Yeah so Tom Batiuk’s Funky Winkerbean this Sunday didn’t work. I haven’t checked everyone in the world, but everyone I have checked, agreed. It seems like the strip was going for a pun or at least some wordplay. Or an agreement that a thing sounded funny. But working out just what it was going for is hard. So it’s not just you. But here’s the strip:
Ultima Thule as referenced here is this Kupier Belt object that’s about 45 astronomical units away from us, so we don’t have to do anything about it right now. The New Horizons probe flew by it in 2018, and we’re still getting data downloads of the encounter. Slow Internet out that far. It was formally named Arrokoth in November 2019, but Tom Batiuk reportedly works as much as a year ahead of publication. We can be forgiving of things like this, especially when we remember that we as a society still call it Kinko’s, fifteen years after they changed the name to “whatever they pretend they changed the name of Kinko’s to”.
If it weren’t for the footnotes I think everyone would have just read the strip and agreed, that’s got the structure of a joke. Teacher in a comic strip asks students to explain a thing, student has a wrong answer that even reference pop culture, teacher mourns his lot in life. What has this sticking in my mind is the footnotes. They’re fantastically unnecessary. A lot of jokes have some unnecessary bits. They can make dialogue or pacing sound more natural. Or they can clue the audience into the subject matter, so they have the right context for the joke. Or sometimes the word balloon is too large otherwise, as with the mention of “the board’s” early retirement “package”. The teacher could have wondered if it was too late to revisit early retirement.
But. Why the footnote explaining that Anamorphic Mark Twain pronounces Thule “Too-Lay”, in the Bandar Tongue? What would possibly be worse if the reader thought Anamorph thought it was pronounced “thool”, the way everybody actually says it? That, at least, we could defend as character, so that we know Anamorph is, gads, one of those people. You know, who pronounce “Caesar” as “kaiser”. I bet he volunteers that he thinks other people use the word “penultimate” wrong. He’s definitely complained about someone using “decimate” to refer to a thing that’s been more than one-tenth destroyed.
What launches this into the all-time baffling strips is the student’s pronouncing Thor as “Tor”, a thing that has never been done at any time by any person, ever, even by people who are trying to hypercorrect other people into saying something stupid. What is her deal supposed to be? Is it supposed to be that she’s mocking Anamorph for pronouncing “Thule” with a t- sound? Was she just going along with the teacher’s quirky choice about how “th” sounds? The smirk on her face last panel suggests not, but everybody in a Funky Winkerbean strip is smirking all the time. So it loses its power to signal that the smirker thinks they’ve said something clever. So what is that footnote doing there? Something as unnecessary as a footnote shouldn’t be there unless it’s serving the joke, but what joke?
I can defend the first footnote, about too-lay, as serving the joke and not just establishing Anamorph as a tool. It could be that the sound “too-lay” is supposed to make the reader think “tool”, which gets you to hammers, to Thor, so the punch line doesn’t seem to come from nowhere. I think that’s unnecessary, but I can understand a writer feeling that it needs more setup. But then the best I can think for the second footnote is that we’re getting a wacky-answer-to-teacher-questions overlapping with a make-fun-of-the-pedant joke.
So that’s my best guess about what we’re supposed to find amusing. It’s two jokes. Each of them are okay. But arranged as they are, they’re interfering destructively. It’s rather like the sloppier panels of Julie Larson’s The Dinette Set, in which the secondary bonus joke on someone’s T-shirt would distract the reader from the main joke.
The important thing is the problem is the joke, not you reading it.
So, first, the content advisory business. I thought last week that Tom Batiuk’s Funky Winkerbean was done with the storyline involving a character’s suicide. The strip was into its third week of other, more lighthearted topics. Well, this week that’s changed. The eminently punch-worthy Les Moore was in today’s strip, meeting up with someone married to the person who died. So, again, if you don’t need that in your recreational reading, give this strip a pass, certainly for this week, possibly for the next several. I’ll try to give a warning when the storyline isn’t the direct focus anymore. Also maybe when Les Moore is not part of the story, because, jeez, that guy.
Spider-Man and Black Widow were teaming up to project Mary Jane Parker, last we saw. Mary Jane, trying again to film Marvella 2: Mo Mar, Mo Vella, had been kidnapped by and rescued from The Hobgoblin already. This irked Peter Parker, since he thought Harry Osborn had outgrown being The Hobgoblin. Osborn was Peter Parker’s old high school best friend. And Mary Jane’s former fiancee. Harry Osborn blames Spider-Man for murdering his father, Norman Osborn, the Green Goblin.
Spidey asks Black Widow to bodyguard Mary Jane. She doesn’t see a good reason why, so Black Widow pushes her off a roof ledge. And saves her, yes, but still. And Spider-Man doesn’t lift a finger to rescue his wife from plummeting from atop another yet another building. His excuse is that Black Window was going to rescue her. And Mary Jane had to be convinced that he would not always be able to rescue her. Still, you know, you remember the web site Superdickery? Just saying.
So they put Mary Jane up in a hotel to hide out. And then Spidey and Black Widow go off together to chase down The Hobgoblin. Spider-Man’s first thought: check on Harry Osborn. Mary Jane’s first thought: how does she know Peter Parker isn’t making the loves with Black Widow? Black Widow’s first thought: hey, isn’t Mary Jane married? Should we check in on her husband or anything? Anyway, Spider-Man fills Black Widow in on the Green Goblin storyline and why Hobgoblin wants revenge.
Spider-Man and Black Widow break into Harry Osborn’s penthouse apartment. He binds and gags the bodyguard, and they find Osborn asleep. But when he wakes he’s agitated by the man who killed his father having broken into his house and webbed his bodyguard and hovering over his bed in the dark. He reaches for a gun, but Black Widow slams his arm in a drawer. So the questioning gets off to a rough start. But Harry insists he knows nothing about the Hobgoblin and has been asleep all night. Spidey comes away from this convinced that Harry Osborn represses his memories of Hobgoblinning. Or maybe someone’s trying to frame him, whatever. There’s no way to tell unless they also manage a crossover with Slylock Fox.
With nothing else to learn Spider-Man swings by Mary Jane’s hotel room. She’s prickly about Black Widow, certainly. Some of it on reasonable grounds: if Black Widow is watching Mary Jane, won’t she figure out Peter Parker is Spider-Man? Peter’s casual about that, claiming that she’s someone he can trust.
At movie filming the next day, Black Widow’s on hand to be Mary Jane’s stunt double. There’s a great chance, a stunt requiring yet another fall off a building, which Mary Jane’s got to have built up an immunity to by now. But that goes perfectly, both Mary Jane’s short fall and Black Widow as stunt double’s several-stories fall. Another stunt goes well too: while Peter Parker very obnoxiously drops in on set, a “dummy activated by a timer” swings past and they both point it out. “See that, Black Widow? I, Peter Parker, and pointing out Spider-Man! Who is another person, there, in your, Black Widow’s view! At the same time that I, Peter Parker, am, even though we are in different places! So it would be ridiculous for you to start thinking that I, Spider-Man, am also Peter Parker! I mean. That Spider-Man is not. I. Um. Look, a big distracting thing!” And then he runs into a shop door that’s actually a mural painted on a brick wall.
There’s several more days of dangerous stunts coming off perfectly. So Spider-Man figures he just has to shadow Harry Osborn. He follows Obsorn to his psychiatrist’s appointment. And listens to the whole thing. Which is a jerk move, yes, but you have to remember the context. He could follow Osborn by secretly planting tracers in Osborn’s shoes that night he broke into his apartment. I’m pretty sure Spider-Man is the good guy here? Yes, that’s what my notes say. Well.
After Osborn leaves Spider-Man pops in to ask Dr Mark Stone, what’s the deal here? Why are you just validating Osborn’s assertions that his father was a hero brutally slain by the villain Spider-Man? Stone points out it’s not his business to clear Spider-Man’s name, it’s his job to listen to Osborn’s problems and try and give advice. And hey, Spidey looks like he’s got issues. Would he want to talk about them any? Peter almost goes for it, then recovers his senses. What possible use could therapy be to a person haunted by how a moment of petty self-indulgence allowed the murder of the man who raised him?
Also recovering her senses: Mary Jane. Spider-Man swings by the movie set again, though to check in with Black Widow. They swing off to go patrolling for Hobgoblin or something. Mary Jane grabs a taxi to follow them. The taxi driver’s a fun guy who talks about other times that superheroes have grabbed his taxi, which I trust all happened in the Silver Age. He asks Mary Jane why she’s spying on Spider-Man. And she realizes, yeah, she’s got no good reason to.
