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


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

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

Mark Trail.

2 May – 24 July 2021.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday Animals Watch

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

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

Next Week!

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

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


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

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

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

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

Gasoline Alley.

26 April – 18 July 2021.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Newspaper reporter: 'Polly? How'd you TV guys scoop *us*? We heard about it first!' Polly Ballew: 'You have your ways --- we have ours! [ Getting in front of the camera ] Now, please move out of our way ... while we do a live broadcast!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 17th of June, 2021. Incidentally we never do hear how Polly Ballew got word of this. Maybe the Galactic Institute of Space Research and Astral Studies dropped a tip so they’d have an excuse to appear.

The press is hardly going to ignore a good flying-saucer story. Reporters from the Gasette newspaper show up. So does Polly Ballew, of Gasoline Alley Television. Polly’s so excited by the story she doesn’t even mention being the sister of Wally Ballew of Bob and Ray’s old-time-radio show. (This might be because Bob and Ray had a running spoof of Tom Corbett. This was the Lawrence Fechtenberger, Interstellar Officer Candidate series. Too close a mention might spoil people’s suspension of disbelief. Except I’d think anyone who would spot that link would be going along with Scancarelli on this, so who knows?) But she also confirms the strange noises are coming from the kitchen colander.

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

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

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

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

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

Next Week!

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

Why is everybody angry with Funky Winkerbean *now*?


I mean, besides the usual?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Dick Tracy.

18 April – 10 July 2021.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Next Week!

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Prince Valiant.

11 April – 4 July 2021.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Next Week!

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

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


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

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

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

The Phantom (Weekdays).

5 April – 26 June 2021.

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Week!

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

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


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

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

Alley Oop.

28 March – 19 June 2021.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Next Week!

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

The Amazing Spider-Man.

21 March – 13 June 2021.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Week!

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

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


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

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

Gil Thorp.

8 March – 30 May 2021.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Milford Sports Watch!

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

Next Week!

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

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


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

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

Rex Morgan, M.D..

28 February – 23 May 2021.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Week!

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

The Phantom (Sundays).

21 February – 16 May 2021.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Next Week!

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

Buckles up again


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Mary Worth.

7 February – 8 May 2021.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Dubiously Sourced Mary Worth Sunday Panel Quotes!

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

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

Next Week!

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

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? What makes crickets “land shrimp”? January – May 2021


“Crickets are land shrimp” is the odd catchphrase of the current Mark Trail storyline. Wikipedia claims that spider crickets are sometimes called “land shrimp”, but that’s Wikipedia. I can find some older articles saying that spider crickets resemble shrimp, and … I guess? There’s a stronger way that crickets could be “land shrimp”, though. Note this Slate article from 2008 about a company selling crickets as food that pitches them as “land shrimp”. So it looks like some of the people who think they can sell Westerners on eating crickets instead of beef are calling them “land shrimp”.

In context, Mark Trail was pressed to say something interesting about a cricket, on no notice. It would be natural to pick up something weird that caught his mind once. So I guess that’s what happened. He remembered an odd bit about trying to sell cricket-eating and the line was popular.

So this should catch you up to the end of April 2021. If you’re reading this after about August 2021, or if any news breaks out about Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail, I should have a more up-to-date article for you here. Thanks for reading.

Mark Trail.

31 January – 1 May 2021.

Mark Trail had returned home. It wasn’t happy. His father, Mark “Happy” Trail, has made a successful trail-mix company. He’s done that, in part, by despoiling the former farm of his and Mark’s old friend Jolly Roger. Mark’s already stolen his father’s speedboat and led the maritime police on a chase that sure seems like it should have got him arrested. There’s only one way to finish his agribusiness story for Teen Girl Sparkle: interview his father.

Mark Trail: 'I didn't come here to fight. I'm sorry I lost my temper earlier.' Happy Trail: 'You started a fight with me over a speedboat! Which you destroyed!' Mark: 'And I should have destroyed it! That's what you raised me to be! What have YOU become?'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 11th of February, 2021. The touch of the older-style Mark Trail is one of the things Rivera does to reinforce that, different as it may be, this isn’t intended as a reboot of the Mark Trail universe. The 18th of March included a more explicit one, referencing the Jack Elrod-era rerun used between James Allen’s departure and Rivera’s arrival.

Mark approaches Happy Trail with backup. The harm speedboats do to manatees. Jolly Roger and his daughter Niecy. Cherry Trail and their son Rusty, whom Happy Trail seems not to have known about. It changes things.

Niecy makes the case for economic and environmental justice. Jolly Rogers’ land was appraised about one-third what it would have been for a not-Black landowner. It’s now poisoned by algae blooms. Niecy proposes selling it back, at cost, and letting Jolly fix it. Meanwhile Mark Trail looks at the crazy number of hunting trophies Happy has. His mother never allowed that. And Happy doesn’t have any, like, friends’ photos on the walls. Is he alone? And where is Mom Trail?

Faced with how he’s done a lot of harm and driven away many people who cared about him, Happy Trail makes an extraordinary decision. He tries to do better. He sells Rogers’s farm back to him, and works to help him clear the algae blooms. He’s delighted to know that Rusty, like he, is adopted. He makes up with Mark.

Happy Trail: 'By the way, you sucker-punched me on the pier, boy! You wouldn't get so far in a fair fight.' Mark: 'What?' Niecy Rogers, dragging her father out: 'Okay, now we bounce.' Jolly Rogers: 'Wait, I wanna watch this.' Niecy: 'No, you don't.' Mark: 'You're twice my age, Dad. Stop.' Happy: 'Really? Who taught you the two fists of --- JUSTICE?!' (Smacking Mark Trail in the face.)
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 26th of February, 2021. I understand people bothered to have beloved snarky commentary like “Mark Trail’s two fists of justice” put into the text. But it’s done so playfully. And, after all, Mark Trail did come around with facial hair. What did he expect?

With friendships and family healing many things get better. Happy Trail’s even able to arrange for the long-term care that Cherry Trail’s mother needs. Turns out having health care makes Cherry’s relationship with her sisters rather better. And Happy himself is able to work with Jolly Rogers in fixing that farmland.

Mark also asks Amy Lee, his editor at Teen Girl Sparkle, if she knew she was sending him to investigate his father. She allows that yes, she had an idea that Mark Trail, a nature guy from Florida, might have some relationship to Mark Trail, a nature guy from Florida. That settles the question of how she could have not known that. But it raises the question why she sent him to do investigative journalism against his father.

Still, that, the 6th of March that closes the story of Mark Trail facing his family shame.


The current story started the 8th of March, though pieces of it were set up earlier. Those pieces would be Rusty Trail making little BikBok videos. Rusty shows Mark how it’s done, challenging his father to say something about this cricket he found. Mark offers, “Crickets are land shrimp,” a declaration so odd it goes viral.

Mark Trail: 'So you're telling me the throwaway video my kid made got sampled by a hip-hop artist?' Amy Lee: 'Yep! Reptiliannaire's people are ramping up to shoot the 'Crickets are land shrimp' trap remix video and they want you in it! This is a golden opportunity to build your brand with the Teen Girl Sparkle audience. I suggest you take it!' Mark Trail: 'Because I'm such a good rapper?'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 25th of March, 2021. Hey, when fame comes, it is never for the thing you want. Or so I am told.

And it catches the attention of eco-rapper Reptiliannaire. The hip-hop artist sampled Rusty’s Bikbok video and that’s been popular. Reptiliannaire is re-shooting the video and wants Mark Trail for a cameo. Teen Girl Sparkle sees that as a great brand-building opportunity and all right, Dad, I see what you mean about not connecting with this strip any more.

Reptiliannaire is glad to meet Mark Trail and takes him into his weird but fun-looking home. The video’s getting a budget, too, from “Cricket Bro”. He’s a guy who turned his dumb tech fortune into a cricket protein powder startup. Turns out Mark knows him: it’s Rob Bettancourt. Rob knew Mark all the way back to grade school, when everyone called him “Marky Trail”.

Rob Bettancourt: 'Thanks so much for coming, professor. Say, have you met my old friend, Marky Trail?' Mark Trail: 'MARK TRAIL, award-winning nature journalist.' Professor Bee Sharp: 'Ah! I HAVE heard of you! Read your article on bats and human trafficking. Intriguing, if a little confusing.' Mark: 'My son is on the phone. Can you say a few --- ' Sharp, snatching the phone: 'GLADLY! Hiya there, sport!' Mark; 'But my phone!' He lurches toward Sharp and is blocked by a woman declaring ,'If you touch him, I BREAK you.' Narrator: 'Mark knew Hollywood women could be tough, but not *this* tough.'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 23rd of April, 2021. And here’s another reference to older stories, this one from early in James Allen’s tenure. The bats-and-human-trafficking story was from shortly before I did recaps, sorry to say. But Mark Trail went to do a story about white-nose syndrome in some bats in Texas caves, and got tangled up with human traffickers. Also an extremely long though gorgeous progression through caves with neat rocks and stranger (though realistic) life. The traffickers were eventually caught in Mexico. And the last James Allen story, never completed, was to be Hollywood adapting the story. So this was rather a keystone story in Allen’s tenure for Rivera to reference.

Mark also knows that Rob’s inspirational self-start origin story is nonsense; Rob’s parents are rich and that’s why he is. But Rob is also throwing a party and invites Reptiliannaire and Mark Trail and all.

All includes Professor Bee Sharp, a science video guy that Reptiliannaire geeks out over. Rusty, too, when he hears about this. Rob ostentatiously offers Mark help in building his career. Mark, harboring old pains, is not having it.

Meanwhile, Cherry Trail gets irritating news about her landscaping. The Sunny Soleil Committee, a homeowners association, wants her to take down the palm trees she and Mark Trail planted. Mark, scared by Cherry’s fury, downplays how the trip to Los Angeles is for something ridiculous and fun. He volunteers to send the committee an e-mail on her behalf.

