Lord Grunyard, of Lockbramble, had enemies. Those enemies were his brothers, the Lords Hallam of Wedmarsh, Kenward of Greystream, and Ravinger of Barrenburn. The specific complaint? Lockbramble’s swiping their populations. Grunyard, aware of his incompetence in running things, lets the people of Lockbramble run it themselves. And they do well, not least because Rory Red Hood is just that great at managing estates. And she has humiliated Lord Hallam before.
During the joust, several of the brothers’ henchmen snuck off to kidnap Grunyard. This was the real plan all along. Prince Valiant had noticed them sneaking off, though, and in a fight at the brewery Valiant captured them all. As one of them’s the Captain of Lord Hallam’s guard the brothers can’t profess much innocence.
And so Lord Grunyard, with Valiant and Gawain backing him up, subject his brothers to … a trade accord. Lockbramble has farmland but needs labor. Wedmarsh has fish. Greystream has rapids that could provide mill power. Barrenburn has iron and copper. They can put all this together, right? And sure, his brothers proclaim how happy they are to get out of this with light commerce instead. And Grunyard is happy to back to his not paying attention to running the province.
So the 13th of June, Price Valiant decides that everything’s pretty well under control and he can head home by himself. Along the way he reflects on his past. Stuff like how he used to wade into streams and spear fish. It turns out it’s more fun to remember doing this stuff than to actually do it. Fair enough. During this nostalgic tour we’ve seen a lot of gorgeous pictures. We haven’t gotten to the new story yet, though. Feels like it’s going to start next week, though.
Don’t be silly; The Phantom is immortal. That’s, like, the second thing you learn about the comic, after how he’s called The Ghost Who Walks. But yeah, there has been a lot of foreshadowing the end of the current Phantom’s life. It’s been like this for several years now, but the current story is hitting it hard.
I last checked in near the end of an encounter with “Towns Ellerbee”. The Phantom used that false name. Under it he helped The Trusted Man sneak through Gravelines Prison and free his boss and friend Ernesto Salinas. Salinas tries pondering the mystery of who Towns Ellerbee could be, and finally turns to anagarms. The name translates to “Be Well Ernesto”, a thing I totally would have gotten if I’d thought to pick out proper names.
The 26th of April began the 257th Phantom daily story, Hello the Himalayas. Once again after a fairly long (26 week) and action-filled story we got a short (4 week) reflective one. Heloise Walker comes to the Deep Woods, into the Phantom’s Cave, and into even the Chronicle Chamber. And there she writes a letter that she knows she’s “not supposed to be writing” to her brother Kit Junior. She writes of being afraid to sleep, traumatized by nightmares of the night she captured Eric “The Nomad” Sahara. And that she has been trying to reason where exactly Kit Junior is.
The Phantom had placed him in secrecy in the Himalayas somewhere, ahead of his anticipated and foiled death in The Curse Of Old Man Mozz. Heloise, thinking it’s daft that nobody knows how to find Kit Junior in case something happens to The Phantom, tried to work out where her brother is. She’s confident she’s figured out what Himalayan monastery he’s at. And she closes up the letter, and seals it, and conceals it within the Chronicle Chamber. With the 22nd of May, this story ends.
The story opens with Colonel Worubu meeting the Unknown Commander of the Jungle Patrol. Part of the raid that got Salinas out of Gravelines Prison was a database of who was being held there. Many are dissidents, opponents of Rhodia’s fascist government. But, Worubu concedes, there are some people there on legitimate grounds. His example is this Indian-national woman who killed nine flag-rank naval officers and four aviators. Even granting that fascists are better off being dead, you can’t fault a government executing someone for that.
The Phantom knows about this. Savarna had killed the Rhodian naval officers who’d sunk her India Voyager II. They were retaliating for her shelling the prison to free Diana Palmer. The Phantom sets his plans to go back to Gravelines and free her, and regrets how this would have been easier if it weren’t right after Salinas’s escape.
Old Man Mozz stops him. Mozz shares a sketch from one of his visions. It’s the hallucination-setting of the story The Llongo Forest. In that vision a spirit presenting as The Phantom’s father warned the Ghost was Walking into oblivion. This as penalty for having not died in The Curse Of Old Man Mozz. The warning said he was now without “the right to lie in the crypt of the Phantoms”.
Now Mozz offers similar warnings: if he interferes with Savarna’s fate, The Phantom’s body will lie in that Llongo Forest doom. And Kit Junior will never return from the Himalayas. And will never be the 22nd Phantom. He even promises that “the journey of the Walkers in this land … will end”.
That doesn’t sound good, no. But even granting that this is happening in a world where prophetic visions happen? I notice Old Man Mozz hasn’t warned that The Phantom will die from this. Nor has he quite said there won’t be a 22nd Phantom. Still, between Old Man Mozz, The Phantom himself, and Heloise Walker, there’s a lot of people with grim visions of what’s to come.
That did change. We got a story revisiting a few moments in Skeezik’s life. This from the perspective of Walt Wallet, a fair choice. The retrospective was shorter than I expected. This both in its duration, which was only a week for the readers, and its scope, which only covered up to World War II. But it is an observation, albeit late, of Skeezik’s centennial.
And now, what has been going on in Gasoline Alley since February?
14 February – 26 April 2021.
A lot of stuff at the supermarket. Gertie, Walt’s live-in caretaker, stops to help Mim, a woman who’d lost her glasses. Gertie can’t find them, but throws her back out searching the floor. She pulls on a shelf to straighten up, knocking over bottles of floor wax. And then we get a bunch of slapstick as characters fall over, drawing in more bystanders to slip and fall over, drawing in — Well. We are fortunate the slipping wave stops before it encompasses all humanity in the dreaded Global Pratfall Event. And in comes Tim, who’d found Mim’s glasses when he got home. He surmises that they fell into his basket and he hadn’t noticed. Since they’ve met cute and have matching names, they need to go off and date and reappear in stories to come.
So, come the 10th of March, Gertie heads home and into the next story. She calls Walt to let him know she’s running late, but gets no answer. She fears the worse, speeding home. A cop stops her for speeding, but concedes these are good reasons to rush home and check on an unresponsive 115-year-old. They call in the fire department and the ambulance and find … that he was just watching the TV and couldn’t hear the phone.
From the 24th, Walt talks about the lost stamina of his youth. He goes to bed, and wakes up the next morning … looking and feeling 20 years old. He’s dreaming, of course, but chooses to enjoy that.
He talks with Baby Skeezix. Relives going on the first drives with a 15-year-old Skeezix in a mid-30s jalopy. Waves Skeezix off to the Army, and back from World War II. And, while he’s feeling young, goes for a run. It’s a moment that touched me. I don’t yet have the experience of being old. But I did used to be quite fat. When I was losing that weight there was one day I realized I could go from walking quickly to running, and that the transition felt good, and the running felt good, and I imagine Walt’s dream felt like that. I hope everyone gets to experience that good feeling.
But it is a dream, and only a dream. He wakes the next morning with the usual sorts of aches and indignities of age.
Walt wakes back up the 13th, has breakfast, and they discover they’re out of eggs. While Walt naps, Gert goes back to the store. She’s been trying to find a box of eggs without any cracked, without success. The egg delivery guy is handling the packages roughly. Also she sees Mim again, who’s there with Tim and contact lenses.
Sorry to be distracted like this. I just got to wondering, like, how often does Paul McCartney or Ringo Starr, like, just freeze up in the kitchen and think, “I was in the Beatles! And now here I am, peeling an orange! How does something like that happen?” I’m assuming that they occasionally peel oranges. The only reason I can imagine they wouldn’t is if they don’t like oranges. I realize that no life can be all transcendant experiences, but, you know,every now and then Buzz Aldrin must think, “I walked on the Moon and here I am peeling a banana. How?”
I need to give a content warning about for this Mary Worth plot recap. The currently ongoing story is about a person who’s suffered abuse from a spouse. If you don’t need that in your recreational reading, you’re right, and you may want to skip that bit. But Eve Lourd, who’s the center of that story, had an anxiety attack when she noticed the suit on a mannequin.
So Tommy throws himself into being a better person. Sharing his experience with schoolkids. I hope after getting their teacher’s approval. Doing more at work, to the point the manager notices. As a way of coping with a breakup, that’s pretty good. There’s no reason to think it’ll win back your lost love, but it puts you in a better spot for the next love. And, you know, you get to enjoy being better off too. Less good is that Tommy also mentions to Brandy every 105 minutes that he’s not an addict and loves her.
Still, Brandy does notice how hard he’s working at bettering himself. And she’s been talking to a therapist, and decided she does believe him. So they’re back on. She’s still not ready to marry, by the way, but she’s open to becoming ready, in case you worried about that plot thread. Tommy visits Mary Worth for the ritual thanking Mary Worth for her advice, and to accept blueberry cobbler foodstuff. And, Tommy even gets a new job for Christmas: part-time school monitor.
The 27th of December we have a moment of Mary Worth and Doctor Jeff acknowledging how hard a year it’s been. Dr Jeff had knee surgery, for example, and Drew had some problem with his ex, and a good friend had business losses. I don’t know who Drew is and I don’t know about this good friend business. The last good friend of Dr Jeff’s I noticed was muffin enthusiast Ted Miller, a plot from early 2018 that I’m still angry about. I guess it’s nice that the characters have problems going on that don’t make it on-screen. Still, I’d have taken that year.
The current story started the 28th of December. It’s about Saul Wynter and Eve Lourd, a new Charterstone resident and dog-owner. And she’s dealing with the aftermath of a physically abusive relationship. So I’m putting the recap of that behind a cut.
I apologize for being distracted lately, all. I’ve been working hard on a new random number generator. That’s “random” in the 90s webcomic sense of “Random!” though. So a typical output run looks like this:
“Towns Ellerbee” is a fake name The Phantom, Kit Walker, uses in the current story. He gave it to someone we know as the Trusted Man. I can’t say why he gave the Towns Ellerbee name rather than Kit Walker. It might be so as to keep other people in the story (Ernesto Salinas and Victor Batalla) from linking this person to The Phantom.
Monday the 24th started Then Came Towns Ellerbee, the 256th weekday-continuity story. It picks up on a trio of stories from 2011 and 2012: A Detente with Crime, and The Den with Crime, and Mexico’s Phantom. These introduced Ernesto Salinas, a police chief in Ciudad Jardin, Mexico. Salinas used his prowess as a lucha libre wrestler to battle organized crime for territory. We’d last seen Salinas beating his old childhood friend Victor Batalla for control over some part of Ciudad Jardin. Now? They’re both in Rhodia, the fascist state bordering Bangalla. Salinas is under “house arrest”, and Batalla taunts him with actual arrest and entombment in Gravelines Prison. There’s some mutterings about a broken promise of safe conduct from the Rhodian government. When Batalla falls asleep Salinas calls his assistant back in Mexico. His assistant — the Trusted Man — flies to Bangalla. The Trusted Wife sends a note to Walker, Box 7, Mawitaan.
The Phantom moves to intercept the Trusted Man, before he gets himself in serious trouble with the Rhodian police. As the bus crosses from Bangalla to Rhodia he gets into serious trouble: his forged passport is awful. He readies for a fight with the border guards. What do you know, though, but Kit Walker’s on the bus too, and picks a fight before the Trusted Man can have it. The Phantom and the Trusted Man are able to punch out all four border guards pretty efficiently. This would seem to cause trouble for the bus driver and the other passengers. The Phantom tells them to drive to the next town, report what happened and describe the two vigilante superheroes in great detail. I’m not sure this would actually clear the innocents. I guess The Phantom must do this sort of thing often enough Rhodian security is used to it.
