What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? Did Svengoolie bust an actual vampire? August – October 2020


Svengoolie did not. For a moment it looked like the vampire-killer was confessing to the horror-movie host. Svengoolie was instead used, with some elegance, to provide exposition about how a gadget needed for the story should work.

This essay should catch you up on Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy through to the end of October, 2020. Any news about Dick Tracy that I get, or after about February 2021 new plot recaps, should be at this link.

On my other blog I continue writing about mathematics terms, one for each letter in the alphabet. This past week, I revisited a topic I’d already written, because I forgot I already wrote an essay about tiling. Come on over and stare at my embarrassment!

Dick Tracy.

9 August – 31 October 2020.

Dethany Dendrobia, star of Bill Holbrook’s On The Fastrack, was the guest star last time we checked in. She was in the Greater Tracypolitan Metro Area to investigate weirdness with a warehouse her company was buying. The weirdness: Coney, an ice-cream-themed villain. He’s searching the warehouse for a fortune left behind by Stooge Viller, a villain who died in 1940, our time. Coney’s desperate because the property management company “accidentally” sold the warehouse to Fastrack. To buy time and the warehouse, Coney’s gang kidnaps Dendrobia’s fiancee, Guy Wyre.

Sam Catchem’s informant has a tip for Wyre’s whereabouts: “some old warehouse”. It’s kind of a crazy lead, but you know what? Sometimes the crazy leads pay off. With the help of FBI Inspector Fritz Ann Dietrich they raid the warehouse, catching Coney mid-lick. Coney tries to put it all on Howdy, the Howdy Doody-themed henchman and yes you read that right. Dendrobia finds Wyre, and more, the restroom behind him. And one of those old-fashioned toilets with the water tank that’s up by the ceiling. She pulls the chain and finds piles of cash. This because none of the people searching the warehouse for Villier’s Millions ever looked in the toilet water tank.

Dethany Dendrobia, washing her hands, notices: 'Wow, there's an old-fashioned water tank in this bathroom.' She pulls the chain on the elevated water tank. The bottom of the tank falls out and bundles of money drop from it.
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 20th of August, 2020. Yes, Dethany’s washing her hands in that first panel and I don’t know why. She rushed past her bound fiancee to do it, too. One of the GoComics.com commenters speculated that Howdy was planning to keep the loot for himself, and pretended to have found nothing. Possibly relocated the loot while waiting for his chance to sneak it out. This isn’t explicitly supported in the text. But it would answer my doubts that in 80 years nobody checked the water tanks.

So all’s squared away, and Dendrobia and Wyre can get back to their Halloween-scheduled wedding. (It did go on, over in their home comic strip of On The Fastrack, as a mostly online event. Some family attended, after a strict two-week quarantine.)


The 23rd of August started another two-week Minit Mystery, with guest writer Mark Barnard and guest artist Jorge Baeza. The mysterious ‘Presto’ makes the city’s new Aurora Rising statue vanish when his ransom isn’t paid. The story is one of how Tracy follows his one lead. But there is a legitimate mystery and the statue’s disappearance is by a more-or-less legitimate piece of stage magic. Also, there’s a guest appearance by Smokey Stover, so, you’re welcome, Dad. I had nothing to do with it.


The Halloween story started the 7th of September with a mad sciencey-type carving fangs. And in an atmospheric and silent week, does a vampire-attack on a woman, Faith Brown. She dies of blood loss from two wounds in her neck, and there’s chloroform in her blood. He goes on to admire his fang-and-pump apparatus. And how after a “minor adjustment” he’ll be able to add Faith’s sisters’ blood to his “collection”.

Honeymoon Tracy and Adopted Orphan Annie pop into the story the 13th, as their journalism tutor Brenda Starr gives them an assignment. Pick a story from the paper and they do their own investigation. They’re interested in the “vampire” killing. Starr recommends talking with Professor Stokes, Biology Professor at Local College. He’s the guy with the fangs, and he’s known to be an expert on vampire lore. Honeymoon and Annie go to Dick Tracy to see if he can get them an introduction. They’re too young to realize that if you’re even a bit female, and ask a white nerd about his obsession, he will never stop talking to you, including about it.

Professor Stokes, showing his fangs to Honeymoon and Annie: 'There are 'vampire fans' who do practice the consumption of blood, but it is always voluntary, from a donor.' Honeymoon bleahs her tongue out. Stokes: 'Ha ha! I admit I'm not tempted to try it either. If you really want to explore the vampire subculture, I've made a list of books and sites to visit.' He hands Honeymoon a bundle of papers, labelled 'VAMPIRE BOOKS' on top. Honeymoon: 'Thanks, Professor Stokes.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 22nd of September, 2020. So this one time decades ago I was taking a picture in a dimly-lit computer room. When the flash went off, this friend who had an online vampire roleplay going howled in an instinctive pain. He said it was because the flash was right in his eyes but … you know? I should check how that picture came out. Since it was a photo I took in like 1997, probably unfocused and with everything interesting under-lit.

Tracy goes along with them, though, since he needs to get some suspects into the story. Stokes admits how he’s part of the local Nosferatu scene and sure there’ll be a certain amount of blood-drinking there, but not him. And it’s always from volunteers. And he has some literature.

Meanwhile Faith’s bereaved sisters — Hope and Charity — are not too bereaved not to talk themselves into buying a car with their inheritance. Not from Faith’s death, particularly; a fortune they’d come into before her killing. Their Uncle Matthew had been a “patron to some really eccentric types”. If Faith-Hope-and-Charity weren’t found, the money would have gone to the eccentrics. Have you spotted the eccentric in this story?

Then there’s another break. TV horror-host Svengoolie had a fan send him a “working artificial vampire system”. Could it have something to do with the vampire killing? No, it turns out. The machine’s from a Local College student, and does have actual blood-draw gear, but its motor wouldn’t draw enough blood to kill. And “confessing to Svengoolie” would be weird even for the Dick Tracy universe. But, the Local College student did find the parts he needed from the college lab. And here we get explained how Stokes could make this vampire machine, without a villain monologuing and without anyone telling someone things they should already know.

Honeymoon, to Dick Tracy, driving: 'We're going to see SVENGOOLIE?' Tracy: 'He called and wants to meet us at the TV studio.' Annie: 'I watch his show on Saturday nights back home. I can't wait to tell Daddy, Punjab, and the Asp about this!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 28th of September, 2020. “Daddy Warbucks is busy this week informing heads of government at the G8 summit just what symbolic reforms the wealthy are going to allow them to make in the next year. And after that he’s visiting Mr Am, his immortal friend who’s Ambiguously God. But once he’s back from all that he’ll be very impressed I saw a man who says `Berwyn` while stagehands throw rubber chickens at him.”

Professor Stokes learns of Hope and Charity buying a car with the money he feels entitled to. I don’t know how. He calls Hope Brown, though, with the promise of running a new-car-warranty scam. And stops in, coincidentally as Brenda Starr is visiting. Starr mentions she bought a new car and needs a warranty scam. He doesn’t have a card, he explains, but jots down his name and number.

Starr goes into action, because what kind of agent meets a client without business cards? In 2020, when I’m assuming smartphone owners transfer contact information by waving their phones in someone’s direction. So she calls Dick Tracy with her suspicion that Hope Brown’s the next vampire victim.

Hope Brown: 'I'm sorry about the interruption. I'll work up your travel plans right away.' Brenda Starr: 'It's all right. Meeting Mr Stoker was a bonus.' Brown: 'Have a nice day, Ms Starr. I'll be in touch soon!' Starr, thinking: 'Maybe sooner than you think, Miss Brown. I know I've seen 'Mr Stoker' before. And what kind of agent comes to an appointment without business cards?'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 15th of October, 2020. Starr knows Professor Stokes, at minimum by reputation, as she’d recommended him to Honeymoon and Annie for vampire information. This may make you ask, then, why didn’t Stokes recognize Starr? But there’s no reason to think they’ve met. She’d habitually be making notes of “people with deep knowledge on esoteric subjects”. And even if they had, normal people do not remember every person they’ve ever met. Even people who, like Brenda Starr, have hair that’s always sparkling in the light.

Stokes descends on a woman leaving Brown’s office. She turns, beating him up. It’s not Hope Brown. It’s Officer Lizz Grove, in disguise. Stokes breaks free, though, and runs to a nearby Jazz festival. And into the path of a cop car, that kills him. The police are aghast at killing a white guy who wasn’t protesting police violence, of course. But that wraps up the vampire problem.

Now the parts where I’m confused. It’s in motivations. I understand Stokes wanting to kill the Brown girls, on the hypothesis that would somehow get him the inheritance. (I can imagine ways Uncle Matthew might have set things up so this could work.) I could also understand him just taking “revenge” on people he’s decided wronged him by existing. I can also understand Stokes wanting this “collection” of blood he mentioned. I don’t understand these motives applying at once. Well, maybe Stokes was a complicated person.

Brenda Starr has one last question, though, for Adopted Orphan Annie. It’s one I would have thought too obvious to ask. Annie could have picked any story in the newspaper to investigate. Why was Annie interested in a weird, freakish killing that drew a six-column, two-deck headline? Why not the business piece about soy futures coming in even more in line with forecasts than analysts expected? Annie explains she knew murder victim Faith Brown, from a distance, aware she had been a kind and helpful fixture of the neighborhood. I guess it’s nice to learn give Faith Brown some traits besides being the inciting victim. But if Annie never met her how did she even know Faith Brown’s name? It’s an explanation that makes me less clear about what’s going on.


Besides the Minit Mystery and the number of guest stars were a few special strips over this era. The 18th of October was dedicated to James “Bart” Bush, a longtime Dick Tracy super-fan who recently died. On the 6th of October much of the strip was given to Sam Catchem reading the “Quowit the Happy Hangman” comic strip.

On the 1st of October we saw a mysterious gloved hand emerge from the rapids. That seems likely to be Abner Kadaver, TV horror host-turned-killer for hire. Last we saw him, back in 2016, he died going over the Reichenbach Falls, like that could ever work. I am surprised he didn’t somehow get into the Halloween story.

Next Week!

I think the story about Joe Pye and his kids, escaped from jail, wasn’t a rerun? So we get back to Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley and see how they’re handling a reunion with Joe Pye’s wife. Again, that’s if anything goes to plan. Good luck to us all.

What’s Going On In Prince Valiant? When was Camelot attacked by kaiju? August – October 2020


The kaiju story — a giant sea-beast smashing the castle walls — was back in 2009. It got referenced as Valiant returns to Camelot and sees they’ve repaired the damage. So, this essay should catch you up on Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant through to late October 2020. If you’re reading this after about January 2021, I hope I’ll have a more up-to-date plot recap here. And, on my other blog, I’m explaining terms of mathematical art, one a week, through to December. You might like those too.

Prince Valiant.

2 August – 25 October 2020.

Last time, Queen Aleta explained to villagers that those two strange women were not witches. She knows this because she’s the Queen of All Witches. And she’s putting these non-witches under her protection. So they’ve got long happy lives ahead. Prince Valiant and company leave for Camelot, and home.

They can’t get there except through a party of Saxon raiders, out to attack some local village. That’s a pretty standard encounter, earning about 25 xp all around. With the start of September, Prince Valiant finally arrives back in Camelot. It’s been something like three years for them in-universe and about twice that for us readers.

It is well after noon before Val and Aleta, having ridden all night to Camelot, awake. Besides, it has been a long time since they last slept in a feather bed. They might not have risen at all that day, if Val did not have a knightly duty to report to the kingdom's regents ... who also happeen to be his son and daughter-in-law. As the family leave their townhouse, they see the glistening marvel that is Camelot's castle for the first time in years. Nathan gasps: 'The walls ruined by the sea beast! They are all repaired!' Val, too, is impressed --- it was his estate that was held to pay for those repairs, and he had no idea his estate was so productive.
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 13th of September, 2020. I reference the sea beast — rendered neatly in the clouds — as being a Godzilla but it was more like a (1925) Lost World or Gorgo type monster scenario. It’s from before I was reading Prince Valiant regularly, but I learned of it from Brian M Kane’s The Definitive Prince Valiant Companion. That book was fun, and enlightening. Also it included an early-draft and a revised-draft of part of the sea beast battle and just how it got better in the revising.

Everything’s looking good, too. Like, they’ve fixed the damage from that time Godzilla attacked (summer 2009). Indeed, the place is thriving, just like you always worry about when you leave your department unsupervised a while. Prince Arn, Valiant’s son, explains that Sir Gawain is managing everything very well. Sir Gawain has never managed a thing well in his life. So what’s the trick?

Well, it’s the same trick as always: finding a good steward. In this case, it’s someone from before I started reading the strip carefully. A woman named Rory Red Hood, with whom Gawain’s fallen in love. And who turns out to know how to manage estate business. Gawain’s been hiding her, because her leveler impulses made her awkward to have at court. So on the one hand, she’s a fugitive from King Arthur for her relentless pushing the notion of commoners governing themselves. On the other hand, she makes a lot of money.

Gawain has hidden his outlawed paramour Rory Red Hood, and her aide Little Ox, at Val's country estate. This puts Val in a particularly awkward position. 'My son and daughter-in-law are Camelot's regents, and have outlawed you! Now my dearest friend expects me to deceive the kingdom and my family!' Rory will have none of Val's quandary: 'Gawain, my time here is up! I never really expected Prince Valiant to be any more sympathetic to Lockbramble's wishes than any of your other lords! I only ask that you give me a day's head start.' But Gawain only smiles, and gestures to the small man with the large book sitting by himself. 'Easy, Rory. First allow the prince a moment to glance through his estate accountant's ledger ... ' In words that even Val can understan, the accountant makes things very clear: 'Rory Red Hood's skills at farm management have transformed your estate's fortunes, and so mande you a very rich man!' The revelation gives Val pause --- as does Aleta's surprise appearance: 'And how, pray tell, has my household been transformed?'
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 11th of October, 2020. So you know Prince Valiant is a fantasy because it involves a noble understanding questions like “how much money do I have?” and “how much money does this other person have?” Anyway, the name of Rory Red Hood reminds me of an episode of the History of English podcast, about the legend of Robin Hood. It mentions near the end how in the 13th(?) century, when it was fashionable to give people surnames that described their job or their personality, there are several court records giving someone’s surname as “Robin Hood”. And doesn’t that sound like someone fun to … hear about, without really having them in your lives? Because, like, there’s all this stuff with the Model Parliament and the suppression of the University of Northampton and the number of watermills in England reaching the 10,000 mark and all. Don’t need some Robin-Hood stirring up trouble in your personal life too.

I do like the lighthearted cynical air, and low-key historical verisimilitude, of all this. Aleta talks of how the Misty Isles folks tried this demokratia stuff centuries ago, and it worked fine. At least until the people decided to let a tyrant do their thinking for them. I suspect we’re hearing some motivated history here. She talks with Princess Maeve, co-regent. Aleta argues Rory is much less trouble than the surrounding thanes who’ve been whining about Rory’s existence. And also makes a lot of money. Maeve convinces her husband that Rory is not a real problem, by kicking him out of bed until he agrees.

And that’s where we sit. It’s not the most action-packed story we’re on. But I do like how it’s so tied to the problem of how to manage a land, in a time before bureaucracies could professionalize things. So, Mark Schultz, Thomas Yeates, thank you for writing this story for me and me alone.

Next Week!

The Villiers Millions! Vampires! Dethany from On The Fastrack! Svengoolie! Brenda Starr! Little Orphan Annie! It’s been busy times in Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy. Join me for a plot recap that, actually, I already wrote most of this past weekend. I’m trying to build a buffer of stuff to post. I’m expecting next few weeks are going to be, let us hope the final, boss rush of mind-crushing Republican venality, and need some space. Can’t wait!

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Weekdays)? Why did Heloise tell Mrs Daft they called their Aunt ‘Mom’? July – October 2020


I think she panicked? At least she hadn’t figured on ever having to explain Kadia was anything but her sister to Mrs Daft. That may seem like an oversight but she didn’t know she’d need an explanation anytime soon. That’s what I have, anyway.

So this essay should catch you up on Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity, for mid-October 2020. If you’re reading this after about January 2021, or are looking for the Sunday continuity, or other Phantom news, you should find an essay at this link. And on my mathematics blog I’m still writing one essay for each letter in the alphabet, with this week reaching ‘S’. You might enjoy.

The Phantom (Weekdays).

27 July – 17 October 2020.

Last we checked, someone had written to The Phantom’s post office box in Mawitaan. It seems to be Imara Sahara, mother to Kadia Walker and wife of terrorist Eric “The Nomad” Sahara. After Heloise Walker got The Nomad arrested, The Phantom rescued Sahara from her husband’s terror compound. She, sensibly, fled while he slept, and has only the Walker post office box to try to find her daughter.

The Phantom writes back, arranging a meeting on the outskirts of Mawitaan. But withholds information such as Kadia’s survival. He doesn’t know who wrote that letter, or whether they’re being eavesdropped on. The Phantom is late for the meeting, not at all helping Sahara’s paranoia. But he’s convinced she isn’t accompanied, at least. The Phantom gives her an address, saying that she lives with the friend she fled New York City with. Sahara realizes Kadia’s New York City friend was Heloise Walker, and the name can’t be coincidence.

Imara Sahara 'I suppose you've been watching me these last few hours!' Phantom: 'To be certain you weren't followed. Or didn't lead anyone here on purpose.' Imara: 'On purpose!?' Phantom: 'You could be in the custody of any number of governments by now. I don't know you well enough to say you'd never trade me for something you wanted.'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 8th of August, 2020. The Phantom avoids admitting how he forgot and was playing Trivia Murder Party 2 on Johnny Hazard’s Jackbox stream all night.

The Phantom explains that the Walkers came to him on her behalf and he set up the post office box. And that addressing it to “Walker” then let him know who it really was. I mention this lie because it’s well-delivered. It make sense Sahara would believe it. Later, Heloise Walker tells a lie and it’s a mess that the recipient accepts because … I’m not sure. I think the lying motif shows the difference between the father’s experience and Heloise’s enthusiasm. But I’d be open to the argument that I’m reading things into a storytelling coincidence.

Kadia: 'Heloise ... you never *did* tell me wh a police colonel I never even met would help me get work with Gugu Lee!' Heloise: 'Oh! Um ... Well ... ' We see the scene of Colonel Worubu getting his orders from the Unknown Commander's safe: 'Put in a good word? For two students I don't know? The Unknown Commander must have his reasons ... '
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 22nd, 2020. They have to go through all this mysterious-safe trouble because Colonel Worubu won’t add the Unknown Commander to his professional network on LinkedIn.

Over to Heloise, though, and Kadia, who’s taken the Walker surname and considers herself adopted. They’re in Bangalla, attending school. They’re boarding with a cheerful motherly type, Mrs Daft. They even have a job working a cafe. The Phantom arranged the jobs, getting references from Colonel Worubu of the Jungle Patrol. If this seems like a petty use of The Phantom’s influence, well, yeah. But asking someone to do you a small favor is a reliable way to make them like you more. Yes, human brains are broken. So could be The Phantom’s shoring up his social network. Also he figures if Kadia does become a danger, in another (justifiable) low moment, having Colonel Worubu ready is a good move.

