What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? Did Chet Ballard get his comeuppance yet? October 2019 – January 2020


If you’re reading this after about April 2020 there’s probably a more current plot recap for Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp at this link. If you’re reading this in about January 2020, please carry on.

Gil Thorp.

21 October 2019 – 12 January 2020.

The standings at the end of last quarter, back in football season. Chet Ballard doesn’t see why his stepson Charlie Roh isn’t getting more play time. He’s also overheard Chance Macy, who is getting more play time, talk with his grandparents about whether he’s “blowtop mad”. He wants to know what the heck that means, but heck if my essay helped him much. It means uncontrollably mad, the kind of mad that makes you a danger. And why it is Coach Gil Thorp favors the guy who doesn’t fumble so much. Luckily, though, Chet Ballard is also head of the Milford school board, so he can look up Chance Macy’s Permanent Record.

Macy’s Permanent Record reveals a lot of behavior issues, and time at a “special school for problem kids”. Ballard’s wife points out, how is this his business again? Carol Other School Board Person points out there are privacy laws in this state. Ballard agrees to give it a rest. By “a rest” he means “a call to Milford Local Newspaper reporter Marjie Ducey”. Ducey doesn’t see where Macy’s history belongs in the newspaper. Local Newspaper hasn’t carried Gil Thorp since that Left Behind guy stopped writing it. But she wonders about the strange voice mail.

Gil Thorp: 'Legally, I probably shouldn't be telling you all this, so don't turn me in. Poor Chance said, 'I'm sorry I'm a bad teammate, but who'd want to hurt me?'' Mimi Thorp: 'That sad, sweet child.' Gil: 'And the fact is, he's a great teammate. But he doesn't believe it.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 2nd of November, 2019. I choose to believe Neal Rubin is making a wry and self-aware comment in a story that’s built entirely on professionals disregarding a student’s privacy.

Thorp goes to Macy’s home to share what he knows about this leak. Macy takes the news well, but worries about who would want to harass him like this. At the game against Madison, Macy steps aside with an ankle injury, giving Charlie Roh a touchdown. Gil Thorp overheard Ballard saying “all the yards, none of the baggage”, and has his idea who called in the Chance Macy story. Marjie Ducey and Education reporter Niah Peters try to figure out who made the call, but there’s few good leads to follow.

So Chet Ballard, needing to do something dumb, goes to the dumb expert, sports radio broadcaster Marty Moon. He shares his concerns about “irregularities” with one of Thorp’s players. While he does this, Marjie Ducey visits Carol Other School Board Person and learns her last name is Forsman. Also that Chet Ballard was telling people about Chance Macy’s Permanent Record. The reporters ask Superintendent Howard Elston to check this out. The Superintendant asks the IT guy to check if Ballard accessed Chance Macy’s records. The IT guy points out Ballard didn’t delete his browser history and there you are.

To Ducey, Ballard declares that he didn’t do it, and besides he had to do it. So the story comes out: a Milford school board member inappropriately accessed a Permanent Record. And left a weird throaty voice message at the paper. And this anonymized version is the hit scandal of the season. Superintendent Elston is not amused by any of this, especially when he works out that Ballard wanted his stepson more play time. Roh figures out that the unnamed board member was his stepfather. Marty Moon figures out that Ballard’s “concerns” were concern-trolling. And when Marty Moon sees through your scheme, you’re through. Ballard resigns from the school board.

Mrs Roh-Ballard: 'Next time I tell you not to do something stupid, you're going to listen. Right? Good. And you're going to apologize to Chance Macy *and* your stepson.' Chet Ballard: 'But I was only trying to --- ' Mrs Roe-Ballard: 'Catch up, pal. No one cares.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 2nd of December, 2019. Ballard does listen, and apologizes to the people he’s hurt with his selfishness. So this puts a Gil Thorp character one up on four real-life people I had counted as close friends for twenty years.

Roh apologizes to Macy. And Macy accepts, because he knew nobody in high school could care about the school board. Roh offers to treat him to a celebration of the season at local teen hangout The Bucket. (This on Ballard’s credit card, which he really had no choice but to lend.) Macy points out he’s not good with loud and packed places. Roh suggests, you know, a quiet celebration at Ricozzi’s. So all ends well enough, except for Chet Ballard.


The new and current story started the 9th of December, with the trials of Alexa Watson. She had a perfectly good name when she was born seventeen(?) years ago. Now it’s a menace. She’d use her middle name except that’s “Siri”. And her mother’s maiden name is “OK Google” so she’s got nowhere to go.

Chris: 'Yeah, Teddy Demarco is a pain, but why add to his problems?' Friend: 'That's a very mature attitude, Chris.' Other friend: 'But I'd still stuff him in a trash can.' [ On the court, conversely ] Thorp: 'One good thing we've seen is more aggression from Chris Schuring.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 20th of December, 2019. Also, like, Teddy’s harassment this time was pointing out how Chris could have averaged four points per game, like he did last season, without even showing up. So Chris probably realizes that Teddy will spend his adult life realizing he was a fantastically incompetent school bully.

Anyway, she has a sympathetic friend, Phoebe Keener, who’s outgrown that unicorn and joined the girls basketball team. Phoebe’s rebuffing the greetings of Chris Schuring, her rival for valedictorian. Schuring, a slight member of the boys basketball team, gets mocked by Teddy Demarco and his friends, but won’t take that bait. Instead he puts it all into being aggressive enough on the basketball court that Coach Thorp notices. He misses a last-second shot against Springfield, but it’s close. In parallel, Watson is playing well but not quite well enough. So both Thorps have been thinking about how to coach their players.

And that’s where the story is: Schuring and Keener are academic rivals. She takes it more seriously than he does. Demarco is mocking Schuring. Schuring’s putting his response into his practice games instead. And Alexa Watson sometimes goes half a day without getting a joke about her names. How will all this tie together? Too soon to say. Come back around April, most likely, and we’ll have a better idea.

Milford Schools Watch

Of course, Milford is not anywhere; it is every high school, everywhere, except that they say “playdowns” there. But we do know there are other schools around it. Here’s the ones that have recently been named, usually in the course of competition:

Next Week!

How much of everything has happened in Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker since October? I’ll try and reveal how much next week. And if you’re just interested in comic strips mentioning mathematical topics, please try my other blog even this week. Thanks for reading.

What’s Going On In Rex Morgan? Did Mindy give birth yet and who’s Aunt Tildy? October 2019 – January 2020


Hi, person looking to find out what’s going on in Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D.. This plot recap will get you up to speed for early 2020. If you’re reading this in or after April 2020 there’s probably a more up-to-date plot recap at this link.

Any old week, though, there’s likely fresh mathematically-themed comic strips reviewed on my other blog. Thanks for considering reading that.

Rex Morgan.

13 October 2019 – 5 January 2020.

Last time I checked in we were at the start of a new plot. Mindy Wise’s pregnancy had come to term. Also Mindy Wise was pregnant, to her and her husband’s surprise. She thought, given her polycystic ovarian syndrome, she couldn’t get pregnant. No; it was improbable is all.

The strip told Mindy’s pregnancy in flashback. There’s good reasons for this. The point of the story is that she had a difficult pregnancy, with many alarming incidents. The point was that her having a safe delivery was uncertain, and every incident made it less probable. If you suppose Terry Beatty is too kindhearted a writer to give a pleasant person like Mindy Wise (or Buck) a bad end, then none of this could work for you. If you remember he had Millie Gray die days after reconnecting with Hank Harwood, you’re less sure about how kind a world Beatty writes.

[Rex has met the doctors who ran tests on Mindy.] Rex: 'Let me try to summarize their findings. You're exhibiting some classic symptoms of pulmonary hypertension.' Mindy: 'And those are?' Rex: 'Your pulmonary pressure is high. Shortness of breath. Dizziness. *But* you don't have clubbing in your fingers or swollen ankles, and no chronic cough. So there's reluctance to diagnose this as pulmonary hypertension.' Mindy: 'So if it's not that, then what?' Rex: 'I suggest the best course is to proceed as if this is PH, and take all the precautions to keep you and the baby safe.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 3rd of November, 2019. So yes, this is some more of Rex Morgan not taking the lead in doing medicine in his own comic. But he is a family practitioner, after all, and is most plausibly able to explain what specialists know to a lay audience. Also I appreciate that the diagnosis is a confusing thing, with uncertain evidence. This reads as more real to me than a clear-cut case would be.

But also: why tell this in flashback? I believe because its events have to span about nine months of character time. This could be told in sequence, interspersed with other stories. But most of the recent Rex Morgan, M.D. stories have been things that span a couple of days. Maybe a few weeks for the Serena Galexia/Rene Belluso story. The incompetent coffee-shop robbery didn’t even take a day. Mister Cranky and the emergency plane landing took something like a week, from emergency to Rex Morgan getting his suitcase back.

Either Mindy’s pregnancy has to fit in incidents in-between stories for years of reader time or it has to be in flashback. Yes, it’s the same amount of character time since we last saw the Wises. If I haven’t missed something that was their Las Vegas Elvis wedding, in summer 2018. But most readers are forgiving. If you don’t force them to acknowledge an inconsistent timeline, they’re mostly not going to notice.

So, incidents. Mindy fell down stairs and had a small placental tear. With bed rest that healed up. They get back to normal, and Mindy goes back to work at the antiques shop. It doesn’t last: Mindy’s exhausted at work, and gets dizzy. There’s a battery of tests. The cardiologist believes that it’s pulmonary hypertension, but the evidence is inconclusive.

Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 19th of November, 2019. Actual footage of me guessing to my love that the windshield wiper probably didn’t actually need the part that just flew off while we were merging onto the Interstate. Spoiler: the windshield wiper did need that part.

Rex Morgan gives the summary. The safest course is to treat it as though it is pulmonary hypertension. Mindy is to have bed rest until the pregnancy comes to term. Also, no salt. Also, only lukewarm showers. And no standing for more than 15 minutes at a time. I could probably manage the no-salt diet but the rest of this sounds resolutely miserable to me, too. Also, it’ll be a caesarian section, as safer than a natural birth. Also, several ultrasounds a week.

Buck tries to stay positive and supportive. So does his son Corey. There’s still trouble, though. A late echocardiogram shows her heart’s swollen. The doctors recommend moving up the C-section. And that’s where we get to the start of the story’s frame. Rex Morgan isn’t part of the C-Section team, of course. He’s just there to provide moral support and exposition.

[The C-Section is under way!] Surgeon: 'Baby's coming out now. Mr Wise, you might want to get your camera ready.' Buck: 'Oh my!' Assistant: 'Here's your new baby girl.' Buck: 'You did it, honey. She's here!' (Takes a picture.) Mindy: 'Our girl.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 5th of December, 2019. By the way, this is the first that the Wises know the sex of their child; it had never given a clear sonogram despite the many examinations Mindy had during her troubled pregnancy. There had been some scenes of Buck trying to avoid thinking up names for the child, and that they didn’t know whether to anticipate a boy or girl was one point he used to not think about the question.

And then? You know what? It’s all pretty easy. The child’s delivered in a few days of reader time. Mindy’s blood pressure drops to normal, and her heart returns to normal size. The cardiologist supposes this was pregnancy-induced pulmonary hypertension. It’s not liable to be a lingering problem. This sounds to me like medical stuff, so I can’t dispute its plausibility. And now they can think of baby names. Mindy proposes Angela, and that’s that.


That, the 16th of December, wraps up Mindy’s pregnancy. The next story was Christmas with the Morgans. Young Sarah proposes getting a puppy. They have the one dog already, after all, so what’s one more? She presses this quite hard. Her parents resist for a few days, reader and character time, and then decide to adopt from the animal shelter. Sarah names the dog Candy.

Child's-style drawing of Sarah Morgan's Diary: 'We had a nice Christmas. Johnny's grandparents came to dinner. We got a LOT of presents. And we got a NEW PUPPY!' (Shows Sarah hugging a dog, surrounded by hearts.)
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 26th of December, 2019. Johnny is the Morgan’s other boy, adopted in a story in early 2018. Arnold and Helen are Johnny’s biological grandparents, who briefly contested the adoption before concluding they weren’t up to handling a new kid.

And the 29th of December starts the new adventure, as an explosively energetic woman arrives at the door. It’s June’s Auntie Tildy, come for the visit promised in the letter they never received. She’s not “really” June’s aunt. (I grew up with a lot of friends-of-my-parents dubbed aunt and uncle. A part of me can’t believe in people who try to pin these words down to specific blood relations.) She’s just one of those vague relations who’s having a more exciting life than the rest of us, and she’s here for … who knows how long, and for what purpose? We should have some idea by March. See you then.

Next Week!

So what does it mean if Chance Ballard ever got “blowtop mad”? What has the head of the school board found out about Coach Thorp? How’s the football season turning out? All this and more next week, I expect, when I look at Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp, barring surprises. And until then there’s recaps and news about all the story strips here.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Sundays)? What are Ambrose Bierce and Thomas Paine doing in The Phantom? October – December 2019


Hi, folks who want to know what the Ghost Who Walks is doing with beating up these art students in tents. That’s the weekday continuity. This plot recap is for the Sunday continuity of Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom (Sundays), current to December 2019. If you want the weekday story, or the Sunday stories after about March 2020, there’s probably a more relevant essay at this link.

The Phantom (Sundays).

6 October – 29 December 2019

The Phantom had just freed Clotilde, a refugee from the dictatorship of Avaria, last I checked in. She’d been taken by the Khagan, ruler of Avaria, and a squadron of her warriors. Avaria is one of these other unpleasant totalitarian states surrounding Bangalla. The Phantom had also just stopped her from killing Avari warriors that he’d bound and gagged. His reasoning’s that the liberation of Avari can’t be done through war crimes. Good goal. They take one of the horses and flee.

The Khagan discovers the escape. Also that all the Avari’s remaining saddles are broken, limiting their ability to pursue. They wait out the pursuers. Eventually, though … only two return to the Khagan’s camp. The rest just … hang around. The Phantom approaches. They explain the Khagan will execute them if Clotilde makes good her escape. So, given that, they’d just as soon not go back. The Phantom takes them to Bangallan President Lamanda. He’ll take them in, despite the risk of the Khagan seeking revenge.

[ Avarian warriors renounce their allegiance to the Khagan. The Khagan learns her warriors have deserted her, all but two ... ] Khagan: 'TREASON!!!' [ Near Waitaan ] Lamanda: 'So this Khagan, she'll want revenge?' Phantom; 'Count on it, Mr President. She won't take kindlyl to you sheltering the rebels of the Free Avar Front! I'll leave you to it!'
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 3rd of November, 2019. “Well,” says President Lamanda, “I don’t think we can safely keep you here indefinitely. But we can give you refuge while we see if Prince Valiant can give you a permanent home.

Good on Lamanda for standing up for liberty. There’s obviously room for a follow-up. But since the last comic strip story with Avaria ran from September 2009 through March 2010, it may be a while. (There was one made in 2015 for those Swedish comic books.)


With the 17th of November the current Sunday story, The Spy Ship, the 189th Sunday story, started. It also ties to the weekday continuity, as Heloise Walker brings Kadia Walker to the Phantom’s Skull Cave. Well, to the Deep Woods, the vicinity of the Skull Cave. Kit Walker asks his daughter how this can be a good idea, exactly, if they don’t want her to learn the family secret? Heloise explains that Kadia was blindfolded all the way through the deep woods. They’re in the wrong place to see Skull Cave as anything beside a bit of rock. She doesn’t know that The Phantom is there. And she told Kadia that the Walkers have Bandar friends because they lived here years ago, as part of Diana Walker’s United Nations work.

[ In the vault of Missing Men ] Heloise: 'AB?' Phantom: 'The American writer, Ambrose Bierce. The 16th Phantom was a witness to history in the American Civil War. Captain Walker ... he met Bierce then. Bierce believed later Phantoms to be that same Walker. Ambrose Bierce disappeared in mexico in 1913 ... that's what the history books say! The TRUE story resides here, in the Chronicles of Skull Cave. Care to hear it? Don't decide yet! Let's move on to a leader of the age of reason: the man who framed the intellectual argument for throwing off the rule of George III in the American colonies.'
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 22nd of December, 2019. Psst! Heloise! It’s a trick question! Ask about how both Ambrose Bierce and Thomas Paine teamed up with The Phantom in search of Elizabeth Island!

The Phantom invites Heloise deeper into Skull Cave, to learn secrets that even Kit Junior doesn’t know. Behind an iron door they pass the crypt of people Lost to History: Ambrose Bierce, for example, who’d met the 16th Phantom. And who disappeared in Mexico in 1913 if you believe history rather than the Phantom Chronicles. Or Thomas Paine, who died in 1809 in New York City, although his body has been lost. He’s shown with an internment date of 1824.

So this is all prelude, as you see. What it’s a prelude for I can’t guess. This Sunday’s strip has the Phantom asking Heloise whether she wants to know the story of Ambrose Bierce or Thomas Paine, and she’s not answered yet.

Next Week!

Mindy Wise’s surprise pregnancy! A dog! All this and I think more in
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D., in about a week.

What’s Going On In Mary Worth? Is Iris pregnant? Is Estelle daft? September – December 2019


No, Iris is not pregnant, according to the information we’ve been given to date. Is Estelle daft? That depends on your feelings about plunging into dating someone after you know he’s got a lot of problems. People with problems deserve the chance at dates too, though. The issue is how they cope with their problems, and what their potential partners are able to cope with.

So as that warns you, I’m getting you up to mid-December 2019 in Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth. If you’re reading this after about March 2020 I likely have a more up-to-date Mary Worth plot recap here. And I should have, this week and any week, some mathematically-themed comic strips to discuss on my other blog. Now on to Charterstone in detail.

Mary Worth.

29 September – 21 December 2019.

When I last checked in, end of September, Mary Worth was ready for a new story. It’s been on that story ever since. It’s a story about Wilbur Weston.

Wilbur’s returned home. He was interviewing Mozambique cyclone survivors for his column about people who aren’t dead. He’s glad to see Estelle again. They’d started dating after Estelle’s whole Internet-Romance-scam debacle. He didn’t stay in touch like he meant while out of the country, despite the Internet being a thing. I can’t snark here, since I’ve got e-mails dating back to 2007 that I keep telling myself I’ll answer someday.

That said, all Wilbur wants to do is stay in with Estelle. He brings over some wine coolers and they watch a boxing documentary and the news that he used to be a sports writer. I didn’t know that. Also she hates boxing, which she doesn’t bother mentioning. So she counts that a lousy date and wonders if she’s wasted her time with like three Wilbur dates. Mary Worth reassures her that Wilbur is great, you have give him a chance. They have a couple dates singing together, like they used to do.

Mary Worth: 'Take your time to get to know Wilbur. He's a great guy!' Estelle: 'I'm doing that. And I'm not rushing into anything. Sometimes, though, I wonder about us.' Mary: 'If you spend more time with him, you'll see he's an earnest guy with a few endearing quirks.'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 10th of October, 2019. “Look, you don’t become one of Santa Royale’s leading survival-and-mayonnaise bloggers without making a long string of life choices. Anyone understands that.”

Meanwhile, Iris. She used to date Wilbur. But their relationship-pause while he was off interviewing world survivors turned into a breakup. (That was in time for him to fall for a romance scam in Colombia.) She’s taken to dating Zak, and quite likes the arrangement. He’s pleasant enough, and enthusiastically supportive of Iris when she complains of exhaustion.

Iris and Wilbur run into each other at the pharmacy. Wilbur says how he’s dating Estelle, who’s great in every way and would Iris and her toy boy like to double-date at this My Thai restaurant next week? Or every single week until Iris sees how way awesome a catch he is? Three times a week until she sees it? Mmm? Iris can’t think of any way this might go wrong, somehow.

Zak: 'A double date? Sure, sounds cool.' Wilbur: 'We'll get together next week! I want to show Estelle off to you guys!' Iris: 'Okay.' Wilbur: 'I'll call you, Iris.' Iris: 'Take care, Wilbur.' Wilbur: 'I look forward to seeing you guys then!' (Thinking) 'That'll teach her to look at me with pity! She'll see that I'm over her ... and dating an amazing new woman!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 27th of October, 2019. So, first, between this and the daily strip that it’s recapping, you get some idea how much more into the idea Wilbur is than Iris is. But also … who is it says the double date sounds cool? That is Zak, right? In which case, it’s a little embarrassing he’s not picking up on Iris’s uncertainty about whether this is a good idea. But I do like that he values being on good terms with someone who used to be important to Iris and that she’s still communicating with.

Ahead of the double date, Wilbur realizes he doesn’t know what the heck he’s doing. He has a drink, and another, and follows it with 82 more while berating himself for breaking up with Iris even though he’s lucky to be with Estelle. Estelle finds Wilbur ranting while drunk, and somehow doesn’t imagine calling off the date.

It’s the fiasco you might imagine. Wilbur starts obnoxious, mocking Zak’s order of tofu pad Thai. Then he gets offensive, asking if the Zachary he was named for wasn’t his mothers friend but actually his father. Then he gets both clumsy and creepy, knocking wine onto Iris and getting handsy cleaning it off. (And, in the tradition of dull white guys, he does it while trying to imitate Something Cool From The Matrix.) Finally he passes out. Estelle pours him into his apartment.

After this mess Estelle wonders if she and Wilbur have a future. Or much of a past, since they’ve been on like five dates total. Her nightmare includes some funny pictures of Wilbur Babies boxing. Glorious nonsense.

[ When Estelle hears music coming from outside her window ] (She looks out at night, hearing the Pina Colada song. It's Wilbur, standing in the rain, holding a boom box over his head, doing the 'Say Anything' boombox scene.
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 20th of November, 2019. Put aside the warning sign that Wilbur — whose day job is advice columnist by the way — thinks it’s ever an acceptable idea to emulate a romantic comedy character’s behavior. The reason he’s doing The Piña Colada Song is that it’s one of the songs he and Estelle first bonded over, so that at least is paying attention his actual relationship.

Between the fiasco and the nightmares Estelle wants a break from Wilbur. He sends her apologies and begs for a fresh chance. She turns to Mary Worth for help, since she’s broken into her apartment and asked what Estelle needs to be told to do already. Estelle explains about the fiasco. Mary Worth explains how oh, yeah, you’ll get a certain amount of humiliating public drunken spectacles from a Wilbur Weston. Which you’d think Mary Worth might have dropped a warning about. I like, in principle, that Mary Worth isn’t comfortable saying bad stuff about a friend, even to protect another friend. But Mary Worth’s defining power is setting relationships right. To not have warned Estelle of a hazard this big violates her brand. I’m not saying alcoholics can’t have relationships. I am saying their potential partners have to know what they’re getting into and be able to judge whether they’re able to handle that. Mary Worth isn’t shocked that he was disastrously drunk. She says “that tends to happen”. Not communicating “that tends to happen” warnings is how your boyfriend’s friend can assault you in your home.

[ As Mary leaves her friend's place ] Mary Worth: 'Estelle, I know Wilbur, and he's a better man than he displayed at dinner the other night!' [ Meanwhile, speaking of better men ] Estelle, pulling on pants: 'AUGGH! These USED to fit!' Zak: 'They probably shrunk in the dryer. Just change your pants, Iris! I'll see you after my meeting!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 25th of November, 2019. Warning sign that you’re really screwed up: when the Mary Worth Narration Box starts mocking you. Yowza. Anyway, maybe we snarky readers were jumping implausibly to the “Is Iris pregnant?” question, given the default social mores of the Mary Worth comic universe. But then what activity is being coded here by her putting her pants on in the middle of the day?

Back to Iris and Zak. She’s not only tired. Her pants don’t fit. And every snarky reader got to asking: wait, is Iris pregnant? Outside wedlock? In Mary Worth? Awesome! Then her hair starts falling out. She checks with her doctor, Riverdale’s Archie Andrews, who explains nah, it’s menopause. Well, he doesn’t say the word “menopause” for some reason, but that’s what he’s getting at.

Iris decides she can’t bother Zak with how she’s old. It would drag him down. Zak tries to be supportive considering she won’t tell him what’s wrong. She says she needs space and that they need time apart.

Zak goes to a bar to mope. Wilbur walks in. They sit together and talk some while watching the US-Cuba soccer match. The US team wins. Their resolve inspires Zak to not give up on his relationship with Iris. It also inspires Wilbur to do give up on his drinking. And, having had a normal human interaction, the two kind of like each other.

Meanwhile Estelle’s lonely and admits missing Wilbur. Mary Worth stops in with a bowl full of fruitcake and meddle cream. Estelle says, even putting aside Wilbur’s drunken fiasco, he’s still way too hung up on Iris. Mary Worth admits yeah, he is, but he might get past that. Also past the drunkenness. You like him anyway, right? Mary Worth means, like, he’s unique. Estelle grants he is. She just doesn’t know that he’s lasting-love kind of unique. Yet she has already invested in this relationship, like, a half-dozen dates over the course of seven months now. Why give that up?

