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


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

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

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

The Amazing Spider-Man

17 June – 16 September 2018.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Week!

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Judge Parker.

10 June – 8 September 2018.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Week!

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

What’s Going On In Alley Oop? Did Alley Oop End? June – August 2018.


I had last week promised to look into Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker. Given the surprise announcement of Jack Bender and Carole Bender retiring from Alley Oop, though, it seemed important to change the schedule up.

Daily Cartoonist says that the comic strip will continue in reruns through the end of 2018. They’ll be deciding what to do with the comic. Perhaps it will be taken up by new writers and artists. Perhaps not. Any future news I get on Alley Oop, including plot recaps if appropriate, I’ll have tagged so they should appear at or near the top of this page. Thank you.

Meanwhile I continue to look at mathematically-themed comic strips on my other blog. You might like those. Not all of them are reruns.

Alley Oop.

24 June – 1 September 2018.

Last time I checked in, money-man M T Mentis was explaining what’s going on in Alley Oop. It was the wrap-up of the storyline where Alley Oop and Wizer, trying to get to Doc Wonmug’s time lab in 2018, ended up in 1781 Philadelphia. Mentis explained how he had used the powers of a “time machine” to recover Alexander Hamilton’s stolen commission. It had stolen by … well, himself, because that’s how time travel would work if it could work. Anyway, Hamilton gets his commission. Storyline guest star Isaac Holmes — a real person — gets named as his aide-de-camp. I don’t know if that’s historical. But Hamilton and Holmes did have impenetrable professional correspondences later on, so, what the heck. That wraps up the story.

The 4th of July they return to the present, where Oop and Wizer get startled by all the fireworks. Wonmug explains it’s celebrating the war they just left. And since it’s late and everyone’s tired they figure to go to bed. Wizer’s amazed by the light switch in Wonmug’s home. Wonmug’s amazed that Wizer hasn’t been in the 20th-or-21st century before? I would have assumed he had been. This time travel business has been going on about eighty years now. I’d have thought all the player-characters had visited one another’s times by now. Wonmug’s assistant Ava Peckedge recognizes Wizer, anyway. Of course, she also thinks the United States is looking great ever since Operation Butterfly Stomp got up to full speed, so, you know.

Wizier: 'What magic did you use to summon the light, Doc?' Wonmug: 'I forgot! You haven't been here before, have you, Wizer? It's the magic of harnessing electricity! Go ahead! Give it a try!' Wizer switches the light off and gasps.
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 9th of July, 2018. A little thing to watch for in the art is Wizer’s hat. It reacts, sometimes, to the action.

Oop and Wizer take up Wonmug on his suggestion they “help themselves” to anything in the kitchen while he slips into something more comfortable. That clears the stage for some physical comedy. Wizer burning himself on the toaster (a four-slice model, so you know Wonmug’s living the dream). Oop smashing open a can of tomato paste. Spilling open a bag of flour. Wizer cries out “Why’s it so hard to find something to eat?” and there’s an answer. From Alexa, or something at least as good. It makes sense that Wonmug, pioneering technology of literally history-shaking importance, would keep a device that monitors every sound near it. And that sometimes transmits recordings of those sounds to one of the evil megacorporations leading society to its death. It’s good operational security.

Oop (holding a coffepot): 'Doc sent us to the kitchen, so htere's gotta be food somewhere in this room!' Wizer: 'There's something in here!' (He burns his finger on the hot toaster element.) Wizer: 'OK, if there's food in that box, it's not worth going after it!' Oop: 'Aha!' Wizer: 'Did you find the food?' Oop, holding a can of tomato paste: 'Maybe! There's a picture o'food, anyway!' Wizer tries chewing the tin can. 'Is this what folks in this time eat? They must have awfully strong teeth!' (Patting a bag of flour.) 'Maybe this is something! At least it's softer than what you found!' (He pats it, spraying flour everywhere.) 'WHY'S IT SO HARD TO FIND SOMETHING TO EAT?!' Alexa: 'Searching-for-something-to-eat..." Oop: 'Who was that?!!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 22nd of July, 2018. Oh, I guess if they have a coffeepot then Doc Wonmug hasn’t got a Keurig. Good. I have no idea who turned the toaster on.

They accept Alexa-or-Siri-or-whoever’s offer of the “usual order”. Then they find how to turn the gas burners on the stove. And I don’t want to be too snarky, but, like, in the Disney Wonderful World Of Color movie The Hound That Thought He Was a Raccoon, the raccoon needed way less time than this to accidentally set the whole toolshed on fire. It was like two minutes tops from going inside to escaping the flames. Charming film except when you notice where the raccoon was chained to the ground to film the scene. Stuff like that. Anyway. Between the can and the flour and opening the fridge Oop and Wizer make a pretty solid mess before Wonmug gets from the living room to the kitchen.

Anyway, the pizza — the “usual order” — arrives. I don’t know whether to be more impressed by how fast the pizza place is or by how much time Wonmug spent dithering around before helping his caveman visitors work out the Keurig. I’m also a little surprised Alley Oop’s had so much trouble. He’s been to the Present Day a bunch of times. But even in his first modern-day adventure (collected by Dark Horse press a couple years ago) he handled 1939 Long Island pretty well. But then I have never gotten a Keurig to produce anything but rage and weak, grounds-bearing almond amaretto. And I don’t even have “coming from a prehistoric land” as my excuse.

Pizza’s a hit with Oop and Wizer. Soda pop less so, since it goes all foam-explody in Wizer’s face. Anyway, the 3rd of August — a month, reader time, since they arrived — they get down to business. Wizer’s worried about the threat of time travellers bringing disease to Moo. The story before the Revolutionary War one was about Mentis’s cold spreading through Moo. Wizer cured it fast enough. But what about the next disease?

Oop, looking at a hazmat suit: 'We really need t'wear all this?' Wonmug: 'It may be more protection than you need, but if we want to prevent the spread of illness, with this suit there is no doubt! If you haven't gotten sick in seven days, you should be safe!' Oop: 'SEVEN DAYS? Sheesh! ... C'mon, Wizer! Hurry up and put your suit on so we can go home!' Wizer: 'Wait, Oop! I want more time to talk to Doc about his 21st-century powers!' Wonmug: 'What powers, Wizer?' Wizer: 'Why, you have power over light and dark! You can control the climate, and you can summon fire instantly!' Wonmug: 'Oh ... THOSE powers!' Wizer: 'Doc, you MUST teach me your powers so I can use them in Moo!' Wonmug: 'Sorry, Wizer, but taking that knowledge to your time would change all history! We can't risk that! ... But Oop said you have a cure for the common cold! Is that right?' Wizer: 'Of course I do! Don't you?' Wonmug: 'No, we've never found that! Would you share it with me?' Wizer: 'Hmmph! NOT A CHANCE! Think of the change to history if I shared that with you!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 12th of August, 2018. But just imagine! If the modern day had Wizer’s cold-cure potion then Mentis would have gotten over his cold in time for the adventure in … 1781 … Philadelphia. Hey, wait a minute.

Wonmug has an idea. He’s got a couple hazmat suits that time-travellers could wear, at least for a reasonable quarantine period. He suggests seven days. That settles the concerns about cross-time disease, since nobody asks how they’re supposed to eat or go to the bathroom in these things. And so Oop and Wizer go home to Moo.

They’re greeted with cries of recognition! Also rocks! Because they were recognized as space aliens trying to invade Moo. This calls back to a couple storylines ago, when pantsless alien frog-plant Volzon and his mind-control ray tried to take over Moo. It’s an innocent mistake. It’s cleared up when Oop takes off his hazmat suit. Wizer warns this could make the Moovians sick; Oop argues they deserve it.

[ Wizer refuses to share the cure for the common cold with Doc. ] Wizer: 'I guess I deserved that, but I wish you'd ... ' Oop: 'Give it up, Doc! I wanna go home NOW!' (ZANG!) Wizer: 'It's nice to be back where no one is shooting at us for a change!' Oop: 'You can say that again!' Moo guard: 'Oh no! The aliens are back!' (And he throws a rock, hitting Oop in the head.) Moo Guard: 'King Guz, come quick! Volzon's back!' Guz: 'Send the word to everybody! Prepare for attack!' Oop: 'I've got a bone t'pick with you, Guz!' Guz: 'Attack! It's the pit for you two, whoever you are!' (Moovians all over throw sticks and rocks and arrows at Oop.) Oop: 'That it! I'm leavin'!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 19th of August, 2018. Wait, why does Wizer has a cure for colds if the people of Moo’s time don’t have colds?

Oop goes off to sulk. It’s one of his minor and realistic habits. He gets a lot of gripes, not all from me, about his day-saving hobby and sometimes it’s too much. He thinks of leaving Moo, starting over somewhere else. Maybe put together that rock band and record that song that’s been stuck in his head the last sixty years, something. But while moping he runs across Dinny, his dinosaur. He’s all caught up in vines and needs Oop’s help getting free. “Just like the day we met! Remember?” I guess. I never read the original storyline. Yeah, he figures, and says to a concerned Oona. He’s not leaving. What’ll he do? He doesn’t know, but he’ll relax and enjoy the view a while. Jack Bender and Carole Bender, though, they’re retiring, and there you go.

Oona: 'So what's next, Alley?' Oop: 'Hmm .. I dunno! Let's just relax and enjoy the view a while!' Oona: 'Good idea!' (They look out over the Mu swamp, with dinosaurs in the setting sun. Caption at the bottom of the strip: 'Ah! Retirement! Thanks to Alley Oop and our readers for a great ride! J + C!')
Jack and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 1st of September, 2018. Since I don’t have a better place to mention this, I’ll say, on the 7th of August — anniversary of the strip’s 1933 syndicated debut — the Benders reran a piece of fan art made in 2008 by Connor Ross. Ross has since become an art and history major in college. The panel explaining all this also teased people with the challenge of finding Alley Oop in this picture of a (realistic) dinosaur, the Saurophaganax Maximum, eating another’s tail. For those who didn’t find it, select this next block of text for the location. It’s Oop’s face, and it’s traced out in the lines of the leftmost tree, starting about center of the left edge of the dinosaur panel. There you go. You’re welcome.

So the comic strip is slated to go into reruns to the end of the year. (The first, starting the 2nd of September, is sending the gang to 1816 Switzerland in a storyline from 2013.) The syndicate will figure out what to do. Yes, I hope they find new people to produce the comic strip. I don’t like comic strips ending. Not just because the bulk of my readers are here for story-strip recaps. Alley Oop has a neat, slightly bonkers premise and I think it’s still got interesting storylines to run.

I did see commenters suggesting maybe they could rerun the earliest Alley Oop strips. I understand the desire. The early days of a successful comic strip are often most interesting. They’ll show what the cartoonist did before finding what worked best. So there are all sorts of imperfect variants on the strip’s best ideas, and odd turns and cul-de-sacs and situations that didn’t work out. It’s fascinating reading. But … look, it took six years for V T Hamlin to get time travel into the comic. Nobody reminisces how they loved reading the antics of that comic strip caveman who didn’t travel through time, because they forget that B.C. used to be a pretty good strip. But it’s okay to jump into a continuity somewhere other than the beginning. It’s especially fine if it took some time to get good.

But, given the (good as) boundless page space available on a web site, it would be interesting to see an Alley Oop Classics rerunning ancient comics. Or, if a curator could be found, something like the Doonesbury reruns. Those show samples of the storylines which shaped the major characters. This would be harder than Doonesbury, where stories advance in discrete weeklong chunks. But it’s imaginable. So it must be easy for someone else to do for me. We’ll see.

Next Week! For real!

I’ll pick up where interrupted, with Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker. If nothing else goes weird and crazy and wrong.

Statistics Saturday: What Do I Know About If Alley Oop’s Ending?


Not a thing. Nothing at all. Yeah, sorry folks, this one caught me by surprise. Shall pass on word if I get any, but I guess we’ll see what gets printed Monday and whether Olivia Jaimes takes over the strip or something. When I have more I’ll post it at this link.

It’s bizarre that they would have introduced M T Mentis as this major new character if they were only going to use him for two stories. Also that if they expected a farewell that they’d go out on a story quite as mundane as Wizer and Alley Oop getting confounded by Alexa and having pizza. (I’ll get around to that shortly.) But I hadn’t even heard rumors of the strip ending, or of the Benders considering retirement, before this.

