Good news as I make these things out. Alley Oop, the dean of the time-travelling caveman-adventure newspaper-syndicated serial story comics, is not doomed. I mean not particularly doomed. In early 2019 new strips are to start, from a new writer and artist team.
The Daily Cartoonist links to an episode of the Tall Tale Radio comics podcast which I haven’t listened to. But in it Lemon and Sayers discuss the comic and how their work on it came about, according to the show notes. I assume they’re going to resume the strip as a serial-adventure comic, but don’t actually know that.
According to The New York Times’s article on this new writing team, there’ll be a separate storyline for Sunday strips. They’ll “tell the story of Li’l Oop, a new preteen version of Alley Oop that will focus on his early middle-school years”. I’m intrigued by this prospect. Not just because it’ll let me add another article to my reliable “What’s Going On In” roster. But for whatever reason I’ve always liked “Li’l ___” versions of characters, ever since I was too young to read and encountered them in Archie comics. (I have no memories of ever being too young to read.)
I don’t know why it appeals, but as long as the Li’l Version is about having its own adventures rather than explaining every little quirk of the original, it does appeal. I would also be excited by a variant where they’re all costumed Silver Age superheroes. And maybe one where they’re robots in a Jetsonian future. And if you’re about to tell me “time-travelling robot caveman from a shiny happy future” is way too much stuff then tell me why the Office of Original Character Registration rushed to approve my plans and even sent me a certificate of total OC awesomeness? Explain that. Check and mate, thank you.
And if you do want regular comic strip news you should be reading it or a similar web site. But I know it’s hard to start reading new web sites. I have the same problem myself. I mention all this so people who aren’t plugged in to the comic strip news circles, such as myself, get their Alley Oop news.
The Andrews-McMeel Syndicate press release mentions that Alley Oop currently runs in “three dozen” newspapers. That’s a bit off the comic’s peak of 800. The strip also has 22,720 subscribers on GoComics.com. So I guess that gives an idea of what kind of existing audience they regard as enough to keep a venerable comic strip going.
The press release also mentions that catchy song from the 60s. And that Alley Oop’s among the many characters, many of them comic strip characters, to make a cameo in the Clifford Simak novel The Goblin Reservation, which marks the first time a non-old science fiction fan has mentioned Clifford Simak since 1998. Which is a shame since Simak’s great. The release also says “Alley Oop” comes from the French gymnastics command “Allez, ho!”, meaning, “Go, hop!”, which is the kind of explanation that I would give except that I’d be making it up, and afterwards I’d be told I may not explain stuff to my nieces anymore.
Thanks for your interest in Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D.. This plot summary’s good for the couple of months leading up to November 2018. If you want earlier plot recaps, or if you’re reading this after about February 2019 and want a later recap, you should find it at this link.
Hank wants to visit Millie’s Diner again. Skip the roadside attractions. They get to the restaurant where he reunited with his old high school flame. It’s closed. She died the night after their visit. They can get to her visitation. Her family talks of how joyed she was that last day. So, good reminder there about reaching out to people you just drifted away from. It’s a sobering end to this thread. After it the Harwoods go home. It closes this plot.
The new plot started the 10th of September. It’s about Jordan and Michelle, until recently housesitters for the Avery mansion. Heather Avery’s given Jordan startup capital for his restaurant. He’s bought a former hardware store downtown for his place. This seems odd. But there’s a bunch of restaurants in the area already. Maybe the only choice was converting a place that wasn’t already food-ready. Jordan and Michelle talk out what kind of restaurant he’ll open. Then an intoxicated, shabby-looking guy runs at them, demands Michelle’s purse, trips on his own feet, and knocks himself out.
So they turn him over to the cops. Over dinner they talk about how they’re the lucky veterans. They’d come through their combat experiences basically all right. Many don’t, and they wonder if their would-be mugger is a traumatized vet. Then someone at another table passes out, possibly choking. Michelle, a nurse, is the person to rescue him, and they enjoy the rare double 9-1-1 call night.
The cops ask Jordan and Michelle if they want to press charges against their mugger, Delmer Robertson. He realizes he knew a “Delmer Robertson” back in high school. Lost touch with the guy after they both went into the army. Jordan, in food services, lost his leg when some catastrophe struck as he was getting fruits and vegetables. Delmer … who knows, exactly? But Jordan does mention how he’s built up the story of how he lost his leg to something more exciting for the civilians back home. I’m not sure if this is setting up a plot point for the current (or a coming) story. Terry Beatty might be retconning something established when Woody Wilson wrote the strip. If it is a retcon, I don’t know what the point of it is.
Jordan confirms that this guy was the Delmer he knew way back when. And that Delmer’s had a tough time since getting back from the army. So he asks the court to be lenient with Delmer, and offers to help him get back on his feet. The court is fine with this, even if it sounds a bit like the setup for a Dan Harmon sitcom.
