Before I get to Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley I want to give a heads-up about Tom Batiuk’s Funky Winkerbean. According to newspaper articles, Funky Winkerbean is in the next couple months doing a story with the suicide of a character. People who do not need that sort of thing in their reading-for-fun may want to drop the strip for a while. I’ll try to give an all-clear when the immediate aftermath has passed.
It is a startling development. Since the 2008 time-jump, skipping a decade in which Les Moore spectacularly failed to deal with the death of his wife Lisa, Funky Winkerbean has moved mostly past its misery porn incarnation. This is the most serious topic for a storyline in quite a while.
I hope for the story to be a good, thoughtful exploration of why a person would suicide, and how the people around them react and are changed. I’m always hoping for this. I will snark so far as to admit that after the storyline about gay students going to the prom (the principal says of course gay students can go to prom since there’s no rule that says they can’t, and we never even see the gay students on-screen), and the storyline about a fictional version of the Virginia Rappe killing and what that did to Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle (in this version, a talking chimp killed her), I … well. Just.
All right, I expect the story to be handled with all the deftness of Inspector Clouseau, unaware that he’s swallowed the horse tranquilizer, stomping about Charles-Philipe-Louis Desuetude’s Irreplaceable Antiques Boutiquery, while he’s wearing roller skates and somehow has his hands trapped inside cans of potted meat. But, I promise, I hope it’s a good story. I just want people who do not need even a well-handled story about suicide in their recreational reading to know, and to plan accordingly.
Now back to my real business.
24 June – 14 September 2019
Oh, right, Jim Scancarelli was making a fool of me last time. Rufus had taken in Willow, a woman fleeing from wolves. She moved in, ate all his food, and (passively) kicked him out of the house. As Rufus tells his woes to Mayor Melba Rose, he thinks he sees Willow. On the ride home with Joel, Rufus worries how to make her leave. He even puts a coin in the wishing well to hope the problem goes away.
And … it works. Willow and her dog Toro are gone. She’s cleaned the house, and done Rufus’s laundry. In the note she also mentions seeing Rufus’s lovely Lady Friend, Melba. It’s the ending everyone wishes for from awkward social interactions. The unpleasant person is gone, leaving behind nothing but a note of thanks and the scent of fresh-cut flowers.
So, the 19th of July, we get into the new story. It looks like it’s more of Rufus courting Melba. He stops in the jewelry store for another encounter with Frank Nelson. In-between insults Rufus is able to buy a $15 cubic zirconia brooch. But, leaving the store, he trips and wrenches his ankle. Plus a crow swipes the brooch.
A cop takes the note that Rufus slipped on a broken sidewalk. This seems like the setup for something not yet paid off. And he brings Rufus to the Gasoline Alley Care Clinic, even turning the siren on for Rufus’s delight. And, hey, the crow flies back, dropping the brooch on Rufus’s head. So everything’s turning up Rufus.
The 13th of August Rufus finally gets to the clinic and we see more of the current story. Chipper Wallet, physician assistant and established character, is on vacation. But they have a substitute, Peter Glabella. He’s uncannily empathetic, and is able to treat Rufus quickly.
Glabella is good at more than diagnosing Rufus’s problems. Hoagy Skinner brings in her daughter Aubree. (Hoagy Skinner’s the wife of Rover Skinner, Skeezix’s grandson.) She’s listless, confused, pale … rather like Glabella is now. He feels she’s dehydrated. She has only the one head and no signs of cauterized sword wounds. He joins her in some sugar-free soda. And in almost no time she’s in good spirits. Physician and patient burp together.
Finally Walt Wallet comes in. Glabella nearly forgets to act like a normal hew-mon. He asks how long Wallet’s left knee has been bothering him before Wallet can say anything. But he goes through the diagnostics of a man so old that when he was born, Jack Benny was telling people he was 32. It’s hard taking on temporarily the ailments of a man that elderly, but he does it.
Chipper Wallet finally comes back from vacation and meets Glabella. This makes me question the clinic’s hiring practices but, all right. Glabella explains that he has “mirror-touch synesthesia”. It’s a “gift of sorts” that he’s always had. I think it’s also something they wrote into Lieutenant Ilia’s backstory, when they thought Star Trek: The Motion Picture was going to be a TV series. It’s why she does that thing where she heals Chekov’s burns instead of letting Doctor Chapel do it by medicine.
Where this is going, I can’t say. That’s as far as we’ve gotten. It may seem to defy reality that a magic doctor is in the comic. But one of Scancarelli’s modes for the comic has long been this light, sitcom magic touch. The sort of magic where, you know, how could that department-store Santa have known what I wanted as a kid unless … . So this fits that tradition squarely. A bigger break is that Gasoline Alley names are often some kind of wordplay, often gentle puns. If “Peter Glabella” means something I don’t get it.
No, kind readers. Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy gave us a juicy mystery. Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks’s wife disappeared in circumstances where he’s the only plausible suspect. They do not reveal what happened. But Dick Tracy has adopted the Little Orphan Annie cast. They may reappear and reopen the mystery. If that happens, I’ll share news at this link. That link will also have a more up-to-date plot recap if you’re reading this later than about December 2019, yourselves.
Oh, did I mention Trixie Tinkle was Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks’s second wife? And that she disappeared while the two were on a world cruise? And Warbucks won’t answer questions about what happened, but will admit how Tinkle was a golddigger with whom he couldn’t make things work? Also, that Annie and Oliver Warbucks are in on this story?
In it to the point of solving things: Annie, Honeymoon Tracy, and Ugly Crystal happen across Gypsy Gay. She works in the hotel where Annie and Oliver Warbucks are staying. Gay’s location and workplace are a slender lead to go on, but Tracy is able to follow it. Not fast enough to keep Gay and Annie from being kidnapped, but, c’mon. It’s Little Orphan Annie. If she weren’t being kidnapped she’d go off and kidnap herself, just to stay in shape.
Turns out Gay actually did witness B-B Eyes killing Officer O’Malley. O’Malley had been sent undercover to … uh … investigate B-B Eyes’s tire-bootlegging gang back in 1942. So, you know, do not cross the Office of Price Administration if you ever want to know peace. Look, if we aren’t going to accept a weird flow of time then we’re in trouble. I’m still hung up on how Trixie Tinkle disappeared twenty years ago, as we get told, yet was someone whom Annie knew. Also that Annie only met Oliver Warbucks because of Warbucks’s first wife. Anyway, B-B Eyes figures his best bet is to kill Gay, and what the heck, Annie too.
Have to agree with his plan. But the cops have followed them, and they’re already holding a shootout. Annie leads Gay to making a break for it. In the hallway they find a magical vortex filled with demons, as will happen. Don’t worry. It’s Punjab, using the mystic powers of the inscrutable Orient to save his master’s ward and also that other person. With the hostages safe, Tracy’s able to move in with a heavier action sequence. And he captures B-B Eyes safe and sound and ready for trial.
The next day Tracy gets gunned down in the rain. And yes, it was exciting to read this and think Warbucks had put out a hit on Tracy after all. It’s rough on Tracy, but he survives, thanks to his bulletproof vest and his latest would-be murderer’s unwillingness to shoot him in the head. His attempted murderer this time: Archie Comics’s Dilton Doiley cosplaying as the lead singer for the Buggles. Call him “Doc”. His participation got teased the 26th and 27th of June, in the midst of the previous gunfight. He’s the nephew of old-time Tracy villain Flyface. This is why there’s flies hanging around him. Flies respect primogeniture.
Like many Gen Z’ers, he can’t just go to college. He needs a side hustle. His is trying to get revenge on Tracy for (I assume) killing his uncle Flyface. That’s failed, which disappoints him. Now he’ll probably only get three stars on Smuglr, the crime-sharing app that’s disrupting the traditional black markets. Anyway, he can get back to his main job, being floor manager at the Patterson Playhouse.
The Patterson Playhouse is doing a production of Our Town, with Vitamin Flintheart as the Narrator. During rehearsals Mitchell, a Gluyas Williams portrait of Robert Benchley suffering a cold, drops off a thermos of “snow”. Mitchell made two mistakes dropping off this drug shipment. First, what he thought was an equipment bag was the camera bag of Kandikane Lane, Vitamin’s wife. Second, he used a thermos with the licensed brand image of The Scarlet Sting. This is an in-universe comic strip and comic book superhero.
So the appearance of a licensed bit of fan merch drew so much attention. Characters wandered over from Funky Winkerbean to admire that hey, here’s something nerds like! And yet it’s for sale just as if superheroes were part of pop culture or something. They look inside, find it’s a great pile of white powder, and call in Dick Tracy.
Dick Tracy does some swift super-detecting work. He’s learned that earlier that day was Mitchell asking to see Doc Limpp. Tracy checks the Dick Tracy Wikia and finds that Flyface — Felixweather Limpp — had a nephew named Little Doc. Somehow this isn’t enough to go on, though, so they set a trap. They return the thermos to the Flinthearts to carry on as if the cocaine wasn’t discovered and replaced with a decoy. (The Flinthearts had unknowingly taken the thermos home before noticing it. This is why Doc didn’t know the police were aware of the thermos.)
Meanwhile Doc and his partner Sally try to figure how to get the cocaine back. Sally goes in disguise as “Kassie Richmond”, reporter for the Daily News, to interview Kandikane. Kandikane takes a quick picture of Sally alongside Jack Magnus. Magnus played J Straightedge Trustworthy, spoof of Dick Tracy, in the musical comedy A Chin To Die For, in-universe spoof of Dick Tracy, earlier. The “interview” happens over the course of a full dress rehearsal, so far as that’s possible, of Our Town.
Sally goes snooping around and finds Tracy’s there, which she warns Doc about. She also finds The Bag, and grabs the thermos. Tracy moves in. Sally has an excellent uncover story: “I wear swimsuits!” Tracy arrests her, as Doc enters the building. He sneaks into the rafters or whatever they have up high above stage from a theater and shoots. Then he chuckles at having killed Dick Tracy, because Doc somehow doesn’t know what comic strip he’s in.
Tracy wasn’t shot. Jack Magnus was. He was borrowing Tracy’s hat and coat to give some fans pictures of him as J Straightedge Trustworthy. Tracy’s going after Doc au naturel, wearing nothing but his three-piece suit. Also, I have to read it like this, setting up Magnus to be the unwitting target of Doc’s attempted murder. Magnus pulls through. “It’s just a nick”, the kind that would just screw you up for years in real life but that genre convention is you just kind of walk off. It is good for Magnus, but still … I mean, maybe Tracy didn’t know Doc was going to shoot him right then and there? But he’s got to have seen this as plausible, too.
Tracy arrests Doc. And we learn Doc’s also a cocaine user and Tracy felt kind of bad breaking this to Doc’s grandmother. So the story’s resolved, and it closes with a week of scenes from Our Town.
Oh, also they arrest Mitchell, who surrenders to the cops after eight minutes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 fans quoting at him.
And on the 1st of September started a new Minit Mystery. This one is, if I’m reading it right, written by Staton and Curtis. The guest artist is Andrew Pepoy. It starts with a murder at a photo studio. As I write this, on Saturday the 7th, it’s been introducing suspects and motives, so if you want to jump in to solving matters, this is a good chance. It’s a nice story break point for me.
Fewesi drives his camel hard, reaching an oasis. This made me realize my cartoon-influenced idea of an oasis always has it be, like, the size of a swimming pool. No. This is a land, one to which his (nomadic) people have returned, luckily. Fewesi declares this their great chance. They have only to give him asylum, and they can use Madeka to gain power in Africa.
The leaders of the Idar Uhag shut that down hard. Kidnapping Madeka isn’t going to solve any of their problems. Also it was a mistake to teach Fewesi any mind-control and distant-vision powers, which by the way the Idar Uhag have. Fewesi then remembers, hey, he has mind-control powers. He can just … oh. Yeah, the rest of the tribe has more and better mind-control powers, so they’re not changing their minds. They kick him and his hostage out, in time for Bukota to catch them.
Meanwhile, Prince Valiant — whom “sympathetic, if amused nomads chanced upon” and taught how to ride a camel — has made it to the oasis. While he swims, a lioness preys upon his camel. Valiant gets out fast, of course, and protects his ride, but it’s a tough job. The lioness leads him into the grasses, where her pride joins the fight. That’s taking Valiant some time to sort out.
Meanwhile Fewesi, Bukota, and Madeka are having a very parallel fight. Fewesi is able to mind-control Bukota, but it weakens his control of Makeda. Fewesi tries to slit Bukota’s throat — as the lioness hits the camel’s throat — only to lose control of Makeda. She covers him with her dress, giving Bukota the chance to shake off Fewesi’s control. Fewesi flees. Bukota and Makeda team up to pursue.
So the past three months have focused on how The Phantom’s going to get this done with these constraints. It starts with the traditional elements: The Phantom punching people unconscious. Stealing clothes. Going undercover to punch more people. Punching codes into locked doors. All that stuff.
Meanwhile Dave Palmer gets a call from Diana Walker. Dave Palmer, retired Intelligence Guy, had (last time) refused Intelligence Agency pleas to advise them on this bombing. When Diana says something about “the villa” he changes his mind and says to his (tapped) phone that he’s coming in, don’t blow anything up until he gets there. They’re not going to refuse the chance to blow something up.
The bombing has its good side for the Phantom. For one, everybody who isn’t dead or wounded has a bigger project than Phantom-stopping. For another, the darkness is good for sneaking around. When the emergency lights come on it’s a bit of bother.
So there’s a nasty gunfight: Sahara’s guards shooting where they conclude the intruder has to be. The Phantom trying to stay out of the line of fire, and ricochets, until he can sneak up on them. And we finally see Imara Sahara, who’s keeping her wits quite well considering. She tries to warn the unknown-to-her intruder that she can’t be saved. She has a point. The Phantom has a plan. It can only work if the writer’s on his side.
