What’s Going On In Mark Trail? Is the Mark Trail writing changing again? June – August 2022


I’m aware Jules Rivera’s tenure on Mark Trail hasn’t been to everyone’s tastes. The more cartoony art style, and the soft reboot of the characters, hasn’t worked for many. That characters and, especially, the narrator lean in to delivering jokes more has also bothered some. They liked the strip more when it was square.

So I’m taking my preface to point out something that’s grown more prominent the last few months. And that is that the writing — as in, the words on the page — is becoming more square again. The stories haven’t changed, particularly in running separate Mark and Cherry stories. But we’re seeing Mark Trail say things like “Holy guacamole! Rex handled those Canada geese well! He’s sure got a way with animals.” Or “Oh, for Pete’s sake! Cricket Bro is locked in the EUV! We have to get him out!” We’re also seeing more exaggerated reaction poses for individual characters. And minor character names that are more on the nose, like “Jimmy Songbird” the keytar player.

It’s a return to a more stodgy, slightly off mode of your classic Jack Elrod narrative. It’s not a complete reversion. For one, I feel Rivera is doing this as deliberate effect; Elrod, my sense is, just wrote like that. Mark Trail continues his new habit of internalized thoughts. Sometimes he even says things without exclamation points.

I imagine someone who can’t stand Rivera’s style will not be moved by this observation. But, for those who aren’t sure? You might enjoy the comic strip more if you’re cued to look for it.

This should catch you up to late August 2022 in the Mark Trail story. If you’re reading this after about November 2022, or news about the comic strip comes out, there should be a more useful essay here. Also, on my other blog, I looked at a couple comic strips for their mathematical themes. Hope you enjoy.

Mark Trail.

12 June – 28 August 2022.

Professor Bee Sharp had rushed the DJ’s booth, at the Bettancourt’s NFT scam launch party. He talked the DJ into playing his tracks. These turned his investigations into “Cricket Bro” Rob and “Crypto Bro” Sterling Bettancourt into EDM. The revelation? The NFTs are a scam and the crypto is worthless garbage. Really, uh, caught me off-guard with that fast-breaking Zontar story there, Floyd.

[ The Cricket Bro Cryptocurrency event is lit. Literally! ] DJ: 'Holy smokes! For real! The forest is on fire. Everyone, evacuate!' [ Meanwhile, Mark struggles with another emergency. ] A smashed-up electric utility vehicle has hit against a tree; Mark Trail and Bee Sharp watch, horrified. Mark Trail: 'Oh, for Pete's sake! Cricket Bro is locked in the EUC! We have to get him out!'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 20th of June, 2022. In before the weird T-6000 fanboys explain it’s perfectly normal for cars to lock up and catch on fire after a low-speed crash into a tree.
Rob is angered by the EDM lyrics, and also the revelation that EDM has lyrics. He charges at Mark Trail and Bee Sharp using the only weapon at hand, his Electric Utility Vehicle. He crashes immediately into a tree, and the car locks up and catches fire. The two smash open the car’s windshield and drag an angry Rob out. The crash starts a wildfire, though. The partygoers evacuate, and leave the area. But not before a piece of the half-pipe built for the event falls on Rusty Trail. Rusty calls for help, and sees what he believes to be the Seaside Specter. We don’t see what happens, or what he “really” saw. We see him reunited with his parents, safe and sound, though.

The wildfire doesn’t grow much, and the local fire authorities credit our friend the beaver. Beaver dams around the location kept the local area moist, limiting the fire’s spread. Oregon Fish and Wildlife wants to talk with the Bettancourts, but they’ve fled to California. And, with Happy Trail considering whether he can sell flame-roasted cricket protein bars, the story comes to a natural end, the 2nd of July.


The current stories began the 4th of July. There are two pieces, as has become traditional, one following Cherry Trail and one following Mark Trail. I’ll recap Cherry Trail’s first.

Her father, Doc Davis, asks for help at the veterinary clinic. There’s all kinds of animals suffering allergic reactions or chemical burns. It looks like pesticide poisoning, but that’s not usually this serious. And it becomes personal for the Trails, as Sassy, their other dog that I forgot about too gets the same rash. Mark Trail figures it’s some kind of weed killer, but who’s using such strong weed killer out here in the Lost Forest?

[ Cherry receives shocking news ... ] Cherry: 'You're hiring Honest Ernest to do your gardening instead of me?' Violet Cheshire: 'Cherry, there's plenty left for you to do. Ernest is only doing the lawn treatment.' Cherry: 'Treatment ? Like with pesticides and weedkillers?' Honest Ernest: 'The very best! I'm using a new compound of my own creation!' [ He holds out a bottle, foreshortened ] 'Honest Ernest's lawn libation!'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 5th of August, 2022. I’m not sure about this home-brewed toxin stuff, but I do respect anyone in the year 2022 who’s out making “libations”.
I mean, it’s the Sunny Soleil Society. We all knew that going in, but how they’re responsible takes time to reveal itself. Early August, reader time, we get that. Violet Cheshire wants that big mass of native plants ripped out to make a proper lawn, for the teatime garden. And she’s hired Honest Ernest, bug exterminator, to do it. He’s got a great new compound “of my own creation” to control weeds and insects. That “thud” you heard was the jaws of everybody at the EPA and FDA hitting the floor. Ernest is happy to give Cherry a sample, though, and she takes it back to Doc to test how corrosive it is. It quickly dissolves away the dirt on a penny, then the penny, then the pan the penny’s in, the table, the floor, the basement, and five feet of Piedmont anorthosite underneath. And that’s how far that story’s gotten.


The 14th of July saw Mark Trail’s story split off from Cherry’s. Bill Ellis offers a choice of stories. One is tracking a rampaging elephant reported in four states. The other is for Teen Girl Sparkle, and it’s about a New Age healing center with an animal-therapy focus. Mark Trail picks the boring safe one, and we get Amy Lee back in the strip. She explains how it’s not so much a healing center as a roadside zoo. But he’ll be working with celebrity stunt driver-turned-Bikbok animal wrangler Rex Scorpius. Also, the New Age resort may be some kind of tiger cult, you know how these things go.

Amy Lee, explaining scenes we see illustrated: 'Mark, this job pairs you with Rex Scorpius, famous for going from stunt driver to naturalist. You'll sign up for a spa package at the tiger touch center in Texas. This place claims to provide animal therapy. The center was created by Tess Tigress, an animal expert who wrote the pestseller 'Just Pet The Cat'.' Mark Trail: 'Petting an animal has been shown to reduce stress, but not when that animal is a 500-pound tiger!'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 28th of July, 2022. I don’t know, the tiger seems quite comfortable with it.

On scene in Houston Mark Trail meets up with … Diana Daggers again! She’s working with Rex Scorpius as he’s not doing NFT/crypto scam money. Also, hey, she was in Raccoon Rangers with Amy Lee. She’s where Lee got the idea of pitching this job to Mark Trail. She wanted Mark Trail because she believes Rex Scorpius is in real danger. Not so much physical danger, as emotional. He’s been going through some major stuff and guys like him get sucked into cults like this.

It’s happened before. She mentions how a couple years ago one of her stars had a mental break. He’d left town to film a movie in a lost forest and vanished. This sure seems to refer to James Allen’s final, abandoned, story for Mark Trail. In that story bad-boy action hero Jeremy Cartwright comes to Lost Forest to be kind of a jerk. If this is Jeremy Cartwright, he’s gone off to a Naturalist cult in Mendocino County so I guess we don’t need to worry about him anymore.

[ Mark Trail watches the live filming of an animal-themed tv show ] Mark Trail ;'How exciting!' Rex, addressing his camera: 'I'm Rex Scorpius and this is 'Animal Rexpertise'. Today we'll confront these fierce Canada geese ... who made their home in the yard of famous musician Jimmy Songbird.' As the geese honk, Jimmy Songbird says, 'help! I cannot play my keytar in such hostility!' [ Looks like the geese have their own musical notes. ]
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 17th of August, 2022. Oh, yeah, for soem reason Mark Trail decided to go to this Texas cult dressed in what he thinks of as cowboy garb.
Mark Trail’s first meeting with Rex Scorpius goes well enough. He’s filming an episode about removing Canada geese from the yard of famed keytar musician Jimmy Songbird. Removing Canada geese is the stuff for professionals and … I guess Rex Scorpius is one, or brought in experts for his show, as that goes well enough. Mark Trail tries to catch up with Rex and ask about his secret, but Rex has to get to bed and to the gym. Anything to spend time not with other people. I get that.

And that’s about as far as that story’s gotten. We’re not yet to the tiger cult. I trust this will all play out in the next eleven weeks, by the time I get back to recapping Mark Trail plots.

Sunday Animals Watch!

  • Spiders, 12 June 2022. With advice about how to get more spiders!
  • Native-Plant Lawns, 19 June 2022. This is where that smug friend showing a picture of a yard that’s covered in what turn out to be invasive Siberian wheats got their idea.
  • Goats, 26 June 2022. They can mow lawns and chew on lab coats!
  • Bald Eagles, 3 July 2022. Remember when we almost killed them all? Glad we’re not trying to that anymore … right?
  • Turtles, 10 July 2022. Don’t mess up their work. They’re busy defeating Shredder and the whole Foot Clan for us.
  • Wildfires, 17 July 2022. Let’s stop setting them, OK? Think we can do that a little?
  • Sea Turtles, 24 July 2022. Could we stop making their lives harder than they need to be too?
  • De-Pavement, 31 July 2022. Turns out having soil and plants and trees and stuff is good even for cities.
  • Rabbits and Hares, 7 August 2022. Which ones are the clever ones, and which are the ones that are full of tricks?
  • Sharks, 14 August 2022. Are we making their lives harder than they need to be too? Why do we keep doing this?
  • Canada Geese, 21 August 2022. Just … like … don’t start with them. Oof.
  • Scorpions, 28 August 2022. Don’t start anything with them, they won’t start anything with you. Check your boots.

Next Week!

Is another member of the Weston clan making a complete mess of their lives? Why yes they are! Are we getting dubious-to-bad relationship advice passed off as somehow acceptable? Hoo yeah. It’s all sorts of cautionary tales in Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth, next week, if all goes well.

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? Shouldn’t Boog be like 18 by now? June – August 2022


The story in Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley starred Boog Skinner, one of the fifth generation of the comic’s central family. He was born in September 2004, implying that he should be eighteen. But anyone can see he’s not. I’m not sure how old to peg his age, since I’m at the age where every kid looks either three, ten, or sixteen. I’d put him at ten. He’s old enough to be interested in the idea of girls, at least. And to be able to build a plastic scale model without comic mishaps. I couldn’t claim he wasn’t fourteen or so, but he’s not leaving-high-school old.

What’s going on is that while the identifying gimmick of Gasoline Alley is the characters aging, they don’t age in real time. It’s not as static as it was in the 1970s and 80s, when the aging froze. But it is slower than real time. Given that a story can take a month or more of reader time to do a couple days of character time that seems a fair way to show enough of characters’ lives. Reasonable people may disagree.

So this should catch you up to late August 2022 in the comic strip’s story. There’s likely a more useful plot recap if you’re reading this after about November 2022. And if any news about the comic breaks I’ll share it at that link too.

And over on my mathematics blog I look at comic strips, now and then, and here’s one of those essays. I figure to have another Reading the Comics post tomorrow, all going well. You might be interested.

Gasoline Alley.

5 June – 20 August 2022.

Rufus and Joel got to Hollywood to take up their movie jobs. Only it was the wrong Hollywood. They were in Florida, by a mistake we might have seen coming. They give their last 50 cents to a beggar and immediately find a loose $20 in the street. They notice it’s 11:11 and wonder if the vanished beggar might have been an angel, reflecting a superstition I never heard before. I’d checked the GoComics comments to see if anyone knew more about it. One of them this was the same kind of thinking that brought that Comet Hale-Bopp cult to kill themselves. This is what happens when you take seriously the Skeptical Inquirer articles about Society. Stick to the articles about how, like, these chupacabra sightings were more likely a raccoon with mange.

Joel: 'Rufus! Good thing you don't work fo' NASA!' Rufus: 'How's that?' Joel: 'If you navimagatd a rocket ship t'Mars --- it'd end up so'where like yo'head!' Rufus: 'How's that?' Joel: 'It'd be in a empty black hole in space! See?' (He points to the back background of the scene.) Rufus: 'I don't see nothin'!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 7th of June, 2022. Hey, wait a minute … navigating a rocket ship to Mars? That’s foreshadowing! We never get foreshadowing!

Anyway they phone home to learn they were fired and there’s nothing to do but return to Gasoline Alley. They do, along the way spotting a meteor that serves as transition to the current story, which started the 1st of July.


Boog Skinner and his girlfriend Charlotte are stargazing and making a wish on the falling star. Charlotte’s little brother Jimmy comes in to remind us he’s not dead yet. Jimmy we met a couple years ago. He suffers from Tiny Tim Syndrome, suffering an unspecified fatal illness that some new treatment helps. He’s still getting better. Boog has the idea to build a rocket ship for Jimmy, who’s not only a train enthusiast but also a spaceships guy.

His grandfather Slim Skinner offers his help, and his metal junk pile. The building of a Flash Gordon-esque rocket goes swiftly. In days they have something ready to launch. Ah, but Rufus and Joel, getting home just in time, ask with what fuel? Slim offers his El Diablo Fuego-hot jalapeño chili pepper chews. That’s not enough to fuel a rocket. But add a bit of Joel’s cousin Zeb’s high-potency medicinal home-brew “koff medicine”? Well now you’ve got something ready to take off before you can even say “lunch not launch”.

Looking over the homemade, Flash Gordon-style rocket; Polly is flying near the cockpit and awks at it. Jimmy: 'Will it fly, Boog?' Boog: 'We don't know! It's not been tested!' Then everyone turns as smoke pours in from off screen. Boog: 'What's that noise?' Charlotte: 'Uh-oh!' Jimmy: 'It's shakin' an'quakin!' Rufus: 'It's blastin' off!' Slim: 'But we didn't do the countdown yet!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 30th of July, 2022. Joel later says that ashes from his pipe started the ignition so don’t worry, the rocket liftoff is explained and Jim Scancarelli is way ahead of us snarkers.

So it does! The homemade contraption lifts off and soon passes the Moon. And, according to the news, soars to Mars, NASA calculating it’ll arrive in minutes. Boog’s rocket lands on Mars in sight of Percy, the Perseverance rover that landed on Mars back in 2021. (Here I learned something; I thought ‘Percy’ was the comic strip’s jokey nickname for the rover. Not so.) And, more amazing, Perseverance detects life inside the rocket. Through its porthole we see Polly, Charlotte’s parrot, begging to be let out.

It’s a dream, of course, as Polly tells Boog over the TV feed. Boog wakes up, regretting only that he has to do it all over again. But if it was all a dream, why does he have Slim’s bag of jalapeño chews?

Joel: 'How did that parrot get inside the rocket?' Boog: 'How did she survive the trip to Mars?' Jimmy: 'It's like a dream!' Polly, from Mars, heard over the TV footage on Jimmy's tablet: 'AWK! Awk! It IS A DREAM! Wake up, Boog! Get me outta here!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 11th of August, 2022. I like this as a way of declaring the dream over and it even matches real experiences where noticing you’re in a dream can end the dream. Also, uh, I guess Polly’s female? I didn’t know that.

Anyway he rebuilds his rocket, as a kitbashed model this time, and brings it to Jimmy. And that’s where things stand now.

Next Week!

Who’s responsible for soaking the Lost Forest in so much toxic lawn chemicals that it’s making the local pets sick, and why is it the Sunny Soleil Society? Are we not going to chase a rogue elephant? And why is a nature-show streamer in danger of being slurped up into a roadside zoo cult? All this and Canada geese in Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail, next week’s story strip, if things go to plan. See you then.

MiSTed: Safety First (part 16 of 16)


And now, finally, the finish of Mystery Science Theater 3000 inspired by Johnny Pez’s “Safety First”. The whole of the MiSTing is at this link. The previous installment put for the thesis that humans, including our brains, are three-dimensional and therefore we have a 13-symmetry eigenvector of psychology. This will lead us to why there’s a God.

A small content warning. The source being riffed here speaks about “mental retardation” and about IQs as though they were worth anything. It’s about trying to understand the existence of different mental abilities in people, but, if you don’t need that nonsense in your recreational reading you’re right and should maybe skip this. Or jump to the closing sketch, which isn’t based on any of this Scientific Proof Of God stuff.

In the closing sketch here I was finally able to use many of the jokes that my friend Rob S Rice donated when I was stuck for a host sketch.

As for references that need explaining. Mm. The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-In-The-Moon Marigolds is the title of a play and a movie that I remembered hearing of in the 80s (the movie was from 1972). I never saw it. Tom’s riff about “oh-four-w-w-NUG” is a Henry Blake line from an early season of M*A*S*H. “Gun repair, bookkeeping, and accounting” was the closing refrain of a longrunning series of commercials offering you courses you could take at home. “Seven sixes in a circle” is lifted from Bloom County. The line about who would believe Asimov as French alludes to his use of the name “Paul French” as pseudonym for a couple juvenile novels. “Love of Chair” is a reference to The Electric Company, and I think marks the start of my putting complete nonsense in my closing credits here.

The closing sketch has a line about mathematicians at an airport. There exists a joke that mathematicians tell about putting Polish mathematicians on one side of an airplane. It’s a pun about these things called ‘poles’ and what their placement on the abstract sort of plane implies for a dynamical system. I make no use of this pun and I can’t think why not, as it would have made sense to as many as two people in my audience, with me as one of them. Well, something for the remastered edition, I guess.


> on
> "Intelligence" with the past 65 years on "Personality",

TOM: And the leftover ten years of daytime talk shows.

> thus explaining
> the ENTIRE 100 YEAR HISTORY of Psychometry.

CROW: Except, strangely, for 1987.

>
> BUT… this isn’t why Hammond fainted..!

JOEL: It was because he had low blood sugar.

> At the moment that he
> realized that the Structural Model was 4-DIMENSIONAL (not 3-dimensional),

TOM: And that meant suddenly he had plenty of room to put all his stuff!

> and that it was caused by the entire 4D space-time metric….

CROW: Wait, I thought we weren’t converting to metric anymore.

> he also
> IMMEDIATELY REALIZED that therefore, the oblique 4×4 Metric of E,N,P,g

JOEL: And a touch of R for good luck.

> represented the CURVATURE OF PSYCHOMETRIC SPACE,

TOM: And its effect on man-in-the-moon marigolds.

> and that therefore
> there was a SINGLE HIGHER ORDER FACTOR caused by this curvature,

CROW: The pursuit of girls!

> and
> which had to be caused by the "brain growth deficit" discussed above

JOEL: Everything else had a good alibi.

> (since IQ loaded on it from Mental retardation IQ measurements) and
> THEREFORE, this factor had to be the GOD that was suspected all along

TOM: It does?

> from the brain growth studies above (Section A. above)…

CROW: Wait, they were all Section A.

> therefore
>
> HAMMOND HAD DISCOVERED THE WORLD’S FIRST SCIENTIFIC PROOF OF GOD

TOM: It’s just a shame he’s keeping it to himself.

>
> Not only that, since the psychometry metric

JOEL: And its measurement in the psychometric metric metric…

> is CAUSED by the Space-time
> Metric…

CROW: So gravity causes personality?

> i.e. X,Y,Z,t causes E,N,P,g (g=IQ),

TOM: Oh-four-w-w-NUG.

> and it is known that the
> curvature of space-time is Gravity,

JOEL: And gravity is what makes the world go around.

CROW: Gravity and angular momentum.

> is seen therefore, that Gravity is
> the cause of God.

TOM: So at mass we should be praying to gravity?

>
> Needless to say, Hammond immediately checked out all of the details

CROW: If it’s needless, why is he saying it?

> from anatomy, Biology, Neurology,

TOM: Ichthyology,

> Psychometry, Factor Analysis,

JOEL: Etymology,

> Relativity, Gravity,

TOM: Philology,

> Theology, Psychology,

CROW: Bicycleology,

> History, Zoology,

JOEL: Vexillology,

> Embryology, Philosophy etc.

TOM: Gun repair, bookkeeping, and accounting.

> etc. etc. To make a long story short,
> 20 years of grueling 16 hour a day

CROW: But … it hasn’t been five years yet.

> labor searching for the Structural
> Model finally found it…

JOEL: It’s always in the last place you look.

> and in what must be characterized as one of
> the most amazing accidents of modern science….

TOM: Seven sixes in a circle look like a dandelion!

> turned out to yield
> the world’s first and only,

JOEL: The one and only! The man, the myth, the …

> SCIENTIFIC PROOF OF GOD.

ALL: Ta-da-daaaaa!

[ JOEL picks up TOM, starts to leave. ]

>
>

CROW: [ As he leaves ] Boy, that’d be neat to hear about.

[ 1.. 2.. 3.. 4.. 5.. 6.. ]

[ SOL DESK. JOEL rolls up into view behind the desk; CROW, TOM, and GYPSY are next to him. ]

JOEL: Whew. So, any thoughts about what we’ve learned today, guys?

CROW: I realized there’s a major historian named Gibbon, and a major kind of ape named Gibbon. I think that’s important.

GYPSY: You suppose the historian ever sat down in a chair, reclined, and fell?

TOM: *I* realized there’s a Cato the Censor, a Cato the Younger, and a Cato the Green Hornet’s sidekick.

CROW: I ended up wondering if joining Hari Seldon was better than joining the Hare Krishnas. I don’t think mathematicians go around bugging people at airports, but that might depend on what airline they’re flying.

GYPSY: Do you suppose Seldon harried people often?

TOM: The U. S. Robots people had to cancel the DRR project, because nobody could say R.D.R.R. without giggling.

CROW: Now, I heard that when Asimov wrote a lot of those robot short stories he was working out a philosophy of a C/Fe culture, the carbon-based humans taken on as partners to the iron-based robots.

TOM: Which made *me* think if Asimov were French —

GYPSY: And who would believe Asimov as French?

TOM: They’d be working towards a Fi-Fi culture, where people just don’t make fun of their miniature poodles.

CROW: That sort of thing takes a lot of gaul.

TOM: Which, come to think of it, Ceasar had, didn’t he? I bet he enjoyed his salad days.

GYPSY: Never got over the Germans getting over the Rhine, though.

TOM: A lot of people have that problem, though. Say, you know, a Crowe turned Gladiator not too long ago.

CROW: That’s right. Found the emperor not too Commodious, either.

TOM: Went after him with a gladiolus, which in Latin means either a ‘little sword’ or a flower.

GYPSY: And you’re in a lot of trouble if you get the two mixed up.

TOM: I bet there’s people who mix up the Carthage Rome destroyed with the Carthage in Mississippi.

CROW: It’s a natural mistake, if you’ve ever been there.

TOM: What about you, Joel? What have you learned?

JOEL: That I should stop asking you such open-ended questions. [ Looking up ] What do you think, sirs?

[ DEEP 13. TV’S FRANK stands in front of a brick wall built of those architect’s toys, holding a microphone, with a spotlight on him; DR. FORRESTER sits at the card table with a glass and an (open) soda bottle. ]

FRANK: You know, a lot of people thought Asimov was a God — he was one of them! [ Rim shot. ] It all spiked in Eisenhower’s reelection campaign, when everybody liked Ike. [ Again. ]

DR. F: [ Turning around, to face camera, as TV’s FRANK continues. ]Ahem. All right, Joel. You guys got off a little easy this week.

FRANK: [ Background ] Not everybody liked Ike. Couple editors, they spiked Ike, which he didn’t like. You know, he hung around a group called the Black Widowers, and that was even before the web. It never got too sticky, though. Only rarely turned venomous.

