Glad to see you’re interested in Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant. If it’s much later than about September 2018 when you read this, I’ve probably written a new essay bringing things further up to date. It should be at or near the top of this page.
15 April – 8 July 2018.
Prince Valiant has been absent from Prince Valiant lately. He’s busy working his way back from the mystic East. We’ve instead been following Aleta, Queen of the Misty Isles. Her problem: a populist aristocrat name of Krios is leading an anti-foreigner movement. He wants to limit all trade to a port that it so happens land he owns would be perfect for the purpose. Aleta’s sent her daughter Valeta to ask questions about the murder of Ingolf, first mate of a Norse trading vessel. It seems someone in Krios’s family killed Ingolf, and possibly two Misty Islanders. Zulfa, rival for Valeta’s interest in Ingolf’s captain Haraldr. She arranges a secret rendezvous with Ingolf’s girlfriend’s brother. No, nobody just has a simple relationship to anyone else in this story, thanks for asking.
Zulfa deploys her wiles on Antonio. By ‘her wiles’ I mean ‘alcohol’. He empties out some of his many ominous secrets. His father’s ambitions. His sister Andrinoa’s affair. His brother Drakon’s doing of terrible things. How Ingolf was to be on Krios’s island tomorrow night. He passes out as Drakon enters. Krios ordered Drakon to make his brother’s “indiscretion” disappear. She does, after smashing open the window lattice and leading Drakon on a chase across the tiled roofs of Krios’s estate.
Aleta asks Krios to come over and answer just one more question. Given the lock of hair found with him, and the servants found killed with him: what’s the deal? Krios declares he can’t keep the secret any longer. It’s his daughter. Andrina killed Ingolf in a “fit of passion” and throws her at the Queen’s feet.
But Antero steps up. He declares he can’t abandon his sister, not until he’s sure “she is being treated in the manner she deserves”. Antero promises that Andrina has a sick mind, but bears no guilt. And that he has something to share with Zulfa. It’s about the mysterious meeting on Krios’s island that Ingolf was to attend. He does, and returns to his father’s home, where he’s shut in.
That evening, Krios and some men slip out of town, as part of the nocturnal-squid fishing fleet. Krios makes his way to the island. There he rendevous with General Vialius, who brings startling news: all this is happening during the time of the Emperor Justinian. I never knew the era of Prince Valiant was pinned down to a century, never mind to within a couple decades. Justinian also sends his greetings to Krios.
Hi, readers interested in the 250th weekday-continuity storyline of long-running superhero comic strip The Phantom. I have no idea what that story is going to be. I’m writing this in late June 2018, in the midst of storyline number 249, A Reckoning With The Nomad. When story 250 starts — or other stories do — I’ll try to cover them, as well as any Sunday-continuity stories — with essays at this link. Thank you.
Where was the story in early April, last time I checked in? A failed airport bomber offers to reveal the identity of The Nomad, international terrorist and menace to The Phantom since 2011. The Phantom knows who The Nomad is: he’s Eric Sahara, father of his daughter’s roommate at Briarson School in New York City. The Phantom figures some kind of legal and political chaos will follow the Nomad’s naming, if he is truly publicly identified. So he figures to break into The Nomad’s compound and abduct him. He saw the Nomad from afar, acting strangely non-fleeing for someone who could expect authorities to be closing in on him. And that’s where we had been.
The Phantom gets past the security guards the way superheroes always get past security guards. Mostly with a bunch of well-placed punches that don’t attract other sentries. He grabs The Nomad out of bed. The terrorist cringes, whimpering and begging for mercy, and tells an incredible story, backed up by flashbacks on-camera. He’s not Eric Sahara. He’s just a Parisian man, abducted, surgically altered, and forced at gunpoint to be a decoy Fake Nomad. No-Nomad? That’ll suffice; I missed the fellow’s actual name. The Real Nomad’s plan succeeded. The Phantom’s trapped in a jungle bungalow, surrounded by armed guards. Who, you know, weren’t working too hard to stop his breaking in, earlier in the paragraph. Ah. No-Nomad runs, begging for his life, telling his captors how they don’t need him anymore now that their plan has worked. They murder him.
They’re ready to murder The Phantom too. Also his pet wolf, Devil. And they have an enviable tactical advantage. They surround the bungalow’s exits. They’re stocked up with 800 million jillion kerspillion rounds of ammunition and grenades and rocket-propelled grenades and missiles and neutron bombs and photon torpedoes and Starkillers and a couple right nasty rubber bands flung from between their fingers. Plus I bet they call him nasty names too. Those really hurt.
So it’s a well-organized trap. Their one mistake: they left a mattress in the No-Nomad’s bedroom. It’s cover. It lets him deflect a rocket-propelled grenade so as to blow open a new way out, an action both cool and absurd. (This broke the ability of one of Comics Curmudgeon’s commenters to suspend disbelief. I understand. I’m still along for the ride, but I would also have watched the Mythbusters episode where they tested this one.) Phantom and Devil race through the new opening. They escape The Nomad’s underlings who somehow fear they’ll be punished for letting The Phantom escape the death trap. The Phantom decides, yeah, he’s definitely going to take advertising from that silver-threaded mattress-kit delivery service on his pop-culture hangout podcast, The Ghost Who Walks Out Of Bad Movies. (Highly recommended if you need some more stuff to listen to. He and Mandrake the Magician have this great running gag of pretending to be Confused Johnny Hazard not understanding the exposition no matter how simple they make it.)
The Ghost Who Brings A Mattress To A Rocket-Propelled Grenade Fight is scathed, though. He unwisely pulls some shrapnel from his neck, opening up an artery. There’s nothing for it. He rides Hero, his horse, back to Skull Cave, while keeping as much pressure as he can on it. (This is another point that shattered a Comics Curmudgeon’s suspension of disbelief. I’m more sympathetic to this.) He makes it to Guran, though, and emergency surgery. Also a blood transfusion that surely will not result in his no longer being able to turn into The Incredible Hulk.
And that’s the major developments the last several months. As the shortness of this essay indicates it hasn’t been a dense plot. It’s had plenty of action, and intrigue. It’s just been a lot of stuff happening on one very busy night for everyone.
Also at least some of you are wondering what’s going on in Alley Oop. This is my recap for basically spring of 2018 and it should get you well-grounded for at least another couple weeks. If it’s past about August 2018, that might not be a big help. But an essay at or near the top of this page might be. Good luck. Let me know if it doesn’t do anything for you.
1 April – 23 June 2018.
So I left Oop somewhere near Philadelphia on the 31st of July, 1781. OK, Jack Bender and Carole Bender did, but still. Alley Oop and Wizer were sent there by well-meaning rich idiot M T Mentis. Mentis had responded to Oop’s transport-request beacon. He didn’t notice how all the screens in Dr Wonmug’s Time Lab read “DESTINATION: JULY 31, 1781”. This is one of those subtle big events in history. It’s when General George Washington commissioned Alexander Hamilton to command several regiments. Great time to toss in some confused Moovians.
Private Isaac Holmes, carrying Hamilton’s commission, runs into Oop and Wizer. In the collision both the sealed commission and Oop’s time-signalling necklace fly loose. Holmes suspects spies, or something, anyway. But they come under enemy fire, and by the time they find some quiet they realize the letter’s gone. Oop and Wizer start to worry they’ve changed history, a risk that hasn’t been a major concern in the strip so far, best I know.
Meanwhile in 2018, Mentis tells Wonmug about Oop’s signal. And that Oop isn’t there. Also that maybe it’s kind of because he had set the time machine to 1781 because he was thinking about Alexander Hamilton, “you know … since he’s so popular now”. Wonmug gets a Revolutionary War outfit from somewhere I seem to have missed, and figures to set off to try fixing whatever’s gone wrong. He leaves Mentis at the Time Lab with orders to stop breaking all time and space already.
Meanwhile in 1781, a desperate Holmes enlists Oop and Wizer to help recover the letter. They borrow outfits from a couple wounded Continentals. Wizer applies some healing potion in trade. And they get a funny little training session about how to load and fire a musket. This pays off a bit; later Oop’s able to tell someone a fresh-discharged musket is harmless except as a club. Oop’s more into using the thing as a club which, fair enough. He also gets the bayonet, too. Oop, Wizer, and Holmes follow the tracks of the letter-thief and find the shaded figure in Redcoat custody. Oop gets a daring raid on this small party started. But that’s broken up when Dr Wonmug materializes right in the midst of things. The Redcoats and their captive get away in the confusion.
Wonmug knows what the letter must have been. Hearing that it’s Alexander Hamilton’s commission orders makes Holmes suspect spies. Fair on him. Also at this point Mentis wandered over to ask me why I go off on him being the dumb one when Wonmug, with 80 years of experience at this, is acting like that. Fair enough. Wonmug says that the British spy to actually watch for was likely James Moody, who’d intercept Continental couriers. I’m going ahead and assuming that’s legit history because I don’t have the time to research that myself. Ah, yes, Moody was born in Little Egg Harbor, New Jersey. I’ve been there. Story Book Land’s a great little kiddie amusement park there. He wrote one of the few memoirs of the Revolution from the Loyalist perspective. Hm.
Oop and Wizer chase after the Redcoats and their prisoner. Wonmug and Holmes hang back long enough for Mentis to pop in from 2018. Mentis asks why they don’t make a copy of the letter, since Wonmug knows its contents and all. Wonmug says there’s no time; they need to go in and help Oop in his fight and recover the real letter.
Mentis time-transports away. But that’s all right. Oop’s already clobbered the Redcoats into unconsciousness. This lets him recover the time-signal amulet, but the letter is still missing, as is the prisoner. Given the hopeless muddle this all seems to be, Wonmug decides to go with forging the commission after all. They race to deliver the letter and, along the way, find Oop’s time-signal amulet again. This isn’t a continuity error in the story; Oop notices, he already has his recovered amulet. Wonmug figures to worry about it later because, yeah. Mentis is right. I shouldn’t be calling him the strip’s dunderhead. In fairness, Wonmug’s had a bunch of crazy stuff happen today.
Also his forgery doesn’t work for even a second. Alexander Hamilton may be kind of a dope w/r/t William Duer, but he knows legitimate commissions are going to have a proper seal. Hamilton orders Holmes, Oop, and Wizer arrested when the mysterious Contental prisoner races in with the real letter. Also a startling revelation: the prisoner was M T Mentis all along. Mentis explains to Hamilton that when the first letter was lost, his friends made that duplicate. But here’s the original, with the seal, and the content seems to match so everything’s all right with history and all?
With that straightened out, Mentis starts explaining to Oop, Wonmug, and Wizer what’s going on in Alley Oop. It turns out while Wonmug and Oop and all tromped around whatever they were doing in 1989, Mentis was paying attention to Bill And Ted’s Excellent Adventure. He didn’t use the time machine to run off. He used it to pick up the commission right when it was first lost. And thus was the mysterious shadowy figure that set Oop and company were pursuing.
So, this story. I’m surprised by the direct talk about the chance Wonmug’s Time Lab might change history. My impression was the comic strip had always taken that as something not to worry about, at least since I started reading it with attention. But then it’s also only in the forerunner to this story that they worried about time travellers bringing diseases. It looks as if they’re setting up one of those closed-time-loop adventures. These can be a particularly satisfying sort of time-travel story. Also the rare Alley Oop story where time travel more than how they get from one story to another. And, yes, I’m glad that it’s given Mentis the chance to recover some needed intelligence points. It’s a pity that Wonmug lost a bunch along the way. But he’s got some to spare. And I am also impressed by the grain of historical detail being put into the minor parts. Apparently there was an Isaac Holmes, too, who’d be a prisoner of war in Philadelphia. This might be a spoiler. I’m not sure this is the person who’s made a character here; the Wikipedia article on him doesn’t list things like when he was a prisoner or how, precisely the historic Holmes served in the army. There’s room to not worry about it all.
Thanks also for being interested in mathematically-themed comic strips. Those I talk about over here, at least one and sometimes several times each week. I try not to be too mean to the poor unfortunate jokes I notice.
26 March – 16 June 2018.
We left the Amazing Spider-Man in a good place. By my lights. He and Peter Parker’s grumbly employer J Jonah Jameson were deep in the Everglades. The Incredible Hulk was there, engaging in a contest of big musclebound green guys in purple pants wrestling. His opponent: The Lizard, the Science-Mutated Dr Curt Connors. He’s figuring on leading an alligator uprising that overthrows humanity. Great stuff.
Spider-Man leaps into action, which yes, he does. The snarky comics-reading community loves how much Spider-Man falls unconscious and gets other people to do his work. It’s more true than it maybe should be. But he will leap in to try to reason opponents into peace. I admire his trying. J Jonah Jameson admires it too, to his disbelief. It’s a policy that gets Spidey clobbered a lot, often knocking him unconscious. But what’s a hero without courage?