Mark Trail: 'Cherry, I won't leave you hanging. I am gonna give that Sunny Soleil Committee the two fists o' justice ... in an e-mail.' Cherry: 'I appreciate that, sugar.' Mark: 'Oh, and I will get you the biggest agave I can get through airport security!' Cherry: 'Mark, don't do anything silly, now.' Narrator: 'Mark decides now is NOT the time to tell her he's flying to Los Angeles to star in a music video with a lizard-themed eco-rapper.'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 3rd of April, 2021. The narration box has been a much bigger player this story, and has been a wonderful commenter on the story. I do not know what Mark Trail did tell Cherry was his reason for flying to Los Angeles if it wasn’t this music video business.

Cherry meets with Violet Cheshire, who oversees the society. Cheshire explains that palm trees are prohibited, as exotic plants don’t belong. Cherry explains how there was one exotic palm, but the sabal palmettos otherwise planted are native. Cheshire says the society won’t have the villagers’ gardens looking like “unkempt jungles”.

Violet Cheshire: 'I cannot speak to whatever agreements you have with your landscaping clients, but the Sunny Soleil Society has its guidelines.' Cherry: 'My husband sent an e-mail explaining the situation.' Cheshire: 'I am well aware of your husband's e-mail. It was ... ' [ Flashback. Cheshire sees a man (her husband?) reading e-mail: 'By jove! This e-mail felt like it punched me in the face with two fists!' ] Cheshire, continuing: '... Confrontational!'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 29th of April, 2021. I don’t know whether we are supposed to take the third panel as literally what happened or as Cherry Trail’s fantasy of what happened. Either way, it brings me delight. The only way it falls short of perfection is not having Cheshire and the man with her wearing monocles.

So that’s rather a standstill. And that’s where things stand as of the start of May.

Sunday Animals Watch!

  • Cicadas, 31 January 2021. Got any?
  • Barred Owls, 7 February 2021. Plus tips on how to get barred owls, in case you need some barred owls.
  • Lovebugs, 14 February 2021. Some more animals who’ve come to Florida, although apparently on their own initiative.
  • Virginia Opossums, 21 February 2021. They’re pretty great, really. Should give them a break.
  • Feral Hogs, 28 February 2021. They’re invasive, of course, and they’re probably smarter than us.
  • Southern Toads, 7 March 2021. They seem to be cute enough.
  • Crickets, 14 March 2021. The strip pushes the line about how crickets might replace cows as a source of protein, which they will not. The cricket-eaters will never accept this.
  • Foxes, 21 March 2021. It’s got three panels where a fox steals something, which is fun.
  • Eastern Black Rat Snakes, 28 March 2021. Which is the species of Ralph, one of the snakes Mark Trail talks with regularly now.
  • Beavers, 4 April 2021. OK, but have you ever seen a video of a beaver in a zoo carrying a bunch of carrots around? Look it up sometime. You’re welcome.
  • Ed Dodd, 11 April 2021. A special biographic panel to celebrate the strip reaching 75 years.
  • Five-Lined Skinks, 18 April 2021. They’re the ones with blue tails, as juveniles, that are able to drop off as decoys when predators come predating.
  • Striped skunks, 25 April 2021. Mark Trail feels they compare favorably with honey badgers.
  • Sabal palms, 2 May 2021. I did not realize they weren’t native to Southern California, and were imported to make the place look better. All right.

Next Week!

Romance! Inspirational quotes! Post-traumatic stress disorder! Working for “exposure”! All this and a lot of thanking Mary worth, in Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth, if all goes to plan.

Retail now available wholesale


Norm Feuti has put together a complete archive of his Retail comic strip.

Retail, about the people working at Grumbel’s Department Store, was one of the comic strips to end syndication in 2020. It’s the one I most miss. It’s not a story strip, except to the extent every comic with recurring characters is expected to have them change over time. Feuti did a great job with his core characters and, particularly, the subtle paradox of maturity. The retail life is absurd, but as the characters started treating it more seriously, they made their days better but found it harder to get away from it. It’s great work that unfortunately defies presentation in a handful of sample strips.

Customer: 'Excuse me. Could you help me get something down off a high shelf?' Cooper: 'Sure.' Customer: 'Oh, thank you. It's in the cupboard above the refrigerator.' Cooper: 'Say what now?' Customer, shuffling off frame: 'It won't take long. My apartment is only a few miles from here.' Cooper: 'Uh ... '
Norm Feuti’s Retail for the 14th of March, 2017. Customers with unrealistic expectations was a running joke, naturally. My favorites were these little-old-ladies like this who seem reasonable enough and don’t know there’s, like, limits.

I’m not sure when I started reading the strip, but think it was around 2010. It was a good time; Feuti had got the hang of his characters and the worldview for the strip. In skimming the archive around then I find a good number of strips I’d say anyone could jump in and read.

Feuti continues to draw a his other strip, Gil, for Sundays. And then, posted the 30th under a category of “we’ll see where it goes”, he posted a Sunday-style strip titled Dollar Admiral, at a discount store. Dollar Admiral was teased as the store taking the place of Grumbel’s, which makes for a neat handoff. If it goes anywhere. I’d be glad if it did.

60s Popeye: Tooth Be Or Not Tooth Be, with extremely little Popeye


Before I get to the cartoon here’s a bit of Popeye news. Stephanie Noell, who runs the Out Of Context Popeye panels Twitter feed, put together an e-book. It collects the Spinach Juice Springs story from Thimble Theatre. This was the first full storyline after Elzie Segar’s death, and the story by Tom Sims and Doc Winner seems to have gone uncollected before. It’s available from Gumroad.com as a pay-what-you-will download. Sims and Winner here put forth a couple neat ideas that they shuffle around a while before running out of stuff to do, then toss in a new idea and shuffle that a while, before finally everyone agrees the story is done. So they kept that Elzie Segar vibe pretty well at this point.


Tooth Be Or Not Tooth Be is another Gene Deitch-produced cartoon. So, good luck finding who’s responsible for story or who the animators were or all that. It is dated 1962, the first time I’ve noticed that late date in one of these.

This extends the streak of Gene Deitch cartoons that inspire the question, “the heck am I watching?”. In this case, not because the story is playing with a weird idea. More that the cartoon is disjoint.

Really it’s two cartoons. One is Poopdeck Pappy babysitting a teething Swee’Pea. Swee’Pea goes wild chewing things. Thumbs, most often, but a phone book, a table, anything he can get near his mouth. It looks like the premise is Pappy trying to keep up with Swee’Pea’s devouring the world. That seems viable enough for a five-minute cartoon to me. You can imagine the Tex Avery, or at least Dick Lundy, cartoon built on that.

But just as that’s settled — with a cute bit where the dentist examines Swee’Pea through binoculars, out of biting range — we shift to a different plot. This one’s the story of the Sea Hag kidnapping Poopdeck Pappy so she can steal his teeth. Pappy’s able to escape, thanks to a campaign of expert biting. This, too, seems like it could have been a five-minute cartoon. So why smash these two premises together?

Might be they couldn’t figure a way to extend either premise to the five-and-a-half minutes needed. In which case, yes, better to do two half-cartoons they have inspiration for. But that pushes the question to why they had a pair of tooth-themed premises going at once. Did someone have the idea for the title and then they pitched ideas to fit it?

Also, why is this a Poopdeck Pappy cartoon? Like, why wouldn’t it be Popeye watching Swee’Pea teething instead? (Which would make the non-emergency dentist visit less odd.) I guess Pappy’s willing to punch the Sea Hag, when Popeye never would, but it’s not like Pappy punches her this cartoon either. It allows for a punch line, Popeye coming in to see Swee’Pea brushing his teeth. But that could be done just as well if (say) Olive Oyl came in to see how he was doing. The side effect is this is another candidate for the title of Least Popeye in a Popeye Cartoon.

Part of me wonders, not completely facetiously, if this started out as a public service cartoon for dental hygiene. The repeated instructions about brushing teeth and going to the dentist fit there. As does Pappy telling a story where good teeth saved the day. And Swee’Pea doing a closing rhyme of “They’ll last to the finish! If he eats his spinach! And brushes them twice a day!”

This might even explain the sketchiness of the animation. I don’t think Popeye’s ever been animated on ones, and by this era it certainly couldn’t be animated on twos. Here I estimate them as animating on the eighteens. Or maybe it’s simpler than that. Could be the Deitch studio was running out of the time and animation budget and they had to put out something. It’s a shame if the answer is all that dull, though.

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? What did happen for Skeezix’s 100th birthday? February – April 2021


I’d delayed my last Gasoline Alley plot summary a couple weeks back in February. This so I could say what was happening for Skeezix’s centennial. His discovery on Walt Wallet’s doorstep changed the strip and made it into something that would last a hundred-plus years. And I was startled that nothing particular did happen.

That did change. We got a story revisiting a few moments in Skeezik’s life. This from the perspective of Walt Wallet, a fair choice. The retrospective was shorter than I expected. This both in its duration, which was only a week for the readers, and its scope, which only covered up to World War II. But it is an observation, albeit late, of Skeezik’s centennial.

So this should catch you up on Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for late April, 2021. If you’re reading this after about July 2021, or if news about the strip breaks, I should have a post here.

On my other blog, I do write up comic strips with mathematical content sometimes. Yesterday, for example, I got to bring up a 1948 panel of Barnaby. You might like seeing that.

And now, what has been going on in Gasoline Alley since February?

Gasoline Alley.

14 February – 26 April 2021.

A lot of stuff at the supermarket. Gertie, Walt’s live-in caretaker, stops to help Mim, a woman who’d lost her glasses. Gertie can’t find them, but throws her back out searching the floor. She pulls on a shelf to straighten up, knocking over bottles of floor wax. And then we get a bunch of slapstick as characters fall over, drawing in more bystanders to slip and fall over, drawing in — Well. We are fortunate the slipping wave stops before it encompasses all humanity in the dreaded Global Pratfall Event. And in comes Tim, who’d found Mim’s glasses when he got home. He surmises that they fell into his basket and he hadn’t noticed. Since they’ve met cute and have matching names, they need to go off and date and reappear in stories to come.

