There are many small things to watch on TCM tonight


I apologize for the late notice; I only learned myself a couple hours ago. TCM (United States feed) is spending tonight showing “Leonard Maltin’s Short Film Showcase”. It’s a bunch of short films, as you’d think. Some of them I’ve seen; some are new to me. Many of them are comedies. There are a handful of travelogues, musical shorts, and dramas too.

Robert Benchley gets a couple entries, with “A Night At The Movies” right around … now, Eastern time. Three hours from now, less about ten minutes, Pacific time. Or, “How To Sleep”, sometime after 5 am Eastern and Pacific. Thelma Todd gets four entries, two of them with ZaSu Pitts. I’d recommend any Thelma Todd or ZaSu Pitts piece sight unseen. Some of the shorts, including at least one Thelma Todd one, star Charley Chase. Chase is an interesting person. In the silent era he was one of the second-tier comedians who kept edging his way up into the first tier, right up until he attempted a movie adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and made basically every choice wrong. That’s not on tonight and you’ll think better of Chase for that. There’s also, somewhere around 12:45 am, “Buzzing Around”, starring Roscoe Arbuckle, about inventing a magic rubber coating that makes things unbreakable. Other miscellaneous things include a bunch of Pete Smith specialties. Pete Smith made a lot of short films, mostly comedy documentaries, all with a reliable American Cornball tone. You’ll either kinda like it or not.

As I say, I don’t know how much of any of this I’ll watch. It is probably good for dipping into as you have ten minutes. One I am warily curious about, and that’s running sometime around 5:20 am, is titled “The Black Network”. The summary: “In this short film, the owner of a shoe polish company sponsors a radio show that showcases black performers”. So this does sound like a chance to see people whose talents were discarded. But, ooh, that mention of shoe polish does not sit well at all. Mm.

In which I think about Fly Me To The Moon for some reason


I got to thinking about Fly Me To The Moon, which is not a forgotten computer-animated movie from 2008 because even the people making it did not know they were making it. In the movie, a fly sneaks aboard Apollo 11 and saves it from Soviet flies.

The film has a page of goofs. It leads with the characters giving each other high-fives years before high-fives were a thing. Also, the movie apparently ends with Buzz Aldrin explaining to viewers that there weren’t any flies on Apollo 11.

Also the Wikipedia plot summary and the IMDB Goofs Page disagree about whether the Apollo capsule lands in the Pacific Ocean or in Florida. I grant that people of good will could disagree about the contents of an ambiguous scene. And that a movie does not need to have a single reading to be good. But I think if it is unclear whether an Apollo capsule splashed down in the Pacific Ocean or in Florida then the movie is doing something to stoke confusion, is all.

The trivia page mentions that this is Christopher Lloyd’s fourth film in which he interacts with members of the McFly family. So that’s also kind of sitting on my head today.

Tales From The 80s


So if you’re in my age cohort you grew up seeing the opening credits of Tales From The Darkside. You know, where the camera pans across footage of a forest while the foreboding voice of Perilous McDoomenough intones, “Man lives in the sunlit world of what he BELIEVES to be … reality.” And then the screen fades to a posterized negative image about how there is “unseen by most an underworld”. And then you changed the channel because whatever was coming next would have to be way too frightening to watch.

I got thinking, you know, this has to be like slasher movies were. The hype makes it sound like this intense and barely-comprehensible experience. And it turns out to be about as scary as an SCTV episode. I was too much of a coward to watch horror movies as a kid. I mean, except the one time that they had us do a sleepover for Vacation Bible School and we camped out in some of the classrooms off in the CCD wing. And one of the things they showed was Friday the 13th. I thought it was pretty good. Also I don’t understand how this could have happened. We went to a pretty liberal diocese but still. I think we also watched Heathers. I know Vacation and European Vacation we watched at my friend Eddie Glazier’s bar mitzvah. I’m not sure I should be talking about this 35-plus years on. I might be getting somebody in trouble.

But that’s sort of how terror was for a white middle-class kid growing up in the suburbs in the 80s. And yes, I mean New Jersey-type suburbs, which in other states are what you would call “urbs”. Or “great undifferentiated mass of housing developments and corporate office parks stretching from the Amboy Drive-In to the Freehold Traffic Circle, dotted by some Two Guys department stores”. Still. I grew up a weenie and I would be glad for that if I didn’t think being glad about myself was kind of bragging.

And we knew how to be recreationally scared. We just had to think about the nuclear war. New Jersey enjoyed a weird place for that. I know in most of the country you came up with legends about why the Soviets had a missile aimed right at you. One that would be deployed right after they bombed Washington and New York City. “Of course the Kremlin knows Blorpton Falls, Iowa is the largest producer of sewing machine bobbins outside the New York City area. They’ll have to bomb us so the country can’t clothe itself well after World War III.” It was a way to be proud of your town and not be responsible for surviving the nuclear war.

Central Jersey? We didn’t have to coin legends. We knew, when the war came, we’d be doomed. It wouldn’t be for any reason. It’s just we’re close to New York City, we’re close to Philadelphia. Nothing personal. All we were doing was being near something someone else wanted to destroy. This turned out to be great practice for living in 2020 that I don’t recommend.

Oh, sure, there was the soccer field what they said used to be a Nike missile base that would have protected New York City from the missile attacks. Maybe the Soviets would have an old map, or refuse to believe that they built a soccer field in the United States in the 60s. That former-Nike-base could be a target, if the Nike missiles to intercept the missiles didn’t work, which they wouldn’t.

You might ask: wait, why didn’t they put the base that was supposed to protect New York City in-between New York and the Soviet missile bases instead? The answer is that in-between New York City and the Soviet missile bases is Connecticut. The construction vehicles for the Connecticut site set out on I-95 in 1961 and haven’t made it through traffic yet. Central Jersey was a backup so they could build a site that couldn’t work but could abandon. Anyway I don’t know the soccer field was ever actually a Nike base or if we just said it was. If it really was, I suppose it’s a Superfund clean-up site now. Makes me glad I realized I didn’t want to socc. I wanted to type in word processor programs from a magazine into my computer.

Anyway after thinking about that long enough, it turns out the movie threats we faced were kind of cozy. Yeah, they might turn you into an Alice-in-Wonderland cake and eat you, but at least you’d be singing all the way.

So back to Tales From The Darkside. You know what you find if you go back and watch it now? Tales From The Darkside never even had episodes! They knew everybody was going to be scared off by those credits. Each episode, for all four seasons, is one frozen negative-print posterized image of a tree while someone holds down a key on the synthesizer.

It is way more terrifying than I had ever imagined.

Statistics Saturday: Disney Direct-To-Video Sequels By Whether They Rate Roman or Arabic Numerals


Roman Numeral Arabic Numeral Neither
Pocahontas II Lilo and Stich 2 Aladdin
The Little Mermaid II Brother Bear 2 Beauty and the Beast
The Lion King II The Lion King 1½ Aladdin (again)
Cinderella III The Fox and the Hound 2 Beauty and the Beast (again)
Cinderella II An Extremely Goofy Movie
Lady and the Tramp II The Little Mermaid
Mulan II Tangled
101 Dalmatians II Atlantis
Tarzan II
Bambi II
Hunchback of Notre Dame II

Not listed: Mickey’s Twice Upon A Christmas because it is a Wikipedia prank and does not exist.

Reference: Joseph Henry: The Rise of an American Scientist, Albert E Moyer.