He tries the Hulk first, trusting that if he can calm down Bruce Banner then he can stop this green-guy swamp fight before anyone’s hurt. He clings to The Incredible Hulk, promising that the Hulk has to smash him first before he can smash The Lizard. Or — he can avoid killing anyone. Incredible sees the wisdom in this, and reverts to Bruce Banner form, to pass out in the grass. This gives The Lizard an opening to smash Spidey. But Spider-Man has a winning tactic.
He reminds The Lizard that he’s Dr Curt Connors, a man of Nice Science. Also that Nice Scientists don’t mean to go overthrowing humanity and installing a new master race of alligators. And this, too, works. The Lizard turns back into a human. A human with one lost arm, incidentally. Connors had lost it in a past Lizard-based adventure. He was scienceing that problem when he goofed and mutated himself again. He’s cool with losing the arm again, if it means he can be a human not seeking to rule the world. Well, different strokes. Also now he can kind of see why the grant committee rejected his proposal.
Next problem: J Jonah Jameson’s looking forward to his scoop about Curt Connors being The Lizard. But Connors doesn’t want the news made public; it would devastate his son. Spider-Man doesn’t want the news public either; Peter Parker’s a friend of Connors. Jameson is able to see reason, once a couple of leftover alligators attack him and Spider-Man throws them off. And after Spidey says he’ll drop some alligators in Jameson’s office if he publishes. This undoes much of the good will that Spider-Man’s built up in Jameson’s eyes, but, you know, you can’t smash a heap of eggs without making some omelettes.
Anyway, Mary Jane Parker pops back around with the Motorboat of Wrapping Up Loose Ends. Along the way, Connors reaffirms that he doesn’t want the story getting out. Jameson reaffirms that he isn’t so much of a heel to ruin Connors’s kid’s life right now anyway. And Banner and Connors go off, figuring if they can team up to find a purple-pants Purple-Pants League of Science Mutation Stopping.
Peter has a little accident where he drops his plane fare back to New York, and an impoverished mother and son find it. So he lets them keep it, and Mary Jane eats the cost of another plane ticket back. (Mary Jane had told Jameson that her husband was going back to New York, as cover for Spider-Man turning up in the Everglades. So they have to make good the cover story is why.) There’s the traditional hold-up at the airport. Peter Parker worries he’ll get asked why he wears a Spidey suit under his clothes. He never worries he’ll get asked about these tiny, explosively propelled webs of an exotic chemical mixture strapped to his wrists.
But with the 18th of May, I’m calling, the old story ends and the new one begins.
That one opens “somewhere in Manhattan” as some of your classic thugs hold guns on what they claim is FBI Agent Jimmy Woo. They get to clobbering him when a new superhero pops in. It’s someone named Iron Fist, who’s dressed in green pants, vest, yellow hood, and cool dragon chest tattoo. I trust these are all people from some other Marvel comic where it’s always 1978. Iron Fist clobbers the thugs and takes the wounded FBI Agent to Metro General hospital.
At the Daily Bugle office, managing editor Robbie Robertson happens to mention that The Kingpin is out of jail. And then the Plot TV reports this Iron Fist stuff going on. Robertson deputizes Parker to go interview the agent and write up this story. At the hospital Parker sneaks past security. He’s caught by Dr Christine Palmer. I assume she’s someone from the comic books too or else she’s getting too much of an introduction.
Kicked out, Peter figures the thing to do is to make like a Minneapolis raccoon. He gets to the 14th floor and gets kicked in the face by Iron Fist. Spidey tries to sass Iron Fist about how come he’s doing all this kicking. But I’m not worried. This looks like the Ritual Fight that all superheroes must do on first meeting. They’ll be teaming up soon enough. Or will they? … Yeah, they will. I’m writing this Wednesday, but I have expectations about the rest of the week.
Thanks for wondering what might be happening in Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp. I’m writing this when the Summer 2018 storyline has barely begun. So if you’re reading this too late into summer, or after Fall 2018, sorry, this won’t help. If I’ve got a more recent summary it should be at or near the top of this page. Thanks for checking. And, you know, if you want to just subscribe to Another Blog, Meanwhile, and get these updates in your WordPress Reader, there’s the blue strip to “Follow Another Blog, Meanwhile” on the right side of this page. At least until I change the theme as if I could find a theme that will make me happy.
[ Record scratch. MARTY MOON, in voice-over. ] “Yup, that’s me. You’re probably wondering how I ended up in this situation.”
Yes. But nobody wants to hear what passes for introspection in Marty Moon’s mind. I’ll do it instead. It started with Jorge and Paloma Padilla, transfer students fleeing Donald Trump’s enthusiastic drowning of Puerto Rico by joining Milford’s basketball teams. Marty Moon, covering a game, says Hurricane Maria was the best thing that could’ve happened to the Milford basketball team and also to “Georgie”. And talks how Georgie “earned his burritos” with that great play. How he’s a regular “Mexican jumping bean”. He figures this weird, faintly-racist-in-that-way-60s-food-mascots-could-be stuff might help the radio station land a big advertising deal from a Mexican restaurant. Paloma’s Disgruntled Students Group comes to the station to ask what the deal is. Moon mansplains that they need to remember the one key thing in the world of high-school-sports radio-journalism: shut up. So they take seats right behind Moon’s broadcast table and heckle him. He runs off.
Moon recuperates in the time-honored fashion of white guys. He whines about political correctness gone mad and determines that it’s someone else’s fault (“or I’ll eat my sombrero”). Moon identifies coach Gil Thorp as the problem. It is a common thought in Gil Thorp commenting communities that Gil Thorp doesn’t really care about what’s going on. But in this case, well, yeah. He wouldn’t intermediate between Moon and the Disgruntled Students Group. But how is students protesting Marty Moon’s racist on-air jokes any of Thorp’s responsibility? But he rallies to action, and in a way I thought crafty. He tells the Disgruntled Students Group that they shouldn’t be drowning Moon out. But also there’s no reason Marty Moon should be the only coverage of sports games.
The Disgruntled Students Group sets up the “Milford Pirate Network” on YouTube. Cute nerd Duncan Levin, wearing a pirate hat and fake parrot, narrates the game. He has the condescending nerd attitude that calls “sportsball” any game that doesn’t involve miniatures and weird-marked dice. No matter; the Milford Pirate Network’s real game is bear-baiting, and Marty Moon hopes to someday be sharp as a bear. Levin’s a hit, which, yeah, I can see. I don’t buy the strip’s claim that this would draw away people who would like to hear coverage of a high school basketball game. But I accept there’s people who don’t care about basketball who would like to watch a nerd heckling a clownish local-media personality. I’m going ahead and assuming he pads his reporting with Monty Python quotes and lines from the new Mystery Science Theater 3000 series.
But there’s still the hecklers, taking Gil Thorp at his word that the occasional outburst is normal. And Levin, poking his head in to ask if Marty Moon’s wife is a goer, knowwhudImean. And his boss complaining that this whole mess is Marty Moon’s own fault. Even Jorge has limited sympathy. It’s not that anyone threw Moon under the bus. It’s that he dug a pit for himself in the asphalt and then hugged a bus over top of himself. And then hired another bus to come and run over that bus. And then hired a third, bigger bus company to run a bus over that buspile. Then he got back to the first bus company and had them put monster truck tires on top of their tallest bus and drive it over them.
On to an away game. The Milford Pirate Network is there. Levin asks how Moon can possibly transmit without a fake parrot attached to his shirt. Moon curses out Levin live and on air, using even the # word, and gets an indefinite suspension for his troubles. Even though he totally sent an e-mail saying he apologized if there were any fragile snowflakes out there who were too sheltered in their safe spaces to able to tolerate his honest truth-telling.
The suspension has its downsides. It turns out that without Moon to heckle, Levin isn’t much of a sports commentator. I know, weird that someone who’d talk about how their big sweaty guy is better than our big sweaty guy doesn’t know how to craft a good sports narrative. But likely it would have petered out in any case. It’s easy enough to make fun of something once, maybe twice. Keeping at it after that requires work. You have to have writing skills. You have to run out of stuff to say and care about the subject enough to think of new stuff to say. And deep down, Levin doesn’t really care about basketball.
The YouTube coverage winds down. And there’s no radio coverage either, which I guess is a bad thing for the basketball team for some reason? I don’t know. This may be my background showing. I grew up in central New Jersey. A high school basketball game would not make the evening news unless something noteworthy happened, such as the Governor accidentally crashing a light aircraft into the gymnasium and transforming the six people nearest the crash site into superhero tiger-sharks, as happened in Egg Harbor City the 22nd of July, 1986.
So coach Gil Thorp puts aside his not really caring and intervenes again. Moon’s boss confirms that if they can do something that gets the Disgruntled Students Group off their backs they’ll put Moon back on the air. So Thorp goes to Paloma. He explains how this has all been jolly good fun, but now a white man is suffering a consequence. Surely she doesn’t want to be responsible for that? Which is where in this storyline I started yelling back at the comic. I may need to take a break.
But they work out a deal. The Disgruntled Students Group will drop their protest, if Marty Moon apologizes, takes an online course about Latin American history, and covers at least one girls game each season. I’m not clear if this is only girls basketball, or all the major sports. But the lack of media coverage of girls sports was mentioned, early in the story, and was one of the injustices Paloma noticed. Moon’s boss buys the deal for him. Moon says “I can’t believe you let those kids get away with this.” Thorp answers, “You sound like the villain on Scooby-Doo”. This moment endeared Thorp to me. It got the Scooby-Doo quote wrong in the way that a middle-aged guy who really doesn’t care about Scooby-Doo would. And that, with the 21st of April, ends the Marty Moon/Jorge Paloma story.
The current story, softball season, started the 23rd of April. Senior Kevin Pelwecki has got obsessive in that endearing teenager way about batting just right. And lecturing his teammates on the proper swing. Gil Thorp, spotting trouble early this time, steps in. He drills Pelwecki on batting, keeping him too busy to instruct his teammates, and away from where his teammates can flush him down a toilet. That’s all right; Pelwecki will find the time to teach his teammates about his new batting stance. In fairness, he is getting better pretty fast.
Meanwhile at school newspaper The Milford Trumpet, they have a plotline. Dafne, spunky young reporter who probably has a last name, has noticed Barry Bader. Bader’s a weirdly intense player on the team. She digs around and what she can find is interesting but incomplete. She learns that Bader’s father is in jail for killing a student while driving drunk. The story’s more complicated than that [*], but she can’t get much, since it happened the summer before I started doing these plot recaps. She figures: well, why not ask him about it? And in case of the one-in-a-million chance he doesn’t want to talk about it? Why not ask him again and again until he says something newsworthy?
[*]: While driving home drunk Bader’s father crashed his car into Milford girls’ softball star pitcher “Boo” Radley’s. Both were okay at first, but a truck that didn’t stop in time hit Radley’s car, killing her. The salient part starts here, the 2nd of June, 2016 and goes about a week. Also relevant: Bader’s father was already standing trial for driving drunk when this happened.
This goes well. A provoked Bader argues with an umpire until Thorp carries him back to the dugout. Later in the game Bader takes a runner’s slide into second as a personal affront, slugs him, and gets suspended for two games. His teammates laugh through his anger, because remember, guys are awful. Bader figures to channel his anger into interviews with Dafne. He says, “it can’t make things any worse”, apparently forgetting that he was calling his father’s judge in the first trial an “ugly cow” that someone ought to “smack” and that things said to reporters sometimes get reported. No matter; he’s busy this weekend. He’d told a bunch of Greek gods how he could perform a more beautiful melody on the lute than any of them. Now they’re going to have a little contest to see who’s right.
So we’re ready to see the interview happen. There are all sorts of ways this can go well; which will it be? I’ll know tomorrow; you’ll know, I don’t know. Next essay, probably.
Hey, is it sometime near the end of May or any of June 2018? If it is, great. If it’s sometime around, oh, August 2018 or later you might want to look here instead. If I’ve written a more recent update about what’s happening in Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D., it should be there.
Maybe not; he’s cool with seeing how this plays out. Kelly asks Rex Morgan, M.D., what to do about this. Rex can’t diagnose anything, of course; you need someone who does medicine for that. But he does suggest trying small bites of peanut butter and honey sandwiches until Justin can get seen by a doctor. Justin can eat the peanut butter and honey, solving one immediate problem. But he’ll need a doctor’s note to bring peanut butter in to eat at school. The school participates in the “Let’s Have Angry Old People In The Comments Section Tell Us How Food Allergies Are A Made-Up Thing” program. He finally gives in to peer pressure, and lets Kelly make an appointment with the Morgans. If there’s a promise of no shots and not getting his knee hit with that little hammer. Also if the Morgans make that promise. “Oh never fear,” chuckles June, “we don’t use the little hammer anymore.”
