What’s Going On In Rex Morgan, M.D.? Choking and Corporate Intrigue, March – May 2018.


Hey, is it sometime near the end of May or any of June 2018? If it is, great. If it’s sometime around, oh, August 2018 or later you might want to look here instead. If I’ve written a more recent update about what’s happening in Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D., it should be there.

Rex Morgan, M.D.

4 March – 27 May 2018.

I last checked in with Team Morgan a couple weeks into the start of their new storyline. It was about the Morgans’ babysitter Kelly and her boyfriend Niki. They noticed their friend Justin had taken up this habit of choking every time he tried to eat or drink anything. Justin took this nonchalantly. His friends worried that, y’know, at some point he’s got to eat, right?

Title panel, T-Rex Morgan, M.D. Sarah draws 'Glenwood - One Million Years BC'. Dinosaur versions of her parents come in, roaring 'GRONK' and 'GRAAAAAWK' and such. This is caption-translated. T-Rex: 'Hey, Punkin. We're getting teh boys to bed, Sarah. Can you get your jammies on?' Sarah: 'Sure, Dad.' T-Rex: 'When they're asleep, I'll come back and we can read a chapter of our Oz book, okay?' Sarah: 'Sounds good!' T-Sarah: 'And don't forget to brush your teeth before bedtime.' Sarah: 'Of course, Mom.' T-Sarah: 'We'll be back in a bit.' Sarah: 'Life's a whole lot more fun when you pretend your parents are dinosaurs!'
Terry Beatty’s T-Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 1st of April, 2018. Really, the best April Fool’s prank I saw on the comics page. I’m glad Beatty indulged in a flight of fantasy like this. It’s always fun when a cartoonist stretches artistically. And any excuse to put dinosaurs in one of the story strips is a correctly made excuse.

Maybe not; he’s cool with seeing how this plays out. Kelly asks Rex Morgan, M.D., what to do about this. Rex can’t diagnose anything, of course; you need someone who does medicine for that. But he does suggest trying small bites of peanut butter and honey sandwiches until Justin can get seen by a doctor. Justin can eat the peanut butter and honey, solving one immediate problem. But he’ll need a doctor’s note to bring peanut butter in to eat at school. The school participates in the “Let’s Have Angry Old People In The Comments Section Tell Us How Food Allergies Are A Made-Up Thing” program. He finally gives in to peer pressure, and lets Kelly make an appointment with the Morgans. If there’s a promise of no shots and not getting his knee hit with that little hammer. Also if the Morgans make that promise. “Oh never fear,” chuckles June, “we don’t use the little hammer anymore.”

So it turns out Justin has a real actual medical condition that really actually occurs in the real world. It’s called achalasia, in which the muscles of the esophagus don’t work right. It’ll take surgery to treat, so Rex Morgan calls in a friend who practices medicine for it. In non-snarky fairness, I would expect the procedure — a “Heller myotomy” — to be something you get a specialist for. And, come early April, we get some word about why Justin was so weird about seeing a doctor. His mother’s terrified of hospitals. This follows the family story of how her great-grandfather died on the operating table in 1923. This seems ridiculous to me, but ridiculous in a way that people actually are. So I’m cool with it. She’s cool with it too, once Justin gets a haircut and, I trust, promises to wear clean underwear for if he dies.

Kelly: 'We're going to see Justin after his surgery today, right?' Niki: 'Yeah. If we're lucky he'll still be groggy and we can catch him on camera saying some stupid stuff.' Kelly: 'You are SUCH a good friend to him, Niki.' Kelly: 'Hey, what are friends for?' [ The day of Justin's Surgery. ] In the hospital room. Rex: 'Are you ready for this, Justin?' Justin: 'As I'll ever be, I guess.' Rex: 'All the tests confirmed my initial diagnosis of achalasia --- and we have the TOP specialist in the country set to do the surgery.' Justin: 'Sounds good.' Justin's Mom: 'I'm still so worried about my little boy.' Rex: 'I understand a parent being nervous about their child having an operation, but there's really nothing to worry about here. The success rate for this surgery is very high, and Justin is otherwise healthy as a horse. He'll be just fine.' Justin's Mom: 'I know, but *still*.' Justin's Dad: 'My Son, the Horse. Get through this Justin, and we'll buy you a big bag of oats.' Justin: 'You crack me up, pop.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 8th of April, 2018. So, like, “the top” specialist in treating acalasia has to be a specific person, right? Do they know they were referenced, albeit anonymously, in Rex Morgan, M.D.? Did Beatty give her a heads-up or was it just left as a surprise? And wouldn’t it be a kick if somehow the top specialist in Heller Myotomies didn’t read Rex Morgan, M.D. somehow and had to have this pointed out to her by a friend?

And as for Justin, who did not die, he would go on to disappoint his friends, who hoped he would do something dopey while recovering from anaesthesia. No; he simply survived a weird medical problem without incident. End story, the 15th of April.

The 16th began the next focus, about the marriage of Buck and Mindy. They’re having it in Las Vegas. They sent invitations to the other player-characters in the comic. “Horrible” Hank Harwood, rediscovered 50s-horror-comics artist, and his son, rent an RV to road trip to it. They’re hoping to make a grand tour of the country. They’ll stop at all the great roadside attractions and see whether Zippy the Pinhead is talking to any of them about Republicans or meat.

(By the way, this week my love and I were at meals reading collections of Zippy the Pinhead comics from completely different decades. And reading individual strips out loud to each other. We’re delighted by early examples of later Bill Griffith obsessions and jokes that could run in normal comics too. There are many more accessible Zippy the Pinhead strips than the comic’s reputation suggests.)