DR. F: And, mark my words, when we find the movie, or whatever, that finally does drive you mad, it will *so* let me take over the world. So *there*. No matter what you think.

[ DR. FORRESTER drops a couple Ever-vescent tabs into his drink, and then pours fresh soda into it. The result is a big explosion of foam and fizz like a small volcano; DR. FORRESTER jumps back. TV’s FRANK continues as if nothing were wrong. The excessive foaming continues. ]

DR. F: Frank! Do something!

FRANK: Do I get a medal?

DR. F: No, Frank.

FRANK: Muttley always got one … [ noticeing DR. FORRESTER’s angered look ] … I’ll just get the button.

DR. F: [ As TV’s FRANK moves off screen. ] Yeah, why don’t you? And the mop, too.

FRANK: [ From off stage ] And be sure to tip your waitresses.


                        \   |   /
                         \  |  /
                          \ | /
                           \|/
                        ----o----
                           /|\
                          / | \
                         /  |  \
                        /   |   \

[ SOUND of foaming continues through to teaser. ]

Mystery Science Theater 3000 and its characters and situations are the creation of Best Brains, Inc. "Safety First" is the creation of Johnny Pez, and is used with permission. The Three Laws of Robotics, Powell, Donovan, and their situations are the property of the estate of Dr. Isaac Asimov. The rants and spam "I Want To Sue The Murderous Pope" by jmck…@bonzai.net, "An Open Letter to President Clinton" by Ken H. Seto, "Past GALACTIC WARFARE in OUR Solar System" by Robert McElwaine, and the "SPOG FAQ" by HAMMOND are the creations of their respective authors. This is not an attempt to claim copyright or any other right over the used material. The MiSTing as a whole is the creation of Joseph Nebus. "Foundation And Its Friends" and the final sketch could not have been completed without the timely and timeless assistance of Rob S. Rice, who wrote all the funny puns; any mishandled or unfunny ones are the fault of Joseph Nebus. Tune in tomorrow for "Love of Chair."

> "Arthur," said Donovan, "just what would it take to convince
> you that the station was safe?"


[ The End … ??? ]

What’s Going On In Prince Valiant? When were Prince Valiant’s chronicles written? March – May 2022


One recent Prince Valiant strips is about the evacuation of Londinium. The text mentions how Valiant “cannot know that a much greater city will one day rise from its ashes”. Prince Valiant lives roughly in Justinian’s time, the mid-6th century. So the historical Londinium had been abandoned about a century by then, but I don’t know an obvious reason we can’t believe in a small garrison hanging around the old walls.

The convention of the strip is that it’s an illustration of scrolls telling the legend of Valiant. So this suggests a scroll author who lived after London was reestablished. (There was, in Justinian’s time, a Saxon settlement in what is now Westminster. But the story makes clear that’s not the city we’re looking at.) Sometime after the seventh century, at minimum, and really the later the better, to make the case for London as a great city. But, as often happens with Prince Valiant trivia, I don’t know when we’re supposed to take the scrolls as written.

Still, this should catch you up to late May 2022 in Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant. If any news about the comic breaks, or if you’re reading this after about August 2022, a more useful plot summary should be here. Thanks for journeying into legend with me and all that.

Prince Valiant.

6 March – 22 May 2022.

Prince Valiant coaxed Morgan Le Fay to produce some impressive pyrotechnics. They hoped to evacuate the soldiers holding Londinium, an outpost so forgotten they think King Arthur still reigns in Camelot. It worked well enough to get the garrison halfway across the Thames before their Saxon beseigers caught up.

Le Fay climbs under the bridge. She’s been avoiding the sea because she owes too great a debt to the occult forces living deep within it. But the river is an estuary, at Londinium, and she calls to some great watery force. It rushes in, with a tidal wave that smashes the bridge, and that kills many of the Saxons.

On the Thames bridge, Val knocks aside Wassa's spear with almost casual disdain, driving the Saxon war chief to even greater rage. Wassa thought yesterday to have an easy slaughter of Londinium's remaining warriors, but today his enem is on the verge of escaping his wrath. Under the battle, Morgan has pulled her way into the river and now stands braced against a pier. She begins a wailing, otherworldly summoning as Val holds back Wassa and his followers, allowing the main body of evacuees time to exit the bridge. And, in the waters below the current has suddenly reversed itself! A surging tide rushes in with supernatural speed from the far-off sea and the old bridge begins to vibrate and then quake before a massive wall of water roaring and crashing up the Thames! All combat ceases before the horrifying spectacle, and Val remembers Morgan's words about the dark, watery forces that would come for her, should she ever again attempt to cross the sea!
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 27th of March, 2022. This storyline maybe isn’t the one with the highest death toll, at least since I started recapping these plots. There was that story about five years ago, where the mad Azar Rasa opened the “Soul of Asia” and set off some explosion big enough to leave a mushroom cloud. But the crashing of a tidal wave to kill however many Saxons (the text says “a hundred” but that surely just means “a rather large number”) feels more bloody, somehow. It’s effective, and exciting, but it feels an order of magnitude more serious than everything that had been going on.

But not Prince Valiant. Nor, to their surprise, Morgan Le Fay. The waters recede, leaving them in an oak tree. Le Fay surmises that the hundred Saxon souls were enough for the watery powers, and that their accounts are settled. The survivors of the garrison are won over, though, to Le Fay’s heroism. Word of her powers spread, clearing raiders away from their path. And when Sir Galahad, meeting them from Camelot, tries to take Le Fay into custody the garrison refuses. Some pledge loyalty to her. She declares she’s going home. And that’s where we stand.

Next Week!

We see a convergence of the world of celebrity impersonators, and drug running, and hypno-glasses, and masked vigilantes who aren’t in Rex Morgan M.D. It’s Joe Staton, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy next week, or at least that’s my plan.

What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? What is Scooter’s deal? February – April 2022


Eli “Scooter” Borden seems to be a key figure in this season’s story in Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp. We met him challenging folks with his baseball trivia. He’s part of the scheming to help pitcher Gregg Hamm cover up his lousy eyesight. His girlfriend’s on the girls’ tennis team.

He picked his own nickname. He says “without it, I’m a too-short kid named Eli”, but that with it, coaches figure he’s a small speedy guy. We do see Coach Thorp and Assistant Coach Kaz talking about how he’s fast. It’s not clear to me whether they’ve fallen for his branding or because they’ve watched him move.

This should get you caught up to late April 2022 in Gil Thorp. If you’re reading after about July 2022, or news about the strip comes out, a more useful essay should be here. Also, on my mathematics blog I try to talk about mathematics-themed comic strips. Must admit it’s been a little slow for that, lately, though. Maybe it’ll pick up. Meanwhile, let’s get back to the high school sports.

Gil Thorp.

7 February – 23 April 2022.

Pranit Smith, on the boys’ basketball team, figured he was pretty good at sports betting. Then he snuck his way into a real for-money sports betting web site. And then friends started asking him to place bets for them. And, thing is, he takes bets before he takes the cash to cover them. When many of them don’t win — and even his own bets fail — he’s in a fix, since the people who did win want their payouts.

Achebe: 'You want me to *hurt* guys so they'll pay their gambling debts?' Smith: 'No! Um, not exactly. I mean, a threat should do it, mostly. Or just a hint.' Achebe, talking to Gil Thorp: 'You gotta step in, Coach. This is crazy.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 26th of February, 2022. So this explains why the strip made a point of mentioning Gordon Achebe’s joining the basketball team. The text never mentions the racial component of Smith hoping this large (he was a football player) Black kid trying to be threatening. It’s an extra element of danger that I’m not sure the story meant for Smith to realize he was flirting with.

He has a brilliant idea. Like most brilliant ideas the kids in the strip have, it’s dumb. He asks Gordon Achebe, who again I think was on the football team before, to … you know, go mention to people who still owe Smith money. Not beat them up or anything, understand, just kind of … you know, noticeable and intimidating.

Achebe goes right to Coach Thorp, who once again can not believe what his idiot players are up to. He walks Smith through exactly how dumb this scheme is. And suspends him from games indefinitely. Smith also gets a five-day suspension. But Smith gets in line fast and behaves well enough that Thorp lets him into the final game of the season. He does well, scoring 13 points on a game that’s a 14-point win anyway.

Smith’s even able to solve his deadbeat-bettors problem. He lets it be known that his suspension can’t end until he turns over the names of everyone who owes him money, so, people pay up. He’s bluffing, but it works. He tosses off a joke about how if he’s this good at betting there are online poker sites. His friends toss him out of the story.


Meanwhile, the girls’ basketball team also had a story, unrelated to this one. Team Captain Hollis Talley freaks out on learning she was at a party where some teammates were drinking alcohol. Almost, anyway. They had two cans of hard seltzer for six people. She sees this as something that could threaten the team and/or her appointment to the US Air Force Academy. Her team responds to her concern with eye-rolling disdain and nominate her for Team Karen.

Talley: 'Drinking could cost us suspensions --- and if things blow up, the Air Force Academy could turn me away.' Teammates: 'So, this is you being selfish 'cause we want to be a little stupid.' 'Let's get out of here.' Sasaki: 'That went well.' Talley: 'I'm a born leader.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 18th of February, 2022. This is a nice little show of the different levels of maturity within the group here. Talley can see how something that is, really, harmless (two hard seltzers for six kids) could still explode and leave her covered in blame. Her teammates can’t see how their actions could have a consequence and can only understand Talley as selfish or controlling. And there is a struggle in establishing yourself as a leader so that people go along with you even if they don’t agree with your stated reasons. Talley getting along that path, even if she doesn’t get there, is a big element of this story. And, to add some pleasant ambiguity, there are absolutely no consequences for the drinking at the party. No grown-ups ever learn about it (that we know about), nobody gets in trouble, nothing bad happens except her teammates think Talley is power-tripping.

She has some constructive moping about this, and about the team’s poor performance and worse morale. Talley asks Coach Mimi Thorp to move her from center to guard, displacing her friend Cathy Sasaki. And working outside of regular practice with Maddie Bloom, another guard. This works well for the team, which gets them some compelling wins against teams that had been beating them. The important thing is getting the team to work. One person, and I’m not sure who, says she hopes that if she is Team Captain next year she’ll be able to make choices like Talley has.


The 26th of March saw the basketball storylines end. The 28th of March saw the start of the spring, boys softball, story. The key player here is Gregg Hamm, pitcher who’s going blind. His vision’s bad enough he can’t read the catcher’s signals anymore. But he, catcher Wilson Henry, and second baseman Eli ‘Scooter’ Borden work out an alternative. Borden will catch Henry’s signals and relay them by code words in his relentless chatter. Despite being a brilliant plan, it’s not too dumb, although I’m not clear how well Hamm can pitch if he has that poor vision. Also I don’t know why a sixteen(?)-year-old is losing his vision that fast and whether his parents know about this. He does fine his first game of the season, though.

Thompkins: 'So, Wilson is on board?' Borden: 'As long as Gregg doesn't hurt himself, or the team.' [ Cooley at Milford, and ... ] Borden, at second: 'C'mon, guys! Let's make some noise out there!' (The catcher signals) Borden: 'No stick, 32. Rock and fire!' Gregg Hamm, thinking: 'OK ... fastball it is!'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 22nd of April, 2022. So Hamm says his right eye is useless, his left eye is blurry and getting worse, and Coach Thorp doesn’t know. But we also know he’s doing all right on pop quizzes. I understand that Hamm has exactly the eye condition that causes what the plot is. But I don’t know what eye problem would fit all these traits (plus that it hits a teenager). But I’m also fortunate to have never had a serious eye problem myself. The closest I’ve had is needing to give our pet rabbit eyedrops for her cataracts, and pet rabbits are almost never expected to play even slow-pitch softball.
Hamm’s parents, by the way, include a father who ghost-writes autobiographies for business people. I don’t know whether this will have thematic or even plot significance.

In the parallel, girls’ tennis, story, Scooter Borden and his friends come out to cheer for his girlfriend Charis Thompkins. They bring their enthusiasm, if not an understanding that one simply does not hoot in the middle of a volley. It’s too soon to say where this storyline’s going too.

Milford Sports Watch!

Here’s my best attempt at keeping track of who’s played against Milford teams the past couple months and when they did it.

(It’s really the only attempt I made.)

Next Week!

Randy Parker returns to his dad’s comic strip! How does this roil Cavelton? I explore Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker next week, all going well. I need to start writing this recap, like, today.

What’s Going On In Rex Morgan? Why is there a superhero in Rex Morgan? January – April 2022


Terry Beatty, besides writing and drawing Rex Morgan, M.D., also illustrates used to, up to 2017, illustrate The Phantom weekday continuity. So I surmise he feels comfortable with action scenes and likely that he gets a fair chance to draw them. The just-started storyline has a masked vigilante prowling the mean-ish-esque(?) streets of Glenwood, though.

It appears Beatty is exploring “real-life superheroes”, a minor phenomenon that does exist. Most “real-life superheroes” are people who cosplay for publicity or educational purposes. A handful try, as in the comic, actually confronting “evildoers”. That’s more rare, I imagine from a mix of people realizing they don’t have actual plot immunity, and how even if you’re assaulting a mugger you’re still the one committing assault. But it’s hard to make a good story where nobody makes bad life choices. So this plot recap focuses heavily on Rene Belluso, who enjoys a Wile E Coyote-like talent for bad life choices. At least, he has the talent, and we enjoy watching people fly in from across the world to sucker-punch him. This should catch you up to mid-April 2022 in his antics and in the new superhero in town.

If you’re reading this after about July 2022, or if news about the strip breaks, a more up-to-date recap should be at this link. And on my mathematics blog I did another short essay about mathematics topics in comic strips. You might enjoy that too.

Rex Morgan, M.D..

31 January – 16 April 2022.

Sarah Morgan’s joy at being the coauthor of a Kitty Cop book was spoiled when Rene Belluso claimed she copied the Doggo Twins characters from him. Belluso had been her art instructor, back before Terry Beatty took over writing the strip. Sarah doesn’t think she stole the characters from him, but she doesn’t know. A car accident gave her a soap-opera amnesia that wiped a year of her memory. (It also brought her art skills down to good-for-her-age, not remarkable-prodigy.) So the gang was getting together to figure what they know about this.

Belluso sure seems likely to be running a scam. In his spare time from art instructing he also ran a mystic-healing cult, and got busted for phony Covid-19 cures. But they can’t find evidence that Sarah drew anything resembling the Doggo Twins before she was taking classes from Rene. Kyle Vidpa — formerly blocked writer of Kitty Cop — believes in Sarah’s innocence but that’s not something they can act on. Their lawyer advises at least listening to what Belluso would want to settle out of court.

Belluso: 'This man is lying! I created the Doggo Twins years before the Kitty Cop book was published!' Thorson: 'I ain't no liar, Mr B'luso. You know that. All what I said here is a hunnert percent truthful.' Lawyer: 'Mr Belluso, according to Mr Thorson, you planned to use Sarah's amnesia to support the false claim that she stole the Doggo Twins idea from you.' Belluso: 'HE MADE ALL THAT UP!' Lawyer; 'Including the detail that you planned to use vintage paper to make your drawings appear old? A common tactic in art forgery, something with which you have much experience.' Belluso: 'True, I once used my art skills for less than legitimate purposes, but that was a logn time ago.' Lawyer: 'We have records of Internet sales of forged cartoon art traceable to you, from within the last two years. Between Sonny's word and your record, it's clear your claims are false, and we'll not be settling with you for *any* amount. in fact, we'll be filing suit against *you* for the damages that your false claims have caused the Kitty Cop brand.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 27th of February, 2022. Not to detract from the repeated sucker punches delivered to Rene Belluso here, but is his planning to use vintage paper the sort of insider knowledge only an expert would have? All I really know about forgeries is that I’m an American who’s heard of Hugh Trevor-Roper, but I’d still think “have paper that’s at least as old as the drawings on it are supposed to be” was the first necessary step.

Sonny Thorson enters the picture. He comes to the Morgan clinic, spilling what he knows about his former cellmate Rene Belluso. He says that Belluso, hearing the news that Sarah Morgan was the mysterious coauthor of the new Kitty Cop books, saw an opportunity. He could make money, and get back at Rex Morgan, by forging some older Doggo Twins art and claiming to be their author. (Rex Morgan had foiled Belluso’s Celestial Healing scam.) Thorson doesn’t care one way or another about Rex, but he didn’t want a kid scammed like that. Thus, his report, one that he repeats to Belluso and his lawyer.

With this, and with evidence Belluso’s sold forged cartoon art in the last two years? Vidpa’s lawyer announces they won’t be settling but will be suing for damaging the Kitty Cop brand. Belluso storms out, declaring they haven’t heard the last of him. We might have; when we next see him, mob-type people are demanding to know how he’s going to get them their money. Terry Beatty even inserts a panel saying we the readers can imagine his fate, as he doesn’t know whether we’ll ever see Belluso again.

If that’s not enough stomping on Belluso’s head, there, his lawyer admits he’s not really a lawyer. He’s an actor Belluso hired and possibly even paid under the guise of “some sort of performance art”. This would explain why Belluso gave press conferences about suing but didn’t file any actual documents in an actual court. The acting lawyer gives Rex Morgan and all tickets to see him in Hairspray.

And if that’s still not enough stomping on Belluso’s head? Sarah, busy thinking up names for Kyle and Lauren’s newborn child, finds a sketchbook from before she was taking art lessons. It’s got a date, a sketch of the family from before Michael and Johnny were there, and a dog drawing recognizably a forerunner to the Doggo Twins. So they’ve got plenty to force Belluso to make a public statement of how he’s big dumb dummy who’s soooooo big and dumb and stupid. He flees before he can be forced to make it, but into the hands of those mob types mentioned above. And with the 2nd of April that brings this story to an end.


The current story starts on the 3rd of April, with a Sunday strip re-introducing the strip and main characters. Rex Morgan has a new patient, Clayton. (I don’t know his first name.) He’s there for a rotator cuff injury, which calls for rest, ice, physical therapy, and time. There’s also a bunch of other bruises that Clayton explains as boxing and mixed martial arts lessons. Morgan advises taking a break from them, too, until he heals. Clayton promises he will, but is lying. He has a mission.

Would-be car thief: 'The *Street Sweeper*? What are you going to do --- hit me with that broom?' Clayton, presenting himself as The Street Sweeper: 'If you insist.' He thwacks the thief with his push broom. Thief: 'Ow!!! Hey --- knock it off!'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 14th of April, 2022. Absolutely magnificent strip here. The only thing that could possibly improve it is if Clayton/The Street Sweeper were hitting Les Moore instead.

So we see him that evening, on his mission, “to protect the streets of Glenwood”. I mean, he took an oath and everything, what choice does he have? He confronts a guy who’s checking for unlocked cars. The would-be car thief asks what his deal is. Clayton explains: he’s keeping the streets safe and clean. He is … The Street Sweeper. While the would-be car thief laughs at this superhero name, Clayton whacks him with a push broom. While the readers laugh at this, the comic takes the lead for Funniest Story Strip of 2022. Clayton prides himself on a job well-done. Meanwhile an onlooker takes his photo, launching the “superhero” as a local human-interest-piece.

And that’s our standings for mid-April 2022.

Next Week!

Betting! Betting and eyesight accommodations! It’s Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp in a week, is my plan.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Sundays)? Why is the Sunday Phantom illegible now? January – April 2022


So back in February Comics Kingdom pushed a big change in their server code. This caused it all to break for a couple days. Most of this has been fixed. But among the things still broken are that some strips, including The Phantom, appear on Sundays in the wrong aspect ratio. That is, they’re shown in the format used for newspapers squeezing them to one-quarter of a page, four rows by two columns. I imagine this is a badly-implemented idea to make it easier to read on a phone, and is garbage for people who read this on a real computer. When I read my regular Favorites page, the strip appears about two inches wide, and while I can still read the action, it’s harder than it should be.

It could be worse. They print The Lockhorns in the format intended for newspapers running it as one tiny column, and so appears on-screen about one-half an inch wide. Utterly illegible. Comics Kingdom would be aware of this if anyone read their Technical Support or their Report A Bug complaints, as I have informed them of this every week since the problem crept in. They finally promised to have someone look at this when I sent in the billing question of why I was paying for a subscription for illegible comics.

Anyway. The saving grace is that Comics Kingdom does use source images that are huge; for Sunday pages, the average image is about 112 gigabytes of data. So I can reprint the comics — a fair use as it is part of review and critique of the original — big enough to be easily legible on whatever you use to read.

This all is meant to catch you up to mid-April 2022 for the Sunday continuity of Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom. If you are looking for the weekday-continuity story of The Phantom’s death and destruction, or if you’re reading this after about July 2022 and want the Sunday story, you may find a more useful essay here. They will never fix the image problem.

And on my other blog I’ve been reading comics for their mathematics content again. You might enjoy that.

The Phantom (Sundays).

23 January – 10 April 2022.

Nayo and Abeo, two young women of the Mori tribe, created their own custom for their passage into adulthood. They went as few Mori ever do into the big city of Mawitaan. This was going great for them. The city folk found them such curious novelties as to not mind their taking food from markets or rough sleeping in the parks and such.

'There are times when The Phantom leaves the jungle and walks the streets of the town as an ordinary man. - Old Jungle Saying.' The Phantom, wearing a hard hat, emerges from a van. We see him in a selection of scenes: checking an electrical meter, delivering a package to a doorstep, working at a construction site, birdwatching in the park. In each scene we see the Mori women, doing their city stuff: walking about, looking at the sites, having ice cream. The narration explains: 'Mori girls, far from home ... awed by the great city ... innocent of its dangers. The Phantom ... hidden in plain sight. He is this ordinary man (the delivery guy) ... this man (someone looking over blueprints) ... he is every man ... any man ... The Phantom walks among the good with one purpose ... among the evil with quite another.'
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 20th of February, 2022. So we can read this literally; The Phantom is, after all, watching Nayo and Abeo. But I’m interested in something in his outfit-switching, particularly his delivering a package in the third row, first panel, there. I get that he wants to not be noticed by the Mori women, and changing outfits like that reduces the number of visual hooks he offers for them to recognize him, if they don’t notice he’s always wearing eye-concealing dark sunglasses. But if he’s, like, pretending to be a delivery guy for the day, he has to have all these packages to drop off places. Even supposing that the deliveries are fake, this is an outfit that doesn’t let him follow when they wander through Central Park and take a rental boat.
A steady thing this story has been the acceptance of the Mori women by the neighborhood, and how everyone has decided to go along with their wandering around town like they knew what they were doing. Are these different guises, then, The Phantom pretending to be ordinary men, or, are these ordinary men, by watching for and trying to protect the innocent outsiders, taking on their share of The Phantom’s duties? I suspect the entirety of the story won’t support that interpretation. But if it is only my idiosyncratic reading that this strip offers the message that every person is a hero when they are kind? I’m comfortable reading this strip that way.

Still, cities are dangerous when you don’t have permanent shelter or money or such. Especially if, as they have, you’ve attracted the eye of a sex slaver. But they’ve also, at the request of their tribe, got a protector, The Phantom. The Ghost Who Walks lurks around town, and when he spots the sex trafficker he slaps him silly and throws him into the trash.

That’s not enough hint for him, though. (To be too fair to the guy, we don’t see on-screen that The Phantom warned him off the Mori women, or abducting women at all. It would be consistent with the text that he had no idea what this assault was for.) A few days later when the women go into a nightclub, he follows. And gets drugged drinks from the bartender. The Phantom follows, of course. He punches out the bartender, which makes him quite popular. (It’s also the first Phantom Ring-marking in a while, so far as I remember.) And grabs the trafficker, slamming him into the window of the limousine of the trafficker’s buyer. That guy speeds off, but The Phantom takes the trafficker’s personal information to turn over to the Jungle Patrol. And clobbers him with the Phantom Ring, a second permanent marking this story.

