What’s Going On In Rex Morgan, M.D.? September – December 2017


Hi, enthusiast of Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. trying to figure out what’s going on. This is my best effort at catching up what’s happening in the strip as of mid-December 2017. If you’re reading this after around March 2018, barring some surprise, I’ll have some more current essay describing its events. You should be able to get that essay here. And, must say, it looks to me like the strip is transitioning from one story to another. So if you’re reading this in, say, February and don’t know what’s going on, and can’t wait for me, you’ll probably have it all if you just go back to mid-December in the archives and catch up from there.

And if you’re just interested in mathematically-themed comics, I’ve got a week’s summary on my other blog. The mathematics one.

Rex Morgan, M.D.

18 September – 10 December 2017.

I keep remarking how it seems like my story comic summaries coincide with new stories starting in the comics. Some of it’s luck. Some of it’s the ease of confirmation bias. I get to each strip about every 12 weeks. If I’m off by half a month that’s still one chance in three of being “near” the start of a story. Still, last time I checked in on Rex Morgan, M.D. I was like right on the end of a story. June Morgan’s old childhood friend Margie Taylor, dying of plot, had got the Morgans to agree to adopt her child. And she had just vanished, leaving only a pile of problem-clearing paperwork and nice enough kid Johnny in her wake.

Like the week after my last essay the strip went around the horn, touching on some of the major storylines. Wealthy industrialist Milton Avery was shown settling back in his old home in England, no longer recognizing his wife Heather, and unaware that she’s pregnant. The Avery’s house-sitters for their on-panel house are shown to be … nice people that I guess have something going for them. Edward, the kid who tried to bully Sarah during the gas-leak year when she was resident child artist at the municipal art gallery, comes over to show off a dog that’s supposed to be fantastically weird that he can only be shown as a Dick Tracy-style explanatory caption.

And then, come October, we started the real story of the last couple months. It involves the highest form of art according to the people who write comic strips, which is, comic books. Early this year the Morgans helped their friend Buck reconnect with Great 50s Horror Comics artist Hank Harwood. Since then “Horrible” Hank’s gotten some satisfying late-in-life glory from fans who had just supposed he was dead or something, plus a bunch of commissions. But, following an anonymous Internet tip Harwood’s son discovers: somebody’s posting fake Horrible Hank art on auction sites.

Mindy: 'Someone is pretending to be you and selling forgeries of Hank's drawings on the Internet?' Buck: 'That's the gist of it, yeah.' 'Sounds crazy to me.' 'It may sound crazy, but scammers can make serious dough selling fakes online. Autographs, comic art, you name it.' 'I see plenty of reproductions in my antiques business, but that's usually just people who are mistaken about what they have. Intentionally defrauding people with fakes? I just can't understand the mindset of someone who'd do that.' 'They see others as marks, just victims to take advantage of.' 'Pretty darn sad, if you ask me.' 'No kidding'. ELSEWHERE. Mysterious woman handing over envelope: 'Your payment.' Rene Belluso: 'Thanks. I'm pleased with the quality.' Mysterious: 'You're good at what you do. Most people would never know these are copies.' Rene: 'Let me know when you want more.' Mysterious: 'I will, Rene. Thanks.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 8th of October, 2017. I don’t know, not my place to quarrel with someone else’s preferences in art. I just think that forged Horrible Hank piece is not all that good a portrait of a young maiden looking discreetly away from the viewer is all. And don’t get me started on the duckrabbit.

Buck, who’s been managing Horrible Hank’s return to the money factory that is commissioned comics art, is horrified. He lodges complaints with the auction site. The counterfeiter responds by saying (a) their stuff is too legit and (b) here’s some news stories about Buck being arrested for art forgery so nyah. Buck is offended by what he calls “doxxing” and files a complaint with the Commissioner of the Internet to get these untrue things removed.

But his certified letter to the Commissioner of the Internet is barely mailed when a major clue steps in. Buck’s getting-quite-serious girlfriend Mindy recognizes the women who spent an hour lingering around her antiques store. It’s Doris, Buck’s abusive ex-wife, who’s supposed to be in jail after this incident where she nail-gunned his head and came after him with a knife. He’s supposed to be under a protection order and get notified when she’s released, but, you know, things happen.

[MINDY IS TEXTING BUCK]: 'This woman has been poking around the shop for an hour. What do you bet she ends up not buying a thing?' [EVENTUALLY] ... (Woman): 'I'll just take this.' Mindy: 'Okay then. Thanks for stopping by. Do come again.' Woman: 'It's a lovely store. I'll be back.' Mindy thinks: 'I thought she'd never leave! I can close up, finally.' [LATER AT BUCK'S PLACE] Mindy: 'What are you looking at, Corey?' Corey: 'Some old pics of Dad. Just kind of comparing these with him now to see how much weight he's lost.' Mindy: 'May I see?' Corey: 'Well, yeah. Though a lot of these pics have Dad's ex, Doris, in them --- not sure you want to see her.' Mindy: 'THAT's Doris? But that's the woman who was in my shop today.' Corey: 'Oh, that can't be good. We'd better tell Dad.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 22nd of October, 2017. I can attest, as a person who has lost a lot of weight, how weird old photographs look. There was this time, when I was first thin, that I thought the weird part was the current me and this weird figure looking back in mirrors and new pictures and all. But that changes. Now I look at old pictures of me and I can kind of see myself, only my hair isn’t grey, and I appear to be incompetently smuggling an inflatable raft out of the sporting-goods store. I also kept one of my old shirts from when I was enormous and it’s hard to believe but it’s large enough to house my car.

Mindy texts Buck when Doris re-visits the antiques shop. Buck immediately charges into the scene, which goes as well as you could hope for doing the dumb thing. She misses hitting him with a paperweight, runs off, and lets him catch her in her apartment. Her plan: ruin Buck’s reputation as a legitimate comics-art dealer, thereby breaking up his relationship with Mindy, after which she’ll get Buck all to herself. Well, I’ve heard dumber schemes. A disgusted Buck tries to leave, but Mindy charges, ineptly, and falls down the steps just after a witness arrives to see the whole thing.

Doris: 'Buck, don't leave! I love you!' Buck: 'You have no clue what love is, Doris. I feel sorry for you --- but we are more than done.' Mindy: 'Buck!' (She throws a paperweight and misses.) Buck: 'You really have to stop throwing those paperweights, Doris.' Doris: 'YOU CAN'T LEAVE ME! I WON'T LET YOU!' Buck: 'Goodbye, Doris.' (Neighbor pokes his head out the apartment.) Doris: 'BUCK!!! DON'T YOU DARE!' (She jumps after him, and falls down the steps.) Neighbor: 'You want I should call 911?' Doris: 'Ow ... !'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 12th of November, 2017. I feel bad that I keep getting a little giggle every time I read that last panel.

With the crazy ex put back in jail, Buck can look forward to a life as a reputable comics-art dealer. And, with his son’s encouragement, he asks Mindy to marry. She’s happy to. Horrible Hank finally gets to see some of the forgeries. And he recognizes the artist: Rene Belluso. The guy who was giving Sarah art lessons up until Terry Beatty took over the comic and dialed way down the “free stuff for the Morgans” theme.

And besides that Rene Belluso is still out there forging art, that wraps up that storyline, one week ago. This past week was spent delivering the news that Margie Taylor had, indeed died. I intend no guess as to whether that’s starting a new thread about the adoption of Johnny or simply resolving the previous thread. Still, it’s a bunch of successfully deployed soap opera plotting, so, well done.

Next Week!

Viral videos! Micro-managing stage uncles! Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy! No word on the playdowns! It can’t be anything but Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp. Please stop in and see what football players are singing and for what reasons.

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What’s Going On In The Phantom (Sundays)? September – December 2017


I’m glad to offer you kind readers an update about what’s going on in The Phantom. There’s two continuities at play in the strip, both written by Tony DePaul. This is an essay about the Sundays-only continuity, drawn by Jeff Weigel. If you’re interested in the weekday strips, or if you’re reading this essay much past December 2017, please look to the essays on this page. The Weekday continuity, and any later essays I’ve written about the Sunday continuity, should be right up top there.

And I also keep reviewing comic strips with mathematical themes on my other blog. I’m glad if you want to read that.

The Phantom (Sundays).

10 September – 3 December 2017.

My last recap of The Phantom Sunday continuity came near the end of the storyline “The Phantom Is Everywhere”. The Phantom Wiki says this was the 185th Sunday story, running the 26 weeks from the 9th of April through the 1st of October. I accept these claims. Also at some point over the storyline the Sunday artist switched from Terry Beatty to Jeff Weigel and I failed to point that out. I apologize to Beatty and Weigel.

The story was mostly wrapped up then, though. Three killers had escaped Jungle Patrol custody. The Phantom, relying on his intelligence network and drummers in the Bandar tribes, managed to capture them all the same night. Also to give them the impression he had captured them simultaneously, burnishing his reputation of being everywhere and timeless. Since my last essay the Jungle Patrol had found the three where the Ghost Who Walks left them. Guran covers up the bit early in the story where he knocks a Jungle Patrol officer unconscious, and reminds the Jungle Patrol about the yet another old jungle saying about how time is nothing to The Phantom. Hawa Aguda and Kay Molloy, women who years ago quit their humdrum jobs and joined the Jungle Patrol with the iconic declaration “I quit! We’re joining the Jungle Patrol!”, wonder if this might have something to do with the mysterious “John X” whom they suspect might be the Unknown Commander of the Jungle Patrol. (He is.)

With the 8th of October began the new story, the 186th, “The Rat Must Die”. The initial setting: Boomsby Prison, Bangalla’s spot for the most dangerous criminals. One is an as-yet-unnamed prisoner who looks like one part Daddy Warbucks, one part the closet monster from the end of The Brain That Wouldn’t Die. The warden laughs at Closet Warbucks’s proposed deal of his freedom in trade for the guy who was supposed to break him out of Boomsby. It’s not clear at this point the guy’s relationship to Closet Warbucks. My thought was he was someone hired to break him out, and who either reneged on the deal or who Closet Warbucks figured to double-cross on the way to getting out. It would be a kind of stupidly overcomplicated plot, but I could rationalize the logic. He’d either break out, or get buy his freedom by spoiling a break-out attempt. And if you’re not coming up with a stupidly overcomplicated plot you’re kind of wasting your superhero’s time.

[A Bid for Freedom ... ] Closet Warbucks: 'What are you laughing at? I know every crime he's planning! I can TAKE YOU to him!' [Meeting's over.] Guard: 'Warden has work to do! Move!' Warbucks: 'Y-you're TURNING ME DOWN!?' (As they walk down the hall, janitor listening. Warbucks: 'That stupid, lousy SUIT! I'll LEAD THE TEAM to my partner's door!' Guard: 'Yeah, yeah, MOVE IT!' Warbucks: 'You don't even have to give me a GUN!" Prisoner: 'There goes a real rat.' [ Nothing said in Boomsby stays in Boomsby ... Nothing ] (as prisoners pass word around.)
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 22nd of October, 2017. So I’ll return to my traditional role of talking about the art in captions rather than the text proper: this is a really well-composed strip. You know what’s significant here even if you don’t read the word balloons. They’re worth reading, since they paint such a sad picture of the Rat, but

Closet Warbucks’s attempted deal is the gossip hit of the prison. Pretty soon the guy — his ex-partner-in-crime, it turns out — gets word of the deal. And the prison janitor, another criminal who’s in the last 125 of his 1200-year sentence, send a note to Walker, Box 7, Mawaitaan. He quickly gets back the Consumer Information Catalogue, Pueblo, Colorado, 81009.

The letter brings out The Phantom, impressing me with his ability to separate valuable information from the noisy, messy volume of tips rolling in. The Ghost Who Walks arrives just as the ex-partner’s hit is on. A corrupt guard delivers a knife and opens the cell doors to a guy who smirks more than the whole cast of Funky Winkerbean, if such a thing is possible. The killer sneaks into the cell, draws his knife, and gets clobbered by The Phantom, who’s taken Closet Warbucks’s place on the bunk. The corrupt guard doesn’t fare better.

(Phantom holding his mouth over Closet Warbucks's mouth, in the dark.) [ The rat fights for air! But darkness awaits him ... A corrupt guard shames the uniform for dirty money.] (Guard letting out the assassin.) 'Step back! And don't forget what I said! Make a move on me and THE RAT won't die --- YOU DIE! Make it quick!' (Pushes the assassin into Closet Warbucks's cell.) 'And leave the shiv!' (The assassin approaches the bunk, where The Phantom has taken The Rat's place.)
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 19th of November, 2017. And this is another well-composed strip. The art isn’t monochromatic, but it evokes the sort of intense suspense that you can get from black-and-white thrillers. And it’s easy to tug my eye away from that final panel and its promise of action.

And there’s the action as of today. I don’t suspect we’re near the end of the story, not just because the last several Sunday-continuity stories have run at least a half-year each. But I’d imagine doing something about the ex-partner-in-crime has to be high on The Phantom’s agenda. No sense getting roused all the way to Boomsby just to foil one assassination of one failed prison snitch. And indeed, The Phantom told Closet Warbucks that he was taking this partner-for-freedom deal. Also maybe we’ll find out why Closet Warbucks wasn’t interested in selling out his partner before the trail began. We’ll see.

Next Week!

If all goes to plan it’s a chance to stop in again on Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. and learn all about how the Morgans are adjusting to life with — er, no, actually, it’s a surprising amount of text about comic-book art forgery and crazy exes and the physical infirmities that we all will endure if we live long enough. Join us, won’t you please?