Interwoven with Buck-and-Mindy’s wedding and Hank-and-Hank’s road trip is a less giddy story. Milton Avery, multimillionaire industrialist, died, the same day that his wife Heather Avery gave birth. Heather Avery flies back to Glenwood, where the strip’s set, partly to console herself with the company of the Morgans. Partly to work out how the expected succession crisis at Avery International plays out. This promises great excitement. The last time the succession of Avery International was addressed was when Woody Wilson wrote the strip. Back then, Heather Avery got Rex Morgan to lie. Morgan claimed Milton Avery was mentally competent and in full possession of his faculties and all. So there’s good reason for the Board of Directors to be up for a good rousing fight.

[ The Harwoods plan for their Las Vegas trip. ] Hank Jr: 'Hey, Pop. Come look at these options for renting a camper. And I need to know how long before Buck's wedding you want to leave on the trip.' Hank Sr: 'Long enough to see the sights along the way and get lost a few times!' [ At the Avery Mansion in Glenwood. ] Michelle: 'You've heard from Heather, Jordan?' Jordan: 'Yeah. Says she's making the trip back as soon as she and the baby get the okay to travel.' Michelle: 'Do you have any idea what Milton's passing will mean to Avery International or your employment here?' Jordan: 'And my free access to this fantastic house?' Michelle: 'Yeah, that too.' Jordan: 'Not a clue, Michelle. I figure I'd better be prepared for anything.' Michelle: 'I had a feeling this was too good to last.' Jordan: 'Wasn't ever meant to be permanent. I figure we're lucky to get whatever time we have here.' Michelle: 'Then let's make the most of it, shall we?' Jordan: 'Y'know, I like how you think.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 6th of May, 2018. I didn’t find space in the main article to write about the housesitters for Heather and Milton Avery, but this strip pretty well explains their plot thread. And is a decent recap of what Milton Avery’s death implies for the storylines too, so, all the better.

Heather’s opening salvo is to explain how she’s thrilled with the way they’ve been running the company. And she doesn’t see any reason anything needs to change. Corporate/Economic historian Robert Sobel in his 1972 The Age of Giant Corporations: A Microeconomic History of American Business identified this as the ol’ “Not the face! Don’t punch me in the face!” boardroom maneuver. But she also explains how if they screw this up she’ll feed them to a June-Morgansaurus. Should be exciting.

While we wait to see how that plays out might you consider reading up on mathematically-themed comic strips? I’ve got a bunch on my other blog that you might like to hear about. This week I get to show off the Maclaurin series for the cosine of an angle measured in radians! You’ll understand why that’s a thing by the end of the article.

Next Week!

Oh, you know how much I’m annoyed with Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp right now? Just wait a week and you’re going to see.

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What’s Going On In Rex Morgan, M.D.? And Who’s Contesting the Adoption? December 2017 – March 2018


Are you interested in the goings-on of Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D.? If you aren’t this essay isn’t for you. But if you’re interested and want to know what the current storyline is, this is the essay for you. Unless it’s gotten much later than early March 2018 for you. If you are reading this later than about June 2018 you’ll probably want an essay at or near the top of this page as a more recent story summary. Unless you’re looking for how things got to those later-essays’ points, I mean. I suppose you know your business.

Rex Morgan, M.D.

11 December 2017 – 4 March 2018.

My last update came fortuitously near the start of a story thread. June Morgan’s childhood friend Margie Tyler had died offstage. Tyler had left her child, Johnny, with the Morgans to adopt. With the Morgans willing and able to take him in, and no known living relatives of Johnny interested, everything looked smooth. That’s where things stood the 10th of December.

June took the kids — Sophie and Michael, both of whom she gave birth to, and Johnny, on whom she’s waiting for court decrees to settle — to the mall. A couple older people watch them at the play area and nudge June for the story of the two boys. June doesn’t tell. After they leave, the strip stayed with the elder couple. So, yeah, they were Johnny’s grandparents. Not Margie Tyler’s parents; her (dead) husband’s parents, Arnold and Helen March. They were estranged from their son, and only just learned they had a grandchild. Now that they do, they petition for custody.

June: 'Go on and get in your booster seat, honey. I have to get the boys into their car seats.' Sarah: 'Okay. I still wonder who those old people were.' Jone: 'They were just a nice old couple. Being a little too friendly, maybe.' Sarah: 'Those old folks were kinda nosy, weren't they?' June: 'People see the boys and have to ask if they're twins. Natural curiosity, I guess.' [ INSIDE ] Helen: 'Should we have spoken to her? Was that smart?' Arnold: 'There's no way she could know who we are. And you wanted to see the boy, didn't you?' Helen: 'Of course. I just don't want there to be any trouble. It was so hard just to sit here and pretend. He's the spitting image of Ronnie at that age.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 17th of December, 2017. After the first encounter at the mall, and before the Marches file for custody of Johnny. … Also given that Johnny and Michael are the same age — born the same day, the strip established — but became brothers through adoption I wonder what kind of twins they would be considered. It doesn’t quite seem like any category fits, does it?

The Morgans take the kids to the mall again. They see the elderly couple and recognize who they are. June approaches them. She offers that if they knock it off with the stalking, she won’t bury them in Rex’s medical practice, never to be seen again. The next day, Rex Morgan is barely able to get in to not seeing patients before his lawyer calls. The Marches want to talk.

More precisely they want to grovel. They’d only just learned they had a grandchild, they drove down to town to see him, and they kind of stumbled in to being stalkery. “Our bad,” Helen calls it, in a moment sincerely endearing to me. But on to serious business. They’re dropping their petition. They’re confident the Morgans can take better care of Johnny. They’re sorry for all the trouble they caused. They ask only that they not be killed as an example to the others. Rex and June are happy to agree to this, and they all agree that the Marches should be part of Johnny’s life; an auxiliary set of grandparents.