[ When Estelle visits Mary ] Mary Worth: 'How are you, my friend?' Estelle: 'I've got the blues.' Mary, pulling a bundt cake pan with gloppy stuff in it: 'I know just the thing to cheer you up! Would you like a slice of fruitcake, Estelle?' Estelle: 'Sure. Tis the season.'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 17th of December, 2019. So you know I’m not taking any hack jokes here about fruitcake being bad. I want hack jokes about Wilbur being one of Santa Royale’s leading mayonnaise bloggers.

That’s brought things to this weekend, and to what’s got me annoyed this time. Estelle is having correct and reasonable doubts about Wilbur. She’s the one getting Mary Worthed, though, into not paying attention to some big warning signs. Maybe she is judging Wilbur too harshly for a particularly bad day of his. We have all had a day that would give a stranger the exactly wrong idea of who we are. But I’d like her to get reason to think the dinner date was an exceptional event.

And then here’s where the strip is going wrong. First that Mary Worth is giving advice that muddles someone’s clear thoughts about a problem. It’s that Mary Worth is overlooking Iris, who’s screwing up her own relationship. Zak’s this almost implausibly supportive, eager, understanding man. She’s running away because she doesn’t want him to find out she’s older than he is. The strip is showing some major weakness in Mary Worth’s meddling focus here. I can only hope it gets straightened out soon. We should know by March 2020, when I expect to check in here again.

Dubiously Sourced Mary Worth Sunday Panel Quotes!

I’ll fix the name of this section yet. Here’s things from Brainyquotes that it’s possible that the credited person said at some point in their lives. And yes, the auto care place is still on the same message of “You Can Make A Difference If You Try”, which they’ve been on since April. I’m starting to worry.

  • “Distance means so little, when someone means so much.” — Tom McNeal, 29 September 2019
  • “It’s a good place when all you have is hope and not expectations.” — Danny Boyle, 6 October 2019
  • “Exploring the unknown requires tolerating uncertainty” — Brian Greene, 13 October 2019
  • “Love is the flower you’ve got to let grow.” — John Lennon, 20 October 2019
  • “I think about you, but I don’t say it anymore.” — Marguerite Duras, 27 October 2019
  • “If you always have a crutch, you don’t learn anything.” — Ben Savage, 3 November 2019
  • None! I know, I was shocked too. 10 November 2019
  • “Reality is never as bad as a nightmare, as the mental tortures we inflict on ourselves.” — Sammy Davis Jr, 17 November 2019
  • “Life is a question and how we live it is our answer.” — Gary Keller, 24 November 2019
  • “My doctor gave me six months to live, but when I couldn’t pay the bill he gave me six months more.” — Walter Matthau, 1 December 2019
  • “Nothing makes us so lonely as our secrets.” — Paul Tournier, 8 December 2019
  • “Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson, 15 December 2019
  • “To err is human; to forgive, divine.” — Alexander Pope, 22 December 2019

Next Week!

Did the Ghost Who Walks ever get around to freeing Avaria? Next week, barring surprises, we’ll check in on Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom (Sunday continuity) and find out. Thanks for reading.

Thimble Theatre is 100 years old too


And here’s one more spot of comic strip news. Thimble Theatre reached its centennial on the 19th of December. This is the comic strip normal people know as Popeye. The Daily Cartoonist posted for the day Elzie Segar’s first-ever Thimble Theatre strip, which, when you look at it, makes you realize … uh … huh.

It started with a weird premise that I’m not sure couldn’t work. The gimmick was that there was a regular cast of actors, people like Olive Oyl and Harold Hamgravy and all. But for each day they’d play characters in some very short melodrama. Doing short melodramas, often mocking the moving pictures, was not a new idea. I don’t know whether the frame of having the same characters acting in different roles was original to Segar, though.

I could imagine this working in much the way SCTV or various Muppets projects works. Establish your characters and then put them in to play parts. The earliest Thimble Theatre strips, though? Not to brag but I’ve seen almost twelve of them, so am clearly the expert here. They don’t work for me, though. I think because there isn’t the behind-the-scenes stuff that establish who the actors are. It’s just spot jokes without Segar having to design new characters each day.

I don’t know whether the premise could work if we got more behind-the-scenes action. SCTV or the Muppets did, brilliantly, but in part because they had so much more time. Comic strips were long and wordy back then, compared to today, but that’s nothing compared to how long we could get to know Miss Piggy, and have that inform us how she’s playing Madame Defarge or whoever.

Early on the strip did a new premise, a new “play”, every day. This was unworkable, ultimately, although I can’t work out when the strip went to open-ended stories. And it sure seems like an influence on how the cartoons would start with the characters in whatever setting, and with whatever relationships, worked for the plot. But that could be coincidence too; it’s not as though every Betty Boop cartoon can be fit into one continuity.

Anyway things puttered on for about nine years with stories that included some nice fantastical bits such as the Whiffle Hen. And then — finally, it feels like — Segar discovered Popeye. The effect was like those first-season episodes of Happy Days, when it was a single-camera sitcom and the stories putter on with an amiable dullness and then suddenly Fonzie is on-screen and it’s interesting. Or, if you want a higher-brow reference, to the bit in Pickwick Papers where Sam Weller gives the reader a reason to keep reading. Popeye took over right away and, though Segar tried to give him a send-off after his first story, came right back because he was just that good. (Very like Sam Weller, at that.) But you all know my feelings there; I’m the guy paying attention even to the 60s cartoons for some reason.

So, it’s a fun strip. Or became, at least. The strip has, in dailies, been in reruns since the first Bush was president. The Sunday strips are new, drawn by Hy Eisman, who incidentally was also drawing the Sunday Katzenjammer Kids when that strip reached its centennial. It’s hard to imagine there’ll ever be another cartoonist who’s drawing two centennial comic strips. Eisman is, by the way, as far as I can tell the second credited artist on Thimble Theatre/Popeye to actually be younger than the comic strip is. (Bobby London, the one fired from the dailies in 1992, was the first.) Eisman was born in 1927, though, so he’s still older than Popeye.

D D Degg, writing for The Daily Cartoonist, makes this out as the fifth United States comic strip to reach 100 without lapsing into eternal reruns: The Katzenjammer Kids (in rerun since 2006), Gasoline Alley, Ripley’s Belive It Or Not, Barney Google and Snuffy Smith, and now Thimble Theatre. The next that should make the centennial, if Olivia Jaimes’s pen holds out through October 2022, is Nancy. That is we accept Nancy as the continuation of Fritzi Ritz. This is a question very interesting to people like me, who are not interesting.

Sorry to interrupt, but The Far Side web site is posting stuff


Wanted to let everyone know that The Far Side web site that appeared a couple months ago has cartoons now. It’s showing what it promises to be a selection of the original comics each day. So it’s been; there’s five strips for today, and four run yesterday. Yes, it ran “Cow Tools” yesterday.

The site also promises sketches and, in 2020, occasional new work.I don’t know of an RSS feed for the strips, sad to say. But did think people would really want to know.

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? When does Mark Trail get to punch a yeti? September – December 2019


Mark Trail is getting around to it. At least now, in mid-December 2019. If you’re trying to catch up on James Allen’s Mark Trail after about March 2020 I probably have a more up-to-date plot recap here. Also any news about the strip important enough to break my cycles here.

Mark Trail.

23 September – 14 December 2019

Mark Trail was in the Himalayas, last we saw. Woods and Wildlife editor Bill Ellis sent him there, to cover Dr Harvey Camel’s search for the Yeti. And also the plants and animals that do exist in the Himalayas. In the last flight to Tumligtar, Camel tells Trail and his assistant Genie of his obsession with the Yeti. Trail is skeptical of this whole cryptozoology stuff. He starts to get snide when Camel’s assistant Genie points out Mark Trail himself has written about animals mistakenly thought extinct.

Mark Trail: 'So more than a hundred thousand people watched you catch a three-inch fish ... live? Dr Camel, why would that many people watch you do something so mundane?' Camel: 'Because, Mark, most of them were probably sitting at home living ordinary lives ... they never get out to do anything exciting!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 7th of October, 2019. “Why, Mark, I can take any man I see standing in the road and put rouge on his cheeks and put some powder on his nose. I’ll teach him how to act, I’ll remould and reshape him. I’ll put him in a stage suit and I’ll teach him how to pose!”

Camel tries to push Mark Trail into social media. It’s worked out great for him. Like, a hundred thousand people watched him catch what proved to be a three-inch fish. Camel points out, most people are boring losers who never do anything cool, like have their jeep run off the road by a charging Indian rhinoceros. You know, like is happening to them. So that’s our first Attack of Nature for the story.

They walk to a nearby outpost, where they hook up with a couple elephants to carry them and their gear on. Mark Trail mentions being generally opposed to this kind of animal exploitation. Camel rolls his eyes halfway to Bangladesh at how Trail’s being some kind of unrealistic starry-eyed tree-hugging politically correct weepy momma’s soy boy who’s so out of touch with the hard decisions of real life in Nepal. Anyway, here’s some vampire bats he can tweet.

In Num village, to trade the elephants out for Sherpas, Trail asks Genie, like, is Camel always so … like that? Not that Mark Trail’s being judgemental but he is awfully like that. Anyway, Genie says yeah, gads but he’s like that.

Mark Trail: 'Is Dr Camel always so ... abrasive?' Genie: 'If by abrasive you mean outspoken and cocksure ... yes!' Mark Trail: 'I guess I expected a man so educated to be a bit more introspective and reserved!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 23rd of October, 2019. “I mean, how could you have an advanced degree in anthropology and not be a quiet, soft-spoken person? But instead he acts like he has an advanced degree in electrical engineering and a podcast where he informs people that Jesus Christ never existed and maybe New Testament writers made up the city of ‘Nazareth’ too or something.”

With two Sherpas, Mingma and Pemba, they set out. All on foot, to get to the mountain from the reported Yeti sighting. And Mingma shares from his grandfather’s stories. These are of a hairy man who’d come looking for food during winter months, making a “haunting whistling” and “low growls”. And that his grandfather saw the creature kill a dzo once. A dzo is a hybrid, between a male water buffalo and a female domesticated yak. And as Mingma shares this — in a strip that ran Halloween week — they hear a strange low growl. It’s a wandering dzo.

More walking. At a river stop, Mark Trail asks Genie about Dr Camel’s strange walk. Genie asks why he doesn’t just ask Dr Camel why he’s establishing a story moment where he’ll be mistaken for a Yeti later on. And then a crocodile comes near eating her. There’s our second Attack of Nature for the story. Mark Trail whacks it with a stick, until it leaves. And Camel livestreams the whole thing, to an audience of ten thousand people. Genie’s annoyed. She didn’t expect that Camel would be so much like that. Also, I’m going to imagine, Bill Ellis wonders if this is something they were supposed to have first-publication rights on. Well, I’m sure the people who keep Mark Trail in business are hep to the ways of publishing in a world filled with social media.

More climbing, on the mountain where the Yeti was maybe spotted in April. And rain’s coming in. Mark Trail’s a little concerned, but after all, a flash flood hasn’t screwed up anything since his last adventure. He’s finally talked people into setting up a lean-to when the landslide comes in. So that’s the third Attack of Nature for the story.

Mark Trail: 'I don't mean to sound snarky, Harvey. I understand your followers on social media are important to you. But when you're out in the real world, being aware of your surroundings is more important than social media! Folks have died trying to get pictures of themselves standing too close to wild animals or on cliff edges!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 28th of November, 2019. “You know, people die from doing pointlessly dangerous stuff for social media. Getting too near cliff edges. Provoking wild animals. Live-tweeting themselves watching mockbuster children’s movies. People need to use their common sense and situational awareness more!”

Everyone gets through all right, and the party doesn’t even scatter or anything. Camel admits he’d have loved to livestream that. After a stop in the town of Seduwa, for permits and nature trivia, the party … continues hiking. They set up camp and admire the night sky. Camel talks of how he’s sure they’re close to the Yeti. While lying awake, Mark hears … something. Something whistling. And … some figure, in shadow, on the ridge. Does he see? … no, it’s a bunch of rocks. And this gets Mark Trail kind of mopey.

I understand the folks calling this attitude snide. Mark Trail is, after all, having a trip most people would consider what they’d do with their lottery winnings. Mark Trail’s in the Himalayas, asked to communicate the experience of wildlife we’ll never understand well enough. Mark Trail’s pouting that he’s seen rocks before. But it’s also normal to be homesick, especially going to a very unfamiliar place. Mark Trail’s had a rhinoceros try to kill him. Mark Trail’s had a landslide nearly kill him. Mark Trail’s had to listen to four straight days of Dr Camel saying get on the Twitter, that won’t make you more sad and tired. So especially after fooling himself into thinking he maybe saw a Yeti? In the middle of the night, when all our fears and doubts are at their highest? Yeah, that’s a normal human emotion out of Mark Trail.

And that’s where the story is. Will Mark Trail witness an actual for-real yeti? How many more times is Nature going to almost kill our protagonists? And is “Dirty” Dyer ever going to get around to killing Mark Trail with fire? We might have progress on these questions by the time I check in again, in I figure about twelve weeks.

Sunday Animals Watch

And what animals or plants or natural wonders would Mark Trail like us to be aware of before humans destroy them? The past three months, it’s been these:

  • Hornet-Mimic Hoverflies, 22 September 2019. They’re doing okay except for when the hornets get really fed up with how they repeat everything the hornets say but in this nasal sing-song voice.
  • Pinzon Island (Galapagos) Tortoises, 29 September 2019. Well, it was only a century since the previous baby Pinzon Island tortoise was spotted, but we’ve seen some now and that’s something at least.
  • Regal Moths, 6 October 2019. As larvae they’re “hickory horned devils” and they’re utterly harmless, they tell us.
  • Scale Worms, 13 October 2019. Even Mark Trail calls them “ghastly in appearance” but since they’re hanging out in deep sea trenches we’re probably going to knock them out without even half trying.
  • Angiosperms, 20 October 2019. So here, particularly, a “flowering yam” named the black bat flower which, yeah, is endangered.
  • Spiders and Bats, 27 October 2019. Mark Trail spotlights a video of a bat caught in a spider web, in case you’re skipping reading the Amazing Spider-Man reruns.
  • Palm trees, 3 November 2019. Oh, they’re dying thanks to ‘lethal bronzing’, yet another invasive disease.
  • Tigers, 10 November 2019. There are more furries who suit as tigers at conventions than there are tigers in the real world and I do not want to know whether this claim is actually true, thank you.
  • Quokkas, 17 November 2019. They’re pleasant and not afraid of humans, so it’s probably for the best that Australia’s setting up laws against messing with them.
  • Kodiak and Polar Bears, 24 November 2019. Oh dear, yeah.
  • White Ligers, 1 December 2019. There’s four known to exist. (Young ones, just recently born.)
  • Zebras, 8 December 2019. There’s this pseudomelanistic zebra with these neat spots instead of stripes.
  • Babirusas, 15 December 2019. They’re listed as “threatened”, so it’s probably worse than that.

Next Week!

So how did Wilbur Weston’s extremely drunken double date with Estelle and Iris and Zak turn out, anyway? It’s Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth coming up in a week, barring surprises. Thanks for reading, and thanks for reading my mathematics-themed comic strip talk on my other blog. See you later.

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? Wait, if Slim’s here then who’s playing Santa Claus? September – December 2019


Hi, person who wants to catch up on Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley. This plot recap gets you up to speed for early December 2019. If you’re reading this after about March 2020 there’s probably a more up-to-date plot recap at this link. Good luck finding what you need.

Gasoline Alley.

16 September – 7 December 2019.

Gasoline Alley had started the story of Peter Glabella, substitue physician assistant. He’s supernaturally good at his job. He has “mirror-touch synesthesia”, allowing him to feel what patients feel. This gives him a real edge in figuring out where someone’s ache comes from. This turns out to be a real actual thing that really exists in the real world, for real. I know, right? Wikipedia says something like one person in fifty has this to some extent. In the real world, it’s more like people who will feel it themselves when they see one person touch another. This can extend to empathy, strongly feeling the emotions someone else shows, or feeling the pain they’re experiencing. As with most things about how the brain works, it’s amazing and it takes clever experimental design to sort out what is happening. So I apologize for being too snarky back in September about the thing.

Glabella, walking through downtown with Chipper Wallet: 'See that postal carrier's bag? I can 'feel' the weight of it on my shoulder! And that fellow over there has a toothache!' Wallet: 'Wow! It's good you don't live in a densely populated city! You'd be bombarded with unbridled feelings all day and night!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 1st of October, 2019. Am I a bad person for wanting to put Glabella in a room with someone else who has the same mirror-touch synesthesia and see what happens? I’m a bad person for wanting to put Glabella in a room with someone else who has the same mirror-touch synesthesia and see what happens.

Glabella spends a couple weeks explaining the condition, trying to convince the reader this is on the level. He stops short of telling snide readers like me to look it up on Wikipedia. And trying to establish that he isn’t magic, he can just tell at a glance that somebody’s back hurts. Me, I have to look up if the person is more than 38 years old first.

Chipper Wallet takes Glabella to Corky’s Diner. They arrive the 3rd of October and that sets the scene for the new story. Glabella notices Terry, their server, has some heart trouble. Chipper urges her to make a clinic appointment, as if someone working in a restaurant could afford medical care in the United States. But she does, and gets an appointment with Glabella. Who by the way finally lets us know what his name means: it’s “the space between your eyebrows and bridge of your nose”.

Getting back to the clinic from the restaurant. Wallet: 'Hey, Ruthie! We're back.' Ruthie: 'Peter [Glabella]! Your 1:30 patient is patiently waiting!' Glabella: 'I'll go right in!' It's Terry, their waitress from lunch. 'Terry! How'd you get here ahead of Chipper and me?' Terry: 'I don't mess around! Besides I know a shortcut!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 21st of October, 2019. “While you were walking through every panel for a week, I ran in here in the gap between panels! It’s a great time-saver if you don’t trip on the copyright sticker.” Which might actually be how she did it, come to think of it.

The diagnosis: it might be acute angina pectoris. She needs a couple weeks off from work. So we shift to Corkey, trying to figure out his staffing problem. Stepping in is Baleen Beluga. She’s a good fit for Jim Scancarelli’s comic world. She starts in with tales of an adventurous past, with a lot of sailing on ships. She claims to be heading to Texas to join a cattle boat. That plan’s messed up when Terry’s diagnosis comes in. She needs surgery, about a month of recovery time, and some time of light work after that. Beluga’s willing to stay on, trusting that there’s a lot of cattle boats in the sea.

Corky: 'Listen, Baleen ... may I call you that?' Baleen: 'Sure! That's my name!' Corky: 'I'm up against the wall for two weeks!' Baleen: 'YOU listen! If you can't make th'payroll, Sonny, I'll set sail outta here right NOW!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 7th of November, 2019. I like when a new character actor comes in. I’m not sure who plays Baleen Beluga, but it’s definitely someone likable and somewhat familiar from 60s sitcoms.

That’s not many events — there was a lot of characters saying funny things to each other instead. It takes us to the 21st of November, when Scancarelli noticed he haven’t even started his Christmas plotting. Luckily, a train breaks down right outside the diner. The Mistletoe Express has a burst water line. It’s a tourist-attraction locomotive now. It works for the Gasoline Alley Railway and Kitchen Cabinet Company. It’s bringing kids to see Santa. Beluga brings them a section of their stove exhaust vent. This probably won’t raise the diner’s carbon monoxide levels to dangerous heights.

Engineer: 'Hey, look, here comes the press!' Ballew, coming up to the train; 'I'm Hulla Ballew from the Gasette!' Engineer: 'This is embarrassing! Our engine broke down and the Corky's Diner folks pitched in to help with the repairs!' Ballew: 'What a great story!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 29th of November, 2019. I admire all the work Scancarelli put into illustrating that train engine. I don’t know how train art fans feel about it. They can demand a lot of precision. But me? I know if it has a lot of straight lines in it then it has to be great drawing. Also it’s only today that I realize Hulla Ballew writes for the Gasette. Mm.

And the stopped Christmas train brings out the press. It’s the Gasette’s Hulla Ballew. She fails to mention she’s the suspiciously young sister of Wally Ballew, on-the-site reporter for the Bob and Ray Show. Good for the diner. Maybe getting better: the locomotive needs even more emergency repairs. Corky invites the kids and parents in to the diner for ice cream. And calls Slim Wallet, telling him he needs a Santa Claus. Slim leaps into action and gets his red coat out. He makes fantastic time, too, and that’s where we’ve gotten.

Santa: 'Ho ho ho ho!' Corky: 'You got here fast, Slim! You look great!' Santa: 'Thanks! Mrs Claus made me go on a diet!' Corky: 'Nice touch, Slim! Keep up the ho-ho-ho's! The kids are on the train!' Kids, on the train: 'Look! It's Santa! Yea!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 7th of December, 2019. So, Santa just overheard Corky calling Slim and decided this was a good chance to race to Gasoline Alley again? … I guess he does all that watching what everybody does business, so that checks out, but then he’s really dissing Slim’s ability to wear a red coat and laugh in a jolly fashion for kids on short notice. Unless Slim can’t get there after all, in which case was Santa just aware of the delay before anyone could be? Or did he … cause … Slim’s unfortunate delay?

Golly jeepers, you don’t suppose there’s anything … curious … about Slim as Santa Claus here, do you? Mm? Hmmm? HMMMMMMMM?

Next Week!

Shall have to ponder that in about twelve weeks. For now? I look at comic strips with some mathematical theme, on my other blog. And on this blog, in one week (barring surprises), we journey to the Himalayas … In Search Of … James Allen’s Mark Trail.

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? What’s Detective Frisk doing not being dead? September – November 2019


Evening, everyone wondering what’s going on in Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy. If you’re reading this after February 2020 there’s probably a more up-to-date plot recap at this link, which also holds older Dick Tracy recaps. Thanks for reading.

Dick Tracy.

8 September – 30 November 2019.

Dick Tracy had just wrapped up a story when I last checked in. They were moving into two weeks of a Minit Mystery, solving a poisoning. That started the 1st of September and ran through the 15th. Makes things very neat for me. It featured characters from the Friday Foster comic strip of the early 70s.


The story opens with Detective Frieda Frisk. She’s been busy the last few years, ever since she died in the line of duty. She explains to Dick Tracy that yeah, back in a 2004 adventure Sal Monella drowned in the river. But you all just thought she drowned too. And since she was reported dead at work, she figured she might as well not come in anymore. Before you ask whether this makes sense please consider that Sal Monella had previously been crushed in a trash compactor. He turned up alive, albeit more cubical than before, and a legit concert promoter. Again, if you aren’t regularly going “wait, what?” you aren’t reading the real Dick Tracy.

[A familiar face from the past] Tracy; 'DETECTIVE FRISK?' Frisk: 'Ah, you got me, Tracy. Which is more than I can say for my would-be assassin.' Tracy: 'We all thought you DIED in pursuit of Sal Monella. What happened, Freida?' Frisk: 'Well, obviously Monella drowned and I didn't. Anyhow, Justice was serviced, and since I don't play well with others, I decided not to return to the MCU. For the past few years I've been investigating the activities of Mrs Clair Howell. Her specialty is selling infants to prospective parents.' Tracy: 'A baby broker.' Frisk: 'One of the biggest. She's been in the business for decades.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 22nd of September, 2019. I do not know whether we’re meant to take it that Frisk saw Monella drowned, or whether she’s just supposing someone who seemed to have drowned, and hasn’t made contact with any of the people he knew for a decade and a half now, must be dead. Anyway, Monella’s thing when he was a concert promoter was set-decorating a venue with real actual garbage, and somehow this was a major hit, netting like nine million bucks before Frisk decided he needed to be not so alive. Monella’s original scheme, when he was first a villain in the comic, was selling recycled garbage as discount airline snacks, which gave Dick Tracy a case of amnesia, causing him not to wonder why a discount airline has snacks. I don’t know, I’m just telling you what’s on the Dick Tracy Wiki.

Anyway, Frisk’s new job is providing family information to Howell Babies. These are the children sold, for decades, by Clair Howell’s for-profit adoption agency. Which Frisk notes is not against the law, merely wrong. Frisk gets back in touch with Tracy because she shot an extra named Edward Delacroix. But she was going contact him anyway. She’s discovered that Officer Lizz Worthington-Grove, who’s been in the strip since the 50s, was also one of Howell’s sold babies. Tracy has questions. Frisk says she doesn’t know why Delacroix was shooting her. She also won’t reveal how she’s getting the Howell’s adoption records.

The Howells would like to know that too. Their plan of sending Edward Delacroix to shoot the information out of her didn’t work. They think long about what motivates people besides bullets, and hit on the idea of money. It turns out Frisk herself is a Howell Baby. They take the chance that Frisk’s birth mother, Lily Seven, would take money in exchange for setting up a trap. So she would.

Seven contacts Frisk, claiming to have only recently found out about her from Howell. Frisk and Tracy grant Seven might be working with Howell. But she’s interested in where this is going. It goes to dinner, and a movie, and before long, going to see Vitamin Flintheart in Our Town. They’re having a great relationship except for how Seven is only in it as long as Howell’s bankroll holds up.

