What’s Going On In Mark Trail? Who Are These Guys Mark Trail Is Punching? October 2018 – January 2019


If you’re trying to understand the current storyline in James Allen’s Mark Trail, this is a good piece to read. Unless it’s later than about April 2019. If it is, I’ll probably have a more up-to-date plot recap here. Good luck finding what you need.

If you need discussions of mathematically-themed comic strips, you can find some on my other blog, and I’d be glad if you tried them out too.

Mark Trail.

21 October 2018 – 13 January 2019.

My last check-in on Mark Trail had almost no Mark in it. Instead, Rusty Trail and Mara, a girl he met on the plane down to Mexico, took the lead. Rusty and Mara noticed assistant archeologist Becky was passing artefacts to someone who didn’t look like he was a museum. They follow the man, Juanito, to the nearby town of Santa Poco. There he explains to them he’s a courier, but they’re welcome to come with him since this isn’t a great part of town.

Narration: As Rusty and Mara try to catch up to Juanito, Raul has taken to the rooftops in order to locate them. (A toucan flies up toward Raul.) Raul, thinking: 'Me, on a rooftap, looking for two brat kids ... this is NOT how I would've imagined my life would turn out!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 19th of November, 2018. You forget how weird the theme song to Friends gets in the third verse. But that’s what you get for going back and listening to the “full” version of any TV show’s theme songs. They’re all either nervous repetitions of whatever the part that came on-screen was, or they’re weird riffs on the TV show lyrics that have maybe aged in unfortunate ways. Looking at you, Cheers.

Pursuing Juanito, Rusty, and Mara, is a motorcycle-riding, long-haired guy named Raul. Raul has some connection to Joe/José. José’s been truck-driving for the archeologists. And also watching all this artefact-passing. And making suspicious-sounding CB radio calls to Raul. So when we left off we were looking at a motorcycle-fueled chase in the bad parts of Santa Poco. Rusty and Mara were in the company of a man of unknown-to-us objectives. And they were pursued by men of unknown-to-us objectives. A bit confusing, yes, but the last several months of strip have given some clarity to who’s trying to do what and why.

Rusty and Mara run down an alley. Raul calls out, claiming to be a friend of Mark Trail’s. They don’t buy it, and find a lucky hole in the wall to dig through. Raul calls José, asking him to call Mark back into the story. He’ll chase the kids. And warns he’s going to leave his bike “in this nasty alley with rats … big rats!” It’s a declaration so intense I feel like it’s got to refer to something, but I don’t know what. José does call Mark, promising to explain everything when he gets there.

Mark: 'You don't think anything strange about Jose?' Carter: 'Well, now that you mention it, he seems more highly educated than most of the guys that grew up here in the jungle like he claims, but I think he did mention going away to school somewhere!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 27th of November, 2018. “I suppose I do occasionally think about if José were a robot made of Moon Cheese and whether he’d still like me if he were, and whether that answer would depend on whether he were a hard or a soft Moon Cheese robot. That’s kind of a strange thought about José, but … I mean, why do you wonder, Mark Trail?”

Mark asks senior archeologist Howard Carter (get it?) if there’s something funny about José. This allows us to enter into the plot that José seems “more complicated” than they expect from their truck driver. But they allow that he seems more educated than the average person around town. Mark figures, what the heck, let’s see what’s going on.

Raul, on the rooftops, takes time from yelling at toucans to notice them. He misses one leap from rooftop to rooftop, and falls through a skylight. He lands on the supper table of a couple who take a man falling through their roof in distractingly good spirits. They listen to his story of chasing someone around town all day. They offer him some landed-on empanadas. And they let him throw a lamp through the window to get out because the door was in the wrong direction? He leaves them money for the damages, at least.

Raul: 'Something smells delicious!' Scared Man: 'That's my wife's cooking ... you landed in it! All of her food is delicious!' Raul: 'I certainly believe that from the smell!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 7th of December, 2018. So I’m no good at small talk. If I had just fallen through someone’s skylight and smashed onto their dinner table, flattening their supper, I would never think to talk about the pleasantness of that room’s odors.

It’s a bizarre interaction. What it read like was a comic beat in a genially dopey mid-80s movie that’s trying to be Romancing The Stone. You know, about forty minutes in, and the protagonist finally realized he has to do something about the people who stole the necklace that woman stuffed in his carry-on, and he pratfalled out of his chase, and now the director’s mother who’s thrilled to be in a movie is cleaning him up. It may be James Allen was going for that effect.

Scared Woman: 'I'm sorry to hear that [ you've been chasing someone all day ]. Take some empanadas and some churros with you. Maybe they'll pick you up some, and you won't look or feel so tired when you finally catch whoever you're looking for!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 11th of December, 2018. And see again, if some strange man crashed through my ceiling and landed on my supper table, and shared with me a story about how frustrated he was chasing someone through the city all day, I wouldn’t think to talk about how my cooking might be a useful pick-me-up. This is because I am deeply incompetent at promoting my brand.

Rusty and Mara figure they’ve escaped Raul. They figure to find Juanito by using the tracking app on the phone they dropped in his backpack. Juanito’s not looking for them. He’s delivering Becky’s artefacts to some silhouetted figures. They chuckle about how the collectors buying smuggled artefacts will give them a nice Christmas bonus. The chuckling happens right before Christmas, reader time. It makes an odd bit of time-binding for the story, though. Story strips are vulnerable to some weird time dilations. Like, this story, which has run since April, has been only a couple of days for the characters.

Anyway, the boss, Boss, and his underling Jefe, are barely done giggling about this when the phone rings. It’s Rusty’s Mom calling. Boss, Jefe, and Juanito realize they’re in a lot of trouble when Cherry Trail addresses them by full name including their middle names. Raul curses Rusty and Mara for following the tracking app right into Juanito’s boss’s lair. He figures it’s time to call José.

A phone inside the backpack rings. Boss: 'Juanito, you know how I feel about cellphones in here!' Juanito: 'That's not my phone ... I turned mine off!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 21st of December, 2018. “We have talked about this! Cell phones are pleasant. But it is their nature to spoil people’s abilities to be fully present. Instead of experiencing as a coherent whole what you are doing in person, or what you are doing with your online community, you experience this shadowy, half-dreaming state. You feel alive, because you’re twitching in response to interruptions. It’s thrilling, but it doesn’t satisfy your need as a social being to participate in things. You’d do better to set time to be wholly present in person, or wholly present online, and experience the healing action of emotional and mental continuity.”

José meanwhile is talking with Mark Trail, and Professor Carter. He’s finally collapsing the quantum waveform of sides and motivations of this story. José’s an undercover cop, which according to the rules of Mark Trail puts him on the side of Good. He’s been undercover, investigating Becky for smuggling archeology. Rusty and Mara saw one of their agents at the temple. They pulled that agent back, and sent in Raul to intercept the kids. So yes, Raul may have spent months in the story grumbling about Rusty and Mara, and thinking of them as “those brats”. But he’s not a bad guy, he just doesn’t feel as though he has to like two kids he doesn’t know and who’ve been making his life harder. It’s a step toward more real characters in Mark Trail. It means someone can be on the Good side without liking the lead characters.

Now they know where the kids are, but also that Boss, Jefe, and Juanito are there too. So they figure, better to bring along Mark Trail, in case somebody needs punching.

And boy do they ever need punching. Mark recognizes Boss and Jefe. They were in a story in early 2016, from just before I started recapping plots regularly. Back then Boss and Jefe were smuggling humans into the southwestern United States. It partly showed off the ecological consequences of this. And partly got Mark Trail and company caught in an endless yet fascinating series of caves. That storyline left the human-traffickers’ fates unresolved. That alone was a major change from the linear, self-contained stories of Jack Elrod.

Mark, furious: 'You tried to kill me and my friends by dynamiting us in a cave ... then you left us for dead!' (He punches Boss, in a dramatic scene where Boss, upside-down, flies at the camera with Mark finishing his punch, tiny, in the centerbackground.) 'WHERE IS MY SON!?'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 12th of January, 2019. I’m aware that many of the strips I excerpted here weren’t that visually exciting: a lot of tight shots of people’s faces. Well, the first panel brightens things up by showing Mark Trail making the eye expression that Michael Dorn had to use whenever Worf felt an emotion. And that second panel is a solid “Yeah, so this is why we started reading Marvel Comics in the 60s” image.

And I know, you’re wondering: wait, they’re trafficking humans and they’re smuggling pre-Mayan artefacts? Aren’t those separate lines of work? All I can say is that the gig economy is becoming more respectable, and there’s now ways for everyone in the underworld to pick up a side hustle. Boss and Jefe signed up early for Smuglr. It’s the crime-sharing app that’s disrupting the traditional black markets by cutting out the hench-middle-men. And it’s one I’m happy to welcome as the newest advertiser on my podcast.

One might ask how a reader should recognize these guys. They were a small presence a couple of years ago and in a very different context. But, hey, Funky Winkerbean expects readers will thrill to recognize names from the supporting cast of John Darling. And that’s not weird at all. So I don’t know what to tell you. Well, Mark’s filling everyone in.

And finally, after several stories of nothing more exciting than islands blowing up, Mark Trail is punching baddies. This probably indicates that the story is coming near an end. It’s been a big one; it started back in April. All the major narrative questions are answered, or looking nearly answered. There have been a couple stray bits. But I’m going ahead and supposing any weirdly specific detail never mentioned again is a reference to something I haven’t seen. I’m thinking of the Zuni fetish doll delivered anonymously in a box and that gets moved during the day. I’m sure that means something.

I just know I’m going to have to re-use the follow-up question for this plot summary. But, what the heck. It’s the question that people reading this essay would want answered.

[ And tracks down 'Mark Trail' ] Griffy: 'No, she doesn't have an ear tag or a tufted forelock.' Mark Trail: 'Sorry, Chief --- if she's not tagged or tufted, I can't help you!'
Bill Griffith’s Zippy the Pinhead panel for the 20th of August, 2002. Part of a storyline in which a “realistically drawn woman” interrupts the comic and Griffy (left) goes on a search through the story comics to try to find where she belongs.

Sunday Animals Watch

What amazing yet endangered animals, plants, or natural phenomenon have been highlighted in recent Sunday strips? These.

  • Parsnips, 21 October 2018. Apparently they can doom you!
  • Tegu Lizards, 28 October 2018. We’ve gotten them to be invasive to Florida, so, good work everyone.
  • Giant Silk Moth, 4 November 2018. They seem to be doing all right for themselves.
  • Japanese macaques, 11 November 2018. Not actually threatened, which seems to break the rules for non-human primates.
  • Naked Mole Rats, 18 November 2018. You just know they’re going to make Rufus some other species for the live-action movie.
  • Hammerhead sharks, 25 November 2018.
  • Green Crabs, 2 December 2018. They’re going invasive, but they’ve inspired one area of Italy to try making them dinner, so that’s something I suppose.
  • Wondiwoi Tree Kangaroos, 9 December 2018. So for 85 years westerners only knew of it from one sample, but last year British naturalist Michael Smith took some photos of one, so, they’re probably not doing well but they’re not actually extinct yet?
  • The Jacuzzi of Despair, 16 December 2018. It’s a 100-foot wide zone, three thousand feet deep in the Gulf of Mexico, that’s too briney for anything to live, which is neat and weird and unsettling.
  • Frankincense, 23 December 2018. It’s not just for making Christmastime jokes about Frankincense’s Monster anymore!
  • Manatees, 30 December 2018. Incredibly endangered despite being crazy popular.
  • White Lions, 6 January 2019. Unbelievably endangered. This one mentions particularly a sterile white lion in danger of being auctioned off, possibly to canned-hunters.
  • The Lowland Bongo, 13 January 2019. Not threatened yet, but the year is young.

Next Week!

I spent so much of 2018 infuriated with Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth. Did I spend the end of 2018 and the start of 2019 similarly angry? Check back in next week and we’ll see!

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What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? What happened for the Gasoline Alley centennial? October 2018 – January 2019


Thanks for checking in on Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley, now into its second century. If you’re reading this far in the future of January 2019, there’s probably a more up-to-date plot recap at this link.

And yes, Joey Alison Sayers and Jonathan Lemon take over Alley Oop with their first strip slated to run tomorrow. I’ll write about it if and when appropriate. The last of the Jack Bender and Carole Bender reruns offers a cliffhanger, Ooola facing a sabre-toothed tiger, that started off a new story when this first ran in 2013, but I don’t know whether Sayers and Lemon will want to take up this hook.

Last, I talk about mathematically-themed comic strips over here. Yes, Andertoons will appear soon.

Gasoline Alley.

14 October 2018 – 5 January 2019.

When I recapped the plots in mid-October, Gasoline Alley was in the Old Comics Home. This is a fantastical place, filled with the characters from mostly long-gone comic strips. They were holding a celebration of Gasoline Alley‘s centennial, starting ahead of time. Mutt, of Mutt and Jeff, was emcee.

Gump: 'At his worst, my cartoonist could draw better than yours, Mutt!' Mutt: 'Your guy couldn't draw his breath, and you know it, Andy!' Gump: 'If he was doing this strip, you'd regret it!' Mutt: 'If my guy was doing this strip --- you wouldn't be!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 30th of October, 2018. This kind of exchange — possibly this exact exchange, mutatis mutandis — would appear when Jack Benny or Fred Allen visited the other’s show and groused about who was getting the better lines of dialogue. That feels to me like a sufficient reason for Scancarelli to write this joke, and maybe to set up a whole Mutt-Gump feud. … Also, while Mutt doesn’t really have anybody drawing him anymore, he has appeared often enough in Scancarelli’s visits to the Old Comics Home that he feels, to me, at least part-time adopted by Gasoline Alley in a way that the Gumps don’t. So it reads to me weird they’re writing this as if it were neutral ground.

October saw Mutt and Walt Wallet explaining early events in Skeezix’s life. The mail-in contest that got his unused name of Allison. The hiring of caretaker Rachel. The adoption of a pet dog and a cat. The question of whether Mutt looks like Andy Gump. You know, of the hit 1920s serial melodrama comic The Gumps. There is some resemblance. Maybe Gumps cartoonist Sidney Smith did take a few elements from Bud Fisher’s Mutt and Jeff. Maybe it was quite hep in the 1920s to joke about Andy Gump being a clone of Augustus Mutt. (I mean, even their names are similar.) I never heard of such, though. It seems like a weird diversion for Gasoline Alley‘s centennial.

But this is an example of a thread in Gasoline Alley’s centennial celebration. Jim Scancarelli would fill out the panels, and the storyline, with comic strip characters from the long-ago days. And I would disappoint Roy Kassinger. I’d have to admit I don’t recognize any of the characters from Dok’s Dippy Duck. And I only know the figures everyone recognizes from Fontaine Fox’s Toonerville Trolley. I know what everyone says about reading the comments. But GoComics.com has a good community of people who can pin down character cameos. It’s worth checking the full comments if you see a figure that’s got to be from something and don’t know what.

Mutt: 'Skeezix! You were really in the thick of things during WWII!' Skeezix, narrating: 'Yeah! One night we were on our way in Jenny the Jeep from repairing a Howitzer, when ... ' (And showing recreated footage of Skeezix and partners in the jeep, and a nearby explosion overturning the jeep and throwing them on teh ground.)
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 12th of November, 2018. The redrawings of old strips does underscore, besides Scancarelli’s abilities, just how much more action there used to be even in the non-adventure story comics. I’m not asserting that I want, say, Mary Worth to go to a war-torn site. But some adventure and action does give a strip suspense, and a reason to look forward to the next day’s installment that isn’t (say) about rolling your eyes at Tom Batiuk.

Gump and Mutt come close to a fight, and then write the whole thing off as an orchestrated joke. This doesn’t actually make sense — it was set off by a chance comment by Walt Wallet — but who cares? Everyone gets back to highlights of Gasoline Alley‘s history. Like the time, after Walt Wallet and Phyllis married, when they found another abandoned baby, this time a girl dubbed Judy. Before we can start asking what kind of reputation the Wallets were getting the story advances to World War II. Recapped here — surely not coincidentally the week of Armistice Day — was Skeezix’s wounding in World War II. We see only a few moments of it. It’s easy to imagine the suspense of the events.

And then another interruption from an ancient comic strip character. This time it’s Snuffy Smith, pointing out how the comic strip he took over from Barney Google is about to turn 100. Where’s his celebration? This befuddles Mutt. Smith, ornery in a way he hasn’t been in his own comic strip in decades, starts a grand custard-pie fight. And this silliness is what’s going on when the strip takes a moment the 24th of November, 2018, to observe its centennial. With a strip that got used for the 90th anniversary, a choice which logic I’m still not sure about.

A strip commemorating Gasoline Alley's 100th Anniversary, showing the hand of Jim Scancarelli doing realistic illustrations of past Gasoline Alley cartoonists Frank King, Bill Perry, and Dick Moores.
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 24th of November, 2018. For the next day, the Sunday strip, Scacarelli drew an ornate ‘100’ figure, with insets of the signs ‘100 Years on One Tank of Gasoline Alley’, Benjamin Franklin congratulating Walt on his century mark, and Walt answering, “I’d say the same to you, Ben, but no one will get it”, while holding up a $100 bill. Which might be overexplaining the joke, but is probably about the right amount of explanation so that a bright eight-year-old poring over the strip would get it and feel smart, which is one of the things comic strips should do.

Despite the intervention of Fearless Fosdick the custard pie battle rages. Walt Wallet and Skeezix decide to leave. This again passes up the chance to let Walt die of old age or prevent noodges like me pointing out the man is three years older than the Ford Motor Company. Or, for that matter, seven years older than the comic strip Mutt and Jeff. All right. They return their custard-stained tuxedos to sales clerk Frank Nelson. (Who’s working, I noticed this time, at Tuxedo Junction, a name I imagine is a reference to the Glenn Miller song.) So there’s the indignities of dealing with him. And a total $400 cleaning bill. And, on top of that, a parking ticket.

Skeezix: 'I am so sorry! I put my parking ticket in by mistake!' Sidewalk Santa: 'We all make mistakes!' Skeezix: 'Here! I'll trade you this for my ticket!' Sidewalk Santa: 'A $20 bill? May your kindness never be obliterated!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 19th of December, 2018. I don’t know whether this is a Santa figure who’s appeared in the strip in past years; I wouldn’t be surprised if it were. I also wouldn’t be surprised if the figure appeared in one of those storylines with the punch line of “wait, if that was just a sidewalk volunteer then why do we hear reindeer hooves on the roof?”.

The parking ticket — received the 15th of December — starts the segue into what looks like the new storyline. Skeezix, grousing about the ticket, accidentally drops it in a street Santa’s donation box. Skeezix swaps that out for a $20, and then grumbles about giving away money he needed. And then finds on the sidewalk enough cash to pay his ticket, affirming the sidewalk Santa’s claim about how God will be generous to the generous.

Skeezix heads to City Hall, where he runs into Rufus, of the Joel-and-Rufus pair. Rufus we last saw in November 2017, before the strip went into unexplained reruns. That was a story about him courting the Widow Emma Sue and Scruffy’s Mom. She probably had a name of her own. But she was also pursued by Elam Jackson. Rufus was heartbroken by Jackson proposing marriage. But he had just learned The Widow had turned Jackson down. That’s not resumed, or even mentioned, here. It’s the first chance to, though. This is the first story since the stretch of reruns that wasn’t about the centennial.

Rufus: 'Miz Melba! 'Scuse me for protruding! But after I dumps yo' trash, I ... would yo' join me in a cup o'coffee?' Melba Rose: 'Rufus! Don't be silly! We couldn't fit in a cup, separately or together!' (She has a thought balloon of the two of them inside a giant coffee cup.)
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 4th of January, 2019. I think the good mayor is overlooking some fine coffee- and tea-cup rides still present at many amusement parks. Just saying.

Rufus is working as janitor. He’s smitten with the Mayor, Melba Rose. He asks if she’d join him in a cup of coffee. She answers that the two of them wouldn’t fit, indicating that the mayor is either Gracie Allen or Commander Data. While I have my suspicions what sort of character she’ll be, I don’t actually know yet. And I don’t know whether the earlier storyline, abandoned but at a natural stopping point, will get mentioned.

The whole centennial celebration leaves me, as ever, with mixed feelings. The device is a good one. And it’s one appropriate to the comic, playing as it does on Scancarelli’s love of older comedy. And on the Old Comics Home that’s been one of the comic’s recurring scenes for ages now. And reviewing the strip’s history is a great use of the premise. And the conceit that the audience is every comic strip character ever is also great. Plain old recaps of plot developments are boring. Breaking them up with jokes or slapstick or cameos from other characters allows for good pacing. Also for Scancarelli to show off that he can draw every comic strip character in history. (I know, I know, he’d pick ones his style made convenient, or practice ones he absolutely needed until he got three panels’ worth of good art. But it’s a good stage illusion of omnicompetence.)

But the execution fell short. What actually got recapped? That the strip started out as a couple guys trying to make cars work. That Walt found and adopted Skeezix in an event that got nationwide publicity. Then some weirdly fine-detailed things like how Walt hired a housekeeper, or how they adopted some pets. Later, World War II happened. And that’s it. Time that could have outlined the Wallet family tree went instead to real-life centenarian Gasoline Alley fan Peggy Lee. Or to how Mutt, who’s appeared outside of Gasoline Alley as recently as the Reagan Recession, looks like Andy Gump, whose strip ended the 17th of October, 1959. That’s literally so long ago that Linus Van Pelt had not yet said the words “Great Pumpkin”. It’s fair to suppose someone reading in detail about Gasoline Alley‘s centennial is interested in comic strip history, yes. But it’s fair to expect the story to be about Gasoline Alley. The in-universe story, yes. Maybe reappearances from Gasoline Alley characters who have died or wandered, unexplained, out of the comic. Maybe something about Frank King, its originator. Or about Bill Perry, Dick Moores, and Jim Scancarelli, who’ve written and drawn the strip and who don’t get so much attention. A storyline that’s gone from July through December, and that has a goal of one task, shouldn’t feel like it wasn’t enough time. But it does feel like the centennial didn’t get some important things done. Maybe the bicentennial strip will summarize everything better. We’ll check back in in 2119.

Next Week!

Mexico! Mysterious artefacts in the Yucatan! The strange and wonderful wildlife of Central America that we somehow haven’t killed yet! Yes, this storyline is still going on in James Allen’s Mark Trail, but never fear! I’ll catch you up!

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? What is a “Neighborhood Bank” Scam? October – December 2018


If you’re looking for a recap of the plot of Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy, good news! This is a useful spot for that. If you’re reading this after about March 2019 there’s probably a more up-to-date recap. It’ll be at this link.

And while I missed my deadline today, it was for the mathematically-themed comic strips I review at my other blog. But there are many essays in there already, and I hope there’ll be another there tomorrow. You might enjoy that too. Thanks.

Dick Tracy.

7 October – 29 December 2018.

The major storyline when I last checked in regarded Polar Vortex. He’s running drugs, under guise of an ice cream vendor, at Honeymoon Tracy’s school. Henchman Pauly, following Vortex’s direction, grabs Crystal Bribery. And, against Vortex’s direction, also grabs Honeymoon Tracy. And, probably against Vortex’s direction, clobbers Henchwoman “Devil” Devonshire. She’s left behind, for the cops. She stays quiet until threatened with hanging out with new Major Crimes Unit smiley guy Lafayette Austin.

Polar Vortex: 'You're back, Pauly! Did you get the Bribery girl?' Pauly: 'Yes, and the Moon kid too.' Vortex: 'Why, Pauly? I told you I didn't want her!' Pauly: 'Tracy will come for her. And I'll be waiting.' Vortex: 'I had a time and place for you to kill Tracy!' Pauly: 'You put me off too long. TRACY's MINE!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 12th of October, 2018. You know, henchmen wanting to kill Dick Tracy at some other time than what the crime lord wants is rather a recurring theme of this comic strip. They maybe need some task-coordinating software to sort this out. Also, kidnapping Honeymoon Tracy is also a recurring theme. Might want to let the crime lords know that the premise was tried a couple times and it didn’t work the way they wanted.