So it turns out Justin has a real actual medical condition that really actually occurs in the real world. It’s called achalasia, in which the muscles of the esophagus don’t work right. It’ll take surgery to treat, so Rex Morgan calls in a friend who practices medicine for it. In non-snarky fairness, I would expect the procedure — a “Heller myotomy” — to be something you get a specialist for. And, come early April, we get some word about why Justin was so weird about seeing a doctor. His mother’s terrified of hospitals. This follows the family story of how her great-grandfather died on the operating table in 1923. This seems ridiculous to me, but ridiculous in a way that people actually are. So I’m cool with it. She’s cool with it too, once Justin gets a haircut and, I trust, promises to wear clean underwear for if he dies.
And as for Justin, who did not die, he would go on to disappoint his friends, who hoped he would do something dopey while recovering from anaesthesia. No; he simply survived a weird medical problem without incident. End story, the 15th of April.
The 16th began the next focus, about the marriage of Buck and Mindy. They’re having it in Las Vegas. They sent invitations to the other player-characters in the comic. “Horrible” Hank Harwood, rediscovered 50s-horror-comics artist, and his son, rent an RV to road trip to it. They’re hoping to make a grand tour of the country. They’ll stop at all the great roadside attractions and see whether Zippy the Pinhead is talking to any of them about Republicans or meat.
(By the way, this week my love and I were at meals reading collections of Zippy the Pinhead comics from completely different decades. And reading individual strips out loud to each other. We’re delighted by early examples of later Bill Griffith obsessions and jokes that could run in normal comics too. There are many more accessible Zippy the Pinhead strips than the comic’s reputation suggests.)
Interwoven with Buck-and-Mindy’s wedding and Hank-and-Hank’s road trip is a less giddy story. Milton Avery, multimillionaire industrialist, died, the same day that his wife Heather Avery gave birth. Heather Avery flies back to Glenwood, where the strip’s set, partly to console herself with the company of the Morgans. Partly to work out how the expected succession crisis at Avery International plays out. This promises great excitement. The last time the succession of Avery International was addressed was when Woody Wilson wrote the strip. Back then, Heather Avery got Rex Morgan to lie. Morgan claimed Milton Avery was mentally competent and in full possession of his faculties and all. So there’s good reason for the Board of Directors to be up for a good rousing fight.
Heather’s opening salvo is to explain how she’s thrilled with the way they’ve been running the company. And she doesn’t see any reason anything needs to change. Corporate/Economic historian Robert Sobel in his 1972 The Age of Giant Corporations: A Microeconomic History of American Business identified this as the ol’ “Not the face! Don’t punch me in the face!” boardroom maneuver. But she also explains how if they screw this up she’ll feed them to a June-Morgansaurus. Should be exciting.
While we wait to see how that plays out might you consider reading up on mathematically-themed comic strips? I’ve got a bunch on my other blog that you might like to hear about. This week I get to show off the Maclaurin series for the cosine of an angle measured in radians! You’ll understand why that’s a thing by the end of the article.
My last recap of the Sunday-continuity Phantom involved a lot of walking. This is because the strip involved a lot of walking. The Ghost Who Walks was earning his title alongside a Bangallan prisoner known to us only as The Rat. The Rat was figuring to buy his freedom with information about his ex-partner, since the partner wasn’t doing anything about breaking him out of prison. The Warden would have none of it. The Phantom would have some of it. He lead The Rat out of Boomsby Prison, the plan being to capture The Rat’s ex-partner, and maybe get The Rat a recommendation for time off his sentence. The Phantom promised, repeatedly, that The Rat was going back to prison, no matter what The Rat’s ideas. As of late February, they finally got out of the prison, into the Boomsby Mines.
The Phantom provides The Rat with a horse, and leads him to the nearby border of fascist Rhodia. The Rat’s ex-partner is in there somewhere. The Rat tries, as promised, to slug The Phantom and break free. That doesn’t work out for The Rat. They go tromping into the woods. The Rat’s luck holds up: a boomslang snake drops around his shoulders.
The Phantom takes the chance to mess with The Rat’s head, holding his pistol and making ready to shoot the snake off him. He’s teasing, of course. The Phantom shoots in the air, scaring the venomous snake away. The Rat does a bit of analysis, figuring that he now understands. He speculates The Phantom had a mean life, one that beat toughness into him. Absurd, of course. Kit Walker had a kind, loving father who raised him from birth to be a crimefighting superhero, the way nineteen generations before him had done. The Rat wants to know what The Phantom gets out of all this do-gooding, when he could be amassing riches and power instead. So The Rat hasn’t heard about the treasures in The Phantom’s lair. And doesn’t suspect his ties with the Bangallan president or with the Jungle Patrol. The Phantom might need to improve his brand identity and maybe needs to seed some new Old Jungle Sayings.
But that’s got us — at last, really; this story began in early October — to The Rat’s partner’s lair. Ready to strike. And The Rat clobbers The Phantom into the side of a carport. This will turn out well for him.
As indicated, this has not been a densely plotted story. It’s had several solid sequences, the boomslang the most interesting one to me. It’s been a lot of atmosphere, with some character and a bunch of sequences of The Phantom letting The Rat make a fool of himself. This is fine for the story. It just makes for a short plot recap. Next week will be different.
Dear Wendy, have you ever tried to explain Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth? Have you ever got angry about a story, and worried about that anger considering you’ve been offended by two Gil Thorp storylines in a row now?
Signed, Person Writing From So Far After Mid-May 2018 That This Essay Isn’t Any Use Anymore.
A content warning. The last couple months of Mary Worth have included a character sexually assaulting another. They’ve also included a despairing character considering suicide. If you don’t need that in your recreation, you’re absolutely right. Go on to something that won’t be needlessly miserable instead. I’ll catch you next time.
18 February – 13 May 2018.
When I last checked in Mary Worth was looking to become rich and famous through muffins. Ted Miller, vaguely associated old friend of Mary’s eternal beau Jeff, was crazy for Mary Muffins and insisted the world would be too. His plan: Mary bakes muffins, and he sells them, and then they both get rich and she gets famous. What could go wrong? And it was a glorious time. For one, yes, people in-universe always praise her food. But Mary Worth’s cooking always looks like it’s from one of those Regrettable 70s Food blogs. You know, the ones where we were supposed to make a tuna-jello fondue with a 7-Up glaze and bake it to look like a lamb, with a dyed mashed potato “lawn” around it.
There’s a motif in comic strips where a character gets to be successful after five weeks of kind of trying. It’s a reliable giddy delight. For another, people kept saying “muffin” or, better, “Mary’s muffins”. Over and over and over. This blend of silly story and silly phrasing could not go wrong.
Many people have written here to the Department of English to ask about dividing numbers. We think they’ve entered some code wrong. But in the spirit of open-minded civic cooperation we shall try to help.
There are many reasons to divide one number by another. For example, one can use it to adapt a recipe so that you can make an amount for fewer people than the recipe figures on. Recipes often need to be divided, we guess. The person writing the recipe assumed you were excluding fewer people from your meals, because they were not on social media at the time.
You need to have an objective before checking a number’s divisibility. This keeps you from doing something absurd like finding out whether you can divide 96,133 by 251, considering that neither number is at all believable. By “number” we mean “whole number”. These are numbers which are at least two percent fat by volume. Skim numbers follow different rules, but are healthier, and taste more like watercolor paint.
Do check that your numbers are in base ten. This won’t often be a problem. Base ten is popular in places where people mostly have ten fingers per person. There are some people enthusiastic about other bases. Other bases let you do things like figure out what the 69,281st digit of π is in base 32. Or insist that it’s a funny joke to say “Halloween is equivalent to Christmas” and insist that’s true. Smile at these people and move on with your life. Do not bring up base eleven. They’ll start talking the history of the metric system.
Divisibility starts with 1. This is easy enough since everything is divisible by 1. This is the result of 1 winning a fourth-round bye in the Numeric Invitational Tournament. (The first through third-round byes won money instead.) 10 is also a pretty good number to divide by. If a number ends in zero you can divide it by 10, and for that matter by 5. This makes 5 sound pretty free-wheeling. 2 is a more needy number and insists that any numbers ending in 0, 2, 4, 6, 10, 18, 64, 98, 144, or 69,282 divide by it. There is no point arguing with 2 about this point anymore. Let it have these. Do not let it have 251.
Things get tricky around 3, which should surprise nobody, given the number’s pointiness. But there’s hope. Take all the digits of your number and add them up. If that sum is divisible by 3 then so was your original number. Yes, we’re still stuck on whether some number can be divided 3, but it’s a different number. By keeping a list of all the numbers we’re considering divisibility by three we can show we’re working hard and taking this problem seriously. Later we can learn that we did the adding-up wrong, costing us one point but not much affecting our grade.
A number is divisible by 4 when the corresponding year is a Presidential Election Year in the United States. Unfortunately this means you might be waiting around for hundreds or thousands of years to check. Plus the rule is no good for anything below 1788. Maybe someday we’ll discover a different method that’s practical instead.
Nothing is divisible by 17, but who would want that anyway?
Simplicity itself is the test for whether something is divisible by 21. Start with the last digit of the number you’re testing. Now make a copy, in case the number needs to be remastered at some point. Add to that last digit ten times the digit to the left of the last digit. Then subtract five times the digit to the left of that. Once you’ve got that done, simply add four times the digit to the left of that one. From that sum subtract twice the digit to the left of that. If you’ve got any digits left over then add one times that. If anything is still left over, go back around the multiplying and subtracting or adding like before. And voila: if the new number you get is divisible by 21 so was the original! It’s amazing there are people who need this explained to them even today, but it was Thursday all day. We can’t expect too much.
If you should find your recipe contains a number that can’t be divided, then you can’t make the recipe until you start talking to people again. We don’t know how to help with that. You can leave a note that you’ll accept an apology when they feel courageous enough to offer one. This has never worked for anyone, ever. But hey, good luck to you!
Last time in Mark Trail there were a bunch of animals in weird places. I mean weird by Mark Trail’s standards. A giraffe eating Rusty’s apples. An ostrich with an organ-grinding monkey teasing Doc. A rhino chasing down a couple of Mark Trail cartoonist James Allen’s friends. Mark could be baffled by these goings-on while we readers weren’t. And not because Mark or anyone was being dumb. We had information that they didn’t: “Dirty” Dyer read about how the Tingling Brothers Circus was making its last tour. How or why their animals were loose might be a mystery, but why there should be a giraffe at the Lost Forest at this time of year was not. Oh, also, Dyer is figuring to kill Mark Trail. But he’s taking his time and working up to it.
After hearing of Rusty and Doc’s weird-animal reports, Mark steps out on the porch and sees a tiger. He swings into action and steps back inside, to toss a ham outside. A big old ham, too, like you see in 1950s humor comic books. The tiger eats the ham, proving to Mark that this isn’t some hallucination, somehow? After that odd moment, though, Mark calls the authorities, who it turns out were coming to visit anyway. The Sheriff explains. The Circus train derailed and most of the animals got loose.
Then he launches into what’s almost a shaggy dog story. It’s built on the premise that the clown car took it hardest: “You should have seen it, Mark — greasepaint and rubber chickens on the tracks for miles!”. The story then goes into the clowns, who were all safely in the bar car, in full makeup and dress. The dazed group, led by the eldest and most respected clown, the Great Wilhelm — “the clown that never spoke, he just screamed a lot” — wandered away. They stumbled through a graveyard and toward a bonfire where some kids were having a camping night and telling monster stories and stuff. So you can imagine how well a pack of dazed, disheveled clowns stumbling out of the graveyard were received. The clowns, frightened by the kids’ screams, turned and fled. Old Man Basil, overseeing the bonfire, fired a load of rock salt and hit The Great Wilhelm in the back. “They said you could hear Wilhelm scream from the other end of the valley!”
Okay. So. First. I’m not afraid of clowns. Not in the slightest. I don’t get what is supposed to be frightening about clowns. I think the pop culture default assumption that of course clowns are evil terrifying monsters who have to be stamped out of society is a sickness. I’ll grant there are people afraid of clowns, but, I mean, there are people afraid of any living matter that has lots of holes in it, like some kinds of fungus have. We don’t grant that phobia a privileged place in society and tell each other that of course the phobia is correct. “But wait,” people trying to talk me into fearing clowns say. “What about the clown from It? Aren’t you scared of that clown?”
I’ve never read It, nor seen the movie. But as I understand it, the clown from It is an unstoppable supernatural monster dragging people to a horrible death. The scary thing there is “unstoppable supernatural monster dragging people to a horrible death”. That he manifests as a clown doesn’t enter into it. I would not feel less menaced if the unstoppable supernatural monster dragging people to a horrible death were a freelance insurance-claims investigator.
