What’s Going On In Judge Parker? Why has Rex Morgan stopped updating? Is Norton gone? August – October 2019


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.

Anyway, if you’re reading this after about January 2020 I may well have a more current plot recap at this link. Older plot recaps are at that link too. Good luck finding what you really want.

Judge Parker.

4 August – 26 October 2019.

Norton Dumont, with the aid of super-secret agent Strand, had escaped from hyperprison. Retired Judge Alan Parker was in jail for helping Norton fake his death. Roy Rodgers was extending some protection to Parker. He had protection because he helped the mob kill his business partner who’d been embezzling from their firm to not pay mob debts. Rodgers was doing this for information on Marie, who’d been his wife before he faked his death on their honeymoon. And Marie had been Abbey Drivers’ housekeeper for years. I think that’s enough background for where things were as of early August, my last check-in on this plot-heavy soap. And you may not like all the plotting, but you can’t deny its soapiness.

[Norton and Agent Strand 'Confer' with Sam where Neddy's factory once stood.] Norton: 'Did you know this is where I safely brought Charlotte to the Parkers? Good times.' Sam Driver: 'So this is about April trying to take her daughter again!' Norton: 'I already told you, I made sure that wouldn't happen. Really, Samuel, mutual trust will make it so much easier for me to help you.' Driver: 'Help me? By kidnapping me? And who is this anyway?' Norton: 'Agent Strand. She's been with me for a while.' Driver: 'And it doesn't weird you out she looks almost exactly like your daughter?' Strand:' I knew I wasn't the only one who saw that!'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 11th of August, 2019. I don’t know what significance we should attach to Strand resembling April Parker so. It may be meant to suggest there’s something weird about Norton, a person who’s already overflowing with weird. It may be meant to just be a strange little bit. It might be that Marciuliano and Manley didn’t think much about Strand’s design when she was a background character in other scenes but when she got more screen time they were stuck with a model and decided to rationalize that.

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.

Neddy: 'You want to help us write our screenplay about you?' April: 'This is my story. This is my truth. And I want to make sure everyone sees the truth onscreen, not some collection of tired action cliches and uninformed storytelling.' Neddy: 'By cliches and poor storytelling, are you talking about spy movies in general or our screenplay in particular?' April: 'By page two I already had three pages of notes.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 22nd of August, 2019. I need to get one of those jobs where you just make notes on other people’s work. Doing it for free like this on WordPress is fun but it’s putting stress on my Saturday plans.

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.

[ Randy sees his dad at the prison hospital ... ] Randy: 'Dad ... ' Alan: 'I'm fine, son. I'm fine. No one beat me. They just pushed me around. Tried to scare me.' Randy: 'Well, it looks like you held your own.' Alan: 'I held on to my lunch tray and kept swinging. I bet if I were younger I wouldn't even be in here, but the bed sure is much nicer.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 6th of September, 2019. So the judge overseeing Alan Parker’s case refused to have Parker kept out of the general prison population. Yes, ordinarily, someone who’d been an officer of the court for decades would be in obvious danger all the time. “But,” the judge said, “you have to remember the Parkers never do court stuff, so no prisoners have anything to hold against them.”

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.

[ Norton (walking through the woods) bids a final farewell to Sam. ] Driver: 'That's it? You leave nothing but wreckage in your wake and stroll away scot-free?' Norton: 'No one walks away from wreckage unharmed, Samuel. Even when no scars are present. I had a family and I treated them like an appendage. I had a new start with my daughter and fell back on what was familiar instead of right. And over the last few months I realized I can't go back and fix anything. But with what time I have left in the world, I can move on a better path. I've had too many chances in my life to expect another. So I keep walking, hoping to do right by the few I never meant to hurt, even if it kills me.' (Norton and Strand walk up to Candace Bergen's apartment. She conceals a knife in her hand.)
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 22nd of September, 2019. So what odds do you give that next time we see Norton it’s with Agent Strand having learned she’s April Parker’s previously-unsuspected twin? Or is that too many unknown sisters in too short a time?

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?

Marie: 'Funny you should mention wanting to spend more time together, Abbey. My social work school program is ... not cheap. And while my field placement does take up quite a few hours, I ... well ... I could be persuaded to work part-time at the B-and-B if you're looking to hire.' Abbey: 'I'm passing you a proposed salary. It's actually a blank piece of paper, so you write whatever number you see fit!'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 5th of October, 2019. One small recurring theme of Marciuliano’s writing that I do like is characters having these nice big bold ideas which, they learn, are more tedious and more difficult than they realized, and having to back down from the great ambitions. It’s an echo of the crazification-and-retrenchment pattern in the plotting. Also, jeez, if someone offered me a write-your-own-salary I would be too embarrassed to actually ask for anything and probably would hide in the basement until the prospect of work went away.

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.

And that’s where we’re at now.

Next Week!

We have yet to see The Amazing Spider-Man “return” with “great new stories and art”. Or to hear any news about when it might. Still, I intend to recap Roy Thomas and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Reruns next Sunday, barring breaking news. And as ever, I keep up-to-date on mathematically-themed comic strips on my other blog. Thanks for reading.

What’s Going On In Judge Parker? Who’s Judge Parker’s jailhouse friend? May – August 2019


I’m happy to have another recap of one of the two most controversial comics in my retinue. It’s Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker. If you’re reading this after about October 2019 there’s probably a more up-to-date recap at this link. It may help you more.

Judge Parker.

12 May – 3 August 2019.

Last time: Judge Alan Parker was readying to go to jail. He was going to confess his role in helping tiresomely kill-happy superhyperspy Abbott Bowers/Norton Dumont fake his own death. And incidentally upstaging the juiciest scandal in Toni Bowen’s memoirs. The memoirs’ imminent publication drove Alan Parker to speak publicly about this. Also to make Katherine Parker quit her publishing job.

Alan Parker, at his press conference: 'Though it was years after I retired from the bench, I used my connections and authority to help an in-law fake his own death and escape the country. An in-law known for his illegal activities ... I did this as a favor to my former daughter-in-law, who I did not know at the time was experiencing her own issues with the law.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 24th of May, 2019. The story of what Alan Parker did, so far as it was revealed at the time, I’ve explained in this special report. I note that what we saw on-screen had Norton in Mexico, which is not “the country” Parker would be speaking of here. It’s quite plausible there are plot details that Marciuliano has in mind which have not been revealed yet. Also I guess Randy Parker did get a divorce from April, which must have been an interesting thing to arrange, legally, what with her being in hiding after escape from the CIA and all that.

Alan Parker’s press conference shakes everyone in the cast. Including Norton, being held in SuperHyperUltraDuper secret CIA jail. The bureau chief there scolds him for not cooperating, now that Norton’s wrecked everybody’s life and hasn’t got any friends left. Norton insists he knows what he’ll do about all this.

April Bowers Parker, off with her superspy mom Candice Bergen, now knows that Norton is alive. She says she’s got a mole in the CIA, passing information to her. And even delivering a gift to Alan Parker, closing the “how did Norton leave Alan Parker some rings” plot hole from a couple months back. It’s not fair to call it a plot hole. It was a mystery then and it’s answered now. This may be so Marciuliano can prove he doesn’t write by spinning a Wheel of Daft Plot Twists. Candace Bergen calls it a setup, and proof that the CIA has located them.

April, to her mother: 'Dad's inside person contact me, Mom. She said his time is running out.' Candice Bergen: 'Of course they'd say that! The CIA is setting you up!' April: 'Mom --- ' Candice Bergen: 'This is a trap, April! Your father is DEAD! He has no mole in the CIA. It's just proof the CIA has located you and we have to move! NOW!'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 31st of May, 2019. Incidentally I would accept a canonical name for April’s Mom, whom I’ve just been calling Candice Bergen because one early panel with her struck me as looking a bit Murphy Brown-ish. I’m not good with names. I like comic strips because normally people are always calling each other by name and I have a chance of learning who they are.

In their argument about whether Norton could be alive, and whether April’s plan to retrieve him is at all sane, Candice Bergen gets shown with her mouth open. This spoils my theory that she was drawn mouth closed for the subtle weirdness. Too bad.

In Los Angeles, Neddy and Ronnie talk over making the April Parker story into a movie. Neddy thinks it’s a great idea. Ronnie thinks they maybe shouldn’t stir up the crazy DoubleSecretSuperUltraHyper assassin who knows where they live and can’t be stopped by any force except Francesco Marciuliano. If him. This thread hasn’t developed yet. I include it in case this turns into an important plot for a future What’s Going On In installment.

Ronnie: 'OK, if we do write a female assassin movie it can't be about her missing some guy. It can't feature yet another special school where they train kids to be killers. And the main character has to beat up someone named 'Steven McLuren'.' Neddy: 'Who's 'Steven McLuren'?' Ronnie: 'My first acting teacher, who said I didn't have what it takes.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 7th of June, 2019. I have no information about whether ‘Steven McLuren’ is a person in Marciuliano’s life. Authors can just make up names for throwaway lines of dialogue. They don’t have to be shout-outs to friends who’ll find it a hoot. (I once shared a Usenet group with the grand-daughter of someone whose pumpkin patch once hosted the Great Pumpkin.)

Back Alan Parker. The court denies bail. The judge conceded Alan Parker’s long and venerable career of not actually doing much law stuff on-screen in the comic strip named after him. But he’s there because he used his connections to make an arms dealer and serial killer disappear. It would be crazy not to consider him a flight risk. Alan Parker takes this calmly. Katherine is more upset. Sam Driver is sure they can appeal this somewhere.

Montage of moments of Judge Alan Parker entering jail: 'Receiving lobby check-in. Prison clothes. Fingerprints. Photograph. Prison ID card.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 25th of June, 2019. Not really on point, but I’ve seen people complaining about Alan Parker being in prison when he should be in jail, the distinction being that a jail is where you go to wait for trial and prison where you go after. So my question: does anybody remember this distinction being made longer than about five months ago? Because I don’t remember this at all, and it’s the sort of tiresomely fine point that you’d think would enthrall my young mind. I’d have been unbearable about this if I were nine years old and aware of the difference. Or is this something that some corner of the Internet has decided Should Be a distinction and now they’re going to drag the rest of us into it?

And there we go. The 24th of June, 2019, Alan Parker, original nominal star of the comic, is in prison. He has as jolly a time as you would imagine an officer of the court would have. Fortunately, he lands a protector. It’s Roy Rodgers, longtime fiancée and briefly husband to Abbey Driver’s housekeeper Marie. Roy thinks they each have things the other can use. Alan Parker just wants to keep his head down, and Roy tells him that’s impossible.

Roy was in debt to the mob, which was the reason behind his ill-planned disappearance during his honeymoon. He’d bought his life back by giving up the security codes for his business partner’s safe and information about where to find his valuables are. This is morally justified because it was Roy’s partner who was embezzling, and had left them in too deep to the mob for Roy to pay off. The mob staged a burglary that “accidentally” turned into murder. Roy actually believes he’s safe now. So let’s let him enjoy his fantasies.

Roy believes that he has a group now. So he’ll extend protection to Alan Parker … in exchange for information about Marie. Marie has been doing surprisingly, maybe alarmingly, well since the collapse of her marriage and her decision to leave the Parker-Driver-Spencer nexus. She’s even got a new boyfriend that somehow she’s not suspicious of. But Alan Parker knows nothing of this.

Abbey, on the phone: 'You met someone? Uh, Marie ... did you hear what happened to Roy's business partner?' Marie: 'It was awful. But I'm alert, Abbey. And I'm safe.' Abbey: 'And you're with someone who just popped into your life right after that? My, isn't that ... isn't that ... ' Marie: 'Suspicious? I don't think there are many mob killers taking social welfare policy classes, Abbey.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 19th of June, 2019. See? This is the sort of characters addressing each other by name that I like in comics. This helps me understand who’s speaking to whom and even what their relationships are.

In a meeting with Sam Driver, Alan Parker confesses. He had not realized the deep sickness of the carceral state, and how toxic it is to everyone who touches it, or whom it chooses to grab. Also he begs Sam Driver to never under any circumstance tell him anything about Marie. … Also, Roy wants Sam Driver as attorney and Alan would recommend against that.

Meanwhile, Randy Parker, ex(?)-husband to April, turns up at Sam and Abbey’s doorstep. He’s falling apart, as you might well imagine. He’ll nest at the Spencer Farms a while.

More meanwhile — there’s a lot of stuff happening here — there’s more stuff happening with Norton. Of course. April Parker, with Wurst, heads in to get Norton. He’s already disappeared from SuperSecretHyperUltraDuperMax CIA Jail, though. Also we learn he wasn’t in Official SuperExtraSecretUltraDuperMegaMaxHyper CIA Jail either. The bureau chief was keeping him in a private cell, known only to himself, his assistant Kerring, and Agent Strand. Strand is the person who’d been sending information to April Parker. And keeping the CIA’s efforts to find April from succeeding. Strand and Norton are taking a road trip.

[ As the bureau chief copes with a missing Norton from a secret CIA holding cell ... ] Chief: 'JUST DO SOMETHING, KERRING! AND DO IT NOW! NOW!!' [ Agent Strand copes with her own problems. ] Strand, passenger in a car: 'So you really think you should be driving? Without a disguise?' Norton: 'Gotta be free to be me. By the way, you can shut off Google Maps. I know where I'm going.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 27th of July, 2019. Won’t lie: I’ve been overloaded this week, and I wrote most of this summary last weekend, and I’ve been living in dread that the comic was going to have a great big crazification moment while I didn’t have time to update things. But now? This caption? I’m writing late Saturday night and all I have to do is not see, like, a Norton/April/Candice Bergen/Marie’s Boyfriend/Roy encounter at Neddy’s apartment on Sunday morning that ends with an atom bomb being flown into the area by rogue Leutonian fighters and I’ll have gotten away with it. You’ll notice I declared this a summary only of the events through the 3rd of August, though, instead of running it out to Sunday the 4th.

So, that’s a lot happening. The pieces seem this week to be flying together. And we at least have solid evidence that Marciuliano is not improvising these plots madly. There’s too many pieces that were planted fairly and followed up on months later for that. I admit I’m tired of the impossibly hypercompetent, impossibly hyperviolet spies. But that’s my taste, and which of us is the person with an occasionally tended WordPress blog anyway?

Next Week!

Oh, it’s the What’s Going On In that I could have written literally anytime the last three months. We’re back to the reruns of Roy Thomas and Alex Saviuk’s The Amazing Spider-Man. Why did I not move this strip up to this week’s review, when I’d have time for it?