Oona: 'So what's next, Alley?' Oop: 'Hmm .. I dunno! Let's just relax and enjoy the view a while!' Oona: 'Good idea!' (They look out over the Moo swamp, with dinosaurs in the setting sun. Caption at the bottom of the strip: 'Ah! Retirement! Thanks to Alley Oop and our readers for a great ride! J + C!')
Jack and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 1st of September, 2018. … Honestly this is probably all right since the idea I’d had ready for publication today wasn’t really ready for publication, but deadlines come and you have to do something.

What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? Cheating? In GOLF? June – August 2018


Do you like Milford? Sure, if you’re here. If you are here, and it’s after about November 2018, this plot recap has probably been superseded. More current goings-on for Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp should be at this link. Thanks and good luck finding what you need. If that’s mathematically-themed comic strips used to start discussions, you’ll want my other blog. Thanks for reading.

Gil Thorp.

4 June – 25 August 2018

Last time Gil Thorp was starting up a sequel to a story from before I did plot recaps. So let me recap that one from the distant, relatively happy times of 2016: Milford boys’ softball star Barry Bader’s father Del was on trial for drunk driving. While that trial was underway, he’d had a liquid lunch and got into a minor accident with beloved Milford girls’ softball star “Boo” Radley. She wasn’t hurt by that. She died when another car crashed into Radley’s stopped car. Del Bader has been in jail since. Barry Bader has been angry, pretty intensely so.

Two years later. Milford Trumpet reporter Dafne Dafonte nags Barry Bader into an interview about how everybody hates his Dad and doesn’t much like him. She mentions him being short-tempered, and he complains about how society casually spits on short guys. To that point I honestly didn’t realize he was supposed to be conspicuously short. Rod Whigham’s art has always avoided straight-on shots, and casually varies the angle. I didn’t attach any particular importance to apparent size.

Jay: 'I've been thinking about Dafne all day, when I should be thinking about Valley Tech.' Trumpet Editor: 'I hear you, Jay.' [ At the jailhouse interview ] Dafne: 'Do you concede that you were a repeat drunk driver?' Del Bader: 'No! I hadn't been convicted yet on my first arrest. I got railroaded.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 23rd of June, 2018. Ah, those precious moments where being correct — he wasn’t yet convicted when the accident happened — actually makes your position a bit weaker. Still, how did Dafne get to this question? That she did screw up a pretty obvious thing — that he couldn’t be a repeat drunk driver before his first conviction — suggests inexperience, which is authentic to her being a high school reporter. But we don’t see how her screw-up was reflected in the story, which other characters treat as having been reported correctly.

Eventually Dafne nags the elder Bader into an interview, too. This promises to be a glorious fiasco. Mr Bader was a ball of rage even before his drunk-driving convictions. He was also a bundle of sexist rage, offended by the discovery that a mere woman could be in charge of a courtroom. And now some teenage girl he never heard of wants him to talk about all this. I wouldn’t blame Bader for refusing to have anything to do with her. If any character ever asked Dafne what precise public service was being done by poking the Baders I never saw a good answer. It’d be interesting? I guess, but that’s not by itself journalism.

Del Bader starts off all right: his wife and son are struggling without him, and he’s treated as an awful person, for an accident. He points out how “Boo” Radley being an attractive, popular teenage sports star makes people view him more harshly than they would “if I’d hit a 50-year-old named Joe Smith”. But he also tries arguing, like, he was not a repeat drunk driver. He hadn’t been convicted for his first arrest yet. “I got railroaded”. Sometimes the literal truth does not make your case better.

Dafne: 'I let the Baders know roughly what to expect, so Barry shouldn't be --- ' Barry: 'YOU SNAKE! You lied! You told us you'd be fair!' Dafne: 'I was, Barry. I stand by every word. The dad you described isn't the one I met. And you KNOW I didn't misquote you.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 7th of July, 2018. I understand Barry Bader should have a different view on his father’s conviction than other people have. And that there’s only so much space a comic strip can have. But I did feel cheated there weren’t any specifics. Like, what’s something that Dafne reported that Barry believes was wrong, or unfair? I feel like that would have given the emotions shown in the story more effect.

Dafne writes a story leading off, “three hours from his comfortable home in Milford, Del Bader is in prison — and in denial.” It’s a catchy start and I hope someone ran it past the school paper’s attorneys. Barry Bader is furious. But his mother — she asks Dafne to come over. She wants to do an intervention. Mrs Bader has Barry sit down and hear about how his father really screwed up, and is screwing up Barry. And Barry needs to think seriously about being something besides a weirdly intensely angry high school athlete.

I’m not sure the exact role Dafne serves by being there. I suppose just that having an outside yet semi-involved party can keep a family dispute from growing too intense. Anyway it all seems to have a good effect. Bader returns to the team apologizing for being such a jerk. And he gets to close out his senior year hitting a three-run inside-the-park home run. Not bad, yeah.


Kevin: 'I'm glad for Ryan, but how come he's getting recruited and I'm not?' Gil Thorp: 'Because unlike you, Kevin, he had the foresight to be a left-handed pitcher.' Kevin: 'Good point ... but I'm still gonna take it out on Madison.' [ Sure enough: two homers, four RBI! ]
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 18th of June, 2018. As much a sideline as it was, I was endeared to Kevin Pelwicki’s weird little intense, nerdly turn towards perfecting his baseball technique. It’s revealed in the story that Pelwicki affects a pose of being a lunkhead. But actually gets better grades than I did in high school. And hey, look how I turned out! … so. Uhm.

There is — well, not really a subplot. Subplot, to me, suggests something that highlights the main plot, either by contrast or by reinforcement. This is just other stuff going on along the side. Senior Kevin Pelwecki got crazily obsessed with setting records and getting a college baseball scholarship. Coach Gil Thorp, rising above the cliche that he doesn’t really care, helps Pelwecki get his play up to form. But he’s not that serious about finding a college team that’ll offer Pelwecki a spot. He’s able to get Pelwecki a tryout, although as best I can tell the same tryout anyone would. That’s all right, though. Pelwecki finishes the season with 11 home runs, third-highest for the team, and comes to realize that he didn’t really want to play college ball. He wanted to be good enough that he could. I can understand that.


So Bader’s and Pelwicki’s storyline finished off, the 28th of July. with the 30th of July started the new, current storyline. It features the Official Sport of Comic Strip Artists For Some Reason: golf. (I think the reason is that golf was The Sport for Army officers in World War I. So Army enlisted men tried it in World War II. And since every comic strip from 1946 through 1969 was started by someone who’d been enlisted in World War II they carried their interest over.)

Wilson Casey and Tony Paul are really interested in golf. And seriously interested too: they’ll play in the rain, because hey, they get course time nobody else wants. They’re not Milford students; they attend St Fabian, and there’s mention that Gil Thorp is coaching them as part of his summer job. All right. Casey and Paul are really into the game. They just wish those snobs from Pine Ridge weren’t so obnoxious. And this sets off my Jim Scancarelli alarm. “Pine Ridge, Arkansas” was the setting for long-running old-time-radio serial comedy Lum and Abner. Probably just coincidence, though. The defining traits of both Lum and Abner — and most characters from Pine Ridge, Arkansas — was their complete lack of guile. This is not an accurate characterization of these kids.

In qualifications for the Valley Juniors golf tournament the Pine Ridge kids are teamed up with Blackthorne Country Club kids. And they together start cheating, cutting a few strokes off their holes. The St Fabian kids are ruthlessly honest about their play. In an earlier game one had counted a bunker as two strokes because he believed he felt his club strike the ball twice. Paul hits for 83; Casey for 82, scores Gil Thorp said should qualify them easily. The cheaters turn in scores in the 70s, and bump Paul and Casey out.

Pine Ridge pro: 'Sometimes a kid gets on a roll.' Gil Thorp: 'But not EIGHT of them, playing together. You're the adult. If you let this slide, you'r as guilty as they are.' (Later, to his players.) Thorp: 'In a sport built on honor, they cheated, but that doesn't diminish what you did.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 23rd of August, 2018. The tournament scorekeepers were skeptical about the Pine Ridge and Blackthorne players’ scores, but had nothing to go on.

They’re stunned. They know the guys were playing in the 90s the previous week. I admit I’m stunned too; I had just assumed in this sort of contest some tournament official would follow each group. Shows what I know. Well, there’s stuff at pinball tournaments you probably wouldn’t guess happened either.

Thorp goes to the Pine Ridge Country Club pro with the question: come on, srsly? The Pine Ridge guy shrugs, saying, hey, golf is a streaky game. Sometimes a group of eight teens will all happen to play fifteen strokes better than their average all at once. Thorp tries to honor-shame the Pine Ridge guy, and goes back to his players with talk about how good their performance truly was.

And that’s the current standings: a summer storyline about cheating in golf. I realize it’s easy to snark about the insignificance of the subject. But it’s resolutely the sort of thing Gil Thorp is the right comic strip to write about. Really I’m still getting over learning that cheating in tournament golf play is apparently just that easy.

Next Week!

Has Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker gotten all plot-heavy and crazy? We’ll just see what might or might not have happened.

Yes, I’m Still Trying To Work Out ‘Graffiti’ And It’s Not Going Well


All right, so, wait. I got myself all ready to believe that Gene Mora’s Graffiti has got to be in reruns because at the top it reads “Copyright 2018 UFS Dist. by Andrews McMeel for UFS”. And UFS here is the United Feature Syndicate, which hasn’t been around since 2011. It had sold its licensing over to Iconix Brand Group, whose Wikipedia page claims they could get licensed products into Sears, KMart, and JC Penny’s. So I’m sure these are people who can handle the future of licensed Fort Knox merchandise. And then it sold the rest of itself to Universal Uclick, as part of that stage of pre-revolutionary capitalism where every thing is divided up between the bigger company and the smaller company. So it’s got to be reruns, with the copyright date just changed because somehow they can do that when they reprint comic strips for some reason. And fine. But then I got looking at one of John Graziano’s Ripley’s Believe It Or Not strips from last week.

1. While digging the Metro Red subway line in Los Angeles, crews uncovered fossils containing 39 species of newly discovered extinct fish. 2. The municipal police in Madrid, Spain, have successfully trained a service dog to demonstrate CPR. 3. A negative Kelvin temperature is actually hotter than a positive one.
John Graziano’s Ripley’s Believe It Or Not for the 2nd of August, 2018. The thing about negative Kelvin temperatures touches on my mathematics specialty. I wrote on my other blog about what negative absolute temperatures are, and why they’re real legitimate things, and why they are actually quite hot. I like to think it’s accessible to a normal person. HemingwayApp rated the prose at about a sixth-grade reading level. Give it a try, please. I love the topic. Also it still weirds me out to write “Graziano’s Ripley’s Believe It Or Not”.

OK, and that’s also got a Distributed by Andrews McMeel for UFS sticker on it. And that strip talks way too much about quirky oddball news items, printed one lead-time after everybody heard about them, for them all to have been made before 2011. Unless John Graziano’s Ripley’s Believe It Or Not is eight years into the most astounding string of forecasts of future mildly quirky events ever known to humanity and they’re saving that to reveal on the comic strip’s centennial this December.

That or both Gene Mora and John Graziano got like ten thousand “Distributed by UFS” stickers printed up and they’re not going to waste them until they’ve used every one of them up. Or someone at Comic Strip Master Command decided to keep the name UFS around, as a sentimental thing for fans of comic strip syndication companies. Which, all right. So that’s something for me and maybe like nobody else in the world ever.

So in short I don’t know what’s going on with this weird minor comic strip. And if I ever find out, it’ll probably be a little bit disappointing.

What’s Going On In Mary Worth? Special Zippy the Pinhead Edition, May – August 2018


I thank you all for your interest in Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth. My most recent posts about the strip should be at this link. If it’s past November 2018 by the time you read this, I may have a less out-of-date essay for you. And I’ve got comic strips discussed by their mathematical content over here. Please enjoy that, or this, as you like.

Also please enjoy this bit from a sequence of Bill Griffith’s Zippy the Pinhead. It’s from an August 2002 sequence where a strangely realistically-drawn woman turns up in the underground-styled comic strip. I discovered this from reading a strip compilation I borrowed from the library and felt as though Griffith were drawing a storyline just for me. (The woman turned out to be from — well, I won’t spoil the story unnecessarily.) And it’ll make a nice graphic for those times, like today, when the auto care place hasn’t updated its inspirational-despair sign.

[ 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. I’m seriously considering using the last panel of this as my icon for What’s Going On In Mary Worth essays. There’s a similar, though less great, panel for Judge Parker and a fair one for Mark Trail. The one for Apartment 3-G would be great but that strip exists only in Vintage form anymore.

