What’s Going On In Prince Valiant? Wait, Aleta is Queen of the Witches? May – August 2020


Yeah, she said on Sunday that she’s Queen of the Witches. That she’s a witch hasn’t come up much lately. But when Valiant first saw her he was enchanted, and they teased a while about whether that was literal or figurative. And she’s done magic stuff lately. I don’t know if this Queen of the Witches thing is established or whether that’s a bluff, though. So that catches you up on Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant as of early August 2020. If you’re reading this after about November 2020 there’s likely a more up-to-date plot recap at this link.

Also on my other blog I’m explaining words from the mathematics glossary. No promise of comics there, but you might find something interesting. Thanks, and now back to the time of King Arthur.

Prince Valiant.

10 May – 2 August 2020.

Prince Valiant and team were just outside Camelot, dealing with local issues. Imbert, local landlord, died. His son Gareth died shortly after. The suspect: Afton and Audrey, with whom Imbert was quarreling about some land. Sir Gawain had arrived in the story to sort that out, but he hasn’t been much use to anyone. The locals figure Afton and Audrey are witches, what with how they have good crops and aren’t dead of the plague. Valiant’s son Nathan believes the women are good students of nature and learned how to farm.

Audrey lead Valiants and Nathan to the cave, key to the land dispute. Some say it contains eternal youth. What it mostly has is bats, loads of guano that are indeed good fertilizer. Valiant also notices it has a curious yellow ore, and he keeps a sample.

Audrey had brought Nathan and Val to the bats' cave, with the task of gathering fertilizer for her and Afton's gardens. As she and Nathan put their backs into shoveling the bat droppings, Val peels off to look farther along. He finds strata of tin ore running along the walls --- not uncommon in this part of Arthur's kingdom. And there is another stratum. This of a dull yellowish color, which angles down into the spring waters. The prince digs out a chunk of the yellowish ore and inspects it closely --- suddenly he believes he has found the answer to the mystery surrounding this place. He returns to assist the shoveling and the loading of the guano. When the wagon is full, the three begin their return ... while in the dark thickets outside Afton's cottage, menacing figures skulk forward. Next: The nightjar.
March Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 24th of May, 2020. This made me wonder whether guano is something you really have to gather at night. But then I guess at night most of the bats will be out, so you don’t have to worry about disturbing them? So I guess that’s an advantage? So anyway, if you somehow didn’t know what kind of person I am, now you know, it’s “person who wonders about the best guano-gathering practices because of reading a comic strip”.

Meanwhile the villagers have had enough of this, and attack Afton and Audrey’s cottage. Gawain tries to defend it, but he’s just one person, and not main cast(?) I guess(?). Afton escapes being feathered. But the mob burns her cottage. Valiant sees this and races to the scene. He bellows that the women are innocent and he can explain the deaths. As soon as they get back to Imbert’s estate, anyway.

The proof is in Imbert’s kitchen. The cook recognizes Valiant’s ore. It’s arsenic. This gives Schultz and Yeates the problem of having characters who think this is a good thing not advise newspaper readers to take poison. Valiant settles on saying how “it is rumored to aid good bodily health”. So Imbert was stealing ore from the cave, and taking it for his health. But Valiant knows arsenic is a poison, used “by assassins in the court of a distant land”. So Imbert arsenic-poisoned himself. Gareth, trying to have the same meals as Imbert, had the same poison.

With Val having solved the mystery of Imbert's death, Gawain announces his verdict to the gathered villagers: 'Matter the first: the royal archives prove Afton's claim on the land in question. Lord Imbert had no right to take possession of anything on Afton's land. Matter the second: Afton and Audrey are blameless in the deaths of Imbert and Gareth. Imbert's theft from Afton's land was responsible for his and Gareth's inadvertent deaths by poison. As the representative of the court of Camelot, I forbid any further persecution of these two women!' Then, unexpectedly, Aleta's voice rises above the crowd's murmuring 'You have accused Afton and Audrey of using witchcraft for evil purpose but I assure you, they are no more witches than are any of you! I know this because I am a witch! A witch queen from the far south! And these are my familiars, who will watch and assure that no harm comes to those I protect!' The crowd gasps as two huge creatures suddenly appear at her call! Next: the greater fear
March Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 26th of July, 2020. Aleta’s not a stupid woman. So we must ask, then. What are the experiences she has had which make her believe this is an effective way to protect women reputed to be witches?

Gawain reports that the royal records confirm Afton’s claims on the disputed land. Also, that Imbert and Gareth’s death was their own fault, and there’ll be no further persecution of Afton and Audrey. Aleta steps in to support Afton and Audrey against the claims of witchcraft. She declares their innocence and she would know, as she’s Queen of the Witches. She summons her raven familiars to put Afton and Audrey under her protection. Aleta thinks she’s helping. Our heroes leave. They trust Afton and Audrey will have a good time next week, when I look at Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy.

Next Week!

You know, I did get the Prince Valiant plot summary finished way ahead of deadline. I should be getting to work on the Dick Tracy plot recap like, four days ago. Well, shall try to have that for next week. Thanks for reading.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Weekdays)? Why is The Phantom destined for an unmarked grave? May – July 2020


Well, The Phantom apparently went and changed destiny on himself, so who can say what’s going to happen next? Happy to catch you up on the goings on in Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity. If you’re reading this after about October 2020, or if you’re interested in the separate Sunday storyline, there is probably a more up-to-date plot recap at this link.

Also, on my other blog, I’m going through the alphabet to explain mathematical terms. I hope you enjoy that all.

The Phantom (Weekdays).

4 May – 25 July 2020.

The Phantom had caught himself some wildlife poachers, last I looked. But the poachers had wounded a lion, who’s gone into what the Llongo people call the Forbidden Forest. The Ghost Who Walks figures he has to kill the wounded lion, lest it go attacking people, and he doesn’t see any reason to ask why the forest is forbidden.

The Phantom doesn’t have much luck tracking the lion. The lion has better luck tracking The Phantom, catching him right before sunset. He shoots the lion, which seems to end the problem. And he eats the heart of the lion, respecting a Llongo tradition as promised. The Phantom lies down to unsettled dreams.

The Phantom, watching a lion: 'That's not the same lion! It's not wounded! Not leaving a blood trail! ... What am I saying? I cut out the lion's heart! Of course it's not the same lion!'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 20th of May, 2020. The Man Who Cannot Die is being pretty confident about the possibility of a Lion Who Cannot Die, have to say.

He wakes to find the lion carcass gone. Also, that the lion’s alive. And heading off on its own business. The Phantom tries to clear his thoughts. Then he sees The Python, the big-bad terrorist from before Eric Sahara. The Python vanishes into thin air, though. The Phantom tries to work out a rational explanation for this all. The woods are said to drive men mad. Maybe he had a concussion. The important thing is to get out and get somewhere safe. Like, Skull Cave, which pops in to the middle of the Forbidden Forest, far from where it ought to be.

And inside the cave is … The Phantom? The figure, who keeps calling our Ghost Who Walks “Son”, scolds him. I wasn’t sure whether this was meant to be literally the 20th Phantom. But he eventually describes Kit Walker Junior as his grandson, so that’s a good answer. Phantom Dad scolds about the events of “The Curse of Old Man Mozz”, a story from back in 2017. In it, Old Man Mozz foresaw the killing of The Phantom by a petty henchman getting in a lucky shot. That didn’t happen, because King Features and Tony DePaul worked out a new contract. And Diana Walker tipped off Babudan, who was there with a well-timed arrow.

Finding a replica of Skull Cave deep within the Llongo Forbidden Forest, in a deep wash of blue-greens. The Phantom says, 'Skull Cave isn't on Llongo land ... it's in Bandar territory! The Deep Woods of my ancestors!!'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 2nd of June, 2020. Did want to say a good word here for Mike Manley in doing a really deeply atmospheric eerie Skull Cave. Also for the colorists. The colorists for the daily comics take a lot of razzing for incompetent flood filling of strips. It’s important to point out when they’ve done a great job like this.

The Phantom protests, fairly, that he didn’t send anyone out to mess up his destiny. The 20th says they were forced to do what they did, when Kit Walker sent his son off to that Himalayan monastery. And did nothing to protect Heloise Walker. 21’st daughter was the one who captured Eric “The Nomad” Sahara, most recent terrorist nemesis of The Phantom. 20 warns that his son, having altered the course of The Phantom’s legend, “will not lie here among your ancestors”. He’ll instead be left in a faraway grave. He’s lost “the right to lie in the crypt of the Phantoms”. And threatens him with oblivion, right then and there, lost to all time.

As the 20th Phantom dissolves into an angry, flaming skeleton taunting his son with ruin, The 21st Phantom suspects something is wrong. It’s the woods, he tells himself, and chooses to leave. As he does, 20 warns that all his feeble mortal plans will be overturned. 21 starts to taunt back, hey, everybody’s plans are overturned, it’s the year — and then stops short before he can say “two thousand and … 20”.

20th Phantom: 'Hear me now ... having altered the course of the legend, YOU WILL NOT LIE HERE among your ancestors!' In front of the 21st Phantom's eyes, 20 turns into a flaming skeleton. 20: 'You have consigned yourself to a faraway grave, my son ... '
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 18th of June, 2020. So, first, my brother had that second panel on a T-shirt in high school. Second, OK, so if 21 had been shot in the back by that coward, back a couple years ago, how would his body have gotten back to Skull Cave? Would Kit Junior have been along for some reason? Or someone else from the Ghost’s support team?

The Phantom runs out of the woods, going past the illusions of Babudan and his faithful supporter Guran and Guran’s elephant. And keeps going until it turns out those are the real Babudan and Guran and Elephant. They’ve got one question for The Ghost Who Walks: what were you thinking tromping into the Forbidden Forest like that? Don’t you know that’s a good way to go mad? Why, Guran’s even seen his son Timo in those woods, and Timo hasn’t been on-screen in the comic strip since 1943. Anyway, the cause of these strange visions is rational enough. There’s fleas in the Llongo woods with a toxin that causes hallucinations. Guran’s got an antidote, though. Why not tell the Llongo about this? Well, Guran tipped off James Allen about these fleas and they’d be in a Mark Trail Sunday panel except, you know, all that drama.

The Phantom’s left to wonder the significance of his vision, though. It’s easy to shrug it off as hallucinations, yes. But The Phantom does happen in a superhero universe. More, a magical superhero universe, since Mandrake the Magician shares the continuity. (Mary Worth, too, by the way.) And, after all, Old Man Mozz did have a useful prophetic dream. So, like many of us, he’s left to sulk about the consequences of his actions.


That, the 18th of July, ends “The Llongo Forest”, 254th of the weekday continuity stories. The 20th started “The Reunion”, 255th of the weekday stories. It opens with Kit Walker getting a letter to Box 7, Mawitaan, his secret post office drop for people in trouble. It’s from Ashrama Raia, General Delivery, Nairobi. The Phantom keeps up his Jumble practice. Those are the letters of Imara Sahara, mother to Kadia Walker, nee Sahara and Heloise Walker’s schoolmate. The Phantom had broken Imara Sahara out of The Nomad’s compound before militias and American terror-bombing could destroy it. But she fled rather than stick around with The Phantom. The Phantom had advised her that someone would answer a letter set to Box 7, Mawitaan, though. Did kind of expect that thread to resume someday.

Next Week!

Will I write up the development of
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant before deadline on Tuesday?
We’ll see!

What’s Going On In Alley Oop? Is Alley Oop off the hook for Time Crime? April – July 2020


Yes, it looks like the thing where Universe-3 is prosecuting our, Universe-2, Alley Oop and company is resolved. The charges are dropped until some later nonsense happens. The original, V T Hamlin-created Alley Oop is in Universe-1, not a part of these shenanigans. Glad to catch you up on Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop, as of mid-July 2020. If you’re reading this after about October 2020 there’ll likely be a new plot recap at this link.

My other blog has given a break to reading comic strips for a while, but I am building a little glossary of mathematical terms, one a week, at this link. You might like that, too.

Alley Oop.

27 April – 18 July 2020.

In the most surprisingestly surprising surprise in the history of surprises, billionaire Drew Copious was up to something evil. Last time, Copious hired Dr Wonmug and his gang for some little time-travel adventures. This got him a pencil from the useless aliens who watched the Egyptians build the Pyramids. The pencil was a communicator to some alien named Farfell.

Ooola: 'Where were you guys? I was in 2485 for almost a year!' Oop: 'We traveled all over time looking for you, from the Big Bang to the heat death of the universe.' Wonmug: 'Finally, we went back to the moment that Copious sent you to the future and looked at the date on the time cube.' Oop: 'And we brought you back to just a short while after you left.' Ooola: 'So after a year, you finally did the easiest thing possible?' Oop: 'We really didn't want to cheat!'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 15th of May, 2020. So this is one of those little ways that time travel would change computing as we know it, by the way. (Also, in rescuing Wonmug from the past, Oop “originally” returned to ten days after he set out, earning Copious’s mild praise, then went back to just ten minutes after he set out, doing an “amazing job”.)

Copious separates Alley Oop from Dr Wonmug and Ooola. He has a test. Copious abducts Wonmug and Ooola, losing them somewhere in time, and Alley Oop has to rescue them. Wonmug’s stranded at a Beatles concert. It takes Alley Oop some time to find him, until he remembers he has a time machine. It takes longer to find Ooola, who’s hidden in the post-apocalyptic year of August 2020 2485. At least until they realize they can use the time machine to check where Copious sent her.

Oop: 'Ooola, what was the year 2485 like?' Ooona: 'It wasn't too bad. I was president of the zombies for a few months. I built affordable housing on the Moon. Oh, and I started a business selling food pills.' Oop: 'Wow! The future has food pills?' Ooona: 'No. I went out of business right away. I lost millions.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 16th of May, 2020. All right, but if she sold those little cubes of bright-colored food you saw on the original Star Trek? And if they were blocks of cheese? That would be different. My point is if someone opened a nothing-but-cheese buffet near me I would never eat anywhere else for any reason, not until I was too large to fit through doors.

Why all the testing? Because Copious wants to know if they’re up to helping him conquer the multiverse. He’s teamed up with the Nudellians, the useless aliens from the Pyramids. Copious explains they’re intelligent but gullible, and thus, useful. They sold Copious a device to travel between universes, which stopped working. We readers know why that is. To escape Time Court, Wonmug got a Universe Transit Device that locked out cross-universe travel. Copious is looking for a way to overcome that.

There’s one party Alley Oop and gang know who could help. That’s Ollie Arp and Eeena, their Universe-3 counterparts. And the ones who brought them up for trial in Time Court. And the only way to contact them is Copious’s pencil. Alley Oop sneaks up on Copious and distracts him by whacking him unconscious. Arp and Eeena debate it a little and decide saving the multiverse is worth dropping the charges.

Ollie Arp: 'I can't help but notice you guys ran out on your trial.' Wonmug: 'Oh yes ... ha ha ... well, I left my ... mechanical bull running and ... ' Alley Oop: 'I have a question. Was that even a real trial? What authority did you have to arrest us?' Ooola: 'When did you learn so much about the legal system?' Oop: 'Well, I did get into some trouble as a teenager back in Moo.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 9th of June, 2020. One advantage to making your story a comedic serial adventure is you never have plot holes. You have “hey, wait a minute” jokes set up for later use.

Arp and Eeena guide Wonmug in the use of Copious’s universe-travel device. It sends him to Universe 92, one where money was never invented. Arp and Eeena send Copious’s accomplices to Universe 212 and a hot bath. They were just “a few bad noodles”, paying off the pun set up by saying they were from the planet Nu-Dell. So the multiverse is saved, Universe-3 dropped the Time Crime charges against Our Heroes, and all’s well. That wraps things up … let’s call it the 24th of June.


The 25th of June everyone goes back to Moo. Wonmug included, since he hasn’t got anywhere else to be. Also there’s some weird giant ominous cloud looming over the Time Lab.

In Moo, Oop asks, 'So, Doc, why didn't you go back to your place? Everything okay?' Wonmug: 'I just have a weird feeling about going home.' Oop: 'Why? Are you afraid you left the oven on or something?' Wonmug: 'Haha. Something like that.' Back at the Time Lab, a gigantic storm cloud in the shape of a sinister face gathers, shooting lightning bolts.
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 27th of June, 2020. ObFuturamaReference: “Hmm, must be a friend of theirs!” (Hi, Love!)

Bad news in Moo, though. Dinny the dinosaur’s run away. But he’s not hard to find: he went to Inspiration Peak, where to canoodle with Francine, a dinosaur he met at the dino park. They’ve just started dating, no idea where this is going. They’ll see what happens. So that’s sweet.

Meanwhile, Ooola, who went off to the hot springs, is in some kind of fight. With her cry of “Die, fiend!” we reach the 18th of July and the nominal end of this recap period. (She’s rehearsing a play, we learn on Monday and Tuesday.)

Next Week!

More ghosts than usual have been walking! What did it all mean? I’ll try to say something organized about Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom (Weekdays) next week. If something doesn’t disrupt the lineage of 21 plot-recap comics snark bloggers before me. Thanks for reading.

What’s Going On In The Amazing Spider-Man? Were they lying when they said Spider-Man would come back? April – July 2020


Well, lying has to carry with it intent. I wasn’t lying when I said I planned to do my comic strip plot recaps for Tuesdays, for example. Stuff just got in the way. And it’s not as if anyone’s 2020 has gone to plan, or else I’d have written this during slack moments of Pinburgh. But as we finish another quarter-year with no new creative team for The Amazing Spider-Man, it’s getting harder to believe that there ever will be. If I get any news about Spider-Man returning to the comics I’ll report it in an essay at this link. And, what the heck, I’ll keep it in the story-update cycle at least a bit longer. This story, from Roy Thomas and Larry Lieber, ran in 2015-16.

On my other blog, I am temporarily not reading comic strips except for my own pleasure. But I am looking at one mathematical term or concept a week, one for each letter of the alphabet. These are all essays I hope bring some fresh thoughts about some familiar old notion like what “normal” is. You might like, and you can suggest topics of your own interest that I might get to. Please consider that.

The Amazing Spider-Man.

19 April – 11 July 2020.

Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner, was threatening the surface world with destruction. He does that every now and then. Something about how the surface world despoils the oceans. As ever, he’s not wrong. He brought Pharus, an Atlantean boy who contracted Tiny Tim Disorder from human pollution. White Spider-Man and Namor fought, Mary Jane brought Pharus to Metro General Hospital.

J Jonah Jameson takes the injured Peter Parker to the same hospital. (Parker was woozy after his fight with Namor.) Partly to be a decent person, but also because Parker let slip that Pharus went there. Jameson meets Dr Liz Bellman, who’s got the toxins out of Pharus, and that’s all he can get before the soldiers arrive. They figure to take Pharus into custody. Parker slips out and, as Spider-Man, uses his spider-powers to open a door. Spidey kidnaps, or liberates, Pharus, who dives into the New York Harbor. And disappears. There’s one day until Namor declares even more war on the surface world.

Peter Parker, ducking into a hospital closet, thinking: 'Namor has a grudge against the human race ... but I can't let the *boy* he brought with him become a hostage!' Coming out, as Spider-Man, thinking: 'Dr Bellman must've come out of one of THESE rooms ... ' (Opening a door) 'Bingo!' Pharus: 'Are --- are you going to HURT me?'
Roy Thomas and Larry Lieber’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 29th of April, 2020. Yes, I know, dramatic economy and it’s not like the story needs to be slower, especially given how heavy an exposition workload newspaper story strips have to carry. But, man, can you imagine how tough it would have been if Spider-Man had to choose among three doors?

Pharus swims to Namor’s ship, though, and tells of his treatment, and the kindness received. Namor doesn’t see this as any reason to call off the war, and sails back to the New York City pier he just left. He steps out to fight Spider-Man, because it would be rude not to. Spider-Man’s no match for Namor, but Pharus pleads for his life. And the life of the surface world, arguing that Spider-Man can be the brave leader who alters the surface world. Namor’s unmoved.

Mary Jane Parker arrives, offering to become his bride if he’ll spare Spider-Man. Namor refuses this, on the reasonable grounds a leader cannot put his desires ahead of his country’s.

Jameson, watching Spider-Man and Namor fight on TV: 'I don't get it Robbie! Wy isn't the army moving in on the Sub-Mariner? Heaven knows I'm no fan of Spider-Man, but that doesn't mean I want that waterlogged warmonger to kill him!' Robertson: 'Don't you see Mary Jane Parker there, Jonah? And that boy? If the army acts, they'll be caught in the crossfire!' Jameson: 'Isn't there anybody who can intervene?' Robertson: 'The President reached out to some folks who're on a mission out of the country ... but it doesn't look like the Avengers will arrive in time to save their fellow masked man!' Jameson: 'Then, whether I like it or not ... and I don't ... the web-crawler is history!'
Roy Thomas and Larry Lieber’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 31st of May, 2020. So a recurring bit that always amuses me is when someone in the strip proposes getting Spidey some backup. This always leads to the discovery that all eight thousand other superheroes in midtown Manhattan alone are out on other business. Usually that’s enough spackle to put over the plot hole. But here, Namor has announced he’s going to war, Atlantean ships have been stopping surface ships, and Namor has come to New York City, a city he’s specifically threatened with destruction before, in a situation that’s been developing for … days, at least. Weeks, more likely. Plausibly a month or more. What other thing is going on that Captain America has to deal with this afternoon?

Finally Dr Bellman arrives, asking for mercy on her behalf. She’s the spitting image of her grandmother, Betty Dean, who talked Namor out of attacking the surface world back in 1940 or so. And who Namor’s been crushing on ever since. Bellman says Dean’s last words were begging to remind Namor of how the surface world and Atlantis can share the world peacefully.

And this changes his mind. Namor can now see how his way of going to war will only lead to war. He’ll give the surface world another try, and never bother with killing Spider-Man or whatnot. Namor sails his flying Atlantis boat out of the story on the 15th of June, although it takes a little while to quite wrap everything up. Dr Bellman heading out. Reporters showing up. Spider-Man telling the United Nations how there will be peace when the people of the world want it so badly that their governments will have no choice but to give it to them. That sort of thing. Spider-Man webs out, too, so that Peter Parker can learn how Jameson isn’t buying Spider-Man Versus Namor pictures.


We get the transition to the current story the 28th of June. Peter Parker and Mary Jane walk through the crowds. A trenchcoated figure starts following. He’s Xandu. He figures Mary Jane might just help him get the Wand of Watoomb, and that will make him happy. By a wild coincidence, though, the Parkers walk past the lair of Doctor Strange. Newspaper Spider-Man, sometime in the past, teamed up with Dr Strange to stop Xandu the sorcerer. Hey, what are the odds?

At Dr Strange's door. Peter: 'He mus not be home, Honey. Let's ... ' Mary Jane: 'Wait! The door's starting to ... ' [ The door opens with a slow kreeeeeek ] Dr Strange: 'Hello, I'm Stephen Strange. What can I do for you?'
Roy Thomas and Larry Lieber’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 10th of July, 2020. Dr Strange is really at ease considering it was, like, maybe this morning that Namor was still planning to sink every surface ship that left port. I mean, the time transition is ambiguous so it’s maybe been a couple days but … like, were people just this chill two days after the end of the Cuban Missile Crisis?

Mary Jane wants to meet Dr Strange, but Peter can’t think of a pretext that isn’t weird or secret-identity-spoiling. Xandu can, though: he ‘accidentally’ bumps her hand and it sets off a weird tingling. She, claiming a strange compulsion to meet Strange, knocks on his door. Dr Strange is happy to take some time away from his job of wearing a giant pinball surrounded by flower petals to meet an actress like Mary Jane. So there we are.

This story originally started the 21st of February, 2016. It ran through the 17th of July, so, 21 weeks total. We should finish the 22nd of November this year if I haven’t counted wrong.

Mary Jane also name-drops Mandrake the Magician, another King Features syndicated comic strip. Mandrake’s a fun strip, sent into reruns in July 2013 when writer and artist Fred Fredericks had to step down mid-story, for health reasons. They’re probably going to get a new creative team for that one soon too.

Next Week!

So that rich guy who wanted ancient alien technology. I bet he was up to something good, right? We’ll find out with a check on Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop. Thanks for reading.

What’s Going On In Judge Parker? Did you see the new Sparks video? April – July 2020


Yes, I did see the official video for Sparks’s new song, The Existential Threat. If you’d like to see it, it’s here. Content warning: the animation has the style of 70s-underground-comix grand-guignol body horror. Consider whether you’re up for that before watching. I’d recommend listening anyway.

With that wholly unrelated topic taken care of let me get to business. This plot recap gets you through early July 2020 for Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker. If you’re reading this after about October 2020 there’s likely a more up-to-date plot summary at this link. I’ll also put any news I have about the comic strip at that link.

I’ve put on hold the reading-comics part of my other blog. I am still writing stuff, though, with the focus being an A-to-Z glossary, one term for each letter, publishing over the course of the year.

Judge Parker.

13 April – 5 July 2020.

Yes, it’s hard to remember as long ago as mid-April. Let me try anyway. Neddy Spencer and Ronnie Huerta’s series, based somehow on April Parker, had started filming in Cavelton. Sophie Spencer crashed filming, protesting Mayor Sanderson’s politics. And then Covid-19 hit the comic strip, the first of the story strips to address the pandemic at all. This was an amazing feat of work by Marciuliano and Manley. It has to have involved throwing out completed work to rush stuff out at deadline.

At the dinner table. Abbey: 'These are difficult times. We all know this. But more importantly, we're all here. Together. As family.' Ronnie: 'Plus one.' Abbey: 'Now that you're here you're family too, Ronnie.' Sam: 'So prepare to have your life take some bizarre narrative turns.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 20th of April, 2020. “Sooooo, ever had a secret evil half-sister? Been chased through a Mexican jungle by armed insurgents who want your dad’s autograph often?”

Neddy and Sophie barely start arguing the dragging of politics into decisions about how to spend public money when the show shuts down. Part of the lockdown, in the attempt to contain the pandemic. Ronnie stews about how she can’t even see her new girlfriend Kat, who’s to play Neddy on the show. And then Neddy’s ex-boyfriend Hank calls. She fumbles over the conversation, talking more and more enthusiastically than she would have thought. Why did Hank call? Why was she eager to talk to him?

Well, because of the pandemic. Everybody we know got locked in the Total Perspective Vortex. Enough of that and you start to ask, “was I really so upset with this person that it’s worth never having anything to do with them again?” You’re going through it too. Remember that you had reasons, and think about whether those are reasons still things of value.

Meanwhile in changing values: Honey Ballinger drops out of Toni Bowen’s mayoral campaign. She had joined Sophie’s plans for Bowen to do something meaningful, working therapy for her post-kidnapping stress. But now, with even the candidate not that enthusiastic, and the world shut down? She wants something else. The collapse of Sophie’s campaign-manager ambitions sends her talking again to Abbey. They had fought over whether Sophie going to college even meant anything after the kidnapping.

Abbey: 'Sophie, you'll never be alone! We're always here for you!' Sophie: 'I know. But you can be surrounded by loved ones and still feel utterly separate ... I ... I just want this feeling to stop. It's been over three years since everything happened. And I know that's not a long time. And that there's no timeline for getting past something like that. But I want this pain to stop ... '
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 14th of May, 2020. Jeez, you ever think how hard it’s got to be overcoming traumatic memories when you’re in a soap comic that doesn’t consistently advance in real-time? Like, it’s hard enough to spend four years as a high school sophomore but then not being able to count on whether The Incident was last fall or four years ago has to be a real head trip.

Meanwhile, Alan Parker’s mayoral campaign hits a problem: he and Katherine have Covid-19. While both look to recover, Alan Parker acknowledges he doesn’t want to be mayor enough to take him away from his family, whom the virus keeps him away from. He calls off his campaign, endorsing Toni Bowen on the way out, to her surprise. And to Sophie’s rejuvenation. She can’t wait to get the campaign going again.

And things are a bit tough for the Drivers. Sam Driver hasn’t got any lawyer work, and Alan Parker hasn’t got a campaign to manage anymore. Abbey’s bed-and-breakfast, finally completed, was ready to open as the lockdown hit. It’s cut into their finances. Abbey mentions how they were hit hard when they had to sell on the stock market, which is interesting. I mean, I know I’m bad at finance. I have two Individual Retirement Accounts, one a Traditional and one a Roth, because I could not figure out which was better for me. This way I’m sure to be at least half-wrong. But even I knew to put my spare thousand bucks into buying at crash prices. This is why I’m today the tenth-largest shareholder in Six Flags Amusement Parks. So how leveraged were the Parker-Drivers that they had to sell stocks into the crash?

Sophie: 'You want to what?' Sam: 'I want to help with Toni's campaign.' Sophie: 'So Mayor Sanderson's policies have now impacted you, huh?' Sam: 'Okay, my impetus was personal. But my drive is social.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 23rd of July, 2020. Looking forward to campaign worker Sam Driver going out and definitely not knocking on doors, not in this crisis. Just standing out on the sidewalk of some registered voter’s house, calling out, “[ something something something ] Toni Bowen [ something something ]” and answering residents’ questions with a confident, “What? WHAT? Can you speak up, please?”