Mim: 'Oh, my! I can see again! Thank you! Thank you! How can I repay you?' Gertie: 'Not me! He!' Tim: 'Aw! I was glad to help!' Mim: 'No! I insist!' Tim: 'I insist! No!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 4th of March, 2021. By the next day, in-character time, Tim is calling Mim ‘honey’, so I suppose things are moving fast. Or I’m mistaken in saying that’s happened the next day. Though Gasoline Alley tries to age characters in roughly real-time, there have to be gaps in time we readers don’t see. Otherwise the characters live, like, one or two days per month.

So, come the 10th of March, Gertie heads home and into the next story. She calls Walt to let him know she’s running late, but gets no answer. She fears the worse, speeding home. A cop stops her for speeding, but concedes these are good reasons to rush home and check on an unresponsive 115-year-old. They call in the fire department and the ambulance and find … that he was just watching the TV and couldn’t hear the phone.

Young Walt, holding an infant Skeezix: 'Skeezix! What're you doing here?' Infant Skeezix: 'I live here! Don't you remember?' Walt: 'But, you're grown up and married and live across town!' Skeezix: 'Married? At my tender age?'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 31st of March, 2021. I liked this retrospective-in-a-dream frame. It excuses jumping to good parts without transition or explanation, for one. (And doing such a jump makes the dream more authentic.) And it lets a moment like this be a dialogue, usually more interesting.

From the 24th, Walt talks about the lost stamina of his youth. He goes to bed, and wakes up the next morning … looking and feeling 20 years old. He’s dreaming, of course, but chooses to enjoy that.

Teen Skeezix, pointing out a car to Middle-Age Walt: 'Want to go for a ride in my new jalopy, Uncle Walt? Hop in!' Walt: 'Skeezix! You can't drive! You're just a baby! ... [ They're in the car, racing down the street ] Well, at least you were yesterday!' Skeezik: 'Baby? I'm 15 years old!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 31st of March, 2021. I liked this retrospective-in-a-dream frame. It excuses jumping to good parts without transition or explanation, for one. (And doing such a jump makes the dream more authentic.) And it lets a moment like this be a dialogue, usually more interesting.

He talks with Baby Skeezix. Relives going on the first drives with a 15-year-old Skeezix in a mid-30s jalopy. Waves Skeezix off to the Army, and back from World War II. And, while he’s feeling young, goes for a run. It’s a moment that touched me. I don’t yet have the experience of being old. But I did used to be quite fat. When I was losing that weight there was one day I realized I could go from walking quickly to running, and that the transition felt good, and the running felt good, and I imagine Walt’s dream felt like that. I hope everyone gets to experience that good feeling.

Adult Skeezix, hugging: 'Goodbye, Uncle Walt!' Walt: 'Where're you going Skeezix?' Skeezix, showing his ARMY shirt: 'Off to WWII! I enlisted!' Walt: 'Be careful! Don't worry! We win the war!' Skeezix: 'How do you know?' Walt: 'Been there! Done that!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 5th of April, 2021. “Oh, I’ve played like 300 crazy scenarios in Hearts of Iron III and, let me tell you, you have to seriously nerf the Allies to lose.”

But it is a dream, and only a dream. He wakes the next morning with the usual sorts of aches and indignities of age.


Walt wakes back up the 13th, has breakfast, and they discover they’re out of eggs. While Walt naps, Gert goes back to the store. She’s been trying to find a box of eggs without any cracked, without success. The egg delivery guy is handling the packages roughly. Also she sees Mim again, who’s there with Tim and contact lenses.

Next Week!

Hollywood glamor! Rappers! Childhood bullies! Homeowners Associations! Viral videos! It’s Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail, if all goes as planned. I still don’t know how Mark Trail didn’t get arrested after stealing that boat in Florida. Sorry.

Also, if you’re a little curious somebody built a Smokey Stover web site … I’d estimate in summer of 1997 … updated the copyright notice in 2003, and forgot about it ever since. So please enjoy some vintage comic strips on a very vintage web site. It’s got an image map for its front page, if you can imagine.

Tarzan comic strip ending syndication soon, also, Tarzan comic strip hadn’t ended syndication yet


D D Degg, at The Daily Cartoonist, reports the Tarzan comic strip is leaving syndication. Andrews McMeel Syndication is halting the strip the 20th of June, 2021. This is not so great a surprise. The Sunday Tarzan strip has been in reruns since the 19th of May, 2002. The daily strip has been in reruns since the 29th of July, 1972, and I keep having to go back and double-check that. That’s not just since before I was born, or before Hagar the Horrible first appeared. That’s more than half of the comic strip’s whole lifetime ago.

The Burroughs Estate points out that for nearly a decade now they’ve had a web comic version of Tarzan going, with Sunday-size panels. And that they hope to publish the web comic through Dark Horse.

Right now, GoComics.com has a pretty solid archive of Tarzan strips. It features the strips that have been rerun going back to 1996. I have no information what will happen to that after June. GoComics has been getting ruthless in culling comics — including purging archives — so if there’s any Tarzan stories you remember liking, and you have a GoComics subscription, I recommend going in and saving the image files now.

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? What was in Pouch’s blue balloon? January – April 2021


The blue balloon was something with a secret message that The Pouch was trying to send to an unknown party. We haven’t learned what the message was. Nor who was to receive it. Nor why they shot Pouch over a couple-day delay of it? For this story, at least, it’s a MacGuffin. I expect that it’ll come back later. Staton and Curtis have enjoyed planting things for use months or years later. (But, they have yet to follow up on whatever was haunting the Plenty household years ago, too.)

That what we do see of the message is a binary sequence suggests it could involve “Matty Squared”. This is a digitally uploaded former henchman of Mister Bribery. He was last seen in 2018, heading for “the server farms down south”, after the arrest of Mister Bribery’s gang. But that’s a guess.

So this post should catch you up to mid-April 2021 on Dick Tracy. If you’re reading this after about July 2021, or if there’s news about Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy there should be a more useful post here. Thanks for reading.

Dick Tracy.

24 January – 17 April 2021.

Aquarius and his drug-dealers in the 1312 Bedwell commune had captured Tiger Lilly. Lilly was there to retrieve a stolen blue balloon for information broker The Pouch. Aquarius, meanwhile, wanted to harass The Pouch for chasing away his dealers such as “Dollar” Bill Dolan. (Pouch’s cover is selling balloons at the zoo, and wants disreputable crime like drug dealing kept away from his scene.) The Pouch had, in fact, told Tiger Lilly to take care of Dollar Bill. Lilly did this by killing Dollar Bill and disposing of his body in the woods. I’m not sure if Aquarius knew or suspected that, though. But that’s where we were in January.

Organic farmer Tim Wildman, evicted from the Bedwell Commune a year ago, gives backstory. The Commune’s organizer, and mansion owner, is Peggy Bellum, paraplegic since a car accident three years ago. Her nephew Aquarius was doted on until the accident, which “changed” him, though he still tends his aunt. But the changes brought drug use, and dealing, into the Commune. Meanwhile, Peggy Bellum’s brother Stephan — handling her money — wants to sell the mansion for “development”, which she can’t refuse hard enough. Stephan tells that Aquarius is drug-dealing, a revelation that convinces Peggy her brother is lying to scare her into selling out. So that’s the people with money or property think about all this.

Dick Tracy: 'Wildman's statement seemed on the level to me. If what he says is true about Ms Bellum, it might be a case of disability abuse. Indeed, I think that's grounds for another visit to 1312 Bedwell.' Sam Catchem: 'Right! I'll get us some help. Catch you later, Tracy.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 5th of February, 2021. One weakness to the story is that it’s unclear what’s not suitable for Peggy Bellum here. I suppose that there’s drug users on the property but it’s not obvious to me that implies Bellum’s being ill-treated. But this may reflect a department, or character, assumption that any sign of drug use is proof of abuse.

Where did we get from there? Well, a bunch of parties pursued their own Brilliant Schemes at once. This all makes sense, but it did make the day-to-day action harder to follow.

First party: Tiger Lilly. The Bedford Commune drug dealers caught him and tossed him into the root cellar out back. Not the basement and I’ll explain why that matters. He’s able to break the ropes tying him down. And to break through a ceiling vent (the door is too solid), in front of the cops. I’ll explain why cops are there, too. He doesn’t know that Dick Tracy Jr’s trail cameras spotted his dumping of Dollar Bill’s body. Still, you see why he’d figure he should run. But has the bad luck to try carjacking the truck that B O and Gertie Plenty are canoodling in. So he’s arrested for involuntary manslaughter.

Dick Tracy: 'Say again, Gertie?' Gertie: 'We were sittin' in our truck on date night when that Tiger Lilly came out of nowhere! And then!' --- in loosely stylized panels B O kicks Tiger Lilly, grabs a tree branch, and whacks Lilly unconscious. B O Plenty: 'Yep, that's how I done it, Mr Macy!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 18th of March, 2021. Have to feel for Tiger Lilly, getting beat up in a stylized flashback like that.

Second party: Pouch. He wants that blue balloon back. He breaks into the basement — not the root cellar — planting a device to release mercaptan. The residents figure it’s a gas leak, and all evacuate. Cheesecake, Aquarius’s girlfriend or possibly wife, takes Peggy Bellum to a hotel to wait the trouble out. Pouch breaks in, finds the balloon, and has to hide while Dick Tracy’s gang searches the place. I’ll explain why they’re there later. But he succeeds, and turns the blue balloon over to his contact. His contact shoots him. This seems like an overreaction even to being days late on the delivery. But we don’t know what the message — seen in black light to be a string of binary digits — was about.

