9th of August) by altering Our Heroes’ source code so they won’t age. Later on, when we get back to the Moon (the 2nd of September) Our Heroes just miss some aliens hoping to find someone to bestow immortality on. There’s no contradiction here. But it feels sloppy to do this joke twice in one story. Frodd first explains he’s simulating Earth to get on the high score table (4th of August). The next day he explains it’s an unwanted school project (5th of August). Frodd gets grounded for a millennium (the 12th of August); he’s on the Moon later that day (the 27th of August).

More like a continuity error is Frodd needing to alter Our Heroes’ source code to not age. But we see (the 21st and 23rd of August) that Frodd’s space bubble can travel instantly. We can rationalize that, yes. (And it would wreck the story’s pace if Our Heroes’ escape took 40,000 years.) Puttering around at NASA Alley Oop discovers an Alien Alley Oop (28th of June). But their little launch causes NASA to think they’ve discovered aliens (14th of July). Again, anyone trying could reconcile this. And if an artist has a better idea for an ongoing project they should use the better one. But this feels to me more like they use every idea, which can’t always work.

Alley Oop, kneeling down at some rocks: 'Ooola, Doc, you have to come see this!' Ooola; 'Alley, if it's another rock that looks like someone famous, I think I'll pass.' Doc Wonmug: 'Yes, we do have rocks on Earth, you know.' Alley Oop, to a trio of mouse astronauts in a tiny lunar module: 'It was really nice meeting you. Congrats on being the first Earth creatures to reach the moon.' The tiny lunar module lifts off, and Wonmug asks, 'What was *that*?' Alley Oop: 'Oh, just a rock that looks like Dolly Parton.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 24th of July, 2021. As with the Inquisitive Ghosts, this throwaway joke works for me. Part of it may be that it’s about expanding the world, albeit in a way that makes human-mouse interactions in the strip somehow worse than they are in reality. But also that it’s a basically nice joke, Alley Oop having a nice time with new friends, which is easier to take than the cynical or mean jokes.

And the drive for a punch line every day has good sides too. For example, on the 24th of July, Alley chats with the mouse astronauts who beat Armstrong and Aldrin to the moon. It’s a scene I liked.

Next Week!

It’s been one week longer in arriving than usual, but I look at Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the final time. Did Spider-Man save Albuquerque from destruction at the hands of an alien war machine using nothing more than Rocket Raccoon and the secret alien war machine’s commander? The only person I knew in Albuquerque moved away years ago, so I have no way of knowing. Sorry!

What’s Going On In Judge Parker? What happened to Randy Parker? June – August 2021


Randy Parker had taken his daughter Charlotte and disappeared, at the urging of ex(?)-wife April, last time. This to foil a vaguely-reasoned CIA plot to murder Randy and Charlotte to flush April out of hiding. We have seen nothing of Randy and Charlotte and April since then. We don’t even know that they got away and that the evil CIA plan failed. That doesn’t mean their disappearance hasn’t devastated the rest of the cast. And that’s been much of the focus the past three months.

So this should catch you up on Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker to the end of August 2021. If you’re reading this after about November 2021, or any news about the comic breaks out, you may find a more useful essay here. And now, to recap what has gone on.

Judge Parker.

6 June – 28 August 2021.

Some, more inclined to snark than I am, will say nothing happened. Hardly so, but I’ll grant that much of the last twelve weeks read like setting up for new things to happen. These things divide into four major focuses and I’ll take them as separate pieces.

First: Neddy Spencer. Her plans to hang around Los Angeles and someday find a place get kicked up when Ronnie Huerta and Kat get engaged. Which makes it even harder for her to keep crashing at Huerta’s place. She picks out a “beautiful little 1930s Hollywood-style bungalow apartment” that’s not guaranteed to not be haunted. As her first visitor, Huerta points out Spencer has been doing Los Angeles stuff for three years and not had a romance plot yet. So I’m looking forward to Neddy Spencer finding whoever is the exact opposite of Funky Winkerbean main character Les Moore.

Ronnie Huerta, toasting: 'Get this --- our series is premiering this November! Right after Thanksgiving!' Neddy Spencer: 'Our show about a murdered actress, assassins, and a drug lord is being pitched as a holiday show?' Huerta: 'No, no, I mean, I hope they don't mean that. Huh ... Maybe we should ask if we can get a peek at the marketing ... ' Spencer: 'Either way, that does deserve a toast.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 28th of August, 2021. Oh, also, the show that Neddy and Ronnie Huerta pitched is actually made and airing. Remember they wrote it under April Parker’s direction to tell The Truth About Her Life. And they (as would make sense) lost control of the series and had little but a created-by credit for it. Still, that’s great work for them. And it sets up a new conflict with April Parker, if she gets out of Secret CIA Jail.

Second: Alan Parker, original Judge of the strip, and Sam Driver, who took over the comic in the 60s. Alan’s been hit hard by the loss of his son and granddaughter, finding comfort in drink and misanthropy. He also blames Sam Driver for not doing something to keep Randy out of CIA Jail or a Norton plot or whatever. Driver pushes his way back into Parker’s life, arguing that they need a mission and he has a useful one. This in forming a new law partnership, one that can sue Cavelton Mayor Sanderson for gentrifying the people out of the city. Parker, in time, accepts. And it gives him a new energy and purpose.

Mayor Sanderson, ranting: 'What was that? I'm blindsided at my own press conference by a baseless lawsuit?! FROM DRIVER AND PARKER OF ALL PEOPLE?!' Stewart: 'We can --- ' Sanderson: 'Did you know anything about this, Stewart?!' Stewart: 'Um, I found out in the middle of your press conference ... ' Sanderson: 'From who?!' Stewart: 'Someone on my staff texted me.' Sanderson: 'So why didn't they tell ME directly?' Stewart: 'Because you told everyone to go through me so you wouldn't have to deal with them.' Sanderson: 'So you're saying it's my fault I'm out of the loop. Real classy, Stewart.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 25th of July, 2021. So you feel a bit for Stewart as we’ve all had to deal with a person who interacts like this with everyone. But he did decide he wants to be Deputy to this Mayor. I am interested how we’ve several times seen him noticing the boss is nuts but without (so far as we know) taking any effective action.

Their first lawsuit starts great. They file on behalf of tenants arguing they were wrongly evicted so Sanderson could sell property to a corporate donor. This catches Sanderson off-guard at a press conference. And it lets Deputy Mayor Stewart add to his collection of faces of pouty concern.

Third: Sophie Spencer. She’s facing a second year at college having made no friends in New York City. And her only serious friend in Cavelton is Honey Ballenger, who she hasn’t been talking with much. Ballenger calls, though, and they reconnect. Partly over lunch, more over early-morning jogging. They never meant to stop talking, they just lost the power to call the other first. It’s a feeling I know and I wasn’t even ever kidnapped by Abbey Spencer’s previously-unknown half-sister. One early-morning jog they’re almost run off the road by fire trucks, heading …

The top, throwaway, row is Sophie Spencer crying 'Nooooo!!!' The main Sunday panel is a single picture of fire crews working on a massive fire destroying Abbey Spencer's bed-and-breakfast.
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 8th of August, 2021. The local news mentioned (16 August) the fire as “captured on multiple cell phones”. But it was also a fire that started during Sophie and Honey Ballenger’s 5 am run, and in a place that’s out of town. Who were all the people with cell phones? It’s possible that’s a plot point for development. Or it could be that a massive fire lasting for hours with smoke visible from miles away drew onlookers. In theory, I suppose.

Fourth: Abbey Spencer. Her bed-and-breakfast, made out of converting (part of?) the horse barn, has been a money pit, from doing the renovations and from opening at the start of the pandemic. Indeed, its first event — a rally for Alan Parker’s mayoral campaign — brought Covid-19 to Cavelton (17 August). So is it a good thing that the whole structure burned to the ground in a catastrophe that hurt no person (or horse)? Is it a suspicious thing? Mayor Sanderson was happy to assert, on TV, that the city would investigate every reason Abbey might burn the place down for the insurance money (18 August). We have yet to see what caused the fire, or that it was the CIA trying to make Randy Parker’s family suffer enough that he turns in April Parker. Or that something else happened. (Now I like the notion that Randy and all have been in Secret CIA Jail as we assumed April’s super-spy super-skills got them super-out of super-trouble.)

And this is where we stand at the end of August.

Next Week!

Time and space travel! A secret discovery at the Apollo 11 landing site! All this and video games as I look at Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop next week, all going well. And yes, ordinarily I’d be looking at The Amazing Spider-Man. I’m bumping that a little bit so I can cover the end of the Rocket Raccoon story and, so, have a neat wrap-up to the What’s Going On In Spider-Man series. Not to spoil things too completely, but Spider-Man and Rocket Raccoon save the Earth.

What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? What’s with Carter Hendricks’s jacket? May – August 2021


The Summer story in Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp turned, in part, on what school a “BSU” jacket belonged to. The school colors therefore mattered. Gil Thorp has started running, in GoComics, in color. But, as is common for weekday comics, the colorizing gets done without checking the writers for guidance. I do not know why the colorizers of daily strips don’t get guidance from the original cartoonists. I understand if the cartoonists do not wish to do the extra work of picking out colors if they’re not paid for it. It makes every day as much work as a Sunday strip.

But the practice keeps screwing things up. Here, at least, it’s an innocent screw-up. The BSU jacket colors were not mentioned in text until several weeks after the jacket’s appearance. Whoever put color in had no direction. And that’s the sad usual for colorized dailies.

So this should catch you up to late August 2021. If you’re reading this after about November 2021, or if any news breaks about Gil Thorp, a more useful essay may be at this link. Thanks for reading, high school sports fans.

Gil Thorp.

31 May – 21 August 2021.

The Spring story — a long one — was mostly about who would be on the library board. There was a small piece going on about Corina Karenna, not related to the main action. So I’ll close that out.

Karenna saw no point going to college. She’s got an appalling record. All the athletic scholarships she could apply for are long gone. And her mother is too depressed to function without her. Still, Mimi Thorp hates to see a talented, bright, determined kid just peter out. She pokes around her contacts and alumni and finds a setup. Karenna moves to Syracuse, takes community college classes to get her credentials in order. Transfer to Le Moyne College, where there’s volleyball scholarship money and roommates to be had.

Mimi Thorp: 'It's all set. You'll start at a community college in Syracuse, New York. Play there, and then transfer to Le Moyne College. Great school. You won't admit it, but you'll love it. A couple of the Le Moyne players need a roommate, so you're all set.' Corina Karenna: 'Stop. You don't get to run my life!'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 23rd of June, 2021. There’s story detail lost in my compression. An important one is Mimi Thorp talking with Corina Karenna’s mother. And her mother talking about how she feels her daughter’s protecting her more than she actually needs. So the later assertion that Karenna’s mother did “a lot of the work” in setting this up has some textual basis. And it at least addresses the question of whether Karenna’s mother can function without her daughter. Anyway, I still don’t see how you could tell someone needs a roommate in two years.

And … Karenna’s mother? She, Thorp says, did a lot of the work putting this together. And believes she can keep herself together while her daughter’s at school. One likes her optimism, but I admit seeing many failure modes.

Meanwhile, the vacancy on the Library Board. The Board loves it. It’s drawn them, like, attention. It helps they have two candidates. One is young Zane Clark whose family depends on the library’s public good. The other is cranky middle-aged Abel Brito who doesn’t see why the public should be paying for good. And the juicy part is that Zane’s dating Katy Brito. So Zane’s and Abel’s every interaction is a good rousing fight.

The Library Board plays it for what it’s worth, with a public debate and everything. Zane pushing ideas of ways the library could do more. Abel pushing ways that the library could run like a business, unaware that almost every business is appallingly run. Only one person can get the seat, though, and either way will hurt Katy. Coach Thorp pushes his way into the action for some reason.

Mimi Thorp: 'I wonder what's holding up the show.' Gil Thorp: 'I mean to say hi to Rollie Conlan ... I'll go check.' At the library board table, Conlan says, 'Gil! You lobbying for one of our applicants?' Gil Thorp: 'Just saying hello. I don't see you now that your grandson graduated.' Conlan: 'It's a wonder you saw me at all, as little as he played.' Thorp: 'Life in a meritocracy.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 14th of June, 2021. And having re-read the story a couple times to summarize it, no, I still don’t understand why Gil Thorp considers this worth his attention. I guess it’s nice to relieve some stress from Zane Clark and Katy Brito’s lives? Which, I guess, if he’s a nice guy should be enough motivation, but I really would have thought “didn’t get to be on the Milford Library Board” the sort of thing someone bounces back from. Also nervous about talking up “life in a meritocracy”, since what that means is “we made up charts so our racism looks like test scores”.

What he does is nudge Rollie Conlan, 29-year veteran of the Library Board, into retiring. The argument being they need both Zane Clark’s ideas about providing public services and Abel Brito’s ideas about making money. So, two vacancies, two candidates, and all is happy. Apart from family dinners that now argue about whether the library should be providing a service or something.


With that, the 10th of July, the Spring story ended. The Summer story began the 12th of July and it looks to wrap up this week or next. This was a hard one to parse, as Rubin and Whigham played coy about what the conflict even was. And there were two threads that didn’t seem to have anything to do with one another, not until the end. I can’t fault them for verisimilitude. Often in life we have no idea we’re in a story until it’s ending. But as art? It meant we had weeks that seemed to be watching people deploy golf terminology.

So here’s the golf thread. Carter Hendricks is in his second summer as part of the Milford Country Club. And he’s a popular guy. Does well, as a “humble industrial solvents salesman”, playing games for money. Oh, he blows the occasional shot, sure, but somehow he’s always got what he needs when it counts. Almost suspiciously so. Like, when he happens to play a cheap golf ball instead of his usual.

Thorp, golfing: 'Another big drive, Carter!' Hendricks: 'Blind pigs and acorns!' [ Two holes later, Hendricks watches a shot of his. ] Hendricks: 'Whoa --- where did that come from? And where the heck is it going?' [ Then, on hole #12 ] Heather Burns: 'Those clouds look ominous. Are they headed our way?'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 4th of August, 2021. A pivotal moment: if they’d gone golfing two hours earlier Hendry’s scam might have gone unproven. Also a good example of the frustrations in reading Gil Thorp. The first two panels are dropping plot points, and the third is setting up the important reveal of Hendry’s Bemidji Statue University jacket. Read the whole month, or even the whole week, and it makes sense. Read just the day’s strip and there’s no guessing what’s happening. I don’t have a good solution to this.

Enter someone who can be suspicious, besides Gil Thorp. Heather Burns, who’d been star of the summer storyline in 2017, is back from college. University of Iowa. Thorp’s able to get her a spot as assistant coach for Milford Football, which pays in glory. She wants to be a reporter, because she doesn’t know where money comes from. It comes from selling coffee in the library’s former periodicals alcove.

She puts together Thorp’s doubts with Hendricks’s green-and-white “BSU” rain jacket that he got from somewhere. He’s in fact Carson Hendry, who won two conference golf championships for Bemidji State University, in Minnesota. Had a minor career as a pro. Also had a six-month jail term for stealing clients’ money. He is, in short, hustling the club members.

Hendry, on the defensive: 'I was undercover, working with the police.' Burns: 'Translation: he rolled over on his fellow crooks and only served six months.' Hendry: 'But, I --- ' Club President: 'Save it, Carson Hendry. You're done here. And if I don't have a check in three days for every dollar you've hustled, we're pressing charges.' Club Member: 'Gil, let's help Mr *Hendry* find his car.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 19th of August, 2021. I admit I’m not clear what charges the golf club could press. I guess faking your handicap while betting on games is some kind of fraud but does it rise to a prosecutable offense? The characters admit that’s all a bluff, but I’d expect a good hustler to be sure of what he can get away with claiming without provably breaking a law. But it could be Hendry isn’t all that good a hustler, too.

