The last couple months of Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant have been about freeing people from a witch-hunter. The catch is that in the Prince Valiant world there are witches. And people have good reason to be afraid of them. A couple months ago we saw Morgan Le Fay bring a flood to London, killing dozens, for her (and Valiant and others with them) to escape. This story we saw witches call down asteroids from the skies to kill their would-be tormentor.
So this is what has me angry. It’s the same thing I can’t swallow about the movie Hocus Pocus or certain episodes of Sabrina the Teenaged Witch. I grant the dramatic irony of witch hunters in a world where witches really exist, especially if (as far as we can tell) they go after the completely innocent. But the moral outrage of witch-hunting is people letting their own fears and imagination and prejudices into actual persecution. Make witches real and present and actively working against the witch-hunter, and you have a hard time not trivializing this injustice. I know, it’s just a story. But we have enough trouble with would-be witch-hunters without so many stories building on the idea that sometimes they’re in the right.
Audrey, Afton’s partner, does escape the chaos and get back to Camelot. She’s able to summon one cavalry: Valiant and Galahad gallop off to the scene. She also gets another, though. Aleta, Queen of the Witches, tells Maeve and Audrey they have work to do too. While Dialyodd gathers a nice big party together at a megalithic temple (I suppose Stonehenge, though for all I know it could be another ancient stone circle), Aleta gathers ingredients and allies. With Sebel, who I totally know who that is, and Morgan Le Fay they cast a spell calling for the sky to come to Earth, and let like find like.
Valiant and Galahand charge into the demon-burning. Valiant’s taken aback when Dialyodd complains of Camelot breaking its pact with him. Dialyodd claims Camelot agreed to not interfere with his crusade in exchange for protecting the western shores from Saxon invasion. Galahad says if that’s true they should keep the children but leave. Valiant is too angry to care, and attacks Dialyodd. He doesn’t kill the witch-hunter, though. The Orionid meteor shower does it first, sending a meteor through Dialyodd’s heart. It’s a heck of an accomplishment, given that the Orionid meteor shower wasn’t discovered until 1839. (It’s one of a couple meteor showers created by Halley’s Comet, by the way.) If the text is right that these are the Orionids, the story is happening in October, by the way.
It’s convenient to our heroes to have the witch-hunter out of the way. But having the stars fall from the sky to shoot him through the heart seems unlikely to convince people that Dialyodd was wrong. And Morgan Le Fay sneaks out to Stonehenge, finds the stone that killed Dialyodd, and brings it back to her castle. So that might be leading somewhere.
But where that does lead is to this week’s comics. You know now what’s been doing on the last several months, in slightly less time than it would take to read yourself. When I get back to the strip around April we’ll be able to say whether this thread continues, or whether we’re on a new adventure.
Well, she built a tornado shelter and stocked it well with everything that she would need, except for a handle on the inside door, so she got stuck inside. She reflected how well, she’d surely be looked for by her many friends and … oh, yeah, that’s a bit of a problem. So … oh, who am I kidding, this is never going to work as a What’s Going On In series. Maybe I can do that Mara Llave: Keeper of Time series instead if I figure out what’s going on in it.
So anyway you’re now caught up on Russell Myers’s Broom Hilda, enjoy!
It’s a trick question, of course. Any Les Moore is more punchable than any other Les Moore, somehow. He manages a curious and unwelcome infinity that way.
But I give you the unanswerable question to provoke thought. The snark community for Funky Winkerbean — as many healthy snark communities do — gives awards for the most exquisite examples of the comic strip being like that. And this year looks to be the last of such awards for Funky Winkerbean. The Son of Stuck Funky hosts aren’t interested in carrying on reading Crankshaft, even though the strip just decided to be about a Comic Book and went visiting Comic Book Guy in Westview. Fair enough. But I didn’t want people who somehow read me and not them, and yet have opinions about Funky Winkerbean, to miss the last Funky Winkerbean Awards.
For those who came in late: The Phantom, in his escape from Gravelines Prison, saw “the Bandar nation” ride out of the mists to save him and Savarna Devi. The question is how they knew where to be. This hasn’t been explicitly answered but we can surmise. Mozz the Prophet finished telling The Phantom of the wrack-and-ruin he foresaw. When finished, The Phantom took Mozz’s Chronicle and set it in the catacomb reserved for his body. Mozz had deceived The Phantom: what he seemed to read from was not his text of his prophecy, but one of The Phantom’s own Chronicles. Somehow the prophet was able to anticipate that The Phantom wouldn’t check which volume he was setting on the shelves and which he was hiding. We last saw Diana Walker reading Mozz’s Chronicle. I have a suspicion what dots we’re meant to connect.
Having heard Mozz’s prophecy of how rescuing Savarna Devi from Gravelines Prison will destroy his family, The Ghost Who Walks sets out anyway. He’s making some changes from the prophecy, though. He’s setting out a couple days later, for one thing. He’s accompanied by Devil, his wolf. He’s setting out with the knowledge of the prophecy. He’s setting out with all the self-ruining confidence of a guy who’s crammed every strategy guide before playing the game for the first time. It’s a fun energy to read, as he keeps trying to remember what comes next and doubting that he could know. Also in the delight he takes in, he thinks, outwitting Fate. One great side of The Phantom is he’s basically happy. His glee at being clever is infectious.
One thing he does know: in the prophecy he reveals to Devi the critical information — the location of Jampa, who killed her family and enslaved her as a child — in a post-surgical daze. So he figures all he has to do is not get shot. That was already part of the plan. Further planning: if he does get shot, he has to not have a post-surgical daze. So he drops in on Dr Fajah Kimathi, a veterinarian who in Mozz’s vision performs the operation that saves his life. And here we get controversy.
The Phantom’s intention is to warn the doctor that she must not save his life, if she’s pressed by Savarna Devi to do emergency surgery on him. He does this by waking the doctor and her husband in the middle of the night. And holding his guns on them. That is, on people who not only haven’t done anything objectionable yet, but who would in the prophecy do heroic service to him. Tony DePaul explains his understanding of The Phantom’s thoughts in the essay above. I agree with DePaul. The Phantom figures conspicuously holstering his guns he shows he chooses not to be the threat a masked man breaking into their house is. I also think The Phantom’s wrong. Waking someone while holding guns on them does not put them in a more agreeable mood however much you put the guns away. But that is part of the fun of The Phantom. He has blind spots. Here, that people he knows through hearing of Mozz’s vision don’t know who he is or what he’s on about. (Although they’ve got to suspect this is The Phantom of regional lore.)
I’m not sure that’s fair. I think it plausible she sincerely believed she was done with vengeance. Learning where Constable Jampa was presented an irresistible temptation. Now The Phantom asks a question to make super-sure he doesn’t let slip Jampa’s location: if he’s shot does she promise to leave him behind? She says she will, which we know from her thought balloon is a lie. I love this irony.
We get a haunting moment in this of other prisoners, possibly also on death row, begging for The Phantom to release them instead. It’s hard to give a fair reason The Phantom should not rescue them. He knows Devi can help fight their way back out, but that doesn’t mean the others don’t deserve rescue.
To the breakout. Devi sees no reason not to grab an armored vehicle and shoot their way out. The Phantom knows. It’s gunning their way out through the well-defended roads that gets him shot. But then how to get out instead?
Devil, who wasn’t there in Mozz’s vision, has an answer. He guides The Phantom off to the mists where, as said in the introduction here, the Bandar nation has come. The Gravelines guards may be ready to handle one or two people with machine guns. Dozens of people with poison-tipped arrows, though? That’s something they can’t even imagine is coming. And the best part is there’s no way an evil state like Rhodia will retaliate against the Bandar people for crossing the border and attacking a maximum-security prison. (I snark. I’m sure DePaul has put some thought into how Rhodia might answer this.) And this is where we stand as of the second week of January, 2023.
Myc, their daughter, is some weird organism ageing dozens of years in a day. It’s attached to Alley Oop and Ooola because they’re the lead characters. Past that we’re still learning her deal so I don’t have more to say about them.
On another note, Jack Bender, longtime artist on Alley Oop, has died, reports D D Degg at The Daily Cartoonist. I came in to reading Alley Oop and appreciating his work only at its tail end but did always enjoy it. The Daily Cartoonist shares more of his life’s work, including the sports comics he made his name on.
This essay should catch you up on Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for early January, 2023. All of my Alley Oop essays should be at this link, so if you’re reading this after about April 2023 there’s probably a more current plot recap there. Now to the past fourteen weeks of shenanigans and whatnot.
The plan seems unshakeable. Alley Oop and Ooola keep trying to go back to the day before Atoby first visites the young Wonmug, only to find he’s gone back to a day before that. It’s the logical yet funny end and points out one problem of a “Time War” story. It’s hard to see how it could ever be won. Alley Oop and Ooola ask, if Doc Wonmug’s history has been rewritten so he never got into science how does he still have a lab and all? Wonmug explains something about changes in time taking time to change the present. It doesn’t make sense but if we don’t have some buffer like this we can’t have a story, okay?
The Clawed Oracle, cat-shaped being unbound by time and space, has advice for Alley Oop and Ooola. (Doc Wonmug is getting too much into free jazz and other “silly” arts stuff, as the time changes seep into ‘now’.) That advice is: take the battle to Doc Atoby. So they venture into Universe-4, the villain world. It’s a difficult place to be. Everything kind of operates on the inverse-logic of Bizarro World so it’s confusing working out normal conversations. Like, when the person who works the Misinformation Booth offers to help, should Alley Oop clobber them or what?
Our Heroes barely start figuring out a plan when Doc Atoby captures them. His Time Heptahedron is far more powerful than their Time Cubes. he brings them seven billion years in the future, when Earth is a lifeless void, a half-billion years from being consumed by the sun. He plans to leave them there. But Ooola outwits him, and Alley Oop catches him, and they’re left with what to do with the villain. Abandoning him in the dead future Earth is so villainous he approves. Lecturing doesn’t work. What about going back into his childhood to make him less villainous? That’s only arguably murder.
