What’s Going On In The Phantom (Sundays)? What was The Phantom doing at Trafalgar? March – June 2020

Well, he had some friends who were going to be there. So, I’m happy to help you catch up with Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom, Sunday continuity. If you’re reading this after about September 2020? If you’re interested in the separate weekday continuity? I may have a more up-to-date plot recap at this link. Though I admit, right now, I don’t know what’s going on with the current dailies storyline. I know the Phantom getting berated by his father for sending Kit Junior off to a monastery in China. We have to read what comes next.

The Phantom (Sundays).

29 March – 14 June 2020

The 21st Phantom was telling Heloise a story of the 13th Phantom. It’s about George Bass. In history, Bass and his brig Venus disappeared after February 1803, on a voyage from Australia to Tahiti. The Phantom explains how Bass teamed up with the 13th Phantom. Bass then turned the Venus to a spy ship dubbed El Sol, sailing the Mediterranean under false flags. This to support the United Kingdom’s War of the Third Coalition against Napoleon.

Phantom, reading: 'George Bass and the 13th Phantom rowed into the heart of the English fleet.' Heloise: 'Dad, I think I know! George Bass had discovered where the French and Spanish fleets were anchored!' Phantom: 'For two years he'd been presumed lost at sea in the South Pacific. Or perhaps he and his crew had been enslaved in the Spanish silver mines of South America.' Heloise: 'He made himself disappear ... so he could go spying in the South Atlantic and the Mediterranean!' Phantom: 'His years of clandestine work came to fruition in October 1805 ... ' Panel showing Bass and The Phantom rowing a longboat up to an enormous ship. Bass: 'There she is, Walker ... HMS Victory!'
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 5th of April, 2020. Lost at sea, possibly enslaved, are what history records as the likely fate for Bass and his crew. Anyway, uh … so, the 13th Phantom was active in 1805, and the current, 21st, Phantom is the one we’ve been following since the strip started in 1936 so the 19th Century was really bad for Ghosts Who Walk. Like, “13th Century Pope” bad. Yet the 20th Century was surprisingly gentle. (I am happy to suppose the current Phantom isn’t actually old enough to be in Gasoline Alley and his whole career has been “the last couple decades” as of publication.)

Bass has, in his voyages, found useful intelligence for Admiral Nelson and the British fleet. And he communicates that. I’m not sure what the intelligence is. Heloise surmises that it was the locations of the French and Spanish fleets. I’m not sure this was particularly what Nelson had needed. But I’m also not sure what Bass could plausibly offer. 1805 naval warfare espionage involves a lot of technical points challenging to communicate in a Sunday strip, after all. And it would have to be points that could have been recorded by the 13th Phantom. So, likely best to leave it as Heloise’s guess and move on with the story.

Long story short, France loses Trafalgar. Bass and his crew celebrate, confident that whatever happens now, Britain is safe from invasion. Bass can plan to go back to Australia and think up a cover story for where he’d been for two years. That night, though, we see Carter, fuming about royalist spies. We had last seen him lurking around after Bass and Phantom, ashore for no good reason. It turns out the person they thought was acting all suspiciously? He was up to no good. He and some minions knocked out the watch officer, raised the French flag on the Venus, and got into a swordfight with the Phantom of 1805.

The Phantom, recounting the attack on Bass's ship: 'The men of the El Sol were slaughtered by English cannon fire ... her masts toppled ... her hull shattered ... timbers were blasted into deadly storms of splintered wood. Dead and dying men went into the sea, entangled in the rigging, their fates certain. Where the El Sol had been moments earlier, a debris field rose and fell on the night sea.'
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 31st of May, 2020. This by the way is why they didn’t want brigs at the Battle. (There were two brigs attached to the French fleet, but they weren’t part of the action, and both escaped.)

The Phantom can stab Carter easily. Not so easy to deal with: the Royal Navy ships shooting at what they take to be a straggler French ship. Bass’s crew can’t strike the flag fast enough. The ship’s quickly destroyed. Bass and the 13th Phantom survive, clinging to debris. They make it to some shore, Bass blinded and apparently not recognizing anything. The Phantom promises they have a long journey, to the Deep Woods. Given the location Bass and 13th Phantom have to be either in southern Spain or Morocco. It’s not clear where the Deep Woods are, but that’s quite the hike for two shipwrecked men with nothing but the contents of their pockets. We’ll see how that all develops.

Next Week!

How is Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D., the most medically-themed comic strip in (United States newspaper syndication) history, addressing the biggest public health disaster in 102 years? The answer may surprise you! See you then.

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

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

The Phantom (Sundays).