Heloise, running up to Kadia and Imara: 'Mrs Sahara! Quick! Give me a hug! So our LANDLADY can see!' Mrs Daft, watching the confused group hug: 'Their favorite aunt! They call her Mom! How sweet ... why didn't I think of that with *my* favorite aunt?'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 1st of September, 2020. “It’s kind of weird, and my favorite aunt loved weird!”

Imara Sahara interrupts their breakfast by pulling up. Kadia calls out, “Mom!”, to Mrs Daft’s confusion. Heloise tries to explain why Kadia is calling someone who’s not Mrs Walker “Mom”, and it gets weird. She claims it’s their aunt who’s so much a favorite she might as well be their Mom and that’s why they’ve called her that. Mrs Daft accepts this explanation. Heloise huhs, and considers how they are never going to have trouble explaining boys in their rooms after curfew.

Imara Sahara tells of her escape from the North African compound, and of meeting The Phantom the night before. And that the Walker family had arranged his sending. Here Heloise does better at lying in a way consistent with what Kadia thinks she knows. She claims her dad arranged it through go-betweens that protect that mysterious man’s identity. The lie works for Imara, but not for Kadia.

Kadia was sure that Mr Walker went to save her mother. But she also knows she’s had a heck of a time after learning her father was international terrorist The Nomad. So she wonders what she’s wrong about now.

Kadia: 'Mom, I don't even use OUR NAME anymore! Not even in my own mind! I'm a WALKER now! Kadia Walker! I have FRIENDS here! I like my SCHOOL! I have a FUN JOB on the weekends! And best of all? No one knows ... NO ONE KNOWS ... who I really am.'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 17th of September, 2020. So yes, keeping an eye on your friend/sister is important as she deals with, like, everything. But you might need to call in an expert. And you do have an expert meddler’s number.

Imara tells Kadia that she has a new name, and assets that would “never” be connected to The Nomad. They can have their lives back and leave Mawitaan right away. Kadia can’t have it, refusing her father’s “murder money” and calling Diana Walker her mother now. It’s a horrible, messy scene, punctuated with Mrs Daft encouraging them to invite their favorite aunt to lunch now.

Heloise goes to Imara, trying to talk her into trying again, sometime when Kadia is less shocked. Imara says she wishes the Walkers had left her alone to die. Kadia smashes Imara’s windshield and demands she never come around again. She’s reasoned that Imara must have known who her husband was and what he was doing. It is hard to see how she wouldn’t, but people can be quite oblivious, given any motivation to be.

Heloise relays the events of the day to her parents. Kit Walker tells Diana that he believes she didn’t; “unlike you, she just has terrible taste in men”. This man, by the way, is someone who used to have her family leave a bedroom window and door open all the time in case he popped in unannounced some day. All right. Also, Diana proposes that they should get Kit Junior back home. Kit Senior had sent him off to study at a Himalayan monastery, a development that hasn’t lead to as many stories as you might have expected. And, what the heck, last story the hallucination of the 20th Phantom scolded the current Phantom for sending him off. (Sending Kit Junior off, by the way, to a place that the 20th Phantom wanted the 21st to go.) Might be time for a change.

The story feels at, or near, an end. I am curious whether Imara knew what was going on and, if so, how much she was willing to accept. She is hurt by Kadia’s turn, in ways that fit and that remind one that our protagonists are not the only people in the world. Kadia’s doing well in making connections. But she also has a lot of trauma on her and needs better therapy than being watched by Walkers. She’s going through her superhero or supervillain origin story now. Heloise has fumbled a couple points this story, but in ways it makes sense to fumble. Would have helped if Heloise had not tried to explain the “favorite aunt, called Mom” thing to Imara, though.

Next Week!

Hey, how’d it go when Queen Aleta revealed to the common folk of King Arthur’s time that there are witches and she’s one of them? Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant gets its plot recap next Tuesday, again, all things going well. Thanks for reading.

You know, it is a little odd Mary Worth hasn’t called Heloise Walker, just to check whether she needs a quick meddle to pair-bond already. Hm.

Statistics Saturday: How Many People Wanted To Know What Was Up With Mark Trail This Past Week


Drawing from WordPress’s statistics page and how many people went to Mark Trail-tagged items. Promise.

Day of WeekReaders Asking About Mark Trail
Last Friday4
Saturday5
Sunday16
Monday120 [ First Jules Rivera strip publishes ]
Tuesday158
Wednesday188
Thursday126
Friday147

Reference: Ideas: A History from Fire to Freud. Peter Watson.

All my Mark Trail plot recaps are gathered at this page. Those and all my story comics plot recaps are at this link.

What’s Going On In Alley Oop? Is Jules Rivera destroying Mark Trail yet? July – October 2020


OK, so it’s not Mark Trail’s week. But yes, Jules Rivera took over the daily strips on Monday. Her Sunday strips start next month. This is why Mark Trail looks different. Any news about the Mark Trail that I get, I’ll post in an essay gathered here. Yes, I too am worried by Tuesday’s revelation that the new Mark Trail may be a tiny little bit self-aware, but, hey. We adapted to Mark Trail sometimes internalizing thoughts for James Allen, after all. Mark Trail can notice how much Mark Trail has blown up boats and cars and islands the last few years.

But this essay is, in the main, about Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop. This should catch you up to mid-October. If you’re reading this after about January 2021, if there is a January 2021, you’ll likely find a more up-to-date plot recap at this link. Also any news about Alley Oop, if there is news.

And, last, on my mathematics blog I’m still working through the alphabet, explaining terms. This week we get to ‘R’. No, it’s not a joke about the beloved statistics computing and graphing programming language! Ho ho! Had you going there, though, I bet.

Alley Oop.

20 July – 10 October 2020.

Everyone was hanging around in Moo, last we left off. Ooola was rehearsing a play. She impressed Gromp, the director. Gromp pitches another job for her: using the play as cover to enter neighboring land Lem and steal King Tunk’s giant opal. She hates the plan. Gromp sends his dinosaur, Steve, to make her see reason. She beats Steve in a fair fight, though, and hauls Gromp off to be in a desert island cartoon.

Gromp, tied up, on a palm-tree-deserted-island: 'What are you doing? Are you just going to leave me here?' Ooola: 'Yep.' Gromp: 'But I can't swim!' Ooola: 'I hope you like coconuts.' Gromp: 'I do! Especially shredded over a nice chocolate dessert. And the milk is divine! [ Noticing Ooola swimming away. ] Oh, very funny. Hey, how am I going to open them?!'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 1st of August, 2020. It looks harsh, but if there’s one thing we know about being in a desert island cartoon it’s that someone else is coming along any minute now.

That, the 1st of August, wraps up that little story. From the 3rd we get a string of events leading into the current story. It starts with a joyride: Alley Oop wants to go to an amusement park. So they return to the present, and Doc Wonmug looks for the greatest amusement park, past, present, or future. But who can tell him what that is? rec.roller-coaster just fights about Kennywood versus Knoebels versus Efteling versus Holiday World. (Did you consider Waldameer? Especially if you have a family? Very under-rated park, especially if you aren’t all about high-intensity everything.) So he goes to The Clawed Oracle.

Ooola: 'You know, I'm kind of looking forward to the amusement park.' Wonmug: 'What's in the fanny pack?' Alley Oop, showing off his fanny pack: 'Zinc for my nose, quarters for skeeball, antacids in case I overeat, a compass so we don't get lost. I'm so excited!' Wonmug: 'You know, they might not have corn dogs in the future.' Oop: 'What? I changed my mind! I want to go somewhere else!' (As they ZANNNNG! into the future.)
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 13th of August, 2020. A fanny pack. Really. I would not have guessed Alley Oop was also in the American Coaster Enthusiasts group.

The Clawed Oracle, off in a never-before-mentioned room of Wonmug’s Time Laboratory, is a cat. She pronounces that the greatest amusement park ever is in Saint Louis in the year 3277. They zip off to Future Saint Louis. The place stinks, apart from the giant pine tree air freshener hanging from the Arch. What looks like an abandoned warehouse is labelled Amusement Park #41. Inside is an array of virtual-reality goo-filled tubes. Despite the ominous everything, they go in.

Attendant, to Our Heroes in their goo-filled VR tubes: 'Once I press this button your body will stay here while your consciousness controls an avatar in the park. When you're ready to leave, just say the password 'finicky veranda garbanzo' and your session will end.' Wonmug: 'How long do most people stay in?' Attendant: 'Ten years is average.' Ooola: 'Wait, WHAT?' Oop: 'That doesn't seem great.' Attendant: 'Enjoy!'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 21st of August, 2020. A throwaway line established that the admission price was about ten thousand dollars (in 2020 money), which sounds like a lot, but if you can live for ten years on that? That’s a pretty sweet deal. Well, except the upcharges get you: Wonmug wasted another fifty thousand (2020) dollars in avatar-change shenanigans. I have to suppose that, like, park fries or the reverse bungee rides are similarly scaled.

It’s a good time, though, until the fortune teller learns they’re from the 21st century. On that she leads them to a secret reality within the virtual reality. And to Phil, leader of the Underground Stronghold Alliance. He tells of the Great Culture Famine, a mysterious event that destroyed culture. All that’s left since 2081 are these virtual-reality amusement parks. But what can three time travellers do? They leave the park and journey to Phil’s coordinates in 2081. And there they meet … The Clawed Oracle.

It turns out The Clawed Oracle is an eternal ethereal being who manifests on earth as a cat, so that’s a nice gig. She reveals who’s responsible for the Great Culture Famine. It’s Dr Wonmug, yeah. Indirectly. It’s really the clone of Albert Einstein that Wonmug made and then abandoned on a farm. She sends them off to deal with Einstein Two. (Why not Zweistein?)

Einstein Two: 'I'd like to show you something. It's the culmination of the horrible hand that life dealt me. It's taken me nearly fifty years to build. I kept it secret from my parents until the day they died. [ Revealing a machine ] Ta-da! Behind the grand culture eraser! It will destroy all forms of art and culture, past, present and future.' Wonmug: 'This is LITERALLY what I was talking about before, when I asked about the Great Culture Famine.' Einstein Two: 'I guess they COULD be related, but I just don't see it.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 3rd of October, 2020. In the follow-up we learn Einstein Two’s gone on to become a local politician, successfully defunding the library and the school’s dance program because everybody has smart phones now.

Einstein Two’s gripe: his parents insisted he put all his scientific energies into the farm, and the zany cow bra business. So he invented a Grand Culture Eraser, to destroy all forms of art, past, present, and future. He has justification for this: he’s grown up to be a STEM jerkface so doesn’t see why gadgetry is not a life. Einstein Two proclaims this a gift to every child whose love of science was crushed by small-mindedness. Then Alley Oop punches his machine to rubble. Ooola smashes his backup, too. Dr Wonmug tears up the machine’s plans. Alley Oop digs up and rips up the backup plans. So that’s some success.

And that takes us to the start of the week. Also into a new timeline. Saint Louis of 3277 “now” has a giant chandelier hanging from the Arch. And Amusement Park #41 is the aquatic stadium any amusement park used for dolphin shows back in the 1970s when we were making that mistake. This looks like the resolution of a storyline. But it could also be the transition to a new story. Too soon to tell.

Next Week!

So how did the reunion between Kadia and her mother Imara Sahara go? Pretty good, right? It’s, like, literally impossible it could have gone bad. We’ll check in on Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom (Weekdays) next week, all going well. Thank you.

So I only just today got this Far Side comic


Like my subject line says. I’ve seen this particular Far Side now and then for thirty-plus years. It was only today, when I saw it bundled with other historical strips under the History Shmistory label, that I realized Gary Larson’s joke. This now takes, by far, the record between me seeing and me getting the joke. It was previously held by another Far Side strip, the famous “I think you misunderstood … I’m Al Tilly, the bum” incident.

In a career counseling office. The counselor tells a seated bearded man holding a ten-gallon hat, 'Well, Mr Cody, according to our questionnaire, you would probably excel in sales, advertising, slaughtering a few thousand buffalo, or market research'.
So “Al Tilley, the Bum”. It was this scene at a castle rampart and the guard has thrown his spear at this hobo, and missed, and the hobo says, “I think you misunderstood” and it was like twelve years later that I twigged to how the joke was the guard thought he’d said he was Atilla the Hun. But the scene was funny already even without the name confusion, right? Anyway, nobody ask why the door sign implies they’re outside the career counseling office, OK? It’s a comic strip convention and once you notice this you’ll never enjoy a setting again, ever.

In my defense — and this applies to the Al Tilly the bum incident too — part of my slowness was that it wasn’t obvious I was missing a joke. Imagine if the caption read, “Well, Mr Smith, … ” instead. It’s a fine enough non-sequitur joke that someone might be good in sales or market research or buffalo-slaughtering. Larson played fair, of course. If the identity of the person seeking a career didn’t matter, he’d have been named Smith or Jones or even not addressed by name. The beard and ten-gallon hat were also cues, although it’s not like comic strip characters won’t have long beards or quirky fashion choices either.

I suppose it’s all a reminder that you can tell any joke you like, but you can’t control what joke the audience hears.

60s Popeye: The Glad Gladiator and wait, is that Ham Gravy? I think that’s Ham Gravy!


This week’s King Features Popeye cartoon is another with story by Cal Howard. The only other Cal Howard cartoon I have got noted is Tiger Burger. The animation director is Eddie Rehberg, last seen doing everything on Frozen Feuds, that weird Alice the Goon picture. Jack Kinney’s the producer and ultimate director. Back to ancient days, then, with The Glad Gladiator.

Is deliberate anachronism funny? Sure, when it’s The Muppets doing it. But everybody else? I don’t mean whether it’s funny to snarkers pointing out historical inaccuracies in Hagar the Horrible. I mean to a normal audience.

This cartoon opens with the message that it’s set in Rome, 800 BC. Popeye ends up in a gladiator fight in the Colosseum. Before the eyes of the Empress, Olive Oyl. There’s a background gag where the restrooms are marked Ben Hur and Ben His. And then I come back to: 800 BC? For a Roman Empire setting?

This is not something anyone should care about. The setting is “Ancient Rome” and Popeye is there to do some stuff riffing on Roman Empire epic movies of the time. Fine and respectable enough. But then why set this to 800 BC, a time when Rome barely existed and none of the stuff that’s featured, including the Appian [Free]way Popeye riffs on, were around? Why give it a date at all? Other than to tease someone who’d know?

A historical story — book, tv show, movie — is always a battle between historical truth, story economy, and verisimilitude. (You could do a story with samurais tromping around 17th century Mexico, but would people buy the premise?) A cartoon especially has no reason to care about getting the historical details right. So why is this detail there at all? Did Cal Howard just write in an ancient-days number and not care afterward? Or was he doing this mindfully? Of course this Popeye cartoon isn’t history. But now it’s so much not history that even the seven-year-old watching it, who might know the legend of Rome’s founding being in 753 BC, would know it was off?

If he was being wry, I’m not sure it was a good joke. In part since I’m not sure a joke was meant. That’s a hazard of wryness, though. But if it were meant, it’s a very slight joke. “Ha ha, I know this quickly-made Popeye cartoon is of dubious historical integrity?” Am I making too much of an arbitrary choice? Maybe. But if something works, I like to credit it as deliberate. Even if the writer went with whatever came to mind, they chose to use that impulse, and to not edit it out. There’s judgement even in the arbitrary. And then there’s the crowd scene.

Scene of the audience in the Colosseum. The front two rows are filled with mostly minor characters from Popeye/Thimble Theatre.
Wait, but why aren’t Cole Oyl and Nana Oyl sitting next to each other? Oh wait yeah because it’s funny when husband and wife don’t actually like being around each other. Forgot.

We do get a couple glances at the audience in the Colosseum and the front two rows here are filled with minor Thimble Theatre/Popeye characters. And that is an interesting choice. I’m not sure about everybody because they’re out of their usual garb, and it turns out when you remove accessories, Elzie Segar used the same face a lot.

If I’m identifying things right, and I’m open to other opinions, in the upper row, left-to-right, are: Ham Gravy, original Olive Oyl boyfriend, who vanished after about 1930. Cole Oyl(?), Olive’s father. The Sea Hag, who’s appeared once or twice this series. Oscar, introduced to the comic in 1931 so Popeye could have a really dumb crewman. Nana Oyl, Olive’s mother. (Her name is a reference to “Banana oil”, 1920s slang for “nonsense”. Also 1920s slang for “nonsense”: any two-word phrase.)

Lower, front, row, left to right: George W Geezil(?), pawn shop broker and Wimpy-hater. John Sappo, bland protagonist of Elzie Segar’s other strip, the one that brought us O G Wotasnozzle. O G Wotasnozzle (or, possibly, King Blozo hunched down). Alice the Goon. I have no explanation for how Ham Gravy makes the cut and Wimpy or Rough House do not. Also, yeah I’m not positive whether Nana Oyl is sitting in the first or second row either.

Filling a crowd shot with minor Popeye characters? Sure. Anyone could do that. They’d put in Wimpy, Sea Hag, Alice the Goon, Swee’Pea. If you have to dig deep put in Rough House or Geezil. Someone had to think to put in Ham Gravy. Or Sappo. Or Oscar for crying out loud. Someone thought “we need a quick shot of Ham Gravy”, and had that vision carried out.

This, yeah, is the sort of deep focus I get into as I look for what’s interesting in the cartoon. We get Popeye in a Vaguely Roman-ish makeover for his sailor’s suit. It’s a nice look for him. But I expect being on a different model like that to require the rest of the animation to be cheaper. That expectation holds up; there’s a lot of characters sliding around or disappearing. And the story is all a lumbering push to have Brutus and Popeye fight each other in the arena. The opening credits for the cartoon run at 16:59 in the YouTube video link. They actually start fighting about 20:57, for a cartoon that ends at 22:45. And it’s not like we’re stuffed full of a lot of gags about contemporary America recast as Ancient Rome. The sign for the intersection of Columbus Circle and XXVIII Street is about it. That and — get ready to laugh — a guy twirling pizza dough! Shows how mores have changed. As a child of the 70s and 80s I know it’s sushi that’s the instant-laugh zany food. Not pizza. Pizza is boring.

And that’s my trouble with the cartoon. It has a few fleeting moments of personality. But it’s mostly a slow march to a small fight. The title card that maybe heightens the anachronism humor, and the attempt to identify all the bit players in the stands, is about all I’ve got.

What’s Going On In The Amazing Spider-Man? Could Jules Rivera take over Spider-Man too? July – October 2020


I do not know Jules Rivera’s schedule besides that her Mark Trail starts next week. Maybe she could, maybe she couldn’t take over The Amazing Spider-Man. It does seem like Marvel and King Features Syndicate should be able to find someone to, if they had any interest in carrying on the comic. But, for now, I update the reruns of Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s The Amazing Spider-Man and post news about the strip. If there is any. I figure to stop if we get to the point that the reruns are ones I’ve already recapped.

Meanwhile, on my mathematics blog, I’m writing essays about the words of mathematics. Coming up this week: the letter Q. It will not be about the quadratic formula.