Next Week!

Is Terry Beatty — weekday artist for The Phantom — not drawing enough vigilante-superhero stuff? We may have an answer as I recap Rex Morgan, M.D. next week, if things go to plan. And if some shadowy figure of concealed identity doesn’t punch me first.

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? Why would anyone make a Gasoline Alley movie? January – March 2021


The current Gasoline Alley story is built on some Hollywood types coming in make a movie about the town. While the town’s residents are interesting to the comic strip readers, one might ask why anyone in-universe would care about this town? Longtime readers enjoy the more-or-less plausible lives of interesting characters. But why pick this place, other than that Walt Wallet is a generation older than Betty White?

While searching for something else, I ran across this timeline of events in Gasoline Alley. It’s a list of some of the big story events including when Skeezix turned up on the doorstep. and seems to be pretty solid for events up to about 1950, that is, the era when the comic strip made its reputation. It may not convince you — I mean, breach of promise stories? Everyone did them back then and that’s such an alien idea today, like suing somebody for not wearing a hat — but it gives some idea what all happened.

Over on my mathematics blog, I just looked at the comic strips which observed Pi Day. How many of them were about mathematics? The answer may surprise you!

This essay should catch you up to mid-March 2022 in Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley. If you’re reading this after about June 2022, there’s likely a more up-to-date plot recap at this link. And now, action!

Gasoline Alley.

1 January – 19 March 2022.

The current story had just been called when I last checked in. Some Hollywood types are descending on Gasoline Alley to make a movie. Rufus and Joel try to clean City Hall up to the point that it shines. The movie makers slip and fall on the wet floor. The comic relief pair suppose that the movie makers want to sue them for damages. After their attempts at disguising themselves fail completely, they run off to hide in a cave.

Joel, mop in his hand: 'Oh, man! We done done it now!' Rufus, standing over the puddles of water: 'We sho' is sorry, Mr De Millsbrothers! Th'flo' was wet!' DeMillstone: 'My name is DeMillstone! SOMEBODY BETTER HELP ME UP!' Assistant: 'Do you need an ambulance, C.B.?' DeMillstone: 'Get those two men's names on the double!' Assistant with a clipboard: 'Doubling pu right now, sir!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 8th of January, 2022. Cecil B DeMillstone is an almost inevitable name for a Hollywood Movie Mogul in this genre. Rufus I assume is mashing the name up with the Mills Brothers, who were a quite popular singing quartet especially through the Golden Age of Radio.

The movie folks turn their attention to Walt Wallet. They turn over some kind of prospectus for a movie based on his life. It’s a big, bold work, not bound tightly to the facts. He calls Skeezix over to describe some of them. And to recount a story that … actually, he’s told before, back in January and February of 2014. But he claims that when exploring in Egypt ages ago he and his party, desperately short on water, fell into the tomb of the Pharaoh Do-Ra-Mi. They found an urn on the shelf, with ancient, stale water that they drank happily. And then found the hieroglyphics proclaimed it the “Energy Shot – For Youth”. Which, well, he is a pretty spry fellow for being six years older than the SOS distress signal. But back in 2014 when he told this story he was making up that it was the Fountain of Youth. He was spinning yarns back then, which, fine. But when why his shock in 2022 when someone believed him?

In the flashback, young Walt Wallet looks over an ancient urn, while a camel licks him and two porters look on: 'After drinking the water, I felt great and tried to decipher the hieroglyphics on the urn!' In the present day Skeezix asks, 'What did it say, Uncle Walt?' Walt: 'Extreme energy shot for Youth!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 25th of February, 2022. When this joke was done back in February 2014 — the first panel of the 2022 strip seems to be an elongated version of the 2014 version — it set off a short-lived mania for Walt’s Fountain-of-Youth water. I’m not surprised I had forgotten this, but I am surprised Skeezix doesn’t remember it, because he had the plan that abated the mob scene. On the other hand, Skeezix has had nearly a decade of other shenanigans around him, too.

After sharing this and some other, lesser tall tales with Skeezix, the movie folks call to say never mind. They’re not doing Walt Wallet’s life, which is a shame, since this was an excuse for Scancarelli to draw a young-looking Walt Wallet doing a lot of fun action. (One of the stories shows him hopping a train, which seems mundane enough to have happened.) But the movie folks have decided to do a science fiction piece, Teenage Thing Meets The Creature From Gasoline Alley. Scancarelli’s heart is in doing a 1950s radio sitcom and I like him for that.

The movie producers still want to get hold of Rufus and Joel. The pair emerge from hiding, when the bear they were hiding with kicks them out. And that’s where we stand. Will it turn out they’ve made a bad assumption about what the movie folks wanted them for, so that their winter hiding in a cave was foolish? There’s no way of knowing except reading, or remembering the rules of the 1950s radio sitcoms that the comic strip wants to be. We’ll check back by June, anyway.

Next Week!

The only question worth asking right now is when is Mark Trail going to punch an NFT? And the answer is, always, not soon or often enough. But if we’re lucky by next week I’ll be able to tell you just when Mark Trail does. That’s Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail next Tuesday, if things go to plan.

MiSTed: JSH: War of attrition (Part 3 of 3)


And now I close out this Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment of the sci.math rant JSH: War of Attrition. I never did get around to other Harris rants; he was prolific in the mathematics newsgroup for years, arguing that he had great amazing new breakthroughs. The last and oddest that I remember is his bragging about his facility in describing what a tweet was in exactly 140 characters, this back when Twitter was limited to 140 characters. I don’t get it either.

The riff about donor type AB-elian puns on the blood type and on Abelian groups. Abelian groups are sets of things on which you can define an addition that commutes, just like regular arithmetic does. It’s possible to have additions that don’t commute, which is why it’s worth having a name for these. The closing sketch puts Professor Bobo in an example of the Infinite Monkey Theorem. It’s funny, yes, but it also challenges our intuitions about what probability means.


>
> Yeah only to use you in the Math Wars.

TOM: I need reserves in case a Tom Lehrer song breaks out.

> I want mathematicians around
> the world to keep thinking about what you are thinking.

CROW: I think that’s what I want to think I want you thinking about.

> I want them
> working hard to figure out how well they have you in hand.

MIKE: Touching and caressing you with loving grace.

>
> I want them working to keep you.

TOM: Make sure they call you daily to see how you’re doing.

>
> I want them to demean themselves, crawl on their hands and knees to
> keep you believing in them.

MIKE: To sit up on their nests and keep a bundle of chicken eggs warm.

>
> And they are doing it.

CROW: They’re the *best*, guys.

>
> While the war of attrition continues and it is all about inertia and
> momentum as I have always needed time.

MIKE: Time, and a bit of money, and — don’t ask why — my own Phillies Phanatic costume.

>
> If the world knew too quickly what my discoveries really are, then the
> true targets could have escaped,

CROW: Spooking the herd and causing a stampede from the watering hole.

> but now the net closes, and you are
> the fish that were always part of the trap.

TOM: I … don’t put fish in traps.

CROW: It’s for when you want to capture herring-eating mice.

>
> You were always the bait.

TOM: And I was the naughty sporting goods cashier … heh-heh-*heh*.

>
> They care so [ beep ] much about what you people think of them that they
> are willing to lose everything, grasping for what they cannot hold.

MIKE: Why don’t they just kiss you instead of talking you to death?

>
> Public opinion is such a great thing. I love it. Public opinion is
> all about perception.

CROW: Remember always to judge people by how you think your neighbors judge them.

>
> People like Andrew Wiles are nothing without the applause or the
> dreams of it.

TOM: Groupies gathered outside his door, women throwing panties
onto his Fermat’s Last Theorem galley sheets …

> They’ll hold on, and hold on, and hold on,

CROW: His needle’s stuck.

[ MIKE reaches up and “shoves” Mr Harris. ]

> and give
> their energy, their very life blood to hold on to it,

CROW: They’re donor type AB-elian positive.

> even if that is
> the means that is used to build the energy to end the wars.

MIKE: And with it RULE the WORLD!

>
> They give their life’s blood for you to believe in them.

TOM: So everyone in the audience, clap, clap as loud and as hard as you can and just maybe if we all believe enough we can save Dracula!

> And that is
> the energy that drives this forward.
>
> That is the hope of the world.

CROW: That hope, and a cuddly little bunny.

>
> It was always about time. I have always needed time.

MIKE: Time and my new … *LETTERS*!

TOM: He thought up an acronym and that’s enough for us?

>
>
> James Harris

TOM: Thank you, thank you, you’ve been a great crowd. Remember to tip your cows.

CROW: Waitresses.

TOM: Tip your waitresses’s cows.

>
>

MIKE: Let’s blow this popsicle stand.

[ ALL exit, as appropriate. ]

[ 1… 2… 3… 4… 5… 6.. ]

[ SATELLITE OF LOVE. TOM, MIKE, and CROW shake out their heads. ]

MIKE: I think after that we’ve all learned an important lesson.

TOM: And if you don’t want me to put you on the spot by asking what it was you’d better give me a quarter.

MIKE: What are you, Charlie McCarthy? I’m not afraid to explain it.

CROW: Ooh, ooh, ooh, I know, I know what that was all about, can I tell?

MIKE: Yes, yes, you may, Master Crow.

TOM: Fink.

CROW: [ Standing tall ] Ahem. Thank you and thank *you*.
[ TOM snorts. ] That was all about … *cats*. Thank you.

MIKE: [ Touching his shoulder. ] That was elegantly wrong, thank you.

[ AIRLOCK opens and closes. GYPSY enters. ]

MIKE: GYPSY! Hey, good to see you.

TOM: [ Simultaneously ] Gypsy’s back! Yay!

CROW: [ A second later ] Why not cats?

GYPSY: What is … likewise?

TOM: Um …

CROW: It’s been a madhouse without you.

GYPSY: What is … I’d imagined so?

[ MIKE buries his head in his hands. ]

TOM: Don’t say it … you’re suffering from the heartbreak of …

ALL: What is Trebekiasis?

[ MADS sign flashes; MIKE sticks out a hand enough to hit it. ]


[ CASTLE FORRESTER. BOBO is still in his bed, with a portable typewriter precariously perched on his stomach. The teddy bear is by the typewriter. Occasionally BOBO taps a key. PEARL FORRESTER watches over with blue pencil. OBSERVER is up front. ]

OBSERVER: And welcome back. As long as Professor Bobo’s incapacitated Pearl and I thought it would be a real kick to test out that bit about monkeys at typewriters producing the complete works of Shakespeare, so there you have it.

BOBO: You know, I’m fairly sure I am recovered.

PEARL: Type.

[ BOBO whimpers and then with a single finger hits one key, then another, then gets his fingers jammed between two keys, and whimpers again. ]

PEARL: This just … this isn’t working.

OBSERVER: No, not in the slightest.

PEARL: We need to throw more monkeys at the problem.

[ BOBO grunts while looking up? ]

OBSERVER: I’ll materialize the catapult. [ He walks off. ]

PEARL: [ Surprised, following ] Now that’s the kind of thinking
I want around here.

BOBO: [ Looking at the camera ] Uh-oh.

[ BOBO hides under the blanket, and after a pause, reaches his hand out to grab the teddy bear and pull it under. ]

                    | 
                 \  |  /
                  \ | /
                   \|/
                ----O----
                   /|\
                  / | \
                 /  |  \
                    |

This Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment of the James S Harris post “War of Attrition” is done without the explicit permission of any of the many parties who should probably have given it, among them James S Harris, renowned citizen of sci.math; Best Brains Incorportated, renowned production company for Mystery Science Theater 3000; the fine legacy of game shows the world over; and in some unexplained but important fashion, Major League Baseball. No infringement on or challenge to any copyrights, trademarks, service marks, or anything else is intended nor should be inferred. This MiSTing as a whole is the creation of Joseph Nebus, who probably had more useful things to do with his time, but who is beginning to despair of Dr Mike Neylon ever returning. Thank you.

> The Math Wars are to me all about how some people with position and
> power forget the power of the pen, and sit letting the pot slowly come
> to a boil.


[ The End ]

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? Why did that guy’s Wrist-Radio Explode? December 2021 – March 2022


In the recently concluded story in Dick Tracy the villainous Mr Bones’s purloined Wrist Wizard exploded. This was hard on him. It seemed like an arbitrary and unexplained resolution to Mr Bones’s murder plan.

It was remarkable good luck for Dick Tracy. It wasn’t unexplained, but the explanation was given back in December of 2016. The old model of Wrist Wizard — the evolution of the famous two-way wrist-radio — had a defect that could cause it to explode. I expect it was inspired by that time those real-world phones kept catching fire. Still, it’s not like they all caught fire. Anyway, this is the second time one of them exploding has saved Dick Tracy.

[ Diet Smith Enterprises ] Tracy: 'We got your safety recall for our wrist wizards. Have you fixed the problem?' Smith: 'Not yet, but I have a replacement for you.' Tracy: 'Say, this looks like the original 2-way wrist radio you issued us! Does it have the same functions as the wrist wizard?' Smith: 'All the critical functions are the same, Tracy, but the most power-draining features have been cut to prolong battery life. This battery is less powerful but very stable, and it fit the high-profile body of the wrist radio perfectly. Will it do in the interim while my team overhauls the wrist wizard?' Tracy: 'I think so, Diet. It's like visiting an old friend!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 11th of December, 2016. Haven’t heard how the Wrist Wizard redesign has gone. Might be they’ve figured since they’ve lasted five years with this design of just stuffing it in old wrist-radio cases they had the new design and didn’t realize it. I’m not sure that four buttons and a speaker is enough of an interface for everything the Wrist Wizard did (two-way video communication, the ability to respond to eye blinks of a wounded officer). But then the Wrist Wizard had two buttons and a keyboard projected holographically on your palm so can say?

So this should catch you up to mid-March, 2022, in Joe Staton, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy. If you’re reading this after about June 2022 a more up-to-date plot summary should be here.

On my other blog, I finally finished my A-to-Z, explaining Zorn’s Lemma. I’ve also, often, used the mathematics blog as a chance to talk about comic strips with mathematics themes. Pi Day, of course, encourages comic strips to mention mathematics. Or pie. So I linked to old Pi Day comics roundups there. I’ll have this year’s roundup soon, don’t worry. They talk a good bit about pie.

Dick Tracy.

26 December 2021 – 12 March 2022.

Mr Bones, hired by the remains of The Apparatus crime syndicate, had a decent plan for killing Dick Tracy. It was to shoot him. To get Tracy in shooting range, Mr Bones stole the Dick Tracy memorabilia collection of Blackjack, who’s a criminal, yeah, but a superman. Blackjack broke out of jail to recover his collection. Mr Bones hooked up with Blackjack, only to abduct him.

The plan: Mr Bones would, as Blackjack, text Dick Tracy promising to turn himself in. And once Tracy was near enough, shoot him. Blackjack he tied up, dropped a fake suicide note beside, and set the gas going to blow up the hideout. So this would make it look like Blackjack had shot Dick Tracy and then killed himself.

Mr Bones: 'You're not fooling me, Tracy!' Tracy: 'That Wrist Wizard's glowing red! Get rid of it, quick!' It explodes; we see Tracy wincing from the sight as Mr Bones cries in agony. He runs away; Tracy runs after; 'No! Don't move!'
Joe Staton, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 14th of January, 2022. You know we never had to deal with this sort of thing when we had Casio calculator watches and land-line phones. Not to be a Plugger or anything but, just saying.

This goes wrong a couple ways. First, Dick Tracy turns out to be hard to shoot at close range. Second, Mr Bones did not expect the Wrist Wizard from Blackjack’s collection(?) was getting ready to explode. (He used the Wrist Wizard to contact Dick Tracy as Blackjack.) Third, nobody expected that when the Wrist Wizard exploded Mr Bones would fall over the ravine to his death. Also, Blackjack was able to escape his bonds enough to call the cops. I don’t know how he escaped his hideout exploding around him, though. His bonds were rolls of plastic wrap tied around him while he slept, which I can believe as a cost-effective way of holding someone. I would think it would mess up making his death look by suicide, though.

And with that, the 15th of January, Mr Bones’s story closes. We follow with two weeks of a Minit Mystery. And a repeat, which so far as I know Dick Tracy hadn’t done before. (Could barely do before.) This repeated a two-week mystery, solving the murder of Mr H K Krispies, based on parlor-room mystery rules. Seems fine enough, if you like that sort of mystery.


The new, current story started the 30th of January. For it, Mark Barnard gets a guest writer credit. It stars Yeti, last seen in December 2020, I thought killed by his own poison spider after a spectacularly failed meteorite heist. Yeti’s gimmick is selling poisons, and business is bad enough without someone killing his customers. He sends his underlings Ferret (sister to Rabbit, underling killed last story around) and Ape to check on his clients. They get to Hiram “Boss” Moran’s place to find Dick Tracy and Sam Catchem there, investigating Boss Moran’s murder.

Tracy and crew notice the poisons Hiram had. Also rose petals on the grounds. They suspect could maybe be Yeti doing the killing? Yeti, meanwhile, hears of this on the radio and is livid, suspecting Ape and Ferret have betrayed him. Ape and Ferret, meanwhile, don’t know where to go given that Yeti won’t care that there is no conceivable way they could have prevented Moran’s killing. And along their way to not knowing where to go, they sideswipe a patrol car.

Tracy, for the heck of it, checks the owner of the sideswiping car and finds it’s Constance, sister of Thomas “Rabbit” Dooley. They know Rabbit as a poisoned body found outside city limits. So they conclude Yeti’s probably alive and selling poisons again. And Catchem keeps thinking of those rose petals. It reminds him of the flowers Daisy Dugan kept on his lapel, except for not being daisies.

A tall, slender woman in red and a stooped-over man in suit and bowler hat appear at the sewer entrance: 'Surely you haven't forgotten, Yeti ... leaving me to DIE?' It's revealed to be Daisy Dugan. Yeti: 'DAISY!'
Joe Staton, Shelly Pleger, Mark Barnard, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 2nd of March, 2022. The commenters referred to the woman here as “Natasha”, based on the Boris-and-Natasha pose in the first panel. That stuck with me hard enough that half my references to her in this post called Rose “Natasha”.

Ape and Ferret, at least, confirm that seven of Yeti’s ten clients are still alive. But who could be targeting Yeti’ clients? They drive back to the sewer entrance to Yeti’s lair, unaware Tracy and Catchem trail them. Also that ahead of them is … Daisy Dugan. He’s angry, with reason, at being left for dead in the failed meteorite heist. With him is his sister Rose. Their revenge: first killing his market, then here, to leave Yeti to die in agony.

(I get either leg of this plan: killing Yeti’s clients so his business collapses, or shooting Yeti so he bleeds to death in the sewers. Doing both seems like they couldn’t decide on a revenge. Possibly Rose and Daisy couldn’t agree and finally went with both.)

Foiling them is the arrival of Ape and Ferret, who draw their guns. And coming up behind them are Dick Tracy and Sam Catchem, bringing more guns to a four-way armed standoff. Yeti starts shooting his poison darts at everybody, Ape and Ferret included. Rose starts shooting her bullets at everybody. Tracy and Catchem duck out of the way until Daisy Dugan surrenders.

Ape, Ferret, Daisy Dugan, and Rose Dugan they’re able to capture alive. Yeti disappears into the tunnels, but Tracy is confident there’s no way he can escape this time. And that, the 12th of March, seems to end this part of the Yeti’s story.


Sunday the 13th sees the start of a new plot, one lead off by Vitamin Flintheart and a celebrity impersonator he’s found. I have no idea where this might go. But that’s what the next plot recap is for, eleven weeks from now.

Next Week!

So how about a goofy, silly representation of the movie business? No, I’m not putting Funky Winkerbean in my rotation. We head on down to Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley and maybe see what’s become of Rufus and Joel. If all goes to plan, anyway. See you then.

MiSTed: JSH: War of attrition (Part 2 of 3)


Thanks for joining me for the second part of JSH: War of Attrition, a Mystery Science Theater 3000 fanfic based on James S Harris’s long-forgotten rant on Usenet group sci.math.

The riff about “Frishtory” references a recurring minor villain on Dave The Barbarian, a fun mid-2000s cartoon that like four people remember even counting people who were on its production staff. And I think that’s all that’s particularly baffling in this set of riffs. Other than that nobody remembers Dave The Barbarian.


>
> When I feel a bit down

MIKE: The clerk tells me to stop fondling pillows.

> –like if insulting posters start getting to me–

CROW: Sneaking in under the door while I whap with my flyswatter …

> I can do things like do Google searches on my open source project
> "Class Viewer" which took the number one spot for that search string,
> years ago.

TOM: After the original first-place holder was disqualified for steroid use.

>
> It is all over the world.

CROW: Did you see it waving at you?

> I especially feel honored looking at the
> Chinese page,

MIKE: Which was all Greek to me.

> where words I typed years ago to describe my project
> have been translated.

CROW: If I had typed the words on time they would have been transpunctualled.

>
> That is an odd feeling.

TOM: Like when you think your socks are inside-out.

> And that is just one thing.

MIKE: I have many odd feelings and look forward to sharing every one of them.

>
> Just a few days ago I started talking about a "managed copy" idea of
> mine

CROW: Copies include a full Dilbert’s boss.

> and just typing up a post on my blog I found myself talking about
> it as digital media equipment self-encryption and of course went to
> the initials to designate it DMESE.

MIKE: [ Starting dramatically ] DUN DUN … d … huh?

TOM: He’s … made an acronym? Who cares?

MIKE: Maybe he’s bragging he’s had the idea of initials?

CROW: Or he’s found a flaw in our whole system of letters?

TOM: [ Narrating ] With my new *letters*, words and even *acronyms* can be created even by the likes of foolish unworthy peasants such as *yourself*!

>
> That is just one more thing.

CROW: Funny feelings *and* he has a blog — can nothing stop this man?

>
> Archimedes said that with a level long enough and a place to stand he
> could move the world

MIKE: Sheesh, my dad can barely use the level and a place to stand
to hang pictures straight.

> because he could conceive of greatness on a scale
> that most people cannot.

TOM: Ah, but could he imagine greatness with *letters*?

MIKE: It’s got to be more than making an acronym.

>
> I can move the world.
>
> Not one of you can say the same.

CROW: Not without my *letters*!

TOM: Guy puts initials together, wants world to know. We can play
that game, I guess.

>
> My posts get translated to languages across the planet. I watch ideas
> of mine travel around the world.

MIKE: I see whole civilizations transmitting my messages back in time
to change the course of history!

TOM: Frishtory!

>
> Yet I am still stopped by academics who are dead-set on fighting the
> Math Wars to the bitter end, and mostly they just wait.

CROW: Plus his freshman Calc TA has lousy office hours.

>
> Yes, Princeton academics can stop me today.

MIKE: Yes, they can wrap me head to toe in duct tape and leave me
in the back room. I’ll bring the tape.

> Yes, Harvard academics
> can hold the line today.

TOM: I won’t need the line until the weekend anyway.

>
> But they burn everything their universities have built up over the
> years in the process and I let them.

CROW: To be honest, I’m not sure why I did that. I hope I left myself a note about it.

MIKE: A note made almost entirely of *letters*!

>
> I emailed the University of California at Berkeley to note some
> unethical behavior by Arturo Magidin,

MIKE: Who was clearly abusing the “take all you want” rule at the Golden Prawn Chinese Buffet.

> and noticed at that point that
> Ralph McKenzie is listed as faculty,

TOM: And not as a Decepticon underling.

> where it notes he is at my alma
> mater Vanderbilt University.

CROW: Case closed.