Polar Vortex and Pauly get to fighting in their hangout. Pauly’s ready to kill Vortex, who’s got the cavalry on the way. He’d taken Honeymoon Tracy’s wrist-wizard communicator out of the ice cream freezer. For some reason Pauly thought this would inactivate it. Tracy and Sam Catchem bust down the door and get into a shootout with Pauly. Pauly lives long enough to say that all this was for his father, Crutch.

… Which you’d think would be a big deal. Or which would be a big deal if it got some attention. Crutch is a character from the very first-ever Dick Tracy storyline. He was the gunman who killed Tess Trueheart’s father. It was the case that brought Dick Tracy into the scientific-detective line. I didn’t recognize this, no, and needed GoComics.com commenters and the Dick Tracy Wikia to guide me. Which all highlights some cool and some bad stuff about Staton and Curtis’s run on the strip. They’re incredibly well-versed in the history of the comic strip and can pull out stuff from about ninety years’ worth of stories. But when they’re doing this isn’t communicated well. To put Dick Tracy up against the son of the first man he gunned down? Good setup. But we didn’t know that was going on until that son was gasping his last breaths. Pauly’s role could be any henchman’s. So, what was the dramatic point made by linking him to the murderer of Tess’s father? In a way that you would never guess without auxiliary material?

Sam Catchem: 'He's down, Tracy!' Tracy, grabbing Pauly by the lapels: 'Where are the girls? TELL ME?' Pauly: 'You #$@&( Cop! The girls are safe ... this was for MY FATHER, CRUTCH ... ' (And an inset panel shows a picture of the original, 1931-era, Crutch, so far as I know.)
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 18th of October, 2018. It’s not me, right? There is something morbidly funny about Pauly’s life here being defined by getting revenge on Dick Tracy, but his being such a marginal figure he’s in like two weeks of strips and gets killed without anyone even really knowing who he is?

Maybe it doesn’t need a point. Life is complicated and messy and has weird links. Maybe Polar Vortex wanted someone who’d try something stupid like this, and summon Dick Tracy’s attention. Tracy does investigate Vortex’s business. I thought he didn’t find anything, but the 18th of November Tracy mentions that Vortex is out on bail after drug-trafficking charges. The kidnapping he seems to get a pass on, even though kidnapping Crystal Plenty was part of the lost plan. Vortex does say he had a plan for killing Tracy, and this was too soon. Maybe Vortex’s plan went wrong. But I’d feel more sure if I were clear on what the plan was.


Well. The next big plot thread started the 21st of October, with the introduction of the (imaginary) comedy duo Deacon and Miller. They’re getting a revival, with a film festival hosted by Vitamin Flintheart plus a new syndicated newspaper comic strip based on the pair. … Which might be the most implausible premise I’ve seen in this strip. And this is a strip that has telepathic, psychokinetic Moon Men and a guy who used a popcorn maker to shoot someone.

The revival’s funded by a trust set up by Miller, redeemable after 40 years. There’s a bunch of money in it, and Polar Vortex has got himself named trustee. And I’m confused on just how myself. It was described as a “neighborhood bank” plan scam. I’m not sure what this is. It reads like the mark (Dick Miller of the comedy team) was convinced to put money into a fake bank. But the scammer went ahead and actually invested it, and pretty well. And I’m comfortable with that, that far. The scam where it turns out to be easier to go legitimate is a fun premise. I loved it in the movie Larceny, Inc. (Well, the movie circles that premise anyway.)

So then to the present day. Vortex got charge of the money, and went looking for Peter Pitchblende. Pitchblende is the grandson of Miller, and rightful heir to all this money, and the point person for this whole revival. Vortex’s plan seems to be to get Pitchblende to sign over the money to him. There’s something I don’t understand in the phrase “neighborhood bank” scam, but I haven’t been able to work out what from the strip. I would understand embezzlement. I don’t understand why Vortex can’t just take the money without involving Pitchblende. Also it seems like the revival got started before Vortex contacted Pitchblende. But that might be that the revival would have been airy plans until Vortex dropped the promise of money into it.

Pitchblende, on the phone to a creditor: 'I'm sorry, Mr Daily. I'll check into it immediately!' Pitchblend, calling Devil: 'Hello, Ms Cypher? I got a call from Mr Daily at the Patterson Playhouse today. They haven't been paid yet.' Devil: 'If you check your copy of our contract, Mr Pitchblende, you'll know we have 90 days from the first notice of a bill to pay it. You gave us their bill just this week.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 19th of November, 2018. Fun activity puzzle challenge: identify a sentence which starts “if you’ll check your copy of our contract” and yet which ends with good news for the person being spoken to. Difficulty level: not in the final scene of a musical comedy where the protagonist is worrying about how he’ll afford to get married when his only asset is that song he sent in to the music publishers.

Well, Vortex’s plan seems to be … being very slow about repaying Pitchblende for out-of-pocket expenses with the Deacon-and-Miller revival. That at least seems like a workable start to a scam. Vortex claims this is a temporary sideline from his drug-dealing at schools. But it’s hard, especially with a small group. And I’m not sure he understands just stealing money. Like, I’m pretty sure even with a drug-oriented racket he could fake Peter Pitchblende’s signature on stuff. Anyway, he feels the personnel shortage. So Vortex hires some guy he sees talking confidently at the coffee shop. The guy’s named “Striker”, or as we know him, Lafayette Austin. (Austin is getting a lot of attention this year, mostly working undercover in foiling various villains.)

Devil, mourning her workload: 'Blah! I hate being stuck at this desk all day! I'll be glad when this Deacon, Miller, and Pitchblende business is over!' [ Elsewhere, at a coffee shop ] Vortex, drinking his coffee: 'I need someone who's good at customer relations.' Austin, next to him: ' ... when all was said and done, not only did the customer reinstate the order, he doubled it!' Vortex: 'That's the man I need!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 23rd of November, 2018. So I was workshopping this joke about job-seeking web sites that advertise on podcasts for Evil Masterminds, and I while I might still do that one, I give it freely to any sketch comedy groups in need of a premise. What I’ve got to thinking now is: how in the name of heck did Lafayette Austin figure out to be at this coffee shop at this time, and to start talking about his good customer-handling skills right where Vortex could overhear? And he goes on to talk about his cover story being taken. I’ll grant the cops working out that Vortex goes to this coffee shop regularly and planting Austin there. (It still seems weird to think of crime bosses just going to the coffee shop on the corner though, doesn’t it? I mean, I guess they must, but still?) And I’ll grant Austin overhearing Vortex talking about something he needs and improvising an appealing cover story. Coming up with stories like that on the fly is a decent actor’s challenge and probably a skill you pick up fast if you’re going to be an undercover cop. But this means Austin and his handlers were figuring that Vortex would someday be in the coffee shop, talking to himself about needing someone to do a thing. Why would they figure on that happening?

Austin, working undercover, is able to get at Vortex’s files by the cunning plan of being left alone in the room with them. Vortex likes Striker’s energy. He doesn’t like that of street-level pusher Ballpark, who’s been using the drugs instead of pushing them around some. Vortex sends Ballpark to “the bell tower”, which is a literal bell tower. There’s some setup about the experimental infrasound system being good for … well, it’s got to be killing, doesn’t it?

Start of December. The police sweep up drug dealers around Honeymoon and Crystal’s school. And over the rest of town. The cops close in on Vortex and Devil, up in the bell tower. I’m not sure he did get to killing Ballpark, or ever using this infrasound bell tower death machine. Maybe that’s left for a future villain to use, although I’d hope it gets a fresh introduction and explanation of what it’s supposed to do then. The story’s been one of those with a strong enough line of action that you seem like a spoilsport complaining about key parts of it not explained. It makes my life harder.

(Shootout at the bell tower.) Catchem: 'Tracy! Polar has a gun!' Tracy; 'DROP IT, VORTEX! This is your last chance!' Vortex holds his gun, more feebly, and drops it without shooting Tracy.
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 9th of December, 2018. I don’t quibble with Vortex not being able to actually shoot a person, even someone he hopes to kill. There’s a difference between ordering someone killed and doing it yourself and I’ll give Vortex difficulty making that leap.

Vortex tries to, but can’t shoot Tracy. He’s arrested. Austin finds the documents showing that Pitchblende should have the Miller-investment-inheritance. I really don’t understand what the setup of that was. But they turn over the money to Pitchblende and the show can go on. The show features Vitamin Flintheart, playing himself, in a musical based on J Straightedge Trustworthy. This is an in-universe comic strip inspired by and parodying Dick Tracy.


The 16th of December, I believe, starts a new plot. It opens at the Wertham Woods Psychiatric Facility (get it?) where Tulza Tuzon kills several doctors and escapes during a blackout. Tuzon’s better known to the cops as Haf-and-Haf. He’s got a reputation for breaking out of psychiatric hospitals. Last time he did, he got sprayed with some caustic waste, burning half his head. So since then he calls himself Splitface.

He makes for The City, where high-diving star Zelda The Great is performing. This all gets Tracy’s attention. Tuzon is something of a tribute act. Ages ago Tracy “put away” — I don’t know if he means jailed or killed — a serial killer named Splitface. The original Splitface’s ex-wife is Zelda the Great. Haf-and-Haf is also reported to have developed two alternate personas. That’s a development I’m sure won’t mean that I have to provide a content warning about mental health next time around.

But! That’s on hold for two weeks as the strip does another Minit Mystery. This one written by Donnie Pitchford, who writes and draws the Lum and Abner comic strip. And which makes me finally, about two months late, recognize what “Peter Pitchblende” is a reference to. So, y’know, anyone looking to me for insight please remember that that’s the level I’m working at.

(The Si and Elmer referenced in that strip was a syndicated serial comedy. It’s listed as an attempt at cloning Lum and Abner. I am not sure that both shows aren’t more properly clones of Amos and Andy, with hillbilly rather than blackface comedians. Si and Elmer were elderly small-town residents who decided to go into the detective business. At that point in their own series, Lum and Abner were a justice of the peace and the town sheriff, which makes them almost on-point for a Dick Tracy crossover. I haven’t listened to any of the episodes. Apparently something like 95 of the estimated 130 episodes made survive. That’s an amazing record for early-30s radio. Here are something like 67 of them available for the listening. There might be others elsewhere on archive.org.)

So I don’t know anything about the Minit Mystery besides what you saw in today’s strip. I’ll recap that and whatever this Haf-and-Haf/Splitface plot develops in a couple months’ time.

Next Week!

Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley is a hundred years old! How many of those years did its centennial celebration run? What happened with Peggy Lee? Did Walt Wallet move into the Old Comics Home? Find out here, in seven days, or, y’know, skim through the strip yourself. You’ll probably make a pretty good estimate.

What’s Going On In Prince Valiant? Did Prince Valiant get back home yet? September – December 2018.


If you’re interested in the plot of Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant you’re reading a correct web site. If it’s later than about March 2019 I probably have written a more up-to-date plot recap. That should be available at this link. So are recaps of the last two years of the comic strip’s action.

Also, on my other blog I read the comics for their mathematics bits. You might like that too. I’ve also just finished 26 posts explaining mathematical terms that were mostly fun to write. Could be fun to read.

Prince Valiant.

30 September – 23 December 2018.

My last recap of Prince Valiant came at the end of Senator Krios’s story. He was caught trying to sell out the Misty Isles to (Byzantine) Rome, and fled his homeland. The last panel of the strip from the 30th of September promised “The Return”, and I guessed that might be Valiant getting back to his own strip.

So it was: the 7th of October a ship carrying Valiant and his party came to the harbor of the Misty Isles. Valiant leapt from the boat to swim ashore, apparently a tradition. And he met up with Aleta who’s there to swim naked with him. So that’s a nice bit of getting-together.

And then began several weeks of what felt like a weird epilogue. Val, Karen, Bukota, and Vanni regale a fest with tales of what all they were doing out in the far east. They were finding Vanni, I gather. They started off before my first What’s Going On In post about the strip. But apparently not much before my first post. He recaps the tyrant Azar Rasa. And those refugees saved from various brigands. A couple of the many overturned rafts they survived. And then they get back to Krios.

Karen continues the story of an unpleasant meeting on Carpathos: 'As the tavern owner was showing me to my room, the gambling man with the wild, fixed stare leaped out from hiding! He struck, I parried! And all the while he cursed me as the cause of his ruin! Then, before I myself could incapacitate this madman, Father crashed onto the scene and, well, you know Father.' Val interjects: 'I did not want to kill him, but his wild rage left me little choice. He had clearly confused Karen with some other who had driven him to insanity.' 'Then,' concludes Karen, 'one of the other gamblers came up and offered how he could not understand how a man on such an amazing winning streak, gloating over the fortune he would rebuild, could so suddenly be driven to distraction.' Aleta and Valeta, Karen's twin, smile to themselves --- they understand. Justice can be strange, but Krios's story is now done.
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 18th of November, 2018. So now let me debunk the idea that I’m of any use telling you what’s going on in these stories: until that last panel I had not picked up on Karen and Valeta being twins. I just figured, oh, Krios saw a family resemblance and reacted to that. I’m just not that good with faces. I think half of what I like in comic strips is that since everybody has one outfit I can use that to tell who’s who.

Valiant doesn’t know it’s Krios; he missed the whole treachery story. All he knows is they were at Carpathos, a few days’ sail from the Misty Isles. There in a tavern they encountered someone who looked like the Senator. Who saw them, left the gaming tables, and charged Karen. She and Valiant fought back and. At least according to Valiant he had “little choice” but to kill Krios.

I can’t fault it as a postscript. I mean, it seems like a reasonable and absurd sad finale to Krios’s life. But it feels also a bit much. After all, his scheme already failed so dramatically as to end his career, kill one of his sons, estrange him from the other, and send him into exile. Being killed in a tavern brawl seems like piling on. But it will happen. That, the 18th of November, has got to be the end of Krios’s story, for real this time.


'Bukota', says Aleta, 'acted very oddly when I told him that his beloved Makeda was coming to visit the Misty Isles. He seemed upset.' Val replies: 'Bukota and Makeda have a complicated relationship. He was insanely jealous of the soon-to-be-queen, even to the point of actively harming her protector, that Norse rogue Skyrmir. Of course, he later redeemed himself as he stood between her and Twedorek's rebel army. Aye, he was fearless in her defense, and we slew shoulder to shoulder until that tide was turned! Even so, the victorious Queen Makeda was duty-bound to punish his previous misdeeds. She could justifiably have had him executed but, tellingly, she chose to send him into exile, as ambassador to Camelot.' Aleta answers reassuringly: 'As I would have for you, my dear, but I see why Bukota would feel apprehensive as to how Makeda will receive his presence here. And look how our Ab'saban friend vents his frustration on the training fields! He is reducing all his sparring partners to rubble!'
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 2nd of December, 2018. Goodness knows I don’t have the time to go archive-binging and exploring the distant past of the story strips like this, but I am holding it as an idea in case I ever do some kind of Patreon-like project. But I do regret that fact sometimes, especially when I see stuff like this battle against an army of gargoyles or bat-men.

The 25th of November started what looks like the new story. It begins with news Queen Makeda, of the House of Ab’saba, will be visiting. This promises to set off all sorts of complicated feelings from Bukota, what with how he’s exiled from Ab’saba. This all I didn’t know, but the strip gave the background. His heroism protecting Makeda from a rebel army didn’t negate his previous, jealousy-fueled, attack on her bodyguard. So he was exiled as ambassador to Camelot which I infer is how he fell in with Prince Valiant and all. Bukota puts all his feelings into sparring on the Royal Training Fields and trying to keep a stoic face as his queen arrives. This gets foiled as she notices him. And that’s the point our story has now reached.

Next Week!

Watch me try to summarize three months’ worth of Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy while still keeping up with everything Christmas expects me to do! I’m not going to make it!

What’s Going On In The Phantom (weekdays)? What’s the shortest Phantom story ever? September – December 2018


So this is the first, and surely last, time one of my recaps spans three Phantom stories. I’m delighted. This covers the last couple months of 2018. If it’s much past about March 2019 when you read this you’ll probably find a more up-to-date recap at this link. The link covers both the weekday continuity and the separate Sunday storylines. But it should be clear enough what I’m writing about, either way.

If you like comic strips that mention mathematics, please give my other blog a try. I get usually a couple of posts per week discussing topics raised by the comics. Not this week, it happens. But I am also nearing the end of a glossary of some terms, one for each letter in the alphabet, and what they mean. Might find that fun too.

The Phantom (Weekdays).

24 September – 15 December 2018.

The Ghost Who Walks had spent a couple months on his back, last time I checked in. He was recovering from major injuries after a failed capture of Eric “The Nomad” Sahara. The Nomad was in Manhattan, having one last weekend with his daughter Kadia, before going into hiding. Also spending time with his daughter’s roommate, Heloise Walker. Sahara concluded, wrongly but not stupidly, that Walker was a secret agent plotting to capture or kill him. So he threw together a plan. He reported Heloise as a terrorist to the Transportation Security Authority. They arrested her in front of Kadia and everything. This so Kadia would not try to work out Walker’s disappearance. Sahara then collected the released Walker, planning to fly her somewhere she could be killed without detection. My last recap ened with them on the runway, Sahara getting his private jet up to speed.

Picture of the plane crashing down the street of the neighborhood just past the airport edge. Heloise Walker, narrating: 'The Nomad *had* to be stopped! At any cost! But I --- I'm going to live! Somehow I *know* I am!'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 29th of September, 2018. I did see people on Comics Curmudgeon griping that after the plane crash it took forever for a response to come. I think that’s conflating reader time with in-story time, though. The fight between Walker and The Nomad after the crash took a week or so of strips, yes. And Walker fleeing the cop took another week or so. But that’s all things that happen, in-universe, over a couple of minutes. Barely enough time to get the emergency crews to the crash site. Complaints that people hadn’t left their houses to see what was going on are a little more grounded, although I know I’d be watching from the windows. At least once I was confident my house wasn’t on fire from stray jet fuel.

Walker recovers consciousness just into takeoff. She fights him in the cockpit, sending the plane out of control, crashing it into the suburban neighborhood beside the airport. Walker and Sahara are still alive, and keep fighting, Walker thinking of the 21 generations of Phantoms before her. Walker knocks Sahara unconscious and drags him out of the plane before the airport emergency crash teams can get there.

The first cop on the scene is one who’d arrested Walker at Sahara’s misdirection earlier. Walker tells him Eric Sahara is The Nomad, internationally wanted terrorist. She flees. The cop follows, and shoots, but into the air. She escapes.

Cop and supervisor watching the cop's body cam footage. On the footage the cop calls 'STOP!' and Heloise Walker answers, 'What are you DOING? I'm on your side! Guard the Nomad, you fool!' Scene reveals The Nomad, held by a couple Men In Black types: 'You misspoke, officer. There was no girl. This footage does not exist. Understood?'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 26th of October, 2018. Oh yes, and a piece of the story is that the authorities chose to conceal Heloise Walker’s existence from the news about this. Their exact reason for this is unclear as yet. But it’s probably feeding Walker’s choices later on and might become less obscure as the current story develops.

Back home in Bangalla, The Phantom wakes after uneasy sleep. He gets the message Heloise Walker left earlier in the morning, and in my previous recap. The one about her having found The Nomad and her then-plan of getting him to share his plans. The Phantom’s ready to run for New York, despite his neck being only barely connected yet. It’s moot anyway. Heloise Walker calls with the news about The Nomad’s arrest.

She’s stumbling around convenience and dollar stores. She’s trying to disguise herself. She’s certain that the authorities have her picture, and soon, her identity. The authorities publicly claim the cop’s body camera malfunctioned. That initial reports of a girl being with Sahara were mistaken. That it was that one airport cop to credit for this capture. Heloise guesses, correctly, that that’s a lie. And she’s torn between pride in her having stopped a major international criminal and wanting to go home.

The Phantom and Guran in the Skull Cave, listening to Heloise Walker about her night: 'I was so dumb to follow The Nomad to his jet! There's something *dead* in his eyes, Dad. I *saw it*, and ... and I went with him anyway.' Phantom: 'Yes, there's something dead in him ... he uses terror to further his aims. The worst kind of man alive on the Earth ... '
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 8th of November, 2018. I think we have to be more specific about someone who “uses terror to further his aims” or we’re going to have to revisit that bit where The Phantom kidnapped, tied to a tree in the Whispering Grove — where the tree seem to whisper The Phantom’s name — and left for a day, then dragged back to the Skull Cave for scolding a man who wanted to put The Phantom on postage stamps and otherwise promote his “brand”. But one legitimately fun thing about The Phantom is that he does miss stuff sometimes, and it’s occasionally important.

That, the 10th of November, ended “A Reckoning With The Nomad”, which The Phantom Wiki lists as the 249th daily-continuity story. The 12th of November started “Kit’s Letter Home”, the 250th weekday storyline and, at four weeks, surely one of the shortest ever. The Phantom Wiki claims it is. I can only imagine the occasional Christmas story possibly competing. “Kit’s Letter Home” is more of a mood piece, so the plot won’t seem like much. Kit Walker, the presumptive 22nd Phantom, is in Tibet. He’s studying with monks he’s presented himself to as the reincarnation of the 11th and 16th Phantoms. They present themselves as believing him. Kit, awake early, takes a bit to write a letter home.

Kit Walker, writing: 'Dad, I saw plenty of this growing up as your son.' (It's the monks keeping him away from Kyabje Dorje, hiding his injuries.) 'I think my tutor fights on our side somewhere. He fights for what's right. He's that kind of man, I just know it ... '
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 24th of November, 2018. This is part of a sequence of strips comparing Kyabje Dorje’s behavior to how The Phantom acted when Kit and Heloise were young. And while this does read like a setup to a future adventure, I’m fine with it if it’s not. I like when minor characters have their own quite full lives when they aren’t waiting for one of the title cast to need them.

In this he lays out some of the setting. Notably about his tutor, Kyabje Dorje, who gives off strong Phantom vibes himself. That he’s a scholar, a gentleman. He occasionally returns from disappearances with unexplained injuries. (Be a heck of a thing if he goes flying off to vanquish evil and maybe reconnect with his mentor in El Paso who taught him the mysterious ways of the cowboy, right? By “a heck of a thing” I mean “a thing that seems like the premise of a guest-star Control agent on Get Smart”.) And about Chief Constable Jampa, the local corrupt law agent. They got off to a bad start, with Jampa holding this foreigner at gunpoint. He relented only because Kyabje Dorje’s whole monastery insisted. Since then … well, we haven’t seen anything. But we’ve got the threads for this ready to go.

Anyway, he wraps up, congratulating his dad for capturing The Nomad and all. He makes a couple ironic jokes about his sister having a soft time of it. And he sends his love. And wraps up the letter and burns it to ashes, the better to keep family secrets.


And that’s that story. This past week, the 10th, started the 251st daily-continuity Phantom story, “Heloise Comes Home”. The title picks up from what Heloise said in the last strip of “A Reckoning With The Nomad”. She’s made her way back to the Briarson School, not because she figures she can return to classes. “Crashed Your Roommate’s Father’s Private Jet And Got Him Arrested For Terrorism” gets you out of the semester in most any school. It’s only an urban legend that it’s an automatic A for the semester, though. Walker gets back to her room and very briefly informs Kadia they have to flee now or they’ll never get out of the country. But that’s all she’s had time to do.

