What’s Going On In Judge Parker? Why was Neddy angry at Godiva? December 2020 – March 2021


Godiva Danube is dead, killed by April Spencer just days after Neddy had a huge public fight with her ex-friend. The fight was over accusations that Danube had been manipulating Neddy their entire relationship. One problem with the Neddy-versus-Godiva fight is that it key elements were retconned in.

The relationship-wrecking catastrophe was the start of Francesco Marciuliano’s run on Judge Parker. This was the collapse of a clothing factory Danube and Neddy Spencer were opening. It fell into a sinkhole right in front of the press, particularly local reporter Toni Bowen. The factory idea was the last story of former writer Woody Wilson. Wilson had a lot of stories where people lavished riches and wealth and good fortune on the main characters. Here, for example, Danube had pressured her ex-boyfriend and head of Europa Aerospace to just give her the factory site. I have no doubt that Wilson meant the giving to be sincere. (On the characters’ part. When I re-read strips from that era I suspect Wilson was having fun seeing what it would take to make an editor say that was a bit much.)

Godiva Ghost: 'If this is how you really felt, then why didn't you tell me? I was always straightforward with you.' Neddy Spencer: 'Why is it always the biggest liars who say they're straightforward? You lied in plain sight --- to family and friends --- as if nothing mattered but what you wanted. We all suspected you were getting money from some drug lord you were cheating on Rocky with to fund the factory. We all stayed quiet. That's our fault. Because it's hard to realize the person you love can only love themselves.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 25th of February, 2021. This should bring Neddy some peace except she has the same argument in her head, in bed, for at least 25 minutes before falling asleep every night.

Marciuliano has put into the backstory that “everyone suspected” Danube was running drugs. Or otherwise cheating on people to fund the project. Danube did flee after the sinkhole, on Marciuliano’s watch. Her relationship with Neddy collapsed then. We saw all that. But wanting to flee a disaster like that is human enough. And it’s hard to see how the sinkhole could be blamed on Danube or Neddy. If it’s anyone’s fault, it’s whoever failed to survey the grounds properly. Or whoever covered up the grounds results. Which would be a decent retcon explanation for why an aerospace company gave up a brand-new factory to a minor movie star and a young woman with money.

Establishing that Danube was a narcissist, though, is no great stretch. She had a job that selects for narcissism. And a problem dealing with narcissists is it’s hard to distinguish between their thinking of you and their wanting you to think of them. (It’s hard to know this for anyone. But when you see the narcissism you realize how much you don’t know the person.) When you suspect a relationship with a narcissist has gone sour, or become abusive, it forces a lot of difficult memory-parsing. Were they helpful at this delicate moment to be kind to you, or to teach you that kindness comes from them? Your answer depends on your feelings about them, and that affects your future answers about how their motivations. It’s always hard to tease out motivations, and when the narcissist is impossible to cross-examine, there’s not much to do but yell in your head.

So this essay should get you up to date on the plot Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for mid-March 2021. If you’re reading this after about June 2021, or any news breaks about the strip, I should have a post here of more use to you.

Judge Parker.

20 December 2020 – 13 March 2021.

When I last looked in, around Christmas, Neddy Parker was planning to go back to Los Angeles and work on script stuff. Sophie was planning to go to New York City and work on school stuff. And young Charlotte was asking whether mommy — April Parker — would be around. Last we saw April Parker she and her Mom were busy with super-ultra-hyperspy assassin murder agent work. Also April and Randy Parker divorced over the whole CIA scandal thing. I’m not sure when or, in the circumstances, how.

Sophie, in masked line at a coffee shop: 'But really, Soph, if you want to make friends, you have to be more open to conversation. You have to meet people. You have to say --- ' (She notices at the front of the line and says aloud) 'Toni?' Toni Bowen, ordering: 'I'll have a venti ... '
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 3rd of February, 2021. Hey, I’ve been in that coffee shop, but it was in Grand Rapids. They sometimes have vegan muffins that kind of work.

Sophie won’t be completely alone in New York City. Toni Bowen will be there too. Her failed bid to unseat Mayor Sanderson drew enough attention for University of New York to hire her to teach a course on local politics. Unfortunately that’s about as not-alone as Sophie gets. It’s hard meeting people at all, and in pandemic times it’s even worse.

With the kids gone Abbey wonders whether she and Sam should downsize. Or even leave Cavelton altogether. She’s lonely, yes. And regrets the bed-and-breakfast, “a money pit” and business the mayor’s determined to make fail. She talks of wanting a change, although to what and where is open.

Sam, sharing coffee while sitting on the cold patio: 'Just because the mayor's company opened a boutique hotel in town doesn't mean he'll get all the business. Some people really prefer a B-and-B.' Abbey: 'What people, Sam? How many customers have we had? We spent all last year fighting the mayor and we lost. I'm exhausted.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 23rd of January, 2021. Does anyone remember not being exhausted? I don’t remember not being exhausted.

Meanwhile in Los Angeles, Neddy faces several challenges. One is that Ronnie Huerta has a new roommate, Kat. (I’d give her last name but can’t find it.) She’s playing the Neddy role in the April Parker TV series. Kat is very eager to help Neddy move out, shoving hard in that way people who think they’ve figured out how to solve your problem do. But Kat does have some fair observations. The poor little rich girl whose problem is doing her dream job can maybe find an apartment in the second-biggest city in the country. Also that Neddy not doing this writing is screwing up her, Kat’s, job. (One leitmotif in Marciuliano’s writing is characters explaining how one of the main cast looks to people who have to live with them. And how the main cast needs to get over themselves.) While talking this out with Ronnie, Kat lets slip that she wants to spend the rest of her life with Ronnie. That was something they didn’t realize they were ready for.

