What’s Going On In Rex Morgan, M.D.? What’s With Edward’s Dog Not Being Seen? February – April 2019


So the thing about Edward’s dog is that he’s ugly.

Like, supernaturally ugly.

Like, “that’s … a … dog???” ugly.

It’s how the strip introduced him. It’s how he’s presented each time he comes back. This is a running joke now. It’s one with respectable comic strip precedent.

[Sarah's friend from school has dropped by with his dog.] June: 'Well, hello, Edward.' Edward: 'Hiya, Mrs Morgan. I was out walking my dog and thought I'd stop by and see Sarah.' June: 'Oh .. that is quite the dog, all right. Wh ... what breed is it?' Edward: 'We don't exactly know. My dad says he's not convinced it's even really a dog. But that's just silly.' [ Narration bubble reading 'Dog' and pointing to the off-screen end of the leash Edward holds. ]
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 28th of September, 2017. The first appearance of Edward’s Dog. And here’s a side mystery for you: my brain insists on naming this person Edmund, Edgar, Edwin, basically anything except “Edward”, a name way more common and likely than any of these alternatives. What’s going on there, and why?

Al Capp introduced Lena the Hyena to Li’l Abner in summer of 1946 as “the world’s ugliest woman”. She first appeared unseen, with the editorial note that they must hide her face to protect the readers. She would be seen, when the great Basil Wolverton achived the horrible. I had thought there were more examples of too-hideous-to-see characters in the comics. I’d imagined there’d be one in Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy for example. I seem to be wrong about that, though. Ugly Christine had hair covering her face, but we did see most of her. (Searching for other unseeable characters lead me to Spots, only seen in profile or three-quarters shots, with spots floating in front of his face. He’s not on point for this, but he does present a heck of an image.)

Al Capp did also have Big Barnsmell, the “inside man” at the Skonk Works, who did unspeakable things with skunks for unknown reasons. I haven’t found reference about whether Barnsmell appeared on-screen, though. The last few appearances of Simple J Malarkey in Walt Kelly’s Pogo had the man’s head covered. (This was not a joke about Joe McCarthy’s deep ugliness, though. Kelly was working out his irritation at editors afraid of offending evil people, who demanded Malarkey’s face not be shown.)

There are more examples of this joke in other media. Most familiarly these days, Norm’s wife Vera on Cheers, and Niles’s wife Maris on Frasier, were presented as too hideous to ever be seen. Then there’s old-time-radio. On Fibber McGee and Molly, half of Wallace Wimple’s whole schtick was telling horror stories of his wife. She would never be on-screen to present her case. … I’m a bit unsettled that Edward’s dog is the first example I can come up of too-ugly-to-see that isn’t about an adult woman we’re supposed to laugh at. (The other half of Wallace Wimple’s schtick was saying he would look something up in his “bird book”. They knew how to make a gag run back then.)

Rex, handing Sarah ice some money: 'This should be enough for a treat!' Sarah: 'Thanks, Dad!' (Outside.) Sarah: 'Hey, Edward! You heard the ice cream truck too?' Edward: 'Yeah, I was walking my dog and was gonna see if you were home.' [Narration: Due to editorial policy and space restrictions, we are unable to show you Edward's dog. Our apologies.] [ Narration bubble reading 'Dog' points to the off-screen end of the leash Edward holds. ]
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 23rd of April, 2019. A more recent appearance of Edward’s Dog, with an editorial box so full and explanatory that I feel like it’s got readers more confused. And yes, these two appearances do make it seem like Edward spends a lot of time walking his dog and checking in on Sarah, but that’s just an easy way to get him into the story.

In any event. Terry Beatty is mixing this running joke into Rex Morgan, M.D.. This is why the dog is only ever put off-screen, and explained with narrative bubbles and arrows pointing at ‘Dog’. I have no idea whether Beatty intends to ever depict Edward’s Dog, or to hold a similar contest. He may be satisfied with Dog as-is. He has been writing the comic as a more humorous one. The change in tone is less than what’s happened in Alley Oop, but still. He’s bringing more jokes in.

Edward’s dog, by the way, is named Dog. “We think it suits him,” was how Edward explained it, the 30th of September, 2017.

Anyway, if you’re hoping to have the story in Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. explained, and it’s later than about July 2019, there’s a good chance I have a more up-to-date essay here. If you’re reading in late April or early May 2019, carry on here. This should suit you fine.

If you’d like an argument that last Saturday’s Strange Brew comic strip was a really solid joke, I make it here. I also discuss some other mathematically-themed comic strips, as is my habit.

