Thanks for finding this summary of about three months’ worth of Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant. If these aren’t the three months of story you need summarized, such as because it’s after about June 2019, please check this link. There may be a more up-to-date recap there.
A new story had started the 25th of November. Queen Makeda, of the House of Ab’saba, visits the Misty Isles. Prince Valiant’s friend Bukota feels complicated things about this. His long-ago heroism-while-in-disgrace got him named ambassador to Camelot, which is why he’s in the comic strip.
Queen Makeda gets a private conversation with Bukota. She needs him. Personally, yes; she regrets the exile he’d been forced into. And professionally. There are nobles who doubt her ability to lead. She needs Bukota to help keep Ab’sala from them. Bukota is thrilled to return home and to be with Makeda again.
The nobles are less keen on this. They didn’t hear the conversation any. But they insist that there’s trouble when Queens go off unaccompanied to places like the Hall of Bachelor Warriors the way she did. They insist on a cleansing ritual performed by Fewesi the Healer. She can’t resist the logic or Fewesi’s eyes or his mind-controlling drugs. I mean, she tries. But the nobles are too fast and Fewesi has too many fumes for her.
This leads to a couple confusing days for Bukota. Queen Makeda is going about the business of being present and aware of trade negotiations and all. But she’s not following up on their conversation or even noticing him when he’s in sight. He tells Queen Aleta of the meeting before, and how Makeda’s been freezing him out. Aleta’s reluctant to point out that, y’know, just because Bukota is a nice guy doesn’t mean — oh, never mind, he’s going to try something stupid.
Bukota charges the Queen’s apartment, calling for her and reminding everyone how much they both kinda liked Breakfast at Tiffany’s. He fights with the guards, which is the kind of stunt that got him exiled in the first place. Makeda emerges, the action bringing her out of her trance some. She declares that yes, Bukota’s exile is lifted, and that he’s her … well, the guards clobber him on the head before she can finish. That’s all right. There was someone standing behind a pillar, listening. There’s always someone standing behind a pillar, listening. In ancient times 95% of the population was farmers, fishers, or pillar-listeners.
The Ab’salan nobles — Habte, Mahren, and Ambelu — agree this has gone all wrong. They figured with Queen Makeda away from home, with a small retinue, they’d be able to reinforce their control. They want to head home right away. Fewesi doesn’t like that plan. Having the queen in his power has been going really well, as he makes it out.
Bukota reports the trance of Makeda to Queen Alita. She’s sympathetic but skeptical, even when Bukota says his exile was lifted. Nathan, the pillar-listener and Aleta’s son, attests that this is so, and that when she did the guards smacked Bukota and closed the gate. She sends guards to the Ab’saban quarters. No one answers the door. No one answers the battering ram either. The whole Ab’saban party is dead at one another’s hands. One person has barely survived. Ambelu says that Fewesi deployed powders that set them all in a murderous rage. And he’s abducted the Queen. So he has, and he’s taking her to the waterfront.
Before I get to the weekday Phantom storyline I have a warning. The storyline includes a despairing character considering suicide. If you aren’t comfortable with that, you’re right. Skip this installment. We’ll catch up again in June.
The Phantom (Weekdays).
December 2018 – March 2019.
I last visited the weekday Phantom at the start of a new story. This one, the 251st, is “Heloise Comes Home”. Heloise Walker had crashed the plane of Eric “The Nomad” Sahara and gotten the terrorist arrested. She’d made her way back to the Briarwood School and her roommate, Kadia Sahara. Kadia knew nothing of her father’s avocation. All she knows is her roommate is demanding they flee the country now before it’s too late.
I’m startled, certainly. I think everyone who had an opinion supposed the comic strip would respond to Stan Lee’s death with a change in credits. Acknowledging Roy Thomas’s writing would seem fair enough and as he’s been writing the strip for years it seems an easy enough change.
The press release claims that the strip will “be back soon with great new stories and art”. If we take them at their word, they’re looking to refresh the comic, possibly taking on new writers or artists. That’s all fine. But it’s also what you would say if you were going to let the comic fall into endless repeats forever. I don’t remember if they promised someone would take over Mandrake the Magician after Fred Fredericks retired, but nobody ever has.
The Amazing Spider-Man seems to be going into reruns at the end of a story. Really the story seems to be at its end already. But the tne of the strip lets the characters putter around a while, re-establishing Peter Parker’s hapless loser-ness. That can fill time without standing out as time-wasting.
And then for the other question I put in the subject line here. And again from D D Degg at The Daily Cartoonist. Jerry van Amerongen, who creates the panel comic Ballard Street, is retiring. His last strip is scheduled to appear the 30th of March. Amerongen’s been cartooning like this for about forty years, with a strip called The Neighborhood from 1980 to 1990, and Ballard Street from 1991 to this year.
I’m saddened by this, of course. I always am by strips ending. Ballard Street never drew much attention, but it had a deep, natural weirdness that I enjoyed. Someone, and I can’t think where, described it as “inscrutable people acting bafflingly”. It’s a fair summary. There are a lot of panel comics out there. There’s few panel comics where you can pretty much count on seeing, like, an older man dressed in a mouse outfit and holding a hand-cranked propeller beanie listening to his wife chide him for bothering the neighbors again.
There are a lot of panel strips out there, many of them trying to capture that Gary Larson weird vibe. And good for them for trying. Ballard Street ran as a sort of character-based Far Side. It featured people committed to their weirdness, and that really worked. I’m glad to have had as much of it as we did.
I imagine GoComics will carry repeats of the comic, but I don’t know that it will.
Not to brag but I was right. During the Switzerland expedition Alley Oop fell off a cliff and got dead a little bit. (Wonmug had a defibrillator which somehow helps with falling from great heights.) Wonmug wants him checked out by a real doctor in a doctor’s office and all. The doctor’s receptionist won’t let him in without an insurance card. Alley Oop laughs at this, as if health care were not a fundamental right of all humans. Doctor Lambert tries getting some of Oop’s basics down. But they haven’t got a clear answer for what Alley Oop’s birthday or age should be. Wonmug seems to be keeping quiet about how Alley Oop’s from prehistoric times, and I don’t know why. Maybe he was keeping his time-travelling stuff quiet? Except, like, he has a sign pointing “To Time-Travel Laboratory” on his mailbox.
The doctor diagnoses Alley Oop with a lot of head injuries, which, fair enough. He wants to give Alley Oop an MRI. But it’s hard enough to get a blood sample, since his skin is so tough. There’s talk about a colonoscopy, quickly written off. Dr Lambert puts on a rubber glove with the intent of checking Oop’s prostate. When Wonmug whispers what that is, Oop gets up and storms out of the doctor’s office. This is a funny idea that doesn’t have any homophobic connotations. And it’s not like a prostate ever causes actual heath problems for a person anyway! Doctors are being all weird when they want to check it.
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s reruns end on that unhappy note. Wonmug sends Alley Oop home in a sequence that, back in 2013, started a new adventure. Instead, we start a new adventure … with new artist and writer.
That new adventure started the 7th of January, 2019. With, at the risk of being cliched, someone waking up.
Alley Oop thinks he’s had a crazy dream about time-travelling and scientists from the future and all. I was not at all comfortable with this. One of the benefits of a long-running character is the building-up of a continuity. Its mass and often apparently contradictory nature give it verisimilitude. Sometimes you get caught in an actual contradiction that can’t be rationalized away. In that case I’m usually willing to give the creators the tool of “just don’t bring up the contradictory stuff again”. Or start repairing things and pretend the older problems never happened.
A clean-slate reboot has advantages when the core idea is good, but there’s stuff that can’t be reconciled or repaired. Often this is a difference in attitude. There’s no fitting the Adam West Batman and the 90s cartoon Batman in the same continuity, and no sense trying. So … would this be such a different approach that it didn’t make sense to treat them as in-continuity?
Ooola comes in to assure Alley Oop that it wasn’t a crazy dream, he just got hit in the head by a coconut. The time-travel stuff is real and they’ve been doing it for years. But … something happened and they’re in an alternate universe. It’s much like the knew, except that tacos will never be invented. Oop drops to his knees and cries out in agony.
Do you find this funny? Because this is the major writing difference between the old Alley Oop and the current one. Sayers and Lemon are still telling a serial adventure comic. But there is much more emphasis on joke-telling. Every strip ends with a punch line, even if it has to be forced in there. It’s an effect quite like Dan Thompson’s Rip Haywire, a strip I’m thinking about adding to these what’s-going-on-in reads.
If this style isn’t working for you, then you’ll probably find the new team to be a bust. To my tastes, the punch-line-panel bit has been getting better, as the jokes have been more based on character and situation. A zany, out-of-nowhere punch line can be great fun. We wouldn’t have had web comics in the 90s without them. And a story can be good with this sort of wackiness. Readers love to accept stories. All they demand is some combination of the characters, plot, writing, and concepts to be interesting enough. Where wacky, zany punchlines disappoint me as a reader is when they aren’t tied enough to the characters or the situations. If you could reassign a joke to another character, or another day’s strip, without making it less funny? That’s often a symptom of a weak joke. To my tastes, that’s been happening less as Sayers and Lemon inhabit the characters longer.
So the story. After a week of Ooola explaining the premise of the strip to Oop, Dr Wonmug popped in. He has a mission. They need to venture to the far-off world of 1986 to retrieve a mixtape. This isn’t just zany wackiness. Wonmug asserts it’s “very important and extremely time-sensitive”. So far he hasn’t explained what’s important. We’ll leave aside how a time traveller can face a time-sensitive problem. So far as I can tell, time travel in Alley Oop works like it would in Old Doctor Who. You know, where you don’t do that thing of coming back to your home time after fewer days than you spent in the other time.
They get to Wonmug’s old room. But the mixtape is gone. There’s a ransom note. Whoever took it wants three things. First is a jelly bean from the desk of President Reagan. They take a bus to Washington, DC. Wonmug has a plan for sneaking in to the Oval Office. They’ll deliver his Presidential Portrait. Fortunately Oop’s whipped up one of Reagan with a chimpanzee.
Things are going their way. Ronald Reagan wakes up senile, racist, homophobic, and missing his eyeglasses. So he’s in a great mood when Wonmug, Oop, and Oola come in. He identifies them as George Bush, Mikhael Gorbachev, and Nancy Reagan. While Reagan hangs the picture of “a sunset”, Oop grabs a bunch of jellybeans, and eats all but one of them.
The next item is in San Francisco. They need to grab the master copy of the game disk for Caves of Zgfrhkxp. And they’re going to get there in good time. Reagan agreed to let Wonmug, as “George Bush”, take Air Force Two to San Francisco. This is a fun historical shout-out. That’s what they nabbed Bush’s chief of staff John Sununu on, back when there were consequences to things. And this week they’ve landed in San Francisco.
And then there are Sundays. Often for story comics the Sunday strip is a recap of the previous week’s. Jack Bender and Carole Bender adapted this approach. Their Sunday strip usually recapped the previous Tuesday through the coming Monday. Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers are doing something different. Their Sunday strips are installments of Little Oop, the adventures of a middle-school-age Alley Oop and his friends.
These have been fun. Alley Oop at school. Alley Oop hanging out with friends. Alley Oop asking his parents for a pet dinosaur. They’ve been fun, and haven’t had the same sort of wacky zany punch lines. This might reflect the strips having enough space to build a scenario. What they haven’t been is an ongoing story. So I’m going to hold off on recapping those stories until I see that there are stories to recap.
Turner Classic Movies (United States feed) has scheduled the 1931 movie Skippy for this Wednesday, the 27th of February. It’s set for 10:15 pm Eastern and Pacific time. I’ve mentioned the movie before but, what the heck. There’s people reading this who missed earlier mentions.
The movie is based on Percy Crosby’s comic strip Skippy. It’s a great comic strip. It’s an influential one, too. It’s one of the comics that Charles Schulz had in mind when making Peanuts. And, with considerable help from Schulz, it’s influenced incredibly many comics. Crosby supposed that kids had feelings and desires and interests that they took seriously, and that good stories would come from taking them seriously. Every comic strip that follows the child’s point of view owes something to it.
It’s not only influential, though. It’s good. I mean, a lot of early comic strips are good, but you have to work a bit to understand them. Like, I enjoy George Herriman’s Krazy Kat, but if take any given day’s strip and ask me what the joke is I’ll often be in trouble. Not Skippy, though. Crosby’s sensibility is close enough to the modern one. There are exceptions, but you can look at the comic and understand what’s supposed to be funny. Clean up the dialogue and redraw it for modern comic strip art sizes and you could run it on a modern newspaper page.
The movie, starring Jackie Cooper, came out in 1931, when the comic was a few years old. It’s got to be among the first full-length movies based on comic strips ever, really. Percy Crosby gets a writing credit, and I believe it. I’m not sure if any specific strips were adapted into the screenplay, but the tone and attitude absolutely is. (Neither of the strips I’m including here are used in the movie, mind.) And much of it is the sort of casual hanging-out of kids who just have some free time and places they’re not supposed to go and the occasional excitement that somebody has some money and things like that.
The movie has a plot, although it takes a while before you see that it’s more than just hanging out. And there is something worth warning: when the plot does swing into action it includes an animal’s death. It’s taken seriously when it happens, and it devastates the character it’s supposed to. But it also includes the attitude that if, say (and to use an animal not in the film, so that I don’t give away just what happens more than necessary), your goldfish dies it’s all right because you can get another goldfish. I know there are people who even today have that attitude, but I don’t understand it myself.
Anyway, if you don’t need that in your comic strip movies, that’s all right. If you want to enjoy what you can without facing that, watch roughly the first hour. Up through the bit where Skippy and Sooky put on a show. Duck out after that and you avoid the shocking stuff.
Director Norman Taurog won an Academy Award for Best Director. Jackie Cooper was nominated for Best Actor. The screenplay, by Sam Mintz, Norman McLeod, and Joseph Mankiewicz, got a nomination for Best Writing. And the whole movie got a nomination for Best Picture. So Turner Classic Movies brings the movie up at least every February, as part of its 31 Days of Oscar. And, well, it’s a solid movie. Worth noticing.