Second. Wilhelm Scream? As in the scream that I guess is in every movie nerds like. James Allen put into Mark Trail a nerd-culture riff like that? And I didn’t notice? Even though he quite fairly set it up and underlined it several times, talking about The Great Wilhelm who “just screamed a lot”. And I didn’t notice. Well, fair enough. I’ve never noticed the Wilhelm Scream sound effect even though it’s apparently in every movie I’ve watched more than three times, including the Marx Brothers’ Monkey Business and Mister Bug Goes To Town. (Don’t @ me. I’ve listened to the scream in isolation, and I’ve listened to scenes with it in. I’ve learned that it turns out I just don’t care.) I’m not sure how I feel about Mark Trail making nerd culture jokes. But he put in a good one, and did it well, laying out the setup where anyone could see and trusting people wouldn’t notice.
Anyway. Back to the story. Mark and Dusty go looking for animals. There’s the ground rumbling. Mark says “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” and I see what he did there. It’s an elephant. Mark gets to the tranquilizer gun and knocks out the elephant before anybody can come to particular harm.
Then a new, bearded, bald guy comes in. In Mark Trail tradition this signals that we’ve finally met the villain. But no: he’s Marlin Creed from the Eden Gardens Zoo. There is no villain in this piece. He and his assistant Jim are here to help trap the animals and to ask if you get the reference there. Well? Do you? BETTER SAY YES! (2 points to the first person who gets what my reference there is. That person will be Roymark Kassinger.). (5 points to the first person who figures out what I’m referencing with this points-to-the-first-person-who stuff.)
With the arrival of Marlin and Jim, and the news that the circus people are getting organized again, the story looks like it’s finally ended. Mark mentions he’s going to have a vacation in Mexico soon. And then it turns out there’s a ruckus off-screen. There’s a tiger fighting a rhinoceros, because hey, how often do you get to justify having a tiger fight a rhinoceros? I mean outside March Mammal Madness? (I have not forgotten #Unsettlegate. Don’t ask what this is all about. You’re better off not knowing.)
The tiger runs off in one direction, the rhino in another. Mark, Marlin, and Jim chase the rhino in a cool zebra-striped jeep. Meanwhile Joel Robinson in the corner of the screen whispers out, “Daktari”. After the Wilhelm Scream thing I’m not getting nerd-snookered again. Marlin sends Jim out to annoy the rhino with a stick. Mark asks “is that safe?” Marlin says “No.” Like in the jokes about Wild America made back when we made jokes about Marlin and Jim and Wild America. The rhino is successfully annoyed and smashes the jeep. But Mark’s able to shoot him with a tranquilizer dart.
With the 14th of April this story is officially closed. We’re told the circus has recovered all their missing animals. This includes “Twinkles, the flaming-log-juggling hippo”. I assume this is a reference to something and I’m waiting to see what it is in Dick Tracy.
The 16th of April starts what might be the current story. It’s in the Bahamas where Dirty Dyer has been lounging on the beach and scaring resort guests with his knife-throwing practice. Also shooting off guns. Also reading Weapons For Dummies, Calvin and Hobbes, and To Serve Man. Dyer glad-handles the guy sent to report on how he’s alarming the guests into becoming his assistant.
I say this might be the current story. We’ve seen one or two-week interludes with Dirty Dyer before. James Allen is letting this story simmer. I don’t know whether Mark Trail is going to encounter Dirty Dyer yet.
So the 26th of April starts what is unambiguously the current story. The Trails are flying to Mexico. Rusty has an honestly endearing moment where he’s amazed at the size of the airport. “We’re only going to Mexico — I didn’t think we’d need an airport this big!” I sincerely like the kid-logic that how far you’re going should affect the size of the airport you go to. It’s even got enough bits of truth to it to make sense. Rusty Trail comes in for a lot of jokes about being a terrifying homunculus. I’m glad to see him being a normal-ish child.
Yeah, me neither. Mark explains, “Interestingly enough, Santa Poco was saved from bandits in the silent movie era by three American cowboy actors!” So I do thank James Allen for explaining he was making a Three Amigos reference. Rusty’s already wandered off to meet someone named Mara, whose family is also going to Tulum. And that’s where we are as of Saturday.
So all in all, I don’t know why Mark Trail is making so many nerd movie jokes lately. I think Allen’s just having fun with the strip’s hip-because-square reputation.
Sunday Animals Watch
What bits of nature have been showcased on Sundays recently? These have been:
Sea Turtles, 11 February 2018. Really, really endangered.
Bougainvillea, 18 February 2018. Not endangered except by spelling bee contestants who’ve just been knocked out.
Prairies Dogs and Black-Footed Ferrets, 25 February 2018. Finally. The Black-Footed Ferrets are incredibly endangered. Prairie Dogs are making a comeback.
Spiders and Great Heights, 4 March 2018. While public-speaking on an airplane naked in front of the House Centipede convention.
Blue Tarantulas, 11 March 2018. Freshly-discovered and so very popular so we’re going to destroy it any day now.
Rhesus Macaque Monkeys on this island near Puerto Rico, 18 March 2018. They survived Hurricane Maria and the future disgraced former president hasn’t ordered their gizzards drilled for coal yet!
Black-Footed [wild] Cat of southwest Africa, 25 March 2018. Really, really endangered.
Feral Pigs, 1 April 2018. Endangering you. Seriously. That bit at the start of The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy falls in the pig pen and the Cowardly Lion’s farmhand’sona rescues her? That’s showing off his bravery. The movie thought that part out.
Tiger Sharks, 8 April 2018. ThunderCats, but for sea life, why wouldn’t this be a hit? Because it didn’t make sense even by the standards of the SilverHawks universe is why. I mean, when your show would have been less baffling if you didn’t include the pilot episode laying out how everybody came to be Tiger Sharks and what their powers and all were you have world-building problems.
Chameleons, 15 April 2018. All my attempts to learn about how their faces fluoresce were obliterated by noticing Mark Trail calling them “squamates” and I have to sit and stare at that word for a long while even though (a) I know full well it’s a legitimate way to refer to them and (b) I knew the root word “squamous” before Mark Trail got onto it so there.
Marbled Crayfish, 22 April 2018. You know, those crayfish that are doing way better since they stopped dealing with the males of the species.
Orange Crocodiles, 29 April 2018. Probably Just About Dead.
Harris’s Hawks, 6 May 2018. Not endangered yet, but just you wait.
I don’t know what’s going on with Jim Scancarelli and don’t know anyone who does, but we may know in two weeks and two days. I say this for people who want to know what’s the deal with Gasoline Alley but aren’t willing to read more than the preview text of this article. If I get any news, though, I’ll post an article that you can find at this link. Also, if you want a summary of the plot that’s relevant for later than about the 16th of May, 2018, it’ll be there if I’ve written one.
I’ve heard nothing. I’ve encountered nobody who knows who’s said anything. I hope that Scancarelli’s well. The centennial of the comic strip is this November. There would be something terrible in cutting down a comic strip so close to that milestone. And for Scancarelli not to draw the strip for that milestone would be cruel.
And yes, Gasoline Alley is an old-fashioned strip. Some of this is Scancarelli’s personal interests. He has old-fashioned interests. He’s an old-time-radio enthusiast. Or he makes way more references to Frank Nelson than average for a person in 2018. He also has a lot of riffs on Bob and Ray, but any reasonable person might do that. But some of this is also built into the structure of the comic. Gasoline Alley is that now-rare creature, the serialized comedy strip. Serialized comedies, in which there’s a long-running story but (pretty much) every installment is meant to be funny, used to be common. The style has fallen out of fashion; the last important serial comedy in the comics page that I can think of is Walt Kelly’s Pogo. Crockett Johnson’s Barnaby is also a great serialized comedy, and has recently got collected into some handsome books. Oh, yes, Popeye was serialized and mostly comedic. But that’s been in reruns ever since Bobby London did a three-week sequence in 1992 that made people aware Popeye was still running in 1992.
There are plenty of comic strips that blend comedy and drama, or try to. The standard model for this is to pick a storyline for the week and do riffs on that, and then (usually) pick up a new storyline the next week. You saw this in Doonesbury. It’s still like that in Funky Winkerbean or Luann. It’s not much different from comic strips that don’t try to advance narratives, which will often do a week’s worth of riffs on a premise and then pick up a new one.
Gasoline Alley runs a storyline until it’s resolved, regardless of how many weeks that takes and whether it finishes midweek or not. That’s almost unique among syndicated comics. The only other humor strip I can think of doing this is Bill Holbrook’s Safe Havens. That strip began as the antics of a bunch of kids at the same daycare. Holbrook allowed them to age in roughly realtime and grow up. The comic strip, having picked up a few new cast members (a pop star, a mermaid, a time-travelling babysitter, the genetically-engineered revival of the dodo birds, an infant Leonardo da Vinci) has sent everyone off to explore Mars. It’s a bit of an odd strip when you stop and think about it. I’ve considered whether to start recapping its storyline in my rotation here.
Anyway, I don’t like institutions passing from the scene. I say this the weekend that my neighborhood is losing the Fish and Chips. It used to be an Arthur Treacher’s until the franchise shrank out of the area. They ripped the name ‘Arthur Treacher’ off the signage and carried on like before. Whether the lost institution is the serialized comedy genre or merely this one comic strip doesn’t make much difference. Oh, gosh, and now I realize I don’t know when I last went to the Kewpie Restaurant, and yes it’s a burger place based on Kewpie dolls. If that closes we might as well shut the whole city down.
(Yes, I’m aware web cartoonists do great work in serialized comedy stories, except that no web cartoonist has ever finished a serialized comedy story. Um. Hi, my friends who are web cartoonists. I say hurtful things out of love because we’re all friends? Besides, most comedy web strips do finish their first long-form story, and their second. It’s the third that doesn’t make it.)
And yet there are signs that someone is at work at Gasoline Alley Master Command. The first ambiguous sign was the 14th of February, and a panel celebrating the birth of Skeezix. His discovery on Walt Wallet’s doorstep madeGasoline Alley, as he aged in roughly real-time and his story made the comic must-read stuff. The strip copyright was 2018. But there wasn’t anything to it that couldn’t be a modified reprint from an earlier birthday.
The stronger sign was an exciting Sunday, the 25th of February. It’s a musical number from the Three Blind Miceketeers. It’s a running thing; the singing trio of mice do old-time-radio/50s-live-TV style advertisements for Chef Meowrice’s Cat Chow. Yes, Chef Meowrice is a white cat in a chef’s hat. Anyway, this is a song dedicated to Gasoline Alley’s centennial. Signed by Scancarelli. Looks like his line art, to my (I grant) inexpert eye. I wondered if it were a reprint from an earlier anniversary, the 90th or 95th or 85th or so, but couldn’t find it. It seemed to be a new comic. Hopeful sign that Scancarelli might be back once the ongoing daily-comics story reached its end.
And last Sunday, the 22nd of April, was another new comic. This with a logo for the comic strip’s centennial, and a song to go with it. It’s presented as a musical performance by the Molehill Highlanders. One of the GoComics commenters said the Molehill Highlanders are a band Scancarelli was in. I can’t find corroboration for that, but the mention, and the more-realistic drawing of the Highlanders, make this sound plausible to me. Also according to Wikipedia, Jim Scancarelli is a well-known bluegrass fiddler. And a onetime prizewinner for the Old Fiddler’s Convention in Galax, Virginia. He’s also a model railroader. The only thing that would make this bundle of facts about him less surprising would be to discover he has a ham radio license.
The Sunday strips are new work. The modified daily strip implies that someone is at least reading the comics before sending them out for reprinting. So the comic isn’t wholly on automatic pilot. Will Scancarelli get back to writing the strip soon? I don’t know.
But: if the storyline from 2007 continues reprinting each strip, without insertions or omissions, then it’ll wrap up the 14th of May, 2018. This would be a natural time for Scancarelli to resume the strip. That’s not to say he will. If he’s had some problem keeping him from working, then making new Sunday strips while recuperating, or finding help, would make sense. There are plenty of reruns that could fill the daily strips. I am interested in what we’ll see the 15th of May.
(I’ve also wondered if GoComics is going to start running Gasoline Alley Classics, showing the strip from decades ago on purpose. I understand if they don’t want to run the strip from the 1918 start. Strips from that long ago take a lot of restoration and curation to publish. And then it always turns out there’s some impossibly racist figure in a small, unavoidable part. But from, say, World War II? From the 60s or 70s? It would let people better appreciate the comic strip as it was read at the time.)
While tearing out a countertop, Suds discovers an envelope with … The Lost Deed To Corky’s Diner. Pert Bobble, before his death, had deeded the diner and its land over to Corky. And so Wilmer Bobble was not the land owner and had no right to evict Corky. With the bulldozer at the front door Corky rushes to a lawyer to figure out whether this long(?)-lost deed is valid.
Now, um. I can imagine circumstances in which this might ever hold up. They amount to: you live in the world of an old-time radio sitcom. Or a sitcom from the 50s or 60s. It happens Jim Scancarelli’s characters pretty much do. It’s an old-fashioned sort of storyline resolution. If you accept the conventions of the genre then this is an acceptable way to save Corky’s Diner. If you don’t, well, then the story’s lost on you. Sorry for you, but it’s good news for the oatmeal shortage. I don’t know what to call this genre. But there is a kind of story this is an example of. And this resolution works for this kind of story.