The Amazing Spider-Man.

12 July – 3 October 2020.

Mary Jane Parker had just knocked on Dr Strange’s door. She’d wanted to, but actually doing so was an unexplained impulse. Dr Strange is pleased to meet both. He remembers Mary Jane Parker from seeing her on Broadway. He remembers Peter Parker as existing. Also as being Spider-Man. Dr Strange has those mind powers, you know, and can read scripts.

The impulse to knock on the door came from Xandu, trenchcoated street mystic master. He wants to steal Dr Strange’s Wand of Watoomb, which will make him happy. You understand. I smiled writing the first half of that sentence. He’d bumped Mary Jane and thanks to that can see what she sees, although not hear what she hears. More, he gives her the compulsion to walk to the forbidden upstairs and through the locked door to grab the Wand of Watoomb.

Mary Jane, under a spell, looking around Dr Strange's stuff: 'There are ... so MANY artifacts in this CHAMBER. Somehow, I know that the one I want ... is THIS one!' She reaches for a wand. Outside, Dr Strange races upstairs, Peter Parker trailing: 'HURRY, Peter! We may already be TOO late!'
Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 24th of July, 2020. OK, so the haunt’s revealed with the magic wand in the Sacred Chamber, so that’s going to be haunt #32, The Lost. Whoever has the highest sanity is the Traitor.

A burst of magic and Mary Jane swaps places with Xandu. Xandu takes over Spider-Man’s body, which, like, keeps happening to him. Well, he has the proportional ability to resist magical body-control of a spider. Xandu compelling him to punch Dr Strange and then do nothing, standing still. You know, like snarkers always say he does.

Xandu leaves Dr Strange’s mansion and grabs Mary Jane along the way. He apprehends her, to become his Queen. He also misapprehends that Mary Jane is married to Dr Strange. He’s going to feel SO AWKWARD when he finds out. She asks to see his kingdom, to distract him from killing Our Heroes. And meanwhile Spider-Man and Dr Strange escape their magical bondage by remembering Dr Strange has a magic thingy around his neck.

Spider-Man: 'A whole ROOM FULL of 'mystic talismans' - and the one you plan to use was hanging around your NECK the whole time?' Dr Strange: 'I wa dazed by Xandu's attack ... needed to gather my WILLPOWER! And now ... I HAVE!'
Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 22nd of August, 2020. Look, you get the Angel Feather, you put it in your inventory and just forget it’s even there until you remember it’s good for a sanity roll up to eight and you wasted four turns, all right? Lay off.

Xandu and Mary Jane pop over to the Realm of Nightmare. It’s one of those 70s comic book realms where everything is droopy shapes and silhouettes that sometimes look like teeth. Nightmare, lord of the realm, rides his horse in to threaten Xandu and Mary Jane. Xandu uses the Wand of Watoomb to freeze him solid. And then has an even better idea, moving a chunk of the nightmare world to Washington Square Park. Dr Strange does a lot of work building up this menace to Spider-Man, and the audience. Xandu does the same, only using Mary Jane.

Me, I admit, I’m not shaken. The Nightmare Dimension doesn’t strike me as all that fearsome. There’s elevated walkpaths that don’t look safe, given how far they are from level and how none of them have handrails. And there’s silhouettes of spiders. I guess that’s annoying, moreso if you have mobility issues. But annoying isn’t the same as terrifying. Oh, and there’s lots of those energy clouds and bubbles flying around, like you see all over Marvel Comics. But if you didn’t buy the original premise of “ooh, this is scaaaary”, it’s not going to become scaaaary by having energy ribbons around it.

Xandu: 'Mary Jane Parker - have you decided you'll WILLINGLY be my queen?' Mary Jane: 'What girl WOULDN'T? You've got enough power to turn a city block into a dream world. All I ask is that you let Spider-Man and Dr Strange leave us in peace!'
Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 1st of October, 2020. Oh, great, so it’s a two-phase haunt. That’s good to know. Now if we could get a single not-awful roll maybe we could make some progress here.

Well, Mary Jane, trying to keep Spider-Man safe, kind of suggests she might marry Xandu if he transforms the world into a nightmare land. So that’s the project he’s working on now, as October gets under way. If I am judging right from when this ran in 2015-16, we should finish around the 22nd of November. The follow-up story, back in 2016, was about J Jonah Jameson losing control of the Daily Bugle to Elias Starr, the villain Egghead. One of Ant-Man’s villains, which is why you’re thinking wasn’t that Vincent Price on the Adam West Batman? We’ll see what they do with the reruns, when we get to that point, though.

Next Week!

A journey to the greatest amusement park of all time! Plus Albert Einstein’s Clone. All this and more in Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop, if all goes well. Thanks for reading.

What’s Going On In Judge Parker? Did Judge Parker just reset everything? July – September 2020


No, Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker has not reset everything. But there were some plot threads that reached what seem to be points of returning-to-the-norm the past few months. I’ll describe, and this should get you up to speed for the end of September 2020. Later plot recaps, and any news about the strip which I get, should appear in essays at this link.

On my other blog I yesterday posted the Playful Math Education Blog Carnival #141. It’s a big listing of educational and recreational and playful mathematics writing, most of it not mine. Also a bunch of amusement park photographs which are mine. I hope that you enjoy. I also have an A-to-Z series, explaining one mathematics word for each letter in the alphabet. I hope to have the letter P represented tomorrow.

Judge Parker.

5 July – 26 September 2020.

Everybody in the Judge Parker cast had their plans cancelled or weirded by the pandemic, last we checked in. Fortunately, Very Stable Genius Mayor Phil Sanderson knew a way out: just reopen the town! The virus will have to be reasonable now that we’ve gotten bored sitting at home a lot! What could go wrong? Nothing, unless you listen to enemies of the people like Toni Bowen. So that gives Toni Bowen to talk about. Also for her to tell Sophie to back off from. She wants to run her own campaign.

TV Reporter: 'In the wake of what many are saying were troubling remarks from the Mayor, opposing candidate Toni Bowel has called her own press conference at her headquarters.' Bowen: 'People have asked me what I think of Mayor Sanderson's remarks. To which I can only answer, 'Do you honestly need to be told, even now?'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 9th of July, 2020. Personally, I think modern political discourse is under-applying the question “What exactly is wrong with you?”

And the TV show based on Neddy Spencer and Ronnie Huerta’s notes gets under way again. It’s all a little weird, especially as Ronnie sees again Kat, who’s playing Neddy on the show. Neddy’s also freaked out to meet Michelle, who’s playing Godiva Danube. Partly from memories and reevaluating her friendship with Godiva. Also because it’s a clue that the production is changing out from under them.

Mayor Sanderson meanwhile is mad. The local TV won’t apologize for running a poll showing Bowen surging. His staff won’t even remember to take their masks off in the office. But he is aware of Bowen’s weakness as a candidate. He calls Abbey Spencer, whose bed-and-breakfast plan, and renovations, were a fair idea for a money pit in normal times. During a shutdown? They’re a bleeding ulcer. Sanderson offers that he might be able to do her a favor. Since Sophie started the Bowen campaign, and Sam Driver supports it and used to date Bowen, this seems weird. But he offers: the campaign’s drawing a lot of coverage. Out-of-town reporters need to stay somewhere. Why not a place struggling but surviving thanks to a supportive local government?

Abbey, on the phone: 'You are not helping anyone but yourself, PHIL! You are the voice of no one but your crippling insecurity that fuels your rage that no one should speak but you! And I will make sure EVERYONE knows that!' Sanderson, hanging up: 'Ha ha. Of course you will ... '
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 7th of August, 2020. We haven’t yet really seen Abbey’s letting-everyone-know-that yet, by the way, nor have we seen Sanderson’s clever scheme at work. But we have the problem of seeing very little in-universe time even since mid-August.

The offer could hardly be better-designed to enrage Abbey. She promises to make sure everyone knows she’s on Team Bowen. Which Sanderson wants, in the first moment that makes him look like a skilled politician. Bowen’s weakness is that she can look like a tool of the Parker-Spencer-Driver clan.

Bowen’s got some good instincts, though, aware that this kind of unsolicited support can be trouble. She lays down the law to Sophie. If they want to support her, all right, but they have to know what she’s about. Which would likely make for a better campaign. Also a better campaign plot, must admit, as it’s not clear what issues there even are in town. Equitable gentrification is a great challenge, and goal. But it’s a danged hard thing to fight for in any intelligible way, especially in this medium.

Bowen’s law-laying helps Sophie with another problem, though. She looks into Local College courses. This is a step in her realizing that she doesn’t know everything she needs. And that she’s been blocking herself from that learning. And, after a lot of hesitation, she calls Honey Ballinger and apologizes.

[ Ronnie breaks some bad news to Neddy ] Neddy: 'They WHAT?!' Ronnie: 'It looks like they're diminishing the 'Neddy' role in our show to focus more on how Godiva's and April's lives intersect.' Neddy: 'THEY WHAT?!?' Ronnie: 'OK, this would be the third time I'm telling you this, so I assume you're in full 'shocked' mode now.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 31st of August, 2020. It’s a small bit but I appreciate that Neddy’s punctuation gets longer with the repetition.

And the TV show continues to change. The showrunners have decided Godiva and April Parker’s lives make for better stories than Neddy’s does. This makes for an interesting bit of story commentary by strip writer Francesco Marciuliano. Marciuliano has, mostly, done a good job at having things go crazy and then rationalize some. But it would be strange if he didn’t consider some storylines to have gone awry, or to regret not having done more with characters than he did. The revelation that Godiva was also running drugs was a shocking turn of events, sure. But to make it a shock to readers meant we had to not see it. It’s plausible Marciuliano didn’t consider it until he needed the twist. This frame lets him, if he wishes, build a new storyline for Godiva. It may not be what “really” happened to her, but if it’s interesting, who cares?

Ronnie: 'Wait ... are you seriously thinking of not going back to LA? Just because they changed some of our show?' Neddy: 'That's not the reason. I mean, that hurt, but ... but every time I think how close we are to leaving here, I try to think of anything else. And that has got to be telling me something.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 9th of September, 2020. I don’t know where they are since the horse barn was renovated into Abbey’s bed-and-breakfast either.

So the studio figures that April and Godiva is the true-crime drama that’s the real series. And that’s that. The shooting in Real Cavelton wraps, with the rest of the series done in Los Angeles and Vancouver. And Neddy decides she isn’t interested in moving back to Los Angeles. Ronnie is, though, and that makes the transition into autumn all the harder.

And that’s where things stand now. Bowen’s campaign seems to be going well. Sophie’s reconciling with Honey Ballinger and looking at Local College. Neddy’s staying in town. Ronnie’s off to Los Angeles and, it’s teased, out of the strip. (It’s very self-referentially teased, with talk about sitcom characters who vanished. I am old enough to sometimes speak of myself as if I were on a sitcom. But I am also young enough to sometimes speak of myself as if I were a podcast host.) And if all goes well, we can come back together in a happier December to see what has changed.

Next Week!

We dip into the comic strip most inexplicably in reruns with Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s The Amazing Spider-Man. (I mean, you wouldn’t think Marvel would be unable to find someone who can draw Spider-Man, right?) That’s if all goes well, and here’s hoping that it does. Good luck to you all.

Jules Rivera takes over Mark Trail in October


Finally, some good news for 2020. Per D D Degg at The Daily Cartoonist, King Features has a new artist and writer for Mark Trail. Jules Rivera, creator of the slice-of-life web comic Love, Joolz, is to take over the strip from the 12th of October. (I haven’t read the web comic, but I am a surprisingly poor reader of web comics.)

The New York Times has more of a story, and comments from Rivera. She says that she hadn’t read the strip before — I assume — being asked to consider it. But that she got to love his square wackiness.

The sample strip that The New York Times has suggests a more visually dynamic strip. Also one that suggests the Trails have specific jobs in-between hearing giant squirrels talking. Maybe even something the hew-mons call sexual attraction. The Times article says that Rivera’s strip should have a “modern sensibility” and more prominent roles for Cherry and Rusty Trail. But Rivera has an electrical engineering background, so I am hopeful that some of Mark Trail’s natural squareness will stick around.

Any further news I get about Mark Trail should be posted to an essay at this link. My next regularly scheduled plot recap I plan to be in mid-November, when Rivera should have about a month’s worth of daily strips to snark on. The most recent plot recap, getting halfway into the Jack Elrod rerun story, is at this link. And all my story comic plot recaps and news should be at this link.

What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? Is Gil Thorp just ignoring Covid-19 too? June – September 2020


Yes, it appears that Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp is going ahead as though things were normal. It’s a defensible choice. The only sports one could morally play during the pandemic are outdoor sports with physically separated individuals. I don’t know if Milford even has an archery team. There’s a fair chance it’s never come up in the strip before. But that would leave the strip with nothing to write about, which is a heck of a writing challenge.

So. This essay should catch you up to mid-September 2020. If you’re reading this after about December 2020, or want what news on Gil Thorp there is, a more useful essay should be at this link. And, lest we forget, my mathematics blog continues its weekly glossary entries, at this link. This week we get to O, finally. Not zero.

Gil Thorp.

29 June – 19 September 2020.

Milford’s boys’ softball was playing against Valley Modified, the school for delinquents. Not a formal game. Mike “The Mayor” Knappe, kicked out of Milford for bringing a butter knife to school, organized it because hey, wouldn’t it be fun? What would go wrong with Valley Modified’s ragtag bunch of misfits playing against an actual team? Anyway Milford was ahead 149 to nothing at the top of the first inning, with the upstate returns not in yet. Some of the Milford players defect, to give the other kids a chance.

[ Unsurprising: Milford is lots better than Mike Knappe's ragtag team. Unexpected: free pizza! ] Corina Karenna: 'Yo, other catcher. What's your story?' Hiawatha Jones: 'Call me Hiawatha.' Karenna: 'Do I have to?'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 30th of June, 2020. Based on the first panel either some people brought their little kids or else Milford freshmen are 40% the size of the seniors.

And then pizza arrives. 20 pizzas, giving everyone a break. The game resumes and Valley Modified stumbles on until Phoebe Keener, from the Milford Girls Softball team, calls time. She gives Valley’s shortstop some tips. Things resume, less competitive and more collegial, until a someone delivers subs. And, later, ice cream. What would have been a shellacking turns into a picnic and everybody kind of forgets about finishing things.

The adults wrap things up, with Gil Thorp not-denying having a hand in sending the pizza order. Assistant Coach Kaz not-denying sending in the subs. The coolers with pop? Why, that’s Knappe’s English teacher, the one who reported his having a butter knife in school. And so on. And, hey, Generic State University decided not to rescind its acceptance of Knappe. Coach Thorp’s report about Knappe organizing the event convinced them of his good character. Their admission letter even jokes about leaving knives in the dining hall, like the tag of a 70s cop show. Uhm. Right.


That, the 11th of July, finally wrapped up the spring storyline. The summer story began the 13th of July.

It starts with a follow-up to the softball game. Phoebe Keener recognizes Valley Modified’s catcher, Corina Karenna. She got introduced as a nice snarky type who has “problems with authority”, like you want on a sports team. They share a lunch and go shopping, Karenna amazed that Keener is looking for buttons, and sews and such. And Keener … wonders what Karenna is doing in town, actually.

Corina Karenna: 'Our shortstop was Ardis Carhee, not Carver.' Phoebe Keener: 'Right! You passed the test! So, Corina Karenna, what brings you to bustling downtown Milford?' Karenna: 'I'm thinking of committing a series of unspeakable crimes.' Keener: 'Wow, me too!'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 17th of July, 2020. I literally can not imagine being even slightly irked that someone remembered the name of someone she met once as “Carhee” rather than “Carver”. Mind, I have also given up on the cashier at Burger King typing in my name as anything but “Joeseph”. Also given up: going to Burger King.

Also, True Standish is back in Milford. Years ago he’d been the star quarterback and brought Milford to the state championship. He went off to college and now he’s … a pitcher for the Tampa Bay Rays. He kept getting injured in football. He’s getting injured in baseball too. But he’s a low enough draft choice that the Rays figure, eh, let him wander around, he’ll probably be all right.

Another lunch hangout. Karenna admits she’s looking for a new direction. Also to return a catcher’s mitt from the ball game. The waitress at the diner shares the bad news; the guy she’s returning the mitt to is out of town for the week. Did you see the plot point dropped there? Because I’ll admit, I didn’t, not until writing this up. And after that we see the two obvious threads come together. Standish needs a catcher for pitching practice. So they set up pitching camp.

True Standish: 'Coach Thorp! Thanks for coming. Meet Corina Karenna.' Karenna: 'Charmed.' Standish: 'I'm ready to roll. Oh --- if I brush my chest, it's a slider.' Gil Thorp: 'You've probably never caught one of hose, Corina. It'll --- ' Karenna: 'I'll figure it out after the first one.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 5th of August, 2020. You might think it obnoxious that Gil Thorp is giving advice to a girl who has not asked for his advice, whom he has no supervisory role over, and whom he has no established relationship of any significance. But remember that Coach Gil Thorp is a white guy.

Coach Thorp watches a session. He notices how Karenna has no trouble handling professional-grade pitching. And Karenna admits to Keener that “I’m thinking of moving to Milford”. Keener asks the obvious: isn’t there a “we”, what with her having a mom and all? And the thing is her mother is depressed, bad enough that Corina has to lead the family. (Her father left long ago.) She mentions how she and her mother could live anywhere there’s support. She mentions this in the diner, where the waitress from earlier happens to be. The waitress drops the advice to ask True Standish about his mom. Standish does more, bringing her to meet her mom.

So, Standish’s mother has similar depression problems, though not as severe. She’s got good support, though I’m not sure how this would transfer to Karenna’s mother. Also, Mimi Thorp watches Karenna at a pitching workout and offers her business card in case Karenna has questions. Also high school girls coaches have business cards. After some prodding about mysteries of the softball game, she decides. Orientation day comes and she’s signed up to Milford. Even to try out for volleyball. The story resolves, more or less, the 4th of September.

I will lose standing in the comics snarker ranks for this: I think this story was pretty well-done. Karenna’s problem gets laid out naturalistically, for the story strips. Her situation, having to be the functioning adult in a broken home, is realistic enough. That she wears a protective layer of sarcasm makes sense. How a resolution will happen gets laid out in the open where it’s easy to miss. The only piece that comes from nowhere is True Standish’s mother also coping with depression. But there’s little reason for him to have discussed that. It’s possible this was established when Standish was a regular character. If it was, then I sincerely bow to Neal Rubin. Even if it wasn’t, it’s a slick move to have introduced a supporting character last story to be the main for this one. And then she seems to be inspiring significant action for the current story. There’s some good crafting here.


With the 5th starts the current story. And yeah, that’s a midweek transition. The heart of this, like many fall storylines, is the boys’ football team. Will Thayer’s bulked up over the summer. This could challenge Charlie Rapson for the quarterback’s position. Radio sports reporter Marty Moon is interested in this quarterback controversy. Coach Thorp isn’t worried by the rivalry, nor by Marty Moon attempting to be clever, since Marty Moon is not a clever man.