I see a lot of people wondering about Roy Thomas and Alex Saviuk’s The Amazing Spider-Man. (Stan Lee’s name is still on the strip, but I do not know whether anything he might have contributed is still relevant.) This should have you set up for the story as it stood in February 2019. Somewhere around May 2019 I expect to have a more up-to-date plot recap that might be more helpful to you.
Luke Cage storms off from not being hired. He sees a car about to hit a pedestrian, and runs up to smash the car off the road. The pedestrian is a purple-skinned fellow. A narration box says if this were a Sunday strip you’d see that. But the weekday strip online was in color. The wonder is that it got the correct color. The purple guy is Killgrave. When Cage starts ragging him about that he orders the hero for not-hire to freeze. Cage does, and is shocked he can’t move a muscle. Killgrave orders the driver who’d almost hit him to go walk in front of a bus. The driver complies.
Cage shakes off his immobility enough to save the driver. Killgrave orders him to stop again. He lays on some backstory for those of us who don’t know about every purple-skinned person in the Marvel Universe. Killgrave got splashed with a mysterious purple chemical nerve-gas concentrate while spying around an Army Ordnance Depot. Since then, he’s been purple-skinned, but anyone who hears him must obey his commands. Not all these characters have complicated backstories. Somewhere on the line he picked up a case of amnesia. But luckily Cage shook him out of the amnesia. So that’s looking up for the forces of purple. But he’s still getting his Power Voice back, so he can only control one person at a time. And hey, Luke Cage is a great person to have in your total power.
Mary Jane returns home. The studio’s giving up on publicity for her movie Marvella 2: Sword of the Dragon Prince. And the Mammon Theater, where she’s been working, got smashed up last story. So, facing a layoff from her Broadway acting gig and an imminent movie flop, why not pop off to Australia for a while? Newspaper photojournalist Peter Parker, who like me can’t remember if he’s freelance or staff, thinks that’s a good idea. She can even buy first-class tickets to head out that afternoon. Maybe this says more about me, but that’s the most terrifying concept I’ve read in this strip in a year.
They’re interrupted by an armored-car holdup. Luke Cage lifted the armored car right off the Grand Central Parkway. (I don’t know that any airline flies to Australia from out of LaGuardia. I’m just assuming Peter Parker is a guy who has to fly through LaGuardia a lot.) Fortunately Peter Parker wore his Spider-Man suit, under his clothes. He figured travelling first-class he wouldn’t be strip-searched at the airport. Peter Parker still doesn’t know how airports work. But, in fairness, he’s managed to successfully take a flight like once in the last decade and even that needed President Obama to help with.
Cage starts fighting Spidey, and not because they’re doing traditional superhero meet-cutes. Killgrave is ordering Cage around. Cage is able to resist enough of Killgrave’s instructions that Spider-Man keeps escaping. He’s not able to control people of strong enough will, because, I’m assuming, Steve Ditko created the character. So Killgrave figures, hey, why not take over Spider-Man instead? From this we learn Killgrave is not connected to the story-comics snark community. But he’s got some good reasons on his side. Spider-Man’s able to web Cage up, for example. And granting he’s an evildoer, it’s still better optics to be enslaving the white guy when the story’s sure to run into February. Killgrave takes off with Spidey.
Mary Jane meets up with Cage, who recognizes her from Marvella 1: Prince of the Sword Dragon. And the cops let the guy who was tearing open an armored car five minutes ago leave because, y’know. They’re not jerks about this. Mary Jane brings Cage back to her apartment. And there’s a quick beat, in the elevator, which might be planting something. The landlady(?) warns Mary Jane. If she wants to consort with superheroes, you know, maybe she should live somewhere that can take being attacked by supervillains. I’m sure the warning would be the same if Mary Jane were having Tony Stark for company.
Anyway, Mary Jane’s has a plan. She’ll use the Spider-Tracker that Spidey gave her for reasons that are innocent and should not raise any suspicions in Luke Cage’s mind. With that, they’ll find Spider-Man, and Killgrave. Killgrave will surely order Spider-Man and Cage to fight, and while he’s micromanaging that, Mary Jane can sneak up from behind and bonk him. It’s not an elegant plan. But remember, Killgrave’s powers are that he can control one person at a time. Also that he’s who white people are thinking of when they swear they don’t care if someone is white, black, green, or purple. He’s still a normal human as far as getting bonked counts.
Meanwhile Killgrave took Spider-Man to the 369th Regiment Armory, in Harlem. Cage’s stomping grounds, the strip points out. In the Armory is more of the purple nerve-gas stuff that gave Killgrave his powers in the first place. He’s figuring a recharge on it will help him control the whole city, if he needs. He doesn’t seem to reflect how this is what he should’ve done with Cage in the first place. Never mind robbing some stupid armored car. But, you know, everybody’s wise after the fact.
The Armory is closed, what with Trump’s Shutdown. Killgrave has to have Spider-Man carry him up to a high enough window they can break in. Also to mention his fear of heights like fourteen times, so you know that’s being set up to be a plot point. It hasn’t been.
They break into the Secret Origin Chemicals closet. There’s cylinders of the purple nerve-gas underneath a plastic sheet. The plastic sheet is a plot point. But it’s picked up and tossed off by Spider-Man so quickly I didn’t notice it either until I was writing this paragraph. Cage and Mary Jane arrive at the armory and break the doors open. Killgrave has Spidey climb to the top of the building for reasons not directly addressed. We can infer reasons, though. Cage waved off Mary Jane’s suggestion they sneak up quietly on Killgrave. He pointed out his breaking down the steel doors could be heard in another borough.
Cage and Mary Jane find the broken-in closet, and Mary Jane grabs the plastic sheet that the chemicals had been under. Everyone gathers on the roof. Killgrave orders Spider-Man to throw the gas cylinder at Luke Cage. The cylinder breaks open. Killgrave breathes deep the gases which he’s confident will recharge his voice-control powers more than it’ll be nerve gas. Killgrave called that one right, and orders Spider-Man and Cage to fight each other. They do, resisting the command as much as they can, until Mary Jane bonks Killgrave in the throat with a pipe. This shuts him up long enough for Spidey and Cage to break out of his control? I guess? Anyway, Mary Jane covers Killgrave with the plastic sheet from before.
Many readers were confused by this action. Even the other characters seem baffled by this choice. But she’s on top of things. Daredevil had dropped the tip that Killgrave’s powers are blocked by special sheeting. Also I guess Killgrave is one of Daredevil’s villains? All I really know of Marvel is what I get from the newspaper comic, plus I saw Black Panther and Guardians of the Galaxy. Oh, and Into The Spider-Verse which was a blast. And yeah, I’m on the mailing list for news about Marvella 3: Dragon of the Prince Sword. Anyway, Killgrave can’t project his power out, so it’s doubling back on himself and in the confusion he rushes for the edge of the armory. Spider-Man webs him, just as he’s going over the dangerously low edge of the roof. The momentum threatens to carry Spider-Man over the edge too. Cage grabs hold of Spider-Man and a rooftop pipe, but he isn’t up to full speed yet either, so can’t be sure he won’t slip over the edge too.
I finally get to close out Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s story about Alley Oop facing a modern doctor’s office! And then I have to have an opinion about what Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers have been doing! It’s the first recap of the new Alley Oop, due in seven days. It’ll be a different number of days if you are a time-travelling caveman or know someone who is.
What was happening last time I checked in on Judge Parker? An exhausting set of plot twists. The most salient was Neddy Spencer being back home. She’s nursing her emotional wounds after witnessing, among other things, April Parker murdering the CIA agent who killed — oh, it’s a lot of blood. Sam Driver was getting snotty about Neddy retreating for shelter, but I’m on Neddy’s side in this. Sophie Spencer scolded Neddy about her shunning Ronnie Huerta. Huerta had backed off from Neddy after witnessing altogether too many murders, but was trying to reach out again.
Neddy tries to call … Marie, the Spencers’ old reliable … housekeeper? I think? I wasn’t sure about her position and the strip only talked about her being on vacation. Marciuliano is sometimes too scrupulous about characters not explaining things they should know to one other. No character, for example, ever says what country Marie is vacationing in, or what island she’s on. This even though her vacation becomes a plot.
Well, Wikipedia says she works as their maid. All right. Anyway, Marie’s off on vacation. More than that: she’s eloped with her boyfriend-of-eight-years, Roy Rodgers. Well, the shock that Marie has her own happiness gives Neddy reason to call Ronnie Huerta again. And to apologize. After Christmas, Neddy plans to set back out to Los Angeles, to pick up whatever she figures her career there to be. A family crisis not of her making postpones this.
There’s some unsettling stuff. One of the Christmas presents Alan Parker finds is from Norton. It’s wedding bands and a note about how he knew Alan and Katherine would reconcile. Norton’s supposed to be dead. Sam Driver swears he’s dead. Driver’s seen pictures. He’s got this from “multiple contacts”. Norton must have snuck it in sometime before he went into Super Hyper Ultra CIA Duper Jail. Norton’s alive, of course, but the CIA is passing the story that he’s dead. Katherine avows how much she hates the Norton subplot, and Alan agrees.
All that was cleared up by the 29th of December. This is when the current plot got underway. (Huh; that’s almost the same day the airplane adventure got under way over in Rex Morgan, M.D..) Marie calls the Spencers, crying. Her husband’s missing. He had left that morning, promising a “surprise”. His clothes were found on the beach and nothing else. Sam Driver flies to whatever island it is exactly that Marie and Roy were honeymooning on. It must be in Greece. The 16th of January’s strip shows the logo of the Hellenic Police. And the story of a man gone missing on his honeymoon turns into one of those exciting missing-person media frenzies that we used to have. You know. Back in the before-times. When there was time to think about anything besides the future Disgraced Former President.
While he’s on the plane there’s time for still more Norton-related chaos. Katherine Parker works for the company publishing Toni Bowen’s memoir. The draft of it contains the (correct) bombshell that, at one point, Alan Parker helped Norton fake his own death. Randy Parker had mentioned this to her while these two were dating. Katherine wants to suppress the story. Alan thinks the least bad thing to do is nothing. Let it come out and take his lumps. Randy curses himself for his foolishness but I don’t think recommends any particular action. Alan points out that Norton is dead, and Katherine points out, this is a soap strip. More, it’s one Francesco Marciuliano is writing. Nobody’s dead until you’ve incinerated their dismembered corpse. And even then we’re somehow not done with Norton.
Back to Greece. Sam Driver wants to know how this missing-groom story hit the global news wires before it even hit the local media. He’s promised an answer at Commissioner Christou’s press conference. Rodgers disappeared the 30th of December. They think he either drowned or met with foul play. They believe Marie Rodgers was the last person to see him alive. She hasn’t answered any questions since Driver showed up to serve as legal adviser.
Driver goes to Christou after the conference, which didn’t answer his question. At least not on-panel. Christou has the good news that Marie is being released from custody but is not to leave the island. It’s a baffling development. The next morning, Christou calls Driver. They’ve found Rodgers. He was arrested in a bar in Madeira. It’s an impressive distance to swim from Greece, considering.
Driver has a hypothesis. It’s pretty bonkers, so it makes for a good soap opera story. Maybe it’s based on some real incident. I don’t tend to follow true-crime/missing-persons stories, so what would I know? The idea, though: Rodgers wanted to fake his death and start a new life. Driver thinks Christou saw through that, though. And made Rodgers’s presumed death as big a story as he could. This to fool Rodgers into thinking he had faked his own death, meanwhile letting every cop in the TV audience know what he looked like. That this gave Marie a public reputation of being Probably A Murderer was a side effect, regrettable but worth it for the sake of Justice.
And the hypothesis seems to hold up. Back home in Cavelton, Toni Bowen reports on the collapse of Rodgers’ home-repair company. They’ve lost a lot of contracts the last several years. Rodgers himself is under suspicion of stealing one and a half million dollars from the failing company. And Katherine Parker “reaches a breaking point” with Bowen’s reporting about her family and family’s close friends. She figures to return the favor. That’s sure to be a very good idea that works out well and leaves her happy. By the next time I recap Judge Parker’s plot — probably around May 2019 — I’m sure we’ll see how much better this has made everybody’s lives. Can’t wait.
Some well-intended but dumb schemes were under way last time I checked in. Thomas Kyle “Tiki” Jansen’s family transferred him from New Thayer to Milford when his old gang of friends went bad. The gang got into vandalism, burglary, assaulting Jansen for ditching them, that sort of thing. Jansen’s family had rented but not used an apartment to give Jansen a technical address in Milford. Joe Bolek, that kid who wants to talk about the cinema, figured to help. Record the New Thayer gang beating up on Jansen and boom, Coach Thorp will be glad to let him stay on the team, right?
Coach Gil Thorp sees the video and doesn’t really seem to care. Whoever it is decides these things rules that Jansen’s eligible, so, he plays. With the note that he might transfer back after a year when the seniors in the gang graduate. And Joe Bolek goes meeting up with Kelly Thorp. Both are glad to know someone else who’s interested in Movie Nerd stuff. Gil Thorp is a good partner, but his interest in movies is that they’re important to his wife. That’s great, but a primary interest is still different.
Monday, the 10th of December, opened the new plot. Its main action promised to be glorious and it has been holding up. It’s a sequel, and to a storyline from before I started doing regular recaps. That’s all right. The text fills in all the backstory you need.
It opens with a young man buying space on two billboards. So right away you know it’s a 20-something-year-old who actually falls for the billboard company ads about “See? Made you look!” or “our texts go to the whole Milford area”. Still, it’s exciting. The “Billboard Advertising: It Works” sign comes down, a month before reaching its six-year anniversary. The replacement message: “Is Mediocre Good Enough?” And with that bold demand on the commuters of Milford … nothing happens and nobody much cares.