So, they go to Doc Atoby’s childhood and give him a puppy, to make him less villainous, or at least a villain with a cybernetic evil dog. Hard to be sure. But when they get back to the present, Doc Atoby’s a much less evil, less ambitious mad scientist; he’s into free jazz and all that stuff. So this somehow undoes all the time-tampering done with our (Universe-2) Doc Wonmug. I assume also the other versions of Doc Wonmug since there’s a couple that are surely jokes they’ll want to come back to. And with that, the 16th of December, we come to a happy conclusion.
The 17th of December started the current story, with Alley Oop and Ooola getting back to Moo. Inside Alley Oop’s cave is a crying infant. Nobody in Moo knows who she is. Or why she’s growing so fast, going through years of (human) growth in hours. She tells Our Heroes that her name is Myc. And … she’s pretty sure she’s a fungus. Is that weird? No, of course not. They’ve lived. They know people from Mastodon who are feral dreams hoping to invade shampoo by way of Louisa May Alcott novels. Being a rapid-ageing fungus from space is mundane in all but the literal sense. But what her deal is, past that? We don’t yet know.
They’re not. Gads, no, they’re not. I’m sorry. Everyone is not mad at Broom Hilda. I think nobody is mad at Broom Hilda. It’s not impossible that nobody has ever been mad at Broom Hilda. What’s to even get mad at it for? I just miss that great Being Mad At Funky Winkerbean energy. I don’t know what’s ever going to match it. Something will. Probably Luann. We’ll see.
Eye Lie Popeye is another web comic about everyone’s favorite crusty sailor who isn’t Shipwreck from the 80s G.I.Joe cartoons. At least I’ve been treating it as a web comic, as Marcus Williams’s manga-style comic book’s been presented to us. It’s properly a comic book of at least twenty pages, available for preorder. One page has been shared roughly each week for the last couple months. We’ve had ten pages published online and I don’t know whether there’s going to be a continuation. They do want to sell the comics, after all.
One may ask: is this adventure canonical? One may answer: does that matter? If the story’s good does it matter whether it gets referenced anywhere else? But it probably is. Randy Milholland, who draws the new Popeye strips, and half of the Olive and Popeye side project, seems to have an inclusive view of what’s Popeye Canon. He’s tossed references to the radio series of the 1930s, to the Popeye’s Island Adventure short cartoons, to Bobby London’s run on the strip, and to characters created for the King Features cartoons of the 1960s into his tenure. If I had to put a bet I’d suppose some of this gets into the “official” strips. Heck, I’d be only a little surprised if Milholland worked in a reference to the bonkers pinball game backstory Python Anghelo wrote up.
So we flash back to the start. Judy P’Tooty, reporter from the Puddleburg Splash, wants to write the story of how Popeye lost his eye. (The name Puddleburg Splash references a 1934 Popeye story. That story’s the source of a panel you might have seen where Popeye explains cartoonists are just like normal people except they’re crazy.) Olive Oyl intercepts her and promises to tell the story. We get a nice view of what looks like a classic (cartoon) adventure. A titanic mer-man sucker-punches Popeye and harasses Olive Oyl. Popeye eats his spinach, rockets in, and smashes the mer-man into cans of tuna. Only, this time, in the sucker-punching the monster knocked out his eye. I think the mer-man may be a representation of King Neptune, who appeared, among other places, in the 1939 story “Homeward Bound”. It’s the one going on in the Vintage Thimble Theatre run on Comics Kingdom right now.
Bluto has a different take. In Bluto’s telling, sure, Popeye was fighting a giant horned octopus. This series has not been short on fun monster designs. I’m not sure if this is meant to be any particular giant cephalopod from the rest of the Popeye universe; there’s a couple it might be. But it’s Bluto who stepped up to save the day, using Popeye as the impenetrable rock to beat the monster back. And in smashing Popeye against the monster the eye popped out. Popeye and Olive Oyl declare this story baloney, but P’Tooty is barely listening. She’s telling someone that she’s located and eliminated each stash — which she tells the gang is just her taking notes.
Wimpy has yet another take, in which he’s interrupted during a six-hamburger lunch. Popeye smashes through the window, battling another, this time winged, monster. This one’s called Bill and I believe it to be one of the underground demons, or De-Mings, from the final story Elzie Segar worked on before his death. This makes me suppose the other monsters are from other Thimble Theatre adventures. Bill targets Wimpy with a finger laser, as one will, and Popeye intercepts it, saving Wimpy’s life but losing his eye. Bluto calls this nonsense but Popeye acknowledges that this at least happened.
Meanwhile, P’Tooty has lost her patience. She declares this a waste of time and demands Popeye tell her where is the eye. And that she’s done with her cover story. She is, in truth, P’Tooty the Jade Witch. She’s sent by the Sea Hag. She’s eliminated all the spinach in the area, including the can Popeye keeps in his shirt collar. She wants to know where is the Bejeweled Eye of Haggery, and where is the Jeep. She dissolves into this huge inky goop, bubbling up from the sea, and it’s not hard to connect this to page one.
And that’s where we stand.
Oh, for the record. None of the flashback encounters we’ve seen can be perfectly true. Popeye was introduced, with his missing eye, before he ever met Olive Oyl, King Neptune, Bluto, Wimpy, or Bill the De-Ming. At least in the Thimble Theatre continuity. But you knew that. And there’s no limit to the number of continuities of Popeye except the willingness of people to hear the stories.
What can you say about a 50-year-old comic strip that died? That it loved the Barry Allen Flash and the mythical Marvel Bullpen? That it was full of names that were not exactly jokes but were odd without hitting that Paul Rhymer-esque mellifluous absurdity? That it spent the last ten years with no idea how to pace its plot developments? Yes, it was all that, but more, it got a lot of people mad at it.
This is not to say that Funky Winkerbean was a bad strip. Outright bad strips aren’t any fun to snark on. You have to get something that’s good enough to read on its own, but that’s also trying very hard to be something it’s faceplanting at. So let me start by saying there’s a lot that was good about Tom Batiuk’s work. The strip started as a goofball slice-of-life schooltime wackiness strip. It would’ve fit in with the web comics of the late 90s or early 2000s. It transitioned into a story-driven, loose continuity strip with remarkable ease. And it tried to be significant. That it fell short of ambitions made it fun to gather with other people and snark about, and to get mad about. Still, credit to Tom Batiuk for having ambition and acting on it. It allowed us to have a lot of fun for decades.
This epilogue week stars Future Lisa, granddaughter of Summer Moore and great-granddaughter of Les and Lisa Moore. For a birthday treat Future Lisa’s mother takes her by Future Car to “the outskirts”, that is to say, Crankshaft. Future Car has the design of that spaceship toy made from the gun that murdered My Father John Darling. They’re there to go to an antiquarian bookstore, “one of the last to survive the burnings”. The term suggests a dystopia before a utopia, which is a common enough pattern in science fiction stories.
The bookstore is the little hobby business of Lillian Probably-Has-A-Last-Name, from Crankshaft. The old-in-our-time Lillian isn’t there, but a pretty nice-looking robot with a lot of wheels is. Since the bookstore is only (apparently) accessible by stairs I’m not sure how the robot gets in there. I guess if it only has to be delivered here once it can be badly designed for stairs. I had assumed the bookstore was desolate, since the sign for it was hanging on only a single hook. I forgot one of the basic rules for Tom Batiuk universes, though, which is that signs are never hung straight. This sounds like snark but I’m serious. Signs are always hung or, better, taped up a little off-level.
Future Lisa sees beside Summer’s sociological text other books on the same shelf. Fallen Star, Les Moore’s first book, a true-crime book of how he solved the murder of My Father John Darling. Strike Four, which I mistook for Jim Bouton’s baseball memoir. Strike Four is in fact a collection of Crankshaft strips about the title character’s baseball career. Elemental Force, the anti-climate-change superhero book published by Westview-area publisher Atomik Comix. And Lisa’s Story, Les Moore’s memoir about how his wife chose to die rather than take the medical care that might extend her life with Les. Future Lisa can’t help but ask: what are a sociological study, a true-crime book, a baseball comic, a superhero comic, and a dead-wife memoir doing sharing a shelf? Does this bookstore have any organizational scheme whatsoever? (And yes, of course: these are all books by local authors. Except for Strike Four, which shouldn’t exist as we know it in-universe.)
So they get both Westview and Lisa’s Story. The last Funky Winkerbean is Future Mom telling Future Lisa it’s bedtime. Stop reading Lisa’s Story because it’s bedtime, and “the books will still be there tomorrow”. As many have snarked, this does read as Tom Batiuk making the last week of his strip yet another advertisement for the story about how Lisa Moore died. This differs from most of the post-2007 era of the comic strip by happening later than it. For those with kinder intentions, you can read this more as a statement of how, even though the strip is done, everything about it remains. It can be reread and we hope enjoyed as long as you want. And that it’s appropriate for Lisa’s Story to stand in for this as it is the central event defining so much of the comic’s run.
And with this, you are as caught-up on Funky Winkerbean as it is possible or at least wise to be. I can’t say what comic strip you will go on to be mad about. It feels like nothing will ever be that wonderfully maddening again. No, it will not be 9 Chickweed Lane; that’s too infuriating to be any fun getting mad reading. But there’ll be something. We thought comic strip snarking would never recover from the collapse of For Better Or For Worse, and maybe it hasn’t been that grand again, but Funky Winkerbean was a lot of fun for a good long while.
Happy end of the year! So, late this past summer, Comics Kingdom started to run a twice-a-week strip, Olive and Popeye. The strip, which has a daily-strip form, is done alternately by Shadia Amin and Randy Milholland. Milholland is the person who draws the Sunday-only Popeye strip. I don’t know how they’re coordinating the writing. I remember seeing Milholland tweet that both their strips were “canon”. I don’t know whether anyone said whether this is supposed to be in continuity with the Sunday Popeye. I doubt there’s going to be anything irreconcilable.
A couple weeks back I realized that while the Olive and Popeye strips stood alone, there was a continuity going. And things look like they’re putting a story together. I don’t know that this is going to be a new story strip in the way that the standard syndicated newspaper strips are. But, you know, I want to encourage Popeye re-entering the popular culture. And it’s easy to imagine without knowing and without hearing anyone suggest this is the case that doing a two-day-a-week strip is testing whether a full-time daily strip would be viable. So let me take one of my Tuesday slots and say stuff about a comic strip you might have had no idea existed.