>
> Yup, I know that as I visited him there years ago,

MIKE: But don’t be jealous. Many people can visit professors at Vanderbilt University if they learn my invention of *letters*.

> before my paper was
> published,

TOM: When there were concerts in the park.

> retracted after sci.math’ers including Magidin trumped the
> formal peer review system with some emails,

CROW: Before they sent a squad of highly physically developed
“Mathletes” to do a pole vault over an obelus.

> and the freaking math
> journal died.

TOM: That’s _The Journal of Freaking Math_.

MIKE: The official mathematics journal of Freakazoid.

>
> Academics can only sit and wait, while I move forward over time.

CROW: Occasionally I move too far forward, and bump into the railing overlooking the balcony. I move to the side a little, and start moving forward again.

> Knowing that at the end, I go for the entire system to reform it.
>
> And I will change their world.

MIKE: I will infuse it with drawn butter baked right in.

>
> I send papers to math journals and I [ beep ] well get a reply.

CROW: Like “No” and “Who are you again, exactly?”

> Sure,
> they’re polite rejections but they had better reply to me.

TOM: Or else I may visit people at *more* universities and withhold from them my vitally needed *letters*!

>
> You people don’t get it because I post among you, and you think that
> because I post I must be at your level.

MIKE: I’m actually posting things that are nine-dimensional and subject to rotation in fourteen dimensions at once.


[ To conclude … ]

What’s Going On In Prince Valiant? When did King Arthur retire? December 2021 – March 2022


I don’t know! A casual mention in part of the current storyline was that King Arthur had retired, and some time ago. I had just thought they dropped the “In The Time Of King Arthur” subtitle on the title page for graphic design reasons or something. If someone actually knows the strip better than I do, please, let me know.

Nevertheless, this should get you up to speed on Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for early March, 2022. If you’re reading this after about June 2022 there’s probably a more up-to-date plot recap at this link.

Also, maybe of interest, on my other blog I hope to finish my 2021 Mathematics A-to-Z. This is to be with an essay for the letter Z. Yes, it’s run a bit longer than I wanted but please understand: 2021 was a lousy year.

Prince Valiant.

19 December 2021 – 6 March 2022.

Prince Valiant has fallen into an escort mission. Morgan Le Fay, abandoned — and threatened — by the dark forces she had done witchcraft with, needs his protection to get home. They enter Londinium ahead of a Saxon raiding party. The small, forgotten garrison can’t hope to hold out. He declares that King Arthur has ordered the outpost abandoned. And they accept Morgan Le Fay, as the king’s sister, as representing the King’s word.

With the remains of Londinium surrounded by the Saxon enemy, Val has formulated a plan for evacuating the few surviving warriors. He is pleasantly surprised to find several old Roman ballistic war machines still intact, and has them wheeled into the courtyard for critical inspection. 'I have seen such machines in action,' the prince mutters to the dubious Cafalt, 'And I believe, with some earnest repair, we can get these working - if only for one shot.' Then Val is off to see Morgan Le Fay, who has been collecting certain herbs from a long-abandoned Roman garden. He explains his plan, and then: 'We need a grand distraction. You magicians are good with concocting flame and smoke and dazzling effects.' The sorceress replies: 'Tell the men to bring all the oil and pitch in this place, and the naphtha that I believe they will find in the armory's makhazin. I will supply the other ingredients.' The old armorer's forge serves as Morgan's workshop, and she works deep into the night. Weird lights and crackling noises emanate from the chamber. To the uneasy warriors, Val cheerfully offers: 'Trust her - she wants to get out alive too!'
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 30th of January, 2022. ‘Makhazin’, this comic causes me to learn, is one of the many Arabic words brought into Western languages; it means ‘storehouse’ and is where we get the word ‘magazine’ from. It’s first recorded in English in 1583 (and first recorded in Latin in 1214), while this action is taking place … uh .. sometime contemporary to the Emperor Justinian. (The 1982-vintage Prince Valiant strips just got to Justinian’s accession this past week.) But that’s probably why the word’s presented as more obviously a loan word.

So they like this “escape” plan. The trick is getting past the Saxons. There are a couple ancient pieces of Roman war machinery, that might be put together for one shot. And Valiant enlists Morgan Le Fay: if she could do something impressive with flame and smoke, they might have something worth shooting. The plan works: they put together a night of impressive fireworks that panic the Saxons.

In the dark hour before dawn, wrapped infog rising from the Thames, Val and Cafalt make their exit over the decaying Roman bridge, leaving doomed Londinium to the Saxons. In the distance ahead they can barely see their fellow evacuees. They move slowly, cautiously - but perhaps muffled hooves make their horses a bit unsure. Cafalt's steed steps through a rotting plank, cannot regain his balance, and crashes against Cafalt! The sharp cracks and whinnies that echo through the fog are all that Wassa, the Saxon war chief, needs to hear to confirm his suspicions. 'The bridge! They are escaping over the bridge!' Siege laddrers are thrown up to the bridge under Londinium's walls and are quickly mounted by a swarming Saxon horde that finds a lone prince of Camelot standing in staunch defense of his fallen comrade!'
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 27th of February, 2022. I imagine that Schultz and Yeates feel some delight in setting action like this on London Bridge. There was the Roman-era bridge, built somewhere close to the famous and the modern bridge’s location, and it’s plausible that it would be in condition about like this around 550 or so. (Oh, yes, as part of Comics Kingdom’s recent borking of their web site, they’ve switched many of the Sunday comics from their correct three-row, full-page-width format to the narrower, four-row, half-page width. I have informed them of the mistake but they have yet to acknowledge or correct it.)

Briefly. Wassa, the Saxon leader, recognizes this as a diversion for a retreat. The garrison tries to withdraw across the London Bridge. The garrison’s leader, Cafalt, has an accident when his horse steps through a rotted plank. It breaks his leg, and Valiant stands up to protect him against the pursuing Saxons. But it is one fighter, however much he is the protagonist, against the whole war party …

Next Week!

Since I last checked in on Joe Staton, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy we’ve seen Blackjack versus Mr Bones. We’ve seen The Apparatus make a fresh attempt at killing Dick Tracy. We’ve seen mysterious deaths marked by flower petals. And we’ve even seen reruns. I’ll try to summarize it all next week, if things go to plan.

MiSTed: JSH: War of attrition (Part 1 of 3)


Now may I share the second and I think last James S Harris post I turned into Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan fiction. It’s not that Harris stopped writing (at least back then), or even stopped being a wonder to behold. But a lot of his posts tried to argue for his astounding mathematical discoveries everyone else understood wrongly. But that can be hard reading, especially when his error is a big unproven assumption in the middle of a lot of dense reasoning. And just railing against the conspiracy to suppress him gets repetitious. (And, where it got personal, uncomfortable to root on.) So maybe this is as much as I needed to do.

The game-show-themed-diseases thing grew out of like one night where for like half an hour my friends and I were adding “… and a new car!” to the ends of references to things. I think it shows. The segue between “the 23rd of May” and Allan Sherman is the “Don’t Buy The Liverwurst” segment in his medley Shticks Of One And Half A Dozen Of The Other. Fun song. Crow’s line setting it up has the meter of Sherman’s tune. Other cryptic riffs: Hm. Something about the specificity of saying “G4.872” in a riff makes me think I was referencing something, but I don’t remember what. Maybe it was my Mac’s model number or something. Baudot Code was a telegraphic alphabet where each symbol had a five-bit code. It was invented by Émile Baudot, who’s the person referenced in the unit “baud”.


[ OPENING CREDITS. As per season ten. ]

[ 1… 2… 3… 4… 5… 6… ]


[ SATELLITE OF LOVE. DESK. DAY. DENNIS. Behind the desk are a harried CROW and MIKE, accompanied by TOM, in a bathrobe, who’s in the middle of enunciating in his best overblown style. ]

TOM: … and you’ll love the view of the Satellite of Love you get from behind the wheel of … *your new car*!

[ CROW barely suppresses a frustrated cry. ]

MIKE: Hi, everyone. If Crow and I seem to be on the edge of losing all moral judgement it’s because our own Tom Servo here has contracted a nagging case of The Price Is Right Announcer Showcase Segue Syndrome, or Johnny Olson’s Disease …

TOM: … and you’ll recover from your bout with The Price Is Right Announcer Showcase Segue Syndrome by taking a ride to the hospital in … *your new car*!

CROW: [ Staring, jaw-dropped, at CAMBOT. ] He’s gone on just this way on almost everything we say ever since the 23rd of May.

TOM: … and you’ll love listening to your Allan Sherman CD collection on the deluxe collectible sound system in … *your new car*!

MIKE: Gypsy ejected herself into space on Memorial Day.

TOM: … when you can take the season’s first trip to the Shore in —

[ MIKE, screaming, grabs TOM’s dome and tosses it away. ]

TOM: Well, now, *that’s* just overreacting.

[ MADS sign flashes. ]

CROW: Hey, uh, Kitty Carlisle, Mark Goodson, and Bill Todman are calling.

MIKE: Yello?

[ MIKE taps the sign. ]


[ CASTLE FORRESTER. PROFESSOR BOBO is laying in bed, clutching a teddy bear and his sheets; OBSERVER is his nurse. PEARL is nibbling from a box of get-well chocolates. ]

BOBO: C … M …

OBSERVER: One more.

BOBO: K … and an I.

PEARL: Oh, stop whining. Bobo’s had Acute Wheel of Fortune Bonus Round Condition for a week and you don’t see Brain Guy about to smack him silly, do you?

BOBO: Licorice tabernacle?

OBSERVER: Actually, Pearl, if you’re asking —

[ PEARL turns around and glares at him. ]

OBSERVER: — Right, then. Three consonants and a vowel, Professor.

BOBO: V … F … H …

OBSERVER: And a vowel?

BOBO: A.

PEARL: Say, you know what’s good for your brain being fried by the incomprehensible ravings of others?

BOBO: Marzipan doorknob?

OBSERVER: You have R, S, T, L, N, E.

BOBO: G … P … W …

PEARL: Why don’t you scurry on into the theater and fry your brains on the incomprehensible ravings of James Harris?

BOBO: U?

PEARL: Scurry along, little ones. Servo. *Now*.

[ PEARL waits confidently while nothing happens. ]

BOBO: Ticonderoga gumdrop?

PEARL: [ Less confident ] Now?

OBSERVER: Giving you R, S, T, L, N, and for a change, E.

BOBO: J … D … R …

OBSERVER: Ooooh. You already had R, sorry.

[ PEARL swats OBSERVER with the candy box, sending some chocolates in the air, which BOBO scoops up eagerly. ]

BRAIN: Oh, yes, right, Mike, sorry. War of Attrition, you know?

[ He does the mind-sending thingy with the sound effect thing. ]

[ SATELLITE OF LOVE. As above; TOM hasn’t got his dome back yet. ]

TOM: Boy, glad I don’t have an annoying disease like that.

CROW: [ Restrained single-handed by MIKE. ] Lemme at him! Lemme at him! I’ll splat him!

[ MOVIE SIGN ]

MIKE: Save it —

ALL: WE GOT MOVIE SIGN!

[ 6… 5… 4… 3… 2… 1… ]

[ THEATER. ALL enter, TOM still dome-less. ]

> Path: rpi!news.usc.edu!

TOM: Your USC news feeders coming to you by way of *your new car*!

CROW: Hit him!

[ MIKE puts a fresh dome on TOM. ]

TOM: I’ll be good.

> newsfeed.news.ucla.edu!

CROW: I understand “Newsucla” is a dirty word in some places.

> newsfeed.stanford.edu!postnews.google.com!

MIKE: Post-News-Herald-Dispatch-Tribune-Chronicle-Times-Journal.

> a26g2000pre.googlegroups.com!not-for-mail

TOM: Not for chain mail.

> From: jst…@gmail.com
> Newsgroups: alt.math.undergrad,alt.math,alt.math.recreational,sci.math

CROW: And the sci.math all-number-theory cheerleaders!

> Subject: JSH: War of attrition

MIKE: Isn’t that a Gwar album?

> Date: Thu, 31 May 2007 22:>37:09 -0700

TOM: So it’s … negative 678:37:09?

> Organization: http://groups.google.com
> Lines: 104

CROW: Straight Lines: 75.

> Message-ID: <1180676229.3…@a26g2000pre.googlegroups.com>

MIKE: Remember to pre-Google. You don’t want to search for ‘lentil bathtub’ without warming up.

> NNTP-Posting-Host: 67.164.117.60
> Mime-Version: 1.0

CROW: Nine-Version: 0.1.

> Content-Type: text/plain;

MIKE: But you can decorate it with maybe a cheery scarf or a smiling button?

> charset="iso-8859-1"
> X-Trace: posting.google.com 1180676229 31488 127.0.0.1

TOM: Aren’t those our orbital elements?

> (1 Jun 2007 05:37:09 GMT)

CROW: Grover Meridian Time — the time zone of Grover everywhere!

> X-Complaints-To: groups…@google.com
> NNTP-Posting-Date: Fri, 1 Jun 2007 05:37:09 +0000 (UTC)

MIKE: The Universal Tickle Company has nothing to add to the time!

> User-Agent: G2/1.0

TOM: G2, G1.0, give or take.

CROW: It’s really G4.872.

> X-HTTP-UserAgent: Mozilla/5.0

MIKE: A fifth of Mozilla?

TOM: With a spot of gin.

> (Windows; U; Windows NT 5.1; en-US; rv:1.8.1.4)

CROW: It’s like when the thunderstorm messes up the closed captioning.

> Gecko/20070515 Firefox/2.0.0.4,gzip(gfe),gzip(gfe)

MIKE: [ As Tigger ] G-zip G-zoo, woo hoo hoo hoo!

> Complaints-To: groups…@google.com
> Injection-Info: a26g2000pre.googlegroups.com; posting-host=67.164.117.60;

TOM: But no carbohydrates, so it’s Atkins-friendly.

> posting-account=Q2zO6wwAAABSLuGzZIjG0efOtB9n8fUY

CROW: When computers curse in Baudot code!

> Xref: rpi sci.math:396490

MIKE: I was never good at these analogy questions.

>
> The Math Wars

[ TOM hums the opening to ‘Star Wars’, as in, dum-dum-dum-DAAAA-DUM! ]

> are to me all about how some people with position and
> power forget the power of the pen,

MIKE: To the brew that is true.

CROW: Don’t say a line like that when you’ve just had garlic.

> and sit letting the pot slowly come
> to a boil.

CROW: This week on baffling metaphor theater!

TOM: Then add three cups of sliced carrots and a dash of mustard.


[ To continue … ]

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Weekdays)? Why is Savarna trying to destroy The Phantom? December 2021 – February 2022


She’s not. It would never occur to her to try. But once you start the avalanche you can’t tell — you know, I mentioned how of course Terry Beatty, of Rex Morgan M.D., was not trying to upstage me. This in providing a good succinct plot recap right as my plot recap was ready to post. While Beatty might be aware of my existence, there is a story comics creator who I know does know I’m around. Tony DePaul himself posted a good, clear recap of the current daily storyline for The Phantom.

It’s worth the read, first for understanding the writer’s intentions. Also for learning bits about the specific mechanics of writing these stories. Like, what does the script look like? How far ahead are stories written? (As DePaul and his collaborators do things, at least; I imagine every writing team develops their own workflow.) How does a story like this, meant to stretch into a third calendar year, get made?

So that and this should catch you up on Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity, through the end of February 2022. If you’re interested in the Sunday continuity, or are reading this after about May 2022, a more useful recap is likely at this link. And, if you’re interested in my explanations of mathematics terms, my glossary project’s resumed over on my other blog. Should have a fresh post up tomorrow, too. Now, let’s talk comics.

The Phantom (Weekdays).

13 December 2021 – 26 February 2022.

I’m not sure what I can add to Tony DePaul’s own summary. My perspective and misunderstandings, I suppose. Still, here goes. In the prophecy of Old Man Mozz, The Phantom successfully breaks Savarna Devi out of death row in Gravelines Prison. But he’s badly wounded, and while the veterinarian they find is able to stitch him together, it’s not over. The Phantom gets a fever, one lasting for days, and in his delusional state he says something catastrophic, that sends Savarna away.

This may all seem like it’s taking a while to get done. Fair enough. But we are seeing what’s meant to be a plausible way that The Phantom — a legacy of five centuries — crashes apart. It’s something that’s survived twenty generations of changing world. Of Phantoms (mostly) dying in action. It’s grown supportive structures, like the Jungle Patrol, that would carry on of their own inertia as long as possible. I quipped in my previous recap of the Sunday strips that The Phantom has to spend about 412 days a year keeping up with ceremonial tasks. He spends a lot of time gluing these structures together. But in exchange, those structures glue The Phantom, the institution, together. It will need a lot to wreck all that. So it has to be something that’s big and complicated and messy.

Phantom, explaining to Mozz: 'Savarna suffered horribly as a child ... her ordeal was just beginning on the night the India Voyager fell to evil men. It made her into someone she was never meant to be. But I won't believe she's deranged, Mozz! She won't harm Kit no matter what she hears me say in Rhodia.'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 13th of January, 2022. I suppose this shows that The Phantom did not know about Jampa’s past with the India Voyager. If he had, he would likely have realized that, in his fever, he said something that let Savarna know where Jampa was.

Savarna’s headed for the Himalayas, and the monastery where Kit Junior, the presumptive 22nd Phantom, is studying. He’s very much not ready yet; he’s not even trying to conceal his face from people. And he’s been thinking how happy he is nobody like Guran, from his pre-monastery life, has appeared, as they would have the news his father died. Then Savarna, from his pre-monastery life, appears, and he’s happy to see her. (I saw some snarking about this inconsistency. Granted it may be inconsistent, but it’s inconsistent in a way normal people are.)

She arrives the week of the 17th of January. That’s when we begin the story/chapter titled Death in the Himalayas. They meet over tea. She explains she’s there for something that needs doing, and something she thought she was finished with. Before The Phantom broke her out of Gravelines he had her swear to be done with revenge. While The Phantom healed, she thought how she was done with killing. And now …

Chief Constable Jampa enters the teahouse. She confronts him. That’s too soft a phrasing. She shoots him. She knows him. Nineteen years ago pirates killed her father, master of the original India Voyager. And her brother. It set her on her campaign of vigilante anti-piracy and anti-fascism. Leading the pirates? That same Jampa. As a girl she was able to scald him, and escape, almost drowning as she does. It makes her life story — and her relentlessness in this point — much clearer.

A panel of Savarna holding her smoking gun. We see, in flashback to 19 years ago, Jampa writing in pain after the young girl Savarna was throw a red-hot pot into his chest. Back in the present, Jampa staggers under the gunshot.
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 19th of February, 2022. This is part of the ten-day sequence done entirely silent. That’s a massive technical challenge. And, as you can see, visually striking: as this unfolds even the panel borders fall apart, turning rough and sketchy in the flashbacks, and falling into diagonals for the non-flashback moments. They finally righted themselves this week, as Savarna declares her father and brother avenged.

You may ask how it is Jampa ended up a chief constable in a remote Himalayan village. Well, how is it Kit Junior ended up in the same place? And, if you’ll let me build a castle on some sky, it might not be coincidence. Years ago we got a line that Kit Junior perceived his tutor Kyabje Dorje to be a Phantom-like superhero. Why might Chief Constable Jampa not be that superhero’s nemesis? It might even say why Kit Senior sent his son there rather than, say, to understudy with The Locust or somebody. (Probably not. Kit Senior was sending Chief Constable Jampa money for reports about his son. Diana Walker called Jampa a good man, a blow to her ability to judge character on slender evidence. On the other hand, I thought that mention of Jampa was just Kit Senior distracting Diana and Guran from Mozz’s prophecy. Now, I see DePaul introducing Jampa to this story before his big death scene.)

But this is where we’ve gotten. Savarna, in an understandable fury, has found Kit Junior and shot the chief constable of this Indian village. The Phantom, unaware of this, is returning home. … Or so foresees Old Man Mozz.

Where does The Phantom, who’s learning all this as we are, go from here? Not my place to say. DePaul was good enough to share that this chapter, Death In The Himalayas, is to end the 16th of April. The next chapter, Phantom’s End, is to run 23 weeks. I calculate that to be the 18th of April through to the 24th of September. And then … three more chapters, he estimates, before this is all done. Quite the project.

Next Week!

Saxon invaders besiege Londinium, and all Prince Valiant has to defend himself is whatever he and Morgan Le Fay can whip up! Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant gets a couple hundred words of explanation, again, if things go to plan. We’ll see.

What’s Going On In Alley Oop? What’s with all these alternate-universe Alley Oops? December 2021 – February 2022


I don’t know. Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop has embraced the idea of the multiverse and that lets them have silly variations of the core cast. I grant this has dramatic economy. This past story introduced Allen Cooper, the analogue of Alley Oop from the all-villain Universe 4. We do get a glimpse of Lula and Doc Atoby, the villain-world counterparts to Ooola and Dr Wonmug, so that’s banked for future use.

The Alley Oop we’re following is Universe-2’s character, by the way. The original newspaper character is Universe-1. He’s safely ensconced in a continuity that has none of the Lemon/Sayers run’s silliness. And this story also saw a brief visit from Ollie Arp, from the more competent (though still goofy) Universe-3.

So this should catch you up to mid-February 2022 in Alley Oop. If you’re reading this after about May 2022 a more current plot update is likely at this link. Thanks for looking up story elements here.

And after a stumble last week I hope to resume my Little 2021 Mathematics A-to-Z tomorrow. What mathematics term do I try to pick up and explain in an essay a normal person can understand? Why not just look and see, in about 18 hours from when this essay posts?

Alley Oop.

6 December 2021 – 19 February 2022.

Doc Wonmug tracked down the history-rippling destruction of Earth’s atmosphere to the year 2000. Our Heroes went to the Rocky Mountain cave holding the Atmosphere Fixer. It’s a 200-year-old device that daily cleans the world’s atmosphere. (Wonmug notes, defensively, it’s not an “everything on Earth” fixer, which is why there are still environment problems.) It was created by one Janet Higgins, a brilliant scientist suppressed to history. And now, the machine’s been sabotaged to make it look like the Y2K bug destroyed the device and the atmosphere.

Wonmug: 'I appears they damaged the temporal rod, causing the machine to fail. I believe they were attempting to make it look like it succumbed to the Y2K bug.' Ooola: 'But why engage in subterfuge? Any damage would have had the same result.' Wonmug: 'Agreed. Whoever did this was *not* a master villain.' Allen Cooper, emerging from hiding: 'Correction! *I* did this, and I *am* a master villain!' Alley Oop: 'You heard the man. He's handsome *and* a villain.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 24th of December, 2021. Have to say this for Cooper and the rest of his Universe-4 band: they are right up front about their villainy. They don’t go concern-trolling of how they’re just so extremely worried that someone might pretend to be trans so they could take women’s soccer scholarships, or that someone taking food assistance nevertheless has luxuries like a phone and a freezer.

Ted emerges and identifies Alley Oop as the saboteur. Ted is a robot Higgins created and watching the Fixer. (I get an impression of Tik-Tok of Oz looking at Ted, but that might be coincidence.) Oop’s innocent, of course. It turns out to be Allen Cooper. Cooper claims to be avenging his parents, killed when the atmosphere failed to save them, and anyway this isn’t his universe. And leaves.

Alley Oop pursues him to Universe 4 and falls into Cooper’s trap. Then punches his way back out of it, a nice reminder that he is a strong and dynamic guy. (Though the actual escape gets done off-panel for comic value.) Alley Oop figures to bring Cooper to Time Court, but doesn’t know how to do that. Fortunately Ollie Arp, their Universe-3 counterpart, pops in and is happy to bring Cooper to Time Justice.