The other plot thread. It’s basketball season. Milford’s off to an indifferent, one might say mediocre, start. And guard Nate Filion is having a bad time of it. He’s not hanging out with the other basically well-meaning if dumb kids on the team. Or much of anything else. And the billboard takes on a new message: “Don’t Our Kids Deserve Better?”
Filion’s teachers get worried. All that seems to engage him is quoting That 70s Show. That’s no way for a healthy teen to live. Thorp prods a bit, but can’t get anything. And then the billboard goes to its newest message: “Save the Kids — Fire Gil Thorp”, and includes a link to the blog of Robby Howry. Also his podcast. Howry explains his motives to a reporter for the Milford Star who turns out not to be Marty Moon. I don’t know the reporter’s name. You can tell he’s not Marty Moon because his hair is a little different and Marty Moon’s sideburns don’t grow down to join his goatee. I don’t keep doing the six-differences puzzles in Slylock Fox for nothing.
Howry explains to the reporter that he was more than an equipment manager, he was “unofficial assistant coach” for Thorp years ago. And that his conscience would not allow him to let Milford “wallow in mediocrity” any longer. And that he loves the comic strips and wants the story strips held to high standards of plot, character, and art. Anyway, he left because Thorp “didn’t share my commitment to winning.”
And that old incident I think serves as a good example of the Gil Thorp storytelling style. It has a lot of stories driven by how teenagers are kinda dopey. But there’s almost never actual malice involved, not from the kids anyway. They don’t think of being truly nasty. And they’re limited in how much trouble they get into anyway. Partly because as teens they have limited resources. Partly because as teens they’re a little dopey, so their lack of foresight saves them. That’ll come back around.
And yes, also saving them is the writer. Part of the Gil Thorp style is that nobody’s really involved in serious wrongdoing. Several years ago there was a storyline about a guy selling the kids bootleg DVDs. Except, it turned out, they weren’t bootlegs. The guy got legitimate DVDs. He put them in bootleg-looking cases so his teenage customers thought they were getting away with something. It was a bizarrely sanitized minor transgression. I wondered if Rubin and Whigham were mocking someone who’d sent them a letter about what it was acceptable to portray teenagers doing. Or if they were trying to see if they could fool Luann into imitating it.
So we already had a delightful story about Robby Howry’s quixotic lurch for vengeance going. What takes it up to glorious heights? The involvement of Marty Moon, of course. Moon is delighted to read of someone dishing Gil Thorp-related dirt. Howry is glad to tell Moon at length about how Coach Thorp just lost the game to Jefferson by six, or whatever. And Marty feigns understanding what Howry is going on about when he talks about these pre-measured mattress kit delivery eyeglasses who sponsor the podcast.
Thorp tries his best to ignore Howry, focusing instead on what’s bothering Filion. This goes so far as to remind the whole team about a suicide hotline number and insist they put it in their phones. Possibly overreacting (“Coach, we only lost to Jefferson by six!”) but he does insist he’d rather overreact.
Thorp gives two-game suspensions to the participants and calls Filion in to his office. This is exactly the sort of stupid thing Filion should have done; why wasn’t he? Which is an odd tack but, yeah, I’ve known people I had to deal with that way. Filion finally opens up. With the end of high school coming, he feels like everything is ending. He doesn’t know how to handle that. Now Thorp’s able to hook him, and his parents, up with counseling. And there’s the promise that the team might play better too.
My words alone might not express how much I’ve enjoyed this plot. I’d said last week how I love when story comics get a preposterous character in them. And this is a great one. It’s the story of Robby Howry, a maybe 21-year-old guy, seeking revenge on his high school basketball coach. And going to great effort about this, starting a blog and podcast and talking daily with Marty Moon. And laying out hard cash. I don’t know how much it costs to rent two billboards for a month-plus, but boy, that’s got to run into the dozens of dollars. Add to his mission fanaticism some grand self-obliviousness. He’s confident nobody will mind his whole fake-prescription-drug-pushing thing. Not if the alternative is losing buzzer-beaters to Arapahoe High School. Probably it won’t be as grand a comeuppance as happens to Marty Moon in every Marty Moon story. But it’s so promising.
Milford Schools Watch
People sometimes wonder where Milford is. The real answer is nowhere, of course; it’s meant to be a place that could be any high school. And then mucks things up with the idiosyncratic use of “playdowns” where normal people say “playoffs”. Anyway, here’s some schools or towns named in Gil Thorp the last several months. I offer this so you can work out your own map of the Milford educational system.
Okay, “Danbury” really sounds Connecticut. But then there was the thing a couple years ago where they name-checked famous Ohio I-75 highway sign Luckey Haskins.
If you’re looking for the latest plot recaps for Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth, you may want to check this link. If you’re reading this before about April 2019 I probably don’t have a more up-to-date post. But this essay just gets you up to speed for mid-January 2019.
I was furious with Mary Worth last time I recapped its plot. This is just like any reasonable person who has strong emotions about Mary Worth. Saul Wynter, local curmudgeon, was grieving the loss of his beloved dog after 17 years of companionship. Mary Worth decided he’d had enough of that. She dragged him to the Animal Shelter and shoved a dog into his arms with orders to be happy now OR ELSE.
Wynter complies, though. He sees something in Greta, a dachshund who shows signs of past trauma. Greta sees something in him. He takes her home. Greta’s shy at first. But Wynter’s patient, and supporting, and repeats Worthian platitudes about living life sad afraid and grumpy. She recommends not doing that. And Greta sees he’s already bought a food dish with her name on it.
So they get along, and pretty well. In a couple days Wynter’s going out again, introducing Greta to everyone, and smiling contagiously. It’s a sweet moment. It’s a touch odd: when the story started and he had the dog he’d loved for seventeen years, he was also a grouch. But I suppose everyone does sometimes fall into habits, even grumpy ones without realizing they’re doing it. Well, here’s hoping we can all get to a better place, but may it be through smaller traumas.
The 19th of November started a corollary story. And a great one. Wynter’s story infuriated me with its clumsy-to-offensive handling of pet death. This follow-up, though, was almost uncut, gleeful hilarity.
Mary gets a call from Animal Shelter. They need a foster home for one of their cats. Libby is a one-eyed cat with an appealing scruffy look. I’m surprised she wasn’t adopted already. Mary agrees to foster Libby. This leads to a great string of scenes where Libby goes about cat business, and Mary is put out in delightful ways. We don’t often see Mary Worth coming up against someone she can’t meddle into compliance with her view of life’s order. Pets are great. But you can’t have pets if you aren’t emotionally ready, at all times, to have any day transformed into “emergency vet visit because the animal was sitting in the living room surrounded by a three-foot-wide annulus of poop”.
We get a twist when Doctor Jeff visits for dinner. It turns out he’s explosively allergic to cats. He has to flee the apartment in minutes. It puts Mary in a quandary. She adopted Jeff years ago; it’s not fair to turn the old pet out in favor of the new. Good news, though. It turns out they had another Old Woman character in stock. Estelle likes the one-eyed Libby, and is very optimistic about being able to take care of a cat for the first time in her life. Libby goes off with Estelle. Both return to the primordial xylem of supporting cast members, and Mary reflects on trading the cat for Jeff after all.
The 17th of December started a new, and the current, story. It’s about the marriage of Toby and Professor Ian. And starts, promisingly, with Toby telling Mary about how great it is that she and Ian have a nice boring marriage. With the benefit of separate day lives. Mary suggests, you know, they could try a cruise ship or something to spice things up. Toby chuckles about how not even God could sink this ‘ship.
So, Ian teaches Shakespeare over at Local Collage. Jannie, a student, comes up after class to talk about how inspirational he is. How he has a great theater voice. How impressive his knowledge is. How she wants to bask in the glow of his brilliance. Toby snorts at how some students will do anything to butter up their instructors. Ian doesn’t see any reason he might not just be “nut-rageously amazementballs”, as he desperately imagines the kids say.
Ian is so convinced that Jannie is not buttering him up that he doesn’t even ask why their semester runs across Christmas and New Year’s. (I know this sounds like me not giving them the dramatic license to show events that happen out of synch with the reader’s time. But the strip does pause to explicitly say it’s New Year’s Eve, right in the middle of the plot. Yes, I know there are colleges on trimester systems that have classes running across New Year’s. I’m sticking to my joke.) Why, he asserts, she really and truly likes him. This inspires jealousy in Toby, and fears that she might lose her husband to this undergraduate. She sends up the Mary Signal.
Mary gives Toby some good advice: tell him she’s concerned about this relationship. Toby dismisses this, because she doesn’t want to seem “clingy”. Well, what kind of relationship survives honest talk about the important stuff? Mary asks how she knows that Jannie actually has feelings for Ian. He might be misunderstanding things. Toby can imagine only one reason someone might say her husband “[stands] out as an educated man among Neanderthals”. All Toby will commit to doing is twisting in uncertain agony.
Which all tees up some funny ironies. First, Ian isn’t wavering in his commitment to Toby. As best we can tell, he’s never considered that this should ever be more than listening to how awesome he is. He’s certainly never considered campus policy about appropriate instructor-student relationships, anyway. Second point, Jannie is just buttering him up. We learn this week that she’s figuring a hefty load of flattery will help her ace the rest of the course. And to complete a fun bit of frustrated-or-false crushes, this week we met Michael. Michael is one of her fellow young people. He seems interested in her and her exotic style of vaping though a six-inch countersunk-head nail. She’s too busy chuckling over how she’s out-thought Professor Ian to care about mere classmates.
And that’s where things stand this weekend.
Dubiously Sourced Quotes of Mary Worth Sunday Panels!
“The strongest principle of growth lies in the human choice.” — George Eliot, 28 October 2018.
“Dogs do speak, but only to those who know how to listen.” — Orhan Pamuk, 4 November 2018.
“Change is the end result of all true learning.” — Leo Buscaglia, 11 November 2018.
“In the midst of winter, I found there was in me an invincible summer.” — Albert Camus, 18 November 2018.
“Time spent with cats is never wasted.” — Sigmund Freud, 25 November 2018.
“Be miserable. Or motivate yourself. Whatever has to be done, it’s always your choice.” — Wayne Dyer, 2 December 2018.
“What greater gift than the love of a cat.” — Charles Dickens, 9 December 2018.
“We do not remember days, we remember moments.” — Cesare Pavese, 16 December 2018.
“Flattery is like chewing gum. Enjoy it, but don’t swallow it.” — Hank Ketcham, 23 December 2018.
“I will praise any man that will praise me.” — William Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra, 30 December 2018.
“To catch a husband is an art; to hold him is a job.” — Simone de Beauvoir, 6 January 2019.
“Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorry, it only saps today of its joy.” — Leo Buscaglia (again!), 13 January 2019.
“I was a disinterested student.” — David Fincher, 20 January 2019.
If you’re trying to understand the current storyline in James Allen’s Mark Trail, this is a good piece to read. Unless it’s later than about April 2019. If it is, I’ll probably have a more up-to-date plot recap here. Good luck finding what you need.
My last check-in on Mark Trail had almost no Mark in it. Instead, Rusty Trail and Mara, a girl he met on the plane down to Mexico, took the lead. Rusty and Mara noticed assistant archeologist Becky was passing artefacts to someone who didn’t look like he was a museum. They follow the man, Juanito, to the nearby town of Santa Poco. There he explains to them he’s a courier, but they’re welcome to come with him since this isn’t a great part of town.
Pursuing Juanito, Rusty, and Mara, is a motorcycle-riding, long-haired guy named Raul. Raul has some connection to Joe/José. José’s been truck-driving for the archeologists. And also watching all this artefact-passing. And making suspicious-sounding CB radio calls to Raul. So when we left off we were looking at a motorcycle-fueled chase in the bad parts of Santa Poco. Rusty and Mara were in the company of a man of unknown-to-us objectives. And they were pursued by men of unknown-to-us objectives. A bit confusing, yes, but the last several months of strip have given some clarity to who’s trying to do what and why.
Rusty and Mara run down an alley. Raul calls out, claiming to be a friend of Mark Trail’s. They don’t buy it, and find a lucky hole in the wall to dig through. Raul calls José, asking him to call Mark back into the story. He’ll chase the kids. And warns he’s going to leave his bike “in this nasty alley with rats … big rats!” It’s a declaration so intense I feel like it’s got to refer to something, but I don’t know what. José does call Mark, promising to explain everything when he gets there.
Mark asks senior archeologist Howard Carter (get it?) if there’s something funny about José. This allows us to enter into the plot that José seems “more complicated” than they expect from their truck driver. But they allow that he seems more educated than the average person around town. Mark figures, what the heck, let’s see what’s going on.
Raul, on the rooftops, takes time from yelling at toucans to notice them. He misses one leap from rooftop to rooftop, and falls through a skylight. He lands on the supper table of a couple who take a man falling through their roof in distractingly good spirits. They listen to his story of chasing someone around town all day. They offer him some landed-on empanadas. And they let him throw a lamp through the window to get out because the door was in the wrong direction? He leaves them money for the damages, at least.
It’s a bizarre interaction. What it read like was a comic beat in a genially dopey mid-80s movie that’s trying to be Romancing The Stone. You know, about forty minutes in, and the protagonist finally realized he has to do something about the people who stole the necklace that woman stuffed in his carry-on, and he pratfalled out of his chase, and now the director’s mother who’s thrilled to be in a movie is cleaning him up. It may be James Allen was going for that effect.
Rusty and Mara figure they’ve escaped Raul. They figure to find Juanito by using the tracking app on the phone they dropped in his backpack. Juanito’s not looking for them. He’s delivering Becky’s artefacts to some silhouetted figures. They chuckle about how the collectors buying smuggled artefacts will give them a nice Christmas bonus. The chuckling happens right before Christmas, reader time. It makes an odd bit of time-binding for the story, though. Story strips are vulnerable to some weird time dilations. Like, this story, which has run since April, has been only a couple of days for the characters.