Sam can’t get a rebate or early cancellation on the lease for his useless downtown office. Mayor Sanderson, who partly owns that office building, is reopening the town, the better to get everybody infected and dead sooner. So Sam turns to Sophie, offering his help in the Toni Bowen campaign.

And these are the standings, as of early July. I hope to check back in after a couple months to see what develops.

Next Week!

Oh, an exciting chance to check in on those “great new stories and art” for … oh. Yeah, King Features and Marvel haven’t got around to hiring anyone to write or draw The Amazing Spider-Man yet. So Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s reruns get another turn next week, and probably again three months after that.

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? Does Mark Trail still look all weird? March – May 2020


Yes, it still looks weird, although it’s looking less weird. I still have no explanation.

I apologize if this isn’t as merry a plot recap for James Allen’s Mark Trail as usual. I’m tired of how much misery my country will go to rather than punish killer cops for killing an innocent man we saw them kill. I don’t have a lot left over after that.

Anyway I’m hoping this catches things up to the end of May 2020, though. If you’re reading this after about September 2020 there’s probably a more up-to-date plot recap here. And, if you like other kinds of comic strips, I’ve been reviewing mathematically-themed comic strips on my other blog. You might like that.

Mark Trail.

8 March – 31 May 2020

The story had started the 29th of February, with Mark Trail joining Geoff Aldridge, head of the Forest Explorers. The Explorers do nature outings for “troubled children”. So we got a lot of parents and kids introduced all at once.

Also the art style was weird. The unsourced rumor I keep hearing is that James Allen had to move in with a relative to provide support and care. And, away from his studio, he’d had to adapt to new drawing techniques, which probably means digital art. That takes time to learn. When this story had started, Comics Kingdom commenter George K Atkins hypothesized that the strip was presenting a comic strip drawn by Rusty Trail, rather than “real” events. It’s a great hypothesis, but, it’s not so. It’s a shame; that would have given Allen plenty of time to learn how to draw in strained circumstances.

At the campsite some of the kids start mocking Kevin, a homeless kid. Rusty invites Kevin along, though. Kevin’s inexperienced in things like fishing. Geoff Aldridge is kind and supportive, but other kids see weakness. Eric Crowley particularly takes the chance to attack. Meanwhile Geoff Aldridge mentions to Mark Trail that the Crowleys are thinking of adopting someone. It’s a nice though, although it added a slight reality-show “Who Wants To Be Adopted” cast to the proceedings.

Eric: 'Don't think I don't know what you're doing ... ' Kevin: 'Huh?!' Eric: 'You don't have a family of your own, and you're trying to steal mine!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 26th of March, 2020. Later, the Young Funky Winkerbean will wonder if he said anything to drive Kevin off. They’ll bond, though, over the junior novelization of Starbuck Jones III: Starbucker Jonesiest.

At night Eric reveals motivation: jealousy. He suspects Kevin is trying to steal his family. But he promises Kevin, nobody likes him. Kevin resolves to run away. Rusty overhears him leaving the campsite and offers to join him. And, in a moment of cleverness, sets his alarm clock to wake Mark Trail and bring adults after them. In a moment of less cleverness, he sets it to go off in an hour, rather than like, ten minutes. Still, for a kid, it’s good quick thinking.

The alarm clock gambit works, though, waking Mark Trail, who rouses the other adults. And Rusty’s left clues to their trail. Also he’s left a thunderstorm brewing. That’s great news: a good storm will do something about the drought. Specifically, the lightning will set the brush on fire. So that’s our big Attack of Nature for the story, which kept to the one. But Rusty and Kevin are walking toward the wildfire.

In a forest fire, a woman and child run as a flaming tree trunk falls toward them. Kevin calls out: 'Look out behind you!' They leap(?) and avoid the flaming tree trunk's fall.
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 27th of April, 2020. It’s an exciting scene, and shows that Allen is getting more comfortable with drawing figures. Compare it to the tent scene from the above comic, or from ones from earlier in March. I admit I’m not sure what they did in response to Kevin’s warning, though.

Mark Trail, unaware of the fire, organizes a search. Eric admits what he did and why. While the adults plus Eric set out in search parties, Rusty and Kevin encounter the fire. They turn around for the campsite, and along the way find Eric and Mrs Crowley. A burning tree threatens to fall on Eric and Mrs Crowley, but Kevin saves them by shouting a warning. Eric and Mrs Crowley are happy, of course. And Mark Trail hears the shouting too, so everybody’s able to gather together in the forest fire.

They move together, getting first to the campsite and then to their vehicles. This is in time to meet the fire fighters. Everyone gets out safe. And the forest fire can be put out before it does too much damage.

Eric apologizes to Kevin, and says he hopes they can be friends. Kevin shakes his hand. And, Mr Crowley announces his intention to adopt Kevin. It’s a happy resolution, although it also feels a little like a bonus prize round rather than a moment of true affection.


The story wrapped up the 23rd of May, with Aldridge inviting Mark Trail to future camping trips. Mark Trail thanks him, but says he wants to go home to spend time with his family “and my big dog Andy”. It seems like a curious declaration, until you know that the current story is an Andy special. It has Andy, playing loose in the yard, wandering over to a home under construction. He jumps into a truck trailer ahead of some rain, because you know how dogs hate getting wet and muddy. The truck driver, not noticing Andy in the trailer, closes it up and drives off. Andy’s missing, then, and that’s the start of the story.

Sunday Animals Watch!

What nature does Mark Trail want us to watch out for? The last couple months it’s been this:

  • Police dogs, 8 March 2020. Dogs are great. Don’t force them to become cops.
  • Pikas, 15 March 2020. The other lapine, besides rabbits and hares. They’re great. Human-caused climate change is killing them.
  • Banyan Trees, 22 March 2020. Wait, they’re fig trees? Really? Wow.
  • Animal tracks, 29 March 2020. They’re all amazing. People creeped out by raccoon paws? You all are wrong.
  • Jellyfish, 5 April 2020. They’re not like in that Popeye cartoon but they’re still weird and wondrous.
  • Müllerian Mimicry, 12 April 2020. That’s the thing where one dangerous creature camouflages itself as a different dangerous creature, so that anything preying on it turns to camera and goes, “Seriously? … Not. Fair.”
  • Poison Ivy and Poison Oak, 19 April 2020. Yeah, it’s actually not trying to poison you, by the way.
  • Birds, 26 April 2020. Bee hummingbirds are smaller than you would think!
  • Tornadoes, 3 May 2020. Not the kind you get on the hot-roller grills at the gas station. They don’t issue alerts about those. (The alert would be “they’re out of the cheesey pepper-jack tornadoes”.)
  • Hippopotamuses, 10 May 2020. Most of their attacks on humans are caused by people playing that song too much at Christmastime.
  • Frogs, 17 May 2020. The Wallace’s Flying Frog can actually glide from tree to tree, reminding us what a shame it is that the comic strip Spot The Frog didn’t last.
  • Pigs, 24 May 2020. Mark Trail is a fan of much of Pink Floyd.
  • Thorn Bugs, 31 May 2020. They avoid being eaten by making themselves look like thorns. This keeps them alive, if you call that a life.

Next Week!

Uh-oh! Dawn was trying to have an emotional life! Could Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth fix that? We’ll see next week.

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? How was Shaky’s extortion of Tess Tracy supposed to work? February – May 2020


There is no possible way that Shaky’s extortion of Tess Tracy could have worked.

I’m happy to catch you up on Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy. If you’re reading this after about August 2020 I probably have a more up-to-date plot recap here.

Also, if you’re interested in comic strips with a mathematical theme? I am, too, and I write about them regularly at my other blog. Plus there’s some other interesting stuff happening there. I hope you enjoy.

Dick Tracy.

23 February – 17 May 2020.

Shaky, nephew of a Dick Tracy antagonist killed in the 40s, was attempting revenge. His plan: give an alibi to James McQueen, who he doesn’t care anything about. McQueen had been convicted of first-degree backstory. The evidence against him was gathered by Tess Tracy’s detective agency. Shaky figured to extort Tess Tracy. His deal: she pays him to suppress his (fake) evidence, or he goes to the press saying she suppressed evidence.

Shaky is confident in his plan, even though his plan is quite bad. The only way it could fail is if Tess reports the scheme to her husband, star detective of the Major Crimes Unit. Somehow, she does. Shaky shows up for his first payoff, and Dick Tracy provides it by shooting him. Shaky shoots Tess, though.

[ The Tracy Agency ] Shaky: 'Time's up, Mrs Tracy! Your payment is due today and I'm here to collect.' Dick Tracy: 'And I'm here to arrest you for extortion, Shaky!' Shaky: 'Aw, heck no! BACK OFF, TRACY!' He reaches for a gun; Tracy shoots him. Shaky shoots wildly(?), hitting Tess Tracy.
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 8th of March, 2020. Tess Tracy would spend a while in the hospital. I’m not sure we’ve seen her discharged yet. We did see several days of doctors agreeing this was very serious and Dick Tracy seen from behind, standing somberly.

Shaky and his wife(?) Edison flee to a safe house. “Ugly” Crystal, daughter of undercover cop Lafayette Austin and (the late) Ugly Christine, is there. I think we’re supposed to take that Shaky got a key to the house from Mister Bribery, Ugly Crystal’s uncle. Crystal takes this intrusion with calm. She nags him about smoking until he flees, and then calls the cops.

Shaky and Edison show up at the door of his cousin Quiver Trembly. Who tells him to get lost: she’s dealt with Dick Tracy twice and has had enough. But he has ideas to help Trembly’s charity-donation scam. So she agrees to deal with his crazy. Within minutes, the cops converge on him. Trembly says she’s not even gonna fight this. I’m not clear that she has any reason to think Dick Tracy knows she exists, but I understand her wanting to skip to the end. Edison gets out of the car and tries to get lost in the crowd. Shaky, though, he’s got a plan.

Shaky, on a steel girder, shooting down: 'Stay back, you lousy cops!' Dick Tracy, through a megaphone: 'Shaky, throw down the gun or we'll shake you off that girder!' Shaky: 'The devil you will!' Tracy, to crane operator: 'Start moving the girder!' Shaky: 'NO! STOP IT! I GIVE UP!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 5th of April, 2020. I’m supposing the interrogation of Shaky mostly centers on “what about your plans made you think they were anything but quite bad?” and “have you considered that you’re not good at crime?”. Maybe, “so have you ever had a plan that turned out like you planned?”. Certainly at least “do you have other interests that might get you not-arrested sometimes?”.

Shaky is confident in his plan, even though his plan is quite bad. Shaky holds a construction crew foreman at gunpoint, demanding to be raised by a crane on a steel girder, the better to shoot Dick Tracy. So, you know something? Using a handgun? From 50 feet off the ground? When you’re on a steel girder? Held only by ropes? That you cling to? When you’re a guy named “Shaky”? Turns out that’s a bad way to be a sniper. The cops arrest Shaky, and Trembly for good measure. And figure they’ll get the accomplice (Edison; they don’t know who she is) later on.


The 7th of April saw the new, current story start. Its center is B.O. Plenty, Junior Tracy’s father-in-law. And like many Staton/Curtis stories, it’s steeped Dick Tracy lore of the 40s. Breathless Mahoney was, before Madonna played her in the movie, step-daughter of the original Shaky. I learn from the Dick Tracy wikia, which tries to explain the Plenty-Mahoney connection. If I have it right, Mahoney, on the run, stumbled into the Plenty farm. While hiding there she drugged Dick Tracy and, with fled to the city with Plenty for some reason. They got separated, but reunited when Plenty stole the car she was hiding in. Plenty strangled Breathless “nearly to death” while robbing her. She got arrested and recovered from the battery, but died in prison anyway of plot disease. B.O. would reform and become a respectable citizen and part of the Tracy clan.

B.O. Plenty, reading the paper: 'Some outfit is shooting a movie in this city! About Breathless Mahoney! Gertie don't know anything about me and Breathless, and I want to keep it that way. My lettle Sparkle don't know her pappy was almost a murderer!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 8th of April, 2020. I guess B.O. Plenty’s explained things just fine here. I don’t know that I need to detail it further.

So, someone’s making a bio-pic about Breathless Mahoney. B.O. Plenty tries and fails to keep the news secret from his family. The lead actor, Fortuna Dyer, wants to know everything about Mahoney. So she’s talking with everyone who knew her. And she’s telling people to call her Breathless during the film shoot. And while she talks with Dick Tracy. And while she looks over Mahoney’s career and works out exactly when and how she blew it. She mentions how she’s a method actor. So she’s looking forward to a long life as a respectable and respected member of society.


Those are all the major plot threads that have been going on the last few months. There are a couple of minor ones. The most ambiguous is a two-week Minit Mystery, written and drawn by Charlie Wise. It’s about Mysta Chimera, who used to be Mindy Ermine, a crime boss’s daughter. She got mind-wiped and genetically engineered to be the new Moon Maiden. So now she’s a Lunarian with sci-fi powers that Chester Gould would hilariously insist was based on real science. In the “Mystery”, Chimera gets kidnapped. It’s by Scarmony Corybant, former cellmate of Mindy Ermine. Corybant’s looking for plans for the Space Coupe, Diet Smith’s famous magnetically-driven spaceship. Which, again, Chester Gould would hilariously insist was based on real science.

[ Minit Mysteries ] Corybant: 'You can't imagine what it was like after you stopped writin'! I waited, always hopin!' Mysta Chimera: 'I was kidnapped! They took away my memory!' Behind them is a jail cell, with the figure of Corybant curled up and shown only in silhouette, to reflect it being a memory. Corybant: 'You really won't remember? We were gonna buy a pony farm together.' Chimera: 'IS THAT WHAT THIS IS ALL ABOUT?!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 20th of April, 2020. Guest artist and writer Charlie Wise. I won’t quarrel with you if you don’t like the way Charlie Wise drew the characters. But having Corybant’s memory be shown behind them, with herself in a featureless outline (done several times in the sequence) is a quite good choice.

While fighting Corybant, Chimera says how now she remembers hating her jokes. Corybant complains how Ermine broke her promise to write her cellmate. Or to, when they got out, buy a pony farm, which Chimera finds as weird as I do. They fight long enough for Dick Tracy to arrive, and catch Corybant. Chimera, though, thanks Scarmony “for showing me who I was,” and does buy a pony farm. And sends Corybant, in jail, pictures from it.

So, first, this wasn’t any kind of mystery. Not in any aspect. Second, it seems to establish that Chimera is regaining some memories of her life as Mindy Ermine. Is that part of the continuity now? I would be surprised if Staton and Curtis would let Charlie Wise change something about a major character in a way they didn’t approve. But it does mean they have an excuse to revert this change if they decide they don’t like it. So I’m not quite sure what we did watch, then.


Another little bit: Annie Warbucks has been accepted into the Young Journalists Academy. One of her teachers is another cancelled-adventure-strip star, Brenda Starr. I wasn’t figuring on some vague wordplay when I started that sentence, but you’ll notice I let it stand.


Mysta Chimera, who’s been having a heck of a year, got a visit from Dennis Deyoung, of Styx. This in a follow-up to her being kidnapped by a Mister Roboto-themed Styx fan.


And Dick Tracy put off talking with Fortuna “Breathless II” Dyer a bit to recommend against paroling William “Broadway” Bates. Bates is a con artist, going back in the strip to 1932. He’s also The Penguin’s brother, but in ways that could be denied in front of a trademark hearing. So that’s a refresher that the character exists and might do a thing.

Next Week!

Farms: they’re like scrapbooking, but for food! What does this weird string of words mean? My recap of Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley should have an answer. Someone remind me to answer that.

What’s Going On In Rex Morgan, M.D.? Did Aunt Tildy get together with that wrestler? January – March 2020


And hi at last, people who want the story in Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. explained. This post’s written in late March 2020, so if you’re reading this in some far-future decade like May 2020 it may be so out of date that it’s useless. In that case, though, if I have a more recent plot summary or news about the strip it should appear here. I hope that helps. If you prefer some mathematics with your comic strips, please look over at my other blog, as it’s got that. Thank you.

Rex Morgan, M.D..

5 January – 29 March 2020

Aunt Tildy had just moved in last time I looked at Rex Morgan, M.D.. For what purpose, and for how long? I forecast we’d have some idea by March. All our other plans for March went wrong, but this one? This one came out perfect.

Aunt Tildy settled in fast, and peacefully. Making breakfast, offering to watch the kids instead of sending them to daycare. Watching wrestling on TV. Passing out watching wrestling on TV, surrounded by cans of something.

Kelly has picked up the kids from school and daycare. Kelly: 'OK, Mini-Morgans, let's get inside. I want to meet this Aunt Tildy person.' (Tildy's sprawled out across the couch, snoring, cans spread over the floor.) Mike: 'Aunt Tildy sleepin'! John: 'Snorin'! Kelly: 'Yeah ... you guys go upstairs and play, OK?'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 10th of January, 2020. Little plot thread here is Kelly put in an urgent call to June Morgan. She failed to check that the cans were a soft drink. That’s made more plausible by explaining that Aunt Tildy was drinking a weird minor soda, so it makes more sense that Kelly wouldn’t recognize the label and assumed the worst but … like … are there a lot of sodas you’d think were beers if you looked at them more than five seconds? Maybe some root beer labels would be confusing but I’m not sure the premise really holds.

Don’t worry; it wasn’t demon alcohol. It was her favorite pop that she can’t get at home anymore. I understand; I live in mid-Michigan and I actually know a couple spots where I can get Moxie. Anyway, we aren’t told that it’s Faygo and that Aunt Tildy is a secret Juggalo, but, you know. Media literacy, people. Read the inferences.

Aunt Tildy fell asleep in the afternoon, like anyone might. Still, Rex Morgan presses June for details like … how old is she, anyway? June’s not sure. She remembers that when she was a kid, Aunt Tildy was forty years older than dirt, so that’s something. Well, how long does she plan to stay? June doesn’t feel comfortable asking that. Why is she here? Aunt Tildy says, no special reason, just she hasn’t seen the kids and she could die anytime, so why not now? She means why not see them now.

A lot of this storyline was Rex Morgan being all miffed that Aunt Tildy is around, and this was great. I mean, absolutely I understand the discomfort of having a houseguest, especially one you don’t really know. Especially when there is no way of guessing how long until they leave. But the amount of peevedness he brings to a houseguest who is family, who’s entertaining the kids, and who’s volunteering to household chores is great. It’s the sort of disproportionately strong emotion that makes for hilarious soap-comic reading.

June and Rex discuss Tildy's heath concerns. Rex: 'Some of those symptoms could be cause for concern. The vision issue could b cataracts.' June: 'Of course. But none of it sounds like anything that places her on death's door.' Rex: 'Well, who'd have guessed such a big fan of pro wrestling would be so dramatic?'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 27th of January, 2020. Am I alone in noticing, though, that soap comics and pro wrestling rely on some of the same tools. Preposterous characters, particularly, with bombastic displays of emotion, and serving storylines that may get involved but that are always easy at any one point for a newcomer to drop into are important to both.

June and Rex Morgan recognize the plot tokens, though. If Aunt Tildy doesn’t know how long she has left, why is that? They arrange for a doctor to look at her, and Rex Morgan does too. It turns out she’s sixty years older than dirt, but that’s not any specific problem. There’s a backlog to date Zak, but there’s no reason to think her condition needs to date Zak right away. So, cool.

That seems to leave the story becalmed, though. So it’s time to hire a new character. He shows up the 2nd of February. Rex Morgan’s next patient is Andrzej Bobrowski, who’s outlived yet another doctor. So he’s here to let Rex Morgan die. Again, a wonderful disproportionately strong emotion to the scene. Great setup. Bobrowski is in great shape, considering he’s sixty-two years older than dirt. His only problem: the knees he wrecked in his thirty years as a pro wrestler.

Rex Morgan mentions how his wife’s aunt is a huge wrestling fan and will be thrilled to hear about meeting a wrestler. Bobrowski says not to use his real name, since who’d know that? Use his stage name: Count Crushinski. And here’s where the actual plot tokens come into play. June had remembered that Aunt Tildy was, reportedly, once married to someone called The Count. And … wait, no, seriously?

Rex: 'You wrestled as a character called The Count?' Bobrowski: 'Couch Crushinski, yes. Ridiculous name, but it sold tickets.' Rex: 'You wouldn't happen to have known a woman named Tildy, would you?' Bobrowski: 'I was MARRIED to a woman named Tildy! Why do you ask?'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 8th of February, 2020. “Hey, don’t talk to me about Count Crushinski being a funny name. I’ve been dining out on ‘Rex Morgan’ for maybe seventy years if we ignore that weird retcon?”

Well, I didn’t see it coming, but in my defense we only knew Bobrowski was a wrestler for like three days before the revelation. Further revelations: Bobrowski regrets how he threw away his relationship with Tildy. He was unfaithful, she divorced him for that, and she was right to do so.

Still, he’d like the chance to apologize to her. Rex Morgan is glad to sound her out, possibly because he figures this is the easiest way to get Aunt Tildy out of his strip. Aunt Tildy, hearing that Bobrowski was there, calls him a rat, a stinker, a jerk, and a cheater. But she is interested that Bobrowski owned up to being wrong, and wanted to make amends. And, you know, it takes courage to reach out to someone you’ve hurt, and takes courage to admit your own screw-ups. It’s good to have courageous people in your world.

Aunt Tildy: 'You really want me back, Andrzej?' Bobrowski: 'More than anything, Tildy.' Tildy: 'Hmm ... let's see about that.' (They kiss.)
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 7th of March, 2020. So, you know? Seeing him? Sure. Kissing him? All right. Dating him again? Yes, worth a try. I wouldn’t move in with him right away, but Tildy is comfortable with shrugging and leaving again if it doesn’t work out. I understand there are people comfortable living like this. I am not one of them.

So she agrees to see him. It’s hesitant, for a bit, but … you know, it goes well. In a couple hours Aunt Tildy’s packing her bags, moving out of the comic strip and into Bobrowski’s place. Soon, she’s managing Bobrowski’s autograph-signing sessions. Rex Morgan can get back to buying pulp magazines and not wanting to talk to people. Anyway, I’m sure we’ll check back in on them when the next Gathering of the Juggalos happens, and aren’t you dying to see Rex Morgan in that crowd?


The 22nd of March I’m going to declare the start of the current storyline. But we saw the handoff more gradually, revisiting seeing (from the 17th) Buck Wise and Hank Harwood. Buck is off to see roots country performer Truck Tyler play. He never misses Tyler when he’s in town, and Tyler remembers him.

Tyler’s doing the show on his own, no band. This was mentioned in a daily strip (the 27th, Buck talking with Truck) and a Sunday strip (the 29th, Buck talking with a different friend). So that sure looks like it’s a something. We’ll know, if anything goes to plan, by June 2020.

Next Week!

How did the struggle between Alexa “Alexa” Watson and Chris “Schuring” Schuring” for valedictorian turn out? And will we see the storyline about high school sports cut short by the Covid-19 epidemic? Probably not by next week, but, I’ll be reviewing
what’s going on in Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp soon.
Thanks for reading.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Sundays)? Why is the Phantom fighting Napoleon? December 2019 – March 2020


Hi at last, people who want to know what’s happening in the Sunday continuity of Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom. The Phantom is sharing a story of one of his ancestors is what’s going on. If you’re looking for the weekday continuity, or if you’re reading this after (I expect) June 2020, you’re likely to find a more relevant essay here. If you’d like a little mathematics in your comic strip talk, please try out my other blog. Thank you.

The Phantom (Sundays).

29 December 2019 – 22 March 2020

We left The Phantom teasing his daughter Heloise with tales of past Phantoms. He suggested he could tell Heloise what really happened to Ambrose Bierce, or to the body of Thomas Paine. Or Khe Pandjang, who’d lead an army against Dutch imperialism in Indonesia in the 18th century. (I hadn’t heard of him before this, but it’s a good reference. Linking The Phantom to him helps diffuse the colonialism baked into the comic strip’s premise.) Or the sole (then-)surviving witness to the Mary Celeste.

What The Phantom finally suggests, and Heloise accepts, is hearing the story of George Bass. Bass was a real-world British naval surgeon and explorer. That strait between Australia and Tasmania is named after him. In reality, he was last seen in February 1803. He was expected to sail the brig Venus from Sydney to Tahiti and then, perhaps, Spanish colonies in Chile. No one knows what happened to him and his crew. What The Phantom (Sundays) supposes is … not no one knows?

In The Phantom’s retelling there were a 26th and 27th person on the Venus. The 13th Phantom was one of those people lost to history. The other was called Carter, and we’re promised that his treachery put Bass in the Vault of Missing Men. And instead of sailing for Tahiti, Bass intended the ship to go “missing”. And then to join actively the Napoleonic Wars, attacking French and Spanish ships under a false flag.

[ The Venus, in the south Pacific, in 1803 ] Bass: 'Napoleon's aim is clear, Walker: he means to invade England! To do so, he needs to destroy our navy and so rule the Channel.' 13th Phantom: 'His Spanish allies tried it in 1588. I understand it went rather badly for them.' Bass: 'Walker, I am determined to see the Venus, under false flag, serve in sending both French and Spanish seapower to the bottom!' [ Modern day ] 21st Phantom, to Heloise: 'Bold Captain Bass and his shadowy sponsors in England did as they intended ... and our ancestor was there to bear witness. The 13th Phantom saw George Bass alter the course of history ... at a place called Trafalgar!'
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 23rd of February, 2020. It’s already dubious enough that a Phantom — whose original sworn oath is against piracy — would be literally on board with a rogue ship flying false colors to attack his country’s enemies. But besides that, this particular flashback has to be set sometime in early 1803, during the Peace of Amiens. A reasonable person might gamble that this peace was not going to last, but at the moment Bass was making these plans, they were to attack people his country was not at war with. (This, granted, is supposing that someone in Australia would have heard of the peace, which would have been only about 11 months old at this scene.) But one consistent thing, especially about DePaul’s Phantoms, are that they will screw up, and allowing themselves to be patriotically convinced that it’s not piracy if it’s for the English cause is credible. If the Walkers see themselves as English, which, there’s good reasons to go either way. I acknowledge this is a spin-off of my older question, are the Phantoms Anglican?

This is a quite interesting plan since I don’t see how this isn’t piracy. There’s a reference to Bass having “sponsors” in England, so perhaps this got the legal cover of being a privateer. But then that would be on Bass’s Wikipedia page, unless of course Tony DePaul has an explanation to come for that.

Bass, in fiction, renames his ship the El Sol. He names his lifeboat the Tom Thumb III, in honor of the small boats the historic Bass used to explore Australian rivers. He says that he and Walker will launch the Tom Thumb III to save England from Napoleon. Meanwhile they sail to some Mediterranean port, “a nest of cutthroats, spies”. While walking down Ambush Alley in the port, Bass and Walker notice they’re being followed. It’s Carter, who hasn’t got any reason to be off the ship and less reason to follow them. They suspect Carter of working for someone, they know not who. Bass declares he can’t just leave Carter there. He means, unless he murders the bilge rat. But he’s too honest for that. The first time I read this, I thought Bass was saying he’d have to take Carter along and forgive his leaving the ship. On re-reading, I’m not sure Bass didn’t mean to just leave Carter in port. In either case the reasoning seems designed to force Carter to throw in with anyone working against Bass. But no one has ever accused the Napoleonic-era Royal Navy of having any idea how to create or sustain loyalty.

Bass: 'CARTER? Why are you following us?' 13th Phantom: 'This bilge rat is a sneak and a liar. I made him for such at our first meeting. Trust nothing he says!' Carter, on his knees, pleading in the alley: 'No excuse, Captain! I-I've done a crime and BEG your mercy! I had NO LEAVE to go ashore! I feared you SAW me in that watering hole, sir! A narrow escape! Then ... then I must keep you in sight at all times! Lest my fear come true!' Phantom: 'He's lying.' Bass: 'He's been with me for years, Walker. Ever since I left England.' Phantom: 'With you, perhaps, but on whose behalf?' Bass: 'He's seen much. Knows a piece of it all. I can't just leave him here, Walker. ... Unless I murder him. Or *you* do! Alas, we're honest men, not killers! And this poor fellow? A mere fool! ... All's well, my good friend! We sail on the tide!'
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 15th of March, 2020. By the way, Wikipedia says that sunglasses, as in glasses with color-tinted lenses, can be traced back to 1752, so it’s actually historically all right for The Phantom, 1803 edition, to have dark glasses. But I’m willing to grant sunglasses even for earlier-still Phantoms as being a stage convenience, standing in for however they obscured their faces.

So, this week, we saw the VenusEl Sol sailing under United States, French, and even Spanish colors, on various missions. We’re promised that this will turn into Bass having a key role in the Battle of Trafalgar. We’re not there yet.

Next Week!

