So for all my What’s Going On In sequences there’s story comics I don’t do regular recaps of. This is because they’re in eternal reruns with no prospect of ever coming out again. I just read them for fun. One of these is Mandrake the Magician. Comics Kingdom has got three story tracks going on here. One is repeats of Fred Fredricks’s strips from the 90s. One of them is the daily stories from the 1940s. And one of them is the Sunday stories from the 40s where Mandrake keeps visiting strange lands of giants in the South Pacific. I wanted to bring up something wonderful from the daily 40s reruns.
So the current story. Some crook is doing that thing where they send taunting notes to the cops about what they’re going to steal and when, and what do you know but their predictions come true. So there you see the promise: “On Thurs., at 3:06 pm, another strike. The Royal Scarab. Try to stop me.’ And when Thurs. at 3:06 pm comes and the Royal Scarab is stolen, Mandrake has to start thinking hard for clues. And where did he get?
Welp. Yes, I suppose the Clay Camel might well be using the word “strike” because his love of bowling is impossible to put aside, even for the business of announcing his sudden surprising attacks on protected facilities. Anyway, Mandrake’s setting up, I swear, an “exhibition of mass hypnotism, as well as bowling” to catch a jewel thief whom I must assume is Crankshaft. I’ll keep you posted if something really glorious happens.
Anyway I’ve been thinking for twenty years now about the time Andy Richter said he and his wife “meant to go bowling ironically, but we ended up having actual fun”.
Are you hoping to get up to date on The Phantom‘s 248th weekday-continuity story, The Return of the Locust? Then you’re in luck, if you want to know how the story stands as of mid-January 2018. If you’re looking for later parts of the story, possibly including its conclusion, you’ll need a later essay. If I’ve written one about Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s comic strip, it should be at or near the top of this page. It has to share that page with the Sunday Phantom continuity, a separate story being revealed to us in parallel. But it’s there. This is about the strips running Monday-to-Saturday.
If you’re interested more in comic strips that are about mathematical topics, and the mathematics those imply, please consider my other blog. I try to round up the past week’s comics and explore the ones that give me something good to talk about.
The Phantom (Weekdays).
23 October 2017 – 13 January 2018.
The Ghost Who Walks had been encouraged to take up flying last time. He got a curious summons from The Locust, a Mandrake-class magician working out of the American Southwest. The Phantom flies his private plane to Walker’s Table, a remote and impossibly inaccessible pillar of rock somewhere in New Mexico that’s been in the Phantom’s family since the father of the first Phantom explored the desert in 1499. And it turns out there’s anti-aircraft gunners on the Table.
So he withdraws, and checks in with the local diner to ask what the heck’s going on. He talks with the guy who runs the diner. He’s called the General and speaks the way characters with backstory do, although I don’t know what it is. The Phantom Wiki doesn’t have anything logged about it either. May just be written like he’s an old hat. Anyway, the General explains how there’s squatters on top of the Table. They hook up with the helicopter pilot who’s been delivering supplies to people he just trusted were supposed to live atop a massive cylinder of rock.
The Phantom arranges for the helicopter pilot to fly him, at night, to somewhere out of gunnery range above the Table. And to drop him, in one of those cool wing-suits used by those people who talk with Conan O’Brien about how they jump off of skyscrapers. With this he’s able to land on the Table without drawing attention until he’s ready to shout at or punch people.
On the ground he finds Spock’s half-brother Sybok, sporting a long green coat and talking about how this proves everything he ever said. He’s got a bunch of followers, a bunch of mostly young, racially mixed young adults living in tents. They call Sybok the “Savior Z” and cling to his every word, such as “Stop him!” and “He’s getting away!” and “Don’t let him throw all our guns off the edge of the cliff!” and “don’t let him bludgeon us with that meteorite!”
After shoving the cult’s artillery over the edge and bluffing Savior Z into giving up his pistol, the Phantom asks what the heck their whole deal is. Savior Z tells his followers that this is exactly the way he foresaw all this playing out, and his followers are fools to question him. His followers look around and shrug and agree, this is definitely all in Savior Z’s vision and they’re not the fools who’d question this. Savior Z has some story about an amassing alien invasion fleet gathered behind the far side of the Moon, and insists The Phantom is the vanguard of the invasion.
Well. The disarmed Savior Z explains they can’t just leave because the elevator’s unsafe. He shows the skeptical Phantom what the problem is: it’s the concussion grenade he booby-trapped the elevator with. The unconscious Phantom dreams he’s visiting his son, off at his Tibetan finishing school. Although his dream starts to fall apart when he realizes it doesn’t make sense, a phenomenon that sometimes happens to dreaming people. (My love has this happen all the time and I’m always amazed by it.)
Some of Savior Z’s followers are a bit put off to learn the elevator was booby-trapped. But some of the others figure out why this isn’t a creepy, manipulative, controlling thing for their cult leader to do: he was protecting him from their own weakness. Lest his cult figure out they don’t even need him to dominate their thoughts anymore, Savior Z tells them that their doubts are exactly part of his plan, and for their part in fulfilling his vision they should enjoy this punch. Also, they should roll The Phantom over the edge of the cliff.