(Okay, I can imagine another way this could work. The first element is if Pert transferred over the deed recently so that the place isn’t too far in arrears on property taxes. Or if in a fit of generosity he paid the property taxes anyway. The second if is Pert died recently enough that his estate’s still settling. I don’t see offhand a reference to when Pert died, or when the new deed was written. So there’s a possible thread by which this resolution could kind of work. If you need to have that instead.)
Bobble tries to bribe the sheriff into ignoring the deed, and that doesn’t go over well. The sheriff concludes Corky has a good title to the diner and the land it’s on. Not sure that’s the sheriff’s job. But someone has to tell the bulldozer driver what to do. They run Senator Bobble out of town and have a merry reopening.
And then the past month’s story, roughly: Suds, the dishwasher, is missing. After a couple of spot-joke interviews Corky hires a pair of young women, Joy and Dawn. They giggle a lot. They’re overwhelmed by the number of dishes. Also they’re kind of dumb. There’s a couple sitcom-class fiascos. Mostly broken dishes. Also putting enough soap in the dishwashing machine to cause a 50s/60s-sitcom-style mountain of suds.
And this brings Suds back into the picture. He got “shick” after “shellebratin’ Corky gettin’ t’own th’diner” and you get the picture. So Joy and Dawn are incompetent, but Suds is unreliable and only intermittently competent. Who keeps the dishwashing job? This turns into a contest to see who can clean the most dishes. Joy and Dawn using the dishwashing machine, or Suds by himself using sink and scrub brush? Who! Will! Win? That’s where the story stands as of the 28th of April.
It’s got two weeks more to play out. If you are aware of the genre Scancarelli writes in you have a fair guess how this is going to play out. But if you want to know before mid-May, I’ll not stand in your way. I would like to know what’s happening after that, myself.
Will Mark Trail die at the hands of Dirty Dyer? Will he die at the airport when a vehicle of some kind explodes from under him? Will he die at the hands of a flock of inadequately counted prairie dogs? There’s no telling, not until next Sunday when I look at what’s going in in James Allen’s Mark Trail.
Oh, all kinds of things are going on in Joe Staton and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy. (Also, Shelley Pleger and Shane Fisher routinely work on the Sunday strips. I’m not sure how often they work on daily strips. I want to be fair about crediting the people who make the comic but I don’t always know.) This is my best attempt at bringing you up to speed for mid-April 2018. If it’s a lot later than that, try at or near the top of this page. If I have later-written summaries they should be up there.
Back in late January, Dick Tracy and the Major Crime Unit were arresting Mister Bribery. The crime boss himself was going mad after his meeting with the former Governor of the Moon. The Lunarians had abandoned their city in the no-longer-habitable valley on the moon and gone into hiding … elsewhere. The Moon Governor himself was just poking around to figure out the deal with Honey Moon Tracy and the surgically-created Second Moon Maid, Mysta Chimera. Can’t exactly blame him for not taking all this well.
Sawtooth, hired by Mister Bribery to kill Dick Tracy in a slow and painful manner, skips town. Tracy wasn’t killed slowly nor painfully. Lee Ebony breaks her months-long cover as bodyguard T-Bone to arrest Bribery. Meanwhile Honey Moon rescues Crystal Ugly, Bribery’s niece and a new friend, from where she’d fled in the snow. All seems settled. The 11th of February there’s a coda about the Moon Governor meeting Diet Smith and Honey Moon Tracy. And about Lee Ebony going on vacation.
And that starts the next big plot, the one that’s dominated the last several months. It’s at Pepper’s, a popular restaurant apparently unrelated to the setting of the ended Tina’s Grove comic strip. Billionaire Simon Stagg — whom commenters identified as someone from DC Comics that I don’t know about — has a briefcase full of cash to buy Pepper’s restaurant. But Pepper declares he’s got no intention of selling. He’s poisoned the billionaire, after establishing that Stagg had eaten fugu earlier in the day. The coroner thinks it’s blowfish toxin, accidental poisoning. But the mayor has doubts, and calls Dick Tracy in from his fishing vacation with Popeye and Alice the Goon.
Tracy goes to Pepper’s with just a few questions, and Pepper allays them by chasing him off the property, the way innocent people with nothing to hide do. Tracy returns, hoping to talk with the chefs while Pepper’s caters a political dinner at the Winrock Mansion. One of the cooks offers that he can talk, if Tracy will meet him outside, away from witnesses, over by Ambush Rock. Tracy’s good for it, and the cook’s good for clobbering him with a bowling pin, like he was in a George McManus cartoon.
Pepper takes Tracy’s own handcuff and hooks him up to his trailer hitch. This raises several questions, like: wait, would a handcuff actually keep someone on a trailer hitch for a twenty-mile ride by country road? I’m never confident those things are secure with actual proper hitches and it sure looks like the handcuff should pop right off the first good bump in the road. The second question: wait, so Pepper figures he’ll get away with murdering Stagg if the city’s most famous detective, whom the Mayor and the Major Crimes Unit know is investigating Pepper, goes missing and maybe turns up dead? (Although, in fairness, it was barely two months since the last time Dick Tracy was abducted and left for dead so maybe his murder would be lost under a buffet of suspects.) Third question: what does Pepper hope to gain from killing Tracy instead of, like, actually hearing any of his questions?
Despite the high speeds Tracy’s able to call Sam Catchem. And to get his handcuff key, maybe to get free. Before he can, Pepper has to stop short, avoiding a deer in the road. Tracy gets free and shoots out the truck’s tire before Pepper can run him over. Pepper’s truck crashes down the ravine, and the restauranteur makes his escape before Tracy can follow.
Pepper finds a hideout with Phishface, who — reluctantly — sets Pepper and his fugu chef up in an unused part of the city aquarium. That’s good for almost days before, fleeing staff, Pepper falls into the tank hosting the new Portuguese Man-of-War. And so, the poisoner himself dies with appropriate dramatic irony but not the particular involvement of Dick Tracy, who was busy arresting the fugu chef.
And this highlights a bunch of other questions. First: wait, what the heck? Second, like, what did Pepper hope to gain from killing Stagg in the first place? Simon Stagg’s money seems like a good enough motive, and (on the 28th of March) the fugu chef does think he’s making off with Stagg’s briefcase full of cash. But it seems weird to kill a guy for money he was going to give you in an actual legal and above-board transaction. I guess keeping the money and the restaurant is good, but, sheesh, having a restaurant grow successful enough to be worth selling out is winning the lottery. What more does he want? Third, so, the final toxicology report (delivered the 22nd of March) is that Stagg died of blowfish toxin. I take it this is meant to signify that Pepper got away with it, killing Stagg in a way that looked like it was an unrelated accident.
In which case, yeah, Pepper committed a perfect crime and undid it by kicking Dick Tracy until the super-detective got curious. This isn’t by itself a problem. People committing crimes they aren’t actually smart enough to succeed in can make for great storytelling. Elmore Leonard, the 2016 Electoral College, the Coen Brothers, and the Florida Man Twitter feed make compelling material out of this. And Tracy (on the 31st of March) says he hasn’t met any smart criminals yet. All right, but if the point is that Pepper piddled away his chance to get away with killing a rich man for money, I’d like that made clearer. Tracy didn’t even ask Pepper any specific questions; why was he panicked already?
One of the hallmarks of the Staton/Curtis era of Dick Tracy has been rapid, relentless pacing. And that’s great; story strips don’t need to be lethargic, much as they seem to be trying to be. But they do fall into a counterbalancing failure, where the plot logic and the motivations behind things are unclear or just baffling. I have no idea why Pepper figured “try and kill Dick Tracy” was the sensible thing to do after killing Stagg. I’d like it if I did.
The new, and current, storyline started the 9th of April. Britt Reid, publisher of the Central City Daily Sentinel, is in town, poking around organized crime. This has attracted the interest of old-time radio fans, because yes, it’s a crossover. Britt Reid was known for years on radio, and for about one season on TV in the 60s, and for about 45 minutes in the movies in like 2011, as the Green Hornet. Reid’s gimmick, then and now, was to pose as a respectable newspaper publisher — so you see how far back this schtick goes — pursuing the super-villain the Green Hornet. But the Green Hornet is himself Reid, using the reputation of being a super-villain to infiltrate and break up actual crime rings.
This is unrelated, but, there was a little bit on one of Bob Newhart’s albums where he thought about the TV show I Led Three Lives. This show was about one Herb Philbrick, who was a communist for the FBI. Not from the show I Was A Communist For The FBI. Newhart opined that he wished, just one, in one of the Communist cell meetings that someone should have stood up and said, “Say, has, ah … has anyone else ever noticed, uh, whenever we assign Philbrick to anything, we all get arrested?” I’m not one to spoil a good golden-age-of-radio gimmick, but, like, the original Plastic-Man was only able to use this same approach about four issues before the mobsters caught on that Plastic-Man’s secret gangster identity was bad luck.
Anyway, Britt Reid and Dick Tracy meet, to review what they know: Central City mobster Cyrus Topper is trying to hook up with the Apparatus, the organized crime syndicate in Tracy’s town. The Green Hornet seems to be following. Tracy’s sure that Topper and the Hornet will get justly deserted. No, neither one of them knows what’s happened to Jim Scancarelli. You’d think he’d be all over this meeting of former Golden Age of Radio crime-detection superstars. And that’s about where things stand.
There’s only a few threads left loose from the last couple months’ stories. One is Matty Squared, the artificial intelligence/uploaded semi-personality of Mister Bribery’s former accountant. He was last seen the 10th of February, planning to head to “the server farms down south”. His companion: a mouse named Ignatz that’s got to be the oddest Krazy Kat reference in a long while.
It’s never said what the Moon Governor talked about with Diet Smith, Honey Moon Tracy, and Mysta Chimera. The Moon Governor himself emerged from the Lunarians’ secret hideout (somewhere on Earth) to investigate telepathic signals. Mysta? Honey Moon? Someone else? It hasn’t been said explicitly so anything might be yet entered into evidence. And no, I haven’t forgot that someone’s trying to scare B O Plenty and family out of their estate by making ghost noises.
A thread that hasn’t been brought up, and might never be: Britt Reid was, canonically, the grand-nephew (or something like that) of the Lone Ranger. The characters have been owned by separate companies since the 50s, so allusions to this have to be more deniable or involve more negotiation ahead of time. But the comic strip did show Vitamin Flintheart and Joe Tracy watching a Vista Bill movie. I think that’s made up for the in-universe continuity. But a western hero with the wonder horse Comet crying out “Fly, Comet! And Awaaay!” is reminding people of something. Merely for world-building? Perhaps, and plausibly so. For something more? Goodness knows.
What’s going on in Gasoline Alley? There’s evidence that at least someone is there as reruns go into their sixth month. What’s going on with Jim Scancarelli? I haven’t heard anything today. But a whole week from now? Maybe that will have changed. Come on around and let’s see what we might find out.
It’s always a good question what’s going on in Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant. I’m writing what’s my best explanation for as of mid-April 2018. If it’s later than about July 2018 for you, maybe look at or near the top of this page and there’ll be a more recent recap.
Last time you’ll recall, Prince Valiant, Karen, Vanni, and Bukota were sailing the rivers of what is now Uzbekistan on their way back home. They saw a raven, joking how it was a messenger for Karen’s mother Queen Aleta. So it was, and carried the report that the team was fine. So the next week their rafts came upon some rapids, in a sudden squall. This all smashed the rafts. The four climbed onto a ledge. And there we left them; we haven’t seen them since the 4th of February.
The story has instead moved to Queen Aleta of the Misty Isles. Which led me to realize the place was a Vaguely Roman territory. Here I have to confess: I only resumed reading Prince Valiant a couple years ago. And only started reading it seriously for these What’s Going On In series. I had always supposed that Valiant’s home base was England somewhere around the early Heptarchy. You know, the era when pop culture thinks we don’t know who ruled England or whether anybody did or if there even were people there. And I guess not; the Misty Isles are somewhere in the Mediterranean, says Wikipedia. Valiant himself was from Thule, off the coast of Norway. I think I kind of knew that.
Since the 11th of February the story has been Queen Aleta’s. It opens on murder: two servants of a noble house are dead, as is Ingolf, first mate of one of the Norse shipbuilders. The bodies are barely discovered before Senator Krios is at the market. He denounces the Queen’s refusal to protect the Misty Isles from violent, opportunistic foreigners. And cites the murder of two of the island’s natives by “one of [ her ] drunken Norse bullies”.