This was, by the way, the high point of the last couple months for me. What I think of as the great breakthrough in Marvel Comics was a touch of psychological realism. Mostly that’s reflected in how people discover that their problems don’t go away when they get superpowers. They just change, in the ways they change when you grow up too. Mary Jane realizing that, yeah, her doubts about Peter Parker’s fidelity are ridiculous and she needs to get over them? That’s got truth behind it. So she goes home.
Spider-Man and Black Widow see Harry Osborn pulling up. So Spidey sheds one disguise and Peter Parker “happens to” bump into Osborn. In a car drive while nominally looking out for Spider-Man, Osborn reiterates that he wants revenge on Spider-Man for killing his father. And then WPLOT, New York City’s 24-hour all-plot radio channel (550 on the AM dial), breaks in with a Hobgoblin sighting.
They race there, and both look up at Hobgoblin flying about on his bat-gliders. Peter Parker reflects how that proves Harry Osborn is not this Hobgoblin, at least. He’s forgotten that he himself set up a dummy Spider-Man to trick someone out of recognizing his secret identity just a couple days before. It’s easy for Spider-Man to catch this Hobgoblin; this because it’s a booby trap. It explodes on him.
And that’s where things sit, and there I’ll leave it. But if you do want to read ahead, and you have a Comics Kingdom account, you can pick the story up from the 29th of June, 2015 and proceed from there. The Hobgoblin storyline, with a couple bits about the movie, wrapped up around the 23rd of August. So, if Marvel and King Features really and truly mean to restart the comic with new adventures they’ll have a seamless chance to in eight weeks, about the 29th of December. It would be an auspicious time to start a new team, but they would need that team in place, like, today. I haven’t heard anything to imply they have. But the world is vaster than I imagine; many things can happen.
Well, the first part of it seems to be done. It was in a baffling manner, though, one which managed to not make clear that the character even did deliberately suicide. Someone who read only the comic strip and not supplemental material like my essays might reasonably think the character had a terrible but ordinary accident.
My understanding was that the suicide storyline was intended to run about twice as long as it has. So my hypothesis is that Tom Batiuk wanted the character’s death to happen in an ambiguous way, and then have characters eventually discover it was suicide. If that is so, I will try to give warning when the story resumes.
In the meanwhile this week the strip seems to be doing a whimsical Halloween zombie story. The previous two weeks it’s been doing a gruesome zombie storyline, resurrecting the Movie Of Lisa’s Story. Lisa’s Story was, in-universe, the book Les Moore wrote about his wife’s dying of breast cancer. (In the real world it’s a collection of the comic strips detailing this story.)
For about 36 years there in the early 2010s there was a story about a cable-movie production company trying to make this into a movie, with Moore as the novice screenwriter unhappy with … absolutely everything, at all times … until the project collapsed for some reason. So I can’t say that I’m happy that Mason Jarre, star of the abortive First Lisa’s Story Movie and of the in-universe Starbuck Jones science fiction intellectual property franchise, wants to do a new movie only Right This Time. But, as ever, I’m hoping for things to turn out good. There’s very few premises so bad that a good story can’t come from them.
So a quick thing that might be obsolete by the time this publishes on Sunday evening: Comics Kingdom didn’t print Rex Morgan, M.D. for Friday or Saturday. I have no idea why. I assume it’s yet another glitch with the new design web site, which has mostly gotten its glitches out of the way but is still keeping problems in reserve. Whenever Rex Morgan does publish, Friday’s and Saturday’s strips should appear in the archive. This is at an annoying moment since the story was unfolding mysteries of Mindy’s pregnancy.
As for Judge Parker. We will never see the last of Norton, not in Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker. Maybe under the next writer we will, but no. When we most recently saw him he was stepping up toward a person concealing a knife in her hand. There’s no reason to think that’s the end of him.
Norton and Strand kidnap Sam Driver while he’s trying to meet Alan Parker. Norton’s offering help getting Alan Parker out of jail. Driver suspects it’s an attempt to kidnap Charlotte. She’s Randy and April Parker’s daughter and Norton’s granddaughter. Norton insists he’s sent April Parker elsewhere.
That elsewhere is Los Angeles, where Neddy Parker and Ronnie Huerta have been trying to write a screenplay. The screenplay’s based on April Parker, of course. And April, following a message from Norton, has found it. And now that April knows it exists, she has notes. I assume this sort of thing happens all the time in Real Los Angeles too, if there is such a thing. So April gives Neddy and Ronnie her real story, if there is such a thing. When the script’s in shape she says her final farewells to Neddy. She didn’t join the CIA to protect an America that does the sorts of things America created the CIA for. So she’s leaving. Unless the rewrites screw her story up.
Back in Cavelton, Norton claims to want to make amends before his totally real illness totally really gets him for total real. He’ll confess to threatening Alan Parker, coercing him into helping fake his death. He didn’t, but he’s willing to lie under oath for a friend and former family. (It’s never said exactly when Randy and April Parker divorced, or how those court proceedings happened. It’s happened off-screen, we’re to infer.) Driver can’t accept him saying he’s going to lie under oath. Norton writes that off as a joke. Driver can’t see a way to get Norton — officially dead, this time by the CIA faking it — to testify. Norton says he can do it remotely. Driver gets hung up on the technical challenges of this. Norton says he can get started now.
All this kept Alan Parker from meeting Sam Driver in prison. Roy Rodgers has been pressuring Parker to get Driver to help him, and to get information about Marie. Rodgers doesn’t believe Parker’s claim that Driver didn’t show up. Rodgers calls on his mob friends, who beat Alan Parker badly enough that he’s sent to the hospital.
After having a plausibly deniable conversation with Randy Parker about this, Sam Driver agrees to Norton’s plan, whatever it is. The plan to testify in court was a sham, because of course. That was a distraction to let Strand hack Driver’s cell phone. But Norton is as good as his word, for a wonder. They’d had a judge who was refusing Alan Parker bail, on the grounds that Parker betrayed a lifetime of public and professional trust. The judge suddenly resigns. The district attorney admits to having withheld footage of Norton holding Alan Parker hostage. And there’s now recordings of Norton threatening Alan Parker.
In what he claims will be a last conversation with Driver, Norton says he regrets everything. All the ways he screwed up his daughter’s life. Wrecking the Parkers’ lives. Everything And he walks up to the cabin of April’s Mom, Spy Candace Bergen. Which is the last we’ve seen of them, at least as of the 24th of October when I write this.
The 23rd of September opened with the feeling of another time jump. Although since it has Alan Parker hugging his granddaughter and talking of how he missed this, it can’t have been that long. Also, Abbey’s big project has been a success. She was thinking to run a little bed-and-breakfast out of the Spencer Farms. It’s been successful, and much more work than Abbey imagined.
Over lunch with Marie, Abbey admits how much she’s not keeping up with this. Also how, so far as she is keeping up, it’s because Sophie is masterminding things. Which is great, except that Sophie’s a high school kid. She’s not thinking about college or anything about her future, and refuses all entreaties to. This is understandable. She had been kidnapped and tormented for months by Abbey Spencer’s previously-unsuspected half-sister. As were her friends. But, you know, you can’t go about working instead of talking over feelings with other people, people keep telling us stoic types. This infuriates us, but what are we going to do? Complain?
And Marie admits it’d be nice to see Abbey more. And that … her expenses are higher than she figured on, and, you know? Maybe she could work part-time at the bed-and-breakfast and there we go. It might even open Sophie up some. Sophie is overjoyed to see Marie back around. So that goes well, right until Sophie starts talking about how she needs the help running the business.
Marie’s diagnosis is that Sophie is quite avoiding talking school. Also that Sophie’s right about the bed-and-breakfast needing to be better organized. Sophie’s plan is a bigger kitchen and a dedicated bed-and-breakfast building. Somehow they settle on converting the horse barn to rooms. This I don’t understand as I thought the point of a bed-and-breakfast was to stay in something that’s plausibly a person’s home. Also that they need a barn for the horses. Maybe it’ll come together by the next time I do a plot recap.