Park cops, driving around: 'Slow night and no sign of Pouch all afternoon.' 'It figures.' We see Pouch handing the Blue Balloon over to his contact. The contact shoots him. Park cops: 'One more tour around the park and we're done.' They spot the unconscious Pouch.
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 21st of March, 2021. The contact here also took Pouch’s money. He supposed it was further punishment for the delay getting the balloon delivered. I wonder if the contact didn’t just want it to look like a mugging. I suppose it depends whether the contact rifled Pouch’s wallet, a hard-cased thing that deflected the bullet.

Lucky for Pouch, his titanium wallet deflected the bullet, and park cops noticed and rushed him to the hospital. He won’t say anything about who shot him or why. Less lucky for him, he passes Tiger Lilly on the way out of the hospital. Lilly, reasonably but wrongly thinking Pouch left him for dead, slugs him. (Remember, Pouch couldn’t have seen Lilly, and had assumed Lilly had ditched him.)

Third party: Dick Tracy. He’s got the corpse of Bill Dolan. He and Sam Catchem suspect a link with 1312 Bedwell, since look at those numbers. But the only tie they can find is Tim Wildman. He’s an organic farmer who gave Catchem the tip that the Bedwell Commune was even in this story. He’s glad to give them backstory about the Commune and his eviction from it. Tracy figures there’s at least enough to do a wellness check, in case there’s any abuse of a disabled person going on. And a stray witness is able to tell Tracy and Catchem that Pouch is in this story too, so they hope to interrogate him.

Tracy arrives at 1312 Bedwell with the representative from Child and Family Services. In case you wonder why marginalized people will refuse the civil benefits to which they’re entitled for their protection. They all get there as Tiger Lilly escapes the root cellar. Also, by coincidence, shortly after Pouch sets off his mercaptan bomb.

Family and Child Services investigator: 'From what I've seen today, if Peggy Bellum is living here, she shouldn't be.' Pouch, hiding in a dumbwaiter, thinking: 'Lousy cops! LEAVE already! I'm dyin' here!' Investigator: 'The DFCS will be in touch. I'll go make my report.' Dick Tracy: 'Alright. Thanks, Ms Han.' In the root cellar, Tiger Lilly jabs at the ceiling and thinks: 'That door was rock solid, but this old vent was easy to break through!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 12th of March, 2021. Oh, using the dumbwaiter. OK, great plan but letting everyone else on the expansion set to Betrayal at the House on the Hill know; the dumbwaiters connect you to the next landing one floor up or down. They don’t connect to other dumbwaiter rooms. I know, it’s not what we expected either and we kept making that mistake.

So. Pouch is able to hide from the cops, and gets to his appointment to be shot. Tiger Lilly escapes his confinement, only to get clobbered by B O and Gertie Plenty and arrested. Ty, the drug dealer who took up Dollar Bill’s beat, comes back to the house in time to get arrested. And while they’ll get to interrogate Pouch in the hospital, he won’t say anything about anything.

Fourth party: Oscar Grubbard. I know, who? I’m not positive, but he seems to be working for Peggy Bellum’s brother Stephan. But after Stephan tells Peggy about Aquarius’s drug-dealing she fires him. This as he’s bringing tea to her. My best guess is he’s meant to be Stephan’s caretaker for Peggy?

Anyway, with Peggy declaring she’ll revoke the power of attorney given Stephan, Grubbard acts. This in drugging Peggy Bellum (and incidentally Cheesecake). His brilliant plan: smother Peggy Bellum, let Stephan inherit all the money, and then abscond with the money to Bogota. It feels like an improvised execution. Aquarius’s unexpected visit to his aunt foils it, starting a fight that Tracy and company are luckily on hand to interrupt.

Oscar Grubbard, holding a pillow over Peggy Bellum: 'I had a more leisurely exit planned, but you forced my hand, with your threats of investigation, old hag. In time, Mr Bellum will see it was for the best. In a few minutes, he'll have the family fortune. His drug-dealing son will be in jail within the week, and I'll be in Bogota.' [ Elsewhere ] Aquarius rides the elevator up to Peggy Bellum's room.
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 3rd of April, 2021. I guess Grubbard doesn’t quite say he’s going to make off with the Bellum fortune, but it would be odd for him to kill Peggy Bellum and flee to Bogota without it. But Grubbard here is an embezzler, so maybe he’s overestimating his skills at opportunistic murder.

So this gets things resolved as well as they could. Tiger Lilly’s arrested for manslaughter. The cops would like to ask Pouch about his “I am innocent of the crimes you are investigating” T-shirt but he refers them to his T-shirt. Oscar Grubbard’s arrested for assault and attempted murder. Most of the 1312 Bedwell residents get charged with drug possession or trafficking. Aquarius also gets a false imprisonment charge. The strip doesn’t specify if this means imprisoning Tiger Lilly or imprisoning Peggy Bellum. Peggy Bellum donates the house “to charity”, and moves in with Tim Wildman.

I’m sympathetic to people who didn’t follow the story as it unfolded. There are a lot of threads, and they were woven together. And the plans of some parties interrupted plans of others. If you have a GoComics membership I recommend going back and rereading it all at once, though. The pieces do fit together well. It’s easy to imagine this as a competing-capers-gone-wrong movie.


So the 11th of April finished off that story. The current story began last week, the 12th of April. Abner Kadaver, back from the dead, breaks his accomplice Rikki Mortis out of jail. That’s as much as I can tell you now.

Next Week!

Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley did nothing for the centennial of Walt Wallet discovering Skeezix! Has the strip recovered from this strange anti-nostalgic blow? If all goes well next week we’ll see what the Wallet family has been doing.

What’s Going On In Prince Valiant? Why send assassins after Rory Red Hood? January – April 2021


Lockbramble’s a small fiefdom in the north of King Arthur’s England. Its Lord is an amiable figurehead, happy to let the lands run as a self-governing community. This because he doesn’t want to do stuff, which, relatable. Also because Rory Red Hood, the spearhead of this movement, is really good at management. Camelot is willing to overlook all this irregularity, because Sir Gawain rather fancies Rory. Also she’s making a lot of money. But other lords, who are not getting money from all this, disagree.

So this should catch you up to mid-April 2021 in Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant. If any news about the strip breaks out, or if you want the plot after about July 2021, a more useful post may be here. And, if you like to read about mathematics in the comic strips, you might find something fun in my other blog. Thanks for considering it.

Prince Valiant.

17 January – 11 April 2021.

Prince Valiant and Sir Gawain were off in Lockbramble. Lord Hallam, of neighboring Wedmarsh, had sent bandits after Rory Red Hood. They’re not very effective. Durward, one of the bandits, was doing so under duress and he’s happy to move to Lockbramble if his family is safe. Valiant and Gawain are game for an evacuation/escort mission.

Wedmarsh’s Captain of the Guard catches them immediately. But they have a good lie to protect them. They assert that Durwood attacked their royal party, and though they slew him, the laws of Camelot give them rights to claim his family. Wedmarsh figures this sounds plausible so, what the heck. Durward and family are ultimately delighted. And Rory, speaking for Lockbramble, is too. Lockbramble’s prospering, but prosperity comes from people. So why not invite everyone who’s unhappy with their lot in life?

When it becomes obvious that they are all losing a steady stream of serfs, the lords Kennard of Greystream and Ravinger of Barrenburn come to Hallam of Wedmarsh to discuss the crippling loss of their labor force, and to determine a solution. Using the only means that occurs to their limited imaginations, the three brothers collect information from those serfs captured in attempts to flee [ the means are torture ]. They learn that their human property is fleeing to neighboring Lockbramble following word that all would be welcomed as equals in Rory Red Hood's propserous fields. The tortured souls tell also of a ragged horseman who fights as fiercely as a knight, saving many from capture and return. The three brother thanes are outraged. 'Rory Red Hood is urging and abetting our property to abandon its service to its rightful masters!' And, listening closely, Hallam's Captain of the Guard reflects on a recent incident concerning two knights of Camelot, who came to Wedmarsh to claim serfs as compensation. Coincidence, or ... ?
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 14th of February, 2021. I have to suppose that when you become the lord of Greystream or Barrenburn you go in figuring it’s not the best farmland in England but, still. Lockbramble’s very fortunate to have been having the right amount of rain the last couple years.

And the answer is that serfs ditching bad rulers for good rather annoys their bad rulers. The surrounding fiefs figure they can use law too, and demand a knight’s contest of champions. After all, they can pay a great outlaw knight to fight for them, while Lockbramble only has … at least two of Camelot’s knights. How can Lockbramble hope to win?

So it’s Sir Peredur the Rover against Sir Gawain. Peredur comes with a reputation. The reputation’s of betraying Castle Beringar to the Saxons, a mark of his deviousness and treachery.

With great fanfare, the contest of champions - Lockbramble versus Wedmarsh, Greystream and Barrenburn - begins! At the last moment, Rory gifts her champion with a token of her devotion ... and the joust begins, with Peredur thundering over the gaming field to meet Gawain midway! The oncoming horses barely miss one another, as Gawain's lance shattered against Peredur's shield, and Peredur's lance, with its hidden iron core, tears a great chunk out of Gawain's buckler! The agreed-upon terms of combat are that judgement will not be rendered until one champion cannot continue. It looks to be a long, bitter trial ...
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 4th of April, 2021. I think this is the first time in my plot recapping that we’ve had an actual honest-to-goodness joust in Prince Valiant. And yet I never hear comments complaining that Prince Valiant isn’t being done right anymore.

Peredur wins the first round, thanks to some luck and a hidden iron core to his lance. Gawain’s a bit better-prepared for the second round, which ends up a tie. Meanwhile, Valiant follows some of Lord Hallam’s henchmen.

And that’s where we rest at the middle of April, 2021.

Next Week!