How are things going with Aunt Tildy? And that pro wrestler? I look in on Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D., unless events get in the way. But, come on. This is March 2020. How could an event get in the way of anything? Good luck to you all.

What’s Going On In Mary Worth? Did Dawn break up with her French boyfriend for that Star Wars guy? December 2019 – March 2020


Quick answer: no, but it’s maybe coming. Thanks, reader, for being where when I finally get to Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth. This plot recap will get you up to date for the middle of March 2020. If it’s much after June 2020 when you read this, there’s likely a more current essay at this link for you. And on my other blog I look at comic strips with mathematical themes, and should be getting to Pi Day soon.

Mary Worth.

22 December 2019 – 15 March 2020.

Here are the relationship screwup standings, as of late December 2019. Wilbur Weston humiliates himself, and everyone around him, and everyone who eats sandwiches. He and Estelle went on a double-date with his ex-girlfriend Iris and her considerable boyfriend upgrade Zak. Wilbur, swearing off demon alcohol, begs Estelle to forgive him. Estelle misses him enough to consider it. Meanwhile Iris’s doctor has diagnosed her as old. To hide this from her supportive and emotionally engaged boyfriend she says they need time apart. With that background: what’s happened since Christmas?

Estelle goes to dinner with Wilbur. He shares his resolve not to drink anymore, and to stop embarrassing himself or disappointing her. So, credit to Estelle for having the patience for this. Everyone needs to recover from their screw-ups. Everyone around them needs to know how much screw-up they can take before it’s hurting themselves. I’d like to think Estelle has figured this out, but she was under a lot of Mary Worth pressure to just pair-bond with Wilbur already, despite his issues.


That puts Estelle away for a while. How about Iris and Zak? Iris finally admits her problems to Mary Worth. Mary Worth asks: Zak is loving and supportive and you’re ditching that? And you haven’t even told him what the doctor said explained your weight gain and fatigue and hair loss? Look, just pull over and let me drive. I can sort this out in like ten minutes.

Zak: 'I want you to see my doctor, Iris. Dr Howard's one of the best!' Iris: 'I already saw a doctor, Zak. They're all the same.' Zak: 'Get a second opinion! What have you got to lose?'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 7th of January, 2020. My love was complaining recently about asking people for recommendations for doctors (well, dentists). After all, anyone who did not think their doctor pretty good would not be going to them, right? It’s a hard position to refute. Anyway, I’m of the last age cohort that grew up hearing of “Dr Howard” and jumping right to the Three Stooges, so, good luck Iris.

Iris resists. Zak visits, suggesting his doctor evaluate her. She goes, but only to prove that her problem is she’s old and that’s it. The doctor listens to her symptoms and the first doctor’s diagnosis. And then asks, hey, did you check your thyroid? Because those things are always going wrong. And when they do? Reality dissolves into a surreal timeless fugue state of long-dead fiancees returning from the Himalayas and psychics planning your biological mother’s wedding and all space, time, and objects dissolving into a white void, except for Lampy. It’s a wild hypothesis. It demands we suppose a doctor would dismiss a woman’s roster of symptoms as `some weirdo woman stuff or something’. And then not run the tests he would if a white man described the same symptoms. But we can allow such flights of fantasy in our narrative fiction.

The test comes back positive: it’s Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease. So, some medicine, some diet, some exercise. Naps you plan for. Zak is of course supportive and helpful and tactfully avoids calling out the first doctor for screwing up. The treatment works great. Within days she’s feeling better. And Iris and Zak are hugging each other talking about how they love the other.

So that, the 19th of January, settles that. We then check in on Estelle, who’s settling for Wilbur quite well. And Estelle’s cat Libby, who cats. And back on Iris and Zak, in what seems like a redundant point. But Iris did have to thank Mary Worth for her advice. Which, to be fair, was correct and needed.


The 3rd of February started off the new and current story. It features Dawn Weston, Wilbur’s daughter. She’s keeping up her long-distance relationship with her French boyfriend from France, Hugo Lambert Bilbiothèque Quatre-vingt de Poisson, Comte de Franceypants. They’d had a nice summer fling last year and kept it going. He’s got a nice job in Paris, in the being French industry. She figures to fly out to see him in summer.

Wilbur: 'How are you and Hugo going to form your own separate lives while still being in a relationship?' Dawn; 'We're doing our best to stay connected.' Wilbur: 'You're both youn and living in two different countries!' Dawn; 'It's tough for sure, Dad, but we love one another!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 12th of February, 2020. “We’ve talked it out and made an arrangement. Six months of the year I’ll live in Santa Royale and he’ll live in Paris, and the other six months of the year I’ll live in Paris while he’s in Santa Royale.”

Wilbur worries for his daughter. This may seem meddlesome. But in fairness, he’s been in what he was told were long-distance relationships. And his relationship with Iris broke up while he toured the world asking disaster survivors why they weren’t dead. She dismisses her father’s fears about their relationship. She then contracts her father’s fears about their relationship.

While at a pizza place, thinking this over, she spots Jared Mylo. They’d worked together for Local Medical Group a couple summers ago. It’s a nice reunion. He’d had a crush on her back then. They talk some and decide to go see a movie, a parody Star Wars film. This causes me to wonder: hey, yeah, isn’t it weird there hasn’t been a Star Wars spoof movie in a generation now? Or at least a Spaceship Movie spoof? Is it that there’s enough Star Wars Trek spoofs on TV and web comics and podcasts and stuff that nobody needs a movie?

Anyway, Dawn reassures herself that this is just friends hanging out. It can’t possibly threaten her relationship with Hugo Lambert Cahier sur la Tante du Votre, 2CV. So that’s our conflict: is hanging out with Jared Mylo here in Santa Royale going to distance her from her French boyfriend in France, Paris? Dawn and Jared have a great time at Ruse Of The Fast Talker. Oh, maybe I see why there hasn’t been a Star Wars spoof movie in a while now. At dinner afterward Dawn and Jared bond over how their parents do embarrassing things, like karaoke and naked yoga. And meanwhile in Paris, Hugo is … agreeing with women.

[Dawn and Jared have lunch after seeing a movie together.] Jared: 'A lot of parody films are kind of stupid, but it was hilarious.' Iris: 'It was funny, despite being somewhat corny. Which reminds me of my dad and his girlfriend. They love piano singalongs with her cat!' Jared: 'That's better than my mother and her boyfriend with their wacky naked yoga practice! I always let her know before I visit so I won't see anything I don't want to! I'll take corny over wacky any day!' Dawn: 'Ha ha! Yes!' [Meanwhile in Paris] Hugo, holding an iPad: 'D'accord?' Woman: 'Oui!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 8th of March, 2020. Yes yes yes I have some basic media literacy. I know about stories coding stuff, so that I know what a single panel of Hugo, apparently in some kind of work space, getting agreement from a woman is supposed to mean. Don’t @ me. Instead ask: Dawn and Jared went to a movie before lunch? Are they having lunch at like 3 pm or did they go to the 8:15 am showing with an audience full of Trace Beaulieus?

So you know their thing is serious. Mary pops in to ask Dawn how serious this all is. Dawn says it’s not at all, they just like hanging out. And there’s the conflict for the story. How will it all turn out? Will Dawn handle having two people she likes seeing? I figure to check back in around June and give an answer.

Dubiously Sourced Mary Worth Sunday Panel Quotes!

Auto Care message board: 'ACT AS IF WHAT YOU DO MAKES A DIFFERENCE'
As foretold last week the car care place has updated their message board to another declaration that is meant to be inspirational and good Kantian advice and yet manages to also despair of the futility of existence. Other people see it too, right? This is not just me and my love having turned our little in-joke into a thing?

What has BrainyQuotes thought people said, since we last checked in on Charterstone? These inspirational mottos:

  • “To err is human; to forgive, divine.” — Alexander Pope, 22 December 2019
  • “Forgiveness says you are given another chance to make a new beginning.” — Desmond Tutu, 29 December 2019
  • “To love is to be vulnerable.” — C S Lewis, 5 January 2020
  • “I told my doctor I broke my leg in two places. He told me to quit going to those places.” — Henny Youngman, 12 January 2020
  • “Love Heals.” — Maya Angelou, 19 January 2020
  • “I mean we all need a second chance sometimes.” — Joel Osteen, 26 January 2020
  • “We all need each other.” — Leo Buscaglia, 2 February 2020
  • “Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson, 9 February 2020
  • “As a body everyone is single, as a soul never.” — Herman Hesse, 16 February 2020
  • “Friendship is something that is cultivated.” — Thalia, 23 February 2020
  • “In March, winter is holding back and spring is pulling forward. Something holds and something pulls inside of us too.” — Jean Hersey, 1 March 2020
  • “There are as many kinds of loves as there are hearts.” — Leo Tolstoy (in Anna Kernina), 18 March 2020
  • “Your friend is your needs answered.” — Khalil Gibran, 15 March 2020

Next Week!

How’s that spy ship working out? We skip out on Ambrose Bierce and Thomas Paine to see what’s happening in Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom, Sunday continuity. See you in a week, more or less.

I never did work out that Mark Trail joke, but I am convinced by the hypothesis that what we’re looking at right now is Rusty Trail’s own comic strip rather than the reality.

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? Did Mark Trail leave Harvey Camel for dead? December 2019 – March 2020


I don’t want to say Mark Trail left Harvey Camel for dead in a Nepalese avalanche. But he didn’t spend a lot of time looking, either. He had fair reasons not to look, in what we saw on-panel: it has to have been too dangerous to try right after the avalanche. But we don’t see this explained, and we don’t see, like, the day or two after the avalanche either. It’s some unsettling stuff.

Thanks for reading this to catch up on the story comics! I should have another look at James Allen’s Mark Trail at this link around June 2020. So if you’re looking for a story recap and you’re that far in my future, that link might be more helpful. Also, I look at comic strips with a mathematical theme over on my other blog, which you might like to see sometime.

Now to a little more detail about what Mark Trail has been doing.

Mark Trail.

16 December 2019 – 7 March 2020.

Renowned Twitter cryptozoologist Dr Harvey Camel had brought Mark Trail to the Himalayas. Mark Trail’s editor approved. Camel is following the real-world news of an Indian Army unit reporting a Yeti footprint. Mark Trail figures there can’t be a Yeti, but there’s interesting life in the Himalayas, and a crocodile’s already tried to eat them. And a dzo, a water-buffalo/yak hybrid, came around to mock them. Mark Trail’s tired of rooting around looking for a thing he doesn’t believe exists. And Harvey Camel is one of those exhausting online people. He can barely talk for how he’s putting this all on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and Myspace and Livejournal and Cu-SeeMe. He’s got a freaking gateway to Bitnet, somehow.

And he keeps insisting stuff is evidence of Yetis. Whistling? Yeti. Destroyed hiking station? Yeti. Four rocks by the side of the hiking path? Yeti. Early-morning rain showers? Yeti. Goldbach’s Conjecture? Yeti. “You can’t just keep pointing at things and calling them Yetis,” cries Mark Trail. Camel posts this to TikTok, declaring, “You’re the meme now, dog.” So with this history in mind, you can understand why Mark Trail might leave him for dead.

Mark Trail: 'Harvey, let me ask. Let's say we actually find the Yeti. What do you intend to do? You going to approach it while you livestream the entire thing? Get a selfie with it?' Camel: 'Don't be ridiculous, Mark. I brought you along to photograph our journey and experiences. Besides, I don't think we'll be able to get that close!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 27th of December, 2019. I understand the plot reasons we didn’t see a lot of Mark Trail photographing the expedition. It would undercut Mark Trail’s pique at Harvey Camel photographing everything if he was doing the same. And, strange as it seems to say for a story which went on for a half year, it’d make things drag out to stop the action for Mark Trail to photograph stuff.

Also a Himalayan red bear attacks. It’s the fourth Attack of Nature this story. Pemba, one of the Sherpas they’re hiring, has bear repellent, so it’s okay. And Camel opens up about his motivations. He doesn’t want the Yeti captured or brought to zoos or exploited by humans. He wants to show the world that such an astounding things exists. And, yeah, the fame and fortune would be a pleasant reward.

In a hiking station for the night, Mark Trail presses Camel. Why is he so sure there’s one to find? Camel has a heck of an answer: when he was a child, a Yeti ripped his leg off. He’d been hiking with his father, and a Yeti broke into their cabin, tossed his father around, and grabbed him by the leg. And now Camel reveals his prosthetic leg. This pays off the “why does he walk funny” question Mark Trail asked Genie back in November.

Camel, recounting a teenage encounter: 'That night, the Yeti burst into our cabin ... my father took a gun and fired at it. The savage brute sent him crashing to a corner!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 15th of January, 2020. So another good question is why the art in Mark Trail seems weird lately. Commenters on the Comics Curmudgeon have reported that James Allen’s had to go help a family member through illness, and has been working away from home and the usual studio. So he’s had to make experiments with different drawing setups. I have not seen a statement from James Allen directly, so I can’t confirm that. But it seems a reasonable explanation.

Later, Mark Trail asks Genie, like, seriously? Camel’s assistant says she believes in his trauma. But whether it was a Yeti? How is she to know? Unless she’s been his friend for decades and taking care of him and helping him with his trauma? Anyway, they turn in, and Mark Trail sees something inexplicable: Genie going in to Harvey Camel’s room. At night. It makes us wonder whether sex exists in the Mark Trail universe. Before you say that’s obvious since Mark has a son? Remember that Rusty Trail was adopted. Still, yeah, of course people in the Mark Trail universe have heard of sex, and may even enjoy it. It’s not like they’re in Luann.

Mark Trail: 'I suppose I'd better turn in, too!' (He sees Genie going into Camel's room.) 'What th' ... What's she doing going into Harvey's room?'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 25th of January, 2020. One occasionally suspects that Mr Allen might be setting up a panel now and then to delight his ironic readers.

They get back to hiking, Mark Trail still prodding Camel, “Yeah no but really?” At night they set up camp. And Camel hears something. A whistling. Genie insists it’s the wind. Camel says it’s the Yeti. He runs out of the tent, into the snowstorm.

And the avalanche.

Harvey Camel running out into a heavy snow; then, there's an enormous RUM-M-BLE!! and a mountain of snow flows down at him.
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 3rd of February, 2020. “Wait! No one said let’s get ready to this!”

Mark Trail, Genie, and the Sherpas are all right. Mark Trail suggests maybe Camel made it out the other side of the valley? Genie hopes so. But … they don’t look.

In the circumstance, at that hour? That’s defensible. Yes, Camel is lost and likely wounded. But it’s also the middle of the night, immediately after an avalanche, and there’s only four people who could start searching. Waiting for daytime, contacting authorities, getting an organized rescue together is sensible. But this reasoning is never made on-screen. Mark Trail, or better the Sherpas, could explain that searching for Camel right now is likely to fail and get more people injured or killed.

Genie: 'Harvey began to relish his alter ego, broadcasting his adventures on the Internet! [ Picture of him taking a selfie from atop an elephant. ] He wanted each adventure to be bigger and more exciting than the one before it. His audience's hunger reached a fever pitch when he announced his next big adventure.'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 14th of February, 2020. All right, so the adventures we know Harvey Camel got up to were catching a fish and now taking a selfie from on an elephant. Can see why he didn’t have anywhere to go but “Yeti”.

Instead what we see is Genie explaining Camel’s life story. Camel lost a leg to juvenile diabetes. They became friends shortly after he lost his leg. She caretook him. And Camel got onto social media, becoming an adventurer with a worldwide fanbase and niche fame. And, needing to make ever-bigger adventures for his audience, going finally to the search for the Yeti. Mark Trail nods, thinking of this as a lesson in the search for online fame. And we see how this quest ends. Unless, of course, Camel did make it out alive.

And … the heck? Because this is good enough exposition. It fills out character and explains motivations and actions. But it leaves new questions. Like: so was Harvey Camel a legitimate anthropologist who turned into a celebrity? Or was he always a showman, with enough science in him to get respectable magazines like Woods and Wildlife to finance him? And: so … did Harvey Camel, as a child, travel with his father to Nepal and have some encounter that he could remember as a Yeti attack? It’s all right if the characters don’t know answers. But a reader can, fairly, ask whether James Allen has answers in mind. A storyteller always has the right to change their mind about characters’ histories. If the revision makes for a better story, it’s a brilliant twist. If it confuses the audience, it’s a mess.

So this time spent in revelations threw a lot of people off the story. We go from that night, and Genie revealing what she knew about Camel’s history, right to Mark Trail readying to leave Nepal. Mark Trail talks about how they need to inform the authorities. And I suppose we can take as implicit that there was a search. But what counts to the audience is what the characters spend time on. Especially in comic strips, which get read and thought about for seconds per day.

[ Tumlingtar, Nepal ] Mark Trail: 'Genie, I'm sorry this trip didn't turn out as we had hoped!' Genie: 'I understand, Mark --- although I believed in Harvey, I knew it was a long shot! I just didn't think it would end like this!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 21st of February, 2020. Yeah, but let’s talk seriously here: no corpse? No death. Especially since James Allen is a reader of adventure strips where the impossible escape from certain death is mandatory. More Harvey Camel is just so incredibly well set up.

Subtlety is great for rewarding careful audience members. It can add nice plot symmetries or shadings of character. It sucks for establishing things like “would our hero prefer to rescue someone from certain death?” A reader can be forgiven for thinking Mark Trail saw the avalanche as a chance to get away from Harvey Camel. And this, right after a story in which Mark Trail didn’t spend much screen time searching for JJ Looper after a flash flood, makes a bad pattern.

(There are more interesting patterns, though. That earlier story also involved the search for something Mark Trail didn’t think existed, in this case a Vanishing Gold Mine. And had Mark Trail be as suspicious of JJ Looper as he would be of Harvey Camel. Looper would justify Mark Trail’s suspicion, but Mark Trail didn’t have anything but a hunch to go on there.)

Mark Trail heads home. He admits not knowing whether Harvey Camel died in the avalanche. But what are the chances of Camel surviving certain death, and then teaming up with “Dirty” Dyer to seek revenge on Mark Trail? Anyway, Mark Trail explains that his article for Woods and Wildlife won’t mention the Yeti. The crocodiles and bears and all are enough. Which … is … a decision I’d want to bounce off the editor. I would think a failed search for a Yeti alongside a preposterous minor celebrity would be a great story. Of course, I’ve written like two thousand words making fun of this story so far this essay, and I have two other essays about this story.

Mark Trail: 'The Internet can also bring out the worst in people!' Cherry: 'I worry about that too! Especially with Rusty reading the online comments about his favorite comics!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 27th of February, 2020. You may see this as another case of the cartoonist forcing characters to care about their own pet peeve. But, you know? If you can use your creative forum to work out your complaints? And get paid for it? Great for you. And you’re part of a long artistic heritage. And we can all still laugh morbidly at the Mallard Fillmore guy spending what seemed like eighteen years straight whining about cops stopping people for nothing more than drunk driving.

Anyway then Mark Trail warns Cherry and Doc about how the Internet can bring out bad stuff in people. Cherry agrees, talking about Rusty Trail reading the comments of online comics-reading communities. All right. With that, the story ends. The avalanche brought the Attack of Nature count up to five.


The new story started the 29th of February. Cherry Trail got a call from Geoff Aldridge, head of the Forest Explorers. They do nature outings for kids, particularly ones considered “troubled children”. Mark Trail figures he’ll do an article on the Forest Explorers. He and Rusty can join them a trip. So we’re still meeting everybody right now. There hasn’t been a plot to start yet. We’ll see where things go over the next few months.

Sunday Animals Watch!

So you know your headcanon where the Sunday panels explaining animals are articles that Mark Trail writes? Turns out everybody thinks the same way. I don’t know that it’s what James Allen or his predecessors thought they were doing with it. But everyone agrees that’s what it should mean. Anyway here’s what Mark Trail’s been writing about while lost in the Himalayas:

  • Babirusas, 15 December 2019. They’re neat; give them a look.
  • Myrrh, 22 December 2019. It’s one of many resins that you might like to know about.
  • Bear attacks, 29 December 2019. Mark Trail recommends you not be attacked by a bear. But if you are attacked with a bear, try to have bear repellent.
  • Tasmanian tigers, 5 January 2020. Extinct for 85 years now. But there’ve been sightings, and now and then someone who thinks genetics is easy says they’re going to clone the animal back into existence.
  • Saffron crocuses, 12 January 2020. The amount of work it takes to make saffron causes me to feel like I’m putting a lot of people to bother if I get anything that uses any.
  • Leatherback turtles, 19 January 2020. With a mention of other marine turtles.
  • Silver-backed chevrotains, 26 January 2020. A species not spotted for thirty years. This as part of the Global Wildlife Conservation’s “Search for Lost Species” campaign. This tries finding evidence for animals not spotted in a long while.
  • Dumbo Octopus, 2 February 2020. Which are amazing, and which live so deep in the ocean with so few predators around that they don’t even have ink sacs.
  • Bats, 9 February 2020. Leave hibernating bats alone, they’ve got enough problems.
  • Coyotes, 16 February 2020. Leave coyotes alone, they’ve got enough problems.
  • Tapetums, 23 February 2020. Those are the eye layers in nocturnal animals that cause their eyes to do crazy things at night or undre flash photography.
  • Saber-toothed animals, 1 March 2020. A surprising number of animals make this work, and if your day is dragging, do an image search on “musk deer”.
  • Police dogs, 8 March 2020. It takes a lot of training to get a dog to bark at something, somewhere, when the cop bats the trunk of the car with the Abolish Prison Labor bumper sticker.

Next Week!

Did Estelle take Wilbur back? Why? Did Iris screw up her relationship with Zak? Why? Is Dawn screwing up her relationship with real French guy from France, Hugo Franceypants? Why? Did the auto care place at the end of the block finally update its sign with a new inspirational-yet-somehow-despairing thought? Yes! Will I belatedly work out the “Mark Trail joined Mastodon but left because he couldn’t find any” joke I’ve been trying to make fit into this all week? Could be! Join me for Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth in one week’s time, if things go like I plan. Thanks for reading. Like and subscribe me on Orkut, Ping, Yo, Ello, and Apple eWorld, please.

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? Did Baleen leave Gasoline Alley or what? December 2019 – February 2020


Baleen said she was leaving Gasoline Alley. She came back, though, saying that it was an accident. It was sentiment. She’s moving toward a romance with T-Bone, the cook. I say moving toward because I write this in the closing days of February 2020. Sometime after May 2020 there’ll likely be new plot developments. So if you want the most up-to-date plot recaps and news about Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley please check this link. And if you like comic strips with a mathematical theme please check in on my other blog. Thank you.

Gasoline Alley.

9 December 2019 – 29 February 2020

I last checked in on Gasoline Alley in the weeks before Christmas. A train full of kids were riding the Mistletoe Express to see Santa Claus. But it broke down in front of Corky’s diner. Corky put in a call to Slim Wallet to get his Santa gear on and entertain the restless kids. And what do you know but he got there in record time and put on a great show, never breaking character, and giving everyone a merry time. Even talking in rhyme the whole day. And there’s nothing mysterious or ambiguously supernatural about that at all.

Slim, dressed as Santa, running up: 'Corky! I'm sorry I'm late! I had a flat tire and forgot to bring my phone!' Corky: 'But you were just here and did a fabulous job!' Slim: 'Whadyamean? I just got here!' Corky: 'Then who was that other Santa?'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 20th of December, 2019. If you don’t like this sort of lighthearted old-time-radio/60-sitcom holiday magical realism then maybe Jim Scancarellis Gasoline Alley is not a comic strip for you, all right?

Well, the day after Christmas started the new story thread. It’s still focused on Corky’s diner. Terry, the regular waitress, is back. She’s completed her treatment for the actue angina pectoris that Peter Glabella had diagnosed. With Terry back, guest waitress Baleen declares she’s off. But Corky and T-Bone (the cook) beg Baleen to stay. She has none of it.

Anyway, the diner’s doing great business. It’s crazy crowded. The strip never says their hotcakes are selling like hotcakes, but Jim Scancarelli is kicking himself for not doing that joke. They put up a fresh sign begging for more wait staff. And who shows up again but Baleen? She claims that she caught the wrong bus, and this is where it stopped for lunch. And she missed them all.

Woman carrying in the 'Waitress Wanted' sign: 'Uh! I'd like to apply for the waitress position!' Corky, recognizing her: 'Baleen! You're hired! Get your apron and get to work!' Baleen; 'Aye aye, Captain!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 15th of January, 2020. And as usual I’d like to mention the work put into the art here. That there is any visual appeal at all to these scenes show the work Scancarelli puts in to staging scenes. The first panel could have as much mystery if it were just an off-screen voice geting Cookie’s attention; focusing close on a walking Baleen from down low gives the scene a sense of motion. The shading of the lead characters, too, gives a neat composition. This strip would be very easy to draw lazy and it’s just not done. I know I always say this about Gasoline Alley, but I’m going to keep saying it until people agree with me. I can accept people not liking the way Scancarelli designs characters, especially as there will be mixes of characters drawn to different levels of photorealism. But I won’t accept people not acknowledging that he stages them well.

So Jim Scancarelli has realized that Baleen’s a pretty good fit for the gang at Corky’s Diner. She steps back in, and we get back to restaurant jokes. And a bit of story development: a jerk customer starts mocking Baleen’s name. T-Bone leaps to her defence. Terry had said that T-Bone had a crush on Baleen. The first real evidence we get of this is the hearts in his eyes when Baleen kisses her thanks. But then she gets all cold, particularly saying she missed him “like the bucolic plague”. Which when you look at it is a hard thing to parse. Terry gives T-Bone the advice to be patient and let Baleen find a comfortable spot.

But, it’s Valentine Season. Baleen starts getting cards. She’s been popular with the customers, to the point of sometimes sitting down with them. This is pretty much my deepest restaurant nightmare. There’s a Wendy’s I can’t ever go to again because the cashier recognized I always order the baked potato. A server feeling comfortable enough to sit down with me might well cause me to burst into embarrassment flames.

All the attention is making T-Bone jealous. Terry recommends he send her flowers. He feels like that’s hopeless. Terry claims Baleen sent the (anonymous) cards to herself and made up a Valentine party she was going to. I don’t know on what basis she deuces this other than that “Valentine party”? Well, T-Bone at least sends a card. And then a wreath of roses arrives.

Baleen, looking over a wreath of red flowers: 'Ooh, T-Bone! What a lovely Valentine gift!' (She kisses him; he gets hearts in his eyes.) T-Bone, thinking: 'Gulp! I did't send this wreath! One of Baleen's secret admirers must have!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 14th of February, 2020. It’s a small artistic touch but the sort of thing I think emblematic of Scancarelli’s work that there’s so many valentine hearts in the second panel there. Not just the three floating above the actual kiss, but also the heart in T-Bone’s eye and the two hearts making the centers of the O’s in the sound effect ‘Smooch’. It’s the sort of little thing making a panel funnier to look at that Scancarelli reliably pays attention to and I’m glad for it.

He didn’t send them. Also they’re a funeral wreath. Terry reveals she ordered the flowers on T-Bone’s behalf. She didn’t order a funeral wreath, though. It’s one of those zany screw-ups that happen at florist’s in the 60s-sitcom world of Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley. T-Bone thinks fast for once, and says it shows how he’ll love her until she dies. And this wins Baleen’s heart.

That seems to put their story at a good resting point. The last couple days have been jokes about Baleen painting signs for the diner, advertising their hours and whatnot. Oh, and hey, is there something ritualistically special about Leap Year in proud-to-be-old-fashioned comic strips like this? Mm?

Next Week!

So, seriously, did Mark Trail leave Dr Harvey Camel out there to die in a snowbank? James Allen’s Mark Trail gets its recap in a week, if all goes to plan. It is hard to read what Mark Trail did any other way. I’m unsettled too.

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? Who’s Shaky and why’s he want Dick Tracy dead? December 2019 – February 2020


Shaky is the villain in Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy right now, in late February 2020. If you’re reading this summary after about May 2020 there’s probably a more up-to-date plot recap here. But this Shaky is the nephew, or nephew at least once removed, of the original Shaky. This first Shaky was a con man with a relentless shaking habit, and amazing dexterity, who died in the comic strip in January 1945. Asphyxiation, nasty stuff. The Dick Tracy Wiki helpfully explains there were a second Shaky, related to the first, who appeared in a 1986 and a sequel sometime in the 1990s. That character’s described on that page for Shaky. The current Shaky they dub Shaky II, because he is the third of that name and gimmick. I’m glad this acts as if it cleared things up.

Dick Tracy.

1 December 2019 – 23 February 2020

Mid-November started a tale that brought Steve Roper and Mike Nomad from their remembered, cancelled action-adventure comic strip. Tulza Tuzon, also known as Haf-and-Haf and also known as Splitface, tried to car-bomb them. Roper and Nomad told us why Splitface wanted them dead. They’d been investigating his carnival midway scams and pickpocketing. This lead to his disfigurement in a tanker of acid. Yeah, but he used crows to lift purses, so it’s fair.