Tracy: 'Well, Frisk, it's been two weeks and no move against you. How are you and Lily getting along?' Frisk: 'Eh, I could still be on someone's marked list, so I'm keeping an eye out. As for Lily, I think she may be on the level.' [ Elsewhere ] Lily: 'Look here, Clair, I'm getting tired of playing Mommy. When are you gonna make your move?' Clair Howell: 'The next time you meet with Frisk.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 10th of October, 2019. Really genuinely curious what the small talk between Seven and Frisk is like. “So, uh, when you decided to just go along with the people who decided you were dead, uh … like … did that get the student loan people off your back? Because if plunging into the icy rivers of Tracy City and then never returning to your workplace or apartment is what it takes, I can think of some people who’d figure that’s worth it.”

Seven and Frisk go to Our Town again, I’m assuming because The Best Man was sold out. At the close of the play Seven jabs a hypodermic into Frisk’s neck. Seven and the Howells, who’ve been lurking around the show, drag her away.

They have a great plan to kill Frisk only slowly and uncertainly. They drag her to the abandoned building district, and to the roof of the Crow-Infested Building Hotel. There they tie her to the Roof Machinery and leave her in the rain-turning-to-snow. There’s only one possible way that she might escape. And that is if her Wrist Geenee, the souped-up version of the Dick Tracy Wrist-Radio that they were using in the early 2000s, was not in fact destroyed when she wrestled with Sal Monella in 2004, but instead fell into the lining of her jacket where it has rested ever since, waiting for the random motions of Frisk trying to break the zip ties binding her arms to her legs to activate its distress signal mode on a frequency still monitored by contemporary Dick Tracy Wrist Wizard technology, which it has retained enough battery power to do for fifteen years. And what do you know but — ! So Tracy’s able to rescue Frisk before she would plummet to her death.

Tracy, racing to the rooftop where Frisk is about to fall to the ground: 'FRISK! DON'T MOVE!' (Grabbing her.) 'I've got you!' Frisk: 'T-Tray! How'd you find me?' Tracy: 'Your Wrist Genii signalled me. You're freezing.' Frisk: 'M-my Wrist Genii? I LOST IT when I fell in the bay chasing Sal Monella.' Tracy, tearing it out of her coat as he unties her: 'It's in the lining of your coat! Your struggling must have activated it.' Frisk: 'Tracy, I'm so SORRY about the mean things I said to you.' Tracy; 'We're OK, Frisk. Now come in out of the cold.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 3rd of November, 2019. Not denying that it’s a normal and realistic and human thing to say, but: Dick Tracy yelling at Frisk to stop falling off the roof makes me so happy. Really great stuff there. (They spelled Frisk’s device as the Wrist Genii here, although back in the early 2000s it was called the Wrist Geenee. I do not know what significance this change in spelling has and would not rule out that Genii is easier to letter.)

The Howells hear about this on the news and just. Can. Not. I sympathize. They make a break for it as cops converge on their house. The Howells spot one cop car, T-bone it, and keep going. But that’s damaged their own car, and when its tire blows the car careens off a bridge into the river below. Tracy calls for an ambulance and divers, but there’s not much to do. When you’ve witnessed two people get dumped into the cold waters and not come up you have to accept them as dead. Tracy asks Frisk about her plans.

She figures to carry on contacting Howell Babies and offering them information on how to contact their birth parents. Oh, and she’ll definitely stop back in when Lily Seven’s trial comes up.


So that, the 14th of November, closed out the story that’s dominated the last couple months. It also introduces the new, currently-running story. It opens at Wertham Woods Psychiatric Facility (motto: “Get it? Eh? EH?”). We know it as the facility holding Tulza Tuzon. Tuzon’s half-handsome, half-monstrous face earned him the performing and crime name Haf-and-Haf. He contracted a case of Soap Opera Multiple Personality Disorder. If that’s the sort of subject matter you do not want in your casual entertainment, you may want to drop Dick Tracy from your reading the next couple months. So far Tuzon hasn’t done very much in the story that any old villain looking for revenge wouldn’t be doing anyway.

The person we see on screen might be acting in the character of Tulza Tuzon, or as Haf-and-Haf, or as the particularly villainous Splitface. Which gets even more confusing than usual, because there was another, earlier Splitface in the Dick Tracy universe. I think that this Splitface has taken his name in tribute to the older one. But, gads, they aren’t making it easy for me. Haf-and-Haf was a character Chester Gould created in the mid-60s by Totally I Swear Not Having Heard Of Two-Face Over In Batman.

Last time I dealt with Tuzon/Haf-and-Haf/Splitface, they were kidnapping Zelda, Tuzon’s ex-wife. Along the way they picked up a sidekick, a homeless guy name of Clybourne Mayfair. The kidnapping plan didn’t work, but Splitface orders Clybourne to escape before the cops finally close in.

Anyway, Clybourne’s popped in again, pretending to be a statue delivery guy to Wertham Woods so he can sneak Tuzon/Haf/Splitface out. He’s not out to kill Zelda this time and anyway she’s out of the country. Instead he’s got a car bomb project. A two-car bomb, that he sets off outside the Hotel Siam when Dick Tracy’s car pulls up. You’ll remember the Hotel Siam as the place where Oliver and Annie Warbucks stayed while they were most recently in the strip. The bomb doesn’t kill Tracy or Sam Catchem.

Car explodes. Narrator: 'Tracy, Sam, Steve, and Mike narrowly escaped a car bombing at the Siam!' Steve Roper: 'This is quite a welcome, Tracy.' Tracy: 'Yes, isn't it?' Sam Catchem: 'Friends of yours, Tracy?' Tracy: 'Sam, this is Steve Roper and Mike Nomad.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 25th of November, 2019. “Sam, did I mention I’ve been learning how to throw my voice? … … … I’ve been learning how to throw my voice.” Anyway, did you know that Steve Roper and Mike Nomad was written by Allen Saunders, who also wrote Mary Worth for like six hundred years back in the mid-20th century? And, yes, the strip started out as a joke strip titled Big Chief Wahoo, and changed. So it did the Wash Tubbs and Captain Easy thing of changing genre, and the Barney Google and Snuffy Smith or Robotman/Monty thing of getting a new cast and dropping the old. Comic strips used to be even weirder.

It does reveal this story’s special guest stars, Steve Roper and Mike Nomad. From the remembered comic strip Steve Roper and Mike Nomad. When that comic was last seen, in December 2004, Steve Roper was the editor of Proof Magazine. Mike Nomad was a private eye. Together they’d have action-adventure stories that I never read. I mean, c’mon, who was doing story-comic snark blogging in 2004?

Roper’s car was completely destroyed by the bomb. Roper and Nomad were in town, by a great stroke of luck, investigating Tulza Tuzon. Nomad explains they knew Haf-and-Haf, from an investigation they ran ages ago into carnival cons. The one they could pin on Haf-and-Haf: the old purse-snatching-crows plan. Which, I read, was part of the original Haf-and-Haf story in 1960s Dick Tracy. They spotted Haf-and-Haf’s scam, called the cops, and Tulza went on the run. He ran all the way into a truck carrying a vat of toxic disfigurement chemicals. So, uh, good job, Proof Magazine, giving some supervillain his Origin Story. I get why Tuzon would be aiming a bomb at them; what I don’t know is why they figured they had to come back into town now and be a target for him.

And that’s where the story has gotten to, as of Saturday.

Next Week!

Will I get to talk about old-time radio? It’s time to explain what’s going on in Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley, so, yes. Catch you in a week, unless something demands the publication slot first.

What’s Going On In Prince Valiant? How did Valiant escape the lions? September – November 2019


This plot recap for Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant should get you up to speed for late November 2019. If you’re reading this after about late February 2020, you may find a more up-to-date recap at this link. Thanks for reading at all, though.

Prince Valiant.

1 September – 24 November 2019

All the player-characters were in North Africa last time I checked in. Fewesi the Healer had kidnapped Makeda, Queen of Ab’sabam. Bukota, Makeda’s exiled lover, caught up to them. She escaped Fewesi’s mind-control enchantment, and she and he team up to chase down Fewesi. And Prince Valiant, trailing all this, is busy fighting some lions. He’s doing all right but, after all, they have a whole hunting party while Valiant is off on his own.

As luck would have it, though, not for long. Fewesi is fleeing back the way he came. This takes him to the oasis where Valiant and the lions are having it out. Bukota and Makeda surround Fewesi, on the ledge. Fewesi lunges for Makeda; she whacks him good and sends him plummeting. He lands near enough Valiant. The lions break off from Valiant, going for the pre-dead delivery meal now that they can.

Fewesi had sought to circle behind and ambush Bukota - suddenly, there before him stands Makeda! He had not considered her ferocious resolve! He attempts to again exert his will over the Queen, but he is exhausted, and Makeda is now on guard. In desperation, he lunges at her. Before she was queen, Makeda was an adept warrior - she decisively counters Fewesi's awkward attack and now the man called 'The Healer' plummets, screaming, toward the roars that echo up from far below. A moment, and a thud, later, the angry lions circling Val pause, as the thrashing of a broken body has caught their attention. Their pursuit of Val has proven wearisome and painful ... and this gift from above offers much easier pickings. And, so, the healer did save someone in the end.
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 22d of September, 2019. And with this fresh supply of meat, the lionesses put off their rebellion against Scar for another two weeks. “Maybe he had a legitimate purpose in that Ukraine phone call,” they assert, once their bellies are not so empty. “Who are we to judge?”

So that’s some major crises settled. Valiant cleans his wounds, and then the gang all run into the Idar Uhag. These are Fewesi’s people, the ones who taught the Healer his mind-control powers before turning him out as gads such a loser. Makeda asks why, when Fewesi brought her to them, they didn’t free her then? They hadn’t wanted any part of Fewesi’s stupid hold-Makeda-as-hostage scheme. The chief explains how, y’know, you don’t waste energy making Wile E Coyote’s scheme blow up. Anyway, they give Makeda, Bukota, and Valiant some camels as a parting gift.

They head back toward Paraetonium, where they landed in Africa. And meet up with the cavalry: Valiant’s daughter Karen, with her husband Vanni, and the armed party from the Misty Isles there to rescue Makeda. They start flashing back to Karen’s adventure when (rolling 1d10, checking the encounter table) an Egyptian army comes over the hill. They’re from the local government and somehow all testy about the Misty Isles sending an armed party through their city and into their lands.

Val and the leader of the Egyptian force meet to parley: 'I am Patape, Governor of Paraetonium, and ... ' the little man, whom Val recognizes, hesitates, 'Do I know you?' Val answers: 'We met, but unintentionally. I fell into your boudoir in the midst of your ...' A shock of recognition lights Patape's eyes, and he glances nervously at his stern seconds. Val sees that the Governor does not wish his affair to be divulged. 'Or perhaps I have the wrong man. But I believe you are a reasonable sort, who must see that our presence here is only by mistake - we bring no threat. Escort us back to our ships and no blood need be shed.' At that, Patape looks both relieved and conflicted. 'Unfortunately, the good people of Paraetonium have already been offended by your incursion. My hand is forced. And if word ever got back to Justinian's generals in Alexandria ...' Suddenly, Vanni rides up, waving a handful of herbs. 'Perhaps I can offer an agreeable solution. These medicinal herbs I found in your market would have much value in the Misty Isles, if we could accomplish a contract for export.' Patape brightens; this talk is more to his liking. 'As it happens, I have much influence with the growers and distributors of this most excellent fenugreek!'
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 3rd of November, 2019. I know it’s a real herb. I see references to it. I sometimes see it on the store shelves. I believe our spice rack has it. If it does it’s among the dusty glass jars of things that look like dried brown leaf shreds that have always run out when we do need the contents. I just can’t make myself believe that ‘fenugreek’ isn’t a name someone came up with when they had to bluff their way through a conversation about herbs.

At their head is Patape, the Governor of Paraetonium. He’s met Valiant. He and Bukota fell through his roof when they were chasing Fewesi through the city. Valiant tries to explain how they really don’t want any trouble. Patape points out there already is trouble and there’s no way they can’t have more. Vanni has an idea that could solve things, though: what if the Governor got a bunch of money? You know, in exchange for the fenugreek growing around Paraetonium. The Governor finds interesting this plan where he gets a bunch of money. Remember, they lived when it was acceptable for public servants to use their positions to directly enrich themselves. (And yet, for my snarking, I agree with the plan of seeing if there’s a way to buy our way out of a pointless, stupid fight. That it can be done as a trade agreement satisfies me that it’s at least honest corruption.)

So Valiant and party get to head home and all looks happy. Except that, yeah, Valiant took a bunch of scrapes from the lions. And now he’s got some infection. He collapses. Vanni puts some “herbs and honey” on him, and that’s the suspenseful hook on which we end today’s strip.

Next Week!

Wait, have Steve Roper and Mike Nomad really been brought back out of the void? If anyone could do it, Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy could do it. Check back here in a week for that, barring surprise developments. Also if you like comic strips that explore mathematical themes please try my other blog. Thanks for reading in any case.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Weekdays)? Why are art students heading to Wambesiland? August – November 2019


Hi all. This recap for Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity, should get you caught up to mid-November 2019. If you want the separate Sunday continuity, or if you’re reading this after about February 2020 and want the weekday continuity, I should have a more relevant essay at this link. Thank you.

The Phantom (weekdays).

26 August – 16 November 2019

When I last checked in, The Phantom had rescued Imara Sahara from terrorist militias and American bombing. Imara Sahara is the mother of Kadia Sahara Walker, Heloise Walker’s former roommate. Kit Walker was feeling pretty good about having got out of a pretty intense situation without serious harm.

The Phantom and Imara Sahara settle overnight at a safe house. It’s a pretty nice-looking lair and he seems to have the absent owner’s permission to be there. He takes a shower and over a meal answers Imara’s most urgent questions, like, who is he? And why did he save her? OK, he doesn’t so much answer them as say they’ll head out to somewhere else in the morning. But there’s nothing that could go wrong by needlessly withholding information about identity and motivations and objectives from a woman rescued from captivity by a massive, three-party firefight that obliterated her longtime home.

Overnight, Sahara is tormented by thoughts of her husband, and fear of the strange man who’s taken her to an unfamiliar place. While The Phantom sleeps, and relives the day in his dreams, Sahara steals one of his guns. And one of the homeowner’s cars. The Phantom discovers this only in the morning.

[ Phantom heads for home ] Diana, on the phone: 'Gone? What do you mean she's gone!? Kit, what happened?' Phantom: 'Think about it, Diana. I wish I had! Before now, I mean. She knows now that her husband's a monster. She couldn't chance that I might be in league with him.'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 23rd of September, 2019. So I am snarking about the obviousness of this. But reading it day-to-day surprised me. And then I realized that yes, Imara Sahara fleeing is the most sensible thing for her to do. It also made me realize I had assumed The Phantom had explained what was going on in their drive to the safe house, or once they arrived, things not actually shown to us. (Jeez, what were they talking about instead? Was The Phantom making her listen to his podcasts? You gotta know something about someone before you put your podcasts on for them.) Also, even if he had explained who he was and why he was there, she had no reason to believe a word of it.

And, in a further surprise, The Phantom doesn’t have an idea where to track her down. He had given Sahara instructions to write The Phantom’s secret post office box, and they can watch that. In case she wants to make contact with someone the person she just fled wanted her to contact. And they’ll have to pay the homeowner for the stolen car. The Phantom jokes how he’ll get a terrible AirBnB review for this and, so help me, I don’t know if he’s joking.

Still, at least, Imara Sahara is alive and they can provide evidence of this to Kadia. And The Phantom got out of this all right. Diana Walker asks, you know, given all this, could they maybe bring Kit Junior back from his secret hiding place? (It’s a Himalayan monastery that earlier Phantoms had visited, and who remember them.)

That, the 28th of September, ended the 251st daily-continuity story, Heloise Comes Home. It had started back in December 2018, running 42 weeks overall.


The current story, The Rhodian Column, started the 30th of September. It’s the 252nd daily-continuity story.

Bangallan, seeing silhouetted figures bicycling along the jungle trail, thinks: 'Strangers in my land .. are they good, or ... ?' They shoot twice as he falls out of the way.
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 1st of October, 2019. “OK, if they shoot at me one more time I’ll consider taking them off the `good’ list!” (This is pretty much how I think about people.)

It starts with a couple bikers in the Bangallan forest. They notice someone peeking at them, and shoot at him. Missing the Bandar man, but still. The gunfire attracts a warning from the biker’s superiors. No shooting. Use knives if they have to. And spread out more, for crying out loud.

The Bandar know what to do about this, and consult The Phantom. The data: there’s an alarming number of strange travellers moving through the jungle. Kipawa, heir apparent to lead the Bandar tribe, finds them suspiciously inoffensive. Like, if they were really innocent, at least a couple would be jerks. These have all been non-threatening, I guess because nobody mentioned the one that shot at somebody.

The Phantom goes looking. At one part of the trail he sees three pairs of tourists marching past the same spot over three hours. All the travellers on the trail, he learns, stop at the same moment for the night. He sneaks into one of the travellers’ tents. They’re quite well-armed. But this checks out: they were posing as artists. They got paints and canvas from somewhere, and armed robbery is the least difficult way to afford that. But they also don’t have any cards about how to donate to their ko-fi or what their Patreon is, which is suspicious. So he does another another test: he swipes their guns and ammunition. In the morning the artists blurt out how they’re useless to the mission. So now The Phantom is all but sure something is going on.

[ Turning Back ] The Phantom watches one party chewing out the artists: 'The Colonel won't be happy when you two don't show up at the rally point!' Guy Artist: 'Somebody took our guns! We're unarmed! End of story!' Other supervisor-type guy: 'Don't say your weapons were take! Say you're sick! If anybody else in the column turns back, it's on you!'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 28th of October, 2019. So, these are the guys that The Phantom, this past week, has punched into heading back and I hope for fairness’s sake they aren’t going to hold their own turning back on Artist Couple. Just saying.

The trail of people go through Ogoru and then Llongo territory. They seem to be heading for the Wambesi lands. Next night, the Phantom wakes a different camping pair. He demands information about this whole plan. He warns he recognizes them as carrying papers forged in Rhodia. And part of an column moving to the Wambesi. He warns them to go back, and to invite all their comrades to walk back to Rhodia. He demands they tell what they know about the Python; they insist they don’t know anything about a Python. He knows well enough. And then he has some flashbacks, to help readers who don’t know who this Python is.

The Python is another terrorist leader, from the Wambesi tribe originally. He’s been in stories since 2003’s Terror In Mawitaan, sometimes under the name Chatu. The Python was behind a massive, five-part storyline that started in August 2009 and ran about a year and a half. This is long before I started doing What’s Going On In recaps. It started with The Death of Diana Walker. In this the Python feigned the death of Diana Walker, secreting her away in a Rhodian jail under a false identity.

The Phantom punches the two supervisor-y types from before while thinking, 'The Python murdered hundred at the UN building in Mawitaan', flashing back to the strip of October 6, 2009
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 11th of November, 2019. This explosion did happen in October 2009, reader time, as footnoted. The Phantom was meeting with Bangallan President Lamanda at the time. Incidentally the Sunday storyline back then was the one introducing the Avari, who’ve returned in the recently concluded Sunday continuity just now.

With the help of Captain Savarna and her highly automated freighter with guns, The Phantom found and broke Diana out of jail. And captured the Python, whom he brought to a secret prison in Wambesi territory where the locals keep watch. I can’t say I like The Phantom’s civil-rights record here, but I do understand how he came to this point. And, incidentally, putting the Python away like this gave Eric “The Nomad” Sahara his big break, so, you know. Probably something about the unending struggle of life in there.

And that’s where we stand on the field: some armed force is moving, in pairs, towards The Python. The Phantom knows that they exist, but their exact motives and goals are not actually yet known. There’s a lot of sinister explanations, though.

Next Week!

We check in on the time of King Arthur with Mark Schulz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant, barring surprises or breaking news. Also please consider looking at the comic strips discussed in my mathematics blog. Thanks for reading.

What’s Going On In Alley Oop? Who blipped Alley Oop and Ooola out of existence? August – November 2019


Hi, person wanting to complain about Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop. This is a good place to talk about the strip, as I have a plot recap bringing people up to date for about early November 2019. If you’re reading this after about February 2020 there’s probably a more up-to-date recap at this link. Thank you for disliking the comic strip, but I trust, liking me.

Alley Oop.

19 August – 9 November 2019.

I last checked in as Ollie Arp and Eeena, from Universe 3, finished sanctioning the comic for being all wacky and stuff. Universe 3, annoyed with how the new Alley Oop, Oona, and Doctor Wonmug were messing up time, gave them a ticket, and left. They haven’t played an explicit part in the story since, as of the 9th of November. But, gosh, it sure would be wild if they had something to do with the vanishing of Wonmug’s time lab staff after a really big messing up of time, wouldn’t it?

(This is my inference. I don’t read the strips ahead of the day of publication. I am given to understand that other comic strip bloggers have the Secret Knowledge of ways to get future strips. It requires something more sophisticated than hacking a strip URL to a future date, so, I’m not going to bother.)

And they left Alley Oop and Ooola with their previous mission. This was bringing Plato back to the present day. Genevieve Collingsworth, (fictional) Pulitzer-prize winning writer, hoped to interview him. The disappointment: Alley Oop and Ooola had gotten Plato from a time before he was doing philosophy. It’s from the era when Plato was doing puppetry. Collingsworth makes a Pulitzer-winning book out of it anyway.

Dr Piedra: 'You walked to Dr Wonmug and his partners?' Ollie Arp: 'Yes. I was very clear that they should stop altering the timeline. I was firm, but fair.' Piedra; 'And how do you explain this?' (She holds up a picture of Plato on a scooter, wearing a sleeveless leather vest and short jeans.) Arp: 'Oh ... ha ha ... Plato, uh, always dressed like that.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 5th of September, 2019. This is funny enough, although if you wanted the Slightly Over-Researched version of this joke? Have Dr Piedra show a photo of Plato as a lucha libre wrestler.

With the 6th of September, the new and current storyline starts. It’s to the Galapagos Islands of about two million years ago. Dr Charles Losthouse thinks there was then an advanced tortoise species that used a sharp stick as tools. What’s needed is evidence.

The first two turtles Alley Oop and Ooola meet, two million years ago, push them into the sea. Dolphins pick them up and carry them to another island, one with a stone statue of a tortoise. They find a tortoise playing a flute. The tortoise, Sharp, brings them back to the local city. It’s a futuristic megalopolis.

Alley Oop: 'Wow! Your society is SO advanced!' Sharp: 'Yes, it must be very shocking to you. Apologies that I cannot offer you a banana or a vine to swing on. I know how you primates are.' Ooola: 'Sharp, come on, just because we're primates ... [ Notices Oop doing something with her hair ] Oop, what are you doing?!' Oop: 'I wasn't grooming you. There was just a bug in your fur ... I mean hair.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 24th of September, 2019. One joke used repeatedly, and never failing me, this storyline was this kind of “oh, you know primates” setup. I don’t say it’s a deep joke. I do say I had fun hearing humans described as “a bunch of greasy, hairy bipeds who don’t even have the sense to evolve a shell over their backs … stinky, violent, high-center-of-gravity, fragile creatures … the most annoying and destructive beings”.

They explain to Uldo and Sharp that they’re from the future. Uldo, a scientist, understands. Tortoise society has discovered time travel but never been so reckless as to use it. They don’t dare change the timeline. But then why would future primates not know tortoise scientists? … And Ooola drops the news that in their time, tortoises aren’t, you know, smart. It’s humans who are the scientists. Uldo declares they have to change the timeline immediately.

Alley Oop starts feeling it’d be wrong to let the intelligent tortoises die out. President Shellington can’t believe the news. But she laughs at Alley Oop’s offer of help, and claim that they’re “from the future and kind of smart”. Alley Oop and Ooola go home.

Uldo: 'We must tell the President what we've learned! We must save the Cutie-Pies!' Alley Oop: 'Who are the Cutie-Pies?' Uldo: 'We are! That's what we call ourselves.' Oop: 'That's ... weird.' Uldo: 'Wy? Aren't we cute?' Oop: 'I mean ... not really.' Uldo: 'First we learn about the end of our species, and now I'm called ugly? Can this day get any worse?'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 2nd of October, 2019. I don’t know; I think they’re cute. Also in the next couple days Alley Oop comes to see the Cutie-Pies as fairly cute, really, and deserving saving.

Meanwhile back in the present, Dr Wonmug is annoyed they haven’t brought back the Galapagos Apparatus, needed to prevent the end of the world. Yes, this is the first we’ve heard about the end of the world. Ooola tries to explain what they saw. Dr Wonmug calls in his colleague, Dr Silverstein, a tortoise scientist. In the changed timeline there’s both humans and tortoises. Ooola and Dr Silverstein were good friends. Alley Oop used to date a tortoise. This is bad.