Olive and Popeye.
30 August – 22 December 2022.
Olive Oyl leaves a canoodling session with Popeye to meet her brother Castor. He’s meeting up with his wife Cylinda, a character who hasn’t been in Thimble Theatre since before Popeye was introduced. She was written out in 1928, either running off to Hollywood or divorcing her unfaithful husband. It depends whether you read the daily or the Sunday strips. In any case it has to be a record for characters re-emerging from off stage. But she’s back and “a bat now”, according to Castor’s daughter Deezil. Deezil’s a character from the 1960s cartoons.
Meanwhile, Popeye’s mother Irene(!) and his aunt Jones fly in to spend time with the family. His mother, it turns out and is footnoted, got introduced in an early-50s story. This makes sense of her appearance in that one Famous Studios cartoon. His aunt Jones is, by the way, married to Davy Jones, of Locker fame. She’d been introduced in the early 40s and neglected since then.
Then we get some slice-of-life stuff. Popeye’s mother and aunt bonding with him and Swee’Pea. Olive Oyl working out with a friend named Mae. Mae seems to be her rival from the 1936 short Never Kick A Woman. The woman was unnamed there, but “Mae” suggests both Mae West (a clear influence on the short) and Olive Oyl’s longtime voice actor Mae Questel. Poopdeck Pappy stopping in, wondering if Irene is still upset about all those times he ran off and such.
There’s some antics in the background too. A character that makes me think of Susie the Sea Nymph, a menace from the late 30s, emerges from the water a couple times but Olive Oyl easily foists her off. (Susie the Sea Nymph was in the story run a couple months ago in Comics Kingdom’s Vintage Thimble Theatre.) Popeye going off to foil the Sea Hag and dump some of his stress at his family situation on her. Also, Bluto and Brutus keep popping in to slight effect. Ham Gravy pokes around to see if Olive Oyl might be up for getting back together. Her sisters protect her from him. But Olive and her big-city cousin Sweet still get along mostly by fighting.
Popeye hires Wimpy to keep an eye on Pappy, and keep Pappy away from his mother. Wimpy offers that someone down by the docks is asking for him. It turns out to be Whaler Joe, Popeye’s guardian when Pappy and his mother were both missing. I had assumed Whaler Joe to be one of Randy Milholland’s creations for Popeye’s Cartoon Club. Turns out, no; he was Elzie Segar’s creation, for a 1931 newspaper promotional piece titled The Private Life of Popeye, his biography as imagined before there were any animated cartoons or much comic strip lore.
Well, Whaler Joe is in Sweehaven to see his daughter Petunia, who I belive is a new character here. At leas, the Popeye Wikia I use doesn’t mention her before. She was an infant when Popeye last saw her, when he was eighteen. We first see Petunia when she happens to ask Olive Oyl for help scaring off some men following her. Petunia’s hoping to be a marine biologist, much like all of us who were kids in the 80s did. But she’s got the help that her father and her big brother are sailors and I guess her great-uncle is Davy Jones. She’s thrilled to meet Popeye, and wants to know everything he’s experienced with sea monsters. Like, now.
And that’s where “Now” is in the comic strip! As I warned above, I’m not sure this is a story strip in the way that, like, Mary Worth is a story strip. But I’m willing to take at least one try at summarizing a strip that’s been a lot of reintroducing obscure characters. We’ll see if that ever needs doing again.
I’m not sure everyone is mad at Funky Winkerbean in its penultimate week. Annoyed, perhaps. Irritated. But mad takes a special level of broken trust between audience and creator. Annoyance or impatience is more appropriate when we-the-audience see where this is going and the story won’t get there.
This week showed, in both Funky Winkerbean and its spinoff strip Crankshaft, all the big characters braving a massive storm to get to the concert. Like, everybody. Summer Moore hitchhikes her way onto the bus from the Bedside Manor Senior Living Home. (The implication is she’s spent the whole day moping and looking at, like, the instant-photo-print-shop her dad’s high school chem lab partner worked at while home from college and thinking how in the end we are all unfocused Polaroids, and now she wants to go see Harry Dinkle’s church choir sing.) The whole staff of Montoni’s. Les Moore and his wife, Not-Lisa, and Not-Lisa’s daughter from her first marriage Not-Summer. Everyone.
So everyone, I trust, gets the reason Tom Batiuk wants this. He’s getting the whole cast of both his strips together so they can bask in one another’s presence one last time. What has gone unexplained, to everyone’s mild annoyance, is the lack of any idea why it’s so important everyone get there. Especially since the church is set in Centerview, the town Crankshaft takes palce in. The Funky Winkerbean folks live in Westview, nearby but still, a bit of a drive.
Especially in the face of a storm that we were told could drop a record amount of snow. It’s the church choir doing a concert that you’d think would have been postponed or cancelled for the weather anyway. It’s not, like, John and George coming back from the dead to play with Paul and Ringo one last time.
It makes sense for Harry Dinkle to carry on despite the weather; that’s almost his defining joke. And to rope his choir into that, yeah, that’s necessary for his joke. Roping the Bedside Manor senior band, that’s his other side gig, in to providing music? Yeah, sure. But once you’re past Sgt Pepper’s Sad and Lonely Hearts Club Band? Nobody else has a reason to be there. The Time Janitor stuff somehow easier to buy, an application of that Father Brown line about Gladstone and the ghost of Parnell. The only person who wants them there is Tom Batiuk, looking to have the whole cast under one roof for the last time, and he gets his way
It would be touching if it didn’t look like the populations of two towns decided to get stuck in a single church’s parking lot.
It reminds me of when Darrin Bell put the comic strip Rudy Park into reruns. Bell had a natural disaster strike that strip and evacuate all the residents to nearby Candorville, his other — and still going — comic strip. Catch here is I don’t believe Crankshaft’s name has been spoken in Funky for, like, thirty years. It started as a cute and even realistic affectation. Characters remembered there had been a cranky old bus driver who said a bunch of funny malapropisms, but not his name. It’s a bit of a disadvantage trying to point readers to your other project, though. Even Ronald-Ann spent a week shoving the name Outland into Opus’s ears before Bloom County ended the first time. Maybe that’s this coming, final, week in Funky Winkerbean. We’ll see, and we’ll see how mad that gets us all.
No, I’m not mad at Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker. Not yet, anyway. The story has been a big conspiracy-tinged murder mystery. I have no doubts about Marciuliano’s ability to create a big, confusing, messy scenario. He’s done it many times, often in interesting ways. But I agree he has a habit of jumping the action ahead a couple months, so we don’t see the exact resolution of the chaos. It’s an effective way to change what the default condition of things is, but it can leave mysteries under-written or under-motivated.
I can be okay with a mystery that isn’t perfectly explained. Heck, I love your classic old-time-radio mystery. Those are all attitude and action and fun dialogue. The story logic is a charming hypothesis. I understand readers who have a different view and understand if they have no faith in where this is going. We readers still don’t know Deputy Mayor Stewart’s reason for framing Abbey Spencer for her bed-and-breakfast’s fire. Whether you can accept that Marciuliano had one for Stewart, I imagine, tells whether you think this mystery has an answer.
Before getting to the recap, a content warning. The story started with murder, and several murders or attempted murders are centers to the action. If you do not need that in your goofy fun recreational reading, go and enjoy yourself instead. We can meet back soon for the Alley Oop plot recap or whatever I get up to next week. I’ll put the recap behind a cut so people can more easily bail on it.
Awakened, Summer decides to go for a walk to clear her head. This takes her on a silent walk through Westview, ending at a closed city pool’s old diving board. From atop the ladder she thinks of how “it doesn’t always have to be rise and decline … we have the agency to flip the script and write a different ending”. It’s a sequence that TFHackett, at Son of Stuck Funky, noticed echoed a story a couple years ago. Funky Winkerbean himself wandered around the place and moped about how your hopes and plans and dreams all get washed away. I understand where Funky, or Summer, might want to do something like this. Everybody needs to spend some time walking around feeling sad. Thing that annoyed me is the Funky Winkerbean characters don’t have emotions besides sadness, so the potency of a good mope is lost.
The idea of closing out the comic strip with farewell visits to all the key places? Good, solid one. Here’s why I’m mad anyway. Summer Moore has not been a character, in the strip, in a decade. She’s appeared a couple times, but she hasn’t got a perspective. I think this past month is the first time we even learned for sure that she was still in college. So her looking at a place doesn’t carry any weight; it’s on us the reader to have a reaction.
This can be fine, if the locations have meaning to the audience. Two of the locations she visited might: the house of band director Harry Dinkle and past Westview High School. Summer wasn’t in band; she played sports so while she knew the band was there she also didn’t care. And while she went to Westview I can’t think of any time she ever reflected on her high school experience. That’s all right; the readers know those spots well enough.
And then we get to the bonkers places to showcase. She visits the house where Summer’s half-brother’s adoptive parents lived when they first got married. Or to speak more efficiently, it’s a house she could not care about. The spot was, as Son of Stuck Funky discovered, shown to readers ten years ago. But who could remember that? And then at her half-brother’s adoptive parents’ second apartment. Comic Book Harriet found these places are versions of Tom Batiuk and his wife’s old apartments. So they make sense as places to fit into the backgrounds somewhere, but good grief. Another spot was a troubled-youth home where Crazy Harry lived for a couple years as a teen. Or, to connect it to Summer, a place where her father’s high school friend who works in a comic book shop now lived as a teen. Again, this can work, if the readers have some reason to connect with it. Summer can’t provide that, and I will wrestle any reader who has feelings about where Crazy Harry lived as a teen.
Thing is the comic strip has got places that would connect to the readers. The high school. Montoni’s Pizzeria, closed last month in a sequence so abrupt it hardly seemed real. The comic book shop. The town park and the gazebo where everything in the world has to visit. Les and his current wife Not-Lisa’s porch swing. Why waste one of the three remaining weeks on things that can’t communicate?
The diving board where Summer makes her observation is getting to where it should be. A diving board has obvious meaning, as a place to ponder frightening transition. And it has a purpose in the comic strip. One running gag in the first decades of the strip was teenage Les Moore failing to find the courage to jump off it. That this is picked well makes the badness of the earlier locations stand out.