They kick him out, demanding he repay his winnings, which they know he’ll never do. Meanwhile, at the Milford Star, sportswriter Marjie Ducey sees good reporting talent, albeit in the service of a non-story. Hendry isn’t a public figure, at least not public enough, unless the country club presses charges, which they don’t see any good reason to do. Editor Dale Parry agrees this shows Burns to have good instincts and abilities. But he’s already offered their job to someone with two years’ reporting experience.

And that is about where we land. It’s again a point for Rubin and Whigham’s verisimilitude that Burns’s good work doesn’t get rewarded with the job she wants and needs. Sometimes things suck and you have to muddle along with what’s all right in the circumstances. But the story isn’t quite over yet, and as you can see, sometimes Coach Thorp figures a back door into solutions.

Milford Sports Watch!

Who’s Milford been playing, at least until the summer break caught up ? These teams have turned up in past months.

And colleges get mention!

  • Le Moyne College (23 – 26 June)
  • Onondaga Community College (25 June)
  • Bemidji State University (5, 6, 16 August.) Also a reference in the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode Red Zone Cuba that’s now about something I specifically kind-of understand. (“They’re over the Cuba-Bemidji border.”)
  • Boise State University (16 August.) A guess about the BSU jacket.

Next Week!

It’s been months since Randy Parker disappeared from Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker! And weeks since the bed-and-breakfast burned down! And we haven’t been seeing Norton any! Is there anything left in the comic strip? We’ll check in soon, if all goes well.

What’s Going On In Rex Morgan, M.D.? What was the deal with Sarah and the museum? May – August 2021


Couple years back, in the last major story before Terry Beatty took over writing Rex Morgan, M.D., Sarah got mixed up with an art museum. It started with the museum soliciting art made by kids, to sell as a fundraiser. But it turned out Sarah was such a good artist that it impressed a patron with mob ties. That patron pressed on the museum to replace the charity book with one done entirely by Sarah Morgan. And she’d go to the museum to draw it, and be seen as part of the tour.

This was all a bit much. Among the things Terry Beatty did as writer was dial that back. Like, by making clear the patron pushing for all this was looking at Sarah as surrogate daughter. Like making her mentor for the museum-drawing — Rene Belluso — into a regular character with an amusing string of scams. Like turning one of the kids on a tour seeing Sarah — Edward — into a regular, with an impossibly ugly dog. And finally having Sarah get hit by a car carrying Soap Opera Amnesia Disease. She lost her too-precocious artistic abilities. And she realigned to something more in range of actual six-or-seven-year-olds.

The most recent story seems to be going back on that revision, and I don’t know Beatty’s long-term plan for it. The museum book incident’s weighed on Rex and June Morgan’s minds, at least. And this essay should catch you up to mid-August 2021 in Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D.. If you’re reading this after about November 2021, or if any news about the strip breaks, there’s likely a more useful essay at this link.

Rex Morgan, M.D.

23 May – 14 August 2021.

Kyle Vidpa, author of the Kitty Cop series of children’s graphic novels, was stuck with writers block. Fortunately Sarah Morgan, who’d warmed up on drawing stories about herself and her father doing several genres of adventure story, is a fan.

So she’s composed a hundred-page fan letter/fan fiction. And Rex Morgan had promised that Buck Wise, his friend and Vidpa’s licensing agent, would get it right to him. He’s taking his first break outside the home in a year-plus, visiting his parents, who don’t understand why he can’t use his real name on his books. His real name is Jake Rowling. Weary after a night of explaining the should-be-obvious-thesis that TERFs are bad even if standing near one might help your career, he gives in and opens the letter.

Kyle Vidpa, reading and thinking: 'Well, little Sarah Morgan, what have you sent me? ... Hmmm. ' [ After reading Sarah's 'Fan Letter' ] Kyle bursts into the bedroom: 'Lauren! Lauren! Wake up!' Lauren: 'What!? What is it? What time is it?' Kyle: 'I've GOT it! I've got the new KITTY COP book!' Lauren: 'You finally came up with an idea?' Kyle: 'Not just an idea! The whole book! It's right here!' Lauren: 'You wrote the whole next book in one night!?!' Kyle: 'No, not me, my little fan, Sarah! She sent me the next book. The whole thing's right here!' Lauren: 'What in the world are you talking about? You weren't even supposed to open that package, Jake.' Kyle: 'I know, but I'm glad I did. It's great, Lauren. Wait until you read it!'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 20th of June, 2021. I realize it’s just the inclusion of the “throwaway” top row of panels that made the adjective get repeated. But the repeated use of “little Sarah Morgan” made me think of that Sunday Phantom story about The Little Detective Who Disappeared. Anyway, I remember when I was around nine or so I had a whole sketchbook somehow and I was determined to draw a comic strip through it. And I concede that many people are better at the demands of fiction-writing than I am. My recollection is that the strip dissolved into completely dadaist nonsense by the fourth page and I hope the sketchbook was (a) never finished and (b) mercifully set on fire and the ashes scattered around the world so it could never be inflicted on mortals.

It’s love at first sight. Or story love anyway. Sarah’s story is perfect, a new Kitty Cop novel ready to go. It needs some work, yes, but “not much”. And it’s even inspired him for more books. All he has to do now is get permission to use this.

Do I buy that? … I have to answer that question in segments. Might reading someone’s fanfic break an author out of his writer’s block? Yes. Might it have ideas he wants to put into the canonical text? Sure. L Frank Baum wrote in the forewords to some of the later Wizard of Oz books how he was indebted to fans writing in. Do I believe that nine-year-old Sarah Morgan could have written a novel that needs just a little tweaking? Even given the evidence we have of her ability to compose stories? I don’t buy it. I choose to interpret this as Vidpa, happy to have his problem fixed, understating how hard turning Sarah’s story into a professional book will be. Creative energy, after a long dry spell, is often a bit manic.

June Morgan, to Sarah, who's standing upside-down: 'Australia may be on the other side of the world, Sarah, but people there don't actually live upside-down.' Sarah: 'Are you sure about that?' June: 'Yeah, I am.' Sarah: 'Phooey. Upside-down sounded like fun.' Rex: 'What do you want to do with the rest of your day, Sarah? Do you have another Kitty Cop story in mind?' Sarahh: 'Nah, why would I want to write another one? I already did that. Besides, it sounds like Jake has the whole next story figured out.' Rex: 'It did seem so when we spoke with him.' Sarah: 'I want to watch anime. Can we get crunchyroll, Dad?' Rex: 'Crunchy rolls? Like the hard rolls we have at dinner sometimes?' Sarah: 'No, Dad. It's a *TV Channel*. I want to watch 'Kirakira Pretty Cure A La Mode'.' Rex: 'You know, I have no idea what you're talking about. Does that have something to do with ice cream?' Sarah: 'Dad, we need to sit down and have a serious talk.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 8th of August, 2021. This strip came up in one of my love’s Facebonk groups, with people asking how it was possible for a single Sunday strip to read like it has a page of script missing. And I … just don’t see it, except that it’s fair for someone who dropped in without seeing Saturday’s strip to have no idea why Sarah’s upside-down in the first row. She was practicing being upside-down in case she ever moved to Australia. But I may be too accustomed to the style of the strip to realize how it reads to people who don’t expect, for example, that Sarah flitters between obsessions without keeping her parents in the loop.

So now all that’s left is making the deal. It’ll have to go through Vidpa’s literary agent and the Morgan’s lawyers. But she’ll get co-author credit plus royalties on the book and any new-character merchandise. So, that’s a nice step up on her college expenses, and she gets to pick out a pseudonym. Plus, Kyle Vidpa’s wife is pregnant, so he could get inspiration from within his own family in nine years.

And that’s the important stuff gone on in the strip the last several months. We seem to be transitioning to a new story this week, so I can begin November 2021’s plot recap without much prologue.

Next Week!

I try to explain what’s going on in Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp, which is going to be hard. The library plot I understand. But the summer plot, about golf? If I’m working this out right it’s about someone pretending to be a worse golfer than they actually are, for the reasons. I know, that doesn’t sound like I”m on the right track to me either”.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Sundays)? What is this Visitor the Phantoms keep getting? May – August 2021


The Sunday continuity has been The Current, 21st, Phantom, telling of encounters four previous Phantoms had. These all involved The Visitor, who looks like The Phantom, and seems to have knowledge and abilities only The Phantom should have. We’ve now seen stories from all the four previous Phantoms to encounter The Visitor. This implies we’re near the end of the backstory. But we haven’t got any hint what The Visitor “really” is, yet.

What we know seems hard to square with a rationalist, scientific explanation. But The Phantom universe is one that has non-rational, magical elements. Me, I would be satisfied if The Visitor remains a mystery, but I am fond of fictional universes with weird craggly unexplained bits. And I understand readers who dislike having a mystery presented and then unresolved.

This should catch you up on Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s Sunday-continuity The Phantom for mid-August 2021. If you’re interested in the weekday storyline, with The Phantom maybe breaking Captain Savarna out of Gravelines Prison? Or if you’re interested in the Sunday stories and reading this after about November 2021? Then you’re likely to find a more useful post at this link.

The Phantom (Sundays).

16 May – 8 August 2021.

Since I took to reading this comic to do plot summaries I’ve gotten to see The Ghost Who Walks in many moods. The current Sunday story has had him in a giddy mood. It’s a fun change. He’s bubbling over with excitement at sharing a mystery with Bandar kids. Also at showing off his newly-renovated Hall of Costumes. But mostly it’s about the story.

In the time of the 3rd Phantom a strange figure — The Visitor — appeared to Bandar villagers. The Visitor looked indistinguishable from the Phantom. But he ignored them. He left footprints. The footprints vanished. That’s all anyone knows of it.

The 6th Phantom, looking at the Chronicles: 'Extraordinary! T-these immortal words have been written in my own hand!' Current Phantom, explaining the past's encounter with The Visitor: 'An ancient Roman poem the 6th Phantom knew well. He'd been made to learn it as a headstrong boy too brave for his own good! One more thing before we move on ... the 6th Phantom's doppelganger appeared in the Deep Woods just before my ancestor set out on a particularly dangerous mission. He'd smash an infamous gang of cutthroats ... reform those most capable of it ... and recruit them as the founding corps of the famed Jungle Patrol.' Julie Walker: 'That's how he met his future wife! Natala of Navarre! Oh, I *know* this story! Darling, that's why The Visitor appeared! To remind the Phantom of the poem! So he'd *live* long enough to marry Natala and have the son they had!'
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 4th of July, 2021. Oh yes, so part of the mystery, besides disappearing out of rooms with no unwatched exits, is being able to forge The Phantom’s handwriting. Especially as the Actual Phantom was nowhere near the Deep Woods, which would seem to rule out sleepwalking or hypnosis or other obvious explanations. (The Phantom was not in the area for the first few appearances of The Visitor either.)

The Visitor next appeared in the time of the 6th Phantom. A girl of the Bandar tribe saw The Visitor enter Skull Cave and write in the Phantom Chronicles. And disappeared once cornered in the Chronicle Chamber, which I need hardly tell you has only the one exit. The Visitor’s message? A transcription from the Odes of Horace. The 6th Phantom had memorized the piece about the difference between courage and recklessness. It was an issue he always struggled with. It would prove a timely reminder to him before another big adventure.

The 12th Phantom was the first to see The Visitor. Briefly, in Skull Cave. Later, in some city, working his way through 2d6+6 henchmen, the 12th Phantom found … the place cleared. All the minor villains knocked out, and with the skull mark of the Phantom’s ring on their foreheads.

On to the 16th Phantom, who saw and talked with the Visitor. Who was as fast on the draw as the Phantom was. Who told the origin story of the Phantom legend, turned, and disappeared.

And those are the facts as we have them handed down to us.

Next Week!

Fanfiction! Fanfiction and Crunchyroll! No, I’m not trying out for Zippy the Pinhead: The Next Generation. I’m thinking of what’s happening in Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. so I can recap it next week, if all goes to plan. I know one of the Facebonk groups my love is on would like to have Rex Morgan, M.D. explained, except that they’ll have forgotten they cared about the strip by next Tuesday. Too bad.

What’s Going On In Mary Worth? Why are Shauna and Ashlee fighting so much? May – July 2021


Ashlee and Shauna are two women with a violent hatred of each other in the current Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth story. It hasn’t been revealed how they know one another. They both have disreputable histories, and we can infer this somehow let each learn the other’s deal. Shauna thinks Ashlee is a grifter ready to take Drew Cory for all he’s worth. Ashlee thinks Shauna wants to get back together with Drew Cory. Both are correct so both have reasonable resentment of the other.

This should catch you up to early August 2021 in Mary Worth. If you read this after late October 2021, or if any news breaks about the strip, I should have a useful post here. Also, on my mathematics blog, I’ll soon be starting a little A-to-Z, a glossary project describing a selection of mathematics terms. You can read past A-to-Z essays, and suggest topics for this one, at this link. Thank you.

Mary Worth.

9 May – 31 July 2021.

When Dr Drew Cory ditched his scheduled photo-shoot date with Ashlee Jones she showed up at his workplace to yell at him. She accepts his apology that it was an emergency at work, since his workplace is the hospital. Over a make-up dinner she reveals she got fired from her waitress job.

Mary Worth shares her worry that she’s not in this plot with Jeff Cory, her perpetual not-fiancée and Drew’s father. Jeff says his son just always falls for wild, uncontrollable women. Like Shauna, who even served time in jail for petty theft. But she’s out of his life forever and ever now, so no need to worry there!

Drew, getting ready for bed, thinks 'I have feelings for Ashlee. It was fun to photograph her.' [ As Drew reflects on his photo soot with Ashlee ... ] 'What ... a ... day!' (He thinks back to moments from the day, photographing Ashlee in the fields, against trees, in a waterfall, and more.) Drew: 'Oh no ... Did I lose my Rolex?' [ Meanwhile ... ] Ashlee looks over his watch; 'Hmm ... I wonder how much I can get for this watch?'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 30th of May, 2021. You hadn’t quite asked but, yeah, I don’t know how Ashlee got his watch off either. Like, I (roughly) understand how in the city you might bump into someone and lift their watch while they’re distracted, but that doesn’t seem likely to work here. I guess he had to take his watch off, but for what reason? I don’t know but have to suppose Ashlee knows her business. Also: did she bring a change of clothes for that waterfall picture? Or was this spontaneous an they thought she’d dry off before it got too uncomfortable?

During their delayed photoshoot Drew loses his Rolex to Ashlee’s pocket-picking. Drew’s tale of regret at losing a gift from his late mother moves her, though. She returns the watch, claiming to have gone back out to nature and checked the ground. It’s a heartwarming moment, interrupted when who shows up at The People’s Clinic but Shauna?

Shauna has an instant resentment of Ashlee. Also a story that Ashlee’s a grifter who’ll use Drew and throw him away. Also a story that she herself has cleaned up her life since they broke up. Also dermatitis, the reason for her visit. Drew believes her about cleaning up her life and about the dermatitis. But the rest? How could Ashlee possibly be wicked when she’s always been nice to him?

[ After seeing his ex-girlfriend earlier, Drew endures a troubled sleep ... ] While moaning 'Shauna ... Ashlee ... ', Drew has a surreal dream where the two women tug on him, stretching him out in weird tangled loops. He wakes, crying out.
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 27th of June, 2021. Mary Worth sure seems like it’s been hitting the dream sequences a lot. They’re fun to see. I wonder if they’ve been writing to give June Brigman the chance to draw more wild art.