Jordan meets up with Delmer, and they have the sort of awkward-but-hopeful conversation you might expect as they go to Rex Morgan’s clinic. Where Michelle’s a nurse. They promise they’re trying to help Delmer get the help he needs. And he needs more: according to someone who passed medical information on to Rex Morgan, he has both diabetes and failing kidneys. So that’s a bit of seriousness after some amusing follies.
And that’s where the plot of Rex Morgan, M.D. stands as of the 11th of November, 2018.
There’s always two answers about what’s going on in The Phantom. The Sunday strips, written by Tony DePaul and illustrated by Jeff Weigel, are one thread. That’s the one I recap here. The weekday strips, written by Tony DePaul again but illustrated by Mike Manley, are a different storyline. Both have plot recaps at this link, because I can’t think of a better way to arrange the tags. I never learned that you can easily have subsidiary categories of a main tag, and have been able to on WordPress blogs for years, you see. It’s a shame and someone should tell me. Anyway, both storylines are recapped there and you can get the most recent update to both by using it and a bit of sense.
The Rat is getting farther from death, but on the other side of the event.
The story of The Rat, who must Die, reached its one-year mark since the last time I checked in. The Rat had lead The Phantom to his former partner-in-crime, The Boss. The Phantom had promised to recommend time off The Rat’s sentence for his help bringing in The Boss. The Rat failed spectacularly at getting away from The Phantom. But in the struggle between The Phantom and The Boss, he took a chance to clobber The Phantom with The Shovel. And The Boss was readying to run down The Phantom with his car.
The Phantom shoots his gun at the driver. He forgets that in Rhodia they drive on the other side of the road. I liked that bit. I like superheroes who make realistic mistakes such as that. The car still smashes against The Phantom. The Boss comes out to kick The Phantom before shooting him. The Phantom staggers to his feet, holding a knife against The Boss. The Rat warns that The Phantom’s never going to give up. The Rat finds The Phantom’s other gun, and declares he knows for sure how this plays out.
The Rat turns again: he shoots The Boss, who fires back. They’ve killed each other. The Rat takes a bit longer to die. It gives him the chance to say how he wished he could have a life more like The Phantom’s. And chuckles that, hey, he got out of Boomsby Prison, never to return, after all.
Jungle Patrol arrives. The Phantom had called in his private air cavalry earlier in the story. They collect the bodies and return to Bangalla, and Boomsby Prison. The Warden soon has a report for Bangalla’s president, Lamanda Luaga. They believe The Phantom kidnapped and executed The Rat. They don’t know the Jungle Patrol is under The Phantom’s control. President Luaga publicly dismisses this as legend. And privately concedes he doesn’t know why The Phantom wanted The Rat dead but is sure he had a good reason. It’s nice to see a superhero who’s got the confidence of the authorities these days. But, jeez, that’s putting a lot of trust in someone’s judgement.
And there’s another mystery. The Rat’s corpse has disappeared from the morgue. The Phantom took it, of course. He’s giving The Rat a funeral, with the help of Bandar pallbearers. His wife asks a question that’s been nagging at me for a year-plus: what was his name? The Phantom doesn’t know.
Tony DePaul was kind enough to reveal this story’s set to end the 11th of November. I’m sorry to miss the end of the story by such a slight margin, but what am I to do, adjust my arbitrarily set schedule for good reason? No, I’ll just include a sentence or two about the end of this story when I get to the next Sunday-continuity recap, sometime around February 2019.
It’s a look at three months of action in Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. Have we seen the Las Vegas Pinball Hall of Fame? Have we talked to every roadside statue in the midwest? Has Rex Morgan seen a patient or done a doctor-y type thing? Well, no, probably not that. But they must have done something or other.
I’m not sure what I expected, really. After the final run of a Henry comic, that is. I guess I expected some kind of reaction from the crowd. At least a sigh. Maybe writing out some message on the fence. But no, nothing like that. I just looked out the window and there was a lot of gone. All there was to remember them by was leaves fallen off the trees and a bunch of mysterious colored flags planted in the ground. I’m like 75% sure none of them are to blame for the leaves, either.
But for the record, here’s the comic that Henry finished its run with. It’s a competent enough strip and I can’t find when its previous rerun had been.
And in what I’m assuming is not exactly a coincidence, Bill Griffith’s Zippy the Pinhead guest-starred Henry. I don’t know, but I would imagine that Griffith liked the strip. It was always kind of weird. The constraint of the protagonist only pantomiming helped that. The commitment to keep the strip’s contents true to whatever its early-20th-century Americana Idyll too. It’s the rare comic strip that completely divorcees itself from contemporary culture, too. I mean, even Peanuts, not usually thought of as a topic strip, name-dropped Spuds Mackenzie, alluded to the Vietnam War, sent the kids to a weird millenarianist sleepover camp run by a for-profit preacher, and had Lucy offer her e-mail. (In different years.) But a comic strip like Henry that’s just entirely its own thing? I can see Griffith respecting that.