He shoots out the lights. They slam the panic room door shut. They expect him to break through the door, but that he’ll then be an easy target. The Phantom figures to break through the door, yes, but only after he disables the emergency generator. In the dark they’ll be helpless, unless they picked up their flashlights. When the lights in the panic room go out Imara takes cover. The Phantom breaks through the door and there’s an intense gunfight. All the militia members die. The Phantom is merely shot three times. This on top of the wounds he’d barely recovered from when he fell for The Nomad’s ambush. That story was over a year ago, reader time. It’s only a couple days in the past for The Phantom, though.
At last The Phantom kind of introduces himself and why he’s there. And leads her to an escape tunnel, the only way out now that the main hallways have collapsed under American bombardment. Imara asks how he can know about this tunnel. It’s a reasonable question. Well, Kadia knew, and briefed him. Why did Kadia know and her mother not? … Not sure. We see in flashback the young Kadia playing in the tunnel with her father. Still, it seems odd to set up a panic room for someone and not share how to leave it in a crisis. I can’t say this is unrealistic. It’s petty jerk behavior from international terrorist Eric Sahara. But I understand commenters who couldn’t suspend their disbelief on this point.
Above ground, a new militia’s come around to see what’s happened and what they can make worse. So they start shooting at the only things still alive, The Phantom and Imara Sahara. This leads to a chase through the remains of the compound, The Phantom leading Imara towards his escape truck. The Phantom sends her ahead, while he distracts the militia by using bullets. She finds the truck and waits the three minutes he asked for, and some more, and finally leaves after she hears the gunfire stop.
Dinny the Dinosaur prods Oop into action. The action is rescuing a baby stegosaurus from a cliff face. Alley Oop adopts the abandoned(?) Meggs. It’s cute and parallels a thread in the Sunday Little Oop continuity where young Alley Oop gets a pet dinosaur. Little Oop hasn’t had enough storyline to need recaps here but I’m not ignoring it.
Meanwhile in the present were a couple of jokes between Doc Wonmug and reliable assistant Ava. Most of these are about Wonmug being a clueless insensitive jerk. Not my favorite kind of joke. It’s a valid characterization, yes. I just find that sort of laugh-from-casual-meanness to be 90s web-comic-y. Which you could say about the current writing: often the punch lines are light dadaism with pop culture references. Anyway, this Ava-and-Wonmug interlude was are tossing spot jokes around. There’s one strip where Ava’s shown swapping objects with other universes. This reads as setup for something particular. It might be just playing with the fourth wall.
But the something particular: that storyline began the 17th of June. “In Another Universe” Ollie Arp and Eeena notice strange things outside their high-rise apartment. The Statue of Liberty not dancing. Their books being rearranged. The food printer gone missing with a microwave in its place. Dr Piedra identifies the problem: Universe 2’s Doctor Wonmug is screwing up the timeline. And it’s not only messing up his universe. It’s screwing up other universes too.
So this is a heck of a bundle of things to put on the reader. One of them seems like an olive branch to readers who Do Not Like The New Alley Oop One Bit, Thank You. The strip reiterates that the stuff we’ve been seeing since Lemon and Sayers started is a separate continuity from the original. If you preferred the old, don’t worry. It’s not getting broken. It’s sitting there, idle, ready for a future project. If you liked the old Alley Oop continuity with more realistic stories of student-repaired Saturn V rockets and warp drive sending Alley Oop to the Counter-Earth on the other side of the Sun, that’s still there. This reminds me of the 2009 Star Trek movie emphasized that the Original Timeline is still there and still counts so please Trek fans don’t hate us just because we made a movie where everybody isn’t tired.
So this move to make peace with readers of course got me riled up. I’ve grown to dislike stories with malleable timelines. It’s more that a setting with a changeable timeline puts on its characters ethical duties that I’m not sure any story can address. Not without being a career’s worth of inquiry. Alley Oop has used time travel as a way to get to interesting settings, and what they do is how history was “supposed” to turn out. Changing that model is a choice, and Lemon and Sayers have the right to make that. But I don’t know that the change was made thoughtfully.
They get the tip to look for Plato, of course, in the cave at the edge of town. They find him as this old guy playing with puppets. So even if you love the new Alley Oop you can see Dr Piedra’s point about interdimensional buffoonery. Plato agrees to go to the 21st century and talk with the historian, but there’s an emergency call from Ava. Wonmug rushes back to the present, while Oop and Ooola go with Plato back to his home in the over cave.
The crisis: something’s jamming the flow of time particles. Soon Wonmug’s time machine will stop working, among other things leaving Oop and Ooola in Ancient Greece. And things are happening fast: already the Time Phones aren’t working, leaving Wonmug out of touch with Ooola and Oop.
Ollie Arp and Eeena, yes, created the jam. They’ve shut off Universe 2 from time particles. And venture to Universe 2 to give Alley Oop and Ooona a talking-to. They convince Our Heroes of who they are and where they come from. And the two super-genius time travellers from the responsible universe issue Alley Oop and Ooona a citation. “Please be so kind as to refrain from time-travel for the next 14 days as punishment for your infraction”.
And that’s where the story has landed. If this is the end of the Universe 3 storyline then it’s a good-size shaggy dog of a story. But it’s a great setup. Super-science alternate-universe Alley Oop and Ooola meddling with Our Heroes? And (I trust) unaware that Ava’s developed the ability to move things between universes herself? That’s some great story dynamics ready to explore. Please visit again in three months when we’ll see whether they get explored right away.
Back around my undergraduate days the university wanted to move the student group offices out of the main student union. The space could make money rented out for events instead of given to student groups. The student groups didn’t want to leave. The university planned a major renovation and expansion of the campus center. It would add a bunch of decent food places, for example. And get the building away from its original late-60s “you know the architect was an award-winning prison designer” layout. But it would need most of the student groups to leave for a while. They set up nice enough temporary quarters in the Ledge, the former and still usable student union building. And, after about three years of renovations, there had been nearly a full turnover in undergraduates. Nobody but a few die-hards with old issues of the student newspapers remembered the promise that student groups would ever move back.
So the first of the “classic” repeats of Roy Thomas and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider Man stories, facing Mysterio, came to an end in mid-July as expected. And then they went right to the story which followed the Mysterio story in 2015. It’s a team-up with the Black Widow to fight the Hobgoblin. That’s a storyline which ran from mid-March 2015 through mid-August. If they repeat the whole thing, that’ll take us through October 2019. The following story, if they don’t change things up, would be an encounter with the Sub-Mariner.
Mysterio, meanwhile, is sure: Spider-Man has got to be Mary Jane’s husband. He’s going to use a publicity photo shoot, using an old World’s Fair robot, to mess things up. The robot chases down Mary Jane. Peter Parker, in disguise as Peter Parker, shoves her out of the way, taking the fall at the cost of a cracked rib. Mysterio cackles at how he almost killed both Mary Jane and Spider-Man.
Producer Abe Smiley’s ready to cancel Marvella 2: The Secret Of The Ooze. But Mary Jane talks him out of it. And Peter’s discharged already: it was a tiny fracture. He even has a copy of the X-ray. Director “Dash” Dashell, curious about the X-rays, stumbles into Peter. Peter screams and spills his plot point right over everybody.
Marvella 2: Golden Receiver resumes. Spider-Man makes himself very visible watching over the next day of filming, at Washington Square Park. Mysterio does too. Then throws some misting gas grenades to be less visible. He’s figuring a mid-air, smoky fight with a wounded Spider-Man his best shot at killing Spidey. It’s not a bad thought. With a solid hit to the chest Spider-Man goes falling. Mysterio flies after him — well, not flies. Mysterio doesn’t have superpowers. He has a transparent hoverboard. Which Spider-Man snatches.
This offends Mysterio, a reaction I love. But Spidey points out, he can pretend to get hurt. With the hoverboard — er, Sky-Ski — Spidey can stay in the air long enough to continue fighting. Mysterio has an emergency reserve jet pack because, you know, supervillains. Anyway, they throw stuff at each other, they plummet, Spidey grabs on to Mysterio’s flying boomerang discus. He knocks Mysterio down. They fall into the fountain.
Spidey reveals that Mysterio is in fact … “Dash” Dashell, director of Marvella 2: Invasion of the Tinysauruses. Or in fact … not. He’s really Quentin Beck, Mysterio. Mysterio kidnapped the real Dashell and took his place. The plan: draw out Spider-Man by staging accidents with Mary Jane Parker. This would let him kill Spider-Man, vanquishing his longstanding foe. Also let him kill Mary Jane, because, eh, what the heck.
Mysterio tries to at least reveal that Peter Parker is Spider-Man, and gets laughed out of town. It helps that Peter Skypes her with a “hey, just heard there’s a villain unraveling going on” call in the middle of this. Mysterio’s not fooled by a pre-recorded message. He slugs Spider-Man in the chest, who doesn’t even flinch, because Spidey doesn’t have a cracked rib. Mysterio leaves, abashed.
How did Spider-Man pull this off? The X-rays Peter brought back from the hospital were old ones, from when this story originally ran four years ago. It’s some clever thinking by Peter, whose comic strip persona had needed the chance to show he can think. I’m not convinced that he had enough information in-world to form and execute this plan, though. But I’m also not sure how he leapt to the conclusion it was Mysterio behind all this either. Sometimes I guess you get lucky.
The Black Widow/Hobgoblin story got started, this time around, the 20th of July. Mary Jane admitted wearing the Marvella costume has kinda aroused something in her and she’d like to try web-slinging with him. And they’re having fun swooping over the town when the Hobgoblin blows through and tries to knock them down. Spider-Man leaves Mary Jane somewhere safe so they can go fighting.
It doesn’t go well. Hobgoblin knocks Spidey unconscious and returns to grab Mary Jane. She recognizes Hobgoblin as her old boyfriend, and Peter Parker’s friend Harry Osborn. Hobgoblin blames Spider-Man for the death of his father Harry “Green Goblin” Osborn. And he hates Mary Jane now for … I don’t know. Something. Good chance they explain it in whatever this month’s Spider-Man movie is. Fortunately, the Black Widow is around and able to save Mary Jane.
Between the Black Widow and the recovered Spider-Man they’re able to chase Hobgoblin off. This gives Spidey and Black Widow a chance to exposition to each other. Black Widow was seeking a former Soviet Spy who’d killed “friends” of hers years ago, and ran across this by accident. Mary Jane, meanwhile, contracts instant jealousy of Spider-Man talking to Black Widow like this. And that’s the standings as of this weekend.
I apologize for not having a report on The Amazing Spider-Man comics today. The time I’d wanted to use for that had to go to other things this week. My throat is still sore from hollering about all those things. Don’t worry. The things will be fine. My throat will too, most likely. It’s been through worse. I hope to have Spidey for you tomorrow, at this link.
Meanwhile, in reading Tom Armstrong’s Marvin yesterday, I discovered something. I am not a great gardener. I think the last thing I can say I definitely grew successfully was in elementary school. We had that project where you put lima beans in a styrofoam cup. Inside a few weeks we had stringy, floppy, tangled masses of lima bean vine. This proved the important lesson that if you had a vegetable you wouldn’t eat, all it took was a few weeks and you’d get a plant that other people could make produce more of that vegetable. I keep realizing there’s stuff about elementary school I don’t understand.
Anyway this teaches me at least two things. One is that I am a better gardener than Mrs Marvin’s Mom is, since I wouldn’t try planting flowers in the middle of August. The other is that the guy who draws Marvin must have been in a gardening store and had this great idea about “a serial flower-killer” pop in his head. And he wasn’t going to sit on that joke for a year. So Marvin is being written about four months ahead of publication.
I’m happy to have another recap of one of the two most controversial comics in my retinue. It’s Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker. If you’re reading this after about October 2019 there’s probably a more up-to-date recap at this link. It may help you more.
Alan Parker’s press conference shakes everyone in the cast. Including Norton, being held in SuperHyperUltraDuper secret CIA jail. The bureau chief there scolds him for not cooperating, now that Norton’s wrecked everybody’s life and hasn’t got any friends left. Norton insists he knows what he’ll do about all this.
April Bowers Parker, off with her superspy mom Candice Bergen, now knows that Norton is alive. She says she’s got a mole in the CIA, passing information to her. And even delivering a gift to Alan Parker, closing the “how did Norton leave Alan Parker some rings” plot hole from a couple months back. It’s not fair to call it a plot hole. It was a mystery then and it’s answered now. This may be so Marciuliano can prove he doesn’t write by spinning a Wheel of Daft Plot Twists. Candace Bergen calls it a setup, and proof that the CIA has located them.
In their argument about whether Norton could be alive, and whether April’s plan to retrieve him is at all sane, Candice Bergen gets shown with her mouth open. This spoils my theory that she was drawn mouth closed for the subtle weirdness. Too bad.
In Los Angeles, Neddy and Ronnie talk over making the April Parker story into a movie. Neddy thinks it’s a great idea. Ronnie thinks they maybe shouldn’t stir up the crazy DoubleSecretSuperUltraHyper assassin who knows where they live and can’t be stopped by any force except Francesco Marciuliano. If him. This thread hasn’t developed yet. I include it in case this turns into an important plot for a future What’s Going On In installment.
Back Alan Parker. The court denies bail. The judge conceded Alan Parker’s long and venerable career of not actually doing much law stuff on-screen in the comic strip named after him. But he’s there because he used his connections to make an arms dealer and serial killer disappear. It would be crazy not to consider him a flight risk. Alan Parker takes this calmly. Katherine is more upset. Sam Driver is sure they can appeal this somewhere.