I have no information about where the story might be going. (And I’m not seeking any. I’m content to read the comic like anyone might. Let actual comic strip news sites carry teasers.) I can see obvious potential paths. It would be ridiculous were authorities not to investigate Kadia Sahara. This though she does appear to be wholly uninvolved with anything. Fleeing the country would be the first suspicious thing she might do that we’ve seen on-screen. Heloise Walker would likely be investigated as someone near to Eric Sahara even if she weren’t on the body-camera footage. That her mother’s got a senior position with the United Nations is likely to attract more official attention. And it makes me realize I don’t know what the world thinks the senior Kit Walker does. That is, they do see this fellow named Mr Walker who’s always wearing sunglasses and has antique airplanes and the like. I don’t know what people imagine his day job to be.

A running thread of Heloise Walker’s story has been her desire to be a female Phantom. It’s quite fair that she might be afraid of that now that she’s been through an intense and terrifying experience. (Can’t forget that, for all her poise and formal-dinner-wear outfit, she is a teenager, 15 or 16 years old.) Reconciling the fantasy of her family’s superheroic lifestyle with the reality is a solid character challenge as well.

Also, I keep losing this link and cursing myself until I re-find it. So here’s The Phantom Wiki. I keep drawing on it as reference about things like what story number this is and where earlier characters came from.

Next Week!

I get to relax and take things easy. It’s time for Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant to take the stage again. I’m sure I can recap twelve Sunday panels sometime before the actual Sunday arrives, even with this being a busy season. What me fail to do so. It’ll be fun.

What’s Going On In Alley Oop? Who’s Writing Alley Oop Now? September – December 2018


I know everyone’s interested to see Alison Sayers and Jonathan Lemon’s take on Alley Oop. It’s not coming until January. Here I’m recapping the last couple months of Jack Bender and Carol Bender-produced reruns. I figure, at least for now, to keep Alley Oop in the regular story strip rotation. So my first recap of the New Era should come around early March 2019. And it should be at this link. If there’s news updates warranting more articles, they’ll be there too.

Meanwhile each week I look at comic strips for mathematics topics and post the essays here. You might like reading that. I like writing it.

Eight-Ball and Weenus in a cave. Fred Flintstone says, 'Sorry. Batman won't be here for another 2.6 million years.' The cave is filled with caveman figures, including Alley Oop and Ooona, B.C.'s Peter and Fat Broad, the Croods, the kind from The Good Dinosaur, a Far Side caveman, someone from Early Man chasing a rabbit, and a couple other characters. The comments thread on GoComics identifies them all.
Jonathan Lemon’s Rabbits Against Magic for the 2nd of December, 2018. So we at least know Lemon’s figured out how to draw the main characters. Fun fact: my love and I were eating in a Mexican restaurant in Denver once, and noticed on the TV an animated movie, without sound, that seemed annoyingly familiar without being at all understandable. It was the Croods, which we’d seen and liked in the theaters. (They’re the characters in the lower-left corner here.) While a fact, this is not in fact a fun fact. I own multiple books about the history of containerized cargo. I have no functional mental model of what “fun” is. I probably can’t even imagine a person who would know what “fun” is.

Alley Oop.

2 September – 9 December 2018

My last update about Alley Oop covered the end of Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s run as writer and artist. That included the end of a storyline. So I have a clean slate of story here. This has been from a storyline which first ran in 2013. That’s from before I was doing regular plot recaps. So I can’t just reuse an old essay. Gr. But also on this story there’s another credit, for John Wooley. I don’t know what role Wooley played.

Dr Wonmug has a job! A client is paying him to gather samples in 1816 Switzerland. I honestly didn’t know the Doc took jobs like that. The client’s never named, but that doesn’t seem to be a plot element. It’s just an excuse for why he has to “hurry” to travel in time. Anyway, Doc pops in to Ancient Moo, interrupting Alley Oop’s and Ooola’s picnic. And annoying Ooola, who teases that “maybe I’ll have a little adventure of my own”. This hasn’t paid off yet and I haven’t checked whether it ever does.

Ooola: 'Alley, after all this time, do you really have to ask why Doc is here? Why is he EVER here?' Oop: 'Whadya mean by that?' Doc Wonmug: 'She's right, Oop! Ooola, I'm sorry to interrupt your picnic, but I need to borrow Oop for ... ' Ooola: 'Blah, blah, blah! You don't need to explain to me, Doc!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 5th of September, 2018. I usually like it when characters admit they should recognize a situation from all the times they’ve done it before. Alley Oop had asked what Wonmug was doing there, which does have the obvious answer Ooola’s annoyed he doesn’t know. He’s supposed to go tromping around in space and time for something. But it seems like Oop’s got the question, what are they tromping around for this time, and that’s at least as reasonable a question.

Oop thinks this “scientific research” is a new game, but what the heck. He’s up for it. 1816 is a good year for for science research; you might faintly remember it as “the year without a summer”. After the explosion of Mount Tambora the previous year the northern hemisphere suffered widespread cold, leading to food shortages and even more poverty. And a pretty boring summer retreat at the Villa Diodati, in Cologny, Switzerland. There Mary Shelley is fed up with Percy Shelley and Lord Byron going on about electricity to each other. She decides to take her chances walking outside in the cold rain. Oh, should say, nobody’s last name gets mentioned. This is probably to set up the punch line ending. It’s a good punch line for someone who doesn’t know about how Frankenstein was originally written.

Mary sees a flash atop a mountain. It’s the arrival of Doc Wonmug and an underdressed Alley Oop. She’s wondering how they survived what she took to be lightning. Also wondering what’s with this gigantic, incredibly muscular figure surrounded by glowing light. Alley Oop and Doc Wonmug realize they’re being followed. But they figure they can evade this past-dweller long enough. They’re hilariously wrong. But they just need a soil sample, a plant sample, and some insect. It’s an oddly plausible enough scientific mission. I can already imagine the science team very cross that there wasn’t enough soil and they didn’t provide enough photographs to understand the context of the plant sample. Mary Shelley watches them digging up soil and wonders if they’re burying something. Or digging something up.

Alley Oop, struggling to put winter jacket on: 'This weather's miserable, Doc!' Wonmug: 'That's why we came here!' Meanwhile: Mary Shelley looks up the hill at the two. 'It looks like they're moving on!' Meanwhile: Wonmug: 'See anything, Oop?' Oop: 'I think I see that woman again! She must be following us!' Meanwhile: Shelley: 'I must find out how those people survived that lightning flash!' (There's another flash of lightning, silhouetting Alley Oop, who's got his arms and axe raised.) Shelley: 'GASP! What kind of monster is this that I'm seeking?!'
Jack Bender, Carole Bender, and John Wooley’s Alley Oop for the 30th of September, 2018. In 2011 astronomer Donald Olson deduced (on what evidence I don’t know) that the walk during which Mary Shelley had the inspiration for Frankenstein happened after midnight the 16th of June, 1816. If we take his work as correct then this means we can pin down when this particular strip happens to within a couple hours. I’m curious whether news about Olson’s deduction influenced the decision to write this story.

Wonmug explains about the harshness of the year. Oop asks, reasonably, whether they’re doing something to help the starving population of the world. Wonmug says they can’t. I don’t know whether Alley Oop has an unchangeable past built into it or not. If Wonmug and company are wise they’ve never tested it. But I know barely a tiny bit of the strip’s long history and what stories they might have explored.

Plants and insects are harder to find. They spot a small scraggly plant growing on the edge of a cliff. Oop’s able to climb cliff faces like that, even in the freezing rain. While he does, Wonmug sets up a little science kit to measure the atmosphere. And Mary Shelley watches all this strangeness. She gasps as Oop slips (but does not fall). Wonmug follows her, using his iPod’s flashlight feature to spot her in the gloom. She’s afraid of him, for reasons Wonmug can’t understand. As a scientist Dr Wonmug hasn’t got the common sense that God gave scraggly plants growing on the edge of a cliff in the Year Without A Summer.

Mary Shelley: 'Don't hurt me!' Doc Wonmug, shining light from his iPod-class computer: 'Calm down! Why would you think I'd hurt you?' Shelley, pointing ot the iPod: 'Because whatever that thing is, it can't be used for good!' Wonmug: 'Oh ... I forgot ... Forgive me!'
Jack Bender, Carole Bender, and John Wooley’s Alley Oop for the 26th of October, 2018. “I mean, I mostly use it to listen to podcasts, so I’m not sure if that’s really good or bad or what. Have you ever tried I Don’t Even Own A Television? I mean, you don’t, y’know?”

You know what else climbs cliff faces like that, even in the freezing rain? Mountain goats. An ibex watches Oop grabbing at the plant that’s maybe the only food around, and takes action. Oop’s able to grab onto one leaf, at least, before he’s knocked down the hillside. He takes a nasty fall, landing right outside the cave where Wonmug is trying to figure out why Mary Shelley looks somehow familiar.

Oop, dodging an ibex: 'Whew! That was close!' (The ibex eats the plant.) 'I guess he was just protecting his food. Th'thing is, I need a plant sample to take home with me. I just need one leaf! You can eat the rest!' (He reaches for one leaf.) 'Whaddya say?! Let me have one leaf?' (The ibex headbutts Oop in the stomach. He falls off the cliff face and thuds in front of Wonmug and Mary Shelley.) Wonmug: 'Oop!' Shelley: 'Oh my!! Is that your friend?!'
Jack Bender, Carole Bender, and John Wooley’s Alley Oop for the 11th of November, 2018. One of the narration panels in one daily strip told me this was an ibex. This made me want to call the narration box a liar. But it turns out there’s an Alpine ibex, which lives right where the name would make you think. So, neat.

Wonmug can’t feel a pulse. Shelley fears he’s dead, but still wants to take him to a doctor. I guess this is on the grounds that 19th century medicine couldn’t make the situation worse. Me, in the 21st century, is pretty sure they could. But her naming Dr Polidori gives Wonmug the clue to who she is, and the punch line that this Mary Shelley. Anyway, Wonmug’s got a portable defibrillator. He warns about the dangers of the electricity, gives Oop a couple good shocks. He brings this gigantic, impossibly strong human to life. He, grunting, confused, and disoriented, lunges toward the woman he had seen following them. She flees. So you see the joke here. I think the joke’s better when you consider that Alley Oop’s a fundamentally kind, good person being shunned for looking like a monster. Shelley flees back to the villa, where she learns the men around her are going to hold a writing competition.

Alley Oop grunts after the defibrillators have shocked him. Wonmug: 'He's alive!' (Mary Shelly gasps.) Wonmug: 'Don't worry about not getting the plant sample, Oop! All that matters is that you're okay!' (Oop holds up the leaf he'd taken from the ibex.) Wonmug: 'YOU GOT IT! Now we just need a bug, and we're done here!' Oop, dizzily, pointing at Mary Shelley: 'It's that woman who was following us!' (He tries to stand, groaning, arms dangling forward.) Wonmug: 'Oop, meet Mary Shelley! She's ... ' (She's out of there.) Shelley: 'I don't know what that man was like before the electricity brought him back to life, but he appears to be a MONSTER now! I hope he isn't following me!'
Jack Bender, Carole Bender, and John Wooley’s Alley Oop for the 25th of November, 2018. The Sunday strips, for the Benders, would recap the action of the six days around them. But done in six panels rather than six days they lose stuff. Among the stuff lost here: there was this butterfly hovering around the plant Oop was trying to recover. So when that appears a couple strips after this it’s nto a lucky break out of nowhere. It’s a lucky break that’s been correctly planted earlier.

Oop asks why they don’t check that she’s okay. Wonmug promises that he knows she’s just fine, which seems like he’s pretty confident they can’t accidentally alter history here. Anyway, Oop has the leaf in his hand yet, so that’s the plant sample. And a butterfly’s landed on his head, a good insect sample and a time-travel joke nicely underplayed. They return to the present.

And Wonmug explains stuff for Oop and anyone who didn’t know the story already. He presents a copy of Frankenstein and suggests, hey, where did she get that idea, after all? And this feeds to a couple strips just laying out the story of how Shelley had a vision of the story. Hm. Oop figures he’d like to read this, sure. Wonmug also offers that they could watch the movie. I’d also like to speak up for the Mister Magoo adaptation. This seems to end the story with a month left to go before the reruns end. But just this weekend we got Wonmug refusing to let Oop go back home again. He was “actually dead” for a couple minutes, after all. He needs some time of observation. And that’s where the story stands.

I’m mostly content with the storyline. The particular time-travel venture makes good sense. That it can intersect with a real historical figure at a real historically important moment is a bonus. But I personally dislike “here’s where a writer got their crazy idea from”. Writers get their ideas by thinking about things that give them ideas. Those ideas are fed from sources, yes, including writers’ experiences. But they’re created by the writers working. To show the “real events that inspired the writer” replaces that hard work with stenography. (Which is, yes, another kind of hard work, but hard in a different way.)

This motif is at least as old as Flash Of Two Worlds, the comic book where the 1960s Silver Age Flash met the 1940s Golden Age counterpart. Silver Flash had read Golden Flash comics when he was a kid. He speculated that the writer of those Golden Age comics was somehow cosmically attuned to Golden Age Flash’s world and could transcribe that. But there, Flash Of Two Worlds was written by Gardiner Fox, who wrote (most of) the Golden Age Flash comic books. He could be having a joke on himself.

Jack Bender and Carole Bender and John Wooley don’t quite do the writer-as-transcriber idea, at least. As presented in this story, Mary Shelley sees a story about electricity bringing a hulking brute to life. Fine; allow the premise that she took this inspiration from something she witnessed. She’s still presented as turning that one great idea into a novel, with so much happening that she doesn’t witness here. So that tempers my complaint.

I haven’t gone back to check the storyline’s original run in 2013. I want to be as surprised as you are and also am lazy. I’m supposing that Wonmug’s assertion that Oop needs observation will give us a couple weeks of puttering around in the present. And that should lead up to the 7th of January, 2019, when Alison Sayers and Jonathan Lemon take over.

Next Week!

International terrorist mastermind The Nomad had an unconscious Heloise Walker, daughter of The Phantom, in his private jet, with plans to fly her to the Caribbean and drop her in the ocean. So we’ll see how well that turned out for him. It’s Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity.

What’s Going On In Judge Parker? Is April Parker Dead? Is Norton? September – December 2018


Greetings, reader confused by Frencesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker. This is my effort to bring you up to date about the plot as it stands in early December 2018. After about March 2018 you should get a more up-to-date recap here. And if you just want to hear me talk about mathematics in the comics, look over here.

[ Desperate to locate the comic strip home of the 'pretty girl' character who's wandered into Zippy's domain, Griffy ransacks 'Apartment 3-G' ] Lu Ann: 'I don't know WHY but I have this terrible feeling I'm being ... satirized! Now please leave.' Griffy: 'But -- we work for the same syndicate!' [ Visits 'Judge Parker' ] Griffy: 'She may be in copyright violation!' Parker: 'I don't see a SEARCH WARRANT, Mister --- I'll see you in court!' [ And tracks down 'Mark Trail' ] Griffy: 'No, she doesn't have an ear tag or a tufted forelock.' Mark Trail: 'Sorry, Chief --- if she's not tagged or tufted, I can't help you!'
Bill Griffith’s Zippy the Pinhead for the 20th of August, 2002. Part of the storyline that sees him withering under the gaze of Mary Worth. Yes, this will likely reappear when it’s Mark Trail’s turn to be talked about here.

Judge Parker.

9 September – 2 December 2018

Last time I checked in on Judge Parker I figured we were getting near some retrenchment. There had been a bunch of craziness going down, mostly in Los Angeles. Neddy Spencer and work-friend Ronnie Huerta were trying to figure who killed Godiva Danube. They learned Danube had been fronting a drug-running scheme. And that someone in the CIA wanted Danube dead, so they got April Spencer to do it. Except, we learned, she didn’t do it. Someone else, who’s now killed Danube’s boyfriend, the guy who gave Neddy Spencer and Ronnie Huerta as much exposition as they have. Meanwhile, April Parker’s father Norton was betrayed by his aide and was in the hands of maybe a dozen CIA agents. I know this is confusing; I’m trying to summarize a summary here. My summary article last time has the space to explain more of it. Anyway, I figured we were coming near some drawing down of the craziness. Possibly a jump several months ahead in time. An incomplete resolution of what’s been going on and a bunch of new story elements. Let’s see what happened.

Well, Neddy and Ronnie get out of Danube’s boyfriend’s apartment. April Spencer’s dropped in to kill the CIA agent who was killing the boyfriend anyway. Ronnie declares she’s had enough of Neddy’s crazy life and wants out. Can’t fault her that. Also it turns out Norton is not dead, but just in Super-Duper-Secret CIA Jail, being interrogated about what’s April Spencer’s deal already.

Bowen, on the phone: 'Fine, Randy. I'll look after Charlotte so your dad can have his 'emergency' date with Katherine. Anything to help his relationship get on better footing than ours right now.' Randy: 'Hahaha ... wait, that's a joke, right?'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 21st of September, 2018. Oh, and the ’emergency’ date between Alan Parker and Katherine is where Katherine says that she’s ready to reconcile with Alan, which is a pretty big step in their relationship too. Also, boy, you cannot say that Bowen wasn’t clear about being unsatisfied with the state of their relationship even before that night made it extra crazy.

Meanwhile back in Cavelton, Judge Randy Parker calls off a date with Toni Bowen. She’s the local-turned-national-turned-local-again newscaster. Her life’s been tied to the Parkers’ since Marciuliano took over writing. Randy uses the excuse that he’s swamped with judge work. She pretends to believe him, and further, agrees to babysit his-and-April’s daughter Charlotte for the night. Randy picked such a lucky night to be absent I wondered if he was up to something. Because April Parker stops in. April demands Charlotte. Bowen refuses to give her up. Randy Parker finally gets home in time for this scene, and for April to knock him unconscious for dating in her absence. And then who intrudes but … Candice Bergen?

[ April comes face-to-face with ... ] April Parker: 'M-Mom? I ... I don't understand how ... I thought you were dead!' April's Mom: 'Oh, Darling. How many times did you know your dad to die? We're problematic parents at best.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 8th of October, 2018. So the most unsettling thing about April’s Mom: she never opens her mouth. Well, there’s like one panel in the week-plus she appears where her lips are opened a tiny bit, but it’s not much. I’m assuming it’s a deliberate choice to make her subtly weird, even on top of there being another long-lost secret Greater Spencer Family member. It’s weird that it works that well.

So, turns out she’s April Parker’s Mom. She’s been absent something like thirty years with her business and all. And it turns out she’s the partner Wurst was reporting to last time. Canice Bergen warns that no, April can’t take Charlotte. She’ll have to wait and come back to her sometime later. Maybe after the new series of Murphy Brown wraps up. On Canice Bergen’s promise of safety, Bowen lets April hug Charlotte, for maybe “the last time she can hold her as a child”. And then they leave before they can kill even more CIA agents.

Maybe. We don’t see that. The 15th of October had the much-anticipated-by-me “We Jump To Mid-Fall” narrative caption. The changes: Bowen’s had enough of the Parker craziness and is done with Randy. Can’t fault her that. Katherine and Alan Parker have gotten back together. They’re at that stage where every floor in their house is filled with boxes labelled for some other room. Norton is dead, according to Sam Driver’s Super-Ultra-Secret contact at the CIA. So they’re all safe, right?

And Katherine Parker learns something interesting at the publishing house where she works. Also I learn she works at a publishing house. Toni Bowen’s publishing an autobiography and it’s going to have a bunch of stuff about Randy and April. She brings word to Alan. Alan brings word to Randy. Randy already knew. Bowen had talked about it with him before submitting the book proposal. So he roughly knew what would get published and what it might do to him. Also, Randy has to admit he would never do anything to hurt his father but …

So Randy confided to Bowen how Alan Parker had helped Norton fake his own death some time ago. Randy meant this to show that Norton wouldn’t be coming after them. Now, well, they don’t know if it’ll be in the book but it’s going to be an awkward conversation. Still, at least Norton’s not faking his death this time. Super-Hyper-Duper-Secret CIA Prison is.

FBI Bureau Chief: 'It's not a lie, Norton. Your daughter never made it out of the country.' Norton: 'Does April know she's dead? Has anyone been able to find her and break the news?' Chief: 'There is a photo, but I hesitate to share it.' Norton: 'After going through all that trouble of doctoring it? Come on, let's have a look.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 14th of November, 2018. Not sure whether Norton’s confident demeanor reflects his being just that aware of all the tricks of Super-Hyper-Ultra-Duper-Secret Spy stuff, or whether he just knows that it’s a soap opera strip, if you don’t see the body bleeding out they’re not dead. And even if they are, there’s a good chance of duplicates.

And there might be fresh deaths. In Super-Mega-Hyper-Ultra-Duper-Secret CIA Prison the bureau chief has bad news. April Parker is dead. They have a photo and everything. Norton’s willing to pretend to believe them long enough to look at their photo. And he thinks how “April may be in even better hands than mine”. The phrasing reads as though he’s considering that April has died, but is still way open to reading as though he’s admiring his wife’s work in the field of Honestly Just Exhausting At This Point Super-Hyper-Ultra-Duper-Mega-Looper-Secret Double-Crossing. The agents reviewing his reaction figure Norton “may not know where April is, but certainly knows who helped her get out”.

The 18th of November introduced another plot thread. Neddy Spencer’s flying home for Thanksgiving. And ignoring Ronnie Huerta’s repeated texts to call back. Neddy’s life has been a mess since we saw it turn into an enormous mess. Huerta’s trying to reconnect, but Neddy won’t have it, suspecting Huerta of being the same kind of false friend Danube was. Sophie Spencer points out, correctly, that withdrawing from the craziness is not wrong. After major drama — the word seems trivial for what they went through, but what is there to say? — you may need time away. Neddy’s the bad friend, ignoring the attempts to reach out and assuming malice. I get Neddy’s anger, but that’s still a good way to create malice.

[ Late Night, Thanksgiving Day ] Neddy: 'How can I still be hungry for a turkey sandwich after everything I ate today?' Sophie: 'Just be ready for turkey omelets tomorrow morning.' Neddy: 'I'm just so happy to see you, Sophie.' Sophie: 'And I'm happy to see you. But I wish you'd tell me what's really going on.' Neddy: 'It's like I said last time we spoke. My life's a mess. Every time I think I'm heading toward something, chaos reigns.' Sophie: 'Neddy, this time involved a famous celebrity murder, you beating up some dealer, a family-friend assassin, and a Austrian drug lord.' Neddy: 'So you're saying I'm upping my fiasco level?' Sophie: 'I'm saying if you can make it through that you can make it through, anything.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 25th of November, 2018. So is it a little too … you know … glib that Neddy would talk about “upping my fiasco level”? Part of the fun of Judge Parker since Marciuliano took over the writing has been that the characters have more self-aware humor about their situations. And I grant that Neddy has had several months to cope with her feelings about Godiva Danube’s murder and all the killings that she saw in that aftermath. I don’t want the characters to go all Les Moore on us, ever. But this feels like she’s taking things lightly.

Meanwhile Sam Driver isn’t sure Neddy should move back home. He thinks she responds to every setback by running back home, and that she shouldn’t be doing that now. Which has enough truth in it to be credible. But, especially since Marciuliano took over, Neddy hasn’t been through “setbacks”. She’s seen family twist someone by their neck until they’re dead. I’m not sure what she does need, except that it involves professional care. So this is probably something that will get further discussion. Maybe a jolly fight over Christmas. We’ll see.

Next Week!

Well, The Amazing Spider-Man jumped the queue a bit. So I’ll get back on schedule with a recap of Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop repeats. Which looks like it’s just wrapped up the story, a month ahead of my expectations. I don’t know what they’re going to do while waiting for the new writing team to take over. Should catch up to Prehistoric Moo in a week, though. And by Prehistoric Moo I mean 1816 Switzerland. You know how it is.