Roper, Nomad, Dick Tracy, and Sam Catchem count it as good luck that Tuzon’s car bomb didn’t kill any of them. Tuzon and his partner, Clybourne, see it as bad luck; they don’t have the cash for another bomb. Tuzon makes some calls, though. He knows of some friends, Measles and Wormy, whom Sam Catchem busted before they could use their crime props. Why not use their gear?

Clybourne calls Roper and Nomad. He claims to be an armored car driver who saw something relevant to the bomb. He sets up a meeting at Ambush Parking Garage, and they agree to fall for this. Clybourne went to so much trouble bringing knockout gas it would be rude if they didn’t. Meanwhile Tuzon calls Dick Tracy, claiming he wants to turn himself in. He’ll meet Tracy and Catchem at the Big Cat House, at the zoo. Tracy and Catchem fall for this, too. Clybourne and Tuzon drag all four of them into the alligator pit. The ex-circus alligator Lorenzo is to get them.

Alligator snaps up a slab of meat, and then turns to face Dick Tracy, Sam Catchem, Mike Roper and Steve Nomad, and hisses. Dick Tracy, snapping awake, cries out, 'Ye gods!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 20th of December, 2019. Dick Tracy knows stronger oaths, of course, but he can’t be that worked up about just another alligator come to eat him. I mean … what do you all guess is the number of times Dick Tracy’s been menaced by an alligator, crocodile, or gharial? I’m going to say this is at minimum his eighth.

Tracy wakes up moments ahead of Lorenzo getting to them, and rallies everyone. They call for help and … well, it’s able to get to them with plenty of time. Tuzon didn’t grab their wrist-radios or stick around to watch the alligator eat them because, you know. He had urgent business: getting to the aviary so he could free the original Clybourne, the crow he’d trained to pick pockets on the midway. Mike Nomad divines this is Tuzon’s plan, chases after him, and catches the guy. And, on the 28th of December, Steve Roper and Mike Nomad fly back for home, wrapping up the story.


The new story — one just recently wrapped up — started the 29th of December, 2019. This with a guy assembling a bunch of guns and a metallic face mask. He leads the robbery of Thermopolis Payroll, introducing himself as Mister Roboto. This isn’t his first robbery, but it’s the first big enough to make it grand larceny and be worthy of Dick Tracy’s attention. Mr Roboto’s gang also wears masks, “not as elaborate” in the words of the police chief, but, you know, you gotta do something.

Mister Roboto, holding a gun on one of his own men: 'Back off, Tracy! We're coming through with a hostage!' Tracy orders the cops: 'Stand down, everybody! Hold your fire!' As Roboto and henchmen make their way past the police barricade Tracy declares, 'You can't hide behind that mask forever, Roboto.' Mister Roboto: 'It helps me escape, just when I need to.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 17th of January, 2020. Honestly? I know fanboys. For Mister Roboto the real payoff to this escapade was dropping that line while being confident Dick Tracy does not appreciate how aptly he’s embodying the lyric.

Which seems to be Mister Roboto’s point. After splitting the payroll heist, Roboto dismisses his henchmen until next week. He resigns himself to his boring warehouse job.

Meanwhile — in a story foreshadowed the 9th and 10th of December — the new Vitamin Flintheart play assembles. They’re doing a stage version of Metropolis. Starring as the Robotrix and False Maria? Mysta Chimera, who — just a second. I need to warm up before describing all this. OK. Mysta Chimera has the appearance and some of the powers of the Lunarians, much like Honeymoon Tracy has. But she’s not from the moon. She’s a surgically modified, amnesiac mobster’s daughter who’d been mentally programmed to think she was the Moon Maiden, Junior Tracy’s murdered wife. Chimera has learned where she really came from, and has given up on her whole past identity to hang around with Dick Tracy’s gang. Bonding with Honeymoon Tracy over having, you know, Moon Powers and those cool antennas and all that. Junior Tracy has taken all this with a sangfroid I’m not sure I could manage in the circumstance.

Mr Roboto pulls another robbery and gets into a shootout with Dick Tracy. It has a couple delightful moments in it. First, the cashier blurting out “domo arigato, Mister Roboto”, which endears her to Roboto. He declares that she can keep the money. Second, though, during the shootout Roboto declares, “Hey, Tracy! It’s a cold war!” Which confuses his underlings. Also, everyone who read the strip because the thing that defines a “cold war” is not shooting directly at the enemy. What’s going on here is that “Cold War” is one of the other songs on the album with “Mister Roboto”. So the implication here is that yes, Mr Roboto is trying to build his villain’sona around a Styx thing, but that he … doesn’t … really … have exactly the material to do it with. Or didn’t have the command of the material to do the patter smoothly. I accept this as a funny, awkward moment in the training of a young supervillain.

Mister Roboto, holding a gun on one of his own men: 'Back off, Tracy! We're coming through with a hostage!' Tracy orders the cops: 'Stand down, everybody! Hold your fire!' As Roboto and henchmen make their way past the police barricade Tracy declares, 'You can't hide behind that mask forever, Roboto.' Mister Roboto: 'It helps me escape, just when I need to.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 17th of January, 2020. Honestly? I know fanboys. For Mister Roboto the real payoff to this escapade was dropping that line while being confident Dick Tracy does not appreciate how aptly he’s embodying the lyric.

They get out of the shootout, though. Mr Roboto has one of his henchmen lose his costume and fake being a hostage, for safe passage. He won’t be able to use that henchman again, but, that’s better than their getting killed or arrested. And they’ll have to lay low a while, but he was thinking to do that anyway. Roboto had noticed the ads for Metropolis, after all.

And the play is just his thing. The 19th of January — the first time we see Mr Roboto’s face unmasked — he’s gazing at Mysta Chimera, and even better, Mysty Chimera as a robot. It’s an explosive mix. He’s barely left the theater when he’s worked out how he’s going to kidnap her and be with her forever until she loves him. It’s the pretext of a magazine interview, in costume as the robot, of course, handcuffed to a chair, the usual.

Mysta Chimera, tied to a chair in Mister Roboto's home: 'Why did you bring me here, Roboto?' Roboto: 'Because! You're Futura, the Robotrix! Mister Roboto and Futura! The perfect couple!' Chimera: 'You're crazy.' Roboto 'Wait and see. Time is all that we really need!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 30th of January, 2020. Hang on, Roboto has to have broken into the zoo to steal some Moon Snail to make a “special dinner” for her before he’d kidnapped her. But then he also didn’t plan on kidnapping her sometime he wouldn’t have to run right back out for another robbery? I grant that Roboto has thrown this whole plan together at the last minute but he maybe would have done better if he’d taken a second day to work on it. Also if he’d hooked up with the local cosplay scene to see if there’s someone who does robots and is willing to talk to him when not held hostage?

He has to run to a bank job. So he leaves her some Moon Snail, fresh-poached from the city zoo, which is having a heck of a winter with the baddies breaking in. Once he leaves, she moon-zaps her handcuffs off and calls Dick Tracy. Mr Roboto and his gang get back to the lair — well, a two-level house in the suburbs — only for Mysta to moon-zap them, and then Dick Tracy arrives. Roboto and crew surrender, asking only to not be repeatedly shot. And that, the 8th of February, wraps up the Mister Roboto storyline.

I’m assuming we’ll see Mister Roboto again, since he’s got this fun goofball air while still doing actual crimes. I have no idea what anyone from Styx thinks of inspiring a Dick Tracy villain. But I am absolutely on board for this summer’s villain of “hardcore Atari 2600 Swordquest adventure games fanboy”. Also, nobody has yet added this storyline to the “Uses in Media” section of Wikipedia’s page about the song. Just observing.


The new and current story started the 9th of February, with someone baking a birthday cake for Shaky, whose gimmick is that he’s always trembling. Then, some flashbacks to explain his deal. He was shaking constantly from infancy, rather like his uncle Shaky. He parleyed this in his youth to being the schoolyard bully. Then to selling exam papers and book reports. Then to blackmail, forgery, that sort of thing. And today? Today, he’s looking for revenge on Dick Tracy.

Shaky: 'Suppressing evidence is no small matter, Ms Tracy. How do you think your husband would react?' Tess Tracy: 'What's your proposition, Shaky?' Shaky: 'Simple. PAY ME and I'll make sure Tracy never finds out.' Tracy: 'And if I don't?' Shaky: 'That divorce proceeding you two almost had might come true this time.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 21st of February, 2020. The threatened divorce was in a storyline from the first half of 1994. It made some news back then. I don’t know why this strip — and several others this week — have been in black-and-white when most of them are in color. But there is literally nothing about the colorization of daily comic strips that anyone understands.

Shaky’s plan get Tracy is to go through Tess Tracy. Her detective agency provided most of the evidence used to convict James McQueen of aggravated backstory. Shaky claims he can prove McQueen’s innocence, and that he’s willing to sit on that evidence, for a fee. And if she doesn’t pay, he explains, he’ll tell the press how Dick Tracy’s wife is suppressing evidence. Think of the scandal, since in the Tracy universe there are still scandals with consequences. Think how her husband will react.

Me, I would think “obscure relative of a killed antagonist is blackmailing me to get revenge on you” would be easy to explain to Dick Tracy. Heck, it’s happened so much they have to discuss it when something doesn’t have to do with a relative of someone Tracy’s killed looking for revenge. There’ve been like over two hundred relatives of Flattop alone trying to get revenge on Dick Tracy. Tossing in another Shaky shouldn’t strain the super-scientific detective’s belief in her. But we’ll see. For now, this is where the story’s gotten.

Next Week!

What’s going on in Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley? Aw, what ever is going on in Gasoline Alley, anyway? I expect a healthy bunch of jokes about the leap year, if nothing else. That’s in seven days, unless events demand special attention first. And in the meantime, my other blog looks at comic strips with mathematical content. You might enjoy reading that. Thanks for trying.

What’s Going On In Prince Valiant? What is a ‘Virgate’ and why would someone want it? November 2019 – February 2020


A ‘virgate’ is an Old English measure of land area. It’s about what a team of two oxen could plough in a year. Somewhere around thirty acres, give or take. (They didn’t have modern ideas of uniformity, especially about things like farmland, where some land might be there but unusable.) So if that’s all you wondered about Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant, thanks, and bye. Meanwhile if you’re looking to follow the plot, this will get you caught up to mid-February 2020. If you’re reading this after about May 2020, there’s probably a more up-to-date plot recap at this link. Also any news about the comic strip that seems worth the mention. And, as ever, I look at other comic strips on my mathematics blog.

Prince Valiant.

24 November 2019 – 16 February 2020

Prince Valiant and company were heading home, last time, after adventures in Egypt. Here “Home” means the Misty Isles. Queen Bukota is furious with Ambelu, the last of her surviving advisors. Ambelu and his fellow nobles had tried to keep the young Ab’saba queen under control through Fewesi the Healer. That worked out great when Fewesi killed them, kidnapped the Queen, and fled to Egypt where his own people laughed him off as a dangerous incompetent loser. Her vengeance is fairly mild: she’s reassigning Ambelu to be her ambassador to Camelot. Bukota, the current ambassador, will take a post canoodling with her. Their first wedding — they plan to hold another back home — is a merry affair.

After two years in the Misty Isles, Val and family, escorted by the longship Skjalssdis, are bound north for Camelot. Crossing the Mediterranean, there is much reacquainting and catching up. Much time in the south was spent apart. Only the Ab'saban nobleman Ambelu stands alone, banished by Queen Makeda to serve as ambassador to King Arthur's Court. He moves uneasily over the deck, hobbled by a ruined leg, the result of his part in the plot that went horribly wrong. As he morosely struggles to understand his part in this awful, alien world, the ship heels suddenly, and his balance is lost. At this point, things could not seem worse for the proud man. Then he hears the sound of a footstep, followed by a thump, and Gundar Harl is beside him. [ Harl has a wooden leg. ] ``It took me some time to learn to dance with the ship,'' offers the shipmaster. ``We have something in common. Perhaps I can share some tricks.''
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 22nd of December, 2019. So recently I read a book that contained a lot of discussion of Prince Valiant, including summaries of every story done from the origin to the book’s publication around 2005. Among the surprises is that, after some initial work, Hal Foster settled on a specific time and, when it could refer to historic events, made them reasonably consistent with character ages and such. The coherence of this has varied over the years, but still, that’s some amazing work considering how few people would ever notice. Also, there was at least one story that Foster wanted to start aboard ship, but he didn’t want to set about getting everyone on board. So he had the story start with an explanation that the “ancient scrolls” from which the text of the strip is based had some gaps and here’s what comes after one of those gaps. I genuinely love that sort of meta-writing.

And then it’s time to go to Camelot, for the first time since I’ve been doing these What’s Going On In features. Valiant’s been focusing so on tromping around Asia, the Misty Isles, and North Africa so much I didn’t realize he even went to Camelot anymore. The strip says (on the 22nd of December) that Valiant’s spent two years in the Misty Isles, which I assume is character time.

And so, with 2020 dawning, Prince Valiant returns to Britain and his first adopted home. They run across a funeral procession for the local baron, and about how some witches summoned a demon to kill the baron. Valiant would rather leave this all alone. But Aleta asks questions. Gareth, the new baron and one of the mourners, explains the case: the Baron criticized these women, and then he died of demonic possession. In fairness, bats do swarm one of the women. Plus there’s a pox going around. Valiant would really like to just let this be. But then Sir Gawain, a day’s ride out of Camelot, arrives.

Valiant’s suspicious about this well-timed visit. Sir Gawain explains there was a request to the court to deal with a dispute about a parcel of land. And now here’s these women accused of witchcraft and sorcery. The woman with the bats argues that “the ignorant peasants” would destroy their bats’ home.

As Val and Aleta move between an angry mob and its intended victim, they are joined by a friend long unseen --- Sir Gawain! Once the intimidated crowd retreats, Gawain wastes no further time in ceremoniously greeting his companions. But Aleta's attention is fixed on the accused with-woman, who distractedly watches her cloud of bats flit away. 'All this commotion! These fools have disrupted the bats' behavior! They are very sensitive creatures!' Val is more interested in Gawain's unexpected appearance. Gawain explains: 'There was a supplication to the throne - someone here with claims to a parcel of land says she's being forced off her plot. Arn sent me to investigate - but I stumble upon this odd situation' The strange woman snarls at Gawain: 'Do not take this lightly, sir knight! These ignorant peasants would destroy the home of our bas! And I am very familiar with the facts in the behest to Camelot ... come ... I will take you to Afton.' And so, while the majority of Val's entourage is sent on to Camelot, Val, Aleta, and Nathan follow Gawain and the cryptic woman to a lonely cottage - and a dark mystery.
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 26th of January, 2020. Val fears that something is missing to make this puzzle sensible. “Would you by chance know of any meddling kids and their talking dog,” he inquires, “and perhaps whether there is an abandoned amusement park or perhaps candy manufactory hereabouts?”

To facts, though. Gawain confirms the grant of two virgates made to Afton, one of the locals. Nathan, who’s part of Valiant’s retinue, notices a clue in the house, though: a bat’s skeleton and a sketch of a bat. Afton petitions Gawain for protection from Lord Imbert, who’s the one who had just died. But part of Afton’s grant is a cave with a spring that allegedly restores youth. It doesn’t, but Imbert thought it does, and wanted the land for himself. Gawain consider that now that Imbert is conveniently dead, and there’s a rumor of Afton or the women summoning a demon to do it … that could be awkward.

Gawain, Valiant, and all go looking for lodging. And that’s where the story has gotten. Where is it going? We’ll have to see over the next few months.

Next Week!

Action! Adventure! Super-detection! People dressed as robots! It’s Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy, unless something demands more attention first.

Hey, did you know that in his travels Prince Valiant has been to North America at least twice? Like, all the way to Manhattan and stuff. Also he’s made it to South America. I don’t know that he’s ever set foot in Australia but that’s some amazing travels. I mean, we moderns forget that while people back in the day — much like today — were happy to stay where they were, some folks really got moving. (He lived in a time that made this considerably easier than Prince Valiant “did”, but do look up James Holman sometime.)

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Weekdays)? Why is the Python held by the Wambesi? November 2019 – February 2020


Hi there. This essay should get you caught up on what’s happening in the weekday continuity for Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom. If you’re reading this after about May 2020, or if you’re interested in the separate, Sunday, continuity, you’ll want to see this link for something more relevant. Also, on my other blog, I look at mathematically-themed comic strips at least once a week. Sometimes more.

The Phantom (Weekdays).

18 November 2019 – 8 February 2020.

Chatu, The Python, was the big terrorist menace around before The Phantom captured him. (This capture gave Eric “The Nomad” Sahara his big opening.) In an 18-month storyline started in August 2009, The Nomad arranged the bombing of a United Nations building in Mawitaan, Bangalla. And also the kidnapping of Diana Walker to a Rhodian jail. And all this from his Bangallan jail cell. When this got sorted out The Phantom kidnapped The Python and put him in a secret jail cell watched by The Python’s fellow Wambesi people. That The Python could carry that out is the moral pretext behind putting him in a secret jail cell. That he’s one of the Wambesi is why his secret jail is in Wambesiland, somewhere within Bangalla.

The question last time was why pairs of people were streaming from fascist Rhodia into Bangalla, heading for the Wambesi’s territories. The Phantom had investigated some of them. They were talking about a mission and claimed to have no idea who this The Python was. So The Phantom figures it’s a scheme to free The Python and bring him back to Rhodia for some mischief. He goes sneaking into infiltrators’ tents and swiping their arms. This to end their usefulness to the mission, and turn the column into along string of people heading home. Of course, some people may also need to be punched, or at least threatened with mauling. But better that than a firefight.

Rhodian solider woman: 'We could have *fought* him! We still had the means! It was our duty!' Other solider, held under The Phantom's guns: 'If I didn't order you to surrender, he was going to send THE WOLF!' [ Devil stands, angrily, behind the first solider. ] 'We're walking out of here unharmed! It's over!'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s Alley Oop for the 6th of December, 2020. I’m glad to see that Gabby “Margo’s Stepmother” Magee and Lu Ann Powers have been having adventures since Apartment 3-G ended.

In December we-the-readers finally get to know the plan. The Colonel and one of his underlings discuss what they’re doing and why. I’m going to call this underling The Major. If these people gave one another names I’ve missed it. The Colonel’s at least addressed by rank on-camera. The Colonel, the Major, and another underling whom I’ll dub The Sniper are to find out whether Chatu is held by the Wambesi. And if Chatu is, then that’s what column of forces behind them are for. They’ll break him out of the Wambesi village and bring Chatu to Rhodia. Infiltrating in small groups should let them assemble a big enough force to overwhelm the village without detection. And still be obscure enough that Bangalla, and the Jungle Patrol, won’t get immediately involved.

The Colonel, explaining to the Major and Sniper: 'The plan's a good one! We confirm that the Python is a prisoner of the Wambesi. The team BEHIND us confirms that our forces have arrived in place for the attack! We free the Python, melt back into the jungle ... by the time Mawitaan knows what's happened, we're in Rhodia!'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s Alley Oop for the 13th of December, 2020. “And the only way the plan could possibly fail is if a legendary immortal protector of Mawitaan punches out every one of our soliders and they all go home until we’re left out here alone! But how could that ever happen?”

So The Ghost Who Walks spends a lot of time sneaking into tents, stealing guns, and shooing people home. I was surprised all the two- and three-person teams The Phantom encountered agreed to this. The mechanism of The Phantom disarms some minions and they shrug and run off screen feels a little video-gamey. I’d expect at least a couple die-hards to carry on and trust they could get guns somewhere. But then The Phantom would have to go punching them again, and the story would take longer to get where it was.

With the support column rolled up, The Phantom phones the colonel leading the column. This to tell him there’s no support forces following; the colonel and the two with him are it. Go home. Sniper is terrified. Sniper has one of the Phantom’s skull tattoos on his face. Sniper says he can kill The Phantom, but it won’t stick. Meanwhile The Phantom races toward them, saying he’s going to save their lives.

Sniper, holding his rifle, and thinking: 'He was dead ... and then he wasn't ... ' [ Imagining being in wet tunnels, cowering before a gigantic Phantom. ]
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s Alley Oop for the 3rd of January, 2020. I like the artistic touch that The Phantom’s drawn here so much larger than Sniper is. It’s a good bit on Manley’s part to emphasize how big an impression the Ghost Who Walks leaves.

Sniper’s left behind with a sniper rifle. He’s also very rattled by the prospect. He’d been part of some gang that, they thought, had killed him. I do not know whether this is part of a specific story shown on-screen before. The Phantom Wiki doesn’t help me here. Sniper’s flashbacks look like the sort of thing The Phantom’s always doing, anyway. Gunfire in dark tunnels and all that. When they meet up The Phantom doesn’t remember him either, and guesses they met in the dark. It convinces me that Sniper’s backstory was off panel. Anyway, thoughts of that, and of maybe seeing The Phantom come back to life, have him rattled. When he sees an archer pulling a bow he doesn’t know what to do.

The archer is Babudan, one of The Phantom’s reliable Bandar supporters. Babudan shoots Sniper through the arm, fastening him to a tree. And then another arrow, through the other arm, pinning him the harder. This is one of the most visceral and disturbing things I’ve seen. I’m not sure what it says that hand grenades and assault rifle fire don’t horrify me but arrows through muscle do. Maybe I can just imagine living through that pain.

Phantom’s wolf Devil, the Ghost who Woofs, runs out ahead of The Phantom, not for the first time this story. Phantom wonders what’s got into him. He leads The Phantom to the pinned Sniper. The Phantom pulls Sniper down and patches his wounds, and learns that Babudan has been shadowing them. So that’s a plot point waiting for resolution. Also waiting for resolution: what is with Devil? This reader’s first assumption was that he was running back and forth to Babudan. But then Devil got pretty worked up and even chased Babudan up a tree. So that probably means something.

Invaders frozen in their tracks. The Major: 'W --- What happens now?' They're surrounded by Wambesi warriors holding spears at their necks. The Colonel 'They're just ... just ... I - I don't know ... holding us here.'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s Alley Oop for the 3rd of February, 2020. So, one thing that will make me like someone better is if they’re upfront about when they’re in over their head. The Colonel does beg The Phantom to help them out of there, you know, one white guy to another, and that strategy doesn’t work.

Phantom sends Sniper back home, with instructions to say he had seen The Python wasn’t there. And then races to Wambesiland, to get the Colonel and the Major. The Major argues they have to stop. The Colonel wants to press on, since why should the complete evaporation of their army stop their progress? Well, there’s the band of Wambesi soldiers surrounding them. The Phantom comes in to the standoff and explains: the Chief will decide whether they’ll be tried by the Wambesi, or be turned over to the Jungle Patrol. And toddles off. He’s going to talk with Chatu.

And that’s where the story’s gotten. You should be able to read at least the next week’s worth of comics without confusion.

Next Week!

This should be an exciting time for me to write about
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant.
Last month I read a library book that contained summaries of every Prince Valiant story, from the origin through to the book’s publication about fifteen years ago, and now … uh … all right, so I know Valiant has been to both North and South America, including a stop in Manhattan. Also there was a story in the early 2000s where he and some cavemen had to fight Godzilla. And why was that not the plot of the Prince Valiant movie? Uh … well, we’ll see what more I remember in a week, trusting that all goes well. See you then.

What’s Going On In Alley Oop? Is Alley Oop going to Time Jail? November 2019 – February 2020


Alley Oop is not going to Time Jail, and won’t be for at least a year. If we can take the recent narrative at its word.

Thanks for checking this plot recap, readers angry about Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop. If you’re reading this much later than about May 2020, I probably have a more up-to-date plot recap at this link. Also if there’s any news about the strip I should put it at an essay at that link. And, I look at mathematically-themed comic strips on my other blog every week. You might like that too.

Alley Oop.

11 November 2019 – 1 February 2020

Alley Oop, Ooola, Ava, and Doctor Wonmug blipped out of existence last time I checked in. It wasn’t my fault. It makes a clean break point for my recaps, though. Thanks for writing it that way!

They awake in a glass cube. It’s a Time Prison. Ollie Arp comes in to explain things. He’s from Universe 3. Last summer Ollie Arp and Eeena had given Our Heroes a ticket and a warning to stop screwing with the timeline. Alley Oop and Oona then accidentally created an alternate timeline where the tortoise-like Cutie-Pies never went extinct two million years ago. They undid that, but, still. Ava’s released, as not having anything to do with this nonsense. But Alley Oop, Ooona, and Wonmug get sent to the Multiversal Court, in Universe 68, “the worst universe of them all”.

Gas Cloud: 'Hi, guys, I'm Petey! I'll be your legal counsel for the trial.' Wonmug: 'But ... you're a gas cloud?' Petey: 'Yeah, kind of funny, right? But this is how people look in Universe 248. Don't worry, though. I got my law degree from Gas Harvard.' Alley Oop, licking his lips: 'You smell like ham.' Petey: 'Thank you! In my universe that makes me VERY attractive!'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 2nd of December, 2019. Ha ha, it would be really funny to think about how people would turn into vapors, wouldn’t it? Unless …

It’s a world of enormous crystals continuously playing the Piña Colada Song. Of DMV lines that wrap around the globe twice. And time criminals. Ollie Arp is the prosecutor, holding this Alley Oop for all the comic strip’s nonsense since Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers took over. Their defense: Petey, a cloud of gas from Universe 248. Their judge: Bushney, a tough, old-fashioned computer judge. It looks like an Atari 2600, so, do you get the nerd joke there? (Atari was founded by Nolan K Bushnell.) The jury is volunteers from the multiverse. It includes at least one Cutie-pie, and one of the Time Raccoons that Dr Wonmug created.

Ollie Arp: 'Will the witness please state his name?' Alley Oop: 'I'm Alley Oop, from Universe 1.' Arp: 'That's the newspaper universe, correct?' Oop: 'Gosh! There's so much color an' stuff here!' Arp: 'Mr Oop, PLEASE try to focus.' Oop: 'Y'can't tell me what to do, you hoity-toity lawyer type!' Atari 2600 Judge: 'I'll allow it.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 12th of December, 2019. I don’t know if by ‘the newspaper universe’ we’re being told that Alley Oop doesn’t run in newspapers anymore. I imagine that it hasn’t been a common newspaper comic in ages — I know when I was a kid it maybe ran in the New York Daily News and I’m not sure about that — but I haven’t seen a declaration about whether it is just provided digitally anymore.

Ollie Arp calls witnesses. Mostly from universes made worse by the side effects of Our Heroes’s nonsense. And then, the 12th of December, he calls Alley Oop of Universe-1. That is, the original Alley Oop, the one from the newspapers. The one V T Hamlin created and the continuity we were following through to the end of Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s run. The trial itself is almost an apologia to old fans angry with Sayers and Lemon’s strip. This brief appearance makes it even more explicit. The original Alley Oop wasn’t eliminated by their new run and this Universe-2 stuff. It’s still there, ready to enjoy. Someone else could even pick it up later, unharmed, and do new stuff in it. Anyway, Petey the Gas Cloud Lawyer is excited to meet Newspaper Alley Oop.

Sensing disaster, Alley Oop, Oona, and Dr Wonmug flee the trial. And go looking for help. The helper: Dr Wonmug of Universe-68. Albart Wonmug, son of that universe’s Elbert. Albart Wonmug seems to have nothing but plasma balls. It’s a cover. When Albart learns the gang is fleeing their Time Crime trial he reveals The Wonmug Elite Club.

Wonmug: 'Friends, I'm back! Albart has given us a device to escape our trial.' Alley Oop: 'Is it a stink bomb?' Ooona: 'Or a robotic tiger, to eat the jurors?' Oop: 'Oh, I know! It's a miniature volcano that will cover the courthouse in lava.' Ooona: 'I bet it's T-Rex costumes to throw them off our trail.' Wonmug, to Albart: 'Don't worry. They'll tire themselves out before too long.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 10th of January, 2020. Actual depiction of your favorite pop-culture hang out podcast, as the two zany hosts go riffing each other and the one responsible host bides their time to get them back on topic.

He sets up Universe-2 Wonmug with a Universe Transit Device. It’ll get his party to and from other universes. And can lock that universe so nobody else can go in or out of it for a year. Some of the universes are obviously dangerous: Universe-44 invented cold sores “and the rest of us still haven’t forgiven them”. Some are wackily dangerous: Universe-129 is nothing but puppies and it’s too adorable to leave of your own free will. Alley Oop grabs the Universe Transport Device and whisks them off to Universe-27.

Giant, toothy slug-monster running towards Our Heroes. Wonmug, using the Universe Transport Device: 'So long, Slug Dimension!' They bloop away. Slug Monster: 'Oh, man, they looked *so* delicious!' Human trapped in slug belly: 'And I *really* could've used some friends in here!' Slug Monster: 'QUIET, you!'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 18th of January, 2020. Actual scene from the Netflix series reboot of The Creeping Terror.