The Seventh Talkartoon, And The One Anyone Knows Anything About: Dizzy Dishes


Finally maybe back on track. I’m up to the seventh of the Talkartoon series. It’s arguably the most famous one. It’s one I’ve already reviewed, because it’s the debut of Betty Boop. But, heck. I’ve seen the cartoon many times. What’s one more? From its original release the 9th of August, 1930, here’s Dizzy Dishes.

Bimbo’s looking different from how he did in his debut in Hot Dog. It’s a common fate of characters in those days. It’s a small change, mostly: his head’s black rather than white. Or maybe I was wrong in Hot Dog and Bimbo was supposed to be the cop. As mutations go this isn’t a big one. Betty Boop would change much more between this, her first prototypical look, to the iconic image and then a bit more to her final appearance in her own cartoons.

Bimbo does a fair job driving the action this short. Everything that goes on relates to how he’s the waiter and apparently chef of this cabaret and not all that interested in being either. It’s a strange choice. I mean, it’s amusing, yes. Fair enough he should find a flood of rhyming orders annoying. That he goes the long, ridiculous way around actually preparing roast duck? That he puts it off for a dance number? The internal logic is weird. Granted that Gus Gorilla (if the Internet Movie Database is right in identifying him) looks menacing. How is he going to be less dangerous if he’s served his roast duck? How does hacking a chopping block into a locomotive engine help matters any?

And I guess the answer has to be that Bimbo, this cartoon has a personality. And that personality is the zany screwball. He’s not as fast-paced or as wild as black-and-white Daffy Duck. But try imagining this cartoon done with that early Daffy Duck as the waiter. It kinda fits, doesn’t it? … And then it makes sense that Bimbo doesn’t even try to placate a menacing-looking customer. A screwball doesn’t work if he cares.

The cartoon devotes a lot of its time to a song, like all these shorts have done so far. And that gives what everyone agrees is the debut of Betty Boop. She hasn’t quite got the form that would have her eighty years later still be put on bumper stickers I’ve never seen on an actual car. Really, her original, Grim Natwick-designed model is kind of hideous. Bimbo’s smitten, although I can’t say that’s due to her inherent charisma. It seems like any singer-character put in this role would do just as well. Her voice is appealing enough, but I might think that because of later associations. There is a weird little irony that in Betty Boop’s debut Bimbo steals nearly all the chances to sing “boop-oop-a-doop”. I’m not sure anyone could look at this and realize, yeah, that singer’s the character who will take over this series and then get her own cartoon series after that.

But the cartoon’s got a decent flow to it. There’s fewer dull segments, and few bits where the cartoon is clearly just repeating an amusing gag until everybody in the audience gets it. There’s a suspiciously Mickey-like mouse back in this cartoon, applauding at about 4:30 in. The roast duck laying an egg that hatches into another roast duck (about 4:10 in) is such a weird moment. When I showed a friend this, back in 1998 when we only had episodes on videotape — nobody had solved the problem of sharing video online back then — he was horrified enough he nearly refused to watch the rest. You don’t get cartoons like that anymore.

And as long as I’ve got Betty Boop under discussion: I just discovered that Comics Kingdom has started reprinting the Sunday installments of the Betty Boop comic strip. They started this months ago; I hadn’t heard is all. I hate to admit, but the strip — about Betty Boop’s foible-filled life as a movie star — is pretty dire. But at least you can make out where the jokes are supposed to be. I have my suspicions that possibly Max Fleischer didn’t actually write and draw every panel.

What’s Going On In Mary Worth? September – November 2017


I know, I know, I’m the Internet’s leading resource on recapping the plots of story strips like Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth. Believe me, I’m doing my best to keep my modesty at an appropriate level. My professionalism compels me to warn you: this is a recap written at the end of November 2017. Stories move on, though, and if it’s much past November 2017 these stories won’t be more than deep background for you. If it’s sometime after March 2018 when you read this, then (all going well) I’ll have another, more-recent-to-you story summary available. You should be able to get it here. Thanks for looking to me for help with exactly what my subject line says.

Also, if you’re interested in my talking about mathematical comic strips, I have a review of last week’s comics from that perspective. One story strip, this time, although it’s not a syndicated newspaper-grade comic so it doesn’t get included here.

Mary Worth.

4 September – 26 November 2017.

We had a real, proper, soap-operatic situation going on last time I checked in on Mary Worth. Dawn Weston, working for the Local Medical Group, is outright smitten with Dr Ned Fletcher. Medical assistant Jared, himself a-smitten with Dawn, discovers that Dr Ned is still married. He reports this to Dawn, who doesn’t want to believe it. Also I’m not sure whether Dr Ned is open with his wife about his side thing, or whether he’s lying to her about what he’s doing those late nights at the office. I suppose he’s lying to her. The Mary Worth universe can support adultery. No way can it support poly relationships. (Plus, even if it did, Dr Ned’s a serious heel for lying to Dawn about his status.)

Dawn: 'You told me you were divorced ... and I fell for you ... believing that!' Dr Ned: 'If I told you the truth, that I'm still married ... I KNEW you wouldn't give us a chance! And as we got to KNOW each other better ... I fell deeper in love with you. I KNOW you feel the same about me, Dawn. My being married DOESN'T have to CHANGE what we have!' (As Dawn flees the restaurant.)
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 10th of September, 2017. So not to show off the two years in middle school and two years in high school that I took French, but Google Translate points out how “L’escargot Mensonger” means “the false snail”. So points to Moy and Brigman for the small points like that. It’s a nice bit of thematic awareness.

At a L’escargot Mensonger dinner, Dawn asks and Dr Ned fesses up: he is married. He doesn’t think that has to change things, because it’s never the guy who lied about his relationship status who does. Dawn runs out on dinner and into the gardening-tool-handling hands of Mary Worth. Mary advises sticking to principles like “not dating married men”, even if it costs the job, and that a man who’s “available and doesn’t trouble her conscience” will be along. Since Dawn was only working for the summer and it’s already a September strip this is a financially viable decision to make, at least. Dawn quits, and tells Jared that he was right all along, and maybe they’ll talk or something later. Mary shows up with muffins and hugs and the confidence that comes from knowing yeah, she’s still the center of the strip.

But there’s other people in the comic. Wilbur Weston left Charterstone and threatened to leave the strip altogether some time ago. He’s got a new gig, interviewing survivors of disasters around the world about their experiences and about the sandwiches they eat now that they’re not dead. And his story returns the 2nd of October. He FaceTimes Iris, his girlfriend back home, with the news he’s staying out a while longer. He’s met someone in Bogota he’s got feelings for, and you know, it was her idea they put their relationship on pause while he globetrotted some more.

Iris is devastated and falls into a long self-inquisitive spiral about whether she could have saved their relationship. Mary Worth, writing Wilbur’s “Ask Wendy” advice column, pontificates on the idea that love is all around, no need to waste it, you might just make it after all, thank you for being a friend, sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name, and brother Dick was lost at sea without his water wings; now he is an angel, and he tries to do amazing things. But that’s all just for the audience; there’s no hint Iris reads the column or knows this advice is out there ready to be heard.

Zak: 'When ZAKIKS exploded in the gaming world ... I created my company, the Zakiks Studio, which is doing Gangbusters!' Iris: 'A new look, a new business ... Zak, I'm impressed! I always knew you had it in you!' Zak: 'Aw, thanks. Iris, though it all ... I thought about you, and I'm glad you're proud of me!' Iris: 'I am. And so happy for you! You deserve it!' Zak: 'You deserve to be happy, too. Are you?' Iris: 'I experienced a recent breakup. 'Happy' hasn't been in my vocabulary for a while.' Zak: 'I'm going to change that.'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 5th of November, 2017. So, yes, since spring Zak has had a lot of good life dropping onto him. But what’s he doing being aware of “Gangbusters” even being a word? For crying out loud the radio show ended sixty years ago and this is a guy who didn’t recognize “Here’s looking at you, kid” as a reference to anything. Can the Soap Opera Personality Transplant Fairy instill in people an awareness of old-fashioned catchphrases and slang terms? Well, yes, that’s how the Personality Transplant Fairy works. I just think Zak would say whatever Millennials say for “going like Gangbusters”, if anyone knows what that would be. Oh, ‘Zakiks’ was the game he made, and I got the vibe it was supposed to be a computer game that took off, but the text never actually commits to that. It might be a trendy board game or something.

Anyway, while walking around in a good healing mope, she runs across Zak. You maybe remember Zak. We last saw him early in 2017, taking some classes with Iris at Local Community College. Iris liked him, what with his being attractive and having a pleasant, natural dopiness, but she decided she was waiting for Wilbur. And hey! What do you know? Zak is doing well, having made a game that got popular and buying a briefcase and a car and everything. And he’s up for coffee and dating, so, lucky them.

Meanwhile in Bogota, Wilbur’s been busy having a life, and who saw that coming? His relationship with Fabiana has gotten quite serious. Wilbur’s taking dance lessons and buying her Green Lantern rings. He’s embracing his new life, and her, with an enthusiasm previously reserved for pork roll. She’s consistently looking not quite at him. But he doesn’t notice this until one day when he arrives for salsa lessons early and finds Fabiana deep in the arms of her cousin Pedro. Wilbur begins to suspect that they aren’t even cousins, and that he’s been a fool. There’s no salsa here. There’s not even any chips. Poor guy.

Wilbur: 'Do you believe me now when I tell you I love you, my love?' When Wilbur buys Fabiana an expensive piece of jewelry. Fabiana: 'Wilbur ... I LOVE it! I LOVE it!' Wilbur: 'I like making you happy.' Fabiana: 'I'm VERY happy NOW, mi amor!' Wilbur, thinking: 'Although my BANK ACCOUNT my not like it as much ... Eh! What's money anyway? Compared to AMOR? And I have SOMETHING in the works that will make you even HAPPIER ... '
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 19th of November, 2017. Can’t lie: after the L’escargot mensonger bit of slyness I’m disappointed the jewelry store is just named what Google Translate tells me is “jewelry”. Also wasn’t the dubiously-sourced quote of the week something Milo Bloom told Opus one of the times the penguin tried dating? I’m pretty sure Moy and Brigman could quote Milo on that one.

And there we are. It’s easy to suppose the situation is exactly what it looks like. Fabiana hasn’t been showing having a conversation with Wilbur that wasn’t about how he could buy her things, for example. But it also seems early in Wilbur’s little story segment here. After breaking up with Iris on the second of October his story went on the backburner. The Wilbur-Fabiana thing has only had primary focus since the 13th of November. It seems like there should be time for some twists and turns yet. On the 26th as Wilbur storms out Fabiana does chase after, swearing it isn’t what it looks like and begging her love not to go; so, what the heck. I’m willing to see. Plus, you know, after the last bit of Wilber-Iris-and-Zak storytelling we got CRUISE SHIPS. I don’t know what can match them, if anything, but it’s a good omen going forward.

Dubiously Sourced Quotes of Mary Worth Sunday Panels.

Auto Surgeon message sign: Knowledge Speaks But Wisdom Listens -Jimi Hendrix.
Oh yeah, so the car care place down the corner has had this as the quote for a couple months now. It’s not telling nearly as evocative a story as the usual auto-care-sign messages go, but it really feels Mary Worth-ready.
  • “Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain’t going away.” — Elvis Presley. 3 September 2017.
  • “And if that isn’t the truth, it would be a lie.” — Colin Mochrie, 10 September 2017.
  • “Change your opinions, keep to your principles; change your leaves, keep intact your roots.” — Victor Hugo, 17 September 2017.
  • “The greatest healing therapy is friendship and love.” — Hubert H Humphrey, 24 September 2017.
  • “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” — Albert Einstein, 1 October 2017.
  • “Let go. Why do you cling to pain?” — Leo Buscaglia, 8 October 2017.
  • “Love can sometimes be magic. But magic can sometimes … just be an illusion.” — Javan, 15 October 2017.
  • “And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” — 1 Corinthians 13:13, 22 October 2017. OK, I’m like 60 percent confident this one is legit.
  • “Love is like the wind. You can’t see it, but you can feel it.” — Nicholas Sparks, 29 October 2017.
  • “There is only one happiness in this life, to love and be loved.” — George Sand, 5 November 2017.
  • “Work like you don’t need the money. Love like you’ve never been hurt. Dance like nobody’s watching.” — Satchel Paige, 12 November 2017.
  • “Money can’t buy love, but it improves your bargaining position.” — Unknown, 19 November 2017.
  • “Life is full of surprises.” — John Major, 26 November 2017.

Next week!

I return to the challenge of doing these recaps without fear or favor, despite knowing that Tony DePaul reads them, as I get to his and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom, Sunday continuity. A new storyline had started shortly after my last update, so this is a much-needed refresher.

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? August – November 2017


Greetings, fellow creature who fears nature. If you’re interested in the current storyline in James Allen’s Mark Trail, great! I describe it here. At least I do if it’s not too much later than mid-November 2017 for you. If you’re reading this after, like, February 2018 things have possibly moved on and this won’t help you any. If I’ve written a follow-up explanation of the stories I should have them at or near the top of this page. Please check there to see if that’s more useful. If it’s not, well, try this and we’ll see what it can do for you.

And on my other blog, there’s mathematically-themed comic strips. Please consider that too, if you’ve got the time for another blog in your life.

Mark Trail.