Rex Morgan, M.D.

3 February – 27 April 2019.

Rex Morgan’s plane was landing in the middle of the desert when I last checked in. It’s an extreme emergency, but the only way to keep Rex away from a medical conference in Phoenix. The touchdown takes a week of action, roughly, with Rex yelling reassuring things at his young temporary ward Brayden. And with Mister Cranky, who wanted booze and lots of it on the flight, yelling about how he was going to sue. Cranky was a particularly obnoxious fellow through January. But I can’t fault him yelling angry things about the airline as it lands by some ham radio operator’s shack in the desert.

The passengers, fully evacuated, get off the plane. Mister Cranky tries grabbing his carry-on, and gets scolded by the flight attendant. But again I sympathize; I don’t know how hard it would be for me to abandon my laptop in the circumstance. They’re well outside cell phone service range, but all’s not lost. The ham radio operator called in the emergency before driving his jeep up to the plane. His shack can be at least a gathering point for the passengers while a jet engine finishes exploding.

[ The passengers and crew await the arrival of emergency services ... ] Cranky: 'Why'd we have to leave the plane anyhow? No place to sit out here!' Rex Morgan: 'I'm pretty sure it has to do with that smoking engine that caused the emergency landing in the first place.' Cranky: 'Pffft! That don't seem like a big deal!' Brayden, whispering: 'Suddenly this guy's an expert on plane safety?' Rex, whispering: 'I'd bet this guy's an expert on EVERYTHING'. (Plane engine explodes.) Rex: 'Not a big deal, huh?' Cranky: '!' Brayden: 'It'd be nice if the emergency vehicles would get here.' Flight attendant, to the walking mass of passengers: 'Keep moving down the road and away from the plane!'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 17th of February, 2019. The jet engine exploding is fine as a story development. It seems a bit over-the-top that it sent flaming shrapnel only through Mister Cranky’s luggage and carry-on and sent a tongue of flame to singe off his hair and eyebrows and called his boss to tattle on him and hacked into his social media to post a sequence of pictures from the time cutting down that weed ailanthus tree in the backyard went so wrong. But, you know, I’m just the reader here. I don’t get a say in what’s written. Anyway, Rex, in the third row, second panel, there just pulls ahead of Mark Trail knowing a few things about Minke Whales in the open-qualifying Smug Comic Strip White Guy contest there.

Mister Cranky, having had enough of this, decides to leave. He notices the radio ham left the keys in his jeep. So he sits in the driver’s seat and is immediately snarled at by a large dog. Chased out from there, he sits on a large rock, ignoring Rex Morgan’s warning to Brayden about checking for scorpions. And what do you know, but, a scorpion bites him on the rear end! And the cops arrive and arrest him for trying to steal a car! Which has this curious state where it’s true, but I don’t think there’s any evidence except for his thought balloons. Cranky said he was “just sitting down” and I think that’s all they could prove. Anyway, he’s made fun of by the local news. On Morgan’s word the cops take him to the hospital first. But I’m sure as they transferred him from the ambulance to the hospital someone slipped, and his wheelchair rolled out of control, downhill into the county Manuratorium. And then he crawled out of that only for a cartoon elephant to sit on him.

Rex, and everyone, call to their loved ones as soon as they can. Brayden’s father is grateful beyond words for Rex’s help. You might ask what Rex did for Brayden. He was flying, unaccompanied, from his mother to his father. The flight attendant asked Rex to just watch over the weirdly old pre-teen. Brayden handled the emergency better than I would have, but still. Brayden’s father, wanting to do something for Rex, gives him a ride to the airport and a change of clothes from his store. All their stuff was left in the plane, after all. I did see commenters complain that this evokes the old, Woody Wilson-era “What Can We Give The Morgans Today” writing style. I guess that’s so. But the scene feels true to me. His son came through a plane crash unscathed. It’s natural for him to lavish money on the nearest person with the slightest involvement in that.

Morgan attends the conference after all, although since it’s all medical talk we don’t see it. On the flight home, who sits next to him but … Mister Cranky?

Well, no. It’s a sweet, polite, kindly person who just looks like him. He’s J T Needle. Mister Cranky was his twin brother, T J Needle. J T demonstrates how he’s the good identical twin by explaining how he’s always been the nice brother. T J’s always been self-centered and rude, doing stuff like trash-talking his relatives and all. Morgan questions the plausibility of sitting right next to Mister Cranky’s twin on the flight home. But he points out, he and his brother both live in Arizona, while their parents live in Glenwood, so of course they’d fly between those cities. Morgan accepts that this coincidence will now not get listed under Plot Holes.

