The Guy Who First Drew Beetle Bailey Had Seen Squirrels


Yes, it’s time for another installment in my sequence of mocking a successful cartoonist for not solving the problem of how to render animals using a style optimized for caricaturing humans. But we had a development this week, thanks to Comics Kingdom’s run of vintage Beetle Bailey strips from nearly 60 years ago:

Chaplain, outside his tent, setting bread on a feeder hanging from the trees: 'Something for my friends the birds.' He hands a bit of bread to a suspicious but interested squirrel. 'ALL the animals of the world are my friends.' We see him walking away from Sarge, shaving at a tree set up with a mirror nailed to it; he's put a piece of bread in the confused Sarge's hand.
Mort Walker’s Beetle Bailey for the 13th of August, 1964, reprinted the 1st of March, 2021. Also this past month I learned that Sergeant Snorkel’s look was based on an actual person Mort Walker trained under, First Sergeant Octavian N Savu, who apparently never knew anything about it himself. The Chaplain’s name is Stainglass, by the way. I have no information about the squirrel’s name or real-world inspiration.

So, yes, we can say that Mort Walker had seen squirrels in 1964.

What’s Going On In Rex Morgan, M.D.? Is it all about Buck getting diabetes? December 2020 – February 2021


The last three months? Yeah, it’s been all that story. In what I am sure is not Terry Beatty undermining me, this past Sunday’s strip summarized it all anyway. Well, if you’re reading this after about May 2021, or any news breaks out about Rex Morgan, M.D., I’ll have an essay at this link. Thanks for reading.

Rex Morgan, M.D..

6 December 2020 – 28 February 2021.

The current story was just a week old when I last checked in. Buck Wise, who has a job doing … something … with collectibles? … was feeling tired and thirsty. Like, a lot, even considering it was 2020. Still, Rex Morgan was opening his clinic for virtual visits. So even though he can’t point to any particular complaint, and has been losing weight, he gets a checkup.

Buck, over the video: 'I sorta slowed down on the exercise. And I'm always hungry --- emotional eating, I think.' Rex: 'And you've lost weight anyway?' Buck: 'Yeah. But that's good, right?' Rex: 'That depends. Are you thirsty more than usual?'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 17th of December, 2020. I do want to credit Beatty with the deft little touch that Buck and Rex look, on the laptop screens, awkward in the way that people do look awkward while video conferencing. It has to have demanded some restraint to not draw them at angles where you could pretend the screen was a comic strip panel. This is not me being snarky. By the time an artist is professional it takes conscious effort to draw so a figure is “wrong”.

Rex Morgan suspects a medical condition, but has Buck come in to his clinic anyway. The results of the blood draw: he’s got a crazy high blood glucose count, and needs a second screening. And to not finish the fries and triple-thick butterscotch malt he just got from the fast food place.

The second draw confirms Rex’s suspicion. Buck’s got type-two diabetes. They’ll start with oral medication, regular blood glucose checks, and diet changes. Buck comes into the clinic for a third time, to learn how to test his blood glucose levels. And on the way home gets one last bacon cheeseburger, fries, and triple-thick malt. Which, yeah, hard not to empathize.

Narration Box: 'Newly diagnosed as a diabetic, Buck breaks down and cheats on his diet.' Buck, slurping a malt and eating fries, thinks: 'Okay, I'll give all this up ... but after this one last time. Oh, man, this is SO good. I may still have to do a cheat day once in a while.' Narration: 'Not a good idea, Buck --- but some people have to learn their lessons the hard way.' Buck: 'So good!'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 1st of February, 2021. It’s rare in the story strips for the Narration Box to get so personally involved! It’s fun to see and makes a bit more out of what’s otherwise just a guy giving in to his appetites. As it happens, so far, he hasn’t had to learn anything the hard way, but Beatty’s been basically kind to the major characters and right now? In these times? I’ll take the kindness.

He feels lousy after the cheat on his diet. But he uses the stationary bike until his glucose numbers look not-awful again. He does confess to Mindy, his wife, who’s kind about not making him feel worse for the occasional backslide. (Yes, the “backslide” happened before anything else could, but I’m aware I wouldn’t do much better.) And she’s happy to find diabetic-friendly meals in a good variety.

So, yeah, that’s been the story. Buck’s learned he has diabetes and his family is positive and supportive. It’s not been much of a conflict and it did feel like a lot of the story was Buck going back in to the Morgan Clinic. But, you know, what else should happen?

Next Week!

It’s the other comic strip you’d expect to address Covid-19! But isn’t doing so. Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp gets its innings, even though it’s not yet softball season, if all goes well.

In Which I’m Upset About Comic Strips, Yes, Again


I mean to be sympathetic and kind toward comic strip artists, and especially the ones who do puzzle comics for kids. It’s hard to put in a puzzle worth pondering, in so little space, and when you can’t be sure what your readers can do. So it’s just impossible to hit them all, all the time. But the big puzzle this Sunday in Slylock Fox? The dry-cleaning problem? With the alligator taking a couple of capes in? I have issues. And, just to show that I’m trying to be fair to the cartoonist I’ll put my complaints behind a cut.

The puzzle: 'Slylock Fox and Super Cluck dropped off identical-looking capes for cleaning. Slylock stepped in after solving a cyber crime and Super Cluck arrived after rescuing occupants from a burning building. The clerk accidentally mixed up the capes. How were the proper owners determined?' Solution: 'Super Cluck was recently in a burning building. The cape that smells of smoke belongs to him.' In the six differences panel there's a drawing of a man in the background; in one, he has a slight mustache and in the other he does not.
Bob weber Jr’s Slylock Fox and Comics for Kids for the 28th of February, 2021. Also I haven’t before noticed Super Cluck in the Slylock Fox universe and I’m happy to suppose this is a SuperChicken reference and appreciate that.

Continue reading “In Which I’m Upset About Comic Strips, Yes, Again”

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Sundays)? Why is The Phantom talking about Emperor Joonkar so much? November 2020 – February 2021


The Phantom is using this story as a chance to reinforce the legend of his immortality. He’s using what he learned from The Phantom Chronicles to talk as though he were friends with an historical ruler of Bangalla.

This should catch you up on the Sunday continuity for Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for late February 2021. If you’re reading this after May 2021, or are interested in the weekday continuity, you may find an essay here more relevant. Not to be too much of a tease, but I may just have something to mention shortly. Also, over on my mathematics blog I write about things that aren’t comic strips. Most of the time. I do the occasional comic strip there, too.

The Phantom (Sundays).

29 November 2020 – 21 February 2021.

The Ghost Who Walks had rescued The Detective, a Bangallan police officer thought dead at the hands of a criminal syndicate. The Phantom sees this as a chance to bust up some gunrunners, sure. But also a chance to build his reputation. So he leans in, talking a great deal about The Detective’s many-times-great ancestor, the late 17th century Emperor Joonkar. And a friend of the 7th Phantom. Meanwhile, he prods The Detective into busting up the gang as it arrives at a warehouse.

Phantom and The Detective look at a minivan with 'Thugs Fated To Fall Next.' Phantom, whispering: 'Take out the driver. Leave his friend to me.' Detective, whispering: 'Hold on! My Bibi says you saved Joonkar from slavery. Tell me how!' Detective, thinking: 'This is the test! He won't know how Bibi tells the tale! That Joonkar was enslaved at sea, that he was made a gallery slave!' Phantom, moving in: 'We're wasting time; let's get to work.' Detective: 'I knew it! You're just a man! You haven't fought evil for centuries!' Phantom, with Detective's help, punches the thugs unconscious. Phantom, full voice: 'I hope your Bibi tells this one how it really happened. Your ancestor Joonkar was sold into bondage as a galley slave.' Detective: '!!'
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 6th of December, 2020. DePaul has used this story to tease at some inconsistencies in how the story of 7th Phantom encountered Emperor Joonkar has been told. That brings in a brilliant element of how much even what we-the-readers-see is legend based on what the “actual” events were. Like, did Lee Falk himself, transcribing from The Phantom Chronicles, make a mistake or alter things for dramatic effect? Still, the Ghost Who Walks is lucky the story passed through The Detective’s line didn’t mutate in a way inconsistent with what the Chronicles had.

The gang is, lucky for The Phantom and The Detective, coming in groups small enough for two guys and a wolf to knock out. And yeah, The Detective. It’s another story where people get addressed by title. When they get to the boss level, they’re able to just drive a truck into the warehouse and hold the bosses at gunpoint.

And, as a bonus, to give The Detective the chance to hit the bosses a lot. This is extrajudicial and all, yes. But they are the people who had The Detective locked in a cell below the water line, which so nearly drowned him. It can be called karmic justice, at least.

Phantom, as he and The Detective move in for the bosses, thinks 'Something tells me this round won't last long.' While fighting, Detective thinks: 'This man! Phantom! Ghost who walks! He set things right! These cowards used me for a punching bag ... dumped me in a hole in the ground ... left me for dead ... then comes a man straight out of jungle lore! A champion!' (They finish clobbering the bosses.) Detective, thinking: 'Has he really been fighting men like these for 500 years!?' Phantom, aloud: 'Well done.'
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 7th of February, 2021. A big part of this story has been The Phantom playing up the illusion of his immortality. And he’s done a great job playing it up so The Detective would plausibly believe he’s encountered the legendary defender of Bangalla. The Detective’s scrupulous in not mentioning The Phantom or hinting at him in his reports, though. So I’m not sure how this is supposed to burnish The Phantom’s legend. I suppose either The Detective is expected to mention it informally, with friends and family. Or The Phantom figures it’s worth making sure some individuals believe really, really strongly. Then his legend can take care of itself.

So, with the whole criminal syndicate recovering from being punched, The Detective calls in the Mawitaan police. And explains to them how he’s not dead! And how he punched unconscious a whole crime syndicate! And did not need the help of an immortal spirit-protector summoned to his aid by his worried grandmother! Because The Phantom finally learned the name of The Detective — Yusuf Ali Malango, badge 941 — and vanished.

This past Sunday strip did not promise a new adventure next week. I imagine there may be a coda with The Detective’s Grandmother. We last saw her in August, waiting by the giant Phantom head that Emperor Joonkar had people carve into a mountain. After that, though, I expect the 191st Sunday story to begin. We’ll see, though.

Next Week!

I get to one of the two story comics that are addressing the pandemic at all. It’s Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D., here in a week, if all goes well.

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? What happened for Skeezix’s centennial? November 2020 – February 2021


So … uh … nothing. The 14th of February, 1921, was the day that Gasoline Alley turned into a comic strip anyone but a specialist would have heard of. It’s when Walt Wallet found an abandoned infant on the doorstep. The child was soon named Allison (Get it? Alley-Son), but everyone’s called him Skeezix. It was a milestone for the comic, and for comics. It pioneered the comic strip where characters grow up in something like real time.

The comic strip’s long acknowledged this big deal, as it should. And this year, for the 100th anniversary of the moment there was … a pleasant enough Valentine’s Day card and acknowledgement of Skeezik’s 100th birthday (observed). And that’s all, to my shock. I had expected this to be feted. I imagined at least another visit to the Old Comics Home. I have no explanation for why this wasn’t a bigger deal. Over at The Daily Cartoonist, D D Degg has similar thoughts, plus a good number of historic Gasoline Alley strips observing the day. This including Skeezix’s first appearance.

So this essay should catch you up to mid-February 2021 in Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley. If you’re reading this after about May 2021, or if any news on the strip breaks, I’ll have an essay here may be of more use to you.

Gasoline Alley.

8 November 2020 – 14 February 2021.

When I last looked in, Slim Wallet had finished running a Halloween haunted house successfully, only to hear noises downstairs. It was his mother Lil, and his cousin Chubby. It’s an unwelcome-houseguests story, the kind where a vague relative visits. The kind where they have heavy trunks and don’t move them upstairs.

Slim, looking at a turkey: 'Mother! How did you manage to get this huge gobbler?' Mother: 'Easy! I shot dice with the butcher and ... ' Chubby: 'She won!' Slim: 'Honestly?' Mother, with her fingers crossed behind her back: 'uh ... honestly, I won!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 25th of November, 2020. Still, they did think to get a turkey for everyone for Thanksgiving, so it’s not like they’re impossible houseguests.

Despite their help with thanksgiving, Clovia’s quite stressed having them around. Slim’s not too thrilled by them either. So in the tradition of old-time-radio and old-fashioned TV sitcoms, they hatch a Scheme. They’ll use the haunted house props to make Lil and Chubby think the place is haunted. To work! Lil’s makeup kit is out of place. The clocks are set wrong. A weird figure appears before them. This convinces Lil and Chubby, who flee. Clovia’s proud of her husband’s haunting. Slim’s baffled because he hadn’t even started haunting yet. But how could that happen?

Clovia: 'Slim! Lil and Chubby ran out of here like they'd seen a ghost! If you didn't scare them off, who did?' Ghosts behind Clovia, unheard: 'We did! We messed with the clocks again ... ' Clovia: 'Brr! A cold feeling just came over me and ... did you hear a voice?' Slim: 'Cut it out, Clovia! You're scaring *me*!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 7th of December, 2020. You’d think Slim and Clovia would be used to it with this sort of thing happening to them all the time. Well, if we were good at noticing the patterns in our own lives we’d all have lives with different problems.

So that wraps up the story, on the 8th of December. The 9th of December started the next, again centered on Slim and Clovia, so there’s little transition needed. Bleck’s Department Store asking Slim if he can play Santa again this year. Trouble is in washing it. The dryer doesn’t work.

Clovia: 'Wake up, Slim! The electrician's here!' Slim: 'Grok! Umph! Huh?' Slim, rousing himself: 'You were due yesterday! What took you so yawn, er ... long?' Frank Nelson: 'Oooh! It's a long way from the north Pole to here by reindeer!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 17th of December, 2020. The story had a lot of the Frank Nelson character. I understand some of that, since he’s a fun person to write and probably the Jack Benny Program regular most easily plucked out of that context. Having him in two key roles seems like maybe too much, though.

The dryer repair person says the dryer is fine. Dire news from the electrician: he’s the Frank Nelson character. He figures the dryer needs a new power cord. Fixing that doesn’t help. His next diagnosis is the circuit breaker. Now the dryer works … once. They yield to the inevitable and go shopping for a new dryer. The dryer salesman is Frank Nelson again.

This leads to a couple weeks of delivery attempts by Sidney and Lew. They feel like a reference to me. I can’t figure out who, though. There’ve been a lot of delivery-team scenes in the past. In the first delivery attempt, Slim’s fallen asleep and can’t hear them. On the second attempt, Slim and Clovia are awake. But they notice a dent on the back of the dryer, and touch-up paint on the front. I’m not clear where the damage came from. Frank Nelson offers them a $150 discount to take the dryer, but Clovia suspects it’s not a new dryer. She’s convinced by the promise of a discount, though, and Sidney and Lew are happy to leave. And the new dryer doesn’t work.

Sidney, trying to hold the dryer up against the front steps: 'Ring the door bell, Lew! [ Ungh! Oof! ] I can't hold this elephant forever!' Lew: 'Hush, Sidney!' [ He rings the bell. ] Sidney: 'Nobody's home! Let's leave it on the steps!' Lew: 'How many times to I have to tell you to hush, Sidney?' Sidney: 'Two thousand, two hundred, and twenty-two times!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 18th of January, 2021. You see what I mean about this feeling like a reference, though? I’d expect if Sidney and Lew were screen characters that there’d be, you know, one tall skinny guy and one short fat guy. They’re almost identical, which evokes a Heckle-and-Jeckle or Mac-and-Tosh pairing. Or maybe this is just Scancarelli making up something that feels like a callback. He’s got the talent to do that.

So if you like this mode of American Cornball plotting? (I do, by the way.) You likely enjoyed Scancarelli’s skill respecting the styles and conventions of the genre. If you don’t like this, the story was like chewing tin foil. You know, these are the sorts of stories he wants to tell.

Sidney and Lew return, to take out the broken one and return a new one. And that seems to work, and to end the story, with the 6th of February.


Last Monday the current story began. It features Gertie, Walt Wallet’s live-in caretaker. At the supermarket she encounters someone in distress. She’s lost her glasses, and crying. Gertie volunteers to help. I don’t know where this might lead.

Next Week!

It’s Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom, Sunday continuity. How does the Ghost Who Walks help a Bangallan detective return from the dead? We’ll see, or we’ve already seen. All I do is recap what anyone could read. See you then, unless something urgent comes up.

What’s Going On In Mary Worth? Why did Eve freak out at the mannequin? November 2020 – February 2021


I need to give a content warning about for this Mary Worth plot recap. The currently ongoing story is about a person who’s suffered abuse from a spouse. If you don’t need that in your recreational reading, you’re right, and you may want to skip that bit. But Eve Lourd, who’s the center of that story, had an anxiety attack when she noticed the suit on a mannequin.

This should get you up to speed on Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for mid-February 2021. If you’re reading this much
after May 2021, or any news about Mary Worth breaks out, you might find a more useful post at this link. And, over on my mathematics blog, I’ve been taking on smaller topics since the conclusion of last year’s A-to-Z project. You might like something there.

Mary Worth.

22 November 2020 – 6 February 2021.

Tommy Beedie was not handling well Brandy’s decision to break up, last we checked. Brandy saw Tommy with one of his old Drugs buddies, and thought he was on the Drugs again. He wasn’t, but she had a drug-abusing father and can’t take the chance.

Supermarket Manager: 'Tommy, I'd like you to move a display off the floor and put together a new one to replace it. Are you done here?' Tommy: 'Yes, boss.' Manager: 'It's kind of heavy, so I figure you're the man.' Tommy: 'No problem ... '
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 25th of November, 2020. The reason this is a sick joke is that the back pain from a work-caused injury is what got Tommy on the Drugs in the first place, so he’s the person for lifting heavy stuff.

So Tommy throws himself into being a better person. Sharing his experience with schoolkids. I hope after getting their teacher’s approval. Doing more at work, to the point the manager notices. As a way of coping with a breakup, that’s pretty good. There’s no reason to think it’ll win back your lost love, but it puts you in a better spot for the next love. And, you know, you get to enjoy being better off too. Less good is that Tommy also mentions to Brandy every 105 minutes that he’s not an addict and loves her.

Still, Brandy does notice how hard he’s working at bettering himself. And she’s been talking to a therapist, and decided she does believe him. So they’re back on. She’s still not ready to marry, by the way, but she’s open to becoming ready, in case you worried about that plot thread. Tommy visits Mary Worth for the ritual thanking Mary Worth for her advice, and to accept blueberry cobbler foodstuff. And, Tommy even gets a new job for Christmas: part-time school monitor.

The 27th of December we have a moment of Mary Worth and Doctor Jeff acknowledging how hard a year it’s been. Dr Jeff had knee surgery, for example, and Drew had some problem with his ex, and a good friend had business losses. I don’t know who Drew is and I don’t know about this good friend business. The last good friend of Dr Jeff’s I noticed was muffin enthusiast Ted Miller, a plot from early 2018 that I’m still angry about. I guess it’s nice that the characters have problems going on that don’t make it on-screen. Still, I’d have taken that year.