Wonmug: 'Apart from having a missing part, your atmosphere fixer has held up remarkably well for the last 200 years.' Higgins: 'I assume I've finally gotten the recognition I deserve? For saving humanity?' Alley Oop: 'Sorry. No one's ever even heard about --- OOF!' [ as Wonmug elbows him in the belly. ] Wonmug: 'Of COURSE you've received recognition. Every city in the country was renamed Higginsburg.' Higgins: 'Eh, it's a start.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 1st of February, 2022. So, not to take this trifle seriously, but I’m curious how the Atmosphere Fixer ended up put in the Rocky Mountains in 1800; it seems like a hard place for a white woman to get. Why not an Appalachian mountain, or somewhere in Great Britain where all the atmosphere trouble started? Also we have to seriously respect Higgins’s mechanical-tooling skills, especially if she were working from North America in the 18th century.

Back in our universe Doc Wonmug and Ooola haven’t had any luck fixing the broken atmosphere fixer. So Ooola goes back to 1800 to find Janet Higgins. Higgins is a bit prickly, but content to go to the future and save the world again. She assumes she’s finally gotten the recognition deserved and Doc Wonmug nudges Alley Oop out of telling her the truth. And she is delighted to be reunited with Ted, who’s also felt every moment without her was a millennium.

Higgins fixes the thing fast. And Wonmug, considering the hard life she’s had, offers her and Ted something better. He sends them to the year 2782, when Earth finally becomes a Utopia.

Ooola; 'This is kind of like being back in Moo. But without the dinosaurs.' Alley Oop: 'Yeah, I miss them too.' Ooola: 'Strange that we haven't seen anyone yet.' Oop: 'Maybe that's *why* it's Utopia.' Wen, emerging from behind a tree: 'Oh, we were just letting you settle in. My name is Wen.' Oop: '*AH*! You startled me! My heart is racing.' Wen: 'Don't worry, only the finest adrenaline flows here.' Oop:'You're right! It *does* feel nice.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 15th of February, 2022. This seems fine.

The 11th of February, Alley Oop and Ooola sneak off to Utopia — Eutopia, they soon learn — against Doc Wonmug’s warning that they’ll just wreck it if they visit. (He includes himself as someone who would definitely screw utopia up.) They’re welcomed and everything seems great. Can’t help noticing Ooola watching a white rabbit run off somewhere, though, in one strip. I am a STEM idiot, yes, but I am capable of recognizing an allusion sometimes.

Next Week!

I hope to catch you up on how The Phantom, the Man Who Cannot Die, learns how he was going to die. It’s Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity, one week from now. As ever, that’s if all goes well.

What’s Going On In Judge Parker? Why is April angry the show she wanted made got made? November 2021 – February 2022


So back in 2019, April Parker learned Neddy Spencer and Ronnie Huerta were writing a screenplay based on her life. And demanded they rewrite it to be correct. To tell the truth about her situation, on the run from CIA super-high-ultra-duper prison and all. This past month, the show finally debuted, and she was livid. Offended that someone was using her life to make a show.

This inconsistency hasn’t been explained. I’m not sure there is a way around it. The hypothesis I was working from was wild but not impossible: that the whole series was made by the CIA to flush April Parker out of hiding. In this interpretation, the woman who gave Neddy and Ronnie all those notes was a CIA (or equivalent) agent, trying to get things going. (Neddy Spencer would be involved so they’d know who April Parker would seek out and harass.) It’s a bit wild, but no wilder than actual things done.

But I don’t see how that’s tenable. In August 2019 we saw Norton say he had sent April “elsewhere” from Cavelton. And the woman identified as April refers to “the reason my Dad sent us here”, the screenplay she didn’t suspect existed. There is still some slender room there, in case the plan is to retcon that person as yet another April Parker lookalike. Norton had one (so far as we know) working for him, Agent Strand. The show chose to cast another. That becomes a reasonable choice if the whole show was some bonkers sting operation.

But it’s hard to see how to square this all so it fits. More plausible may be that what April Parker imagined in 2019 was so different from the reality in 2022 that it was not what she wanted. Or that she loved the dream of a TV show based on her life (don’t many of us?) and found the reality too much to bear.

So this is my attempt to bring you up to speed for Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for mid-February 2022. If you’re reading this after about May 2022, or if any news about the comic strip breaks, you should be able to find a more relevant essay here.

And on my other blog I hope tomorrow to resume my Little 2021 Mathematics A-to-Z. This is a glossary project, looking at words from mathematics. Tomorrow’s word? Triangle.

Judge Parker.

21 November 2021 – 13 February 2022.

Last time you’ll recall, Deputy Mayor Stewart took time off his job of making mopey frowny faces to show Sam Driver a video. It’s drone footage that appears to show Abbey Spencer setting fire to her bed-and-breakfast. Stewart is ready to propose something when Alan Parker interrupts the two, and the Deputy Mayor flees.

Driver: 'SO IS THE VIDEO REAL OR NOT?' Stewart: 'You saw the footage. Footage the mayor never saw and I could bury ... just as I alert the media that in good faith as deputy mayor I can't stand by a lie anymore, revealing the mayor alone committed arson, so much was his hatred for Ms Spencer. Then I'm no longer just 'deputy'.'
Francesco Marciuliani and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 2nd of December, 2021. A part of Comics Kingdom’s current web site borkery is that the permanent links aren’t working. I can’t create them, and old ones aren’t working. So I have to make do with temporary ones that I think non-subscribers can only use for a week. If this changes I’ll try to fix these.

They meet up in the park. Stewart avoids answering whether the drone footage is true. And asserts he left the flash drive with video on it by mistake. But he has a deal: he’ll tell the public that Mayor Sanderson burned down the bed-and-breakfast. The motive? Sanderson’s ongoing irrational hatred for the Spencers. Why would he do this? Well, he’ll become mayor. And he’ll have some wealthy, grateful patrons when it’s time to run in his own right. So, do they have a deal?

Woman: 'You've done nothing but attack Ms Spencer for months. 70% of those polled say they can easily see you burning down her property.' Man: 'And now businesses are refusing to work with you. We have a giant, brand-new warehouse that sits empty.' Sanderson: 'BUT WHERE IS THE PROOF?!?' Man: 'This is bigger than that now. This is about business.'
Francesco Marciuliani and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 12th of January, 2022. I like the Network vibe of this scene. The attitude that it doesn’t matter whether Sanderson committed arson that completely destroyed a building and could have killed people and animals. All that matters is there’s money a warehouse isn’t making.

What’s one more illicit deal for Sam Driver? He goes for it. Days before Christmas, Stewart announces what he “knows”. And while I’m not clear what evidence Stewart gives the public, he is believed. Mayor Sanderson’s backers inform him it’s over. It doesn’t matter whether there’s proof. “This is about business.” And so he resigns, in a humiliating speech calling for the people to rise up and demand their voice be heard. That’s another interesting choice because while Sanderson has been presented as a short-tempered, irrational, and awful person … we don’t have evidence that he actually did anything here. All we’ve seen is the video that seems to show Abbey Spencer burning down her money pit of a bed-and-breakfast. The text, so far, shows this as rich and ambitious people overthrowing the legitimate and innocent mayor of Cavelton.

[ Sophie watches the drone footage of Abbey supposedly committing arson ... ] Sophie: 'This is BAD, Sam.' Driver: 'But we both know there's no way Abbey could actually have done that, right?' Sophie: 'It's not just that. It's how you agreed with the Deputy Mayor's terms. It's how he has you in possession of evidence. It's everything. And it's how you don't sound entirely convinced that Abbey is innocent. You do believe she's innocent, don't you, Sam?' Driver: 'Of course I do. I do! It's just, well, the video ... ' Sophie: 'This is all BAD, Sam.'
Francesco Marciuliani and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 9th of January, 2022. Oh, also, about fixing these links? I will absolutely forget unless somebody nags me into fixing them. So if you’re reading this sometime in the distant future of, like, March 2022, and want me to fix the links, leave a comment, please.
The Spencers celebrate, of course. But Sophie — preparing to return to college — notices how Sam Driver’s still stressed. She spies on him, catching him with the flash drive. He can only explain it by showing the video, and Sophie points out how this is all kinds of bad. Stewart could not have left the flash drive by accident. Stewart must want Driver to have incredibly incriminating evidence. And there is something really wrong that Driver treated the video as legitimate.

But we still don’t have an explanation for what it truly is.


Meanwhile, some happy news. Ronnie Huerta and Kat’s relationship had shattered when Huerta tried to get some space before their wedding. Huerta had spent every moment from their breakup calling asking to talk with Kat again. Kat finally took a call. And they had a serious and meaningful talk. One where they talked about what was going wrong. One that’s better than any relationship advice I’ve seen in Mary Worth. Their problem was a plausible pattern. Huerta felt overwhelmed by Kat’s determination and energy. Kat felt she needed to put more into the wedding plans because Huerta was withdrawing. And these reactions to the problems encouraged the original problems to worsen.

Kat, on the phone: 'Ronnie, I ... I'm not sure if I should confess this --- because I really feel my anger is justified --- but I still miss you.' Ronnie: 'I miss you, too.' Kat: 'Well, duh.' Ronnie: 'Hahaha and now I'm laughing awkwardly because I'm not sure if we're at that point yet.'
Francesco Marciuliani and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 17th of December, 2021. By “a comment” I mean “a string of comments” because I am sure to need that.

The thing is they both want to be together. And that’s a good thing. My experience is, if two parties want to get along, they can. And they do, moving back together in time for the debut of their show, Converge, on streaming service Plus+.


The debut comes the 24th of January, reader time. The reactions are … mixed. Sophie’s college roommate Reena is impressed, wondering why Sophie never told her she was interesting. Alan Parker is traumatized by the sight of an actor playing April Parker and demands that monster out of their home, even in TV version. Neddy and Ronnie … are pretty sure the show will get better. And April Parker …

[ As Alan storms out after catching a glimpse of April on Neddy's show ... ] Alan: 'HOW COULD YOU BRING THAT MONSTER INTO OUR HOME?!' Katherine: 'ALAN!' [ Someone starts building their own head of steam about the April character ... ] April: 'Seriously, does that person act or sound like me AT ALL?!' Randy: 'Is this really our biggest concern right now, April?'
Francesco Marciuliani and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 29th of January, 2022. Randy Parker thinks it’s much more important that the plotting problems be resolved, and soon, or the show won’t be picked up for a second season.
She is angry. She can’t believe the casting, for one. And she’s offended someone “stole [her] life and put it on TV”. It inspires a fight between her and Randy Parker. Also at last we see Randy in whatever secluded secret hideout they’re at with April Parker’s mother. And with little Charlotte Parker, who wants to go back to their real home. Randy does too, or at least, he’s realized hiding out from the world of super-duper-hyper-spy etc is no kind of life. (We also get a mention that April’s mother “put [ Norton ] out of his misery”, which reinforces the idea he’s dead. I don’t believe it either.) It’s a bad situation. And we’re left with the mystery of why April Parker is so angry with a show she demanded.

Also the stress of being an international(?) super-fugitive is breaking down Randy’s feelings for his possibly-ex-wife. We’ll see how that develops by the next time I check in, I expect.

Next Week!

Did our heroes prevent the destruction of Earth twenty years ago? And did it involve a suppressed-to-history female scientist? I’ll answer these questions ‘yes’ using more words when I look at Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop next week, all going well.

Oh, and if you’re wondering about The Amazing Spider-Man reruns? The past three months of that have covered roughly what this essay does. Glad to catch you up there.

MiSTed: JSH: So They Lied (Part 3 of 3)


And now let me wrap up my Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment of James S Harris’s Usenet rant, “So They Lied”. When I split this piece up for easier reading, I thought this last piece was longer than it was. In word count it’s about the same as the first two segments. This may be some lesson about how the back-and-forth of text and riffing will seem different from the dialogue of host sketches.

At one point one of the sci.math regulars, trying to give James Harris every possible benefit, tried to use his revolutionary new factoring method as it existed that month (it saw many, many revisions) to decompose 15 into 3 times 5. The proof went on and on and on, and bringing in bigger and bigger numbers, and not showing any hints of producing a ‘3’ or a ‘5’ from all this. It’s the only time I have ever seen factoring numbers be laugh-out-loud funny. Mr Harris did not see the humor.

When I wrote this it was a safe bet that the Cubs would lose in excruciating ways. We’ve lost all our traditions lately. Bobo factoring large numbers in his head is another expression of my liking dumb characters having weird corners of hypercompetence. (And I remember doing some fishing around looking for a good prime number somewhere in the millions. The other numbers I think I found by taking some small prime numbers and multiplying them together.) I feel like Pearl’s fuming and then finally doing nothing more than throwing some papers around is a reference to something, but I can’t think what. The little “closing credits” line about the alien soccer tournament certainly refers to something, but I don’t remember if it was an in-joke with my friends or something that could possibly communicate.


>
> Is life really not fair, or are most people cowards to the truth?

MIKE: Uhm … I say ‘not fair’.

TOM: I say ‘coward’.

CROW: ‘Coward’, definitely.

TOM: Make mine ‘not fair’.

MIKE: I want to change to ‘coward’ now.

CROW: Maybe it is just ‘not fair’.

TOM: I’m gonna write in ‘The Beatles’.

>
> A person like me comes around only every hundred years or so,

CROW: The mathematics of Brigadoon.

> and
> people forget.
>
> And then a LOT of people die,

MIKE: So World War I was started by the mathematicians?

> and then the mythologies are written,

CROW: About … mathematicians.

> legends are born.

TOM: About …

MIKE: Right.

CROW: Yeah, I remember this one mathematician who … uhm …

>
> But make no mistake, you might be one of those people who die THIS
> time.

MIKE: But *only* if you finish your chores.

>
> I suggest to you that even if you don’t give a damn about mathematics,

CROW: Give a *darn*, thank you.

> couldn’t care less about what is truth, why should you protect fakes
> who have betrayed you, yet again,

MIKE: Maybe you like the fakes. Some of them have great parties.

CROW: I love those parties. You know, “Isn’t everyone here so really?”

> and in their inability to understand
> and their lack of intelligence, they leave the world vulnerable,

MIKE: The world is just feeling very fragile right this minute.

> because this time, to stop this post, all they had to do was step
> up–and protect the world?

CROW: Step right up! Protect three worlds for a nickel!

>
> TODAY they could have stepped up to protect the world.

MIKE: Tomorrow, they could step up to protect Neptune.

>
> Die for them?

CROW: Who?

>
> Why?

TOM: Good question.

>
> And even if you won’t die, why let anyone else?

CROW: Strap a mathematician into a protective baby seat!

>
> Their quiet is your answer if you had questions.

MIKE: So it’s a good thing you asked them what quiet sounded like.

>
> Yes, they lied. They betrayed the world. And they lost.

TOM: But they’ve got a pocket full of quarters and can play all day.

>
> Question now is, who loses with them?

MIKE: I’m guessing the Cubs.

>
> James Harris

MIKE: Or yeah, he’ll do too.

[ ALL exit. ]

[ 1… 2… 3… 4… 5… 6… ]


[ SATELLITE OF LOVE DESK. TOM SERVO, MIKE, and CROW are filling out a form. ]

MIKE: All right, so, who was running the world according to that?

TOM: Uh … I don’t know … mathematicians were running mathematics?

MIKE: [ Writing ] And what was their objective?

CROW: We don’t have any idea.

MIKE: [ Still writing ] Don’t … have … idea. Method of ruling the world?

CROW: Something to do with prime numbers.

MIKE: Prime … numbers. Likelihood of success?

TOM: We have no idea what that was all about.

MIKE: … Was … all … about. Okay, Pearl, good luck with your world conquest through prime numbers.


[ CASTLE FORRESTER. PROFESSOR BOBO and OBSERVER are working as above; PEARL is in front, by the camera. After a pause OBSERVER does that brain-wave thing, and MIKE’s report pops into her hand. ]

PEARL: Excellent! And when we take over this … cabal … we’ll be able to … uh … factorize numbers like … twenty-eight thousand, eight hundred fifty eight in —

BOBO: [ Without looking up ] Two times forty-seven times three hundred seven.

PEARL: [ Slighty thrown ] Or … one million, five hundred thirty-one thousand, one hundred twelve …

BOBO: Two to the third power times eleven times one hundred twenty-seven times one hundred thirty-seven.

PEARL: [ Challenging ] 89 thousand, one hundred seventy-five.

BOBO: [ Finally looking at her ] Three times five squared times twenty-nine times forty-one.

PEARL: [ Testy ] Nine million … three hundred eighty six thousand … seven hundred thirty-one.

BOBO: Is already prime.


[ PEARL stares at BOBO. OBSERVER slips his pile of papers onto BOBO’s table while she fumes, and then slips away. After letting her temper build, PEARL grabs all the papers on BOBO’s table and throws them in the air, creating a flurry of sheets of paper. ]

PEARL: [ Turning to the camera; oddly pleasant ] Thanks for the help.
We’ll be in touch over the holiday season.

                        \   |   /
                         \  |  /
                          \ | /
                           \|/
                        ----O----
                           /|\
                          / | \
                         /  |  \
                        /   |   \

Mystery Science Theater 3000 and the characters and situations therein are the property of Best Brains, Inc, so kindly nobody tell them about this and we’ll all be better off. The essay “So They Lied” is the property of James S Harris as posted to sci.math. This MiSTing as a whole is the property of Joseph Nebus, who doesn’t intend anything mean-spirited or hostile to James Harris, Brad Guth, Best Brains, or the concept of Mystery Science Theater 3000. If they just won the alien soccer tournament, they’re going to be too tired to fly all the way to Earth just for dessert toppings. Please come back, Dr Mike Neylon!

> Now I have found a new factoring method.
>
> Literally trillions of dollars WILL move as a result, but for now, you
> can see the quiet as these people keep lying.


[ The end ]

MiSTed: JSH: So They Lied (Part 2 of 3)


And now the second of three parts of James Harris’s declaration to Usenet group sci.math, “So They Lied”. Rants were always good for the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment; they had much of the energy of a really strident mental-hygiene film but were about even more ridiculous things than, like, whether you were brushing your teeth in the correct order.

I’m not sure there’s any riffs that need explaining here. Maybe just the note that Gauss was one of those spectacular once-in-a-century mathematicians. I think I’m more obscure in the last part. Oh, Fermat’s Little Theorem is this cute little thing. If p is a prime number, and a is a whole number, then a^p - a is some whole multiple of p. It’s not hard to prove but it feels like it is, in Intro to Abstract Algebra, where you learn to do that stuff. It has nothing to do with Fermat’s Last Theorem.

I tend not to make riffs where the characters wish they weren’t reading the thing. I can’t get past how I-the-author don’t just choose to read the original but choose to go out of my way to focus on it. But Mike and the Bots offering to let Mr Harris, and them, do other stuff was too solidly in-character. Also, probably, good advice too. If you’re getting very worked up about your revolutionary new concept in number theory and arguing about it online, you maybe need to do something else until you find the part where your work wasn’t as correct as you had supposed.


>
> Trouble is, the worst thing for people faking at being mathematicians
> is someone who actually is a mathematician.

TOM: The second-worst thing is being caught by a cop for
differentiating in public.

>
> So they beat up such people,

CROW: [ Snickering ]

MIKE: Yeah, my Freshman Calc TA could beat up … well …

TOM: The other Freshman Calc TA?

MIKE: Maybe.

> force them out of the discipline,

CROW: Turn their backs and go “nyah nyah nyah I can’t hear you”!

> and
> drown them out with crowd forces.

TOM: Challenge them to sword fights with their old slide rules!

>
> Their loophole was the reality that major mathematicians only come
> around once every couple of hundred years,

CROW: Everybody, look busy, Gauss is coming through!

> so they got away with it for
> a bit over a hundred years,

MIKE: Makes it sound like a pretty good deal, actually.

> and I was forced into my destiny.

TOM: I held aloft my magic sword, and said, “By the power of Greyskull” and then … well, nothing happened, and I felt kind of silly.

>
> If it were up to me, I’d be doing so many other things than this.

CROW: Well, don’t let us stop you.

MIKE: Hey, I’ve got some stuff to do if you need new projects.

>
> But it’s not up to me,

TOM: It’s up to my mom.

> I’m driven by some overwhelming force that makes
> me fight against these people pretending to be real mathematicians, and
> so, here we are.

MIKE: Don’t you see, what I’m trying to say is, will you marry me?

>
> The encryption system that they said was so powerful–because they’re
> not real mathematicians–is now, as I type this,

TOM: Pig Latin.

> broken. The world
> does not know this

CROW: Don’t tell it. You’ll just wreck its sleep.

> because the social forces are that strong, but
> eventually the truth will be known.

TOM: It will be whispered to David Duchovny, who won’t understand it.

>
> These people are people some of you admire and trust,

CROW: Real people. Salt of the earth types.

> who have sat
> back, for years now, clearly I think,

MIKE: In groups of, three words or, so.

> believing that social forces
> could stop someone like me.

TOM: Stopping *you*, or stopping someone who’s only *like* you?

>
> But mathematics is more than just a word.

CROW: It’s a whole kooky groovy far-out scene, man.

>
> The proof for those of you who hoped, believed, or just wanted to deny
> the truth is in that new factoring method,

MIKE: Identify the factors of fifteen in under three hours!

> which if the people you
> thought were mathematicians actually were, then they’d be talking about
> it everywhere, warning the world,

CROW: GANGWAY!

MIKE: THE NEW FACTORING METHOD IS HERE!

TOM: RUN TO YOUR DESIGNATED PRIME NUMBERS!

> excited about it, and working on
> solutions to protect OUR WORLD.

TOM: Or at least maybe save Delaware.

>
> But instead, they are quiet, leaving the doors open, leaving the world
> vulnerable.

CROW: We *just* can’t have nice things, can we?

> Leaving it possible for innocents to suffer or even die
> because they are not who they claim to be.

MIKE: Death by greatest common denominator!

>
> But I am.

TOM: You’re leaving the world vulnerable?

>
> The choice is yours. I can’t do it alone.

CROW: Funny how life changes, huh, guy fiddles around with Fermat’s Little Theorem, the hunter becomes the hunted, well, what’re you gonna do?

>
> These people will let civilization crumble. They will let terrorists
> and other criminals,

MIKE: And people who return library books late.

> or anyone who has the will and know-how to use the
> mathematics in an evil way,

TOM: Or who foolishly open up an evil parabola.

CROW: The cosecants of doom!

MIKE: The quadratic formula for MURDER!

> do it, without the world knowing because it
> trusts them because they are not who they claim to be.

CROW: It’s not even our world! It’s Mars, isn’t that the weirdest thing?

>
> You may die if you do nothing, and isn’t that fair?

TOM: We all have to die of something, you know, a heart attack, a car accident, being shot by the snipers of the worldwide mathematics conspiracy.


[ To conclude … ]

MiSTed: JSH: So They Lied (Part 1 of 3)


For my next Mystery Science Theater 3000 performance, it’s a Usenet rant. James S Harris was — possibly still is — a regular on sci.math, a group for just what you’d think. Like everyone who loves mathematics, he tried to solve Fermat’s Last Theorem. Like many people, he thought he had something; it’s not difficult to come up with work that looks like it should prove that thing about a^n + b^n = c^n . Also like everyone taking that tack, including Fermat, he was wrong. He spent a lot of time arguing with the sci.math Actual Mathematicians about how no, maybe the whole of professional mathematics was wrong and not him.

As a sideline to his Fermat work, he thought he found a new scheme for factoring numbers. And spent a lot of time arguing with the sci.math Actual Mathematicians about how no, maybe the whole of professional mathematics was wrong and not him. So this is one piece of those many fights.