Also, this and every week my other blog looks at mathematically-themed comic strips. You might enjoy some of the discussion. I usually do.

What’s Going On In Judge Parker? Is Judge Parker Going To Jail? February – May 2019.


Now that I’ve laid out what is known, as of mid-May 2019, about Alan Parker faking Norton’s death I can get back to normal. All my plot recaps, and news, about Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker should be at this link. If you’re reading this after about August 2019 I’ll probably have a more up-to-date for you plot recap there.

Judge Parker.

17 February – 12 May 2019.

What Happened In The Last Three Months Of Judge Parker?

Marie, longtime housekeeper to the Parkers, was distraught when I last checked in. It wasn’t my fault. It was the fault of her husband. Roy Rodgers disappeared on their honeymoon in Greece. He was caught, drunk, in a bar in Madeira. His home repair company, back home, collapsed following the alleged embezzlement of one and a half million dollars. Everyone’s suspicion: he was trying to fake his death.

The good news is this clears Marie of the suspicion of murdering her husband. She and Sam Driver fly back home to Cavelton. While she’s legally unencumbered, this has wrecked her life. She felt herself defined by her relationship to the Parkers for years, then to her boyfriend-fiancee-husband, and now … what? Mostly she wants everyone to stop trying to comfort her. Except maybe Sophie, who went through her and her band being kidnapped by her mother’s previously-unsuspected evil half-sister. They’re starting to bond over having such identity-shattering experiences. Then her husband calls.

Abbey: 'What I mean is, when Neddy confronted Godiva about their false friendship, it helped her. When Sophie visited her grandfather's grave and confronted their past, it gave her the strength to move on. Maybe confronting Roy will give you the closure you need.' Marie; 'How can I get closure if the prison guards won't let me repeatedly punch him?'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 3rd of March, 2019. Honestly this is mostly what I feel when I hear someone talking about the need for closure after a trauma. I don’t want closure. I want something good and healthy instead. I want my opponent to stand in public and cry out how they were wrong and terrible and are now ashamed and everyone should remind them every day of their life how horrible they were to me, a flawless and boundlessly kind person. And then everyone does so.

Roy begs her to see him. She can’t think of any reason she would. She gets a lot of pressure to hear him out, though. From characters in the strip. Also from comics commentators. I saw a fair number of readers who thought Marie was being terrible, not to mention hypocritical. When Roy went missing got was suspected of murder, vaguely by authorities, certainly in public opinion. And she was wholly innocent. Now she won’t extend to Roy the same benefit of the doubt?

Me, I don’t think ill of Marie for not wanting to hear Roy’s line. She’s correct to feel betrayed by Roy. He literally disappeared on their honeymoon. He faked his death in ways that made her the obvious suspect. The scandal made headlines on two continents. He’d kept secret for years his company failing. And she’s had at most a couple days to deal with learning all this. It would be admirable if she were open, already, to hearing his sad story.

And she does stop to hear his story. Well, she goes to look at him in person and confirm that she’s done and moving on. But he pleads his case fast, and she listens. The company was failing. They needed ready cash. He borrowed money from the mob. His partner — the one who’s turned State’s Evidence — was stealing from the company. He figured he had to leave. He thought he could leave with Marie. He saw one of the mobsters while on their honeymoon. An expensive honeymoon, it’s pointed out, considering money was his problem. He thought he had to flee, even if he didn’t have any idea what to do after running.

Roy: 'Everyone was closing in. I had to leave. I had to leave with you. All I ever wanted was to be with you.' Marie: 'So you married me knowing you would never see me again?' Roy: 'That was never the plan! I hoped we would be together forever! But one night I saw one of the mobsters on the island and I ... I had to leave.' Marie: 'Without thinking what could happen to me. Wow, somehow you're even more despicable than before I got here. Goodbye, Roy.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 22nd of March, 2019. Me, I’m still stuck on how he got from Greece to Madeira with only what he might have taken from his hotel room the morning he disappeared. Like, I get he could swim (or whatever) to the next island or the mainland but that’s still quite a distance to cover without a passport or any money that he didn’t already have in his pockets.

It’s stupid, yes. But it’s stupid in a way I believe of people. I don’t think I’m misanthropic, not mostly. But I do figure most of us form our idea of how to plan out the world when we’re about eight, and think that other people will obviously go along with us. At worst we’ll have to trick them like we’re Bugs Bunny and they’re Daffy Duck. And that this never works doesn’t really stop us. We just accept that plans never work out but we don’t know how to have better ones.

Anyway, what Roy wants to say: the mob still wants their money, or at least their revenge, and, well, she’s an available target. So, I’m not sure what a good plan in this situation would be. I know he didn’t have one.

Does Marie have one? She was already thinking she needed to leave the Spencer-Driver world before she talked to Roy. Now she also knows she’s probably in danger for her life. Sam Driver claims he knows people who could help and set her up in a safe hiding spot. Marie thinks about it, and then decides against it. Going into hiding would be a surrender of her life. Going into hiding under Sam Driver’s protection would be surrendering her independence. She has to set out wholly on her own.

Here again I can understand her thinking. I think it’s foolish to refuse the eagerly offered protection of a family that’s not just rich, it’s soap opera wealthy rich. I mean, that’s a class of people who can just turn out to have a home in Newport, Rhode Island, that they didn’t think worth mentioning anytime the past 35 years. Granted money can’t fix broken personalities, but it can do a lot in supporting the flesh the personality depends on.

[Marie comes to a decision.] Sam: 'This is what you want?' Marie: 'Absolutely. Roy took enough from me. He's not taking my sense of self. Sure, if I go into hiding, under an assumed name, I may be safe. But I'll also spend every day looking over my shoulder, not looking ahead. I can't let that happen. Of course, I can't put this family, my family, in danger. So I'm getting my own place. So I'm starting fresh, standing on my own two feet, not running. And so --- this is the hardest thing I've ever had to say --- I'm ... I'm no longer going to be working here.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 7th of April, 2019. So this announcement shocked, I saw, many longtime readers of Judge Parker who had stronger connections to Marie than I had. I confess I’ve only been reading closely for the last couple of years, since I started doing these summaries — which has done a lot to make me appreciate the strips more — and this has been her first important story in that time.

Well, I’ve had lesser problems than Marie has. The week of the 8th of April she moves into her new apartment. We then get views of the other characters. Roy getting into fights with the inmates at Cavelton Prison. Neddy and Ronnie trying to make a go of Los Angeles again.

And, oh lord, but April Parker is back in the story. We see her, with her Mom. April left with her mother, whose name I haven’t caught. I’m going with Candice Bergen in the meanwhile. Candice Bergen has been training April in the ways of being a somehow even more super-hyper-ultra-duper secret agent for hire. April’s determined to rescue Norton, her father, from his Super Mega Hyper Duper Extra Special Secret Agent Jail. Candice Bergen insists Norton is dead. April doesn’t believe it. She knows anything about soap operas.

April: 'Mom, I will forever thank you for rescuing me. And for the current odd combination of paramilitary training and meditation. But I can't just hide. I can't just do nothing.' Mom: ''Nothing'? You and Wurst have gone on numerous missions.' April: 'I've gone on *jobs*, Mom. *I* have a mission.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 24th of April, 2019. That we don’t see Candice Bergen’s lips open does have to be a conscious choice at this point, right? It’s a subtle way to make the character that bit extra weird. It’s going to break my heart if Mike Manley pops in to say oh, no, that’s just how the panels happened to make sense every time he’s drawn her.

(And this is not at all relevant to Judge Parker. But. I caught an advertisement for The Young and the Restless this past week. It started with how, on [ date ] three years ago, [ character ] died, and showed the footage of the building fire. And then, coming this week … and they showed someone declaring “[ character ] is alive”. It was such a wonderful pure moment of what soap operas are for. I kind of regret knowing nothing about The Young and the Restless so I can’t truly appreciate [ character ] not having died in [ incident ]. And how cleverly he [ whatever he did to be not dead ].)

And that leads to the current events. The 27th of April established that Toni Bowen’s memoir was ready for publication. Among the things this Cavelton-to-national-to-Cavelton reporter reveals many things. The biggest is that Judge Alan Parker helped arms-dealer and generally-exhaustingly-bad-guy Norton fake his own death. And worse, it’s all true. Katherine Parker quits her job with the memoir publisher, and realizes that’s what her boss really wanted. I’m not clear why he did want her to quit, but it does explain why he’s involved her in the publication of a book with scandalous news about her husband.

Still, she has the PDF proofs for the memoir. And Judge (retired) Alan Parker has to confirm that yeah, it’s correct, and it’s awful. All he can think to do is go public with the news first. The goal is to convince the public that he was trying to protect his son and daughter-in-law. That daughter-in-law is April Parker. She’s a rogue, disgraced CIA agent who broke out of Mega Ultra Duper Secret Spy Jail and is roaming the world looking for people to kill for money. He calls Sam Driver for advice.

Sam: 'We'll have a press conference before review copies of Toni's book are sent out. You'll admit to what you did. You'll say how you were only trying to protect your family, how you felt you had no other option.' Alan: 'Right, right.' Sam: 'But you have to realize, Alan. There is no grand upside here. We may get them to see things our way, but in the end, you *will* be going to prison.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 11th of May, 2019. Alan: “But … we can mention how I wrote bestselling novel and soon-to-be-major-motion-picture The Chambers Affair, right?”

Sam’s direct about this. Alan just confessed a crime to him. There’s little to mitigate this. Norton had not threatened Alan or his family when he asked for help faking his death. Alan felt threatened, he says now, and that maybe helps. And yeah, Norton did end up holding Alan hostage and drugging him and bringing crazy and violent people into his life. I know, it’s so weird that inviting CIA people into a life results in physical harm, mental torment, and widespread misery. But there you have it. But all that came later, after the faked death certificate. Sam can’t see a way out of this which doesn’t involve Judge Alan Parker — the original center of this longrunning story comic — going to prison.

So will he? I don’t know. I could imagine circumstances where he doesn’t. He’d — I infer — helped Norton fake his death right after Romanian mobsters launched armed raid on his son’s wedding reception. He could (honestly!) claim he was trying to save a family member from future armed raids. And, well, he is rich and white and was on the bench for decades. I can easily imagine the district attorney going light on him.

But I can also imagine Marciuliano deciding not to. He’s been happy to put characters through the ringer before. He’s had Sophie Driver kidnapped and tortured for months. He’s made Abbey Driver’s father a bigamist with a secret second family. He made Godiva Danube a celebrity drug smuggler before killing her. And he is, really, simply following up the implications that were already in the strip when he took over writing. I think he’s bold enough to do it. I don’t know whether he would. It’s exciting that it’s plausible, though.

Next Week!

In seven six days I look into my first rerun storyline since Gasoline Alley came back. It’s Roy Thomas and Alex Saviuk’s The Amazing Spider-Man Again.

What’s Going On In Judge Parker? Why did Judge Parker help fake Norton’s Death? A Special Report.


I feel the need to break my format a little. There’s a major question in the backstory of the current Judge Parker plot. That current storyline doesn’t actually depend on parts of the plot not previously revealed. But Francesco Marciuliano writes the story as though we should remember the circumstances of Norton’s faked death. At least he writes the characters as though they know it. So let me reveal what we do know about this.

Some things are staying as usual, though: I looked at mathematically-themed comic strips on my other blog this afternoon. You might like reading that too.

Judge Parker.

What Exactly Is The Deal With Judge Alan Parker Faking Norton’s Death?

To be honest, this has been annoying me a long while too. And I didn’t think I could untangle it, especially not now that Comics Kingdom redesigned their archives so it’s harder to read old strips. I was saved by this essay by Mark Carlson-Ghost. It lays out the characters of Judge Parker in some depth. I’m impressed by his diligence. The essay includes people not seen since the 1960s, according to itself. Without it I’d have no hope of tracking down enough story to explain any of this.

April: 'Dad ... where are you, my darling?' Abbott/Norton, arms wide: 'Don't I get a hug?' April: 'Not with that tarantula on your shoulder!'
Woody Wilson and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 12th of February, 2014. So far as I can determine, the first appearance of Abbott/Norton in the comic strip. I don’t remember what’s come of the tarantula. April’s creeped out by the tarantula. I’m honestly a little creeped out she calls her father “darling”. Anyway the conversation went quickly into how Flaco and Franco Gardia blamed Abbott for the sinking of a ship full of “Romanian AKs” and wanted revenge.

The story goes back several years and to the previous writer, Woody Wilson. The artist, Mike Manley, was the same, so at least the art will be familiar. In the backstory to this backstory, Alan Parker had retired as judge and occasional comic strip character. He’d written some of his experiences into a novel, The Chambers Affair, which everybody in the world loves. People fall over themselves to talk about how much they love it. And Randy Parker has found love in the form of April Bowers. She’s a CIA “asset” who claims to be a single linguist, but who keeps having stuff pull her away from linguistics. They were readying to marry.

So first, his name was not Norton, which may be why I have always had trouble figuring out what his last name is. He’s presently “Norton Dumont” by the way. On his introduction he was known as “Abbott Bower”. At least, until the wedding of Randy Parker and April Bower, a sequence which ran from February through June 2014.

Abbott: 'So how do you feel about having arms dealers and spies in the family, Alan?' Alan Parker: 'I don't judge people anymore, Abbott! My philosophy is live and let live! I was actually hoping you might agree to become my technical adviser ... and take a look at this aerial drone we captured up on the mountain!'
Woody Wilson and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 28th of March, 2014. Yeah, you know, “live and let live”, respecting the renowned and long tradition for arms dealers and spies.

The wedding was also the occasion for Abbott Bower to meet the Parkers and their gang. They had come to the jungles of Mexico because, Abbott was unable to travel away from his clinic. He was dying from radiation exposure, the result of some CIA mission he’d been on. This was by the way presented as of course true by the strip’s then-writer Woody Wilson. Current writer Francesco Marciuliano is eager to indulge in every soap-operatic plot twist. So I accept that Wilson intended that this was an old CIA agent turned gun runner who was dying of exposure to patriotism. (Seriously, the strips from this era lay on really thick the “thank God we have super-spies ready to Save America” bunk.)

Over the wedding, Abbott gives to April a bag full of diamonds. His “retirement fund”, he quips, now a wedding gift. The evening of the reception, Flaco and Franco Gardia launch a bungled raid on the wedding party. The Gardias have the idea the diamonds are theirs. And that April killed Flaco’s wife. I don’t deign to declare whether the Gardias or Abbott have the greater title to the diamonds. But Flaco’s wife is in a Mexican prison, thanks to Abbott’s work.