The current story started the 28th of December. It’s about Saul Wynter and Eve Lourd, a new Charterstone resident and dog-owner. And she’s dealing with the aftermath of a physically abusive relationship. So I’m putting the recap of that behind a cut.

Continue reading “What’s Going On In Mary Worth? Why did Eve freak out at the mannequin? November 2020 – February 2021”

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? How is Mark Trail not in jail? November 2020 – January 2021


I have no idea. In the current story Mark Trail’s stolen a speedboat and damaged a lot of rich people’s stuff. And knocked a man unconscious into the water. Some of this I can imagine getting cleared up. I don’t know how he’s not awaiting arraignment, though. Sorry.

So that catches you up on Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the end of January 2021. If you’re reading this after about May 2021, there’ll likely be a more up-to-date plot recap at a post here. I’ll also post any news about the strip there.

Mark Trail.

15 November 2020 – 31 January 2021.

The new Mark Trail had just got his first assignment in months. It’s investigating Happy Trail Farms for Teen Girl Sparkle magazine. He was freaking out about this assignment, down to not telling anyone what upset him. And by chance Kelly Welly stopped in town to mention how popular they are on the Internet, unlike Mark Trail.

Instagram Envy sends Mark Trail on a frenzy of doing little web features for Teen Girl Sparkle. Editor Amy Lee likes it. And his natural enthusiastic squareness works for readers too, a thing I can see. But that’s a side line to getting to Florida and meeting Jolly Roger.

Frankie, boating Mark Trail up to a bunch of ripples in the swamp: 'We're here.' Mark Trail: 'Jolly Roger is here? Where?' Roger bursts up from under the water, holding a python. Mark: 'Oh, wow! Jolly Roger, it's Mark. It's been a while. How are you, Jolly?' Roger, putting the snake in a cage: 'Not too bad ... ever since your father stole my farm.'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 11th of November, 2020. So you’re either amused by the snake’s ! word balloon in the second panel there or you hate it, and I imagine that defines whether you like Rivera’s strip or not. Me, I wonder what the strip looks like in black-and-white, if any newspapers are running the dailies without color.

Or re-meeting Jolly Roger, who’s been a python hunter ever since losing his farm. Mark gets bitten by a python, while trying to find a Burmese python, and asks immediately whether the snake’s all right. It’s part of what convinces Roger’s partner that this Mark Trail they can trust.

Meanwhile Cherry Trail, with Rusty, are also driving to Florida. He has a homework project of making a family tree. It’s not at all suspicious how convenient this is. Cherry was driving to see her family. And she reveals that the woman she’s told Rusty was her aunt is in fact her mother. They drive to an RV park. We meet Cherry’s younger stepsisters, Olive and Peach Pitt. Cherry says she’s not there to dredge up the past, but to talk. Olive wants to know things like was she ever going to mention she had a son? The reunion turns into a brawl immediately.

Back on Mark Trail. We get Jolly Roger’s story. Mark’s father, Happy Trail, had a deal for his neighbor and friend Roger. Sign over his farm to the Happy Trail Farms trail-mix company for a share of the revenue. All right. In practice, Happy Trails used Roger’s farm for fertilizer runoff. Algae filled the nearby ponds. Roger brought his case to the media. It stirred up controversy. Roger is a Black man going up against a wealthier white man with a corporation. So that hasn’t been happy for him.

Roger, narrating flashbacks: 'I contacted the media. That's when things got ugly.' (Roger speaking with a news reporter.) 'The protest started outside the farm ... ' (Protest march outside Happy Trails Farm.) 'My family faced a backlash of hate ... ' (Roger's family looking at a smashed up and graffitied van with N-something and GO AWAY sprayed across it.) 'And for the last 13 years ... I've been trying to get my farm back.'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 17th of December, 2020. The van in the third panel hit me particularly. It’s a more direct and intense thing than goings-on with, like, Jolly Roger laughing at having caught a python.

All Mark Trail can do is apologize. For not doing anything to stop his father. Also for running away, which confirms the meaning of a flashback we’d seen in October. Mark says how he was “old enough to fight for my country, but I didn’t fight for my friend”. It’s an interesting mention. When the comic strip started in 1946, Mark Trail was, as you’d expect for his age and physical condition, a veteran. Whatever else might be getting retconned or revised, that was kept.

Back on Cherry Trail. Her mother breaks up Cherry’s fight with Olive, using a bucket of water. Peach Pitt reveals she’d asked Cherry to come for “business advice”. Peach had been following Cherry on social media. I don’t know if that was reciprocated. Peach confirms their mother’s bipolar disorder isn’t getting better. And Cherry explains to Rusty that this is why she and her father left, years ago, and have kept so much distance. The business advice is that their mother needs more professional care. Peach has found what she calls a great inpatient treatment center. It’s $20,000.

Back to Mark Trail. He’s got his Roger interview. Now he needs to interview his father. I’ll be calling him Happy Trail; it can be confusing when father and son have identical names. Happy’s glad to see him at the Miami Speedboat Mania here. He’s also huggy. But he’ll talk about the farm if that’s what he can’t avoid doing. Happy’s argument is he bought the farm fair and square. It’s not his or Roger’s fault that the land’s more valuable now. He didn’t create the toxic algae. He did buy a speedboat, though, he’ll own up to that.

Happy Trail: 'The speedboat was supposed to be a surprise! We were going to have fun!' Niecy Roger: 'Guys?' Mark: 'FUN? You messed with people's lives! You have to make things right!' (Niecy covers her ears and tries to dodge the fight.) Happy: 'I tried to give you a good life and this is how you repay me? You bum!' Niecy, unnoticed: 'I'm leaving.' Mark: 'At least I'm not a hypocrite! You know speedboats hurt MANATEES!'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 1st of January, 2021. I propose the last panel as the proof that Jules Rivera does have an exact handle on what’s essential about Mark Trail. Even if he’s leaving his shirt unbuttoned. He is absolutely someone who yells at his father for endangering manatees.

And this really sets off Mark. We flash back to a childhood memory, Mark Trail’s father explaining how speedboats hurt hundreds of manatees every year. How they have to fight to keep speedboats off Florida waterways. So this is a potent mix of betrayed ideals and hypocrisy. All Mark Trail can do is something dramatic and stupid.

He steals his father’s speedboat and races off. It’s a messy, confusing chase with a lot of incidental damage. His father mentions, Mark Trail has a bad track record with boats, a motif of the James Allen run. One of his father’s employees manages to stop the boat for a moment. This gives Mark his first chance to punch someone this story. A whole fight, too, one going on a week reader time. But the cops pull up ordering him to shut off his engines.

But Mark’s inspired by the advice that an ibis and a shark offer. Or that he thinks he’s offered. The strip has not quite committed to the idea this isn’t all in Mark Trail’s head. He takes their recommendation and guns the boat. The cops pull out the sound cannon and blast like he was advocating for police accountability. Mark Trail steers his father’s speedboat into a fireworks yacht, setting off a pretty awesome scene that does a lot of damage.

Caught in the sad emotional lee of having caused Drama, Mark calls for help. The only help is Kelly Welly, who was going to Florida on a different assignment after all. (Their setup seemed ambiguous to me.) They refuse to take over the assignment, asserting it’s Mark’s first un-safe story, and one he has to tell. And that’s where things stand.


So, do I hate the strip? Do I think you should?

No; I don’t hate any of the story strips, or any of the strips I read regularly. Although Funky Winkerbean tests me. Should you hate it? No. I understand not liking it. But even if can’t stand Jules Rivera’s art or story style, then, you’re better off than if the strip had been cancelled. If the strip stays alive, then whatever artist succeeds Rivera might do work more to your liking. A few cancelled strips have been revived, but name two that lasted five years. I’ll give you Annie as the first.

Do I love the strip? I’m feeling warmer toward it. The mysteries set up in Rivera’s first month got some reasonable development. We’ve got some action. We’ve been getting more animals. And some attention on agribusiness, which is all about nature and how we use it.

I admit an unease with the revelations about Mark Trail’s family. And, to a lesser extent, Cherry Trail’s. So far as I know their families had gone unmentioned in the strip. At least they’ve gone unmentioned in long enough a time any reasonable reader would have forgotten. So here Rivera fills in families they would with reason avoid talking about.

Cherry Trail narrating flashbacks of her at a young age driving away with Doc: 'Rusty, try to understand that leaving was the most difficult thing your Poppy ever had to do. He wasn't proud of leaving a mentally ill wife behind in Florida, but it was the only way for us all to stay safe.' (Present day, Cherry hugging Rusty.) 'Later, I learned Mama had Peach and Olive and I had two sisters living in Christmas, Florida.' Peach: 'What a wild Christmas gift, huh?'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 25th of December, 2020. I’m interested in the artistic choice to depict a young Cherry but obscure Doc’s face. It may be just that Rivera figured this the easiest way to convey that it was a horrible day for Doc that Cherry barely understood at the time. Still, the story is about revealing hidden identity; to show identity still being hidden carries meaning.

Depicting Mark Trail’s father as the Classic Mark Trail carries symbolic heft. Depicting him, more, as someone who’s let money override his love of the environment? That feels like a betrayal. It should. It addresses the hardest lesson about idealism. Our ideals are not goals; they are ongoing works. We have to keep a reasonable level of self-inquiry and self-skepticism and stay mindful of how much we settle for convenient over right. Even our heroes will sometimes fail. And using the Classic Mark Trail as the person who’s failed gives the story a greater substance.

And again, if this doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t work for you, and there’s no arguing that. But if you don’t like it but keep finding something you need to read about it? This might be some of what it’s addressing and why it’s sticking.


Sunday Animals Watch!

I’m still tracking the animals and other nature-related items in the Sunday pages. I’d hope even people who can’t get into Rivera’s style enjoy the playfulness she’s brought to title panels. These have rendered the strip’s title in more fanciful ways. Like, having the letters spelled out by the legs of ibises, or in tree leaves, or cried out by a peacock. That’s fun and I bet satisfying for Rivera to do.

  • Gardening, 15 November 2020. It’s a great way to discover plants that won’t thrive for you!
  • Burmese Pythons, 22 November 2020. Which are invasive in Florida, thanks to humans making dumb pet choices.
  • Cuban Treefrogs, 29 November 2020. Invasive again and this one keeps jumping into Mark Trail’s face.
  • Alligators, 6 December 2020. The strip says they eat fruits and berries but I’ve been reading a lot of Pogo and I think this is understating how much they eat pies and not Little Pup Dogs.
  • Peacocks, 13 December 2020. They’re loud, aggressive, pretty ridiculous, and oh yeah native to Southeast Asia but who doesn’t like them anyway?
  • Toxic algae blooms, 20 December 2020. Mentioned the week after Jolly Roger brought them up in the strip, so you see how well these are being integrated to the daily storyline.
  • Bobcats, 27 December 2020. More Florida animals, ones that the strip says will even hunt sharks, which seems like going a bit too far for this whole bobcatting thing.
  • Manatees, 3 January 2021. The only thing bigger than manatees is the list of manatee vulnerabilities.
  • Ibises, 10 January 2021. Which aren’t really invasive, but they’re being pushed out of their natural habitat because we’re destroying it.
  • Armadillos, 17 January 2021. Which have also moved into Florida. The strip says they’re the “only mammal with armor” and I was going to ask about pangolins but Jules Rivera noted that should have read “in North America”.
  • Blacktip Sharks, 24 January 2021. Like was giving Mark Trail advice.
  • Cicadas, 31 January 2021. They’re loud, although not so loud as peacocks.

Next Week!

I’m still holding off on recapping Gasoline Alley for some mysterious reason that hasn’t anything to do with the story about buying a new clothes dryer still going on. While I wait, though, I’ll look in on Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth. I’d like to say that’s always fun but the current storyline does involve a character recovering from an abusive relationship. If you don’t need that in your fun recreational reading, you are right, and may want to approach the strip and the recap with caution.

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? What is the deal with this blue balloon? November 2020 – January 2021


Pouch is this balloon-seller at the city zoo, by day. He’s also an informant, passing messages along to the criminal and, sometimes, cop worlds. The current storyline had him forced to sell a blue balloon. Why is Pouch so freaked out about selling the blue balloon? Because that balloon held information for a job, for one of Pouch’s clients. They need it back within an hour. Why was Aquarius, the buyer, so determined to get the balloon? He doesn’t know why it’s important, but it’ll be leverage. How did Aquarius know there was any reason to care about any of these balloons? … I don’t know. Maybe he reasoned Pouch would have something if he was still hanging around the zoo at sunset.

So this should catch you up on Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for late January 2021. If you’re reading this after about April 2021, I hope to have a more up-to-date plot recap here. That link also will hold any news about the comic strip which I get.

Dick Tracy.

1 November 2020 – 23 January 2021.

My last plot recap coincided with the end of a story and start of a new one. Lucky for me. Also lucky for Mark Bernard, guest writer for this story. Not so lucky for Rabbit, delivery man for Elegance Fragrances. Rabbit mistakenly included some of the boss’s poison with a legitimate perfume delivery. The boss — Yeti — kills him. And sends Daisy Dugan to recover the poison. Daisy recovers it, but comes close to Dick Tracy, who’s investigating a string of poisonings. Daisy shoots at Tracy, causing the scientific detective to wonder why someone’s shooting him. Other than, like, half the town is relatives and remakes of crooks he’s killed.

Daisy Dugan: 'We're after a ROCK?' Yeti: 'Precisely. That 'rock' is composed of several unique alloys. Broken into pieces and sold, it should fetch me a substantial fortune. Enough to shore up my enterprise until tastes in murder swing in my favor again. Here is how we will acquire it.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Mark Barnard, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 12th of November, 2020. You know, sitting around hoping something will turn up is a classic stage of business decline. If you have good reason to think the trend will turn back to you, all right. But anyone who’s studied corporate history will tell you this is the time to find a new market. Develop your product lines or use your resources to buy something that is selling now. Just saying.

The poison business isn’t what it used to be. Yeti has a plan to tide himself through the slump: stealing a million-dollar meteorite from the city museum. The plan is to drive one of the well-marked Elegant Fragrances trucks to three blocks away from the museum, sneak in through the sewers, and grab the rock. It’s our first clear hint that Yeti may not be Dick Tracy’s most ingenious opponent ever. The delivery van’s noticed by the cops’ drone camera network. Also, the cops have a drone camera network. It’s an element that fills a much-needed gap in Dick Tracy’s surveillance-state dystopia.

Grabbing the meteorite goes well, though, since Yeti and Daisy can just step over the security lasers. Climbing back down into the sewer goes less well, as Daisy slips and breaks something. Yeti leaves him to die. Yeti puts the meteorite in the back of the truck, takes off, hits the curb, and loses the meteorite right out the back of the truck. He doesn’t notice until he gets home.

Yeti, driving furiously: 'I'm still on schedule ... now to get clear before this truck leads them to me!' He drives over a curb, knocking a door open and causing the meteorite to drop out the back.
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Mark Barnard, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 26th of November, 2020. All things considered, this maybe wasn’t a case that needed Dick Tracy’s Major Crimes Unit.

So, ah, good job, Yeti. He gets his gun ready to shoot Dick Tracy; Sam Catchem shoots it out of his hand. Yeti flees to the back room, telling himself that he’s survived far worse. I would like him to name two examples. He won’t, though. In his haste to gather his papers and flee, he lets loose a giant poison spider who kills him.

And that, the 5th of December, closes the story. I’m sorry to see Yeti go, since he had a weird name and a snooty attitude about poisoning being elegant while guns and knives suck. And there’s his whole vendetta to destroy Dr Harvey Camel’s life. That’s enough for a character. It’s disappointing that he so completely foiled himself. Dick Tracy hardly had to show up.


The 6th of December, 2020, started the still-running story. And this is by Staton and Curtis on their own. It’s the one with, yes, a hippie commune. It starts at the city zoo, where balloon dealer and information-seller Pouch growls at a cocaine dealer name of Dollar Bill. Pouch — one of the few Dick Tracy characters to have got away with murder — doesn’t want drug dealers messing up his businesses.

Pouch calls on Tiger Lilly to rough Dollar Bill up a bit. Lilly roughs too much up, and snaps Dollar Bill’s neck. Pouch leaves Lilly to clean up his own problems. Lilly leaves the body to be discovered, figuring it’ll send the signal to keep the drug deals out of Pouch’s park. Dick Tracy gets the signal too, and suspects the start of a drug war. “It looks serious,” says Dick Tracy, “Prilosec and Meclizine have lost patience waiting for the Rolaids Empire to crumble. They might maneuver Cimetidine into giving a push.”

Sam Catchem, running around the farmer's market, trying to find a guy: 'Darn it! I've lost him in the crowd.' Wildman's Organics farmer: 'Hey there! You looking for somebody?' Catchem: 'Yeah, a guy in a black vest and purple flame head rag.' Farmer: 'Oh, that's Ty.' Catchem: 'Did you see where he went?' Farmer: 'He's prob'ly on his way back to the commune for lunch.' Catchem: 'Commune?'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 27th of December, 2020. OK yeah commune whatever, do you have those lavender sugar cookies? Because those are good and we should examine them more.

Aquarius, who runs the dealing network Dollar Bill was part of, replaces him with a guy named Ty. And warns Ty to be careful of the cops. Ty is immediately spotted by Sam Catchem. Ty runs into a farmer’s market, though, disappearing in the crowd. One of the farmers tips Catchem off to the commune, though. Catchem and Tracy go to the commune at 1312(!) Bedwell. They ask Aquarius for information and get nothing, not even his name.

This does send Aquarius to Pouch, to figure out his deal. He does this by asking Pouch where to find Dollar Bill and Pouch is having none of that. Aquarius offers to buy one of Pouch’s balloons, though, the blue one, which he refuses to sell at any price. It turns into an argument that park cops come in to break up. Aquarius offers to make peace by buying all the balloons, including the blue one. Given the scene, Pouch can’t refuse.

Tiger Lilly: 'This stinks! It's freezing, and I'm out chasing after balloons!' Aquarius, carrying a bundle of balloons: 'Pouch was holding out on me. But I've got the upper hand now. I don't know what's special about this blue balloon, but he'll have to bargain with me to get it back.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 12th of January, 2021. The tag of ‘Blue’ is funny every time it appears, yes, but because we’re seeing the colorized dailies. The strip can run in black-and-white. It happens that for some reason the last week and a half it’s run in black-and-white on GoComics, too; I don’t know why. I still have no idea how Aquarius knew there was anything special about the blue balloon.

Tiger Lilly follows Aquarius. So Aquarius is incredibly aware of Tiger Lilly’s pursuit. Aquarius returns to the commune, and Lilly breaks in after everyone goes setting up an ambush. Lilly’s overwhelmed, and captured, and Aquarius demands to know who sent him and what he’s after.

And that’s where we stand. It’s on a lot of characters noticing the people following them. Also thinking people were following them who weren’t. It’s a curious little motif for the comic. We’ll see where it leads in about twelve weeks.

Next Week!