And Neddy does get down to work work, as opposed to househunting work. The TV producers want Godiva Danube to be a bigger part of the show, so they need Neddy to write more of her. And Neddy is still angry with the dead Godiva. How do deal with that? Hallucination is a good, tested method. That and my favored technique, a good argument with someone who can’t outwit you.

Ghost Godiva Danube refuses to play fair, though, insisting that while she fled, Neddy didn’t chase either. That she had to recover from the disaster herself. That she was “always there for” Neddy. Which Neddy admits, but argues was because Danube wanted to be the star of Neddy’s suffering. The one that guided where it went. Neddy comes out of this convinced that what she needed wasn’t to tell Ghostdiva off, but to face her own anger. And as Ghostdiva storms off, Neddy feels triumphant that she has.

Charlotte: 'Did you hear what I said? I didn't see Mommy today.' Randy: 'Well, yes, Sweetie. Mommy isn't here.' Charlotte: 'But I see her every other day! Why not today?' Randy: 'I'm sorry, what?'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 2nd of March, 2021. I admire Marciuliano’s courage in having a complicated development explained by interrogating a child too young to know how to tell a story. It’s several levels of difficulty, with the kid needing to lack focus but also share information. And that a child that age isn’t necessarily reliable. Unreliable narrators are always hard to do, but especially so in a comic strip. There aren’t many narrative conventions to fall back on, to hint to the readers about what’s wrong and in what ways it’s wrong.

And then the 1st of March started the current and exciting thread. Charlotte Parker, Randy’s and April’s couple-years-old daughter, says she didn’t see Mommy “today”. You know, like she sees her every day. Which was a development catching Randy by surprise. April’s been busy with that super-hyper-ultra-etc assassin agent nonsense. I did see this excite a bunch of comics snarkers pointing out the idea that April Parker had been secretly visiting Charlotte made no sense at all.

The next week of the strip — the last full week, as I write this — showed Marciuliano explaining how this might make sense. That this was going on for only the last two weeks. That April, if it is April, had signalled to Charlotte to keep it secret. That Charlotte could recognize April because they keep pictures of her in the house. And yes, it may be dumb but it’s a recognizable human dumbness. And that they can’t find anything on the security cameras. Randy got rid of the network of security cameras when he realized April had tapped them all. (I’m not sure we saw that it was April and not the super-hyper-ultra-etc spy network that was holding Norton in mega-secret spy hyper-jail.) This implicit threat to take Charlotte does quite good, fast work in driving Randy crazy. But Randy is right that it’s within April’s demonstrated power set to do something like this, even if it is only to mess with Randy’s head. And, as Alan Parker noted this Sunday, they don’t yet know it is April.

Next Week!

I go back to the top of my cycle, for … I think the next-to-last time. It’s Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s The Amazing Spider-Man repeats, as we about wrap up Ant-Man and get on to Rocket Raccoon.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Sundays)? Who’s this Emperor Joonkar? September – November 2020


The Emperor Joonkar ruled the territory that’s now Bangalla, back in the latter part of the 17th century. The current Sunday story continuity features two of Joonkar’s descendants, although only one’s been seen in the last three months of strips.

This should catch you up on Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom, Sunday continuity, through the end of November 2020. If you’re looking for the separate weekday storyline, or are reading after about March 2021, or want to see news about The Phantom comic strip there may be a more useful essay here.

On my mathematics blog, I have my A-to-Z project at work still. It’s nearing the end, with the letter ‘X’ due tomorrow, but there’s some nice stuff said about ‘W’ also.

The Phantom (Sundays).

6 September – 29 November 2020.

Last time, Sunday edition, The Phantom had answered an elderly woman’s letter. Her grandson, The Detective, needed rescue. The local criminal gang put him in a cave just below the high tide line to drown. The Phantom provided rescue.

The Detective mentions how the crime syndicate here is shipping weapons to terror networks across Africa and Asia. So that makes it a stronger Phantom job. The Ghost Who Walks figures two people is overkill for destroying a terror network supplier. But hey, sometimes you want an easy win. The warehouse is unguarded, allegedly because the gunrunners’ reputation is that fearsome. I don’t fault you if you don’t buy this point, but the comic strip is premised on the power of reputations.

Phantom: 'After your time in the water pit, I imagine you're ready for something other than seafood.' Detective: 'Friend, you got that right.' Phantom, opening the fridge and grilling steaks: 'Fire up the grill ... Any idea when the gang plans to return?' Detective: 'Maybe in ten days, maybe ten minutes. Hard to say.' Phantom: 'Well, let's eat before they get here. Devil, yours is rare ... bloody, I believe?' [ Devil takes a good chunk from the steak. ] Phantom: 'Whenever the gang gets here, we're going to need a plan. Your thoughts, detective?' Detective: 'Mister, that depends on who you really are! The Phantom...!? Or some kind of lone hero keeping the legend alive!'
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 27th of September, 2020. The Ghost Who Walks may be reluctant to kill, but he sees nothing wrong in pantry raiding a gang. I mean, yes, we should be more willing to swipe food than kill people but it’s still a quirk you don’t see in other superheroes. Is there just not a good farmer’s market near Skull Cave?