29 December 2019 – 22 March 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Week!

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

Popeye goes Ski Jumping this time

We’ve finally got a break from Jack Kinney-directed episodes. This one’s … oh. Larry Harmon. You know, the with the crew that would go on to be Filmation. I mean, I like Filmation. They made a lot of the cartoons so deeply weird that they appealed to the young me. Who else would think to do a cartoon refresh of Gilligan’s Island by just moving everyone to a new planet? I don’t expect great animation. I’m happy if I can get a weird cartoon, though. So here’s Ski-Jump Champ, another 1960 piece.

This isn’t the first skiing cartoon from Popeye. It’s also not the first one where Jackson Beck plays Bluto as some wholly new character with a French accent. Maybe French-Canadian. Beck was apparently comfortable with that accent; he has it on a fair number of old-time radio characters too. Here he’s Gorgeous Pierre, greatest ski jumper in the world. I too wonder if that’s a riff on Gorgeous George, the 50s pro wrestler who’s the guy being riffed on in those cartoons where a pro wrestler has curly blond hair and a perfume bottle.

And it’s not even the first cartoon this month where the story is Popeye and Bluto Brutus Gorgeous Pierre doing stunts to win Olive Oyl’s affections. What makes this stand out mostly is the animation getting weird. Like, in the first scene Popeye’s right eye keeps doing this little fluttering that made me think they were accidentally opening it. No; it’s just that his eyebrow jumps between spots. Which is a mistake that curiously makes his face look much more alive and real than the animators wanted. So that’s worth talking about because it’s an animation error that makes the cartoon kind of better, somehow. It’s superior to Bluto Brutus Gorgeous Pierre using a jack to lift the end of a ski jump, which my eye keeps trying to parse as an optical illusion. And I have no idea what’s supposed to be happening about 3:04, when Popeye skis into the rope.

This all comes to a ski race because I guess they needed some structure for the back half of the cartoon. We see Bluto Brutus Gorgeous Pierre being all devious by going right after the race starter says to “go”, while Popeye stands around blinking. And here I realized I have mixed feelings about the character designs here. They’re very simple ones. Like, I look at them and think, “I could draw that,” which is a sign of a very simple character design. But simple isn’t the same as bad. I admire how they’re able to get Popeye and Olive Oyl and You-Know-Who drawn and recognizable with so few lines and as many as five colors.

Bluto, using a very long handle on a car jack, lifting up the end of a ski jump by its base. No two elements seem to be in reasonable places, relative to one another. The horizontal bar of the ski jump's posts seems to be at an angle, or else the ends of the posts are cut at an angle and one goes about six inches farther down than the other. It's all subtly disorienting in its composition and layout.
Artist’s challenge: find a vanishing point that could possibly apply here. Civil engineer’s challenge: how did this ski jump pass the state inspection when its foundation is just “sitting on top of the snow, with a jack underneath its one cross bar”?

We do get that cartoon-race motif where the villain would win easily if he didn’t keep stopping to sabotage the hero. In the last minute and a half the cartoon finally gets weird for weirdness’s sake. Gorgeous Pierre paints a tunnel into a tree. It’s a Coyote and Road Runner gag, except for being senseless. There’s a reason to take a tunnel through the mountain; why aim for the one tree on the hill because you think you can pass through it? That said, I apparently like this sort of nonsense because I didn’t think about that until the third time through. Another bit of nonsense I like is Popeye drinking spinach juice for whatever reason. I wonder if this is riffing on some commercial people in 1960 would remember. The cartoon ends with a fight cloud, and a small-pawed bear being roped into things. The bear gets to win the ski race. And Popeye declares “like Napoleon said, you can’t win them all” and spontaneously dons a Napoleon costume. Why? I have no idea.

By now, you know me. I found this a dull but okay cartoon through most of its length. I got more interested as the cartoon got more ridiculous. Also that bear was adorable and I reliably like the comic premise of the character who’s important but asleep through the whole thing. I will not call this a great one, since it isn’t. Popeye turning into Napoleon is a nice surprise, but it’s not the sort of joke which won’t wear out.

On Foot

You probably don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the history of tying shoes. This is a wise choice. There are so many other things that need thinking about. You know, like that odd smell that’s maybe of burning plastic that’s sometimes in the hallway when you were gone all day? Or what responsibility we have for that seam line visible on Saturn’s moon Iapetus? Or why all those people are setting up circus tents in your backyard? There’s got to be someone to ask about that. I broke from my habit of non-thinking about tying shoes so that we could have this done once and for all. No, I am not reading about the history of socks. You know why.