Rebecca Ramirez, explaining the Bonfire: 'It's a tradition. We build a bonfire, and the next night, the football team clobbers Oakwood.' Corina Karenna: 'Super. And what does everyone do for the volleyball team?' From a distance, one boy asks, 'Hey, who's that?' and his friend answers, 'Becca Ramierez. You've known her since first grade.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 19th of September, 2020. I went through high school making almost no impression on anyone besides my friends. And the experience wasn’t bad. So were I on the volleyball team, I’d be happy with “everyone carries on as if we did not exist”.

And her new teammates bring Karenna to that most ominous of Milford athletic community events: the Bonfire. So, I never went to a school that had any self-esteem. Occasionally high school would have a pep rally, where we sat in the gym bleachers while people tried to get us excited about … the school, I guess. All it did for me was reinforce my suspicion of mass emotion. I could not imagine participating in a bonfire. So I am very much on Karenna’s side in looking at this as a borderline terrifying activity from a whole other universe.

And that’s our story, so far.

Milford Schools Watch

This may have been the slowest three months on record for Milford’s sports. If I haven’t missed anything there were only two other schools named on-screen. They were:

Next Week!

Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker was the first story strip to incorporate Covid-19 into the story. What’s happening in it now? If all goes well, we’ll see in a week. Thanks for reading.

Shoe almost completely on other foot; Bruce Tinsley returning to Mallard Fillmore


(Thanks for the headline, Garrison!)

So, yes, as of last Monday, the 14th, we’re getting daily Shoe strips signed as by Susie MacNelly and Ben Lansing. Lansing has been assisting with the strip for a long while, which may be why the change in art was hardly noticeable. There are some more Gary Brookins-drawn Sunday strips for Shoe still in the pipeline, but that’ll be it.

At the diner, Cosmo asks, 'I'll have an order of pretzel nuggets, please.' Roz, waitress: 'Dipping sauce?' Cosmo: 'What are my options?' Roz: 'Yes or no.'
Ben Lansing and Susie MacNelly’s Shoe for the 14th of September, 2020. I like the joke well enough, but I’m still basically fond of American Cornball humor. Also, I would never have the nerve to tell the server, “I’ll have”. I am resolutely on the “Could I please get” side and feel an illicit thrill when someone who does order “I’ll have” gets answered, “No you won’t”.

So far as I know, this is the first time that the regular cartoonists for Shoe and Pluggers have been different people. Pluggers had been drawn alternately by Gary Brookins and Rick McKee for several months before Brookins finally retured from it a month ago.


Also, D D Degg, at the Daily Cartoonist, reports that Bruce Tinsley is returning to Mallard Fillmore. The strip had been in reruns from November 2019 through March 2020, when Loren Fishman took over. So we can expect to transition from not reading Mallard Fillmore by Loren Fishman back to not reading Mallard Fillmore by Bruce Tinsley in the next couple weeks.

What’s Going On In Rex Morgan, M.D.? What is Rex Morgan doing for the pandemic? June – September 2020


Terry Beatty had decided he couldn’t do a pandemic story without the lead times for Rex Morgan, M.D. making it too dated. So the first story he wrote after the pandemic hit the United States was a flashback, Rex and June telling young Sarah how they got together. After that, Beatty decided he could tell some stories. And so since then we’ve had vignettes of the major characters and how the disaster has hit them.

So that’s the essence for things as of the middle of September, 2020. If you’re reading this after about December 2020 or if any news breaks out about the comic I’ll have a more up-to-date Rex Morgan, M.D. post here. And, on my other blog, I’m looking at mathematical words from the whole alphabet. This week we reach the back half and the letter N, at last. (The word this week will not be ‘Nebus’.)

Rex Morgan, M.D..

21 June – 13 September 2020.

As Rex Morgan told the story to Sarah, things were really fitting together for him a couple years ago. He had a nice spot at Glenwood hospital. His mentor, Dr Dallis, is ready to retire and offers to sell his practice to our young protagonist. (The Dr Dallis thing is an in-joke. Psychiatrist Dr Nicholas P Dallis created the Rex Morgan, M.D. comic strip. He also created Judge Parker and Apartment 3-G.) While jogging and considering the offer, he bumps into June Gale. He claims (to Sarah) that he apologized. June claims (to Sarah) that she only thought about calling him a jerk.

Flashback Keith, another doctor: 'So when do the wedding invitations go out?' Rex: 'Cut the joking, Keith. I barely know the woman.' Present Rex: 'Wait a minute. You weren't in the exam room. How do you know what Keith and I talked about?' June: 'The walls have ears, dear husband. And so do my fellow nurses.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 11th of July, 2020. I like this moment in part because the day before, comics snarkers had been asking how June could possibly be recounting a conversation she wasn’t part of, and I always like it when the artist out-thinks us.

A couple days later he runs into her again, this time metaphorically. She says hi. This distracts him, and he stumbles, fracturing his ankle. She gets her first-aid kit and takes him to the hospital. He’s impressed by her professionalism, and how she’s not intimidated to give medical instructions to a doctor. This attitude surprises him because Rex Morgan has never spoken to any nurse at any time for any reason, ever.

Rex Morgan tries to take June Gale to dinner, and to flirt. His clumsy efforts offend her. An elderly woman pops up behind him and orders him to marry her. And the weird thing is it’s not Mary Worth. Rex and June deny knowing who she was. Long-time readers recognize her as Melissa Claridge, who’d been in the comic strip for decades, most recently appearing in 2012. Claridge spent decades trying to make Rex and June pair-bond already.

Melissa Claridge: 'Dr Morgan, taht young nurse you just chased away is the loveliest, smartest, most capable and kindhearted woman you could ever hope to meet. She clearly has feelings for you, heaven knows why. If you don't apologize for your arrogance and find some way to make it up to her, you're nothing but a fool.' Rex: 'Well, I don't think that's exactly ... ' Claridge: 'And that's your problem right there, young man. Too much focus on what you think and not enough on what you feel. ' Claridge: 'Uh ... I don't ... I mean ... I'm sure she's nice and all, but ... ' Claridge: 'It's true what they say. Youth is wasted on the young.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 19th of July, 2020. You know, she just goes around ordering random pairs of people to marry, and every now and then it pays off. (The Marvin Bradley thanked here was the comic strip’s original and longtime artist. Frank Edgington did backgrounds.)

I didn’t read the comic before this past decade. So I don’t have a particular allegiance to the old continuity. But: why this retcon? Terry Beatty had already established that this is not my father’s Rex Morgan. (My father is more a Mary Worth reader.) This on-screen Rex and June Morgan just happen to have the same names as an earlier Rex and June who happened to be doctor and nurse in the same town decades ago.

I am reluctant to play the “Unreliable Narrator” card. It’s too easy a fix for any continuity question. But here? It’s defensible at least. Rex and June are describing the story of how they met to their daughter. They have reason to avoid confusing sidelines. This justifies skipping decades of June considering other suitors and coming back to work for Rex. But then what benefit to Sarah to say that some strange old woman told Rex to marry June? Rex and June swear they don’t know who this woman was. If they’re fibbing for Sarah’s sake, why?

Well, Rex buys Dr Dallis’s clinic. June takes the job as clinic nurse. Eventually they marry. And everything’s happy ever after. With that comforting conclusion, the flashback ends, the 9th of August.


After that, and with panels explaining to the reader, the strip begins “Lockdown Stories”. These are vignettes of what all the characters do during the crisis.

First up, from the 10th of August: the Morgans themselves. Their clinic is shut down for the crisis. June is doing triage over the phone. Rex is back at the hospital supporting the Covid-19 unit. The story’s main concern: how to set it up so Rex can work without infecting his family. Rex will be sleeping in his study, using the downstairs bathroom, and going into and out of the house through the garage. And he’ll have to see his family online, but, that’s the best of options.

Lockdown Stories: The Morgans. June, to the kids: 'Once dad starts working at the Covid-19 unit at the hospital, he'll have to stay down here in his study for a while.' Sarah: 'And we can't go in to see him?' Mike: 'No fair.' Rex: 'I'm afraid not, kids. I'll be taking every safety precaution, but we don't want you to risk any of you getting the virus.' Sarah: 'That stinks, dad. Who's gonna read me my bedime stories? Mom can't do all the voices like you do.' Mike: 'Yeah, the voices.' Rex: 'I'll still read to you, Sarah. And the boys. We'll use our electronics to talk and to see each other.' Sarah: 'Like the 'remote learning' I'm doing for school?' Rex: 'Sure. Same kind of deal.' Sarah, hugging: 'You gotta promise you won't get sick, Dad. Promise me you'll be SUPER ULTRA CAREFUL.' Rex: 'I will be super ultra super careful, Sarah. For all of us.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 16th of August, 2020. Rex talked about how he sleeps soundly in that recliner but I’m pretty sure about three days into this he’s going to be sorry he doesn’t have a cot or a futon instead. I’m not here to diagnose fictional people’s problems, or believe me I’d be hauling off on Funky Winkerbean right now, but I have observed how backs work.

And that’s it. The 17th of August we switch to Jordan Harris and Michelle Carter. Jordan’s restaurant made the shift to doing take-out orders. Michelle is a nurse, though, and wants to go back to the hospital’s Covid-19 unit. But there’s no safe way they can live together for this. Jordan moves into the apartment above the restaurant for the duration, and they’ll have to make do.

With the 23rd of August we move to the next vignette. This is about Rene Belluso. He had been Sarah Morgan’s art instructor back before Terry Beatty took over the writing. This was back when a rich mob widow was setting Sarah up as the next Leonardo da Vinci. Since then Belluso’s been hiding from mobsters he owes money. And forging comic strip art. And he ran that Celestial Healing scam that Rex and Lana Lewton busted up. He’s still working a scam, with a web site offering the secret cure for Covid-19. Also cold-calling people for a stimulus check scam. He’s barely got into his vignette before officials bang on his hotel door and take him away. So he’s now leading the Trump administration’s pandemic response team.

Lockdown Backstories: Rene Belluso. 'Rene THOUGHT he'd make a mint taking advantage of people's fears about the virus. INSTEAD, he's going to be doing some time BEHIND BARS. Sometimes people DO get what's coming to them.' Cop, taking Belluso in: 'You have the right to remain silent. You have the right ... ' Belluso: 'I KNOW my right! I've got a right to earn a living, don't I? So WHAT if I take advantage of a few ignorant sheep? I WANT MY LAWYER!'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 29th of August, 2020. So that first panel there: Rod Serling narration or Dick Tracy Crimestopper tip? Tune in next week to Rex Morgan, M.D. for a Minit Medical Mystery!

And the 30th of August moves to “Horrible” Hank Harwood and his son Hank Junior. “Horrible” Hank’s a comic book artist from way back, so his life isn’t changed: he’s spending his 90s redrawing magazine covers for pay. Hank Junior’s missing doing stuff. At his dad’s suggestion, he starts building plastic model kits. And they give each other haircuts. That’s about all.

With the 11th of September — a rare midweek transition — we move over to Niki Roth, one of the teen cast. He delivers food to the Harwoods, which is how we make the segue. And then to his girlfriend Kelly and her mom. Kelly’s also the Morgans’ babysitter, but that’s off for the time being. We only got to them this past Saturday, so, there’s not much guessing what they’re up to.

So, yeah, I call these vignettes but that might be too strong a word. It’s more going around the horn and establishing that everybody has some situation. Even Rene Belluso’s scam got introduced and then resolved in a week. It’s nice to go around and see everybody, but none of these have been real stories. There is of course a story problem when characters have to be apart. And, like, there’s almost no reason for June Morgan to chat with Hank Junior online. At least if he came into the clinic for something they would talk.

Next Week!

What happened to high school sports during the pandemic summer? I look at Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp next week. This is going to be a challenging one because I can’t remember what I’ve been reading the last three months here.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Sundays)? The Phantom Head isn’t part of Skull Cave? June – September 2020


Yeah, so it turns out the mountain with Skull Cave is a completely different peak from the mountain with the giant carved head of a Phantom. And yet our current Ghost Who Walks was all upset about his face on postage stamps. I don’t know.

This essay should catch you up on Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom, Sunday continuity, for early September 2020. If you’re reading this after about December 2020, or you’re interested in the separate weekday continuity, there’s probably a more up-to-date essay at this link.

On my other blog I’m writing an essay for each letter of the alphabet. This week: M, so, I’m halfway there, as soon I write it!

The Phantom (Sundays).

14 June – 6 September 2020

Kit Walker was telling Heloise of their ancestor, the 13th Phantom. Ghost of 1805 and George Bass — a historical figure who did go missing, with his ship, in 1803 — had survived the Battle of Trafalgar, only for their ship to be destroyed immediately after. Bass and Walker 13 washed ashore, somewhere, in bad shape. 13’s lost his eye covering. Bass has lost his sight, so at least he’s safe against seeing The Phantom’s face. Bass also lost his memory. So they faced a legendary trip to return to the Deep Woods.

They make it in two panels, with Bandar medicine able to restore Bass’s physical health. Mostly. He’s still blind, and not really aware of who he was or what his life had been. Bass wants to wait until he’s well to return to his wife Elizabeth. He never would be, and died four years later in the Deep Woods. This is how he got interred in The Phantom’s Vault of Missing Men. After his death Phantom 13 travelled to London, to find Elizabeth Bass and tell what happened.

Phantom 21 narrating: 'The journey south from Europe ... across deserts, grasslands, jungles ... Bandar elders restored George bass to health, but his sight never returned. Nor his full awareness of the man he'd once been.' Bass: 'I was a ship's captain, wasn't I, Walker? Was that a dream?' Phantom 13: 'It was no dream, George.' Bass: 'I think I have a wife. Is she in England?' Phantom 13: 'You've said her name is Elizabeth! And that you two are very much in love. Our Bandar friends have done well by you, George. Done all they can. I'm happy to take you home now ... to England.' Bass: 'Elizabeth mustn't see me so ... diminished, Walker When I'm well we'll go. Yes, that's it! We'll go to England *then*!'
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 21st of June, 2020. I doubt this is in Tony DePaul’s plans but this does imply about a four-year stretch where the 13th Phantom has a semi-voluntary sidekick in the form of George Bass and that seems like an interesting thread in case that era earns a fresh visit.

And this completes The Current Phantom’s telling of this story to Heloise. They leave the Skull Cave and Heloise rejoins Kadia, who’s been meeting the Bandar people. And this (finally) concludes The Spy Ship, the 189th of the Sunday Continuity stories, on the 12th of July.


The current story, 190th of the Sunday continuities, began the 19th of July, 2020. It starts with a low-lying cave, covered by a grate. A criminal gang’s imprisoned a detective. The cave offers just enough water, just enough seafood, just enough of a gap between high tide and the grate for the Detective to not die too fast.

The Mawitaan Police think he’s already dead. His grandmother does not, though. She treks, with her dog Bunny, deep into the woods to find Phantom Head Peak. It’s a mountain carved, hundreds of years ago, into the head of the 7th Phantom. (Or possibly 6th. The comic strip continuity has apparently got anomalies.) It was carved on the orders of her ancestor, the Emperor Joonkar. (This, apparently, was established in a story that ran November 1997 to April 1998. This is two stories before Comics Kingdom’s archives pick up the daily strips, unfortunately.)

[ Jungle ruins rediscovered ] Woman, to her dog :'I remember playing here ... this exact spot! I should be able to see the peak from here! It's this way, I'm sure of it!' [ Meanwhile, in the cave cell ] Detective, thinking: 'I haven't heard the voices of my captors for days now. No more incoming truck traffic. Their stores must be full. They'll be meeting with the buyers soon. Must free myself and do my sworn duty! Bring these men to justice!' [ Back to the woman, looking at a Phantom head carved into the mountain. ] Woman, to dog: 'Bunny! W - we're here! The peak fashioned by my ancestor, mighty Emperor Joonkar! Phantom will come to us here! I know he will!'
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 2nd of August, 2020. Phantom, later: “Um … you know I have a mailbox for, like, this sort of thing? Right? You can just drop a letter, you don’t have to go to any great dramatic gestures … ” Woman: “Direct action gets the results.”

In this spot she meets The Phantom, as she hoped. Her dog Bunny meets The Phantom’s wolf Devil, who refrains from eating the much smaller animal. The woman tells of her grandson. The Phantom takes the case.

And then he passes the case on to the Jungle Patrol, in his role as the Unknown Commander. They take their orders to find information about the Lost Detective. The Phantom pieces this together. He finds and frees the Detective.

That’s where things stand. The Detective’s free, and with The Phantom. And there’s this criminal organization that’s all set for whatever mischief they were up to. Where will it go and how will it end? We’ll see over the next few months.

Next Week!

Is Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. still ignoring the biggest medical story of the past 102 years? We’ll have the answer next week, or you can read the strips yourself. It’ll take longer but you’ll have the result sooner.

What’s Going On In Mary Worth? Is banana bread hard to make? June – August 2020


Banana bread is not hard to make. Toby is just Toby.

So that catches you up on Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the end of August 2020. If you’re reading this after about December 2020, or if any news about Mary Worth develops, I’ll try to post it here.

Meanwhile, on my other blog, I’m going through the alphabet explaining mathematics terms. Also, at the end of this month, I’m hosting the Playful Math Education Blog Carnival. That’s a gathering of educational and recreational mathematics writing. If you know something mathematical that delighted you, please, let me know. More people would like to know it, too.

Mary Worth.

8 June – 30 August 2020.

Delightfully grumpy Saul Wynter had niece Madi as houseguest for the summer. Her father had to go to Venezuela for The Company, so I trust they mean he’s part of another inept CIA coup attempt. Madi’s mother died years ago. Madi’s grandmother — Saul’s cousin — just died, and Madi’s not coping well. But what else is there to do? Let her stay with a friend? After many walks with his rescued shelter dog Greta, Saul thinks he’s ready for a summer with Madi.

Saul Wynter: 'Madi, I'll show you the spare bedroom where you'll be staying. You can put your things in here.' Madi, looking at her phone: 'Fine.' Saul: 'Oh, that's my dachshund. Let me introduce you to Greta.' Greta looks up, wagging. Madi: 'Ew! Keep it AWAY from me!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 19th of June, 2020. First, I love that Saul Wynter’s interior decorating is “pictures of my dog” and “pictures of me with my dog”, although it’d be nice if we saw some of Bella, his beloved previous dog, too. Second: I am so anxious about Madi’s clothes spilling out of her luggage there. I know it’s just stuff she’d had in the living room so she’s moving it like fifteen feet but still. Also she pulled a bunch of her stuff out in the living room before she’d seen the spare bedroom for some reason.

Oh, but hardly! Why, Madi is sullen, and messy, and on her phone like ALL the TIME. More, she doesn’t like dogs and shoos the timid but friendly Greta off. Greta returns the courtesy, ripping up a shirt she’d left on the floor. Everybody gets stressed out and Greta hides under the bed.