I don’t mind that the raid is a fiasco. My reading of this sort of thing is that pretty much every attempt at armed force is largely a fiasco. Afterwards the winners organize a narrative that makes it, sure, a close call at points but ultimately inevitable. But part of the last few years of Wilson’s writing was that anything bad that might happen to a Parker or Spencer or Driver would fall apart of its own accord. In the raid it turns out April is one of those movie-style super-spies who can grab someone’s surveillance drone out of the sky. Katherine gets captured, but stays pretty in control of the situation. She even talks to one of the Gardia brothers about surrendering to her, and he at least hears her out.

Flaco, holding a gun on Katherine: 'You're the man from the ship!' Alan: 'That's right! And that woman is my wife! I demand you release her!' Flaco, pointing the gun at Alan: 'What is it with you people making demands all the time?' Alan; 'Untie my wife before somebody gets killed!' Katherine: 'Flaco, my husband is a novelist! Perhaps you've heard of him ... Alan Parker! He just wrote a best-seller!' Flaco: 'Alan Parker? The same Alan Parker who wrote 'The Chambers Affair?' I loved that book! I finished it on the ship just before Li Hai disappeared!' Alan: 'I'm glad you enjoyed it! We're writing the movie script now!' Flaco: 'You know, I thought it would make a wonderful movie!' Sniper-y type working for Abbot: 'Now we have Mr Parker in the picture! What now?' Radio contact: 'Stay on target ... wait for Abbott!'
Woody Wilson and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 8th of June, 2014. Fun fact: the way people treat Alan Parker the moment they recognize his name? This is exactly the life experience that everyone who writes or draws a nationally syndicated comic strip has. Ask any of them. They mention, like, “oh, I drop in a couple gags now and then for Frank and Ernest” and the ShopRite cashier begs to be allowed to pay for whole order. The National Cartoonists Society recommends allowing them to pay for no more than four boxes of Marie Callender’s broccoli-and-cheddar-potato pot pies or six two-liter bottles of soda.

After a tense standoff with mutual groups of hostages they compromise. The Gardias will take half the diamonds. Oh, also Alan Parker’s autograph on their copies of his best-selling novel The Chambers Affair. And then they’ll leave the strip forever. And they do. This sort of convenient working-out of things happened all the time in the Woody Wilson era. Especially with people so loving Alan Parker’s book. It’s a great running joke if you don’t suspect that Woody Wilson meant it sincerely. At the time, I thought he meant it sincerely. In retrospect, and on reading a lot of these strips in short order, I’m less sure. It reads, now, to me more like a repeated punch line.

Randy, to April and Alan: 'So you've added Abbott to your screenwriting team?' April: 'Let's just say he's a technical consultant!' Alan: 'Besides, La Cura was just a gang of quacks! He'll get real treatment here!' April: 'And his name's not Abbott now ... it's Norton ... Norton Dumont!'
Woody Wilson and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 2nd of October, 2015. Oh, ‘La Cura’ was the name of the medical compound deep in the Mexican jungle where the wedding and the armed raid and all that happened in 2014. The “bunch of quacks” were mentioned as specifically having cured a Kuwaiti prince with pancreatic cancer, whose renovated suite became the Parkers’ bridal suite.

After the wedding various other plots go on. In October 2015 it’s revealed that Abbott has left the Mexican clinic. He’s returned to the United States. He’s helping Alan Parker write the screenplay for The Chambers Affair. And that his name is now Norton Dumont.

And finally, months later, the money shot. Or as near a one as we get. It’s in December 2017. Alan Parker declares how “Abbott Bower died of cancer in Mexico. There’s even a death certificate!”

Sam Driver: 'It was great meeting you, Norton.' Norton: 'Same here, Sam! I look forward to getting you know you better!' Alan: 'I'll walk you out, Sam.' Sam, to Alan: 'Well, Abbott ... uh, Norton is everything you said and more!' Alan: 'He's a piece of work, isn't he? The good news is that Katherine likes him, too! That makes life a lot easier in the family, if you know what I mean!' Sam; 'Absolutely! But do you really think a man like Norton can just vanish by changing his name?' Alan: 'Abbott Bower died of cancer in Mexico! There's even a death certificate!' Sam: 'Do you think he can maintain that cover indefinitely?' Alan: 'He's keeping a low profile, Sam1 All he wants is to change his life!' Sam: 'I understand! You guys get to work on the script! I'll check back with you in a couple days!'
Woody Wilson and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 27th of December, 2015. So, Sam Driver has known all along that Norton faked his death. What’s new is the explicit involvement of Alan Parker in the project. And one can fault lawyer Sam Driver for not asking the obvious follow-up questions. But part of what makes a con artist like Norton is the ability to make it seem like, well, of course everything’s been bad but now it’s going great and thank you, personally, so much for your part in setting things right. There’s none of us who won’t fall for the right line, and do it by not even thinking to ask the question that’d be obvious for someone else.

As best I can tell this is as much as the strip laid out the circumstances of Norton’s previous faked death. It is quite possible that I have missed some strip between June 2014 and December 2015 that made it more explicit. But what I infer is that Abbott Bower got himself declared dead, the better to escape people like the Gardias who might hold his life against him. The extent to which Alan Parker helped in this was, as best I can find, unstated at the time. It transpires only now, as Francesco Marciuliano writes what “really” went on.

I hope this is of some help.

Next Day!

Now tomorrow, I plan to post the recap of the past three months’ worth of story developments. That should appear at this link, which hosts all my Judge Parker plot recaps. I thank you for your patience.

What’s Going On In Judge Parker? Did Marie kill her husband? December 2018 – February 2019


Hi, person searching for Judge Parker plot information. If it’s after about May 2019 I’ve probably written a more up-to-date recap of Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s comic strip. That more current recap should appear at this link.

On my other blog I talk about mathematics that comic strips mention. Might like that, too.

Judge Parker.

2 December 2018 – 17 February 2019.

What was happening last time I checked in on Judge Parker? An exhausting set of plot twists. The most salient was Neddy Spencer being back home. She’s nursing her emotional wounds after witnessing, among other things, April Parker murdering the CIA agent who killed — oh, it’s a lot of blood. Sam Driver was getting snotty about Neddy retreating for shelter, but I’m on Neddy’s side in this. Sophie Spencer scolded Neddy about her shunning Ronnie Huerta. Huerta had backed off from Neddy after witnessing altogether too many murders, but was trying to reach out again.

Neddy, to Sophie: 'You know, talking about Marie really shows just how lucky you and I are to have the people we do in our lives.' (Her phone rings and she looks at it.) 'And just how often I take those people for granted.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 13th of December, 2018. Neddy, talking with Sophie, about Marie, when Ronnie calls, seems like a lot of people in two panels to have the -ie sound as the end of their two-syllable names. Well, that’s most likely coincidence.

Neddy tries to call … Marie, the Spencers’ old reliable … housekeeper? I think? I wasn’t sure about her position and the strip only talked about her being on vacation. Marciuliano is sometimes too scrupulous about characters not explaining things they should know to one other. No character, for example, ever says what country Marie is vacationing in, or what island she’s on. This even though her vacation becomes a plot.

Well, Wikipedia says she works as their maid. All right. Anyway, Marie’s off on vacation. More than that: she’s eloped with her boyfriend-of-eight-years, Roy Rodgers. Well, the shock that Marie has her own happiness gives Neddy reason to call Ronnie Huerta again. And to apologize. After Christmas, Neddy plans to set back out to Los Angeles, to pick up whatever she figures her career there to be. A family crisis not of her making postpones this.

Katherine, talking about Norton's gift of rings: 'How could he have left the rings the last time? We weren't back together yet.' Alan: 'You know Norton. He probably thought this would either make him look like a prescient genius or let him get away with one last cruel joke.' Katherine: 'Did I ever tell you how much I hate your in-laws?' Alan, crumpling the note: 'Not more than I do.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 22nd of December, 2018. Must admit, sometimes I think about doing a dive into the story comics from before I started doing regular recaps. The point would be to track down things like how Alan Parker got around to faking Norton’s death and all that. But there is a long of old story strip out there. And I have the slight dread of finding that the comic spent, like, two days on that in the midst of a twenty-week stretch of a car dealer begging the Parkers to take this like-new RV off his hands since he’s getting fired anyway so what does he care if they pay for it with “whatever’s left on this $5 gift card to Radio Shack”? (There was a lot of this sort of people-giving-the-main-cast free stuff going on in the old days.)

There’s some unsettling stuff. One of the Christmas presents Alan Parker finds is from Norton. It’s wedding bands and a note about how he knew Alan and Katherine would reconcile. Norton’s supposed to be dead. Sam Driver swears he’s dead. Driver’s seen pictures. He’s got this from “multiple contacts”. Norton must have snuck it in sometime before he went into Super Hyper Ultra CIA Duper Jail. Norton’s alive, of course, but the CIA is passing the story that he’s dead. Katherine avows how much she hates the Norton subplot, and Alan agrees.


All that was cleared up by the 29th of December. This is when the current plot got underway. (Huh; that’s almost the same day the airplane adventure got under way over in Rex Morgan, M.D..) Marie calls the Spencers, crying. Her husband’s missing. He had left that morning, promising a “surprise”. His clothes were found on the beach and nothing else. Sam Driver flies to whatever island it is exactly that Marie and Roy were honeymooning on. It must be in Greece. The 16th of January’s strip shows the logo of the Hellenic Police. And the story of a man gone missing on his honeymoon turns into one of those exciting missing-person media frenzies that we used to have. You know. Back in the before-times. When there was time to think about anything besides the future Disgraced Former President.

Katherine breaks the news that Toni's memoir will reveal Alan helped Norton fake his death. Randy: 'This is all my fault! If I'd never said one word to Toni ... ' Alan: 'It's MY FAULT, Randy. How could I have done this?' Katherine: 'OK, all the mea culpas in the world won't help us now. We have to figure out a plan. I can try to get Toni to cut it. I mean, we haven't talked in a while, but ... ' Alan: 'If news get [sic] out you tried to quiet this, it will only make things worse.' Katherine: 'Maybe ... Maybe I can stop my publisher somehow ... but how?' Alan: 'There is no 'how'. You try that, news gets out, we're all ruined. I ... I don't think there is anything we can do to stop this.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 13th of January, 2019. See, here, that name thing mentioned the 13th of December was coincidence. Here we have Randy talking about Toni … uh. Well. I have to agree with Alan Parker here that trying to suppress the story is just going to make it worse. I’d imagine that the publishers would insist on the manuscript sticking as close as possible to what’s in the public record already. Or that she had direct evidence for, which may not be much beyond Randy’s claims. I don’t know whether this is true, but Alan could probably plausibly claim to have been coerced, at fear for his life or his family’s life, and at least seem plausibly not-so-bad-ish a guy.

While he’s on the plane there’s time for still more Norton-related chaos. Katherine Parker works for the company publishing Toni Bowen’s memoir. The draft of it contains the (correct) bombshell that, at one point, Alan Parker helped Norton fake his own death. Randy Parker had mentioned this to her while these two were dating. Katherine wants to suppress the story. Alan thinks the least bad thing to do is nothing. Let it come out and take his lumps. Randy curses himself for his foolishness but I don’t think recommends any particular action. Alan points out that Norton is dead, and Katherine points out, this is a soap strip. More, it’s one Francesco Marciuliano is writing. Nobody’s dead until you’ve incinerated their dismembered corpse. And even then we’re somehow not done with Norton.

Back to Greece. Sam Driver wants to know how this missing-groom story hit the global news wires before it even hit the local media. He’s promised an answer at Commissioner Christou’s press conference. Rodgers disappeared the 30th of December. They think he either drowned or met with foul play. They believe Marie Rodgers was the last person to see him alive. She hasn’t answered any questions since Driver showed up to serve as legal adviser.

Driver goes to Christou after the conference, which didn’t answer his question. At least not on-panel. Christou has the good news that Marie is being released from custody but is not to leave the island. It’s a baffling development. The next morning, Christou calls Driver. They’ve found Rodgers. He was arrested in a bar in Madeira. It’s an impressive distance to swim from Greece, considering.

Early morning, Sam goes to see Marie at her hotel ... Marie: 'Sam, what are you doing here so --- you heard something didn't you?' Sam: 'Police commissioner called me directly.' Marie: 'Oh no, oh no! They found his body, didn't they! Oh Roy! My --- ' Sam: 'Marie? Marie! Roy's alive.' Marie: 'Wha ... WHAT?' Sam: 'He's alive. He didn't drown. He wasn't eaten by sharks.' Marie: 'This is wonderful, Sam! I have to see him! Take me to him!' Sam: 'Oh, Marie. I'm afraid I can't.' Marie: 'Why ... why not?' Sam: 'Because he's being held by police in Madeira.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 3rd of February, 2019. I’m willing to suppose the Hellenic Police checked whether the missing Roy Rodgers might be wanted by police for anything. It’s striking that he was wanted, though, since he and Marie had just left on vacation … well, time is an elastic thing in a story strip. But quite recently anyway. It makes sense Roy would flee when he figured the cops were close to arresting him. I’m just not quite clear what the Portuguese police would have arrested Roy Rodgers for. (Fraudulent passport?) Like, who’s requesting extradition and from whom?

Driver has a hypothesis. It’s pretty bonkers, so it makes for a good soap opera story. Maybe it’s based on some real incident. I don’t tend to follow true-crime/missing-persons stories, so what would I know? The idea, though: Rodgers wanted to fake his death and start a new life. Driver thinks Christou saw through that, though. And made Rodgers’s presumed death as big a story as he could. This to fool Rodgers into thinking he had faked his own death, meanwhile letting every cop in the TV audience know what he looked like. That this gave Marie a public reputation of being Probably A Murderer was a side effect, regrettable but worth it for the sake of Justice.

Toni Bowen, reporting on TV while Neddy and Sophie watch, jaws dropping: 'Roy Rodgers' business partner, Handyman Harvey Stonehouse, has been working with authorities to trace the 1.5 million Rodgers allegedly stole from their home repair company. The once-thriving firm has lost most of its contracts over the past three years ... '
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 13th of February, 2019. No, I don’t know why I keep including strips from the 13th of the month. It’s some mildly weird coincidence. Anyway, I was so tempted to take a screenshot of this comic inside my web browser, and then post a photograph of that screenshot of this comic, so that this second panel would have a good fake mise-en-abyme effect.