What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? Is Tiki Jansen Academically Eligible or What? August – November 2018.


Hi, fans of Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp. I know the current storyline’s been a bit confusing. It started out so strongly establishing one character, then jumping to another, that it wasn’t clear what they had to do with each other. The past week the threads have come together more strongly. And, must say, the narrative logic was easier to follow when I re-read several months’ worth of story all at once. The narrative was harder to follow chopped up into three panels a day.

If you’re reading this essay after about February 2019 it’s probably been superseded. A more recent plot summary should be at my Gil Thorp plot summary page here.

Gil Thorp.

27 August – 24 November 2018.

Last time I checked in in Milford it was golf season. Coach Thorp was lightly occupied in his summer job, coaching Wilson Casey and Tony Paul in the game. Thorp’s realized that the kids from the Pine Ridge and the Blackthorne country clubs have been turning in false scorecards. The cheaters can’t be shamed. Thorp tries consoling his honest students.

Gil Thorp’s solution: organize his own, Milford Invitational, golf tournament. Only Pine Ridge and Blackthorne aren’t invited. And those kids have a mediocre outing at another tournament where scorers accompany the quartets. We never actually see the Milford Invitational. Just Thorp’s reminding his players that if they’re playing with integrity, the scores aren’t important. Good life lesson. Not one I’ll be sharing with my love next time we’re at a pinball tournament though.


The 3rd of September started the current story. Or set of stories. One is about Joe Bolek, student, and that kind of teenage film buff who watches Reservoir Dogs every other week just in case it’s changed. I can’t be smug. At that age I was very busy watching The Wrath of Khan every Friday night. The other is Thomas Kyle “Tiki” Jansen, recently transferred from New Thayer. They knew each other in middle school, when Bolek did stunts like making his own movie in the middle of the street until the cops showed up.

Teen: 'Bolek's into movies. Last year, he and his buddies borrowed a barricade.' Other teen: 'Borrowed?' Teen: 'A technicality. Anyway, they bought these little bitty paint brushes, blocked off a side street downtown, and Joe filmed them repainting a crosswalk.' (It flashes back to show this. The car in the central frame has license plate 'MST 3K'.)
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 13th of September, 2018. I admit I don’t quite get the point of this video, but I also know teenagers who want to make films are going to make all sorts of strange, slightly Dadaist projects. So, all right. Yes, I see the license plate there, and so does Ray Kassinger.

This is part of the football storyline for the year. Thorp’s problem: Sam Finn is his best punter. But he’s also his best snapper. And it’s bad form to have a player snap the ball to himself to punt. So Thorp has an actual coaching problem, since he can’t put together a punting team that works. He has a lead: Joe Bolek, allegedly, was a pretty good athlete before he got swallowed up being that film guy.

Thorp approaches Bolek. Thorp sighs inwardly as Bolek wants to talk about his life in terms of movies. Thorp tries pointing out that they both hated The Legend Of Bagger Vance, a movie I once saw because I was flying from Newark to Singapore. My recollection is that it was a series of shapes moving in what seemed to be patterns. Thorp is able to communicate slightly in the language of referencing movie titles. Gil Thorp doesn’t actually know that much about movies, but his wife does, and he’s learned things from her. Along the way it’s revealed Gil Thorp’s been allowed to hold a position in adult society without ever seeing Paths Of Glory, which, I just don’t know. Anyway, Bolek watches the Milford team play a game, figures he can punt better than that, and joins the team.

Thorp's Assistant: 'We might get a punter because you watched a French movie?' Thorp: 'C'est la vie.' [ Next Morning, a classroom. ] Teacher: 'Late again, Mr Jansen?' Jansen: 'Sorry, Mr Stoddard. Car troubles.' (Thinking: 'And a slow sister problem.')
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 4th of October, 2018. So I suppose Jansen thinking about his sister implies she must be a real person who has some real problem. But she hasn’t been seen on-screen and for a while I supposed she was just this convenient excuse to pin problems on. If she really is having trouble doing things, then, Jansen’s lateness is more understandable. And I suppose sometime in the next month or so of the story’s run they’ll try to remember to say what the issue is exactly.

Next plot point. Jansen shows up late to class. A lot. Enough that Thorp has to warn him this could screw up his eligibility. Jansen talks about his sister and her needs. How her needs make him late, or force him to leave events early, or stuff. And tries to avoid saying anything independently confirmable about her. It doesn’t go well: he says enough about his sister that one of his teammates can confirm she doesn’t exist. Or at least she isn’t going to school where Jansen implies she is.

Jansen: 'We're just renting for now, at the Pinetree Apartments.' Teen: 'The ones off 5th Street? You guys like it over there?' Jansen: 'Oh, yeah. It's nice.' [ Later ] Teen: 'That was helpful --- except the apartments are called Pine *Trace*.' Other Teen: 'And they're not off 5th, and they're kind of dumpy.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 23rd of October, 2018. I would like to help you with character names but I’m just not sure, I’m sorry. Gil Thorp is pretty good about showing characters wearing varieties of clothing, which, good, but it means there’s fewer visual hooks to be sure of who’s who. That Rod Whigham tends to draw extreme angles and extreme variations in composition, panel to panel, doesn’t help me either. I’m not going to tell him to draw more boring, though, because that’s just stupid.

His teammates ask Jansen where he lives. He names an apartment complex, slightly wrongly, and doesn’t notice he put it on the wrong street. In the world of story strip narrative economies that shows he’s bluffing. But I have to admit, I’ve lived at this house in Lansing for six and a half years now and I could not name the streets two blocks to either side of me. And I’m pretty sure I’m not pulling a fast one with my residence. Still, his teammates watch him driving off the wrong way for the home he claims to be going to.

Jansen’s tardiness reaches the point Coach Thorp has to do something about it, though. Jansen’s twenty minutes late for a game. He claims it’s because his car broke down. Thorp points out Milford is, like, four blocks across. He could’ve walked.

[ In Thorp's office. ] Jansen: 'I know it's a lame excuse for showing up 20 minutes before kickoff, but my car died.' Thorp: 'Mmm. Then why didn't you take the subway, or the bullet train? Oh, that's right. Because this is just *Milford*, where you can bike or jog or ride a unicycle!'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 2nd of November, 2018. Fine, yes, Thorp has a point about Milford being a small town. But I’m sympathetic to the supposition that Jansen would get so absorbed in trying to get his car working that he wouldn’t accept that it didn’t make sense and he should just walk there instead. There’s a reason everybody knows the sunken cost fallacy.

Thorp and his assistant coach, who probably has a name, check Jansen’s paperwork. It says he lives in the Pine Trace Apartments. Pine Trace Apartments say that address is a one-bedroom apartment. For a family of four. So Thorp swings into the exciting world of student-athlete regulatory compliance and asks Jansen where he does live. Jansen says it’s complicated. Thorp hasn’t got time for this. Jansen explains he had to leave New Thayer, but the family couldn’t afford to move, not all at once. So they rented a cheap, empty apartment that could be his address for the sake of school. And a cheap car that could get him from New Thayer to Milford. Mostly. I’m not sure this actually makes economic sense, but, eh. Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham know what housing prices are like in the Milford/New Thayer metropolitan region, I don’t.

Thorp sidelines Jansen while figuring out whether the kid is eligible to play. The school administrators conclude that he is. Thorp’s still got doubts, admitting that part of it is that Jansen turned out to be a good player. I honestly commend Gil Thorp for being aware of his motivated reasons to let Jansen play. That awareness is one of the ways to support procedural fairness.

Thorp: 'Your family rented an apartment no one is living in?' Jansen: 'Right. And officially, that's my address. So I'm totally legit for school --- and football.' [ Later ] Thorp's Assistant: 'School: probably. Football: problematic.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 13th of November, 2018. And yes, this Gil Thorp plot is now focused on the issue of what student-athlete eligibility rules are. So yeah, they’re now writing the strip entirely to appeal to me, a person who likes to play grand strategy games with lots of fine-grain micromanagement, so that my free time is bureaucracy sims.

Jansen explains that back at New Thayer he fell in with a bad crowd. Started as small stuff, vandalism and petty theft and whatnot. When they started getting into burglary, Jansen bailed on them. They whaled on him, and warned him not to come back to New Thayer. They’re still there. But there’s no way to prove to Thorp that he’d be in danger at New Thayer’s high school.

Except that Joe Bolek, film nut, has the idea of let’s just have Jansen go to his old school and get beat up, on video. And Jansen’s cool with this idea. Well, the plan is that Bolek will interrupt the savage beating before it gets all that savage. And that’s the point the story has reached as of the 24th of November. Jansen’s old gang has come out with battery on their minds, and now they’ve got a film nerd, with a big ol’ video camera set up on a tripod, waving at them.

[ Outside New Thayer High, Tiki Jansen's old friends renew acquaintances. A fist cocks ( to punch Jansen ) and --- ] Bolek, calling out: 'Hey, idiots! Over here!' (We see Bolek with a camera set up on a tripod.) 'Wave to the camera, fellas!'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 23rd of November, 2018. The good part about Bolek’s plan is how there’s no way it can possibly go wrong! Also by the way see what I was saying earlier about the art. I grant it’s a little hard to read that last panel — too uniform a line weight, I think — but to have a fist in the extreme foreground and a tiny Bolek standing behind it is a good bit of staging.

This is sure to develop exactly as well as Jansen and Bolek could possibly have hoped.

Next Week!

I have seven days to try to condense the plot of Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker into a coherent essay. Will I make it? Find out here in seven days, barring surprises.

If you don’t want to wait for more me-content, why not watch me Reading the Comics for the Mathematics Stuff, on my other blog? Or, now through the end of 2018, see me defining mathematics words, two per week. I’m looking at nominations for the last letters in the alphabet now, and you might make it.

Gasoline Alley Is 100 Years Old As Of Saturday


Gasoline Alley, as of Saturday, is a century old. If I haven’t overlooked something, it’s the second (American) syndicated newspaper comic strip to reach that age without lapsing into eternal reruns. (The Katzenjammer Kids was first; it started running in 1897, and was still producing new strips once a week until 2006, and we noticed that in 2015.) And I’d like to add my congratulations to it, and to Jim Scancarelli for being the cartoonist there at the milestone. He’s only got to keep at it through 2027 to beat Frank King’s tenure on the strip. (As credited artist and writer, anyway. Scancarelli was assistant to Dick Moores, responsible for the comic from 1956 to 1986.)

There are some more comic strips that, barring surprise, will join the centennial family soon. The next one, if it counts as a comic strip, will be Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. Robert Ripley’s panel first appeared the 19th of December, 1918, as a sports-feats panel. It mutated by October 1919 into the general oddball-stuff report that it still is.

Barney Google: 'Snuffy's right, Mutt! We're almost a 100! Shouldn't we get a little limelight?' Snuffy Smith: 'You could throw us a bodacious wing-ding with lots o' fiddlin' an' banjer picking'!' Mutt: 'Uh ... ' Google: 'That's what we thought you'd say!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 20th of November, 2018. I, ah, can’t include the actual centennial strip because I won’t see that until at least five hours after this essay posts, so, sorry? Anyway, this is a continuing part of the Gasoline Alley celebration at the Old Comics Home. Barney Google and Snuffy Smith have interrupted the action to demand some attention for themselves and yes, it’s gotten to a pie fight.

The next — and it’s been mentioned this week in Gasoline Alley — should be Barney Google and Snuffy Smith. That comic started the 17th of June, 1919. I don’t know whether Barney Google is planning any centennial events, but they’re missing a chance if they aren’t. Thimble Theatre, known to mortals as Popeye, began the 19th of December, 1919. The strip has only been in production on Sundays since the early 1990s, though. And Popeye took nine years to show up in it.

But to Gasoline Alley … I admit not having childhood memories of the strip. It probably ran in the New York Daily News, so I’d see it occasionally at my grandparents’ house. But I don’t remember the experience. I’ve come to it late in life, when part of my day is just reading lots and lots of comic strips, including the story strips. I’ve also heard the occasional episode of its adaptations to radio. Not enough to understand the series as a radio show. But enough to be driven crazy trying to think where I know that voice from.

It won’t surprise anyone that I like the comic strip. I like comic strips to start with. And Gasoline Alley has this nice, cozy tone. It’s got an old-fashioned style of humor that feels nostalgic to me even when it’s new. That Scancarelli shares the love I have for old-time radio adds a layer of fun as, hey, I recognize he’s tossed in a character from The Mel Blanc Show.

And then I always have a weird reaction to things. I recently read the Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics, a 1977 compilation that tried to give some idea of the breadth and scope of American newspaper comics. The editors felt it impossible to show Gasoline Alley fairly by samples of the daily strips, as the stories needed too much context for any reasonable number of dailies to make sense. But it included some Sundays, which — under original artist Frank King, as with today — would be stand-alone panels. And one of them was just … this full-broadsheet-page, twelve-panel piece. The whole page, together, was an aerial view of the neighborhood of Gasoline Alley: houses, streets, parks, businesses. Each panel was just a tiny bit of stuff going on at that spot at this time on this day. And it was beautiful. The composition was magnificent. Each panel made sense, and each panel was magnificently drafted. Houses with well-defined, straight rooflines, streets that lead places, fences that have structure. And each panel fed logically to the next, so the page was as good as a map. And somehow I was angry, that a comic strip could be this beautiful.

It’s not as though we don’t have beautiful comics now. There are magnificently drafted comic strips, Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley quietly among them. The compositional conceit of a strip that’s a vast area seen at one time is hardly gone. Even the specific variant of the vast area being rendered in panels is rare but still done; indeed, I think Frazz has even done it recently in daily panels. No newspaper comic has the space that Frank King had, a century ago, true. I can’t even show you the comic; it’s too large, at the reduced size for book publication, for me to scan, and taking a photograph of the page would leave the thing illegible. And no web comic could achieve that effect of space, except for those people with the six-foot-wide computer monitors. But to be angry to see a beautifully done comic strip? That’s a strange reaction. To have that dominate my thinking as the comic reaches its centennial? That’s even stranger.

Well, may everyone who creates at least once do something that makes someone angry that it was that good.


And when I do recap the developments in Gasoline Alley I’ll put the reports on a page at this link. Thanks as ever for reading.

What’s Going On In The Amazing Spider-Man? Who’s Now Writing Spider-Man? September – November 2018


Hi, sports fans. I know I promised a Gil Thorp plot update this week. But with the death of Stan Lee I figured people wanted more urgently to know what’s going on in The Amazing Spider-Man. So I’ll get to Milford next week at this link. And if you’re reading this, looking for Spider-Man plot elements, after about February 2019 I should have a more updated plot summary here.

My reading of comics for the mathematics bits continues at this link. I’ll finish the comics yet, surely.

And at least for this installment I’ll continue to credit the strip as written by Stan Lee and drawn by Alex Saviuk. But since it’s now getting admitted in The Hollywood Reporter that Roy Thomas has been ghost-writing the strip, I’ll go ahead and put that credit in. Then they’ll go double-cross me by putting some new name on the strip.

The Amazing Spider-Man.

16 September – 18 November 2018.

I last checked in on Spidey at a big moment in his team-up with Iron Fist. They, with Colleen Wing and heel-turned-face Suwan have tracked The Kingpin and Golden Claw to the Mammon Theatre. Kingpin and Golden Claw are using the closed-for-repairs theatre for a crime summit. Kingpin and Golden Claw explained to New York City’s mob bosses that they were taking over everybody’s rackets. The New York City mob replied with enthusiastic bullets.

As bullets pass through the ghostly images of Kingpin and Golden Claw, a mobster cries out 'Our shots are goin' through them two, like they ain't really here!' Golden Claw Hologram: 'THAT, fool, is because ... we never were!' Mobster: 'Th- they're fading away!' Spider-Man, behind the wall: 'Just like we figured.' Iron Fist: 'They were HOLOGRAMS all along!'
Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 18th of September, 2018. “We first suspected them when they interrupted their plot to make a music video of ‘Truly Outrageous’!”

Spidey and Iron Fist are calm, though. The Kingpin and Golden Claw speaking before the crime summit were holograms, just like Spidey and Irony totally figured out. But then a gas canister drops from the ceiling. Spidey swings out to grab it, since there’s no way to guess whether it’s knockout or poison gas. That’s all right. Every crime boss in New York City is happy to start shooting at Spidey, canister in hand, even though they could draw the same conclusion. Luckily none of them can draw a bead, so Spidey is able to get backstage with the gas.

There’s a bit of a battle royale as crime bosses race Spider-Man and Iron Fist. But Iron Fist can do that thing where if a superhero punches the ground it knocks out people who are just standing on it. So he punches the ground and it knocks out people who are just standing on it. Not all the crime bosses, but that’s all right: the cops are here. Iron Fist, in his secret identity as billionaire rich man Danny Rand totally called them earlier. So there was always a cavalry on the way and he just didn’t have the chance to mention it before.

As mobsters swarm Our Heroes. Colleen; 'There's so many of them they're getting in each other's way!' Iron Fist: 'Still, they'll overwhelm us by sheer numbers --- unless I remind them WHY I'm called IRON FIST!' (He punches the ground, knocking people away.)
Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 25th of September, 2018. I was distracted trying to work out that ‘SLKE’ noise from the sword too. I was reading the sound effect wrong: it’s ‘SLICE’, which also doesn’t quite make sense as a sound but all right.

Our Heroes infer that Kingpin and Golden Claw have to still be in the area. It would take too much energy to create realistic holograms if they weren’t nearby. That’s totally a logical reason the Kingpin and Golden Claw have to be in a helicopter taking off from atop the Mammon Theatre right now.

Let me pause. I know I’m sounding snarky here. A bit of me is. The story logic is not airtight. But understand: I’m enjoying it. The Amazing Spider-Man has this airy, cheerful, upbeat tone. I’ll go along with “They’re not really here, they’re holograms! Also they’re really here!” when I’m having fun. In this I am like everybody. I grant if you feel this story’s gone on too long for the plot points established then you’re not going to be won over by the reasoning that has Spider-Man and Iron Fist jumping onto a helicopter trying to flee Broadway. That’s fine. It’s good news for the oatmeal shortage.

So. Spidey and Irony punch the getaway helicopter. The good news: this does stop the helicopter. The bad news: the helicopter was in flight. Fortunately, Spider-Man’s overcome a temporary jam in his web shooter and is able to make an emergency parachute out of his webbing. I didn’t know that was a thing, and Spider-Man admits it’s been so long since he did that he didn’t know if he could anymore. Anyway, the empty helicopter crashes into the theatre.

Iron Man, falling from the damaged helicopter: 'The rooftop's coming up fast!' Spider-Man: 'We can't stop this chopper from crashing! But we don't have to go down in flames with it!' (Spidey makes a webbed parachute.) Iron Fist: 'A parachute made out of your webbing?' Spider-Man: 'Hadn't tried this in a while, but I guess it's like riding a bicycle!' Spidey, thinking: 'Good thing I managed to un-jam my web-shooter!'
Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 12th of October, 2018. Never mind the astonishing engineering and materials science involved in Peter Parker having made his wrist web-slingers capable of spitting out an incredibly strong, incredibly adhesive, yet short-lived material. If he’s able to make this webbing spit out to form a parachute while falling, he’s got some crazy skills in packaging. Also in whatever mastery of user interfaces lets him weave something like that from his wrist and, like, two buttons?

Spider-Man and Iron Fist land in a construction site. It’s also where the Kingpin and Golden Claw have landed. The villains had emergency escape jet packs in the helicopter because of course they have. Why wouldn’t you? It’s just good sense.

So, the fight. It’s a tough one. The Kingpin has been studying Spider-Man’s methods ever since they last fought. He’s ready for anything Spidey can throw at him. Mostly it’s punches. No webs, which seems like an oversight to me. Meanwhile Golden Claw was figuring Iron Fist would eventually punch him, so he’s wearing a metal talon that’s got full anti-punch powers.

The Kingpin: 'I'm not afraid of some beareded clown with a hand that glows like a firefly!' Iron Fist: 'Well, at the risk of dispensing unwanted advice ... maybe you should be!' (He punches Kingpin, with a SZZRAK noise; Kingpin falls backwards.)
Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 24th of October, 2018. [ Extremely nerdy voice ] Uhm, excuse me Mister Kingpin but I believe if you examine closely you will realize the glowing part of the firefly is not its hand.

The fight is a stalemate. Spidey and Irony can only hope to hold out until Kickpuncher can arrive. Spidey and Irony figure, hey, why not try punching the other guy’s villain? And that works out great. The Kingpin might be ready for Spider-Man’s punches, but for Iron Fist’s punches? Not nearly. Meanwhile Golden Claw might be ready to deal with Iron Fist’s punches, but when Spider-Man tries kicking? Ta-da. And you thought I was putting up a cheap Kickpuncher reference there.

Golden Claw: 'You can't stand against my POWER TALON, young fool!' Spidey, swinging on his webs from a crane: 'Not by facing it head-on! But what if I ... go around it!' (And he kicks Golden Claw in the face.)
Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 26th of October, 2018. Honestly not sure in the first panel there whether Spider-Man’s on the ground or not. I suppose it’s not important to the line of action.

Our villains are resoundingly punched and kicked. Also turned over to the cops. Spider-Man and Iron Fist go off for a little chat. Spider-Man wants to make good on earlier in the story, when he didn’t reciprocate Iron Fist’s revelation of his secret identity. But Iron Fist isn’t having it. He’s been thinking about it, and realized he was being presumptuous earlier. If he, billionaire Danny Rand, had his secret identity leaked he could still protect himself and loved ones. Spidey? Not likely. So, you know, cool. Anyway, if Spider-Man needs him he’ll be at the Rand Tower and totally answering his phone and not evading Spider-Man to go on weirdly nonspecific missions, like usually happens when Spidey needs the help of the X-Men or the Avengers or the Fantastic Four or somebody.

Incidentally, Spider-Man as he tries to unmask mentions that it’s Halloween. This is part of the weird flow of time in the newspaper Spider-Man universe. All this action since September, our time, has taken place over the same day. It could easily be under an hour of time. The strip does this sort of compression of time, naturally. But it will also sometimes throw in a reference to the date of publication. I don’t think there were any other specific days mentioned this storyline. But it would be plausible for one in-strip day to be mentioned as being, like, Labor Day, Halloween, and Thanksgiving at different parts of the story. Not sure why the comic strip wants to draw attention to the weirdness of time like that. I suppose the writers figure, you know, we readers should relax.

Anyway, Spider-Man looks on in dismay at the destruction of the Mammon Theatre. This was where Mary Jane Parker had been performing. No telling how long that’ll be closed now. Mary Jane’s accepting of it: now her publicity tour, which took her to Las Vegas (with Rocket Raccoon) and Los Angeles (with Melvin, King of the Mole Men) and Miami (with the Incredible Hulk), can end and she can go home.

J Jonah Jameson’s home too, as of the 10th of November. Which I’m calling the start of the new story.


The new story: Jameson is figuring to find and expose Spider-Man once and for all etc etc. But he’s got a new plan this time. He’s hired Luke Cage, Hero for Hire, to find and expose Spider-Man etc etc. After breaking down managing editor Robbie Robertson, though, Cage has bad news: he’s nota hero for hire anymore. If Jameson proves he’s a crook, Cage will haul him in. But he won’t do it for money. He’s just in it for smashing in newspaper managing editors’ doors. Well, that’s relatable. And that’s what’s happening as of today.

Next Week!

Golf! Football! That annoying kid who’s trying to be a cinema snob! Yet another kid who’s being all coy about his home situation! It’s time for Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp to take its innings! This time I mean it!

What’s Going On In Rex Morgan, M.D.? Who Was That Incompetent Mugger? August – November 2018


Thanks for your interest in Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D.. This plot summary’s good for the couple of months leading up to November 2018. If you want earlier plot recaps, or if you’re reading this after about February 2019 and want a later recap, you should find it at this link.