Mary Worth.

14 May – 5 August 2018.

Mary Worth had just talked a despairing Wilbur Weston off the cliff face last time I checked in. He’d been going through a rough time. His column got dropped from the local newspaper. His former girlfriend had a shiny new boyfriend. His shower radio broke. His daughter’s off in Europe arranging a major professor-student relationship scandal. But she promised him things weren’t as dire as all that. And he figured he could go along with a gag.

It worked out well, too. The local newspaper reinstated his paper, citing reader demand. I swear I didn’t write in. I’m cutting back on my ironic reading of stuff. His daughter writes in to say how he’s happy and nobody from the college Human Resources department has asked any questions. And Mary treats Wilbur to a dinner with friends during karaoke night. And they push him to actually performing for once. It’s one of those moves that either turns out great or disastrous. Here it turns out great. He sings the theme from The Golden Girls. It’s one of those moves so corny that it falls over the edge to be sweet again.

[ At Karaoke ] Wilbur: 'SING in front of all of you? No, I can't!' Mary Worth: 'You can! We're here to cheer you on!' Iris: 'Let it out! We know you want to!' Professor Papagoras: 'What have you got to lose?'
Karen Moy and June Bridgman’s Mary Worth for the 31st of May, 2018. “Will you be less anxious singing in public if we tell you we’ve all heard you singing in your shower for years now? No? Huh. Well, uh, what if we tell you we were fibbing about hearing you sing Frank Crumit’s `The Parlor Is A Pleasant Place To Sit On Sunday Night’ every morning, then? No?”

And that’s followed by a week’s victory lap. Mostly Jeff telling Mary Worth how great it is that she can fix people up and not marry him. The new, and current, story started the 10th of June.

It’s about Iris’s son Tommy. He’s flirted successfully with coworker Brandy. They have a late-night dinner together that goes well. He’s figured he’s in love already, and he’s only more sure when they go to see Action-Adventure Movie. They do talk about the movie a little, about what you do when you lose choices and about trusting in strained circumstances. It all feels like foreshadowing. Also slightly foggy movie discussion, but I accept this as a convention of the medium. (Any actual movie, even if it were on point, would be out of the theaters before Moy and Bridgman could depict it in the strip. And there’s not the space to describe a made-up movie’s plot in detail.)

[ When Brnady reveals why she doesn't drink ] Brandy: 'I saw firsthand what the misuse of alcohol and drugs can do to a person you love.' Tommy: 'I'm sorry about what you went through growing up.' Brandy: 'Sigh. It affected my trust in people. My father became a different person when he drank and used drugs! He beat my mother ... and he cursed at me! When he suddenly left us ... we struggled to make ends meet! That's why I don't drink or do drugs! Just the thought of it makes me sick!' [ Tommy feels ashamed of his past. ] Tommy, with that deer-in-headlights stare, thinks: 'GULP!'
Karen Moy and June Bridgman’s Mary Worth for the 15th of July, 2018. So for people who weren’t reading along, Brandy was named for that song about what a fine girl she was and a good wife she should be. Tommy correctly recognized this reference and sang a bit of the song to her. Tommy also recognized the wordplay implicit in a woman named Brandy who resents drink. She likes him anyway, so we know this is true affectionate coexistence.

Going to the bar afterwards reveals the drama. Brandy doesn’t drink alcohol. Her father was an alcoholic and drug abuser. She doesn’t want that kind of trouble in her life. Tommy doesn’t drink either. He quit after getting addicted to alcohol and painkillers. He’s been clean for over a year now, and has a support group that he feels comfortable with. Brandy’s talk about how this damaged her ability to trust people, and how she can cope with it only by banishing drink and drugs from her life, shatters Tommy’s hopes.

He’s spent the time since then in a self-inquisitive spiral. He’s clean now, yes. But he did get hooked. And he worries about relapsing. He started using alcohol and painkillers after he was badly injured at work, yes. So, you know, he’s not one of those people who have drug problems because they’re bad. He just needed relief from never-ending severe pain. Still, he can foresee Brandy learning about his past and blocking him out. (And for all my snark, I agree both Brandy and Tommy have reasonable fears that they act on appropriately.)

[ As Mary returns from shopping ] (Her grocery bag breaks open, with cans of tomatoes falling out.) Mary Worth: 'OH NO!' [ She's offered a helping hand! ] Tommy, picking up cans: 'I GOT IT!'
Karen Moy and June Bridgman’s Mary Worth for the 24th of July, 2018. I admit this is not a load-bearing strip for the current storyline. But I am tickled by the first panel making a grocery bag tearing into an action scene. And also that Brigman does so well with it.

But Tommy remembers what comic strip he’s in. He lays out the situation for Mary Worth. She offers the reasonable advice that she would have to learn of his past. But also that Tommy is not Brandy’s father. But this is serious stuff, so she kicks the problem up a level, to God. Tommy goes to confession, revealing that I guess he’s Roman Catholic too. And he gets some decent talk about growing through your sins.

So that’s the standings as of early August, 2018.

Dubiously Sourced Quotes of Mary Worth Sunday Panels!

  • “The greatest test of courage on the Earth is to bear defeat without losing heart.” — R G Ingersoll, 13 May 2018.
  • “There was never a night or a problem that could defeat sunrise or hope.” — Bernard Williams, 20 May 2018.
  • “Find a place where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.” — Joseph Campbell, 27 May 2018.
  • “My friends are my estate.” — Emily Dickinson, 3 June 2018.
  • “To acquire knowledge, one must study; but to acquire wisdom, one must observe.” — Marilyn vos Savant, 10 June 2018.
  • “Don’t fall in love; rise with it.” — Amit Abraham, 17 June 2018.
  • “Pray that your loneliness may spur you into finding something to live for, great enough to die for.” — Dag Hammarskjöld, 24 June 2018.
  • “The simple act of caring is heroic.” — Edward Albert, 1 July 2018.
  • “Gamble everything for love if you are a true human being.” — Rumi, 8 July 2018.
  • “We all have our secrets. We all have our vulnerabilities.” — Brett Dalton, 15 July 2018.
  • “Fear is the mother of morality.” — Friedrich Nietzsche, 22 July 2018.
  • “When in doubt, tell the truth.” — Mark Twain, 29 July 2018.
  • “Repentance means you change your mind so deeply that it changes you.” — Bruce Wilkinson, 5 August 2018.

Next Week!

The Rat Must Die! So did The Rat die yet? I check back in on the Sunday continuity of Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom. See you then!

What’s The Deal With The Comic Strip Graffiti?


I don’t mean to pick on utterly harmless obscure comic strips. A lot of them are. And I have some knack for discovering comic strips so obscure that I’m not even sure the cartoonist’s family knows it’s being made. So please understand, I’m not saying that I want Gene Mora to quit writing and drawing Graffiti. But, I mean, look at yesterday’s.

Written on a wooden plank wall; 'Don Rickles was the first Dale Carnegie dropout'.
Gene Mora’s Graffiti for the 31st of July, 2018. There’s, like, no information about the comic strip anywhere. Like even Wikipedia just lists that it’s a comic strip with a name beginning ‘G’, and it doesn’t even get into the question of whether this actually is a comic strip. The comic strip’s About page doesn’t say anything about when Gene Mora was born or how he got into cartooning or how Graffiti totally runs in like three hundred newspapers worldwide. (Comic strips always say they run in about three hundred newspapers worldwide.) The strip just exists without any causal agent.

This … has to be a rerun, right? I mean, yes, comic strips usually have a weird lag in their pop-culture awareness. And that lag only gets worse as a comic strip ages. And Graffiti has been running since Apollo 9 was on the launchpad. I guess? I don’t know. Sometime 1969 anyway. It might have been running only since Apollo 12 was on the launchpad. So given that it would be remarkable if the comic strip could reference anything more current than Disney’s Dinosaur.

And please understand, it’s not like I dislike the thing. I even have a weird nostalgic feeling about it. I remember as a kid reading it in the News Tribune. It was one of those weird comic strips they didn’t allow on the comics page. It just floated around somewhere in that section, waiting for people to happen across a drawing of a wall with text on it.

I mean, the copyright is 2018, but that doesn’t mean anything anymore. Why would it be copyright Andrews McMeel when they haven’t called themselves that since 2011? Right? Unless Gene Mora just had a whole lot of page blanks with the old name put up and is still using them? Which is ridiculous, but if you’re anything like me you know how long a comic strip still in production will show last year’s copyright sticker even after the new year’s begun. And, like, comic strips that would seem to take a lot more work, like Funky Winkerbean or Andy Capp, famously got a year or more ahead of publication. Could Graffiti? I just don’t know.

Don’t read the comments, but yeah, commenter, I’m sure a lot of people get their lives ruined when they’re sued for being politically incorrect. Happens all the time.

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? Who Told Mark Trail ‘Fetish’ Was A Word He Could Say? May – July 2018.


If you want my most recent recap of the plot in James Allen’s Mark Trail, please, enjoy it at or near the top of this link. If you read this before about November 2018, that’s likely this essay. If you want to see the mathematical content of comic strips discussed, please look to my other blog, which I also can’t decide whether to get a professional WordPress package and hosting deal for. Thank you.

Mark Trail.

7 May – 28 July 2018.

Mark Trail‘s current storyline began in April. Either the 16th of the 26th, depending on whether a couple strips about “Dirty” Dyer planning to kill Mark Trail come into play in the current story. Dyer’s been seen in interludes for quite a while now, a promise of a story to come. I’m still unsettled to see Mark Trail using any narrative technique besides “and then Mark punched the poaching smugglers right in the beard”.

So Mark, Cherry, and Rusty Trail were to visit the Azyoulik Resort, near the Mexican village of Santa Poco. They’re there to see wildlife and check in with an archeologist friend of Mark’s. James Allen has a bit of a taste for pulp adventure stories. His side project (with Brice Vorderbrug) is a weekly strip, Edge of Adventure, that’s entirely pulpy adventure action. Mark’s archeologist friend is Professor Howard Carter. So at this point anyone a little genre-aware knows the ending. At best someone is going to have to jump into a vortex of death rays to prevent some ancient unstoppable evil from eating the world. Fantasy/Science Fiction reviewer James Nicoll has asked how responsible societies allow archeology. The question has no answer.

Man on Beach: 'This whale got stuck here at the end of low tide!' Woman: 'Poor thing! I wonder what kind of whale it is?!' Mark Trail: 'It's a Minke Whale!' Man: 'Now, Mister, REALLY? How in the world do YOU know that?!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 15th of May, 2018. I am always delighted when a story strip character responds to something with way more emotion than the situation will bear. So Minke Whale Skeptic there is fantastic. It’s the sort of panel that will keep me looking forward to a strip for years afterward.

There’s some commotion at the beach. Turns out a whale got stuck on the sand. Mark is on the scene, happy to explain it’s a Minke Whale. He would have explained all sorts of amazing things about how humans are killing them, except a square-headed man asks how Mark could know that. But the conversation gets distracted by the plan to push the whale back in the water. The reader gets distracted by Mark standing there shirtless on the beach while grinning a little weird. Anyway, this goes well for the whale. The square-headed man apologizes for doubting Mark. And it works well for Rusty too, as this whale-saving impresses Mara, the girl he cute-met on the airplane. They go off looking at toucans after dinner.

Mark Trail: 'How do I know that is a Minke Whale? ... Let's just say that I know a little something about wildlife!' Cherry: 'Mark, listen, the tide is starting to come in!' Mark Trail: 'Right! Maybe if we work together, we can get this whale back in the sea!' Cherry: 'Well, if the tide is coming in, that should help!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 16th of May, 2018. While I want to appreciate Mark Trail’s quiet confidence in his own authority HOLY COW MARK TRAIL HAS NIPPLES HOW LONG HAS THIS BEEN ALLOWED TO GO ON.

To the main plot, though. Professor Carter’s discovered a 2500-year-old lost temple (GET IT?). It’s a weird one. How weird? Weird. There’s a good week or two of driving to the temple that establishes some of the practical points of how the expedition is going. And it shows off Central American wildlife. The generic strip this whole story has been a single panel of a couple characters talking, usually inside a building, sometimes in a vehicle, while off on the right edge of the panel a cacomistle or a tayra or something goes about its business. Yes, we all want to see capybaras, but they don’t live that far north naturally.