And the hypothesis seems to hold up. Back home in Cavelton, Toni Bowen reports on the collapse of Rodgers’ home-repair company. They’ve lost a lot of contracts the last several years. Rodgers himself is under suspicion of stealing one and a half million dollars from the failing company. And Katherine Parker “reaches a breaking point” with Bowen’s reporting about her family and family’s close friends. She figures to return the favor. That’s sure to be a very good idea that works out well and leaves her happy. By the next time I recap Judge Parker’s plot — probably around May 2019 — I’m sure we’ll see how much better this has made everybody’s lives. Can’t wait.

Next Week!

The comic strip still claims that Stan Lee is writing The Amazing Spider-Man. And isn’t admitting that Roy Thomas has something to do with it. Well, what have Thomas and Alex Saviuk gotten up to? I expect to say, next week. But we’ll see what happens and how Luke Cage and this purple guy with the mind control voice are doing.

What’s Going On In Judge Parker? Is April Parker Dead? Is Norton? September – December 2018


Greetings, reader confused by Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker. This is my effort to bring you up to date about the plot as it stands in early December 2018. After about March 2018 you should get a more up-to-date recap here. And if you just want to hear me talk about mathematics in the comics, look over here.

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

Judge Parker.

9 September – 2 December 2018

Last time I checked in on Judge Parker I figured we were getting near some retrenchment. There had been a bunch of craziness going down, mostly in Los Angeles. Neddy Spencer and work-friend Ronnie Huerta were trying to figure who killed Godiva Danube. They learned Danube had been fronting a drug-running scheme. And that someone in the CIA wanted Danube dead, so they got April Spencer to do it. Except, we learned, she didn’t do it. Someone else, who’s now killed Danube’s boyfriend, the guy who gave Neddy Spencer and Ronnie Huerta as much exposition as they have. Meanwhile, April Parker’s father Norton was betrayed by his aide and was in the hands of maybe a dozen CIA agents. I know this is confusing; I’m trying to summarize a summary here. My summary article last time has the space to explain more of it. Anyway, I figured we were coming near some drawing down of the craziness. Possibly a jump several months ahead in time. An incomplete resolution of what’s been going on and a bunch of new story elements. Let’s see what happened.

Well, Neddy and Ronnie get out of Danube’s boyfriend’s apartment. April Spencer’s dropped in to kill the CIA agent who was killing the boyfriend anyway. Ronnie declares she’s had enough of Neddy’s crazy life and wants out. Can’t fault her that. Also it turns out Norton is not dead, but just in Super-Duper-Secret CIA Jail, being interrogated about what’s April Spencer’s deal already.

Bowen, on the phone: 'Fine, Randy. I'll look after Charlotte so your dad can have his 'emergency' date with Katherine. Anything to help his relationship get on better footing than ours right now.' Randy: 'Hahaha ... wait, that's a joke, right?'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 21st of September, 2018. Oh, and the ’emergency’ date between Alan Parker and Katherine is where Katherine says that she’s ready to reconcile with Alan, which is a pretty big step in their relationship too. Also, boy, you cannot say that Bowen wasn’t clear about being unsatisfied with the state of their relationship even before that night made it extra crazy.

Meanwhile back in Cavelton, Judge Randy Parker calls off a date with Toni Bowen. She’s the local-turned-national-turned-local-again newscaster. Her life’s been tied to the Parkers’ since Marciuliano took over writing. Randy uses the excuse that he’s swamped with judge work. She pretends to believe him, and further, agrees to babysit his-and-April’s daughter Charlotte for the night. Randy picked such a lucky night to be absent I wondered if he was up to something. Because April Parker stops in. April demands Charlotte. Bowen refuses to give her up. Randy Parker finally gets home in time for this scene, and for April to knock him unconscious for dating in her absence. And then who intrudes but … Candice Bergen?

[ April comes face-to-face with ... ] April Parker: 'M-Mom? I ... I don't understand how ... I thought you were dead!' April's Mom: 'Oh, Darling. How many times did you know your dad to die? We're problematic parents at best.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 8th of October, 2018. So the most unsettling thing about April’s Mom: she never opens her mouth. Well, there’s like one panel in the week-plus she appears where her lips are opened a tiny bit, but it’s not much. I’m assuming it’s a deliberate choice to make her subtly weird, even on top of there being another long-lost secret Greater Spencer Family member. It’s weird that it works that well.

So, turns out she’s April Parker’s Mom. She’s been absent something like thirty years with her business and all. And it turns out she’s the partner Wurst was reporting to last time. Candice Bergen warns that no, April can’t take Charlotte. She’ll have to wait and come back to her sometime later. Maybe after the new series of Murphy Brown wraps up. On Candice Bergen’s promise of safety, Bowen lets April hug Charlotte, for maybe “the last time she can hold her as a child”. And then they leave before they can kill even more CIA agents.

Maybe. We don’t see that. The 15th of October had the much-anticipated-by-me “We Jump To Mid-Fall” narrative caption. The changes: Bowen’s had enough of the Parker craziness and is done with Randy. Can’t fault her that. Katherine and Alan Parker have gotten back together. They’re at that stage where every floor in their house is filled with boxes labelled for some other room. Norton is dead, according to Sam Driver’s Super-Ultra-Secret contact at the CIA. So they’re all safe, right?

And Katherine Parker learns something interesting at the publishing house where she works. Also I learn she works at a publishing house. Toni Bowen’s publishing an autobiography and it’s going to have a bunch of stuff about Randy and April. She brings word to Alan. Alan brings word to Randy. Randy already knew. Bowen had talked about it with him before submitting the book proposal. So he roughly knew what would get published and what it might do to him. Also, Randy has to admit he would never do anything to hurt his father but …

So Randy confided to Bowen how Alan Parker had helped Norton fake his own death some time ago. Randy meant this to show that Norton wouldn’t be coming after them. Now, well, they don’t know if it’ll be in the book but it’s going to be an awkward conversation. Still, at least Norton’s not faking his death this time. Super-Hyper-Duper-Secret CIA Prison is.

FBI Bureau Chief: 'It's not a lie, Norton. Your daughter never made it out of the country.' Norton: 'Does April know she's dead? Has anyone been able to find her and break the news?' Chief: 'There is a photo, but I hesitate to share it.' Norton: 'After going through all that trouble of doctoring it? Come on, let's have a look.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 14th of November, 2018. Not sure whether Norton’s confident demeanor reflects his being just that aware of all the tricks of Super-Hyper-Ultra-Duper-Secret Spy stuff, or whether he just knows that it’s a soap opera strip, if you don’t see the body bleeding out they’re not dead. And even if they are, there’s a good chance of duplicates.

And there might be fresh deaths. In Super-Mega-Hyper-Ultra-Duper-Secret CIA Prison the bureau chief has bad news. April Parker is dead. They have a photo and everything. Norton’s willing to pretend to believe them long enough to look at their photo. And he thinks how “April may be in even better hands than mine”. The phrasing reads as though he’s considering that April has died, but is still way open to reading as though he’s admiring his wife’s work in the field of Honestly Just Exhausting At This Point Super-Hyper-Ultra-Duper-Mega-Looper-Secret Double-Crossing. The agents reviewing his reaction figure Norton “may not know where April is, but certainly knows who helped her get out”.

The 18th of November introduced another plot thread. Neddy Spencer’s flying home for Thanksgiving. And ignoring Ronnie Huerta’s repeated texts to call back. Neddy’s life has been a mess since we saw it turn into an enormous mess. Huerta’s trying to reconnect, but Neddy won’t have it, suspecting Huerta of being the same kind of false friend Danube was. Sophie Spencer points out, correctly, that withdrawing from the craziness is not wrong. After major drama — the word seems trivial for what they went through, but what is there to say? — you may need time away. Neddy’s the bad friend, ignoring the attempts to reach out and assuming malice. I get Neddy’s anger, but that’s still a good way to create malice.

[ Late Night, Thanksgiving Day ] Neddy: 'How can I still be hungry for a turkey sandwich after everything I ate today?' Sophie: 'Just be ready for turkey omelets tomorrow morning.' Neddy: 'I'm just so happy to see you, Sophie.' Sophie: 'And I'm happy to see you. But I wish you'd tell me what's really going on.' Neddy: 'It's like I said last time we spoke. My life's a mess. Every time I think I'm heading toward something, chaos reigns.' Sophie: 'Neddy, this time involved a famous celebrity murder, you beating up some dealer, a family-friend assassin, and a Austrian drug lord.' Neddy: 'So you're saying I'm upping my fiasco level?' Sophie: 'I'm saying if you can make it through that you can make it through, anything.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 25th of November, 2018. So is it a little too … you know … glib that Neddy would talk about “upping my fiasco level”? Part of the fun of Judge Parker since Marciuliano took over the writing has been that the characters have more self-aware humor about their situations. And I grant that Neddy has had several months to cope with her feelings about Godiva Danube’s murder and all the killings that she saw in that aftermath. I don’t want the characters to go all Les Moore on us, ever. But this feels like she’s taking things lightly.

Meanwhile Sam Driver isn’t sure Neddy should move back home. He thinks she responds to every setback by running back home, and that she shouldn’t be doing that now. Which has enough truth in it to be credible. But, especially since Marciuliano took over, Neddy hasn’t been through “setbacks”. She’s seen family twist someone by their neck until they’re dead. I’m not sure what she does need, except that it involves professional care. So this is probably something that will get further discussion. Maybe a jolly fight over Christmas. We’ll see.

Next Week!

Well, The Amazing Spider-Man jumped the queue a bit. So I’ll get back on schedule with a recap of Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop repeats. Which looks like it’s just wrapped up the story, a month ahead of my expectations. I don’t know what they’re going to do while waiting for the new writing team to take over. Should catch up to Prehistoric Moo in a week, though. And by Prehistoric Moo I mean 1816 Switzerland. You know how it is.

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


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

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

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

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

Judge Parker.

10 June – 8 September 2018.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Week!

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

What’s Going On In Judge Parker? Is Something Happening In Apartment 3-G Suddenly? March – June 2018


Oh, what’s ever going on in Judge Parker? Lots of stuff. Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manely’s comic strip has not been sluggishly plotted. This is my best attempt, as of early-to-mid June 2018, to recap the last couple months. If none of this stuff seems relevant, you may need an essay at or near the top of this page, where its successors should appear. But if you’re reading this around June or July 2018, maybe this will help you out. Glad to help.

If you like mathematics in your comics, by the way, I’ve got another blog for you. Thanks for considering that too.

Judge Parker.

18 March – 10 June 2018.

Big personal revelations were on the way last time I checked in on Judge Parker. Randy Parker, shocked by his wife’s daring escape from Super Double Top Secret Federal Jail Prison, turned to obsessive paranoia. He got so busy wiring his house with cameras and watching everything. And not leaving the house. His father, the original Judge Alan Parker, points out he’s not doing enough judge work. And if you can imagine doing so little judge work that Judge Parker notices, well. But Randy stays resolute. After her prison break, disavowed CIA agent April Parker had come to the house, promising that she’d be back to take their child. Maybe Randy too. He’s determined not to let that happen.

But he does need groceries. And diapers. So he goes to the supermarket and cute-meets Toni Bowen. She’s the local reporter who leapt to the national desk covering the collapse of Godiva Danube and Neddy Spencer’s clothing factory. She also fell back to the local news after her next big story, Sophie Driver’s kidnapping, was too confusing to follow. And how she didn’t destroy Randy Parker interviewing him about April Parker’s prison escape.

Sam: 'I'm sorry, what? You're seeing Toni Bowen? The reporter who interviewed you about your wife on national TV? Less than four months ago?' Sophie: 'You're dating a celebrity?' Sam: 'Sophie --- ' Randy: 'Not dating! Seeing! I mean, kinda seeing, but ... you can't tell anyone, okay?' Sophie: 'Who am I going to tell? no one talks to me at school anyway.' Sam: 'Sophie, please --- wait, is that true?' Randy: 'I know it's complicated. And it probably won't last much longer. But for the first time in a while, I have a reason to smile. I ... I actually feel good.' Sophie: 'But how does Toni feel about it?' Sam: 'Good question.' Randy: 'Toni has numerous solid reasons why it can't possibly work.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 8th of April, 2018. New-relationship energy is such a powerful thing, isn’t it? Also, nice job of filling in backstory for new readers in the first panel second row there. Sincerely; it packs a lot of plot in without sounding too far off something an actual person might say.

Two months pass, per the caption on the 2nd of April. Randy and Toni are sharing Netflix passwords. Toni’s wary about this. Randy’s a former interview subject, after all. And is likely to be an interview subject again, considering that he’s still married, to a federal fugitive who’s also a hypercompetent CIA-trained assassin. She wants all this kept quiet. Randy would like to but he kind of mentioned it to Sam Driver. While Sophie Driver could overhear. Also all their relationship is taking place inside Randy Parker’s home. Which, Toni finally gets around to pointing out, is monitored by dozens of Internet-connected cameras.

So Randy accepts the argument that he’s got to live unafraid of April’s sure return. He turns off all the security cameras in time for Alan Parker to point out that April could be watching the house all the time. But what are the odds she’s doing that?

Randy, shutting down all the many cameras he's put up around his house: 'Okay ... Done. Entire security system's off-line. Now, how about you [ Toni ] and I get some brunch?' [ Elsewhere ] Voice, likely Norton: 'C'mon, April! Car's waiting!' [ Meanwhile ... in a dark office ] Man: 'He shut it all down.' Woman: 'No matter. We're going into active mode.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 20th of May, 2018. By the way, no, I don’t know exactly who those people are in the last panel. It’s easy to suppose they’re part of Norton’s organization, but that isn’t actually said. It’s easy also to suppose they’re part of some top-secret fugitive-detecting investigative squad, but again, not actually established.

April asks her father, Norton, what it means that the security cameras have been turned off. She’s had a storyline that’s mostly played out in the Sunday strips. She’s strained by her new life. She’s travelling the world murdering people with her father. Who’s constantly making jokes that aren’t even Dad Jokes. There’s a lot of jokes, mind you. Often ones that seem contextually inappropriate, like in the aftermath of a murder pointing out there’s milanos in the glove compartment.

It’s part of Francesco Marciuliano’s writing. The characters do joke. Many of them are weird little not-quite-non-sequiturs, such as many of Norton’s little asides. Many of them are moments of self-deprecation as characters realize they’ve been acting foolishly. A bit of this is refreshing self-awareness. Too much of it sounds sitcom-y. Not to the extent that Dan Thompson’s Rip Haywire gets. Several times the past few months it’s gotten more snarky than I like. It feels like reflexive snark. Snark is fun, but it’s corrosive when done without thought. And that’s unfortunate, since I’ve been enjoying the plotting. Marciuliano has embraced making the stories as crazypants as possible. He’s also made good use of bouncing soap-opera-loony plots off of characters who, if belatedly, come to their senses. It keeps the stories from being too absurd for my tastes.