The Trusted Man is happy to team up with “Towns Ellerbee”, as The Phantom calls himself, to rescue Ernesto Salinas. They make their way to Victor Batalla’s compound. There, The Phantom’s advanced skills in clobbering people impresses the Trusted Man. But there’s no sign of Salinas. They need to take Batalla by surprise. The Trusted Man goes in through the front door. The Phantom breaks in through the back window with the help of a trusted rhinoceros.
I’m sorry, I didn’t quite make a big enough deal of that. I’m not sure how to frame it well. But The Phantom got, somewhere, a rhino to charge through the back of this house. And then the rhino has nothing else to do with the story. I don’t know where it’s from. I don’t know how it got involved here. I have to suppose it was a statue or a taxidermy model or something like that which the Phantom slid through the window. It’s a wild, striking image and I don’t quite understand it. But it makes an impression.
Batalla taunts the Trusted Man, asserting there is no Salinas anymore. After the Trusted Man throws him into the wall enough Batalla explains he turned Salinas over to the Rhodian authorities, perhaps for making long-distance calls on the house phone. They sent him to Gravelines Prison. It’s a grim place. In a noteworthy 18-month-long storyline The Python arranged for Diana Walker to be imprisoned and almost killed in it. The Phantom knows well where it is. To raid Gravelines now requires doing something about Batalla and his henchmen.
Fortunately for them, the Phantom is also the Unknown Commander of the Jungle Patrol. He’s able to order this private army to kinda technically speaking invade Rhodia and abduct people for trial in a country they never set foot in. The Trusted Man is impressed with The Phantom’s resources. The two set off for Gravelines.
The next story started the 19th of October. It starts out looking like it’s about some corporate intrigue. Potato chip magnate Leslie Stenk calls in a favor from Doc Wonmug. She needs something done about Chip Hamberden’s far more successful potato chip company. Wonmug takes the Civil-War-Enthusiast Hamberden on a time trip back to the Battle of Antietam. And leaves him there, where he seems happy, which, fair enough.
When Wonmug gets back to the present, Ava is gone. All that’s present is an Interdimensional Soul Reanimator and a set of time coordinates. It’s the lab’s location, four billion years in the past. This makes me wonder, like, location on the continental plate? Or latitude-longitude? How is the prime meridian handled over that length of time? Not important. They get some magic breathing apparatuses and pop back to the primordial soup.
Ava is there, though she’s floating in the air and shooting flame-breath at Wonmug. Also she’s calling herself Zanzarr, “master of the demonic souls of the afterlife”. Zanzarr’s plan: zap the primordial soup with demon energy to prevent life as humans know it ever existing. It’ll be nothing but demons. I don’t know how to square this with what The Clawed Oracle just said about timeline changes.
Wonmug tries appealing to Ava, who must be wrestling Zanzarr for control of her body. Ava notes how lousy her job actually is. It’s a beat about what a jerk Wonmug can be, augmented by Ooola and Alley Oop saying they forgot to invite her into their union. I know being a jerk has been a staple of comic scenes since forever, but it doesn’t need to be nasty.
So, they get the demon out. Wonmug sets it at the dinosaur-asteroid-impact-spot. I suppose that’s practical and maybe even responsible — Zanzarr was trying to destroy all life, after all — but it’s also murder. Also, he leaves ten seconds before impact. What if his time thingy had decided to reboot? Anyway, Wonmug promises to at least buy Ava a better office chair. (There’s also a casual mention that Ava dated a female demon, back in college. So the time-travelling caveman comic strip acknowledged lesbian-or-bisexual relationships before Mary Worth did.)
One more thing, though. How did Ava leave a note with the time coordinates for Wonmug to find? And … she didn’t.
From the 30th of November we moved into a new story, but one that grew out of that loose end. Who wrote the note? The author enters the 2nd of December. It was Rody, a mouse in a lab coat, speaking now to them for the Coalition of Tiny Scientists. To further their talks, Rody shrinks Wonmug, Ooola, and Alley Oop to mouse-size. And you thought I was tossing off a joke last week when I talked about Hank “Ant-Man” Pym hanging out with Doc Wonmug. I was; I forgot there was a shrinking tie-in there.
The shrink ray is incredible, but you know what would complete it? An unshrinking ray. Rody doesn’t have one. But Ant #3229BX — inventor of the shrink ray — might have an idea. Rody shrinks the bunch to ant-size to better talk with her. She isn’t interested in an unshrinking ray either. But she does have a genius aphid they should talk to, and she shrinks them to aphid scale. But they’ve had enough of this silliness. (Meanwhile Rody does make some wonderful progress on un-shrinking.)
Wonmug thinks he knows how to reverse the shrink ray. Alley Oop’s able to follow #3229BX’s pheromone trail back to the shrink ray. But, whoops, they have an accident and get shrunk even further, to microscopic size. They’re lucky they still have the magic breathing technology from their trip to four billion years ago.
Oh, and what about the Sunday strips? In those Little Oop stories, Alley Oop’s stuck in the present, and hanging out with the kid inventor who stranded him in 2020. This was a less dire fate when the thread started. The strip is ignoring the pandemic and I don’t blame it. But there hasn’t been a story going on here. It’s strips of Little Alley Oop in school, or at the mall, or making friends or such. I suspect Lemon and Sayers have figured this is a more fun Sunday strip to write than Little Alley Oop in prequel Moo. If I’m right they’ll keep him in suburbia until they run out of jokes. I’m sorry not to have another Sunday-continuity strip to recap. Sunday-only strips are fun and also easy to recap. But they’re also hard to create and I don’t fault them not wanting that challenge.
I want to, and that’s that. The current story first ran from the 17th of July through to the 20th of November, 2016. So, if I’m reading this all right, the current storyline should last another 13 weeks. That’ll be around the 28th of March, 2021. The story after that features Rocket Raccoon. I started my plot recapping around the back half of the Rocket Raccoon story. So my plan for now is to keep recapping until I’ve looped myself and then retire this reading. Or I’ll reprint old recaps and take an easy week every three months. Or I might start covering Rip Haywire after all; there’s not much good reason I’m not. We’ll see.
And, finally, it’s Worthy Awards time over on Mary Worth And Me. If you’ve got opinions on who should win Outstanding Floating Head, Favorite Inconsequential Character, or other aspects of Mary Worthiness, go over and cast your vote. If you don’t remember anything from the past year of Mary Worth, I’ve got your plot recaps right here. Thanks for reading.
The Amazing Spider-Man.
4 October – 27 December 2020.
Mary Jane Parker had offered to marry evil sorcerer Xandu. This to get him to stop fighting Dr Strange, whom Xandu thinks is her boyfriend, and Spider-Man, who is her husband. Xandu uses the Wand of Watoomb to bring more and more of the Nightmare World into lower Manhattan. And there’s not much anyone can do about it. Spider-Man has to hide behind Dr Strange’s magic shield to not be mind-controlled … oh, OK, so Spider-Man runs out from behind the magic shield and he can’t be mind-controlled. He fights off a bunch of New Yorkers whom Xandu mind-controls into fighting him. But how could Spider-Man be immune to mind control? Don’t go making the quick and easy joke, now.
So since conquering New York City isn’t working out, Xandu goes back to the Nightmare World, and drags Mary Jane off with him. Spider-Man and Dr Strange follow because of the reasons. But Dr Strange is also frozen by the thingy with the magic doohickey. So what choice does Spider-Man have but to run away from Xandu’s magic blasts of magic blasterness? Ah, but there’s strategy to Peter Parker’s running away.
Way earlier in the story Xandu froze Nightmare, master of the world, in a layer of magic freeze stuff. Xandu misses Spider-Man, but hits Nightmare, freeing him. And he’s right fed up with all this nonsense. A revived Dr Strange offers the deal: if Nightmare lets the four humans go, they’ll leave. This sounds great to Nightmare, who drops them all off in Washington Square Park. Dr Strange takes the opportunity to wipe Xandu’s memories, he says just long enough to remove Xandu’s magic powers. I’m sure this is the sort of resolution that leaves Xandu a happy, beneficial member of society again forever and ever. And on that unsettling note — the 22nd of November — the story ends.
And the next story begins. The Daily Bugle has a new owner. J Jonah Jameson’s cousin Ruth, longtime silent owner, has died. Her widower thinks it would be fun to run a newspaper. He’s Elihas Starr. Or as Peter Parker knows him, the supervillain Not That Egghead. This Egghead is a fellow who uses long words and fights Ant-Man. Since Starr figures to publish the paper himself, he doesn’t need J Jonah Jameson any more.
He does need Peter Parker, though. Starr figures Peter should put his talent at taking pictures of Spider-Man to a good use: taking pictures of Ant-Man. Peter does not know what Egghead is up to. Ant-Man might know, but Peter also doesn’t know where to contact Ant-Man. He’s met Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man, but who’s the current Ant-Man? With the help of Mary Jane he has the idea that Hank Pym might know. I understand they have to lay out the thought process for readers who you can’t assume see every strip. But this is the kind of thing that gave Newspaper Spidey that reputation.
Anyway, the past week of comics Peter’s been trying to get to Hank Pym’s Long Island laboratory. Me, I’d try calling or sending an e-mail first. Too much genre-awareness can be a bother. But Peter Parker should know it would be exactly his luck to get all the way out there and find out Pym is visiting with Doc Wonmug for a week of shenanigans.
So, no, things did not just reset in Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker the last couple months. There were storylines in which characters’ ambitions failed, and they have to start over. But that’s different from a reset where it doesn’t matter what happened.
Ronnie Huerta was moving back to Los Angeles, last time. The first week in this plot recap’s timeframe was her going to the airport and Neddy Spencer choosing to stay in Cavelton. Staying home again doesn’t make Neddy any happier, but it does give her time to realize nothing much does seem to help. Ronnie’s new roommate is the actor playing the character of Neddy Spencer in the TV show. And, what do you know, but the producers want the real Neddy Spencer back in Los Angeles, to work with the character of Godiva Danube. She doesn’t know that she wants to deal with that, but she does need to do something.
Then there’s the mayoral election, Toni Bowen versus Phil Sanderson. Bowen’s behind, but gaining. It’s revived Sophie Spencer’s spirits. Not just the campaign but learning that she needs to know a lot more of everything. So she jumps from one online course with Local College to six classes to getting ready for University In New York.
It’s hard keeping up interest in the local mayoral election when there’s, you know, everything else going on. But Sophie works hard at it, to the point that even Toni Bowen gets a little sick of the mayoral race. Bowen gives Sophie a guitar, an “epiphone casino”. I must trust Francesco Marciuliano that this means something to guitar people. And promises her that it will all be good, whatever happens on election day.
What happens is Toni Bowen loses. She takes it in good grace, and good stride: she made it a nail-biter election, coming from nowhere, and this won’t be the last mayoral election. Abbey Spencer’s particularly horrified. Sanderson’s got a pet, revenge, project. It’s a boutique hotel downtown that he’s directing corporate visitors to. She sees this as draining what visitors Abbey might draw to her bed-and-breakfast. (The revenge is for Abbey not taking his offer — back in August — to support his campaign. Sanderson had not actually wanted her support, but that’s no reason not to be vindictive.) I’m not sure a downtown boutique hotel and a horse-farm bed-and-breakfast are quite in the same market. But there’s probably not a shortage of Cavelton-area hotel rooms. Especially during the pandemic and with the TV show’s location shooting done.