And then this Sunday’s strip seems to promise nonsense. It’s Harry Dinkle organizing a church concert and worrying about the weather. This seems so detached from the narrative that … well, there’s gossip about whether Tom Batiuk chose to end the strip or was forced to. There’s always gossip like that whenever a strip ends or changes hands. I’m inclined to think it was Batiuk’s free choice. Ending the comic at the end of its current contract, after it had reached fifty years? That seems fair. And a lot of storylines the last couple years have had an elegiac tone. I mean even more than usual for a comic strip so concerned with how everything is getting worse.
The announcement the strip was ending feels like it came late, about six weeks before the end of publication. But, like, Gary Larson announced he was ending The Far Side only about ten weeks before it closed. Charles Schulz gave only about two weeks’ notice, and he was forced to stop Peanuts for failing health. The syndicate would have given him a dump truck full of money to continue or hire a replacement, but he already had more dump trucks full of money than they did. Bill Watterson’s year-long notice that Calvin and Hobbes was ending was an outlier. Norm Feuti announced the ending of Retail about a month before the strip shut down, again after a bunch of stories suggesting an end to things. I forget how freely Feuti chose to leave Retail behind in favor of writing children’s books. Anyway, my point is the public notice doesn’t seem out of line with other strips that chose to end.
But jumping from Summer Moore atop the diving board to a Harry Dinkle story? That seems like a strip running as the normal routine Christmastime action. And therefore a piece for the “oooh, the syndicate and Tom Batiuk are fighting and that’s why the strip is ending” hypothesis. On the other hand, let me be charitable, and set up to reveal myself a fool. This could be a setup that would logically gather the whole cast together and give them a chance to say farewell things. The pacing of this seems awful — why waste weeks on a Dream Or Was It — but it’s been a while wince Funky Winkerbean drew praise for its story pacing. I give up trying to guess where the story is going, or what behind-the-scenes drama might have happened. I’m just going to share what people are mad about.
Henry Barajas has brought a different style of writing to his and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp. Compared to the Neal Rubin era the stories are much less linear, with many characters having stuff going on at once. And Barajas has an apparent desire to set everyone up with a host of issues. The combination has made the strip — already having a reputation for jumping around, because it often changed scene during a day’s strip — seem more unfocused.
So things are still going on, and the story threads are more obvious when read a week or more at a time. This may be inconvenient for people who can only read Gil Thorp in the newspaper, but, c’mon. People doing that aren’t reading my blog, anyway. Still, Barajas may need more experience with providing background or reminders in the text. It’s a hard thing to do. Science fiction fans call it “incluing” and the daily story strips are a master challenge in doing that well.
Meanwhile, Milford’s been having a good season for the boys football team. After losing the first game the team would go on to a string of of wins, including two wins in a row against Madison, somehow. I assume this was an editing mistake but never saw it explained. Centerpiece for the season — and what I imagine Neal Rubin would have made the focus of the season — is Tobias Gordon. His soccer talent leads Thorp and Kaz to naming him a kicker, and over the season he transitions to being a linebacker. GoComics commenters say this is an improbable turn of events, but I don’t know any better.
Gordon’s progression draws media attention, as he is the first (open) transgender male athlete in Milford football. Early on some of the athletes complain about how Coach Thorp “went and got woke”, talk a win streak squelches. I appreciate the choice to portray treating transgendered people as people as the winning course. But it does carry an undercurrent of “respecting human rights will be profitable” rather than “is what decent people do”. Still, Milford enjoys a good season and is — this week — facing Valley Tech and Coach Martinez in the finals.
Speaking of Martinez. After one of Valley Tech’s wins Martinez describes what his issue is with Gil Thorp. It goes back to the Valley Tech/Milford game of 1987, when he was playing. It was a hard-fought game, and Valley Tech won. But the local press reported on how “Coach Thorp Ends Season Strong”. And now Martinez is out to right that historical wrong.
Anyway, the game was a rough one. Tays sure seems to have done something foul-worthy against Martinez. But Tays fumbles the last play, letting Martinez save the game for Valley Tech. In the 1987 postgame interview Martinez says he hopes “Coach Thorp knows one thing … I’m coming for your spot, Thorp”. Which … doesn’t quite satisfy me? It doesn’t seem to me like Thorp did anything particular besides be the coach he beat in the playdowns. Fixations can be weird, though, and small incidents can curdle in one’s mind.
Other stuff going on. Keri Thorp is having a rough time of it. The school has a mass-shooter drill, with the simulated shooter holding Keri’s class. This is less traumatic than an actual aggrieved white supremacist with a gun collection coming into the classroom, but that’s all. On top of that trauma is a fellow student’s death, identified as “the third overdose this semester”. Three seems very high to me, especially given it was only November, but I understand high school has changed since I was in it.
Dorothy, who’s been bullying Keri (cropping her out of team photos, for example), mocks her for tearing up over this. Kari punches Dorothy, getting her sentenced to counseling through December. I know high school hasn’t changed to much that the worst offense of all is punching a bully. (Many commenters pointed out two years ago we saw a kid expelled for bringing a bread knife in to spread peanut butter on a bagel. Actual violence getting a “talk with someone ineffective” punishment seems like inconsistent standards.)
And in the most important non-student relationship bit of business: Gil Thorp asks Mimi if she wants a divorce. She says she does not, and that she’ll always love him. It doesn’t make their relationship any easier. And I don’t believe Mimi has yet owned up to how her mother is months away from death (and encouraging Mimi to leave Gil). That’s surely a heavy strain that Gil Thorp can’t anticipate or deal with.
Past that there have been a lot of small bits of business. Mimi’s mother noticing how much attention Tobias is paying to Keri, and Mimi encouraging her child if they want to date him. Kaz talking about how happy he is with his partner, maybe wife, Rachel. Keri bruising their ankle in a volleyball practice. Discovering Marty Moon has a two-year-sober Alcoholics Anonymous medallion. (Combined with how amiably he chatted with Gil Thorp back in September, this suggests Moon’s clashes with Thorp reflected alcoholism. I don’t know that Barajas meant that, but it’s a thread for possible exploration.) Thorp saying he’s old enough to have had Cold War civil-defense drills in school. Student Monica Yellowhair preceding her singing the National Anthem with the observation that the school was on stolen land, which narrows Milford’s location down to “the United States”. All told, many miscellaneous things that I’m noting in case they get built on. Or because I took notes and you’re going to see notes. As you like it.
Milford Sports Watch!
Among my notes I tried to keep track of the other schools mentioned in the strip. Here’s my record of them:
For example. Last Sunday Harley explained how “when Susan Smith’s actions threatened the possibility of your parents getting back together before they were married … ” he gave “a gentle push to an already guilty conscience”. We see, in the recap, Les Moore consoling Susan Smith, who’s in the hospital. The reader who doesn’t remember the mid-90s well can understand there was a suicide attempt, but not how this fit together. So.
Story from the mid-90s. Susan Smith, one of Les Moore’s students, has a crush on him somehow. And she’s mistaking routine, supportive comments from her teacher as signals that he’s interested too. This was deftly done, at the time. Like, you could see where Smith got the wrong idea, and where Moore had no reason to think he was giving her signals. And was all funny in that I’m-glad-I’m-not-in-this-imminent-disaster way.
This turned to disaster when Smith learned that Moore did not, in fact, have any interest in her. And, particularly, had a girlfriend, Lisa, who was tromping around Europe for the summer. Most particularly when Les asked Smith to mail out the audio tape he was sending Lisa, with his wedding proposal to her. She destroyed the tape, and tried to destroy herself. The thing that Smith confessed was that she had destroyed the tape and that’s why Lisa wasn’t answering the proposal.
The revelation set Les off to Europe to chase Lisa down, incidentally the first time I ragequit Funky Winkerbean. The thing he kept missing her, getting to tourist sites ever closer to when she left, down to where he was missing her by seconds and the story wasn’t over yet. Anyway, he finally caught up to her in Elea, Greece, at Zeno’s world-famous escape room (it’s a tunnel one stadia long, empty apart from a tortoise and an arrow at the midpoint). As you’d think, Summer Moore got born and all.
I don’t remember, why Les couldn’t send another tape, or a letter, or call like a normal human being might. But I do remember that “intercepted proposal” is a story Tom Batiuk would use again, in Crankshaft. There, Lillian, who I bet has a last name, revealed to her comatose sister Lucy that she was why Lucy’s Eugene stopped writing while deployed overseas. Eugene wrote a proposal letter and promised if Lucy didn’t reply he’d stop trying to communicate with her. Jealous, Lillian hid the letter, and so her sister never married. The story premise might not work for you but it seems there’s something that appeals to Batiuk in it. Also now you understand why Lillian — who’s become a little old lady writing cozy mysteries about bookstore-related murders while running a tiny used bookshop herself — draws hatred from a streak of Crankshaft readers.
Other miscellaneous stuff. There’s a reference to the post office bombing storyline, a 1996 story detailed well on Son Of Stuck Funky for people who want the details. (The story was a loose take on the 1995 bombing of an Oklahoma City federal building by white supremacists.) Harley revealed it was his mental influence that got the band and the football team to donate blood. We should have seen that coming. Why would community leaders come together in a crisis like that of their own free will?
Finally Summer asks whether Harley’s ever ‘nudged’ her mind, a question that can only be believed if answered ‘yes’. Harley says ‘no’ and unloads a double- and then a triple-decker word zeppelin. Its goal: to explain how Crankshaft and Funky Winkerbean both happened in the present but were ten years out of synch with one another. Immediately after Lisa Moore’s death Funky Winkerbean jumped ahead ten years. This allowed Tom Batiuk to skip the sadness of Les Moore getting over Lisa’s death and jump right into the sadness of Les Moore’s inability to get over Lisa’s death. But there was no reason for Crankshaft to jump like that. So, for a long while, when Crankshaft characters appeared in Funky Winkerbean they were a decade older and vice-versa.