28 August – 19 November 2017.

Twelve weeks ago I last reviewed James Allen’s Mark Trail. I predicted then the story was near its end. I had good reason. The story had already been running since something like the 25th of February. (There were a couple weeks of apparently extraneous character setup that looks like teasing for a later story. But it could yet intervene in this story.) And the major story elements seemed to be all set out. Mark Trail, held hostage by an unnamed Rapid City, South Dakota, bank robber, had got to the point where he punches people. He’d also worked out the big plot twist. The woman held hostage with him was not just a snarky comics reviewer but also, secretly, Bank Robber’s accomplice. Trail had arranged his friend Johnny Lone Elk to fake being lost to a ravine accident, the better to come back and punch people. The FBI in cooperation with the local sheriff were closing in on the ghost town to which Trail lead Bank Robber. And severe weather was closing in, ready to fill the story’s quota of “Nature: Too Deadly For Humans” narrative. Also, there may or may not be a bear.

We’re still in this story. I’m as startled as you are. Maybe eight percent more startled. What all has Mark Trail been doing with his time? Let’s recap.

Johnny Lone Elk teamed up with the Sheriff into the bear-bearing caves that lead to the ghost town. While they do have to pass the notoriously cranky Samson, the grizzly is content to let them on their way in exchange for a couple of odd-brand candy bars. So all you people teasing me for stockpiling Zero bars and Squirrel Nut Zippers? Go get eaten by a bear. Johnny and Sheriff get to the tunnels underneath the ghost town. Sheriff fills in some backstory about why the empty town has enough tunnel space to build the Second Avenue Subway.

The spinning blades rip off a windmill. Accomplice shouts 'Look out!' The spinning blades fly toward Mark Trail. Maybe. The perspective seems weird.
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 8th of September, 2017. Of the action sequences the last couple months of Mark Trail I think the windmill collapse was the least effective. It’s cinematic, sure. But if the reader has a vague idea how big an Old West Ghost Town windmill is (like I do) then it’s really hard to judge how threatening the thing is. And in still pictures it’s hard to judge how fast it’s moving, or how futile dodging might be. I’ll accept easily that one of them falling loose and flinging at a person would be catastrophic, but it also seems unlikely. Fair enough to have bad luck throw your characters into peril, but it did mean I started out not quite believing what was going on, and then the art didn’t sell me on it.

Mark Trail leads Bank Robber and Accomplice into the ghost town, ahead of the tornado. They’re just in time for the windmill to come flying off the tower and chase them down. But Mark outwits the loose windmill vanes. The horses bolt, but Bank Robber’s able to grab the sack of money off one of them. They take shelter in the town saloon. Across the street, in the bank, Johnny Lone Elk and Sheriff emerge from their subplot, just in time for the rain to clear.

Sheriff shooting at the crooks and Mark Trail. Trail: 'You two should just give up now!' Bank Robber: 'SHUT UP, TRAIL! EVERYBODY STAY DOWN!' Accomplice: 'I'm not cut out for this!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 19th of October, 2017. You know the midlist has gotten bad when Sir Arthur C Clarke has to take up bank-robbing and hostage-taking.

Bank Robber whips out his iPhone, in what looks like an Otter protective case. Have to say, I’ve had good experiences with the Otter cases, so, good decision and all. He’s calling for his pickup. Still, Trail warns there’s no reason there can’t still be a tornado, and maybe a hurricane, and maybe a swarm of killer bees piloting tiny F-18s for good measure. Accomplice warns Trail could be right. Bank Robber’s having none of it, and forces Accomplice and Trail to the nearby abandoned airstrip. Sheriff orders them to freeze, and they do, except instead of holding still Bank Robber shoots back. Accomplice does take the chance to run out of the conflict and into Johnny Lone Elk’s custody.

Small aircraft pilot in storm clouds and rain: 'Boy, that wind is getting fierce ... I sure hope he knows what he's doing! ... Seems like we could've planned a less complicated way to pull off this job and get away with it!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 30th of October, 2017. Really not sure how there could possibly be a simpler bank-robbery getaway plan than ‘take a hostage at the airport rental counter and have him drive to a remote town that has an abandoned airstrip where you can fly in and recover him’. I mean, what else could they do, go to some bus-and-train terminal and buy two dozen tickets to random other cities while driving out under cover of being in a 2014 Chevy Malibu too boring to even appear in security camera footage?

Bank Robber keeps Trail hostage, though, walking to the airstrip where his escape pilot — a young-looking Judge Alan Parker sporting a ponytail — ponders how surely there could have been a less complicated getaway plan. But before a vehicle can be safely used for its intended purpose, nature intervenes, and the plane is smacked down by a tornado. Trail tries to use the chaos to grab Bank Robber’s gun, but Bank Robber answers with fists. But a punching match with Mark Trail is almost dumber than force-feeding Popeye a can of spinach. So Bank Robber grabs his pistol. Sheriff throws an axe at Bank Robber, smacking him hard and breaking his hand. (By the time Sheriff could get a clear shot on Bank Robber, his rifle jammed, is why he’s diddling about with an axe.)

Mark Trail yells 'LOOK OUT!!' as he and Bank Robber are thrown forward by the exploding small-aircraft.
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 3rd of November, 2017. If I were to claim that BOOOM was a short-lived early-60s Mad Magazine imitator noteworthy mostly for once featuring a script by Alan Arkin and a couple spot cartoons by Crockett Johnson of Barnaby and Harold and his Purple Crayon fame, would you believe me? I thought so.

And aircraft pilot Alan Parker? He bailed out just before the plane was destroyed by the tornado. And his parachute was working all right until the tornado turned and hit that, sending him plummeting into a barn. Parker says he’s surprisingly okay, though: “I’m lucky there was still soem hay in this old stable!” So he is. Come this Monday the tornado’s going to drop four cows and a cruise liner on him.

So. Like you see, that’s a lot of stuff happening. It seems like it’s got to be near done now. Accomplice gave herself up to the guest star. Bank Robber’s had all his guns cudgeled out of his hands. Alan Parker’s a shoe-in for a forthcoming Ripley’s Believe It Or Not panel. What really makes sense is for someone to eat pancakes and to do something about counting up the prairie dogs near Rapid City. I still haven’t forgot that was the reason Mark Trail came out here. I’m not leaving this story until I hear about the comeback the prairie dogs are making.

Sunday Animals Watch!

Animals or natural phenomena featured on Sundays recently have included:

  • Coqui Frogs of Puerto Rico, 3 September 2017. They’re invasive in Hawaii and soon California.
  • The 2010 Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill, 10 September 2017. Oil-eating microbes seem to be making things less awful than expected.
  • Hurricane Season, 17 September 2017. This was a couple weeks after Harvey, right after Hurricane Irma, and just as Hurricane Maria got started.
  • Nile Crocodile, 24 September 2017. They’re dying
  • Dracula Orchids, 1 October 2017. They’re terrifying.
  • Black rat snakes, 8 October 2017. They’re eight feet long and emit musk when threatened.
  • Bobbit Worms, 15 October 2017. They’re horrifying.
  • Hydnellum Peckii fungus, 22 October 2017. They’re a “ghoulish” fungus.
  • Trapdoor Spiders, 29 October 2017. Gads, yes, but we need them.
  • Mysterious cross-species altruism, 5 November 2017. It’s not just for social media anymore.
  • Quolls, 12 November 2017. They’re dying.
  • The Purple Frogs of Bhupathy India, 19 November 2017. Too soon to tell but I bet you they’re dying.

Next Week!

Is there life after cruise ships? No, not really. But Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth has been doing its best to carry on as though there were. All goes well, next week, I’ll see what dubiously-sourced quotations from famous people they have to talk about a cruise-less story. Only connect to us, won’t you?

Friday Is Coming, We Hope


I don’t like to make promises of things I’m not sure can happen. I mean, I do it anyway, because work will send me tasks and if I started admitting how little I’m sure that I can accomplish anything this might encourage everyone to admit we’ve been bluffing our way through the world since fifth grade at the latest, and then where would we be? Sixth grade?

But. Here’s the important thing. Friday is supposed to be the next time the Silver Bells In The City parade marches through downtown Lansing. And the forecast has rain as a real, serious possibility. I can’t promise that the results will be as spectacular as last year, when a major storm rolled through and blew away dozens of marching bands and created a TV show experience I still want to give each and every one of you. I still haven’t seen if they have DVDs of last year’s parade. But yes, I’m hopeful, going in to this year’s spectacle. I mean, it’s already raining and so dark that a raccoon knocked on the side door and asked if we could turn on a light so she could see. So maybe we’ll get a fun dose of chaos, maybe.

Also I’m thinking of ways to weatherproof myself better, perhaps by wearing eight layers of raincoats, or perhaps getting a giant vinyl ball to move in. No, that’s probably a good way to end up washed down the street and into the Grand River. Must think seriously about this. You first.

Also, hey, I looked over some more mathematically-themed comic strips today so you can think about those instead.

In Which I Ponder The Thinking Of Criminals In Inspector Danger’s Crime World


This has been nagging at me since last Monday. It’s the Inspector Danger’s Crime Quiz. It’s sort of a Slylock Fox for people who like a touch more narrative. Also to have the crime be murder a lot. Also for the victims to often be dot-com millionaires or academics. (The latter makes me feel a bit personally targeted, but the academics always give a hint who murdered them by, like, typing out the number of letters in their killer’s name or something like that. So they probably were terrible to their grad students, if any, and deserved it.) In last Monday’s installment cartoonist Werner Wejp-Olsen put Inspector Danger through one of his routine methods of criminal-catching: going somewhere, leaving, returning, and noticing something. It’s an old gimmick but it works surprisingly well. And here’s what he saw.

Inspector Danger: 'Bud Norton has been on the run for two weeks - let's check out his hideout in the city.' He knocks on the door. '- Or his place in the countryside.' The countryside. 'No smoke from the chimney. But he have to make sure he's not hiding in this dump. Withered flowers! Apparently nobody has been living here for weeks. Maybe we should give his city place another shot.' Assistant Alfie: 'Are you sure, sir? You know how hard it is to find a parking space.' Danger, back at the city place. 'Here we go again.' Knocking to no answer. 'Not a peep - maybe this is just another wild goose chase? OK, let's call it a day. WAIT!' (The new front door mat indicates that the place is inhabited. Bud Norton is now back in the slammer.)
Werner Wejp-Olsen’s Inspector Danger’s Crime Quiz for the 6th of November, 2017. And hey, good contribution to the investigation with your observation about parking spaces there, Alfie. Really shows why Inspector Danger needs you to work at his best. Sometimes he gets to be relevant to the story. It’s just Danger gets on these rolls with his checking-out-two-hideouts business and there’s not even any point talking to him.

I admit I am not a person who takes great care with domestic niceties. Yes, once, when I lived in an apartment I did have a doormat. And I did even take it once, when I had to move from that building to another owned by the same company just because the first building was collapsing and probably dangerously unstable and the floor tilted, probably, only about five degrees downhill, even if the size of the living room made it feel like it was eight or nine degrees. But I only took the doormat because the new apartment didn’t have one, and then I left it in the trunk of my car because lazy, until my sister ended up owning the car and I think she lost it when the car was in an accident that left it too damaged to bother repairing.

What I’m saying is, were I a fugitive, I’m not sure I would bother replacing my apartment-door doormats even if they were in terrible shape. And this one doesn’t even look that bad. But I’m not sure I’d have bouquets of flowers either, not without someone to nudge me into action. In which case I’d expect that someone to replace the flowers in a timely fashion because goodness knows I’d never notice.

And yet I appreciate that in Inspector Danger’s world, criminals on the run worry about whether their doormats are nice enough. And replace them in the hours after the detectives have been around. It suggests a world of depravity on the level of the Adam West Batman, where the greatest expressions of human depredation are, like, a squat fellow who quacks a lot and has many specialized umbrellas, and all their worst crimes are stuff like stealing an unusually large violin. Don’t you wish that was as bad as humans got?

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? August – November 2017


I got back to Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley a bit quicker than I figured! Last time around I predicted I’d get back to this strip in December 2017, and here it is November 2017, way ahead of that. But the point I made in the preamble there stands. This is a recap of the comic strip’s most recent developments. But if you’re reading this later than, oh, let’s say April 2018 then the strip has moved on. I’ll be out of date. And I may have some more recent-to-you post about what’s going on. You should be able to find it at or near the top of this page.

If you like comic strips that aren’t necessarily story strips you might look at my mathematics blog. There I regularly discuss the recent syndicated comics that did something mathematical. Ideally I don’t ruin the jokes.

Gasoline Alley.

21 August – 11 November 2017.

Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley has, since the 27th of April, been running a very dangerous story. Not that the stakes in it are that high. But in that it’s a crossing of two of the strip’s styles of stories. One is the weepy melodrama. Poverty-stricken kids Emma Sue And Scruffy, and their widowed mother, The Widow Emma Sue And Scruffy’s Mom, moved into the abandoned mill. The kids ran across the curmudgeonly codger Elam Jackson, who softens when he meets them all. Elam Jackson starts repairing The Widow Etc’s mill. Also he begins acts of courtship with The Widow Emma Sue And Scruffy’s Mom.

The danger is that it’s crossed with another of the strip’s story types. This is the Joel And Rufus Story. Joel and Rufus are preposterous, silly characters. They’d make sense on Green Acres. They can have adventures easily. Attaching emotions to them, though? That’s a tall order. Still, Rufus had encountered Emma Sue and Scruffy. He and Joel played Santa for the impoverished kids, back before the August update. Rufus gave some newly weaned kittens to the kids. He’s also got romantic designs on The Widow Etc.