And there we go. The 24th of June, 2019, Alan Parker, original nominal star of the comic, is in prison. He has as jolly a time as you would imagine an officer of the court would have. Fortunately, he lands a protector. It’s Roy Rodgers, longtime fiancée and briefly husband to Abbey Driver’s housekeeper Marie. Roy thinks they each have things the other can use. Alan Parker just wants to keep his head down, and Roy tells him that’s impossible.
Roy was in debt to the mob, which was the reason behind his ill-planned disappearance during his honeymoon. He’d bought his life back by giving up the security codes for his business partner’s safe and information about where to find his valuables are. This is morally justified because it was Roy’s partner who was embezzling, and had left them in too deep to the mob for Roy to pay off. The mob staged a burglary that “accidentally” turned into murder. Roy actually believes he’s safe now. So let’s let him enjoy his fantasies.
Roy believes that he has a group now. So he’ll extend protection to Alan Parker … in exchange for information about Marie. Marie has been doing surprisingly, maybe alarmingly, well since the collapse of her marriage and her decision to leave the Parker-Driver-Spencer nexus. She’s even got a new boyfriend that somehow she’s not suspicious of. But Alan Parker knows nothing of this.
In a meeting with Sam Driver, Alan Parker confesses. He had not realized the deep sickness of the carceral state, and how toxic it is to everyone who touches it, or whom it chooses to grab. Also he begs Sam Driver to never under any circumstance tell him anything about Marie. … Also, Roy wants Sam Driver as attorney and Alan would recommend against that.
Meanwhile, Randy Parker, ex(?)-husband to April, turns up at Sam and Abbey’s doorstep. He’s falling apart, as you might well imagine. He’ll nest at the Spencer Farms a while.
More meanwhile — there’s a lot of stuff happening here — there’s more stuff happening with Norton. Of course. April Parker, with Wurst, heads in to get Norton. He’s already disappeared from SuperSecretHyperUltraDuperMax CIA Jail, though. Also we learn he wasn’t in Official SuperExtraSecretUltraDuperMegaMaxHyper CIA Jail either. The bureau chief was keeping him in a private cell, known only to himself, his assistant Kerring, and Agent Strand. Strand is the person who’d been sending information to April Parker. And keeping the CIA’s efforts to find April from succeeding. Strand and Norton are taking a road trip.
So, that’s a lot happening. The pieces seem this week to be flying together. And we at least have solid evidence that Marciuliano is not improvising these plots madly. There’s too many pieces that were planted fairly and followed up on months later for that. I admit I’m tired of the impossibly hypercompetent, impossibly hyperviolet spies. But that’s my taste, and which of us is the person with an occasionally tended WordPress blog anyway?
So here’s the standings from last time I checked in on Milford Sports. The girls’ softball team was uniting under the “Too Cool For School” motto. This after everyone realized they did stuff that wasn’t softball that they liked. Linda Carr, student, has a volleyball scholarship to college but doesn’t think she likes volleyball that much anymore. You might ask how we can get a story out of this.
That’s answered early on: a friend of the softball girls asks if his being the school’s second-best bowler makes him Too Cool For School. And, they gotta say. Asking if you’re too cool? Also, second-best? Also, he plays clarinet rather than sax? Nah. But since people want to be branded Too Cool For School? They get some badges made. And now we’ve deployed a full, proper high school hellscape.
I mean, some of it is okay. They follow leads that, like, a kid in World History raised like $5,000 for the food bank, and recognize that. A couple who both got National Merit Scholarships. Ruled out: a couple, including someone else on the girls softball team, who just had good games the same day. Or a kid who says he wrote a screenplay and hopes to get a Too Cool For School badge. This causes hard feelings, including between the girls who started the Too Cool For School thing.
Coach Mimi Thorp has enough of this. She gives Nancy and Molly, the head of the Too Cool ratification committee, George Orwell’s Animal Farm to read. Nancy reads it. Molly read it in 9th grade so just does some reading about it, which, yeah, sounds right. But both take Coach Thorp’s point: let’s put less judgemental energy into places that are already toxic pits of cliques, please? Once again I feel like the story comics are nudging me. To this I say, I’m trying to be a good reader of these stories. If I sour on a comic I hope it to be for reasons I could articulate, and form part of an earnest discussion of the comic strip’s artistic value.
Back to the comic. Nancy and Molly go trying to make amends, giving in Too Cool For School badges to all the people they’d turned down. The new standard is showing that even though you’re in high school you still have a personality. This even if your thing is stamp collecting in 2019 somehow. Did I mention last month I finally updated my ham radio license from when I moved to Michigan seven years ago?
Last thread needing cleanup. Linda Carr still feels burned out on volleyball. Mimi Thorp talks with her, starting by talking about how the Local College Team is going to get crushed next year. Linda rallies to the defense of her future team, and that’s the opening to argue that she still cares about volleyball. What’s bothering her is that she’s not playing for fun anymore; she’ll spend the summer doing that, instead. It’s not bad advice for anyone who’s burned out. Girls softball wins the Valley championship, but loses to Wellington in the playoffs (sic). That’s all right; they’re all still proud of their team-ness.
That finishes the girls softball story for spring. The summer story began the 24th of June. It started with the return of Jaquan Case, and is fiancée Hadley V Baxendale. Their stories were from before I started doing What’s Going On In recaps. But Case had been on the basketball team, and felt conflicted between his skills as a student athlete and that he liked, you know, learning. Baxendale had helped him through this struggle, pointing out that you could go to college and then the NBA. Also Baxendale had her own life, pushing for the girls teams to get full-size lockers and cheerleaders and all that just like the boys teams did. (I do not remember any of this and am cribbing from the Comics Curmudgeon, which has deeper archives, instead.)
They went their separate ways after high school, the way actual people do. Case eventually did get into pro basketball. Baxendale went to law school and made partner early. One game in Chicago, Case failed to connect with the ball, while Baxendale did, and they connected over that. Nice.
Case and Baxendale have some problems, sure. They have separate hometowns, particularly, and neither of them has a job that relocates well. Hadley’s father worries about this, since, like, how can you have a long-distance relationship? (As one who had a long-distance relationship for years, I have to say: tolerably well. It takes different work than an in-person relationship does. And there’s true pain when your partner needs to be held and you’re a thousand miles away. But a good partner is worth it.) Her father’s really worked up on the impracticalities of a two-city household. And that, like, in a decade Case will be retired and Baxendale won’t. Won’t that be weird? So the question is what’s his real problem here.
Gil Thorp mentions this problem to Baxendale. She’s interested in the legal challenge here. And the chance to annoy her old school board, which, yeah, I buy as motivation. She’s got some plan in mind. We haven’t yet heard what that is, either.
And that’s a summer in Milford. There’s probably about a month to go in these storylines and then the fall season should take back over.
Milford Schools Watch
Here’s the towns or other schools that Milford was named as playing the last several months.
Southern (possibly; the reference might also be to a series of games played in the southern region of the conference, 11 May)
Well, I’ve got a packed week ahead of me. It looks to be great, mind you, and one I’ll be glad to go through. But I just do not have the time to summarize any complicated or intensely packed comics. So I’m looking forward to some nice easy reading, and summarizing, whatever’s next on my big wheel of story strips. Let me just take a nice long sip of hot tea and look up what’s next weekend’s adventure.
Marti has Down Syndrome. Sarah doesn’t understand this, but does understand that other kids are being terrible toward her about this. Rex explains this, in very general terms, and Sarah’s cool with it. Good of her. They start having regular enough play dates. And with these characters met up, the storyline’s concluded.
The next storyline began the 15th of May. Morgan babysitter Kelly meets her friends Justin and Niki at the Caffeine Bean coffee shop. Where, incidentally, Marti’s teenage older brother Russell works. You’ll remember Justin as the kid who had that disease where he couldn’t swallow. It’s an ordinary day, so it’s time for things to go weird. While Justin is in the bathroom two suspicious-looking teens pull out guns.
The holdup goes screwy. There’s not a lot of cash in the register. Russell notices there’s bits of orange coming off the ends of their guns. And Justin calls the cops on them. Justin also gets to explaining how they should have used a primer at least. And … jeez. This is why white guys shouldn’t talk. I can’t even say it’s not authentic. It’s exactly the sort of stupid thing I’d say in a situation like that. I have anecdotes. Please don’t ask.
With the self-destruction of the holdup this storyline comes to a happy enough ending. Their parents are all much more freaked out than any of the kids are, and fair enough.
It concerns Merle Lewton. He’s a retired white guy. He’s finally picked his way to be retired-white-guy crazy. He’s taking the paranoid-health-conspiracy track. He’s certain that They are out there, spraying aluminum, strontium, barium, and who knows what else in the sky. His wife Lana insisted on this health checkup, if nothing else to get him out of the house for two blessed hours.
Lewton explains he’s getting special treatment for the chemtrail poisoning, from Glenwood’s own spiritual cleanser, Serena Galexia. So when Rex Morgan’s tests show no poisoning? That proves how good her over-the-phone Celestial Healing detoxification treatment is. That and the enormous bills this treatment runs up.
Rex checks up on this Serena Galexia. Her web site and blog and podcast and all are exactly what you’d imagine. Rex and June worry that all this nonsense might keep Mr Lewton from getting actual medical care in case he does get sick. Can they do anything about Galexia’s transparently obvious scam? A quick look at any American supermarket’s ‘dietary supplements’ section tells us no.
Lana wants some peace at least. She proposes that Rex Morgan test her for chemtrail toxins. After all, she hasn’t had any Galexia Celestial Healing treatments. So if she comes back as healthy, obviously, Merle will have no choice but to agree to the experimental results. Rex is happy to run tests, but points out that this is not how people work. Galexia is doing some in-person sessions soon, though. And Merle wants Lana to attend. Rex hasn’t yet expressed an opinion on all this. That’s just where the plot has reached.
Once they’re punched enough, they agree to fly The Phantom, his wolf, and the Little Detective home to Bangalla, and to stand trial. (Some of the animals they smuggled were from Bangalla, which is why they have any standing in the matter.) And with that, The Phantom finishes telling his story. It ran 26 weeks.
It starts in the Bangallan capital of Mawitaan, where an activist tries rousing the public. She tells of the iron rule of the Khagan, tyrant of the land of Avaria, in the adjacent Misty Mountains. People are skeptical. Start deciding that tyrants are unacceptable in governments and pretty soon you don’t have any governments left. Plus, nobody knows what’s in the Misty Mountains. Who can even say if there’s people living under dictatorial rule there?
What’s there is the Lost Kingdom of Avaria, populated by refugees from the Romans and the Franks. The 10th Phantom encountered them in 1748. The current, 21st, Phantom encountered them in a Sunday-continuity story in 2009 and 2010. (Here I’m cribbing from the Phantom Wiki about the events.) Their leader, the Khagan, poisoned The Phantom on their first encounter. Kit junior, along for the ride, freed The Phantom by using his wits and a cannon. The Phantom kidnapped introduced the Khagan to the neighboring Misty Mountains kingdom of Baronkhan. He’d hoped introducing the leader of this fearsome, isolated, warlike people this would improve things.
Things are still rough. The Khagan’s secret police kidnap the pamphleteer from Mawitaan. The secret police are women dressed in Roman-esque armor. This is part of the Avarian warrior style. They take the woman to a secret camp the Khagan has set up in the wilderness. She wants names of other “traitors”.
This kind of thing won’t go unnoticed. The Phantom’s network of gossips and eavesdroppers hears the woman’s neighbor talk about the kidnapping. The Phantom picks this, of all the things going on in Bangalla, to follow up on. Granted a squadron of warrior women in Romanesque costumes stands out from, like, the reports of animal smugglers. So he follows the trail and encounters the Khagan. She remembers him. He insists Bangallan law protects the prisoner. The Khagan asks how a leader, “rendered weak by your laws”, can hope to lead in times of danger. The Ghost Who Walks argues that leaders serve their people, by serving the rule of law, which is what keeps a land free. This is where the story’s reached today. I assume next week the Khagan mentions how The Phantom, in his spare time from being a vigilante, secretly commands a multi-national paramilitary force answerable to no authority but himself. And I make no guesses about what comes after that.
Or at least was alive and drawing Graffiti sometime this decade. Also, in a development that I’m sure no one ever imagined, it turns out this comic strip that’s been running since twelve years before they invented rocks is all cranky about something the Millennials are probably up to with their smartyphones and stuff. The comments on it at GoComics are also really quite Internet Old Person, if you need more of that in your life, which you do not. Still, while there is much we do not know about Gene Mora, the guy who draws Graffiti, we can at least say he’s drawn a new Graffiti this century.
The guy is Russel Myers. He’s been drawing the strip since it started in 1970 and, so far as I know, he’s doing all right. At one point he was like a year ahead of deadline, which is amazing. There are times I’ve been as much as four hours ahead of deadline, myself.
As for whether he’s seen a kangaroo … uh .. .
You know, I hate to say anything bad about a person with the courage to dress a character in checkerboard pants but … just … that’s a dog’s tail and maybe a mole’s body. I’m waiting for the judges regarding what the legs are exactly but just … no. Sorry.
For the second update in a row I am not upset with Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth. If you are upset with it, you’re probably reading this essay sometime after early July 2019. Around late September or early October 2019 I should have a more up-to-date plot recap at this link, so you may know just what to be angry about.
Artheur Zerro is the new love in Charterstone cat-owner Estelle’s life. He’s charming. He loves cats. He’s retiring soon from his construction-engineering job in Malaysia. He wants to see the world, ideally with Estelle. If there is one flaw in Zerro’s existence it’s that he’s a complete fraud who’s already scammed Estelle for ten thousand bucks and is coming at her for more. Mary Worth, with the help of Toby, puts together the evidence. Artheur Zerro’s profile picture is actually that of a South African model. He’s not in any professional societies as best Toby can find. He spelled his own name wrong, for crying out loud.