A suspicious Aleta turns to the CSIatorium. She observes the “precise, deep stab” under Ingolf’s ribs. And how he holds a strand of black hair tied by a gold ribbon. She sends her daughter Valeta out to ask into the Ingolf’s whereabouts. Aleta also asks Krios to explain his deal. He complains the growing trade partnerships put too much foreign influence into the homeland. He hopes to have trade confined to a single district, with foreigners excluded outside that area. He proposes the islet of Kythra. Aleta runs a check of the records. Krios has been buying up properties there, all right. But it’s a mystery how he’s doing it, as he’s deep in debt. But he’s leading a mob into the Senate to demand protection from foreign threats.
Meanwhile Valeta visits Haraldr, Ingolf’s captain and also her crush. Her rival Zulfa is there. That promises to add some needed awkwardness to the proceedings. Haraldr confirms Ingolf had a relationship with some woman of the Misty Isles, but not who. That’s all right. From the gold tie of the hair locks Valeta already suspected Krios’s daughter Andrina.
Valeta needs to confirm Andrina had something going on with Ingolf. Zulfa volunteers to bodyguard, under the pretext of being Valeta’s handmaiden. The confrontation goes well. Valeta pretends that she and Ingolf were very much in love. The jealous Andrina pulls out a dagger and attacks. Zulfa moves to stop her, but Andrina’s brother Antero rushes from the curtains and grabs her. Antero begs forgiveness for her “tortured mind”. Valeta says of course, and promises to speak no more of Ingolf. As Valeta leaves, Zulfa drops a flirty smile and a bracelet to Antero. He sends her a note, setting up a date.
And that’s the current situation. Krios is trying to lead a populist faction to close the Isles to foreigners and get himself out of debt. Ingolf was murdered. It seems by someone within Krios’s family. Also two islanders were killed. This may be to cover up that murder. Zulfa has some secret rendezvous with Ingolf’s girlfriend’s brother. Oh, and I bet Prince Valiant and all have managed to have an adventure, build a new raft, and get that one wrecked too. We’ll follow how things go.
Hi there, readers curious about the 248th weekday-continuity story of Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom. Or about the 249th story, which is partially completed as I write this. If you want my most recent Phantom plot updates please look at or near the top of this page. Any later-written essays — Sunday or weekday storyline — should be there.
The Return of the Locust was the story’s title. The Locust, a magical superhero poking around the American Southwest, warned The Phantom that this weird cult was hanging around Walker’s Table. The Table had been in The Phantom’s family since 1499 and this got Kit Walker out of Africa and into Arizona-ish climes. There, the Ghost Who Walks discovered Savior Z, a messiah-ish figure warning his flock of the alien spaceships hovering by the Moon and ready to invade. (An event of low but not dismissible probability, I have to say. The Phantom shares the universe with Mandrake the Magician, and all sorts of crazypants stuff is always happening there. Or was before Fred Fredericks had to retire. But DePaul and Manley have brought Mandrake into The Phantom in recent stories.) Savior Z had identified The Phantom as one of the aliens, part of the invasion vanguard. And, having knocked him out, the cult was now rolling The Phantom over the edge of the cliff.
But they don’t call him The Ghost Who Rolls Away From The Cliff Edge, Regains His Footing, And Throws Cult Members Around Like Rag Dolls While His Wrists Are Bound Together for nothing, and guess what happens? But it’s still pretty dire, and the cult is ready to charge the still-bound Phantom again, when finally The Locust does something. To wit, he sends a bunch of locusts to swarm around the cult. In the confusion Walker breaks his bonds. The cult members aren’t so fortunate, and follow a wildly charging Savior Z right to the edge of the Table, and past that, and then all the merry little fun of this is over. He’s not able to even save one life of the bunch.
The Phantom waits for The Locust to come in and explain what the heck, man? The flipping heck? The Locust explains how the cult members had lost their lives years ago, following Savior Z. Savior Z meanwhile had come to Walker’s Table, desperate and alone and following a mystical coyote (or wolf, perhaps) who knew about the water underneath. Savior Z, saved from certain doom by this mysterious figure who disappeared in a cloud very like the Locust’s own swarm, decided he needed to use his chance save mankind. Anyway, that’s The Locust’s story. The Phantom isn’t impressed with The Locust at this point. Have to say, I agree. It’s hard to read this as much besides The Locust stirring up a weird but basically stable scenario until a lot of people died.
(Yes, the cult did have anti-aircraft guns and was shooting at the Phantom’s airplane. See earlier essay. I missed where the artillery came from. The cult doesn’t seem big enough to be able to afford equipment like that. If it’s The Phantom’s own defense gear that explains where it came from. But then it’s his own fault for leaving it unsecured and in operable condition. I think he was taken by surprise by the gun’s existence, too. Did The Locust have something to do with the artillery getting there? In which case, what the heck was he thinking? And if it was the cult that got it on their own, well. Yes, it’s a bad idea to leave guns in the hands of irrational people. But was this the best way to handle that?)
But as Walker’s readying to return home he sees a weird sight: The Locust, in his more-human guise, leading the members of Savior Z’s cult through the desert, away from the Table. (No Savior Z, though.) And on that strange, palatably mythological note the story ends, the 17th of February. The Phantom Wiki logs it in at 20 weeks for a total of 126 strips. That seems more like 21 weeks to me but it’s their arithmetic.
The story starts with Kay Molloy and Hawa Aguda, of “We Quit! We’re Joining The Jungle Patrol!” meme-fame. As Jungle Patrol officers they’re surveilling a person unknown to them, at the behest of the Jungle Patrol’s leader, the Unknown Commander. Meanwhile they speculate about the identity of John X, whom they suspect (correctly) to be the Unknown Commander, and who is also The Phantom. (And whenever I get to looking closely at that I wonder how they can get compartmentalized information to work this well. Really seems like with so many unidentified figures in key positions there’s all sorts of room for trouble, even before deliberate mischief-makers get into things.)
The person under surveillance is indeed Eric “The Nomad” Sahara. And getting all this intelligence is Kit “The Phantom” Walker. He’s figuring to do something about The Nomad just after he gets back home. He and his wife are flying to New York City, to see their daughter Heloise at the Briarson School. There, she’s attending classes with Kadia Sahara. Who is, The Phantom realizes, the daughter of that Eric Sahara. They’re roommates. The Headmistress of the school put them together several storylines ago. She’d figured, basically, they’re both from Africa, they’ll have so much to talk about.
Kit, Diana, and Heloise Walker, and Kadia Sahara, spend some time doing some appropriate Manhattan tourism. It’s a pleasant time except for how The Phantom is busy thinking all the time about how revealing Eric Sahara’s identity as an international terrorist is going to wreck Kadia’s life. Diana’s aware of something on Kit’s mind. On the flight home, he reveals to his wife this bunch of secrets. She’s not amused by how thoroughly her husband concealed this from her. She’s only slightly mollified by his explaining that with the collapse of The Nomad’s terrorist networks it’s becoming safe to reveal his identity to the world.
Then on TV, Africa Today has a piece on the True Identity of The Nomad. A failed airport bomber is offering to reveal his identity. The Phantom figures his best chance to take The Nomad is to catch him before the bomber can reveal what, if anything, he actually knows. And The Phantom refuses Diana’s suggestion to have the Jungle Patrol catch The Nomad. He figures to get in and take The Nomad by surprise, so that “half his men won’t even know I was there!”
And that’s where the Ghost has Walked to by the first week of April, 2018.
The courses you take and the textbooks you need for a standard major in mathematics (electives excluded):
Introduction to Calculus
Introduction to Ordinary Differential Equations
Introduction to Ordinary Differential Equations
Introduction to Linear Algebra
Introduction to Linear Algebra
Partial Differential Equations
Partial Differential Equations: An Introduction
Principles of Abstract Algebra
Introductory Real Analysis
A Mathematical Introduction To Complex Analysis
Exploring Numerical Methods For Mathematics
Principles of Mathematical Logic: An Introduction
* We mean Abstract Algebra, not that stuff you do in high school with the x’s and the y’s. In Abstract Algebra we never touch an x or a y, but instead see an awful lot of g and h and a ridiculous number of e’s. And by “Algebra” we mean “Advanced Algebra”, not that stuff from “Abstract Algebra”, which is the introductory course.
Where were we at the start of the year when I last checked in on Moo and its associated areas? The well-meaning but dumb rich guy M T Mentis III was on his way back to Dr Wonmug’s Time Lab and hoped to become a new supporting character. May not sound like much, but a part in a longrunning comic strip is nothing to sneeze at. Mentis tried, though, getting a faceful of snot all over Alley Oop as he disappeared back to the present day.
I guessed that was the start of a story, and so it was. Alley Oop gets a cold in record time, something neither Oop nor anyone in Moo has ever got before. Wizer understands what it is right away, though, and tells Oop to sit still a while so he can whip up a cure. Which includes echinacea, by the way, something Wonmug recommended as he zipped back to the 21st century. Wizer explains to Ooola that if Oop spreads his cold to the never-exposed population of Moo it could be disastrous and wipe the population out. Oop overhears exactly enough to figure Wizer’s said he’s dying. And figures Ooola is telling a comforting lie when saying Wizer’s getting the ingredients for a cure.
So Oop goes around Moo saying his goodbyes to everyone. The first: to Ooola, saying how he regrets they never got married and had kids and all. To Foozy, the relentless poet, he gives his trusty axe. To Dinny, the dinosaur, Oop gives his thanks and the command to go off and be free now. To Guz, Oop gives his honest opinion of the way the King of Moo runs things. In exchange, Guz gives several solid punches and a banishment for life. This all takes about as long as Wizer needs to gather a bunch of leaves and branches and bits of tree bark.
Wizer mixes up his potion which works great. Oop’s recovered even faster than he got sick, and explains what he did while he thought he was going to die. After rolling his eyes all the way into Dick Tracy and back, Wizer mixes up enough potion for all the people Oop contacted. I’m not sure whether I’m more impressed that Wizer knows how to cure colds or with his advanced understanding of infection vectors.
Anyway he sends Oop out with the potion to apologize to people and, where needed, get his stuff back. It’s easy to apologize to Ooola, who teases for a moment holding Alley Oop to his declaration that they should have gotten married. But Moo exists in a land before there were reach-of-promises suits.
At his cave Oop finds Foozy’s kids playing, and figures “I must’ve told Foozy he could have the place”. He didn’t say this on-panel, by the way. Also Foozy has kids I guess? Beau, Moe, and Joe. They take after their father by speaking in rhymes across one another’s dialogue. Foozy’s sick, but he and Wizer have the healing potion, so there we go. He’s glad to return Oop’s cave (“You never gave away your house!”) and also his axe except the kids kind of broke it (“cracking coconuts”).
All that’s easy, since who wanted it to be hard? King Guz is a tougher case because besides calling him an incompetent, Oop also gave him the cold. The cure brightens Guz’s feelings, but he still insists on an apology from Oop before lifting the banishment and all that. And Oop doesn’t see why he should apologize for calling Guz out on his incompetence. Wizer encourages Oop to think of the long history he has with Guz, and to apologize anyway. And Oop apologizes for telling Guz he’s a bad king. That’s close enough to peaceful for Wizer to get on his real point.
Which is: what are they going to do about infections passed back and forth between eras of history? The cold was nothing big, but what’s next? Guz figures the cure is to ban time travel into Moo. Oop says that Guz has finally found an idea even stupider than his border wall. Wizer suggests that maybe Wonmug has an idea and proposes visiting the Time Lab. Oop’s only supposed to use his time-travel device in an emergency. But surely this counts in a way the invasion of mind-controlling plant-aliens didn’t, right? So he hits the button and starts a new story. Let me log that as the 17th of March, admitting that there’s some leeway in when you pick.
Meanwhile in the 21st century Wonmug’s headed out to do some contracts stuff with a lawyer guy and all. When Oop’s time beacon calls for a pickup, Mentis is alone in the lab. Wonmug’s forgotten his cell phone, which yes I do all the time too. Well, Mentis does his best to respond to the message ‘URGENT! ALLEY OOP REQUESTING TRANSPORT’ while studiously ignoring the declaration `DESTINATION: JULY 31, 1781 40.0285 ° N 75.1750 ° W’. Mentis hits Enter and so far has shown no signs of wondering what that whole ‘JULY 31, 1781’ business might be about. He stands there waiting for Oop to appear. I mean, I know, he’s barely even seen the Time Lab. But when Phineas Bogg is more on the ball you have to step up your “noticing things” and “drawing reasonable conclusions” games.
Meanwhile in the 18th century Alley Oop and Wizer have popped in just in time to have boats shooting cannonballs at them. By the way, the given latitude and longitude are inside Philadelphia. So I guess there was more action on the Schyulkill River in July 1781 than I had remembered? Also meanwhile Alexander Hamilton is turning in his commission if George Washington. He says only a field command will keep him. Of course we all know how that turns out. Washington writes out Hamilton’s assignment to command the 1st and 2nd New York Regiments and two Connecticut provisionals. Meanwhile at the same time, Oop and Wizer hide from the Redcoats.