Hippies! A coded All-Cops-Are-Bastards reference! Gas leaks! The Pouch! What more could you want in a story? Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy gets some attention next week, if my plans hold up. I’ll let you know.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (weekdays)? Who is this John X? January – April 2021


John X is another alias for The Phantom. Unlike “Towns Ellerbee”, it’s not an alias he picked. In the 2014 story John X The Phantom contracted amnesia from a snake bite. Jungle Patrol took in the mysterious figure, dubbing him John X. He would in Patrolman X join the Jungle Patrol. When his memory returned he wrote orders as the Unknown Commander, detaching “John X” for special duty.

This essay should catch you up to early April in Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity. If you’re interested in the separate Sunday continuity, or are reading this after about July 2021, a post here may be more useful. And, on my other blog, I’ve been talking about comic strips again. Not as much as I used to, but in ways you might enjoy. Thanks for considering it.

The Phantom (Weekdays).

11 January – 3 April 2021.

The Phantom, under the name “Towns Ellerbee”, was helping The Trusted Man break police chief Ernesto Salinas from the infamous Gravelines Prison. We met Salinas a decade ago, in a lucha wrestling storyline. The Trusted Man, Salinas’s not-yet-named assistant from Cuidad Jardin, came to Rhodia to free his boss. He met up with “Towns Ellerbee”. They punched Salinas’s kidnapper, and crime-and-wrestling nemesis, Victor Batalla out of the story. The Phantom, as the Unknown Commander of the Jungle Patrol, orders the pickup of Batalla and henchmen. The Phantom brings The Trusted Man to the outskirts of Gravelines Prison, but refuses to go in. “Ellerbee” leaves their stolen car and wishes him luck.

The Trusted Man, sneaking up on a prison guard, thinks: 'Attacking this man would surely reveal me to the unseen other! On the inside! This I know from Mister Towns Ellerbee! Already my friend saves me from a needless mistake!'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 22nd of January, 2021. I appreciate how generous The Phantom is with his vigilante-superhero tips. The Trusted Man is lucky, though, that he’s working in a superhero universe where low-level minions won’t notice you until you’re in punching range, though.

It won’t only be luck. The Phantom watches over Trusted Man, of course. Trusted Man uses some of the tricks he’s already learned from Ellerbee, although I regret “smash a rhino through the door” is not among them. Once confident that The Trusted Man has a handle on things, The Phantom sneaks into the computer room. His goal: getting a roster of the people “disappeared” into Gravelines Prison, which he’ll turn over to the Jungle Patrol.

Phantom, looking at a Gravelines computer, thinking 'The ruling generals are likely holding prisoners of conscience ... Rhodian citizens fighting for democracy ... foreign nationals held for ransom on false charges ... [ as he puts a USB drive in ] Colonel Worubu will get this roster of prisoners into the right hands ... '
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 19th of February, 2021. [ Four days later ] Colonel Worubu is alarmed to discover the Rhodians were holding Little Bobby Tables and now there’s nobody else in Jungle Patrol’s database of the wrongfully imprisoned.

The Trusted Man punches all the way to Salinas’s cell, and breaks him out. He tells the story of Towns Ellerbee’s work, and what he presumes to know about Ellerbee, as they exit. They’re alarmed by a speeding car, the first sign they’ve been detected. But it’s Towns Ellerbee driving it. So they’re able to make a grand escape.

The Phantom, as Towns Ellerbee, in the getaway car: 'My guess? ... Warden's vehicle ... fully armored ... run-flat tires ... equipped to crash the main gate and keep going. Or ... if you feel like stopping, we could do that.' Salinas, rubbing his fist into his hand: 'So I may say a PROPER goodby to Gravelines!? Oh, yes! We will STOP, Mister Towns!'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 10th of March, 2021. “Oh — oh, you wanted to punch the guards on the way out? … All right, I just meant, like, did you want to get a Shorti at the Wawa? I think they have one that’s just four cheeses piled together.”

The Ghost Who Taxi Drives takes them to somewhere in Bangalla. And vanishes into the fog, leaving behind the money The Trusted Man had paid him for his service. The two try to understand all his actions. The Trusted Man mentions Towns Ellerbee’s dark glasses and Colonel Worubu works it out. He’s incorrect, but not wrong. “Towns Ellerbee” must be John X, working on special detail for the Unknown Commander. The unresolved mystery to them: why should the Unknown Commander care about a kidnapped police chief from Ciudad Jardin?

And this is where the story’s reached. It feels like it must be near the end. All the Jungle Patrol’s attempts to understand their Unknown Commander fail, after all. The copied database of Gravelines prisoners seems likely to be more interesting to Jungle Patrol, too. Also possibly to generate future stories.

Next Week!

Valiant and Sir Gawain only wanted to get a couple peasants out of an unpleasant neighboring lord’s demesne. What could go wrong? We’ll see how it went wrong in Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant next week, all going well.

The guy who draws Beetle Bailey has seen a squirrel


I am happy to offer good news in my continuing series picking on one of the world’s most successful comic strips for having difficulty rendering animals in its particular style. This Sunday saw Zero feeding a squirrel that I accept as a successful depiction of a squirrel, within the bounds of the evolved Mid-Century Cartoon Moderne style that the comic uses.

I’m also glad to bring the news that a butterfly, rabbit, a blue and a red bird were depicted successfully. I think the opossum was depicted successfully too, but I accept that people might in good faith have a different opinion.

I’m sad to say that the groundhog situation isn’t looking good. This is a bit peculiar as groundhogs are a kind of squirrel. But the poses and volume of tail are different and that affects styling.

Diller: 'Where's Zero going?' Bailey: 'Taking a stroll.' Zero, waving to a butterfly: 'Bonjour, Madame Butterfly. ... Hello, little squirrel! Want a nut?' (He holds one out to a blue-grey squirrel.) 'Your friend bunny wants to join us (A white rabbit comes out of the bushes). Look! Here comes Mr Possum! And Ms groundhog!' (Waving to a beard on his helmet.) 'Hi there, little birdie!' Beetle, looking at the collection of animals around Zero: 'One thing Zero will never be is lonely.'
Greg Walker, Mike Yates, and Janie Walker-Yates’s Beetle Bailey for the 4th of April, 2021. Also, Wikipedia tells me that Neal Walker, Brian Walker, Kit Walker, and Greg Walker all contribute to the writing of the comic strip, but only Greg gets his name in the panel. And only Mort Walker’s name gets credited on the ComicsKingdom page. I underestand where it might be confusing to the audience to have too many, or too often-changing, credits in the panels or on the title bar. But I feel bad not giving the best attribution I can.

Yes, a white rabbit the size of a blue-grey squirrel is improbable, but this isn’t Mark Trail. Photorealism is not the standard. “Is styled compatibly to the regular characters” and “is recognizably the animal it’s supposed to be” is.

Any updates about what animals the guy drawing Beetle Bailey has or has not seen I shall post to this link.

What’s Going On In Alley Oop? Why was Lady Worthington killed? January – March 2021


Hasn’t been revealed yet why someone wanted to kill Lady Worthington at this dinner of inventors she’d summoned. Or why she summoned them. The obvious supposition is money, but the truth may be something sillier.

This should get you up to date on Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the end of March, 2021. If you’re reading this after about June 2021, there’s likely a more up-to-date plot recap here. The link also will have any news about the comic strip which I notice.

Alley Oop.

3 January – 27 March 2021.

Alley Oop, Ooola, and Doc Wonmug had contracted a case of shrinking last we saw. This after getting zapped by shrink rays several times over. They first settled in at paramecium-sized. Then spontaneously re-shrank to bacterium-sized. Then to DNA-sized. Then into the subatomic, coming to be the size of quantum strings. Also, in the Alley Oop universe, it turns out string theory is right. Once shrunken so, though, they meet someone.

Wonmug, Ooola, and Alley Oop meet a bald humanoid figure wearing a long robe, against a blank white space with closed dotted loops scattered around. Wonmug: 'So, Plank, who are you?' Plank: 'I'm just Plank. I'm ageless, genderless, and timeless. I'm infinite and nothing all at once.' (He turns into an octopus.) 'I don't even have a set physical form. I can be anything I want.' Alley Oop: 'Whoa. Can *I* be you?' Plank: 'No, friend. But you can have this cool scarf I made out of quantum strings.' Alley Oop: 'That's even better!'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 19th of January, 2021. I liked Plank, who was a consistently pleasant character. They didn’t have the snarky or mean streak that so many Lemon-Sayers characters do. I imagine they’ll be back, and hope they keep this otherworldly niceness.

Plank seems to be a pleasant, all-knowing, mysterious entity. They’re able to show Our Heroes the wonders of alternate dimensions and the Theory of Everything and all that. And then it’s time to shrink some more. And what happens when you shrink smaller than anything can be? That’s right: you end up bigger than galaxies. Like in that ancient science fiction short story. Plank guides them to shrinking all the way back to Earth, and their proper size again. Wonmug hopes to chat physics with Plank some. Alley Oop and Ooola dash back for home.


They get home the 2nd of February and get exciting news: Garg is getting married! He doesn’t know to who. He’ll find out at the ceremony. Also everybody else is getting married too. Why is everyone marrying at the same time? The Mighty Feather, their new spiritual leader, decreed it. So that’s looking creepy and evil, however much everyone denies their evilness, in unison. Also, the Mighty Feather talks about how everyone needs to jump in the volcano tomorrow, so this needs action.

Alley Oop, wearing his thinking-feathers cap: 'Maybe I could pretend to be the Mighty Feather.' Ooola: 'That will never work, Alley! You don't look anything like her!' Alley: 'Maybe you're right ... ' Moo resident, walking past: 'Excuse me, Mighty Feather, thank you for sharing your infinite love with your flock.' Alley, standing proud: 'It's all about the confidence.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 11th of February, 2021. Lemon and Sayers’s Moo is really developing this Springfield/Pawnee vibe for the mob picking up a goofy obsession of the week.