Ashlee and Shauna show up at The People’s Clinic again, and fight again. Ashlee decides to step up her grift. She gets Drew to agree to loan five thousand dollars to jump-start her modeling career. He’s slow to send it, though. Doctor stuff, although she suspects Shauna stuff. So she comes to The People’s Clinic to get her money already.

She catches Drew giving a lollipop to a little girl, and has a change of heart. She breaks up with her mark, by text. She claims to have a great job offer out of town, she won’t need the money, and she has to leave forever now. Bye. And she does leave town. This doesn’t stop Drew thinking about her, though.

[ As Drew remembers to send Ashlee five thousand dollars he notices her text ... ] Ashlee's Text: 'I just got a great job offer and won't need the money after all! I have to leave town ... sorry I couldn't say goodbye in person ... it's been real.' Cut to Ashlee, looking at waitress-wanted jobs and riding a bus out of town.
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 1st of August, 2021. This may seem like an overreaction to “decides not to rip off her boyfriend”. She gets off lightly, though. When you break up with someone in Luann you have to flee the contiguous United States. No joke; I can name four characters this happened to.

And that’s where things stand as of the start of August. It’s hard to believe the story is over, since nobody’s pair-bonded yet and there’s no sign of thanking Mary Worth for her contributions. So my guess is we’ve got another month or so before the next story. See you in late October and we’ll find out what’s right!

Dubiously Sourced Mary Worth Sunday Panel Quotes!

The auto care place up the street has changed its message a little bit, thanking Lansing for its support. It’s not only the economic development council. I hope this doesn’t signify a tiff with whoever gives out loans and grants around here. Meanwhile, here are inspirational quotes from the Sunday panels that could have been said by someone. Maybe even the named person!

  • “Human behavior flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge.” — Plato, 9 May 2021.
  • “I generally avoid temptation unless I can’t resist it.” — Mae West, 16 May 2021.
  • “Mysteries of attraction could not always be explained through logic.” — Lisa Kleypas, 23 May 2021.
  • “Love can sometimes be magic, but magic can sometimes … just be an illusion.” — Javan, 30 May 2021.
  • “The past is never the past. It is always present.” — Bruce Springsteen, 6 June 2021.
  • “Honesty is more than not lying. It is truth telling, truth speaking, truth living, and truth loving.” — James E Faust, 13 June 2021.
  • “It’s what you don’t expect … that most needs looking for.” — Neal Stephenson, 20 June 2021.
  • “Saying ‘yes’ to one thing means saying ‘no’ to another. That’s why decisions can be hard sometimes.” — Sean Covey, 27 June 2021.
  • “I’m a lover, not a fighter, but I’ll fight if I have to.” — Yungblud, 4 July 2021.
  • “There are no good girls gone wrong — just bad girls found out.” — Mae West, 11 July 2021.
  • “When someone else’s happiness is your happiness, that is love.” — Lana Del Ray, 18 July 2021.
  • “Life is always at some turning point.” — Irwin Edman, 25 July 2021.
  • “A woman’s heart is a deep ocean of secrets.” — Gloria Stuart, 1 August 2021.

Next Week!

The Phantom tells an incredible story of an immortal ghost who’s not him! It’s Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom, Sunday continuity, if all goes as planned.

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? How did turning off the headlights help Mark Trail evade that car? May – July 2021


There’s a point in Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail’s current story where Mark Trail’s in a nighttime car chase. He tells the driver to turn off the headlights. This confuses the pursuers, Diana Daggers and Bee Sharp, but only for a few moments. I’m not sure why it’s supposed to work. I get the idea is to make the car as invisible as possible at night and go in a direction that Daggers and Sharp can’t see. But it’s not clear in the panels that there’s anywhere to go. They can’t have gone far off the road, after all, not in the couple seconds we see. This might be a problem of the limited time and space the strip has. In a movie, one good overhead shot of a complicated city street would address the question. I’m sorry not to have a more definite answer.

So this should bring you up to date on Mark Trail’s stories, as of late March 2021. If you’re reading this after about October 2021 there may be a more useful plot recap at this link. Thanks for considering me as a source for Mark Trail information.

Mark Trail.

2 May – 24 July 2021.

We had two story threads going, last time I checked in. Mark Trail was in Los Angeles as his odd charms landed him a music video cameo with rapper Reptiliannaire. Meanwhile Cherry Trail’s landscaping company was having trouble with the Sunny Soleil homeowners association. The plots have nothing to do with one another. So the strip’s done two weeks with Mark and then a week with Cherry. For sake of clarity I’ll re-separate the plot recaps, and start with Cherry’s.

Cherry Trail saw her big landscaping project, the roundabout near the Planet Pancake diner, had been demolished. Violet Cheshire, of the Sunny Soleil society, tore out all the “savage jungle brush” in favor of butterfly bushes. Butterfly bushes, I learn from this, attract butterflies but are not good for them. Butterflies like the plants, but the larva they lay on them can’t eat the leaves, which sucks for the next generation of larvae.

Narrator: 'Cherry and her brother Dirk have unleashed feral hogs onto the Sunny Soleil Society's butterfly bushes ... to eat them!' (The hogs chew down on the plants. A lot.) Chery: 'Dirk ... how do we ... make them stop?' Narrator: 'Cherry, they don't call it 'pigging out' for nothing.'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 2nd of July, 2021. Also, over the last couple months the narration box has rather stepped up. It’s providing exposition still, yes, but it’s been showing more flair, more personality. It’s not quite pre-snarking the strips for us, but it’s getting there. I enjoy this. Narration boxes have fallen out of favor in comic strips (and, it is my understanding, comic books) but they carry some expository loads well. Having that delivered with a smile? I like that. It’s a gentle reinforcement of the light tone for the story. Makes me feel that Rivera is getting the whole comic better balanced.

So she calls her brother Dirk Davis. He’s one of those I-hate-the-government recluses who knows how to wrangle a herd of feral hogs onto a truck bed and leave them off where they can devour a landscaped roundabout in minutes. You know, like that friend your younger brother still has from high school somehow. It’s an awesome scene of destruction that leaves Cherry ashamed of what she wrought.

Also awesomely destroyed: Violet Cheshire, trying to drown her sorrows in pancakes and syrup. Cherry tries to say something consoling. “I mean, sometimes a pack of eight feral hogs will happen to appear at a reserve of invasive butterfly bushes between 11:35 and 11:55 on a Friday night,” she offers. Violet suspects Cherry knows something about the destruction. And, in a moment that surprised me, Cherry owned up. I’d had thought she could bluff through it. But she’s feeling guilty and Violet’s feeling desperate. They agree to work together fixing this.


Now to Mark Trail’s story. He was hanging out with Reptiliannaire and the Herp Hacienda gang. They suggest he hit the sack early, like, before sundown even. Mark eavesdrops. The gang is reminding each other why they’re angry at “Cricket Bro” Rob Bettancourt. (Yes, this is people telling each other stuff they already know. But I absolutely believe in a group of people talking about how they were all screwed by the same ex-friend.) He’s the tech-millionaire-turned-cricket-protein-seller who hosted the party they just came from. Bettancourt had sponsored the Herp Hacienda and their reptile-rescue(?) sideline. This until they learned he was using spying on them. (I’m not clear whether he was spying on the group or on the reptiles themselves. I’m also not sure why he would bother. But there is a streak of tech guy that figures everybody not them should be under surveillance, so, fine.) And he impounded Aparna’s laptop. She’d been developing an app for testing air quality for animals. This so people would be better able to judge when to keep animals indoors for safer breathing.

Mark Trail: 'All my problems with Cricket Bro began when I broke his dad's magnifying glass.' [ Flashbacks ] 'I had to write an apology and do my dad's granola commercials to work off replacing that magnifier ... but the adults didn't seem to care he had used it to burn ants. That day I learned people love to protect nature, until it's time to protect their property.'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 11th of May, 2021. The clash between what people say their ideals are and what their revealed preferences are? This is absolutely a childhood trauma I believe for Mark Trail. And, for that matter, many people who care about the environment.

So this gives the heist a goal: get the laptop that has the impounded “Air For All” app code. I admit I don’t understand why Cricket Bro wants this suppressed, but accept it under the “tech millionaires are jerks” rule. I also don’t understand why Aparna didn’t have her own copy. I mean, they sell 256 GB Flash drives. But I’ll accept that as a “didn’t expect to need an off-site backup” case. I also don’t understand why she can’t rewrite it. Maybe it requires models that she no longer has access to. I grant that I would be much harder on these same plot points if they turned up in, say, Funky Winkerbean. But I feel justified in my anger at Funky Winkerbean. Rivera I’m willing still to suppose there are reasons for things not explained.

Mark Trail’s way into this heist idea. He’s got a history back to childhood of not liking Bettancourt. And he hasn’t stolen anything since those motorboats last plot. He’s overdue. At the party earlier Bettancourt offered Mark Trail “help” with his career. So Mark calls, feigning interest. Bettancourt’s got a great idea. How about some interaction between “Marky” Trail and his pop-science celebrity Professor “Killer” Bee Sharp?

Narrator: 'Meanwhile, the Herp Hacienda friends search for the prized laptop.' Aparna: 'Here's the development room!' Reptiliannaire: 'That's wild. They never changed the security codes after you left?' Aparna: 'Tech bros act lazy and call it a 'life hack'.' (Inside the room) Aparna: 'Start checking the laptop serial numbers! It's one of these.' Reptiliannaire: 'This might take a while. Can Mark buy us enough time?' Cut to the boxing. Narrator: 'The better question is can Mark's *face* buy them enough time?'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 17th of June, 2021. Now this strains plausibility some. If I know anything about tech bros they might well have changed the code (1793) to the other code they use (2684).

The plan: Mark Trail will talk to Bettancourt long enough to distract him while the Herp Hacienda guys steal the laptop. (Why would the laptop not have been wiped clean? Aparna is betting on the tech guys being too lazy to bother. I accept this; I understand if you do not.) How do the Herp Hacienda gang get into Bettancourt’s facility when only Mark Trail was invited? Professor Bee Sharp is enough of a celebrity that the gang can say they couldn’t pass up the chance to get to meet him. And the Professor is enough of a narcissist to buy that.

Bettancourt has an even better idea than talking about a Mark Trail/Bee Sharp interaction. Why not have them do something for real right now? He knows a director and everything, and here he is. Also, instead of, like, two pop-science guys enthusing over one another, why not have them punch each other? So that’s why it’s a sudden boxing match.

A boxing match is good and distracting, though, and Aparna and crew have time to find the laptop. When they take it out of the charging docks, it sets off an alarm, though. It’s a race against time to upload the source code to the Internet, which the upload wins.

Mark Trail: 'Aparna! Get out of here!' Aparna: 'Not till I face Cricket Bro! Remember me? You said my work was worthless before tossing me out!' Cricket Bro Rob Bettancourt: 'So? I say taht to everyone before I fire them!' Aparna, showing the laptop; 'If my work is so worthless, then you shouldn't mind if I upload the source code to the Internet.' Bettancourt: 'Wait, What? No!'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 24th of June, 2021. I agree with Aparna on the principle that if the company’s declared something is worthless, there’s nothing wrong in giving it away, on the same principle that when you throw something out anyone can just come and take it. I suppose the courts aren’t as open-minded about this. On the other hand, there’s an excellent chance the judge would have no idea what a source code is or how it could be stolen if it’s still right there on the laptop. I like Aparna’s dinosaur/lizard hoodie. I’m surprised she’s using plain old FTP instead of at least SFTP.

So now it’s about escaping. Bee Sharp’s manager, Diana Daggers, wants to catch Mark Trail on camera, “breaking and entering” the Cricket Bro tech labs. I don’t know why she thinks that’s important. I only have the knowledge of the law that you get from being on a student newspaper in the early 90s. But whatever laws Mark Trail did violate there, none of them were about breaking or entering. He came at the owner’s invitation. I also don’t get what’s important about getting him on camera fleeing. There were plenty of witnesses that he was there. They might even have video of him boxing with Bee Sharp. The thing to get him on is conspiring with people who stole company property. I don’t get where video of Mark Trail fleeing matters.

Daggers is angry about Mark Trail punching Bee Sharp, which, fair enough. But it was in a boxing match that Bee Sharp presumably agreed to.

Mark Trail, in the car: 'Rep, where are you taking us? That last run-in was way too close!' Reptiliannaire: 'We're going where all the cool cats in hybrids hang out on a weeknight! ... The farmers market!'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 16th of July, 2021. OK yes, if I were having someone stay with me a few days I’d want to show them to the farmers market in town. But you have to understand, the tuba museum diner closed years ago, we have to go with what we still have.

Daggers and Sharp, in a faster car, chase Trail and gang. This leads to the headlight trick mentioned at the start of this essay. Since they’re found the moment they move, Mark Trail thinks of a better plan. That’s camouflage. Where to hide a green hybrid in the city on a weeknight? … Well, the farmers market, that’s where. I laughed. It’s silly, but jabs close enough to me that I respect it. I understand if you do not. Sharp concedes that Mark Trail has escaped … but also that this is not over.

What is over, though, is the window for my plot recapping here. We’ll see how these stories resolve over the weeks ahead and I’ll recap them in about three months, if all goes well.

Sunday Animals Watch

A neat and understated bit about the animals here? Nearly all of them have had some appearance in the comic strip dailies. Not always the same week as their Sunday appearance. Like, the Burrowing owls were mentioned as being around Los Angeles International Airport. And one’s seen in the daily strip when Mark Trail arrived in Los Angeles. I like that.

  • Sabal palms, 2 May 2021. Imported into southern California and somehow not an ecological disaster, which is a nice change of pace.
  • Burrowing owls, 9 May 2021. Hanging around LAX, which is nice.
  • Coyotes, 16 May 2021. Yes, roadrunners are coming.
  • Native grasses, 23 May 2021. I’d love to have more native grasses on our lawn but I live in mid-Michigan so the ecologically correct thing is to be a marshland. This is hard to mow.
  • Peregrine falcons, 30 May 2021. I’m old enough to remember when it seemed inevitable they were going to go extinct so, uh, it’s possible for good things to happen in the environment.
  • Mountain lions, 6 June 2021. The Sunday panel isn’t just listing all 640 common names for these animals, but it’s close.
  • Muscovy ducks, 13 June 2021. OK, did not know they were invasive. That’s inconvenient.
  • Butterfly bushes, 20 June 2021. I never even heard of these before this story but now I know of a new kind of invasive plant to feel bad about.
  • Black-tailed jackrabbits, 27 June 2021. Featuring illustrations of jackrabbits standing upright, and you’ll want to see that because they look weird when they do.
  • Feral hogs, 4 July 2021. Mark Trail points out how the 80s were an ecological disaster, which yes, but it understates how much everything else was a disaster. The eight-bit computers were pretty great, though.
  • Grizzly bears, 11 July 2021. Mark Trail takes a moment to process his feelings about the California Grizzly’s extinction, which I’m guessing is him playing to stereotype? Amusing, though.
  • Roadrunners, 18 July 2021. Will say I was worried for the roadrunners along the roads during Mark Trail’s car chase.
  • Butterflies, 25 July 2021. Butterflies are free. What does that mean? It means you can have all of them you want.

Next Week!

Stolen watches! Messy, emotional backstory break-ups! Women scheming for the love and/or wallet of Dr Drew Cory! All this and quotes of dubious authenticity in Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth, to be reviewed in a week, if all goes well.

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? Could Gasoline Alley happen in real life? April – July 2021


A major part of the story in Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley is a radio signal from 1952 being and heard on someone’s colander. Could this happen? Well, no, of course not.