Rufus, to Emma Sue and Scruffy: 'I'll see yo' kids soon! Right now I'm goin' t'say bye t'yo'momma!' Emma Sue and Scruffy: 'Thanks fo' th'kitties! We love 'em, an yo' too!' Rufus at the mill: 'There's Mrs Ruffington over by th'mill wheel with m'friend Elam Jackson!' In the third panel Rufus sees The Widow Etc and Jackson kissing.
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 25th of August, 2017. The terrible moment that sends Rufus off to the circus, ultimately. Can’t fault him for being heartbroken after seeing that. But then we the reader know a bit more about what’s going on, such as — a few weeks later — the strips from the week of the 11th.
So this storyline has to balance its absurdist-clown streak with its weepy-melodrama streak. It’s tricky. Anything goes wrong and all narrative could collapse. When we left off Elam Jackson’s courting of The Widow Etc had reached the point of actually kissing, in silhouette, off where Rufus could see. Rufus immediately despairs, a state not at all natural for this goofball. He storms home, puts a note on his mailbox that “I’ve gone away! Ain’t comin’ back! Pleze hol’ my mail!” and even leaves his cats without supervision. Well, he leaves them to Joel, about the same thing.

Jackson: 'I'm sure hot and thirsty, Leela!' The Widow Etc: 'Oh Elam! I appreciate all the work you're doing on the mill! How can I ever repay you?' Jackson: 'How about a kiss?' The Widow Etc: 'How 'bout some iced tea? It'll quench your thirst and COOL you off!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 11th of September, 2017. A fair sampling of the ways The Widow Emma Sue And Scruffy’s Mom politely but unmistakably turns any talk away from romance. Which, given how much she turns away kisses this time, makes one ask what the heck was going on in the previous strip? That the embrace is in silhouette allows for all kinds of mistaken-identity shenanigans. But they also require putting in some character who hasn’t been in the story so far. So, you know? The heck?
The news of Rufus’s disappearance spreads slowly. Scruffy recovers from his bike accident and with Emma Sue visit Rufus’s place to find him missing. They go back home to hear Elam Jackson talking seriously about marriage with The Widow Etc. The worldly Scruffy explains how he knew it was coming to that. But Jackson’s leading questions are left hanging in the air, the 16th of September, and we have not seen these characters since.

But Joel knows things are awry, and so, starting the 19th of September, begins searching in the logical place: other comic strips. Joel and Rufus are at the core of this slapsticky, absurdist, fourth-wall-breaking streak of the comic strip. Why can’t he pop over to Dick Tracy if he likes? So Joel meets up with Tracy slapsticky hillbilly character B O Plenty and then the super-scientific detective himself. Tracy has enough of this within a week and sends Joel back to his own comic strip, right where he left off.

Dick Tracy: 'Joel! What're you doing in my comic strip ? Are you lost?' Joel: 'No! Rufus is! I was lookin' for 'Mr Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons', but reckymembered WE and HE ain't on radio no mo'!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 25th of September, 2017. Mister Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons ran on the NBC Blue Network/ABC from 1937 to 1947, and then CBS from 1947 to 1955. It’s mentioned because Jim Scancarelli is trying to get himself installed as an exhibit in the Museum of Old-Time Radio. Also, yes, Gasoline Alley was on radio several times. In 1941 (NBC, Red and then Blue) the daily serial even adapted the then-current storylines to the air. It also ran in 1948-49 in transcribed syndication. There’s some evidence that it was produced in regional radio as early as 1931, but John Dunning’s On The Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio doesn’t pin down where or when. Also, Dick Tracy ran as a kids’ police serial, starting on NBC New England stations in 1934, then bouncing between CBS, Mutual, NBC, and NBC Blue/ABC through to 1948. And this doesn’t matter but there was from 1932 to 1935 a syndicated comedy-mystery serial titled Detectives Black and Blue, about a pair of shipping clerks in Duluth who try for something more.
Just in time, too, since he’d left Becky (his mule) right by a poster for the circus. And Joel knows what this means. He hasn’t become one of YouTube’s top hosts of ‘Let’s Play’ JRPG videos without learning how to recognize the plot rails. He makes his way to the circus tents to see if he can get the next plot point going. It’s hard work, including swinging hammers around, sleeping with the elephants and mules, being haunted by visions of Rufus at all the sideshow posters, and being pressed into clown duty by owner P T Beauregard’s son, a Young Ralph from Sally Forth. This sends Joel to an encounter with another of the Gasoline Alley universe’s many Frank Nelsons. Also it offers some name-drops of Emmett Kelly, Otto Griebling, and (in Joel’s confusion) Walt Kelly. And gives Scancarelli an easy extra 25 points in his bid for installation into the Museum of Old-Time Radio.

Joel, on his mule-drawn wagon, looking very small amidst close-up pictures of tiger and lion and elephant and giraffe heads, while the ringmaster continues his spiel about the circus's offering: 'Lions, tigers, an elephant or two; this isn't all --- it's our pre-view!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 26th of October, 2017. Part of the entry of the gladiators and all that, and taken less because it’s key to the plot and more because I like the composition. There’s not enough craft in the drawing of newspaper comics and I’m glad Scancarelli resists the considerable pressures to put up simple, functional panels.
The show begins! And we get a good week or so of acts and animals and Joel cringing before some well-rendered lions and the like. And then, finally, the 27th of October we learn what’s come of Rufus. He’s the Human Cannonball, like it or not, and over Halloween he’s shot out of the cannon, through the Big Tent’s walls, and into Joel’s haystack. He explains: after seeing Elam Jackson kissing The Widow Emma Sue and Scruffy’s Mom he was heartbroken, ran away from home, and joined the circus. Along the way to the human cannonball job he’d been the beareded lady, the thin man, the four-legged dog, all the stuff Joel saw posters for. It’s not that complicated a story, but it had been two months since readers last saw Jackson or The Widow Etc or the kids. I don’t blame Scancarelli for giving a recap like that.

This week Rufus, deciding he’s had enough of the circus, rides with Joel back to the normal Gasoline Alley continuity. And Joel has hopeful news for Rufus. After getting the mill up and running again, The Widow Etc “done canned yo’ ex-‘fr’end, Elam!”. This is consistent with my reading of The Widow Etc’s reluctance and talking around Jackson’s questioning. It also raises some good questions. For one, how could Joel know that? Based on what we’ve seen on-camera, anyway? For another, what is the difference in pronunciation between “fr’end” and “friend”?

So that’s how the comic balanced the weepy-melodrama and the goofy-slapstick sides of things. Stepping out into another comic strip is going to work for some readers. Doing a month of circus jokes should work for others. But it forgot the weepy melodrama for several months. That’s probably as best as can be done. I’m not sure Rufus (or Joel) can sustain the pain of unrequited love. His getting shot out of a cannon fits him more easily. I’m surprised that Elam Jackson seems to be getting sent back to the primordial xylem of supporting characters from which he came. But I was also surprised to learn Rufus considered him a friend. I had supposed they were people in town who didn’t have much reason to interact.

The story reads as though it’s coming to its conclusion. This extends the strange synchronicity between story strips concluding stories around my recaps. (Of course, a story ending two or three weeks before or after my recap seems “around” my essay. With a margin like that it’s amazing a strip is ever not in synch with my recaps.)

The Sunday strips, not in continuity, have been the usual bunch of spot gags. Can’t say that any of them really stand out. And there’s no story, so, if you want to read one just go ahead and read it; you won’t be confused.

Next Week!

Prairie dogs are making a comeback. Mark Trail came to South Dakota to count these coming-back prairie dogs and blow up vehicles. And he hasn’t got near a prairie dog yet. Stop in here next week to, I hope, see bank robbers, abandoned mining towns, and vehicles exploding, all the important pieces of James Allen’s Mark Trail. Also, never ever EVER go outside. The parts of nature that aren’t trying to kill you are filled with weird life forms that can poison you or be really, really eerie. And the parts that aren’t trying to kill you and aren’t full of horrible lifeforms? The parts that are adorable little creatures like quaggas or obscure variations on hamsters or sharks that look like puppies? They’re dying. (Recommended soundtrack: Sparks, “Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth”.)

On This Or That Date: November 10


1433. Birth of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, died 1477 before anybody could make font jokes at him, which is just as well, because after forty years of those he’d probably throw boiling serifs over the ramparts before anyone even got near him.

1551. Wait, is that just someone wandering through the background of the ‘Mister Food’s Test Kitchen’ segment on the noon news? She can’t just be wandering up to the fridge there for no reason, right? No, wait, she is. The heck? And there she goes again and Mister Food doesn’t acknowledge her at all? Oh, I guess she’s come in at the end to sample the macaroni-and-cheese he suggests people try cooking. Is it, like, her job to wander around in the TV kitchen and then eat macaroni and cheese at the end? How do I not have that job myself? Sorry, TV distracted me there.

1662. A daring attempt by that Old English letter that looks like an o with a tiny x dangling precariously on top of it to sneak back into the alphabet is foiled. An alert guard at the Tower of London notices something “funny” about the tic-tac-toe game the letter was trying to use as camouflage. But since it was the 17th century he explained his suspicions in a sentence that ran on for over 850 pages of court testimony. The letter was able to escape to Flanders and lead similar attempts to get back into the alphabet in 1717, 1896, and whenever it was they made up Unicode.

1774. Benjamin Franklin’s first, primitive, USB cable is connected to one of his stoves. Nothing much happens, causing the inventor and statesman to admit that he “didn’t know what I expected, really”. Sometimes you just get “a case of the giggles” and have to run with the idea.

1871. Henry Morton Stanley locates Dr David Livingstone, near lage Tanganyika, after a long process that I had always figured amounted to Stanley going into Africa and asking, “Hey, anybody seen any other white guys poking around?” and then following wherever they pointed. And then I heard that yeah, that’s pretty much what he actually did. And I’ve never gone to look up just how he did go searching for Livingstone because I don’t know if I’d be more annoyed if it turned out my joke actually happened or if I’d be heartbroken to learn it didn’t.

1929. Toontown’s so-called “Valentine’s Day Massacre” happens when a truckload of rapid-fire erasers falls into the hand of calendar reformers who think that we don’t have enough February in our lives.

1956. Aberdeen, Scotland, and the Malay state of Negeri Sembilan agree to end their technically never-resolved state of war dating to the Austro-Prussian War of 1866. When spoilsports note that neither Aberdeen nor Negeri Sembilan had anything to do with the Austro-Prussian War to start with they were helpfully shoved into the Old North Creek. Organizers then put up a memorial there to remind everyone what happens when you go knowing actual history in front of people.

1983. After a furious round of rewrites and arguments Dan Aykroyd agrees to shift the focus of his years-in-development labor-of-love project from a quirky comedy about animal control officials over to some guys who shoot special effects at ghosts. While the new project is successful the pre-revision script kicks around Hollywood for several more years before being finally kicked out again. It’s finally picked up and made as an indie project in 2014. Goosebusters goes on to win the East Lansing Film Festival’s coveted “… The Heck Am I Even Watching” Medallion With Dabs Of Cooking Oil Grease On The Ribbon.

2001. Stern Pinball signs a license to make the popular video game Roller Coaster Tycoon into a pinball machine. This is one of the early triumphs of the game company’s “license stuff picked at random from the US Trademark Office database” program. Other successfully licensed games include: CSI, Uneeda Biscuits, the Wendy’s Where’s The Beef Multiball Frenzy Arcade Experience, Cinerama, and Bally Pinball Games: The Pinball Game.

2008. The day’s Slylock Fox mystery doesn’t draw any complaints from anyone about the solution being contrived or requiring we make assumptions like, yeah, while dogs in this world can talk and wear clothes and hold down actuarial jobs they’re nevertheless still red-green color-blind.

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? August – November 2017


Thanks for asking! If you read Dick Tracy, by Joe Staton and Mike Curtis, with (I think) art support from Shelley Pleger and Shane Fisher on Sundays, you know how often events happen these days. This is an attempt to keep track of what’s been going on. If it’s much later than early November 2017 when you read this, events might have gotten much more progressed. This essay might be too out of date to be useful. If that’s happened then please try out this link. If I’ve written a later story summary, it should be at or near the top of that page.

And if you’re intersted in comic strips generally please try out my mathematics blog. I talk some about the mathematically-themed comics of the week, each week, and this week was one of them.

Dick Tracy.

14 August – 4 November 2017.

Crime had promised to pay last time I checked in on Dick Tracy. (Spoiler: it didn’t.) Movie-forgers Silver and Sprocket Nitrate were sprung from jail by the quite ellipsoidal Public Domain. Domain’s hired them to forge a recording that legend says Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville made on his experimental phonautograph of Abraham Lincoln. The work goes well: Silver discovers a new thrill that he wasn’t getting from film fraud anymore and hopes to do more work with Domain. Sprocket thought this was their last scam before getting out of the business. Domain thought this was a good way to get money from the matronly Bea Thorndike before leaving the Nitrates to take the rap. Bea Thorndike thought she was paying basically-good-but-emotionally-cowardly money for a recording of Abraham Lincoln asking “Is this on?” and reciting the Gettysburg Address. And Tracy thought that Silver and Sprocket Nitrate were relatives, what with their being siblings.