Alley Oop puts on his thinking feathers and realizes, why not pretend to be The Mighty Feather, cult leader, and guide Moo back to normal? And it turns out that’s all anybody needed. The story wraps up the 17th of February.


From the 18th the new, and current, story starts. They get an invitation to a “gathering of geniuses” at the palatial estate of Lady Worthington. The butler greets them, with a warning against “the butler did it” jokes. She’s gathered the finest minds in the world as she’s lost the key to her safe full of riches and needs help. Alley Oop finds it underneath a fake rock in the bureau, so on to a nice after-mystery dinner.

Lady Worthington, at the table: 'I must confess there is another reason I summoned you all here. I ... ' (Click; the panel goes dark. The lights return.) Alley Oop: 'That was weird.' Wonmug: 'Gasp! Lady Worthington is *dead*!' (She's slumped on the table, with a knife in her back.) Alley, looking away: 'Pfft. Why would she summon us here for *that*?' The butler looks in from the distant door.
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 6th of March, 2021. And, look at that last panel. You can’t say they weren’t playing fair with the audience about who the killer was.

At the dinner it turns out all the guests but Ooola and Alley Oop are inventors. As Our Heroes ponder this strangeness, Lady Worthington admits she gathered everyone for a second purpose. Then the light flicks out a moment. When it comes back, Lady Worthington is dead, stabbed in the back.

It’s easy to solve a murder when you have a time machine like Doc Wonmug. The time machine won’t work. Another inventor has a post-mortem communicator. It doesn’t work. Another inventor has a reincarnator. it doesn’t work. Nor does the robo-cloner. Alley Oop’s club even acts weird. Wonmug deduces the presence of a Faraweek cage, interfering with the workings of technology.

Our Heroes explore the manor and find the Faraweek cage in the basement. Ooola snips the correct wire and all the technologies become available. The reincarnator, for example, is able to bring Lady Worthington back to life, only to die again of her stab wound. The post-mortem communicator gets Lady Worthington’s spirit demanding that nobody get her money and hangs up. The robo-duplicator produces a dead robot Lady Worthington. Finally we get to the time machine.

Wonmug: 'We've traveled to right before Lady Worthington was killed. We should be able to see what happens and stop the murder.' They see the Butler stepping in, knife in hand: 'Heh heh, I sure do love a perfectly planned murder, that is virtually unsolvable.' He's startled to see Alley Oop (wearing a Sherlock Holmes hat) in his way. Butler, turning and walking way: 'Like I said, just going to go watch old episodes of 'Murder, She Wrote'.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 27th of March, 2021. Alley Oop picked up the Sherlock Holmes hat as he got into solving this cozy mystery the old-fashioned way. I enjoyed seeing him be enthusiastic in this little weird way.

So, yes, the butler did it. And since they went back in time and interrupted the murder, Lady Worthington now isn’t dead and we get another bit of timeline-changing.


In the Sunday strips, there was one Little Oop comic where Penelope took herself and Alley Oop back to Moo. This teased a resolution of the scenario where Little Alley Oop’s in the present day. But it wasn’t followed up on the next week. So there’s not a real story resuming there.

Next Week!

What’s got a lucha wrestler police deputy chief from Mexico breaking into a Rhodian prison? Who is Towns Ellerbee and where has he got off to? Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom (weekday continuity) gets a recap, if things go like I hope.

What’s Going On In Spider-Man? When will you stop covering Spider-Man? December 2020 – March 2021


I figure to stop covering Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s The Amazing Spider-Man the end of August. The current, Ant-Man, story, has ended. Peter Parker and Scott Lang (Ant-Man) take the subway home from Egghead’s mansion because they forgot they rented a car to drive there. Then we learn Mary Jane’s Broadway play is closed for a few more weeks. The theater’s getting more repairs. But there’s publicity for her film Marvella 2: The Quest For Peace to do. They go driving off to Los Angeles and along the way meet Rocket Raccoon and Ronan T Avenger. In its original run this story ran from the 20th of November, 2016, through the 30th of April, 2017. I make that out as 24 weeks, which is one week out of phase with my 12-week comic-strip cycle.

The end of that story is when I first started covering story strips regularly here. So that’s when I’ll bow out. That unless they rerun stories I haven’t covered, or they put the strip into new production. I don’t expect either case to happen, but this is a strange world we’re in. Still, any news about the Spider-Man strip should be posted here. And I have six months to figure out what to do with my content hole here. I’ll take suggestions.

The Amazing Spider-Man.

27 December 2020 – 21 March 2021.

The Daily Bugle has a new publisher since the death of J Jonah Jameson’s cousin Ruth. It’s Ruth’s widower, Elihas Starr, who’s known to Ant-Man as the villain Egghead. Starr demands Peter Parker get photos of Ant-Man. Why? Peter Parker doesn’t know. He guesses Ant-Man might know what Egghead’s up to. He doesn’t know the current Ant-Man, though. He only knows Dr Henry Pym, the original Ant-Man. So he takes the subway way out to the end of the world to the scientist’s lab.

The lab is deserted, and trashed. Spider-Man breaks in, and gets punched over and over by an invisible and intangible opponent. It turns out to be Scott Lang, the current Ant-Man. He’s staying small and unshrinking long enough to sucker-punch Peter Parker. Not even out of suspicion for anything. Newspaper Spider-Man has such big punchable-sucker energy nobody can resist.

Spider-Man: 'I didn't turn Hank Pym's lab into a war zone. I just got here.' Ant-Man: 'Me too. When I saw somebody crawling in the window, I figured I'd check him out.' Spider-Man: 'So you didn't turn invisible in between slugging me?' Ant-Man: 'No. I just shrank real small. It's what I do. [ Shrinking out of frame ] Like so!' Spider-Man: 'Stop *doing* that! It freaks me out.'
Roy Thomas and Larry Lieber’s Amazing Spider-Man rerun for the 5th of January, 2021. Spider-Man’s a couple days out of having to deal with Dr Strange’s nonsense and the Nightmare dimension, and this guy clowning around is freaking him out? I guess when you reach your limit, you crash hard against it.
The punching satisfies the Ritual of Super-Heroes Fighting When They Meet. Ant-Man doesn’t know what Egghead’s deal is either. Given the state of the lab, they guess someone kidnapped Dr Pym. Egghead’s the obvious suspect. So they go to J Jonah Jameson’s penthouse, guessing that he’d know where his cousin Ruth lived, and that’d be the place to hide Pym. Not sure I agree with the logic there — have they considered the Abandoned Warehouse District? — but they have to use what leads they have. Spider-Man stays outside, figuring Ant-Man is the one who could avoid raising Jameson’s ire. It goes well.

[ Spider-Man waits impatiently, on the balcony ] Spider-Man; 'How long can it take Scott Lang to explain the situation to Jameson? All he has to do is find out --- ' Ant-Man, inside: '--- where Elihas Starr lived when he was married to your cousin Ruth!' Jameson: 'Why do you need to know?' Ant-Man; 'Hank Pym --- my predecessor as Ant-Man --- has vanished, and we think Starr's behind it.' Jameson: 'We think? Who's 'we'?' Ant-Man, shrinking: 'Uh --- I don't --- I meant --- my ants and me!' [ Getting on a winged ant to fly away ] 'Mr Jameson, I'd like you to meet Huey, Dewey, and Louie!' Jameson, grabbing his shotgun: 'ANTS - in my bedroom? GET OUT OF HERE --- and take those SIX-LEGGED PESTS with you!'
Roy Thomas and Larry Lieber’s Amazing Spider-Man rerun for the 24th of January, 2021. There’s a recurring bit this story where characters bring guns against insects, or insect-size humans. This seems like the worst way to try killing a bug to me but maybe there’s aspects of ant-killing I don’t understand.
Still, they get an address, and plant the idea that Jameson might come into the story later and save our heroes from an impossible fix. You know, in case that comes about. They rent a car, drive out to the estate, break in, and set off an alarm that sprays them with shrink gas. It’s not one that Ant-Man can reverse, either. The modified shrink gas also shrinks Ant-Man’s strength from that of a Man to that of an Ant. Egghead vacuums them up, which is the kind of thing that keeps miniaturizing superheroes from achieving dignity. The shrunken heroes pass out in the vacuum because it’s a modified vacuum cleaner, okay? And wake to find themselves encased in plastic blocks. And Dr Pym tied up and bound to a chair right next to them.

Tiny Spider-Man, encased in a box: 'Okay, so you were after Hank Pym's Ant-Man formula. But why'd you scheme to get control of the Daily Bugle?' Egghead: 'I'll need to launder all the money I'll be paid for that formula ... and who would suspect that a newspaper was being utilized for that purpose? .... Too bad Jonah Jameson's COUSIN RUTH had to get in the way!' Tiny Spider-Man and Tiny Ant-Man, similarly encased, exclaim shock and surprise.
Roy Thomas and Larry Lieber’s Amazing Spider-Man rerun for the 16th of February, 2021. Egghead’s plan could only be detected if there were something weird about newspapers earning large sums of money. … In hindsight maybe he should have tried hiding the money by getting one of those suspicious used-car lots that are never open and where all the cars are labelled NOT FOR SALE but they change over every three weeks anyway.

So now it’s time for Egghead to explain his deal. he figured to steal and sell Pym’s shrinking formula. He wanted the newspaper as a way of laundering the sale money from this. He’d have been fine just romancing Ruth Jameson if he could have controlled the paper through her. But she wasn’t having any of that, so he married and killed her instead. And since Egghead was going to be busy with this, he assigned Peter Parker to photograph Ant-Man and so keep Ant-Man preoccupied.

Spidey breaks loose, and Egghead tries to shoot the shrunken heroes. This doesn’t work. Egghead instead sprays Pym with the new shrink gas, reducing him even beyond the Ant-Man norm; Our Heroes leap into the gas cloud to join them. They have to fend off a spider, which they do by using a Spider-Man and also a convenient wasp.