It goes on like this until the start of July when Mary Worth’s meddle-sense finally kicks in. Once she’s aware of friction between housemates Mary Worth can not act fast enough. She has them over for lunch, teleporting them into her kitchen before Saul Wynter gets off the phone. “It’s all right, Mary Worth just does that,” Saul reassures Madi. Mary Worth notices Madi noticing her flowers, and Madi admits her grandmother loved color. Mary Worth agrees: color is one of her favorite intensive properties of matter, up there with viscosity and specific gravity. Mary Worth coaxes Madi to an afternoon at the pool. And to have cookies, since her grandmother was a great cook.

Mary Worth: 'Tell me more ... about your grandmother.' [ When Mary gives Madi a flower. ] Madi: 'Gram loved colorful things.' Mary Worth: 'She must have loved your hair ... the colors.' Madi: 'She loved *me*.' Mary worth: 'People we love who've passed away are still with us in spirit. Love is the bridge that connects us. Something may remind you of her, or you may have a feeling of her near you. That's her watching over you, loving you still.'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 19th of July, 2020. That is a lot of meddle Mary Worth is offering considering Madi has said just seven words about her feeling. Also, the word balloon break in the top row adds a level of sinister they can’t have intended. Unless they’re writing a bit for us ironic readers, I guess.

At the pool Mary Worth asks Madi about her grandmother, and listens a short while. She comments how things Madi does to remember her are nice. How we honor loved ones by imitating the good they did. Have to say, Mary Worth’s meddle game is on.

Madi resists the suggestion to get to know Saul and Greta, though. She complains her Gram’s died, her life’s “shaken”, and she’s living all summer with a grouchy old man and his dog. She makes a fair point. Mary Worth talks about Greta’s long time spent looking for a home and Madi rolls her eyes all the way into Gil Thorp. But she invites Mary Worth to jump into the pool and that helps some. She says Mary Worth reminds her of Gram.

Madi is flopped on her bed, crying. Greta the dachshund comes up and stand up on hindlegs to examine her. Greta hops up and lies down beside Madi.
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 1st of August, 2020. It’s adorable but how did Greta get up on the bed?

This meddles Madi at least into being a quiet sullen who doesn’t put her feet on the couch. She’s still crying at night, though. Until Greta pokes in and squeezes up against her because dog. And that fixes the problem of her not liking dogs. At least not liking Greta.

So way back when this story started an incident happened that I didn’t think rated mention. Toby was having trouble making desserts for a Charterstone meeting. I thought it was no more than a bit of color along the way to the actual Saul-and-Madi-and-Greta story. I should have known better. Mary Worth isn’t some slapdash strip that would leave a plot point like that hanging. And the resolution of this launches the end of the story to greatness. From the 5th of August we see Toby struggling again to make dessert for, I think, a different Charterstone meeting.

Toby on the phone: 'Mary, I need your help!' Mary Worth: 'What's wrong, Toby? What happened?' Toby, in her itchen, the counter filled with batters and banana peels and eggs splattered on the counter and all: 'I'm making banana bread for the next Charterstone meeting, and the recipe doesn't make sense!' Mary Worth: 'I'll be over soon. Do you mind if I bring a friend?'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 6th of August, 2020. “I don’t understand how but my kitchen is a Slylock Fox Six Differences puzzle! A bird just swooped in here and carried off a fish that does or does not have a gill slit, and there’s a cat pointing and laughing at me!” “No, no, Toby, we’ve been through this. That cat is always pointing and laughing at you. Also that cat is Professor Ian Cameron, your husband. Remember?”

Toby needs Mary Worth’s help: she can’t figure out the banana bread recipe. This raises many questions, among them: what, she can’t go to Bake-N-Cakes and buy dessert? I concede the plot requirement that Toby be working on something a 13-year-old could plausibly have experience with. But, like, the banana bread recipe at AllRecipes.com is seven ingredients, one of which is “bananas”. It has three steps, one of which is “preheat oven and grease pan”. (Snark aside, I think AllRecipe’s step two is over-stuffed. I would break that into three or four steps, one for each time something’s mixed or poured into a new bowl.) Toby’s kitchen is a wasteland of ruined bananas, spent eggs, and viscous puddles of things. I can’t swear that her ice cubes weren’t somehow on fire. If we the audience had not seen that, I would theorize this was a setup to trick Madi into opening up. Instead, no, we have to suppose that Toby is a person who can’t parse “In a separate bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar”.

Madi comes with Mary Worth. Toby provides an example of her failed banana bread, so Madi never suspects she’s being patronized. A person who can’t “stir in eggs and mashed bananas until well blended” is not trying to outthink a 13-year-old. Madi offers that her Gram made banana bread with a “secret ingredient” and she decides, finally, to let Toby know what it is. With the secret Toby tries again and now she has a successful banana bread! The little project makes all the difference. From here on Madi’s a pleasant friendly teen and likes Greta and Saul and Mary Worth and feels bad for Toby and everything.

Toby: 'Madi *what* did your Gram put in her banana bread?' Madi: 'It's a secret ... ' (She leans up, to whisper into Toby's ear.) 'But I'll tell you since you *really* need it ... '
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 11th of August, 2020. “It’s `bananas’. You put bananas in the bread.”

So from the 18th of August we move into the ritual of thanking Mary Worth for everything. This story she did do something to be thanked for. Madi’s decided her summer turned out great. And she’s going to be a chef and bring her Gram’s recipes to everyone. And hey, her dad’s been released by Venezuela counter-intelligence, so he’ll be swinging by to pick her up soon and we can … never see her again I guess. We haven’t quite gotten to Madi’s last strip, much less any hint what the next story is. I expect that to start next week.

Dubiously Sourced Mary Worth Sunday Panel Quotes!

[ Back to GRIFFY, on his quest --- he enters the MARY WORTH strip! ] Jeff, on the phone: 'What should I do? There's this oddly drawn guy here, looking for a missing girl!' Griffy: 'I need so see Mary!' [ Soon ] Griffy: 'Morning, Ms worth! I'm from th' Zippy comic! Can we talk?' Mary Worth: 'Young man, you need help, all right. Th'kind only a MENTAL HEALTH professional can provide!' (Griffy, thinking) 'Uh-oh! I'm frozen in place and unable to speak under th'withering gaze of Mary Worth!!'
Bill Griffith’s Zippy the Pinhead for the 19th of August, 2002. So the Auto Care place has been updating its signs, but just to announce when they would reopen after the Covid-19 shutdown, and then to thank the Lansing Economic Development Corporation for assistance and that’s all fine enough. There’s just no way to turn those into inspirational-despair messages, is all.

  • “When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favor.” — Elon Musk, 7 June 2020.
  • “No one appreciates the very special genius of your conversation as the dog does.” — Christopher Morley, 14 June 2020.
  • “It is an illusion that youth is happy, an illusion of those who have lost it.” — W Somerset Maugham, 21 June 2020.
  • “When anger rises, think of the consequences” — Confucius, 28 June 2020.
  • “Man invented language to satisfy his deep need to complain.” — Lily Tomlin, 5 July 2020.
  • “Be a little kinder than you have to.” — E Lockhart, 12 July 2020.
  • “Where flowers bloom, so does hope.” — Lady Bird Johnson, 19 July 2020.
  • “A kind gesture can reach a wound that only compassion can heal.” — Steve Maraboli, 26 July 2020.
  • “I don’t think people really realize or understand just how wonderful and special dogs are.” — Robert Crais, 2 August 2020.
  • “If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again” — Thomas H Palmer, 9 August 2020.
  • “Take care of all your memories, for you cannot relive them.” — Bob Dylan, 16 August 2020.
  • “Silent gratitude isn’t much use to anyone.” — Gertrude Stein, 23 August 2020.
  • “We could never learn to be brave and patient, if there were only joy in the world.” — Helen Keller, 30 August 2020.

Next Week!

I don’t have to worry what Mary Worth is doing. I’ll be updating you on Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom (Sunday continuity) unless something forces me to do otherwise. Thanks for reading.

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? Is Mark Trail ever coming back? June – August 2020


There is no word, yet, on who King Features Syndicate is hiring to take over Mark Trail. Nor whether they are actually going to hire anyone. If I get any news about Mark Trail I will share it in a post at this link.

[Edited 25 September 2020: Good news!  Jules Rivera is taking over the comic as of the middle of October.]

Also on my mathematics blog I’m looking at mathematical terms from A through Z. This week: K. I’m not covering all the mathematical terms that start with K, not in one essay.

Mark Trail.

1 June – 22 August 2020

A story about Andy, Mark Trail’s dog, had just started last time I checked in. Andy, unsupervised, playing near a construction site. He’s accidentally locked into a truck trailer and driven off. Rusty and Cherry worry that Andy’s out and won’t come back, but Mark Trail is confident everything is fine.

Mark Trail, off-screen: 'Yes, Andy has ben gone before, but he always comes home!' Andy is seen running through a stream, startling a raccoon and deer and drawing the wary eye of a robin.
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 6th of June, 2020. That raccoon is auditioning for the Disney+ remake of The Hound That Thought He Was A Raccoon. (It’s a cute movie except when you realize what they had to be doing to the raccoon “actors” and an animated version would be great to have.)

At a motel the truck driver opens the van and finds that weird noise was a dog in the back. Andy leaps out and runs into the woods. Mark Trail reassures Rusty and Cherry that sure, Andy’s been gone a long while, but “he always comes home”. And Mark Trail tells of how pets can find their way home over great distances. Like, how dogs can focus on scent. Rusty puts Andy’s bed out on the porch in case that extra bit of familiar scent might help. There is some neat storytelling to how it’s done. We see Andy bounding through the forest, passing turtles and raccoons and waterfalls and everything else. We hear Mark Trail explaining the clues that a dog might use to find home from a great distance away. And, sure enough, Andy finds his way home.

Mark Trail, explaining: 'As the dog gets closer to home, faint familiar scents will get stronger and stronger! As the scents get stronger, the dog will know he's headed in the right direction!' We see Andy on a rock, looking down on Mark Trail's log cabin and several other buildings in the vincity.
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 17th of June, 2020. So there’s several other cabins right beside Mark Trail’s, too? I guess Mark Trail’s neighborhood is gentrifying. There’s all sorts of nature-explainerers and poacher-punchers around now. There would be even more of them except new residents keep growing hipster beards and having to punch themselves.

And, yeah, as Mark Trail predicts, Andy finds his way home safe and sound. Which is all good for the Trails. “Don’t worry, dogs usually come home” is awful advice for anyone whose dog or cat has gone missing. The only useful thing was Rusty planning to put up Lost Dog posters. There’s not even a mention of getting your pets’ ears microchipped, so Animal Control will have a chance at contacting you. Or that you could watch your dog when’s playing at the construction site so he doesn’t get locked in a truck trailer or something.

But Andy is safe back home. And on the 22nd of June what proved to be James Allen’s last story started. It’s incomplete. If a new team is hired, I assume they will have the choice to complete this story or let it drop. They will also have the choice whether to see “Dirty” Dyer’s revenge against Mark Trail carried out.


The last story’s premise: Hollywood liked Mark Trail’s story about white-nose syndrome in bats. Not just for bats. Along the way Mark Trail discovered human traffickers. (This was the story from just before I started doing plot recaps. Mark Trail eventually caught the traffickers while he was in Mexico with Dr Carter, though.) And found an astounding cave system of wondrous beauty, most of which survived Mark Trail’s visit. So producer Marnie Spencer wants to make a film adaptation of this award-winning Mark Trail article. And she wants her boyfriend, bad-boy action hero Jeremy Cartwright, to play the lead. And the lead is Mark Trail. Also, yeah, they’re interested in the bats. Not the Yeti search. Could be they’re waiting to see how the civil suit from Harvey Camel’s family plays out.

Mark Trail’s open to making a movie, though. This provided money from it goes into fighting human trafficking. And he’s glad to have Jeremy Cartwright over to meet him. Learn what he’s like. Read his Starbuck Jones comic books while drinking hot chocolate and eating cookies. Rusty is impressed. Mark Trail is less so, noting how Jeremy Cartwright is just an actor and hinting about his reputed bad behavior.

Poacher: 'Hunting out of season is one thing but taking down these bighorn sheep is highly illegal!' Other poacher: 'We could make a small fortune guiding individual hunters out to bag a bighorn!' Another poacher, with a hacksaw, cutting the horn off: 'Yeah, a lot of money --- if we don't get caught!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 14th of July, 2020. And there we are, the last poachers of Mark Trail, at least before it goes into reruns for an unknown time! I don’t know why the poacher in the middle is Bill Bixby as Mark Trail’s evil twin, Mike Trail. Sorry. Anyway, just imagine living in a world where wanton, pointless cruelty to animals was punished. You know?

And then we get the return of a traditional Mark Trail guest star: poachers! Someone named Digby and someone who isn’t are hunting bighorn sheep. It looked like Jeremy Cartwright was being set up for the full Mark Trail experience.

Spencer is delighted to meet everyone and see everyone in the Lost Forest. Cartwright is smug and vaguely condescending toward the small town. We don’t see exactly what happens but Mark Trail describes him as not being “a very gracious guest”. He complained about the food, which Cherry shrugs off. And he’s not big on the outdoors. Of course, during James Allen’s tenure, the outdoors has done a whole lot of trying to kill Mark Trail. While fishing with Rusty Cartwright complains how he needs a drink, and wonders if they’re heading back to the hotel soon.

Movie Actor's Companion: 'I love these personal stories about your family, Rusty!' Rusty: 'Growing up in a wooded area has been a lot of fun!' Actor: 'Are we heading back to the hotel soon?'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 25th of July, 2020. The last new daily Mark Trail for the foreseeable future. I am a little surprised King Features didn’t have the last panel rewritten, or if need be redrawn, so that Rusty said something about “let me tell you about a time that — ” so that we could pretend the reruns are a framed device within the story.

And that, the 25th of the July, is the end. James Allen leaves Mark Trail (dailies) and we go into Jack Elrod-era reruns. James Allen-produced Sunday strips continued for a few more weeks, because Sunday strips have a longer lead time than dailies. And this week we got back to Jack Elrod-written Sundays with a bit about squirrels.


With the 27th of July we enter Jack Elrod reruns. I don’t know when this story first appeared. It is, in odd symmetry with the last complete James Allen story, an Andy story, and a lost-pet story. In this case, it’s a cat “not wanted by its owners” that’s deliberately abandoned. Far enough away that the owner is sure it won’t find her way back. The cat, unfamiliar with wild life, approaches some animals, who all run away. Except for Andy. So the lost cat makes a friend.

The Trails are happy to take in the cat, dubbed Tabby. Tabby is happy to explore the farm. Also I guess Mark Trail has a farm? Maybe that’s the buildings so close to the log cabin? I do not know. Tabby’s chased off by a rooster, prompting Andy to rush in and protect her. Cherry Trail scolds Andy for harassing the rooster. So for all of you whose favorite Animaniacs segment was Buttons and Mindy, good news: you do not exist. Nobody’s favorite Animaniacs segment was Buttons and Mindy. Buttons and Mindy just made us all feel tense and bad.

[ Andy rushes to rescue Tabby from the skunk ... but he realizes his mistake before he can back off. ] Andy jumps over a log toward a skunk, who stands on its front legs, the warning before spraying. Andy tries to scramble away but can't. [ Later ] Cherry Trail, looking over a stinking Andy: 'WHAT is that smell? OH, NO!'
Jack Elrod’s Mark Trail rerun for the 19th of August, 2020. I do, sincerely, appreciate and like how much James Allen worked to make the Mark Trail storytelling less stodgy. Plots that are less linear, for example. Mark Trail sometimes having thoughts Mark Trail does not express aloud. The narration box’s role reducing to the minimum possible. (I like a narration box that’s also a character, myself. But I know that’s one of many old-fashioned things that I like.) But I also do like just how resolutely square Jack Elrod could be, and scenes like this are a part of it. Also it’s adorable seeing that skunk do the about-to-spray handstand from over here on the safe side of the page. Also a prime moment: the day before, as Tabby approaches the skunk, and according to the narration, “Andy, keeping an eye on the cat, can’t believe what he sees”.
Wild dogs raid a neighbor’s farm, and Mark Trail mentions how they need to keep a close watch. Not close enough to keep Andy and Tabby from wandering unsupervised, though. Andy tries to rescue Tabby from a skunk, realizing too late that this is not a rush-in-and-rescue situation. Even washed off he still stinks, though, so Andy goes off deeper into the woods to avoid bothering anyone. Tabby insists on following. The wild dogs, meanwhile, move into the area and surround Tabby. Looks serious.

Sunday Animals Watch!

  • Thorn Bugs, 31 May 2020. They know some things about not being eaten by predators. Do you?
  • Fossa, 7 June 2020. They’re nice and weird creatures and if I’m not wrong their name’s better pronounced “foosh”, which is pleasant to say. They’re doomed in the wild.
  • Blue Whales, 14 June 2020. There’s evidence they’re making a comeback. Nothing like how prairies dogs are making a comeback, of course, but still, a comeback.
  • Rhinoceros and Oxpecker, 21 June 2020. Great team. Some of our earliest sound films are recordings of this pair’s vaudeville act.
  • Lava Crickets, 28 June 2020. They’re doing all right in the volcano eruptions, if you wondered.
  • Maned Wolfves, 5 July 2020. Legs.
  • The Fly Geyser, Washoe County, Nevada. 12 July 2020. So as industrial accidents go this one is pretty cool. I hope it’s not screwing up the water table too badly.
  • Asian Giant Hornet, 19 July 2020. That is, the “murder hornet”; it kills as many as 50 people a year, which is about one-third of yesterday’s reported Covid-19 deaths in Florida alone. So let’s not get worked up about hornets.
  • Banksia, 26 July 2020. It’s a plant that relies on bush fires to grow and reproduce so at least it’s having a good year.
  • Iterative Evolution, 2 August 2020. So the Aldabra white-throated rail went extinct when their atoll sank. When the atoll emerged from the sea again, the animal re-evolved from its parent species, and isn’t this amazing?
  • Invasive Species, 9 August 2020. Kudzu, of course, and Tegu lizards, a “squamate scourge” intruding into Georgia.
  • Blanket Octopus, 16 August 2020. Last James Allen Sunday strip. So the male of this species “detaches a specialized arm and gives it to the female during mating”, which is a heck of a thing for Mark Trail to go out on.
  • Squirrels, 23 August 2020. First Jack Elrod Sunday rerun. Check out the flopsweat from that one on the bird feeder line, though. That’s just great. And I say this even though I have a squirrel feeder, to feed the raccoons.

Next Week!

How is Madi doing, living with her (uncle?) Saul while her dad’s busy getting arrested for his hilariously failed coup in Venezuela? We check in with Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth next Tuesday, unless things get in the way.

Why does Shoe look different? Is someone new drawing Shoe?


Oh, yeah, so, something I missed in how Gary Brookins was retiring from drawing Pluggers. Brookins has also been drawing Shoe, the other comic strip originated by Jeff MacNelly. That’s the more standard comic strip about a newspaper, diner, and politician, only they’re all birds.

According to D D Degg at The Daily Cartoonist, Ben Lansing is supposed to take over the drawing of the strip. I had thought that Brookins was retiring from both strips simultaneously but, looking at the original announcement, it looks like Brookins just said he’d turn over Shoe “sometime in August”. Last Saturday’s Shoe really did seem like a farewell to both, though.