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? Who is Dethany and why does she look like a villain? May – August 2020


Dethany Dendrobia, the pale Goth guest star is from Bill Holbrook’s On The Fastrack. I’ll get to what she’s doing in Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy some paragraphs down. On The Fastrack is a longrunning workplace-humor comic strip. It turned up often enough when I was Reading the Comics for my mathematics blog. Dethany Dendrobia is the comic strip’s third protagonist. She took over the strip about a decade ago from previous lead character, Wendy Welding. Dendrobia is Goth, yes, and I forget whether her paleness is makeup or her nature.

Holbrook’s three comics (On The Fastrack, Safe Havens, and the web comic Kevin and Kell) go in for a cartoony world. In it, for example, the Computer Bug, source of so many problems, is a real literal character, who can speak with and negotiate with you and all. Dendrobia, hardworking and cheerful, is also Goth, fascinated by death and time’s ravages. So her “freakish”, Morticia Addams-influenced, appearance codes her in Dick Tracy as a villain. But in her home comic strip this is how a normal person looks.

While the characters are crossing over there are some differences between the comic strip universes. Dick Tracy is carrying on as though the Covid-19 disaster weren’t happening. Except for the Crimestoppers tips at the top of Sunday panels, which carry warnings about scams. People faking being from the IRS asking for stimulus check information. People running fake health screenings. Scammers telling you the schools are “safe to reopen” for in-person classes. People claiming that employers should not be legally liable for their employees getting the coronavirus at work. People selling fake vaccinations. The frauds you would expect.

On The Fastrack, meanwhile, has made the characters being locked down an important part of the story. The easy way around this is to say the Dick Tracy events happened, like, last year or so. Except both strips have built in how Dendrobia is preparing for her wedding, to Guy Wyre, this coming Halloween. (Dick Tracy also recently made a guest appearance in On The Fastrack, there as a hologram, to avoid spreading non-ironic death.)

It gets more “inconsistent”. In Holbrook’s other newspaper comic, Safe Havens, Fastrack built and launched a spacecraft to Mars. That crew went and bioengineered that planet into new life. In that strip, Dethany is the chief flight director for Fastrack Inc. There is no good reason I haven’t been doing plot recaps for that comic. But that’s even harder to reconcile with what we’ve seen here. Especially since Holbrook decided to freeze the On The Fastrack characters’ ages, when Dendrobia took over. But Safe Havens continues aging the characters in loose realtime. You never hear this mentioned by people who say they can’t understand the relationship between Crankshaft and Funky Winkerbean.

(Tom Batiuk’s Crankshaft and Funky Winkerbean both take place in the present day. But Funky Winkerbean is also a decade “ahead” of Crankshaft. That is, if a Crankshaft character appears in today’s Funky Winkerbean he’s ten years older than he “should” be. A Funky Winkerbean character appearing in Crankshaft is about a decade younger. That’s all.)

Dick Tracy.

17 May – 9 August 2020.

Actress Fortuna Dyer was getting into character for her Breathless Mahoney bio-pic. Thing is Breathless Mahoney was a villain. Dyer wants information out of B.O.Plenty, who back before his heel-face turn kind of got pretty near murdering her. Tracy gives Dyer an interview, recapping the Mahoney-Plenty story of the 40s. And asks her not to contact Plenty, who’s gone all good.

Dyer bails Shaky out of jail, a surprising fast return for last story’s villain. Shaky’s uncle, the original Shaky, was married to Breathless Mahoney’s mother. Dyer says she wants more background on Mahoney. So he’s got a job now, that’s great. The job seems to be talking about their relatives over dinner with Dyer. That doesn’t cause any conflict at all with Edison Lighthouse, Shaky’s girlfriend, whom he starts missing date nights with.

Shaky: 'Breathless, we've been at this for two weeks now. What would you say to dinner with no movie talk?' Dyer/Breathless: 'I wondered when you'd bring that up. Sure, we can go out. But tell me something ... do you shake *all* the time?'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 30th of May, 2020. “Because if you do shake all the time, well, this could be even better than that time I was dating Chef Wiggly!”

Lighthouse, annoyed at her abandonment, turns to her one friend: Ugly Crystal. You know, whom she met while fleeing the cops last time around. Over coffee at the mall Crystal recommends dumping Shaky. She doesn’t know what his deal is. But she knows someone sending his signals is not good. Lighthouse challenges Shaky, who admits to what’s going on, even though it’s a little weird.

Meanwhile Dick Tracy learns that Shaky’s out of jail, when Sam Catchem notices Shaky at the filming location.

In another mall hangout, Ugly Crystal mentions how her dad’s got a cool Oklahoma Days centennial belt buckle. And there’s a whole world of belt-buckle-collectors who’ll pay good money for that sort of thing. Shaky, eavesdropping, hears how this could be worth thousands. He forms a plan. Shaky is confident in his plan, even though his plan is quite bad. He needs cash. Dyer’s been pumping him for information, but all she’s delivered is the promise of a movie cameo. When she puts off a dinner date, he breaks in to Ugly Crystal’s home to steal her dad’s belt buckle.

So a thing Ugly Crystal maybe never mentioned to Shaky when he mistook her place for a safehouse? Her dad’s Lafayette Austin, undercover cop. Also he has like a dozen belt buckles so it’s easy to find one’s missing.

On the movie set, Shaky, playing Original Shaky, says, 'Come on, Breathless. I said I was sorry.' Dyer, as Breathless: 'No, Shaky. I don't take that from anyone. We're through!' Shaky: 'Please, baby?' Dyer: 'No. I've filed charges.' Shaky: 'You what?' Dick Tracy: 'Shaky.' Shaky: 'Buzz off! This is none of your business!' Tracy: 'Oh, but it *is*. You're under arrest.' Shaky: 'Ugh ... Dick Tracy!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 21st of June, 2020. Having yet another instance where characters play Dick Tracy characters, particularly with Current Shaky playing Original Shaky for this movie cameo, made this a confusing strip to read when it came out. What we’re seeing here, through the first panel of the bottom row, is a movie scene being filmed with Shaky playing his uncle the Original Shaky, and Dyer playing Breathless. The last two panels are the real Dick Tracy intruding, breaking up the scene with an actual real-world arrest. This seems needlessly jerky of Dick Tracy. Like, he couldn’t have waited one minute for the scene to be clear? But, Shaky responding to something off-script so plausibly suggests that maybe his real calling was an actor. He’s certainly not a competent crook.

Tracy goes to the movie set to arrest Shaky, who’s doing his cameo as Uncle Shaky. The arrest is for “harassment”, and I’m not sure who he’s harassing. But he’s got the belt buckle on him too. There’s a short fight, and a new arrest, and that’s it for Shaky.

Also maybe for Dyer. On Shaky’s arrest she drops her method-actor pose of demanding everyone call her Breathless. .

Oh, and that $2,000 buckle was actually a $20 buckle. Ugly Crystal was “worried” about Edison Lighthouse being with Shaky. And Shaky thought that baiting Shaky into stealing from Austin might “[help] save Fortuna Dyer”. Which … I guess succeeded, but it feels like some class of entrapment at least. Also it’s not clear that Tracy did much besides have the matter solved for him.


The current story began the 5th of July. It brings in Dethany Dendrobia from Bill Holbrook’s On The Fastrack. Fastrack itself is a company with a slightly vague portfolio, but a lot of what it does is data warehousing.

Dendrobia’s in Tracy Town because Fastrack is buying a new warehouse. Dendrobia’s investigating the string of construction accidents. Someone’s following her, and took a shot, tearing her overcoat. The warehouse is one that used to belong to Stooge Viller, whom GoComics commenter Neil Wick writes was the fifth-ever Dick Tracy villain, back in 1933. Viller survived a couple stories and died in 1940.

The antagonist is someone named Coney, a rotund fellow whom we meet buying a double-wide ice cream cone. And the motive: there’s a rumor that Viller hid millions somewhere in the building. But after a month of work Coney’s gang hasn’t found anything.