Universe-27 is a nice enough place. Idyllic. Utopian even, if you’re one of the gigantic slug monsters eating the terrorized human population. Our Heroes get some distance and flee that universe. It’s a moment I disliked. I grant there’s not much three people with the contents of their pockets could do about a nightmare world of giant human-eating slug monsters. But they ought to feel some urge to try. It’s one thing to be foolish and cowardly heroes. It’s another thing to be foolish and cowardly without the heroism. Belatedly, Alley Oop thinks he could have made friends with one of the giant murder slugs, which is something.

They land in Universe-900. There’s dinosaurs, even though Wonmug says “we didn’t travel through time”. Also as if you could make “the present” in two universes a coherent thought. Well, Alley Oop thinks it’s the handsome universe: everyone in it looks like him. Hundreds of Alley Oops gather silently around. It’s suspicious.

Surrounded by duplicates of Alley Oop in a Moo-like setting. Wonmug: 'There's something not quite right about these Alleys.' Ooona: 'Yeah, they're not talking.' Our Alley Oop: 'Maybe they're just THINKING about stuff. ... What? It's POSSIBLE!'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 23rd of January, 2020. This is the zany alternate universe that I was most interested in seeing more of. But I’m also all right with just leaving it at this. Not every fun little idea needs to be filled out more.

They flee. Back in Universe-900, the Oops regret everyone waiting for someone else to say something first. Too bad; apparently the Alley Oop Universe had a couple things sorted out. Our Heroes, anyway, end up back in Universe-2. Ooona uses the device, locking the rest of the multiverse out of Universe-2 for a year. Again, as if that concept makes sense, especially when the others in the multiverse are time travellers. Anyway, this is all a lead-up to their new mission … which we’ll see over the coming months. It’s another suspiciously well-timed break point for these recaps. I don’t know.

Next Week!

Here’s what I do know: Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity, is next on the schedule for plot recaps. This is the storyline about teams of suspiciously well-behaved art students tromping through the jungle until The Ghost Who Walks punches them to their senses. And events do look like they’re reaching a climax so this is another well-timed plot recap point. As ever, unless breaking news or me deciding to sleep in on Saturday gets in the way. Thanks for reading.

What’s Going On In The Amazing Spider-Man? When is Spider-Man coming out of reruns? November 2019 – January 2020


If The Amazing Spider-Man ever returns from reruns of Roy Thomas and Larry Lieber’s work, I’ll share the news here. I’m still figuring to do these plot recaps, and figure to have another around April 2020. So if you’re looking for what the story is after about April, try that link. And, as usual, my other blog keeps up on the mathematically-themed comic strips.

The Amazing Spider-Man.

4 November 2019 – 26 January 2020.

Spider-Man, with the assistance of Black Widow, was fighting the Hobgoblin. The bizarre thing is that Harry Osborn swears he’s not the Hobgoblin. And Spider-Man believes him. But how can this be? Unless there’s someone besides Osborn’s psychiatrist, Dr Mark Stone, in the story?

Spider-Man, unmasked, tied to the bat-glider: 'Don't you remember, Harry? You and I used to be friends.' Hobgoblin: 'Yes, until as Spider-Man you KILLED MY FATHER!' Spider-Man: 'I TOLD you, he destroyed himself trying to kill ME.' Hobgoblin: 'NO! You're a murderer! And you're going to pay --- by becoming a flying bomb!'
Larry Lieber and Roy Thomas’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 8th of November, 2019. Hobgoblin, and this strip, consistently called this flying bomb thing a bat-glider and it lets you know how much money Harry Osborn has that he can license that trademark from DC.

The Hobgoblin uses a decoy to make Spider-Man hug a bomb. While Spidey’s knocked out, Hobgoblin handcuffs him to a goofy-looking flying bomb, and unmasks him. Hobgoblin stops long enough to cackle about how he used to be Harry Osborn. And he’s going to shoot this bat-glider rocket carrying Spidey into Mary Jane and Black Widow. Spidey notices the plot point dropped there. Osborn’s got fair reason to kill Spidey, who he blames for killing his father, and Mary Jane, his ex-fiancée. What’s he got against Black Widow?

Spider-Man, chained to the bat-glider rocket, thinking: 'I did it! I crumpled the main exhaust! And the bat-glider's veering off to noe side! But is it in time to avoid hitting MJ and Natasha?' Black Widow, 'DOWN, MJ!' Mary Jane, shoved over: 'OOOPH'
Larry Lieber and Roy Thomas’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 20th of November, 2019. Mary Jane’s dressed like that because they’re filming stunts for Marvella 2: The Mysterious Island.

On the rocket flight Spider-Man realizes he can’t get his hands free of the chains. But he can … somehow … do thigh-squeezes mighty enough to crumple the rocket exhaust. This should send the glider off-course, although it’s drawn like it actually sends the rocket right for Mary Jane and Black Widow. Well, it’s not like he had much time to change course. But he misses the whole building they’re on. And Black Widow uses her gadgets to send the glider flying straight up, giving Spider-Man time to try breaking out again. Turns out he couldn’t break the cuffs holding him to the rocket, but he could break the rocket fuselage holding the cuffs, which makes sense.

The rocket explodes, or falls apart, and Black Widow catches Spider-Man in the falling. Then the two get a battle against Hobgoblin. This goes well, except that Hobgoblin’s gimmick is flaming jack-o-lantern bombs that explode on contact and that’s a bit goofy. Anyway, they catch Hobgoblin and unmask him. It’s a confused Harry Osborn inside. This makes Spider-Man remember there’s another person in the story. And makes Black Widow identify “Dr Mark Stone”: he’s really … Dmitri Gregorin!

Black Widow: 'You're lucky, Gregorin, that I don't toss you out a window!' Dr Stone/Dmitri Gregorin: 'But --- how did Spider-Man know who I WAS?' Spider-Man: 'When Osborn hesitated between blasting the Black Widow versus the guy he thinks murdered his father --- I knew something was fishy!'
Larry Lieber and Roy Thomas’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 10th of December, 2019. “Basically, any time I encounter someone who doesn’t want to kill me on sight, I know something is up!”

They explain who? soon enough: He’s the former Soviet spy who’d killed Black Widow’s friends years ago. She’s been hunting him. He pulls a gun on them, so, Spider-Man webs the gun away from him and Black Widow clobbers him. And now we get explanations. After a lot of plastic surgery Gregorin had set himself up a new life. But he heard Black Widow was after him. And here he had Harry Osborn, trying to cure his obsessive hatred of Spider-Man, as a patient. Why not hypnotize Osborn into an obsessive hatred of Black Widow instead?

Black Widow points out how the laws of pulp writing say it’s impossible to hypnotize people to commit murder. Stone/Gregorin points out, scientific progress! It’s an answer I love. Meanwhile, Harry Osborn, dragged along to all this, says he’s changed. Spider-Man and Black Widow’s great efforts to stop him from hypno-murdering people have done something. He doesn’t hold Spider-Man responsible for his father’s death, or hate him anymore. Or hate anyone. It’s a great moment of hope for us all. And hey, isn’t it great that a supervillain has had his obsessions broken, and he’ll never lapse back into trouble-making ever again?

Filming on Mary Jane’s movie, Marvella 2: The Spy Who Shagged Me. And Black Widow drops the mention that she knows Peter Parker is Spider-Man. But she’s not going to go blathering the secre. Except here, in earshot of everyone else at the wrap party.


And with the 29th of December we transition to the next, and current, story. It first ran from the 23rd of August, 2015 through to about the 14th of February, 2016. So unless Marvel and Comics Kingdom are planning to interrupt this mid-story, these repeats are going to last until the middle of June. So I could pre-write the next two of these, and save myself a rush before deadline in April and in July, but I would never be that kind to myself. The story after that is a team-up with Doctor Strange, against Xandu. Then a team-up with Ant-Man, against Elihas Starr. And then a team-up with Rocket Raccoon, against Ronan the Accuser, which is where I started these plot recaps. If we get to there without new strips I’ll probably drop The Amazing Spider-Man from this series.


That’s far in the future and in the past. The current day past has Marvel Comics’s first great ambiguous villain: Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner. Since 1939 he occasionally pops out of Atlantis to condemn the surface-dwellers to death for their crimes against the sea. And, since 1939, the surface-dwellers fend him off but admit he’s not wrong exactly. In-between punishing the surface-dwellers for their arrogance he turns ally, and then goes quiet for a while. It is part of the rich tapestry of nature’s cycles, like El Niño-Southern Oscillation or the monsoons that sweep over southeast Asia.

Peter, whispering: 'OK, MJ, I'll hear you out a little longer.' Namor: 'I first clashed with you humans in the year you call 1940 ... but a brave young policewoman named Betty Dean persuaded me not to decimate your New York City!' [ This 1940 scene gets a panel. ] Mary Jane: 'Did he say he attacked the surface world 75 years ago?' Peter: 'His people age verrry slowly, honey.'
Larry Lieber and Roy Thomas’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 8th of January, 2020. I get that there’s a lot of crazypants stuff happening in the Marvel Universe but you’d think “hey, remember that time Atlantis tried to sink Manhattan?” would be something that turns up on, like, the Earth-77013 Forgotten New York web site all the time. It would at least rate as much mention as the Black Tom explosion, anyway.

So Mary Jane, with a couple free weeks, buys an ocean cruise. Peter Parker comes along. They’re a day away from the Virgin Islands when a giant tentacle something reaches over the edge of the boat. Peter Parker’s ready to grab his Spider-Suit when Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner, appears. Namor declares that he has spent 75 years warning the surface-dwellers about how they’re destroying the oceans, and he’s had enough. So he’s taking over the world, starting with this cruise ship.

The ship’s captain tries to punch Namor, which goes as well as you’d think. Mary Jane interrupts Namor before he can kill the captain. Namor’s smitten with such a surface-dweller, who reminds him of Betty Dean. Dean stood up to Namor in 1940 (if you believe the comic strip) or 1939 (if you believe the fan wiki). She did much to have Namor bring Atlantis into World War II as co-belligerent with the Allies. So that’s a nice person to remind someone of. Then Namor declares that he shall marry this not-so-mere woman.

Namor: 'If your husband is content to have you sail the seas without him then I will make you a far better mate than he does!' Mary Jane: 'Let GO of me!' Peter: 'You heard her, Namor! LET HER GO!' Namor: 'Hah! I knew my actions would bring even the most CRAVEN spouse out of hiding!'
Larry Lieber and Roy Thomas’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 22nd of January, 2020. Yeah, part of what makes Peter Parker Spider-Man is that everybody negs on him, but the Newspaper comic seems like it hits this beat especially hard, and it is always funny.

Mary Jane shows superheroic courage in not laughing in his face. Besides, she’s married. “Oh yeah? To some invisible boyfriend in Canada, I bet,” he answers, and keeps on this marriage idea until Peter Parker steps up. And so, as Mary Jane was trying to avoid, they start Superhero Battling. Difficulty level: Peter has to keep announcing how, like, the deck is slippery, that’s why he can knock over Namor. Not because he has the proportional strength of a spider.

How will this fight end? How will this cruise end? How will it get to an Atlantean child in a New York City hospital held at gunpoint by the Army? How will the story go on until June? There are at least two ways to find out.

Next Week!

Last time I looked at Alley Oop and company, got blipped out of existence. How’s that working for them? It’s Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop up for recapping next week, unless something demands my attention more.

What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? Did Chet Ballard get his comeuppance yet? October 2019 – January 2020


If you’re reading this after about April 2020 there’s probably a more current plot recap for Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp at this link. If you’re reading this in about January 2020, please carry on.

Gil Thorp.

21 October 2019 – 12 January 2020.

The standings at the end of last quarter, back in football season. Chet Ballard doesn’t see why his stepson Charlie Roh isn’t getting more play time. He’s also overheard Chance Macy, who is getting more play time, talk with his grandparents about whether he’s “blowtop mad”. He wants to know what the heck that means, but heck if my essay helped him much. It means uncontrollably mad, the kind of mad that makes you a danger. And why it is Coach Gil Thorp favors the guy who doesn’t fumble so much. Luckily, though, Chet Ballard is also head of the Milford school board, so he can look up Chance Macy’s Permanent Record.

Macy’s Permanent Record reveals a lot of behavior issues, and time at a “special school for problem kids”. Ballard’s wife points out, how is this his business again? Carol Other School Board Person points out there are privacy laws in this state. Ballard agrees to give it a rest. By “a rest” he means “a call to Milford Local Newspaper reporter Marjie Ducey”. Ducey doesn’t see where Macy’s history belongs in the newspaper. Local Newspaper hasn’t carried Gil Thorp since that Left Behind guy stopped writing it. But she wonders about the strange voice mail.

Gil Thorp: 'Legally, I probably shouldn't be telling you all this, so don't turn me in. Poor Chance said, 'I'm sorry I'm a bad teammate, but who'd want to hurt me?'' Mimi Thorp: 'That sad, sweet child.' Gil: 'And the fact is, he's a great teammate. But he doesn't believe it.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 2nd of November, 2019. I choose to believe Neal Rubin is making a wry and self-aware comment in a story that’s built entirely on professionals disregarding a student’s privacy.

Thorp goes to Macy’s home to share what he knows about this leak. Macy takes the news well, but worries about who would want to harass him like this. At the game against Madison, Macy steps aside with an ankle injury, giving Charlie Roh a touchdown. Gil Thorp overheard Ballard saying “all the yards, none of the baggage”, and has his idea who called in the Chance Macy story. Marjie Ducey and Education reporter Niah Peters try to figure out who made the call, but there’s few good leads to follow.

So Chet Ballard, needing to do something dumb, goes to the dumb expert, sports radio broadcaster Marty Moon. He shares his concerns about “irregularities” with one of Thorp’s players. While he does this, Marjie Ducey visits Carol Other School Board Person and learns her last name is Forsman. Also that Chet Ballard was telling people about Chance Macy’s Permanent Record. The reporters ask Superintendent Howard Elston to check this out. The Superintendant asks the IT guy to check if Ballard accessed Chance Macy’s records. The IT guy points out Ballard didn’t delete his browser history and there you are.

To Ducey, Ballard declares that he didn’t do it, and besides he had to do it. So the story comes out: a Milford school board member inappropriately accessed a Permanent Record. And left a weird throaty voice message at the paper. And this anonymized version is the hit scandal of the season. Superintendent Elston is not amused by any of this, especially when he works out that Ballard wanted his stepson more play time. Roh figures out that the unnamed board member was his stepfather. Marty Moon figures out that Ballard’s “concerns” were concern-trolling. And when Marty Moon sees through your scheme, you’re through. Ballard resigns from the school board.

Mrs Roh-Ballard: 'Next time I tell you not to do something stupid, you're going to listen. Right? Good. And you're going to apologize to Chance Macy *and* your stepson.' Chet Ballard: 'But I was only trying to --- ' Mrs Roe-Ballard: 'Catch up, pal. No one cares.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 2nd of December, 2019. Ballard does listen, and apologizes to the people he’s hurt with his selfishness. So this puts a Gil Thorp character one up on four real-life people I had counted as close friends for twenty years.

Roh apologizes to Macy. And Macy accepts, because he knew nobody in high school could care about the school board. Roh offers to treat him to a celebration of the season at local teen hangout The Bucket. (This on Ballard’s credit card, which he really had no choice but to lend.) Macy points out he’s not good with loud and packed places. Roh suggests, you know, a quiet celebration at Ricozzi’s. So all ends well enough, except for Chet Ballard.


The new and current story started the 9th of December, with the trials of Alexa Watson. She had a perfectly good name when she was born seventeen(?) years ago. Now it’s a menace. She’d use her middle name except that’s “Siri”. And her mother’s maiden name is “OK Google” so she’s got nowhere to go.

Chris: 'Yeah, Teddy Demarco is a pain, but why add to his problems?' Friend: 'That's a very mature attitude, Chris.' Other friend: 'But I'd still stuff him in a trash can.' [ On the court, conversely ] Thorp: 'One good thing we've seen is more aggression from Chris Schuring.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 20th of December, 2019. Also, like, Teddy’s harassment this time was pointing out how Chris could have averaged four points per game, like he did last season, without even showing up. So Chris probably realizes that Teddy will spend his adult life realizing he was a fantastically incompetent school bully.

Anyway, she has a sympathetic friend, Phoebe Keener, who’s outgrown that unicorn and joined the girls basketball team. Phoebe’s rebuffing the greetings of Chris Schuring, her rival for valedictorian. Schuring, a slight member of the boys basketball team, gets mocked by Teddy Demarco and his friends, but won’t take that bait. Instead he puts it all into being aggressive enough on the basketball court that Coach Thorp notices. He misses a last-second shot against Springfield, but it’s close. In parallel, Watson is playing well but not quite well enough. So both Thorps have been thinking about how to coach their players.

And that’s where the story is: Schuring and Keener are academic rivals. She takes it more seriously than he does. Demarco is mocking Schuring. Schuring’s putting his response into his practice games instead. And Alexa Watson sometimes goes half a day without getting a joke about her names. How will all this tie together? Too soon to say. Come back around April, most likely, and we’ll have a better idea.

Milford Schools Watch

Of course, Milford is not anywhere; it is every high school, everywhere, except that they say “playdowns” there. But we do know there are other schools around it. Here’s the ones that have recently been named, usually in the course of competition:

Next Week!

How much of everything has happened in Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker since October? I’ll try and reveal how much next week. And if you’re just interested in comic strips mentioning mathematical topics, please try my other blog even this week. Thanks for reading.

What’s Going On In Rex Morgan? Did Mindy give birth yet and who’s Aunt Tildy? October 2019 – January 2020


Hi, person looking to find out what’s going on in Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D.. This plot recap will get you up to speed for early 2020. If you’re reading this in or after April 2020 there’s probably a more up-to-date plot recap at this link.

Any old week, though, there’s likely fresh mathematically-themed comic strips reviewed on my other blog. Thanks for considering reading that.

Rex Morgan.

13 October 2019 – 5 January 2020.

Last time I checked in we were at the start of a new plot. Mindy Wise’s pregnancy had come to term. Also Mindy Wise was pregnant, to her and her husband’s surprise. She thought, given her polycystic ovarian syndrome, she couldn’t get pregnant. No; it was improbable is all.

The strip told Mindy’s pregnancy in flashback. There’s good reasons for this. The point of the story is that she had a difficult pregnancy, with many alarming incidents. The point was that her having a safe delivery was uncertain, and every incident made it less probable. If you suppose Terry Beatty is too kindhearted a writer to give a pleasant person like Mindy Wise (or Buck) a bad end, then none of this could work for you. If you remember he had Millie Gray die days after reconnecting with Hank Harwood, you’re less sure about how kind a world Beatty writes.

[Rex has met the doctors who ran tests on Mindy.] Rex: 'Let me try to summarize their findings. You're exhibiting some classic symptoms of pulmonary hypertension.' Mindy: 'And those are?' Rex: 'Your pulmonary pressure is high. Shortness of breath. Dizziness. *But* you don't have clubbing in your fingers or swollen ankles, and no chronic cough. So there's reluctance to diagnose this as pulmonary hypertension.' Mindy: 'So if it's not that, then what?' Rex: 'I suggest the best course is to proceed as if this is PH, and take all the precautions to keep you and the baby safe.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 3rd of November, 2019. So yes, this is some more of Rex Morgan not taking the lead in doing medicine in his own comic. But he is a family practitioner, after all, and is most plausibly able to explain what specialists know to a lay audience. Also I appreciate that the diagnosis is a confusing thing, with uncertain evidence. This reads as more real to me than a clear-cut case would be.

But also: why tell this in flashback? I believe because its events have to span about nine months of character time. This could be told in sequence, interspersed with other stories. But most of the recent Rex Morgan, M.D. stories have been things that span a couple of days. Maybe a few weeks for the Serena Galexia/Rene Belluso story. The incompetent coffee-shop robbery didn’t even take a day. Mister Cranky and the emergency plane landing took something like a week, from emergency to Rex Morgan getting his suitcase back.

Either Mindy’s pregnancy has to fit in incidents in-between stories for years of reader time or it has to be in flashback. Yes, it’s the same amount of character time since we last saw the Wises. If I haven’t missed something that was their Las Vegas Elvis wedding, in summer 2018. But most readers are forgiving. If you don’t force them to acknowledge an inconsistent timeline, they’re mostly not going to notice.

So, incidents. Mindy fell down stairs and had a small placental tear. With bed rest that healed up. They get back to normal, and Mindy goes back to work at the antiques shop. It doesn’t last: Mindy’s exhausted at work, and gets dizzy. There’s a battery of tests. The cardiologist believes that it’s pulmonary hypertension, but the evidence is inconclusive.

Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 19th of November, 2019. Actual footage of me guessing to my love that the windshield wiper probably didn’t actually need the part that just flew off while we were merging onto the Interstate. Spoiler: the windshield wiper did need that part.

Rex Morgan gives the summary. The safest course is to treat it as though it is pulmonary hypertension. Mindy is to have bed rest until the pregnancy comes to term. Also, no salt. Also, only lukewarm showers. And no standing for more than 15 minutes at a time. I could probably manage the no-salt diet but the rest of this sounds resolutely miserable to me, too. Also, it’ll be a caesarian section, as safer than a natural birth. Also, several ultrasounds a week.

Buck tries to stay positive and supportive. So does his son Corey. There’s still trouble, though. A late echocardiogram shows her heart’s swollen. The doctors recommend moving up the C-section. And that’s where we get to the start of the story’s frame. Rex Morgan isn’t part of the C-Section team, of course. He’s just there to provide moral support and exposition.

[The C-Section is under way!] Surgeon: 'Baby's coming out now. Mr Wise, you might want to get your camera ready.' Buck: 'Oh my!' Assistant: 'Here's your new baby girl.' Buck: 'You did it, honey. She's here!' (Takes a picture.) Mindy: 'Our girl.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 5th of December, 2019. By the way, this is the first that the Wises know the sex of their child; it had never given a clear sonogram despite the many examinations Mindy had during her troubled pregnancy. There had been some scenes of Buck trying to avoid thinking up names for the child, and that they didn’t know whether to anticipate a boy or girl was one point he used to not think about the question.

And then? You know what? It’s all pretty easy. The child’s delivered in a few days of reader time. Mindy’s blood pressure drops to normal, and her heart returns to normal size. The cardiologist supposes this was pregnancy-induced pulmonary hypertension. It’s not liable to be a lingering problem. This sounds to me like medical stuff, so I can’t dispute its plausibility. And now they can think of baby names. Mindy proposes Angela, and that’s that.


That, the 16th of December, wraps up Mindy’s pregnancy. The next story was Christmas with the Morgans. Young Sarah proposes getting a puppy. They have the one dog already, after all, so what’s one more? She presses this quite hard. Her parents resist for a few days, reader and character time, and then decide to adopt from the animal shelter. Sarah names the dog Candy.

Child's-style drawing of Sarah Morgan's Diary: 'We had a nice Christmas. Johnny's grandparents came to dinner. We got a LOT of presents. And we got a NEW PUPPY!' (Shows Sarah hugging a dog, surrounded by hearts.)
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 26th of December, 2019. Johnny is the Morgan’s other boy, adopted in a story in early 2018. Arnold and Helen are Johnny’s biological grandparents, who briefly contested the adoption before concluding they weren’t up to handling a new kid.

And the 29th of December starts the new adventure, as an explosively energetic woman arrives at the door. It’s June’s Auntie Tildy, come for the visit promised in the letter they never received. She’s not “really” June’s aunt. (I grew up with a lot of friends-of-my-parents dubbed aunt and uncle. A part of me can’t believe in people who try to pin these words down to specific blood relations.) She’s just one of those vague relations who’s having a more exciting life than the rest of us, and she’s here for … who knows how long, and for what purpose? We should have some idea by March. See you then.

Next Week!

So what does it mean if Chance Ballard ever got “blowtop mad”? What has the head of the school board found out about Coach Thorp? How’s the football season turning out? All this and more next week, I expect, when I look at Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp, barring surprises. And until then there’s recaps and news about all the story strips here.

What’s Going On In Mary Worth? Is Iris pregnant? Is Estelle daft? September – December 2019


No, Iris is not pregnant, according to the information we’ve been given to date. Is Estelle daft? That depends on your feelings about plunging into dating someone after you know he’s got a lot of problems. People with problems deserve the chance at dates too, though. The issue is how they cope with their problems, and what their potential partners are able to cope with.

So as that warns you, I’m getting you up to mid-December 2019 in Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth. If you’re reading this after about March 2020 I likely have a more up-to-date Mary Worth plot recap here. And I should have, this week and any week, some mathematically-themed comic strips to discuss on my other blog. Now on to Charterstone in detail.

Mary Worth.

29 September – 21 December 2019.

When I last checked in, end of September, Mary Worth was ready for a new story. It’s been on that story ever since. It’s a story about Wilbur Weston.

Wilbur’s returned home. He was interviewing Mozambique cyclone survivors for his column about people who aren’t dead. He’s glad to see Estelle again. They’d started dating after Estelle’s whole Internet-Romance-scam debacle. He didn’t stay in touch like he meant while out of the country, despite the Internet being a thing. I can’t snark here, since I’ve got e-mails dating back to 2007 that I keep telling myself I’ll answer someday.

That said, all Wilbur wants to do is stay in with Estelle. He brings over some wine coolers and they watch a boxing documentary and the news that he used to be a sports writer. I didn’t know that. Also she hates boxing, which she doesn’t bother mentioning. So she counts that a lousy date and wonders if she’s wasted her time with like three Wilbur dates. Mary Worth reassures her that Wilbur is great, you have give him a chance. They have a couple dates singing together, like they used to do.

Mary Worth: 'Take your time to get to know Wilbur. He's a great guy!' Estelle: 'I'm doing that. And I'm not rushing into anything. Sometimes, though, I wonder about us.' Mary: 'If you spend more time with him, you'll see he's an earnest guy with a few endearing quirks.'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 10th of October, 2019. “Look, you don’t become one of Santa Royale’s leading survival-and-mayonnaise bloggers without making a long string of life choices. Anyone understands that.”

Meanwhile, Iris. She used to date Wilbur. But their relationship-pause while he was off interviewing world survivors turned into a breakup. (That was in time for him to fall for a romance scam in Colombia.) She’s taken to dating Zak, and quite likes the arrangement. He’s pleasant enough, and enthusiastically supportive of Iris when she complains of exhaustion.

Iris and Wilbur run into each other at the pharmacy. Wilbur says how he’s dating Estelle, who’s great in every way and would Iris and her toy boy like to double-date at this My Thai restaurant next week? Or every single week until Iris sees how way awesome a catch he is? Three times a week until she sees it? Mmm? Iris can’t think of any way this might go wrong, somehow.

Zak: 'A double date? Sure, sounds cool.' Wilbur: 'We'll get together next week! I want to show Estelle off to you guys!' Iris: 'Okay.' Wilbur: 'I'll call you, Iris.' Iris: 'Take care, Wilbur.' Wilbur: 'I look forward to seeing you guys then!' (Thinking) 'That'll teach her to look at me with pity! She'll see that I'm over her ... and dating an amazing new woman!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 27th of October, 2019. So, first, between this and the daily strip that it’s recapping, you get some idea how much more into the idea Wilbur is than Iris is. But also … who is it says the double date sounds cool? That is Zak, right? In which case, it’s a little embarrassing he’s not picking up on Iris’s uncertainty about whether this is a good idea. But I do like that he values being on good terms with someone who used to be important to Iris and that she’s still communicating with.

Ahead of the double date, Wilbur realizes he doesn’t know what the heck he’s doing. He has a drink, and another, and follows it with 82 more while berating himself for breaking up with Iris even though he’s lucky to be with Estelle. Estelle finds Wilbur ranting while drunk, and somehow doesn’t imagine calling off the date.

It’s the fiasco you might imagine. Wilbur starts obnoxious, mocking Zak’s order of tofu pad Thai. Then he gets offensive, asking if the Zachary he was named for wasn’t his mothers friend but actually his father. Then he gets both clumsy and creepy, knocking wine onto Iris and getting handsy cleaning it off. (And, in the tradition of dull white guys, he does it while trying to imitate Something Cool From The Matrix.) Finally he passes out. Estelle pours him into his apartment.

After this mess Estelle wonders if she and Wilbur have a future. Or much of a past, since they’ve been on like five dates total. Her nightmare includes some funny pictures of Wilbur Babies boxing. Glorious nonsense.

[ When Estelle hears music coming from outside her window ] (She looks out at night, hearing the Pina Colada song. It's Wilbur, standing in the rain, holding a boom box over his head, doing the 'Say Anything' boombox scene.
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 20th of November, 2019. Put aside the warning sign that Wilbur — whose day job is advice columnist by the way — thinks it’s ever an acceptable idea to emulate a romantic comedy character’s behavior. The reason he’s doing The Piña Colada Song is that it’s one of the songs he and Estelle first bonded over, so that at least is paying attention his actual relationship.