That’s where we stand, right now, about two weeks into the Revolutionary war, and at a curious point. I mean, you say Revolutionary War and 1781 and where are you going but the Siege at Yorktown? I mean, obviously the action the Caribbean and in India was important but this is for an American audience. One might speculate that Alexander Hamilton’s recent return to the popular consciousness has something to do with this story. I cannot promise that this story will end with Alley Oop attempting hip-hop but I don’t know that we can be sure this will not happen, either. So, you know, prepare yourselves.
Recapping the plots of the story comics has been good for my readership. It’s also good for my spirits. There’s usually something delightful going on in the strips. They’re not always as glorious as, say, Mary Worth on a cruise ship or that dopey mob kid in The Phantom Sundays. But there’s usually something. And some comics just keep delivering glories. Among them is Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s The Amazing Spider-Man. I reliably look forward to recapping this strip’s plots.
This is the recap for the end of March 2018. If I’ve had another post about it since then look at or near the top of this page. I’ll try to have it there. And, yes, if there is news about Stan Lee — who’s been reported to be in bad shape — I’ll share what I do know. His name’s always been attached to the newspaper comic strip, although there are people who wonder how much he writes it himself.
The Amazing Spider-Man
31 December 2017 – 24 March 2018.
There was a spectacular super-crossover going on last time I checked in. While visiting reformed rampaging monster supervillain Dr Curt “The Lizard” Connors in the Everglades, Peter Parker met up with Bruce Banner. Banner hoped that Connors might cure him of hulking out. But an alligator attacked Connors and Banner hulked out. While the immediate alligator-bite problem was passed, Connors was losing a lot of blood and maybe his remaining arm.
So the challenge was getting him to a hospital as quick as possible. Spider-Man’s plan: grab the severely injured man suffering massive blood loss and carry him, leaping across traffic, to Miami Metro Hospital. You know, the way you safely move a critically injured person. At the hospital he barges through the emergency room and into an operating theater. You know, the way you get medical care in an emergency situation as efficiently as possible.
There’s a complication. Even before Connors had been a rampaging lizard-monster he had a weird blood type. Bruce Banner has the same weird blood type, but he’s making his way through traffic while warning traffic not to make him hulk out. With Connors going into emergency surgery Spidey plot-drops that he’s O-negative and could be a universal donor if that’s still a thing. Fortunately, Bruce Banner, with Mary Jane, arrive. So they can start a glorious two months of blood transfusion follies.
I understand that I may sound like I’m being sarcastic here. But there’s a bunch of blood-transfusion-based plot complications that are just gloriously Silver Age Nonsense in their workings. And I love that. The science may be nonsense and it might be hard to fathom why people would act like this. But that they act like this is great fun. It’s what I hope for in this sort of goofy-science superhero tale.
Because here’s what happens. The hospital staff recognizes Bruce Banner’s purple stretchy pants as those of the Incredible Hulk. But they go along with the transfusion anyway. It seems to help Connors, but this knocks out Banner. Spidey’s hypothesis: being the Hulk probably requires a lot of blood. Maybe Banner can’t donate as much of it as a normal person could without crashing his body. This far, I’m with Spidey; that works for me. So Banner just needs more blood, right? … And since his body was exposed to gamma radiation he’s probably got all sorts of weird irradiated stuff in there. You know who else has radio-active blood? Look out, here comes your Spidey-Donor.
So there’s the first stage of wackiness. It makes a nice goofy dream logic, mind, and that’s why I enjoy the storytelling even as I don’t buy it.
The Hulk blood in Connors’s body causes, first, his lost arm to start regrowing. Then his tail grows back in. Then his scales and snout and pointy triangular teeth and forked tongue. He then leaps off the operating table and starts to rampage, promising the destruction of humanity beneath the onslaught of his telepathically controlled reptile army, while he himself keeps growing into a larger and more muscular super-beast. This is a rather faster than average recovery for injuries of this type, must say. The Lizard barely has time to knock Spider-Man out before Bruce Banner agrees Spider-Man is helpless and he’ll have to become The Hulk. But, infused with Spidey-blood, Banner now has the proportional haplessness and ability to whine of a Spider-Man. While he’s quite angry and says he is so several times over, he can’t summon the transmutation into The Incredible Hulk. He just stays … a large, poorly-shaved shirtless man in torn purple pants. So there’s the second stage of wackiness.
Now and then you have to wonder if the story comics are trolling their ironic fan base. James Allen has slipped stuff into Mark Trail for his friends on the Comics Curmudgeon. There’ve been bits of wry self-awareness on Judge Parker since Francesco Marciuliano took over writing. And here? Connors gets blood from the Incredible Hulk and turns into a giant rampaging monster. I see the internal logic there. And Bruce Banner, after getting blood from the Amazing Spider Man, and he becomes helpless and a little whiny. Core to Spider-Man’s character is how the universe doesn’t give him any respect. But this is also kind of the joke we’d be making about the comic strip while reading it only partly in earnest.
The Lizard climbs to the top of the hospital, declaring the launch of the “Reptile Revolt”. Spidey climbs up the building, gets knocked off, climbs up and up again, and gets thrown — with Banner — over the edge. Spidey actually saves them this time, with his spider-like powers of holding on. (His web-slingers were crushed somewhere in his fights with The Lizard.) But The Lizard escapes to the Everglades.
Spidey, Banner, and Mary Jane go off towards Connor’s swamp laboratory. And then we visit a plot point mentioned early on in this story and forgotten since then: J Jonah Jameson! He’s skipped the newspaper publishers convention along with some other publishers(?) who don’t really like him to putter around the swamp. They notice lots of pythons and alligators swimming in the same direction, toward The Lizard. The other publishers turn their boat around and flee fast enough to knock Jameson overboard and they don’t make the slightest attempt to rescue him. But Spider-Man’s swinging into action. (He must have got replacement web-slingers somewhere.)
He rescues Jameson from a python. They banter the way the leads in an 80s action-romance comedy do, sniping at each other while waiting for the moment they can start making out. Also being swarmed by alligators under The Lizard’s telepathic control. Bruce Banner shows up and spends several weeks of strips explaining how he’s angry but he can’t change into the Hulk. And then, finally, this past week he explained he was angry but he did change into the Hulk, the better to throw telepathically-directed pythons and alligators around. And then he charges for The Lizard, reasoning that it’s better to do the boss battle while he’s powered up and maybe he won’t even have to deal with the minions after.
And that’s where we are as of the 25th of March: with two giant irradiated green monsters in purple pants trash-talking each other in the swamp. I am so happy with where we’ve gotten. To sum up, no, no part of this has not been great, even by my ridiculous standards.
How did Alley Oop’s cold work out for him, and has it wiped out prehistoric humanity or what? And what about the rich idiot? We’ll check in on Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the start of April, all going well.
I last checked in at Christmastime, and an exciting time. April Parker escaped Rogue CIA Agent Prison, with the help of her father Norton. The plan: the Parkers flee the country and take up a life as fugitives. When Judge (Retired) Alan Parker refused this as bonkers, Norton left him unconscious on the floor of his house and, for all we could tell, dead. April burst into her and Randy Parker’s house. She announced she was taking their daughter Charlotte, who would not be growing up without her father.
With every police agency in the world closing in Randy and April argue it out. April advances the thesis: what’s crazy about them becoming international fugitives anyway? Randy answers: every single piece of this. With time running out Norton’s henchman Wurst grabs at Randy; April orders him to stand down or “I will bury you so deep the magma will burn you”.
The aftermath, as revealed following the New Year: April did not take Charlotte or Randy before leaving, promising to always love him. And also to be back for Charlotte one day. She flees into the police headlights and gunfire and only Marciuliano and Manley can guess what. There is (on the 18th of January) a suggestive picture of a good-sized ship sailing to sea. I suppose that says what the authros’ intent was.
Randy, seeing his life ruined, takes the chance to ruin someone else’s. Not on purpose. But the accidental target is Toni Bowen. She was the reporter covering the last of previous writer Woody Wilson’s crazypants throw-money-at-the-Parkers schemes. That was the opening of the aerospace-factory-loaded-with-cargo-containers-and-made-a-clothing-factory-for-the-elderly. I told you it was a crazypants scheme. Anyway, Bowen was there when Marciuliano had all that dropped into a sinkhole. This propelled her to a reporting job at a national cable news channel. Randy gives only her an interview about all the current craziness.
Bowen’s already on a Performance Improvement Plan. The sinkhole was an exciting story. But nobody was actually to blame for it. And emergency responers were efficient and effective. That sort of thing spoils a good cable-news feeding frenzy. She was there to report the embezzling-stalker truck driver that was another of Marciuliano’s first plot threads. But that story, in-universe, ended up too weird and confusing for it to be exciting reporting. Her boss has one item on the Plan: make Parker admit something about April’s whereabouts and plans. If he won’t, at least emotionally destroy him live on nationwide television. But Randy doesn’t know anything about her plans. And Bowen doesn’t move in for the kill. So she’s sent back to local TV news where at least she can insult the camera guy being all passive-aggressive about her failure in the bigger leagues.
Those threads take a pause. Over to Alan Parker and his attempts to reconnect with Katherine. (And putting the lie to one of Norton’s parting-shot lies, by the way, that Katherine had moved on and would have nothing to do with her husband again.) Their let’s-try-dating-anew has got to the point of bed-and-breakfast weekends. They spend theirs in a town being all overbearing with its apple cider thing. Also possibly being out of season for apple cider, if my experience with Quality Dairy proclaiming Cider’s A-Pourin’ is any guide. But the town was also doing a special showing of The Cider House Rules. This raises the question of whether the town watched the movie before scheduling it. (And I mention this because my love had, in teaching, shown The Cider House Rules enough to get truly sick and resentful of every frame of the movie. And then the Michigan state tourism board decided to use the movie’s haunting Twee Little Recurring Theme for its TV and radio ads. So now any commercial break can be a sudden jab of emotional pain.)
Back to the Spencer Farms. Neddy’s been kicking around depressed ever since Marciuliano took over the writing and the factory collapsed and all that. She’s shaken out of that by a drop-in from Godiva Danube. She’s the movie star whose connections made the container-cargo-clothing-factory-sinkhole-collapse possible. Godiva thinks she’s about to get back into Hollywood and invites Neddy to be along as her assistant. She throws Godiva out. (Godiva leaves her purse behind, which Neddy says was on purpose so Godiva “could return for one more dramatic scene”. That isn’t paid off on-screen yet.) Still, Neddy takes the idea of moving to Los Angeles as a great one. There’s few things that cure aimless depression like moving to a new city without any prospects, connections, or particular reason to be there. Abby Spencer points this out and gets chased out of the guest house for her trouble. We’ve all been there. (Seriously people Seattle is not the cure for your broken soul and it’s too crowded already so lay off it.)
So this past week we got back to Randy Parker. Who, it turns out, has responded to this latest turn in his life by picking up Sam Driver’s crazy evidence wall and trying out paranoia himself. In fairness, he’s afraid of some ridiculously capable people who’ve promised to take his daughter. But he’s also been skipping out on, you know, work. And when you’re doing so little law work that Judge Alan Parker notices you’re not doing law work, you’ve reached galaxy-brain levels of slacking off. Could be trouble.
OK, so you know how ridiculous the last Amazing Spider-Man plot was? And then thisAmazing Spider-Man plot started out with Bruce Banner and Chuck “The Lizard” Connors and all? Well, the story got all blood-transfusiony and just so wonderfully, magnificently goofy and yes, J Jonah Jameson has come back into things. I can’t wait to tell you all about Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man next week. Heck, I might just do it Wednesday to make sure I don’t miss anything.
Last time I shared what I knew of Milford, the story was centered on Rick Soto. Rick’s a promising offensive lineman: in just one story he’s gotten an ankle injury and taken a knee to the head. Watching over this is his uncle Gary. Gary tries to argue that Rick’s repeated injuries suggest maybe he’d be better off being the superstar singer that he wants Rick to be.
Gary presses the whole “concussions are bad stuff” angle even after the strip brings in an expert to say that Rick’s fine. This exhausts Gil Thorp’s reserve of not caring to the point that he steps up and gets someone else to google Gary Soto. He gathers Rick, Gary, and Rick’s Mom together for a conference in which he reveals the shocking facts of the situation. Gary’s law license was suspended and he’s bankrupt. His only career prospect is finding talent, eg, Rick, and managing him through his friend’s talent agency. Also Thorp brings Rick’s Dad back from his construction project in Dubai. Rick’s Dad apologizes for letting Gary get in the way of watching out for his family. And berates him for all this trying to push Rick from football into music. And throws Gary out of his house. So, uh, yeah. It may take a while to get Coach Thorp riled but when you do, you’re jobless, bankrupt, and homeless at Christmas. So maybe I’m going to go do some editing around here.