In the introduction sketch I imagine rattling apart a very fragile Tom Servo doll, one like the Crow T Robot that gets frozen to pieces in Eegah. I like writing sketches that have some visual action while staying something basic cable could produce in the 90s. The Izah fat evaporator was based on some similarly-named “make your muscles twitch so you lose weight” scam device I saw ads for in Singapore in the early 2000s. They were oddly hypnotic, showing this box put on various parts of the body while the singer chanted, “zap zap thigh, zap zap thigh, zap zap tummy, zap zap tummy”, and so on. The 17/23 Correlation is some weird conspiracy thing I know about because it got mentioned, and not explained, in The Straight Dope. The “such a Ratliff” that Pearl Forrester warns she has waiting was Stephen Ratliff’s story “Endeavor’s Beginning”, a group project to which I donated riffs. If it was ever finished and published I missed the news. Shame; I remember doing some good work on that. I think the “a kind of fish” line was originally one of Dave Barry’s jokes and forget from where.


[ OPENING CREDITS, SEASON TEN STYLE. ]

[ 1… 2… 3… 4… 5… 6… ]

[ SATELLITE OF LOVE. CROW, MIKE, and TOM SERVO are behind the desk. TOM has a bright yellow power brick-size contraption strapped to his chest; it has an oversized spiral paper disc in front. ]

CROW: [ Taunting ] Tom, you’re gonna die.

TOM: Am not.

MIKE: Gotta side with Crow. [ Looking up: ] Hi, everyone. Welcome back to the Satellite of Love, and, uh, Tom is worried about his figure.

TOM: My friends wouldn’t say anything, but I have been packing on a few too many pounds and I don’t have time for a good exercise program, so instead I got an Izah fat evaporator. By stimulating my many muscle groups in rhythmic oscillatory pulses I can shed pounds without any work.

CROW: He’s gonna die.

MIKE: Crow’s right, but hey, you want, you want.

TOM: Right! Fire me up to fitness, Mike!


[ MIKE touches a button on the brick; the paper wheel starts spinning. TOM rattles around like an unbalanced washing machine. TOM makes all sorts of aggedy-aggedy-aggedy and acking type noises, while pieces go flying off — his cap, his head, his skirt, his arms one at a time, the front of his barrel, and finally he collapses behind the desk. ]

CROW: Told you so!

MIKE: Crow, hush, that’s not very nice.

[ MIKE leans down and digs around on the floor. He picks up the small cylinder with TOM’s mouth on it. ]

TOM: [ Dazedly ] I … feel … … lithe.

[ MADS SIGN flashes. ]

MIKE: Aw, great, and now Pearl needs us … Hello down there …

[ MIKE hits the MADS SIGN with TOM, who goes ‘Ow!’. ]


[ CASTLE FORRESTER. PEARL, PROFESSOR BOBO, and OBSERVER are seated behind card tables covered with books, papers, scrawled notes, strangely marked globes, astrolabes, for that `stuff’ theme. A bare light on a long electrical wire hangs over their heads. BOBO and OBSERVER mutter their lines to each other. ]

BOBO: Federal Reserve …

OBSERVER: Opus Dei …

PEARL: [ To BOBO and OBSERVER, muttering ] Just, keep me posted.
[ To camera, boisterously ] All right, Nel-sonnnn … [ She drags out the ‘n’, thinking of a way to twist it, finally giving up with: ] N. I got to thinking: why go to all the hard work of taking over the world when I can just find the guys who *do* rule the world and take *them* over?

[ BOBO holds up a piece of paper with “17/23” written across it, which OBSERVER does not find interesting. ]

PEARL: So now I just have to find them, and by ‘I’ I mean ‘you’, so, get into that theater and tell me what this tells you about who’s ruling the world, got it?

OBSERVER: Heidi Klum …

BOBO: Goo goo ga joob.

PEARL: BRAIN GUY!

OBSERVER: Hup … one conspiracy in 35 millimeters, coming up.

[ BRAIN GUY noise. ]

PEARL: And you better get it right or I have *such* a Ratliff waiting.


[ SATELLITE OF LOVE. MIKE is trying out putting the gumball dome under TOM’s mouth, while CROW snickers. ]

TOM: This just feels funny.

[ MOVIE SIGN; ALL panic. ]

ALL: MOVIE SIGN!

[ INTO THE THEATER … 6… 5… 4… 3… 2… 1… ]

[ MIKE carries in just TOM’s mouthpiece, and hides it behind the chair. ]

> From: jst…@msn.com

CROW: Hail the Missin’com!

> Newsgroups: sci.math,alt.math.undergrad

MIKE: o/` old.math.river, that old.math.river … o/`

> Subject: JSH: So they lied

CROW: It happens.

> Lines: 109

CROW: Polygons: 28.

[ TOM, back to normal, emerges in silhouette. ]

> Message-ID: <1150354125….@g10g2000cwb.googlegroups.com>

TOM: It’s ten to one hundredth power of giddy, groupy fun!

>
> I first began to get a real grasp of the true situation when I was
> arguing about my prime counting function,

CROW: We’re … so very sorry for you.

> which is actually THE prime
> counting function,

MIKE: The prime counting function of the whole tri-city area!

> and after yet another useless argument on sci.math
> with some regulars, it occurred to me, they had to know.

TOM: How do you tell when an argument on Usenet is useless?

MIKE: It’s on Usenet?

>
> They had to know that what I had actually was different from what was
> previously known in key ways,

CROW: Like in its delightful lemony scent.

> but they were deliberately lying about
> it.

TOM: I confronted them. They denied it. Case closed.

>
> Now I have found a new factoring method.

MIKE: [ Mad science laughter ] Mwu-hu-ha-hA-HA-HA-HA-HAAA … huh?

>
> Literally trillions of dollars WILL move as a result, but for now, you
> can see the quiet as these people keep lying.

TOM: It was visible out there. Too, too visible.

>
> How is it possible?

MIKE: Can this mixed-up world be as zany as I hope?

>
> Mathematics is a difficult discipline.

CROW: And a worse toothpaste.

>
> Or you can say, math is hard.

TOM: But with a crunchy peanut buttery center.

>
> Most people shy away from it because it IS so hard,

MIKE: Others avoid it because they’re afraid a rogue
isosceles triangle will impale them.

> but a few people
> learned that while doing real mathematics was hard, LOOKING like you
> were doing real mathematics was easier.

TOM: Finally we learn why Sudoku has caught on!

>
> So they fake it.

MIKE: But they were caught when they identified the square root symbol as “a kind of fish”.


[ To continue … ]

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? Are they making a Gasoline Alley movie? October – December 2021


In the strip, as I write this, someone’s making a movie in Gasoline Alley. I trust it’ll involve the characters of the venerable comic strip. Still, it raises the question: wait, did they never make a Gasoline Alley movie? Like, back in the 40s or 50s when every comic strip turned into a movie? Indeed, they did, with two movies in 1951: Gasoline Alley and Corky of Gasoline Alley.

There were also a couple of radio versions of Gasoline Alley. The 1941 NBC version, according to John Dunning’s On The Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio, was a daily serial that adapted that day’s newspaper comic. I know they only had to fill ten minutes of airtime, and that comics were more densely written those days. I still can’t imagine how you pad one day’s comic out to that much time. I can’t find any recordings of the 1941 run, though, and wonder whether it’s unavailable or whether it’s held by collectors who haven’t put it on the free-download sources.

So this should catch you up to the end of 2021 in Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley. If you’re reading this after April 2022, or if any news about the comic breaks, I should have an update here. And on my other blog, I’ve been sharing some older writing, while I get the energy to finish last year’s little glossary project. You might enjoy it also.

Gasoline Alley.

10 October – 31 December 2021.

The Gasoline Alley forest rangers wanted to hold a Halloween party, last I checked in. The young, bear-befriending Aubee and Boog suggested the Emmons house, vacant since the widow Sarah Emmons died. It’s a fine, haunted-looking place, their mother Hoogy Skinner agrees. But she’s barely seen the spot when real estate agent Kim Luna arrives with the news it’s been sold, sight unseen. But the new owner doesn’t mind if the locals have a party as long as they don’t damage the place.

Kim Luna: 'Good news! The owner said you could use his house for the party ... but don't damage or leave it a wreck!' Hoogy Skinner: 'He hasn't seen it, has he?' Luna: 'No! He's from out of state and bought it *site* and *sight* unseen!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 26th of October, 2021. He bought a house in Gasoline Alley Town without even having real estate agent Kim Luna walk through it holding up a Facetime camera? This out-of-state owner is braver than Navy Seals. Also the comments on GoComics have charming messages of concern from people worried about the lawsuit potential everyone’s opening everyone else up to, here.

It’s a successful enough party to attract Snuffy Smith. Also Bearlee and Uncle Bearnaise, the wild bears that Aubee and Boog were hanging out with last plot recap. They give Aubee, who’s herself dressed as a bear, tips on how to act more authentic. The bears win the costume contest, because Jim Scancarelli likes writing that sort of gentle fantastic American Cornball plot.

Then, from the 9th of November, a second American Cornball plot intrudes. This one involves counterfeiters, who’d been using the place to store their product. I know what you’re thinking: oh, they’re the buyers of the house, right? But then why would they have allowed a party there? They’re not the buyers. They were just using the abandoned house. They never expected the place to get sold, nor that there would be a party there. If they had they’d have pretended to haunt the place or something. Still, they’ve locked up everything incriminating, so I’m not sure what they’re there to do. I guess they wanted the free food.

Bank robber, in front of a wall of cartoon characters including Pogo, Birdman, Ben Grimm, and Felix the Cat: 'Something's going on! There's a commotion over in the corner where our press and phony money is hidden, Boss!' Sophie, a little kid dressed as Amelia Earhart, opens the door and dollar bills pour out; she says, 'Blooky!' The Boss says, 'Not anymore, it isn't!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 12th of November, 2021. There is a strip where Sophie’s mother explains how she was able to pick the lock open: ‘Easy!’ And that’s all we get. Whether you see that as yeah, all the explanation the story needs (and a cute joke to finish it) or as an irritating dodge of the author’s responsibility to explain major developments probably says whether you should be reading Gasoline Alley.

And then one of the kids opens the locked door with everything behind. The counterfeiters fake having guns, by draping handkerchiefs over food. The partygoers think it’s a performance, and slowly realize it’s not. The cops show up fast enough, thanks to Boog calling them. The counterfeiters try to flee, but slip and fall on the broken beads of Ava Luna’s necklace. (She’s the daughter of the real estate agent.) And so all ends happily. Not for the counterfeiters, sent to jail. But Sophie and Ava Luna get rewards. And the party is the hit of the forest rangers’ families’ Halloweens.


On the 6th of December started the annual magic encounter with Santa. It sure reads like it’s the same night of the Halloween party. But Aubee, Sophie, and Ava agree it’d be great to visit Santa Claus. Ava even knows how to get there: she’s got a magic hat and doll.

Ava Luna, setting her magic doll Ida Noe on the table: 'I'll prove it works! OK, Ida Noe. Aubee, Sophie, and I are ready!' Ida Noe: 'Where do you want to go?' Ava: 'How about Santa's Workshop, North Pole?' Ida: 'OK! Pull down your hat!' Aubee: 'Uh! Wait a sec, Ava!' Ava: 'You scared, Aubee?' Ida: 'What's the hold-up?'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 11th of December, 2021. If you want you can say this was all in the kids’ heads, but then are you really getting into the Christmas story spirit? Anyway I’m a little surprised there wasn’t some allusion to the classic old-time-radio children’s Christmas serial The Cinnamon Bear. But it’s plausible there was and I missed it.

So you’re either in for this sort of light silliness, or you hate-read Gasoline Alley. I hope you walk a path chosen wisely. The kids blip up to Santa’s Workshop and meet Bunky the Elf, keeper of the list of good and bad kids. They meet the reindeer and see the sleigh’s loading dock. And even get to meet Santa Claus, who asks them to tell their parents that Santa still loves them. Again, you’re either in for this sort of thing, or you hate-read Gasoline Alley. (I don’t hate-read the strip.) Mrs Claus gives them cookies right before Ava wishes them all back home, where they wake up in bed with a tale their parents won’t believe. But also cookies, and where did they come from? Huh?


The 27th of December starts the new and current story, about a movie getting made in Gasoline Alley. It’s too soon to say where this is going.

Next Week!

Zebra mussels, bees, skulduggery, and NFTs! What else could it be but Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail, recapped, if all goes well? See you then. And until then, if you see something in nature? Please try not to mess it up. Thank you.

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? Were those drones from the future watching Dick Tracy? October – December 2021


The big storyline in Dick Tracy was set off by “Time Drones”. That is, the kind of hovering aerial camera/microphones used to record viral videos of drivers attempting the new traffic circle. The Time Factory blew up, though we saw many drones hovering over the ruins. And Smith asks if Tracy remembers “what my first time travel drone, the ‘mystery ship’, saw”. Tracy does, and Smith says, “I think that future is now”. Tracy’s memory is better than mine, or those of most readers. jonahhex1, a GoComics commenter, identified what all this was about. The fleet of drones was not from our, 2021’s, future. By “The Future” what was referenced was this moment from 2014, the story introducing the time travel shenanigans into our strip:

Diet Smith, explaining: 'As you remember, Tracy, my son, Brilliant, was killed by the criminal, Big Frost. I began project 'Blue Image' to go back in time and save him. I tried countless modifications. But it was impossible to dictate the era the 'Mystery Ship' would travel to. Each try became more perilous. So I stopped. Of all the images we received, the last was most telling. It was of this building, all gone but for some rubble atop its cornerstone, while aircraft filled the sky overhead.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 6th of November, 2014. I think we’re all impressed that Staton and Curtis dropped in something that they wouldn’t pay off for seven years. But I would like them to pop over and borrow some narrative bubbles from The Phantom because one little tag reading “Nov 6, 2014” would have saved me a lot of confusion reading the strip. Now on to resolving the haunting of B.O.Plenty’s home!

These drones, then, are not a fleet of onlookers from the future gawking at a major disaster. They’re just contemporary drones gawking at a major disaster. Diet Smith has said he doesn’t plan to build new Time Drones, and nobody’s been shown trying to change his mind.

This should catch you up to December 2021 in Mike Curtis, Joe Staton, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy. (Joe Staton stepped down from the strip in late October.) If you’re reading this after about March 2022, or any news about the comic strip breaks, I should have a more useful essay for you here.

And a last bit of self-promotion. While I’ve put my mathematics glossary project on a (brief, I hope) hiatus, I do still have what I think are quite nice discussions up there. And I’m bringing some older discussions out of the misty past, using the old-fashioned time-droning of going on at length. Thanks for considering my pop mathematics writing.

Dick Tracy.

3 October – 25 December 2021.

Diet Smith’s newest super-invention is the Time Drone, able to bring aerial surveillance to anyone, anytime, through all history. I know, you’re busy thinking how “the past” includes split-seconds in the past. But I ask you to consider how much this could mess up Silver and Sprocket Nitrate’s forged-historical-movies business. By day it offers glorious opportunities to historical and archeological researchers. By night it offers Sterling Eliot, Smith Industries mole on behalf of The Apparatus, the chance to find lost loot for the crime syndicate. And, for himself, a chance to look at this coming week’s lottery numbers. At least until the Time Drone apparatus explodes, killing Eliot and two others, and wounding Diet Smith.

Sterling Elliot, working the Time Drone apparatus; in view is a newspaper mentioning the $1.75 billion lottery jackpot. Elliot thinks: 'I've done all the footwork and erased the tracks for The Apparatus. After this trip, I can write my own ticket out of here.' Something goes awry with the Time Drone, that shivers and wobbles around uncontrollably: 'What? ... The diagnostics report was clear ... I CAN'T STABILIZE IT!' The Time Drone explodes, with the explosion going on to shatter the whole building.
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 17th of October, 2021. I’d thought the problem might have been the attempt to send a Time Drone into the future, rather than the past. But the ‘Mystery Ship’ went into the future all right, in that 2014 strip. I suppose we have to conclude it was just a mishap of technology that’s still young, even if it could be operated by a lone person, that caused Sterling Elliot’s untimely death.

Diet Smith convalesces under the care of Daddy Warbucks, a man who knows how to not get in trouble when people around him turn up dead. (Fun fact: both Oliver Warbucks’s first and second wives died while with him at sea.) Tracy, meanwhile, pursues Briar Rose. She was the Law Enforcement Magazine reporter who’d interviewed him the previous month, and was going on to interview Diet Smith. She was a fraud, not affiliated with Law Enforcement Magazine or any other magazine. It’s a slender lead, but the only one they have.

It’s also a good one, as she is under The Apparatus’s protection, whether she likes it or not. She has some criminal “business” going on, that I can’t quite get clear. But The Apparatus is the bigger fish, so if they say she has to work from their hotel room, she has to work from their hotel room. Ace of Spades, the head of The Apparatus, decides she’s a good one to take the blame for whatever the heck happened at Smith Industries. He has her put somewhere Dick Tracy can find her after her shocking death.

Briar Rose, being arrested: 'Yeah, I'm okay, but he was going to kill me!' Sam Catchem: 'He's not a problem anymore, Ms Rose. I'm Detective Sam Catchem. We've been looking for you.' Rose: 'I know. Take me to Dick Tracy. I'll explain everything to him.'
Mike Curtis, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 15th of November, 2021. One can snark that this is another Dick Tracy mystery resolved by dumb luck. If Catchem hadn’t decided to try a new deli he’d have missed the whole thing. But Briar Rose’s offer to tell everything is motivated, at least if we trust she worked out that the promise of a ‘safe house’ was a lie. It’s a reasonable thing for her to work out, even if it was worked out off-screen.

Sam Catchem finds her, though, as she’s being moved in. It’s a lucky break; he happened to stop at the deli underneath the death-site apartment. He follows, catching and shooting the zentai-clad assassin holding Briar Rose. Rose is happy to flip, and I can’t blame her.

Dick Tracy moves fast, taking on the disguise of the Jack of Spades, Rose’s failed assassin. So he’s doing some actual super-detective work here. Mumbles takes him back to the Ace of Spades, who wants to know, where is Rose’s body? If Rose is dead, why was “Jack” unconscious when Mumbles recovered him? What about this makes any sense? And as it’s weeks away from my plot recap, they tear his hood off and reveal Dick Tracy. Meanwhile the cops, who’ve been listening over the two-way wrist radio, move in and grab everyone with a weird face or speech gimmick. Ace of Spades as well as Doubleup are able to escape through the plot tunnels, but otherwise it’s a pretty good catch of villains.


The next phase started the 11th of December. This with a museum exhibit on America’s Top Cop. That would be Dick Tracy, who’s been fighting The Apparatus (under various names) for 90 years now without clearing them out of the city. But then The Apparatus (under various names) has been trying for 90 years to kill Dick Tracy and that hasn’t taken. So Ace of Spades, from his new hiding place, hires Richard “Mr Bones” Bonhomme to take a shot at him. No rush, just, you know, succeed this time.

Blackjack: 'Mr Bones? From the DT Collector Forum?' Bones: 'Correct! I should have known you'd be here, Blackjack.' Looking over the Wall of Hats, Bones says, 'Ah! Even Dick Tracy has a collector's streak in him. Each hat represents a moment when he cheated death!' Blackjack, thinking: 'Except mine, of course.' Bones: 'Let's take in the rest of the exhibit.' Blackjack: 'Agreed!'
Mike Curtis, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 18th of December, 2021. Blackjack’s Hat doesn’t represent a time Tracy cheated death. Way back in March 2012 when we met Blackjack, he surrendered to the cops once he was allowed to set Tracy’s hat on a fire hydrant and shoot it. This so he could get a credit on Tracy’s Wall of Hats without risking harm to “my pal”.

Mr Bones’s thoughts turn to Blackjack. You may know him as that guy who played Chumbawumba’s “Tubthumpin” (“I got knocked down/ but I get up again”) while robbing banks and being a Dick Tracy superfan. Blackjack’s storage lock of Dick Tracy memorabilia got stolen recently, and Blackjack broke out of jail to find it. Mr Bones — “From the DT Collector Forum” — hangs out at the exhibit until Blackjack appears, and admits: he’s the one who stole Blackjack’s collection. But he’s happy to return it … we don’t yet know what for.

Yes, it does seem like Mr Bones stole Blackjack’s collection before being hired to kill Dick Tracy. I don’t know whether this is because Mr Bones was hired long before we first saw mention of it. He did say he suspected Dick Tracy might be the target, but I don’t know when he got the idea The Apparatus wanted him to kill someone. It’s also possible (as I write this) that Mr Bones is bluffing about the stolen collection, to manipulate Blackjack.

Also I appreciate that the in-universe Dick Tracy Collectors have a Forum. I hope this means their main social group is on a charmingly semi-maintained phpBB forum rather than being a Facebonk or Reddit or Discord something bad like that.

Meanwhile, Patty Cure, a woman who’d been letting The Apparatus use her doorstep as a package drop, turned herself in. The Apparatus came to her looking for someone with “management experience to run an escort service”. And they didn’t stop pressuring her after the big raids. Lizz Worthington goes under cover as Cure, to learn what The Apparatus does want her to do. And that’s where we stand on the brink of the future.

Next Week!

Is that Halloween party still going on? Why aren’t we seeing more Santa Claus? I look in on Old Time Radio’s own Jim Scancarelli, and Gasoline Alley, to ring in 2022, I hope. See you then.

What’s Going On In Prince Valiant? What’s the story with Morgan Le Fay? September – December 2021


I don’t know of a Prince Valiant wiki that explains their full backstory. But the current story does give some hints why Le Fay would have something personal against Valiant. She says Valiant once “stole my falcon, my favorite familiar, for Merlin to use against me”. I can understand how she’d hold that against him.

This should catch you up to mid-December 2021 in Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant. If any news about the strip breaks, or if you’re reading this after about March 2022, a more useful essay might be here.

And if you’re interested in mathematics, you might like my writing about the Atlas. It’s a concept in geometry, but it’s not too far off what you’d think from being into maps. It’s neat when that happens.

Prince Valiant.

26 September – 19 December 2021.

Aleta and Morgan Le Fey were in a pitched battle last I checked in. Their weapon of choice? Prince Valiant. In a strange, hallucinatory landscape Le Fay transforms Valiant into a gigantic, ravenous monster. Aleta matches Le Fay’s magic, transforming her husband into a lion who slashes Le Fay. The sorceress loses the battle, and Valiant regains consciousness in the waterfront inn where he’d been drugged.

A feeble, fallen Morgan Le Fay is revealed as Val's demonic tormentor. 'But, why?' cries Val. 'Why would you forfeit your soul in bargains with demons?' 'Because that was the only turn left to me,' Morgan retorts bitterly. 'You fool - you came to our shores as a boy, figments of glory clouding your eyes, blinding to our true history. You never saw how my half-brother Arthur built this kingdom ... the treachery ... the deceit ... if I hadn't served and protected my Arthur, he would have never succeeded. Then he decided he had no use for me! Even Merlin turned his back! So eventually I left our fair isle to travel - among the Bonsams of Africa, and the Chornyl Veedmak on far Eastern steppes. I learned much of their dark arts, as my last chance to get my due. But the price for such practices is always high. And with my failure o drive you to madness, I know that my debt will be called. No wget out! I am no longer any danger to you - leave me to my fate!' Val needs no further prompting, and returns to his bed, exhausted and with a great dread heavy over his heart. What, he wonders is happening here? He knows Morgan to be a great deceiver, but he feels there is also truth to her agony.
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 24th of October, 2021. When this first ran, I thought it represented the end of this encounter between Valiant and Le Fay. It seemed like a satisfactory enough moment of realizing that the villain has their story too. I’m happy to see more of that aspect. And it’s setting up some interesting directions.