Between the fiasco and the nightmares Estelle wants a break from Wilbur. He sends her apologies and begs for a fresh chance. She turns to Mary Worth for help, since she’s broken into her apartment and asked what Estelle needs to be told to do already. Estelle explains about the fiasco. Mary Worth explains how oh, yeah, you’ll get a certain amount of humiliating public drunken spectacles from a Wilbur Weston. Which you’d think Mary Worth might have dropped a warning about. I like, in principle, that Mary Worth isn’t comfortable saying bad stuff about a friend, even to protect another friend. But Mary Worth’s defining power is setting relationships right. To not have warned Estelle of a hazard this big violates her brand. I’m not saying alcoholics can’t have relationships. I am saying their potential partners have to know what they’re getting into and be able to judge whether they’re able to handle that. Mary Worth isn’t shocked that he was disastrously drunk. She says “that tends to happen”. Not communicating “that tends to happen” warnings is how your boyfriend’s friend can assault you in your home.

[ As Mary leaves her friend's place ] Mary Worth: 'Estelle, I know Wilbur, and he's a better man than he displayed at dinner the other night!' [ Meanwhile, speaking of better men ] Estelle, pulling on pants: 'AUGGH! These USED to fit!' Zak: 'They probably shrunk in the dryer. Just change your pants, Iris! I'll see you after my meeting!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 25th of November, 2019. Warning sign that you’re really screwed up: when the Mary Worth Narration Box starts mocking you. Yowza. Anyway, maybe we snarky readers were jumping implausibly to the “Is Iris pregnant?” question, given the default social mores of the Mary Worth comic universe. But then what activity is being coded here by her putting her pants on in the middle of the day?

Back to Iris and Zak. She’s not only tired. Her pants don’t fit. And every snarky reader got to asking: wait, is Iris pregnant? Outside wedlock? In Mary Worth? Awesome! Then her hair starts falling out. She checks with her doctor, Riverdale’s Archie Andrews, who explains nah, it’s menopause. Well, he doesn’t say the word “menopause” for some reason, but that’s what he’s getting at.

Iris decides she can’t bother Zak with how she’s old. It would drag him down. Zak tries to be supportive considering she won’t tell him what’s wrong. She says she needs space and that they need time apart.

Zak goes to a bar to mope. Wilbur walks in. They sit together and talk some while watching the US-Cuba soccer match. The US team wins. Their resolve inspires Zak to not give up on his relationship with Iris. It also inspires Wilbur to do give up on his drinking. And, having had a normal human interaction, the two kind of like each other.

Meanwhile Estelle’s lonely and admits missing Wilbur. Mary Worth stops in with a bowl full of fruitcake and meddle cream. Estelle says, even putting aside Wilbur’s drunken fiasco, he’s still way too hung up on Iris. Mary Worth admits yeah, he is, but he might get past that. Also past the drunkenness. You like him anyway, right? Mary Worth means, like, he’s unique. Estelle grants he is. She just doesn’t know that he’s lasting-love kind of unique. Yet she has already invested in this relationship, like, a half-dozen dates over the course of seven months now. Why give that up?

[ When Estelle visits Mary ] Mary Worth: 'How are you, my friend?' Estelle: 'I've got the blues.' Mary, pulling a bundt cake pan with gloppy stuff in it: 'I know just the thing to cheer you up! Would you like a slice of fruitcake, Estelle?' Estelle: 'Sure. Tis the season.'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 17th of December, 2019. So you know I’m not taking any hack jokes here about fruitcake being bad. I want hack jokes about Wilbur being one of Santa Royale’s leading mayonnaise bloggers.

That’s brought things to this weekend, and to what’s got me annoyed this time. Estelle is having correct and reasonable doubts about Wilbur. She’s the one getting Mary Worthed, though, into not paying attention to some big warning signs. Maybe she is judging Wilbur too harshly for a particularly bad day of his. We have all had a day that would give a stranger the exactly wrong idea of who we are. But I’d like her to get reason to think the dinner date was an exceptional event.

And then here’s where the strip is going wrong. First that Mary Worth is giving advice that muddles someone’s clear thoughts about a problem. It’s that Mary Worth is overlooking Iris, who’s screwing up her own relationship. Zak’s this almost implausibly supportive, eager, understanding man. She’s running away because she doesn’t want him to find out she’s older than he is. The strip is showing some major weakness in Mary Worth’s meddling focus here. I can only hope it gets straightened out soon. We should know by March 2020, when I expect to check in here again.

Dubiously Sourced Mary Worth Sunday Panel Quotes!

I’ll fix the name of this section yet. Here’s things from Brainyquotes that it’s possible that the credited person said at some point in their lives. And yes, the auto care place is still on the same message of “You Can Make A Difference If You Try”, which they’ve been on since April. I’m starting to worry.

  • “Distance means so little, when someone means so much.” — Tom McNeal, 29 September 2019
  • “It’s a good place when all you have is hope and not expectations.” — Danny Boyle, 6 October 2019
  • “Exploring the unknown requires tolerating uncertainty” — Brian Greene, 13 October 2019
  • “Love is the flower you’ve got to let grow.” — John Lennon, 20 October 2019
  • “I think about you, but I don’t say it anymore.” — Marguerite Duras, 27 October 2019
  • “If you always have a crutch, you don’t learn anything.” — Ben Savage, 3 November 2019
  • None! I know, I was shocked too. 10 November 2019
  • “Reality is never as bad as a nightmare, as the mental tortures we inflict on ourselves.” — Sammy Davis Jr, 17 November 2019
  • “Life is a question and how we live it is our answer.” — Gary Keller, 24 November 2019
  • “My doctor gave me six months to live, but when I couldn’t pay the bill he gave me six months more.” — Walter Matthau, 1 December 2019
  • “Nothing makes us so lonely as our secrets.” — Paul Tournier, 8 December 2019
  • “Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson, 15 December 2019
  • “To err is human; to forgive, divine.” — Alexander Pope, 22 December 2019

Next Week!

Did the Ghost Who Walks ever get around to freeing Avaria? Next week, barring surprises, we’ll check in on Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom (Sunday continuity) and find out. Thanks for reading.

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? When does Mark Trail get to punch a yeti? September – December 2019


Mark Trail is getting around to it. At least now, in mid-December 2019. If you’re trying to catch up on James Allen’s Mark Trail after about March 2020 I probably have a more up-to-date plot recap here. Also any news about the strip important enough to break my cycles here.

Mark Trail.

23 September – 14 December 2019

Mark Trail was in the Himalayas, last we saw. Woods and Wildlife editor Bill Ellis sent him there, to cover Dr Harvey Camel’s search for the Yeti. And also the plants and animals that do exist in the Himalayas. In the last flight to Tumligtar, Camel tells Trail and his assistant Genie of his obsession with the Yeti. Trail is skeptical of this whole cryptozoology stuff. He starts to get snide when Camel’s assistant Genie points out Mark Trail himself has written about animals mistakenly thought extinct.

Mark Trail: 'So more than a hundred thousand people watched you catch a three-inch fish ... live? Dr Camel, why would that many people watch you do something so mundane?' Camel: 'Because, Mark, most of them were probably sitting at home living ordinary lives ... they never get out to do anything exciting!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 7th of October, 2019. “Why, Mark, I can take any man I see standing in the road and put rouge on his cheeks and put some powder on his nose. I’ll teach him how to act, I’ll remould and reshape him. I’ll put him in a stage suit and I’ll teach him how to pose!”

Camel tries to push Mark Trail into social media. It’s worked out great for him. Like, a hundred thousand people watched him catch what proved to be a three-inch fish. Camel points out, most people are boring losers who never do anything cool, like have their jeep run off the road by a charging Indian rhinoceros. You know, like is happening to them. So that’s our first Attack of Nature for the story.

They walk to a nearby outpost, where they hook up with a couple elephants to carry them and their gear on. Mark Trail mentions being generally opposed to this kind of animal exploitation. Camel rolls his eyes halfway to Bangladesh at how Trail’s being some kind of unrealistic starry-eyed tree-hugging politically correct weepy momma’s soy boy who’s so out of touch with the hard decisions of real life in Nepal. Anyway, here’s some vampire bats he can tweet.

In Num village, to trade the elephants out for Sherpas, Trail asks Genie, like, is Camel always so … like that? Not that Mark Trail’s being judgemental but he is awfully like that. Anyway, Genie says yeah, gads but he’s like that.

Mark Trail: 'Is Dr Camel always so ... abrasive?' Genie: 'If by abrasive you mean outspoken and cocksure ... yes!' Mark Trail: 'I guess I expected a man so educated to be a bit more introspective and reserved!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 23rd of October, 2019. “I mean, how could you have an advanced degree in anthropology and not be a quiet, soft-spoken person? But instead he acts like he has an advanced degree in electrical engineering and a podcast where he informs people that Jesus Christ never existed and maybe New Testament writers made up the city of ‘Nazareth’ too or something.”

With two Sherpas, Mingma and Pemba, they set out. All on foot, to get to the mountain from the reported Yeti sighting. And Mingma shares from his grandfather’s stories. These are of a hairy man who’d come looking for food during winter months, making a “haunting whistling” and “low growls”. And that his grandfather saw the creature kill a dzo once. A dzo is a hybrid, between a male water buffalo and a female domesticated yak. And as Mingma shares this — in a strip that ran Halloween week — they hear a strange low growl. It’s a wandering dzo.

More walking. At a river stop, Mark Trail asks Genie about Dr Camel’s strange walk. Genie asks why he doesn’t just ask Dr Camel why he’s establishing a story moment where he’ll be mistaken for a Yeti later on. And then a crocodile comes near eating her. There’s our second Attack of Nature for the story. Mark Trail whacks it with a stick, until it leaves. And Camel livestreams the whole thing, to an audience of ten thousand people. Genie’s annoyed. She didn’t expect that Camel would be so much like that. Also, I’m going to imagine, Bill Ellis wonders if this is something they were supposed to have first-publication rights on. Well, I’m sure the people who keep Mark Trail in business are hep to the ways of publishing in a world filled with social media.

More climbing, on the mountain where the Yeti was maybe spotted in April. And rain’s coming in. Mark Trail’s a little concerned, but after all, a flash flood hasn’t screwed up anything since his last adventure. He’s finally talked people into setting up a lean-to when the landslide comes in. So that’s the third Attack of Nature for the story.

Mark Trail: 'I don't mean to sound snarky, Harvey. I understand your followers on social media are important to you. But when you're out in the real world, being aware of your surroundings is more important than social media! Folks have died trying to get pictures of themselves standing too close to wild animals or on cliff edges!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 28th of November, 2019. “You know, people die from doing pointlessly dangerous stuff for social media. Getting too near cliff edges. Provoking wild animals. Live-tweeting themselves watching mockbuster children’s movies. People need to use their common sense and situational awareness more!”

Everyone gets through all right, and the party doesn’t even scatter or anything. Camel admits he’d have loved to livestream that. After a stop in the town of Seduwa, for permits and nature trivia, the party … continues hiking. They set up camp and admire the night sky. Camel talks of how he’s sure they’re close to the Yeti. While lying awake, Mark hears … something. Something whistling. And … some figure, in shadow, on the ridge. Does he see? … no, it’s a bunch of rocks. And this gets Mark Trail kind of mopey.

I understand the folks calling this attitude snide. Mark Trail is, after all, having a trip most people would consider what they’d do with their lottery winnings. Mark Trail’s in the Himalayas, asked to communicate the experience of wildlife we’ll never understand well enough. Mark Trail’s pouting that he’s seen rocks before. But it’s also normal to be homesick, especially going to a very unfamiliar place. Mark Trail’s had a rhinoceros try to kill him. Mark Trail’s had a landslide nearly kill him. Mark Trail’s had to listen to four straight days of Dr Camel saying get on the Twitter, that won’t make you more sad and tired. So especially after fooling himself into thinking he maybe saw a Yeti? In the middle of the night, when all our fears and doubts are at their highest? Yeah, that’s a normal human emotion out of Mark Trail.

And that’s where the story is. Will Mark Trail witness an actual for-real yeti? How many more times is Nature going to almost kill our protagonists? And is “Dirty” Dyer ever going to get around to killing Mark Trail with fire? We might have progress on these questions by the time I check in again, in I figure about twelve weeks.

Sunday Animals Watch

And what animals or plants or natural wonders would Mark Trail like us to be aware of before humans destroy them? The past three months, it’s been these:

  • Hornet-Mimic Hoverflies, 22 September 2019. They’re doing okay except for when the hornets get really fed up with how they repeat everything the hornets say but in this nasal sing-song voice.
  • Pinzon Island (Galapagos) Tortoises, 29 September 2019. Well, it was only a century since the previous baby Pinzon Island tortoise was spotted, but we’ve seen some now and that’s something at least.
  • Regal Moths, 6 October 2019. As larvae they’re “hickory horned devils” and they’re utterly harmless, they tell us.
  • Scale Worms, 13 October 2019. Even Mark Trail calls them “ghastly in appearance” but since they’re hanging out in deep sea trenches we’re probably going to knock them out without even half trying.
  • Angiosperms, 20 October 2019. So here, particularly, a “flowering yam” named the black bat flower which, yeah, is endangered.
  • Spiders and Bats, 27 October 2019. Mark Trail spotlights a video of a bat caught in a spider web, in case you’re skipping reading the Amazing Spider-Man reruns.
  • Palm trees, 3 November 2019. Oh, they’re dying thanks to ‘lethal bronzing’, yet another invasive disease.
  • Tigers, 10 November 2019. There are more furries who suit as tigers at conventions than there are tigers in the real world and I do not want to know whether this claim is actually true, thank you.
  • Quokkas, 17 November 2019. They’re pleasant and not afraid of humans, so it’s probably for the best that Australia’s setting up laws against messing with them.
  • Kodiak and Polar Bears, 24 November 2019. Oh dear, yeah.
  • White Ligers, 1 December 2019. There’s four known to exist. (Young ones, just recently born.)
  • Zebras, 8 December 2019. There’s this pseudomelanistic zebra with these neat spots instead of stripes.
  • Babirusas, 15 December 2019. They’re listed as “threatened”, so it’s probably worse than that.

Next Week!

So how did Wilbur Weston’s extremely drunken double date with Estelle and Iris and Zak turn out, anyway? It’s Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth coming up in a week, barring surprises. Thanks for reading, and thanks for reading my mathematics-themed comic strip talk on my other blog. See you later.

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? Wait, if Slim’s here then who’s playing Santa Claus? September – December 2019


Hi, person who wants to catch up on Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley. This plot recap gets you up to speed for early December 2019. If you’re reading this after about March 2020 there’s probably a more up-to-date plot recap at this link. Good luck finding what you need.

Gasoline Alley.

16 September – 7 December 2019.

Gasoline Alley had started the story of Peter Glabella, substitue physician assistant. He’s supernaturally good at his job. He has “mirror-touch synesthesia”, allowing him to feel what patients feel. This gives him a real edge in figuring out where someone’s ache comes from. This turns out to be a real actual thing that really exists in the real world, for real. I know, right? Wikipedia says something like one person in fifty has this to some extent. In the real world, it’s more like people who will feel it themselves when they see one person touch another. This can extend to empathy, strongly feeling the emotions someone else shows, or feeling the pain they’re experiencing. As with most things about how the brain works, it’s amazing and it takes clever experimental design to sort out what is happening. So I apologize for being too snarky back in September about the thing.

Glabella, walking through downtown with Chipper Wallet: 'See that postal carrier's bag? I can 'feel' the weight of it on my shoulder! And that fellow over there has a toothache!' Wallet: 'Wow! It's good you don't live in a densely populated city! You'd be bombarded with unbridled feelings all day and night!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 1st of October, 2019. Am I a bad person for wanting to put Glabella in a room with someone else who has the same mirror-touch synesthesia and see what happens? I’m a bad person for wanting to put Glabella in a room with someone else who has the same mirror-touch synesthesia and see what happens.

Glabella spends a couple weeks explaining the condition, trying to convince the reader this is on the level. He stops short of telling snide readers like me to look it up on Wikipedia. And trying to establish that he isn’t magic, he can just tell at a glance that somebody’s back hurts. Me, I have to look up if the person is more than 38 years old first.

Chipper Wallet takes Glabella to Corky’s Diner. They arrive the 3rd of October and that sets the scene for the new story. Glabella notices Terry, their server, has some heart trouble. Chipper urges her to make a clinic appointment, as if someone working in a restaurant could afford medical care in the United States. But she does, and gets an appointment with Glabella. Who by the way finally lets us know what his name means: it’s “the space between your eyebrows and bridge of your nose”.

Getting back to the clinic from the restaurant. Wallet: 'Hey, Ruthie! We're back.' Ruthie: 'Peter [Glabella]! Your 1:30 patient is patiently waiting!' Glabella: 'I'll go right in!' It's Terry, their waitress from lunch. 'Terry! How'd you get here ahead of Chipper and me?' Terry: 'I don't mess around! Besides I know a shortcut!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 21st of October, 2019. “While you were walking through every panel for a week, I ran in here in the gap between panels! It’s a great time-saver if you don’t trip on the copyright sticker.” Which might actually be how she did it, come to think of it.

The diagnosis: it might be acute angina pectoris. She needs a couple weeks off from work. So we shift to Corkey, trying to figure out his staffing problem. Stepping in is Baleen Beluga. She’s a good fit for Jim Scancarelli’s comic world. She starts in with tales of an adventurous past, with a lot of sailing on ships. She claims to be heading to Texas to join a cattle boat. That plan’s messed up when Terry’s diagnosis comes in. She needs surgery, about a month of recovery time, and some time of light work after that. Beluga’s willing to stay on, trusting that there’s a lot of cattle boats in the sea.

Corky: 'Listen, Baleen ... may I call you that?' Baleen: 'Sure! That's my name!' Corky: 'I'm up against the wall for two weeks!' Baleen: 'YOU listen! If you can't make th'payroll, Sonny, I'll set sail outta here right NOW!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 7th of November, 2019. I like when a new character actor comes in. I’m not sure who plays Baleen Beluga, but it’s definitely someone likable and somewhat familiar from 60s sitcoms.

That’s not many events — there was a lot of characters saying funny things to each other instead. It takes us to the 21st of November, when Scancarelli noticed he haven’t even started his Christmas plotting. Luckily, a train breaks down right outside the diner. The Mistletoe Express has a burst water line. It’s a tourist-attraction locomotive now. It works for the Gasoline Alley Railway and Kitchen Cabinet Company. It’s bringing kids to see Santa. Beluga brings them a section of their stove exhaust vent. This probably won’t raise the diner’s carbon monoxide levels to dangerous heights.

Engineer: 'Hey, look, here comes the press!' Ballew, coming up to the train; 'I'm Hulla Ballew from the Gasette!' Engineer: 'This is embarrassing! Our engine broke down and the Corky's Diner folks pitched in to help with the repairs!' Ballew: 'What a great story!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 29th of November, 2019. I admire all the work Scancarelli put into illustrating that train engine. I don’t know how train art fans feel about it. They can demand a lot of precision. But me? I know if it has a lot of straight lines in it then it has to be great drawing. Also it’s only today that I realize Hulla Ballew writes for the Gasette. Mm.

And the stopped Christmas train brings out the press. It’s the Gasette’s Hulla Ballew. She fails to mention she’s the suspiciously young sister of Wally Ballew, on-the-site reporter for the Bob and Ray Show. Good for the diner. Maybe getting better: the locomotive needs even more emergency repairs. Corky invites the kids and parents in to the diner for ice cream. And calls Slim Wallet, telling him he needs a Santa Claus. Slim leaps into action and gets his red coat out. He makes fantastic time, too, and that’s where we’ve gotten.

Santa: 'Ho ho ho ho!' Corky: 'You got here fast, Slim! You look great!' Santa: 'Thanks! Mrs Claus made me go on a diet!' Corky: 'Nice touch, Slim! Keep up the ho-ho-ho's! The kids are on the train!' Kids, on the train: 'Look! It's Santa! Yea!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 7th of December, 2019. So, Santa just overheard Corky calling Slim and decided this was a good chance to race to Gasoline Alley again? … I guess he does all that watching what everybody does business, so that checks out, but then he’s really dissing Slim’s ability to wear a red coat and laugh in a jolly fashion for kids on short notice. Unless Slim can’t get there after all, in which case was Santa just aware of the delay before anyone could be? Or did he … cause … Slim’s unfortunate delay?

Golly jeepers, you don’t suppose there’s anything … curious … about Slim as Santa Claus here, do you? Mm? Hmmm? HMMMMMMMM?

Next Week!

Shall have to ponder that in about twelve weeks. For now? I look at comic strips with some mathematical theme, on my other blog. And on this blog, in one week (barring surprises), we journey to the Himalayas … In Search Of … James Allen’s Mark Trail.

What’s Going On In Prince Valiant? How did Valiant escape the lions? September – November 2019


This plot recap for Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant should get you up to speed for late November 2019. If you’re reading this after about late February 2020, you may find a more up-to-date recap at this link. Thanks for reading at all, though.

Prince Valiant.

1 September – 24 November 2019

All the player-characters were in North Africa last time I checked in. Fewesi the Healer had kidnapped Makeda, Queen of Ab’sabam. Bukota, Makeda’s exiled lover, caught up to them. She escaped Fewesi’s mind-control enchantment, and she and he team up to chase down Fewesi. And Prince Valiant, trailing all this, is busy fighting some lions. He’s doing all right but, after all, they have a whole hunting party while Valiant is off on his own.

As luck would have it, though, not for long. Fewesi is fleeing back the way he came. This takes him to the oasis where Valiant and the lions are having it out. Bukota and Makeda surround Fewesi, on the ledge. Fewesi lunges for Makeda; she whacks him good and sends him plummeting. He lands near enough Valiant. The lions break off from Valiant, going for the pre-dead delivery meal now that they can.

Fewesi had sought to circle behind and ambush Bukota - suddenly, there before him stands Makeda! He had not considered her ferocious resolve! He attempts to again exert his will over the Queen, but he is exhausted, and Makeda is now on guard. In desperation, he lunges at her. Before she was queen, Makeda was an adept warrior - she decisively counters Fewesi's awkward attack and now the man called 'The Healer' plummets, screaming, toward the roars that echo up from far below. A moment, and a thud, later, the angry lions circling Val pause, as the thrashing of a broken body has caught their attention. Their pursuit of Val has proven wearisome and painful ... and this gift from above offers much easier pickings. And, so, the healer did save someone in the end.
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 22d of September, 2019. And with this fresh supply of meat, the lionesses put off their rebellion against Scar for another two weeks. “Maybe he had a legitimate purpose in that Ukraine phone call,” they assert, once their bellies are not so empty. “Who are we to judge?”

So that’s some major crises settled. Valiant cleans his wounds, and then the gang all run into the Idar Uhag. These are Fewesi’s people, the ones who taught the Healer his mind-control powers before turning him out as gads such a loser. Makeda asks why, when Fewesi brought her to them, they didn’t free her then? They hadn’t wanted any part of Fewesi’s stupid hold-Makeda-as-hostage scheme. The chief explains how, y’know, you don’t waste energy making Wile E Coyote’s scheme blow up. Anyway, they give Makeda, Bukota, and Valiant some camels as a parting gift.

They head back toward Paraetonium, where they landed in Africa. And meet up with the cavalry: Valiant’s daughter Karen, with her husband Vanni, and the armed party from the Misty Isles there to rescue Makeda. They start flashing back to Karen’s adventure when (rolling 1d10, checking the encounter table) an Egyptian army comes over the hill. They’re from the local government and somehow all testy about the Misty Isles sending an armed party through their city and into their lands.

Val and the leader of the Egyptian force meet to parley: 'I am Patape, Governor of Paraetonium, and ... ' the little man, whom Val recognizes, hesitates, 'Do I know you?' Val answers: 'We met, but unintentionally. I fell into your boudoir in the midst of your ...' A shock of recognition lights Patape's eyes, and he glances nervously at his stern seconds. Val sees that the Governor does not wish his affair to be divulged. 'Or perhaps I have the wrong man. But I believe you are a reasonable sort, who must see that our presence here is only by mistake - we bring no threat. Escort us back to our ships and no blood need be shed.' At that, Patape looks both relieved and conflicted. 'Unfortunately, the good people of Paraetonium have already been offended by your incursion. My hand is forced. And if word ever got back to Justinian's generals in Alexandria ...' Suddenly, Vanni rides up, waving a handful of herbs. 'Perhaps I can offer an agreeable solution. These medicinal herbs I found in your market would have much value in the Misty Isles, if we could accomplish a contract for export.' Patape brightens; this talk is more to his liking. 'As it happens, I have much influence with the growers and distributors of this most excellent fenugreek!'
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 3rd of November, 2019. I know it’s a real herb. I see references to it. I sometimes see it on the store shelves. I believe our spice rack has it. If it does it’s among the dusty glass jars of things that look like dried brown leaf shreds that have always run out when we do need the contents. I just can’t make myself believe that ‘fenugreek’ isn’t a name someone came up with when they had to bluff their way through a conversation about herbs.

At their head is Patape, the Governor of Paraetonium. He’s met Valiant. He and Bukota fell through his roof when they were chasing Fewesi through the city. Valiant tries to explain how they really don’t want any trouble. Patape points out there already is trouble and there’s no way they can’t have more. Vanni has an idea that could solve things, though: what if the Governor got a bunch of money? You know, in exchange for the fenugreek growing around Paraetonium. The Governor finds interesting this plan where he gets a bunch of money. Remember, they lived when it was acceptable for public servants to use their positions to directly enrich themselves. (And yet, for my snarking, I agree with the plan of seeing if there’s a way to buy our way out of a pointless, stupid fight. That it can be done as a trade agreement satisfies me that it’s at least honest corruption.)

So Valiant and party get to head home and all looks happy. Except that, yeah, Valiant took a bunch of scrapes from the lions. And now he’s got some infection. He collapses. Vanni puts some “herbs and honey” on him, and that’s the suspenseful hook on which we end today’s strip.

Next Week!

Wait, have Steve Roper and Mike Nomad really been brought back out of the void? If anyone could do it, Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy could do it. Check back here in a week for that, barring surprise developments. Also if you like comic strips that explore mathematical themes please try my other blog. Thanks for reading in any case.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Weekdays)? Why are art students heading to Wambesiland? August – November 2019


Hi all. This recap for Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity, should get you caught up to mid-November 2019. If you want the separate Sunday continuity, or if you’re reading this after about February 2020 and want the weekday continuity, I should have a more relevant essay at this link. Thank you.

The Phantom (weekdays).

26 August – 16 November 2019

When I last checked in, The Phantom had rescued Imara Sahara from terrorist militias and American bombing. Imara Sahara is the mother of Kadia Sahara Walker, Heloise Walker’s former roommate. Kit Walker was feeling pretty good about having got out of a pretty intense situation without serious harm.

The Phantom and Imara Sahara settle overnight at a safe house. It’s a pretty nice-looking lair and he seems to have the absent owner’s permission to be there. He takes a shower and over a meal answers Imara’s most urgent questions, like, who is he? And why did he save her? OK, he doesn’t so much answer them as say they’ll head out to somewhere else in the morning. But there’s nothing that could go wrong by needlessly withholding information about identity and motivations and objectives from a woman rescued from captivity by a massive, three-party firefight that obliterated her longtime home.

Overnight, Sahara is tormented by thoughts of her husband, and fear of the strange man who’s taken her to an unfamiliar place. While The Phantom sleeps, and relives the day in his dreams, Sahara steals one of his guns. And one of the homeowner’s cars. The Phantom discovers this only in the morning.

[ Phantom heads for home ] Diana, on the phone: 'Gone? What do you mean she's gone!? Kit, what happened?' Phantom: 'Think about it, Diana. I wish I had! Before now, I mean. She knows now that her husband's a monster. She couldn't chance that I might be in league with him.'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 23rd of September, 2019. So I am snarking about the obviousness of this. But reading it day-to-day surprised me. And then I realized that yes, Imara Sahara fleeing is the most sensible thing for her to do. It also made me realize I had assumed The Phantom had explained what was going on in their drive to the safe house, or once they arrived, things not actually shown to us. (Jeez, what were they talking about instead? Was The Phantom making her listen to his podcasts? You gotta know something about someone before you put your podcasts on for them.) Also, even if he had explained who he was and why he was there, she had no reason to believe a word of it.

And, in a further surprise, The Phantom doesn’t have an idea where to track her down. He had given Sahara instructions to write The Phantom’s secret post office box, and they can watch that. In case she wants to make contact with someone the person she just fled wanted her to contact. And they’ll have to pay the homeowner for the stolen car. The Phantom jokes how he’ll get a terrible AirBnB review for this and, so help me, I don’t know if he’s joking.

Still, at least, Imara Sahara is alive and they can provide evidence of this to Kadia. And The Phantom got out of this all right. Diana Walker asks, you know, given all this, could they maybe bring Kit Junior back from his secret hiding place? (It’s a Himalayan monastery that earlier Phantoms had visited, and who remember them.)

That, the 28th of September, ended the 251st daily-continuity story, Heloise Comes Home. It had started back in December 2018, running 42 weeks overall.


The current story, The Rhodian Column, started the 30th of September. It’s the 252nd daily-continuity story.

