What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? What Is Walt Wallet’s Toothpaste Conspiracy Thing? April – July 2018


I’m glad to be here. I’m glad to say that Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley seems to be back out of reruns and into new strip production. If I write anything after about mid-July 2018 about the strip it should be on this page. So if the story I describe clearly has resolved by the time you read this, maybe that page will help you to a more useful story summary.

Comic strips with a mathematical theme I review on my other blog, each week. The latest essays about that are on this link. Thanks for considering me.

Gasoline Alley.

29 April – 21 July 2018.

Last time I checked in, Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley seemed to be running new strips on Sundays. After months of reruns every day of this week this was a good sign. It didn’t get the strip back to its full healthy serial-comic main nature. But it was evidence that Scancarelli was at least alive and well and getting the strip, in its 99th year, back on its feet. The daily strips — the ones that run a serialized, comic story — were running repeats from 2007. They’re not, anymore. It looks to me that since mid-June the comic strip has been new, telling what as best I can tell is an original story. But let me get those old stories out of the way.

Corky’s Diner. The perpetually drunk and incompetent Suds wants his dishwashing job back. The perpetually perky and incompetent Joy and Dawn want the dishwashing job. They’re having a race to see who can clean the most dishes. Joy and Dawn win by one plate, which they accidentally break while celebrating their victory. Joy and Dawn decide they don’t want the dishwashing job anymore. They thought it might be “the fast track to management”, and instead they’re washing dishes. So they quit, to try to their hand somewhere else, because they still believe in capitalism. And Suds has his job back.


New story. It started the 15th of May. It, too, started at Corky’s Diner, for a fairly graceful transition. The problem: Slim Wallet can’t sleep. The exhausted Slim does nod off at work, under a car. He bangs his head but good when he’s startled awake. He can’t stop hearing bells, a symptom baffling to everyone around him, who expected this was going to be a Sitcom Amnesia storyline. Right? I mean, doesn’t that write itself?

Still, it’s a good chance for him to get to the emergency room, and to do a couple week’s worth of old hospital/doctor jokes. “The form asks ‘sex’? I’m putting ‘none of your business’,” that sort of thing. The doctor prescribes some pills for Slim’s massive concussion. He’s shown with little bells orbiting his head even weeks later. It’s great visuals, but, like, it’s not like he’s a professional football player and we can pretend head trauma isn’t a thing.

Desert island women, in Slim's dream: 'Oh, Slim! It's great being shipwrecked with you!' Slim: 'Aw! Shucks, ladies.' Women: 'What'll we do on this deserted island?' Slim: 'Want to play post office?' Women: 'How can we? We don't have any way to do cancellations!' Slim: 'Silly! Who wants to cancel kisses?'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 14th of June, 2018. Of historic importance as we measure things around here: the strip with which reruns gave way to newly-drawn installments.

But the ringing does go down, and he tries to get through his insomnia, for which the doctor prescribed sleep. And Slim even gets to sleep, dreaming of being on a deserted island with some Kissing Women. This dream Clovia wakes him from, unaware of the astounding thing that’s happened.

The astounding thing is that, when this storyline first ran in 2007, Slim didn’t have this dream. He had a string of things getting him out of bed, including construction next door. They put in a basketball court, causing late-night basketball games that keep him awake. This lead Slim on a long and daft storyline in which he buys a meteorite off eBay and gets a friend of his to drop it from his helicopter. The hope is to destroy the basketball court in a way that couldn’t be traced back to him as long as nobody ever tried. Not Slim’s finest moment here.

But no; from the 14th of June, the strips are — as best I can tell — new. Whatever caused Jim Scancarelli to step away from the strip in early November seems to have passed. He did not resume the storyline about Rufus courting the Widow Emma Sue and Scruffy’s Mother. That storyline left off on the news that Elam, Rufus’s rival for her affections, had proposed marriage and got turned down. I have no information about whether the storyline will resume up or what the fate of Emma Sue, Scruffy, and their Widowed Mother might be.


With the 18th of June started the current, and best I can tell, new storyline. It’s about Walt Wallet, the original star of the comic strip from 1918 — a date he mentions in his first word balloon. It started with a bit of daft old-guy cranky conspiracy theorizing that I saw confusing a lot of comics readers. Walt’s thesis: toothbrushes have more bristles than they used to. That is, from the front to the back of the toothbrush there’s more bristles. Why would toothbrush makers do that? It’s obvious. Everyone puts on enough toothpaste to cover all the bristles. So the only point to putting more bristles on is to make people buy more toothpaste. As corporate conspiracies go this is … eh, you know what? At least it would be an honest corrupt conspiracy. You would at least get clean teeth out of it. I’ll take it.

Anyway this nonsense barely gets started. Walt’s got an invitation from the Old Comics Home. This is one of the reality-breaking, slightly-magical aspects of the comic strip. The Old Comics Home is this boardinghouse for the characters of retired or cancelled comic strips. Now and then Walt Wallet visits, letting Jim Scancarelli do a bit of work with Major Hoople or Buster Brown or Little Sammy Sneeze or whoever.

Walt Wallet, Orphan Annie, and Sandy singing: 'Who's that little chatter-box? The one with pretty auburn locks! Who do you see?' Gertie: 'Arf! It's her dog, Sandy!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 12th of July, 2018. I sincerely love the way Sandy looks, holding the sheet music upside-down and singing her heart out like this.

The Old Comics Home is having a roast. They want him to be a speaker as they poke fun at Little Orphan Annie. “Will she think it’s funny,” asks Walt’s caretaker Gertie, and a fair question. But an important part of the behavior of the hew-mon is that your friends have license to insult you, and you accept these insults as love. In hindsight, “chimpanzees with anxiety” was a bad foundation on which to build the human species. Next time around maybe we should try basing humans on, I don’t know, “pheasants with gemütlichkeit” instead.

Walt’s preparation comes to thinking of the jokes you would think of about the comic strip. He takes notes of stuff like how Gertie thought as a girl the strip was named “Little Arf an’ Andy”. I am sure that at least one time when Walt Kelly’s Pogo was riffing on Annie they called the comic strip that. But I’m too lazy to check, so will go ahead and give the strip credit for a multifaceted allusion.

Other jokes are less deep cuts: how do the characters see without pupils? They’d bump into each other all the time! Or: Daddy Warbucks leaves Annie unsupervised an awful lot! What if Child Protective Services investigated the billionaire war-manufactures oligarch, as though law constrained the rich? Or: Little Orphan Annie had a jingle when she was on the radio; what if they changed some of the words? Well, if I understand, the point of a roast is for everyone to tell dumb insulting jokes about someone as a show of how much they love them. They don’t need to be insightful commentary that changes one’s view of things. They just have to exist.

Frank Nelson: 'What can I do for your?' Skeezix: 'My uncle and I need new tuxedos!' Nelson: 'Is this for a funeral?' Skeezix: 'What makes you think that?' Nelson: 'You don't look so well!' Skeezix: 'Now cut that out!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 18th of July, 2018. Well, I find it hilarious, but I also know exactly how this would sound as done between Frank Nelson and Jack Benny. I’m sure at some point Benny needed a tuxedo and Nelson was the only person working in any store or information desk in town. How could he be everywhere? As Nelson would put it, “either you’re lucky, or I’m un-lucky”. (And now that it’s mentioned, I wonder if the Cathy gag where every store clerk is the same woman is an echo of the Frank Nelson joke. I had always taken it to be an artistic choice that, you know, these people all serve the same story role so why distract the reader with different character models for the shoe clerk and the swimwear clerk?) Still, I say it’s a good, tight bit of insult-joke construction.

At the tuxedo rental, Walt and Skeezix run into who else but Frank Nelson. This is a good chance to share some of the insult patter conversations Nelson did so well with Jack Benny. And that’s where we’ve got to by the end of the past week.

I trust the next couple of weeks will get the roast organized. Maybe Annie will go missing and need to be found or something. And the visit to the Old Comics Home will probably show off Smokey Stover or Ignatz Mouse or so on. It seems like time with the Old Comics would be a natural feed-in to Gasoline Alley reaching its hundredth year. But it won’t reach that until the 24th of November, four months off. A serial comic can drag its story out, but something this slight for that long? It’s hard to envision.

Just when you thoguht your funny paper was safe to read ... The Molehill Highlanders strike again. Bass player: 'Whatcha gonna sing, Rufus?' Rufus: 'A song I learnt off a old record album. It's called Music From The Heart; Sung Through Th'Nose'. Bass: 'That ain't possumable.' Fiddler: 'What gear is it in?' Other fiddler: 'Yo' need a nasal stray?' Rufus: 'Th'music kicks off way down at th'ticker --- then regress into th'diagram! Next, it palpatrates up th'asparagus an' out th'epipotamus an'naval cavity!' Bass: 'Rufus! I think I better see my dentist and get a dose o'penecillium or some phenobarbasol!' Rufus: 'That mean I can't sing m'song?'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 15th of July, 2018. Wikipedia notes Jim Scanarelli is a bluegrass fiddler, and a prizewinner at the Old Fiddler’s Convention, which apparently has been held annually in Galax, Virginia, since 1935. To give some idea how long ago that was: 1935 was so long ago that in 1935, Jack Benny would people he was thirty-eight years old.

Meanwhile. The Sunday strips are their own little thing. Standalone gags that don’t play off the weekday continuity. Many of these have sported a nice Gasoline Alley 100th Anniversary sticker in the title panels. These came out of reruns first, and were the first signs that whatever kept Jim Scancarelli from writing and drawing the strips might pass. You can dip in and read any of them. I would swear last Sunday’s was an adapted Jack Benny-and-Phil Harris bit, but I can’t pin that down.

But the important stuff. The Old Comics Home. Old-time radio riffs. Elaborate bits of doggerel for the Sunday strips. Yeah, Jim Scancarelli is back. If I ever hear where he’d gone, I’ll pass that along to you. Thanks for checking in.

Next Week!

Mexico! Mysterious artefacts in the Yucatan! The strange and wonderful wildlife of Central America that we somehow haven’t killed yet! Maybe even a Sunday informational panel about cacomistles. All this and more in James Allen’s Mark Trail, if Nature hasn’t gone and killed us yet!

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What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? Is The Green Hornet Eating Bread? April – July 2018


I’m glad you wonder what’s happening in Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy. For me, its the middle of July 2018, and my answers reflect that. If it’s much later than July 2018 I might have a more up-to-date post. It’ll be at or near the top of this page, if there is one. Thanks for reading.

My mathematics blog reviews comic strips too, with at least one post a week about Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal and Andertoons. You might like it.

Dick Tracy.

22 April – 14 July 2018.

Central City newspaper publisher Britt Reid is secretly notorious racketeer The Green Hornet. But The Green Hornet is secretly on the side of justice. He sneaks into the criminal organizations that police and even FBI men cannot touch and breaks them up. And now, he’s appeared in Dick Tracy’s city, just behind Central City mobster Cyrus Topper. Reid, in his guise as a respectable newspaperman, and an unsuspecting Dick Tracy are sure they’ll get Topper. Tracy also thinks he can finally put The Green Hornet behind bars. So now sit back, pour yourself a large, hearty bowl of Post Toasties — fortified with pep shot from guns! — and enjoy this past three months’ installments of Dick Tracy and the Green Hornet.

Topper is trying to work with The Apparatus, the major crime syndicate in Tracy’s city. They suspect he’ll bring the Green Hornet in on them. It never crosses their minds that the Green Hornet and his new parter, Red Wasp, might be breaking up criminal organizations. They did, after all, just smash a counterfeiting ring. Hornet and Wasp used the Green Hornet’s supercar Black Beauty to smash it open.

The Apparatus wants the Green Hornet away from Topper’s proposed Protection-Racket-As-A-Service. I’m fuzzy on how that scheme supposed to work. The “protection” is from blackouts on the computers small-time people rent out to banks who need the processing for transfers. Is that a thing?

But I mostly doubt the details matter. The part that doesn’t doubt remembers Matty Squared. Mister Bribery’s artificial-intelligence agent is laying low in Cyber-Mexico until the heat’s off. But another digital crime thing might be a thread they’re saving for later.

[ LIGHTS OUT! Everybody dance! ] (Dick Tracy and Topper shoot at each other. Green Hornet shoots someone with his gas gun.) Topper's Chauffer: 'BOSS! My gun's in the car!' (Kato kicks the chauffer. Dick Tracy and Green Hornet face each other.)
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 20th of May, 2018. After the fight Tracy calls up Batman and finds out, yeah, all the fights with Green Hornet kind of go like this. It’s totally weird and inexplicable.

Anyway, the Apparatus is confident the Green Hornet won’t muscle in, and assigns Jarman as his first protectee. Topper starts explaining to Jarman that he’ll be paying money when The Green Hornet muscles in, if we pretend guns are muscles. The Green Hornet starts explaining to Jarman that he’ll take the protection money when Dick Tracy muscles in, if we pretend guns are muscles. The Green Hornet drops a gas grenade, making his way to Black Beauty and starting a chase. Topper gives chase. Tracy, somehow, can’t get out of the gas fast enough to chase after the cars. So he instead meets with the police chief’s informant from Central City, Lafayette Austin. Lafayette Austin’s introduced like someone we should recognize. I admit I don’t. He’s not listed in John Dunning’s Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio for either Dick Tracy or the Green Hornet’s radio shows. He might be original.

[ Dick Tracy meets a new ally. ] The Chief: 'Lafayette Austin is from Central City. I pounded a beat there before I came here.' Austin: 'Pleased to meet you, Tracy! I was one of his informants back then. When I learned Topper had come to your city, I followed in case Pat needed help.' [ ELSEWHERE ] Red Wasp/Lenore Case: 'Chief! We've got word from Kato!' Green Hornet, reading the message: 'Topper is escalating his plan. Will keep you apprised.' [ ELSEWHERE ] Topper, crying out to Kato/Shiyaki: 'Shiyaki! Fix me a drink!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 13th of May, 2018. I haven’t figured out what Lafayette Austin’s deal is, but he got a big roll-out in the Green Hornet storyline, and he’s been sent on a mission to deal with Sawtooth in the current storyline.

Topper loses the Green Hornet. Hornet doesn’t return the favor. Kato, the Hornet’s faithful valet, has been secretly working as Topper’s valet “Skiyaki”. Topper figures to try shaking down his an old friend at Mazuma National Bank, before skipping town. But Dick Tracy, tipped off by Austin, is there. The Green Hornet, I assume tipped off by Kato, is there too. Also there: the Green Hornet’s smoke bomb and gas. Also also there: Dick Tracy’s two-way radio gas masks. In the fight, the Green Hornet clobbers Tracy and Kato knocks out Sam Catchem. But they use Tracy’s wrist-radio to summon backup, and leave the also-unconscious Topper for arrest.

Tracy gets credit for arresting Topper, and for scaring the Green Hornet back to Central City. That reported sighting’s premature, made by the Red Wasp — Lenore Case, Britt Reid’s romantic lead — with the backup Black Beauty. It should give Reid time to clear out of town gracefully.


And that, with the 27th of May, closes the Dick Tracy/Green Hornet crossover adventure. The 28th begins a new one, one with many parts moving together. The first part is Sawtooth, contract killer last seen in the strip around Christmas, not-killing Dick Tracy. Mister Bribery, his contractee, micromanaged the murder. You freelancers out there know how it is. Mister Bribery is, from prison, offering $25,000 for the murder of his former pet scientist Ygor Glitch. Sawtooth is up for it, and what the heck, figures he can try killing Dick Tracy again and see what happens.

Meanwhile Diet Smith and the Moon Governor have put together the “Moon Compound”. It’s a museum exhibit meant to explain the Lunarians to the people of Earth who have nothing to fear from their advanced science, and secret colony living in an undisclosed location, and control over magnetism, and cute stubby little antennas, and power to dispense electric shocks severe enough to render adults unconscious, and close ties to the industrialist billionaire Diet Smith who himself enjoys confidential ties with a police officer who has an 87-year track record of extrajudicial killings of suspects in often fantastically gruesome ways. The unwashed masses can have such weird, inexplicable fears!

Ugly Crystal: 'You're lucky, Honeymoon. I never knew my dad. My mom never told me about him, and neither did Uncle Bribery. I don't even know if I'm going to a foster home or an orphanage.' Honeymoon: 'Well, whatever happens, Crystal, you have a friend.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 7th of June, 2018. Honestly sweet moment for some of the personal and slightly soap-operatic elements going on here.

Honeymoon Tracy and her friend Ugly Crystal — Mister Bribery’s niece — bond over their strange family experiences. Honeymoon’s half-Lunarian. Her mother, the original Moon Maiden, was killed long ago. A second Moon Maiden, Mysta Chimera, surgically created by human superscience from the amnesiac daughter of a mob boss, has joined the strip and loosely Honeymoon’s family. Please do try to keep up. Ugly Crystal doesn’t know her father, and Honeymoon wonders whether anyone could do something about that mystery. If she only had an in with some scientific superdetective or something.

So at a midnight screening of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, Dick Tracy’s partner Sam Catchem — uh. Sorry. I have to go lie down a moment. I don’t know what’s even real anymore.

[ AN UNEXPECTED GUEST AT THE 'ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW' ] Sam Catchem: 'Sawtooth!' Sawtooth (his mouth bleeding): 'Sam Catchem! You're a cop!' Grimm: 'I've got him!' Sawtooth (winding up a punch) 'Tell your buddy Dick Tracy I'm coming for him next!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 18th of June, 2018. The blood on Sawtooth’s jaw is from where he bit Ygor Glitch’s neck, killing the man. Catchem happened to run into Sawtooth asking, hey, Glitch’s death-scream wasn’t one of the canonical responses, so what’s the deal?

So at a midnight screening of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, Dick Tracy’s partner Sam Catchem runs into Sawtooth. Catchem’s there for the fun of it. Sawtooth is there on business: he knew Glitch was a Picture-Head, as they call Rocky Horror Picture Show fans. So he went where he knew Glitch would be, and eats him. I mean, I’m fairly sure that’s what I’m meant to infer. “It was as if some huge predator caught him by the throat” could mean many things, I suppose.