So I have not the faintest idea why Griffith had Henry present an ontological argument. I trust that he finds it all amusing and weird, and that’s always a fun energy.
Nothing yet from Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley. Which is weird, but the comic for the 28th was Halloween-themed so it’s not like that could be coherently bumped to another weekend.
I have a content warning before going into Karen Moy and June Bridgman’s Mary Worth today. It features pet death, and handles it with spectacular incompetence. If you don’t want to read that, I don’t blame you. You might skip the whole thing. Around about January 2019 I should have another plot recap. I trust this storyline will be done before that point.
Everybody Tommy knows gives him the same advice. So he takes it. He tells her about his painkiller addiction. That he’s not used anything in over a year. That he has a support group he feels confident in. That he’s found both God and Mary Worth. And she’s okay with that. She loves him, and trusts him. They stick together. So that’s sweet.
There’s a week of Mary and Iris talking about how happy everything is and how great Mary is. And that leads to the current storyline. And this one, as I warn, includes pet death treated badly. So here’s one last chance to ditch if you need to.
Last time I checked in, Mark Trail and company were in the pop-culture district of Mexico. Mark’s archeology buddy Professor Howard Carter was finding weird stuff in a 2500-year-old temple. His assistant Becky had this weird habit of cataloguing and making 3-D scans of everything before taking it to a secure facility. And hey, she’s off-stage now for unknown reasons. Rusty found a “Zuni Fetish Doll” that arrived in an anonymous box. And this wasn’t the first time one of these has turned up. That and some references to Indiana Jones and Three Amigos filled out the setting. I don’t know if the doll is a reference to something.
Mark Trail realizes the story is stalling out. It’s been going since April and what we know is this ancient temple is weird and Becky’s off-stage. He suggests Rusty and his girlfriend-based partner organism Mara go to the other temple. See if they can’t get kidnapped or something while he takes a nap and disappears from the story. Joe the van driver mentions how the dolls started showing up and the site has a curse or something. Also that he’d heard Becky was at the dig site in the morning but guesses he was wrong. Anyway, he drops them off in care of the tour guide at Non-Creepy Mayan Temple.
Rusty and Mara notice that Becky’s in with the tour group. They call to her, but she doesn’t react. Mara thinks it’s odd that Becky didn’t hear them. But Rusty has people “not hearing” him and fleeing his approach all the time. Still, they press on. They find Becky! She’s talking with someone else, someone wearing a backpack who was not from the tour group. And holding what looks like one of the masks dug up earlier. Mara thinks Becky is trying to sell it. They work up the hypothesis that Becky is making 3-D prints of the artifacts, selling the real ones, and putting the fakes into museums. Rusty thinks it’s a shame someone as nice-seeming as Becky would do something so underhanded. Mara calls him out on this: “you meet a girl one time, and just because she’s pretty, you think she’s nice”. A good point. Rusty doesn’t seem to consider he hasn’t met Mara all that much, and she seems nice, and she’s feeding the idea Becky is arranging an artifact sale. Just saying.
They notice someone’s watching them. And they follow the guy who took the mask. Backpack Guy is taking the tour bus back to Santa Poco. The guy who watched them gets on the radio with Joe the driver, though. Joe and Watching Guy share an ominous radio conversation about having to use the kids before getting them out of the way. And that they know this is dangerous, given Mark Trail’s reputation for how every story ends in major explosions lately. Rusty and Mara get back to Joe, and ask him to take them into Santa Poco and hey, why not stop wherever the tour bus does? He can’t figure an excuse not to comply. Mara wonders if Joe might have been the watcher, and she thinks that’s a shame, as “he seems like such a nice guy”. Credit to James Allen for underplaying the character moments there. Anyway, they drive past a week’s worth of panels of Central American wildlife eating other pieces of Central American wildlife.
Mara’s talked Rusty into putting some kind of tracking app on his phone and I’m sorry, Rusty Trail has a smart phone. I have to go lie down a while. Also he has a smart phone that works in Mexico. Y’know, my love and I spent a week in Mexico City earlier this year. Working out whether we could get a phone to work on the Mexican network was something we stressed about without ever solving the problem. (We made it through the week without a phone. Not looking for a medal here, just some acknowledgement of our courage.) Anyway, Mara’s plan is to turn on the tracking app, drop the phone in Backpack Guy’s backpack and then even if they lose sight of him, it’s all right. They can follow. Mara mentions getting the idea from Nancy Drew, a reference Rusty doesn’t get, and wait Nancy Drew has smart phones now? I have to go lie down again.