Helen: 'Sneaking around to see our grandson wasn't the best idea, Arnold.' Arnold: 'I suppose you're right, Helen. I just didn't want to wait for lawyers to decide when and how we could see him.' Helen: 'But now the Morgans think we're some kind of crazy stalkers!' Arnold: 'What do we do now that the Morgans are so upset with us?' Helen: 'I suppose we call our lawyer and see what kind of damage control we can do. And there's something I need to ask you ... ' [ MEANWHILE, THE MORGANS HAVE ARRIVED HOME. ] June: 'Okay, guys. Let's get your coats off.' Sarah: 'So WHY did we have to leave the funplace so early?' June: 'Nothing you need to worry about, honey.' Sarah:' I get it. It's one of those 'None of my business' kind of deals.' June: 'Pretty much. Yes.' Sarah: 'I'm keeping track of all this stuff so you can explain it to me when I'm grown up.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 14th of January, 2018. After the second encounter at the mall, and after the Marches had petitioned for custody of Johnny. There’s an extent to which the seriousness with which Sarah treats her presumptive participation in the adult world amuses me. Also there’s the thought of how, when Sarah is Like 36, her parents are going to be able to reduce her to embarrassed cackling by pointing out the time she was this age and said things like “I’m keeping track of all this stuff so you can explain it to me when I’m grown up”.

As a reader I’m a bit torn on this. I like stories that involve people acting thoughtfully. Senior citizens concluding that, sure, they would like to adopt their grandchild but they really aren’t up for it? That’s sensible behavior. I’m glad they do that. The Morgans concluding that while their relationship with the Marches started creepy-to-bad, they’re better off taking this couple into their lives? There’s also good sense to that.

But. One of the motifs of Rex Morgan, M.D. before Terry Beatty took over writing was that people kept giving the Morgans free stuff. A massive publishing contract for young Sarah. A too-great-to-believe Victorian Mansion. That kind of thing. It’s fun to daydream about getting great good fortune dropped on you, but when the characters haven’t done anything particular? A contested adoption looked promising as a story. The Morgans could still adopt Johnny, but they’d have to do more than be someone his previous mother trusted when she was dying. And now here’s that promising conflict skipped.

It’s not that I don’t buy this ending. Nor even that I don’t like it. It seems to me the settlement that leaves everyone happy and that’s even probably best for Johnny. The problem is the choice to go for this is made by the Marches, off-screen. The viewpoint characters haven’t done anything to influence this, apart from June telling the Marches not to spy on them. (Coincidentally I watched the 1979 movie Kramer Vs Kramer this week. It too leaves me unsatisfied, by an important choice about custody of the kid being made off-screen.) I’d have liked to see more of the Marches wrestling with their decision, and maybe the Morgans working to emotionally earn Johnny better.

Sarah: 'Can I finish writing in my diary before I go to bed?' Rex: 'You MAY. Just turn your light out when you're done.' Sarah: 'Okay. Thanks, Dad.' [ SARAH MORGAN'S DIARY ] (Illustrated as a talented but still young kid might, for example with labells pointing out 'My brother' versus 'Robot'.) It was fun having Johnny's grandparents here today. i know they are not really my or Michael's grandparents --- but they are very nice. And since we really don't have much family, I'm going to adopt them, like we adopted Johnny. A kid really ought to have grandparents, don't you think? And it's not just 'cause they gave me and Michael gifts. Though I'll never complain about getting a new box of crayons! I just think a family feels more complete when there's a grandma and grandpa involved! Goodnight, Diary. Time for lights out!'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 18th of February, 2018. Something the comic strip has featured more since Beatty took over writing duties is to illustrate stuff as Sarah might. It’s always fun when a comic strip’s artist breaks away from the normal format, and the kid’s diary is a great excuse to do it. (Lincoln Pierce’s Big Nate used to showcase the title character’s own-drawn comics a lot, but that seems to have fallen away in recent years.) Not quite ready for me to ask: is Sarah of the age to write sentences like “A kid really ought to have grandparents, don’t you think?” (No reason kids don’t sometimes write above their level, especially if it’s a phasing they might have encountered and identified as A Way Grown-ups Speak.)

Still, all agree. And all agree that agreeing is swell. The week leading up to the 18th of February was about the March’s first proper play date with the Morgans. It goes swell, everybody amiable all around. The Marches bringing toys and new crayons help. Sarah, writing in her diary, remarks on how she knew “getting new grandparents would mean extra presents”. It’s the sort of innocent avarice that I remember from childhood.

The 19th of February the new story started. It’s following the Morgan’s babysitter Kelly and her genial but basically clueless boyfriend Niki. Their friend Justin chokes on a sandwich. Before anyone can remember if they know how to do the Heimlich Maneuver he vomits it up and decides he’s done with lunch. He doesn’t want to go to the nurse. Kelly also mentions to Niki that isn’t not necessary that Justin hang out with them all the time. Niki doesn’t understand because while he is genial, he is also basically clueless. At the coffee shop after school, Justin gets some pastries and seems to be choking again.

It’s too early in the story for me to make any guesses where it’s going. I mean, I would expect Justin’s strange choking to matter again, but because otherwise why should Beatty have spent screen time on it? (I wrote most of this paragraph before reading the Sunday installment, but I think it still stands, especially once I deploy the next sentence here.) Don’t know yet, for example, whether Justin is really choking or whether he’s making a joke about earlier in the day. And perhaps the story is something about the challenges of the partners in a relationship also having their own friendships. But (so far) less time was spent on that than on the sandwich. So all told there’s nothing for me to make plot guesses about. Shall try to check back when there is news to report. And I’ll try not to grumble about a soap strip having the plot advance on a Sunday forcing me into some rewrites.