Besides, it’s only like two dozen guys. The Phantom talks up how The Detective resembles, in character and body, his ancestor the Emperor Joonkar. This also feeds into The Detective — who’s heard stories of The Phantom without really believing them — and his suspicion that the unidentified purple-clad man he’s working with might just be …

Phantom: 'That tiger story was told everywhere. The fact is, it was a man-eating lion moving in for the kill on Emperor Joonkar!' Detective: 'Well, it was a tiger when my Bibi told the story. And in some versions she'd heard, the Phantom didn't kill the beast, he scared it off!' Phantom, thinking of the 7th Phantom writing in the Chronicles: 'Stories change as they're handed down over the centuries. I find it best to rely on someone who was there, don't you? Take it from me ... it was a lion.' Detective, thinking: 'No! H-he can't be that same man!! ... Can he?' Phantom, pointing to headlights in the jungle: 'Here they come ... '
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 15th of November, 2020. The talk about whether this was a tiger or a lion serves a sly and pretty fun story point. When the strip started Bangalla — and Emperor Joonkar, in its past — was a vaguely South Indian nation. That’s been retconned to Africa. I do not know which story of Emperor Joonkar is being referenced here. So explaining continuity glitches as errors in the oral-history tradition is funny and sensible. Note that Joonkar’s name hasn’t been consistent through the comic strip’s history. And different stories in the comic strip continuity had him interact with the 7th or the 6th Phantom.

And that’s been a lot of the past month. Preparing for the gang to arrive, and The Phantom talking up The Detective and his own self. The Phantom’s relying on the Phantom Chronicles and what the 7th Phantom wrote about Joonkar. The criminal gang finally started to arrive last Sunday. The Phantom explained how he avoids getting trapped in prison caves: clobber one or two of them at a time. Can’t deny the logic, but The Phantom is lucky they’re coming in groups of two, also.

That’s the plot, as of late November 2020. It has been light on plot. It’s more showing off how The Phantom builds his legend. It uses a mix of inscrutability, “accidental” historical name-dropping, and competence porn. And, yes, I’m amused that the strip is doing the Special Christmas Episode where the punch line is, “but how did that jolly bearded man in the red jacket know what I always wanted for Christmas” while jingle bells sound in the distance. Only here it’s someone learning to believe in the Phantom.

Next Week!

The pandemic finally settles on its second story strip. Read up on the Covid-19 Tales in Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. next week, if all goes well.

What’s Going On In Rex Morgan, M.D.? What is Rex Morgan doing for the pandemic? June – September 2020


Terry Beatty had decided he couldn’t do a pandemic story without the lead times for Rex Morgan, M.D. making it too dated. So the first story he wrote after the pandemic hit the United States was a flashback, Rex and June telling young Sarah how they got together. After that, Beatty decided he could tell some stories. And so since then we’ve had vignettes of the major characters and how the disaster has hit them.

So that’s the essence for things as of the middle of September, 2020. If you’re reading this after about December 2020 or if any news breaks out about the comic I’ll have a more up-to-date Rex Morgan, M.D. post here. And, on my other blog, I’m looking at mathematical words from the whole alphabet. This week we reach the back half and the letter N, at last. (The word this week will not be ‘Nebus’.)

Rex Morgan, M.D..

21 June – 13 September 2020.

As Rex Morgan told the story to Sarah, things were really fitting together for him a couple years ago. He had a nice spot at Glenwood hospital. His mentor, Dr Dallis, is ready to retire and offers to sell his practice to our young protagonist. (The Dr Dallis thing is an in-joke. Psychiatrist Dr Nicholas P Dallis created the Rex Morgan, M.D. comic strip. He also created Judge Parker and Apartment 3-G.) While jogging and considering the offer, he bumps into June Gale. He claims (to Sarah) that he apologized. June claims (to Sarah) that she only thought about calling him a jerk.

Flashback Keith, another doctor: 'So when do the wedding invitations go out?' Rex: 'Cut the joking, Keith. I barely know the woman.' Present Rex: 'Wait a minute. You weren't in the exam room. How do you know what Keith and I talked about?' June: 'The walls have ears, dear husband. And so do my fellow nurses.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 11th of July, 2020. I like this moment in part because the day before, comics snarkers had been asking how June could possibly be recounting a conversation she wasn’t part of, and I always like it when the artist out-thinks us.

A couple days later he runs into her again, this time metaphorically. She says hi. This distracts him, and he stumbles, fracturing his ankle. She gets her first-aid kit and takes him to the hospital. He’s impressed by her professionalism, and how she’s not intimidated to give medical instructions to a doctor. This attitude surprises him because Rex Morgan has never spoken to any nurse at any time for any reason, ever.

Rex Morgan tries to take June Gale to dinner, and to flirt. His clumsy efforts offend her. An elderly woman pops up behind him and orders him to marry her. And the weird thing is it’s not Mary Worth. Rex and June deny knowing who she was. Long-time readers recognize her as Melissa Claridge, who’d been in the comic strip for decades, most recently appearing in 2012. Claridge spent decades trying to make Rex and June pair-bond already.

Melissa Claridge: 'Dr Morgan, taht young nurse you just chased away is the loveliest, smartest, most capable and kindhearted woman you could ever hope to meet. She clearly has feelings for you, heaven knows why. If you don't apologize for your arrogance and find some way to make it up to her, you're nothing but a fool.' Rex: 'Well, I don't think that's exactly ... ' Claridge: 'And that's your problem right there, young man. Too much focus on what you think and not enough on what you feel. ' Claridge: 'Uh ... I don't ... I mean ... I'm sure she's nice and all, but ... ' Claridge: 'It's true what they say. Youth is wasted on the young.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 19th of July, 2020. You know, she just goes around ordering random pairs of people to marry, and every now and then it pays off. (The Marvin Bradley thanked here was the comic strip’s original and longtime artist. Frank Edgington did backgrounds.)