Tracy and Dendrobia investigate the warehouse. They find Coney and his gang. Coney insists he’s the building’s owner. So, all right. That stalls things for a couple days. Coney goes to Wilson Properties, complaining about these snoopers. Alex Wilson says the warehouse was sold by mistake and they haven’t been able to negotiate anything with Fastrack. It’s … a heck of a mistake. But, don’t worry. The real estate investment trust that fraudulently sold the building? Whose mistake results in the attempted murder and actual kidnapping and possible death of several people? They will never face a consequence.

Alex Wilson: 'What have you tried to persuade Miss Dendrobia to leave?' Coney: 'The usual cat and mouse. But she won't scare. After the last try she brought Dick Tracy into the situation.' Wilson: 'We may be on borrowed time, Coney. You've had no luck finding Viller's Millions?' Coney: 'No, but too many of his old mob remember his bragging about it being hidden in that warehouse. It MUST be there!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 30th of July, 2020. OK, yeah, but, like, Villiers was operating in the 30s. There was probably some candy bar named “Villiers’ Millions” and it was advertised as the combination bar that filled you up like a five-course dinner served to a member of the Sugar Trust. They sponsored Stoopnagle and Budd for three months in 1934.

Still, it gives underling Howdy a new chance to get rid of Dendrobia or else. Howdy by the way looks rather like Howdy Doody. This makes me think we’re supposed to recognize Coney from something, but I don’t know what. He looks generically like an ice cream mascot but that could just be good character design. He also doesn’t look anything like the iconic “Tillie” caricature of Coney Island showman George Tilyou, which knocks out the other obvious association.

Howdy gets some information from Bookworm, which might be a shout-out to the Adam West Batman. With that information he drives over to On The Fastrack and kidnaps Dendrobia’s fiancee, Guy Wyre. Howdy gives Dendrobia the ultimatum: get her boss (Rose Trellis) to let go of the warehouse and she gets Guy Wyre back.

And, the 9th of August, Sam Catchem meets up with Sleet. Catchem knew her back when she was a racketeer and paid $500 to kill him. So it’s nice they’ve gotten past that. What relevance it has to these proceedings is unknowable as of Sunday. (He was getting information about Wyre’s kidnappers.)

This catches you up to mid-August 2020. If you’re reading this after about November 2020, or want what Dick Tracy news I come across, I may have something at this link. Thank you.

Next Week!

I look through a couple months’ worth of Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley, unfortunately still in reruns for the dailies. I believe at least some of the Sunday strips are new, but haven’t checked. I’ll let you know what I find.

And one last note. Over on my mathematics blog I’m spending the rest of the year explaining one mathematics term at a time. I’m leaving a lot of mathematics terms un-explained. But you might like what you see. Thanks for reading.

Statistics Saturday: King Kong, Perception vs Reality


King Kong perception: Tiny sliver: boring stuff in 30s nasal voices. Good-size wedge: Fay Wray tied to that giant wall. Enormous wedge: King Kong fighting airplanes atop the Empire State Building. Good-size wedge: Twas Beauty killed the Beast. King Kong Reality: one-third of the pie, 'OK the *characters* are racist but the *move* presents the Islands acting sensibly with respect and even sympathy for their needs and ... oh yeah, the Ship's Cook. Oof.' Nearly all the rest: 'King Kong fighting dinosaurs! Lots and lots of freaking dinosaurs!' Tiny wedge: 'Empire State Building, airplanes, Twas Beauty, Etc.'
Not pictured: that guy who falls in love with Fay Wray’s character and I guess she loves him back because even as you stare at him you focus on all the people with personalities around him.

Reference: Something New Under the Sun: satellites and the beginning of the Space Age, Helen Gavaghan. Bonus fun fact according to Gavaghan: for a while in the mid-50s rocket designers talked about something that could launch to earth orbit as an “LP rocket”.

A mystery of Brobdingnagian proportions


If you’re like me, again, a thing I don’t recommend, you were amazed to learn there was a movie version of Gulliver’s Travels back in 2010. Yeah! Starred Jack Black and, of course, James Corden and everything. Nobody cared about it, or went to see it, which is why even Jack Black and James Corden are learning about it right now, from this post.

Still, this entails a mystery. Logic tells us that there should have been, somewhere between 2015 and 2018, a somehow more indifferently received sequel. Its name should most likely be Gulliver’s 2ravels. It should star whoever’s the one-tier-lower versions of Jack Black and James Corden. I can find no evidence it exists, though. I’m not saying that all our troubles are caused by this unexplained gap in the popular culture. We should just see if maybe that’s a problem and if we could fix it.

Statistics Saturday: Days Of The Week The CBS Sunday Night Movie Has Been On


Day of Week Has Hosted the CBS Sunday Night movie?
Sunday Yes (1986-2006, 2020)
Monday No
Tuesday Yes (1972-74, 1986-2000)
Wednesday Yes (1977-81, 1986-2000)
Thursday Yes (1965-75)
Friday Yes (1966-77)
Saturday Yes (1981-86)

Not listed: the CBS Late Movie (1972-89) as it aired outside prime time and I didn’t want to list it.

Reference: Fantasia Mathematica, Clifton Fadiman, Editor.

A Follow-Up Thought


I got to thinking about a particular 1982 installment of the comic strip Frank and Ernest. If you’re wondering why I was thinking about a particular 1982 installment of the comic strip Frank and Ernest? Then, hi there. It’s nice to meet you for the first time ever. In your journey to someday not interacting with me anymore you’ll find I have thoughts like, “is there a 4X-style game to be made out of the story of time zones?”. Or, “are there any good pop-history books about the origins of standardized paper? How about bricks?”. Maybe, “who was the first person to propose the flush being a valuable hand in poker, and how did they convince other people to agree?”. This is why I have two friends who’ve put up with me for longer than ten years, and one of them is my wife.

Anyway the particular Frank and Ernest had them walking past a movie theater, remarking how there was already a sequel to the heartwarming summer sci-fi blockbuster: ETC. This strip I remember annoyed me. I somehow knew that Steven Spielberg had declared there would never be a sequel to E.T. You might think this is a reason they treated me like that in middle school, but, no. I wasn’t yet in middle school. This was a warning sign that they would treat me like that.

But you know why that particular strip is seared into my memory? Other than that I have the sort of memory that latches onto, say, the theme song to the 1984 sitcom It’s Your Move starring Jason Bateman and Garrett Morris? It’s because this comic got used as a project in school. We were assigned the task of writing titles for a sequel to E.T. even though, as noted, I was aware there would never be such a thing. I don’t remember that we were being graded on quality or quantity of titles. I do remember getting competitive about it. Also, please remember that this was 1982. While it was not literally impossible, it would be difficult for any of us to submit E.T. II: The Secret Of Curly’s Ooze. I want to say I got up into sixty-plus sequel titles before running out of ideas. I also want to not say I got up into sixty-plus sequel titles. It is thoroughly daft to have come up with sixty-plus possible sequel titles for E.T., even under the direction of a teacher.

It’s one of the most baffling school experiences I remember. It’s up there with the time they took us to the Garden State Arts Center and instructed us to clap with our hands cupped. I think we were also there to have music played at us, but I remember the clapping instruction.

But one further reason I remember this so well is that this was no ordinary class project that got us writing out imaginary E.T. sequel titles. This was something we did for the school district’s magnet program for gifted students. The Education Through Challenge program. You see how we had to think about this Frank and Ernest. The program had the educational philosophy that students who test well should do things for school that are fun and creative and maybe a bit weird. Everyone else can … I don’t know. I would say diagram sentences, except I thought that was fun too. If that hasn’t shaken you off knowing me I don’t know what will. Also I guess we had days the teachers didn’t feel up to challenges.