The thing that isn’t obviously impossible is the radio reception. A crystal set radio needs no battery or electricity. It uses the energy of the radio signal it detects to drive the speaker. It needs only a few components, many of them ones you could make yourself in 1920. Building a crystal set radio is a great way to learn electronics. After a few minutes’ work, you can set about hours, days, whole months of trying to get the stupid thing to work. It never will. But for purposes of a comic story? All right, let it happen.

A radio signal from 1952 bouncing back to Earth and getting stuck in a communications satellite? Yeah, that’s nonsense. It would be less bad if the signal were broadcast from some station that has an old-time-radio night. I don’t know why Jim Scancarelli didn’t go for that instead. It could encourage people to look for broadcasters who bring up old recorded stuff.

This should catch you up on Gasoline Alley for mid-July 2021. If you’re reading this after about October 2021, or if any news about the comic breaks out, an essay here may be more useful. Thanks for reading.

Gasoline Alley.

26 April – 18 July 2021.

My last check-in came after Walt Wallet dreamed about some moments in his life with Skeezix. That’s the story I suposed to be how the strip commemorated the centennial of Skeezix’s introduction and the comic strip’s change. The strip then sent Gertie, Walt’s caretaker, to the store again, for more eggs. This seems like a lot of egg consumption. But that’s if you assume the strip from Monday, the 18th of April, takes place right after that of the Saturday before. We’re trained to expect that unless a comic says there’s a time gap something happens right after what came before. The story makes more sense if we’re looking at a week, or even a month, later.

Gertie, at the supermarket, holding a carton of eggs: 'I'm looking for unbroken cackleberries!' Mim: 'Huh? What's that?' Gertie: 'What do hens say?' Mim: 'Cluck! Cluck!' Tim: 'They cackle! Oh! I get it! Cackleberries! We're the dumb clucks!' Mim: 'Us? Speak for yourself!' Gertie, slapping her head: 'Oh! I started their first argument!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 30th of April, 2021. I understand, and appreciate, that Jim Scancarelli wants his characters to have soft, pleasant lives. But, wow, Sidney Potier and Katharine Houghton’s characters from Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner are looking at Mim and Tim and saying, “Now that’s a couple that married too fast.”

At the store again, Gertie runs into Mim and Tim, the couple whom she helped cute-meet back in February, our time. Mim and Tim got along great, turns out, and now they’re married. You see why I say this has got to me later than “the next day”. As it is, Gertie sets off their first argument, over whether “cackleberries” is a clever joke name for eggs. I understand there’s whirlwind romances. I still say Mim and Tim should have dated a little longer.

On her way out Gertie runs in to Rufus and Joel, as they run into her car. Rufus and Joel are the most 50s/60s-sitcommy characters in Gasoline Alley. Their stories tend to be deep in the American Cornball style. So if you don’t like that, bail out of any and all Rufus-and-Joel stories. You will not have fun.

Disembodied voice: 'Astro to Earth! I can't raise them! You try, Roger!' Joel, waking from bed: 'Oh! Not again!' Voice: 'Cadet Roger Manning calling Earth! What's wrong down there, Junior?' Joel, tossing a jug of moonshine out the door: 'I know what's wrong! No mo' sippin' on th'jug --- no mo' --- no how!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 22nd of May, 2021. So I grew up at the very tail end of this being a thing in American pop culture but let me promise younger readers, as though I had any: encountering something weird and promising to never again touch Demon Alcohol? That used to be crazy funny. I genuinely do like the nostalgic vibe of seeing it again.

If they are for you, then what you got the last two months was Joel hearing mysterious voices. “Astro on the Polaris, calling Earth! Come in!” And when Earth does not come in, Cadet Roger Manning tries to get Earth on the radio. Anyone with old-time-radio credentials recognizes this: it’s the Tom Corbett, Space Cadet series. I’m assuming this the radio series, as Jim Scancarelli is a major fan of old-time-radio. (I’m aware it was a TV show first. And last, as the radio program ran less than a year. The clip gets identified as from the radio series, on what grounds I do not know.) The important thing is Joel doesn’t recognize it, and neither does anyone else until the end of the story.

Since there’s a racket, Joel goes off to Rufus’s house to sleep. And keep Rufus awake, since Joel snores like I snore. In the morning, the strange sound is still going. Rufus can hear it too. It’s not the radio, since Joel doesn’t have one. So, aliens it is, then.

Newspaper reporter: 'Polly? How'd you TV guys scoop *us*? We heard about it first!' Polly Ballew: 'You have your ways --- we have ours! [ Getting in front of the camera ] Now, please move out of our way ... while we do a live broadcast!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 17th of June, 2021. Incidentally we never do hear how Polly Ballew got word of this. Maybe the Galactic Institute of Space Research and Astral Studies dropped a tip so they’d have an excuse to appear.
The press is hardly going to ignore a good flying-saucer story. Reporters from the Gasette newspaper show up. So does Polly Ballew, of Gasoline Alley Television. Polly’s so excited by the story she doesn’t even mention being the sister of Wally Ballew of Bob and Ray’s old-time-radio show. (This might be because Bob and Ray had a running spoof of Tom Corbett. This was the Lawrence Fechtenberger, Interstellar Officer Candidate series. Too close a mention might spoil people’s suspension of disbelief. Except I’d think anyone who would spot that link would be going along with Scancarelli on this, so who knows?) But she also confirms the strange noises are coming from the kitchen colander.

Joel, introducing the Galactic Institute of Space Research and Astral Studies people: 'Howdy! This is m'fr'en' Rufus! These folks are from a outer space outfit studyin' my colander!' Rufus, sotto voce: 'They don't look like they is from outer space!' Joel: 'How yo' know? Yo' ain' never seen nobody from out there!' Rufus: 'I is too! In plenty o'movies an'th'TV!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 5th of July, 2021. I had not noticed before writing up the alt text for this image, but you could redraw this dialogue as a Pogo strip and it wouldn’t seem out of place.

Drawn by Polly Ballew’s live reporting, three members of the Galactic Institute of Space Research and Astral Studies show up. Cosmos Quasar, Dr Lana Luna, and Andrew Andromeda are happy to study this apparent alien transmission. With scientific investigators on the scene, Polly leaves. But their verdict: It’s the Tom Corbett, Space Cadet radio series. They recognize “Cadet Roger Manning of the Astro”. Their explanation: last week a communications satellite went off-course. A fragment of ancient radio got stuck in its circuits, and by freak coincidence is getting sent right to his kitchen colander. They recognized the names.

The story’s punch line, fitting to a cornball 50s/60s sitcom, is the departure of the Galactic Institute of Space Research and Astral Studies trio. Scotty beams them up.

The three Galactic Institute of Space Research and Astral Studies researchers, caught in a beam that looks like sunlight, with their forms dissolving: 'Well! Our work is done! Let's go home!' 'Right!' And the last says, in Greek (with Greek lettering) 'Beam us up, Scotty'. Rufus's mule Becky looks on, surprised.
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 17th of July, 2021. I don’t know why Scancarelli chose to depict an alien language as Greek. I would put money on his thinking of the idiom about something “being Greek to me”. And wanting to use an actual language that readers would have a fair shot of deciphering.

This would seem to end the Rufus-and-Joel story in time for this essay. Monday’s strip still had the characters talking about it. But the transition to a new story sometimes does happen mid-week. Often the protagonist for one story sees the protagonist for the next. Who that will be, and what they’ll do, I have no way to know except wait.

Next Week!

On the one hand, renowned nature guy Mark Trail! On the other, renowned pop science guy Bee Sharp! The stakes: an app about whether the air is healthy for pets. It should all come together in Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail, discussed next week, if all goes well.

Why is everybody angry with Funky Winkerbean *now*?


I mean, besides the usual?

OK, so, a quick recap. Funky Winkerbean is Tom Batiuk’s long-running semi-serialized, semi-humor comic strip about people who appreciate comic books on a deeper level than you, even if you are Grant Morrison. The important action lately has been with the staff of Atomik Comix, a small-time publisher hoping to revive the spirt of bonky 1950s/60s-era fun. The people in it have been meeting, and often bringing on staff, people from the (in-universe) vanished Batom Comics.

The current story’s based on Flash Freeman, Batom comics writer, and Ruby Lith, illustrator. Pete and Darin, who make most of Atomik’s comics, thought to ask San Diego Comic-Con to induct these old-timers into the Comic-Con Hall of Fame. Comic-Con said yeah, why not? On the way to the con we learned that Flash Freeman and his main artist, Phil Holt, separated on bad terms. My understanding is this is a fictional treatment of some legendary real comic book feud. I don’t know what but I’m going to assume it’s Stan Lee and Anybody Who Drew Stan Lee Stories.

As Freeman was being introduced for this, he said he wished Phil Holt could be there. And a man in the audience, who’d been lurking around wearing a Darth Vader mask, stood up to declare … HE IS! And so Phil Holt was crashing the induction ceremony.

On stage at Comic-Con, Flash Freeman: 'I just want to set the record straight by saying that Phil Holt was right here beside me when, together, we created all of those Batom Comics superheroes. I only wish that Phil Holt was with us now ... because he deserves to be in the Comic-Con Hall of Fame as well!' Phil Holt, rising from the audience and taking off a Darth Vader mask: 'Well, you just got your WISH!' Audience member: 'This is the best cameo EVER!!'
Tom Batiuk’s Funky Winkerbean for the 18th of July, 2021. Really more of a surprise guest appearance than a cameo but I understand misspeaking in the excitement. In the next day’s strip, as Not Dead Phil Holt climbs on stage, someone in the audience cries out how this is horrible, as he’d just paid $500 for a signed copy of Holt’s final book. That’s a good joke, as I measure these things. Oh, and Comic-Con didn’t agree to add Phil Holt posthumously-they-thought to the Hall of Fame because … I guess nobody asked if he could be? Which is dumb but a normal human behavior sort of dumb.

So the reason your friend who pays attention to the comics is angry about this is that Phil Holt died four years ago. This was in a sequence where the Atomik Comix gang met him and found he was doing children’s birthday-party art. Soon after this meeting, Holt died. He willed over to Darin a bunch of his original art, which Darin auctioned off for charity. We-the-readers saw him in ghostly form, looking over the auction, approving.

It’s a storyteller’s right to retcon things. If they realize they have an idea that, revised, could produce more interesting stories, they might even have an obligation to. Batiuk has taken advantage of this. The whole Batom Comics backstory started out with Starbuck Jones, presented as a cult comic from a forgotten minor publisher. It’s been revised into a Captain America-like property. That is, once-hugely-popular, then neglected, then revived to wild acclaim. This retcon gave Batiuk ideas for more and more interesting stories, so, fine. (I mean interesting to him and maybe his editor. Whether you like any of it is your business.)

Thing is, some retcons are harder to swallow than others. The more load-bearing and unambigous an element was, the more the involved audience will resist its retcon. Phil Holt’s death isn’t as important to the comic as, say, Lisa Moore’s. But it was still presented as a clear event without any ambiguity. We learned of it by the executor giving Darin tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of vintage comic book art. Usually if you have to retcon something major, it’s better to make a small deal of the contradiction. Here? We’re reminded that Phil Holt died. Like, the Emcee tells us how amazing it is he’s not dead.

Ghost Lisa, looking at her son and his wife reading the auction house book: 'This is my son, Darin. He's the one auctioning off the comic book covers. I'm Lisa.' Ghost Phil: 'I'm Phil ... I drew those covers.' Lisa: 'I never really read comic books.' Phil: 'If I wasn't already dead ... that would've done it.'
Tom Batiuk’s Funky Winkerbean for the 15th of November, 2017. Ghost Lisa here is Lisa Moore, who was the center of the comic strip getting Serious, with stories about teen pregnancy and right-wing terrorism and suicide and breast cancer. Her death in 2007 marked the change to the current era of the comic and the famous “time jump” bringing every character in the strip ten years closer to death. She’s appeared in ghostly form occasionally, usually to look with approval at people remembering her. And, one time, intervening in the affairs of mortals, saving a plane full of people from an aircraft with a critical part malfunction, but only because she couldn’t get Les off the flight otherwise. It’s heartwarming unless you think what would’ve happened if Les had decided to take another flight.

It may be that as Phil Holt’s story unfolds the obvious doubts will be addressed. That we’ll get a story for why a man might fake his death for years until he can disrupt a Comic-Con event honoring his former partner. Your friend who is angry at Funky Winkerbean does not trust that the explanation for all this will be at least superficially plausible.

So that’s what’s going on there. Any more complaints about Funky Winkerbean should appear at an essay under this link. And tomorrow, and every week, I try to recap one of the story strips proper. This week: Gasoline Alley.

Also, I owe thanks to Son of Stuck Funky and to Comics Curmudgeon for their blogging about these past stories. This made it easy for me to find the Funky Winkerbean strips to confirm I wasn’t remembering things wrong.

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? Who’s this Mars Maid now? April – July 2021


The “Mars Maid” is a character in the J Straightedge Trustworthy comic strip, which Vera Alldid draws in the continuity of Dick Tracy. Trustworthy is a riff on Tracy, yes. Alldid created the Mars Maid after reading an article about Mysta Chimera, the false Moon Maid.

The real Moon Maid, who came from the Moon and married Dick Tracy’s son, died decades ago. Mysta Chimera is the brainwashed and mad-science-altered Glenna “Mindy” Ermine, daughter of a racketeer. The mad scientists Dr Zy Ghote and Dr S Tim Sail — presumed dead in space — created her at the behest of major crime boss Mr Bribery.

This should catch you up to mid-July in Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy. If you’re reading this after about October 2021, or if any news breaks out about the strip, I’ll have an essay of perhaps more use to you here. Thanks for reading.

Dick Tracy.

18 April – 10 July 2021.

Our last visit with Dick Tracy was one week past the start of a story. Abner Kadaver, retired horror-movie host turned assassin, had recovered from tumbling down Reichenbach Falls with Dick Tracy. He broke his old partner Rikki Mortis out of jail and set about his old contract to kill Dick Tracy. But he’s also got a job from a shadowy figure, the Ace of Spades. Ace represents The Apparatus, the big crime syndicate in Tracyburgh. The Apparatus wants to cancel its contract to murder Tracy, in favor of killing Charlie 21. Kadaver accepts, but Ace knows, he’s gonna try killing Dick Tracy anyway.

[ The rooftop across from the courthouse ] Kadaver readies aims his dart gun. Sam Catchem: 'You held everyone spellbound, Charlie. I doff my hat to you, sir!' And he does. Charlie 21: 'Thanks, Detective Catchem!' Kadaver shoots; the dart hits Catchem's hat. Dick Tracy: 'GET DOWN! SNIPER! ON THAT ROOF!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 9th of May, 2021. Sam used to feel self-conscious about ostentatiously waving his hat around like this, sure. But he’s found that sort of thing foils a sniper’s attack like one time out of four he escorts a witness anywhere. He doesn’t care why it works, he’s just going with what does work.

Charlie 21 is a bookkeeper for The Apparatus, turned State’s evidence. Tracy and Sam Catchem have the extended escort mission of keeping him alive long enough to testify. They hate the job, since the only thing worse than an escort mission is an extended escort mission. Plus Charlie 21 keeps wandering off.

Kadaver’s first assassination attempt fails. The poison dart hits Sam Catchem’s hat instead. Mortis blames the downdraft from the building Kadaver was shooting from. Kadaver blames his trembling arm, and the complications of his advanced plot disease. He has Mortis pledge to carry out the contract if he dies.

Meanwhile, Charlie 21 wants to see Vitamin Flintheart in The Tempest. Flintheart is starring in The Tempest, opening next week, so that part’s easy. But bringing him to opening night would be incredibly stupid. Flintheart suggests he could watch the closed dress rehearsal instead.