Estelle can answer all Mary Worth’s concerns, noting, “shut up” and “is not” and “no”. Mary Worth retreats to Toby for reassurance that she is right about this and everything. Estelle’s confidence is not shaken. Artheur’s going to be arriving for a real live in-person visit for the first time in a couple days and she has to get ready. Then Artheur calls with bad news. His client’s having problems. He doesn’t have the cash to fly home. But, you know, if she could send him five thousand dollars he could make it.
So now Estelle has big enough doubts. She turns to Mary Worth. Mary Worth asks, if you love the Internet so much, why don’t you marry … this article about online romance scams. Estelle isn’t having that. But she does accept Mary Worth’s observation that there isn’t actually a rush. If Artheur loves her, he’ll love her three weeks from now too. “Love is patient … and rejoices with the truth,” she says, although her quote for that Sunday was from Earl “The Pearl” Monroe and seems to be more about how to play basketball well. But, waiting for Artheur’s client who totally exists? That’s something Estelle’s willing to try. Artheur begs for money again and she says no. Theirs is an enduring love which can wait for — oh, Artheur’s not having it.
Estelle hangs up on him, and cries. Artheur doesn’t call, or respond to calls, or e-mails, or anything. Mary Worth visits, bringing a tuna casserole, and Estelle falls into her arms, sobbing. “Finally!”, our hero thinks.
Estelle confesses how much a fool she feels. And, worse, that she’s still waiting for Artheur to apologize. Which, yeah, may sound dumb to people who’ve never fallen for a scam, or fallen for an emotionally abusive partner. Don’t be smug. All of us have some line of patter we’d fall for, and we’d resent the people who try to save us from it. Anyway, Estelle thinks she sees things better now. And she agrees to talk with Terry Bryson who I’m informed by Mary Worth lives at Charterstone and knows stuff that’s useful to do in these situations.
Terry finds out when Estelle will be available to talk about this in full view of the newspaper readers. Terry talks about how romance scams aren’t just filler episodes for old-time-radio cop shows anymore. She lays out how pretty much every step of Artheur’s wooing of Estelle was following the scam playbook. And, yeah, while Estelle can call the cops on Artheur, she’s never going to see her ten thousand bucks again. She spends a long night eating chocolate ice cream, feeling lousy, and talking to her cat, which is about the right thing to do.
And she gets right back on that seniors dating site. In barely any time she’s telling Mary of her new beau. He’s local. He doesn’t have pets, but he’s cool with the idea. He likes singing; she likes playing music. They both like travel. Oh, and he has southern California’s sixth-largest collection of boutique mayonnaises.
Yes, Wilbur Weston is her new dating partner. It’s a relationship I didn’t see coming, but, eh, they seem to like it. Mary Worth and Toby take the news as a chance to spend a couple weeks telling each other how great love is. And how great it is that Wilbur and Estelle can both bond over having been bilked for money by putative romantic partners. (I am curious whether Wilbur’s shared his experience with Estelle already.) She’s so excited about this she even goes for a boat ride and dinner with Dr Jeff, to talk about how great it is other people have a relationship. And how great it is to try new things. I can’t swear that she isn’t dumping Dr Jeff so smoothly he doesn’t even realize it’s happening.
And that settles the saga of Estelle and her online dating thing. With the 1st of July it appears a new story’s started. Dawn Weston, Wilbur’s daughter, is back from gallivanting about Europe. This in time for Wilbur to go off to Mozambique. He’s interviewing cyclone survivors for his column about people who find they’re not dead, and definitely not avoiding Estelle. Mary’s filling in for him as the Ask Wendy advice columnist. And Dawn is … being pretty cagey about what the plot this summer is. No hints so far. Still, I like this scheme where the Mary Worth plot starts in time for a new What’s Going On In post. It’s tidy.
Dubiously Sourced Quotes of Mary Worth Sunday Panels!
I’m still not happy with the Comics Kingdom redesign. But it does seem to have settled on showing the proper half-page format for most of the Sunday strips. This includes the full first row of the story comics, which is of course where we get those quotes that may or may not come from anything. I’m hoping things don’t screw up again. Although even when they were screwed up the Washington Post’s comics page seemed to carry the half-page format. Maybe they’ll keep doing that if the need returns.
“Love is blind.” — William Shakespeare, 14 April 2019.
“A good decision is based on knowledge, not on numbers.” — Plato, 21 April 2019.
“Just be patient. Let the game come to you. Don’t rush. Be quick, but don’t hurry.” — Earl Monroe, 28 April 2019.
“Although I know it’s unfair, I reveal myself one mask at a time.” — Stephen Dunn, 5 May 2019.
“Why must this be so mortifying? Oh, that’s right. Because it’s my life.” — Tessa Dare, 12 May 2019.
“Truth is everybody is going to hurt you. You just gotta find the ones worth suffering for.” — Bob Marley, 19 May 2019
“We are never deceived; we deceive ourselves.” — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 26 May 2019
“No one is ever a victim, although your conquerers would have you believe in your own victimhood. How else could they conquer you?” — Barbara Marciniak, 2 June 2019.
“The emotion that can break your heart is sometimes the very one that heals it.” — Nicholas Sparks, 9 June 2019.
“Birds sing after a storm: why shouldn’t people feel as free to delight in whatever sunlight remains to them?” — Rose Kennedy, 16 June 2019.
“Love is friendship that has caught fire.” — Ann Landers, 23 June 2019.
“I’ve been very fortunate.” — Dolly Parton, 30 June 2019.
“Just living is not enough … one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.” — Hans Christian Andersen, 7 July 2019.
Also, last time I did this, I wrote the bulk of the essay before the Mary Worth Sunday strip posted. So I made a placeholder for that day’s dubious quote, and guessed William Shakespeare as the author and guess what happened? This actually happened and I would provide evidence except that I don’t want to be known as the guy who proved he correctly guessed someone who might be quoted by a Mary Worth Sunday strip.
I check in again on The Ghost Who Walks. It’s Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom, Sunday continuity. Any updates or news about any story strip should be at this link, meanwhile.
Mark Trail had a mortal enemy last time we checked in. Not, so far as I’m aware, Dirty Dyer, who we’d last seen practicing his flamethrower skills on a Mark Trail mannequin. This one is J J Looper, supply store owner. Looper has agreed to supply and guide Mark Trail’s search for gold in the Sonoran Desert. But he is a man with facial hair. Stubbly facial hair. The lowest of the low, in the Mark Trail moral hierarchy.
The ocelot and javelinas chase each other off. Looper gets back to exposition. He’s heard of the Vanishing Mine. Looper says he doesn’t think Doc’s treasure map is anything. There might be some gold nuggets out there, but nothing much. And if there were, it would’ve been cleared out long ago. But he’ll look at the map, if he can photocopy it, scan it into his computer, and put it away for safekeeping.
He can make some sense of the map. It even seems to point to a spot where Cochise supposedly had a gold mine in the 1870s. So they agree to the expedition I had thought they’d already agreed to and get supplies. Mark, Doc, Leola, and Looper head out for the Chiricahua Mountains. Leola by the way is the widow of Doc’s friend who had the treasure map. I had mistaken her for Cherry Trail last update because I’m very bad with names. One of the things I like about comic strips is how often characters say the name of whoever they’re speaking to. If a comic strip goes two days without doing that I’m lost again.
They spend a night at the campfire, thinking of what if the gold were real. Looper points out how the four of them could carry back a million dollars in gold. And it would let him get out of this place where, to be honest, he’s always been stuck.
The morning starts off with nice weather, slopes that are less steep than Doc remembered, and an attack by Africanized bees. The slopes being too gentle is a bad sign. Either the terrain’s changed a good bit or they’re not where Doc remembers being. The bees are a good sign, it turns out. In dodging the bees, Mark Trail falls down a hill. When looks up, he sees Skull Mountain, exactly as on the map. And this is lucky. From another angle it might not be recognizable. Looper, who took a couple bee stings, can almost taste the gold already.
Mark Trail is skeptical, noting that even if there was gold, there’s been plenty of time for it to have been taken. Leola talks about the nature of gold rushes, and the mad dashes they inspire. The ephemeral nature of the rush but the lasting effects of the lives changed by it.
The next day they come across an abandoned mine claim. Leola points out people here must have found gold. Looper acknowledges this, but that sooner or later the mine runs dry, if it produces at all. Mark Trail gets to wondering why Looper is so down on this Vanishing Mine. Looper explains he knows about gold fever and hey, weren’t you as skeptical about whether the mine exists yesterday? It’s a fair question. Mark Trail and JJ Looper have been trading off whether they think they mine exists, and whether there might be anything in it.
But now Mark Trail’s had enough. He admits to Doc not trusting Looper at all, and Doc admits something seems off. What, exactly? … Another fair question. Apart from salivating over the idea of gold he later says he doubts exists, Looper hasn’t done anything suspicious besides be scruffy. But, again, Mark Trail. You know?
Anyway, it’s a new day, so it’s time for Nature to try killing everyone again. The method this time: flash flooding. Everyone gets swept up in the suddenly appearing rivers, and the strong currents. Mark Trail’s able to rescue himself and Leola from the river. They find Doc walking in the rain. And Looper? … No idea. The last Doc saw he was running from the flood, and carrying the map. Which … they don’t have a photocopy of?
They search for Looper, without success. Mark Trail suspects foul play. And yet — even without the map, there’s hope. Doc recognizes weird rock formations, and a winding path that seems familiar. They climb for higher ground to spot the mine. Maybe also Looper in case he’s actually dead or injured or lost from the storm. Never know. That’s where we stand: atop the hills, maybe in view of a legendary gold mine.
Sunday Animals Watch
What soon-to-be extinct animals and plants have the Sunday Mark Trail panels shared with us recently? And how long is it going to take before we finally destroy them all? Let’s review.
The Vaquita Porpoise, 7 April 2019. They’ve got, like four months to live.
Tremella Mesenterica (“Witches’ Butter”), 14 April 2019. About five years.
The Crest-Tailed Mulgara, 21 April 2019. 28 months.
The Vietnamese Moss Frog, 28 April 2019. Like, maybe through lunch tomorrow.
Ocelots, 5 May 2019. 40 weeks in the wild, indefinitely in captivity.
Wallace’s Giant Bee, 12 May 2019. Three years.
Hammerhead Sharks, 19 May 2019. Ten years.
Spix’s Macaw, 26 May 2019. In the wild: not since like 1986. In captivity: for as long as they can convince people they’re the birds from Rio.
The Arizona State Tree, 2 June 2019. Is a fictional construct anyway.
The Indian Giant Squirrel/Malabar Giant Squirrel, 9 June 2019. 18 years.
Bombardier Beetles, 16 June 2019. Two years in its native habitat, then it turns invasive.
Syndicated Newspaper Comic Strips, 17 June 2019. Died finally when Richard Thompson had to retire from Cul de Sac because bodies suck.
Hummingbirds, 23 June 2019. For as long as people decorate their backyards with hummingbird-feeder tubes of sugar water, those people will be visited by situationally-unreasonably angry, angry hornets.
Formosan Clouded Leopard, 30 June 2019. Till about the next time you brush your teeth.
Oh. Oh. I have some of the happiest words that any snarky comics blogger can have. I plan to look at Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth next week. How well did it go when Mary and Toby explained to Estelle that, in fact, Artheur Zerro was not a world-famous construction engineer and Nobel-prize winning astronaut rock star who’ll be joining her in Charterstone and his private mansion in Gold Monaco — it’s like normal Monaco, except way more elite because it’s made of gold — just as soon as he sends her (INSERT RETIRMENT SAVINGS HERE ONLY IN BITCOIN) in seed money?
Oh man now I want the Mary Worth story where she explains bitcoin scams and I am not going too far when I say so are you.
So yes, I do enjoy the couple hours I spend each week perusing the story comics so that I can write a plot summary. And even the writing of the plot summary. If I am doing a public service, good. It’s fun, and it seems to help people out.
Anyway I’m just hoping that this was coincidence. I’d hate to think Jim Scancarelli was trying to undercut me. I thought it was clear that jokes like saying he was trying to get installed as an exhibit at the Museum of Old-Time-Radio were affectionate. I mean, I’d love to be at the Museum of Old-Time-Radio myself.
I’m happy to be one source of plot summaries for Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley. If you’re reading this after about September 2019 I may have a more up-to-date summary at this link. I also have a good number of older essays at that link. If you want to know the last couple years’ story developments. Thanks for using them.
Rufus takes Melba to Corky’s Diner. It goes well. Rufus is walking on air as he heads home. He’s also walking through the woods, which gets him chased by a wolf. The wolf gets stopped and scared off by Toro, a small dog. Toro’s there with Willow, a young woman wandering the woods. Toro’s hungry. Willow claims that she isn’t, right before passing out.
Rufus feeds both of them, and offers Willow a place to sleep. He sleeps on the porch, in the rain. By morning, when Joel picks him up to go in to work, he’s a mess. And please consider how bad he has to look for Joel to think he’s a mess. They go to the thrift store for some better clothes and run into Frank Nelson. It’s a rare non-Skeezix-connected appearance for Frank Nelson in these pages. They get a fresh coat and head on.
At the end of the day Rufus returns home. Willow’s sleeping, but she offers to make dinner. If Rufus has brought any more food, since she finished what was there. And Toro is still a growling, angry little dog. This after being fed several times and getting to see that Rufus is a good guy. I mean, you may find the comic tradition he comes from annoying. But he’s been consistently kind and generous this story.
Come bedtime Rufus heads out to Joel’s. He doesn’t want to sleep on the porch in the rain again. He doesn’t like how Toro’s chased out his own cats. Joel has harsh advice on this: stop feeding Willow and Toro. If she’s sick, take her to the emergency room. If she’s not, then — what’s she doing?