Miniature Spider-Man lunging at a relatively giant-sized (normal) spider: 'I'm the only one of us three who can handle that arachnid --- because I've got the proportionate strength of a spider' Miniature Hank Pym: 'Yes, but so does it! And it's way bigger than you, so it's got a lot more OF it!' Spider-Man, already captured: 'Yeah --- guess I should've figured that out --- for myself!'
Roy Thomas and Larry Lieber’s Amazing Spider-Man rerun for the 2nd of March, 2021. Spider-Man isn’t very good at being tiny.

They also have to fend off Egghead’s modified bug-bomb. Thing is Pym never goes anywhere without enlarging gas. Even when he’s kidnapped by supervillains and tied up and sedated. Lucky, huh? And then J Jonah Jameson arrives and whacks Egghead in the egg with a lamp. Egghead recovers enough to repeat his boast that he killed Ruth Jameson. So now there’s four witnesses to Egghead boasting that he killed his wife. And there’s the camera Spider-Man planted in the corner when none of the readers were there. Its photos may well show Egghead trying to shoot, spray, and set on the shrunken Pym, Ant-Man, and Spider-Man. That should be good for prison, right?

The camera, by the way, we saw Spider-man planting outside the estate. Ant-Man commented on this as how Peter Parker got such great action shots of Spider-Man. On the 21st of March Spidey explained to Ant-Man that he brought the camera inside while Egghead was unconscious. This in the hopes of getting incriminating pictures. Also, Jameson would like to know why Spider-Man’s taking pictures of Spider-Man. There’ll be some quick rationalizations and that trip back home.

Next Week!

There’s a murder mystery with a room full of scientists, and a weird effect keeping technology from working right! Yes, it’s time travel, shenanigans, and time-travel shenanigans. Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop comes back to my attention. See you then, then.

What’s Going On In Judge Parker? Why was Neddy angry at Godiva? December 2020 – March 2021


Godiva Danube is dead, killed by April Spencer just days after Neddy had a huge public fight with her ex-friend. The fight was over accusations that Danube had been manipulating Neddy their entire relationship. One problem with the Neddy-versus-Godiva fight is that it key elements were retconned in.

The relationship-wrecking catastrophe was the start of Francesco Marciuliano’s run on Judge Parker. This was the collapse of a clothing factory Danube and Neddy Spencer were opening. It fell into a sinkhole right in front of the press, particularly local reporter Toni Bowen. The factory idea was the last story of former writer Woody Wilson. Wilson had a lot of stories where people lavished riches and wealth and good fortune on the main characters. Here, for example, Danube had pressured her ex-boyfriend and head of Europa Aerospace to just give her the factory site. I have no doubt that Wilson meant the giving to be sincere. (On the characters’ part. When I re-read strips from that era I suspect Wilson was having fun seeing what it would take to make an editor say that was a bit much.)

Godiva Ghost: 'If this is how you really felt, then why didn't you tell me? I was always straightforward with you.' Neddy Spencer: 'Why is it always the biggest liars who say they're straightforward? You lied in plain sight --- to family and friends --- as if nothing mattered but what you wanted. We all suspected you were getting money from some drug lord you were cheating on Rocky with to fund the factory. We all stayed quiet. That's our fault. Because it's hard to realize the person you love can only love themselves.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 25th of February, 2021. This should bring Neddy some peace except she has the same argument in her head, in bed, for at least 25 minutes before falling asleep every night.

Marciuliano has put into the backstory that “everyone suspected” Danube was running drugs. Or otherwise cheating on people to fund the project. Danube did flee after the sinkhole, on Marciuliano’s watch. Her relationship with Neddy collapsed then. We saw all that. But wanting to flee a disaster like that is human enough. And it’s hard to see how the sinkhole could be blamed on Danube or Neddy. If it’s anyone’s fault, it’s whoever failed to survey the grounds properly. Or whoever covered up the grounds results. Which would be a decent retcon explanation for why an aerospace company gave up a brand-new factory to a minor movie star and a young woman with money.

Establishing that Danube was a narcissist, though, is no great stretch. She had a job that selects for narcissism. And a problem dealing with narcissists is it’s hard to distinguish between their thinking of you and their wanting you to think of them. (It’s hard to know this for anyone. But when you see the narcissism you realize how much you don’t know the person.) When you suspect a relationship with a narcissist has gone sour, or become abusive, it forces a lot of difficult memory-parsing. Were they helpful at this delicate moment to be kind to you, or to teach you that kindness comes from them? Your answer depends on your feelings about them, and that affects your future answers about how their motivations. It’s always hard to tease out motivations, and when the narcissist is impossible to cross-examine, there’s not much to do but yell in your head.

So this essay should get you up to date on the plot Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for mid-March 2021. If you’re reading this after about June 2021, or any news breaks about the strip, I should have a post here of more use to you.

Judge Parker.

20 December 2020 – 13 March 2021.

When I last looked in, around Christmas, Neddy Parker was planning to go back to Los Angeles and work on script stuff. Sophie was planning to go to New York City and work on school stuff. And young Charlotte was asking whether mommy — April Parker — would be around. Last we saw April Parker she and her Mom were busy with super-ultra-hyperspy assassin murder agent work. Also April and Randy Parker divorced over the whole CIA scandal thing. I’m not sure when or, in the circumstances, how.

Sophie, in masked line at a coffee shop: 'But really, Soph, if you want to make friends, you have to be more open to conversation. You have to meet people. You have to say --- ' (She notices at the front of the line and says aloud) 'Toni?' Toni Bowen, ordering: 'I'll have a venti ... '
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 3rd of February, 2021. Hey, I’ve been in that coffee shop, but it was in Grand Rapids. They sometimes have vegan muffins that kind of work.

Sophie won’t be completely alone in New York City. Toni Bowen will be there too. Her failed bid to unseat Mayor Sanderson drew enough attention for University of New York to hire her to teach a course on local politics. Unfortunately that’s about as not-alone as Sophie gets. It’s hard meeting people at all, and in pandemic times it’s even worse.

With the kids gone Abbey wonders whether she and Sam should downsize. Or even leave Cavelton altogether. She’s lonely, yes. And regrets the bed-and-breakfast, “a money pit” and business the mayor’s determined to make fail. She talks of wanting a change, although to what and where is open.

Sam, sharing coffee while sitting on the cold patio: 'Just because the mayor's company opened a boutique hotel in town doesn't mean he'll get all the business. Some people really prefer a B-and-B.' Abbey: 'What people, Sam? How many customers have we had? We spent all last year fighting the mayor and we lost. I'm exhausted.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 23rd of January, 2021. Does anyone remember not being exhausted? I don’t remember not being exhausted.

Meanwhile in Los Angeles, Neddy faces several challenges. One is that Ronnie Huerta has a new roommate, Kat. (I’d give her last name but can’t find it.) She’s playing the Neddy role in the April Parker TV series. Kat is very eager to help Neddy move out, shoving hard in that way people who think they’ve figured out how to solve your problem do. But Kat does have some fair observations. The poor little rich girl whose problem is doing her dream job can maybe find an apartment in the second-biggest city in the country. Also that Neddy not doing this writing is screwing up her, Kat’s, job. (One leitmotif in Marciuliano’s writing is characters explaining how one of the main cast looks to people who have to live with them. And how the main cast needs to get over themselves.) While talking this out with Ronnie, Kat lets slip that she wants to spend the rest of her life with Ronnie. That was something they didn’t realize they were ready for.

And Neddy does get down to work work, as opposed to househunting work. The TV producers want Godiva Danube to be a bigger part of the show, so they need Neddy to write more of her. And Neddy is still angry with the dead Godiva. How do deal with that? Hallucination is a good, tested method. That and my favored technique, a good argument with someone who can’t outwit you.

Ghost Godiva Danube refuses to play fair, though, insisting that while she fled, Neddy didn’t chase either. That she had to recover from the disaster herself. That she was “always there for” Neddy. Which Neddy admits, but argues was because Danube wanted to be the star of Neddy’s suffering. The one that guided where it went. Neddy comes out of this convinced that what she needed wasn’t to tell Ghostdiva off, but to face her own anger. And as Ghostdiva storms off, Neddy feels triumphant that she has.

Charlotte: 'Did you hear what I said? I didn't see Mommy today.' Randy: 'Well, yes, Sweetie. Mommy isn't here.' Charlotte: 'But I see her every other day! Why not today?' Randy: 'I'm sorry, what?'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 2nd of March, 2021. I admire Marciuliano’s courage in having a complicated development explained by interrogating a child too young to know how to tell a story. It’s several levels of difficulty, with the kid needing to lack focus but also share information. And that a child that age isn’t necessarily reliable. Unreliable narrators are always hard to do, but especially so in a comic strip. There aren’t many narrative conventions to fall back on, to hint to the readers about what’s wrong and in what ways it’s wrong.

And then the 1st of March started the current and exciting thread. Charlotte Parker, Randy’s and April’s couple-years-old daughter, says she didn’t see Mommy “today”. You know, like she sees her every day. Which was a development catching Randy by surprise. April’s been busy with that super-hyper-ultra-etc assassin agent nonsense. I did see this excite a bunch of comics snarkers pointing out the idea that April Parker had been secretly visiting Charlotte made no sense at all.

The next week of the strip — the last full week, as I write this — showed Marciuliano explaining how this might make sense. That this was going on for only the last two weeks. That April, if it is April, had signalled to Charlotte to keep it secret. That Charlotte could recognize April because they keep pictures of her in the house. And yes, it may be dumb but it’s a recognizable human dumbness. And that they can’t find anything on the security cameras. Randy got rid of the network of security cameras when he realized April had tapped them all. (I’m not sure we saw that it was April and not the super-hyper-ultra-etc spy network that was holding Norton in mega-secret spy hyper-jail.) This implicit threat to take Charlotte does quite good, fast work in driving Randy crazy. But Randy is right that it’s within April’s demonstrated power set to do something like this, even if it is only to mess with Randy’s head. And, as Alan Parker noted this Sunday, they don’t yet know it is April.