And the style can work. For example, in the third major plot developing the past several months. This is in Los Angeles, where the scene transitions are flagged by the narration box with movie-script format. This thread follows Neddy Spencer, who’s solving all her problems by moving to a new city and working in the field of becoming famous. She’s having trouble making friends, which changes when Godiva Danube turns up at her restaurant.

Ronnie: 'Okay, the secret is to own the situation. Just go up to your table and say, 'Oh, hi, Godiva!' before she says word one. Automatically, you're exuding self-assuredness and you're in control of the conversation.' Neddy: 'I keep saying the wrong thing to you. Why are you helping me?' Ronnie: 'Because apparently, I'm the magical non-white, non-hetero sidekick character lazy writers think exists solely to help the white protagonist. By the way, that changes pronto.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 27th of April, 2018. Also the moment when Ronnie becomes more than just the other person in the restaurant. She’s still serving the role of support character. But she’s gotten enough screen time talking about herself, not always in such an Abed Nadir style, that one could believe she’s a character with as much going on as Neddy is and we just happen to be following Neddy first.

Godiva had urged Neddy to come with her to Los Angeles; Neddy had seen this as emotional manipulation on Godiva’s part. But you see where this is a heap of awkward. Her coworker Ronnie tries to guide her through the scene. And she starts to like Neddy, the way anyone starts to like a person they do a favor for. Ronnie dives in to rescue Neddy when the quarrel with Godiva gets too intense.

Abbey, picking up the phone: 'Neddy? Is everything okay?' Neddy: 'Hey, abbey. Yes, everything's fine. It's ... it's just been a while since I called.' Abbey: 'I'm sure you've just been busy. Sophie tells us you're really finding your footing in LA.' Neddy: 'Yeah, I'm .. .I'm trying. You okay? Sam?' Abbey: 'We're all fine, Neddy ... we miss you.' Neddy: 'I miss you too. And I'm sorry I'm not there today, but I wanted to wish you a very happy Mother's Day.' Abbey: 'Oh, Neddy. Thank you.' Neddy: 'I love you, Abbey.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 13th of May, 2018. As part of bonding Ronnie and Neddy talked over their family relationships, and this strip — which ran Mother’s Day — reflects Ronnie’s encouraging Neddy to take better care of her relationship with her mother.

And here — this past week — these three threads crash together. Norton and April are in Los Angeles to kill someone. Who’s staying in Room 237 (get it?) of some hotel. Toni Bowen gets promoted from the break-of-dawn to the 5 pm newscast. The first story: new developments in an old story. And Ronnie has news for Neddy: Godiva’s dead.

So every now and then I get to writing one of these essays well ahead of time. Like, get the whole thing roughed out by Monday or Tuesday before it needs to be published. Every time this makes my weekend so much easier. Do I learn from this to get stuff done early? Maybe even, if I have a free hour, write up story-so-far paragraphs for the comics I know are coming up soon? No, I absolutely refuse to learn and do things that make my life easier. But, c’mon, if you’re going to drop something like that on me, the day before this What’s-Going-On-In essay publishes, you’re just teaching me to write as close to deadline as possible. It’s not fair, is what it isn’t.


So What’s The Deal With This Apartment 3-G Talk?

Well, that was interesting. As Norton and April approached what I have taken to be Godiva’s hotel room [*] there was a fake-out strip. On the 2nd of June, a black-haired woman accepted a pizza delivery. She’s at a door marked 3-G.

Woman at door: 'Who is it?' Voice behind door: 'Pizza delivery.' (She opens the door, conspicuously labelled 3G. It's a pizza delivery.) Woman: 'Oh, finally! I'm starving!'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 2nd of June, 2018. I know the serious Apartment 3-G fans are hoping for news on what’s become of Lampey. But I keep looking at that pizza box and asking, ‘Now that’s a spicy T-shirt’? It feels like seeing an in-joke. Yes, I understand the spicy meatball’s referent. But how do you get from a meatball to a T-shirt? Well, by dropping it down your shirt, but that still doesn’t explain the pizza box.

An Apartment 3-G reference? Of course; what else makes sense here? What’s interesting is the question of whether Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley are planning to bring an Apartment 3-G thread into the storyline. King Features Syndicate (I assume) holds the publication rights on both properties, after all. And it’s not a frightening innovation to have characters from a cancelled strip appear in a still-ongoing one. The cliffhanger on which the comic strip Annie ended was eventually resolved in Dick Tracy. And characters from Brenda Starr, The Spirit, and the Green Hornet have popped up in Joe Staton and Mike Curtis’s comic. (Of course, who hasn’t? Characters from Popeye, Terry and the Pirates, and Harold Teen have made cameos there. Yes, yes, Popeye is technically still in production, as far as we know, but it’s barely seen.) Keeping the property alive by references in other strips, until it can be grittily rebooted, would make good sense.

And Marciuliano might be game. In Sally Forth he’s several times written flash-forward strips, where Hilary Forth and her friends Faye and Nona are young adults sharing an apartment. Many Sally Forth readers note how that setup is close enough to Apartment 3-G‘s for jazz. I’m not aware that Marciuliano has expressed any interest in doing a quiet Apartment 3-G revival. The 2nd of June’s strip is adequately explained as faking out the reader. But I can’t rule out that Marciuliano might intend to plot something wild. I am checking with the rules committee about whether it is possible to take my Apartment 3-G essay tag out of retirement.

[*] We have seen Norton and April enter a hotel room. We’ve seen a woman laying on the bed. We’ve gotten the news that Godiva is dead. But we have not — as of Saturday, the 9th of June anyway — seen a direct statement that this woman was Godiva, nor that she was killed by Norton and April’s action. I’m aware of soap opera rules too.

Next Week!

Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man! I left off as giant irradiated green monsters in purple pants were deep in the swamp, mocking one another. Did the story somehow get even better? Has the next story started out delightfully? I’m eager to say.

What’s Going On In Judge Parker? And Who’s Fleeing What? 25 December 2017 – 18 March 2018.


Hi, Reader. Want to know what’s going on in Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker? I hope so. My latest answer is at or near the top of this page.

My latest review of mathematically-themed comic strips, meanwhile, is over at the top of this page. Please enjoy that.

Judge Parker

25 December 2017 – 18 March 2018.

I last checked in at Christmastime, and an exciting time. April Parker escaped Rogue CIA Agent Prison, with the help of her father Norton. The plan: the Parkers flee the country and take up a life as fugitives. When Judge (Retired) Alan Parker refused this as bonkers, Norton left him unconscious on the floor of his house and, for all we could tell, dead. April burst into her and Randy Parker’s house. She announced she was taking their daughter Charlotte, who would not be growing up without her father.

With every police agency in the world closing in Randy and April argue it out. April advances the thesis: what’s crazy about them becoming international fugitives anyway? Randy answers: every single piece of this. With time running out Norton’s henchman Wurst grabs at Randy; April orders him to stand down or “I will bury you so deep the magma will burn you”.

The aftermath, as revealed following the New Year: April did not take Charlotte or Randy before leaving, promising to always love him. And also to be back for Charlotte one day. She flees into the police headlights and gunfire and only Marciuliano and Manley can guess what. There is (on the 18th of January) a suggestive picture of a good-sized ship sailing to sea. I suppose that says what the authros’ intent was.

Randy Parker, narrating: 'And just like that, Dad, April gave me Charlotte.' Norton: 'April! What are you --- ' April: 'Dad! ... I know you will take great care of our daughter, Randy. You're the best man I have ever known ... I ... I have always loved you, Randy, even ... even if I haven't always been honest with you ... I will always love you.'' And a flock of police cars drive up to the house.
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 14th of January, 2018. And a real chance for Manley to show off what he can do, between the line art and the colors that I’m amazed you can even expect to render in newsprint.

Randy, seeing his life ruined, takes the chance to ruin someone else’s. Not on purpose. But the accidental target is Toni Bowen. She was the reporter covering the last of previous writer Woody Wilson’s crazypants throw-money-at-the-Parkers schemes. That was the opening of the aerospace-factory-loaded-with-cargo-containers-and-made-a-clothing-factory-for-the-elderly. I told you it was a crazypants scheme. Anyway, Bowen was there when Marciuliano had all that dropped into a sinkhole. This propelled her to a reporting job at a national cable news channel. Randy gives only her an interview about all the current craziness.

Bowen’s already on a Performance Improvement Plan. The sinkhole was an exciting story. But nobody was actually to blame for it. And emergency responers were efficient and effective. That sort of thing spoils a good cable-news feeding frenzy. She was there to report the embezzling-stalker truck driver that was another of Marciuliano’s first plot threads. But that story, in-universe, ended up too weird and confusing for it to be exciting reporting. Her boss has one item on the Plan: make Parker admit something about April’s whereabouts and plans. If he won’t, at least emotionally destroy him live on nationwide television. But Randy doesn’t know anything about her plans. And Bowen doesn’t move in for the kill. So she’s sent back to local TV news where at least she can insult the camera guy being all passive-aggressive about her failure in the bigger leagues.

Those threads take a pause. Over to Alan Parker and his attempts to reconnect with Katherine. (And putting the lie to one of Norton’s parting-shot lies, by the way, that Katherine had moved on and would have nothing to do with her husband again.) Their let’s-try-dating-anew has got to the point of bed-and-breakfast weekends. They spend theirs in a town being all overbearing with its apple cider thing. Also possibly being out of season for apple cider, if my experience with Quality Dairy proclaiming Cider’s A-Pourin’ is any guide. But the town was also doing a special showing of The Cider House Rules. This raises the question of whether the town watched the movie before scheduling it. (And I mention this because my love had, in teaching, shown The Cider House Rules enough to get truly sick and resentful of every frame of the movie. And then the Michigan state tourism board decided to use the movie’s haunting Twee Little Recurring Theme for its TV and radio ads. So now any commercial break can be a sudden jab of emotional pain.)

[ At the Staunten Cider Festival street market ] Katherine: 'Alan, this has been a wonderful weekend. But I don't think we should rush into anything. I have my own place now. My own career. My own life. And I'm not going to give that up so things can go back to exactly how they were. We have to build towards each other, Alan. And that will take time. Do you understand?' Alan: 'I do, Katherine. I do.' [ They eat.] Katherine: 'And they put cider in the lobster roll, didn't they?' Alan: 'Maybe we should find a town that hates apples.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 11th of February, 2018. May I suggest Pumpkinfest, held in October in Conneaut Lake, Pennsylvania? It includes a parade and floats tossing candies out to kids on the sidelines in defiance of the flyers asking them to not throw candies. And then it goes over to the charming and somehow, impossibly, surviving Conneaut Lake Park for a day of the amusement park’s busiest activity and a bit where they drop a giant pumpkin from a great height onto a junker car. Pennsylvania amusement parks are all weird in their own ways but Conneaut Lake Park is just a whole other dimension of bizarre and it’s wonderful.

Back to the Spencer Farms. Neddy’s been kicking around depressed ever since Marciuliano took over the writing and the factory collapsed and all that. She’s shaken out of that by a drop-in from Godiva Danube. She’s the movie star whose connections made the container-cargo-clothing-factory-sinkhole-collapse possible. Godiva thinks she’s about to get back into Hollywood and invites Neddy to be along as her assistant. She throws Godiva out. (Godiva leaves her purse behind, which Neddy says was on purpose so Godiva “could return for one more dramatic scene”. That isn’t paid off on-screen yet.) Still, Neddy takes the idea of moving to Los Angeles as a great one. There’s few things that cure aimless depression like moving to a new city without any prospects, connections, or particular reason to be there. Abby Spencer points this out and gets chased out of the guest house for her trouble. We’ve all been there. (Seriously people Seattle is not the cure for your broken soul and it’s too crowded already so lay off it.)

Godiva: 'How DARE you! You needed a friend! You needed a push! But when I tried to help, you just looked out for yourself!' Neddy: 'You didn't come to help me, Godiva. You came with a sob story so I'd feel sorry for you. Then somehow be grateful to you for giving me a second chance to be used.' Godiva: 'No, I came here to give our FRIENDSHIP a second chance! But you can't do the same, because you're selfish!' Neddy: 'What the --- you're so manipulative, you've fooled yourself! But you can't make me feel bad about having self-respect!' Godiva: 'Oh, so now selfishness is self-respect?!' Neddy: 'You can call me selfish. You can call me anything you want. But this time I'm listening to myself, not to you.' Godiva: 'Fine! But what do you think people in LA will say after I've badmouthed you all over town?' Neddy: 'Probably 'Why should I listen to the person who just starred in leprechaun 14: Magically Delicious'?' [ Door SLAM! ] Abby: 'I ... I am so proud of you, Neddy.' Neddy: 'Hold your applause. She left her purse behind so she could return for one more dramatic scene.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 4th of March, 2018. Sure, Neddy talks about having self-respect but she does still admit she has an idea for a screenplay for when she gets to Los Angeles so, yeah.

So this past week we got back to Randy Parker. Who, it turns out, has responded to this latest turn in his life by picking up Sam Driver’s crazy evidence wall and trying out paranoia himself. In fairness, he’s afraid of some ridiculously capable people who’ve promised to take his daughter. But he’s also been skipping out on, you know, work. And when you’re doing so little law work that Judge Alan Parker notices you’re not doing law work, you’ve reached galaxy-brain levels of slacking off. Could be trouble.

Next Week!

OK, so you know how ridiculous the last Amazing Spider-Man plot was? And then this Amazing Spider-Man plot started out with Bruce Banner and Chuck “The Lizard” Connors and all? Well, the story got all blood-transfusiony and just so wonderfully, magnificently goofy and yes, J Jonah Jameson has come back into things. I can’t wait to tell you all about Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man next week. Heck, I might just do it Wednesday to make sure I don’t miss anything.

What’s Going On In Judge Parker? October – December 2017


Hi, reader interested in figuring out what’s going on in Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker. It’s an exciting ride. It’s also one that’s probably gone off a couple of tracks since I wrote this in late December 2017, if you’re reading it more than a couple months after late December 2017. If I’ve had a more recent story summary it should be at or near the top of this page.

Also, my other blog has reviewed the handful of comics with mathematical themes from last week. I helped it some.

And finally, if you’re interested in having opinions on Mary Worth, the Mary Worth and Me blog has opened voting for the best of the year in various Mary Worth storytelling events. I wouldn’t dare tell you what the greatest floating head of the year that strip was. But I am baffled by the thought that there might be a better storyline than CRUISE SHIPS. Well, each to their own, even when they’re wrong, I suppose.

Judge Parker.