Valiant finds Morgan Le Fay in the next room, looking beaten. In beating her in this dream landscape, possibly with his wife’s help, Valiant’s left Le Fay in supernatural peril. With King Arthur’s rise — supported by Prince Valiant — she turned to the dark arts “as my last chance to get my due”. But now she’s been thoroughly beaten, and now owes the dark forces more than she can repay.

He tries to continue riding back to Camelot, but comes across a ship being wrecked against the shoreline. The last person he can rescue is Morgan Le Fay, who credits the shipwreck to those dark forces. She can get home safely only travelling overland, and Valiant takes it on himself to protect her.

Val escorts Morgan on the road home. At sight of a circling gyrfalcon, the sorceress extends her arm ... but the bird ignores her. 'Now not eve my familiars will recognize me. Those that granted me power have taken it away,' she whispers, with a defeated look. 'You really have no defenses now?' asks Val. 'No more than the average woman,' Morgan responds. 'I could be the next witch burned alive, a pretty custom that Arthur has allowed. In the early days of my brother's conquests, I was his protection against sorcery, so he could focus on material warfare. Such was the role of a woman in those days. But then Arthur made alliances with the Church in the East and the Druids in the West, neither of whom can abide women of power. I, and all my sisters who practice the Craft, have been branded as evil ever since. Your Aleta has married well, and so far as seen exemption, but even that nicety may soon be at an end.' Morgan's words send a chill through Val, but a moment later a more pressing concern rises over a flanking hill - Mounted warriors!'
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 19th of December, 2021. I was not expecting Prince Valiant to bring up how power will malign the tools that marginalized peoples use for security. Or, for that matter, to work so scrupulously to present the villain’s side. It does hint at setting up a story for Aleta, one of our heroes, but it is presented as Morgan Le Fey’s story.

On approaching a village where a witch was recently hanged, Le Fay notes how it could have been her. Or could have been Aleta, who’s been exempted from society’s persecution of witchcraft … so far.

Next Week!

So the Apparatus, the big ineradicable crime syndicate in Dick Tracy’s city, got its hands on the Time Drones. How’s that working out for them? I recap Joe Staton, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy next week, if things go as I plan.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (weekdays)? Why should we read this imaginary story? September – December 2021


To paraphrase Alan Moore, you know they’re all imaginary, right?

Still, the past three months in Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom has been what would happen if The Phantom made a disastrous choice. (This is the weekday continuity. The Sunday stories have been less ominous material.) As discussed on X-Band: The Phantom Podcast, author Tony DePaul wanted to get his vision of the 21st Phantom’s death published. (That link is a 17-minute piece. It’s excised from this two-and-a-quarter-hour discussion with Tony DePaul, Mike Manley, and Jeff Weigel about the comic strip.)

The story also means to explore how this death would roil the world of The Phantom. Imaginary stories are great for exploring character. They’re also great for understanding how a setting works by showing it broken. I understand people who lose patience with a story that “doesn’t matter”. I was that way with every third episode of Star Trek: Voyager.

But this story has got “real” consequences. The Phantom changing his plans about rescuing Captain Savarna Devi from Gravelines prison, for one. However it is he does arrange the rescue. Or, it could be, fail; I’d hate for her to die, but it is a plausible happening.

So this should catch you up on weekday storyline for mid-December 2021. If you’re intersted in the separate Sunday continuity, or if you’re reading this after about March 2022, or news breaks about the strip, a more useful essay is likely here. And, if you would like to read me seriously explaining subtraction, you might try my mathematics blog. Thanks for being here.

The Phantom (weekdays).

20 September – 11 December 2021.

The Phantom had broken Captain Savarna Devi out of death row in Gravelines Prison. Not without cost, though. He was shot several times, messy wounds in his torso. Savarna pulls the dying Phantom to the first medical care available: a veterinarian she holds at gunpoint. After a long, long night Dr Fajah Kimathi gives her the good news. He’ll pull through, somehow. Might be his strength of ten tigers. The doctor’s husband gives her breakfast, and a shower, and words assuring that killing fascists is setting “right what’s gone wrong”.

Dr Fajah Kimathi (veterinarian), to her husband, with Savarna Devi overhearing: 'I don't know how he stayed alive through the surgery ... what a man!' We see The Phantom, his eyes covered by bandages (with his mask resting on his sleeping belly); the narrator reminds us 'Phantom has the strength of ten tigers -- Old Jungle Saying'.
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 9th of December, 2021. I realize his life invites this sort of thing, but The Phantom’s got to have a real disaster of a medical history. Like, how does he even explain if he might have traces of Guran’s incredible bullet-wound-healing powder in his blood stream? How might that interact with whatever the veterinarian is giving for the pain?

Or so it goes in the prophet Mozz’s tale. It doesn’t seem to have got to The Phantom’s death, though, or how that death ruins the Walkers. We get that tale in two parts. One is Mozz telling his story to The Phantom, out in the field, as seen in my last plot recap. The other is a chronicle that The Phantom talked Mozz into writing, after aborting the wrack-and-ruin at Gravelines.

In-between were several weeks of not-imaginary action. I’m not sure the purpose of all this. Warning readers that this is a forecast of a possible future, for one. The transition was made, yes, but even alert readers — me, for one, and one of the X-Band podcast hosts — missed it at the time. Reinforcing information like that’s important. The intermediate action included several points that might clarify Savarna’s fate too.

Phantom, at the campfire: 'Mozz, you're killing me ... so to speak ... now you're *changing* your prophecy? I *don't* die in Rhodia?' Mozz, holding up his illustration: 'I never said the grave that awaits you is in Rhodia, Phantom ... I said freeing Savarna *brings* you to this place [ the illustration of the unmarked grave ]. And destroys your son. And ends the journey of the Walker family in this land. And so it does!'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 7th of October, 2021. The illustration is one Mozz did of a landscape The Phantom saw in a hallucinogen-induced nightmare. To speak of other weird things in his medical history. Phantom is never going to be eligible to donate blood in case he ever hasn’t recently lost a lot of blood.

The transition starts with Mozz metaphorically rapping The Phantom’s hands for making easy assumptions rather than listening to what he actually says. It does feel a little like a reminder to pay attention to what’s on-screen. Mozz complains that even after hearing the tale, The Phantom will ride heedless into Rhodia on this mission anyway. The Phantom talks him into writing his story out, instead, in his own chronicle. So from the 25th of October we start the 259th weekday-continuity story, The Chronicle of Old Man Mozz. But that is another part of the story To Wrack and Ruin at Gravelines.

Guran, stunned to see: 'MOZZ!? Writing in the CHRONICLES!? What madness is this!?' Mozz, with quill and book, writing: 'A MADNESS I've pledged to reveal to one man, Guran ... that man is not the chief of the Bandar!'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 15th of November, 2021. Do you suppose Mozz is writing with an actual feather quill pen, or is it something that looks like it for the style? For that matter does The Phantom use an actual quill? I ask because that’s an easier way to write than dripping ink off the head of a pin, but that’s about all the good you can say about it. I get that his style (and traditions) are part of what makes the legend but he has got a lot to record and it’s not like anybody would see him using a ballpoint pen.

Mozz promises, if he could save The Phantom legacy by keeping him busy until Savarna were executed he would. I suppose The Phantom appreciates the honesty. Mozz appearing to write in The Phantom Chronicles proves quite attention-getting. This gets me wondering where The Phantom gets his blank Chronicles from. I can’t get the same kind of notepad from Staples two times in a row. So far 21 Walkers over the course of five centuries have managed consistent book designs. How many blank books has he got in store for this sort of need?

The Phantom needs to distract Diana and Guran from Mozz’s detailed description of his death and their family’s legacy’s ruin. His answer: pictures of their son! Kit Junior, the presumptive 22nd Phantom, as seen in pictures sent out of the Himalayas. Chief Constable Jampa is sending regular reports for pay. Kit’s been maturing in the monastery, where he’s presented himself as reincarnation of past Phantoms. And the 21st Phantom agrees, he’s sure Kit Junior will come home soon.

Phantom, thinking, while watching Diana and Mozz: 'Chief Constable Jampa's photos of Kit did Diana a world of good. I won't ruin it by telling her what's become of Savarna. And that one day soon ... I mean to ride for Gravelines Prison.'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 27th of November, 2021. Be a heck of a thing if Mozz tipped off Diana and Helena Walker to Savarna being on death row and they’re breaking into Gravelines tonight, wouldn’t it?

It’s a most successful distraction from Mozz’s writing. Also from The Phantom’s intentions of riding into Gravelines. Also, it could be, setting up ways out of this fix. Savarna could be rescued by, or with, Kit Junior. Or with Kyabje Dorje, Kit Junior’s tutor, whom he’s pegged as one of them. And there are other Phantom-grade superheroes in the world and that we’ve seen in recent years. Captain Ernesto Salinas, most recently. The Locust, less recently. Jungle Patrol is there, although Savarna is in prison for killing high-ranking members of Rhodia’s navy. (Military organizations tend to punish killing flag officers even on the other side, because flag officers got to make that rule.) Even Mandrake the Magician, if need be. I have no reason to think The Phantom’s getting a team together. But it wouldn’t be absurd either.

Next Week!

Prince Valiant comes to the aid and support of … Morgan Le Fey? How did we get here? I’ll check in with Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant next week, all going well.

What’s Going On In Alley Oop? Why is the Earth ruined? September – December 2021


Earth is ruined because Western Civilization failed to develop economic or political systems that handle externalities. Those are the harms that get diffused too broadly, or too indirectly, to hold people responsible. That combined with counting the movement of money as summum bonum to do unsustainable harm. Also, in the current Alley Oop story something’s collapsed the environment 25 years sooner than it has in our timeline. But that story only started last week so it’s too soon to say who to blame. But it’s the wealthy.

So this should catch you up on Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for early December 2021. If you’re reading after March 2022 I should have a more up-to-date essay here. I’ll also share any news about the strip there, in case I get any.

Over on my mathematics blog I wrote about “convex” recently. It’s a mathematics term that turns up all over the place. And that’s a part of my Little 2021 Mathematics A-to-Z, a glossary of terms with essays I keep trying to make short. Sometimes they even stay short.

Alley Oop.

5 September – 4 December 2021.

My last plot recap coincided with the end of the alien-on-the-Moon sequence. So the gang headed to Moo for some relaxation. This despite the warnings of “dangerous levels” of bizarre chaos from Doc Wonmug’s instruments.

Ooola: 'All right, Doc. What's the terrible news you have?' Wonmug: 'The time cubes. They're completely destroyed. Look!' He shows some smashed parts. Alley Oop: 'Yikes. How did that happen?' Wonmug: 'I dropped them and they were rushed by a passing dinosaur.' Alley Oop: 'Sounds like Stompy got them. He's such a rascal.' Ooola: 'Typical Stompy.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 20th of September, 2021. I mis-remembered Ooola as saying this was ‘Classic Stompy’. That seems like a funnier line to me, but I grant other people will disagree without being wrong.

It’s a good time to visit Moo. They’re holding the World’s Fair, with representations from half of the two countries in the world. It’s a bad time for Wonmug, who drops their time cubes in the mud, where a dinosaur stomps them. Alley Oop and Ooola are not that distressed to be stuck in their home time and homeland forever. Wonmug is barely able to handle the thought, though.

Alley’s able to help, though. Old Man Krank’s cave got hit by a weird glowing meteor recently. Old Man Krank is missing, but there’s a baby in his cave now. Examination reveals the meteor to be Time-onium, useful for reversing the effects of time. They could use this to fix the time cubes, if they don’t regress to even more childish infancy while doing so.

To complete the repairs they need some reversite, which reverses the effects of whatever you’re doing. Luckily, Moo gets a lot of weird meteorites and one fell right by where the waterfall goes uphill. But reversite is difficult to work with, for the same reasons it’s hard to talk like Bizarro if you try to think every sentence through.

Ooola: 'I can't believe we had to walk backwards all the way back here.' Wonmug: 'It was the only way. Reversite does the opposite of what you want.' Alley Oop: 'Oooh, then *don't* give me a million dollars, Reversite!' Wonmug: 'Alley, it doesn't work like that.' Alley Oop's at the cave window. Wonmug: 'Hey! Are you NOT trying to NOT throw the Reversite out the window?' Alley Oop: 'No. yes. I don't know!'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 11th of October, 2021. So if you were on the wavelength for this nonsense, this part of the story was a bunch of silly fun. If it didn’t tickle your funny bone at all, I’m guessing it was excruciating, and just kept getting more so. Also a little thing mentioned here was Wonmug giving small chips of Reversite to everyone in Moo so they wouldn’t age. Which is nice except that nobody in the strip really ages anyway. It sounds like a setup for a later plot, except that Wonmug says he didn’t give Ooola and Alley chips so they would suffer the indignities of age with him. The somewhat nasty joke is a satisfying enough explanation for bringing the subject up at all, though, so maybe the immortality of Moovians won’t ever come up again.

So it’s a lot of amiable nonsense. But Wonmug’s able to build something to get him back to our present day. While he builds some new time cubes, Ooola talks Alley to going to the Raptor 500 race at the Moo World’s Fair. And that’s a new small story, starting from the 25th of October.


Alley’s wary of the dinosaur-riding event, as he’s heard bad things about how the dinosaurs get treated. But one dinosaur licks him, and he’s won over. Just in time, as one rider gets injured and they need a replacement. Why not someone who’s never raced before?

Alley takes an early lead, with everyone else turning while his dinosaur — Rawr — runs straight into the jungle. Rawr has a mission out in the middle of nowhere. Her eggs were stolen, and they’re in a nest atop this one tree. Alley’s glad to climb up there, despite an angry pterodactyl who doesn’t understand the justice of his cause. He grabs the eggs, falls out of the tree, and the dinosaur chicks hatch.

Rawr, dinosaur, licks Alley Oop appreciatively. Alley Oop: 'You're welcome. It was my pleasure to save your babies.' Rawr nuzzles him. Alley: 'Should we go back to the race? Everyone is probably worried about us?' Rawr looks up from her children and asks, 'Rararr?' Alley: 'Oookay. But only until I get tired.' They run back, Rawr and the baby dinosaurs riding on Alley Oop's back. Everyone seems happy with this.
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 19th of November, 2021. Now, if you didn’t find this scene, and story, happy, I’m sorry but you’re wrong.

Rawr, Alley, and the newborns run back to the Raptor 500 where, what do you know, but they win. (Alley tries to confess to cheating, although turns out the Raptor 500 rules encourage cheating. Also I don’t see what it is he did that’s actually cheating.) So that’s a happy ending on a lightweight, silly story. With the 25th of November starts the current story.


Wonmug brings Alley Oop and Ooola back to the present. And while they watch a time thing happens. There’s been a major disruption in the timeline that their time travels protected them from. But the atmosphere’s lost its oxygen. There’s a thousand humans still alive. The only clue is that something happened in the Rocky Mountains in the year 2000. That’s where they, and we, are this week.

Next Week!

Captain Savarna’s on death row, and Old Man Mozz forecasts doom if The Phantom rescues her. Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom (Weekdays) gets its recap next week, which will look a lot like that, but with more words. Some of the words will be different.

What’s Going On In Judge Parker? Why did Abbey burn down her hotel? August – November 2021


I mean, for the insurance payout to salvage something from a failed business? At least that’s the obvious motive for the obvious suspect. What we don’t know is whether how much to trust what we’ve seen. Later on I go over some possible explanations and what does or doesn’t make sense in them.

There are many ways that Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker could go. This should catch you up to where it is as of mid-November 2021. If you’re reading this after February 2022, or news about the comic strip breaks, you may find a more useful plot recap here.

In my other project, describing mathematics terms, I got up to “Triangle” last week. There are so many things people can say about triangles. I tried to not say them all.

Judge Parker.

29 August – 20 November 2021.

An early-morning fire destroyed Abbey Spencer’s failing bed-and-breakfast in time for my last Judge Parker recap. So that’s been the big important event and focus of how things changed in the summer-to-autumn time gap. I’ll get there.

[ An early fall day in New York City ... ] Toni Bowen: 'So how are things, Sophie?' Sophie: 'Well, Abbey's worried she's going to be charged with Arson soon ... Sam is in hot water because of a massive lawsuit he filed against the town .. .and Neddy just texted me that the trailer for her drama series is online.' Bowen: 'Wow ... I actually meant how are things at school.' Sophie: 'Oh. I did laundry yesterday. So you know I rocked my Saturday.
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 26th of September, 2021. Yeah, so … that covers this essay, really. Thanks for joining me. See you next week if all goes well!

But first the sideline. The trailer for Converge, the series inspired by Neddy Spencer and Ronnie Huerta’s writing, dropped. Thrill for them and for Huerta’s fiancee, Kat, whose last name I can not find. Less thrilled: April Parker, who kind of held Neddy and Huerta at gunpoint to make them Tell Her Story Right. They complied, yes, but there’s no controlling how TV shows mutate on the way to production. Also we learned that Charlotte is with April Parker. We presume the missing Randy is too, but haven’t yet seen that.

Neddy returns to Cavelton to support Abbey in her troubles (see below). Huerta wants to use the chance of “housesitting” Neddy’s place to get some breathing space from Kat before their wedding. She explains to a Kat who did not have any idea Huerta wanted to be away from the person she was marrying. They have a discussion that escalates quickly. Neddy reassures Huerta that Huerta and Kat will get back together. That’s been a painful side plot. Not that the reactions of everybody hasn’t been plausible. We’ve seen Kat being insecure and high-maintenance. Also perceptive and quick to cut through the ways people kid themselves. We haven’t seen enough of what makes Kat desirable, although that perceptiveness and sincerity is a solid start.


On to the Spencers. Abbey’s devastated by the fire. Also by the verdict that it was arson. Mayor Sanderson vows, at every public event including ordering lunch, to investigate every reason Abbey Spencer did it.

Abbey, at a confrontation in the coffee shop: 'Now, wait a minute! I didn't burn down my B-and-B!' Woman: 'Then who did? Elves? We heard the mayor! We know you don't pay taxes!' Abbey: 'But I do pay taxes!' Woman: 'Yeah, a check every year to the mayor's campaign fund!' Next woman in line: 'Wait, I thought she and the mayor were enemies.' Man: 'They're all crooked, but at least the mayor's telling the truth!'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 20th of October, 2021. So I know order-through-our-apps and self-checkouts are scams to offload the work of customer service on people who are already paying to be customers. But also, mm, I see the value in setting up life so as not to interact with humans.

And it takes hold. In a weird scene at the coffee shop the cashier, and other customers, harass Abbey for being at fault for everything wrong in town. This seems at first like a weird reaction. Like, the previous mayor of Lansing got in a lot of fights with people, but I can’t remember anyone who cared enough to join in. He fought mostly city council members, or other political figures. The owners of a just-built bed-and-breakfast destroyed in a fire that luckily didn’t kill or hurt anyone, or any animals? Why get in on this fight?

But I can make the town caring sound more plausible. The Spencers also owned the aerospace-factory-turned-clothing-factory that collapsed in a sinkhole. That was the first story of Francesco Marciuliano’s tenure as author. Yes, that was Neddy Spencer’s project, and was in no possible way her fault. Fault would go to the site surveyor, the architect, and whoever supervised construction. But I understand the general public not caring about fine distinctions like that. It’s fair all they know is every time there’s a disaster that puts Cavelton into the regional news the Spencers are there.

So the family gathers around Abbey for support. Neddy comes in from Los Angeles. Sophie takes the semester off. Sam Driver keeps pointing out an indictment isn’t everything and besides they made bail. And then Deputy Mayor Stewart, taking a break from his job of making faces of pouty concern about Mayor Sanderson, steps into Driver’s office.

Driver protests, correctly but not for long, that he and Stewart can’t talk about anything while Driver has his suit against the mayor going. That lawsuit alleges Sanderson evicted people illegally for a gentrification project. Stewart talks oddly, too, for example saying he wants to get through this conversation before “I get so bored I ruin everything for the both of us”. Bored is not the feeling Stewart should be having in this moment.

Stewart holds out the prospect of getting the charges against Abbey dropped. And getting Driver to win the gentrification lawsuit. Driver listens, which seems like a believable failing of professional ethics.

Sam Driver, quoting Stewart: ''Enhance'?' Stewart: 'I mean zoom in on the drone footage of your B-and-B. They always said 'enhance' in 90s movies even though in real life in the 90s all they could get was pixels ... but thankfully, today we can get a much clearer picture.' We see the laptop screen showing a woman carrying cans of something to the B-and-B.
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 18th of November, 2021. So I guess Deputy Mayor Stewart is just one of those people who talks like he’s the self-aware fourth-wall-breaking character in a lightly comedic movie. I can’t say that’s the easiest sort of person to deal with. But I also admit more than once I’ve refocused a conversation with my love by asking, “So what do we do on this here podcast?” so we’re all difficult in our own ways.

What Stewart has is drone footage of Abbey Spencer carrying accelerants out to the bed-and-breakfast ahead of the fire. Not established yet is how any of this could help Abbey Spencer, Or how it could get the lawsuit about wrongful evictions settled.

Who Burned Down Abbey’s B-and-B?

So the obvious question is did Abbey Spencer burn down her own bed-and-breakfast? If not, who did? So here’s my quick thoughts about suspects.

  • Abbey Spencer (in her right mind). The obvious suspect, with a clear motive, as the B-and-B was a money pit. But, without expert handling, this could damage Abbey’s character beyond repair.
  • Abbey Spencer (not in her right mind). She burned the place down, but was sleepwalking or in some kind of altered mental state. This answers the objection that the B-and-B had survived the worst year it could have and would be less of a money pit for the future. But could mental illness, to the point of endangering lives, be handled in the story comics in a tasteful, appropriate manner?
  • Senna Lewiston. Abbey’s secret half-sister, seeking revenge on Abbey for “stealing” the comfortable life. She’s presumed dead, but we never saw the body.
  • April Parker. Presumably able to disguise herself as anyone useful for the plot. Motive is inscrutable. But she’s off in the world of super-hyper-ultra-secret agents where motive can be inscrutable anyway. Revenge on the main cast for somehow not doing something more? “Liberating” the Parkers or Spencers from Cavelton and get them to join her and Sophie and (we assume) Randy Parker? Revenge for how the show based on her story’s come out is untenable. The fire happened well before the trailer came out.
  • Plus+. Or someone connected with the show made about April Parker and Godiva Danube. They have actors who look uncannily like the Spencers for some reason. The motive would be publicity. But we’ve been signalled the people making the show are low-rent. That’s nothing like “willing to risk killing someone in the hopes it somehow gets a thousand new subscribers”.
  • CIA Agents. The motive here would be flushing out April Parker. Or getting the Spencers and Parkers to suddenly remember something they’ve been concealing. Or some other inscrutable reason.
  • As-Yet-Unknown Agents. It could have been someone we’ve never seen or suspected before! Some might complain about throwing in new villains, but, it would expand the setting and open up new sources for chaos.

My bet? I’d put about half my stake on Senna Lewiston, a third on CIA Agents, and a sixth on Abbey Spencer not-in-her-right-mind. But I don’t write any narratives more complex than MiSTing host sketches, and don’t get any tips either. If someone’s heard something on a Judge Parker podcast, please let me know.

Next Week!

Mole men! A suitor for Aunt May! The last Roman Emperor of the West, still alive in the 21st Century! It all comes together in
Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s The Amazing Spider-Man!

What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? What is Chance Macy’s Problem? August – November 2021


You might remember “Blowtop Mad” Chance Macy from the 2019 football story in Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp. Macy’s a senior now. He’s not much for hanging out, not much anyway. He’s also not one for talking with the local sports reporters. Colleges are trying to recruit him. He’s not answering the phone, e-mail, or physical mail, which, mood. A recruiter from Milford State University comes to ask what his deal is. What he’s thinking is he doesn’t know he wants all this.