And it’s a fair question. Rufus spends the night sleeping with Joel’s mule. He stinks of it when he gets to work. He covers this up with the free perfume samples at the department store. This is too much in a different direction. But he’s able to tone his odor down to “existing” by lunchtime. He and Melba walk the streets downtown. And then he sees …
Well, he’s sure he saw Willow’s reflection. Why would she be in town despite her fatigue and dizziness? We’ll see in the next few weeks what her deal is. The strip has gone to some length to paint her as a mooch and even an unpleasant person. But I notice it hasn’t committed to anything that couldn’t be rationalized. I don’t say there is a plot twist coming. I think it’s plausible there will be, is all.
Before writing a What’s Going On In … essay I try to remember the highpoints of the last three months’ of a comic. I go on to re-read the whole comic run, yes. But I like to think of what my impressions were. It helps me figure whether I need to schedule time for another 2,000-word doorstop of an essay. This time around I realized I couldn’t think what had happened exactly. Rufus and Melba Rose … were on a date back in early April, and then this last week … they still were? Something like that? With an odd week of Frank Nelson in the middle?
Mind, there’s nothing wrong with a story strip not being that plot-dense. Jim Scancarelli writes a casual comic, with low stakes. I’m surprised that it has been this little. I suppose this is why I expect Willow not to be what she obviously is. I’m also surprised by Rufus getting two stories in a row. Also that there’s a mention to the unresolved story of his courting The Widow Emma Sue and Scruffy’s Mom. I’d assumed that story was dropped in favor of Rufus courting the Mayor. So, even if not much is happening there’s still surprises coming around.
There was a special guest star in Dick Tracy last time around. Not from another comic strip. Joe Samson, who’d been a character in the late 70s, was back. He’s pursuing a Tacoma serial killer who’s murdering schoolteachers. Schoolteachers who are also basketball coaches and maybe sportswriters. We readers know who it is, and why he changed towns. It’s Barnabas Tar, hit new sports columnist for The Daily. He’s moved because his brother Reggie “Rocks” Tar thought this might stop his brother’s murdering.
Tar’s newest killing makes the papers. And gets him a Serial Killer Headline Name, “Teacher’s Pet”. The Tacoma newspapers called him that too. This outrages the killer. He confronts Wendy Wichel, star crime reporter for The Daily. And threatens death if he calls her anything but The Professor. She writes up the encounter for The Daily. And hasn’t got much more to share with Tracy. The Professor had a disguise. Also one of those voice altering devices that exists in this kind of story.
The investigation’s short on leads, so the subplots have to pick up the slack. Bonnie Tracy, who turns out to be a schoolteacher, takes the class on a tour of The Daily newsroom. Barnabas Tar is smitten with Bonnie Tracy, and they set a date at Coletta’s Restaurant. And just in time, as Reggie Tar has thought hard about his brother’s serial-killing and decided to call the cops on him. One might complain that once again Tracy gets the solution handed to him, no super-detective work needed. And I admit I’m not the crime podcast listener in the household. But my understanding is “family member turned them in” is one of the top ways serial killers get caught. It’s that and “gets stopped for an expired license plate and somebody checks”. Tracy catches up with Barnabas Tar at the date with Bonnie. Barnabas flees, out the kitchen and into the alley. Cornered in an alley, he tries to shoot Tracy and misses. Tracy tries to shoot Tar and succeeds.
So that covers the Teacher’s Pet killings. The only big loose end is that Bonnie Tracy still has ambiguous feelings for Joe Samson, who’s been less a part of this story than you’d expect. But Samson doesn’t have to leave the strip just yet.
And some other busienss. The 26th and 27th of April, Vitamin and Kandikane Flintheart’s son is born. He’s named Kane Flintheart. Seems cute as kids go, so far as I can tell.
The mystery featured a lot of text, though, and a lot of plot. When I read this as it came out I felt lost. I trusted that if I read the whole two weeks’ worth of strips at once, it would make better sense. It does. The solution is — well, it’s sensible. I’m not positive that it’s adequately planted by the narrative. But the puzzle would not have taken Dick Tracy so long without all the heavy plotting and heaps of information piled on the reader either. So was it fair? … Yes, I’ll say it was. I hope not only because I can imagine, say, Gerald Mohr reeling off Dick Tracy’s lines here.
Back to the main continuity. The current story started, more or less, the 13th of May. (There was one day’s strip previewing it before the Minute Mystery.) It features a special guest star. B-B Eyes’s trial for murder has hit a snag, from the prosecutor’s point of view. Its main evidence, the sworn statement of Trixie Tinkle, is missing. So is Tinkle. She was last seen on a cruise with her husband, Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks. Yes, the story is a chance to check in on Dick Tracy‘s foster comic, the orphaned Annie.
Trixie Tinkle’s been missing for twenty years. I have no idea whether this is something from the actual Annie. I’m sorry. GoComics has Annie comics going back to spring of 2001, but I don’t have the kind of research time for that. Tracy’s sent to ask Warbucks about the disappearance of his wife.
Warbucks doesn’t want to talk about his wives, and being rich and white, doesn’t see much reason he should answer fool questions from a public servant. But he’ll admit eternal gratitude to his first wife for taking in Annie. His second … he calls a golddigger with whom he couldn’t make things work. Like, how could Annie know someone who disappeared twenty years ago? Also, wait, how can B-B Eyes have been waiting twenty years for a trial? (B-B Eyes was thought dead during that time which, yeah, would delay his being brought to trial.) Also wait, Oliver Warbucks hadn’t adopted Annie before … recently? Really? That seems weird, but … I mean, I’m not going to challenge Joe Staton and Mike Curtis on story strip continuity.
It’s not just you, though. Emphasizing that Tinkle’s disappearance was twenty years ago, instead of a vague “years ago”, is weird. I think most comics readers accept this sort of floating timeline continuity. You know, where we don’t bring up that Tracy’s been about the same age since Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president. Maybe it is going to be important that this was twenty years ago, but as of now, I don’t know why “years ago” wouldn’t suffice.
Meanwhile B-B Eyes thinks he might be able to do something, now that the key evidence against him has vanished. He visits lawyer Tim Jackel, who’d tried years ago to get Tinkle a separation from Oliver Warbucks. Jackel actually says he got “a beating”. I’m not clear if he means in court or with a diamond-crusted mace. You don’t want to think that Oliver Warbucks, one of the protagonists of a long-running story comic, would be a violent and malevolent person. Then you remember he’s not just a billionaire, he’s a munitions manufacturer.
Anyway, B-B Eyes knows that Tinkle spoke often with a woman named Gypsy Gay. She might know something that might be admissible. He hires Jackel to track her down. Also searching for Gay: Dick Tracy. All they have to go on is her employer from when Tinkle vanished. And the hopes that that employer maybe knows where she’s gone. Really I would’ve checked Facebook first.
Gypsy Gay turns out to be in the other plot thread. Honeymoon Tracy, Ugly Crystal, and Annie are hanging out at the hotel Siam. It’s Annie and Warbucks’s home for the summer. Annie realizes she doesn’t have a toothbrush so stops in the gift shop where, what do you know, but Gypsy Gay is working. Ugly Crystal makes a note of her name. Why? She says “I collect unusual names,” or as they are known in the Dick Tracy universe, “names”. Jackel, reading the comics as they come out, passes news of Gay’s location on to B-B. But will Honeymoon Tracy ever pass on to her grandfather what she just learned? Guess what happened today, then. I’ll let you know if you’re right in, oh, let’s say September.
If you’re looking for the latest plot events from Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant please try this link. If it’s not later than about September 2019, this particular essay is probably my most up-to-date recap. Thanks for reading.
Fewesi brings the drugged Queen to her ship, telling of treachery from the Misty Isles. They flee the harbor. Bukota and Prince Valiant hop onto another Ab’sabam ship and give chase. In the long chase, Bukota considers what he now knows about Fewesi, and identifies him as one of “a nomadic people who know the secrets of poisoning the mind”. Well, you’ll get a certain amount of that in the time of King Arthur and all. Meanwhile Queen Aleta has pieced together enough of the story, and of Bukota’s poisoned guard Ambelu, to understand things. She sends her fastest war galley to chase Fewesi to Africa.
It’s a close chase. Fewesi has a lead and the ability to control his galley’s slaves’ minds. But he doesn’t quite know what he’s doing, and Bukota’s ship’s captain does. They catch Fewesi’s galley, in time for a dust storm to confuse everything. In the storm Fewesi’s galley meet another ship — not Bukota’s. An innocent fishing vessel. He takes the Queen and leaves on that ship. He escapes while Bukota and Valiant swim up to Fewesi’s galley, abandoned except for the slaves worked to near-death. Bukota and Valiant tend to the galley’s crew, at least.
And they get a break: a raven drops a piece of torn cloth to them. Bukota recognizes the raven as Aleta’s familiar. The cloth is a hint to look in the harbor of Paraetonium. They find in the bazaar the sign from which the cloth was torn. And it’s a good clue: there’s 1d6+3 first-level spell-controlled minions who rush out of the building for a quick fight. That’s easy enough to handle. But Fewesi’s also left spell-controlled melee attackers all through the building, the better to give him time to escape.
Still, they get through all this. They chase Fewesi and Makeda through the rooftops of Paraetonium. Finally one roof has had enough of this, and the pair fall through and startle the old couple who’d just offered Raul some empanadas. They rush out of the mess, reasonably, and get to the street just in time for Fewesi, riding a camel, to nearly trample them. They run over to the merchants and toss a bag of 25 gold pieces. It’s too much for two camels, but it lets them get on the chase into the desert nice and fast.
It’s too soon, as I publish this, to say whether Kadia’s mother is alive. The past three months of story were built on The Phantom assuming she’s alive and well. But she’s not been seen on-camera. Nor has anyone with authority to know said she’s dead. This may change in the coming week.
The Phantom (Weekdays).
11 March – 1 June 2019.
The Ghost Who Walks was riding a weird ship last time I checked in. He and Bangallan President Luaga had gotten Heloise Walker and Kadia Walker, née Sahara, out of New York City. Kadia was still reeling from the discovery her father was the international terrorist The Nomad. She’s coaxed Kit Walker into rescuing her mother. At least to arranging the rescue; he claims to know someone who could do it. One of the Nomad’s militias holds her at one of his estates, hostage to secure his silence about their activities.
Kadia draws the best map of the compound she can for her newly-adopting father. Kit Walker promises this will be a big help to him, and by him he means the person who’s going to rescue Imara and, uh. You know, at some point they’ll need to have a talk about the Walker family business but that can wait. Well, Kadia’s doing quite well with this whole learning-your-father-has-a-secret-life thing.
In Mawitaan, Diana Walker’s found a new school and apartment for Heloise and Kadia. They set off for that. Kit Walker sets out for North Africa, by himself.
And we set out for somewhere in New York. Secret Service guys are visiting David Palmer and his sister Lily. David Palmer’s the uncle of Diana Walker. He’s been in the strip, off and on, since 1940, and been an intelligence agent at least some of that while. The Secret Service people want help. They’ve confiscated the video of the unknown party who crashed The Nomad’s plane and made a cop arrest him. They know who the party is. They want to know what Heloise Walker was doing for the Bangallan President. He doesn’t know she was doing any such thing. They want to know what he’s been saying about Imara Sahara. He denies having ever said such a name. They want his advice on blowing up The Nomad’s North African compound. He has none to give them.
It seems like a curious detour. Men come to bring David Palmer into the story, and he refuses to be part of it. It does serve to re-establish what role Heloise Walker has had in all this, and why this North African expedition might matter to anyone. One of the many hardest parts of any serial story is helping casual readers not lose the plot without annoying the dedicated readers. And then also …
Well, on to North Africa. The Phantom readies to infiltrate the Nomad’s compound. Last time he tried something like this he got suckered by a decoy, and quite badly wounded. He’s better-armed, better-shielded, and ready to do one of his classic one-man infiltrations.
The complication: oh yes, American military forces are figuring to bomb the compound like it’s a wedding party. Their drones detect The Phantom moving in. So the drone warriors pause. They can’t figure what his deal is, and they’re not eager to wait for early June for me to explain it all to them. They couldn’t even get David Palmer to explain things to them, no matter how much they invited him into this story. They hold off on the bombing a bit, though.
The Phantom finds some useful cues. A pile of ammunition he can use to blow stuff up. A crate containing a chunk of ham on a bone that’s good for 20 health points. People he can beat up for intelligence. Some cute chances to call back to things other characters said.
He’s not going undetected in the compound, though. He’s already knocked out a bunch of low-level minions, and they’re starting to be discovered. He collects a not-unconscious minion. The minion reports Imara Sahara is in the safe room, as The Phantom expected. There’s four guards holding her. Two of them have orders to kill her rather than let her be freed. It’s going to make an already bad situation worse.
And that’s where the situation is. The Phantom, alone, trying to rescue Imara Sahara. She’ll have have no idea who he is or what he’s doing. She’s held by a militia ready to kill her in case The Phantom gets too close. That’s if she is still alive. The interrogation this week made clear the militia has limited reasons not to kill her. And American armed forces are ready to blow up everything. Bit of a fix. Well, I suppose he knows his business.
Alley Oop and Ooola were in the 1980s, searching for Dr Wonmug’s mixtape. It was stolen. The ransom note demanded three items for ransom. They’d gotten the first, a President Reagan jellybean. Now they were in San Francisco for the second: the master disks for shareware game Caves of Zfgrhkxp. They’re off to the home of 1986-shareware-video-game-famous programmer Steve Hobbes.