Anyway, the boss, Boss, and his underling Jefe, are barely done giggling about this when the phone rings. It’s Rusty’s Mom calling. Boss, Jefe, and Juanito realize they’re in a lot of trouble when Cherry Trail addresses them by full name including their middle names. Raul curses Rusty and Mara for following the tracking app right into Juanito’s boss’s lair. He figures it’s time to call José.
José meanwhile is talking with Mark Trail, and Professor Carter. He’s finally collapsing the quantum waveform of sides and motivations of this story. José’s an undercover cop, which according to the rules of Mark Trail puts him on the side of Good. He’s been undercover, investigating Becky for smuggling archeology. Rusty and Mara saw one of their agents at the temple. They pulled that agent back, and sent in Raul to intercept the kids. So yes, Raul may have spent months in the story grumbling about Rusty and Mara, and thinking of them as “those brats”. But he’s not a bad guy, he just doesn’t feel as though he has to like two kids he doesn’t know and who’ve been making his life harder. It’s a step toward more real characters in Mark Trail. It means someone can be on the Good side without liking the lead characters.
Now they know where the kids are, but also that Boss, Jefe, and Juanito are there too. So they figure, better to bring along Mark Trail, in case somebody needs punching.
And boy do they ever need punching. Mark recognizes Boss and Jefe. They were in a story in early 2016, from just before I started recapping plots regularly. Back then Boss and Jefe were smuggling humans into the southwestern United States. It partly showed off the ecological consequences of this. And partly got Mark Trail and company caught in an endless yet fascinating series of caves. That storyline left the human-traffickers’ fates unresolved. That alone was a major change from the linear, self-contained stories of Jack Elrod.
And I know, you’re wondering: wait, they’re trafficking humans and they’re smuggling pre-Mayan artefacts? Aren’t those separate lines of work? All I can say is that the gig economy is becoming more respectable, and there’s now ways for everyone in the underworld to pick up a side hustle. Boss and Jefe signed up early for Smuglr. It’s the crime-sharing app that’s disrupting the traditional black markets by cutting out the hench-middle-men. And it’s one I’m happy to welcome as the newest advertiser on my podcast.
And finally, after several stories of nothing more exciting than islands blowing up, Mark Trail is punching baddies. This probably indicates that the story is coming near an end. It’s been a big one; it started back in April. All the major narrative questions are answered, or looking nearly answered. There have been a couple stray bits. But I’m going ahead and supposing any weirdly specific detail never mentioned again is a reference to something I haven’t seen. I’m thinking of the Zuni fetish doll delivered anonymously in a box and that gets moved during the day. I’m sure that means something.
I just know I’m going to have to re-use the follow-up question for this plot summary. But, what the heck. It’s the question that people reading this essay would want answered.
Sunday Animals Watch
What amazing yet endangered animals, plants, or natural phenomenon have been highlighted in recent Sunday strips? These.
Parsnips, 21 October 2018. Apparently they can doom you!
Tegu Lizards, 28 October 2018. We’ve gotten them to be invasive to Florida, so, good work everyone.
Giant Silk Moth, 4 November 2018. They seem to be doing all right for themselves.
Japanese macaques, 11 November 2018. Not actually threatened, which seems to break the rules for non-human primates.
Naked Mole Rats, 18 November 2018. You just know they’re going to make Rufus some other species for the live-action movie.
Hammerhead sharks, 25 November 2018.
Green Crabs, 2 December 2018. They’re going invasive, but they’ve inspired one area of Italy to try making them dinner, so that’s something I suppose.
Wondiwoi Tree Kangaroos, 9 December 2018. So for 85 years westerners only knew of it from one sample, but last year British naturalist Michael Smith took some photos of one, so, they’re probably not doing well but they’re not actually extinct yet?
The Jacuzzi of Despair, 16 December 2018. It’s a 100-foot wide zone, three thousand feet deep in the Gulf of Mexico, that’s too briney for anything to live, which is neat and weird and unsettling.
Frankincense, 23 December 2018. It’s not just for making Christmastime jokes about Frankincense’s Monster anymore!
Manatees, 30 December 2018. Incredibly endangered despite being crazy popular.
White Lions, 6 January 2019. Unbelievably endangered. This one mentions particularly a sterile white lion in danger of being auctioned off, possibly to canned-hunters.
The Lowland Bongo, 13 January 2019. Not threatened yet, but the year is young.
October saw Mutt and Walt Wallet explaining early events in Skeezix’s life. The mail-in contest that got his unused name of Allison. The hiring of caretaker Rachel. The adoption of a pet dog and a cat. The question of whether Mutt looks like Andy Gump. You know, of the hit 1920s serial melodrama comic The Gumps. There is some resemblance. Maybe Gumps cartoonist Sidney Smith did take a few elements from Bud Fisher’s Mutt and Jeff. Maybe it was quite hep in the 1920s to joke about Andy Gump being a clone of Augustus Mutt. (I mean, even their names are similar.) I never heard of such, though. It seems like a weird diversion for Gasoline Alley‘s centennial.
But this is an example of a thread in Gasoline Alley’s centennial celebration. Jim Scancarelli would fill out the panels, and the storyline, with comic strip characters from the long-ago days. And I would disappoint Roy Kassinger. I’d have to admit I don’t recognize any of the characters from Dok’s Dippy Duck. And I only know the figures everyone recognizes from Fontaine Fox’s Toonerville Trolley. I know what everyone says about reading the comments. But GoComics.com has a good community of people who can pin down character cameos. It’s worth checking the full comments if you see a figure that’s got to be from something and don’t know what.
Gump and Mutt come close to a fight, and then write the whole thing off as an orchestrated joke. This doesn’t actually make sense — it was set off by a chance comment by Walt Wallet — but who cares? Everyone gets back to highlights of Gasoline Alley‘s history. Like the time, after Walt Wallet and Phyllis married, when they found another abandoned baby, this time a girl dubbed Judy. Before we can start asking what kind of reputation the Wallets were getting the story advances to World War II. Recapped here — surely not coincidentally the week of Armistice Day — was Skeezix’s wounding in World War II. We see only a few moments of it. It’s easy to imagine the suspense of the events.
And then another interruption from an ancient comic strip character. This time it’s Snuffy Smith, pointing out how the comic strip he took over from Barney Google is about to turn 100. Where’s his celebration? This befuddles Mutt. Smith, ornery in a way he hasn’t been in his own comic strip in decades, starts a grand custard-pie fight. And this silliness is what’s going on when the strip takes a moment the 24th of November, 2018, to observe its centennial. With a strip that got used for the 90th anniversary, a choice which logic I’m still not sure about.
Despite the intervention of Fearless Fosdick the custard pie battle rages. Walt Wallet and Skeezix decide to leave. This again passes up the chance to let Walt die of old age or prevent noodges like me pointing out the man is three years older than the Ford Motor Company. Or, for that matter, seven years older than the comic strip Mutt and Jeff. All right. They return their custard-stained tuxedos to sales clerk Frank Nelson. (Who’s working, I noticed this time, at Tuxedo Junction, a name I imagine is a reference to the Glenn Miller song.) So there’s the indignities of dealing with him. And a total $400 cleaning bill. And, on top of that, a parking ticket.
The parking ticket — received the 15th of December — starts the segue into what looks like the new storyline. Skeezix, grousing about the ticket, accidentally drops it in a street Santa’s donation box. Skeezix swaps that out for a $20, and then grumbles about giving away money he needed. And then finds on the sidewalk enough cash to pay his ticket, affirming the sidewalk Santa’s claim about how God will be generous to the generous.
Skeezix heads to City Hall, where he runs into Rufus, of the Joel-and-Rufus pair. Rufus we last saw in November 2017, before the strip went into unexplained reruns. That was a story about him courting the Widow Emma Sue and Scruffy’s Mom. She probably had a name of her own. But she was also pursued by Elam Jackson. Rufus was heartbroken by Jackson proposing marriage. But he had just learned The Widow had turned Jackson down. That’s not resumed, or even mentioned, here. It’s the first chance to, though. This is the first story since the stretch of reruns that wasn’t about the centennial.
Rufus is working as janitor. He’s smitten with the Mayor, Melba Rose. He asks if she’d join him in a cup of coffee. She answers that the two of them wouldn’t fit, indicating that the mayor is either Gracie Allen or Commander Data. While I have my suspicions what sort of character she’ll be, I don’t actually know yet. And I don’t know whether the earlier storyline, abandoned but at a natural stopping point, will get mentioned.
The whole centennial celebration leaves me, as ever, with mixed feelings. The device is a good one. And it’s one appropriate to the comic, playing as it does on Scancarelli’s love of older comedy. And on the Old Comics Home that’s been one of the comic’s recurring scenes for ages now. And reviewing the strip’s history is a great use of the premise. And the conceit that the audience is every comic strip character ever is also great. Plain old recaps of plot developments are boring. Breaking them up with jokes or slapstick or cameos from other characters allows for good pacing. Also for Scancarelli to show off that he can draw every comic strip character in history. (I know, I know, he’d pick ones his style made convenient, or practice ones he absolutely needed until he got three panels’ worth of good art. But it’s a good stage illusion of omnicompetence.)
But the execution fell short. What actually got recapped? That the strip started out as a couple guys trying to make cars work. That Walt found and adopted Skeezix in an event that got nationwide publicity. Then some weirdly fine-detailed things like how Walt hired a housekeeper, or how they adopted some pets. Later, World War II happened. And that’s it. Time that could have outlined the Wallet family tree went instead to real-life centenarian Gasoline Alley fan Peggy Lee. Or to how Mutt, who’s appeared outside of Gasoline Alley as recently as the Reagan Recession, looks like Andy Gump, whose strip ended the 17th of October, 1959. That’s literally so long ago that Linus Van Pelt had not yet said the words “Great Pumpkin”. It’s fair to suppose someone reading in detail about Gasoline Alley‘s centennial is interested in comic strip history, yes. But it’s fair to expect the story to be about Gasoline Alley. The in-universe story, yes. Maybe reappearances from Gasoline Alley characters who have died or wandered, unexplained, out of the comic. Maybe something about Frank King, its originator. Or about Bill Perry, Dick Moores, and Jim Scancarelli, who’ve written and drawn the strip and who don’t get so much attention. A storyline that’s gone from July through December, and that has a goal of one task, shouldn’t feel like it wasn’t enough time. But it does feel like the centennial didn’t get some important things done. Maybe the bicentennial strip will summarize everything better. We’ll check back in in 2119.
Mexico! Mysterious artefacts in the Yucatan! The strange and wonderful wildlife of Central America that we somehow haven’t killed yet! Yes, this storyline is still going on in James Allen’s Mark Trail, but never fear! I’ll catch you up!
If you’re looking for a recap of the plot of Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy, good news! This is a useful spot for that. If you’re reading this after about March 2019 there’s probably a more up-to-date recap. It’ll be at this link.
Polar Vortex and Pauly get to fighting in their hangout. Pauly’s ready to kill Vortex, who’s got the cavalry on the way. He’d taken Honeymoon Tracy’s wrist-wizard communicator out of the ice cream freezer. For some reason Pauly thought this would inactivate it. Tracy and Sam Catchem bust down the door and get into a shootout with Pauly. Pauly lives long enough to say that all this was for his father, Crutch.
… Which you’d think would be a big deal. Or which would be a big deal if it got some attention. Crutch is a character from the very first-ever Dick Tracy storyline. He was the gunman who killed Tess Trueheart’s father. It was the case that brought Dick Tracy into the scientific-detective line. I didn’t recognize this, no, and needed GoComics.com commenters and the Dick Tracy Wikia to guide me. Which all highlights some cool and some bad stuff about Staton and Curtis’s run on the strip. They’re incredibly well-versed in the history of the comic strip and can pull out stuff from about ninety years’ worth of stories. But when they’re doing this isn’t communicated well. To put Dick Tracy up against the son of the first man he gunned down? Good setup. But we didn’t know that was going on until that son was gasping his last breaths. Pauly’s role could be any henchman’s. So, what was the dramatic point made by linking him to the murderer of Tess’s father? In a way that you would never guess without auxiliary material?
Maybe it doesn’t need a point. Life is complicated and messy and has weird links. Maybe Polar Vortex wanted someone who’d try something stupid like this, and summon Dick Tracy’s attention. Tracy does investigate Vortex’s business. I thought he didn’t find anything, but the 18th of November Tracy mentions that Vortex is out on bail after drug-trafficking charges. The kidnapping he seems to get a pass on, even though kidnapping Crystal Plenty was part of the lost plan. Vortex does say he had a plan for killing Tracy, and this was too soon. Maybe Vortex’s plan went wrong. But I’d feel more sure if I were clear on what the plan was.
Well. The next big plot thread started the 21st of October, with the introduction of the (imaginary) comedy duo Deacon and Miller. They’re getting a revival, with a film festival hosted by Vitamin Flintheart plus a new syndicated newspaper comic strip based on the pair. … Which might be the most implausible premise I’ve seen in this strip. And this is a strip that has telepathic, psychokinetic Moon Men and a guy who used a popcorn maker to shoot someone.
The revival’s funded by a trust set up by Miller, redeemable after 40 years. There’s a bunch of money in it, and Polar Vortex has got himself named trustee. And I’m confused on just how myself. It was described as a “neighborhood bank” plan scam. I’m not sure what this is. It reads like the mark (Dick Miller of the comedy team) was convinced to put money into a fake bank. But the scammer went ahead and actually invested it, and pretty well. And I’m comfortable with that, that far. The scam where it turns out to be easier to go legitimate is a fun premise. I loved it in the movie Larceny, Inc. (Well, the movie circles that premise anyway.)
So then to the present day. Vortex got charge of the money, and went looking for Peter Pitchblende. Pitchblende is the grandson of Miller, and rightful heir to all this money, and the point person for this whole revival. Vortex’s plan seems to be to get Pitchblende to sign over the money to him. There’s something I don’t understand in the phrase “neighborhood bank” scam, but I haven’t been able to work out what from the strip. I would understand embezzlement. I don’t understand why Vortex can’t just take the money without involving Pitchblende. Also it seems like the revival got started before Vortex contacted Pitchblende. But that might be that the revival would have been airy plans until Vortex dropped the promise of money into it.