The cast of 'Shoe' reading about how 'Our cartoonist buddy is retiring'. 'Good old Gary, what a sketch!' 'He made his mark!' 'Hard to picture him leaving.' 'But we'll always be drawn to him.' Narrative box: 'From Roz and the entire Shoe team: THANK YOU, Gary! Jeff would be proud.'
Gary Brookins and Susie MacNelly’s Shoe for the 22nd of August, 2020 as seen on GoComics. So you know that the GoComics Master Database was not designed by comic strip nerds, because the “created by” field is one entry for the whole run of the strip. Nobody told them that comic strip artists, writers, or both have been changed out for like a century-plus already! Also because they got rid of the thing where users could put keywords so that you could, later on, search for comics about “word problems” or “Star Trek” or whatnot.

Rick McKee, who’s been sharing Pluggers work with MacNelly, has that strip all to himself now, so far as I know. And because things are always confused, the GoComics page for Shoe gives a credit to Rick McKee right now, even though we’ve still got Brookins-signed strips, and that so far as I know Ben Lansing is still supposed to take over drawing Shoe. I have no explanation for this phenomenon. Comics Kingdom, which also runs the daily Shoe because of the reasons, is still crediting Gary Brookins for the art.

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? Is Gasoline Alley in repeats still? May – August 2020


I can’t tell whether the current storyline in Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley is a repeat. From May through early July the strip repeated a story from 2010. We assume this was to give Jim Scancarelli some time to research and work ahead for the February 2021 centennial of Skeezix’s debut.

So a story began the 6th of July. It feels like a repeat to me, and to many of the GoComics commenters. But nobody has found it in the archives, to my knowledge. Those archives only go back to April 2001, true. But it would be odd to reprint a strip from more than twenty years ago; strip sizes have changed since then. But there’s no definite word either way.

If I get word that this is definitely a repeat, or definitely new, or any other Gasoline Alley news I’ll post it here. Also, I expect, a new plot summary around November 2020.

Gasoline Alley.

25 May – 15 August 2020.

The story as repeated: Gertie, Walt Wallet’s caretaker, worried about the side effects of his medications. Like, they can cause hallucinations. They seem to be working: Walt calls Gertie out to see a mass of exotic tropical birds. The birds vanish before Gertie gets outside. Then there’s monkeys swinging from the trees, except when Gertie steps outside. A hippopotamus on the lawn. Gertie worries about the hallucinations until she comes face-to-face with a lion.

Gertie: 'Mr Walt! You were right! There ARE critters everywhere!' Walt, surrounded by monkeys, exotic birds, a hippo, an elephant, and so on: 'I told you so!' Gertie, pointing to a friendly lion: 'Hoo-wee! This one didn't brush his teeth!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 13th of June, 2020. This is what it’s like to have a furry convention set up in your town, by the way. You’re walking to that place where you build-your-own-tacos and whoop, hyenas!

It draws a crowd, including Polly Ballew, oddly young sister of Bob and Ray reporter Wally Ballew. (Hi, Dad!) And, finally, it draws an answer: “world’s greatest animal trainer” Clyde Bailey. These are circus animals, who escaped after “hungry vagrants” broke into their cages and stole food. Bailey’s able to round up the animals and get them back, and bring this repeat to a close.

Animal trainer Clyde Bailey, calling the animals: 'Tantor! Simba! Tarmangani! Oongowah!' The next panel the elephant and lion screeeeech to a sharp halt. The birds flying around them are probably also stopping too.
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 26th of June, 2020. I’m sorry not to share more pictures as Scancarelli draws a great cartoony animal. It looks like he had a blast with this action. I would pay for a cornball funny-animals comic book like they published in the old days drawn by him. Give me that elephant and that lion swapping vaudeville patter.


The current and possibly new story started the 6th of July, with Rover Wallet and son Boog driving home. This would fit from the end of the previous story, the Farm Collective one, by the way. They pick up a hitchhiking Joe Pye, and his three sons. On W-PLOT Radio, they hear of four “armed and dangerous” escapees from State Prison. The Pyes jump out of the truck.

On the truck radio: 'I repeat! The FOUR escaped convicts are armed and dangerous! This is not a fake report!' One of the Pye kids, riding in the truckbed: 'It IS too! We ain't armed!' Joe Pye: 'Joe Pye and his boys will sue em fo' desperation of character!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 13th of July, 2020. Wh … why are the bunnies spying like that in the first panel? Are they hoping to nab the escapees and grab the reward?

It’s hard to believe in a Scancarelli character being “dangerous”. But the Pyes agree they’re fleeing the cops, and go tromping through the wilderness. They tromp through the water, figuring this will wreck their trail. And then come the dogs. They surrender to what they take are police dogs. But they’re not; the dogs, Flotsam and Jetsam, are a woman’s.

Shari Pye, cross, and arms crossed: 'The Joe Pye I'm talking about had three sons named Red Tommy, Milferd, and Roscoe Baby!' One of the Pye kids: 'Roscoe BABY? Ha ha ha! Oh! BABY mine!' Shari: 'What're YOUR names?' Pye kid: 'Gulp! Uh ... ... Manny!' Next kid: 'I'm Moe!' Last kid: 'An' I'm Jacques!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 10th of August, 2020. I’d like to help by tagging which of the Pye kids is which but I just don’t know. They seem to reliably be shown together which makes it hard to say who’s who. Also, I know Scancarelli fought the impulse to have them declare they were Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered/Bemildred. (They were the trio of bats in Walt Kelly’s Pogo.)

The woman thinks Joe Pye looks familiar. His name is familiar too. She’s Shari Pye. Joe Pye knew someone by that name, years ago. Married her, in fact. She’d married a Joe Pye, it turns out. And had three sons who fled with Joe. Joe Pye comes clean: he’s her long-lost husband. Also, when he told his sons that their mother had died he had mixed up his phrasing. So the family’s reunited, then, that’s sure to be a good thing, right?

And that’s where the storyline stands as of the middle of August. Again, if I find evidence this is a repeat, or is definitely not, I’ll pass word on.

Next Week!

It’s a comic strip I know to be in repeats! I’ll look at the last weeks of James Allen’s Mark Trail and the start of Jack Elrod repeats. Unless something disrupts the plan. Thank you for bearing with me as we hope there is a plan.

The last new Mark Trail just ran on Sunday and it’s all reruns for now


Per D D Degg’s article in The Daily Cartoonist, yesterday was the last of James Allen’s Mark Trail Sunday panels. The dailies have been reruns from the Jack Elrod era for several weeks now. Allen continues to publish his Edge of Adventure comic strip on GoComics.

Since the world is a strange one, of course the last new Mark Trail for the foreseeable future is about octopus sex.

Although new species are found regularly, there are at least 800 known species of cephalopods! Cephalopods can be found in oceans all around the world! Asie from a species of squid that tolerates brackish water, no cephalopods live in fresh water! Aptly named because they seem to be draped in bed linens, the blanket octopus has one of the largest size differences between the sexes in the animal kingdom. While the females can reach 6 feet in length, the males are the size of a walnut. The male detaches a specialized arm and gives it to the female during mating. She will then use the arm to fertilize her eggs, producing the next generation of deep-sea denizens.
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 16th of August, 2020. And, wow; it’s amazing to think things have come to an end just as Mark Trail got relaxed enough to not button the top button of his shirt. While he’s walking on the beach. And no other time. Ever.

There’s no word yet on a new creator (solo or team). If I get any, first, it’ll probably be through The Daily Cartoonist. And second, I’ll pass word along in an essay at this link. I am still planning to do plot recaps, at least unless I get word that the strip has been retired into permanent reruns.

[Edited 25 September 2020: Good news!  Jules Rivera is taking over the comic as of the middle of October.]

Degg’s article, linked at the top of this piece, shares the first-and-last pages for the comic strip’s various artists and writers. Also the first appearance of Cherry Davis, eventually Mark’s wife. And some promotional art. And some fan art. Also the revelation-to-me that James Allen had a writing partner, Brice Vorderbrug. Maybe this was generally known to the community, but I didn’t, and that’s why I didn’t credit him in my various plot recaps. (Vorderbrug has been credited all along on Edge of Adventure.)

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? Who is Dethany and why does she look like a villain? May – August 2020


Dethany Dendrobia, the pale Goth guest star is from Bill Holbrook’s On The Fastrack. I’ll get to what she’s doing in Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy some paragraphs down. On The Fastrack is a longrunning workplace-humor comic strip. It turned up often enough when I was Reading the Comics for my mathematics blog. Dethany Dendrobia is the comic strip’s third protagonist. She took over the strip about a decade ago from previous lead character, Wendy Welding. Dendrobia is Goth, yes, and I forget whether her paleness is makeup or her nature.

Holbrook’s three comics (On The Fastrack, Safe Havens, and the web comic Kevin and Kell) go in for a cartoony world. In it, for example, the Computer Bug, source of so many problems, is a real literal character, who can speak with and negotiate with you and all. Dendrobia, hardworking and cheerful, is also Goth, fascinated by death and time’s ravages. So her “freakish”, Morticia Addams-influenced, appearance codes her in Dick Tracy as a villain. But in her home comic strip this is how a normal person looks.

While the characters are crossing over there are some differences between the comic strip universes. Dick Tracy is carrying on as though the Covid-19 disaster weren’t happening. Except for the Crimestoppers tips at the top of Sunday panels, which carry warnings about scams. People faking being from the IRS asking for stimulus check information. People running fake health screenings. Scammers telling you the schools are “safe to reopen” for in-person classes. People claiming that employers should not be legally liable for their employees getting the coronavirus at work. People selling fake vaccinations. The frauds you would expect.

On The Fastrack, meanwhile, has made the characters being locked down an important part of the story. The easy way around this is to say the Dick Tracy events happened, like, last year or so. Except both strips have built in how Dendrobia is preparing for her wedding, to Guy Wyre, this coming Halloween. (Dick Tracy also recently made a guest appearance in On The Fastrack, there as a hologram, to avoid spreading non-ironic death.)

It gets more “inconsistent”. In Holbrook’s other newspaper comic, Safe Havens, Fastrack built and launched a spacecraft to Mars. That crew went and bioengineered that planet into new life. In that strip, Dethany is the chief flight director for Fastrack Inc. There is no good reason I haven’t been doing plot recaps for that comic. But that’s even harder to reconcile with what we’ve seen here. Especially since Holbrook decided to freeze the On The Fastrack characters’ ages, when Dendrobia took over. But Safe Havens continues aging the characters in loose realtime. You never hear this mentioned by people who say they can’t understand the relationship between Crankshaft and Funky Winkerbean.

(Tom Batiuk’s Crankshaft and Funky Winkerbean both take place in the present day. But Funky Winkerbean is also a decade “ahead” of Crankshaft. That is, if a Crankshaft character appears in today’s Funky Winkerbean he’s ten years older than he “should” be. A Funky Winkerbean character appearing in Crankshaft is about a decade younger. That’s all.)

Dick Tracy.

17 May – 9 August 2020.

Actress Fortuna Dyer was getting into character for her Breathless Mahoney bio-pic. Thing is Breathless Mahoney was a villain. Dyer wants information out of B.O.Plenty, who back before his heel-face turn kind of got pretty near murdering her. Tracy gives Dyer an interview, recapping the Mahoney-Plenty story of the 40s. And asks her not to contact Plenty, who’s gone all good.

Dyer bails Shaky out of jail, a surprising fast return for last story’s villain. Shaky’s uncle, the original Shaky, was married to Breathless Mahoney’s mother. Dyer says she wants more background on Mahoney. So he’s got a job now, that’s great. The job seems to be talking about their relatives over dinner with Dyer. That doesn’t cause any conflict at all with Edison Lighthouse, Shaky’s girlfriend, whom he starts missing date nights with.

Shaky: 'Breathless, we've been at this for two weeks now. What would you say to dinner with no movie talk?' Dyer/Breathless: 'I wondered when you'd bring that up. Sure, we can go out. But tell me something ... do you shake *all* the time?'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 30th of May, 2020. “Because if you do shake all the time, well, this could be even better than that time I was dating Chef Wiggly!”

Lighthouse, annoyed at her abandonment, turns to her one friend: Ugly Crystal. You know, whom she met while fleeing the cops last time around. Over coffee at the mall Crystal recommends dumping Shaky. She doesn’t know what his deal is. But she knows someone sending his signals is not good. Lighthouse challenges Shaky, who admits to what’s going on, even though it’s a little weird.

Meanwhile Dick Tracy learns that Shaky’s out of jail, when Sam Catchem notices Shaky at the filming location.

In another mall hangout, Ugly Crystal mentions how her dad’s got a cool Oklahoma Days centennial belt buckle. And there’s a whole world of belt-buckle-collectors who’ll pay good money for that sort of thing. Shaky, eavesdropping, hears how this could be worth thousands. He forms a plan. Shaky is confident in his plan, even though his plan is quite bad. He needs cash. Dyer’s been pumping him for information, but all she’s delivered is the promise of a movie cameo. When she puts off a dinner date, he breaks in to Ugly Crystal’s home to steal her dad’s belt buckle.

So a thing Ugly Crystal maybe never mentioned to Shaky when he mistook her place for a safehouse? Her dad’s Lafayette Austin, undercover cop. Also he has like a dozen belt buckles so it’s easy to find one’s missing.

On the movie set, Shaky, playing Original Shaky, says, 'Come on, Breathless. I said I was sorry.' Dyer, as Breathless: 'No, Shaky. I don't take that from anyone. We're through!' Shaky: 'Please, baby?' Dyer: 'No. I've filed charges.' Shaky: 'You what?' Dick Tracy: 'Shaky.' Shaky: 'Buzz off! This is none of your business!' Tracy: 'Oh, but it *is*. You're under arrest.' Shaky: 'Ugh ... Dick Tracy!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 21st of June, 2020. Having yet another instance where characters play Dick Tracy characters, particularly with Current Shaky playing Original Shaky for this movie cameo, made this a confusing strip to read when it came out. What we’re seeing here, through the first panel of the bottom row, is a movie scene being filmed with Shaky playing his uncle the Original Shaky, and Dyer playing Breathless. The last two panels are the real Dick Tracy intruding, breaking up the scene with an actual real-world arrest. This seems needlessly jerky of Dick Tracy. Like, he couldn’t have waited one minute for the scene to be clear? But, Shaky responding to something off-script so plausibly suggests that maybe his real calling was an actor. He’s certainly not a competent crook.

Tracy goes to the movie set to arrest Shaky, who’s doing his cameo as Uncle Shaky. The arrest is for “harassment”, and I’m not sure who he’s harassing. But he’s got the belt buckle on him too. There’s a short fight, and a new arrest, and that’s it for Shaky.

Also maybe for Dyer. On Shaky’s arrest she drops her method-actor pose of demanding everyone call her Breathless. .

Oh, and that $2,000 buckle was actually a $20 buckle. Ugly Crystal was “worried” about Edison Lighthouse being with Shaky. And Shaky thought that baiting Shaky into stealing from Austin might “[help] save Fortuna Dyer”. Which … I guess succeeded, but it feels like some class of entrapment at least. Also it’s not clear that Tracy did much besides have the matter solved for him.


The current story began the 5th of July. It brings in Dethany Dendrobia from Bill Holbrook’s On The Fastrack. Fastrack itself is a company with a slightly vague portfolio, but a lot of what it does is data warehousing.

Dendrobia’s in Tracy Town because Fastrack is buying a new warehouse. Dendrobia’s investigating the string of construction accidents. Someone’s following her, and took a shot, tearing her overcoat. The warehouse is one that used to belong to Stooge Viller, whom GoComics commenter Neil Wick writes was the fifth-ever Dick Tracy villain, back in 1933. Viller survived a couple stories and died in 1940.

The antagonist is someone named Coney, a rotund fellow whom we meet buying a double-wide ice cream cone. And the motive: there’s a rumor that Viller hid millions somewhere in the building. But after a month of work Coney’s gang hasn’t found anything.

Tracy and Dendrobia investigate the warehouse. They find Coney and his gang. Coney insists he’s the building’s owner. So, all right. That stalls things for a couple days. Coney goes to Wilson Properties, complaining about these snoopers. Alex Wilson says the warehouse was sold by mistake and they haven’t been able to negotiate anything with Fastrack. It’s … a heck of a mistake. But, don’t worry. The real estate investment trust that fraudulently sold the building? Whose mistake results in the attempted murder and actual kidnapping and possible death of several people? They will never face a consequence.

Alex Wilson: 'What have you tried to persuade Miss Dendrobia to leave?' Coney: 'The usual cat and mouse. But she won't scare. After the last try she brought Dick Tracy into the situation.' Wilson: 'We may be on borrowed time, Coney. You've had no luck finding Viller's Millions?' Coney: 'No, but too many of his old mob remember his bragging about it being hidden in that warehouse. It MUST be there!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 30th of July, 2020. OK, yeah, but, like, Villiers was operating in the 30s. There was probably some candy bar named “Villiers’ Millions” and it was advertised as the combination bar that filled you up like a five-course dinner served to a member of the Sugar Trust. They sponsored Stoopnagle and Budd for three months in 1934.

Still, it gives underling Howdy a new chance to get rid of Dendrobia or else. Howdy by the way looks rather like Howdy Doody. This makes me think we’re supposed to recognize Coney from something, but I don’t know what. He looks generically like an ice cream mascot but that could just be good character design. He also doesn’t look anything like the iconic “Tillie” caricature of Coney Island showman George Tilyou, which knocks out the other obvious association.

Howdy gets some information from Bookworm, which might be a shout-out to the Adam West Batman. With that information he drives over to On The Fastrack and kidnaps Dendrobia’s fiancee, Guy Wyre. Howdy gives Dendrobia the ultimatum: get her boss (Rose Trellis) to let go of the warehouse and she gets Guy Wyre back.

And, the 9th of August, Sam Catchem meets up with Sleet. Catchem knew her back when she was a racketeer and paid $500 to kill him. So it’s nice they’ve gotten past that. What relevance it has to these proceedings is unknowable as of Sunday. (He was getting information about Wyre’s kidnappers.)

This catches you up to mid-August 2020. If you’re reading this after about November 2020, or want what Dick Tracy news I come across, I may have something at this link. Thank you.

Next Week!

I look through a couple months’ worth of Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley, unfortunately still in reruns for the dailies. I believe at least some of the Sunday strips are new, but haven’t checked. I’ll let you know what I find.

And one last note. Over on my mathematics blog I’m spending the rest of the year explaining one mathematics term at a time. I’m leaving a lot of mathematics terms un-explained. But you might like what you see. Thanks for reading.

Vintage Phantom: I can see Aunt Elsie’s point


I like to think I’m a good audience member. Like, I’ll try to accept the premise, best I can. My best is maybe not as good as the author hopes, but if I can see where the conclusion follows from the premise, I’ll agree the problem is me getting stuck, not them. Also, I’m aware that the conventions of storytelling, even in comic strips, have changed over the decades. That the author has a point of view and trusts that most readers will default to that point of view, at least while reading.