Kadaver is also up-to-date on Tracyboro’s theatrical community. He reasons Tracy would never miss opening night of a Vitamin Flintheart show. When Mortis goes to buy opening-night tickets she sees Charlie 21 arriving for the rehearsal. He rushes down and they get into the theater … somehow. Not sure.

In the theater Kadaver draws his bow and poison-dart arrow. Dick Tracy catches the glint of metal. He shoves Charlie 21 out of the way, and the dart hits Tracy's shoulder.
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 28th of May, 2021. The wild thing is like a decade back I was seeing John Larroquette in The Best Man and this exact same thing happened! Larroquette had to break the scene and call for the house lights and everything. Weird.

Tracy spots Kadaver in time to push Charlie 21 out of the way. The dart hits Tracy’s arm instead. 10 of Spades, a shadowy figure we presume to be affiliated with Ace of Spades, is there. He scolds Kadaver for disobeying The Apparatus’s order to kill Charlie 21, not Dick Tracy, and won’t hear how Tracy got in the way. Kadaver’s shot before the cops can break the scene up. Mortis takes his mask off and whispers something “I have to tell you” that’s not any of our business.

And so Abner Kadaver seems to be dead. Charlie 21 completes his testimony and goes off to Other Protective Custody. 10 of Spades appears to be arrested. And with the 6th of June, the story of Abner Kadaver ends.


The current story starts with a tease that 6th of June. Vera Alldid creates the Mars Maid for his J Straightedge Trustworthy comic strip. And he hires Mysta Chimera to play the Mars Maid for publicity. (The Dick Tracy Wiki notes there was a 1964 contest to find a “real life” Moon Maid. In case you question whether an attractive woman might actually dress in costume to promote a comic strip.) That goes well, despite everyone warning Chimera that Alldid is a womanizer. She doesn’t need much help to find him creepy and even electric-shocks him when he’s getting too much.

Vera Aldid: 'We'll keep in touch. Call me anytime, Brock.' Brock Archival: 'You don't understand, Vera. Over the years, I've collected thousands of comic art originals, memorabilia, and collector's items. But it's not enough. Today, the addition of YOU AND MISS CHIMERA, will take my collection to the next level!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 2nd of July, 2021. Everybody thinks they want to collect a cartoonist but the reality is they depreciate in value a lot, like, worse than new cars. Also they’re constantly nagging you to have an opinion about Mell Lazarus’s Miss Peach and nobody has the energy for that.

No hard feelings, though. They accept an invitation to meet Brock Archival, a comic historian and collector. Archival would like to buy an Art, if it’s up to his exacting standards. And take some pictures of Chimera as the Mars Maid. When that’s all done he mentions how his guests should stay overnight, and also for the rest of all time. And he’s got Mr Bribery’s ring, which repels the Moon Maid’s powers, so what are they going to do? And that’s the cliffhanger we left Saturday on.

There’s some other stuff in the meanwhile. Particularly, Honey Moon Tracy has been going more and more steady with a kid named Astor Boyd. Going to movies, holding hands, that kind of thing. I don’t know if that’s setup for a future story or simply life. I mention so if this does become plot-bearing I’ll have this reference.

Next Week!

Urgent for Tom Corbett, Space Cadet! What is old-time radio doing in modern-time comic strips? Oh yes, it’s Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley next week in this spot, if all goes to plan. See you then.

Comics Kingdom has vintage Mark Trail now and Prince Valiant for the past 18 months already


So there’s some comic strip news that’s great for my Dad. Maybe your Dad too. It’s really for anyone who’s into the story strips, though. Comics Kingdom has added to its Vintage comics section two prominent story comics.

The first is Mark Trail, which has gone back to the era of original writer Ed Dodd, with Tom Hill and Jack Elrod illustrating. Not all the way to the start of the comic, but to July of 1971. I’m a little sad not to see it run from the comic’s start in 1946, but perhaps they had to go with where the archives first start being well-organized. It’s begun in the midst of a story, with a kid named Scat who seems to be a prototype for the not-yet-introduced Rusty.

Scat, explaining to Mark Trail: 'So there the poachers were, with the dead sheep ... I caught 'em! Let's get home and develop the pictures as fast as we can!' [ Mark and Scat hurry down the mountain ] [ Later (in a darkroom) ] Scat, as Mark Trail develops pictures: 'BOY, I can't wait to see these pictures!'
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 16th of July, 1971. It was reprinted the 10th of July, 2021. Poachers, you say? In a Mark Trail story? I suppose we can see how this turns out.

The second is Prince Valiant, which it turns out they started running in January of 2020 if you can imagine that far back, and I only just noticed this past week. I’ll own up to my general obliviousness but I do think maybe Comics Kingdom isn’t publicizing its vintage comic launches effectively. (On the other hand, as it is I never have to hear about Mallard Fillmore.) The vintage Prince Valiant only goes back to panel #2239, which ran the 6th of January, 1980. That then includes the last strip that Hal Foster wrote (#2241). But it’s mostly the comics from John Cullen Murphy’s tenure as artist and Cullen Murphy as writer.

Our Story: As they ride back, Gawain is angry: 'King Arthur sent us here to aid Earl Karran and expel the Northmen from the island. But Karran is the greater evil, for he is enslaving freemen'. 'Sir! I spent a month here on man and found Northmen only at the place called Peel ... about ten leagues south of here,' Arn adds. 'Then call the Captains together. We march at dawn!' orders Gawain. In the oyster light of early dawn, Gawain leads a dozen mounted knights and fifty foot soldiers with baggage animals. Progress is slow for the way leads through forest and scattered farmland. On the third day they look down on Patrick Island and the little port town of Peel. A great roar echoes over the hills when the Northmen see Arthur's dreaded knights approaching across the meadow, and they take up their ever-present weapons. They scramble up from the rocky beach to the field above ... only to meet the one thing the Northmen fear: the charge of mounted knights! Lance points reach out ahead of the pounding hooves; swords flash. For the first time the fierce men of the North flee in panic. They race across the causeway to rocky Patrick Island where Horsemen cannot follow.
Hal Foster and John Cullen Murphy’s Prince Valiant for the 20th of January, 1980. It was reprinted the 2nd of February, 2020. The last strip scripted by Hal Foster. The next week the credit starts reading “Created by Hal Foster” instead.

The Mark Trail run doesn’t seem to include Sundays. And the Prince Valiant panels are not in color. None of the vintage Sunday strips are. I assume this reflects the original color instructions being lost or too difficult to reconstruct. It’s all still grand to see.

So this all leaves Walt Kelly’s Pogo as the comic strip most in need of a decent online presentation. It was before, but this gives me a fresh chance to complain about that lack.

What’s Going On In Prince Valiant? Who was trying to kidnap Grunyard? April – July 2021


Lord Grunyard, of Lockbramble, had enemies. Those enemies were his brothers, the Lords Hallam of Wedmarsh, Kenward of Greystream, and Ravinger of Barrenburn. The specific complaint? Lockbramble’s swiping their populations. Grunyard, aware of his incompetence in running things, lets the people of Lockbramble run it themselves. And they do well, not least because Rory Red Hood is just that great at managing estates. And she has humiliated Lord Hallam before.

This should catch you up to early July 2021 in Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant. If any news about the comic strip breaks, or you need a plot recap after about October 2021 you should find something more useful at this link.

Also, on my mathematics blog, I’m about to start another A-to-Z project. If you’d like to see me explain mathematics terms of your choosing, please, go over there and nominate something! These glossaries are fun to write and every so often I learn something about the thing I claim to know well.

Prince Valiant.

11 April – 4 July 2021.

So his brothers arranged a joust between Sir Gawain, representing Lockbramble, and Sir Peredur, representing Wedmarsh et al. Sir Peredur has a reputation for treachery, and he does use an iron-cored lance to knock Gawain down. And then takes his mace to kill the fallen Gawain. Rory’s encouragement rallies him, though, and Gawain smashes his broken sword into Peredur. Peredur tries to kill him with a throwing knife. Gawain dodges, and “assures that [Peredur’s] sword arm is useless for months”. Peredur’s beaten, and humiliated, and out of the story.

The desperate Gawain drives the jagged edge of his shattered sword between the rings of Peredur's mail, and well into his knee! The giant collapses, helpless and in searing pain. In a cold rage, Gawain prepares to deliver the killing blow ... then stops. This is not his way --- the terms of the contest have been met, and he is the winner. The people of Lockbramble burst forth in wild acclaim! Their champion has bested the threat from the Lords Hallam, Kenward, and Ravinger, who sit sullen before their unexpected reversal of fortune. And, at the brewery, those three lords' henchmen lie trapped between barrels and Val's sword point. Lord Grunyard, recovering from his initial shock, hails Val: 'And how comes my old drinking companion to rescue me?' Gunyard has a sudden realization: ' ... These kidnappers! I smell the schemes of my conniving brothers behind this!' While, at the contest field, those brothers' champion lies crippled and in agony, but with one last foul trick up his sleeve ... '
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 9th of May, 2021. I apologize for placing these strips out of order. It’s an artefact of my separating out the henchmen-kidnapping and the joust events for the summary. In the original strips, as you can see, they ran in parallel.

During the joust, several of the brothers’ henchmen snuck off to kidnap Grunyard. This was the real plan all along. Prince Valiant had noticed them sneaking off, though, and in a fight at the brewery Valiant captured them all. As one of them’s the Captain of Lord Hallam’s guard the brothers can’t profess much innocence.

Grunyard, hereditary Lord of Lockbramble, is about to be taken captive by the henchmen of his treacherous brothers, when the watchful Val swings into action. Bowling over the kidnappers' leader ... and throwing the others back on their heels before the arc of the glittering Singing Sword. Then the stout ale-master seizes on the chaos and, with the smack of a mallet, sends the barrels careening wildly into the fray. On the contest field, Gawain lies stunned and bleeding, as Peredur wields the deathblow. But then, above the din of the mocking crowd, he hears the sharp, anxious voice of the woman he loves ... and suddenly the world snaps back into focus! He rolls forward as Peredur strikes ... and with all his strength, drives the jagged remains of his sword behind his foe's greave and into the side of his knee!
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 2nd of May, 2021. And by the way, look at that arrangement of panels. It’s a clever composition, especially when you work out how to rearrange them for newspapers running the comic taller rather than wide.

And so Lord Grunyard, with Valiant and Gawain backing him up, subject his brothers to … a trade accord. Lockbramble has farmland but needs labor. Wedmarsh has fish. Greystream has rapids that could provide mill power. Barrenburn has iron and copper. They can put all this together, right? And sure, his brothers proclaim how happy they are to get out of this with light commerce instead. And Grunyard is happy to back to his not paying attention to running the province.


Val continues his journey from Lockbramble, wending to the south and east until he passes the haunted woods of Carterhaugh. Following his ruminations on Horrit's prophecy, his mind wanders to the ancient tale of the doomed knight Tam Lin, captured by the fairy queen who is said to live here. Reveling in his solitude, such imaginings feed his spirit --- but his dwindling provisions will not long feed his belly. His leisurely course through the wilds comes with a price. He finds a gushing stream teeming with fat trout. With the stout spear he had brought for just such an opportunity, he wades into the sort of hunt he had so enjoyed as a youth. But he did not remember that the water was so cold ... or the bottom stones so slippery [ he falls over ] ... or his patience so short. Memory is a tricky thing, he decides, or maybe the water is running colder --- and the fish are running smarter nowadays.
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 27th of June, 2021. I like this moment pondering nostalgia. The witch Horrit’s prophecy is one of the oldest bits of Prince Valiant lore, going back to (I believe) his first story back in 1937, that he would find “much adventure, but no happiness or contentment”.

So the 13th of June, Price Valiant decides that everything’s pretty well under control and he can head home by himself. Along the way he reflects on his past. Stuff like how he used to wade into streams and spear fish. It turns out it’s more fun to remember doing this stuff than to actually do it. Fair enough. During this nostalgic tour we’ve seen a lot of gorgeous pictures. We haven’t gotten to the new story yet, though. Feels like it’s going to start next week, though.

Next Week!

The dead walk! And try to assassinate witnesses! Plus, a comic strip art collector is obsessed with the Moon Maid! It’s Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy next week, if all goes as planned. See you then.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (weekdays)? Is The Phantom about to die? April – June 2021


Don’t be silly; The Phantom is immortal. That’s, like, the second thing you learn about the comic, after how he’s called The Ghost Who Walks. But yeah, there has been a lot of foreshadowing the end of the current Phantom’s life. It’s been like this for several years now, but the current story is hitting it hard.

This should catch you up on Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom to the end of June 2021 in the weekday continuity. If you’re looking for the Sunday continuity, or if you’re reading this after about September 2021, or any news breaks out you may find a more useful essay here.

Over on my mathematics blog I have not yet resumed reading comics regularly. But I am about to start this year’s A-to-Z, in which I explain mathematics terms. If you’d like to suggest topics, please, let me know. I love seeing what people suggest.

The Phantom (Weekdays).

5 April – 26 June 2021.

I last checked in near the end of an encounter with “Towns Ellerbee”. The Phantom used that false name. Under it he helped The Trusted Man sneak through Gravelines Prison and free his boss and friend Ernesto Salinas. Salinas tries pondering the mystery of who Towns Ellerbee could be, and finally turns to anagarms. The name translates to “Be Well Ernesto”, a thing I totally would have gotten if I’d thought to pick out proper names.

Salinas's wife, pulling him toward bed: 'Ernesto, it's so late ... ' Ernesto Salinas: 'Yes, my love ... come ... ' We see on the table his anagram solution: 'TOWNS ELLERBEE' rewritten as 'BE WELL ERNESTO'. Underneath, a narrative dedication box: 'In memory of the Trusted Man, Tarquino Felix Flores, 1978 - 2019'.
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 24th of April, 2021. Not to brag of my own anagram prowess but I’m able to work out most Jumble panels if the target word is not ‘OBJECT’. For whatever reason scrambled versions of ‘OBJECT’ throw me. I think it’s my natural assumption that if there’s a ‘J’ it probably starts the word that throws me.

That story, Then Came Towns Ellerbee, ended the 24th of April, with a dedication: “In Memory of the Trusted Man, Tarquino Felix Flores, 1978 – 2019”. Tony DePaul’s blog gives some insight into this “friend and long-time Phantom fan from Mexico”. DePaul’s blog includes photographs of Flores both out and in his costume as lucha libre wrestler El Dentista.


The 26th of April began the 257th Phantom daily story, Hello the Himalayas. Once again after a fairly long (26 week) and action-filled story we got a short (4 week) reflective one. Heloise Walker comes to the Deep Woods, into the Phantom’s Cave, and into even the Chronicle Chamber. And there she writes a letter that she knows she’s “not supposed to be writing” to her brother Kit Junior. She writes of being afraid to sleep, traumatized by nightmares of the night she captured Eric “The Nomad” Sahara. And that she has been trying to reason where exactly Kit Junior is.

Heloise, writing to Kit Jr: 'It wasn't easy to track you down, Kit. I did it to learn whether it was even possible to do so.' (She envisions a body under a burial shroud in the Phantom catacombs.) 'On some terrible day to come, I didn't want us all puzzling over a few vague lines left by dead Phantoms!'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 17th of May, 2021. I do agree with Heloise Walker’s reasoning here. A major crisis is not the time to be fiddling over weird, elliptic clues. Especially from someone like the 21st Phantom, who’s always got about eighteen layers of deceit and secret identities going on.