I’m surprised that when this dropped, mid-October, I didn’t see a flurry of people angry at Alley Oop. So far as I am aware the comic strip hasn’t had a malleable timeline. But I am only dimly aware. I’ve read a little bit of V T Hamlin’s original strips, and a couple years of the Jack Bender and Carole Bender era. That’s it. All sorts of shenanigans might have happened and I wouldn’t know, any more than I’d know what happened in the original-run Doctor Who. Which also mostly didn’t have a malleable timeline.

Ooola: 'I don't understand. Humans are horrible to the environment in our timeline, but the world doesn't end there.' Dr Wonmug: 'Yes, that puzzled me at first, too, but I've been running the numbers. The increased biomass of the tortoises in this timeline has put an extra strain on Earth's limited resources. [ Looking over at a Cute-Pie. ] See, I told you it was the tortoises's fault, Silverstein! You owe me a dollar!'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 22nd of October, 2019. Moving swiftly onward from yet another science fiction “oh, we can’t have an environment and avoid genocide, choose one” line of bull: Hey, Wonmug, they want to be called Cutie-Pies. Why you being a jerk about this? Unless we hypothesize that a group’s sense of their own identity might change over two million years which is, of course, absurd and impossible. Anyway there’s a cute moment the 24th, when Wonmug tries to tell Silverstein they were talking about “bananas and body hair”, as primates will.

Anyway, in the new timeline, the world is doomed. Environmental collapse. A combination human/tortoise civilization is too much for the planet. Yes, we have to pretend this makes sense. Doc charges Alley Oop and Ooola with stopping the world from ending. Doc stays with Dr Silverstein. He pledges he’ll “breed a species of hyperintelligent giant tortoises that will rebuild my forgotten society”. Yeah; take a number after the Time Raccoons.

Alley Oop has his doubts about making the giant tortoises not exist. Ooola points out there’s saving the rest of the earth that’s worthwhile. Which, all right, but this is why it’s bad to stare into the ethics of changing history. Anyway, Alley Oop’s first plan to save the timeline is to go back to Moo and stop himself from being born. That way, he can’t go back to the Galapagos Islands of two million years ago. In a serious story this could have a nice moral balance, atoning for destroying so many people by also destroying oneself. In this story, he completely fails to talk his parents out of having children. Which is at least a fun ironic conclusion.

Alley Oop, to his parents: 'I know it's complicated, but I'm your son. I'm from the future. I'm kind of responsible for the world ending. For the sake of the whole world, have you ever thought about not having any kids? You could travel the world, chisel the great Moo-ian novel, collect cool-looking rocks, learn how to ... ' As he keeps talking Oop's father says, 'When he leaves, do you still want to ... ?' Oop's mother: 'Oh, yeah.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 31st of October, 2019. Granting that Alley Oop isn’t offering much evidence for his claims about being from the future and being a threat to the world. But, jeez, if you were Alley Oop’s parents wouldn’t this at least spoil your mood? There’s more than a bit of 90s-webcomic-mean in the writing and I think it gives moments like this the wrong tone.

Ooola has the more sensible plan of just interfering with their own Galapagos Island mission. They go back to about five minutes before their original arrival. The new plan: keep the tortoises they first met from knocking them onto the dolphins. The easiest way to do this is grab the tortoises and hide them. The now alternate-past Alley Oop and Ooola don’t find anything and, presumably, go back to the present. Where, uh, Dr Wonmug has vanished. Ooola disappears in the next panel, and Ava and finally Alley Oop. So I guess the comic strip has ended and nobody will be angry about it anymore? That’s good, right?

Ava: 'Alley! Ooola! I'm so glad to see you! Dr Wonmug is GONE! He just VANISHED!' (As Ooola vanishes behind them.) Alley Oop: 'Don't be silly, Ava. (He looks to where Ooola was, as Ava vanishes.) People don't just ... (As he vanishes.) ... disappear ... '
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 9th of November, 2019. Yes, people disappearing is completely inexplicable in a comic strip about people who disappear through time and occasionally alternate universes.

Next Week!

I trusted that The Ghost Who Walks was about to take Imara Sahara back to the fabulous Skull Cave. How’d that turn out? We’ll see as I look at Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom (Weekday continuity) next Sunday, I hope.

Also this week, on my other blog, I talk about mathematics through the filter of comic strips. You might enjoy that too.

What’s Going On In The Amazing Spider-Man? Also, turns out it’s not safe to read Funky Winkerbean. August – November 2019


So, first, the content advisory business. I thought last week that Tom Batiuk’s Funky Winkerbean was done with the storyline involving a character’s suicide. The strip was into its third week of other, more lighthearted topics. Well, this week that’s changed. The eminently punch-worthy Les Moore was in today’s strip, meeting up with someone married to the person who died. So, again, if you don’t need that in your recreational reading, give this strip a pass, certainly for this week, possibly for the next several. I’ll try to give a warning when the storyline isn’t the direct focus anymore. Also maybe when Les Moore is not part of the story, because, jeez, that guy.


Back to main focus. Roy Thomas and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man is still in repeats. I still haven’t heard anything of it coming out. I’ll at least carry on recapping the repeats a while longer yet before dropping it. Or being fair and picking up Mandrake the Magician and Flash Gordon. If I hear any news, or if February 2020 rolls around and it’s time for another recapping, I’ll try to post it at this link. And as ever, I use comic strips to explore mathematical topics, over on my other blog. Thanks for reading.

The Amazing Spider-Man.

11 August – 3 November 2019.

Spider-Man and Black Widow were teaming up to project Mary Jane Parker, last we saw. Mary Jane, trying again to film Marvella 2: Mo Mar, Mo Vella, had been kidnapped by and rescued from The Hobgoblin already. This irked Peter Parker, since he thought Harry Osborn had outgrown being The Hobgoblin. Osborn was Peter Parker’s old high school best friend. And Mary Jane’s former fiancee. Harry Osborn blames Spider-Man for murdering his father, Norman Osborn, the Green Goblin.

Mary Jane: 'Since *you're* no more superhuman than I am, Black Widow, I'm coming *with* you to hunt for the Hobgoblin!' Black Widow, shoving her off the rooftop: 'All right, you win!' Mary Jane: 'WHA-?' Black Widow, leaping off the rooftop after her: 'Surely Marvella won't have a problem grabbing that flagpole as we hurtle by!'
Roy Thomas and Alex Saviuk’s The Amazing Spider-Man rerun for the 16th of August, 2019. By the way, Gwen Stacy, who’s key to the whole Green Goblin/Hobgoblin backstory, died from a great fall. Spider-Man caught his love, yes, but this was during the two minutes a year when physics worked in a superhero universe, so the sudden stop still broke her neck. So when Spider-Man doesn’t react to Black Widow shoving his wife off the rooftop there’s some new levels of screwed-up in there.

Spidey asks Black Widow to bodyguard Mary Jane. She doesn’t see a good reason why, so Black Widow pushes her off a roof ledge. And saves her, yes, but still. And Spider-Man doesn’t lift a finger to rescue his wife from plummeting from atop another yet another building. His excuse is that Black Window was going to rescue her. And Mary Jane had to be convinced that he would not always be able to rescue her. Still, you know, you remember the web site Superdickery? Just saying.

So they put Mary Jane up in a hotel to hide out. And then Spidey and Black Widow go off together to chase down The Hobgoblin. Spider-Man’s first thought: check in Harry Osborn. Mary Jane’s first thought: how does she know Peter Parker isn’t making the loves with Black Widow? Black Widow’s first thought: hey, isn’t Mary Jane married? Should we check in on her husband or anything? Anyway, Spider-Man fills Black Widow in on the Green Goblin storyline and why Hobgoblin wants revenge.

Spider-Man and Black Widow break into Harry Osborn’s penthouse apartment. He binds and gags the bodyguard, and they find Osborn asleep. But when he wakes he’s agitated by the man who killed his father having broken into his house and webbed his bodyguard and hovering over his bed in the dark. He reaches for a gun, but Black Widow slams his arm in a drawer. So the questioning gets off to a rough start. But Harry insists he knows nothing about the Hobgoblin and has been asleep all night. Spidey comes away from this convinced that Harry Osborn represses his memories of Hobgoblinning. Or maybe someone’s trying to frame him, whatever. There’s no way to tell unless they also manage a crossover with Slylock Fox.

Obsorn: 'WHAT ARE YOU TWO DOING IN MY BEDROOM?' Spider-Man: 'Harry ... we just want to talk to you.' Osborn: 'SPIDER-MAN? You've come to kill me! Just like you killed my father! But I'll get you first!' (He reaches into a drawer.) Black Widow: 'Sorry, we're both allergic to lead.' (She kicks the drawer closed, slamming his fist on it. He screams in pain.) Spider-Man: 'Now, just calm down a minute and answer me one question. Are you now or have you ever been The Hobgoblin?'
Roy Thomas and Alex Saviuk’s The Amazing Spider-Man rerun for the 1st of September, 2019. Spider-Man, afterwards: “Yeah, so I don’t know why I can’t get Harry Osborne to make peace with me. I keep reaching out, but he just won’t reach back. I’m not going to stop trying, but I have to admit, I despair of it making any difference.”

With nothing else to learn Spider-Man swings by Mary Jane’s hotel room. She’s prickly about Black Widow, certainly. Some of it on reasonable grounds: if Black Widow is watching Mary Jane, won’t she figure out Peter Parker is Spider-Man? Peter’s casual about that, claiming that she’s someone he can trust.

At movie filming the next day, Black Widow’s on hand to be Mary Jane’s stunt double. There’s a great chance, a stunt requiring yet another fall off a building, which Mary Jane’s got to have built up an immunity to by now. But that goes perfectly, both Mary Jane’s short fall and Black Widow as stunt double’s several-stories fall. Another stunt goes well too: while Peter Parker very obnoxiously drops in on set, a “dummy activated by a timer” swings past and they both point it out. “See that, Black Widow? I, Peter Parker, and pointing out Spider-Man! Who is another person, there, in your, Black Widow’s view! At the same time that I, Peter Parker, am, even though we are in different places! So it would be ridiculous for you to start thinking that I, Spider-Man, am also Peter Parker! I mean. That Spider-Man is not. I. Um. Look, a big distracting thing!” And then he runs into a shop door that’s actually a mural painted on a brick wall.

There’s several more days of dangerous stunts coming off perfectly. So Spider-Man figures he just has to shadow Harry Osborn. He follows Obsorn to his psychiatrist’s appointment. And listens to the whole thing. Which is a jerk move, yes, but you have to remember the context. He could follow Osborn by secretly planting tracers in Osborn’s shoes that night he broke into his apartment. I’m pretty sure Spider-Man is the good guy here? Yes, that’s what my notes say. Well.

After Osborn leaves Spider-Man pops in to ask Dr Mark Stone, what’s the deal here? Why are you just validating Osborn’s assertions that his father was a hero brutally slain by the villain Spider-Man? Stone points out it’s not his business to clear Spider-Man’s name, it’s his job to listen to Osborn’s problems and try and give advice. And hey, Spidey looks like he’s got issues. Would he want to talk about them any? Peter almost goes for it, then recovers his senses. What possible use could therapy be to a person haunted by how a moment of petty self-indulgence allowed the murder of the man who raised him?

Spider-Man: 'You're encouraging Harry's obsession that I murdered his father!' Dr Stone: 'As his psychiatrist, it's my job to LISTEN to him- and offer advice. As a matter of fact, it occurs to me that YOU could benefit from a little therapy.' Spider-Man: 'ME!?'
Roy Thomas and Alex Saviuk’s The Amazing Spider-Man rerun for the 10th of October, 2019. Boy, this story is such a puzzle! Do you have any ideas who the Real Bad Guy might turn out to be?

Also recovering her senses: Mary Jane. Spider-Man swings by the movie set again, though to check in with Black Widow. They swing off to go patrolling for Hobgoblin or something. Mary Jane grabs a taxi to follow them. The taxi driver’s a fun guy who talks about other times that superheroes have grabbed his taxi, which I trust all happened in the Silver Age. He asks Mary Jane why she’s spying on Spider-Man. And she realizes, yeah, she’s got no good reason to.

This was, by the way, the high point of the last couple months for me. What I think of as the great breakthrough in Marvel Comics was a touch of psychological realism. Mostly that’s reflected in how people discover that their problems don’t go away when they get superpowers. They just change, in the ways they change when you grow up too. Mary Jane realizing that, yeah, her doubts about Peter Parker’s fidelity are ridiculous and she needs to get over them? That’s got truth behind it. So she goes home.

Spider-Man and Black Widow see Harry Osborn pulling up. So Spidey sheds one disguise and Peter Parker “happens to” bump into Osborn. In a car drive while nominally looking out for Spider-Man, Osborn reiterates that he wants revenge on Spider-Man for killing his father. And then WPLOT, New York City’s 24-hour all-plot radio channel (550 on the AM dial), breaks in with a Hobgoblin sighting.

Limosine screeching to a stop. Peter Parker, inside: 'Your chauffeur made good time, Harry!' Osborn: 'Rinaldo used to be a race-car driver. (Pointing to a silhouetted figure flying around.) Look! There's the Hobgoblin!' Peter, thinking: 'But - I was almost positive Harry Osborn is the Hobgoblin!'
Roy Thomas and Alex Saviuk’s The Amazing Spider-Man rerun for the 1st of November, 2019. I’m in this storyline for a month from now, when Spider-Man explores the possibility that Peter Parker is the Hobgoblin. Anyway, gosh, I mean, sure, the psychologist is the only other person in the story, but how could a superhero comic psychologist be anything but the most reliably good person in the whole world?

They race there, and both look up at Hobgoblin flying about on his bat-gliders. Peter Parker reflects how that proves Harry Osborn is not this Hobgoblin, at least. He’s forgotten that he himself set up a dummy Spider-Man to trick someone out of recognizing his secret identity just a couple days before. It’s easy for Spider-Man to catch this Hobgoblin; this because it’s a booby trap. It explodes on him.

And that’s where things sit, and there I’ll leave it. But if you do want to read ahead, and you have a Comics Kingdom account, you can pick the story up from the 29th of June, 2015 and proceed from there. The Hobgoblin storyline, with a couple bits about the movie, wrapped up around the 23rd of August. So, if Marvel and King Features really and truly mean to restart the comic with new adventures they’ll have a seamless chance to in eight weeks, about the 29th of December. It would be an auspicious time to start a new team, but they would need that team in place, like, today. I haven’t heard anything to imply they have. But the world is vaster than I imagine; many things can happen.

Next Week!

Time travel and tortoises! It’s everyone’s chance to complain about
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop.
See you then, unless the Time Tortoises get to me first.

It’s Probably Safe To Read Funky Winkerbean For A While


I’d warned in mid-September that Tom Batiuk’s Funky Winkerbean was about to do a storyline about a character’s suicide. I’d promised to give a follow-up when the immediate storyline seemed to have passed.

Well, the first part of it seems to be done. It was in a baffling manner, though, one which managed to not make clear that the character even did deliberately suicide. Someone who read only the comic strip and not supplemental material like my essays might reasonably think the character had a terrible but ordinary accident.

My understanding was that the suicide storyline was intended to run about twice as long as it has. So my hypothesis is that Tom Batiuk wanted the character’s death to happen in an ambiguous way, and then have characters eventually discover it was suicide. If that is so, I will try to give warning when the story resumes.

In the meanwhile this week the strip seems to be doing a whimsical Halloween zombie story. The previous two weeks it’s been doing a gruesome zombie storyline, resurrecting the Movie Of Lisa’s Story. Lisa’s Story was, in-universe, the book Les Moore wrote about his wife’s dying of breast cancer. (In the real world it’s a collection of the comic strips detailing this story.)

For about 36 years there in the early 2010s there was a story about a cable-movie production company trying to make this into a movie, with Moore as the novice screenwriter unhappy with … absolutely everything, at all times … until the project collapsed for some reason. So I can’t say that I’m happy that Mason Jarre, star of the abortive First Lisa’s Story Movie and of the in-universe Starbuck Jones science fiction intellectual property franchise, wants to do a new movie only Right This Time. But, as ever, I’m hoping for things to turn out good. There’s very few premises so bad that a good story can’t come from them.

What’s Going On In Judge Parker? Why has Rex Morgan stopped updating? Is Norton gone? August – October 2019


So a quick thing that might be obsolete by the time this publishes on Sunday evening: Comics Kingdom didn’t print Rex Morgan, M.D. for Friday or Saturday. I have no idea why. I assume it’s yet another glitch with the new design web site, which has mostly gotten its glitches out of the way but is still keeping problems in reserve. Whenever Rex Morgan does publish, Friday’s and Saturday’s strips should appear in the archive. This is at an annoying moment since the story was unfolding mysteries of Mindy’s pregnancy.

As for Judge Parker. We will never see the last of Norton, not in Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker. Maybe under the next writer we will, but no. When we most recently saw him he was stepping up toward a person concealing a knife in her hand. There’s no reason to think that’s the end of him.

Anyway, if you’re reading this after about January 2020 I may well have a more current plot recap at this link. Older plot recaps are at that link too. Good luck finding what you really want.

Judge Parker.

4 August – 26 October 2019.

Norton Dumont, with the aid of super-secret agent Strand, had escaped from hyperprison. Retired Judge Alan Parker was in jail for helping Norton fake his death. Roy Rodgers was extending some protection to Parker. He had protection because he helped the mob kill his business partner who’d been embezzling from their firm to not pay mob debts. Rodgers was doing this for information on Marie, who’d been his wife before he faked his death on their honeymoon. And Marie had been Abbey Drivers’ housekeeper for years. I think that’s enough background for where things were as of early August, my last check-in on this plot-heavy soap. And you may not like all the plotting, but you can’t deny its soapiness.

[Norton and Agent Strand 'Confer' with Sam where Neddy's factory once stood.] Norton: 'Did you know this is where I safely brought Charlotte to the Parkers? Good times.' Sam Driver: 'So this is about April trying to take her daughter again!' Norton: 'I already told you, I made sure that wouldn't happen. Really, Samuel, mutual trust will make it so much easier for me to help you.' Driver: 'Help me? By kidnapping me? And who is this anyway?' Norton: 'Agent Strand. She's been with me for a while.' Driver: 'And it doesn't weird you out she looks almost exactly like your daughter?' Strand:' I knew I wasn't the only one who saw that!'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 11th of August, 2019. I don’t know what significance we should attach to Strand resembling April Parker so. It may be meant to suggest there’s something weird about Norton, a person who’s already overflowing with weird. It may be meant to just be a strange little bit. It might be that Marciuliano and Manley didn’t think much about Strand’s design when she was a background character in other scenes but when she got more screen time they were stuck with a model and decided to rationalize that.

Norton and Strand kidnap Sam Driver while he’s trying to meet Alan Parker. Norton’s offering help getting Alan Parker out of jail. Driver suspects it’s an attempt to kidnap Charlotte. She’s Randy and April Parker’s daughter and Norton’s granddaughter. Norton insists he’s sent April Parker elsewhere.

That elsewhere is Los Angeles, where Neddy Parker and Ronnie Huerta have been trying to write a screenplay. The screenplay’s based on April Parker, of course. And April, following a message from Norton, has found it. And now that April knows it exists, she has notes. I assume this sort of thing happens all the time in Real Los Angeles too, if there is such a thing. So April gives Neddy and Ronnie her real story, if there is such a thing. When the script’s in shape she says her final farewells to Neddy. She didn’t join the CIA to protect an America that does the sorts of things America created the CIA for. So she’s leaving. Unless the rewrites screw her story up.

Neddy: 'You want to help us write our screenplay about you?' April: 'This is my story. This is my truth. And I want to make sure everyone sees the truth onscreen, not some collection of tired action cliches and uninformed storytelling.' Neddy: 'By cliches and poor storytelling, are you talking about spy movies in general or our screenplay in particular?' April: 'By page two I already had three pages of notes.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 22nd of August, 2019. I need to get one of those jobs where you just make notes on other people’s work. Doing it for free like this on WordPress is fun but it’s putting stress on my Saturday plans.

Back in Cavelton, Norton claims to want to make amends before his totally real illness totally really gets him for total real. He’ll confess to threatening Alan Parker, coercing him into helping fake his death. He didn’t, but he’s willing to lie under oath for a friend and former family. (It’s never said exactly when Randy and April Parker divorced, or how those court proceedings happened. It’s happened off-screen, we’re to infer.) Driver can’t accept him saying he’s going to lie under oath. Norton writes that off as a joke. Driver can’t see a way to get Norton — officially dead, this time by the CIA faking it — to testify. Norton says he can do it remotely. Driver gets hung up on the technical challenges of this. Norton says he can get started now.

All this kept Alan Parker from meeting Sam Driver in prison. Roy Rodgers has been pressuring Parker to get Driver to help him, and to get information about Marie. Rodgers doesn’t believe Parker’s claim that Driver didn’t show up. Rodgers calls on his mob friends, who beat Alan Parker badly enough that he’s sent to the hospital.

[ Randy sees his dad at the prison hospital ... ] Randy: 'Dad ... ' Alan: 'I'm fine, son. I'm fine. No one beat me. They just pushed me around. Tried to scare me.' Randy: 'Well, it looks like you held your own.' Alan: 'I held on to my lunch tray and kept swinging. I bet if I were younger I wouldn't even be in here, but the bed sure is much nicer.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 6th of September, 2019. So the judge overseeing Alan Parker’s case refused to have Parker kept out of the general prison population. Yes, ordinarily, someone who’d been an officer of the court for decades would be in obvious danger all the time. “But,” the judge said, “you have to remember the Parkers never do court stuff, so no prisoners have anything to hold against them.”

After having a plausibly deniable conversation with Randy Parker about this, Sam Driver agrees to Norton’s plan, whatever it is. The plan to testify in court was a sham, because of course. That was a distraction to let Strand hack Driver’s cell phone. But Norton is as good as his word, for a wonder. They’d had a judge who was refusing Alan Parker bail, on the grounds that Parker betrayed a lifetime of public and professional trust. The judge suddenly resigns. The district attorney admits to having withheld footage of Norton holding Alan Parker hostage. And there’s now recordings of Norton threatening Alan Parker.

[ Norton (walking through the woods) bids a final farewell to Sam. ] Driver: 'That's it? You leave nothing but wreckage in your wake and stroll away scot-free?' Norton: 'No one walks away from wreckage unharmed, Samuel. Even when no scars are present. I had a family and I treated them like an appendage. I had a new start with my daughter and fell back on what was familiar instead of right. And over the last few months I realized I can't go back and fix anything. But with what time I have left in the world, I can move on a better path. I've had too many chances in my life to expect another. So I keep walking, hoping to do right by the few I never meant to hurt, even if it kills me.' (Norton and Strand walk up to Candace Bergen's apartment. She conceals a knife in her hand.)
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 22nd of September, 2019. So what odds do you give that next time we see Norton it’s with Agent Strand having learned she’s April Parker’s previously-unsuspected twin? Or is that too many unknown sisters in too short a time?

In what he claims will be a last conversation with Driver, Norton says he regrets everything. All the ways he screwed up his daughter’s life. Wrecking the Parkers’ lives. Everything And he walks up to the cabin of April’s Mom, Spy Candace Bergen. Which is the last we’ve seen of them, at least as of the 24th of October when I write this.


The 23rd of September opened with the feeling of another time jump. Although since it has Alan Parker hugging his granddaughter and talking of how he missed this, it can’t have been that long. Also, Abbey’s big project has been a success. She was thinking to run a little bed-and-breakfast out of the Spencer Farms. It’s been successful, and much more work than Abbey imagined.

Over lunch with Marie, Abbey admits how much she’s not keeping up with this. Also how, so far as she is keeping up, it’s because Sophie is masterminding things. Which is great, except that Sophie’s a high school kid. She’s not thinking about college or anything about her future, and refuses all entreaties to. This is understandable. She had been kidnapped and tormented for months by Abbey Spencer’s previously-unsuspected half-sister. As were her friends. But, you know, you can’t go about working instead of talking over feelings with other people, people keep telling us stoic types. This infuriates us, but what are we going to do? Complain?

Marie: 'Funny you should mention wanting to spend more time together, Abbey. My social work school program is ... not cheap. And while my field placement does take up quite a few hours, I ... well ... I could be persuaded to work part-time at the B-and-B if you're looking to hire.' Abbey: 'I'm passing you a proposed salary. It's actually a blank piece of paper, so you write whatever number you see fit!'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 5th of October, 2019. One small recurring theme of Marciuliano’s writing that I do like is characters having these nice big bold ideas which, they learn, are more tedious and more difficult than they realized, and having to back down from the great ambitions. It’s an echo of the crazification-and-retrenchment pattern in the plotting. Also, jeez, if someone offered me a write-your-own-salary I would be too embarrassed to actually ask for anything and probably would hide in the basement until the prospect of work went away.

And Marie admits it’d be nice to see Abbey more. And that … her expenses are higher than she figured on, and, you know? Maybe she could work part-time at the bed-and-breakfast and there we go. It might even open Sophie up some. Sophie is overjoyed to see Marie back around. So that goes well, right until Sophie starts talking about how she needs the help running the business.