Before I go farther, a question for you. Do you find this gather-the-zany-tokens plot pointless? Are you annoyed by whimsical names like Caves of Zfgrhkxp and Steve Hobbes? Then probably the Jonathan Lemon/Joey Alison Sayers era of Alley Oop isn’t for you. It’s still a serial-adventure comic about a time-travelling caveman. But the story has been much more goofy, with a punch line in every strip. That has a good, respectable heritage in the comics. But it’s different from the way Alley Oop was. If you liked the old way and can’t get into the new, hey, you’re right. I’m sorry this isn’t working for you. Maybe Lemon and Sayers will evolve into a creative team you like better. Maybe they’ll only work the strip for a short while. Maybe you’ll come to like the different style, as a different take on a really good premise.
But for those who do like this, or are willing to see where it leads, here’s the story. Oop, Ooola, and Wonmug enter the ominous headquarters of Hobbesware Inc. The door locks behind them. The are no exits visible. On the table are: rope, box, envelope. Wonmug recognizes the genre of puzzle he’s in. He chooses to pick up envelope, getting ready to open envelope and examine contents for a puzzle lasting about six hours. I’m glad he’s having fun. Me, I could never get out of the first room of any of these text-adventure puzzles.
They try to prove they’re from the future, like, by dancing the macarena. I have not checked that this is when I got a flurry of comments from people who hate the new Alley Oop, but I get it if they did. Wonmug makes a more convincing case that they’re from the future by showing off his phone. Ooola’s worried this might screw up the timeline, if timelines are a thing that can be screwed up by Alley Oop time-travel rules. Wonmug’s confident. He left the phone locked, for one, and besides the older Hobbes invents some important smartphone and … uh … Wonmug concludes this must have been inevitable, because “time is a trick science”. Ooola thinks Hobbes has unlocked the phone and that maybe the timeline is changing?
That peril, like most, is played for a joke. One of the first gags of the new continuity was that this was an alternate dimension, just like the original except that tacos are never invented. Showing Hobbes the smartphone of his future design makes some kitchen staff hypothesize about inventing a taco. Anyway, Hobbes gives them the disk and they’re off to the third piece of mixtape ransom.
They don’t know what to get. The ransom note just says “Gator Gertie’s Miasmic Swamp”. It’s in Florida. Oop and Ooola don’t want to deal with that nonsense, and point out how this entire project seems like a colossal waste of time. Wonmug bribes them with a roller coaster ride. And, y’know, as a roller coaster fan I have to say: in 1986? There were like three roller coasters in Florida back then. The place is lousy with amusement parks now, but if Sayers and Lemon aren’t thinking of visiting the now-defunct Circus World park then they Didn’t Do The Research. Sorry to be all snide about this.
They find Gator Gertie’s. Gertie’s a pleasant, weird-in-that-roadside-attraction-way kind of person. She rents alligators and bakes treats. She can’t think what someone might send them there for. Oh, she has a secret human/alligator dinosaur lab. She doesn’t have a geneticist, but she has taught some gators to wear pants. Oh, and she has this haunted gator-tooth scone, baked ten years ago and containing an alligator tooth and a malevolent spirit. She’s happy to give it over since it’s only caused her trouble and made pants disappear. I’m sorry that Gertie was in such a rush to get out of this storyline; I liked her attitude. And who doesn’t love a daft roadside attraction? Maybe she’ll pop back around.
They get back to Wonmug’s 80s apartment and wait for instructions. Not long. Someone behind the door orders them to give the items over. Oop looks inside. It’s raccoons. They’re wearing lab coats. One has eyeglasses on. They’re building something.
Yeah, so it turns out Dr Wonmug did some experiments where he created superintelligent raccoons to do chores. And their intelligence went beyond what he anticipated. Now they’re building their own time machine. The floppy disk has code that solves some of the equations of time-travel. The haunted scone opens a dimensional portal. The jellybean satisfies Gunther’s sweet tooth. And with these final components their time machine is complete and … they’re off! To where? And when?
No idea. The story seems to end on that beat, with the Time Raccoons leaving. Wonmug drops off Ooola and Oop back in prehistoric Moo, and home. They putter around a bit and it all looks like the start of a new story. There hasn’t been talk about the Time Raccoons. It seems like rather a cliffhanger. I don’t know if Alley Oop has done that before, though. It didn’t happen when Jack Bender and Carole Bender, the prior creative team, were working the last couple of years.
Is leaving something like the Time Raccoons unresolved new? I talk a confident game. But the truth is I am not well-versed in Alley Oop lore. I’ve been reading the daily strip for a couple of years now. I’ve read a couple collections with storylines from V T Hamlin’s day, and enjoyed them. Still, I don’t know whether the Alley Oop universe has ever had a party with a time machine independent of Dr Wonmug’s before. This can be narratively perilous, especially if you’ve bought the idea of a changeable history. There have been stories with rival time-travellers to Dr Wonmug before (one story had a character kidnapped to another era, for example), and the comic strip stayed intact.
Will the Time Raccoons come back? Certainly if I were writing the strip. (I’d thought there was a good chance they’d show up in Moo by the end of this past week.) Rivals are good ways to generate stories. It’s obviously good to have parties who can drop in and add chaos to storylines. Uplifted animals with only casual interest in the plans of humans only heighten the fun. But I’m in no privileged position here. I’m just reading comics and talking about what I see. Indeed, my other blog gets into mathematically-themed comic strips, as here. If I encounter any news about Alley Oop, I’ll pass it on here.
I need a low-key, low-effort week so I’m hoping next on the roster is something easy to recap. Maybe one of the Sunday-only strips. The Sunday Alley Oop comics, the Little Oop adventures, have all been spot jokes. There hasn’t been an ongoing story. There’ve been some things mentioned in the Sunday strips that went on to mention in the weekdays. Like Alley Oop joining the Dino Guides, a Scouts-type group, used after that mention. So the Sunday strips aren’t part of the continuity, but they haven’t needed recapping. So let me just check what’s next on the schedule.
I don’t have information about when The Amazing Spider-Man comic strip might emerge from reruns. If and when I do, I’ll post it here. I do have some thoughts and will include them at the end of this recap of the end of Roy Thomas and Alex Saviuk’s run, and the first two months of the first repeat.
The Amazing Spider-Man
24 February – 18 May 2019.
It was an action-packed moment when I last updated the Spider-Man plot. Mary Jane had covered Killgrave with the plastic sheet that neutralizes his power to command people. Look, if you’re going to stare at me that way there’s no point describing the plot of a superhero comic. But he was falling off the edge of a building. Spider-Man webbed him, but Killgrave’s momentum pulled the superhero along. Luke Cage, also in the plot, grabbed Spider-Man by the ankle.
Neither Spider-Man nor Cage is doing that well. They’re shaking off Killgrave’s command that they fight each other. Mary Jane gives Spider-Man the important clue that he has two web-shooters. Reminded of his power set, Spidey’s able to use a second line to anchor himself and keep anyone from dying.
With Killgrave neutralized, Spider-Man turns to the important stuff. That’s getting selfies with Luke Cage. He needs some good photos of Spider-Man fighting Cage, since J Jonah Jameson wants them off of Peter Parker and all that. You know. The usual.
Peter Parker drops off the pictures at the Daily Bugle and heads out. The plan’s to resume his and Mary Jane’s planned yet last-minute Australia trip. They head to the airport. There is a ritual of the Spider-Man comic strip in airports. Peter doesn’t know how to get his Spider-Man costume through security. Sometimes he forgets he’s wearing it under his normal clothes. Sometimes he worries it will get noticed in his luggage.
And, the 23rd of March, the run of The Amazing Spider-Man came to an end. At least, they’re still calling it a hiatus. I haven’t seen any news about the supposed search for a new creative team, or any planned time for new comics to come out. The 24th, the strip went into its current rerun phase, with an edited strip from 2014. The editing teases that this is Peter Parker dreaming of old times while on the plane. New York City to Australia is a long flight, and the newspaper Spider-Man spends a lot of time asleep anyway.
Had the newspaper comic continued, Roy Thomas’s plans included an encounter with The Kangaroo. And I suspect Mary Jane wearing the Spider-Man costume would foreshadow something. Instead, we’re getting a rerun of an encounter with Mysterio. I have a certain odd affection for Mysterio. I learned of him while a teenager, reading the 1980s Sensational She-Hulk comic, which specialized in featuring the villains who were kind of … uhm … how can I put this politely? It’s where I first saw Stilt-Man, a villain who goes around on extendable robot legs. Mysterio was one of that comic book’s first villains. And his gimmick’s a fun one. He doesn’t quite have superpowers. He’s a master of special effects and hypnosis and stagecraft and performance. I guess in principle everything he does is something a professional special-effects team could put together. But, like, in that She-Hulk comic he faked an alien invasion. That seems like it would need a larger special effects house than “one guy with a great swooping cape and a ball covering his head”. I bet the hypnosis helps.
So to the rerun plot, which is still under way. Mary Jane’s show on Broadway is closing. Not for unpopularity; the theater needs repair. This was, in 2014, because of damage done the theater by Spider-Man’s fight with Doctor Octopus. In 2019, it would still be justified, after the damage with Spider-Man’s fight with the Kingpin and Golden Claw. She’ll be out of work three months, or an eternity. But there’s good news: Abe Smiley is in town. A few years before he produced the direct-to-DVD superhero film Marvella. Mary Jane starred. Now it’s time for a sequel. Which is filming in New York, and needs like three months to do. Perfect.
She loves meeting back up with the old gang and the costume still looks good on her. What could go wrong? Besides Peter being mopey about the project. And the strip cutting away to Mysterio cackling about how he loves show business while the narrator asks what he could have to do with all this. The question still hasn’t been answered.
But what could go wrong has. Sharon Smiley, the producer’s daughter, had been slated to play Marvella. Now she’s bumped down to the villainess role, Sister Steel. She’s not happy about this. Mary Jane offers to resign and avoid the unpleasantness. Abe Smiley holds her to her contract. She’ll have to deal.
Spider-Man has a weird event while stopping a routine carjacking right outside his and Mary Jane’s apartment. It’s a bright flash of light and his spidey-sense tingling even after he’s stopped the crime. The cause: Mysterio. He hired a “petty hoodlum” to snatch the car. This to test his hypothesis that Spider-Man is keeping close watch on Mary Jane. This’ll help Mysterio’s project of destroying them both, so that’s something. Spider-Man isn’t sure what’s going on, so he digs an old raincoat out of a trash can to get back into his apartment undetected. That’s not an important story beat, but it’s a wondrous line and I wanted to give it some attention.
On to filming. There’s a fight scene on top of the Empire State Building. Sharon Smiley, as Sister Steel, hits Mary Jane a little too hard. The railing is a little too soft: Mary Jane falls through as if it weren’t there. It’s not: Mysterio removed it, somehow, right where they’d fight and hid the removal. Spider-Man sees Mary Jane falling from the top of the Empire State Building and leaps into action. He grabs her, but something messes up his web-slingers. He tries to get to another building, but smoke clouds his vision. Something else clouds his spider-sense. But he’s able to slow their fall enough and guide them to landing in a dumpster, as safe as can be after a fall from the top of a skyscraper.
There are many questions. How could Mary Jane fall through the Empire State Building observation deck’s railing? Why does Spider-Man immediately suspect Mysterio? Couldn’t, like, one-third the characters in the Marvel universe do the same stunt? Is someone on the film crew working with Mysterio to kill Mary Jane and Spider-Man? Will Mary Jane — at the film crew’s insistence — calling Peter Parker to tell him not to worry reveal Spider-Man’s secret identity? What adjacent building is putting their dumpster on the side of the lot that faces the Empire State Building? (It’s the CUNY Graduate Center, isn’t it? Making some obscurantist point about something?) And, to the other characters, why is Spider-Man always hanging around Mary Jane? Are they an item or something? But she’s married!
So we are, in the repeats, up to the 11th of January, 2015. If you want to skim ahead and see how all this turns out, the Mysterio storyline went on until about the 14th of March, 2015. That fed into a team-up with the Black Widow to fight the Hobgoblin. So that’s nine weeks into our future. That would be the first chance that Marvel and Comics Kingdom would have to transition out of reruns and into a new story.
But if they do mean to get out of repeats in mid-July, as this would imply, then they’d need to have a new creative team working now. If there’s not an announcement in the next week or two I’d suppose they’re going to carry on through another repeat story. Whether the Black Widow/Hobgoblin story or another would be beyond my powers to deduce.
A long-running story comic about a superpowered do-gooder that came to an end, went into reruns for a storyline, and came back with new creators! Come with me to the 80s and Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop, now featuring raccoons!
I feel the need to break my format a little. There’s a major question in the backstory of the current Judge Parker plot. That current storyline doesn’t actually depend on parts of the plot not previously revealed. But Francesco Marciuliano writes the story as though we should remember the circumstances of Norton’s faked death. At least he writes the characters as though they know it. So let me reveal what we do know about this.
What Exactly Is The Deal With Judge Alan Parker Faking Norton’s Death?
To be honest, this has been annoying me a long while too. And I didn’t think I could untangle it, especially not now that Comics Kingdom redesigned their archives so it’s harder to read old strips. I was saved by this essay by Mark Carlson-Ghost. It lays out the characters of Judge Parker in some depth. I’m impressed by his diligence. The essay includes people not seen since the 1960s, according to itself. Without it I’d have no hope of tracking down enough story to explain any of this.
The story goes back several years and to the previous writer, Woody Wilson. The artist, Mike Manley, was the same, so at least the art will be familiar. In the backstory to this backstory, Alan Parker had retired as judge and occasional comic strip character. He’d written some of his experiences into a novel, The Chambers Affair, which everybody in the world loves. People fall over themselves to talk about how much they love it. And Randy Parker has found love in the form of April Bowers. She’s a CIA “asset” who claims to be a single linguist, but who keeps having stuff pull her away from linguistics. They were readying to marry.