My schedule calls for Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley. But I realize I may want to postpone that for … let’s say two weeks. So I will have a Gasoline Alley plot recap at this link, but around the 16th of February. So I’ll go to the next strip on my routine instead, then, and that’ll be … ooh! Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail. Should be fun. See you then.

I don’t know who this Sarah Rose writing Barney Google this week is either


So, Barney Google and Snuffy Smith. John Rose, the current cartoonist, has made a habit of having Google reappear in his comic once or twice a year. This week looked like the start of one of those visits. Surprisingly soon after Barney Google’s last visit, but that happens sometimes.

After the first panel, though, Barney dropped away. Instead we saw and focused on what, I believe, is a new character, who’s been the star of this whole week’s strips:

Barney Google introduces, 'Spark Plug's grandson .. .Li'l Sparky!' Li'l Sparky nuzzles Spark Plug, thinking, 'My grandfather ... oh, how I love him!' In the main strip Li'l Sparky races a rabbit and a chicken. The chicken says to the rabbit, 'Li'l Sparky is just like his grandfather! He's a happy pony who loves to race!' Rabbit :'When is he the happiest?' Li'l Sparky, crossing the finish line: 'WHINNY wins!'
John Rose and Sarah Rose’s Barney Google and Snuffy Smith for the 10th of January, 2021. So far as I know the rabbit — who’s had almost as many appearances as Li’l Sparky so far this week — is a new character too. The chicken might be one of the ones Snuffy Smith’s been stealing for decades. Character parts are reliable, honest work, even in the comic strips.

Spark Plug the racehorse was one of the first great fads of Billy DeBeck’s Barney Google comic strip. Sparky caught the public’s imagination. The young Charles Schulz picked up the nickname Sparky in honor of the character, and friends of the Peanuts creator used it his whole life.

Spark Plug fueled a bunch of horserace-themed stories that DeBeck expertly used for publicity. (I’m drawing this from Brian Walker’s fascinating Barney Google and Snuffy Smith: 75 Years of an American Legend, which gave me a better appreciation for the strip’s craft.) Sometimes in surprisingly easy ways: he’d ask readers to write in names for horses and used the best-sounding ones for the rest of the horseracing field. (I am legitimately impressed with how simple but good a scheme that is.) Eventually DeBeck realized, or maybe intuited, that there were great possibilites for the strip by incorporating hillbilly humor in it. He introduced Snuffy Smith and clan, who took over the comic and squeezed Barney Google and Spark Plug out. Except for the occasional guest week.

This week we’ve seen a bunch of strips about Li’l Sparky, Spark Plug’s grandson. So far as I know, this is a new character. He makes a lot of horse-themed puns. This seems thin for a recurring character but, eh, I can’t blame John Rose for trying. The Wizard of Id’s pet dragon Henry and Peter’s pet Wolf in B.C. opened those strips up too.

What’s also caught my eye is that John Rose’s signature is accompanied by a Sarah Rose. I guess a relative, but don’t know. I also don’t know whether Sarah Rose is a new partner on the comic or is just contributing stuff for Li’l Sparky. If I get any news I’ll pass it along. Anyway you’re not the only person to notice the credit.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Weekdays)? Who is Towns Ellerbee? October 2020 – January 2021


“Towns Ellerbee” is a fake name The Phantom, Kit Walker, uses in the current story. He gave it to someone we know as the Trusted Man. I can’t say why he gave the Towns Ellerbee name rather than Kit Walker. It might be so as to keep other people in the story (Ernesto Salinas and Victor Batalla) from linking this person to The Phantom.

This essay should catch you up to mid-January 2021 for Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity. If you’re reading this after about April 2021 or want to follow the separate Sunday continuity, an essay at this link may help.

On my mathematics blog, I’ve finished the glossary project. That was one essay for each letter of the alphabet. I’ll have some new stuff coming soon. I haven’t decided when I’ll resume writing about mathematics in the comic strips.

The Phantom (Weekdays).

19 October 2020 – 9 January 2021.

When we last looked Kadia had just had a nasty quarrel with her mother, Imara Sahara. Diana Walker and Kit Walker discuss the Saharas. Kit, The Ghost Who Walks, thinks Imara Sahara was unaware of and uninvolved with her husband’s international terrorism. Diana thinks it was fate that guided Kadia to join the Walker family. That’s where the story ended, the 22nd of October.


Monday the 24th started Then Came Towns Ellerbee, the 256th weekday-continuity story. It picks up on a trio of stories from 2011 and 2012: A Detente with Crime, and The Den with Crime, and Mexico’s Phantom. These introduced Ernesto Salinas, a police chief in Ciudad Jardin, Mexico. Salinas used his prowess as a lucha libre wrestler to battle organized crime for territory. We’d last seen Salinas beating his old childhood friend Victor Batalla for control over some part of Ciudad Jardin. Now? They’re both in Rhodia, the fascist state bordering Bangalla. Salinas is under “house arrest”, and Batalla taunts him with actual arrest and entombment in Gravelines Prison. There’s some mutterings about a broken promise of safe conduct from the Rhodian government. When Batalla falls asleep Salinas calls his assistant back in Mexico. His assistant — the Trusted Man — flies to Bangalla. The Trusted Wife sends a note to Walker, Box 7, Mawitaan.

Trusted Wife: 'Ernesto believed he was there to take Victor into custody ... the opposite was true!' The Phantom, thinking: 'Victor Batalla isn't the first crime lord to enjoy government protection in Rhodia ... the failed state on Bangalla's border runs on payoffs to the ruling generals ... '
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 4th of November, 2020. So this is the explanation we get for how Salinas ended up in Rhodia, and in custody. It came several weeks into the story, after we’d seen Batalla taunting Salinas some. It was a bit confusing to start, especially if you didn’t check the Phantom Wiki to refresh yourself on characters from a decade ago.

The Phantom moves to intercept the Trusted Man, before he gets himself in serious trouble with the Rhodian police. As the bus crosses from Bangalla to Rhodia he gets into serious trouble: his forged passport is awful. He readies for a fight with the border guards. What do you know, though, but Kit Walker’s on the bus too, and picks a fight before the Trusted Man can have it. The Phantom and the Trusted Man are able to punch out all four border guards pretty efficiently. This would seem to cause trouble for the bus driver and the other passengers. The Phantom tells them to drive to the next town, report what happened and describe the two vigilante superheroes in great detail. I’m not sure this would actually clear the innocents. I guess The Phantom must do this sort of thing often enough Rhodian security is used to it.

The Trusted Man is happy to team up with “Towns Ellerbee”, as The Phantom calls himself, to rescue Ernesto Salinas. They make their way to Victor Batalla’s compound. There, The Phantom’s advanced skills in clobbering people impresses the Trusted Man. But there’s no sign of Salinas. They need to take Batalla by surprise. The Trusted Man goes in through the front door. The Phantom breaks in through the back window with the help of a trusted rhinoceros.

Narrator: 'El Bucanero Infernal's night goes wrong!' The Phantom, beside a rhinoceros, smashes through the plate glass window where he and henchmen sit. Narrator: 'Doubly so!' The Trusted Man bashes in the door.
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 17th of December, 2020. Even granting that the rhino is probably a statue that The Phantom is using as a battering ram, have to say, the Trusted Man has got to feel upstaged.

I’m sorry, I didn’t quite make a big enough deal of that. I’m not sure how to frame it well. But The Phantom got, somewhere, a rhino to charge through the back of this house. And then the rhino has nothing else to do with the story. I don’t know where it’s from. I don’t know how it got involved here. I have to suppose it was a statue or a taxidermy model or something like that which the Phantom slid through the window. It’s a wild, striking image and I don’t quite understand it. But it makes an impression.

Batalla taunts the Trusted Man, asserting there is no Salinas anymore. After the Trusted Man throws him into the wall enough Batalla explains he turned Salinas over to the Rhodian authorities, perhaps for making long-distance calls on the house phone. They sent him to Gravelines Prison. It’s a grim place. In a noteworthy 18-month-long storyline The Python arranged for Diana Walker to be imprisoned and almost killed in it. The Phantom knows well where it is. To raid Gravelines now requires doing something about Batalla and his henchmen.

Trusted Man: 'Mister Towns, how is it a migrant working man like yourself can summon the Jungle Patrol into hostile territory?' The Phantom, flashing back to how he puts instructions in the Jungle Patrol safe: 'Their commander knows me. Sometimes I ... give him information. He passes it down to whoever needs to know.' Trusted Man: 'I see! You are a criminal informant! Bravo, Mr Towns!'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 8th of January, 2021. So if I were a real comic strip critic, I would have articulate thoughts about The Phantom, an impossibly wealthy man, adopting the guise of a migrant laborer to assist the rescue of a police chief who adopts a luchador identity to protect the public? There’s a rich vein of text there for someone who knows how to refine it.

Fortunately for them, the Phantom is also the Unknown Commander of the Jungle Patrol. He’s able to order this private army to kinda technically speaking invade Rhodia and abduct people for trial in a country they never set foot in. The Trusted Man is impressed with The Phantom’s resources. The two set off for Gravelines.

Next Week!

It’s Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant, and a tale good household management in the time of King Arthur. See you then, if all goes to schedule.

What’s Going On In Alley Oop? What’s with all the talking animals in Alley Oop? October 2020 – January 2021


I have to suppose Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers like putting talking animals in Alley Oop. That’s all. They do a good mouse-in-a-lab-coat.

So this should catch you up on Alley Oop for the start of 2021. If you’re reading this after April 2021, there’s likely a more up-to-date plot recap at this link. There’ll also be any news about the strip at that link.

On my other blog I’ve finished the alphabet, for my 2020 A-to-Z. I hope to have some concluding thoughts posted this week. I have to go off and have thoughts now. That’s the hard part. On to plot recapping.

Alley Oop.

11 October 2020 – 2 January 2021.

Our Heroes had defeated Einstein Clone’s culture-destroying device and returned to Saint Louis of the year 3277. Despite this, Future Saint Louis looks only a bit better off. The Clawed Oracle, an immortal spirit from earlier this story, explains that’s how history-changing works now. With that, the 17th of October, the Great Culture Famine story ends.

Alley Oop: 'Hey, look! It's the CLAWED ORACLE! How did you get here?' Clawed Oracle, a cat: 'I am not bound by the laws of time or space.' Wonmug: 'I thought we made such a big change to the timeline, but here we are, 1,200 years later, and it didn't make that big a difference.' Oracle: 'It is nearly impossible to make significant change to the timeline. History heals itself. Many outcomes are predestined and will always come to be.' Wonmug: 'That takes the pressure off US quite a bit.' Alley Oop: 'Now I can do whatever I want!' Ooola: 'That's nothing new.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayer’s Alley Oop for the 16th of Octber, 2020. There are several ways to address changing history in time-travel stories, all of them with perils. There being a single deterministic timeline that can’t be changed seems to rob the protagonists of agency; whatever they do was “always” right. A multiverse in which every timeline “happens” seems to rob the story of consequences; everything, good or bad, not logically impossible happens anyway. A single malleable timeline makes your characters responsible for every horrible action they choose not to prevent. So of all the ways to handle this problem, “you can do what you like and it doesn’t much matter” is at least a wishy-washy way to do it. Yes, I am aware Asimov more-or-less got away with it in The End of Eternity but at least a part of that book is the characters realizing humans can’t handle having actual responsibility for changing history.

The next story started the 19th of October. It starts out looking like it’s about some corporate intrigue. Potato chip magnate Leslie Stenk calls in a favor from Doc Wonmug. She needs something done about Chip Hamberden’s far more successful potato chip company. Wonmug takes the Civil-War-Enthusiast Hamberden on a time trip back to the Battle of Antietam. And leaves him there, where he seems happy, which, fair enough.

When Wonmug gets back to the present, Ava is gone. All that’s present is an Interdimensional Soul Reanimator and a set of time coordinates. It’s the lab’s location, four billion years in the past. This makes me wonder, like, location on the continental plate? Or latitude-longitude? How is the prime meridian handled over that length of time? Not important. They get some magic breathing apparatuses and pop back to the primordial soup.

Wonmug: 'Last time I saw her, Ava was sitting right next to this interdimensional soul reanimator. Which is strange, because I don't know what that is.' Ooola: 'Look, a note! It's a list of numbers. Maybe it's a clue.' Wonmug: 'It's probably a secret code.' Alley Oop, picking up the phone and dialing: 'It is!' Phone: 'We're sorry, but your call cannot be completed, since you seem to have dialed a bunch of random numbers.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayer’s Alley Oop for the 3rd of November, 2020. I’m really, really amused by Alley Oop dialing a bunch of random numbers into the phone and getting that response, so, that’s where my sense of humor is.

Ava is there, though she’s floating in the air and shooting flame-breath at Wonmug. Also she’s calling herself Zanzarr, “master of the demonic souls of the afterlife”. Zanzarr’s plan: zap the primordial soup with demon energy to prevent life as humans know it ever existing. It’ll be nothing but demons. I don’t know how to square this with what The Clawed Oracle said about timeline changes.

Wonmug tries appealing to Ava, who must be wrestling Zanzarr for control of her body. Ava notes how lousy her job actually is. It’s a beat about what a jerk Wonmug can be, augmented by Ooola and Alley Oop saying they forgot to invite her into their union. I know being a jerk has been a staple of comic scenes since forever, but it doesn’t need to be nasty.

Four billion years ago. Wonmug: 'How are we going to get that demon out of Ava?' Alley Oop, tying up the possessed Ava: 'I've got an idea!' He holds a jar up behind him: 'Oh, look, a cute little kitten. It's so full of goodness and 100% alive. I hope nothing BAD happens to it.' Demon, flowing out of Ava and into the jar: 'Here, kitty kitty! You delicious little --- ' As Alley Oop closes the jar lid: 'Guys? I think you forgot to put the kitten in here.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayer’s Alley Oop for the 24th of November, 2020. This, too, is a strip that tickles me. I think it’s hitting a good blend of the events of a serious story and childlike, playful motivations. At least I find it more fun than adding snark to actions.

So, they get the demon out. Wonmug sets it at the dinosaur-asteroid-impact-spot. I suppose that’s practical and maybe even responsible — Zanzarr was trying to destroy all life, after all — but it’s also murder. Also, he leaves ten seconds before impact. What if his time thingy had decided to reboot? Anyway, Wonmug promises to at least buy Ava a better office chair. (There’s also a casual mention that Ava dated a female demon, back in college. So the time-travelling caveman comic strip acknowledged lesbian-or-bisexual relationships before Mary Worth did.)

One more thing, though. How did Ava leave a note with the time coordinates for Wonmug to find? And … she didn’t.


From the 30th of November we moved into a new story, but one that grew out of that loose end. Who wrote the note? The author enters the 2nd of December. It was Rody, a mouse in a lab coat, speaking now to them for the Coalition of Tiny Scientists. To further their talks, Rody shrinks Wonmug, Ooola, and Alley Oop to mouse-size. And you thought I was tossing off a joke last week when I talked about Hank “Ant-Man” Pym hanging out with Doc Wonmug. I was; I forgot there was a shrinking tie-in there.

Shrunken Wonmug: 'Wow! Did you make all this stuff?' Rody, lab-coat-wearing mouse, showing around the miniature laboratory: 'Yes. I use materials I find here and there to make my inventions.' Wonmug, noticing a credit card up against the wall: 'Hey! This is my credit card!' Rody: 'Haha ... I use it as a ... table?' Wonmug: 'This is why there was a charge for a tiny centrifuge on my account last month!' Rody looks smug.
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayer’s Alley Oop for the 8th of December, 2020. So I’m addressing this to maybe four people out there but: wow, it’s heartening that David Gonterman’s The Rangers of NIMH made it to the comics pages at last! There’s hope for us all!

The shrink ray is incredible, but you know what would complete it? An unshrinking ray. Rody doesn’t have one. But Ant #3229BX — inventor of the shrink ray — might have an idea. Rody shrinks the bunch to ant-size to better talk with her. She isn’t interested in an unshrinking ray either. But she does have a genius aphid they should talk to, and she shrinks them to aphid scale. But they’ve had enough of this silliness. (Meanwhile Rody does make some wonderful progress on un-shrinking.)

Wonmug thinks he knows how to reverse the shrink ray. Alley Oop’s able to follow #3229BX’s pheromone trail back to the shrink ray. But, whoops, they have an accident and get shrunk even further, to microscopic size. They’re lucky they still have the magic breathing technology from their trip to four billion years ago.


Oh, and what about the Sunday strips? In those Little Oop stories, Alley Oop’s stuck in the present, and hanging out with the kid inventor who stranded him in 2020. This was a less dire fate when the thread started. The strip is ignoring the pandemic and I don’t blame it. But there hasn’t been a story going on here. It’s strips of Little Alley Oop in school, or at the mall, or making friends or such. I suspect Lemon and Sayers have figured this is a more fun Sunday strip to write than Little Alley Oop in prequel Moo. If I’m right they’ll keep him in suburbia until they run out of premises. I’m sorry not to have another Sunday-continuity strip to recap. Sunday-only strips are fun and also easy. But they’re also hard to write and I don’t fault them not wanting that challenge.

Next Week!

No shrinking! Yet! It’s instead Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom (Weekday continuity), if all goes to plan. See you then.

What’s Going On In The Amazing Spider-Man? Why are you covering The Amazing Spider-Man reruns? October – December 2020.


I want to, and that’s that. The current story first ran from the 17th of July through to the 20th of November, 2016. So, if I’m reading this all right, the current storyline should last another 13 weeks. That’ll be around the 28th of March, 2021. The story after that features Rocket Raccoon. I started my plot recapping around the back half of the Rocket Raccoon story. So my plan for now is to keep recapping until I’ve looped myself and then retire this reading. Or I’ll reprint old recaps and take an easy week every three months. Or I might start covering Rip Haywire after all; there’s not much good reason I’m not. We’ll see.

So, this gets you caught up on Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s The Amazing Spider-Man repeats for the end of December 2020. I’ll post later plot recaps, and any relevant news, in an essay at this link.

And, finally, it’s Worthy Awards time over on Mary Worth And Me. If you’ve got opinions on who should win Outstanding Floating Head, Favorite Inconsequential Character, or other aspects of Mary Worthiness, go over and cast your vote. If you don’t remember anything from the past year of Mary Worth, I’ve got your plot recaps right here. Thanks for reading.

The Amazing Spider-Man.

4 October – 27 December 2020.

Mary Jane Parker had offered to marry evil sorcerer Xandu. This to get him to stop fighting Dr Strange, whom Xandu thinks is her boyfriend, and Spider-Man, who is her husband. Xandu uses the Wand of Watoomb to bring more and more of the Nightmare World into lower Manhattan. And there’s not much anyone can do about it. Spider-Man has to hide behind Dr Strange’s magic shield to not be mind-controlled … oh, OK, so Spider-Man runs out from behind the magic shield and he can’t be mind-controlled. He fights off a bunch of New Yorkers whom Xandu mind-controls into fighting him. But how could Spider-Man be immune to mind control? Don’t go making the quick and easy joke, now.