Bangallan, seeing silhouetted figures bicycling along the jungle trail, thinks: 'Strangers in my land .. are they good, or ... ?' They shoot twice as he falls out of the way.
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 1st of October, 2019. “OK, if they shoot at me one more time I’ll consider taking them off the `good’ list!” (This is pretty much how I think about people.)

It starts with a couple bikers in the Bangallan forest. They notice someone peeking at them, and shoot at him. Missing the Bandar man, but still. The gunfire attracts a warning from the biker’s superiors. No shooting. Use knives if they have to. And spread out more, for crying out loud.

The Bandar know what to do about this, and consult The Phantom. The data: there’s an alarming number of strange travellers moving through the jungle. Kipawa, heir apparent to lead the Bandar tribe, finds them suspiciously inoffensive. Like, if they were really innocent, at least a couple would be jerks. These have all been non-threatening, I guess because nobody mentioned the one that shot at somebody.

The Phantom goes looking. At one part of the trail he sees three pairs of tourists marching past the same spot over three hours. All the travellers on the trail, he learns, stop at the same moment for the night. He sneaks into one of the travellers’ tents. They’re quite well-armed. But this checks out: they were posing as artists. They got paints and canvas from somewhere, and armed robbery is the least difficult way to afford that. But they also don’t have any cards about how to donate to their ko-fi or what their Patreon is, which is suspicious. So he does another another test: he swipes their guns and ammunition. In the morning the artists blurt out how they’re useless to the mission. So now The Phantom is all but sure something is going on.

[ Turning Back ] The Phantom watches one party chewing out the artists: 'The Colonel won't be happy when you two don't show up at the rally point!' Guy Artist: 'Somebody took our guns! We're unarmed! End of story!' Other supervisor-type guy: 'Don't say your weapons were take! Say you're sick! If anybody else in the column turns back, it's on you!'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 28th of October, 2019. So, these are the guys that The Phantom, this past week, has punched into heading back and I hope for fairness’s sake they aren’t going to hold their own turning back on Artist Couple. Just saying.

The trail of people go through Ogoru and then Llongo territory. They seem to be heading for the Wambesi lands. Next night, the Phantom wakes a different camping pair. He demands information about this whole plan. He warns he recognizes them as carrying papers forged in Rhodia. And part of an column moving to the Wambesi. He warns them to go back, and to invite all their comrades to walk back to Rhodia. He demands they tell what they know about the Python; they insist they don’t know anything about a Python. He knows well enough. And then he has some flashbacks, to help readers who don’t know who this Python is.

The Python is another terrorist leader, from the Wambesi tribe originally. He’s been in stories since 2003’s Terror In Mawitaan, sometimes under the name Chatu. The Python was behind a massive, five-part storyline that started in August 2009 and ran about a year and a half. This is long before I started doing What’s Going On In recaps. It started with The Death of Diana Walker. In this the Python feigned the death of Diana Walker, secreting her away in a Rhodian jail under a false identity.

The Phantom punches the two supervisor-y types from before while thinking, 'The Python murdered hundred at the UN building in Mawitaan', flashing back to the strip of October 6, 2009
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 11th of November, 2019. This explosion did happen in October 2009, reader time, as footnoted. The Phantom was meeting with Bangallan President Lamanda at the time. Incidentally the Sunday storyline back then was the one introducing the Avari, who’ve returned in the recently concluded Sunday continuity just now.

With the help of Captain Savarna and her highly automated freighter with guns, The Phantom found and broke Diana out of jail. And captured the Python, whom he brought to a secret prison in Wambesi territory where the locals keep watch. I can’t say I like The Phantom’s civil-rights record here, but I do understand how he came to this point. And, incidentally, putting the Python away like this gave Eric “The Nomad” Sahara his big break, so, you know. Probably something about the unending struggle of life in there.

And that’s where we stand on the field: some armed force is moving, in pairs, towards The Python. The Phantom knows that they exist, but their exact motives and goals are not actually yet known. There’s a lot of sinister explanations, though.

Next Week!

We check in on the time of King Arthur with Mark Schulz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant, barring surprises or breaking news. Also please consider looking at the comic strips discussed in my mathematics blog. Thanks for reading.

What’s Going On In Alley Oop? Who blipped Alley Oop and Ooola out of existence? August – November 2019


Hi, person wanting to complain about Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop. This is a good place to talk about the strip, as I have a plot recap bringing people up to date for about early November 2019. If you’re reading this after about February 2020 there’s probably a more up-to-date recap at this link. Thank you for disliking the comic strip, but I trust, liking me.

Alley Oop.

19 August – 9 November 2019.

I last checked in as Ollie Arp and Eeena, from Universe 3, finished sanctioning the comic for being all wacky and stuff. Universe 3, annoyed with how the new Alley Oop, Oona, and Doctor Wonmug were messing up time, gave them a ticket, and left. They haven’t played an explicit part in the story since, as of the 9th of November. But, gosh, it sure would be wild if they had something to do with the vanishing of Wonmug’s time lab staff after a really big messing up of time, wouldn’t it?

(This is my inference. I don’t read the strips ahead of the day of publication. I am given to understand that other comic strip bloggers have the Secret Knowledge of ways to get future strips. It requires something more sophisticated than hacking a strip URL to a future date, so, I’m not going to bother.)

And they left Alley Oop and Ooola with their previous mission. This was bringing Plato back to the present day. Genevieve Collingsworth, (fictional) Pulitzer-prize winning writer, hoped to interview him. The disappointment: Alley Oop and Ooola had gotten Plato from a time before he was doing philosophy. It’s from the era when Plato was doing puppetry. Collingsworth makes a Pulitzer-winning book out of it anyway.

Dr Piedra: 'You walked to Dr Wonmug and his partners?' Ollie Arp: 'Yes. I was very clear that they should stop altering the timeline. I was firm, but fair.' Piedra; 'And how do you explain this?' (She holds up a picture of Plato on a scooter, wearing a sleeveless leather vest and short jeans.) Arp: 'Oh ... ha ha ... Plato, uh, always dressed like that.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 5th of September, 2019. This is funny enough, although if you wanted the Slightly Over-Researched version of this joke? Have Dr Piedra show a photo of Plato as a lucha libre wrestler.

With the 6th of September, the new and current storyline starts. It’s to the Galapagos Islands of about two million years ago. Dr Charles Losthouse thinks there was then an advanced tortoise species that used a sharp stick as tools. What’s needed is evidence.

The first two turtles Alley Oop and Ooola meet, two million years ago, push them into the sea. Dolphins pick them up and carry them to another island, one with a stone statue of a tortoise. They find a tortoise playing a flute. The tortoise, Sharp, brings them back to the local city. It’s a futuristic megalopolis.

Alley Oop: 'Wow! Your society is SO advanced!' Sharp: 'Yes, it must be very shocking to you. Apologies that I cannot offer you a banana or a vine to swing on. I know how you primates are.' Ooola: 'Sharp, come on, just because we're primates ... [ Notices Oop doing something with her hair ] Oop, what are you doing?!' Oop: 'I wasn't grooming you. There was just a bug in your fur ... I mean hair.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 24th of September, 2019. One joke used repeatedly, and never failing me, this storyline was this kind of “oh, you know primates” setup. I don’t say it’s a deep joke. I do say I had fun hearing humans described as “a bunch of greasy, hairy bipeds who don’t even have the sense to evolve a shell over their backs … stinky, violent, high-center-of-gravity, fragile creatures … the most annoying and destructive beings”.

They explain to Uldo and Sharp that they’re from the future. Uldo, a scientist, understands. Tortoise society has discovered time travel but never been so reckless as to use it. They don’t dare change the timeline. But then why would future primates not know tortoise scientists? … And Ooola drops the news that in their time, tortoises aren’t, you know, smart. It’s humans who are the scientists. Uldo declares they have to change the timeline immediately.

Alley Oop starts feeling it’d be wrong to let the intelligent tortoises die out. President Shellington can’t believe the news. But she laughs at Alley Oop’s offer of help, and claim that they’re “from the future and kind of smart”. Alley Oop and Ooola go home.

Uldo: 'We must tell the President what we've learned! We must save the Cutie-Pies!' Alley Oop: 'Who are the Cutie-Pies?' Uldo: 'We are! That's what we call ourselves.' Oop: 'That's ... weird.' Uldo: 'Wy? Aren't we cute?' Oop: 'I mean ... not really.' Uldo: 'First we learn about the end of our species, and now I'm called ugly? Can this day get any worse?'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 2nd of October, 2019. I don’t know; I think they’re cute. Also in the next couple days Alley Oop comes to see the Cutie-Pies as fairly cute, really, and deserving saving.

Meanwhile back in the present, Dr Wonmug is annoyed they haven’t brought back the Galapagos Apparatus, needed to prevent the end of the world. Yes, this is the first we’ve heard about the end of the world. Ooola tries to explain what they saw. Dr Wonmug calls in his colleague, Dr Silverstein, a tortoise scientist. In the changed timeline there’s both humans and tortoises. Ooola and Dr Silverstein were good friends. Alley Oop used to date a tortoise. This is bad.

I’m surprised that when this dropped, mid-October, I didn’t see a flurry of people angry at Alley Oop. So far as I am aware the comic strip hasn’t had a malleable timeline. But I am only dimly aware. I’ve read a little bit of V T Hamlin’s original strips, and a couple years of the Jack Bender and Carole Bender era. That’s it. All sorts of shenanigans might have happened and I wouldn’t know, any more than I’d know what happened in the original-run Doctor Who. Which also mostly didn’t have a malleable timeline.

Ooola: 'I don't understand. Humans are horrible to the environment in our timeline, but the world doesn't end there.' Dr Wonmug: 'Yes, that puzzled me at first, too, but I've been running the numbers. The increased biomass of the tortoises in this timeline has put an extra strain on Earth's limited resources. [ Looking over at a Cute-Pie. ] See, I told you it was the tortoises's fault, Silverstein! You owe me a dollar!'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 22nd of October, 2019. Moving swiftly onward from yet another science fiction “oh, we can’t have an environment and avoid genocide, choose one” line of bull: Hey, Wonmug, they want to be called Cutie-Pies. Why you being a jerk about this? Unless we hypothesize that a group’s sense of their own identity might change over two million years which is, of course, absurd and impossible. Anyway there’s a cute moment the 24th, when Wonmug tries to tell Silverstein they were talking about “bananas and body hair”, as primates will.

Anyway, in the new timeline, the world is doomed. Environmental collapse. A combination human/tortoise civilization is too much for the planet. Yes, we have to pretend this makes sense. Doc charges Alley Oop and Ooola with stopping the world from ending. Doc stays with Dr Silverstein. He pledges he’ll “breed a species of hyperintelligent giant tortoises that will rebuild my forgotten society”. Yeah; take a number after the Time Raccoons.

Alley Oop has his doubts about making the giant tortoises not exist. Ooola points out there’s saving the rest of the earth that’s worthwhile. Which, all right, but this is why it’s bad to stare into the ethics of changing history. Anyway, Alley Oop’s first plan to save the timeline is to go back to Moo and stop himself from being born. That way, he can’t go back to the Galapagos Islands of two million years ago. In a serious story this could have a nice moral balance, atoning for destroying so many people by also destroying oneself. In this story, he completely fails to talk his parents out of having children. Which is at least a fun ironic conclusion.

Alley Oop, to his parents: 'I know it's complicated, but I'm your son. I'm from the future. I'm kind of responsible for the world ending. For the sake of the whole world, have you ever thought about not having any kids? You could travel the world, chisel the great Moo-ian novel, collect cool-looking rocks, learn how to ... ' As he keeps talking Oop's father says, 'When he leaves, do you still want to ... ?' Oop's mother: 'Oh, yeah.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 31st of October, 2019. Granting that Alley Oop isn’t offering much evidence for his claims about being from the future and being a threat to the world. But, jeez, if you were Alley Oop’s parents wouldn’t this at least spoil your mood? There’s more than a bit of 90s-webcomic-mean in the writing and I think it gives moments like this the wrong tone.

Ooola has the more sensible plan of just interfering with their own Galapagos Island mission. They go back to about five minutes before their original arrival. The new plan: keep the tortoises they first met from knocking them onto the dolphins. The easiest way to do this is grab the tortoises and hide them. The now alternate-past Alley Oop and Ooola don’t find anything and, presumably, go back to the present. Where, uh, Dr Wonmug has vanished. Ooola disappears in the next panel, and Ava and finally Alley Oop. So I guess the comic strip has ended and nobody will be angry about it anymore? That’s good, right?

Ava: 'Alley! Ooola! I'm so glad to see you! Dr Wonmug is GONE! He just VANISHED!' (As Ooola vanishes behind them.) Alley Oop: 'Don't be silly, Ava. (He looks to where Ooola was, as Ava vanishes.) People don't just ... (As he vanishes.) ... disappear ... '
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 9th of November, 2019. Yes, people disappearing is completely inexplicable in a comic strip about people who disappear through time and occasionally alternate universes.

Next Week!

I trusted that The Ghost Who Walks was about to take Imara Sahara back to the fabulous Skull Cave. How’d that turn out? We’ll see as I look at Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom (Weekday continuity) next Sunday, I hope.

Also this week, on my other blog, I talk about mathematics through the filter of comic strips. You might enjoy that too.

What’s Going On In The Amazing Spider-Man? Also, turns out it’s not safe to read Funky Winkerbean. August – November 2019


So, first, the content advisory business. I thought last week that Tom Batiuk’s Funky Winkerbean was done with the storyline involving a character’s suicide. The strip was into its third week of other, more lighthearted topics. Well, this week that’s changed. The eminently punch-worthy Les Moore was in today’s strip, meeting up with someone married to the person who died. So, again, if you don’t need that in your recreational reading, give this strip a pass, certainly for this week, possibly for the next several. I’ll try to give a warning when the storyline isn’t the direct focus anymore. Also maybe when Les Moore is not part of the story, because, jeez, that guy.


Back to main focus. Roy Thomas and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man is still in repeats. I still haven’t heard anything of it coming out. I’ll at least carry on recapping the repeats a while longer yet before dropping it. Or being fair and picking up Mandrake the Magician and Flash Gordon. If I hear any news, or if February 2020 rolls around and it’s time for another recapping, I’ll try to post it at this link. And as ever, I use comic strips to explore mathematical topics, over on my other blog. Thanks for reading.

The Amazing Spider-Man.

11 August – 3 November 2019.

Spider-Man and Black Widow were teaming up to project Mary Jane Parker, last we saw. Mary Jane, trying again to film Marvella 2: Mo Mar, Mo Vella, had been kidnapped by and rescued from The Hobgoblin already. This irked Peter Parker, since he thought Harry Osborn had outgrown being The Hobgoblin. Osborn was Peter Parker’s old high school best friend. And Mary Jane’s former fiancee. Harry Osborn blames Spider-Man for murdering his father, Norman Osborn, the Green Goblin.

Mary Jane: 'Since *you're* no more superhuman than I am, Black Widow, I'm coming *with* you to hunt for the Hobgoblin!' Black Widow, shoving her off the rooftop: 'All right, you win!' Mary Jane: 'WHA-?' Black Widow, leaping off the rooftop after her: 'Surely Marvella won't have a problem grabbing that flagpole as we hurtle by!'
Roy Thomas and Alex Saviuk’s The Amazing Spider-Man rerun for the 16th of August, 2019. By the way, Gwen Stacy, who’s key to the whole Green Goblin/Hobgoblin backstory, died from a great fall. Spider-Man caught his love, yes, but this was during the two minutes a year when physics worked in a superhero universe, so the sudden stop still broke her neck. So when Spider-Man doesn’t react to Black Widow shoving his wife off the rooftop there’s some new levels of screwed-up in there.

Spidey asks Black Widow to bodyguard Mary Jane. She doesn’t see a good reason why, so Black Widow pushes her off a roof ledge. And saves her, yes, but still. And Spider-Man doesn’t lift a finger to rescue his wife from plummeting from atop another yet another building. His excuse is that Black Window was going to rescue her. And Mary Jane had to be convinced that he would not always be able to rescue her. Still, you know, you remember the web site Superdickery? Just saying.

So they put Mary Jane up in a hotel to hide out. And then Spidey and Black Widow go off together to chase down The Hobgoblin. Spider-Man’s first thought: check on Harry Osborn. Mary Jane’s first thought: how does she know Peter Parker isn’t making the loves with Black Widow? Black Widow’s first thought: hey, isn’t Mary Jane married? Should we check in on her husband or anything? Anyway, Spider-Man fills Black Widow in on the Green Goblin storyline and why Hobgoblin wants revenge.

Spider-Man and Black Widow break into Harry Osborn’s penthouse apartment. He binds and gags the bodyguard, and they find Osborn asleep. But when he wakes he’s agitated by the man who killed his father having broken into his house and webbed his bodyguard and hovering over his bed in the dark. He reaches for a gun, but Black Widow slams his arm in a drawer. So the questioning gets off to a rough start. But Harry insists he knows nothing about the Hobgoblin and has been asleep all night. Spidey comes away from this convinced that Harry Osborn represses his memories of Hobgoblinning. Or maybe someone’s trying to frame him, whatever. There’s no way to tell unless they also manage a crossover with Slylock Fox.

Obsorn: 'WHAT ARE YOU TWO DOING IN MY BEDROOM?' Spider-Man: 'Harry ... we just want to talk to you.' Osborn: 'SPIDER-MAN? You've come to kill me! Just like you killed my father! But I'll get you first!' (He reaches into a drawer.) Black Widow: 'Sorry, we're both allergic to lead.' (She kicks the drawer closed, slamming his fist on it. He screams in pain.) Spider-Man: 'Now, just calm down a minute and answer me one question. Are you now or have you ever been The Hobgoblin?'
Roy Thomas and Alex Saviuk’s The Amazing Spider-Man rerun for the 1st of September, 2019. Spider-Man, afterwards: “Yeah, so I don’t know why I can’t get Harry Osborne to make peace with me. I keep reaching out, but he just won’t reach back. I’m not going to stop trying, but I have to admit, I despair of it making any difference.”

With nothing else to learn Spider-Man swings by Mary Jane’s hotel room. She’s prickly about Black Widow, certainly. Some of it on reasonable grounds: if Black Widow is watching Mary Jane, won’t she figure out Peter Parker is Spider-Man? Peter’s casual about that, claiming that she’s someone he can trust.

At movie filming the next day, Black Widow’s on hand to be Mary Jane’s stunt double. There’s a great chance, a stunt requiring yet another fall off a building, which Mary Jane’s got to have built up an immunity to by now. But that goes perfectly, both Mary Jane’s short fall and Black Widow as stunt double’s several-stories fall. Another stunt goes well too: while Peter Parker very obnoxiously drops in on set, a “dummy activated by a timer” swings past and they both point it out. “See that, Black Widow? I, Peter Parker, and pointing out Spider-Man! Who is another person, there, in your, Black Widow’s view! At the same time that I, Peter Parker, am, even though we are in different places! So it would be ridiculous for you to start thinking that I, Spider-Man, am also Peter Parker! I mean. That Spider-Man is not. I. Um. Look, a big distracting thing!” And then he runs into a shop door that’s actually a mural painted on a brick wall.

There’s several more days of dangerous stunts coming off perfectly. So Spider-Man figures he just has to shadow Harry Osborn. He follows Obsorn to his psychiatrist’s appointment. And listens to the whole thing. Which is a jerk move, yes, but you have to remember the context. He could follow Osborn by secretly planting tracers in Osborn’s shoes that night he broke into his apartment. I’m pretty sure Spider-Man is the good guy here? Yes, that’s what my notes say. Well.

After Osborn leaves Spider-Man pops in to ask Dr Mark Stone, what’s the deal here? Why are you just validating Osborn’s assertions that his father was a hero brutally slain by the villain Spider-Man? Stone points out it’s not his business to clear Spider-Man’s name, it’s his job to listen to Osborn’s problems and try and give advice. And hey, Spidey looks like he’s got issues. Would he want to talk about them any? Peter almost goes for it, then recovers his senses. What possible use could therapy be to a person haunted by how a moment of petty self-indulgence allowed the murder of the man who raised him?

Spider-Man: 'You're encouraging Harry's obsession that I murdered his father!' Dr Stone: 'As his psychiatrist, it's my job to LISTEN to him- and offer advice. As a matter of fact, it occurs to me that YOU could benefit from a little therapy.' Spider-Man: 'ME!?'
Roy Thomas and Alex Saviuk’s The Amazing Spider-Man rerun for the 10th of October, 2019. Boy, this story is such a puzzle! Do you have any ideas who the Real Bad Guy might turn out to be?

Also recovering her senses: Mary Jane. Spider-Man swings by the movie set again, though to check in with Black Widow. They swing off to go patrolling for Hobgoblin or something. Mary Jane grabs a taxi to follow them. The taxi driver’s a fun guy who talks about other times that superheroes have grabbed his taxi, which I trust all happened in the Silver Age. He asks Mary Jane why she’s spying on Spider-Man. And she realizes, yeah, she’s got no good reason to.

This was, by the way, the high point of the last couple months for me. What I think of as the great breakthrough in Marvel Comics was a touch of psychological realism. Mostly that’s reflected in how people discover that their problems don’t go away when they get superpowers. They just change, in the ways they change when you grow up too. Mary Jane realizing that, yeah, her doubts about Peter Parker’s fidelity are ridiculous and she needs to get over them? That’s got truth behind it. So she goes home.

Spider-Man and Black Widow see Harry Osborn pulling up. So Spidey sheds one disguise and Peter Parker “happens to” bump into Osborn. In a car drive while nominally looking out for Spider-Man, Osborn reiterates that he wants revenge on Spider-Man for killing his father. And then WPLOT, New York City’s 24-hour all-plot radio channel (550 on the AM dial), breaks in with a Hobgoblin sighting.

Limosine screeching to a stop. Peter Parker, inside: 'Your chauffeur made good time, Harry!' Osborn: 'Rinaldo used to be a race-car driver. (Pointing to a silhouetted figure flying around.) Look! There's the Hobgoblin!' Peter, thinking: 'But - I was almost positive Harry Osborn is the Hobgoblin!'
Roy Thomas and Alex Saviuk’s The Amazing Spider-Man rerun for the 1st of November, 2019. I’m in this storyline for a month from now, when Spider-Man explores the possibility that Peter Parker is the Hobgoblin. Anyway, gosh, I mean, sure, the psychologist is the only other person in the story, but how could a superhero comic psychologist be anything but the most reliably good person in the whole world?

They race there, and both look up at Hobgoblin flying about on his bat-gliders. Peter Parker reflects how that proves Harry Osborn is not this Hobgoblin, at least. He’s forgotten that he himself set up a dummy Spider-Man to trick someone out of recognizing his secret identity just a couple days before. It’s easy for Spider-Man to catch this Hobgoblin; this because it’s a booby trap. It explodes on him.

And that’s where things sit, and there I’ll leave it. But if you do want to read ahead, and you have a Comics Kingdom account, you can pick the story up from the 29th of June, 2015 and proceed from there. The Hobgoblin storyline, with a couple bits about the movie, wrapped up around the 23rd of August. So, if Marvel and King Features really and truly mean to restart the comic with new adventures they’ll have a seamless chance to in eight weeks, about the 29th of December. It would be an auspicious time to start a new team, but they would need that team in place, like, today. I haven’t heard anything to imply they have. But the world is vaster than I imagine; many things can happen.

Next Week!

Time travel and tortoises! It’s everyone’s chance to complain about
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop.
See you then, unless the Time Tortoises get to me first.

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


So a quick thing that might be obsolete by the time this publishes on Sunday evening: Comics Kingdom didn’t print Rex Morgan, M.D. for Friday or Saturday. I have no idea why. I assume it’s yet another glitch with the new design web site, which has mostly gotten its glitches out of the way but is still keeping problems in reserve. Whenever Rex Morgan does publish, Friday’s and Saturday’s strips should appear in the archive. This is at an annoying moment since the story was unfolding mysteries of Mindy’s pregnancy.

As for Judge Parker. We will never see the last of Norton, not in Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker. Maybe under the next writer we will, but no. When we most recently saw him he was stepping up toward a person concealing a knife in her hand. There’s no reason to think that’s the end of him.

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

Judge Parker.

4 August – 26 October 2019.

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

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

Norton and Strand kidnap Sam Driver while he’s trying to meet Alan Parker. Norton’s offering help getting Alan Parker out of jail. Driver suspects it’s an attempt to kidnap Charlotte. She’s Randy and April Parker’s daughter and Norton’s granddaughter. Norton insists he’s sent April Parker elsewhere.

That elsewhere is Los Angeles, where Neddy Parker and Ronnie Huerta have been trying to write a screenplay. The screenplay’s based on April Parker, of course. And April, following a message from Norton, has found it. And now that April knows it exists, she has notes. I assume this sort of thing happens all the time in Real Los Angeles too, if there is such a thing. So April gives Neddy and Ronnie her real story, if there is such a thing. When the script’s in shape she says her final farewells to Neddy. She didn’t join the CIA to protect an America that does the sorts of things America created the CIA for. So she’s leaving. Unless the rewrites screw her story up.

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

Back in Cavelton, Norton claims to want to make amends before his totally real illness totally really gets him for total real. He’ll confess to threatening Alan Parker, coercing him into helping fake his death. He didn’t, but he’s willing to lie under oath for a friend and former family. (It’s never said exactly when Randy and April Parker divorced, or how those court proceedings happened. It’s happened off-screen, we’re to infer.) Driver can’t accept him saying he’s going to lie under oath. Norton writes that off as a joke. Driver can’t see a way to get Norton — officially dead, this time by the CIA faking it — to testify. Norton says he can do it remotely. Driver gets hung up on the technical challenges of this. Norton says he can get started now.

All this kept Alan Parker from meeting Sam Driver in prison. Roy Rodgers has been pressuring Parker to get Driver to help him, and to get information about Marie. Rodgers doesn’t believe Parker’s claim that Driver didn’t show up. Rodgers calls on his mob friends, who beat Alan Parker badly enough that he’s sent to the hospital.

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

After having a plausibly deniable conversation with Randy Parker about this, Sam Driver agrees to Norton’s plan, whatever it is. The plan to testify in court was a sham, because of course. That was a distraction to let Strand hack Driver’s cell phone. But Norton is as good as his word, for a wonder. They’d had a judge who was refusing Alan Parker bail, on the grounds that Parker betrayed a lifetime of public and professional trust. The judge suddenly resigns. The district attorney admits to having withheld footage of Norton holding Alan Parker hostage. And there’s now recordings of Norton threatening Alan Parker.

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

In what he claims will be a last conversation with Driver, Norton says he regrets everything. All the ways he screwed up his daughter’s life. Wrecking the Parkers’ lives. Everything And he walks up to the cabin of April’s Mom, Spy Candace Bergen. Which is the last we’ve seen of them, at least as of the 24th of October when I write this.


The 23rd of September opened with the feeling of another time jump. Although since it has Alan Parker hugging his granddaughter and talking of how he missed this, it can’t have been that long. Also, Abbey’s big project has been a success. She was thinking to run a little bed-and-breakfast out of the Spencer Farms. It’s been successful, and much more work than Abbey imagined.

Over lunch with Marie, Abbey admits how much she’s not keeping up with this. Also how, so far as she is keeping up, it’s because Sophie is masterminding things. Which is great, except that Sophie’s a high school kid. She’s not thinking about college or anything about her future, and refuses all entreaties to. This is understandable. She had been kidnapped and tormented for months by Abbey Spencer’s previously-unsuspected half-sister. As were her friends. But, you know, you can’t go about working instead of talking over feelings with other people, people keep telling us stoic types. This infuriates us, but what are we going to do? Complain?

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

And Marie admits it’d be nice to see Abbey more. And that … her expenses are higher than she figured on, and, you know? Maybe she could work part-time at the bed-and-breakfast and there we go. It might even open Sophie up some. Sophie is overjoyed to see Marie back around. So that goes well, right until Sophie starts talking about how she needs the help running the business.

Marie’s diagnosis is that Sophie is quite avoiding talking school. Also that Sophie’s right about the bed-and-breakfast needing to be better organized. Sophie’s plan is a bigger kitchen and a dedicated bed-and-breakfast building. Somehow they settle on converting the horse barn to rooms. This I don’t understand as I thought the point of a bed-and-breakfast was to stay in something that’s plausibly a person’s home. Also that they need a barn for the horses. Maybe it’ll come together by the next time I do a plot recap.

Meanwhile in Los Angeles, Neddy and Ronnie keep shopping their script around. The feedback is brutal, and worse, neither of them say it’s wrong. The most devastating critiques are the perceptive ones. They don’t seem to be comments people have made about the comic strip since Marciuliano took over the writing, by the way. They’re in-universe complaints. But they finally got a callback this past week! It’s Annada Pictures, who I assume are hiring Neddy and Ronnie for that big Lisa’s Story project that somehow has come back into Funky Winkerbean. I’m not saying I want Norton back, but if it involves him kidnapping Les Moore, I could get on board.

And that’s where we’re at now.

Next Week!