Well, Vortex’s plan seems to be … being very slow about repaying Pitchblende for out-of-pocket expenses with the Deacon-and-Miller revival. That at least seems like a workable start to a scam. Vortex claims this is a temporary sideline from his drug-dealing at schools. But it’s hard, especially with a small group. And I’m not sure he understands just stealing money. Like, I’m pretty sure even with a drug-oriented racket he could fake Peter Pitchblende’s signature on stuff. Anyway, he feels the personnel shortage. So Vortex hires some guy he sees talking confidently at the coffee shop. The guy’s named “Striker”, or as we know him, Lafayette Austin. (Austin is getting a lot of attention this year, mostly working undercover in foiling various villains.)
Austin, working undercover, is able to get at Vortex’s files by the cunning plan of being left alone in the room with them. Vortex likes Striker’s energy. He doesn’t like that of street-level pusher Ballpark, who’s been using the drugs instead of pushing them around some. Vortex sends Ballpark to “the bell tower”, which is a literal bell tower. There’s some setup about the experimental infrasound system being good for … well, it’s got to be killing, doesn’t it?
Start of December. The police sweep up drug dealers around Honeymoon and Crystal’s school. And over the rest of town. The cops close in on Vortex and Devil, up in the bell tower. I’m not sure he did get to killing Ballpark, or ever using this infrasound bell tower death machine. Maybe that’s left for a future villain to use, although I’d hope it gets a fresh introduction and explanation of what it’s supposed to do then. The story’s been one of those with a strong enough line of action that you seem like a spoilsport complaining about key parts of it not explained. It makes my life harder.
Vortex tries to, but can’t shoot Tracy. He’s arrested. Austin finds the documents showing that Pitchblende should have the Miller-investment-inheritance. I really don’t understand what the setup of that was. But they turn over the money to Pitchblende and the show can go on. The show features Vitamin Flintheart, playing himself, in a musical based on J Straightedge Trustworthy. This is an in-universe comic strip inspired by and parodying Dick Tracy.
The 16th of December, I believe, starts a new plot. It opens at the Wertham Woods Psychiatric Facility (get it?) where Tulza Tuzon kills several doctors and escapes during a blackout. Tuzon’s better known to the cops as Haf-and-Haf. He’s got a reputation for breaking out of psychiatric hospitals. Last time he did, he got sprayed with some caustic waste, burning half his head. So since then he calls himself Splitface.
He makes for The City, where high-diving star Zelda The Great is performing. This all gets Tracy’s attention. Tuzon is something of a tribute act. Ages ago Tracy “put away” — I don’t know if he means jailed or killed — a serial killer named Splitface. The original Splitface’s ex-wife is Zelda the Great. Haf-and-Haf is also reported to have developed two alternate personas. That’s a development I’m sure won’t mean that I have to provide a content warning about mental health next time around.
But! That’s on hold for two weeks as the strip does another Minit Mystery. This one written by Donnie Pitchford, who writes and draws the Lum and Abner comic strip. And which makes me finally, about two months late, recognize what “Peter Pitchblende” is a reference to. So, y’know, anyone looking to me for insight please remember that that’s the level I’m working at.
(The Si and Elmer referenced in that strip was a syndicated serial comedy. It’s listed as an attempt at cloning Lum and Abner. I am not sure that both shows aren’t more properly clones of Amos and Andy, with hillbilly rather than blackface comedians. Si and Elmer were elderly small-town residents who decided to go into the detective business. At that point in their own series, Lum and Abner were a justice of the peace and the town sheriff, which makes them almost on-point for a Dick Tracy crossover. I haven’t listened to any of the episodes. Apparently something like 95 of the estimated 130 episodes made survive. That’s an amazing record for early-30s radio. Here are something like 67 of them available for the listening. There might be others elsewhere on archive.org.)
So I don’t know anything about the Minit Mystery besides what you saw in today’s strip. I’ll recap that and whatever this Haf-and-Haf/Splitface plot develops in a couple months’ time.
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley is a hundred years old! How many of those years did its centennial celebration run? What happened with Peggy Lee? Did Walt Wallet move into the Old Comics Home? Find out here, in seven days, or, y’know, skim through the strip yourself. You’ll probably make a pretty good estimate.
If you’re interested in the plot of Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant you’re reading a correct web site. If it’s later than about March 2019 I probably have written a more up-to-date plot recap. That should be available at this link. So are recaps of the last two years of the comic strip’s action.
So it was: the 7th of October a ship carrying Valiant and his party came to the harbor of the Misty Isles. Valiant leapt from the boat to swim ashore, apparently a tradition. And he met up with Aleta who’s there to swim naked with him. So that’s a nice bit of getting-together.
And then began several weeks of what felt like a weird epilogue. Val, Karen, Bukota, and Vanni regale a fest with tales of what all they were doing out in the far east. They were finding Vanni, I gather. They started off before my first What’s Going On In post about the strip. But apparently not much before my first post. He recaps the tyrant Azar Rasa. And those refugees saved from various brigands. A couple of the many overturned rafts they survived. And then they get back to Krios.
Valiant doesn’t know it’s Krios; he missed the whole treachery story. All he knows is they were at Carpathos, a few days’ sail from the Misty Isles. There in a tavern they encountered someone who looked like the Senator. Who saw them, left the gaming tables, and charged Karen. She and Valiant fought back and. At least according to Valiant he had “little choice” but to kill Krios.
I can’t fault it as a postscript. I mean, it seems like a reasonable and absurd sad finale to Krios’s life. But it feels also a bit much. After all, his scheme already failed so dramatically as to end his career, kill one of his sons, estrange him from the other, and send him into exile. Being killed in a tavern brawl seems like piling on. But it will happen. That, the 18th of November, has got to be the end of Krios’s story, for real this time.
The 25th of November started what looks like the new story. It begins with news Queen Makeda, of the House of Ab’saba, will be visiting. This promises to set off all sorts of complicated feelings from Bukota, what with how he’s exiled from Ab’saba. This all I didn’t know, but the strip gave the background. His heroism protecting Makeda from a rebel army didn’t negate his previous, jealousy-fueled, attack on her bodyguard. So he was exiled as ambassador to Camelot which I infer is how he fell in with Prince Valiant and all. Bukota puts all his feelings into sparring on the Royal Training Fields and trying to keep a stoic face as his queen arrives. This gets foiled as she notices him. And that’s the point our story has now reached.
So this is the first, and surely last, time one of my recaps spans three Phantom stories. I’m delighted. This covers the last couple months of 2018. If it’s much past about March 2019 when you read this you’ll probably find a more up-to-date recap at this link. The link covers both the weekday continuity and the separate Sunday storylines. But it should be clear enough what I’m writing about, either way.
The Ghost Who Walks had spent a couple months on his back, last time I checked in. He was recovering from major injuries after a failed capture of Eric “The Nomad” Sahara. The Nomad was in Manhattan, having one last weekend with his daughter Kadia, before going into hiding. Also spending time with his daughter’s roommate, Heloise Walker. Sahara concluded, wrongly but not stupidly, that Walker was a secret agent plotting to capture or kill him. So he threw together a plan. He reported Heloise as a terrorist to the Transportation Security Authority. They arrested her in front of Kadia and everything. This so Kadia would not try to work out Walker’s disappearance. Sahara then collected the released Walker, planning to fly her somewhere she could be killed without detection. My last recap ened with them on the runway, Sahara getting his private jet up to speed.
Walker recovers consciousness just into takeoff. She fights him in the cockpit, sending the plane out of control, crashing it into the suburban neighborhood beside the airport. Walker and Sahara are still alive, and keep fighting, Walker thinking of the 21 generations of Phantoms before her. Walker knocks Sahara unconscious and drags him out of the plane before the airport emergency crash teams can get there.
The first cop on the scene is one who’d arrested Walker at Sahara’s misdirection earlier. Walker tells him Eric Sahara is The Nomad, internationally wanted terrorist. She flees. The cop follows, and shoots, but into the air. She escapes.
Back home in Bangalla, The Phantom wakes after uneasy sleep. He gets the message Heloise Walker left earlier in the morning, and in my previous recap. The one about her having found The Nomad and her then-plan of getting him to share his plans. The Phantom’s ready to run for New York, despite his neck being only barely connected yet. It’s moot anyway. Heloise Walker calls with the news about The Nomad’s arrest.
She’s stumbling around convenience and dollar stores. She’s trying to disguise herself. She’s certain that the authorities have her picture, and soon, her identity. The authorities publicly claim the cop’s body camera malfunctioned. That initial reports of a girl being with Sahara were mistaken. That it was that one airport cop to credit for this capture. Heloise guesses, correctly, that that’s a lie. And she’s torn between pride in her having stopped a major international criminal and wanting to go home.
In this he lays out some of the setting. Notably about his tutor, Kyabje Dorje, who gives off strong Phantom vibes himself. That he’s a scholar, a gentleman. He occasionally returns from disappearances with unexplained injuries. (Be a heck of a thing if he goes flying off to vanquish evil and maybe reconnect with his mentor in El Paso who taught him the mysterious ways of the cowboy, right? By “a heck of a thing” I mean “a thing that seems like the premise of a guest-star Control agent on Get Smart”.) And about Chief Constable Jampa, the local corrupt law agent. They got off to a bad start, with Jampa holding this foreigner at gunpoint. He relented only because Kyabje Dorje’s whole monastery insisted. Since then … well, we haven’t seen anything. But we’ve got the threads for this ready to go.
Anyway, he wraps up, congratulating his dad for capturing The Nomad and all. He makes a couple ironic jokes about his sister having a soft time of it. And he sends his love. And wraps up the letter and burns it to ashes, the better to keep family secrets.
And that’s that story. This past week, the 10th, started the 251st daily-continuity Phantom story, “Heloise Comes Home”. The title picks up from what Heloise said in the last strip of “A Reckoning With The Nomad”. She’s made her way back to the Briarson School, not because she figures she can return to classes. “Crashed Your Roommate’s Father’s Private Jet And Got Him Arrested For Terrorism” gets you out of the semester in most any school. It’s only an urban legend that it’s an automatic A for the semester, though. Walker gets back to her room and very briefly informs Kadia they have to flee now or they’ll never get out of the country. But that’s all she’s had time to do.
I have no information about where the story might be going. (And I’m not seeking any. I’m content to read the comic like anyone might. Let actual comic strip news sites carry teasers.) I can see obvious potential paths. It would be ridiculous were authorities not to investigate Kadia Sahara. This though she does appear to be wholly uninvolved with anything. Fleeing the country would be the first suspicious thing she might do that we’ve seen on-screen. Heloise Walker would likely be investigated as someone near to Eric Sahara even if she weren’t on the body-camera footage. That her mother’s got a senior position with the United Nations is likely to attract more official attention. And it makes me realize I don’t know what the world thinks the senior Kit Walker does. That is, they do see this fellow named Mr Walker who’s always wearing sunglasses and has antique airplanes and the like. I don’t know what people imagine his day job to be.
A running thread of Heloise Walker’s story has been her desire to be a female Phantom. It’s quite fair that she might be afraid of that now that she’s been through an intense and terrifying experience. (Can’t forget that, for all her poise and formal-dinner-wear outfit, she is a teenager, 15 or 16 years old.) Reconciling the fantasy of her family’s superheroic lifestyle with the reality is a solid character challenge as well.
I know everyone’s interested to see Alison Sayers and Jonathan Lemon’s take on Alley Oop. It’s not coming until January. Here I’m recapping the last couple months of Jack Bender and Carol Bender-produced reruns. I figure, at least for now, to keep Alley Oop in the regular story strip rotation. So my first recap of the New Era should come around early March 2019. And it should be at this link. If there’s news updates warranting more articles, they’ll be there too.
Dr Wonmug has a job! A client is paying him to gather samples in 1816 Switzerland. I honestly didn’t know the Doc took jobs like that. The client’s never named, but that doesn’t seem to be a plot element. It’s just an excuse for why he has to “hurry” to travel in time. Anyway, Doc pops in to Ancient Moo, interrupting Alley Oop’s and Ooola’s picnic. And annoying Ooola, who teases that “maybe I’ll have a little adventure of my own”. This hasn’t paid off yet and I haven’t checked whether it ever does.
Oop thinks this “scientific research” is a new game, but what the heck. He’s up for it. 1816 is a good year for for science research; you might faintly remember it as “the year without a summer”. After the explosion of Mount Tambora the previous year the northern hemisphere suffered widespread cold, leading to food shortages and even more poverty. And a pretty boring summer retreat at the Villa Diodati, in Cologny, Switzerland. There Mary Shelley is fed up with Percy Shelley and Lord Byron going on about electricity to each other. She decides to take her chances walking outside in the cold rain. Oh, should say, nobody’s last name gets mentioned. This is probably to set up the punch line ending. It’s a good punch line for someone who doesn’t know about how Frankenstein was originally written.
Mary sees a flash atop a mountain. It’s the arrival of Doc Wonmug and an underdressed Alley Oop. She’s wondering how they survived what she took to be lightning. Also wondering what’s with this gigantic, incredibly muscular figure surrounded by glowing light. Alley Oop and Doc Wonmug realize they’re being followed. But they figure they can evade this past-dweller long enough. They’re hilariously wrong. But they just need a soil sample, a plant sample, and some insect. It’s an oddly plausible enough scientific mission. I can already imagine the science team very cross that there wasn’t enough soil and they didn’t provide enough photographs to understand the context of the plant sample. Mary Shelley watches them digging up soil and wonders if they’re burying something. Or digging something up.
Wonmug explains about the harshness of the year. Oop asks, reasonably, whether they’re doing something to help the starving population of the world. Wonmug says they can’t. I don’t know whether Alley Oop has an unchangeable past built into it or not. If Wonmug and company are wise they’ve never tested it. But I know barely a tiny bit of the strip’s long history and what stories they might have explored.