Mark, Rusty, and Mara arrive at the temple and agree that it’s creepy. It’s a neat illustration. Architecture overgrown with plants is very hard to draw. But is it creepy? Mark and Rusty Trail agree that it’s weird, but can’t pin down how. I don’t know enough about Yucatan architecture of the fifth and sixth centuries BCE to know how either. They meet up with Howard Carter, whom Mark joshingly referes to as “you old tomb raider”. The National Authors Advisory Council on Unconscious Racism issues a Problematic Tropes Watch.

What’s so strange about the ruins doesn’t get exactly explained. Lidar, the use of pulsed laser light to map terrains, gets explained. But what’s archeologically mysterious about the four temples? Not so much. But there are some things established.

[ The truck arrives in front of a fairly tall, multi-tiered, complex Mayan-ish pyramid covered in plants; there's a huge grimacing, fanged face sculpture at the lower right corner of it. ] Truck Driver: 'Well, here we are --- I told you. Kind of creepy!' Rusty: 'WOW! Dad, look! How cool is that?' Mark Trail: 'Settle down, Rusty!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 19th of June, 2018. So just how rambunctiously was Rusty looking at a 2500-year-old temple and calling it cool that Mark Trail had to tell him to settle down? I’m not saying this question is interesting enough to make a fanfiction about, but maybe he was bounding around like a dog you took with you through the car wash or something.

Carter notes the carvings are not-quite-right for Mayan ruins. Perhaps, he says, the site simply predates the classical Mayan look’s development. This seems quite reasonable to me. I waited for some reason why I shouldn’t accept that explanation. Carter goes on to explain how some of the locals they hired as diggers had more sinister and pulpy ideas. “They believe this place was built by a more primitive, savage tribe — a tribe that routinely engaged in dark rituals!” And the National Authors Advisory Council on Unconscious Racism raises their advisory to a Warning. They also recommend casting a Mexican or Mayan person in a player-character role with all deliberate speed.

(To clarify my boring politics here. I don’t accuse James Allen of trying to write a racist story. I know nothing of him or his motivations beyond his comments on the Comics Curmudgeon blog. And what one can learn from reading the stories he writes. That is, what kinds of subjects and plotlines he finds interesting, or plausible, or salable. That’s not an exclusive or. That lets me say that he enjoys lost valleys and ancient peoples and forgotten civilizations like you got in late-19th and early-20th-century adventure tales. Remember one of his first weeks writing Mark Trail was Rusty Trail dreaming of being in the Lost World. And that’s fine. But those tales had a lot of late-19th and early-20th-century racism baked into them. Drawing on the elements that made those stories can summon that racism even against all the best intentions to write an exciting archeological mystery story. To put the words “primitive, savage tribe” in the mouth of the archeologist — even at the remove of “I’m just saying, I hear people saying this” — is unsettling. “Savage” is a value judgement, and a pretty ripe one coming in the pop culture of a country whose leader gloats at stealing children to lock them in dog cages. “Primitive”, too — a people’s understanding or practice of something can be primitive. Their calendar might poorly track the astronomical features it’s meant to. Their art might have few traits of specialized, focused development. Their clothing might be made more laboriously and be less useful than some available innovations would allow. Their mythology might be boring. But the people are as smart, as curious, as involved with each other, and as interested in their world as we are. If you call someone else primitive, then, remember that so are we.)

Carter can’t take Rusty and Mara inside any of the temples. But he can show them, and show Mark, some of the artefacts excavated. He mentions how much each piece is worth to any museum. And how they make a 3-D scan of every artefact before moving it to a secure facility. Also hey, it’s a bit odd that his assistant Becky, who’d had dinner with the Trails the night before, wasn’t in today. Oh and hey, did you know they’d be worth even more on the black market? Anyway, if other archeologists think you’re a bit artefact-classification mad you might be a touch out of control.

Carter, showing of the artefacts room: 'After cleanup, Becky does a 3D scan of everything! I think that is a little overkill ... but she is adamant about it! She gets totally obsessive about artifacts!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 12th of July, 2018. “Anyway, I’m sorry Becky can’t be here today. She was saying something about having to close on four mansions in Belize, I think? Seems weird, especially after she bought that apartment building in San Salvador two weeks ago and hasn’t even got to ride in her new private jet. Sweet woman, though.”

Mark joshingly asks if Carter’s found any gold fertility statues lately. You know, like hold on while I process Mark Trail being aware of the existence of human fertility. Sorry. You know, like their nutty old archeology professor Doctor Jones claimed to have found in some Chachapoyan death-trap temple. (GET IT? Yes! Like when you start multiball on the Indiana Jones pinball game. I’m guessing it’s in the movies too. Haven’t seen them.) And then Rusty runs across a weird little toothy, black-skinned doll. Mark identifies it as a “Zuni Fetish Doll” and yes I know that he doesn’t mean that kind of fetish but who even taught Mark Trail such a word as “fetish” exists? What were you trying to do to the world? Are you proud of yourself?

Anyway. Carter says he got the doll “the same way other people supposedly have gotten it”, delivered anonymously in a box. And, you know, he playfully leaves drinks and a cigar for it every morning. In the evening, the drinks are gone, the cigar’s smoked, and the doll’s face-down ten feet away. I never did trust that Elf on a Shelf guy. Carter figures it’s Bill and Ted having an excellent adventure by playing pranks. Anyway, that’s where the action stands near the end of July, 2018.

Sunday Animals Watch

How much nature has been in the last three months’ worth of Mark Trail Sunday informational panels? This much!

  • Harris’s Hawks, 6 May 2018. Not yet endangered, somehow.
  • Elephants, 13 May 2018. Humans love elephants so much that we’re going to kill every last one of them, apparently.
  • Lionesses with manes, 20 May 2018. Endangered, sure, but also so very tired of people on Twitter who want to show off they’ve heard of XX and XY chromosomes but don’t actually study genetics.
  • Rhinoceroses, 27 May 2018. Endangered for their horns and the way they unnerve spell-checkers.
  • The Au Sable River, Michigan, 3 June 2018. Hey, I’ve heard of that river! Anyway, Nestle’s probably going to steal it, but claim it wasn’t really theft because they paid the state $7.25 for the water.
  • Howler Monkeys, 10 June 2018. Remarkably not endangered except when it’s like 5:30 in the morning and they just keep, you know.
  • That Yellow Cardinal, 17 June 2018. Cardinals are probably okay; yellow, though? Huh.
  • Peppers, 24 June 2018. Not endangered, although hey, it turns out they could endanger you so that’s something to look forward to.
  • Paper Nautilus, 1 July 2018. It’s a shelled octopus. Not endangered, but wait until we figure how to pass their meat off as “dorsal cod” or something.
  • Iguanas, 8 July 2018. They’ve turned invasive in Florida, as though Florida didn’t have enough to deal with.
  • Eastern Cougar, 15 July 2018. Extinct. Good job, everyone.
  • Royal Flycatchers, 22 July 2018. Some species of royal flycatcher are ecologically vulnerable.
  • Ants, 29 July 2018. Um, OK, apparently there’s a newly-discovered southeast Asian species of ant that can explode and it seems like we should maybe have a plan in place in case it turns out most insects can just spontaneously blow up on us?

Next Week!

Wilbur Weston had been pulled back from the precipice of despair and the Pacific Ocean. But what comes after that step toward emotional healing? We’ll have a report on how everything is coming up mayonnaise next week, with Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth. Also other plots.

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? What Is Walt Wallet’s Toothpaste Conspiracy Thing? April – July 2018


I’m glad to be here. I’m glad to say that Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley seems to be back out of reruns and into new strip production. If I write anything after about mid-July 2018 about the strip it should be on this page. So if the story I describe clearly has resolved by the time you read this, maybe that page will help you to a more useful story summary.

Comic strips with a mathematical theme I review on my other blog, each week. The latest essays about that are on this link. Thanks for considering me.

Gasoline Alley.

29 April – 21 July 2018.

Last time I checked in, Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley seemed to be running new strips on Sundays. After months of reruns every day of this week this was a good sign. It didn’t get the strip back to its full healthy serial-comic main nature. But it was evidence that Scancarelli was at least alive and well and getting the strip, in its 99th year, back on its feet. The daily strips — the ones that run a serialized, comic story — were running repeats from 2007. They’re not, anymore. It looks to me that since mid-June the comic strip has been new, telling what as best I can tell is an original story. But let me get those old stories out of the way.

Corky’s Diner. The perpetually drunk and incompetent Suds wants his dishwashing job back. The perpetually perky and incompetent Joy and Dawn want the dishwashing job. They’re having a race to see who can clean the most dishes. Joy and Dawn win by one plate, which they accidentally break while celebrating their victory. Joy and Dawn decide they don’t want the dishwashing job anymore. They thought it might be “the fast track to management”, and instead they’re washing dishes. So they quit, to try to their hand somewhere else, because they still believe in capitalism. And Suds has his job back.


New story. It started the 15th of May. It, too, started at Corky’s Diner, for a fairly graceful transition. The problem: Slim Wallet can’t sleep. The exhausted Slim does nod off at work, under a car. He bangs his head but good when he’s startled awake. He can’t stop hearing bells, a symptom baffling to everyone around him, who expected this was going to be a Sitcom Amnesia storyline. Right? I mean, doesn’t that write itself?

Still, it’s a good chance for him to get to the emergency room, and to do a couple week’s worth of old hospital/doctor jokes. “The form asks ‘sex’? I’m putting ‘none of your business’,” that sort of thing. The doctor prescribes some pills for Slim’s massive concussion. He’s shown with little bells orbiting his head even weeks later. It’s great visuals, but, like, it’s not like he’s a professional football player and we can pretend head trauma isn’t a thing.

Desert island women, in Slim's dream: 'Oh, Slim! It's great being shipwrecked with you!' Slim: 'Aw! Shucks, ladies.' Women: 'What'll we do on this deserted island?' Slim: 'Want to play post office?' Women: 'How can we? We don't have any way to do cancellations!' Slim: 'Silly! Who wants to cancel kisses?'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 14th of June, 2018. Of historic importance as we measure things around here: the strip with which reruns gave way to newly-drawn installments.

But the ringing does go down, and he tries to get through his insomnia, for which the doctor prescribed sleep. And Slim even gets to sleep, dreaming of being on a deserted island with some Kissing Women. This dream Clovia wakes him from, unaware of the astounding thing that’s happened.

The astounding thing is that, when this storyline first ran in 2007, Slim didn’t have this dream. He had a string of things getting him out of bed, including construction next door. They put in a basketball court, causing late-night basketball games that keep him awake. This lead Slim on a long and daft storyline in which he buys a meteorite off eBay and gets a friend of his to drop it from his helicopter. The hope is to destroy the basketball court in a way that couldn’t be traced back to him as long as nobody ever tried. Not Slim’s finest moment here.

But no; from the 14th of June, the strips are — as best I can tell — new. Whatever caused Jim Scancarelli to step away from the strip in early November seems to have passed. He did not resume the storyline about Rufus courting the Widow Emma Sue and Scruffy’s Mother. That storyline left off on the news that Elam, Rufus’s rival for her affections, had proposed marriage and got turned down. I have no information about whether the storyline will resume up or what the fate of Emma Sue, Scruffy, and their Widowed Mother might be.


With the 18th of June started the current, and best I can tell, new storyline. It’s about Walt Wallet, the original star of the comic strip from 1918 — a date he mentions in his first word balloon. It started with a bit of daft old-guy cranky conspiracy theorizing that I saw confusing a lot of comics readers. Walt’s thesis: toothbrushes have more bristles than they used to. That is, from the front to the back of the toothbrush there’s more bristles. Why would toothbrush makers do that? It’s obvious. Everyone puts on enough toothpaste to cover all the bristles. So the only point to putting more bristles on is to make people buy more toothpaste. As corporate conspiracies go this is … eh, you know what? At least it would be an honest corrupt conspiracy. You would at least get clean teeth out of it. I’ll take it.

Anyway this nonsense barely gets started. Walt’s got an invitation from the Old Comics Home. This is one of the reality-breaking, slightly-magical aspects of the comic strip. The Old Comics Home is this boardinghouse for the characters of retired or cancelled comic strips. Now and then Walt Wallet visits, letting Jim Scancarelli do a bit of work with Major Hoople or Buster Brown or Little Sammy Sneeze or whoever.

Walt Wallet, Orphan Annie, and Sandy singing: 'Who's that little chatter-box? The one with pretty auburn locks! Who do you see?' Gertie: 'Arf! It's her dog, Sandy!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 12th of July, 2018. I sincerely love the way Sandy looks, holding the sheet music upside-down and singing her heart out like this.