Marie’s diagnosis is that Sophie is quite avoiding talking school. Also that Sophie’s right about the bed-and-breakfast needing to be better organized. Sophie’s plan is a bigger kitchen and a dedicated bed-and-breakfast building. Somehow they settle on converting the horse barn to rooms. This I don’t understand as I thought the point of a bed-and-breakfast was to stay in something that’s plausibly a person’s home. Also that they need a barn for the horses. Maybe it’ll come together by the next time I do a plot recap.

Meanwhile in Los Angeles, Neddy and Ronnie keep shopping their script around. The feedback is brutal, and worse, neither of them say it’s wrong. The most devastating critiques are the perceptive ones. They don’t seem to be comments people have made about the comic strip since Marciuliano took over the writing, by the way. They’re in-universe complaints. But they finally got a callback this past week! It’s Annada Pictures, who I assume are hiring Neddy and Ronnie for that big Lisa’s Story project that somehow has come back into Funky Winkerbean. I’m not saying I want Norton back, but if it involves him kidnapping Les Moore, I could get on board.

And that’s where we’re at now.

Next Week!

We have yet to see The Amazing Spider-Man “return” with “great new stories and art”. Or to hear any news about when it might. Still, I intend to recap Roy Thomas and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Reruns next Sunday, barring breaking news. And as ever, I keep up-to-date on mathematically-themed comic strips on my other blog. Thanks for reading.

What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? What does “blowtop mad” mean? July – October 2019


Thanks for coming in, soapy sports fans. If you’re reading this after about January 2020 I probably have a more up-to-date recap of
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp at this link.
If you’re just trying to figure out where the strip was as of mid-October 2019, you’re in a good place. And if you’d like to see me using comic strips to talk about mathematical topics, please try my other blog, here. Now to the story.

Gil Thorp.

20 July – 19 October 2019.

As a Milford student Hadley V Baxendale won the girls’ teams some dignity and larger lockers. She’s since become a star attorney for her Chicagoland firm. She’s also engaged to Jaquan Case, former Milford basketball player turned NBA star. She’s visiting her parents. Her father is all weird about how they don’t even live in the same city, and in ten years he’ll be retired and she won’t. How will they survive these quite survivable problems?

She’s got side projects, though. She’s gotten involved in Tiki Jansen’s story. Jansen was fleeing harassment at New Thayer by his family renting an apartment in Milford that they don’t actually live in. But the school board has reconsidered the matter and concluded that since he doesn’t live in Milford he shouldn’t be going to Milford High. And Baxendale is happy for a chance to fight with the school board again.

Baxendale: 'I'm here about Thomas Jansen, Mr Ballard.' Ballard: 'Are you a lawyer?' Baxendale: 'Right now, I'm just a family friend ... but I *could* be.' Later, Baxendale, on the phone: 'She said she didn't want to sue us, Carol. But she didn't say she wouldn't!'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 29th of July, 2019. I don’t intend to be snarky when I say I don’t know who Carol is, other than, someone connected to the school board. I haven’t caught her last name or what her exact connection is.

If she needs to. Jansen’s family can’t afford an empty apartment anymore. But teammate Leonard Fleming’s family is willing to put Jansen up. With that fact she goes to work. She talks with the Flemings, who say they’re trying to do a favor to someone who needs a favor, and keep the team from losing Jansen. She gets the video that High School Cinema Weenie Joe Bolek made of Jansen’s former schoolmates chasing him down. And she talks with Chet Ballard, head of the school board.

They don’t put Tiki Jansen’s case on the school board agenda. Carol Other School Board Person doesn’t want to do stuff that establishes a precedent. Baxendale is warm to this too, on the grounds that a private deal is more likely to go her way. The strip doesn’t mention but this is an interesting development for Baxendale. She’s arguing for special treatment for someone, not because of the facts of his case, but because of who happens to be Mary Worthing his life. But there is no such thing as not creating a precedent. Getting the school board to agree to this for Jansen means they can be made to agree to this again later.

At the school board. Ballard: 'How do we know Thomas will actually stay with the Flemings, or how often?' Baxendale: 'How do we know what roof anyone is under? You? Me? A child whose parents are divorced? Maybe we can have sign-in sheets for everybody. How many new hires will it take to verify them?'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 10th of August, 2019. “I mean, if we can’t trust the residency of someone whom we know to have lied about his residency within the last six months, who can we trust?”

So, meeting with school board members, Baxendale lays out her case. Jansen’s in physical danger at New Thayer. Reduced (most of his tormentors have graduated), but still credible. And while the old apartment was nonsense, he now has a real verifiable host family in town. To the reasonable question of how do they know he actually lives there, she points out they don’t know where any of their students live. Which is true but not a case I’d want to argue to a judge. Ballard isn’t a judge; he sells insurance. The school board accepts Jansen as student.

Hadley had invited her father Ed to watch her work. He’s impressed. And he’s worked out what his deal with Jaquan Case was. It wasn’t anything do to with Case. It was his longing to have his daughter move home and join his law firm. Seeing her at work, he’s content that she’s living a great life and he doesn’t need to wish her back home.


That, the 17th of August, wrapped up the Baxendale and the Jansen II stories. The current storyline started with football practice the 19th of August. Its star: sophomore Chance Macy, who’s looking to be a good halfback. Supporting player: Charlie Roh, stepson to Chet Ballard, head of the school board. I didn’t make the connection until writing up this summary. Ballard wishes that Charlie accepted him as “dad”, but, you know. That comes, or it doesn’t come. I don’t know if that’s going to end up important to the story.

In the opener Macy does great, getting the ball to the 2-yard line. Charlie Roh, put in to carry it over, fumbles. Ballard blames Coach Thorp for not giving his stepson more time carrying when it wasn’t critical. Macy’s forgiving of the mistake, though. And does a lot to bring Milford its win, too. He’s invited of course to the victory celebration, but declines, claiming fatigue.

Ballard: 'I didn't see Chance Macy out there. I wonder where their star running back is.' Chris Schuring: 'Probably fending off girls. A 180-yard game can upgrade your popularity factor!' Cut to Chance Macy, who's sitting in a chair at home, reading.
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 19th of September, 2019. Oh, wow. I remember when I had the hamstrings to sit like that in a chair. I’m lying. I have never had the hamstrings to sit like that in a chair. I barely have the hamstrings to lie down.

Local Newspaper reporter Marjie Ducey wants to interview Macy. Thorp declines for him. And now we have a story hook. Macy doesn’t want to hang out with anyone or be in the paper or anything. And we have a secondary story. Ballard worries his stepson isn’t getting the time or attention or coaching that he needs. Charlie wants his stepfather to relax already. And a third point: Macy is old for a sophomore. His grades are fine; so why is he a year behind? We readers also see Macy eating dinner with his grandparents, with no parents in view.

In a game against Tilden one of the guards cheap-shots Macy. It escalates, Milford’s guard retaliating against a Tilden linebacker. For once it’s not me losing track of names; that’s all we the readers get told. The tit-for-tat continues until Macy loses his temper. He gets a penalty and a sprained ankle. Bad for Macy, although it does give Charlie Roh the chance to play.

[ Tilden 19, Milford 14 ] Ballard: 'Almost a 5-yard average every time you touched the ball. Good work!' Roh: 'Thanks, Chet. But I didn't get that lats foot when we needed it.' [ While nearby ] Macy's Grandfather: 'I have to ask: were you situationally mad out there, or blowtop mad?'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 10th of October, 2019. “Almost a five-yard average” … oh no, this is going to end with Ballard turning into a hardcore sports stats nerd, isn’t it? Get out of there, Charlie! Go somewhere they just play!

Macy’s grandfather asks Chance whether he was “situationally mad” or “blowtop mad”. He says he was “cheap-shot-from-loudmouth mad”. Ballard, overhearing, wonders what the heck “blowtop mad” means. I share his confusion. There’s an obvious inference, at least. But Gil Thorp just did an “uncontrollable temper” story with the Barry Bader story in spring 2018. They couldn’t be doing that again right away, right? And where are Macy’s parents? Both Tiki Jansen stories were about him not living where he “should”; the strip can’t be doing a third iteration of that, can they?

Ballard asks Charlie what he knows about Macy. He knows only what we readers do. Macy’s fast. Didn’t go to the party. Oh, one more thing. Charlie would swear they were in second grade together but now he’s a grade behind. Ballard suspects Coach Thorp is up to something. And, worse, cheating his stepson of playing time to do it. That Charlie’s developing quite well now that he has some playing time helps Ballard feel suspicious. Finally, Ballard concludes, he’s on the school board. Therefore he has the right to hack into Neal Rubin’s writing notes and figure out what everybody’s deal is.

And that’s where we’ve gotten. There’s probably around a month left before we get out of football season and into basketball. I’ll give you updates as events warrant.

Milford Schools Watch

Here’s the towns or schools that Milford’s been named as playing the last several months.

Next Week!

Has yet another time jump gotten us out of having to deal with Norton? surely not, but we’ll check in on
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker anyway, in one week,
unless something commands my attention more. You know, like how in Francesco Marciuliano and Jim Keefe’s Sally Forth their house has demons and stuff. Thanks for reading.

What’s Going On In Rex Morgan, M.D.? Why is the mob after Rene Belluso? July – October 2019


Thanks for being here, readers of Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D.. This recap should get you in touch with the story as it exists in mid-October 2019. If you’re reading this after about January 2020 I probably have a more up-to-date recap at this link. That might be what you need instead.

On my other blog I read the comic strips for their mathematical content. You might find that fun too.

Rex Morgan, M.D..

22 July – 13 October 2019.

Rex Morgan, M.D., was going to face down Serena Galexia, center figure of the Celestial Healing movement. This on behalf of Lana Lewton. Lana’s husband Merle has gone all in for Galexia’s spiritual healing of chemtrail toxins. The process costs only all the cash he can get. Galexia is holding an in-person seminar, in town, right soon. Merle wants Lana to attend. Lana wants Rex to come so he can write up a thoughtful rebuttal for Skeptical Inquirer.

Angie: 'The meeting room is looking good, Rene. Er. Brother Almonzo.' Rene: 'Thanks - MISS GALEXIA. I want it to be just right. We're going to make a lot of dough here.' Angie: 'I hope so. I want to pay off my student loans. Who'd think art school would cost so much?'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 2nd of August, 2019. Who’d think art school would cost so much? Well, anybody who’s bought any art supply, ever. I mean, just buying an eraser the size of your thumb will set you back like 25 bucks. A Strathmore 400-series 100-sheet sketchpad? That’ll run you up to $280. Want to do digital? The free drawing programs cost $2200 each. In short, if you ever commission someone to do a picture for you, tip them like 5000% of their ask price, okay?

Everyone’s excited for the show over at Galexia Sanctuary Master Command. It’s a smaller operation than you might imagine. Serena Galexia herself is someone name of Angie. She’s the public face. The mastermind of the operation is Brother Almonzo. Or, as he’s known to the strip, Rene Belluso.


We last saw Belluso about two years ago. He was forging 50s comics art “Horrible” Hank Harwood pages as part of a scheme to break up Buck Harwood and his girlfriend Mindy. Before that, Belluso had last been a regular player in the strip from 2014 to 2016. Belluso was introduced by the former writer, Woody Wilson.

The last few years of Wilson’s writing saw a lot of people finding reasons to throw incredible good fortune at Rex Morgan and family. In particular, young Sarah Morgan turned out to be an artistic prodigy. A local mob widow took an interest in her, and sponsored art lessons. Her tutor: Rene Belluso. When Terry Beatty took over writing much of the over-the-top stuff got dialed down. Sarah Morgan’s artistic super-geniusnessocity, for example, got wiped out by a car accident that gave her Soap Opera Amnesia. She forgot a year of her life and how to draw.

[ Rene has exited the studio via the fire escape ] Mobster 1: 'Mr Belluso isn't here?' Kelly: 'No --- we don't know where he went.' Sophie: 'What'cha lookin' for him for?' Mobster 1: 'Oh, Mr Belluso was supposed to collect some artifacts for me on a recent trip to Moscow, but it seems he never made the trip.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 25th of July, 2016. I bet this guy is upset he didn’t hire Boss, Jefe, and Juanito over from off of Mark Trail.

On the way to this, one of Sarah’s painting lessons got interrupted. Two rather grim-looking men pulled up in a car, and that freaked Belluso way the heck out. He apologized, said Sarah might not ever see him again, pulled off his wig, and bugged out of the strip for a while. The men told Sarah and her babysitter Kelly that Belluso had pocketed the money given him to buy some stuff in Russia. This was one of the final straws before June and Rex Morgan pulled Sarah out of the mob widow’s sphere.

And once again I owe Mark Carlson-Ghost’s web site, listing appearances of characters in Rex Morgan, M.D., gratitude.. I’d earlier used another page on the site to work out the deal with Norton in Judge Parker. Thanks to Carlson-Ghost’s work I was able to track down just what was Rene Belluso’s deal.


Back to this year. Rene Belluso’s new scam is this health-scam marketing business. They’ve got the meeting room, they’ve got the merch, they’ve got a good twenty people signed up for the seminar. What could go wrong? Well, Rex Morgan could recognize Belluso right away and reveal who he is to the whole crowd. But, on entering, Rex thinks there’s something familiar about Brother Almonzo, but can’t place it. So, no problems then, right?

Galexia: 'Dear fellow travelers in this earthly realm, I have come to bring you the celestial truth. My spirit guides will speak to you this very day. Chiron and Ninazu --- whose portraits you see here, painted by my faithful servant Brother Almonzo --- will speak from beyond the veil!' Rex, thinking: 'PAINTED by Brother Almonzo? I thought that voice sounded familiar!'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 9th of August, 2019. “And afterwards, we’re going off to the southwest to help Savior Z keep those alien invaders off on the other side of the Moon, where it’s safe!

But then Angie Serena Galexia mentions how Brother Almonzo painted portraits of her spirit guides, Chiro and Ninazu. That’s the clue he needed. Morgan steps over to the side and demands — he’s not sure what exactly. But Belluso is happy to refund Merle’s money, that’s doable. Rex declares no, he’s going to shut this down. Belluso makes an offer. He could give kickbacks if Morgan referred hypochondriacs their way. Morgan has a counter-offer. He won’t tell Belluso’s mobster pals where Belluso is if he leaves town and never returns. Now. Belluso takes the deal.

Merle: 'What's going on here? Why are you calling each other Angie and Rene?' Rene/Almonzo: 'Nothing to be concerned with, sir. Please make your way to the exit.' Merle: 'This isn't right. Something's up here. Are you two even the real Galexia and Almonzo?' Lana: 'Honey, don't you get it? There IS no real Galexia and Almonzo. These two are complete phonies.' Merle: 'But there HAS to be. On the podcast and the phone ... they ... I ... I don't get it.' Rene: 'I assure you all is well, dear friends, we simply must call an end to today's meeting.' Angie/Galexia: 'But if we don't sell all that merch, where am I gonna get the money to pay my student loan?' Merle buries his head in his hands. Lana says, 'Would now be a good time for Dr Morgan to tell you my blood test showed no sign of 'chemtrail poisoning'?'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 18th of August, 2019. So, little tip for anyone running their own confidence scam: ahead of time, work up a vague yet plausible-sounding reason to shut down a meeting early. Maybe say a carbon monoxide alarm went off in the building and they want to be safe for everyone. Maybe that Galexia’s vague relative has had an emergency. Maybe something on-theme, like there’s been a sudden flutter in the vril levels and Galexia has to commune with Chiron and Ninazu right now. Belluso might be well-advised to take an improv class before trying performance scams like this next time.

Brother Almonzo shuts down the seminar. And her calls Galexia “Angie”. Galexia calls him “Rene” back. Merle starts suspecting something is wrong. So do other followers. You know, the way people will when something weird embarrasses someone they’ve given lots of time and thousands of dollars to. Merle pulls of Belluso’s fake beard and wig. He and Angie flee into the night.

Merle admits that yeah, he fell for an incredibly obvious scam, he’s sorry. Lana admits that yeah, Merle felle for an incredibly obvious scam. Also she’s going to grab some bath salts and candles from the merch table because, what the heck. They’re owed it.

Rex goes home and recaps the story for June. So if you wanted to you could just read the week from the 1st of September and skip this whole essay. Sorry to take up so much of your time.


With a phone call on the 6th of September the new story begins. Yes, it’s the rare midweek segue. It’s Buck Wise, reporting, “It’s time.” He and Mindy are going to the hospital.

So yeah, that was a surprise. Who knew the characters in a story comic could have sex? And in a subplot? I mean, when June was pregnant she was carrying for like 27 months and I don’t think that’s even my exaggeration.

Mindy: 'Well, it turns out my health issues won't keep me from having kids after all.' Buck: 'Really? They found some treatment or something?' Mindy: 'Not so much that. More like sometimes something that only has a slim chance of happening --- happens.' Buck: 'Wait a minute. Are you telling me what I think you're telling me?'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 18th of September, 2019. It’s so funny to see Buck thinking that someone might have found a treatment that cures a medical condition. Hasn’t he caught on how that’s not revenue-effective anymore? Anyway, I do like how he’s confused and picks this all up slowly, in part because Mindy has been so indirect in giving the news.

But from that point we’ve been in flashbacks. First, Mindy having a lingering heartburn. She turns to the Morgan Clinic for medical help. June diagnoses pregnancy. Mindy didn’t think that possible, because of her polycystic ovarian syndrome. But June explains that only makes pregnancy extremely unlikely, which isn’t the same thing as impossible.

Moving forward a bit. While going out to dinner, Mindy trips and falls down the front steps. Well, if you’re going to love Buck, you’re going to fall down steps. I don’t make the rules. The emergency room says Mindy is fine, and the baby is fine, but they should get several weeks of bed rest anyway. Mindy’s reasonable question: why?

[ Mindy's time on bed rest is almost over. ] Mindy: 'I hope the doctor will give baby and me a clean bill of health.' Buck: 'Likewise. I know it's been difficult.' Mindy: 'You'd think lying in bed all day woud be a treat, until you have to do it.' Buck: 'You made a big dent in your 'to be read someday' books, though.' Mindy: 'True, and I caught up on all those TV series everyone but me seems to have seen already. And Corey taught me how to win at that Retro Cartoon Video Game you like, so next time we play, look out.' Buck: 'No time like the present. Shall we see who's the better player?' Mindy: 'Oh, you're ON, pal.' Buck: 'Let the cartoon begin!'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 13th of October, 2019. So, as ever, I like depictions of married couples who just like hanging out with each other. It’s hard to figure why you’d want to marry someone you didn’t like just being around. Distracting me, though, is the vagueness of Mindy’s interests. To talk about a pile of ‘to be read someday’ books is fine; that’s how normal people will talk about games. And ‘tv series everyone else but me seems to have seen already’? Also fine. Earlier in the storyline she referred to her DVR backlog shows as ‘Zombies, Women in Prison, or Kids Battling Interdimensional Monsters’. That’s genericized, but in a wryly self-snarking way that feels natural to me, like when I describe podcast genres as “three white guys laughing at each other” or “one guy trying to remember the things he wrote down in the notes he doesn’t have”. But. “that Retro Cartoon Video Game”? No, that’s too far. Pick an actual game, or make it “those retro cartoon video games”, or make up something that sounds like it might’ve been a game. Don’t do that Herb and Jamaal stuff.

The ultrasound showed a very small tear in the placenta, which should heal on its own, but they’re cautious. Fair enough. The strip since then has been Mindy trying to actually get bed rest. It’s a tough prescription to get, because nobody believes how fatiguing that is.

And that’s where the story is right now: in the flashbacks of Mindy getting bedrest, while she’s actually getting to the hospital. Everything seems all right despite the mishaps. But I have no information on whether that’s a fake-out ahead of a suspenseful delivery scene or what. You’ll have to check whatever the successor essay to this one is to know. Or just read the comic, that also works.

Next Week!

Will Hadley V Baxendale’s father accept her choice in fiancée, even though he’s an up-and-coming NBA player who’s not even playing for the Bulls? Will true love be able to handle both partners in a relationship being successful professionals? Will Mary Worth come in and throw muffins at Neal Rubin and Rod Whigam for poaching her business? We’ll see in a week, with the Gil Thorp plot recap, barring surprises. And at this link I’ll have recaps or news about all of the story comics that I cover. Thanks for reading.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Sundays)? How did The Phantom not die from getting stabbed in the heart? July – October 2019


Hi, folks who want to know how The Phantom is rescuing Kadia’s mother. That’s the weekday continuity. This essay is about Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s Sunday continuity for The Phantom. The weekday continuity recap I should have in about mid-November, at this link. Also at this link, after about January 2020, should be a later Sunday continuity recap. Thanks for reading.

The Phantom (Sundays).

14 July – 6 October 2019.

The Avari people live in the Misty Mountains. Theirs is another totalitarian state next to Bangalla. Rough neighborhood. The Khagan and a squadron of her warriors entered Bangalla, abducting an Avari dissident. The Phantom goes to do something about this. He’s encountered the Khagan before. Been captured and escaped and all that. The Phantom strides into the camp tent where the Khagan and her guards hold the dissident. He gives the Khagan a talking-to about the rule of law and democracy and all. She gives him a dagger into the heart.

[ Time to leave the Khagan's tent ] Phantom; 'This misadventure in kidnapping can serve you and your entire realm, Khagan, if you take the right lesson. Establish relations with Bangalla, a democracy! As you have with Baronkhan, a constitutional monarchy. See what you can learn from both. Don't be frightened. We're leaving.' (The Khagan lifts something from its scabbard.) Khagan: 'I wish to learn this, Phantom. Walker. Man who cannot die.' (She throws a dagger into his heart.) '*Can* you?'
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s Mary Worth for the 21st of July, 2019. So I guess there were still some rough patches in Tony DePaul’s new contract with King Features after all.

So that’s a bit of a surprise.

The Khagan takes her retinue, and her prisoner, and tromps back to the Avari lands. Meanwhile the Phantom lies there trying to work out what exactly it is he’s doing not being dead. This is a good question. He notes himself that if he were impaled by a knife big enough for that holster he’d be dead long ago. Instead, this? It’s not a knife; it’s a barbed thingy for injecting a paralyzing drug. The Khagan has a history of poisoning people, such as her brother, and drugging them. All right. He concludes that the Khagan wanted to be overheard giving her gloating speech. One about how The Phantom, if he’d been wise, would have become her consort and ruled the Avari in front of her.

So that’s some motivation, all right. Well, the Phantom puts on the backup purple stripey-pants suit he keeps for just such an emergency. He leaves the torn and bloodied one for the vultures.

Next night, the Phantom sneaks into the camp. He tries “quietly” this time. He unties the kidnapped dissident and we finally getting us a name for her. It’s Clotilde. He sends Clotilde to wait by the horses for their dramatic escape. He’s going for a non-dramatic escape, this time. He goes off to slice up the Avari’s riding tack. Clotilde … goes. Yes. But she notices some of the Avari warriors whom The Phantom tied to a tree. And she, having fought for a free Avari for so long … She takes a sword and she readies to kill them.

[ As The Phantom sabotages the Avaris' riding tack ... ] Clothilde sees two Avari warriors bound and gagged. She thinks: 'The guards he silenced! The ones who've so tormented me!!' [ With her abusers at her feet ] She flashes back to terror and torture at the Secret Police's hands. [ A warlike spirit overtakes the freedom fighter Clothilde as well! ] She takes out a sword and holds it over her head, while thinking: 'Sworn enemies of freedom!! T-think of them as *that*! Vermin!! N-not even human!!'
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s Mary Worth for the 29th of September, 2019. The Avari were introduced in a 2009-2010 Sunday continuity story. The Phantom Wiki says the land is from descendents of the Pannonian Avars, who’d lived around what is now the Balkans from about the 6th through 9th centuries. I don’t know if that was established in the canon or whether that’s drawing from statements by either Tony DePaul or Team Fantomen, who produce the Swedish comic book continuity and seem to have used this land at least once.

The Phantom stops Clotilde. His argument is don’t let the enemy turn you into them. Good advice. They sneak out.

This is where we’ve gotten. The only real downside of these Sunday-only continuities is when I do list the events like this, they come out about 100 words long. That’s all right. I can write short, sometimes, I tell myself.

Next Week!

On the one side, a man and woman make vague promises of good health while not providing any actual medical care! On the other side, an art forger and his intern are deploying Celestial Healing against “toxins”. It’s Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D., in one week, unless something comes up.

What’s Going On In Mary Worth? Is Hugo Lambert faking being French? July – September 2019


No, but it’s fun to joke about.

If you need to catch up with Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth, I’m happy to help. If you’re reading this after about December 2019, there’s probably a more up-to-date plot recap here. Also there’ll be news, if Mary Worth produces news.

For example: Comics Kingdom has opened up a comics merchandise store. And yes, they have a Mary Worth collection. It leans to the ironic reader’s tastes, which is probably what a Mary Worth merch table has to do. This is why it has stuff about Mary Worth’s muffins. Also stuff about Aldo Kelrast, a plot from like fifteen years ago about a man who decided to stalk her. The storyline, and its resolution, is a cornerstone of the modern Mary Worth snark-reading community. At least those who don’t mind making quite so much light of one of the scariest things a person can suffer through.