Plants and insects are harder to find. They spot a small scraggly plant growing on the edge of a cliff. Oop’s able to climb cliff faces like that, even in the freezing rain. While he does, Wonmug sets up a little science kit to measure the atmosphere. And Mary Shelley watches all this strangeness. She gasps as Oop slips (but does not fall). Wonmug follows her, using his iPod’s flashlight feature to spot her in the gloom. She’s afraid of him, for reasons Wonmug can’t understand. As a scientist Dr Wonmug hasn’t got the common sense that God gave scraggly plants growing on the edge of a cliff in the Year Without A Summer.
You know what else climbs cliff faces like that, even in the freezing rain? Mountain goats. An ibex watches Oop grabbing at the plant that’s maybe the only food around, and takes action. Oop’s able to grab onto one leaf, at least, before he’s knocked down the hillside. He takes a nasty fall, landing right outside the cave where Wonmug is trying to figure out why Mary Shelley looks somehow familiar.
Wonmug can’t feel a pulse. Shelley fears he’s dead, but still wants to take him to a doctor. I guess this is on the grounds that 19th century medicine couldn’t make the situation worse. Me, in the 21st century, is pretty sure they could. But her naming Dr Polidori gives Wonmug the clue to who she is, and the punch line that this Mary Shelley. Anyway, Wonmug’s got a portable defibrillator. He warns about the dangers of the electricity, gives Oop a couple good shocks. He brings this gigantic, impossibly strong human to life. He, grunting, confused, and disoriented, lunges toward the woman he had seen following them. She flees. So you see the joke here. I think the joke’s better when you consider that Alley Oop’s a fundamentally kind, good person being shunned for looking like a monster. Shelley flees back to the villa, where she learns the men around her are going to hold a writing competition.
Oop asks why they don’t check that she’s okay. Wonmug promises that he knows she’s just fine, which seems like he’s pretty confident they can’t accidentally alter history here. Anyway, Oop has the leaf in his hand yet, so that’s the plant sample. And a butterfly’s landed on his head, a good insect sample and a time-travel joke nicely underplayed. They return to the present.
And Wonmug explains stuff for Oop and anyone who didn’t know the story already. He presents a copy of Frankenstein and suggests, hey, where did she get that idea, after all? And this feeds to a couple strips just laying out the story of how Shelley had a vision of the story. Hm. Oop figures he’d like to read this, sure. Wonmug also offers that they could watch the movie. I’d also like to speak up for the Mister Magoo adaptation. This seems to end the story with a month left to go before the reruns end. But just this weekend we got Wonmug refusing to let Oop go back home again. He was “actually dead” for a couple minutes, after all. He needs some time of observation. And that’s where the story stands.
I’m mostly content with the storyline. The particular time-travel venture makes good sense. That it can intersect with a real historical figure at a real historically important moment is a bonus. But I personally dislike “here’s where a writer got their crazy idea from”. Writers get their ideas by thinking about things that give them ideas. Those ideas are fed from sources, yes, including writers’ experiences. But they’re created by the writers working. To show the “real events that inspired the writer” replaces that hard work with stenography. (Which is, yes, another kind of hard work, but hard in a different way.)
This motif is at least as old as Flash Of Two Worlds, the comic book where the 1960s Silver Age Flash met the 1940s Golden Age counterpart. Silver Flash had read Golden Flash comics when he was a kid. He speculated that the writer of those Golden Age comics was somehow cosmically attuned to Golden Age Flash’s world and could transcribe that. But there, Flash Of Two Worlds was written by Gardiner Fox, who wrote (most of) the Golden Age Flash comic books. He could be having a joke on himself.
Jack Bender and Carole Bender and John Wooley don’t quite do the writer-as-transcriber idea, at least. As presented in this story, Mary Shelley sees a story about electricity bringing a hulking brute to life. Fine; allow the premise that she took this inspiration from something she witnessed. She’s still presented as turning that one great idea into a novel, with so much happening that she doesn’t witness here. So that tempers my complaint.
I haven’t gone back to check the storyline’s original run in 2013. I want to be as surprised as you are and also am lazy. I’m supposing that Wonmug’s assertion that Oop needs observation will give us a couple weeks of puttering around in the present. And that should lead up to the 7th of January, 2019, when Alison Sayers and Jonathan Lemon take over.
Last time I checked in on Judge Parker I figured we were getting near some retrenchment. There had been a bunch of craziness going down, mostly in Los Angeles. Neddy Spencer and work-friend Ronnie Huerta were trying to figure who killed Godiva Danube. They learned Danube had been fronting a drug-running scheme. And that someone in the CIA wanted Danube dead, so they got April Spencer to do it. Except, we learned, she didn’t do it. Someone else, who’s now killed Danube’s boyfriend, the guy who gave Neddy Spencer and Ronnie Huerta as much exposition as they have. Meanwhile, April Parker’s father Norton was betrayed by his aide and was in the hands of maybe a dozen CIA agents. I know this is confusing; I’m trying to summarize a summary here. My summary article last time has the space to explain more of it. Anyway, I figured we were coming near some drawing down of the craziness. Possibly a jump several months ahead in time. An incomplete resolution of what’s been going on and a bunch of new story elements. Let’s see what happened.
Well, Neddy and Ronnie get out of Danube’s boyfriend’s apartment. April Spencer’s dropped in to kill the CIA agent who was killing the boyfriend anyway. Ronnie declares she’s had enough of Neddy’s crazy life and wants out. Can’t fault her that. Also it turns out Norton is not dead, but just in Super-Duper-Secret CIA Jail, being interrogated about what’s April Spencer’s deal already.
Meanwhile back in Cavelton, Judge Randy Parker calls off a date with Toni Bowen. She’s the local-turned-national-turned-local-again newscaster. Her life’s been tied to the Parkers’ since Marciuliano took over writing. Randy uses the excuse that he’s swamped with judge work. She pretends to believe him, and further, agrees to babysit his-and-April’s daughter Charlotte for the night. Randy picked such a lucky night to be absent I wondered if he was up to something. Because April Parker stops in. April demands Charlotte. Bowen refuses to give her up. Randy Parker finally gets home in time for this scene, and for April to knock him unconscious for dating in her absence. And then who intrudes but … Candice Bergen?
So, turns out she’s April Parker’s Mom. She’s been absent something like thirty years with her business and all. And it turns out she’s the partner Wurst was reporting to last time. Candice Bergen warns that no, April can’t take Charlotte. She’ll have to wait and come back to her sometime later. Maybe after the new series of Murphy Brown wraps up. On Candice Bergen’s promise of safety, Bowen lets April hug Charlotte, for maybe “the last time she can hold her as a child”. And then they leave before they can kill even more CIA agents.
Maybe. We don’t see that. The 15th of October had the much-anticipated-by-me “We Jump To Mid-Fall” narrative caption. The changes: Bowen’s had enough of the Parker craziness and is done with Randy. Can’t fault her that. Katherine and Alan Parker have gotten back together. They’re at that stage where every floor in their house is filled with boxes labelled for some other room. Norton is dead, according to Sam Driver’s Super-Ultra-Secret contact at the CIA. So they’re all safe, right?
And Katherine Parker learns something interesting at the publishing house where she works. Also I learn she works at a publishing house. Toni Bowen’s publishing an autobiography and it’s going to have a bunch of stuff about Randy and April. She brings word to Alan. Alan brings word to Randy. Randy already knew. Bowen had talked about it with him before submitting the book proposal. So he roughly knew what would get published and what it might do to him. Also, Randy has to admit he would never do anything to hurt his father but …
So Randy confided to Bowen how Alan Parker had helped Norton fake his own death some time ago. Randy meant this to show that Norton wouldn’t be coming after them. Now, well, they don’t know if it’ll be in the book but it’s going to be an awkward conversation. Still, at least Norton’s not faking his death this time. Super-Hyper-Duper-Secret CIA Prison is.
And there might be fresh deaths. In Super-Mega-Hyper-Ultra-Duper-Secret CIA Prison the bureau chief has bad news. April Parker is dead. They have a photo and everything. Norton’s willing to pretend to believe them long enough to look at their photo. And he thinks how “April may be in even better hands than mine”. The phrasing reads as though he’s considering that April has died, but is still way open to reading as though he’s admiring his wife’s work in the field of Honestly Just Exhausting At This Point Super-Hyper-Ultra-Duper-Mega-Looper-Secret Double-Crossing. The agents reviewing his reaction figure Norton “may not know where April is, but certainly knows who helped her get out”.
The 18th of November introduced another plot thread. Neddy Spencer’s flying home for Thanksgiving. And ignoring Ronnie Huerta’s repeated texts to call back. Neddy’s life has been a mess since we saw it turn into an enormous mess. Huerta’s trying to reconnect, but Neddy won’t have it, suspecting Huerta of being the same kind of false friend Danube was. Sophie Spencer points out, correctly, that withdrawing from the craziness is not wrong. After major drama — the word seems trivial for what they went through, but what is there to say? — you may need time away. Neddy’s the bad friend, ignoring the attempts to reach out and assuming malice. I get Neddy’s anger, but that’s still a good way to create malice.
Meanwhile Sam Driver isn’t sure Neddy should move back home. He thinks she responds to every setback by running back home, and that she shouldn’t be doing that now. Which has enough truth in it to be credible. But, especially since Marciuliano took over, Neddy hasn’t been through “setbacks”. She’s seen family twist someone by their neck until they’re dead. I’m not sure what she does need, except that it involves professional care. So this is probably something that will get further discussion. Maybe a jolly fight over Christmas. We’ll see.
Well, The Amazing Spider-Manjumped the queue a bit. So I’ll get back on schedule with a recap of Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop repeats. Which looks like it’s just wrapped up the story, a month ahead of my expectations. I don’t know what they’re going to do while waiting for the new writing team to take over. Should catch up to Prehistoric Moo in a week, though. And by Prehistoric Moo I mean 1816 Switzerland. You know how it is.
Hi, fans of Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp. I know the current storyline’s been a bit confusing. It started out so strongly establishing one character, then jumping to another, that it wasn’t clear what they had to do with each other. The past week the threads have come together more strongly. And, must say, the narrative logic was easier to follow when I re-read several months’ worth of story all at once. The narrative was harder to follow chopped up into three panels a day.
Last time I checked in in Milford it was golf season. Coach Thorp was lightly occupied in his summer job, coaching Wilson Casey and Tony Paul in the game. Thorp’s realized that the kids from the Pine Ridge and the Blackthorne country clubs have been turning in false scorecards. The cheaters can’t be shamed. Thorp tries consoling his honest students.
Gil Thorp’s solution: organize his own, Milford Invitational, golf tournament. Only Pine Ridge and Blackthorne aren’t invited. And those kids have a mediocre outing at another tournament where scorers accompany the quartets. We never actually see the Milford Invitational. Just Thorp’s reminding his players that if they’re playing with integrity, the scores aren’t important. Good life lesson. Not one I’ll be sharing with my love next time we’re at a pinball tournament though.
The 3rd of September started the current story. Or set of stories. One is about Joe Bolek, student, and that kind of teenage film buff who watches Reservoir Dogs every other week just in case it’s changed. I can’t be smug. At that age I was very busy watching The Wrath of Khan every Friday night. The other is Thomas Kyle “Tiki” Jansen, recently transferred from New Thayer. They knew each other in middle school, when Bolek did stunts like making his own movie in the middle of the street until the cops showed up.
This is part of the football storyline for the year. Thorp’s problem: Sam Finn is his best punter. But he’s also his best snapper. And it’s bad form to have a player snap the ball to himself to punt. So Thorp has an actual coaching problem, since he can’t put together a punting team that works. He has a lead: Joe Bolek, allegedly, was a pretty good athlete before he got swallowed up being that film guy.
Thorp approaches Bolek. Thorp sighs inwardly as Bolek wants to talk about his life in terms of movies. Thorp tries pointing out that they both hated The Legend Of Bagger Vance, a movie I once saw because I was flying from Newark to Singapore. My recollection is that it was a series of shapes moving in what seemed to be patterns. Thorp is able to communicate slightly in the language of referencing movie titles. Gil Thorp doesn’t actually know that much about movies, but his wife does, and he’s learned things from her. Along the way it’s revealed Gil Thorp’s been allowed to hold a position in adult society without ever seeing Paths Of Glory, which, I just don’t know. Anyway, Bolek watches the Milford team play a game, figures he can punt better than that, and joins the team.
Next plot point. Jansen shows up late to class. A lot. Enough that Thorp has to warn him this could screw up his eligibility. Jansen talks about his sister and her needs. How her needs make him late, or force him to leave events early, or stuff. And tries to avoid saying anything independently confirmable about her. It doesn’t go well: he says enough about his sister that one of his teammates can confirm she doesn’t exist. Or at least she isn’t going to school where Jansen implies she is.
His teammates ask Jansen where he lives. He names an apartment complex, slightly wrongly, and doesn’t notice he put it on the wrong street. In the world of story strip narrative economies that shows he’s bluffing. But I have to admit, I’ve lived at this house in Lansing for six and a half years now and I could not name the streets two blocks to either side of me. And I’m pretty sure I’m not pulling a fast one with my residence. Still, his teammates watch him driving off the wrong way for the home he claims to be going to.
Jansen’s tardiness reaches the point Coach Thorp has to do something about it, though. Jansen’s twenty minutes late for a game. He claims it’s because his car broke down. Thorp points out Milford is, like, four blocks across. He could’ve walked.
Thorp and his assistant coach, who probably has a name, check Jansen’s paperwork. It says he lives in the Pine Trace Apartments. Pine Trace Apartments say that address is a one-bedroom apartment. For a family of four. So Thorp swings into the exciting world of student-athlete regulatory compliance and asks Jansen where he does live. Jansen says it’s complicated. Thorp hasn’t got time for this. Jansen explains he had to leave New Thayer, but the family couldn’t afford to move, not all at once. So they rented a cheap, empty apartment that could be his address for the sake of school. And a cheap car that could get him from New Thayer to Milford. Mostly. I’m not sure this actually makes economic sense, but, eh. Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham know what housing prices are like in the Milford/New Thayer metropolitan region, I don’t.