If you’d like to read about mathematical topics raised in the comic strips, you should find that at this link. Also over on my mathematics blog I’m explaining mathematical words and short phrases. It’s fun for me. You might like it too.

Rex Morgan, M.D.

19 August – 11 November 2018.

We last checked in on Rex Morgan at the Elvis-assisted Las Vegas wedding of Buck and Mindy. At the reception Rex and June apologize and say they have to get back to doing medical stuff. After everyone gets done laughing Penn and Teller walk over to give “Horrible” Hank Harwood and his son Hank Junior tickets to the show. The Harwoods figure to continue their road trip home.

Horrible Hank: 'Trying to call the diner to see about Millie joining us for lunch --- but nobody's answering.' Hank Jr 'That's kind of odd. Maybe they're just too busy. We'll be there in an hour anywhow. I'm sure we can make it all work once we get there.' Horrible: 'Sounds right.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 30th of August, 2018. By the way it’s been since about late August since I was last able to call my father on his cell phone and get an answer, but that’s not because of anything more ominous than Verizon having managed to screw up our accounts so severely that we’re somehow now blocked from communicating with the other.

Hank wants to visit Millie’s Diner again. Skip the roadside attractions. They get to the restaurant where he reunited with his old high school flame. It’s closed. She died the night after their visit. They can get to her visitation. Her family talks of how joyed she was that last day. So, good reminder there about reaching out to people you just drifted away from. It’s a sobering end to this thread. After it the Harwoods go home. It closes this plot.


The new plot started the 10th of September. It’s about Jordan and Michelle, until recently housesitters for the Avery mansion. Heather Avery’s given Jordan startup capital for his restaurant. He’s bought a former hardware store downtown for his place. This seems odd. But there’s a bunch of restaurants in the area already. Maybe the only choice was converting a place that wasn’t already food-ready. Jordan and Michelle talk out what kind of restaurant he’ll open. Then an intoxicated, shabby-looking guy runs at them, demands Michelle’s purse, trips on his own feet, and knocks himself out.

Michelle: 'It's a little chilly. Glad I wore a sweater.' Jordan: 'And me with no jacket'. (An intoxicated man staggers toward them.) Jordan: 'What's going on with this guy? Hey, pal, are you okay?' The man, stumbling toward and then past them: 'Gimme 'at purse!' (Michelle and Jordan are shocked, as the man stumbles forward and thuds on the sidewalk.) Jordan: 'You all right?' Michelle: 'Yeah. All my years of akido practice and the guy takes himself out by tripping. ... Do you think he's hurt? Jordan: 'A little.' (The man groans.)
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 16th of September, 2018. I feel bad for how I find Delmer’s faceplant here funny, even as I’m confident Beatty wanted readers to find it funny and then feel bad for finding it funny.

So they turn him over to the cops. Over dinner they talk about how they’re the lucky veterans. They’d come through their combat experiences basically all right. Many don’t, and they wonder if their would-be mugger is a traumatized vet. Then someone at another table passes out, possibly choking. Michelle, a nurse, is the person to rescue him, and they enjoy the rare double 9-1-1 call night.

The cops ask Jordan and Michelle if they want to press charges against their mugger, Delmer Robertson. He realizes he knew a “Delmer Robertson” back in high school. Lost touch with the guy after they both went into the army. Jordan, in food services, lost his leg when some catastrophe struck as he was getting fruits and vegetables. Delmer … who knows, exactly? But Jordan does mention how he’s built up the story of how he lost his leg to something more exciting for the civilians back home. I’m not sure if this is setting up a plot point for the current (or a coming) story. Terry Beatty might be retconning something established when Woody Wilson wrote the strip. If it is a retcon, I don’t know what the point of it is.

Delmer: 'Jordan --- I'm awful sorry, man. I didn't even know that was you. I didn't even know what I was doin'.' Jordan: 'I got that impression from the way you stumbled unconscious onto the concrete.' Delmer: 'I've had better days, man. Things have been pretty rough lately. I've been sein' things, Jordan!' Jordan; 'Seeing things?'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 2nd of November, 2018. I understand the strip needs characters to recap what went before, for new readers or readers who’ve forgotten what went before. But in the first panel this makes Jordan come off like a snarky jerkface to me. At least I have trouble not hearing Comic Book Guy read it, in that mode where a nerd says something sarcastic but literally true. It’s not an emotionally open mode, not for people who don’t know each other.

Jordan confirms that this guy was the Delmer he knew way back when. And that Delmer’s had a tough time since getting back from the army. So he asks the court to be lenient with Delmer, and offers to help him get back on his feet. The court is fine with this, even if it sounds a bit like the setup for a Dan Harmon sitcom.

(In the medical clinic waiting room) Delmer: 'You ever talk to anybody about losing the leg? I mean, you gotta have issues with that. I sure would.' Jordan: 'Many not as much as I should have, Red. Maybe we could both use a little counseling, huh?' Delmer: 'Yeah. Hey, do you see spiders on my arm? Cause I see spiders on my arm.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 7th of November, 2018. I’m open to the notion that Jordan has unresolved trauma from the loss of his leg. But I haven’t felt like that’s a problem he’s been living with. Actually until it was brought up this storyline I didn’t know, or had forgotten, that he had lost a leg. I don’t want the comic strip to act more like Funky Winkerbean, since I don’t want to have to punch it harder than I’ve wanted to punch anything else in my life ever. But maybe it could play up a bit more of what’s Jordan’s problem besides renovating a place into a restaurant before he’s decided what kind of restaurant he means to open.

Jordan meets up with Delmer, and they have the sort of awkward-but-hopeful conversation you might expect as they go to Rex Morgan’s clinic. Where Michelle’s a nurse. They promise they’re trying to help Delmer get the help he needs. And he needs more: according to someone who passed medical information on to Rex Morgan, he has both diabetes and failing kidneys. So that’s a bit of seriousness after some amusing follies.

And that’s where the plot of Rex Morgan, M.D. stands as of the 11th of November, 2018.

Next Week!

Golf! Football! That annoying kid who’s trying to be a cinema snob! Yet another kid who’s being all coy about his home situation. It’s time for Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp to take its innings. Catch you then.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Sundays)? Is The Rat Nearing Death Yet? August – November 2018


There’s always two answers about what’s going on in The Phantom. The Sunday strips, written by Tony DePaul and illustrated by Jeff Weigel, are one thread. That’s the one I recap here. The weekday strips, written by Tony DePaul again but illustrated by Mike Manley, are a different storyline. Both have plot recaps at this link, because I can’t think of a better way to arrange the tags. I never learned that you can easily have subsidiary categories of a main tag, and have been able to on WordPress blogs for years, you see. It’s a shame and someone should tell me. Anyway, both storylines are recapped there and you can get the most recent update to both by using it and a bit of sense.

The Rat is getting farther from death, but on the other side of the event.

Also, I look at comic strips for mathematical topics. That’s over there. You might like it. You might also like my progress through the alphabet, looking at and explaining mathematical terms. Thanks for considering it all.

The Phantom (Sundays).

12 August – 4 November 2018.

The story of The Rat, who must Die, reached its one-year mark since the last time I checked in. The Rat had lead The Phantom to his former partner-in-crime, The Boss. The Phantom had promised to recommend time off The Rat’s sentence for his help bringing in The Boss. The Rat failed spectacularly at getting away from The Phantom. But in the struggle between The Phantom and The Boss, he took a chance to clobber The Phantom with The Shovel. And The Boss was readying to run down The Phantom with his car.

The Phantom shoots his gun at the driver. He forgets that in Rhodia they drive on the other side of the road. I liked that bit. I like superheroes who make realistic mistakes such as that. The car still smashes against The Phantom. The Boss comes out to kick The Phantom before shooting him. The Phantom staggers to his feet, holding a knife against The Boss. The Rat warns that The Phantom’s never going to give up. The Rat finds The Phantom’s other gun, and declares he knows for sure how this plays out.

Phantom: 'I'm giving you one chance ... to drop ... that ... weapon.' Boss: 'Ha ha! Do you believe this guy?' Rat: 'I do! He never gives up!'' [ Cutaway: Jungle Patrol inbound. ] Rat: 'Hey! I got his other gun right here! Now I know for sure how this thing plays out ...' (Rat oints the gun toward Phantom.) Rat, to Boss: ' ... Old Buddy.' Boss thinks, 'Uh-oh'. The Rat shoots the Boss, who shoots back.
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 16th of September, 2018. When I first read it, I did misunderstand the action of the final panel, and thought The Boss had shot at The Phantom as he was being shot himself.

The Rat turns again: he shoots The Boss, who fires back. They’ve killed each other. The Rat takes a bit longer to die. It gives him the chance to say how he wished he could have a life more like The Phantom’s. And chuckles that, hey, he got out of Boomsby Prison, never to return, after all.

[ Final Matters ] The Rat, dying: 'Sorry about the sucker punch. Oh, and yeah, the, uh, shove.' Phantom: 'Don't mention it.' Rat: 'It feels so weird ... doing something not for me ... for somebody else ... *told you* I wasn't going back to Boomsby! ... I owe you, brother.' Phantom: 'You owe me? How do you figure that?' Rat: 'You got me out.' (He dies; the Jungle Patrol helicopters arrive.)
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 30th of September, 2018. That’s a pretty neat split-screen effect in the first panel, bottom row. It reads well even though it defies the normal left-to-right order of word balloons.

Jungle Patrol arrives. The Phantom had called in his private air cavalry earlier in the story. They collect the bodies and return to Bangalla, and Boomsby Prison. The Warden soon has a report for Bangalla’s president, Lamanda Luaga. They believe The Phantom kidnapped and executed The Rat. They don’t know the Jungle Patrol is under The Phantom’s control. President Luaga publicly dismisses this as legend. And privately concedes he doesn’t know why The Phantom wanted The Rat dead but is sure he had a good reason. It’s nice to see a superhero who’s got the confidence of the authorities these days. But, jeez, that’s putting a lot of trust in someone’s judgement.

And there’s another mystery. The Rat’s corpse has disappeared from the morgue. The Phantom took it, of course. He’s giving The Rat a funeral, with the help of Bandar pallbearers. His wife asks a question that’s been nagging at me for a year-plus: what was his name? The Phantom doesn’t know.

[ Last Rites for the Rat ] Diana: 'Who was this man? A friend of yours?' Phantom: 'Not exactly ... what an honor! To be carried on one's final walk by great Bandar leaders! Guran, Babudan, friends! Please follow me.' (He leads the pallbearers into a cave.) Diana: 'Darling, what was this man's name?' Phantom: 'Name? I suppose he must have had one. I never knew it. To some he was The Rat. To others, prisoner number 5364278. Let's just call him a man who has gone missing. And so here we are ... the Vault of Missing Men!'
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 4th of November, 2018. So I know what you’re thinking: if The Phantom didn’t know The Rat’s name, how did he tell the Jungle Patrol that The Rat should get time off his sentence for his cooperation? And the answer is that The Phantom described The Rat, and what was to be done, but trusted that The Rat would be left alive when picked up by the Jungle Patrol.

Tony DePaul was kind enough to reveal this story’s set to end the 11th of November. I’m sorry to miss the end of the story by such a slight margin, but what am I to do, adjust my arbitrarily set schedule for good reason? No, I’ll just include a sentence or two about the end of this story when I get to the next Sunday-continuity recap, sometime around February 2019.

Next Week!

It’s a look at three months of action in Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. Have we seen the Las Vegas Pinball Hall of Fame? Have we talked to every roadside statue in the midwest? Has Rex Morgan seen a patient or done a doctor-y type thing? Well, no, probably not that. But they must have done something or other.

The Speechless Ending


I’m not sure what I expected, really. After the final run of a Henry comic, that is. I guess I expected some kind of reaction from the crowd. At least a sigh. Maybe writing out some message on the fence. But no, nothing like that. I just looked out the window and there was a lot of gone. All there was to remember them by was leaves fallen off the trees and a bunch of mysterious colored flags planted in the ground. I’m like 75% sure none of them are to blame for the leaves, either.

But for the record, here’s the comic that Henry finished its run with. It’s a competent enough strip and I can’t find when its previous rerun had been.

Henry rides his cart down a hill. He walks up it, beside his dog, again. Henry pick up his dog to ride down the cart again. They fall over and crash. The dog hides, and Henry goes whistling after, trying to find him.
Don Trachte’s Henry rerun for the 28th of October, the final Henry rerun. And I can’t pin down when its previous rerun might have been; the just-shy-of-one-year rerun cycle broke down in the final weeks!

And in what I’m assuming is not exactly a coincidence, Bill Griffith’s Zippy the Pinhead guest-starred Henry. I don’t know, but I would imagine that Griffith liked the strip. It was always kind of weird. The constraint of the protagonist only pantomiming helped that. The commitment to keep the strip’s contents true to whatever its early-20th-century Americana Idyll too. It’s the rare comic strip that completely divorcees itself from contemporary culture, too. I mean, even Peanuts, not usually thought of as a topic strip, name-dropped Spuds Mackenzie, alluded to the Vietnam War, sent the kids to a weird millenarianist sleepover camp run by a for-profit preacher, and had Lucy offer her e-mail. (In different years.) But a comic strip like Henry that’s just entirely its own thing? I can see Griffith respecting that.

Henry: 'I conceive of a Henry than which no greater can be conceived. If a Henry than which no greater can be conceived does not exist, then I can conceive of a Henry greater than a Henry which no greater than can be conceived, namely, a Henry than which no greater can be conceived *that exists*. I *cannot* conceive of a Henry greater than a Henry than which greater can be conceived --- hence, a Henry than which no greater can be conceived *exists*! Ha, ha!'
Bill Griffith’s Zippy the Pinhead for the 28th of October, 2018. And the reason I don’t think this is just coincidence is because I expect Griffith to use Baby Huey for this sort of scene.

So I have not the faintest idea why Griffith had Henry present an ontological argument. I trust that he finds it all amusing and weird, and that’s always a fun energy.

Nothing yet from Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley. Which is weird, but the comic for the 28th was Halloween-themed so it’s not like that could be coherently bumped to another weekend.

Close up shot, from near the ground, of the yard covered in leaves, with a couple of flags marking where underground utility lines and such are.
What’s left after all the Henry fans leave. I mean, I understand the tiny red flag. That just makes good sense. But the blue one? And why three yellow flags? Are these complicated parking directions?

What’s Going On In Mary Worth? Why Is Everyone Rightly Mad At Mary Worth? August – October 2018


I have a content warning before going into Karen Moy and June Bridgman’s Mary Worth today. It features pet death, and handles it with spectacular incompetence. If you don’t want to read that, I don’t blame you. You might skip the whole thing. Around about January 2019 I should have another plot recap. I trust this storyline will be done before that point.

In non-warn-worthy content, I have comic strips based on mathematical topics discussed over here. I also have a fun series describing mathematical terms, which you might enjoy. Last week included mathematical jokes. And monkeys at typewriters.

Mary Worth.

6 August – 28 October 2018

The running story last time was about Tommy and Brandy’s relationship. Brandy’s father was alcoholic, and used drugs. Tommy’s been addicted to alcohol and painkillers. He’s quit for a year now, and hopes to stay clean. But he’s afraid when Brandy finds out about his past she’ll dump him.

Everybody Tommy knows gives him the same advice. So he takes it. He tells her about his painkiller addiction. That he’s not used anything in over a year. That he has a support group he feels confident in. That he’s found both God and Mary Worth. And she’s okay with that. She loves him, and trusts him. They stick together. So that’s sweet.

[ When Brandy learns of Tommy's past ] Brandy: 'You're not perfect, but neither am I! I love you and I want to be with you!' Tommy: 'I love you too!' Brandy: 'It feels right, being together! Let's keep going and see what happens!' Tommy: 'Only good things ... I promise!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 18th of August, 2018. Not going to be snarky here. I’m glad a couple characters are trying to hope in and trust each other at the end of a story I had no reason to hate.

There’s a week of Mary and Iris talking about how happy everything is and how great Mary is. And that leads to the current storyline. And this one, as I warn, includes pet death treated badly. So here’s one last chance to ditch if you need to.

Continue reading “What’s Going On In Mary Worth? Why Is Everyone Rightly Mad At Mary Worth? August – October 2018”

Statistics Saturday: Top Ten punch lines from Henry


  • Look at this apple Henry’s holding up!
  • Henry points at a mama cat.
  • Sneaking away!
  • Henry plugs up the speaker playing music.
  • Sliding down a thing!
  • Henry writes out someone else’s sign.
  • Interacting with a hobo!
  • Henry charges money for something someone else is doing.
  • Eek! A g-g-g-g-girl!
  • Henry eats.

Reference: Under The Black Flag: Exploits of the Most Notorious Pirates. Don C Seitz.

What All The Silent Murmuring Was About


I could barely sleep last night for all the — well, it wasn’t noise exactly. It was the sort of thing that sounded like an excited crowd talking about what they expected to happen, only with the whole mob of Henry fans in the backyard pointing at things and holding up signs and stuff. Anyway, it turns out tonight they’re having O Soglow’s The Little King give an address, as the vigil’s non-speaker of honor. Honestly so psyched for this.

The Little King walks past signs commanding SILENCE in the museum, and in another room (he takes off his shoes), and in another room again. He steps on a tack and cries out (wordlessly). His guards point to the SILENCE sign.
O Soglow’s The Little King for the 31st of August, 1952, and rerun the 8th of April this year. Also … wait, what?

What the Henry vigil is up to


So the mass gathering waiting for the final Henry strip continues in my backyard. Maybe others. I haven’t checked all the backyards out there.

I was worried about the food situation. The grease trucks never come down our block. There were some dangerous signs. I saw a bunch of the attendees holding up pictures of apples and pointing to our trees. We don’t have apple trees. Today I explained these are all maple trees. So a bunch of them ran off and now they’re holding up plates of pancakes to the tree trunks.

I think everyone’s happy? Well, the squirrels look bewildered. Still.

The Gathering, If Quiet, Crowd


So I knew it was going to be a little weird this final week of the long-running comic strip Henry. I’ve been reading all the eulogy pieces, of course, and seen people talking local and national news about how they’re going to adjust to a Henry-less life. Thing is, people can hold a final-week vigil in any small town where they still have soda counters and stuff. Why is a mob of Henry-fans gathering outside my garage, holding up candles and staring at me when I go feed the squirrels as if I were going to set a pie out to cool? This is going to be such a weird week.

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? Who Is Chasing Rusty Trail And Why? July – October 2018


I know you want to find out about all the comic strips which mentioned mathematics topics last week. They’re discussed on that link, the one that just passed. And you probably also want to know about a fascinating selection of words from mathematics. That’s here. It’s also possible that you want to know about James Allen’s Mark Trail, but it’s so much later than the mid-October date when I publish this that my plot summary doesn’t help. If I’ve got a more recent recap, it should be here. Glad to help. If you’re reading this around lat October, though, this should get you caught up soon enough.

Mark Trail

31 July – 21 October 2018.

[ And tracks down 'Mark Trail' ] Griffy: 'No, she doesn't have an ear tag or a tufted forelock.' Mark Trail: 'Sorry, Chief --- if she's not tagged or tufted, I can't help you!'
Bill Griffith’s Zippy the Pinhead panel for the 20th of August, 2002. Part of a storyline in which a “realistically drawn woman” interrupts the comic and Griffy (left) goes on a search through the story comics to try to find where she belongs.

Last time I checked in, Mark Trail and company were in the pop-culture district of Mexico. Mark’s archeology buddy Professor Howard Carter was finding weird stuff in a 2500-year-old temple. His assistant Becky had this weird habit of cataloguing and making 3-D scans of everything before taking it to a secure facility. And hey, she’s off-stage now for unknown reasons. Rusty found a “Zuni Fetish Doll” that arrived in an anonymous box. And this wasn’t the first time one of these has turned up. That and some references to Indiana Jones and Three Amigos filled out the setting. I don’t know if the doll is a reference to something.

Mark Trail realizes the story is stalling out. It’s been going since April and what we know is this ancient temple is weird and Becky’s off-stage. He suggests Rusty and his girlfriend-based partner organism Mara go to the other temple. See if they can’t get kidnapped or something while he takes a nap and disappears from the story. Joe the van driver mentions how the dolls started showing up and the site has a curse or something. Also that he’d heard Becky was at the dig site in the morning but guesses he was wrong. Anyway, he drops them off in care of the tour guide at Non-Creepy Mayan Temple.

Mara: 'Who is that man she's [ Becky's ] talking with --- he wasn't part of the group!' (Becky hands a mask to Backpack Guy.) Rusty: 'Hey! That's the mask from Professor Carter's trailer!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 17th of August, 2018. You can’t see it from this angle, but just out of frame, Rip Haywire is punching an explosion. It’s pretty cool.

Rusty and Mara notice that Becky’s in with the tour group. They call to her, but she doesn’t react. Mara thinks it’s odd that Becky didn’t hear them. But Rusty has people “not hearing” him and fleeing his approach all the time. Still, they press on. They find Becky! She’s talking with someone else, someone wearing a backpack who was not from the tour group. And holding what looks like one of the masks dug up earlier. Mara thinks Becky is trying to sell it. They work up the hypothesis that Becky is making 3-D prints of the artifacts, selling the real ones, and putting the fakes into museums. Rusty thinks it’s a shame someone as nice-seeming as Becky would do something so underhanded. Mara calls him out on this: “you meet a girl one time, and just because she’s pretty, you think she’s nice”. A good point. Rusty doesn’t seem to consider he hasn’t met Mara all that much, and she seems nice, and she’s feeding the idea Becky is arranging an artifact sale. Just saying.

Raul, over the phone: 'I didn't see much --- the kids were in the way --- but I know the rop went as planned!' Joe, in his truck: 'That complicates things ... we may have to use the kids for a while before we get them out of the way! This makes me very unhappy --- you know Mark Trail's reputation!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 30th of August, 2018. The next day’s strip makes it clear they’ve read Mark Trail’s writings before, so they just happen to be low-level Mark Trail fans out here. It’s not like he showed up in their scheme and they quickly looked up what this means for their life-stories.

They notice someone’s watching them. And they follow the guy who took the mask. Backpack Guy is taking the tour bus back to Santa Poco. The guy who watched them gets on the radio with Joe the driver, though. Joe and Watching Guy share an ominous radio conversation about having to use the kids before getting them out of the way. And that they know this is dangerous, given Mark Trail’s reputation for how every story ends in major explosions lately. Rusty and Mara get back to Joe, and ask him to take them into Santa Poco and hey, why not stop wherever the tour bus does? He can’t figure an excuse not to comply. Mara wonders if Joe might have been the watcher, and she thinks that’s a shame, as “he seems like such a nice guy”. Credit to James Allen for underplaying the character moments there. Anyway, they drive past a week’s worth of panels of Central American wildlife eating other pieces of Central American wildlife.

Mara’s talked Rusty into putting some kind of tracking app on his phone and I’m sorry, Rusty Trail has a smart phone. I have to go lie down a while. Also he has a smart phone that works in Mexico. Y’know, my love and I spent a week in Mexico City earlier this year. Working out whether we could get a phone to work on the Mexican network was something we stressed about without ever solving the problem. (We made it through the week without a phone. Not looking for a medal here, just some acknowledgement of our courage.) Anyway, Mara’s plan is to turn on the tracking app, drop the phone in Backpack Guy’s backpack and then even if they lose sight of him, it’s all right. They can follow. Mara mentions getting the idea from Nancy Drew, a reference Rusty doesn’t get, and wait Nancy Drew has smart phones now? I have to go lie down again.