J T: 'Your boys are twins?' Rex Morgan: 'No, but they may as well be. One's adopted, but exactly the same age. They share a birthday.' J T: 'And you think being on a flight my brother and then me is a coincidence!' Rex: 'Stranger things have happened, I guess.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 29th of March, 2019. Rex picks nervously at the threads which suspend disbelief, pondering how it is their adopted son has the same birthday as their non-adopted one. Or why their life is full of filled with unexplained and improbably strange coincidences. He doesn’t need to worry about that, he tells himself. There’s no reason behind it. It’s just … the world is strange and confusing and sometimes things work out in improbable ways? That’s believable. He can stop questioning that.

The last plot thread — about when Rex Morgan would get his luggage back — was resolved the first of April. The airline delivered his stuff back to his house. So that’s all covered.


Starting the 6th of April came the tease of a new storyline. Jordan Harris is ready to open his restaurant. He’s invited the Morgans to be part of a test-run night. His fiancee Michelle Carter is the acting hostess. Everything’s going great. This includes Delmer Robertson. He’s recovering from his addiction and homelessness and kidney transplant and all that.


That’s not, so far as I can tell, the story. It was an epilogue to the Jordan/Michelle/Delmer storyline from last fall. Instead we’re following young Sarah, and her former-bully-turned-friend Edward. And his improbably ugly dog. They run across a crying young girl. Some older kids made her drop her ice cream. Edward buys her a replacement before his sister makes him come home. And it looks like Sarah has a new friend. That’s all we’ve seen about this storyline so far.

Next Week!

SPORTS!

What’s Going On In Rex Morgan, M.D.? April – June 2017


This report on the recent plot developments of Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. is right and fitting for late June, 2017. If it’s a lot past that by the time you read it, things might have moved on. I’ll do my best to have more recent updates near the top of this link. Thanks for being interested, and do enjoy.

Rex Morgan, M.D.

2 April – 25 June 2017.

Last time, you’ll recall, Terry Beaty’s dismantling of the Cult of Sarah Morgan and the showering of untold fortunes on her had nearly completed. She was ready for her first day back at public school, as a mere normal, if amnesiac, student almost completely bereft of the ability to draw horsies. She’s saved from kids teasing her by Edward, the former bully she had publicly shamed on a school tour when she was on exhibit at The Local Art Museum. (Seriously, this is where the strip had been before Beatty took over the writing.) That’s totally how it works when you publicly shame the class bully. They usually become your protectors.

Edward: 'I'm sorry those kids were being such JERKS to you.' Sarah: 'Thanks for scaring them off. I know I'm the NEW kid and all, so some kids won't like me.' 'Don't pay any attention to those mean kids. They're just BULLIES like I used to be -- until you changed my mind.' 'I wish I could remember meeting you, Edward. The accident made me lose a lot of memories -- like a YEAR's worth.' 'Man -- that must be WEIRD!' 'It is. Feels like I was asleep for a LONG time. And woke up to a new house and new baby brother!' 'I'd like to go to sleep and forget my BIG SISTER!' 'What's wrong with your sister?' 'She's meaner than I EVER was! I just try to stay out of her way.' 'That's too bad. Maybe you could come play at my house if you ever need a break from her?' 'That'd be like EVERY DAY. Could I bring my dog?'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 16th of April, 2017. Quick show of hands here, people who’ve been bullied: has ‘don’t pay attention to those mean kids’ ever worked for anyone ever? Thought so. Anyway, I do enjoy the bit of kid wonder at the idea of losing a year’s worth of memories. It feels like actual kid responses to something that, as a grownup, would be pretty horrible, if nothing else for how tedious it would be to reset all the passwords you’d changed in the lost year.

With Sarah’s plot safely tucked off in public school, June Morgan decided she’d spent enough time as a stay-at-home mom not doing medicine. She wanted to get back to being the Doctor’s full-time assistant, hanging around the office and not doing medicine just like Doctor Rex. By late May she had leapt back in and everything was fine and dandy. So this all might sound like there’s not a lot soap-operatic happening in this soap-opera strip. Fair enough.