What the program mostly did, though, was take a couple students from each grade and from each school in the district, and bus them to a different school for a half-day each week. You can see why I clung to participation in this program. Who would turn down a built-in field trip every week of the school year? It gets better: the last year and a half I was there, they didn’t take us to a different school in use in the district. They took us to a whole separate school that was completely closed except for administration needs and our program. That’s right. I was part of an elite cadre of students who once a week got to go to school in an ex-school and, one time, do a list-writing project based on Frank and Ernest.

This is the value of a good education. It gives you thoughts to enrich the rest of your days.

In July 1982 E.T.‘s director Steven Spielberg and writer Melissa Mathison wrote a treatment for E.T. II: Nocturnal Fears.

On the bellies of dragons


I was reading the IMDB page about Disney’s 1941 movie The Reluctant Dragon and found this trivia:

Portions of this film had to be redone because of objections by the Hays Office. The dragon was originally drawn with a navel which had to removed before the film could be passed.

Now I wish to believe the Hayes Office was sending many snippy letters explaining that as dragons hatch from eggs they have no biological need for belly buttons. And the Disney Office writing back that dragons are made up and can have belly buttons if we choose. I want to think they were arguing, by typewriter, for months. I decide to believe Ward Kimball sent the Hayes Office a most sarcastic drawing of a dragon mom nursing dragon toddlers. I choose to believe that the great-grandchildren of the people in this dispute are still angry at the other side. I shall not be accepting any evidence to the contrary. Thank you.

In which I talk back to the clickbait


I am sorry, YouTube clickbait promising the “top ten moments of Transformers The Movie (1986)”, but that would be the entirety of Transformers The Movie (1986). Though I have not seen Transformers The Movie (1986) since college I am certain it is exactly as awesome as I remember and has no segments that are now really embarrassing or painful.

OK, Wheelie was bad. But otherwise every bit of Transformers The Movie (1986) was the greatest thing humanity has ever done, not excepting the extinction of smallpox, Voyager’s “Pale Blue Dot” photograph, and every scene where a Simpsons character gives a false name.

Which title is better?


I noticed this documentary while looking over the schedule on Turner Classic Movies:

tcm.com banner describing the movie 'No Maps On My Taps (1978), with the note that it is 'Also known as: No Maps On My Taps'.
TCM does make the documentary, about jazz tap dancing, sound interesting. But do remember that I am a person who finds every documentary and every bit of nonfiction interesting. I would happily watch 65 minutes on the North American Numbering Plan even if it didn’t include rare footage from the 1930s.

What do you think? I get where No Maps On My Taps makes sense as a title for this film, but it’s hard to see where that’s preferable to No Maps On My Taps.

Observed while kind of watching the Star Wars movies today


I had forgotten how much of The Empire Strikes Back is just “people falling off things”. Really a surprise. Movie would have been very different if they had put those rubber grippy-pad things for the shower on the floors. Would be hard on the foley artists, certainly. Yes, yes, Darth Vader’s menace would be undercut by his breathing harmonizing with the sqrk-SQRK-sqrk-SQRRK-sqrrrrk-SQRRK of walking on damp vinyl. But it would be easier on everybody’s knees and, I can say with the authority of someone whose knees would rather not be knees, that would be great.

One of those odd stray thoughts


You know, Mike Oldfield didn’t write “Tubular Bells” for The Exorcist. Director William Friedkin picked it when the original soundtrack was too scary, and he didn’t yet know about Tangerine Dream. So, like, in an alternate timeline, that tune doesn’t have any association with anything horrifying. It could have ended up being the sound for merry Christmas melodies of the 70s and 80s. You never see that sort of thing in alternate-history novels, though. Alternate history is a fun genre, ranging from stories about “what if the worst people won the major war” all the way to stories about “what if there were lots more moon landings”. But it never wonders about what if prog rock albums were appreciated differently.

On the Problem of Identity During the Plague Spring


The quarantine month has been a pretty tough time, as measured by how often we’ve had to go to the basement and berate cinder blocks. It’s a better coping mechanism than punching the cinder blocks was. The cinder blocks aren’t taking this personally. They know they’re there as support. Emotionally speaking, cinder blocks are bricks. I don’t say that cinder blocks are also literally bricks, because I’m afraid I’ll get in trouble with the brick enthusiast community. I don’t need someone explaining how something essential to bricks is incompatible with the nature of cinder blocks, because I would find that fascinating. I would read three different books, each at least 280 pages, on the history of bricks. I’m already enough of a caricature of myself. I do not need to become even more of that.

But this lands me on my point four times as well as I had expected just three sentences ago. Honest, I was lost. My point is: a lot of us are having a rough time now because we don’t have anything to do. There’s no hanging out at barcades. You can’t even go to the pet store and stare at the baby guinea pigs. A lot of people don’t have jobs. Those who do, have those jobs gone all weird. Two months ago you would spend all morning in a meeting to resolve what five minutes of e-mail would have. Today, you spend all morning in e-mail exchanges to resolve what five minutes of meeting would have.

All these things that we would do evaporated. So now we face the gap between the stuff we do, and who we are, and who we figure we want to be. That’s tough stuff. I remember who I wanted to be, growing up: the astronaut who draws Popeye. It’s been an adjustment, learning that the person I am doesn’t want to make the effort it takes to draw Popeye. Or to convince the people who hire astronauts that they need someone on staff who’ll draw Popeye too. That one’s on me. I keep applying for astronaut jobs, but at the interviews I never ask if they’re bringing a Popeye-drawer on board. I just take it for granted that if they don’t list it on their web site, they’re not going to, and I don’t even respond to their offers. I’m only messing up my own life like this.

How to handle the gap between what kept you busy and what your identity is? This involves serious quiet, letting all the thoughts imposed from other people — well-meaning or advertisers — wash out. Think seriously about what you are when at rest, and see what residue of life remains. Then realize this is a hecking lot of work and the results are terrible. You know how, on your body, you have this indestructible nostril hair that every booger in the world condenses around? Your personality is like that, only worse. It starts with that time you were six and teased that kid Christian across the street because his name rhymes with the imaginary word “Ristian”. And it’s accumulated like that since then. No, you’re better off finding a new store-bought identity and putting that on.

There’s so many to choose from! You could be the person who cruises social media, finding folks who are screaming at CSS for not being able to do what seems like a simple CSS thing, and reassuring them that the problem is that CSS is not actually good at CSS things yet, and never will be. (CSS is that computer thing where, for no good reason, sometimes all the stuff in your web browser is 50% off the edge of the screen to the right.)

You could be a background character in a Studio Ghibli film. In these times you’ll definitely want to be in one of the lower-stress movies. Take up some role where you look over bunches of vegetables, that kind of thing. You’ll have to act nonplussed when a bunch of kids run through on some lightly daft whimsical adventure to help the ghost wolf reconcile with its family or something. So remember to look up exactly what “nonplussed” means. You want to know how to react.

Or you could try being an astronaut who draws Popeye. The drawing Popeye part should be easy, but the real trick is getting up into space. To do that, you’ll want to practice jumping until you’re so good at it you jump into outer space. Go practice right now! (Note to the rest of you: if you’re hired as astronaut they provide the outer space for you. I just want to get my competition for the job out of the way.)

The exact choice isn’t important. What matters is that you realize who you are. Then we can see about fixing that.

60s Popeye: how to be a Matinee Idol


Suggested soundtrack: Sparks, Academy Award Performance.

This week’s King Features Popeye cartoon is, it happens, directed by Gene Deitch, and produced by William L Snyder. There’s no story credit to it. Matinée Idol Popeye, another in the microgenre of cartoons where Popeye makes a movie.