So Abbey feels particularly down in the post-Thanksgiving wash. Her bed-and-breakfast is a mess. Sophie is moving to New York City when that’s safe, which the comic is supposing will be the spring semester. And Neddy decides to move back to Los Angeles, to work on the show and with the Godiva Danube character concept again. She’s feeling desolate.
Sophie and Neddy are sensitive to this, and do something to help Abbey feel appreciated. So while Sam Driver takes her for a long walk and she talks about everything she’s anxious about, Sophie and Neddy decorate the house for Christmas. A nice bit of family.
A less-happy bit of family: Randy Parker and his daughter Charlotte decorating. Charlotte wants to know whether mommy — April Parker — will be there for Christmas. It’s hard to answer since last any of us saw, April Parker was teamed up with her Mom in deep super-secret hyper-spy undercover nonsense. Randy Parker still would like to know what’s happened to her. Alan Parker warns him, that’s going to make all sorts of trouble. Somehow this is still a hard question for Randy, though.
What trouble will this make, and will Randy learn better? We’ll see in a couple months, I hope.
In the game against Ballard, backup quarterback Terry Rapson gets put in, with directions to run the clock out. Rapson decides to run more aggressively, getting a touchdown and securing the game win. But also giving away a play that Thorp was keeping in reserve for a more important game. Now any opponent can prepare for it. This has to count as a failure of Thorp’s coaching. Granted teenagers are going to make dumb mistakes. But you can’t expect people to follow what seem like bad directions — here, to refrain from taking scoring chances — without reason. They have to know the point of this all.
Anyway, Rapson and Thayer compete to be the lead quarterback. Also to get the interest of Karenna, who can’t think of a reason to care. Rapson and Thayer are pretty well-matched in both contests. And get increasingly angry with each other. Rapson particularly when Thayer loses the game against Madison (for which Rapson was benched).
Rapson finally takes Karenna’s hints, and goes to a girls volleyball game. He also gets a bunch of friends to go with him. They don’t understand the game, but are putting in the effort, and Karenna consents to go to a football game. The teams start going to one another’s games and that would be great. Except that the football team divides between Rapson and Thayer for first-string quarterback. (And a couple kids who don’t see why they need to have an opinion on this.) They won’t even sit together in the stands.
Gil Thorp learns about this, and tells Rapson and Thayer to knock it off. Rapson and Thayer figure the other went to the coach so he would make their rival knock it off, so the team remains divided. It gets bad enough that teammates fight on the sidelines at a win.
So Karenna steps in. She invites Rapson and Thayer to her place to fight it out. She explains the problem with the authority of a teenager who’s had to be the functional adult for years. (Her parents divorced. Her mother’s been too depressed to parent.) They’re being selfish, they’re screwing up the team, and they’re not making themselves attractive to her. So what are you going to do? They agree they’ve, at least, had a weird night at Karenna’s place.
Karenna tells the Thorps she’s solved the quarterback problem. Coach Thorp figures he has, too: playing emergency quarterback Leonard Fleming. It works for the first game. At Valley Tech, it’s a bit tougher, and Fleming gets injured. Thorp tells Thayer to step in. But Thayer bows: he’s aware Rapson is reading the defense, should play instead. So, Rapson plays, and the season ends on a win. The girls volleyball players try to congratulate him. He credits Karenna as the most valuable player. She does a shrugging rah.
And that’s where things stand for the middle of December, 2020.
Milford Schools Watch
It’s a bunch of familiar teams that Milford’s played, in football and girls volleyball, the last three months. The dates are from the starts or first mentions of a rival school in the storyline; several of the games went on for a week-plus.
Did Toni Bowen win the mayoral race? Is Sophie Spencer going to go to Local College? Is Ronnie Huerta still in the comic strip? And what storylines have gone totally bonkers? You already know if you’ve reading Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker. Or you can wait a week and catch my Judge Parker recap here. Thanks for reading.
Well, yes. Things are happening. Terry Beatty had started “Lockdown Stories” in the middle of August. Each was a small bit of story, checking in with the major characters of recent years to see what they do during the Covid-19 crisis. This has continued. There hasn’t been any overall plot, and few of the characters have been able to interact much.
Also, mostly, everybody’s staying out of trouble. Maybe a bit bored. This is a difficult condition to write. I know from reading the popular comic-strip-snark-blogs that there are readers who find this all boring. I won’t tell you how to feel about this. But it has made Rex Morgan, as a comic strip, much closer in spirit to the semi-serialized comics like Luann or Funky Winkerbean. These are ones where the strip picks one of several sets of characters to advance for a week. (I don’t generally recap those strips, since the strips usually provide a refresher when they start the week.)
The 14th of September checked in with Kelly and her mother, Summer. Summer works in Rex Morgan’s clinic, which had closed while he worked in the hospital. That’s all.
The 19th of September looked at Buck and Mindy Wise. Her antiques store is closed, but Buck can do whatever the heck his work is online. And help her in selling stuff online, too. They listen to an online concert from Truck Tyler, starting the 25th of September.
And what about Doug, the manager and maybe owner of the Glenwood Motel? We check in on him starting the 4th of October, and the most dramatic conflict of these stories. A young woman comes in, without a mask, hoping to rent a room. He dimly recognizes her. Readers might, too, although I didn’t until I read the comments: it’s Nancy, one of the mean girls from high school. I don’t know her last name. It wasn’t said on-screen and there’s been too many characters for me to track down everybody’s full names. Nancy and her clique have been trying to get a Covid-19 party together. Her parents sent warnings and her photo to … I guess all the local hotels. So he refuses to rent, and she goes off in a huff. He calls her parents to at least give them this data point.
Some Comics Kingdom commenters were upset Nancy’s parents had not talked to her about this kind of offensive and dangerous stunt. This makes an interesting comment about how people see the stuff left out of stories. My assumption is to suppose that they had. I’d based this on imagining myself as a parent. And I know the generally pleasant, low-melodrama nature of Terry Beatty’s writing. But that they also knew Nancy was likely to try sneaking out, and took what safeguards they could. I’m willing to suppose that even excellent parents know that sometimes their kids will be stupider than they can be protective. Other readers took this as evidence of Nancy’s parents being awful at communicating with their daughter. Or being awful at managing their daughter’s behavior. There’s nothing in text indicating one way or another, though.
Nancy is the older brother of Edward, owner of that unseeable ugly dog. He gets some attention from the 12th of October. He’s in school with Sarah Morgan, and they like each other now that he’s outgrown being a bully. They hang out some.
This gets us back around to the Morgans. Rex Morgan was working in the hospital, in the Covid-19 center, and so was quarantined from the rest of his family. Reading the kids stories over video chat and all that. It’s exhausting work. Sarah Morgan’s working remotely, working a triage phone line. And she’s trying to cope with the kids being kids and doing stuff like accidentally cutting their hair. This is a lot to ask and there’s no real managing it all. She and Rex consider options in a world where they can’t get a babysitter or relatives to help.
Rex proposes that he leave the hospital’s Covid-19 unit, and reopen the Morgan clinic as telemedicine. It would let them both watch their kids. And we don’t need to worry about Rex ducking out of doing doctor stuff in the greatest public health crisis in 102 years. Glenwood’s infection rate was falling and the hospital planning to cut his hours anyway. But he still has to quarantine for two weeks, so there’s a pause before that state can change any.
The 30th of November got us back to Buck and Mindy. It’s the one that seems most to be going somewhere, although it’s hard to say where. What we’ve seen are that he’s tired, finding computer screens blurry. And looks like he’s lost weight. And he’s thirsty all the time. Since we know how narrative works, we know he’s being set up for something. But what? Too soon to say, as of the 6th of December anyway.
The Emperor Joonkar ruled the territory that’s now Bangalla, back in the latter part of the 17th century. The current Sunday story continuity features two of Joonkar’s descendants, although only one’s been seen in the last three months of strips.
The Detective mentions how the crime syndicate here is shipping weapons to terror networks across Africa and Asia. So that makes it a stronger Phantom job. The Ghost Who Walks figures two people is overkill for destroying a terror network supplier. But hey, sometimes you want an easy win. The warehouse is unguarded, allegedly because the gunrunners’ reputation is that fearsome. I don’t fault you if you don’t buy this point, but the comic strip is premised on the power of reputations.
Besides, it’s only like two dozen guys. The Phantom talks up how The Detective resembles, in character and body, his ancestor the Emperor Joonkar. This also feeds into The Detective — who’s heard stories of The Phantom without really believing them — and his suspicion that the unidentified purple-clad man he’s working with might just be …
And that’s been a lot of the past month. Preparing for the gang to arrive, and The Phantom talking up The Detective and his own self. The Phantom’s relying on the Phantom Chronicles and what the 7th Phantom wrote about Joonkar. The criminal gang finally started to arrive last Sunday. The Phantom explained how he avoids getting trapped in prison caves: clobber one or two of them at a time. Can’t deny the logic, but The Phantom is lucky they’re coming in groups of two, also.
Brandy’s last name I don’t know. I can’t find a good compendium of Mary Worth characters that gets to details like Tommy’s existence or his last name, never mind Brandy’s. So if someone knows a good source for Mary Worth character names and such? Please drop a link.
And yet the story … somehow … did not end. Saul Wynter keeps talking to his dog Greta about how things with Madi started rough but turned out great. While walking Greta, Wynter notices a woman walking a golden retriever. She comes over and introduces herself; Eve and her dog Max are new Charterstone residents. She’s a widow, looking to start her life anew and this sure looks like we’re gliding into the new story.
So the 21st of September we lurch into the new story, which has nothing to do with Saul and Eve and Greta and Max. It’s about Tommy and Brandy, coworkers at the supermarket, whom we last checked in on in 2018. Their relationship has a built-in crisis. After a workplace injury years ago, Tommy got addicted to alcohol and painkillers. Brandy’s father was an alcoholic and a drug abuser, and she wants none of that in her life ever again. Tommy’s told her about his past, and been clean.
And their relationship’s been going so well that Mary Worth and Toby spend their time talking about how great it is. So Tommy figures this is the time to propose, at the diner, slipping an onion ring onto her finger. Brandy is not ready for this, and doubts she’ll ever be ready for marriage, and says so.
This activates Tommy’s self-destruct sequence. He spends days interpreting Brandy’s fatigue as being she’s tired of him. Or asking “well, why don’t we get married then?” every 85 seconds. When Brandy asks for some time alone with her headache, Tommy goes for a walk in Santa Royale’s Bad Neighborhood. There he meets up with Vin, a friend from the old days, who offers him a drug. It’s hard, but Tommy declines.
A bit too late, though. Brandy, going to the drugstore of dramatic irony, sees Vin offering his metal lollipop to Tommy, and concludes the worst. The next day she says she saw him with the crack pipe. She won’t listen to his protests, and breaks up with him.
They each have lousy nights. The next day Tommy tries what he thinks is a charm offensive. This by leaving a rose and a note at her cash register and reminding her every 75 seconds that he loves her and doesn’t use drugs. This of course doesn’t work, and Tommy confesses his woes to Mary Worth, who’s still making banana bread even though that was last story’s foodstuff.
She points out that Tommy’s not a failure or a loser, and that relationships aren’t linear. And, you know, love yourself, live well, and everything else will work out. She even deploys a nearly-unthinkable meddle: “there’s so much more to life than relationships”.
Tommy decides to do more talks with schoolkids about his addiction experience. Also I guess he was doing talks with schoolkids about his addiction experience. Well, kind of him to do that. Less kind: he reminds Brandy every 65 seconds that he’s doing this for troubled(?) kids and he loves her and he’s been clean and everything.