Thorndike Mansion. Bea Thorndike: 'Hello, Mr Domain, Mr Femstock [Silver Nitrate]. It's a pleasure to meet you.' Domain: 'Likewise, Ms Thorndike. We thank you for agreeing to help us.' Thorndike: 'Mr Femstock, I've seen the images of your phonautogram and all its documentation. Can you tell me more?' Nitrate, as Femstock: 'I have some great news from the university. They were able to PLAY OUR PHONAUTOGRAM! I have the recording right here. Would you like to hear it?' Thorndike: 'YES, PLEASE!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 17th of September, 2017. Yeah, I know, I’m being mean on Bea Thorndike for falling for this scam. It’s easy for me, when I got to see the scam from plan to completion. If all you had was the artefact and the evidence of a provenance that would explain how this legendary thing might come to be at this place at this time? Harder, especially if the fraud’s done by someone like the Nitrates who have a good history of creating fake antique recordings.

Then came a revelation whose significance I still don’t quite grasp. Lizz discovered that Silver and Sprocket were adopted, separately, by their film-production-scammer parents. I think the point of that revelation was to explain the Nitrates’ history. And that they grew up moving from town to town, camping out in the local theater of each mark. I guess that explains Silver knowing where to find a hidey-hole in a city theater. But I admit when I list crime-detection plot points I need justified, “villain knows a secret place to hide out a couple days” isn’t usually among them. So I don’t get why Lizz figures it’s a big revelation that they’re “merely” siblings by adoption. Or any of the backstory, really. Team Tracy understands the Nitrates’ scam pretty well, and the reader does too. The extra background is nice and interesting and humanizing. But it seems of marginal relevance to the investigation. Maybe she figured it might be something to get inside either Nitrate’s head during an interrogation. I don’t know.

Domain’s doing a good enough job getting in Sprocket Nitrate’s head anyway. He insists on her staying behind when they close the scam with Bea Thorndike. His argument: Sprocket’s hippie-ish Mother Earth stylings are too ridiculous to show to real money. These are meetings in which real grown-up people with names like “Public Domain” who look like Moai statues do serious deals. Silver Sprocket at least looks normal. He means normal for a Dick Tracy universe character. That means he could be slipped into the backglass for the 1991 Williams pinball machine The Party Zone without drawing attention. But Sprocket? Why, she goes barefoot. Silver sticks with Domain, and the promise of money. And shatters Sprocket, who spends a whole Sunday strip singing the Carpenters’ “Another Song”.

But Silver does have his skills. He talks Thorndike into paying a half-million for the recording, when Domain had been hoping for only $50,000. And I’m surprised Domain went to so much trouble when he was figuring to net at most $50,000. You know, you always hear about people leaving money on the table in business negotiations. I should see if he’ll represent me when I pick up some freelance work, in case I ever get some freelance work. (Does anyone need a lance freed? Send me a note.) And yet he only wants $20,000 of that extra, he says. He tells Sprocket how they’ll use that money to vanish.

Silver and Sprocket make plans. Silver: 'And then I added $20,000 to the price Domain asked for!' Sprocket: 'Hmmph! Was Domain pleased?' Silver: 'Cheer up, sister dear, THAT'S OUR BONUS! As I see it, Domain won't need either one of us much longer. If you can find us a car, Sprocket, WE'LL GO VISIT MS THORNDIKE, collect our 20 grand and vanish. I've done all the work. Domain can finish the deal himself.' Sprocket: 'I'll get started right now, Silver! I think you'll need me to go out for cigarettes right?' Silver: 'Heh, heh!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 24th of September, 2017. I’m hoping someone asked McMansion Hell about that Olympic-class ski slope of a roof that Domain’s lair has in the middle tier there. Also I don’t know whether it’s architecturally sound to have one of those little arched doorway things on top of another little arched doorway thing but my gut says no, really, no.

Ace crime-fighting scientific detective Dick Tracy figures out who the Nitrates are trying to scam and how they’re doing it when his granddaughter comes in and tells him who they’re scamming and how they’re doing it. With that tip he heads to Bea Thorndike’s. So does Silver Nitrate, who’s shaken his Domain bodyguard with a phony tale of emergency dental needs. (I so expected the dentist would be the guy from Little Shop of Horrors, either version, but no. He’s just a dentist.) Silver offers Thorndike a “genuine 1857 phonautograph machine” for a mere quarter-million. She’s thrilled at the chance to fall for this, and the Nitrates get out just ahead of Dick Tracy’s arrival. Fearing they were spotted, the Nitrates make for the Lyric (movie) Theater. Silver’s got a hideout under the seats somewhere.

Tracy, having had enough of this, arrests Domain and refers to Silver Nitrate as a bunko artist, just like he was on an old-time radio detective program. I mean, he was, but it’s still delightful. Domain takes three panels to go from “I’ll never talk” to “I talked”. Tracy is soon hanging around waiting for someone to come in and tell him where the Nitrates are.

Silver Nitrate hides out, looking for some way to pass the time waiting for the new movie to start its run. The movie is Midnite Mirror. It’s based on a fictional series-within-the-strip based on Dick Tracy that isn’t Fearless Fosdick. Silver takes up “making the theater staff think the place is haunted”. It’s a fun pastime, but carries a high risk of attracting meddling kids. But he fools some human-form cameos from Mike Curtis’s longrunning Shanda the Panda comic book.

On a coffee run, Sprocket Nitrate cute-meets Adam Austin. He’s the renowned author of the Midnite Mirror book. And he’s what might happen if Funky Winkerbean‘s Les Moore were ever to deserve not getting that smirk knocked off his silly face. She is full-on smitten. They make a date to the premiere of Midnite Mirror: The Motion Picture. She agrees to wear shoes for the event. The most open shoes ever, basically a couple of straps looped around each other, but still, shoes. Silver is aghast.

Having a cup at The Coffee Pot. Austin: 'Susan, I truly enjoy these meetings with you. I wonder ... might I escort you to the Halloween premiere of MIDNITE MIRROR?' Sprocket ['Susan']: 'I'd LOVE to go, Adam. Could I meet you here before the movie?' Austin: 'Certainly! The premiere begins at 7. Shall we meet here at 6?' Sprocket: 'Sounds perfect!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 29th of October, 2017. Hey, in the background of the first panel, center row there: it’s the guy who runs the pinball league! Ask him what he thinks of the new Stern Star Wars. (He thinks it’s got some neat shots and the art and sound packages are fantastic but the ruleset is just too crazy complicated to follow.)

Tracy takes a moment to reassure Bea Thorndike that many people have fallen for even dumber scams than this one. Ace crime-fighting scientific detective Dick Tracy figures out where Silver Nitrate is hiding, when the guy Silver Nitrate contacted for help fleeing the country tells Tracy where Silver Nitrate is hiding. The squad closes in on the Lyric Theater and makes ready to nab the bunko artist. And that takes us to this week’s action.

As you see, it’s been a straightforward plot. There’s no baffling motivations or deeply confusing networks of double-crossing to turn the story to chaos. Well, Silver Nitrate keeps changing his story about what he’s doing. But it makes sense he’d tell whoever he’s talking to what they were hoping to hear. Note how he told Sprocket he planned to do more scams with Domain and, after she didn’t want to do that, how he was going to take the $20,000 and vanish.

Tracy hasn’t really done much detecting on-screen. I suppose there’s something to having a good net of informants and identifying relevant gossip quickly. But that does mean the two big driving revelations were things he learned by not covering his ears and shouting “LA LA LA LA I CAN NOT HEAR YOU” is all.

There have been threads of other stories. Let me see if I’ve got all the major ones.

  1. Blackjack asked Dick Tracy to make sure the Tracy collectibles he got Sparkle Plenty to sign last story are safe while he’s in jail. (the 28th and 29th of August)
  2. Undercover detective Lee Emory, as “T-Bolt”, has met Sawtooth, hired by Mister Bribery to kill Tracy. (the 4th through 9th of September)
  3. Speaking of Mister Bribery, the crime boss has checked in on his niece Ugly Crystal at finishing school. She’s learned much. She can cover her eyes so as to make her nostrils and lips look like a very tiny face, and she can blow out multiple precisely-aligned candles using a slug from a slingshot. So she’s ready for a life of super-crime. (the 4th and 5th of October).
  4. And most intriguingly: the person you get by making Buster Crabbe and Alley Oop share a transporter pod has landed a Space Coupe in a derelict farm outside the city. He’s taken out a box of “old currency” and hopes to find “our errant moonling”. (the 18th through 20th of October)

Also there was a strange moment where Sam Catchem got the giggles about an ancient bag of shredded cheese cleaned out of the staff fridge. I don’t know what that was all about. It seems to have been playfulness and/or hijinkery.

Nothing’s been said about the suspected haunting of the B O Plenty residence. Crime Boss Posie Ermine hasn’t apparently done anything about recovering his daughter, brainwashed into the Second Moon Maid. I will count the appearance of Buster Oop as an update on the Lunarian who visited an Antarctic valley in investigation of the Second Moon Maid.

I’ll keep you updated in case anything breaks on these plots. Meanwhile, I encourage you to find someone who will call you “my errant moonling”. You deserve such luxuries in your life.

Next Week!

Has Rufus managed to commit an act of successful woo-pitching with The Widow Emma Sue and Scruffy’s Mom? Or has he lost her affections to an unbearded Elam? We’ll check in with Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley where we meet, of course, Dick Tracy. I swear Comic Strip Master Command is messing with my head.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Weekdays)? July – October 2017


Are you looking for the latest updates about the happenings of The Phantom, the weekday continuity written by Tony DePaul and drawn by Mike Manley? Then you’re in luck! If you’re reading this in late October 2017 or maybe November 2017. If it’s a lot later than that the story will have progressed some. Maybe gotten resolved entirely and gone on to something not even hinted at here. In that case, you might look at this page, which should gather any Phantom essays yet to be written. Future-to-this-writing updates should be there, although they’ll be mixed in with the separate Sunday continuity, written by Tony DePaul and drawn by Terry Beatty.

And if you just like comic strips at all, and don’t care whether there’s stories, my other blog went over the comic strips with mathematics themes today. Might give that a read.

The Phantom (Weekdays)

31 July – 21 October 2017.

Last time I checked in on the weekday continuity we were deep into The Curse Of Old Man Mozz, a story filled with portents of doom for the then-current Ghost Who Walks. Several times in past years there’ve been foreshadowings of the death of the 21st Phantom. And these foreshadowings grew more urgent when disputes between writer Tony DePaul and the syndicate led to his quitting the comic he’s written for decades. DePaul and the syndicate reconciled and he’s resumed writing. But the end of a story DePaul thought “would have been a superb sign-off to my Phantom career sure sounds like Kit Walker might have his last bad day.

The story started with Old Man Mozz having a vision of the future: The Phantom doing his work at a factory that seems to be churning out thugs at a good rate. One of them, hiding behind a waterwheel, gets the break of the century and this nobody shoots The Phantom dead. Diana Walker learns of the vision and gets the Ghost fully briefed on it. Though his friends advise laying low a couple weeks to let the problem pass, Walker insists on going through and doing something about the factory. The nobody killer finds the good hiding spot by the waterwheel and is set for Walker’s raid.

The Phantom has trouble getting his groove. He’s plagued by a sense of being watched. And thinking how he just knows this is where and when he’ll die, a sense he’s certain his ancestors had as their times came. Which, like Guinan told Riker, is a good way to get yourself killed. But he figures to go out with a bang, and a thud, and a klonk, and also setting all the bad guys’ cars on fire. In all the fire and klonking and panicky gunshots by the gang Walker feels the strange comfort of knowing he’s finally in the zone.

Phantom, prowling around the steel girders and dropping down to clobber people. Meanwhile he thinks: 'If my DEATH IS TRULY HERE, FOLLOWING close behind ... ! It had better MOVE FAST if it wants to keep up!'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 8th of August, 2017. You know, the Phantom is going to be so embarrassed if it turns out he went to the wrong factory and the one he wanted to raid was the south end of the industrial park. “Why would the Ghost Who Walks want to disrupt our manufacture of galvanized steel U bolts? What did we do?”

The guy Old Man Mozz foresaw dives for cover and waits for The Phantom to finish punching, smacking, or throwing bricks at everybody. His cover’s the waterwheel, as Mozz predicted. And The Phantom, figuring that everybody not punched hard enough has run into the forests, thinks the night over. Except Walker’s got this sense of suden doom, what with this just feeling like the prophecy of death he heard. The nobody at the waterwheel raises his gun, and gets shot and killed by an arrow.

Walker looks at the waterwheel guy, whom he walked past just like the prophecy said. And finds who fired the arrow. It’s Babudan, an archer from the Bandar tribe. He wasn’t sent by Diana exactly; she just described the problem to him and let him figure out whether to save the guy who’s been superheroing all over the place for decades now. Still, Kit Walker’s of surprisingly mixed emotions about not dying by a coward’s hand. He’d sent Kit Junior off to a remote Himalayan school so his successor wouldn’t even hear about his death when it happened. Diana’s “changed the future for all of us,” and he considers how that’s an “awesome responsibility she bears now, for all that follows”. Which, all right, is true enough but most of us carry on despite the existential haze.

Kit Walker to Diana: 'You needed someone to ... talk to?' Diana: 'Babudan's a good listener! You know that!' Kit: 'The good listener you chose just happens to be a master tracker? A warrior without equal? By the way, he's sticking to your story too.'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 16th of September, 2017. I never talk enough about the art in the main essays, but let me point it out to you here. The scenes are very nicely rendered depictions of the aftermath of Walker’s exhausting night, after the moment he was expecting to die, back in the arms of his loving wife. And intercut with a scene that recaps why he did not die and how Diana arranged it.