Xandu: 'How could you resist the spells of the Wand of Watoomb?' Spider-Man: 'I didn't ... not really. Dr Strange put me under HIS control --- so you were really fighting HIM the whole time!' Dr Strange: 'It was all Spider-Man's idea.' Narration: Watch it, guys! Xandu isn't finished YET!
Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s Amazing Spider-Man repeat for the 16th of October, 2020. I give Spidey credit for reasoning that he can’t be mind-controlled if he’s already mind-controlled. He’s just lucky Dr Strange plays so many first-person shooters using the weird remote cameras so he was any good at fighting remotely, is all. (Well, and that Xandu couldn’t break Dr Strange’s mind-control, but you have to take some chances when you’re superheroing.)

So since conquering New York City isn’t working out, Xandu goes back to the Nightmare World, and drags Mary Jane off with him. Spider-Man and Dr Strange follow because of the reasons. But Dr Strange is also frozen by the thingy with the magic doohickey. So what choice does Spider-Man have but to run away from Xandu’s magic blasts of magic blasterness? Ah, but there’s strategy to Peter Parker’s running away.

Xandu, shooting energy beams at Spider-Man and the statue he's bounced off: 'You're getting WINDED evading my bursts, wall-crawler. This is the SECOND time you've landed on the immobilized Nightmare!' Spider-Man: 'Hey, I don't know if you've noticed --- I can't fly --- and around here, I can't exactly come down to earth!' Xandu: 'Too true! So it is high time I disposed of you --- FOREVER!'
Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s Amazing Spider-Man repeat for the 28th of October, 2020. Here again, have to give credit to Spidey for out-thinking the bad guy. One might sulk about how things get explained to the reader, but it’s hard to tip off readers to this kind of thing, especially when everything in this kind of superhero comic is energy beams blowing up abstract shapes.

Way earlier in the story Xandu froze Nightmare, master of the world, in a layer of magic freeze stuff. Xandu misses Spider-Man, but hits Nightmare, freeing him. And he’s right fed up with all this nonsense. A revived Dr Strange offers the deal: if Nightmare lets the four humans go, they’ll leave. This sounds great to Nightmare, who drops them all off in Washington Square Park. Dr Strange takes the opportunity to wipe Xandu’s memories, he says just long enough to remove Xandu’s magic powers. I’m sure this is the sort of resolution that leaves Xandu a happy, beneficial member of society again forever and ever. And on that unsettling note — the 22nd of November — the story ends.


And the next story begins. The Daily Bugle has a new owner. J Jonah Jameson’s cousin Ruth, longtime silent owner, has died. Her widower thinks it would be fun to run a newspaper. He’s Elihas Starr. Or as Peter Parker knows him, the supervillain Not That Egghead. This Egghead is a fellow who uses long words and fights Ant-Man. Since Starr figures to publish the paper himself, he doesn’t need J Jonah Jameson any more.

J Jonah Jameson: 'You're the super-brainy hoodlum they call Egghead? I thought he was a 'Batman' bad guy!' Egghead: 'THAT Egghead was just an insignificant figment of television. I am the GENUINE ARTICLE, and of considerably greater stature.' Peter Parker: 'Or so you thought ... till Ant-Man cut you down to size!'
Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s Amazing Spider-Man repeat for the 3rd of December, 2020. Yes, Peter seems to be butting into the conversation with a needless insult. But we do learn later that Egghead once stuck Ant-Man to a sheet of flypaper, so we understand that Egghead knows how to have a giggle.

He does need Peter Parker, though. Starr figures Peter should put his talent at taking pictures of Spider-Man to a good use: taking pictures of Ant-Man. Peter does not know what Egghead is up to. Ant-Man might know, but Peter also doesn’t know where to contact Ant-Man. He’s met Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man, but who’s the current Ant-Man? With the help of Mary Jane he has the idea that Hank Pym might know. I understand they have to lay out the thought process for readers who you can’t assume see every strip. But this is the kind of thing that gave Newspaper Spidey that reputation.

Anyway, the past week of comics Peter’s been trying to get to Hank Pym’s Long Island laboratory. Me, I’d try calling or sending an e-mail first. Too much genre-awareness can be a bother. But Peter Parker should know it would be exactly his luck to get all the way out there and find out Pym is visiting with Doc Wonmug for a week of shenanigans.

Next Week!

Oh, Doc Wonmug and his shenanigans are back in a week. I start the new and I hope better year with Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop, if things go according to plan.

What’s Going On In Judge Parker? Did everything just reset again? September – December 2020


So, no, things did not just reset in Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker the last couple months. There were storylines in which characters’ ambitions failed, and they have to start over. But that’s different from a reset where it doesn’t matter what happened.

This should catch you up on the strip to mid-December 2020. I should have a new plot recap around March 2021, which should post at this link. I’ll also put any news I have about the strip there.

And on my other blog, I’ve finished one mathematics-topic essay for every letter of the alphabet. I hope you enjoy.

Judge Parker.

27 September – 19 December 2020.

Ronnie Huerta was moving back to Los Angeles, last time. The first week in this plot recap’s timeframe was her going to the airport and Neddy Spencer choosing to stay in Cavelton. Staying home again doesn’t make Neddy any happier, but it does give her time to realize nothing much does seem to help. Ronnie’s new roommate is the actor playing the character of Neddy Spencer in the TV show. And, what do you know, but the producers want the real Neddy Spencer back in Los Angeles, to work with the character of Godiva Danube. She doesn’t know that she wants to deal with that, but she does need to do something.

Ronnie: 'Neddy, you still argue with Godiva and she's been dead for two years. You even freaked out meeting the person playing her on set. You NEED closure. Working on the Godiva character may be your best way to do that. You can get everything out you've been struggling with. Face those demons. Help write the character and your way past this.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 20th of October, 2020. Now for me, I find closure overrated. I’ll take a simple apology for all the bull someone put me through, delivered straight, thank you. Maybe a chaser of regret for screwing up what should’ve been a good friendship.

Then there’s the mayoral election, Toni Bowen versus Phil Sanderson. Bowen’s behind, but gaining. It’s revived Sophie Spencer’s spirits. Not just the campaign but learning that she needs to know a lot more of everything. So she jumps from one online course with Local College to six classes to getting ready for University In New York.

It’s hard keeping up interest in the local mayoral election when there’s, you know, everything else going on. But Sophie works hard at it, to the point that even Toni Bowen gets a little sick of the mayoral race. Bowen gives Sophie a guitar, an “epiphone casino”. I must trust Francesco Marciuliano that this means something to guitar people. And promises her that it will all be good, whatever happens on election day.

[ As the race for mayor gets closer ... (Poll showing Sanderson at 51%, Bowen at 49%) tensions increase ... ] Sanderson: 'The only reason Toni's numbers are rising is because I'm constantly reminding people about her when I say she's unfit for office! She owes me her popularity!' Steweart, assistant: 'Uh, what? ... I mean, um, sure ... I mean, have you had your morning coffee yet, sir?'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 22nd of October, 2020. Really the surprising thing here is there’s not undecided voters or some third-party candidate running on the Let’s Have Opossums Eat Town ticket or something.

What happens is Toni Bowen loses. She takes it in good grace, and good stride: she made it a nail-biter election, coming from nowhere, and this won’t be the last mayoral election. Abbey Spencer’s particularly horrified. Sanderson’s got a pet, revenge, project. It’s a boutique hotel downtown that he’s directing corporate visitors to. She sees this as draining what visitors Abbey might draw to her bed-and-breakfast. (The revenge is for Abbey not taking his offer — back in August — to support his campaign. Sanderson had not actually wanted her support, but that’s no reason not to be vindictive.) I’m not sure a downtown boutique hotel and a horse-farm bed-and-breakfast are quite in the same market. But there’s probably not a shortage of Cavelton-area hotel rooms. Especially during the pandemic and with the TV show’s location shooting done.

Neddy: 'Abbey, it's not like Sophie and I are leaving today. We'll still be here for the holidays ... we can even help you with the B-and-B!' Abbey: 'I take it you haven't heard the news.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 27th of November, 2020. So what Sanderson had offered was that if Abbey supported him publicly he’d recommend her B-and-B to companies sending people to town. She chewed him out and declared she’d do anything to help Toni Bowen, then hung up. He chuckled that this was what he wanted. What we saw of the campaign had Sanderson painting Bowen as propped up by elitist and out-of-town money. The Spencer-Driver fortune certainly counts for elite money, but couldn’t register as out-of-town. Was Sanderson being clever? Hard to say. If he judged right that this would make Bowen look like a prop of unpopular rich people, then, it was a great call, considering how close the vote was. (We don’t know how close exactly, just that it wasn’t called until about 6 am, which is close enough.) Anyway it’s not decent of Sanderson to take revenge against Abbey for doing exactly what he wanted her to do, but he is a Republican.

So Abbey feels particularly down in the post-Thanksgiving wash. Her bed-and-breakfast is a mess. Sophie is moving to New York City when that’s safe, which the comic is supposing will be the spring semester. And Neddy decides to move back to Los Angeles, to work on the show and with the Godiva Danube character concept again. She’s feeling desolate.

Sophie and Neddy are sensitive to this, and do something to help Abbey feel appreciated. So while Sam Driver takes her for a long walk and she talks about everything she’s anxious about, Sophie and Neddy decorate the house for Christmas. A nice bit of family.

A less-happy bit of family: Randy Parker and his daughter Charlotte decorating. Charlotte wants to know whether mommy — April Parker — will be there for Christmas. It’s hard to answer since last any of us saw, April Parker was teamed up with her Mom in deep super-secret hyper-spy undercover nonsense. Randy Parker still would like to know what’s happened to her. Alan Parker warns him, that’s going to make all sorts of trouble. Somehow this is still a hard question for Randy, though.

What trouble will this make, and will Randy learn better? We’ll see in a couple months, I hope.

Next Week!

It’s a flashback to 2016 as I do another recap of Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s The Amazing Spider-Man, in reruns but what the heck, they’re easy and fun to write. See you then.

What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? Why did Coach Thorp care where his players sat? September – December 2020


The football players were attending volleyball games. But they were sitting in mutually hostile cliques. That’s what Gil Thorp cared about and wanted to break up. And this should catch you up on Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for mid-December 2020. Plot recaps for 2021 or later, or news about the strip, I should have at a post here.

And on my mathematics blog, this should be the final week for my A-to-Z essays. These have looked at something mathematical through the whole alphabet and that’s fun but also fun to have finished. You may find something interesting there.

Gil Thorp.

21 September – 12 December 2020.

Corina Karenna had just joined Milford, and the girls volleyball team, in September. She was baffled by the team bonfire rally. Will Thayer, quarterback, is interested in Karenna; she shuts him down, asking how many volleyball games he’s been to, which is none.

Coach Thorp: 'That reverse you called? We were saving it for a conference game. Now it's on film.' Terry Rapson: 'Oh.' Thorp: 'And that pass --- ' Rapson: 'Went for a touchdown!' Thorp: 'Because the defender slipped. It would have been incomplete, or worse, when a few first downs would have run out the clock.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 10th of October, 2020. I get Rapson’s mistake here, though. It’s hard to internalize that point where you win by beating the clock instead of the other team.

In the game against Ballard, backup quarterback Terry Rapson gets put in, with directions to run the clock out. Rapson decides to run more aggressively, getting a touchdown and securing the game win. But also giving away a play that Thorp was keeping in reserve for a more important game. Now any opponent can prepare for it. This has to count as a failure of Thorp’s coaching. Granted teenagers are going to make dumb mistakes. But you can’t expect people to follow what seem like bad directions — here, to refrain from taking scoring chances — without reason. They have to know the point of this all.

Anyway, Rapson and Thayer compete to be the lead quarterback. Also to get the interest of Karenna, who can’t think of a reason to care. Rapson and Thayer are pretty well-matched in both contests. And get increasingly angry with each other. Rapson particularly when Thayer loses the game against Madison (for which Rapson was benched).

Football player: 'I'm saying Rapp should play more. You want to try to shut me up?' Marty Moon, reporting: '40 seconds left and it looks like there's a scuffle on the Milford sideline. That's a first!' Assistant coach, separating the fighting players: 'What the heck is wrong with you two?' Both players: 'Ask him!'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 20th of November, 2020. The story switches to Karenna dealing with Rapson and Thayer’s nonsense. So we don’t get to see what Marty Moon makes of what is, yeah, a ridiculous loss of control on Coach Thorp’s part. This is a shame since we don’t get to see Marty Moon falling on his face with this story too, somehow.

Rapson finally takes Karenna’s hints, and goes to a girls volleyball game. He also gets a bunch of friends to go with him. They don’t understand the game, but are putting in the effort, and Karenna consents to go to a football game. The teams start going to one another’s games and that would be great. Except that the football team divides between Rapson and Thayer for first-string quarterback. (And a couple kids who don’t see why they need to have an opinion on this.) They won’t even sit together in the stands.

Gil Thorp learns about this, and tells Rapson and Thayer to knock it off. Rapson and Thayer figure the other went to the coach so he would make their rival knock it off, so the team remains divided. It gets bad enough that teammates fight on the sidelines at a win.

[ Corina Karenna orchestrates a quarterback summit ] Rapson or Thayer (from inside the depicted house): 'Of course we want to win football games!' Karenna: 'Great. now explain how undercutting each other helps. ... No answers? Excellent. Maybe you're brighter than I thought.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 30th of November, 2020. Oh, jeez. Karenna, I hate to dash your optimism, but, speaking as a recovered teenage boy, oh gads no. We are not nearly as bright as you think, and I’m sorry, but we aren’t going to be before about age 28 or so. You and all society would be better off if you stopped giving us attention, or driver’s licenses, or sharp or blunt objects, until this changes.

So Karenna steps in. She invites Rapson and Thayer to her place to fight it out. She explains the problem with the authority of a teenager who’s had to be the functional adult for years. (Her parents divorced. Her mother’s been too depressed to parent.) They’re being selfish, they’re screwing up the team, and they’re not making themselves attractive to her. So what are you going to do? They agree they’ve, at least, had a weird night at Karenna’s place.

Karenna tells the Thorps she’s solved the quarterback problem. Coach Thorp figures he has, too: playing emergency quarterback Leonard Fleming. It works for the first game. At Valley Tech, it’s a bit tougher, and Fleming gets injured. Thorp tells Thayer to step in. But Thayer bows: he’s aware Rapson is reading the defense, should play instead. So, Rapson plays, and the season ends on a win. The girls volleyball players try to congratulate him. He credits Karenna as the most valuable player. She does a shrugging rah.

And that’s where things stand for the middle of December, 2020.

Milford Schools Watch

It’s a bunch of familiar teams that Milford’s played, in football and girls volleyball, the last three months. The dates are from the starts or first mentions of a rival school in the storyline; several of the games went on for a week-plus.

Next Week!

Did Toni Bowen win the mayoral race? Is Sophie Spencer going to go to Local College? Is Ronnie Huerta still in the comic strip? And what storylines have gone totally bonkers? You already know if you’ve reading Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker. Or you can wait a week and catch my Judge Parker recap here. Thanks for reading.

What’s Going On In Rex Morgan, M.D.? Is anything going on in Rex Morgan, M.D.? September – December 2020


Well, yes. Things are happening. Terry Beatty had started “Lockdown Stories” in the middle of August. Each was a small bit of story, checking in with the major characters of recent years to see what they do during the Covid-19 crisis. This has continued. There hasn’t been any overall plot, and few of the characters have been able to interact much.

Also, mostly, everybody’s staying out of trouble. Maybe a bit bored. This is a difficult condition to write. I know from reading the popular comic-strip-snark-blogs that there are readers who find this all boring. I won’t tell you how to feel about this. But it has made Rex Morgan, as a comic strip, much closer in spirit to the semi-serialized comics like Luann or Funky Winkerbean. These are ones where the strip picks one of several sets of characters to advance for a week. (I don’t generally recap those strips, since the strips usually provide a refresher when they start the week.)

I’ll review that all, though. This essay should catch you up on Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. as it stands at the start of December 2020. If you’re reading this after about March 2021, or if any news breaks about the strip, you might find a more relevant essay here.

On my other blog I’m nearing the end of the A-to-Z. This week I plan essay about some mathematics topic starting with the letter Y. I too am wondering what I’ll write it about.

And before I get to the stories, I have a word for Porsupah Ree, a longtime friend. Several years back she took a photograph of wild rabbits having a bit of a time. A good one. Like, good enough there’s a fair chance you’ve seen it in your social media with a caption like “everybody was bun fu fighting”. She’s put it up on Redbubble, so you can get the moment as a postcard or sticker or print or face mask, or many other things. And you can support her hobbies of rabbit photography and eating and such. Please consider it, or at least admire a great rabbit photograph.

Rex Morgan, M.D..

13 September – 6 December 2020.

The 14th of September checked in with Kelly and her mother, Summer. Summer works in Rex Morgan’s clinic, which had closed while he worked in the hospital. That’s all.

The 19th of September looked at Buck and Mindy Wise. Her antiques store is closed, but Buck can do whatever the heck his work is online. And help her in selling stuff online, too. They listen to an online concert from Truck Tyler, starting the 25th of September.

Buck and Mindy watch Truck Tyler's weekly 'Living Room Concert'. Tyler finishes singing 'And I finally checked out of the Glenwood Motel.' Buck: 'He's in really good voice today. Way better than when he had the walking pneumonia!' Mindy: Hmm ... Tyler: 'Hey folks, I'm glad you liked that 'Glenwood Motel' tune. Seems like a lot of people do. Wrote that when I was laid up sick for a few weeks. And I sure feel grateful for my health now, especially with all that's goin' on. I hope all of you are keepin' wel land stayin' safe, and findin' things to keep you occupied. Glad you're here to listen to my music. Looks like we have some requests there in the chat section or comment bar or whatever it's called. So here we go with an old Ernest Tubb number!' Buck: 'Oh --- GOOD one!'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 27th of September, 2020. Anyone else bothered that an old guy who hadn’t used the Internet before March is better at being online than we are?

Truck Tyler had the good fortune to get pneumonia and be confined to a motel room for a couple weeks back in February. His “Glenwood Motel” song about the experience was well-timed to be the sound of summer 2020.

And what about Doug, the manager and maybe owner of the Glenwood Motel? We check in on him starting the 4th of October, and the most dramatic conflict of these stories. A young woman comes in, without a mask, hoping to rent a room. He dimly recognizes her. Readers might, too, although I didn’t until I read the comments: it’s Nancy, one of the mean girls from high school. I don’t know her last name. It wasn’t said on-screen and there’s been too many characters for me to track down everybody’s full names. Nancy and her clique have been trying to get a Covid-19 party together. Her parents sent warnings and her photo to … I guess all the local hotels. So he refuses to rent, and she goes off in a huff. He calls her parents to at least give them this data point.