2 October – 24 December 2017.

I don’t know how many movies I was introduced to by SCTV. Possibly everything that wasn’t a kid’s movie. (Indeed, just last night I caught a moment of The Unholy Rollers and realize I just saw the source for one of SCTV’s Movies of the Week although I can’t place the title just now.) But I was also introduced to a genre by SCTV. They ran a soap opera spoof, The Days Of The Week. It started with a simple premise, the town’s respected surgeon trying to con a widow out of her fortune by setting up a patsy to play her long-lost son. Within a half-dozen sketches they had dozens of conspiracies unfolding at a wedding interrupted by multiple gun-weilding fanatics. And somewhere along the line I realized they had made a ridiculous yet strangely legitimate soap opera. They just chose to make every possible storyline go crazy, and cling to the crazy.

When I last checked in on Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker the strip had just jumped three months ahead. April Parker was in super-duper top-secret jail after being framed for a complicated CIA-based fiasco. Randy Parker’s been united with his daughter Charlotte, through the workings of April’s father Norton. But the craziness and Alan’s secrecy has smashed his relationship with his wife Katherine, and she’s leaving. It had blown up what of the status quo hadn’t been blown up already. It was crazy.

Alan fumbles the last chance of Katherine reconciling with Alan. She sees he’s mining their scenario for his stalled-out novel. Sophie Spencer, recovering from her own kidnapping at the hands of her mother’s long-lost half-sister, buys a replacement guitar. And talks with Neddy, who’s herself recovering from when her ill-conceived clothing factory fell into a sinkhole. And Neddy agrees with Sophie that yeah, she needs to have some focus for her life again. That’s a couple weeks spent working out older stories and setting them basically in order. A not-crazy order.

Neddy: 'Hey, Sophie. Mind if we chat for a moment?' Sophie: 'What's up?' Neddy: 'I know we discussed me moving forward. But every time I try to determine a new career path, I draw an absolute blank. All I can see is that factory imploding. All I can hear are people's accusations. All I can d is ... nothing. I feel like I can do absolutely nothing.' Sophie: 'Okay, let's start simple. Write a list of everything you're good at. Don't be modest or self-deprecating. Just do it.' Neddy: 'That ... that sounds like a good idea.' Sophie: 'You should probably do it now.' Neddy: 'Oh, right.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 12th of November, 2017. My experience with depressed people is they are not able to think of things they’re good at, and will not accept other’s testimony about what they are good at. Which is not to say I think Sophie’s giving bad advice, nor that she’s acting improperly for her character. (And I suppose Neddy is more guilt-wracked than depressed, but I imagine the problem is similar.) Mostly, depression: who’s responsible for that being a thing we have, you know?

Then we got to the end of October, and focus on April Parker. She’s spending her three-year prison sentence the way Calvin might spend having to sit in the corner and almost as successfully. She picks fights with her cellmate, her blockmates, the guards, the plumbing, the air, and several imaginary friends. So the early-release plans are off. Randy isn’t able to talk her down and fears she’s going to go crazy.

Charlotte: 'Mama!' April: 'Charlotte! You ... you said your first word!' Charlotte: (crying) 'Mama! Mama!' April: 'Mama is right here, sweetie. Right here.' Charlotte: (crying, fidgeting out of April's arms.) 'MAMA!!!' April: 'I'm here, Charlotte! I'm right --- ' April wakes up, alone, in prison.
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 5th of November, 2017. Marciuliano’s tenure has been a very plot-heavy one, with stuff happening in the middle of other stuff happening. But that doesn’t keep the strip from pausing to soak in the torments inflicted on its characters, such as in this nicely effective page.

One night Alan’s pondering how screwed up everything is when Norton breaks in. Norton dismisses Alan’s complaints that his scheming and conspiracies have destroyed his life. And explains that he’s there to reunite the family, for example by breaking April out of her maximum-security federal prison. And flee the country with Randy and Charlotte. And Norton won’t discuss whether there’s any options that don’t involve doing the craziest possible thing.

And this past week the crazy thing happens. Norton kidnaps Alan. His operatives break April out of prison. April breaks in to her and Randy’s house, collects Charlotte, and informs him they’re going to become a family of fugitives. He tries to point out, this is crazy.

Alan: 'You're ... you're making me a prisoner in my own house.' Norton: 'Alan, this is all about freedom. All of ours. Trust me, you'll never feel freer than when you're away from all this.' Alan: 'But if ... if you break April out, her life will be ruined. My son's and Charlotte's too. We can't become fugitives. We ... we just can't give up everything.' Norton: 'My daughter has been without her family long enough, Alan. She will not leave without Charlotte. Asking you and Randy to come is for your benefit, so you can keep the family together. And speaking of family, shame we had to destroy your phone. It appeared Katherine had left a message.' Alan: 'She did?!' Norton: 'Of course not. She's moved on. This life is over, Alan. So start getting ready.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 10th of December, 2017. I … I had not noticed how often Marciuliano uses a word that’s trailed off and repeated after ellipses until I started transcribing the dialogue for the alt text. Just … just saying. Also yeah, breaking April out of Federal prison and taking her whole family into a fugitive life is one thing, Norton, but that talk about Katherine is going a bit far.

So something like sixteen months into his tenture writing Judge Parker Francesco Marciuliano has thoroughly embraced the Days of the Week style plotting. It’s almost seemed like a search for status quos to blow up. And clings to that.

It’s also all been surprisingly funny. The scenarios a little funny, yes, in the way that Doctor Strangelove presents an irresistible argument for a nightmare. But also funny in the writing of daily strips. There’s well-formed, logical punch lines often, and characters keep reaching for them. A woman tells Neddy she heard what happened. “What, that Hank and I broke up or that I fear my life is devoid of all direction, purpose, or even the faintest ember of hope?” Norton tries to allay Alan’s suspicions of something being in the coffee. “Here, I’ll prove I’m not poisoning you … oh … uh-oh … this … this is some expired creamer.” It all happens a good bit. It’s not overwhelming and doesn’t threaten to shift the comic into the serial-comic form of, say, Sally Forth or Funky Winkerbean or Luann. That it’s not every strip, not by far, helps. That it’s playing against such big, breathtaking plotting, helps too. It’s people responding rightly to the craziness around them.

Next Week!

Did Aunt May marry Melvin the Mole Man after all? Who’s this one-armed fellow in Florida that Peter Parker’s hanging out with? Who’s throwing all these alligators around? And why isn’t there more Rocket Raccoon? There’ll be answers to some of this when I get back to Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man. Spoiler: no, somehow, Aunt May did not get married.

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 Judge Parker? 8 April – 2 July 2017


Greetings, fans of Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker who aren’t just reading Marciuliano’s blog in the first place. If you’re interested in my working out the last couple months of plots, and it’s around July 2017 when you read this, good. Otherwise, the stories probably will have developed some. At or near the top of this link I hope to have my most recent Judge Parker recaps. Thanks, reader in the future. Good luck finding what you need.

Judge Parker.

8 April – 2 July 2017.

When I last checked in on the Parker/Spencer/Davis clan, Marciuliano had not just gotten the kidnapped Sophie Spencer back home, but her bandmates had been rescued too. They told a harrowing tale of kidnappers, a mysterious woman who sounded like Abbey, and a lot of gunshots and violent endings that would leave anyone pretty well-traumatized.

Sam Driver, having got nowhere with his Crazy Evidence Wall, chose to meet up with Totally Legitimate Non-Suspended Non-Crazy Not-An-Ex-Cop Sean Ballenger. He’s the father of one of the other kidnapped teens and wants Sam’s help finding any booby traps and remaining homicidal gunmen at the kidnappers’ hideout. On the way there Ballenger mentions that, oh yeah, he’s been suspended from the force and isn’t handling a really severe trauma any better than Sam is and oh yeah, here’s the booby traps, right where the homicidal Woman Who Sounds Like Abbey left her webcam pointed. Sam starts to suspect a trap, but Ballenger’s so enthusiastic about it he gets himself severely wounded even before the Woman Who Sounds Like Abbey can shoot them.

Sean Ballenger smashes through a door. Sam: 'Ballenger, are you okay?! You really cut yourself!' Ballenger: 'Forget it! FORGET IT! Keep moving!' 'This is turning into a giant fiasco, ballenger.' 'Stay alert Just stay sharp.' 'We're walking right into a trap, Ballenger.' The Woman Who Sounds Like Abbey is vanished, disappeared through a tunnel.
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 16th of April, 2017. I have to say I understand why the police put Ballenger on indefinite leave from this. Also, I like the little artistic touch of the Woman Who Sounds Like Abbey not having finished her soda in the title panel there.

While Ballenger distracts the Woman Who Sounds Like Abbey by bleeding profusely, Sam discovers her wall of Off-Model Spencer Family Photos, plus her time bomb. He grabs Ballenger and runs him right out into waiting police with drawn guns ordering them not to move. Sam’s not even able to explain that he’s both rich and white before the bomb explodes, destroying the compound and what’s left of Sean Ballenger’s career. With this mess on their hands the police give the whole kidnapping investigation a serious escalation, moving it into the hands of some guy with a much darker suit jacket.

Back home, Sam shares with Abbey some evidence he’d been withholding from the police. The Off-Model Spencer Family Photo he’d taken just before the bombing leads to the discovery Abbey’s father had a whole second family. It’s a good juicy bit of gossip, and a nice proper soap-opera development. It does make me wonder, though, like, was Abbey’s father already an established character back in the day? What would Nicholas P Dallis, or whatever later author introduced Abbey’s father, think of this wrinkle being added to his life? I suppose they don’t really have a say, what with being dead or retired from the strip or whatnot, and maybe they’d like having something juicy and exciting like that added to the character’s story.

Sam, to Abbey: 'I wanted to show you this first, before I showed it to the police. I found this photo of you and your dad in the kidnapper's house. Do you know who the woman is?' Abbey: 'Sam, I don't even know who this kid is!'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 16th of May, 2017. By the way, has Sam got around to showing this to the police yet? I’m not sure and it’s too late in the day for me to go double-checking. Just curious. Also, belatedly but: ‘Kabrash’? Is that a Rip Haywire reference?

It makes me realize among the reasons I shouldn’t write a story comic is that I’d be afraid of breaking someone else’s universe by doing something like that. That’s not to say I think Marciuliano is breaking anything; the development’s a fine enough one. It’s about my worries about how ineptly I’d do something like this. I mean, ask me to write about the week Captain Kirk spent falsely accused of a jewel heist on Rocket Raccoon’s planet? I could probably whip that one out. Ask me to write something that changes our ideas of what drives Captain Kirk as a person? No way. Something mentioned a good deal in how-to-write texts is that there’s a certain arrogance in writing. The writer has to assume that she has something worth reading. It seems like it requires a certain greater arrogance to do your writing with someone else’s work. At least it takes self-confidence.

Sam shaves off his Crazy Beard and takes down his Crazy Evidence Wall, to restart it with a perfectly rational and appropriate thumbtacking up of the Off-Model Spencer Family Photo. And Sophie Spencer, released from full-time psychiatric care, goes to her (biological; she was adopted by Sam and Abbey) grandfather’s grave in search of reassurance. Abbey follows, and can give a hug, in a scene that is touching.

So with that done Sophie offers some more information about the Woman Who Sounds Like Abbey. The Woman — named Senna Lewiston, it transpires — believed Abbey’s father was going to leave her mother and marry Senna’s mother. In revenge for the “stolen” life Senna had Sophie kidnapped and was trying to gain her sympathy and support in destroying Abbey’s life and place in life.

Sophie, to Abbey: 'But you know what the worst part is? [The Woman Who Sounds Like Abbey] almost had me believe [you had stolen her life]. She almost made me side with her and hate you. But ... I couldn't. I was confused. And I was really angry. But she never got me to hate you.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 21st of June, 2017. Part of the family-healing moments that make for the resolution, at least for now, of this broad and dangerous kidnapping scheme that marked the complete upending of the strip when Marciuliano took over writing. You know, I’m cool with Rip Haywire references. It’s a pretty fun comic even if the mandatory pop culture reference each panel get tiring and I honestly can’t tell if they’re rerunning comics or doing a variation on the Catpocalypse story. I’m just curious is all.

Meanwhile, one can’t help but notice we haven’t actually seen the body of the Woman Who Sounds Like Abbey. So, you know, soap opera rules. Plus, Senna Lewiston, the police had worked out, somehow bought the kidnapping compound in cash, despite the lack of visible means of supporting massively complicated, expensive revenge schemes. How to explain this? Good question and possibly related to a plot thread that’s been dormant for months, possibly since Marciuliano took over the strip last fall. April Parker, wife of the current Judge Randy Parker, and sometime CIA … person, was sent off on a mission to one of those foreign countries the CIA is always sending people off to in soap opera stories like this. She hasn’t been head from since. And Randy suspects his wife “may have betrayed this country, and she certainly betrayed our marriage with secrets upon secrets”, since she’s gone missing and the CIA won’t stop asking him where she went. So he’s been letting the house get disarrayed enough that the Judge (ret) Alan Parker has noticed, and he’s thinking about putting together his own Crazy Evidence Wall.

Caught up? Good. The strange thing to me about all this is how much there’s been both a lot happening and yet it’s only been one story. And, for that matter, only a couple of days of action within that story. It’s not so breathtaking and baffling as immediately after Marciuliano took over. And basically all the crazy stuff has been explained in ways that pass an initial reading. There may be implications that don’t make sense, but the emotional tone and course of stuff has been believable enough. And with the April Parker storyline heating up I’m looking forward to this fictional CIA fiasco almost as much as I’m looking forward to our next real-life CIA fiasco. Can’t wait.

Next week: a hopefully fiasco-free look into the life of Gil Thorp. See you then, I hope.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

In its third straight day of sliding the Another Blog, Meanwhile index dropped below two hundred bringing it to territory it hasn’t seen since the 9th of June and that’s somehow the worst thing these people can imagine happening even though that was like three and a half weeks ago. I mean, they sound a little whiny to me, too.

196

What’s Going On In Judge Parker? 1 January – 8 April 2017


Hi! Looking for my most recent report on Judge Parker? This might be it. But check this page, with all the Judge Parker-tagged essays, just in case it’s not.


When last I talked about Judge Parker, new writer Francesco Marciuliano had finished his round of thoroughly blowing up the Parker and Spencer families’ incredible streak of fantastic good luck and fortune’s favor. Judge (Retired) Alan Parker’s movie deal had stalled and his new book was going nowhere. Sophie Parker had reappeared after months missing, with the rest of her band still gone, abducted by strange parties unknown. And Parker Sr had received a mysterious bouquet and message from shadowy intelligence-types, and made a promise to “have it done for you soon”.