June: 'I thought you were managing the clinic just fine WITHOUT me?' Rex: 'We ARE, but ...' 'Well?' 'Summer and Michell are doing a perfectly fINE job here, it's just that ... well ...' 'OUT with it, Doc. I'm WAITING.' 'I simply MISS YOU being here. I mean, HOW many years have we spent running this clinic? It's just not the SAME without my FAvORITE nurse.' 'Do you have ANY idea how many POINTS you just earned?' 'Said the RIGHT thing, did I?' 'Sure did.' MEANWHILE, in Holly's Dad's collector garage. Niki: 'HOLY COW! When you said your dad collected cars, you weren't KIDDING!'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 7th of May, 2017. Never mind the question of whether Rex Morgan ever sees a patient. I like married-person banter, especially when it’s between married people who enjoy each other’s company. Love is one thing, but there’s something special in just liking being near someone.

The drama the past couple months has focused on Sarah’s driver/part-time babysitter, Kelly. While it’s a pretty good afterschool job as these go, her schedule conflicts with her boyfriend Niki’s, who’s a pizza deliverer. He gets a call to Holly, a girl from the arts school, and she kind of likes him, and her dad quite likes him. Holly’s Dad offers him the chance to drive some of his antique cars around town. Holly has to go with, of course, but you understand how wealthy fathers enjoy picking out trustworthy pizza-delivery guys and having them tool around town in their antique cars with their teenaged girls.

Really I’m comfortable with this. Put that way the story sounds like absurd wish-fulfillment. But, you know, the Rex Morgan, M.D. world has been one of basically pleasant people who like other people. And Niki had the in that he drove a vintage Beetle himself kept in respectable shape. I’ll buy the premise.

Where this gets soap-operatic is that this leaves Niki spending his free time driving around town with Holly in a sequence of antique cars. Which gets back to Kelly, who wants to know what her boyfriend is doing driving some other girl from the arts school around instead of her. Niki answers with all the self-awareness of a teenage guy who doesn’t understand why someone would be upset he was driving someone else’s car. So Kelly spent about eighteen months correctly identifying him as an idiot.

Kelly: 'Let's recap. You've been driving HOLLY around in her DAD's vintage cars while I'm BABY-SITTING for the Morgans.' Niki: 'Uh, yeah.' 'And LYING to me about it.' 'Gee, Kelly, I didn't think I was doing anything WRONG by hanging around with Holly.' 'REALLY?' 'Yeah - we're just FRIENDS. Nothing more to it.' 'Then why KEEP it from me?' 'Like I said, I was afraid you'd take it the WRONG WAY and be ANGRY or JEALOUS or something. Like you ARE right now.' 'Niki - if there's NOTHING going on between you two, you shouldn't have been afraid to TELL me. It's you NOT telling me that makes me think there IS something going on here.' 'But there ISN'T, Kelly - there REALLY isn't. It's just that the CARS are so cool.' 'And HOLLY being a PRETTY BLONDE has NOTHING to do with it at all?' 'Well, I GUESS she IS pretty and all, but ... OH, GEEZ, I said the WRONG THING, huh?'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 4th of June, 2017. I also appreciate the natural, unforced dumbness of Niki’s situation here. We’ve seen the whole story so we know he never had an unfaithful thought, and possibly never had any thought besides “shiny car”. Also, hey, a millennial who’s interested in cars as objects of particular historic and design and cultural importance; who knew?

Anyway, all seems to be getting better as Niki and Kelly go to the arts school’s production of Large Levi, put on when I guess somehow they couldn’t get the rights to Li’l Abner? I don’t know why Beatty didn’t just use the actual comic-strip-turned-stage-play. Maybe when he first mentioned it he thought he’d need some scene that couldn’t plausibly be in a high school presentation of Li’l Abner. Maybe the Al Capp estate is weird about perfectly appropriate and fair mentions of his intellectual property. I don’t know.

Having met Holly, and her girlfriend Crystal, and getting invited to their game night, Niki gets all smug about how Kelly was silly to be jealous. She points out how he’s an idiot. Fair enough.

And those are all the major plots developed over the past few months. There haven’t been other sidelines. There was some overlap during the transition from Sarah At School to June At Work to the Kelly and Niki show, but nothing too narratively complicated. And most of the time was spent on people screwing up their relationships, the way a soap opera might well. Nothing happened with senile industrialist Milton Avery, nor with Jordan and his housekeeping job. Pioneer comic magazine artist “Horrible” Hank Harwood hasn’t been seen since April.

Next Week: Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker unless something big comes up.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile index fell four points after traders noticed the Sirius XM Deep Tracks station playing some crazy obscure Kinks stuff and while they’re always playing the Kinks, I mean, what the heck? This is some stuff that even people who loved Soap Opera never get around to listening to.

262