Back to Joe, who mercifully gives us some names for characters. Watching Guy turns out to be Pablo. They and Raul — who’s talking to Joe while posing with his cool motorcycle — know the kids are on to something. And that Pablo saw the “courier”, while Raul saw Becky. They note that they didn’t see the courier and Becky together. This point is so inconsequential that taking panel time to establish it must mean it’s consequential. Joe think that Rusty and Mara were following the “second courier”. But since they’re not following Backpack Guy now he doesn’t know what to think. This may be how this scenario would happen. But it made for a week of baffling reading as people say they don’t know what’s going on. Raul promises to “take care” of Rusty and Mara. He also says he’s “let Pablo take care of” Becky. Yes, I’m aware the phrasing looks ominous without actually committing to anything. I mean, there’s enough space here for Joe and Pablo and Raul to be part of the smuggling operation. There’s also enough for them to be undercover agents busting the crime syndicate.
All right. So. Rusty and Mara try to act casual as Backpack Guy encounters them. He recognizes his “clumsy friends” who knocked him over at the bus stop. That scene wasn’t actually shown on-panel by the way. But it was how they dropped Rusty’s phone into his backpack. He proposes that they walk with him, since this is not a great part of town for unattended kids. And introduces himself as Juanito, so now I have all the player-characters’ names. Juanito says he’s a courier, and he’s got a package to deliver nearby, so why not walk with him? Rusty and Mara go along with this. Juanito stops at the next street because he’s seen the motorcyclist, whom we know to be Raul. Juanito’s not sure that Raul is following them, but does think he “looks like trouble”. Juanito proposes they run into a crowd. I’m assuming a fruit stand is going to get knocked over. Could even get exploded.
I do appreciate that James Allen has put in play at least three groups here. Each knows a little about the other groups. None knows enough that anyone can be confident in who to trust or how far. It’s a bit foggy reading this day-to-day. Comics Kingdom lets subscribers read a week’s worth of strips at once. That helps the plot threads focus for me. And, I hope, I help that for you.
Sunday Animals Watch
What fascinating animals, plants, or forces of nature were highlighted in the Sunday panels recently? And have we killed them yet? Here’s the recap.
Ants, 29 July 2018. So there’s ants that explode and they’re not even from Australia and what the flipping heck?
Honeysuckle, 5 August 2018. Not any more endangered than all life on Earth is right now.
Dobsonflies, 12 August 2018. Early indicators of when the local environment is dying.
Hognose Snakes, 19 August 2018. Not endangered, but they do play dead so they’re a little drama-prone.
Giant Hogweed, 26 August 2018. Also called Giant Cow Parsley or Hogsbane, claims Mark Trail. It’s invasive and its sap can send you to the hospital with third-degree burns.
Gila Monsters, 2 September 2018. Fun episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
Humbolt Martens, 9 September 2018. Endangered, and Mark Trail tries to cast some blame on the marihuana.
Rhinoceroses, 16 September 2018. Ugh. You know. But it does mention that thing where earlier this year it looks like lions killed a poacher of rhinoceroses.
Mount Lico’s “Lost Continent”, 23 September 2018. Cool, technology-assisted discovery of a previously undisturbed forest with a bunch of unknown species that’ll probably blow up, if that episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 is any guide.
Jaguars, 30 September 2018. Endangered. Features one of the three known in recent years to be in the United States and that got killed by a poacher.
The Larger Pacific Striped Octopus, 7 October 2018. Probably endangered, but apparently it’s too rarely seen to be sure.
Parsnips, 21 October 2018. They can cause second-degree chemical burns, which is no Giant Hogweed but is still a valuable reminder to never eat anything natural enough that its name isn’t required legally to be misspelled.
Will I make it seven days without turning into a white-hot ball of incoherent, jibbering rage? There’s only one way to know and that’s to see if I last until next Sunday reading Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth. If I survive, I’ll tell you why you should probably be a white-hot ball of incoherent, jibbering rage too!
Comic Strip I’ve Wanted To Punch Harder Than I’ve Wanted To Punch Anything Else In My Life Today
Mary Worth 
 With the footnote that if you did not know the context then Saturday’s Mary Worth would be hilarious. Any comic strip where someone barks out “Bah!” is 90% of the way to hilarious. But trust me. In context? You’re going to want to punch this comic strip harder than you’ve wanted to punch anything in your life. Promise.
Reference: The Sputniks Crisis and Early United States Space Policy: A Critique of the Historiography of Space (Studies in Military and Strategic History), Rip Bulkeley.
If you’re looking for the latest story developments in Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley, thanks for thinking of me. If you’re reading this after about January 2019, there’s probably a more recent article for you. It should be posted here, and good luck finding what you need.
Still, it’s productive. Nelson bemoans the world situation and, longing for a hero, asks “Where is Orphan Annie when we need her most?” Wallet picks up the line. He finds it the right close for his roast of Little Orphan Annie at the Old Comics Home. Skeezix and Walt drive to the Old Comics Home, which is bigger than it used to be. Also very empty. They don’t know what’s gone wrong.