Not to brag, but I followed this and even why Tom Batiuk would do that. It’s a riff on DC Comics’s old Earth-1 and Earth-2 and so on worlds. Earth-1 was roughly the Silver Age superheroes, and Earth-2 their 20-year-older Golden Age forebears. Some characters, particularly Superman, appeared in both and so were older or younger when out of their home universe. But it was also confusing to anyone whose brain isn’t eaten up with this nonsense and is why I don’t brag about my brain. And so three percent of the last month of Funky Winkerbean was spent explaining why now Crankshaft won’t be out of synch with it anymore.
A problem endemic to stories about time travellers meddling with history is character autonomy. Add to that Harley’s claimed power to nudge people’s choices — including, we learn, getting Lisa to move back to Westview, and getting Crazy Harry a job with the comic book shop so he wouldn’t move out of town — and Summer has good reason to wonder about her parents. Harley owns up to changing Les and Lisa’s schedules to have the same lunch period. And to set it so nobody else would sit near them. But no, he says, Lisa chose of her own free will to go talk to the only person she could.
Comics Book Harriet, at Son Of Stuck Funky, has an outstanding deep-dive into Les and Lisa’s high school relationship, as it developed in the 1980s. It’s (of course) not this relationship of destiny, but a much more ambiguous and generally funny thing. The element I had completely forgotten is that Lisa started out as a terrible girlfriend. The comic logic is correct: you can preserve Les’s role as a loser if his girlfriend’s a terror. (It does play a bit into a misogynist idea of The Women They Be Crazy Harridans. But when you look at the full cast, with characters like Cindy Summers the Popular But Shallow Girl and Holly Budd the Hot Majorette … uh … well, sometimes you have to go with the cast types that give you scenarios.)
Anyway with that complete lack of reassurance Harley … explains how he got his name? And this was what confirmed I’d need to do another “why is everybody mad at Funky Winkerbean” essay. Because we’re told that when he arrived in Sometime In The Past Westview he needed to establish an identity. He saw a guy on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle and figured, yeah that. I’m not faulting him for choosing a goofy name. He needs to blend in with a community where people have names like “Funky Winkerbean”, “Les Moore”, “Holly Budd”, “Jack Stropp”, “Bob Andray” (cute!) (strip of July 18, 1976), “Mason Jarr”, “Chester Hagglemore”, “Cliff Anger”, and so on. He doesn’t know where to find a level. (I made a version of this crack on Son of Stuck Funky and folks asked why I didn’t list “Harry L Dinkle” among the names. And I don’t know; it just doesn’t strike me as the same sort of goofy as, oh, “Rocky Rhodes” or “Ferris Wheeler” do.) My issue is: he didn’t work that out before leaving his home time? He has a time machine and he couldn’t spend an extra day thinking out his cover? The only way I can see that making sense is if Harley had to leap into the past before he was ready. Since we haven’t seen anyone trying to stop him, this implies some Quantum Leap scenario, where Harley is moving uncontrolled from event to event, forever hoping his next expository lump will be the lump drone.
Oh also, today (the 11th) we learn Summer Moore’s not-yet-written transcendentally important book will also be her only book. As if anyone could live up to that standard. Also that Harley hasn’t messed up the book by telling her this. Why? Because she somehow “figured out” all of this on her own, without sharing any of it with the reader. Good grief.
‘Mud Mountain’ Murphy was a delight to see enter Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D.. Most of the characters, as Beatty writes them, are pleasant enough if a bit vague. Not Murphy, who entered as a Brian Blessed-esque force of nature, all bold text and boundless energy. Story strips do great with outsized emotions and Murphy carried himself so even saying hello was outsized.
During the current story he had to run offstage rather than perform. It looked like some digestive issue, since he had just eaten four steaks, three dozen pancakes, thirty eggs (scrambled), eight gallons of mashed potatoes, a quadruple order of bacon-fried hash browns, two bystanders, six quarts of ice cream topped with twelve bananas, a Honda Civic hatchback, and five packzi. He claimed later that it was all a stunt to make himself the headliner rather than the opener. But —
Well, I noticed some points Terry Beatty dropped. We’re told that Murphy hasn’t performed in a decade. A club owner and another musician say it’s because he was unreliable about actually showing up. When Murphy does appear at the venue he talks about not having any merchandise to sell. Murphy tells a fan who mentions having a complete set of his albums that he doesn’t even have a full set of his own albums. I’d call that good crowd work if it weren’t for other mentions suggesting Murphy’s in dire straits.
When Murphy arrives at the venue Truck Tyler mentions how “I don’t think he’s showered in a while”. Murphy’s diner order is enormous like you expect from a bombastic person. But also like you expect from a starving person eating on someone else’s account. I was a grad student, I know this pattern.
Right now we’re at a point where Murphy’s story is at a sensible conclusion. He’s been a manipulative jerk and got called out on it and the regular cast are done with him. But. There is plenty of material in-text to suggest that Murphy’s dealing with some issues, plausibly a social anxiety, that sabotage his career and relationships. I don’t know whether we’re going to see him rehabilitated in the coming weeks. The room is there, is all I want to flag.
Through the visit Hank and Yvonne talk about their past relationships, and how much comfort they’ve found in each other. How close Yvonne is to retiring and turning the family diner over to her kids. Hank Junior’s challenges caring for his father. And then they turn up in the strip the next day, married.
I found the development interesting. To us readers it’s entirely a retcon; we never saw a word about their relationship before this story. But it didn’t feel arbitrary. I bought that they had a happy long-distance relationship and that it made sense to them to marry on a day’s notice. It seems fast to me, but not arbitrary or foolish. So here’s hoping that all turns out well. And I note that Rex Morgan is up at least three weddings on Mary Worth in the time I’ve been doing recaps, here.
From about the 16th of October the story moved from Hank Jr and Yvonne’s relationship over to roots country singer Truck Tyler, his agent Buck Wise, and returned-from-exile singer ‘Mud Mountain’ Murphy. Murphy’s first gig in a decade is opening for Tyler at Lew’s Nite Spot. Murphy defies his reputation by showing up in enough time that he, Tyler, and Wise can go get a bite to eat. Or, for Murphy, can get all the bites to eat. It’s a pretty fun scene in Nick’s Diner as he charms Wanda, their server, who’s a fan of Murphy. And eats pages three through eight off the menu.
After his Brobdingnagian dinner, though, he gets on stage and looks unsteady. He apologizes and runs off stage, promising to be back in a little bit. Rex Morgan gets ready to do a medicine, but Murphy won’t come out of the bathroom. With the audience growing restless Tyler steps out on stage and reassures everyone that Murphy will be fine once his tummy settles. And he puts on a good show, doing his set list an hour earlier than he figured.
And as Tyler finishes, Murphy emerges, insisting all he needed was a little time for his stomach to settle. He steps out and thanks Tyler for warming up the crowd for him, a joke that Tyler doesn’t laugh at. It gets worse as Murphy repeats the joke. And after the show, talking to Wanda from the diner, he boasts how this was all a fake. He couldn’t face being only an opening act; he had to be the headliner.
Buck Wise is furious, but Murphy says — not wrongly — that it made a good show so what else matters? Well, it’s still jerk behavior. Wise fires Murphy as a client. And Wanda, whose name Murphy insists on pronouncing ‘Rhonda’, says after that stunt she’s nto so much a fan. An angry Murphy storms out, even calling an innocent autograph-seeking fan a ‘loser’. This seems like an end to the story, but, who knows? Besides someone reading this like four weeks from now?
This may be hard to believe but as recently as the 21st of November, nobody was mad at Funky Winkerbean. At least nobody was mad enough at the soon-to-expire strip to click the ‘angry’ react at the bottom of Comics Kingdom’s page. That changed the 22nd, and since the 25th of November there’s been only one day that the strip got fewer than a hundred angry reactions, as of when I write this. So I want to explore that since people mad at comic strips is good for my readership.
So. The current, and it appears final, Funky Winkerbean story began the 24th of October. Summer Moore, the much-forgotten daughter of Les Moore and Dead Lisa Who Died of Death, returned from college. Her absence as a significant character for like a decade was explained as she kept changing her major. Now she’s thinking to take a gap year in her grad studies. Her goal: writing a book about Westview, the small Ohio town where Funky Winkerbean takes place. She figures to write about how the community’s changing over the last couple decades. Her plan is to use oral histories of her father, her father’s friends, and her dead mother’s diaries. Dead Lisa left a lot of diaries. And also a lot of videotapes. She recorded them after she decided it would be easier to leave a lot of video tapes with advice for her daughter rather than not die of breast cancer. (I sound snide, but what did happen was after a relapse she decided not to restart treatment.)
She started just in time! She’s barely decided to write a book when Funky Winkerbean, the character, announces he’s closing his restaurant, Montoni’s. The pizza shop was the social center of the comic strip since 1992. This event went so fast — in under a week of strips they were auctioning off the fixtures — and with so little focus that it felt like a dream sequence.
By the way if this storyline turns out to be a dream sequence, it would both make more sense and deserve even more to be punched.
So after some interviews Summer goes to the Westview High School janitor, a guy named Harley. Who turns out to be a longtime background character; ComicBookHarriet found he entered the strip no later than 1979. Summer says she kept finding a pattern, not shared with us readers, where Harley’s name popped up too much. And she read something in her mother’s diary about feeling watched. Harley curses himself for being a novice and starts to unreel the story that’s got everyone mad.
Because it turns out that Harley is not merely a janitor who’s been there since before they invented high-fiving. No. He is, in fact, a Custodian, one of a group of people from some other time, with a mission to tend “important nexus events in the timeline” so they’re not disrupted. You know, like in Voyagers!, which you remember from my childhood as somehow the only TV show even more awesomer than Battlestar Galactica. Or like the early-2000s Cartoon Network series Time Squad, which answered the question “what if Voyagers! had three main characters but they were all jerks?”
So he’s been around for forty years watching over Westview High School as a janitor. Apparently it wasn’t intended, exactly. It’s that his Time Helmet got stolen, years ago, by … Donna, who back in the 80s wore this goofy space-guy-ish helmet to play video games as “The Eliminator”. Part of modern Funky Winkerbean lore was that she had worn the helmet to disguise her identity. This way, fragile boys wouldn’t freak out at a guh-guh-guh-girl being good at video games. (Which, eh, fair enough.) (Also she got her Mom to call her ‘Donald’ to help her cover.)