And that wraps up the Rick Soto plot, with the 1st of January. With the 2nd of January Rick announces his intention to move over to the basketball plot, which is the one we’re in now. Likely we’ll see Rick some more, but in supporting roles. One thing Gil Thorp does it keep characters around for plausible high school tenures. I list the dates because it’s weirdly useful to have the starts and ends of stories logged somewhere.
This story starts with Marty Moon, local radio sports-reporter jerkface. Moon notes the number of football players on the basketball team this year, calling it a lack of depth on the basketball team. Coach Thorp gets asked if he’s going to complain about the insult to his multi-sport athletes but remembers that he really doesn’t care.
The team’s depth problems have a temporary respite anyway. Jorge Padilla and his sister Paloma are temporary students. They’re staying with a cousin after their home in Puerto Rico was smashed by the hurricane and the Republican party. Paloma is angry in the way young student activists often are. She’s not only upset by her personal loss but by the willingness of mainland residents to be fine with abandoning Puerto Rico. Jorge is just happy to be somewhere safe and warm and playing basketball.
Paloma’s the first to play, although she can’t get through the first game without fouling out. She grumbles that the referee just keeps calling on the Puerto Rican girl. Other, whiter members of the cast roll their eyes at the implausibility of that idea. As if authority figures might disproportionately identify “problematic” behavior from a person of a minority ethnicity when they’re there to spot actual violations of the objective, clear rules about unsporting behavior. Anyway.
Jorge fits in great on the team and sees them to a couple strong showings. And then Marty Moon goes and opens his mouth, which is always his problem. “That hurricane was the best thing that could have happened for the team — and for Georgie Padilla” he says on air.
A couple students from the vaguely-focused politically-active group that Paloma’s joined visit Moon. He laughs at the idea he ought to get Jorge Padilla’s name right and besides, “I’m just trying to help him seem more American”. The kids point out (a) he is American, and (b) by the way, no, having home destroyed by a hurricane is not good for him. He considers how in an excited moment he said something pretty obnoxious. So Marty tells the kids they’re big dumb dummyheads who are big and dumb.
Here, by the way, let me share one of the about four things I’ve learned in life. Nobody has ever said of someone, “She’s a great person except for how she owns up to it and backs off like right away when you call her on her bull”. If someone’s angry that you said something insensitive and a little cruel, refusing to apologize will not ever convince them that you aren’t insensitive and cruel. If you didn’t think you were being insensitive and cruel? Typically you can, with honesty, say, “I apologize for sounding like that. It’s not what I wanted to express”. Both you and they will be better off.
In fairness to Moon, he does ask Jorge if he’s got problems with how he says his name, and Jorge doesn’t. “I don’t get into that stuff,” you know, political stuff like what his name is. I can understand not getting worked up about this. The guy who runs one of the pinball leagues I’m in has some mental block that has him keep pronouncing my name “Newbus”, and I never stop finding this amusing. Any chance that I might tire of it was obliterated at the 2017 Pinburgh tournament finals, lowest division. The tournament official announced my name as “Newbus” too. I’ve lived my whole life with my last name mispronounced. Or dropped altogether as the speaker reading my name freezes up when they somehow can’t work it out. I understand you think I am joking here but no, there’s something in the pause of public speakers what I can recognize as warming up to my name. Anyway I’m delighted that my being part of a thing is enough to make ordinary routine stuff go awry.
Paloma asks Jorge why he doesn’t care whether the sports reporter gets his name right. He says he’s got other things to think about. This is another character beat. Jorge’s got a Georgian accent and Paloma a Puerto Rican one. He explained to someone that the family moved when he was a bit older than she was. But he added the thought, also she wants to sound like that.
Next men’s basketball game Marty Moon considers the people he unintentionally offended, and doubles down. They always do. He talks about “HORR-gay Pa-dee-ya from the beautiful and utterly flawless island of Puerto Rico”. Les Nessman phones in to ask, dude, what’s your problem? Well, Marty Moon’s problem is he’s Marty Moon. It’s something Marty Moon has struggled with his whole life. Also he’s Marty Moon trying to show his power over a bunch of teenagers. Also he’s trying to help the radio station land some advertising from a Mexican restaurant. This results in an overworked, weeping neuron causing Marty to say “Padilla earned his burritos with that one” after a good field goal. “That was a two-burrito shot for Padilla.” And then, “Padilla snags the rebound! He’s like a Mexican jumping bean out there!” At this point Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder leans into frame to say, “Yeah, I’m not with him.”
So. Paloma and, if I’m not misreading it, most of the women’s basketball team take up seats behind Marty’s desk next game to chant “No More Moon” over him. (Also I don’t know if this is going to pay off. But the women’s team has noticed they never get radio coverage.) Marty scolds the kids to shut up and finds that somehow doesn’t work. He then turns to Coach Gil Thorp, telling him he’s got to make them stop. Coach Thorp digs deep into his bag of not really caring and announces he doesn’t really care. And in this case, at least, I’m not sure how it would be his business. I don’t think he’s got any responsibility for the women’s teams. He certainly hasn’t got any for the students who aren’t on any team. Marty tries to start again after halftime, and can’t. So he runs off, promising that the protesters will regret this.
And that’s where we stand. I was annoyed, some might say angry, with the end of the Rick Soto story. I expect the stories in Gil Thorp to assume that organized sports are good things that people should support. All right. But look into Rick Soto’s story. The only person who expresses doubts that football is an actually safe thing to do is presented as a scheming grifter trying to lure a kid out of football in a daft scheme to wallpaper over his own repeated personal failures and who only spreading doubts to further his own agenda. The two times that Rick got injured badly enough to need medical care? Oh, that’s nothing; he can almost walk them off.
Rubin and Whigham have an indisputable vantage point here. They can decide exactly how bad Rick Soto’s injuries are, short-term and long-term. If they’ve decided those injuries aren’t anything to be particularly concerned about, then they’re right. (And they can come back around later and change their minds.) And I trust that they know the generally accepted high-school-sports understanding of what kinds of injuries are likely to result in Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. And how head injuries would be evaluated today. But I am at a point in life that when I read a story whose through-line is “EVERYTHING FINE HERE, DON’T WORRY”, I want to see how the work was done.
The Marty Moon story, meanwhile, is tromping through even stickier grounds. It’s presented Paloma as this outsider who’s stirring up trouble over issues that the real people don’t care about. Jorge doesn’t care if Marty Moon can say his name right. Nobody but her Disgruntled Students Group was shown objecting to that hurricane-was-good-for-Jorge comment. And it’s Paloma and her group actually protesting Marty Moon during a game.
So the story has a motif of “Everything would be swell if those interlopers would just stop telling people it isn’t”. It’s not an attitude I can get behind. I don’t think this is what Rubin and Whigham mean to express. Story comics work under some terrible constraints. Too many characters in any story, in any medium, confuse the audience. A story comic has maybe three or four panels a day to show anything. Readers can be expected to have forgotten or missed all but the major threads of a story. And Gil Thorp generally keeps stories to about three months long, in order that they better fit the sports seasons. Many of the things that would defuse the “we’d have nice things if only agitators stopped whining” theme are difficult to fit into the story at all. And, after all, Rubin and Whigham could have shown Marty Moon not being a jerk. At least insofar as Marty Moon is capable of non-jerk behavior. But he is the one who responded to a “hey, not cool” like he was Donald Duck noticing that Chip and Dale were sniffing around his hammock. It’s his choice to escalate the conflict. This is how you end up straitjacketed by your hammock, dangling from a tree over the edge of Death Ravine, while an angry bulldog the size of a Packard Super Eight bites at you edging your way back to safe ground all night long, and two chipmunks get to drink your lemonade. He could have saved so much effort if he’d just said yeah, sorry, he should’ve got Jorge’s name right in the first place.
Are you interested in the goings-on of Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D.? If you aren’t this essay isn’t for you. But if you’re interested and want to know what the current storyline is, this is the essay for you. Unless it’s gotten much later than early March 2018 for you. If you are reading this later than about June 2018 you’ll probably want an essay at or near the top of this page as a more recent story summary. Unless you’re looking for how things got to those later-essays’ points, I mean. I suppose you know your business.
Rex Morgan, M.D.
11 December 2017 – 4 March 2018.
My last update came fortuitously near the start of a story thread. June Morgan’s childhood friend Margie Tyler had died offstage. Tyler had left her child, Johnny, with the Morgans to adopt. With the Morgans willing and able to take him in, and no known living relatives of Johnny interested, everything looked smooth. That’s where things stood the 10th of December.
June took the kids — Sophie and Michael, both of whom she gave birth to, and Johnny, on whom she’s waiting for court decrees to settle — to the mall. A couple older people watch them at the play area and nudge June for the story of the two boys. June doesn’t tell. After they leave, the strip stayed with the elder couple. So, yeah, they were Johnny’s grandparents. Not Margie Tyler’s parents; her (dead) husband’s parents, Arnold and Helen March. They were estranged from their son, and only just learned they had a grandchild. Now that they do, they petition for custody.
The Morgans take the kids to the mall again. They see the elderly couple and recognize who they are. June approaches them. She offers that if they knock it off with the stalking, she won’t bury them in Rex’s medical practice, never to be seen again. The next day, Rex Morgan is barely able to get in to not seeing patients before his lawyer calls. The Marches want to talk.
More precisely they want to grovel. They’d only just learned they had a grandchild, they drove down to town to see him, and they kind of stumbled in to being stalkery. “Our bad,” Helen calls it, in a moment sincerely endearing to me. But on to serious business. They’re dropping their petition. They’re confident the Morgans can take better care of Johnny. They’re sorry for all the trouble they caused. They ask only that they not be killed as an example to the others. Rex and June are happy to agree to this, and they all agree that the Marches should be part of Johnny’s life; an auxiliary set of grandparents.
As a reader I’m a bit torn on this. I like stories that involve people acting thoughtfully. Senior citizens concluding that, sure, they would like to adopt their grandchild but they really aren’t up for it? That’s sensible behavior. I’m glad they do that. The Morgans concluding that while their relationship with the Marches started creepy-to-bad, they’re better off taking this couple into their lives? There’s also good sense to that.
But. One of the motifs of Rex Morgan, M.D. before Terry Beatty took over writing was that people kept giving the Morgans free stuff. A massive publishing contract for young Sarah. A too-great-to-believe Victorian Mansion. That kind of thing. It’s fun to daydream about getting great good fortune dropped on you, but when the characters haven’t done anything particular? A contested adoption looked promising as a story. The Morgans could still adopt Johnny, but they’d have to do more than be someone his previous mother trusted when she was dying. And now here’s that promising conflict skipped.
It’s not that I don’t buy this ending. Nor even that I don’t like it. It seems to me the settlement that leaves everyone happy and that’s even probably best for Johnny. The problem is the choice to go for this is made by the Marches, off-screen. The viewpoint characters haven’t done anything to influence this, apart from June telling the Marches not to spy on them. (Coincidentally I watched the 1979 movie Kramer Vs Kramer this week. It too leaves me unsatisfied, by an important choice about custody of the kid being made off-screen.) I’d have liked to see more of the Marches wrestling with their decision, and maybe the Morgans working to emotionally earn Johnny better.
Still, all agree. And all agree that agreeing is swell. The week leading up to the 18th of February was about the March’s first proper play date with the Morgans. It goes swell, everybody amiable all around. The Marches bringing toys and new crayons help. Sarah, writing in her diary, remarks on how she knew “getting new grandparents would mean extra presents”. It’s the sort of innocent avarice that I remember from childhood.
The 19th of February the new story started. It’s following the Morgan’s babysitter Kelly and her genial but basically clueless boyfriend Niki. Their friend Justin chokes on a sandwich. Before anyone can remember if they know how to do the Heimlich Maneuver he vomits it up and decides he’s done with lunch. He doesn’t want to go to the nurse. Kelly also mentions to Niki that isn’t not necessary that Justin hang out with them all the time. Niki doesn’t understand because while he is genial, he is also basically clueless. At the coffee shop after school, Justin gets some pastries and seems to be choking again.
It’s too early in the story for me to make any guesses where it’s going. I mean, I would expect Justin’s strange choking to matter again, but because otherwise why should Beatty have spent screen time on it? (I wrote most of this paragraph before reading the Sunday installment, but I think it still stands, especially once I deploy the next sentence here.) Don’t know yet, for example, whether Justin is really choking or whether he’s making a joke about earlier in the day. And perhaps the story is something about the challenges of the partners in a relationship also having their own friendships. But (so far) less time was spent on that than on the sandwich. So all told there’s nothing for me to make plot guesses about. Shall try to check back when there is news to report. And I’ll try not to grumble about a soap strip having the plot advance on a Sunday forcing me into some rewrites.
Oh, wow, you do not know with what levels of confused and only partly ironic nerd rage I say this. But I have been dying to get back to Milford and Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp and yes, Marty Moon is only a part of it. Send help.