Jiggs, of Bringing Up Father, rescues them. The dinner is at the new banquet hall. They could afford it thanks to “a famous cartoonist that included us in his will”. The commenters at GoComics speculate that Jiggs was talking about Mort Walker, who died earlier this year. That sounds good to me. You don’t think of Beetle Bailey as having raked its creator a great heaping pile of money, but remember, he also had those Boner’s Ark royalties coming in for years. They need the expanded home, too, as there’s more and more old-comics every day, what with newspapers having died in 2008.
They get to the banquet hall, and Jiggs passes off Walt and Skeezix to Mutt and Jeff. This opens things to a good spot of corny old dining jokes, and a lot of challenges to identify some 1930s comic strip character. But finally, with the start of September, the banquet reaches its point: it is not a roast of Little Orphan Annie. It’s a tribute to Gasoline Alley in honor of its centennial. Walt Wallet points out this is a couple months early. Mutt says “We know! We’ve got an Orphan Annie roast planned then!”
The strip began to recap the first century of itself. This included some nice-looking redrawings of vintage comics. This Scancarelli did using the original Frank King-style model sheets, or good adaptations of them to modern newspaper needs. And then jump ahead to reviewing the 14th of February, 1921, when a most important thing happened: Jack Benny turned 39. And the infant Skeezix was left on Walt Wallet’s doorstep. This is taken as the moment when Gasoline Alley leapt out of its original premise — jokes about guys and their obsessive tinkering with cars — into something people cared about, wildly. Walt Wallet adopting this foundling was a story.
The strip recounts what I am going ahead and trusting are early comics about Walt trying to take care of Baby Skeezix. And describes the nationwide poll that I’m trusting Scancarelli when he says was held, to pick a name for the child. The result, I am surprised to learn, was “Allison”, a bit of wordplay on his being the Alley’s son. And a reminder that any name we might think of as a girl’s was also a boy’s name at most three generations ago. But Skeezix stuck. Walt repeats the claim that Skeezix is “cowboy slang for a motherless calf”. Perhaps, but I can’t find support for that word-origin story that doesn’t come from Gasoline Alley. “Skeesicks”, or several variant spellings of it, does seem to be 19th century slang for a rogue or rascal. The connotation of the word softened as the 20th century dawned. By 1912 it was the sort of thing a P G Wodehouse protagonist (in The Prince and Betty) could call the stuffy old fellow with money who’s slowing the whole scheme down.
All looked ready to carry on with recapping a century’s worth of overarching stories when October, and a special guest, arrived. I expected Phyllis Wallet, who died in the strip in 2004. Part of Gasoline Alley‘s gimmick has been that the characters age, loosely in real time, which for a long-running strip means even the core characters have to die. Walt Wallet’s been spared, I imagine for reasonable sentimental reasons. But it does mean if you pay attention, he’s 118 years old. There’s two people in history who lived demonstrably longer than him. Moving Walt to the Old Comics Home seems like a natural way to avoid having to bring up his age without killing off the last of the comic strip’s original characters. Reuniting Walt with Phyllis and letting them stay together would make so much sense. It might yet be done.
But it wasn’t done this month. The guest was one Mrs Peggy Lee. Whom the strip tells us is a real person. That she’s drawn in a much-more-realistic style than any other character suggested this. And why Peggy Lee? Says the strip, she also turned 100 years old this year. This opens the door to a couple weeks of old-age jokes (“I knew I was getting old when it took me longer to recover than it did to tire me out!”). And why Peggy Lee as opposed to any other centenarian? Apparently she’s been a fan of the strip her whole life, and Jim Scancarelli came to know that. Well, that’s sweet.
And that’s what’s been happening. The Sunday strips have kept on being spot jokes. They don’t fill out any particular story, but do keep the other characters in the comic. I assume the comic is going to continue celebrating its centennial. That will come, barring catastrophe, the 24th of November, or just short of six weeks from now. It seems likely to me that Scancarelli’s already completed the centennial strip. Wow.
Gasoline Alley is the oldest (American) syndicated comic strip that’s still in production. (The Katzenjammer Kids lapsed into eternal reruns long ago, and I have no idea if it’s still offered to any newspapers anywhere or if it’s just posted to Comics Kingdom.) There are a few others that should join it soon, though. Ripley’s Believe It Or Not (if you count it as a comic strip) first appeared the 19th of December, 1918. Barney Google first appeared the 17th of June, 1919. Popeye first appeared, as Thimble Theatre, on the 19th of December, 1919, and it at least still has new Sunday strips. (Popeye himself didn’t join the strip until 1929.) I suspect none of them figure to do an anniversary celebration like this.
Mexico! Mysterious artefacts in the Yucatan! The strange and wonderful wildlife of Central America that we somehow haven’t killed yet! Yes, this storyline is still going on in James Allen’s Mark Trail, but never fear! I’ll catch you up!
So I spent the early part of the day wondering how long the cartoonist spent deciding whether they wanted the animal here to be a raccoon, or a cat, or a raccoon, or a cat, before finally remembering, it’s a Ziggy panel. They didn’t have to work out which in this situation would be funnier, cat or raccoon.