The Phantom had placed him in secrecy in the Himalayas somewhere, ahead of his anticipated and foiled death in The Curse Of Old Man Mozz. Heloise, thinking it’s daft that nobody knows how to find Kit Junior in case something happens to The Phantom, tried to work out where her brother is. She’s confident she’s figured out what Himalayan monastery he’s at. And she closes up the letter, and seals it, and conceals it within the Chronicle Chamber. With the 22nd of May, this story ends.


The next and current story began the 24th of May. It’s titled To Wrack And Ruin at Gravelines. And it sees the return of Captain Savarna. She’s the oceangoing vigilante whose private gunboat shelled Gravelines Prison to help free Diana Walker from it. We haven’t seen her for several years, I believe since before the contract dispute that threatened to see Tony DePaul leave the comic strip.

The story opens with Colonel Worubu meeting the Unknown Commander of the Jungle Patrol. Part of the raid that got Salinas out of Gravelines Prison was a database of who was being held there. Many are dissidents, opponents of Rhodia’s fascist government. But, Worubu concedes, there are some people there on legitimate grounds. His example is this Indian-national woman who killed nine flag-rank naval officers and four aviators. Even granting that fascists are better off being dead, you can’t fault a government executing someone for that.

The Phantom knows about this. Savarna had killed the Rhodian naval officers who’d sunk her India Voyager II. They were retaliating for her shelling the prison to free Diana Palmer. The Phantom sets his plans to go back to Gravelines and free her, and regrets how this would have been easier if it weren’t right after Salinas’s escape.

Phantom, riding his horse, thinking to himself: 'My son's 7,000 kilometers from home because I was certain I was out of time ... I didn't want Kit called upon in a way he wasn't ready for. Why do I not feel that way about Gravelines now? I should, I think ... Objectively speaking, going back there right now is a fool move.'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 17th of June, 2021. I’m inclined to agree that it’s a foolish move to go back to Gravelines, like, days after breaking out Salinas. On the other hand, they’re probably still working out their assessment of what security failures happened and why, so their procedures might be all a mess right now. Hey, when doing security assessments around Bangalla, how much time is spent arguing whether a threat is The Phantom versus whether it’s something mortals can affect? The Ghost Who Walks has got to be a great excuse for mediocre people to explain why their security isn’t.

Old Man Mozz stops him. Mozz shares a sketch from one of his visions. It’s the hallucination-setting of the story The Llongo Forest. In that vision a spirit presenting as The Phantom’s father warned the Ghost was Walking into oblivion. This as penalty for having not died in The Curse Of Old Man Mozz. The warning said he was now without “the right to lie in the crypt of the Phantoms”.

Now Mozz offers similar warnings: if he interferes with Savarna’s fate, The Phantom’s body will lie in that Llongo Forest doom. And Kit Junior will never return from the Himalayas. And will never be the 22nd Phantom. He even promises that “the journey of the Walkers in this land … will end”.

That doesn’t sound good, no. But even granting that this is happening in a world where prophetic visions happen? I notice Old Man Mozz hasn’t warned that The Phantom will die from this. Nor has he quite said there won’t be a 22nd Phantom. Still, between Old Man Mozz, The Phantom himself, and Heloise Walker, there’s a lot of people with grim visions of what’s to come.

Next Week!

Did Gawain make it past that jousting cheater? Did Valiant escape Lord Hallam’s henchmen? Did we get a successful reorganization of extremely-early-feudal England? I’ll say when I check in with Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant, next week, if plans work out.

What’s Going On In Alley Oop? Why were the giant crabs pinching people? March – June 2021


The Chrabs were on an alternate Earth, Universe 881, not by their own will. They would pinch people to death as they could not bear being around arguments and had ended up in a most argumentative universe. It turns out to be Ollie Arp’s fault, for once.

This should catch you up on Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop to late June 2021. If you’re reading this after about September 2021, there’s probably a more up-to-date plot recap here. Thanks for reading.

Alley Oop.

28 March – 19 June 2021.

I last checked in with Alley Oop as he and the gang prevented the murder of Lady Worthington. They’d gone back in time a little bit to catch Clifford, her butler and secret criminal mastermind. They send Clifford to the universe where everyone is butlers “and definitely not all murderers!”. In her gratitude, Lady Worthington admits she had wanted to steal their technology, but what the heck. Also, she already has a time machine, “from a wild-haired farmer with a penchant for inventing”. That would be Doc Wonmug’s clone of Albert Einstein.


Ooola: 'We should get some clothes so we blend in.' Alley Oop: 'I'm on it!' (Comes back with a heap of Western duds.) Oop: 'Here we are!' Ooola: 'Thanks, Alley. Where did you find these so fast?' Oop: 'I found a ... store ... over there called 'Give Me Your Clothes, Or Else'. ... AND they were free!' Doc Wonmug: 'Wow! What a friendly universe!' Three guys in the background walk past wearing rain barrels.
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 15th of April, 2021. So when I first read this I didn’t notice the guys in barrels, and just took it at face value that Alley Oop had robbed a general store. Yeah, the dialogue doesn’t support that but I read a lot of comics, I can’t pay attention to the words too. It’s a small shame we didn’t see Alley Oop getting the clothes since the eagerness of his victims to comply could have been a sign of what the gimmick this Universe was. But it’s not like it took forever to get to that point either. This was a quickly-told story.

The new, and just-wrapped-up, story began the 12th of April. The gang chooses to explore the mysterious Universe 881, an unexplored and locked universe. (Its password is “password123”.) It looks like an Old West themed world. Alley Oop gets some clothes by going up to some guys and demanding their clothes. They’re happy to comply.

It turns out everyone in this Old West town is happy to comply. Amicable. Someone accused of cheating a poker game denies they could ever value a game over their friendship. An actual showdown turns out to be competitive dancing. The locals don’t ever fight, over anything, because they don’t want to die. Also, on this Earth, if you fight, the Chrabs come out and pinch you to death.

Oop: 'Is all this business about the Chrabs true? It doesn't sound true.' Garnet: 'Now please don't go doin' *that*. You sound argumentative.' Oop: 'I'm NOT!' (A crack in the ground appears and a giant Chrab claw snaps out, trying to grab any of them. The claw vanishes.) Oop: 'I still say I wasn't arguin--- MFFFFF!' (Doc Wonmug covers his mouth.)
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 29th of April, 2021. Garnet, the prospector-y type here, ended up being their companion for the story, and he survives through to the end even.

There weren’t always Chrabs. One day there was a flash of light and then anyone who got a little disagreeable got pinched to death. So Alley Oop and all venture into the City of the Chrabs, using a disguise that gets them arrested immediately. They’re taken to Queen Chrab. (Her name. She’s the democratically-elected president.)

Queen Chrab reveals they’re not from this universe. They’d been minding their own business. There was this flash of light, and then they were stuck in this universe. Doc Wonmug arranges to send the Chrabs back to their home Universe 7. It’s a bigger project than they planned: there’s almost a hundred million of them.

Queen Chrab: 'Thanks again for helping us get back to our universe. We never wanted to be in Univers 881, pinching all those cowboys. We're peaceful beings.' Doc Wonmug: 'See, Alley and Ooola? I've always tried to show you the core benevolence of all living things. It is the nature of life to be kind, and ... ' Alley Oop, being pinched in one of the Chrab's claws: 'Um, Doc.' Pinching Chrab: 'Oops, sorry. Old habits die hard.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 1st of June, 2021. I felt it was too far off point to include but I enjoyed Queen Chrab’s complaint the 20th of May about Universe 881 not having the Interclaw. That’s “a global pinching network. Wherever you are, you can pinch anyone or anything you want!” Also the Chrabs’ whole deal reminds me of one of Jim Toomey’s Sherman’s Lagoon strips, in which Hawthorne the hermit crab gives a utilitarian argument for his pinching people.

So the Chrabs are home. Universe 881 is free of the pinching menace. Everyone can go home. It’s a brilliant success, which is when Ollie Arp, of Universe 3 appears. Ollie’s there to explain what a stupid failure that all was. He sent the Chrabs there, because the Universe 881 humans were far too violent. They were on the brink of destroying their own world. Ah, but the reign of the Chrabs must have made a lasting change in their temperament, right?

Doc Wonmug: 'Things can't be that bad in Universe 881 since we left. I really think they learned their lesson. They seemed very peaceful.' Ollie Arp: 'Hmm. We'll see about that.' They ZANG into Universe 881, where everything is postapocalyptic ruins. Wonmug: 'We were here only an hour ago!' Arp: 'Something tells me you've destroyed universes faster.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 12th of June, 2021. So I concede that dropping the Chrabs into Universe 881 was good for that world. But the setup does mean Ollie Arp went and kidnapped a hundred million people. Yes, you can forgive a crime committed in case of urgent need, but it’s also hard to have urgent need when you have easy control of a time machine and a universe-hopping device. I have to blame this mess more on Ollie Arp for a change.

Ollie Arp figures to try and save … whoever’s survived. He sends Our Heroes home, without charges, since they were trying to do good. And once hope, Ooola ponders whether they actually are doing any good.


There’s not much self-examination, though. From the 18th of June what seems to be a new story starts, with a trip to the 60s to see the Moon Landing. They arrived in 1969 last week. Might know by September how that works out for everyone.

Next Week!

I had just been wondering if we’d ever see Captain Savarna again! And now Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity, is off to find her. We’ll see how we got to that point, and how it’s working out, if all goes well next week.

Mutts is in repeats because the cartoonist is working for the Dalai Lama


Patrick McDonnell’s Mutts is not in reruns yet, as this posts. But D D Degg, at The Daily Cartoonist, passes on word that that’s changing. The comic is to go on sabbatical the 5th of July, and stay in repeats until the 1st of January, 2022. McDonnell, apparently, is “to collaborate with His Holiness the Dalai Lama on a special project”.

I haven’t seen any news about what the project is, or how it came about. If anything does come to me, I’ll try and pass it along.

What’s Going On In The Amazing Spider-Man? Are the other Guardians of the Galaxy in this story? March – June 2021


The current-rerun storyline, the last one I intend to cover here, features Rocket Raccoon. Rocket does mention the rest of the Guardians of the Galaxy. Also the team name. They don’t appear in this story. I don’t remember (from when this ran in 2016-17) if there was any excuse given for their non-appearance then. Could be nobody was picking up Rocket Raccoon’s calls. Also, yes, this story first ran two and a half years after the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie. It did wrap up close to the release of the second movie, at least, so that’s the level of cross-promoting tie-in you got from the newspaper strip.

So this catches you (back) up to mid-June 2021 in Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s The Amazing Spider-Man. This and my other plot recaps, plus any news about the newspaper comic strip if it ever has news again, are at this link. But unless something changes the next plot recap, around September 2021, will be the last of these.

The Amazing Spider-Man.

21 March – 13 June 2021.

My antepenultimate check-in on The Amazing Spider-Man was near the end of the Ant-Man story. Our heroes take the subway home, because they forgot they rented a car to get to the climax. They have coffee together, agree to hang out again sometime, and never do.

The current repeat story started the 26th of March. Mary Jane’s Broadway play, already shut down, has shut down even more. Theater repairs. But that movie she did? Marvella 2: The Rise of Doctor Bong? The producers would like her to do publicity. So they rent a car, like Peter Parker had such trouble doing last story, and aim for Route 66. Somewhere in New Mexico, they see a meteor strike suspiciously close to them and investigate.

Cop, doing the cool-down talk in the diner: 'Okay, 'Thor' --- put down that sledgehammer.' Ronan: 'I do not know any Thor. I am RONAN, the ACCUSER! And I accuse this planet --- of INSUBORDINATION!' He slugs, sending the groaning cop flying backward.
Roy Thomas and Larry Lieber’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 9th of April, 2021. So Ronan came to Earth and is just going to punch people until they guess what he’s looking for. I get his assertion that he’s not here to answer questions. But when he demands “WHERE IS IT?” and people ask what “it” is, I mean. You’re not lessening your majesty to let them know whether it’s an object, an event, a location, a feeling, something like that.

The suspicious meteor is actually a suspicious flying saucer. Inside is Ronan The Accuser, who’s come tens of thousands of light years to mess with patrons at a Route 66 Diner. “WHERE IS IT?” he demands, refusing to answer what “it” he means. “Do you want our 600-pound man-killing Mystery Spot?” they ask, assuming supposing he’s here for the tourist trap stuff. “The world’s largest pair of size-32 men’s slacks? (The pant legs have a 612 inseam.) The world’s Most Electrified Mirror Maze? Are you here for the Dueling 40-foot-tall Tic-Tac-Toe Chickens? The Northernmost South Pole Below the 37th Parallel? North America’s Highest Ball of String?” He refuses to say, instead punching out Peter Parker. (Mary Jane, aware she has no powers and is facing a possible supervillain, stayed in the car.) Ronan slurps a bunch of diner food up into his magic hammer, deflating his menace a bit, and storms off seeking The Sentry.

[ An entity called Ronan the Accuser has invaded a New Mexico roadside diner ... ] Mary Jane, thinking: 'It's been too long since Peter went inside to stop that robbery --- or whatever it was. I've got to see if there's anything I can ... ' Peter Parker comes crashing out the plate glass window. Mary Jane: 'Peter --- are you all right?' Peter: 'D - do I look ... all ... ' (He passes out) Mary Jane: 'PETER!' Ronan: 'Defeating my LAST victim depleted some of my energy. These FOODSTUFFS will help me replenish it!' (A bunch of diner food, including the coffee carafe, swoops up toward his hammer.) Ronan: 'Now I must find THAT WHICH I SEEK --- before it is TOO LATE!'
Roy Thomas and Larry Lieber’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 18th of April, 2021. Ronan is making way too big a scene out of swiping an ice cream cookie sandwich and some fried broccoli.

Peter and Mary Jane don’t know where Ronan’s off to. They also don’t try calling the Fantastic Four, who’ve dealt with Ronan before. Other superheroes never pick up Peter Parker’s calls. That’s not even my joke; he’s gotten Reed Richards’s answering machine in past stories. Anyway, there’s another suspicious meteor strike nearby. (Mary Jane, aware she has no powers and is facing a possible supervillain, insists on going with.) And inside is Rocket Raccoon.

Spider-Man, to a web-bound Rocket Raccoon: 'Now that you're all webbed up, we can have a little talk.' Rocket: 'Yeah, you *do* that, seein' as how I'm so HELPLESS and all.' He jumps right at Spider-Man's belly, knocking him over. Spider-Man grabs the bound Rocket: 'Are you a raccoon --- or a wolverine?' Rocket: 'You're just makin' up all these nutty names, right?'
Roy Thomas and Larry Lieber’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 12th of may, 2021. Spidey had just joked that it had been three opponents since his webs caught anyone. Anyway, Ronan’s lingua-trans told the Accuser just what a spider was, and enough context to know spiders are easily squashed by humanoids. So why isn’t Rocket’s Lingua-Trans conveying the gist of what raccoons and wolverines mean to humans?

They do the ritual superhero meeting-fight, with Spidey oddly confident he should be doing better against a space raccoon. And then they remember there’s not a blasted thing for them to fight over. Anyway, Rocket Raccoon is on Earth to find the Intergalactic Sentry that Ronan’s after. The Intergalactic Sentry’s this Kree Empire superweapon that blah blah galaxy conquest etc. Also Rocket hopes to deploy a lot of hilarious 60s-70s comic book techno-wordistrifications. He’s got a Lingua-Trans, for example, which is why everyone understands him. A trackoscan that might find Ronan. A ptero-salad sandwich for lunch. He reads the news-a-gram. Talks of putting Ronan into electro-manacles. It’s my level of goofy.

Rocket’s ready to go searching on his own. Spider-Man points out he lives in the galaxy so he’s got an interest in it not being conquered. Mary Jane, aware she has no powers and is facing a possible supervillain, insists on going with.