Meanwhile in Los Angeles, Neddy and Ronnie keep shopping their script around. The feedback is brutal, and worse, neither of them say it’s wrong. The most devastating critiques are the perceptive ones. They don’t seem to be comments people have made about the comic strip since Marciuliano took over the writing, by the way. They’re in-universe complaints. But they finally got a callback this past week! It’s Annada Pictures, who I assume are hiring Neddy and Ronnie for that big Lisa’s Story project that somehow has come back into Funky Winkerbean. I’m not saying I want Norton back, but if it involves him kidnapping Les Moore, I could get on board.
Before I get to Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley I want to give a heads-up about Tom Batiuk’s Funky Winkerbean. According to newspaper articles, Funky Winkerbean is in the next couple months doing a story with the suicide of a character. People who do not need that sort of thing in their reading-for-fun may want to drop the strip for a while. I’ll try to give an all-clear when the immediate aftermath has passed.
It is a startling development. Since the 2008 time-jump, skipping a decade in which Les Moore spectacularly failed to deal with the death of his wife Lisa, Funky Winkerbean has moved mostly past its misery porn incarnation. This is the most serious topic for a storyline in quite a while.
I hope for the story to be a good, thoughtful exploration of why a person would suicide, and how the people around them react and are changed. I’m always hoping for this. I will snark so far as to admit that after the storyline about gay students going to the prom (the principal says of course gay students can go to prom since there’s no rule that says they can’t, and we never even see the gay students on-screen), and the storyline about a fictional version of the Virginia Rappe killing and what that did to Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle (in this version, a talking chimp killed her), I … well. Just.
All right, I expect the story to be handled with all the deftness of Inspector Clouseau, unaware that he’s swallowed the horse tranquilizer, stomping about Charles-Philipe-Louis Desuetude’s Irreplaceable Antiques Boutiquery, while he’s wearing roller skates and somehow has his hands trapped inside cans of potted meat. But, I promise, I hope it’s a good story. I just want people who do not need even a well-handled story about suicide in their recreational reading to know, and to plan accordingly.
Now back to my real business.
24 June – 14 September 2019
Oh, right, Jim Scancarelli was making a fool of me last time. Rufus had taken in Willow, a woman fleeing from wolves. She moved in, ate all his food, and (passively) kicked him out of the house. As Rufus tells his woes to Mayor Melba Rose, he thinks he sees Willow. On the ride home with Joel, Rufus worries how to make her leave. He even puts a coin in the wishing well to hope the problem goes away.
And … it works. Willow and her dog Toro are gone. She’s cleaned the house, and done Rufus’s laundry. In the note she also mentions seeing Rufus’s lovely Lady Friend, Melba. It’s the ending everyone wishes for from awkward social interactions. The unpleasant person is gone, leaving behind nothing but a note of thanks and the scent of fresh-cut flowers.
So, the 19th of July, we get into the new story. It looks like it’s more of Rufus courting Melba. He stops in the jewelry store for another encounter with Frank Nelson. In-between insults Rufus is able to buy a $15 cubic zirconia brooch. But, leaving the store, he trips and wrenches his ankle. Plus a crow swipes the brooch.
A cop takes the note that Rufus slipped on a broken sidewalk. This seems like the setup for something not yet paid off. And he brings Rufus to the Gasoline Alley Care Clinic, even turning the siren on for Rufus’s delight. And, hey, the crow flies back, dropping the brooch on Rufus’s head. So everything’s turning up Rufus.
The 13th of August Rufus finally gets to the clinic and we see more of the current story. Chipper Wallet, physician assistant and established character, is on vacation. But they have a substitute, Peter Glabella. He’s uncannily empathetic, and is able to treat Rufus quickly.
Glabella is good at more than diagnosing Rufus’s problems. Hoagy Skinner brings in her daughter Aubree. (Hoagy Skinner’s the wife of Rover Skinner, Skeezix’s grandson.) She’s listless, confused, pale … rather like Glabella is now. He feels she’s dehydrated. She has only the one head and no signs of cauterized sword wounds. He joins her in some sugar-free soda. And in almost no time she’s in good spirits. Physician and patient burp together.
Finally Walt Wallet comes in. Glabella nearly forgets to act like a normal hew-mon. He asks how long Wallet’s left knee has been bothering him before Wallet can say anything. But he goes through the diagnostics of a man so old that when he was born, Jack Benny was telling people he was 32. It’s hard taking on temporarily the ailments of a man that elderly, but he does it.
Chipper Wallet finally comes back from vacation and meets Glabella. This makes me question the clinic’s hiring practices but, all right. Glabella explains that he has “mirror-touch synesthesia”. It’s a “gift of sorts” that he’s always had. I think it’s also something they wrote into Lieutenant Ilia’s backstory, when they thought Star Trek: The Motion Picture was going to be a TV series. It’s why she does that thing where she heals Chekov’s burns instead of letting Doctor Chapel do it by medicine.
Where this is going, I can’t say. That’s as far as we’ve gotten. It may seem to defy reality that a magic doctor is in the comic. But one of Scancarelli’s modes for the comic has long been this light, sitcom magic touch. The sort of magic where, you know, how could that department-store Santa have known what I wanted as a kid unless … . So this fits that tradition squarely. A bigger break is that Gasoline Alley names are often some kind of wordplay, often gentle puns. If “Peter Glabella” means something I don’t get it.
Marti has Down Syndrome. Sarah doesn’t understand this, but does understand that other kids are being terrible toward her about this. Rex explains this, in very general terms, and Sarah’s cool with it. Good of her. They start having regular enough play dates. And with these characters met up, the storyline’s concluded.
The next storyline began the 15th of May. Morgan babysitter Kelly meets her friends Justin and Niki at the Caffeine Bean coffee shop. Where, incidentally, Marti’s teenage older brother Russell works. You’ll remember Justin as the kid who had that disease where he couldn’t swallow. It’s an ordinary day, so it’s time for things to go weird. While Justin is in the bathroom two suspicious-looking teens pull out guns.
The holdup goes screwy. There’s not a lot of cash in the register. Russell notices there’s bits of orange coming off the ends of their guns. And Justin calls the cops on them. Justin also gets to explaining how they should have used a primer at least. And … jeez. This is why white guys shouldn’t talk. I can’t even say it’s not authentic. It’s exactly the sort of stupid thing I’d say in a situation like that. I have anecdotes. Please don’t ask.
With the self-destruction of the holdup this storyline comes to a happy enough ending. Their parents are all much more freaked out than any of the kids are, and fair enough.
It concerns Merle Lewton. He’s a retired white guy. He’s finally picked his way to be retired-white-guy crazy. He’s taking the paranoid-health-conspiracy track. He’s certain that They are out there, spraying aluminum, strontium, barium, and who knows what else in the sky. His wife Lana insisted on this health checkup, if nothing else to get him out of the house for two blessed hours.
Lewton explains he’s getting special treatment for the chemtrail poisoning, from Glenwood’s own spiritual cleanser, Serena Galexia. So when Rex Morgan’s tests show no poisoning? That proves how good her over-the-phone Celestial Healing detoxification treatment is. That and the enormous bills this treatment runs up.
Rex checks up on this Serena Galexia. Her web site and blog and podcast and all are exactly what you’d imagine. Rex and June worry that all this nonsense might keep Mr Lewton from getting actual medical care in case he does get sick. Can they do anything about Galexia’s transparently obvious scam? A quick look at any American supermarket’s ‘dietary supplements’ section tells us no.
Lana wants some peace at least. She proposes that Rex Morgan test her for chemtrail toxins. After all, she hasn’t had any Galexia Celestial Healing treatments. So if she comes back as healthy, obviously, Merle will have no choice but to agree to the experimental results. Rex is happy to run tests, but points out that this is not how people work. Galexia is doing some in-person sessions soon, though. And Merle wants Lana to attend. Rex hasn’t yet expressed an opinion on all this. That’s just where the plot has reached.
I apologize to everyone wanting a plot recap for Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D.. It’s just been ferociously hot lately. Incredibly hot, to the point that it’s impossible to do things besides exaggerate the heat. It’s been so hot our goldfish are sweating. It’s been so hot when I look at comic strips on my computer the characters burst into flames. It’s been so hot that our ice cubes melted while still inside the freezer. We think the compressor blew. We have a new fridge scheduled for delivery Tuesday.