I didn’t read the comic before this past decade. So I don’t have a particular allegiance to the old continuity. But: why this retcon? Terry Beatty had already established that this is not my father’s Rex Morgan. (My father is more a Mary Worth reader.) This on-screen Rex and June Morgan just happen to have the same names as an earlier Rex and June who happened to be doctor and nurse in the same town decades ago.

I am reluctant to play the “Unreliable Narrator” card. It’s too easy a fix for any continuity question. But here? It’s defensible at least. Rex and June are describing the story of how they met to their daughter. They have reason to avoid confusing sidelines. This justifies skipping decades of June considering other suitors and coming back to work for Rex. But then what benefit to Sarah to say that some strange old woman told Rex to marry June? Rex and June swear they don’t know who this woman was. If they’re fibbing for Sarah’s sake, why?

Well, Rex buys Dr Dallis’s clinic. June takes the job as clinic nurse. Eventually they marry. And everything’s happy ever after. With that comforting conclusion, the flashback ends, the 9th of August.


After that, and with panels explaining to the reader, the strip begins “Lockdown Stories”. These are vignettes of what all the characters do during the crisis.

First up, from the 10th of August: the Morgans themselves. Their clinic is shut down for the crisis. June is doing triage over the phone. Rex is back at the hospital supporting the Covid-19 unit. The story’s main concern: how to set it up so Rex can work without infecting his family. Rex will be sleeping in his study, using the downstairs bathroom, and going into and out of the house through the garage. And he’ll have to see his family online, but, that’s the best of options.

Lockdown Stories: The Morgans. June, to the kids: 'Once dad starts working at the Covid-19 unit at the hospital, he'll have to stay down here in his study for a while.' Sarah: 'And we can't go in to see him?' Mike: 'No fair.' Rex: 'I'm afraid not, kids. I'll be taking every safety precaution, but we don't want you to risk any of you getting the virus.' Sarah: 'That stinks, dad. Who's gonna read me my bedime stories? Mom can't do all the voices like you do.' Mike: 'Yeah, the voices.' Rex: 'I'll still read to you, Sarah. And the boys. We'll use our electronics to talk and to see each other.' Sarah: 'Like the 'remote learning' I'm doing for school?' Rex: 'Sure. Same kind of deal.' Sarah, hugging: 'You gotta promise you won't get sick, Dad. Promise me you'll be SUPER ULTRA CAREFUL.' Rex: 'I will be super ultra super careful, Sarah. For all of us.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 16th of August, 2020. Rex talked about how he sleeps soundly in that recliner but I’m pretty sure about three days into this he’s going to be sorry he doesn’t have a cot or a futon instead. I’m not here to diagnose fictional people’s problems, or believe me I’d be hauling off on Funky Winkerbean right now, but I have observed how backs work.

And that’s it. The 17th of August we switch to Jordan Harris and Michelle Carter. Jordan’s restaurant made the shift to doing take-out orders. Michelle is a nurse, though, and wants to go back to the hospital’s Covid-19 unit. But there’s no safe way they can live together for this. Jordan moves into the apartment above the restaurant for the duration, and they’ll have to make do.

With the 23rd of August we move to the next vignette. This is about Rene Belluso. He had been Sarah Morgan’s art instructor back before Terry Beatty took over the writing. This was back when a rich mob widow was setting Sarah up as the next Leonardo da Vinci. Since then Belluso’s been hiding from mobsters he owes money. And forging comic strip art. And he ran that Celestial Healing scam that Rex and Lana Lewton busted up. He’s still working a scam, with a web site offering the secret cure for Covid-19. Also cold-calling people for a stimulus check scam. He’s barely got into his vignette before officials bang on his hotel door and take him away. So he’s now leading the Trump administration’s pandemic response team.

Lockdown Backstories: Rene Belluso. 'Rene THOUGHT he'd make a mint taking advantage of people's fears about the virus. INSTEAD, he's going to be doing some time BEHIND BARS. Sometimes people DO get what's coming to them.' Cop, taking Belluso in: 'You have the right to remain silent. You have the right ... ' Belluso: 'I KNOW my right! I've got a right to earn a living, don't I? So WHAT if I take advantage of a few ignorant sheep? I WANT MY LAWYER!'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 29th of August, 2020. So that first panel there: Rod Serling narration or Dick Tracy Crimestopper tip? Tune in next week to Rex Morgan, M.D. for a Minit Medical Mystery!

And the 30th of August moves to “Horrible” Hank Harwood and his son Hank Junior. “Horrible” Hank’s a comic book artist from way back, so his life isn’t changed: he’s spending his 90s redrawing magazine covers for pay. Hank Junior’s missing doing stuff. At his dad’s suggestion, he starts building plastic model kits. And they give each other haircuts. That’s about all.

With the 11th of September — a rare midweek transition — we move over to Niki Roth, one of the teen cast. He delivers food to the Harwoods, which is how we make the segue. And then to his girlfriend Kelly and her mom. Kelly’s also the Morgans’ babysitter, but that’s off for the time being. We only got to them this past Saturday, so, there’s not much guessing what they’re up to.

So, yeah, I call these vignettes but that might be too strong a word. It’s more going around the horn and establishing that everybody has some situation. Even Rene Belluso’s scam got introduced and then resolved in a week. It’s nice to go around and see everybody, but none of these have been real stories. There is of course a story problem when characters have to be apart. And, like, there’s almost no reason for June Morgan to chat with Hank Junior online. At least if he came into the clinic for something they would talk.

Next Week!

What happened to high school sports during the pandemic summer? I look at Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp next week. This is going to be a challenging one because I can’t remember what I’ve been reading the last three months here.

What’s Going On With Judge Parker?