Anyway, the store has stuff for other comics, including my best fist forever Popeye. It’s also got comics-adjacent characters like Betty Boop and Cuphead. (Yes, I know there was a Betty Boop comic strip in the 30s. Comics Kingdom Vintage even runs it today. It’s quite bad and correctly forgotten.) The biggest mystery: they’re not slapping a Krazy Kat logo on some bricks and shipping those out? C’mon, this is right there. Use the Priority Mail flat-rate boxes, guys. Anyway, on to Mary Worth’s doings.

Mary Worth.

7 July – 28 September 2019.

The decks were nice and clear last time I checked in. Estelle had her fling with an Internet scammer and now was settling in with Wilbur Weston. Meanwhile the story drifted to Wilbur’s daughter Dawn.

Dawn, leaving a store in Santa Royale’s prestigious Three Doors Mall, bumps into Hugo Lambert. They took Classic Literature from Professor Cameron last year. He’s their French Foreign Exchange Student. He’s extremely French. He has to use the mother tongue for sentences like“My name is Hugo” or “I speak English”. You know, things no one who’s learned a foreign language ever has trouble remembering.

Hugo: 'Je m'appelle Hugo Lambert! You were in my classic literature class last year!' Dawn: 'Oh, right! You're the foreign exchange student in Professor Cameron's class! Pleased to meet you! I'm Dawn Weston!' Hugo: 'C'est mon plaisir de vous recontrer!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 10th of July, 2019. Surprisingly unmentioned this plot: that summer Dawn spent tromping around Italy with her art teacher. Yes, I’m aware that in many ways France and Italy are different countries, but it does seem like a great thing to bond over. This was, reader time, in early 2018, although I only recapped the event in passing. Dawn’s adventures in Europe were only seen briefly and never amounted to a story that we saw.

Or he wants us to remember he’s French. Hugo will sometimes go as much as a whole word balloon without lapsing into his native tongue. Or mentioning the glories of France. This is no complaint from me. Story comics are better when at least one character is preposterous. Not that pride in one’s homeland is by itself preposterous. Being barely able to talk about anything else? That makes delight into the baseline for all his appearances. The story has not reached the glories of CRUISE SHIPS, and its heap of characters reacting all out of proportion to the situation. But it’s been fun reading. The worst story comics are when all the characters are a vague mass of undifferentiated beige. Give a character an obsession, and ratchet that obsession up, and you’ve got life.

They have lunch. Hugo negs on the typical American diet of fried high-fructose corn syrup smothered in bacon, which, fair enough. Not Dawn’s eating, though. She eats almost as good as they do in France. Hugo loved the part in Literature class where they talked about Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame. He agrees with Dawn that the fire at Notre Dame was terrible. He negs Americans’ cultural appreciation, which is typically livetweeting their rewatches of Knight Rider. Again, fair enough. But Dawn points out America has good stuff too, like how we let French people in and … value … Americanism and stuff. Hugo likes Dawn, despite how she’s an American living in America in American ways.

After Dawn and Foreign Exchange Student Hugo Lambert exchange numbers ... Hugo: 'I like you Dawn, even though you are American, with your American ways!' Dawn: 'Gee, Hugo, thanks a lot! I like you too ... even though you are European, with your French ways! But seriously, I look forward to seeing you again.' Hugo: 'Me also!' Dawn: 'We can learn from each other, and I think we're alike in more ways than we differ.' Hugo: 'I don't know if we are or not. We'll just have to find out, won't we?'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 21st of July, 2019. So this happened when my love and I vacationed in the Netherlands. One morning the hotel clerk stopped in the middle of taking change out of the cash register for us. She apologized: she realized that she was counting out the money, in her head, in Dutch rather than English. That a Dutch person, in the Netherlands, should be thinking to herself in Dutch, while doing a task that did not at that moment involve her speaking to or looking at us, formed the most wonderfully needless apology I have ever received. There’s like no end of layers of unnecessary-ness to her regret. We still think back on that apology in wonder and delight.

Dawn thinks they’re hitting it off!

Meanwhile the snarkier readers start looking for evidence that, like, Hugo is really a guy from Yonkers who made up his French identity as a lark when he went to college and now he can’t get out of it, so he’s trying to make it so broad and ridiculous that people catch on without his having to tell them he was lying. I am sure Karen Moy did not mean us to go looking for evidence that Hugo was running a weird head-fake here. But it added an extra something wonderful and silly to read each strip for.

Anyway, they have a decent summer romance. Hugo’s spending his last month before going home painting his host family’s house. Dawn spends the time emitting French words hoping to get a response. “Guy de Maupassant! Eiffel tower! Pizza!” She panicked. Anyway, they spend time doing fun summer activities like leaping in fountains and sitting on the beach and all.

Dawn: 'I guess it's inevitable that foreign exchange students eventually have to leave.' Mary: 'That's usually the case.' Dawn: 'What should I do, Mary? I've really fallen for Hugo!' Mary: 'Maybe you should ask him what he wants to do.'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 8th of August, 2019. Normal snark brain: observes Dawn’s loose-beige sandwich. Galaxy snark brain: observes Mary Worth drinking something so heavy that it doesn’t seek its level when Mary Worth tilts her glass, and also ice cubes sink in it.

But the sad part is they know when Hugo will go home. Dawn worries their relationship — oh, hi, Mary Worth! How did you know? Well, Mary Worth offers the obvious but useful advice that Dawn should talk with Hugo about what happens after he goes home. And that he might not want a long-distance relationship. And that it’s all right to have a relationship that’s delightful for a month and then ends.

Dawn brings up the topic gently, on a trip to the Santa Royale Aquarium. Dawn suggests they might visit the far superior Cineaqua in Paris, when she visits him. He says, why speak of the future? In the aquarium he points to the fish who have their tanks and their place and accept it, and why don’t we accept the here and now? And, boy, if you want to subvert the text and read this as Hugo trying to not confess his secret? The text is almost on your side here.

She decides not to take the hint. Driving him to the airport she finally asks if they can Skype together or something. He says no, it couldn’t work. His Internet won’t send to anytime later than 2012 when France Télécom shut down Minitel. Dawn points out, this is Mary Worth, they’re all living in like 1972 at the latest. This shakes him, but he leaves for his plane.

Man with something unpleasant-looking covering his left face: 'Do you need a tissue?' Dawn: 'Thank you! I appreciate your concern.' Man: 'Just remember, God won't give you more than you can handle.'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 14th of September, 2019. I’m glad for the reassurance about God’s givings here. As a reserved, indeed half-stoic person, I am sure that I would not be able to handle tearing up in an airport to such an extent that a stranger came by to comfort me, and if someone were to, I would probably climb into my own cargo pants’ pocket never to be seen again. But, I know, other people have the emotional expressions that work for them, and that’s good for them, who are not me.

Dawn, weeping, gets a visit from a guy with parentheses all over his face. Since he has a deformity he’s there to deliver inspirational words about God not giving people more than they can handle, and leave. (This did surprise me. I thought Inspirational Guy might be Dawn’s quick-setting rebound relationship.) She goes home to cry.

It’s not Mary Worth knocking on her door. It’s Hugo.

His flight’s delayed to tomorrow. So he went to her. And, he’s willing to try a long distance relationship now. Dawn is overjoyed. And Mary Worth approves of this. She notes there are challenges to a long-distance relationship, but, come on. This is officially 2019. Over 96 percent of all relationships start out as long distance.

And that’s our story! It does seem pretty well wrapped up and the ritual of thanking Mary Worth is barely under way. We’ll see what’s changed the next time I check in, likely around December.

Dubiously Sourced Quotes of Mary Worth Sunday Panels!

Where would Mary Worth Sunday pages be without an inspirational quote ripped out of all possible context and maybe assigned to a famous person at random? Shorter, for one. Here’s some things recently said to have been said:

  • “Just living is not enough … one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.” — Hans Christian Andersen, 7 July 2019
  • “We cannot wish for what we know not.” — Voltaire, 14 July 2019
  • “People are pretty much alike. It’s only that our differences are more susceptible to definition than our similarities.” — Linda Ellerbee, 21 July 2019
  • “Normality is a paved road: it’s comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow through.” — Vincent van Gogh, 28 July 2019
  • “La vie est un sommeil, l’amour en est le rêve.” — Alfred de Musset, 4 August 2019
  • “I live in the moment. The moment is the most important thing.” — Rita Moreno, 11 August 2019
  • “You may be deceived if you trust too much, but you will live in torment if you don’t trust enough.” — Frank Crane, 18 August 2019
  • “True happiness … is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future.” — Lucius Annaeus Seneca, 25 August 2019
  • “In every living thing there is the desire for love.” — D H Lawrence, 1 September 2019
  • “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” — Alfred Lord Tennyson, 8 September 2019
  • “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” — William “Hamlet” Shakespeare, 15 September 2019
  • “Life’s supposed to be an adventure, a surprise!.” — Anton du Beke, 22 September 2019
  • “Distance means so little, when someone means so much.” — Tom McNeal, 29 September 2019

I know what you’re wondering. No, the auto care place has not changed its inspirational yet despairing message yet. Yes, I’m worried too.

Next Week!

The Ghost Who Walks went and got himself stabbed in the chest. What happened and how is he still walking around? We’ll see, I expect, in seven days with Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom, Sunday continuity.

If you don’t want to wait, and do want to read more comic strip stuff, please try my mathematics blog, which uses comic strips to talk about mathematical topics. Thank you.

The Stages Of The Road Trip: Stage Four


Stage one. Before the trip.
Stage two. Getting started.
Stage three. Seeing malls and sheep.


No, Dan, we are not stopping the car already just because you’re not sure you packed your toothbrush. It can wait. Yes, well, you know where it’s possible to get a toothbrush any time, day or night? Only in every store ever, including freaking Best Buy if you really need.

Sophia explains how you can just ask the front desk at the hotel for a toothbrush. Amanda and Dan insist they just will never have one. Josh says he’s read about how they will, it’s just nobody ever thinks to ask. Sophia insists that they may or may not, it depends on the hotel. All are willing to grant that it doesn’t hurt to ask. Then Josh explains about the time he did ask, and the “toothbrush” they had was just weird. Like, it was this credit-card-size flat thing that unfolded a tiny bit, and it had like eight bristles, and he probably would have been better brushing his teeth with his finger.

The discussion leads naturally to kind of bragging about the biggest glob of toothpaste everyone’s eaten. Also the discovery that Amanda is afraid of swallowing toothpaste because it turns out this is on the boxes? This is fun enough that everyone registers they just passed a funny city-destinations sign but can’t remember what was funny about it.

The party’s definitely travelled a good distance now. It’s not just the third-tier but the second-tier fast-food restaurants that they don’t have back home.

Amanda finds it very significant that this town’s Cheese House specialty cheese shop mascot is very much a ripoff of forgotten Famous Studios cartoon mouse Herman or Katnip, whichever one of them was the mouse. Probably Herman. That would be the less obscure joke to make in naming them. Anyway this is very important to Amanda and she’s not going to let it go until everyone agrees this is an important revelation.

All right, so Dan tosses this out: what if a place like the Outback Steakhouse, only instead of theoretically being Australian, it’s Scottish themed? Nobody actually knows offhand what Scottish food is. “Fried … bladders or something?” offers Josh, who admits he’s maybe thinking of what bagpipes were made of. Not the fried part. But that doesn’t matter. You could serve anything. Just put some fun stuff on the walls.

This feeds into the discovery that Amanda had been to the town where Andy Capp was from. Like, the comic strip Andy Capp. Also that it’s based on a real actual town. There’s a statue of him there and everything, a claim that threatens to be laughed at for miles except that they find pictures of it. With her newfound expertise the party is willing to accept Amanda’s claim that “Andy Capp” is supposed to be a pun on the word “handicap”. She blows it completely when she tries to claim that English newspapers don’t run Fred Basset on Sundays and those strips are made just for the American readers.

OK, but you can agree where it would be correct structuring of a joke if the mouse were named Katnip, right?

Everyone over-plans the next gas station stop. They’re trying to figure how to look casual while timing Dan to see how long he needs to remember to check his toothbrush. Everyone’s disappointed he remembers almost right away, before even going in to the bathroom. He does have his toothbrush, although it’s in the wrong plastic bag. The gas station chains are all weird around here too, although they take the same customer-loyalty card. This is disappointing.

Everyone agrees there is no satisfactory reason why these nachos should be soggy.

Josh finally explains that phone number on the no-longer-sticky note in his glove compartment: he doesn’t know what it is. But it looks a lot like his writing. It must be too important to throw away or else why would he have put it there? Could he call the number and find out who it is? No, absolutely not under any circumstances.

You expect to discover new places when you road trip. You don’t expect to find out how all your friends are freaks.

I’m past wondering if Long Story Short is making fun of me


It’s amazing how many people use the word “delicate” wrong when casual examination shows it’s the negation of the word “licate”, which means “to handle a precious or fragile object using the medium of licking”.

Man up to his knees in a pool of quicksand, to a person up to his hat in another pool: 'If I'm in quicksand and you're in quickersand, then it stands to reason there must be quickeststand.'
Daniel Beyers’s Long Story Short for the 10th of September, 2019. I like the writing craft that chooses “it stands to reason” as the connecting phrase there, since it puts this nise assonance in the whole phrase and makes it that bit funnier.

(I hope this puts to rest worries that I was fibbing last week, when I wondered if Daniel Beyers’s Long Story Short was making fun of me. Please visit next week when I will explain that “grueling” refers to a small monstrous creature made of gruel.)

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? Is Mark Trail gonna punch a Yeti? July – September 2019


Hello, nature lovers. It’s too soon to answer the Yeti question, sorry. But it’s on the table. The most current plot recaps and news I have about James Allen’s Mark Trail should be at this link. If you’re reading this later than about December 2019 you might be better off going there. And as ever, my mathematics blog reviews comic strips too. It’s also looking at concepts from each letter of the alphabet, with new essays on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Now back to nature.

Mark Trail.

1 July – 21 September 2019.

Nature finally got around to trying to kill Mark Trail last time I checked in. He, Doc, Leola, and J J Looper were following a map to a gold mine seen decades ago by Doc and his friend. (His friend, Leola’s husband, had recently died, the incident putting the map into the story.) Looper, owner of a supply store, was their guide. At least until Nature sent a flash flood in that swept everyone away and left Looper nowhere to be found. This is an inconvenience, what with Looper maybe being dead and having the only copy of the map.

Leola: 'Ther's a pile of rocks over there in that clearing!' Mark Trail, wide-eyed: 'Doc!? Can that be it!?' Doc: 'There's only one way to find out!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 3rd of July, 2019. Mark Trail proving he’s not going to let Dick Tracy just waltz in and take the Wide-Eyed Look Of The Year trophy.

But. Doc finds the terrain familiar. He recalls a pile of rocks covering the mine entrance and that’s exactly what Leola sees. It’s a great discovery. And oh, here’s J J Looper! And he’s sharing a gun with them! He has reasons. Envy of Mark Trail’s easy lifestyle of globetrotting while animals are nearby, sure. But also thoughts of his hard life. He can barely make a living teaching tourists to pan for gold. Actual gold, now, that would solve some of his problems.

Mark, Leola, and Doc uncover the mine entrance. It’s definitely where the mysterious stranger led his friends, decades ago, and took great piles of gold out. And now, having finally rediscovered the mine, there’s … nothing. No gold. No mining equipment. Just … a great big shiny thing! It’s Mark’s chance to punch Looper out, and get the gun away from him. Now they can see what the shiny thing in back is.

Mark Trail, looking at the framed item 'It's a local newspaper. Decades old. I think I understand what happened now! Three men were photographed robbing a dealer at a gem show ... they all escaped!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 25th of July, 2019. So let me first say, Mark Trail’s prop there does absolutely everything that it needs to. It looks like a newspaper with a headline about a gold dealer being robbed. Its artistic purpose is completely satisfied. Having said that, I’m going to go a bit Newspaper Layout Nerd here. What format, exactly, is the Herald? That’s a painfully narrow broadsheet, especially for the era, or else an incredibly wordy tabloid. And jeez, I know about the Densonized look for the Herald-Tribune but I can not make myself believe in there not being some horizontal rule between the newspaper’s name and the headline. I’m sorry. Anyway, I admire the prankish nature of the gold robber that he decided at some point to get the newspaper reporting on this crime framed, bring it to the mine (when? When he went there with Doc and Doc’s friends? Before? Later?) and leave it behind in the treasure chest just in case anyone ever followed up on this. It shows a serious commitment to a posthumous laugh.

It’s a treasure chest. Its contents: a framed newspaper. Its headline, surprisingly large for the era, is of a gold dealer robbed at a gem show. Two of the robbers were later killed; the third, and the gold nuggets, were never found. The third was the bearded stranger who, five years later, brought him to the mine.

The rationalization: the three buried the gold, figuring to come back when the heat was off. With his partners killed the bearded stranger needed help getting the gold back. So he set up this mystery of a lost gold mine and all. Why couldn’t Doc and his friends couldn’t find the place again? Well, it’s hard to find stuff in the mountains. Especially under different light or from different angles or all. Especially because they were thinking of a mine instead of this, a cave just deep enough for someone to vanish in.

So Doc feels foolish for having believed a cave with gold inside was some kind of gold mine. Looper meanwhile feels like an astounding idiot, what with threatening to shoot people and all that. Looper begs forgiveness. Mark Trail points out, he was pointing a loaded gun at them. But in the awkward days of getting back to town, Mark Trail’s heart softens. After all, they were on a gold-digging expedition in the southwest. If someone desperately afraid of poverty doesn’t pull a gun on the rest of the party, has everyone really had the Gold Prospecting Experience? Of course not. And so Looper gets community service and probation.


We get, from the 12th through 17th of August, a little bit of nature in tooth and claw. It’s a mother cougar fighting a bear until she realizes it’s easier if she moves her cub out of the way instead.

Mark Trail, monologuing: 'Some online comments seem downright mean ... as though the person is questioning my intelligence or something like that!' Cherry: 'Uhh ... Mark ... ?' Mark Trail: 'I mean, why read something you rarely agree with?'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 29th of August, 2019. So anyway I’d like to talk a bit more about the overall structure of this gold-mine plot and what about the internal logic doesn’t convince me, but they just delivered this package from an “Al Jamesen” and I can’t wait to find out what’s inside because it sounds like a very excited swarm of hornets and I bet whatever it really is will be a delight!

After this interlude we see Mark Trail and Doc having an epilogue back at home. Telling what happens to Looper, and how Cherry Trail would rather Mark didn’t go get himself almost killed. The mention that Rusty Trail is reading the Jungle Jim comic on Comics Kingdom. And that people are mean in comments sections. It’s hard to not think James Allen is working out his frustration with comics snarkers here. Well, whatever gets the bad energies out.


And with the 2nd of September, the current story starts. Woods and Wildlife editor Bill Ellis has an assignment for Mark Trail. University Professor Harvey Camel, anthropologist and explorer, is searching for proof of the Yeti. Ellis is funding the trip, in exchange for first publication rights. Mark Trail is skeptical of any cryptozoology adventures. But this past April, the Indian army tweeted the discovery of a possible Yeti footprint. Mark is finally won over by the journalistic value of such an expedition, and how if legends are right, the Yeti has a lot of facial hair.

Looking over the city streets. Mark Trail: 'Kathmandu is much busier than I expected!' Genie: 'More than 985,000 people live here, Mark! It's not the primitive, out-of-date city the world thinks it is!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 18th of September, 2019. ObMST3K: Mark Trail thinks, “Boy, I’m glad I didn’t comment on the apparent widths of their bodies of water!” (3 point reference.)

Cherry worries for his safety. She mentions how when Mark went to Africa, he had that encounter with “Dirty” Dyer, who’s still lurking around subplots ready to kill Mark with fire. Mark promises that he’s going to be fine, a promise that he can not in fact make. But she accepts his confidence, anyway.

So this past week, Mark Trail has flown to Kathmandu, and met Doctor Camel’s assistant Genie. They’re going from there to Tumlingtar and then to Mount Makalu, where the footprints were found. There’ll be more to say, surely, when we get to the next plot recap, which I expect to be in mid-to-late December.

(By the way, to let you know what a deep strain of Copy Editor Nerd there is in me: I would appreciate thoughts about whether to prefer writing “yeti” or “Yeti”. I know enough that the creature has some presence in legends around the Himalayan mountains. I’d rather refer to it in not-obnoxious ways when I do the next plot recap.)

Sunday Animals Watch

Each Sunday Mark Trail features some wonder of animals, plants, or nature itself, that we’re doing our best to eliminate by 2030. Here’s what’s leaving soon, and when it got featured.

  • Formosan Clouded Leopard, 30 June 2019. After six years being thought extinct some were found again.
  • Epomis ground beetles, 7 July 2019. They prey on frogs, which the frogs report is “totally bogus”.
  • Isopods, 14 July 2019. Deep-sea scavengers. They’re weirder than we realized.
  • Razorbacks/Peccaries, 21 July 2019. And this was before that “30-50 feral hogs” meme, so don’t go accusing James Allen of hopping on bandwagons here.
  • Giant Water Bugs, 28 July 2019. Oh, I think I know those guys. Yeah, they’re creepy but leave them alone and they’ll go about whatever their business is exactly.
  • Sumatran Rhinoceroses, 4 August 2019. It’s the only Asian rhino species to have two horns. But their outlook is grim.
  • Ravens, 11 August 2019. Particularly, white ravens. Do not cross them.
  • Golden tortoise beetles, 18 August 2019. So if you were wondering what was feeding on your morning glory, bindweed, or sweet potatoes see if these guys are the problem.
  • Raccoon dogs, 25 August 2019. The only canine species known to hibernate, by the way, so you’re welcome when this comes up during your Jeopardy! audition.
  • Amazon Parrots, 1 September 2019. Yeah, they’re great, but they have longer lifespans than do Fortune 500 Companies, so what to do with them after you die is a discussion you have to have a lot.
  • Grasshopper Mice, 8 September 2019. Not to be all animal hipster with you, but I knew about these guys in the 90s and I’m glad the Internet is discovering these weirdoes. Like, they’ll howl like tiny wolves, and stalk prey species, and they’re even immune to some animals’ venom. I know, right?
  • Sea slugs, 15 September 2019. OK, they’ve got an awful name but these critters do some amazing things with body design and color.
  • Hornet-Mimic Hoverflies, 22 September 2019. They look like hornets, but don’t sting, so if you have one hanging around you, relax!

Next Week!

Oh, how is Dawn Weston’s summer romance going? Is her beau, the For-Real French Foreign Exchange Student Jean-Luke Baguette really so heartless as to leave her, even for his home village of Mal-de-Mere, in the Bibliothèque province of France? Is there hope for true love winning out over all? In Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth? Will there be muffins? I’m delighted to have the answers to these and more silly questions, next Sunday.

I briefly wonder if Long Story Short is making fun of me


So, ah, you think it’s possible Daniel Beyers’s Long Story Short here is making fun of me?

Man up to his knees in a pool of quicksand, to a person up to his hat in another pool: 'If I'm in quicksand and you're in quickersand, then it stands to reason there must be quickeststand.'
Daniel Beyers’s Long Story Short for the 10th of September, 2019. I like the writing craft that chooses “it stands to reason” as the connecting phrase there, since it puts this nise assonance in the whole phrase and makes it that bit funnier.

(And you see me live up to the promise made last week when I said what a goodra was. Please visit next week as I hope to explain the word “delicate” as the negation of the word “licate”, meaning “to handle a precious or fragile object using the medium of licking”.)

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? Also, what’s wrong with Funky Winkerbean? June – September 2019


Before I get to Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley I want to give a heads-up about Tom Batiuk’s Funky Winkerbean. According to newspaper articles, Funky Winkerbean is in the next couple months doing a story with the suicide of a character. People who do not need that sort of thing in their reading-for-fun may want to drop the strip for a while. I’ll try to give an all-clear when the immediate aftermath has passed.

It is a startling development. Since the 2008 time-jump, skipping a decade in which Les Moore spectacularly failed to deal with the death of his wife Lisa, Funky Winkerbean has moved mostly past its misery porn incarnation. This is the most serious topic for a storyline in quite a while.

I hope for the story to be a good, thoughtful exploration of why a person would suicide, and how the people around them react and are changed. I’m always hoping for this. I will snark so far as to admit that after the storyline about gay students going to the prom (the principal says of course gay students can go to prom since there’s no rule that says they can’t, and we never even see the gay students on-screen), and the storyline about a fictional version of the Virginia Rappe killing and what that did to Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle (in this version, a talking chimp killed her), I … well. Just.

All right, I expect the story to be handled with all the deftness of Inspector Clouseau, unaware that he’s swallowed the horse tranquilizer, stomping about Charles-Philipe-Louis Desuetude’s Irreplaceable Antiques Boutiquery, while he’s wearing roller skates and somehow has his hands trapped inside cans of potted meat. But, I promise, I hope it’s a good story. I just want people who do not need even a well-handled story about suicide in their recreational reading to know, and to plan accordingly.