Next Week!

Oh, wow, you do not know with what levels of confused and only partly ironic nerd rage I say this. But I have been dying to get back to Milford and Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp and yes, Marty Moon is only a part of it. Send help.

And before then? Mathematically-themed comic strips over on my other blog, if that’s your taste.

What’s Going On In Rex Morgan, M.D.? September – December 2017


Hi, enthusiast of Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. trying to figure out what’s going on. This is my best effort at catching up what’s happening in the strip as of mid-December 2017. If you’re reading this after around March 2018, barring some surprise, I’ll have some more current essay describing its events. You should be able to get that essay here. And, must say, it looks to me like the strip is transitioning from one story to another. So if you’re reading this in, say, February and don’t know what’s going on, and can’t wait for me, you’ll probably have it all if you just go back to mid-December in the archives and catch up from there.

And if you’re just interested in mathematically-themed comics, I’ve got a week’s summary on my other blog. The mathematics one.

Rex Morgan, M.D.

18 September – 10 December 2017.

I keep remarking how it seems like my story comic summaries coincide with new stories starting in the comics. Some of it’s luck. Some of it’s the ease of confirmation bias. I get to each strip about every 12 weeks. If I’m off by half a month that’s still one chance in three of being “near” the start of a story. Still, last time I checked in on Rex Morgan, M.D. I was like right on the end of a story. June Morgan’s old childhood friend Margie Taylor, dying of plot, had got the Morgans to agree to adopt her child. And she had just vanished, leaving only a pile of problem-clearing paperwork and nice enough kid Johnny in her wake.

Like the week after my last essay the strip went around the horn, touching on some of the major storylines. Wealthy industrialist Milton Avery was shown settling back in his old home in England, no longer recognizing his wife Heather, and unaware that she’s pregnant. The Avery’s house-sitters for their on-panel house are shown to be … nice people that I guess have something going for them. Edward, the kid who tried to bully Sarah during the gas-leak year when she was resident child artist at the municipal art gallery, comes over to show off a dog that’s supposed to be fantastically weird that he can only be shown as a Dick Tracy-style explanatory caption.

And then, come October, we started the real story of the last couple months. It involves the highest form of art according to the people who write comic strips, which is, comic books. Early this year the Morgans helped their friend Buck reconnect with Great 50s Horror Comics artist Hank Harwood. Since then “Horrible” Hank’s gotten some satisfying late-in-life glory from fans who had just supposed he was dead or something, plus a bunch of commissions. But, following an anonymous Internet tip Harwood’s son discovers: somebody’s posting fake Horrible Hank art on auction sites.

Mindy: 'Someone is pretending to be you and selling forgeries of Hank's drawings on the Internet?' Buck: 'That's the gist of it, yeah.' 'Sounds crazy to me.' 'It may sound crazy, but scammers can make serious dough selling fakes online. Autographs, comic art, you name it.' 'I see plenty of reproductions in my antiques business, but that's usually just people who are mistaken about what they have. Intentionally defrauding people with fakes? I just can't understand the mindset of someone who'd do that.' 'They see others as marks, just victims to take advantage of.' 'Pretty darn sad, if you ask me.' 'No kidding'. ELSEWHERE. Mysterious woman handing over envelope: 'Your payment.' Rene Belluso: 'Thanks. I'm pleased with the quality.' Mysterious: 'You're good at what you do. Most people would never know these are copies.' Rene: 'Let me know when you want more.' Mysterious: 'I will, Rene. Thanks.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 8th of October, 2017. I don’t know, not my place to quarrel with someone else’s preferences in art. I just think that forged Horrible Hank piece is not all that good a portrait of a young maiden looking discreetly away from the viewer is all. And don’t get me started on the duckrabbit.

Buck, who’s been managing Horrible Hank’s return to the money factory that is commissioned comics art, is horrified. He lodges complaints with the auction site. The counterfeiter responds by saying (a) their stuff is too legit and (b) here’s some news stories about Buck being arrested for art forgery so nyah. Buck is offended by what he calls “doxxing” and files a complaint with the Commissioner of the Internet to get these untrue things removed.

But his certified letter to the Commissioner of the Internet is barely mailed when a major clue steps in. Buck’s getting-quite-serious girlfriend Mindy recognizes the women who spent an hour lingering around her antiques store. It’s Doris, Buck’s abusive ex-wife, who’s supposed to be in jail after this incident where she nail-gunned his head and came after him with a knife. He’s supposed to be under a protection order and get notified when she’s released, but, you know, things happen.

[MINDY IS TEXTING BUCK]: 'This woman has been poking around the shop for an hour. What do you bet she ends up not buying a thing?' [EVENTUALLY] ... (Woman): 'I'll just take this.' Mindy: 'Okay then. Thanks for stopping by. Do come again.' Woman: 'It's a lovely store. I'll be back.' Mindy thinks: 'I thought she'd never leave! I can close up, finally.' [LATER AT BUCK'S PLACE] Mindy: 'What are you looking at, Corey?' Corey: 'Some old pics of Dad. Just kind of comparing these with him now to see how much weight he's lost.' Mindy: 'May I see?' Corey: 'Well, yeah. Though a lot of these pics have Dad's ex, Doris, in them --- not sure you want to see her.' Mindy: 'THAT's Doris? But that's the woman who was in my shop today.' Corey: 'Oh, that can't be good. We'd better tell Dad.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 22nd of October, 2017. I can attest, as a person who has lost a lot of weight, how weird old photographs look. There was this time, when I was first thin, that I thought the weird part was the current me and this weird figure looking back in mirrors and new pictures and all. But that changes. Now I look at old pictures of me and I can kind of see myself, only my hair isn’t grey, and I appear to be incompetently smuggling an inflatable raft out of the sporting-goods store. I also kept one of my old shirts from when I was enormous and it’s hard to believe but it’s large enough to house my car.