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

What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? What does “blowtop mad” mean? July – October 2019


Thanks for coming in, soapy sports fans. If you’re reading this after about January 2020 I probably have a more up-to-date recap of
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp at this link.
If you’re just trying to figure out where the strip was as of mid-October 2019, you’re in a good place. And if you’d like to see me using comic strips to talk about mathematical topics, please try my other blog, here. Now to the story.

Gil Thorp.

20 July – 19 October 2019.

As a Milford student Hadley V Baxendale won the girls’ teams some dignity and larger lockers. She’s since become a star attorney for her Chicagoland firm. She’s also engaged to Jaquan Case, former Milford basketball player turned NBA star. She’s visiting her parents. Her father is all weird about how they don’t even live in the same city, and in ten years he’ll be retired and she won’t. How will they survive these quite survivable problems?

She’s got side projects, though. She’s gotten involved in Tiki Jansen’s story. Jansen was fleeing harassment at New Thayer by his family renting an apartment in Milford that they don’t actually live in. But the school board has reconsidered the matter and concluded that since he doesn’t live in Milford he shouldn’t be going to Milford High. And Baxendale is happy for a chance to fight with the school board again.

Baxendale: 'I'm here about Thomas Jansen, Mr Ballard.' Ballard: 'Are you a lawyer?' Baxendale: 'Right now, I'm just a family friend ... but I *could* be.' Later, Baxendale, on the phone: 'She said she didn't want to sue us, Carol. But she didn't say she wouldn't!'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 29th of July, 2019. I don’t intend to be snarky when I say I don’t know who Carol is, other than, someone connected to the school board. I haven’t caught her last name or what her exact connection is.

If she needs to. Jansen’s family can’t afford an empty apartment anymore. But teammate Leonard Fleming’s family is willing to put Jansen up. With that fact she goes to work. She talks with the Flemings, who say they’re trying to do a favor to someone who needs a favor, and keep the team from losing Jansen. She gets the video that High School Cinema Weenie Joe Bolek made of Jansen’s former schoolmates chasing him down. And she talks with Chet Ballard, head of the school board.

They don’t put Tiki Jansen’s case on the school board agenda. Carol Other School Board Person doesn’t want to do stuff that establishes a precedent. Baxendale is warm to this too, on the grounds that a private deal is more likely to go her way. The strip doesn’t mention but this is an interesting development for Baxendale. She’s arguing for special treatment for someone, not because of the facts of his case, but because of who happens to be Mary Worthing his life. But there is no such thing as not creating a precedent. Getting the school board to agree to this for Jansen means they can be made to agree to this again later.

At the school board. Ballard: 'How do we know Thomas will actually stay with the Flemings, or how often?' Baxendale: 'How do we know what roof anyone is under? You? Me? A child whose parents are divorced? Maybe we can have sign-in sheets for everybody. How many new hires will it take to verify them?'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 10th of August, 2019. “I mean, if we can’t trust the residency of someone whom we know to have lied about his residency within the last six months, who can we trust?”

So, meeting with school board members, Baxendale lays out her case. Jansen’s in physical danger at New Thayer. Reduced (most of his tormentors have graduated), but still credible. And while the old apartment was nonsense, he now has a real verifiable host family in town. To the reasonable question of how do they know he actually lives there, she points out they don’t know where any of their students live. Which is true but not a case I’d want to argue to a judge. Ballard isn’t a judge; he sells insurance. The school board accepts Jansen as student.

Hadley had invited her father Ed to watch her work. He’s impressed. And he’s worked out what his deal with Jaquan Case was. It wasn’t anything do to with Case. It was his longing to have his daughter move home and join his law firm. Seeing her at work, he’s content that she’s living a great life and he doesn’t need to wish her back home.


That, the 17th of August, wrapped up the Baxendale and the Jansen II stories. The current storyline started with football practice the 19th of August. Its star: sophomore Chance Macy, who’s looking to be a good halfback. Supporting player: Charlie Roh, stepson to Chet Ballard, head of the school board. I didn’t make the connection until writing up this summary. Ballard wishes that Charlie accepted him as “dad”, but, you know. That comes, or it doesn’t come. I don’t know if that’s going to end up important to the story.

In the opener Macy does great, getting the ball to the 2-yard line. Charlie Roh, put in to carry it over, fumbles. Ballard blames Coach Thorp for not giving his stepson more time carrying when it wasn’t critical. Macy’s forgiving of the mistake, though. And does a lot to bring Milford its win, too. He’s invited of course to the victory celebration, but declines, claiming fatigue.

Ballard: 'I didn't see Chance Macy out there. I wonder where their star running back is.' Chris Schuring: 'Probably fending off girls. A 180-yard game can upgrade your popularity factor!' Cut to Chance Macy, who's sitting in a chair at home, reading.
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 19th of September, 2019. Oh, wow. I remember when I had the hamstrings to sit like that in a chair. I’m lying. I have never had the hamstrings to sit like that in a chair. I barely have the hamstrings to lie down.

Local Newspaper reporter Marjie Ducey wants to interview Macy. Thorp declines for him. And now we have a story hook. Macy doesn’t want to hang out with anyone or be in the paper or anything. And we have a secondary story. Ballard worries his stepson isn’t getting the time or attention or coaching that he needs. Charlie wants his stepfather to relax already. And a third point: Macy is old for a sophomore. His grades are fine; so why is he a year behind? We readers also see Macy eating dinner with his grandparents, with no parents in view.

In a game against Tilden one of the guards cheap-shots Macy. It escalates, Milford’s guard retaliating against a Tilden linebacker. For once it’s not me losing track of names; that’s all we the readers get told. The tit-for-tat continues until Macy loses his temper. He gets a penalty and a sprained ankle. Bad for Macy, although it does give Charlie Roh the chance to play.

[ Tilden 19, Milford 14 ] Ballard: 'Almost a 5-yard average every time you touched the ball. Good work!' Roh: 'Thanks, Chet. But I didn't get that lats foot when we needed it.' [ While nearby ] Macy's Grandfather: 'I have to ask: were you situationally mad out there, or blowtop mad?'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 10th of October, 2019. “Almost a five-yard average” … oh no, this is going to end with Ballard turning into a hardcore sports stats nerd, isn’t it? Get out of there, Charlie! Go somewhere they just play!

Macy’s grandfather asks Chance whether he was “situationally mad” or “blowtop mad”. He says he was “cheap-shot-from-loudmouth mad”. Ballard, overhearing, wonders what the heck “blowtop mad” means. I share his confusion. There’s an obvious inference, at least. But Gil Thorp just did an “uncontrollable temper” story with the Barry Bader story in spring 2018. They couldn’t be doing that again right away, right? And where are Macy’s parents? Both Tiki Jansen stories were about him not living where he “should”; the strip can’t be doing a third iteration of that, can they?

Ballard asks Charlie what he knows about Macy. He knows only what we readers do. Macy’s fast. Didn’t go to the party. Oh, one more thing. Charlie would swear they were in second grade together but now he’s a grade behind. Ballard suspects Coach Thorp is up to something. And, worse, cheating his stepson of playing time to do it. That Charlie’s developing quite well now that he has some playing time helps Ballard feel suspicious. Finally, Ballard concludes, he’s on the school board. Therefore he has the right to hack into Neal Rubin’s writing notes and figure out what everybody’s deal is.

And that’s where we’ve gotten. There’s probably around a month left before we get out of football season and into basketball. I’ll give you updates as events warrant.

Milford Schools Watch

Here’s the towns or schools that Milford’s been named as playing the last several months.

Next Week!

Has yet another time jump gotten us out of having to deal with Norton? surely not, but we’ll check in on
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker anyway, in one week,
unless something commands my attention more. You know, like how in Francesco Marciuliano and Jim Keefe’s Sally Forth their house has demons and stuff. Thanks for reading.

What’s Going On In Rex Morgan, M.D.? Why is the mob after Rene Belluso? July – October 2019


Thanks for being here, readers of Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D.. This recap should get you in touch with the story as it exists in mid-October 2019. If you’re reading this after about January 2020 I probably have a more up-to-date recap at this link. That might be what you need instead.

On my other blog I read the comic strips for their mathematical content. You might find that fun too.

Rex Morgan, M.D..

22 July – 13 October 2019.

Rex Morgan, M.D., was going to face down Serena Galexia, center figure of the Celestial Healing movement. This on behalf of Lana Lewton. Lana’s husband Merle has gone all in for Galexia’s spiritual healing of chemtrail toxins. The process costs only all the cash he can get. Galexia is holding an in-person seminar, in town, right soon. Merle wants Lana to attend. Lana wants Rex to come so he can write up a thoughtful rebuttal for Skeptical Inquirer.

Angie: 'The meeting room is looking good, Rene. Er. Brother Almonzo.' Rene: 'Thanks - MISS GALEXIA. I want it to be just right. We're going to make a lot of dough here.' Angie: 'I hope so. I want to pay off my student loans. Who'd think art school would cost so much?'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 2nd of August, 2019. Who’d think art school would cost so much? Well, anybody who’s bought any art supply, ever. I mean, just buying an eraser the size of your thumb will set you back like 25 bucks. A Strathmore 400-series 100-sheet sketchpad? That’ll run you up to $280. Want to do digital? The free drawing programs cost $2200 each. In short, if you ever commission someone to do a picture for you, tip them like 5000% of their ask price, okay?

Everyone’s excited for the show over at Galexia Sanctuary Master Command. It’s a smaller operation than you might imagine. Serena Galexia herself is someone name of Angie. She’s the public face. The mastermind of the operation is Brother Almonzo. Or, as he’s known to the strip, Rene Belluso.


We last saw Belluso about two years ago. He was forging 50s comics art “Horrible” Hank Harwood pages as part of a scheme to break up Buck Harwood and his girlfriend Mindy. Before that, Belluso had last been a regular player in the strip from 2014 to 2016. Belluso was introduced by the former writer, Woody Wilson.

The last few years of Wilson’s writing saw a lot of people finding reasons to throw incredible good fortune at Rex Morgan and family. In particular, young Sarah Morgan turned out to be an artistic prodigy. A local mob widow took an interest in her, and sponsored art lessons. Her tutor: Rene Belluso. When Terry Beatty took over writing much of the over-the-top stuff got dialed down. Sarah Morgan’s artistic super-geniusnessocity, for example, got wiped out by a car accident that gave her Soap Opera Amnesia. She forgot a year of her life and how to draw.

[ Rene has exited the studio via the fire escape ] Mobster 1: 'Mr Belluso isn't here?' Kelly: 'No --- we don't know where he went.' Sophie: 'What'cha lookin' for him for?' Mobster 1: 'Oh, Mr Belluso was supposed to collect some artifacts for me on a recent trip to Moscow, but it seems he never made the trip.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 25th of July, 2016. I bet this guy is upset he didn’t hire Boss, Jefe, and Juanito over from off of Mark Trail.

On the way to this, one of Sarah’s painting lessons got interrupted. Two rather grim-looking men pulled up in a car, and that freaked Belluso way the heck out. He apologized, said Sarah might not ever see him again, pulled off his wig, and bugged out of the strip for a while. The men told Sarah and her babysitter Kelly that Belluso had pocketed the money given him to buy some stuff in Russia. This was one of the final straws before June and Rex Morgan pulled Sarah out of the mob widow’s sphere.

And once again I owe Mark Carlson-Ghost’s web site, listing appearances of characters in Rex Morgan, M.D., gratitude.. I’d earlier used another page on the site to work out the deal with Norton in Judge Parker. Thanks to Carlson-Ghost’s work I was able to track down just what was Rene Belluso’s deal.


Back to this year. Rene Belluso’s new scam is this health-scam marketing business. They’ve got the meeting room, they’ve got the merch, they’ve got a good twenty people signed up for the seminar. What could go wrong? Well, Rex Morgan could recognize Belluso right away and reveal who he is to the whole crowd. But, on entering, Rex thinks there’s something familiar about Brother Almonzo, but can’t place it. So, no problems then, right?

Galexia: 'Dear fellow travelers in this earthly realm, I have come to bring you the celestial truth. My spirit guides will speak to you this very day. Chiron and Ninazu --- whose portraits you see here, painted by my faithful servant Brother Almonzo --- will speak from beyond the veil!' Rex, thinking: 'PAINTED by Brother Almonzo? I thought that voice sounded familiar!'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 9th of August, 2019. “And afterwards, we’re going off to the southwest to help Savior Z keep those alien invaders off on the other side of the Moon, where it’s safe!

But then Angie Serena Galexia mentions how Brother Almonzo painted portraits of her spirit guides, Chiro and Ninazu. That’s the clue he needed. Morgan steps over to the side and demands — he’s not sure what exactly. But Belluso is happy to refund Merle’s money, that’s doable. Rex declares no, he’s going to shut this down. Belluso makes an offer. He could give kickbacks if Morgan referred hypochondriacs their way. Morgan has a counter-offer. He won’t tell Belluso’s mobster pals where Belluso is if he leaves town and never returns. Now. Belluso takes the deal.

Merle: 'What's going on here? Why are you calling each other Angie and Rene?' Rene/Almonzo: 'Nothing to be concerned with, sir. Please make your way to the exit.' Merle: 'This isn't right. Something's up here. Are you two even the real Galexia and Almonzo?' Lana: 'Honey, don't you get it? There IS no real Galexia and Almonzo. These two are complete phonies.' Merle: 'But there HAS to be. On the podcast and the phone ... they ... I ... I don't get it.' Rene: 'I assure you all is well, dear friends, we simply must call an end to today's meeting.' Angie/Galexia: 'But if we don't sell all that merch, where am I gonna get the money to pay my student loan?' Merle buries his head in his hands. Lana says, 'Would now be a good time for Dr Morgan to tell you my blood test showed no sign of 'chemtrail poisoning'?'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 18th of August, 2019. So, little tip for anyone running their own confidence scam: ahead of time, work up a vague yet plausible-sounding reason to shut down a meeting early. Maybe say a carbon monoxide alarm went off in the building and they want to be safe for everyone. Maybe that Galexia’s vague relative has had an emergency. Maybe something on-theme, like there’s been a sudden flutter in the vril levels and Galexia has to commune with Chiron and Ninazu right now. Belluso might be well-advised to take an improv class before trying performance scams like this next time.

Brother Almonzo shuts down the seminar. And her calls Galexia “Angie”. Galexia calls him “Rene” back. Merle starts suspecting something is wrong. So do other followers. You know, the way people will when something weird embarrasses someone they’ve given lots of time and thousands of dollars to. Merle pulls of Belluso’s fake beard and wig. He and Angie flee into the night.

Merle admits that yeah, he fell for an incredibly obvious scam, he’s sorry. Lana admits that yeah, Merle felle for an incredibly obvious scam. Also she’s going to grab some bath salts and candles from the merch table because, what the heck. They’re owed it.

Rex goes home and recaps the story for June. So if you wanted to you could just read the week from the 1st of September and skip this whole essay. Sorry to take up so much of your time.


With a phone call on the 6th of September the new story begins. Yes, it’s the rare midweek segue. It’s Buck Wise, reporting, “It’s time.” He and Mindy are going to the hospital.

So yeah, that was a surprise. Who knew the characters in a story comic could have sex? And in a subplot? I mean, when June was pregnant she was carrying for like 27 months and I don’t think that’s even my exaggeration.

Mindy: 'Well, it turns out my health issues won't keep me from having kids after all.' Buck: 'Really? They found some treatment or something?' Mindy: 'Not so much that. More like sometimes something that only has a slim chance of happening --- happens.' Buck: 'Wait a minute. Are you telling me what I think you're telling me?'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 18th of September, 2019. It’s so funny to see Buck thinking that someone might have found a treatment that cures a medical condition. Hasn’t he caught on how that’s not revenue-effective anymore? Anyway, I do like how he’s confused and picks this all up slowly, in part because Mindy has been so indirect in giving the news.

But from that point we’ve been in flashbacks. First, Mindy having a lingering heartburn. She turns to the Morgan Clinic for medical help. June diagnoses pregnancy. Mindy didn’t think that possible, because of her polycystic ovarian syndrome. But June explains that only makes pregnancy extremely unlikely, which isn’t the same thing as impossible.

Moving forward a bit. While going out to dinner, Mindy trips and falls down the front steps. Well, if you’re going to love Buck, you’re going to fall down steps. I don’t make the rules. The emergency room says Mindy is fine, and the baby is fine, but they should get several weeks of bed rest anyway. Mindy’s reasonable question: why?

[ Mindy's time on bed rest is almost over. ] Mindy: 'I hope the doctor will give baby and me a clean bill of health.' Buck: 'Likewise. I know it's been difficult.' Mindy: 'You'd think lying in bed all day woud be a treat, until you have to do it.' Buck: 'You made a big dent in your 'to be read someday' books, though.' Mindy: 'True, and I caught up on all those TV series everyone but me seems to have seen already. And Corey taught me how to win at that Retro Cartoon Video Game you like, so next time we play, look out.' Buck: 'No time like the present. Shall we see who's the better player?' Mindy: 'Oh, you're ON, pal.' Buck: 'Let the cartoon begin!'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 13th of October, 2019. So, as ever, I like depictions of married couples who just like hanging out with each other. It’s hard to figure why you’d want to marry someone you didn’t like just being around. Distracting me, though, is the vagueness of Mindy’s interests. To talk about a pile of ‘to be read someday’ books is fine; that’s how normal people will talk about games. And ‘tv series everyone else but me seems to have seen already’? Also fine. Earlier in the storyline she referred to her DVR backlog shows as ‘Zombies, Women in Prison, or Kids Battling Interdimensional Monsters’. That’s genericized, but in a wryly self-snarking way that feels natural to me, like when I describe podcast genres as “three white guys laughing at each other” or “one guy trying to remember the things he wrote down in the notes he doesn’t have”. But. “that Retro Cartoon Video Game”? No, that’s too far. Pick an actual game, or make it “those retro cartoon video games”, or make up something that sounds like it might’ve been a game. Don’t do that Herb and Jamaal stuff.

The ultrasound showed a very small tear in the placenta, which should heal on its own, but they’re cautious. Fair enough. The strip since then has been Mindy trying to actually get bed rest. It’s a tough prescription to get, because nobody believes how fatiguing that is.

And that’s where the story is right now: in the flashbacks of Mindy getting bedrest, while she’s actually getting to the hospital. Everything seems all right despite the mishaps. But I have no information on whether that’s a fake-out ahead of a suspenseful delivery scene or what. You’ll have to check whatever the successor essay to this one is to know. Or just read the comic, that also works.

Next Week!

Will Hadley V Baxendale’s father accept her choice in fiancée, even though he’s an up-and-coming NBA player who’s not even playing for the Bulls? Will true love be able to handle both partners in a relationship being successful professionals? Will Mary Worth come in and throw muffins at Neal Rubin and Rod Whigam for poaching her business? We’ll see in a week, with the Gil Thorp plot recap, barring surprises. And at this link I’ll have recaps or news about all of the story comics that I cover. Thanks for reading.

What’s Going On In Mary Worth? Is Hugo Lambert faking being French? July – September 2019


No, but it’s fun to joke about.

If you need to catch up with Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth, I’m happy to help. If you’re reading this after about December 2019, there’s probably a more up-to-date plot recap here. Also there’ll be news, if Mary Worth produces news.

For example: Comics Kingdom has opened up a comics merchandise store. And yes, they have a Mary Worth collection. It leans to the ironic reader’s tastes, which is probably what a Mary Worth merch table has to do. This is why it has stuff about Mary Worth’s muffins. Also stuff about Aldo Kelrast, a plot from like fifteen years ago about a man who decided to stalk her. The storyline, and its resolution, is a cornerstone of the modern Mary Worth snark-reading community. At least those who don’t mind making quite so much light of one of the scariest things a person can suffer through.

Anyway, the store has stuff for other comics, including my best fist forever Popeye. It’s also got comics-adjacent characters like Betty Boop and Cuphead. (Yes, I know there was a Betty Boop comic strip in the 30s. Comics Kingdom Vintage even runs it today. It’s quite bad and correctly forgotten.) The biggest mystery: they’re not slapping a Krazy Kat logo on some bricks and shipping those out? C’mon, this is right there. Use the Priority Mail flat-rate boxes, guys. Anyway, on to Mary Worth’s doings.

Mary Worth.

7 July – 28 September 2019.

The decks were nice and clear last time I checked in. Estelle had her fling with an Internet scammer and now was settling in with Wilbur Weston. Meanwhile the story drifted to Wilbur’s daughter Dawn.

Dawn, leaving a store in Santa Royale’s prestigious Three Doors Mall, bumps into Hugo Lambert. They took Classic Literature from Professor Cameron last year. He’s their French Foreign Exchange Student. He’s extremely French. He has to use the mother tongue for sentences like“My name is Hugo” or “I speak English”. You know, things no one who’s learned a foreign language ever has trouble remembering.

Hugo: 'Je m'appelle Hugo Lambert! You were in my classic literature class last year!' Dawn: 'Oh, right! You're the foreign exchange student in Professor Cameron's class! Pleased to meet you! I'm Dawn Weston!' Hugo: 'C'est mon plaisir de vous recontrer!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 10th of July, 2019. Surprisingly unmentioned this plot: that summer Dawn spent tromping around Italy with her art teacher. Yes, I’m aware that in many ways France and Italy are different countries, but it does seem like a great thing to bond over. This was, reader time, in early 2018, although I only recapped the event in passing. Dawn’s adventures in Europe were only seen briefly and never amounted to a story that we saw.

Or he wants us to remember he’s French. Hugo will sometimes go as much as a whole word balloon without lapsing into his native tongue. Or mentioning the glories of France. This is no complaint from me. Story comics are better when at least one character is preposterous. Not that pride in one’s homeland is by itself preposterous. Being barely able to talk about anything else? That makes delight into the baseline for all his appearances. The story has not reached the glories of CRUISE SHIPS, and its heap of characters reacting all out of proportion to the situation. But it’s been fun reading. The worst story comics are when all the characters are a vague mass of undifferentiated beige. Give a character an obsession, and ratchet that obsession up, and you’ve got life.

They have lunch. Hugo negs on the typical American diet of fried high-fructose corn syrup smothered in bacon, which, fair enough. Not Dawn’s eating, though. She eats almost as good as they do in France. Hugo loved the part in Literature class where they talked about Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame. He agrees with Dawn that the fire at Notre Dame was terrible. He negs Americans’ cultural appreciation, which is typically livetweeting their rewatches of Knight Rider. Again, fair enough. But Dawn points out America has good stuff too, like how we let French people in and … value … Americanism and stuff. Hugo likes Dawn, despite how she’s an American living in America in American ways.

After Dawn and Foreign Exchange Student Hugo Lambert exchange numbers ... Hugo: 'I like you Dawn, even though you are American, with your American ways!' Dawn: 'Gee, Hugo, thanks a lot! I like you too ... even though you are European, with your French ways! But seriously, I look forward to seeing you again.' Hugo: 'Me also!' Dawn: 'We can learn from each other, and I think we're alike in more ways than we differ.' Hugo: 'I don't know if we are or not. We'll just have to find out, won't we?'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 21st of July, 2019. So this happened when my love and I vacationed in the Netherlands. One morning the hotel clerk stopped in the middle of taking change out of the cash register for us. She apologized: she realized that she was counting out the money, in her head, in Dutch rather than English. That a Dutch person, in the Netherlands, should be thinking to herself in Dutch, while doing a task that did not at that moment involve her speaking to or looking at us, formed the most wonderfully needless apology I have ever received. There’s like no end of layers of unnecessary-ness to her regret. We still think back on that apology in wonder and delight.

Dawn thinks they’re hitting it off!

Meanwhile the snarkier readers start looking for evidence that, like, Hugo is really a guy from Yonkers who made up his French identity as a lark when he went to college and now he can’t get out of it, so he’s trying to make it so broad and ridiculous that people catch on without his having to tell them he was lying. I am sure Karen Moy did not mean us to go looking for evidence that Hugo was running a weird head-fake here. But it added an extra something wonderful and silly to read each strip for.

Anyway, they have a decent summer romance. Hugo’s spending his last month before going home painting his host family’s house. Dawn spends the time emitting French words hoping to get a response. “Guy de Maupassant! Eiffel tower! Pizza!” She panicked. Anyway, they spend time doing fun summer activities like leaping in fountains and sitting on the beach and all.

Dawn: 'I guess it's inevitable that foreign exchange students eventually have to leave.' Mary: 'That's usually the case.' Dawn: 'What should I do, Mary? I've really fallen for Hugo!' Mary: 'Maybe you should ask him what he wants to do.'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 8th of August, 2019. Normal snark brain: observes Dawn’s loose-beige sandwich. Galaxy snark brain: observes Mary Worth drinking something so heavy that it doesn’t seek its level when Mary Worth tilts her glass, and also ice cubes sink in it.

But the sad part is they know when Hugo will go home. Dawn worries their relationship — oh, hi, Mary Worth! How did you know? Well, Mary Worth offers the obvious but useful advice that Dawn should talk with Hugo about what happens after he goes home. And that he might not want a long-distance relationship. And that it’s all right to have a relationship that’s delightful for a month and then ends.

Dawn brings up the topic gently, on a trip to the Santa Royale Aquarium. Dawn suggests they might visit the far superior Cineaqua in Paris, when she visits him. He says, why speak of the future? In the aquarium he points to the fish who have their tanks and their place and accept it, and why don’t we accept the here and now? And, boy, if you want to subvert the text and read this as Hugo trying to not confess his secret? The text is almost on your side here.

She decides not to take the hint. Driving him to the airport she finally asks if they can Skype together or something. He says no, it couldn’t work. His Internet won’t send to anytime later than 2012 when France Télécom shut down Minitel. Dawn points out, this is Mary Worth, they’re all living in like 1972 at the latest. This shakes him, but he leaves for his plane.

Man with something unpleasant-looking covering his left face: 'Do you need a tissue?' Dawn: 'Thank you! I appreciate your concern.' Man: 'Just remember, God won't give you more than you can handle.'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 14th of September, 2019. I’m glad for the reassurance about God’s givings here. As a reserved, indeed half-stoic person, I am sure that I would not be able to handle tearing up in an airport to such an extent that a stranger came by to comfort me, and if someone were to, I would probably climb into my own cargo pants’ pocket never to be seen again. But, I know, other people have the emotional expressions that work for them, and that’s good for them, who are not me.

Dawn, weeping, gets a visit from a guy with parentheses all over his face. Since he has a deformity he’s there to deliver inspirational words about God not giving people more than they can handle, and leave. (This did surprise me. I thought Inspirational Guy might be Dawn’s quick-setting rebound relationship.) She goes home to cry.

It’s not Mary Worth knocking on her door. It’s Hugo.

His flight’s delayed to tomorrow. So he went to her. And, he’s willing to try a long distance relationship now. Dawn is overjoyed. And Mary Worth approves of this. She notes there are challenges to a long-distance relationship, but, come on. This is officially 2019. Over 96 percent of all relationships start out as long distance.

And that’s our story! It does seem pretty well wrapped up and the ritual of thanking Mary Worth is barely under way. We’ll see what’s changed the next time I check in, likely around December.

Dubiously Sourced Quotes of Mary Worth Sunday Panels!

Where would Mary Worth Sunday pages be without an inspirational quote ripped out of all possible context and maybe assigned to a famous person at random? Shorter, for one. Here’s some things recently said to have been said:

  • “Just living is not enough … one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.” — Hans Christian Andersen, 7 July 2019
  • “We cannot wish for what we know not.” — Voltaire, 14 July 2019
  • “People are pretty much alike. It’s only that our differences are more susceptible to definition than our similarities.” — Linda Ellerbee, 21 July 2019
  • “Normality is a paved road: it’s comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow through.” — Vincent van Gogh, 28 July 2019
  • “La vie est un sommeil, l’amour en est le rêve.” — Alfred de Musset, 4 August 2019
  • “I live in the moment. The moment is the most important thing.” — Rita Moreno, 11 August 2019
  • “You may be deceived if you trust too much, but you will live in torment if you don’t trust enough.” — Frank Crane, 18 August 2019
  • “True happiness … is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future.” — Lucius Annaeus Seneca, 25 August 2019
  • “In every living thing there is the desire for love.” — D H Lawrence, 1 September 2019
  • “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” — Alfred Lord Tennyson, 8 September 2019
  • “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” — William “Hamlet” Shakespeare, 15 September 2019
  • “Life’s supposed to be an adventure, a surprise!.” — Anton du Beke, 22 September 2019
  • “Distance means so little, when someone means so much.” — Tom McNeal, 29 September 2019

I know what you’re wondering. No, the auto care place has not changed its inspirational yet despairing message yet. Yes, I’m worried too.

Next Week!

The Ghost Who Walks went and got himself stabbed in the chest. What happened and how is he still walking around? We’ll see, I expect, in seven days with Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom, Sunday continuity.

If you don’t want to wait, and do want to read more comic strip stuff, please try my mathematics blog, which uses comic strips to talk about mathematical topics. Thank you.