The Old Comics Home is having a roast. They want him to be a speaker as they poke fun at Little Orphan Annie. “Will she think it’s funny,” asks Walt’s caretaker Gertie, and a fair question. But an important part of the behavior of the hew-mon is that your friends have license to insult you, and you accept these insults as love. In hindsight, “chimpanzees with anxiety” was a bad foundation on which to build the human species. Next time around maybe we should try basing humans on, I don’t know, “pheasants with gemütlichkeit” instead.

Walt’s preparation comes to thinking of the jokes you would think of about the comic strip. He takes notes of stuff like how Gertie thought as a girl the strip was named “Little Arf an’ Andy”. I am sure that at least one time when Walt Kelly’s Pogo was riffing on Annie they called the comic strip that. But I’m too lazy to check, so will go ahead and give the strip credit for a multifaceted allusion.

Other jokes are less deep cuts: how do the characters see without pupils? They’d bump into each other all the time! Or: Daddy Warbucks leaves Annie unsupervised an awful lot! What if Child Protective Services investigated the billionaire war-manufactures oligarch, as though law constrained the rich? Or: Little Orphan Annie had a jingle when she was on the radio; what if they changed some of the words? Well, if I understand, the point of a roast is for everyone to tell dumb insulting jokes about someone as a show of how much they love them. They don’t need to be insightful commentary that changes one’s view of things. They just have to exist.

Frank Nelson: 'What can I do for your?' Skeezix: 'My uncle and I need new tuxedos!' Nelson: 'Is this for a funeral?' Skeezix: 'What makes you think that?' Nelson: 'You don't look so well!' Skeezix: 'Now cut that out!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 18th of July, 2018. Well, I find it hilarious, but I also know exactly how this would sound as done between Frank Nelson and Jack Benny. I’m sure at some point Benny needed a tuxedo and Nelson was the only person working in any store or information desk in town. How could he be everywhere? As Nelson would put it, “either you’re lucky, or I’m un-lucky”. (And now that it’s mentioned, I wonder if the Cathy gag where every store clerk is the same woman is an echo of the Frank Nelson joke. I had always taken it to be an artistic choice that, you know, these people all serve the same story role so why distract the reader with different character models for the shoe clerk and the swimwear clerk?) Still, I say it’s a good, tight bit of insult-joke construction.

At the tuxedo rental, Walt and Skeezix run into who else but Frank Nelson. This is a good chance to share some of the insult patter conversations Nelson did so well with Jack Benny. And that’s where we’ve got to by the end of the past week.

I trust the next couple of weeks will get the roast organized. Maybe Annie will go missing and need to be found or something. And the visit to the Old Comics Home will probably show off Smokey Stover or Ignatz Mouse or so on. It seems like time with the Old Comics would be a natural feed-in to Gasoline Alley reaching its hundredth year. But it won’t reach that until the 24th of November, four months off. A serial comic can drag its story out, but something this slight for that long? It’s hard to envision.

Just when you thoguht your funny paper was safe to read ... The Molehill Highlanders strike again. Bass player: 'Whatcha gonna sing, Rufus?' Rufus: 'A song I learnt off a old record album. It's called Music From The Heart; Sung Through Th'Nose'. Bass: 'That ain't possumable.' Fiddler: 'What gear is it in?' Other fiddler: 'Yo' need a nasal stray?' Rufus: 'Th'music kicks off way down at th'ticker --- then regress into th'diagram! Next, it palpatrates up th'asparagus an' out th'epipotamus an'naval cavity!' Bass: 'Rufus! I think I better see my dentist and get a dose o'penecillium or some phenobarbasol!' Rufus: 'That mean I can't sing m'song?'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 15th of July, 2018. Wikipedia notes Jim Scanarelli is a bluegrass fiddler, and a prizewinner at the Old Fiddler’s Convention, which apparently has been held annually in Galax, Virginia, since 1935. To give some idea how long ago that was: 1935 was so long ago that in 1935, Jack Benny would people he was thirty-eight years old.

Meanwhile. The Sunday strips are their own little thing. Standalone gags that don’t play off the weekday continuity. Many of these have sported a nice Gasoline Alley 100th Anniversary sticker in the title panels. These came out of reruns first, and were the first signs that whatever kept Jim Scancarelli from writing and drawing the strips might pass. You can dip in and read any of them. I would swear last Sunday’s was an adapted Jack Benny-and-Phil Harris bit, but I can’t pin that down.

But the important stuff. The Old Comics Home. Old-time radio riffs. Elaborate bits of doggerel for the Sunday strips. Yeah, Jim Scancarelli is back. If I ever hear where he’d gone, I’ll pass that along to you. Thanks for checking in.

Next Week!

Mexico! Mysterious artefacts in the Yucatan! The strange and wonderful wildlife of Central America that we somehow haven’t killed yet! Maybe even a Sunday informational panel about cacomistles. All this and more in James Allen’s Mark Trail, if Nature hasn’t gone and killed us yet!

What’s Going On In Prince Valiant? When Does Prince Valiant Take Place? April – July 2018.


Glad to see you’re interested in Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant. If it’s much later than about September 2018 when you read this, I’ve probably written a new essay bringing things further up to date. It should be at or near the top of this page.

Prince Valiant.

15 April – 8 July 2018.

Prince Valiant has been absent from Prince Valiant lately. He’s busy working his way back from the mystic East. We’ve instead been following Aleta, Queen of the Misty Isles. Her problem: a populist aristocrat name of Krios is leading an anti-foreigner movement. He wants to limit all trade to a port that it so happens land he owns would be perfect for the purpose. Aleta’s sent her daughter Valeta to ask questions about the murder of Ingolf, first mate of a Norse trading vessel. It seems someone in Krios’s family killed Ingolf, and possibly two Misty Islanders. Zulfa, rival for Valeta’s interest in Ingolf’s captain Haraldr. She arranges a secret rendezvous with Ingolf’s girlfriend’s brother. No, nobody just has a simple relationship to anyone else in this story, thanks for asking.

Zulfa deploys her wiles on Antonio. By ‘her wiles’ I mean ‘alcohol’. He empties out some of his many ominous secrets. His father’s ambitions. His sister Andrinoa’s affair. His brother Drakon’s doing of terrible things. How Ingolf was to be on Krios’s island tomorrow night. He passes out as Drakon enters. Krios ordered Drakon to make his brother’s “indiscretion” disappear. She does, after smashing open the window lattice and leading Drakon on a chase across the tiled roofs of Krios’s estate.

In the house of Krios, Zulfa has pulled secrets from the drunken Antero --- but as she tries stealthily to depart, Drakon leaps from the shadows! Antero's brother is strong and merciless but doesn't know that Zulfa is not merely a court minion, but also a skilled warrior. [ She hits him with a small table stand. ] The blow to his head momentarily stuns the huge man and allows the Amazigh woman to break his grip and dash to the latticed window at the far end of the gallery, which she smashes to flinders ... before responding decisively to the sound of footsteps close behind. [ She throws another stand at him. ] Then she is out the window, where she is confronted with the uncertain footing of the tiled roof below! NEXT: A slippery slope.
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 13th of May, 2018. I feel like this is the caption I put in every review of Prince Valiant, but that’s a great set of pictures, especially with Zulfa breaking out of the lattices and the final panel there.

Aleta asks Krios to come over and answer just one more question. Given the lock of hair found with him, and the servants found killed with him: what’s the deal? Krios declares he can’t keep the secret any longer. It’s his daughter. Andrina killed Ingolf in a “fit of passion” and throws her at the Queen’s feet.

But Antero steps up. He declares he can’t abandon his sister, not until he’s sure “she is being treated in the manner she deserves”. Antero promises that Andrina has a sick mind, but bears no guilt. And that he has something to share with Zulfa. It’s about the mysterious meeting on Krios’s island that Ingolf was to attend. He does, and returns to his father’s home, where he’s shut in.

Zulfa passes Antero's words to Aleta, and the Queen calls for council: 'Tomorrow, the Senate votes on Krios's demand for a trade zone --- and it appears enough are cowed by him. But now we have a chance to reveal Krios ... ' 'And I know this place where he goes tonight,' interjects Valeta. 'Karen and I sailed there often as children. Trust me, Mother --- I know what must be done.' Hours later, once night has settled, a fleet departs the harbor --- these are the fishermen who hunt the nocturnal squid. But once in open water one of the ragtag flotilla breaks from the others and turns toward a small island just off the coast. The lone vessel slips quietly alongside a neglected wharf on the island's far side --- and Krios steps onto Kythra, his proposed restricted trade zone! NEXT: The Appointment.
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 1st of July, 2018. Squid fishing is an actual thing by the way, and they are mostly nocturnal. So the fleet makes sense, don’t worry about it. Personally, I think this is too many fishers going after squid for my lifetime rate of squid consumption. But that’s just my tastes.

That evening, Krios and some men slip out of town, as part of the nocturnal-squid fishing fleet. Krios makes his way to the island. There he rendevous with General Vialius, who brings startling news: all this is happening during the time of the Emperor Justinian. I never knew the era of Prince Valiant was pinned down to a century, never mind to within a couple decades. Justinian also sends his greetings to Krios.

Next Week!

Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy! With special guest star the Green Hornet! And men from the Moon! What does it all mean? I’m going to need to spend like five days this coming week reviewing and recapping the plot. You’ll get to enjoy the results.

And while you wait, please know that I look at mathematically-themed comic strips on my other blog. The most recent post on that line should be at the top of that page.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Weekdays)? Is Your Podcast’s Mattress Advertiser Grenade-Proof? April – June 2018.


Hi, readers interested in the 250th weekday-continuity storyline of long-running superhero comic strip The Phantom. I have no idea what that story is going to be. I’m writing this in late June 2018, in the midst of storyline number 249, A Reckoning With The Nomad. When story 250 starts — or other stories do — I’ll try to cover them, as well as any Sunday-continuity stories — with essays at this link. Thank you.

Meanwhile on my other blog, I talk about comic strips. That’s a mathematics blog, so I talk about mathematically-themed comic strips there. I hope you’ll give that some consideration too.

The Phantom (Weekdays)

9 April – 30 June 2018.

Where was the story in early April, last time I checked in? A failed airport bomber offers to reveal the identity of The Nomad, international terrorist and menace to The Phantom since 2011. The Phantom knows who The Nomad is: he’s Eric Sahara, father of his daughter’s roommate at Briarson School in New York City. The Phantom figures some kind of legal and political chaos will follow the Nomad’s naming, if he is truly publicly identified. So he figures to break into The Nomad’s compound and abduct him. He saw the Nomad from afar, acting strangely non-fleeing for someone who could expect authorities to be closing in on him. And that’s where we had been.

The Phantom gets past the security guards the way superheroes always get past security guards. Mostly with a bunch of well-placed punches that don’t attract other sentries. He grabs The Nomad out of bed. The terrorist cringes, whimpering and begging for mercy, and tells an incredible story, backed up by flashbacks on-camera. He’s not Eric Sahara. He’s just a Parisian man, abducted, surgically altered, and forced at gunpoint to be a decoy Fake Nomad. No-Nomad? That’ll suffice; I missed the fellow’s actual name. The Real Nomad’s plan succeeded. The Phantom’s trapped in a jungle bungalow, surrounded by armed guards. Who, you know, weren’t working too hard to stop his breaking in, earlier in the paragraph. Ah. No-Nomad runs, begging for his life, telling his captors how they don’t need him anymore now that their plan has worked. They murder him.

No-Nomad: 'I'm a PRISONER! Please believe me!' The Phantom, thinking: 'That accent! He's mastered it. More Paris than Algiers.' No-Nomad: 'I can prove it!! Just look!' The Phantom, thinking: 'I can prove it!! Just look!'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 3rd of May, 2018. While telling his story the No-Nomad explains how he had to act as if he were giving stern speeches and to just blather on about anything. He tells of how he’d recite fairy tales, and The Phantom thinks how he has to learn how to read lips. This startled me with the discovery that The Phantom couldn’t read lips already. I assumed that was part of the hypercompetent superhero starter kit of powers and abilities. Considering what he does manage to do in this story it’s startling to learn of an actual definitely-established thing you can fake him out on.

They’re ready to murder The Phantom too. Also his pet wolf, Devil. And they have an enviable tactical advantage. They surround the bungalow’s exits. They’re stocked up with 800 million jillion kerspillion rounds of ammunition and grenades and rocket-propelled grenades and missiles and neutron bombs and photon torpedoes and Starkillers and a couple right nasty rubber bands flung from between their fingers. Plus I bet they call him nasty names too. Those really hurt.