Are you looking for the latest updates about the happenings of The Phantom, the weekday continuity written by Tony DePaul and drawn by Mike Manley? Then you’re in luck! If you’re reading this in late October 2017 or maybe November 2017. If it’s a lot later than that the story will have progressed some. Maybe gotten resolved entirely and gone on to something not even hinted at here. In that case, you might look at this page, which should gather any Phantom essays yet to be written. Future-to-this-writing updates should be there, although they’ll be mixed in with the separate Sunday continuity, written by Tony DePaul and drawn by Terry Beatty.
Last time I checked in on the weekday continuity we were deep into The Curse Of Old Man Mozz, a story filled with portents of doom for the then-current Ghost Who Walks. Several times in past years there’ve been foreshadowings of the death of the 21st Phantom. And these foreshadowings grew more urgent when disputes between writer Tony DePaul and the syndicate led to his quitting the comic he’s written for decades. DePaul and the syndicate reconciled and he’s resumed writing. But the end of a story DePaul thought “would have been a superb sign-off to my Phantom career sure sounds like Kit Walker might have his last bad day.
The story started with Old Man Mozz having a vision of the future: The Phantom doing his work at a factory that seems to be churning out thugs at a good rate. One of them, hiding behind a waterwheel, gets the break of the century and this nobody shoots The Phantom dead. Diana Walker learns of the vision and gets the Ghost fully briefed on it. Though his friends advise laying low a couple weeks to let the problem pass, Walker insists on going through and doing something about the factory. The nobody killer finds the good hiding spot by the waterwheel and is set for Walker’s raid.
The Phantom has trouble getting his groove. He’s plagued by a sense of being watched. And thinking how he just knows this is where and when he’ll die, a sense he’s certain his ancestors had as their times came. Which, like Guinan told Riker, is a good way to get yourself killed. But he figures to go out with a bang, and a thud, and a klonk, and also setting all the bad guys’ cars on fire. In all the fire and klonking and panicky gunshots by the gang Walker feels the strange comfort of knowing he’s finally in the zone.
The guy Old Man Mozz foresaw dives for cover and waits for The Phantom to finish punching, smacking, or throwing bricks at everybody. His cover’s the waterwheel, as Mozz predicted. And The Phantom, figuring that everybody not punched hard enough has run into the forests, thinks the night over. Except Walker’s got this sense of suden doom, what with this just feeling like the prophecy of death he heard. The nobody at the waterwheel raises his gun, and gets shot and killed by an arrow.
Walker looks at the waterwheel guy, whom he walked past just like the prophecy said. And finds who fired the arrow. It’s Babudan, an archer from the Bandar tribe. He wasn’t sent by Diana exactly; she just described the problem to him and let him figure out whether to save the guy who’s been superheroing all over the place for decades now. Still, Kit Walker’s of surprisingly mixed emotions about not dying by a coward’s hand. He’d sent Kit Junior off to a remote Himalayan school so his successor wouldn’t even hear about his death when it happened. Diana’s “changed the future for all of us,” and he considers how that’s an “awesome responsibility she bears now, for all that follows”. Which, all right, is true enough but most of us carry on despite the existential haze.
Normal readers don’t need that much help. The Locust walks on stage, is shot as a trespasser, and dissolves into a cloud of locusts. The Phantom explains to one of the baffled archers that he knows the deal. He met the guy in New Mexico once. The Locust has magic powers to rival Mandrake the Magician, who you might remember does exist in the same continuity as The Ghost Who Walks. So that crazypants story about the far-future Time Ladies who kidnap Mandrake to teach them how to be spanked? That’s in-universe for this storyline. The Locust knows The Phantom isn’t an immortal unkillable creature of myth. Also he’s passing himself off as the creator-god of the Navajo people’s mythology, according to The Phantom. I’m sure there’s nothing going on with that which might be uncomfortable in this comic strip about the generations of white guys who’ve tasked themselves with the saving of an African nation.
The Phantom figures this is the Locust’s way of asking for a meeting, and the logical place is atop Walker’s Table, a remote desert butte accessible only by airplane, which The Phantom luckily has.
Not so luckily: as The Phantom flies in, an anti-aircraft gun crew starts shooting him from atop the Table. As we left the action Saturday, The Phantom was hiding from the artillery in the shadow of the butte, and working out what the heck to do next. It’s a good question for him. For me:
Mandrake the Magician is a story-adventure strip that ended its run surprisingly recently, even more recently than The Katzenjammer Kids did. It retired rather like you-know-what strip, abruptly and mid-story. King Features didn’t bother getting anyone even to finish off the story, and just went to rerunning things from the 90s. The strip had gotten pretty dire near its end, with awful artwork and hallucinatory stories. The 90s reruns have been eye-opening, because the artwork is incredibly better, but the stories are no less strange. By this I mean they ran a story where the female emperors of far-future Earth pluck Mandrake from the 20th Century in order to show him the wonders of the future and also spank them.