We’ll get back to this in a second. But a lot of what has people mad about this is that the strip revisited The Eliminator’s helmet a few months ago. This in a story where Donna’s husband, Crazy Harry, found the helmet in the attic, put it on, and found himself somehow back in April of 1980. He met up with his high-school self. He told Young Lisa that Les Moore liked her in a not-at-all extremely creepy way. He almost told her to get regular mammograms. He bought a copy of Spider-Man’s debut (a comic book twenty years old at the time) at a convenience store. And lost it, for John The Comic Book Guy to find. And he blipped back to the present. Everyone agreed that was wild. It must have been a hallucination from the helmet outgassing, the way 40-year-old plastic will. Anyway after that weird yet harmless experience they throw the helmet out. But a stray cat wandered into it and blipped into hyperspace. This in just the way The Eliminator would back in the day.
Back as it were to the present. So, Harley took a job as a janitor to be where he could watch over stuff. OK. He lost his Time Helmet when the young Donna swiped the cool-looking helmet form his supply closet. He couldn’t snag it back because that would disrupt the timeline. But he could touch her mind enough to make her think she’d made it herself, like she’d always told people. And touched the mind of comic book artist Ken Kelly to make a design that Donna would use as the basis for her helmet. Because that’s easier than touching Donna’s mind to bring the helmet back. And all this mind-touching isn’t creepy or weird so you will stop thinking it is, starting now[ snaps fingers ]. Anyway he figured he could always snag the Time Helmet if he really needed it … except that then it went missing a couple months ago and he has no idea where it went. It’s that cat wearing it.
There’s the first big thing everyone’s mad about: how the heck does it make sense to leave the Time Helmet lost in someone else’s attic for 40 years? And was his mission supposed to be “hang around Westview High School for forty years in case something happens?” And if that was the plan, then what Time Admiral’s great-grandmother did he punch out as a baby to draw that assignment?
Next big thing: what big nexus is it he’s there to protect? And can we shut down everything if his mission was being sure Les Moore wrote How Dead Lisa Died In The Most Tragically Tragic Thing That Ever Happened To Anyone Ever? In a twist, considering Dead Lisa has been the center of most every Funky Winkerbean story the past fifteen years, it is not. No, the thing that needs protection is the book that Summer Moore is about to start writing.
Yes. As you might think if you watched Bill And Ted Face The Music but missed the movie’s thesis that utopia can only be created as an active collaboration of all people, Summer Moore’s going to create a utopia. Specifically, her book connecting the grand sweeps of history to Westview inspires “a science of behavioral-patterend algorithms that will one day allow us to recognize humanity as our nation!” If I have this right, Harley means she lets them invent psychohistory, like in Isaac Asimov’s science fiction novels. In The End of Eternity and Foundation’s Edge, Asimov’s capstones to exploring the implications of a mathematically predictable future history, he concluded psychohistory would be a bad thing. I have to paraphrase because I don’t have the energy to dig up either book. But viewpoint characters come to see the future psychohistory creates as “condemned to neverending stasis by calculation”. I agree we could make a much better world if we treated all people as worthy of our brotherhood. But if the powerful can choose to shape future history they will not choose one for the good of the powerless.
So that’s what else has people mad. First, the declaration that yet another character in this strip is going to become an important author. Authors already in the strip have written a blockbuster biggest-movie-of-the-year superhero franchise, a bestselling memoir that got turned into an Oscar-winning movie, and an Eisner-winning graphic novel. Second, not even an important author but someone who makes a better future. Third, an author whose work is so important it’s worth having a league of Timecops send one of their members to while away his life watching over her. But not someone good enough to do things like “not lose his Time Helmet for forty years”. Also not good enough to “maybe get a job somewhere near where Summer spends ten years in college”. Or even a job “where Summer spent anything but four years of her life”. Fourth, that it’s toying with some respectable comic book or science fiction ideas, badly. As said, it’s fiddling with what you see in the Bill and Ted movies, or with The End of Eternity, but missing their points. And, what the heck, because all this is being presented in big blocks of exposition rather than, you know, a mystery. Summer’s presented in-text as though she had cracked an elaborate mystery. But we-the-readers never saw any clues or even more than maybe two people mentioning the janitor had been here forever.
Oh also, that we’ve never seen evidence that Summer writes, or is any good at writing. Sometimes a newcomer has an amazing talent, yes. To get back to Isaac Asimov, he write “Nightfall” — acclaimed for decades as the best science fiction short story ever — when he was about twenty. It was only his seventeenth published story. Writing about the experience, Asimov noted that, had someone told him the night before he began writing, “Isaac, you are about to write the greatest science fiction short story ever”, he would never have been able to start. He’d have been destroyed by the menace of that potential. I think we don’t have enough time for a clash between forces helping and hindering Summer’s writing. I can imagine the story, though; Jack Williamson wrote something like it, in the Legion of Time. I’m told, anyway. I haven’t read it.
Anyway, everybody likes that the strip is trying to go out bonkers. But it’s fumbling the ideas, so the plot points don’t hold up to casual scrutiny. And they’re being delivered in time zeppelins of word balloons. I’ll try to post updates, when they’re deserved. But again, Son of Stuck Funky is the place to really know what’s going on here.
Andy Capp, meanwhile, hasn’t made any acknowledgement, at least in strips run on GoComics. I can’t say whether this reflects the lead time of the strip or what. The comic strip did join in the celebration of Charles Schulz’s centennial this past Saturday, but that’s something anyone could have known was scheduled for almost a hundred years. They’re probably not working a hundred years ahead of deadline, though.
After a lot of running late I wanted to prove I could meet my own deadline, okay? Also I’m probably going to want to explain why everyone’s angry at Funky Winkerbean soon and I’ll need to clear some publication slots for that, too.
The Phantom, his wife, and of course Devil were exploring the Temple of the Gods. This ancient lair held an Egyptian cult, long ago. And also inhuman mummies. And the relics of ancient battles, including a particularly bloody one that the Third Phantom barely survived back in 1624. He tried to keep his descendants from visiting again, down to using hieroglyphic riddles in his Chronicles to conceal the place.
The current Phantom has visited at least twice, exploring some of the place in the comic strip in 2005. (There were sequel stories by Team Fantomen in 2006 and 2007; I don’t know whether they returned to the Temple.) He’s there now pursuing a German team that got its host mauled on-camera and, apparently, knows something, somehow, about all this.
The past months have been The Phantom and Diana Walker exploring the caverns. They had a first remote encounter, aware that something was watching them. They were easy to scared off, though. Further exploring found the skeletons of ancient battles, and the mark the Third Phantom left at his ne plus ultra. They press on, farther than the 21st Phantom had gotten. They find remains of a much more recent fight, one with animal-headed people whose bodies haven’t even decomposed. And hear … something.
The Phantom sends Diana ahead, with the torch, while he hangs back in the shadows. He sees their follower, a woman, and says they’re friendly, they don’t need to be stalked. Diana hears a load roaring. She and Devil race back to The Phantom but that’s all we have seen yet.
What terrible medical condition in roots-country singer Mud Murphy did we see Rex Morgan, M.D., very nearly treat? Food poisoning? Irritable bowel syndrome? Crippling social anxiety? Or is he a big lying liar who tells big lies? I explore Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. next week, and just guess which day I do it!
This Saturday, the 26th, is the centennial of the birth of Charles Schulz. It’s possible to imagine what comic strips would look like today if he had gone into some more likely profession, with great effort. Rather than repeat things that everyone is saying about him, though, let me point you to a pleasant newspaper feature about it. The Santa Rosa Press Democrat, hometown newspaper for Schulz’s adult life, published a special section about him on Thursday. All the articles also have a slideshow, some of them with rare pictures, such as showing the Snoopy illustrations that Schulz drew in a rehabilitation exercise room from a 1981 hospitalization.
While we were all distracted with GoComics being broken, Comics Kingdom went and broke themselves. Well, changed, although the specifics of the change damaged something. Comics Kingdom replaced the commenting software used, moving away from Disqus and to OpenWeb instead. Along the way, this lost all the comments people had made, for years, on all of their strips. It’s yet another reminder that corporations are not only bad stewards of public platforms, they are hostile and destructive to it. I grant there’s limited value in reading how angry people can be when a comic strip makes a reference aimed at the young folks. But it’s good to see what people’s impressions of these strips were at publication. And many commenters are good enough to explain referenced older storylines or now-obscure characters. All of that connective tissue is gone now.
Anyway Dawn thanks Mary Worth for helping her see that letting Mylo go after he broke up with her was good for their friendship. But we have to have some thanking of Mary Worth or it’s not a plot. And on the 18th of September we go around the horn and see everyone content. Mylo and Jess are enjoying each other’s company. Dawn is happy she’s alone again. Wilbur Weston is content to spend more time with his sandwiches. Stella is singing with her cat and dog. And then Dr Jeff comes over so he and Mary Worth can agree how they’re a great couple with a way better relationship than anyone else has. Also they are definitely not getting married. And that takes two weeks.
The 3rd of October starts the current story. It’s about Iris and her much-younger computer-game-guy boyfriend Zak. I bet one or both of them have last names, but if they don’t, pick any that you like. I’m going to say one of them is “Beedie”. They’ve had a great relationship despite the unconventionality of her being older than him and knowing of obscure, hard-to-find movies like Casablanca. So well, in fact, that Zak proposes, catching Iris completely off guard.
Iris, having been married before, doesn’t want to do that again. Zak is crushed but accepts that she would rather keep the relationship as it is. She does agree to a long-delayed hike at Piccadee Falls and, sweet Zak, that’s as good as marriage to him. How can you dislike a guy who’s that able to bounce back from depressing news?
Oh, right, because he’s got the judgement of a jack-chi puppy in a chocolate store. He demands a selfie from the edge of the waterfall, declaring, “Not even the Gods themselves could make me fall off!” Well, what do you know but Parakutes, the Ancient Greek God of Plummeting, is in a grove nearby and, well, there we go. Zak clings to a branch, something he can do for the rest of his life. But Iris is able to overcome her fears — and her fear of her own frailty — and pull him back up.