The point is I’ve been busy drinking every chilled citrus-y beverage on the eastside of Lansing and taking a cold shower every twenty minutes. I haven’t had time to re-read, or think how to condense, three months’ worth of soap-opera comic plot. I don’t want to leave you with nothing, though, so I’ll just answer the question posed in my subject line. Tom Batiuk’s Funky Winkerbean is one of those comics that I doubt needs to be in the What’s Going On In series. It, like Greg Evans and Karen Evans’s Luann, has ongoing storylines. But their storytelling pattern makes a What’s Going On In unnecessary. They have a bunch of ongoing storylines. They focus on each for a time, usually a couple of weeks. Thing is they resume each thread with enough of a reminder of what’s going on that readers aren’t lost. But there will sometimes be a strip so bizarre and wild that it draws attention from non-regular readers. They’ll be baffled. Funky Winkerbean, by the way, gets a fun daily roasting over at the Son of Stuck Funky blog. That’s a community with people who have, maybe enjoy, a staggering knowledge of the Winkerbean universe. I couldn’t have found many of the strips I reference here without their daily essays and tagging. I don’t know a snark blog that reads every Luann in similar detail, although, of course, the Comics Curmudgeon discusses both regularly.
News lady Cindy Summers was interviewing old-time serial-movie actor Cliff Anger for a documentary. The documentary is about his old friend Butter Brinkel, and Brinkel’s scandal. The comic introduced Brinkel as a silent movie comedy star. (Also as Butter Brickle, which I’m told is the name of an ice cream flavor. I don’t remember hearing of it before this.) His career and scandal got bumped to the 1940s. This seems to be because Tom Batiuk realized that if this happened in the 1920s then Cliff Anger would have to be eighteen years older than dirt. With the retcon, he’s now plausibly younger than two of the cast of Gasoline Alley.
Anger remembers something his friend Dashiell Hammett had said. Hammett, while he was with the Pinkertons, was on the team looking for evidence to acquit Brinkel. This makes no sense if the story is set in the 1940s. But it would fit if Brinkel was a silent-movie star, an era when Hammett did work for the Pinkertons. Anyway, the team couldn’t find any exculpatory evidence. This is interesting. The strip established there were at least two people besides Brinkel wearing the same costume at the masquerade. One hesitates to suspect the Pinkertons of wrongdoing but they were missing an obvious lead. It could be they didn’t understand a job that was not about beating in the heads of coal miners who wanted pay. Hammett thought Brinkel was protecting somebody, though, but couldn’t imagine who.
While Brinkel was waiting for trial, Anger took Zanzibar to his home. And we got this strip, which revealed that the actual killer was, in a surprise, the other character in the story:
Comic Strip I’ve Wanted To Punch Harder Than I’ve Wanted To Punch Anything Else In My Life Today
Mary Worth 
 With the footnote that if you did not know the context then Saturday’s Mary Worth would be hilarious. Any comic strip where someone barks out “Bah!” is 90% of the way to hilarious. But trust me. In context? You’re going to want to punch this comic strip harder than you’ve wanted to punch anything in your life. Promise.
Reference: The Sputniks Crisis and Early United States Space Policy: A Critique of the Historiography of Space (Studies in Military and Strategic History), Rip Bulkeley.
Really looking forward to next week, gotta tell you.
(This past week, Mopey Pete and Boy Lisa were told by their boss at the comics company that they needed a new flagship character. Mopey Pete’s girlfriend who inexplicably hasn’t shoved him over a cliff yet suggested “Atomic Ape” and the boss loved it. Then since the boss figured Atomic Ape needed a sidekick, she suggested “Charger Chimp” and the boss loved it too. Then Mopey Pete spent half the week yelling at his alleged girlfriend about how they were trying to do SERIOUS stuff here and he always hated kid sidekick characters and I guess somehow a chimpanzee has to be an annoying kid sidekick? Anyway, his alleged girlfriend was gone from the strip Saturday and if she has any sense, she’s put in for a transfer to some three-generations-and-a-dog strip like Ben or One Big Happy where they avoid focusing on the hateful characters quite so much.)
Reference: The Frozen-Water Trade, Gavin Weightman.
I’m glad you wonder what’s happening in Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy. For me, its the middle of July 2018, and my answers reflect that. If it’s much later than July 2018 I might have a more up-to-date post. It’ll be at or near the top of this page, if there is one. Thanks for reading.
Topper is trying to work with The Apparatus, the major crime syndicate in Tracy’s city. They suspect he’ll bring the Green Hornet in on them. It never crosses their minds that the Green Hornet and his new parter, Red Wasp, might be breaking up criminal organizations. They did, after all, just smash a counterfeiting ring. Hornet and Wasp used the Green Hornet’s supercar Black Beauty to smash it open.
The Apparatus wants the Green Hornet away from Topper’s proposed Protection-Racket-As-A-Service. I’m fuzzy on how that scheme supposed to work. The “protection” is from blackouts on the computers small-time people rent out to banks who need the processing for transfers. Is that a thing?
But I mostly doubt the details matter. The part that doesn’t doubt remembers Matty Squared. Mister Bribery’s artificial-intelligence agent is laying low in Cyber-Mexico until the heat’s off. But another digital crime thing might be a thread they’re saving for later.
Anyway, the Apparatus is confident the Green Hornet won’t muscle in, and assigns Jarman as his first protectee. Topper starts explaining to Jarman that he’ll be paying money when The Green Hornet muscles in, if we pretend guns are muscles. The Green Hornet starts explaining to Jarman that he’ll take the protection money when Dick Tracy muscles in, if we pretend guns are muscles. The Green Hornet drops a gas grenade, making his way to Black Beauty and starting a chase. Topper gives chase. Tracy, somehow, can’t get out of the gas fast enough to chase after the cars. So he instead meets with the police chief’s informant from Central City, Lafayette Austin. Lafayette Austin’s introduced like someone we should recognize. I admit I don’t. He’s not listed in John Dunning’s Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio for either Dick Tracy or the Green Hornet’s radio shows. He might be original.
Topper loses the Green Hornet. Hornet doesn’t return the favor. Kato, the Hornet’s faithful valet, has been secretly working as Topper’s valet “Skiyaki”. Topper figures to try shaking down his an old friend at Mazuma National Bank, before skipping town. But Dick Tracy, tipped off by Austin, is there. The Green Hornet, I assume tipped off by Kato, is there too. Also there: the Green Hornet’s smoke bomb and gas. Also also there: Dick Tracy’s two-way radio gas masks. In the fight, the Green Hornet clobbers Tracy and Kato knocks out Sam Catchem. But they use Tracy’s wrist-radio to summon backup, and leave the also-unconscious Topper for arrest.
Tracy gets credit for arresting Topper, and for scaring the Green Hornet back to Central City. That reported sighting’s premature, made by the Red Wasp — Lenore Case, Britt Reid’s romantic lead — with the backup Black Beauty. It should give Reid time to clear out of town gracefully.
And that, with the 27th of May, closes the Dick Tracy/Green Hornet crossover adventure. The 28th begins a new one, one with many parts moving together. The first part is Sawtooth, contract killer last seen in the strip around Christmas, not-killing Dick Tracy. Mister Bribery, his contractee, micromanaged the murder. You freelancers out there know how it is. Mister Bribery is, from prison, offering $25,000 for the murder of his former pet scientist Ygor Glitch. Sawtooth is up for it, and what the heck, figures he can try killing Dick Tracy again and see what happens.
Meanwhile Diet Smith and the Moon Governor have put together the “Moon Compound”. It’s a museum exhibit meant to explain the Lunarians to the people of Earth who have nothing to fear from their advanced science, and secret colony living in an undisclosed location, and control over magnetism, and cute stubby little antennas, and power to dispense electric shocks severe enough to render adults unconscious, and close ties to the industrialist billionaire Diet Smith who himself enjoys confidential ties with a police officer who has an 87-year track record of extrajudicial killings of suspects in often fantastically gruesome ways. The unwashed masses can have such weird, inexplicable fears!
Honeymoon Tracy and her friend Ugly Crystal — Mister Bribery’s niece — bond over their strange family experiences. Honeymoon’s half-Lunarian. Her mother, the original Moon Maiden, was killed long ago. A second Moon Maiden, Mysta Chimera, surgically created by human superscience from the amnesiac daughter of a mob boss, has joined the strip and loosely Honeymoon’s family. Please do try to keep up. Ugly Crystal doesn’t know her father, and Honeymoon wonders whether anyone could do something about that mystery. If she only had an in with some scientific superdetective or something.