Tracy’s able to identify the victim, and the perpetrator, and who likely ordered the hit. This is thanks to his scientific superdetective work of having Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo character Inspector Ishida call up and tell him what’s going on. So, y’know, never under-develop your intelligence network. (I haven’t read Usagi Yojimbo but I hear good stuff about it. I’m just going by what the captions, complete with copyright notices that I haven’t seen under other crossover guest stars, tell me.) Also Sawtooth might have given the scheme away by warning Catchem he was coming for Dick Tracy.

On to the search for Sawtooth. With special guest Lafayette Austin, who’s introduced with such emphasis one wonders if they feared we wouldn’t notice him. Sawtooth and his assistant/boat-anchor Grimm are hiding out in a hotel. Grimm is losing all their cash betting on horses. Sawtooth is figuring to kill Tracy and then head out of town. Sawtooth looks to The Pouch for tips.

The Pouch, by the way, is an information-dealer who works the city zoo as a balloon vendor. His backstory is he used to be a circus-show Fat Man, and lost almost all that weight. He took the flabby excesses of skin and sewed them into numerous closable pouches with with to be a courier. In the 70s, he used a popcorn popper to kill a guy and got away undetected. So remember: if you aren’t perpetually going “Wait, what?” you’re not reading authentic Dick Tracy.

Okay. Now stuff is coming together fast. The Moon Compound exhibit is getting ready to open. Honeymoon and Ugly Crystal enjoy a tour, under the supervision of Mysta and some of the minor Lunarians. Grimm loses the last of his and Sawtooth’s money as Sawtooth wants to check out. Meanwhile, Dick Tracy is thrilled to be entering his sourdough bread in — I’m sorry, I have to go lie down a bit again.

Sam Catchem: 'You're going to make sourdough bread for a celebrity banquet at Ernie's? How are you gonna do that, Tracy?' Dick Tracy: 'If I bake all day, i should finish in time to delivery my bread to the banquet that night. Making baking plans and staging stakeouts. It's all one in the same to me.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 9th of July, 2018. Not sure I’ve felt a deeper shake to my confidence in Dick Tracy’s abilities than I had in learning he thinks the phrase is “one in the same”.

Right. Dick Tracy is baking sourdough bread for a charity banquet. And he’s got people ready to pick up his many fine loaves of enthusiastically-baked bread. The bread-transport guys arrived Saturday. They’re Sawtooth and Grimm, in disguise.

So. Yes. There is a lot that’s been happening the last two months, and it’s not all clearly a single unified thread. This was, to me, a bit hard to follow day-by-day. But it’s quite clear when read in bulk like this. Tracy continues to have a lot of his investigative triumphs come by people just thinking to tell him the plot. There have been a couple references and guest appearances, even besides the Green Hornet’s.

The most noteworthy of those was Michael Patterson from Lynn Johnston’s For Better Or For Worse poking in back in late June. That was a great reminder of the old days on Usenet group rec.arts.comics.strips and every other comics-discussion group. We’d gather to talk about how awful the prose of his in-universe award-winning super-novel was. And how nasty the strip was to the upstairs neighbors, who were painted as villains without actually doing anything worse than not liking Michael. And how much everybody hated Elizabeth getting yanked out of her life and forced to marry Granthony. And how nastily Lynn Johnson treated Granthony’s first wife because — gasp — she didn’t want to have a child, but did anyway after Granthony whined her into it. This is way too much space given to a side appearance like this, but do please understand. My Gen-X cohort has endured many betrayals in our lifetime. One of the most lingering was the last couple years of For Better Or For Worse. Complaining about it was such a glorious experience while it lasted. I mean, it’s okay talking about how stuff in Funky Winkerbean doesn’t work like that. But it didn’t have the epic fall from what we thought-at-the-time-was-greatness-and-maybe-kinda-wasn’t that For Better Or For Worse did.

Anyway. Topper’s failed cyber-protection racket might feed into artificial intelligence Matty Squared. Still no developments on B O Plenty’s house being haunted. And Denny Lien was kind enough to explain a bit of Diet Smith’s strange mention of a time machine machine last December. Apparently a while back Smith had been working on a time machine, in the hopes of saving his long-dead son Brilliant Smith. The machine wasn’t practical. But the thing about a time machine is the development and testing cycle of a working one can be as short as you like, once you take it seriously. Those are the major outstanding plot threads that stand out to me. Well, that and whatever it is we’re supposed to make of Lafayette Austin. Some of the GoComics.com commenters have suggested that would be “Shaggy from Scooby-Doo”. All right.

Next Week!

Yes, the appearance of old-time radio star The Green Hornet worked! Jim Scancarelli is out of hiding. So when we ask what’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? What’s up with Jim Scancarelli? The heck with all this Little Orphan Annie stuff? At least one of these questions can now be answered!

Seeing Myself in The Phantom of 1951


This is not a further What’s Going On In The Phantom post. It’s got that tag, but just because I wanted to talk about a couple strips from the Comics Kingdom Vintage page, which is currently running a story from 1951. If you want updates on the current Sunday or weekday continuities I’ll have them at this page, when they’re ready to go. (Barring a surprise or interruption my next update on current Phantom strips should be a Sunday-continuity update around the second Sunday in August.)

But thanks for reading on anyway. So this strip turned up in Comics Kingdom’s vintage comics. It’s from a story in 1951 where for reasons I honestly don’t remember, the Ghost Who Walks’ then-girlfriend, Diana Palmer, is slated to swim Whirlpool Channel. And the baddies are trying to prevent her success, I think to settle some gambling debts or something. Their earlier attempts to stop her have failed, so they’ve fallen back on the old kidnap-the-Phantom-while-releasing-man-eating-sharks-into-Whirlpool-Channel trick. (Imagining Maxwell Smart mentioning how that’s the fourth-largest whirlpool channel he’s ever seen.) And this is where it’s gotten:

[ Diana starts her long, hard swim across Whirlpool Channel. ] Dice: 'She's off! Okay, Scratch, cut the net [ to release the sharks ]!' The Phantom, thinking: 'How can I stop this? Hmm --- ' Aloud: 'WAIT, you fools! Those are sand sharks! They won't go near a human being!'
Lee Falk and Wilson McCoy’s The Phantom for the 1st of June, 1951, and rerun the 10th of July, 2018. Yes, The Phantom asked where on earth they even got two man-eating sharks (one for Diana, one for him). Dice’s funny but correct answer: ‘Where do you usually get sharks? Outa the ocean!’

Dice: 'You say those sharks aren't man-eaters? The skipper said they were! How do you know?' The Phantom: 'See the fins --- and those markings! Whoever sold you those sharks pulled a fast one!' [ A splash of salt water catches Scratch by surprise --- his gun drops for a moment. ] Phantom: 'Why, everybody knows the difference!' [ But a moment is all The Phantom needs! ] (He slugs Scratch.)
Lee Falk and Wilson McCoy’s The Phantom for the 2nd of June, 1951, and rerun the 11th of July, 2018. I mean, I love spouting nonsense and seeing who’ll bite. But my mind would probably have gone to how they needed woman-eating sharks and these are able to distinguish male from female and so preferentially eat males that it’s silly to send them after Diana.

And yes, I understand, that in a dire fix like this the hero will say anything to distract, confuse, and thus take by surprise the baddies. And that if you say anything authoritatively enough, quickly enough, people will at least not immediately ponder whether what you’re saying makes a lick of sense. But I truly love that the bad guys are at least momentarily buying into the premise that of course The Phantom will bring to their attention that they’ve gone and brought the wrong kind of sharks to send to eat his girlfriend. He might not want his someday-fiancee to die, but to let them go off being wrong about their death-trap design? Unthinkable. It is such a me thing to do, honestly. My love has had to have words with me about this, albeit in less dire situations.

What’s Going On In Prince Valiant? When Does Prince Valiant Take Place? April – July 2018.


Glad to see you’re interested in Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant. If it’s much later than about September 2018 when you read this, I’ve probably written a new essay bringing things further up to date. It should be at or near the top of this page.

Prince Valiant.

15 April – 8 July 2018.

Prince Valiant has been absent from Prince Valiant lately. He’s busy working his way back from the mystic East. We’ve instead been following Aleta, Queen of the Misty Isles. Her problem: a populist aristocrat name of Krios is leading an anti-foreigner movement. He wants to limit all trade to a port that it so happens land he owns would be perfect for the purpose. Aleta’s sent her daughter Valeta to ask questions about the murder of Ingolf, first mate of a Norse trading vessel. It seems someone in Krios’s family killed Ingolf, and possibly two Misty Islanders. Zulfa, rival for Valeta’s interest in Ingolf’s captain Haraldr. She arranges a secret rendezvous with Ingolf’s girlfriend’s brother. No, nobody just has a simple relationship to anyone else in this story, thanks for asking.

Zulfa deploys her wiles on Antonio. By ‘her wiles’ I mean ‘alcohol’. He empties out some of his many ominous secrets. His father’s ambitions. His sister Andrinoa’s affair. His brother Drakon’s doing of terrible things. How Ingolf was to be on Krios’s island tomorrow night. He passes out as Drakon enters. Krios ordered Drakon to make his brother’s “indiscretion” disappear. She does, after smashing open the window lattice and leading Drakon on a chase across the tiled roofs of Krios’s estate.

In the house of Krios, Zulfa has pulled secrets from the drunken Antero --- but as she tries stealthily to depart, Drakon leaps from the shadows! Antero's brother is strong and merciless but doesn't know that Zulfa is not merely a court minion, but also a skilled warrior. [ She hits him with a small table stand. ] The blow to his head momentarily stuns the huge man and allows the Amazigh woman to break his grip and dash to the latticed window at the far end of the gallery, which she smashes to flinders ... before responding decisively to the sound of footsteps close behind. [ She throws another stand at him. ] Then she is out the window, where she is confronted with the uncertain footing of the tiled roof below! NEXT: A slippery slope.
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 13th of May, 2018. I feel like this is the caption I put in every review of Prince Valiant, but that’s a great set of pictures, especially with Zulfa breaking out of the lattices and the final panel there.

Aleta asks Krios to come over and answer just one more question. Given the lock of hair found with him, and the servants found killed with him: what’s the deal? Krios declares he can’t keep the secret any longer. It’s his daughter. Andrina killed Ingolf in a “fit of passion” and throws her at the Queen’s feet.

But Antero steps up. He declares he can’t abandon his sister, not until he’s sure “she is being treated in the manner she deserves”. Antero promises that Andrina has a sick mind, but bears no guilt. And that he has something to share with Zulfa. It’s about the mysterious meeting on Krios’s island that Ingolf was to attend. He does, and returns to his father’s home, where he’s shut in.

Zulfa passes Antero's words to Aleta, and the Queen calls for council: 'Tomorrow, the Senate votes on Krios's demand for a trade zone --- and it appears enough are cowed by him. But now we have a chance to reveal Krios ... ' 'And I know this place where he goes tonight,' interjects Valeta. 'Karen and I sailed there often as children. Trust me, Mother --- I know what must be done.' Hours later, once night has settled, a fleet departs the harbor --- these are the fishermen who hunt the nocturnal squid. But once in open water one of the ragtag flotilla breaks from the others and turns toward a small island just off the coast. The lone vessel slips quietly alongside a neglected wharf on the island's far side --- and Krios steps onto Kythra, his proposed restricted trade zone! NEXT: The Appointment.
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 1st of July, 2018. Squid fishing is an actual thing by the way, and they are mostly nocturnal. So the fleet makes sense, don’t worry about it. Personally, I think this is too many fishers going after squid for my lifetime rate of squid consumption. But that’s just my tastes.

That evening, Krios and some men slip out of town, as part of the nocturnal-squid fishing fleet. Krios makes his way to the island. There he rendevous with General Vialius, who brings startling news: all this is happening during the time of the Emperor Justinian. I never knew the era of Prince Valiant was pinned down to a century, never mind to within a couple decades. Justinian also sends his greetings to Krios.

Next Week!

Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy! With special guest star the Green Hornet! And men from the Moon! What does it all mean? I’m going to need to spend like five days this coming week reviewing and recapping the plot. You’ll get to enjoy the results.

And while you wait, please know that I look at mathematically-themed comic strips on my other blog. The most recent post on that line should be at the top of that page.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Weekdays)? Is Your Podcast’s Mattress Advertiser Grenade-Proof? April – June 2018.


Hi, readers interested in the 250th weekday-continuity storyline of long-running superhero comic strip The Phantom. I have no idea what that story is going to be. I’m writing this in late June 2018, in the midst of storyline number 249, A Reckoning With The Nomad. When story 250 starts — or other stories do — I’ll try to cover them, as well as any Sunday-continuity stories — with essays at this link. Thank you.

Meanwhile on my other blog, I talk about comic strips. That’s a mathematics blog, so I talk about mathematically-themed comic strips there. I hope you’ll give that some consideration too.

The Phantom (Weekdays)

9 April – 30 June 2018.

Where was the story in early April, last time I checked in? A failed airport bomber offers to reveal the identity of The Nomad, international terrorist and menace to The Phantom since 2011. The Phantom knows who The Nomad is: he’s Eric Sahara, father of his daughter’s roommate at Briarson School in New York City. The Phantom figures some kind of legal and political chaos will follow the Nomad’s naming, if he is truly publicly identified. So he figures to break into The Nomad’s compound and abduct him. He saw the Nomad from afar, acting strangely non-fleeing for someone who could expect authorities to be closing in on him. And that’s where we had been.

The Phantom gets past the security guards the way superheroes always get past security guards. Mostly with a bunch of well-placed punches that don’t attract other sentries. He grabs The Nomad out of bed. The terrorist cringes, whimpering and begging for mercy, and tells an incredible story, backed up by flashbacks on-camera. He’s not Eric Sahara. He’s just a Parisian man, abducted, surgically altered, and forced at gunpoint to be a decoy Fake Nomad. No-Nomad? That’ll suffice; I missed the fellow’s actual name. The Real Nomad’s plan succeeded. The Phantom’s trapped in a jungle bungalow, surrounded by armed guards. Who, you know, weren’t working too hard to stop his breaking in, earlier in the paragraph. Ah. No-Nomad runs, begging for his life, telling his captors how they don’t need him anymore now that their plan has worked. They murder him.

No-Nomad: 'I'm a PRISONER! Please believe me!' The Phantom, thinking: 'That accent! He's mastered it. More Paris than Algiers.' No-Nomad: 'I can prove it!! Just look!' The Phantom, thinking: 'I can prove it!! Just look!'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 3rd of May, 2018. While telling his story the No-Nomad explains how he had to act as if he were giving stern speeches and to just blather on about anything. He tells of how he’d recite fairy tales, and The Phantom thinks how he has to learn how to read lips. This startled me with the discovery that The Phantom couldn’t read lips already. I assumed that was part of the hypercompetent superhero starter kit of powers and abilities. Considering what he does manage to do in this story it’s startling to learn of an actual definitely-established thing you can fake him out on.

They’re ready to murder The Phantom too. Also his pet wolf, Devil. And they have an enviable tactical advantage. They surround the bungalow’s exits. They’re stocked up with 800 million jillion kerspillion rounds of ammunition and grenades and rocket-propelled grenades and missiles and neutron bombs and photon torpedoes and Starkillers and a couple right nasty rubber bands flung from between their fingers. Plus I bet they call him nasty names too. Those really hurt.

The Phantom, to his wolf Devil, in a building taking all kinds of gunfire: 'This is a DEMOLITION CREW after us!' (He picks up and throws a grenade back out.) 'We're getting out of here, Devil!' (Thinking to himself.) 'I'll know the way when I see it ... '
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 25th of May, 2018. Alternate title: everyday life in 2018.

So it’s a well-organized trap. Their one mistake: they left a mattress in the No-Nomad’s bedroom. It’s cover. It lets him deflect a rocket-propelled grenade so as to blow open a new way out, an action both cool and absurd. (This broke the ability of one of Comics Curmudgeon’s commenters to suspend disbelief. I understand. I’m still along for the ride, but I would also have watched the Mythbusters episode where they tested this one.) Phantom and Devil race through the new opening. They escape The Nomad’s underlings who somehow fear they’ll be punished for letting The Phantom escape the death trap. The Phantom decides, yeah, he’s definitely going to take advertising from that silver-threaded mattress-kit delivery service on his pop-culture hangout podcast, The Ghost Who Walks Out Of Bad Movies. (Highly recommended if you need some more stuff to listen to. He and Mandrake the Magician have this great running gag of pretending to be Confused Johnny Hazard not understanding the exposition no matter how simple they make it.)

The Phantom, examining a wound in his neck: 'Might be wood ... metal ... can't seem to ... ' (He tugs it out, and bleeds profusely.) 'Uh-oh! I shouldn't have picked at that ... '
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 8th of June, 2018. Crow T Robot pops in from the corner: ‘Yeah, don’t ever pick at the plausibility of your superhero stories. You’re not gonna like the result.’

The Ghost Who Brings A Mattress To A Rocket-Propelled Grenade Fight is scathed, though. He unwisely pulls some shrapnel from his neck, opening up an artery. There’s nothing for it. He rides Hero, his horse, back to Skull Cave, while keeping as much pressure as he can on it. (This is another point that shattered a Comics Curmudgeon’s suspension of disbelief. I’m more sympathetic to this.) He makes it to Guran, though, and emergency surgery. Also a blood transfusion that surely will not result in his no longer being able to turn into The Incredible Hulk.