And that brings to a close The Curse of Old Man Mozz. The story ran from the 13th of March through the 23rd of September. So that clocked in at 28 weeks, according to PhantomWiki. The next daily continuity story, The Return of the Locust, began the 25th of September and is, apparently, the 248th daily story. The name suggests a sequel. PhantomWiki notes that The Locust God was a story, the 211th daily, which ran from the 3rd of May to the 28th of August, 2004. And I don’t know anything else about it either. (Well, the story is in Comics Kingdom’s archives so I could go back and read it. Maybe I’ll write up a summary as bonus content for my Patreon subscribers.)

Normal readers don’t need that much help. The Locust walks on stage, is shot as a trespasser, and dissolves into a cloud of locusts. The Phantom explains to one of the baffled archers that he knows the deal. He met the guy in New Mexico once. The Locust has magic powers to rival Mandrake the Magician, who you might remember does exist in the same continuity as The Ghost Who Walks. So that crazypants story about the far-future Time Ladies who kidnap Mandrake to teach them how to be spanked? That’s in-universe for this storyline. The Locust knows The Phantom isn’t an immortal unkillable creature of myth. Also he’s passing himself off as the creator-god of the Navajo people’s mythology, according to The Phantom. I’m sure there’s nothing going on with that which might be uncomfortable in this comic strip about the generations of white guys who’ve tasked themselves with the saving of an African nation.

Phantom, talking to his wolf, as his plane is shot at from atop the tower. 'That's no POP GUN down there! I'd say HANG ON, Devil, if I thought you COULD!' (While rolling the plane.)
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 18th of October, 2017. I do not envy Mike Manley’s challenge in drawing this ground-to-air combat. It’s already hard drawing combat because more panels is more time for stuff to happen, but more panels means smaller panels and so a harder time drawing anything recognizable. And it’s hard to give machines a sense that they’re straining to do things; at least people punching each other can show muscles at work. And it’s hard to give airplanes a sense of motion in a single scene too. Overall: yeah, glad I don’t have the job of drawing this script. Really would have tried to strap Devil in, though, because there’s few times that a loose wolf rolling around the airplane cockpit is a good thing.

The Phantom figures this is the Locust’s way of asking for a meeting, and the logical place is atop Walker’s Table, a remote desert butte accessible only by airplane, which The Phantom luckily has.

Not so luckily: as The Phantom flies in, an anti-aircraft gun crew starts shooting him from atop the Table. As we left the action Saturday, The Phantom was hiding from the artillery in the shadow of the butte, and working out what the heck to do next. It’s a good question for him. For me:

Next week!

I’ll make a stirring return to the days of King Arthur, and check out some people who are nowhere near camelot, as Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant handles Taloon’s hero-crush and some bands of marauders who’ve been hassling refugees.

Why I Can Never Buy A Comic Book Ever, Ever Again


It turns out they’re printing a new Casper The Friendly Ghost comic book, or at least a kind-of new one with a bunch of reprints of vintage stories. And that got me into a nice friendly chat with the cashier where he shared the jokey old story about how do we know that Casper isn’t the ghost of Richie Rich? And I will admit I warned by saying that I was a Harvey Comics fan from ages ago. If need be, I could give, I warned, “shockingly many” arguments from the classical Harvey Comics canon that would show that theory was, if I remember my words correctly, “wholly untenable”. And this led him to recalling that when he flew as a kid on American Airlines they would give out Harvey Comics as reading material to kids, something that he had loved back in the day and completely forgot about for decades.

So with that one of the many meaningless impersonal transactions of the day was turned into a moment of real connection, between strangers, over a common appreciated thing and over childhood memories loved and rediscovered. I’m going to be way too embarrassed to ever be anywhere near the store again, ever.

What’s Going On In Alley Oop? July – October 2017


Do you need to know where we are in Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop? I’m happy to do my best to catch you up on the storyline. I have my limits, though. I’m writing this in mid-October 2017. If you’re reading this much later than that, the story might have got so far advanced that this isn’t useful. In that case, try checking the top of this page. If I’ve written a further update it should be at or near the top there. Meanwhile, story. here.

If you’re interested in comic strips that talk about mathematics stuff, you probably already saw this on my other blog, but what the heck. Never hurts to remind people that a thing exists, until they get tired of it and turn to rioting.

Alley Oop.

24 July – 15 October 2017.

Last time you’ll recall Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop was still wrestling with a spinoff of the pantsless-alien-frog storyline. The alien plant-frog-guy had left behind a mind-control ray gun that Alley Oop smashed and tossed all the way to the rival kingdom of Lem. There, King Tunk patched the thing together and figured to zap his way into, at last, the conquest of Moo. His attempt backfired, and shooting the thing left himself zapped and in King Guz’s power.

Alley Oop: 'You know when Tunk snaps outta this brain fog, he's gonna take Lem and his crown back, don't you?' Guz: 'HE GAVE IT TO ME! YOU'RE MY WITNESS!' Oop: 'Yeah, but it was a game, Guz! I don't think decisions like that count when a person's in a fog like that!' Guz: 'THAT'S WHAT YOU THINK! I ... ' A woozy Tunk: 'Oooohhhhh! Where am I?'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 27th of July, 2017. If you’re wondering how Alley Oop resists the urge to clobber everybody in Moo and Lem on the head and just take over for himself, I don’t know. I guess he’s tried a couple times in the past and it’s just too much work keeping everybody from doing something dopey, so it’s easier to hang back in a position where you can snark on everybody.

Guz orders Tunk to turn over his lands, his power, and his crown, and Tunk can’t refuse. Oop, fed up with this disrespect for consent, smashes the ray gun to pieces. Tunk comes to his senses, calls “no way” on his cession. He chases Guz, and the last pieces of the pantsless mind-controlling alien-frog storyline, out of the comic.

The new, and current, story started the 1st of August. “Meanwhile” in the 21st century (it’s their convention, run with it or read some other comic strip), Doctor Wonmug faces civilization’s greatest current menace. Rich white guy idiot M T Mentis III is interested in the time laboratory. His objectives are unclear at first. But the Time Lab could always use some more money. How could you make a profit with just the ability to traverse space and time to an exact spot at any exact second? So after a tour of the slick modern computerized time machine Mentis says what he’s up to.

Wonmug: 'I'm flattered at your interest in the time lab, but it's not for sale.' Mentis: 'Everything is for sale, as long as the right price is offered! Imagine pairing your time machine with my skills! I could visit key events in history to give just the right tweak to keep positive progress on track!' Wonmug: 'WHAT?! M.T., the one rigid rule of time travel is that it is for observation only and that NOTHING can be changed! Any change, no matter how well intentioned, would cause a ripple effect that could threaten our very existence! Mr Mentis, you have wasted your time here! The time lab is NOT for sale at any price to anyone --- especially not to YOU!' Mentis: 'I'm sorry to hear you say that! Take care of him, Gunther!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 20th of August, 2017. Gunther’s doing pretty well as a bodyguard for the world’s richest idiot, which shows you how much people can flourish once they get deported from Greg Evans and Karen Evans’s Luann. I jest, of course, since that’s clearly their Mister Grey.

He’s bored of his career of fixing up struggling companies. He wants to do something with meaning, by which he means buying the Time Lab and using the machinery to fix history. Wonmug is aghast at the idea of deliberately altering history. Even trying could force the comic strip to face potentially premise-wrecking consequences. You prove everything is strictly ordained somehow. Or you make the time travellers complicit in all the atrocities of human history. Or you make the time travellers responsible for destroying every living thing in the present timeline. Any of that’s heavy stuff for a comic strip that does better with, like, Alley Oop punching dopes. Yes, I am aware none of those verb tenses withstands any thought but I’m not getting paid enough to give them proper thought.

Since Mentis isn’t getting this, Wonmug sends himself, Mentis, and Mentis’s bodyguard to Moo and says, “see what you can do with this”. What he does is get chased by dinosaurs until he runs into Alley Oop and falls over, knocked out. When he recovers what he uses as his senses Mentis, shaking the idea that this is a movie set or something, works out a plan: he needs to kill the dinosaurs. After all, humans and dinosaurs shouldn’t coexist and they’re drawn kind of off-model and colored all weird. Alley Oop isn’t having any of it.

Mentis: 'THIS IS ABSURD! YOU CAN'T EXPECT ME TO BELIEVE THIS PLACE IS FOR REAL! YOU MUST HAVE BROUGHT US TO A MOVIE SET!' Alley Oop: 'What do you mean? Of course it's real!' Mentis: 'Why, look around you! See all those dinosaurs?' Oop: 'Of course I do! I'm not blind! They're everywhere!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 1st of September, 2017. Tag yourself: which one of these dinosaurs is you when you realize you’re caught in a meeting where you don’t know what’s going on and if you don’t find a way out you’re going to be expected to give an opinion about the next quarter’s projections. For me, it’s the brontosaurs-y guy with a grimace and his teeth exposed.

Oop does admit that King Tunk of Lem is a problem, what with his invading now and then and being kind of a jerk the rest of the time. Mentis proposes a wall, and Oop rolls his eyes so far back into his head they threaten to come around the other side. Mentis figures, well, how about better defenses than Oop’s ax and his fists? Mentis’s bodyguard Gunther epically failed trying out Oop in hand-to-hand combat. But how about if Mentis shows off his superior strategy? Mentis shows off his plan. It’s “holding enough spears and axes and swords and knives at once that Oop barely has to stop laughing long enough to kick him unconscious”. I’m not saying I’d be much better at uplifting the poor noble cavemen if I figured that was my business. I’m not sure what I’d introduce them to, exactly. Soap, I guess. Clean water. A Lockean concept of the social contract. Potatoes. The categorical imperative. I know I wouldn’t try showing off that I could hold too many weapons at once to be able to hold without the whole pile falling and stabbing my foot.

Mentis: 'The key to defense is that you need more weapons than your enemy has! It's such a simple concept! As experienced as you are in hand-to-hand combat, I'm surprised you haven't figured it out before now! I'd show you if I could borrow some weapons!' Alley Oop: 'YOU'RE gonna fight ME?!' Mentis: 'Oh, there will e no need for a fight! You'll see! I could never compete with your muscle, but with weapons, I can show you the superiority of a well-armed fighting force!' Oop: 'Okay, whatever you say! Take your pick!' [ Mentis takes *everything* from the armory, at once. ] Mentis: 'If an enemy came at you armed like this, when all you had was that ax, I'm sure you'd agree you'd be inclined to retreat!' Oop laughs deeply, and kicks Mentis unconscious and ties him up. A recovering Mentis asks: 'What th' ... ?' Oop: 'You needed a free hand!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 1st of October, 2017. So Mentis has made his fortune buying out distressed companies and straightening out their messes. Which implies that there are a lot of companies so incompetently managed that the guy who figured he had achieved Caveman Invulnerability in the first panel of the bottom row there was a major improvement. Based on every corporate history I’ve ever read, this is likely.

Here Oop asks a good question: the heck is Mentis’s deal, anyway? Before the rich idiot can mansplain why he figures he can patch up history despite his manifest incompetence some actual plot intrudes. It’s raiders from Farzoon, seeking slaves for some massive project. Mentis wonders if it might be Stonehenge or the Great Wall because I’m going ahead and assuming he thought Chariots of the Gods was nonfiction. Oop and Mentis hide, but the Farzoonian raiders have their scent.

And that’s got us caught up.

So, still not answered: what is Mentis’s deal, anyway? It’s hard to square someone being bright enough to save struggling companies repeatedly with not being able to see any problems whatsoever in meddling with history. So what’s h out for? I guess it would be admirable if he did just want to fix the messy, terrible sides of history. And that would show up Wonmug and Oop for laughing at him. But if he is then he’s done a pretty poor job thinking through what that implies which, yeah, isn’t impossible. Especially given the casual, light tone of the Alley Oop world.

But it’s also baffling story for the Benders to write. As far as I know Alley Oop has avoided setting out the rules about whether, and how, history can be changed in its time-travel view. The storyline seems to threaten to commit them to something. Dr Wonmug says that history can change and time-travellers have to take care not to screw things up. But I don’t know what his evidence for that is. They seem to have a pretty casual attitude about time-travelling if they are afraid of messing up stuff. Alley Oop can activate the time machine to destinations of his choosing. Alley Oop’s an upstanding person, and he gets up to speed in situations quickly. But would you want to count on a caveman dropped into (say) the Battle of Manzikert to not do something off-script?

I suppose it’ll be avoided, or at least left ambiguous. I’m also curious how Wonmug figures that getting his hat stomped by dinosaurs will help Mentis learn about the interconnectedness of events or whatever his vague lesson is. You’d think just “what if you set it so your parents never met?” would get the point across. I suppose a reasonable person might learn from being shoved headfirst into Moo just how complicated and messy and big the world is and so how implausible it is to “fix” the timeline. But I’m not sure a reasonable person would have done more than have fantasies about history-fixing either.

So, I’m curious whether we’ll learn Mentis has some ulterior motive, or whether he simply believes he’s worked out the killer app for time travel.

Next Week!

We pop back in on the Bandar tribe and learn whether Tony DepPaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom Weekdays continuity has seen the Ghost Who Walks try out dying.

In Which I Am Disappointed By DuckDuckGo


Oh, first, yeah, did I mention doing some more comic strip review over on my mathematics blog? I did some more comic strip review over on my mathematics blog. Thanks for noticing. I changed the theme over there because there’s no such thing as a theme I’m actually all that happy with.