Mara: 'We're going to walk over to Backpack Guy. You kind of push me into him, I'll trip and fall. When he tries to help me up, you slip the phone into his backpack!' Rusty: 'Awesome! Then we can use your phone and the Snap-N-Rap App to track my phone's location and find out where he is in case we lose sight of him!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 21st of September, 2018. So, seriously, the only comic strips that show kids with cell phones in anything approaching realism are Nancy, Phoebe and Her Unicorn, and Mark Trail? The heck, world? You know?

Back to Joe, who mercifully gives us some names for characters. Watching Guy turns out to be Pablo. They and Raul — who’s talking to Joe while posing with his cool motorcycle — know the kids are on to something. And that Pablo saw the “courier”, while Raul saw Becky. They note that they didn’t see the courier and Becky together. This point is so inconsequential that taking panel time to establish it must mean it’s consequential. Joe think that Rusty and Mara were following the “second courier”. But since they’re not following Backpack Guy now he doesn’t know what to think. This may be how this scenario would happen. But it made for a week of baffling reading as people say they don’t know what’s going on. Raul promises to “take care” of Rusty and Mara. He also says he’s “let Pablo take care of” Becky. Yes, I’m aware the phrasing looks ominous without actually committing to anything. I mean, there’s enough space here for Joe and Pablo and Raul to be part of the smuggling operation. There’s also enough for them to be undercover agents busting the crime syndicate.

Raul: 'What do you mean?' Joe: 'I thought the kids had just led me to the second courier --- they just tripped over a guy wearing a backpack who was getting off the bus, but now they seem to have lost all interest in him!' Raul: 'I'm sorry, but I'm not following you!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 28th of September, 2018. A sentiment that I did see expressed while the story was going on. The lack of explicitly given names didn’t help following the story as it suddenly got all this intrigue.

All right. So. Rusty and Mara try to act casual as Backpack Guy encounters them. He recognizes his “clumsy friends” who knocked him over at the bus stop. That scene wasn’t actually shown on-panel by the way. But it was how they dropped Rusty’s phone into his backpack. He proposes that they walk with him, since this is not a great part of town for unattended kids. And introduces himself as Juanito, so now I have all the player-characters’ names. Juanito says he’s a courier, and he’s got a package to deliver nearby, so why not walk with him? Rusty and Mara go along with this. Juanito stops at the next street because he’s seen the motorcyclist, whom we know to be Raul. Juanito’s not sure that Raul is following them, but does think he “looks like trouble”. Juanito proposes they run into a crowd. I’m assuming a fruit stand is going to get knocked over. Could even get exploded.

Mara: 'Rusty, Backpack Guy is headed this way!' Rusty: 'Quick! Let's act like we're reading!' (They pick up comic books. Rusty reads 'Fist of Justice' and Mara 'Giant Squirrel!'. Comics in the background include 'Spider Guy' and 'Super Dude' and a 'Gore' that I think might be a reference to this early 50s Peanuts strip where Charlie Brown demolishes a poor newsstand owner's comics display.)
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 6th of October, 2018. Wait, those comics. Fists of Justice? Giant Squirrel? Mark Trail is getting all self-aware and I’m not sure I can take it!

I do appreciate that James Allen has put in play at least three groups here. Each knows a little about the other groups. None knows enough that anyone can be confident in who to trust or how far. It’s a bit foggy reading this day-to-day. Comics Kingdom lets subscribers read a week’s worth of strips at once. That helps the plot threads focus for me. And, I hope, I help that for you.

Sunday Animals Watch

What fascinating animals, plants, or forces of nature were highlighted in the Sunday panels recently? And have we killed them yet? Here’s the recap.

  • Ants, 29 July 2018. So there’s ants that explode and they’re not even from Australia and what the flipping heck?
  • Honeysuckle, 5 August 2018. Not any more endangered than all life on Earth is right now.
  • Dobsonflies, 12 August 2018. Early indicators of when the local environment is dying.
  • Hognose Snakes, 19 August 2018. Not endangered, but they do play dead so they’re a little drama-prone.
  • Giant Hogweed, 26 August 2018. Also called Giant Cow Parsley or Hogsbane, claims Mark Trail. It’s invasive and its sap can send you to the hospital with third-degree burns.
  • Gila Monsters, 2 September 2018. Fun episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
  • Humbolt Martens, 9 September 2018. Endangered, and Mark Trail tries to cast some blame on the marihuana.
  • Rhinoceroses, 16 September 2018. Ugh. You know. But it does mention that thing where earlier this year it looks like lions killed a poacher of rhinoceroses.
  • Mount Lico’s “Lost Continent”, 23 September 2018. Cool, technology-assisted discovery of a previously undisturbed forest with a bunch of unknown species that’ll probably blow up, if that episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 is any guide.
  • Jaguars, 30 September 2018. Endangered. Features one of the three known in recent years to be in the United States and that got killed by a poacher.
  • The Larger Pacific Striped Octopus, 7 October 2018. Probably endangered, but apparently it’s too rarely seen to be sure.
  • Parasitoid Wasps, 14 October 2018. Yeah, it’s got a stinger that’s, like, twelve feet long and Mark Trail looks like he’s about five feet into his impalement here.
  • Parsnips, 21 October 2018. They can cause second-degree chemical burns, which is no Giant Hogweed but is still a valuable reminder to never eat anything natural enough that its name isn’t required legally to be misspelled.

Next Week!

Will I make it seven days without turning into a white-hot ball of incoherent, jibbering rage? There’s only one way to know and that’s to see if I last until next Sunday reading Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth. If I survive, I’ll tell you why you should probably be a white-hot ball of incoherent, jibbering rage too!

Statistics Saturday: Comic Strip Punch-Worthiness This Week


Day Comic Strip I’ve Wanted To Punch Harder Than I’ve Wanted To Punch Anything Else In My Life Today
Sunday Funky Winkerbean
Monday Luann
Tuesday Funky Winkerbean
Wednesday Luann
Thursday Mary Worth
Friday Mary Worth
Saturday Mary Worth [1]

[1] With the footnote that if you did not know the context then Saturday’s Mary Worth would be hilarious. Any comic strip where someone barks out “Bah!” is 90% of the way to hilarious. But trust me. In context? You’re going to want to punch this comic strip harder than you’ve wanted to punch anything in your life. Promise.

Animal Shelter worker: 'I'm about to give a tour of our shelter. You may meet someone you want to take home with you!' Saul Wynter: 'BAH! It's NOT my decision to be here!' Mary Worth: 'Mr Wynter and I would LOVE to meet your facility's occupants!' Wynter: 'Speak for YOURSELF, Mary!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 20th of October, 2018. All right, yes, so it is still hilarious. WHY do I want to punch it so? You’ll find out in eight days unless I can’t contain myself. Or just read the comments on ComicsKingdom there.

Reference: The Sputniks Crisis and Early United States Space Policy: A Critique of the Historiography of Space (Studies in Military and Strategic History), Rip Bulkeley.

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? Why Is ‘Peggy Lee’ In It? July – October 2018


If you’re looking for the latest story developments in Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley, thanks for thinking of me. If you’re reading this after about January 2019, there’s probably a more recent article for you. It should be posted here, and good luck finding what you need.

On my other blog I talk about mathematics touched on by comic strips, which might interest you. Also for the last several months of 2018 I’m looking at words from mathematics and explaining them. You might find either of these interesting; please give them a try.

Gasoline Alley.

23 July – 13 October 2018

When I last recapped Gasoline Alley, the comic strip was publishing new strips again. Walt Wallet was trying to buy clothes from omnipresent clerk Frank Nelson. So that was going well.

Frank Nelson: 'Where will you gentlemen go in your new dapper suits?' Walt: 'Diaper suits?!' Skeezix: 'No, Uncle Walt! Dapper! You know! STYLISH!' Walt: 'You don't have to yell! I'm not deaf!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 23rd of July, 2018. Oh, yeah, so why does Skeezix call his adopted father ‘Uncle’ Walt? Well, you see … I don’t know. I assume it was explained at the time. It keeps throwing me when I want to describe the action and there’s that ‘Uncle’ throwing me off about the relations among like five generations of the Wallet family.

Still, it’s productive. Nelson bemoans the world situation and, longing for a hero, asks “Where is Orphan Annie when we need her most?” Wallet picks up the line. He finds it the right close for his roast of Little Orphan Annie at the Old Comics Home. Skeezix and Walt drive to the Old Comics Home, which is bigger than it used to be. Also very empty. They don’t know what’s gone wrong.

(Pulling up in the car.) Skeezix: 'Wake up, Uncle Walt! We're here! I don't remember it being so big before!' (The Old Comics Home sprawls out over the whole strip, a mass of porches, overhangs, gabled roofs, conical rooves, floors, and walkways, like it was built by a guilt-ridden guns manufacturer's widow and if they ever stopped building they'd die.)
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 3rd of August, 2018. And for all that the Old Comics Home is this sprawling, rambling, architecturally incoherent thing, it doesn’t provoke the spontaneous laugh from me that about two-fifths of the McMansion Hell spectacles do. Possibly because it does look like someplace it’d be fun to wander through.

Jiggs, of Bringing Up Father, rescues them. The dinner is at the new banquet hall. They could afford it thanks to “a famous cartoonist that included us in his will”. The commenters at GoComics speculate that Jiggs was talking about Mort Walker, who died earlier this year. That sounds good to me. You don’t think of Beetle Bailey as having raked its creator a great heaping pile of money, but remember, he also had those Boner’s Ark royalties coming in for years. They need the expanded home, too, as there’s more and more old-comics every day, what with newspapers having died in 2008.

They get to the banquet hall, and Jiggs passes off Walt and Skeezix to Mutt and Jeff. This opens things to a good spot of corny old dining jokes, and a lot of challenges to identify some 1930s comic strip character. But finally, with the start of September, the banquet reaches its point: it is not a roast of Little Orphan Annie. It’s a tribute to Gasoline Alley in honor of its centennial. Walt Wallet points out this is a couple months early. Mutt says “We know! We’ve got an Orphan Annie roast planned then!”

The strip began to recap the first century of itself. This included some nice-looking redrawings of vintage comics. This Scancarelli did using the original Frank King-style model sheets, or good adaptations of them to modern newspaper needs. And then jump ahead to reviewing the 14th of February, 1921, when a most important thing happened: Jack Benny turned 39. And the infant Skeezix was left on Walt Wallet’s doorstep. This is taken as the moment when Gasoline Alley leapt out of its original premise — jokes about guys and their obsessive tinkering with cars — into something people cared about, wildly. Walt Wallet adopting this foundling was a story.

Mutt, as emcee: 'OK, Walt Wallet! Here's a photo of where it all began --- in the alley behind your house!' (Mutt holds a black-and-white photo of a small house and tiny garage.) 'And here is a shot of you and Avery, Doc and Bill, working on your autos in Gasoline Alley --- Nov 24, 1918!' (Black-and-white rendition of four very 1910s young men around a car. It's captioned 'Sunday morning in Gasoline Alley - Doc's Car Won't Start') Mutt: 'Isn't that how the town got its name?' Walt: 'Yeah! Uh, which one is me?'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 13th of September, 2018. I have heard that a “gasoline alley” was the slang term for anywhere bunches of young men would get together to tinker over cars that might someday even run. This seems plausible enough, and of a kind with the “radio shack” that the bunches of young men into ham radio would build. And would explain why there are places named “Gasoline Alley”, some of them even still having anything to do with cars. But I don’t know of citations for the term “gasoline alley” that predate the comic strip. Google’s NGram viewer doesn’t seem to have examples of the phrase from before the comic strip. And after the “Skeezix” word-origin mystery I want to be careful about passing on anything that isn’t at least a bit researched.

The strip recounts what I am going ahead and trusting are early comics about Walt trying to take care of Baby Skeezix. And describes the nationwide poll that I’m trusting Scancarelli when he says was held, to pick a name for the child. The result, I am surprised to learn, was “Allison”, a bit of wordplay on his being the Alley’s son. And a reminder that any name we might think of as a girl’s was also a boy’s name at most three generations ago. But Skeezix stuck. Walt repeats the claim that Skeezix is “cowboy slang for a motherless calf”. Perhaps, but I can’t find support for that word-origin story that doesn’t come from Gasoline Alley. “Skeesicks”, or several variant spellings of it, does seem to be 19th century slang for a rogue or rascal. The connotation of the word softened as the 20th century dawned. By 1912 it was the sort of thing a P G Wodehouse protagonist (in The Prince and Betty) could call the stuffy old fellow with money who’s slowing the whole scheme down.

Walt, recounting events of finding young Skeezix: 'Doc, Avery, and Bill came over to help bathe the little feller! I thought we'd wash and polish him like we do cars, then dry the moisture off, leaving the body finish in sparkling condition!' (Illustrated by the young men coming in, and drying off a baby while holding mop, sponge, and car wax, none applied to the baby.)
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 21st of September, 2018. I like seeing art done closer to the style of the original character designs and I’m surprised how well they work on the modern screen. Also, I admit, I’m a little glad the action is being narrated, because actual comics of the day had way too many words in them, and then would throw in eye-dialect to make it that little bit more of a task getting through everything.

All looked ready to carry on with recapping a century’s worth of overarching stories when October, and a special guest, arrived. I expected Phyllis Wallet, who died in the strip in 2004. Part of Gasoline Alley‘s gimmick has been that the characters age, loosely in real time, which for a long-running strip means even the core characters have to die. Walt Wallet’s been spared, I imagine for reasonable sentimental reasons. But it does mean if you pay attention, he’s 118 years old. There’s two people in history who lived demonstrably longer than him. Moving Walt to the Old Comics Home seems like a natural way to avoid having to bring up his age without killing off the last of the comic strip’s original characters. Reuniting Walt with Phyllis and letting them stay together would make so much sense. It might yet be done.

But it wasn’t done this month. The guest was one Mrs Peggy Lee. Whom the strip tells us is a real person. That she’s drawn in a much-more-realistic style than any other character suggested this. And why Peggy Lee? Says the strip, she also turned 100 years old this year. This opens the door to a couple weeks of old-age jokes (“I knew I was getting old when it took me longer to recover than it did to tire me out!”). And why Peggy Lee as opposed to any other centenarian? Apparently she’s been a fan of the strip her whole life, and Jim Scancarelli came to know that. Well, that’s sweet.

Mutt, as emcee: 'Peggy Lee told me she has read all the adventures of Gasoline Alley since 1918!' Peggy Lee: 'I did indeed!' Mutt: 'But wait a second! How could you have? You were a baby in 1918!' Peggy Lee: 'I was a fast reader!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 4th of October, 2018. Really, to have read all of an historically important comic strip is pretty amazing. The only important comics I could make a similar claim about are Peanuts, Calvin and Hobbes, and Bloom County, although I’m probably close enough for jazz for The Far Side. And four of those made it easy by being, in the scheme of things, pretty short-run comics. (I want to count Cul de Sac, since it was so fantastic, but I don’t know that it lasted long enough to be important.)

And that’s what’s been happening. The Sunday strips have kept on being spot jokes. They don’t fill out any particular story, but do keep the other characters in the comic. I assume the comic is going to continue celebrating its centennial. That will come, barring catastrophe, the 24th of November, or just short of six weeks from now. It seems likely to me that Scancarelli’s already completed the centennial strip. Wow.

Gasoline Alley is the oldest (American) syndicated comic strip that’s still in production. (The Katzenjammer Kids lapsed into eternal reruns long ago, and I have no idea if it’s still offered to any newspapers anywhere or if it’s just posted to Comics Kingdom.) There are a few others that should join it soon, though. Ripley’s Believe It Or Not (if you count it as a comic strip) first appeared the 19th of December, 1918. Barney Google first appeared the 17th of June, 1919. Popeye first appeared, as Thimble Theatre, on the 19th of December, 1919, and it at least still has new Sunday strips. (Popeye himself didn’t join the strip until 1929.) I suspect none of them figure to do an anniversary celebration like this.

Next Week!

Mexico! Mysterious artefacts in the Yucatan! The strange and wonderful wildlife of Central America that we somehow haven’t killed yet! Yes, this storyline is still going on in James Allen’s Mark Trail, but never fear! I’ll catch you up!

In Which I Am Distracted By Ziggy For Crying Out Loud


So I spent the early part of the day wondering how long the cartoonist spent deciding whether they wanted the animal here to be a raccoon, or a cat, or a raccoon, or a cat, before finally remembering, it’s a Ziggy panel. They didn’t have to work out which in this situation would be funnier, cat or raccoon.

Ziggy taking out his trash. In the can is either a cat with an eyemask or a raccoon with cat ears and cheeks. The cat-raccoon asks, 'Can I get that 'to go'?'
Tom (II) Wilson’s Ziggy for the 10th of October, 2018. Also distracting me: so, is this happening in Ziggy’s driveway? Because that implies first he put his trash can out in the driveway. Also that his houes has a gabled roof that’s perpendicular to the street rather than parallel it, which isn’t impossible but seems quirky anyway. I mean, how does the garage meet the house, here? Where is the garage door in relation to the front door? Or is this happening on the sidewalk? Because Ziggy’s stance suggests he’s either at the next house over, tossing his stuff in the neighbor’s trash bin, or else on final approach to his own trash bin he circled around and came up from behind. Also you’re a bit of a jerk to put the trash bin in the sidewalk. People need to use that to walk, you know. Also is Ziggy just throwing out a bag of trash that’s tied around itself to make this awful, unworkable knot? Or did he put one of those twist ties that don’t work in it? Why is Tom Wilson credited as one of the strip’s writers still when he retired in 1987 and died in 2011, both years that are before the current year (2018)? Also exactly what work is being done by the quote marks around “to go” in the cat-raccoon’s question? And in the advertisement for Bubble that’s on every podcast these days, why does that mopey-sounding woman bring her burrito into the bathroom? These are all questions I feel I cannot answer.

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? Who Is Ugly Crystal’s Father? July – October 2018


Hi, readers of Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy. I do my best here to bring you up to date on the last couple month’s developments. If it’s past about January of 2019 for you, there’s probably a more recent update here. Good luck finding the story you need.

The mathematics you need is over at this link, where I talk about the mathematics last week’s newspaper comics mentioned. I like this stuff. You might too.

Dick Tracy.

16 July – 7 October 2018.

Last time I checked in Dick Tracy was entering a charity bread-making contest so I’m sorry I have to go lie down a bit. All right. Sawtooth hopes to use the chance to kill Tracy; he and his gambling-addict partner Grimm have stolen a bread truck and, saying they were from the charity event, got into the Tracy’s home. They don’t fool Tracy for a second. He used the super-detective work of knowing the restaurant collecting the bread didn’t have a truck to send out. The fight spills out of Tracy’s kitchen, through the glass door. Sawtooth and Grimm flee as cop cars approach.

Catchem: 'How did you know Sawtooth was coming today, Tracy?' Tracy: 'We didn't. Tess and I have been ready for anything since you discovered Sawtooth. We expected Ernie's restaurant to pick up the bread, but when Tess said there was a large truck in the drive, I knew something was up. Ernie's doesn't have trucks.'
Joe Staton and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy for the 27th of July, 2018. Which, all right, Tracy’s reasoning makes sense — and was correctly foreshadowed — except that if Ernie’s doesn’t have trucks where did Sawtooth and Grimm get an Ernie’s Fine Eats truck from? Did they get it painted themselves? Why not a plain white truck that Tracy could take as something rented for the occasion?

They can’t take a train legitimately. Grimm lost the pair’s money betting on horses. Sawtooth (off-panel) kills him, and hops a freight train to Minot, North Dakota. Dick Tracy knows this thanks to one of the informants recruited by Lafayette Austin. Lafayette Austin’s this faintly Shaggy-esque introduced so prominently during the recent Green Hornet storyline that everyone had to wonder what his deal was. Early August, he explains his deal: He knew Mister Bribery and his sister Ugly Christine back in college. Back before Christine Bribery (?) turned to a life of crime. And then a death of leaping from a magnetic Moon Valley-technology Air Car into a smokestack. But he knew Ugly Christine as a beautiful person. He didn’t know she had a daughter. Ugly Crystal, friend to Honey Moon Tracy. Hold that thought.

Sawtooth: 'Grimm, this job was your second chance. Is this how you repay me? By losing my money too?' Grimm: 'It was a sure thing ... owww! Please, Sawtooth, I need a doc. My arm's killin' me!' Sawtooth: 'You're wrong, Grimm. Gambling is going to KILL YOU!'
Joe Staton and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy for the 25th of July, 2018. While we haven’t seen exactly how Sawtooth kills people, it looks awfully likely he just chews their necks open, so I can’t fault them not doing this on-screen.

Sawtooth, in Minot, goes to the Hoagland Cemetery. The grave of one “Private James Wesley Malone, CSA”. The baffling and offensive headstone is a fake. Sawtooth had left $50,000 in cash underneath it. Tracy and Sam Catchem, following the lead of Austin and of Usagi Yojimbo‘s Inspector Ishida, are already there. Sawtooth shoots first. Don’t know whether Tracy or Catchem shoots the bullet that kills him.

(Silhouetted figures at the graveyard.) Tracy: 'You've dodged arrest for too long, Sawtooth. HANDS UP!' Sawtooth: 'DODGE THIS, TRACY!' (He shoots at Tracy and Catchem.)
Joe Staton and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy for the 11th of August, 2018. I don’t talk about the art enough here, so let me just say: great panels here. Particularly the use of silhouettes with one item of clothing in the light for Tracy and Catchem.

And then, starting the 19th of August, was a two-week Minit Mystery, featuring as guest artist Rick Burchett. Burchett’s a two-time Eisner Award-winner, has penciled and inked a lot of comic books, and since 2017 pencils Funky Winkerbean. Anyway, this Minit Mystery is set at the Rogue’s Gallery, where a bunch of cosplayers feign being Dick Tracy characters. Lest you think this is entirely two weeks of self-reference and an excuse to show Flattop (deceased 1944) again, know that the Rogue’s Gallery building was established as 704 Houser. That was Archie Bunker’s address.

Anyway, the mystery is figuring out who killed the Cosplay Dick Tracy. It takes a week just to start collecting clues. The resolution is … well, there’s no information given on-camera that would let you find it. But it does show what the critical clue would be. It’s the old minute-mystery trick of an incriminating note that’s been torn off the sheet of paper, but that you can find by scraping a pencil over to read the impression of what was written there.

Third of September, and the start of the current storyline. A drug pusher by the school gets kicked out by a Sonic-the-Hedgehog-haired woman working for “Polar Vortex”. Polar Vortex seems to be quite fond of the air conditioner and he swears he’s got protection. Get his … guy … within six feet of Dick Tracy and “Poof! No more Tracy!” (I would have written “Vanished, without a Tracy” but I’m not the professional here.)

Back at school, Ugly Crystal and Honey Moon Tracy notice the drug dealer. Honey Moon calls her dad the cop, but the dealer confronts her and she kinda moon-electrocutes him. The dealer’s arrested. Honey Moon gets grounded, which I like as a nice understated joke.

Lizz: 'I'm sorry, Lafayette. I didn't know you and Christine were close. Did you know she had a daughter?' Lafayette: 'Huh?' Lizz: 'She's been in boarding schools all her life until recently. Bribery called her 'Ugly Crystal'.'
Joe Staton and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy for the 2nd of August, 2018. So what is the over/under on it turning out that when you brush the hair out of her face Ugly Crystal looks just fine, or even, you know, pleasant?

Back to Lafayette Austin. He thinks he might be Ugly Crystal’s father. He goes to Mister Bribery, in jail, for information. Bribery won’t talk with him. Tracy intervenes. Bribery is upset Tracy wants help with that “hippie” Lafayette Austin, which is a pretty good insult. It does kind of match Austin’s look, yes. But also if we accept that he was going with Ugly Christine back in the 60s, yeah, maybe we would have been a hippie. Also, rich old white guys have this weird obsession with hippies coming out and grabbing at the women-folk. So it’s possibly true, it’s funny, and it’s in-character.