That’s the night The Phantom has had. Other people have had it worse. The failed airport bomber started to name The Nomad. His police motorcade came under attack, live on cable news. Other people had it superficially well. But even they have fraughts of danger all around them. Eric Sahara turned up at his daughter’s school. He plans to disappear. But before that he plans to spend a day with his daughter and, what the heck, her roommate. This makes a neat mirror of the day The Phantom spent with the young women at the start of this story. He doesn’t seem to have anything particularly devious planned for The Phantom’s daughter. But plans change, especially if he comes to realize who she is.

Kadia Sahara: 'How long will you be in New York, Dad?' Eric The Nomad Sahara: 'A few days. We'll see the sights. The three of us!' (Thinking.) 'And then, daughter, I must bid you goodbye ... with this relentless Phantom on my trail, it's time for the Nomad to disappear forever.'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 20th of June, 2018. So to nitpick the plausibility here: did The Nomad know already that his rather plausible trap for The Phantom had failed? He’d have to feel like a real dink if he went to all the trouble to set up a new identity only to learn The Phantom had died of blood loss in some remote part of Bangallan rainforest anyway. Or is he just assuming that however good his traps are they aren’t going to work on The Phantom? Or is he just taking a belt-and-suspenders approach, doing his level best to kill The Phantom and also to take on a new super-criminal identity that’ll take a few years to unravel?

And that’s the major developments the last several months. As the shortness of this essay indicates it hasn’t been a dense plot. It’s had plenty of action, and intrigue. It’s just been a lot of stuff happening on one very busy night for everyone.

Next Week!

Palace intrigue! Border panics! Murder and coverups. Trade disputes. There’s not very much of Prince Valiant the last couple months in Mark Schulz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant. But I’ll do my best to talk about what is there instead.

What’s Going On In Alley Oop? What’s With All The Time Travel Suddenly? April – June 2018.


I know what you’re wondering: Did I review any of last week’s mathematically-themed comic strips? I sure hope so, although I really have to get to writing that essay right now.

Also at least some of you are wondering what’s going on in Alley Oop. This is my recap for basically spring of 2018 and it should get you well-grounded for at least another couple weeks. If it’s past about August 2018, that might not be a big help. But an essay at or near the top of this page might be. Good luck. Let me know if it doesn’t do anything for you.

Alley Oop.

1 April – 23 June 2018.

So I left Oop somewhere near Philadelphia on the 31st of July, 1781. OK, Jack Bender and Carole Bender did, but still. Alley Oop and Wizer were sent there by well-meaning rich idiot M T Mentis. Mentis had responded to Oop’s transport-request beacon. He didn’t notice how all the screens in Dr Wonmug’s Time Lab read “DESTINATION: JULY 31, 1781”. This is one of those subtle big events in history. It’s when General George Washington commissioned Alexander Hamilton to command several regiments. Great time to toss in some confused Moovians.

Private Isaac Holmes, carrying Hamilton’s commission, runs into Oop and Wizer. In the collision both the sealed commission and Oop’s time-signalling necklace fly loose. Holmes suspects spies, or something, anyway. But they come under enemy fire, and by the time they find some quiet they realize the letter’s gone. Oop and Wizer start to worry they’ve changed history, a risk that hasn’t been a major concern in the strip so far, best I know.

[ 2018 ] Wonmug: 'Why would the transport be set for the Revolutionary War?' Mentis: 'I guess I forgot I'd been researching that as a trip we might take to find out more about Alexander Hamilton (gulp) ... you know, since he's so popular now.' Wonmug: 'POPULAR? You must be joking!' [ 1781 ] Alley Oop: 'I promise you we're not a threat to you!' Holmes: 'Well ... I guess I'll have to trust you, since I must deliver this urgent letter from General Washington! ... WHERE'S THE LETTER? YOU MADE ME LOSE THE LETTER!' Oop: 'Relax! It's just a letter!' Holmes: 'JUST A LETTER? LOSING THAT LETTER COULD MAKE US LOSE THE WAR!' Oop, whispering to Wizer: 'Oops!' Wizer, whispering: 'You think we just changed history?'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 15th of April, 2018. In fairness, Wonmug had been talking with Mentis about planning out a time-travel trip. So having a particular place and time in mind, and practicing setting the time machine, is not a dumb thing to do.

Meanwhile in 2018, Mentis tells Wonmug about Oop’s signal. And that Oop isn’t there. Also that maybe it’s kind of because he had set the time machine to 1781 because he was thinking about Alexander Hamilton, “you know … since he’s so popular now”. Wonmug gets a Revolutionary War outfit from somewhere I seem to have missed, and figures to set off to try fixing whatever’s gone wrong. He leaves Mentis at the Time Lab with orders to stop breaking all time and space already.

Meanwhile in 1781, a desperate Holmes enlists Oop and Wizer to help recover the letter. They borrow outfits from a couple wounded Continentals. Wizer applies some healing potion in trade. And they get a funny little training session about how to load and fire a musket. This pays off a bit; later Oop’s able to tell someone a fresh-discharged musket is harmless except as a club. Oop’s more into using the thing as a club which, fair enough. He also gets the bayonet, too. Oop, Wizer, and Holmes follow the tracks of the letter-thief and find the shaded figure in Redcoat custody. Oop gets a daring raid on this small party started. But that’s broken up when Dr Wonmug materializes right in the midst of things. The Redcoats and their captive get away in the confusion.

Wonmug knows what the letter must have been. Hearing that it’s Alexander Hamilton’s commission orders makes Holmes suspect spies. Fair on him. Also at this point Mentis wandered over to ask me why I go off on him being the dumb one when Wonmug, with 80 years of experience at this, is acting like that. Fair enough. Wonmug says that the British spy to actually watch for was likely James Moody, who’d intercept Continental couriers. I’m going ahead and assuming that’s legit history because I don’t have the time to research that myself. Ah, yes, Moody was born in Little Egg Harbor, New Jersey. I’ve been there. Story Book Land’s a great little kiddie amusement park there. He wrote one of the few memoirs of the Revolution from the Loyalist perspective. Hm.

Mentis: 'Oop, did you say you know who has the ltter from Washington to Hamilton?' Oop: 'Yeah! Two enemy scouts have it, my necklace, AND an American prisoner! We've got 'em outnumbered, so let's go get it back!' [ Meanwhile ] Redcoat: 'It looks like we lost those Yanks!' Other Redcoat: 'Good! We're almost to the camp, so we can relax now!' Alley Oop falls on them, yelling 'ALLEY OOP' as he does. Oop, to the Redcoats' prisoner: 'You're safe now! Stay back!' Prisoner: 'Thank you!' [ Meanwhile, not far away ... ] (ZANG! and a cloud as someone appears from the Time Lab.) Holmes: 'Not again!' Wonmug: 'What now?' (Mentis appears, in Continental garb.) Wonmug: 'Mentis?!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 27th of May, 2018. … So I guess that one of the Redcoats should be identified as James Moody. But that hasn’t been directly established by someone who could know, on-screen. It’s just Wonmug’s surmise so far unless I’ve missed a reference.

Oop and Wizer chase after the Redcoats and their prisoner. Wonmug and Holmes hang back long enough for Mentis to pop in from 2018. Mentis asks why they don’t make a copy of the letter, since Wonmug knows its contents and all. Wonmug says there’s no time; they need to go in and help Oop in his fight and recover the real letter.

Mentis time-transports away. But that’s all right. Oop’s already clobbered the Redcoats into unconsciousness. This lets him recover the time-signal amulet, but the letter is still missing, as is the prisoner. Given the hopeless muddle this all seems to be, Wonmug decides to go with forging the commission after all. They race to deliver the letter and, along the way, find Oop’s time-signal amulet again. This isn’t a continuity error in the story; Oop notices, he already has his recovered amulet. Wonmug figures to worry about it later because, yeah. Mentis is right. I shouldn’t be calling him the strip’s dunderhead. In fairness, Wonmug’s had a bunch of crazy stuff happen today.

Also his forgery doesn’t work for even a second. Alexander Hamilton may be kind of a dope w/r/t William Duer, but he knows legitimate commissions are going to have a proper seal. Hamilton orders Holmes, Oop, and Wizer arrested when the mysterious Contental prisoner races in with the real letter. Also a startling revelation: the prisoner was M T Mentis all along. Mentis explains to Hamilton that when the first letter was lost, his friends made that duplicate. But here’s the original, with the seal, and the content seems to match so everything’s all right with history and all?

Alexander Hamilton: 'WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS? GENERAL WASHINGTON WOULD NEVER SEND COMMUNICATION WITHOUT HIS SEAL!' Wonmug, slapping his head: 'The seal! I forgot the seal!' Hamilton: 'This letter is a fake! Guards, arrest this spy and his friends too!' (The Redcoats' prisoner races into Hamilton's tent.) Prisoner: 'WAIT!' Wonmug, recognizing the prisoner: '(GASP!) Mentis!' Mentis: 'Here is the real letter from General Washington! General Washington's original letter was lost! My friends made a copy so you would have the information! Meanwhile, I found the first letter! I had trouble getting here, but I assure you it is authentic, sir!' Hamilton: 'Hmmm. This letter does have the right seal ... and the two letters do match!' Guard: 'Are these the spies you want me to take, sir?' Hamilton: 'There are no spies here! Only patriot heroes!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 17th of June, 2018. But really isn’t the amazing thing that Wonmug doesn’t doubt he would be able to plausibly forge George Washington’s handwriting and style of composition to a person who had served as his aide-de-camp for years? Even by the standards of white guy scientist types that’s some remarkable self-confidence.

With that straightened out, Mentis starts explaining to Oop, Wonmug, and Wizer what’s going on in Alley Oop. It turns out while Wonmug and Oop and all tromped around whatever they were doing in 1989, Mentis was paying attention to Bill And Ted’s Excellent Adventure. He didn’t use the time machine to run off. He used it to pick up the commission right when it was first lost. And thus was the mysterious shadowy figure that set Oop and company were pursuing.

So, this story. I’m surprised by the direct talk about the chance Wonmug’s Time Lab might change history. My impression was the comic strip had always taken that as something not to worry about, at least since I started reading it with attention. But then it’s also only in the forerunner to this story that they worried about time travellers bringing diseases. It looks as if they’re setting up one of those closed-time-loop adventures. These can be a particularly satisfying sort of time-travel story. Also the rare Alley Oop story where time travel more than how they get from one story to another. And, yes, I’m glad that it’s given Mentis the chance to recover some needed intelligence points. It’s a pity that Wonmug lost a bunch along the way. But he’s got some to spare. And I am also impressed by the grain of historical detail being put into the minor parts. Apparently there was an Isaac Holmes, too, who’d be a prisoner of war in Philadelphia. This might be a spoiler. I’m not sure this is the person who’s made a character here; the Wikipedia article on him doesn’t list things like when he was a prisoner or how, precisely the historic Holmes served in the army. There’s room to not worry about it all.

Next Week!

They say there’s a ghost who walks. They’re right. Next week I see what’s happening in Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity.

I’m Sorry But This Is Very Busy Sitting On My Head


So MyComicsShop.com has decided my love needs to buy something from them. And they’re advertising characters my love kind of knows without ever having read, like Casper the Friendly Ghost, or other members of the Harvey Comics A-Team that my love has never heard of, such as Little Lotta, Hot Stuff, or Baby Huey [*] and I’m doing my best to explain any of them. (“Well, Little Dot is a girl who likes things to have dots on them, or have things that look like dots, and she had three books with her name in the title that ran for a collective 279 issues, each with like three or four stories in them, and she was in other books with her own stories too. Yes, she’s one of their best characters.”) And this got me looking into their theoretically available Harvey Comics and this lead me to a series that I guess that I knew existed but had never looked at, which is this:

Cover to Harvey Comics's Daisy and Her Pups #8. Four pups in a row are sitting with halos over their heads, looking to the right at one with an E letter shirt and his halo dangling over his nose. Daisy is watching over all them and crying a tear. Also there's some kind of angel dog with a magic wand tapping the dogs's heads.
As the watermark says, this is from MyComicsShop.com, and I’m including the image because I do not know anything except showing you it that gets you the whole thing. I tried describing it for the alt-text for this and all my attempts come up short. I apologize to people just reading the text version because it’s just … I mean … the heck?

But here. I can at least take this cognitive burden off of you: Daisy and her Pups, based on the lovable dogs of the Blondie comics, started off with the issue labelled #21. The next several issues were labelled numbers 22, 23, 23, and 25. Then they reverted to issue number 6, and went on to 7 and 8 and so on, ending at issue number 18. Also there’s an issue 27 in there somewhere. This is all for good solid logical reasons that I can’t repeat because every time I try to explain them my hair bleeds.

[*] I exaggerate. My love is familiar with the existence of Baby Huey but mostly because Zippy the Pinhead sometimes gets on weird tears about him.

What’s Going On In The Amazing Spider-Man? Mostly Green People Throwing Spider-Man Around. March – June 2018.


Yes, dear reader, this is my best effort at explaining the last several months in Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s The Amazing Spider-Man. But the march of time might have foiled me. The story described here might be so far in your past it’s no use telling you about it. If I’ve written a fresh essay — and I should have one by about September 2018 — it should be on this page. Thanks for reading.

Thanks also for being interested in mathematically-themed comic strips. Those I talk about over here, at least one and sometimes several times each week. I try not to be too mean to the poor unfortunate jokes I notice.

Amazing Spider-Man

26 March – 16 June 2018.

We left the Amazing Spider-Man in a good place. By my lights. He and Peter Parker’s grumbly employer J Jonah Jameson were deep in the Everglades. The Incredible Hulk was there, engaging in a contest of big musclebound green guys in purple pants wrestling. His opponent: The Lizard, the Science-Mutated Dr Curt Connors. He’s figuring on leading an alligator uprising that overthrows humanity. Great stuff.

Spider-Man leaps into action, which yes, he does. The snarky comics-reading community loves how much Spider-Man falls unconscious and gets other people to do his work. It’s more true than it maybe should be. But he will leap in to try to reason opponents into peace. I admire his trying. J Jonah Jameson admires it too, to his disbelief. It’s a policy that gets Spidey clobbered a lot, often knocking him unconscious. But what’s a hero without courage?

Jameson: 'Just keep out of it. Let the Hulk and the Lizard fight it out!' Spider-Man: 'No way! The Lizard's strong --- but anger only makes the Hulk more powerful! I can't have Connors's death on my conscience!' Jameson: 'Those two monsters don't HAVE a conscience! What if they kill you?'
Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 30th of March, 2018. I do like that Peter Parker will generally skip making the “hard” decision in a fight like this. The “hard” decision is usually to let someone else suffer. It’s a sickness of humanity that people love getting to make that decision. Parker will often go for the more inconvenient decision, such as, that both the Hulk and the Lizard have to be saved and kept from harming themselves or the other. It makes Parker’s life harder, but in admirable ways.

He tries the Hulk first, trusting that if he can calm down Bruce Banner then he can stop this green-guy swamp fight before anyone’s hurt. He clings to The Incredible Hulk, promising that the Hulk has to smash him first before he can smash The Lizard. Or — he can avoid killing anyone. Incredible sees the wisdom in this, and reverts to Bruce Banner form, to pass out in the grass. This gives The Lizard an opening to smash Spidey. But Spider-Man has a winning tactic.

He reminds The Lizard that he’s Dr Curt Connors, a man of Nice Science. Also that Nice Scientists don’t mean to go overthrowing humanity and installing a new master race of alligators. And this, too, works. The Lizard turns back into a human. A human with one lost arm, incidentally. Connors had lost it in a past Lizard-based adventure. He was scienceing that problem when he goofed and mutated himself again. He’s cool with losing the arm again, if it means he can be a human not seeking to rule the world. Well, different strokes. Also now he can kind of see why the grant committee rejected his proposal.

Jameson: 'GET BACK HERE, YOU WEB-HEADED HOODLUM!' Spider-Man: 'Sorry, Jameson, but in case you didn't know, I'm not a real spider. I can only carry two people at a time! After I get these guys back to civilization I'll be back for you --- if there's anything left to find.' Connors, whispering: 'You won't really let the gators and pythons have him, will you?' Spider-Man, whispering back: 'No. So the real question is --- will he tell us what we need to hear before I have no choice but to turn around and rescue him!?'
Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 22nd of April, 2018. Which is not to say that Peter Parker can’t be a bit of a jerk at times. Yes, there was never any doubt in a reader’s mind what he would do, but yanking Jameson’s chain like this is pretty nasty. Unrelated: are spiders known for being able to carry three of their kind with them?

Next problem: J Jonah Jameson’s looking forward to his scoop about Curt Connors being The Lizard. But Connors doesn’t want the news made public; it would devastate his son. Spider-Man doesn’t want the news public either; Peter Parker’s a friend of Connors. Jameson is able to see reason, once a couple of leftover alligators attack him and Spider-Man throws them off. And after Spidey says he’ll drop some alligators in Jameson’s office if he publishes. This undoes much of the good will that Spider-Man’s built up in Jameson’s eyes, but, you know, you can’t smash a heap of eggs without making some omelettes.

Anyway, Mary Jane Parker pops back around with the Motorboat of Wrapping Up Loose Ends. Along the way, Connors reaffirms that he doesn’t want the story getting out. Jameson reaffirms that he isn’t so much of a heel to ruin Connors’s kid’s life right now anyway. And Banner and Connors go off, figuring if they can team up to find a purple-pants Purple-Pants League of Science Mutation Stopping.

Banner: 'Psst ... Doc Connors --- over here!' Connors: 'Bruce? So you stuck around after you jumped ship!' Banner: 'Wanted to see if we might pool our research.' Connors: 'Great! You want to see the end of the Hulk --- me of the Lizard.' Banner: 'Y'know, this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.' Connors: 'Did you just make that up?'
Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 10th of May, 2018. Of all the baffling and not precisely on-point references to Casablanca in pop culture, this is one of them.