[Edited the 6th of June, 2017 to add] Thanks for looking to me for tips on the developments in Judge Parker. This post is from January of 2017. Summaries of more recent storylines should be available at this link at or near the top of its page.


So, you know the difference between Rex Morgan, M.D. and Judge Parker? Yeah, me neither. I’m not meaning to be snarky here. It’s just both story comics are about people who nominally have exciting professional jobs but never get around to doing those jobs because they’re busy having strangers throw money and valuable prizes at them. They were even both created by Nicholas P Dallis (in 1952 and 1948, respectively). There’s a lot in common. That changed in a major way in 2016.

Judge Parker

So a few years ago Alan Parker retired and kicked out a book based on one of his adventures as the comic’s original title character. (His son’s taken over the judgeship, and nominally heads the comic.) Writing’s a common second job for comic strip characters. And his book was fabulously successful. It’s a common hazard for comic strip characters. Mike Patterson of For Better Or For Worse had similar success. Adam of Adam @ Home is on the track for that right now. Even Tom Batiuk couldn’t keep his Funky Winkerbean character-author, Les Moore, from being a wildly successful author forever. Chris Browne, heir to the Hi and Lois/Hagar the Horrible fortune, had a comic strip Raising Duncan that was all about a married couple of wildly successful mystery authors.

The thing is, even by comic strip character standards, Alan Parker’s book was wildly popular. Everyone loved it. People recognized him from his dust jacket. An illegal-arms merchant backed off whatever he was up to because he was so impressed by the book. Parker’s book sold to the movies, and the movies wanted Alan himself to write the script. For lots more money. The recreation director of the cruise ship he was on loved the book and was so excited about a movie deal she showed him how to install script-writing software on his computer. And got him started on writing a script everyone agreed was just the best script ever.

'You're an exceptional writer, Alan! I wish you only the best with your future projects!' 'Thank you, Delbert. I, uh, meant no disrespect to your wife' 'Oh, no worries. I thought [ her review ] was a hatchet job, too!' And his wife gets meaner and uglier and fatter-looking while this all happens.
Woody Wilson and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 13th of December, 2013. Finally Judge (retired) Alan Parker knows that even the husband of the woman who hated his book understands she was wrong and his book was the greatest thing humanity has done since creating Tim Tams. The woman, Audrey Harrison, is described as a professor at Yale and Princeton, teaching literature and, I suppose Being an Internet Hater. Hey, if I could get a double tenure track job in Internet Hatering I’d take it too.

It’s not just that the book succeeded. It’s that the universe arranged for everyone in the world to love the book. Almost everyone. There was an English professor, allegedly a professor at Princeton and Yale, who wrote a review panning it. Parker tracked her down and publicly berated her, and her husband agreed with Parker. The book was just that good. And that’s how Judge Parker built itself up through to summer of last year.

A bit of success is fine. First-time authors, high school garage bands, start-up businesses fail all the time. Even more often they get caught in that mire where they aren’t succeeding, but they’re also not failing clearly enough to walk away from. Surely part of the fun in reading stories about them is the stories in which they manage to succeed. It’s the wildly undeserved success that made the comic an ironic-read masterpiece, topping even Rex Morgan, M.D.. Or just infuriating. If you’ve ever known a high school band trying to do a gig, you’re annoyed by the idea Sophie Spencer should be able to demand a hundred dollars of the band’s whole take for the night in exchange for her deigning to be the merch girl. If you know anything about business you find something annoying in Neddy Spencer starting her clothing line by pressuring the country-music star head of an aerospace company to giving her a newly-completed plant and hiring a bunch of retired textile workers who’ll be cheap because they can use Medicaid instead of getting paid health benefits. Plus there’s some crazy stuff about international espionage, the kind that thinks it’s all sleek and awesome and glamorous rather than the shabby material that gets documented in books with titles like Legacy Of Shame: Failures Of The Intelligence Community And Their Disastrous Consequences In [ Your Fiasco Here ]. At some point it looks like a satire of the wish-fulfillment dreams of a creative person.

(I may be getting some of the characters’ last names wrong. There’s a lot of mixing of the Parker, Spencer, and Driver families and I do lose track. There’s what has historically been The Chosen Family; call them what you will.)

So that’s where things sat when the strip’s longtime writer Woody Wilson turned things over, in August, to Francesco Marciuliano. I expected Marciuliano to do well. He’s been writing Sally Forth all this century and become the prime example of how a comic’s original author is not always the best person to produce it. (He showcases that, and often writes about it, over on his WordPress blog, where he also shares his web comic.) I’d expected he would tamp down or minimize the stuff that could be brought back to realistic, and quietly not mention again the stuff that was just too much.

He hasn’t quite. He took the quite good cliffhanger, one literally drawn from the days of cliffhangers, that Wilson left him: Sophie and her band driving back from a gig, a little drunk and a lot exhausted, on a precarious mountain road in the rain, encountering a distracted truck driver who’s a little too slow to dodge them, and the kids go tumbling over the edge. Solid story stuff. You can see all kinds of potential here, not least to dial back the worst excesses of Sophie’s dictatorial powers over the band she forced herself into.

Police at a confusing crash scene. The truck driver babbles about Dahlia. The other car, the one carrying Sophie's band, went over the edge ... and went missing from there. With skid marks indicating something was dragged away, somehow.
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 4th of September, 2016. There’s a lot of exposition established here, although you’re forgiven for missing it in the really lovely washes of color. It’s hard doing any good visual effects in the limits of comic strips, and to do a complicated, crowded night scene is well-nigh impossible. I didn’t take much time to write about Manley’s art, so please take this strip and ponder all the ways it could have been a disaster.