And that’s where the story reached by this past weekend. It does feel near the resolution. And it does feel likely that it resolves with Brandy accepting Tommy’s declarations. It’s an ugly scene, though. Brandy’s understandable but wrong judgement is harsh. Judged-guilty-despite-being-good is a plot that makes me squirm. I blame that Donald Duck cartoon where he makes his nephews smoke the box of cigars that, oops, they bought as a gift for him. (For my money, a far more traumatizing childhood experience than watching Watership Down could ever be.) But so much of Tommy’s behavior has been nagging his way back into Brandy’s good graces and that’s so many kinds of bad. He should do like the rest of us, and subtweet her with such relentlessness that their mutual friends all end up taking her side. Also a lot of his effort has been hollering “I’m not on the drugs anymore” from four aisles over at the supermarket. Never force the assistant manager to have to notice your relationship.
But, we’ll see. Catch you in the Mary Worth universe, most likely, around late February or early March 2021, I hope.
Dubiously Sourced Mary Worth Sunday Panel Quotes!
The car care place still has, on its message board, the thanks to the local economic council for support in making it through the epidemic. So I have to look at the actual quotes that appeared in the Sunday panels instead.
“We could never learn to be brave and patient, if there were only joy in the world.” — Helen Keller, 30 August 2020.
“Although the world is full of suffering, it is also ful lof the overcoming of it.” — Helen Keller, 6 September 2020, for a rare double-header.
“All the windows of my heart I open to the day.” — John Greenleaf Whittier, 13 September 2020.
“The only way to have a friend is to be one.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson, 20 September 2020.
“Ultimately, love is everything.” — M Scott Peck, 27 September 2020.
“Who, being loved, is poor?” — Oscar Wilde, 4 October 2020.
“Sometimes I feel my whole life has been one big rejection.” — Marilyn Monroe, 11 October 2020.
“I had sadness for breakfast.” — Andy Milonakis, 18 October 2020.
“I generally avoid temptation unless I can’t resist it.” — Mae West, 25 October 2020.
“Tears come from the heart and not from the brain.” — Leonardo da Vinci, 1 November 2020.
“I myself am made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions.” — Augusten Burroughs, 8 November 2020.
“When I lost you, honey, sometimes I think I lost my guts too.” — Bruce Springsteen, 15 November 2020.
“You gain nothing from giving up.” — Robert Kubica, 22 November 2020.
And, now, a content warning. The story features a pet — Andy the dog — being harmed. He comes through it fine. But you folks who don’t need a pet-harm story in your recreational reading right now? You are right. I’ll put all this text behind a cut and we can catch up with the first Jules Rivera story.
[ Edit: I turn out to have overestimated my ability to just put a couple paragraphs behind a cut. Well, I tried. Zip ahead to the horizontal rule and resume reading from there if you want to skip the pet-harm stuff. ]
On my other blog, I’m writing up essays about mathematics terms. This week should be ‘V’. It’s probably also going to be late because it’s been a very busy week. I should have had a busy week for the letter ‘X’ instead; there’s so few X- words that I could miss the week and nobody could tell. Too bad. Now on to Gasoline Alley.
And she can offer a job. Pastor Neil Enpray’s happy to have them perform in church this Sunday. They’re worse at music than I am, and I’m barely competent to listen to music. But all the Traveling Truebadours can do is bluff through it. The Pye men try to figure what they can do, while the pastor lectures on the appearances of snakes in the Bible. Joe Pye figures what they can do is pocket cash from the collection baskets.
Pastor Enpray asks Roscoe Pye to bring him a box, though. And inside is a snake! They’re terrified, fairly, and run, fleeing the church. It’s a rubber snake, of course, a toy. Enpray was hoping to “make an impression” on his congregation.
So, they escape without showing how they don’t know any hymns. But they’re also hungry and homeless. And figure Shari won’t take them back. Joe Pye figures they have one hope left: go back to prison. Why not break back in to their cells? This inspired me to wonder, when someone does escape prison, how long do they wait to reassign their cell? I have no idea. If you do, please write in.
They get there as another prisoner’s trying to break out. They’re caught up by the prison guards and confess they’re escaped prisoners. Warden Bordon Gordon, a tolerably deep Bob Newhart Show cut, is having none of it. He insists their time was up and they were released. He just forgot to mention. It so happens they were let out the same night four other people escaped, which is why there was a manhunt.
The comic logic is sound. The Pyes figuring jail’s their best bet and they can’t get in, makes sense. I don’t know a specific silent comedy with this premise, but I’d bet all the A-tier comedians did something like that. I don’t fault you if you don’t buy this specific excuse.
Onward as the premise demands, though. They have to get arrested. Their best plan: steal from the grocery store. When they try to wheel a cart full of food out and admit they can’t pay, the store owner apologizes. Times are tough. Take the food. Have some soup, too. Because, you know, when you leave food in the hands of people rather than corporations, hungry people get to eat.
In the last days of October they approach a spooky old house. It sounds haunted. They run out of the place, and out of the strip; with the 30th of October we transition to Slim Skinner and the new story.
The haunted sounds are Slim’s fault, of course, but in a good way. He’d decked out a slated-for-demolition house for Halloween and that went great. There’s a bit of talk about getting the city to save the building, but that doesn’t seem to be the plot. Instead, in the middle of the night, Slim’s mother and cousin Chubby come to visit. And that’s where the daily plots stand.
For a couple weeks in September there was at least a running thread. Slim dreamed of being a Herbert Lewot, wealthy comic-book-reading bachelor who’s also the grime-fighter The Towel. (Spell “Lewot” backwards.) The setup feels very like an old-time-radio spoof of any number of old-time radio superheroes. (The ‘Tex Grxznopfski’ and talk about spelling backwards particularly feels Jack Benny Show to me.) Slim Skinner’s shown, for example, reading Yellow Jacket comics. Remember that both the Green Hornet and the Blue Beetle were respectable-enough radio superheroes. I’m sure there are more obscure bug-themed radio superheroes too. I think this is just a one-off, but if Scancarelli wants to fit a sub-strip into his strip? There’s a long history that he knows very well to support him.
Svengoolie did not. For a moment it looked like the vampire-killer was confessing to the horror-movie host. Svengoolie was instead used, with some elegance, to provide exposition about how a gadget needed for the story should work.
Dethany Dendrobia, star of Bill Holbrook’s On The Fastrack, was the guest star last time we checked in. She was in the Greater Tracypolitan Metro Area to investigate weirdness with a warehouse her company was buying. The weirdness: Coney, an ice-cream-themed villain. He’s searching the warehouse for a fortune left behind by Stooge Viller, a villain who died in 1940, our time. Coney’s desperate because the property management company “accidentally” sold the warehouse to Fastrack. To buy time and the warehouse, Coney’s gang kidnaps Dendrobia’s fiancee, Guy Wyre.
Sam Catchem’s informant has a tip for Wyre’s whereabouts: “some old warehouse”. It’s kind of a crazy lead, but you know what? Sometimes the crazy leads pay off. With the help of FBI Inspector Fritz Ann Dietrich they raid the warehouse, catching Coney mid-lick. Coney tries to put it all on Howdy, the Howdy Doody-themed henchman and yes you read that right. Dendrobia finds Wyre, and more, the restroom behind him. And one of those old-fashioned toilets with the water tank that’s up by the ceiling. She pulls the chain and finds piles of cash. This because none of the people searching the warehouse for Villier’s Millions ever looked in the toilet water tank.
So all’s squared away, and Dendrobia and Wyre can get back to their Halloween-scheduled wedding. (It did go on, over in their home comic strip of On The Fastrack, as a mostly online event. Some family attended, after a strict two-week quarantine.)
The 23rd of August started another two-week Minit Mystery, with guest writer Mark Barnard and guest artist Jorge Baeza. The mysterious ‘Presto’ makes the city’s new Aurora Rising statue vanish when his ransom isn’t paid. The story is one of how Tracy follows his one lead. But there is a legitimate mystery and the statue’s disappearance is by a more-or-less legitimate piece of stage magic. Also, there’s a guest appearance by Smokey Stover, so, you’re welcome, Dad. I had nothing to do with it.
The Halloween story started the 7th of September with a mad sciencey-type carving fangs. And in an atmospheric and silent week, does a vampire-attack on a woman, Faith Brown. She dies of blood loss from two wounds in her neck, and there’s chloroform in her blood. He goes on to admire his fang-and-pump apparatus. And how after a “minor adjustment” he’ll be able to add Faith’s sisters’ blood to his “collection”.
Honeymoon Tracy and Adopted Orphan Annie pop into the story the 13th, as their journalism tutor Brenda Starr gives them an assignment. Pick a story from the paper and they do their own investigation. They’re interested in the “vampire” killing. Starr recommends talking with Professor Stokes, Biology Professor at Local College. He’s the guy with the fangs, and he’s known to be an expert on vampire lore. Honeymoon and Annie go to Dick Tracy to see if he can get them an introduction. They’re too young to realize that if you’re even a bit female, and ask a white nerd about his obsession, he will never stop talking to you, including about it.
Tracy goes along with them, though, since he needs to get some suspects into the story. Stokes admits how he’s part of the local Nosferatu scene and sure there’ll be a certain amount of blood-drinking there, but not him. And it’s always from volunteers. And he has some literature.
Meanwhile Faith’s bereaved sisters — Hope and Charity — are not too bereaved not to talk themselves into buying a car with their inheritance. Not from Faith’s death, particularly; a fortune they’d come into before her killing. Their Uncle Matthew had been a “patron to some really eccentric types”. If Faith-Hope-and-Charity weren’t found, the money would have gone to the eccentrics. Have you spotted the eccentric in this story?
Then there’s another break. TV horror-host Svengoolie had a fan send him a “working artificial vampire system”. Could it have something to do with the vampire killing? No, it turns out. The machine’s from a Local College student, and does have actual blood-draw gear, but its motor wouldn’t draw enough blood to kill. And “confessing to Svengoolie” would be weird even for the Dick Tracy universe. But, the Local College student did find the parts he needed from the college lab. And here we get explained how Stokes could make this vampire machine, without a villain monologuing and without anyone telling someone things they should already know.
Professor Stokes learns of Hope and Charity buying a car with the money he feels entitled to. I don’t know how. He calls Hope Brown, though, with the promise of running a new-car-warranty scam. And stops in, coincidentally as Brenda Starr is visiting. Starr mentions she bought a new car and needs a warranty scam. He doesn’t have a card, he explains, but jots down his name and number.
Starr goes into action, because what kind of agent meets a client without business cards? In 2020, when I’m assuming smartphone owners transfer contact information by waving their phones in someone’s direction. So she calls Dick Tracy with her suspicion that Hope Brown’s the next vampire victim.
Stokes descends on a woman leaving Brown’s office. She turns, beating him up. It’s not Hope Brown. It’s Officer Lizz Grove, in disguise. Stokes breaks free, though, and runs to a nearby Jazz festival. And into the path of a cop car, that kills him. The police are aghast at killing a white guy who wasn’t protesting police violence, of course. But that wraps up the vampire problem.
Now the parts where I’m confused. It’s in motivations. I understand Stokes wanting to kill the Brown girls, on the hypothesis that would somehow get him the inheritance. (I can imagine ways Uncle Matthew might have set things up so this could work.) I could also understand him just taking “revenge” on people he’s decided wronged him by existing. I can also understand Stokes wanting this “collection” of blood he mentioned. I don’t understand these motives applying at once. Well, maybe Stokes was a complicated person.