Peter has a little accident where he drops his plane fare back to New York, and an impoverished mother and son find it. So he lets them keep it, and Mary Jane eats the cost of another plane ticket back. (Mary Jane had told Jameson that her husband was going back to New York, as cover for Spider-Man turning up in the Everglades. So they have to make good the cover story is why.) There’s the traditional hold-up at the airport. Peter Parker worries he’ll get asked why he wears a Spidey suit under his clothes. He never worries he’ll get asked about these tiny, explosively propelled webs of an exotic chemical mixture strapped to his wrists.

But with the 18th of May, I’m calling, the old story ends and the new one begins.

That one opens “somewhere in Manhattan” as some of your classic thugs hold guns on what they claim is FBI Agent Jimmy Woo. They get to clobbering him when a new superhero pops in. It’s someone named Iron Fist, who’s dressed in green pants, vest, yellow hood, and cool dragon chest tattoo. I trust these are all people from some other Marvel comic where it’s always 1978. Iron Fist clobbers the thugs and takes the wounded FBI Agent to Metro General hospital.

At the Daily Bugle office, managing editor Robbie Robertson happens to mention that The Kingpin is out of jail. And then the Plot TV reports this Iron Fist stuff going on. Robertson deputizes Parker to go interview the agent and write up this story. At the hospital Parker sneaks past security. He’s caught by Dr Christine Palmer. I assume she’s someone from the comic books too or else she’s getting too much of an introduction.

[ On a ledge off the 14th floor of a hospital ] Iron Fist: 'Why are you trying to break into Jimmy Woo's hospital room?' Spider-Man: 'Is that the guy's name? Come to think of it --- maybe you're the one who stabbed him!' Iron Fist: 'My only weapons are my four limbs.' Spider-Man: 'Yeah, I've been on the receiving end of one of them --- and it smarts. Maybe you should call yourself IRON FOOT!'
Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 12th of June, 2018. I’m not sure that this “IRON FOOT” thing is quite the put-down Peter Parker wants. But this may be because it’s got me excited that the Marvel Cinematic Universe might soon absorb the adventures of Kickpuncher. (It will not.)

Kicked out, Peter figures the thing to do is to make like a Minneapolis raccoon. He gets to the 14th floor and gets kicked in the face by Iron Fist. Spidey tries to sass Iron Fist about how come he’s doing all this kicking. But I’m not worried. This looks like the Ritual Fight that all superheroes must do on first meeting. They’ll be teaming up soon enough. Or will they? … Yeah, they will. I’m writing this Wednesday, but I have expectations about the rest of the week.

Next Week!

It’s back to the Prehistoric Land of Moo! And then right back out of Moo and into Revolutionary War-era Pennsylvania as I see what Jack Bender and Carole Bender have been doing with Alley Oop. No, they haven’t got to the musical number yet.

I Don’t Know What’s Happening With Jim Scancarelli But Gasoline Alley Looks Like It’s Out Of reruns


I still do not know what’s happening with Jim Scancarelli. However, Gasoline Alley for Thursday and Friday have been, as best I can tell, new strips. The comic strip had been rerunning a 2007 story in which Slim conks his head and has to get help for insomnia. In the 2007 run of this story Slim’s natural insomnia gave way to his being distracted by kids playing basketball in a court that had just gotten built. This turned into a story where, I swear, he bought a meteorite off eBay and arranged to have it dropped from a helicopter on the court in order to cancel basketball for the indeterminate future.

Dream Kiss Girl: 'Give us a great big kiss, Slim!' [ He does. ] Kiss Girl: 'Was that kiss 'partial' post?' Slim: 'Gosh, no! It was priority, first class!' [ In their bedroom ] Clovia: 'Girls? Kisses? SLIM! WAKE UP! Right now!' Slim, jolted awake: 'G-gulp! Clovia!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 15th of June, 2018. It’s a shipwreck fantasy and Slim and the Kiss Girls were playing post office, which isn’t something I ever did because I’m what the hep cats always called a ‘the square’.

This time around, after finally getting some sleep, Slim has dreams of being on a deserted island with a bunch of Kiss Girls, which gets him in trouble with his wife.

What I don’t know that this means the strip is going to full-time new comics. This could mark a transition to new stories, or at least new little joke strips. But this could also be Scancarelli going back to working part-time, slipping in new strips to a rerun arc. I haven’t got any information either way, and will have to wait for developments.

I have thought that the last several Sunday strips were new. There’ve been several featuring a Gasoline Alley centennial logo. Perhaps whatever has taken Scancarelli away from new work has passed and the comic can get back to normal. And, perhaps, even resolve the story of Rufus’s wooing of the Widow Emma Sue and Scruffy’s Mother. That story was left on hold when the comic went into unexplained reruns in November. It was held at a good pausing point, but there is unfinished business there yet.

And, for future reference, if you want my latest recaps of the current storyline in Gasoline Alley then please look to this page. I also recap the other syndicated story strips. They’re tagged by their various titles too, or you can look for the “story strips” tag to get the whole roster of them.

What’s Going On In Judge Parker? Is Something Happening In Apartment 3-G Suddenly? March – June 2018


Oh, what’s ever going on in Judge Parker? Lots of stuff. Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manely’s comic strip has not been sluggishly plotted. This is my best attempt, as of early-to-mid June 2018, to recap the last couple months. If none of this stuff seems relevant, you may need an essay at or near the top of this page, where its successors should appear. But if you’re reading this around June or July 2018, maybe this will help you out. Glad to help.

If you like mathematics in your comics, by the way, I’ve got another blog for you. Thanks for considering that too.

Judge Parker.

18 March – 10 June 2018.

Big personal revelations were on the way last time I checked in on Judge Parker. Randy Parker, shocked by his wife’s daring escape from Super Double Top Secret Federal Jail Prison, turned to obsessive paranoia. He got so busy wiring his house with cameras and watching everything. And not leaving the house. His father, the original Judge Alan Parker, points out he’s not doing enough judge work. And if you can imagine doing so little judge work that Judge Parker notices, well. But Randy stays resolute. After her prison break, disavowed CIA agent April Parker had come to the house, promising that she’d be back to take their child. Maybe Randy too. He’s determined not to let that happen.

But he does need groceries. And diapers. So he goes to the supermarket and cute-meets Toni Bowen. She’s the local reporter who leapt to the national desk covering the collapse of Godiva Danube and Neddy Spencer’s clothing factory. She also fell back to the local news after her next big story, Sophie Driver’s kidnapping, was too confusing to follow. And how she didn’t destroy Randy Parker interviewing him about April Parker’s prison escape.

Sam: 'I'm sorry, what? You're seeing Toni Bowen? The reporter who interviewed you about your wife on national TV? Less than four months ago?' Sophie: 'You're dating a celebrity?' Sam: 'Sophie --- ' Randy: 'Not dating! Seeing! I mean, kinda seeing, but ... you can't tell anyone, okay?' Sophie: 'Who am I going to tell? no one talks to me at school anyway.' Sam: 'Sophie, please --- wait, is that true?' Randy: 'I know it's complicated. And it probably won't last much longer. But for the first time in a while, I have a reason to smile. I ... I actually feel good.' Sophie: 'But how does Toni feel about it?' Sam: 'Good question.' Randy: 'Toni has numerous solid reasons why it can't possibly work.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 8th of April, 2018. New-relationship energy is such a powerful thing, isn’t it? Also, nice job of filling in backstory for new readers in the first panel second row there. Sincerely; it packs a lot of plot in without sounding too far off something an actual person might say.

Two months pass, per the caption on the 2nd of April. Randy and Toni are sharing Netflix passwords. Toni’s wary about this. Randy’s a former interview subject, after all. And is likely to be an interview subject again, considering that he’s still married, to a federal fugitive who’s also a hypercompetent CIA-trained assassin. She wants all this kept quiet. Randy would like to but he kind of mentioned it to Sam Driver. While Sophie Driver could overhear. Also all their relationship is taking place inside Randy Parker’s home. Which, Toni finally gets around to pointing out, is monitored by dozens of Internet-connected cameras.

So Randy accepts the argument that he’s got to live unafraid of April’s sure return. He turns off all the security cameras in time for Alan Parker to point out that April could be watching the house all the time. But what are the odds she’s doing that?

Randy, shutting down all the many cameras he's put up around his house: 'Okay ... Done. Entire security system's off-line. Now, how about you [ Toni ] and I get some brunch?' [ Elsewhere ] Voice, likely Norton: 'C'mon, April! Car's waiting!' [ Meanwhile ... in a dark office ] Man: 'He shut it all down.' Woman: 'No matter. We're going into active mode.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 20th of May, 2018. By the way, no, I don’t know exactly who those people are in the last panel. It’s easy to suppose they’re part of Norton’s organization, but that isn’t actually said. It’s easy also to suppose they’re part of some top-secret fugitive-detecting investigative squad, but again, not actually established.

April asks her father, Norton, what it means that the security cameras have been turned off. She’s had a storyline that’s mostly played out in the Sunday strips. She’s strained by her new life. She’s travelling the world murdering people with her father. Who’s constantly making jokes that aren’t even Dad Jokes. There’s a lot of jokes, mind you. Often ones that seem contextually inappropriate, like in the aftermath of a murder pointing out there’s milanos in the glove compartment.

It’s part of Francesco Marciuliano’s writing. The characters do joke. Many of them are weird little not-quite-non-sequiturs, such as many of Norton’s little asides. Many of them are moments of self-deprecation as characters realize they’ve been acting foolishly. A bit of this is refreshing self-awareness. Too much of it sounds sitcom-y. Not to the extent that Dan Thompson’s Rip Haywire gets. Several times the past few months it’s gotten more snarky than I like. It feels like reflexive snark. Snark is fun, but it’s corrosive when done without thought. And that’s unfortunate, since I’ve been enjoying the plotting. Marciuliano has embraced making the stories as crazypants as possible. He’s also made good use of bouncing soap-opera-loony plots off of characters who, if belatedly, come to their senses. It keeps the stories from being too absurd for my tastes.

And the style can work. For example, in the third major plot developing the past several months. This is in Los Angeles, where the scene transitions are flagged by the narration box with movie-script format. This thread follows Neddy Spencer, who’s solving all her problems by moving to a new city and working in the field of becoming famous. She’s having trouble making friends, which changes when Godiva Danube turns up at her restaurant.

Ronnie: 'Okay, the secret is to own the situation. Just go up to your table and say, 'Oh, hi, Godiva!' before she says word one. Automatically, you're exuding self-assuredness and you're in control of the conversation.' Neddy: 'I keep saying the wrong thing to you. Why are you helping me?' Ronnie: 'Because apparently, I'm the magical non-white, non-hetero sidekick character lazy writers think exists solely to help the white protagonist. By the way, that changes pronto.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 27th of April, 2018. Also the moment when Ronnie becomes more than just the other person in the restaurant. She’s still serving the role of support character. But she’s gotten enough screen time talking about herself, not always in such an Abed Nadir style, that one could believe she’s a character with as much going on as Neddy is and we just happen to be following Neddy first.

Godiva had urged Neddy to come with her to Los Angeles; Neddy had seen this as emotional manipulation on Godiva’s part. But you see where this is a heap of awkward. Her coworker Ronnie tries to guide her through the scene. And she starts to like Neddy, the way anyone starts to like a person they do a favor for. Ronnie dives in to rescue Neddy when the quarrel with Godiva gets too intense.

Abbey, picking up the phone: 'Neddy? Is everything okay?' Neddy: 'Hey, abbey. Yes, everything's fine. It's ... it's just been a while since I called.' Abbey: 'I'm sure you've just been busy. Sophie tells us you're really finding your footing in LA.' Neddy: 'Yeah, I'm .. .I'm trying. You okay? Sam?' Abbey: 'We're all fine, Neddy ... we miss you.' Neddy: 'I miss you too. And I'm sorry I'm not there today, but I wanted to wish you a very happy Mother's Day.' Abbey: 'Oh, Neddy. Thank you.' Neddy: 'I love you, Abbey.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 13th of May, 2018. As part of bonding Ronnie and Neddy talked over their family relationships, and this strip — which ran Mother’s Day — reflects Ronnie’s encouraging Neddy to take better care of her relationship with her mother.

And here — this past week — these three threads crash together. Norton and April are in Los Angeles to kill someone. Who’s staying in Room 237 (get it?) of some hotel. Toni Bowen gets promoted from the break-of-dawn to the 5 pm newscast. The first story: new developments in an old story. And Ronnie has news for Neddy: Godiva’s dead.

So every now and then I get to writing one of these essays well ahead of time. Like, get the whole thing roughed out by Monday or Tuesday before it needs to be published. Every time this makes my weekend so much easier. Do I learn from this to get stuff done early? Maybe even, if I have a free hour, write up story-so-far paragraphs for the comics I know are coming up soon? No, I absolutely refuse to learn and do things that make my life easier. But, c’mon, if you’re going to drop something like that on me, the day before this What’s-Going-On-In essay publishes, you’re just teaching me to write as close to deadline as possible. It’s not fair, is what it isn’t.


So What’s The Deal With This Apartment 3-G Talk?

Well, that was interesting. As Norton and April approached what I have taken to be Godiva’s hotel room [*] there was a fake-out strip. On the 2nd of June, a black-haired woman accepted a pizza delivery. She’s at a door marked 3-G.

Woman at door: 'Who is it?' Voice behind door: 'Pizza delivery.' (She opens the door, conspicuously labelled 3G. It's a pizza delivery.) Woman: 'Oh, finally! I'm starving!'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 2nd of June, 2018. I know the serious Apartment 3-G fans are hoping for news on what’s become of Lampey. But I keep looking at that pizza box and asking, ‘Now that’s a spicy T-shirt’? It feels like seeing an in-joke. Yes, I understand the spicy meatball’s referent. But how do you get from a meatball to a T-shirt? Well, by dropping it down your shirt, but that still doesn’t explain the pizza box.

An Apartment 3-G reference? Of course; what else makes sense here? What’s interesting is the question of whether Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley are planning to bring an Apartment 3-G thread into the storyline. King Features Syndicate (I assume) holds the publication rights on both properties, after all. And it’s not a frightening innovation to have characters from a cancelled strip appear in a still-ongoing one. The cliffhanger on which the comic strip Annie ended was eventually resolved in Dick Tracy. And characters from Brenda Starr, The Spirit, and the Green Hornet have popped up in Joe Staton and Mike Curtis’s comic. (Of course, who hasn’t? Characters from Popeye, Terry and the Pirates, and Harold Teen have made cameos there. Yes, yes, Popeye is technically still in production, as far as we know, but it’s barely seen.) Keeping the property alive by references in other strips, until it can be grittily rebooted, would make good sense.

And Marciuliano might be game. In Sally Forth he’s several times written flash-forward strips, where Hilary Forth and her friends Faye and Nona are young adults sharing an apartment. Many Sally Forth readers note how that setup is close enough to Apartment 3-G‘s for jazz. I’m not aware that Marciuliano has expressed any interest in doing a quiet Apartment 3-G revival. The 2nd of June’s strip is adequately explained as faking out the reader. But I can’t rule out that Marciuliano might intend to plot something wild. I am checking with the rules committee about whether it is possible to take my Apartment 3-G essay tag out of retirement.

[*] We have seen Norton and April enter a hotel room. We’ve seen a woman laying on the bed. We’ve gotten the news that Godiva is dead. But we have not — as of Saturday, the 9th of June anyway — seen a direct statement that this woman was Godiva, nor that she was killed by Norton and April’s action. I’m aware of soap opera rules too.

Next Week!

Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man! I left off as giant irradiated green monsters in purple pants were deep in the swamp, mocking one another. Did the story somehow get even better? Has the next story started out delightfully? I’m eager to say.

What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? Who’s Provoking People Into Offensive Outbursts Now? March – June 2018.


Thanks for wondering what might be happening in Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp. I’m writing this when the Summer 2018 storyline has barely begun. So if you’re reading this too late into summer, or after Fall 2018, sorry, this won’t help. If I’ve got a more recent summary it should be at or near the top of this page. Thanks for checking. And, you know, if you want to just subscribe to Another Blog, Meanwhile, and get these updates in your WordPress Reader, there’s the blue strip to “Follow Another Blog, Meanwhile” on the right side of this page. At least until I change the theme as if I could find a theme that will make me happy.

My other content-generation scheme is my mathematics blog. Which comics from last week brought up mathematical themes, and what can I make of those themes? Good question, since one of those comics was published in 1971. But you maybe saw it again more recently.

Gil Thorp.

12 March – 2 June 2018.

[ Marty Moon signs on again ] Marty: '... Bringing you the third quarter. We hope.' [ And finds an even larger chorus. ] Protesters: 'No more Moon! No more Moon!' Marty: 'Fine. I'm leaving. But you'll regret this!' Paloma: 'See you later, Mar-TEEN Moon!'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 10th of March, 2018. So this is nitpicking. The correct answer is “you do know this is just a story, right?”. But: after Marty Moon got chased off here, what did the radio station broadcast? Later on in the story another broadcast gets interrupted and the station has no idea what to do, which, fair enough. Nobody actually has contingency plans for something before it happens. But here it’s happened; what did they do, and why wasn’t that ready in case of another broadcast interruption?

[ Record scratch. MARTY MOON, in voice-over. ] “Yup, that’s me. You’re probably wondering how I ended up in this situation.”

Yes. But nobody wants to hear what passes for introspection in Marty Moon’s mind. I’ll do it instead. It started with Jorge and Paloma Padilla, transfer students fleeing Donald Trump’s enthusiastic drowning of Puerto Rico by joining Milford’s basketball teams. Marty Moon, covering a game, says Hurricane Maria was the best thing that could’ve happened to the Milford basketball team and also to “Georgie”. And talks how Georgie “earned his burritos” with that great play. How he’s a regular “Mexican jumping bean”. He figures this weird, faintly-racist-in-that-way-60s-food-mascots-could-be stuff might help the radio station land a big advertising deal from a Mexican restaurant. Paloma’s Disgruntled Students Group comes to the station to ask what the deal is. Moon mansplains that they need to remember the one key thing in the world of high-school-sports radio-journalism: shut up. So they take seats right behind Moon’s broadcast table and heckle him. He runs off.