Blowing up plots is fun and, relatively speaking, easy. How has Marciuliano handled putting things back together?

Judge Parker

1 January – 8 April 2017

Sophie Spencer, returned just in time for Christmas, has as rough a time of it as you might figure. Finding her father’s Crazy Evidence Wall, full of clippings thumbtacked in around circled notes (no strings of yarn connecting stuff, though) sends her into a rage which she takes out on her room, setting off a potentially-fatal-to-their-marriage fight between Sam Driver and Abbey Spencer. But Sam persists, setting back up his Crazy Evidence Wall, growing out his beard to Not Obviously Unhinged levels, and finally (this week) agreeing to go to Ambush Ridge with Sean Ballenger, father of the first abducted teen to have been released. That should turn out well. He can still get his beard out to Riker In The Borg-Are-Everywhere Timeline levels, if need be.

Abbey: 'Sam, please! Don't do this! We just started healing and now you're walking right into a crime scene without even discussing it first?' Sam: 'Like I said, there will be police. I will be with a cop. This isn't the first crime scene I've investigated.' 'Sam, you're not listening to me! You're doing the lone wolf thing again!' 'Abbey, I am listening to you. And I'm not being a lone wolf! This whole time, feeling like I couldn't protect us. Feeling helpless because I couldn't solve Sophie's case. But if I go where Sophie was held, maybe I can solve this. Maybe I can end this for good. And not as lone wolf but with an officer.' Meanwhile the officer, out of uniform, is loading a shotgun into his personal car's trunk.
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 2nd of April, 2017. Not to be distracted by petty things but since the start of the year Abbey and Sam have talked about his being a ‘lone wolf’ approximately 628,969,274,033,384 times. I think it might mean something special between them.

Sophie, understandably still traumatized, gets into therapy. It played as a belated move, but just because even when stuff is happening swiftly there’s only a few panels per day and a lot was going on. In-story it was clearly set up within days of her release. This might still be late, but after all, nobody expected her tolerably safe return. She reveals that the only thing she knows of her kidnapper is that she soundd “so much like Abbey”, calling her adopted mother “a cheat” who “doesn’t deserve what she has”. It’s hard not to see this as teasing the fourth wall, or smashing right past it, given the years during which the Parker-Spencer-Drivers were in fortune’s favor. Marciuliano had a more literal, and classically soap-operatic, idea in mind.

Sophie at therapy. 'Neddy and I had nothing but each other after Grandpa died, until Abbey adopted us. But the kidnapper said Abbey doesn't deserve what she has, and I don't either. The kidnapper kept yelling at me that the good fortune wasn't ours, wasn't mine. I wasn't even a Spencer --- it was time for the other shoe to drop. What did she mean?' 'Did you tell this to the police, to Abbey?' 'No. I was afraid! What did the kidnapper mean? It made me feel that everything in my life was an illusion. That's all I could think of when I was trapped --- is it true? Is my life with Abbey based on some lie?'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 26 of February, 2017. I haven’t talked about Mike Manley’s art, so please take this chance to look at it. This is a big talky scene, and it’s not boring. Good coloring helps, certainly, but I think the page would read at least as well without that. Sophie gets to emote, and her speech is well-paced, especially in the second row.

The other kidnapped kids reappear with their own harrowing tales. They had been kept in a remote shack, fed occasionally, waiting for any sign they might be able to escape, or any hint about what this was all about. They don’t get much. Some kind of ransom, some kind of torture to make Sophie Spencer “fall in line”. And then the gradual and then sudden collapse of the kidnapping scheme, as the woman in charge — the one who sounded so much like Abbey — has a fallout with another woman, “the only one who ever helped” her. The One Who Sounded Like Abbey shoots her partner, and then starts shooting the guards. The kids escape when she comes around to kill them, injuring but not killing The One Who Sounded Like Abbey.

Deep in the woods, a standoff between two women holding guns on each other. 'You never had a handle on this plot! You had a vague idea, a dream, but you never knew what you were doing!' 'I wasn't going to be forgotten. I had to remind everyone I'm also family.' 'If family's so important to you, then why are you pointing a gun at me? I'm the only one who ever helped you! I took the boys in case of ransom. I took care of my crew so no one would talk. You were too insane to do anything!' 'Call me insane one more time.' 'And you still wonder why the Spencers abandoned you.' Two gunshots.
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 12th of March, 2017. So how did Francesco Marciuliano’s Reddit AMA back in November go? … Oh yeah.

So who is The One Who Sounded Like Abbey? The clear implication is that she’s Abbey’s sibling, or some other person with a claim to the Spencer family (and fortune), denied for reasons not yet revealed. Or at least someone who believes she has a claim.

Not yet resolved: who the mysterious intelligence-type guy was that phoned Judge Parker Senior, or what he was promising to do.

I say Marciuliano’s succeeded in both blowing up the old status quo and putting things together into a plausible, credible, and intriguing new storyline. I’m looking forward to the next couple months of this.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose five points when someone looked up legendary 19th Century baseball player Tim Keefe and found out he first played in the major leagues for the Troy, New York, Trojans, inspiring a round of looking up 19th Century baseball team names and subsequent merriment that hasn’t been dimmed even by Richard pointing out how difficult it is to say what a baseball team’s name, as opposed to the nickname they were called by for a while, was before about the 1920s.

126

What’s Going On With Judge Parker?


[Edited the 6th of June, 2017 to add] Thanks for looking to me for tips on the developments in Judge Parker. This post is from January of 2017. Summaries of more recent storylines should be available at this link at or near the top of its page.


So, you know the difference between Rex Morgan, M.D. and Judge Parker? Yeah, me neither. I’m not meaning to be snarky here. It’s just both story comics are about people who nominally have exciting professional jobs but never get around to doing those jobs because they’re busy having strangers throw money and valuable prizes at them. They were even both created by Nicholas P Dallis (in 1952 and 1948, respectively). There’s a lot in common. That changed in a major way in 2016.

Judge Parker

So a few years ago Alan Parker retired and kicked out a book based on one of his adventures as the comic’s original title character. (His son’s taken over the judgeship, and nominally heads the comic.) Writing’s a common second job for comic strip characters. And his book was fabulously successful. It’s a common hazard for comic strip characters. Mike Patterson of For Better Or For Worse had similar success. Adam of Adam @ Home is on the track for that right now. Even Tom Batiuk couldn’t keep his Funky Winkerbean character-author, Les Moore, from being a wildly successful author forever. Chris Browne, heir to the Hi and Lois/Hagar the Horrible fortune, had a comic strip Raising Duncan that was all about a married couple of wildly successful mystery authors.

The thing is, even by comic strip character standards, Alan Parker’s book was wildly popular. Everyone loved it. People recognized him from his dust jacket. An illegal-arms merchant backed off whatever he was up to because he was so impressed by the book. Parker’s book sold to the movies, and the movies wanted Alan himself to write the script. For lots more money. The recreation director of the cruise ship he was on loved the book and was so excited about a movie deal she showed him how to install script-writing software on his computer. And got him started on writing a script everyone agreed was just the best script ever.

'You're an exceptional writer, Alan! I wish you only the best with your future projects!' 'Thank you, Delbert. I, uh, meant no disrespect to your wife' 'Oh, no worries. I thought [ her review ] was a hatchet job, too!' And his wife gets meaner and uglier and fatter-looking while this all happens.
Woody Wilson and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 13th of December, 2013. Finally Judge (retired) Alan Parker knows that even the husband of the woman who hated his book understands she was wrong and his book was the greatest thing humanity has done since creating Tim Tams. The woman, Audrey Harrison, is described as a professor at Yale and Princeton, teaching literature and, I suppose Being an Internet Hater. Hey, if I could get a double tenure track job in Internet Hatering I’d take it too.

It’s not just that the book succeeded. It’s that the universe arranged for everyone in the world to love the book. Almost everyone. There was an English professor, allegedly a professor at Princeton and Yale, who wrote a review panning it. Parker tracked her down and publicly berated her, and her husband agreed with Parker. The book was just that good. And that’s how Judge Parker built itself up through to summer of last year.

A bit of success is fine. First-time authors, high school garage bands, start-up businesses fail all the time. Even more often they get caught in that mire where they aren’t succeeding, but they’re also not failing clearly enough to walk away from. Surely part of the fun in reading stories about them is the stories in which they manage to succeed. It’s the wildly undeserved success that made the comic an ironic-read masterpiece, topping even Rex Morgan, M.D.. Or just infuriating. If you’ve ever known a high school band trying to do a gig, you’re annoyed by the idea Sophie Spencer should be able to demand a hundred dollars of the band’s whole take for the night in exchange for her deigning to be the merch girl. If you know anything about business you find something annoying in Neddy Spencer starting her clothing line by pressuring the country-music star head of an aerospace company to giving her a newly-completed plant and hiring a bunch of retired textile workers who’ll be cheap because they can use Medicaid instead of getting paid health benefits. Plus there’s some crazy stuff about international espionage, the kind that thinks it’s all sleek and awesome and glamorous rather than the shabby material that gets documented in books with titles like Legacy Of Shame: Failures Of The Intelligence Community And Their Disastrous Consequences In [ Your Fiasco Here ]. At some point it looks like a satire of the wish-fulfillment dreams of a creative person.

(I may be getting some of the characters’ last names wrong. There’s a lot of mixing of the Parker, Spencer, and Driver families and I do lose track. There’s what has historically been The Chosen Family; call them what you will.)

So that’s where things sat when the strip’s longtime writer Woody Wilson turned things over, in August, to Francesco Marciuliano. I expected Marciuliano to do well. He’s been writing Sally Forth all this century and become the prime example of how a comic’s original author is not always the best person to produce it. (He showcases that, and often writes about it, over on his WordPress blog, where he also shares his web comic.) I’d expected he would tamp down or minimize the stuff that could be brought back to realistic, and quietly not mention again the stuff that was just too much.

He hasn’t quite. He took the quite good cliffhanger, one literally drawn from the days of cliffhangers, that Wilson left him: Sophie and her band driving back from a gig, a little drunk and a lot exhausted, on a precarious mountain road in the rain, encountering a distracted truck driver who’s a little too slow to dodge them, and the kids go tumbling over the edge. Solid story stuff. You can see all kinds of potential here, not least to dial back the worst excesses of Sophie’s dictatorial powers over the band she forced herself into.

Police at a confusing crash scene. The truck driver babbles about Dahlia. The other car, the one carrying Sophie's band, went over the edge ... and went missing from there. With skid marks indicating something was dragged away, somehow.
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 4th of September, 2016. There’s a lot of exposition established here, although you’re forgiven for missing it in the really lovely washes of color. It’s hard doing any good visual effects in the limits of comic strips, and to do a complicated, crowded night scene is well-nigh impossible. I didn’t take much time to write about Manley’s art, so please take this strip and ponder all the ways it could have been a disaster.

Marciuliano went crazy instead. The truck driver wasn’t merely distracted. He was driving illicitly, with a satchel full of money, and apparently stalking a call-in radio show host. Possibly he was carrying out a hit on the kids. The crashed car went missing. The kids, except one — not Sophie — went missing. For months. The intimation is that some of the shadowier figures who’re in the Parker orbit wanted to send them a warning, but things got messier than even they imagined. You know, the way a good crime-suspense novel will have brilliant plans executed by people not quite brilliant enough and then all sorts of people are trying desperately to patch enough together to get out of the way.

It’s a daring strategy. Ambitious. Exciting. In the immediate aftermath of the change the results were particularly suspenseful. Marciuliano, probably trained by Sally Forth out of the story-strip habit of over-explaining points, had enough stuff happen that it could be confusing. (I did see Comics Curmudgeon commenters complaining about things that had already been addressed in the text.) But it felt revolutionary. It reached that point story strips rarely achieve. There wasn’t any fair guessing what the next day’s installment might bring.

A sinkhole swallows up most if not all of the misbegotten clothing-manufature storyline. Neddy pleads for help, 'Please help me get the employees! They're still in the factory!' There aren't emergency exits; they work in containerized cargo units, and are trapped. Local news is getting the disaster as it unfolds.
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 16th of October, 2016. Among the bits too crazily distracting to mention in the main article: to get needed office and floor space in the newly-built aerospace factory turned over to garment manufacture, they put in containerized-cargo units. The strip (with Wilson writing) explained this was totally a thing that some companies did for real, when they needed office space and had more vertical space than elevators available. And I have seen this sort of thing done, like to put up artist’s exhibitions at the piers in Wildwood, New Jersey. But it’s not the sort of thing to toss in without careful thought.

Some other pieces of the old excesses were resolved no less dramatically. Marciuliano ended the quagmire of the ever-less-plausible clothing-factory storyline by throwing it into a quagmire. A sinkhole opened underneath the factory, taking the entire thing down on the opening day for the project, sinking it beneath the recriminations and accusations of fraud and misconduct that should have kept the idea from starting. And I appreciated the dramatic irony that so much utterly wrong behavior on the main characters’ parts could finally be undone by something that was not in any way their fault. (I mean, what kind of person figures “we should hire the elderly because they’ll be so happy to get any work we can make them cheat for their medical care”? I mean any person who should be allowed into civilization.)

And others are just getting tamped down mercifully. Alan Parker’s movie has fallen into that state where everybody’s happy to have meetings but nothing ever happens. He’s eager to write another book. He’s got one sentence. He doesn’t like it. That is, sad to say, more like what really happens.

Is it successful? I say yes. I say it’s the biggest turnaround in story comics since Dick Tracy stopped being incompetent. The experience reminds me of the time Andy Richter mentioned how he and his wife had meant to go bowling ironically, “but we ended up having actual fun”.

Have I got doubts? Well, sure. I always have doubts. The main doubt is that September through December tossed a lot of new pieces and plot ideas into the air. There’ve been a lot of questions raised about what’s going on, and why, and how they’re trying to do whatever they’re up to. Questions are the relatively easy part of writing. The trick is getting a resolution that makes any sense. Bonus points if it makes sense when you go back and read the start of the story again.

'And so that brings us to today. Specifically, this morning. When Sophie Spencer, missing since September, entered the local diner and asked for some tea.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 9th of December, 2016. The strip jumped several months ahead after the twinned disasters of the car crash with Sophie and her band’s disappearance and the factory sinkhole. Here it came to the end of a week explaining how the town was starting to get back to whatever normal was anymore.
A habit of Marciuliano’s I didn’t have the chance to get into: his characters are aware of pop culture. Not to the point that Ted Forth is in Sally Forth, who’s in danger of someday merging with a Mystery Science Theater 3000 Obscure Riffs Explained page, but more than normal for the natural squareness of story comics. It can be a bit distracting when (eg, in a Sunday strip I decided not to include here) a character tell a radio call-in show host how she couldn’t take the aftermath of all this and so she ran, and she’s asked if putting on some Phil Collins might help. Some of that makes a character sound more natural; we all talk in references. Sometimes it comes out weird. But about forty percent of all human conversation are weird.