So at a midnight screening of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, Dick Tracy’s partner Sam Catchem — uh. Sorry. I have to go lie down a moment. I don’t know what’s even real anymore.
So at a midnight screening of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, Dick Tracy’s partner Sam Catchem runs into Sawtooth. Catchem’s there for the fun of it. Sawtooth is there on business: he knew Glitch was a Picture-Head, as they call Rocky Horror Picture Show fans. So he went where he knew Glitch would be, and eats him. I mean, I’m fairly sure that’s what I’m meant to infer. “It was as if some huge predator caught him by the throat” could mean many things, I suppose.
Tracy’s able to identify the victim, and the perpetrator, and who likely ordered the hit. This is thanks to his scientific superdetective work of having Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo character Inspector Ishida call up and tell him what’s going on. So, y’know, never under-develop your intelligence network. (I haven’t read Usagi Yojimbo but I hear good stuff about it. I’m just going by what the captions, complete with copyright notices that I haven’t seen under other crossover guest stars, tell me.) Also Sawtooth might have given the scheme away by warning Catchem he was coming for Dick Tracy.
On to the search for Sawtooth. With special guest Lafayette Austin, who’s introduced with such emphasis one wonders if they feared we wouldn’t notice him. Sawtooth and his assistant/boat-anchor Grimm are hiding out in a hotel. Grimm is losing all their cash betting on horses. Sawtooth is figuring to kill Tracy and then head out of town. Sawtooth looks to The Pouch for tips.
The Pouch, by the way, is an information-dealer who works the city zoo as a balloon vendor. His backstory is he used to be a circus-show Fat Man, and lost almost all that weight. He took the flabby excesses of skin and sewed them into numerous closable pouches with with to be a courier. In the 70s, he used a popcorn popper to kill a guy and got away undetected. So remember: if you aren’t perpetually going “Wait, what?” you’re not reading authentic Dick Tracy.
Okay. Now stuff is coming together fast. The Moon Compound exhibit is getting ready to open. Honeymoon and Ugly Crystal enjoy a tour, under the supervision of Mysta and some of the minor Lunarians. Grimm loses the last of his and Sawtooth’s money as Sawtooth wants to check out. Meanwhile, Dick Tracy is thrilled to be entering his sourdough bread in — I’m sorry, I have to go lie down a bit again.
Right. Dick Tracy is baking sourdough bread for a charity banquet. And he’s got people ready to pick up his many fine loaves of enthusiastically-baked bread. The bread-transport guys arrived Saturday. They’re Sawtooth and Grimm, in disguise.
So. Yes. There is a lot that’s been happening the last two months, and it’s not all clearly a single unified thread. This was, to me, a bit hard to follow day-by-day. But it’s quite clear when read in bulk like this. Tracy continues to have a lot of his investigative triumphs come by people just thinking to tell him the plot. There have been a couple references and guest appearances, even besides the Green Hornet’s.
The most noteworthy of those was Michael Patterson from Lynn Johnston’s For Better Or For Worse poking in back in late June. That was a great reminder of the old days on Usenet group rec.arts.comics.strips and every other comics-discussion group. We’d gather to talk about how awful the prose of his in-universe award-winning super-novel was. And how nasty the strip was to the upstairs neighbors, who were painted as villains without actually doing anything worse than not liking Michael. And how much everybody hated Elizabeth getting yanked out of her life and forced to marry Granthony. And how nastily Lynn Johnson treated Granthony’s first wife because — gasp — she didn’t want to have a child, but did anyway after Granthony whined her into it. This is way too much space given to a side appearance like this, but do please understand. My Gen-X cohort has endured many betrayals in our lifetime. One of the most lingering was the last couple years of For Better Or For Worse. Complaining about it was such a glorious experience while it lasted. I mean, it’s okay talking about how stuff in Funky Winkerbean doesn’t work like that. But it didn’t have the epic fall from what we thought-at-the-time-was-greatness-and-maybe-kinda-wasn’t that For Better Or For Worse did.
Anyway. Topper’s failed cyber-protection racket might feed into artificial intelligence Matty Squared. Still no developments on B O Plenty’s house being haunted. And Denny Lien was kind enough to explain a bit of Diet Smith’s strange mention of a time machine machine last December. Apparently a while back Smith had been working on a time machine, in the hopes of saving his long-dead son Brilliant Smith. The machine wasn’t practical. But the thing about a time machine is the development and testing cycle of a working one can be as short as you like, once you take it seriously. Those are the major outstanding plot threads that stand out to me. Well, that and whatever it is we’re supposed to make of Lafayette Austin. Some of the GoComics.com commenters have suggested that would be “Shaggy from Scooby-Doo”. All right.
I apologize, I just have been frightfully busy trying to process the realization that I am about to post my greatest service ever to humanity, or at least the Internet. I mean, you know the feeling when you have run across the thing that you will be remembered for indefinitely far into the future? The thing that will become a heaping mass of links from people in search of a desperately needed answer to their most pressing yet ridiculous question? I’m in that state right now. So I’m very busy enjoying that feeling and meanwhile also trying to get it actually organized.
So please here instead enjoy my noticing that Comics Kingdom has started running Vintage Funky Winkerbean from the comic strip’s start in 1972, long before it discovered misery porn and then depression porn and then, most recently, comic books.
(I’m sorry; I know Les Moore even in this form but I don’t know who he’s talking to yet. Might be someone dropped from the strip; might be someone redesigned into a character I’m just not thinking of. The strip hasn’t done much naming of characters apart from the immortal initial fab-four classic lineup quartet of Funky himself, Les Moore, … Roland … and … Livinia? Y’know, I drive past Livinia, Michigan, about once a month for the pinball league at Marvin’s Marvellous Mechanical Museum. Great spot.). (The reason that this is a correctly formed joke structure and is therefore hilarious is that the city is actually named Livonia so you should now laugh uproariously at how one name looks a lot like another.)
Yes, I am very aware of the past week’s developments in Mary Worth (21 more panels, 13 with explicit muffin content, bringing the year to a total of 61 muffin panels out of 154 possible) only to interrupt all the wonderful goofy muffin content with actual assault.
Yes, poinsettia that’s still technically going from Christmas is probably in its last days and spending them waiting until it’s quiet in the house so it can drop a shriveled leaf in exactly the way to make the biggest, loudest rustle possible. So yes, our poinsettia is a drama queen is what I’m saying.
Yes, Funky Winkerbean has spent two weeks and counting establishing the fact that Wealthy Comic Book Collector Chester Hagglemore Yes That Is Too His Name wanting to talk with former comic book guy Mopey Pete without saying what he wants to talk about. (I’m guessing it’s Hagglemore Thank You The Theoretical Lead Of The Strip Is Named “Funky Winkerbean” So Let’s Just Carry On And Get Through This Quick As Possible is figuring to restart the whole Batom Comics lineup and he wants Mopey Pete to write them all so we can see all kinds of strips where Mopey Pete can’t finish stuff on deadline.) Also yes, it is a retcon to say Mopey Pete used to write for Batom Comics, since he was previously shown to write for Marvel and then DC. And the strip sure had been running like Batom Comics was a long-gone publisher brought back to memory by one of its properties being made into a movie.
Yes, niacin was first synthesized in the 1860s, decades before anyone even suspected vitamins were a thing and long before anyone would imagine it had any nutritional value. It was used as a photographic chemical under the name “nicotinic acid”.
It’s been only a few short months since I last checked in on Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy and yet plenty of stuff has happened. I’m glad to try catching you up on that. More stuff might have happened by the time you read this. If it’s late January or early February 2018 for you, this is probably enough to catch you up. If it’s a lot later than that, maybe the story’s developed far past that. If I’ve written a later summary I shall try to have it at or near the top of this link. Also I mentioned this on my other blog, but GoComics.com broke something so that My Comics Page won’t load, and broke their “Contact Us” page so it won’t submit error reports. I’ve got workarounds, but I’m not happy with them.
Also, on my mathematics blog, I review comics with mathematical themes. My latest report on those should be at or near the top of this link. Thanks for checking that out, if you do.
5 November 2017 – 27 January 2018.
Last time you’ll recall, Dick Tracy and team were closing in on audio-recording forgers Silver and Sprocket Nitrate. The pair were hiding out in the Lyric (movie) Theater, Sprocket on a date with novelist and Les Moore’s less-punchworthy twin Adam Austin, Silver in the Phantoms Of Theaters room. Silver watches his sister have a date so serious she even wears sandals for it. So he gives her half their take and alibis her. He goes to jail. She goes to California with Adam Austin, who I’m assuming is writing the novelization for the Starbuck Jones sequel. Silver Nitrate and his boss/jailbreaker Public Domain go to jail and that ends that story reasonably logically.