Hi, readers of Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy. I do my best here to bring you up to date on the last couple month’s developments. If it’s past about January of 2019 for you, there’s probably a more recent update here. Good luck finding the story you need.
Last time I checked in Dick Tracy was entering a charity bread-making contest so I’m sorry I have to go lie down a bit. All right. Sawtooth hopes to use the chance to kill Tracy; he and his gambling-addict partner Grimm have stolen a bread truck and, saying they were from the charity event, got into the Tracy’s home. They don’t fool Tracy for a second. He used the super-detective work of knowing the restaurant collecting the bread didn’t have a truck to send out. The fight spills out of Tracy’s kitchen, through the glass door. Sawtooth and Grimm flee as cop cars approach.
They can’t take a train legitimately. Grimm lost the pair’s money betting on horses. Sawtooth (off-panel) kills him, and hops a freight train to Minot, North Dakota. Dick Tracy knows this thanks to one of the informants recruited by Lafayette Austin. Lafayette Austin’s this faintly Shaggy-esque introduced so prominently during the recent Green Hornet storyline that everyone had to wonder what his deal was. Early August, he explains his deal: He knew Mister Bribery and his sister Ugly Christine back in college. Back before Christine Bribery (?) turned to a life of crime. And then a death of leaping from a magnetic Moon Valley-technology Air Car into a smokestack. But he knew Ugly Christine as a beautiful person. He didn’t know she had a daughter. Ugly Crystal, friend to Honey Moon Tracy. Hold that thought.
Sawtooth, in Minot, goes to the Hoagland Cemetery. The grave of one “Private James Wesley Malone, CSA”. The baffling and offensive headstone is a fake. Sawtooth had left $50,000 in cash underneath it. Tracy and Sam Catchem, following the lead of Austin and of Usagi Yojimbo‘s Inspector Ishida, are already there. Sawtooth shoots first. Don’t know whether Tracy or Catchem shoots the bullet that kills him.
And then, starting the 19th of August, was a two-week Minit Mystery, featuring as guest artist Rick Burchett. Burchett’s a two-time Eisner Award-winner, has penciled and inked a lot of comic books, and since 2017 pencils Funky Winkerbean. Anyway, this Minit Mystery is set at the Rogue’s Gallery, where a bunch of cosplayers feign being Dick Tracy characters. Lest you think this is entirely two weeks of self-reference and an excuse to show Flattop (deceased 1944) again, know that the Rogue’s Gallery building was established as 704 Houser. That was Archie Bunker’s address.
Anyway, the mystery is figuring out who killed the Cosplay Dick Tracy. It takes a week just to start collecting clues. The resolution is … well, there’s no information given on-camera that would let you find it. But it does show what the critical clue would be. It’s the old minute-mystery trick of an incriminating note that’s been torn off the sheet of paper, but that you can find by scraping a pencil over to read the impression of what was written there.
Third of September, and the start of the current storyline. A drug pusher by the school gets kicked out by a Sonic-the-Hedgehog-haired woman working for “Polar Vortex”. Polar Vortex seems to be quite fond of the air conditioner and he swears he’s got protection. Get his … guy … within six feet of Dick Tracy and “Poof! No more Tracy!” (I would have written “Vanished, without a Tracy” but I’m not the professional here.)
Back at school, Ugly Crystal and Honey Moon Tracy notice the drug dealer. Honey Moon calls her dad the cop, but the dealer confronts her and she kinda moon-electrocutes him. The dealer’s arrested. Honey Moon gets grounded, which I like as a nice understated joke.
Back to Lafayette Austin. He thinks he might be Ugly Crystal’s father. He goes to Mister Bribery, in jail, for information. Bribery won’t talk with him. Tracy intervenes. Bribery is upset Tracy wants help with that “hippie” Lafayette Austin, which is a pretty good insult. It does kind of match Austin’s look, yes. But also if we accept that he was going with Ugly Christine back in the 60s, yeah, maybe we would have been a hippie. Also, rich old white guys have this weird obsession with hippies coming out and grabbing at the women-folk. So it’s possibly true, it’s funny, and it’s in-character.
Oh, also, turns out Lafayette’s brother is Adam Austin who writes those “Midnite Mirror” stories about the Mirror-Universe Evil Dick Tracy. And who’s going around with Sprocket Nitrate, of the film-fraud Nitrate siblings, because this crime-adventure comic is still a soap opera.
Tracy presses, though, arguing that Ugly Crystal should have a family if possible. And Bribery admits that, so far as he knew, Ugly Christine never had another serious relationship. They set up a blood test. Also the chance to meet and, for Austin, to talk about Crystal’s mother. The paternity test comes back, oddly enough sent to the Major Case Unit instead of Austin’s or Crystal’s residences. They’re daughter and father.