Though I’ve called it a microgenre, there really aren’t many cartoons where Popeye is making a movie. At least one of the times he is, it’s a clip cartoon recycling one of the two-reelers. The benefit of doing a let’s-make-a-movie cartoon is you can put Popeye in any scenario without needing any setup or resolution. But, then, when have we ever needed a reason that Popeye should be in Ancient Egypt? It’s old-style cartoon characters. They could just do that.

The setup is Popeye and Olive Oyl making some Anthony-and-Cleopatra film. Brutus is director, sensibly enough. I’d wondered if this was a riff on the infamous Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton Cleopatra, and it seems … unclear. That movie, released 1963, had started production in 1958. So a 1960 cartoon could riff on it. But apart from its five-million-dollar budget what would stand out, in 1960, about the project? Probably it’s more generically a riff on that era of epic-style filmmaking.

We get early on some nice visual jokes. Popeye turning into a ham when Brutus accuses him of being one, that sort of thing. It reflects one of the good lessons of limited animation: if you can’t show complicated action, at least show a bunch of funny pictures. Brutus tries to woo Olive Oyl, taking out of his pocket a heap of flowers bigger than he is; that’s better than anything which would make physical sense.

The premise of the cartoon becomes that Brutus wants Popeye out of the way, but can’t fire him, so he has to get Popeye to quit or die. Bit gruesome, but, makes sense. We get the gag of Popeye’s head caught in a lion’s mouth, and him puffing his pipe to make the lion release him. That’s been done before; in the Famous Studios Tops in The Big Top Bluto even puts a slab of meat on Popeye’s head to ensure the lion tries to eat him. Here it’s just luck for Brutus that the plan starts to work. It’s a missed chance to make Brutus more villainous, but on the other hand, do we want Brutus to be that mean?

Popeye's head is caught in the mouth of a slightly annoyed lion. Popeye's arms are raised as he figures to maybe do something about this.
Popeye: “Why does this keep happening to me? … All right, it’s only happened maybe three times? But when you consider how often this happens to anyone else that’s still a lot.”

Brutus chuckles “that’ll be good for the end title” when a vulture rests on Popeye’s head. It is, and it’s a missed resolution that the end of the short doesn’t have the vulture on Brutus’s head. We get some nice and really exciting music as the elephant comes in. It raises questions about what the filming schedule for this film was supposed to look like. I wouldn’t want to try to shoot a lion and an elephant and a crocodile scene on the same day. Obviously Brutus is throwing stuff together in the opes of getting Popeye to quit, but he does seem to be filming all this. Without giving Popeye direction of what he should accomplish in the scene, though. If this were an actual film it would be a heck of an avant-garde piece. It’d have some weird verite-like style anyway. Brutus is optimistic to think this will win an Academy Award, but it will have a good shot at being a cult classic.

Brutus finally turns to just grabbing Olive Oyl, because he has not learned how people work yet. Popeye does a slick bit of crushing his can open by dropping a beam of wood on it; that gets us to the fight climax. More time’s spent on Popeye making a sphinx of himself than the actual fight. I’m curious whether they were trying to limit the violence or whether Deitch (or storywriter) thought that punching was the least interesting thing Popeye did. Before we know it, Brutus is harnessed and hauling Popeye’s chariot. This seems like it should violate a Directors Guild rule, but we have reason to think the production is outside proper channels, what with how there’s no other crew.

This isn’t a lushly animated cartoon and after the initial business with the ham it doesn’t get too fanciful either. It does well with what animation there is. And it avoids having too many scenes that look like police lineups. We get a lot of close pictures of characters’s faces, or from chest up. Not so many of them standing in a line viewed from afar. I regret that it doesn’t show off the experimental energies I was talking so much about yesterday. But sometimes a cartoon’s just executed successfully after all.

Statistics Saturday: Bowery Boys movie titles reused by more successful projects


  • High Society (1955)
  • Live Wires (1948)
  • Leaving Las Vegas (1956)
  • Ghost Busters (1951)
  • Hot Shots (1956)
  • Romancing the Stone (1956)
  • Rise of the Skywalkers (1948)
  • Family Feud (1952)
  • Schoolboys in Disgrace (1949)
  • Broadcast News (1947)
  • Master Minds (1949)
  • In Living Color (1946)
  • The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon (1958)

Not listed:

  • Dr Jekyll and Ms Hyde (1946) as it was more successful than the other movie with that title
  • Ghosts On The Loose (1943) as this was released as an East Side Kids rather than a Bowery Boys title
  • No Holds Barred (1952) as it is in a statistical tie with the Hulk Hogan film of the same name

Reference: The Historical Roots of Elementary Mathematics, Lucas NH Bunt, Phillip S Jones, Jack D Bedient.

How Music May Help Us Through This Crisis


Music. That’s something that helps in times of crisis. It’s a way to manage the feeling you’re having every feeling at once, and will never not again. Look deep into your music collection and find something pleasant and soothing, and enjoy.

Here’s where this goes wrong. My music collection is mostly weird, experimental, early-analog synth experiments. Oh, yes, and 100 Hits of Frank Crumit, who recorded in the 1920s and 30s. That’s pleasant, in that everything he recorded sounds like background music for a Betty Boop cartoon. As long as you don’t hit one of the lyrics that are crazy racist. There’s one song about being an outhouse-builder that’s not bad, although it’s not as good as you’d think.

But that’s the one album. The rest? It’s daffy stuff like fourteen takes of Raymond Scott trying to perfectly represent the sound of a robot mouse passing gas. And this in the service of recording a commercial for Bendix or Ohio Bell or something like that. Or the albums of Ferrante and Teicher. These guys recorded a bunch of wonderful, goofy, way-over-the-top renditions of, like, the theme to Star Wars or whatever. It’s music that makes you go, “seriously?” And yes, yes, they did a lot of cornball stuff. But they did it because it paid the bills. It’s what let them afford their serious music, where they’d try playing a piano strung up with sheets of paper or metal chains or stuff so it sounds all weird.

But. The comforting assurance of a person who knows a particular feeling and can make that a melody? Nope. My music collection brings out the warm communion of the soundtrack to Logan’s Run.

And that’s a great reference to make because I just learned one of my under-thirty friends likes Logan’s Run. For the aesthetics of it, mind you, not for the story. This is perceptive of my friend. I like Logan’s Run, but not because of the story, because have you seen the story? It’s a lot of meandering around through settings. Eventually two masses in the shape of protagonists escape the storyline. In the vast wilderness outside then they discover Peter Ustinov. The sudden presence of an actor then blows up the whole project.

So I like the movie, but that’s because of the look and the feel of it. You watch it and admire the things set designers can do with Plexiglass. And marvel at how ingenious this all was, even if it’s nothing like the props and effects and design of Star Wars. But, like, the films were separated by so much time. Then you look it up and find out that Logan’s Run came out twelve minutes before Star Wars and you feel all confused. Why is Logan’s Run not more less-bad than it is?

Still, I like that an under-thirty friend can appreciate the movie for what it’s good at. Also I like that I have an under-thirty friend, somehow. Or any friend, period. I know what it’s like to put up with me. Be friends with me and you have to put up with this nonsense. I track how much I’m spending on shampoo so I know whether to trim my beard. I think of stuff about Calvin Coolidge or the Wilmot Proviso or whatever. I get anxious if we have a flat surface without an unstable pile of papers and magazines and small purchases on top. I stop my reading so I can tell my love something from my book.