Yes, yes, I’m that guy using DuckDuckGo. I like how it keeps asking me to make it my default search engine, even though it has been for years now. But when you get something like this, I just …

DuckDuckGo search: 'Addams Family theme'. It returns, 'Addams Family Theme Kids Vocals. The Hit Crew. Boy, the way Glenn Miller played/ Songs that made the hit parade/ Guys like me we had it made./ Those were the day./ Didn't need no welfare.' More at MetroLyrics.
Yes, yes, there’s no telling whether the problem is DuckDuckGo or MetroLyrics, since there’s few things worse at song lyrics than song lyrics sites. Song lyrics sites are so bad it’s surprising to think they aren’t a part of iTunes. But still.

Putting aside everything else there’s at least two mistakes in the lyrics for the song they are doing and it’s taking all my willpower not to drive over to MetroLyrics Master Command and berate what I’m guessing is a strip mall’s communal mailbox station. I should probably go lie down a while and twitch.

What’s Going On In The Amazing Spider-Man? July – October 2017


Do you like superhero stories that have a good bit of that Silver Age flair? I mean the melodrama, the plots that get a little goofy but are basically delightful, the stories that touch on serious subjects but avoid being dire or grim, and the resolutions that turn on some crazy fairy-tale logic. So I am, indeed, a fan of Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man comic strips. If you’re reading this, I trust you like this sort of thing too, or at least you find it interesting. Also that you want to know what the current storyline is. If you’re reading this around mid-October 2017 you’re in luck: this essay should be on point. If it’s much later than that, the story might have moved on. If I have a more recent update it should be at or near the top of this page. Thank you.

And if you just like comic strip talk in general, my other blog has some mathematics-themed strips to talk about. Nothing deep this time.

The Amazing Spider-Man.

17 July – 8 October 2017.

I didn’t guess last time I reviewed the Amazing Spider-Man what the next recap would include. If I had, I would have included “the end of the current story”. That story saw Peter and Mary Jane Parker in Los Angeles on one of those comic-strip weeklong getaways that runs twelve months of reader time. They discovered Melvin, the Mole-Man Ruler of the Underworld wants to marry Aunt May. He’s free to do that now that he’s been overthrown by Tyrannus, the immortal Augustulus, last ruler of the Roman Empire of the West. And Aunt May’s partial to it too. And, yeah, the comic strip is its own separate continuity from everything else Marvel-branded. Still, I knew Melvin and Aunt May would have something keep them from getting married. Tyrannus leading an army of subterranean monsters to destroy Los Angeles seemed like a good enough excuse.

Thing is, that was back in the middle of July. I thought there were a couple weeks’ worth of Tyrannus invading. People around Spider-Man foiling the invasion while he’s tied up or maybe unconscious. Melvin accepting his responsibility to the Mole People Or Whoever Lives Down There that he has to go rule them. Aunt May not being able to join because she’s allergic to the Mole Kingdom. (I’m not being snarky there. It’s what kept them apart before.) They haven’t got quite there yet. But it does look like it’s going to wrap up soon? Maybe in a couple weeks? I think?

Well, here’s what happened. Peter Parker told Aunt May and Melvin that yeah, actually, they should get married if they want to. They set a date of “pretty soon, considering we’ve both died of old age as many as fourteen times dating back to the era of King Aethelred the Ill-Advised already”. And they both like James Dean. So they figure to marry at Griffith Observatory, taking the Observatory officials entirely by surprise. Mary Jane’s not able to participate in the plot, as a heavy storm trapped her in a side thread about her publicity tour.

Giant octopus-like tentacles grabbing Spider-Man and the Mole Man. As the tentacled beast descends deep into the earth ... Melvin: 'You can't help ME! Go help PETER PARKER - he must be clinging to a LEDGE up above!' Spider-Man: 'I already took care of HIM, Moley. Now it's YOU I've got to --- oh NO you [the monster] don't! No nigh-brainless brute sneaks up on your friendly neighborhood SPIDER-MAN!' As Spidey wrestles with the tentacles. Melvin: 'I should TELL you --- that's a DECTOPUS. It has TEN enormous tentacles!' And the thing slams Spidey. WHILE LEAGUES BELOW: Tyrannus watches this on TV. 'It's like having a FRONT ROW SEAT --- at the greatest GLADIATOR contest of all time!'
Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 27th of August, 2017. I’m so delighted by Melvin the Mole Man correcting Spider-Man’s misapprehension about the number of giant tentacles attacking him that I won’t even point out Spider-Man didn’t call the creature an octopus or anything that would suggest he was only worried about eight tentacles. It also reminds me of an episode of the Disney Hercules series that they made for some reason, where one of a Chauncey-and-Edgar pair says how they’re being attacked by some giant octopuses. “You mean octopodes,” says the other. “What difference does that make?” “I like to be precise.”

Also taking Griffith Observatory by surprise: Tyrannus, who breaks the promise he made to Kala, his wife, that he’d leave Melvin alone. Kala’s content with having conquered the whole of Subterranea and doesn’t see any reason to bother the Mole Man as long as he’s staying on the surface. Well, not taking them completely by surprise. Peter Parker had spotted one of Tyrannus’s drones sneaking around the night before so he expected some kind of attack. But he figured going ahead with the wedding was the best way to get to the next big scene, and what do you know. A bunch of tentacled monsters grab Melvin, and Spider-Man follows close behind. Aunt May and the minister are left at the Observatory.

Melvin’s points out what an unnecessary jerk Tyrannus is being about all this. And Kala quickly joins Team Melvin, which serves as a reminder of how making false promises to your loved ones will come back to you. She gets the chance because Tyrannus is catching a bit of Old Age. He needs to recharge from the Fountain of Youth. This it turns out is a river underneath Los Angeles. Well, it wasn’t always, but with Tyrannus’s recent conquest of Mole Man’s territories he had the river diverted to Los Angeles.

The captive Spidey and Mole Man are witnesses to a subterranean DOMESTIC SPAT ... Kala: 'You LIED to me, Tyrannus! You swore you wouldn't try to SLAY the Mole Man since he'd abdicated and fled to the surface!' Tyrannus: 'Surely you didn't truly BELIEVE that little white lie, wife! I --- WE --- can never sit safely on our thrones while HE lives!' Kala: 'I already ruled my OWN underground realm --- and I SHARED it with you!' Tyrannus: 'Don't you see? I wanted a kingdom I had CONQUERED! Now, I HAVE one, and I'll make it MINE forever, by EXECUTING the Mole Man and his bewebbed protector!' Spider-Man: 'Y'know, it might almost be WORTH dying just to get away from your CORNBALL MONOLOGUES!'
Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 3rd of September, 2017. I didn’t have a good chance in the main essay to mention but, yeah, Tyrannus’s power base was Kala’s lands that he married into. So once again, all the trouble is being caused by a white guy all cranky that he wouldn’t have succeeded without other people giving him help. We’re never going to have a minute’s peace before we stop letting us white guys have positions of authority, you know.

Tyrannus runs off for the sacred chalice with the line drawn on it so he knows how much youth to imbibe. (It’s always a sacred chalice, isn’t it? They never just need a Wawa coffee mug.) Kala pops out the key to Spidey and Melvin’s handcuffs. She expositions about how he needs a drink or he’ll turn 1500 all at once. And she works out how to extort Tyrannus into giving up his conquest plans. Spidey, glad not to have to come up with a plan, goes for it. Spider-Man dams up the River of Youth before Tyrannus can get his drink. Kala tells the ancient Roman Emperor that if he does invade the surface world he’ll be a murderer. He’d have killed the man she fell in love with.

Again, this is what I like in superhero adventures. I don’t think I would have been happier here if Brainiac-5 put in a sudden cross-company appearance.

Tyrannus sends a flock of subterranean monsters after Kala, Spidey, and Melvin. Unless that should be a “herd” of subterranean monsters. (To be precise.) But his monsters can’t match Melvin’s knowledge of the tunnels. And he’s in a bad way, anyway. Without access to the River of Youth water he’s showing his 1500 years and might even get to be older than Aunt May. Kala gets him to make an Imperial Oath to never attack the surface world again, in exchange for Spidey un-blocking the River of Youth. And this one will count. Merlin the Magician made fidelity to Imperial Oaths a condition of the last Western Roman Emperor’s access to eternal youth. Spider-Man takes a moment to reflect on how this is kind of a weird scene. Tyrannus and Melvin shrug and point out, hey, you’re Spider-Man.

Tyrannus: 'You three - have WON! I vow to never ATTACK you again! As my Queen knows, I cannot break an imperial OATH! Such is the bargain I made 15 centuries ago with MERLIN THE MAGICIAN - in exchange for the secret of ETERNAL YOUTH!' Spider-Man: 'I can't believe I'm HEARING this! You're not only the LAST ROMAN EMPEROR, from 476 AD - with his own PRIVATE FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH - but you got it from MERLIN? You mean, like - KING ARTHUR'S Merlin?' Mole Man: 'Surely you can accept such FAR-FETCHED tales. After all, didn't I hear that YOU got your powers from the bite of a RADIOACTIVE SPIDER? Now THAT'S something I find difficult to believe!'
Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 8th of October, 2017. Careful there, Melvin. Pick too hard at the plausibility of any of the world and the whole superhero universe is liable to cave in. Also, since I didn’t get to mention this above: ‘bewebbed’? I guess it parses, but should it? Are we all okay with this?

And that’s where we are as of today. Also, so now you see why I figure we’ve got to be near the end of this story. They just have to figure out reasons for Melvin to stay underground and Aunt May not to marry him. Then Peter Parker can head off to the next casually insulting scene.

Maybe you notice. I’ve been enjoying this. I guess there’s high stakes here, what with the threatened conquest of the surface world and all by an immortal Ancient Roman. But in truth it’s an endearing small story about people with goofy costumes and funny names messing up each others’ marriages. And Spider-Man even gets to do some stuff, although at the direction of much better-informed people. Which I like too. Newspaper Spider-Man has a passivity problem. But people with a lick of common sense should shut up and listen to the folks who are experts in their field of expertise. And yeah the story has covered really very few points considering it’s been a quarter of a year. But it’s had a good bit of action and humor and very little spider-moping.

Next Week!

We journey back to the land of Moo and peek in on Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop. There was still more mind-control ray gun story to deal with. After that, Alley Oop faces the biggest problem of 21st century humanity: an idiot white guy with money. See you then, in the past.

What Does This Compu-Toon Even Mean: 4 October 2017 Edition


I hope I don’t seem like I’m picking this comic. It’s a small comic, and from everything I can work out the cartoonist is someone who’s trying with a thoroughgoing earnest kindness to make the world a little nicer. But, I mean, what am I even looking at?

Drawing of a kid in striped beanie cap looking at his phone. The caption: 'A bully's bullying doesn't mean much when his friends count is well over eight-hundred.'
Charles Boyce’s Compu-Toon for the 4th of October, 2017. Don’t think I’m not bothered by the superfluous space between “is” and “well” there, either. Also baffling: there’s (as I write this) five people who’ve favorited it on GoComics.com.

I think it’s supposed to say that the pain of being bullied is lessened by having a wide and supportive network of friends online? And I’ll agree that sort of thing makes things a little better. But it’s still bizarrely worded. I don’t think I’m reading the caption uncharitably, but I have to force myself not to read the antecedent to “his” as being “a bully” and that’s all wrong.

Also I have no idea how non-celebrity people get like 800 followers. I’m not sure I’ve had non-casual encounters with 800 people in my whole life, and when I think what fraction of them would figure they haven’t had about as much of me as really improves their lives? No way.

I guess also since I haven’t mentioned this since Monday: I talked about some other comic strips on my mathematics blog. Includes a Mutts, which you might or might not like, but is awfully cute. So there’s that.

What’s Going On In Judge Parker? July – September 2017


Are you interested in the current storyline in Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker? Are you reading this in or near early October 2017? Because if your answer to both is ‘yes’ then great, glad to have you here. If your answer to the first is ‘yes’ and the second ‘no’, the comic strip might have gotten on to some completely different storyline. So this essay might be true enough but not helpful. If I’ve written a successor it should be at or near the top of this page. If your answer to the first question is ‘no’ I’ll try to be interesting anyway but I admit I feel a little hurt you’d be so blunt.

My last update on Judge Parker storylines came suspiciously close to a change in the plots. This keeps happening with my What’s Going On In updates, by the way. I’m definitely not arranging stuff with Comic Strip Master Command to make these recaps come within a week or so of one story yielding to the next. It’s still weird.

Also, if you like comic strips that talk about mathematics, and all of which ran on the same day last week, you might be interested in my mathematics blog. I get to thinking very hard about something a squirrel said to Broom Hilda, but it’s not all that high-level a discussion.

Judge Parker.

3 July – 30 September 2017

I had said last update that it looked like the one major storyline dormant since Marciuliano took over writing the strip — the whereabouts and activity of April Parker, Super-Secret Spy Person — seemed to be heating up. Current Judge Randy Parker was falling apart with his wife and by-now-born child missing somewhere in one of those foreign countries where the CIA is always sending Super-Secret Spy Persons. Retired Judge Alan Parker was visiting, trying to help him through this. And he brought a guest.

It was April Parker, along with a picture she said was their daughter Charlotte. Who’s somewhere “safe” and “in the country” that she gives Randy. She gives Alan an audio cassette. And then gives herself to the CIA-types who appear at the door, as foretold in the Thursday strip the week before. The CIA types let Alan and Randy keep their tape and the picture, which seems criminally negligent of them, so it’s plausible.