Moon recuperates in the time-honored fashion of white guys. He whines about political correctness gone mad and determines that it’s someone else’s fault (“or I’ll eat my sombrero”). Moon identifies coach Gil Thorp as the problem. It is a common thought in Gil Thorp commenting communities that Gil Thorp doesn’t really care about what’s going on. But in this case, well, yeah. He wouldn’t intermediate between Moon and the Disgruntled Students Group. But how is students protesting Marty Moon’s racist on-air jokes any of Thorp’s responsibility? But he rallies to action, and in a way I thought crafty. He tells the Disgruntled Students Group that they shouldn’t be drowning Moon out. But also there’s no reason Marty Moon should be the only coverage of sports games.

Moon: 'Get lost, you morons!' Levin: 'And that's our grumpy competitor as we broadcast here on the Milford Pirate Network! By the way, faithful camera guy Jarell Atkins --- who's winning?'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 3rd of March, 2018. Stepping back from the plot a moment, isn’t it just adorable how Marty Moon thinks he can win a snarky insult fight against teenagers?

The Disgruntled Students Group sets up the “Milford Pirate Network” on YouTube. Cute nerd Duncan Levin, wearing a pirate hat and fake parrot, narrates the game. He has the condescending nerd attitude that calls “sportsball” any game that doesn’t involve miniatures and weird-marked dice. No matter; the Milford Pirate Network’s real game is bear-baiting, and Marty Moon hopes to someday be sharp as a bear. Levin’s a hit, which, yeah, I can see. I don’t buy the strip’s claim that this would draw away people who would like to hear coverage of a high school basketball game. But I accept there’s people who don’t care about basketball who would like to watch a nerd heckling a clownish local-media personality. I’m going ahead and assuming he pads his reporting with Monty Python quotes and lines from the new Mystery Science Theater 3000 series.

But there’s still the hecklers, taking Gil Thorp at his word that the occasional outburst is normal. And Levin, poking his head in to ask if Marty Moon’s wife is a goer, knowwhudImean. And his boss complaining that this whole mess is Marty Moon’s own fault. Even Jorge has limited sympathy. It’s not that anyone threw Moon under the bus. It’s that he dug a pit for himself in the asphalt and then hugged a bus over top of himself. And then hired another bus to come and run over that bus. And then hired a third, bigger bus company to run a bus over that buspile. Then he got back to the first bus company and had them put monster truck tires on top of their tallest bus and drive it over them.

On to an away game. The Milford Pirate Network is there. Levin asks how Moon can possibly transmit without a fake parrot attached to his shirt. Moon curses out Levin live and on air, using even the # word, and gets an indefinite suspension for his troubles. Even though he totally sent an e-mail saying he apologized if there were any fragile snowflakes out there who were too sheltered in their safe spaces to able to tolerate his honest truth-telling.

[ Marty Moon loses control, cursing out Levin on-air. ] Levin: 'I don't think he can SAY those words on the radio!' [ And at WDIG, the engineer loses his MIND. ] Engineer: 'We're having, um, technical difficulties at the game. So --- ' [ Later ] Gil Thorp's Assistant: 'Kelly said they went to about 10 straight commercials --- and then a replay of some '60s show.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 3rd of April, 2018. I’m like 85% sure that Gil Thorp’s assistant in the last panel there has a name but I don’t know what it is. Sorry. There’s not a cast list on the GoComics site or on Wikipedia. This Week In Milford offers a helpful if outdated “Pantheon of Hair”. But especially given that this strip does like to have major characters from one story become supporting characters in another it would be good to have a list of just which guy is which.

The suspension has its downsides. It turns out that without Moon to heckle, Levin isn’t much of a sports commentator. I know, weird that someone who’d talk about how their big sweaty guy is better than our big sweaty guy doesn’t know how to craft a good sports narrative. But likely it would have petered out in any case. It’s easy enough to make fun of something once, maybe twice. Keeping at it after that requires work. You have to have writing skills. You have to run out of stuff to say and care about the subject enough to think of new stuff to say. And deep down, Levin doesn’t really care about basketball.

The YouTube coverage winds down. And there’s no radio coverage either, which I guess is a bad thing for the basketball team for some reason? I don’t know. This may be my background showing. I grew up in central New Jersey. A high school basketball game would not make the evening news unless something noteworthy happened, such as the Governor accidentally crashing a light aircraft into the gymnasium and transforming the six people nearest the crash site into superhero tiger-sharks, as happened in Egg Harbor City the 22nd of July, 1986.

So coach Gil Thorp puts aside his not really caring and intervenes again. Moon’s boss confirms that if they can do something that gets the Disgruntled Students Group off their backs they’ll put Moon back on the air. So Thorp goes to Paloma. He explains how this has all been jolly good fun, but now a white man is suffering a consequence. Surely she doesn’t want to be responsible for that? Which is where in this storyline I started yelling back at the comic. I may need to take a break.

But they work out a deal. The Disgruntled Students Group will drop their protest, if Marty Moon apologizes, takes an online course about Latin American history, and covers at least one girls game each season. I’m not clear if this is only girls basketball, or all the major sports. But the lack of media coverage of girls sports was mentioned, early in the story, and was one of the injustices Paloma noticed. Moon’s boss buys the deal for him. Moon says “I can’t believe you let those kids get away with this.” Thorp answers, “You sound like the villain on Scooby-Doo”. This moment endeared Thorp to me. It got the Scooby-Doo quote wrong in the way that a middle-aged guy who really doesn’t care about Scooby-Doo would. And that, with the 21st of April, ends the Marty Moon/Jorge Paloma story.


The current story, softball season, started the 23rd of April. Senior Kevin Pelwecki has got obsessive in that endearing teenager way about batting just right. And lecturing his teammates on the proper swing. Gil Thorp, spotting trouble early this time, steps in. He drills Pelwecki on batting, keeping him too busy to instruct his teammates, and away from where his teammates can flush him down a toilet. That’s all right; Pelwecki will find the time to teach his teammates about his new batting stance. In fairness, he is getting better pretty fast.

Meanwhile at school newspaper The Milford Trumpet, they have a plotline. Dafne, spunky young reporter who probably has a last name, has noticed Barry Bader. Bader’s a weirdly intense player on the team. She digs around and what she can find is interesting but incomplete. She learns that Bader’s father is in jail for killing a student while driving drunk. The story’s more complicated than that [*], but she can’t get much, since it happened the summer before I started doing these plot recaps. She figures: well, why not ask him about it? And in case of the one-in-a-million chance he doesn’t want to talk about it? Why not ask him again and again until he says something newsworthy?

[*]: While driving home drunk Bader’s father crashed his car into Milford girls’ softball star pitcher “Boo” Radley’s. Both were okay at first, but a truck that didn’t stop in time hit Radley’s car, killing her. The salient part starts here, the 2nd of June, 2016 and goes about a week. Also relevant: Bader’s father was already standing trial for driving drunk when this happened.

Dafne: 'I'm so full of confidence after our big win, I'm going to track down Barry Bader.' Friend: 'Great. Can I watch?' (Later) Dafne: 'I know your family's hurting, but it could have been any of us.' Bader: 'If their dads drove drunk, you mean?' Dafne: 'Right. And a story could ... humanize him.' Bader: 'He's already human --- and we don't need your pity!'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 16th of May, 2018. I mean, you hate to watch train wrecks, but when the trains keep refusing every chance to do anything in the world except wreck what are you going to do?

This goes well. A provoked Bader argues with an umpire until Thorp carries him back to the dugout. Later in the game Bader takes a runner’s slide into second as a personal affront, slugs him, and gets suspended for two games. His teammates laugh through his anger, because remember, guys are awful. Bader figures to channel his anger into interviews with Dafne. He says, “it can’t make things any worse”, apparently forgetting that he was calling his father’s judge in the first trial an “ugly cow” that someone ought to “smack” and that things said to reporters sometimes get reported. No matter; he’s busy this weekend. He’d told a bunch of Greek gods how he could perform a more beautiful melody on the lute than any of them. Now they’re going to have a little contest to see who’s right.

So we’re ready to see the interview happen. There are all sorts of ways this can go well; which will it be? I’ll know tomorrow; you’ll know, I don’t know. Next essay, probably.

Next Week!

When will the storyline-to-pop-culture-riff ratio in Judge Parker cross that of Sally Forth? Has it already? Tune in next week, same bat-channel, and find out how Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley are getting through this one!

What’s Going On In Rex Morgan, M.D.? Choking and Corporate Intrigue, March – May 2018.


Hey, is it sometime near the end of May or any of June 2018? If it is, great. If it’s sometime around, oh, August 2018 or later you might want to look here instead. If I’ve written a more recent update about what’s happening in Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D., it should be there.

Rex Morgan, M.D.

4 March – 27 May 2018.

I last checked in with Team Morgan a couple weeks into the start of their new storyline. It was about the Morgans’ babysitter Kelly and her boyfriend Niki. They noticed their friend Justin had taken up this habit of choking every time he tried to eat or drink anything. Justin took this nonchalantly. His friends worried that, y’know, at some point he’s got to eat, right?

Title panel, T-Rex Morgan, M.D. Sarah draws 'Glenwood - One Million Years BC'. Dinosaur versions of her parents come in, roaring 'GRONK' and 'GRAAAAAWK' and such. This is caption-translated. T-Rex: 'Hey, Punkin. We're getting teh boys to bed, Sarah. Can you get your jammies on?' Sarah: 'Sure, Dad.' T-Rex: 'When they're asleep, I'll come back and we can read a chapter of our Oz book, okay?' Sarah: 'Sounds good!' T-Sarah: 'And don't forget to brush your teeth before bedtime.' Sarah: 'Of course, Mom.' T-Sarah: 'We'll be back in a bit.' Sarah: 'Life's a whole lot more fun when you pretend your parents are dinosaurs!'
Terry Beatty’s T-Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 1st of April, 2018. Really, the best April Fool’s prank I saw on the comics page. I’m glad Beatty indulged in a flight of fantasy like this. It’s always fun when a cartoonist stretches artistically. And any excuse to put dinosaurs in one of the story strips is a correctly made excuse.

Maybe not; he’s cool with seeing how this plays out. Kelly asks Rex Morgan, M.D., what to do about this. Rex can’t diagnose anything, of course; you need someone who does medicine for that. But he does suggest trying small bites of peanut butter and honey sandwiches until Justin can get seen by a doctor. Justin can eat the peanut butter and honey, solving one immediate problem. But he’ll need a doctor’s note to bring peanut butter in to eat at school. The school participates in the “Let’s Have Angry Old People In The Comments Section Tell Us How Food Allergies Are A Made-Up Thing” program. He finally gives in to peer pressure, and lets Kelly make an appointment with the Morgans. If there’s a promise of no shots and not getting his knee hit with that little hammer. Also if the Morgans make that promise. “Oh never fear,” chuckles June, “we don’t use the little hammer anymore.”

So it turns out Justin has a real actual medical condition that really actually occurs in the real world. It’s called achalasia, in which the muscles of the esophagus don’t work right. It’ll take surgery to treat, so Rex Morgan calls in a friend who practices medicine for it. In non-snarky fairness, I would expect the procedure — a “Heller myotomy” — to be something you get a specialist for. And, come early April, we get some word about why Justin was so weird about seeing a doctor. His mother’s terrified of hospitals. This follows the family story of how her great-grandfather died on the operating table in 1923. This seems ridiculous to me, but ridiculous in a way that people actually are. So I’m cool with it. She’s cool with it too, once Justin gets a haircut and, I trust, promises to wear clean underwear for if he dies.

Kelly: 'We're going to see Justin after his surgery today, right?' Niki: 'Yeah. If we're lucky he'll still be groggy and we can catch him on camera saying some stupid stuff.' Kelly: 'You are SUCH a good friend to him, Niki.' Kelly: 'Hey, what are friends for?' [ The day of Justin's Surgery. ] In the hospital room. Rex: 'Are you ready for this, Justin?' Justin: 'As I'll ever be, I guess.' Rex: 'All the tests confirmed my initial diagnosis of achalasia --- and we have the TOP specialist in the country set to do the surgery.' Justin: 'Sounds good.' Justin's Mom: 'I'm still so worried about my little boy.' Rex: 'I understand a parent being nervous about their child having an operation, but there's really nothing to worry about here. The success rate for this surgery is very high, and Justin is otherwise healthy as a horse. He'll be just fine.' Justin's Mom: 'I know, but *still*.' Justin's Dad: 'My Son, the Horse. Get through this Justin, and we'll buy you a big bag of oats.' Justin: 'You crack me up, pop.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 8th of April, 2018. So, like, “the top” specialist in treating acalasia has to be a specific person, right? Do they know they were referenced, albeit anonymously, in Rex Morgan, M.D.? Did Beatty give her a heads-up or was it just left as a surprise? And wouldn’t it be a kick if somehow the top specialist in Heller Myotomies didn’t read Rex Morgan, M.D. somehow and had to have this pointed out to her by a friend?

And as for Justin, who did not die, he would go on to disappoint his friends, who hoped he would do something dopey while recovering from anaesthesia. No; he simply survived a weird medical problem without incident. End story, the 15th of April.

The 16th began the next focus, about the marriage of Buck and Mindy. They’re having it in Las Vegas. They sent invitations to the other player-characters in the comic. “Horrible” Hank Harwood, rediscovered 50s-horror-comics artist, and his son, rent an RV to road trip to it. They’re hoping to make a grand tour of the country. They’ll stop at all the great roadside attractions and see whether Zippy the Pinhead is talking to any of them about Republicans or meat.

(By the way, this week my love and I were at meals reading collections of Zippy the Pinhead comics from completely different decades. And reading individual strips out loud to each other. We’re delighted by early examples of later Bill Griffith obsessions and jokes that could run in normal comics too. There are many more accessible Zippy the Pinhead strips than the comic’s reputation suggests.)

Interwoven with Buck-and-Mindy’s wedding and Hank-and-Hank’s road trip is a less giddy story. Milton Avery, multimillionaire industrialist, died, the same day that his wife Heather Avery gave birth. Heather Avery flies back to Glenwood, where the strip’s set, partly to console herself with the company of the Morgans. Partly to work out how the expected succession crisis at Avery International plays out. This promises great excitement. The last time the succession of Avery International was addressed was when Woody Wilson wrote the strip. Back then, Heather Avery got Rex Morgan to lie. Morgan claimed Milton Avery was mentally competent and in full possession of his faculties and all. So there’s good reason for the Board of Directors to be up for a good rousing fight.

[ The Harwoods plan for their Las Vegas trip. ] Hank Jr: 'Hey, Pop. Come look at these options for renting a camper. And I need to know how long before Buck's wedding you want to leave on the trip.' Hank Sr: 'Long enough to see the sights along the way and get lost a few times!' [ At the Avery Mansion in Glenwood. ] Michelle: 'You've heard from Heather, Jordan?' Jordan: 'Yeah. Says she's making the trip back as soon as she and the baby get the okay to travel.' Michelle: 'Do you have any idea what Milton's passing will mean to Avery International or your employment here?' Jordan: 'And my free access to this fantastic house?' Michelle: 'Yeah, that too.' Jordan: 'Not a clue, Michelle. I figure I'd better be prepared for anything.' Michelle: 'I had a feeling this was too good to last.' Jordan: 'Wasn't ever meant to be permanent. I figure we're lucky to get whatever time we have here.' Michelle: 'Then let's make the most of it, shall we?' Jordan: 'Y'know, I like how you think.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 6th of May, 2018. I didn’t find space in the main article to write about the housesitters for Heather and Milton Avery, but this strip pretty well explains their plot thread. And is a decent recap of what Milton Avery’s death implies for the storylines too, so, all the better.

Heather’s opening salvo is to explain how she’s thrilled with the way they’ve been running the company. And she doesn’t see any reason anything needs to change. Corporate/Economic historian Robert Sobel in his 1972 The Age of Giant Corporations: A Microeconomic History of American Business identified this as the ol’ “Not the face! Don’t punch me in the face!” boardroom maneuver. But she also explains how if they screw this up she’ll feed them to a June-Morgansaurus. Should be exciting.

While we wait to see how that plays out might you consider reading up on mathematically-themed comic strips? I’ve got a bunch on my other blog that you might like to hear about. This week I get to show off the Maclaurin series for the cosine of an angle measured in radians! You’ll understand why that’s a thing by the end of the article.

Next Week!

Oh, you know how much I’m annoyed with Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp right now? Just wait a week and you’re going to see.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Sundays)? February – May 2018.


I know you’re interested in Tony DePaul and Dave Weigel’s The Phantom. This is my attempt to catch up on what’s happening, as of mid-May, 2018. Is it not fairly close to that? Then there might be a new story. If I’ve written a new recap, it should be at or near the top of this page. But it’ll share space with Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s weekday continuity for The Phantom, which is a different story. And you might get more fast-breaking news from Tony DePaul’s blog directly.

You’re maybe also interested in mathematics. But want comic strips about mathematics. I’ve got some good news for you! Please enjoy.

The Phantom (Sundays).

25 February – 18 May 2018.

My last recap of the Sunday-continuity Phantom involved a lot of walking. This is because the strip involved a lot of walking. The Ghost Who Walks was earning his title alongside a Bangallan prisoner known to us only as The Rat. The Rat was figuring to buy his freedom with information about his ex-partner, since the partner wasn’t doing anything about breaking him out of prison. The Warden would have none of it. The Phantom would have some of it. He lead The Rat out of Boomsby Prison, the plan being to capture The Rat’s ex-partner, and maybe get The Rat a recommendation for time off his sentence. The Phantom promised, repeatedly, that The Rat was going back to prison, no matter what The Rat’s ideas. As of late February, they finally got out of the prison, into the Boomsby Mines.