Marciuliano went crazy instead. The truck driver wasn’t merely distracted. He was driving illicitly, with a satchel full of money, and apparently stalking a call-in radio show host. Possibly he was carrying out a hit on the kids. The crashed car went missing. The kids, except one — not Sophie — went missing. For months. The intimation is that some of the shadowier figures who’re in the Parker orbit wanted to send them a warning, but things got messier than even they imagined. You know, the way a good crime-suspense novel will have brilliant plans executed by people not quite brilliant enough and then all sorts of people are trying desperately to patch enough together to get out of the way.

It’s a daring strategy. Ambitious. Exciting. In the immediate aftermath of the change the results were particularly suspenseful. Marciuliano, probably trained by Sally Forth out of the story-strip habit of over-explaining points, had enough stuff happen that it could be confusing. (I did see Comics Curmudgeon commenters complaining about things that had already been addressed in the text.) But it felt revolutionary. It reached that point story strips rarely achieve. There wasn’t any fair guessing what the next day’s installment might bring.

A sinkhole swallows up most if not all of the misbegotten clothing-manufature storyline. Neddy pleads for help, 'Please help me get the employees! They're still in the factory!' There aren't emergency exits; they work in containerized cargo units, and are trapped. Local news is getting the disaster as it unfolds.
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 16th of October, 2016. Among the bits too crazily distracting to mention in the main article: to get needed office and floor space in the newly-built aerospace factory turned over to garment manufacture, they put in containerized-cargo units. The strip (with Wilson writing) explained this was totally a thing that some companies did for real, when they needed office space and had more vertical space than elevators available. And I have seen this sort of thing done, like to put up artist’s exhibitions at the piers in Wildwood, New Jersey. But it’s not the sort of thing to toss in without careful thought.

Some other pieces of the old excesses were resolved no less dramatically. Marciuliano ended the quagmire of the ever-less-plausible clothing-factory storyline by throwing it into a quagmire. A sinkhole opened underneath the factory, taking the entire thing down on the opening day for the project, sinking it beneath the recriminations and accusations of fraud and misconduct that should have kept the idea from starting. And I appreciated the dramatic irony that so much utterly wrong behavior on the main characters’ parts could finally be undone by something that was not in any way their fault. (I mean, what kind of person figures “we should hire the elderly because they’ll be so happy to get any work we can make them cheat for their medical care”? I mean any person who should be allowed into civilization.)

And others are just getting tamped down mercifully. Alan Parker’s movie has fallen into that state where everybody’s happy to have meetings but nothing ever happens. He’s eager to write another book. He’s got one sentence. He doesn’t like it. That is, sad to say, more like what really happens.

Is it successful? I say yes. I say it’s the biggest turnaround in story comics since Dick Tracy stopped being incompetent. The experience reminds me of the time Andy Richter mentioned how he and his wife had meant to go bowling ironically, “but we ended up having actual fun”.

Have I got doubts? Well, sure. I always have doubts. The main doubt is that September through December tossed a lot of new pieces and plot ideas into the air. There’ve been a lot of questions raised about what’s going on, and why, and how they’re trying to do whatever they’re up to. Questions are the relatively easy part of writing. The trick is getting a resolution that makes any sense. Bonus points if it makes sense when you go back and read the start of the story again.

'And so that brings us to today. Specifically, this morning. When Sophie Spencer, missing since September, entered the local diner and asked for some tea.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 9th of December, 2016. The strip jumped several months ahead after the twinned disasters of the car crash with Sophie and her band’s disappearance and the factory sinkhole. Here it came to the end of a week explaining how the town was starting to get back to whatever normal was anymore.
A habit of Marciuliano’s I didn’t have the chance to get into: his characters are aware of pop culture. Not to the point that Ted Forth is in Sally Forth, who’s in danger of someday merging with a Mystery Science Theater 3000 Obscure Riffs Explained page, but more than normal for the natural squareness of story comics. It can be a bit distracting when (eg, in a Sunday strip I decided not to include here) a character tell a radio call-in show host how she couldn’t take the aftermath of all this and so she ran, and she’s asked if putting on some Phil Collins might help. Some of that makes a character sound more natural; we all talk in references. Sometimes it comes out weird. But about forty percent of all human conversation are weird.

Will that happen? I don’t know. That’s Marciuliano’s problem. I just have to have a reaction to it. He’s got my attention. Of the story strips going on right now that’s the one I’d recommend giving yours.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile index dropped below the psychologically important level of 100 today, in what analysts and traders called “yet another flipping time already”. Many were caught rolling their eyes and saying sheesh, with one old-time Usenet addict doing to far as to say “furrfu” out loud. We’re starting to doubt that 100 really is that important a psychological barrier to or from anything anymore.

97

Oh Yeah, One Thing I Didn’t Understand About Rex Morgan


Something I didn’t have room to mention when talking about Terry Beatty’s tenure writing Rex Morgan, M.D. back on Sunday. In late July there was this curious little bit.

Rex finds some old newspapers, including a piece about the Dr Rex Morgan who lived in the same town in the 50s. 'As far as I know I'm a whole different guy.' June says she's glad he isn't 'my grandpa's Rex Morgan'. But 'only comic strip characters never age'.
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, MD for the 31st of July, 2016. While I understand the need for full-page newspapers to include things from the same day as a great historic event, Rex Morgan, M.D. started as a comic strip in 1948 and if Wikipedia isn’t fibbing it was set in Glendale from the start.