There’s an SD card taped to the back of Randy’s picture. Randy pops over to Sam Driver’s farm and plays April’s tale of entrapment and betrayal. April’s supervisors had been testing her on make-work assignments, and now she’s invited to join a secret sub-unit of the CIA, “patriots who just go that extra step”, the sort of thing that never goes wrong, ever, except for every time, ever. She’s revolted by the rogue agency, even before hearing about the “profit-sharing” potential, and horrified that by going on enough of what she now knows were nonsense assignments she’s been coopted into their group.

A year ago, in a Vienna hotel, April learns she is a rogue agent. (She's choking rogue agent Lakemoor.) 'Just who is this 'agency within the agency' working with, Lakemoor?' Lakemoor: 'Groups that further American interest without having to deal with CIA oversight. Choking's making it hard to talk.' April: 'And I'm so sure these 'groups' do this out of the goodness of their own hearts.' Lakemoor: 'Oh, you know how people are. Everyone has their own interests. We need something from them, and they need something from us, which we provide. That's where the aforementioned profits come in, by the way.' April: 'So I was a courier for state secrets. You made me just as dirty as the rest of you so I couldn't reveal anything without admitting treason. YOU TRAPPED ME!' And she slugs him.
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 13th of August, 2017. You might say that Lakemoor’s proposal is ridiculously vague and that his talk of profits from illicit activity implausibly stupid for a person trying to recruit someone into his corrupt ring. If you have missed the entire administration of the Future Disgraced Former President, anyway. Against the backdrop of 2017, Lakemoor comes out looking about four steps more organized and on top of things than David Xanatos ever did.

Norton, her father, pops in. He’s a faintly Dr Strangelove-esque figure with segmented cigar and the ability to kill any number of off-panel henchmen, so he’s well-suited to gun down the agent trying to recruit April. He promises that he can get April to safety, shelter her child when it’s born, and get word back to Randy Parker by way of his contacts.

So that’s what led to the situation as unfurled: April was in hiding long enough to give birth, and prepare her recordings and messages and all that and to wait for the collapsed-clothing-factory and the kidnapped-Sophie stories to reach a quiet patch. And he brings the infant Charlotte Parker to Alan, who’ll have to keep the child in secret until the heat’s off.

Alan and Norton meet in Cavelton. Alan: 'Really, Norton? You had us meet in the factory that collapsed into the sinkhole last year?' Norton: 'Well, this place seemed like a good spot.' Alan: 'You could have just had April hand me a scrap of paper saying to come here. You didn't have to give cryptic clues on some cassette.' Norton: 'You seem tense, friend.' Alan: 'You had me illegally declare you dead. You made me hide the fact my own son's wife was already back in the country until you and she were ready. So yes, I'm not exactly looking forward to what you'll 'kindly ask me' to do next.' Norton: 'It's just one moer thing, Alan ... I want you to meet our granddaughter, Charlotte.' And she's brought in.
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 27th of August, 2017. Well, I think I know why Norton had everyone meet in the collapsed factory. It nudges the reader to remembering the factory collapse and the reporter who was on the scene for it last year. This prepares for her reappearance in the strip and her role in turning the scandal what would bury April in prison forever into a big public affair. So, yes, Norton’s motivations might be weird, but Marciuliano’s are good.

Over to Toni Bowen, the reporter who was on the scene when the deranged clothing factory storyline imploded. She’s not had much success since the factory collapse and the kidnapping of Sophie Spencer; her boss points out that the embezzling-stalker truck driver story went nowhere, which is unduly harsh on Marciuliano. It was a weird complicated side thread, but I liked that everyone in a soap opera universe is going through some crazypants events. Anyway, April’s sent her all the news about the rogue CIA agents, which shows that the Parker-Spencer-Davis clan does indeed forgive and bestow blessings even on those who’ve antagonized them, sometimes. Alan Parker, figuring the heat’s off somehow, brings Charlotte to Randy.

So. Three-month jump ahead in time. April Parker’s in jail, promising that between her testimony and her planned excellent behavior she’ll be released in under three years. Randy and Charlotte are as happy as could be. Alan’s wife, Katherine, is still furious enough about all this secret agent nonsense that she’s taken the flash forward as chance to leave, possibly from the strip altogether.

Alan and Katherine Parker fight. 'Katherine, let me explain.' 'Oh, NOW you want to explain?' 'I didn't want to get you involved.' Katherine: 'Involved in what? The fate of my family? The fact that my own granddaughter had to be smuggled in courtesy of a deranged arms dealer?! The fact you were working with him the whole time?!' 'I --- ' 'Enough about what you think, Alan! Let me tell you what I THINK ... I'm your wife. I'm your partner! And when it comes to our family I should know everything. But you kept me in the dark, not just to 'protect' me but to make sure I didn't get angry at you!' 'But I can --- ' 'It's too late, Alan. Go do something else in secret. I have to check on Charlotte.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 10th of September, 2017. Now, to give you the scale of the sort of amusingly dull upbringing I had, the most recent fight I overheard my parents having was over whether, after giving birth to me quite a few years ago, my mother sent my father out of the hospital to get her a hamburger from McDonald’s or from Gino’s Hamburgers on Albany Street. They’ve never been involved in international espionage … that they’ve told me about … although my father did make multiple trips to Poland in the early 80s. Just observing.

And that’s three months mostly spent explaining what April was up to. The story was mostly about characters learning what was, to them, in the past. But it’s not like the strips being flashbacks mean we weren’t watching tense stuff happen. Also we got some idea of who the mysterious figure sending Alan Parker cassette tapes with needlessly cryptic instructions was. (This might have been established before, but I don’t remember it.) And, after a bit over a year of this, I believe Marciuliano has finally taken all the plot threads left over from Woody Wilson’s writing tenure and done something with them. Mostly that’s been tamping them down to involve less unceasing praise of the Parker-Spencer-Davis clan. That’s involved a lot of blowing up the status quo, including another set of people being gunned down. There’s plenty of room to develop the stories from here. Most of the directions involve a lot of things families can quite correctly argue about. Should be quite some potential there.

Next Week!

You know what’s a comic strip that seems very close to wrapping up its current storyline? Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man. Please join us in Spider-Man’s natural habitat, the cavernous tunnels underneath Los Angeles, where a Roman Emperor with his own Fountain of Youth hopes to launch the conquest of the surface world and also break up Aunt May’s romance with Melvin the Mole Man. I realize I sound like I’m joking about what a Silver Age comic book would do, but no, this is what’s happening.

What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? July – September 2017


Last week I was all set to talk Gil Thorp when I realized it was Rex Morgan, M.D.‘s turn. I won’t make that mistake again! … But I’m writing this in late September, 2017. If it’s much later than September 2017 for you, the stories might have moved on. At or near the top of this link should be my most recent talk about the high school sports comic strip of high school sports comic strips. I hope something here is what you’re looking for.

If you’re interested in other comics, my mathematics blog discusses some from the past week. I don’t think I explain any of the jokes, but I do talk about what the jokes make me think about. Might like it.

Gil Thorp.

10 July – 23 September 2017

I last discussed Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp near the end of a storyline. Spunky young reporter Dafne had discovered the Milford Mudlarks’ new pitching star was kicked out of private school for hitting his girlfriend. The secrecy that protects young, athletically skilled students makes it hard to be sure exactly what did happen. Dafne, shoving a friend into a door so hard he gets a black eye, comes to learn that sometimes battery just happens and it isn’t an open-and-shut case. She confesses her prior narrow-mindedness to the newspaper editor and is welcomed back onto the staff for a happy ending.

The 17th of July saw the start of a new storyline, one that took nearly two months to unfold. It features Heather Burns, a student who’s likely to be a great trainer or coach someday, and Jaquan Case, an alumni of Gil Thorp here for his tenth-anniversary storyline. I should say, I was not reading Gil Thorp with enough attention ten years ago to say whether Case really was a basketball star in the strip back then. It would make sense if he were. The comic has a surprisingly strong continuity. Stars of one storyline often appear as supporting players in a later one, and even make cameos after that. So I will accept Case as someone who was probably part of the basketball stories in the mid-2000s.

Heather Burns: 'We'll be out here [at the training field] most days.' Trey Davis: 'Us, too. But do me a favor ... keep it on the down-low. We should check in with Coach Thorp, though.' Jaquan Case: 'Absolutely. When I was fighting to be a normal student ... ' Davis: 'Or as normal as the next superstar could be.' Case: 'He was a big help.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 25th of July, 2017. I didn’t do athletics in high school, so I don’t know whether it’s authentic that stars of a decade past get to just come in and train when they feel like even before talking to the coach. I was for a while on the Physics Team, but I’m pretty sure that doesn’t mean I can just pop in to the science classrooms and do that thing where you sit on a barstool chair while turning a spinning bicycle tire around.

And then, mm. Well. There’s events. I just never got into the story. Case and his friend Trey Davis, another ex-comic-strip-character now working as a private coach, hang around the kids playing coach some. And Case is working through some stuff. He’s doing fine in the NBA, but he’s feeling like he lost something when he quit football sophomore year of college. Case wants to move back into football. A couple sessions with True Standish, a more current Gil Thorp quarterback, suggests that yeah, if he really worked at it, Case could be a plausible football player.

So, with this, Coach Thorp makes his excuses to be somewhere not involving athletes having personal problems. Heather Burns steps up, figuring out during a series of workout sessions that Case’s real problem is he doesn’t feel people’s expectations of him in basketball are in line with his idea of himself. So she does some digging and works out that Case could definitely get his Master’s degree in US History, a thing he would totally want. Maybe even go on to a PhD. He even gets ideas of maybe becoming a professor, which shows that even professional athletes in the major leagues who could plausibly switch to another major league have comically unrealistic career dreams. And Case shows his gratitude by hooking Burns up with someone at Iowa who might be able to get her a coaching gig.

Gil Thorp: 'I'm due at Milford CC. Can you give him a lift?' Burns: 'Sure. Jaquan, mind doing some running first?' Jaquan Case: 'Might as well, since my trainer bolted. Say, you're Switzerland in all this --- am I crazy to consider the NFL?' Burns: 'Sure. But that doesn't make it a BAD thing.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 23rd of August, 2017. I know that highlighting this comic out of a month’s worth of storyline will make it look like Coach Thorp had almost nothing to do with the characters doing things and making decisions, and when he was roped into the story got out as fast and with as little responsibility as possible.

And that, the 9th of September, closes out a storyline that really looks like it was something happening. But reading it daily, ugh. It just felt like people standing near sports equipment talking about how they might do a different sport instead. And it seemed to go nowhere. Every day I looked at the strip and all I saw was eight months of wandering through Featureless Manhattan in the final year of Apartment 3-G. I think the core trouble might be the premise. 30-year-old professional athlete who feels adrift going back to the High School Coach Who Made All The Difference for advice? Plausible. Getting life advice from the 17-year-old teenage girl with a talent for coaching who knows that she’ll never get a real job at it? Less so.

Gil Thorp: 'Everybody sign up for baseline testing?' Assistant coach guy: 'Yup. By the first game, we'll have basic info on every kid. Measuring brain function with tests ... do you believe in it?' Thorp: 'I believe in anything that might keep these kids healthy --- and keep their parents from worrying.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 13th of September, 2017. I’m sorry, I don’t know who the assistant-y coach-y guy is, but I do like that the second panel is something like one-fifth of all album covers from 1978 through 1985.

OK. So. The 11th saw the new storyline start. It features Rick Soto, who yields to his Uncle Gary’s pressure to play at the Elks Club Talent Show. There, apparently, his version of “Mack the Knife” steals the show. If I haven’t missed anything they haven’t said what instrument Rick plays, but that’s all right. He’s also a left tackle, which gives the Gil Thorp comic strip jurisdiction over his life story. Also, Coach Thorp is for the first time testing his players for brain function. This seems to set up a storyline about Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, which is certainly the sort of thing this comic strip should talk about. (I do wonder, too, if the current moral imperative to Take A Knee won’t disrupt whatever Rubin and Whigham have planned.) But two weeks in there’s no guessing where any of that might go. I just include this so I have the first paragraph written of my next Gil Thorp plot summary written.

Next Week!

International espionage, secret government jink-enhighening, and a reporter’s last-ditch effort to save her career as we go back to Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker. Unanswerable: will we have any judge-work going on?

In Which I Just Have To Suppose Someone’s Being Naughty


So I was looking up the Dennis the Menace comic strip on Wikipedia for some reason and got to this at the top of its Wikipedia page:

This article is about the US newspaper strip Dennis the Menace. For other uses, see Dennis the Menace.
Not to be confused with Dennis the Menace and Gnasher.

Dennis the Menace and Gnasher is the British comic strip that started the same day in March 1951 but five hours earlier owing to time zones. This is very slightly famous in circles where you might talk about the Dennis the Menace comic strip.

Anyway, down in the US comic strip’s page is mentioned:

TV shows and specials

  1. Dennis the Menace (1959, live-action)
  2. Dennis the Menace in Mayday for Mother (1981, animated, TV special)
  3. Dennis the Menace (1986, animated)
  4. All-New Dennis the Menace (1993, animated)
  5. Dennis & Gnasher (1996, animated)
  6. Dennis & Gnasher (2009, animated)
  7. Dennis & Gnasher: Unleashed! (2017-present, animated)

This all brings me to the question: wait, Dennis’s father is an aerospace engineer? Really? I must have known that at some point, there’s no way Young Me could have let something like that go without memorizing. But what the heck?

Oh also, I did talk about some comic strips on my mathematics blog and none of them were Dennis the Menace so don’t worry about that.