Brenda Starr has one last question, though, for Adopted Orphan Annie. It’s one I would have thought too obvious to ask. Annie could have picked any story in the newspaper to investigate. Why was Annie interested in a weird, freakish killing that drew a six-column, two-deck headline? Why not the business piece about soy futures coming in even more in line with forecasts than analysts expected? Annie explains she knew murder victim Faith Brown, from a distance, aware she had been a kind and helpful fixture of the neighborhood. I guess it’s nice to learn give Faith Brown some traits besides being the inciting victim. But if Annie never met her how did she even know Faith Brown’s name? It’s an explanation that makes me less clear about what’s going on.
They can’t get there except through a party of Saxon raiders, out to attack some local village. That’s a pretty standard encounter, earning about 25 xp all around. With the start of September, Prince Valiant finally arrives back in Camelot. It’s been something like three years for them in-universe and about twice that for us readers.
Everything’s looking good, too. Like, they’ve fixed the damage from that time Godzilla attacked (summer 2009). Indeed, the place is thriving, just like you always worry about when you leave your department unsupervised a while. Prince Arn, Valiant’s son, explains that Sir Gawain is managing everything very well. Sir Gawain has never managed a thing well in his life. So what’s the trick?
Well, it’s the same trick as always: finding a good steward. In this case, it’s someone from before I started reading the strip carefully. A woman named Rory Red Hood, with whom Gawain’s fallen in love. And who turns out to know how to manage estate business. Gawain’s been hiding her, because her leveler impulses made her awkward to have at court. So on the one hand, she’s a fugitive from King Arthur for her relentless pushing the notion of commoners governing themselves. On the other hand, she makes a lot of money.
I do like the lighthearted cynical air, and low-key historical verisimilitude, of all this. Aleta talks of how the Misty Isles folks tried this demokratia stuff centuries ago, and it worked fine. At least until the people decided to let a tyrant do their thinking for them. I suspect we’re hearing some motivated history here. She talks with Princess Maeve, co-regent. Aleta argues Rory is much less trouble than the surrounding thanes who’ve been whining about Rory’s existence. And also makes a lot of money. Maeve convinces her husband that Rory is not a real problem, by kicking him out of bed until he agrees.
And that’s where we sit. It’s not the most action-packed story we’re on. But I do like how it’s so tied to the problem of how to manage a land, in a time before bureaucracies could professionalize things. So, Mark Schultz, Thomas Yeates, thank you for writing this story for me and me alone.
The Villiers Millions! Vampires! Dethany from On The Fastrack! Svengoolie! Brenda Starr! Little Orphan Annie! It’s been busy times in Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy. Join me for a plot recap that, actually, I already wrote most of this past weekend. I’m trying to build a buffer of stuff to post. I’m expecting next few weeks are going to be, let us hope the final, boss rush of mind-crushing Republican venality, and need some space. Can’t wait!
I think she panicked? At least she hadn’t figured on ever having to explain Kadia was anything but her sister to Mrs Daft. That may seem like an oversight but she didn’t know she’d need an explanation anytime soon. That’s what I have, anyway.
The Phantom writes back, arranging a meeting on the outskirts of Mawitaan. But withholds information such as Kadia’s survival. He doesn’t know who wrote that letter, or whether they’re being eavesdropped on. The Phantom is late for the meeting, not at all helping Sahara’s paranoia. But he’s convinced she isn’t accompanied, at least. The Phantom gives her an address, saying that she lives with the friend she fled New York City with. Sahara realizes Kadia’s New York City friend was Heloise Walker, and the name can’t be coincidence.
The Phantom explains that the Walkers came to him on her behalf and he set up the post office box. And that addressing it to “Walker” then let him know who it really was. I mention this lie because it’s well-delivered. It make sense Sahara would believe it. Later, Heloise Walker tells a lie and it’s a mess that the recipient accepts because … I’m not sure. I think the lying motif shows the difference between the father’s experience and Heloise’s enthusiasm. But I’d be open to the argument that I’m reading things into a storytelling coincidence.
Over to Heloise, though, and Kadia, who’s taken the Walker surname and considers herself adopted. They’re in Bangalla, attending school. They’re boarding with a cheerful motherly type, Mrs Daft. They even have a job working a cafe. The Phantom arranged the jobs, getting references from Colonel Worubu of the Jungle Patrol. If this seems like a petty use of The Phantom’s influence, well, yeah. But asking someone to do you a small favor is a reliable way to make them like you more. Yes, human brains are broken. So could be The Phantom’s shoring up his social network. Also he figures if Kadia does become a danger, in another (justifiable) low moment, having Colonel Worubu ready is a good move.
Imara Sahara interrupts their breakfast by pulling up. Kadia calls out, “Mom!”, to Mrs Daft’s confusion. Heloise tries to explain why Kadia is calling someone who’s not Mrs Walker “Mom”, and it gets weird. She claims it’s their aunt who’s so much a favorite she might as well be their Mom and that’s why they’ve called her that. Mrs Daft accepts this explanation. Heloise huhs, and considers how they are never going to have trouble explaining boys in their rooms after curfew.
Imara Sahara tells of her escape from the North African compound, and of meeting The Phantom the night before. And that the Walker family had arranged his sending. Here Heloise does better at lying in a way consistent with what Kadia thinks she knows. She claims her dad arranged it through go-betweens that protect that mysterious man’s identity. The lie works for Imara, but not for Kadia.
Kadia was sure that Mr Walker went to save her mother. But she also knows she’s had a heck of a time after learning her father was international terrorist The Nomad. So she wonders what she’s wrong about now.
Imara tells Kadia that she has a new name, and assets that would “never” be connected to The Nomad. They can have their lives back and leave Mawitaan right away. Kadia can’t have it, refusing her father’s “murder money” and calling Diana Walker her mother now. It’s a horrible, messy scene, punctuated with Mrs Daft encouraging them to invite their favorite aunt to lunch now.
Heloise goes to Imara, trying to talk her into trying again, sometime when Kadia is less shocked. Imara says she wishes the Walkers had left her alone to die. Kadia smashes Imara’s windshield and demands she never come around again. She’s reasoned that Imara must have known who her husband was and what he was doing. It is hard to see how she wouldn’t, but people can be quite oblivious, given any motivation to be.
Heloise relays the events of the day to her parents. Kit Walker tells Diana that he believes she didn’t; “unlike you, she just has terrible taste in men”. This man, by the way, is someone who used to have her family leave a bedroom window and door open all the time in case he popped in unannounced some day. All right. Also, Diana proposes that they should get Kit Junior back home. Kit Senior had sent him off to study at a Himalayan monastery, a development that hasn’t lead to as many stories as you might have expected. And, what the heck, last story the hallucination of the 20th Phantom scolded the current Phantom for sending him off. (Sending Kit Junior off, by the way, to a place that the 20th Phantom wanted the 21st to go.) Might be time for a change.
The story feels at, or near, an end. I am curious whether Imara knew what was going on and, if so, how much she was willing to accept. She is hurt by Kadia’s turn, in ways that fit and that remind one that our protagonists are not the only people in the world. Kadia’s doing well in making connections. But she also has a lot of trauma on her and needs better therapy than being watched by Walkers. She’s going through her superhero or supervillain origin story now. Heloise has fumbled a couple points this story, but in ways it makes sense to fumble. Would have helped if Heloise had not tried to explain the “favorite aunt, called Mom” thing to Imara, though.
But this essay is, in the main, about Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop. This should catch you up to mid-October. If you’re reading this after about January 2021, if there is a January 2021, you’ll likely find a more up-to-date plot recap at this link. Also any news about Alley Oop, if there is news.
Everyone was hanging around in Moo, last we left off. Ooola was rehearsing a play. She impressed Gromp, the director. Gromp pitches another job for her: using the play as cover to enter neighboring land Lem and steal King Tunk’s giant opal. She hates the plan. Gromp sends his dinosaur, Steve, to make her see reason. She beats Steve in a fair fight, though, and hauls Gromp off to be in a desert island cartoon.
That, the 1st of August, wraps up that little story. From the 3rd we get a string of events leading into the current story. It starts with a joyride: Alley Oop wants to go to an amusement park. So they return to the present, and Doc Wonmug looks for the greatest amusement park, past, present, or future. But who can tell him what that is? rec.roller-coaster just fights about Kennywood versus Knoebels versus Efteling versus Holiday World. (Did you consider Waldameer? Especially if you have a family? Very under-rated park, especially if you aren’t all about high-intensity everything.) So he goes to The Clawed Oracle.
The Clawed Oracle, off in a never-before-mentioned room of Wonmug’s Time Laboratory, is a cat. She pronounces that the greatest amusement park ever is in Saint Louis in the year 3277. They zip off to Future Saint Louis. The place stinks, apart from the giant pine tree air freshener hanging from the Arch. What looks like an abandoned warehouse is labelled Amusement Park #41. Inside is an array of virtual-reality goo-filled tubes. Despite the ominous everything, they go in.
It’s a good time, though, until the fortune teller learns they’re from the 21st century. On that she leads them to a secret reality within the virtual reality. And to Phil, leader of the Underground Stronghold Alliance. He tells of the Great Culture Famine, a mysterious event that destroyed culture. All that’s left since 2081 are these virtual-reality amusement parks. But what can three time travellers do? They leave the park and journey to Phil’s coordinates in 2081. And there they meet … The Clawed Oracle.
It turns out The Clawed Oracle is an eternal ethereal being who manifests on earth as a cat, so that’s a nice gig. She reveals who’s responsible for the Great Culture Famine. It’s Dr Wonmug, yeah. Indirectly. It’s really the clone of Albert Einstein that Wonmug made and then abandoned on a farm. She sends them off to deal with Einstein Two. (Why not Zweistein?)
Einstein Two’s gripe: his parents insisted he put all his scientific energies into the farm, and the zany cow bra business. So he invented a Grand Culture Eraser, to destroy all forms of art, past, present, and future. He has justification for this: he’s grown up to be a STEM jerkface so doesn’t see why gadgetry is not a life. Einstein Two proclaims this a gift to every child whose love of science was crushed by small-mindedness. Then Alley Oop punches his machine to rubble. Ooola smashes his backup, too. Dr Wonmug tears up the machine’s plans. Alley Oop digs up and rips up the backup plans. So that’s some success.
And that takes us to the start of the week. Also into a new timeline. Saint Louis of 3277 “now” has a giant chandelier hanging from the Arch. And Amusement Park #41 is the aquatic stadium any amusement park used for dolphin shows back in the 1970s when we were making that mistake. This looks like the resolution of a storyline. But it could also be the transition to a new story. Too soon to tell.
“You know the convenient thing about the 32-ounce size?”
“It’s not so intimidating as the 40-ounce size?”
“And you aren’t paying one penny more for the freedom from intimidation.”
“It seems to me that it also has the advantage of being twelve ounces more than the 20-ounce size.”
“I wouldn’t go that far. What if we didn’t make a 20-ounce size?”
“Then you wouldn’t have any way of getting the 40-ounce size except buying the 40 ounces.”
“You haven’t anyway: there is no 40-ounce size. If you want 40 ounces you’ll just have to make do.”
“Maybe for now I can avoid wanting 40 ounces.”
“The other grand thing about the 32-ounce size is that it’s over 32 ounces more than the zero-ounce size.”
“That’s a size you can’t really have too much of.”