Some Comics Kingdom commenters were upset Nancy’s parents had not talked to her about this kind of offensive and dangerous stunt. This makes an interesting comment about how people see the stuff left out of stories. My assumption is to suppose that they had. I’d based this on imagining myself as a parent. And I know the generally pleasant, low-melodrama nature of Terry Beatty’s writing. But that they also knew Nancy was likely to try sneaking out, and took what safeguards they could. I’m willing to suppose that even excellent parents know that sometimes their kids will be stupider than they can be protective. Other readers took this as evidence of Nancy’s parents being awful at communicating with their daughter. Or being awful at managing their daughter’s behavior. There’s nothing in text indicating one way or another, though.

Nancy's plan to host a 'Covid-19 party' has failed. Girlfriend in the car: 'What happened? Did you get the room?' Nancy: 'No, the jerk refused to rent me one!' Girlfriend: 'Really? What's the deal with THAT?' Nancy: 'My parents contacted him, and probably all the other hotels and motels in town too. Can you believe it? They wouldn't let me host the party at our house. Did they have to ruin THIS for me, too?' Girlfriend: 'What a rotten deal. Some parents just don't want their kids having any fun.' Nancy: 'Tell me about it!' [ In the hotel office ] Doug, on the phone: 'Yeah, she just left. Thanks for alerting me --- and congratulations on you being responsible parents. I hope she'll come to appreciate that someday.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 11th of October, 2020. Me, I’m stuck thinking how exhausting it would be to call all the hotels and motels in a metro area. I can suppose Glenwood is smaller than my metro area but still, Hotels.com has 73 listings here and jeez, how long did they spend calling places? Or, like, is there something where you can report a runaway kid and they pass information on to hotel owners? I could imagine that, but also imagine ways to abuse that terribly. So these kinds of thoughts remind me why I’m never going to make it to the second tier of comic strip snark bloggers.

Nancy is the older brother of Edward, owner of that unseeable ugly dog. He gets some attention from the 12th of October. He’s in school with Sarah Morgan, and they like each other now that he’s outgrown being a bully. They hang out some.

This gets us back around to the Morgans. Rex Morgan was working in the hospital, in the Covid-19 center, and so was quarantined from the rest of his family. Reading the kids stories over video chat and all that. It’s exhausting work. Sarah Morgan’s working remotely, working a triage phone line. And she’s trying to cope with the kids being kids and doing stuff like accidentally cutting their hair. This is a lot to ask and there’s no real managing it all. She and Rex consider options in a world where they can’t get a babysitter or relatives to help.

Rex proposes that he leave the hospital’s Covid-19 unit, and reopen the Morgan clinic as telemedicine. It would let them both watch their kids. And we don’t need to worry about Rex ducking out of doing doctor stuff in the greatest public health crisis in 102 years. Glenwood’s infection rate was falling and the hospital planning to cut his hours anyway. But he still has to quarantine for two weeks, so there’s a pause before that state can change any.

Scenes of hospital workers while the narration box addresses the audience: 'As Covid-19 has moved through the real world, so has it affected the lives of our characters in the fictional comic strip town of Glenwood. Rex and Michelle have been treating patients at Glenwood Hospital. Rex is preparing for his last day working in the hospital's Covid-19 unit. He plans to begin remote appointments with his clinic patients soon. Nurse Michelle Carter will stay on until the Morgan Clinic opens its doors in a manner other than virtual. This comic strip hasn't followed Rex or Michelle into their work with coronavirus patients. Frankly, that's just too real a subject matter for the comics page. But we will say we admire the bravery and dedication of the real-life healthcare workers who have taken on this task --- often at great risk to their own well-being. Lives are saved. Lives are lost. Tears of relief, and of sorrow, are shed. Life moves on for our comic strip cast of characters, actors made of ink, playing out their days on a paper stage.
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 8th of November, 2020. I understand that as a comic strip matures it picks up characters who are outside the main focus. Also that a writer might doubt his ability to tell credible stories in a professional setting. Especially in circumstances in which real-world professionals are not sure about their ability to manage the situation. It still seems a little odd that Rex Morgan, M.D. has only three characters who’d have a place in the medical emergency, though.

Terry Beatty pauses to tell the reader that it would be too much to follow Rex Morgan or nurse Michelle Carter in the Covid-19 wards. And then we go to Michele’s fiancee Jordan. His restaurant opened in time for the worst time in the world. But he’s doing take-out and delivery orders. Including dinner for Michelle every night. Sweet guy. She and he talk, with Michelle unloading her daily stresses.

The 30th of November got us back to Buck and Mindy. It’s the one that seems most to be going somewhere, although it’s hard to say where. What we’ve seen are that he’s tired, finding computer screens blurry. And looks like he’s lost weight. And he’s thirsty all the time. Since we know how narrative works, we know he’s being set up for something. But what? Too soon to say, as of the 6th of December anyway.

Next Week!

Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp has carried on as though the pandemic were not a thing. Defensible choice. So what does the football season look like? I’ll look at Milford and its sports activities next week, if things go as planned.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Sundays)? Who’s this Emperor Joonkar? September – November 2020


The Emperor Joonkar ruled the territory that’s now Bangalla, back in the latter part of the 17th century. The current Sunday story continuity features two of Joonkar’s descendants, although only one’s been seen in the last three months of strips.

This should catch you up on Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom, Sunday continuity, through the end of November 2020. If you’re looking for the separate weekday storyline, or are reading after about March 2021, or want to see news about The Phantom comic strip there may be a more useful essay here.

On my mathematics blog, I have my A-to-Z project at work still. It’s nearing the end, with the letter ‘X’ due tomorrow, but there’s some nice stuff said about ‘W’ also.

The Phantom (Sundays).

6 September – 29 November 2020.

Last time, Sunday edition, The Phantom had answered an elderly woman’s letter. Her grandson, The Detective, needed rescue. The local criminal gang put him in a cave just below the high tide line to drown. The Phantom provided rescue.

The Detective mentions how the crime syndicate here is shipping weapons to terror networks across Africa and Asia. So that makes it a stronger Phantom job. The Ghost Who Walks figures two people is overkill for destroying a terror network supplier. But hey, sometimes you want an easy win. The warehouse is unguarded, allegedly because the gunrunners’ reputation is that fearsome. I don’t fault you if you don’t buy this point, but the comic strip is premised on the power of reputations.

Phantom: 'After your time in the water pit, I imagine you're ready for something other than seafood.' Detective: 'Friend, you got that right.' Phantom, opening the fridge and grilling steaks: 'Fire up the grill ... Any idea when the gang plans to return?' Detective: 'Maybe in ten days, maybe ten minutes. Hard to say.' Phantom: 'Well, let's eat before they get here. Devil, yours is rare ... bloody, I believe?' [ Devil takes a good chunk from the steak. ] Phantom: 'Whenever the gang gets here, we're going to need a plan. Your thoughts, detective?' Detective: 'Mister, that depends on who you really are! The Phantom...!? Or some kind of lone hero keeping the legend alive!'
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 27th of September, 2020. The Ghost Who Walks may be reluctant to kill, but he sees nothing wrong in pantry raiding a gang. I mean, yes, we should be more willing to swipe food than kill people but it’s still a quirk you don’t see in other superheroes. Is there just not a good farmer’s market near Skull Cave?

Besides, it’s only like two dozen guys. The Phantom talks up how The Detective resembles, in character and body, his ancestor the Emperor Joonkar. This also feeds into The Detective — who’s heard stories of The Phantom without really believing them — and his suspicion that the unidentified purple-clad man he’s working with might just be …

Phantom: 'That tiger story was told everywhere. The fact is, it was a man-eating lion moving in for the kill on Emperor Joonkar!' Detective: 'Well, it was a tiger when my Bibi told the story. And in some versions she'd heard, the Phantom didn't kill the beast, he scared it off!' Phantom, thinking of the 7th Phantom writing in the Chronicles: 'Stories change as they're handed down over the centuries. I find it best to rely on someone who was there, don't you? Take it from me ... it was a lion.' Detective, thinking: 'No! H-he can't be that same man!! ... Can he?' Phantom, pointing to headlights in the jungle: 'Here they come ... '
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 15th of November, 2020. The talk about whether this was a tiger or a lion serves a sly and pretty fun story point. When the strip started Bangalla — and Emperor Joonkar, in its past — was a vaguely South Indian nation. That’s been retconned to Africa. I do not know which story of Emperor Joonkar is being referenced here. So explaining continuity glitches as errors in the oral-history tradition is funny and sensible. Note that Joonkar’s name hasn’t been consistent through the comic strip’s history. And different stories in the comic strip continuity had him interact with the 7th or the 6th Phantom.

And that’s been a lot of the past month. Preparing for the gang to arrive, and The Phantom talking up The Detective and his own self. The Phantom’s relying on the Phantom Chronicles and what the 7th Phantom wrote about Joonkar. The criminal gang finally started to arrive last Sunday. The Phantom explained how he avoids getting trapped in prison caves: clobber one or two of them at a time. Can’t deny the logic, but The Phantom is lucky they’re coming in groups of two, also.

That’s the plot, as of late November 2020. It has been light on plot. It’s more showing off how The Phantom builds his legend. It uses a mix of inscrutability, “accidental” historical name-dropping, and competence porn. And, yes, I’m amused that the strip is doing the Special Christmas Episode where the punch line is, “but how did that jolly bearded man in the red jacket know what I always wanted for Christmas” while jingle bells sound in the distance. Only here it’s someone learning to believe in the Phantom.

Next Week!

The pandemic finally settles on its second story strip. Read up on the Covid-19 Tales in Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. next week, if all goes well.

Statistics Saturday: Second-Tier Hanna-Barbera Characters of the 60 or Rejected Names for Snuffy Smith


So far as you know.

  • Breezley and Sneezley
  • Hooty Owlsy
  • Possumpuss Watson
  • Snip and Snap
  • Dean Dizzy
  • Yippee, Yappy, and Yahooie
  • Hoot and Annie
  • Gidge and Bidge
  • Smoky Crow
  • Tip, Tap, and Tom
  • Biffy and Sniffy
  • Pooky, Coopy, and Boopy
  • Bingo Miboy
  • Paw, Maw, and Floral Rugg
  • Zippy and Pippy

Reference: Barney Google and Snuffy Smith: 75 Years of an American Legend, Brian Walker.

What’s Going On In Mary Worth? What are Tommy and Brandy’s last names? August – November 2020


Tommy’s last name is Beedie. This has been a long time coming to know. I noticed in writing these up that I haven’t mentioned his, or his mother Iris’s name, before. But there, the 28th of September, Mary Worth mentions Iris’s last name. And then Toby spoke of him as Tommy Beedie the next day, eliminating the loophole that a mother and son don’t have to have the same last name.

Brandy’s last name I don’t know. I can’t find a good compendium of Mary Worth characters that gets to details like Tommy’s existence or his last name, never mind Brandy’s. So if someone knows a good source for Mary Worth character names and such? Please drop a link.


So this should catch you up Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for mid-to-late November 2020. If you’re reading this after about February 2021, or if there’s any news about the strip, I may have something more current here. And on my mathematics blog, I continue working through the alphabet, explaining terms as I go. I’m enjoying it.

Mary Worth.

31 August – 21 November 2020.

We were in the mopping-up phase of summer’s story when I last checked in. Saul Wynter’s vague relative Madi had learned the happiness of Dog, and Mary Worth, and went home.

And yet the story … somehow … did not end. Saul Wynter keeps talking to his dog Greta about how things with Madi started rough but turned out great. While walking Greta, Wynter notices a woman walking a golden retriever. She comes over and introduces herself; Eve and her dog Max are new Charterstone residents. She’s a widow, looking to start her life anew and this sure looks like we’re gliding into the new story.


So the 21st of September we lurch into the new story, which has nothing to do with Saul and Eve and Greta and Max. It’s about Tommy and Brandy, coworkers at the supermarket, whom we last checked in on in 2018. Their relationship has a built-in crisis. After a workplace injury years ago, Tommy got addicted to alcohol and painkillers. Brandy’s father was an alcoholic and a drug abuser, and she wants none of that in her life ever again. Tommy’s told her about his past, and been clean.

Tommy, holding up an onion ring as though an engagement ring: 'Please, Brandy! Take this onion ring, and say you'll be mine!' Brandy: 'I *am* yours, babe.' Tommy: 'Marry me, then!' Brandy: 'I ... can't!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 10th of October, 2020. So, uh, do you think he ate the onion ring? Or she did? Maybe this is just a kid-from-a-big-family thing but I really don’t like the thought the onion ring went to waste.

And their relationship’s been going so well that Mary Worth and Toby spend their time talking about how great it is. So Tommy figures this is the time to propose, at the diner, slipping an onion ring onto her finger. Brandy is not ready for this, and doubts she’ll ever be ready for marriage, and says so.

This activates Tommy’s self-destruct sequence. He spends days interpreting Brandy’s fatigue as being she’s tired of him. Or asking “well, why don’t we get married then?” every 85 seconds. When Brandy asks for some time alone with her headache, Tommy goes for a walk in Santa Royale’s Bad Neighborhood. There he meets up with Vin, a friend from the old days, who offers him a drug. It’s hard, but Tommy declines.

In a dark alley Vin says, 'Tommy boy, if we weren't old friends I wouldn't be sharing! We can party together just like old times! And boy, you need it! You look like hell! What's going on with you?' Tommy: 'Nothing, man. Just girl trouble.' Vin, offering a crack pipe: 'This will take the edge off your pain ... ' Tommy stares at it, rather like a figure in a 50s horror comic contemplating drugs, thinking, 'The pain ... is strong ... but ... [ as Brandy walks by, witnessing but not understanding the scene ] ... so am I.'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 25th of October, 2020. So that close-up on Tommy’s face that last panel. Is that an homage to that famous EC Comics panel, the woman with the eyes bugged out as she faces down a hypodermic needle, that Fredric Wertham got all worked up about?

A bit too late, though. Brandy, going to the drugstore of dramatic irony, sees Vin offering his metal lollipop to Tommy, and concludes the worst. The next day she says she saw him with the crack pipe. She won’t listen to his protests, and breaks up with him.

They each have lousy nights. The next day Tommy tries what he thinks is a charm offensive. This by leaving a rose and a note at her cash register and reminding her every 75 seconds that he loves her and doesn’t use drugs. This of course doesn’t work, and Tommy confesses his woes to Mary Worth, who’s still making banana bread even though that was last story’s foodstuff.

She points out that Tommy’s not a failure or a loser, and that relationships aren’t linear. And, you know, love yourself, live well, and everything else will work out. She even deploys a nearly-unthinkable meddle: “there’s so much more to life than relationships”.

Tommy decides to do more talks with schoolkids about his addiction experience. Also I guess he was doing talks with schoolkids about his addiction experience. Well, kind of him to do that. Less kind: he reminds Brandy every 65 seconds that he’s doing this for troubled(?) kids and he loves her and he’s been clean and everything.

[ Tommy wraps up his visit with Mary ... ] Mary Worth: 'As much as I don't want you to give up on love, there's so much more to life than relationships. Be proud of how far you've come. Love yourself and your life, and everything will fall into place.'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 16th of November, 2020. She means well, and is even right to say this. But what Tommy’s heard is “I’m such a loser MARY WORTH thinks I can’t be in a relationship”, which would be a heck of a thing to hear about yourself.

And that’s where the story reached by this past weekend. It does feel near the resolution. And it does feel likely that it resolves with Brandy accepting Tommy’s declarations. It’s an ugly scene, though. Brandy’s understandable but wrong judgement is harsh. Judged-guilty-despite-being-good is a plot that makes me squirm. I blame that Donald Duck cartoon where he makes his nephews smoke the box of cigars that, oops, they bought as a gift for him. (For my money, a far more traumatizing childhood experience than watching Watership Down could ever be.) But so much of Tommy’s behavior has been nagging his way back into Brandy’s good graces and that’s so many kinds of bad. He should do like the rest of us, and subtweet her with such relentlessness that their mutual friends all end up taking her side. Also a lot of his effort has been hollering “I’m not on the drugs anymore” from four aisles over at the supermarket. Never force the assistant manager to have to notice your relationship.

But, we’ll see. Catch you in the Mary Worth universe, most likely, around late February or early March 2021, I hope.

Dubiously Sourced Mary Worth Sunday Panel Quotes!

The car care place still has, on its message board, the thanks to the local economic council for support in making it through the epidemic. So I have to look at the actual quotes that appeared in the Sunday panels instead.

  • “We could never learn to be brave and patient, if there were only joy in the world.” — Helen Keller, 30 August 2020.
  • “Although the world is full of suffering, it is also ful lof the overcoming of it.” — Helen Keller, 6 September 2020, for a rare double-header.
  • “All the windows of my heart I open to the day.” — John Greenleaf Whittier, 13 September 2020.
  • “The only way to have a friend is to be one.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson, 20 September 2020.
  • “Ultimately, love is everything.” — M Scott Peck, 27 September 2020.
  • “Who, being loved, is poor?” — Oscar Wilde, 4 October 2020.
  • “Sometimes I feel my whole life has been one big rejection.” — Marilyn Monroe, 11 October 2020.
  • “I had sadness for breakfast.” — Andy Milonakis, 18 October 2020.
  • “I generally avoid temptation unless I can’t resist it.” — Mae West, 25 October 2020.
  • “Tears come from the heart and not from the brain.” — Leonardo da Vinci, 1 November 2020.
  • “I myself am made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions.” — Augusten Burroughs, 8 November 2020.
  • “When I lost you, honey, sometimes I think I lost my guts too.” — Bruce Springsteen, 15 November 2020.
  • “You gain nothing from giving up.” — Robert Kubica, 22 November 2020.

Next Week!

The Phantom joins The Detective to foil The Villains! It’s
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom, Sunday continuity
, if everything goes well.

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? Do you hate the new Mark Trail? August – November 2020


My answer is long. Let me defer it until after the plot recap. This plot recap should get you up to speed for mid-November, 2020, and the start of Jules Rivera’s tenure on Mark Trail. If you’re reading this after about February 2021, or if there’s more Mark Trail news, you might find an essay at this link more useful.

Also! Remember that Comics Kingdom survey? It hasn’t come to anything yet. But D D Degg, at Daily Cartoonist, reports how Comics Kingdom is doing a Flash Gordon Anthology strip. Flash Forward started this past Sunday. It’s in honor of the 40th anniversary of the movie, and they seem to have forty artists lined up to do stuff. I don’t know whether it’ll have an ongoing story. If there is one, I’ll try and do plot recaps.

Last, my A-to-Z of mathematics terms resumes this week on my other blog. Would you like to see me say something about velocity? The answer may surprise you.

Mark Trail.

23 August – 14 November 2020.

When I last checked with Mark Trail, it was a Jack Elrod-era rerun. I did not know when it was from. I’ve since learned. The story ran from the 13th of March through to the 29th of May, 2001.

And, now, a content warning. The story features a pet — Andy the dog — being harmed. He comes through it fine. But you folks who don’t need a pet-harm story in your recreational reading right now? You are right. I’ll put all this text behind a cut and we can catch up with the first Jules Rivera story.