The Phantom provides The Rat with a horse, and leads him to the nearby border of fascist Rhodia. The Rat’s ex-partner is in there somewhere. The Rat tries, as promised, to slug The Phantom and break free. That doesn’t work out for The Rat. They go tromping into the woods. The Rat’s luck holds up: a boomslang snake drops around his shoulders.

The Rat, cringing as a snake rests on his head and The Phantom aims his pistol at them: 'Don't! I-I'm gonna grab the snake r-real fast and ... and ...' Phantom: 'Really? After what they said in Boomsby? 'The Rat must Die!' Make a grab for that boomslang and you'll prove them right! Seriously? You want to try to grab that deadly animal?' The Rat: 'Yeah! Yeah, I- I want to! It's MY life! Back off!' The Phantom: 'Fair enough ... grab him high! Right behidn the jaws. Go on three! I'll give you the count ... one ... ' (The Phantom whips out his pistol and shoots, over The Rat and the snake's heads.)
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 15th of April, 2018. The Rat’s been shown to have Charlie Brown-levels of success in getting anything to go the way he figures. It’s all been darkly funny to see him plugging away at the hard-prisoner tropes that ought to work and just explode on him. This is the point in the story where I shifted outright to pitying the guy for being so unable to get even the slightest break. He’s doing his best to burn off that pity, as he carries on as though he’s going to outsmart The Phantom on anything important ever. But still. This guy, you know?

The Phantom takes the chance to mess with The Rat’s head, holding his pistol and making ready to shoot the snake off him. He’s teasing, of course. The Phantom shoots in the air, scaring the venomous snake away. The Rat does a bit of analysis, figuring that he now understands. He speculates The Phantom had a mean life, one that beat toughness into him. Absurd, of course. Kit Walker had a kind, loving father who raised him from birth to be a crimefighting superhero, the way nineteen generations before him had done. The Rat wants to know what The Phantom gets out of all this do-gooding, when he could be amassing riches and power instead. So The Rat hasn’t heard about the treasures in The Phantom’s lair. And doesn’t suspect his ties with the Bangallan president or with the Jungle Patrol. The Phantom might need to improve his brand identity and maybe needs to seed some new Old Jungle Sayings.

The Rat: 'We're fighters, you and me! But here's what I don't get about you, Phantom.' The Phantom: 'There are a whole lot of things you don't get. But go ahead ... I'm listening.' The Rat: 'How come you never used your power to get what you want?' Phantom: 'What I want?' Rat: 'Yeah --- from others! I mean, a guy like you could have ruled Boomsby! Ruled Mawitaan!! From any cell in the joint! Instead you settled for what? Being some kind of do-gooder? That messes with your thinking! Like when you say I'm going back to Boomsby!' Phantom: 'You are, actually. You and the man I'm after.' Rat: 'You have NO IDEA what I'll do to not go back. You won't even see it coming ... '
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 6th of May, 2018. You laugh, but The Rat has already figured out a plan where he distracts The Phantom by pointing at the ground and yelling out, “Hey look, someone left free cake!” and then running off to the side. This plan is foiled when The Phantom doesn’t hear his sudden cry, and the Rat runs into the dry riser so fast that he’s knocked unconscious by his stomach hitting the gas meters for the whole building complex.

But that’s got us — at last, really; this story began in early October — to The Rat’s partner’s lair. Ready to strike. And The Rat clobbers The Phantom into the side of a carport. This will turn out well for him.

As indicated, this has not been a densely plotted story. It’s had several solid sequences, the boomslang the most interesting one to me. It’s been a lot of atmosphere, with some character and a bunch of sequences of The Phantom letting The Rat make a fool of himself. This is fine for the story. It just makes for a short plot recap. Next week will be different.

Next Week!

Has young but genial third-wheel Justin finished choking? Has Rex Morgan committed any actual acts of medicine? Are comic book artists just the best people ever? Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. might just have answers for us!

Gasoline Alley Is Still In Reruns, Probably Through June, Possibly To Late August


So, the 15th of May came and Gasoline Alley remained in reruns. I still haven’t heard anything about Jim Scancarelli’s condition. The new story is one about Slim Wallet. He’s the current owner of the auto care place that’s the gasoline alley the strip was built on before Skeezix changed everything.

The story that’s rerunning now, as it originally ran in 2007, was built on Slim having trouble sleeping. That story had a natural stopping point the 16th of June, 2007. So perhaps in a month Scancarelli — or someone else — might pick up new strips without leaving anything hanging. We’ll see the 18th of June this year.

If the strip continues in reruns after that, then we get into a storyline that became notorious, especially on Comics Curmudgeon. Eleven years on this is still one of the iconic references. This is the story where Slim realizes that kids are playing basketball late at night in the playground next to his house. Also that there’s a playground next to his house. This goes into crazypants territory. Yes, one of Scancarelli’s comics modes is the wacky sitcom. But this … well. Here.

Slim, on his computer, talking to himself and sneering ever-more-Snidely-Whiplash-y: 'There's a large meteorite for sale on the Internet! If I buy it and drop the thing on the basketball court --- I won't get the blame ... MOTHER NATURE will!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 16th of July, 2007. And possibly also for the 18th of July, 2018. We’ll see. Not to worry: as the plot progresses, Mark Trail comes in to correct some common misconceptions about the differences between meteors, meteoroids, and meteorites, only to get into a slugging match with Neil deGrasse Tyson. The winner: the entire reading audience.

I will refrain from spoiling you if you want to see this nonsense play out in real time. The end of that storyline came the 28th of August, 2007. So if these strips rerun the whole storyline, then the next chance to step on with a new story will be the 30th of August, 2018.

I don’t think there are any cases where, like, a Gasoline Alley Salutes Flag Day strip would need to be inserted that wasn’t there in 2007. Or that needs to be put in because it wasn’t observed the first time around. But this might throw the story’s end date off by a couple of days. Inserts for observing anniversaries in the comic strip are what keep the 2007 reruns from being perfectly in synch with 2018’s dates.

What’s Going On In Mary Worth? Muffins And Despair. February – May 2018


Dear Wendy, have you ever tried to explain Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth? Have you ever got angry about a story, and worried about that anger considering you’ve been offended by two Gil Thorp storylines in a row now?

Signed, Person Writing From So Far After Mid-May 2018 That This Essay Isn’t Any Use Anymore.

Dear Person: Of course! I try about every three months to recap the plot in Mary Worth. You should find my most recent essays at this page. And oh yes, I get offended by some story developments and I’m not even talking about Gil Thorp for three more weeks yet. When you get angered by story strips you might see what mathematically-themed comic strips are out there. See whether a bunch of jokes about students misunderstanding a word problem make you feel better about life.

— Wendy.

Auto Surgeon Inc: 'No one is rich enough to buy back their past'.
I do not know how the car care place down the block manages to keep picking quotes that ought to be inspirational and yet somehow read as existential dread. It’s some wild talent they’ve got. (I’d have put this by the Dubiously Sourced Quotes section but don’t want the more intense strips to show up in the Twitter preview.)

A content warning. The last couple months of Mary Worth have included a character sexually assaulting another. They’ve also included a despairing character considering suicide. If you don’t need that in your recreation, you’re absolutely right. Go on to something that won’t be needlessly miserable instead. I’ll catch you next time.


Mary Worth.

18 February – 13 May 2018.

When I last checked in Mary Worth was looking to become rich and famous through muffins. Ted Miller, vaguely associated old friend of Mary’s eternal beau Jeff, was crazy for Mary Muffins and insisted the world would be too. His plan: Mary bakes muffins, and he sells them, and then they both get rich and she gets famous. What could go wrong? And it was a glorious time. For one, yes, people in-universe always praise her food. But Mary Worth’s cooking always looks like it’s from one of those Regrettable 70s Food blogs. You know, the ones where we were supposed to make a tuna-jello fondue with a 7-Up glaze and bake it to look like a lamb, with a dyed mashed potato “lawn” around it.

There’s a motif in comic strips where a character gets to be successful after five weeks of kind of trying. It’s a reliable giddy delight. For another, people kept saying “muffin” or, better, “Mary’s muffins”. Over and over and over. This blend of silly story and silly phrasing could not go wrong.

Continue reading “What’s Going On In Mary Worth? Muffins And Despair. February – May 2018”

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? Why Is He Making So Many Nerd Movie Jokes? February – May 2018.


Here’s my most recent recap of James Allen’s Mark Trail. At or near the top of that link, anyway. My recap here should cover the early part of 2018. Good luck.

And I discuss comic strips with mathematical themes on my other blog. I hope you find that interesting too.

Mark Trail.

11 February – 6 May 2018.

Last time in Mark Trail there were a bunch of animals in weird places. I mean weird by Mark Trail’s standards. A giraffe eating Rusty’s apples. An ostrich with an organ-grinding monkey teasing Doc. A rhino chasing down a couple of Mark Trail cartoonist James Allen’s friends. Mark could be baffled by these goings-on while we readers weren’t. And not because Mark or anyone was being dumb. We had information that they didn’t: “Dirty” Dyer read about how the Tingling Brothers Circus was making its last tour. How or why their animals were loose might be a mystery, but why there should be a giraffe at the Lost Forest at this time of year was not. Oh, also, Dyer is figuring to kill Mark Trail. But he’s taking his time and working up to it.

Mark, on the phone, seeing a tiger in front of him: 'Dusty, I think we have a problem! Give me a second --- I want to test a theory!' Mark thinks: 'Turn around slowly, don't make any sudden movements! I've got to get back in the house!' In the house, Mark says, 'Cherry, honey, will you do me a favor?'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 15th of February, 2018. Next panel, Mark says, “Call Brewster Rockit and see if Winky’s free.”

After hearing of Rusty and Doc’s weird-animal reports, Mark steps out on the porch and sees a tiger. He swings into action and steps back inside, to toss a ham outside. A big old ham, too, like you see in 1950s humor comic books. The tiger eats the ham, proving to Mark that this isn’t some hallucination, somehow? After that odd moment, though, Mark calls the authorities, who it turns out were coming to visit anyway. The Sheriff explains. The Circus train derailed and most of the animals got loose.

Then he launches into what’s almost a shaggy dog story. It’s built on the premise that the clown car took it hardest: “You should have seen it, Mark — greasepaint and rubber chickens on the tracks for miles!”. The story then goes into the clowns, who were all safely in the bar car, in full makeup and dress. The dazed group, led by the eldest and most respected clown, the Great Wilhelm — “the clown that never spoke, he just screamed a lot” — wandered away. They stumbled through a graveyard and toward a bonfire where some kids were having a camping night and telling monster stories and stuff. So you can imagine how well a pack of dazed, disheveled clowns stumbling out of the graveyard were received. The clowns, frightened by the kids’ screams, turned and fled. Old Man Basil, overseeing the bonfire, fired a load of rock salt and hit The Great Wilhelm in the back. “They said you could hear Wilhelm scream from the other end of the valley!”

Sheriff, telling of the clowns who survived a train derailment to wander into a kids' campout: 'As the clowns turned tail and ran, Old Man Basil loaded his shotgun with rock salt and fired off one good shot! They said you could hear Wilhelm scream from the other side of the valley!
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 6th of March, 2018. I mean, this is the Sheriff telling a tall tale, right? Because otherwise I’m stuck on why all the clowns were dressed and in makeup when they were just hanging out in the bar car while in transit. Which is a dumb thing to get hung up on, but I’m not sure I’m feeling merry about a guy who’s at least 80 years old — he’d been a clown at least 65 years — getting shot even if it is by rock salt at a distance.

Okay. So. First. I’m not afraid of clowns. Not in the slightest. I don’t get what is supposed to be frightening about clowns. I think the pop culture default assumption that of course clowns are evil terrifying monsters who have to be stamped out of society is a sickness. I’ll grant there are people afraid of clowns, but, I mean, there are people afraid of any living matter that has lots of holes in it, like some kinds of fungus have. We don’t grant that phobia a privileged place in society and tell each other that of course the phobia is correct. “But wait,” people trying to talk me into fearing clowns say. “What about the clown from It? Aren’t you scared of that clown?”

I’ve never read It, nor seen the movie. But as I understand it, the clown from It is an unstoppable supernatural monster dragging people to a horrible death. The scary thing there is “unstoppable supernatural monster dragging people to a horrible death”. That he manifests as a clown doesn’t enter into it. I would not feel less menaced if the unstoppable supernatural monster dragging people to a horrible death were a freelance insurance-claims investigator.

Second. Wilhelm Scream? As in the scream that I guess is in every movie nerds like. James Allen put into Mark Trail a nerd-culture riff like that? And I didn’t notice? Even though he quite fairly set it up and underlined it several times, talking about The Great Wilhelm who “just screamed a lot”. And I didn’t notice. Well, fair enough. I’ve never noticed the Wilhelm Scream sound effect even though it’s apparently in every movie I’ve watched more than three times, including the Marx Brothers’ Monkey Business and Mister Bug Goes To Town. (Don’t @ me. I’ve listened to the scream in isolation, and I’ve listened to scenes with it in. I’ve learned that it turns out I just don’t care.) I’m not sure how I feel about Mark Trail making nerd culture jokes. But he put in a good one, and did it well, laying out the setup where anyone could see and trusting people wouldn’t notice.

Anyway. Back to the story. Mark and Dusty go looking for animals. There’s the ground rumbling. Mark says “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” and I see what he did there. It’s an elephant. Mark gets to the tranquilizer gun and knocks out the elephant before anybody can come to particular harm.

Then a new, bearded, bald guy comes in. In Mark Trail tradition this signals that we’ve finally met the villain. But no: he’s Marlin Creed from the Eden Gardens Zoo. There is no villain in this piece. He and his assistant Jim are here to help trap the animals and to ask if you get the reference there. Well? Do you? BETTER SAY YES! (2 points to the first person who gets what my reference there is. That person will be Roymark Kassinger.). (5 points to the first person who figures out what I’m referencing with this points-to-the-first-person-who stuff.)

Rhinoceros knocking over a tiger while Marlin looks on.
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 29th of March, 2018. Maybe the rhinoceros and the tiger had a simmering dispute for months, even years, and it finally flared up after the train accident?

With the arrival of Marlin and Jim, and the news that the circus people are getting organized again, the story looks like it’s finally ended. Mark mentions he’s going to have a vacation in Mexico soon. And then it turns out there’s a ruckus off-screen. There’s a tiger fighting a rhinoceros, because hey, how often do you get to justify having a tiger fight a rhinoceros? I mean outside March Mammal Madness? (I have not forgotten #Unsettlegate. Don’t ask what this is all about. You’re better off not knowing.)

Marlin, in the jeep, chasing the rhinoceros: 'Yeeee-haww! This reminds me of the days when Jim and I were on that television show!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 3rd of April, 2018. I refuse to consider the possibility that the “Yeee-haww!” is a Dukes of Hazard reference. Just. No.

The tiger runs off in one direction, the rhino in another. Mark, Marlin, and Jim chase the rhino in a cool zebra-striped jeep. Meanwhile Joel Robinson in the corner of the screen whispers out, “Daktari”. After the Wilhelm Scream thing I’m not getting nerd-snookered again. Marlin sends Jim out to annoy the rhino with a stick. Mark asks “is that safe?” Marlin says “No.” Like in the jokes about Wild America made back when we made jokes about Marlin and Jim and Wild America. The rhino is successfully annoyed and smashes the jeep. But Mark’s able to shoot him with a tranquilizer dart.

With the 14th of April this story is officially closed. We’re told the circus has recovered all their missing animals. This includes “Twinkles, the flaming-log-juggling hippo”. I assume this is a reference to something and I’m waiting to see what it is in Dick Tracy.

Mark, with the rifle and tranquilizer dart, thinking: 'If that rhino comes out from behind that jeep, I can get a clear shot at him! I hope Marlin is okay --- ah! There's the beast!' (POW! as the gun fires.) Mark, thinking: 'That should do it!' The rhinoceros snorts over the wreck of the jeep.
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 10th of April, 2018. Also while it is exciting action I’m not sure how I feel about Mark Trail shooting two large animals within a month of reader time. Yes, yes, it’s tranquilizer darts. But tranquilizer darts aren’t phasers set on stun. I grant there might not be any sensible alternative, but there’s some real risk here that I feel gets treated lightly.

The 16th of April starts what might be the current story. It’s in the Bahamas where Dirty Dyer has been lounging on the beach and scaring resort guests with his knife-throwing practice. Also shooting off guns. Also reading Weapons For Dummies, Calvin and Hobbes, and To Serve Man. Dyer glad-handles the guy sent to report on how he’s alarming the guests into becoming his assistant.

I say this might be the current story. We’ve seen one or two-week interludes with Dirty Dyer before. James Allen is letting this story simmer. I don’t know whether Mark Trail is going to encounter Dirty Dyer yet.

So the 26th of April starts what is unambiguously the current story. The Trails are flying to Mexico. Rusty has an honestly endearing moment where he’s amazed at the size of the airport. “We’re only going to Mexico — I didn’t think we’d need an airport this big!” I sincerely like the kid-logic that how far you’re going should affect the size of the airport you go to. It’s even got enough bits of truth to it to make sense. Rusty Trail comes in for a lot of jokes about being a terrifying homunculus. I’m glad to see him being a normal-ish child.

Not much has happened here yet. While taking off Cherry Trail mentions a couple stories back where the island Mark was on exploded under a volcano. And Mark talks a bit about where they’re going. It’s called the Azyoulik, an ecoresort near Tulum. And right near the town of Santa Poco. Get it?

Yeah, me neither. Mark explains, “Interestingly enough, Santa Poco was saved from bandits in the silent movie era by three American cowboy actors!” So I do thank James Allen for explaining he was making a Three Amigos reference. Rusty’s already wandered off to meet someone named Mara, whose family is also going to Tulum. And that’s where we are as of Saturday.

So all in all, I don’t know why Mark Trail is making so many nerd movie jokes lately. I think Allen’s just having fun with the strip’s hip-because-square reputation.