The Phantom, to his wolf Devil, in a building taking all kinds of gunfire: 'This is a DEMOLITION CREW after us!' (He picks up and throws a grenade back out.) 'We're getting out of here, Devil!' (Thinking to himself.) 'I'll know the way when I see it ... '
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 25th of May, 2018. Alternate title: everyday life in 2018.

So it’s a well-organized trap. Their one mistake: they left a mattress in the No-Nomad’s bedroom. It’s cover. It lets him deflect a rocket-propelled grenade so as to blow open a new way out, an action both cool and absurd. (This broke the ability of one of Comics Curmudgeon’s commenters to suspend disbelief. I understand. I’m still along for the ride, but I would also have watched the Mythbusters episode where they tested this one.) Phantom and Devil race through the new opening. They escape The Nomad’s underlings who somehow fear they’ll be punished for letting The Phantom escape the death trap. The Phantom decides, yeah, he’s definitely going to take advertising from that silver-threaded mattress-kit delivery service on his pop-culture hangout podcast, The Ghost Who Walks Out Of Bad Movies. (Highly recommended if you need some more stuff to listen to. He and Mandrake the Magician have this great running gag of pretending to be Confused Johnny Hazard not understanding the exposition no matter how simple they make it.)

The Phantom, examining a wound in his neck: 'Might be wood ... metal ... can't seem to ... ' (He tugs it out, and bleeds profusely.) 'Uh-oh! I shouldn't have picked at that ... '
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 8th of June, 2018. Crow T Robot pops in from the corner: ‘Yeah, don’t ever pick at the plausibility of your superhero stories. You’re not gonna like the result.’

The Ghost Who Brings A Mattress To A Rocket-Propelled Grenade Fight is scathed, though. He unwisely pulls some shrapnel from his neck, opening up an artery. There’s nothing for it. He rides Hero, his horse, back to Skull Cave, while keeping as much pressure as he can on it. (This is another point that shattered a Comics Curmudgeon’s suspension of disbelief. I’m more sympathetic to this.) He makes it to Guran, though, and emergency surgery. Also a blood transfusion that surely will not result in his no longer being able to turn into The Incredible Hulk.

That’s the night The Phantom has had. Other people have had it worse. The failed airport bomber started to name The Nomad. His police motorcade came under attack, live on cable news. Other people had it superficially well. But even they have fraughts of danger all around them. Eric Sahara turned up at his daughter’s school. He plans to disappear. But before that he plans to spend a day with his daughter and, what the heck, her roommate. This makes a neat mirror of the day The Phantom spent with the young women at the start of this story. He doesn’t seem to have anything particularly devious planned for The Phantom’s daughter. But plans change, especially if he comes to realize who she is.

Kadia Sahara: 'How long will you be in New York, Dad?' Eric The Nomad Sahara: 'A few days. We'll see the sights. The three of us!' (Thinking.) 'And then, daughter, I must bid you goodbye ... with this relentless Phantom on my trail, it's time for the Nomad to disappear forever.'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 20th of June, 2018. So to nitpick the plausibility here: did The Nomad know already that his rather plausible trap for The Phantom had failed? He’d have to feel like a real dink if he went to all the trouble to set up a new identity only to learn The Phantom had died of blood loss in some remote part of Bangallan rainforest anyway. Or is he just assuming that however good his traps are they aren’t going to work on The Phantom? Or is he just taking a belt-and-suspenders approach, doing his level best to kill The Phantom and also to take on a new super-criminal identity that’ll take a few years to unravel?

And that’s the major developments the last several months. As the shortness of this essay indicates it hasn’t been a dense plot. It’s had plenty of action, and intrigue. It’s just been a lot of stuff happening on one very busy night for everyone.

Next Week!

Palace intrigue! Border panics! Murder and coverups. Trade disputes. There’s not very much of Prince Valiant the last couple months in Mark Schulz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant. But I’ll do my best to talk about what is there instead.

What’s Going On In Alley Oop? What’s With All The Time Travel Suddenly? April – June 2018.


I know what you’re wondering: Did I review any of last week’s mathematically-themed comic strips? I sure hope so, although I really have to get to writing that essay right now.

Also at least some of you are wondering what’s going on in Alley Oop. This is my recap for basically spring of 2018 and it should get you well-grounded for at least another couple weeks. If it’s past about August 2018, that might not be a big help. But an essay at or near the top of this page might be. Good luck. Let me know if it doesn’t do anything for you.

Alley Oop.

1 April – 23 June 2018.

So I left Oop somewhere near Philadelphia on the 31st of July, 1781. OK, Jack Bender and Carole Bender did, but still. Alley Oop and Wizer were sent there by well-meaning rich idiot M T Mentis. Mentis had responded to Oop’s transport-request beacon. He didn’t notice how all the screens in Dr Wonmug’s Time Lab read “DESTINATION: JULY 31, 1781”. This is one of those subtle big events in history. It’s when General George Washington commissioned Alexander Hamilton to command several regiments. Great time to toss in some confused Moovians.

Private Isaac Holmes, carrying Hamilton’s commission, runs into Oop and Wizer. In the collision both the sealed commission and Oop’s time-signalling necklace fly loose. Holmes suspects spies, or something, anyway. But they come under enemy fire, and by the time they find some quiet they realize the letter’s gone. Oop and Wizer start to worry they’ve changed history, a risk that hasn’t been a major concern in the strip so far, best I know.

[ 2018 ] Wonmug: 'Why would the transport be set for the Revolutionary War?' Mentis: 'I guess I forgot I'd been researching that as a trip we might take to find out more about Alexander Hamilton (gulp) ... you know, since he's so popular now.' Wonmug: 'POPULAR? You must be joking!' [ 1781 ] Alley Oop: 'I promise you we're not a threat to you!' Holmes: 'Well ... I guess I'll have to trust you, since I must deliver this urgent letter from General Washington! ... WHERE'S THE LETTER? YOU MADE ME LOSE THE LETTER!' Oop: 'Relax! It's just a letter!' Holmes: 'JUST A LETTER? LOSING THAT LETTER COULD MAKE US LOSE THE WAR!' Oop, whispering to Wizer: 'Oops!' Wizer, whispering: 'You think we just changed history?'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 15th of April, 2018. In fairness, Wonmug had been talking with Mentis about planning out a time-travel trip. So having a particular place and time in mind, and practicing setting the time machine, is not a dumb thing to do.

Meanwhile in 2018, Mentis tells Wonmug about Oop’s signal. And that Oop isn’t there. Also that maybe it’s kind of because he had set the time machine to 1781 because he was thinking about Alexander Hamilton, “you know … since he’s so popular now”. Wonmug gets a Revolutionary War outfit from somewhere I seem to have missed, and figures to set off to try fixing whatever’s gone wrong. He leaves Mentis at the Time Lab with orders to stop breaking all time and space already.

Meanwhile in 1781, a desperate Holmes enlists Oop and Wizer to help recover the letter. They borrow outfits from a couple wounded Continentals. Wizer applies some healing potion in trade. And they get a funny little training session about how to load and fire a musket. This pays off a bit; later Oop’s able to tell someone a fresh-discharged musket is harmless except as a club. Oop’s more into using the thing as a club which, fair enough. He also gets the bayonet, too. Oop, Wizer, and Holmes follow the tracks of the letter-thief and find the shaded figure in Redcoat custody. Oop gets a daring raid on this small party started. But that’s broken up when Dr Wonmug materializes right in the midst of things. The Redcoats and their captive get away in the confusion.

Wonmug knows what the letter must have been. Hearing that it’s Alexander Hamilton’s commission orders makes Holmes suspect spies. Fair on him. Also at this point Mentis wandered over to ask me why I go off on him being the dumb one when Wonmug, with 80 years of experience at this, is acting like that. Fair enough. Wonmug says that the British spy to actually watch for was likely James Moody, who’d intercept Continental couriers. I’m going ahead and assuming that’s legit history because I don’t have the time to research that myself. Ah, yes, Moody was born in Little Egg Harbor, New Jersey. I’ve been there. Story Book Land’s a great little kiddie amusement park there. He wrote one of the few memoirs of the Revolution from the Loyalist perspective. Hm.

Mentis: 'Oop, did you say you know who has the ltter from Washington to Hamilton?' Oop: 'Yeah! Two enemy scouts have it, my necklace, AND an American prisoner! We've got 'em outnumbered, so let's go get it back!' [ Meanwhile ] Redcoat: 'It looks like we lost those Yanks!' Other Redcoat: 'Good! We're almost to the camp, so we can relax now!' Alley Oop falls on them, yelling 'ALLEY OOP' as he does. Oop, to the Redcoats' prisoner: 'You're safe now! Stay back!' Prisoner: 'Thank you!' [ Meanwhile, not far away ... ] (ZANG! and a cloud as someone appears from the Time Lab.) Holmes: 'Not again!' Wonmug: 'What now?' (Mentis appears, in Continental garb.) Wonmug: 'Mentis?!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 27th of May, 2018. … So I guess that one of the Redcoats should be identified as James Moody. But that hasn’t been directly established by someone who could know, on-screen. It’s just Wonmug’s surmise so far unless I’ve missed a reference.

Oop and Wizer chase after the Redcoats and their prisoner. Wonmug and Holmes hang back long enough for Mentis to pop in from 2018. Mentis asks why they don’t make a copy of the letter, since Wonmug knows its contents and all. Wonmug says there’s no time; they need to go in and help Oop in his fight and recover the real letter.

Mentis time-transports away. But that’s all right. Oop’s already clobbered the Redcoats into unconsciousness. This lets him recover the time-signal amulet, but the letter is still missing, as is the prisoner. Given the hopeless muddle this all seems to be, Wonmug decides to go with forging the commission after all. They race to deliver the letter and, along the way, find Oop’s time-signal amulet again. This isn’t a continuity error in the story; Oop notices, he already has his recovered amulet. Wonmug figures to worry about it later because, yeah. Mentis is right. I shouldn’t be calling him the strip’s dunderhead. In fairness, Wonmug’s had a bunch of crazy stuff happen today.

Also his forgery doesn’t work for even a second. Alexander Hamilton may be kind of a dope w/r/t William Duer, but he knows legitimate commissions are going to have a proper seal. Hamilton orders Holmes, Oop, and Wizer arrested when the mysterious Contental prisoner races in with the real letter. Also a startling revelation: the prisoner was M T Mentis all along. Mentis explains to Hamilton that when the first letter was lost, his friends made that duplicate. But here’s the original, with the seal, and the content seems to match so everything’s all right with history and all?

Alexander Hamilton: 'WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS? GENERAL WASHINGTON WOULD NEVER SEND COMMUNICATION WITHOUT HIS SEAL!' Wonmug, slapping his head: 'The seal! I forgot the seal!' Hamilton: 'This letter is a fake! Guards, arrest this spy and his friends too!' (The Redcoats' prisoner races into Hamilton's tent.) Prisoner: 'WAIT!' Wonmug, recognizing the prisoner: '(GASP!) Mentis!' Mentis: 'Here is the real letter from General Washington! General Washington's original letter was lost! My friends made a copy so you would have the information! Meanwhile, I found the first letter! I had trouble getting here, but I assure you it is authentic, sir!' Hamilton: 'Hmmm. This letter does have the right seal ... and the two letters do match!' Guard: 'Are these the spies you want me to take, sir?' Hamilton: 'There are no spies here! Only patriot heroes!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 17th of June, 2018. But really isn’t the amazing thing that Wonmug doesn’t doubt he would be able to plausibly forge George Washington’s handwriting and style of composition to a person who had served as his aide-de-camp for years? Even by the standards of white guy scientist types that’s some remarkable self-confidence.

With that straightened out, Mentis starts explaining to Oop, Wonmug, and Wizer what’s going on in Alley Oop. It turns out while Wonmug and Oop and all tromped around whatever they were doing in 1989, Mentis was paying attention to Bill And Ted’s Excellent Adventure. He didn’t use the time machine to run off. He used it to pick up the commission right when it was first lost. And thus was the mysterious shadowy figure that set Oop and company were pursuing.