[ Edit: I turn out to have overestimated my ability to just put a couple paragraphs behind a cut.  Well, I tried.  Zip ahead to the horizontal rule and resume reading from there if you want to skip the pet-harm stuff. ]

Continue reading “What’s Going On In Mark Trail? Do you hate the new Mark Trail? August – November 2020”

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? What comics would you have Comics Kingdom bring back? August – November 2020


The Comics Kingdom survey still seems to be up, so, let me remind you of it.

There are strips I’d love to see revived. There are strips I can’t see being revived usefully. What I mean is, we don’t need a new generation of Kabibble Kabaret. There, I’m sorry, estate of Harry Hershfield, but you know I’m right.

So, now, this essay should catch you up to early November 2020 in Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley. This link should have more up-to-date plot recaps, and any news about the strip, as I get it.

On my other blog, I’m writing up essays about mathematics terms. This week should be ‘V’. It’s probably also going to be late because it’s been a very busy week. I should have had a busy week for the letter ‘X’ instead; there’s so few X- words that I could miss the week and nobody could tell. Too bad. Now on to Gasoline Alley.

Gasoline Alley.

17 August – 7 November 2020.

Last time in a story I had thought might be a repeat, small-scale crook Joe Pye met his long-lost wife Shari. (I think it was new.) Shari’s upset about his vanishing years ago. But Pye and his sons had escaped from jail and need everything. He claims they’re wandering minstrels providing music for church services and stuff. She’s willing to fall for this. And they’re willing to go along with this for a bath, a meal, and a bed.

Joe Pye: 'Shari! Your church might not have the instruments we're, uh, used t'playing!' Pye Boy: 'Daddy's right! We need a five-string banjo, fiddle, guitar and tambourine! Most churches wouldn't have such as that!' Shari: 'No problem! We've got all them in the choir room! Great, huh?' Joe and Boy: 'Yeah! Great!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 10th of September, 2020. Once again, I want to point out Scancarelli’s draftsmanship. For example, in the three panels the camera rotates nearly 180 degrees around the action without being confusing. For another, look at Shari’s hand in the last panel, with the middle fingers resting together and the index and pinky fingers separating. That’s a pose your fingers take when you don’t notice, and it speaks to artistic observation that Scancarelli depicts that. Also it’s cute that Shari and her son have their hands to their cheeks simultaneously and conveying nearly opposite feelings.

And she can offer a job. Pastor Neil Enpray’s happy to have them perform in church this Sunday. They’re worse at music than I am, and I’m barely competent to listen to music. But all the Traveling Truebadours can do is bluff through it. The Pye men try to figure what they can do, while the pastor lectures on the appearances of snakes in the Bible. Joe Pye figures what they can do is pocket cash from the collection baskets.

Pastor Enpray asks Roscoe Pye to bring him a box, though. And inside is a snake! They’re terrified, fairly, and run, fleeing the church. It’s a rubber snake, of course, a toy. Enpray was hoping to “make an impression” on his congregation.

So, they escape without showing how they don’t know any hymns. But they’re also hungry and homeless. And figure Shari won’t take them back. Joe Pye figures they have one hope left: go back to prison. Why not break back in to their cells? This inspired me to wonder, when someone does escape prison, how long do they wait to reassign their cell? I have no idea. If you do, please write in.

They get there as another prisoner’s trying to break out. They’re caught up by the prison guards and confess they’re escaped prisoners. Warden Bordon Gordon, a tolerably deep Bob Newhart Show cut, is having none of it. He insists their time was up and they were released. He just forgot to mention. It so happens they were let out the same night four other people escaped, which is why there was a manhunt.

Warden: 'What brings you boys to see us?' Joe Pye: 'We're turning' ourselves in, warden.' Warden: 'What for? Your time was up! We released you!' Pye: 'You didn't tell us!' Warden, thinking: 'Hmm! I knew there was something I forgot to do!' Pye: 'So we escaped fo' nuthin!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 19th October, 2020. And yes, I see the Warden’s finger-cracking in the first panel too. It’s not hard to imagine Scancarelli having a decent career at Mad Magazine filling in the corners of the page with little toss-off gags.

The comic logic is sound. The Pyes figuring jail’s their best bet and they can’t get in, makes sense. I don’t know a specific silent comedy with this premise, but I’d bet all the A-tier comedians did something like that. I don’t fault you if you don’t buy this specific excuse.

Onward as the premise demands, though. They have to get arrested. Their best plan: steal from the grocery store. When they try to wheel a cart full of food out and admit they can’t pay, the store owner apologizes. Times are tough. Take the food. Have some soup, too. Because, you know, when you leave food in the hands of people rather than corporations, hungry people get to eat.

In the last days of October they approach a spooky old house. It sounds haunted. They run out of the place, and out of the strip; with the 30th of October we transition to Slim Skinner and the new story.


The haunted sounds are Slim’s fault, of course, but in a good way. He’d decked out a slated-for-demolition house for Halloween and that went great. There’s a bit of talk about getting the city to save the building, but that doesn’t seem to be the plot. Instead, in the middle of the night, Slim’s mother and cousin Chubby come to visit. And that’s where the daily plots stand.

Slim, dreaming of himself narrating a story: 'I'm Herbert Lewot, alies the Towel! (That's Lewot spelled backward!) My partner in grime is the Washrag! (His real name is Tex Grxznopfski, but it's too hard to pronounce forward or backward!) We patrol Ajax City aboard our sleek, modern vehicle, the Barsoap V, in search of crooks to clean up in the cities' clean up grime campaign! I spied a silhouetted 'second-story' man sneaking in a 20th story window!' Washrag: 'Wouldn't taking the fire escape be easier?' Towel: 'Washrag and I climb up the building and burst into the apartment after the crook! But to our dismay and alarm there was no villain! Who is it then?'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 20th of September, 2020. I picked this as the most active of the Towel strips. But the 13th and the 27th of September are the ones that have more little jokes and references tucked into the corners, so you might like those better.

For a couple weeks in September there was at least a running thread. Slim dreamed of being a Herbert Lewot, wealthy comic-book-reading bachelor who’s also the grime-fighter The Towel. (Spell “Lewot” backwards.) The setup feels very like an old-time-radio spoof of any number of old-time radio superheroes. (The ‘Tex Grxznopfski’ and talk about spelling backwards particularly feels Jack Benny Show to me.) Slim Skinner’s shown, for example, reading Yellow Jacket comics. Remember that both the Green Hornet and the Blue Beetle were respectable-enough radio superheroes. I’m sure there are more obscure bug-themed radio superheroes too. I think this is just a one-off, but if Scancarelli wants to fit a sub-strip into his strip? There’s a long history that he knows very well to support him.

Next Week!

The most anticipated plot recap since the new team took on Alley Oop. It’s my first plot recap for Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail, next week, if all goes well. See you then.

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? Did Svengoolie bust an actual vampire? August – October 2020


Svengoolie did not. For a moment it looked like the vampire-killer was confessing to the horror-movie host. Svengoolie was instead used, with some elegance, to provide exposition about how a gadget needed for the story should work.

This essay should catch you up on Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy through to the end of October, 2020. Any news about Dick Tracy that I get, or after about February 2021 new plot recaps, should be at this link.

On my other blog I continue writing about mathematics terms, one for each letter in the alphabet. This past week, I revisited a topic I’d already written, because I forgot I already wrote an essay about tiling. Come on over and stare at my embarrassment!

Dick Tracy.

9 August – 31 October 2020.

Dethany Dendrobia, star of Bill Holbrook’s On The Fastrack, was the guest star last time we checked in. She was in the Greater Tracypolitan Metro Area to investigate weirdness with a warehouse her company was buying. The weirdness: Coney, an ice-cream-themed villain. He’s searching the warehouse for a fortune left behind by Stooge Viller, a villain who died in 1940, our time. Coney’s desperate because the property management company “accidentally” sold the warehouse to Fastrack. To buy time and the warehouse, Coney’s gang kidnaps Dendrobia’s fiancee, Guy Wyre.

Sam Catchem’s informant has a tip for Wyre’s whereabouts: “some old warehouse”. It’s kind of a crazy lead, but you know what? Sometimes the crazy leads pay off. With the help of FBI Inspector Fritz Ann Dietrich they raid the warehouse, catching Coney mid-lick. Coney tries to put it all on Howdy, the Howdy Doody-themed henchman and yes you read that right. Dendrobia finds Wyre, and more, the restroom behind him. And one of those old-fashioned toilets with the water tank that’s up by the ceiling. She pulls the chain and finds piles of cash. This because none of the people searching the warehouse for Villier’s Millions ever looked in the toilet water tank.

Dethany Dendrobia, washing her hands, notices: 'Wow, there's an old-fashioned water tank in this bathroom.' She pulls the chain on the elevated water tank. The bottom of the tank falls out and bundles of money drop from it.
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 20th of August, 2020. Yes, Dethany’s washing her hands in that first panel and I don’t know why. She rushed past her bound fiancee to do it, too. One of the GoComics.com commenters speculated that Howdy was planning to keep the loot for himself, and pretended to have found nothing. Possibly relocated the loot while waiting for his chance to sneak it out. This isn’t explicitly supported in the text. But it would answer my doubts that in 80 years nobody checked the water tanks.

So all’s squared away, and Dendrobia and Wyre can get back to their Halloween-scheduled wedding. (It did go on, over in their home comic strip of On The Fastrack, as a mostly online event. Some family attended, after a strict two-week quarantine.)


The 23rd of August started another two-week Minit Mystery, with guest writer Mark Barnard and guest artist Jorge Baeza. The mysterious ‘Presto’ makes the city’s new Aurora Rising statue vanish when his ransom isn’t paid. The story is one of how Tracy follows his one lead. But there is a legitimate mystery and the statue’s disappearance is by a more-or-less legitimate piece of stage magic. Also, there’s a guest appearance by Smokey Stover, so, you’re welcome, Dad. I had nothing to do with it.


The Halloween story started the 7th of September with a mad sciencey-type carving fangs. And in an atmospheric and silent week, does a vampire-attack on a woman, Faith Brown. She dies of blood loss from two wounds in her neck, and there’s chloroform in her blood. He goes on to admire his fang-and-pump apparatus. And how after a “minor adjustment” he’ll be able to add Faith’s sisters’ blood to his “collection”.

Honeymoon Tracy and Adopted Orphan Annie pop into the story the 13th, as their journalism tutor Brenda Starr gives them an assignment. Pick a story from the paper and they do their own investigation. They’re interested in the “vampire” killing. Starr recommends talking with Professor Stokes, Biology Professor at Local College. He’s the guy with the fangs, and he’s known to be an expert on vampire lore. Honeymoon and Annie go to Dick Tracy to see if he can get them an introduction. They’re too young to realize that if you’re even a bit female, and ask a white nerd about his obsession, he will never stop talking to you, including about it.

Professor Stokes, showing his fangs to Honeymoon and Annie: 'There are 'vampire fans' who do practice the consumption of blood, but it is always voluntary, from a donor.' Honeymoon bleahs her tongue out. Stokes: 'Ha ha! I admit I'm not tempted to try it either. If you really want to explore the vampire subculture, I've made a list of books and sites to visit.' He hands Honeymoon a bundle of papers, labelled 'VAMPIRE BOOKS' on top. Honeymoon: 'Thanks, Professor Stokes.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 22nd of September, 2020. So this one time decades ago I was taking a picture in a dimly-lit computer room. When the flash went off, this friend who had an online vampire roleplay going howled in an instinctive pain. He said it was because the flash was right in his eyes but … you know? I should check how that picture came out. Since it was a photo I took in like 1997, probably unfocused and with everything interesting under-lit.

Tracy goes along with them, though, since he needs to get some suspects into the story. Stokes admits how he’s part of the local Nosferatu scene and sure there’ll be a certain amount of blood-drinking there, but not him. And it’s always from volunteers. And he has some literature.

Meanwhile Faith’s bereaved sisters — Hope and Charity — are not too bereaved not to talk themselves into buying a car with their inheritance. Not from Faith’s death, particularly; a fortune they’d come into before her killing. Their Uncle Matthew had been a “patron to some really eccentric types”. If Faith-Hope-and-Charity weren’t found, the money would have gone to the eccentrics. Have you spotted the eccentric in this story?

Then there’s another break. TV horror-host Svengoolie had a fan send him a “working artificial vampire system”. Could it have something to do with the vampire killing? No, it turns out. The machine’s from a Local College student, and does have actual blood-draw gear, but its motor wouldn’t draw enough blood to kill. And “confessing to Svengoolie” would be weird even for the Dick Tracy universe. But, the Local College student did find the parts he needed from the college lab. And here we get explained how Stokes could make this vampire machine, without a villain monologuing and without anyone telling someone things they should already know.

Honeymoon, to Dick Tracy, driving: 'We're going to see SVENGOOLIE?' Tracy: 'He called and wants to meet us at the TV studio.' Annie: 'I watch his show on Saturday nights back home. I can't wait to tell Daddy, Punjab, and the Asp about this!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 28th of September, 2020. “Daddy Warbucks is busy this week informing heads of government at the G8 summit just what symbolic reforms the wealthy are going to allow them to make in the next year. And after that he’s visiting Mr Am, his immortal friend who’s Ambiguously God. But once he’s back from all that he’ll be very impressed I saw a man who says `Berwyn` while stagehands throw rubber chickens at him.”

Professor Stokes learns of Hope and Charity buying a car with the money he feels entitled to. I don’t know how. He calls Hope Brown, though, with the promise of running a new-car-warranty scam. And stops in, coincidentally as Brenda Starr is visiting. Starr mentions she bought a new car and needs a warranty scam. He doesn’t have a card, he explains, but jots down his name and number.

Starr goes into action, because what kind of agent meets a client without business cards? In 2020, when I’m assuming smartphone owners transfer contact information by waving their phones in someone’s direction. So she calls Dick Tracy with her suspicion that Hope Brown’s the next vampire victim.

Hope Brown: 'I'm sorry about the interruption. I'll work up your travel plans right away.' Brenda Starr: 'It's all right. Meeting Mr Stoker was a bonus.' Brown: 'Have a nice day, Ms Starr. I'll be in touch soon!' Starr, thinking: 'Maybe sooner than you think, Miss Brown. I know I've seen 'Mr Stoker' before. And what kind of agent comes to an appointment without business cards?'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 15th of October, 2020. Starr knows Professor Stokes, at minimum by reputation, as she’d recommended him to Honeymoon and Annie for vampire information. This may make you ask, then, why didn’t Stokes recognize Starr? But there’s no reason to think they’ve met. She’d habitually be making notes of “people with deep knowledge on esoteric subjects”. And even if they had, normal people do not remember every person they’ve ever met. Even people who, like Brenda Starr, have hair that’s always sparkling in the light.

Stokes descends on a woman leaving Brown’s office. She turns, beating him up. It’s not Hope Brown. It’s Officer Lizz Grove, in disguise. Stokes breaks free, though, and runs to a nearby Jazz festival. And into the path of a cop car, that kills him. The police are aghast at killing a white guy who wasn’t protesting police violence, of course. But that wraps up the vampire problem.

Now the parts where I’m confused. It’s in motivations. I understand Stokes wanting to kill the Brown girls, on the hypothesis that would somehow get him the inheritance. (I can imagine ways Uncle Matthew might have set things up so this could work.) I could also understand him just taking “revenge” on people he’s decided wronged him by existing. I can also understand Stokes wanting this “collection” of blood he mentioned. I don’t understand these motives applying at once. Well, maybe Stokes was a complicated person.

Brenda Starr has one last question, though, for Adopted Orphan Annie. It’s one I would have thought too obvious to ask. Annie could have picked any story in the newspaper to investigate. Why was Annie interested in a weird, freakish killing that drew a six-column, two-deck headline? Why not the business piece about soy futures coming in even more in line with forecasts than analysts expected? Annie explains she knew murder victim Faith Brown, from a distance, aware she had been a kind and helpful fixture of the neighborhood. I guess it’s nice to learn give Faith Brown some traits besides being the inciting victim. But if Annie never met her how did she even know Faith Brown’s name? It’s an explanation that makes me less clear about what’s going on.


Besides the Minit Mystery and the number of guest stars were a few special strips over this era. The 18th of October was dedicated to James “Bart” Bush, a longtime Dick Tracy super-fan who recently died. On the 6th of October much of the strip was given to Sam Catchem reading the “Quowit the Happy Hangman” comic strip.

On the 1st of October we saw a mysterious gloved hand emerge from the rapids. That seems likely to be Abner Kadaver, TV horror host-turned-killer for hire. Last we saw him, back in 2016, he died going over the Reichenbach Falls, like that could ever work. I am surprised he didn’t somehow get into the Halloween story.

Next Week!

I think the story about Joe Pye and his kids, escaped from jail, wasn’t a rerun? So we get back to Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley and see how they’re handling a reunion with Joe Pye’s wife. Again, that’s if anything goes to plan. Good luck to us all.

What’s Going On In Prince Valiant? When was Camelot attacked by kaiju? August – October 2020


The kaiju story — a giant sea-beast smashing the castle walls — was back in 2009. It got referenced as Valiant returns to Camelot and sees they’ve repaired the damage. So, this essay should catch you up on Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant through to late October 2020. If you’re reading this after about January 2021, I hope I’ll have a more up-to-date plot recap here. And, on my other blog, I’m explaining terms of mathematical art, one a week, through to December. You might like those too.

Prince Valiant.

2 August – 25 October 2020.

Last time, Queen Aleta explained to villagers that those two strange women were not witches. She knows this because she’s the Queen of All Witches. And she’s putting these non-witches under her protection. So they’ve got long happy lives ahead. Prince Valiant and company leave for Camelot, and home.

They can’t get there except through a party of Saxon raiders, out to attack some local village. That’s a pretty standard encounter, earning about 25 xp all around. With the start of September, Prince Valiant finally arrives back in Camelot. It’s been something like three years for them in-universe and about twice that for us readers.

It is well after noon before Val and Aleta, having ridden all night to Camelot, awake. Besides, it has been a long time since they last slept in a feather bed. They might not have risen at all that day, if Val did not have a knightly duty to report to the kingdom's regents ... who also happeen to be his son and daughter-in-law. As the family leave their townhouse, they see the glistening marvel that is Camelot's castle for the first time in years. Nathan gasps: 'The walls ruined by the sea beast! They are all repaired!' Val, too, is impressed --- it was his estate that was held to pay for those repairs, and he had no idea his estate was so productive.
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 13th of September, 2020. I reference the sea beast — rendered neatly in the clouds — as being a Godzilla but it was more like a (1925) Lost World or Gorgo type monster scenario. It’s from before I was reading Prince Valiant regularly, but I learned of it from Brian M Kane’s The Definitive Prince Valiant Companion. That book was fun, and enlightening. Also it included an early-draft and a revised-draft of part of the sea beast battle and just how it got better in the revising.

Everything’s looking good, too. Like, they’ve fixed the damage from that time Godzilla attacked (summer 2009). Indeed, the place is thriving, just like you always worry about when you leave your department unsupervised a while. Prince Arn, Valiant’s son, explains that Sir Gawain is managing everything very well. Sir Gawain has never managed a thing well in his life. So what’s the trick?