It’s a bit of a weird embrace of the time-warped nature of a comic strip where characters age erratically, but, eh, so what? Crystal and Honey Moon also make a reference to “Anything Can Happen Day” on The Mickey Mouse Club and I’m not sure this is something people of their purported age cohort would have experienced. But if Honey Moon’s been a teenager for forty years? Why not?

Oh, also, turns out Lafayette’s brother is Adam Austin who writes those “Midnite Mirror” stories about the Mirror-Universe Evil Dick Tracy. And who’s going around with Sprocket Nitrate, of the film-fraud Nitrate siblings, because this crime-adventure comic is still a soap opera.

Tracy presses, though, arguing that Ugly Crystal should have a family if possible. And Bribery admits that, so far as he knew, Ugly Christine never had another serious relationship. They set up a blood test. Also the chance to meet and, for Austin, to talk about Crystal’s mother. The paternity test comes back, oddly enough sent to the Major Case Unit instead of Austin’s or Crystal’s residences. They’re daughter and father.

(Crimestoppers Textbook warns putting your address on a key makes it easy for burglars.) [ Polar Vortex's Hideout. ] Devil, looking a run-down ice cream truck: 'What the hey?' (Going in to see Vortex) 'Hey, boss. What's that hunk of junk doing here?' Vortex: 'It's all part of the plan, Devil, to recruit Crystal Bribery.' [ Elsewhere ] Dick Tracy: 'Hi, Junior. Is Crystal still getting mail at your house?' Junior Tracy: 'Yeah, why?' Dick Tracy (handing over envelopes): 'These are the results of the paternity test. One for Crystal and one for Lafayette.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 30th of September, 2018. Is … is putting your address on a key something people do? I’ve seen it on hotel keys with a holder promising postage paid if you drop it in the mailbox, but only in hotels from the 1950s or New Hampshire, not anywhere that real people live.

Meanwhile, Polar Vortex is still trying to I’ll go ahead and call it icing Dick Tracy. His plan relates to dealing drugs at Honey Moon’s school. He’s got an ice cream truck. And someone named Pauly who’s a mechanic and comes from a broken home which somehow makes him “valuable” to Vortex. And somehow this is all supposed to come together to destroying Dick Tracy. We’ll see what happens next.

Next Week!

How has Walt Wallet’s toothpaste conspiracy ranting gone? How is his roast of Little Orphan Annie going? Who is that creepily-realistically-drawn woman trading jokes with the cast? All this and more as we check what’s going on in Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley, all going well.

What’s Going On In Prince Valiant? July – September 2018.


In the headers of these What’s Going On In posts I like to include a link to my Reading the Comics posts. Those are on my mathematics blog, and use comics to discuss mathematics themes. I always have one on Sunday. But not this Sunday! This month I’m host to the Playful Mathematics Education Blog Carnival, and so I hope you’ll read it too.

Meanwhile, if you just want the latest in news about Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant, thanks for reading! If it’s later than about December 2018 I should have a more up-to-date recap, all going well. It, and any other relevant Prince Valiant posts, will be at this link.

Prince Valiant.

8 July – 30 September 2018.

When I last checked in on Prince Valiant some shocking news had come to light. It turns out Prince Valiant happens around the time of the Emperor Justinian’s reign. We know this because Justinian had dispatched one General Vialius to take over the Misty Isles. He was to do this through the treacherous and impoverished Senator Krios. This comes on the heels of the revelation-to-me that Prince Valiant’s based on the Misty Isles somewhere in the Mediterranean. At least these days.

On a secluded island Krios meets with General Vialius. The trade is easy enough. Krios had arranged the murder of a Norse trader. This was to stir up anti-foreigner sentiment that (Byzantine) Rome could exploit. But Vialius withholds the gold payment promised. Krios was supposed to supply a Norse hostage, but he had killed the only one on hand. Vialius wants to call the deal off. Krios offers his own son Antero as substitute hostage.

Upon learning that Krios cannot deliver a Norse raider as a hostage, an angry Vitalius snaps to his men: 'We no longer have business here! We leave!' 'Wait,' cries Krios, desperate to secure the patronage of the Emperor Justinian. 'Hear me out --- Justinian stands to profit much from your patience! His empire grows deeper in debt with every campaign he throws against the Vandals! If Justinian helps me gain control of the Misty Isles' tremendous trade economy, his share of all that trade will enrich his coffers beyond belief!' Vitalius sneers. 'Fine words, Krios --- you come to us driven to poverty by your gambling habits, and now you gamble that I am a fool. What, in good faith, can you offer us as a guarantee now?' Krios gestures grandly to Antero: 'I offer you the most secure guarantee possible - my own beloved son, Antero, as hostage!' This is the second child that Krios has betrayed in one day. But Antero does not react as expected - he throws his head back and laughs!
Mark Schulz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 22nd of July, 2018. The other child betrayed that day was described in the previous What’s Going On In Prince Valiant. He tried to insist his daughter Andrina was behind the murder of the Norse trader Ingolf. Antero pleaded to the Queen for the chance to protect his sister and her sick but not guilty mind.

Antero laughs this off. He points to Princess Valeta and the guard who’ve been watching all this treason going down. The Queen’s men declare how now that there’s incontrovertible proof of Krios’s treachery his place in political life is ended. Don’t you love a sweet fantasy like that? Valeta confronts Vitalius in what you’d have to figure is a pretty awkward conversation. But she offers that if they get out of there, everyone can pretend it all never happened. This sounds good to Vitalius, who doesn’t know his boats are going to be lost to the wine-dark sea, in a battle with Norse raiders. He and his whole mission will disappear to ironic history. Knowing how that turns out makes it awkward that I think he made the right choice.

Not making the right choice, yet again: Krios. When Vitalius refuses to take him along, he tries to start a battle and flee in the chaos. Antero grabs and holds his father, at least until brother Drakon spears him in the back. Drakon in turn is shot by Ittu, a woman … uh … I lost track where she’s from. I think she’s one of the attendants of Andrina, Krios’s daughter and the only one of the siblings to survive the night. Krios is able to flee in the chaos, but what good is that going to do him, really?

Krios has fled and Drakon is dead! The surviving soldiers of House Krios despondently throw down their weapons before Valeta's Royal Guards. Valeta and the Senators Charis and Methodios search the dark horizon to see Krios's sail slipping away. 'Bah!' grumbles Charis. 'And our boat lies on the far side of this isle.' 'Don't fret about father,' a soft voice gasps behind them. 'He won't be back.' It is Antero, who lies horribly wounded, barely clinging to life. 'He is finished. He was a bad gambler who lost the family fortunes and has now destroyed everything else in his treasonous bid to claim power. Know that it was he who ordered Drakon to slay the suspicious Ingolf, as well as the two servants used to incriminate the Norseman. It was all to cover and aid his plot. But, you know, he really did hate foreigners ... and now he will meet his doom in some foreign land ... ha ... ' Antero breathes his last.
Mark Schulz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 2nd of September, 2018. … Wait, hang on, so both Valeta’s group had their boats on the far side of the isle, and Vialius’s soldiers left their boats on the far side of the isle? … We either glided right past a pretty awkward scene where the lookouts blew their jobs or this is a boomerang-shaped isle and Krios just got away from the junction at the center.

And so the story moves toward conclusions. Valeta’s feted as a hero. Zulfa and Ittu, who did much to support the investigation and downfall of Krios, get saluted. Drakon gets his corpse dragged through the streets. Antero gets some recognition; through this story, he’s been the one person in Krios’s party to insist on stopping. Now there’s just Andrina to take care of. She’s angry with Zulfa for being part of the whole chain of events that got Antero killed. But Antero bequeathed his property to Zulfa. She proposes to Andrina that her brother wished they would be friends. She’s willing to try.

The “Next” tag for the 30th of September promises “The Return”. There’s an obvious person this could mean. Prince Valiant hasn’t been in this story, or this strip, since about February. He’s been busy coming back from Kazhakstan the long way, by river, building a long series of rafts that immediately capsize. Has he got back home? Has all waterway navigation in central Asia become impossible as a vast logjam of Valiant’s rafts blockades all the rivers? I don’t know. We’ll see.

Next Week!

Nice thing about Prince Valiant is that, as a weekly strip, there’s only so much plot it can have. Next week we go to the opposite end: Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy. Come see how close I come to deadline in getting all the story developments written down!

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Weekdays)? What’s The Plan To Kill Heloise Walker? July – September 2018.


Hi, readers interested in Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom. I’m writing here about the weekday continuity. It’s a story separate from what Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel have going on Sundays. Both storylines get their recaps at this page, although we’re about six weeks from the next Sunday-strips recap. Also at that page should be any recaps that I write after this one. So if you’re reading this after about December 2018 there’s probably an essay recapping more recent plot elements there.

Also posted at least once a week: a review of mathematical topics mentioned in the comics. My mathematics blog over there is also starting an always-exciting A to Z essay series. And it’s hosting the Playful Mathematics Blog Carnival this coming week, too. Please give it a try.

The Phantom (Weekdays).

2 July – 22 September 2018.

The Ghost Who Walks had got back to his cave and gotten sewn up last time I checked on the daily strip. It was part of a story, A Reckoning With The Nomad, that began the 19th of February. It’s the 250th weekday-continuity story. Eric Sahara, supercriminal terrorist known as The Nomad, had lured The Phantom into a raid on his bungalow. The Nomad wasn’t there. Many gunmen were. The Phantom got out, but with serious injuries. He wondered: Where is The Nomad?

The Nomad: 'Who is this girl? This ward of a president ... what do we really know about her?' Kadia: 'Dad, DON'T! She's the first real friend I've ever had!' Nomad: 'Who is she speaking to so ... secretively?' [ In the other room ] Heloise: 'Dad, I ... I think I'd better tell you something ... '
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 18th of July, 2018. In this conversation she only tells The Phantom that she loves him, so that’s delaying the cavalry a bit.

He’s in Manhattan, it turns out, visiting his daughter Kadia. She’s attending the prestigious Briarson School. Her roommate is Heloise Walker, daughter of the current Phantom. Also twin sister of the Phantom-apparent. Heloise would rather like to be a Phantom herself. It’s not a ridiculous plan. The Chronicles of Skull Cave record Phantom-connected women donning the purple-and-stripes for various missions. And not only in stories told recently, as we might expect a decades-old comic strip might try to downplay old casual sexism. Comics Kingdom runs 1940s and 1950s-vintage Phantom strips as well, and those have had stories of women acting as the Phantom. (The story linked to there, from 1952, is neat as it talks about that Phantom’s twin sister who decides to get into the superhero game, much as Heloise has been saying she could do.)

Still. Phantom has known for a while his daughter was roommates with The Nomad’s daughter. He’d kept this secret from his family, the better to not worry them. He had a change of heart after the ambush made him go horse-riding with a massive wound in his neck. Walker tells his daughter exactly who she’s roommates with. “Better late than in the middle of the dinner your loved one is having with the international supercriminal terrorist”, goes the Old Jungle Saying.

Because the Nomad is figuring it’s time he disappear. So he’s visiting his daughter for one last weekend before he vanishes. His pleasant tourist weekend with Kadia and Heloise was that last weekend. It’s also a neat bit of plot rhyme to the weekend Kadia and Heloise spent with The Phantom and his wife, by the way. Heloise gets this news in the middle of dinner with him. She’s ready to tell her father where The Nomad is. Fear overtakes her: if he knew, Walker would jump on an airplane right then, despite the risk to his life. She figures she can do at least as well by sticking close to the Nomad and if lucky getting an idea his plans. Pass that on to her father when he’s well enough to fight, and everything will be in great shape.

The Nomad’s got plans for Heloise too. He’s learned Heloise Walker was for a time the young ward of Bangallan President Lamanda Luaga. And that this is something she’s never found worth mentioning to Kadia. His conclusion: she’s a young agent of the Bangallan government, sent to get to him through his daughter. It’s wild but not absurd. It depends, for example, on ascribing deep meaning to Kadia and Heloise being roommates. In-story, that was set because the school’s headmaster thought it cute. Or why Heloise reveals so little about her past, or her parents. Well, there’s other good reasons for her to be quiet about all that.

So he figures to kill her before she kills him. He forms a plan that seems, at first, confusing. But the indirectness is for good reason. He doesn’t want Kadia distressed about Heloise. And also doesn’t want her asking questions about Heloise’s disappearance. So the next day he goes to the Transportation Security Agency with a report of how he’s heard Heloise goes making pro-terrorist statements like “terrorists are great” and “I love that terror stuff”. He tells them he’s glad to keep Heloise busy while they ready to arrest her. But he’ll have to act like he protests when they take her, for the sake of her daughter. You know he donates so much to the TSA’s widows-and-orphans fund? (Which is a heck of a sick joke that DePaul left there for you to realize was there.)

Chief, explaining to his cops and The Nomad: 'Here's how I want this handled ... ' The Nomad, thinking: 'Useful idiots ... in time, Kadia will come to believe Heloise Walker was not a friend, but a dangerous foreign agent. Her unexplained disappearance will be entirely plausible! And I, in Kadia's eyes, forever blameless ... '
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 3rd of August, 2018. Oh, such a cynical take on the security apparatus here. … Hey, remember that time a couple years ago the FBI crime lab admitted they just made up their reports? And we decided we were okay with that as long as we didn’t know the wrongly convicted either personally or because a really good podcast investigated their case?

The Nomad treats his daughters to dinner on his own private jet, on the runway yet. Heloise steps out to text her father about how she knows who the Nomad is and how she’s going to get his trail. She’s barely done giving the cavalry pretext to arrive when she’s arrested. Kadia demands her father do something. He does: he pretends to talk with the Chief. And that the Chief told her Heloise is going to federal custody. He takes the batteries from Kadia’s phone and tells her to rest. And to process the news that Heloise is some kind of terrorist and going away to Federal custody. Thus he has this goal: Kadia has a story to why Heloise will never be seen again.

[ The Nomad's Lies ] Nomad, faking ap hone call: 'Yes, Chief ... I ... I understand. No, we had no idea. She deceived us rather convincingly ... ' Kadia: 'Dad! What's happening!?' Nomad: 'Thank you for your vigilance, Chief. Goodbye.' (To Kadia.) 'They're turning your friend over to federal authorities ... she's not the person you think she is!
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 27th of August, 2018. I’m impressed that The Nomad can fake a phone call like that on his smart phone. When I’ve held a smart phone I can’t get it to start a call, or make a call, or end a call. If my 2008-era phone ever gives out I’ll just have to never speak to anyone on the phone ever again, which would be all right, really.

Meanwhile the security apparatus has done some investigating. They’ve worked out that Heloise Walker may be a Bangallan national. But she is white and rich and I’m guessing Anglican. (I mean, the original Phantom was born in England in the 16th century, so there’s an obvious guess but also plenty of room for that guess to be wrong. And there’s five hundred years since then, even if the family’s settled on some strong traditions. Doesn’t seem to be practicing any European religion strongly, anyway.) They let her back into the Nomad’s custody. This seems quick. But a cop that The Nomad encounters on the airport tarmac does say how Heloise checked out, and it’s worth reporting people anyway. You never really know.

The Nomad, faking a call to his daughter: 'She [ Heloise ] wants you to exit the jet and show yourself. Ha-ha! Yes! I've told her that myself --- she's being QUITE ridiculous!' Heloise: 'Kadia would NEVER say that about me! You see, I happen to KNOW and LOVE her far better than THE NOMAD ever could!'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 8th of September, 2018. I’m glad Heloise wasn’t suspicious about The Nomad’s “Ha-ha” laugh. Truth be told, I do that myself. Also “Hee hee” and “Tee hee”, because I’m pretty sure I learned how to laugh by just trusting that the noises people made in the comic strips were what the hew-mons did in reality.

The Nomad brings Heloise back to his plane and explains that of course he’s dismissed all his servants. Also Kadia’s totally on the plane. She insists on calling Kadia first. When she only gets voice-mail, she fears The Nomad has killed Kadia. And lets slip that she knows who he is. She flees. He catches her and knocks her out. He takes her into the plane. He’s going to fly her to somewhere he can throw her into the sea.

(One of her shoes fell off, since high heels are always doing that. The cop I mentioned earlier drives up when The Nomad’s picking up the shoe. He considers killing the cop, to cover up that possible thread. But the cop only talks about the importance of keeping everyone under surveillance, and doesn’t seem to notice the shoe, so The Nomad lets him go.)

(The Nomad, throwing a shoe onto the unconscious Heloise on his plane.) 'This is YOURS, I believe. And now we're free to queue for departure! Join me in the cockpit when you're able. We'll speak of your guardian, the great Lamanda Luaga! And what fools you both are ... '
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 19th of September, 2018. Still impressed by The Nomad’s phone-call-faking game, by the way. Just didn’t have space to mention it in the previous caption.

The unconscious Heloise dreams of sparring with her brother Kit. His dream-image is urging her to wake, now. The Nomad’s holding for clearance to take off.

Next Week!

It’s time to check in on Mark Schulz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant. Has the strip been invaded by the Byzantine Empire under Justinian? You’ll know soon!

Statistics Saturday: Days Since I Have Wanted To Slug _Funky Winkerbean_ Harder Than I Ever Wanted To Slug It Before, This Week


Really looking forward to next week, gotta tell you.

Starting from Sunday: 2 days, 1 day, 2 days, 3 days, 1 day, 1 day, 1 day.
And so you understand where I’m coming from, I read the comic strip back in the mid-90s during Les Moore’s Summertime Lisa Near-Missapalooza European Tour, where every day for about 12 years straight we saw in panel one, Dead Lisa Who Would Die Of Death departing some great European tourist attraction, in panel two nobody we know, and then in panel three, Les running into the scene crying out for Dead Lisa Who Would Die Of Death.

(This past week, Mopey Pete and Boy Lisa were told by their boss at the comics company that they needed a new flagship character. Mopey Pete’s girlfriend who inexplicably hasn’t shoved him over a cliff yet suggested “Atomic Ape” and the boss loved it. Then since the boss figured Atomic Ape needed a sidekick, she suggested “Charger Chimp” and the boss loved it too. Then Mopey Pete spent half the week yelling at his alleged girlfriend about how they were trying to do SERIOUS stuff here and he always hated kid sidekick characters and I guess somehow a chimpanzee has to be an annoying kid sidekick? Anyway, his alleged girlfriend was gone from the strip Saturday and if she has any sense, she’s put in for a transfer to some three-generations-and-a-dog strip like Ben or One Big Happy where they avoid focusing on the hateful characters quite so much.)

Reference: The Frozen-Water Trade, Gavin Weightman.

What’s Going On In The Amazing Spider-Man? Who’s Writing And Drawing Spider-Man? June – September 2018.


Artist Larry Lieber retired from the syndicated Amazing Spider-Man comic strip. D D Degg, with The Daily Cartoonist, reports that Alex Saviuk is now pencilling and inking the daily strips. Lieber had been drawing the strip for thirty years. Stan Lee is still the writer of record. Degg notes that Roy Thomas is “generally known” to be the ghost writer. He hasn’t gotten any official credit though.

So with that fairly answered let me get back to recapping the plot of Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s The Amazing Spider-Man. Any plot recaps — or other news that seems worthy — about the comic strip that I post later on should be at this link.

And my mathematics blog uses a lot of comic strips to inspire discussion, at least once and usually several times a week. Thanks for checking that out.

The Amazing Spider-Man

17 June – 16 September 2018.

When I last checked, Spider-Man and Iron Fist were enjoying the Ritual Fight Until They Realize They’re Both Heroes all superheroes must do. They were outside the 14th-floor window of the hospital where FBI Agent Jimmy Woo recovered from a clobbering. I guessed Spidey and Fist would stop fighting and team up by Wednesday. By Wednesday Spidey had stopped fighting on the grounds his Spider-Sense told him Woo was in peril. Iron Fist smashes through the building wall, interrupting the woman trying to inject Woo with poison. She and her henchman try holding Doctor Christine Palmer hostage, but Spider-Man webs them. The heroes vanish.

[ Spider-Man and Iron Fist confer on a hospital rooftop. ] Iron Fist: 'The next time you shoot your sticky web stuff at me...' Spider-Man: 'I don't like the idea of our teaming up any more than you do.' Iron Fist: 'In that case, you REALLY don't like it!' Spider-Man: 'But if we work separately, we'll only be duplicating our efforts.' Iron Fist: 'What makes you think YOU can track down this so-called 'Golden Claw' as fast as I could?' Spider-Man: 'Hey, I've put away Dr Octopus, Green Goblin --- a whole slew of bad guys! Who've you got on your resume, a couple of jaywalkers?' Iron Fist: 'Did you ever hear of THE HAND?' Spider-Man: 'What? A guy called FIST fought somebody called THE HAND? I'll bet you gave him a knuckle sandwich, right?' Iron Fist: 'Now you're really beginning to ANNOY me!'
Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 1st of July, 2018. I understand that there’s very little space in that bottom-row, first-panel to name and show villains. But it does mean Spider-Man’s “slew” of captured villains doesn’t include, like, a third example. I like his “knuckle sandwich” line, though, probably because it’s the kind of dumb joke I’d make in the situation.

Spider-Man suggests they team up, the better to find the “Golden Claw” behind the attacks on Woo. Iron Fist resists the idea, but wonders if Spidey might be right. He reveals himself to be Danny Rand, billionaire CEO of Rand Enterprises, survivor of a plane crash in the Training-White-Guys-To-Have-Mystic-Powers-Of-The-Inscrutable-East district of the Himalayas and recently returned to civilization. Went to school with The Shadow, Mandrake the Magician, Kit Walker Junior, and the 90s-animated-series Batman. Peter Parker responds to this show of trust by running away. Also by collecting the camera he’d secreted away to get photos of his Fight Cute with the Iron Fist. His are the first photographs that prove Iron Fist exists, and they make a front page photo-and-story for Peter Parker.

Petey mopes, though. He feels guilty not responding to Iron Fist’s trust in kind. And for proving Iron Fist exists, when he’d been working sub rosa against The Hand, another of those criminal syndicates I guess. Robbie Robertson, managing editor of The Daily Bugle, gives Parker the tip that Iron Fist has something to do with the martial arts studio. Parker swallows his conscience enough to go there and ask for its manager, Colleen Wing. The woman running the place sets an appointment for him at 11:00, on Crouching Dragon street.

It’s in the Chinatown district of the comic strip. The National Authors Advisory Council on Unconscious Racism dispatches an observer they dearly hope they can spare from Mark Trail. The women from the dojo lead Peter Parker through the twisty passages deeper into Chinatown. And then turn on him, attacking him with swords he dodges by using his spider-powers. He worries how to keep dodging them without giving away his secret identity when someone clobbers him with a giant metal mace. I know it’s a standard joke in Newspaper Spider-Man snarking circles to mention how he keeps getting hit in the head. But, boy, he keeps getting hit in the head.

[ As Peter tries to evade the three swordswomen attacking him ... ] Suwan; 'Someone has felled the brash reporter!' (He's hit by a very large metal ball.) Golden Claw: 'You left me NO CHOICE but to do it myself.' Swordswoman: 'Golden Claw!' Suwan: 'Grand-Uncle!'
Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 30th of July, 2018. From John Dunning’s On The Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio. Ahem: The Green Lama, June 5 – August 20, 1949, CBS. “Cast: Paul Frees as Jethro Dumont, `wealthy young American who, after ten years in Tibet, returned as the Green Lama, to amaze the world with his curious and secret powers, in his singlehanded fight against injustice and crime’. Ben Wright as Tulku, his faithful Tibetan servant. Jack Kruschen in many roles. Also from the Hollywood radio ranks, Georgia Ellis, William Conrad, Gloria Blondell, Lillian Buyeff, Lawrence Dobkin, etc.” Dunning’s etc, not mine.