Meanwhile, Polar Vortex is still trying to I’ll go ahead and call it icing Dick Tracy. His plan relates to dealing drugs at Honey Moon’s school. He’s got an ice cream truck. And someone named Pauly who’s a mechanic and comes from a broken home which somehow makes him “valuable” to Vortex. And somehow this is all supposed to come together to destroying Dick Tracy. We’ll see what happens next.
When I last checked in on Prince Valiant some shocking news had come to light. It turns out Prince Valiant happens around the time of the Emperor Justinian’s reign. We know this because Justinian had dispatched one General Vialius to take over the Misty Isles. He was to do this through the treacherous and impoverished Senator Krios. This comes on the heels of the revelation-to-me that Prince Valiant’s based on the Misty Isles somewhere in the Mediterranean. At least these days.
On a secluded island Krios meets with General Vialius. The trade is easy enough. Krios had arranged the murder of a Norse trader. This was to stir up anti-foreigner sentiment that (Byzantine) Rome could exploit. But Vialius withholds the gold payment promised. Krios was supposed to supply a Norse hostage, but he had killed the only one on hand. Vialius wants to call the deal off. Krios offers his own son Antero as substitute hostage.
Antero laughs this off. He points to Princess Valeta and the guard who’ve been watching all this treason going down. The Queen’s men declare how now that there’s incontrovertible proof of Krios’s treachery his place in political life is ended. Don’t you love a sweet fantasy like that? Valeta confronts Vitalius in what you’d have to figure is a pretty awkward conversation. But she offers that if they get out of there, everyone can pretend it all never happened. This sounds good to Vitalius, who doesn’t know his boats are going to be lost to the wine-dark sea, in a battle with Norse raiders. He and his whole mission will disappear to ironic history. Knowing how that turns out makes it awkward that I think he made the right choice.
Not making the right choice, yet again: Krios. When Vitalius refuses to take him along, he tries to start a battle and flee in the chaos. Antero grabs and holds his father, at least until brother Drakon spears him in the back. Drakon in turn is shot by Ittu, a woman … uh … I lost track where she’s from. I think she’s one of the attendants of Andrina, Krios’s daughter and the only one of the siblings to survive the night. Krios is able to flee in the chaos, but what good is that going to do him, really?
And so the story moves toward conclusions. Valeta’s feted as a hero. Zulfa and Ittu, who did much to support the investigation and downfall of Krios, get saluted. Drakon gets his corpse dragged through the streets. Antero gets some recognition; through this story, he’s been the one person in Krios’s party to insist on stopping. Now there’s just Andrina to take care of. She’s angry with Zulfa for being part of the whole chain of events that got Antero killed. But Antero bequeathed his property to Zulfa. She proposes to Andrina that her brother wished they would be friends. She’s willing to try.
The “Next” tag for the 30th of September promises “The Return”. There’s an obvious person this could mean. Prince Valiant hasn’t been in this story, or this strip, since about February. He’s been busy coming back from Kazhakstan the long way, by river, building a long series of rafts that immediately capsize. Has he got back home? Has all waterway navigation in central Asia become impossible as a vast logjam of Valiant’s rafts blockades all the rivers? I don’t know. We’ll see.
Hi, readers interested in Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom. I’m writing here about the weekday continuity. It’s a story separate from what Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel have going on Sundays. Both storylines get their recaps at this page, although we’re about six weeks from the next Sunday-strips recap. Also at that page should be any recaps that I write after this one. So if you’re reading this after about December 2018 there’s probably an essay recapping more recent plot elements there.
The Ghost Who Walks had got back to his cave and gotten sewn up last time I checked on the daily strip. It was part of a story, A Reckoning With The Nomad, that began the 19th of February. It’s the 250th weekday-continuity story. Eric Sahara, supercriminal terrorist known as The Nomad, had lured The Phantom into a raid on his bungalow. The Nomad wasn’t there. Many gunmen were. The Phantom got out, but with serious injuries. He wondered: Where is The Nomad?
He’s in Manhattan, it turns out, visiting his daughter Kadia. She’s attending the prestigious Briarson School. Her roommate is Heloise Walker, daughter of the current Phantom. Also twin sister of the Phantom-apparent. Heloise would rather like to be a Phantom herself. It’s not a ridiculous plan. The Chronicles of Skull Cave record Phantom-connected women donning the purple-and-stripes for various missions. And not only in stories told recently, as we might expect a decades-old comic strip might try to downplay old casual sexism. Comics Kingdom runs 1940s and 1950s-vintage Phantom strips as well, and those have had stories of women acting as the Phantom. (The story linked to there, from 1952, is neat as it talks about that Phantom’s twin sister who decides to get into the superhero game, much as Heloise has been saying she could do.)
Still. Phantom has known for a while his daughter was roommates with The Nomad’s daughter. He’d kept this secret from his family, the better to not worry them. He had a change of heart after the ambush made him go horse-riding with a massive wound in his neck. Walker tells his daughter exactly who she’s roommates with. “Better late than in the middle of the dinner your loved one is having with the international supercriminal terrorist”, goes the Old Jungle Saying.