Well, it’s the same trick as always: finding a good steward. In this case, it’s someone from before I started reading the strip carefully. A woman named Rory Red Hood, with whom Gawain’s fallen in love. And who turns out to know how to manage estate business. Gawain’s been hiding her, because her leveler impulses made her awkward to have at court. So on the one hand, she’s a fugitive from King Arthur for her relentless pushing the notion of commoners governing themselves. On the other hand, she makes a lot of money.

Gawain has hidden his outlawed paramour Rory Red Hood, and her aide Little Ox, at Val's country estate. This puts Val in a particularly awkward position. 'My son and daughter-in-law are Camelot's regents, and have outlawed you! Now my dearest friend expects me to deceive the kingdom and my family!' Rory will have none of Val's quandary: 'Gawain, my time here is up! I never really expected Prince Valiant to be any more sympathetic to Lockbramble's wishes than any of your other lords! I only ask that you give me a day's head start.' But Gawain only smiles, and gestures to the small man with the large book sitting by himself. 'Easy, Rory. First allow the prince a moment to glance through his estate accountant's ledger ... ' In words that even Val can understan, the accountant makes things very clear: 'Rory Red Hood's skills at farm management have transformed your estate's fortunes, and so mande you a very rich man!' The revelation gives Val pause --- as does Aleta's surprise appearance: 'And how, pray tell, has my household been transformed?'
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 11th of October, 2020. So you know Prince Valiant is a fantasy because it involves a noble understanding questions like “how much money do I have?” and “how much money does this other person have?” Anyway, the name of Rory Red Hood reminds me of an episode of the History of English podcast, about the legend of Robin Hood. It mentions near the end how in the 13th(?) century, when it was fashionable to give people surnames that described their job or their personality, there are several court records giving someone’s surname as “Robin Hood”. And doesn’t that sound like someone fun to … hear about, without really having them in your lives? Because, like, there’s all this stuff with the Model Parliament and the suppression of the University of Northampton and the number of watermills in England reaching the 10,000 mark and all. Don’t need some Robin-Hood stirring up trouble in your personal life too.

I do like the lighthearted cynical air, and low-key historical verisimilitude, of all this. Aleta talks of how the Misty Isles folks tried this demokratia stuff centuries ago, and it worked fine. At least until the people decided to let a tyrant do their thinking for them. I suspect we’re hearing some motivated history here. She talks with Princess Maeve, co-regent. Aleta argues Rory is much less trouble than the surrounding thanes who’ve been whining about Rory’s existence. And also makes a lot of money. Maeve convinces her husband that Rory is not a real problem, by kicking him out of bed until he agrees.

And that’s where we sit. It’s not the most action-packed story we’re on. But I do like how it’s so tied to the problem of how to manage a land, in a time before bureaucracies could professionalize things. So, Mark Schultz, Thomas Yeates, thank you for writing this story for me and me alone.

Next Week!

The Villiers Millions! Vampires! Dethany from On The Fastrack! Svengoolie! Brenda Starr! Little Orphan Annie! It’s been busy times in Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy. Join me for a plot recap that, actually, I already wrote most of this past weekend. I’m trying to build a buffer of stuff to post. I’m expecting next few weeks are going to be, let us hope the final, boss rush of mind-crushing Republican venality, and need some space. Can’t wait!

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Weekdays)? Why did Heloise tell Mrs Daft they called their Aunt ‘Mom’? July – October 2020


I think she panicked? At least she hadn’t figured on ever having to explain Kadia was anything but her sister to Mrs Daft. That may seem like an oversight but she didn’t know she’d need an explanation anytime soon. That’s what I have, anyway.

So this essay should catch you up on Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity, for mid-October 2020. If you’re reading this after about January 2021, or are looking for the Sunday continuity, or other Phantom news, you should find an essay at this link. And on my mathematics blog I’m still writing one essay for each letter in the alphabet, with this week reaching ‘S’. You might enjoy.

The Phantom (Weekdays).

27 July – 17 October 2020.

Last we checked, someone had written to The Phantom’s post office box in Mawitaan. It seems to be Imara Sahara, mother to Kadia Walker and wife of terrorist Eric “The Nomad” Sahara. After Heloise Walker got The Nomad arrested, The Phantom rescued Sahara from her husband’s terror compound. She, sensibly, fled while he slept, and has only the Walker post office box to try to find her daughter.

The Phantom writes back, arranging a meeting on the outskirts of Mawitaan. But withholds information such as Kadia’s survival. He doesn’t know who wrote that letter, or whether they’re being eavesdropped on. The Phantom is late for the meeting, not at all helping Sahara’s paranoia. But he’s convinced she isn’t accompanied, at least. The Phantom gives her an address, saying that she lives with the friend she fled New York City with. Sahara realizes Kadia’s New York City friend was Heloise Walker, and the name can’t be coincidence.

Imara Sahara 'I suppose you've been watching me these last few hours!' Phantom: 'To be certain you weren't followed. Or didn't lead anyone here on purpose.' Imara: 'On purpose!?' Phantom: 'You could be in the custody of any number of governments by now. I don't know you well enough to say you'd never trade me for something you wanted.'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 8th of August, 2020. The Phantom avoids admitting how he forgot and was playing Trivia Murder Party 2 on Johnny Hazard’s Jackbox stream all night.

The Phantom explains that the Walkers came to him on her behalf and he set up the post office box. And that addressing it to “Walker” then let him know who it really was. I mention this lie because it’s well-delivered. It make sense Sahara would believe it. Later, Heloise Walker tells a lie and it’s a mess that the recipient accepts because … I’m not sure. I think the lying motif shows the difference between the father’s experience and Heloise’s enthusiasm. But I’d be open to the argument that I’m reading things into a storytelling coincidence.

Kadia: 'Heloise ... you never *did* tell me wh a police colonel I never even met would help me get work with Gugu Lee!' Heloise: 'Oh! Um ... Well ... ' We see the scene of Colonel Worubu getting his orders from the Unknown Commander's safe: 'Put in a good word? For two students I don't know? The Unknown Commander must have his reasons ... '
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 22nd, 2020. They have to go through all this mysterious-safe trouble because Colonel Worubu won’t add the Unknown Commander to his professional network on LinkedIn.

Over to Heloise, though, and Kadia, who’s taken the Walker surname and considers herself adopted. They’re in Bangalla, attending school. They’re boarding with a cheerful motherly type, Mrs Daft. They even have a job working a cafe. The Phantom arranged the jobs, getting references from Colonel Worubu of the Jungle Patrol. If this seems like a petty use of The Phantom’s influence, well, yeah. But asking someone to do you a small favor is a reliable way to make them like you more. Yes, human brains are broken. So could be The Phantom’s shoring up his social network. Also he figures if Kadia does become a danger, in another (justifiable) low moment, having Colonel Worubu ready is a good move.

Heloise, running up to Kadia and Imara: 'Mrs Sahara! Quick! Give me a hug! So our LANDLADY can see!' Mrs Daft, watching the confused group hug: 'Their favorite aunt! They call her Mom! How sweet ... why didn't I think of that with *my* favorite aunt?'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 1st of September, 2020. “It’s kind of weird, and my favorite aunt loved weird!”

Imara Sahara interrupts their breakfast by pulling up. Kadia calls out, “Mom!”, to Mrs Daft’s confusion. Heloise tries to explain why Kadia is calling someone who’s not Mrs Walker “Mom”, and it gets weird. She claims it’s their aunt who’s so much a favorite she might as well be their Mom and that’s why they’ve called her that. Mrs Daft accepts this explanation. Heloise huhs, and considers how they are never going to have trouble explaining boys in their rooms after curfew.

Imara Sahara tells of her escape from the North African compound, and of meeting The Phantom the night before. And that the Walker family had arranged his sending. Here Heloise does better at lying in a way consistent with what Kadia thinks she knows. She claims her dad arranged it through go-betweens that protect that mysterious man’s identity. The lie works for Imara, but not for Kadia.

Kadia was sure that Mr Walker went to save her mother. But she also knows she’s had a heck of a time after learning her father was international terrorist The Nomad. So she wonders what she’s wrong about now.

Kadia: 'Mom, I don't even use OUR NAME anymore! Not even in my own mind! I'm a WALKER now! Kadia Walker! I have FRIENDS here! I like my SCHOOL! I have a FUN JOB on the weekends! And best of all? No one knows ... NO ONE KNOWS ... who I really am.'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 17th of September, 2020. So yes, keeping an eye on your friend/sister is important as she deals with, like, everything. But you might need to call in an expert. And you do have an expert meddler’s number.

Imara tells Kadia that she has a new name, and assets that would “never” be connected to The Nomad. They can have their lives back and leave Mawitaan right away. Kadia can’t have it, refusing her father’s “murder money” and calling Diana Walker her mother now. It’s a horrible, messy scene, punctuated with Mrs Daft encouraging them to invite their favorite aunt to lunch now.

Heloise goes to Imara, trying to talk her into trying again, sometime when Kadia is less shocked. Imara says she wishes the Walkers had left her alone to die. Kadia smashes Imara’s windshield and demands she never come around again. She’s reasoned that Imara must have known who her husband was and what he was doing. It is hard to see how she wouldn’t, but people can be quite oblivious, given any motivation to be.

Heloise relays the events of the day to her parents. Kit Walker tells Diana that he believes she didn’t; “unlike you, she just has terrible taste in men”. This man, by the way, is someone who used to have her family leave a bedroom window and door open all the time in case he popped in unannounced some day. All right. Also, Diana proposes that they should get Kit Junior back home. Kit Senior had sent him off to study at a Himalayan monastery, a development that hasn’t lead to as many stories as you might have expected. And, what the heck, last story the hallucination of the 20th Phantom scolded the current Phantom for sending him off. (Sending Kit Junior off, by the way, to a place that the 20th Phantom wanted the 21st to go.) Might be time for a change.

The story feels at, or near, an end. I am curious whether Imara knew what was going on and, if so, how much she was willing to accept. She is hurt by Kadia’s turn, in ways that fit and that remind one that our protagonists are not the only people in the world. Kadia’s doing well in making connections. But she also has a lot of trauma on her and needs better therapy than being watched by Walkers. She’s going through her superhero or supervillain origin story now. Heloise has fumbled a couple points this story, but in ways it makes sense to fumble. Would have helped if Heloise had not tried to explain the “favorite aunt, called Mom” thing to Imara, though.

Next Week!

Hey, how’d it go when Queen Aleta revealed to the common folk of King Arthur’s time that there are witches and she’s one of them? Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant gets its plot recap next Tuesday, again, all things going well. Thanks for reading.

You know, it is a little odd Mary Worth hasn’t called Heloise Walker, just to check whether she needs a quick meddle to pair-bond already. Hm.

Statistics Saturday: How Many People Wanted To Know What Was Up With Mark Trail This Past Week


Drawing from WordPress’s statistics page and how many people went to Mark Trail-tagged items. Promise.

Day of WeekReaders Asking About Mark Trail
Last Friday4
Saturday5
Sunday16
Monday120 [ First Jules Rivera strip publishes ]
Tuesday158
Wednesday188
Thursday126
Friday147

Reference: Ideas: A History from Fire to Freud. Peter Watson.

All my Mark Trail plot recaps are gathered at this page. Those and all my story comics plot recaps are at this link.

What’s Going On In Alley Oop? Is Jules Rivera destroying Mark Trail yet? July – October 2020


OK, so it’s not Mark Trail’s week. But yes, Jules Rivera took over the daily strips on Monday. Her Sunday strips start next month. This is why Mark Trail looks different. Any news about the Mark Trail that I get, I’ll post in an essay gathered here. Yes, I too am worried by Tuesday’s revelation that the new Mark Trail may be a tiny little bit self-aware, but, hey. We adapted to Mark Trail sometimes internalizing thoughts for James Allen, after all. Mark Trail can notice how much Mark Trail has blown up boats and cars and islands the last few years.

But this essay is, in the main, about Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop. This should catch you up to mid-October. If you’re reading this after about January 2021, if there is a January 2021, you’ll likely find a more up-to-date plot recap at this link. Also any news about Alley Oop, if there is news.

And, last, on my mathematics blog I’m still working through the alphabet, explaining terms. This week we get to ‘R’. No, it’s not a joke about the beloved statistics computing and graphing programming language! Ho ho! Had you going there, though, I bet.

Alley Oop.

20 July – 10 October 2020.

Everyone was hanging around in Moo, last we left off. Ooola was rehearsing a play. She impressed Gromp, the director. Gromp pitches another job for her: using the play as cover to enter neighboring land Lem and steal King Tunk’s giant opal. She hates the plan. Gromp sends his dinosaur, Steve, to make her see reason. She beats Steve in a fair fight, though, and hauls Gromp off to be in a desert island cartoon.

Gromp, tied up, on a palm-tree-deserted-island: 'What are you doing? Are you just going to leave me here?' Ooola: 'Yep.' Gromp: 'But I can't swim!' Ooola: 'I hope you like coconuts.' Gromp: 'I do! Especially shredded over a nice chocolate dessert. And the milk is divine! [ Noticing Ooola swimming away. ] Oh, very funny. Hey, how am I going to open them?!'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 1st of August, 2020. It looks harsh, but if there’s one thing we know about being in a desert island cartoon it’s that someone else is coming along any minute now.

That, the 1st of August, wraps up that little story. From the 3rd we get a string of events leading into the current story. It starts with a joyride: Alley Oop wants to go to an amusement park. So they return to the present, and Doc Wonmug looks for the greatest amusement park, past, present, or future. But who can tell him what that is? rec.roller-coaster just fights about Kennywood versus Knoebels versus Efteling versus Holiday World. (Did you consider Waldameer? Especially if you have a family? Very under-rated park, especially if you aren’t all about high-intensity everything.) So he goes to The Clawed Oracle.

Ooola: 'You know, I'm kind of looking forward to the amusement park.' Wonmug: 'What's in the fanny pack?' Alley Oop, showing off his fanny pack: 'Zinc for my nose, quarters for skeeball, antacids in case I overeat, a compass so we don't get lost. I'm so excited!' Wonmug: 'You know, they might not have corn dogs in the future.' Oop: 'What? I changed my mind! I want to go somewhere else!' (As they ZANNNNG! into the future.)
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 13th of August, 2020. A fanny pack. Really. I would not have guessed Alley Oop was also in the American Coaster Enthusiasts group.

The Clawed Oracle, off in a never-before-mentioned room of Wonmug’s Time Laboratory, is a cat. She pronounces that the greatest amusement park ever is in Saint Louis in the year 3277. They zip off to Future Saint Louis. The place stinks, apart from the giant pine tree air freshener hanging from the Arch. What looks like an abandoned warehouse is labelled Amusement Park #41. Inside is an array of virtual-reality goo-filled tubes. Despite the ominous everything, they go in.

Attendant, to Our Heroes in their goo-filled VR tubes: 'Once I press this button your body will stay here while your consciousness controls an avatar in the park. When you're ready to leave, just say the password 'finicky veranda garbanzo' and your session will end.' Wonmug: 'How long do most people stay in?' Attendant: 'Ten years is average.' Ooola: 'Wait, WHAT?' Oop: 'That doesn't seem great.' Attendant: 'Enjoy!'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 21st of August, 2020. A throwaway line established that the admission price was about ten thousand dollars (in 2020 money), which sounds like a lot, but if you can live for ten years on that? That’s a pretty sweet deal. Well, except the upcharges get you: Wonmug wasted another fifty thousand (2020) dollars in avatar-change shenanigans. I have to suppose that, like, park fries or the reverse bungee rides are similarly scaled.

It’s a good time, though, until the fortune teller learns they’re from the 21st century. On that she leads them to a secret reality within the virtual reality. And to Phil, leader of the Underground Stronghold Alliance. He tells of the Great Culture Famine, a mysterious event that destroyed culture. All that’s left since 2081 are these virtual-reality amusement parks. But what can three time travellers do? They leave the park and journey to Phil’s coordinates in 2081. And there they meet … The Clawed Oracle.

It turns out The Clawed Oracle is an eternal ethereal being who manifests on earth as a cat, so that’s a nice gig. She reveals who’s responsible for the Great Culture Famine. It’s Dr Wonmug, yeah. Indirectly. It’s really the clone of Albert Einstein that Wonmug made and then abandoned on a farm. She sends them off to deal with Einstein Two. (Why not Zweistein?)

Einstein Two: 'I'd like to show you something. It's the culmination of the horrible hand that life dealt me. It's taken me nearly fifty years to build. I kept it secret from my parents until the day they died. [ Revealing a machine ] Ta-da! Behind the grand culture eraser! It will destroy all forms of art and culture, past, present and future.' Wonmug: 'This is LITERALLY what I was talking about before, when I asked about the Great Culture Famine.' Einstein Two: 'I guess they COULD be related, but I just don't see it.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 3rd of October, 2020. In the follow-up we learn Einstein Two’s gone on to become a local politician, successfully defunding the library and the school’s dance program because everybody has smart phones now.

Einstein Two’s gripe: his parents insisted he put all his scientific energies into the farm, and the zany cow bra business. So he invented a Grand Culture Eraser, to destroy all forms of art, past, present, and future. He has justification for this: he’s grown up to be a STEM jerkface so doesn’t see why gadgetry is not a life. Einstein Two proclaims this a gift to every child whose love of science was crushed by small-mindedness. Then Alley Oop punches his machine to rubble. Ooola smashes his backup, too. Dr Wonmug tears up the machine’s plans. Alley Oop digs up and rips up the backup plans. So that’s some success.

And that takes us to the start of the week. Also into a new timeline. Saint Louis of 3277 “now” has a giant chandelier hanging from the Arch. And Amusement Park #41 is the aquatic stadium any amusement park used for dolphin shows back in the 1970s when we were making that mistake. This looks like the resolution of a storyline. But it could also be the transition to a new story. Too soon to tell.

Next Week!

So how did the reunion between Kadia and her mother Imara Sahara go? Pretty good, right? It’s, like, literally impossible it could have gone bad. We’ll check in on Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom (Weekdays) next week, all going well. Thank you.

So I only just today got this Far Side comic


Like my subject line says. I’ve seen this particular Far Side now and then for thirty-plus years. It was only today, when I saw it bundled with other historical strips under the History Shmistory label, that I realized Gary Larson’s joke. This now takes, by far, the record between me seeing and me getting the joke. It was previously held by another Far Side strip, the famous “I think you misunderstood … I’m Al Tilly, the bum” incident.

In a career counseling office. The counselor tells a seated bearded man holding a ten-gallon hat, 'Well, Mr Cody, according to our questionnaire, you would probably excel in sales, advertising, slaughtering a few thousand buffalo, or market research'.
So “Al Tilley, the Bum”. It was this scene at a castle rampart and the guard has thrown his spear at this hobo, and missed, and the hobo says, “I think you misunderstood” and it was like twelve years later that I twigged to how the joke was the guard thought he’d said he was Atilla the Hun. But the scene was funny already even without the name confusion, right? Anyway, nobody ask why the door sign implies they’re outside the career counseling office, OK? It’s a comic strip convention and once you notice this you’ll never enjoy a setting again, ever.