So, this story. I’m surprised by the direct talk about the chance Wonmug’s Time Lab might change history. My impression was the comic strip had always taken that as something not to worry about, at least since I started reading it with attention. But then it’s also only in the forerunner to this story that they worried about time travellers bringing diseases. It looks as if they’re setting up one of those closed-time-loop adventures. These can be a particularly satisfying sort of time-travel story. Also the rare Alley Oop story where time travel more than how they get from one story to another. And, yes, I’m glad that it’s given Mentis the chance to recover some needed intelligence points. It’s a pity that Wonmug lost a bunch along the way. But he’s got some to spare. And I am also impressed by the grain of historical detail being put into the minor parts. Apparently there was an Isaac Holmes, too, who’d be a prisoner of war in Philadelphia. This might be a spoiler. I’m not sure this is the person who’s made a character here; the Wikipedia article on him doesn’t list things like when he was a prisoner or how, precisely the historic Holmes served in the army. There’s room to not worry about it all.

Next Week!

They say there’s a ghost who walks. They’re right. Next week I see what’s happening in Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity.

What’s Going On In The Amazing Spider-Man? Mostly Green People Throwing Spider-Man Around. March – June 2018.


Yes, dear reader, this is my best effort at explaining the last several months in Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s The Amazing Spider-Man. But the march of time might have foiled me. The story described here might be so far in your past it’s no use telling you about it. If I’ve written a fresh essay — and I should have one by about September 2018 — it should be on this page. Thanks for reading.

Thanks also for being interested in mathematically-themed comic strips. Those I talk about over here, at least one and sometimes several times each week. I try not to be too mean to the poor unfortunate jokes I notice.

Amazing Spider-Man

26 March – 16 June 2018.

We left the Amazing Spider-Man in a good place. By my lights. He and Peter Parker’s grumbly employer J Jonah Jameson were deep in the Everglades. The Incredible Hulk was there, engaging in a contest of big musclebound green guys in purple pants wrestling. His opponent: The Lizard, the Science-Mutated Dr Curt Connors. He’s figuring on leading an alligator uprising that overthrows humanity. Great stuff.

Spider-Man leaps into action, which yes, he does. The snarky comics-reading community loves how much Spider-Man falls unconscious and gets other people to do his work. It’s more true than it maybe should be. But he will leap in to try to reason opponents into peace. I admire his trying. J Jonah Jameson admires it too, to his disbelief. It’s a policy that gets Spidey clobbered a lot, often knocking him unconscious. But what’s a hero without courage?

Jameson: 'Just keep out of it. Let the Hulk and the Lizard fight it out!' Spider-Man: 'No way! The Lizard's strong --- but anger only makes the Hulk more powerful! I can't have Connors's death on my conscience!' Jameson: 'Those two monsters don't HAVE a conscience! What if they kill you?'
Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 30th of March, 2018. I do like that Peter Parker will generally skip making the “hard” decision in a fight like this. The “hard” decision is usually to let someone else suffer. It’s a sickness of humanity that people love getting to make that decision. Parker will often go for the more inconvenient decision, such as, that both the Hulk and the Lizard have to be saved and kept from harming themselves or the other. It makes Parker’s life harder, but in admirable ways.

He tries the Hulk first, trusting that if he can calm down Bruce Banner then he can stop this green-guy swamp fight before anyone’s hurt. He clings to The Incredible Hulk, promising that the Hulk has to smash him first before he can smash The Lizard. Or — he can avoid killing anyone. Incredible sees the wisdom in this, and reverts to Bruce Banner form, to pass out in the grass. This gives The Lizard an opening to smash Spidey. But Spider-Man has a winning tactic.

He reminds The Lizard that he’s Dr Curt Connors, a man of Nice Science. Also that Nice Scientists don’t mean to go overthrowing humanity and installing a new master race of alligators. And this, too, works. The Lizard turns back into a human. A human with one lost arm, incidentally. Connors had lost it in a past Lizard-based adventure. He was scienceing that problem when he goofed and mutated himself again. He’s cool with losing the arm again, if it means he can be a human not seeking to rule the world. Well, different strokes. Also now he can kind of see why the grant committee rejected his proposal.

Jameson: 'GET BACK HERE, YOU WEB-HEADED HOODLUM!' Spider-Man: 'Sorry, Jameson, but in case you didn't know, I'm not a real spider. I can only carry two people at a time! After I get these guys back to civilization I'll be back for you --- if there's anything left to find.' Connors, whispering: 'You won't really let the gators and pythons have him, will you?' Spider-Man, whispering back: 'No. So the real question is --- will he tell us what we need to hear before I have no choice but to turn around and rescue him!?'
Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 22nd of April, 2018. Which is not to say that Peter Parker can’t be a bit of a jerk at times. Yes, there was never any doubt in a reader’s mind what he would do, but yanking Jameson’s chain like this is pretty nasty. Unrelated: are spiders known for being able to carry three of their kind with them?

Next problem: J Jonah Jameson’s looking forward to his scoop about Curt Connors being The Lizard. But Connors doesn’t want the news made public; it would devastate his son. Spider-Man doesn’t want the news public either; Peter Parker’s a friend of Connors. Jameson is able to see reason, once a couple of leftover alligators attack him and Spider-Man throws them off. And after Spidey says he’ll drop some alligators in Jameson’s office if he publishes. This undoes much of the good will that Spider-Man’s built up in Jameson’s eyes, but, you know, you can’t smash a heap of eggs without making some omelettes.

Anyway, Mary Jane Parker pops back around with the Motorboat of Wrapping Up Loose Ends. Along the way, Connors reaffirms that he doesn’t want the story getting out. Jameson reaffirms that he isn’t so much of a heel to ruin Connors’s kid’s life right now anyway. And Banner and Connors go off, figuring if they can team up to find a purple-pants Purple-Pants League of Science Mutation Stopping.

Banner: 'Psst ... Doc Connors --- over here!' Connors: 'Bruce? So you stuck around after you jumped ship!' Banner: 'Wanted to see if we might pool our research.' Connors: 'Great! You want to see the end of the Hulk --- me of the Lizard.' Banner: 'Y'know, this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.' Connors: 'Did you just make that up?'
Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 10th of May, 2018. Of all the baffling and not precisely on-point references to Casablanca in pop culture, this is one of them.

Peter has a little accident where he drops his plane fare back to New York, and an impoverished mother and son find it. So he lets them keep it, and Mary Jane eats the cost of another plane ticket back. (Mary Jane had told Jameson that her husband was going back to New York, as cover for Spider-Man turning up in the Everglades. So they have to make good the cover story is why.) There’s the traditional hold-up at the airport. Peter Parker worries he’ll get asked why he wears a Spidey suit under his clothes. He never worries he’ll get asked about these tiny, explosively propelled webs of an exotic chemical mixture strapped to his wrists.

But with the 18th of May, I’m calling, the old story ends and the new one begins.

That one opens “somewhere in Manhattan” as some of your classic thugs hold guns on what they claim is FBI Agent Jimmy Woo. They get to clobbering him when a new superhero pops in. It’s someone named Iron Fist, who’s dressed in green pants, vest, yellow hood, and cool dragon chest tattoo. I trust these are all people from some other Marvel comic where it’s always 1978. Iron Fist clobbers the thugs and takes the wounded FBI Agent to Metro General hospital.

At the Daily Bugle office, managing editor Robbie Robertson happens to mention that The Kingpin is out of jail. And then the Plot TV reports this Iron Fist stuff going on. Robertson deputizes Parker to go interview the agent and write up this story. At the hospital Parker sneaks past security. He’s caught by Dr Christine Palmer. I assume she’s someone from the comic books too or else she’s getting too much of an introduction.

[ On a ledge off the 14th floor of a hospital ] Iron Fist: 'Why are you trying to break into Jimmy Woo's hospital room?' Spider-Man: 'Is that the guy's name? Come to think of it --- maybe you're the one who stabbed him!' Iron Fist: 'My only weapons are my four limbs.' Spider-Man: 'Yeah, I've been on the receiving end of one of them --- and it smarts. Maybe you should call yourself IRON FOOT!'
Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 12th of June, 2018. I’m not sure that this “IRON FOOT” thing is quite the put-down Peter Parker wants. But this may be because it’s got me excited that the Marvel Cinematic Universe might soon absorb the adventures of Kickpuncher. (It will not.)

Kicked out, Peter figures the thing to do is to make like a Minneapolis raccoon. He gets to the 14th floor and gets kicked in the face by Iron Fist. Spidey tries to sass Iron Fist about how come he’s doing all this kicking. But I’m not worried. This looks like the Ritual Fight that all superheroes must do on first meeting. They’ll be teaming up soon enough. Or will they? … Yeah, they will. I’m writing this Wednesday, but I have expectations about the rest of the week.

Next Week!

It’s back to the Prehistoric Land of Moo! And then right back out of Moo and into Revolutionary War-era Pennsylvania as I see what Jack Bender and Carole Bender have been doing with Alley Oop. No, they haven’t got to the musical number yet.

Ironically?


So while I was thinking about how many people would forget what it means for a country to demand its young accept the horrors of war had Hi and Lois not reminded people of Memorial Day, I learned the hipster bar near us is having 90s Karaoke Night this week. So I’m thinking about dropping in for when they’re going to be playing nothing but “Breakfast At Tiffany’s”. If karaoke night is at all representative of the real 90s, they should be playing this from about 9:23 through 11:15 without stopping. I might sign up for it myself since I’m not really sure what the verse is like. I’m assuming it has one. But in that regard it captures the experience of having watched Breakfast At Tiffany’s, since I’m awfully sure I’ve done that and I kind of remember there was something about a something or other happening and then at the end she’s not marrying the rich guy in the rain. This also matches my recollection of what the 90s were like. Might check in.

What’s Going On In Rex Morgan, M.D.? Choking and Corporate Intrigue, March – May 2018.


Hey, is it sometime near the end of May or any of June 2018? If it is, great. If it’s sometime around, oh, August 2018 or later you might want to look here instead. If I’ve written a more recent update about what’s happening in Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D., it should be there.

Rex Morgan, M.D.

4 March – 27 May 2018.

I last checked in with Team Morgan a couple weeks into the start of their new storyline. It was about the Morgans’ babysitter Kelly and her boyfriend Niki. They noticed their friend Justin had taken up this habit of choking every time he tried to eat or drink anything. Justin took this nonchalantly. His friends worried that, y’know, at some point he’s got to eat, right?

Title panel, T-Rex Morgan, M.D. Sarah draws 'Glenwood - One Million Years BC'. Dinosaur versions of her parents come in, roaring 'GRONK' and 'GRAAAAAWK' and such. This is caption-translated. T-Rex: 'Hey, Punkin. We're getting teh boys to bed, Sarah. Can you get your jammies on?' Sarah: 'Sure, Dad.' T-Rex: 'When they're asleep, I'll come back and we can read a chapter of our Oz book, okay?' Sarah: 'Sounds good!' T-Sarah: 'And don't forget to brush your teeth before bedtime.' Sarah: 'Of course, Mom.' T-Sarah: 'We'll be back in a bit.' Sarah: 'Life's a whole lot more fun when you pretend your parents are dinosaurs!'
Terry Beatty’s T-Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 1st of April, 2018. Really, the best April Fool’s prank I saw on the comics page. I’m glad Beatty indulged in a flight of fantasy like this. It’s always fun when a cartoonist stretches artistically. And any excuse to put dinosaurs in one of the story strips is a correctly made excuse.

Maybe not; he’s cool with seeing how this plays out. Kelly asks Rex Morgan, M.D., what to do about this. Rex can’t diagnose anything, of course; you need someone who does medicine for that. But he does suggest trying small bites of peanut butter and honey sandwiches until Justin can get seen by a doctor. Justin can eat the peanut butter and honey, solving one immediate problem. But he’ll need a doctor’s note to bring peanut butter in to eat at school. The school participates in the “Let’s Have Angry Old People In The Comments Section Tell Us How Food Allergies Are A Made-Up Thing” program. He finally gives in to peer pressure, and lets Kelly make an appointment with the Morgans. If there’s a promise of no shots and not getting his knee hit with that little hammer. Also if the Morgans make that promise. “Oh never fear,” chuckles June, “we don’t use the little hammer anymore.”

So it turns out Justin has a real actual medical condition that really actually occurs in the real world. It’s called achalasia, in which the muscles of the esophagus don’t work right. It’ll take surgery to treat, so Rex Morgan calls in a friend who practices medicine for it. In non-snarky fairness, I would expect the procedure — a “Heller myotomy” — to be something you get a specialist for. And, come early April, we get some word about why Justin was so weird about seeing a doctor. His mother’s terrified of hospitals. This follows the family story of how her great-grandfather died on the operating table in 1923. This seems ridiculous to me, but ridiculous in a way that people actually are. So I’m cool with it. She’s cool with it too, once Justin gets a haircut and, I trust, promises to wear clean underwear for if he dies.