If my love wants any peace while I’m doing this, there’s nothing to do but put headphones on. The big headphones, ones look ready for broadcasting on the WKRP In Cincinnati prequel that’s on I’m guessing CBS All Access. And listen to music. Lots of it. My love has gone through the whole Kinks catalogue. Their good albums, their bad albums, their unpopular albums, Ray Davies leaving messages on Dave Davies’s phone that he can’t be in the band. Everything. When I get to reading the second book I’ve acquired in the past twelve months about the history of the United States Post Office, my love will have to start listening to wholly imaginary Kinks albums. That’s all right. I have my own earphones and can listen to Joe Meek trying to do a surf-rock theramin version of the theme to Popeye. This is the power of music in a trying time.

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


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

Mary Worth.

22 December 2019 – 15 March 2020.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dubiously Sourced Mary Worth Sunday Panel Quotes!

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

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

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

Next Week!

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

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

A Reason They Did Not Treat Me Like That In Middle School


So it’s not that I did not have problems with the premise of The Fly. I had exactly the problem anyone would think of regarding it: if the transporter pod will merge Seth Brundle with the fly that’s in there, why would it not also merge Brundle with the many microorganisms in the air and in his body? And microorganisms necessarily in his body, that couldn’t be handled by a sterile transporter pod environment? But no, the thing is that this movie came out the summer after I was done with middle school. Yes, I was as done with middle school as it is possible to be. But I escaped having this be a reason people treated me in middle school like that for the second-best of possible reasons.

Statistics 2010s: Top Movies Featuring Racing Snails of the 2010s


  • Turbo II: First Snail On Mars (2014)
  • Turbo (2013)
  • Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole (2010)
  • Turbo 3: Crashed (2017)
  • Turbo (2018 reboot)
  • Turbo: New Kid (2019)
  • Star Trek Beyond (2016)
  • Turbo 2250: Beyond the Veil of Time (2016)
  • Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 (2015)
  • Epic (2013)
  • Turbo: The Teen Years (2016, direct-to-video prequel)
  • Turbo II 1/2: Chickipede’s Chance (2019, out-of-continuity sequel to the TV series)

Reference: The Kaiser’s Merchant Ships in World War I,, William Lowell Putnam.

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


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

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

Mary Worth.

29 September – 21 December 2019.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dubiously Sourced Mary Worth Sunday Panel Quotes!

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

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

Next Week!

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

In Which I Notice A Gap In Our Pop Culture


So we were at our local Sears’s liquidation sale, which everybody in town thought they had done like a year or two ago. Good fun. The didn’t have the cheap bedsheets we were counting on. Anyway, the fixtures are on sale and we even saw someone buying one of the kid-size mannequins. This of course leads to the question: why? Well, he probably knows his business.

It makes me realize there’s a movie that logic and experience dictates should have been made and somehow wasn’t. So I ask you, kind readers. Would I get a lot of pushback if I said we should just go ahead and pretend there was a Mannequin 3, made sometime around 1996, starring whoever the second-generation photocopy of Andrew McCarthy was, struggling with being the single parent of a kid mannequin (or “mannekid”) for some reason?

Thank you. I thought we might fill that gap. (I’m guessing the plot is the Andrew McCopy character has to learn some lesson about work/life balance and maybe to foil some smugglers.)

The trivial reason I’m running late today


I got to reading some trivia about Incredibles 2 and came to this remarkable revelation:

This movie and The Incredibles (2004) were released in the same year of the death of a voice actor of one of the iconic characters in Beauty and the Beast (1991). The Incredibles (2004) was released in the same year of the death of Jerry Orbach, and this movie was released in the same year of the death of David Ogden Stiers. Both Incredibles films were also released the same year of the death of a member of the heavy metal band Pantera. Incredibles was released the same year Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell was murdered and Incredibles 2 was released the same year Pantera drummer Vinnie Paul died of a heart attack

So who doesn’t need to lie down and rest a while after having trivia like that sitting on their head?

After Kind Of Watching The First 45 Minutes Of Moonraker


So, like, after the events of the movie there had to be some investigations about how the Drax Corporation got the contract to build space shuttles, right? Like, there’d be some 70s Congressional Hearing, on TV, with people’s names identified in little white Helvetica chyrons. And you’d have the Deputy Director of Manned Space Flight or Whatever explaining, “Yes, well, the Drax Corporation’s project to eliminate all life on earth we rated as a task separate to and not reflecting on their ability to build or operate space shuttles. Our selection guidelines, as published by law in the Federal Register and I can provide you with the exact page reference, placed more weight on their operational ability. And every selection committee member gave them the highest possible marks for their task-management and organization computer-interface-system. Furthermore, their estimate for the first four years of annual operations management costs was only $17,250 above the Office of Management and Budget’s estimate. For all four years combined, that is. That alone was so dramatically better than Boeing, North American Rockwell, or Grumman’s proposals as to decide the matter. In any case we will in future requests for proposals include `not deliberately trying to provoke global extinction’ as soon as the NASA Office of General Counsel finishes advising us on the wording.”

So I’m not saying that that should have been the sequel, but I’d kind of like to know how the whole scandal played out is all.

Why I Figure You Should Write Your Own Web Browser


It’s getting about time we should all write our own web browsers again. We’ve been through this before. There was a time in the 90s when anybody could write their own web browser, and they did. I know this sounds intimidating, but back then it was easy. All a web browser had to do was show HTML, which is just text with lots of ampersands. This is easy to produce.

A couple years later web browsers got Java. This required us to put a little grey box in the middle of the screen which read “Loading applet”, and then nothing would happen. About this time we added in Javascript. This required web browsers to include a little status bar at the bottom which reported “Javacript has encountered an error and crashed”. These were good times. The only thing a web browser really had to do was give us a way to turn off blinking text. Once blinking text was turned off everyone was happy, except for the inventor of blinking text, Haply “Hal” Blinken.

Anyway it was fun when everybody was writing a web browser, because we all had ideas about background images. I started out writing “very funny ideas”, and then decided “funny” wasn’t adding anything to the sentence. But then I left it as “we all had very ideas about background images”. This is true, but I couldn’t leave it like that or you’d think I made a mistake. But ask people. It was so. Anyway, we went from everybody having their own weird little web browser to everybody using Netscape or Internet Explorer and that was it. This winnowing-down process took about twelve days. Then we cut it down to just Internet Explorer. That took another eight years.

Like a decade ago this got changing again, and everybody started making new web browsers. This was fun because of the new innovation where web sites stopped showing you a menu bar. You could turn it back on, if you could find where the thing that used to be the menu bar went. But suddenly all kinds of companies were excited to stop showing things and maybe get themselves a brand. So if you wanted a web browser that wouldn’t tell you what web site you were looking at, but would have Garfield’s face watching you.

By then web browsers had to do more complicated stuff, like give you the option to turn off pop-up windows. The browser then warned you this might stop windows from popping up. Users agreed to accept this risk. This allowed every web site to ask you for permission to be the exception, which you denied, right before they opened a window anyway. Also around this time we got tabs. This solved the problem where we used to have 62 web browser windows open waiting to be read. Now we could have two web browser windows open, each with 86 tabs, some of them playing the Median Hits of 2007.

With all this potential we got like 800 new web browsers, which over the course of two weeks settled down to Firefox, Chrome, and Microsoft’s Thing You Use To Download Firefox Or Chrome. That’s been stable for about a decade now so I figure it’s time for a new explosion of web browser options. Last time the diversity of web browsers was fed by the need to remove menu bars and give people the option to turn off pop-up windows. Now we have many new things people can choose they don’t want to do.