Because the Nomad is figuring it’s time he disappear. So he’s visiting his daughter for one last weekend before he vanishes. His pleasant tourist weekend with Kadia and Heloise was that last weekend. It’s also a neat bit of plot rhyme to the weekend Kadia and Heloise spent with The Phantom and his wife, by the way. Heloise gets this news in the middle of dinner with him. She’s ready to tell her father where The Nomad is. Fear overtakes her: if he knew, Walker would jump on an airplane right then, despite the risk to his life. She figures she can do at least as well by sticking close to the Nomad and if lucky getting an idea his plans. Pass that on to her father when he’s well enough to fight, and everything will be in great shape.
The Nomad’s got plans for Heloise too. He’s learned Heloise Walker was for a time the young ward of Bangallan President Lamanda Luaga. And that this is something she’s never found worth mentioning to Kadia. His conclusion: she’s a young agent of the Bangallan government, sent to get to him through his daughter. It’s wild but not absurd. It depends, for example, on ascribing deep meaning to Kadia and Heloise being roommates. In-story, that was set because the school’s headmaster thought it cute. Or why Heloise reveals so little about her past, or her parents. Well, there’s other good reasons for her to be quiet about all that.
So he figures to kill her before she kills him. He forms a plan that seems, at first, confusing. But the indirectness is for good reason. He doesn’t want Kadia distressed about Heloise. And also doesn’t want her asking questions about Heloise’s disappearance. So the next day he goes to the Transportation Security Agency with a report of how he’s heard Heloise goes making pro-terrorist statements like “terrorists are great” and “I love that terror stuff”. He tells them he’s glad to keep Heloise busy while they ready to arrest her. But he’ll have to act like he protests when they take her, for the sake of her daughter. You know he donates so much to the TSA’s widows-and-orphans fund? (Which is a heck of a sick joke that DePaul left there for you to realize was there.)
The Nomad treats his daughters to dinner on his own private jet, on the runway yet. Heloise steps out to text her father about how she knows who the Nomad is and how she’s going to get his trail. She’s barely done giving the cavalry pretext to arrive when she’s arrested. Kadia demands her father do something. He does: he pretends to talk with the Chief. And that the Chief told her Heloise is going to federal custody. He takes the batteries from Kadia’s phone and tells her to rest. And to process the news that Heloise is some kind of terrorist and going away to Federal custody. Thus he has this goal: Kadia has a story to why Heloise will never be seen again.
Meanwhile the security apparatus has done some investigating. They’ve worked out that Heloise Walker may be a Bangallan national. But she is white and rich and I’m guessing Anglican. (I mean, the original Phantom was born in England in the 16th century, so there’s an obvious guess but also plenty of room for that guess to be wrong. And there’s five hundred years since then, even if the family’s settled on some strong traditions. Doesn’t seem to be practicing any European religion strongly, anyway.) They let her back into the Nomad’s custody. This seems quick. But a cop that The Nomad encounters on the airport tarmac does say how Heloise checked out, and it’s worth reporting people anyway. You never really know.
The Nomad brings Heloise back to his plane and explains that of course he’s dismissed all his servants. Also Kadia’s totally on the plane. She insists on calling Kadia first. When she only gets voice-mail, she fears The Nomad has killed Kadia. And lets slip that she knows who he is. She flees. He catches her and knocks her out. He takes her into the plane. He’s going to fly her to somewhere he can throw her into the sea.
(One of her shoes fell off, since high heels are always doing that. The cop I mentioned earlier drives up when The Nomad’s picking up the shoe. He considers killing the cop, to cover up that possible thread. But the cop only talks about the importance of keeping everyone under surveillance, and doesn’t seem to notice the shoe, so The Nomad lets him go.)
The unconscious Heloise dreams of sparring with her brother Kit. His dream-image is urging her to wake, now. The Nomad’s holding for clearance to take off.
It’s time to check in on Mark Schulz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant. Has the strip been invaded by the Byzantine Empire under Justinian? You’ll know soon!
Really looking forward to next week, gotta tell you.
(This past week, Mopey Pete and Boy Lisa were told by their boss at the comics company that they needed a new flagship character. Mopey Pete’s girlfriend who inexplicably hasn’t shoved him over a cliff yet suggested “Atomic Ape” and the boss loved it. Then since the boss figured Atomic Ape needed a sidekick, she suggested “Charger Chimp” and the boss loved it too. Then Mopey Pete spent half the week yelling at his alleged girlfriend about how they were trying to do SERIOUS stuff here and he always hated kid sidekick characters and I guess somehow a chimpanzee has to be an annoying kid sidekick? Anyway, his alleged girlfriend was gone from the strip Saturday and if she has any sense, she’s put in for a transfer to some three-generations-and-a-dog strip like Ben or One Big Happy where they avoid focusing on the hateful characters quite so much.)
Reference: The Frozen-Water Trade, Gavin Weightman.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.