Will that happen? I don’t know. That’s Marciuliano’s problem. I just have to have a reaction to it. He’s got my attention. Of the story strips going on right now that’s the one I’d recommend giving yours.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile index dropped below the psychologically important level of 100 today, in what analysts and traders called “yet another flipping time already”. Many were caught rolling their eyes and saying sheesh, with one old-time Usenet addict doing to far as to say “furrfu” out loud. We’re starting to doubt that 100 really is that important a psychological barrier to or from anything anymore.

97

What’s Going On With Rex Morgan, M.D.?


[Edited the 6th of June, 2017 to add] Thanks for looking to me for tips on the developments in Rex Morgan, M.D.. This post is from January of 2017. Summaries of more recent storylines should be available at this link at or near the top of its page.


So, you know the difference between Rex Morgan, M.D. and Judge Parker? Yeah, me neither. I’m not meaning to be snarky here. It’s just both story comics are about people who nominally have exciting professional jobs but never get around to doing those jobs because they’re busy having strangers throw money and valuable prizes at them. They were even both created by Nicholas P Dallis (in 1952 and 1948, respectively). There’s a lot in common. That started to change earlier this year.

Rex Morgan, M.D.

The craziness came on gradually. It always does. It’s one thing when characters have abnormally long stretches of good luck. That happens, at least when authors like their characters so much they wish them well, and can make success happen. It went really crazy with a trip to the museum. I forget the exact details. The museum had been planning a fundraiser, selling this volume of drawings kids contributed. A little odd but I could imagine that working. Then Sarah Morgan drew a horsey. A really good horsey. The kind of horsey that left everyone awestruck with her horsey-drawing abilities. The book mutated. It would be one of Sarah Morgan’s drawings, horseys and anything else she wanted to draw. Also it would hae a much bigger press run. Maybe worldwide distribution. Also she’d be brought in to the museum to draw and be seen drawing by tour groups. Her first day at this she spotted and overthrew the class bully of some tour group. Also she caught the attention of a none-dare-call-it mafia widow, who hired professional instructors for her. And her father, Rex Morgan, renegotiated the book deal so Sarah would get a much bigger cut of the royalties on this already-bestselling art book.

And then the kindly old widow lady offered to sell Rex Morgan her Victorian-era mansion for whatever cash he had in his wallet right this second, and actually never mind, she’d spot him that too. That’s about where things stood before the 1st of May, when artist Terry Beatty took over the writing duties also for Rex Morgan, M.D.: you could be forgiven thinking this was some parody of the lives of the impossibly well-off.

June thanks Cilla for offering the house cheaply. But she points out to Rex that the house is a gorgeous museum full of antiques, and they have a two kids and a dog smashing around. It's not practical. Rex resigns himself to it. 'I'm not getting my roll top desk, am I?'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 8th of May, 2016. The fake-out about buying Cillia’s house had some nice stuff around it, including a bit where she was constantly fighting with her neighbor and he was warning the Morgans that the house was on the verge of collapse. It was one of those longrunning fights between ancient people who’re crushing on each other without admitting it. You know the kind, the ones that I’m sure happen in real life … like … sometime, I guess?

The six months plus since Woody Wilson stepped away from the comic have been largely one of ratcheting things back down. Some of that’s been handled gracefully: Rex and June Morgan conclude that while the Victorian mansion would be a swell place — furniture included! — it’s really not practical, not with two kids and a dog racing around the place. It’s the sort of quiet little dream-snatching thing which you think of when you’re a grownup.

The mafia wife’s interest in Sarah was explained as trying to make up for her own lost daughter. The museum’s interest in her horsey pictures was because she, as a major donor, was driving them. Is that sensible? I’m not sure, but if I don’t poke at it too hard it sounds like it makes sense. That’s as much as I need in a story. Especially if it’s trying to retcon past excesses away without causing too much trouble.

Rex gets a late-night phone call. 'That was the hospital letting me know we'd lost a patient ... and such a great guy, too. Smart, talented, the sort of person the world needs more of, not less.' He's not going to be able to get to sleep. 'Maybe I'll go downstairs and throw on one of those superhero movies where they *do* save everybody. That's the kind of thing this guy liked.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 4th of September, 2016. It’s a touching strip, not just because I believe it’s another memorial comic for Cul de Sac cartoonist Richard Thompson, who died too soon in July.

Other, similarly excessive, storylines have gotten walked back too. Dr Morgan had proclaimed competent Milton Avery, one of those industrialists you see in comic strips who’s incredibly wealthy in the field of business. And who was also barely aware of where he was or what day it was. I forget the pretext. I think that Morgan was doing this out of friendship to either Avery or his daughter, so they might fight off a Board of Directors attempt to replace their dementia-ridden executive. It’s hard to see how Morgan was supposed to be in the right, there. Beatty’s getting Morgan out of that malpractice by having Avery’s condition get far worse, rather quickly, leaving all questions of competence moot. And he’s turning that into a fresh storyline, as Avery’s daughter means to take him back to England and asked Morgan to follow and care for him there.

Heather explains her father's dementia is worsening so much she wants to take him back to England. 'I think he'll be more comfortable there.' And she asks if Rex will come with them. 'I've come to rely on your these past few months, and Milton is quite fond of you. Don't answer yet: give it some thought before you decide.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 20th of November, 2016. The bus station incident is one where Milton wandered away from home and tried to hitchhike to England. A driver put him off at the bus station, swapped jackets with him, and tried to make off with Milton’s bundle of emergency cash. He got himself into the Dumb Criminals News feature quickly enough, which is plausible enough and kind of fun to watch.

And then this past month came the biggest change. Sarah got hit by a car, by a distracted driver. It felt startling and a bit of a return to the understated class warfare of pre-May comics. (“See what happens when you let children ride the public school bus like peasants?”) But it also puts Rex Morgan back in the hospital, someplace that Beatty has wanted Morgan to spend more of his time. And where he ought to. Story strips can wander some but it’s weird to get so far away from the medical-comic origins.

As June and Rex Morgan worry about Sarah, hit by a distracted driver, the police officer talks about the hazards of texting-while-driving.
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 11th of December, 2016. It may seem like an odd thing for the police officer to talk at length about the hazards of distracted driving. (Sarah was hit by a driver looking at a cell phone instead of the road.) But it also has, for me anyway, the feel of the sort of slightly crazy thing that actually happens and that the worried parents in this sort of situation dimly remember as a weird thing that happened for no reason they can understand. I’m fortunate to be inexperienced in emergencies but my understanding is they’re a lot of standing around confused while strange authority figures tell you things you don’t care about for no reason you understand.

I have to rate it as an improvement. The most excessive storylines are being resolved or being retconned into things that less offend reason. And the pacing is improved too; this is the strip which saw June Morgan pregnant for something like 27 months, reader time, and it handled the Morgans buying a new house in about a week’s worth of montage. That’s much more like it.

(By the way, Speers also created Apartment 3-G. One would never confuse that with Judge Parker or Rex Morgan. And that’s got to be some kind of record for creating long-lasting story strips.)

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

And just like that the Another Blog, Meanwhile index dropped two points, owing to our sitting a little too far back in the chair. We lost the good pen, too, and have to resort to the main backup pen. We’re not going to be caught leaning back again because the alternate backup pen is just awful. It’s ball-point.

119

Comic Strips Worth Reading: Francesco Marciuliano and Jim Keefe’s _Sally Forth_


Comic strip fans, by which I mean people still passionately angry about what Lynn Johnston did to Elizabeth in the last years of For Better Or For Worse, tend to fetishize original artists. It’s understandable. The first several years of a comic strip tend to be its strongest, when the ideas are most exploratory, the writing the most fresh, the characters the most deftly realized. Even if the original artist and writer stay on they tend to fall into patterns and lose the sense of exploration and discovery of a comic strip’s universe and subtle boundaries. When a new person, often a child or grandchild of the original artist, takes over things tend to be worse-received. Perhaps the new artist doesn’t wish to venture too near breaking the comic. Perhaps the new artist, with the best will and talent in the world, just isn’t in tune with the material the way the originator was during the second and third years of syndication.

And yet sometimes the original artist isn’t the best at exploiting the creative idea. Ordinary comic strip readers, by which I mean people who have never while reading Peanuts wondered about whether Schroeder is his first or last name nor formed a strong opinion on the question, probably don’t care. If the comic strip is entertaining what difference whether it’s written and drawn by the original artist, or by her granddaughter, or by the person who happened to be walking past Comic Strip Master Command when the old artist said she was retiring? There is wisdom in this. Good art is its own justification. Only boring trivia buffs care about the first two film versions of The Maltese Falcon. Star Trek: The Next Generation was an intriguingly-designed but dumb mess before Gene Roddenberry was sidelined from it[*]. Sometimes the cover artist records the song better. So here’s the best current example of this phenomenon.

[*] (Admitting that the production of the Next Generation was deeply screwed up early on, and that a lot of the design of the show was David Gerrold’s, who was thrown off the show in its first season.)

Sally Forth, by Francesco Marciuliano and Jim Keefe.

Greg Howard, a lawyer figuring he could get in on some of that sweet syndicated-newspaper-comic-strip money, began Sally Forth in 1982, and needed only fifteen years to learn better. He first turned over the art to Craig MacIntosh, who’s since turned it over to Jim Keefe. The writing went to Francesco Marciuliano.

Jim Keefe’s a fine artist, the last person to draw the Flash Gordon comic strip. Sad to say, and despite some game efforts by Marciuliano, there isn’t much chance to show off action in Sally Forth. There really aren’t any action-adventure strips left. There’s Mark Trail and if it runs in any actual newspapers Rip Haywire, but past that the only real action in a comic is the occasional sports sequence. The modern comic strip mostly uses art as a scaffold to tether the word balloons. We occasionally decry this, but we go on reading comics with indifferent art as long as the writing is there. Keefe does well, though. Even the talky episodes — and there is a lot of talk in the strip — avoid the trap of being static. We get movement.

``Another autumn, another six hours lost in a corn maze.'' ``We just need a better vantage point. What do you see, Hil?'' ``THRESHER!!!''
Francesco Marciuliano and Craig MacIntosh’s Sally Forth for the 3rd of September, 2008. Because the memory of this particular strip has caused me to giggle occasionally for eight years now.

But, yeah, it’s Marciuliano’s writing that draws interest. Comic strip readers, casual and fans, will put up with almost any art if the writing’s good. Marciuliano made the strip good by what’s probably the only way to make an established thing good again in a lasting, durable way. He looked for emotional honesty in it. After some time spent learning the comic (his WordPress blog has an enlightening description of the earliest days) he wrote to that.

Hilary and Ted Forth compete to be first with Mother's Day Breakfast in Bed. It ends, as such competitions will, with pancakes in the bed and give different types of cheeses on the stairs.
Francesco Marciuliano and Jim Keefe’s Sally Forth for the 8th of May, 2016 (Mother’s Day). Yes, it’s wordy. But I make out eight distinct punch lines in six panels. Your count may vary. Note by the way Hilary’s quietly offended look in the first panel, bottom row.

An example. Sally Forth’s original boss, a pompous idiot named Ralph, would in any responsible organization be fired. And eventually he was, and he lived in the horrible loneliness of a middle-aged person whose identity’s been torn away. Marciuliano isn’t a cruel writer. Ralph was allowed to find a new space, a job he does all right despite his own fears, a relationship with someone (Sally Forth’s sister) whose strengths and weaknesses complement his, making them functional, happy people. It’s a set of storylines which retool a stock character into a person.

He also did this by giving Ted Forth a personality. He became the guy who knows every Monty Python quote and had gotten just old enough to not deploy them at every opportunity. You know this kind of person. I’m one. I can still function in normal society. Ted functions, more obviously ridiculously, but he’s supposed to. (The term “man-child” keeps being brought up, not unfairly.) He’s credibly threatened to take over the comic strip altogether. And the comic keeps running towards being a parody of family-and-workplace comic strips.

Then it draws back, returning to emotional honesty. This summer has had Sally and Ted’s daughter Hilary going off to camp, giving them the chance to live like newlyweds again. And then a few weeks ago they realized they don’t feel that way. That there’s something wrong. Something fixable but they don’t know quite what it is or just how to do it. It was a surprise to them. It surprised me as reader. It surprised Marciuliano when he realized it was going that way.

Ted and Sally Forth talk: Sally realizes that she's taken on a taskmaster role in their relationship while Ted plays the manchild and that isn't satisfying anymore. The original is rather wordier than that.
Francesco Marciuliano and Jim Keefe’s Sally Forth for the 7th of August, 2016. It’s again wordy but it’s also worth the read. The “wrong Hamilton musical” here refers to a storyline from April in which it turned out Ted bought scalped tickets to a musical about the founding of Hamilton Beach. Which will happen.

But it was also true. Once made explicit it’s obvious this is a sensible way for their relationship to go. It’s the sort of developing human story that, ironically, story comics don’t do well anymore. The humor strips with continuity, and a storytelling style in which a theme is introduced and riffed on for a week, do it much better.

In one of the strip’s flights of fancy there’ve been a few weeks showing Hilary Forth and her friends ten years in the future, in that exciting time of life of being an adult but still relying on your parents because your car’s alternator is always burning out. Many comic strip fans saw it as a better Apartment 3-G than was the actual Apartment 3-G. Some proposed that Marciuliano was secretly auditioning to write it.

This week, Marciuliano takes over the writing for Judge Parker. That story strip’s taken it particularly rough from comic strip fans the last couple years. It’s gotten a lot of slagging for the not-even-glacial story progression — it’s hard to be sure, but I believe in all sincerity they’ve been covering the same three-day weekend since May of 2015 — and showering of the primary characters with undeserved and increasingly implausible riches, some of that from people who are actually thinking of Rex Morgan, which is pretty much the same strip anyway.

He promises, “Yes, there will be a car crash. And yes, the survivors will eat the dead. After all [ … ] it may be minutes before the band is found.” And he’s aware of the storytelling challenges: “If the car crashes then people will say, `I knew it.’ If the car doesn’t crash then people will say, `I knew it. Nothing bad ever happens to these characters’.” I am optimistic about all this.