So the strip officially declared that well of course Rex Morgan isn’t some nigh-immortal figure who’s barely aged a day since he set up shop sixty years ago. He just happens to have set up shop in the same town where another Rex Morgan used to work. It’s a wild coincidence two people of the same name would be in the same small town. But this sort of thing happens in real life, more than authors seem willing to embrace.

While I lack a comprehensive understanding of the Rex Morgan, M.D. canon, my suspicion is that this can’t actually make sense. I don’t imagine there are any points in the storyline where one could say that yes, there, the first Rex Morgan retired and a new one moved in. We just have take the new author’s word that there was some point the change happened.

I don’t know why Beatty bothered doing this. Yes, we joke about the unaging nature of comic strip characters. The strip even makes the joke. But I don’t think anyone even notices it outside the jokes. There are only a few comic strips that try to age the characters in something like real time. Most of those are humor strips that aren’t committed to ongoing storylines, not ones that go more than a week at a time on average.

After all, not much time passes in a comic. Two or three panels convey only a few seconds of life. To tell enough of a story to be coherent even a story strip can cover, like, maybe a month’s worth of events in a calendar year. I think most readers are fine with the characters being in a rolling present, with anything from previous stories part of the indeterminate “couple months ago” or “couple years ago”. After all, if the real-world 1998 feels to you like it was maybe six years ago, June Morgan’s pregnancy can’t feel like it went on too long.

Maybe it’s just as the bottom row says: Beatty declaring this isn’t your grandpa’s Rex Morgan. Maybe it is just making a mission statement of relevance. That I shy away from declarations like that doesn’t mean other people do, or should. But it still seems like taunting the hardcore Rex Morgan, M.D. continuity enthusiast community to try.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index dropped ten points during trading today but everybody is trying to focus on the four points it picked up on the way out, when analysis noticed there were some they’d never taken out of their pockets from before. That’s fine so far as it goes but I hear the people worrying about what this portends for future trading. Whenever the newspaper summaries get to talk about portents watch out, it’s a bear market. Watch out and short whatever you got.

116

What’s Going On With Rex Morgan, M.D.?


[Edited the 6th of June, 2017 to add] Thanks for looking to me for tips on the developments in Rex Morgan, M.D.. This post is from January of 2017. Summaries of more recent storylines should be available at this link at or near the top of its page.


So, you know the difference between Rex Morgan, M.D. and Judge Parker? Yeah, me neither. I’m not meaning to be snarky here. It’s just both story comics are about people who nominally have exciting professional jobs but never get around to doing those jobs because they’re busy having strangers throw money and valuable prizes at them. They were even both created by Nicholas P Dallis (in 1952 and 1948, respectively). There’s a lot in common. That started to change earlier this year.

Rex Morgan, M.D.

The craziness came on gradually. It always does. It’s one thing when characters have abnormally long stretches of good luck. That happens, at least when authors like their characters so much they wish them well, and can make success happen. It went really crazy with a trip to the museum. I forget the exact details. The museum had been planning a fundraiser, selling this volume of drawings kids contributed. A little odd but I could imagine that working. Then Sarah Morgan drew a horsey. A really good horsey. The kind of horsey that left everyone awestruck with her horsey-drawing abilities. The book mutated. It would be one of Sarah Morgan’s drawings, horseys and anything else she wanted to draw. Also it would hae a much bigger press run. Maybe worldwide distribution. Also she’d be brought in to the museum to draw and be seen drawing by tour groups. Her first day at this she spotted and overthrew the class bully of some tour group. Also she caught the attention of a none-dare-call-it mafia widow, who hired professional instructors for her. And her father, Rex Morgan, renegotiated the book deal so Sarah would get a much bigger cut of the royalties on this already-bestselling art book.

And then the kindly old widow lady offered to sell Rex Morgan her Victorian-era mansion for whatever cash he had in his wallet right this second, and actually never mind, she’d spot him that too. That’s about where things stood before the 1st of May, when artist Terry Beatty took over the writing duties also for Rex Morgan, M.D.: you could be forgiven thinking this was some parody of the lives of the impossibly well-off.

June thanks Cilla for offering the house cheaply. But she points out to Rex that the house is a gorgeous museum full of antiques, and they have a two kids and a dog smashing around. It's not practical. Rex resigns himself to it. 'I'm not getting my roll top desk, am I?'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 8th of May, 2016. The fake-out about buying Cillia’s house had some nice stuff around it, including a bit where she was constantly fighting with her neighbor and he was warning the Morgans that the house was on the verge of collapse. It was one of those longrunning fights between ancient people who’re crushing on each other without admitting it. You know the kind, the ones that I’m sure happen in real life … like … sometime, I guess?

The six months plus since Woody Wilson stepped away from the comic have been largely one of ratcheting things back down. Some of that’s been handled gracefully: Rex and June Morgan conclude that while the Victorian mansion would be a swell place — furniture included! — it’s really not practical, not with two kids and a dog racing around the place. It’s the sort of quiet little dream-snatching thing which you think of when you’re a grownup.

The mafia wife’s interest in Sarah was explained as trying to make up for her own lost daughter. The museum’s interest in her horsey pictures was because she, as a major donor, was driving them. Is that sensible? I’m not sure, but if I don’t poke at it too hard it sounds like it makes sense. That’s as much as I need in a story. Especially if it’s trying to retcon past excesses away without causing too much trouble.

Rex gets a late-night phone call. 'That was the hospital letting me know we'd lost a patient ... and such a great guy, too. Smart, talented, the sort of person the world needs more of, not less.' He's not going to be able to get to sleep. 'Maybe I'll go downstairs and throw on one of those superhero movies where they *do* save everybody. That's the kind of thing this guy liked.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 4th of September, 2016. It’s a touching strip, not just because I believe it’s another memorial comic for Cul de Sac cartoonist Richard Thompson, who died too soon in July.