So the woman apparently running the dojo was not Colleen Wing. She was Suwan, grand-niece of the Golden Claw. Golden Claw has the real Colleen Wing bound. And he figures that Peter Parker, as the husband of Broadway actor Mary Jane Parker, is too important to simply make disappear somehow (?). Golden Claw demands to know what Parker knows of Iron Fist and Spider-Man. He claims all he ever did was get close enough to Iron Fist to take a photograph. Suwan searches Parker enough to find his boarding pass, showing he did just get back from Miami. She doesn’t search enough to find the Spider-Man costume he’s wearing under his clothes. She does discover Jimmy Woo was the FBI agent her grand-uncle ordered killed, though, and that’s a problem. She’s always loved him. Golden Claw has given her clear orders to get over him, but no.

Golden Claw: 'I shall deal with you later, Colleen Wing. At this time, I must turn my full attention to Peter Parker.' Parker (bound): 'Don't --- put yourself out --- on my account, Claw.' Claw: 'I am well aware you are suspected of being a confidant of the one called Spider-Man.' Parker: 'Did you take an online course to learn how to talk like that?'
Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 6th of August, 2018. Now here, Parker’s being snide in a way that makes me edgy. However, yeah, Golden Claw is being wordy. And wordy in a way I catch myself doing. Those times you catch me writing well? That’s because I took the time to squeeze like 20% of my words out of the essay.

And then in comes wide crime boss The Kingpin. He got released from jail at the start of this story. It’s part of the Superhero Parole Board’s longrunning, popular “Let’s Just See What They’ll Do” program. What he’ll do is order Wing and Parker taken to Wing’s studio where they can be set on fire. Iron Fist interrupts their murder, and punches the henchmen’s truck into Apartment 3-G. But they’ve still got Colleen Wing, and are ready to shoot her. And then Suwan does her heel-face turn, tasering the henchmen. She feels no loyalty to her grand-uncle now that he’s broken his pledge to not hurt Jimmy Woo, so, that’s nice to have settled.

(Iron Fist punches the henchmen's truck, sending it crashing into the second storey of the Chinatown building they're nearby.) Peter Parker: 'You did that with just your FIST?' Iron Fist: 'Well ... I had years of TRAINING.'
Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 25th of August, 2018. Going back to the Green Lama. “In this scenario, Jethro Dumont was made a lama because of his amazing powers of concentration. He chose the color green because it was one of the `six sacred colors of Tibet’, symbolizing justice. His chant, opening and closing each show, was Om manipadme hum!” Music by Richard Aurandt and producer-directors Norman Macdonnell and James Burton, [ extremely old-time-radio nerd voice ] because of course. [ Normal voice ] I keep wanting to make this be the Green Llama.

She won’t explain the plot in front of Peter Parker. And that’s all right. He’s wanted to get into his secret identity anyway. He walks off, muttering, “Gosh, I wonder where Spider-Man, that excellent superhero everybody loves, is” and then coming back in costume. Iron Fist, Suwan, and Wing sigh, roll their eyes, and say, “Jeepers, it sure is lucky Peter Parker was able to get in touch with you by some mysterious means so fast”.

Spider-Man, outside the crime summit: 'The crime summit's taking place --- in the Mammon Theatre?' (Thinking: 'The place where my wife's been starring in a hit play!' Suwan: 'It was recently shuttered because of structural damage. My granduncle convinced the Kingpin it was the ideal spot for their conclave ... and they bribed the contractors to abandon the site for this evening.' Spider-Man: 'But if they carry out their MURDER PLOT, the theatre might be totally destroyed. It may never open again!'' Suwan: 'Surely, Spider-Man, the possible folding of a Broadway play is the least of our worries right now!' Spider-Man: 'Yeah ... I guess it HAS to be!'
Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 9th of September, 2018. I have the feeling that nobody has ever included Newspaper Peter Parker in the planning of a successful surprise party. He’s got the secret-keeping skills of an eight-year-old asked to not tell his younger brother there’s sheet cake waiting in the garage.

So what’s going on: Suwan leads them all to the Mammon Theatre. It’s the temporarily-closed location of Picture Perfect, the play Mary Jane Parker’s starring in. It’s also where Golden Claw and Kingpin booked their crime summit. Their plan: they’re going to tell everyone they’re taking over everybody’s rackets and this solves their problems, see? But Kingpin and Golden Claw are really going to kill them all. The first part of the plan goes great. All New York City’s gangsters are thrilled by this opportunity to be taken over. They’re fired up with enthusiasm and bullets. And that’s where the story’s reached now.

Next Week!

Alley Oop jumped the line, so we’ll just let him rest in 1816 Switzerland and that rerun. And next on my cycle is … Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity.

Statistics Saturday: Pies Cooling On Windowsills In Henry This Past Year


Month Pies Cooling On Windowsills In Henry This Month
September 2017 0
October 2017 0
November 2017 0
December 2017 0
January 2018 0
February 2018 0
March 2018 0
April 2018 0
May 2018 0
June 2018 0
July 2018 0
August 2018 0
September (through the 15th) 2018 0

Not counted: two instances of pies shown on display in the window fronts of bakeries. My reasons for this are that pies are appropriate items to have on display in the window fronts of bakeries, even in real life; that said windows are not shown open and so the pies cannot be considered even loosely to be on a sill; and that there is no way to know the temperature of said pies on display and therefore whether to ascertain whether they are cooling relative to the general decline of the universe.

I know, I’m shocked too. And you know what else is shocking?

Teacher: 'Now, Henry, will you please read your poem?' (Henry stands up at his desk.) Teacher: 'I can't hear you, dear. You will have to raise your voice!' (Henry stands on top of his desk.

Oh yeah, also? A big gee, thanks to the Apple imagineers behind the spreadsheet Numbers who made it impossible to make this as the bar chart I wanted, with bars that started out in the indefinite foggy mists below and rose to zero and stopped there. I’m not as annoyed with you as I am with the Google Maps imagineers so your pit of wolverines is actually just a closet I’m going to lock you in with them, and they’ve been convincingly told you routinely insist Firefly is crazy overrated.

Doing this has lead me to discover that the Henry that got me all worked up this Monday, the 10th, they also ran the 19th of September, 2017, just about one year ago. And the strip has been running the strips from just about one year ago a while now and I only just noticed. They’ve done a little recoloring, like changing the flowers on the teacher’s desk, but that’s all.

Reference: Henry II: The Vanquished King, John Tate Appleby.

Is the comic strip Henry ending? Is the comic strip Hazel ending?


Yeah. According to D D Degg over at The Daily Cartoonist, King Features Syndicate is ending the reruns of a bunch of comic strips. Two of them I’ve even heard of.

The most prominent is Henry, created by Carl Anderson. The one featuring the pantomime kid with a peanut-shaped head. Who lives somewhere there’s probably pies cooling on windowsills. Anderson had to step down from the comic strip in 1942, but other people drew it until … maybe 1990 for the dailies and 1995 for the Sunday strips? Nobody seems to quite know, which is one of the many baffling things about the comic strip. The web site claims Carl Anderson as author and that’s just a lie. At least the Sunday strips would often have Don Trachte’s name on the title panel. But I don’t know if he wrote all the dailies too, or when he might have stopped, or when the current reruns are from. Trachte, who died in 2005, was one of Anderson’s assistants. He took over the Sunday strips in 1942 and made them through to 1995. So that’s an amazing run, too. Wikipedia claims the comic was still run in about 75 newspapers, but I don’t know any of them. Henry‘s last day of weekday reruns is to be the 27th of October, and the last Sunday rerun, the 28th.

Teacher: 'Now, Henry, will you please read your poem?' (Henry stands up at his desk.) Teacher: 'I can't hear you, dear. You will have to raise your voice!' (Henry stands on top of his desk.
Carl Anderson’s Henry rerun for the 10th of September, 2018. Also: um, what exactly did the teacher think was going to happen when Henry read his poem? Has she not been in this comic since Herbert Hoover was president for crying out loud? Does she not learn from experience?

Also ending: Ted Key’s Hazel. This comic strip started as panel cartoons for the Saturday Evening Post in like 1943. The strip got made into a live-action sitcom in the 60s. It’s been with King Features since the collapse of the Saturday Evening Post. Ted Key — who also created Sherman and Mister Peabody, so show some respect — retired from the strip in 1993 and I guess it’s been in reruns since then? At least there’s no explicit statements from anyone that someone else took over writing, and Key’s signature is still on the panels. Wikipedia thinks it ran in fifty newspapers in 2008. Goodness knows how many it’s in now. It’s to end the 29th of September.

Hazel, looking at the short-cut, flower-printed dress: 'They've got to be kidding!'
Ted Key’s Hazel rerun for the 10th of September, 2018. I feel like by the pattern and cut of the dress it ought to be possible to date its original publication to with a couple years, except that comic strips often have these weird cultural lags, which is to say that I’m guessing Mallard Fillmore is still wandering onto college campuses and finding dirty filthy long-haired hippies protesting Vietnam. Only this time, they’re protesting that Vietnam doesn’t have big enough safe spaces with Wi-Fi, nudge nudge ha ha ha (dies).

Also ending are two comic strip-like things I never knew existed. One is Sally Huss’s Happy Musings, an illustration-and-a-maxim panel that’s been going since 2006, Degg reports. It’s to end the 29th of September. And Play Better Golf With Jack Nicklaus, a thrice-a-week illustrated feature about furniture repair, is to end the week of the 15th of October. Its writer, Ken Bowden, had died in 2017, and its artist, Jim McQueen, died in 2016. Degg thinks the strip was in reruns before then. I couldn’t say anything to the contrary. Jack Nicklaus isn’t dead as far as I know, although I admit I don’t have anyone checking on that for me.

I’m sad to see any comic strip ending, of course. But Hazel and Henry ended long ago, really. It’s maybe nostalgically comfortable to see them around, but that’s something for web site reprints to do. Henry, also, serves as a weak thread of inspiration to all of us who dreamed of being a cartoonist and then discovered cartooning was hard work. Anderson — who was born while the Seige of Petersburg was still going on, for crying out loud — had his hit comic strip character picked up by King Features in 1934, when he was 69 years old. It suggests there’s time for all of us yet. This overlooks that Anderson had been working as a cartoonist and commercial artist for decades before hitting what we’ve arbitrarily named “success” here. Still, Henry got to be in a Betty Boop cartoon. That’s the kind of accomplishment few people will ever get to enjoy.

What’s Going On In Judge Parker? Who’s Now Dead In Judge Parker? June – September 2018


Interested in catching up on Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker? Enough to tolerate being put back a week for fast-breaking Alley Oop news? Not enough to wait for news about what’s happening to Henry? Then you’re in a correct enough spot.

Plots keep moving. If you’re reading this after about December 2018, I’ll probably have written another recap. And that’ll get the strip closer to whenever you’re reading this. That essay, when it exists, should be here. Where the essay is when it doesn’t exist is a problem I’m not competent to answer.

But I am competent to talk mathematics too. I talk about comic strips that do mathematics over here.

[ Desperate to locate the comic strip home of the 'pretty girl' character who's wandered into Zippy's domain, Griffy ransacks 'Apartment 3-G' ] Lu Ann: 'I don't know WHY but I have this terrible feeling I'm being ... satirized! Now please leave.' Griffy: 'But -- we work for the same syndicate!' [ Visits 'Judge Parker' ] Griffy: 'She may be in copyright violation!' Parker: 'I don't see a SEARCH WARRANT, Mister --- I'll see you in court!' [ And tracks down 'Mark Trail' ] Griffy: 'No, she doesn't have an ear tag or a tufted forelock.' Mark Trail: 'Sorry, Chief --- if she's not tagged or tufted, I can't help you!'
Bill Griffith’s Zippy the Pinhead for the 20th of August, 2002. Part of the storyline that sees him withering under the gaze of Mary Worth. Yes, this will likely reappear when it’s Mark Trail’s turn to be talked about here.

Judge Parker.

10 June – 8 September 2018.

I have noticed a certain strange rhythm to Francesco Marciuliano’s Judge Parker plotting. There’ll be a crazification stage, where all sorts of big, Days Of The Week style explosion messes up everybody’s status quo. Characters run around, often yelling at each other, often through pop-culture terminologies. They act like they would in a movie about the events. Then there’s a retrenchment. It reads like Marciuliano has let the soap-opera craziness grow enough, and then stopped to think. Allow the crazypants thing to have happened. How would responsible authorities and reasonable grown-ups, the people whose task in life is to make things boring, handle it? (This is not to say boring is bad. The point of society is that people can be bored. They should be able to live without an endless fight for shelter and food and warmth and affection and stimulation. They should be able to take stuff for granted.) Some common sense comes in, and some of the plotting that makes sense for a soap opera but not for real life melts away. The story becomes a bit less preposterous, and the characters get a little breathing room. Sometimes there’s a flash-forward a couple months. And then it’s time for a fresh explosion.

When I last checked in, the strip had set off one of those explosions. I think we’re in the retrenchment phase, readying to maybe flash forward and start something new. So it’s a good time to recap events.

Cop: 'So Ms Danube offered you a position you didn't want because you were still angry over the last time you worked together. But then you moved to L.A. the precise time she did?' Spencer: 'That's ... that's not the timeline! I mean, that wasn't ... it's not why ... ' Cop: 'Ms Spencer, where were you late June 3rd, early June 4th, 2018?' Spencer: 'I ... I was alone.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 30th of June, 2018. Oh, yeah, so far there hasn’t been any follow-up to the appearance of an apartment numbered 3-G last time around. They got a pizza.

Godiva Danube is dead, killed in time to mess up my previous plot recap. Shot in a hotel room. Neddy Spencer is shocked. She’d had a big and public fight with Danube days before. Prominent enough that the police ask about it. Besides the fight at the restaurant there is how they were partners in that clothing business swallowed up by a sinkhole. And local-tv-news footage of Spencer yelling she’d get even with Danube for throwing her under the bus. That Danube had asked Spencer to be her assistant before moving to Los Angeles, and Spencer refused, and then moved to Los Angeles anyway. That Spencer was alone the night Danube got shot.

This gets Neddy Spencer freaking not. I mean, it’s crazy to imagine the United States justice system convicting an innocent but available person. But crazy things happen in soap operas. Anyway, Neddy’s work-friend Ronnie Huerta has other suspicions. The police interrogated her about whether she knew of Spencer using or dealing drugs. Huerta’s also used the Google and realized Danube’s talk about movies she’s making was nonsense. Why would Danube want an assistant for a fake movie shoot? Why is the press asking the police department about rumors of CIA cooperation on the hotel murder of a minor actor? What if Danube was drug-trafficking? And needed some warm bodies?

Spencer and Huerta do the one thing you do, when you’re plausibly the suspect for a murder. They go trying to solve it themselves. At least investigate it. I don’t read cozy-mysteries often. Too much to do. But if someone out there knows of a cozy-mystery where the protagonist, having taken time away from her job as a part-time book reviewer for the Twee County News to solve the murder, gets yelled at by the sheriff for screwing up an investigation that otherwise was going fine and actually obeying rules of admissible evidence and all that, please let me know. I can dedicate a weekend to reading that.

[INT STEVE'S APARTMENT BUILDING - NIGHT] Clarke: 'OK! OK! Will you stop trying to rip my arm off?!' Spencer: 'It's called a hammerlock. Get to know it unless you start talking.' Clarke: 'All right! I ... ow! I'm talking! After Godiva's death, they came right for me. They demanded I tell them everything ... so I just started giving names. I remembered your fight in the restaurant, so I told them about you. I swear, it's as simple as that ... until you came here and made a plausible connection between the two of us.' Huerta: 'I can't believe Boy Toy has a point.' Clarke: 'But I'm through talking to the cops, and you're not the only one Godiva used ... '
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 22nd of July, 2018. By the way, Spencer and Huerta are very sure that Clarke here is an attractive blonde idiot. I don’t think there’s evidence for that, though. I remember him falling speechless during Spencer’s and Danube’s fight. But that seems like the best way to avoid a weird, awkward, very public scene to me.

Anyway, they follow their two leads. One is Sam Driver, who’s way off back in the strip’s original headquarters of Cavelton. They ask if he knows anything about Godiva Danube running drugs or anything suspicious like that? He gets back to them while they’re talking with their other lead, Danube’s boyfriend, Steve Clarke. They went to his apartment figuring, well, they don’t have any leverage and don’t know anything. But what the heck. They’re attractive women. He’s a guy. He might blurt something out. It goes well: in bare moments they’ve knocked out his roommate and have him in a hammerlock. He explains what he knows: nothing. But the cops wanted to know everything, so all he could offer was that he knew Neddy Spencer’s name. And that was all he knew, at least until they broke into his apartment “and made a plausible connection between the two of us”. Which is a moment of retrenchment. This is one of the reasons it’s stupid to go investigating the crime you’re suspected of.

Oh, also, Clarke knows that Danube was shipping drugs around. She’d fled a fading Hollywood career and the factory collapse by making low-budget Eastern European lousy movies. Her studio was a front for a drug cartel. Danube’s boyfriend-producer was also sleeping with other women. She ran off with a big chunk of his shipment. But the East European cartel wouldn’t have shot her, not in the United States: it would cross territorial lines and open a turf war they want. But other than that, he doesn’t know anything. (This is sounding like the informer scene in an episode of Police Squad, I admit. Maybe Angie Tribeca.)

As they’re getting this exposition Sam Driver calls back. He’s got news. The CIA figures Danube’s boyfriend is the head of an Eastern European drug cartel. One who gives the CIA information, and takes payment in favors. He wanted Danube dead as a new favor. The CIA’s happy to arrange this because they figured they could someone specific to kill Danube. And then capture the murderer. That would be April Spencer.

Sam, on the phone: 'I was told Godiva's drug lord ex is an information point man for the CIA in Eastern Europe. Occasionally he gets paid in favors. And one he wanted in particular was to have Godiva killed without having to step into the US. But in return the CIA wanted someone to come back and do the job. Someone they could pin it on and capture once and for all ... '
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 2nd of August, 2018. By the way, you may wonder who exactly it was Sam Driver called to get all this hot information about what’s going on in Judge Parker. And I’m not saying. But, I did notice a suspicious number of page views coming from Cavelton all of a sudden.

Who’s the other party who was freaking out at Danube’s death. And the other major plot thread going crazy here. She was there to kill Danube. She found Danube already dead. She and her father learn Danube had changed hotels for no obvious reason. And checked in under the name “Renee Bell”, one of April’s old fake identities. April’s father Norton goes crazy trying to get in touch with Wurst, their reliable big strong guy with a beard and tie.

It takes a couple months, reader time, to find why Wurst isn’t returning Norton’s calls. He’s in some posh Austrian manor house, where Danube’s ex-boyfriend/producer has kidnapped Wurst’s sister. But Wurst arranged for the murder of Danube, so here’s his sister back, and all’s well, right? Well, except that the ex-boyfriend/producer is figuring to kill Wurst as soon as he can. Wurst takes a cue from the Ghost Who Walks and breaks right back into the ex-boyfriend/producer’s lair. He goes a bit farther than The Phantom and kills them all, including killing the ex-boyfriend/producer with his bare hands. And then reports to his partner (he has a partner?) that it’s successfully done.

Norton's partner, on the phone: 'Norton, you've got no one to blame but yourself. You chose this life. You chose to bring your daughter into it. And now whatever support network you had is gone. Because, obviously ... I've been keeping you on the phone so we can locate your signal. After all, I have a job to do.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 18th of August, 2018. I suppose that it is a sensible and correct use of the term. It just feels weird for these superspy-secret-agenty types to be talking about the people Norton knows as his “support network”. I think of one’s support network as the people who’ll reply to your tweet about having a lousy day with pictures of animals riding capybaras. And Norton strikes me as way more an opossums-carrying-babies person.

Norton gets in touch with his own CIA contact. Of course Wurst, his go-between, double-crossed them; who else could? And for all the work he’s done for “rogue” and illegal CIA operations, what could they do but turn on and eat their own? And if it takes trapping April to get Norton, why not? The CIA contact says he totally wasn’t trying to take Norton down. He even gave the Los Angeles police that tip about Neddy Spencer, to confuse things and buy Norton time. Also that, well, now there’s like a dozen CIA agents outside Norton’s cabin. Retrenchment: you can’t run around being crazy-superpowered killers for hire, not forever. You get attention. You get caught.

He tells April to save herself, like by using the tunnel out the back. One might think the CIA would have someone posted to watch the tunnel out back. But, c’mon, we can allow in a work of fiction the idea that the CIA might make a blunder that a modest bit of intelligence-gathering would avoid. And, I suppose, they cared about Norton, who goes out in the open to keep their attention. April was only of passing interest, as merely being an escapee from Super Duper Top Secret CIA Agent Jail. She sneaks out.

Neddy Spencer and Huerta have second thoughts about leaving Clarke alone. He swears he’s had enough of police and isn’t going to tell anyone anything. But: he has a lot of information about Danube’s death and if he doesn’t tell anyone anything, and he gets killed, then what happens? So they go back to his apartment. The find him and his roommate, on the floor, in pools of their own blood. They start to back away when they’re confronted by a sinister-talking man in an brown suit. He knows who they are. And says he was leaving, but this is great for him. Killing them right now will clear up a lot of things. Less great for him: April Parker’s there, and ready to kill him. This is another by-hand killing. Huerta, who doesn’t know April Parker even exists, is horrified by this, and that Neddy knows this. April says, “I heard the CIA set you up. Sam helped me once. So consider us even”. … All right, then.

Spencer and Huerta, shaking. Huerta: 'Okay, seriously, PLEASE! PLEASE don't --- ' Killer: 'Oh, why beg when you can just die with a little MMPH!!!!' (He's choked by April Spencer.)
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 6th of September, 2018. And again, you may wonder how April Spencer knew to come here of all places and here at all times but again, I don’t want to say too much but did notice a suspicious number of page views coming from Los Angeles all of a sudden.

There are comic strips it’s safe to make guesses about storyline shapes. Judge Parker, these days, is not among them. But I think we are getting into retrenchment on the Murder of Godiva Danube. One where people who have authority in investigating murders take the lead on the investigation, and about arresting the people who can be arrested and declaring innocent the people who are. I’m expecting a narrative bubble to the effect of “Months Pass … ” soon. We’ll see how that works out.

[ INT STEVE CLARKE'S APARTMENT BUILDING - DAY ] Spencer: 'Ronnie, listen --- ' Huerta: 'YOU listen!' Spencer: 'I can explain --- ' Huerta: 'What more could there possibly be to tell? I thought you were just some pathetic rich girl who couldn't get food orders right --- and you still can't --- but it turns out your entire childhood was the Artful Dodger with Krav Maga! And your ex-best-friend was killed by the Drug Lord of Vienna! And your family is friends with some supermodel assassin! Plus, let's not forget your sister was kidnapped by some crazed half-aunt no one ever heard of before and probably will never hear from again, because why should anything make any sense?!? AND I'm surrounded by three corpses. So can we just go now, Neddy?!' Spencer: 'Yeah, let's ... let's leave before anyone else decides to show up.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 9th of September, 2018. You know what? This kind of covers everything. Skip all my text. … And, you know, just leaving is a good way to handle discovering that three people, two of whom you have assaulted and battered in the past week, are dead.

Anyway, so, certainly dead: Godiva Danube. Danube’s drug-kingpin ex-boyfriend/bad-movie-producer. Drug-Kingpin’s bodyguards and “support network”. Mysterious CIA-affiliated man come to kill off Neddy Spencer. Danube’s temp Los Angeles boyfriend Steve Clarke and his roommate. Possibly dead: April Parker’s father Norton.

Next Week!

Superheroes! Journalism! Supervillains! Off-Broadway Theater! It’s Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s The Amazing Spider-Man! Ask how much Lee and Leiber actually have to do with the comic strip by name.