Kelly: 'We're going to see Justin after his surgery today, right?' Niki: 'Yeah. If we're lucky he'll still be groggy and we can catch him on camera saying some stupid stuff.' Kelly: 'You are SUCH a good friend to him, Niki.' Kelly: 'Hey, what are friends for?' [ The day of Justin's Surgery. ] In the hospital room. Rex: 'Are you ready for this, Justin?' Justin: 'As I'll ever be, I guess.' Rex: 'All the tests confirmed my initial diagnosis of achalasia --- and we have the TOP specialist in the country set to do the surgery.' Justin: 'Sounds good.' Justin's Mom: 'I'm still so worried about my little boy.' Rex: 'I understand a parent being nervous about their child having an operation, but there's really nothing to worry about here. The success rate for this surgery is very high, and Justin is otherwise healthy as a horse. He'll be just fine.' Justin's Mom: 'I know, but *still*.' Justin's Dad: 'My Son, the Horse. Get through this Justin, and we'll buy you a big bag of oats.' Justin: 'You crack me up, pop.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 8th of April, 2018. So, like, “the top” specialist in treating acalasia has to be a specific person, right? Do they know they were referenced, albeit anonymously, in Rex Morgan, M.D.? Did Beatty give her a heads-up or was it just left as a surprise? And wouldn’t it be a kick if somehow the top specialist in Heller Myotomies didn’t read Rex Morgan, M.D. somehow and had to have this pointed out to her by a friend?

And as for Justin, who did not die, he would go on to disappoint his friends, who hoped he would do something dopey while recovering from anaesthesia. No; he simply survived a weird medical problem without incident. End story, the 15th of April.

The 16th began the next focus, about the marriage of Buck and Mindy. They’re having it in Las Vegas. They sent invitations to the other player-characters in the comic. “Horrible” Hank Harwood, rediscovered 50s-horror-comics artist, and his son, rent an RV to road trip to it. They’re hoping to make a grand tour of the country. They’ll stop at all the great roadside attractions and see whether Zippy the Pinhead is talking to any of them about Republicans or meat.

(By the way, this week my love and I were at meals reading collections of Zippy the Pinhead comics from completely different decades. And reading individual strips out loud to each other. We’re delighted by early examples of later Bill Griffith obsessions and jokes that could run in normal comics too. There are many more accessible Zippy the Pinhead strips than the comic’s reputation suggests.)

Interwoven with Buck-and-Mindy’s wedding and Hank-and-Hank’s road trip is a less giddy story. Milton Avery, multimillionaire industrialist, died, the same day that his wife Heather Avery gave birth. Heather Avery flies back to Glenwood, where the strip’s set, partly to console herself with the company of the Morgans. Partly to work out how the expected succession crisis at Avery International plays out. This promises great excitement. The last time the succession of Avery International was addressed was when Woody Wilson wrote the strip. Back then, Heather Avery got Rex Morgan to lie. Morgan claimed Milton Avery was mentally competent and in full possession of his faculties and all. So there’s good reason for the Board of Directors to be up for a good rousing fight.

[ The Harwoods plan for their Las Vegas trip. ] Hank Jr: 'Hey, Pop. Come look at these options for renting a camper. And I need to know how long before Buck's wedding you want to leave on the trip.' Hank Sr: 'Long enough to see the sights along the way and get lost a few times!' [ At the Avery Mansion in Glenwood. ] Michelle: 'You've heard from Heather, Jordan?' Jordan: 'Yeah. Says she's making the trip back as soon as she and the baby get the okay to travel.' Michelle: 'Do you have any idea what Milton's passing will mean to Avery International or your employment here?' Jordan: 'And my free access to this fantastic house?' Michelle: 'Yeah, that too.' Jordan: 'Not a clue, Michelle. I figure I'd better be prepared for anything.' Michelle: 'I had a feeling this was too good to last.' Jordan: 'Wasn't ever meant to be permanent. I figure we're lucky to get whatever time we have here.' Michelle: 'Then let's make the most of it, shall we?' Jordan: 'Y'know, I like how you think.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 6th of May, 2018. I didn’t find space in the main article to write about the housesitters for Heather and Milton Avery, but this strip pretty well explains their plot thread. And is a decent recap of what Milton Avery’s death implies for the storylines too, so, all the better.

Heather’s opening salvo is to explain how she’s thrilled with the way they’ve been running the company. And she doesn’t see any reason anything needs to change. Corporate/Economic historian Robert Sobel in his 1972 The Age of Giant Corporations: A Microeconomic History of American Business identified this as the ol’ “Not the face! Don’t punch me in the face!” boardroom maneuver. But she also explains how if they screw this up she’ll feed them to a June-Morgansaurus. Should be exciting.

While we wait to see how that plays out might you consider reading up on mathematically-themed comic strips? I’ve got a bunch on my other blog that you might like to hear about. This week I get to show off the Maclaurin series for the cosine of an angle measured in radians! You’ll understand why that’s a thing by the end of the article.

Next Week!

Oh, you know how much I’m annoyed with Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp right now? Just wait a week and you’re going to see.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Sundays)? February – May 2018.


I know you’re interested in Tony DePaul and Dave Weigel’s The Phantom. This is my attempt to catch up on what’s happening, as of mid-May, 2018. Is it not fairly close to that? Then there might be a new story. If I’ve written a new recap, it should be at or near the top of this page. But it’ll share space with Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s weekday continuity for The Phantom, which is a different story. And you might get more fast-breaking news from Tony DePaul’s blog directly.

You’re maybe also interested in mathematics. But want comic strips about mathematics. I’ve got some good news for you! Please enjoy.

The Phantom (Sundays).

25 February – 18 May 2018.

My last recap of the Sunday-continuity Phantom involved a lot of walking. This is because the strip involved a lot of walking. The Ghost Who Walks was earning his title alongside a Bangallan prisoner known to us only as The Rat. The Rat was figuring to buy his freedom with information about his ex-partner, since the partner wasn’t doing anything about breaking him out of prison. The Warden would have none of it. The Phantom would have some of it. He lead The Rat out of Boomsby Prison, the plan being to capture The Rat’s ex-partner, and maybe get The Rat a recommendation for time off his sentence. The Phantom promised, repeatedly, that The Rat was going back to prison, no matter what The Rat’s ideas. As of late February, they finally got out of the prison, into the Boomsby Mines.

The Phantom provides The Rat with a horse, and leads him to the nearby border of fascist Rhodia. The Rat’s ex-partner is in there somewhere. The Rat tries, as promised, to slug The Phantom and break free. That doesn’t work out for The Rat. They go tromping into the woods. The Rat’s luck holds up: a boomslang snake drops around his shoulders.

The Rat, cringing as a snake rests on his head and The Phantom aims his pistol at them: 'Don't! I-I'm gonna grab the snake r-real fast and ... and ...' Phantom: 'Really? After what they said in Boomsby? 'The Rat must Die!' Make a grab for that boomslang and you'll prove them right! Seriously? You want to try to grab that deadly animal?' The Rat: 'Yeah! Yeah, I- I want to! It's MY life! Back off!' The Phantom: 'Fair enough ... grab him high! Right behidn the jaws. Go on three! I'll give you the count ... one ... ' (The Phantom whips out his pistol and shoots, over The Rat and the snake's heads.)
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 15th of April, 2018. The Rat’s been shown to have Charlie Brown-levels of success in getting anything to go the way he figures. It’s all been darkly funny to see him plugging away at the hard-prisoner tropes that ought to work and just explode on him. This is the point in the story where I shifted outright to pitying the guy for being so unable to get even the slightest break. He’s doing his best to burn off that pity, as he carries on as though he’s going to outsmart The Phantom on anything important ever. But still. This guy, you know?

The Phantom takes the chance to mess with The Rat’s head, holding his pistol and making ready to shoot the snake off him. He’s teasing, of course. The Phantom shoots in the air, scaring the venomous snake away. The Rat does a bit of analysis, figuring that he now understands. He speculates The Phantom had a mean life, one that beat toughness into him. Absurd, of course. Kit Walker had a kind, loving father who raised him from birth to be a crimefighting superhero, the way nineteen generations before him had done. The Rat wants to know what The Phantom gets out of all this do-gooding, when he could be amassing riches and power instead. So The Rat hasn’t heard about the treasures in The Phantom’s lair. And doesn’t suspect his ties with the Bangallan president or with the Jungle Patrol. The Phantom might need to improve his brand identity and maybe needs to seed some new Old Jungle Sayings.

The Rat: 'We're fighters, you and me! But here's what I don't get about you, Phantom.' The Phantom: 'There are a whole lot of things you don't get. But go ahead ... I'm listening.' The Rat: 'How come you never used your power to get what you want?' Phantom: 'What I want?' Rat: 'Yeah --- from others! I mean, a guy like you could have ruled Boomsby! Ruled Mawitaan!! From any cell in the joint! Instead you settled for what? Being some kind of do-gooder? That messes with your thinking! Like when you say I'm going back to Boomsby!' Phantom: 'You are, actually. You and the man I'm after.' Rat: 'You have NO IDEA what I'll do to not go back. You won't even see it coming ... '
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 6th of May, 2018. You laugh, but The Rat has already figured out a plan where he distracts The Phantom by pointing at the ground and yelling out, “Hey look, someone left free cake!” and then running off to the side. This plan is foiled when The Phantom doesn’t hear his sudden cry, and the Rat runs into the dry riser so fast that he’s knocked unconscious by his stomach hitting the gas meters for the whole building complex.

But that’s got us — at last, really; this story began in early October — to The Rat’s partner’s lair. Ready to strike. And The Rat clobbers The Phantom into the side of a carport. This will turn out well for him.

As indicated, this has not been a densely plotted story. It’s had several solid sequences, the boomslang the most interesting one to me. It’s been a lot of atmosphere, with some character and a bunch of sequences of The Phantom letting The Rat make a fool of himself. This is fine for the story. It just makes for a short plot recap. Next week will be different.

Next Week!

Has young but genial third-wheel Justin finished choking? Has Rex Morgan committed any actual acts of medicine? Are comic book artists just the best people ever? Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. might just have answers for us!

What’s Going On In Mary Worth? Muffins And Despair. February – May 2018


Dear Wendy, have you ever tried to explain Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth? Have you ever got angry about a story, and worried about that anger considering you’ve been offended by two Gil Thorp storylines in a row now?

Signed, Person Writing From So Far After Mid-May 2018 That This Essay Isn’t Any Use Anymore.

Dear Person: Of course! I try about every three months to recap the plot in Mary Worth. You should find my most recent essays at this page. And oh yes, I get offended by some story developments and I’m not even talking about Gil Thorp for three more weeks yet. When you get angered by story strips you might see what mathematically-themed comic strips are out there. See whether a bunch of jokes about students misunderstanding a word problem make you feel better about life.

— Wendy.

Auto Surgeon Inc: 'No one is rich enough to buy back their past'.
I do not know how the car care place down the block manages to keep picking quotes that ought to be inspirational and yet somehow read as existential dread. It’s some wild talent they’ve got. (I’d have put this by the Dubiously Sourced Quotes section but don’t want the more intense strips to show up in the Twitter preview.)

A content warning. The last couple months of Mary Worth have included a character sexually assaulting another. They’ve also included a despairing character considering suicide. If you don’t need that in your recreation, you’re absolutely right. Go on to something that won’t be needlessly miserable instead. I’ll catch you next time.


Mary Worth.

18 February – 13 May 2018.

When I last checked in Mary Worth was looking to become rich and famous through muffins. Ted Miller, vaguely associated old friend of Mary’s eternal beau Jeff, was crazy for Mary Muffins and insisted the world would be too. His plan: Mary bakes muffins, and he sells them, and then they both get rich and she gets famous. What could go wrong? And it was a glorious time. For one, yes, people in-universe always praise her food. But Mary Worth’s cooking always looks like it’s from one of those Regrettable 70s Food blogs. You know, the ones where we were supposed to make a tuna-jello fondue with a 7-Up glaze and bake it to look like a lamb, with a dyed mashed potato “lawn” around it.

There’s a motif in comic strips where a character gets to be successful after five weeks of kind of trying. It’s a reliable giddy delight. For another, people kept saying “muffin” or, better, “Mary’s muffins”. Over and over and over. This blend of silly story and silly phrasing could not go wrong.

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