And then, the 18th of November, came an odd interlude before the next story: a “Minit Mystery”. It was one of those adorable puzzle mysteries, you know, figuring out who killed the guy based on whether an umbrella is damp or figuring which jacket is underneath another on the coat-stand. It’s a week illustrated by Charles Ettinger, and it’s introduced as the start of a new series. There was just the one mystery presented this time around. Perhaps they’re waiting for the current storyline to resolve, or reach a logical pause, before showing the next. I’m not sure this is any more logically rigorous than an Inspector Danger’s Crime Quiz, but it’s a fun pastime. The story started the 19th of November and ran each day through to the 26th, when the solution was revealed.
Back to plotting, the 27th of November. Mister Bribery reappears, along with his niece Ugly Crystal and hired gun Sawtooth. Bribery’s hired Sawtooth to execute Dick Tracy. Tracy’s team has infiltrated Bribery’s organization, though, as their bodyguard, with Lee Ebony pretending to be “T-Bolt”. Bribery orders Sawtooth to carry out the execution plan, even though it’s not compatible with putting the shrunken head of Dick Tracy into a jar on his shelf. Okay then.
One of the dangling side plots comes back to the fore. The fellow you get by fusing Buster Crabbe and Alley Oop finds crime boss Posie Ermine. Ermine’s been disheartened since his daughter was abducted, surgically altered to be Mysta the new Moon Maid, and somehow brainwashed into a whole new identity who wants nothing to do with her biological father. Buster Oop has personal reasons for this. He’s the Governor of the Moon, and father of the original Moon Maid. (The original Moon Maid was killed in the 70s, when most of the really loopy science fiction stuff was written out of the strip, although her daughter — Honey Moon Tracy, Dick’s granddaughter — is still around and a critical character these days.)
Got all these relations? Because that just catches things up to early December 2017 and from there everything gets explosive.
Honey Moon Tracy and Ugly Crystal … Bribery, I guess is her last name? … meet cute-ish at the mall’s CD store. They get along surprisingly well, what with both having superpowers and Ugly Crystal envying Honey Moon’s antennas. I understand. I imprinted early on Uncle Martin’s extendable antennas from My Favorite Martian. And I’m not an ugly person.
Mister Bribery, out for a jog, shoves another jogger into the path of a minibus. It’s a startling moment. It establishes Mister Bribery’s villainy and menace in a way that his hiring someone to murder Dick Tracy hadn’t, somehow. I suppose it’s because you expect the villain to try killing the scientific superdetective. It’s normal and routine and built into the worldview and the name of the comic strip that the plan won’t work. But he can kill — or try to kill, as the victim survives with “minor injuries” — some nobody. And that it’s utterly unmotivated makes Mister Bribery’s danger more real. The murderous impulse doesn’t do Mister Bribery any good, either, as the city looks for whoever’s in the blurry video footage of the crime.
Honey Moon Tracy and Ugly Crystal meet up again, under Lee Ebony’s supervision. Honey Moon gets a bit of brain freeze from the Moon Governor’s transmissions. The Moon Governor and Posie Ermine have been searching for Honey Moon. Meanwhile Mister Bribery’s artificial-intelligence assistant/digitally-uploaded former henchman Matty Squared has detected the Moon Governor’s Space Coupe. Mister Bribery orders Sawtooth to kidnap Honey Moon. The Moon Governor and Posie Ermine close in on Smith Industries, there to find Mysta the (second) Moon Maid. Yes, I’m getting tired just writing all this.
OK. There’s a shootout. Ermine’s killed. Sawtooth grabs the Moon Governor and Mysta and takes them to Mister Bribery. Mister Bribery wants the Moon Governor’s help getting to the Lunarian valley settlement, there to mine lunar gold and whatnot. The Moon Governor tries to squash these plans. He drops the bad news that there’s no oxygen left in the Moon Valley colony. (This we the readers have known since in 2012, in one of the last uses of Diet Smith’s Moon Coupe. And that also shows how long this team is willing to let a mystery simmer.) Also, it’s dumb to go to the Moon to mine gold. These days the fashion is to go to the Moon to mine Helium-3, which is even dumber. Plus there’s the whole Rocket Hat problem. He tells Mister Bribery to move on, “as we did”.
Mister Bribery takes this with all the calm and grace of Donald Duck finding Chip and Dale back on his folding lawn chair. Meanwhile henchman Glitch spots Lee Ebony talking on her official police-grade wrist wizard, astoundingly sloppy undercover work. It’s okay, though, since Glitch has figured out this is the big meltdown and he’s just telling people to run while they can. Ebony arrests Ugly Crystal (I’m not sure for what, but I suppose that can be sorted out). Sam Catchem says they’ve got the rest of Mister Bribery’s gang. And Tracy is going in after Mister Bribery himself, who’s got the Moon Governor and Second Moon maid with him.
And that’s where we stand. It’s a lot of stuff happening, and with (so far as I noticed) no weird cameos or digressions, after the Minit Mystery interlude. I’ve only noticed one odd, unresolved mention of a thing either: on the 4th of December mentioning how Diet Smith’s “time machine was a bust”. I didn’t know there was ever a time machine in Dick Tracy, but I’m also not surprised, given how crazy Chester Gould went in the 60s.
Jim Scancarelli has been out of action since the last time I recapped the plot in Gasoline Alley! Why? Where? What’s happening? Will the story of Rufus’s courting of The Widow Emma Sue and Scruffy’s Mom ever resolve? I don’t know. But I’ll do my best to share what I know, or can find out. And to recap nearly three months’ worth of reruns next week, somewhere on this link. Here’s hoping there’s good news ahead.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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)
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.
So a little something roiled the normally calm world of ridiculing Tom Batiuk’s Funky Winkerbean. Last week the strip did one of its occasional grab-bag weeks, with just spot gags and no storyline or attempt at one. Before I get into that, let me share this link to my mathematics blog, since I did my usual Sunday comic-strip review over there. Thank you.
So. Snark-reading Tom Batiuk strips is usually pretty easy. The comic presents a couple of the lumpy, sad main characters talking about one of their ongoing problems, with something involving words used in slightly unusual ways in the last panel, while everyone smirks and waits for the death of joy. The snarky reader looks over this, points out the joke barely parses, and that the problem as presented could not happen because something or other does not work like that, or because he’s confused parts of the continuity. Then the snark readers wait for the next day. I’m not ruling myself out of this group, by the way. Rolling eyes at Tom Batiuk strips is one of the joys of being a comics fan who never gets enough chances to showcase learning what “bathos” meant for that vocabulary quiz in eighth grade. (Hi, Mrs Furey!)
And now I’d like to make my argument. Please feel free to disagree. Busiek’s right, by the way, that the deadly problem is the comic timing. The first two panels are nothing. Trying to make the punchline also carry the load of setting up the strip is a mess.
But I think the snark-blogging interpretation, that Donna or Crazy Harry has to be too stupid to be plausible, wrong here. I think that Donna’s supposed to be facetious. To say with a straight face the obviously ridiculous is so important to comedy that if we’re to rule it out then I can’t comment in any web forums or Usenet anymore. I think there are line readings that would make the joke work. At least work as well as it can given the attempt at jamming all the setup into the punchline.
Which is still a structural problem in the comic. Written comedy has limited powers to direct how a line should be read. A comic strip has a bit more power, since it can show characters reacting. But the Funky Winkerbean standard is to draw people moping, smirking, or despairing and that doesn’t offer much support for whimsy. A comic strip also has more power to suggest timing and where to pause a line and what to emphasize in it. But those tools aren’t used here.
So that’s my best attempt at making this Funky Winkerbean make sense: Donna is being silly and playful, and we don’t know how to react to that anymore. I’m curious what you kindly readers make it out to be.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The index rose two points as the market digested reports that the Earth has an extra layer of tectonic plates within the mantle, which should be reassuring to everyone worrying about whether we had enough. It might have pushed the index higher still if we were sure we understood why it doesn’t look like any other planets or moons have tectonic plates, which seems like a weird oversight. Are we maybe looking for theirs in the wrong places or something?