Thorp sidelines Jansen while figuring out whether the kid is eligible to play. The school administrators conclude that he is. Thorp’s still got doubts, admitting that part of it is that Jansen turned out to be a good player. I honestly commend Gil Thorp for being aware of his motivated reasons to let Jansen play. That awareness is one of the ways to support procedural fairness.
Jansen explains that back at New Thayer he fell in with a bad crowd. Started as small stuff, vandalism and petty theft and whatnot. When they started getting into burglary, Jansen bailed on them. They whaled on him, and warned him not to come back to New Thayer. They’re still there. But there’s no way to prove to Thorp that he’d be in danger at New Thayer’s high school.
Except that Joe Bolek, film nut, has the idea of let’s just have Jansen go to his old school and get beat up, on video. And Jansen’s cool with this idea. Well, the plan is that Bolek will interrupt the savage beating before it gets all that savage. And that’s the point the story has reached as of the 24th of November. Jansen’s old gang has come out with battery on their minds, and now they’ve got a film nerd, with a big ol’ video camera set up on a tripod, waving at them.
This is sure to develop exactly as well as Jansen and Bolek could possibly have hoped.
I have seven days to try to condense the plot of Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker into a coherent essay. Will I make it? Find out here in seven days, barring surprises.
Gasoline Alley, as of Saturday, is a century old. If I haven’t overlooked something, it’s the second (American) syndicated newspaper comic strip to reach that age without lapsing into eternal reruns. (The Katzenjammer Kids was first; it started running in 1897, and was still producing new strips once a week until 2006, and we noticed that in 2015.) And I’d like to add my congratulations to it, and to Jim Scancarelli for being the cartoonist there at the milestone. He’s only got to keep at it through 2027 to beat Frank King’s tenure on the strip. (As credited artist and writer, anyway. Scancarelli was assistant to Dick Moores, responsible for the comic from 1956 to 1986.)
There are some more comic strips that, barring surprise, will join the centennial family soon. The next one, if it counts as a comic strip, will be Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. Robert Ripley’s panel first appeared the 19th of December, 1918, as a sports-feats panel. It mutated by October 1919 into the general oddball-stuff report that it still is.
The next — and it’s been mentioned this week in Gasoline Alley — should be Barney Google and Snuffy Smith. That comic started the 17th of June, 1919. I don’t know whether Barney Google is planning any centennial events, but they’re missing a chance if they aren’t. Thimble Theatre, known to mortals as Popeye, began the 19th of December, 1919. The strip has only been in production on Sundays since the early 1990s, though. And Popeye took nine years to show up in it.
But to Gasoline Alley … I admit not having childhood memories of the strip. It probably ran in the New York Daily News, so I’d see it occasionally at my grandparents’ house. But I don’t remember the experience. I’ve come to it late in life, when part of my day is just reading lots and lots of comic strips, including the story strips. I’ve also heard the occasional episode of its adaptations to radio. Not enough to understand the series as a radio show. But enough to be driven crazy trying to think where I know that voice from.
It won’t surprise anyone that I like the comic strip. I like comic strips to start with. And Gasoline Alley has this nice, cozy tone. It’s got an old-fashioned style of humor that feels nostalgic to me even when it’s new. That Scancarelli shares the love I have for old-time radio adds a layer of fun as, hey, I recognize he’s tossed in a character from The Mel Blanc Show.
And then I always have a weird reaction to things. I recently read the Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics, a 1977 compilation that tried to give some idea of the breadth and scope of American newspaper comics. The editors felt it impossible to show Gasoline Alley fairly by samples of the daily strips, as the stories needed too much context for any reasonable number of dailies to make sense. But it included some Sundays, which — under original artist Frank King, as with today — would be stand-alone panels. And one of them was just … this full-broadsheet-page, twelve-panel piece. The whole page, together, was an aerial view of the neighborhood of Gasoline Alley: houses, streets, parks, businesses. Each panel was just a tiny bit of stuff going on at that spot at this time on this day. And it was beautiful. The composition was magnificent. Each panel made sense, and each panel was magnificently drafted. Houses with well-defined, straight rooflines, streets that lead places, fences that have structure. And each panel fed logically to the next, so the page was as good as a map. And somehow I was angry, that a comic strip could be this beautiful.
It’s not as though we don’t have beautiful comics now. There are magnificently drafted comic strips, Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley quietly among them. The compositional conceit of a strip that’s a vast area seen at one time is hardly gone. Even the specific variant of the vast area being rendered in panels is rare but still done; indeed, I think Frazz has even done it recently in daily panels. No newspaper comic has the space that Frank King had, a century ago, true. I can’t even show you the comic; it’s too large, at the reduced size for book publication, for me to scan, and taking a photograph of the page would leave the thing illegible. And no web comic could achieve that effect of space, except for those people with the six-foot-wide computer monitors. But to be angry to see a beautifully done comic strip? That’s a strange reaction. To have that dominate my thinking as the comic reaches its centennial? That’s even stranger.
Well, may everyone who creates at least once do something that makes someone angry that it was that good.
I last checked in on Spidey at a big moment in his team-up with Iron Fist. They, with Colleen Wing and heel-turned-face Suwan have tracked The Kingpin and Golden Claw to the Mammon Theatre. Kingpin and Golden Claw are using the closed-for-repairs theatre for a crime summit. Kingpin and Golden Claw explained to New York City’s mob bosses that they were taking over everybody’s rackets. The New York City mob replied with enthusiastic bullets.
Spidey and Iron Fist are calm, though. The Kingpin and Golden Claw speaking before the crime summit were holograms, just like Spidey and Irony totally figured out. But then a gas canister drops from the ceiling. Spidey swings out to grab it, since there’s no way to guess whether it’s knockout or poison gas. That’s all right. Every crime boss in New York City is happy to start shooting at Spidey, canister in hand, even though they could draw the same conclusion. Luckily none of them can draw a bead, so Spidey is able to get backstage with the gas.
There’s a bit of a battle royale as crime bosses race Spider-Man and Iron Fist. But Iron Fist can do that thing where if a superhero punches the ground it knocks out people who are just standing on it. So he punches the ground and it knocks out people who are just standing on it. Not all the crime bosses, but that’s all right: the cops are here. Iron Fist, in his secret identity as billionaire rich man Danny Rand totally called them earlier. So there was always a cavalry on the way and he just didn’t have the chance to mention it before.
Our Heroes infer that Kingpin and Golden Claw have to still be in the area. It would take too much energy to create realistic holograms if they weren’t nearby. That’s totally a logical reason the Kingpin and Golden Claw have to be in a helicopter taking off from atop the Mammon Theatre right now.
Let me pause. I know I’m sounding snarky here. A bit of me is. The story logic is not airtight. But understand: I’m enjoying it. The Amazing Spider-Man has this airy, cheerful, upbeat tone. I’ll go along with “They’re not really here, they’re holograms! Also they’re really here!” when I’m having fun. In this I am like everybody. I grant if you feel this story’s gone on too long for the plot points established then you’re not going to be won over by the reasoning that has Spider-Man and Iron Fist jumping onto a helicopter trying to flee Broadway. That’s fine. It’s good news for the oatmeal shortage.
So. Spidey and Irony punch the getaway helicopter. The good news: this does stop the helicopter. The bad news: the helicopter was in flight. Fortunately, Spider-Man’s overcome a temporary jam in his web shooter and is able to make an emergency parachute out of his webbing. I didn’t know that was a thing, and Spider-Man admits it’s been so long since he did that he didn’t know if he could anymore. Anyway, the empty helicopter crashes into the theatre.
Spider-Man and Iron Fist land in a construction site. It’s also where the Kingpin and Golden Claw have landed. The villains had emergency escape jet packs in the helicopter because of course they have. Why wouldn’t you? It’s just good sense.
So, the fight. It’s a tough one. The Kingpin has been studying Spider-Man’s methods ever since they last fought. He’s ready for anything Spidey can throw at him. Mostly it’s punches. No webs, which seems like an oversight to me. Meanwhile Golden Claw was figuring Iron Fist would eventually punch him, so he’s wearing a metal talon that’s got full anti-punch powers.
The fight is a stalemate. Spidey and Irony can only hope to hold out until Kickpuncher can arrive. Spidey and Irony figure, hey, why not try punching the other guy’s villain? And that works out great. The Kingpin might be ready for Spider-Man’s punches, but for Iron Fist’s punches? Not nearly. Meanwhile Golden Claw might be ready to deal with Iron Fist’s punches, but when Spider-Man tries kicking? Ta-da. And you thought I was putting up a cheap Kickpuncher reference there.
Our villains are resoundingly punched and kicked. Also turned over to the cops. Spider-Man and Iron Fist go off for a little chat. Spider-Man wants to make good on earlier in the story, when he didn’t reciprocate Iron Fist’s revelation of his secret identity. But Iron Fist isn’t having it. He’s been thinking about it, and realized he was being presumptuous earlier. If he, billionaire Danny Rand, had his secret identity leaked he could still protect himself and loved ones. Spidey? Not likely. So, you know, cool. Anyway, if Spider-Man needs him he’ll be at the Rand Tower and totally answering his phone and not evading Spider-Man to go on weirdly nonspecific missions, like usually happens when Spidey needs the help of the X-Men or the Avengers or the Fantastic Four or somebody.
Incidentally, Spider-Man as he tries to unmask mentions that it’s Halloween. This is part of the weird flow of time in the newspaper Spider-Man universe. All this action since September, our time, has taken place over the same day. It could easily be under an hour of time. The strip does this sort of compression of time, naturally. But it will also sometimes throw in a reference to the date of publication. I don’t think there were any other specific days mentioned this storyline. But it would be plausible for one in-strip day to be mentioned as being, like, Labor Day, Halloween, and Thanksgiving at different parts of the story. Not sure why the comic strip wants to draw attention to the weirdness of time like that. I suppose the writers figure, you know, we readers should relax.
Anyway, Spider-Man looks on in dismay at the destruction of the Mammon Theatre. This was where Mary Jane Parker had been performing. No telling how long that’ll be closed now. Mary Jane’s accepting of it: now her publicity tour, which took her to Las Vegas (with Rocket Raccoon) and Los Angeles (with Melvin, King of the Mole Men) and Miami (with the Incredible Hulk), can end and she can go home.
J Jonah Jameson’s home too, as of the 10th of November. Which I’m calling the start of the new story.
The new story: Jameson is figuring to find and expose Spider-Man once and for all etc etc. But he’s got a new plan this time. He’s hired Luke Cage, Hero for Hire, to find and expose Spider-Man etc etc. After breaking down managing editor Robbie Robertson, though, Cage has bad news: he’s nota hero for hire anymore. If Jameson proves he’s a crook, Cage will haul him in. But he won’t do it for money. He’s just in it for smashing in newspaper managing editors’ doors. Well, that’s relatable. And that’s what’s happening as of today.
Thanks for your interest in Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D.. This plot summary’s good for the couple of months leading up to November 2018. If you want earlier plot recaps, or if you’re reading this after about February 2019 and want a later recap, you should find it at this link.
Hank wants to visit Millie’s Diner again. Skip the roadside attractions. They get to the restaurant where he reunited with his old high school flame. It’s closed. She died the night after their visit. They can get to her visitation. Her family talks of how joyed she was that last day. So, good reminder there about reaching out to people you just drifted away from. It’s a sobering end to this thread. After it the Harwoods go home. It closes this plot.
The new plot started the 10th of September. It’s about Jordan and Michelle, until recently housesitters for the Avery mansion. Heather Avery’s given Jordan startup capital for his restaurant. He’s bought a former hardware store downtown for his place. This seems odd. But there’s a bunch of restaurants in the area already. Maybe the only choice was converting a place that wasn’t already food-ready. Jordan and Michelle talk out what kind of restaurant he’ll open. Then an intoxicated, shabby-looking guy runs at them, demands Michelle’s purse, trips on his own feet, and knocks himself out.
So they turn him over to the cops. Over dinner they talk about how they’re the lucky veterans. They’d come through their combat experiences basically all right. Many don’t, and they wonder if their would-be mugger is a traumatized vet. Then someone at another table passes out, possibly choking. Michelle, a nurse, is the person to rescue him, and they enjoy the rare double 9-1-1 call night.
The cops ask Jordan and Michelle if they want to press charges against their mugger, Delmer Robertson. He realizes he knew a “Delmer Robertson” back in high school. Lost touch with the guy after they both went into the army. Jordan, in food services, lost his leg when some catastrophe struck as he was getting fruits and vegetables. Delmer … who knows, exactly? But Jordan does mention how he’s built up the story of how he lost his leg to something more exciting for the civilians back home. I’m not sure if this is setting up a plot point for the current (or a coming) story. Terry Beatty might be retconning something established when Woody Wilson wrote the strip. If it is a retcon, I don’t know what the point of it is.
Jordan confirms that this guy was the Delmer he knew way back when. And that Delmer’s had a tough time since getting back from the army. So he asks the court to be lenient with Delmer, and offers to help him get back on his feet. The court is fine with this, even if it sounds a bit like the setup for a Dan Harmon sitcom.
Jordan meets up with Delmer, and they have the sort of awkward-but-hopeful conversation you might expect as they go to Rex Morgan’s clinic. Where Michelle’s a nurse. They promise they’re trying to help Delmer get the help he needs. And he needs more: according to someone who passed medical information on to Rex Morgan, he has both diabetes and failing kidneys. So that’s a bit of seriousness after some amusing follies.
And that’s where the plot of Rex Morgan, M.D. stands as of the 11th of November, 2018.