Back on safe ground they hold each other tight. And Iris realizes her fears of marriage are nothing compared to how she feels about Zak. Is it just anyone who would rather he did not die? No. She accepts his proposal, the 6th of November, which might be the first time in my tenure covering these strips that we’ve achieved the summum bonum of Mary Worth.
Or almost achieved, anyway. Even a small, modest ceremony takes time to arrange. Iris hurries to Mary Worth to tell her the good news that she isn’t dead, and neither is Zak, and so they’re getting married. Mary Worth seems so surprised by this that she’s left saying stuff like “Are you referring to your previous married state versus his inexperience with matrimony?” that even Tom Batiuk says is not how people talk. Commander Data pops in to offer to punch that line up a little. Anyway, Mary Worth is so happy they’ll be able to celebrate the unconventional love of a woman who’s older than the man. And that is our happy (US) Thanksgiving-week resting point for Mary Worth.
Dubiously Sourced Mary Worth Sunday Panel Quotes!
“I’ve learned that love, not time, heals all wounds.” — Andy Rooney, 4 September 2022.
“Some of us think holding on makes us strong but sometimes it is letting go.” — Hermann Hesse, 11 September 2022.
“And if by chance that special place that you’ve been dreaming of … leads you to a lonely place, find your strength in love.” — Linda Creed and Michael Masser, 18 September 2022.
“Familiar acts are beautiful through love.” — Percy Bysshe Shelley, 25 September 2022.
“Growth is the only evidence of life.” — John Henry Newman, 2 October 2022.
“Marriage is a gamble. Let’s be honest.” — Yoko Ono, 9 October 2022.
“If you don’t lose, you cannot enjoy the victories. So I have to accept both things.” — Rafael Nadal, 16 October 2022.
“It’s a good thing to learn caution from the misfortune of others.” — Publilius Syrus, 23 October 2022.
“Love is what you’ve been through with somebody.” — James Thurber, 30 October 2022.
“Ultimately, love is everything.” — M Scott Peck, 6 November 2022.
“Life is a collage of events, really.” — Mohanlal, 13 November 2022.
“The real meaning of enlightenment is to gaze with undimmed eyes on all darkness.” — Nikon Kazantzakis, 20 November 2022.
GoComics is still suffering from being incredibly knocked out. This doesn’t require me to postpone my Mary Worth plot recap. Mary Worth runs on Comics Kingdom, which had an ordinary-for-it glitch Monday where the non-vintage strips didn’t update. That cleared up, though, and it didn’t affect the archives anyway. No, I’m delaying Mary Worth partly to share what I know about GoComics and partly because I figured back on Thursday to write a rough draft and make things easier for myself, and then I sat down and watched a cartoon for a while, and then it was Tuesday afternoon.
Anyway. GoComics has been weirdly reluctant to share information about what’s going on. Once again D D Degg, at The Daily Cartoonist, has some information. According to the Arizona Daily Star, GoComics company Andrews McMeel is having “apparent cybersecurity issues” and they’re working on fixing it, but don’t have word on when that will be. When I just looked at GoComics it offered this not-quite-reassuring notice.
Anyway if it is a cybersecurity issue, that could mean anything. But it likely is a good time to change the passwords on any accounts that share the one you use for this silly low-priority web site you use to say nice stuff to the person who draws Amanda The Great on. (Also Amanda The Great is a sweet strip and you should say nice stuff to her.)
And I’m not saying that Tom Batiuk is the problem, but have we ruled out that Tom Batiuk is the problem? Because Degg also reports that Tom Batiuk and Dan Davis’s Crankshaft is to move to GoComics with the start of 2023, as the strip changes syndicates again. I assume this means Comics Kingdom will take down its Crankshaft archive. I don’t have any information what it means for the Funky Winkerbean archive on Comics Kingdom. If you’ve got a favorite strip you’ve been meaning to download or have printed on a mug, maybe do that sooner rather than later.
So there’s some news I was not expecting, even though there was foreshadowing in the text. According to D D Degg at The Daily Cartoonist, Tom Batiuk is bringing Funky Winkerbean to an end with the end of December 2022. It’s about fifty years and nine months after the comic debuted. This comes shortly after a somewhat confusing storyline where the characters got together for the 50th anniversary of their graduation, which happened in 1992 to readers or in 1988 (in-universe), but, you know. It sort of makes thematic sense for an anniversary of the comic strip’s existence, and it makes even more sense as a harbinger of the artist retiring.
Folks in the Funky Winkerbean Snark Community started speculating that the strip might be at an end soon. I didn’t think it likely since Tom Batiuk seems to be of the older generation of artists who keep on the strip until ten years after his death, but I suppose we all change our minds about these things sometimes. The suggestion got more prominent with an odd storyline a couple weeks ago where Montoni’s Pizza — the centerpiece of the comic since it moved out of high school — announced its closing and we saw bits of an auction of its effects. The announcement was so sudden, and given so little weight — it started mid-week, and the strip moved away from the theme midweek — that it hardly seemed real.
That retirement moved from subtext to text this week, when Ruby Lith — one of a number of old-time comics artists moved to the in-universe Atomik Comix — announced her retirement. And then we got the announcement, as posted on Tom Batiuk’s web site. Batiuk says he figures to occasionally post new Funky Winkerbean stories at his web site, and that he’ll keep doing Crankshaft, possibly with the Funky characters making more appearances there. We’ll see.
So those ads I was complaining about yesterday? Comics Kingdom wrote back. They explained they had changed to a new company providing “programming” and they’re working on the problem which should be solved soon. I am filled with no confidence because it’s been nine months since the Sunday comics problem started and they’ve done nothing about it. Also, they’re calling advertisements “programming”. They are “programming” only in the propaganda sense of the word.
Also for what it’s worth I started clicking on the little ‘Stop seeing this ad’ box. Google Ads told me OK, they won’t show this particular ad again. And three links after that, guess what was back? It’s wild that there’s such a sexual harassment problem at Google, isn’t it?
Cherry Trail returns, fruit basket in hand. She means to apologize to Violet Cheshire for accidentally trespassing and ask if they could tone down the toxins. Cheshire’s instantly suspicious, and nearly panics when Cherry says she wants to talk about Ernest. Cherry can barely talk about the Lawn Libation chemicals before Cheshire denies having an affair with Honest Ernest. Also, Ernest comes up with a bouquet of flowers declaring he doesn’t care who knows about his love. Although he’s a little embarrassed to say it right in front of Cherry Trail. Cherry talks with Mark about this; on the one hand, it’s rotten to Cheshire and Ernest’s partners. On the other, it’s not specifically their business. It’s something that ran into them like a rampaging elephant or something.
Speaking of rampaging elephants. The story Mark Trail passed up? You know, to cover Tess Tigress’s Tiger Touch Center? And work alongside stunt-driver-turned-naturalist Rex Scorpius? That other story was an escaped elephant reported in four states. Keep that in mind.
Mark Trail snoops on the reclusive Rex Scorpius, and finds he’s Facetiming his dog back home. Mark Trail shares his own Facetiming with his dog, and they bond over having dogs who helped them through traumas. So they’re new friends as the arrive for the first day of shooting with Tess Tigress. Diana Daggers starts things off polite but vicious, complimenting her “roadside zoo”. Tigress declares they won’t have her bad vibes and kicks her out. This leaves an unprepared Mark Trail with directing duties since, hey, photography is pretty much like directing, right? Well, it worked for Stanley Kubrick and I bet some other director too.
Tigress leads them on a tour that threatens to be so exciting and adorable as to overwhelm one’s senses. It’s exciting and thrilling and magical to hold a tiger cub. Should a cub be separated from their mother so young? There must be a lot of people paying cash for seeing so many tiger cubs; does the volunteer staff get paid? Or deeper questions, asked when Tess Tigress isn’t around to glare at volunteers. Where are they getting enough meat for the animals? Do they have a vet on-site? Have they harmed other animals? That rogue elephant, is she moving in this direction because she remembers a traumatic experience with the Tiger Touch Center?
Jiffy, one of the Tiger Teammates, says they don’t have a vet, and half their animals are sick. And there’s a “weird trailer” they’re not allowed in because that’s where Gemma the Rogue Elephant’s cub is kept. The staff sleeps in tents, and there’s not resources to care for the animals. Mark Trail’s ready to investigate the weird trailer, when he’s interrupted by Tess Tigress and Rex Scorpius.
Tigress and Scorpius have been committing acts of canoodlery almost since first meeting. I’m not sure is this is strategic on Tigress’s part. It’s wise if it is; Scorpius’s infatuation makes him dismiss Mark Trail’s concerns. It may be sincere, though. Scorpius was a celebrity stunt driver and became a Bikbok star animal-wrangler. He seems attractive enough in his own right. Scorpius’s angles are clearer. He’s been going through a rough time. He abandoned stunt driving after a severe crash and found that being a video star is hard, unfulfilling work. And Tigress fits neatly with a fantasy he’s had since his childhood favorite superhero movie had “the ultimate catgirl”. (I don’t know if that’s an elliptical way of saying Catwoman, of if the character is literally named Ultimate Catgirl.) But between that transferred crush and her warm, inviting, accepting pose he’s fallen hard for her.
And foolishly, too. This past week we saw him shirtless and chained down in an arena for the “Tiger Truth Ceremony”. He can be part of Tigress’s family if he proves himself true, by the tiger not mauling him. Her other five boyfriends didn’t pass but he’s feeling good about this. Until Mark Trail reminds him: if something goes wrong who feeds his dog? Scorpius has a moment of life-clarifying doubt, but the tiger is already loose.
So is Gemma, the rogue elephant who it turns out was heading right for here, and smashes into the arena.
That closed out last week; this week has been back on Cherry Trail’s storyline.
Sunday Animals Watch!
Scorpions, 28 August 2022. Note: not former stunt-driver turned Bikbok star Rex Scorpius! Know the difference!
Armadillos, 4 September 2022. Apparently armadillo litters are identical pups, which seems like something that should’ve been used in more kids shows.
Lawn Chemicals, 11 September 2022. Just use native grasses and if you absolutely must have a uniformly green lawn, try food dye.