Sunday Animals Watch

What bits of nature have been showcased on Sundays recently? These have been:

  • Sea Turtles, 11 February 2018. Really, really endangered.
  • Bougainvillea, 18 February 2018. Not endangered except by spelling bee contestants who’ve just been knocked out.
  • Prairies Dogs and Black-Footed Ferrets, 25 February 2018. Finally. The Black-Footed Ferrets are incredibly endangered. Prairie Dogs are making a comeback.
  • Spiders and Great Heights, 4 March 2018. While public-speaking on an airplane naked in front of the House Centipede convention.
  • Blue Tarantulas, 11 March 2018. Freshly-discovered and so very popular so we’re going to destroy it any day now.
  • Rhesus Macaque Monkeys on this island near Puerto Rico, 18 March 2018. They survived Hurricane Maria and the future disgraced former president hasn’t ordered their gizzards drilled for coal yet!
  • Black-Footed [wild] Cat of southwest Africa, 25 March 2018. Really, really endangered.
  • Feral Pigs, 1 April 2018. Endangering you. Seriously. That bit at the start of The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy falls in the pig pen and the Cowardly Lion’s farmhand’sona rescues her? That’s showing off his bravery. The movie thought that part out.
  • Tiger Sharks, 8 April 2018. ThunderCats, but for sea life, why wouldn’t this be a hit? Because it didn’t make sense even by the standards of the SilverHawks universe is why. I mean, when your show would have been less baffling if you didn’t include the pilot episode laying out how everybody came to be Tiger Sharks and what their powers and all were you have world-building problems.
  • Chameleons, 15 April 2018. All my attempts to learn about how their faces fluoresce were obliterated by noticing Mark Trail calling them “squamates” and I have to sit and stare at that word for a long while even though (a) I know full well it’s a legitimate way to refer to them and (b) I knew the root word “squamous” before Mark Trail got onto it so there.
  • Marbled Crayfish, 22 April 2018. You know, those crayfish that are doing way better since they stopped dealing with the males of the species.
  • Orange Crocodiles, 29 April 2018. Probably Just About Dead.
  • Harris’s Hawks, 6 May 2018. Not endangered yet, but just you wait.

Next Week!

Muffins. What are they, and what became of them? Can you put mayonnaise on a muffin? Come back in a week and I’ll share the weird message of existential despair from the car place down the block.

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? Does Anyone Know What’s Happend To Jim Scancarelli? February – April 2018.


I don’t know what’s going on with Jim Scancarelli and don’t know anyone who does, but we may know in two weeks and two days. I say this for people who want to know what’s the deal with Gasoline Alley but aren’t willing to read more than the preview text of this article. If I get any news, though, I’ll post an article that you can find at this link. Also, if you want a summary of the plot that’s relevant for later than about the 16th of May, 2018, it’ll be there if I’ve written one.

Also, on my mathematics blog I review the week’s comic strips for mathematics stuff they make me think about. Also I should go write that essay. Just a second.

Gasoline Alley.

February – April 2018.

Two questions are on the mind of everyone who knows that Gasoline Alley is still a comic strip and that it’s written and drawn by Jim Scancarelli. First: is it still a comic strip? Second: what’s happened to Jim Scancarelli? Since early November, and a major revelation in the story of Rufus’s courting of the Widow Emma Sue and Scruffy’s Mother, the strip has been reruns.

I’ve heard nothing. I’ve encountered nobody who knows who’s said anything. I hope that Scancarelli’s well. The centennial of the comic strip is this November. There would be something terrible in cutting down a comic strip so close to that milestone. And for Scancarelli not to draw the strip for that milestone would be cruel.

An old Atwater-Kent radio with wooden panels and a delightful dial and Art Deco styling for the panels and the speaker covering.
Gasoline Alley cartoonist Jim Scancarelli, born 1941, seen at the Pinball At The Zoo exposition in Kalamazoo, Michigan the 21st of April, 2018.

And yes, Gasoline Alley is an old-fashioned strip. Some of this is Scancarelli’s personal interests. He has old-fashioned interests. He’s an old-time-radio enthusiast. Or he makes way more references to Frank Nelson than average for a person in 2018. He also has a lot of riffs on Bob and Ray, but any reasonable person might do that. But some of this is also built into the structure of the comic. Gasoline Alley is that now-rare creature, the serialized comedy strip. Serialized comedies, in which there’s a long-running story but (pretty much) every installment is meant to be funny, used to be common. The style has fallen out of fashion; the last important serial comedy in the comics page that I can think of is Walt Kelly’s Pogo. Crockett Johnson’s Barnaby is also a great serialized comedy, and has recently got collected into some handsome books. Oh, yes, Popeye was serialized and mostly comedic. But that’s been in reruns ever since Bobby London did a three-week sequence in 1992 that made people aware Popeye was still running in 1992.

There are plenty of comic strips that blend comedy and drama, or try to. The standard model for this is to pick a storyline for the week and do riffs on that, and then (usually) pick up a new storyline the next week. You saw this in Doonesbury. It’s still like that in Funky Winkerbean or Luann. It’s not much different from comic strips that don’t try to advance narratives, which will often do a week’s worth of riffs on a premise and then pick up a new one.

Gasoline Alley runs a storyline until it’s resolved, regardless of how many weeks that takes and whether it finishes midweek or not. That’s almost unique among syndicated comics. The only other humor strip I can think of doing this is Bill Holbrook’s Safe Havens. That strip began as the antics of a bunch of kids at the same daycare. Holbrook allowed them to age in roughly realtime and grow up. The comic strip, having picked up a few new cast members (a pop star, a mermaid, a time-travelling babysitter, the genetically-engineered revival of the dodo birds, an infant Leonardo da Vinci) has sent everyone off to explore Mars. It’s a bit of an odd strip when you stop and think about it. I’ve considered whether to start recapping its storyline in my rotation here.

Anyway, I don’t like institutions passing from the scene. I say this the weekend that my neighborhood is losing the Fish and Chips. It used to be an Arthur Treacher’s until the franchise shrank out of the area. They ripped the name ‘Arthur Treacher’ off the signage and carried on like before. Whether the lost institution is the serialized comedy genre or merely this one comic strip doesn’t make much difference. Oh, gosh, and now I realize I don’t know when I last went to the Kewpie Restaurant, and yes it’s a burger place based on Kewpie dolls. If that closes we might as well shut the whole city down.

(Yes, I’m aware web cartoonists do great work in serialized comedy stories, except that no web cartoonist has ever finished a serialized comedy story. Um. Hi, my friends who are web cartoonists. I say hurtful things out of love because we’re all friends? Besides, most comedy web strips do finish their first long-form story, and their second. It’s the third that doesn’t make it.)


And yet there are signs that someone is at work at Gasoline Alley Master Command. The first ambiguous sign was the 14th of February, and a panel celebrating the birth of Skeezix. His discovery on Walt Wallet’s doorstep made Gasoline Alley, as he aged in roughly real-time and his story made the comic must-read stuff. The strip copyright was 2018. But there wasn’t anything to it that couldn’t be a modified reprint from an earlier birthday.

Chef Meworice: 'Allo! Allo! Chef Meowrice here! What aire you 3 Blind Miceketeers going to sing?' Miceketeers: 'A tribute to Gasoline Alley's up-coming 100th anniversary!' Meowrice: 'So this song is dedicated to Gasoline Alley's centennial? Letter go, boys!' Miceketeers: o/` Well, a hundred years from now we won't be cry-ing! A hundred years from now we won't be blue! Chef Meowrice's cat food is freeze-dried through and through! So cats can eat it up -- a hundred years from now! o/` Joel, watching on TV: 'Rufus! What's that got to do with Gasoline Alley's centennial?' Rufus: 'Dogged if I know!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 25th of February, 2018. Yes, it is a baffling song to go along with this, but that’s because you underestimate Jim Scancarelli’s craft. Trust me.

The stronger sign was an exciting Sunday, the 25th of February. It’s a musical number from the Three Blind Miceketeers. It’s a running thing; the singing trio of mice do old-time-radio/50s-live-TV style advertisements for Chef Meowrice’s Cat Chow. Yes, Chef Meowrice is a white cat in a chef’s hat. Anyway, this is a song dedicated to Gasoline Alley’s centennial. Signed by Scancarelli. Looks like his line art, to my (I grant) inexpert eye. I wondered if it were a reprint from an earlier anniversary, the 90th or 95th or 85th or so, but couldn’t find it. It seemed to be a new comic. Hopeful sign that Scancarelli might be back once the ongoing daily-comics story reached its end.

And last Sunday, the 22nd of April, was another new comic. This with a logo for the comic strip’s centennial, and a song to go with it. It’s presented as a musical performance by the Molehill Highlanders. One of the GoComics commenters said the Molehill Highlanders are a band Scancarelli was in. I can’t find corroboration for that, but the mention, and the more-realistic drawing of the Highlanders, make this sound plausible to me. Also according to Wikipedia, Jim Scancarelli is a well-known bluegrass fiddler. And a onetime prizewinner for the Old Fiddler’s Convention in Galax, Virginia. He’s also a model railroader. The only thing that would make this bundle of facts about him less surprising would be to discover he has a ham radio license.

Rufus: 'Howdy, folks! We're th'Molehill Highlanders an' we're gonna sing a tribute t'Gasoline Alley's upcoming 100th anniversary!' Rufus: o/` Well, a hundred years from now we won't be cry-ing! A hundred years from now we won't be blue! Chef Meowrice's cat food is freeze-dried through and through! So cats can eat it up -- a hundred years from now! o/` Guy in Audience stands up: 'Hey! What's that got to do with Gasoline Alley's centennial?' Rufus: 'Dogged if I know! We learned it off a Chef Meowrice cat food commercial!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 22nd of April, 2018. See? Check those publication dates. I admire a cartoonist who’s willing to let two months go between the setup and the punch line. I choose to believe that was on purpose rather than that he meant it to run the next Sunday and wasn’t able to finish the strip for some reason.

And there was this jolt a week ago Tuesday. The cook, T-Bone, complained about the incompetent dishwashers Corky’s hired. He asks, “Why not do your presidential imitation and say his famous phrase?” When the strip ran the 19th of April, 2007, the future disgraced former president was identified by name. Why the change? Haven’t the faintest. I don’t see what improvement they were trying to make by editing T-Bone’s word balloon.

The Sunday strips are new work. The modified daily strip implies that someone is at least reading the comics before sending them out for reprinting. So the comic isn’t wholly on automatic pilot. Will Scancarelli get back to writing the strip soon? I don’t know.

But: if the storyline from 2007 continues reprinting each strip, without insertions or omissions, then it’ll wrap up the 14th of May, 2018. This would be a natural time for Scancarelli to resume the strip. That’s not to say he will. If he’s had some problem keeping him from working, then making new Sunday strips while recuperating, or finding help, would make sense. There are plenty of reruns that could fill the daily strips. I am interested in what we’ll see the 15th of May.

(I’ve also wondered if GoComics is going to start running Gasoline Alley Classics, showing the strip from decades ago on purpose. I understand if they don’t want to run the strip from the 1918 start. Strips from that long ago take a lot of restoration and curation to publish. And then it always turns out there’s some impossibly racist figure in a small, unavoidable part. But from, say, World War II? From the 60s or 70s? It would let people better appreciate the comic strip as it was read at the time.)


Oh yes, so, the story. When I left off Senator Wilmer Bobble was evicting Corky from his diner, the better to build a ten-story parking garage. Everyone’s heartbroken at the loss of the institution and has a teary Last Day of Business.

While tearing out a countertop, Suds discovers an envelope with … The Lost Deed To Corky’s Diner. Pert Bobble, before his death, had deeded the diner and its land over to Corky. And so Wilmer Bobble was not the land owner and had no right to evict Corky. With the bulldozer at the front door Corky rushes to a lawyer to figure out whether this long(?)-lost deed is valid.

Guy on bulldozer: 'Hey! Take your time in there! I'm on the clock out here!' Wilmer Bobble, with the sheriff, staring down T-Bone and Suds inside the diner: 'These scoundrels are impeding progress! Sheriff! Do your duty!' Corky, rushing in with a sheet of paper: 'Not so fast!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 6th of March, 2018. I don’t know whether the bulldozer guy is supposed to be sarcastic here. I choose to take it as he’s sincerely telling everyone to take their time. It fits the sort of cartoon-existentialist mode you get in minor characters from sitcoms and cartoons of the 50s and 60s.

Now, um. I can imagine circumstances in which this might ever hold up. They amount to: you live in the world of an old-time radio sitcom. Or a sitcom from the 50s or 60s. It happens Jim Scancarelli’s characters pretty much do. It’s an old-fashioned sort of storyline resolution. If you accept the conventions of the genre then this is an acceptable way to save Corky’s Diner. If you don’t, well, then the story’s lost on you. Sorry for you, but it’s good news for the oatmeal shortage. I don’t know what to call this genre. But there is a kind of story this is an example of. And this resolution works for this kind of story.

(Okay, I can imagine another way this could work. The first element is if Pert transferred over the deed recently so that the place isn’t too far in arrears on property taxes. Or if in a fit of generosity he paid the property taxes anyway. The second if is Pert died recently enough that his estate’s still settling. I don’t see offhand a reference to when Pert died, or when the new deed was written. So there’s a possible thread by which this resolution could kind of work. If you need to have that instead.)

Bobble tries to bribe the sheriff into ignoring the deed, and that doesn’t go over well. The sheriff concludes Corky has a good title to the diner and the land it’s on. Not sure that’s the sheriff’s job. But someone has to tell the bulldozer driver what to do. They run Senator Bobble out of town and have a merry reopening.

And then the past month’s story, roughly: Suds, the dishwasher, is missing. After a couple of spot-joke interviews Corky hires a pair of young women, Joy and Dawn. They giggle a lot. They’re overwhelmed by the number of dishes. Also they’re kind of dumb. There’s a couple sitcom-class fiascos. Mostly broken dishes. Also putting enough soap in the dishwashing machine to cause a 50s/60s-sitcom-style mountain of suds.

Joy and Dawn in a kitchen overflowing with bubbles: 'The dishwasher's gone nuts! Giggle! It's belching out nothin' but suds!' Suds pokes his head up through the foam: 'Shumbuddy menshun my name?'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 4th of April, 2018. I am glad there’s a comic strip writing in the old-fashioned-sitcom genre. I know that I sound sarcastic here. I don’t know how to help that. But while I wouldn’t want everything to be in that genre, I’m glad some things are.

And this brings Suds back into the picture. He got “shick” after “shellebratin’ Corky gettin’ t’own th’diner” and you get the picture. So Joy and Dawn are incompetent, but Suds is unreliable and only intermittently competent. Who keeps the dishwashing job? This turns into a contest to see who can clean the most dishes. Joy and Dawn using the dishwashing machine, or Suds by himself using sink and scrub brush? Who! Will! Win? That’s where the story stands as of the 28th of April.

It’s got two weeks more to play out. If you are aware of the genre Scancarelli writes in you have a fair guess how this is going to play out. But if you want to know before mid-May, I’ll not stand in your way. I would like to know what’s happening after that, myself.

Next Week!

Will Mark Trail die at the hands of Dirty Dyer? Will he die at the airport when a vehicle of some kind explodes from under him? Will he die at the hands of a flock of inadequately counted prairie dogs? There’s no telling, not until next Sunday when I look at what’s going in in James Allen’s Mark Trail.

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? Will the Green Hornet Remain At Large? January – April 2018.


Oh, all kinds of things are going on in Joe Staton and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy. (Also, Shelley Pleger and Shane Fisher routinely work on the Sunday strips. I’m not sure how often they work on daily strips. I want to be fair about crediting the people who make the comic but I don’t always know.) This is my best attempt at bringing you up to speed for mid-April 2018. If it’s a lot later than that, try at or near the top of this page. If I have later-written summaries they should be up there.

Over here should be my latest discussion of mathematically-themed comic strips, if you like those too. I do, and that one’s my blog.

Dick Tracy.

28 January – 21 April 2018.

Back in late January, Dick Tracy and the Major Crime Unit were arresting Mister Bribery. The crime boss himself was going mad after his meeting with the former Governor of the Moon. The Lunarians had abandoned their city in the no-longer-habitable valley on the moon and gone into hiding … elsewhere. The Moon Governor himself was just poking around to figure out the deal with Honey Moon Tracy and the surgically-created Second Moon Maid, Mysta Chimera. Can’t exactly blame him for not taking all this well.

In the forest Preserve, during a snowstorm. Honey Moon, thinking: 'My wrist wizard is showing a life sign not far from here!' She shouts, 'CRYSTAL! Dad! I've found her!' Crystal Ugly: 'M-Moon girl?' Honey Moon, cradling her: 'Here, take my jacket. I don't feel the cold.' Crystal: 'C-Can't w-walk. F-freezing.' Honey Moon: 'Don't worry, Crystal. My Dad's coming.' (Thinking) 'Hurry, Dad! She needs to get warm. Fast!'
Joe Staton and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy for the 4th of February, 2018. If Honey Moon doesn’t feel the cold, why does she need a jacket? … Well, I saw commenters snarking about that when the strip was first published. Me, I figured it was Honey Moon saying something assuring so that she could cover up Crystal Ugly without Crystal feeling guilty. And it may be more than that: later in this sequence Honey Moon manages to generate a little circle of heat, enough to melt the snow around them. So this may be presaging Honey Moon developing new Lunarian super-powers. Introducing it in a low-key way that doesn’t seem like anything more than a friend accepting (possibly dangerous) discomfort to help another.

Sawtooth, hired by Mister Bribery to kill Dick Tracy in a slow and painful manner, skips town. Tracy wasn’t killed slowly nor painfully. Lee Ebony breaks her months-long cover as bodyguard T-Bone to arrest Bribery. Meanwhile Honey Moon rescues Crystal Ugly, Bribery’s niece and a new friend, from where she’d fled in the snow. All seems settled. The 11th of February there’s a coda about the Moon Governor meeting Diet Smith and Honey Moon Tracy. And about Lee Ebony going on vacation.