Motel Manager: 'Hey, kid --- your folks know you're out here eatin' garbage from a trash can?' Rocket: 'Garbage? So that's your name for it? When I ate one on Sirius-12, it was called a Radium Prospector's Delight!' Manager, grabbing Rocket: 'C'mon! can't have you runnin' around at night in that dumb costume!' Rocket: 'LEMME GO!'
Roy Thomas and Larry Lieber’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 1st of June, 2021. I am amused that the more insistently Rocket goes on about his space stuff, the more he sounds like a difficult kid who just WILL NOT STOP with his space stuff. Also, since he could grab and carry Rocket without trouble, the motel manager has super-strength beyond Spider-Man’s, right?

They check into a motel, excusing Rocket’s appearance as their kid wearing a Halloween costume. The motel owner is skeptical. “If that’s a Halloween costume, why isn’t it a cheap plastic mask with a broken rubber band, plus a flimsy T-shirt showing a picture of a raccoon?” But also he doesn’t care. At least not until a naked Rocket sneaks out, looking for food, and gets into a fight with a coyote over the trash bins.

Mary Jane: 'Rocket, if you keep attracting people's attention --- ' Peter Parker: 'The Men In Black'll show up and toss you into an alien holding cell!' Rocket: 'Hey, a guy's gotta eat! Now, if you'll give me some space ... I'll finish adjusting my Trackoscan to Ronan's Aura!' Mary Jane, Peter: '?'
Roy Thomas and Larry Lieber’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 3rd of June, 2021. Rocket raiding a trash can is not my favorite development. But it starts from a good spot, with Rocket waking and surprised they need more than one hour a night’s sleep. It’s a plausible reason he’d have time to kick around and get very hungry. And it’s the sort of mistake nobody has to be dumb to make.

Rocket’s track-o-scan finds Ronan. The Accuser is at Petroglyph National Monument, a National Park with thousands of figures carved by Pueblo peoples. The “star person” carving Rocket Raccoon identifies as the marker for the ancient Kree starship used to transport sentries. The revelation, about a real-world petroglyph, is not even the littlest bit near the racist “Ancient Astronaut” myth so don’t worry about that. Rocket and Spider-Man head off for Ronan. Mary Jane, aware she has no powers and is facing a possible supervillain, stays in the car.

This story has about thirteen weeks left to it. So my plan is to run the next Spider-Man plot recap a week late, and give the web-slinger an honorable retirement. I haven’t decided what if anything will take its place in my rotation. I’m up for thoughts, if anyone has them.

Next Week!

Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop took a little break from time travel to do some dimension-hopping instead. That worked out great for all the dimensions involved, right? If all goes to plan, we’ll check in next week and see. Thanks for reading.

What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? Why is Gil Thorp sometimes in color now? March – May 2021


Beats me! There’s a couple different feeds for Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp and one of them offers colorized pictures. GoComics.com, where I read the strip, has, like, always used the black-and-white feed. But then in March it started, sometimes, switching to the color feed for a week or two. And then switching back to black-and-white. If I ever hear an explanation why I’ll pass it on. I do find the color version of the strip easier to read, making me wonder how Rod Whigham plans out the comics.

So this essay, I hope, will catch you up to date on Gil Thorp for late May 2021. If you’re reading after about August 2021 there’s likely a more up-to-date Gil Thorp plot recap here. Thanks for reading.

Gil Thorp.

8 March – 30 May 2021.

When last we saw Milford Sports, girls basketball center Tessi Milton was declining Vic Doucette for a date. Any date. This after she flirted with him to get the enthusiastic student sports commenter to cover girls basketball games.

The other girls basketball players decide Doucette needs to know she’ll never date him and why. She says it’s because he drives this “grandpa van”. The other players take her at her word. I’d wonder if Milton was offering a less-bad excuse than that she doesn’t want to date someone handicapped like Doucette is. His car is a 2004 GMC Something, modified so that he can drive it on days his cerebral palsy is particularly bad.

So they tell him. She won’t date him, because of his car. “And because she’s vapid and shallow”. Doucette says he can stop working on his prom-posal, then, a statement they take at face value. I’m not sure he wasn’t being wry. Doucette’s friend Doug Guthrie (they bonded over car stuff) tries consoling by the weird tack of asking why he was interested in Milton at all. Doucette liked how she was cute and seemed interested in him, and asks if that isn’t shallow. Which … like, all right, but you don’t need deep reasons to go see a movie with someone. It could be Guthrie’s bad at sympathy. But Guthrie does know that revenge is a dish best served in a cryptic, confusing way.

[ At the unofficial team photo ] A 1966 Pontiac GTO, licence plate 'MST3K', drives up in front of the girls basketball team. Vic Doucette waves from the driver's seat: 'Hey, Tessi! Looking good!' And then the car tears out of there.
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 26th of March, 2021. Okay, so I see why the boys teams can’t get to the playdowns if they’re made up of Mystery Science Theater 3000 nerds and not athletes. Quick check here, Coach Thorp: if you tell a player “heads up” and toss a softball at them, do they flinch before or after the ball hits them? If it’s after, maybe make them second-string.

Guthrie gets the team to take some photos. At the photo session, after the team gets knocked out of the first round of playdowns? Why, Doucette pulls up behind the wheels of a 1966 Pontiac Something, which I’m told is a cool car to have. He waves to Milton and then tears off.

He’s physically able to do this because Doug Guthrie crouches under the seat, working the pedals. (It’s Guthrie’s car; he and his father restored it.) And that sure showed her … uh … I’m not sure I can tell you. It has the shape of revenge, but I can’t imagine Milton feeling humiliated by this. But I also can’t read Doucette as being too traumatized by someone who flirted with him not being willing to date. Disappointed, sure, but … ? Eh, what do I understand of high school drama?


With that, the 27th of March, the Vic Doucette and girls-basketball storyline ended. The current one began the 29th of March, with one of the Milford Library Board resigning. Family’s moving to Denver. Also with senior Zane Clark rejoining the boys softball team. Things are “looking up” at home, in that he thinks he can make the time to be on the ball team. His father’s disabled, and his mother can only work part-time. So Zane Clark’s working, like, to midnight most nights. I am not sure what Zane thinks is “looking up”. But he’s also the vice-president of the senior class. So he seems to be one of those people who needs to do everything. He might even see his girlfriend Katy Brito again.

Meanwhile, Brito’s family Internet is out. This sends her father, grumbling, to the library to get some work done. There, Abel Brito discovers the library has computers that aren’t even being used. And a librarian who’s just, like, standing there answering questions that better signage could handle. He comes home fuming about the waste of taxpayer money.

(At a family dinner) [ Abel Brito gets ramped up --- again --- about the library ] Abel: 'Seriously, why do they need all those computers?' Zach Clark: 'For people like me! We can't even pay for cable anymore, Mr Brito. We have three kids sharing one outdated PC.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 23rd of April, 2021. “And another thing! The library had lights on over stacks that nobody was even in! And don’t get me started on how much money they’re throwing down the toilet with bathrooms on both floors of the building!”

He’s still fuming weeks later, after Zane Clark’s first and ultimately successful spell as relief pitcher, when he comes for a family dinner. Clark takes Abel’s attack on the library having computers personally. He depends on them, after all, and knows other people do, and that the library does not always have more than it needs. And storms out. It plays a bit abrupt, but we have to allow some narrative compression. I suppose also that they must have met before. The story introduces Clark and Katy Brito as an established couple. And Abel Brito must have been like this before. You don’t wake up one day the sort of person who fumes about the city spending money on the library. You get there by making a long series of wrong choices about your politics.

Mrs Brito says if Abel is so worked up about the library why doesn’t he join its board. And since it would be a terrible idea for him to take this advice, he takes this advice. When Clark learns there aren’t any other candidates, he decides to take responsibility and applies. Partly to kick back at Abel Brito, yes. Partly also because Corinna Karenna has pointed out his need to focus instead of bouncing around things. She meant about his pitching, which flutters between lousy and awesome. But when you give someone advice there’s no controlling how they’re going to use it.

So things look to be exciting for Katy Brito, who knew nothing about Clark’s plans until after they were made. So she’s angry at him, even though he declares he can’t see what he was wrong about.

Mimi Thorp: 'I'm telling you, Corina, you're a college-level talent.' Corina Karenna: 'Maybe. But I didn't go to any of the camps that get you noticed. And I haven't even applied, and it isn't going to happen. Okay?' Later, Gil Thorp: 'The problem is, she's right. The athletic scholarships are taken, and most admissions deadlines were months ago.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 27th of May, 2021. I don’t know why every time we cut away to Gil and Mimi Thorp they’re cooking but I guess that’s a normal thing to do. Me, I grew up in a family with the rule that if one person was cooking everyone else cleared out except to fetch things as directed.

Meanwhile there’s a story going about Corina Karenna. She’s been delivering blunt and perceptive advice to the Milford kids. Coach Mimi Thorp also notes she’s a skilled athlete. Has she considered applying for athletic scholarships to college? Karenna has. But her mother’s too depressed to function if she were to go to college. And anyway, all the deadlines are long past. I don’t know whether the Thorps are going to find some way around that. Sometimes the comic strip admits that things suck and there’s only bits one can do about that. We’ll have to wait and see what develops.

Milford Sports Watch!

Who does Milford play? Who do they just talk about playing? Here’s teams that showed up in the strip the last couple months.

Next Week!

Did April Parker just extract Randy Parker from his own comic strip? Did Sam Driver just get arrested? I hope to have any kind of answers when I look over Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker next week, all going well.

What’s Going On In Rex Morgan, M.D.? What does Buck Wise do? February – May 2021


Buck Wise, who’s been the conduit for a lot of the stories in Rex Morgan, M.D., since I started recapping, is … uh … He does merchandising somehow, and that’s got him in touch with a bunch of comic artists. Some, like “Horrible” Hank Harwood, were famous in the old days. Some, like Kyle Vidpa, are rising stars of today.

This should catch you up on the strip to late May 2021. If you’re reading this after about August 2021 and need a recap? Or if news about Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. breaks out? An essay at this link might be more useful to you. Now let’s get into details.

Rex Morgan, M.D..

28 February – 23 May 2021.

My last checkup with Rex Morgan, M.D., saw Buck Wise acclimating to living with diabetes. Some diet changes, some exercise changes, and all that. It wrapped up about a week later.

And since then? … It’s been a gentle plot even for a story strip that was already full of gentle plotting. This started with Sarah Morgan feeling neglected by her parents and having a string of fantasies. So she imagined what if her father wasn’t a doctor? What if he was, say, a Western cowboy? So this started a series of fantasy sequences which let Terry Beatty show off different ways he could draw the strip if it had a different theme. The first sequence, Tex Morgan, ran from the 9th through the 17th of March. It was about Tex Morgan saving Sarah from kidnapping desperado Butch Belluso.

[ Sarah imagines Rex is a cowboy in the old west. ] Villager: 'Who's that *other* feller ridin' into town?' Tex Morgan: 'That's my sidekick, Buck. The ol' Buckaroo.' Second Villager: 'Why, sure. Every hero has to have a sidekick, don't he?' Villager: 'How come, though? All they ever do is get captured and such.' Third Villager: 'Well, that drives the *story*, see? Creates a conflict and all that here.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 13th of March, 2021. One can admire young Sarah’s understanding of the needs of drama without wondering why she doesn’t depict her teachers or babysitter or anyone besides her dad’s friend’s friends.

As happens, Sarah got tired of the setting, so she changed genre, and Beatty changed art style. And we got a couple weeks of Rod Morgan, a Dick Tracy-esque figure. This carried on her rescue from Shinytop, who’s another representation of Rene Belluso. So that ran from the 18th through the 26th of March. From the 27th, it shifted once more into a Batman ’66 pastiche, Doctor Rex and Princess. Here, again, foiling The Forger, another Rene Belluso figure, who’s been forging all sorts of classic bits of comic art. And that went on through the 8th of April, when Rex had some time away from not seeing patients to talk with Sarah. He promised to spend some more time with her, alone. And she promises to write out these stories she’s making up.


We get a short visit with Jordan Harris and Michelle Carter, from the 25th of April through the 2nd of May. They now plan to get married over Zoom, we get into the next and current story. It’s again through Sarah Morgan. Her new favorite books ever are the Kitty Cop series of books, by Kyle Vidpa. Who’s a client of Buck Wise’s, it happens. She can’t wait for the next book in the series. She starts writing a fan letter, encouraged by Buck Wise’s promise that he can get him to actually read it himself. Before you know it, Sarah’s on page 782 of her letter.

Which may work out for Kyle Vidpa. He’s been suffering writer’s block. After having Kitty Cop fight a giant robot, a giant robot dinosaur, a giant robot monkey, and a giant robot squirrel, what’s next? (My suggestion: two regular-size robot bunnies.) His wife offers limited sympathy since she figures children’s books are silly and thus easy. It’s an attitude I imagine gets her talked about when they go to professional conferences. But she does offer the advice that they’ve been stuck in one house for a year-plus now. Any kind of visit, even to see family, may help him.

Lauren Vidpa: 'Maybe you should just focus on the business stuff today. Look over those toy designs and get back to Buck. Don't worry about the new book.' Kyle Vidpa: 'Easy for you to say. You don't have FIVE MILLION nine-year-olds desperately waiting for YOU to deliver a new volume.' Lauren: 'You can't think about that. Just take a day to do the business stuff, and relax --- a new story will come to you --- it always does.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 15th of May, 2021. Sure, Lauren here doesn’t have five million nine-year-olds waiting for the new Kitty Cop volume. But she does have several hundred parents of those nine-year-olds who are blaming her, specifically, for the Kitty Cop books not coming out faster. And they’ve found her Facebonk page, so she’s having a great time, really.

And that’s where things stand. We have a children’s book writer with no ideas for his next work. We have a child about to unleash an 86,398-page fan latter on him. The child’s been shown to have an energy for creating at least fragments of stories in traditional comic-strip or pulpy modes. Will those come together? I don’t know. My experience with writers block is sometimes someone else’s ideas, without my using them, will shake my own thinking loose.

Couple curious things in Sarah’s imaginary versions of her father. One is that these stories are self-aware, with the characters talking about how they know they’re sidekicks or villains or whatnot. Sometimes complaining about their parts in the story. I’m fine with that, though. Self-aware stories are some of the most liberating and wonderful things a child can discover and it’s natural to imitate that.

[ Sarah Morgan's imaginary adventures of DOCTOR REX and Princess - It's not over yet, folks! ] Belluso, The Forger, to the camera: 'I'm the villain of this thing, and I'm STILL on the loose! So MANY clown portraits left to paint!' He's in front of an erzatz Emmet Kelly clown portrait. [ SARAH's imaginary adventure continues. Having escaped the Forger's death trap in the art museum, DOCTOR REX and THE PRINCESS track the nasty and notorious FORGER to his secret lair! ] Rex and Sarah crash through the skylight. Rex: 'Time to take your MEDICINE, you dime-store doodler!' The Forger: 'ARRGGHH! You escaped my trap! Impossible!' Buck: 'Well, it's clearly *possible*, Boss. I mean, look, they're right there!' Forger: 'You are the WORST henchman ever. You know what? You're fired. Just FIRED. I am SO done with you.' Buck: 'Do I still get my severance package?' Forger: 'WHAT? NO! Now get out so I can defeat these caped crimefighters!' Buck: 'NEITHER of them wears a cape. LOOK --- no CAPES. Y'know, for an ARTIST you're really not very OBSERVANT.' [ To be concluded --- SOOON, we hope! ]
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 4th of April, 2021. All right, he doesn’t pay attention to capes, but he can just nail a bicycle, from memory. Anyway, you see how much fun Terry Beatty was having with this. I’m not sure how much of this reflects how fun it can be to do a bunch of story beats without worrying about needing a resolution.