“And at zero ounces they fly off the shelves. We need to ballast them against even slight breezes. We tried surrounding them with a fine mesh, but that created a fine mesh — that should be fine mess — that even got into the News of the Mildly Interesting Yet Not Excessively Weird. Too many people mistook them for a bee enclosure.”
“No, more Reuters-ish.”
“What would I make do if I wanted 40 ounces?”
“Use two 32-ounces and an empty seven-ounce bottle. It’s a traditional puzzle. It dates back to the Mayans, who never figured it out because they didn’t know what an ounce was.”
“You can’t get to 40 ounces from two 32-ounces and taking away seven ounces at a time. You get to 50 ounces instead.”
“How can you get 50 ounces if you don’t have 40 ounces first?”
“You come from the other direction.”
“It’s a six-ounce bottle you need.”
“Just curious but what is it 32 ounces of?”
“Are you wondering what comes out of it or what goes into it?”
“Let’s start with what goes in and see where that get us.”
“It gets us into the 32-ounce size.”
“Only if we’re ingredients. We’re not unless it turns out the bottles are inside-out and we don’t suspect it because it’s only revealed in the last minute.”
“No, if we were ingredients we’d have heard something along the lines of `let us out’ or maybe `we’re not ingredients’.”
“So we’re not ingredients?”
“Now that you’ve said that, it could turn out we were all along. Thanks for messing up a good bit of confusion.”
“I’d hope so.”
“What got the Mayan worried about forty ounces?”
“They liked things in twenties. In retrospect, the 20-ounce size could have been a great seller to Mayans of the seventh century. Have you ever felt better for knowing what the ingredients of something were?”
“There are times I’ve felt growing appreciation for whatever is meant by ‘sorbitol’.”
“And have you ever liked what you knew about what went into something?”
“No, but it’s left me awake all night, steadily unsettled.”
“That sort of feeling you can’t put a price on, unless you count student loans.”
“You can do it with seven ounces. Start with three 32-ounces and take seven ounces out eight times over.”
“You get there faster with eight ounces seven times over.”
“Yes, it’s so much more scenic taking the local roads.”
“It’s mature to restrain yourself from wanting the 40-ounce size.”
“We all have our difficulties to overcome.”
“The 32-ounce size would be a 40-ounce size, if it came with eight ounces free.”
“If the eight ounces were free they wouldn’t come with anything. They’d have to be bottled and rigidly constrained relative to the 32 ounces.”
“They might associate of their own free will.”
“Is the 32-ounce size larger than a breadbox? If not, is it bigger than a bread loaf?”
“No, but I realize I don’t know what a loaf of bread weighs. I just thought of it as weighing one loaf, slightly less for denser loaves.”
“Then we’ve expanded the boundaries of your ignorance?”
“Yes, but marginally.”
“Delighted to be of service. Don’t worry. This is covered your normal monthly charge.”
Mary Jane Parker had just knocked on Dr Strange’s door. She’d wanted to, but actually doing so was an unexplained impulse. Dr Strange is pleased to meet both. He remembers Mary Jane Parker from seeing her on Broadway. He remembers Peter Parker as existing. Also as being Spider-Man. Dr Strange has those mind powers, you know, and can read scripts.
The impulse to knock on the door came from Xandu, trenchcoated street mystic master. He wants to steal Dr Strange’s Wand of Watoomb, which will make him happy. You understand. I smiled writing the first half of that sentence. He’d bumped Mary Jane and thanks to that can see what she sees, although not hear what she hears. More, he gives her the compulsion to walk to the forbidden upstairs and through the locked door to grab the Wand of Watoomb.
A burst of magic and Mary Jane swaps places with Xandu. Xandu takes over Spider-Man’s body, which, like, keeps happening to him. Well, he has the proportional ability to resist magical body-control of a spider. Xandu compelling him to punch Dr Strange and then do nothing, standing still. You know, like snarkers always say he does.
Xandu leaves Dr Strange’s mansion and grabs Mary Jane along the way. He apprehends her, to become his Queen. He also misapprehends that Mary Jane is married to Dr Strange. He’s going to feel SO AWKWARD when he finds out. She asks to see his kingdom, to distract him from killing Our Heroes. And meanwhile Spider-Man and Dr Strange escape their magical bondage by remembering Dr Strange has a magic thingy around his neck.
Xandu and Mary Jane pop over to the Realm of Nightmare. It’s one of those 70s comic book realms where everything is droopy shapes and silhouettes that sometimes look like teeth. Nightmare, lord of the realm, rides his horse in to threaten Xandu and Mary Jane. Xandu uses the Wand of Watoomb to freeze him solid. And then has an even better idea, moving a chunk of the nightmare world to Washington Square Park. Dr Strange does a lot of work building up this menace to Spider-Man, and the audience. Xandu does the same, only using Mary Jane.
Me, I admit, I’m not shaken. The Nightmare Dimension doesn’t strike me as all that fearsome. There’s elevated walkpaths that don’t look safe, given how far they are from level and how none of them have handrails. And there’s silhouettes of spiders. I guess that’s annoying, moreso if you have mobility issues. But annoying isn’t the same as terrifying. Oh, and there’s lots of those energy clouds and bubbles flying around, like you see all over Marvel Comics. But if you didn’t buy the original premise of “ooh, this is scaaaary”, it’s not going to become scaaaary by having energy ribbons around it.
Well, Mary Jane, trying to keep Spider-Man safe, kind of suggests she might marry Xandu if he transforms the world into a nightmare land. So that’s the project he’s working on now, as October gets under way. If I am judging right from when this ran in 2015-16, we should finish around the 22nd of November. The follow-up story, back in 2016, was about J Jonah Jameson losing control of the Daily Bugle to Elias Starr, the villain Egghead. One of Ant-Man’s villains, which is why you’re thinking wasn’t that Vincent Price on the Adam West Batman? We’ll see what they do with the reruns, when we get to that point, though.
And the TV show based on Neddy Spencer and Ronnie Huerta’s notes gets under way again. It’s all a little weird, especially as Ronnie sees again Kat, who’s playing Neddy on the show. Neddy’s also freaked out to meet Michelle, who’s playing Godiva Danube. Partly from memories and reevaluating her friendship with Godiva. Also because it’s a clue that the production is changing out from under them.
Mayor Sanderson meanwhile is mad. The local TV won’t apologize for running a poll showing Bowen surging. His staff won’t even remember to take their masks off in the office. But he is aware of Bowen’s weakness as a candidate. He calls Abbey Spencer, whose bed-and-breakfast plan, and renovations, were a fair idea for a money pit in normal times. During a shutdown? They’re a bleeding ulcer. Sanderson offers that he might be able to do her a favor. Since Sophie started the Bowen campaign, and Sam Driver supports it and used to date Bowen, this seems weird. But he offers: the campaign’s drawing a lot of coverage. Out-of-town reporters need to stay somewhere. Why not a place struggling but surviving thanks to a supportive local government?
The offer could hardly be better-designed to enrage Abbey. She promises to make sure everyone knows she’s on Team Bowen. Which Sanderson wants, in the first moment that makes him look like a skilled politician. Bowen’s weakness is that she can look like a tool of the Parker-Spencer-Driver clan.
Bowen’s got some good instincts, though, aware that this kind of unsolicited support can be trouble. She lays down the law to Sophie. If they want to support her, all right, but they have to know what she’s about. Which would likely make for a better campaign. Also a better campaign plot, must admit, as it’s not clear what issues there even are in town. Equitable gentrification is a great challenge, and goal. But it’s a danged hard thing to fight for in any intelligible way, especially in this medium.
Bowen’s law-laying helps Sophie with another problem, though. She looks into Local College courses. This is a step in her realizing that she doesn’t know everything she needs. And that she’s been blocking herself from that learning. And, after a lot of hesitation, she calls Honey Ballinger and apologizes.
And the TV show continues to change. The showrunners have decided Godiva and April Parker’s lives make for better stories than Neddy’s does. This makes for an interesting bit of story commentary by strip writer Francesco Marciuliano. Marciuliano has, mostly, done a good job at having things go crazy and then rationalize some. But it would be strange if he didn’t consider some storylines to have gone awry, or to regret not having done more with characters than he did. The revelation that Godiva was also running drugs was a shocking turn of events, sure. But to make it a shock to readers meant we had to not see it. It’s plausible Marciuliano didn’t consider it until he needed the twist. This frame lets him, if he wishes, build a new storyline for Godiva. It may not be what “really” happened to her, but if it’s interesting, who cares?
So the studio figures that April and Godiva is the true-crime drama that’s the real series. And that’s that. The shooting in Real Cavelton wraps, with the rest of the series done in Los Angeles and Vancouver. And Neddy decides she isn’t interested in moving back to Los Angeles. Ronnie is, though, and that makes the transition into autumn all the harder.
And that’s where things stand now. Bowen’s campaign seems to be going well. Sophie’s reconciling with Honey Ballinger and looking at Local College. Neddy’s staying in town. Ronnie’s off to Los Angeles and, it’s teased, out of the strip. (It’s very self-referentially teased, with talk about sitcom characters who vanished. I am old enough to sometimes speak of myself as if I were on a sitcom. But I am also young enough to sometimes speak of myself as if I were a podcast host.) And if all goes well, we can come back together in a happier December to see what has changed.
We dip into the comic strip most inexplicably in reruns with Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s The Amazing Spider-Man. (I mean, you wouldn’t think Marvel would be unable to find someone who can draw Spider-Man, right?) That’s if all goes well, and here’s hoping that it does. Good luck to you all.
Yes, it appears that Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp is going ahead as though things were normal. It’s a defensible choice. The only sports one could morally play during the pandemic are outdoor sports with physically separated individuals. I don’t know if Milford even has an archery team. There’s a fair chance it’s never come up in the strip before. But that would leave the strip with nothing to write about, which is a heck of a writing challenge.
Milford’s boys’ softball was playing against Valley Modified, the school for delinquents. Not a formal game. Mike “The Mayor” Knappe, kicked out of Milford for bringing a butter knife to school, organized it because hey, wouldn’t it be fun? What would go wrong with Valley Modified’s ragtag bunch of misfits playing against an actual team? Anyway Milford was ahead 149 to nothing at the top of the first inning, with the upstate returns not in yet. Some of the Milford players defect, to give the other kids a chance.
And then pizza arrives. 20 pizzas, giving everyone a break. The game resumes and Valley Modified stumbles on until Phoebe Keener, from the Milford Girls Softball team, calls time. She gives Valley’s shortstop some tips. Things resume, less competitive and more collegial, until a someone delivers subs. And, later, ice cream. What would have been a shellacking turns into a picnic and everybody kind of forgets about finishing things.
The adults wrap things up, with Gil Thorp not-denying having a hand in sending the pizza order. Assistant Coach Kaz not-denying sending in the subs. The coolers with pop? Why, that’s Knappe’s English teacher, the one who reported his having a butter knife in school. And so on. And, hey, Generic State University decided not to rescind its acceptance of Knappe. Coach Thorp’s report about Knappe organizing the event convinced them of his good character. Their admission letter even jokes about leaving knives in the dining hall, like the tag of a 70s cop show. Uhm. Right.
That, the 11th of July, finally wrapped up the spring storyline. The summer story began the 13th of July.
It starts with a follow-up to the softball game. Phoebe Keener recognizes Valley Modified’s catcher, Corina Karenna. She got introduced as a nice snarky type who has “problems with authority”, like you want on a sports team. They share a lunch and go shopping, Karenna amazed that Keener is looking for buttons, and sews and such. And Keener … wonders what Karenna is doing in town, actually.