Other, similarly excessive, storylines have gotten walked back too. Dr Morgan had proclaimed competent Milton Avery, one of those industrialists you see in comic strips who’s incredibly wealthy in the field of business. And who was also barely aware of where he was or what day it was. I forget the pretext. I think that Morgan was doing this out of friendship to either Avery or his daughter, so they might fight off a Board of Directors attempt to replace their dementia-ridden executive. It’s hard to see how Morgan was supposed to be in the right, there. Beatty’s getting Morgan out of that malpractice by having Avery’s condition get far worse, rather quickly, leaving all questions of competence moot. And he’s turning that into a fresh storyline, as Avery’s daughter means to take him back to England and asked Morgan to follow and care for him there.

Heather explains her father's dementia is worsening so much she wants to take him back to England. 'I think he'll be more comfortable there.' And she asks if Rex will come with them. 'I've come to rely on your these past few months, and Milton is quite fond of you. Don't answer yet: give it some thought before you decide.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 20th of November, 2016. The bus station incident is one where Milton wandered away from home and tried to hitchhike to England. A driver put him off at the bus station, swapped jackets with him, and tried to make off with Milton’s bundle of emergency cash. He got himself into the Dumb Criminals News feature quickly enough, which is plausible enough and kind of fun to watch.

And then this past month came the biggest change. Sarah got hit by a car, by a distracted driver. It felt startling and a bit of a return to the understated class warfare of pre-May comics. (“See what happens when you let children ride the public school bus like peasants?”) But it also puts Rex Morgan back in the hospital, someplace that Beatty has wanted Morgan to spend more of his time. And where he ought to. Story strips can wander some but it’s weird to get so far away from the medical-comic origins.

As June and Rex Morgan worry about Sarah, hit by a distracted driver, the police officer talks about the hazards of texting-while-driving.
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 11th of December, 2016. It may seem like an odd thing for the police officer to talk at length about the hazards of distracted driving. (Sarah was hit by a driver looking at a cell phone instead of the road.) But it also has, for me anyway, the feel of the sort of slightly crazy thing that actually happens and that the worried parents in this sort of situation dimly remember as a weird thing that happened for no reason they can understand. I’m fortunate to be inexperienced in emergencies but my understanding is they’re a lot of standing around confused while strange authority figures tell you things you don’t care about for no reason you understand.

I have to rate it as an improvement. The most excessive storylines are being resolved or being retconned into things that less offend reason. And the pacing is improved too; this is the strip which saw June Morgan pregnant for something like 27 months, reader time, and it handled the Morgans buying a new house in about a week’s worth of montage. That’s much more like it.

(By the way, Speers also created Apartment 3-G. One would never confuse that with Judge Parker or Rex Morgan. And that’s got to be some kind of record for creating long-lasting story strips.)

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

And just like that the Another Blog, Meanwhile index dropped two points, owing to our sitting a little too far back in the chair. We lost the good pen, too, and have to resort to the main backup pen. We’re not going to be caught leaning back again because the alternate backup pen is just awful. It’s ball-point.

119

A Funky Discovery


OK, first, I want to alert people to some of my mathematics blog entries. These are the comic strip roundups, and I get to talk a bit about what makes them mathematical and, sometimes, even what makes them funny. There was one back on Tuesday, yes, but it was a busy week and I had another installment on Saturday which I padded out to appear on Sunday too. Though there were more strips than I expected so this split was kind of legitimate after all.


Now, in other news, I’d been quivering with impotent fanboy rage over the past week’s run of Funky Winkerbean, by Tom Batiuk. As you might have noted if you read any comics blog ever, the strip has long been a soap operatic parade of misery and doom, interrupted by confusing “time warps” where the characters suddenly get ten years older and more decrepit while their backstories make slightly less sense. Though since the last time warp Batiuk has been going on a slightly different tack: instead of every character suffering personal injury and professional humiliation, they’re instead being given exactly what they might dream of, only to have it shrivel up and die in their hands. It’s an exciting bathetic direction to take.

Why doesn't Les write something about Lisa? You know Lisa, the only topic of conversation that Les even has!
Tom Batiuk’s Funky Winkerbean for the 20th of June, 2015. Yes, everyone else wants to punch Les too.

This brings us to the past week, in which Boy Lisa — the kid who appears in ever-receding shade in the above strip — finishes illustrating the graphic novel Les whipped up as a belated first and second anniversary present for his wife Cayla last year. And, yes, he forgot his first anniversary. This is because Les is obsessed with his dead first wife Lisa, who died, in-strip, eighteen to twenty years ago. And yet Lisa is ever foremost in his thoughts. He wrote a successful book about how she got breast cancer and died. He does a charity run every autumn. When he was put in charge of the high school reunion he made sure the memorial wall to Lisa was adequate, but failed to actually book a venue to host it. He chats with her ghost on a surprisingly regular basis. He was somehow around when a made-for-TV adaptation of his book collapsed just as he was angst-ridden over how they were disrespecting her story. He says more to and about her than he does to his actual present wife, a woman whom I hope has more to live for than the attention and affection of her defectively-eyebrowed husband.

And the strip has given Les the terrible, ingenious idea to have Les write some more about Lisa. (Here’s how they met: they had a class together. Later, she left the school because she was pregnant, but Les ran into her.)

This can’t all be coincidence, right? The ironic reading of Funky Winkerbean is one of the Internet’s largest growth industries — you’re part of it right now — and he’s just decided to give up and write for that readership, hasn’t he?