Mindy texts Buck when Doris re-visits the antiques shop. Buck immediately charges into the scene, which goes as well as you could hope for doing the dumb thing. She misses hitting him with a paperweight, runs off, and lets him catch her in her apartment. Her plan: ruin Buck’s reputation as a legitimate comics-art dealer, thereby breaking up his relationship with Mindy, after which she’ll get Buck all to herself. Well, I’ve heard dumber schemes. A disgusted Buck tries to leave, but Mindy charges, ineptly, and falls down the steps just after a witness arrives to see the whole thing.

Doris: 'Buck, don't leave! I love you!' Buck: 'You have no clue what love is, Doris. I feel sorry for you --- but we are more than done.' Mindy: 'Buck!' (She throws a paperweight and misses.) Buck: 'You really have to stop throwing those paperweights, Doris.' Doris: 'YOU CAN'T LEAVE ME! I WON'T LET YOU!' Buck: 'Goodbye, Doris.' (Neighbor pokes his head out the apartment.) Doris: 'BUCK!!! DON'T YOU DARE!' (She jumps after him, and falls down the steps.) Neighbor: 'You want I should call 911?' Doris: 'Ow ... !'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 12th of November, 2017. I feel bad that I keep getting a little giggle every time I read that last panel.

With the crazy ex put back in jail, Buck can look forward to a life as a reputable comics-art dealer. And, with his son’s encouragement, he asks Mindy to marry. She’s happy to. Horrible Hank finally gets to see some of the forgeries. And he recognizes the artist: Rene Belluso. The guy who was giving Sarah art lessons up until Terry Beatty took over the comic and dialed way down the “free stuff for the Morgans” theme.

And besides that Rene Belluso is still out there forging art, that wraps up that storyline, one week ago. This past week was spent delivering the news that Margie Taylor had, indeed died. I intend no guess as to whether that’s starting a new thread about the adoption of Johnny or simply resolving the previous thread. Still, it’s a bunch of successfully deployed soap opera plotting, so, well done.

Next Week!

Viral videos! Micro-managing stage uncles! Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy! No word on the playdowns! It can’t be anything but Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp. Please stop in and see what football players are singing and for what reasons.

What’s Going On In Rex Morgan, M.D.? June – September 2017


I am embarrassed to admit this is a story summary done in greater haste than usual. Somehow I’d got in my head that I was due to review Gil Thorp and was thinking about that storyline all week, and then late Saturday actually looked at my schedule. I’ll try to be fairly complete about this anyway. And for those hoping to understand Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D., thanks for reading. If it’s much past September 2017 when you read this, the story might have drifted. If I have more recent updates they should be at or near the top of this page.

On my other blog, I have not just the usual roundup of mathematically-themed comic strips but also my finally noticing something shocking about the cast of John Rose’s Barney Google and Snuffy Smith. Please, let me know your opinion on this.

Rex Morgan, M.D.

26 June – 17 September 2017.

My last summary of Rex Morgan, M.D. missed by one week the conclusion of the Kelly-Niki-Holly love triangle plot, when it was revealed Niki didn’t know Kelly was jealous of his time with Holly. Niki needed some advice from her parents on how to cope with a non-heterosexual friend because millennials have so much trouble coping with this stuff than their parents do. That’s all.

The 2nd of July started the new and current storyline, when June Morgan’s childhood friend Margie Taylor dropped into town. She bring along her son Johnny, played by Norm Feuti’s Gil, who instantly gets along with Sarah and Michael Morgan. Margie talks about how she’d had to leave town as a teen when her mother died, and how screwed up her life had gotten, and how she’s straightened out enough things that she had the courage to look up June Morgan again.

Rex: 'Is your friend showing up soon?' June: 'Should be here any time now.' (Ding dong!) 'Like I said, any time now!' (At the door.) 'Margie!' 'June!' June: 'It's been ages, but I'd have known you ANYWHERE!' Margie: 'You, too. How could I ever forget my BEST FRIEND?' Toddler: 'Mam?' June: 'OH MY! Who's THIS little sweetheart?' Margie: 'That's my SURPRISE --- my SON, Johnny.' June: 'That's a nice surprise!' Sarah: 'Look, Michael --- Mommy's friend brought someone for you to PLAY with!' June: 'Well, what are we STANDING here for? Come on in!'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 16th of July, 2017. By the way, Johnny in the last row there? That’s me at every social event. Except I’ve got a beard, and I somehow put on a shirt and pants that don’t quite match even though you can’t really say just why. And my pants are black half the time. The instructions say that’s supposed to work with anything. I don’t know what’s gone wrong.

So yeah, Margie’s dying. June’s the first to mention it, to Rex, who does enough medicine to agree. It takes a couple weeks of reader time for Margie to open up about it. But she’s got third-stage plot complications and expects them to be imminently fatal. Margie panels the people in Rex and June Morgan’s lives about how good they are as parents and the reports are favorable. “Yeah, there was that weird thing where they let a mob widow muscle the Museum into publishing and buying a zillion copies of her book of horse drawings, and I guess June’s pregnancy did get into the tenth trimester before she gave birth, but they’re basically pretty good eggs,” answered person after person, verbatim.

Rex: 'Kids are asleep?' Margie: 'Michael is. Sarah's in bed reading.' 'The girl DOES love her books.' 'GOSH --- I wonder how she came by THAT.' 'So, your friend is all settled in?' 'Yeah, seems to be. You saw she was sick right away didn't you?' 'Pretty much.' 'Took me a while. But when she went into her purse for her car keys, I couldn't help seeing the PRESCRIPTION PAINKILLERS she's packing.' 'Opiates?' 'Uh-huh'.
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 30th of July, 2017. I realize that this strip and the previous one make it look like Rex has spent this entire storyline staring intently into a book while talking distractedly to his wife, but … uhm … I’m not sure he actually hasn’t.