For the second-longest time there just wasn’t any tying of shoes. This had four reasons, one of them being that there were no shoes. Shoes were invented for Napoleon Bonaparte’s army after it was noticed that tromping through a thousand miles of Russian snow was really hard on the bare foot. It didn’t help the snow any either, but this is the wrong time of year for me to write about the history of snow-clearing or maybe ice-skating. Napoleon agreed this was a lot of trouble for feet and ordered experts to come up with a way to cover the foot. They did this by the simple process of covering the foot. It was a rousing success and everybody agreed they should have been making shoes for hundreds of years now. This and the overcoming of the other three reasons let shoes become really quite popular.

Still, the earliest shoes weren’t easy to put on or take off. They were slabs of leather that one would fit around the foot and, using needle and thread and Grandmom who knows how to use those sewing tools that look faintly like surgical instruments, stitch closed. This could take until well near bedtime. The British Army spent most of the 1830s with its soldiers never leaving their bunks, just sewing and unsewing their boots all day. This lead to peaceful times and the First Reform Act.

The countries of Western Europe competed to find ways to easily tightening and loosening shoes. Through much of the Civil War the Union armies experimented with welding shoes into place, an action that resulted in many burned ankles and slugged welders. In Scotland rivets were tried. These were of limited use as the striking action of putting rivets in place could magnetize the iron slugs, causing people to walk to the north and find they ran out of Scotland, to their chagrin.

So naturally the breakthrough came in the Ottoman Empire. In 1878 a shoemaker for the Sultan Abdul Hamid II asked, “Why don’t we just punch parallel rows of uniformly spaced holes in the shoes, and then thread a strong string or small rope through the holes to fit them together?” The Sultan, who was in another room, didn’t hear the suggestion but approved it. When this turned out to be a pretty darned good idea after all he nodded as if that had been his intention all along, and quickly ordered an investigation to just what was going on with shoes. I hope this doesn’t end up in his report. He’s got to be expecting something really great if it’s taken all this while to get something on his desk. I’m not arrogant enough to think my essay here that great, but I am earmarking it for this year’s Robert Benchley Society essay contest. Just saying.

Still the early forms were not precisely what we see today. When are they ever? The first attempts used separate laces and loops for each pair of holes, which took forever to deal with. Folks trying to save time as telegraphs and railroads got all snappy and romantic started just tying the top loop together. This made their toes pop out the middle. So they retaliated by poking laces through the other, non-top holes. And so by 1889, on a Tuesday, shoes were finally tied in ways that we would recognize today, on a Friday.

Is there room for improvement? Surely. The glue-covered shoelace solved the problem of unraveled knots, but at the cost of being a right mess. And nobody has anything but embarrassed coughs to say about the frictionless superfluid lace that would slither out of its holes and into the pantry. We may yet scrap the whole project and go back to being barefoot.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile index rose another five points to another record high and at this point it’s getting kind of dull and the fun is draining out of it all. I’m not looking forward to how this implies we’re going to get a really big and fun and exciting crash down to, like, 14 points within the next week.


Oh, *Honestly*, Grand Strategy Games

From the tutorial for March of the Eagles, a variant on Europa Universalis III that skips Ancient Rome and is all about the Napoleonic Wars, which I picked up because it was really cheap and why not?

It's a tutorial, and yet a box that says what you're doing is obscured by other boxes. Wild stuff, huh? Yeah, this was totally not a phoned-in daily entry.
I’m not sure what idea it is I’m even picking here, although I had clicked on “Naval Movement Ideas”, so I imagine it’s some national- and era-appropriate idea for the Royal Navy, like maybe having ships that move or something. Still, at least it has a nice reassuring ! to fill right margin.

So I expect the box there with the ‘OK’ button is supposed to be double-checking you really want to do this (which is pick a National Idea that gives you some benefits). But it’s hidden by the List of Ideas, which can’t be minimized or closed, and it can’t be brought in front of the List Of Ideas, and, oh, I don’t know. I guess that’s a picture of a guy with a bandage around his head on the top bar there, with a 0.88 underneath it, and not a water balloon being filled from a tap.

If you need me I’ll be over in Roller Coaster Tycoon III Platinum.

This Day In History: 1805

April 17, 1805: Napoleon Bonaparte proposes the building of a stone-arch bridge around the entire world, which his subordinates acclaim as a bold and most challenging accomplishment beyond the dreams of everyone. Napoleon announces that to make the project more practical it will be built as a ring just a couple feet away from the North Pole, vastly farther north than anyone has ever been or imagined it possible to be, and his subordinates admire his vision and daring. He then announces that since the Earth is round you can draw an axis anywhere and make a loop around any spot, so they should just build it in the suburbs of Paris, and his subordinates start to wonder if he’s just putting them on. Napoleon grins inscrutably, and his subordinates are honestly relieved to hear the British are attacking again.

Also, I’ve added an embedded YouTube video link to my bit yesterday about Harold Lloyd’s Number, Please? so the movie should be easier to watch.