So first, his name was not Norton, which may be why I have always had trouble figuring out what his last name is. He’s presently “Norton Dumont” by the way. On his introduction he was known as “Abbott Bower”. At least, until the wedding of Randy Parker and April Bower, a sequence which ran from February through June 2014.
The wedding was also the occasion for Abbott Bower to meet the Parkers and their gang. They had come to the jungles of Mexico because, Abbott was unable to travel away from his clinic. He was dying from radiation exposure, the result of some CIA mission he’d been on. This was by the way presented as of course true by the strip’s then-writer Woody Wilson. Current writer Francesco Marciuliano is eager to indulge in every soap-operatic plot twist. So I accept that Wilson intended that this was an old CIA agent turned gun runner who was dying of exposure to patriotism. (Seriously, the strips from this era lay on really thick the “thank God we have super-spies ready to Save America” bunk.)
Over the wedding, Abbott gives to April a bag full of diamonds. His “retirement fund”, he quips, now a wedding gift. The evening of the reception, Flaco and Franco Gardia launch a bungled raid on the wedding party. The Gardias have the idea the diamonds are theirs. And that April killed Flaco’s wife. I don’t deign to declare whether the Gardias or Abbott have the greater title to the diamonds. But Flaco’s wife is in a Mexican prison, thanks to Abbott’s work.
I don’t mind that the raid is a fiasco. My reading of this sort of thing is that pretty much every attempt at armed force is largely a fiasco. Afterwards the winners organize a narrative that makes it, sure, a close call at points but ultimately inevitable. But part of the last few years of Wilson’s writing was that anything bad that might happen to a Parker or Spencer or Driver would fall apart of its own accord. In the raid it turns out April is one of those movie-style super-spies who can grab someone’s surveillance drone out of the sky. Katherine gets captured, but stays pretty in control of the situation. She even talks to one of the Gardia brothers about surrendering to her, and he at least hears her out.
After a tense standoff with mutual groups of hostages they compromise. The Gardias will take half the diamonds. Oh, also Alan Parker’s autograph on their copies of his best-selling novel The Chambers Affair. And then they’ll leave the strip forever. And they do. This sort of convenient working-out of things happened all the time in the Woody Wilson era. Especially with people so loving Alan Parker’s book. It’s a great running joke if you don’t suspect that Woody Wilson meant it sincerely. At the time, I thought he meant it sincerely. In retrospect, and on reading a lot of these strips in short order, I’m less sure. It reads, now, to me more like a repeated punch line.
After the wedding various other plots go on. In October 2015 it’s revealed that Abbott has left the Mexican clinic. He’s returned to the United States. He’s helping Alan Parker write the screenplay for The Chambers Affair. And that his name is now Norton Dumont.
And finally, months later, the money shot. Or as near a one as we get. It’s in December 2017. Alan Parker declares how “Abbott Bower died of cancer in Mexico. There’s even a death certificate!”
As best I can tell this is as much as the strip laid out the circumstances of Norton’s previous faked death. It is quite possible that I have missed some strip between June 2014 and December 2015 that made it more explicit. But what I infer is that Abbott Bower got himself declared dead, the better to escape people like the Gardias who might hold his life against him. The extent to which Alan Parker helped in this was, as best I can find, unstated at the time. It transpires only now, as Francesco Marciuliano writes what “really” went on.
Gil Thorp was in the fight of his life when I last checked in. The fight for his professional life, anyway. Former student-assistant-coach Robby Howry was blogging mean stuff about his coaching. And teaming up with radio sports reporter Marty Moon to say mean stuff about his coaching, but on the radio. And Gil wasn’t fighting. He was waiting for all this to get done. It’s as if Gil Thorp, deep down, didn’t really care.
Coming back into the strip was Maxwell Bacon. He was part of the storyline that set off Robby Howry’s quest for revenge. As senior, Bacon had wanted adderall, the better to manage whatever. Howry gave him baby aspirin, filed off, and told him it was adderall. Thorp found out about this, suspended Bacon, and threw Howry off the team-management thing. Bacon’s back from State University to see his mom. But he’s glad to break the silence about Howry’s motivations. Thorp refuses his help. He argues Howry isn’t worth Bacon making a dumb scandal public right as he’s looking for, you know, a job. Bacon leaves, without affecting the plot further.
It’s a neat development, I thought. It seems obvious that Bacon could deflate the Howry bubble. That Thorp won’t do that says something about his character. First, that he won’t screw up even a former student’s life, not on purpose. Second, that he’s confident he’s not going to lose his job to Robby Howry.
Because Howry isn’t after Thorp’s job. Mimi Thorp lays it out for Marty Moon, and everybody else. Howry wants that sweet local-sports-reporter job. And he’s going about it by saying interesting things in a forceful way about local sports.
The Gil Thorp snark-reading community has a consensus opinion about Marty Moon. He’s a hilarious, bumbling fool. He has the ill grace to be kinda right that Thorp’s teams never do great in their divisions. He’s somehow always finding new little ways to be a jerk. (I mean, dropping in Gil Thorp’s wife when she’s hanging with friends? And to say “nothing personal about my daily guest wanting your husband fired”?) But still. He’s kind of a dope.
Ah, but, swiping his job? Doing something about that is within Marty Moon’s set of powers. He and Howry settle in for their next broadcast. Marty casually turns eighty-four microphones over Howry’s way and asks, “So, how much do, Robby Howry of RobbyReport, declare that Milford sucks? As a town, that is. But also as a collection of super-sucktacular individuals? Please freely express your honest opinion while you’re here under no compulsion or duress of any kind.” And Howry must admit, he’s run some metrics and has rarely seen a town better living up to its potential suckitude than Milford. Then learns he was on the air.
Now, I’m from New Jersey. I went to grad school in Troy, New York. I currently live in Lansing, Michigan. What I mean by all this is I have never lived in a place that had self-esteem. The closest I ever have is when I lived in Singapore, a city-state that takes considerable pride in itself. But it’s also aware that, jeez, it’s only as important as it is so long as it does containerized cargo and hosting a US Navy base well. So I don’t feel the Milford community’s outrage at being called a “Podunk town” he figures to use as a “launching pad”. I’m more inclined to expect people to say hey, but we’re a great “dump”. And were only better before the gentrifiers tore down the abandoned dance studio that used to be a gas station.
Marty Moon expects thanks from Gil Thorp for bursting the Howry bubble. Thorp won’t give it. Robby Howry himself thinks, he guesses he’ll finish school. But he knows, he’s got talents and this town will never forget him. As he says this, the strip shows his billboards papered over. It’s a funny end.
Will Milford forget him? I don’t know. It’ll be a while before I do. He’s got a great story-comic personality, that of being far too involved over a petty issue. And students do return for new storylines, sometimes. It wouldn’t be absurd for Howry to make some new attack on the Milford high-school sports ecological balance. But, yeah, nobody in town would remember him three months after this.
The new, and current, storyline started the 11th of March. And it’s focused on the girls’ sports. It’s softball season. The centerpoint student seems to be Linda Carr, who’s playing softball and volleyball. And is very busy. She has to beg off a Saturday scrimmage, for softball, on the grounds she already has a volleyball tournament. This causes one of Linda’s teammates to snap at her for some reason. In all four girls say they can’t make Saturday. Three of them beg off for “family stuff”. It’s a lie.
Molly Hatcher, for example, was performing in a synchronized ice skating team. She didn’t want to talk about it because whenever she talks about it people make fun of her. Nancy Kaffer’s “family stuff” was that she was going to a comic convention. She says it’s because she writes a blog about female superheroes. I’m not sure if she was running a panel or if it’s just that she’s interested in comic books. She gets about 30,000 visitors a month so excuse me. I need to step over into the breakfast nook and fume about being one-tenth as popular as a fictional high school girl. All right. I’m back.
Anyway, Linda feels the softball team is lacking a needed unity. It’s a good diagnosis. Everybody has other things they like doing, which is fine. Everybody’s getting snippy at other people for their things, though, which isn’t.
At the season opener, Jocelynn Brown takes a moment to rally the team’s spirits. She gets the team through a tough spot and into a win. And her teammates admire her neat hat, which she knitted herself. She had missed the scrimmage because she and her mother had a booth at a craft show. In admiring the hat Molly Hatcher says everyone on the team is “too cool for school”, and for a moment her entire life hangs in the balance.
But the other teens decide this is such an uncool thing to say that it falls over the edge and comes back around to being cool. It becomes their rallying cry for the next month. Jocelynn and her mom knit matching hats for everyone, which Molly declares they’ll wear on game days.
After a close loss to Tilden, Jamila brings out a Rally Hippo, a plush doll from her collection. She declares that to be her contribution to being too-cool-for-school. And, you know? These things can work. Weird thing about sports psychology is that having anything you can do for luck works, even if you don’t believe in luck. Having a thing in your control helps you get bigger control. The Rally Hippo’s only had one outing, but the girls did come back from being down 3-1 to win.
Less sure, and what seems to be the actual problem this story: Linda has gotten bored with volleyball. But it’s the sport that she has a scholarship for. So, what to do about that?
Fair question. Won’t know until the next few weeks of Gil Thorp transpire. We’ll have to see.
There was no secret volleyball. It was synchronized ice skating being kept secret. Also disenchantment with volleyball kept secret. Volleyball itself was always known to all interested parties.
Milford Schools Watch
So here’s the towns or other schools named as competitors to Milford the last several months. Tilden and Oakwood have turned up twice, and in that order, for basketball and for softball.
Burke (the Bulldogs)
Benson (the Mighty Bunnies)
And again, of course, Milford isn’t anywhere real. But if “Nebraska City” isn’t the name of someplace in Pennsylvania, it should be.
And so last Friday we had the hope of a new entry to the roster of animals definitely seen or not seen by whoever it is draws Beetle Bailey these days. The credits say Greg Walker, but the credits also say Mort Walker, who died fifteen months ago now. I know there’s people who work ahead of deadline, but, this far ahead of deadline? I have my doubts.
Anyway last Friday’s installment allows us to say: we have no idea whether the guy who draws Beetle Bailey has ever seen a raccoon. I apologize for the inconvenience.
Speaking of inconvenience, the Comics Kingdom redesign. While it’s getting less bad, it’s still bad. Besides ignoring the top row of the Sunday comics, they haven’t shown any new Vintage daily strips since Friday. And it’ll show the Vintage comic strips in a random order that’s not alphabetical and not the order I set for the comics to appear, or anything else. Yes, every web site redesign is about making things work less well, but they really overachieved on this one.
So the thing about Edward’s dog is that he’s ugly.
Like, supernaturally ugly.
Like, “that’s … a … dog???” ugly.
It’s how the strip introduced him. It’s how he’s presented each time he comes back. This is a running joke now. It’s one with respectable comic strip precedent.
Al Capp introduced Lena the Hyena to Li’l Abner in summer of 1946 as “the world’s ugliest woman”. She first appeared unseen, with the editorial note that they must hide her face to protect the readers. She would be seen, when the great Basil Wolverton achived the horrible. I had thought there were more examples of too-hideous-to-see characters in the comics. I’d imagined there’d be one in Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy for example. I seem to be wrong about that, though. Ugly Christine had hair covering her face, but we did see most of her. (Searching for other unseeable characters lead me to Spots, only seen in profile or three-quarters shots, with spots floating in front of his face. He’s not on point for this, but he does present a heck of an image.)
Al Capp did also have Big Barnsmell, the “inside man” at the Skonk Works, who did unspeakable things with skunks for unknown reasons. I haven’t found reference about whether Barnsmell appeared on-screen, though. The last few appearances of Simple J Malarkey in Walt Kelly’s Pogo had the man’s head covered. (This was not a joke about Joe McCarthy’s deep ugliness, though. Kelly was working out his irritation at editors afraid of offending evil people, who demanded Malarkey’s face not be shown.)
There are more examples of this joke in other media. Most familiarly these days, Norm’s wife Vera on Cheers, and Niles’s wife Maris on Frasier, were presented as too hideous to ever be seen. Then there’s old-time-radio. On Fibber McGee and Molly, half of Wallace Wimple’s whole schtick was telling horror stories of his wife. She would never be on-screen to present her case. … I’m a bit unsettled that Edward’s dog is the first example I can come up of too-ugly-to-see that isn’t about an adult woman we’re supposed to laugh at. (The other half of Wallace Wimple’s schtick was saying he would look something up in his “bird book”. They knew how to make a gag run back then.)
In any event. Terry Beatty is mixing this running joke into Rex Morgan, M.D.. This is why the dog is only ever put off-screen, and explained with narrative bubbles and arrows pointing at ‘Dog’. I have no idea whether Beatty intends to ever depict Edward’s Dog, or to hold a similar contest. He may be satisfied with Dog as-is. He has been writing the comic as a more humorous one. The change in tone is less than what’s happened in Alley Oop, but still. He’s bringing more jokes in.
Rex Morgan’s plane was landing in the middle of the desert when I last checked in. It’s an extreme emergency, but the only way to keep Rex away from a medical conference in Phoenix. The touchdown takes a week of action, roughly, with Rex yelling reassuring things at his young temporary ward Brayden. And with Mister Cranky, who wanted booze and lots of it on the flight, yelling about how he was going to sue. Cranky was a particularly obnoxious fellow through January. But I can’t fault him yelling angry things about the airline as it lands by some ham radio operator’s shack in the desert.
The passengers, fully evacuated, get off the plane. Mister Cranky tries grabbing his carry-on, and gets scolded by the flight attendant. But again I sympathize; I don’t know how hard it would be for me to abandon my laptop in the circumstance. They’re well outside cell phone service range, but all’s not lost. The ham radio operator called in the emergency before driving his jeep up to the plane. His shack can be at least a gathering point for the passengers while a jet engine finishes exploding.