So, in ComicsKingdom’s current vintage daily Phantom story, written by Lee Falk and illustrated by Wilson McCoy, Diana Palmer’s aunt Elsie is visiting. And she’s learning about this strange masked man from a jungle cave whom her niece is delighted by. She tries to Mary Worth her niece into dating someone more acceptable, a rich athlete name of Jack.

Diana's aunt/caretaker Lily, explaining The Phantom: 'He wears a mask and a strange suit .. and lives in a cave in the jungle ... ' Aunt Elise: 'This is Diana's boy friend? You keep the big guest room --- my room --- for him? What it has no furniture --- except two straw mats? And why is the window open on a cold day like this?' Lily: 'Diana always leaves it open. That's the way he comes in. We never know when he'll come. He doesn't use beds. He sleeps on the mat. The other one's for his wolf.'
Lee Falk and Wilson McCoy’s The Phantom for the 26th of June, 1953, and reprinted the 6th of August, 2020. I know it’s 1953 in the strip here, and a long-distance phone call to say “I’m going to be in town Thursday” could take upwards of six days and the involvement of three battalions of the Signal Corps and maybe the ionosphere allowing for long-distance radio bouncing. But still: Why does The Phantom need a suburban house’s bedroom window to be left open? Are we supposed to believe The Nomad kept him at bay for ten years by latching the little plastic handle on the sash?

And, yeah, I know The Phantom’s a good guy, and Diana knows he’s a good guy, and all the readers know he’s a good guy. And that Jack’s being presented as … maybe not conceited, but at least a bore. But, still … yeah, when Diana’s aunt Lily lays out the facts of the matter like this? There are some flags.

What’s Going On In Prince Valiant? Wait, Aleta is Queen of the Witches? May – August 2020


Yeah, she said on Sunday that she’s Queen of the Witches. That she’s a witch hasn’t come up much lately. But when Valiant first saw her he was enchanted, and they teased a while about whether that was literal or figurative. And she’s done magic stuff lately. I don’t know if this Queen of the Witches thing is established or whether that’s a bluff, though. So that catches you up on Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant as of early August 2020. If you’re reading this after about November 2020 there’s likely a more up-to-date plot recap at this link.

Also on my other blog I’m explaining words from the mathematics glossary. No promise of comics there, but you might find something interesting. Thanks, and now back to the time of King Arthur.

Prince Valiant.

10 May – 2 August 2020.

Prince Valiant and team were just outside Camelot, dealing with local issues. Imbert, local landlord, died. His son Gareth died shortly after. The suspect: Afton and Audrey, with whom Imbert was quarreling about some land. Sir Gawain had arrived in the story to sort that out, but he hasn’t been much use to anyone. The locals figure Afton and Audrey are witches, what with how they have good crops and aren’t dead of the plague. Valiant’s son Nathan believes the women are good students of nature and learned how to farm.

Audrey lead Valiants and Nathan to the cave, key to the land dispute. Some say it contains eternal youth. What it mostly has is bats, loads of guano that are indeed good fertilizer. Valiant also notices it has a curious yellow ore, and he keeps a sample.

Audrey had brought Nathan and Val to the bats' cave, with the task of gathering fertilizer for her and Afton's gardens. As she and Nathan put their backs into shoveling the bat droppings, Val peels off to look farther along. He finds strata of tin ore running along the walls --- not uncommon in this part of Arthur's kingdom. And there is another stratum. This of a dull yellowish color, which angles down into the spring waters. The prince digs out a chunk of the yellowish ore and inspects it closely --- suddenly he believes he has found the answer to the mystery surrounding this place. He returns to assist the shoveling and the loading of the guano. When the wagon is full, the three begin their return ... while in the dark thickets outside Afton's cottage, menacing figures skulk forward. Next: The nightjar.
March Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 24th of May, 2020. This made me wonder whether guano is something you really have to gather at night. But then I guess at night most of the bats will be out, so you don’t have to worry about disturbing them? So I guess that’s an advantage? So anyway, if you somehow didn’t know what kind of person I am, now you know, it’s “person who wonders about the best guano-gathering practices because of reading a comic strip”.

Meanwhile the villagers have had enough of this, and attack Afton and Audrey’s cottage. Gawain tries to defend it, but he’s just one person, and not main cast(?) I guess(?). Afton escapes being feathered. But the mob burns her cottage. Valiant sees this and races to the scene. He bellows that the women are innocent and he can explain the deaths. As soon as they get back to Imbert’s estate, anyway.

The proof is in Imbert’s kitchen. The cook recognizes Valiant’s ore. It’s arsenic. This gives Schultz and Yeates the problem of having characters who think this is a good thing not advise newspaper readers to take poison. Valiant settles on saying how “it is rumored to aid good bodily health”. So Imbert was stealing ore from the cave, and taking it for his health. But Valiant knows arsenic is a poison, used “by assassins in the court of a distant land”. So Imbert arsenic-poisoned himself. Gareth, trying to have the same meals as Imbert, had the same poison.

With Val having solved the mystery of Imbert's death, Gawain announces his verdict to the gathered villagers: 'Matter the first: the royal archives prove Afton's claim on the land in question. Lord Imbert had no right to take possession of anything on Afton's land. Matter the second: Afton and Audrey are blameless in the deaths of Imbert and Gareth. Imbert's theft from Afton's land was responsible for his and Gareth's inadvertent deaths by poison. As the representative of the court of Camelot, I forbid any further persecution of these two women!' Then, unexpectedly, Aleta's voice rises above the crowd's murmuring 'You have accused Afton and Audrey of using witchcraft for evil purpose but I assure you, they are no more witches than are any of you! I know this because I am a witch! A witch queen from the far south! And these are my familiars, who will watch and assure that no harm comes to those I protect!' The crowd gasps as two huge creatures suddenly appear at her call! Next: the greater fear
March Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 26th of July, 2020. Aleta’s not a stupid woman. So we must ask, then. What are the experiences she has had which make her believe this is an effective way to protect women reputed to be witches?

Gawain reports that the royal records confirm Afton’s claims on the disputed land. Also, that Imbert and Gareth’s death was their own fault, and there’ll be no further persecution of Afton and Audrey. Aleta steps in to support Afton and Audrey against the claims of witchcraft. She declares their innocence and she would know, as she’s Queen of the Witches. She summons her raven familiars to put Afton and Audrey under her protection. Aleta thinks she’s helping. Our heroes leave. They trust Afton and Audrey will have a good time next week, when I look at Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy.

Next Week!

You know, I did get the Prince Valiant plot summary finished way ahead of deadline. I should be getting to work on the Dick Tracy plot recap like, four days ago. Well, shall try to have that for next week. Thanks for reading.

There’s nothing particular going on with the comic strip _Buckles_


[ Edited 8 April 2021 to add ] Everything below was true when I wrote it, in August 2020. Since then things changed. The comic strip ended abruptly in March of 2021. I have not yet heard why Buckles ended. Nor have I heard whether it was the choice of cartoonist David Gilbert or the syndicate or both. Should I learn anything I will pass it along.


Like I say, there’s nothing particular going on with David Gilbert’s comic strip Buckles. Not that I’ve heard about, anyway. This isn’t at all important but there’s been so much comic strip news around here lately I felt like it’s a shame not to keep it going.

Dog sitting up, panting, then starting to growl and finally 'ARRRGH!' as his fur gets all ruffled up and he lurches around, monster-like. Jill: 'There's a full moon tonight, Paul.' Paul, pointing towards the dog, 'Yeah ... I saw the werewolf in the hall.'
David Gilbert’s Buckles for the 3rd of August, 2020. So, you know, have fun.

Why does Pluggers look different? Did Gary Brookins stop drawing Pluggers?


And one last bit of comic strip news for the week. The question in my subject line has a slightly complicated answer. Per the Daily Cartoonist, Gary Brookins is retiring from Pluggers, this after 40-plus years in the comics business. Rick McKee, an editorial cartoonist from Augusta, Georgia, is to be the new artist. But they’re doing a phased transition, with Brookins and McKee taking turns with the strip. Brookins’s final Pluggers is scheduled to run Sunday, the 23rd of August. Of course, Pluggers still have Pluggers panels drawn by Jeff MacNelly on their fridges.

The comic strip Nest Heads is ending, like, 10 minutes from now it looks like?


I guess it’s just a week of comic strip news around here. Daily Cartoonist reports that John Allen’s Three-Generations-And-A-Dog comic strip Nest Heads is ending syndication the 31st of July. It’s short notice, yeah. Creators Syndicate, which has been distributing it, just sent the word out on Tuesday. The daily strip has been in reruns since the 22nd of June, and the Sunday strip went into reruns after the 12th of July, with a comic that incidentally mentioned The Phantom.

Title panel: Dad, dressed in The Phantom's uniform, in the jungle, sweating. First panel, Dad: 'I wonder why the Phantom never made it bigger as an action hero?' Mom: 'Believability. ... You don't wear purple spandex in the jungle without a big sweat stain problem.'
John Allen’s Nest Heads for the 12th of July, 2020. Last original Sunday strip, apparently. And sure, it’s a joke many of us make about the ol’ Ghost Who Walks. A couple months ago Nest Heads also did a bit about Pogo, which was nice to see remembered. Now that The Far Side is reprinting dailies, Pogo is the biggest comic strip in need of an online presence.

It is weird to have a strip end syndication this abruptly, and (apparently) mid-week too. It’s imaginable that the strip is changing syndicates and the announcement got all weird. If I get news, I’ll share news.

I didn’t have much cause to talk about Nest Heads here. On my other blog I did discuss times it raised some mathematical topic. I don’t know whether the links to the Nest Heads page on GoComics will still work once August starts.

2020 has been a rough year for comic strips. Also ended so far have been Ask Shagg, Moose and Molly, The Pajama Diaries, Retail, and Stone Soup. And I have doubts about Mark Trail getting back up to speed anytime soon. Granted many of these are obscure or not well-loved comics, but every comic strip is somebody’s favorite. I mean, not Zack Hill. But every other comic strip besides Zack Hill is somebody’s favorite.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Weekdays)? Why is The Phantom destined for an unmarked grave? May – July 2020


Well, The Phantom apparently went and changed destiny on himself, so who can say what’s going to happen next? Happy to catch you up on the goings on in Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity. If you’re reading this after about October 2020, or if you’re interested in the separate Sunday storyline, there is probably a more up-to-date plot recap at this link.

Also, on my other blog, I’m going through the alphabet to explain mathematical terms. I hope you enjoy that all.

The Phantom (Weekdays).

4 May – 25 July 2020.

The Phantom had caught himself some wildlife poachers, last I looked. But the poachers had wounded a lion, who’s gone into what the Llongo people call the Forbidden Forest. The Ghost Who Walks figures he has to kill the wounded lion, lest it go attacking people, and he doesn’t see any reason to ask why the forest is forbidden.

The Phantom doesn’t have much luck tracking the lion. The lion has better luck tracking The Phantom, catching him right before sunset. He shoots the lion, which seems to end the problem. And he eats the heart of the lion, respecting a Llongo tradition as promised. The Phantom lies down to unsettled dreams.

The Phantom, watching a lion: 'That's not the same lion! It's not wounded! Not leaving a blood trail! ... What am I saying? I cut out the lion's heart! Of course it's not the same lion!'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 20th of May, 2020. The Man Who Cannot Die is being pretty confident about the possibility of a Lion Who Cannot Die, have to say.

He wakes to find the lion carcass gone. Also, that the lion’s alive. And heading off on its own business. The Phantom tries to clear his thoughts. Then he sees The Python, the big-bad terrorist from before Eric Sahara. The Python vanishes into thin air, though. The Phantom tries to work out a rational explanation for this all. The woods are said to drive men mad. Maybe he had a concussion. The important thing is to get out and get somewhere safe. Like, Skull Cave, which pops in to the middle of the Forbidden Forest, far from where it ought to be.

And inside the cave is … The Phantom? The figure, who keeps calling our Ghost Who Walks “Son”, scolds him. I wasn’t sure whether this was meant to be literally the 20th Phantom. But he eventually describes Kit Walker Junior as his grandson, so that’s a good answer. Phantom Dad scolds about the events of “The Curse of Old Man Mozz”, a story from back in 2017. In it, Old Man Mozz foresaw the killing of The Phantom by a petty henchman getting in a lucky shot. That didn’t happen, because King Features and Tony DePaul worked out a new contract. And Diana Walker tipped off Babudan, who was there with a well-timed arrow.

Finding a replica of Skull Cave deep within the Llongo Forbidden Forest, in a deep wash of blue-greens. The Phantom says, 'Skull Cave isn't on Llongo land ... it's in Bandar territory! The Deep Woods of my ancestors!!'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 2nd of June, 2020. Did want to say a good word here for Mike Manley in doing a really deeply atmospheric eerie Skull Cave. Also for the colorists. The colorists for the daily comics take a lot of razzing for incompetent flood filling of strips. It’s important to point out when they’ve done a great job like this.

The Phantom protests, fairly, that he didn’t send anyone out to mess up his destiny. The 20th says they were forced to do what they did, when Kit Walker sent his son off to that Himalayan monastery. And did nothing to protect Heloise Walker. 21’st daughter was the one who captured Eric “The Nomad” Sahara, most recent terrorist nemesis of The Phantom. 20 warns that his son, having altered the course of The Phantom’s legend, “will not lie here among your ancestors”. He’ll instead be left in a faraway grave. He’s lost “the right to lie in the crypt of the Phantoms”. And threatens him with oblivion, right then and there, lost to all time.

As the 20th Phantom dissolves into an angry, flaming skeleton taunting his son with ruin, The 21st Phantom suspects something is wrong. It’s the woods, he tells himself, and chooses to leave. As he does, 20 warns that all his feeble mortal plans will be overturned. 21 starts to taunt back, hey, everybody’s plans are overturned, it’s the year — and then stops short before he can say “two thousand and … 20”.

20th Phantom: 'Hear me now ... having altered the course of the legend, YOU WILL NOT LIE HERE among your ancestors!' In front of the 21st Phantom's eyes, 20 turns into a flaming skeleton. 20: 'You have consigned yourself to a faraway grave, my son ... '
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 18th of June, 2020. So, first, my brother had that second panel on a T-shirt in high school. Second, OK, so if 21 had been shot in the back by that coward, back a couple years ago, how would his body have gotten back to Skull Cave? Would Kit Junior have been along for some reason? Or someone else from the Ghost’s support team?

The Phantom runs out of the woods, going past the illusions of Babudan and his faithful supporter Guran and Guran’s elephant. And keeps going until it turns out those are the real Babudan and Guran and Elephant. They’ve got one question for The Ghost Who Walks: what were you thinking tromping into the Forbidden Forest like that? Don’t you know that’s a good way to go mad? Why, Guran’s even seen his son Timo in those woods, and Timo hasn’t been on-screen in the comic strip since 1943. Anyway, the cause of these strange visions is rational enough. There’s fleas in the Llongo woods with a toxin that causes hallucinations. Guran’s got an antidote, though. Why not tell the Llongo about this? Well, Guran tipped off James Allen about these fleas and they’d be in a Mark Trail Sunday panel except, you know, all that drama.

The Phantom’s left to wonder the significance of his vision, though. It’s easy to shrug it off as hallucinations, yes. But The Phantom does happen in a superhero universe. More, a magical superhero universe, since Mandrake the Magician shares the continuity. (Mary Worth, too, by the way.) And, after all, Old Man Mozz did have a useful prophetic dream. So, like many of us, he’s left to sulk about the consequences of his actions.


That, the 18th of July, ends “The Llongo Forest”, 254th of the weekday continuity stories. The 20th started “The Reunion”, 255th of the weekday stories. It opens with Kit Walker getting a letter to Box 7, Mawitaan, his secret post office drop for people in trouble. It’s from Ashrama Raia, General Delivery, Nairobi. The Phantom keeps up his Jumble practice. Those are the letters of Imara Sahara, mother to Kadia Walker, nee Sahara and Heloise Walker’s schoolmate. The Phantom had broken Imara Sahara out of The Nomad’s compound before militias and American terror-bombing could destroy it. But she fled rather than stick around with The Phantom. The Phantom had advised her that someone would answer a letter set to Box 7, Mawitaan, though. Did kind of expect that thread to resume someday.

Next Week!

Will I write up the development of
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant before deadline on Tuesday?
We’ll see!

What’s Going On In Alley Oop (Sundays)? Is there a plot in Alley Oop (Sundays)? April – July 2020


So maybe yesterday you noticed I didn’t tag the recap for Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop as the weekday continuity. It’s not that I forgot that there was an ongoing story in the Sunday, Little Oop, strips. It’s more that I am not sure whether there is a story going on in the Sunday strips.

Since Lemon and Sayers took over, the Sunday Alley Oop strips have been a separate continuity. (Under Jack and Carole Bender they had been a recap-and-preview of a week’s worth of strips.), The Sunday strips are set when Alley Oop is a little kid. In February a story seemed to start: Penelope, a young science-type genius girl of the year 2020, popped into Little Alley Oop’s world. She brought him back to the present. Then then the time machine broke.

Penelope: 'Mom, this is Alley. He's going to stay with us a little while, OK?' Mom: 'No way! I'm not letting some stranger live in our house.' Penelope, holding up the Convince-O-Ray: 'Oops. Forgot to turn this on.' With a purple light shining on Mom: 'Mom, this is Alley. He's going to stay with us a little while, OK?' Mom: 'Of course! The more the merrier. I'll fix up the guest room for you, Alley. ... Wait a minute. Are you using your Convince-O-Ray on me again?' Penelope: 'Um ... no, Mom. This is my new anti-aging machine.' Mom: 'Oh, well, in that case ... ' Little Oop: 'I don't know, Penelope. Something about this invention doesn't feel quite right.' Penelope: 'It's no big deal. Now go stand in that purple light for just a second.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 21st of June, 2020. Got to say, Penelope being a little kid makes her brainwashing device more fun. And I know what you’re wondering: so could the weekday-continuity Alley Oop grab the Convince-O-Ray next time he’s in 2020? They’re all in the same continuity and everything, right? I don’t know, I didn’t think to wonder that until I started writing a caption for this strip myself.

Penelope has not been anxious about getting her time machine fixed, although there’ve been a couple attempts at it. Instead, we’ve seen Little Oop get set up in Penelope’s family’s guest room. To start going to school. To meet some of Penelope’s friends and her brother and all that. It’s read more like we’re getting a revised setting to the Sunday strips more than anything meant to go anywhere.

Teacher: 'And that's how we know that humans and dinosaurs never coexisted ... yes, Alley?' Little Oop: 'I think my pet dinosaur, Max, would disagree. In fact, I know tons of dinosaurs back home. My gym teacher is one. I mean, sure, they're not *all* great. My cousin almost got eaten by a Utahraptor, but he's a bit of a daydreamer. What I'm trying to say is that you don't have the slightest idea what you're talking about.' (Teacher points Little Oop out the classroom.) Little Oop, to another student outside the principal's office: 'I guess my teacher wants me to tell the principal all about my dinosaur friends too.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 12th of July, 2020. Incidentally, V T Hamlin handled the question of “but dinosaurs went extinct way before humans ever appeared” way back in April 1939, when the new premise of the caveman strip was just being introduced. Also, if you want to see Little Oop’s gym teacher, here he is organizing a rockball game. He doesn’t look much like Gil Thorp even for being a dinosaur.