There’s always two answers about what’s going on in The Phantom. The Sunday strips, written by Tony DePaul and illustrated by Jeff Weigel, are one thread. That’s the one I recap here. The weekday strips, written by Tony DePaul again but illustrated by Mike Manley, are a different storyline. Both have plot recaps at this link, because I can’t think of a better way to arrange the tags. I never learned that you can easily have subsidiary categories of a main tag, and have been able to on WordPress blogs for years, you see. It’s a shame and someone should tell me. Anyway, both storylines are recapped there and you can get the most recent update to both by using it and a bit of sense.
The Rat is getting farther from death, but on the other side of the event.
The story of The Rat, who must Die, reached its one-year mark since the last time I checked in. The Rat had lead The Phantom to his former partner-in-crime, The Boss. The Phantom had promised to recommend time off The Rat’s sentence for his help bringing in The Boss. The Rat failed spectacularly at getting away from The Phantom. But in the struggle between The Phantom and The Boss, he took a chance to clobber The Phantom with The Shovel. And The Boss was readying to run down The Phantom with his car.
The Phantom shoots his gun at the driver. He forgets that in Rhodia they drive on the other side of the road. I liked that bit. I like superheroes who make realistic mistakes such as that. The car still smashes against The Phantom. The Boss comes out to kick The Phantom before shooting him. The Phantom staggers to his feet, holding a knife against The Boss. The Rat warns that The Phantom’s never going to give up. The Rat finds The Phantom’s other gun, and declares he knows for sure how this plays out.
The Rat turns again: he shoots The Boss, who fires back. They’ve killed each other. The Rat takes a bit longer to die. It gives him the chance to say how he wished he could have a life more like The Phantom’s. And chuckles that, hey, he got out of Boomsby Prison, never to return, after all.
Jungle Patrol arrives. The Phantom had called in his private air cavalry earlier in the story. They collect the bodies and return to Bangalla, and Boomsby Prison. The Warden soon has a report for Bangalla’s president, Lamanda Luaga. They believe The Phantom kidnapped and executed The Rat. They don’t know the Jungle Patrol is under The Phantom’s control. President Luaga publicly dismisses this as legend. And privately concedes he doesn’t know why The Phantom wanted The Rat dead but is sure he had a good reason. It’s nice to see a superhero who’s got the confidence of the authorities these days. But, jeez, that’s putting a lot of trust in someone’s judgement.
And there’s another mystery. The Rat’s corpse has disappeared from the morgue. The Phantom took it, of course. He’s giving The Rat a funeral, with the help of Bandar pallbearers. His wife asks a question that’s been nagging at me for a year-plus: what was his name? The Phantom doesn’t know.
Tony DePaul was kind enough to reveal this story’s set to end the 11th of November. I’m sorry to miss the end of the story by such a slight margin, but what am I to do, adjust my arbitrarily set schedule for good reason? No, I’ll just include a sentence or two about the end of this story when I get to the next Sunday-continuity recap, sometime around February 2019.
It’s a look at three months of action in Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. Have we seen the Las Vegas Pinball Hall of Fame? Have we talked to every roadside statue in the midwest? Has Rex Morgan seen a patient or done a doctor-y type thing? Well, no, probably not that. But they must have done something or other.
I’m not sure what I expected, really. After the final run of a Henry comic, that is. I guess I expected some kind of reaction from the crowd. At least a sigh. Maybe writing out some message on the fence. But no, nothing like that. I just looked out the window and there was a lot of gone. All there was to remember them by was leaves fallen off the trees and a bunch of mysterious colored flags planted in the ground. I’m like 75% sure none of them are to blame for the leaves, either.
But for the record, here’s the comic that Henry finished its run with. It’s a competent enough strip and I can’t find when its previous rerun had been.
And in what I’m assuming is not exactly a coincidence, Bill Griffith’s Zippy the Pinhead guest-starred Henry. I don’t know, but I would imagine that Griffith liked the strip. It was always kind of weird. The constraint of the protagonist only pantomiming helped that. The commitment to keep the strip’s contents true to whatever its early-20th-century Americana Idyll too. It’s the rare comic strip that completely divorcees itself from contemporary culture, too. I mean, even Peanuts, not usually thought of as a topic strip, name-dropped Spuds Mackenzie, alluded to the Vietnam War, sent the kids to a weird millenarianist sleepover camp run by a for-profit preacher, and had Lucy offer her e-mail. (In different years.) But a comic strip like Henry that’s just entirely its own thing? I can see Griffith respecting that.
So I have not the faintest idea why Griffith had Henry present an ontological argument. I trust that he finds it all amusing and weird, and that’s always a fun energy.
Nothing yet from Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley. Which is weird, but the comic for the 28th was Halloween-themed so it’s not like that could be coherently bumped to another weekend.
I have a content warning before going into Karen Moy and June Bridgman’s Mary Worth today. It features pet death, and handles it with spectacular incompetence. If you don’t want to read that, I don’t blame you. You might skip the whole thing. Around about January 2019 I should have another plot recap. I trust this storyline will be done before that point.
Everybody Tommy knows gives him the same advice. So he takes it. He tells her about his painkiller addiction. That he’s not used anything in over a year. That he has a support group he feels confident in. That he’s found both God and Mary Worth. And she’s okay with that. She loves him, and trusts him. They stick together. So that’s sweet.
There’s a week of Mary and Iris talking about how happy everything is and how great Mary is. And that leads to the current storyline. And this one, as I warn, includes pet death treated badly. So here’s one last chance to ditch if you need to.
I was worried about the food situation. The grease trucks never come down our block. There were some dangerous signs. I saw a bunch of the attendees holding up pictures of apples and pointing to our trees. We don’t have apple trees. Today I explained these are all maple trees. So a bunch of them ran off and now they’re holding up plates of pancakes to the tree trunks.
I think everyone’s happy? Well, the squirrels look bewildered. Still.
So I knew it was going to be a little weird this final week of the long-running comic strip Henry. I’ve been reading all the eulogy pieces, of course, and seen people talking local and national news about how they’re going to adjust to a Henry-less life. Thing is, people can hold a final-week vigil in any small town where they still have soda counters and stuff. Why is a mob of Henry-fans gathering outside my garage, holding up candles and staring at me when I go feed the squirrels as if I were going to set a pie out to cool? This is going to be such a weird week.
Last time I checked in, Mark Trail and company were in the pop-culture district of Mexico. Mark’s archeology buddy Professor Howard Carter was finding weird stuff in a 2500-year-old temple. His assistant Becky had this weird habit of cataloguing and making 3-D scans of everything before taking it to a secure facility. And hey, she’s off-stage now for unknown reasons. Rusty found a “Zuni Fetish Doll” that arrived in an anonymous box. And this wasn’t the first time one of these has turned up. That and some references to Indiana Jones and Three Amigos filled out the setting. I don’t know if the doll is a reference to something.
Mark Trail realizes the story is stalling out. It’s been going since April and what we know is this ancient temple is weird and Becky’s off-stage. He suggests Rusty and his girlfriend-based partner organism Mara go to the other temple. See if they can’t get kidnapped or something while he takes a nap and disappears from the story. Joe the van driver mentions how the dolls started showing up and the site has a curse or something. Also that he’d heard Becky was at the dig site in the morning but guesses he was wrong. Anyway, he drops them off in care of the tour guide at Non-Creepy Mayan Temple.
Rusty and Mara notice that Becky’s in with the tour group. They call to her, but she doesn’t react. Mara thinks it’s odd that Becky didn’t hear them. But Rusty has people “not hearing” him and fleeing his approach all the time. Still, they press on. They find Becky! She’s talking with someone else, someone wearing a backpack who was not from the tour group. And holding what looks like one of the masks dug up earlier. Mara thinks Becky is trying to sell it. They work up the hypothesis that Becky is making 3-D prints of the artifacts, selling the real ones, and putting the fakes into museums. Rusty thinks it’s a shame someone as nice-seeming as Becky would do something so underhanded. Mara calls him out on this: “you meet a girl one time, and just because she’s pretty, you think she’s nice”. A good point. Rusty doesn’t seem to consider he hasn’t met Mara all that much, and she seems nice, and she’s feeding the idea Becky is arranging an artifact sale. Just saying.
They notice someone’s watching them. And they follow the guy who took the mask. Backpack Guy is taking the tour bus back to Santa Poco. The guy who watched them gets on the radio with Joe the driver, though. Joe and Watching Guy share an ominous radio conversation about having to use the kids before getting them out of the way. And that they know this is dangerous, given Mark Trail’s reputation for how every story ends in major explosions lately. Rusty and Mara get back to Joe, and ask him to take them into Santa Poco and hey, why not stop wherever the tour bus does? He can’t figure an excuse not to comply. Mara wonders if Joe might have been the watcher, and she thinks that’s a shame, as “he seems like such a nice guy”. Credit to James Allen for underplaying the character moments there. Anyway, they drive past a week’s worth of panels of Central American wildlife eating other pieces of Central American wildlife.
Mara’s talked Rusty into putting some kind of tracking app on his phone and I’m sorry, Rusty Trail has a smart phone. I have to go lie down a while. Also he has a smart phone that works in Mexico. Y’know, my love and I spent a week in Mexico City earlier this year. Working out whether we could get a phone to work on the Mexican network was something we stressed about without ever solving the problem. (We made it through the week without a phone. Not looking for a medal here, just some acknowledgement of our courage.) Anyway, Mara’s plan is to turn on the tracking app, drop the phone in Backpack Guy’s backpack and then even if they lose sight of him, it’s all right. They can follow. Mara mentions getting the idea from Nancy Drew, a reference Rusty doesn’t get, and wait Nancy Drew has smart phones now? I have to go lie down again.
Back to Joe, who mercifully gives us some names for characters. Watching Guy turns out to be Pablo. They and Raul — who’s talking to Joe while posing with his cool motorcycle — know the kids are on to something. And that Pablo saw the “courier”, while Raul saw Becky. They note that they didn’t see the courier and Becky together. This point is so inconsequential that taking panel time to establish it must mean it’s consequential. Joe think that Rusty and Mara were following the “second courier”. But since they’re not following Backpack Guy now he doesn’t know what to think. This may be how this scenario would happen. But it made for a week of baffling reading as people say they don’t know what’s going on. Raul promises to “take care” of Rusty and Mara. He also says he’s “let Pablo take care of” Becky. Yes, I’m aware the phrasing looks ominous without actually committing to anything. I mean, there’s enough space here for Joe and Pablo and Raul to be part of the smuggling operation. There’s also enough for them to be undercover agents busting the crime syndicate.
All right. So. Rusty and Mara try to act casual as Backpack Guy encounters them. He recognizes his “clumsy friends” who knocked him over at the bus stop. That scene wasn’t actually shown on-panel by the way. But it was how they dropped Rusty’s phone into his backpack. He proposes that they walk with him, since this is not a great part of town for unattended kids. And introduces himself as Juanito, so now I have all the player-characters’ names. Juanito says he’s a courier, and he’s got a package to deliver nearby, so why not walk with him? Rusty and Mara go along with this. Juanito stops at the next street because he’s seen the motorcyclist, whom we know to be Raul. Juanito’s not sure that Raul is following them, but does think he “looks like trouble”. Juanito proposes they run into a crowd. I’m assuming a fruit stand is going to get knocked over. Could even get exploded.
I do appreciate that James Allen has put in play at least three groups here. Each knows a little about the other groups. None knows enough that anyone can be confident in who to trust or how far. It’s a bit foggy reading this day-to-day. Comics Kingdom lets subscribers read a week’s worth of strips at once. That helps the plot threads focus for me. And, I hope, I help that for you.
Sunday Animals Watch
What fascinating animals, plants, or forces of nature were highlighted in the Sunday panels recently? And have we killed them yet? Here’s the recap.
Ants, 29 July 2018. So there’s ants that explode and they’re not even from Australia and what the flipping heck?
Honeysuckle, 5 August 2018. Not any more endangered than all life on Earth is right now.
Dobsonflies, 12 August 2018. Early indicators of when the local environment is dying.
Hognose Snakes, 19 August 2018. Not endangered, but they do play dead so they’re a little drama-prone.
Giant Hogweed, 26 August 2018. Also called Giant Cow Parsley or Hogsbane, claims Mark Trail. It’s invasive and its sap can send you to the hospital with third-degree burns.
Gila Monsters, 2 September 2018. Fun episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
Humbolt Martens, 9 September 2018. Endangered, and Mark Trail tries to cast some blame on the marihuana.
Rhinoceroses, 16 September 2018. Ugh. You know. But it does mention that thing where earlier this year it looks like lions killed a poacher of rhinoceroses.
Mount Lico’s “Lost Continent”, 23 September 2018. Cool, technology-assisted discovery of a previously undisturbed forest with a bunch of unknown species that’ll probably blow up, if that episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 is any guide.
Jaguars, 30 September 2018. Endangered. Features one of the three known in recent years to be in the United States and that got killed by a poacher.
The Larger Pacific Striped Octopus, 7 October 2018. Probably endangered, but apparently it’s too rarely seen to be sure.
Parsnips, 21 October 2018. They can cause second-degree chemical burns, which is no Giant Hogweed but is still a valuable reminder to never eat anything natural enough that its name isn’t required legally to be misspelled.
Will I make it seven days without turning into a white-hot ball of incoherent, jibbering rage? There’s only one way to know and that’s to see if I last until next Sunday reading Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth. If I survive, I’ll tell you why you should probably be a white-hot ball of incoherent, jibbering rage too!
Comic Strip I’ve Wanted To Punch Harder Than I’ve Wanted To Punch Anything Else In My Life Today
Mary Worth 
 With the footnote that if you did not know the context then Saturday’s Mary Worth would be hilarious. Any comic strip where someone barks out “Bah!” is 90% of the way to hilarious. But trust me. In context? You’re going to want to punch this comic strip harder than you’ve wanted to punch anything in your life. Promise.
Reference: The Sputniks Crisis and Early United States Space Policy: A Critique of the Historiography of Space (Studies in Military and Strategic History), Rip Bulkeley.