The current storyline, which started I think back during the Byzantine Empire and looks like it might end shortly before the Sun swells up to devour the planet, sees Mandrake finally marrying his longtime comic-strip romance target, uhm, Female Lead Character Who Probably Has A Name. And they’re marrying in three ceremonies for complicated political reasons and to do the same story where terrorists fail to wreck the wedding over and over again. They’re currently at the part of the ceremony where people shower gifts on the happy couple over and over again.
So here’s Monday’s strip. At Mandrake’s reclusive mountain lair security is tight. And then a “sea captain” just has a chunk of iceberg dropped into, I hope, the swimming pool. So my reactions:
Is this a gift from a grateful sea captain or an act of revenge he tried secure in the knowledge that in a couple generations it’ll be impossible to find naturally-formed blocks of ice this big? I mean, to say it’s “to cool your drinks” could be honest enthusiasm, but it’s also a pretty decent villain’s stinger comment.
Can any old sea captain just order up a helicopter to fly a chunk of iceberg over from Greenland? What is the permit process for this sort of thing?
Suppose it weren’t a sea captain. What if it were just, like, the captain of the Staten Island ferry? Would he be helicoptering in big chunks of the Statue of Liberty or something? Where would they drop that? Surely at some point in his life Mandrake’s done something to earn the eternal gratitude of a commuter ferry. Where’s the ferry captain’s gifts to him?
Was the iceberg helicoptered all the way from Greenland to Xanadu? Or was it shipped by various transportation modes? Of course I’m familiar with the workings of the 19th century international ice trade, which took ice from places like Massachusetts or Wisconsin and sent it to places like India, which made sense at the time because drinks got really quite hot in India. But most of that transportation infrastructure is gone. Did the sea captain take that whole iceberg chunk in his own ship’s hold and then hire a helicopter for the final steps? If so, how has this messed up his delivery schedule and for how long? If he hired someone else to do it, then, who?
Is it just me or is every Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan reading the narrative bubbles in a Coleman Francis voice? If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I mean the guy who did the narrative links on classic god-awful movie The Beast Of Yucca Flats. If you haven’t seen that movie, you’re probably making some wise life choices.
Do the people who slap flood-filled color arbitrarily on top of the daily strips like this know that ice is typically ‘white’ or maybe ‘blue’ with details of ‘grey’? Why do they think it should be ‘undercooked-turkey’ in color?
It’s easy to ask why the alien robot has dreadlocks, although asking it answers the question. We’re almost forced to ask why any alien robots wouldn’t have dreadlocks. I think the bigger question is how does the alien robot have dreadlocks, but that’s only longer if you use certain variable-width typefaces which kern the ‘h’ and ‘y’ together a bit tightly. The real question is why the alien robot dog has six legs when the alien robots seem to have only four limbs, although I bet it’s one of those “why does Goofy walk on two legs while Pluto walks on four if they’re both dogs” kinds of questions.
I didn’t read Mandrake the Magician in the 90s. For one, I still got most of my comics in the newspaper back then, and newspapers don’t run a lot of story strips because they’re pretty awful. Plus Mandrake’s pop cultural moment kind of came and went … I’m guessing sometime during Franklin Roosevelt’s administration? I don’t know. Anyway, I didn’t pay much attention to it until recent years when it got easy to see online every comic strip that is still running, like The Katzenjammer Kids Somehow, and Mandrake is among them.
Or it was, anyway. Last year in the midst of a meandering story the cartoonist had to stop, I believe it was due to health issues, and they reran cartoons from the 90s while King Features decided it didn’t really need to replace him after all. Since then they’ve stuck with mid-90s reruns and I get to see what I missed.
And for the most part it’s been really, embracingly, nutty, in that way a long-running legacy strip that no grownups are watching will get. The previous story — and I need to emphasize that I am not exaggerating or fibbing or intentionally misrepresenting the tale, just reporting what I remember the narrative being — featured Mandrake being abducted 50,000 years into the future, by the Lords of Earth. These Lords were three women, who’d divided the government of post-nuclear-war, paved-over Earth into three departments (Potholes, Time, and Other), brought him to a crystal-glazed replica of his 20th-century home and showed him domed undersea replicas of major cities. They also introduced him to robot duplicates of his friends (who, back in the 20th century, did a quick search of all Earth and couldn’t find him, so were stuck for ideas) and arch-nemesis, until he had enough of this and spanked them, which they found thrillingly novel so they sent him home. And that was it. That was the story.
The current one is that Mandrake’s impossibly old father has come out of the Tibetan Or Whatever Mountains to poke around society, and that’s been mostly a tale of how he got past the customs guy by using his superlative powers of illusion. The past week he’s got into talking about he uses cosmic powers to travel the, er, cosmos, and I am wholly and unironically charmed by the “life unlike our own” shown in today’s strip, the long centipedes wearing the uncomfortable radio-equipped headphones we all used back in 1978. I don’t know where this is going — nowhere, is my guess — but at least it’s delightful along the way.