Monarch Butterflies, 18 September 2022. If you’ve got some milkweed you could do the butterflies a solid.
Horned Lizards, 25 September 2022. Also known as the ‘horny toad’ because of its after-dark account.
A good deal of September and October in Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley starred mall-based piano player Sir Terrence Smiles. He was illustrated with that odd specificity that inspires the question, was this based on some real person? And yes, it was. I admit I know this only because of a comment the 15th of September by charliefarmrhere over at GoComics, but I can pass that on. Sir Terrence Smiles is a riff on Terry Miles, a YouTube guy who plays boogie woogie at shopping malls. Here’s a five-minute video with one example of this. Seems like fun. Miles has a whole YouTube channel of this stuff and that’s all I know about him and his groove. I trust he’s flattered to inspire a comic strip character.
Boog’s fantasy of building a spaceship for Jimmy had faded, last I checked in, replaced with building a model. He impresses his would-be girlfriend Charlotte with the toy, and everyone gets excited to launch it. Polly the parrot even calls Gasoline Alley Television to get some media coverage for the model rocket launch. This doesn’t pan out to anything. They show up after the accidental launch. But it does foreshadow the Gasoline Alley media coming around for the current story.
Polly sits on the remote control by accident, launching the rocket inside the house. It flies around, smashing up everything, just before Jimmy and Charlotte’s parents get home. They’re okay with this. Charlotte’s Mom says they were going to get new lamps and vases anyway, and jabs her husband in the gut until he agrees they totally were. You know how the women-folk be with the shopping.
So, the 14th of September, the story transitions from all the model-rocket stuff to the mall. Jimmy discovers Sir Terrence Smiles at the piano, playing boogie-woogie. Smiles is a relentlessly cheerful, enthusiastic person, and he encourages Jimmy to sit up and play with him.
This takes us onto a conflict-free patch of story. It’s all about Smiles and Jimmy playing together. Jimmy’s a novice; Smiles is a most enthusiastic … teacher isn’t the right word. But the person introducing him to piano-playing. This includes some fanciful scenes, the sorts of nonrepresentational mood imagery that Scancarelli does well but not enough. It’s a nice depiction of struggling to learn a little of playing music. And then we get into some silliness, Smiles’s getting his sock stuck in the piano keys somehow and going on from that for a while.
Jimmy’s parents come over; he never answered their texts about it being time to go for ice cream. Smiles talks about how Jimmy’s got an impressive ability, and he goes with Jimmy and Charlotte and parents to the ice cream place.
And so, with the 10th of October, we start the current story. It’s a Walt Wallet story. He’s working on his bucket list, in the touching belief that he might someday die. He has a couple of the wide-eyed ambitions any of us might, like walking on the moon or skydiving. He’s also got one that seems so mundane it ought to be possible: riding on the back of a garbage truck. It’s one of those fanciful ideas that caught him in childhood, to the disapproval of his teachers. They didn’t like the idea of his being a cowboy, either.
Rufus and Joel, junk dealers, are glad to give Walt a ride on their mule-pulled wagon. But that’s not the fantasy, which is to ride a garbage truck like Denzel Washington rides in the movie Fences, which I never saw. Rufus and Joel ask their friend DC, who’s in the city Refuse Department. DC would be glad to, if that were possible. The city’s garbage trucks don’t have running boards or grab bars anymore. The yard waste trucks do, but they’re not used, and anyone letting someone ride on them would get fired fast. Even if that person weren’t eight years older than the number zero.
All may not be lost, though. Hulla Ballew — failing for once to identify herself as Bob and Ray reporter Wally Ballew’s sister — hears something’s up and wants to know what it is. She also forgets one time that she works for the Gasette, introducing herself as working for the Gazette instead. How will this lead to a happy conclusion? Is there a happy conclusion possible? We’ll see over the next couple months.
The current story in Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy has Robert Parrish, who’s been paying for his acting career by stealing cars, stole a cop car. One may ask why any criminal with a lick of sense would do that. And the answer is that it wasn’t, you know, a cop car. The thing with the seal of the city and some motto about serving and protecting on it. It was the blue sedan owned by a a person who happens to be a cop, in this case, Sam Catchem. It happened to have some of Catchem’s work gear inside too. But the robbers have no idea they’re getting a cop’s car; it’s just, a car.
So this should catch you up to the end of October 2022 in Dick Tracy. If you’re reading this after about December 2022 a more useful plot recap should be here. I’ll also post any news I get about the comic strip. Now on to the last couple months and how the Earth got saved from conquest plus right before a musical went into production.
14 August – 29 October 2022.
Dick Tracy accepted Moon Governor Thorin’s invitation for him, Honeymoon Tracy, and Mysta Chimera to visit the Lunarian hideout. This so Honeymoon and Chimera could learn something of their heritage. The heritage is of pulpy 1930s sci-fi adventure, with big angular architecture and psychic powers and snail-based economies and all. Also so Tracy could learn there’s a rogue faction respecting their pulpy 1930s sci-fi heritage by conquering the Earth. And what do you know but Ro-Zan is preparing to launch his conquest of the Earth, like, tomorrow! To show he’s serious he orders the electro-killing of Marina, who pointed out this was madness, madness I tell you, at the pre-conquest rally.
Marina’s friend Shay-Gin flees the rally to tell Tracy and Thorin what’s happening. They choose to go to the space coupe hangar, to see Ro-Zan’s weaponized space coupes and get ambushed. That plan succeeds, and Ro-Zan orders his men to electro-kill Tracy and Thorin. Tracy faces the electro-firing squad with a strange calm and also Mr Bribery’s ring to neutralize Lunarian powers.
The ring does more than neutralize the powers; it shoots the electro-kill ray back at the firing squad. It’s dispersed or something enough to only stun them all. Tracy and Ro-Zan get into a Star Trek fistfight, the only way to overcome this genre of villain for good.
With the conquest of Earth halted, Tracy asks what the Moon Government will do with the coup plotters. Thorin promises the New Moon Valley has a zero-tolerance policy about crime. It’s a reminder that this sort of pulpy 1930s sci-fi has a technocratic fascism built into it. It’s things to think about, especially as Tracy refuses to turn over Mr Bribery’s ring. Thorin considers how they have to rethink their zero-tolerance policy, especially as he can’t execute Ro-Zan, his own brother.
Which, first, yeah, zero-tolerance policies are generally bad as they squeeze out judgement. Especially when it’s about something like execution, which you can’t repair if you get a judgement wrong. But Ro-Zan was trying to overthrow the government and conquer the world, which needs a serious response. On the other hand, Thorin thinks of how they need to find a ‘permanent solution’ to handling crime and again with the technocratic fascism.
Back to the text. Liska — who’d been sweet on Dick Tracy — gives him a gift of some Lunarian ground-escargot coffee, a reminder of nice times in the valley. And the Lunarians conclude this isn’t the right time for them to engage with the whole world. Not until they can get their taking-over-the-world problem dealt with. Tracy et al return home, and we return to mundane plots.
I’ll handle some small ones that seem to be threads for another day. The first, explored for a few days in mid-September, was about the Cinnamon Knight. He’s retiring from his costumed-vigilante superhero thingy, and going to the Police Academy. The second, getting a couple in late October, had a man with no clear pupils sorting through papers. He finds an old note from ‘Harold and Winifred’. The name, and art style, suggests Harold Gray, creator of Little Orphan Annie (his wife was Winifred). We saw this paper-sorting fellow a couple months ago, with a narrative box promising that he’d be important to Tracy someday. How has yet to transpire.
Also the strip took a two-week pause for a ‘Minit Mystery’, written by Walt Reimer and drawn by Joe Staton, who only retired from the strip a year ago. That one broke from the Minit-Mystery format, offering an ‘adventure’ instead. It had significant-looking funny names were there, people like Wren Christopher and Dr Anita Bath. But it was about a museum theft of precious artifacts like the Froyne of Layven. It didn’t have any element of ‘why were the boots wet but the umbrella dry’ sort of reasoning.
The big story, though, started the 16th of September and it’s still going on now. It’s instigated by Vitamin Flintheart, whose newest play is the musical Funny Papers. It’s a history of the comics, told through the history of the comic strip Derby Dugan. In our reality this is a series of novels by Tom De Haven, with illustrations by Art Spiegelman. In the Dick Tracy universe it was an actual comic strip that Tracy’s sidekick Sam Catchem is a huge fan of. And that’s got a musical, now. Derby Dugan, the strip, evokes a lot of Little Orphan Annie; I don’t know if this will tie in to that fellow with the letter from Harold and Winifred.
Fellow name of Robert Parrish really wants to perform as Pinfold, the street urchin who inspires the Derby Dugan character. He goes to his uncle Steelface, who runs a car-theft ring. Steelface feels like a long-established character to me. His gimmick is he was an arc welder who got enough metal embedded in his body that he wears magnetized plates on his head. But I can’t find him in the Dick Tracy Wikia. Could be Curtis and Pleger created someone new who feels like an established villain. (Steelface’s real name is given as Arceneaux, last name unclear. I guess Parrish but can’t say for sure.)
Parrish easily snags the Pinfold part. And Sam Catchem is so eager to see the rehearsals he asks Tracy about 400 billion times if Vitamin Flintheart would do the favor of letting him. Since Tracy’s saved Flintheart’s life about 400 billion times this is easy to arrange.
Catchem and Parrish get to nerd-pair-bond over their Derby Dugan fandom. When Parrish gets a phone call from Steelface, though, Catchem’s alert. He fills Tracy in on how back in the day he and the Boston police tried to bust up Steelface’s car-theft ring. Meanwhile Steelface’s call is for Parrish’s help: they don’t have enough cars and Parrish is really good at lifting them, and owes a big favor. The time-pressed Parrish swipes something right next to the playhouse. It turns out to be Sam Catchem’s car.
Parrish is horrified to have accidentally grabbed a cop’s car. Steelface isn’t. For one, it’s freaking hilarious. For another, there was cop gear in it, including one of the wrist radios that Tracy’s unit uses. Steelface’s group can use it to monitor the cops and, like, clear out their chop shop ahead of the raid.
And this is where we’re standing as of early November.