Station for an amusement park's antique car ride, labeled 'Gasoline Alley'.
They are really big fans of Gasoline Alley over at Knoebels Amusement Park in Elysburg, Pennsylvania. To the right is the lift hill for the Phoenix roller coaster, and if you like roller coasters at all you should get over and ride that.

Now back to my real business.

Gasoline Alley.

24 June – 14 September 2019

Oh, right, Jim Scancarelli was making a fool of me last time. Rufus had taken in Willow, a woman fleeing from wolves. She moved in, ate all his food, and (passively) kicked him out of the house. As Rufus tells his woes to Mayor Melba Rose, he thinks he sees Willow. On the ride home with Joel, Rufus worries how to make her leave. He even puts a coin in the wishing well to hope the problem goes away.

Rufus, putting a coin into the wishing well's slot and thinking: 'I wish, when I gets home, Willow will be gone!' Joel: 'Y'all done? I see yo' exorcised all yo' change! What'd yo' wish fo'?' Rufus: 'Can't tell! If'n I did, it won't come true!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 8th of July, 2019. The wishing well is as good a way out of an unpleasant scene as any you might try. I like the touch that the well was set up with a coin slot. It’s a fun touch.

And … it works. Willow and her dog Toro are gone. She’s cleaned the house, and done Rufus’s laundry. In the note she also mentions seeing Rufus’s lovely Lady Friend, Melba. It’s the ending everyone wishes for from awkward social interactions. The unpleasant person is gone, leaving behind nothing but a note of thanks and the scent of fresh-cut flowers.


So, the 19th of July, we get into the new story. It looks like it’s more of Rufus courting Melba. He stops in the jewelry store for another encounter with Frank Nelson. In-between insults Rufus is able to buy a $15 cubic zirconia brooch. But, leaving the store, he trips and wrenches his ankle. Plus a crow swipes the brooch.

Rufus, to jewelry store clerk: 'I want to buy something' real nice an' elegant, but not too gaudy or expensive!' Frank Nelson: 'What price range were you wanting to dabble in?' Rufus: 'Hmm! What'll $5 get me?' Frank Nelson: 'Thrown out of here probably!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 22nd of July, 2019. Jack Benny: “Now cut that out!”

A cop takes the note that Rufus slipped on a broken sidewalk. This seems like the setup for something not yet paid off. And he brings Rufus to the Gasoline Alley Care Clinic, even turning the siren on for Rufus’s delight. And, hey, the crow flies back, dropping the brooch on Rufus’s head. So everything’s turning up Rufus.


The 13th of August Rufus finally gets to the clinic and we see more of the current story. Chipper Wallet, physician assistant and established character, is on vacation. But they have a substitute, Peter Glabella. He’s uncannily empathetic, and is able to treat Rufus quickly.

Hoagy: 'My daughter Aubee got very listless and confused! Her skin got real pale ... uh ... sort of like yours is now!' Glabella: 'Did she get into a medicine bottle?' Hoagy: 'Oh, no! She was outside playing! Do you feel OK, Doctor?' Glabella: 'I feel she's dehydrated!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 23rd of August, 2019. And here we get introduced to Glabella’s superpowers, and start to form questions about, like, what triggers his empathic relation? Like, is he feeling a mix of both Hoagy and Aubee’s physical conditions right now? What’s the range? Is he sensing what the person the next room over feels, too, but faintly? These are all questions it does not make any difference to answer.

Glabella is good at more than diagnosing Rufus’s problems. Hoagy Skinner brings in her daughter Aubree. (Hoagy Skinner’s the wife of Rover Skinner, Skeezix’s grandson.) She’s listless, confused, pale … rather like Glabella is now. He feels she’s dehydrated. She has only the one head and no signs of cauterized sword wounds. He joins her in some sugar-free soda. And in almost no time she’s in good spirits. Physician and patient burp together.

Finally Walt Wallet comes in. Glabella nearly forgets to act like a normal hew-mon. He asks how long Wallet’s left knee has been bothering him before Wallet can say anything. But he goes through the diagnostics of a man so old that when he was born, Jack Benny was telling people he was 32. It’s hard taking on temporarily the ailments of a man that elderly, but he does it.

Glabella, to Walt Wallet: 'Let's take some blood, and see what's causing your difficulty! OK?' Walt: 'Is it painful?' Glabella: 'It'll hurt *me* more than you!' (And thinks, 'ouch'.) Walt: 'I'm ready when you are!' Glabella: 'Too late! It's over!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 5th of September, 2019. So you can see why Glabella would not go in for being a surgeon. Also in this Glabella did the bit of tapping Walt Wallet’s knee with a hammer, only to have his own leg jerk back in response, so that’s some fun business.

Chipper Wallet finally comes back from vacation and meets Glabella. This makes me question the clinic’s hiring practices but, all right. Glabella explains that he has “mirror-touch synesthesia”. It’s a “gift of sorts” that he’s always had. I think it’s also something they wrote into Lieutenant Ilia’s backstory, when they thought Star Trek: The Motion Picture was going to be a TV series. It’s why she does that thing where she heals Chekov’s burns instead of letting Doctor Chapel do it by medicine.

Where this is going, I can’t say. That’s as far as we’ve gotten. It may seem to defy reality that a magic doctor is in the comic. But one of Scancarelli’s modes for the comic has long been this light, sitcom magic touch. The sort of magic where, you know, how could that department-store Santa have known what I wanted as a kid unless … . So this fits that tradition squarely. A bigger break is that Gasoline Alley names are often some kind of wordplay, often gentle puns. If “Peter Glabella” means something I don’t get it.

Sometime around December 2019 I plan to check in again, with an essay about Gasoline Alley at this link. Also if there’s any news about the comic strip I’ll have it at this link.

And, as ever, I look at the mathematical content of comic strips on my other blog. The mathematics blog is also going through all the letters of the alphabet to explain something of each of them, this week and through November, all going well.

Next Week!

Gold mines! Smugglers! Animals! And now … cryptozoology? It’s James Allen’s Mark Trail, coming up, barring surprise developments. Thanks for reading.

I’m Easily Amused By Words, Part, Like, 19


You know what a goodra is? Definitions vary but most statisticians accept that it’s any ra which is more than one standard deviation above the mean.

(Thanks for seeing me live up to the promise I made last week, when I said a non-calendar list of days could be a bit calend-ish. Please visit next week when I’ll ask whether this panel of Daniel Beyers’s comic Long Story Short is mocking me.)

Man up to his knees in a pool of quicksand, to a person up to his hat in another pool: 'If I'm in quicksand and you're in quickersand, then it stands to reason there must be quickeststand.'
Daniel Beyers’s Long Story Short for the 10th of September, 2019. I like the writing craft that chooses “it stands to reason” as the connecting phrase there, since it puts this nise assonance in the whole phrase and makes it that bit funnier.

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? Seriously, do we not find out whether Daddy Warbucks killed his wife? June – September 2019


No, kind readers. Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy gave us a juicy mystery. Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks’s wife disappeared in circumstances where he’s the only plausible suspect. They do not reveal what happened. But Dick Tracy has adopted the Little Orphan Annie cast. They may reappear and reopen the mystery. If that happens, I’ll share news at this link. That link will also have a more up-to-date plot recap if you’re reading this later than about December 2019, yourselves.

Dick Tracy.

16 June – 8 September 2019

The search was on for Gypsy Gay, the last thread of evidence prosecutors have in trying B-B Eyes for murder. The real evidence, Trixie Tinkle’s sworn statement, has gone missing. So has Tinkle. But it’s thought Tinkle might have described her statement to Gay. Without that, all the State has against B-B Eyes is that his name is B-B Eyes and that the corruption of his body shows the corruption of his morals. B-B Eyes’s lawyer Tim Jackel is racing Dick Tracy to find Gay first.

Oh, did I mention Trixie Tinkle was Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks’s second wife? And that she disappeared while the two were on a world cruise? And Warbucks won’t answer questions about what happened, but will admit how Tinkle was a golddigger with whom he couldn’t make things work? Also, that Annie and Oliver Warbucks are in on this story?

Sam: 'The security camera shows Gypsy and Annie leaving.' Tracy: 'Let's check for possible witnesses outside.' Doorman: 'He said he was their driver and they got in the sedan. License number something-1938. Same year as Action Comics #1.' Lizz: 'Action comics?' Tracy: 'I'm accessing the license database now.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 20th of June, 2019. Now, it’s hard to believe, but I have heard that there are people in the world who do not remember when Action Comics #1 was posted. Some of them don’t even know why this would be a something they would care to know.

In it to the point of solving things: Annie, Honeymoon Tracy, and Ugly Crystal happen across Gypsy Gay. She works in the hotel where Annie and Oliver Warbucks are staying. Gay’s location and workplace are a slender lead to go on, but Tracy is able to follow it. Not fast enough to keep Gay and Annie from being kidnapped, but, c’mon. It’s Little Orphan Annie. If she weren’t being kidnapped she’d go off and kidnap herself, just to stay in shape.

B-B Eyes's hideout. B-B: 'Yeah, Gypsy Gay, I remember you.' Gay: 'I know you too. I was partying with my friend Trixie when that policeman O'Malley was brought in!' B-B: 'You got a good memory, Gypsy. So what happened to O'Malley?' Gay: 'YOU know!' B-B: 'AND SO DO YOU, GYPSY. Now, who's this kid?' Annie: 'ANNIE's the name. And I'm so tough, tattoos are scared of me!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 23rd of June, 2019. I grant this is not the most important strip of the plot. But I love Annie’s explanation of herself in that final panel. That’s giving you a character in one panel. It’s so good you almost don’t wonder why she brought up tattoos. Like, did B-B Eyes or one of the henchmen have a tattoo we haven’t been paying attention to? Or has she been workshopping this line so long she took the chance to deploy it regardless of whether it perfectly fit?

Turns out Gay actually did witness B-B Eyes killing Officer O’Malley. O’Malley had been sent undercover to … uh … investigate B-B Eyes’s tire-bootlegging gang back in 1942. So, you know, do not cross the Office of Price Administration if you ever want to know peace. Look, if we aren’t going to accept a weird flow of time then we’re in trouble. I’m still hung up on how Trixie Tinkle disappeared twenty years ago, as we get told, yet was someone whom Annie knew. Also that Annie only met Oliver Warbucks because of Warbucks’s first wife. Anyway, B-B Eyes figures his best bet is to kill Gay, and what the heck, Annie too.

Annie and Gypsy are trapped in B-B Eyes's hideout. Gay: 'Annie! What's that in the hallway?' (It's a space vortex; from inside emerges Punjab.) Punjab: 'Come with me! I cannot hold this pathway open forever! No matter what you see next, do not let go!' Annie grabs Punjab's hand, and Gay grabs Annie's. They journey through a ghost-lined tunnel of spirits that are ... kind of 70s-breakfast-cereal-esque in spookiness. They emerge in reality. Gay: 'W-what was that?' Annie: 'Leapin' Lizards, Punjab!' Punjab: 'I know. It was not the magical journey you expected, little princess. My apologies to you both!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 30th of June, 2019. I remember this journey being a lot less sinister when the Pink Panther took it.

Have to agree with his plan. But the cops have followed them, and they’re already holding a shootout. Annie leads Gay to making a break for it. In the hallway they find a magical vortex filled with demons, as will happen. Don’t worry. It’s Punjab, using the mystic powers of the inscrutable Orient to save his master’s ward and also that other person. With the hostages safe, Tracy’s able to move in with a heavier action sequence. And he captures B-B Eyes safe and sound and ready for trial.

There’s some time for calm reflection. Talk of how Warbucks has moved to a quieter town. How he’s finally adopted Annie for real and good. And, no, he’s not going to go answering any nosey police questions about the disappearance of his inconvenient wife. That, the 13th of July, concludes the story.


The next day Tracy gets gunned down in the rain. And yes, it was exciting to read this and think Warbucks had put out a hit on Tracy after all. It’s rough on Tracy, but he survives, thanks to his bulletproof vest and his latest would-be murderer’s unwillingness to shoot him in the head. His attempted murderer this time: Archie Comics’s Dilton Doiley cosplaying as the lead singer for the Buggles. Call him “Doc”. His participation got teased the 26th and 27th of June, in the midst of the previous gunfight. He’s the nephew of old-time Tracy villain Flyface. This is why there’s flies hanging around him. Flies respect primogeniture.

Grandmom, on the phone: 'How are your classes going, Little Doc? That college is lucky to have you as a student.' Doc: 'I'm not attending classes right now, Grandma. My job has to take precedence.' Grandmom: 'Yes, Doc. But that law library your uncle Felixweather left you is going to serve you well someday. Never forget that!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 19th of July, 2019. Uncle Felixweather, Flyface, had a big collection of law books and was maybe an attorney. In one past storyline Flyface’s law books were coated with a material that produced a noxious gas when burned, which Flyface used to escape jail. This storyline revealed that the books themselves could be used to murder people by poison or as incendiaries or other stuff. And if that all sounds ridiculous please remember this is the comic strip where flappy-skinned balloon seller The Pouch used a popcorn maker to shoot someone dead.

Like many Gen Z’ers, he can’t just go to college. He needs a side hustle. His is trying to get revenge on Tracy for (I assume) killing his uncle Flyface. That’s failed, which disappoints him. Now he’ll probably only get three stars on Smuglr, the crime-sharing app that’s disrupting the traditional black markets. Anyway, he can get back to his main job, being floor manager at the Patterson Playhouse.

The Patterson Playhouse is doing a production of Our Town, with Vitamin Flintheart as the Narrator. During rehearsals Mitchell, a Gluyas Williams portrait of Robert Benchley suffering a cold, drops off a thermos of “snow”. Mitchell made two mistakes dropping off this drug shipment. First, what he thought was an equipment bag was the camera bag of Kandikane Lane, Vitamin’s wife. Second, he used a thermos with the licensed brand image of The Scarlet Sting. This is an in-universe comic strip and comic book superhero.

Vitamin Flintheart's Home. Kandikane, holding a Scarlet Sting thermos: 'I thought this thermos was yours, Vitamin. I wonder where it came from.' Vitamin: 'One of the stagehands, perhaps?' Kandikane: 'It's not empty. Uh-oh! This is a bag of white powder!' Vitamin; 'Close it quickly, my dear! I'll contact the authorities!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 5th of August, 2019. “I mean, this is a heap of Kraft Parmesan with a street value of easily … like … $2.49.”

So the appearance of a licensed bit of fan merch drew so much attention. Characters wandered over from Funky Winkerbean to admire that hey, here’s something nerds like! And yet it’s for sale just as if superheroes were part of pop culture or something. They look inside, find it’s a great pile of white powder, and call in Dick Tracy.

Dick Tracy does some swift super-detecting work. He’s learned that earlier that day was Mitchell asking to see Doc Limpp. Tracy checks the Dick Tracy Wikia and finds that Flyface — Felixweather Limpp — had a nephew named Little Doc. Somehow this isn’t enough to go on, though, so they set a trap. They return the thermos to the Flinthearts to carry on as if the cocaine wasn’t discovered and replaced with a decoy. (The Flinthearts had unknowingly taken the thermos home before noticing it. This is why Doc didn’t know the police were aware of the thermos.)

Meanwhile Doc and his partner Sally try to figure how to get the cocaine back. Sally goes in disguise as “Kassie Richmond”, reporter for the Daily News, to interview Kandikane. Kandikane takes a quick picture of Sally alongside Jack Magnus. Magnus played J Straightedge Trustworthy, spoof of Dick Tracy, in the musical comedy A Chin To Die For, in-universe spoof of Dick Tracy, earlier. The “interview” happens over the course of a full dress rehearsal, so far as that’s possible, of Our Town.

Tracy: 'You've got something in your coat.' Susan: 'It's a lens adaptor Kandi needs.' Tracy: 'I need to see it.' Susan, unbuckling her belt: 'Okay, but I have to warn you ... my nickname in college was Commando!' (She flashes her coat wide.) Tracy, eyes popping out: 'Ye gods!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 20th of August, 2019. I know what you’re thinking: with that last panel we can declare a winner in the Funniest Story Comic Panel Of 2019 contest. I agree this is a strong contender. But let’s please not forget that the current Mary Worth story is about Dawn Weston trying to get a guy who’s incredibly not interested in a lasting relationship to commit to her, and that’s probably not even going to be the last Mary Worth story of the year. You’ll see that here in a couple weeks’ time.

Sally goes snooping around and finds Tracy’s there, which she warns Doc about. She also finds The Bag, and grabs the thermos. Tracy moves in. Sally has an excellent uncover story: “I wear swimsuits!” Tracy arrests her, as Doc enters the building. He sneaks into the rafters or whatever they have up high above stage from a theater and shoots. Then he chuckles at having killed Dick Tracy, because Doc somehow doesn’t know what comic strip he’s in.

Tracy wasn’t shot. Jack Magnus was. He was borrowing Tracy’s hat and coat to give some fans pictures of him as J Straightedge Trustworthy. Tracy’s going after Doc au naturel, wearing nothing but his three-piece suit. Also, I have to read it like this, setting up Magnus to be the unwitting target of Doc’s attempted murder. Magnus pulls through. “It’s just a nick”, the kind that would just screw you up for years in real life but that genre convention is you just kind of walk off. It is good for Magnus, but still … I mean, maybe Tracy didn’t know Doc was going to shoot him right then and there? But he’s got to have seen this as plausible, too.

Tracy arrests Doc. And we learn Doc’s also a cocaine user and Tracy felt kind of bad breaking this to Doc’s grandmother. So the story’s resolved, and it closes with a week of scenes from Our Town.

Oh, also they arrest Mitchell, who surrenders to the cops after eight minutes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 fans quoting at him.


And on the 1st of September started a new Minit Mystery. This one is, if I’m reading it right, written by Staton and Curtis. The guest artist is Andrew Pepoy. It starts with a murder at a photo studio. As I write this, on Saturday the 7th, it’s been introducing suspects and motives, so if you want to jump in to solving matters, this is a good chance. It’s a nice story break point for me.

Next Week!

I have seven days to remember exactly what’s going on in
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley.
It’s involved Rufus and Joel a good bit, that I’m pretty sure about.

Meanwhile I continue looking at mathematics in comic strips on my other blog. I also have the Fall 2019 A-to-Z Sequence, explaining one concept for each letter of the alphabet, running. You might enjoy that. Thanks for considering it.

What’s Going On In Prince Valiant? Did Valiant save Bukota’s Queen yet? June – September 2019


This is my late-August summary of the plot in Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant. If you’re reading this after about late November 2019 there’s probably a more up-to-date essay here.

Meanwhile my other blog has exciting stuff to read. I look at mathematically-themed comic strips every week. And starting this week, for a 13-week run, I’ll look at some mathematical concept for each letter of the alphabet. This will be fun or terrifying and I won’t know which until the end of November.

Prince Valiant.

9 June – 1 September 2019.

Bukota, assisted by Prince Valiant, was pursuing Fewesi the Healer. Fewesi had kidnapped Madeka, the Queen of Ab’sabam and lover of Bukota. They land in Paraetonium, in North Africa. Everybody gets camels and Fewesi heads into the desert.

Fewesi drives his camel hard, reaching an oasis. This made me realize my cartoon-influenced idea of an oasis always has it be, like, the size of a swimming pool. No. This is a land, one to which his (nomadic) people have returned, luckily. Fewesi declares this their great chance. They have only to give him asylum, and they can use Madeka to gain power in Africa.

By luck or distant witchcraft, Val has found the vast oasis far south of Paraetonium. He and his mount quench their thirsts in a marshy pool unaware that sharp yellow eyes regard them hungrily. While, in the Idar Uhag encampment, an angry Fwesi faces rejection from his mother's tribe. In desperation, he seeks to use the hidden way to control the Chieftain's decision but the old man merely smiles contemptuously. 'Do not try to turn an adept with your misused powers, puppy! Now take your hostage and go, so that we may tell all that follow you that we have turned you away! We want none of the suffering that your schemes would bring!' So Fewesi's plans for revenge and conquest within his mother's tribe are lost. He leads the spellbound Makeda from the encampment, and for the first time is afraid, with good reason. Several miles down the pathway, a dark figure rises before him, sword unsheathed. Next: Mind Over Matter.
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 21st of July, 2019. So while it was doomed to fail, points to Fewesi for at least trying to mind-control the Chieftain. Also, good on Bukota for being ready to hit Fewesi, but if he is “several miles down the pathway” he’s drawn the sword too early. He’s going to wear himself out holding that thing for like 95 minutes before he needs it.

The leaders of the Idar Uhag shut that down hard. Kidnapping Madeka isn’t going to solve any of their problems. Also it was a mistake to teach Fewesi any mind-control and distant-vision powers, which by the way the Idar Uhag have. Fewesi then remembers, hey, he has mind-control powers. He can just … oh. Yeah, the rest of the tribe has more and better mind-control powers, so they’re not changing their minds. They kick him and his hostage out, in time for Bukota to catch them.

Meanwhile, Prince Valiant — whom “sympathetic, if amused nomads chanced upon” and taught how to ride a camel — has made it to the oasis. While he swims, a lioness preys upon his camel. Valiant gets out fast, of course, and protects his ride, but it’s a tough job. The lioness leads him into the grasses, where her pride joins the fight. That’s taking Valiant some time to sort out.

Val thrusts the Singing Sword aggressively at the huge lioness that has ambushed his camel. The angry cat shows little fear of man and his weapons, but a stinging slash is enough to send her retreating reluctantly, cautiously ... and with purpose. Too late he recognizes her cunning --- she has led him into the tall grasses, where her pride suddenly glides forward and encircles him! While, on the oasis path not far away, Makeda wills herself free of Fewesi's enchantment. She rushes to Bukota's aid, throwing her kemis over the murderous healer. He struggles to free himself, knocking her back ... but Makeda's distraction has broken Fewesi's control over Bukota. The warrior staggers to his feet, cold vengeance gleaming in his eyes. It is all too much for the healer. He cannot control both of these powerful wills. He has played his last card, and has no further option but to flee. Next: The High Ground.
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 18th of August, 2019. Not that Mandrake the Magician would stoop to simple mind-control. I say this days before I bet it turns up in both the 90s “current” comics and the two separate 1940s vintage stories on Comics Kingdom. But I’m sure Mandrake would have a chuckle at Fewesi’s mind-control powers being thrown by getting covered with cloth. “Just gesture hypnotically some,” I’m sure he’d chuckle, “and make them think you’re eighty feet tall! That’s the way to do it. I have no idea how I really got into that building.”

Meanwhile Fewesi, Bukota, and Madeka are having a very parallel fight. Fewesi is able to mind-control Bukota, but it weakens his control of Makeda. Fewesi tries to slit Bukota’s throat — as the lioness hits the camel’s throat — only to lose control of Makeda. She covers him with her dress, giving Bukota the chance to shake off Fewesi’s control. Fewesi flees. Bukota and Makeda team up to pursue.

Next Week!

So did Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks kill his second wife? This and other plot developments in Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy should get their answers in a week.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Weekdays)? Did The Phantom Save Kadia’s Mother? June – August 2019


Yeah, he did. Glad to clear that up.

Phantom, thinking to himself: 'Rough night ... that all started ... how? Ah! 'Say whatever you have to say, Heloise'.' Flash back to Heloise, on a rooftop, pleading to Kadia not to jump: 'Your mother's NOT going to die! My dad's going so save her!'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 24th of August, 2019. The flashback is to Heloise pleading with the despairing Kadia, as seen the 20th of February 2019. Heloise did not reveal her father was The Phantom. But Kadia did understand that the “friend” Kit Walker said he was sending was not someone else. Anyway, that’s a nice Red Roof Inn that The Phantom picked to be their recovery spot. You suppose he got a single room or two separate rooms?

Catch you all again back around here in late early October, for the Sunday Phantom continuity, or in mid-November for the weekday strips. Or if there’s breaking news. And, please, consider my mathematics blog. I use it to examine mathematically-themed comics every week. And starting from next week I hope to explore 26 mathematical terms, as many of them as possible ones readers ask to read about.

The Phantom (weekdays).

3 June – 24 August 2019

OK, I can say the same thing with more words. I last checked Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity, in early June. The Ghost Who Walks was in North Africa. He was raiding a compound of The Nomad, recently-captured-and-exposed International Terrorist. He’s there to extract Imara Sahara, wife of The Nomad and mother of Kadia, Heloise Walker’s roommate and now sister. Complications: a militia, figuring to hostage Imara to make the Nomad keep their Terrorism secrets, holds Imara. They’ll kill her if anyone comes too near to freeing her. Also making things worse: American intelligence agencies, who figure, well, it’s not a hospital but maybe we could bomb it anyway?

So the past three months have focused on how The Phantom’s going to get this done with these constraints. It starts with the traditional elements: The Phantom punching people unconscious. Stealing clothes. Going undercover to punch more people. Punching codes into locked doors. All that stuff.