Next Week!

I go back to the top of my cycle, for … I think the next-to-last time. It’s Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s The Amazing Spider-Man repeats, as we about wrap up Ant-Man and get on to Rocket Raccoon.

The comic strip Buckles is ending in like eight minutes


[ Edited 12 May, 2021 to add ] The comic strip Buckles is being archived and rerun at GoComics. No word on exactly why it ended, although the cartoonist mentions having ideas for new projects.


More, and startling, news from The Daily Cartoonist: David Gilbert’s comic strip Buckles is to end this coming Sunday the 21st. The comic strip, about a (talking) dog and his human keepers, is to end four days short of its 25th anniversary.

I’m sorry for this, not just for my regret at seeing any comic strip end. It was a pleasant comic of that style where the animal talks but is still an animal. And I liked the style of art. I’m not sure where I first encountered the comic. It might have been in the Strips weekly newspaper, which in the 90s would distribute … not all, but a broad slate of the weekday comic strips out there. The paper was a great way to discover new or obscure strips; I know it introduced me to Big Nate, On The Fastrack, Safe Havens, and others that have become regular habits. Buckles would have fit right in.

Underneath several panels of art that's all limited-palette, starkly-silhouetted, with low or no outlines, we see a dog posing like a wolf, stalking deer. The narrator: 'Buckles THE CARNIVORE is on the hunt! HUNGER has led him down a BLOODTHIRSTY path! A herd of potential PREY have gathered in a clearing, unaware of their own EXTERMINATION! The great predator readies his ATTACK! DEATH IS IN THE AIR!' A panel of Buckles leaping, wolflike, at the camera, howling. Final panel, the usual light cartoony figures. Paul holds Buckles the dog back from a pile of grocery bags. Paul: 'Oh no you don't! Stay away from the groceries, Buckles!' Buckles thinks: 'Nuts! Thwarted from the side!' Jill tells Paul: 'If somebody had helped me put them away when I asked ... '
David Gilbert’s Buckles for the 14th of March, 2021. One of many appealing bits of business is Buckles’s fantasy life as a savage predator. Gilbert (like many cartoonists) uses the fantasy sequence as a chance to vary up the art style, and show how exciting strips can be with the space and the time to produce them.

I haven’t heard anything about why the strip is ending. Nor why it’s ending with so little notice. If I learn anything it’ll be by reading The Daily Cartoonist, and I’ll pass it on, because that’s less work than writing 800 words about a 60s Popeye cartoon.

In the past Comics Kingdom has dropped all links to discontinued strips. So if there’s any Buckles strips you quite like, you should download a copy now. If there’s any you wanted to buy a print or other merchandise of, too, do that before Sunday the 21st. I don’t know whether links will completely disappear but it is better to be safe.

What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? Why was that kid going on about the 90s Detroit Pistons? December 2020 – March 2021


The kid, Vic Doucette, was going on about the 90s Pistons because he researched them. He researched them because Coach Gil Thorp referenced them and he wanted to do his job as game announcer well. Not that anything about the Pistons is likely to come up in a Milford basketball game. But a marker of excellence in a field is enthusiasm for its trivia. Doucette’s decided he wants to be an announcer and he is throwing himself wholeheartedly into the role.

This should catch you up to mid-March 2021 in Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp. If you’re reading the strip after about June 2021 there should be a more up-to-date plot recap here. There’ll also be any news about the comic strip that I learn from reading The Daily Cartoonist.

Gil Thorp.

14 December 2020 – 6 March 2021.

It happens that last time I checked in was the week the story wrapped up. I often feel like these recaps happen suspiciously close to a new story’s start. That’s an illusion created by “close” feeling like “within two weeks, give or take” and that covers, like, a third of my cycle. Still, the new and current story started the 14th of December, neat as I would hope.

We start basketball season. First major player: Vic Doucette. He’s not an athlete, owing to cerebral palsy. He asks Coach Gil Thorp to be the announcer for boys’ basketball games. Thorp is impressed with Doucette’s knowledge of basketball trivia and also his existence as a living body willing to do this job.

Next major player: Shooting guard Doug Guthrie. He has a 1966 Pontiac GTO, which I am informed is an impressive car to have. He’d found and rebuilt it with his dad. And he keeps ducking out for thinks like go-kart races in Florida. Like, real kart racing at 70 mph and so on.

Third major player: Tessi Milton, forward for the girls’ basketball team. And teammate to Corina Karenna, who’s transferred over from volleyball. The girls’ team feels disrespected, relative to the boys’ team. She comes into significance later in the proceedings.

Narrator: 'Milford gets hot, the crowd combusts --- and Vic Doucette fans the flames.' Doucette, announcing: 'Three-pointer by Mark 'Fear Of' Godleski!' Narrator: 'Late 4th Quater, Milford by 1 --- and a collision!'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 6th of January, 2021. To get a handle on Doucette’s character: we see him working on these nicknames before the game starts, including things like asking Tessi Milton if “Tessi” is short for anything, so that he can look more spontaneous. That’s a level of professionalism I hope to someday achieve.

Doucette got the job of announcer because he was willing. It turns out he’s eager, though. Enthusiastic even. He works out catchy nicknames for everyone, he rallies the crowd, he shows open and unbridled delight in a high school thing. He goes to away games — where he’s not an announcer — to take notes about the team. He follows Gil Thorp’s mention of the 90s Pistons to study how Ken Calvert announced players, and pick up moves from that work. In short, he shows unbridled interest in a thing. In high school. Vic Doucette is braver than the troops.

At a postgame dinner at The Bucket, Guthrie talks about Doucette’s car. It’s a modified 2004 GMC Safari. The modifications are to help Doucette when he’s having a harder day. They bond over the car talk, though, Guthrie asking about the MV-1, identified as “the first van designed for wheelchairs from the start”. So you know how deep the car thing interests Guthrie.

The girls’ basketball team, meanwhile, wants for attention. Tessi Milton figures to get Vic Doucette to announce their games, too. It’s not a bad plan. In boys’ basketball he’s advanced to running in-game givewaways and stuff that plays well with the crowd. (He’s giving away the hot dog and soda that are his “pay” for announcing. I mention because the strip made a point of mentioning it. I appreciate the craft of that. You can fault Gil Thorp for many things, but it does justify most everything that appears on screen. It may be the story strip that most improves on rereading twelve weeks’ worth at a go.) Fun enough that Guthrie even skips a car-racing thing to play. Doucette even has some decent sports-psychology, talking Guthrie out of the funk of a lousy game.

Tessi Milton: 'The girls need you, Vic. Can you do the announcing at our games?' Doucette: 'Umm ... Well ... Hmm ... ' Later, Guthrie: 'What did you tell her?' Doucette: 'Mostly, I sputtered. I should study more, not less. And I'm already not seeing my friends enough.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 4th of February, 2021. I don’t know whether we’re to take that last panel as Doucette smoking or just that the air is cold. I suspect the latter, on grounds of dramatic economy: if we were supposed to think Doucette smoked, some panel would make that unambiguous.

So Milton asks Doucette to announce their games. He’s not sure. He needs time to study, after all, and see his friends and do stuff that isn’t basketball announcing. Also, I notice, he uses a crutch reliably from mid-January on; he hadn’t needed one earlier. This may be a signal that he’s getting worse.

He decides to announce girls basketball games, though, saying, “studying is overrated, right?” And he brings the same level of research and hard work to this that he did the boys games. It goes well, and Milton’s grateful, to the point everyone tells Doucette that she’s flirting with him. So he asks her out and she “can’t this weekend”.

Guthrie, with Tom Muench, are late to a practice. They’re pulled over by a traffic cop, who recognizes that they’re popular white athletes and lets them off with a little car talk. But, running laps at practice, Muench sprains his knee and is out for a couple games. And this throws Guthrie way off his game.

Doucette notices all this, and tries to sort out Guthrie’s problem. He observes how Guthrie’s interested in someday driving racecars at 200 mph; it’s hard to do that when you’re worried about running laps. And this bit seems to help.

Tessi Milton: 'Vic asked me out. It's awkward.' Corina Karenna: 'Why? It seemed like you were flirting with him.' Milton: 'A little. ... We needed a PA announcer. But seriously: would you go out in that grandpa van?'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 5th of March, 2021. The rest of the team is aghast at describing a 17-year-old Pontiac as a “Grandpa Van”.

After a girls basketball game, Tessi Milton dodges Doucette, whom she points out to her teammates has asked her out twice now. Her teammates point out she was flirting with him. Which she owns up to, yes, but they needed an announcer. And while he’s “a nice guy,” well, “would you go out in that grandpa van?” Which does support Karenna’s earlier assessment that Milton is a deeply shallow person. To be empathetic, though, Milton is in a lousy place herself. Suppose you’ve agreed the team needs Doucette to announce their games; what tools do you have to get him to do it? There’s no pay available, and no glory either. What option does she have but flattery? And — I write before seeing Monday or Tuesday’s strips so may be setting myself up to be a fool — faulting Doucette’s car is less bad than sneering at the idea of dating someone with cerebral palsy.

And that’s the standings as of mid-March. It does feel like Milton’s being set up for some comeuppance. But the story might resolve to something as simple as hurting a guy who’s been quite giving. It does feel to me significant that Doucette’s repeated his worry he’s ignoring friends and school for all this announcing work, though. Also that he’s seen using the crutches more than he was early in the story. Maybe not significant is Guthrie mentioning how his dad teaches driving to the area cops, part of why he and Muench were let off with small talk. I’m not making detailed predictions, though.

Milford Schools Watch

Who’s Milford playing? The past couple months, these teams. If you want the win-loss record, oh, I don’t feel up to tracking that. You have your fun.

Next Week!

Is super-hyper-ultra-duper extra-special spy agent April Parker back in town? I’ll check in on Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker if things go to my plan.