College recruiter: 'It's a long way to the NFL, and it takes a ferocious amount of work and focus. But we've put a lot of halfbacks into the NFL - another reason to come to State U!' Chance Macy thinks. Later, he says to Coach Thorp, 'So if I over-devote myself to football, I have an outside shot at a career I don't want.' Thorp: 'Sounds tempting.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 3rd of November, 2021. It’s a nice bit of composition to have Macy’s third-panel word balloon underneath his face in the second panel. It depicts how he’s forming thoughts he can only articulate later.

I didn’t know the athletes at my high school, so I can’t say how authentic this is. But there is a recurring Gil Thorp motif of pretty good athletes figuring they don’t want to keep doing this. It feels mature, but that might be because I suspect I wouldn’t want to have to go on playing any sports. It intrigues me the strip has its characters feel such ambiguity about the sports they work that hard at.

This should get you caught up to mid-November 2021 in Gil Thorp. If you’re reading this after about February 2022, or any news about the strip breaks, there’s likely a more useful essay at this link.

And my A-to-Z project, on my mathematics blog, continues. Last week I tried to explain Analysis, which is one of the big things of mathematics. I left some stuff out. You might enjoy it.

Gil Thorp.

24 August – 13 November 2021.

Last time, young Heather Burns’s detective work, teasing out golf cheat Carson Hendry, had impressed Milford Star reporter Marjie Ducey. But there were no job openings at the Star … and then Ducey decided there would be if she took the buyout package and retired. So Burns has a new job. Also, per Coach Thorp’s tip, a volunteer position coaching the city youth program for Wick Harmon. So that’s nice for her.


From the 30th of August the autumn, and current, storyline started. One key figure is Kianna Bello, a bit overcommitted to girls volleyball and the gymnastics team. Another is Boyd Spiller, on the boys football team, who’s discovered this thing called consciousness and wants to see it raised. He has a glorious scene trying to turn the annual Bonfire into a visualization of the cosmic All that happens to include beating Oakwood. They beat Oakwood anyway.

[ The Traditional Pre-Season Bonfire ] Tevin Claxton: 'They handed me the microphone because I'm the quarterback - but meet the heart of our team, the offensive line!' Mimi Thorp, to Gil: 'Boyd Spiller and a microphone. Watch out.' Spiller: 'Okay, everyone. Let's close our eyes and *visualize* beating Oakwood.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 16th of September, 2021. I love Spiller’s wholehearted embrace of this stuff. I am only sad that he’s on a trajectory to be an Internet Atheist within ten years.

They also beat Kettering, although it’s a closer thing than Oakwood. Tevin Claxton fumbles and Spiller asks if he wants to do something about his choking problem. After Claxton misses a pass in the Goshen game he hears what Spiller has to offer. It’s hypnosis. Which Spiller totally knows how to do because he learned it on YouTube. I adore this, and I wish also to thank whatever junior high teacher assigned him a book report on Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

[ The hypnosis session continues - Boyd Spiller, presiding. ] Spiller, waving a flashlight in front of Claxton's eyes; 'Keep looking at the light. You live for tough situations, Tevin. Your breathing is steady. Your mind is clear. When the light goes off, up you go ... ' He clicks the light off.
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 22nd of October, 2021. And yes, this is all a bit silly. But a lot of sports psychology is silly. For example: if you have a little superstitious ritual going in to some competition? You actually do play better, even if you’re not superstitious and you’re just doing it because you heard it helps you play better. People, you know?

Thing is, it seems to work, with Claxton putting in clutch performances the next couple games. More people start coming to Spiller for hypnotherapy. Including, finally, Kianna Bello. The strip’s cut back to her and her overloaded schedule several times. Her frustration at taking only third in a tournament; she’d been second the year before. Her barely getting enough rest, and keeping going on caffeine and competitiveness. She thinks Spiller’s hypnosis might be a way to push through her fatigue.

[ A high difficulty Tsukhara vault, an off-balance landing --- ] Bello: 'Ugh!' The trainer examines: 'This isn't good.' Bello: 'You went to trainer school to know *that*?' on the phone: 'Oh no. I'm sorry, Kianna .. how long?'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 12th of November, 2021. The Tsukhara vault, I am told by Wikipedia, is any of a family of vaults, featuring a quarter or half turn on the vault table into a backwards somersault. It’s named for Mitsuo Tsukahara.

But she doesn’t feel better-rested. And she takes a bad landing at the district meet, spraining her foot and putting her out of competition for two weeks. She can not believe what an idiot she’s been. And (we learn this week) Claxton has had enough, and has secrets to reveal.


Milford Sports Watch!

Who’s Milford been playing? These schools, back around these dates:

Next Week!

We see court-related action in Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker! No actual courthouses, so far, but at there is some promise of professional misconduct so that’s something to look forward to.

What’s Going On In Rex Morgan, M.D.? What was Jordan’s deal in the Army? August – November 2021


Jordan Harris was in the Army, before his curent life as a chef and restauranteur. He’d lost a leg in the service. He’d created, or allowed to be created, a story of how he lost it in combat. He told childhood friend and incompetent mugger Delmer Robertson what we took to be the truth. He was in food services. He lost his leg going to an improvised explosive device as he was off to buy food.

Now? That may be in question. Because “Griff” Griffin tried recruiting Jordan for “a job”. Jordan refused. It seems odd that a top-secret mission would need a chef, particularly. But Griffin talks of Jordon’s classified work in the past. And Jordan talks of how the “cover story” he’s given his fiancee is “mostly true”.

We have not learned what this is a cover for. Or what “classified” work Jordan could have been doing. Nor whether this has anything to do with how he lost his leg. I’m inclined to doubt it does, but I don’t see an obvious problem in supposing Jordan told Robertson lies or a cover story.

So this all should catch you up to early November 2021 in Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D.. If you’re reading this after about February 2022, or any news about the strip develops, I may have a more useful post here.

And on the other blog, I wrote about ‘Monte Carlo’ as last week’s mathematics term. What’s this week’s term? You can find out tomorrow by looking at the most recent A-to-Z essays. I hope you’ll consider them.

Rex Morgan, M.D..

15 August – 7 November 2021.

Rex Morgan, M.D. was at the start of a new story last I checked in. Most of that has been about the wedding of Jordan and Michelle. Let me dispense with the part that’s not.

Sarah Morgan and her hundred-page fan-letter/fan-fiction broke children’s author Kyle Vidpa out of his writer’s block. Vidpa sends his young coauthor the Advance Reader Copies of the book based on her work. Here my suspension of disbelief breaks. I can’t believe there was enough time for the book to be that far along in publication. Let that pass. Sarah’s uninterested in it anyway, since she wrote the story, she knows it.

Griff: 'I can't convince you to go on *one* more mission --- for old time's sake? There's *good* money in it.' Jordan; 'What we did, we did for our *country*. I don't know *who* you're working for now --- and don't want to. There's *no* amount of money that could tempt me back into the field. I have the life I want now. I *won't* risk that.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 8th of September, 2021. I admit I haven’t liked this plot thread. I don’t like super-secret hypercompetent agencies who work Outside The Rules by Making The Tough Decisions so they can Get Things Done. The premise is everything fascist about superheroes without the tempering grace of superheroes’ overwhelming need to protect the public. And how that need exists even — especially! — when the public doesn’t appreciate them. But you’ve seen me write about Norton and April Parker, over in Judge Parker, so that’s no surprise.

The big story has been Jordan Harris and Michelle Carter, nurse at the Morgan clinic. They’d already planned an online wedding. But now think they could have a few people for an in-person ceremony. He’ll cook, of course, because he can’t not. Rex and June Morgan make the list. Rex quips about how he wouldn’t turn down a free meal enough times it feels weird. Several of Michelle’s family plan to attend too. Jordan offers only excuses for his family. He doesn’t want anything with his old Army buddies.

They want something with him, though. “Griff” Griffon stops by, saying his old team is getting together for a mission and they could use his talents. Griffin accepts Jordan’s hard “no”. Griffin’s boss does not, on the grounds that now Jordan knows someone connected to Griff is planning some job. So the only thing to do is kill Jordan. Griff acknowledges this, connects some dynamite to a control module, and scopes out Jordan and Michelle’s wedding.

Shadowy Boss Figure: 'I wish I *shared* your conviction that Mr Harris will not make trouble for us. We can't have anyone *jeopardize* our plans.' Griff: 'I think he just wants to lead his civilian life, sir. He knows what would happen if he crossed us.' Boss: 'You're most likely correct, Griffin. But perhaps we had better be *safe* than *sorry*. You know what to do.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 9th of October, 2021. So another reason I dislike super-secret hypercompetent agencies. If you think of how much time Batman or the Phantom have to spend just on their daily chores you face the unreality of their superheroing. Packs of Gruff Men With Guns Looking For Reasons to Kill People, though? You can get that together without noticing why it keeps failing. And you get a situation like this, which does show it. Why did Shadowy Boss Figure send Griff to ask Jordan to join them? If the only acceptable answers were “yes” and “die”? Shadowy Boss Figure has decided to kill Jordan Harris, who he knows knows nothing, for fear he might tell someone something? And yes, Beatty shows this organization’s fundamental sickness killing it and its participants. Doesn’t make me like what it’s built on, though.

Beatty did have me fooled. Most of his run has made the strip about pleasant characters to whom nothing very bad happens. It’s been comfortable reading. That’s been welcome as we endure the berserker rage against civilization of capitalism’s most recent crisis. But I thought it plausible that Griff would kill Jordan, putting real shock and surprise into the strip. No, though. Griff watches the ceremony, and once the two wed, he calls his boss. Assured that his boss is near the car, Griff presses the button, blowing up the device, the car, and his shadowy mysterious employer. He figures to go hide out maybe in the Caribbean.

Shadowy Boss Figure, on the phone, about toget into his car: 'Griff! What have you DONE? You CAN'T ... ' An explosive device strapped underneath Boss's car beeps, and then explodes.
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 6th of November, 2021. Also, I am not convinced Terry Beatty had a particular mission in mind, or a clear idea what Griff’s group was about. This drains energy from the choices Jordan and Griff make. Jordan isn’t tempted away from his happy life by being part of some heist or whatever. And Griff’s decision to kill his boss — why doesn’t this new unit he’s part of matter as much as his old-unit pal of Jordan? Maybe Beatty has an answer for that, but I don’t see it in text. So all I have is Griff wanted to be nice to the main-cast character.

Next Week!

Who expected any of the story comics to get into Hypnovember? And if any one did, would you have guessed it’d be the high school sports strip? I look at Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp next week, if things go to plan.

Statistics Saturday: Some Ways To Spend November


  • No-Shave November. Celebrate the month by going thirty days using full ice cubes, or none at all. None of this shaved or chipped ice stuff.
  • NaNovember. Like November, but in one-billionth slices.
  • Hanovember. Celebrate the imperial court where Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz did his most significant avoidance of work for the Court of Hanover.
  • Napvember. A much-needed time to lie in bed while the afternoon sun’s warming your toesies.
  • Nullvember. 30 days in which we examine the byte patterns denoting the end of a string variable in C-based programming languages.
  • DiNovember. A whole month in which the most serious argument you have is about whether brontosaurus is the right name for them or not. (Note: we mean whether they’re the right name for brontosauruses. We all agree ‘brontosaurus’ is not the right name for kangaroos, Zach.)
  • No-No-November. Each day your life becomes an even-more-faithful adaptation of the smash Broadway hit No, No, Nanette.
  • Perry Comovember. Not limited to Perry Como but rather to learning about the originals of all the performers and movies you learned about from watching SCTV. Next week we compare The Towering Inferno to when they opened that super-skyscraper over Melonville!
  • Morevember. November, but it’s a 31-day month. Think of the possibilities.
  • Hypnovember. Thirty days, thirty right triangles, thirty hypotenuses!
  • San Marinovember. We all visit the tiny nation at once and see if we can’t make it tip over!
  • Renovember. Finally we do those little home-repair projects we’ve been putting off for eighteen years. … Maybe next month.

Reference: The Deltoid Pumpkin Seed, John McPhee.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Sundays)? What exactly is The Visitor? August – October 2021


We don’t know! The past three months in the Sunday continuity saw The Phantom share what’s known about The Visitor. It seems to be material; it leaves footprints and can punch out and skull-mark minions. It doesn’t seem to be material; it disappears from exitless rooms and caves. It seems to know language; it told the 16th Ghost Who Walks of the Origin Story. It doesn’t answer inquiries. The current Phantom, and his listeners, speculate that it’s some force that’s been present since the beginning. Always watching. Sometimes intervening. And that’s all they can know.

There is a Doylist explanation, one that appeals but is unconfirmable from text. And I forget which commenter I saw put this forth, but: could The Visitor be a representation of the audience? The audience sees everything The Phantom does. The audience — the fans, at least — know everything The Phantom could know. And the audience does affect The Phantom’s life, although in indirect ways, incomprehensible to the character.

But that’s not something the characters in-story can understand. And The Visitor has left, chased off by Devil, the Phantom’s wolf. So what it is may be impossible to ever determine from within the text.

This all should catch you up on Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom, Sunday continuity. If you’d like to know about the weekday continuity? If you’re reading this after about February 2022 and want to know the Sundays? You may find a more useful essay here.

If you’re interested in reading other things, may I offer Little 2021 Mathematics A-to-Z, in which I explore mathematics terms. Embedding was my most recent essay. And I am looking for suggestions for topics starting with the letters I, C, and S.

The Phantom (Sundays).

8 August – 31 October 2021.

The Phantom was telling Bandar youth of past encounters with The Visitor. The Visitor is a strange, not-quite-ghostly doppelganger to The Ghost Who Walks, encountered in the times of four past Phantoms. The 16th Phantom told how The Visitor recounted the Origin Story of the Walker line.

The story excites the Bandar people who hear it. A being from before The Phantom’s own time? That witnesses it all? That supports, even spreads, the legend? (You see how this goes with the “it’s the audience” hypothesis.) But there’s no conclusions one can draw. As the Bandar youths leave The Phantom asks them to unchain Devil. And why was Devil chained, Diana Walker asks? So as not to disturb their guest. In a wonderful, creepy moment, The Phantom reveals that The Visitor has been there, listening, all night.

The Phantom waves the Bandar people goodnight, saying to one kid, 'I chained Devil in the village. Will you release him for me?' Kid: 'I will, Phantom!' Diana: 'I've seen you chain Devil when you're leaving the Deep Woods and don't want him following you .... why chain him tonight?' Phantom: 'I didn't want him clawing at the door while I was reading from the Chronicles for our guests.' Diana: 'Darling, I don't get what you mean. We'd open the door and let Devil in!' Phantom: 'Some other night, yes, we would. ... The Visitor's here, Diana ... It's been with us in the Hall of Costumes all evening.' Diana gasps, as we see The Visitor's shadow towering over the two.
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 12th of September, 2021. I gasped!

Diana tries to get it to speak, to respond. It doesn’t. She speculates that it doesn’t understand. It can mimic what it sees and hears in the Skull Cave, but that’s all. Also unprovable, as Devil races in, and leaps for The Visitor … who vanishes, reduced to mist. And we’re left not knowing most anything about The Visitor, including whether it’s gone. My supposition is The Visitor has donned a bunch of pizza boxes to go and mildly annoy Funky Winkerbean.


What is gone is the story “The Visitor”, ended the 10th of October. With the 17th begins the new story, “The Ingenues”. It’s the 192nd Sunday-continuity story. It’s about another of The Phantom’s many responsibilities, this one taking a crew of Mori youth to sea to test their boating abilities. It references a story from 2007 where this expedition ran into trouble. And all we know so far is that some young women among the Mori want to be among the crew. By February we should have a better idea what the story is.

Next Week!

Somebody’s getting married in Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D.! Also possibly shot, which would be a change of tone for Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D.! I hope to have a plot summary for you here next week. Thanks for reading.

What’s Going On In Mary Worth? How is Wilbur Weston so incompetent? August – October 2021


The current story in Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth has focused on Wilbur Weston, a giant mayonnaise sandwich of a man. As usual for his stories, it’s about how he’s screwing up his own relationships by acting dumb. Wilbur Weston’s day job is advice columnist. Doesn’t this strain credibility?

I rule that it does not. First, it is hard for any of us to change the ways we screw up our relationships. We wouldn’t screw them up if it were easy for us to spot what we were doing wrong, or to do something else. Second, an advice columnist gets a problem in a clean, discrete lump that sets out (one hopes) all the relevant information. Spotting the relevant information while in the midst of the mess is hard. Yes, I would expect him to be better than average at diagnosing his problems and prescribing a cure, once he was aware he was the problem. And I don’t expect him to be any better than any of us in following the cure.

So this essay should catch you up to late October 2021 in Mary Worth plots. If you’re reading this in 2022, or if any news comes out about the comic, you should find my most up-to-date pieces at this link.

And if you’re interested in reading other things, let me offer Little 2021 Mathematics A-to-Z, a glossary of various mathematics terms. The most recent essay was about the hyperbola.

Mary Worth.

1 August – 23 October 2021.

After my previous plot recap we saw a couple weeks of Drew Cory wondering why Ashlee’s left town and told him she doesn’t need his money after all. With Mary Worth agreeing they don’t understand Ashlee, the story came to an end, the 15th of August.


The current storyline, which has been pleasantly wrinkled, started the 16th of August. Wilbur and Estelle, whose last name I don’t seem to have recorded, are having more dates where they get together and sing. Estelle’s one-eyed cat Libby likes to sing along, somehow raising Wilbur’s ire. Wilbur locks the cat in the bedroom, where neither she nor Estelle want her to be.

[ When Wilbur tries to sing again without Estelle's cat joining in ... ] Estelle plays the piano. Wilbur sings, 'And I ... will always love you! I will always love you!' Libby, the cat: 'Howl!' Wilbur, picking up the aggrieved cat; 'Thats it, Libby! I told you NOT TO INTERRUPT MY SONG!' Estelle: 'She just wants to be part of the singalong!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 18th of August, 2021. For a week or two the story looked like it was all going to be watching Libby plan and outwit Wilbur and that was fun. Unanswered question: how exactly did Wilbur, Libby, and Estelle move between the first and second panels? (No, this really doesn’t matter, because the panels convey moments clearly and well. But if you start to think how these people could be in this order, either Wilbur ran between Estelle and the piano or Estelle twirled around in her seat.)
Wilbur’s position is simple: he doesn’t want the cat interrupting his singing. Estelle’s position is simple: Libby’s a cat, she likes being with her. Libby’s position is simple: she can make Wilbur’s life miserable. So she does, including peeing on his end of the sofa. Estelle forgives this; Wilbur does not, and demands the cat apologize. Estelle declares that she and Wilbur need to take a break.

[ When Wilbur encounters Saul on a Charterstone path, he's surprised by his neighbor's happy demeanor ... Saul Wynter: 'The weather's been GREAT lately! I took my girl to the beach yesterday, and she didn't want to come back! Right, Greta?' Greta, his dog: 'Woof!' Wilbur: 'Yes, it's, uh ... been nice out.' Wynter: 'I'd better get home! I signed up for an online class that starts soon! I need *time* to figure it out! Ha! Good to see you, Wilbur! Let's catch up properly one of these days!' Wilbur: 'Bye ... ' Wilbur, thinking 'Hmmm ... Old Man Wynter's not his usual bad-tempered self!
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 12th of September, 2021. So on the one hand, Saul Wynter is certainly a happier person than he was when we first met him. And that’s got to be making all aspects of his life better. On the other hand, he’s become someone who thinks there’s a laugh to be had somewhere in the statement “I signed up for an online class that starts soon! I need time to figure it out!”
While pondering how anyone could choose a pet over him, Wilbur runs into Saul Wynter. He knows Wynter as that grumpy old recluse. But Wynter’s changed, becoming a warm, outgoing, sunny person, which he credits to his new dog Greta. This seems a bit weird since Wynter had a dog, Bella, when he was all misanthropic and unliked. But I rule this acceptable too: Greta, a rescue dog, was shy and needful in ways that we can suppose Bella was not. And the experience of helping Greta seems to have given Wynter an emotional security that Bella didn’t.

Wilbur: 'I'm new to owning a dog! I didn't know Pierre needed chew toys!' Carol: 'It'll help him chew on something other than your shoes! Dogs chew things ... it's their nature!' Wilbur: 'Thanks for the tip, Carol! I'll have to visit the pet supply store!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 5th of October, 2021. Oh man, I hope someone’s told Wilbur about the food thing dogs need.

Wilbur has the brilliant idea to draw the wrong lesson from this. He goes to the Animal Shelter and adopts the first dog he sees, a French bulldog he dubs Pierre. At the dog park Pierre meets Sophie, a French bulldog kept by Carol. And Carol meets Wilbur, an experience both find pleasant enough. Carol explains some of the little things an expert dog-owner knows, like that dogs should have toys.

Wilbur: 'Are you *sure* you're not into singing? My ex and I enjoyed doing karaoke ... ' Carol: 'I'm sure, Wilbur. I'll pass on that. Are *you* sure you don't want to go salsa dancing?' Wilbur: 'I'm *more* than sure! I know my limits, Carol!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 20th of Octber, 2021. The thing Wilbur’s keeping private is that a couple years ago he fell for a salsa dancer who was pulling a romance scam on him. It would have been an interesting direction if he’d shared that, and with a trustworthy (I assume) Carol learned to dance again. But it’s also quite reasonable for him not to want to touch that activity again.

Estelle catches a glimpse of them going to the pet store, and leaps to the conclusion Wilbur has a new girlfriend already. So does Wilbur, who mentions how he and his ex loved having singalongs. She doesn’t like singing. She likes salsa dancing. He doesn’t like dancing. He likes travel. She doesn’t. He likes talking about everything his ex liked and did. When he accidentally calls her Stella, she calls the date off. This may seem abrupt but we’ve seen two or three panels of him every day. She’s seeing the full thing.

Wilbur calls to apologize, the way he was always apologizing to his ex for embarrassing spectacles. She points out he’s nowhere near over his ex, and that’s where things stand as of late October.

Dubiously Sourced Mary Worth Sunday Panel Quotes!

  • “A woman’s heart is a deep ocean of secrets.” — Gloria Stuart, 1 August 2021.
  • “I will trust you — I will extend my hand to you — despite the risk of betrayal. Because it is possible, through trust, to bring out the best in you, and perhaps in me.” — Jordan B Peterson, 8 August 2021.
  • “He did not care if she was heartless, vicious and vulgar, stupid and grasping. He loved her.” — W Somerset Maugham, 15 August 2021.
  • “Those who’ll play with cats must expect to be scratched.” — Miguel de Cervantes, 22 August 2021.
  • “I never met an animal I didn’t like, and I can’t say the same about people.” — Doris Day, 29 August 2021.
  • “Love is unconditional, relationships are not.” — Grant Gudmundson, 5 September 2021.
  • “Attitude determines the altitude of life.” — Edwin Louis Cole, 12 September 2021.
  • “The biggest room in the world is the room for improvement.” — Helmut Schmidt, 19 September 2021.
  • “Morning will come. It has no choice.” — Marty Rubin, 26 September 2021.
  • “Back in my day, people met in the real world, not on their telephones.” — Julianne MacLean, 3 October 2021.
  • “Jealousy is all the fun you think they had.” — Erica Jong, 10 October 2021.
  • “I am not what you see. I am what time and effort and interaction slowly unveil.” — Maugham, 17 October 2021.
  • “I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it.” — Groucho Marx, 24 October 2021.

Next Week!

It’s the ghost of the Ghost Who Walks, who doesn’t walk! The conclusion of The Visitor to Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom, Sunday continuity, if things go as I plan.

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