In my defense — and this applies to the Al Tilly the bum incident too — part of my slowness was that it wasn’t obvious I was missing a joke. Imagine if the caption read, “Well, Mr Smith, … ” instead. It’s a fine enough non-sequitur joke that someone might be good in sales or market research or buffalo-slaughtering. Larson played fair, of course. If the identity of the person seeking a career didn’t matter, he’d have been named Smith or Jones or even not addressed by name. The beard and ten-gallon hat were also cues, although it’s not like comic strip characters won’t have long beards or quirky fashion choices either.

I suppose it’s all a reminder that you can tell any joke you like, but you can’t control what joke the audience hears.

60s Popeye: The Glad Gladiator and wait, is that Ham Gravy? I think that’s Ham Gravy!


This week’s King Features Popeye cartoon is another with story by Cal Howard. The only other Cal Howard cartoon I have got noted is Tiger Burger. The animation director is Eddie Rehberg, last seen doing everything on Frozen Feuds, that weird Alice the Goon picture. Jack Kinney’s the producer and ultimate director. Back to ancient days, then, with The Glad Gladiator.

Is deliberate anachronism funny? Sure, when it’s The Muppets doing it. But everybody else? I don’t mean whether it’s funny to snarkers pointing out historical inaccuracies in Hagar the Horrible. I mean to a normal audience.

This cartoon opens with the message that it’s set in Rome, 800 BC. Popeye ends up in a gladiator fight in the Colosseum. Before the eyes of the Empress, Olive Oyl. There’s a background gag where the restrooms are marked Ben Hur and Ben His. And then I come back to: 800 BC? For a Roman Empire setting?

This is not something anyone should care about. The setting is “Ancient Rome” and Popeye is there to do some stuff riffing on Roman Empire epic movies of the time. Fine and respectable enough. But then why set this to 800 BC, a time when Rome barely existed and none of the stuff that’s featured, including the Appian [Free]way Popeye riffs on, were around? Why give it a date at all? Other than to tease someone who’d know?

A historical story — book, tv show, movie — is always a battle between historical truth, story economy, and verisimilitude. (You could do a story with samurais tromping around 17th century Mexico, but would people buy the premise?) A cartoon especially has no reason to care about getting the historical details right. So why is this detail there at all? Did Cal Howard just write in an ancient-days number and not care afterward? Or was he doing this mindfully? Of course this Popeye cartoon isn’t history. But now it’s so much not history that even the seven-year-old watching it, who might know the legend of Rome’s founding being in 753 BC, would know it was off?

If he was being wry, I’m not sure it was a good joke. In part since I’m not sure a joke was meant. That’s a hazard of wryness, though. But if it were meant, it’s a very slight joke. “Ha ha, I know this quickly-made Popeye cartoon is of dubious historical integrity?” Am I making too much of an arbitrary choice? Maybe. But if something works, I like to credit it as deliberate. Even if the writer went with whatever came to mind, they chose to use that impulse, and to not edit it out. There’s judgement even in the arbitrary. And then there’s the crowd scene.

Scene of the audience in the Colosseum. The front two rows are filled with mostly minor characters from Popeye/Thimble Theatre.
Wait, but why aren’t Cole Oyl and Nana Oyl sitting next to each other? Oh wait yeah because it’s funny when husband and wife don’t actually like being around each other. Forgot.

We do get a couple glances at the audience in the Colosseum and the front two rows here are filled with minor Thimble Theatre/Popeye characters. And that is an interesting choice. I’m not sure about everybody because they’re out of their usual garb, and it turns out when you remove accessories, Elzie Segar used the same face a lot.

If I’m identifying things right, and I’m open to other opinions, in the upper row, left-to-right, are: Ham Gravy, original Olive Oyl boyfriend, who vanished after about 1930. Cole Oyl(?), Olive’s father. The Sea Hag, who’s appeared once or twice this series. Oscar, introduced to the comic in 1931 so Popeye could have a really dumb crewman. Nana Oyl, Olive’s mother. (Her name is a reference to “Banana oil”, 1920s slang for “nonsense”. Also 1920s slang for “nonsense”: any two-word phrase.)

Lower, front, row, left to right: George W Geezil(?), pawn shop broker and Wimpy-hater. John Sappo, bland protagonist of Elzie Segar’s other strip, the one that brought us O G Wotasnozzle. O G Wotasnozzle (or, possibly, King Blozo hunched down). Alice the Goon. I have no explanation for how Ham Gravy makes the cut and Wimpy or Rough House do not. Also, yeah I’m not positive whether Nana Oyl is sitting in the first or second row either.

Filling a crowd shot with minor Popeye characters? Sure. Anyone could do that. They’d put in Wimpy, Sea Hag, Alice the Goon, Swee’Pea. If you have to dig deep put in Rough House or Geezil. Someone had to think to put in Ham Gravy. Or Sappo. Or Oscar for crying out loud. Someone thought “we need a quick shot of Ham Gravy”, and had that vision carried out.

This, yeah, is the sort of deep focus I get into as I look for what’s interesting in the cartoon. We get Popeye in a Vaguely Roman-ish makeover for his sailor’s suit. It’s a nice look for him. But I expect being on a different model like that to require the rest of the animation to be cheaper. That expectation holds up; there’s a lot of characters sliding around or disappearing. And the story is all a lumbering push to have Brutus and Popeye fight each other in the arena. The opening credits for the cartoon run at 16:59 in the YouTube video link. They actually start fighting about 20:57, for a cartoon that ends at 22:45. And it’s not like we’re stuffed full of a lot of gags about contemporary America recast as Ancient Rome. The sign for the intersection of Columbus Circle and XXVIII Street is about it. That and — get ready to laugh — a guy twirling pizza dough! Shows how mores have changed. As a child of the 70s and 80s I know it’s sushi that’s the instant-laugh zany food. Not pizza. Pizza is boring.

And that’s my trouble with the cartoon. It has a few fleeting moments of personality. But it’s mostly a slow march to a small fight. The title card that maybe heightens the anachronism humor, and the attempt to identify all the bit players in the stands, is about all I’ve got.

What’s Going On In The Amazing Spider-Man? Could Jules Rivera take over Spider-Man too? July – October 2020


I do not know Jules Rivera’s schedule besides that her Mark Trail starts next week. Maybe she could, maybe she couldn’t take over The Amazing Spider-Man. It does seem like Marvel and King Features Syndicate should be able to find someone to, if they had any interest in carrying on the comic. But, for now, I update the reruns of Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s The Amazing Spider-Man and post news about the strip. If there is any. I figure to stop if we get to the point that the reruns are ones I’ve already recapped.

Meanwhile, on my mathematics blog, I’m writing essays about the words of mathematics. Coming up this week: the letter Q. It will not be about the quadratic formula.

The Amazing Spider-Man.

12 July – 3 October 2020.

Mary Jane Parker had just knocked on Dr Strange’s door. She’d wanted to, but actually doing so was an unexplained impulse. Dr Strange is pleased to meet both. He remembers Mary Jane Parker from seeing her on Broadway. He remembers Peter Parker as existing. Also as being Spider-Man. Dr Strange has those mind powers, you know, and can read scripts.

The impulse to knock on the door came from Xandu, trenchcoated street mystic master. He wants to steal Dr Strange’s Wand of Watoomb, which will make him happy. You understand. I smiled writing the first half of that sentence. He’d bumped Mary Jane and thanks to that can see what she sees, although not hear what she hears. More, he gives her the compulsion to walk to the forbidden upstairs and through the locked door to grab the Wand of Watoomb.

Mary Jane, under a spell, looking around Dr Strange's stuff: 'There are ... so MANY artifacts in this CHAMBER. Somehow, I know that the one I want ... is THIS one!' She reaches for a wand. Outside, Dr Strange races upstairs, Peter Parker trailing: 'HURRY, Peter! We may already be TOO late!'
Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 24th of July, 2020. OK, so the haunt’s revealed with the magic wand in the Sacred Chamber, so that’s going to be haunt #32, The Lost. Whoever has the highest sanity is the Traitor.

A burst of magic and Mary Jane swaps places with Xandu. Xandu takes over Spider-Man’s body, which, like, keeps happening to him. Well, he has the proportional ability to resist magical body-control of a spider. Xandu compelling him to punch Dr Strange and then do nothing, standing still. You know, like snarkers always say he does.

Xandu leaves Dr Strange’s mansion and grabs Mary Jane along the way. He apprehends her, to become his Queen. He also misapprehends that Mary Jane is married to Dr Strange. He’s going to feel SO AWKWARD when he finds out. She asks to see his kingdom, to distract him from killing Our Heroes. And meanwhile Spider-Man and Dr Strange escape their magical bondage by remembering Dr Strange has a magic thingy around his neck.

Spider-Man: 'A whole ROOM FULL of 'mystic talismans' - and the one you plan to use was hanging around your NECK the whole time?' Dr Strange: 'I wa dazed by Xandu's attack ... needed to gather my WILLPOWER! And now ... I HAVE!'
Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 22nd of August, 2020. Look, you get the Angel Feather, you put it in your inventory and just forget it’s even there until you remember it’s good for a sanity roll up to eight and you wasted four turns, all right? Lay off.

Xandu and Mary Jane pop over to the Realm of Nightmare. It’s one of those 70s comic book realms where everything is droopy shapes and silhouettes that sometimes look like teeth. Nightmare, lord of the realm, rides his horse in to threaten Xandu and Mary Jane. Xandu uses the Wand of Watoomb to freeze him solid. And then has an even better idea, moving a chunk of the nightmare world to Washington Square Park. Dr Strange does a lot of work building up this menace to Spider-Man, and the audience. Xandu does the same, only using Mary Jane.

Me, I admit, I’m not shaken. The Nightmare Dimension doesn’t strike me as all that fearsome. There’s elevated walkpaths that don’t look safe, given how far they are from level and how none of them have handrails. And there’s silhouettes of spiders. I guess that’s annoying, moreso if you have mobility issues. But annoying isn’t the same as terrifying. Oh, and there’s lots of those energy clouds and bubbles flying around, like you see all over Marvel Comics. But if you didn’t buy the original premise of “ooh, this is scaaaary”, it’s not going to become scaaaary by having energy ribbons around it.

Xandu: 'Mary Jane Parker - have you decided you'll WILLINGLY be my queen?' Mary Jane: 'What girl WOULDN'T? You've got enough power to turn a city block into a dream world. All I ask is that you let Spider-Man and Dr Strange leave us in peace!'
Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 1st of October, 2020. Oh, great, so it’s a two-phase haunt. That’s good to know. Now if we could get a single not-awful roll maybe we could make some progress here.

Well, Mary Jane, trying to keep Spider-Man safe, kind of suggests she might marry Xandu if he transforms the world into a nightmare land. So that’s the project he’s working on now, as October gets under way. If I am judging right from when this ran in 2015-16, we should finish around the 22nd of November. The follow-up story, back in 2016, was about J Jonah Jameson losing control of the Daily Bugle to Elias Starr, the villain Egghead. One of Ant-Man’s villains, which is why you’re thinking wasn’t that Vincent Price on the Adam West Batman? We’ll see what they do with the reruns, when we get to that point, though.

Next Week!

A journey to the greatest amusement park of all time! Plus Albert Einstein’s Clone. All this and more in Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop, if all goes well. Thanks for reading.

What’s Going On In Judge Parker? Did Judge Parker just reset everything? July – September 2020


No, Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker has not reset everything. But there were some plot threads that reached what seem to be points of returning-to-the-norm the past few months. I’ll describe, and this should get you up to speed for the end of September 2020. Later plot recaps, and any news about the strip which I get, should appear in essays at this link.

On my other blog I yesterday posted the Playful Math Education Blog Carnival #141. It’s a big listing of educational and recreational and playful mathematics writing, most of it not mine. Also a bunch of amusement park photographs which are mine. I hope that you enjoy. I also have an A-to-Z series, explaining one mathematics word for each letter in the alphabet. I hope to have the letter P represented tomorrow.

Judge Parker.

5 July – 26 September 2020.

Everybody in the Judge Parker cast had their plans cancelled or weirded by the pandemic, last we checked in. Fortunately, Very Stable Genius Mayor Phil Sanderson knew a way out: just reopen the town! The virus will have to be reasonable now that we’ve gotten bored sitting at home a lot! What could go wrong? Nothing, unless you listen to enemies of the people like Toni Bowen. So that gives Toni Bowen to talk about. Also for her to tell Sophie to back off from. She wants to run her own campaign.

TV Reporter: 'In the wake of what many are saying were troubling remarks from the Mayor, opposing candidate Toni Bowel has called her own press conference at her headquarters.' Bowen: 'People have asked me what I think of Mayor Sanderson's remarks. To which I can only answer, 'Do you honestly need to be told, even now?'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 9th of July, 2020. Personally, I think modern political discourse is under-applying the question “What exactly is wrong with you?”

And the TV show based on Neddy Spencer and Ronnie Huerta’s notes gets under way again. It’s all a little weird, especially as Ronnie sees again Kat, who’s playing Neddy on the show. Neddy’s also freaked out to meet Michelle, who’s playing Godiva Danube. Partly from memories and reevaluating her friendship with Godiva. Also because it’s a clue that the production is changing out from under them.

Mayor Sanderson meanwhile is mad. The local TV won’t apologize for running a poll showing Bowen surging. His staff won’t even remember to take their masks off in the office. But he is aware of Bowen’s weakness as a candidate. He calls Abbey Spencer, whose bed-and-breakfast plan, and renovations, were a fair idea for a money pit in normal times. During a shutdown? They’re a bleeding ulcer. Sanderson offers that he might be able to do her a favor. Since Sophie started the Bowen campaign, and Sam Driver supports it and used to date Bowen, this seems weird. But he offers: the campaign’s drawing a lot of coverage. Out-of-town reporters need to stay somewhere. Why not a place struggling but surviving thanks to a supportive local government?

Abbey, on the phone: 'You are not helping anyone but yourself, PHIL! You are the voice of no one but your crippling insecurity that fuels your rage that no one should speak but you! And I will make sure EVERYONE knows that!' Sanderson, hanging up: 'Ha ha. Of course you will ... '
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 7th of August, 2020. We haven’t yet really seen Abbey’s letting-everyone-know-that yet, by the way, nor have we seen Sanderson’s clever scheme at work. But we have the problem of seeing very little in-universe time even since mid-August.

The offer could hardly be better-designed to enrage Abbey. She promises to make sure everyone knows she’s on Team Bowen. Which Sanderson wants, in the first moment that makes him look like a skilled politician. Bowen’s weakness is that she can look like a tool of the Parker-Spencer-Driver clan.

Bowen’s got some good instincts, though, aware that this kind of unsolicited support can be trouble. She lays down the law to Sophie. If they want to support her, all right, but they have to know what she’s about. Which would likely make for a better campaign. Also a better campaign plot, must admit, as it’s not clear what issues there even are in town. Equitable gentrification is a great challenge, and goal. But it’s a danged hard thing to fight for in any intelligible way, especially in this medium.

Bowen’s law-laying helps Sophie with another problem, though. She looks into Local College courses. This is a step in her realizing that she doesn’t know everything she needs. And that she’s been blocking herself from that learning. And, after a lot of hesitation, she calls Honey Ballinger and apologizes.

[ Ronnie breaks some bad news to Neddy ] Neddy: 'They WHAT?!' Ronnie: 'It looks like they're diminishing the 'Neddy' role in our show to focus more on how Godiva's and April's lives intersect.' Neddy: 'THEY WHAT?!?' Ronnie: 'OK, this would be the third time I'm telling you this, so I assume you're in full 'shocked' mode now.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 31st of August, 2020. It’s a small bit but I appreciate that Neddy’s punctuation gets longer with the repetition.

And the TV show continues to change. The showrunners have decided Godiva and April Parker’s lives make for better stories than Neddy’s does. This makes for an interesting bit of story commentary by strip writer Francesco Marciuliano. Marciuliano has, mostly, done a good job at having things go crazy and then rationalize some. But it would be strange if he didn’t consider some storylines to have gone awry, or to regret not having done more with characters than he did. The revelation that Godiva was also running drugs was a shocking turn of events, sure. But to make it a shock to readers meant we had to not see it. It’s plausible Marciuliano didn’t consider it until he needed the twist. This frame lets him, if he wishes, build a new storyline for Godiva. It may not be what “really” happened to her, but if it’s interesting, who cares?

Ronnie: 'Wait ... are you seriously thinking of not going back to LA? Just because they changed some of our show?' Neddy: 'That's not the reason. I mean, that hurt, but ... but every time I think how close we are to leaving here, I try to think of anything else. And that has got to be telling me something.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 9th of September, 2020. I don’t know where they are since the horse barn was renovated into Abbey’s bed-and-breakfast either.

So the studio figures that April and Godiva is the true-crime drama that’s the real series. And that’s that. The shooting in Real Cavelton wraps, with the rest of the series done in Los Angeles and Vancouver. And Neddy decides she isn’t interested in moving back to Los Angeles. Ronnie is, though, and that makes the transition into autumn all the harder.

And that’s where things stand now. Bowen’s campaign seems to be going well. Sophie’s reconciling with Honey Ballinger and looking at Local College. Neddy’s staying in town. Ronnie’s off to Los Angeles and, it’s teased, out of the strip. (It’s very self-referentially teased, with talk about sitcom characters who vanished. I am old enough to sometimes speak of myself as if I were on a sitcom. But I am also young enough to sometimes speak of myself as if I were a podcast host.) And if all goes well, we can come back together in a happier December to see what has changed.

Next Week!

We dip into the comic strip most inexplicably in reruns with Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s The Amazing Spider-Man. (I mean, you wouldn’t think Marvel would be unable to find someone who can draw Spider-Man, right?) That’s if all goes well, and here’s hoping that it does. Good luck to you all.

Jules Rivera takes over Mark Trail in October


Finally, some good news for 2020. Per D D Degg at The Daily Cartoonist, King Features has a new artist and writer for Mark Trail. Jules Rivera, creator of the slice-of-life web comic Love, Joolz, is to take over the strip from the 12th of October. (I haven’t read the web comic, but I am a surprisingly poor reader of web comics.)

The New York Times has more of a story, and comments from Rivera. She says that she hadn’t read the strip before — I assume — being asked to consider it. But that she got to love his square wackiness.

The sample strip that The New York Times has suggests a more visually dynamic strip. Also one that suggests the Trails have specific jobs in-between hearing giant squirrels talking. Maybe even something the hew-mons call sexual attraction. The Times article says that Rivera’s strip should have a “modern sensibility” and more prominent roles for Cherry and Rusty Trail. But Rivera has an electrical engineering background, so I am hopeful that some of Mark Trail’s natural squareness will stick around.

Any further news I get about Mark Trail should be posted to an essay at this link. My next regularly scheduled plot recap I plan to be in mid-November, when Rivera should have about a month’s worth of daily strips to snark on. The most recent plot recap, getting halfway into the Jack Elrod rerun story, is at this link. And all my story comic plot recaps and news should be at this link.