Margie asks June if she and Rex will adopt Johnny. June, hoping to stall long enough for the writer to change his mind, agrees to consider it if Margie agrees to see some specialists that she and Rex will think up. Margie agrees. While June and Rex take seriously the question of whether to adopt an all-but-certainly-orphaned boy, Margie tells babysitter Kelly that she’s off to run some errands, hugs Johnny, and walks out. She leaves behind a letter to the court asking that the Morgans be named Johnny’s guardian, and a note to not try to find her.

Margie: 'What a nice little park.' June: 'The kids enjoy it. It's one of the things that sold me on this neighborhood.' Margie: 'You've made quite a life for yourself, June.' June: 'I'm sorry things haven't worked out well for you, Margie.' Margie: 'I had Johnny. That's the one good thing. But now ... oh, this is hard to say.' June: 'It's okay, Margie. Take your time. Whatever you need to tell me.' Margie: 'You and Rex know I'm sick, don't you?' 'We could tell, yes.' 'I beat it twice, June --- but this time it looks like three strikes and I'm out.' 'And you're looking for someone to take Johnny when you're gone.' 'There's no family that can take him, on either side.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 13th of August, 2017. This isn’t the important thing, but I like public pavilions with that top panel’s style of brick-clad support pillars. The trash bin lined with vertical wood slats works for me too.

So that’s an exciting development. The police are vague about whether this does count as child abandonment or any other specific crime, which surprises me. I grant the situation’s not common, but it seems like it’s got to be something everyone who does child and family welfare cases has to hear about. I’m also curious what actual real-world case law suggests. My gut says that yeah, it wouldn’t be abandonment to leave a child with someone responsible who’d given you a verbal agreement to an adoption, along with a letter stating your intention to give the child to their custody, and contact information for your attorney (who’s presumably been clearly told the intention). But if I learned anything from watching too much of The People’s Court as a kid, the thing that seems instinctively right is contravened by actual law. (There must be some guide for this for soap opera writers, mustn’t there? So that if they want the story to go in a crazy direction they can do it in ways that don’t sound obviously crazy?)

And that’s where we land in mid-September. I am surprised to have another child airlifted into the Morgan family. For one, in previous months someone else in the comic — I forget who — had mentioned how she wanted a child. It seemed like a solution being set up for a problem. Also having a ready-made new child dropped into their lives feels a little like a return to the gifts-bestowed-on-the-Morgans format that Terry Beatty had drawn back from. There’s important differences, though. Particularly, the Morgans here think early and often about how much responsibility this child is, and how adopting him messes up reasonably made plans. Kids are work, and there’s been no discussion between June and Rex suggesting they’re thinking of how fun a third child could be.

Curious touch: Johnny is mentioned as having been born the same day as June and Rex’s second child, Michael. The adults remarked on the coincidence. It’s a remarkable coincidence. And none at all, of course, since Beatty got to choose when Johnny was born. So I’m left pondering: what is the artistic choice being made in having the adopted child be born the same day as the non-adopted one? It feels meaningful, but I can’t pin down what the meaning is to me. I’m curious if other readers have a similar sense, or thought about what it does mean.

Next Week!

Apparently I’m just that hungry to get back to Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp. You’ll join me, won’t you? Thanks.

What’s Going On In Rex Morgan, M.D.? April – June 2017


This report on the recent plot developments of Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. is right and fitting for late June, 2017. If it’s a lot past that by the time you read it, things might have moved on. I’ll do my best to have more recent updates near the top of this link. Thanks for being interested, and do enjoy.

Rex Morgan, M.D.

2 April – 25 June 2017.

Last time, you’ll recall, Terry Beaty’s dismantling of the Cult of Sarah Morgan and the showering of untold fortunes on her had nearly completed. She was ready for her first day back at public school, as a mere normal, if amnesiac, student almost completely bereft of the ability to draw horsies. She’s saved from kids teasing her by Edward, the former bully she had publicly shamed on a school tour when she was on exhibit at The Local Art Museum. (Seriously, this is where the strip had been before Beatty took over the writing.) That’s totally how it works when you publicly shame the class bully. They usually become your protectors.

Edward: 'I'm sorry those kids were being such JERKS to you.' Sarah: 'Thanks for scaring them off. I know I'm the NEW kid and all, so some kids won't like me.' 'Don't pay any attention to those mean kids. They're just BULLIES like I used to be -- until you changed my mind.' 'I wish I could remember meeting you, Edward. The accident made me lose a lot of memories -- like a YEAR's worth.' 'Man -- that must be WEIRD!' 'It is. Feels like I was asleep for a LONG time. And woke up to a new house and new baby brother!' 'I'd like to go to sleep and forget my BIG SISTER!' 'What's wrong with your sister?' 'She's meaner than I EVER was! I just try to stay out of her way.' 'That's too bad. Maybe you could come play at my house if you ever need a break from her?' 'That'd be like EVERY DAY. Could I bring my dog?'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 16th of April, 2017. Quick show of hands here, people who’ve been bullied: has ‘don’t pay attention to those mean kids’ ever worked for anyone ever? Thought so. Anyway, I do enjoy the bit of kid wonder at the idea of losing a year’s worth of memories. It feels like actual kid responses to something that, as a grownup, would be pretty horrible, if nothing else for how tedious it would be to reset all the passwords you’d changed in the lost year.