More curious is that in all of them Rene Belluso is a villain, and particularly an art forger. The real Belluso is both. Last we saw him he’d been arrested for running scams on Covid-19 victims, and before that he was running a Celestial Healing health scam. Before that, he was forging art, too, yes. But when Sarah did know him (mostly before Terry Beatty took over the writing) it was him as an art instructor. Does she actually know any other side of him? I do not remember. But we can suppose Sarah’s parents said something about why she was suddenly no longer seeing this adult. I can’t answer what Sarah knows about Rene Belluso is all.

Next Week!

High school sports! Which gets us hip-deep into Public Library Politics. How? I’ll explain as I recap Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp in one week, unless circumstances interfere.

Statistics Saturday: Comic Strips That _Starlog_ Thought Were Being Made Into Movies in 1987


Not listed: that time Ralph Bakshi thought he was making a primetime TV cartoon version of Blade Runner.

Starlog magazine MediaLog entry: 'Animation: it's not a dream. Really. Back in the animation races after a career hiatus to concentrate on painting, Ralph Bakshi has acquired the rights to a recent SF classic. Bakshi is developing an animated version of Blade Runner, aimed at a primetime TV slot. This projected Blade Runner would combine some animated characters with some live-action background elements.'
Wait, an only partly-animated Ralph Bakshi project? How could that ever happen?

Also not mentioned: that Tintin project because I don’t think Tintin was ever a comic strip and, like, Betty Boop had a short-lived comic even if it wasn’t good.

Also, coming back to the mentioned: Motley’s Crew? Really? Huh. I mean, I guess that’s a comic strip that existed all right, but … Really. Huh. I mean … huh. You’re passing on Bill Schorr’s The Grizzwells for this, then.

Reference: Nathaniel’s Nutmeg: How One Man’s Courage Changed The Course of History, Giles Milton.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Sundays)? Who’s this Ghost Phantom haunting the Phantom? February – May 2021


We don’t yet know! The current story has a mysterious Visitor who looks and acts like The Phantom apart from walking past everyone, ignoring them. Our Ghost Who Walks is sharing what he knows, from the Chronicles, about That Ghost Who Walks Too. But we haven’t got much specific information yet. It’ll be a good gag if it turns out there’s a parallel line of fathers passing down to sons a sacred obligation to sometimes mess with The Phantom.

This should catch you up to mid-May 2021 in Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom, Sunday continuity. For the weekday continuity, or for a Sundays plot recap after about August 2021, you may find a more useful post here.

The Phantom (Sundays).

21 February – 16 May 2021.

The story of The Phantom’s rescue of The Detective was all but wrapped up when I checked in in February. Over the next month it completely wrapped up. Detective Yusuf Ali Malango reported in about busting up that crime syndicate. And about how The Phantom made it possible. His supervisor keeps this out of the record as they’re not dealing in legends here. Malango hikes out to that carved mountain where his grandmother’s been waiting for news, and all’s happy. This, the 14th of March, wraps up “Vigil at Phantom Head”.

In the deep woods. The Detective: 'Bibi, what are you doing way out here? I go on a little vacation ... and you? You move into the jungle with your crazy little dog?' Dog: 'Arf!' Bibi, hugging her grandson: 'Oh, Yusuf! You're HERE! You're really here!' The Detective: 'I'm here, Bibi ... let's get your camp picked up.' [ Bound For Home ] The Detective, finishing packing: 'That looks like everything ... it's a long trek home, Bibi. Ready?' She's looking into the distance. 'Bibi?' The Detective follows her line of sight: '!! I should have known he'd be here ... ' In the far distance is The Phantom, riding his horse, away from the mountain carved with The Phantom's face.
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 14th of March, 2021. The Phantom is lucky the 7th Phantom didn’t happen to get all the pudgy-face genes, so the Emperor Joonkar’s Phantom Head Peak matches well enough.


The 191st and current Sunday continuity story, “The Visitor”, began the 21st of March.

It begins with Babudan, master tracker of the Bandar people, seeing The Phantom walk right past, ignoring him. Which is strange on several grounds, not least that The Phantom is away from the Deep Woods. Dozens of people, including Diana, see The Ghost Who Ghosts Them, including inside Skull Cave.

The Phantom knows what this is, though. And he’s excited, almost giddy. It’s fun to see. He invites the Bandars’ “best listeners” into Skull Cave, so he can show off his newly-renovated Hall of Costumes. The renovations better show off the outfits past Phantoms wore. He’s been waiting for an excuse to show this off.

The Phantom, holding up several Chronicles and smiling to Guran and Babudan: 'Today I'd like the tribe to her what the 3rd, 6th, 12th, and 16th Phantoms had to say!' [ Who should hear the tale? ] 'The young! After all, the lore will be in their care when none of us are here to tell it.' Guran: 'Agreed!' The Phantom: 'Send your best listeners to Skull Cave --- we'll rely on them to tell the tale to the tribe.' Babudan: 'Why not speak before the village yourself, Phantom?' Phantom: 'We'd need Mandrake to pull off that trick, Babudan! The etire village can't squeeze into the Hall of Costumes!' Babudan, exiting the cave: 'Hall of Costumes?' Guran: 'His home improvement project ... he's bursting with pride to show it off! Don't say I told you ... ' The Phantom, unlocking a door with Skull and Good Mark ring patterns on it: 'Wait'll the kids see this!'
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 18th of April, 2021. The Skull disc on the left represents the Skull Ring. The Phantom punches the true evildoers with it so hard they keep a skull impression on them for life. So what happens if they reform? How do they get their good name back? I guess that’s the use for the other pattern, the thing that looks like four P’s laced together. That pattern’s on the Good Mark ring. For those who’ve done significant good The Phantom … uh … it seems out of character that he would punch them so hard they get left with that on their foreheads. Apparently they’re more likely to get a medallion. I don’t know how they prevent counterfeits. Helen Walker used one so she and Kadia Sahara could escape into the Bangallan Embassy.

So what’s the deal with Other Phantom? The 3rd, 6th, 12th, and 16th Phantoms encountered it too. He’s started telling about the Third Phantom’s encounter. This is the encounter that gave The Ghost Who Haunts The Ghost Who Walks And Who Also Walks the less cumbersome name of “The Visitor”. The Visitor, too, appeared in the contemporary Phantom’s garb and walked past Bandar villagers, shunning them. The Visitor left footprints, so is not a ghost. The footprints vanish, the way a ghost’s might. And that’s about all we know so far.

Next Week!

Why was Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. a Western comic for a while, and why did it stop? And then go be a superhero comic a bit? We’ll explore next week, if all goes well.

Buckles up again


A bit of happy news for fans of David Gilbert’s Buckles, which ended back in March. The comic strip about a dog and his family has moved over to GoComics, which is rerunning the strip from its beginning. I don’t know whether there’ll be archives of the whole quarter-century run of the comic, but at least something’s available.

GoComics’s blog has a short interview with Gilbert which doesn’t answer my big question: why Gilbert ended the strip, on short notice, days before the 25th anniversary of the comic’s beginning. There’s a reference to his post-retirement happiness at not having a deadline to meet. But that’s not much to go on.

Paul, human: 'Buckles, wanna go out?' Buckles: 'Yeah!' Paul: 'Do ya wanna go out, boy?!! Huh? Do ya?!' Buckles: 'Yeah!! Out!! Yeah!!' Paul: 'Do you really, really, REALLY wanna go out?!!!' Buckles, dancing: 'YES!!! PAUL!!! YES!!!' Buckles, in his doghouse outside, moping: 'I thought he meant out to a movie or something.'
David Gilbert’s Buckles repeat for the 10th of May, 2021. This ran originally the 25th of March, 1996. I’m aware the link calls this “First Buckles”, but GoComics prepends “First” to the start of any of their comic strip archives; see “First” Agnes or “First” Gil or “First” Peanuts. I don’t know why they do that rather than have the “back” button bring you to a page that warns that’s the start of the archive.

Gilbert does say he has a few things in mind for what to do next, including “a new idea for a comic strip”. That would seem to conflict with a love of not facing deadlines. But in this web comic era it is easier to schedule one’s work so the deadlines don’t overload you.

What’s Going On In Mary Worth? Why is some woman screaming at Drew Cory? February – May 2021


That woman is Ashlee Jones. She did not take well Drew Cory’s having to cancel their photoshoot when he got called in to his actual work.

There’s a bunch of content warnings I need to give for this plot recap of Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth. The first is that the main story, the one that began at the end of December and wrapped up in mid-April, concerns a survivor of spousal abuse. It also takes a detour into pet endangerment. The pet is physically unharmed and quickly recovers from his ordeal in this case. But the pet is also shown to have been physically harmed in the past. If that isn’t enough, the current storyline features a character that looks ready to become a stalker. Certainly emotionally dangerous, anyway. If any of that is stuff you don’t want to deal with in your recreational reading, you are right, and we’ll catch up next time. My next Mary Worth plot recap should be linked here, sometime after mid-August 2021. So should any news I have about the strip. Thanks for reading.

Mary Worth.

7 February – 8 May 2021.

Last time I checked in the story was about Saul Wynter and new Charterstone resident Eve Lourd. Lourd froze up, crying, at a men’s clothing store in the mall. After avoiding Wynter a while she explained. The suit reminded her of her late husband, who was emotionally and physically abusive. And from here I’m putting things behind a cut.

Over dinner. Saul Wynter: 'Bad memories can be hard to escape.' Eve Lourd: 'I still struggle with them.' Wynter: 'I used to have that problem too and it made me a cranky old man. Greta helps me to enjoy the present.' Lourd: 'If I didn't have Max, I don't know what I'd do!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 12th of February, 2021. One of the little threads of Saul Wynter’s story has been his transition from gleefully cranky old guy into a pleasant person to be around. I can’t say it quite feels like the Personality Transplant Fairy of soap opera lore visited. It’s heartening to think that even really well-worn grooves in one’s personality might be given up, and happier ones found, given a fair chance.

Over a dinner at home Wynter asks if Lourd has talked to a professional. Yes, she has started talking to a therapist. This would seem to resolve the story, but doesn’t. It continues another two months. One small slice of this is discussion of Wynter’s own problems. His parents pressured him to marry someone he didn’t love, and he grew bitter and cranky over that for decades. But then he got a great dog and he feels he’s all better.

If you feel that “great dog” is a redundancy, good news: Karen Moy and June Brigman agree. Much of the two months covered here is Wynter and Lourd agreeing how dogs are great, and then getting worried when one goes missing.

The one who goes missing is Max, Eve Lourd’s Labrador retriever. They have a very tight bond. When her husband once tried to shoot her(!), Max got in the way, taking the bullet instead(!!). It’s a heck of a moment to take.

[ When Eve's dog Max runs away during a storm ... ] Lourd, describing: 'He bolted past me and before I knew it, he was gone! The thunder sounded like gunshots! After Gary shot Max, sudden loud noises scare him!' Wynter: 'We'll find him, Eve! The storm is letting up, and Greta has a great nose! IF anyone can find him, she can!' Lourd: 'We HAVE TO FIND HIM, Saul! Max is everything to me! I don't know how to go on without him!' Wynter: 'With Greta Wynter leading the way ... WE WILL!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 28th of February, 2021. I grant someone might say the illustration of Greta in the last panel there looks silly, but have you ever looked at a dachshund, or any other short dog, running? I mean really looked? Thank you.

A couple nights later a heavy storm rolls in. Max, scared, races out into the storm. Lourd goes to Wynter for help. He doesn’t need cajoling to start a search. He has the idea that Greta, his dachshund, might even be able to track Max down. I’m skeptical that a dog who wasn’t trained for that would be able to. But Wynter also might be telling Lourd this as reassurance, even if the actual work will be their looking around. Wynter does have a thought balloon where he wonders if Greta isn’t following the scent, though.

They find Max, though, at what I think is a bench along their usual walking path. They celebrate with lunch and with treats and praise for their dogs. And talk about how great dogs are. They even speculate whether their dogs could make good therapy dogs. I again wonder if they’re underestimating how hard it is to be a therapy dog. But few people doubt that their own pets are extraordinary members of that animal kind. I say this as caretaker for the most adorably snuggly and flop-prone rabbit in existence.

After this we get the ritual week of thanking Mary Worth for … uh … something. I guess she advised Wynter to let Lourd open up as she felt comfortable. we also get some time with Lourd talking with her therapist about moving on from a toxic or abusive relationship. It seems to be working, though. On a return visit to the mall Lourd isn’t thrown by the men’s clothing store.


And finally, the 11th of April, with Wynter and Lourd sharing frozen yogurt, that story ends. The new, current story began the 12th of April.

It centers on Dr Drew Cory, son of Mary Worth’s eternal paramour Dr Jeff Cory. Drew Cory’s become an Instagram nature-photo person in his spare time. Ashlee Jones, waitress at a diner, recognizes him over lunch. She loves his wildlife and forest scene photos. She’s a photographer too, specializing in selfies as she hopes to be a model. And she has a great idea: why doesn’t he take pictures of her?

Ashlee Jones: You have some nerve! You think you're BETTER than me ... don't you? You think you can just BLoW ME OFF, Drew Cory? Huh? Do you?' Cory: 'NO, I had to go to work ... I was called in unexpectedly, Ashlee. I'm sorry I cancelled our photoshoot! We'll do our photos another day! I'm about to take my break now ... Let's go out and get something to eat ... ' Jones: 'Okay.'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 9th of May, 2021. I for one am glad this problem’s resolved quickly! I see no warning signs here! Apart from that Plato quote which I bet was created by BrainyQuote.

He’s skeptical but willing. Unfortunately, he has to break their photo-session date when he’s called in to the hospital, and leaves a voice mail with the bad news. She shows up at the hospital anyway, crying and cursing him out for standing her up. He talks her into calmness, for now … and that’s where the story stands.

Dubiously Sourced Mary Worth Sunday Panel Quotes!

The auto care place up the street continues to simply thank the local economic development council for help staying open through the disaster. So let’s get on to the things that famous people mostly didn’t say.

  • “To love at all is to be vulnerable.” — C S Lewis, 7 February 2021.
  • “Instead of forcing yourself to feel positive, allow yourself to be present in the now.” — Daniel Mangena, 14 February 2021.
  • “Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.” — Roger Caras, 21 February 2021.
  • “We live in a rainbow of chaos.” — Paul Cezanne, 28 February 2021.
  • “The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” — Henry David Thoreau, 7 March 2021.
  • “Everything I know I learned from dogs.” — Nora Roberts, 14 March 2021.
  • “This life is worth living … since it is what we make it.” — William James, 21 March 2021.
  • “Food is our common ground, a universal experience.” — James Beard, 28 March 2021.
  • “Forgiveness is just another name for freedom.” — Byron Kate, 4 April 2021.
  • “Be present — it is the only moment that matters.” — Dan Millman, 11 April 2021.
  • “I have found that if you love life, life will love you back.” — Arthur Rubenstein, 18 April 2021.
  • “The secret to life is meaningless unless you discover it yourself.” — W Somerset Maugham, 25 April 2021.
  • “Attraction is beyond our will or ideas sometimes.” — Juliette Binoche, 2 May 2021.
  • “Human behavior flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge.” — Plato, 9 May 2021.

Next Week!

It’s a Ghost Who Walks out of Skull Cave and through the Deep Woods. And it’s messing with The Phantom for a change! It’s Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom, Sunday continuity, if all goes to plan. See you then.