And that starts the next big plot, the one that’s dominated the last several months. It’s at Pepper’s, a popular restaurant apparently unrelated to the setting of the ended Tina’s Grove comic strip. Billionaire Simon Stagg — whom commenters identified as someone from DC Comics that I don’t know about — has a briefcase full of cash to buy Pepper’s restaurant. But Pepper declares he’s got no intention of selling. He’s poisoned the billionaire, after establishing that Stagg had eaten fugu earlier in the day. The coroner thinks it’s blowfish toxin, accidental poisoning. But the mayor has doubts, and calls Dick Tracy in from his fishing vacation with Popeye and Alice the Goon.

Ghost Pepper: 'You had blowfish for lunch, didn't you, Simon?' Simon Stagg: 'H-how did you know?' Pepper: 'One of my chefs prepared it.' Stagg, poisoned: 'H-he didn't!' Pepper: 'You're right, he didn't. Your fugu was safe. *I* prepared your *dinner* myself. There's no antidote for my 'secret ingredient', so relax, Simon, and enjoy the trip.' (Stagg falls forward, dead.)
Joe Staton and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy for the 17th of February, 2018. I confess I don’t understand the appeal of fugu. I grant I’m a low-risk thrills person; my most dangerous pastime is riding roller coasters, which just isn’t dangerous. But exactly how awesomely good would fugu have to taste for that to be worth the risk of death? Especially when, based on the story comics and crime or mystery shows I’d see when my mother has control of the TV, eating fugu gives you a roughly one-in-one chance of dying from it? And again, I grant I don’t have a sophisticated palette. I once managed to eat half a Reuben sandwich before realizing I didn’t order a Reuben. I’m content with a Taco Bell cheesey potato burrito. But still, fugu seems like a needlessly dangerous lunch. I don’t understand it.

Tracy goes to Pepper’s with just a few questions, and Pepper allays them by chasing him off the property, the way innocent people with nothing to hide do. Tracy returns, hoping to talk with the chefs while Pepper’s caters a political dinner at the Winrock Mansion. One of the cooks offers that he can talk, if Tracy will meet him outside, away from witnesses, over by Ambush Rock. Tracy’s good for it, and the cook’s good for clobbering him with a bowling pin, like he was in a George McManus cartoon.

Pepper takes Tracy’s own handcuff and hooks him up to his trailer hitch. This raises several questions, like: wait, would a handcuff actually keep someone on a trailer hitch for a twenty-mile ride by country road? I’m never confident those things are secure with actual proper hitches and it sure looks like the handcuff should pop right off the first good bump in the road. The second question: wait, so Pepper figures he’ll get away with murdering Stagg if the city’s most famous detective, whom the Mayor and the Major Crimes Unit know is investigating Pepper, goes missing and maybe turns up dead? (Although, in fairness, it was barely two months since the last time Dick Tracy was abducted and left for dead so maybe his murder would be lost under a buffet of suspects.) Third question: what does Pepper hope to gain from killing Tracy instead of, like, actually hearing any of his questions?

Despite the high speeds Tracy’s able to call Sam Catchem. And to get his handcuff key, maybe to get free. Before he can, Pepper has to stop short, avoiding a deer in the road. Tracy gets free and shoots out the truck’s tire before Pepper can run him over. Pepper’s truck crashes down the ravine, and the restauranteur makes his escape before Tracy can follow.

[ Ghost Pepper stops for a deer in the road, and Tracy gets loose. ] Pepper: 'I better check on Tracy. ... Uh-oh!' (Looking out of the truck.) Dick Tracy: 'PEPPER! YOU'RE UNDER ARREST!' Pepper: 'I'll run him over!' [ Starts the truck in reverse, aiming at Tracy. Tracy takes his snub-nose gun and shoots! ]
Joe Staton and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy for the 11th of March, 2018. That’s some really well-composed scenes, and great action. It’s just that I’m still stuck on how that handcuff stayed on that trailer hitch for miles(?) of travel on country roads.

Pepper finds a hideout with Phishface, who — reluctantly — sets Pepper and his fugu chef up in an unused part of the city aquarium. That’s good for almost days before, fleeing staff, Pepper falls into the tank hosting the new Portuguese Man-of-War. And so, the poisoner himself dies with appropriate dramatic irony but not the particular involvement of Dick Tracy, who was busy arresting the fugu chef.

And this highlights a bunch of other questions. First: wait, what the heck? Second, like, what did Pepper hope to gain from killing Stagg in the first place? Simon Stagg’s money seems like a good enough motive, and (on the 28th of March) the fugu chef does think he’s making off with Stagg’s briefcase full of cash. But it seems weird to kill a guy for money he was going to give you in an actual legal and above-board transaction. I guess keeping the money and the restaurant is good, but, sheesh, having a restaurant grow successful enough to be worth selling out is winning the lottery. What more does he want? Third, so, the final toxicology report (delivered the 22nd of March) is that Stagg died of blowfish toxin. I take it this is meant to signify that Pepper got away with it, killing Stagg in a way that looked like it was an unrelated accident.

In which case, yeah, Pepper committed a perfect crime and undid it by kicking Dick Tracy until the super-detective got curious. This isn’t by itself a problem. People committing crimes they aren’t actually smart enough to succeed in can make for great storytelling. Elmore Leonard, the 2016 Electoral College, the Coen Brothers, and the Florida Man Twitter feed make compelling material out of this. And Tracy (on the 31st of March) says he hasn’t met any smart criminals yet. All right, but if the point is that Pepper piddled away his chance to get away with killing a rich man for money, I’d like that made clearer. Tracy didn’t even ask Pepper any specific questions; why was he panicked already?

One of the hallmarks of the Staton/Curtis era of Dick Tracy has been rapid, relentless pacing. And that’s great; story strips don’t need to be lethargic, much as they seem to be trying to be. But they do fall into a counterbalancing failure, where the plot logic and the motivations behind things are unclear or just baffling. I have no idea why Pepper figured “try and kill Dick Tracy” was the sensible thing to do after killing Stagg. I’d like it if I did.

The 1st of April started another weeklong “Minit Mysteries” segment. This was illustrated by John Lucas. The mystery was the murder of George Reeds, actor and star of the Ultraman TV series. That runs through the 8th of April; please, enjoy working out the puzzle if you like.

The new, and current, storyline started the 9th of April. Britt Reid, publisher of the Central City Daily Sentinel, is in town, poking around organized crime. This has attracted the interest of old-time radio fans, because yes, it’s a crossover. Britt Reid was known for years on radio, and for about one season on TV in the 60s, and for about 45 minutes in the movies in like 2011, as the Green Hornet. Reid’s gimmick, then and now, was to pose as a respectable newspaper publisher — so you see how far back this schtick goes — pursuing the super-villain the Green Hornet. But the Green Hornet is himself Reid, using the reputation of being a super-villain to infiltrate and break up actual crime rings.

This is unrelated, but, there was a little bit on one of Bob Newhart’s albums where he thought about the TV show I Led Three Lives. This show was about one Herb Philbrick, who was a communist for the FBI. Not from the show I Was A Communist For The FBI. Newhart opined that he wished, just one, in one of the Communist cell meetings that someone should have stood up and said, “Say, has, ah … has anyone else ever noticed, uh, whenever we assign Philbrick to anything, we all get arrested?” I’m not one to spoil a good golden-age-of-radio gimmick, but, like, the original Plastic-Man was only able to use this same approach about four issues before the mobsters caught on that Plastic-Man’s secret gangster identity was bad luck.

Anyway, Britt Reid and Dick Tracy meet, to review what they know: Central City mobster Cyrus Topper is trying to hook up with the Apparatus, the organized crime syndicate in Tracy’s town. The Green Hornet seems to be following. Tracy’s sure that Topper and the Hornet will get justly deserted. No, neither one of them knows what’s happened to Jim Scancarelli. You’d think he’d be all over this meeting of former Golden Age of Radio crime-detection superstars. And that’s about where things stand.

There’s only a few threads left loose from the last couple months’ stories. One is Matty Squared, the artificial intelligence/uploaded semi-personality of Mister Bribery’s former accountant. He was last seen the 10th of February, planning to head to “the server farms down south”. His companion: a mouse named Ignatz that’s got to be the oddest Krazy Kat reference in a long while.

It’s never said what the Moon Governor talked about with Diet Smith, Honey Moon Tracy, and Mysta Chimera. The Moon Governor himself emerged from the Lunarians’ secret hideout (somewhere on Earth) to investigate telepathic signals. Mysta? Honey Moon? Someone else? It hasn’t been said explicitly so anything might be yet entered into evidence. And no, I haven’t forgot that someone’s trying to scare B O Plenty and family out of their estate by making ghost noises.

A thread that hasn’t been brought up, and might never be: Britt Reid was, canonically, the grand-nephew (or something like that) of the Lone Ranger. The characters have been owned by separate companies since the 50s, so allusions to this have to be more deniable or involve more negotiation ahead of time. But the comic strip did show Vitamin Flintheart and Joe Tracy watching a Vista Bill movie. I think that’s made up for the in-universe continuity. But a western hero with the wonder horse Comet crying out “Fly, Comet! And Awaaay!” is reminding people of something. Merely for world-building? Perhaps, and plausibly so. For something more? Goodness knows.

Next Week!

What’s going on in Gasoline Alley? There’s evidence that at least someone is there as reruns go into their sixth month. What’s going on with Jim Scancarelli? I haven’t heard anything today. But a whole week from now? Maybe that will have changed. Come on around and let’s see what we might find out.

What The Heck Is Going On With The Grizzwells?


Uhm … so far as I know nothing of note is going on with Bill Schorr’s comic strip The Grizzwells. It seems to be just fine. Haven’t heard anything about it being cancelled or changing syndicates or anything. Haven’t heard anything about it changing artist or writer. Nor about it changing the premise any. It’s just I’ve learned that I get a lot of readers who want to know what’s going on with some comic strip or other. So, yeah, I’m weak. I like the strips where the rabbit turns up. He’s named Warren, which seems like it ought to be inevitable. The porcupine is named Pierpoint, which is kind of inevitable but not so much so as to stand out.

Gunther, talking to his porcupine friend Pierpoint: 'Lately Flora's been having a big problem with her memory. She never forgets every time I make a stupid offer to help around our treehouse.'
Bill Schorr’s The Grizzwells for the 18th of April, 2018. Conan O’Brien’s birthday, a fact which explains everything, doesn’t it?

But yeah, it’s just carrying on like normal like it’s been since … wait, since 1987? Really? This thing’s been going on since like Star Trek: The Next Generation was new and we were telling ourselves no, this Ferengi episode really was as good as we needed it to believe it was? Huh. Oh, and before The Grizzwells, Bill Schorr did a comic strip about a frog who fools the locals into thinking he’s an enchanted prince. I like that premise but I can also see why it didn’t quite last four years in syndication. Ah well. Also wait, so Bill Schorr rates a page on Wikipedia, and the comic strip Conrad that ran from 1982 to 1986 rates a page on Wikipedia, but The Grizzwells, which has been running since the aliens trans-reversed Steve Dallas’s brain, doesn’t? The heck? You know?

What’s Going On In Prince Valiant? And Can Queens Solve Murders? January – April 2018


It’s always a good question what’s going on in Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant. I’m writing what’s my best explanation for as of mid-April 2018. If it’s later than about July 2018 for you, maybe look at or near the top of this page and there’ll be a more recent recap.

Also, if you like mathematics and comic strips I try to keep up with each week’s thematically appropriate comics, on the other blog. Do enjoy, I hope.

Prince Valiant.

21 January – 15 April 2018.

Last time you’ll recall, Prince Valiant, Karen, Vanni, and Bukota were sailing the rivers of what is now Uzbekistan on their way back home. They saw a raven, joking how it was a messenger for Karen’s mother Queen Aleta. So it was, and carried the report that the team was fine. So the next week their rafts came upon some rapids, in a sudden squall. This all smashed the rafts. The four climbed onto a ledge. And there we left them; we haven’t seen them since the 4th of February.

The story has instead moved to Queen Aleta of the Misty Isles. Which led me to realize the place was a Vaguely Roman territory. Here I have to confess: I only resumed reading Prince Valiant a couple years ago. And only started reading it seriously for these What’s Going On In series. I had always supposed that Valiant’s home base was England somewhere around the early Heptarchy. You know, the era when pop culture thinks we don’t know who ruled England or whether anybody did or if there even were people there. And I guess not; the Misty Isles are somewhere in the Mediterranean, says Wikipedia. Valiant himself was from Thule, off the coast of Norway. I think I kind of knew that.

Since the 11th of February the story has been Queen Aleta’s. It opens on murder: two servants of a noble house are dead, as is Ingolf, first mate of one of the Norse shipbuilders. The bodies are barely discovered before Senator Krios is at the market. He denounces the Queen’s refusal to protect the Misty Isles from violent, opportunistic foreigners. And cites the murder of two of the island’s natives by “one of [ her ] drunken Norse bullies”.

A suspicious Aleta turns to the CSIatorium. She observes the “precise, deep stab” under Ingolf’s ribs. And how he holds a strand of black hair tied by a gold ribbon. She sends her daughter Valeta out to ask into the Ingolf’s whereabouts. Aleta also asks Krios to explain his deal. He complains the growing trade partnerships put too much foreign influence into the homeland. He hopes to have trade confined to a single district, with foreigners excluded outside that area. He proposes the islet of Kythra. Aleta runs a check of the records. Krios has been buying up properties there, all right. But it’s a mystery how he’s doing it, as he’s deep in debt. But he’s leading a mob into the Senate to demand protection from foreign threats.

Aleta is suspicious as to the circumstances of the Norseman Ingolf's death; but she needs information, and so calls for her daughter. She gives Valeta instructions to speak with the sea captain Haraldr concerning any knowledge he might have of Ingolf's history of relations here in the isles. Then Aleta calls for Krios. The dangerously ambitious senator cannot deny a royal summons, and arrives with his two burly sons. Their effect is meant to intimidate, but Aleta ignores the display. ``Why, Krios, do you agitate against the outside world --- against our trade partners?'' Krios responds with little respect: ``Unlike your father, you have allowed far too much foreign influence into our homeland. We lose our culture and our economic independence through your negligence! I mean to see that the Senate creates a controlled district in the harbor, in which all trade will be conducted and beyond which all foreigners will not be allowed! This is for our people's welfare; and, as you have see, the people are with me!'' ``Now,'' thinks Aleta, ``I understand your true goal. You care not for the people! A secured harbor would give you control of all trade and distribution!''
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 4th of March, 2018. Yes, yes, I know that “trade negotiations” have a bad reputation in science fiction and fantasy readerships. I don’t care. I am also a micromanaging grand-strategy nerd who would, in all honesty, love a game that was all about running an efficient exchequer in a state with primordial, if any, bureaucracy and standing institutions. So if you’re edging around the developments that lead to the Cinque Ports I am there. So never, ever, ever put me in charge of designing games. Also, ask me about the time zone game concept sometime.

Meanwhile Valeta visits Haraldr, Ingolf’s captain and also her crush. Her rival Zulfa is there. That promises to add some needed awkwardness to the proceedings. Haraldr confirms Ingolf had a relationship with some woman of the Misty Isles, but not who. That’s all right. From the gold tie of the hair locks Valeta already suspected Krios’s daughter Andrina.

Valeta needs to confirm Andrina had something going on with Ingolf. Zulfa volunteers to bodyguard, under the pretext of being Valeta’s handmaiden. The confrontation goes well. Valeta pretends that she and Ingolf were very much in love. The jealous Andrina pulls out a dagger and attacks. Zulfa moves to stop her, but Andrina’s brother Antero rushes from the curtains and grabs her. Antero begs forgiveness for her “tortured mind”. Valeta says of course, and promises to speak no more of Ingolf. As Valeta leaves, Zulfa drops a flirty smile and a bracelet to Antero. He sends her a note, setting up a date.

Spurred by jealousy, Andrina lunges at Valeta. Suddenly, Antero, the crazed woman's brother, leaps into the room. ``Control yourself, you stupid little ... '' Unable to escape Antero's iron grip, Andrina eventually collapses, as if emotionally spent ``Forgive my sister,'' growls Antero. ``You know she has a tortured mind.'' Valeta has obtained what she wanted --- confirmation of a certain attachment between Andrina and the dead Ingolf. She backs from the room: ``The fault is mine --- I fear I unwittingly provoked her. Please tell her that I will speak no ore of ... Ingolf.'' Antero eyes Valeta suspiciously; but then Zulfa, still playing the handmaiden, does something unexpected: as she exits, she throws the son of Krios a bold, flirtatious smile and purposely loses her bracelet. Antero's attention is caught. Meanwhile, Aleta receives word on Krios's business dealings: ``You were correct, my Queen --- Krios has begun to acquire a great number of properties on Kythra ... but how he can do that is a mystery. The moneylenders tell me that Krios is hopelessly in debt!''
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 8th of April, 2018. It’s so hard to provoke a suspect into a violent action that proves his or her guilt, especially when there isn’t a troupe of actors in to perform The Murder of Gonzago. But we’ll make do.

And that’s the current situation. Krios is trying to lead a populist faction to close the Isles to foreigners and get himself out of debt. Ingolf was murdered. It seems by someone within Krios’s family. Also two islanders were killed. This may be to cover up that murder. Zulfa has some secret rendezvous with Ingolf’s girlfriend’s brother. Oh, and I bet Prince Valiant and all have managed to have an adventure, build a new raft, and get that one wrecked too. We’ll follow how things go.

Next Week!

Is it ever possible to summarize three months’ worth of Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy? That’s such a good question. I’ll give it a try. I’m going to be re-reading and making note for like four days straight. Spoiler: the plan to kill Dick Tracy didn’t work. But there is a Minit Mystery to ponder!