Also, True Standish is back in Milford. Years ago he’d been the star quarterback and brought Milford to the state championship. He went off to college and now he’s … a pitcher for the Tampa Bay Rays. He kept getting injured in football. He’s getting injured in baseball too. But he’s a low enough draft choice that the Rays figure, eh, let him wander around, he’ll probably be all right.
Another lunch hangout. Karenna admits she’s looking for a new direction. Also to return a catcher’s mitt from the ball game. The waitress at the diner shares the bad news; the guy she’s returning the mitt to is out of town for the week. Did you see the plot point dropped there? Because I’ll admit, I didn’t, not until writing this up. And after that we see the two obvious threads come together. Standish needs a catcher for pitching practice. So they set up pitching camp.
Coach Thorp watches a session. He notices how Karenna has no trouble handling professional-grade pitching. And Karenna admits to Keener that “I’m thinking of moving to Milford”. Keener asks the obvious: isn’t there a “we”, what with her having a mom and all? And the thing is her mother is depressed, bad enough that Corina has to lead the family. (Her father left long ago.) She mentions how she and her mother could live anywhere there’s support. She mentions this in the diner, where the waitress from earlier happens to be. The waitress drops the advice to ask True Standish about his mom. Standish does more, bringing her to meet her mom.
So, Standish’s mother has similar depression problems, though not as severe. She’s got good support, though I’m not sure how this would transfer to Karenna’s mother. Also, Mimi Thorp watches Karenna at a pitching workout and offers her business card in case Karenna has questions. Also high school girls coaches have business cards. After some prodding about mysteries of the softball game, she decides. Orientation day comes and she’s signed up to Milford. Even to try out for volleyball. The story resolves, more or less, the 4th of September.
I will lose standing in the comics snarker ranks for this: I think this story was pretty well-done. Karenna’s problem gets laid out naturalistically, for the story strips. Her situation, having to be the functioning adult in a broken home, is realistic enough. That she wears a protective layer of sarcasm makes sense. How a resolution will happen gets laid out in the open where it’s easy to miss. The only piece that comes from nowhere is True Standish’s mother also coping with depression. But there’s little reason for him to have discussed that. It’s possible this was established when Standish was a regular character. If it was, then I sincerely bow to Neal Rubin. Even if it wasn’t, it’s a slick move to have introduced a supporting character last story to be the main for this one. And then she seems to be inspiring significant action for the current story. There’s some good crafting here.
With the 5th starts the current story. And yeah, that’s a midweek transition. The heart of this, like many fall storylines, is the boys’ football team. Will Thayer’s bulked up over the summer. This could challenge Charlie Rapson for the quarterback’s position. Radio sports reporter Marty Moon is interested in this quarterback controversy. Coach Thorp isn’t worried by the rivalry, nor by Marty Moon attempting to be clever, since Marty Moon is not a clever man.
And her new teammates bring Karenna to that most ominous of Milford athletic community events: the Bonfire. So, I never went to a school that had any self-esteem. Occasionally high school would have a pep rally, where we sat in the gym bleachers while people tried to get us excited about … the school, I guess. All it did for me was reinforce my suspicion of mass emotion. I could not imagine participating in a bonfire. So I am very much on Karenna’s side in looking at this as a borderline terrifying activity from a whole other universe.
And that’s our story, so far.
Milford Schools Watch
This may have been the slowest three months on record for Milford’s sports. If I haven’t missed anything there were only two other schools named on-screen. They were:
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker was the first story strip to incorporate Covid-19 into the story. What’s happening in it now? If all goes well, we’ll see in a week. Thanks for reading.
Terry Beatty had decided he couldn’t do a pandemic story without the lead times for Rex Morgan, M.D. making it too dated. So the first story he wrote after the pandemic hit the United States was a flashback, Rex and June telling young Sarah how they got together. After that, Beatty decided he could tell some stories. And so since then we’ve had vignettes of the major characters and how the disaster has hit them.
As Rex Morgan told the story to Sarah, things were really fitting together for him a couple years ago. He had a nice spot at Glenwood hospital. His mentor, Dr Dallis, is ready to retire and offers to sell his practice to our young protagonist. (The Dr Dallis thing is an in-joke. Psychiatrist Dr Nicholas P Dallis created the Rex Morgan, M.D. comic strip. He also created Judge Parker and Apartment 3-G.) While jogging and considering the offer, he bumps into June Gale. He claims (to Sarah) that he apologized. June claims (to Sarah) that she only thought about calling him a jerk.
A couple days later he runs into her again, this time metaphorically. She says hi. This distracts him, and he stumbles, fracturing his ankle. She gets her first-aid kit and takes him to the hospital. He’s impressed by her professionalism, and how she’s not intimidated to give medical instructions to a doctor. This attitude surprises him because Rex Morgan has never spoken to any nurse at any time for any reason, ever.
Rex Morgan tries to take June Gale to dinner, and to flirt. His clumsy efforts offend her. An elderly woman pops up behind him and orders him to marry her. And the weird thing is it’s not Mary Worth. Rex and June deny knowing who she was. Long-time readers recognize her as Melissa Claridge, who’d been in the comic strip for decades, most recently appearing in 2012. Claridge spent decades trying to make Rex and June pair-bond already.
I didn’t read the comic before this past decade. So I don’t have a particular allegiance to the old continuity. But: why this retcon? Terry Beatty had already established that this is not my father’s Rex Morgan. (My father is more a Mary Worth reader.) This on-screen Rex and June Morgan just happen to have the same names as an earlier Rex and June who happened to be doctor and nurse in the same town decades ago.
I am reluctant to play the “Unreliable Narrator” card. It’s too easy a fix for any continuity question. But here? It’s defensible at least. Rex and June are describing the story of how they met to their daughter. They have reason to avoid confusing sidelines. This justifies skipping decades of June considering other suitors and coming back to work for Rex. But then what benefit to Sarah to say that some strange old woman told Rex to marry June? Rex and June swear they don’t know who this woman was. If they’re fibbing for Sarah’s sake, why?
Well, Rex buys Dr Dallis’s clinic. June takes the job as clinic nurse. Eventually they marry. And everything’s happy ever after. With that comforting conclusion, the flashback ends, the 9th of August.
After that, and with panels explaining to the reader, the strip begins “Lockdown Stories”. These are vignettes of what all the characters do during the crisis.
First up, from the 10th of August: the Morgans themselves. Their clinic is shut down for the crisis. June is doing triage over the phone. Rex is back at the hospital supporting the Covid-19 unit. The story’s main concern: how to set it up so Rex can work without infecting his family. Rex will be sleeping in his study, using the downstairs bathroom, and going into and out of the house through the garage. And he’ll have to see his family online, but, that’s the best of options.
And that’s it. The 17th of August we switch to Jordan Harris and Michelle Carter. Jordan’s restaurant made the shift to doing take-out orders. Michelle is a nurse, though, and wants to go back to the hospital’s Covid-19 unit. But there’s no safe way they can live together for this. Jordan moves into the apartment above the restaurant for the duration, and they’ll have to make do.
With the 23rd of August we move to the next vignette. This is about Rene Belluso. He had been Sarah Morgan’s art instructor back before Terry Beatty took over the writing. This was back when a rich mob widow was setting Sarah up as the next Leonardo da Vinci. Since then Belluso’s been hiding from mobsters he owes money. And forging comic strip art. And he ran that Celestial Healing scam that Rex and Lana Lewton busted up. He’s still working a scam, with a web site offering the secret cure for Covid-19. Also cold-calling people for a stimulus check scam. He’s barely got into his vignette before officials bang on his hotel door and take him away. So he’s now leading the Trump administration’s pandemic response team.
And the 30th of August moves to “Horrible” Hank Harwood and his son Hank Junior. “Horrible” Hank’s a comic book artist from way back, so his life isn’t changed: he’s spending his 90s redrawing magazine covers for pay. Hank Junior’s missing doing stuff. At his dad’s suggestion, he starts building plastic model kits. And they give each other haircuts. That’s about all.
With the 11th of September — a rare midweek transition — we move over to Niki Roth, one of the teen cast. He delivers food to the Harwoods, which is how we make the segue. And then to his girlfriend Kelly and her mom. Kelly’s also the Morgans’ babysitter, but that’s off for the time being. We only got to them this past Saturday, so, there’s not much guessing what they’re up to.
So, yeah, I call these vignettes but that might be too strong a word. It’s more going around the horn and establishing that everybody has some situation. Even Rene Belluso’s scam got introduced and then resolved in a week. It’s nice to go around and see everybody, but none of these have been real stories. There is of course a story problem when characters have to be apart. And, like, there’s almost no reason for June Morgan to chat with Hank Junior online. At least if he came into the clinic for something they would talk.
Yeah, so it turns out the mountain with Skull Cave is a completely different peak from the mountain with the giant carved head of a Phantom. And yet our current Ghost Who Walks was all upset about his face on postage stamps. I don’t know.
This essay should catch you up on Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom, Sunday continuity, for early September 2020. If you’re reading this after about December 2020, or you’re interested in the separate weekday continuity, there’s probably a more up-to-date essay at this link.
Kit Walker was telling Heloise of their ancestor, the 13th Phantom. Ghost of 1805 and George Bass — a historical figure who did go missing, with his ship, in 1803 — had survived the Battle of Trafalgar, only for their ship to be destroyed immediately after. Bass and Walker 13 washed ashore, somewhere, in bad shape. 13’s lost his eye covering. Bass has lost his sight, so at least he’s safe against seeing The Phantom’s face. Bass also lost his memory. So they faced a legendary trip to return to the Deep Woods.
They make it in two panels, with Bandar medicine able to restore Bass’s physical health. Mostly. He’s still blind, and not really aware of who he was or what his life had been. Bass wants to wait until he’s well to return to his wife Elizabeth. He never would be, and died four years later in the Deep Woods. This is how he got interred in The Phantom’s Vault of Missing Men. After his death Phantom 13 travelled to London, to find Elizabeth Bass and tell what happened.
The current story, 190th of the Sunday continuities, began the 19th of July, 2020. It starts with a low-lying cave, covered by a grate. A criminal gang’s imprisoned a detective. The cave offers just enough water, just enough seafood, just enough of a gap between high tide and the grate for the Detective to not die too fast.
In this spot she meets The Phantom, as she hoped. Her dog Bunny meets The Phantom’s wolf Devil, who refrains from eating the much smaller animal. The woman tells of her grandson. The Phantom takes the case.
And then he passes the case on to the Jungle Patrol, in his role as the Unknown Commander. They take their orders to find information about the Lost Detective. The Phantom pieces this together. He finds and frees the Detective.
That’s where things stand. The Detective’s free, and with The Phantom. And there’s this criminal organization that’s all set for whatever mischief they were up to. Where will it go and how will it end? We’ll see over the next few months.
Is Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. still ignoring the biggest medical story of the past 102 years? We’ll have the answer next week, or you can read the strips yourself. It’ll take longer but you’ll have the result sooner.
Meanwhile, on my other blog, I’m going through the alphabet explaining mathematics terms. Also, at the end of this month, I’m hosting the Playful Math Education Blog Carnival. That’s a gathering of educational and recreational mathematics writing. If you know something mathematical that delighted you, please, let me know. More people would like to know it, too.