Dan Davis, who’s worked on a bunch of comic books and pencils for Garfield, took over the art on Crankshaft starting with this Sunday, the 2nd of April. Rick Burchett, who’s won two Eisner awards, is to take over penciling for Funky Winkerbean starting with the Sunday, the 25th of May.
Ayers is, according to Batiuk, not leaving the Crankshaft world altogether: “Chuck and I will still be working on selected story arcs down the line. This is one of those rare examples in life of being able to have your cake and eat it too, and I couldn’t be happier as I move forward on Funky and Crankshaft with these titanically talented artists.”
The index rose eight points which some analysts are crediting to the traders remembering for once to say “rabbit, rabbit” first thing the 1st of the month. Some even said “rabbit, rabbit” the first thing Monday as the start of the working month, which started the usual squabble about what they’re doing on the weekends, then. Good question. It fully deserves an answer.
I mean, I want to. Tom Batiuk’s Funky Winkerbean is somehow in the second week of a story in which Funky Winkerbean tries to renew an expired driver’s license. And if that seems like not much of a storyline consider that Batiuk has decided to see just how big a jerk Funky can possibly be during it. Or possibly how big an idiot. Anyway it’s left me seething with rage and so I’m going to turn to more productive stuff like the mathematically-themed comics on my other blog and, oh, I don’t know. Here’s a screen grab from the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Heart of Glory”, known as “that one from the first season where we started thinking maybe the show could be good after all”.
o/` Be-el-ze-bub has a devil put aside!
For me …
For Meeee …
FOR MEEEEEEEEEE! o/`
If you want to put in your own different caption here, please, go ahead.
Thanks, all. Boy am I angry at Funky Winkerbean.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The index rose one point in trading described as “partly cloudy” and with “smatterings of applause”. We have no explanation for what this should mean.
So something weird has happened with story strips lately. I suppose it’s coincidence, properly. But something’s happened to them since last year’s Apartment 3-Gocalypse. I figured to take some time and write about them. I’m going to start with the strip that had the most dramatic and first big change of the lot, one going back far before the end of that comic.
I’m not sure when I started reading Dick Tracy as an adult. I know it was in the 2000s, and that it was encouraged by partners in Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.comics.strips. And that’s because the strip was awful. Not just bad, mind you, but awful in a super-spectacular fashion. The kind the most punishing yet hilarious Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes are based on. In the last years of his tenure on the comic Dick Locher’s storytelling had collapsed into something like a structuralist parody of comics. Nothing would happen, at great length, endlessly repeated. I observed that if you put together a week’s worth of the daily strips — which the Houston Chronicle web site used to make easy to do — you could read the panels top down, first panel of each day of the week, then second panel, then third panel, and have exactly as coherent a story. It was compelling in its outsider-art insanity.
That came to an end (and I’m shocked to realize this) over five years ago. From the 14th of March, 2011, the team of Joe Staton and Mike Curtis took over. The change was immediately obvious: the art alone was much more controlled, more precise, and easier to read than Locher’s had been. And the stories had stuff happen. My understanding is Staton and Curtis were under editorial direction to have no story last more than a month; Locher’s last years had averaged about three to four months per storyline.
So finally we had a story strip with pacing. You know, the way they had in the old days. There were drawbacks to this. Four or five weeks at three panels a day — more can’t really fit — plus the long Sunday installments still doesn’t give much space. To introduce a villain, work out a scheme, have Tracy do something about it, and wrap it up? Challenging work. The first several stories I came out thinking that I didn’t know precisely what had happened, but I’d enjoyed the ride.
They’ve had several years now, and are still going strong. They’re allowed longer stories now. They’ve gotten to be astoundingly good at planting stuff for future stories. They’re quite comfortable dropping in a panel that doesn’t seem to mean anything — sometimes with the promise that it will be returned to — so they have the plot point on the record when they need it a year or more later. And they’ve brought a fannish glee to the stories. I still don’t understand exactly what’s going on, but the pace and the art and the glee are too good to pass up.
Staton and Curtis show all signs of knowing everything that has ever appeared in pop culture, ever. And they’re happy to bring it in to their comic. Some of this is great. They brought [ Little Orphan ] Annie into the strip, resolving the cliffhanger that that long-running-yet-cancelled story strip ended on. And has brought her back a couple times after. They’ve called in Brenda Starr — another long-running-yet-cancelled story strip — for research. They spent a week with Funky Winkerbean for some reason, which might be how Sam Catchem’s wife got cancer.
And they’ve dug through the deep, bizarre canon of Dick Tracy. I mean, they brought back The Pouch, a minor criminal who after losing hundreds of pounds of weight sewed snap-tight pouches into his acres of flesh, the better to be an informer and courier when not selling balloons to kids. I love everything about how daft that is.
Back in the 60s the comic’s creator, Chester Gould, went a little mad and threw in a bunch of nonsense about Moon People and magnetic spaceships and all that and wrote funny stuff about how this was just as grounded in fact as the scientific investigation methods of Tracy. One might snicker and respectfully not disagree with that. But it was a lot of silly Space Race goofiness, fun but probably wisely not mentioned after the mid-70s.
So they brought this back, and mentioned it. Not just in passing; a major theme in the comic the past five years have been struggles for Diet Smith’s Space Coupe technologies and the mystery of whatever happened to the Moon Valley and the making of new, cloned-or-whatever Moon Maid with electric superpowers and everything. I suppose it’s plausible if we grant this silliness happened that it would become big stuff, certainly for Tracy’s circles. But could we have let the silliness alone? Space-opera antics are fun, and there’s no other comic strip that can even try at them, but Dick Tracy is supposed to be a procedural-detective strip about deformed people committing crimes and dying by their own, if detective-assisted, hands.
A matter of taste. There’s something to be said for embracing, as far as plausible, the implications of world-breaking stuff the comic did in the 60s.
Less disputable, though: everything in the strip is a freaking reference to something else anymore. Everything. There’s less referential seasons of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Not just to Dick Tracy‘s long history, or even to other story strips. They made the Jumble word game part of a storyline. Last year they went to a theatrical production of A Christmas Carol with Mister Magoo for crying out loud. Think about that. Earlier this year villain Abner Kadaver lured Tracy to the Reichenbach Falls with just a reference to meet him at “the fearful place”, because of course Tracy would pick up on that reference. And yes, they struggled at the falls and went over the side. I don’t think we’ve seen his body, although Kadavner’s even more immune to death than normal for compelling villains in this sort of story.
Tracy got rescued, of course. By an obsessed fan. Not of Tracy; he’s already been through that story in the Staton-Curtis regime. An obsessed fan of Sherlock Holmes, who insists on thinking Tracy is actually Holmes and won’t listen to anything contradicting him. An obsessed fan named Dr Bulwer Lytton. Good grief.
I was set for a little Misery-style knockoff, but Staton and Curtis faked me out. They do that often, must say, and with ease and in ways that don’t feel like cheats. That’s one of the things that keeps me enthusiastic about the strip. Instead of an intense psychological thriller about how to make his escape, Tracy just stands up and declares he’s had enough of this. Mercifully sane. But part of me just knows, Staton and Curtis were trying to think of a way to have Graham Champan wearing a colonel’s uniform step on panel and declare this had all got very silly and they were to go on to the next thing now. I figure they’re going to manage that within the next two years.
It’s quite worth reading, if you can take the strangeness of advancing a complicated story in a few moments a day and that not everything will quite hang together. But the more attention you pay the more you realize how deftly crafted everything about it is.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The alternate Another Blog, Meanwhile index rose five points. Trading was hurried as everyone had forgotten to do anything until market analysts came in just before deadline to ask how things had turned out so they could say why that happened instead of something else entirely. Now analysts are trying to figure out if any of this happened for a reason or if traders were just throwing any old nonsense together. They’re suspicious.
If you’ve ever entered “funky winkerbean” into Google for some reason you’ve probably noticed the autocompletes are “misery porn” or “depressing” or “cancer cancer cancer cancer death die cancer death”. I haven’t checked recently but that’s all right. The strip made a staggering reputation for itself in the 90s and 2000s when Tom Batiuk decided to make it a serious issue-addressing strip by making everybody in it miserable and giving lead character Les Moore’s wife Lisa the traits of (a) being Les Moore’s wife and (b) having plot cancer. It’s an especially pernicious kind of cancer, what with how it can reappear years after a heartwarming conclusion just when the author thinks the readers least expect it, even though the readers have been saying in the comments section how they expect it ever since it went into remission.