For example, web sites now ask permission to send you notifications. You know, in case this oral history about the making of Barry Levinson’s Toys has a hot bit of news. (It would be embarrassing to be in the last 35 million of people on the planet to know the latest about the “Happy Workers” song.) So we could have an option to turn that off. There’s also those videos that start playing automatically, and don’t stop until you’ve scrolled the window so the video is hidden, which makes the video bubble up and float into the middle of the window. We need an option to turn that off, and also to bap the people responsible for that with some funny bludgeon-y thing. (You won’t see that part after “with” if I have a better idea before deadline.)

There are many ways we could set things up so they should be better but aren’t. Let’s get to work!

Regarding Another Cinematic Universe Or Two


I’ve realized there must be a fan theory that the fondly-yet-dimly-remembered summer camp movie series Meatballs shares a continuity with the beloved-I-assume series of Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs movies. This would be the dullest fan theory not to include the phrase “dying hallucination of”.

What’s Going On In The Amazing Spider-Man? Is Spider-Man ever coming out of reruns? May – August 2019


Back around my undergraduate days the university wanted to move the student group offices out of the main student union. The space could make money rented out for events instead of given to student groups. The student groups didn’t want to leave. The university planned a major renovation and expansion of the campus center. It would add a bunch of decent food places, for example. And get the building away from its original late-60s “you know the architect was an award-winning prison designer” layout. But it would need most of the student groups to leave for a while. They set up nice enough temporary quarters in the Ledge, the former and still usable student union building. And, after about three years of renovations, there had been nearly a full turnover in undergraduates. Nobody but a few die-hards with old issues of the student newspapers remembered the promise that student groups would ever move back.

So the first of the “classic” repeats of Roy Thomas and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider Man stories, facing Mysterio, came to an end in mid-July as expected. And then they went right to the story which followed the Mysterio story in 2015. It’s a team-up with the Black Widow to fight the Hobgoblin. That’s a storyline which ran from mid-March 2015 through mid-August. If they repeat the whole thing, that’ll take us through October 2019. The following story, if they don’t change things up, would be an encounter with the Sub-Mariner.

I haven’t heard any announcements of a new team to create the comic strip. Or rumors of an announcement being near. If I hear anything about The Amazing Spider-Man rejoining the world of living comic strips I’ll post something at this link. And I’ll keep plot recaps going, at least until they get into rerunning stories I’ve already reviewed.

The Amazing Spider-Man.

19 May – 10 August 2019.

In a story ripped from 2014-15, Mary Jane had just fallen off the Empire State Building. Filming accident during the making of Marvella 2: The Secret of Curly’s Gold. Spider-Man suspects Mysterio, the super … special-effects and hypnosis guy. Correctly, but how? Also the film crew is starting to suspect Mary Jane and Spider-Man have a thing, and this might hurt Peter Parker if he ever finds out.

Smiley: 'The robot! It's falling onto MJ!' Peter, running ahead of the robot: 'I'll get you out of the --- ' (He shoves Mary Jane out of the way but the robot, falling over, crashes on Spider-Man's side.) 'ARRRH!'
Roy Thomas, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 29th of May, 2019. I had thought the World’s Fair robot just stood there talking with people and smoking cigarettes but I’m not asserting that I know about all the World’s Fair robots out there, especially in a variant of the Marvel Universe.

Mysterio, meanwhile, is sure: Spider-Man has got to be Mary Jane’s husband. He’s going to use a publicity photo shoot, using an old World’s Fair robot, to mess things up. The robot chases down Mary Jane. Peter Parker, in disguise as Peter Parker, shoves her out of the way, taking the fall at the cost of a cracked rib. Mysterio cackles at how he almost killed both Mary Jane and Spider-Man.

Producer Abe Smiley’s ready to cancel Marvella 2: The Secret Of The Ooze. But Mary Jane talks him out of it. And Peter’s discharged already: it was a tiny fracture. He even has a copy of the X-ray. Director “Dash” Dashell, curious about the X-rays, stumbles into Peter. Peter screams and spills his plot point right over everybody.

Dash Dashell: 'So that's an X-ray of your cracked rib? Here, let me see ... OOPS!' (He stumbles, knocking Peter Parker's chest, making Peter scream.) Mary Jane: 'I'd better get you home, Peter.' Sharon Smiley, whispering, to a tech person: 'If you're right and MJ's having an affair with Spider-Man ... her husband won't be getting in the way for a while.'
Roy Thomas, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 7th of June, 2019. I like people coming to the conclusion Mary Jane has something going with Spider-Man. It’s logical for onlookers to suppose. And it might help Peter Parker keep his identity secret, a thing he needs a lot of help with.

Marvella 2: Golden Receiver resumes. Spider-Man makes himself very visible watching over the next day of filming, at Washington Square Park. Mysterio does too. Then throws some misting gas grenades to be less visible. He’s figuring a mid-air, smoky fight with a wounded Spider-Man his best shot at killing Spidey. It’s not a bad thought. With a solid hit to the chest Spider-Man goes falling. Mysterio flies after him — well, not flies. Mysterio doesn’t have superpowers. He has a transparent hoverboard. Which Spider-Man snatches.

Mysterio: 'Your webbing --- latching onto my nigh-invisible Sky-Ski! But --- you were too DAZED to hurl that line!' Spider-Man: 'Or maybe, since they were filming a *movie*, I was just doing a bit of Oscar-level acting!' Mysterio: 'OOPH! You've pulled it --- out from under me!'
Roy Thomas, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 20th of June, 2019. I’d like to say it’s a coloring error that the nigh-invisible Sky-Ski is a bright orange, although that there’s not lines for Mysterio’s right boot suggests otherwise. In the previous couple days’ strips the Sky-Ski was invisible, or at least sky blue, which would probably be invisible enough for filming an ordinary special effects sequence. (I suppose a modern effects sequence would want the Sky-Ski to be a bright, easy-to-detect color not otherwise used, so it could be digitally erased. You can’t say that’s going on here. That’s not Mysterio’s thing and anyway his gloves are the same color.)

This offends Mysterio, a reaction I love. But Spidey points out, he can pretend to get hurt. With the hoverboard — er, Sky-Ski — Spidey can stay in the air long enough to continue fighting. Mysterio has an emergency reserve jet pack because, you know, supervillains. Anyway, they throw stuff at each other, they plummet, Spidey grabs on to Mysterio’s flying boomerang discus. He knocks Mysterio down. They fall into the fountain.

Spider-Man: 'I've removed your gimmicky gloves. Now let's see if you'r really who I THINK you are! (Removing the goldfish bowl.) Yep! Dash Dashell, boy movie director --- (Removing a face mask) -- Alias Quentin Beck, the one and only Mysterio!' Mary Jane: 'He was wearing a mask UNDER his mask!?'
Roy Thomas, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 5th of July, 2019. I understand the superhero convention of the mask-under-the-mask thing. But I look at this and wonder if Mysterio was getting any oxygen at all through those masks. His goldfish bowl wasn’t opaque because of special effects stuff. It was opaque because it fogged up.

Spidey reveals that Mysterio is in fact … “Dash” Dashell, director of Marvella 2: Invasion of the Tinysauruses. Or in fact … not. He’s really Quentin Beck, Mysterio. Mysterio kidnapped the real Dashell and took his place. The plan: draw out Spider-Man by staging accidents with Mary Jane Parker. This would let him kill Spider-Man, vanquishing his longstanding foe. Also let him kill Mary Jane, because, eh, what the heck.

Mysterio tries to at least reveal that Peter Parker is Spider-Man, and gets laughed out of town. It helps that Peter Skypes her with a “hey, just heard there’s a villain unraveling going on” call in the middle of this. Mysterio’s not fooled by a pre-recorded message. He slugs Spider-Man in the chest, who doesn’t even flinch, because Spidey doesn’t have a cracked rib. Mysterio leaves, abashed.