So at this point I can’t give a plot recap because there isn’t really a plot. There’s just Little Oop getting into cute shenanigans in the present day. If this turns into a story I’ll add it to my regular plot recaps. But for now, it seems to be just stand-alone incidents. At least once you know what a caveboy is doing in 2020.

If this changes, or if I get any news about Alley Oop, I’ll post an essay at this link. Thanks for reading.

What’s Going On In Alley Oop? Is Alley Oop off the hook for Time Crime? April – July 2020


Yes, it looks like the thing where Universe-3 is prosecuting our, Universe-2, Alley Oop and company is resolved. The charges are dropped until some later nonsense happens. The original, V T Hamlin-created Alley Oop is in Universe-1, not a part of these shenanigans. Glad to catch you up on Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop, as of mid-July 2020. If you’re reading this after about October 2020 there’ll likely be a new plot recap at this link.

My other blog has given a break to reading comic strips for a while, but I am building a little glossary of mathematical terms, one a week, at this link. You might like that, too.

Alley Oop.

27 April – 18 July 2020.

In the most surprisingestly surprising surprise in the history of surprises, billionaire Drew Copious was up to something evil. Last time, Copious hired Dr Wonmug and his gang for some little time-travel adventures. This got him a pencil from the useless aliens who watched the Egyptians build the Pyramids. The pencil was a communicator to some alien named Farfell.

Ooola: 'Where were you guys? I was in 2485 for almost a year!' Oop: 'We traveled all over time looking for you, from the Big Bang to the heat death of the universe.' Wonmug: 'Finally, we went back to the moment that Copious sent you to the future and looked at the date on the time cube.' Oop: 'And we brought you back to just a short while after you left.' Ooola: 'So after a year, you finally did the easiest thing possible?' Oop: 'We really didn't want to cheat!'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 15th of May, 2020. So this is one of those little ways that time travel would change computing as we know it, by the way. (Also, in rescuing Wonmug from the past, Oop “originally” returned to ten days after he set out, earning Copious’s mild praise, then went back to just ten minutes after he set out, doing an “amazing job”.)

Copious separates Alley Oop from Dr Wonmug and Ooola. He has a test. Copious abducts Wonmug and Ooola, losing them somewhere in time, and Alley Oop has to rescue them. Wonmug’s stranded at a Beatles concert. It takes Alley Oop some time to find him, until he remembers he has a time machine. It takes longer to find Ooola, who’s hidden in the post-apocalyptic year of August 2020 2485. At least until they realize they can use the time machine to check where Copious sent her.

Oop: 'Ooola, what was the year 2485 like?' Ooona: 'It wasn't too bad. I was president of the zombies for a few months. I built affordable housing on the Moon. Oh, and I started a business selling food pills.' Oop: 'Wow! The future has food pills?' Ooona: 'No. I went out of business right away. I lost millions.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 16th of May, 2020. All right, but if she sold those little cubes of bright-colored food you saw on the original Star Trek? And if they were blocks of cheese? That would be different. My point is if someone opened a nothing-but-cheese buffet near me I would never eat anywhere else for any reason, not until I was too large to fit through doors.

Why all the testing? Because Copious wants to know if they’re up to helping him conquer the multiverse. He’s teamed up with the Nudellians, the useless aliens from the Pyramids. Copious explains they’re intelligent but gullible, and thus, useful. They sold Copious a device to travel between universes, which stopped working. We readers know why that is. To escape Time Court, Wonmug got a Universe Transit Device that locked out cross-universe travel. Copious is looking for a way to overcome that.

There’s one party Alley Oop and gang know who could help. That’s Ollie Arp and Eeena, their Universe-3 counterparts. And the ones who brought them up for trial in Time Court. And the only way to contact them is Copious’s pencil. Alley Oop sneaks up on Copious and distracts him by whacking him unconscious. Arp and Eeena debate it a little and decide saving the multiverse is worth dropping the charges.

Ollie Arp: 'I can't help but notice you guys ran out on your trial.' Wonmug: 'Oh yes ... ha ha ... well, I left my ... mechanical bull running and ... ' Alley Oop: 'I have a question. Was that even a real trial? What authority did you have to arrest us?' Ooola: 'When did you learn so much about the legal system?' Oop: 'Well, I did get into some trouble as a teenager back in Moo.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 9th of June, 2020. One advantage to making your story a comedic serial adventure is you never have plot holes. You have “hey, wait a minute” jokes set up for later use.

Arp and Eeena guide Wonmug in the use of Copious’s universe-travel device. It sends him to Universe 92, one where money was never invented. Arp and Eeena send Copious’s accomplices to Universe 212 and a hot bath. They were just “a few bad noodles”, paying off the pun set up by saying they were from the planet Nu-Dell. So the multiverse is saved, Universe-3 dropped the Time Crime charges against Our Heroes, and all’s well. That wraps things up … let’s call it the 24th of June.


The 25th of June everyone goes back to Moo. Wonmug included, since he hasn’t got anywhere else to be. Also there’s some weird giant ominous cloud looming over the Time Lab.

In Moo, Oop asks, 'So, Doc, why didn't you go back to your place? Everything okay?' Wonmug: 'I just have a weird feeling about going home.' Oop: 'Why? Are you afraid you left the oven on or something?' Wonmug: 'Haha. Something like that.' Back at the Time Lab, a gigantic storm cloud in the shape of a sinister face gathers, shooting lightning bolts.
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 27th of June, 2020. ObFuturamaReference: “Hmm, must be a friend of theirs!” (Hi, Love!)

Bad news in Moo, though. Dinny the dinosaur’s run away. But he’s not hard to find: he went to Inspiration Peak, where to canoodle with Francine, a dinosaur he met at the dino park. They’ve just started dating, no idea where this is going. They’ll see what happens. So that’s sweet.

Meanwhile, Ooola, who went off to the hot springs, is in some kind of fight. With her cry of “Die, fiend!” we reach the 18th of July and the nominal end of this recap period. (She’s rehearsing a play, we learn on Monday and Tuesday.)

Next Week!

More ghosts than usual have been walking! What did it all mean? I’ll try to say something organized about Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom (Weekdays) next week. If something doesn’t disrupt the lineage of 21 plot-recap comics snark bloggers before me. Thanks for reading.

What’s Going On In The Amazing Spider-Man? Were they lying when they said Spider-Man would come back? April – July 2020


Well, lying has to carry with it intent. I wasn’t lying when I said I planned to do my comic strip plot recaps for Tuesdays, for example. Stuff just got in the way. And it’s not as if anyone’s 2020 has gone to plan, or else I’d have written this during slack moments of Pinburgh. But as we finish another quarter-year with no new creative team for The Amazing Spider-Man, it’s getting harder to believe that there ever will be. If I get any news about Spider-Man returning to the comics I’ll report it in an essay at this link. And, what the heck, I’ll keep it in the story-update cycle at least a bit longer. This story, from Roy Thomas and Larry Lieber, ran in 2015-16.

On my other blog, I am temporarily not reading comic strips except for my own pleasure. But I am looking at one mathematical term or concept a week, one for each letter of the alphabet. These are all essays I hope bring some fresh thoughts about some familiar old notion like what “normal” is. You might like, and you can suggest topics of your own interest that I might get to. Please consider that.

The Amazing Spider-Man.

19 April – 11 July 2020.

Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner, was threatening the surface world with destruction. He does that every now and then. Something about how the surface world despoils the oceans. As ever, he’s not wrong. He brought Pharus, an Atlantean boy who contracted Tiny Tim Disorder from human pollution. White Spider-Man and Namor fought, Mary Jane brought Pharus to Metro General Hospital.

J Jonah Jameson takes the injured Peter Parker to the same hospital. (Parker was woozy after his fight with Namor.) Partly to be a decent person, but also because Parker let slip that Pharus went there. Jameson meets Dr Liz Bellman, who’s got the toxins out of Pharus, and that’s all he can get before the soldiers arrive. They figure to take Pharus into custody. Parker slips out and, as Spider-Man, uses his spider-powers to open a door. Spidey kidnaps, or liberates, Pharus, who dives into the New York Harbor. And disappears. There’s one day until Namor declares even more war on the surface world.

Peter Parker, ducking into a hospital closet, thinking: 'Namor has a grudge against the human race ... but I can't let the *boy* he brought with him become a hostage!' Coming out, as Spider-Man, thinking: 'Dr Bellman must've come out of one of THESE rooms ... ' (Opening a door) 'Bingo!' Pharus: 'Are --- are you going to HURT me?'
Roy Thomas and Larry Lieber’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 29th of April, 2020. Yes, I know, dramatic economy and it’s not like the story needs to be slower, especially given how heavy an exposition workload newspaper story strips have to carry. But, man, can you imagine how tough it would have been if Spider-Man had to choose among three doors?

Pharus swims to Namor’s ship, though, and tells of his treatment, and the kindness received. Namor doesn’t see this as any reason to call off the war, and sails back to the New York City pier he just left. He steps out to fight Spider-Man, because it would be rude not to. Spider-Man’s no match for Namor, but Pharus pleads for his life. And the life of the surface world, arguing that Spider-Man can be the brave leader who alters the surface world. Namor’s unmoved.

Mary Jane Parker arrives, offering to become his bride if he’ll spare Spider-Man. Namor refuses this, on the reasonable grounds a leader cannot put his desires ahead of his country’s.

Jameson, watching Spider-Man and Namor fight on TV: 'I don't get it Robbie! Wy isn't the army moving in on the Sub-Mariner? Heaven knows I'm no fan of Spider-Man, but that doesn't mean I want that waterlogged warmonger to kill him!' Robertson: 'Don't you see Mary Jane Parker there, Jonah? And that boy? If the army acts, they'll be caught in the crossfire!' Jameson: 'Isn't there anybody who can intervene?' Robertson: 'The President reached out to some folks who're on a mission out of the country ... but it doesn't look like the Avengers will arrive in time to save their fellow masked man!' Jameson: 'Then, whether I like it or not ... and I don't ... the web-crawler is history!'
Roy Thomas and Larry Lieber’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 31st of May, 2020. So a recurring bit that always amuses me is when someone in the strip proposes getting Spidey some backup. This always leads to the discovery that all eight thousand other superheroes in midtown Manhattan alone are out on other business. Usually that’s enough spackle to put over the plot hole. But here, Namor has announced he’s going to war, Atlantean ships have been stopping surface ships, and Namor has come to New York City, a city he’s specifically threatened with destruction before, in a situation that’s been developing for … days, at least. Weeks, more likely. Plausibly a month or more. What other thing is going on that Captain America has to deal with this afternoon?

Finally Dr Bellman arrives, asking for mercy on her behalf. She’s the spitting image of her grandmother, Betty Dean, who talked Namor out of attacking the surface world back in 1940 or so. And who Namor’s been crushing on ever since. Bellman says Dean’s last words were begging to remind Namor of how the surface world and Atlantis can share the world peacefully.

And this changes his mind. Namor can now see how his way of going to war will only lead to war. He’ll give the surface world another try, and never bother with killing Spider-Man or whatnot. Namor sails his flying Atlantis boat out of the story on the 15th of June, although it takes a little while to quite wrap everything up. Dr Bellman heading out. Reporters showing up. Spider-Man telling the United Nations how there will be peace when the people of the world want it so badly that their governments will have no choice but to give it to them. That sort of thing. Spider-Man webs out, too, so that Peter Parker can learn how Jameson isn’t buying Spider-Man Versus Namor pictures.


We get the transition to the current story the 28th of June. Peter Parker and Mary Jane walk through the crowds. A trenchcoated figure starts following. He’s Xandu. He figures Mary Jane might just help him get the Wand of Watoomb, and that will make him happy. By a wild coincidence, though, the Parkers walk past the lair of Doctor Strange. Newspaper Spider-Man, sometime in the past, teamed up with Dr Strange to stop Xandu the sorcerer. Hey, what are the odds?

At Dr Strange's door. Peter: 'He mus not be home, Honey. Let's ... ' Mary Jane: 'Wait! The door's starting to ... ' [ The door opens with a slow kreeeeeek ] Dr Strange: 'Hello, I'm Stephen Strange. What can I do for you?'
Roy Thomas and Larry Lieber’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 10th of July, 2020. Dr Strange is really at ease considering it was, like, maybe this morning that Namor was still planning to sink every surface ship that left port. I mean, the time transition is ambiguous so it’s maybe been a couple days but … like, were people just this chill two days after the end of the Cuban Missile Crisis?

Mary Jane wants to meet Dr Strange, but Peter can’t think of a pretext that isn’t weird or secret-identity-spoiling. Xandu can, though: he ‘accidentally’ bumps her hand and it sets off a weird tingling. She, claiming a strange compulsion to meet Strange, knocks on his door. Dr Strange is happy to take some time away from his job of wearing a giant pinball surrounded by flower petals to meet an actress like Mary Jane. So there we are.

This story originally started the 21st of February, 2016. It ran through the 17th of July, so, 21 weeks total. We should finish the 22nd of November this year if I haven’t counted wrong.

Mary Jane also name-drops Mandrake the Magician, another King Features syndicated comic strip. Mandrake’s a fun strip, sent into reruns in July 2013 when writer and artist Fred Fredericks had to step down mid-story, for health reasons. They’re probably going to get a new creative team for that one soon too.

Next Week!

So that rich guy who wanted ancient alien technology. I bet he was up to something good, right? We’ll find out with a check on Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop. Thanks for reading.

What’s Going On In Judge Parker? Did you see the new Sparks video? April – July 2020


Yes, I did see the official video for Sparks’s new song, The Existential Threat. If you’d like to see it, it’s here. Content warning: the animation has the style of 70s-underground-comix grand-guignol body horror. Consider whether you’re up for that before watching. I’d recommend listening anyway.

With that wholly unrelated topic taken care of let me get to business. This plot recap gets you through early July 2020 for Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker. If you’re reading this after about October 2020 there’s likely a more up-to-date plot summary at this link. I’ll also put any news I have about the comic strip at that link.

I’ve put on hold the reading-comics part of my other blog. I am still writing stuff, though, with the focus being an A-to-Z glossary, one term for each letter, publishing over the course of the year.

Judge Parker.

13 April – 5 July 2020.

Yes, it’s hard to remember as long ago as mid-April. Let me try anyway. Neddy Spencer and Ronnie Huerta’s series, based somehow on April Parker, had started filming in Cavelton. Sophie Spencer crashed filming, protesting Mayor Sanderson’s politics. And then Covid-19 hit the comic strip, the first of the story strips to address the pandemic at all. This was an amazing feat of work by Marciuliano and Manley. It has to have involved throwing out completed work to rush stuff out at deadline.

At the dinner table. Abbey: 'These are difficult times. We all know this. But more importantly, we're all here. Together. As family.' Ronnie: 'Plus one.' Abbey: 'Now that you're here you're family too, Ronnie.' Sam: 'So prepare to have your life take some bizarre narrative turns.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 20th of April, 2020. “Sooooo, ever had a secret evil half-sister? Been chased through a Mexican jungle by armed insurgents who want your dad’s autograph often?”

Neddy and Sophie barely start arguing the dragging of politics into decisions about how to spend public money when the show shuts down. Part of the lockdown, in the attempt to contain the pandemic. Ronnie stews about how she can’t even see her new girlfriend Kat, who’s to play Neddy on the show. And then Neddy’s ex-boyfriend Hank calls. She fumbles over the conversation, talking more and more enthusiastically than she would have thought. Why did Hank call? Why was she eager to talk to him?

Well, because of the pandemic. Everybody we know got locked in the Total Perspective Vortex. Enough of that and you start to ask, “was I really so upset with this person that it’s worth never having anything to do with them again?” You’re going through it too. Remember that you had reasons, and think about whether those reasons are still things of value.

Meanwhile in changing values: Honey Ballinger drops out of Toni Bowen’s mayoral campaign. She had joined Sophie’s plans for Bowen to do something meaningful, working therapy for her post-kidnapping stress. But now, with even the candidate not that enthusiastic, and the world shut down? She wants something else. The collapse of Sophie’s campaign-manager ambitions sends her talking again to Abbey. They had fought over whether Sophie going to college even meant anything after the kidnapping.

Abbey: 'Sophie, you'll never be alone! We're always here for you!' Sophie: 'I know. But you can be surrounded by loved ones and still feel utterly separate ... I ... I just want this feeling to stop. It's been over three years since everything happened. And I know that's not a long time. And that there's no timeline for getting past something like that. But I want this pain to stop ... '
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 14th of May, 2020. Jeez, you ever think how hard it’s got to be overcoming traumatic memories when you’re in a soap comic that doesn’t consistently advance in real-time? Like, it’s hard enough to spend four years as a high school sophomore but then not being able to count on whether The Incident was last fall or four years ago has to be a real head trip.

Meanwhile, Alan Parker’s mayoral campaign hits a problem: he and Katherine have Covid-19. While both look to recover, Alan Parker acknowledges he doesn’t want to be mayor enough to take him away from his family, whom the virus keeps him away from. He calls off his campaign, endorsing Toni Bowen on the way out, to her surprise. And to Sophie’s rejuvenation. She can’t wait to get the campaign going again.

And things are a bit tough for the Drivers. Sam Driver hasn’t got any lawyer work, and Alan Parker hasn’t got a campaign to manage anymore. Abbey’s bed-and-breakfast, finally completed, was ready to open as the lockdown hit. It’s cut into their finances. Abbey mentions how they were hit hard when they had to sell on the stock market, which is interesting. I mean, I know I’m bad at finance. I have two Individual Retirement Accounts, one a Traditional and one a Roth, because I could not figure out which was better for me. This way I’m sure to be at least half-wrong. But even I knew to put my spare thousand bucks into buying at crash prices. This is why I’m today the tenth-largest shareholder in Six Flags Amusement Parks. So how leveraged were the Parker-Drivers that they had to sell stocks into the crash?

Sophie: 'You want to what?' Sam: 'I want to help with Toni's campaign.' Sophie: 'So Mayor Sanderson's policies have now impacted you, huh?' Sam: 'Okay, my impetus was personal. But my drive is social.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 23rd of July, 2020. Looking forward to campaign worker Sam Driver going out and definitely not knocking on doors, not in this crisis. Just standing out on the sidewalk of some registered voter’s house, calling out, “[ something something something ] Toni Bowen [ something something ]” and answering residents’ questions with a confident, “What? WHAT? Can you speak up, please?”
Sam can’t get a rebate or early cancellation on the lease for his useless downtown office. Mayor Sanderson, who partly owns that office building, is reopening the town, the better to get everybody infected and dead sooner. So Sam turns to Sophie, offering his help in the Toni Bowen campaign.

And these are the standings, as of early July. I hope to check back in after a couple months to see what develops.

Next Week!

Oh, an exciting chance to check in on those “great new stories and art” for … oh. Yeah, King Features and Marvel haven’t got around to hiring anyone to write or draw The Amazing Spider-Man yet. So Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s reruns get another turn next week, and probably again three months after that.