So. Funky’s Ambiguous Relative (I think he’s a nephew maybe?) Wally had it particularly hard during the Misery Porn years. He went from troubled youth to soldier in Afghanistan, where he was captured by Enemy Forces and held captive for years. He was freed, though, and went home, but it turned out he still had a day of service left and so was called back to duty and shipped to Iraq. And by this point the readers’ relationship with Funky Winkerbean was so bad that even if this were based on something that actually happened to somebody it didn’t matter. None of us were buying it. And then he got captured by More Enemy Forces and held for … a very long time.
It’s hard to say how long. While Wally Winkerbean was off in Enemy Forces hands the strip did its second big “time jump”. This was a half-considered flash-forward after the Death Of Lisa Moore, Who Somehow Keeps Appearing In The Comics A Lot Considering How Dead She Is. The purpose of this was to allow Les Moore to transition from being a widower traumatized by his wife’s recent death from plot cancer into being a widower who’s somehow not even remotely over his wife’s death ten years before. I mean, to an extent I’m sympathetic. Should I outlive my love by a decade-plus I know there will be days I will be miserable, like anniversaries and my love’s birthday and some other special days. “Special days” does not mean, as it does to Moore, “weekdays, plus Sundays, and Saturdays too”. My love understands: a decade on, there will be days I smile even without having a reason.
Anyway, during the time jump, in which Funky Winkerbean got everybody ten years older and more decrepit while sister strip Crankshaft didn’t even though the comics share a universe and sometimes cross over into each other, Wally was held captive. Was he captive for more than ten years? Or was his captivity just retconned into the recent-yet-now-technically-unseen past? Good question and nobody has the faintest idea, Wally included.
As you might imagine Wally came out of this with post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s a terrible case. Its primary trigger is being seen on-panel for his one storyline a year, which is about how he’s totally over his post-traumatic stress disorder unlike when he thought he was last year and now he’s ready to take some classes at Local Community College. And then we got to last week’s iteration of the story, in which Wally’s regularly present female companion of some relationship interrupts Funky’s work on his Tiny Laptop with a plan that can’t in any way possibly go wrong:
OK. Since the second Time Warp (the first one was in the early 90s when original characters finally graduated high school, then came back to work at the high school and suffer for it) Funky Winkerbean has moved away from its Misery Porn incarnation. It’s been much more about aged people sitting around being depressed. Also about praising this imaginary comic-book franchise named Starbuck Jones that’s produced some nice looking Silver Age-style covers and no actual stories. And the occasional halfhearted attempt to bring back the pre-1992 era’s flights of fancy and even whimsy. And yet I keep looking back on this strip and, well, see the subject line here.
If you have any explanation you’re doing better than Tom Batiuk.
SPOILER: Nothing went wrong and Wally is totally over his post-traumatic stress disorder unlike when he thought he was last year and now he’s ready to take some classes at Local Community College!
OK, first, I want to alert people to some of my mathematics blog entries. These are the comic strip roundups, and I get to talk a bit about what makes them mathematical and, sometimes, even what makes them funny. There was one back on Tuesday, yes, but it was a busy week and I had another installment on Saturday which I padded out to appear on Sunday too. Though there were more strips than I expected so this split was kind of legitimate after all.
Now, in other news, I’d been quivering with impotent fanboy rage over the past week’s run of Funky Winkerbean, by Tom Batiuk. As you might have noted if you read any comics blog ever, the strip has long been a soap operatic parade of misery and doom, interrupted by confusing “time warps” where the characters suddenly get ten years older and more decrepit while their backstories make slightly less sense. Though since the last time warp Batiuk has been going on a slightly different tack: instead of every character suffering personal injury and professional humiliation, they’re instead being given exactly what they might dream of, only to have it shrivel up and die in their hands. It’s an exciting bathetic direction to take.
This brings us to the past week, in which Boy Lisa — the kid who appears in ever-receding shade in the above strip — finishes illustrating the graphic novel Les whipped up as a belated first and second anniversary present for his wife Cayla last year. And, yes, he forgot his first anniversary. This is because Les is obsessed with his dead first wife Lisa, who died, in-strip, eighteen to twenty years ago. And yet Lisa is ever foremost in his thoughts. He wrote a successful book about how she got breast cancer and died. He does a charity run every autumn. When he was put in charge of the high school reunion he made sure the memorial wall to Lisa was adequate, but failed to actually book a venue to host it. He chats with her ghost on a surprisingly regular basis. He was somehow around when a made-for-TV adaptation of his book collapsed just as he was angst-ridden over how they were disrespecting her story. He says more to and about her than he does to his actual present wife, a woman whom I hope has more to live for than the attention and affection of her defectively-eyebrowed husband.
And the strip has given Les the terrible, ingenious idea to have Les write some more about Lisa. (Here’s how they met: they had a class together. Later, she left the school because she was pregnant, but Les ran into her.)
This can’t all be coincidence, right? The ironic reading of Funky Winkerbean is one of the Internet’s largest growth industries — you’re part of it right now — and he’s just decided to give up and write for that readership, hasn’t he?
So, Wednesday’s Funky Winkerbean, by noted depression advocate Tom Batiuk. It’s not funny, to start with. It’s less so because a couple months ago Batiuk ran a sequence where the coach was recruited by the head of the Diversity University-Ironton — GET IT? GET IT? BETTER SAY YES — “Fighting Consensus Builders”, which was apparently intended to be the actual literal name of the Diversity University-Ironton DO YOU GET IT YET? football team, and because the team at the high school where all the characters slouch towards death together is literally the “Scapegoats”, so with “Scapegoats” and “Consensus Builders” as actual team names is “Chances” really that inherently implausible?
Anyway, I’m captivated not simply by its general badness, or how everyone is gathered around the world’s itty-bittiest dining table ever, but by wondering what was the topic of conversation which caused the long-faced Optimism High character, whose name, and I swear I am not making this up, was “Mason Jarr”, to decide the logical next thing to say was, “My high school was called `Optimism High’ and the football team was `The Fighting Chances’.” And now that I hopefully have infected you with the problem of worrying what the setup was, I hope that I don’t have to think about it any further. Thank you.
 See, the reason this is funny is because the comic strip’s title character is a recovering alcoholic, and another character lost her arm, and her ability to play the flute, and her chance to go to Julliard, to an accident caused by drunk driving. The drunk driver then joined the Army and went to Afghanistan where he was kidnapped and held prisoner for years. After his release he was sent to Iraq where he was kidnapped and held prisoner again, for even more years, after which he came home to find his wife, thinking him dead, had remarried and wanted nothing to do with him, and I am not making up a syllable of this. See how funny a name Diversity University-Ironton is now?
So in all the anticipatory fuss about the comic strip The Better Half coming to its kind of noticed end after 58 years, which is nine years longer than Peanuts, is that another longrunning comic strip you kind of remember seems to be vanishing.
The past week, Bill Asprey’s Love Is…, which is not just a Simpsons joke about two naked eight-year-olds who are married but is actually a thing that exists in the real world, has been rather less obviously existing. It used to appear on gocomics.com, and stopped about a year or so ago; it’d since been appearing on comic sites for newspapers with the right Comics Kingdom subscription, but now that’s gone too. Their official web site still exists, but it’s useless, and if it contains any daily comics I can’t find them.
The comic strip began as a set of love notes that Kim Casali wrote her future husband, Roberto, and it emerged into the newspapers in early 1970. When Roberto was diagnosed with cancer Casali brought in Bill Asprey to work on the strip, and he’s been producing it since 1975, facts which I think add a useful bittersweet touch to a comic strip that’s otherwise very lightweight. Of course, the strip has been running for 44 years now, 17 years longer than Walt Kelly’s Pogo originally ran, and trying to think of something like 13,700 illustratable one-panel expressions of love (the strip doesn’t run Sundays) is a pretty difficult task.
I have no idea what’s happening with it: whether the strip is going out of production, whether its Tribune Media Services syndicate is repositioning it, whether it’s changing syndicates, whether it’s becoming self-syndicated, whether something else is happening.
Since I don’t want to just point you to the lastest roundup of mathematics comics over in my other blog without something that’s also entertaining, let me give you this Sunday’s Funky Winkerbean. Every time you think Tom Batiuk’s produced the most depressing Funky Winkerbean ever, along he comes with the most depressing Funky Winkerbean ever.