Mister Cranky, having had enough of this, decides to leave. He notices the radio ham left the keys in his jeep. So he sits in the driver’s seat and is immediately snarled at by a large dog. Chased out from there, he sits on a large rock, ignoring Rex Morgan’s warning to Brayden about checking for scorpions. And what do you know, but, a scorpion bites him on the rear end! And the cops arrive and arrest him for trying to steal a car! Which has this curious state where it’s true, but I don’t think there’s any evidence except for his thought balloons. Cranky said he was “just sitting down” and I think that’s all they could prove. Anyway, he’s made fun of by the local news. On Morgan’s word the cops take him to the hospital first. But I’m sure as they transferred him from the ambulance to the hospital someone slipped, and his wheelchair rolled out of control, downhill into the county Manuratorium. And then he crawled out of that only for a cartoon elephant to sit on him.
Rex, and everyone, call to their loved ones as soon as they can. Brayden’s father is grateful beyond words for Rex’s help. You might ask what Rex did for Brayden. He was flying, unaccompanied, from his mother to his father. The flight attendant asked Rex to just watch over the weirdly old pre-teen. Brayden handled the emergency better than I would have, but still. Brayden’s father, wanting to do something for Rex, gives him a ride to the airport and a change of clothes from his store. All their stuff was left in the plane, after all. I did see commenters complain that this evokes the old, Woody Wilson-era “What Can We Give The Morgans Today” writing style. I guess that’s so. But the scene feels true to me. His son came through a plane crash unscathed. It’s natural for him to lavish money on the nearest person with the slightest involvement in that.
Morgan attends the conference after all, although since it’s all medical talk we don’t see it. On the flight home, who sits next to him but … Mister Cranky?
Well, no. It’s a sweet, polite, kindly person who just looks like him. He’s J T Needle. Mister Cranky was his twin brother, T J Needle. J T demonstrates how he’s the good identical twin by explaining how he’s always been the nice brother. T J’s always been self-centered and rude, doing stuff like trash-talking his relatives and all. Morgan questions the plausibility of sitting right next to Mister Cranky’s twin on the flight home. But he points out, he and his brother both live in Arizona, while their parents live in Glenwood, so of course they’d fly between those cities. Morgan accepts that this coincidence will now not get listed under Plot Holes.
The last plot thread — about when Rex Morgan would get his luggage back — was resolved the first of April. The airline delivered his stuff back to his house. So that’s all covered.
Starting the 6th of April came the tease of a new storyline. Jordan Harris is ready to open his restaurant. He’s invited the Morgans to be part of a test-run night. His fiancee Michelle Carter is the acting hostess. Everything’s going great. This includes Delmer Robertson. He’s recovering from his addiction and homelessness and kidney transplant and all that.
That’s not, so far as I can tell, the story. It was an epilogue to the Jordan/Michelle/Delmer storyline from last fall. Instead we’re following young Sarah, and her former-bully-turned-friend Edward. And his improbably ugly dog. They run across a crying young girl. Some older kids made her drop her ice cream. Edward buys her a replacement before his sister makes him come home. And it looks like Sarah has a new friend. That’s all we’ve seen about this storyline so far.
The Phantom Sunday continuity was partway through its flashback when I last checked in. He had returned a Xanangan child to her village. She was a stowaway on a vintage B-29. The plane’s crew flew at air shows. And they flew stolen wildlife from show to show. And don’t you think Mark Trail won’t be quite cross about all this smuggling when he finds out. But The Little Detective, accidentally locked into the cargo hold, started keeping notes. She dropped postcards at airshows. She trusted someone would mail them off.
Finally someone did. It was a letter to her family, who finally had some assurance that was alive and somehow in Sweden. Her family turned the news over to the Jungle Patrol. They turned it over to the Unknown Commander, our favorite stripey-panted walker. Meanwhile she keeps notes on what the smugglers take, and where they take them.
The Phantom catches up with the B-29. I’m not sure where. He must have figured there aren’t that many touring B-29s that have made stops in Bangalla recently. He sneaks into the cargo hold at night, catching The Little Detective by surprise. Diana points out, so, he and his wolf named Devil, in the middle of the night, snuck into the cargo hold where a lone girl has been hiding from the crew for months. He concedes he could have introduced himself less alarmingly. But there was a deadline. The plane was leaving just before dawn; this was his best chance of contacting her before a fight.
The smugglers return to the plane. The Phantom glad-handles them, praising their cleverness and what a great story they’ll have to tell in prison. One of the smugglers spoils the cheery mood by taking out a gun. The Phantom takes back the scene, though. He explains he’s just moving the action over there so nobody accidentally shoots the airplane. It’s a deft touch, showing how simple persuasion is a superpower. The smugglers hardly notice they are letting The Phantom lead them, not until he grabs their gun.
Having blown it, the smugglers try to appeal to The Phantom’s patriotism. At least his historical enthusiasm. How can we possibly have both vintage World War II aircraft operating and some pangolin left surviving somewhere in the wild, after all? The smuggler starts some Greatest Generation talk when The Phantom slugs him, correctly. I mean, first, War Hardware fans are the worst. Second, Bangalla was part of the British Commonwealth of Fictional Nations. They, and their Buranda and Qumran brethren, were having people killed for a year and a half before the Americans put anything on the line. Still, The Phantom’s reaction is only at the level of punching. It’s not like these are Avro Arrow fanboys.
And yeah, I talk a smug game. But I know where my standing is weak. I kinda like the various preposterous ideas to do a lunar landing with Gemini spacecraft. There is an audience to which this is a very funny thing to admit and it is not my fault that you are not in it. Anyway that’s where the action has gotten by now.
It is a refreshing change that I am not upset with Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth. I am still upset with Comics Kingdom, since the redesigned site is quite bad. But that won’t stop me recapping the plot of the last three months. If you’re reading this essay after about July 2019, I may have a more up-to-date plot recap here. Good luck finding what you need.
Last time you’ll recall, Toby thought her marriage to Ian was in danger. The danger was Jannie. She’s one of Ian’s students. She can stop talking about what an inspirational teacher Ian is only long enough to point out he’s brilliant too. Toby could not believe someone saying stuff like that about her Ian. Ian had no doubts that he is, truly, the greatest Local College instructor of all time. Jannie had no doubts that she had Ian wrapped around her fingers. Toby was sure they must be having an affair. Ian was unaware that this could be, or could even look like, an affair. It’s a specific sort of obliviousness that I believe in.
Jannie figures it’s time to slack off. And she commits to it, slacking off as much as she buttered up Ian in the first place. She skips turning in an assignment, giving Ian nothing but a wink instead. Ian gets so mopey about having to fail a student who didn’t turn in an assignment that it convinces Toby he’s having an affair. Mary Worth reminds her that “talking with your husband about things that distress you” is an option. Toby is unconvinced.
Jannie is angry that she failed. Ian tries to explain that she didn’t turn in the assignment. She unloads on what an old fool he is and demands to know, pretty much, why he isn’t dead or something. We don’t actually see her ask if she can get extra credit. Jannie goes back to wherever temporary Mary Worth characters go after their plots have ended. She tries to hook up with Michael, who’d been interested in her when she was flattering Ian. He’s got a girlfriend now. So, she can’t talk with him anymore. She’s got to smoke her collapsible blackboard pointer by herself.
Ian comes home, moping about what a fool he is. He tells Toby he needs to talk. This is lucky. Mary Worth has been trying, continuously, since the start of the year to get Toby to try talking with Ian about her anxieties. And it finally took! Ian laughs off the idea he was having an affair with one of his students. Or even that one of his students could find him attractive or inspirational. Fair enough that he doubts himself, in the situation. But it also means his answer to “I’m worried you’re having an affair with one of your students” is “Oh, no, that student was only using me for my gradebook”.
But that is, after all, a happy ending. Toby and Ian are extremely married. They’re happy that they are too. And they’ll even try this “communicating” thing, in case a problem ever comes up again, which it never will.
The new, and current, plot started the 18th of February. It began with a visit to Estelle, who I never figured on seeing again. She’s the widow who adopted Libby, the one-eyed cat that Mary picked up after pet-dating Saul Wynter. Estelle and Libby are having a great time. But Mary Worth is going to keep visiting until Estelle gets herself a very heterosexual relationship. So Estelle tries out a seniors dating web site. Mary is so happy with the prospect she doesn’t even have time to register disapproval of doing stuff on the Internet.
Estelle tries out a couple of dates, which all go hilariously wrong. One guy turns out to be old! Another is a male chauvinist. Another is polygamous. One is even a poor. It’s a fun week watching her have fantastically bad dates. Fun enough I don’t mind that they could have talked on the phone for ten minutes before the date. Or they could have gotten a coffee mid-afternoon instead. Estelle could have saved herself some awful evenings. I don’t care.
And Estelle doesn’t give up. She’s going to keep online-dating until she finds the right scam to fall for. That would be Arthur Zerro, a “widower, construction engineering manager, music lover, and traveller”. He’s working in Malaysia. But he lives in Santa Royale, and is eager to get back home in a couple months. It looks like a great match. They both love travel. Estelle says she loves “multicultural cuisine”. We longtime Mary Worth snarkers take this to mean she likes those combined Taco Bell/Kentucky Fried Chicken/Pizza Hut places.
Arthur Z continues being too good to be real. He loves cats. He calls to read poetry to Estelle. He wants to devote his retirement to Estelle’s happiness. And she thinks that sounds great. He wants to have a nice exchange of questionnaires, the way real people will really do for real in reality. She offers answers. Her favorite food. Her hobbies. What kind of car she drives. What was her elementary school teacher’s pet’s maiden name. What’s her bank’s routing number. Still, the questionnaire part goes great. Arthur even has the same favorite band that she does! It’s the Beatles.
It’s not much of a story if nothing weird happens, though. In an e-mail Arthur misspells his name. I’d be snarkier about this except I know how many times autocorrect has fixed my ‘Jsoeph’ at the end of e-mails this past month. I think my keyboard has issues. Anyway, we also finally see Arth[e|u]r on-screen. He’s not the stunningly good-looking man of his profile picture. He’s more what you get when Louie DePalma didn’t realize that Oscar Madison was also in the transporter pod. So now we experienced readers know something must be up. Persons are only untidy because they’re using all their organizing energy running a confidence scheme.
Artheur falls silent. When he finally connects he has woes. There was an accident on the job site. He’s all right, but the job is going to take months, maybe a year longer now. At least, unless someone has ten thousand dollars that she could wire him. Just as a loan. You know, like someone whose credit score has fluttered between 785 and 813 for the past thirty-six months might be able to swing. Its a hard story, but Estelle decides she had best fall for it.
Estelle mentions Artheur’s problems to Mary Worth. Mary Worth underplays her concern. She just asks if it was a lot of money Artheur needed. How well Estelle knows Artheur. Whether Estelle does, in fact, have the common sense that God bestowed upon gravel. But, Mary hasn’t got actual evidence.
So what’s there to do but call on Toby? Who is an expert in this sort of thing. In a sequence that ran in the strip like 800 years ago she fell for a phishing e-mail and she had to get a whole credit card cancelled and replaced. So Toby has skills, and a need to prove them. She’ll wipe out the shame of falling for a “you’re account has exhalated” notice yet! It’s on to a series of panels of “people looking at a laptop”. Thanks to Google Image Search she finds Artheur Zerro’s picture is really that of a “South African male model named Ivan Inghem”. I’m disappointed that my own DuckDuckGo search indicates there’s no such person. I would have been so impressed had Mary Worth used some obscure-to-Americans attractive face.
Anyway, Artheur Zerro’s name is fake too. So now the problem is how to break this to Estelle. That should go great, though. What person do we love more than whoever makes it impossible to ignore how titanic our blunders were? Mary tries the direct approach: show her pictures of Ivan Inghem. Point out nobody in the construction industry knows the name “Artheur Zerro”. That he took ten thousand bucks off her. So this all looks like it’s going well.
I am delighted to have a whole Mary Worth plot recap that does not leave me furious with the story. It’s been a couple of stories of gentle emotional charge. Jannie, Ian, Toby, and Estelle have been acting like clods. But they mostly acted like clods in ways I can accept. Jannie assumed she had a level of trust she didn’t. Ian didn’t think his little problems worth discussing. Toby thought her problems too big to discuss. Estelle fell for a decent line from a scammer. They’re believable enough. And I’m pleasantly surprised that Mary Worth is going back and checking in on the cat she couldn’t adopt because Doctor Jeff was allergic. I’m curious what’s going to follow Estelle’s fall.
Dubiously Sourced Quotes of Mary Worth Sunday Panels!
“I was a disinterested student.” — David Fincher, 20 January 2019.
“Communication is something we all take for granted.” — Miriam Margolyes, 27 January 2019.
“Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s ability to persuade.” — Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 3 February 2019.
“A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.” — William Shakespeare, 10 February 2019.
“A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person.” — Mignon McLaughlin, 17 February 2019.
“As daddy said, life is 95 percent anticipation.” — Gloria Swanson, 24 February 2019.
“The single life is not one I willingly chose for myself.” — Jessica Savitch, 3 March 2019.
“Falling in love as we know it is an addictive experience.” — Susan Cheever, 10 March 2019.
“Falling in love and having a relationship are two different things.” — Keanu Reeves, 17 March 2019.
“All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.” — Edgar Allan Poe, 24 March 2019.
“Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.” — Henry David Thoreau, 31 March 2019.
“It is by doubting that we come to investigate, and by investigating that we recognize the truth.” — Peter Abelard, 7 April 2019.
“Love is blind.” — William Shakespeare, 14 April 2019.