With Sarah’s plot safely tucked off in public school, June Morgan decided she’d spent enough time as a stay-at-home mom not doing medicine. She wanted to get back to being the Doctor’s full-time assistant, hanging around the office and not doing medicine just like Doctor Rex. By late May she had leapt back in and everything was fine and dandy. So this all might sound like there’s not a lot soap-operatic happening in this soap-opera strip. Fair enough.

June: 'I thought you were managing the clinic just fine WITHOUT me?' Rex: 'We ARE, but ...' 'Well?' 'Summer and Michell are doing a perfectly fINE job here, it's just that ... well ...' 'OUT with it, Doc. I'm WAITING.' 'I simply MISS YOU being here. I mean, HOW many years have we spent running this clinic? It's just not the SAME without my FAvORITE nurse.' 'Do you have ANY idea how many POINTS you just earned?' 'Said the RIGHT thing, did I?' 'Sure did.' MEANWHILE, in Holly's Dad's collector garage. Niki: 'HOLY COW! When you said your dad collected cars, you weren't KIDDING!'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 7th of May, 2017. Never mind the question of whether Rex Morgan ever sees a patient. I like married-person banter, especially when it’s between married people who enjoy each other’s company. Love is one thing, but there’s something special in just liking being near someone.

The drama the past couple months has focused on Sarah’s driver/part-time babysitter, Kelly. While it’s a pretty good afterschool job as these go, her schedule conflicts with her boyfriend Niki’s, who’s a pizza deliverer. He gets a call to Holly, a girl from the arts school, and she kind of likes him, and her dad quite likes him. Holly’s Dad offers him the chance to drive some of his antique cars around town. Holly has to go with, of course, but you understand how wealthy fathers enjoy picking out trustworthy pizza-delivery guys and having them tool around town in their antique cars with their teenaged girls.

Really I’m comfortable with this. Put that way the story sounds like absurd wish-fulfillment. But, you know, the Rex Morgan, M.D. world has been one of basically pleasant people who like other people. And Niki had the in that he drove a vintage Beetle himself kept in respectable shape. I’ll buy the premise.

Where this gets soap-operatic is that this leaves Niki spending his free time driving around town with Holly in a sequence of antique cars. Which gets back to Kelly, who wants to know what her boyfriend is doing driving some other girl from the arts school around instead of her. Niki answers with all the self-awareness of a teenage guy who doesn’t understand why someone would be upset he was driving someone else’s car. So Kelly spent about eighteen months correctly identifying him as an idiot.

Kelly: 'Let's recap. You've been driving HOLLY around in her DAD's vintage cars while I'm BABY-SITTING for the Morgans.' Niki: 'Uh, yeah.' 'And LYING to me about it.' 'Gee, Kelly, I didn't think I was doing anything WRONG by hanging around with Holly.' 'REALLY?' 'Yeah - we're just FRIENDS. Nothing more to it.' 'Then why KEEP it from me?' 'Like I said, I was afraid you'd take it the WRONG WAY and be ANGRY or JEALOUS or something. Like you ARE right now.' 'Niki - if there's NOTHING going on between you two, you shouldn't have been afraid to TELL me. It's you NOT telling me that makes me think there IS something going on here.' 'But there ISN'T, Kelly - there REALLY isn't. It's just that the CARS are so cool.' 'And HOLLY being a PRETTY BLONDE has NOTHING to do with it at all?' 'Well, I GUESS she IS pretty and all, but ... OH, GEEZ, I said the WRONG THING, huh?'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 4th of June, 2017. I also appreciate the natural, unforced dumbness of Niki’s situation here. We’ve seen the whole story so we know he never had an unfaithful thought, and possibly never had any thought besides “shiny car”. Also, hey, a millennial who’s interested in cars as objects of particular historic and design and cultural importance; who knew?

Anyway, all seems to be getting better as Niki and Kelly go to the arts school’s production of Large Levi, put on when I guess somehow they couldn’t get the rights to Li’l Abner? I don’t know why Beatty didn’t just use the actual comic-strip-turned-stage-play. Maybe when he first mentioned it he thought he’d need some scene that couldn’t plausibly be in a high school presentation of Li’l Abner. Maybe the Al Capp estate is weird about perfectly appropriate and fair mentions of his intellectual property. I don’t know.

Having met Holly, and her girlfriend Crystal, and getting invited to their game night, Niki gets all smug about how Kelly was silly to be jealous. She points out how he’s an idiot. Fair enough.

And those are all the major plots developed over the past few months. There haven’t been other sidelines. There was some overlap during the transition from Sarah At School to June At Work to the Kelly and Niki show, but nothing too narratively complicated. And most of the time was spent on people screwing up their relationships, the way a soap opera might well. Nothing happened with senile industrialist Milton Avery, nor with Jordan and his housekeeping job. Pioneer comic magazine artist “Horrible” Hank Harwood hasn’t been seen since April.

Next Week: Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker unless something big comes up.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile index fell four points after traders noticed the Sirius XM Deep Tracks station playing some crazy obscure Kinks stuff and while they’re always playing the Kinks, I mean, what the heck? This is some stuff that even people who loved Soap Opera never get around to listening to.

262

What’s Going On In Rex Morgan, M.D.? December 2016 – April 2017


[Edited the 6th of June, 2017 to add] This post about Rex Morgan, M.D. is from April of 2017. If you’re reading this much later than, oh, June of 2017 there will probably be a more current report about the plot at this link. Thanks for being interested, though.


When last I officially looked in on Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. little Sarah Morgan was in dire shape after being hit by a car. This after her parents learned her book of horse pictures was not actually a bestseller but rather propped up by the curious patronage of mob-ish widow Dolly Pierpont, who used Sarah as substitute for her estranged daughter Linda. back in July, June Morgan listed some of the incredible good fortune that had befallen the family and wondered “what happens when the pendulum swings back the other way?”