Mary Jane: 'That was Peter on the screen, so he *can't* be Spider-Man!' Mysterio, breaking away from the cop holding him: 'That call could've been pre-recorded! THIS'LL prove the wall-crawler is your husband! (And slugs Spider-Man in the chest.) WHAT? You didn't even FLINCH!' Spider-Man: 'Beck, you've got a punch like a soggy beanbag.'
Roy Thomas, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 11th of July, 2019. Question for the class: when did Peter Parker decide on his plan to fake having a cracked rib? He must have figured he had to fake being injured after the robot fell on him, since it would be weird if he didn’t need a hospital visit. But did he realize Mysterio was trying to injure Peter Parker, and needed to fake an injury? When? And on what basis?

How did Spider-Man pull this off? The X-rays Peter brought back from the hospital were old ones, from when this story originally ran four years ago. It’s some clever thinking by Peter, whose comic strip persona had needed the chance to show he can think. I’m not convinced that he had enough information in-world to form and execute this plan, though. But I’m also not sure how he leapt to the conclusion it was Mysterio behind all this either. Sometimes I guess you get lucky.


The Black Widow/Hobgoblin story got started, this time around, the 20th of July. Mary Jane admitted wearing the Marvella costume has kinda aroused something in her and she’d like to try web-slinging with him. And they’re having fun swooping over the town when the Hobgoblin blows through and tries to knock them down. Spider-Man leaves Mary Jane somewhere safe so they can go fighting.

Mary Jane, plummeting, screaming. Hobgoblin: 'Scream your head off on your way down! I've no intention of rescuing you!' Black Widow, swooping in to grab her: 'You don't need to --- while the Black Widow's around!'
Roy Thomas, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 2nd of August, 2019. I admire Hobgoblin’s willingness to say “I’ve no intention of rescuing you”. That’s a real power move of a line of dialogue. You know he could totally have said “I’ven’t any intention” except he’s holding that in reserve in case he has to escalate his dismissiveness.

It doesn’t go well. Hobgoblin knocks Spidey unconscious and returns to grab Mary Jane. She recognizes Hobgoblin as her old boyfriend, and Peter Parker’s friend Harry Osborn. Hobgoblin blames Spider-Man for the death of his father HarryNorman “Green Goblin” Osborn. And he hates Mary Jane now for … I don’t know. Something. Good chance they explain it in whatever this month’s Spider-Man movie is. Fortunately, the Black Widow is around and able to save Mary Jane.

Between the Black Widow and the recovered Spider-Man they’re able to chase Hobgoblin off. This gives Spidey and Black Widow a chance to exposition to each other. Black Widow was seeking a former Soviet Spy who’d killed “friends” of hers years ago, and ran across this by accident. Mary Jane, meanwhile, contracts instant jealousy of Spider-Man talking to Black Widow like this. And that’s the standings as of this weekend.

Next Week!

Doc Wonmug takes Alley Oop and Oola to meet Plato and then something goes wrong with the time machine. And it’s not the Time Raccoons, not yet. Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop is up in six days, unless I get busy.

In Which I Get Ahead On Disliking Movies I Haven’t Seen


I just want to say that I see no reason that we need a Duck Soup prequel. I don’t think we should make one. By “we” I mean “they”. By “they” I mean whoever might make a Duck Soup prequel. The original movie’s great. I suppose there’s some reason why Mrs Teasdale has the daft idea that Rufus T Firefly would be able to help any of Freedonia’s problem, but you know? I don’t need to know what it is. We can just head-canon that it’s something like why Mrs Emily Upjohn has such trust in Hugo Z Hackenbush, right? Why not?

I know, I know. It’s discourteous to judge a movie before I’ve seen it, and before they’ve released it, and before anyone’s made it, and before anyone’s done anything about making it. Heck, it’s being seen as snide to judge a movie even after you have seen it, if you get your opinion in before its thirty-years-later critical re-evaluation these days. Still. I’ve decided I like my opinion and I’ll stick with that. You can do with it as you please.

TCM Showing the Skippy movie on Wednesday


Turner Classic Movies (United States feed) has scheduled the 1931 movie Skippy for this Wednesday, the 27th of February. It’s set for 10:15 pm Eastern and Pacific time. I’ve mentioned the movie before but, what the heck. There’s people reading this who missed earlier mentions.

The movie is based on Percy Crosby’s comic strip Skippy. It’s a great comic strip. It’s an influential one, too. It’s one of the comics that Charles Schulz had in mind when making Peanuts. And, with considerable help from Schulz, it’s influenced incredibly many comics. Crosby supposed that kids had feelings and desires and interests that they took seriously, and that good stories would come from taking them seriously. Every comic strip that follows the child’s point of view owes something to it.

Kid hitting a baseball and running around the bases as Skippy, pitcher watches. Skippy calls out to his team: 'Well, we're beginnin' to creep up on them. That hit only brought in two runs!'
Percy Crosby’s Skippy rerun for the 14th of January, 2019. And apparently originally run the 1st of September, 1931. And maybe anyone could make a baseball strip about like this, but I can think of like four Peanuts strips from 1953 alone that are basically this.

It’s not only influential, though. It’s good. I mean, a lot of early comic strips are good, but you have to work a bit to understand them. Like, I enjoy George Herriman’s Krazy Kat, but if take any given day’s strip and ask me what the joke is I’ll often be in trouble. Not Skippy, though. Crosby’s sensibility is close enough to the modern one. There are exceptions, but you can look at the comic and understand what’s supposed to be funny. Clean up the dialogue and redraw it for modern comic strip art sizes and you could run it on a modern newspaper page.

Skippy, sitting on the curb, saying to himself: 'She's nothing but a little freckle face 'n the girl in the pink dress makes her look silly. 'N what piano legs she's got. 'N when I think of them buck teethI wanta laugh. 'N that nose: gee, what a face. (Reaching for a phone.) 'N' yet I can't help callin' her up.'
Percy Crosby’s Skippy for the 7th of November, 1925. And if you’re thinking this strip is nothing but Peanuts before Peanuts, consider the strip from the 19th and notice it’s also Calvin and Hobbes before Calvin and Hobbes.

The movie, starring Jackie Cooper, came out in 1931, when the comic was a few years old. It’s got to be among the first full-length movies based on comic strips ever, really. Percy Crosby gets a writing credit, and I believe it. I’m not sure if any specific strips were adapted into the screenplay, but the tone and attitude absolutely is. (Neither of the strips I’m including here are used in the movie, mind.) And much of it is the sort of casual hanging-out of kids who just have some free time and places they’re not supposed to go and the occasional excitement that somebody has some money and things like that.

The movie has a plot, although it takes a while before you see that it’s more than just hanging out. And there is something worth warning: when the plot does swing into action it includes an animal’s death. It’s taken seriously when it happens, and it devastates the character it’s supposed to. But it also includes the attitude that if, say (and to use an animal not in the film, so that I don’t give away just what happens more than necessary), your goldfish dies it’s all right because you can get another goldfish. I know there are people who even today have that attitude, but I don’t understand it myself.

Anyway, if you don’t need that in your comic strip movies, that’s all right. If you want to enjoy what you can without facing that, watch roughly the first hour. Up through the bit where Skippy and Sooky put on a show. Duck out after that and you avoid the shocking stuff.

Director Norman Taurog won an Academy Award for Best Director. Jackie Cooper was nominated for Best Actor. The screenplay, by Sam Mintz, Norman McLeod, and Joseph Mankiewicz, got a nomination for Best Writing. And the whole movie got a nomination for Best Picture. So Turner Classic Movies brings the movie up at least every February, as part of its 31 Days of Oscar. And, well, it’s a solid movie. Worth noticing.