Phantom, smacking a henchman with the a gun: 'Your lucky day ... I already HAVE the access code!' Meanwhile in an Intelligence Agency lair. Underling: 'What are you doing? [Dave] Palmer's *talking* to us! He wants to come in!' Chief Intelligence Guy: 'Too late ... you are cleared hot ... fire at will.'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 15th of June, 2019. “Look, we didn’t get where we are in the intelligence community by letting important new information affect our decisions!”

Meanwhile Dave Palmer gets a call from Diana Walker. Dave Palmer, retired Intelligence Guy, had (last time) refused Intelligence Agency pleas to advise them on this bombing. When Diana says something about “the villa” he changes his mind and says to his (tapped) phone that he’s coming in, don’t blow anything up until he gets there. They’re not going to refuse the chance to blow something up.

The bombing has its good side for the Phantom. For one, everybody who isn’t dead or wounded has a bigger project than Phantom-stopping. For another, the darkness is good for sneaking around. When the emergency lights come on it’s a bit of bother.

The Phantom, hiding in emergency light from many gunshots and ricochets, thinking: 'I've no choice but to take this and not fire back! If they think they've killed me by bouncing bullets off the walls, they've got no reason to turn their guns on Imara Sahara!'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 28th of June, 2019. Besides being part of a good action sequence this strip neatly summarizes The Phantom’s idea about squaring this circle. He’s going to try to act as dead as possible and then respond. It’s a tough spot to be in but what would the alternative be? See if Mandrake the Magician is free that weekend?

So there’s a nasty gunfight: Sahara’s guards shooting where they conclude the intruder has to be. The Phantom trying to stay out of the line of fire, and ricochets, until he can sneak up on them. And we finally see Imara Sahara, who’s keeping her wits quite well considering. She tries to warn the unknown-to-her intruder that she can’t be saved. She has a point. The Phantom has a plan. It can only work if the writer’s on his side.

He shoots out the lights. They slam the panic room door shut. They expect him to break through the door, but that he’ll then be an easy target. The Phantom figures to break through the door, yes, but only after he disables the emergency generator. In the dark they’ll be helpless, unless they picked up their flashlights. When the lights in the panic room go out Imara takes cover. The Phantom breaks through the door and there’s an intense gunfight. All the militia members die. The Phantom is merely shot three times. This on top of the wounds he’d barely recovered from when he fell for The Nomad’s ambush. That story was over a year ago, reader time. It’s only a couple days in the past for The Phantom, though.

Imara, watching the Phantom disassemble a bookshelf in the panic room: 'What on earth are you *doing*?' Phantom, thinking: 'It seems the Nomad never gave his wife the complete tour.' He thinks of Kadia as a girl popping up out from the other end of the tunnel to a smiling Eric 'The Nomad' Sahara.
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 25th of July, 2019. Part of Eric “The Nomad” Sahara has been this display of honest love for his daughter. His capture started out with him trying to have one last day with Kadia before leaving her life forever and for her safety. So anyway him having what seems like a normal-ish moment playing with his daughter around the escape tunnel feels right to me. The Phantom has no excuse for not answering Imara’s question.

At last The Phantom kind of introduces himself and why he’s there. And leads her to an escape tunnel, the only way out now that the main hallways have collapsed under American bombardment. Imara asks how he can know about this tunnel. It’s a reasonable question. Well, Kadia knew, and briefed him. Why did Kadia know and her mother not? … Not sure. We see in flashback the young Kadia playing in the tunnel with her father. Still, it seems odd to set up a panic room for someone and not share how to leave it in a crisis. I can’t say this is unrealistic. It’s petty jerk behavior from international terrorist Eric Sahara. But I understand commenters who couldn’t suspend their disbelief on this point.

Above ground, a new militia’s come around to see what’s happened and what they can make worse. So they start shooting at the only things still alive, The Phantom and Imara Sahara. This leads to a chase through the remains of the compound, The Phantom leading Imara towards his escape truck. The Phantom sends her ahead, while he distracts the militia by using bullets. She finds the truck and waits the three minutes he asked for, and some more, and finally leaves after she hears the gunfire stop.

Imara, running through the night: 'Walker, Box 7, Mawitaan, Walker, Box 7, Mawaitaan ... !! Walker? My Kadia's *roommate* was a Walker! Heloise Walker! ... A coincidence! What might that sweet girl have to do with this strange man who helped me?'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 13th of August, 2019. The Phantom had told Sahara to remember “Walker, Box 7, Mawaitaan” as an address to mail if she got out and he didn’t. This strip is part of a recurring little motif of the strip, of people who notice the name Walker and, sometimes, the Phantom’s nickname of The Ghost Who Walks. They invariably dismiss this as coincidence, which is probably what I’d do. Determined comic readers sometimes get tetchy, insisting that they’d never be fooled by so weak a disguise as … two people encountered in two different former-British-Empire countries on two different continents having the same, common, Anglo-Saxon last name.

The Phantom slams against the rear window, and climbs in. He drives them to his recovery space. And is absolutely gleeful that he’s managed to get her out “without a scratch”. And all he has is something like four bullet wounds. The Phantom’s delighted, and smiles. It’s fun having this kind of vigilante superhero actually show delight that he pulled off a stunt like this.

And it was a heck of a performance. The Phantom’s rescued Imara Sahara from captivity. I trust she’s ready to go to Skull Cave. There, her daughter’s already taken the name of her roommate who crashed a private jet into Springfield Gardens. No longer need she live in secret underground North African lairs owned by men with dangerous lives and their own private armed forces. The Phantom’s Skull Cave lair is probably in equatorial Africa.

Next Week!

I finally get an easy week for recapping! It’s
Mark Schulz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant. If all goes to plan, then, I’ll have that comic strip featured next week in this space.

What’s Going On In Alley Oop? What’s With The Alternate-Universe Alley Oop? May – August 2019.


This is my plot recap for my other controversial story comic. That’s Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop. I’m just here to get people caught up on the story as of mid-August 2019. If you’re reading this later than about November 2019 I probably have a more up-to-date recap at this link.

Alley Oop.

27 May – 17 August 2019.

We were near the start of a fresh story when I last checked in. The Time Raccoons had left, with their leader just promising she’d see Wonmug and all in “another era”. Wonmug dropped Ooola and Oop back off at home and returned to his Time Laboratory. We haven’t seen the Time Raccoons again, but we do get a regular raccoon in a lab coat making coffee. And Alley Oop got back to some good old moping around at home.

Oop, holding Meggs: 'Don't worry, little dino, you're safe.' Ooola: 'What are you going to do to her?' Oop: 'I guess take care of her until I find her mama.' Ooola: 'And let me snuggle her and play with her and tell her how cute she is?' Oop, pulling Meggs away: 'ONLY WHEN I'M NOT DOING THAT!'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 30th of May, 2019. Meggs has not yet been an important part of the storyline, but she is an adorable little dino, isn’t she?

Dinny the Dinosaur prods Oop into action. The action is rescuing a baby stegosaurus from a cliff face. Alley Oop adopts the abandoned(?) Meggs. It’s cute and parallels a thread in the Sunday Little Oop continuity where young Alley Oop gets a pet dinosaur. Little Oop hasn’t had enough storyline to need recaps here but I’m not ignoring it.

Meanwhile in the present were a couple of jokes between Doc Wonmug and reliable assistant Ava. Most of these are about Wonmug being a clueless insensitive jerk. Not my favorite kind of joke. It’s a valid characterization, yes. I just find that sort of laugh-from-casual-meanness to be 90s web-comic-y. Which you could say about the current writing: often the punch lines are light dadaism with pop culture references. Anyway, this Ava-and-Wonmug interlude was are tossing spot jokes around. There’s one strip where Ava’s shown swapping objects with other universes. This reads as setup for something particular. It might be just playing with the fourth wall.

Ava: 'Dr Wonmug, I've been working on a project of my own while you were gone. It pulls an object from another dimension and deposits it in this box.' (ZZZZAAAP) Wonmug: 'It looks like an orange.' Orange: 'Yes, but this one TALKS.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 4th of June, 2019. So the reason I say this is possibly a fourth-wall-breaking strip is, notice artist Jonathan Lemon’s signature. In this strip it’s in the second panel. The lemon is often shown imitating one of the characters. But, yeah, the strip might just be setting up the idea of travel between universes so that the real story can depend on that. But I’m not sure that idea needs to be planted before it could be used in the story.

But the something particular: that storyline began the 17th of June. “In Another Universe” Ollie Arp and Eeena notice strange things outside their high-rise apartment. The Statue of Liberty not dancing. Their books being rearranged. The food printer gone missing with a microwave in its place. Dr Piedra identifies the problem: Universe 2’s Doctor Wonmug is screwing up the timeline. And it’s not only messing up his universe. It’s screwing up other universes too.

Dr Piedra: 'Someone is altering history in their universe, and it's changing ours! The science is complicated and involves dimensional causality and quantum transuniversal nodes. And I obviously don't need to explain it to you, as everyone in our universe is a SUPER GENIUS.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 21st of June, 2019. Look, I needed it explained to me that Doc Wonmug’s name was a joke on Albert Einstein and that’s why I went to Google Translate to verify exactly what Dr Piedra’s name means.

So this is a heck of a bundle of things to put on the reader. One of them seems like an olive branch to readers who Do Not Like The New Alley Oop One Bit, Thank You. The strip reiterates that the stuff we’ve been seeing since Lemon and Sayers started is a separate continuity from the original. If you preferred the old, don’t worry. It’s not getting broken. It’s sitting there, idle, ready for a future project. If you liked the old Alley Oop continuity with more realistic stories of student-repaired Saturn V rockets and warp drive sending Alley Oop to the Counter-Earth on the other side of the Sun, that’s still there. This reminds me of the 2009 Star Trek movie emphasized that the Original Timeline is still there and still counts so please Trek fans don’t hate us just because we made a movie where everybody isn’t tired.

So this move to make peace with readers of course got me riled up. I’ve grown to dislike stories with malleable timelines. It’s more that a setting with a changeable timeline puts on its characters ethical duties that I’m not sure any story can address. Not without being a career’s worth of inquiry. Alley Oop has used time travel as a way to get to interesting settings, and what they do is how history was “supposed” to turn out. Changing that model is a choice, and Lemon and Sayers have the right to make that. But I don’t know that the change was made thoughtfully.

Greek Man: 'I don't know this Plato guy, but I'd say maybe try the Labyrinth.' Wonmug, heading out: 'OK, thanks.' Greek Woman: 'Hey, do you know where to find some good dolmas around here?' Greek Man: 'I don't know what dolmas are, but I'd say maybe try the Labyrinth.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 3rd of July, 2019. I know Wonmug is a STEM type, and has only been more so since Lemon and Sayers took over. But, jeez, I’m a STEM type and I know this. It’s fundamental literacy for the culture you live in. You look for Plato around the Republic, guys. Sheesh.

The story as far as Alley Oop, Ooola, and Wonmug know it started the 24th of June with a trip to Ancient Greece. They’re to interview Plato for an offscreen friend of Wonmug’s who’s writing a book. They go to Ancient Greece. “Present-day Greece” say the Greeks. “Distant-future Greece” says Alley Oop. I like this bit. They get a bad tip on where to find Plato and end up in the Labyrinth.

Oop: Dr Wonmug, tell me again, what does the minotaur look like?' Wonmug: 'He's half-man, half-bull. Very big and very angry.' Oop: 'Got it!' Oop, to an elephant-headed parrot wearing glasses: 'Get this: I thought *you* were the *minotaur*!' Elephant parrot: 'Haha! Not even *close*! I'm *Steve*!'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 6th of July, 2019. So the elephant-headed parrot thing is pretty cute. Also I like this thing where many of the animals wear glasses.

This threatens danger, that all turns out to silliness. Encountering Steve in the labyrinth. Encountering the Minotaur, who’s friendly when he learns he’s got so much in common with Oop. This reminds me of Alley Oop’s peaceful encounter with an alligator last storyline. I’m enjoying this running joke of “menacing creatures turn out to be friends of Alley Oop”. I’m not saying you’re wrong if you say this wrecks suspenseful moments.

Plato: 'You know, Mr Oop, this little dialogue has inspired me. Maybe instead of puppetry I could spend my time exploring knowledge, existence, and beauty.' Oop: 'You mean 'philosophy'?' Plato: 'Yes! That's what it's called: PHILOSOPHY! ... I was going to call it 'Professor Plato's Plentiful Ponderings and Profundities', but 'Philosophy' is MUCH better.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 20th of July, 2019. To get back to what’s controversial about this strip. If this is a treatment of the characters that you just can not get behind, yes, you’re right. At least for now, this isn’t the Alley Oop that you liked. Maybe it’ll grow into something more like you do. Maybe whoever creates the strip after Lemon and Sayers move on will be more to your tastes. Maybe someone has a time-travel adventure comic you do like. I don’t know of one offhand. As web comics go I pretty much read XKCD and Projection Edge and that’s it. But if you know anything that might scratch an old-school Alley Oop fan’s itches, please, say something.

They get the tip to look for Plato, of course, in the cave at the edge of town. They find him as this old guy playing with puppets. So even if you love the new Alley Oop you can see Dr Piedra’s point about interdimensional buffoonery. Plato agrees to go to the 21st century and talk with the historian, but there’s an emergency call from Ava. Wonmug rushes back to the present, while Oop and Ooola go with Plato back to his home in the over cave.

The crisis: something’s jamming the flow of time particles. Soon Wonmug’s time machine will stop working, among other things leaving Oop and Ooola in Ancient Greece. And things are happening fast: already the Time Phones aren’t working, leaving Wonmug out of touch with Ooola and Oop.

Eeena: 'So, Universe 2 is officially cut off from any time-related science.' Ollie Arp: 'Thank goodness. Their antics were really starting to annoy me.' Eeena: 'Surely we should give them the technology to solve their imminent environmental collapse?' Arp: 'Nah, some lessons you have to learn the hard way.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 3rd of August, 2019. Also possibly a fourth-wall riff: Ollie Arp admitting he’s annoyed by the antics of Universe 2’s Alley Oop and Ooona and Wonmug. Not addressed: how can something in a separate universe be “starting” to do something in another? Like, can there possibly be a logically coherent meaning for “now” when you’re looking at the events in another universe? What can “imminent” mean for time-travellers?

Ollie Arp and Eeena, yes, created the jam. They’ve shut off Universe 2 from time particles. And venture to Universe 2 to give Alley Oop and Ooona a talking-to. They convince Our Heroes of who they are and where they come from. And the two super-genius time travellers from the responsible universe issue Alley Oop and Ooona a citation. “Please be so kind as to refrain from time-travel for the next 14 days as punishment for your infraction”.

And that’s where the story has landed. If this is the end of the Universe 3 storyline then it’s a good-size shaggy dog of a story. But it’s a great setup. Super-science alternate-universe Alley Oop and Ooola meddling with Our Heroes? And (I trust) unaware that Ava’s developed the ability to move things between universes herself? That’s some great story dynamics ready to explore. Please visit again in three months when we’ll see whether they get explored right away.

Next Week!

I’m fortunate to, I think, have a light week of work ahead since it’s Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity, up for review. Even better I might be able to give a definite answer to whether The Phantom has rescued Kadia’s mother by then. Barring breaking news on any of the story strips that’ll be next week. Thanks for reading.

What’s Going On In The Amazing Spider-Man? Is Spider-Man ever coming out of reruns? May – August 2019


Back around my undergraduate days the university wanted to move the student group offices out of the main student union. The space could make money rented out for events instead of given to student groups. The student groups didn’t want to leave. The university planned a major renovation and expansion of the campus center. It would add a bunch of decent food places, for example. And get the building away from its original late-60s “you know the architect was an award-winning prison designer” layout. But it would need most of the student groups to leave for a while. They set up nice enough temporary quarters in the Ledge, the former and still usable student union building. And, after about three years of renovations, there had been nearly a full turnover in undergraduates. Nobody but a few die-hards with old issues of the student newspapers remembered the promise that student groups would ever move back.

So the first of the “classic” repeats of Roy Thomas and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider Man stories, facing Mysterio, came to an end in mid-July as expected. And then they went right to the story which followed the Mysterio story in 2015. It’s a team-up with the Black Widow to fight the Hobgoblin. That’s a storyline which ran from mid-March 2015 through mid-August. If they repeat the whole thing, that’ll take us through October 2019. The following story, if they don’t change things up, would be an encounter with the Sub-Mariner.

I haven’t heard any announcements of a new team to create the comic strip. Or rumors of an announcement being near. If I hear anything about The Amazing Spider-Man rejoining the world of living comic strips I’ll post something at this link. And I’ll keep plot recaps going, at least until they get into rerunning stories I’ve already reviewed.

The Amazing Spider-Man.

19 May – 10 August 2019.

In a story ripped from 2014-15, Mary Jane had just fallen off the Empire State Building. Filming accident during the making of Marvella 2: The Secret of Curly’s Gold. Spider-Man suspects Mysterio, the super … special-effects and hypnosis guy. Correctly, but how? Also the film crew is starting to suspect Mary Jane and Spider-Man have a thing, and this might hurt Peter Parker if he ever finds out.

Smiley: 'The robot! It's falling onto MJ!' Peter, running ahead of the robot: 'I'll get you out of the --- ' (He shoves Mary Jane out of the way but the robot, falling over, crashes on Spider-Man's side.) 'ARRRH!'
Roy Thomas, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 29th of May, 2019. I had thought the World’s Fair robot just stood there talking with people and smoking cigarettes but I’m not asserting that I know about all the World’s Fair robots out there, especially in a variant of the Marvel Universe.

Mysterio, meanwhile, is sure: Spider-Man has got to be Mary Jane’s husband. He’s going to use a publicity photo shoot, using an old World’s Fair robot, to mess things up. The robot chases down Mary Jane. Peter Parker, in disguise as Peter Parker, shoves her out of the way, taking the fall at the cost of a cracked rib. Mysterio cackles at how he almost killed both Mary Jane and Spider-Man.

Producer Abe Smiley’s ready to cancel Marvella 2: The Secret Of The Ooze. But Mary Jane talks him out of it. And Peter’s discharged already: it was a tiny fracture. He even has a copy of the X-ray. Director “Dash” Dashell, curious about the X-rays, stumbles into Peter. Peter screams and spills his plot point right over everybody.

Dash Dashell: 'So that's an X-ray of your cracked rib? Here, let me see ... OOPS!' (He stumbles, knocking Peter Parker's chest, making Peter scream.) Mary Jane: 'I'd better get you home, Peter.' Sharon Smiley, whispering, to a tech person: 'If you're right and MJ's having an affair with Spider-Man ... her husband won't be getting in the way for a while.'
Roy Thomas, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 7th of June, 2019. I like people coming to the conclusion Mary Jane has something going with Spider-Man. It’s logical for onlookers to suppose. And it might help Peter Parker keep his identity secret, a thing he needs a lot of help with.

Marvella 2: Golden Receiver resumes. Spider-Man makes himself very visible watching over the next day of filming, at Washington Square Park. Mysterio does too. Then throws some misting gas grenades to be less visible. He’s figuring a mid-air, smoky fight with a wounded Spider-Man his best shot at killing Spidey. It’s not a bad thought. With a solid hit to the chest Spider-Man goes falling. Mysterio flies after him — well, not flies. Mysterio doesn’t have superpowers. He has a transparent hoverboard. Which Spider-Man snatches.

Mysterio: 'Your webbing --- latching onto my nigh-invisible Sky-Ski! But --- you were too DAZED to hurl that line!' Spider-Man: 'Or maybe, since they were filming a *movie*, I was just doing a bit of Oscar-level acting!' Mysterio: 'OOPH! You've pulled it --- out from under me!'
Roy Thomas, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 20th of June, 2019. I’d like to say it’s a coloring error that the nigh-invisible Sky-Ski is a bright orange, although that there’s not lines for Mysterio’s right boot suggests otherwise. In the previous couple days’ strips the Sky-Ski was invisible, or at least sky blue, which would probably be invisible enough for filming an ordinary special effects sequence. (I suppose a modern effects sequence would want the Sky-Ski to be a bright, easy-to-detect color not otherwise used, so it could be digitally erased. You can’t say that’s going on here. That’s not Mysterio’s thing and anyway his gloves are the same color.)

This offends Mysterio, a reaction I love. But Spidey points out, he can pretend to get hurt. With the hoverboard — er, Sky-Ski — Spidey can stay in the air long enough to continue fighting. Mysterio has an emergency reserve jet pack because, you know, supervillains. Anyway, they throw stuff at each other, they plummet, Spidey grabs on to Mysterio’s flying boomerang discus. He knocks Mysterio down. They fall into the fountain.

Spider-Man: 'I've removed your gimmicky gloves. Now let's see if you'r really who I THINK you are! (Removing the goldfish bowl.) Yep! Dash Dashell, boy movie director --- (Removing a face mask) -- Alias Quentin Beck, the one and only Mysterio!' Mary Jane: 'He was wearing a mask UNDER his mask!?'
Roy Thomas, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 5th of July, 2019. I understand the superhero convention of the mask-under-the-mask thing. But I look at this and wonder if Mysterio was getting any oxygen at all through those masks. His goldfish bowl wasn’t opaque because of special effects stuff. It was opaque because it fogged up.

Spidey reveals that Mysterio is in fact … “Dash” Dashell, director of Marvella 2: Invasion of the Tinysauruses. Or in fact … not. He’s really Quentin Beck, Mysterio. Mysterio kidnapped the real Dashell and took his place. The plan: draw out Spider-Man by staging accidents with Mary Jane Parker. This would let him kill Spider-Man, vanquishing his longstanding foe. Also let him kill Mary Jane, because, eh, what the heck.

Mysterio tries to at least reveal that Peter Parker is Spider-Man, and gets laughed out of town. It helps that Peter Skypes her with a “hey, just heard there’s a villain unraveling going on” call in the middle of this. Mysterio’s not fooled by a pre-recorded message. He slugs Spider-Man in the chest, who doesn’t even flinch, because Spidey doesn’t have a cracked rib. Mysterio leaves, abashed.

Mary Jane: 'That was Peter on the screen, so he *can't* be Spider-Man!' Mysterio, breaking away from the cop holding him: 'That call could've been pre-recorded! THIS'LL prove the wall-crawler is your husband! (And slugs Spider-Man in the chest.) WHAT? You didn't even FLINCH!' Spider-Man: 'Beck, you've got a punch like a soggy beanbag.'
Roy Thomas, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 11th of July, 2019. Question for the class: when did Peter Parker decide on his plan to fake having a cracked rib? He must have figured he had to fake being injured after the robot fell on him, since it would be weird if he didn’t need a hospital visit. But did he realize Mysterio was trying to injure Peter Parker, and needed to fake an injury? When? And on what basis?

How did Spider-Man pull this off? The X-rays Peter brought back from the hospital were old ones, from when this story originally ran four years ago. It’s some clever thinking by Peter, whose comic strip persona had needed the chance to show he can think. I’m not convinced that he had enough information in-world to form and execute this plan, though. But I’m also not sure how he leapt to the conclusion it was Mysterio behind all this either. Sometimes I guess you get lucky.


The Black Widow/Hobgoblin story got started, this time around, the 20th of July. Mary Jane admitted wearing the Marvella costume has kinda aroused something in her and she’d like to try web-slinging with him. And they’re having fun swooping over the town when the Hobgoblin blows through and tries to knock them down. Spider-Man leaves Mary Jane somewhere safe so they can go fighting.

Mary Jane, plummeting, screaming. Hobgoblin: 'Scream your head off on your way down! I've no intention of rescuing you!' Black Widow, swooping in to grab her: 'You don't need to --- while the Black Widow's around!'
Roy Thomas, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 2nd of August, 2019. I admire Hobgoblin’s willingness to say “I’ve no intention of rescuing you”. That’s a real power move of a line of dialogue. You know he could totally have said “I’ven’t any intention” except he’s holding that in reserve in case he has to escalate his dismissiveness.

It doesn’t go well. Hobgoblin knocks Spidey unconscious and returns to grab Mary Jane. She recognizes Hobgoblin as her old boyfriend, and Peter Parker’s friend Harry Osborn. Hobgoblin blames Spider-Man for the death of his father HarryNorman “Green Goblin” Osborn. And he hates Mary Jane now for … I don’t know. Something. Good chance they explain it in whatever this month’s Spider-Man movie is. Fortunately, the Black Widow is around and able to save Mary Jane.

Between the Black Widow and the recovered Spider-Man they’re able to chase Hobgoblin off. This gives Spidey and Black Widow a chance to exposition to each other. Black Widow was seeking a former Soviet Spy who’d killed “friends” of hers years ago, and ran across this by accident. Mary Jane, meanwhile, contracts instant jealousy of Spider-Man talking to Black Widow like this. And that’s the standings as of this weekend.

Next Week!

Doc Wonmug takes Alley Oop and Oola to meet Plato and then something goes wrong with the time machine. And it’s not the Time Raccoons, not yet. Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop is up in six days, unless I get busy.