It’s been a lot of swinging.

Rex Morgan, M.D.

20 December 2016 – 1 April 2017.

Sarah emerged from her coma in a pretty sweet Christmas Day strip. But she’d been struck with a nasty case of Soap Opera Amnesia, leaving her unable to remember anything of the past year. The Morgans have tried various things to restore her memory of the lost time, but nothing seems to be working. Since most of that corresponds to the worst excesses of the “let’s throw fabulous money and prizes at the Morgans” era I expect that Beatty’s not going to allow this to work. It’s a drastic and, really, horrifying way to clear the boards. But it does get Sarah back to something like normal child life.

So she doesn’t remember the birth of her little brother Michael, so if they ever grow up he’s going to have that to tease her about his whole life. She also doesn’t remember how to draw, so her incredibly-popular horse-painting book looks to be a one-off. Nor does she remember the private school that Dolly Pierpont had paid tuition for; after a good look at the student uniforms she asked if she could go to public school instead. Losing a year of her memories also means she’s lost the year that she skipped ahead. I am impressed. We usually get resets this complete only after Captain Janeway and Seven of Nine spend forty minutes telling us about “chronometric wavefronts” and “temporal storms” and “did anyone check if we let Chakotay out of the shuttlecraft before the space vortex ate it and could we tell the difference if we didn’t?”.

Homecoming for Sarah. 'Calm down, Abbey! Don't knock Sarah over!' Sarah asks the dog, 'Did you miss me? 'Course you did!' And asks her parents, 'This is our house now?' 'Yes, we moved just before Halloween.' 'Do you remember the secret room?' 'There's a SECRET ROOM? I gotta see it!' June: 'This is going to be interesting, Doc.' 'Her memories could return ... or not.' Sarah: 'This secret room is AWESOME!'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 8th of January, 2017. Inside the secret room under the stairs are none of Sarah’s memories of Dolly Pierpont and the book deal and her horse drawings and being an exhibit of precocious artistic talent at the Local Museum, but she does find the real Seymour Skinner.

It’s not a perfectly complete reset, though. Not all the good fortune of the Morgans wiped away. While exploring the attic Sarah discovered a cache of 1950s comic books and proofs and stuff in stunningly good condition. Rex’s friend Buck Probably-Has-A-Last-Name-But-I-Forget-And-Can’t-Find-It guided them to the original artist, “Horrible” Hank Harwood. Because this was in the comics, the comics stuff was valuable. The Harwoods sent the Morgans a pretty good finder’s fee in gratitude. Yes, it’s more giving-stuff-to-the-Morgans, but if we start from the premise of finding these vintage comics then everybody’s acting admirably.

Buck and the Harwoods were then whisked off to Generic Comic Con, the largest comics gathering in every comic strip ever. Hank got to deliver the con’s prestigious Fredric Wertham Is A Booger address and Buck got to have a dizzy spell. He uses his hospital stay to call Mindy, whom he met in one of his first gym sessions, and probably that’ll be picked up on sooner or later. They fly home, with the 90-year-old Hank possibly contracting a case of sleep apnea. Hey, medical stuff, who knew?

Buck collapses on the floor of the comic book convention. 'Hey --- can we get some help here? Mister? Mister? Are you okay?' 'Wha --- what happened?' 'You were out for a bit there. Good thing you didn't hit your head when you fell. I called for convention security to get first aid over here.' 'Thanks --- I think I'm okay, though.' First aid: 'Why don't you come with us and we'll make sure. Don't want anyone getting hurt here.' 'Now *I'm* in a wheelchair. Great.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 12th of February, 2017. I don’t know if the guy in green and yellow is an original character or not. I’m supposing he is because that’s some of what I like best about conventions like this, and I’m in good spirits so I’m going to suppose ambiguous stuff has the good interpretation.

In the other major thread senile industrialist Milton Avery has gotten bad enough that even Heather can’t cover it up. She’s resolved to take him back to his home England. In this way if he has another spell of wandering off and getting on the bus looking for a flight to England he’ll at least have it resolved by people who’re on the other side of the road. She’s dispensing the job of looking after the house to Jordan, who I believe is just Buck without his glasses, and everybody seems well enough there.

Heather: 'We're going to need someone to look after the property --- manage the house while we're away. Interested?' Jordan: 'Yeah, I suppose I would be.' 'You could stay here, have your pick of the guest rooms, and stay on the payroll.' 'I don't know how I can say no to that offer.' 'Then don't. Say yes.' 'Well sure. Yeah. I'll stay on. It's an unexpected offer --- but thanks. Yes.' 'Now don't you have a phone call to make, maybe someone you should tell about this?' 'Um ... yeah. Yeah, I do.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 5th of March, 2017. This is actually also how I handled it when my boss suggested maybe I could keep on working remotely when I moved to Michigan instead of having to find a whole new job. I’m not very good at expressing approval of good stuff.

Dolly Pierpont reconciled with her daughter Linda.

The Johnny Olson Report:

Major characters of Rex Morgan, M.D. have received these fabulous gifts and prizes:

Character Fabulous Gift or Prize
The Morgans Finder’s Fee for valuable vintage comics art, first installment of promised many.
“Horrible” Hank Harwood A CPAP machine to help with his snoring; good karma
Sarah Morgan The chance to read her own book for the first time
Buck, dba Jordan Sinecure as “property manager” or something like that for Milton Avery

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile index rose seven points on reports that a new graphene-based process could allow synthetic skin to have a sense of touch, making plausible that in the near future caressing our cell phones will be for more than to make us feel better. The phones could get something out of it themselves. Maybe there are some good things left in the world.

121

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.

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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.

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