8 June – 30 August 2020.
Delightfully grumpy Saul Wynter had niece Madi as houseguest for the summer. Her father had to go to Venezuela for The Company, so I trust they mean he’s part of another inept CIA coup attempt. Madi’s mother died years ago. Madi’s grandmother — Saul’s cousin — just died, and Madi’s not coping well. But what else is there to do? Let her stay with a friend? After many walks with his rescued shelter dog Greta, Saul thinks he’s ready for a summer with Madi.
Oh, but hardly! Why, Madi is sullen, and messy, and on her phone like ALL the TIME. More, she doesn’t like dogs and shoos the timid but friendly Greta off. Greta returns the courtesy, ripping up a shirt she’d left on the floor. Everybody gets stressed out and Greta hides under the bed.
It goes on like this until the start of July when Mary Worth’s meddle-sense finally kicks in. Once she’s aware of friction between housemates Mary Worth can not act fast enough. She has them over for lunch, teleporting them into her kitchen before Saul Wynter gets off the phone. “It’s all right, Mary Worth just does that,” Saul reassures Madi. Mary Worth notices Madi noticing her flowers, and Madi admits her grandmother loved color. Mary Worth agrees: color is one of her favorite intensive properties of matter, up there with viscosity and specific gravity. Mary Worth coaxes Madi to an afternoon at the pool. And to have cookies, since her grandmother was a great cook.
At the pool Mary Worth asks Madi about her grandmother, and listens a short while. She comments how things Madi does to remember her are nice. How we honor loved ones by imitating the good they did. Have to say, Mary Worth’s meddle game is on.
Madi resists the suggestion to get to know Saul and Greta, though. She complains her Gram’s died, her life’s “shaken”, and she’s living all summer with a grouchy old man and his dog. She makes a fair point. Mary Worth talks about Greta’s long time spent looking for a home and Madi rolls her eyes all the way into Gil Thorp. But she invites Mary Worth to jump into the pool and that helps some. She says Mary Worth reminds her of Gram.
This meddles Madi at least into being a quiet sullen who doesn’t put her feet on the couch. She’s still crying at night, though. Until Greta pokes in and squeezes up against her because dog. And that fixes the problem of her not liking dogs. At least not liking Greta.
So way back when this story started an incident happened that I didn’t think rated mention. Toby was having trouble making desserts for a Charterstone meeting. I thought it was no more than a bit of color along the way to the actual Saul-and-Madi-and-Greta story. I should have known better. Mary Worth isn’t some slapdash strip that would leave a plot point like that hanging. And the resolution of this launches the end of the story to greatness. From the 5th of August we see Toby struggling again to make dessert for, I think, a different Charterstone meeting.
Toby needs Mary Worth’s help: she can’t figure out the banana bread recipe. This raises many questions, among them: what, she can’t go to Bake-N-Cakes and buy dessert? I concede the plot requirement that Toby be working on something a 13-year-old could plausibly have experience with. But, like, the banana bread recipe at AllRecipes.com is seven ingredients, one of which is “bananas”. It has three steps, one of which is “preheat oven and grease pan”. (Snark aside, I think AllRecipe’s step two is over-stuffed. I would break that into three or four steps, one for each time something’s mixed or poured into a new bowl.) Toby’s kitchen is a wasteland of ruined bananas, spent eggs, and viscous puddles of things. I can’t swear that her ice cubes weren’t somehow on fire. If we the audience had not seen that, I would theorize this was a setup to trick Madi into opening up. Instead, no, we have to suppose that Toby is a person who can’t parse “In a separate bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar”.
Madi comes with Mary Worth. Toby provides an example of her failed banana bread, so Madi never suspects she’s being patronized. A person who can’t “stir in eggs and mashed bananas until well blended” is not trying to outthink a 13-year-old. Madi offers that her Gram made banana bread with a “secret ingredient” and she decides, finally, to let Toby know what it is. With the secret Toby tries again and now she has a successful banana bread! The little project makes all the difference. From here on Madi’s a pleasant friendly teen and likes Greta and Saul and Mary Worth and feels bad for Toby and everything.
So from the 18th of August we move into the ritual of thanking Mary Worth for everything. This story she did do something to be thanked for. Madi’s decided her summer turned out great. And she’s going to be a chef and bring her Gram’s recipes to everyone. And hey, her dad’s been released by Venezuela counter-intelligence, so he’ll be swinging by to pick her up soon and we can … never see her again I guess. We haven’t quite gotten to Madi’s last strip, much less any hint what the next story is. I expect that to start next week.
Dubiously Sourced Mary Worth Sunday Panel Quotes!
“When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favor.” — Elon Musk, 7 June 2020.
“No one appreciates the very special genius of your conversation as the dog does.” — Christopher Morley, 14 June 2020.
“It is an illusion that youth is happy, an illusion of those who have lost it.” — W Somerset Maugham, 21 June 2020.
“When anger rises, think of the consequences” — Confucius, 28 June 2020.
“Man invented language to satisfy his deep need to complain.” — Lily Tomlin, 5 July 2020.
“Be a little kinder than you have to.” — E Lockhart, 12 July 2020.
“Where flowers bloom, so does hope.” — Lady Bird Johnson, 19 July 2020.
“A kind gesture can reach a wound that only compassion can heal.” — Steve Maraboli, 26 July 2020.
“I don’t think people really realize or understand just how wonderful and special dogs are.” — Robert Crais, 2 August 2020.
“If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again” — Thomas H Palmer, 9 August 2020.
“Take care of all your memories, for you cannot relive them.” — Bob Dylan, 16 August 2020.
“Silent gratitude isn’t much use to anyone.” — Gertrude Stein, 23 August 2020.
“We could never learn to be brave and patient, if there were only joy in the world.” — Helen Keller, 30 August 2020.
At a motel the truck driver opens the van and finds that weird noise was a dog in the back. Andy leaps out and runs into the woods. Mark Trail reassures Rusty and Cherry that sure, Andy’s been gone a long while, but “he always comes home”. And Mark Trail tells of how pets can find their way home over great distances. Like, how dogs can focus on scent. Rusty puts Andy’s bed out on the porch in case that extra bit of familiar scent might help. There is some neat storytelling to how it’s done. We see Andy bounding through the forest, passing turtles and raccoons and waterfalls and everything else. We hear Mark Trail explaining the clues that a dog might use to find home from a great distance away. And, sure enough, Andy finds his way home.
And, yeah, as Mark Trail predicts, Andy finds his way home safe and sound. Which is all good for the Trails. “Don’t worry, dogs usually come home” is awful advice for anyone whose dog or cat has gone missing. The only useful thing was Rusty planning to put up Lost Dog posters. There’s not even a mention of getting your pets’ ears microchipped, so Animal Control will have a chance at contacting you. Or that you could watch your dog when’s playing at the construction site so he doesn’t get locked in a truck trailer or something.
But Andy is safe back home. And on the 22nd of June what proved to be James Allen’s last story started. It’s incomplete. If a new team is hired, I assume they will have the choice to complete this story or let it drop. They will also have the choice whether to see “Dirty” Dyer’s revenge against Mark Trail carried out.
The last story’s premise: Hollywood liked Mark Trail’s story about white-nose syndrome in bats. Not just for bats. Along the way Mark Trail discovered human traffickers. (This was the story from just before I started doing plot recaps. Mark Trail eventually caught the traffickers while he was in Mexico with Dr Carter, though.) And found an astounding cave system of wondrous beauty, most of which survived Mark Trail’s visit. So producer Marnie Spencer wants to make a film adaptation of this award-winning Mark Trail article. And she wants her boyfriend, bad-boy action hero Jeremy Cartwright, to play the lead. And the lead is Mark Trail. Also, yeah, they’re interested in the bats. Not the Yeti search. Could be they’re waiting to see how the civil suit from Harvey Camel’s family plays out.
And then we get the return of a traditional Mark Trail guest star: poachers! Someone named Digby and someone who isn’t are hunting bighorn sheep. It looked like Jeremy Cartwright was being set up for the full Mark Trail experience.
Spencer is delighted to meet everyone and see everyone in the Lost Forest. Cartwright is smug and vaguely condescending toward the small town. We don’t see exactly what happens but Mark Trail describes him as not being “a very gracious guest”. He complained about the food, which Cherry shrugs off. And he’s not big on the outdoors. Of course, during James Allen’s tenure, the outdoors has done a whole lot of trying to kill Mark Trail. While fishing with Rusty Cartwright complains how he needs a drink, and wonders if they’re heading back to the hotel soon.
And that, the 25th of the July, is the end. James Allen leaves Mark Trail (dailies) and we go into Jack Elrod-era reruns. James Allen-produced Sunday strips continued for a few more weeks, because Sunday strips have a longer lead time than dailies. And this week we got back to Jack Elrod-written Sundays with a bit about squirrels.
With the 27th of July we enter Jack Elrod reruns. I don’t know when this story first appeared. It is, in odd symmetry with the last complete James Allen story, an Andy story, and a lost-pet story. In this case, it’s a cat “not wanted by its owners” that’s deliberately abandoned. Far enough away that the owner is sure it won’t find her way back. The cat, unfamiliar with wild life, approaches some animals, who all run away. Except for Andy. So the lost cat makes a friend.
The Trails are happy to take in the cat, dubbed Tabby. Tabby is happy to explore the farm. Also I guess Mark Trail has a farm? Maybe that’s the buildings so close to the log cabin? I do not know. Tabby’s chased off by a rooster, prompting Andy to rush in and protect her. Cherry Trail scolds Andy for harassing the rooster. So for all of you whose favorite Animaniacs segment was Buttons and Mindy, good news: you do not exist. Nobody’s favorite Animaniacs segment was Buttons and Mindy. Buttons and Mindy just made us all feel tense and bad.
Wild dogs raid a neighbor’s farm, and Mark Trail mentions how they need to keep a close watch. Not close enough to keep Andy and Tabby from wandering unsupervised, though. Andy tries to rescue Tabby from a skunk, realizing too late that this is not a rush-in-and-rescue situation. Even washed off he still stinks, though, so Andy goes off deeper into the woods to avoid bothering anyone. Tabby insists on following. The wild dogs, meanwhile, move into the area and surround Tabby. Looks serious.
Sunday Animals Watch!
Thorn Bugs, 31 May 2020. They know some things about not being eaten by predators. Do you?
Fossa, 7 June 2020. They’re nice and weird creatures and if I’m not wrong their name’s better pronounced “foosh”, which is pleasant to say. They’re doomed in the wild.
Blue Whales, 14 June 2020. There’s evidence they’re making a comeback. Nothing like how prairies dogs are making a comeback, of course, but still, a comeback.
Rhinoceros and Oxpecker, 21 June 2020. Great team. Some of our earliest sound films are recordings of this pair’s vaudeville act.
Lava Crickets, 28 June 2020. They’re doing all right in the volcano eruptions, if you wondered.
Maned Wolfves, 5 July 2020. Legs.
The Fly Geyser, Washoe County, Nevada. 12 July 2020. So as industrial accidents go this one is pretty cool. I hope it’s not screwing up the water table too badly.
Banksia, 26 July 2020. It’s a plant that relies on bush fires to grow and reproduce so at least it’s having a good year.
Iterative Evolution, 2 August 2020. So the Aldabra white-throated rail went extinct when their atoll sank. When the atoll emerged from the sea again, the animal re-evolved from its parent species, and isn’t this amazing?
Invasive Species, 9 August 2020. Kudzu, of course, and Tegu lizards, a “squamate scourge” intruding into Georgia.
Blanket Octopus, 16 August 2020. Last James Allen Sunday strip. So the male of this species “detaches a specialized arm and gives it to the female during mating”, which is a heck of a thing for Mark Trail to go out on.